Is it enough to be nice?

I was talking with a friend the other day who told me that she was spiritual but not religious and that she felt that it was enough to be nice. It got me thinking on a number of fronts.

First, what is ‘enough’? A deacon once told me that he never speculates on who goes to heaven or not because “that’s a management decision and I’m in sales”. Lots of wisdom there. So no judgment here but I will write about what we are called to do.

Certainly being nice or loving others is something we are all called to do.  We are called to love our neighbors as ourselves and called to love all people as neighbors.    And we are called to do more.

If you believe the Bible is the source of truth, then you can read what Jesus said when he was asked “which commandment … is the greatest?”.  And Jesus answered: “You shall love the Lord, your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

When we love someone with our whole heart and soul, what does that look like? We spend time with them. We talk with them. We learn more about them. We thank them. We apologize to them when we do wrong. We ask them for help when we need help. And in God’s case, in addition to all of these things, we worship Him.

Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to “love the Lord, your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind”, aren’t we called to do that in addition to loving each other?

Maybe you don’t accept the Bible and Jesus’ words as Gospel truth. In that case, I can only share my own experience with you. I am a nicer person due to prayer and my relationship with God. I meditate on His words to help with decisions. I review my day and apologize for the wrongs that I have done and celebrate with Him when I do good. I (very slowly!) grow to be a better person through praying to God about my successes and failures.  I am more thankful after actually spending time in thanksgiving. I have an opportunity to think of those around me as I pray for their needs.  I am far from perfect but I believe I am stumbling along the path to which I’ve been called.

If you don’t pray today, I encourage you to start. A great beginning template for prayer can be found here:


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Crashing my bike

A few weeks ago, I realized that there is a pattern to when I get into bike accidents. Generally I’m going a bit too fast for the path that I’m on and I wander off the path at a turn. But I’m usually still on my bike at this point. I end up falling off when I try to ease my way back up onto the path without changing course and speed very much. I hit the edge of the concrete at a shallow angle and off I go. I’m learning that I need to stop my bike, get off, turn it around, walk back to the path, and then start up.

Similar story in my life too. It’s pretty easy for me to wander off the path. When I do wander, the best thing for me to do is to stop, turn around, make a conscious effort to get back on the path, and start again.

A book that I’m reading highlights the importance of silence, solitude, and simplicity to get back on track. May your New Year be filled with these gifts!

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I had never heard of affluenza until this week. From Wikipedia, [Oliver] “James defines affluenza as ‘placing a high value on money, possessions, appearances (physical and social) and fame’.” He goes on to suggest that higher incidence of affluenza is related to higher incidence of mental distress in our society.

I see a lot of really great teens in my work and also a lot of teens who seem to be suffering from affluenza. I worry about teens who have rows upon rows of ‘participation’ trophies but no sense of worth. I worry about teens who don’t think that God cares for them, who don’t think that they need to care for others, and who are always in pursuit of fun but can never quite find the peace and joy they really seek. I worry about teens who are lonely but who can’t break out of the rut of the same old dysfunctional friends.

I don’t have all the answers but I think a piece of the answer is to provide opportunities for teens to help others, to find a community of true friends, and to find God in prayer. Give me a holler if you have ideas here or other thoughts – especially if you are as worried as I am.

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On making peace

“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then they become your partner” – Nelson Mandela

“Reconciliation is to understand both sides. To go to one side and describe the suffering being endured by the other side, and then go to the other side and describe the suffering endured by the first side. Doing only that will be a great help for peace.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

“O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to … be understood as to understand” – Prayer of St. Francis

While most of us are not called to be peacemakers on the order of Nelson Mandela, we are called to be peacemakers in our own lives. I’ve known CEOs who don’t seem to like their employees, youth workers who don’t seem to like their youth, and family members who don’t seem to like their family. Personally, I struggle sometimes with disappointment in groups that I lead or those of which I am a member.

When we see the brokenness of others and ourselves, we see how we act out of fear or a desire to protect our pride. When we can see the Spirit in others and in ourselves, we can see the potential for love and our shared call to greatness. When we can see both the brokenness and the Spirit, we can bridge the gaps and truly make peace with each other.

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The spirituality of stupidity

For a lot of years now, my family has included a ‘stupid Jordan’ story in our Christmas letters. Every Thanksgiving we vote on the stupidest thing one of us has done this past year. It’s a lot of fun for us but I think we also learn important lessons from this. We learn to be humble. We all make mistakes. We all do very stupid things. It’s much better to have the confidence to put these things out in the open than to hide them and hope no one finds out! We learn to laugh at ourselves. We have fun with laughter at our own expense rather than someone else’s. We find joy as we walk through the many absurdities of our lives.

I won’t give away the stupid Jordan story for ’13 but here are some of the runner up stories:
* While skimming through TV channels, our daughter Kim identified a show as the series “The Bible”. As it turned out, it was the movie “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra”. So close!
* Eric had a friend who was driving and decided to see how close he could get to Eric who was standing on the edge of a parking lot. In doing so, he ran over Eric’s ankle. (Eric is ok!)
* Our son-in-law Ray was opening a window in a hotel room. It turns out that the window pivoted so as Ray was lifting it up, the window came up and whacked him in the forehead.
* I was on a plane with my wife Anne and reached into my carry-on bag. I pulled out a woman’s blouse and asked her: “Is this yours?”. Anne says: “No….”. Hmm. Now I’m in a bit of a pickle. We’re still not exactly sure where it came from but my mother-in-law is the prime suspect for planting it in my carry-on!

I hope you had a great Thanksgiving!

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Shared Spirit experiences

The Holy Spirit has been coming up a lot in my life lately. From a retreat last weekend, to my son having a strong Spirit experience, to a small group discussion on the Holy Spirit – definitely a theme.

In a group discussion this week, I suggested that it is important that we listen to the profound Spirit experiences of others. One of the other folks in the group pushed back very strongly. Something to the effect that when someone shared a strong spiritual experience, it just made other people envious. And envy is from the devil. So we shouldn’t focus on that, we should focus on smaller whispers of the Holy Spirit which are more accessible to everyone.

This reaction surprised me but I think raises an important point. If you believe that strong experiences of the Holy Spirit are reserved for the ‘elite’, then I can see how envy might result. But if you believe, as I do, that strong experiences of the Holy Spirit are accessible to all of us, then sharing these experiences becomes part of a roadmap which helps all of us.  No magic, no elitism.  Some of the common themes that I hear in stories are: lots of prayer asking for the Holy Spirit to come, praise and worship, imposition of hands, Sacramental presence, …  Of course each story is unique so this is not a one size fits all answer.  But maybe some things to seek out if you are open to the Spirit.

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Why Desolation?

Last week, I wrote about Gallagher’s book and spiritual consolation. When we are not in periods of consolation, we may be in a period of desolation. A short description of a woman in desolation: “Her peace and awareness of God’s love are gone. She now doubts that she ever was truly close to the Lord even in the earlier days of prayer when God had seemed so present to her. She has become discouraged and confused regarding her very desire itself for God.”

Why does God allow us to experience desolation? Of course we can’t know for sure but Gallagher (from Ignatius) suggests that resisting desolation builds up our strength for resisting other temptations as well. It seems to me that there is also value in the contrast between consolation and desolation. If there were no desolation, we wouldn’t value consolation.

What can we do if we are experiencing desolation? Ignatius tells us to pray, meditate, examine our lives, and do penance. Not a bad recipe for the week.

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