* to encourage a reasoned awareness of how our beliefs impact the way we interact with the world around us
* to foster intelligent and open dialogue
* to inspire a sense of spirituality that has real meaning in day-to-day life

Monday, December 29, 2014

John 8:12-30 Being Light

After the story of the woman caught in adultery, the gospel of John narrative continues in chapter 8 with more arguments between Jesus and the Jews. The Pharisees and Jews in these sorts of passages in John almost serve as a sort of literary device. Their words offer nothing new, but they break up Jesus' words and prompt what he says next. Their interjections perhaps help with the flow of the passage, but the actual meat here is what the authors attribute to Jesus.

Recall that our basic framework for John is that the Jesus character is an example of the kind of people we can be. So, the words attributed to Jesus in John 8 are intriguing. He claims to be light for the world, to have valid testimony because he knows who he is, to be non-judgmental, and to live by a different standard that the world's standards. He also makes claims about the Father. Let's take that concept first, because the others will flow more easily from clarifying what that may mean.

Sure, when the gospel of John was written, it was in a Jewish context, which assumes the existence of an almighty supernatural. Lots of people still believe in such a god, but there are certainly other valid lenses through which one might look at the world and oneself. I would suggest that when people refer to "God," they are referring to a deep part of themselves. This may be one reason God always seems to agree with the perspective of whoever is speaking. Many people have written convincing enough arguments against the existence of God, but the idea may still be a useful metaphor for some individuals, especially those who haven't done much work to connect with a deeper part of themselves. From a Humanist perspective, we don't need to toss out the concept completely. We can interpret "Father" here as shorthand for a deepest, most noble self -- a part of ourselves that is a source for our values and guiding principles, a source for our vision of a best possible version of ourselves. 

I say a "deeper" part of ourselves not in terms of a physical location, but in terms of psyche I suppose. Most of the time, we operate out of very surface level reactions to the world around us. We don't always give a lot of thought to how our moment to moment decisions align with our guiding principles. Many of our moment to moment decisions may not even seem to have anything to do with our values or with being a best possible version of ourselves. It takes effort to think through our guiding principles and consider how best to apply them in a particular situation. Most of our thinking is pretty lazy. So, I use "deeper" part of ourselves to indicate a more intentionally thought through identity than our lazy, automatic kinds of decisions.

The Jesus character in John 8 says that he is in agreement with the Father, which we can interpret to mean that his identity is well aligned with his deepest, most noble self. He is claiming that he lives into a best possible version of himself -- that his actions and decisions are impeccably congruent with his guiding principles. This is why we might look to the narrative as a framework for how we can be as human beings. The idealized character of Jesus reflects our potential to live with the same level of integrity, the same degree of alignment to our guiding principles. 

Should we take on that potential and live more intentionally, the claims attributed to Jesus here are a part of the outcome of having greater alignment to our own values. We become light for the world, shining an example of a different way of living than people who are stuck on autopilot and never even consider a best possible version of themselves. Our testimony is consistently valid, because we learn to express what is so for us without demanding that other people agree with us. We know better where we come from and where we are going. In other words, we have an awareness of our own habits and tendencies, and we have a clear vision of who we want to be in the world. 

Perhaps most importantly, we don't need to judge anyone, because our identities are valid in and of themselves. Most of the time, judgment of other people is a reflection that we don't agree with them. They are doing things we don't approve of, and our judgment is a way of lifting up the merits of our own perspective by tearing down someone else's perspective. This is irrelevant when we live with integrity to our own guiding principles. Other people doing things differently than we would is not a threat to the value of our own vision of a best possible version of ourselves. 

Should we choose to judge someone, though, that judgment would look different. The foundation is that we live with congruence to our deepest values and we refuse to be threatened by other people's ideas and behaviors just because they're different from our own. From that space, we might still look at other people's life and recognize that they are acting on autopilot, that they are caught up in the throes of anxiety, or that they don't have a clear sense of their own guiding principles. In a way, this is a judgment against them. Some might call it awareness or even discernment. Maybe it's really just observation. 

