Spiritual Adventures in the Workplace

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The Lady or the Tiger?

I’ve been talking about my belief that God is involved in the ongoing Story of Life. In this YouTube video, I tell about an assignment I had in high school, shortly after I became a Christian, and what happened when I prayed about the assignment.

Click here to watch the video. It will open in a separate screen.

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The Story of Life and My Testimony

As a fairly new Christian, I was surprised to discover that my testimony seemed like a different genre from the testimonies of other Christians. Mine seemed much more secular than theirs. That was how I started recognizing the importance of the Story of Life. I talk about that in this video.

Meditating on the Story of Life

This is the first of a series of videos on the practice of meditating on the Story of Life. For most of my life as a Christian, I have deliberately kept in mind the Story of Life when I’m praying. In this video, I use The Junior Wall Chart of History to explain what that means and why I find it helpful in my spiritual life.

Why Congregational Histories Aren’t Congregational

My article, “The Problem with Congregational Histories” is on pages 28-29 of the latest issue of The Congregationalist. I argue that “congregational histories are not written in a way that is even remotely ‘congregational.'”

Click here to find out why.

(It will take you to the September issue, then scroll down to page 28.)

First Review of Small World on Amazon (USA)

My book Small World has received its first review on Amazon (USA):

“This is a small book (less than 150 pages) that is a page turner but not one to read quickly. It includes philosophical, political, social and a bit of religious dilemmas. While it is a mystery it is very thought provoking.”

I also received an email the other day from a young man who said that he “thoroughly loved it,” and added:

“I have never heard of a plot line anything like it before and loved the various twists and turns. I really felt like you were able to flesh out the characters very well in such a short time frame.”
If you’ve read the book (or either of my other books), I’d love to hear from you! You can either leave a comment here or click here to go to my new author site on WordPress.

A Story about How We’re All Connected

I haven’t contributed much to this blog lately, because I’ve been putting the final touches on my latest book, Small World. It’s a parable about the unseen connections between us all, and in the past year, I’ve felt that it speaks to the issues we’re facing as a people (at least here in America).

A journalist and a reclusive professor have 10 days to find someone named Basil or the world will be destroyed. They know nothing about him except his first name. They have, however, discovered a communication device that gives them clues, but only the Professor can read it, and the journalist has excellent reasons for doubting the professor’s sanity.

They soon realize that they are links in a chain, and that each person in that chain will bring them closer to their destination, but the stakes become higher with each new acquaintance. Along the way, they must kidnap a Reality TV star, trust a woman with a mysterious past, and get the cooperation of a dysfunctional family of clones, all while eluding competing journalists, gangsters, and soldiers.

It’s a comedy with a serious intent. And I hope my readers will come away with a new appreciation for the phrase, “We are not alone.”

Here are links to the main retailers:

Amazon (paperback and Kindle)

Barnes & Noble (paperback and Nook)

Smashwords (multiple eBook formats)

Kobo (eBook)

(Apple iBooks has the book but I can’t locate the URL. If you have the iBooks app, you can search for it that way.)

How’s It SUPPOSED to Be with Our Souls?

You’ve probably heard the old question, “How is it with your soul?”

In most religious circles I’ve been in, we’re reminded from time to time that we should be asking each other this, but here’s what we do instead. Person A asks Person B, with a cock of the head, “How are you doing?” because Person A isn’t comfortable prying into Person B’s spiritual life. In response, Person B talks about her aches and pains and woes. Person A empathizes, commiserates, and promises to pray for Person B. And this is all fine, because we ought to care about each other and bear each other’s burdens.

But that’s not the same thing as asking each other about the state of our souls.

What we’re missing is the fact that we Christians are supposed to be caught up in the most exciting project ever, and we inquire about each other’s progress as a way of spurring each other on toward accomplishment of the seemingly-impossible goal that’s been set before us. That goal, in New Testament parlance, is to “go on toward perfection” (Hebrews 6:1 NRSV). But to put it in less grandiose terms, it is to become, as fully as possible, the people God created us to be.

In order to understand what sort of answer would be appropriate in response to the question, “How is it with your soul?” we should first ask ourselves, “How is it supposed to be with our souls?”

And here is just one answer. There are many, many others, but this one’s ambitious enough. Christ says, “[T]hose who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life” (John 4:14 NRSV).

That’s a metaphor, of course, but all metaphors refer to something. What is this one referring to, do you suppose? I interpret it as promising a spiritual life that is not only deeply satisfying but immediately available — an inexhaustible source of refreshment within oneself. You don’t have to stand in line at a drinking fountain. It’s within you.

