Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Lenten Resolve

I was taking a small break from posting. I got a little burned out writing almost every day to keep up with the pace of Mr. Kelly's devotional. I've seen a recent uptick in views and I realized that some of you out there have saved reading Rediscover Jesus to do over Lent. Makes sense: 40 chapters, 40 days of Lent. I just wanted to let you know that I see you. I know you're reading this. I'm hoping that you will leave a comment, or ask a question if the Spirit so moves you. I'd just like to see where you're at, or maybe spark some conversation. I've got some big things planned for you guys in the Easter season. I'm using Lent to gear up and plan out a lot of it.

Speaking of Lent, I wanted to talk about one of the more misunderstood aspects. Fasting. We've boiled it down to "giving something up". I know we actually fast on two days, but I'm talking about a fasting that lasts throughout. This was actually the original practice. Early Christians would fast more similar to how Jesus did. They would give up actual meals throughout the 40 days, not just on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. So what did you do for Lent? Other than reading Rediscover Jesus. Were you cliche? Did you give up chocolate, or soda, or sweets? I'm not picking on you if you did. But I want to challenge you. Have you thought about fasting? I'm not saying don't eat anything for 40 days. I'm talking about purposefully making yourself hungry. Restricting your calories enough that you feel that "hunger pain". You feel that real, visceral need for food.

It's a weird thing in our society, to feel hungry. Not the "oh man, I can't believe it's still an hour until my lunch break; I'm starving!" kind of hungry. I mean to have a chronically empty stomach and knowing there isn't more sustenance coming any time soon. Do you even know what that feels like? I can't imagine that a lot of middle class America does. I imagine most of haven't gone even 12 hours between eating something, ever. And probably on average, with readily available snacks, fast food and convenience stores, most of us don't even go a couple hours without eating or drinking at least something. (and yes, I'm counting your coffee run to Dunkin or Starbucks, cream and sugar have caloric value)

So why am I focusing on this? Hunger is such a different kind of want. Most of the things we give up for Lent we can live without. You could never drink a Coke again for the next 50 years and you'll be just fine. You can't do that with food. You need it. Seriously, try it. Go a day without eating (unless you have a medical condition that precludes you from doing so). You have no idea what you're in for. It is all you will think about all day. There is literally nothing that will distract you from your fixation on food. We are, most of us, truly blessed. So we ignore how wonderful it feels to feel full. We're so accustomed to it, we can begin to feel miserable just having our meal delayed an hour. So here's some points on why I like fasting.

1) It makes you appreciate food. I think this is one of those things that we truly take for granted. We stuff our face while watching TV or checking our phones, not having any real appreciation for what a magnificent action it is to eat. You won't even believe your taste buds when you eat something after fasting for a certain length of time.

2) It teaches us discipline. The greatest challenge of fasting is that we are constantly surrounded by food. It is EVERYWHERE, and so easily accessible and cheap. The temptation is constantly there to say, eh, I'll just have a little taste. It's a wonderful analogy to sin and having the strength to follow our conscience. Disciple gives us the power to be in control of our lives and not driven by our passions.

3) It's counter-cultural. You'll learn to love the look on people's faces when you tell them you're fasting. People really can't wrap their brains around it. Why, in this day and age, where we have the entire world at our finger tips would you restrict yourself from any pleasure, let alone food?! We live in such a society where the chief value statement is: If it feels good, do it. There's something that feels really good about not doing just for that very reason.

4) It frees up a lot of time/effort. You will not believe how much time and thought we put into food every day. There is something liberating about not worrying about if I need to pack something, or run out to pick something up, or timing when you need to start the oven to have dinner ready at a specific time. Something that it does free up your time and your mind for? Prayer.

5) It's a prayerful experience. Nothing will make you feel more self-aware than hunger. There is nothing else I can think of to make you feel humble and grateful, also. There is something wonderful that happens to your soul when you deny your body. You are almost drawn to the Lord. It's a strange yet wonderful feeling.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Rediscover Jesus: Forty

So here we are. The end of the book. This is a very different kind of end. Usually the end of a book feels like the last day of vacation or saying goodbye after running into an old friend. I usually feel like this:

This time it feels different though, right? Like this is a beginning and not an end; like turning the last page of the book is the same act as turning the first page on the new story of your life. What do you expect to find when you spend your "hour"? Are you excited, a little scared, nervous? Have you been looking forward to this? Do you think you're ready to hear what God has to say to you? I don't want to keep you from it. Please log off and schedule your hour of conversation with Jesus. Or do it right now, if you don't have anything pressing. I hate long goodbyes.

