Tag Archives: temptation

Pay attention! It’s Lent.

Last week our pastors focused on the definitive story of Lent: Jesus in the wilderness being tempted by the devil. We are in the thick of our own wilderness right now. We are emulating the Lord’s forty days of development before he launched into redeveloping creation. Mark succinctly recounts what happened:

The Spirit sent him out into the wilderness,  and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

Has been in desert - Vasily Polenov
Vasily Polenov, 1909

The pastors are trying to get us to make the journey with Jesus. I am taking their lead.

Along the way, I have been struck, again, that Jesus deliberately attends to the process of his suffering and development in the wilderness and in the process he is attended to. A big theme is attention. The Spirit drives the Lord into the wilderness and he submits to the necessity. He turns his attention to that empty space. Sure enough, the devil presents the deepest temptations that might deter him. He learns to defeat them, is ministered to by angels and returns to claim his place in the world and participate in the miracle of redemption. We need to pay attention to the Lord paying attention. We need Lent every year so we can begin to scratch the surface of the deep movement he endures that is also moving in us — and attend to it.

One of the big temptations Lent presents is whether we are going to attend to it at all. It is better if we decide to move with the Spirit, if we give our attention and so learn to be generally attentive to God. But just being around Lent has a tendency to develop us anyway.

For instance, last week a friend called me with some significant feelings about what was going on in the church this season. I finally said, “You are experiencing Lent. The feelings and thoughts you have are exactly what people attending to Lent experience. Great!” He wasn’t too sure I should be celebrating his difficult feelings. But he eventually realized I had discerned the situation fairly well. He felt better.

Likewise, the other night I had a dream that woke me up as I screamed at some dark presence that frightened me. I realized that whether I attended to my inner life during the day or not, when I was less-defended in the night my dreams might try to wake me up to attend to the movement inside me. Whether I wanted to be aware or not, something was happening.

The biggest temptation of Lent might be to not pay attention to the temptation, or to avoid the circumstances in which we might have to deal with something — to pretend we are not moved by the Spirit, not looking toward a new expression of our gifts and mission, or not attended to by God, sought and loved.

The thought of deliberately turning our attention to something deep or hard just seems exhausting to many of us, and for good reason. We are naturally limited, and if we don’t rely on God and others to have a life, we will quickly be overwhelmed.

This reality surfaced again last week when I contacted the Leadership Team (30 great people, thank God!) to find out what communications they gave their attention. I sent a survey out after the iced-out Imaginarium and over half of them filled it out that night! That is some good attending! Others took a couple of days to get to the email and then the survey. But all in all I felt attended to and found them to be attentive.

I learned a lot from the process: risking a test to see who would respond, daring to find out things I might not want to know, imposing on people who have to make an effort to connect, etc. The process was unwittingly Lentish and good. A few things:

  1. We have a good, growing Leadership Team. Thank God! We need them to keep growing. They have a lot to which to attend and they need to be good at it.
  2. Attending is hard. If you write an email to your team member, you need them to answer it or there is no team. Some of the people I polled can’t read email at work. They might read it first on their phone and realize they’ll need to sit down at a computer later. But they come home to the needs of their house and maybe a baby or two. Plus they are tired. It is hard to keep up.
  3. If someone does not attend, the system brings up the rest of its inadequacies to make sure they are noticed. It is a bit like my dream. What is unattended is going to find a way to make itself known. You might think other people are making up for your lack of attention, and that might be true at times. But more likely, you are more important than you admit and your inattention is creating trouble. That trouble will make itself known.

You undoubtedly relate to all this. Attending to people we love is hard for all of us. That is astonishing, but it is true. We are so limited, we might feel put upon by the need to love God or the ones who love us! — much more those we don’t know yet, or our enemies! A simple email can make us feel like we are in the wilderness with wild beasts!

I am not sure Jesus was completely conscious of what he would face in the wilderness when the Spirit drove him into the first Lent. Like we need, he needed to have courage to attend to whatever was coming. His attention to his Father and his true self is a great example for us. Not attending like Him will deform us. Our avoidance won’t save us from having to face what we fear, as we hope it might; our fear will find a way to dominate it unless attending to Love casts it out.

