Forget The Great Spiritual Masters – Embrace Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood!

Mister Rogers

I grew up in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania in the early 70’s at a time when cable television was nonexistent and the best children’s shows were found on PBS.  Like most children of my generation the two premiere shows were Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and Sesame Street.  My grandmother always enjoyed my imitation of Mr. Rogers.  I would take my shoes off and put on sneakers as well as a cardigan sweater just like he did at the beginning of his show.  Mr. Rogers was a strong influence in my life as a young boy.  As an adult, I moved to Greensburg Pennsylvania, a city just outside of Latrobe, the home town of Mr. Rogers.  I also attended St. Vincent Seminary in Latrobe which is the home of the Fred Rogers Center.  It seems Mr. Rogers always found a way to press himself into my life.  That’s why I had to read the book The Simple Faith of Mr. Rogers by Amy Hollingsworth when it showed up on my Kindle recommendations.

There are so many wonderful things to take from the book.  I think anyone reading it will find Mr. Rogers was probably more of a spiritual master than some of the ancient sages we hold in such high regard.  I love that the author presents key points from the life of Mr. Rogers that highlight the way his Christian faith informed everything he did both on and off the television set.  I want to touch on one of these points because it speaks volumes about how human living can be so simple yet powerful.  I want to talk about being authentically yourself.  In the book Mr. Rogers is quoted as giving the following response to a child that asked him if he liked being famous:

“I don’t think of myself as somebody who’s famous.  I’m just a neighbor who comes and visits children; I happen to be on television.  But I’ve always been myself.  I never took a course in acting.  I just figured that the best gift you could offer anybody is your honest self, and that’s what I’ve done for lots of years.  And thanks for accepting me exactly as I am.”

Think about that for a moment.  The best gift you could offer anybody is your honest self.  In this simple response Mr. Rogers echoes the great spiritual truth that much of the work done through spiritual practices is simply an attempt to rediscover our “honest self.”  We spend so much time developing our social selves (A social psychology term meant to describe the fact we’re constantly presenting an image that meets the contextual social expectations) we tend to lose touch with our honest self.  This means every time we engage in relationships the “Me” we share with other people isn’t a true “Me” but one we’ve learned to display so we’re liked, accepted, etc.  Mr. Rogers found a way to be comfortable sharing his honest self; a self that was comfortable being vulnerable to others scrutiny because he was loved by something greater than social acceptance, he was love by God.  Perhaps we could learn a thing or two from Mr. Rogers.  Perhaps we can learn to be our “honest self” again, just as we were when we were children.   In that way, the person we share with others in the relationships we establish isn’t some cheap knock off but a real person that will love and accept others for who they are just as we will be accepted for who we are.

They say imitation is the greatest form of a compliment you can give someone.  Maybe I need to be just like that little boy I was in the 70’s but instead of merely imitating the external trapping of being Mr. Rogers (i.e. the sweater and the shoes) I could adopt the simple practice he demonstrated his whole life of being his honest self.  Maybe we can all just stop for a moment and instead of seeing Mr. Rogers as merely a children’s show that lacked the technological advancements of today’s productions and recognize it for what it is; a lesson in the great spiritual truths that make living life well a matter of simple profound spiritual truths like living authentically, finding sacred space in the relationships we establish, and loving sacrificially and unconditionally in the most vulnerable ways.  Thank you, Amy Hollingsworth, for a great book and thank you Mr. Rogers for walking in the way of the great spiritual masters by just being your “honest self.”

Yeah! Religion is Dead, So What’s Next?

Religion Flier

It troubles me when people applaud the decline and fall of the religious sense in humanity.  People read how Europe is more secular than ever, Britain is more and more a nation of unbelievers, and that religion in America is in decline. Then, like cheerleaders on the sideline of a football game, they applaud this condition as if it’s something moving humanity toward enlightenment.  I’m not bothered by this because I want everyone to worship and pray as I do, I’m bothered because people are taking great joy in the loss of something very near, dear, and important about human living.  It isn’t necessarily religion itself that human beings require, but there’s an aspect of it that’s certainly very important for healthy human living.  That very core aspect is the fact human beings are transcendent creatures who constantly need to make meaning and find purpose in what they do.  Religion is one mechanism that provides this sense of meaning and purpose.  There aren’t too many others, at least none that are as explicit.

