Contemplative Living is an End in Itself, Not a Means to an End

   A very recent, well documented study of the sexual habits of American teenagers purports to show abstinence based teaching actually helps students decide to put off sexual activity more than was thought. Similar earlier studies were, apparently, flawed (some would say skewed) in suggesting abstinence based teaching actually increases the possibility of sexual activity.

   So you will not think I got this from some right-wing nutcase, I heard it on NPR, National Public Radio. I salute them as a  source for speaking forthrightly. ( From the Show "Tell Me More," a segment featured as "Ask the Moms," February 9, 2010, NPR).

   The point I would like to make, however, is that abstinence based teaching is right, whether it works or not. Right is right, in some cases, and this is one. If a thousand teenagers spit abstinence in your face, it is still the way to go. Proper teaching includes decent morality. Young people should wait on sexual activity and not just for health reasons. 

   We err when we make claims that are transparently false. Religious teachers do not want children to hold off on having children because it is a health issue. We want them to hold off on an activity that has huge spiritual implications for their lives.

   Which brings me to contemplative living.

   Why bother?

   A large church pastor told me he had left behind meditative reflection because that life style did not work. He was not the only fellow I ever met who felt the same way. 

   He is right. The meditative life style promotes tolerance, deep conversation and humility. These are formidable attributes. We could hope that men will be converted to them. It is unlikely many men will be converted by them. 

   Think of many of the religious leaders you know. Chances are, these are persons who have a big personality, sort of a cross between a second tier rock star and a local sports reporter. He/she gets a response from other brash personalities or from those who admire brashness.

   I asked two of my "bosses" at the now deceased BGCT about their spiritual disciplines in separate interviews. Neither one had an idea what I meant. 

   There is always one more email to write, one more call to make, one more meeting to attend. Activism pushes out transformation. We produce very busy, emotionally frazzled, intellectually superficial, morally tenuous ministerial peers. The result for the churches we serve is about what you would expect. 

   On the other hand, meditative living is that life-style by which we put God on our speed dial. We ought to do this because it is right, not just because it is practical. 

   The nature of Christian faith is progressive. Faith is revealed from faith to faith. As grace is God's action from above to below, faith is man's action from start to finish and we are to grow through faith, by faith, in faith. Faith is a means to the end and it is the end in itself.

   I hold to this truth; spiritual progress is impossible without faith and faith is impossible without meditative contemplation. In the same way it is difficult to make spiritual progress while keeping bad company, it is equally problematic to make spiritual progress while maintaining bad practices.

   A few months ago, a fellow reached out to me through a third party. He invited himself to lunch a couple of times, usually disappearing from the table for a few moments when the check came or just ignoring it until I picked it up. He was (and is) a fellow who has been around baptist life for some time, even with some small distinction.

   During the lunches, he would pump me for information about what went on in the convention apparatus when I was there. He talked openly about his disgust for various persons involved and often paused to ask, "Don;t you agree?"

   I demurred. That part of my life contains a lot of doors closed from the other side. Those doors are closed for good and, since I did not wish to live in the alley, I moved on down the street. Yes, I took my support (and my respect) with me but no thinking person can imagine another thinking person will stand forever in front of a row of closed doors, waiting for someone inside to open the doors an inch and stick out his hand for some kind of expected offering from the alley-dweller.

   In fact, large, centralized, capital intensive authorities are a thing of the past, not the wave of the future. Many congregations are now wise to this shell game; money in, nothing much out. 

   This fellow kept after it, lunch after lunch, until I could no longer put off my suspicions. He was reporting to someone about me. To curry favor with these persons, to keep the door open for himself, he had to have something to take home to them.

   I tossed him one or two minor bones, things that were not very flattering to the participants but easily discovered if anyone wanted to look and not particularly damaging even if they were uncovered. Then I sat quietly and waited a few days to see what sources would echo the information back to me. What I gave him was not much but it was too good, predictably, to keep to himself. When I picked up the returned information and traced it to its source, I knew who he was seeing.

   We don't have lunch any more.

   I contend that meditative living produces cognitive acumen that enables one to see through the actions of another. Jesus did not need to have anyone testify to him of what sat in the hearts of men. He was not a mind reader. He spent time with God, the Father, and could see the differences between human passive-aggressive, agenda driven motivations and the holiness of God, the Father.

   If you want to understand a fellow's motivations, inspect his actions under stress. In particular, see what he does when attacked.

   You may remember some human illustrations of anger/revenge and sadness/hope as reactions to stress. President Lincoln, when attacked personally, responded with sadness. He hoped his attackers would eventually come over to his way of thinking. Lincoln often said that when a man who had attacked him quit, he never held the prior bad acts against him. Assailed, Lincoln felt sadness but with hope.

   When he was attacked (or even thought the support he was getting was too tepid), Richard Nixon responded with anger. He made out lists of enemies and vowed revenge. He prayed on his knees every night but married an agnostic and jettisoned his Christian values whenever they became burdensome. He could never forget the slightest slight. He never forgave. When assailed, Nixon responded with anger and intended revenge.

   Lincoln was a meditative reflective, who daily read the Bible and Shakespeare. Mr. Nixon, for all his admirable accomplishments, was a cynical activist who watched the movie Patton over a hundred times. Lincoln died at the hands of a hater.  Nixon choked the life out of himself with hate.

   Both deserve our study as presidents. Both deserve our pity, if pity can be taken in its classical sense.

   Time spent with God will help you understand men but that is not the intent of meditation. The intent of meditative contemplation is fellowship with God; what Scripture teaches as our birth-right.

   Contemplative living is an end in itself, not a means to an end. If faith is progressive, from start to finish something to be maintained, we must have constant recourse to the object of our faith. So it is that Christian living depends on faith and faith depends on its core energy source, the one source of salvation, Godself.

Tomorrow: History Cannot Be Reduced to Nature, or What's The Living For?

Opinions expressed here are my own, not those of the church I serve or any other person.




3 thoughts on “Contemplative Living is an End in Itself, Not a Means to an End”

  1. Rick, this is some of your best work yet. I felt sorry for the loss of your leadership at the BCGT before I knew you personally. But then again, most prophets end up being pushed out by the religious types whose need is profit rather than prophets. Such a push is usually followed by judgment. Need much more be said?

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