One way or the other, we’ll meet up with our temptations. We’ll be inexplicably mad at those dearest to us. Or our dreams will be disturbed. Or we will be the problem in the functioning of our team. Or something. I think we would like to never be led into temptation, like the Lords’ prayer has us pray. But chances are we can’t avoid it and we will need to learn how to be delivered from evil, as in the very next breath of the same prayer. We are in the middle of being delivered right now. Lent is helping us to see what it is in us, as individuals and the church, that needs God’s help and teaching us how to participate in our deliverance – for some of us, whether we want to see or learn or not! Some of us are leaning into it with Jesus. Some of us are learning to sort out what we attend to like the demands are wild beasts meeting us in the desert! Either way, we are driven by the Spirit to get ready for what is next. I think giving what attention we can muster is our crucial part.

Lack of sincerity: What to do when your words get twisted

Last week Rachel played a video of Jerry Seinfeld receiving the 2007 Comedian Award that 1.2 million of you have already seen on YouTube. In it Seinfeld makes fun of the award he is receiving. “I really don’t want to be up here” he said, “I want to be in the back over there or over there saying something funny to somebody about what a crock this whole thing is.”

I appreciate his honesty. In his own way, Seinfeld has been a prophet. One line from his recent Clio Award speech kind of sums up his message: “We live in the world and we know everything stinks.” He has been standing in the back of our rooms talking about how stupid everything is for a couple of decades now. Even more, he drew the so-called Millennials into the back-story of the comedian lifestyle and encouraged most of them to have their own self-conscious lifestyle of being comedic. As a generation, they are prone to standing back and observing how stupid everything is. What’s more, as an “audience” they are so tuned in to people doing “bits” that they are also aware of how you are doing a bit in the middle of a conversation, and are likely to be observing you observing and critiquing how well you are critiquing. Always performing, they might be more interested in how you say something, or how they can make fun of how you said something, than in what you are actually trying to say.

Sincerity is hard to find

So it is no wonder that our pastors suffer so. They are all from the Seinfeld generation and they know that some (if not most) the people their age have been trained by Seinfeld to stay removed and cleverly observe what they have just done. Even if they get a compliment or some affirmation it may be accompanied by a joke, “That’s a really great speech for someone who makes speeches for a living.” Sincerity is always suspicious. If you are putting yourself out there for anything but a self-deprecating joke you are not to be taken seriously.

It is no wonder we have cells full of cell leaders who don’t want to get in line to be the next leader. I don’t think their inhibition is about their conviction or hope or even their supposed fear of commitment. I think it has a lot to do with the requirement to be publicly sincere. Once you come out as someone who cares about Jesus and others (“No, really, I mean it,” we have to say) they fear they will run into “that guy standing in the back” who is going to start observing everything they do and twisting everything they say. In the old days, people would throw the liar out. But these days, self-consciously lying for effect is a respected art form. Like Seinfeld said in his Clio speech, “I love advertising because I love lying.” Then he looked at the laughing audience and dared them to figure out whether he meant it or not.

Jesus vs. Jerry

So leaders of the church need to learn a lesson from Jesus that may be more relevant now than ever. One place to start is John 8, where Jesus has an amazing dialogue with people who are standing back, observing and then attacking him. In one of the funniest moments in the Bible Jesus says “Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” His detractors immediately say, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?” Whoever is going to stand for God is likely to get similar treatment, only it will not be as straightforward or as unintentionally funny. It will be about twisting what you say for a moment of amusement.

Jesus’ words were most famously twisted by the devil himself. His response provides a good example to follow by anyone who is enduring the same, relentless attack by someone not interested in hearing what you say but very interested in mocking it. Someone was talking about their fear of being mocked the other day, and I suggested they at least begin responding to their fear by trying on the mentality of Jesus.