Anthropologists have noted that every culture they’ve ever encountered has a religion (Or religions) associated with it.  It doesn’t matter how remote the location of the culture, people in these cultures have a religion or practice some form of spirituality.  This speaks volumes to the human need for transcendence, in particular transcendent values.  In a PBS documentary about what is commonly called “The Nones” (i.e. people who don’t have any formal association with organized religion) you can sense this need for transcendence in what many of them say while being interviewed.  For example, one of the participants said this about his need to be grateful for what he has:

Every day my girlfriend and I sit down to dinner. I am insistent that we say a grace, and that grace is not necessarily a religious grace. It’s just a moment that we can both sit there and reflect on how lucky we are.”

Something inside this young man compels him to be thankful for a life that transcends his everyday experiences.  He talks about meditating, a higher power, and a multitude of other transcendent needs he has as a human being throughout the interview.  Interestingly, a branch of psychology called “Positive Psychology” recognizes how practicing gratefulness, as well as a myriad of other transcendent values such as forgiveness, charity, and the other items he mentioned, helps people flourish and is something people need to function in a healthy well-adjusted way.  The scientific findings in positive psychology speak profoundly to the human need for transcendence.  It isn’t just people who believe in a spiritual nature that feel this need for transcendence, a number of atheists who call themselves “Spiritual Atheists” believe in some transcendent quality of the universe as well.  Take the following quote that comes from “The Center for Spiritual Atheism”:

“For Spiritual Atheists, being “spiritual” means (at the very least) to nurture thoughts, words, and actions that are in harmony with the idea that the entire universe is, in some way, connected; even if only by the mysterious flow of cause and effect at every scale.”

The above statement reflects the human heart crying out to find transcendence in the midst of a completely materialistic worldview.  People aren’t comfortable existing in a world where there’s nothing transcendent (or as those of us who are more traditional might say, spiritual) about it.  Those who adamantly state there’s nothing more than a material world rarely live that way.  After all, do you believe you’re only attracted to your spouse because he or she provides the best genetic makeup for you to propagate a more perfect offspring?  Do you believe the only reason you care for your children is because you’ve been biologically determined to help your genetics progress  into the next generation?  Does love exist in a world like this?  Nobody lives like any of this is true, not even the most profound atheist.  Without transcendence there’s no sense of justice for the least among us, no reason for helping other people unrelated to us, and there would be no real need for hope, charity, meaning, and purpose.  The key point is no one lives like that, we all believe in some level of transcendence which is a key part of what religion and spirituality provide when taught and practiced in a healthy way.  The United States of America states in the Declaration of Independence, the document justifying our separation from another sovereign nation, that:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

If we have no sense of transcendence, then none of this is true or even matters.  People need transcendence.  It’s the stuff meaning and purpose are made from.  Victor Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist who survived the Nazi Prison Camps came through that experience with the belief that human beings must exercise the transcendent experience of meaning making or else they die in despair.  Even in the worst of conditions, those who could transcend the experience and find meaning in their suffering survived; those who couldn’t, died.  Frankl sums up this idea in the following way:

“I wish to stress that the true meaning of life is to be discovered in the world rather than within man or his own psyche, as though it were a closed system.  I have termed this constitutive characteristic “the self transcendence of human existence.”  It denotes the fact that being human always points, and is directed, to something or someone, other than oneself -be it meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter.  The more one forgets himself – by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love – the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself.”

I hope we will no longer cheer the loss of religion, spirituality, or faith in our fellow human beings because the sad fact is so few of them are filling that place with anything other than food, drugs, booze, video games, distractions, etc.  Virtues that transcend our human experience are what make us human.  The spiritual life is that part of being human that allows us to transcend being mere animals.  If we are anything less than human beings with transcendent natures we are only evolved animals and that my friends is what allows us to treat one another in the most horrific of ways.  You don’t have to be the same religion as me, but please adopt the transcendent values that lift the human condition above the sludge of materialism so we may see the dignity each of us carries within.

What a Dying Old Dog Teaches Us About Life

Boston-Terrier

We have an old dog who is probably not going to live the rest of the summer.  She has been a wonderful companion for the past 13 years and it saddens the family to think she will soon be gone.  She struggles to get up, has difficulty standing by her food and water bowls, and most days just wants to sleep in her bed.  She’s blind, can’t really hear much, and while she shows no signs of pain, you can tell the everyday things in life are getting tougher for her to endure.

If any of you have had a dog long enough to experience the full range of its life, you understand the process I’m describing.  You’ve experienced the puppy stage, the vibrant “adult” stage and as time marched on, the later declining years.  What makes a dog’s life so interesting is you experience all these developmental stages in a short amount of time.  With our family members, it’s impossible to see the full life span.  We either fall between generations never seeing our parents’ youthful years or our children’s aging years.  With our siblings and peers, we go through the stages with them so we are unconscious of the key points these stages present because like them, we are too close to the experience.  We can see the stages of life come and go in a comprehensive way when raising and caring for a family dog.  Sure, they are significantly different than human stages, but they still can teach us a thing of two.  Watching our dogs grow old can be quite a life lesson and teaches us how to live life in a fuller way.  Here are some thoughts on how the life of an old Boston Terrier has enlightened me over the years.