But it’s more than that. It’s not just a form of self-satisfaction. What we’re enjoying is the presence of Jesus Christ. He’s the Living Water. The goal is for us to be imbibing him — in sips, if that’s all we can manage, or in great gulps if we can — and finding a refreshment and satisfaction that are available nowhere else.

Let’s take this one text as an example. If we have a prayer partner or good friend in the faith, and it seems too artificial to ask them, “How is it with your soul?” we could instead have a conversation about the progress each of us is making toward experiencing that gushing spring of water within us.

Have we asked Christ to give us this water? If not, why not? If we have, what’s been the outcome? If there hasn’t been any obvious response to that prayer, let’s talk about it (or better yet, pray about it together) and see if we can figure out what’s hindering us. If there has been a positive response, let’s encourage each other by talking about it, and let’s see what we can do to increase our ability to drink even more freely.

See what I’m saying? The whole point is for us to help each other get deeper into a relationship with the Living God.

Lately, I’ve been particularly impressed by the kinds of metaphors Christ used to describe the Christian life. They were some of the most enjoyable things in life: eating, drinking, partying (he used the party metaphor so often, his enemies ended up using it against him), basking in the sunlight, playing like children in the marketplace — indeed, even becoming like little children again. As enjoyable as each of these things are in human life, they’re metaphors of even greater spiritual possibilities. They’re glimpses of where we’re supposed to be going, both as individuals and as churches. They’re examples of how it’s supposed to be with our souls.

How is it with your soul?

An Unusual Setting for Worship

This blog is a place for me to share my meditations on the subject of workplace spirituality, and there is one piece of music in particular that I use to meditate on this theme. You may be surprised by what it is: it’s the Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, by Benjamin Britten. It was written in order to teach children about the various sections of the orchestra and how they all fit together, but I use it for something else: to meditate on how God’s purposes move forward even in the midst of all our busy-ness.

Click hear to listen to what I’m talking about. (It will take you to my other site, Mythic Adventures, because I have audio capability over there.)

The Light That Is In You

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The sun was shining today in Southwest Michigan. That doesn’t happen a lot this time of year, so everybody around here was very appreciative.

We all know how deeply we crave sunlight, especially when we’re deprived of it. We don’t just want to see it; we feel a need to get out into it. We want to make actual, physical contact with the sun’s rays. And when we don’t have a chance to do so for any significant length of time, we feel the loss.

Christ uses a number of powerful metaphors to describe the life that he offers, and here’s one of them. He promises that we can have the light inside us.

“Your eye is the lamp of the body,” he says. “If your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light” (Luke 11:34; Matthew 6:22 NRSV).

When I was a young man, I embarked on a flight during a blinding snowstorm. The weather was bad, but apparently not bad enough to ground us. So we took off, and I couldn’t see a thing outside the window of the plane. But in a matter of minutes, we got above the clouds, and — up there — it was a bright, sunny day. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was. I always knew in theory that the sun was there above the storm clouds, but its reality meant very little when I was in the middle of a blizzard. From that day on, I’ve always tried to remind myself that the sun is still there in the midst of any storm, both figuratively and literally.

But this scripture promises much more than that. It’s not just telling us to believe that God’s light persists even in moments of darkness. Christ is promising us that we can experience that light within ourselves. And that light will shine even on the darkest of days.

We’ve been going through some pretty dark days lately. As citizens of a free country, we Americans have a responsibility to keep up on what our elected officials are doing, particularly if we believe that our freedoms are being endangered. But I’m seeing a lot of foot soldiers faltering spiritually the past few weeks. I know I have been. As the storm clouds gather, it’s so tempting to fixate on the darkness. And the more we do, the more we are tempted to feel anger… and even hatred… toward those whom we identify as the enemy.

But as followers of Jesus Christ, we have a responsibility that far outweighs our need to keep up on the news. We are called to be the light of the world, but we cannot send forth those rays of light if they are not radiating from within us. It is our Number One task, through these dark days, to make sure that our souls are fed, and that the Light of Christ within us does not grow dim. Everyone around us needs us to keep stoking the flame of the Spirit within us. That’s the most important thing we can do now.

For it is not our light that the world needs, but His. We are the light of the world only because He is, if He lives within us. But if the light that is in us is darkness, then how great the darkness — both for ourselves and for those who are depending on us for strength and inspiration.