  1. He doesn’t live by what people say about him. The devil tempted him to make bread from stones, a bit like Seinfeld admittedly makes a living from doing nothing. ”If you are the Son of God” the devil began accusingly –- he’s always good for making every moment conditional rather than true. Jesus told the tempter he could live off what God says. Just avoiding this temptation by never taking on the mantle of leading or caring won’t make it go away. People will keep twisting. Our response either exposes them or saves them.
  1. He knows he is being tested. It is OK to see someone’s snide remark or sarcastic, meaning-diminishing comment as a temptation or even as an attack. They may as well be telling you to prove your worth by jumping from the pinnacle of the temple. Jesus told the devil not to test him. Perhaps you should speak back to a Seinfeld-trained person and tell them not to test you. We can at least not facilitate an atmosphere of insincerity by letting everything be undercut by people trying to convince us that everything is a joke, including us.
  1. He is ready to confront the tempter. “I don’t mean anything by it. We’re just talking. Don’t be so serious.” There are a lot of ways to make something nothing, and people expect us to conform to the nothingness. Practice saying it so you are ready: “Why are you twisting what I am saying?” The pastors and cell leaders, especially, need to discern how to say, “I am giving you my heart and you are not receiving me. I am telling you the truth and you are undermining it.” It might be kind to add, “Is that what you meant to do? Or do you just do it because Seinfeld taught you?”

Despise the shame: Disintegrate the disintegrator

حرام عليك (Haraam 3aleik) Shame on you!

That is the extent of the Egyptian Arabic Jonny has taught me and I still can’t pronounce it. (Shame on me!) According to him, it is an important phrase to know if you want to know about Egyptians and maybe the whole Middle East. He often calls them a shame culture. For people schooled in western philosophy and theology, the sociologists need to remind us that we are from a guilt culture.

The generalizations of sociologists are hard to defend but they can be instructive to think about. Want to know more about how they label you? Here’s a full treatment of the building blocks of godless societies: fear, shame and guilt. It will help you get your mind around the ideas: link.

What runs a shame culture

If you don’t want the full treatment, here’s the idea of what runs a shame culture:

Basically, shame is an act against the accepted system of values.  You feel shame when you are going against what others think you should be going with. It is especially activated when an outsider finds out that you have committed a shameful act. One author puts it this way: “He who has done a shameful deed must conceal it, for revealing one disgrace is to commit another disgrace.” There is an Arab proverb that says, “A concealed shame is two thirds forgiven.”

My dad loved Spade Cooley and lived in a lot of shame.

A 20th Century Syrian scholar, Kazem Daghestani, tells of an Arab husband who caught his wife in bed with another man. He drew a gun and pointed it at the couple while addressing the man. “I could kill you with one shot but I will let you go if you swear to keep secret the relationship you have had with my wife. If you ever talk about it I will kill you.” The man took that oath and left. The husband divorced his wife without divulging the cause. He was not concerned about the loss of his wife or her punishment but about his reputation. Public shaming and not the nature of the deed itself or the individual’s feelings had determined his action. That’s an old example from mid-twentieth century, but it is still applicable — and it tells the story of a lot of what happens in the Middle East. People are carrying secret shame.

Your secret shame

You are probably carrying secret shame too, Egyptian or not. When you got up today, your “shame attendant” probably started doing its internal job. Maybe you looked in the mirror and said, “Yuck.” You got ready for a shower and it said, “Too fat. Too thin. Too hairy. Too out-of-shape. Too unattractive to make love to.” The background music of our secret shame is playing all day and we never let anyone else hear it because that would feel even more shameful. So we end up dragged around by it all day; trying to feel better in spite of it all day. Right now as I write this, my left foot still hurts because I went down to the basement to turn on my laundry in the dryer (Forgot it last night, stupid) and I hit my foot on my toolbox. (Did not take it clear down to the workbench, lazy.) When I yelled in surprise and pain, my first thoughts were, “Why did you leave that there (you dummy!)?” And I also immediately thought that I did not want to tell Gwen I had hit my foot because she disapproves of me leaving my stuff lying around. My shame attendant was in full swing.

At my conference this weekend Curt Thompson  called shame the “vector” that evil uses to dis-integrate the universe. He is an MD so I think he meant: Shame is like “an organism, typically a biting insect or tick, that transmits a disease or parasite from one animal or plant to another.” Shame transmits anti-love and dis-connection. It transmits the dis-ease resident in a shame-activated person to another victim. It is a spiritual self-destruction virus. But he might mean this:

Regardless, shame is a dis-integrator. It separates us from our true selves and definitely keeps us from transparently loving of others. Our shame attendant monitors our every move so we present a self that conforms to whatever we think will make us look good enough to survive the constant threat we perceive. Gwen cares more about my toe than about her sense of proper tidiness. But my shame attendant needs that to be proved before it allows me to receive her love. I am still tempted to think I will be ashamed if I show up as myself. In other contexts, when my true self poked his head up from his bunker, the shame attendant was spot on and someone did shout “Shame on you!” in some way, trying to get me back into line with what is killing everyone. Some sociologist chimed in and said, “From a shame culture, eh?” I’ve been bitten by the tic so many times that I am tempted to give up altogether.

