Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Practicing Virtues - Temperance

As I was praying one Saturday afternoon, hoping to receive something from God to help me, I heard Him say "practice the virtue of temperance".

I heard those words clearly in my mind, especially the word "practice".

"Practice?" I thought, with a bit of disbelief. "That sounds so Pharisaical" was my first thought.

After all, I thought the whole thing about the pharisees' self righteousness came from their focus on virtues, to the point that God became paradoxically secondary to them. My focus is Christ and my relationship with Him, not virtues.

But I feel this view is myopic, and a focus on God shouldn't necessarily mean an unfocus on virtues. God and virtues are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they should go, by necessity, hand in hand.

Practice also denotes a sense that we will become holy by our own will and force, another mistake of the pharisees. This is something we also want to avoid.

But this is not necessarily so. Practice doesn't exclude grace. What we need more of is not idle grace, but intentional grace.

This is where practice comes from. If we seek God's grace in every step of our practice, knowing full well that we are depended on Him for every godly action, then we can be sure of avoiding the yeast of the pharisees.

All relationships need to be intentional. They don't simply "grow naturally", though some might give the impression that they do.

At the centerpiece of every relationship is love, and real love is intentional.

When Jesus tells us to love our enemies He is also calling us away from this vulgarization and degradation of love, where we water it down to good and happy feelings.

He is calling us into intentional love. He is calling us into real love, not infatuation.

Love is always a choice.

You can't be intentional without planning any actions, and you can't perfect actions without practice.

And so it is, that practice, and indeed, the practice of virtues, is a necessity if we wish to grow in our loving relationship with God.

But enough of that! Let's talk about temperance.

Temperance is defined as moderation in thoughts, actions and feelings. Restrain, self-control. These are all words that come to mind when we think of temperance.

Titus 2: 11-12 tells us "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age" (ESV).

How do we practice temperance? Good ol' self denial is a good way.

Whenever an opportunity comes to satisfy a desire, we can intentionally delay its gratification, or deny it altogether.

Fasting. Having one serving during dinner. Avoiding the snooze button the next morning. No coffee for one week. These are all great ways we can practice temperance in our lives.

I have been trying to work on temperance this week, and I intend to do so for the next month, in many ways.

I'm controlling with more diligence what I eat. Ever since I started practicing this I seem less and less preoccupied with food.

One example of this is how I control my time of eating while I work in the mornings.

I usually wake up with hunger. When I got to my job at 5 am I grabbed something to eat as soon as I got there.

Now I wait until 8 am to eat my breakfast.

Another way is to avoid oversleeping. I overslept a lot last week. This week, I'm trying to wake up earlier and spend the time I slept in prayer.

I feel much better now! So much more balanced! The effort is worth it.

What is your opinion on practicing virtues? Does it lead to Pharisaical self-righteousness? How do you practice temperance in your life?



Friday, July 26, 2013

Frugality

"He is just frugal" said a brother from the Augustinians, with a look of disdain, referring to one of our superiors when we were in the order.

Father would buy his clothes in thrift stores. We never had paper towels or paper napkins. Sometimes we didn't use the dishwasher as washing the dishes by hand required less water.

I always been big on spending.

I always thought of frugality as something negative. Some call people who are frugal "cheap" and other less gentle terms.

In Nicaraguan culture you could be socially ostracized if you are perceived cheap by others, especially when it comes to sharing with your friends.

But looking deeper into simplicity and frugality, I realize now that being frugal is not about being cheap, but simply about being prudent in what you spend your money on.

Frugality has been recently brought to my attention by reading Walter Isaacson "Benjamin Franklin: An American Life".

Benjamin was big on frugality, and he praised this virtue, along with industry, as his key to success.

I do believe frugality is a virtue, but being honest, I just hate being frugal.

Whenever I practice frugality there is this sense that I'm missing out on something. It feels like being frugal actually takes more work. It hardly feels practical.

