Wedding Bells

Pop quiz – What is the most popular month for a wedding? I guessed June, but it is number 3.  September is number 2.  Surprisingly, October is number 1.  I’ve been noticing many wedding announcements and photos recently so I felt called to write about this topic some way.

The first marriage related thought that comes to me is a bible passage.  I still remember looking over at Melanie while it was read at our wedding.  1 Corinthians 13:4-13 states:

Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing. For we know partially and we prophesy partially, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known. So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

I had given Melanie a t-shirt after we had dated for a while that read: “Never fall in love with a tennis player, because to them love means nothing.”  In case you don’t know, a score of zero in tennis is stated as love, as in we’re playing for the love of the game so it will be fun even if we don’t score a point.  Yeah, right.  Somehow I had scored big points with Melanie and have now been blessed with over 40 years of marriage to her.

Since we have discussed many virtues over the last couple months, I believe it is the last line of the passage I am to write about.  Quick review – We have covered the heavenly virtues of humility, charity, kindness, patience, chastity, temperance, and diligence.  And the cardinal virtues of prudence (wisdom), justice, fortitude (courage), and temperance.

That leaves one last list to tackle; the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love.  I have faith I will be given the right words, hope that you find some value in them, and will love being done writing about virtues for a while … ha:-)

One of the definitions of the word theological says, in part, that theology describes the nature and will of God as revealed to man.  I take this to mean that the virtues of faith, hope, and love are the essence of the nature of the relationship God desires with us.  All the other virtues are more applicable to our behavior and relationships with other people.  And upon further reflection, without these three, it seems to me that the other virtues are more difficult to care about and adhere to.

Let’s look at them each in the order of the verse:  So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.  (1 Corinthians 13:13)

It all starts with Faith

But without faith it is impossible to please him, for anyone who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.  (Hebrews 11:6)

Without faith what incentive do we have to practice any of the virtues?  Faith or a lack thereof is the root cause of our obedience or disobedience to the commandments.  If we have no faith in God, what do we care about following His rules?  Why not instead succumb to our selfish desires and sinful nature to enjoy all the pleasures in this life, our only life?  Virtue, smirtue.  Nice guys finish last, right?

But wait, with faith we have the promise of eternal life, in heaven.  That sounds even better!  But what does it take to have faith?  Belief and trust.  Both are simple yes or no choices that we all have the opportunity to make.  Once you believe in God and trust that He is guiding you and looking out for your best interests, the rest becomes much easier.  You then want to please Him.  You want to do good and you want to help others to do the same.

To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.  (St. Thomas Aquinas)

Say Yes!

Next comes Hope.  Without faith there is no hope. Hope is faith looking forward into the future.  And the hope we are talking about is a promise, a given, not a wish or a dream.  God’s hope is a sure thing.  Have faith in Him, be faithful to Him, and the hope of eternal life in heaven will be yours.

Hope gives us something to look forward to.  Hope keeps us moving ahead. Hope fuels us to face the inevitable challenges in life.  Hope overcomes fear.  Hope encourages us to keep running the race.  Hope reminds us that we have a savior who is coming to set us free.

May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.  (Nelson Mandela)

Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.  (Saint Augustine)

And the greatest of these Is Love.  Unconditional love.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  Love your enemies.  Can you imagine?  God’s love for us is unimaginable.  He gives us His only Son as a sacrifice and gift to save us from our sins and grant us eternal life.  All we have to do is believe in him. Have Faith and we gain Hope through His Love.  Seriously?  Now that is Love!

Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”  (Luke 23:34)

I’m glad God isn’t a tennis player.  Love obviously means everything to Him.

So what are we to do?  Start with faith to gain hope and to put yourself in a position to truly love?  Or maybe start with love?  What do you love?  Why do you love it?  Is it worthy of your love?  Like I used to love playing tennis.  I had a natural God given talent for it so it seemed appropriate to spend a lot of time honing those skills.  Being good at it opened a lot of doors that enabled me to help others in a number of significant ways.  But now it gives me little joy.  Maybe it has become one of those childish things I am supposed to put aside.  Nah:-)

But there are much more important things in life.  Like people.  Who do you love?  Is it a God like love?  I doubt if it ever can be, but we can strive for it.  We are to love God and love neighbors, that is, everyone.  Start with God.  Say yes to His offer of forgiveness and eternal life.  Then go out and show your love for others by proclaiming the good news and living it through demonstration of all the other virtues.

Here’s a simple truth, love is the foundation for every good thing in our lives. Without love, nothing else really matters.  Or as the Beatles sang: All you need is love, love is all you need.

Your challenge for the week is to wake up every morning saying yes to God.  Yes, I have faith.  Yes, I have hope.  Yes, I love you and I will do my best to show that love to you and others through my actions.

Happy Labor Day! Scott

Mercy, Mercy Me

“I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.” (Abraham Lincoln)

Justice and mercy go together.  Yes, we all want justice.  We want to reward good behavior and punish the bad.  But we all want mercy when we are on the wrong end of the equation.  And I trust we all want to give mercy when we are the wronged party, especially when it comes to our loved ones.

“This is going to hurt me more than it will hurt you!”  I doubt that you were ever in need of punishment as a kid, so you may not have heard this.  I think I may have a time or two. It’s one of those sayings you don’t truly appreciate until you are the parent.  It is so true.

In thinking about the topic of mercy, the first thing that came to mind was an old Marvin Gaye song.  It starts, “Woah, ah mercy, mercy me.  Ah, things ain’t what they used to be.”  Wow, that’s for sure.  Interestingly, this song appeared on the 1971 album titled, What’s Going On?  They should re-release it this year, don’t you think?

A quick aside.  The lyrics of the title track contain this verse:

Father, father
We don’t need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer
For only love can conquer hate
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today.

Apparently Marvin’s father was not swayed by these words.  He shot and killed his own son.  But mercy was granted and he was only given a suspended sentence and probation for his crime.  I would imagine the worse punishment for him was living out his remaining 14-years of life with full knowledge of his sin, especially since he was an ordained minister.

This story reminded me of the ultimate mercy we have all been granted:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.  (John 3:16)

Our Father, rather than condemning us for our sins as He rightfully could, instead granted us mercy through the death of His only son, Jesus Christ.  Talk about hurting Him more than it hurt us … Wow!

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.  (John 3:17)

God’s mercy is greater than our sins … Amazing!  And what does God ask of us in return?  Belief.  And how do we show our belief?  My good friend and college roommate sent me this quote last week that sums it up nicely.  He referred to it in delivering a eulogy recently.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.  (Micah 6:8)

We’ve discussed justice and humility previously.  What about mercy, what are we to do to hold up our part of the eternal life bargain?

Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.  (Luke 6:37)

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:36)

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.  (Matthew 5:7)

Now for the hard part, how do we demonstrate the mercy we are asked to provide?  Thankfully we were given very specific instructions in Matthew 25:31-46.  At the end times The Son of Man separates the sheep (good guys) from the goats (you don’t want to be one).

He thanks the sheep by saying: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.”

The righteous sheep asked: “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?”

