Narrow and Wide

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

Matthew 7:13-14

For so many years I believed this verse was about the eternal destiny of my soul. It was a warning that the gates of hell are wide and God is willing to let you fall in. To find the narrow road to heaven, I needed to have the correct theology, perfect beliefs, legitimate hermeneutics.

Getting to heaven is difficult. It’s a narrow road with cliff edges on either side, leading to to eternal damnation and suffering in the pit of hell. Where thirst is never quenched and fire never burns out.

But I have come to find that this ancient mystic, stories of which have changed the course of human history, was focused so much more on life as it exists now. It has become apparent to me that Jesus was not nearly as concerned with experiences after death as he was with experiences before death.

In this passage from Matthew, Jesus is issuing a warning yes, but he is also stating a pretty simple truth.

Look around.

Study the faces of the people you are interacting with.

Try to discern motivations. Why do people do the things they do. Good and bad.

Now examine yourself. How do you feel? Are you anxious, frustrated, concerned, restless?

At your core, do you feel a burning uneasiness that is consuming you?

When you really take the time and analyze these things, does it not seem that so many of us are destroying ourselves? We ingest drugs and alcohol to change our perception of the present, to numb the pain, do distract us from the anxiety. We consume unhealthy amounts of food, giving in to our base instincts of survival. This is not uncommon. It’s everywhere.

The majority of internet usage is related to pornography. That fact alone is telling. It’s a warning sign. Wide is the path to destruction.

The world is sending us messages constantly. Whatever media you are consuming, the books you read, the movies you watch, the people you choose to spend time with, they are all telling you something.

Are these messages beneficial or are they destructive? Are they bringing you life or are they sucking it out of you?

Jesus tells his followers there is a different way to live in this world. It’s narrow. Not many people have discovered it. Not many people are living in that world.

Loving others unconditionally.

Starting with original grace.

Seeing the world as one.

Believing you are enough, you are worthy.

Being present.

Understanding that experience itself is a gift.

We are pattern of energy, brought to life by the universe itself. Forged in the fires of a burning star, all of the elements we are made of were formed in these cosmic factories. Over time, life has emerged and consciousness with it. The universe can now experience itself. I would argue there is nothing more awe inspiring and spiritual than contemplating these things.

To understand the gift is difficult.

The gift of simply experiencing.

It is indeed a narrow path and incredibly difficult to truly grasp. But I think that is the life Jesus is referring to. It’s a life that sees the world in an entirely different way. It sees all things as incomprehensibly meaningful yet meaningless.

It is a way of life that calls us deeper into a mystery and into a loving embrace of paradox.

Although the path to life is narrow, the experience is wide.

There is a broadness to the love, the acceptance, and the grace for others and for yourself.

From death comes life.

From struggle comes peace.

Through the narrow path comes a wide and abundant life.

 

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The Myth of Redemptive Anxiety

Final exam.

Presentation.

Project due.

New job.

Moving to a different city.

All of these lead to one common reaction: anxiety.

It often starts of small, a tightness in the gut. Then it begins to spread as the sweat begins to collect on the palms of your hands. Your mind quickly dives into problem solving mode and begins playing every possible outcome in your head. Old experiences are analyzed for any similarity or connection that could inform your future actions.

Before long, what was once excitement for a new experience, has been perverted into a crippling state of anxiety.

And we sort of get used to this reaction.

We begin to live with it.

We tell ourselves that’s its just the way we are.

We tell ourselves its necessary. If we don’t get anxious, then we might not be motivated to analyze every possible outcome and we might mess up. Or, even worse, embarrass ourselves in front of others.

This is what I like to call The Myth of Redemptive Anxiety.

It is the idea that in order to be prepared for every possible outcome we have to be anxious. It is the idea that through anxious thought, analysis, and reflection we are better off.

This not only applies to future events but to past events as well. After an embarrassing moment we relive it over and over again, running through every possible choice and action we made, trying to figure out what we could have done differently, and often berate ourselves relentlessly. We feel as though a moment will define us unless we spend time redefining it in our minds.

The insidious and often unrecognized Myth of Redemptive Anxiety tells us that salvation from our anxiety will only come through the implementation of more anxiety. In other words, anxiously observing a past situation or potential future situation will better prepare us, thus preventing mistakes, errors, or sins.

Definitions:

Anxiety – a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. Desire to do something, typically accompanied by unease.

Redemptive – acting to save someone from error or evil.

I am not saying that we shouldn’t reflect on past situations, learn from the past, or plan for the future. Of course, all of those things are necessary and incredibly helpful to function in this world. What I am referring to is the imbalance.