But virtues are not necessarily about being comfortable, or finding an easier way out. I believe, paraphrasing Richard J. Foster, that a virtuous life is a life that works.

We perform virtues because they need to be done, not because they are the easier way out.

In a world filled with consumerism and materialism, where over consumption is putting a toll not only on God's creation, but also the marginalized poor around the world, I see frugality as a virtuous necessity.

I believe that our over consumption (this time paraphrasing Pope Francis), our wasting away of goods, is like stealing from the poor.

And yet I do it time and time again.

I know I talked about simplicity before here, but now I want to work on this virtue, and be more intentional about it.

This Sunday I plan to get rid of a bunch of stuff that are still cluttering my room.

I will get rid of a bunch of CDs and books and just plain old stuff I never really use.

I am already excited about doing this and will report about it in a later post.

What is your take on being frugal? How do you practice this virtue? How can you grow in this virtue?

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Gentleness, Firmness and Boundaries

"Work on being firm and do not worry about being gentle, since you are naturally gentle" said my mentor in one of our sessions.

I always worried that in being firm I'd be rude, but this new approach to firmness that my mentor was suggesting was something I never thought of before.

This is one of the most difficult traits I've been working on. Growth is painfully slow, filled with fear and anxiety.

I'm afraid that If I become more firm I will be disliked.

I'm afraid that I will become rude.

I'm afraid I will say or do the things that hurt me in the past.

As irrationals as these fears may be, they are persistent and require a lot of mental energy to shake off. Besides, there is a grain of truth in all of them. Firmness may come across as rigidness, and your will undoubtedly hurt someone's feelings.

People will get angry and hurt, and this is okay.

The "this is okay" part is the latest realization of mine. It came almost suddenly in my head, an almost spontaneous eureka moment.

No, it is not okay to intentionally hurt people and get them angry. But if after being gentle and firm about your boundaries someone else gets angry and offended, then one should see this as part of the process of being firm. A natural process of living life.

After all, Jesus, gentle and meek as He is, still managed to hurt, anger and offend many people during His ministry, especially the religious authorities.

Prophets were killed for speaking the truth. Truth not always hurts, but the liberation it brings can hurt.

We all want to be liked. The reality of life, however, is that we will be liked, disliked and even hated. Our goal in life is not to mold our personalities in the most likable fashion, but to be the individuals (and community) God created us to be.

We are not called to be liked but to grow in the likeness of Christ.

The goal of becoming the golden coin everyone likes is met with many perils and it can bring the opposite, dreaded consequence.

We can have loose boundaries, camouflage the truth with little lies, be as nice as you can be.

Then people can come and walk over you.

Your self esteem suffers. Your self image suffers. And with it the ability to connect with more people in healthy ways. You lose friends. You are less liked.

How much better is to simply be who God created you to be! The freedom that comes from pursuing Christ and His purpose for you, instead of pursuing people's desires and fleeting fancies!

Grow in Him. Pursue Him. Love Him and love your neighbor as yourself, for the law consists of this. All the rest will be given to you.




Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Politics and the Kingdom of God

I want to write my opinion on something that's been bothering me for quite some time now. Christianity in America is often lived out in ways that I think is not Christlike.

One of this is our enamored commitment to politics and trying to bring the kingdom of God through politics.

This is often seen in the Christian far-right, where you see people, in the name of Christ, fighting for laws against homosexual marriage and abortion, and at the same time, supporting "the war on terror", gun rights, deportation of "illegal immigrants" and a bunch of other stuff.

This post is not about my views on these highly politicized issues, but on how I think we are missing the point.

Christianity, they seem to claim, is a political package that you have to adhere to in order to be considered a true Christian. You have to vote right, and in some churches, you won't even receive communion if you voted for Obama!

In this political package that they seem to offer, it doesn't really matter (or you can still receive communion) if you pollute God's handiwork of creation, pay no attention to how our over-consumerism affect the poverty of others, etc,etc..

