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Category: The Priorities of Jesus

Do You Know How To Love?

Do You Know How To Love?

Do you really know how to love?  For Jesus, loving others is what it’s all about.  But do we, as a people, really know how to love?  Or are those who profess to be the modern-day followers of Jesus more like the Pharisees, who outwardly drew near to God but had hearts that were far, far away from him?  Are we merely whiting our social media sepulchers when we present an image to the world designed to manipulate how others perceive us?  In our effort to be perceived as good are we really being bad?  In our effort to project and convey righteousness are we really just putting on a bad disguise?

Are we really just putting on a bad disguise?

Nothing frustrated Jesus more than people who did the “right” things for the wrong reasons. Jesus abhorred pretense (Matthew 23:14) and hypocrisy (Matthew 6:2, 6, 16; 23:13-15).  While piousness and adherence to religious rules was something Jesus did not want to be left “undone,” he placed religious behavior on a hierarchy where there were some matters that were “weightier” than others.  (Matthew 23:23.)  Of course, the weightiest of all matters was to feel and then show love to others.

The path to true discipleship … requires that you care only about what you think of others and not what others think of you.

He said, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you ….”  (John 13:34.)  Of course, Jesus loves not just in deed.  His very essence is filled with compassion and love for us.  So, to love as Jesus loved requires the right actions and the right motives.  Doing good when you “have not the love of God in you” (John 5:42) is ultimately unacceptable.  To love others as you were loved by Jesus Christ requires more.

Paul explains it this way:

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.”

(1 Corinthians 13:1-3.)

Jesus evaluated men from the inside out, not from the outside in.

The state of your heart is so important to the Lord that you could give all you have to the poor or die as a martyr, but if you “have not the love of God in you” (John 5:42), it “profiteth you nothing.”  (1 Corinthians 13:3.)  Nothing.  Those are strong words.  The bar is set.  It’s quite high.  Your motives for doing what you do—even if those things are “charitable” and good—matter to the Lord.

Jesus evaluated men from the inside out, not from the outside in.  (See Matthew 15:17-20.)  To him, this was the order of priorities: “cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.”  (Matthew 23:26.)  He wants your heart first.  Then, Jesus taught, “[a] good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things.”  (Matthew 12:35.)  Hence, discipleship works from the inside out, forcing you to examine your motives; to examine the state of your heart.

Just as the physical human heart has four chambers, the spiritual heart has four main dimensions.

Because this aspect of Christianity is so vital to discipleship I developed a tool that helps me evaluate the state of my heart.  This tool can be used in every single human interaction.  The more you use it, the more your focus will change.  Hopefully, it can help you find the path to true discipleship, which requires that you care only about what you think of others and not what others think of you.

Just as the physical human heart has four chambers, the spiritual heart has four main dimensions, which are depicted in the following graphic:

Chambers of the HeartTo give you an example of how the four chambers works, think, for a moment, to the last time you were at a gathering of family or friends.  Most likely there were people there that you love.  And, most likely, there were people there that you struggle with and that you find hard to love.  For those for whom you have deep and genuine feelings of love, expressing that love probably flowed naturally for you.  It was easy to give compliments and hugs.  It was easy for you to listen to them.  Your behavior and your feelings were congruent with the highest in you and would put you in Chamber Four, where you feel love and show love.  This is the ideal.

Every human interaction is an opportunity to express the highest within you.

There may have been those that you genuinely love and care for but, for some reason, you found it difficult to express your love.  You didn’t know what to say to express your true feelings.  You didn’t know what you could do to express your love in a way that would be understood (or not misunderstood).  Or, for some reason (perhaps unknown to you), you just held back.  You didn’t express your love.  Maybe you were too tired.  Maybe you just didn’t have it in you.  This is Chamber Three, where you genuinely feel love but don’t show it.  In Chamber Three, your capacity to feel love exceeds your ability to express it.

We have to practice being disciples of Jesus Christ each and every day.

At this gathering there were undoubtedly those that you found difficult to have feelings of love for.  Seeing these people may have triggered anger, frustration, or dislike.  Whatever it was that you felt, it was not love.  As you felt these things, you had two choices.  You could either show love or not show love.  If you chose to show love, this was a Chamber Two behavior.  You did not genuinely feel love for this person but you acted as if you did.  If you chose not to show love, this was a Chamber One behavior where you neither felt nor showed love.  In Chamber One you probably avoided this person or perhaps you may have confronted or slighted this person in some way.  Whatever you did, you didn’t feel love or show love.

