Three good thoughts for the day

The first comes from Dallas Willard, via Richard Beck’s blog:

Our mistake is to think that following Jesus consists in loving our enemies, going “the second mile.” turning the other cheek, suffering patiently and hopefully–while living the rest of our lives just as everyone around us does….

We cannot behave “on the spot” as [Jesus] did and taught if in the rest of our time we live as everyone else does. The “on the spot” episodes are not the place where we can, even by the grace of God, redirect unchristlike but ingrained tendencies of action toward sudden Christlikeness. Our efforts to take control at that moment will fail so uniformly and so ingloriously that the whole project of following Christ will appear ridiculous to the watching world. We’ve all seen this happen.

Knowing what is right does not lead to doing what is right. We have to somehow become a person from whom right actions flow naturally.

The second comes from C.S. Lewis:

Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.

A lot about what we need to understand about right action can only be understood in the midst of acting that way. We can’t really know what it is to love our neighbor without loving him, however imperfectly, and in the loving we can see what it really means to love, and perhaps see our way to loving better. We need to get up close and look, and look long and hard, and then look again.

The third comes from Seth Godin:

What you say is not nearly as important as what we hear.

Which means that the words matter, and so does the way we say them. And how we say them. And what we do after we say them.

It takes two to be understood. Not just speaking clearly, but speaking in a way that you can be understood.

Empathy is not sufficient. Compassion is more useful, because it’s possible to talk to someone who is experiencing something that you’ve never experienced.

This describes a thing where I’ve moved from not doing it at all, to doing it awkwardly and artificially, to doing it as a practice, to doing it habitually, to having it as part of my nature. In the beginning I thought what I had to say was the important thing, and the person listening was obligated to figure it out. Then I realized I was wrong, and that I was obligated to make myself not just understandable but understood. That was at least twenty years ago, and much of the time since has been spent getting to a place where now it will hardly even occur to me to speak unless I am more or less certain I can speak in such a way that the hearer will understand, clearly and exactly. Not that there aren’t times when I have to speak anyway, because the need to say something outweighs my inability to say it clearly. But in those situations I practically have to force myself to do it.



“I really liked Richard Beck’s latest blog post, The Kingdom of God is Seeing.

If you’ve heard me talk over the last two years you might have heard me talk about how the kingdom of God is perceptual rather than moral. Specifically, the kingdom of God isn’t a matter of becoming a good person. The kingdom of God is a matter of seeing. If you see clearly then the goodness–right action–follows as naturally as breathing.

He describes a moment of revelation that Thomas Merton experienced in Louisville KY (one that merited a historical marker!), and then writes:

My observation here is that Merton doesn’t, in this moment, need to try, through an act of will, to “be a good person.” Instead, having come to see clearly, right action is easy and spontaneous.

This hints at what has been a guiding principle for me for many years, though even now I don’t understand it well enough to put it into simple, clear words. All I know is that seeing clearly, whatever that means, is somehow the key to the good life.

The good life is fundamentally a matter of doing the right thing. The best life is the one where the natural response to any circumstance is the right one. Doing things right means we have to be able to do the right thing, which requires a determination to do the right thing, i.e. to become a person who always acts rightly. But prior to that is the need to perceive what is right. And I think if you perceive clearly what is right, you will be drawn irresistibly (and joyfully) along the path that ends in a life of naturally does the right thing.

Years ago Doug Jones shocked me by writing that faith is a sense, a way of perceiving what is real. Perhaps it is the only way to perceive what is real. Suddenly most of what the Bible had to say about faith and faithfulness made sense to me.

I’m tempted to make a small adjustment to that well-known passage from T.S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding”:

We shall not cease from exploration,
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And see the place for the first time.