Posts Tagged ‘randy hasper’

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

Matthew 6:26

Jesus offers an invitation.


Instead of worrying, look.

Look at the birds, or the rain, or a family member, or even something as simple as your good food, even if it imperfect or limited.

It was and is provided. Be grateful. This is mental health. Gratitude for the present replaces worry about the future.

Looking is therapy!

Seeing what is present and understanding why and how it is present is healing. What is present is grace. What we worry over is not, it is a kind of self-inflicted punishment. Worry rushes from the present to live in a tortuous future.

But to look at the in-your-face good is to enter into a divine reality, to pick up a spirit of gratitude, a sense of safety, and this drives us away from our obsessive tendency to worry.

I am practicing this today. This morning I felt the fluffy of my cat which is the same fluffy of my sweet wife’s bathrobe. Comfort there.

I listen to the rain. I listen to the soft flicker of the fire. I listen to the click of the refrigerator door. The microwave plays a four note tune to tell me it has heated my drink properly.

Wisdom is about the present, noticing the beauty of the present, as it is, being grateful for the things smack dab in front of us without wanting them to be different.

“Look” said Jesus. Look at what is around you that reminds you that God is present, that he is in control, that he is taking care of the smallest things.

Look and see, God is all over the abc’s, the basics, the 1,2,3’s of living. Understand the beauty of what is now, the “what” or the “whatness” of our everyday life. To see and appreciate this is to make friends with reality and with God.

When we ground ourselves in the sentient now and revel in immediate “here” — the sounds, smells, colors that waft over the sides of our boats, the sensory gift fish we happen to haul in today, then we are following Jesus and making peace with ourselves and our world.

Tonight I made chicken Satay.

Spontaneous decision. Thinking too much about have fun is not having fun.

I threw lots of ingredients in this culinary delight. I was missing a few. Who cares. Like I’m going to get it as good as a Thai restaurant anyway.

Live-cook-drool-chew — whatever you have — and do this pre-cognitive.

Live fully, stop thinking overly.

I practiced that today! Had pain. Didn’t overthink it. Hurting sucks. Ignored it! Thinking about things we don’t like makes them worse. I would know. I’m the master of self-inflicted mental torture.

But today, no introspective side trips, no wandering into the unknown future. Made delicious French toast. Whipped cream on top. Espresso on the side. Read. Painted a door. Talked on the phone. Fed the cat. Made Satay.

Again didn’t think much. It’s been said that the unexamined life isn’t worth living. Some truth there. But I say this. The over-examined life isn’t lived worthily.

Much of life is best taken on board like a fish. You just receive it with gratitude and feel lucky you caught it.

Like Satay. Satay, or sate in Indonesian spelling. It’s an Indonesian gift.

I’m so glad it exists.

We’ve eaten chicken Satay in a great little Thai restaurant in Point Loma called Supannee House of Thai. I order it every time there.

Here is the concoction for the consumption: coconut milk, soy sauce, curry powder, turmeric, garlic, ginger, brown sugar, fish sauce smeared and grilled on chicken. It’s especially good dipped in peanut sauce.

To live well is to live with spices and sauces aplenty.

“You think too much,” said my wife recently.

Nailed me!

Over-process; over-suffer. I’d know.

But maybe today just this:





One of the ways that we derive acute meaning and pleasure and see beauty in life lies in our ability to experience the quiddity or essence of persons or things.

Rembrandt’s genius was his unparalleled ability to render a person’s quiddity in a single portrait.

My wife’s genius, her quiddity, lies in her ability to see a problem and devise a solution that helps another person get something they need.

The word quiddity originated in the Latin word quid meaning “what.” Quiddity was defined by the ancients as the real nature of a thing; its essence.

In medieval scholastic philosophy “quiddity” quidditas literally meant “whatness.” For these philosophers quiddity described properties that a particular substance ( say a person) shared in with others of its kind, and so entails a description by way of commonality.

The quest for a quiddity represents a romantic and idealistic human quest for meaning. It represents a way of thinking, an effort to get to a main thing, something bordering on a quest for universals, something Platonic, a quest for the Plato’s forms, something that helps us understand a complex thing in a simple way.

