I teach mindfulness and stress management to my students. It seems to be more than just an academic enterprise by a teacher of religion. It is needed. The problem today is that we have multiple distractions. Gone are the days when a simple story was considered good entertainment. Even moving image fails to connect for long. Why? Because we are bombarded with stimuli. Our young people expect it not only to have “bells and whistle,” but to be interactive as well. So taking a few moments to stop and reflect is a lost art.
This said, however, we also have the burdens of modern society as well as its distractions. Bills, workload, and upcoming appointments can fill our heads as well. Here again a few moments of “down time” is vital.
And how do we put all this to the wayside? By making a conscious effort to focus on the wholesome. Nature, a quiet piece of music, and the Word are all starting places. Ultimately Paul guides us in Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
Focusing on the good. Taking time for a breathe. Putting cares aside. Herein begins healing.
Religion is a serious and sombre affair. It requires decorum and order. The holiness of the act needs to be entered into with due reverence and contrition. Well so much for religion! Jesus called for faith and relationship, not outward acts of rehearsed piety.
A great example of this was when in Luke 18:16-17 people attempted to stop children from being brought to Him.
But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.
Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.
Our relationship with God needs to be with the same wonder, innocence, and joy as that of children. Let’s face it we have all been children, and been someone’s child. Think of the relationship we have with parents. We were (are) dependent, somewhat obedient, and generally trusting. God calls on us to be the same way with Him.
Too often, we get caught up in our own “maturity” and like unruly youths – try it our own way. If we are honest we often get it wrong. Let us be humble to the examples of the Father, and our older brother – Jesus. Let us not over emphasize “our” positions or roles. Definitely let’s not make our worship – “religion.”
Let us seek relationship. Let us crave guidance and nurture from above. Let us be as little children. Incidentally, children do make noise, sing, and fidget. So much for solemnity.
Matthew chapter 2 reads: 16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
18 “A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”
This is sometimes called the slaughter of the innocents. This pungent passage calls attention to ultimate loss. The events of Manchester on Monday echo this tragedy, and its impact for us in the West is profound. Sadly such loss is more commonplace in sections of the Middle East and Africa. War, hatred, and other human ills rob families, and the world of their most treasured assets – their children.
My heart and prayers go out to the families who have suffered the pain and anguish of the Manchester atrocity. I myself have experienced the loss of a child, and while no two hurts are the same, I have at least some comprehension of their suffering.
But why on this occasion are we especially sorrowful? It is probably because of the total senselessness of it. There are those who seek to use violence in the name of a benevolent, loving God. How can this be so? Scripture reassures us repeatedly of God’s love and concern for each of us, His children. Add to this the fact that God is an all powerful being. Would such a magnificent and mighty God need we frail humans to “fight for Him?”
So we are left saddened with yet another senseless act that destroys relationship and creates pain. Let us pray for those who mourn, and for the peace that exceeds all understanding.
Disfluency is an interruption to the flow of speech. This may be a stutter, a prolonged unintentional pause, or the use of filler phrases such as “um,” “ah,” “like,” or “you know.” These breaks in communication can diminish the effectiveness of a presentation, and distract a listener or audience. Studies have shown that younger people use fillers more often than older people; and that sounds such as “um,” are vocal “fillers” used while the speaker is processing their next ideas. Disfluencies are not necessary though, and can be overcome. Simple measures to combat them include preparation (you are less likely to need time to formulate thoughts, if they have been done in advance). Practice also aids in avoiding fillers, as you will have already established you flow and are familiar with your ideas. You may be able to overcome these interruptions in speech by asking someone to note and then point them out to you when you use them. Being gently made aware of any reliance on disfluencies is the first step in conquering them.
Joe and the Worship Team did a wonderful job again today, and the stress on the concept of our freedom in Jesus was really uplifting. We each face daily struggles, whether in health, wealth, or relationship. It at times easy to slip into a feeling of bondage to the circumstances. But Jesus came to give us life, “and that more abundantly.” We are free of the biggest burden we can face – our own sin. He took that burden from us, and carried it to the cross. But He also is there to lift us up in all the little stumbles along the way too. Let not our hearts be troubled, He is there. He breaks our chains, He opens our doors. It is time to trust, and feel the chains fall away.
A parable is said to be a story (whether true or imagined) which teaches a spiritual or moral lesson. Jesus often taught with parables. These stories were verbal symbols which took complicated or at least unappreciated truths and put them into situations in which the audience could easily grasp. He often used agricultural or domestic images in His stories as they were readily appreciated by His hearers.
Some of these are elaborate stories, such as the Prodigal Son with its multiple lessons of relationship and jealousy. Others are brief, such as “”Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” in Matthew 7. The image is mildly comical, but its meaning is quickly understood.
I often have students ask if Jesus’ parables are all actual events. This is actually a point that gets debated in some theological circles. The answer I give is a nuanced “I don’t know.” There is the part of me which firmly holds that a sinless Jesus will not bear false witness. However, if His audience understood the words to be in the rabbinic tradition of elaborate illustration, it wouldn’t be a lie, as they would be looking for the point not the who, what, where, why and whens of journalism. Not being of that time and place I rest on the “I don’t definitively know if the whole story is factual, but the underlying truth is a fact.” For the record, I do lean in myself to the literal truth of them though. It is a matter of faith not “proof.”
It is because of this that I see parables such as the rich man and Lazarus as theologically valid when discussing the afterlife, not just as a lesson on greed and charity. So when studying let us find all of the Lord’s “truths” the literal, the implied, and symbolic. The bible is a far richer book than many see on first reading, it has many levels, and many treasures to be found.