When we use this judgment to be of service to others, it looks different from using judgment to bolster our own identities at the expense of someone else's. We might actually help people clarify their values. We could gently knock people out of autopilot mode. We can even help other people to develop a vision of a best possible version of themselves. From one perspective, we'd be using the same processes that we use to judge other people, but now we would approach that process with a clear sense of our own identity, and perhaps with a heavier dose of love and empathy thrown into the mix.

Here we go, then, with a possible interpretation of John 8:12-30.
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “The way I live shines as an obvious example to everybody. Whoever follows my example will never have to worry about fear or confusion, but will have the ability to live with clarity and integrity.” Then the Pharisees said to him, “You are testifying on your own behalf; your testimony is not valid.” Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid because I am telling you what is so for me. I know my habits and tendencies, and I have a compelling vision for my life, but you do not know my history or my future. You barely have a sense of your own habits or a vision for yourself. You judge other people in order to validate yourself; I judge no one. Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is valid; for I don't need to judge others to build myself up. I operate from a guiding principle of love that stems from my deepest, most noble self.
Then they said to him, “Where is this deepest self?” Jesus answered, “You haven't really seen my actions or heard my words clearly because you look through a lens of fear. If you let down your guard and take an honest look at my life, you would know my deepest, most noble self.” He spoke these words while he was teaching in the treasury of the temple, but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.
Again he said to them, “I'm not always going to be here, and you will search for me, but your fear will persist for the rest of your lives. You can't take the journey I'm taking.” Then the Jews said, “Is he going to kill himself? Is that what he means by saying, ‘You can't take the journey I'm taking’?” He said to them, “You are operating out of habit and anxiety, I am operating out of my guiding principles and a vision of a best possible version of myself. I told you that your fear will persist for the rest of your lives, for you will live the rest of your days with the same fearfulness unless you take responsibility for doing something differently in your life.” 
They said to him, “Who are you to tell us what to do with our lives?” Jesus said to them, “Just talking to you is frustrating! I see your anxiety and your ingrained patterns clearly, and I hate that you keep choosing to live by those things; but my deepest, most noble self is not a source of hatred. I can only tell you what I know for myself, that living from a space of love and integrity is possible. I can't live your life for you, I can only tell you that you have the potential to do something different in your own life." They did not understand that he was speaking to them about clarifying their own guiding principles. So Jesus said, “When you take a step back from your anxiety and imagine an ideal way of being, then you'll realize that I'm living out that ideal, and that I'm not trying to build myself up, but I'm communicating what makes sense to me about living intentionally with integrity to my own values. And my values and guiding principles don't leave me doubting what I've done or said. I have confidence in who I am, and you could too.” As he was saying these things, many began to follow his example.

A Little Experiment: Be nonjudgmental. You don't need to judge anybody in order to validate or bolster your own identity or perspective. Catch yourself in the act of judgment this week and stop yourself. Maybe you want to prepare a phrase like, "We see things differently, and that's alright."

Another Little Experiment: Judge. When you catch yourself being judgmental, consider what the other person may be experiencing. Are they afraid of something? Do they perhaps feel unheard or un-valued? Is there a way you can be compassionate or loving to someone who sees the world through different lenses than you? 

Monday, December 15, 2014

John 8:1-11 Stones, Shame, and Something Better

The story of a woman caught in adultery in John 8 is familiar to a lot of church-goers. Some versions of the Bible include this story without comment, but many will now mention in a footnote that these verses are not in the oldest copies of the text now available to us. Some copies of John insert the story in other places, add it appears in Luke instead in some ancient manuscripts. What this suggests is that the story was not part of the original text, most likely because it was not among the stories about Jesus that circulated in the first century. It may have been concocted by a scribe, added in from a fragment of some other collection of writings, or even invented in Christian community and inserted into the existing text. Even with the knowledge that this was not part of the original book of John, many people still appreciate this story and Bible publishers continue to include it. We might learn something from examining why this is.

