Perhaps it may turn out a sang,
Perhaps turn out a sermon.

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Short is Sweet

Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. -- Ecclesiastes 5:2

In those ancient days of yore when I was a college student, I didn’t give much thought to challenging what I was told.  I believed some things; I didn’t believe other things, but I did not bother much with trying to figure out why I thought a thing was true or untrue.  I remember one of the few times I did ask myself why.  We were in an Abnormal Psych class and there was a professor from the Philosophy department auditing the class.  Somehow he and I got into a discussion of whether or not there was such a thing as the “subconscious mind”.  He argued there was not. 

As time has gone on, I think he was so wrong that he was almost right.  Obviously, we do have an autonomic nervous system (ANS) that runs the various life-sustaining functions of the body such as respiration, digestion, and circulation of the blood.  This control system can be influenced by our conscious mind – when we are threatened by danger, for example, but not directly manipulated.  I can’t order my heart rate to be 72 instead of 55.  Some people seem to be able to do this, more or less, at will, but it likely involves tricking the ANS into reacting in a certain direction.

I don’t think there is a place in the brain where the subconscious resides, like a well or cave shrouded in mystery or darkness.  The analogy we sometimes use is to describe the “conscious” part of the mind as being like a circle from a flashlight in a dark building.  What’s in the light is that of which we are aware.  Attention may be part of the issue, but when someone talks about the power of the “subconscious” mind, this isn’t what they mean. 

I have come to believe that the brain and the mind are not synonymous.  The conscious mind seems more like a communications hub.  Thoughts, interpretations of sensations, the wash of emotions, impulses, and all the rest come through the conscious mind.  It connects the body and the outside world – but not just the material world of our five senses.  We are also connected to the spiritual, and it is here, in the realm of the spirit, of the eternal, that this powerful mystery we call the subconscious resides. 

When we speak of the heart or the spirit, we are trying to get at this realm that both lies at the center of our being yet is as uncontained as the cosmos itself.  From whence came the music of Mozart or Bach or Bo Diddley?  Where did Dante find The Inferno?   How did Milton know about Paradise Lost or Shakespeare Hamlet?  Many men sailed on whaling ships, but only Melville encountered Moby Dick.  The same can be asked of a multitude of musicians, poets, painters, and the various and sundry geniuses of mathematics, physics and other sciences who have brought us treasures from heaven. 

We should be careful of what we say, listen more than we speak for the kingdom of heaven is within us, and among us.  We abide in Christ, and Christ abides in us.  The Lord warned us against babbling vain repetitions for He hears us, both when we pray and when we curse, and most of us can’t say much without saying something stupid. 

(I prove this myself right here as often as not.)

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Over the Line

Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the LORD will be a light to me. -- Micah 7:8

It is never the end for the believer.  It may be the end as far as a career, a relationship, status in the community, a bank account, possessions, etc., but for us there is always a better day.  I have often thought I’d have to die to get there, and, some day, that will be true.  It’s true every day in that we have to die to self. 

We don’t like to be humbled or humiliated.  While we know that pride is a sin – and a deadly one, a lot of us – maybe especially Americans – tend to revel in our arrogance to a degree.  Most of us know we are going to pay for it at some point.  What we really need, rather than pride, is confidence.  We like to be confident, and we like confident people.  We have to draw the line between confidence and overconfidence, haughtiness, hubris or whatever you want to call it. 

The key, I suspect, is to give up any thought of confidence in ourselves or our situations.  Everything is going to change.  The unexpected is going to waylay us somewhere along our path.  We will stumble.  We will get knocked down.  We will be entangled in some snare, fall into some dark hole and feel trapped and hopeless.  Down in the pit, like good old Joseph -- one of our favorite biblical characters, there is not much we can do.  He was pulled out of the pit only to be sold into slavery then betrayed, slandered, falsely accused and thrown into a dungeon.  Joseph’s confidence, though, was never in his status, reputation, or ability.  It was always in the Lord and more particularly in God’s love for him. 