Luckily, this post isn't that long and it isn't really goodbye. I love that I'm writing this on the eve of Lent. That we're wrapping up this journey together to start on a new one. There are so many more things for us to talk about and explore. I'll still be posting here even though we accomplished what we set out to do. To really read this book deeply and thoughtfully and let it speak to our hearts. If you've really come to like Matthew Kelly as I have, please check out his page and sign up for the Best Lent Ever. You can thank me later in the comments section. I'll be seeing you soon. Have a blessed Ash Wednesday.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Rediscover Jesus: Thirty-Nine

One time, someone asked Ghandi what he thought about Christianity. He responded, surprisingly, that he truly loved Jesus. He loved the message. He loved the power in his presence. There was a plethora of superlatives that he lavished on the person of Jesus. He followed it though, by saying something really powerful. He would have actually embraced Christianity, if he met more Christians that were actually following Jesus teaching. If that doesn't make a believer take pause, I don't know what will. Mahatma Ghandi would have become a Christian if he believed that those who professed to believe in Jesus really believed. Whoa, what a thing to ask when we look at ourselves in the mirror: Has my inactivity, my lack of relationship with Jesus actually turned off other people from discovering Christ for themselves. On the flip side, this can be converted to a really powerful faith statement. By living the Gospel, by accepting Jesus, we are turning people on to Christ. Can you imagine? If we just accept we will lead others. We're not being called to be street corner proclaimers, We don't have to read the Bible to people with a bullhorn. We are evangelizing the world by how we live. We are living examples of what it means to be a part of the mystical Body of Christ.

You can do so much. The possibilities are endless. Matthew Kelly charges us with that vision. What would the world be like if Christians really behaved like Christians? I know I've said it before, but it bears repeating. I am limited by the nature of this blog from posting all of the possibilities that could come from all of us deciding to live our lives this way. Even if it's just the 20 or so of you that are reading this blog regularly. What if we decided, today, to start really living out the teachings of the Gospel? What if we decided to buy in 100% to what God has planned for us? What kind of effect would that have? I'll trust your imagination to answer these questions. I, personally, get so excited when I think about what a Kingdom of God on Earth would look like, a place where we put God and everyone else first. So I challenge you/ Don't think about how you can change the world. Think about how changing yourself will change the world. You can do it. You are so special to God. You are important. What you do has consequences. You matter. I wish I could right a million sentences of affirmation that will make you believe that you are worthy. I can't give that to you though. That truth is for God alone, and for you alone to receive. You will either believe it or you won't. All the "atta boys" in the world aren't going to make you feel like you are a vital part in the plan of God's salvation. Don't be afraid. You are worthy. You are important. I pray every day that this book is doing for you what it did for me. I pray that this is a beginning and not an end. May God bless you.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Rediscover Jesus: Thirty-Eight

I'm always amazed at how well Matthew Kelly communicates his emotions. Most authors try to evoke an emotional response from the reader. All great art does this, paintings, music, movies, etc. Kelly is different. I mean, he does evoke an emotional response in the reader, but he breaks down the fourth wall. In these waning chapters, I can really begin to feel a desperation, a sense of urgency. It's like, while writing, he is imagining the hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of readers who are at this point of the book. Everything else in the book has been leading up to this moment. It has been persuasive arguments and encouragement, insights and reflections, all designed to pique our interest, to get us really thinking about Jesus' message and God in our lives. He knows. He knows that at the end of the book all the readers are going to be left with a decision. Actually, all of the readers are going to be left with the decision.

We've all either seen it or experienced it: the self-help book or the exercise video phenomenon. How many people here have been on Atkins? (I'm picturing people throughout Levittown, sitting at their computer screens, raising their hand right now.) For the majority of us, myself included, we get fired up when we find the next best thing. This is it! P90X, I am going to get so fit! This is it! The southbeach diet! I am going to drop like 50 pounds! This is it! The Secret! I am going to get so happy! This is it! 7 Habits of Highly Effective People! I am putting my life in order right now!

