Author: Michael Eddy

How to know Jesus

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Christians will often use the term “knowing Jesus.” But it’s a term that is somewhat hard to grasp and has different contexts depending on the background and religious tradition of the person saying it. Indeed there are many ways in which one might come to know Jesus. In terms of a very tangible approach, I found the following observations by the Social Activist, Dorothy Day, quite arresting:

“It is no use saying that we are born two thousand years too late to give room to Christ. Nor will those who live at the end of the world have been born too late. Christ is always with us, always asking for room in our hearts.

But now it is with the voice of our contemporaries that He speaks, with the eyes of store clerks, factory workers, and children that He gazes; with the hands of office workers, slum dwellers, and suburban housewives that He gives. It is with the feet of soldiers and tramps that He walks, and with the heart of anyone in need that He longs for shelter. And giving shelter or food to anyone who asks for it, or needs it, is giving it to Christ.… If we hadn’t got Christ’s own words for it, it would seem raving lunacy to believe that if I offer a bed and food and hospitality to some man or woman or child, I am replaying the part of … Martha or Mary, and that my guest is Christ.

There is nothing to show it, perhaps. There are no halos already glowing round their heads—at least none that human eyes can see. It is not likely that I shall be vouchsafed the vision of Elizabeth of Hungary , who put the leper in her bed and later, going to tend him, saw no longer the leper’s stricken face, but the face of Christ. The part of a Peter Claver , who gave a stricken Negro his bed and slept on the floor at his side, is more likely to be ours. For Peter Claver never saw anything with his bodily eyes except the exhausted black faces …; he had only faith in Christ’s own words that these people were Christ. And when on one occasion those he had induced to help him ran from the room, panic-stricken before the disgusting sight of some sickness, he was astonished. “You mustn’t go,” he said, and you can still hear his surprise that anyone could forget such a truth: “You mustn’t leave him—it is Christ.” …

“For a total Christian, the goad of duty is not needed—always prodding one to perform this or that good deed. It is not a duty to help Christ, it is a privilege. Is it likely that Martha and Mary sat back and considered that they had done all that was expected of them—is it likely that Peter’s mother-in-law grudgingly served the chicken she had meant to keep till Sunday because she thought it was her “duty”? She did it gladly; she would have served ten chickens if she had had them. If that is the way they gave hospitality to Christ, it is certain that that is the way it should still be given. Not for the sake of humanity. Not because it might be Christ who stays with us, comes to see us, takes up our time. Not because these people remind us of Christ … but because they are Christ.” – Dorothy Day

Satisfaction vs. Pleasure

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Today there are no shortage of products and activities to provide one with pleasure.  The goal is to give you a hit of dopamine or numb you out a little – but most importantly the goal is to get you to want more.  The pleasure often has a numbing effect.  What felt good the first time you tried it doesn’t quite feel good enough the second.  You need just a little more . . . and then a little more after that – like a scoop of ice cream, a glass a wine, a cheap binge-worthy TV show, a quick glance at a certain website.  They can lull you in and without even knowing it you need more and more.

Pleasure doesn’t equal satisfaction.

Satisfaction is a different feeling – one where you don’t need more to feel good again.  It’s not about consumption for only your own purposes and pleasures.  It’s not that satisfaction can’t also be pleasurable (it can be) it’s that the things that bring satisfaction fill you up instead of leaving you empty when the pleasure subsides.  Satisfaction brings peace and wholeness.  It often connects you with others.   It may remind you of the story you were meant to live.  It comes from a dinner out with good friends, a time of quiet reflection and prayer, a couple hours lost in an activity that lights you up, a small act of kindness or a great conversation with your son or daughter.


A Mythical Perspective

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Modern consciousness has mostly lost it’s mythical perspective on life.  We think myth emerges out of superstition and the irrational pre-scientific mind.  We live in a world of numbers, reason and scientific validation, which leaves little room for mythic thinking – at least we suppose.  The modern mind concludes that myths may entertain us but they no longer inform us – that power was swept away by the tidal wave of thought historians label the scientific revolution.