Jesus said to them in reply: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”  But he told the goats: “Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.  And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

I came to know the types of mercy described above as the Corporal Works of Mercy.  Corporal meaning, of the body.  These are kind and charitable acts by which we help our neighbors with their material and physical needs.  They respond to the basic needs of humanity.  Here is a list for your reference:

Corporal Works of Mercy

  • Feed the Hungry
  • Give Drink to the Thirsty
  • Clothe the Naked
  • Shelter the Homeless
  • Visit the Sick
  • Visit the Imprisoned
  • Bury the Dead

I think these are fairly self-explanatory and you instinctively know what to do.  The most efficient and effective way to provide these mercy’s is to donate your time, talent, and treasure to organizations and causes that already serve in these areas.  There are many and they are only a quick internet search away.

The second category of mercy’s, that are not as conveniently found in the Bible relate to our spiritual and emotional needs.  The Spiritual Works of Mercy are acts of compassion by which we help our neighbors with their emotional and spiritual needs.  We are all in need of getting and giving these types mercy throughout our lifetimes.

The Spiritual Works of Mercy

  • Instruct the Ignorant – Learn about our Christian faith and be open to talking with others about our beliefs. It may be uncomfortable at first, but it is selfish to keep the secret of redemption to yourself. You do want your friends to live with you for an eternity, right?
  • Counsel the Doubtful – Everyone has moments of doubt in their faith journey. Be there for others when they need some hope.  Be the always positive influence who others know they can turn to for guidance and support.
  • Correct Sinners – Do not judge, but be supportive in helping others to acknowledge, confess, correct, and atone for their mistakes. Strive to be an example of virtuous living to show others the way.
  • Bear Wrongs Patiently – Do not be bitter about wrongs done against you. Place your hope in God so that you can endure the troubles of this world and face them with a compassionate spirit.
  • Forgive Offenses Willingly – Forgiving others is difficult because we do not have God’s limitless mercy and compassion. But Jesus teaches us that we should forgive as God forgives. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
  • Comfort the Afflicted – Be open to listening and comforting those who are dealing with grief. Even if we aren’t sure of the right words to say, our presence can make a big difference.
  • Pray for the Living and the Dead – Prayer is one of the most powerful ways we can support others. Joining together in prayer for the living and the dead entrusts us all into God’s care.

There, that should give us all something to work on for the next, well, rest of our lives.  I think the best way to remember all of these areas of mercy is by once again going back to the golden rule.  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  We are all in need of mercy from time to time, or maybe continuously.  And remember, you are not alone.  There is someone else out there right now in need of the same mercy as you.

I’m thinking a good rule of thumb is to reach out to someone else that you suspect is in the same need as you.  Ask them for help.  You will be helping them at the same time.  In this way you will build a strong support system for yourself, while also providing merciful support to others.

Jim, my above referenced friend, ended his eulogy by stating that his departed friend lived a blessed life because he knew that to live a blessed life, you need to bless others.  Words to live by…

Have Mercy, Scott

Truth, Justice, and the American Way

Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.  Look. Up in the sky. It’s a bird. It’s a plane.  It’s Superman! Who fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way.

Everything seemed so simple back in the 1950’s.  All the shows, movies, and books had a similar theme.  There were good guys and bad guys, and it was easy to tell which side was which.  There was a constant struggle between good and evil, but thankfully, good always won out in the end.

Truth and justice prevailed.  That was the American way … one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.  Sadly, I’m not sure that is still our way.  In fact, I know it is not.  All you have to do is read whatever you consider to be the news each day to find numerous examples of lies being passed off as truth, and injustice posing as righteousness.

Most troubling, the public is divided about who the good and bad guys are.  We are overwhelmed with messaging telling us who and what to believe.  Everybody thinks they are right and that they are on the side of truth and justice.  But the ideological divisions are so vastly different that many are obviously wrong, maybe most.

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many.  (Matthew 7:13)

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.  (Mark Twain)

What are we to believe?  Who are we to believe?  We are told the “fact checkers” make sure we are seeing the truth.  I’ve personally found they are much less accurate than those predicting the weather.  Unfortunately it’s up to each of us to dig deep for the truth.  But who has the time or energy required?

I often wish I could go back to my youthful days of ignorance and bliss; where truth, justice, and the good guys always won.  When it seemed easy to spot good and evil.  When our leaders could be trusted to do what was in the best interests of we the people.  But alas, growing up and experiencing life makes it all too clear that is not the case.  But there is always hope for a brighter tomorrow.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. (Matthew 5:6)

The topic for the week is Justice.  I really thought this would be a fairly straightforward article to write.  I envisioned it including the following points:

  • Justice is ensuring that all people are treated equally in accordance with the law, both God’s laws and those of the society.
  • Observe the greatest commandments, love God and neighbors (Matthew 22:35–40), and justice will be served.
  • Obey the ten commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) and live virtuously to show your love for God.
  • Follow the golden rule, do to others whatever you would have them do to you (Matthew 7:12) in order to show your love for neighbors.
  • Justice for all will be the result of adhering to the above.

Simple, right?  Trouble is, as I went about conducting my research into the topic of justice, it quickly became much more challenging and confusing.  Finding a consistent definition was impossible.  How could defining a term that has been around since the beginning of time be so problematic?

It appears to me from all that I’ve read that we want justice to be whatever we individually want it to be.  I don’t exactly know who “we” is, but there are a lot of them.  These times of moral relativism have led us away from truth being truth, and justice being justice in the same way for us all.  Pretty convenient, but contrary to ensuring we are all treated equally and justly.

Moral relativism is the view that ethical standards, morality, and positions of right or wrong are culturally based and therefore subject to individual choice. We all decide what is right for ourselves. You decide what’s right for you, and I’ll decide what’s right for me.  That makes life so much easier.  Do as you please, believe it’s right, never a need for guilt or regret.

Knowing the concept of relativism helped me to understand why there are so many widely varying definitions of justice.  Most interesting were all the adjectives commonly placed in front of the word justice.  Words like social, economic, environmental, and racial to mention a few.

Social justice is such a common phrase that I assumed it at least was consistently defined.  The Catholic church has an entire section devoted to it in their Catechism which is a good read (CCC 1928-48).  But again, in researching many sources the definition ranged from ensuring that all members of society be treated equally, to demanding that all members actually be equal.

When confused, I always turn to The Bible as the source of truth.  So I searched my online bible for the term “social justice” to understand what it really is.  To my surprise, the search returned no results; zero, none, nada, not one.

Upon further reflection that makes complete sense.  Justice is justice.  What is just is just.  Justice is blind, why does it need a qualifier?  Adding a clarifying descriptor preceding justice is not necessary.  In fact, based on the highly variable definitions of those many types of justice frequently referenced, there is a high likelihood of subverting or perverting justice, favoring one person over another.  Where is the equality in that?

You must not distort justice: you shall not show partiality.  (Deuteronomy 16:19)

You shall not act dishonestly in rendering judgment. Show neither partiality to the weak nor deference to the mighty, but judge your neighbor justly.  (Leviticus 19:15)

Breaking the law is breaking the law, right?  If one harms another in some way, is it excusable for some social, economic, environmental, or racial reason? Where is the justice if the perpetrator is not held accountable?  Doesn’t the perpetrator learn from justice?  Doesn’t the victim deserve justice?  Maybe other factors should be taken into account in determining the appropriate punishment, but not in dispensing justice.

