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.

Seven Times Down, Eight Times Up

 

There is a Japanese proverb that simply states “Seven times down, eight times up.” The source, as far as I can tell, is in the ancient book of samurai wisdom, the Hagakure:

If one has not been a ronin at least seven times, he will not be a true retainer. Seven times down, eight times up.’ Men like Narutomi Hyogo have been ronin seven times. One should understand that it is something like being a self- righting doll. The master is also apt to give such orders as a test.

Samurai were servant-mercenaries. Their entire livelihood depended on a master to provide food, housing, and their wages. Totally dependent upon a lord, as we Christians ought to be upon our Lord.

At times, the samurai were ordered to be ronin, or masterless. Or their master would die, or they would be dishonorably discharged. The name ronin meant “wave man,” and in such a state a samurai – no longer “one who serves” would drift about as a wave in the ocean.

We all have times like this, when we feel like we are drifting helplessly in life. Unemployment, a spiritual dry spell, a stubborn temptation, or a personal tragedy are all ways we can feel like we are cast down by God.

In these times, the advice for us is just as it was for the samurai – get back up. Be like a self-righting doll. Cast down seven times, raised up eight times.

There are other interpretations of the phrase. There is even a Christian band called 7th Time Down that cites II Kings 5:14 as the source of their name – the 7 times that Naaman went down into the Jordan to be healed. Other people cite it as being knocked down seven times, and getting back up.

So whether you feel that God has somehow withheld sustenance from you, or you get knocked down by sin, the devil or a practice sword, get back on your feet – seven times down, eight times up.

Special thanks for Craig Shimahara, currently working on the Christian samurai film Masterless, for inspiring this post today by a post on his Facebook page.

Photo courtesy of David Howard via Flickr.

Being Christian is More than Being Moral

 

About three years ago, Phil Vischer, creator of Veggie Tales, gave an interview about Big Idea’s bankruptcy and what he learned from the company’s failure and his ambitions.

The things he said still ring true, perhaps even more. So it’s worth repeating here:

After the bankruptcy I had kind of a forced sabbatical of three or four months of spending time with God and listening to Him. I looked back at the previous 10 years and realized I had spent 10 years trying to convince kids to behave Christianly without actually teaching them Christianity. And that was a pretty serious conviction. You can say, “Hey kids, be more forgiving because the Bible says so,” or “Hey kids, be more kind because the Bible says so!” But that isn’t Christianity, it’s morality…

So I was acting like a big barracuda when in reality I’m a brainless, spineless bag of goo. And I only get my form when I stay in the current of God’s will and allow Him to carry me where He wants me to be. And that was such a huge shift for me from the American Christian ideal. We’re drinking a cocktail that’s a mix of the Protestant work ethic, the American dream, and the gospel. And we’ve intertwined them so completely that we can’t tell them apart anymore. Our gospel has become a gospel of following your dreams and being good so God will make all your dreams come true. It’s the Oprah god. So I had to peel that apart. I realized I’m not supposed to be pursuing impact, I’m supposed to be pursuing God. And when I pursue God I will have exactly as much impact as He wants me to have…

If you are involved in a ministry, you really ought to read Phil’s epiphany here. But the above paragraphs have meaning to all of us.

Being Christian does not merely mean we are moral people. The 10 Commandments are a starting point, not the sum of the rules of life. Sure, none of us have a 100% success rate at keeping the commandments, but if you’ve been rather successful lately you can hardly consider that “Christian living.”

About the same time I read something that cited Phil’s article, I came across a quote from G.K. Chesterton on morals as goals. In his biography of George Bernard Shaw, Chesterton went on a tangent (as he does) about Nietzsche  and the superman.

“If he [the superman] is simply to be more just, more brave, or more merciful, then Zarathustra sinks into a Sunday-school teacher; the only way we can work for it is to be more just, more brave, and more merciful — sensible advice, but hardly startling.”

Phil realized that Bob and Larry were teaching mere moral virtues – in essence, nothing more than Zarathustra, Nietzsche’s prophet taught. No different, really, in the principles that any philosophy teaches, except from where we claim the authority came. So long as you follow the rules we have in common, what does it matter who gets the credit for authorship?

We are called to do more than just live moral, righteous lives. We’re called to love, trust God, and believe his promises. Charity, faith, and hope, in other words.

Jesus said to love our enemies, not just our friends. Not tolerate them, not endure them, not to “not hate” them, but to love them. We are told not to worry about tomorrow, or ask after what we shall eat, or wear beyond today – ask only for our daily bread. We are to hope in impossible things; those Israelites that walked across the Red Sea, with a pillar of fire in their midst, spent 40 years in the desert because when they got to Caanan they thought it would be “impossible” for God to keep his promise.