First, we need to keep track of time.  If we consider the statistics provided by the Center for Disease Control, as of 2014 the average life expectancy in the United States is 78.8 years with women living slightly longer and men slightly less.  That means if all goes well and you remain in relatively good health you can probably count on reaching the age of 78, give or take a few years. The most sobering thing you can do is take your current age and subtract it from 78.  In my case I subtract 51 from 78 leaving me with about 27 more years to live.  I’ve actually lived longer than I ever will again.  Why is recognizing your mortality so important for living well?  It reminds us how much time is left to create the life we want.  It motivates us to think about what we hope to accomplish in the time we have left.  Recognizing how much time most likely remains in us leads us to the second principle I’ve learned from watching our family dog grow old.

The second thing my dog has taught me is to savor the moments that make up life.  Recognizing you only have so much time left before breathing your last breath is important when it comes to setting goals and performing tasks to reach them.  Yet sometimes that gets in the way of savoring and enjoying each day we live.  Our dog has always been mindful of the present moment.  It might be a treat she was given or a fallen table scrap she recovered.  Whatever it was she was doing she savored that moment.  Even now, in her very old age, each time she is held she takes that moment in with everything she has.  G. K. Chesterton is quoted as saying, “The aim of life is appreciation.”  Savoring is that everyday appreciation for the good, the bad, and whatever else comes your way.  Fred Bryant and Joseph Veroff are the leading experts in this aspect of positive psychology.  They describe savoring with terms like relishing, cherishing, treasuring, marveling, and delighting in something.  Discover what these things are in your life and do the best to be intentional about savoring them.

The third important characteristic of living well this old Boston Terrier taught me is to be patient with life.  Again, noting what little time we have left compels us to rush toward our goals but that keeps us from savoring life, being grateful for what we have, and taking the necessary time to create meaning and purpose out of our life experiences.  One thing my dear old dog is able to do is to be patient.  She sits for hours and sometimes just enjoys laying in the grass.  Even in her crippled state she sits patiently waiting for someone to pick her up to do the simple things like go outside to relieve herself or eat something.  Being patient and taking our time allows us to “dwell in the moment” and enjoy, make sense of, learn from, and appreciate life as it comes.

My dear old Boston Terrier has just about lived her life to the end.  That said, she really has had a good life.  She has indeed, “Lived life well” in a way that I try and teach others, but she has done so in the most basic and simple way, a way we should imitate.  In her short but full life, she has taught me to be intentional about living, to savor the moments I have, to take my time and be patient, and in the end, to grow old with dignity.  This last point is an important one to learn.  Growing old with dignity is something none of us plan to do but all of us must do.  My dog has become content on relying on other people and letting them help her with the most basic aspects of living.  We do it lovingly for her, because she has always been a loving pleasant dog for us.  In the end, what matters most is the people you share your life with.  The most profoundly spiritual aspect of living life well is living it with and for others.   After all, 78 years goes by quickly, why not fill those years with loving relationships so that when it’s time for you to move on you do so in the loving embrace of people you cared about and who cared for you.  That’s the main lesson my old Boston Terrier has taught me.  She has taught me to love others and receive love because after all, that is what we were created for.

The Life of Simplicity – A Spiritual Virtue

simplicity

One of the most profound ways to live your life well is to simplify it.  Our natural tendency is to complicate life.  We fill it with a multitude of things we don’t need but are convinced these things are necessary for our happiness.  These complications aren’t just in material things, but can be ideas, emotional experiences, and a multitude of distractions impacting numerous dimensions of our lives.  If you’ve read any of my research, attended any of my workshops, or taken a class with me you know I believe human beings “exist” in five dimensions of life.  We are physical creatures, emotional creatures, cognitive/thinking creatures, relational creatures, and yes, spiritual creatures.  We clutter these dimensions of living with stuff we really don’t need because someone tells us these things will make us happier.  Instead, these excesses cause us to live overly complicated lives.

If we think about our physical existence, we often fill our lives with more food, clothes, toys, and other physical objects than we really need.  I must confess I have way too many things cluttering my life.  If you just consider electronic devices (One of my worst vices) you’ll find I have a smart phone, a laptop computer, two kindles, a nook, an iPad, multiple Bluetooth keyboards and mice, as well as an iPod, Chromebook, MacBook air, and so much more that it pains me just to think about it.  I have enough “things” to entertain me and feed my technology obsession for multiple lifetimes.  I really only need something to do online work like blogging or online teaching, but with all these devices I keep myself constantly busy and entertained.  When it comes to physical pleasures, like many of you, I have an abundance of things I don’t need as well.