I wonder if we are confusing justice with fairness.  They can be two very different things.  Justice is objective and deals with universal principles and natural laws that do not change and apply equally to all people, all societies, everywhere and at all times.

Fairness is concerned with popular sentiment and is subject to change between societies and times.  It is a subjective and biased assertion based on individual opinion.  It is concerned with what ought to be, as opposed to what is.  Fairness seems to be whatever you want it to be.

Of course, life is not fair.  It never will be.  We all learned that at a young age.  We didn’t want to believe it then, and we don’t want to believe it now.  Life can be just, but it can’t be fair.

For the Lord is a God of justice.  (Isiah 30:18)

What about fairness in The Bible?  A quick search returned 5 references to fairness, each verse also containing the word justice.  A search for the word justice provided 238 results.

What does God think is fair?  Maybe that He gave us all life.  He gave us all special talents.  He gave us parents to show us the way.  He gave us natural interests and unique abilities.  He gave us rules to live by and a conscience.  Then He gave us free will.  The rest is up to us.

Interestingly He did not give us all the same talents and abilities.  What a boring place this world would be if we were all the same.  No, He made us all different to make it interesting.  More importantly, He made us different so we would need each other.  So we would naturally work together to help each other out.  And by doing so we would make the world the place it was meant to be; Heaven.

Here’s my conclusion.  Justice is up to each of us.  Our individual actions produce justice or a lack thereof.  We are the Supermen and women in the fight for truth, justice, and the American way.  And that way is by working every day to be our best self for the benefit of others.  By actively striving to be the saints we are all meant to become.

Your challenge for the week. Since it’s back to school week in my neighborhood, how about we all take ourselves back to school on the topic of Justice?  You’ve read my thoughts.  Do your own research to develop your own understanding of what it means, what it doesn’t, and most importantly, what you are going to do about it.

Next week we’ll delve into The Works of Mercy to remind ourselves about what we can each do in order to promote justice in our own communities.

Justice!  Scott

Truth or Consequences

Truth or Consequences was a game show that was on television when I was a kid. A contestant was asked a ridiculous question that they usually couldn’t answer. When they got it wrong, they would have to “pay the consequences” by performing some embarrassing stunt. The show was so popular that the town of Hot Springs, New Mexico renamed themselves Truth or Consequences in 1950. The title logo had a halo over “Truth,” and a pitchfork running through “Consequences.”

I liked the sense of justice implied by the name of the game—know the truth or there will be consequences, and they won’t be good. A familiar Bible verse says it perfectly: “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32).

When we know the truth, it helps us to make wise choices about our lives, and it enables us to live the truth and avoid negative consequences. Alternatively, when we don’t know and live by truth, our choices and behavior will eventually lead to undesirable consequences.

Every important decision in your life requires you to know truth in order to choose wisely. What is truth you ask? The dictionary definition of truth is, “a verified or indisputable fact, proposition, principle, or the like.”  In contrast, an opinion is, “a belief or judgment that rests on grounds insufficient to produce complete certainty. A personal view, attitude, or appraisal.”

The distinction is important because it is tempting to live by opinions, especially by those of “experts” since it saves us a lot of time and effort.  Do so at your own peril.  Often the experts have agendas that are not necessarily in your best interests.  If something sounds good to us, and we trust the source, it becomes our truth. It may not be the truth, but we choose to use it in our decision making. It is foolish to live our lives through the opinions of others.

Unfortunately, too many in the world want to own and control you, not with physical cages or chains, but through clever influence. They make it seem as though they have your best interests in mind so that you willingly do what they want, and even thank them for it. But you end up becoming “chained” to whatever they are selling.

Advertisers chain you to products and companies.  Politicians chain you to their parties and causes. Employers chain you to jobs.  Banks and lenders chain you to debt. They tell you what you want to hear, to get you to do what they want you to do. You believe their advice will lead to a better life. You believe in what they claim, so you buy what they’re selling.  You vote for them and support their causes, you stay at the job you dislike, and you borrow their money. But somehow you still aren’t happy—how could that be? Apparently, you aren’t living the truth and you are paying the consequences.

They play on your emotions and help you justify your emotional decisions with one-sided facts. You will often sense that something is wrong. You will instinctively know the right course, and yet, you will still yearn to follow their advice. This is a constant battle that you will lose unless you are willing and able to seek, find, and live the truth.

What truth do you need to know? Everything that has an impact on your ability to live your life to the fullest for the benefit of others.  The only way to be truly happy in this life is to continually strive to be the person you were meant to be.  To use your talents to make the world a better place, thereby fulfilling your purpose.  And by behaving in a virtuous manner.

Now for the hard part. How do we get to the truth? How do we best learn the truth in a complex world of strong opinions posing as truth? On the one hand, it is a challenge given the amount of information available to us—it can seem overwhelming. On the other, we are fortunate to have such easy and open access to information about any topic of interest right at our fingertips.  But you need to be willing to dig for facts.  Many falsehoods are easy to find, truth is increasing difficult to discover.  The search is a great way to develop your virtue of diligence.

One other thing to note, you need to begin and carry out your search with an open mind.  Once you start digging for truth you will likely find that many of your long-held beliefs will not be “truths” after all.  Your pride will kick into high gear and make it difficult to humbly accept that your brilliant self could have actually been wrong.  I recall an episode of the old show Happy Days where Mr. Cool, The Fonz was unable to say the word, “wrong.”  It’s a difficult thing to admit, but we all are at times.

Personally I was challenged early in my career about many of the firmly held beliefs of my youth.  I had a boss who would ask me questions I had never before considered.  I appreciated that he never told me what to believe.  He just encouraged me to do my own research and think a little deeper, to go beyond a surface level understanding of issues.  In the end, I’m guessing I changed my positions on at least half of my youthful beliefs.  Getting a dose of reality beyond the theoretical world of education certainly helped as well.

President James A. Garfield once famously said, “The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.” Finding the truth may surprise, embarrass, or annoy you, so be prepared. Even more difficult, it may put you at odds with some of your friends.  You can try to enlighten them.  If they are truly your friends they will listen and be open to debate.

“The greatest kindness one can render to any man consists in leading him from error to truth.” – St. Thomas Aquinas

Here is the standard process I use to seek and find the truth about whatever interests me.  I call it DIG DEEP, using the first letter of each step.

  1. Develop Questions to explore (why, who, what, when, where and how).
  2. Interrogate Many Sources (articles, books, speeches, research papers, interviews, etc.).
  3. Gain an Understanding of relevant facts and opinions.
  4. Discern Possible Truths, options to consider.
  5. Examine the Evidence for and against each potential truth.
  6. Engage in Debate with yourself and others using both logic and emotion.
  7. Pick a Winner, discover the truth, or at least your highly-informed opinion.