And yet it’s not so high flying as all that. Quiddity is smaller than universal. It is more attainable. It is that fleeting fragrance of the flower I just passed by, the honeysuckle in my backyard, experienced for a brief moment, absorbed, loved but not catalogued as eternal or forever fixed. What is the quest for beauty. 

Quiddity, at its simplest and most sensory, is a brief flash of recognition and pleasure of essence.

This is how we were meant to live, philosophically and joyfully sentient. Wise Jesus said that he came to give us life, life abundantly, life flowing over the edge of the cup. He came to empower us to experience the quality of being human, and of being one with each other and himself. He designed us to receive essences, to be in receipt of the ultimate essence, love.

But not wanting to fly too high over our own heads, although we can soar into the best things life has to offer (connection, community, love, the divine) we can also talk about this kind of thing, about quiddity, in earthy, historical, everyday, garden variety terms.

Consider Frank Loyd Wright, the famed American architect. It has been said that his architecture is organic. This is a rough and crude distinction, but it helps understand the man. The structures he designed vary widely in look, but the theme of fitting in with the environment is common to many of them.

He himself said about this:

“A building should appear to grow easily from its site and be shaped to harmonize with its surroundings if Nature is manifest there.”

“No house should ever be on a hill or on anything. It should be of the hill. Belonging to it. Hill and house should live together each the happier for the other.”

By such statements we begin to get at the quiddity of his designs, a harmony between hill and house. He built to nature. His buildings honor their environments, his “Falling Water” house being perhaps the finest example. A rushing waterfall runs out from under the house.

So why labor to identify quiddity?

For this reason: To discover the nature of a thing is to understand and to increase pleasure in living through our amazing world. It may also help us to understand evil, and injustice, but then that is another exploration for another time.

The quest for quiddity is one mechanism for increasing our understanding and pleasure. As applied to the good things of life, it is a quest to experience beauty. 

So what would it take for you and I to apprehend the quiddity present in people and things around us on a day-to-day basis?

The question is fraught with philosophical, epistemological and ontological problems.

Let’s skip those. We will never all agree on the universal essence of anything, or even on how we come to that, but what we can do is simply savor what we perceive to be the essence or essences of something in any given moment.

How might we do that? How might we dive deeper into the rich essence of experience? How might we see, know, apprehend and classify our experiences of the “other,” the “what” better?

This way: Make the choice to pause, to be in the present moment and to suck it up, straw it up into our awareness. It will take the extended pause needed to really see and hear and feel. It will take the pause that hovers over something, that lets it be for us what it is. It will take the willingness to savor the thing, the thing’s “what,” its pleasure rating, its place on the pleasure spectrum. This will have to be done without rushing on to the next moment in which the lovely, glowing, fragrant, sensuous quiddity of the previous moment is always lost.

This morning as I ground my espresso beans and packed them into the portafilter basket, I breathed them. I breathed in the sweet, poignant, nutty, earthy fragrance of ground coffee, freshly baked.

The quiddity of good espresso exists in its smell and taste, which exists in the art of how it was originally dried, baked and processed. It’s real essence is the land it came from, it’s elevation, it’s rainfall, it’s soil.

When I drink espresso, I drink it’s quiddity, it’s immediate history, the machine it was just extruded from, the water it is dissolved in, the heat that helped extract it, the ratio of water to bean. And when I drink espresso I drink its older history, the place it grew, its geography, the people who grew and harvested it. I drink a complex old-new quiddity that is reduced for me to a beautiful smell and taste that I and so many others know and love so well. And then there is the jolt, the caffeine rush, another very personalized quiddity of the much loved coffee bean.

Quiddity, the word has such a fluid sound. It easily slides into place with its definition. And it offers us a pointer, a crude gesture toward living well.

To pause, over each person and thing we encounter, and closing our eyes to breathe in an essence, a gorgeous “whatness,” the what that is right in front of us — ahhhh.

This is one way to live well.

Today I lay quietly on my bed engaged in diaphragmatic breathing, my wife stroking my head, in the moment, soothing, healing — us together, just being, a state being.

