“They’re really going to like this!” said God when he put a paper-thin, white wrapper on a garlic clove to keep it moist and fresh until use. “It’s a perfect bonne bouche!” he added.

I noticed this perfect thin, white wrapper yesterday when I used a garlic press to squish the yummy, savory garlic spice into my pot of steaming white bean soup. The thin paper was left in the bottom of the press. Amazing!

Gifts, wrapped and placed in containers are everywhere.

God loves us. He gift-wrapped so many things for us.

He must have taken delight in how much we would take delight in wrappers and containers and their contents and how much we would benefit.

Our oranges have thick, pungent bright orange rinds, bananas that perfectly peel-able yellow jacket, apples the shiny red edible skin — all these packing many needed essentials.

Fruits are pouches for essential nutrients — potassium, dietary fiber, vitamin C and folate (folic acid).

In times like these, when fear an uncertainty are high, its helpful to notice the small, safe, protective container-gifts that we have been given. They are everywhere.

Yes, this rock we live on is dangerous, but we have wonderful layers and covers and containers and skins to enjoy today and to be thankful for.

Our own skin, the bag we live in, holds in all our complex organic machinery. The average adult has approximately 21 square feet of skin which weighs 9 pounds and contains more than eleven miles of blood vessels. The average person has about 300 million skin cells.

And we have our white blood cells — also called leukocytes or leucocytes — and they are the cells of the immune system that are involved in protecting the body against both infectious disease and foreign invaders. Yea!

Furthermore, our soft clothing keeps us modest and warm. Our homes with walls and roofs keep us warm and dry and safe. Our cars, and buses and trains and planes carry us safely many miles in their metal skins.

Yes, we get sick, but we often live covered, enclosed, encased, protected lives, and for those who don’t or can’t have such protections, the well-world must take great care and bring them inside and close them in and protect them and keep them safe, the homeless, the refugees the immigrants. This is love, to put a coat over another.

There is more. Earth’s atmosphere, its atmospheric stratification, is commonly divided into five layers. Excluding the exosphere, the four primary layers are the troposphere, stratosphere, mesosphere, and thermosphere.

These wonderful wrappings enclose our earth, keep in the heat, hold our weather, protect us from the sun. The thin layer of gas called ozone, high up in the atmosphere, filters out ultraviolet radiation.

The Earth’s atmosphere is also good at shielding us from space rocks hurtling towards the planet. Our strong air pressure causes many meteors to break up into small pieces.

The extreme heat generated as the meteoroid passes through the atmosphere causes it to burn up in what we see as streaking flashes of light.

We are protected. Of course, today, as the world is reeling from the execrable coronavirus we may not feel or think of all these protections, but we must to be rational and balance our perspective.

Yes, there is illness. Yes, a large meteor might strike the earth and harm us. Yes, one day the sun will exploded and take out the earth, but yes, yes, yes today we yet experience many wonderful layers of protection surrounding our food, our bodies, our homes, our earth.

“They’re really going to like this — bark, membrane, sheath, dermis, film, carapace, shell, hull, capsule, chamber, package, pocket, packet, pouch!”

Today, steady yourselves, and noticed the protective layers around you — and say to yourself, “I like this.”

Do you have power?

You do. You are not feckless, weak, incompetent. You are savvy, cogent, strong! God did not give you a spirit of fear but a spirit of power! 

Today I received a package from Amazon that I ordered for my daughter. It’s a set of Skullcandy head phones. I took the time to make sure that they worked fine. Doing something for others, that always makes me feel better. You and I have the power to make other people’s lives better.

Buy extra toilet paper if you must. Then give some of it away to your neighbors.

You have power. You have agency. That power is in your body. All the arteries, veins, and capillaries of a human child, stretched end to end, are estimated to wrap around the Earth about 2.5 times (the equivalent of about 60,000 miles). Blood is pulsing through your whole body today nourishing and caring for your cells. Such built-in power is keeping you alive! It is allowing you to move your limbs and do things today. How wonderful!

Today I dust mopped the floors. What a privilege to have a home, to have floors, to clean.

You have power in your mind. The average brain has 86 billion neurons. Today you can remember good things and learn new things. My daughter is making soup. She asked for my recipe. We texted back-and-forth about yummy soup and spices.

Today I’m writing this blog. I’m doing this to give myself advice, and I’m hoping that it helps you, one of my friends, to have a better day. Our lives are now limited but they can be still directional.

Your spirit is powerful. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that “[God] has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart.” We actually have a built in sense of surviving, lasting, being saved from even death. We are predisposed to anticipate salvation.

Something in you wants to live. Something if you want to live a beautiful life. That was put there by God. Recognize his desire within you. You just made contact with your own spirit. The will to live is physical; it is also spiritual.

It is especially important to realize your power when you don’t feel like your life is beautiful. Use your mind to tell yourself what is true and good for you. For me it is good that others love me and take care of me.

We can’t control all of reality, but we can somewhat control our reactions to it. Maintain your narrative fidelity. Be true to your own story. My story is tied to the earth. I garden. I grow flowers. And grass. It rained today! I love to hear it in the gutters? The grass is greenly grateful.

Today I’m reminding myself that I have enough, that I am enough, that I have done enough and that whatever else there is for me to do is in God’s hands. I’m trusting him for his definition for my level of productivity in the future.

Today many of us are sheltered at home because of the coronavirus. We may feel somewhat helpless and anxious, powerless in our new darker, poorer, diseased, Stygian world.

Anxious questions may arise in our minds. Will we get sick? Will we have enough food? Will those of us who work be able to keep our jobs and pay our bills?

For those of us who suffer illnesses, will we be able to get proper medical care?

Such questions make us feel helpless and powerless because they bring up possible deprivations or losses.

