I’m preaching for a bunch of preachers in two weeks, at an event called the Festival of Homiletics, or as many of us affectionately call it: Homies.
In preparation, I’ve been thinking a lot about the text below from Matthew. I’d love to know what you hear in it, especially as it speaks to our current context. Jesus’ words about “what comes out of the mouth” speak to me about cheap talk, the proliferation of words in a world of cable news and Twitter, and yes, the rise of snarkiness.
And then what’s going on with Jesus’ reaction to the Canaanite woman in the second section? It’s not every day you hear a word from the Lord that makes you want to say “Ooh, burn!” (Yes I’m a child of the 80s.)
What is up with Jesus’ reaction? How do you hear this story?
I’m especially interested in thoughts from you non-churchy types.
10 Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, ‘Listen and understand: 11it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.’ 12Then the disciples approached and said to him, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees took offence when they heard what you said?’ 13He answered, ‘Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind.* And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.’ 15But Peter said to him, ‘Explain this parable to us.’ 16Then he said, ‘Are you also still without understanding?17Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.’
21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon.22Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ 23But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ 24He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ 26He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ 27She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ 28Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.
Several months ago a pastor friend gave my book to a gal who’d been visiting his church. She really liked it, and for this self-proclaimed seeker, a major point in its favor was “It’s very Buddhist!”
She has a point. I write about living Sabbathly, which means that whether we are at work or play, we strive to be fully present: neither hurried nor sluggish, but awake and alive. This kind of Sabbath mindset is connected to mindfulness and attentiveness, both of which are traditionally associated with Eastern religion and philosophy.
But Abraham Joshua Heschel, a rabbi, wrote that Sabbath is not just a date, but an atmosphere. And as I told the group last weekend at the Oasis, you don’t have to stray far from the Christian tradition to see mindfulness and attentiveness in play. In fact, Jesus strikes me as a very mindful dude.
This is the guy who told distracted but well-intentioned Martha to focus on the “one thing needful.” I’m convinced he was not telling her to drop her work in the kitchen; after all, he relied on the hospitality of his friends for his itinerant ministry. Rather he wanted her to live with intention. Jesus demonstrates and offers an abundant life, but his abundance is not about sheer copiousness. Rather it flows out of simplicity, and a sense of depth.
This all seems to be an argument against multitasking, which research tells us isn’t really possible anyway. When we are multitasking, we are really switching quickly between tasks, with a loss of effectiveness each time we make the switch.
And yet, it is possible to be in a state of flow, which we might call multitasking at its best. Sometimes people call it being “in the zone.” Those moments don’t happen often for me, but when they do, it’s such a joy, even when the work is hard or feels like “too much.”
Here’s what flow looks like: In the gospel of Mark, Jesus is on his way to heal Jairus’s daughter when he has an encounter with the so-called hemorrhaging woman. (Lord love the Baptist church of my childhood, how did I not know what the heck was the matter with her until I got to the Presbyterian Church?)
There’s a great little line, after the woman is healed of her twelve-year period, when Jesus calls her “daughter” and bids her to go in peace and healing. While he was still speaking, Mark says, Jairus’s associates come up and tell him that the little girl has died. Jesus overhears them and is able to respond. Did you catch that? He is speaking words of grace to one person even as he feels the pain of someone else.
That’s what true attentiveness looks like. Is there any doubt that Jesus was fully present with the woman? And yet his senses are so heightened that he is equally tuned in to a completely different situation.
Amazing. And such hard work.
Whether you call it mindfulness, flow, or living Sabbathly, when have you experienced this feeling? What helps create that sense in your own life?
The title of this post comes from Ray Wylie Hubbard’s song “Conversation with the Devil”:
I said, “Hotshot tell me this: which religion is the truest?”
He said, “There all about the same; Buddha was not a Christian, but Jesus woulda made a good Buddist.”
A lit class in 1961 tries to understand “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” They, um, miss the mark. O’Connor responds in part:
The meaning of a story should go on expanding for the reader the more he thinks about it, but meaning cannot be captured in an interpretation. If teachers are in the habit of approaching a story as if it were a research problem for which any answer is believable so long as it is not obvious, then I think students will never learn to enjoy fiction. Too much interpretation is certainly worse than too little, and where feeling for a story is absent, theory will not supply it.
My tone is not meant to be obnoxious. I am in a state of shock.
On Rick Warren’s “Daniel Plan” for fitness, which he cribs from the pages of an apocalyptic text:
I can’t begrudge anyone whatever motivation they need to live a healthier life, and Warren deserves respect for using some of his enormous cultural capital to fight obesity—especially now that biblical values are suddenly synonymous with consuming fried chicken sandwiches and waffle fries. But I am in awe at the superhuman degree of willful blindness it must take to read a profound story of conquest and resistance, of identity and assimilation, and discover, at the bottom of it all… a diet plan!
A story, sacred or secular, is a test of our empathy: an invitation to enter into the trials and hopes of a stranger. And it takes a remarkable self-centeredness to deliberately reject that invitation, to mine that story for anything that helps us grow our portfolios or shrink our waistlines, and throw away the husk of the human at its heart once we’ve sucked out all we can use. We can read selfishly just as we can act selfishly.