Of course, the inclusion of this later tale that clearly is not well-remembered from the life of a historical Jesus might present a challenge to the authority of the Bible. Some believers profess that the Bible is infallible, and others that the book is inerrant. Does the appearance of a story that is obviously a later addition to John cast doubt on the veracity of scripture? Or does it at least call into question where all the other stories came from? If at some point scribes were willing to make an addition that was not part of what they were copying, they obviously did not define the legitimacy of the biblical text the same way many people do today. They apparently were concerned less with historical accuracy and more with some spiritual value of the stories. Is it possible that twenty-first century readers are sometimes so caught up in the superficial arguments about historical accuracy that they miss discovering a deeper value of the texts they defend?

Whether the event actually happened or not, this story conveys a powerful vision of how society ought to work -- of how human relationships could be strengthened. Lots of Christian commentators have explored the nuances of this story. They consider all of the things the woman could possibly have been doing to be legitimately convicted of adultery (anything from smiling at a soldier when she serves him wine to earning a living as a prostitute). They theorize about the fate of the man in the situation (which the story never mentions and thus is pure conjecture). Some commentators make much of the statement that the Pharisees were testing Jesus, recognizing that they seemed to care little about the actual fate of the woman or actual integrity to the "law of Moses."

Many commentators also apply the story to the lives of readers in helpful ways, centering on three basic values they find in the story. Generally speaking, the central ideas are: (1) we should not judge other people because we have our own transgressions to answer for; (2) forgiveness is more virtuous than justice; and (3) everyone has the capacity to change what they're doing and live better. These are not bad lessons for anyone, believer or non-believer. If people were less bloodthirsty and more graceful with one another, a phenomenal number of societal issues might dissipate. Of course, a lot of the commentators find it necessary to write about the character and desires of God, but that's to be expected.

This is one of those instances, then, in which a Humanist reading of a story can line up pretty closely with a believer's reading of the story. Whether the event ever actually took place is not an issue worth exploring. It's more worthwhile to consider where we find ourselves in the characters of the story and where we might shift our habits a bit in order to reflect our deepest, most noble selves a little more.

When are we the Pharisees? There are times at which we are eager to catch someone else in a logical or ethical trap. We like to "win" verbal exchanges by uttering the best zinger or tearing apart another person's perspective. From personal experience, I can say that it's hard to know exactly what I have won in those situations. It feels good to be verbally or logically superior for a minute or two, but I'm not sure that there are long-term benefits. It certainly doesn't seem to create the kind of connections with other people that I really value.

When we find that we are being critical of other people's choices, or even so judgmental that we are inclined to do harm (physical, verbal, or emotional harm), we might remember this story. We might imagine the stones that we metaphorically hold in our hands, and the ease with which we hurl those stones at the people we judge and criticize. Our imaginations might even get more graphic about the harm we would do if our harsh words were actual stones, but that may not be necessary.

We know that we don't want someone to harm us, and we know that harsh words and critical judgments can do harm. If we stop and think about it, we also probably know of a few things that other people might judge about us. We've all missed the mark at some point. We could stand to be a little more compassionate and recognize our connection with other human beings.

When are we the woman? There are times in which we feel exposed, either publicly or just to our own selves. There are times when our actions do not line up with who we want to be -- when our behavior does not match our values and our guiding principles. We may feel like curling into a fetal position and giving up, but we don't have to do that. If we know what we want our lives to stand for, we can commit to doing a better job of living into that vision.

Shame is powerful. Shame is a common limiting factor in our lives. When we believe that we are not enough, or that we are worthless, it's a real challenge to live into a vision of a best possible version of ourselves. That doesn't seem to be far off from what the woman in this story might feel. Overwhelming shame, to the extent that no future is possible. It's important for us to find people who will acknowledge our worth and our value, and it's important for us to be willing to affirm our own worth and value.