So then what happens? The creator of the program makes a ton of money, and 90% of the people who bought it keep it up for about a month, and then it goes on the shelf with all of the other programs, books and videos that we thought was going to be the one. We all love our future self. We see that victorious person at the end of the challenge looking skinnier, smarter, well organized, hydrated and happy! Why are we only happy in the future? Why can't we be happy right now? You know we can. I've said it way too many times already, Matthew Kelly said it way too many times already, Jesus has said it way too many times already, for you to not know this. The trick is realizing that your future self is not really you. It's a fiction. It's a person you've invented. The future you is a character in a story, no more real than Sherlock Holmes. That person can become a reality, but we have to remember that we can't put our happiness in the future. We can't rest all of our hopes and dreams on the chance that it might randomly come true. It's important to do it now.

So if we commit today, or in the next two chapters/days, why is it going to be different this time? Unlike the other "change your life" scenarios, it's not up to you. Unlike the other plans, the author of the book didn't create it. Unlike the other plans, this one comes complete with a divine life coach. A life coach that really does care about the outcome of your decision to improve. I think at the end of the day, the thing that keeps us from buying in is not always the question of whether the product works, it's the question of whether we can stick to it.  Believe in yourself. Let this not be the end of this book, but the beginning of something really great.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Rediscover Jesus: Thirty-Seven

I love the concept of the holy moment. I think it's demonstrated really well in a clip from a Movie called Waking Life by Richard Linklater. I provided a link to the clip here

Holy Moment

The movie itself is a little odd, but it really is a work of art. As we see, the characters are talking about holy moments and how they're portrayed in cinema. It's easy to think of those moments. It usually happens in a pivotal moment when the actors realize there is something going on bigger than themselves. I always think of Field of Dreams. Particularly the scenes with James Earl Jones, when they find Moonlight Graham, or when Jones' character sees the ball field for the first time. It's easy to tell in movies when that moment is occurring. There's usually a dramatic change in the soundtrack, a close up on the character's face, a slow pan to the larger surroundings of the scene. If you're still not sure, watch any Spielberg movie to get the effect.

There are holy moments in real life too. The crazy thing is that they are happening all the time. God is in the holy moment, just as he is in every moment. The trick with the holy moment is that a lot of times they are subjective. We have to be ready to receive the moment. Two people can be in the same situation and have completely different reactions. I sense those moments particularly when I'm walking in the woods, or staring up at the stars, watching my sons, after I receive communion, or when I'm having a really good, deep conversation. There are moments that just hit me. Sometimes, it can be completely unexpected. They are times when God is speaking directly to our hearts. When we feel him rather than understand him. We can't always put into words the wisdom that we get to glance for a brief second, but we know it happened.

God's grace is abounding. It's all around us, at every second of the day. So why don't we see it all the time. Maybe it's like in the movie clip. We ignore the moment because it's hard to live like that. Maybe we are too distracted by everything else happening. This is where Kelly's suggestion come into play. Begin your day with prayer. Break up your day with prayer. Practice slowing your breathing. Be in the moment; realize what is taking place. When we prepare ourselves mentally to receive God's grace, we are transported into the holy moment. You'll be really surprised how many times they occur when you are ready for them. I know I was. It can be overwhelming at first, but you get used to them. You become accustomed to hearing God's voice throughout the day. This is a huge step to true discipleship.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Rediscover Jesus: Thirty-Six

I'm going to get personal on this one. I believe that others, maybe even you, dear reader, are going through the same thing. My hope is that sharing my personal struggle will help you feel less alone, if you are dealing with the same feelings that this chapter invokes in me.

I am broken. There, I said it. I believed the lie for too long. I didn't think holiness was possible. The path of sin and selfishness that it put me on is too long and painful to fit into this blog post. I'm still picking up the pieces. The fissures that this belief created in my psyche and my soul created really dark places. I'm still trying to unpack it all. Understanding why I sin is tied tightly with who I believed that I was. It still colors who I think I am today. I have accepted the fact that God's plan is the right one. I truly believe Jesus' way is the path to happiness. Why do I still struggle? I think, for the most part, that it is an immaturity. I have said in the past that people stop maturing emotionally when they have had a psychological trauma. Maybe it was the first time your heart was broken. Maybe it was the first time you were betrayed by someone you trust. Maybe it was a death of a loved one that you couldn't come to terms with.