Jesus wore the shame

As a matter of fact, Curt Thompson said that the whole temptation of Jesus story is written for the salvation of people who live in a shame culture and for each of us (all of us) who have a shame attendant. We see that the ultimate shame attendant, the devil, accuses the Son of God and tries to get Him to give in to conforming to a God-free, love-free, truth-free world. “Prove it!” Satan keeps saying to Jesus. “You don’t know that your needs will be satisfied, because you aren’t worth saving. You don’t know that you are honored as the Son, it needs verification. You have no power in this world that the world does not give you, prove your allegiance.”

This daily, relentless fact of shame’s dis-integrating power is why Dr. Thompson was so thankful to point out that the life of Jesus and facts of the cross so completely disintegrate the dis-integrator:

Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3) 

In the King James Version it says Jesus “despised” the shame. He looked at it as the disintegrator it is. Even more, he fought it to the finish and publicly wore it by hanging on a cross. People shouted “Shame on you!” while he was dying there. But bringing the shame of the world into the light crippled its power. Rising from the dead provided hope for all of  us making our way through this world into our own resurrection.

We are a circle of hope because of the great promise of God in Jesus:

Hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us (Romans 5:5).

Despise the shame that creates that “despicable you” your shame attendant is relentlessly trying to make the true you. In Christ, we are the children of God and the whole universe is waiting to see what we will become.

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Disentangling from Addiction

When Jesus spent his “Lent” in the desert, I think he went into the wilderness to face the utter absence of anything that was familiar, to experience being saved in his vulnerability before he went back into a world fraught with attachments.

Old Foss Cemetery
Old Foss Cemetery

When I was pondering this after Ash Wednesday, I had a surprising image come up in my mind. I remembered visiting western Oklahoma with my family, the very towns in which my father grew up. Receiving that image was almost like the Holy Spirit drawing me back into the wilderness of my father’s life and the emptiness from which I came. My mind went back to the time we stood in Old Foss Cemetery. Our steps on the brittle grass invaded the hush as we explored. My father found a family plot enclosed by an old iron fence. The rusty gate creaked in the wind as big black storm clouds blew in. The place was silent, desolate, and I felt the ache of my silent, desolate  father. I felt his unmet yearning. I still feel his yearning like I felt my unmet yearning for him. I think Jesus was feeling that absence and yearning in the desert.

I think Jesus was in the wilderness to experience the yearning all people feel and to enter the ache of their wilderness, the pain of their emptiness. And in that vulnerable place he was tempted by the devil like we all are. He went there to do battle, like we all are doing battle in our most vulnerable places where we long to attach, to be loved and to love. Most of us will do almost anything to avoid going to that hurting place, so the devil often wins the battle because we don’t even show up.

Cross at St. Andrew's Abbey, Valyermo
Cross at St. Andrew’s Abbey, Valyermo

I have been to the geographic desert many times to try to show up, to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Not too long ago Gwen and I made a return visit to St. Andrews Abbey in Valyermo where Gwen, especially, had some significant experiences of grace as she battled her temptations with Jesus.  For most of us, spending time in the geographic desert can be rare. Our geographic deserts mostly take the form of temporary, silent, solitude in a simple yet comfortable retreat center or hermitage. For everyone, however, the desert of the heart remains unchanged. And we can visit it anytime we dare. It is not comfortable. I have visited parts in me that are like a desolate, abandoned graveyard in Oklahoma.

The New Testament accounts of Jesus’ forty days of temptation in the wilderness are an intentional parallel to the Hebrews’ forty years of exodus. Lent is an intentional parallel to both. We are led into the desert by the Holy Spirit. There, while hungry and vulnerable, we are tempted by Satan. The three temptations Satan offers Jesus are all about desire, about yearning, and we will meet those same kinds of temptations ourselves. Because everybody has an inborn desire for God, whether you are consciously religious or not. This yearning is our deepest longing and our most precious treasure. Some of us have repressed this desire under so many competing interests and fears that we are mostly unaware of it. Or we may experience it as a longing for wholeness, completion or fulfillment of our potential. Regardless of how we describe it, it is a longing for love. We hunger to love and to be loved and to move closer to the Source of love. This yearning is the essence of what people call the human spirit. It is the origin of humanity’s highest hopes and dreams.  (Read Gerald May’s Addiction and Grace, please).

