Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Judgmentalism Is a Form of Violence

(Pair of Old Testament Prophets, Gabriel Joly, 1530
Detroit Institute of Arts)

"I vividly remember encountering a man who never judged anyone," writes Henri Nouwen in The Road to Peace. (p. 35) 

Are you kidding me? Nouwen met a person who never judged anyone? Amazing!

Then I remembered a man who never judged anyone. We're friends. As soon as I read Nouwen's amazing claim I thought of this friend. I never, in countless hours of dialogue, remember him bad-mouthing anyone. Amazing! Super-natural ("beyond nature").

When Nouwen met the nonjudgmental man he was stunned, and didn't know how to act. He was so used to being around people who are full of opinions of others that he felt lost. "What do you talk about," asked Nouwen, "when you have nobody to discuss or judge?" (Ib.) Ask yourself that question. If you have nothing left to talk about then you are in spiritual trouble.

Slowly, Nouwen discovered that this man did not judge him. Nouwen experienced a freedom in this friendship. He writes: "I realized that I had nothing to defend, nothing to hide, and could be myself in his presence without fear." (Ib.) A new kind of conversation opened up that wasn't based on competing or comparing, but on celebrating what any two Jesus-followers have in common; viz., Christ is us, the hope of glory.

Judgmentalism is a form of violence. It causes damage, and destroys the unity Christ achieved on the cross when he brought down the dividing walls of hostility. (Ephesians 3) Nouwen writes: "Judging others implies that somehow we stand outside of the place where weak, broken, sinful human beings dwell. It is an arrogant and pretentious act that shows blindness not only toward others but also toward ourselves." (Ib., 34)  As Paul writes in Romans 2:1-4:

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someon e else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

As Christ is formed in us (Galatians 4:19) we are freed from the heavy burden of judging other people. 

Pray to be free of all violence within.

The Most Exciting Ending to a College Football Game I've Seen

For one of the most exciting endings to a college football game you'll ever see click HERE.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Gospel According to Me (Passive Nihilism)

In their essay "The Gospel According to 'Me'" Simon Critchley and Jamieson Webster write about America's cult of self-worship. The more "nones" there are, the more we can expect to see a turn to "me." After all, if there is no God, then there's only "me." They write:

"Despite the frequent claim that we are living in a secular age defined by the death of God, many citizens in rich Western democracies have merely switched one notion of God for another — abandoning their singular, omnipotent (Christian or Judaic or whatever) deity reigning over all humankind and replacing it with a weak but all-pervasive idea of spirituality tied to a personal ethic of authenticity and a liturgy of inwardness. The latter does not make the exorbitant moral demands of traditional religions, which impose bad conscience, guilt, sin, sexual inhibition and the rest."

People are moving from the idea of God to the idea of self. (See Christian Smith's helpful work on Moralistic Therapeutic Deism - see 
here, and here.) 

Surely Critchley and Webster are correct when they observe:

"A postwar existentialist philosophy of personal liberation and “becoming who you are” fed into a 1960s counterculture that mutated into the most selfish conformism, disguising acquisitiveness under a patina of personal growth, mindfulness and compassion. Traditional forms of morality that required extensive social cooperation in relation to a hard reality defined by scarcity have largely collapsed and been replaced with this New Age therapeutic culture of well-being that does not require obedience or even faith — and certainly not feelings of guilt. Guilt must be shed; alienation, both of body and mind, must be eliminated, most notably through yoga practice after a long day of mind-numbing work."

The goal of human life is personal well-being, rather than a collective endeavor towards a greater good. "The stroke of genius in the ideology of authenticity is that it doesn’t really require a belief in anything, and certainly not a belief in anything that might transcend the serene and contented living of one’s authentic life and baseline well-being. In this, one can claim to be beyond dogma."

The American Dream is now one of "pure psychological transformation." Critchley and Webster call this "passive nihilism." This is an ethic of personal authenticity, "a
t the heart of which is a profound selfishness and callous disregard of others. As the ever-wise Buddha says, “You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”" 

An uncritical brainwashed "authenticity" leads to a "deep cynicism." We see this in the self-made "Eckhart Tolle's (not his real name) silly, money-making 
The Power of Now (yes, I did read it... in one setting in a bookstore...    :(  

Sadly, a lot of church culture is marketing itself this way. Critchley and Webster write:

"When the values of Judeo-Christian morality have been given a monetary and psychological incarnation — as in credit, debt, trust, faith and fidelity — can they exist as values? Is the prosperous self the only God in which we believe in a radically inauthentic world?"