But what if the ultimate purpose of myth was something we aren’t used to today and have a hard time wrapping our minds around?   What if the purpose of myth was (and is) to provide the symbols that move the spirit of man forward (not hold man back as many today might suggest)?   The great myth stories are more than entertainment.  They are more than a form of moral instruction.  They reveal something more profound about what it means to “participate” in creation and understand the context of our existence.  The proper myth takes us beyond words, beyond pictures and even beyond our imagination.  The myth doesn’t come in opposition of rational thinking or scientific knowledge.  It operates in a totally different hemisphere seeking to show us the world inside of us – the world that can’t be analyzed with a telescope or magnifying glass.

The mythic is all around us if we can turn down all of the constraints of our modern consciousness.  And when we allow ourselves to be moved by the mythic – the stories that turn our heart strings, bring a sense of awe and draw out the deepest yearnings in our soul – we learn more about what we were created for:   To be part of the mythic – to tell a great tale with our own lives.


When you find yourself on a path you didn’t want

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Frodo: I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.
Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides the will of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, in which case you also were meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.

This is one of my favorite exchanges from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Frodo has been thrust into a quest he had not sought. He is a most unlikely character, a young Hobbit with a sweet disposition, to find himself as Middle-Earth’s best chance of saving itself from the evil Sauron.

He turns to his mentor and Super-Natural guide, Gandalf, in discouragement. Frodo is almost ready to surrender and go home to the peaceful Shire. And that is when Gandalf provides a new perspective on the journey at hand.

Sometimes we don’t get to pick the mission or the adventure that is laid out in front of us. Often the mission picks us. Some adventures start out of our own inspiration but some begin out of disappointment, loss or pure necessity.

And every Adventure worth pursuing will challenge us – leaving us with moments of doubt and even regret just as Frodo experienced throughout his journey to Mordor.

There are forces at work in each of our lives – forces we can’t fully comprehend. When we find ourself on a journey we hadn’t intended and we feel like it is unraveling us and we wonder what the point is anyways, it would be helpful to remember that his is what every great Hero faces. There is a point and if the mission has chosen you, then you do have the resources you need to make it through. You won’t be able to see it all clearly in the midst of those dark moments of doubt. You may cry out, “Why me Lord?” So until you can look backward on the journey with clarity from experience, take comfort that you aren’t alone. This is part of the process of every Hero’s Journey. It wouldn’t be a great Story without it.

Wired for Stories

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Humans are hardwired for stories. It’s in our DNA to interpret the world through the lens of storytelling. In fact, we need stories to even begin to make sense of all the information and data confronting us each day. Storytelling is so ingrained in us that we spend our entire life narrating events without conscious awareness we are doing so.

Stories are like the operating system for our life. We make judgements (about ourselves and others) based on the narratives running through our heads. We choose spouses, careers and where we want to live base on the stories we create about those things. It’s something we have been doing since the beginning of mankind.

We don’t have a choice about whether we will filter life through stories. But we do have a choice on the direction of the stories we tell ourselves. In my book the Truest Story Ever Told, I contend that if we don’t like the way things are going in life or we simply would like to find more meaning in our day-to-day existence – considering the stories we are telling ourselves each day could really help us to create a better filter for our life.

As we head into 2019 and you begin to consider your goals and resolutions for the New Year, it might be more helpful to consider the story you want to tell about 2019. Instead of just writing down I want to lose 15 pounds or eat healthier, consider the narrative you want to live out for the coming year. You already know what makes for a great story – adventure, conflict, challenges and persistence. This time next year, what do you want your story to be about? Instead of just chasing discrete goals – chase a story. A story will keep you far more inspired and help you to see more clearly when you stumble – because the Hero rarely goes without some setbacks along the way.

Defeat the Threshold Guardians

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In my book, The Truest Story Ever Told, I talk about how to write your own true tale with your life, you have to be willing to engage risk and adventure.

Often before you can even set out on the adventure that is calling to you, there is a “threshold guardian” standing in your way – barring your departure. They are the voices (real people or in your inner-monologue) who say “No.” You can’t or shouldn’t do this because: it’s not safe, you’re not qualified, it’s too risky, you might fail, you might get hurt, you might wish you hadn’t.

Sometimes the Threshold Guardian comes in the form of friends and family members or a teacher or a boss or some gatekeeper in an industry, group or profession in which we would like to contribute. Sometimes the Threshold Guardian is our own psychological baggage we haven’t defeated.

The challenge is being able to see clearly enough to distinguish between a Threshold Guardian and a person who is not trying to block you but is indeed trying to help you make the right journey (the one that is meant for you and not the journey meant for someone else).

