Sunday, December 2, 2018


“Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy
and the anxieties of daily life catch you by 
surprise. Be vigilant at all times. and pray that you
will have the strength to stand before the Son of Man "
Luke 21:25-28, 34-36

Harold and Maude is an old film about an eccentric young man who is fascinated with death and an eccentric old woman who is fascinated with life. They meet by accident while doing what they both enjoy doing - attending the funerals of total strangers. 

     Maude, the eccentric old woman, is a serious student of life.  She teaches young Harold how to wake up and savor every delicious moment of life. In what has to be the most crucial line of the movie, Maude says to Harold: "You know, Harold, there are a lot of people who enjoy being dead!" Her point is this - a lot of us are "dead" inside a long time before we're buried. Someone else puts it this way, "Humans, unlike insects, start out as butterflies and end up in cocoons!"

Why do so many of us choose to go through life half-asleep? Obviously, because a wide-awake life is so often scary and painful! Do we not say that "ignorance is bliss?" and "what you don't know won't hurt you?" Waking up is the riskiest business on earth. We endanger the status quo, the way things are! When we really wake up, we disturb our comfort. If we don't have the guts to deal with the ensuing problems and chaos that come to light, we endanger our very sanity. 

       We spend a lot of time making sure we don't wake up: sleeping too much, the over use of drugs, too much work or an excess of entertainment. On the other hand, we spend millions of dollars on therapists to help us wake up. We spend millions of hours in self-help groups so that we can become more aware of what's going on around us and within us..

We often use the words "religion" and "spirituality" interchangeably. Religion is about performing certain external acts. It is something that happens outside us. Spirituality is about waking up. It is something that happens inside us. Jesus said we needed both religion and spirituality, but warned of the dangers of mere external religious acts that are done without any inner conversion of the person doing them. 

       The work of spiritual growth is about resisting the temptation to deliberately go to sleep, the temptation to avoid pain, the temptation to go through life deliberately dull and unaware. The work of spiritual growth involves standing up to our own cowardice in the face of life; resisting that part of us that does not want to know. Most people resist this work because they fear finding the worst about themselves when in reality, if they actually take a good look, if they take their whole being apart and examine it, they will find that there is much good and genuine about who they are!

     I have just published a new book about that very thing. It is called "Between Courage and Cowardice: Choosing to Do Hard Things for Your Own Good." We all live in a world between the poles of courage and cowardice. From there we make decisions about personal growth or personal stagnation. My book traces the hard decisions that I have made personally, from age six to the present, that have contributed to the kind of person that I have become. I believe with all my heart that we actually create the persons we have become. Our lives, as we experience them, are a result of how many times we have chosen courage over cowardice, the road less traveled over the road most taken. Aristotle was right, "Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, and intelligent execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives - choice, not chance, determines your destiny. 

Today's text is part of a larger discourse. Some would have us believe these passages are about "the Second Coming." These words refer to the Destruction of Jerusalem which took place in 70 A.D. and, by extension, to all the waiting and watching Christians would do until the Second Coming, whenever it does happen. The "watching and waiting" is not about trying to predict anything, but on "waiting and watching in joyful hope" and "living lives of preparedness" whenever it does happen!

The best way to prepare for death is not to focus on dying, or predicting the end, but on living; not on the future, but on the present. It's not a tragedy to die. It's a tragedy to get to the end of your life and realize that you never really lived. The tragedy is to look back and realize you took the path of cowardice to protect yourself, to look back and realize you spent the whole time spinning a cocoon to protect yourself.

In such a cocoon, we can remain comfortable and live in a coma-like state. We spin that cocoon because the real world is too much trouble, too much work. We prefer to go back to sleep. 

      Maude was right -"A lot of people enjoy being dead." They prefer comfort over challenge, safety over growth, invisibility over visibility. The ideal set of circumstances for them is a womb-like environment: warm, safe, secure, with all their needs met. They spend their lives backing away from what would really make life, life! It takes guts to stay awake, be alert and be on guard. For many, that's just too much trouble!

Jesus did not put us here to wait for death, to predict and wait for the end, but to live fully! To live fully, we must cultivate a "mindfulness" about life. We must learn the discipline of staying awake, keeping a sharp eye out, looking around us and being constantly on the watch. From the title of my new book, we must "choose to do hard things for our own good" and resist "the road most traveled." To the extent that we accept our own call to be all we can be, the mission and purpose of our own lives, we will work against anything, within or without, that would hold us back!

      The urge to go to sleep is powerful. We are called to resist it! We must live "on purpose" and "with purpose." We must choose courage and reject cowardice. In the words of Jesus, we "must be vigilant at all times!" 

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