Posts Tagged ‘self’


Posted: March 8, 2011 in thriving
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Pride is complicated stuff.

How’s that? Because it’s about thinking we are better than other people and about thinking we are worse.

It is both, because pride is essentially being overly focused on oneself, making oneself the center, the core, the issue.

Pride puts its nose in the air and says, “Look at my hot car, or body or house or wife or personality or whatever.”

And pride puts its nose down, low, and says, “Look at what a mess I am, and look at how badly I feel.”

This too is a kind of pride because it is all about me or you or whoever is super-focused on themselves.

To really understand pride, we must realize that it is a fiction. Pride is a restoried, manufactured, studied, fictionalized version of reality that we write for ourselves. It takes the story of our life, and rewrites it with our self as the protagonist, the hero, the heroin, the star.

To really understand it might help to see that pride is a lot like a card game.

Life deals us cards. As we grow up, we look over our hand to see what cards we got.  And then, we select our high card, and we begin to play it, for a win, for a winning of  love and money and approval. Our high card  may be our personality, our looks, our smart mouth, our money, our social status, our race, our parents, our attitude, our whatever. There are many high cards, different in value in different contexts, and the cards become high or low, depending on how we and others see them.

This is fine, normal, and this is not so fine, this card game, when pride enters the game. It is not cool,  to play ourselves too much, to  game ourselves, to story game ourselves, to restory ourselves, to dominate, to win by making others lose. It is not cool when we flaunt our cards, when we use them to use other people, to get what we want, to beat down the competition into submission to our superiority.

But this game, the high card game, the game of who is better than who, is played all the time. People get into it or they spend a lot of energy trying to get away from it.

A person who has worked hard on being humble, may then be proud of not being proud. Wow! Tough sledding, the downhill run away from the self.

What to do?

About the only cure for pride is not to think of it at all —  self, self-love, self-hate, dealing with self. The cure comes in turning away from all  of this to other selves. We lose pride when we find the other. We quit playing our high card when we think beyond the game, at what we will all do when we slide our chairs back from the table and go to lunch together.

This matters, the game after the game, the game without the game, the time when we gather to support each other, not to win or lose.

This matters.

The interesting thing is the the Bible sees dealing with pride as the central issue of life, because pride keeps us from God. And to persist in pride, can lead to  God opposing us

Proverbs 3:34 says that God “mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble.”

Cool!  And not cool. If we mock the suposedly inferior, we will be mocked.

Interesting. Being proud will bring us down; keeping away from pride will put God on our side and pick us up.

Nothing better than that.

Think about it.

(Todays blog entry is just a discussion starter. What do you think? I invite you to add a comment.)


who are you?

Posted: January 24, 2011 in becoming
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“`Who are you?’ said the Caterpillar.

This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, `I–I hardly know, sir, just at present– at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.’

What do you mean by that?’ said the Caterpillar sternly. `Explain yourself!’

`I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid, sir’ said Alice, `because I’m not myself, you see.'”

Alice, as in Wonderland, is caught up in one of our universal human dilemmas — explaining ourselves. The problem? Who we are is not fixed, and it can’t be easily explained to someone else or even to ourselves.

But we are not always as lost as Alice. Consider your bio or your resume. I wrote a short biography of myself recently for my website.  It was supposed to be brief, but I’ve lived long enough that the trouble was in knowing what me to put in, what me to leave out. Then when my office manager transferred my biography to another website which had a different purpose, it didn’t quite feel right there. So I changed it, to fit the context.  Like Alice, I had several iterations to choose from.

Resumes? The same thing. We tailor them to the job we are going for. We present ourselves as a good fit for a prospective employer. At resume time, we are all Alice, before the caterpillar, being asked “And who are you?” and we stand and deliver that we are an Alice that will  fit in caterpillar’s world. And in that moment, we profess,  to know ourselves. Fine, all is well, welcome to selling yourself.  It’s appropriate and so professional to offer up a me-for-them on 24 pound linen paper with a water mark, a well-edited self that briefly presents the me of me that fits the them of them. “Make a good impression,” says my mom, your spouse and her best friend Tom as we all  head out the door for the interview —  “Knock ’em dead!”