It’s not just physical things that burden us, we complicate our emotional lives as well.  Whether we admit it or not, we like drama.   Drama causes us exciting emotional highs and lows keeping us in a consistent agitated state.  We like to participate in gossip, perpetuate negative comments about other people, and do whatever it takes to get ultimate thrills and pleasure from the many things we “feel.”  Emotional highs and lows fool us into believing we’re living life powerfully when what we’re really doing is filling our emotional world with junk.  This emotional drama is generally associated with relationship drama.  We like to complicate our lives with relationships that are generally unhealthy and steal our inner peace.  Obligations, internal covenants we make with ourselves, and a multitude of rules we create complicate our relationships.  A natural human connection with another person becomes a complicated array of “shoulds and shouldn’ts “ getting in the way of one person loving and caring for another.  How we think, what we feel, what we do with our bodies, the relationships we forge, and in the end, the spirituality we practice becomes complicated simply because that’s what people do to the most profoundly simple things in life; we fill these five areas of human living with junk.

In one of my favorite books, Freedom of Simplicity by Richard Foster we find a great summary of the mess a complicated life creates.  Foster writes:

“Contemporary culture is plagued by the passion to possess.  The unreasoned boast abounds that the good life is found in accumulation, that “more is better.”  Indeed, we often accept this notion without question, with the result that the lust for affluence in contemporary society has become psychotic: it has completely lost touch with reality.  Furthermore, the pace of the modern world accentuates our sense of being fractured and fragmented.  We feel strained, hurried, breathless.  The complexity of rushing to achieve and accumulate more and more frequently threatens to overwhelm us; it seems there is no escape from the rat race.”

We need to rediscover the spiritual virtue of simplicity.  Simplicity frees us because it gives us a right perspective on the world surrounding us.  It provides a healthy perspective about who we are, our true needs, and the grace of life.  Foster states that discovering simplicity does the following:

“It allows us to see material things for what they are – goods to enhance life, not to oppress life.  People once again become more important than possessions.  Simplicity enables us to live lives of integrity in the face of the terrible realities of our global village.”

The spiritual virtue of simplicity frees us from being ruled by the complexities of life.  To live simply though, requires a great commitment.  It requires us to find ways to quit feeding the black hole in our hearts with more things, emotional thrills, overly complicated concepts, dramatic relationships, and complex spiritual rules created by human beings to oppress other people.  Simplicity is best discovered by merely reminding ourselves the importance of human connectedness ignoring the disconnection all these complications create.  If what I have, think about, feel, etc. creates a division between me and the people God places in my life, it needs to be eliminated.  Love is a powerful force.  It connects us to the very thing we have affection for.  If that love is directed at anything other than God first and one another next, we have complicated our lives.  Simplicity is a virtue that lets us say no to the many lies whispered in our ear about what we need so we can focus on who we must love.  Make a promise to yourself to “declutter” the things in your life, the negative emotions you feed on, the damaging thoughts you replay in your mind, the bad relationships you maintain, and the oppressive spiritual practices you use to placate a god you created in your image.  Remove all these things and live in the peace of a simple life.  By doing so you capture a sense of what true peace is about.

 

 

Why Should we Live a Good Life?

living well

Everyone wants to live a good life.  The problem is no one appreciates why living life well matters.  Most writers on this subject begin by telling you what a good life is (i.e. living a healthy life, having money, developing a spiritual life, etc.), but I think we need to ask ourselves a more basic question.  That basic question is why should we live life well, particularly if it means not satisfying our need for pleasure?  Instead of defining what living life well is, we’re going to start our discussion by thinking about why living life well matters at all.  Let’s remember, there really is no mandate stating you have to live life well.  In fact, if you follow your heart, living life well might even keep you from living a pleasure filled life.  If living life well means living in a way that promotes physical health, you may not be happy with that plate of vegetables and prefer to just have ice cream for dinner.  Sure, eating those vegetables is living life well, but it certainly isn’t living life happily, at least not in the immediate sense (Unless you prefer vegetables over ice cream, and in that case, we need to have a serious conversation about savoring life’s treats).  So why should we live life well?