Is our love authentic or are we merely acting?

Most of us toggle through each of the Four Chambers throughout various social interactions.  However, over time, patterns emerge and through honest self-evaluation and introspection you will notice within yourself the chamber within which most of your behavior patterns occur.  There are, for example, people who are almost always in Chamber Two.  People who care more about how others feel about them than how they feel towards others are classic Chamber Two people.  They act nice and kind but do it for all the wrong reasons, such as wanting to be accepted, wanting to be valued, or wanting to be esteemed.  Like actors, they are constantly playing to an audience and have an insatiable longing and yearning for the approval of the crowd.  They value themselves when they are valued by others, failing to realize that valuing others is what actually helps us discover our true identity and our true worth.

I’m convinced that practicing Christianity is just that–practice.  We have to practice being disciples of Jesus Christ each and every day, which means not just doing the right things but also doing them for the right reason.  Chamber Two behavior doesn’t cut it.  We must evolve into Third and Fourth Chamber beings, who are filled with love and have the ability to express it.  The Four Chambers is a practice tool that will help free you from the prison-like atmosphere of the First and Second Chambers.

Hell has already arrived for them and they may not even know it.

Why do I say these lower chambers are prison-like?  Because for those stuck in Chamber Two behavior patterns, where they care more about being seen in the best possible light rather than seeing others in the best possible light, life is a living hell.  Those stuck in Chamber Two are constantly trying to control how others feel about them, which, of course, is totally out of their control.  And trying to control things that are out of your control is the definition of suffering.  Being manipulative and acting with ulterior motives does not bring happiness.  It’s a prison from which many people don’t ever escape.  Those stuck in Chamber One simply don’t have the love of God in them and, since God is love, they live their lives without God, which is a prison.  Both First and Second Chamber people find it hard to look inward because they are always looking “out there” and trying to control or blame what is “out there” instead of fixing themselves and looking at their own hearts.  In short, they cannot repent.  They are damned.  Hell has already arrived for them and they may not even know it.

Let your light shine.

What chamber are you in?  Do you really know how to love?  Are you honest with yourself?  Do you regularly and routinely work on how you feel about others?  Do you regularly and routinely evaluate your motives?

I would invite you to apply the Four Chambers paradigm for a week.  In every interaction that you have, label what you do and why you do it with one of the Four Chambers.  As you do this, you will start to think from the inside out rather than from the outside in.  You will begin to feel lighter as you shed the burden of worrying what others think about you and focus on how you feel about others.  You will begin to see every human interaction as an opportunity to express the highest within you, which is the light of Christ that is in us all.  And, most of all, as that light of Christ glows within you, you will be filled with his presence and his love, which will bring you happiness, joy and peace.

For more ideas and discussion on this and other related issues, please read my books Gethsemamnesia and Built to Love, available now in paperback.

Pornography and Other Monsters and Scapegoats

Pornography and Other Monsters and Scapegoats

Pornography is evil.  I’ll never deny that.  But, for the religious, it has become a convenient scapegoat, hiding an even more insidious evil we don’t like to talk about.  The ego/the natural man (whatever you want to call it) … it will always find a person, group or thing—something or someone “out there”—on which to project its problems.  This great evil, this plague, this thing “out there” attacking us and assaulting us diverts our attention and focus away from where the real trouble lies.  In reality, we create most of the monsters that we hate and fear.

Having a monster to slay keeps us distracted and busy so we don’t think about all that motes and beams stuff or ask the difficult questions such as, “Lord, is it I?”

There’s a name for what we do when we rail on pornography, bullying or other monsters.  It’s called the “scapegoat mechanism.”  This scapegoat mechanism largely operates at the unconscious level.  People don’t even know when they are scapegoating.  It’s a convenient diversion that works quite well.  Having a monster to slay keeps us distracted and busy so we don’t think about all that motes and beams stuff (Matthew 7:3, 5) or ask the difficult questions such as, “Lord, is it I?” (Matthew 26:21-22.)

Lord, is it I?

And when we can rally as a group and rail against the monster, the diversion away from the real problem is even more successful since hatred and fear hold a group together more readily than the self-examination and introspection mandated by the gospel of Jesus Christ.  So we rail on the monster as if it was more evil than the unredeemed culture of guilt and shame our self-righteous defense of purity and piousness perpetuates.  Blaise Pascal so insightfully wrote, “People never do evil so completely and so cheerfully as when they do it with a religious conviction.”