Tonight I make dinner, spaghetti squash and turkey meat balls topped with marinara sauce — doing. Delicious – the baked spaghetti squash caramelized and sweet as it plays off the savory meat and tangy tomato sauce. Me doing for myself and my partner. I was in a mode of doing.

Doing and being — these are interesting everyday modes of living with fascinating the similarities and differences! Both being and doing can be delicious, satisfying or frustrating.

Classically, analytically — thinkers have often separated being and doing. There is something to this. Being comes first. You have to be, in order to do. Being is a prerequisite to doing.

Being comes with being born and staying born. Doing follows. Being is preparatory, a kind of becoming, inward and often quiescent. Consider being in the womb. Doing is noisy, productive, outward, driven, active. Consider taking on a career. These crude distinctions make some sense, but reality is a bit more complex.

Take painting a room. We think of it as classic doing. If you want a room to look better, you don’t stand in it just being; you paint it. Painting is quintessential doing. It transforms a space. It makes history. Paint covers a multitude of previous trends, and it hides smudges and dirt around the light switches!

My wife and I worked on repainting the bathroom this morning. The creamy, thick paint rolled on sticky and wet. You could whiff the paint and hear the whir of the spinning roller as we pushed it up the wall.

But painting is the kind of doing where you can stand back when you are done and take a deep breath of satisfaction and suck in some fine, toxic volatile organic compounds, VOCS, that turn doing into a state of being — high!

So painting isn’t pure doing. Not at all. Painting can involve a creative state of being at the beginning of the project when one gets inspired and imagines possibilities, and it can include a reflective and appreciate state of being at the end when one admires the work. Painting isn’t all doing. We stand back, just being, satisfied!

As I left my wife finishing our paint job, we kissed on my way out, a kiss of solidarity. Doing this brought us into a state of mutualistic being. Interesting. Doing has the potential to create a community of being, of creating oneness.

But does being require doing to give it value or keep it in existence? We say things like “move or die,” as we validate the primacy of exercise and action. Even babies, who may not seem to be on a mission, kick and stretch and babble in preparation for walking, handling things, talking. What may appear to simply be existing is in fact very active and very purposive. Perhaps being always has a kind of doing built into it.

Maybe, but on the other hand, we can assert philosophically and spiritually that a baby or a very old person does not have to paint a bathroom or make dinner or even clean themselves or be at all productive to retain value. The new born infant in the arms and the very feeble grandma in the wheelchair are both treasured even when they can do little or nothing for themselves. The paralyzed person is yet of inestimable value. These limited ones are intrinsically valuable as being, not doing.

Indeed it is a horrible drift away from humanity and from civilization to only value human beings who are productive or valuable according to the norms of society. We’ve been there before with the ancients discarding unwanted babies to die of exposure or wild animals.

And as we know even today, in some parts of the world through sex-selective abortion, babies are terminated in pregnancy based upon the predicted sex of the infant. This is massively tragic thinking about being, making male being of more value than female being. And in many countries disabled people, especially in third world countries, are isolated from the experiences, school, work, social life. They remain hidden at home. I’ve seen this myself in Nicaragua. For us to do well as a planet we must retain the intrinsic sacredness and preciousness of all human life. Gender, disability, unattractiveness, low mental acuity must not become inferiority markers that entirely limit opportunities for normal productive life.

Yes, but while this is wonderfully noble, to aim at valuing all of humanity, to value nonproductive being, can we live this fancy talk out, practice it concerning our own beings? After a life of doing, can driven ones be content with less doing, with more just being? With resting? With not needing so much accomplishment? With less or even no painting, so to speak.

Perhaps not entirely. Most retired people are happiest when they have a project or are volunteering, or even working again. We are happiest when thinking of and doing something for someone else, not ourselves. We are happiest helping.

And yet the eventuality is that at some point our bodies run down and our opportunities to help become limited. Eventually age, poor health, weariness, changing mood, accidents — life stuff — interferes with productivity. And when this happens — and this can be very difficult for all of us — here is where we have to wisely shift our understandings of being and doing. Doing and being need new definitions for new seasons of life.