First, it provides us with a sense of meaning and purpose and allows us to function as we were intended.  Human beings are meant to live life well because living in a way that’s more than just surviving is what humans do.  We’re living creatures and therefore living creatures should live well.  We’re not merely like the other creatures in the world, we’re human creatures.  A human life is one lived in such a way that it has meaning and purpose and transcends the mere natural laws and instincts of our bodies.  My first suggestion is you spend time thinking about the meaning and purpose of your life.  Too often we just float through existence without ever paying attention to the fact we indeed have a life mission.  For me, its teaching and sharing psychological and spiritual wisdom to help people live balanced, resiliant, and passionate lives.  That’s my life mission and it drives everything I do.  Spend some time reflecting on what yours is.  You have talents, the question is what is your personal vision statement that focuses those talents to make the world a better place?

Secondly, we live life well so we can be resilient people.  We know living in this world is going to bring trouble, sorrow, setbacks, and disappointments.  Just look over the span of human history, there’s never a period in time that human beings don’t suffer.  We’re vulnerable creatures and natural disasters, human ignorance, hateful people, and a myriad of other causes of suffering find their way into our lives.  Yet, amidst this suffering we have two choices.  First, we can just take it and allow life to beat us down to be victims of our circumstances.  By surrendering we have in a sense elected to die and sometimes that death is nothing more than a slow soul killing experience in which the body continues but the rest of who we are has been buried in a deep cold grave.  Our second option is to meet our challenges head on and find creative ways to shift our perspective from being a victim to being a survivor.  Resilience allows us to adapt to the situation, be creative, muster our courage, and do something other than just allow life’s difficulties to destroy us.  Living life well helps us be resilient people.

The third and final reason why living life well is important is it creates balance and harmony in our life.  We are holistic creatures consisting of a body, mind, emotions, relationships, and spirits.  Each aspect of our life impacts the other.  If we don’t care for our bodies we can’t think well with our minds.  Poor physical health can limit the amount of blood flowing to parts of our brain thus impacting our ability to create and recall memories, process information, and perform a number of cognitive functions.  Also, our emotional life can impact our physical well being.  If we’re highly anxious we create a cortisol excess in our blood stream negatively impacting our bodies and leading us to suffer from disorders like PTSD.  Living life well provides us with a balanced approach to cultivating health in all five of the previous mentioned dimensions of being human.

A life is lived well so we can live with meaning and purpose, balance, and resilience as holistic creatures.  Creatures provided with a body, mind, emotions, relationships, and a soul.  The greatest lie most people believe is that human life is only different in degree from other forms of life.  Don’t buy into that argument.  We’re capable of so much more than the rest of the natural world because we’re different than any other living creature on the planet.  Some might call this a type of arrogance, but perhaps it’s a type of healthy arrogance that’s good for us in the end (if there can be such a thing)?  If we see the value and uniqueness of human life, and I mean “ALL” human life, perhaps we’ll be less inclined to view other people as objects and be more willing to treat them with respect and dignity.  If having some level of arrogance about who we are facilitates the humility required to love other people, maybe, just maybe we can say that’s okay.  Slavery might be less attractive if we view people as something different than domestic animals, prostitution might not be as attractive because other people are seen as something more than an object to be used.  

People will have a unique dignity that animals don’t because people are unique.  In the end people don’t want to simply live life well, they want to live a “Human” life well; a life transcending  natural drives and laws; lives filled with virtue, truth, goodness, and beauty.  This is what the great thinkers of the ancient world believed and I think one we need to recapture.  Ask yourself this, are you comfortable believing your life is nothing more than one reflective of an advanced animal ?  If so, why do you live your life so differently than other animals and why do you want other people to treat you as if you have some higher dignity?  Live a human life of virtue because in the end it creates a better world for you, others, and yes, even the rest of the planet.  Let me close this reflection with the words of one of litterature’s greatest poets, John Milton who wrote the following about human beings in “Paradise Lost”

“A creature whom not prone and brute as other creatures, but enbued with sanctity of reason might erect his stature and upright with front serene govern the rest, self-knowing and from thence magnanimous to correspond with heaven.”

Are you merely an evolved ape grasping at fruit in a tree or are you “magnanimous to correspond with heaven?”  I believe we need to live life well because we were created for so much more than we think ourselves capable.

 

Get Over Yourself – You’re not Important

Humility-CS-Lewis1

I was visiting a mentor and friend in my hometown this past week.  He’s a good man, a humble man, and someone I describe as both wise and kind.  He served as a leader in his church denomination and it’s from him I learned many things; spiritual things, practical things, and those things that make the mystery of life a pleasure.  My friend has been retired from ministry for some time and his health isn’t very good.  It’s tough to see him in such a feeble state, yet even in his weakened condition, he maintains a certain dignity which I’ve always admired.