But we have the power to take charge of our thoughts and reactions. We can choose to obsess on what’s wrong, or we can focus on mini-solutions to our questions.

We can go over our financial resources and make an emergency plan, write it down, consider options. What will we do if we are out of work for a month? What will we do if we are out of work for two months? Plans help calm our anxieties. If we aren’t sure of a financial decision we can call someone we trust who is good with finances and ask what they would do. I know someone who did that yesterday and the wise financial step suggested hadn’t been thought about before.

We can eat the food we have today and enjoy it. I just finished a coconut popsicle! I’m drinking a calming tea now. If you need more food, plan a trip to the store when others may not be there in great numbers. There is enough food in the stores. Make wise choices. If you need more medicine order it online.

Today, at home, we have the power to do many things that are important.

We can titrate our exposure to the news. That means we can keep up and stay informed and yet sense when we’re watching too much and just creating more anxiety in ourselves. There’s a balance somewhere.

Today we can rest from striving, from trying to justify our existence by what we do, and we can do something really powerful, and that is to realize that we were worthy of being loved without performing. We can do this by being kind to ourselves today, for example moving between small projects and resting.

I just cooked up a spaghetti squash for dinner. I made a small bean taco for a snack! It was a cheery little taco! With its corn tortilla it tasted kind of like a tamale.

It was a small kindness to myself.

What does it look like to be kind to oneself?

It means making choices that are within our power that nurture our bodies and souls. I’m reading a good book today, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb. Lori weaves her own story of going to counseling with the stories of those who come to her for therapy. This book reminds me that our presenting issues are not always are real issues. It helps me to ask what is really going on with me? It helps me to reevaluate my stories and think: Has what I have been telling myself true or not?

We can can do other home things, cleaning, reorganizing, watching positive TV shows, texting friends or talking on the phone to family.

I love you. I want you to feel safe. I want you to love yourself.

What will you do the rest of this day to calm, sooth and nurture yourself and the ones you love?

The coronavirus and the fall of the stock market, the cancelling of public events, the social distancing, people’s panic and their hoarding behaviors — these now conspire to create fear in us.

How do we manage fear?

First, think of fear as gear, as normal equipment that is a powerful and helpful part of your nervous system, able to sometimes keep you safe, making you cautious when you need to be. It’s your WiFi. It sends info to you concerning danger.

In this way fear is your friend. So sit with fear, don’t reject it. It makes us feel vulnerable but then sometimes we are vulnerable and that’s OK. We do know one thing, that threats often pass and the feelings of fear pass on to. I love Oscar Wilde’s comment, “The chief charm of moods is that they don’t last.”

Another thought for how to handle fear. Take the long view. And sometimes take the short view. I have felt fear lately due to some chronic pain I’m experiencing. What if I don’t get well? It’s annoying. Its angering. It’s fear producing. I am afraid when I think it may always be with me. But I need to take the long view. This pain will probably morph over time and if it doesn’t go away I will become more adept at handling it. The same with disease and financial ups and downs. We will experience financial losses, and we will experience financial gains. The long view will tell us that life will always be up and down and things will come and go. But I also take the short view at times, creating equipoise, and I live for the day and the day always has some good moments in it.

The Bible addresses fear often because it is a wise book and it knows that fear is built into our system. We are told to fear God which means to respect him and honor him and please him. We see in this advice that there is a need to be aware of power when it’s there and to give it due regard. The Bible normalizes fear. Even when it tells us not to be afraid because God is with us it is acknowledging that we will be fearful, that fear is something that we will always have to work on.

What to do?

Avoid living according to the Nudge Theory, the premise that people will often choose what is easiest, what they are nudged toward, over what is wisest. So in crisis they hide and horde and obsess on the news and rashly move assets. But in the face of fear don’t be nudged; be wise, not washed away by other’s panic.

Let’s not let fear stop us from normal living. We can show courage and flex some fear-crushing power by carrying on, doing the next thing we need to do, want to do or should do — such as workout, even if it is at home, clean, work, play, call friends, cook, laugh, eat good food. I’ve been building muscles with stretchy bands while I lay on my bed thus in one small way I am preparing for usefulness. I am avoiding Victor Frankel’s existential vacuum that anticipates no future.

Now let’s talk money. With the crash of the stock market and the loss of business many of us fear more financial loss. But again the Bible is smart here. It is always advising us to be generous (“Give…” says Jesus) and by deduction we might say then that it is advising us to fear falling into selfish, stingy and ungenerous living. We should fear being selfish more than we should fear not having enough. Selfishness is as damaging as lack. It withers our very souls!

One thing I’ve done lately is to continue to be generous to the charities I give to. My wife and I refuse to let fear become a force majeure in our lives, gorgonizing us snd keeping us from our social contract. I have been giving extra money and time to family and friends in need. I am trying to live by the philosophy of plenty, not scarcity. I refuse to be fearful-stingy. I am warming up my relationships and my own heart by taking care of others. I love myself better when I am generous. I also, by doing this, am trusting that God will take care of me as he takes care of the birds and the flowers and all of the transient things.

We had some family and friends over on Saturday for my daughter’s baby shower. We took careful cautionary measures, (anyone who we suspected to be of any risk because of age or exposure or low immunity was lovingly told to stay home) but we didn’t stop being social with safe loved ones. Baby showers are like Indian potlatches. We shower the parents with gifts and thus redistribute the wealth.

Don’t give me wrong. We all do feel afraid of the coronavirus and of a recession, of not having enough, but sometime we can get powerful and respond to fears with opposite action. We do the opposite of what fear tells us to do. Then we are furiously legitimate and robustly authentic by loving — because that is who we are. We show our bona fides, our legitimacy by doing the opposite of what anxiety suggests. We shun unwarranted hoarding and over-protecting.