We describe this desire as God given. So Paul says in Romans 5: “We boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” The Bible is full of people yearning for God and God yearning for his people. Because in an outpouring of love God created us and planted the seeds of this desire for love and loving in us. Then God nurtured this desire in us toward fulfillment of the two great commandments: Love God with all your heart soul mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.

But something gets in the way of God’s desire. We don’t fulfill the commandments even when we want to. We are usurped by forces that are not loving; we are captured. Our desires get repressed and stifled. Repression is one thing, but something even worse happens, our desire attaches to something or someone other than God, something other than true love. We get addicted.

Addiction enslaves the energy of desire to specific behaviors, things or people. The objects of attachments become preoccupations and obsessions; they come to rule our lives. They become gods. The psychological, neurological, and spiritual dynamics of addiction are actively at work in every human being. The same processes that are responsible for addiction to alcohol and narcotics are also responsible for addictions to ideas, work, relationships, power , moods, fantasies and so on.

The temptations that the devil presents to Jesus in the wilderness or to us in our wilderness, in the  emptiness we choose or the emptiness in which we are stuck, or which we inherited, all have to do with desires being attached, being nailed to something else.

Throughout these temptations, Satan was hoping Jesus’ desire in his vulnerable state would lead him to attach it to meeting his own needs, using his own power, or relying on the material world. Satan was trying to lure Jesus into the “I can handle it” trap, and Jesus could have handled it. But instead of giving in to the massive power of temptations to convince him to attach to something other than His true self in the love of God, Jesus stood firm in his own freedom, in his faith and in grace.

Jesus was truly vulnerable, but the way he responded to Satan’s temptations reveals how people attached to God get through their deserts and get home. 1) He stood firm. He met the adversary, faced the temptation, and did not run away or rationalize. 2) He acted with strength: he claimed and used his free will with dignity. 3) He did not use his freedom willfully. None of his responses to Satan were even his own autonomous creation. He relied upon the truth that had already been revealed in love by quoting from the Torah. We are all working on being that free every day.

We go off into our wilderness of Lent to keep practicing being free, because we are still tempted. What’s more, like me realizing at a very young age out on a hill in Oklahoma, I have an emptiness in me yearning to attach and I need to be careful about what it latches on to.

It is an uncomfortable process to not merely avoid the pain. We have a proverb around Circle of Hope that speaks to that: We are all recovering from the sin addiction, expect conflict.

Recovering causes problems. It puts us in conflict with the whole society, which has notable addictions, en masse. I think, in general, the nation is addicted to fear, to carbon-based everything, to narcissism, to war, to radical self-reliance — even for poor people who aren’t allowed to be self-reliant, to freedom based on earning power. We live in a wilderness we did not choose in so many ways.

There is going to be trouble every day. As if where we live was not tempatation enough, we all have our own personal drugs. Some are substances or habits like alcohol or sugar or painkillers or porn or Facebook. Some of them we don’t even see as addictions yet, because our desires are so trained by them, we are so enthralled to them, that they just seem like “us,” nothing else.

We need to get disentangled. Lent is a great time to face it all like Jesus in the wilderness, a great time to talk back and act back. Lent is a great time to exercise some freedom as members of an alterantive society by going without addicted behavior we can recognize or to exercise some freedom by taking on new habits that come from grace, not bondage. Lent is for suffering the wilderness with Jesus, for aching. It is hard to show up for that battle, but losing by default is worse.

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Ravi and Clementi — Let’s watch out for one another.

Poor Dharun Ravi and poor Tyler Clementi! It is like evil swooped in to their dorm room and carried them both away.

In case you have not been following this tragic case that has been played out in the press for over a year, Ravi found out how to use his webcam remotely and spied on his roommate having an intimate encounter with another man. Days later Clementi told his FB friends he was jumping off the George Washington Bridge with a few words and, “Sorry.” He never read the text Ravi had sent him asking for friendship. The jury found that Ravi’s intentions were not to intimidate, but the impact of his actions did intimidate, just the same, and convicted him on fifteen counts. [Get the whole story in the New Yorker]

Let’s watch out for one another.