I believed the lie because it was easier. If holiness wasn't for me, then I didn't have to live up that expectation. I heard yesterday that the most searched topic on the internet was spirituality. It seems that we are all searching. We all want to find a way to understand ourselves that keeps us at the center. It's such a strong lie. We want to understand ourselves on our own terms. If there's one thing I've learned from this book, it's that I can't be at the center of my spiritual life. I can't find happiness on my own terms. God knows I've tried (pun intended). I keep returning to this selfish world-view. I keep coming back to doing what I want. I still find myself doing what I think will make me happy in moments of weakness and doubt. So I'm giving it up. I'm going to stop seeking happiness in all the other places. I'm going to choose to believe that holiness is possible. I have lived inauthentically for too long. I'm going to start today. I hope that if you are at the same crossroad, you will join me on the "path less traveled".

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Rediscover Jesus: Thirty-Five

So we left the last chapter asking the ultimate question. What is happiness? Which my really sloppy philosophical argument lead to the penultimate question, What does God want?

Luckily, God gave us the answer. He gave the answer in the form of a person: His Son, Jesus. What he did and said, the blueprint he laid out for us to follow, is recorded in the Gospel. So follow me down the rabbit hole if you will:

What is the meaning of life?
-To be happy (joyful).
What is happiness (joy)?
-To be fulfilled.
What is fulfillment?
-To do the thing I was meant to do.
What is the thing I was meant to do.
-To be rational, use my intellect.
What does being rational mean?
-To know what's true.
What is the ultimate Truth?
-God's plan.
Through whom is God's plan fulfilled?
How can we find out how Jesus did this?
-By reading the Gospel

Did I blow your mind? I know I got knocked for a loop when I first came across this. The answer to life's biggest question is in the Gospel. All those years of Catholic school and no one bothered to tell me this. If you don't like logical proofs, there's also the evidence of the past two-thousand years or so,  of people who have found complete happiness by living the Gospel message. So Matthew Kelly says if you don't agree that the Gospel isn't the pathway to complete joy, that's OK. I disagree. I think you're living in complete denial.

Rediscover Jesus: Thirty-Four

This type of thinking can lead to some really heavy philosophical thought. I like to lighten things up when things get heavy to make a tough topic more approachable. Here's exactly what popped into my head when I read this chapter.

The Ultimate Answer

So there you have it. The most important thing isn't knowing the right answer, it's knowing the right question. If we don't really get to the heart of what we really want to ask, then there isn't an answer that will suffice. It's tough because the question can't be in a rhetorical form. Do you want a million dollars? Do you want a Ferrari? Do you want to go on a date with Zac Efron?

... Do you want to be happy? Yes! Of course I want all of these things! These are silly to even ask!

Do you want to be happy? is a loaded question. The answer is obvious, but the underlying question isn't. The question underlying the first question is "What is happiness?"

Until I answer that, I can't answer if I want to be it. I think that's where we get lost. We imagine what it must be like to be happy. Having things we desire must be happiness, because we're happy when we get what we want. So then happiness becomes the absence of wanting. When we want for nothing, we'll be happy. But then that's easy. Just stop wanting things and you'll be happy. I'm thinking this isn't your definition of happiness. It certainly isn't mine. Happiness should be fulfilling, not empty. Happiness should be a something. So we agree that it's something, not nothing. We also agree that something isn't getting what we want.

According to Aristotle, everything has a function. There is a fulfillment in any thing if it does what it was meant to do well. A knife that is sharp fulfills its function better than a dull one. A dog playing fetch appears much happier to us than one in a cage. We even talk about our cars being happier after an oil change or wash or new brakes. For Aristotle, humans have one function that sets them apart from all other things. Humans can reason. They have intellect. St. Thomas Aquinas took this one step further. True happiness is when humans not only use their reason, but use it to discover the ultimate truth. The ultimate truth is what is God's plan for the world. This truth as it relates to us is God's plan for us. So let's bring this home and back to Kelly's point. Happiness is discovering God's plan for us. We must ask the most important question in the universe: What does God want?