Paul: The Unflinching Bearer of Truth

Acts 26:9-21

Reflecting on Saint Paul always places me outside of my comfort zone.  There is something captivating about the man’s story: a well-educated Jewish leader who converts to Christianity.  However, I can tell from the letters attributed to him that he is a bold individual–even after his conversion–and that has always frightened me.

Why would Jesus appoint such a tough individual?  I think my struggle with Paul comes from the stern tone that shows up in his letters, but I have to remind myself that the early Christian world described in Acts is a tough place.  When just about every person is a threat, one has to be strong, and Paul is the strongest Christian leader of his time.

Perhaps the most intimidating part of Paul’s writing is his honesty.  To the Christians in Corinth, he points out their modest past: “Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.”  Why does he point out their lowly pedigree?  To show that “[God] chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things–and the things that are not–to nullify the things that are, no one may boast before him” (1 Corinthians).  Am I the only one who finds his descriptions of the Corinthian people rude?  Yes, he ultimately acknowledges that they are saved, but still . . . lowly and despised?  The man does not hold back.

Perhaps the reason so much of the New Testament still resonates with us today is that it applies such unrestricted honesty.  Jesus often calls out hypocrites, and Paul does not shy away from the fact that, left to our own devices, we are messed up creatures.  We desperately need God.  Today it is considered inappropriate to point out such blunt truth, but the Bible presents truth without the least bit of shame.

If I search deep within my heart, I realize that I wish to have Paul’s courage.  When I start to squirm in my seat and think perhaps I’ve had enough of the man’s words, a startling thought hits me: Paul is honest with his loved ones.  How many people in this world are brave enough to speak such truth?


Acts 26:9-21

9 ‘Indeed, I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things against the name of Jesus of Nazareth.* 10And that is what I did in Jerusalem; with authority received from the chief priests, I not only locked up many of the saints in prison, but I also cast my vote against them when they were being condemned to death. 11By punishing them often in all the synagogues I tried to force them to blaspheme; and since I was so furiously enraged at them, I pursued them even to foreign cities.

12 ‘With this in mind, I was travelling to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, 13when at midday along the road, your Excellency,* I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and my companions. 14When we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew* language, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.” 15I asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The Lord answered, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. 16But get up and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and testify to the things in which you have seen me* and to those in which I will appear to you.17I will rescue you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you 18to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”

19 ‘After that, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision,20but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout the countryside of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God and do deeds consistent with repentance.21For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me.

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Sabbath Journal Time

Mark 2:23-28

23 One sabbath he was going through the cornfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24The Pharisees said to him, ‘Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?’25And he said to them, ‘Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? 26He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.’ 27Then he said to them, ‘The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; 28so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.’


This reading from the second chapter of Mark addresses the issue of Sabbath. The Pharisees were determined to follow the rules of Sabbath in the strictest sense. And they were forever determined to trap Christ in their trick questions and rigid rules. This reading addresses what is acceptable on Sabbath. They see some of the Disciples plucking grain on Sabbath, a violation to the Pharasees of keeping the Sabbath Holy. I’m sure the Pharasees thought they had Christ for certain this time in no position of being able to argue. But Christ, in wisdom, reminds everyone of the example of David and his companions being hungry on Sabbath. They ate the bread of Presence reserved only for priests. Then Christ brings out the whole spirit of Sabbath– that the Sabbath is made for humankind and not humankind for the Sabbath.

I too keep the Sabbath in my own way of refreshing myself. For me that often means lots of quiet journal time. I understand that would not be the case for everyone. I think the whole point is that keeping Sabbath is to find an activity that refreshes and restores you—something that gives you rest. For me, that Sabbath activity includes precious, sacred journal time.

Forget Leaders. We Need Servants.