Lastly, it occurs to me today that we are helped when we are fearful by talking to others. It’s the talking cure. We ask what they think we should do, we look to others for a model. For the baby shower, my brother was advised by myself, his wife and by his sons not to come. His immunity is compromised. We also advised that my 92-year-old dad not come. This advice helped them to feel that they weren’t letting us down. We told them that we wanted them safe because we loved them and they were able to stay home and not feel guilty about not coming. Here again we see that fear was a friend, guiding us to do the good thing.

When facing fear, we need each other. We need each other‘s perspectives. When we are fearful we should talk about this with trusted others, seek council and do as we are advised.

There are many other things to do when fearful. Perhaps you could make your own list. Remember you are powerful. Your body is powerful. Your brain is capable of managing your reactions. Give this some thought.

I love you.

Be safe.

But also be generous and loving and in these fearful times, engage in an abundance of wise, safe activity that creates a sense of well-being in you and your loved ones.

We did some financial business on Saturday. When we met the notary who we employed he gave us a bump, not a handshake. Coronavirus social fallout. In extremis. We are afraid to hug and even shake hands. The world is colder.

I did my taxes last week. My wife is taking them to the tax preparer today. Money. This morning I see that the Dow has cratered again. I don’t plan to look at my stock and bond portfolio online any time soon. I positioned myself the best I could. A fearful fall. Yikes! I carry on, but less confidently.

Fear of personal human contact, fear of economic forces beyond our control, my own health issues — the world feels unsafe to me this morning.

Adding to this, the presidential candidates are heating up for this fall’s election. Here too I experience some anxiety. I’m looking for a candidate who reflects my Christian values — for me it is someone who will move beyond the current politics of hostility and polarization and help us work together again. We need to start getting along better. Our polarized two party system is failing us.

And I want a leader who will lead us to better take care of our beautiful planet earth. Regardless of your stand on climate change, there is no doubt that we are polluting and trashing and destroying ecosystems and species right and left. This can’t continue. We must think and plan for those who come after us.

I also want a leader who will avoid excessive debt, especially business leveraged debt, but few voices are sounding the alarm on this. And I want help creating wise and humane immigration policies. I want a leader who will eschew racism, care for the poor and the marginalized and value and respect women.

I haven’t found that leader among the candidates yet, especially someone with a deep passion and wisdom and plan for bringing us together again.

What to do? How do I engage in good psychohygiene?

While not denying present losses and dangers, while taking appropriate safe guards, while continuing to choose wisely, I can help myself with my fears in several ways.

First, I take the long view of things. Current problems — while very significant — will change over time. Health ebbs and flows. Economics cycle down and up. Political leaders come and go.

Secondly, I can do what I can.

I can foster my own politics of love and avoid the politics of contempt. I can make my own progress in caring for the planet and in loving others. I’ve been eating meals that leave a smaller carbon footprint. I’ve been eating meals that cause less suffering to animals. I’ve been using less plastic. I’ve been loving friends and family who don’t agree with me politically. I’ve been praying for immigrants and refugees living in fear and poverty. I have been making charitable contributions to organizations that care for the disabled and that build homes for the impoverished. I’ve been attempting to give the upmost respect and honor to the women in my life.

And I was gentle with myself today and tried to mitigate my own chronic pain and to use it to motivate me to pray for all the people in the world who are suffering today.

Thirdly, it helps to focus on the positive and good and safe in our lives — a warm, dry place to sleep tonight, loving friends and family, finances that at least meet the needs of the moment, beauty I can see around me.

I fear. I carry on as if I don’t. I mowed my lawn today, paid for my tax prep, protected some potted nasturtiums from the coming rain, fed the cat, took my medications, prayed for friends and family and world.

I took hope in moments of the day, even imperfect as they were because of pain. I spent a few moments sitting in my sunny garden, soaking in the warmth of God‘s love for me and for all of us. The gift of the sun is life. Tonight it will rain in San Diego. The earth will be watered with the refreshing and renewing power of life giving water. The economic cycle may be broken but the rain cycle is not. I look forward to sleeping to the sound of rain, water in the rain gutters, watering on my lawn, refreshment for the earth.

I want and need to engage in hope in God. He’s got me. He has got us.. He has come through before. He will again.

Oh my weak, unsettled soul, trust in God. Rest in God. He knows. He will not leave us to our own solutions or our own failures. He will spin the sun and send warm rain on us yet again.

Without God where could I turn for hope, comfort, help?

I try to take my cues from the wise ones.

Though the fig tree does not bud

and there are no grapes on the vines,

and the fields produce no food,

though the olive crop fails

and no cattle in the stalls,

though there are no sheep in the pen

yet I will rejoice in the Lord,

I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Sovereign Lord is my strength;he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,he enables me to tread on the heights.

Habakkuk 3:17-19.

Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the LORD: his going forth is prepared as the morning; and he shall come to us as the rain, as the latter and former rain to the earth.

Hosea 6:3

Recently, I identified the red-streaked house finches in my back yard, in the evening sky the Orion nebulae in my telescope and also I sorted a way to respond to my wife’s request for feedback on how to handle a touchy relational issue.

I also learned that diatoms — a major group of algae, specifically micro-algae found in the oceans — may pile up a half-mile deep on the oceanic floor. It may well be that oil supplies were formed out of the carbons. I love scientific knowledge. So cool!

I also noted in the news cycle that mortgage interest rates are falling to historic lows, and I am sorting who the candidates in the next election are that best reflect my values and priorities.

Knowledge — we do well to embrace it and all the academic disciplines and news sources ferreting it out, and I do. I rush to knowledge found in theology, science, history, art, linguistics and literature. I am a truth-monger. I crave understanding. I look for it everywhere.