There will be people who want to tear us down. There will be resistance. That doesn't mean that we can't move forward. We are capable of doing something different in our lives. Of course, we have to recognize what we really want first. We have to know what we're living into. We need to hold a best possible version of ourselves in mind -- a vision of how we want to be in the world. Otherwise, we are more likely to keep repeating the same mistakes. It's easy to miss the mark when we don't know what the mark is.

When are we Jesus? We see in this story one character who is not swayed by the anxiety of the crowd, who is not burdened by his own sense of shame, who is clever without being insulting and loving without being permissive. Certainly, the Jesus character in this story never approves of adultery, and he doesn't disapprove of stoning people as punishment for a crime. The authors of the story are in a particular cultural context, after all. The idea is that there is more to us than that. There is more to us than cold, vicious justice. There is more to us than oppressive shame. If we are willing to see our own worth and value, it's a short step further to acknowledge the worth and dignity of everybody else.

Jesus in this story is the anti-Pharisee as well as the anti-adulteress. He lives by a set of guiding principles that reflect his own sense of purpose, not the ideals and habits of the society around him. He confidently and calmly expresses his perspective because he doesn't feel threatened by the anxiety of others. He has done enough personal work that he isn't uncertain or wavering about his own values. He accepts the authority that other people grant him, yet he doesn't feel the need to do what they want him to do with that authority.

We are like the Jesus of this story when we reach out in love to others and maintain our own integrity. This story actually demonstrates loving action toward both the woman and the crowd. Toward the woman, it's an obviously loving and empowering act to affirm her worth, to affirm her capability of doing things differently in her life, to publicly restore her sense of dignity. We can do that for others if we are willing. Toward the Pharisees, the loving act is perhaps less obvious. Yet, to give violent people pause before they have a chance to do something they'll regret is surely an expression of love. To gently call attention to a moment when actions are out of alignment with guiding principles can be loving. To demonstrate another way of being to people who are caught up in their own anxiety is loving.

So, this story points to the fact that we are all human beings who have at some point fallen short of our deepest values. It's easy for us to find ways to punish other people when they fall short. Sometimes we do this physically. Often we punish people with labels and insults. We can also punish ourselves. We're quite good at that, actually. We can be so overwhelmed with our shame and anxiety that we see no way forward. We have the capacity to do something different, though. We can love other people and ourselves better than we are in the habit of doing. Human beings are innately beautiful and creative, whatever else may be true about us. Sometimes it's just a matter of what human traits we are willing to pay the most attention to.

A Little Experiment: Be the Pharisees. This can be very revealing, but it may reveal some things that make you uncomfortable. Pay attention to your words this week. Count every harsh criticism or judgment you speak against another person. Especially include conversations that you feel like you "win." Do your words in these moments align with your values and guiding principles? Is there another way you could speak honestly with someone without inflicting harm?

Another Little Experiment: Be the adulteress. (Careful, now!) Count the number of times this week you say aloud or consciously think a criticism against yourself. Include moments that you feel shame. Are your statements about yourself really accurate? Is there some truth about your beauty, creativity, and capability that you are neglecting? If your actions aren't lining up with your guiding principles, does it help you to beat yourself up, or is there another way you can bring your actions into alignment with your values?

A Long Experiment: Be the Jesus. Seek out ways to affirm the inherent worth and dignity of the people around you. Listen to people without trying to solve their problems. Set an example of how to live into your values with integrity and intentionality. What changes do you notice in your life and in your relationships after a month? After six months? After three years?

Monday, December 8, 2014

John 7:31-52 Being Living Water

In the second half of John 7, lots of different people are discussing Jesus and prophecy. It's obvious that the authors want the Pharisees to be seen as the ignorant villains of the story itself, but there are some interesting statements that suggest the authors may have been arguing with some of their contemporaries as well.

