And Who Are These “Few” Of Whom You Speak?

In the previous post, I mentioned the teaching of Jesus that only a few find the road that leads to life, and the poem of Kabir ending with the line “The true path is rarely found.”  I suggested that the few who make the rare accomplishment of finding the true path are called saints.  I will now elaborate on this.
The Greek word translated as “saint” in some New Testament versions is “hagios,” which means “set apart, holy, sacred.”  Hagios is also used as an adjective, translated as “holy.”  When the apostle Paul greeted the Christians in Rome in Romans 1:7, he used hagios.  Curiously, the New American Standard Bible translates the word as “saints,” while the more recent New International Version uses the phrase “holy people.” The Bible called the Temple hagios, as it was set apart for a different purpose than other buildings.  The Bible called the city of Jerusalem hagios, as it contained the Temple, which was hagios, while other cities did not.

I believe many Christians would agree to calling themselves holy in the sense of “set apart for a different purpose.”  I believe many Christians would agree to calling themselves holy in the sense of “being a container for something holy.”  Some Christians would go with both senses.  On the other hand, very few Christians would claim to having gotten to the end of the narrow road which leads to life.  Many Christians claim to be working on entering through the small gate, and working on walking on the narrow road.

While I accept the claim Christians make of being “in development” or “under construction,”  I’m unwilling to call someone who’s still in development a saint.  The Catholics have stricter conditions, as they realize that people they canonize will be emulated as role models.  On the other hand, a Catholic saint is not just an exemplary person of impeccable character, but also someone who has had an encounter with the mysterious, the miraculous, the inexplicable, in their life.

I don’t claim to be very literate regarding Catholic saints, but one Catholic saint who resonates for me is St. Joan of Arc (1412-1431).

When I think of her, my soul rings and sings with the thought “Ah, the real deal!  The real McCoy!  The genuine article!”  Perhaps I will go into the details of her life in another post, but for now, I merely wish to offer her as an instance of someone who found the road that leads to life, someone who found the true path which is so rarely found.

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Welcome to Mystery of Ascension! Добро пожаловать в Тайну просветления! We document the study of the New Message from God in general, and the book Steps to Knowledge in particular. Мы тут делимся своим опытом изучения Нового Послания от Бога, в общем, и книги Шаги к Знанию в частности. Find out more about us here. Узнайте больше о нас здесь. Find out how to contact us here. Узнайте, как связаться с нами здесь.

“Few” Is Not “None,” “Rarely” Is Not “Never”

I confess discomfort with the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:13-14, a section of a group of teachings commonly known as “the Sermon on the Mount:”

“Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14, New International Version)

While other Bible translations may tweak the words slightly, the common-sense meanings of the passage in different translations are very similar.  I have found the Matthew Henry Commentary (written in 1710) to be nourishing to my soul.

His commentary on this passage is too long to quote, but could be summarized as saying, “The wide gate doesn’t require you to restrain your appetites.  The broad road doesn’t require you to control your impulses.  If you knew where the crowd was headed, you wouldn’t follow the crowd.  There’s no point in trying to blink the fact or dodge the issue. Do you want life?  Jesus tells you how to find it.  The multitudes unwilling (for whatever reason) to follow his instructions are making an insane, unfortunate choice.”

There is a similar idea in this poem of Kabir, 15th Century poet of India, translated by Rabindranath Tagore:

TELL me, Brother, how can I renounce Maya?
When I give up the tying of ribbons, still I tied my garment about me:
When I gave up tying my garment, still I covered my body in its folds.
So, when I give up passion, I see that anger remains;
And when I renounce anger, greed is with me still;
And when greed is vanquished, pride and vainglory remain;
When the mind is detached and casts Maya away, still it clings to the letter.
Kabir says, “Listen to me, dear Sadhu!  the true path is rarely found.”

My discomfort comes from the word “few” in “only a few find it” in Matthew 7:14.  I have a similar discomfort from the word “rarely” in “the true path is rarely found.”  Matthew Henry tells me to get over it, saying “This [the idea that only a few find the road that leads to life] discourages many: they are loath to be singular, to be solitary; but instead of stumbling at this, say rather, If so few are going to heaven, there shall be one the more for me.”

I take comfort in the fact that over the course of human history, there seem to be people who have found the road that leads to life.  There seem to be people who have found the true path.  These people are often called saints.  Steps to Knowledge calls them “people who have reached Knowledge.”