I could go into detail on each step, but I think it is more useful for you to do that on your own with practice.  Instead, here are a few more thoughts to help along the way:

  • Be curious. Like a two-year-old, question everything.
  • Be open to learning new things and other points of view. “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” – John Wooden
  • Be skeptical. Don’t accept answers on faith, dig deep for the truth.
  • Value facts more than opinions, and know the difference.
  • Question motives. Why do people want you to believe this versus that? What is in it for them?
  • Know when to end a debate. Stop when the name-calling begins, or when they want you to agree to disagree. There is no compromise on truth.
  • Don’t take any side but that of truth.  Sides divide and keep us arguing to the benefit of those in power.
  • Don’t argue. Arguing just makes people defensive. Ask questions instead.
  • Consider history in your analysis, it does tend to repeat itself.
  • Take the long view and think things through to the end. Is it truth just for now, or forever? Real truth is lasting.
  • There is no “your truth,” and “my truth.” There is only the truth.

Finally, once you know the truth about something, please do the following:

  1. Tell the truth, promote it, and help others to understand it.  Be bold with the truth.
  2. Live it. Live your life through the truth. Be an example to others.
  3. Be wise. Use your knowledge, experience, and good judgment to make wise decisions and to help others do the same.

Your challenge for the week, should you choose to accept it, is to pick a topic or issue that you know you are right about, but you have a friend that sees it another way.  Use the DIGDEEP method to find the truth.

Start by developing an argument for the opposite of what you believe.  Ask yourself many questions.  Look at many alternative sources of information.  Be able to argue all sides.  Do whatever it takes to get to the truth, or as close to it as possible.  Be diligent and patient.  It will take time.  And if you don’t find that you are having arguments with yourself, you aren’t trying hard enough.  You will find truth in the struggle.

I’m choosing the topic of justice, one of the cardinal virtues.  I’ll share my thoughts with you next week.

One last time, “and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free!”  Scott

Oh, Wise Guy, Eh?

In writing about the 7 deadly sins and their opposite 7 heavenly virtues over the last couple months, I was reminded by a number of you that there are others to consider; for instance, the four cardinal virtues of prudence (wisdom), justice, fortitude (courage), and temperance, and the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and love.

Since we have covered courage and temperance earlier in the year, and the theological virtues are better left to theologians to discuss, let’s take a look at prudence and justice to round out our discussion of virtue this week and next.

First, why the word cardinal to describe these virtues? Isn’t a cardinal a pretty red bird, or a priest with a fancy red hat?  Well, the English word cardinal comes from the Latin word cardo, which means hinge.  The thought is that all other virtues hinge on these four principal moral virtues, which can and should be practiced by anyone and everyone.

Plato first discussed the cardinal virtues in The Republic, and they entered into Christian teaching through his student, Aristotle.  St. Thomas Aquinas ranked prudence as the first cardinal virtue because it is concerned with the intellect.

Aristotle defined prudence as “right reason applied to practice.” It is the virtue that allows us to judge correctly what is right and what is wrong in any given situation, and to act accordingly.  Dictionary definitions of prudence include “the ability to govern and discipline oneself by the use of reason,” and “the ability to discern the appropriate course of action to be taken in a given situation at the appropriate time.”

For some reason I’ve never really liked the word prudence.  Do you have words like that?  I hear people talk about “trigger” words nowadays, maybe this is one of mine.  It reminds me of a song, Dear Prudence written and performed by The Beatles.  They wrote it about a girl they met in India while learning how to meditate.  It starts out, “Dear Prudence, won’t you come out and play?”  It’s one of those songs I immediately skip over.

Anyway, the word wisdom is often substituted for prudence when discussing this virtue.  I’m going with wisdom from here on.  Wisdom is defined as “the quality or state of being wise; knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment as to action.”

I recall seeing a simple wisdom formula that has stuck with me ever since:

Knowledge (learning) + Experience (living) = Wisdom

Wisdom is a constant process. First you learn.  Then you apply that knowledge by making decisions and taking action, by living.  Though your actions you experience results.  Based on those results you gain a deeper understanding and enhanced knowledge with which to make future decisions and actions.

Let’s use learning to drive as an example.  First you learn the basics through instruction.  You then take a test to demonstrate your knowledge in order to obtain your drivers permit.  Next you get behind the wheel to gain some real-life experience.  As a result you gain a better understanding of your current skills and are able to identify opportunities for improvement.  You also learn about the behaviors of other drivers.  And through your experience you now have an enhanced knowledge of how to safely drive.  And the learning and living goes on, eventually producing wisdom.

Upon further review, maybe the formula is better stated as a cycle:

From Knowledge, to Application, to Results, to Understanding, and back around again.

As Albert Einstein once said, “Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.” Or from others:

“The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.” William Shakespeare

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”  Socrates

“Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.”  Proverbs 11:2

Gaining wisdom takes time.  It takes patience, a difficult thing in our age of rushing from one thing to the next.  We are bombarded with information throughout every waking minute of every day.  Who has the time to sort it all out?  We are pressed to make quick decisions and move on.  Do we take the time to ensure those are wise decisions?  Do we make the time to analyze results of those decisions to inform our future choices?

Gaining wisdom also requires humility.  First we have to admit we don’t already know it all.  Of course as teenagers we did know it all.  Then as we matured and ventured out into the real world we quickly realized we still had a lot to learn.  Is this still true? Are we open to challenging our youth formed opinions anymore?  Or do we just seek out those with whom we agree, and use the four D’s (distract, discredit, dismiss, and destroy) to mob those with whom we don’t.  Who has the time to search for truth anymore anyway?  Let’s just believe what we want and call it the truth.

Personally, I see very little wisdom on display in our society today.  Instead I see wise guys everywhere.  You know, people who think they are smart and have an answer for everything. The mobsters of the past were commonly referred to as wise guys, interesting parallel.

My favorite wise guys were The Three Stooges, Moe, Larry, and Curly (or Shemp).  One of them would do something annoying and another would exclaim, “Oh, wise guy, eh,” followed by a physical altercation of some sort.  Seems that kind of behavior has now moved in a virtual manner onto all the social media platforms.  Healthy debate seems a relic of the past.  Oh well…

I actually believe we are facing a wisdom crisis in our country.  And it’s mainly a problem of knowledge.  I do believe most people have the best intentions toward each other.  We all want to do what is right and just.  But too often we are making decision based on flawed information.

Why do I think this?  Because every day I scan all the major news sources and am amazed at all the misinformation and outright lies in print and video.  What surprises me is that so much is easily disproven.  But nobody seems to care.  And unless you have the time to look through many sources, it’s easy to just believe what you hear.  Why would they lie?  Too many reasons apparently.  It truly makes me sad and very unhappy.

The worst thing is, once people have formed an opinion on something in this environment it becomes their truth.  There is no talking them out if it.  There is no debate.  Contrary facts don’t matter.  The actual truth doesn’t even matter anymore.

Most troubling of all is the censorship of full facts and truth in favor of opinions and partial truths.  I’m finding it more and more difficult to get to the bottom of anything I research currently.  The once open and unfiltered access to information on the internet is becoming increasingly difficult to navigate in the search for truth.

But the good news is, with a little curiosity, patience, and persistence, it is still possible to find all the knowledge you need right at your fingertips in order to do good in the world, and to avoid inadvertently doing the bad.  For when we mistake bad for the good, we are not exercising wisdom.  And unfortunately it is so easy to fall into error though all the bad information we are fed on a daily basis.  Trust it at your peril.  Or if you must, trust but verify.

Wisdom requires that we learn from many sources, take into account differing opinions, and seek the counsel of others, particularly those we know to be sound judges of morality. Disregarding the advice or warnings of others whose judgment does not coincide with ours is a sure sign of imprudence.

