How to be boring

In a psychology today article I found this treasure trove of ways to lose friends and alienate people:

  1. The #1 most boring way of behaving was what the researchers called “negative egocentrism” – “being negative and complaining, talking about one’s problems, displaying disinterest in others”
  2. Banality – “talking about trivial or superficial things, being interested in only one topic, and repeating the same stories and jokes again and again”
  3. Low affectivity – showing little enthusiasm, speaking in a monotone, engaging in very little eye contact, behaving in a very unexpressive way
  4. Tedious – “talking slowly, pausing a long time before responding, taking a long time to make one’s points, and dragging conversations on”
  5. Passivity – having little to say, not having any opinions, being too predictable or too likely to try to conform with what everyone else is saying
  6. Self-preoccupation – this one is obvious: talking all about yourself
  7. Seriousness – coming across as very serious, rarely smiling
  8. Boring ingratiation – “trying to be funny or nice in order to impress other people”
  9. Distraction – doing things that interfere with the conversation, getting sidetracked too easily, and engaging in too much small talk
    Source: “What Makes People Boring?,” accessed September 30, 2014, x

I hope this helps anybody learn to be un-charismatic and incapable of making friends.

On the other hand, you could do the opposite of these things and enjoy your life a little bit more.

Are you good enough to be Jesus’ disciple?

When asked why he associated with tax collectors and sinners, Jesus answered:

The healthy do not need the doctor, the sick do. Go and learn about this, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:12-13)

There is a hidden logic behind what Jesus was asked/accused of:

  1. The kingdom of God is about purity.
  2. Any messenger of God’s kingdom would be sure to maintain purity by not associating with evil or unclean people.
  3. Therefore, Jesus is not a messenger of God’s kingdom.

Jesus then makes this astonishing point about God’s kingdom and about purity:

  1. The kingdom and purity are now about mercy.
  2. To be a messenger of God’s kingdom is to extend God’s mercy to others.
  3. Therefore, everybody Jesus calls into his kingdom is a sinner (because those whom he calls are sinners to whom he extends God’s mercy).

Are you good enough to be Jesus’ disciple?

The answer is the same as the answer to this question: Do you do bad things?

Walking in the Spirit and the Four-Fold Gospel

TLDL

The things of the Spirit in Romans 8:1-17 are actually the same sorts of things we find in the four gospels. This is what Paul wants us to be mindful of in our day-to-day life with Christ and his church.

Whole Thought

Romans 8 is, by many accounts, one of the most beautiful passages penned by Paul and by some accounts, perhaps the most beautiful passage in Scripture. What has always intrigued me about Romans 8 is Paul’s notion of the Christian life on a moment by moment basis.

Paul describes the Christian life as

  1. Walking according to the Spirit
  2. Living according to the Spirit
  3. Setting the mind on the things of the Spirit
  4. Putting to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit
  5. Being led by the Spirit

But if this is so, then a very important line of questioning must come up. What is the meaning of doing all of these things according to or by the Spirit? What are the things of the Spirit? The common initial reaction is to equate the things of the Spirit with the things of the religious institution of which we are a part or to equate the things of the Spirit with the inner world of emotions and non-rational experiences and behavior. Such a divorce of “the things of the Spirit” from New Testament history has led to sad legalistic abuses (people who think that spirituality is purely about external/denominational ideals) and to sad emotion based Christianity wherein one’s discipleship is always a quest to have a certain feeling (feeling liberated, feeling loved, feeling worshipful, feeling authentic, etc). In both or these errors, one can spend so much time trying to conjure up this or that feeling or denominational distinctive (what if I’m Presbyterian but don’t like tobacco?), that they literally miss the teachings and person of Jesus.

There is an historical lineage to both types of error. Essentially in an effort to deal with the rationalist and empiricist turn in philosophy, many turned to nature and the feelings as a replacement for religion. This became associated with terms like spirit and spirituality. In turn then, many Christian movements began to focus more and more on their own institutional life and continuance as the proper form of spirituality. This is not a perfect sketch, but it is helpful. I recommend the brief article below:

Marie Mansouri and Vafa Keshavarzi, “Spirituality, a Conceptual Break: The Romantic Revolt and the Rise of a New Spirituality,” International Journal of Religion & Spirituality in Society 4, no. 1 (July 2014): 11–16.