In our conversation together my friend made a comment in jest that struck me.  We were discussing that fact because he’s retired he’s not in charge of anything anymore.  No one seeks his advice or asks him to serve in any official capacity.  Because of his current situation he said, “I’m not important anymore” and chuckled to himself.  I know he certainly wasn’t lamenting a lost state of importance he believed he deserved, he has always been a service minded humble individual.  Yet, after he said those words I was compelled to reminded him being important is an illusion of the young and arrogant. I reminded him he had something greater than importance; he had love.  This man was truly loved by the many people he served throughout his life.  He was there for people when their children were born, ministered to families with prayer and counsel during difficult times, and celebrated the joyful times of new marriages and family growth.  He was invested in the lives of numerous people and selflessly gave of himself to others, even those who didn’t often treat him kindly.  In the end, for many, he was there to bury a parent, a partner of many years, or in the hardest of situations, the premature death of a child.  My friend knew what it meant to invest in the lives of other people.  He loved with a heart of charity in times and for people where charity was often the last response they expected to receive.

When I left my friend that day I made myself a promise.  I promised myself to never be drawn into the illusion of importance.  While I’m not one to advocate for extreme self-deprecation, I do think sometimes we make more of ourselves and our role in life than we should.  I think like many arrogant and foolish people, we frequently think what we do and our place in this world is much more significant than it is.  The one remedy for getting over ourselves is to give ourselves away in sacrificial love.  C. S. Lewis wrote in his popular book Mere Christianity, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”  We can defeat the illusion of importance by finding ways to invest ourselves in others, thinking less of ourselves, and loving people who often never experience true acts of charity.  Being loved and loving others is a cure for so many things.  In the end, when we lay our heads on that pillow for the last time, we won’t be adding up the level of importance we’ve achieved as if we’re earning tokens in a videogame, we’ll ask ourselves two simple questions.  The first is, “Was I loved?”, and the second will be, “Did I love others enough?”  Avoid the illusion of importance and embrace the reality of love.  It’s in love our lives matter more than anything else.  It’s in love importance is consumed by a burning flame and turned into the ashes it really is.  Love is eternal and you live eternally when people are impacted by the love you’ve given them.

The Christian Vocation of Forgiveness Living a Life of Peace and Grace BY Dominick D. Hankle

9781532605680“Every soul carries within itself pain caused by the hurtful words and acts of another human being. How can you find peace and heal from these wounds? How can you live a Christian life reflective of Christ’s command to be a forgiving, loving person? By integrating the work of psychologists and the deep theological truths of the Christian faith, Dr. Hankle answers these questions and more so you can live a healthy, flourishing, resilient life. He provides you with practical steps to incorporate in your daily spiritual practices so you may love and be loved as God intended.”

Available at Wipf & Stock the Publisher at:

http://wipfandstock.com/the-christian-vocation-of-forgiveness.html

Endorsements & Reviews

“Dominick Hankle has given us a moving narrative of what it means to be a forgiving Christian. Dr. Hankle’s empathy and concern for others from his years of psychological counseling and Christian ministry is compelling. His deep theological perspective throughout the text from his training as a theologian orients our actions. And his clear and accessible presentation of every aspect of forgiveness keeps us reading and moves us to a life of forgiveness. The Christian Vocation of Forgiveness is as practical as it is insightful.”
C. Eric Jones, Associate Professor of Psychology, Regent University

“In his comprehensive new book, the Rev. Dr. Hankle thoughtfully addresses the subject of forgiveness, providing relevant biblical, historical, and theological perspective throughout on this vital topic. Most importantly, Hankle offers practical insights as to how his readers can apply the principles presented in the book to their everyday lives. I can say without reservation that through this very readable and engaging book, I’ve grown significantly in the virtue of forgiveness. I highly commend this work to laity and clergy alike!”

Doug Gray, Episcopal priest and chaplain in Virginia Beach, VA

Spirituality in the Profane – True Christian Spirituality

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The most troubling aspect of people’s spiritual lives is how disconnected they make it from everyday living.  Spiritual practices, disciplines, and all things Godly are made to feel important because they seem to belong somewhere other than in our present worldly condition.  We pray for a world “out there” to come to a world “right here” or we seek a lifestyle next to impossible to live given our present circumstances.  Spirituality becomes something foreign to our current condition and only developed by men and women dedicating their lives to non-worldly lifestyles.