But reading the gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, I see no trace of this strange Christianity. Oh, imagine if we brought the economics found in Acts in our Christian communities! We would probably be labeled as communists!

Jesus answers Pilate when asked if He is truly a king "My Kingdom is not of this world" John 18: 36. Christianity in America seems to want to prove Jesus wrong.

Now, I'm not saying that we shouldn't fight against injustices and bring change politically. But trying to force our moral views on others through laws is not how we should spend our energy.

True change won't come through worldly politics. True change will come, and is coming, through the kingdom of God, which, strangely enough, is not of this world.

We never see the Apostles trying to change the politics of their time by changing the laws, which not only permitted homosexual acts (it was quite the fashionable thing for the elite back then) but also prostitution.

They were only concerned of preaching and living out the gospel. Why? Because they knew that God's kingdom was not of this world.

And here we are, trying to enact laws on things we are against, and thus trying to force this nation into a "Christian" one.

We are called to change hearts, not laws.

Let's say they manage to win every political argument and put them in action. Let's say we outlaw homosexual marriage, abortion and a bunch of other stuff. Would this really change anyone's hearts?

I thought the whole thing of the new law of grace was to free us from the law of the Old Testament. And now that we are free we want to force others into our moralized laws...

"Society is corrupt and we need to defend Christian values! It is our duty as citizens of this country" someone may say.

Christian values. Christian living. These are not things that need to be defended, but things that need to be lived out by those who accept the call of Christ.

And what do they mean by Christian values anyway? That's a whole other issue.

If we feel our society is morally corrupt, for whatever reason, then our duty as citizens, not of this nation, but of the kingdom of God, is simply to be Christ's image to this world.

We are called to be salt, to flavor the earth with the love of Christ, and to be light, not just show where the light is and demand "that's how you should live, and in case you don't want to, I'll make a law so you just have to!"

It is so much easier to show the light than to be the light. It is so much easier to change laws than to change hearts with the sacrificial love of Christ.

Don't just say "love the sinner, hate the sin". Embrace the sinner. Hang out with them. Have dinner with them.  Listen to their struggle and try to understand them. Invite them over to your house. Show hospitality to them. Give your life for them.

After all, that's what Christ did.


Saturday, July 6, 2013

New Year's Resolution June Update!

It is that time of the month again, where I share about my failures and achievements on my New Year's resolutions.

It has been an interesting month, one where I feel I'm finally taking control on my resolutions.

Resolution #1: Achieve my ideal weight.

After last months' disappointment, I began to watch more what I ate. I also started exercising more. My exercises consist on simply walking. I enjoy walking, and this month I have been rediscovering my joy of walking.

I am happy to announce that this month I lost 5 pounds! Not bad!

I also want to pay more attention to what I eat. I have watched and controlled my calorie intake, but the quality of the food is still lacking. This will be my goal for this month: healthier food instead of less food.

Resolution #2: Keep my room clean, year long.

My room has been a mess this month, but its looking better! I have new bed sheets thanks to my girlfriend (thanks!) and I have done some cleanups.

I resolved to clean my room once a week on Saturday afternoons. I haven't done this every week, but only twice this month. It makes a huge difference though.

I still need to get rid of a bunch of books and clothes and CDs and other stuff I don't really need. My hope is for the next month to have less stuff cluttering my room.

Resolution #3: Update my blog regularly, minimum once a week.

Yes, my blog has been updated at least once a week. I'm beginning to enjoy it once again. Once I stopped writing my blog for almost two weeks it was difficult to get back on track. It is so much easier to take life as it gets, and there were many times I didn't want to write. What huge gain am I getting from keeping this blog updated?

It's not like I'm making money out of it I thought.

But I want to be persistent and consistent because those are good things in themselves. I'm practicing consistency. I'm training myself out of this instant gratification mindset I'm still relying on.

That's it for this month! See you next!