So your challenge for the week is to seek out information about some topic you are interested in, from whatever the opposing point of view is.  Then wrestle with the topic until you can argue it from all sides and develop a more informed opinion, or even to get to a truth where possible.

Next week I’ll give you a process to do this in an efficient manner.  In the meantime it is useful to go through the struggle by yourself.  It will be worth the effort.  You will definitely learn something new in the process.  Enjoy!

Be Wise, Scott

 

 

 

Shall We Play a Game?

Have you seen the movie “War Games” from way back in 1983?  It must still be popular since it’s not included for free on any of the popular streaming services, you actually have to buy or rent it.  The plot is that a military supercomputer asks a hacker to play a nuclear war simulation game that nearly ends in the real mutual destruction of the USA and Russia.  It concludes with the computer displaying a message that says “WINNER: NONE.”  It then says that nuclear war is a strange game in which the only winning move is not to play.

Seems to me that the opposite is true in the game of life.  In fact it’s more like the lottery; you can’t win if you don’t play.  Let’s call winning living a life that does some good on earth and that gets us to heaven.  Playing is demonstrating our belief and faith in God through working to develop our talents, serving others, and behaving virtuously.  This should be easy for us since we already have learned how to defeat the seven deadly sins with their opposing heavenly virtues over the last seven weeks.  How are you doing?  Are you winning?

The great thing about games is they have an objective scoring system so we know how well we are performing.  And based on our results over time we can determine what we need to work on in order to continually improve.  Let’s use the game of golf as an example.

In golf you count how many times you hit the ball to get it into the hole.  You compare that number against what has been determined to be a good score for the hole; i.e. par.  Par is basically determined by how many shots it should take you to get to the green, plus two putts.

Knowing this helps you to determine what you need to work on to get better.  Drives, approach shots and/or putts.  Work on those things and try again.  Simple, and the fun part is seeing the improvement in your score over time.  That’s why so many people like to golf.  Plus it is one of the few valid excuses to get out of work without faking an illness … ah, I mean being sick.

What does this have to do with playing the game of life and behaving virtuously?  Plenty.  I have a simple game for you.  I’ve been playing it for over 3-years now.  It has helped me to significantly improve my V behavior.  I thought it might help you as well, so I’m happy to share it with you here.  I’ll even give you a fancy worksheet to help you out.  I call it The Flying V Tracker.  It lists all the V’s with summary descriptions, and has blank spaces where you can record your performance on each V, every day.

Here’s how it works.  During the course of each day you track all the good and bad things you think, say, and do back to the Virtues and Vices (sins).  We instinctively know when we do good or bad.  That pesky thing called a conscience tells us.  You usually know by how you are feeling about yourself, both the good and the bad.  In order to play the game, all you need to do is to become acutely aware of these feelings and to stop and think about what is causing them.

Just ask yourself one question.  Why?  Why did I just think, say, or do that?  Or maybe fail to do something you know you should do.  If you ask yourself why enough times, you will end up realizing that the root cause of your good or bad behavior was one of the virtues or vices.  The seven deadly sins are the underlying root cause of all sin.  Thankfully their contrary heavenly virtues are the root cause of all good.

Once you have identified the appropriate V, give yourself 1 point.  A positive for displaying a virtue, and negative for a vice.  Use hash marks to tally each good or bad behavior in the respective V (vice or virtue) row.  When you are done for the day, total the marks for the vices and the virtues separately.  There is a row for each of those totals.  Then subtract the vices from the virtues to get a net score.  Positive is obviously better.

I can tell you that when I started doing this, the net daily total was usually negative.  Then I learned to catch myself before doing the bad, and instead chose to do the good.  Paying attention made all the difference.

Just for fun I developed a grading system, kind of a par for the course guide.  I actually used some fancy statistical modeling tools to develop it in case you are wondering.  It’s just a guide.  I obviously have no authority to award points or grades.  I simply use it as an awareness tool to identify improvement opportunities and motivate me to do better.

Here’s my grading table.  Look up your daily net score below to determine your grade.

  • Greater than 10 = A
  • 6 to 10 = B
  • 0 to 5 = C
  • -1 to -5 = D
  • -6 to -10 = E for effort
  • Less than -10 = F for fire … Come on … fire up your inner saint!

When I first started tracking, my goal was simply to avoid the vices.  A defensive strategy.  While I had some victories, it became obvious that only through actively pursuing the virtues would I ever consistently get a passing grade.

So I went on offense.  I now attempt to proactively, persistently, and consistently live the virtues.  It works when I do.  Focusing on virtue gives vice little time to rear its ugly head.  No doubt the enemy will continue to tempt us with the easy path of vice, but we can overcome him with a little self-discipline.  Our behavior is one of the few things we can control.  The beauty and curse of free will.

There is your winning strategy, use the virtues to defeat the vices every time.  The battle of good versus evil can be won, it’s up to you.

Here is your challenge.  Play the Flying V game during the upcoming week.  Track your behavior daily and compute your score and grade.  At the end of the week compute a net score and grade for the week.  Then look at the net scores for each virtue/vice paring and pick one virtue to work on.  Review the prior blog post specific to that virtue and determine what specifically you will do to improve.  Then do it!

One last piece of advice.  Pick the virtue that will give you the greatest improvement in score.  Focus on proactively demonstrating that virtue.  Avoiding the vice is harder.  Asking yourself not to do something is somehow more difficult than telling yourself to do something.  Apparently the “not” gets skipped over in your mind and the thing you don’t want to do becomes the thing you will in fact do.

“For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want.”  Romans 7:19

You will be amazed at how quickly you improve simply because you are paying closer attention to your behavior.  You might even find that you are happier.  It feels good to be consistently virtuous.

That’s it, the end of our V’s series.  So what’s next?  I’ll let you know when I know.  I wait for inspiration and guidance from above each week.  It hasn’t arrived yet, but it always does somehow…

In the meantime, to your Virtue!  Scott

And on the sixth day, God created … Lust?

“God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.  God blessed them and God said to them: Be fertile and multiply” (Genesis 1:27-28).

In creating us men and women He also gave us sexuality as a means to continue our existence.  And to make sure we did, He made it very good.  Combine our strong sex drive with the gift of freewill and our imperfect nature, and boom…Lust came into existence.

We have successfully multiplied to a worldwide population of 7.8 billion.  Unfortunately we have also created and multiplied other less than fruitful results from our sexual activities.  Sexually transmitted diseases, abortion, pornography, adultery, divorce, single mothers, absent fathers, prostitution, human trafficking.  All problems that just keep getting worse.  You would think the devil had invented our sexual desire.  He has certainly taken advantage of it.

It’s lust versus chastity week in our ongoing series on overcoming the seven deadly sins (vices) with their contrary virtues.  Lust is an inordinate craving for the pleasures of the body.  Intense desire, passion, yearning, longing, lasciviousness.

Chastity on the other hand is the state or quality of being chaste; moral purity.  Celibacy, purity, innocence, abstinence, virtue in both thoughts and actions.