Ironically the uncritical zombielike (flesh-without-spirit) humanity of today is becoming more and more inauthentic in its none-ish staggering towards the Oz of the false self.

Identity, Community, and Freedom

Praying at Redeemer
We are loved unconditionally by God. This means there is no "If...  then" in God's love. God cannot not-love. God never thinks "If John performs well, then I will love him," or "If John fails, then I will withhold my love from him." I am "beloved" by God.

True Christian community is rooted in belovedness. In true community belovedness has become embodied. Belovedness is a triple helix wrapping people in a garment of love. This is so crucial, so central, that without this there will be chaos and conflict and competition and control. Without love, the community will be nothing.

1. Know that you are one of God's beloved sons or daughters.

2. Cultivate community on this truth.

Henri Nouwen writes:

"When we are aware that we are the beloved, and when we have friends around us with whom we live in community, we can do anything. We’re not afraid anymore. We’re not afraid to knock on the door while somebody is dying. We’re not afraid to open a discussion with a person who underneath all the glitter is much in need of ministry. We’re free." (Nouwen,  A Spirituality of Living, pp. 38-39)

My Book + Study Guide - Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

My book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God, in paperback HERE and HERE.

as a Kindle book HERE,

and hard cover HERE

I am writing a Study Guide to Praying for my book. This guide will not be published as a book, but will be available free as a Word file. It will be designed for groups who want to read and study my book together.

I expect to have the Study Guide finished by September 1.

If you would like a copy of the Study Guide please send me an email. I'll send it to you on (or close to) September 1, 2016.  My email address is: 


1– What Is Praying? 
2– Praying And The Nature Of God 
3– Praying As Relationship With God 
4– Praying Is Conferencing With God 
5– Praying And Listening 
6– Praying And Discernment
7– Praying For Myself 
8– Praying For Others 
9– Praying And Mono-Tasking 
10– Praying And Community 
11– Praying And The Kingdom 
12– Praying And Self-Denial 
13– Praying And Remembering 
14– Why I Pray 
15– The Need For Pray-Ers 
16– A Call To Praying 
17– Questions About Praying
18– Prayer And Death: A Note To My Dying Friends

Monday, August 22, 2016

Freedom From Two Illusions

Teaching in Eldoret, Kenya
When I was teaching in Eldoret, Kenya, I told the Kenyan and Ugandan pastors that the #1 thing they need to do is stay tight with God. Abide in Christ. Dwell in the shadow of the Almighty. Send roots to the river of God. Live, 24/7, in the fortress of God. 
That's what you need to do. That's what your people need you to do. Because what they need is not you, but God. They need "Christ in you, the hope of glory."

Dwell in God's presence and he will free you from the illusion of your indispensability. I told these African pastors that they are not needed by God. God is able to accomplish his purposes with or without them. But, God loves them and wants to use them. And he will, if they trust in him and abide in him.

We can't change other people. Only God can do that. So I told the pastors: "Today you can let go of your striving to change other people."

Some of them told me how novel and freeing this was. I added, "But God can change you."

The change happens as we hang tight with God. You cannot consistently nurture the "in Christ" relationship and remain unchanged. And, as a bonus, as you make God your Shepherd (in practice, not theory; viz., trust in him) he "restores your soul." So, you don't have to "work on your own self." Just step into God's presence, stay there, and the Restorer of Souls proceeds to strip away all that has covered over your soul to get to the original "in God's image" psuche.

The changes God works in you will not be just for you, but for others. This is called influence. W
hat God works in us can and will influence other people, by God's Spirit.

Be free of two illusions:

  1. The illusion of your indispensability
  2. The illusion that you can change people

Today, abide in Christ. As he speaks, obey. This is the place of all authentic spiritual formation.