“There is a way to Knowledge. It requires skill and desire. Both will take time to develop.You must learn to value the true and not to value the false, and it takes time to learn to separate the two and to recognize them. It takes time to learn that the false does not satisfy you and that the true does satisfy you. This must be learned through trial and error and through contrast. As you approach Knowledge, your life becomes more full, more certain and more direct. As you go away from it, you reenter confusion, frustration and anger.” (Steps to Knowledge, Step 37, “There is a way to Knowledge”)

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Welcome to Mystery of Ascension! Добро пожаловать в Тайну просветления! We document the study of the New Message from God in general, and the book Steps to Knowledge in particular. Мы тут делимся своим опытом изучения Нового Послания от Бога, в общем, и книги Шаги к Знанию в частности. Find out more about us here. Узнайте больше о нас здесь. Find out how to contact us here. Узнайте, как связаться с нами здесь.

Make A New (Twitter) Plan, Stan

I said, “Hey, you know, breakdowns come
And breakdowns go
So what are you going to do about it?
That’s what I’d like to know” – Paul Simon, “Gumboots

If you’ve been reading the last few posts, you’ve been reading my critique of my relationship with Twitter.  If our positions were reversed, I’d be thinking what Paul Simon was saying to his friend in a taxi headed downtown.  I’d be thinking, “What are you going to change about the way you use Twitter?”

I’m going to tweet a little less.  I’ve tweeted 37,608 tweets in roughly 5 years and 7 months, which averages to 18 tweets a day.  How much less?  I’m going to limit myself to an average of 9 tweets a day, so that my current use and cold turkey meet each other half way.

I have vastly reduced the number of people I follow.  Before this assessment started, I was following about 10,500 different accounts.  Yes, it did make it hard to get to know anybody all that well.  How many people am I following now?  28.  How many of the 10,472 unfollowed accounts noticed being unfollowed?  Six.  Those six are part of the 28 I’m following.  I’m also following some close friends and some news sources I regularly read.

I’m going to limit the number of people I follow in a given time period.  What’s the number and time period?  One new follow per day.  You might say “But there are so many splendid people to follow on Twitter.”  There are indeed, but my plan is to let the pressure to follow someone build, let them become more luminous in my inner sight, until it is intuitively obvious to the most casual observer that I should follow them.

I’m going to construe Twitter follows as an invitation for conversation.  For example, I was recently followed by Dr. Dwight Webb, Professor Emeritus in the Counselor Education program at the University of New Hampshire.  With a few moments of Googling, I discovered that he is the author of a book titled “50 Ways To Love Your Leaver.”  I never would have discovered this if I had been obsessing on having more followers.  I sent him an email saying a little bit more about myself than what he would find in my Twitter flow.

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Welcome to Mystery of Ascension! Добро пожаловать в Тайну просветления! We document the study of the New Message from God in general, and the book Steps to Knowledge in particular. Мы тут делимся своим опытом изучения Нового Послания от Бога, в общем, и книги Шаги к Знанию в частности. Find out more about us here. Узнайте больше о нас здесь. Find out how to contact us here. Узнайте, как связаться с нами здесь.

Is It An Itch For Influence, Or The Will To Contribute?

I confess that over the course of my life, I have experienced great ambivalence, swirls of mixed thoughts and emotions regarding the subject of being influential to others.

I recall attending Promise Keepers conferences in the 1990’s and 2000’s.  One of the things they pointed out was the great power of relationships.  For example, in the New Testament, the young man Timothy (who went on to become Bishop Timothy and St. Timothy) had the apostle Paul as a mentor.  Paul and Barnabas could be said to be colleagues, allies, partners.  And Paul had Timothy as a protege.  The Promise Keepers taught that, other things being equal, it was a good thing for a Christian man to have a mentor, an ally, and a protege.  I had no snappy comeback for this on scriptural grounds.  But when I looked at my life, and the difficulties I had experienced, I had a hard time believing that anyone would want to be like me, or follow in my footsteps.

I started blogging in 2003, in the hopes of sharing some of the things I learned from reading the Bible, and some of the things I was learning from my experience as a college professor.  I confess that I was a sucker for measures of influence in the blogosphere, visits, comments, links, trackbacks, permalinks, being included in people’s blogrolls.

Twitter not only has its own metrics for influence (retweets, favorites, follows, etc.), but it allows third parties to slice and dice the data generated by Twitter interactions to create their own metrics for influence (like Tweet Grader and Klout).  I’m not quite as much a sucker for Twitter influence metrics as I was for blogosphere influence metrics, but I wonder if I’m being helpful.

On some days, I consider my desire for influence as an itch, something of which I have yet to be cleansed of by my practice of Steps to Knowledge.  On the other hand, maybe it’s a good thing to aspire to be a good influence, maybe it’s a godly thing to aspire to be a godly influence.  There are any number of portions of Steps to Knowledge which talk about undergoing preparation to be of service, a contributor, in the future.  This seems to be part of mine.