This is a tough one.  As C.S. Lewis pointed out long ago, “Chastity is the most unpopular of the Christian virtues. There is no getting away from it; the old Christian rule is, either marriage, with complete faithfulness to your partner, or else total abstinence.”

Adhering to this view would certainly cure all the problems listed above.  But it is not a popular stance or the prevailing “wisdom” in our current culture.  In fact, I fear chastity is considered a joke to most.  It is ridiculed while lust seems to be celebrated.

In all the other “V” pairings we have explored, there is a fighting chance of living the virtues by utilizing our own ability to control ourselves against the vices.  We can be diligent, temperate, charitable, patient and kind.  I wonder, do we really stand a chance of being chaste in our current culture left to our own devices?

Sex is all around us.  Sex sells.  What would advertisers do without it?  They count on our lustful desires.  And they feed them constantly with words and images.  Movies, television, music, magazines, the internet; It’s all full of lust inducing content.  This constant barrage of visuals has successfully desensitized us to the negative consequences of our lustful behavior.

The prevailing attitude of popular culture tells us that if it feels good, do it.  Why wait?  It’s just sex.  It’s not hurting anyone. Everybody’s doing it.  You only live once.  Bad things won’t happen.  There’s a pill to make sure, and another one just in case.  What’s the big deal?

Lust and sex can ruin lives quickly!  That’s the big deal.  A very short period of pleasure followed by a lifetime of regret and hardship.  Or maybe you get lucky this time.  But luck runs out eventually.  Why do we take the chance?  We want to belong.  We want to be loved.  And we want pleasure now.

So how can we possibly overcome the luster of lust with the unpopularity of chastity?  Unlike the other vices where a little self-control can go a long way toward improving our virtue, we need significant help from above on this one.  Lust is too strong an emotion, and too willingly accepted and promoted by society.  Plus there is the chemical reaction within us that can quickly become a runaway train.  We have little control of the brakes.  We will crash.

Let’s make our first line of defense asking for God’s help.  Ask it often.  Whenever the initial lustful thought begins in our mind, stop and say; “Lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil!”  Admit our weakness and ask for strength.

Next, take a stand. Chastity is the courageous choice.  It takes confidence that you are doing the right thing, and determination to not let others persuade you otherwise.   No premarital sex.  No extramarital sex.  A loving faithful relationship with your partner for life.  And welcome children.  Is that all so bad or so difficult?  Or is it too good to be true?  No drama.  No surprises.  I like it!

Avoidance is a good defense as well.  Avoid visual stimuli and situations that can lead to lustful thoughts, words and actions. Don’t feed the beast.  Stop, drop, and roll was my next thought.  You know, the advice we are given if we are on fire.  Best to forget the drop and roll in the case of lust.  Just stop!  Once a lustful thought begins, stop thinking … look away, walk away.

Remember, a person’s body is the body of a person.  Don’t objectify and dwell upon it.  Acknowledge the beauty created by God and move on.  Honor and respect the person.

We all want to be respected and loved.  We all are … by God.  We really don’t need any more than that.  But we want it.  So look for it in all the right places.  Our families.  Find that one person you are meant to spend your life with.  Be patient.  That person will come along.  You will know when they do.  Not because of lust, but because of love. Choose love over lust.  Know the difference.

Lust takes away from another.  You want something from them.  It’s all about you.  Love gives to another.  You want the best for that person.  They are more important to you than you are to yourself.  Amazing!

Here’s your challenge for the week.  Recognize all the lustful words and images that you are subjected to in one day.   Start a count in your head as you begin your day.  You will be amazed at how many there are.  You will likely lose track by noon.  That’s fine.  The purpose of the exercise is simple awareness.  Then think of one way you can reduce that daily count for yourself.  Start doing whatever that is immediately.

Godspeed, Scott

I Want an Oompa Loompa Now!

This week’s installment of how to use the 7 heavenly virtues to defeat the 7 deadly sins:  Charity versus Greed.  I woke up this morning thinking about the movie, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.  This was my favorite movie as a kid and remains so to this day.  I’m going to assume you have seen it.  If not, stop reading and go watch the original version from 1971.  It is one of the best feel good movies ever produced.

Spoiler alert – Charlie ends up winning the factory by demonstrating his strong moral character.  All the other kids involved lose due to their over-indulgence in some particular vice; mainly gluttony, greed and pride.  My favorite was “I want it now!” girl who demanded her father buy her an Oompa Loompa and a Golden Goose.  Now that’s greedy!  She ends up being declared a bad egg and falling down a garbage chute to the furnace.    Mr. Wonka states that the furnace is only lit every other day, so she has a sporting chance of survival.  If you have 3 minutes to spare, you can check out that scene here.

On the other hand, Charlie resists the greedy urge to sell his Everlasting Gobstopper to Slugworth.  And that selfless act won him the factory.  The movie ends with Mr. Wonka reminding Charlie not to forget about the man who suddenly received everything he ever wanted. Charlie asks, “What happened?” to which Wonka replies, “He lived happily ever after.”  I don’t think that is necessarily true in this life.  But living a life of virtue may get you to the next, eternal life in heaven … which must have a chocolate factory, right?!

Greed is an extreme desire for wealth or material gain. Covetousness, materialism.  Also known as avarice; an insatiable desire for riches; the inordinate miserly desire to gain and hoard wealth.  Acquisitiveness, cupidity, selfishness, miserliness, stinginess.

We all know the bible verse (1 Timothy 6:10) that states that, “For the love of money is the root of all evils.”  We all need some amount of money to meet our basic needs and to enable us to achieve our mission in life.  As we discussed regarding temperance earlier, the big question is, what do we truly need?  Tough question.  Or maybe the answer is just not what we want to hear.

As Jesus chose his disciples he told them to leave everything they owned and follow Him.  I’ve always assumed they didn’t have much back then.  Still it must have been a tough decision.  Like it was for the rich man who asked Jesus what he had to do to get to heaven.  He was told to sell everything he had and give to the poor.  The man sadly walked away from that challenge.  Is that what we are asked to do too?  I don’t know.  I think we all need to let our conscience, or maybe the Holy Spirit, be our guide.  Have you every seriously contemplated the question: “How much money and stuff do I really need?”

As with gluttony, the line between needs and wants is blurry in our instant gratification culture.  Advertisers are brilliant in their portrayal of wants as needs.  Plus we can have what we want now and pay later.  Why wait?  What’s the problem?  I recently read that credit card and student loan debt are at the highest levels ever recorded.  By contrast, the savings rate is at its lowest level.  That’s a problem.  Another impending crisis.  Oh, and the national debt is a record $26.5 trillion, about $80,000 for every citizen … Wow!

Greed seems to be winning.  At the same time, I don’t think any of us would call ourselves greedy.  I don’t know anyone I would call greedy.  No miserly Scrooge types.  I know a lot of people with a lot of stuff, including me.  They are all also very generous, donating their time and money to good causes.  Is that greedy?  Maybe.  Mostly I think it’s pride.  Keeping up with the Joneses.

I’ve bought a lot of stuff.  Looking back and asking why, I don’t think greed or pride was the reason.  Rather it was a search for happiness.  Maybe that is pride.  Or maybe spending was an unconscious strategy to keep me going to work.  I really don’t know.  But I do know the stuff only made me happy temporarily.  Like a kid at Christmas.  Get a bunch of toys, play with them for a while, and then move on to wanting something else.