The Ontological Argument (Video)

I'll present this argument in my first Philosophy of Religion class this Thursday.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Impracticality of Seeking Truth in Material Objects


I'm in agreement with this quote from Elliot Milco ("Christian Identity in the Workplace"):

"Lately I have been revisiting Plato, and it strikes me that the basic problem of Christianity in the secular workplace is not the selective distribution of “identity” status or the uneven application of liberal principles. Our problem is that we live in a society as hostile to the aims of the philosophical life—a life in pursuit of moral integrity, the truth, and union with God—as was Athens in the time of Socrates. Our fellow citizens do not understand our preference for spiritual goods over material prosperity. They despise us because we disapprove of pleasures everyone else accepts. Chiefly, though, I think they are impatient with our impractical fixation on intangible truths."

This week I begin my sixteenth year of teaching philosophy at Monroe County Community College. I'll teach two Logic classes and one Philosophy of Religion class. If my students are hostile to philosophy I will change most of their minds about this. Some, even, will consider majoring or minoring in philosophy.

We live in a profoundly ignorant culture. This deep ignorance is fueled by social media as anyone can make belief-claims without understanding or justification. Ignorance breeds hostility. Some of my students, prior to my classes, will be hostile to spiritual truths. As class progresses some of them will deconvert from their prereflective physicalism to consider something like the Platonic worldview.

Do the followers of Jesus focus on intangible truths? Yes. But note this: "truth" itself does not exist as a tangible reality. That is, "truth" is not some sort of "thing" that can be empirically verified. Hence all who seek for truth in tangible realities are fundamentally misguided. Our fixation on intangible truths (the only kind) seems impractical.

That's some late night rambling. Time for bed...

Elemental Chaos and the Presence of God (The Presence-Driven Church)

Cloud formation, Monroe County

Gordon Fee called it the "presence motif." It runs throughout Scripture like a holy river, from its source in Genesis to the glassy sea of Revelation.

It's in the garden in Genesis 1 and the final adoration chapters of Revelation. It's in the Psalmist doorkeeper's desire and the Pauline "in Christ."

Moses refuses to move without it.

Jesus tells his disciples to primordially abide in it.

Fee refers to it as "God's empowering presence."

It's "Emmanuel, God with us" as an experiential reality rather than a theological theory.

Don't mistake it for performance. It has nothing to do with entertainment. Instead of an audience voting with their thumbs, faces are on the ground. To know this earth-shattering presence one must be stripped and restored like a piece of wood undergoing sandpaper and knife.

Ruth Haley Barton writes:

"It takes profound willingness to invite God to search us and know us at the deepest level of our being, allowing him to show us the difference between the performance-oriented drivenness of the false self and the deeper calling to lead from our authentic self in God. There is an elemental chaos that gets stirred up when we have been in God’s presence enough that we can recognize pretense and performance and every other thing that bolsters our sense of self. It is unnerving to see evidence that these patterns are still at work—perhaps just a bit more subtly—in our everyday lives." (Barton, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry, p. 126)

For the past forty years I have taken every Tuesday afternoon to place myself before The Restorer of My Soul. This Tuesday, for the two thousandth time, I will pray "Search me, O God, and know my heart."

He will. He does.

He overturns the tables of salesmanship and drives the market downward.

He crucifies any residual performance-drivenness.

In his presence I am stripped away.

He restores my soul.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Fear of Solitude as a Cause of Texting

Downtown Monroe
M.I.T.'s Sherry Turkle, in her brilliant Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, argues for solitude as the foundation of authentic community. Turkle dedicates an entire chapter to this, and opens it with a quote from actor and comedian Louis C.K. He writes:

"You need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something. That’s what the phones are taking away. The ability to just sit there. That’s just being a person...

Because underneath everything in your life there is that thing, that empty, forever empty. That knowledge that it’s all for nothing and you’re alone. It’s down there. And sometimes when things clear away and you’re not watching and you’re in your car and you start going, Ooh, here it comes that I’m alone, like it starts to visit on you just like this sadness. Life is tremendously sad. . . . 

That’s why we text and drive. Pretty much 100 percent of people driving are texting. And they’re killing and murdering each other with their cars. But people are willing to risk taking their life and ruining another because they don’t want to be alone for a second. . . " (Turkle, pp. 59-60)

Why so much texting? One cause is: the fear of solitude. The fear of insignificance. The fear of being forgotten. Insecurity of the self. Loss of identity. The need for authentic community, which will not be achieved via texting.

I write about solitary praying in my book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.