Instead, we Christians have given enough cause for governments to consider us a hate group, since our condemnation of others is more visible than our love of the unlovable. We have 401(k) plans, storing up our riches for rainy days or restful retirements. We don’t really act like we believe the promises God made to us, even when we profess that we do. We mix prudence with worldly financial advice and pass it off as ‘Christian’ even when it contradicts Christ’s instructions (Luke 12:13-21).

Be careful that you’re not drinking the American (or Western) cult cocktail of worldly Christianity. Keep striving to follow Jesus’ instructions – especially the ones that seem ridiculous and hard. Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect, not just good enough that others think you’re a good person.

Photo courtesy George Bannister on Flickr.

Life is an Enjoyable Fight, or a Miserable Truce

There are some men who are dreary because they do not believe in God; but there are many others who are dreary because they do not believe in the devil… The full value of this life can only be got by fighting; the violent take it by storm. And if we have accepted everything we have missed something — war. This life of ours is a very enjoyable fight, but a very miserable truce.
-G.K. Chesterton, in Charles Dickens
I stumbled, or re-stumbled upon this quote just after a conversation with someone about fear and the Christian life. While there are a number of things we should not fear as Christians, we should be terrified of something that will lead us away from living fully in Christ. Complacency should be one of those things.
Of all the vices, the early Christian fathers most warned about acedia, better today known as sloth. It is not just laziness, but a “a state of restlessness and inability either to work or to pray” according to Aquinas. As I write this, spell check does not even recognize the word. 
I once worked in an office environment where there was an acknowledgement of the afternoon slowdown, referred to as a being “food stupid.” Full bellies, a lull in the day, and the highly contagious attitude of acedia made the hours after lunch seem to drag out.
The desert fathers, however, had a  more solemn name for this apathetic nature: the noonday demon. Yes, a demon. Acedia was considered a very dangerous mindset not only of laziness or sadness, but of apathy.
The monk John Cassian wrote of Acedia:
“It also makes the man lazy and sluggish about all manner of work which has to be done within the enclosure of his dormitory…. Then the fifth or sixth hour brings him such bodily weariness and longing for food that he seems to himself worn out and wearied as if with a long journey, or some very heavy work, or as if he had put off taking food during a fast of two or three days. Then besides this he looks about anxiously this way and that, and sighs that none of the brethren come to see him, and often goes in and out of his cell, and frequently gazes up at the sun, as if it was too slow in setting, and so a kind of unreasonable confusion of mind takes possession of him like some foul darkness, and makes him idle and useless for every spiritual work, so that he imagines that no cure for so terrible an attack can be found in anything except visiting some one of the brethren, or in the solace of sleep alone. “
Sluggishness, watching the clock (in its most ancient form, the sun), anxious fretting, idle conversation, procrastination, and a desire to nap. Sounds like a typical office afternoon, though Cassian’s account lists serious signs of a demonic influenced disease. His description goes on to describe the afflicted monk being affable and hospitable, making visits to this person or that, while neglecting his calling.
This is, I can speak from experience, a miserable state to find yourself. While generally agreeable, somewhat peaceful, it is an anxious restlessness, and sometimes a feeling of uselessness – or that nothing can really be accomplished right now anyway. To put it otherwise, the “miserable truce” to which Chesterton refers in the opening paragraph.
Suddenly, this seems like a rampant problem among Christians today. A passive contentment that seems to grip us. We are not idle, but we shirk some more serious work to busy ourselves with being pleasant or killing time.
Killing time – as if we had any to spare! We are called, as Christians, to be soldiers, to be servants, and to go forth and proclaim the Gospel. If we idle away the hours waiting for the end of the workday, the day, the week, the month, we are eventually losing that precious and too short life on this earth. How will we give an account for those hours spent in an acedic state?
Peacetime is a scourge to soldiers and armies. Those highly reputed masters of the sword, the samurai, recognized this and thus maintained regular practice and a desire to perfect their martial craft. The Art of Manliness cited the activities of a sword master who would practice slicing raindrops as a way of practicing zanshin, or an ever-readiness for battle. This even extended, as the article discusses, how the samurai would use the toilet.
To a samurai, life was all about being ready for battle. Life was a fight. Acedia or sluggishness got you killed, or cut off from your employer. As Christians, we should fear what the demon of acedia can do to our soul if we do not vigilantly watch for it and occupy ourselves with the work we are given.
If you find yourself experiencing life as a “miserable truce,” remind yourself that we are engaged in an ongoing spiritual battle  “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Train yourself daily – not necessarily by slicing raindrops with your sword, but by constant and regular prayer, charitable acts, and doing your duty in each and every moment to your Lord, your family, and your employer.
That is why we have been warned not to conform to the world as it is, or to put it in military terms, to declare a truce with the world. Life gets a lot more enjoyable when you realize it is a battle.