So, when we come with this baggage to Paul, we miss out on what he’s getting at. What does he mean by doing things according to the Spirit, living by the Spirit, etc?

There are some very important tips about this in Romans 8. Read 8:1-17 below and focus upon the bold text:

Rom 8:1-17  There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  (2)  For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.  (3)  For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,  (4)  in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.  (5)  For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.  (6)  For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.  (7)  For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.  (8)  Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.  (9)  You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.  (10)  But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.  (11)  If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.  (12)  So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.  (13)  For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.  (14)  For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.  (15)  For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”  (16)  The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,  (17)  and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

Notice that in the bold text, Paul attributes certain things to the Holy Spirit and all of them are about the life, ministry, teachings, death, resurrection, and present reign of Jesus Christ.

  1. The Spirit set us free from the law of sin and death in Christ (and from elsewhere in Romans we know that this is from Jesus’ act of obedience (his whole life).
  2. The Spirit dwells in believers. All four gospels say that this will be the result of his ministry. He will baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:8), he promises power and the Spirit (John: 6:24, Luke 24:49, Matthew 28:16-20), the living water is equated with the Spirit (John 7:39), and conversion itself (John 3:1-16) is attributed to the work of the Spirit.
  3. The Spirit is the Spirit of the God who raised Christ from the dead.
  4. The Spirit given to us helps us to call God ,”Father” when we pray. This is a very important aspect of early Christianity and a central facet of Jesus’ teaching. Paul essentially says here that being led by the Spirit is the same thing as obeying Jesus when he says, “When you pray, pray like this, ‘Our Father…’

So, it appears that “the things of the Spirit” are not merely institutional trappings of this or that church (though those can be good things) and they are not merely emotional experiences and intuitions (though those can be good things). The things of the Spirit are the things revealed by the Spirit in the gospel message.

Minding the Spirit, it would appear, is the crux of walking by the Spirit. It is Paul’s way of saying that living you life based upon Jesus and his teachings is the proper way to live with God’s Spirit as we await God’s renewal of creation.

Physical and Spiritual Satiety

 A sated man loathes honey, But to a famished man any bitter thing is sweet. (Pro 27:7 NAS)

Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied, Nor are the eyes of man ever satisfied. (Pro 27:20 NAS)

Physical Satiety

The obvious meaning of Proverbs 27:7, “A sated man loathes honey, but to a famished man, any bitter thing is sweet,” is that with the exception of a very few people, if somebody has had his fill food, is no longer pleasant. If I eat too much Lasagna, then ice-cream won’t seem pleasant. On the other hand, if I’m very hungry even mustard greens and turnips might seem tasty.

This simple observation has so many applications in the realm of eating. For instance, if you intentionally eat less during the day while you are busy, then in the evening, a diet of healthier or less expensive food will still be pleasant. This could help you save money or lose weight. If you intentionally satisfy your hunger on healthy food, then dessert won’t seem so necessary. If you learn to live with less superfluous pleasure, then any gift you receive, even from the poorest of the poor will be satisfying. Learning to drink less coffee will make the coffee you do drink more satisfying. Going for walks will make being stuck in traffic not a big deal, etc.

Spiritual Satiety

But, there is a counterpoint to this first proverb, “Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied, Nor are the eyes of man ever satisfied. (Pro 27:20 NAS)” Death and Destruction, personified, never have their fill. Every beautiful thing can be destroyed. The most supple body will age and stiffen. The loveliest face will wrinkle, and the strongest man will die. The most wonderful painting will crumble, most savory meal will end, the greatest civilization will be consumed and made into dust. Similarly, the saying states, the eyes of humanity are never satisfied.

