The Time I Hear a Sermon in the Bathroom

This very hard working man violating two social mores in one moment: 1) the oft cited rule that socially acceptable conversation avoids politics and religion and 2) the unspoken rule that conversation between men in the restroom is restricted to dads coaxing their sons to aim properly. So when he said, “give me a word.” I was caught off guard.

Photo by  Paul Green  on  Unsplash

Photo by Paul Green on Unsplash

I shared with him that I have been reading about Saint Moses who said that a monk should sit in his cell for the cell will teach you all you need to know. I said I have been reflecting on this as a need for silence and solitude in a hyper-connected and noisy world.

The worker smiled and grunted with satisfaction. So I asked in return “give me a word.”

The worker began to tell me the story of the rich man who avoided Lazarus their whole lives. He recalled how when they both died the rich man, from hell, asked that Lazarus would come, from heaven, to give him a cool drink. (Those of you who know this story from the Gospels can fill in the details.)

I smiled and grunted with satisfaction.

We “man hugged” (the handshake where you pull each other to bump chests and slap the back of the other two times before you disengage) and went our separate ways.

The life of the Christian is one that holds the call to action and the call to contemplation in tension. It is not sufficient for the social justice warrior to dismiss the need for silence and stillness. It is not sufficient for the hermit to dismiss the prophetic action need in the world.

You may think that action and contemplation are opposite ends of the spectrum, that they cannot coexist in one church much less in one person. We are led to believe that we must be either/or. Justice or worship. Action or contemplation. Left or right. Unity or disunity.

The deeper call of Christ is not either but both. Perhaps this is in part why the way of Christ is so difficult – you have to embody a constant and unresolvable mystery.

It is easier to take a side.

The Only Reason Questions Are Not Good

Most of the time I support asking questions. Questions are helpful to not only broaden understanding and bring clarity; but also to build relationships. When you encounter a curious person asking you about your life, chances are you will find the person asking you about your life to be a person who makes you feel good. And we all want to be around people who make us fell good. Questions are helpful in so many ways that oftentimes, we overlook one way that questions are not good:

The only reason questions are not good is when questions justify non-action.

When getting ready for the day or at bedtime, children will ask all sorts of questions in an attempt to delay action. It is cute when they are asking questions about what is going to happen later that day or when they ask questions about the story that was just read; however it is also a subtle delaying action. 

Asking questions as a way to delay action is nefarious in that the one asking the questions is able to claim that they are "only asking questions."  Since we put such a high value on questions, we might feel like we are wrong to stop the questions in order to induce action.

I have witnessed people who will continually ask questions of themselves to the point of non-action (AKA paralysis by analysis). This sort of question to non-action pattern is also a bit tricky to internally address. It feels like you are doing something by asking the questions. Only you know if you are really just delaying actions you don't want to take. 

The reality is, questions are very good, but they are abused when employed to justify non-action.

Christians Eating Dog Food

Sitting at the local coffee shop and I met a computer programmer who works for GoToMeeting in the screen sharing department and her boyfriend who is a cancer researcher. They were by far the smartest people in the room. In the course of the conversation, I asked if they travel very often and it was stated that she (the computer programmer) travels a lot for work.

She said that at GoToMeeting they have a product that allows them to work remotely and so it is a great place for her to work at. She said that the company requires the employees to "eat the their own dog food." 

Having never heard this phrase before she explained that it is a way to ensure that the product is a good product: if you make it you have to use it (much like the people who make dog food must eat it to ensure it is not something they would not give their own animals).

Of course this instantly called to mind Ezekiel: 

He said to me, O mortal, eat what is offered to you; eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel. So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. He said to me, Mortal, eat this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it. Then I ate it; and in my mouth it was as sweet as honey.
— Ezekiel 3

Superficially it seems like an odd metaphor to talk about eating the scriptures, but it is clearly a powerful metaphor for reflection.

Christians say it is important to love. That is great. Can we eat that dog food? 

Christians say it is important to forgive. Wonderful. When have you recently eaten that dog food? 

Christians say that there is nothing to fear for God is with us, but then we freak out with the rest of the world when things look bleak.

Maybe we Christians need to eat the dog food.


WWJD is the wrong question

When I was a kid I was given a WWJD bracelet. In case you missed this trend, WWJD stood for "What Would Jesus Do?" It was a way to get people to stop and think about what is the action we ought to do - that is what would Jesus do - in a situation. For me it functioned more as a fashion accessory than a Jesus reminder. 

After I wrote this post, I came across  writings from another author . I guess I a not original. 

After I wrote this post, I came across writings from another author. I guess I a not original. 

As I have gotten older it is much harder for me to answer the question WWJD. Frankly I have little idea what Jesus would do in many current situations. Maybe I am the only one, but I have a difficult time imagine what Jesus did much less what he would do. I know how Jesus would respond to the question, "Who is my neighbor?" but only because I have read the story of the Good Samaritan. I am not sure that I would have guessed that if Jesus was asked that question he would have responded by making up a story. 

This leads to the overall problem with WWJD: it leads on to believe that Christianity is primarily a religion of doing things when in fact it is not. Christianity is a religion that is not about doing but about being. And this is where I turn to the desert monastics to help make the point. 

In the introduction of James O. Hannay's book "Wisdom of the Desert", he has this to say about what the desert monastics thought about Christianity's relationship with doing good for others.  

"The hermits were called selfish because they aimed at being good and not being useful. The charge derives its real force from the fact that philanthropy, that is, usefulness to humanity, is our chief conception of what religion is. We appeal to the fact that Christ went about doing good, and we hold that true imitation of Him consists in doing as He did rather than in being as He was. The hermits thought differently. Philanthropy was, in their view, an incidental result, as it were, a by-product of the religious spirit."

WWJD puts philanthropy front and center to the Christian life, but the desert monastics saw philanthropy as a by-product! That is when we try to answer WWJD we are always going to miss the mark. We have no idea what Jesus would do. However, if we stopped trying to guess what Christ would do and spend our energies being as Christ was then we gain a clarity of how to act in the world.

Jesus prayed in the garden to not die. He would not have chosen to die via the cross. Rather, he stepped away from what to do and sought from God how to be. When he was grounded on how to be, what to do was clear. It was not easy, but it was clear.