At 40, Julie Sanders is a mother of three from Portland, Ore. But when she was 16, Sanders belonged to a white supremacist group — and one night in 1988, she witnessed a murder. Since then, she’s kept the event a secret from most of her friends and family.
She has broken the cycle and raised thoughtful and courageous children—one of them is defending a cross-dresser in his high school who’s being hassled—but it doesn’t feel like enough:
“But, I just still feel like not a good person,” she says. “And I don’t forgive myself.”
Sanders recently completed a degree in social work. She plans to work with kids who are at risk of joining hate groups.
How “much” atonement is enough? Is it even fruitful to think that way?
These are closeup portraits of drag queens with half of the face made up and half au naturel. Says the artist: ‘My intention with Half-Drag is to capture both the male and the alter-ego female side of these subjects in one image.’
What is feminine? Masculine? Beautiful? Where does authenticity originate and how does it find expression? These are some of the questions that come to mind as I look at these.
Not to mention that the images are amazing. The makeup itself is artistry.
The first two weeks were a zen-like blur. I’ve never felt so calm and happy in my life. Never. And then I started actually getting stuff done. I bought copies of Homer, Plato, Aristotle, Herodotus, and Aeschylus. I was writing at an amazing pace. For the first time ever I seemed to be outpacing my editors.
Without the internet, everything seemed new to me. Every untweeted observation of daily life was more sacred. Every conversation was face to face or a phone call, and filled with a hundred fresh nuances. The air smelled better. My sentences seemed less convoluted. I lost a bit of weight.
Three months later, I don’t miss the internet at all. It doesn’t factor into my daily life. I don’t say to myself, “ugh, I wish I could just use the internet to do that.” It’s more like it doesn’t exist for me. I still say “ugh, I have to do that” — it’s just not the internet’s fault.
But now that not having internet is no longer new, just normal, the zen calm is gone. I don’t wake with the sunrise while chirping birds pull back the covers. I still have a job. I feel pressure and stress and frustration. I get lonely and bored. My articles aren’t always submitted on time. Sometimes my sentences aren’t good.
I’m just stock Paul Miller. No more Not-Using-The-Internet custom skin; I’m just myself. And it’s not all sunshine and epiphanies.
This is a long but clear excursus on how we decide what’s fair and what’s not as a society, for the purposes of, say, designing a tax policy. It’s hard to figure out where to excerpt, so read the whole thing, but here’s the crux: the veil of ignorance (a traditional way of evaluating what’s fair) has been replaced in many quarters by a “veil of opulence.” Chopping mercilessly at the article:
The idea behind the veil of ignorance is relatively simple: to force us to think outside of our parochial personal concerns in order that we consider others. What Rawls saw clearly is that it is not easy for us to put ourselves in the position of others. We tend to think about others always from our own personal vantage; we tend to equate another person’s predicament with our own. Imagining what it must be like to be poor, for instance, we import presumptions about available resources, talents and opportunities — encouraging, say, the homeless to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and to just get a job, any job, as if getting a job is as simple as filling out an application. Meanwhile, we give little thought to how challenging this can be for those who suffer from chronic illnesses or disabling conditions. What Rawls also saw clearly was that other classic principles of justice, like the golden rule or mutual benevolence, are subject to distortion precisely because we tend to do this.
Nowadays, the veil of ignorance is challenged by a powerful but ancient contender: the veil of opulence. While no serious political philosopher actually defends such a device — the term is my own — the veil of opulence runs thick in our political discourse. Where the veil of ignorance offers a test for fairness from an impersonal, universal point of view — “What system would I want if I had no idea who I was going to be, or what talents and resources I was going to have?” — the veil of opulence offers a test for fairness from the first-person, partial point of view: “What system would I want if I were so-and-so?” These two doctrines of fairness — the universal view and the first-person view — are both compelling in their own way, but only one of them offers moral clarity impartial enough to guide our policy decisions.
Those who don the veil of opulence may imagine themselves to be fantastically wealthy movie stars or extremely successful business entrepreneurs. They vote and set policies according to this fantasy. “If I were such and such a wealthy person,” they ask, “how would I feel about giving X percentage of my income, or Y real dollars per year, to pay for services that I will never see nor use?” We see this repeatedly in our tax policy discussions…
…The veil of opulence assumes that the playing field is level, that all gains are fairly gotten, that there is no cosmic adversity. In doing so, it is partial to the fortunate — for fortune here is entirely earned or deserved. The veil of ignorance, on the other hand, introduces the possibility that one might fall on hard luck or that one is not born into luck. It never once closes out the possibility that that same person might take steps to overcome that bad luck. In this respect, it is not partial to the fortunate but impartial to all. Some will win by merit, some will win by lottery. Others will lose by laziness, while still others will lose because the world has thrown them some unfathomably awful disease or some catastrophically terrible car accident. It is an illusion of prosperity to believe that each of us deserves everything we get.
Interesting example in the NFL draft.
One final link: I preached some time ago about Dan Savage and Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage sitting at table together. Here is the video of that debate. I haven’t watched any of it yet and caveat emptor because Dan is famously salty in his speech. (Though I should also warn about Brian Brown, since many people find his perspective much more offensive than an errant F-bomb.)