The eye here, means the desires of the soul and mind. And so it is observable that humanity will go on desiring bigger and better things if the pleasures are not tempered. This was the wisdom of the Stoics. But the problem is deeper than Stoicism can solve. Even though the desire for more wonderful things must be aimed and disciplined, the Proverb here states this state of affairs as a matter of fact. The insatiable eye of man is not just a problem to be solved, but it is an aspect being human. Ecclesiastes puts it thus, “Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. (Ecc 3:11)” This insight is not lost on philosophers and theologians. Everybody is a pleasure seeker. For instance, Pascal noted:

All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.
And yet after such a great number of years, no one without faith has reached the point to which all continually look. All complain, princes and subjects, noblemen and commoners, old and young, strong and weak, learned and ignorant, healthy and sick, of all countries, all times, all ages, and all conditions.

Blaise Pascal, The Harvard Classics 48: Blaise Pascal: Thoughts, Letters, and Minor Works, ed. Charles W. Eliot, trans. W. F. Trotter, M. L. Booth, and O. W. Wight (New York: P. F. Collier & Son, 1910), 138.

The question that the text demands to have answered is “what, in the final analysis, can satisfy the eye?” Proverbs has an answer,

Pro 8:11 bwisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.

Wisdom, in Proverbs, is the designation for a life lived skillfully and ethically with God as Lord and partner. Gain wisdom and you’ll gain something beyond all of your other desires. This is a tall order. Yet the New Testament says similar things:

Mat 5:3-9  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (4)  “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. (5)  “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. (6)  “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. (7)  “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. (8)  “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. (9)  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

The blessings Jesus offers to his disciples are rather over the top and they include seeing God.

Anyhow, I think there are two ways to apply the notion of satiety to the spiritual life to the Christian:

  1. Positively
    If we spend time aiming to seek the highest good, rather than merely an immediate good, in God’s kingdom, then we will be satisfied beyond the need to succumb to temptation. Even the honey of sin will seem bitter. This is not instant, it is a life long process of responding to God’s variegated grace. This is why the spiritual disciplines are so important. The help us learn the long view of satisfaction with God.
  2. Negatively
    If we spend all of our time feeding the passions with immediate gratification and never train the mind or will to seek God and the good of others when it feels unpleasant, then we will feel too full for spiritual things and dissatisfied with the things we do acquire. If our hours are filled up with over much television and special effects, aimless internet surfing and youtube binging, then it will be harder and harder to find pleasure in the long journey of following Jesus. In other words, the effort to understand the Scriptures, love neighbor, be a contributing member of a local church, and gain wisdom incrementally will become burdensome or boring. We’ll be too full for the honey of the easy yoke of Jesus.

Conclusion
We could all use a bit of self-control, but at the end of the day, we still have ask, self-controlled so that my self can seek or gain what?

Punching Bags

It was finally cool enough to work out in our garage rather than at the gym.

Avery and I lifted weights and I hit the punching bag.

I increased the intensity of my blows just because I thought my hands had hardened up pretty well over the past several weeks. This resulted in two things.

My wife noted that hitting the punching bag looked pretty manly. She’s seen me dead lift and squat nearly 400 pounds in the same day and just gave me a fist bump. But watching me punch an invincible target that never gets hurt, tired, or offended looked manly. I know she’ll support me if I have to fight this guy:

It also resulted in some of my skin peeling off when I washed my hands later. It wasn’t from abrasions, it was just from pounding. It happens.

But then at church, somebody asked, “Who have you been punching?” “I don’t punch anybody,” I said. Silently, I reasoned that I was just exercising like a young man at the wrong age.

Two Ways to Efface God’s Image

Throughout Scripture it seems that humanity is meant to do two things:

  1. Be like God (Genesis 1:26-27)
  2. Worship God (Genesis 4:1-4)

I don’t mean to propose some lens here that is the super right and only way to read Scripture. But I do notice that many of the sins throughout Scripture involve attempts to be like God through incorrect means and attempts to worship God through incorrect means.

For instance, in Genesis 9:5, drinking and eating blood is prohibited. In ancient though, this was often supposed to give you life, which was why the gods were offered blood in sacrifices. Indeed, even the Israelite concept of sacrifice required blood. So, drinking blood was, in a real way, an attempt to be god-like. Similarly, the sin in Eden was made appealing because of fruit’s ability to make people like God (Gen 3:5).