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Welcome to Mystery of Ascension! Добро пожаловать в Тайну просветления! We document the study of the New Message from God in general, and the book Steps to Knowledge in particular. Мы тут делимся своим опытом изучения Нового Послания от Бога, в общем, и книги Шаги к Знанию в частности. Find out more about us here. Узнайте больше о нас здесь. Find out how to contact us here. Узнайте, как связаться с нами здесь.

Exactly Who Is Influencing Me, Exactly?

You don’t have to be a great scholar of human nature to notice that a person’s choice of companions has a profound impact on their destiny.  Wise King Solomon wrote “Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.” (Proverbs 13:20, New International Version).  The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.'” (I Corinthian 15:33, New International Version)

When Twitter was launched, it had a relatively humble vision, at least in public.  One idea of Twitter was that it might be nice to know little things (and by “little things,” I mean “things that can be expressed in 140 characters or less”) about people you liked, and to share little things about yourself to people who liked you.  It would be like having your friends with you even they weren’t in the same room with you.  Leisa Reichelt coined the phrase “ambient intimacy” to describe this phenomenon.  The mockers said “Nobody cares what you had for breakfast, dude!” But if I like you, I might be willing, even happy, to invest three seconds in what you had for breakfast.

“Whatever is real cannot be threatened.
Whatever is not both mobile and social does not exist.” – Me, in 2010

As Twitter became the Next Big Thing, it became a marketplace of influence.  If you aren’t actively making the case at Twitter for your business or your religion or your political ideology, you’re leaving influence on the table.  So having more followers became more important, and being followed by the people one considered influential became more important.

I mention this to mention that I have had a number of different strategies for choosing who to follow on Twitter.  Sometimes I followed people for no other reason than that they followed me, or retweeted me.  Sometimes I used a random-walk strategy, seeing who else the people who followed me were following.  Sometimes I followed the cool kids, the people with the most followers, related to a given topic.  The most recent strategy I’ve used is to follow people who a) follow me, and b) have something in common with the me I advertise in my Twitter bio; Christians, political conservatives, people in the autism community.

I assess my Twitter follow strategy as something that reinforces the definition of myself in my Twitter bio.  If someone wants to do that, I’ve just shown them a successful strategy to adopt.  On the other hand, if you are questing for the mystery of your life (like I am), you may wish to consider being a little more flexible.

I assess my Twitter follow strategy as relatively uncritical, because I’m using someone’s Twitter bio as an overly important piece of information.  It should be noted that when someone follows you on Twitter, what you see is their Twitter bio.  Therefore, a person’s Twitter bio is their best hope to get someone they follow, to follow them.  It doesn’t say anything regarding the consistency of the person’s actual Twitter flow with their Twitter bio.  I believe it would be better if I looked at the last few tweets of someone to see if their tweets match their bio, if their tweets represent a flow I would like to influence me. I therefore assess myself as inadequately thoughtful as to who I want to influence me.

I am currently pondering what my new follow strategy will be, and how rigorously I will follow it.  I might just take my own suggestions.  Wouldn’t that be something?

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Welcome to Mystery of Ascension! Добро пожаловать в Тайну просветления! We document the study of the New Message from God in general, and the book Steps to Knowledge in particular. Мы тут делимся своим опытом изучения Нового Послания от Бога, в общем, и книги Шаги к Знанию в частности. Find out more about us here. Узнайте больше о нас здесь. Find out how to contact us here. Узнайте, как связаться с нами здесь.

Exactly How Am I Being Influenced, Exactly?

In the previous post, I introduced that New Message from God practice/attitude of the Deep Evaluation.  I promised to share my evaluation of an involvement that has been going on for the past 5 years.  The involvement is…Twitter.

Let the record show that this is not an evaluation of Twitter, but only of my interaction with it.  I readily accept the possibility that some people’s involvement with Twitter has led to quite different results than mine.

I am pleased to have had the opportunity to hear Evan Williams, one of the founders of Twitter, speak at the 2007 International Conference on Weblogs and Social Media. Twitter was exactly one month old at the time, but was already generating significant enthusiasm from the 2007 South by Southwest conference.  I not only joined enthusiastically, but I returned from the conference and told whoever would listen that Twitter was going to be the Next Big Thing.