For instance, one of the points of Jewish messianic prophecy seems focused on the birthplace of a messiah. It's clear that Jesus doesn't fit that prophetic mold, because (according to the authors of John) he wasn't born in Bethlehem. He doesn't fit the prophecies, yet the authors clearly think of him as the messiah. This is a different approach than what the authors of Matthew and Luke seem to take. (The gospel of Mark doesn't have any sort of birth story for Jesus.)

It would seem that the authors of Matthew and Luke invent a story about Jesus being born in Bethlehem, including genealogies that don't even line up, just to have the tale agree with prophecy. The authors of John, however, point out that prophecy is less reliable than what people are able to witness for themselves. The people in the story of John 7 believe what they believe about Jesus because they have seen something, not because circumstances line up with predictions from long-dead forecasters.

The criticism of these believers in the story comes from the Pharisees who say that the crowds don't understand religious law, so they can't possibly know what they're talking about. Yet, the Pharisees were supposed to be among those Jewish authorities who instructed others. Any indictment about the ignorance of the students is a denunciation of the teachers. Maybe these fellows weren't really all that bright after all. Or at least, maybe the authors of John wanted them to seem stubbornly unenlightened and ineffectual. In any case, the authors of John point out that prophecies aren't always to be trusted.

Some theological debates seem to have little value. Dare we even go into the business about there not being a Spirit yet? Trinitarians assert that their god is a three-fold entity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. One deity, but three somethings. Personalities? Functions? States of existence? Trinitarians don't agree, and it isn't always clear to them what they're talking about. Many Trinitarian formulas, however, assume that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all in some way eternal. Usually, the challenge is to the Son part of the equation, since they equate the Son with Jesus. Being human, Jesus had an obvious beginning, and eternal things do not have a beginning. The observation of John 7, however, seems to be about the Spirit. The Spirit apparently wasn't around at some point, and thus had a beginning, which means that the Spirit cannot be eternal. If you believe John's accounting, that is. All of this is rather pointless unless you are trying to prop up a Trinitarian belief system, which is based on a whole lot of other problematic assumptions before you even get to the bit about people being eternal. But in case it comes up in conversation, John 7:39 challenges the concept of an eternal Spirit.

I would challenge the existence of an eternal Spirit for the same reason that the gospel of John says that people believed what they believed about Jesus. We know what we know about the world by observation and rational analysis. Science continually improves our ability to observe well, but even in ancient times, there was obviously a sense that witnessing something first hand was a key to belief. The people in the gospel of John's story believe because of their own experience. Even Nicodemus, who is among the Pharisees, defends Jesus because of a personal experience.

We know what we know about the world by observation and rational analysis. This is problematic in and of itself, of course, because we don't always know what we're observing. As we mentioned last week, our brains are lazy. If there is an easy answer available, we often stop looking for more complex answers. Lights in the sky? Must be a UFO. No need to consider any other options. An infected person with a 50% survival rate gets better and goes on living? Must be a miracle. It's cold outside today? Must be global cooling. We aren't all good scientists, and even good scientists make mistakes in their observations sometimes.

In our own personal experience, we might find it easy to believe that there are supernatural forces at work. Anything that we cannot rationally explain in the first few moments we think about it seems extraordinary. We have to rely on people who have done the hard work of figuring some things out through intentional observation and rational analysis. There are actually scientists who have studied things like prayer and miracles, and the conclusions of every investigation to date that has followed strong experimental standards has been that what we experience falls within natural parameters. Some people do recover from really serious illnesses. Sometimes people do experience the things that they pray for. These experiences may seem extraordinary to the individuals experiencing it, but they are not unnatural. If an illness has a 1% recovery rate, it stands to reason that out of every hundred people who become infected, one of them will recover. To that one person, it seems miraculous, but someone has to be that one survivor out of a hundred infected, even though the physician can't tell who's in that one percent until they recover.