This imbalance takes form when our mental energies are consumed by these thoughts. Our attention is focused on them. Cortisol shoots through our bodies for hours or even days.

And, the result? We become less productive, less likely to react to new information in the desired manner. We become tired from a lack of restful sleep.

Slow, forgetful, and foggy.

We live in a world confined by our closed conscious thoughts; not open to the expansive, inviting, invigorating, and fulfilling present.

Although I do not think anyone consciously wants to feel more anxiety, we say yes to it all the time.

In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus addresses this very issue.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 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 6:25-27

In this paragraph Jesus is directly calling out The Myth of Redemptive Anxiety. Due to the nature of our evolved selves, we have these anxieties.

Food.

Shelter.

Warmth.

They do indeed help a species survive. But we are at a unique stage of evolution and consciousness where we can ask the question, “Yes, this helps me survive, but does it help me live?”

How to live.

How to have life in all moments: eternal life.

Is this not the message Jesus preached?

The good news of Jesus, in part, is this:

No one moment can define you, you are already defined as an image bearer of the Divine.

No one moment can make you unworthy. Worth is not earned or justified it is freely given.

Goodness is happening around you all the time, new life is springing up from the dead. Resurrection didn’t just happen once, it is happening in all moments.

All we are called to do is to widen the scope of our awareness to the Divine pervading every moment, all things, and all people.

So, this is a call to name your reliance on The Myth of Redemptive Anxiety. Through introspection and nonjudgmental self-observance, become aware of how you subtly believe you can save yourself through constant self-judgement and over analysis.

Confess that this anxiety rarely leads to a more present experience of life but rather consumes the present with false recollections of the past and misleading clairvoyant interpretations of the future.

Jesus calls us into a way of living where we believe the truth that has been spoken about us from the beginning. That you are created good, you are worthy, you belong, and you are enough today.

In this moment.

As you are.

Jesus was right about your new year’s resolution

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven…

But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret…

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

(Selections from Matthew 6)

Don’t do good deeds only for others to see and praise you for doing good. This seems pretty simple and self-evident, right?

But perhaps this wisdom passed on by Jesus over two thousand years ago still has significant, even scientific, implications today.

We are all familiar with the new year resolutions that invade our social media and we all have that one friend (it might be you) who won’t stop talking about all of the things they’re going to do differently this year. But if we want lasting, impactful, meaningful change in our lives, should we actually be talking about it?

An article published on Curiosity.com titled Achieve That New Year’s Goal By Not Telling A Soul, summarizes a few studies discussing the impact of telling others your goals on the chances of actually achieving those goals.

It sounds quite similar to the words of Jesus from the gospel of Matthew.

The first study found that when when you tell somebody your goal, the act of telling it (of practicing “your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them”) creates a feeling within you of actually accomplishing the goal. Thus, making you less likely to continue actually pursuing it. The article quotes one of the researchers saying, “Other people’s taking notice of one’s identity-relevant intentions apparently engenders a premature sense of completeness regarding the identity goal.”

Essentially, the more we tell others of our good intentions to achieve a certain goal, the more likely we are to feel like the goal has been accomplished, decreasing our motivation to keep working towards that goal.

Is it possible that Jesus saw this connection when he observed the religious elites?

He was known for calling out the hypocrisy of others who preached one thing but lived something vastly different. That is why he asked his followers to live differently.

Do not pray loudly just so others can hear it but rather pray in solitude and quiet. Give to the needy in secret, practice righteousness (your goals) in private.

Whether he knew it or not, Jesus was preaching what these modern studies are confirming. If you want real, longterm change in your life don’t announce it to the world. Instead, do it with humility, subtlety, and with quiet intention. The religious elites of the time were vocal and obvious with their piety and perhaps that is why it never seemed to stick or create real change. They suffered from this “premature sense of completeness.” Their public actions produced in them a feeling of accomplishment which hindered the possibility of real change in their lives.

A second study mentioned in the article goes on to say that the key to this is the framing of the goal itself. The study found that if you thought of a subgoal (a minor goal to be accomplished on the way to accomplishing your ultimate goal) as a “progress towards the main goal” then you are less likely to actually accomplish the ultimate goal. However, if you frame the subgoal as simply a commitment to accomplishing your ultimate goal then it can be helpful in the achieving it.

I would argue the many declarations Jesus made about who he was and his purpose in this world were framed in such a way that he was committing himself more and more to his beliefs of non-violence, peace, mercy, grace, and love for all. His speech and actions weren’t progress in and of themselves, but rather kept him focused and committed to his purpose.