The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out.

Proverbs 18:15

It’s wise to dig for knowledge. It’s treasure. But sometime we shouldn’t try; and sometimes we don’t.

Sometimes life puts us in places where understanding is beyond us and our attempts to grasp it become befuddled and confused. Life’s trauma — relational conflicts, exhaustion, loss, illness, poverty, violence and war can bring us into times when try as we might, we lack understanding and even wisdom goes missing.

Such times create a knowledge-deprivation and an attendant insight-humility. Even when we are healthy and stable, concerning so many issues we remain benighted and confuzzled. We experience a kind mental cinemuck. We wallow on the floor of our own scary movie theatre. At such times, brought low, if we are honest, we admit what we don’t know. This can be so disconcerting. It can also be a relief and in itself enlightening.

We Christians, unfortunately, have too often — well or sick — trafficked heavily in wisdom replacements, bad science, inept interpretations, conventional platitudes, sappy cliches, out-of-context Bible verses and a pride fueled denial of our own ignorance. But a poorly researched, unfootnoted, overly syrupy, Pollyanna Christianity helps and enlightens no one.

I’ve mind-wallowed recently as some of my health issues have escaped my understanding and have dodged resolution, both by me and my doctors, even my specialists! The experts in medical science — baffled. Such ignorance however is common to all disciplines and Paul’s “we see through a glass darkly” comes to mind.

Psalm 131, I like it, it’s helpful in modeling the opposite of the ubiquitously ego-driven quest for knowledge, good as knowledge is.

Psalm 131

A song of ascents. Of David

My heart is not proud, Lord,

my eyes are not haughty;

I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.

But I have calmed and quieted myself,

I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord

both now and forevermore.

Two questions. One, what are the great matters? They certainly includes matters where we have tried to find understanding concerning something and failed.

I don’t believe David is modeling giving up on understanding. Certainly not. In his writings, we can see is on a constant quest for truth, and yet here, concerning great matters, he cloaks himself in humility.

If you look over the history of competitive, self-driven experimentation, research, invention and discovery — look in science or theology— wherever you find unbridled ego, you will find grave unhappiness and tensing ignorance. You will find conflicts, law suits and relational smashups.

In contrast, when truth diggers have taken humbled attitudes before the unknown, taken needed breaks, consulted and relied on previous seekers, consulted their team, answers have often come to them in epiphanies and “Aha!”moments.

Second question: What does it mean to be a weaned child, content in our relationship with knowledge?

It means that we do well to rest in what we do know, celebrate what we do know and to let ourselves be weaned from what Fenelon refers to as the pseudo experiences that give “false courage to the senses,” that is merely propping up a hungry ego with an incomplete theory or insight that won’t hold water when reality comes along with it’s pointy stick and punctures it.

What to do?

Don’t stop seeking knowledge.

But when life weans you from understanding, seek contentment.

And for we who have faith, trust God that he knows and that he, like a wise mother, has us.

We can sit with him quietly, not understanding, yet loved and and at rest.

Competition — I’ve lived it, the good the bad and the ugly

In high school I won my gym class ping-pong championship. I glowed.

Several times I have received good chunks of money for articles I wrote. I was competing against other articles offered to the same magazine. I felt very affirmed, my acceptances, my being allowed into the conversation. It help me realize that writing was the thing for me. So I’ve worked hard on it. since.

Competition, as a positive can promote discipline, hard work and toughness, develop skills, create teamwork, lead to innovation and invention, create high-quality work and performance, fuel productivity, help people know what they’re good at and what they’re not good at and teach a person how to be a gracious winner or loser.

I once raced a BMW in my Infinity G 37 coupe. Blew his doors off. I celebrated. Or gloated. Not good. Later I regretted this.

Competition as a negative can cause a person to become conceited —desiring to be the cynosure of all eyes — harmfully proud, create fear and anxiety, add harmful levels of stress, lead to rushed decisions, elicit cheating, illegal or harmful behaviors, sabotage teamwork, ruin relationships, consume a person with bitterness, lead to a loss of morale and self-esteem.

So what to think of all this?

We might say that because there are pros and cons here that we need a balance between competing with others and nurturing others. Fair enough.

But how does this work out for we Christians. What does the Bible have to say about competition?

Well, we might first note that Israel competed with the other nations for land and power and survival. The Old Testament may be even be seen as the story of winners and losers. But this perhaps ignores the purpose God had in choosing the Jews. It was to make himself known to the whole world. The Jews were to win only so others could win. They were to be a light to the other nations; instead they were darkness. And when they failed to let God make them successful, God had to discipline them and let them fail.

Well, what about the New Testament?

For Christians who see competition as valuable they might point out that the apostle Paul compared himself to a runner, boxer and soldier, to a competitor. But in the context of these analogies, Paul is actually competing against himself, against his old nature. And he eventually concludes that only Christ within will win his fight. For him to win is to know Christ, to be found in God, to please God and to help as many people as possible do the same.

So we might say that we Christians compete to win a win for everyone possible. I think of it is similar to how I think about my daughters and wife. I want to be my best self possible so that they might be resourced, successful, win at life.

But we might say that Paul and the other disciples and early church leaders debated competitively for the gospel, just as have all the apologists and evangelists who have come after him. True. And we might note that there is a kind of world competition for the truth, for what’s right, for a philosophy or religion to live by. Paul contended for the gospel.

Christians still do. So we Christians do well to train ourselves and discipline ourselves to be as good and knowledgeable and excellent in all our work as possible, but not so that we might win discussions, but so that we may draw others into the win of God.