We all have assumptions and beliefs about how the world works. Some call our set of assumptions and beliefs a mental model. We've mentioned mental models before. One major difference between scientific predictions and prophecy is that scientists allow their mental models to be corrected, while people who adhere to prophecy expect reality to conform to their own mental models. Sometimes, scientists change their mental models very reluctantly, but a basic premise of scientific knowledge is that our beliefs have to adjust to new information. A tendency of prophecy is that, when a prediction fails to come true or seems impossible based on new information, any explanation that maintains old assumptions and beliefs is preferable to changing the mental model.

If we are not willing to change our mental models from time to time, we will be stuck in a perspective that doesn't grow. We will be stunted. We won't bring our best possible selves forward. The gospel of John is a story, but the characters in that story reveal some truths about us. When we see a truth right in front of our faces, and we choose to reject that truth in favor of our old familiar beliefs and assumptions, we are like the Pharisees in the story. When we do this, we miss opportunities to create the kind of lives and the kind of world we most want. We miss out on living into a best possible version of ourselves when we don't let reality and truth outweigh our assumptions.

In the story, though, the Jesus character reflects another possibility. "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, 'Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water.'" Incidentally, this isn't a quotation from any known Old Testament scripture, so we don't know what scripture the authors are quoting here. The book of Jeremiah does refer to Yahweh as a fountain of living water, but that's about it. "Living water" refers to clean, flowing water that comes from a spring as opposed to dirty, stagnant water in a cistern. Some people take these words attributed to Jesus as self-referential, as if Jesus is referring to himself exclusively as "living water." The actual words suggest something different.

We've said that to "believe in" someone is to fully trust that person's example as the appropriate way to live. In other words, believing in a person is reflected by emulating what that person does. So, if anyone is not satisfied with a current experience of life, consider another way of engaging in life -- a way that expresses unconditional love for others while clearly defining one's own values. If your mental model isn't allowing you to live into a best possible version of yourself, try on a new mental model built on the premises that all people are worthy of love and that you are beautiful, creative, and capable. If you adopt this new way of seeing yourself, other people, and the world, the effects will flow into the lives of other people around you as well. This isn't a selfish vision, but a vision of transformation.

Old inaccurate assumptions and beliefs cannot contribute to a better world. They will only get in our way. If we want to live into a best possible version of self, we have to base our mental models on truth about ourselves, other people, and the world we all share. This also means that we have to revise our mental models as we get new information. All of this goes back to living more intentionally, considering our values and being purposeful in how we act with integrity to those values. When we do that, we are like refreshing water from a pure spring in the lives of others around us.

A Little Experiment: Assuming. As a way of demonstrating to yourself how many assumptions you make about others, notice a stranger at a meeting or restaurant and make a mental list of all the assumptions you can make about that person. Some of your assumptions may be right. If you're at a conference for accountants, you might assume a person's career pretty accurately. Make your list more detailed than that, though. You probably assume some things about a person's education, family, hobbies, faith, and political affiliation too. Notice how many things you assume about a person you actually know very little about.

A Risky Experiment: Verify. Introduce yourself to that stranger from the previous experiment and see how many of your assumptions were accurate. You might even tell the person that you are working on not making assumptions about people.

If you really want to learn something about yourself, repeat these two experiments with as diverse a group of people as you can for a month.

A Big Experiment: Inquiry. Consider one of your beliefs. If you want to play it safe, use a belief in Bigfoot or something like that. If you are willing to go deep, take a belief in which you've invested a little more emotional energy. Examine the evidence for that belief using the SEARCH formula introduced by Theodore Schick, Jr. & Lewis Vaughn in their book How to Think about Weird Things:Critical Thinking for a New Age:
State the belief clearly.
Examine the Evidence for the belief.
Consider Alternative possibilities.
Rate, according to the Criteria of adequacy, each Hypothesis.
The "criteria of adequacy" is a way of saying that an idea (1) can be tested, (2) yields observable predictions, (3) is the simplest explanation [that is, makes the fewest assumptions], and (4) is consistent with other trustworthy observations about the world.