But dead or not, at the interview or the funeral, there is yet, the Alice-dilemma. Someone may think I am this, or another may eulogize me as that, and I may myself put this  or that on the fine paper , but who am I really? Who am I to me? Who am I when I-as-caterpillar asks me-as-Alice, “Who are you?”  In other words, who am I employing when I employ myself? This identity is more difficult to get a hand on.  It’s harder, penning the slippery, holistic, authentic day-to-day resume, the one we never write but always live, in front of ourselves and others.

My wife, Linda, is a  survivor. Now there’s a label that offers an identity many people own. She grew up with a dad who said nothing too many times in a row after muttering nothing and yelling again nothing  while devotedly popping another top off another beer after the beer just before the last one. One way Linda survived was to find her place among the stacks — books, and films in a place of something, of resources, a library. She found  a career in storing and organizing help, information, resources. The result? She is an interlibrary loan specialist and a phenomenal resourcer of research professors and students. Have a need for a book or an article? “Call her.” She’ll get it for you or find out where you can get it.  So while a support group might think of her as a “survivor,”  she is really, through and through,  a thriver. Contexts change; we change;  labels change. Is she a child of an alcoholic parent, always? Is recovery always. How long does the past define us? Only as long as we let it.

I’ve noticed that people tend to like  slice-of-the-pie assessments — “survivor, vet, precocious, slow, hot, not.” They don’t so much like the longer, nuanced, whole-pie critique, except when they write their memoirs. Most people go for the quick  labels: “cute, bright, slut, jerk, fun, good girl, bad boy, smart ass.” What are these really? Short hand idenitfications,  stereotypes within the stereotypes of  the stereotype.  Some one told me recently, “You’re smart.” I thought, “Thin slice of me. You just haven’t seen  me dumb, but sometimes I am.” Maybe I just haven’t let them see me dumb. I am, as we all are, a walking contradiction — smart here, dumb there, good here, bad there. Of course, obvious, sure — “Get real.”

I want to. I do. I do want to be authentic, and with authentic people, in the moment, congruent, projecting who we are and have been and still can be. This even means being honest about the me of not me and the them of the essential them. Paul, the radical Christian  interrogator of the self, in one of his finest letters wrote, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Touche! Paul has it right. He is not always the person he wants to be, and I, like him, do not always act out the me-of-me and the me-I-want-to-be. And so when I define myself, this must be included. Every resume needs an,  “If-you-want-a-different-twist-on-everything-you-just-read-then-talk-to-Frank category. Or perhaps we should add   “Blunders” with dates and references.

The other day a girl told me that she was  in recovery from abusing alcohol and drugs. I told her that in high school and college I had done too much drinking too, and had to move away from that to figure out who I was on my own, without a little help from my friends. As I confessed, I was writing my resume for her, an honest one, a human one, one that she could understand. I like that, authenticity. Who am I? I am a person very much like everyone.

And this gets at one more thing I’m learning — not to listen too much to talking caterpillars wherever they appear, but to look after something much more important, helping the them of not me figure out the them of the essential them. This works, nicely, in diverting the soul from excessive introspection. I live best not storying a self, not inventing a self, but instead spending time reflecting back to other selves who they might yet prove to be.

The other day, I happened on an ordinary thing, that later turned weird, a black mustard plant in the uplands down by the Sweetwater Salt Marsh who was freaking out.  She was a beauty, a Cruciferae, yellow and spring green with long shapely roots, but  she was so  upset. She was out of it really,  insanely exclamatory,  “Wow upon double wow and wow squared!” she  gushed madly, her eyes bent on a black and yellow Swallowtail butterfly who was flapping home to  the cathedral arch of a Sweet Fennel.