Two questions might help resolve whether you are dealing with a Threshold Guardian or an Ally for your pending journey.

  1. What is the motive of this person’s input? To help me, protect me and help me write my authentic story or is their input disguised and really about their own doubts, insecurities and need for control?
  2. Is this person someone who has wisdom in general and/or knowledge specific to the domain of your adventure?

We all need help and wise counsel along our way. It would be foolish to ignore it, even if it seems to be slowing us down in pursuing the Calls to Adventure laid down for us.

On the other hand, it would also be foolish to never get started because someone disagrees with us or challenges us or says, “they just want to make sure we are safe.” We need to identify those that are Threshold Guardians and deal with them swiftly. But we don’t need to be so rash that we dismiss every warning, signal or sage advice that comes our way as being some obstacle being thrown in our path. Some are just that and other’s are blessings that will truly help us advert disaster. Knowing the difference can sometimes be the challenge. Our paths will be best alighted through maturity, humility and asking the right questions.

Measuring Affluence

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In my last post about Defining Affluence I asked if we should reconsider our meaning when we think of Affluence.  The typical definition of Affluence is the state of material abundance or wealth.  But material abundance and wealth is a subjective measure.  It changes with each generation so what we think of as average today might have been seen as a symbol of extraordinary affluence just a few generations ago.  For example, we take indoor plumbing for granted when not all that many years ago, only the “affluent” would have had been able to afford such luxury.

I suggested there might be another side of the equation and that Affluence could be thought of as the absence of want.  In other words, someone might not have as much by way of material possessions but if they were generally satisfied with what they did have – that could also be considered Affluence.  In other words, Affluence could be reached by either gaining more or wanting less.

I believe we can take this line of reasoning a step farther and say that when we think of someone or a group of people who are Affluent we might ask in what way they are Affluent.  Modern Western culture is Affluent in material possession (we have more than we really need and more than any other society in history by far) but we are generally impoverished in time and relationships.  

What we saw in the last post is that because Hunter-Gatherer societies (who we would view as near destitute) don’t care too much for material possessions beyond what they need to survive. Because their needs are met in a few hours of labor each day they have built cultures where time and relational connection is abundant.  They might not be as materially affluent, but they have affluence of time and relationships.

My intent in raising this point is not to knock material belongings or the progress of commerce, but to suggest that our cultures limited view of Affluence keeps us from valuing other forms of Affluence as much as perhaps we should. 

We envy the most materially Affluent, but we often forget to ask at what cost did that Affluence come.   It would be interesting to see how our views would change if Affluence of time and Affluence of relationship were also celebrated the way Affluence of material wealth is in our culture.  

What if Affluence was viewed as a cumulative measure of Wealth, Time and Relationships and the most successful groups of people were not evaluated one dimensionally in terms of Wealth?  Instead, what if we looked at success as the delicate act of balancing these three dimensions together, and then pursued Affluence of time and relationship as persistently as we chase Affluence of material wealth? 

What do you think?  Have you ever considered how Affluent you are in 1) Material well being 2) Time well being and 3) Relational well being?  Would you dare to measure your success in a multi-dimensional with a culture that relentlessly pushes #1 above all else.   

What is Affluence?

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Compared to other societies throughout history we might say that today’s Western culture is one of “Affluence.”  At the same time, ironically, it’s a culture of great want and dissatisfaction.  Everyone seems to need something else, something newer, something bigger. We spend the better part of our lives working so we can afford things that most people in history didn’t have – or even know about.

It’s not enough to have one house, we need a 2nd one near a great vacation spot too. Or if you prefer a more trivial example.  How many people do you know who only have one pair of jeans or one pair of shoes?  There was a point in history not all that long ago where most of the population in the world would have been quite content with one pair of nice jeans and good shoes – and wouldn’t even considered that someone might own a different pair for nearly every occasion.

So what exactly is Affluence?  I like the definition I read recently in Marshall Sahlins book, Stone Age Economics.

 “An affluent society is one in which all the people’s material wants are easily satisfied.”

