The Christian Art of Judging Others

 

Jesus said, “Judge not.” That’s about as much of the Bible as many non-Christians can quote. It has proved useful, considering the number of Christians that use it, or are cowed by fear of being condemned by it.

As always, the context makes it a bit clearer:

“Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:1-5

That last sentence seems to conflict with the idea of the “not judging” as an absolute rule. Looking elsewhere in the scriptures:

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.  But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Matthew 18:15-17

Pretty harsh, considering that the Jewish people were prohibited from entering the home of, or inviting in, Gentiles and tax collectors.

“If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you will have saved your life. Again, if a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die; because you have not warned him, he shall die for his sin, and his righteous deeds which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand. Nevertheless if you warn the righteous man not to sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live, because he took warning; and you will have saved your life.” Ezekiel 3:18-21

The wages of sin is death, but if you do not warn the wicked then you could pay that wage. Ouch.

“As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.” 1 Timothy 5:20

“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths.” 2 Timothy 4:1-4

And there are of course more on this topic. But the point of the sampling here is that if you take the first two or three words from Matthew 7:1 in isolation, it is a pretty gross misunderstanding of the point.

We are called to be perfect like our Heavenly Father, and he who is loved by God is corrected by God (Proverbs 3:12, Hebrews 12:6). So it is an act of love and charity to correct when we see someone doing something wrong. Is it wrong to tell a child not to play in the street, where they are in danger, or to try to talk a friend out of suicide? How much worse is it to keep silent when they do something that will kill their soul?

The Scriptures paint a pretty clear picture that we are not to “judge not,” but to in fact, under penalty of sin, admonish, rebuke, and counsel someone who we know is committing a sin.

There is, of course, a right way and a wrong way to give counsel, admonition, or to correct someone. Surprisingly, one of the most detailed and helpful passages I have ever read on this topic comes from the Hagakure, the Book of the Samurai:

“To give a person one’s opinion and correct his faults is an important thing. It is compassionate and comes first in matters of service. But the way of doing this is extremely difficult. To discover the good and bad points of a person is an easy thing, and to give an opinion concerning them is easy, too. For the most part, people think that they are being kind by saying things that others find distasteful or difficult to say. But if it is not received well, they think that there is nothing more to be done. This is completely worthless. It is the same as bringing shame to a person by slandering him. It is nothing more than getting it off one’s chest.

“To give a person an opinion one must first judge well whether that person is of the disposition to receive it or not. One must become close with him and make sure that he continually trusts one’s word. Approaching subjects that are dear to him, seek the best way to speak and to be well understood. Judge the occasion, and determine whether it is better by letter or at the time of leavetaking. Praise his good points and use every device to encourage him, perhaps by talking about one’s own faults without touching on his, but so that they will occur to him. Have him receive this in the way that a man would drink water when his throat is dry, and it will be an opinion that will correct faults.

“This is extremely difficult. If a person’s fault is a habit of some years prior, by and large it won’t be remedied. I have had this experience myself. To be intimate with all one’s comrades, correcting each other’s faults, and being of one mind to be of use to the master is the great compassion of a retainer. By bringing shame to a person, how could one expect to make him a better man?”

This passage has a certain factor of surprise in that the pagan samurai warriors had such a careful and compassionate way of describing the correction of faults, especially when there are those among us Christians who rely on shame to correct not only strangers, but their family, their friends, and even their children.

There are several things we need to be mindful of when we are charged with the task of correcting someone else:

Judge the act, not the person. There are no good people; we have all sinned. If someone is doing something obviously and publicly wrong, address the thing they are doing wrong.

Watch out for being verbs. Remember these from grammar lessons? “Am” “is” “are”? If your statement has one of those as the main verb, it’s a sign you are making this about the person, not the action. “He is a thief,” is passing a judgement on the person; “He stole that watch,” or, “He is stealing by pirating movies,” is describing the action.

Give counsel privately. Matthew 18:15-17 describes the process of escalating an issue, but insisting that counsel is private. No where does it list public condemnation. Correct others’ faults’ as you want them to correct your faults. After all, that seems to be the point of Matthew 7:1-2.