It didn’t turn out so well. I was told later, that when this mustardy beauty could take it no more, she grew all crazy for the air and ripped herself from the ground.  And it was said by those who know that she proceeded across the marsh, beating the breeze apart with her quickly withering leaves, and with dirt still trailing off her roots, that she crashed into the ground only about 1oo feet from where she came. 

“Oh!” I grieved for her and for all other selves not happy within the boundary of  themselves, and then I went and sat down with Alice again to hear her out.

Later in the evening, I wrote the tragedy up and posted it on my blog.

Then I kicked back, stretched my long, spotted body, nibbled a leafy snack, checked the feedback from my maxillae, and thought, “Now this is the me of the essential me.”

Discipline Thy Self

Posted: November 4, 2009 in self
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Rowing Toward GodSelf-discipline

I grew up reading. I read over one hundred books in the 4th grade. I loved to read.

One day in my high schoo English class, my teacher asked me to read out loud a section of the literature we were studying. I remember it well. I was sitting on the right side, along the wall trying to blend into the paint.

I was a reader, but when she said my name, my mouth went into a draught. My heart began to protrude through the veins in my neck. I forgot my mother’s maiden name. I lost control of my lips. I had to read so I began. On one particular aspirated consonant I think I spit on the girl in front of me. I died twice in the next three minutes.

I have never told anyone how afraid I felt that day until writing this. But I’m in good company. More than 90 percent of Americans say they have been shy at some time in their lives. Almost half say they’re shy now. Many feel weak, not powerful, shy not confident.

2 Timothy 1:7  For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

 It wasn’t until half way through my eleventh grade I realized high school was not going to last forever. I also came to the awareness that my teachers were keeping records. It came as a shock. Grades matter? They will follow me into the next stage of life?

 I had invited Jesus to be my savior when I was eight. I wasn’t living my life for God in high-school, but now I know that I that is when I heard a whisper inside. It was as if someone said, “Get ready.” Someone  was moving an awareness in me. I Began to sense that I had a spirit of power and self-discipline inside me.

 I decided to aim high. I took typing. I learned the keyboard.

 To be disciplined means to adhere to a certain order. Discipline refers to systematic, orderly instruction given to a disciple. Self-discipline refers to the regular training that one gives one’s self to accomplish a certain task. Hit those keys without looking. Memorize that keyboard.

Self-discipline isn’t one choice, it’s a million choices in the same direction. In late high school, I began to make that choice again and again, the choice to try.

Ben Franklin was the master of self-discipline. But his self-discipline was different than Christian self-discipline. The beginning point for Ben was self and the motivation was self-improvement. “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”

But for us God followers, the beginning point of all order and discipline in our lives is not “early” but it is God, his voice, his plan, not ours.

Before you know it, after high school, I landed in college.  I majored in English. Over the next five years I read hundreds of books and papers, almost every one at the last minute. I took a credential in teaching, and an  MA in literature. I began a life of scholarly discipline.

I remember a moment of few years ago of exquisite beauty. It was a moment of identity, of fulfillment. I got a phone call. It was from one of the editors at Leadership Journal, Christianity Today’s magazine for pastors. They wanted  to publish the article I wrote and sent them on reading groups. It was entitled,  ”It’s Not Ophra’s Book Club.”

 Someone else would read what I wrote. Other leaders and pastors would benefit from these ideas. It wasn’t something everybody cares about, strives for. But for me it was a beautifully satisfying moment. It was a moment I had been looking forward to for a long time. The high school kid who didn’t study and who was afraid to read, who took typing, had finally typed what others would read.

 2 Timothy 1:7  For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

I remember sitting in Starbucks in Eastlake in the spring of 2006. I sat with my coffee looked out window at the tall, ornamental grass glowing in the sun.   A friend of mine had just told me that he wanted to go back to South Africa. And then he said something surprising. He wanted to know if I wanted to go with him.

He had taught school their in the 1980’s and worked for Campus Crusade for Christ. He wanted to go to Johannesburg and Soweto and to Swaziland.  There was much need there to train and encourage pastors.