1 Peter 5:1-4

I have mentioned in previous posts that I teach at a community college.  In my work environment, more and more employees are entering graduate programs designed to prepare them for administrative roles in the college environment.  For sure, there is much work involved in preparing for that sort of career.  An administrator needs to manage people and money.  An administrator also has to solve problems that can sometimes appear impossible to solve.  It’s important work, but I worry that people are getting into administration for the wrong reasons.

The truth is a leader has a much more difficult life than the average person.  It is true this difficult life comes with more money than regular people make, but the work hours can be extreme and the problems neverending.  Worst of all, the leader is a target for criticism.  In our world, we believe it is fair to blame a leader when something goes wrong, even if the leader has no control over the circumstances.

There are, of course, good reasons to become a leader.  If one wants to improve some aspect of the world, then a leadership role is required.

What today’s Gospel passage seems to stress, however, is that good leaders need to possess a selfless attitude, and this is different from what most of us in the modern world imagine when we think of high-level positions.

Peter suggests that the leaders of the new church should not “lord” over their followers as a general or emperor might.  Instead, they should serve as “examples” to their followers.  If Christ is the purest model of leadership to follow, then a leader should live as a servant instead of some high paid executive.  A career in leadership requires one to think of the people above all else.

What does selfless leadership look like?  To put it in a modern context, imagine that you are the head of a large department.  When your department lands a major grant or wins some major award, you must give all the credit to your people and accept none for yourself.  If this is a particularly big success, a higher level executive may decide to give you a bonus.  If you are a selfless leader, you will divide that bonus with all of the employees of your department: the people matter much more than you do.

Success is wrong when you or only a handful of people gain from it.  What is important is the community.  A leader’s sole motivation should be the people, not the personal gains.  Even the titles of the graduate programs I have mentioned (Educational Leadership, Leadership Studies, etc.) runs counter to the kind of leadership that Peter describes, because the truest leader would not even claim the title “Leader.”  A leader would not accept the title because he would strive to serve people, not lead them.

Do such selfless people even exist?  I am not sure, but I suspect the best leaders never want to be leaders, and perhaps within this notion we can find a better way to measure one’s leadership abilities.  Instead of looking to these leadership programs to raise up potential administrators, the world should turn to the often ignored group of unwilling leaders, the ones who have no desire for the spotlight and no lust for expensive things.  A servant would serve us all much better than any “leader.”

1 Peter 5:1-4

5Now as an elder myself and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory to be revealed, I exhort the elders among you 2to tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight,* not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it*—not for sordid gain but eagerly. 3Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock. 4And when the chief shepherd appears, you will win the crown of glory that never fades away.


Intensive Journal Writing


I have rediscovered what I like to call journal writing for obsessive compulsive individuals. I have always been a self proclaimed journal addict, so the only next logical step was Ira Progoff’s Intensive Journal Workshop book. It’s a 432 page book of intensive journal writing processes. the tabs and sections of logs and feedback in a very individualized approach. The Intensive Journal methods work for me as I can write out the connections of my memories and experiences that have brought me to who I am. Writing is my way to journal safely into myself, and work through the matrix of my experiences.

One of the sections addressed in the Intensive Journal Workbook is spiritual positioning. The process involves exploring one’s spiritual life experiences. Those encounters connect closely with the meditation section. This Intensive Journal Workshop process takes one through the spiritual and meditation experiences in each major stepping stone or phase of life. With those interconnected relationships, one is off and going in just one of many sections in the process.  Dr. Progoff, the psychologist who developed this intensive system of journal writing, knew how to deal with obsessive compulsive journal writers like me.

A Light in the Darkness

Why must there be senseless violence in the world?  It is bad enough that people must endure pain, sickness, and death, but too often people attack other people.

The most recent acts of violence that captured the world’s attention (as of this post) are the terrorist attacks in France.  Anyone who tries to explain such violence must at some point consider the question of how God can allow murderous acts to occur.  No one can give an adequate answer to this question, and I am not even going to try.