“People tend to think that Stephen King is anti-religious because he is a horror writer, but that’s completely mistaken,” says Zahl, a retired Episcopal priest who has written about King’s religious sensibility for Christianity Today magazine. “Several of his books are parables of grace in action.”
There is an actual body of literature devoted to King’s religious sensibility. Several pastors and authors say King displays a sophisticated grasp of theology in his books, and his stories are stuffed with biblical references and story lines taken straight from the Bible.
“If God brought lawsuits, Stephen King would face a charge of plagiarism,” says J.M. Rawbone, an English horror novelistwho has written an essay about the Christian themes in “The Stand.”
Núñez and his colleagues noticed that the tribespeople made spontaneous gestures when speaking about the past, present and future. They filmed and analysed the gestures and found that for the Yupno the past is always downhill, in the direction of the mouth of the local river. The future, meanwhile, is towards the river’s source, which lies uphill from Gua.
This was true regardless of the direction they were facing. For instance, if they were facing downhill when talking about the future, a person would gesture backwards up the slope. But when they turned around to face uphill, they pointed forwards.
In “Paul Among the People,” Sarah Ruden, a classical translator and scholar, uses ancient sources to look at Paul as he would have been seen in his own time and context. She finds him to be neither the scourge of homosexuality nor the rigid puritan that today’s social right and left have seen in him. By the standards of his day, Paul was a progressive social reformer.
Oh no she DI-INT!!!!
“Rather than repressing women, slaves or homosexuals, he made — for his time — progressive rules for the inclusion of all of them in the Christian community,” writes Ruden. Ironically, the passages where Paul often seems most intolerant to modern readers are precisely the ones where he was trying hardest to reduce the appalling brutality of the Roman world he knew.
Subtitle–Why nearly every sport except long-distance running is fundamentally absurd:
Hear me out, sports fans—I’m a basketball nut myself, and so the joke is as much on me as anyone. To see where I’m coming from, you can’t do better than examining basketball’s most physically talented player, Michael Jordan. He was hailed as nearly repealing the law of gravity, and during his prime he made rival players look as if they were moving in slow motion. But Air Jordan wasn’t in the same league as a house cat when it comes to leaping. Consider how casually young cats can jump up onto refrigerators. To match that, a man would have to do a standing jump right over the backboard. And a top-notch Frisbee dog corkscrewing through the air eight feet up to snag a whizzing disc makes Jordan look decidedly human when it comes to the fantastic quickness, agility, strength, and ballistic precision various animals are endowed with.
There’s no denying it—our kind started substituting brains for brawn long ago, and it shows: We can’t begin to compete with animals when it comes to the raw ingredients of athletic prowess. Yet being the absurdly self-enthralled species we are, we crowd into arenas and stadiums to marvel at our pathetic physical abilities as if they were something special. But there is one exception to our general paltriness: We’re the right honorable kings and queens of the planet when it comes to long-distance running.
As a fledgling runner, this was an entertaining read. I used the M word in public for the first time this week, and a friend responded, “If God had intended for us to run that far…” Turns out… God did.
An interesting image and idea, and something one could sit and study for quite some time… although I notice that the resurrection is listed as a negative event. Yeah, I guess Mark could be read that way…
I have found that the very mention of the words “religion” and “evolution” sets off a kind of reflex reaction among some, but fortunately not all, contemporary Americans. Among both religious fundamentalists and what might be called atheistic fundamentalists these terms set off a war to the death, with abusive language directed toward the supposed opposition. In that kind of atmosphere any rational discussion becomes impossible. What unites these two groups is the idea that religion and science are essentially the same thing: sets of propositional truths that can be judged in terms of argument and evidence.
What surprised me when I began to read the work of leading scientists in the fields of cosmology and evolution is how many of them rejected this idea and argued instead that science and religion are really two different spheres that may at points overlap but that operate in accordance with different logics. Science operates with scientific method in terms of which different theories can be tested and proved or disproved, though if Karl Popper is right, proof is always problematic and we are safer to stick to disproof. Religion on the other hand is a way of life more than a theory. It is based on beliefs that science can neither prove nor disprove. Its “proof” is the kind of person the religious way of life produces.
David and I were at Rice University at the same time, though I did not know him there. He’s made the rounds on some of my favorite podcasts, including Radiolab, and his book Sum: Forty Tales of the Afterlives is really interesting. In this interview he tackles near-death experiences, déjà vu and more. When asked what advice he’d have for young aspiring scientists and thinkers, he says:
Watch TED talks: smart people will distill their life’s work down to 20 minutes for you. Follow links through infinite trajectories of Wikipedia. Watch educational videos on topics that resonate with you.
There are a million ways to waste time on the net; reject those in favor of ways that teach you exactly what you want to know. Never before have we enjoyed such an opportunity for tailored, individualized education.
And be sure to get off-line often, to take digital sabbaths. As much as the net provides a platter of mankind’s learning, there is a different kind of learning to be had from a hike in the woods, the climbing of a tree, an afternoon building a dam in a stream.