This is an interesting topic to take on. Perhaps big-idea and longview conclusions help here. First, Jesus was never about himself against the world. He didn’t define his mission or ours as us against them — the outliers, the sinners, the deceived — but instead as himself for all of them, and us for all of them, us in him loving them, as many as we can. He only spoke against those who wanted to make Christianity an elite group. Remember, John 3:17. Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world but to save it. And Jesus had no ultimate doubts about the outcome of that quest. He knew — the father would win!

Jesus came and announced, “God wins!” That’s what the scripture, what Revelations says. And it isn’t even a fair fight. All of creation and all of history is going somewhere, the place Jesus prayed for in John 17, that we might all be one within God. I don’t know how that sorts out, but it is clear that God wants no one to be left out of that win, and that the only way that they can be left out is if they choose to be.

“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth”

1Tim. 2:3-4

Life is a serious business. We all know that there are winners and losers. It doesn’t look like everyone wins in life. Not everyone gets a gold star. Not everyone gets a sticker or an A+ on their paper or a trophy. But everyone can be forgiven and everyone can realize their giftedness for the good of others.

With all this reasoning as presuppositionaI, I certainly don’t think then that the church is advanced by attacking the “pagans” or science or sinners or other religions or by holing up, circling the wagons and seeing itself as attacked by the rest of the world. The church’s goal is not to defeat everyone else but instead to share the win Jesus won with everyone else! Yes, it may be true that in the end everyone won’t win — only God knows that or who; only God could decide that — but it’s certainly not our business to try to decide that. That’s God’s work. Our work is to declare the win. If there is to be a loss, we leave that up to God.

At the last church I pastored we shared the church with other denominations, with other congregations, with AA support groups; we gave space to professional counselors, food distribution organizations and groups helping refugees and children in poverty. We owned it, with no debt, and we gave it away freely to anyone we had a common vision with us, vision to help people. We took a non-competitive, inclusive approach to our community. If we were competitive it was competition to win at the game of sharing.

Looking further in the new testament for commentary on competition, we find the parable of the shrewd manager in Luke 16. Faced with dismissal, the manager reduces the debts of his employer’s creditors, and thus creates friends for life. When his boss finds out, he commends the manager’s savvy, entrepreneurial, even competitive behavior.

Well, we might say this about that. God admires intelligence. After all, he made it. God admires shrewdness, for he is shrewd. God wants us to find ways to make life better, because he wants to make life better. Therefore, Christian go ahead, do well, make money, make art, be successful. You who invent products, advance knowledge by doing good science, you who are wise in the investing of time and money, who create social capital, go for it, that is if you use it for good, if you please God!

But let’s be clear, you please him not because you outdo others. You please God when you have found ways to thrive that include others. Note that thriving in the case of the shrewd manager involved forgiving others their debts. The wise steward won favor by creating wins for others, even though his master took a loss. Seems familiar. God, took a loss so we all can take win.

We also have the parable of the hired workers in Matthew 20 that seems to be commentary on this topic of competition. Those who work a whole day get paid the same as those who worked only part-day. The full-day labourers plead unfairness; the vineyard owner maintains he is being both generous and just by treating all his workers the same. Again the point comes to the surface that God himself is generous and wants a win for everyone possible

This helps our thinking. In the quest to win, to be paid, it must be remembered that God so wants to bless others that he may seem to even violate our sense of justice or fairness. We may be shocked at who is included in heaven, people who didn’t seem to have faith at all, people from other religions, people who did some horrible things. It will be an omnium-gatherum, a collection of miscellaneous people.

So why do we have here? When is competitiveness Christian, when not Christian?

I think we can safely say that competition is not Christian when the drive to compete is fuelled by greed, self-interest, envy, pride or revenge. That is clearly inconsistent with Christ’s command to love and with God’s purpose to create a people, a collective, a body, a team that wins.

I know that when I have been selfish in my family that has caused problems. Sometimes I traveled too much when I was working, off on missions to far off countries, and in doing this I was sometimes insensitive to my wife’s needs at home with the children. I regret that now.

When we are only out for ourselves, and when we are so broken that we want others to be at the back of the pack, and we are willing to oppress and damage them so that we might win, so that we might be first, so that we might get what we want, that’s not Christian. It’s evil! The drive that says “I’d rather be first than human; I’d rather be first than good” — that’s not good. This is the motive behind racism and sexism and even nationalism. I believe God opposes small thinking, the formation of oppressive, enclosed societies, the institutional formation of harmful self-interest and pride.

So then is there a place for competition within Christian culture? Yes. Paul models that we are to compete against ourselves to win the prize of God’s approval in Christ. And further yes we are in competition for the truth. It is right to stand up for the truth, to compete for the truth wherever we can. But not so that others lose, but so that they win. We compete to help them win, win the win of God in Christ.

This would imply then that we are to be excellent in all that we do, not so much for a personal win, but so that we may advance the cause of God by being a model of what it is to be intelligent and rational and hard-working and disciplined and successful. All the good things about competition come into play here, but we do not compete to beat out the rest of the competitors, instead we compete with ourselves to bring out the best in us, to steward our gifts, to do the thing that we do, best for and most pleasing to God.

Through my various jobs in life it became quite obvious that I was a leader. Even in high school I was elected to the position ofvstudent council president. I was always fascinated by leadership. I read all the books I could get on it and attended all the leadership conferences and training I could.. I trained my staff in leadership principles. I often encouraged, cajoled and incentivize people to rise up and take leaderships. God wants us to succeed, but is the kind of success that is successful when others succeed.

The bottom line for we Christians is that life is not a zero sum game. Life isn’t a pie where if we get a slice someone else doesn’t. Life is a pie that we want everyone to eat from.

Competition?

How about if our goal — like God’s — is for everyone possible to win?

The surface of our planet — which has existed for 4.5 billion of years — has never stopped changing shape. Great tectonic forces have sculpted our gorgeous blue oceans and green continents.