Do not assume. So often people are accused of sins they did not commit, or the thought processes they employed, the alternatives they rejected, or their intentions. Stick to correcting the act itself, if it is in fact wrong. Ask questions of the person if you are concerned about what might be going on, and offer to help remedy any injustice they might be suffering. And absolutely do not go discussing your assumptions with others who have no need to know.

Give advice, not shame. The samurai’s advice made this point repeatedly – the goal is not to make the person ashamed, it is to remind them (or inform them) that what they are doing is wrong. Doing it in public, telling them how they should feel about their actions, and getting emotional about the issue are all ways of inflicting shame. State the problem, and give them a reason to hope they can correct it.

Remember, it is not about you. If the person you are correcting is doing you harm and persisting, it is time to set some hard boundaries. Treat them as the Jews treated a Gentile, or shake the dust from your sandal and walk away. As God told Samuel, they are rejecting Him, not you (1 Samuel 8:7).  In fact, using your own faults if you have a similar struggle, is a humble and encouraging way to suggest a change is needed.

 

Lord, What Do You Really Want Me to Do?

This past week I was wrestling with a choice between two paths. It was one of those matters that would significantly change the focus of my work and my family’s way of living. Either choice would have been good, but the difficulty was which path was God’s will.

Someone gave me wise counsel on the matter, and while our discussion was much more in depth, the question that seemed to sum up the matter, that question that stuck in my head was, “What is the more courageous thing to do?”

It reminds me of a scene from the movie Becket, about Thomas Becket and Henry II of England. After a dangerous dispute with the king, Becket retreats to a monastery for a time. While life there is not easy, Becket discerns in prayer which path is, for him, the more courageous:

Lord, what do you really want me to do?
To remain here a poor monk in simplicity of the spirit? Is it a path to bring me nearer to you, or is it too easy a way, perhaps even a luxury?
The path to holiness in this monastery is too effortless. I think it will be too easy to buy you like this, bargain price. It has pleased you to make me archbishop, and to set me like a solitary pawn face to face with the king on the chessboard. I think you mean me to defend your honor, peacefully if I can with argument and with compromise. And if I cannot, then with the full challenge of my office and the soaring force of what I know to be right. So I shall take up the mitre again, and the golden cope, and the great silver cross, and I shall go back and fight with the weapons it has pleased you to give me. For the rest, thy will be done.
It is impossible for us to correctly guess what God wants us to do in every choice in life, and even those that we think are most important may in fact be the least important in His plan for us.
However, we should still strive to do what we can best discern to be His will. Assessing what strengths and talents He has bestowed on us, or as Becket calls them “the weapons it has pleased you to give me.” Considering also the needs of those that share the time and place in which God has placed you, or whose needs have been made persistently and clearly to you so that you can meet them. Finally, recalling that He has called us to deny ourselves, reach beyond our comfort zones for the courageous thing to do; very often He answers our prayers of “Disturb us, Lord,” though in unexpected ways.
Once we have decided on a path, with prayer and consultation with whose whom you share your life, pray for the strength to persevere. Accept though all trials of your calling that His will be done, just as you have prayed that His will be known when you set out.

The Lightness of Evil

A colleague of mine recently wrote me and told me he appreciated the good vs evil theme of my work. Which got me thinking.

I never could get into the horror of H.P. Lovecraft.

The idea of a great and terrible ancient god, with a mighty tentacled head, rising out of the sea, worshiped by thousands of deranged cultists driven insane… It all strikes me as terribly amateurish. Not on Lovecraft’s part, but on Cthulhu’s, Yog-Sothoth’s, and the rest of the elder gods. They completely lack subtlety.

How I wish evil were so apparent, so obvious, so grossly disfigured and so hauntingly wrong. But it isn’t.

It presents itself as dazzlingly beautiful and familiar. Easy. Simple. Peaceful.

The history of Eternal Revolution – that is, this tiny effort of mine, is full of starts and stops, radical changes. I wish it wasn’t, I wish it was more consistent. I’ve merely explained it in the past as personal issues, a common euphemism.