Today my wife and I played cards, talked, ate together, relaxed together, watched TV together. We produced nothing tangible during these moments of togetherness but just being together was special, meaningful, valuable.

Being present for and with someone in nonproductive leisure is an essential and precious element of wise living. There is a softness and quietness in these contented and grateful states of being. Such halcyon seas and safe harbors are sometimes missing from busy projects or social events.

It is remarkable and noteworthy that simply being who we are and where we are retains our meaningful place in the world. And there, in a quiet place, simply being kind, grateful and patient with ourselves and others sponsors being’s native sphere of influence. To be in a positive state of mind is to weld powerful influence. Being that is rooted in the nourishing energy of love emanates a power similar to doing. It changes the color of rooms.

Yet such elevated states of being don’t always come to us passively or easily. Sometimes we do great and terrible battle (note the “do” here) to achieve the quieter, more peaceful nodes of being. Often we must cast off bitterness, despair, negativity, jealousy, pride and more to win peace of mind.

My father at 91, lives in a small room with a few books a TV and a small bed. The other day he enthused, “I’m richer than Bill Gates!” The shock waves of that statement are still basing against the doors of the universe. My dad is very godly and quiet man and spends much time alone. And yet his gratitude emanates past the stars and provides a model of being for our whole family and all who encounter him.

To be, to do; to do, to be — life is a sequential, repeating, overlapping, alternating process But people like my father make it implicitly clear that noble states of being are possible in circumstances where there is little opportunity for the kind of doing and having that Fenelon says brings “courage to the senses.”

To help us all navigate the tidal nature of doing and being, perhaps a helpful question presents itself:

What is this season of life asking from you?

Perhaps it is more doing, perhaps it is more being. Perhaps it is practicing and increasing in a more contented and graceful form of being. Upping the value of the value of being may be challenging in western culture as there is some bias against giving being a commensurate value with doing. Among many go-getters simply being present, reflection, rest, meditation — even forms of robust tranquility such as prayer — are dispreferred. Perhaps it is a different mix or ratio of these that we need, different from what we have lived before.

Whatever the answer, stay realistic. Change is a process. Navigating the high seas and strong currents of being and doing is paint and brush work. Living out our doing and living out our being is like painting. Expect drips, runs and blotches and redos, and at least two coats of paint on every surface.

And expect success. Expect a kiss at the end. Expect to be kissed by reality. I see the universe as being on the side of the good. I see God as the guide to productive action and to precious, sweet, peaceful, grateful states of being. I see one of the great purposes of life as arriving at a more enlightened state of being characterized by love and kindness and gratitude and the celebration of all kinds of beauty. 

For me, God has provided the quintessential model for us. You work (do) and then you sit down and you rest (be) and you look at your work and out of a sweet, peaceful, calm satisfied state of being you say, “It’s good!”

Think with me about difficulty for a moment. Difficulty is difficult — especially as processed by our minds.

The problem is that in difficulty our minds tend to run away from reality and get obsessive and exaggerate the danger. We run hot; we run negative. Our minds terrorize us, make the problem worse by constantly returning to it and focusing on it.

I do this. I do this with my physical pain. Focusing on it is like digging at a wound that already hurts. Poking in there makes it hurt more.

Perhaps you have heard of the RAIN technique for dealing with pain and stress, unpleasant experiences and feelings.

The four steps are as follows:

R   Recognize

A   Allow

I   Investigate

N   Non-Identifiy

The basic idea is to honestly recognize the feelings that we have in any given experience, allow ourselves to sit with them with no judgment, investigate them but gently refuse to define ourselves by these thoughts and feelings.

This approach is a way to de-stress, to calm down, to be curious but not traumatized by thoughts and feelings, especially those that come from negative associations or experiences.

I’m interested in the ideas of the last one (N). The idea is to not identify yourself or define yourself by small parts of yourself or temporary feelings or experiences.

It has been explained like this.

“Disentangle yourself from the various parts of the [painful] experiences knowing that they are small, fleeting aspects of the totality of who you are, arising and passing away due mainly to causes that have nothing to do with you, that are impersonal. Feel the contraction, stress and pain that comes from claiming any part of this stream as “I,” or “me,” or “mine” and sense the spaciousness and peace that comes when experiences simply flow.”