When I find these connections between modern science and the words, reflections, and ideas of Jesus, I find myself in awe. Even while I struggle with doubt and cynicism, I can’t help but be fascinated by the ability of this ancient middle-eastern rabbi to speak truth that is relevant, impactful, and confirmed even today.

In summary, Jesus was right about your new year’s resolution. If you want to achieve your goals, don’t tell the world with your mouth but show the world with the results.

The Living One who sees me

“She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me.’ That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi (well of the Living One who sees me); it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered.”

– Genesis 16:13-14

This story is detailing the conversation between Hagar the slave and the “Living One” she encountered at a well as she ran from Abram’s wife Sarai.

As a slave, Hagar had been forced to sleep with Abram and then mistreated by Sarai to the point where she found it better to run away, risking death, than to stay where she was.

Desperate, alone, abused, and fearful.

At this point of extreme emotional trauma as well as dehydration, Hagar met what she deemed to be “God.” She met “the Living One who sees me.”

With all of the different titles that God has been adorned with over the past few millennia, perhaps none are so accurate as this.  The complexities that accompany the apologetics and defenses of an Almighty God that created Heaven and Earth can easily drive one to a debilitating posture of cynicism.

What if God is not only complexity but simplicity also?

As simple as Hagar’s description suggests.

The Living One who sees me.

The Living One who sees worth.

The Living One who sees beauty.

The Living One who sees goodness.

The Living One who sees potential.

The Living One who sees value beyond merit.

Why are we so caught up in the theology, terminology, eschatology, and hermeneutics of belief?

Acknowledge the the Living One who sees you as worthy and valuable. As a Living One choose to see those who have not been seen for what they truly are.

Just as Hagar went on to be the mother of a great nation, so may you empower another to see their own potential and believe in their own ability to achieve it. We all have access to a creative force. May it be used to create in others a belief that leads to life, not life that only exists after death, but life in this moment.

Two trees. Two choices.

“The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”

‭‭Genesis‬ ‭2:9‬ ‭NIV‬‬

A first look:

To Adam and Eve the garden was their world. It was beautiful, lush, fruitful, and safe.

But at the center of the garden were placed two trees. The tree of life. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Here the two trees represent a choice. A choice that has faced humankind since the dawn of consciousness.

The first is the choice of life. The choice to accept life with all of the pleasures and all of the pains. A choice to be present and involved. A choice to embrace being human.

The second, is a choice of judgment. Not to be judged but to be the judge. A choice to be the one who judges what is good and what is evil. To be a “god” of others. To believe that you have the authority to deem one person good and another evil.

To be an individual of judgment.

 

A second look:

The two trees represent the two characteristics that we believe will make us like God.

The first is life, eternal life, that we may live forever.

The second empowers us with the knowledge to judge good and to judge evil.

Both offer a temptation unparalleled by anything else. And in both can be found the beginnings of many of the world’s religions.

One could make the argument that these are the core desires of the human heart. In fact, I would say that many religious leaders (either purposefully or inadvertently) hold these desires as the reasons for following their specific religion. The right beliefs give you the “gift” of eternal life and the “power” to discern (judge?) good from evil. In effect, the right beliefs make you like God.

Perhaps it is no surprise at all that God commands us not to eat of these trees, not to spend our precious, short lives on the vain and vision blurring fruit of these trees.

Infinite, intrinsic worth

To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

– Colossians 1:27

This is a packed verse, loaded with statements about who we are as people, as humans, as products of this organism called Earth. Through the development, evolution, growth of human consciousness, it has been made known to us what our true worth is. The divine nature of all things, the oneness of all things, the Christ of all things, is in us.

The divine nature of reality is no longer an imaginary ideal we strive for, we sacrifice for, we worship, and yet never attain. Instead it is a quality inherent to us as conscious, observant beings. We are the work of God in the world. We have the ability to be a creative force of good. The mystery of our glory has been revealed to us through Christ Jesus.

Now, this word “glory” is no small thing.

In Greek, the transliteration of glory is “doxa.” It can be defined as honor or renown; an especially divine quality, the unspoken manifestation of God. It is an opinion of value. Furthermore, it corresponds to an Old Testament word known as “kabo,” which means “to be heavy.” Both the Greek and the Old Testament word have been used to define God as having infinite, intrinsic worth.

Now this heavy word is applied to us in the script of Colossians. This is the hope of the believer: that we as humans have value; an infinite, intrinsic worth. That is to say, God is in us.

And what a statement that is.

For so long God has been a distant figure in human history and now God is among us (Jesus) and in us (Christ). We now have a hope that guides us, a new way of living, a new direction of striving, a new direction of evolution; to pursue that which has infinite, intrinsic value.

