This Preacher’s Monday Morning Therapy

Blog Reading

I usually try to do some blog reading on Monday mornings. On some Monday mornings I’m particularly weary and needy. Not all, just sometimes.

So I’m reading a particularly well done blog post by someone offering some very helpful information. I also read a new blog by a friend of mine earlier and was going to drop the silly comment on his Facebook page “blogging is a waste of time” just because I believe it isn’t.

So I’m reading the post about Bart Ehrman’s book and the thought bubbles up “what do I want from blogging?”

Of course my defensive self jumps up and says “I want to be helpful, write helpful things, practice writing, keep my list of links and thoughts…” but the more honest critic of my needy, small self says “you want to be noticed, you want attention, you want to be loved, valued, validated.”

Yup. Those needs are there. They are valid needs. I just have to keep my eye on them so that they don’t become rats in the basement chewing the beams, the wiring or the plumbing.

So as I’m reading this fine blog piece thinking “Do I pay attention to the writer of that piece?”

I might add that author to my feedly feed, or I might not. I’m fickle about what I devote subscribe to. More mysterious stuff below the surface sometimes. Sometimes it just depends on what time I have. I subscribed to my friend’s new blog because he’s my friend and I want to read him because I love him, no matter what he writes. If his mom does feedly she will too.

(ADHD also hits hard on Monday mornings if the blues are there too…)

Mostly I care about the piece (the Ehrman piece), not so much the author. I value how he took the time to lay out the books so I can evaluate them without spending the time or the money to necessarily go through them. I make a link list so if I want to find this stuff again I can. I used the information, the author is incidental to me at the moment.

Your Well-being At My Expense

One of the things I’ve learned in leading a church for a while now I learned from George W. Bush. I wasn’t a fan of his (the war in Iraq made me angry) but I did notice (Obama could learn from this) (ADHD Monday morning, remember, must focus…) that he repeated simple, easy to remember things, again and again and again and again. This is an important communication skill.

Sunday AM I reminded my beloved Adult Sunday School class of some of the items on my list

  • misery-deliverance-gratitude
  • Isaiah 5:1-7
  • the age of decay
  • your well-being at my expense (and visa versa)

So I use the Ehrman review blog poster for his data and his labor. He gets a hit (and maybe some money), a link, maybe some recognition, I get the data. A nice transaction.

I’m I using the Ehrman blog poster? I’m certainly not abusing him (or her, crap, now I should look it up, oh, it’s a him, good guess, energetic apologists are often man, I think it’s a testosterone thing… must focus…) but then the thought occurs to me about the relationship of a person and their work.

Pride and Ego

In my adult Sunday School class yesterday I was talking about what Yhwh wanted from the kings of the pagan neighbors of ancient Israel, Assyrians, Babylonians, Tyrians, etc. These kings in Isaiah and other places are taken down by Yhwh for their hubris, their imagined self-sufficiency that success and empire breeds.

One of the members of the class asked “well isn’t it good to be proud of something good you do?” and I said “yes of course. It’s all about glory”.

My go-to illustration of this is a master chef. Any good master chef doesn’t just cook for herself, she delights in setting a table full of food before hungry guests and watching their delight as they enjoy the glory of her work. I usually connect this to God’s good creation. I used the zebra illustration. God gave Zebras stripes not just because they help them evade lions and flies but because they are just really cool!

The master chef gets in the way of glory when the meal, no matter how wonderfully prepared becomes all about her own ego. If she keeps reminding the guests “I made that” she can quickly spoil the meal.

This is the best way I can think about a humble God who makes a fabulous universe and then is quietly humble about it. He gets to strut a bit in the book of Job and the Psalms but for the most part he lets his glory do his talking for him.

My Ego Problems

So in contrast to our glorious, humble God I have ego problems. I want my work to glorify me. Am I offended if someone reads something I wrote or hears something I preach and doesn’t notice me, or love me for it, or become a PVK fan boy or girl? It’s an ugly thing to realize about myself and the culture doesn’t help me on this. Our culture encourages me to be all about me, but I’m old enough, have enjoyed enough Christian teaching to know that this is a miserable, deadly trap. I am too shallow and fragile a pond to do my own swimming in.