I like this. I have pain from an old surgery, but I am not defined by that pain. When I over-focus on it then it seems to become the whole universe. But it is not. There are whole sections of the rest of my body that don’t hurt at all. And there are huge expanses of time in my life when this pain has not been present.

I may not be productive in my moments of intense pain, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been productive and won’t again be in the future. Therefore, I can work at being patient with the moment that is unwanted. And most importantly I can refuse to define myself by it.

We would all do well to practice such non-judgmental, gentle, patient responses to difficulty. We are not one of our poorly functioning or harmed body parts. We are not defined by one bad relationship we have had. One perceived failure doesn’t define us. We are not one feeling that we might have on one given day. We are not our ability or non-ability to function in any one given moment.

As concerning negative feelings sometimes I’m afraid, sometimes I’m lonely, sometimes I am fuzzy headed, but none of those are me. I am simply having moments, human moments, moments we all have, that flow through us but are not the essence of us.

So what am I that is more consistent than this? I’m a precious human being. I am a father, and a husband, and a brother. I am a friend, I am a helper, I am a Christian, I am a child of God, I am a creature of great value and worth.

So let it rain. Let it rain gentleness. Let it rain self-acceptance. Let it rain wisdom, the wisdom to live humbly with difficulty, the wisdom to define ourself accurately and yet compassionately.

My prayer: God help me to be as gentle and loving with my imperfect mind and body as you are with me.

As some of you know, I’ve been super healthy of late. It’s as if I have a wall of protection around me.

Yeah, that’s not quite right.

My doctor looked at me the other day and said, “I’ve never seen anything like this. I don’t know one person who has had so many issues in so little time. I was flattered! Of all the people in his 30 years of practice I outrank them all!

I’m special! But then who isn’t eventually in precisely this fashion — well a few escape relatively unscathed by pain and panic. They are freaks of nature.

I had a friend who in his 70s simply tipped his patio chair back, fell over, hit his head and was gone. No serious sessions in the oncology office to scare the heck out of him, no tubes at the hospital, no IVs, no cameras where they shouldn’t go, no heroic measures at the end. Lucky guy! Must have totally pleased God. It was like he was translated at the end, gone over to the other side in his chariot-chair like Elijah the prophet. It was nigh unto Biblical!

My situation is different. The universe is playing yo-yo with my patio chair. I tip up, I tip down. I recover from something. I get something else. Much like most folk really.

I have had some unique experiences on this journey. I went to the hospital for the first time. I now have a new view of eggs. My breakfast egg — couldn’t recognize it. It came to the plate pulverized, blended and repacked into a small, wet dome. It was stolid, squat and grey-green. It looked like an army quonset hut, and it tasted faintly like it had spent time in the kitchen sink being washed.

Even the dietitian squirmed over it, picked it up, gagged and brought me back a proper omelette. It wasn’t half bad. I stayed another day by faking symptoms just for another cheesy omelette.

What to make of my poor health, my hospital visits, my situation, my eggs? All in all it is probably simplest to say the obvious, “Oh life! You always have been like this — no surprises here. You always have been up and down.”

But still, and yet, and furthermore and irresistibly sometime I try to add meaning to it all. The other day it occurred to me that I feel like I have been shoved into a chrysalis, melted into goop, or syrup, and God only knows what halting, deformed, half-flying, half-crawling woofer wonder will crawl out of this fresh hell.

Maybe this experience will be transformative.

Maybe I’ll turn into a kind of Christian Yoda! But taller. I’ll utter aphoristic witticisms using inverted syntax that leave my followers mystified for weeks but don’t really mean anything. Or I’ll transform into a kind of Dalai Lama, and write a wise book, and receive guests from all over the world.

Probably. That is probably what will happen.

It’s raining today in San Diego. 

It’s wondrous! 

Some fear it — the driving in it, of course — but once safe from its road danger or flood danger, we may savor it. 

Today the great planet’s vapor wrap, the earth’s blanket of water — the great H2O machine is showing off for us — it’s raining it’s pouring.  Rain is our planets bio-refresher, life-lover, world cleaner, body-maker, fun-creator, cup-filler. It’s in your body, in your pipes, in your glass, your coffee cup, in your puddle, rivulet, stream, river and ocean.