I have never really wanted to go to South Africa. I looked out over pampas grass growing outside Starbucks. It was beautiful in the sun. I thought of the veld, of the beauty I had seen in pictures of Africa. Every so faintly, not a voice, but in my mind, God whispered again, “Get ready. I have people for you.”

 Over the next few months I got shots, bought malaria medicine, had my passport renewed, prepared sermons, bought clothes, read books on Africa, prayed, went to planning meetings, spoke to pastors in Africa on the phone to see what they needed, wrote letters to  raise money. And I went to a lawyer and had my estate put  in a trust.

 With much self-discipline, I prepared myself. And then we flew, for two days.

I’ll never forget one Sunday morning in Soweto. I stood in a tent on a dirt floor in a suit. My wife and my fellow travelers and I were the only whites in the tent church.  In front of me was the pain of AIDS and death and loss of children and loss of dreams. I looked out at the pain of Africa, at the people God was sharing with me, and I remembered the pain in my own family and  my own heart and all the hard things God had taken me through.

I preached a message called “Pain Gain,” translated into Swahili. It was as if my whole life led up to that moment, all the pain of loss and all the study and all the risks of coming to Africa met. At the end, half of the church came forward, crying, praying, seeking healing. Then they prayed for me and my team. I cried. It was a moment.

 2 Timothy 1:7  For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

When I was little, my parents moved to Missouri where my dad took the job of running a Christian campground. We built a home there, for economy  we put in a wood burning furnace in the basement. It was a fire breathing dragon; it ate big logs and kept us toasty warm.

 My job, as a small boy, was to split and haul wood into the basement. I had to bring the stacked wood up to the red line my dad had marked on the wall. I spent many afternoons in  the winter snow and cold, splitting big logs with an ax and a chisel.  I remember so clearly the “thunk” as the wood I threw it up hit and it the wall.  It was the sound was the sound of  self-discipline, and in this manner I learned to work with my hands, and with tools.  It was regular, it was systematic, it was required – by my dad. And God whispered, although I didn’t hear it then. “You may be headed out into life to be a brain worker, but I am going to need you to know how to use your hands.”

After I married and had first daughter my wife  and I bought a house. We bought work. It had been built in the 1940’s. Again I took  up tools. I tore off old dark wood paneling and  I sheet rocked the kitchen.  I took out an old sink in the bathroom and put in a new one. I peeled  back a flat roof and repaired it.

 In the last few weeks I have had a lot to do. I have counseled  people; I have studied, I have written, I have taught classes. I have done brain work, and people work.

But also, in my spare time, I have gone about my church, and I have gotten down on my knees on the floor in  the preschool room and scrapped dirt off the floor with a razor blade.  I have fixed door handles. I have climbed up on the roof of one of the buildings and checked it out for repairs. I have worked on bids to replace the awnings. I know how to work and I have worked like l learned to work throwing up wood against a wall.

And I have had some moments, while working, when God whispered again. He has said, although I didn’t hear an audible voice:  ”I taught you years ago how to work, how to work hard. I taught you how to use your hands in a disciplined way. Now may passion for my  house consume you. You’ve fixed your own houses. Now renew my house. And I don’t want you to do it alone.”

 2 Timothy 1:7  For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

 1 Cor. 9:26-27 says this in the Message version, “I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. No sloppy living for me! I’m staying alert and in top condition. “

 God has put in us the ability to control ourrselves, to discipline ourselves.  We Christians are not by our new nature lazy, afraid, or uncaring. God has put his spirit in us, he has given us power and control over our impulses, our bodies and our thoughts.

If you open to his voice, God is currently speaking to you, whispering your next adventure to you, gently telling you, “Get ready.  Get self-disciplined. ” And if you listen to his prompting something new will begin. Within your bordered self, a you, a unique personality will begin to be formed by the work you discipline yourself to do. A being will be freed and personage empowered. We change through self-discipline, initiated by God.

 We are a people following a voice. We are a people living within God, infused with God,  a God who himself puts a spirit of self-discipline in us. It is a God directed, God empowered self-discipline.  

 It changes us: it changes the world.