“Well, a redneck nerd in a bowling shirt was a-guzzlin’ Lone Star beer,
Talking religion and-a politics for all the world to hear.” – Kinky FriedmanThey Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore

As of today, November 13, 2012, Twitter reports I have a total of 37,564 tweets.  Some of these are retweets of other people’s tweets, but I don’t know how many.  I believe it is a relatively small percentage.  What was the content and vibration of my Twitter flow? Flailing in helpless rage, especially from 2008 to 2010.  Pointing out persecution of Christians around the world, mostly, but not completely, from Muslims.  I want to believe that the flow got a little kinder and gentler in 2011 and 2012, because of my study of Steps to Knowledge, but I can’t really say for sure.

At this point, I’m recalling the dream of Horatius Bonar (1808-1889), Scottish churchman and poet.

Bonar dreamed that the angels took his zeal and weighed it, and told him that it was an excellent zeal, that it weighed out at 100% – all which could be asked.  He was greatly gratified by the result.  Next they wished to analyze that zeal.  They placed it in a crucible and tested it in various ways with this result: 14 parts were selfishness, 15 parts sectarianism, 22 parts ambition, 23 parts love to man, and 26 parts love to God.  He awoke humbled, and determined on a new consecration of his life to God.

I’m not exactly sure what the results would be if the angels were to conduct a vibrational assay of my Twitter flow from March of 2007 to the present.  All I know is that it’s something of which I’m not particularly proud.  All I know is that if there were any people who changed their minds about any political issue because of something I tweeted, I don’t know about it.  All I know is that if there were any people who attracted to Christianity by something I tweeted, I don’t know about it.

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Welcome to Mystery of Ascension! Добро пожаловать в Тайну просветления! We document the study of the New Message from God in general, and the book Steps to Knowledge in particular. Мы тут делимся своим опытом изучения Нового Послания от Бога, в общем, и книги Шаги к Знанию в частности. Find out more about us here. Узнайте больше о нас здесь. Find out how to contact us here. Узнайте, как связаться с нами здесь.

All Things Are Lawful For Me, But Not All Things Are Profitable

When the apostle Paul wrote these words to the church at Corinth (I Corinthians 6:12, New American Standard Bible), I believe he was bringing perspective.  The Corinthian Christians were rejoicing in their freedom, rejoicing that their relationship with God was not based on following certain rules, but rather on the indestructible life of Christ.  All well and good, but there is some important fine print in verses 12 through 17.  A person may be permitted to eat what they want, but if they become a glutton of excess or delicacy, then what?  If one’s exercise of freedom leads to the loss of freedom through addiction, then what?  A Christian may rejoice that his body is a member of Christ himself, but if he takes the members of Christ and unites them with a prostitute, then what?
I mention this to introduce a practice of the New Message from God.  It could be considered a practice, it could be considered a customary attitude we try to develop. The idea is that every activity, every investment of time, talent and treasure, every possession can be construed as a relationship.  Furthermore, every relationship either furthers one’s purpose for being in the world, or hinders it.  Therefore, every relationship, activity, investment and possession is a subject for evaluation in the light of one’s deeper nature.  This practice/attitude is called the Deep Evaluation.

It’s not like I woke up one morning after I got back from Encampment and said “Whoa! I need to do some Deep Evaluation!”  On the other hand, I observed myself feeling and acting as if I had said that very thing.  I decided to just go with it.  I haven’t evaluated many different involvements yet, but there’s one involvement I have been observing from a number of different angles.  It’s rather significant for me, as it’s something in which I’ve invested quite a bit of time over the past 5 years.  It’s significant enough that I’m not going to launch into it until the next post.

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Welcome to Mystery of Ascension! Добро пожаловать в Тайну просветления! We document the study of the New Message from God in general, and the book Steps to Knowledge in particular. Мы тут делимся своим опытом изучения Нового Послания от Бога, в общем, и книги Шаги к Знанию в частности. Find out more about us here. Узнайте больше о нас здесь. Find out how to contact us here. Узнайте, как связаться с нами здесь.

Last Night, As I Was Sleeping by Antonio Machado, Translated by Robert Bly

There are two reasons I am sharing this poem.

First, I recalled this poem when I read the New Message teaching “The Gift of a New Life.” Here is a taste of that teaching.

God does not have to figure out your situation. The Lord of the universe is not focused on your life. But God has put Knowledge within you, and it holds your purpose and direction. It will find the people you must find. It will bring correction, harmony and balance to your life if you are able to discern it and to follow it and to apply it, wherever that is necessary.

This is what creates a new life—not an old life with a few enhancements; not an old life with a new belief system; not an old life with a new set of clothes or a fancy religious explanation for everything; not a tragic person dressed up for success; not a lonely, isolated person who has now become socially acceptable because you say and do all the right things.