In other words Affluence is achieved by either producing more material goods or wanting fewer material goods.  Sahlins book, written in the 1960s, challenged the anthropological assumption that ancient hunter-gather societies lived at a barely subsistence level.  While studying small Hunter-Gatherer societies that have survived to modern times, Sahlins made a stunning discovery.  In many ways Hunter-Gather societies are more affluent, as measured by the above definition, than most of us would ever imagine.  Sahlins called them “The Original affluent society.”  Sahlin writes,

“Hunters and gatherers have by force of circumstances an objectively low standard of living. But taken as their objective, and given their adequate means of production, all the people’s material wants usually can be easily satisfied.”  

So the material wants of the tribe are easily satisfied, which translates to a lot more time for leisure, social activities and sleep. Part of Sahlins surprising finding was how little time was spent securing the basic needs of the group such as food and shelter and how much time was spent on these other activities.   This is why he label’s them Affluent.

We might have more material comforts than our primitive ancestors, but our material comforts create a burden they didn’t know.  We have to pay to store, insure, fix, maintain, replace, transport and finance all this stuff.  We work far longer hours and endure greater stress than they did to support our ever-growing hunger for more.  We might pity their circumstances but they might pity ours.

So what is affluence?  Is it getting what you want or wanting what you already have?

The Logic of Sin

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Sin doesn’t win by presenting itself as a problem.  It wins by presenting itself as a solution.  It claims it’s victory by outwitting us at our own game.  It baits us into a game of logic, and because we tend to think of ourselves as well meaning and rational people, we assume a rational-logical dialogue is a good place for us to go to conquer our sin.  But our adversary isn’t new to these little games of logic we so willingly use – he has been using them against us for millennia to trick us into doing the very thing we don’t want to do by framing our sin in a way we hadn’t expected.

Here are four areas of rational logic sin uses against us (I will give an explanation of each below):

  1. Sin offers itself as a solution to a more vexing problem.
  2. Sin offers an extreme first so that you think you have won when you accept a more watered-down version of it
  3. Sin convinces you that your efforts are hopeless – so why try
  4. Sin convinces us it’s okay to wait until life slows down, is less demanding and not so complicated

Sin offers itself as a solution to a more vexing problem

A high school student hasn’t studied for a math exam he is taking later in the day.  He is already on the fringe of failing the class and he can’t afford another poor mark.  If he fails the class he fears he might not get into a good college and if he doesn’t get into a good college he fears he might not get a good job.  And it would be irresponsible to not get a good job because the student hopes to have a family one day and he has been told it’s difficult to raise a family without a good job.  As he ponders his situation at lunch one of his friend sits down and whispers that he has secured an answer key to the pending test.  The high school student knows that cheating is wrong but the logic of the sin is already at work.

The adversary whispers, “You aren’t a cheater.  It’s not like you are going to make this a habit.  There are tremendous consequences if you don’t pass this exam.  You’re entire future is on the line – what’s the harm in using the answer key to pass the test just this one time?  Wouldn’t it not be more irresponsible to allow yourself to fail and let down your parents and possibly not get into college.  What’s more immoral and irresponsible anyways?  Cheating on one exam in high school or not being able to provide for your future family.”

In this case cheating (the sin) is not the problem to be dealt with, it’s presented as the solution to much more consequential concerns.

Sin offers an extreme first so that you think you have won when you accept a more watered-down version of the sin

Karl, a married man goes to the gym several times a week for a small group fitness class.  The fitness instructor of the class is an attractive woman, named Liz and she is just a few years younger than Karl.  Although there has never been anything but a professional relationship between them, Karl has found himself thinking about Liz during the day while he is working or eating lunch.

On his way to gym one afternoon, the adversary leans in and say, “Karl, you should sleep with Liz.”  Karl, is taken aback.  Where did that thought come from, he wonders.  He is a committed husband and had never considered cheating on his wife.  He pushes the thought away, but the opening thought was just a rouse for the logic game that can now ensue.

The adversary responds, “you’re probably right, you wouldn’t cheat on your wife. That’s not in your character Karl.  But what about maybe finding a way to get close to her physically.  Maybe you could ask her to spot you on an exercise and use it as an opportunity to rub against her body or maybe you could give her a lingering hug when you see her next.”  Again, Karl pushes back the thought, but the Adversary is still just setting the trap.  He is slowly watering down the sin until he can get Karl to think he has won because he settled for such a trivial violation.