I’m going to conclude that most of our accumulation of stuff is the result of attempting to buy happiness.  It doesn’t work.  It’s a vicious cycle.  We buy stuff because we’re unhappy, and we’re unhappy because we buy stuff.  It’s time to stop the madness.  To start a new cycle, one of saving and giving.

Charity is the voluntary giving of help to those in need.  Kindness and tolerance in judging others.  Aid, relief, alms, philanthropy, benevolence, goodwill, compassion, consideration, concern, kindness, sympathy, indulgence, tolerance, leniency.

Charity is giving of your time, talent, and treasure with no expectation of receiving anything in return.  It’s giving with an attitude of gratitude.  The strange thing is, the more you give the more you seem to get.  Apparently it’s a law of nature.  And it makes you happy too.  Way happier than owning stuff.  Think about it, don’t you enjoy giving gifts more than receiving them?

I have this crazy dream of developing a tiny house community of striving saints.  Not like a cult or commune or closed society.  Just a place for like-minded people to live a life of simplicity and service.  Residents would be normal members of society with regular jobs and lives.  I’m not sure how the raising children thing would work.  Maybe they get their own even tinier place, or a tree house?  It’s just a nice place to live and learn from each other.  To inspire each other to live virtuously and with a sense of purpose.  To serve others and become our best selves.

Why tiny houses?  Because it would require us to give most of our stuff away.  To only keep the things we really need.  Like only the stuff that would fit in a 400-square foot area.  For us that would mean getting rid of about 85 percent of our belongings.  Could you do it?  If you’ve never seen a tiny house, check out these models.

Another advantage of living with less is that you have less to do.  It frees up your time.  No yard work, little cleaning, and more desire to get out of that tiny space and do something useful in the world.  To be charitable.

Here’s your challenge for the week.  First, actually count your blessings.  Write them down, everything you are grateful for.  Next, think about what you would do if you were actually moving to a tiny home.  What would you keep?  What would you do with the rest?  Start doing that now in some small way.  Give away one thing to charity this week.  And let me know if you want to invest in the tiny house community.  I’m joking, well kind of…

Yours in Gracious Giving, Scott

 

 

Lions and Sloths and Bears, Oh My!

Did you practice your temperance last week?  Melanie went to the grocery store without me, under protest.  She came back with a receipt that represented 75 percent need and only 25 percent want.  And she saved $25 off our normal weekly bill which will allow the food bank to provide 100 meals to families in need.  On the downside, she informed me I will be going to the store with her in the future for my own good, whatever that means.

Moving on to the fifth in our series of the 7 heavenly virtues and their opposing 7 deadly sins; Diligence and Sloth.

First a few definitions to justify the title and enhance your trivia knowledge.

  • A group of lions is called a pride. Pride is the deadliest of the sins as we covered previously.
  • A sloth is a cute little slow-moving mammal.
  • A group of bears is called a sloth. Less deadly than a pride, but still scary.

I like to think of the vice of sloth as a cross between the cute little mammal and the scary bears.  It’s both alluring and frightening.

Sloth is a reluctance to work or make an effort.  Laziness, idleness, inactivity, inertia, sluggishness, shiftlessness, apathy, listlessness, lethargy, complacency, indifference.  Ugh, I need a nap.  Sloth is not doing what you know you should do. Doing the bare minimum needed to get by.  Wasting your valuable time and energy.

While rest is necessary to rejuvenate ourselves occasionally, too much will lead to unhappiness and even depression.  Have you ever slept too long and felt groggy all day?  It’s that feeling.  Sloth zaps your energy.  Being lazy tends to make you even lazier, it’s a vicious cycle.  So why would we ever be slothful?

Because doing nothing is always easier than doing something.  Or, since we are always actually doing something, it is more accurate to say that doing something easy is easier than doing something hard.  We want to do easy things, we avoid doing the hard stuff.  Unless we have a strong motivation, like we need money to survive so we do the hard things necessary to earn it.

You are obviously a diligent person or you wouldn’t be reading this.  I’ll bet you are really busy too.  I wonder, can we be busy and slothful at the same time?  I think the answer is yes.  Busy doesn’t always mean productive.  It’s easy to get busy doing the wrong things.  Like doing all your easy tasks instead of the more difficult that you know you should be doing.  I’m sure we all do at times. Avoidance and procrastination are sure signs of sloth for me.

This is getting a little depressing, time to turn it around.  I saw a funny sign once.  It said, “Dear Optimist and Pessimist, while you were arguing about whether the glass was half full or half empty, I drank it.  Signed the Opportunist.”  Let’s seize the opportunity to overcome sloth with diligence.

Diligence is careful and persistent work or effort.  Conscientiousness, dedication, commitment, tenacity, perseverance.  Doing what you were meant to do with passion.  Making a positive difference for the benefit of others.  Taking action.  Being proactive.  Focusing your efforts on important work.  Avoiding distractions.  Determination and persistence in the pursuit of worthwhile goals.  Now that’s exciting and energizing!

You immediately know when you cross paths with someone who is living a life of diligence. They are enthusiastic, passionate, energetic, positive, happy, determined and in constant pursuit of excellence in all that they do.  They are inspiring and motivating.  They know their purpose and mission in life.  You want to be around them and to be like them.

God has given each of us a number of gifts.  Chief among them Life, Talents, Free Will, Time, and His Grace along the way.  I believe He also gave us all a personal mission, but that is a huge topic for another time.  And I believe He gave us all a common purpose; to come back to Him.

Think about it.  God gave us all these great gifts.  What does He expect in return?  No one really knows.  Maybe nothing.  He did give us a few commandments.  Love Him and neighbors (everyone else).  Maybe that’s it.  But how do we show our love?

Personally I feel a responsibility to use my great gifts to become the best me I can be.  To serve others using the time and talents I’ve been blessed with.  And to behave morally, to pursue virtue.  That’s my purpose.  I actually think we all share that purpose.  To do the best we can and eventually make it back to God.  To be saints.

I attempt to do this through using a simple three-step daily process I call TAP, as in tap my potential.  It stands for Think, Act and Pray.  Check it out and give it a try.

Think – Be aware of the choices you make.  Interesting, as I just typed “be aware,” I left out the space.  Spellcheck changed it to “beware.”  Sometimes I think my mistyping is not accidental.  Like in this case, beware is a good warning.  As in, if you are not in a continuous state of awareness about the choices you are making, beware of the consequences.

Being aware is the #1 thing we can do immediately to avoid sloth and practice diligence.  To make conscious choices in line with our purpose.  To be the best we can be for the benefit of others.  My friend Jim is so clear about this purpose; “To make it to Heaven and bring as many others with me as I can.”  He has a clear focus that guides his daily activities.  There is no time for sloth in his life!

How do we do that?  By doing what matters most and avoiding what matters least.  By focusing our time and attention on the important things in life.  Our health, our relationships with God and others, continually learning, and actively developing our talents and using them to serve others.

Here’s the thinking question I ask myself many times in a day.  What’s Important Now (WIN)?  This is a question Lou Holtz asked his players to think about each time they had a choice to make about how to spend their time.  Actually this is both a what and why question.  What should I do and why should I do it?  The why answer should be that it helps us fulfill our purpose.