But my erratic publishing schedule reflects the real Eternal Revolution well – a constant struggle against the crushing pressure of real evil. The kind that smiles at you as it throttles you. The kind that in the name of peace slowly destroys you. The evil that uses misdirection to point out that the world has gone wrong, that evil things are happening ‘out there’ while it lurks in your own home. In your family.

I don’t know why exactly, but my Facebook feed keeps bringing up Lovecraft and Thomas Kincade. Some articles keep getting cited about the freakishness of his peaceful paintings, and that something evil may have lurked there. There was seemingly something going on in his personal life as well. The theme is this: they look nice, they portray peace, but something is not natural, not right about them. After all, Satan appeared as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14) .

You can’t keep a peace that does not exist. To keep a false peace is to insulate and protect evil. My family has kept horrors – true horrors – secret from the world for at least 5 generations. To break the silence has resulted in division of the family of biblical proportions. I’ve been disavowed, disinherited, broken and slandered by my own flesh and kin. It’s the evil that pelts you daily with toxic guilt, toxic shame, and misdirected anger. The wages of which are passed on to each generation until someone throws everything away to fight it, to resist, at all costs. That is the nature of evil. Invisible as long as you go along with it.

So let Cthulhu rise from the sea, or Congress, with all the strategy of a game of peek-a-boo. Such commanding display are pawns to distract us from the real terror, the true horror, that lies within. Look, there it is; don’t bother with your own knowledge of evil. Others are worse, behold them on the television!

Just because there is no camera on you, doesn’t mean you aren’t capable of ruining lives and souls – actively or passively.

I can tell you from experience – experience many of you share, but that we seldom if ever talk about – you don’t know just how much faith is a gift, or what courage you have, until faced with the true horror in your own life. That evil, that calling to keep a deceptive peace and to remain quiet, is what you have been called to fight first and foremost. For such a time as this were you born.

Pray for Revolution.

This post originally appeared on an earlier incarnation of the Eternal Revolution Blog. Cthulhu painting by CPOKashew on DeviantArt. 

 

Fight With All Your Weapons

Some years ago an acquaintance confided in me about some relationship problems he was having. As a couple, he and his wife were drifting apart. Since we had talked before about Japanese culture, my advice took the form of a quote from the swordsman Miyamoto Musashi’s Book of Five Rings:

“Students of the Ichi school Way of strategy should train from the start with the sword and the long sword in either hand. This is a truth: when you sacrifice your life, you must make fullest use of your weaponry. It is false not to do so, and to die with a weapon yet undrawn.”

A relationship with another person, especially as a spouse in marriage, is one of self-sacrifice. To make the most of it, you have to utilize every weapon, or tool, at your disposal. It is not right to go half-way, holding back in such an arrangement. Rather than fearing that your significant other may not return your renewed passion to spend time with them, or pursue their interests, it is false to refrain from the attempt yourself.

This makes sense for more than just love and war; too often we hold back from using everything God has given us in living or promoting his Gospel, doing our daily work, or even in taking care of ourselves. We have already been counseled by our Lord not to bury our talents.

Part of making the best use of what we have is to keep such tools, talents, assets, and skills ready for whatever Providence sends our way. G.K. Chesterton writes in his book Heretics:

“A man who believes something is ready and witty, because he has all his weapons about him. He can apply his test in an instant.”
A well-armed Christian – that is one who is fully convinced of what he believes, is ready for anything in life. He needs only to put to use those convictions, even quickly making decisions about the most important things.
As a Christian, are you ever-aware of the armaments of your faith? Or do you squander opportunities to exercise the commands of your Lord? Put your weapons to use, and do not hold back!

The Saga of Uncle Chestnut’s Table Gype

With the nostalgia of cleaning out old products (see my immediately prior posts about clearance Chesterton quote shirts) I thought it might be a good idea to revisit one of the most successful, most trying, and ultimately most distracting products I ever produced: Uncle Chestnut’s Table Gype.

I still get emails asking about the game, and it is in fact sold out everywhere. I have not even seen used copies surface, and we have made and produced around 1,000 copies of the game.

