Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Ten Steps to be Miserable

The Ty Mam Duw Poor Clare Colettines in Wales list ten steps to be miserable on their community website (. It is obvious that this ten point scheme for self-hindrance is what should be avoided at all cost:
  • Sulk - this is highly successful and guaranteed to achieve lasting results.

  • Grab - make sure that, always and in every place, you come first.

  • Scowl - there is nothing to smile about, and you should let everyone know it.

  • Assert yourself - it is the very least you owe to yourself.

  • Do not complain, all you have to do is say, "I don't want to be difficult, but...". This will always get the point over.

  • Argue - other people always need enlightenment.

  • Be sentimental - it will prove that you are a beautiful person who thinks with the heart.

  • Pick your food - slimmers must eat, no matter how many people may starve.

  • Worry - this is one of the most genteel and widely accepted methods of avoiding responsibility.

  • Never forget! Keep an ineradicable charge sheet of your neighbours failings printed on the inside of your eyeballs. And whatever good they may do, do not hold it against them

Monday, January 14, 2008

Gluttons for Power

Why do we desire to lead? Hint - it is not always because we are humble or want to change the world. Sometimes our desires for fame, fortunate and power drive our aspirations for leadership. I would maintain that authentic Biblical leadership starts with an examination of the "passions"/desires that underlie our desire to lead.

Evagrius Ponticus (349–399 AD), a monastic theologian in Egypt, is believed to be the first writer to record and systematize certain teachings of the predominately illiterate Desert Fathers. A prominent feature of his research was a list of eight evil "passions" (desires). While he did not create the list from scratch, he is credited with refining and developing it. His list of "passions" were, in order of increasing seriousness: gluttony, lust, avarice, sadness, anger, acedia, vainglory, and pride. Acedia (from the Greek "akedia," or "not to care") denoted "spiritual sloth." Evagrius intended for this list to be used for diagnostic purposes. One cannot resist temptation without being aware of how it operates. What is interesting, is that his list starts with gluttony. For Evagrius, sin starts with our surrender to our uncontrolled appetites. This is echoed in the Scriptures, when the Apostle Paul writes: “For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.” - Philippians 3:18-19

The age-old discipline of fasting, or the curbing of our appetites might be the first step in the purification of our desires. The philokalia records that Abba John the Short, advising the young brothers to love fasting, told them frequently: “The good soldier, undertaking to capture a strongly fortified, enemy city, blockades food and water. In this way the resistance of the enemy is weakened and he finally surrenders. Something similar happens with carnal impulses, which severely war against a person in his youth. Blessed fasting subdues the passions and the demons and ultimately removes them far from the combatant. And the powerful lion,” he told them another time, “frequently falls into a snare because of his gluttony, and all of his strength and might disappear.”

May we have the courage to reexamine our desires for leadership - this might have to start in the determined control of our appetites - including our desire for power over others.

Picture: Kendell Geers (2007). Seven Deadly Sins

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Joy in the Journey

I celebrate my birthday today, a date traditionally celebrated as a feast date for the coming of the Magi from the East to worship Jesus. My good friend, Jay Gary reminded me of this wonderful poem that T.S. Elliot wrote marking his journey from agnosticism to faith in Jesus. May this be year filled with God's continued grace on all of us that find the joy in the journey.

The Journey of the Magi

'A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For the journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins,
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death,
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.