So it is with me — and you. We too change. I morph, you alter. We are always changing shape because of the great forces that are always ragung at our edges.

In the beginning of earth’s formation the land masses coalesced out of molten lava, came together over billions of years, united (as Pangea), drifted apart and crashed back into each other creating the map of earth we know today.

We, the people of the earth, have also risen from a set of collisions, for instance a collision between a mother and a father, a collisions between ourselves and a sibling, or perhaps a friends, colleague or community. Relational lava, and continental drift has churned and roiled our lives. Forces explode all around us and with Pyrrhic victories both subtract and add to who we are. We drift. We ram. We erupt.

I remember early in life being in unspoken competition with my two brothers, playing ping pong, baseball, basketball, wrestling with my dad and brothers on the family room floor. The wrestling was fun, but it often ended in tears, at least that is what I remember my mom saying. One brotherly basketball game I remember poignantly. It ended in a fight with me on top of my little brother. I hate that memory, that picture. One continent running over another, if even for a brief span. It wasn’t my best moment.

I’ve really never have liked playing competitive games — except when I win. The stress of proving oneself is unpleasant. I prefer games of chance. There’s no losing, just a variety of outcomes we can’t control. I have been competitive in my jobs, and I often ended up in the top level position, English Department chair, lead pastor because I wanted to be there, in part to control things, to avoid repeating the past in which I lost face or ego strength, to control the wrestling matches, and in part — and this is the positive face of power— to create a field-leveling egalitarianism, an intentional democratization that empowered others. In these efforts I transcended, perhaps for a bit, the sibling rivalry of my youth — maybe.

Life is sometimes in our control, often not.

The great collisions of Oceana, their attendant volcanoes and earthquakes, the uplift they caused, the erosion that followed created the continents we now ride on. We benefited; we in no way controlled it.

The amazing Himalayas were formed when India rushed north and crashed into Asia. The lengthy and precipitous Andes were created when South America collided with the Pacific plate.

I think of my own early years. Born in Long Beach California, raised in rural Missouri, I moved in my late teens to San Diego. The Midwest and West Coast ate like separate continents. I have lived in California through career, marriage, family and now retirement. In the Baptist church we attended in Missouri my parents were denied membership because they were baptized Presbyterian and would no submit to being rebaptized. The denominations — a continental smashup. That left a mark on me. I have never been a denominational fanboy.

In one church I helped lead I came into a competitive relationship with another leader that ended in me leaving. I witnessed the hidden and yet volcanic force of competition and jealousy. The other leader and I wrestled in the family floor to win the love of the congregation. I find that reality now sickening — human but ignoble. I left broken into continental pieces, again hating competition, especially with men.

But the next church I served in put me back together, and there I became the master at showing love to everyone, sharing power and avoiding ugly competitive power struggles. Together, carefully, with much mutual respect, we — myself and some people very different from me — totally renewed the place. I was greatly loved there, and I made sure that so were many others. We became a relational continent.

Sometimes after great damage and difficulty come great progress and accomplishment.

None of this is unique to me. We all come from cataclysmic events that dramatically change us. We ride our morphing continents toward transformation. We see this everywhere. Africa is now sliding north and will one day erase the Mediterranean Sea and crash into Europe. Amazing!

I am retired now and I like Africa am migrated north, to a colder, harsher clime and I smash up against time, aging and the chilling power of illness. I am experiencing uplift, I hope, but a the very least I am morphing again by means of collision, heat and fire.

Our world is in motion. It always has been. We run into one thing. We bounce off another. Then we are different.

Someone told me recently of a childhood trauma that has shaped their entire life, an harmful event surrounded by a family code of silence. It was a harm and a harm that needed a help and a talk, openness, acknowledgement, attention, love, healing. That didn’t happen. I hate that kind of damaging inattention. It’s like subduction, when one continental plate dives under another, and someone is hidden, and someone else is lifted up.

Here’s the thing. To go back and look honestly and clear eyed at what has happened to us is to finally begin to understand our core desires and our intrinsic and extrinsic motives, to see ourselves for who we really were, to see what went awry and what went well and to see how it changed us, perhaps for better, perhaps for worse. We live on sea beds that may become a mountaintops.

My current illness and it’s debilitating effects is keeping me home, dependent, less active. For a person who had spent his whole life justifying his existence by doing, writing, speaking, leading, building, investing this new reality is painful. I can see what I have been, a doing, and now I am becoming, through pressure, pain and fire — a being. I am learning to love myself nonactive, to live in the moment, to stop pressing so much, to let go of achievement as a way to gain value in others eyes. It’s hard.

One the most ancient continents is Oceana, formerly Australia in the seven continent model. Oceania is our modern, knowledgeable way of designating what we now know as a wider geographical sense of the Australian continent, one which includes Australasia, Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. In fact Oceana is really a continent archipelago and includes the islands of Australia, New Guinea, Tasmania, Seram and more than 25,000 of islands throughout the South Pacific Ocean. Much of its mass is under water.

Again, it is the same with us. We are more connected to others that we know. We are each holons, a whole and a part, and as a part we are defined by the whole. I am a individual and I exist as part of a society. I am an island that is also a continent. The people in my life have made me more of who I am than the choices that I have made.

To live is to live in tension between an individual and a collective. I am free to be me, to chose an identity, one different than I had as a child or different than the one I was given by conflict, and yet bound by musical strings strung to you I am always plural. I am always a chord. I can delocalize. I am not one geographical note or simple song. I am not a simple melody line. I am a symphony. How should I manage, us?

Ancient crystals called Zircons, have been found in Australia and are among the oldest existing matter on earth. They are are the earth’s first historical record. They reveal that as early as 4 billion years ago the continents were formed out of the glowing magna that covered the earth.