It began with a joke, over a 100 years ago. G.K. Chesterton, of whom I write about and from whom I get a great deal of inspiration, created a game called Gype with his friend H.G. Wells. Chesterton writes in his Autobiography:

“I also remember that it was  we [Wells and GKC] who invented the well-known and widespread national game of Gype.  All sorts of variations and complications were invented in connection with Gype. There was Land Gype and Water Gype.  I myself cut out and coloured pieces of cardboard of mysterious and significant shapes, the instruments of Table Gype; a game for the little ones.  It was even duly settled what disease threatened the over-assiduous player; he tended to suffer from Gype’s Ear.  My friends and I introduced allusions to the fashionable sport in our articles; Bentley successfully passed one through the Daily News and I through some other paper. Everything was in order and going forward; except the game itself, which has not yet been invented.”

That is all there is; to date none of these references seem to have been located.

My brother Chris and I, in much more recent history, have been playing at making games since we were kids. As we got older, we discovered the hobby board game market. Euros, designer games, whatever you call them, we are into board games. Not the mass-produced junk like Monopoly and Life, but the kind of games that start with Settlers of Catan and wind you through titles like Thunderstone, Alien Frontiers, and Empire Builder. You will find my posts and BoardGameGeek.com.

So on a whim, and frustrated by modern and vague theories of “gype,” in a flash of inspiration we came up with the concept of Chinese Checkers, a chess board, and dice as pieces as a possible modern take on the game that was never invented. Simply get from one side of the board to the other, but with constantly changing rules of movement that are as random as the roll of a die.

Since it was not exactly what Chesterton had made, since he really did not make the game at all, we called it Uncle Chestnut’s Table Gype. Uncle Chestnut was a nickname some local children had for GKC, and I had recently written a book about Chesterton for children using that nickname

 

Custom dice are expensive to produce, but our first 50 sets were done with industrial strength stickers and blank dice. Eventually we realized we could woodburn with a branding iron the images on the faces of a wooden cube, and use Rit dye as a safe – but unpredictable and limited – coloring agent. With the heat press I used to make shirts, we produced the board and the bag in house.

This is where the joke catches up to us. We submitted the game to the Mensa Mind Games competition in 2011. At this point we were using a hand iron, and if I recall it took us about 2 hours to make less than a dozen games. Rather, it took us that long just to stamp the dice. According to my shipping records, the games arrived on the very last day submissions were being accepted, and in a few weeks – Palm Sunday, 2011 – we got word from witnesses that Table Gype was one of the top 5 games of the year, and a recipient of the Mensa Select award.

Now, we suddenly had a product. There was a flurry of activity that I involved speaking with the games buyer for Barnes & Noble as well as a lot of other retailers, and the glaring problem that producing these games as we were was just not feasible. Positive reviews from Tom Vasel and others fueled interest in our little game. Table Gype was nominated for a Golden Geek award, and made Games Magazine’s top 100 games for 2011.

One of the most common questions we got was about pronunciation. I assume Chesterton and Wells used the Scottish pronunciation, which sound like “jip” – the root of that word, as it turns out, since gype means to joke or fool. To avoid spelling confusion, we pronounced the game with a hard “g” and rhymed it with hype.

Our solution to producing the game was to get a drill-press mounted branding iron, which you can see in use in our Kickstarter video. The rig worked well, and while time-consuming it was less expensive than plastic dice, more environmentally friendly, and a whole lot faster than the old method.

While our home-made aesthetics resounded well with some gamers, retailers did not like our packaging. There were others who strongly disliked the look and feel; our comment cards from the Mensa Mind Games event were pretty much split down the middle between getting highest marks for aesthetics (often citing that cloth and wood felt so much better than plastic and cardboard) and the lowest marks for it feeling “cheap.”

After 9 months of frenzied selling, a poorly planned but very rewarding trip to Gen Con Indy (we did not sell much, but made some really good friendships), sales bottomed out in early 2012. Marketing a single game is not a winning proposition, and the entire time I had been making games and promoting Gype, nothing was getting written or done with the rest of Eternal Revolution. There was really no crossover to promoting books inspired by Chesterton, or Chesterton apparel and a board game. Hobby gaming is its own niche world.