If we know that God loves us then we can always hang on to our trust in Him.  Whatever we have to go through, even if it is our own fault, our own stupidity, obstinacy, or even arrogance that got us there, we know He forgives.  What happens to us is simply the price of traveling through this life.  Let others think what they want, scorn and shun us, so long as we maintain our confidence in the never-failing love, boundless mercy and forgiveness of the Lord, we will have light even in the blackest of midnights.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

In Justice

Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey.  The LORD saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. -- Isaiah 59:15

We often talk about justice versus mercy or love and the harshness of judgment.  Justice certainly must be tempered with mercy, but no one wants to live in a world where there is no justice.  Jesus decried the justice of “an eye for an eye”, yet even that Old Testament standard was more just than the brute nature of man.  Sean Connery’s tough cop character in The Untouchables reflects the more primitive approach:  Here’s how you get him.  He pulls a knife; you pull a gun.  He sends one of yours to the hospital; you send one of his to the morgue.  That’s the Chicago way ….  In contrast to the Chicago way, even a tooth for a tooth is merciful. 

Society depends on justice.  We believe in equality before the law.  The Bible forbids taking a perpetrator’s wealth or social standing into consideration when rendering justice.  In the book of Job, Elihu describes the supreme justice of God:  Shall one who hates justice govern?  Will you condemn him who is righteous and mighty, who says to a king, ‘Worthless one,’ and to nobles, ‘Wicked man,’  who shows no partiality to princes, nor regards the rich more than the poor, for they are all the work of his hands? (Job 34:17-19).

Justice holds us accountable for our actions.  Mercy may take into account our motivations and circumstances.  We generally think it is less offensive for a man to steal to feed a hungry child than to feed his own gambling addiction.  But the action is wrong in either case and justice is due. 

I read recently of some homeowner who shot and fatally wounded a man breaking into her house.  His relatives were on the news condemning the shooting.  They asked how the man was supposed to get new Nikes if he didn’t steal.  How heartless it is to kill a man who merely wanted to steal someone else’s property in order to upgrade his cell phone.  I’ll admit that I would hate to kill someone over money or some easily replaceable material object.  The problem is that he might be willing to kill me or someone under my protection in order to get it.  Sometimes that is hard to sort out during an interaction in the dark at 3:00AM.    

As a society we seem to have lost respect for justice.  I think it is the upholding of injustice and a topsy-turvy view of right and wrong that will destroy our nation and many others in the end.  To live righteously these days, as in Isaiah’s time, is to put oneself in danger of condemnation.  Clever rhetoric falsehoods are lauded while truth is ridiculed.  Truth now requires a “trigger warning” and is too dangerous to be spoken.  We must all agree that black is white and good is evil, or we risk being vilified if not physically attacked.  And if we are attacked, we brought it on ourselves by such blatant wickedness as pointing out that the sun rises in the east.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Seeking Our Own Level

Teach me to do your will, for you are my God!  Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground! -- Psalm 143:10
This might be a good prayer to start the day.  Being led on level ground doesn’t mean we aren’t striving toward a more perfect communion with Christ.  It doesn’t mean that circumstances will be steady, that disasters won’t occur, or that we won’t be assailed by pain.   

We want to be constant and unmoved in our focus upon the will of God and upon His guidance.  We want to be steadfast in our trust, regardless of the mountains of trials and difficulties that are raised in our path.  Our faith can be level, true, and plumb whatever comes our way.

Water, when it is level, is at rest.  Too often we live below our proper level, on the subnormal, purely physical plane.  The Spirit shows us where we belong.  He takes the pressure off of us and allows us to rise up to reach our “spirit level”, we might say.  We are brought out of the dark underworld into the light. 

The passage into God’s presence isn’t always a straight line.  Like many an underground river, there may be bends, drops and rapids, but, trusting in the Lord, we will reach our destination.