So what is the real problem?  Who created this monster of pornography?  You did and I did.

You see, we are learning, more and more each day, that people turn to pornography for escape and not necessarily sexual pleasure.  As Robert Weiss wrote recently in Psychology Today, “these individuals use not to feel pleasure but to escape emotional discomfort. It is a desire for emotional escape rather than a desire to ‘get high’ that is the crux of all addictions and compulsive behavior.”

The gospel invites us into a path of introspection and self-examination

Yet how many of us ask ourselves, “Do I contribute to the environment of pain and emotional trauma ‘out there’ that would lead someone to seek escape through pornography, drug addiction or some other outlet?”  “Lord, is it I?”  Of course not.  We never see a connection between ourselves and the “out there” monsters.  So the evils in society repeat themselves, over and over and over again.

Even when we can catch a glimpse of our own culpability the cycle inevitably repeats itself.  For example, the recent school shooting in Spokane, Washington, is typical of the pattern.  Kid gets bullied by all the “nice” kids at school.  Kid has access to a gun.  Kid goes berserk, takes his gun to school and starts shooting.  We all feel bad for the innocent victim, who is eulogized in the media nigh to sainthood (rightfully so).  We hold a candlelight vigil, talk about the evil monster called “bullying,” and then get back to our self-centered, unempathetic, uncaring ways until the next school shooting.

But when Jesus taught that the kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17:21) perhaps it was an indication that the gospel invites us into a path of introspection and self-examination—fighting the evils within rather than those without.  If you want to build the Kingdom of God, become a better person.

Pornography is evil.  Make no doubt about it.  However, what is more evil, pornography or the culture of emotional pain that we create and that leads people to seek refuge and comfort in the grasp of this false god?  The stories of Jesus give us some clue as to the answer.

The longer you gaze, the more you will see your own complicity in and profitability from the sin of others, even if it is the satisfaction of feeling you are on higher moral ground

What was Jesus more worried about—the sexual sin of a woman caught in the very act of cheating on her husband or the pious men who lacked love and had so much judgment in their hearts that they wanted to kill her by stoning her to death?  (John 8:3-8.)  What troubled Jesus more—a sinful woman of the “city” (who by every indication was the village harlot) inappropriately touching and kissing his feet, or the judgmental thoughts of the pious Simon and Simon’s overall lack of empathy, which manifested itself in failing to extend even common courtesies to a dinner guest?  (Luke 7:36-50.)

Wasn’t Jesus saying that the sins of judgment, condemnation, piousness, lack of empathy, lack of understanding, lack of compassion and lack of courtesy—in a word, pride—were bigger issues for him than sexual sin?  Make no doubt about it, he never approved of sexual sin.  But he prioritized and juxtaposed“sin.”  And who were the heroes and who were the villains in these stories?

Yes, pornography is evil.  But the way we talk about it, the way we are fixated upon it, the way we preach about it … none of that will do any good unless we, ourselves, look inwardly and see our own complicity in this (and every other) modern-day plague or monster.  Until our dialogue regarding pornography, bullying or any other monster or plague “out there” includes a discussion of what we’ve done (and are doing) “in here” to contribute to it, we will never understand the true nature of evil and sin.  As Franciscan scholar Richard Rohr wrote recently, “You will keep projecting, fearing, and attacking it over there, instead of ‘gazing’ on it within and ‘weeping’ over it within yourself and all of us. The longer you gaze, the more you will see your own complicity in and profitability from the sin of others, even if it is the satisfaction of feeling you are on higher moral ground.”

We cannot transform suffering and evil in the world unless and until we, ourselves, are transformed.

We create most of the monsters we fear.  Why?  So we can hide from our shadow selves and bask in the false light that our spiritual lynch mob torches and candlelight vigils cast us.  Attacking monsters feeds the ego.  If even at the subconscious level, it feeds our pride, which is the ironic self-deception that we are better than someone else experienced only when we are insecure enough to value superiority.  But isn’t our pride the more sinister monster and the more devious addiction?

We can decry the evils of pornography upon every housetop.  We can preach a thousand sermons about how wicked and corrupt it is.  But no amount of condemning, shaming or guilting will ever do any good unless we are willing to set aside our pride, look deeper, see ourselves as part of the problem, and then learn how to become the embodiment of compassion and love—in a word, repent—which is what God has really called us to do.  (See Matthew 5:48; 1 John 4:8.)  We cannot transform suffering and evil in the world unless and until we, ourselves, are transformed.  Until then we won’t transform suffering and evil, we’ll transmit it!