The last of the games sold in 2013, and while I have had some interest from publishers, there are no plans in the immediate future to produce Table Gype again. It has been a hard (and fun) lesson in chasing exciting projects that are outside of your calling. Chris and I did consider getting into full-blown game publishing, but it was clear it was not our path in life at this time. Shortly after the roller coaster ride of Gype, Chris began studies at seminary. I’m getting back to the core mission that I started Eternal Revolution to do.

There are a lot of good things we can do with our lives, but not all of them are the things God wants us to do with them. Table Gype must have had its purpose, even if only to teach that lesson. It was an adventure, but not a financially successful one.

If you are interested in Table Gype, any news will be announced on the BoardGameGeek.com entry for the game. The rules are posted there as well. You can also play the game for free online at BoardGameArena.com.

 

The Inspiration Behind the Way of the Christian Samurai

image

Even years after I wrote The Way of the Christian Samurai, I still get comments and questions as to why I wrote the book.

I don’t have a background in the martial arts, though I would appreciate a good sensei. My interest and inspiration into the concept of Christian lessons from samurai writings started with my own recognition that I was a terrible salesperson, especially for my own work and skills.

At my local library I found an intriguing-looking book called Samurai Selling. The idea behind this book was that the servant warriors of japan, the samurai, could teach the modern salesperson a great deal about what it means to serve.

The quotes from Musashi and the Hagakure captured my imagination. No one talks like that anymore. You could say that about any historical text, I suppose, but for me the ancient samurai texts rang particularly true, and I sought to read the source material.

While I suppose their was some inkling that modern Christians could get schooled in how to serve others and their Lord by these pagan soldiers for hire, the idea of matching up the writings and Christianity did not start to consume me until another unusual work.

Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai. I have no idea why I chose to watch this movie initially. I’m not sure if most people would even consider it a good movie. Maybe there was something in a review about it drawing so heavily from the Hagakure.

Whatever my reasons for watching a movie about a mob hitman living as a modern samurai, at some point in the movie it clicked that these principles of loyalty, honor, living as already dead, and more exemplified the Christian way of life in a startling way.

Of course, the Way of Christianity and the way of the samurai are not the same. There are a lot of teachings that were irrelevant or contrary to the Christian life as I poured over the source material. But as I so often explore in my other writings under the concept of Eternal Revolution, Christian spiritual life in the modern world is one of warfare, and we are called to heroic levels of resolve, loyalty, and service.

Eventually, the book was finished, and I still get notes and emails about how life-changing the perspective is. Sure, some people miss the point and think I am trying to reconcile two schools of thought. But my point was, and still is this – if a pagan mercenary could serve his fat, greedy lord with complete self-sacrifice, resolve, and loyalty, what can he teach you as a modern Christian claiming to follow a most perfect Lord in Jesus Christ shirk even the simplest of his commands?

By the way – if you like the image in this post, it is available here as a t-shirt. 

Disturb us, Lord: How to Pray Like a Pirate

 

Don’t be forgettin’ to talk to ye Cap’n. Have ye been gettin’ too soft on the shores? Git out there an’ Pray Like a Pirate!

Too often we be too comfortable with the crosses we bear e’ry day. We git too lilly-livered and cowardly, stayin in waters we know to be safe.

But yer Capt’n, the Christ Jesus, told ye to go out to all the world and preach ‘is good news. To serve the poor. To trust ‘im on the stormy seas of life.

So muster up yer courage and  ask yer Capt’n to push ye out to the depths, where thar be monsters, storms, and big beasties of life that ye need to trust ‘im, and not yer own strength.

In the words of the cur Francis Drake – counted as a scoundrel by all but the English, who went and knighted ‘im for plundering under their colors:

Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
with the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wilder seas
Where storms will show Your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.

We ask you to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push back the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.
This we ask in the name of our Captain,
Who is Jesus Christ.

An’ fly the colors on yer gut with the Christian Pirate Shirt from Eternal Revolution.

(Originally posted on Talk Like A Pirate Day, September 19, on another incarnation of this blog. Hence the pirate-y composition.)

Deciding in Seven Breaths

 

One of the first sayings of the samurai that caught my attention was this one:

“In the words of the ancients, one should make his decisions within the space of seven breaths. Lord Takandobu said, “If discrimination is long, it will spoil.” Lord Naoshige said, “When matters are done leisurely, seven out of ten will turn out badly. A warrior is a person who does things quickly.