1) Even though the TV has shown people being watched on camera to see what funny things they might do for your entire life, it is still not right.

Even though there is a TV show (Person of Interest) that makes a point of noting how we have a camera watching us constantly, their point is that such an invasion of privacy is horrible, not inevitable. Let’s not take pictures of people if they don’t want us to. And let’s never post them without their consent, especially to make fun of them.

2) Everyone is probably more fragile than we know.

Clementi instant-messaged a friend “[I]ts not like he left the cam on or recorded anything. He just like took a five sec peep lol.” But then, after a second encounter with his older sexual partner (after draping Ravi’s camera and preventing another peep), he jumped from a bridge. We’ll never know if he was bullied into it, or if he had other significant problems that no one will ever know. Let’s take one another seriously. Humor is good when it is based in joy and mutual acceptance; heartbreaking when it is based on contempt.

3) The younger we are the more we seem liable to research someone rather than get to know them.

Ravi had a lot of information on his roommate before he moved in to Rutgers with him. He had already researched him and discussed his research with his friends. It did not make for an intimate relationship. Granted, 18 year old men are not known for creating a lot of intimacy, but treating people like they are things is deadly. Let’s be careful with Google, Facebook and all the other ways we impersonally collect data on each other. Loves covers people with grace.

4) We are all having struggles with sex.

Poor Tyler Clementi sounds like he was being as brave as he could be with his struggle. He had a tearful discussion with his parents about his same-sex attraction. He was acting in a risky way by commandeering his room for the night for sex. What hasn’t been widely talked about is that he was part of a church youth group before he went to college. The general repression Christians have in regard to sex may have made his explorations even more difficult. Let’s remember some of the things we think about sex. It is not just a personal expression; it is about partnering and it happens in a context full of relationships. It is almost never kept private. Like everything, it relates to God.

5) We need to keep clear of the authorities.

Not only are they watching us, citizens can be killed abroad [link]; the government has given the go-ahead to fly remotely-controlled drones in our airspace [link]; Dharun Ravi was convicted of fifteen charges of spying for watching a three-minute kiss and unsuccessfully trying to do it again. He didn’t even know it was wrong. He didn’t take a plea bargain because he didn’t think he could be convicted. He underestimated the power of Lambda Legal and other enraged advocacy groups that tend to fuel litigation. I think he also underestimated the reality of being a brown person from India in the United States [comments from India in The Hindu]. I imagine I underestimate just how much trouble I could get into by writing this blog post. In Ravi’s trial they put up instant-messaging trails and chat streams on the screen to validate some point of law they were making. Many of us have not forgotten how our unstable but well-connected neighbor on Tenth St. managed to get us under a five-year injunction for making too much noise when we worshipped. There is not a lot of justice out there, even though there is a lot of money spent on procuring it. Quoting one of Clementi’s favorite musicals, “May God bless and keep the Tsar (Russian for Caesar) far away from us!”

During Lent, if we are with Jesus in the wilderness and not just trying to cram Jesus into our wilderness, we can notice evil better.

Just like Jesus was confronted with the destructive delusions of evil and tempted to join in, we can notice how we are being tempted ourselves. It looks like the poor young men of Rutgers had too few resources to deal with what they were handed, even when society handed it to them with the full expectation that they could, and then came down on them with full social and legal ramifications when they couldn’t. They needed a Savior, and so do we.

Opposition: The Bully, The False Lover, The Shrewd Army Commander

Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556)

I had a spiritual director once who was trained in the “Ignation School” of spirituality. Our relationship was a nice experience for me. He was a chemist, by education, and brought much of the personality and expertise of his field with him into our relationship. Being almost the opposite of a chemist, in training and typical personality type, I benefited greatly.