About 71 percent of the Earth’s surface is water-covered, and the average adult human body is 50-65% water. The percentage of water in infants is around 75-78%.

Today wet life, what makes up you, is falling out of our atmosphere to the ground on San Diego County.

The atmosphere above is a fluid. It flows like a river over us, moving through the troposphere, the lowest layer of the earth’s atmosphere. This is where our weather takes place. This safe zone, our life zone, is complex and amazing. Billions of years of biochemical modification were required make this beautiful, livable bubble of ultra violet protection, this shell of life surrounding us, and this lovely rain filled day is properly seen as a product of great change and vast time and endless love.

The Bible says God sends the rain, on all of us, good or not. Rain is his care, his life, his restoration, his love for all of us. Jesus spoke of him self as a well-spring of living water. 

This is wonderful.

Raindrops are symbolic of love. Water literally is life and love. The drops falling on us are ancient goodness treasures, divine medicines — a Summum bonum, a highest good, incapsulated.

To form rain drops, water vapor collects on dust and smoke particles in our clouds. A water skin forms and the molecules stick together as little droplets. Their shape is spherical, round, not tear drop shaped, as often imagined. 

Raindrops range from tiny to quite large but often break up as they get sizeable. As a drop increases in diameter, its shape becomes more oblate, flattened at the poles. Large rain drops become increasingly flattened on the bottom, like hamburger buns; very large ones are shaped like parachutes.

Squished spheroids, bun-like blobs, even bell-like parachutes fall from the sky on us as gorgeous silver, shimmery manna. See this reality as it is — and delight!

This morning I watched a fast river of water run down my street to the storm drain. Powerful!

Later, I watched silver drops fall off the arm of a patio chair and fall into a puddle. Instantly radiating circles spread to the edge of the puddle and disappeared in an instant at the edge.

I look out the back window and see the drops that have stuck to the glass. Diamonds. It rains harder. I hear the downspouts gurgling. I see the gray steaks of rain dimming the trees it falls in front of, like an artist smearing a canvas so that the edges of things turn soft and vague. Soft rain tempers reality, it smooths it, soothes it.

After this downpour the color of the grass is greener, the redwood trellis on my fence becomes a deep, orangey red. The clouds float east like great ships. Blue sky peeps through, but I know more water is coming. The forecasters have worked their magic, their doppler radar, their satellites, their numerical  calculations, their models, their algorithms.

But what will come, foreseen accurately or not is more beauty, more glory, more soothing, loving gifts. 

What is a day with rain? 

It is a day to be in the moment. It is a day to accept what is. It is day to explore the beauty of our world. It is a day to open our hands. 

Umbrellas from the sky, oblate spheroids falling in gray lines, tiny silver circles hitting the flat surfaces with flashes of light, wind dancing the palms, drops drumming the roof, the fence, the windows, water whooshing in the streets — it’s an endless banquet of sight and sound.

Love rain. Love life. Love God who gives it

. Love yourself enough to pause and see it, detect it, note its nuances, see something perhaps you didn’t see before, receive. 

Pluvia is the Latin for rain, and phile of course the Latin that connotes love. Perhaps today is a day to be pluviophiles, rain lovers, those who finds joy and peace of mind during rainy days.

I heard a fiery sermon this morning. The preacher was good. Made some excellent points. The crowd laughed, and clapped. At the end speaker shouting. I got a feeling people were duly impressed.

Me, I just felt guilt. The text was Philippians 4:12-13.

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Great text. I’ve memorized it. It’s in my most recent journal. The point of the message given by the pastor was that it if you aren’t content and full of joy in hard times, in the storm, then you’re not an authentic Christian. You’re a fair weather Christian. If you’re only content in good times, prosperous times, times when you have nice stuff, times when things are going well, then you aren’t for real.

He ended shouting “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!”

The whole thing made me feel somehow in adequate. I think it was because it felt like the pressure was all on me to do something to be more authentic. I know that in Corinthian’s Paul spoke of dispairing of “even life itself.” Nobody is up, positive, content all the time. That’s just not reality. 