When your mind is going hither and thither, discrimination will never be brought to a conclusion. With an intense, fresh and undelaying spirit, one will make his judgments within the space of seven breaths. It is a matter of being determined and having the spirit to break right through to the other side.” From the Hagakure

Decision making is not my strong suit. If you’ve been following my work for the past few years, you’ve probably seen me go back and forth on site designs a few times. Perhaps that is why a quote about making decisions in just seven breaths was appealing.

One of the burdens of free will is the ability to make choices. As humanity has developed more involved processes, more entertainment choices, and more opportunities the number of choices we make on a daily basis can be overwhelming.

Lingering too long on a decision leads to a state called “analysis paralysis” – the inability to act due to an inability to make a decision. Such as state can complicate a small issue, and turn it into a big issue; if you are afraid of making a mistake, often not acting is an even bigger mistake.

Naoshige’s counsel on decision making was explained a bit further elsewhere in the Hagakure, the book of the samurai:

Among the maxims on Lord Naoshige’s wall there was this one: ‘Matters of great concern should be treated lightly.’ …Among one’s affairs there should not be more than two or three matters of what one would call great concern. If these are deliberated upon during ordinary times, they can be understood.
Thinking about things previously and then handling them lightly when the time comes is what this is all about. To face and event and solve it lightly is difficult if you are not resolved beforehand, and there will always be uncertainty in hitting your mark. However, if the foundation is laid previously, you can think of the saying, ‘Matters of great concern should be treated lightly,’ as your own basis for action.”

Many of our little decisions – what movie to see, what to eat for breakfast, are pretty insignificant. The big questions of our lives – what job to take, should I move or stay put, who to marry – these should be based first and foremost on principles we ponder every day.

As Christians, that means putting God and His will first. Considering what kind of company we keep, what kind of life He wants us to live, and what things are contrary to living our life to best serve God and our neighbor should make big decisions easier. When we forget those principles, when we doubt His plan for our lives, we get mired in indecision for those big things.

We too should be able to make decisions within the space of seven breaths. However, that requires being resolved ahead of time to follow a certain path.

Unfortunately, following God’s will has little to do with the singular choice of what to eat for a particular meal. For decisions so small, it is best not to waste time, and to remind yourself that the impact of such a choice is minimal.

Reflect every day, and pray for knowledge of God’s will for you. On that foundation of faith, you can make your decisions as quickly as a samurai.

Photo courtesy Anne-Lise Heinrichs on Flickr.

Enough

Years ago, I remember putting a lot of hours in a short period of time into getting my second book, Guerrilla Apologetics for Life Issues, ready for an upcoming conference. One book, or one product, is not enough for a company.

However, the book was a disappointment sales-wise. Despite the benefit of being a writer for LifeNews.com at the time and being “out there” in the movement, the general response to the book was summed up in the remark a woman made to me:

“Pro-life arguments? That’s ok, I already know enough about that.”

Enough.

I heard the word used again and again in regards to pro-life, or anti-abortion groups and movements. It was shocking to hear how many pro-life leaders, groups, and representatives would echo the sentiment, “We are doing enough,” in order to wave off or discredit another pro-life group’s initiative, work, or other effort.

As much as loathe the word “enough” being used in such a context (a great discussion should take place to explore just what level of action will be “enough” to combat a social evil like abortion, especially after 40 years), I eventually realized there was another word that was more troubling in the statement.

We are doing enough.

Who is we? This group, this church, people like me. Seems harmless enough until you realize that the call to love one another, to do for the least, and to ensure social justice was not a call to “join up” to a group, but an individual call to action. Jesus didn’t issue recruitment calls to join an international nonprofit to raise awareness to social justice issues, He said “Sell all you have and give to the poor,” “Whatever you do for the least of these, you do for Me.”

While I found this attitude prevalent in many pro-life groups I encountered, they by no means have a monopoly on the poisonous sentiment. Charitable foundations, outreach programs, churches and awareness campaigns reek of the attitude as well.

Don’t use a group membership to shrug off your responsibility. What are you doing?