The separation of what’s spiritual from what’s “profane” (i.e. lived everyday) is a late development in the history of Christian spirituality.  Because Christianity is an “incarnational” faith; one that uses bread, wine, oil, people, touch, etc. to convey spiritual things, the profane and natural have always been inseparably connected to the holy and supernatural.  Benedict of Nursia always made this connection clear to his monks and that type of spirituality is deeply ingrained in his his rule of monastic living.  For example, his directives regarding the cellarer in chapter 31 states the following:

As cellarer of the monastery, there should be chosen from the community someone who is wise, mature in conduct, temperate, not an excessive eater, not proud, excitable, offensive, dilatory or wasteful, but God-fearing, and like a father to the whole community. He will take care of everything, but will do nothing without an order from the abbot. Let him keep to his orders. He should not annoy the brothers. If any brother happens to make an unreasonable demand of him, he should not reject him with disdain and cause him distress, but reasonably and humbly deny the improper request. Let him keep watch over his own soul, ever mindful of that saying of the Apostle: He who serves well secures a good standing for himself (1 Tim 3:13). He must show every care and concern for the sick, children, guests and the poor, knowing for certain that he will be held accountable for all of them on the day of judgment. He will regard all utensils and goods of the monastery as sacred vessels of the altar, aware that nothing is to be neglected. He should not be prone to greed, nor be wasteful and extravagant with the goods of the monastery, but should do everything with moderation and according to the abbot’s orders.”

In the words above we find a very down to earth description of a very practical job in a monastery, but this very everydayness is infused with a spiritual significance.  In particular, this chapter of the rule states the cellarer must “regard all utensils and goods of the monastery as sacred vessels of the altar”!  This sacredness found in the everydayness of life is an essential aspect of Christian spirituality.  It keeps Christianity from becoming a faith that disdains the ordinary and natural, in particular the corporeal, and reminds us Christ lived and breathed in a human body making all that is created a means of experiencing a supernatural grace.

It’s my hope those of us seeking to live Christian lives will do so as people embodied and living in the world.  We need not fear that by engaging in everyday activities such as cooking, playing games, laughing with one another, falling in love, and caring for the lawn that somehow we’re kept from our spiritual lives and caught up in the secular. We shouldn’t worry that by making love, cleaning the bathroom, or completing the most everyday jobs we’re somehow “unholy” and in need of purification.  We can do all things with heavenly intentions.  All of creation is ours to use in a redeemed manner and in a grace filled way.  When the Christian engages in the everydayness of life, the everydayness becomes part of the eternal and what is good, holy, and true becomes part of our immediate experience, not something we wait for to drop from heaven.

You Are Not a Victim, Overcome Your Situation – Spiritual Transcendence

Helpless_Man

There was an interesting study done by a psychologist named Martin Seligman that explored the impact feeling helpless has on one’s sense of well-being.  Seligman took three groups of dogs and ran them through a set of experiments.  The first group was harnessed for a period of time and then released with nothing else done to them.  A second group was harnessed like the first group, however this group received an electric shock at random times which they could only stop by pressing a lever.  A third group was intentionally yoked to the second group so the shocks felt by the dogs in group two were also experienced by the dogs in group three.  The one difference between the two groups was the dogs in group three didn’t have access to a lever to stop the shocks from coming.  For all intensive purposes the dogs in group three had no control over their situation.

The second part of the experiment is probably the more interesting.  Seligman changed the situation to give all the dogs a chance to avoid being shocked.  He placed the dogs from group one, two, and three into a cage where one side was wired for shocks and the other was considered “safe”; a place where shocks could be avoided.  The dogs simply had to jump over the partition to the safe side to avoid being shocked.  The dogs from group one that were merely harnessed in the previous experiment immediately jumped over the partition to avoid being shocked.  The dogs from group two who in the previous experiment were able to escape from being shocked through the use of a lever did the same as group one in this experiment.  They had little trouble recognizing they had a way to avoid being shocked by simply jumping over the partition in their cage to the safe area.  What about the dogs who were yoked to the second group in the first experiment having no control over whether or not the shocking stopped?  Well, they did nothing.  They simply laid there taking shock after shock, abuse after abuse, demonstrating they felt no sense of empowerment to overcome their situation.