The adversary’s moves in again, “Why not ask the entire class (including Liz) out for drinks next Friday.  It would be fun and there is no harm in having drinks with a group of people.”  Karl, agrees and besides it would be fun to socialize with Liz outside the gym.  Then the adversary offers his next idea, “perfect, you know you could flirt with her just a little.  It wouldn’t hurt to kid around with her and give her a lingering smile when nobody else is looking. You don’t have to do anything over the top Karl, just enough to let her know that you notice her that you are attracted but that you are married so that is as far as you could go.”

Of course, once the adversary get’s the small give-in he works his logic in reverse – “well if you already flirted with her what’s the harm in giving her a little kiss when she leaves?”

Sin convinces you that your efforts are hopeless – so why try so hard

Sue has struggled off and on with alcohol most of her adult life.  Though she has gone weeks, months and even seasons without a drink, she keeps finding herself back in the same place.  Sue desperately wants to get free and has gone several weeks without drinking, but things at work are really stressful and the desire for a drink this week is particularly strong.

The adversary’s logic to for Sue is straightforward, “Sue, this is really hard stuff.  You have been thinking about a drink all day.  How many times do we have to do this?  You might be able to resist today or even tomorrow or even the next day, but you will ultimately fail.  You always do.  You can’t beat this so why don’t you give yourself a break and have a Gin and Tonic – or just a Gin.  Stop delaying the inevitable.”

Sin convinces us it’s okay to wait until life slows down, is less demanding and not so complicated.  

Jim has started abusing prescription medicine.  It started when he noticed it gave him an edge at work – allowed him to work longer hours and remain focused.  Now the side-effects are getting to him and his health is taking a toll.  He barely sleeps at night, which makes him even more dependent on the meds to keep him going during the day. By the time he get’s home at night he is irritable and short with his wife and children.

Jim knows he needs to address the problem and vows to make a change – until the adversary leans in and offers this rationale to Jim:

“Jim, you can’t slow down right now.  You are leading an important project at work and you have worked so hard.  If you quit now, you’ll never keep up and you will let everyone down.  It’s not like you have to keep taking the meds forever, just a few more weeks until the project is done.  Worry about this once life slows down some and you have a little more time and margin.”

Of course, the Adversary knows the longer he can entangle us the harder it will be to unwrap the cords later.




This is Water?

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There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

This is the opening story given by author David Foster Wallace in a commencement speech at Kenyon College in 2005.  It’s one of the best commencement addresses you will hear.  Here is a link if you want to give it a listen.

The point of this story is that often the most obvious and important realities are often the hardest to see.  I have been thinking about this idea a lot lately.  For example, what kind of assumptions am I bringing to my daily living because of what I have learned from the culture around me my entire life?  What kind of social and cultural constructs have I unknowingly adopted as my own by some strange form of social osmosis.  Why do I never ask WHY?  Am I swimming around my life like the fish in the story, completely unaware of the context of my environment.   Sadly, I think most of the time the answer is yes.

I know this is kind of intangible and sounds like the type of discussion two stoners would have while passing around a joint.   But bear with me and let me try some tangible examples of what I mean:

  1. Why do we retire at the age of 65 and who came up with the idea of retirement anyways?
  2. Why do I feel like such a slave to the time on a clock?
  3. Will any of the things I own or want to own bring me more Happiness?  Wait . . . I know the answer but I WANT them anyways, why?
  4. Why do I stress about my kids Standardized test scores?  Is there any real correlation to those scores and anything else of importance later in their life?
  5. Why do I feel compelled to try to maintain a pace of life that is completely overwhelming most of the time?

I could go on for pages with this line of questioning.  My point is that there are so many things going on outside of our awareness that frame how we experience our life, and I think it would be helpful to every now and again ponder why we believe certain things or are compelled to act a certain way.   Until we have enough awareness to even ask why we don’t have any other choice but to buy into whatever the culture, our family, our church or our peers tell us.

But here is the secret . . .

What our culture teaches is us is often not as well thought out as we would hope to believe.  What we accept is conventional wisdom is very often just the result of a confluence of random historical events and agendas.  If those cultural conventions stick around long enough we forget to notice them, much less challenge or question them.  We swim around until one day someone makes an observation like “How’s the Water?” and one of two things happen: 1) We ignore the question and continue on our way or 2) We begin to notice and wonder and not just assume that everything our culture values and venerates is worth valuing and venerating. And some of the things it doesn’t even notice, maybe are worth talking about.