It was good to see the sun today. But I aspire, more than ever, to tend to the flame within, and to filter everything that happens through the light of the Son.

Long Before There Was Talk of “False News”…

I teach philosophy, and one of the subtopics that I have always emphasized in my teaching is epistemology — the study of knowledge. This is where we ask questions like, “How do you know that such-and-such is true?” “How reliable is this information?” “How can we tell the difference between truth and falsehood?”

I encourage my students to face epistemological questions before they go on to other issues, because I want them to be conscious about the criteria they use in forming judgments about things. It’s a tough sell. If they’re interested in philosophy, it’s usually because they want to dive right into the meat of it — they want to talk about the existence of God or the nature of Time and Space or the metaphysical foundations of ethics. And if they’re not interested in philosophy, they have even less patience for a professor who questions what they think they already know.

Over the years I’ve taught a course called “Theory of Knowledge” that’s designed to engage incoming freshmen who aren’t interested in philosophy. It’s divided up into sections that are meant to appeal to their interests. One part I’ve always enjoyed is the section on “How We Know What Happened When We Weren’t There.” Under this section I put historical knowledge, but also “The News.” I have them read newspaper clippings and discuss the questions, “What happened, and how do you know what happened, since you weren’t there?”

At first, it all seems cut and dried. They tell me “what happened” just as it’s described in the clipping they read. But when I ask them how they know, it’s not always easy for them to say. In some cases, sources are given by name and reference is made to that person’s claim to authority: “according to Officer Jones, who arrived on the scene shortly afterwards” or “said Jane Smith, an eyewitness.” In other cases, we have only a vague idea where the writer got his information: “according to sources close to the Governor” or “said a witness who refused to give her name.” There are even cases in which the writer simply says, “The Courier has learned that…”

Before long, my students are in the game. First we try to reconstruct where the journalist got his information, and that’s not always an easy thing to do. Then we ask ourselves, “How reliable are these sources? Are they in a position to know what they’re claiming to know, or are they speculating? Do we have any way of knowing whether they’re honest? Can we think of any ways in which they could benefit from convincing us that their version of the story is true?”

We also want to pay attention to discrepancies among the sources, and if there are any, then we ask ourselves, “Why do these people offer differing accounts of what happened? Even if we assume that they’re all sincere, can we think of reasons why they might have viewed the event in different ways?”

And so on.

Of course, my cards are on the table. I teach my students to be cautious. “You weren’t there,” I tell them. “You’re relying on people you don’t know to tell you what happened, based on what other people you don’t know told them. The thing is, you’re forming judgments all the time — about big and little things — and those judgments inform you as you go about living your life. Much of what you think you ‘know,’ you received just like this… from ‘undisclosed sources’ and from people you’ve never met… and never will meet.”

We’re called to recognize the truth and be liberated by it (John 8:31-32). We’re not to be conformed to this world but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). The New Testament word translated “repent” (metanoeite) means to change our minds (Mark 1:15). The Apostle Paul challenges us to “take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ” (II Corinthians 10:5, NIV). And yet we take so much for granted. Much of what we consider “knowledge” has passed through our minds unfiltered.

So… are you wondering what I think about all this talk about “false news”? The truth is, I’m horrified.

Why? Because nobody’s talking about criteria. They’re all just hurling accusations at each other. And even when they’re trying to sound professional, they’re making claims they can’t back up.

There’s a chart making the rounds of social media right now, telling us which of the news outlets are trustworthy and which are not. But what is the chart based on? There seems to be an assumption that “Mainstream” news outlets are trustworthy and all others can be judged by how far “right” or “left” they are of the Mainstream. But by what criteria do we identify a media source as “Mainstream”? And even then, by what principle can we argue that the Mainstream represents the truth?

As I’ve been telling my students for over 20 years, you have got to be critical of what you hear, regardless of the source. As a consumer of “the news,” you’ve always got to ask yourself, “What actually happened, and how can we be sure, since we weren’t there?” We have no assurances. We never did. It’s up to us to filter, to question, to sift, and to place our beliefs before God, asking to have our eyes opened to the truth.

The people who are harping about “false news” seem to be trying to discredit all other sources of information so that we will listen exclusively to them. They want us to believe them — not somebody else. We are therefore in an extremely dangerous situation, in which our sources of information are being called into question, but no one is laying out clear guidelines for knowing who to trust.

If you’ve never given any thought to epistemology before, it’s time to bone up on it. In the School of Life, it’s a required course now… for all of us.

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