As I said, a big experiment.

Monday, December 1, 2014

John 7:1-31 Rules and Restrictions vs. an Internal Guidance System

The first half of John 7 is a convoluted bit of storytelling. Jesus tells his brothers that he's not going to travel with them to celebrate the Festival of Booths because his "time has not yet come," but then he sneaks off after them and makes public appearances anyway. People in the crowd have mixed opinions of him. Some people think he's pretty amazing. When Jesus asks why people are looking for an opportunity to kill him, others in the crowd say, "You must be crazy! Who's trying to kill you?" Then, just a few lines later, people are asking, "Isn't that the man the officials are trying to kill?" It's hard to tell who couldn't get their story straight, the authors of John or the people of Jerusalem.

The Festival of Booths, or the Feast of Tabernacles, is also called Sukkot. It is a seven-day Jewish Thanksgiving, a time to express gratitude for the fall harvest. Sukkot is one of three annual festivals for which first-century Jews would make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, so it would be a good time to be seen by a bunch of people, and it would also be a good time to get lost in a crowd. In the middle of the Sukkot, there was a water ceremony, which may inform the second half of John 7.

There are a couple of interesting things to lift out of this piece of the story. First, according to the story, Jesus' brothers had their doubts about Jesus. They had a hard time seeing the same problems and possibilities that he saw. Their suggestion to make a public appearance at Sukkot is interpreted as a bit of goading (which Jesus eventually gives in to, but he apparently doesn't want his brothers to get credit for the idea).

Like Jesus' brothers, when we hear or read something that challenges our way of seeing the world, we often reject it or refute it in our minds without really considering the possibility. As a consequence of my personal path, I wind up reading and listening to a lot of assertions that run counter to my own beliefs and mental models. Some of that is repetitive, and once I've wrestled with a particular issue and arrived at a satisfying conclusion, I don't have to wrestle with it anew every time I encounter that same issue. The temptation, though, is to accept or reject something without thinking about it. This is a more emotional reaction that has more to do with anxiety than conviction.

Other people have reactions to some of my assertions, too. And, like Jesus' brothers, one of the most common challenges we fire at someone with whom we disagree is, "Prove it!" Of course, we also find problems with evidence that proves something we don't want to believe. We can be slippery and tricky when we want to be.

Even though he eventually sneaks off and does what his brothers suggest, he says something interesting in response to their challenge for him to prove himself. "My time has not yet come, but your time is always here." The gospel writer uses the idea that Jesus' time had not yet come as a literary device, kind of like fate or destiny. The twist is that second part -- your time is always here. People were not ready to hear and accept a truth that challenges their way of seeing the world and required more personal responsibility of them. In a sense, Jesus was pointing at people and telling them to change, and that rarely goes over well. Jesus' brothers had nothing to lose by living responsible and intentional lives, though. Just like us. They could have set an example of principled action in their own lives any time without risking much. The time for that is always here. It is always our time.

After lying to his brothers and sneaking off to the festival, Jesus is recognized as a confident teacher of spiritual ideas, but people have varied reactions to his ideas. Some people are impressed with his wisdom. Others want to know his credentials. Some people criticize him based on where he was born and raised. Others don't seem to think that matters. When we don't like what someone has to say, their background and credentials still become easy targets. It takes a lot of work sometimes to challenge concepts and ideas, but attacking the letters (or lack of letters) after someone's name or attacking where a person comes from takes a lot less effort. The Jesus character doesn't respond to these petty attacks, and really, we shouldn't expect anyone else to. Moreover, we aren't obligated to respond to petty attacks either. If someone doesn't like what we have to say, they won't like it more just because we can produce a diploma or pedigree.