Jesus of course is clear about all of this. He knew all of the layers of this and navigated them perfectly. He deflects the devil’s temptations about what he can do. He tells beneficiaries of his miracles to be quiet about them, even when they can’t. He uses them to show his kingdom and who he is while at the same time making sure that the glory sits where it needs to and like it needs to, on the banquet table. Glory is best communally enjoyed when it is available for all to enjoy, and God’s enjoyment and ours if it is not mutually exclusive.

I am disgusted, but not disgusted enough at how bad I am at this.

Dinero Sin Bolsillo

Also on the radar this Monday thanks to the great distraction machine we call the Internet is the book pushing done in anticipation of Barbara Ehrenreich’s new book (Noah was so last week…) on her religious experience as an atheist. Christian and atheists are paying attention. I’m glad we’ve got sometime in common to talk about. I love my atheist friends, especially the ones that can’t seem to leave God out of thing… 🙂

Anyway, an atheist friend commented on the Ehrenreich pieces “why isn’t the universe just pulsing with a kind of life…”

This initially lands me on the question of a personal or impersonal universe or deity.  As persons we both deeply need and resent other persons. We perpetually reduce persons to objects to meet our own needs, our own glory, our own satisfaction. An impersonal power in the universe is so what we want, except if someone else employs it better than we do, then we call it an atrocity. As I mentioned also, if someone has too much power we must kill them. If science has this power (meaning no one, available for personal appropriation) then we’re just peachy about it.

The Dominicans had a phrase for available money, inheritance money, insurance money, government money, missions money (in their case) “dinero sin bolsillo”, money without a pocket, meaning money without a person attached to it.

Harry Truman of course had one of the best quotes about this.

It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.

Buddhist Selves and Christian Selves

So I suppose a good Buddhist would note that the dissolution of the self into the great sea of being is the way to go. I’m regularly chagrined by the fact that many of the people I see flirting with faddish Buddhism seem full of ego and wanting more of it.

As a Christian I see the problem of self and product (or work) as a more complicated journey. The glory of the universe in fact has a bolsillo, but the personal God of the universe loves to share.

I loved the quote in Salon from Ehrenreich about Jesus

No. What happens is, here you have this amazing, charismatic, madly generous Jesus, who says that when someone asks for your coat, give him not just your coat but your cloak also. Someone sues you in the court of law, give him everything. Then he turns into God, or the Son of God, and becomes the risen Christ. Now everything changes. Because now there is a personal selfish goal to be achieved in following this faith. To get into heaven. To get into heaven.

In one paragraph she nailed something central about Jesus. He fully lived “your well-being at my expense” because he fully lived his Father.

Matthew 5:43–48 (NET)

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be like your Father in heaven, since he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Even the tax collectors do the same, don’t they? 47 And if you only greet your brothers, what more do you do? Even the Gentiles do the same, don’t they? 48 So then, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Yes, the universe is pulsing with his energy, love and generosity, but that isn’t fully clear simply from nature. The universe and humanity is also a brutal lesson in “my well-being at your expense”.

Steve Martin in “Leap of Faith” says to the crucifix “You say the ‘meek shall inherit the earth’, I say all the meek get is the short end of the stick!” Martin reverses the Beatitudes.

This utterly generous Jesus gives himself until everything he has is taken from him, his belongings, his friends, his dignity, his reputation, his life.

Christians believe the generous Father then gives it back to him and a new universe is begun in his resurrected flesh, not subject to decay.

Christians believe that this becomes the dominant paradigm for living in the age of decay. Everyone who tries to save his life will lose it, she who loses it in Jesus gets it back again, not only in this life but even more in the age to come. This is the gospel.

Where Was I

Usually what I need on a Monday morning is to hear the gospel and sometimes I hear it best when I write it myself, to myself, and maybe to someone else if they want to read it.

So I keep blogging with my ego problems, my apologetic-liking-glandular issues. The truth is Truman and Jesus were both right. Real joy can be found in what the Psalms practice, pointing out the other when they do something glorious, call together a bunch of people and laud them mercilessly. This is what we call “worship” when we do it about God. This is what we call encouragement or support when we do it to each other, and we should do it more. God is good.

So if you got this far in this overly long, rambling, ADHD, disorganized posting, which is of course the problem with most of what I write, I thank you for riding along on my Monday AM therapy.



About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
This entry was posted in Devotional Reflection, Pastoral Identity and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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