It is you, and it is me.

Would pornography exist in a world that was built to love?  If our emotional culture was loving and nurturing (instead of so proud and competitive) would people need to turn to pornography for escape from emotional pain and trauma?  If our emotional culture was compassionate and empathetic (instead of so proud and perfectionist) would we want to desecrate the sacredness of sex?  If we were good at building and maintaining strong and healthy relationships would pornography really be a temptation?

You want to fix the plague of pornography?  Learn how to love.  You want to solve the drug addiction and opioid crisis?  Learn how to love.  You want to stop school shootings?  Learn how to love.  Teach your children to do likewise.  As we try to navigate a world that is more confusing than ever, that is filled with changing values and social upheaval, that is filled with random acts of terror, and where, as Jesus said, men’s hearts will fail them (Matthew 24:12), I am convinced that the only hope for the world is learning how to love.  Yes, let’s fight pornography.  But let us not be distracted by the “otherness” of it.

I have seen the monster.  It is you and it is me.

For more ideas and discussion on this and other related issues, please read my books Gethsemamnesia and Built to Love, available now in paperback.

What Dying Taught Me About Living

What Dying Taught Me About Living

Dying reveals your true self.  When you are dying, you want more than anything to let those around you know how much you love them.  Your greatest fear is that you will leave this world, leaving those you love questioning, for the rest of their lives, how much you loved them.  You find that words are clumsy and inadequate.  You are overwhelmed with memories and emotions of having loved those you love.  Your deepest yearning is to convey love.  You are overcome by an instinct to show and express love.  It eclipses everything else.  Trust me.  Nothing else matters.  Dying reveals who and what you truly are—that you were built to love.

Being a healer matters so much more than being a heeder.

Dying teaches us how to live.  Jesus, more than any other mortal, understood this.  The one who was born to die, and who knew his expiration date, tried so very hard to teach us this.  For him, relationships mattered more than rites:

“Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.”

(Matthew 5:23-24.)

All the temple attendance in the world won’t heal a broken relationship.  The counsel to leave your gift before offering it at the temple altar suggests that the rituals, themselves, lack power to heal broken relationships.  Piousness is not some magical talisman.  And, by all means, participation in the rituals is not synonymous with righteousness.  Relationships matter so much more than rituals.  Relationships also matter more than rules.  That’s why Jesus healed on the Sabbath.  (See Matthew 12:10-14.)  Being a healer matters so much more than being a heeder.  How could we have missed this!

Jesus invites us into a prioritized life, not a pious life.

Having faith centered in Jesus Christ means that we accept his priorities and have the courage to live them.  It is so much more than having faith in Christ.  It is so much more than merely believing him.  It is having the faith of Christ—the faith to join in his atonement and be “crucified with Christ” so that “the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”  (Galatians 2:20.)  Notice the prepositional distinction—not “in” but “of.”  This invites you to participate with him—to follow him (Matthew 4:19)—in a life devoted to the same priorities.  Those priorities are always grounded in love, healing and reconciliation.

The knowledge that death is looming has a way of prioritizing things.

Death invites us into a prioritized life, not a pious life.

Jesus invites us into a prioritized life, not a pious life.

If God is love (1 John 4:8), and if we were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), then we were built to love.  This is what I realized when I realized that I was dying.  Now that I continue to be among the living, loving is my priority.

Don’t let a day go by without letting those you love know that you love them.  Live your life in a manner that leaves no doubt about who or what your priorities are.  Death can come at any time.  (Luke 12:20.)  Life and love are lived moment to moment.

The Parable of the Mona Lisa

The Parable of the Mona Lisa

“Deification of the established order is the perpetual revolt, the continual mutiny against God.”

-Soren Kierkegaard, Practice in Christianity (1848)

There once was a man who wanted to behold the Mona Lisa.  He sold all he had and traveled to the Louvre in Paris, France.  He paid his entrance fee.  That was expected.  What was unexpected, however, was how lost and confused he soon felt in the revered Museum.  You see, his experience in the Museum was dominated by the tour guides and the Museum itself.   At every turn, it seemed, Museum tour guides and staff, both senior and junior, stepped forward and encumbered his ability to experience the Mona Lisa.