Jesus does try to point out the flaw in a specific criticism: Jews saw no problem with performing circumcisions on the Sabbath, but they apparently were criticizing him for doing other spiritual work on the Sabbath. This conflict is also perhaps exaggerated in the New Testament narratives. The Pharisees certainly developed a complex array of rules and strictures as "hedges" to keep people from skirting too close to breaking the law, but these rules were not the actual religious law. They were like putting a device on a vehicle so that it could only go 35 mph, just to make sure that a driver couldn't speed most of the time. Jesus' way is depicted as taking that device away and being personally responsible for driving the speed limit. So, his logical argument about circumcision on the Sabbath is a bit of a straw man; he's making a point about something that is not really a major issue.

The real issue seems to be much more complex. The authors of John are attacking a legalistic spiritual system, not a specific practice. Where we restrict ourselves within a narrowly defined set of acceptable behaviors, we prevent ourselves from personally responsible growth. For instance, when we decide that if we can't say something nice, we shouldn't say anything at all, we never learn how to speak difficult truths gently. When we restrict ourselves to the rules of polite society because of what other people might think of us, we never learn to be the kind of people that we most want to be. And our anxiety about all the rules we try to follow probably winds up bubbling over in ways that we don't like.

People know the difference between right and wrong. We know what causes harm and we know what creates greater well-being, and we are still learning more and getting sharper in that knowledge. We also forget a lot of that when we feel threatened. In this story, Jesus says, "You know where I'm from," which is kind of like saying, You know what I'm saying makes sense, even if you don't like it. Your deepest, most noble self says more or less the same things to you that my deepest, most noble self says to me. Living according to the values of our deepest, most noble selves is sometimes messier than living by a set of contrived external rules, though. We have to be more thoughtful and more intentional in our lives, and that can seem like hard work.

Our ways of thinking can be lazy sometimes. We don't like to put in the effort to consider other possibilities. Yet, if we want to have more fulfilling experiences of life, if we want to live into our authentic selves, if we want to contribute in some way to a better world, we have to grow beyond the easy restrictions of external rules. We have to develop what some might call an "internal guidance system": clear principles to guide us toward greater well-being in our own lives and in the lives of others.

We've gotten so accustomed to making lazy decisions based on external rules that we often don't pay attention to our deepest values. They seem less important or less attainable somehow, so we stick with safe decisions. Our restrictions aren't the same as the ancient Jewish restrictions, but they serve the same purpose. They usually start with words like must, should, have to, or need to. When we think those words or say them out loud, this is a cue for us to stop and think through what we're doing. It's possible that we've set our guiding principles on a back burner in order to take a lazier route.

Don't get me wrong. Lazy thinking is very useful, and our brains have developed fast and efficient decision making processes for a reason. There are some decisions, however, that we need to engage more thoughtfully, through the lens of our guiding principles. At first, we may not trust that we can make wise decisions without our collection of should's and have to's, but like anything else, we can become more confident with practice.

We begin by recognizing when we are being thoughtless. When we are accepting or rejecting ideas without actually considering them. When we are going along with a set of restrictions or rules that actually don't align with who we most want to be in the world. From that point of recognizing, we can engage our guiding principles more intentionally. More work? Yes. More fulfilling life? Absolutely. But I can't prove it to you. If you want proof, you'll have to test it out in your own life.

A Little Experiment: Noticing. Pay attention to the language of your thoughts and words this week. How many times do you say "should" or "have to" or something similar? How accurate are those statements? Do the things you decide from that space of restriction align with your deepest values and guiding principles?

Another Little Experiment: Listening. As you listen to people this week, consider that their perspective might be valid. This doesn't mean that your perspective is invalid. You might just have different ways of seeing the world. Can you learn something from listening without judging or demanding proof?

One More Little Experiment: Sharing. This is similar to some of our earlier little experiments, but once you've listened without judgment to another perspective, try sharing your perspective. The goal is not to convince the other person that you're right and they're wrong or that your way of seeing the world is better than theirs. The point is just to say what is so for you. Whether they accept or reject your perspective doesn't matter. You're just sharing your point of view.