What I can say for certain, however, is that within the sadness there has been an outpouring of good.  People from different religious backgrounds have offered support.  People are talking about working together and supporting each other as a unified community.  Of course France will not magically become a perfect society, but inexplicable pain prompts us all to reflect on the best aspects of humanity.

I do not know why some people do evil acts, but the fact that we have seen expressions of love during the past few days shows that all hope is not lost.  We can support each other even when we are terrified of the dangers ahead, and the empathy and love that exists within this community of support is proof that we will overcome this evil.

To be a pure Christian is to act in love toward all human beings, of all backgrounds, and, with God’s help, this showing of love will carry the world through the darkest of times.


Journal Addict


Perhaps one of the worst kept secrets in the world about me is that I am a journal addict. I have kept journals since I was fourteen. I took creative writing in high school. Our first assignment was to find a journal. The only requirement was that it had to be a bound book—no loose pages in a binder that could be torn out and thrown away easily. We were urged to think about a size that would feel good in our hands and whether we wanted lines or blank pages, and if we wanted lines how narrow or wide those lines should be. I knew right away I had to have lines. And my fourteen-year-old self picked a pink journal with teddy bears. I would guess it was about 5×8 inches. I cherished the few minutes of class time we wrote each day, and I wrote so much more on my own at home.

My handwriting is extremely slow. I have learning disabilities that interfere with handwriting speed. My writing is extremely precise, but the writing coordination just doesn’t come naturally. I spent a tremendous amount of extra time finishing the journal writing at home. The fascinating aspect is that it didn’t seem like work at all. When I could get beyond the frustration of my learning disabilities in the safe, sacred space of my journal, I could actually relax completely into the writing.

My journals are now an intricate part of my spiritual life and the source of my sanity. My journal pages and a black gel pen are as critical to me as my morning coffee and prayer time. Many days I would say that journal time is my prayer time. That prayer and Scripture and journal connection go back to monastic traditions. I get the link even today.

An Important Update for This Blog: Broadening the Reflections


When was the last time you noticed the beauty around you?

It is true that contemplative prayer requires one to spend time in silence, but it also requires awareness.  I think a contemplative person is someone who chooses to focus on what exists around him or her.

Now that we have started a new year, Tara and I have decided to change the nature of our reflections a little.  During the first nearly five months of this blog, we have reflected on passages from the Bible.  Some of our entries will continue to be these kinds of reflections, but we also want to expand our approach.  We call this site Contemplative Living, and the word “Living” implies more than just words.  We want to include more photographs and pictures.  We also want to share the emotional and spiritual benefits we have experienced with other forms of writing.

To fit this broader approach, we are working on connecting to other segments of the Internet.  Contemplative Living now has accounts with Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.  You should be able to find us within those sites by searching the name “Contemplative Living.”

We hope you will enjoy the bigger variety of reflections.  Of course, you are welcome to read any of our past reflections: they will continue to be available in our archive.

Great Expectations

Luke 2: 15-21 *

I am always drawn to that sense of new beginnings. As a teacher, I have a new beginning of each semester. Each new week, I find myself at the start of great hope for the coming days. These new beginnings are just a tiny fraction of a glimpse of all that the birth of a child brings—much less the birth of Christ.

My human mind needs senses of new beginnings and starting over once in a while. I do think all of the New Year’s resolutions and such can serve a powerful purpose of evaluation and reflection and hope. But I don’t ever want to forget that the birth of Christ means everything good and all that we need has already been with us and within us and will never leave. Each moment is a chance for reflection and a new beginning, but all that we need has been there always. I sometimes—often times—just need to be reminded.

The New Year is always a chance for me to regroup in a sense. I know the deepest sense of renewal and starting over doesn’t come when the clock strikes midnight and we awake to a new year. But I do believe the chance for reflection and hope in the coming year is extraordinarily powerful for me. How much more overwhelming it must have been to anticipate and experience the coming of Christ. Merry Christmas season and Happy New Year!


*  15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ 16So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.17When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

21 After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.