I wanted to know more. I was left with questions?

I don’t tend to feel content in storms. How do I draw on that strength that comes from Jesus? Is there something I have to do? My efforts to be content in Jesus during storms don’t seem to work that well. On the other hand, I know I try to he authentic in my faith.

Thoughts: Looks like Paul’s strength was from Jesus, not from himself. Paul’s secret was that it was Christ strengthening him. Paul wasn’t strong. Jesus was. This distinction is important. Paul was quick to know his weakness in other places in Scripture. So what we make of all this?

Being content isn’t something we do, but something Christ does in us when he gives us strength. Paul learned that the strength wasn’t from him. He learned that we can’t make ourselves more content in hard times. Christ is the one who makes us content to suffer through the storm.

I suppose you could assert that we have to have the faith, but the Bible says even faith is a gift of God.

I think what helps me here is to see that this text is more about God being authentic than Paul or me. I’m pretty dodgy. Paul himself didn’t always have it together. But Jesus, he’s authentic, and he can do what we can’t do.

His strength that he brings to me by his initiative is what can get me through the storm.

So my, our, humble, broken Philippians 4 prayer might be, “God we seem to lack the power to do the very thing we want to do, be content with hardship. So it’s up to you. Christ be strength! Christ be the one who gives us even the faith that your strength is there for us. Jesus, it is you, not me, so be you in me.”

So in a sense I’m off the authentic making hook. Jesus is on the hook for me. He’s the one that is going to come through.

Thank God for that!

“I’m open. Christ be my contentment, Christ be strength in me.”

Bodies — sometimes we are proud of them, say one aspect of them (hair, nails, muscles, teeth, arms), sometimes we are embarrassed by them, (shape, size, strength level, parts broken, parts in pain, areas sick or even missing), sometimes we are even shamed by them. This can happen when other people make comments, or we look in the mirror and criticize what we see.

And yet it is best to simply love our bodies.

Through it all our bodies are our gentle beasts, our friends, even when they are flawed, or when they change, tire, weaken, wear out. Many times they have served us well, carried us around, given us wonderful sensations, allowed us to experience and connect with our world and its many people.

We do well to love our bodies for what they have done for us.

Our eyes have shown us the colors, green trees, blue skies, yellow flowers, others’s bright eyes; our mouths have treated us to sweet chocolate ice cream and savory meats, delicate fruits and vegetables; our ears have heard the stream running over stones, the mockingbird bird chirping, our favorite classic or rock song. Our toes have mattered too; they have carried around our brains. Each part has counted.

Love your body’s parts. We do, and sometimes we don’t.

One of the difficulties that we all live with are the societal standards of what a perfect body should look like or be able to do. TV, movies, magazines, online images, advertisements don’t help. Here we see the freakishly beautiful, the perfectly toned, the carefully photoshopped. Thin, young, muscled and smooth-skinned is the dominant motif.

But we can have a different perspective. Many of us are working on this. Many of us understand that these pictures are not reality. Many of us are coming back to reality, to the value of self-acceptance.

Those TV images don’t reflect humanity well. No one is perfect. No one has the perfect body. And even if they approach that, it doesn’t last long. Norms and standards warp our perspectives, even lie to us. All age. All change. Work, mood, level of wealth, pregnancy, geography, genetics, weather, responsibilities, time, illness, aging, difficulty and more – all change the body.

And when our bodies change, then is the time to be oh so gentle with them and to love them even more.

Girls who are happy with their genes rule girls airbrushed for our screens.

Men happy with themselves are happier with others.

Children who are told they are wonderful, who are honestly complimented for their features, who are given explanations about everyone being different, who are never criticized concerning their bodies will struggle less with body image.

A few other ideas may help.

All have bodies. All bodies are similar in many ways. All need sleep and food. All smell good, don’t smell good, tire, glow, pale, shrink, restrengthen, age, sag, expand.

Self hatred, self denial, self-punishment, self criticism, body shaming — none of this is healthy or helpful in changing us or our bodies.