Pray for Revolution

 

If you’ve ever received an email from me, I use a non-standard closing: “Pray for Revolution.” It’s a phrase that appears throughout the site here at Eternal Revolution and there is even a shirt design using the phrase. I realized I never explained the source anywhere on this site.

I admit, it is an unusual prayer request. It comes from Chesterton’s essay The Wind in the Trees, collected in Tremendous Trifles.

The wind is up above the world before a twig on the tree has moved. So there must always be a battle in the sky before there is a battle on the earth. Since it is lawful to pray for the coming of the kingdom, it is lawful also to pray for the coming of the revolution that shall restore the kingdom. It is lawful to hope to hear the wind of Heaven in the trees. It is lawful to pray “Thine anger come on earth as it is in Heaven.”

Chesterton’s point in the essay is that just just as the invisible force of the wind moves the trees, so too does the invisible forces of spirit come before the violence and madness of human revolt. “No man has ever seen a revolution,” G.K.C. summarizes.

It is certainly not the popular interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer. Yet as with most Chesterton quotes, once he points out the odd interpretation in makes a great deal of sense. We pray for the coming of the kingdom. We pray for His will to be done on earth. And what He said he came to bring was a fire that would consume the earth.

Does that fire consume the earth now? Does it even consume you? Is there a zeal, a passion, burning in your soul like the bush that spoke to Moses, or that pillar of fire that led the people of Israel through the desert?

If not, then pray for the revolution. Pray for the turning (volution) again (re) of your heart and mind back to the things of God. Turn away, again and again, from the things of this world.

All we can directly effect with our own will is our own person. The eternal revolution for which we pray every time we say the Our Father is therefore first and foremost an internal revolution. When properly burning within us, it will catch on to the world around us.

Nurture the flame of the spirit within yourself. Discipline your self, your mind, and your heart to follow the Lord’s will more and more closely every day.

And pray for revolution.

Interrupting the Impossible

 

While reading a book on business strategies, I came across an expression credited as “an ancient Chinese proverb.”

The person who says something is impossible should not interrupt the person who is doing it.
In the context I found it, the expression was an answer to naysayers who criticize a project or goal while the yet-impossible task is being accomplished. As mankind’s creativity, communication, and knowledge grows, things that were impossible are becoming reality every day.
The proverb has meaning in the Christian experience too. God does the impossible, has done the impossible, and will do the impossible. The scriptures are full of stories of impossible things happening, such as Moses striking a rock and water coming forth. Jesus worked miracles. His disciples worked miracles in His name after his ascension.
What impossible things have you undertaken? What impossible things does God ask of us that we cannot see working out or happening?
If we believe the Gospel, if we accept the Bible’s teachings as true (hence using the title of Christian) then we should expect the impossible to happen – even big miracles. But it seems we have even lost the faith and the hope for small miracles and wonders. We fear tithing because we may not have enough money to pay our bills, when it is God, not our own labor, that provides for our families (Psalm 127). We fear to speak out against wrongdoings and evil, because we fear reprisals. But we have been given power even over evil spirits in the name of Christ (Luke 10:17).
What are we missing out on – what are we denying the world because we think something God asks is too much, too impossible to be real?
We should not interrupt He who is doing the impossible.

10 Things Christians Fear That They Should Not

 

It is human to be afraid. Everyone is afraid of something (or somethings). Several fears are in fact common to a lot of people. 

Fear motivates us to change. Whether it is some learned trait for survival or a psychological reflex to avoid danger, when we act on our fears we make a choice to change our behavior, our circumstances, and even our lives.

In other words, what you fear, determines what you worship.

If you are afraid of being poor, you tend to idealize financial security. You worry about not having enough. You stress over unexpected costs. You feel more comfortable, more secure, with a certain dollar amount in your bank account. Your mood is a function of how much money you have and how much you feel you need at any given time. This is what the idolization of money looks like – you need not be wealthy to be a miser.

As Christians, we are told over and over in the Bible to not have fear. To put it more positively, we are told to have “fear of the Lord.” Not necessarily or solely fear of punishment from God, but a respectful fear that drowns out all other worldly fears. A fear of separation from He who is your security, and your foundation.