Which is you.

Your brother.

Your sister.

Your neighbor.

Your enemy.

 

To “love God and love others” is to treat all things as if they have infinite, intrinsic value. The energy which makes up the matter of all things and allows us to experience each other is infinite, it is neither created nor destroyed, it is not extrinsic but intrinsic, and it makes up all of us, all things, it is in all things, through all things, and it gives us not only equality but value; infinitely.

The universe proclaims the glory of God.

 

The universe is the infinitely, intrinsically valuable manifestation of the Great Existence.

And both you and I…

Exist.

 

 

Grace and mercy ⇒ Love and peace.

The compost pile called the Bible

I recently listened to an episode of the podcast “The Bible for Normal People” in which they interviewed Walter Brueggemann. At a point in the discourse, Walter referred to the Bible as a “compost pile.”

 

At first this may come off as an offensive statement to anyone who holds the Bible to have authority and worth.

 

But I think it might of been the best description of the Bible I’ve ever heard.

 

According to dictionary.com, compost is defined as “a mixture of various decaying organic substances, as dead leaves or manure, used for fertilizing soil.

 

When it comes to composting the important aspect isn’t so much what you put into the pile, as long as it is organic. But the real impact of it has to do with what it is used to fertilize.

 

Both thistles and flowers grow better when fertilized.

 

The impact of composting is not about what goes into the pile. It is about what results.

 

Now, in the case of the Bible, the issue shouldn’t be as much what stories, myths, or facts are present within the text as long as they are authentic. When I say authentic, I don’t mean necessarily true, although it could be that. Rather, I am referring to the author trying to reveal something true about his or her experience of the world, of God.

 

Authentically a believer.

 

Authentically a non-believer.

 

Authentically happy.

 

Authentically angry.

 

Authentically atheist.

 

Authentically doubtful.

 

Authentically arrogant.

 

Authentically joyful.

 

It doesn’t matter so much what they are openly and honestly trying to get across but rather that they are open and honest.

 

God is openness. God is honesty.

 

I’m sure I’ve written it before on this blog, but I am not taken with the Bible because I believe it happened thousands of years ago. I read the Bible because I believe it is happening now.

 

The abuse of power.

 

The neglect for the poor.

 

The deification of certainty.

 

All of these things can be seen (pretty easily I might add) in our lives today.

 

So, for me, the Bible is a compost pile of authentic stories, written by real people, at real times, about some real experiences of this life, some experiences of God that they are trying to communicate to others.

 

Just as a compost pile is foul and offensive to smell, the Bible can be offensive to read. There are stories that definitely should cause us to be angry, to doubt, to question, to contemplate, and to grow.

 

And that is the key.

 

The Bible should cause us to grow.

 

But just as compost can fertilize thistles, so can the Bible be used to inseminate hate, anger, injustice, greed, racism, blindness, and fear.

 

Yet, that same fertilizer causes flowers to grow and bloom.

 

It can bring forth plants that bear delicious fruit.

 

It can bring life and life to the full when used to fertilize the right ideas.

 

I personally believe the compost pile that is the Bible is made up of stories, poems, and myths that, although they seem outdated and foul to some, hold the potential to bring new life to this world.

 

They hold the potential to evoke mercy and inspire grace.

 

When implemented properly, they have the vital nutrients for feeding peace and growing love

Sometimes…

Sometimes the first candle doesn’t light.

The wax has built up over the wick, depriving it of oxygen. 

Sometimes the first shot misses the target.

The mark was in view but the shooter unskilled or confused. 

Sometimes what was thought to be, isn’t.

The data extinguishes the belief, the belief revealed as insecurity.

Sometimes in a crowd of many, one can’t be. 

The ignition of the others is the darkness of the one.

Sometimes we force it.

The force is met with opposition and pressure.

Sometimes what is needed most is to not be needed at all. 

The expectation of the other crushes the will of the self. 

Sometimes forgiveness comes before a fall and sin before elation. 

The grace of the moment is the judgement of all.

Sometimes the practice kills the performance. 

The masks of shame and guilt removed. 

Sometimes justification comes by death. 

The loss of that which was held as essential, viewed as sacred. 

Sometimes the clouds part to reveal an empty sky. 

The security of knowledge is the sin of the certain. 

Sometimes authenticity is found in a lie. 

The truth is the enemy of the deceived soul. 

Sometimes the need is met with the void. 

The contemplation of deprivation creates the abundance. 

Sometimes the first candle doesn’t light. 

An effort wasted,

A bitterness tasted.

But there hope lies, just to the right.