At one point, he told me about the three ways I could be tempted, according to Ignatius, and asked me to decide which way I was being tempted in the moment. I have never forgotten the imagery. Here are the thoughts from the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola paraphrased by David Fleming. I thought you might like to examine yourself to see how you are likely to be opposed this week. According to Ignatius three are Three Ways the Enemy Works:

Like a Bully

The enemy behaves like a bully who is a weakling before strength, but a tyrant before weakness. It would be characteristic of a bully to lose courage and take flight when confronted with someone who is determined and strong of will. However, if a person loses courage and begins to flee, the anger, vindictiveness, and rage of the bully will surge up and know no bounds.  In the same way the enemy becomes weak, loses courage, and turns to flight as soon as the one leading a spiritual life faces their temptations boldly. (SE 325)

I have been very encouraged this week by dear friends who have had the courage to face “the bully” in whatever guise he was taking. They make me remember the recurring dream I had for several weeks, long ago now, in which a “monster” was chasing me. Gwen suggested I prepare to turn and face it that night rather than dreading to run away from it in my dreams. I decided to do it, and in my dream I did it. The result was exactly as Ignatius said. I proved it had no power over me.

Like a False Lover

The Enemy’s behavior can also be compared to that of a false lover.  One who loves falsely uses another for selfish gains, and so people become objects at one’s disposal or like playthings for entertainment or good times.  A false lover usually suggests that the so-called intimacy of relationship be kept secret because of fear that such duplicity will be made known.  So does the Enemy often act in ways to keep temptations secret, and our tactics must be to bring our temptations out into the light of day to someone like our director, confessor or some other spiritual companion. (SE 326)

I regularly hear about the literal “false lovers” who lock people up. Porn is the undiscussed  false lover for any people. Many people have connected with a person who doesn’t love Jesus and that relationship is a secret love. Some people have many secrets about how they have satisfied their lust and pretended they didn’t to their intimates. Sex it a spiritual matter. Although many people are resolute in pretending otherwise, there are probably no inconsequential couplings or orgasms.

But our loves are not all sexual. We have many lovers who use us and leave us kicked to the curb. We trust our employers or addictions or abusers, even when they don’t love us like Jesus. We trust our false selves in all their delusions and bad heart-habits, even when they have repeatedly been proven self-destructive.

The solution is dialogue. We shouldn’t wait for our expectations of trustworthiness to be fully satisfied before we talk about our lovers. They are much less powerful in the light. Just because they fear the light, and they tell us that being secret is better, and they warn us of the terrible consequences of living in the light, that doesn’t mean they aren’t lying.

Like a Shrewd Army Commander

The Enemy can also work like a shrewd army commander who carefully maps out the tactics of the attack at the weakest point of defense.  The military leader knows the weakness is found in two ways:  a) the weakness of fragility and unpreparedness, and b) the weakness of complacent strength which is self-sufficient pride.

The Enemy attacks come against us at both points of weakness.  The first kind of weakness is less serious in that we more readily acknowledge our need and cry or for help from God.  The second kind of weakness is far more serious and more devastating in its effect upon us so that it can be a more favored tactic of the Enemy. (SE 327)

Peter says the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. This is a similarly threatening image. Our enemy is like an army commander scoping out the weak defenses of our walled city. Some places, like the gates we open to the world every day are well-defended because we know about them. But there are weak sections of the wall, perhaps, that defend places we never expect to be attacked, or don’t want to imagine being attacked because we’ve been hurt there before, that are much more dangerous.

Opposition is real

For instance, Circle of Hope is a relational network. We count on people loving one another. We have 50 cell leaders entrusted with nurturing the process of micro-communities. So, naturally, we can get complacent about how everyone supposedly loves one another and can be “sitting ducks” in the gun sites of an enemy shooting conflict at us. We can be so committed to our harmony that we don’t allow healthy conflict, or don’t even allow needed change to occur if it might create conflict – even though we have a proverb that says, “Everyone is recovering from the sin addiction – expect conflict.”

On a more personal level, each of us might be very unaware of our childhood defense mechanisms and just consider them “normal,” or even “my right to be who I am,” or even, nowadays, “my genetic disposition that I can’t change even if I want to.” We could all use a little more Ignatian attention to self-sufficiency. The enemy would love us to be self-sufficient. It is antithetical to serving God.

Ignatian spirituality is not for the weakly committed. It takes a lot of time to ponder all the ways we could be growing stronger in faith and becoming stronger opponents to the enemies of God. I am encouraged to take the time, because much of the time I am not spending becoming aware of my temptations I am spending conforming to them.

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