Here are just a few common fears that we Christians need to eliminate in ourselves, for they are symptoms of putting some other worldly good above our faith in God. There is a single verse I have associated with each one, but of course there are many more that could fit each, and some verses address more than one type of fear.

Financial Loss

Poverty. Job loss. Financial hardship. Not having enough money for college for your kids. Not having enough money for retirement. Not having enough for any reason. 

The Lord sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts. 1 Samuel 2:7

Pain

Suffering. Loss of Comfort.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4

Illness

Sickness. Fatigue. Poor health. Cancer. Obesity. Disease. Germs.

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:31-33

Death

Dying. Death of yourself. Death of a loved one. The dead.

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. Hebrews 2:14-15

The Future

What will be or will not be. Being prepared. Change.

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:34

The Past

Mistakes catching up with you. Family shame being exposed. Loss of time.

But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. 1 Timothy 1:16

Judgement
Of others. Of God.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1

Separation
Loss of friends. Loss of family. Loneliness.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18

Evil

Bad things. People that mean you harm. Injustice. Evil spirits.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4

The Devil

And He said to them, “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you.” Luke 10:18-19

 

Why then do you continue to be afraid? Seek to root out your fears, lest they drive you away from your relationship with God and weaken your faith.

 

Why Are You Here?

What makes less ‘sense’: 

Christian Pirate 

Christian Samurai 

or a Christian Financial Planner?

G.K. Chesterton wrote in Orthodoxy: “Christianity even when watered down is hot enough to boil all modern society to rags. The mere minimum of the Church would be a deadly ultimatum to the world.” 

Obviously that isn’t true of Anne Rice’s ‘Christianity,’ but is it even true of Dave Ramsey’s, Rick Warren’s? What about your own ‘Christianity’? 

We are not here to earn a living. We are not here to save for a comfy retirement. We are not here to be comfortable, period. We are not here to be patriotic, to serve the state, or champion a political party or philosophy. 

Our heroes are those who smashed idols, were unpopular, were traitors, rebels and enemies of the State, were exiled, and were brutally killed. 

We are here to change the world, to set it on fire. To allow the kingdom of God to come upon the earth through us. Don’t lose sight of that.

The Career Father

My adventures as a freelancer have brought me back to the place ‘between clients.’ The point where we trust God’s providence for our daily bread fully – as we ought to always – because efforts at the moment feel particularly in vain. Apparently this was something I was to consider this Lenten season. 

I can’t say I have much of a career that can be defined as a pattern of work. I’ve worked in IT, management, retail management, government jobs, and so forth. Even ‘award-winning board game designer’ is in there now. There is no particular pattern that I can use to define myself by my work. Except maybe writing, which as a communication medium just seems necessary in every job, and sometimes it is part of the title.

I did not set out to define myself this way, but I guess my career is my family. I’m a career husband and father. The job is always second, which might irk some employers, but my loyalty lies at home.

There’s a passage from Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game series – from the book Xenocide to be exact, that explains it much more poetically than I could. It is a piece of an interview between Ender’s  sister, Valentine, and his stepson Olhando.

“I saw what Andrew (Ender) did in our family. I saw that he came in and listened and watched and understood who we were, each individual one of us. He tried to discover our need and then supply it. He took responsibility for other people and it didn’t seem to matter to him how much it cost him. And in the end, while he could never make the Ribeira family normal, he gave us peace and pride and identity. Stability. He married Mother and was kind to her. He loved us all. He was always there when we wanted him, and seemed unhurt by it when we didn’t. He was firm with us about expecting civilized behavior, but never indulged his whims at our expense. And I thought: This is so much more important than science. Or politics, either. Or any particular profession or accomplishment or thing you can make. I thought: If I could just make a good family, if I could just learn to be to other children, their whole lives, what Andrew was, coming so late into ours, then that would mean more in the long run, it would be a finer accomplishment than anything I could ever do with my mind or hands.”

“So you’re a career father,” said Valentine.

“Who works at a brick factory to feed and clothe the family. Not a brick-maker who also has kids. Lini also feels the same way… She followed her own road to the same place. We do what we must to earn our place in the community, but we live for the hours at home. For each other, for the children.”

I’m not the provider for my family. That is ultimately God’s job for all of us. I do the work I must, and one way or another we have what we need. If I did define myself by my ability to provide, that would be depressing. Not only in the dry spells but even in the glory of accomplishment; for no matter what I may write, or do with my life it will be nothing compared to what I can be for my children.

I’ve sort of stumbled into this path, but if more of us chose it from the outset, it would change the world.