The experiment above and others like it demonstrate something interesting not just about dogs, but about us as well.  When we’re placed in a disempowering situation for a prolonged period of time we feel stuck.  We feel like we can’t do anything about our situation so we just lay there and take whatever is thrown at us.  This learned helplessness is something I frequently address with clients in therapy and in spiritual direction.  We easily buy into the lie we’re victims of our situation and can do nothing about it.  We’re like the dogs in Seligman’s third group who’ve simply found other people control whether or not we get shocked so we may as well just give up.  That’s a powerful lie that some people perpetuate just to keep us from being empowered.  Evil at its heart is a voice in our head constantly  saying, “Just lay down and take it, you can’t change your situation anyway.”
We can always change our situation.  We’re always in control of at least some factor in our environment, we just need to be creative enough to find it and use it for change.  God created us to transcend our situation in ways no other creature can!  To do so requires we ignore the evil lie keeping us from exercising that transcendent power.  If there’s any spiritual strength you need to be convinced of it’s that you are by the grace of God a person who doesn’t need to remain stuck in your current situation and can choose to do something to move forward and become the person you were intended to be.  You deserve to know love and to have the opportunity to share love with others.  If you’ve been in an environment too long telling you otherwise, change the environment.  I’ve often wondered what it’s like to see ourselves as God does instead of the way sin shapes our self-perception.  No matter how good we have it now we were created to be so much more.  Unfortunately many of us buy  into the spiritual lie that we have to be content with where we are, take abuse from others, and remain stuck in our current situation.  Grace is God’s answer to this skewed picture of life.  Grace says no matter how stuck you feel there’s a way out.  Grace says no matter how unloved you’ve been made to feel, there’s an ocean of love to receive.  Grace says no matter how marred and ugly you feel, there’s another who sees you for the beautiful person you are.  Don’t allow the sin in the world to leave you laying in that cage taking the shocks of evil over and over again.  Know that there is Grace in this life to encourage you to leap over that barrier and find the peace each of us deserves.  Love is powerful, just believe you’re worth it and allow that power to help you transcend whatever situation you find yourself in.

Are You Running Away From Intimacy?

January 25, 2007. Madrid, Spain. The writer Jose Saramago during the presentation of his new book in spanish 'Las pequenas memorias' In the image, the wife and translator of Saramago, Pilar del Rio, holds the hand of the writer.

People run from intimacy.  Most of us don’t realize we’re doing it, but in a very unconscious way we all run from it.  Intimacy is scary because it requires us to love other people unconditionally and in a way requiring us to disclose the very person we are without any masks or fronts.  Love means being vulnerable and sharing some of the most personal and “naked” elements of our being with another person.  Too often we associate intimacy with sexual behavior.  While sexual behaviors are most powerful when we share an intimate relationship with the person we make love to, intimacy does not require sexual relationships.  In fact, sex can be one of the many ways we avoid intimacy.

We learn to run away from intimacy over a lifetime of hurt.  From the moment we’re born we’re reaching out to other people and sometimes they reject us and hurt us.  Most of the time they do it without intending to but sometimes, because people are people, they do it intentionally.  When we’re old enough to seek deeper relationships, we draw on our past experiences and therefore we hesitate to become intimate with others because of this pattern of rejection and indifference that’s ingrained in our subconscious mind.  In short, we develop mechanisms to keep us from being intimate with others in order to protect ourselves from the pain that comes with rejection.

There are a multitude or ways people avoid intimacy.  Some choose pornography or emotionless sex.  Some choose to drink themselves to the point of numbness, never completely drunk or stoned, but just numb enough to avoid connecting with other people on a deeper level.  Some people will talk a great deal without intention or purpose avoiding deeper matters making their conversation hover at a very shallow level.  As a therapist, I spend a great deal of time helping people recognize much of what they do is merely a coping mechanism which allows them to avoid intimacy.  They need to be aware of this emotional escapism because the truth is we were created to be intimate with each other and when we don’t do that we suffer and struggle to flourish.  We thrive on deep intimate friendships and without them, we cannot function well.

An interesting facet of intimacy avoidance is frequently found in spiritual and religious people.  People will claim a type of spirituality that draws them into themselves and proclaim it as a sort of “gift” in which they come to know the divine in a more profound way.  They avoid people and intimate relationships so they can spend time dwelling in the presence of God.  These hyper spiritual people have forgotten that the greatest way to know and love God is in service to other people; by fostering intimate relationships with other people.  Even more disturbing are those religious people who use moral laws and codes to avoid spending time with people who had or are considering an abortion, dealing with same sex attraction, or going through a divorce.  Instead of being intimately involved with these people they stand at arm’s length from them and dictate laws and moral precepts.  This speaks more about our fear of intimacy with other people than our moral righteousness.

Intimacy continues to be something we avoid.  Through smartphones, Facebook, religion, spirituality, and the myriad of human vices available to us we find ways to run away from intimacy.  However, the most fulfilling experience you can have is to intimately connect with God through other people.  I am convinced you can tell how deeply spiritual a person is based on how they treat other people.  If you can’t make yourself vulnerable to the love of other people you’ll never know the love God desires to share with you.  Don’t run from intimacy through the many human vices available, just find a way to love someone unconditionally.  You may find God more profoundly in that experience than from sitting in a great ancient cathedral separated from other worshipers by the empty distance buffering you from them.