The same with us. We too have ancient magna at our core and ancient crystals, personality Zircons and soul diamonds are extruded from us.

Consider the formation of diamonds. Diamonds formed deep in the earth by pressure and heat are brought to the surface from the mantle in a rare type of magma called kimberlite and erupted in a rare type of volcanic vent called a diatreme or diamond pipe.

Ah, how fascinating! This is so applicable to us. The heat and pressure of life shape the soul, and cataclysmic events in our lives may create diamond pipes which funnel the best in us, what is intrinsic to us, to the surface.

We each contain jewel as a part of our own stories. Every experience we have been through remains with us, informs our choices, Has a potential to create beauty

I ask myself, what is intrinsic within me, what did God put there, what are the diamonds? And I ask what are the diamonds formed in you? And I see that these often don’t appear until we have gone through the fire.

Three billion years ago when these Zircons and diamonds were formed, our earth looked very different. The sky was orange, the sea green, the new landscape fiery red and volcanic. A strange, strange world preceded us, but it created the beauty we see today, our sculpted, snowy peaks, our great plains, our blue skies, our green earth.

For me and you it is the same. The colors of our lives have also changed from when we were born and when we were young. Perhaps the color of jealousy has changed to compassion. Perhaps the reds of competition have changed to the greens that empowers others.

So I ask this: what are the colors of the modern world and what lovelies and beauties formed in fire might we add to the modern palate?

I encouraged a friend this week to paint again. She has been on hold. Perhaps if the previous restraints of fear and competition were removed, if the previous control of others was removed, she could in a kind of mental angiogenesis — much like in the formation of new blood vessels — pipe diamonds to us all.

I think that I myself might yet add love to the world, by preferring others, resourcing others, putting others first, by moving from competition with others to empowerment of others. And just possibly I might bring a handful of word-gems to the surface. Perhaps the pain, the fire and pressure in me may yet create my own pipe to the surface, a diamond pipe that might carry ancient, glowing symphonic beauties to a few of the creatures that makeup my current relational continent.

I like short truth. Don’t you? Don’t you just love it when just a few words get it right?

As a writer I try to cultivate the art of brevity. My favorite way to do that is to write Thought Proverbs, aphorisms and epigrams.

Here are a few of my most recent. Hope you enjoy them. Let me know what you think by posting a comment or choosing a favorite. Thanks!

Lives slow, die fast, leave a fully used corpse.

Knock it down; drag it out; don’t forget to stomp on it.

Achieve great things — being content.

A saying is a slaying; it massacres untruth.

All snide remarks originate in serious forethoughts.

Some charm with leg and arm, and some with loyalty.

The wise crack; fools remain grimly reformative.

Wonder through windows; will yourself through walls.

Agency eats fate for breakfast, chance for lunch and apathy for dinner. 

It takes guts to shut up.

All things talk; very few things listen.

Sorry– it’s a form of glory. 

Saying sorry is easy, being sorry more like queazy. 

To annihilate the efficacy of apology, persistently offend. 

A feeling sends us reeling; a thought catches us.  

Strive not for a great nation; labor mightily for a great world. 

All speakers elaborate; the really good ones lie shamelessly.

Embellish all your stories; this will engender widespread approval and universal credibility.

The mind and heart must both collude to have a shot at quietude.

I am only as safe to you as I am to me. 

Telling the truth will earn you public enemies; lying will earn you private ones.

Fame is height, for the short. 

Much of what we don’t know about others we don’t want to.

We relieve one end in private, spew from the other in public.

Eat sand; blast injustice.

Be present; gifts surround you.

Conversations are gifts, points of view, largesse.

To book a colonoscopy is brave; to actually go to one shows a stunning lack of self-regard.

Know before you go. 

To live fully, quit thinking overly.

The most addictive sedative is simply the repetitive.

Knock and you will be denied; pull out your wallet, and it will be given unto you. 

Every family silence tilts towards a family tragedy. 

The theft of depth leaves us bereft. 

Urgency loves an emergency. 

Wisdom lies beyond policy.

Our soul is always trying to tell us what we need.

Everything carries a song; not everything sings it.

A bed is safe, but a world is an adventure.

To suffer is to discover ourselves.

Think fast; choose slow. 

As long as one person is empty none of us are full.

If you like these more can be found on my Proverbs blog site at the following link. Once on the site, pick a word that looks interesting to you from the topic list on the left and click to see proverbs related to that word.

https://modernproverbs.net

We are small, limited and ephemeral. But space is vast, expansive and ancient.

How might our modern knowledge of Earth, the solar system and outer space help us in our view of ourselves and God?

Our earth is 239,000 miles from the moon, 93,000,000 miles from the sun and 6.2 light years or 38,000,000,000,000 miles from a star in the constellation Cygnus. What is a light year? It is the distance that light traveling at 186,000 miles per second would move in one year.

That is a speed and distance that we can’t even really get our minds around. How astonishing our universe!

Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is about 100,000 light years across and 10,000 light years thick. It consists of billions of stars and our star, the sun, lies in the Orion arm or spur at about 28,000 light years from the galaxy’s center.

Our sun, our solar system is not still, but travels with the galaxy. Our solar system travels at about 515,000 mph and yet it would take 230 million years for it to travel all the way around the Milky Way.

There’s more. There is much more that we have discovered in the last few years. The earth is about 4.5 billion years old in the universe around 13.8 billion years old. Our existence lies within vast spaces and vast also periods of time.

How did this amazing conglomerate begin?

In the 1930s a Russian American physicist George Gamow worked out a theory now known as the big bang which stated that the universe originated in the fiery cosmic explosion from a dense particle smaller than an atom. For we Christians this sounds a lot like what we’ve always believed!