Photo courtesy Franco Folini on Flickr.

Examination Of Conscience by Virtues and Vices

 

 

Pursuit of the Christian ideal is more than being simply moral, we are called to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect (Mathew 5:48).

A daily or regular examination of conscience, sometimes referred to as an examen, is a practice that goes back to the very early days of Christianity. It is a reflection on one’s thoughts, words, actions, and omissions to identify areas where one can improve.

The idea is not limited to Christians. Ben Franklin kept a daily record of his activities and failings in pursuit of perfection. Though not particularly a Christian, Franklin chose 13 moral virtues that he wished to not offend, and daily checked that he was keeping those virtues. Franklin was inspired mostly in this endeavor by Aristotle.

There are many examinations of conscience that use the ten commandments as a guide. Those are good for starting out, but keeping the commandments are a lot simpler than pursuing perfection. The rich young man, for example, was unable to follow Jesus (otherwise referred to as being a Christian) even though he kept the commandments from a young age (Matthew 19:16-30)

Therefore this list of questions for yourself is divided by the 7 heavenly virtues – those three chief virtues identified by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:13, and the four virtues identified in Wisdom 8:7. I’ve also included in the heading the traditional vice that opposes the virtue, a pairing made in Dante’s Divine Comedy and elsewhere.

This is only a start, you should of course use this to develop your own examen. I will warn you, though, that it will grow. Perfection is a goal you will pursue all your life, it will only get harder and more involved as you draw closer to God. However, as Thomas Aquinas wrote, “To stand on the way of the Lord is to move backwards.”

Take time each day, or each week, or on an otherwise regular basis to see how well you are keeping the virtues. Like any soldier, drilling and practicing and keeping a vigilant watch is critical to overcoming an enemy on the prowl (1 Peter 5:8).

Charity/Love – Sloth/Acedia

  • Do I think of and treat everyone with love, even those who are hurtful to me?
  • Do I only tolerate my enemies, or do I show them the same love as I do my friends, as Christ commanded?
  • Do I procrastinate, kill time, or watch the clock?
  • Do I waste time wishing that things were other than they are?
  • Do I love others as I do myself?
  • Do I do everything for the love of God?
  • Do I discount my own life or efforts are unworthy?

Hope – Envy

  • Do I believe, and act as though God will meet my daily needs?
  • Do I believe, and act as though God’s will is in my best interest?

 

Faith – Pride

  • Do I think that my actions, efforts, or status will provide for me and my family?
  • Do I act upon my fears – including fears of financial loss, death, suffering, and evil?
  • Do I trust God’s word about what is evil and good?
  • Do I trust God’s word that he will provide for my needs?
  • Do I think that I have merited my blessings or salvation by what I have done?
  • Do I think that my achievements, honors, or actions make me more worthy than any other human being, including my enemies, my friends, my family, celebrities, politicians, and people whose sin I believe I can see?

 Prudence – Greed/Avarice

  • Do I seek to possess more than I need?
  • Do I ensure that others have what they need?
  • Do I tithe from what God has given me?

Fortitude – Anger/Wrath

  •  Do I bear wrongs patiently?
  • Am I holding any grudges?
  • Do I endure suffering and pain without complaint?
  • Do I face my fears to overcome them, or do I seek to avoid them?
  • Do I endure trials, even embracing them as they draw me closer to God?
  • Do I seek to die to myself every day, taking up my cross?

 

Justice – Lust/Luxuria

  •  Do I desire things that I do not need?
  • Do I desire things that will have no benefit to me?
  • Do I give God, my employer, and my government their just due?
  • Do I see that those around me have their needs met, before pursuing things that I only want?
  • Do I practice chastity in thoughts and actions?
  • Do I treat others as I expect myself or my loved ones to be treated?

Temperance – Gluttony

  • Do I make choices based on my will to serve God or my selfish desires?
  • Do I seek pleasure more than I do God?
  • Do I worry about having enough time for pleasurable pursuits?
  • Do I abuse pleasures by indulging them too often?
  • Is there anything in my life that I do to excess, to the detriment of my spiritual life or duties to God, my family, or authority?

 

Photo courtesy of Eric the Fish on Flickr.