This is a big leap, but because it is a blog post and not a sermon or a paper, I propose that the life in Christ then, could be described as:

  1. Worshiping God aright, through Jesus Christ.
  2. Learning to be like God, through Jesus Christ.

Mistaken Theological Tidbits

Everything happens for a reason.

The phrase above is trivially true. Every thing that happens certainly has a cause. But it is often seen as a piece of centrally true theological reasoning. You lock your keys in your car, “God did it for a reason.” You get gas from over-eating, “It happened for a reason.” You make a bunch of bad decisions that hurt others and famously, “I learned something from it, therefore it must have happened for a reason.”

I submit that in the trivial sense, yes everything happens for a reason.

I then also say that Paul’s argument in Romans 8 assumes and even requires that many evils are meaningless and vain, but that despite their vanity, God can cause them to work out for the ultimate the good of a group of people who love him. That’s the argument. A lot of things that happen are pointlessly evil. That’s what life apart from the revelation of God becomes according to Ecclesiastes: meaningless.

So, while I am thankful that many people, even non-Christians attempt to preserve the dignity of others and of themselves when they are going through trials (by pointing out that it’s clearly happening with some inscrutable divine purpose behind it), I also want to point out that only God can bring meaning out of the pointless evils and lame drudgeries that people are subjected to throughout their lives. The Scripture never says that such things are always caused with good in mind. Though it does state that some events are from God for trials, it seems to also indicate that many evils are frivolously wrought by evil persons and forces in the creation.

Thoughts I’ve lately had

  1. Teaching people to be disciples of Jesus might actually take some wisdom literature/self-help classes on time management, goal seeking, and how to say no to feelings.
  2. In the Old Testament, covenant seems to be the more important institution when compared with kinship.
  3. Thinking about point 1, young Christians certainly need to understand the gospel before they understand Aristotle (as Luther said in Heidelberg), but, man o man, they really should read some Aristotle (ie, contemporary books on habit formation) if they wish to appropriate the character of Christ because modern evangelical teaching (not all, but much of it that I’m exposed to) does not help.
  4. I’ve been making a list of engineering/mathematical problems to spend time on and I found two game theorists that look at the Biblical text using game theory to understand the narratives of the Old Testament. It’s actually not that bad. The one I’ve actually spent time reading it Steven Brams.
  5. Make a morning routine every evening before you go to bed if you wish to not regret the rest of your day. Seriously.
  6. Thank God that Cal 3 and Physics are covering the exact same type of vectors right now.
  7. I don’t understand why kids will play for football coaches at the risk of their lives and not do 5 minutes of homework for people that want to help them get into college.
  8. I recently made fun of a class mate for misspelling something in a lab report. Then I misspelled the first word in an email I sent to the lab group. Humble pie.
  9. Read Udo Schnelle and Adolf Schlatter to understand your New Testament better. Seriously, what are you waiting for?
  10. Oh, read your New Testament first, of course.
  11. I’ve gotten to teach about Jesus’ resurrection at church lately, looking at the marvels of the texts that focus on our Lord’s rising from the dead has been riveting for me.

Memory and Hearing Scripture

Joshua Foer, in his book on memory, Moonwalking with Einsteinobserved this about adding versification to the Bible:

For the first time, a reader could refer to the Bible without having previously memorized it. One could find a passage without knowing it by heart or reading the text all the way through(144)

This observation is quite important because when we notice obvious quotations of the Old Testament in the New Testament, it is likely that this rhetorical device was meant to bring a range of emotions, concepts, and themes to mind that were exemplified by the context of the passage quoted. It is certainly possible to over-read things when we make this realization. The opposite danger is more readily possible though. If we assume that ancient readers thought of the Bible in terms of discrete versified units, then we are contradicting a fact about human memory that has been documented by modern science and thousands of years of observations by practitioners of memorization. So, when you notice a quote of the Old Testament in your New Testament, go read the context or the whole book. You’ll get a better picture of what the New Testament author is saying.