As I have become more spiritual, and in the spirit of striving to become a saint, I now ask God this question often, “What should I do next to bring JOY to the world.”  By joy I mean something that is showing love for Jesus and Others, and helping You to become your best self.  Are three acronyms in one article too much?  Moving on with TAP…

Act – Take action.  Once you have thought through your options to WIN and bring JOY, make your choice.  Then make it happen.  Have no fear.  No avoidance or procrastination allowed.

Pray – Think and pray are overlapping for me.  I think that is a good thing. Thinking on our own without help from above can be dangerous.  So in addition to the WIN and JOY questions throughout the day which asked in prayer and followed up by thought, I make sure to start and end each day with prayer.

To start the day: “Thank you for the opportunity of a new day, please guide my activities, and give me strength to carry on.”  To end: “Thank you for the help in the things I did well. I’m sorry for my failings.  I resolve to do better tomorrow.  And thank you for the great gifts You have blessed me with, and for the opportunity to use them to benefit others and to make the world a better place.”

That’s it, three simple daily steps to being diligent.  Personally I think diligence is the key to overcoming all the vices.  The ability to control our behavior begins and ends with diligence.  We must be determined, persistent, and consistent in exercising self-discipline to do what we know we should do, and to avoid all else.

Need some practice?  Pick one thing you will do this week to be more diligent and less slothful.  Something simple.  Make it fairly easy.  Like replacing a half hour of television or phone time every day with prayer or reading the bible.  Or wake up a half hour earlier and go for a walk.  Think and Act and Pray on one thing.  You can do it!

Have Joyful Week!

Scott

The Fast Path to Temperance

Next up in our review of the 7 heavenly virtues and their opposing deadly sins; overcoming the vice of gluttony with the virtue of temperance.

Gluttony is a deadly sin … literally.  The number one killer in our society is heart disease, mainly caused by obesity, which is primarily the result of eating too much (gluttony) and moving too little (sloth).  We’ll tackle sloth next week, I don’t have the energy for it today … ha.

Gluttony is an inordinate desire to consume more than what one requires.  Overeating, insatiability, piggishness, voraciousness. Drinking to excess.

The latest statistics show that over 70 percent of adults and 35 percent of children in America are overweight or obese.  Those numbers have each risen 5 percentage points in the last two years … ugh!  The statistics related to alcoholism and drug addiction continue to deteriorate rapidly as well.

I could go on about all the problems we have related to gluttony, but I likely wouldn’t be telling you anything you don’t already know.  Let’s focus on the solution instead … Temperance.

Temperance is moderation or self-restraint, especially in eating and drinking.  Self-control, self-discipline, self-denial, abstinence, restraint, moderation.

The virtue of temperance is focused on meeting our needs.  In contrast, the vice of gluttony is consumed with fulfilling our wants.  Meeting our basic need for food and drink is temperance.  Anything beyond our basic need is want, and can therefore be considered gluttony.

Have you ever heard the saying, “You sure are a glutton for punishment?”  Gluttony does indeed carries its own punishment. We cause our own health problems by our gluttonous behavior.  Then why do we do it?  Because temperance is hard.  But why?  Because we have to control our appetites.  Wait, that shouldn’t be hard.  We should be in total control of ourselves, right?  Our own behavior is the only thing we really have control over.  Or do we?  Apparently not!

Why is it so difficult to control our cravings?  I think part of it has to do with our definition of needs and wants.  There seems to be confusion about the distinction between the two.  The line between them has been blurred by our expectations.  When we finally get something we want, it somehow magically transforms itself into a need from that point forward, resulting in a never ending “needs” escalation.

For instance, I’m fascinated by the way people describe their needs on those home buying shows on HGTV.  All we really need in a home is the structure; a solid foundation, walls, and a roof over our head.  Well, electricity and plumbing are nice too.  The rest is all want.  But the prospective home buyers always use the word “need” instead of want in describing all that they are looking for in a home.  Do we really need a modern open concept home with an infinity pool and an ocean view?

For purposes of this discussion I propose the following as our working definitions of need and want:

Need – That which is required, necessary, essential … Temperance.

Want – Everything else.  Desires, cravings, excess … Gluttony.

When I catch myself saying that I need something that I actually just want, I remind myself of the movie “The Jerk.”  Specifically the scene where Navin Johnson (played by Steve Martin) is shuffling out of his mansion picking up ridiculous things he says he needs.  If you need or want a 3-minute laugh, check out this scene … https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4VbI5zcB8Ac

So what do we truly need to eat and drink?  The simple answer is, enough to survive.  I could go into daily calorie and water needs, or bore you with a discussion of vitamins and minerals.  But since our goal is to inspire and motivate ourselves to become more temperate, let’s try something different.  I find that making myself feel guilty about something is a good way to change my behavior.  So lets try this…

I reviewed our last grocery store receipt and labeled each item as either a need or a want.  The result was roughly 30 percent need and 70 percent want.  I noticed that the needs corresponded with the things Melanie picked out, and the wants were primarily mine.  Oops!

We shop weekly and the amount is usually about the same, $100.  I wondered how much we spend on wants in a year, so I multiplied $100 x 52 weeks x 70%.  The result, $3,640.  Wow, that’s a lot of want, or let’s just call it waste to add to the shame.

Then I wondered how many meals could have been provided to the hungry with our annual wasted dollars?  The Food Bank of Iowa states that they can provide 4 meals for every dollar contributed to them.   4 x $3,640 = 14,560 meals.  Okay now I feel really guilty.  I’m a horrible person!  Makes ya think, doesn’t it?!

Here is what I am going to do to become more temperate.  I’m going to Fast.  The fast way to becoming more temperate is to Fast.  A fast is to abstain entirely from or limit food.  I’m going to attempt to limit my food and drink intake to my needs, not my wants.

There are many ways to fast.  I’m no expert.  I think of it as denying myself in some way.  In this case, from food I want but don’t really need.  I thought about starting small, with one food type and then adding others over time.  But I know that won’t work for me.  I’ve tried it before.  I end up substituting one bad food for another and defeat the purpose.  The cold turkey approach works much better for me.  You are probably more disciplined.

Know thyself and choose your own approach.  Fast from one thing for a day, week, year, forever.  Fast between meals.  Fast from a meal each day for a week.  Fast entirely for a day.  Or try intermittent fasting, like not eating for 16 consecutive hours each day.  Do whatever works to help you become more temperate.

To deny myself my wants, I simply won’t buy them.  If I don’t have the wants in the house I can’t eat them.  Brilliant!  Maybe we can reduce our grocery bill in half.  We’ll donate it to a food bank resulting in providing over 10,000 meals annually to the hungry in Iowa.  Interesting, by becoming more temperate we are also becoming more charitable.  Growing virtue in one area tends to grow it in others as well…Nice!

I just realized that the best way for me to succeed in my temperance quest is to not go to the grocery store at all.  Melanie can do all the shopping since she only buys our needs anyway.  Another brilliant strategy.  Think she’ll buy it?  No way!

Here’s the challenge for the week; Fast from one of your food wants.  Pick just one.  One you know you shouldn’t eat anyway.  You can do it!

To Your Health, Scott