The morning faded into the afternoon and the afternoon into the evening with one tour guide after another talking about the greatness of the Museum—it is, after all, the only place on earth that houses the “true” Mona Lisa.  But the tour guides spent more time talking about the Museum and its history and policies than the Mona Lisa.  In fact, he didn’t even see the Mona Lisa.

Dissertations about Museum hierarchy were given.  The tour guides spoke often about the head tour guide and how he is the only one with keys to the entire Museum.  Others boasted about their past interactions with other, more senior tour guides.  Others spoke about the rules of the Museum and how to get back into it if you’ve happened to get out of it.  Many spoke about the dangers of not listening to the tour guides, which is the surest way to become lost and find yourself outside the Museum.  There was mention of the Mona Lisa here and there but it certainly wasn’t the focus of the tour.

The man became more and more confused and disoriented.  He really felt out of place as he heard others around him comment, “this is the best tour I’ve been on for a long time” or “these tour guides are amazing!”  He asked others on the tour why they felt this way because—while the tour guides were obviously extremely knowledgeable about the Museum, its history, its policies, its goals, its objectives, etc. and were clearly in charge of the Museum (he didn’t question that)—he, unlike the others, was somewhat disappointed and frustrated with the tour.  He wanted to better understand the Mona Lisa, not Museum policy.  He came to behold the Mona Lisa, not the Museum or its tour guides.

Just then a female tour guide with a small group of children passed.  They were singing, “Follow the tour guide, follow the tour guide …”  He went back to his apartment that evening downtrodden.  It all seemed so strange to him.  Everyone seemed so fixated on the Museum, Museum history, Museum policy, Museum rules, the Museum code of conduct, the Museum dress code, etc.  All of this seemed so out of place to him and made him question the very purpose for going to the Museum in the first place.  Were all these things greater than the Mona Lisa?  Was there something wrong with him?

He heard more than one tour guide talk, with glowing adoration, about the chief tour guide and how important it was to understand that he had all the keys to the Museum and that everyone that volunteered in the Museum received their keys from him.  They talked about the succession of Museum keys and how they had been passed down from one chief tour guide to the next for generations.  Yes.  Sure.  But what did that have to do with his experiencing the Mona Lisa?  What seemed to him as things that ought to be only periphery or tangential to the Museum experience seemed to be at its very core.  It was almost surreal to him.

The area of the Museum that housed the Mona Lisa, he remembers being told, is locked off to everyone and only the head tour guide has the keys to it.  Apparently, he lends his keys (or duplicates) to other tour guides that he trusts in order to give people access to the Mona Lisa.  The man could accept this fact.  Indeed, it made perfect sense to him that not everyone could be trusted with keys to the portion of the Museum that housed the Mona Lisa.  He could accept their authority, but he wondered why they were always brandishing it before those who came to see the Mona Lisa.  He could accept the internal Museum policy but wondered what difference that made to his beholding of the Mona Lisa.

The man woke the next morning and went back to the Museum.  He was greeted by a happy-looking tour guide with a German accent, who riveted his attention on the Mona Lisa.  His words were edifying.  The man learned something new about the Mona Lisa.  But then the happy German tour guide went away and another took his place, and then another, and then another.  There were general Museum authorities and subordinate Museum authorities, each of whom looked the same, dressed the same, spoke the same and shared the same basic message about the Museum.

Some of these tour guides mentioned the Mona Lisa but, for the most part, it was back to a discussion about the Museum, Museum policy, what was expected of those in the Museum, how the Museum visitors should dress, act and conduct themselves; how the head tour guide had keys to the entire Museum, how this was the best Museum, etc.  By now, the man was growing very weary of the Museum, and he went home exhausted and confused.  He felt that he still had not truly experienced the Mona Lisa.

He got a glimpse of the Mona Lisa here and there.  But all the distractions he had to endure in the Museum and from the Museum staff soured his experience, were extremely distracting, and wearied and troubled him deeply.  The man knew he loved the Mona Lisa.  He knew that the Mona Lisa was housed in the Museum.  He knew that the head tour guide had all the keys to the Museum.  And he knew that he wanted to behold the Mona Lisa and couldn’t do so if the head tour guide and the general tour guides denied the man access to the Museum.  Had they, too, gone to the Louvre to behold the Mona Lisa only to become infatuated with the Museum?  Did he have to constantly endure all the trivial and peripheral distractions that went along with beholding the Mona Lisa?  Was there some way the man could make the tour better without offending the tour guides and getting kicked out of the Museum?  How had the Museum come to this, and did it always have to be this way?