Life began with a dense fireball that erupted in less than a trillionth of a trillionth of a second and was 1 billion trillion times hotter than our sun.

Think about this says Judy Cannato in her book Radical Amazement. In its latent potential, the … person that you are at this very moment was present in the Big Bang … in an astonishing burst of light. We came from the light!”

This is truly astonishing! And it is mysterious! We now know that 95% of the universe cannot be seen but exist as dark matter or dark energy that holds the 5% that is visible together.

Judy Cannato takes this kind of information and challenges us to ask what this tells us about God.

She says that this newly discovered “story invites us to expand our commitment to emergence, to participate in the divine unfolding around us and within us as fully as possible.”

“ All life is in flux, all life is groaning toward fuller expression of greater consciousness. We can look for new life and nurture it where we find it, and we can challenge ourselves to be open and grow into things that we never knew existed.”

What may God have ahead for you? With an expanded sense of reality what might God be opening to you?

I have questions: Does God speak to us through our pain? If so, what does God say to us when we are in pain? Or is pain just noise that keeps us from hearing and understanding God?

The other day I was trying to relax in my living room, I couldn’t. There was the constant roar of gardening equipment right outside my window. I looked out. A landscape company was trimming hedges and groundcover on the bank beside my house.

We live in a noisy world. It can make hard to hear. Is pain noise? Does it keep us from hearing God, truth, ourselves or does it lead us to truth?

The world is full of noise: cars, trains, planes, helicopters, jackhammers, chain saws, car alarms, generators, compressors, lawn mowers, dogs, street sweepers, data centers — noise, racket, din.

Is pain just more noise, a buzz saw in the central nervous system? Perhaps, yes, yes I believe sometimes it is just that. Sometimes it overwhelms my brain, eliciting confused thoughts and useless internal conversations that won’t stop and don’t help.

My wife tried out a new church today. The people who sat behind her never stopped talking, although they stilled a bit during the sermon, they got up for snacks in the back during communion and kept on talking through the Eucharist.

I can hardly be critical. I talk in church, and everywhere else too. I just keep chattering at others, myself, at my past, at God.

Pain can be like the noisy church-mongers. It can disrupt the holy places, in our bodies and minds. But, and this is hard, sometimes I think it does the opposite; it quiets us. Sometimes it may be God’s way to quiet us.

Be still, and know that I am God.”

Psalm 40:10

I’m not quite sure how to put this to you, but perhaps God sometimes wants to say or does says to you and to me and our world, “Shush!”

In the Psalm we are told to be quiet in order to know God. Can pain be a way of quieting us?

I’ve never personally heard an audible “be quiet” from God nor have I — come to think of it — seldom heard a modern person tell me that God told them to shut up, but might God lovingly shush us through pain and difficulty?

In the last eight months I have experienced some severe chronic pain. And while I have talked about my pain to doctors, family, friends and written about it in my blog and while my cri de cœur has been to be healed, the truth is that in these months I’ve never been more quiet in my life.

I must be honest here. At some level of pain I cry. The noise of severe pain overwhelms me, but at other times and at another level, it strikes me agonizingly silent, voiceless. Pain dummies me up. Pain de-noises me. Cut off from social contact by it, and alone in my bed, during many of my pain days, I have become dumb in the face of pain — physical and emotional and spiritual pain. I have experienced the mind numbing silence of suffering.

In these times my prayers become short, “God have mercy” and “Give me wisdom and strength to endure this.“

But lately it’s come to me that perhaps God is saying something through the pain, doing something lovingly morphogenic through the pain. Pain isn’t always a noise that renders a cry. Perhaps sometimes God is saying to me through my pain and by my pain, “I’m rendering you quiet.” This is how the book of Job ended, God talking, Job silent.

There is something directional in silence.

Proverbs 17:28 says that “even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise.”

Is pain rendering me wiser by rendering me quieter? Time will certainly tell; it always does, but perhaps this is what God — in part — is saying to me and doing with me.

If so, how am I quieter, in pain, in a good way?

I notice that in pain I am apt to judge others less. Instead I hurt for those who do wrong or who fail. I want no one to suffer like I have. My suffering causes me to pray for the world, not to judge it. And it is the ones who have done the most wrong who suffer the most and are the most needy of forgiveness and help and prayer.

Pain has also quieted my complaints. My complaint to God concerns what he has allowed in the world and in my life that I don’t want, what I think doesn’t help or enhance me, and so by it I reveal that I have made life about me. I have lived life too much for personal comforts and ego fulfillment. God is silent concerning my complaints and so I can see that in giving such a complaint I indict myself.

And so without answers that I want, savaged by silence, I continue in faith and become more allegiant to him as I exercise faith without reward. It isn’t that this makes me like pain. I hate it! It is dispreferred; often it is unproductive; sometimes it is harmful to me and my relationships. It cuts me off from people, and yet it has its uses.

In pain, and by contrast to it, I find myself silently grateful for small bits of beauty, a ray of sun in my kitchen, a short moment of relief, a goldfinch in my garden, a bon bouche, a loving family.

Finally, in pain I am much less likely to give flippant advice to those in difficulty. In pain I am less of a know-it-all. In pain I listen better. I understand. I don’t plunder others with trite answers.

Orual in C. S. Lewis’s Til We Have Faces, gives her complaint, her issue with the silence and ambivalence and cruelty of the gods. She gets no answer and then dropping her charge she says this: “I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer.” In this answer there is much mystery and in my answers mystery too.

We each grapple with possible explanations for suffering. We each choose responses. All I am attempting to point out is that there is a quietness that exists within our options — and within God’s.

And so if we depart from noise we come again to silence and perhaps we can let it be that God is God even when he is silent.

Like Job we may then say, “I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer — twice, but I will say no more.”

Job 40:4-5