When we speak with ourselves it may help us to think what we would tell someone else, a friend or family member if they confessed some unhappiness or shame over their changing body. We would probably say something very affirming. We can also do this for ourselves, being kind, being sensitive, being affirmative with ourselves.

And we can ground ourselves in reality. I’m working in this too.

There are no perfect bodies, only perfectly gentle responses them.

This week I’ve been hanging around at home with a few grad students as they stay at my house.

It’s interesting! They’re fascinating as representatives of new perspectives on lots of things, coffee, float spas, Confucianism, pedagogy (the art of teaching), gender sensitivity, racism, children’s literature, body shaming, academic culture, LGBTQ issues, Christianity.

There’s been a cultural shift that they represent. Many of our young adults are disillusioned with institutions, hard-and-fast rules, black-and-white thinking, moralistic traditionalism, judgmentalism. Of course, I am friends with other young people who remain quite conservative, comfortable with the conceptual categories and ethics they’ve been taught, but I to gravitate toward these more open thinkers. I have made the journey with them.

Why? Why do I like the questioning, the openness, the desire to move beyond our past understanding.

Because I think they treck a wiser path, and I think Christians in particular should listen to them.

One of my young moderns told me recently she was doing yoga and that her Catholic friend told her it was from the devil. Of course that’s not true, and of course she found that offensive and ignorant. She also told me that she had been raised Catholic but she decided she didn’t want to hate gay people and so she left the church. Of course, not all Catholics hate gay people, nor does the pope, but she was describing a kind of intolerance that didn’t seem loving or wise to her.

Another of my young progressive friends told me recently that he was reading Confucianism. I’ve read Confucius. I like him. Some Christians categorically oppose all eastern religions and philosophies. But there is another way to look at this. There is an ethos in Confucius that aligns with the ethos of Jesus. Confucius emphasized respect in relationships, filial piety, righteousness, human heartedness, goodness, benevolence. These are good things, Jesus things; these create good relationships. Christians can honor these teachings without turning them into religion, without abandoning what Jesus taught.

And one other of my young friends can’t seem to find a church where women are equally respected with men in pastoral and leadership roles. She wants that. She won’t compromise. I respect her for that. There is good Biblical support for that, if you want to see it. But in her community, that’s not to be found. I suspect many modern young women feel the same.

It’s good to remember that Jesus is simple. He taught us to love our neighbor. He taught us to love God. He taught us to be friends to strangers, to include the alien. When Jesus told us to go into all the world to represent him, he didn’t mean to go out and beat people up with morals, systematic theology’s or our preferred culture. I can imagine Jesus, even Paul, having a respectful conversation and debate with friendships with people of our worlds many different traditions. Jesus was motivated by love, not hate and he wanted to have dialogues not just preach sermons.

I’m not at all suggesting that there isn’t ignorance and falsehood and misinterpretation and oppression in the many philosophies and religions of the world. We all error in our thinking and believing. Christianity itself has often been mistaught, warped beyond recognition. And I’m not suggesting we l don’t contend for what is valid, true, wisest the best we know.

But consider Paul. When Paul went to Athens he identified with some of the things the Athenians believed. He started out with the truth that in God we all live and move and have our being. He honored their thinking.

In approaching our faith communities, other lifestyles, in approaching people on the other side of a political line, Christians need to remember that the people in all other groups are created in the image of God, God sends his sunshine and rain and blessings on them too, they too live and move in God, aware of that or not. They too have truth.

Let’s not turn Christianity into a bunch of rules, a raft of intolerance, a bunch of propositions or judgements we write on slate and present as a systematic theology that all others must accept to be loved by God or to be spiritual. That’s not working. Many modern people are abandoning the church because of that very kind of thinking. Intolerance isn’t attractive. It isn’t the mission Jesus started. He himself said he didn’t come to condemn the world but to save it.

Humility would suggest we go out into our world to learn, to listen more, to realize that truth is often a balance between two extremes, to realize we are the not the only ones who know stuff. How fascinating to explore, to better understand. How wise not to be threatened, to be willing to accept new interpretations, new perspectives, a different way of looking at the same old thing. How fascinating to be like Jesus. to love people.

Here is what we were taught to do.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

1 John 4:7-8