Second, I had about an hour to redeem between the time I got to the gate at Denver International Airport, and time my flight would take off for St. Paul.  On the outside, I was just one of many people casually strolling around the terminal area.  But on the inside, my arms were outstretched, and I was crying out with a loud voice, “Soon you will be in a new place.  But if you have the same old life in that place, then what?”

Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreamt — marvelous error!—
that a spring was breaking
out in my heart.
I said: Along which secret aqueduct,
Oh water, are you coming to me,
water of a new life
that I have never drunk?

Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreamt — marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreamt — marvelous error!—
that a fiery sun was giving
light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt
warmth as from a hearth,
and sun because it gave light
and brought tears to my eyes.

Last night, as I slept,
I dreamt — marvelous error!—
that it was God I had
here inside my heart.

I would normally have put a recitation of this poem here, but Robert Bly already has a great recitation, with gorgeous nature imagery to go along with it.

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Welcome to Mystery of Ascension! Добро пожаловать в Тайну просветления! We document the study of the New Message from God in general, and the book Steps to Knowledge in particular. Мы тут делимся своим опытом изучения Нового Послания от Бога, в общем, и книги Шаги к Знанию в частности. Find out more about us here. Узнайте больше о нас здесь. Find out how to contact us here. Узнайте, как связаться с нами здесь.

2012 New Message Encampment Day 5 – A Perfectly Practical Day

While the New Message from God freely admits to have mysterious elements in its teachings, there are very practical elements as well.  Many people who have attended a religious retreat or spiritual conference, especially more than once, have observed a certain protocol regarding the final day of the conference.  This protocol has become a custom for conferences because it works, and by “works” I mean “results in maximum value for the participants.”  The last day of the Encampment of the New Message from God followed that protocol, which includes…

1) Sharing of experiences, giving people an opportunity to say anything they felt a need to say to the entire gathering.  I didn’t have anything to say to the entire gathering at the time.

2) Thinking about how to preserve a profitable memory of the Encampment, how to keep the fire burning, how to keep the vibe alive within oneself.

3) Giving people the opportunity to contribute time, talent and treasure.  There was a computer station in the corner of the room, where people could either volunteer or pledge contributions.

4) Taking the group photo!  I’m in the back, from being relatively tall.

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Welcome to Mystery of Ascension! Добро пожаловать в Тайну просветления! We document the study of the New Message from God in general, and the book Steps to Knowledge in particular. Мы тут делимся своим опытом изучения Нового Послания от Бога, в общем, и книги Шаги к Знанию в частности. Find out more about us here. Узнайте больше о нас здесь. Find out how to contact us here. Узнайте, как связаться с нами здесь.

2012 New Message Encampment Day 4 – Learning To Be A Living Letter

During the first three days of the Encampment of the New Message from God, my mind was buzzing, along with other participants, as to how to have the New Message reach a larger audience, even with limited resources.  The American Methodists of the early 19th Century had a similar problem.  Their solution was to use “circuit riders,” ministers who rode on horseback around a circuit of locations.

The circuit riders were dedicated individuals.  They gave rise to the expression “The weather’s so bad outside, there’s no one out but crows and itinerant preachers.”  I had a vision of being the Minnesota New Message circuit rider, going to various cities in Minnesota with my packages of tracts, except that I wouldn’t ride a horse.
I shared this idea with a lady on the afternoon of Day 4.  This dear lady has been a friend and mentor to me in my study of the New Message, for a little longer than a year now. While she appreciated my enthusiasm, she had an alternate suggestion.  She suggested that I engage in a practice called the Four Pillars, which comes from the teaching “Building the Four Pillars of Your Life.”

In truth, your life is only as strong as the weakest of your Pillars.

There are Four Pillars to your life. They represent the strength of your life and the stability of your life. They represent your ability to withstand change and to take advantage of opportunity. They represent your ability to face disappointment and uncertainty. Like the four legs of a table, they uphold your life.

There is the Pillar of Relationships; there is the Pillar of Work and Providership; there is the Pillar of Health; and there is the Pillar of your Spiritual Development. Each of these Pillars is of equal value, and even though at any particular moment you may be focused on one of these Pillars, the truth is, they all must be built.

My friend said “Become the tract that people read, and to which people respond.”  As she said this, I recalled the words of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians. “Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you?  You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”

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Welcome to Mystery of Ascension! Добро пожаловать в Тайну просветления! We document the study of the New Message from God in general, and the book Steps to Knowledge in particular. Мы тут делимся своим опытом изучения Нового Послания от Бога, в общем, и книги Шаги к Знанию в частности. Find out more about us here. Узнайте больше о нас здесь. Find out how to contact us here. Узнайте, как связаться с нами здесь.