Tag Archives: Soul

Religion, Commerce, and the Soul

cover-Time-19870406-66703A number of those who practiced magic collected their books and burned them publicly; when the value of these books was calculated, it was found to come to fifty thousand silver coins.

A man named Demetrius, a silversmith who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the artisans. These he gathered together, with the workers of the same trade, and said, “Men, you know that we get our wealth from this business.”
Acts 19:19, 24-25 (NRSV)

Back when I was in high school and college there was a crazy period of time when there was no shortage of scandals centering around a group of prominent American televangelists. Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker were the couple that the media couldn’t seem to get enough of, but there was also Jimmy Swaggart and others who leveraged their television ministries into personal profit machines and media empires. A closer inspection of these ministry moguls produced plenty of odd and salacious fodder for the tabloids. Many televangelists fell in a strange train wreck of disgrace that was too compelling to look away.

I was reminded of the uncomfortable tension between faith and commerce this morning as I read today’s chapter. There were two groups of people described who stood in stark contrast to one another. I had never really noticed this in my previous journeys through the Book of Acts.

First, there are those who had vocationally practiced different types of exorcism, magic, and spiritism who became followers of Jesus (v. 18-20). Upon their choice to place their faith in and follow Jesus they abandoned their spiritually dark professions and burned down their old lives. This, of course, meant that would have to begin new lives and careers. This is a picture of Jesus’ consistent admonishment for people to repent (literally, to about face and go the opposite direction) and follow. Old things pass away, new things come. There is a spiritual rebirth evidenced by their willingness to experience a huge financial loss and, in faith, walk away from that which was spiritually dark to begin a new path following the Light.

Next, there is Demetrius and the guild of silversmiths tied to the temple of Artemis. The Temple of Artemis in Ephesus was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world and Artemis of Ephesus was a popular fertility idol, her long body covered in breasts (or perhaps their bull testicles, scholars aren’t quite sure). Not unlike the media empires of the televangelists, the Temple of Artemis was a tourist attraction and a lucrative, religious cash cow. With the trending of Jesus, His message, and His followers the business of Artemis idols, trinkets, and souvenirs  was taking a huge financial hit. The local metal workers union was not happy. The response of Demetrius and his fellow merchants was to create a public riot and threaten bodily harm to the followers of Jesus along with their forcible expulsion from Ephesus.

I consider one group has a spiritual transformation that results in a willingness to suffer financial and vocational loss. Then I think of the other group who are hardened to preserve their finances and vocation at all costs. Finally, I think about the disgraced televangelists from my youth. I’m not sitting in judgment of them, rather I ponder if spiritually I’m not more like them than I’d care to admit. I wonder if they didn’t start out with sincere hearts that were hardened over time by their lucrative, religious cash cows and personal empires.

Today, I am doing some soul searching. Which example in today’s chapter am I more like, and what is the condition of my heart? Am I willing to suffer temporal loss for eternal gain, or will I cling tightly to that which is temporal at the sacrifice of my soul?

Breaking Points and Places of Restoration

Lake Mug 2 Snapseed LRWhen [the members of the Corinthian synagogue] opposed and reviled him, in protest [Paul] shook the dust from his clothes and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” Acts 18:6 (NRSV)

Wendy and I arrived home from the lake last night after a long weekend with friends. I tweeted yesterday that there are some weekends there that you just never want to end, and that’s truly the way I felt yesterday. I wasn’t ready to come home. Wendy and I have realized over time the same thing that my parents realized as they owned the place before us, that the lake is a place of soul restoration.

Our life journeys can wear us down at times. We get depleted. Our feet get dirty from walking through life’s muck. At some point, perhaps at many waypoints along the path, we reach a breaking point like Paul experienced in Corinth in today’s chapter. We can’t take any more of what life is throwing at us. We give up, give in and throw in the towel.

For Paul, showing love and kindness to those who reviled and hated him was wearying business. I think we all experience the breaking point from time to time when our spiritual, emotional, and mental reserves are tapped out. I get the feeling that the reason Jesus often stole away to a mountain side by Himself  was because He was driven by need to refresh His spiritual, emotional and mental batteries.

I’m reminded this morning that we all have breaking points. It’s part of the human journey. Jesus experienced it, Paul experienced it, I’m going to experience it too. The question isn’t “if” but “when.” Today, I’m grateful for places of restoration. I’m thankful for quiet and the encouragement of friends who recharge our soul batteries in ways that allow us to press on.

Praise Him with Show Tunes

2012 12 USP Joseph Backstage Girls Grunge LRLet them praise his name with dancing
    and make music to him with timbrel and harp.

Let his faithful people rejoice in this honor
    and sing for joy on their beds.
Psalm 149:3, 5 (NIV)

The lyricist of Psalm 149, writing some 25 centuries ago, describes corporate worship of God with the combination of dancing and music. Anyone who knows me or has followed this blog for any length of time knows that I’m a theatre guy. I majored in it in college and have been actively involved on the stage for many years. So, when I read dancing and music, forgive if me I immediately think: show tunes.

I know that the music and dancing described by the ancient psalmist is far from a Rogers and Hammerstein production number, but I’m also pretty sure that it’s far from being descriptive of my corporate worship experience in Protestant midwest America.

I love that the image the psalmist gave was that the corporate singing and dancing in the day time gives way to singing for joy on your bed at night. Again, I can’t help but think of my experience of being in musicals over the years: Mame, South Pacific, Annie, and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. When you are part of a large group of people singing amazing, soul stirring songs while dancing to cardio pumping choreography you can’t help but feel a rush of adrenaline that gives way to a generous release of endorphins. Envision the result: you’re so ecstatic that you go home and jump on your bed at night and keep singing and dancing your heart out because you don’t want it to end.

[Cut to image of the same person sitting in church bored out of their skull, nearly asleep, and looking at their watch while wondering when in the world the service is going to end.]

I will confess that the churches where I have attended over the years have come a long way, at least in the music department. My soul is regularly stirred by the music in corporate worship. I think, however, that it will be a while before I see a conga line or jazz square on Sunday morning.

Nevertheless, as the church enters our most important season of the year, which leads to the most exciting, heart stirring, fist pumping reason for celebration, I personally wish there was a big Broadway style production number on the church’s event schedule for Easter morning.

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Sometimes You Have to Go Home

Rembrandt, The Return of the Prodigal Son, 166...
Rembrandt, The Return of the Prodigal Son, 1662–1669 (Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jacob came home to his father Isaac in Mamre, near Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron), where Abraham and Isaac had stayed. Isaac lived a hundred and eighty years. Then he breathed his last and died and was gathered to his people, old and full of years. And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him. Genesis 35:27-29 (NIV)

There’s something fascinating to me about the theme of going home. I find it one of the most powerful themes in life and in literature, and it is the core theme of a play I wrote. As a matter of fact, it’s also one my favorite things about baseball. How cool is it that the object of a game is to arrive safely home? Jesus even tapped into this theme in the parable that has become arguably his most famous and powerful story: the prodigal son.

One of the common experiences of being human is leaving home. Sometimes the leaving is a natural and healthy part of the process of becoming an adult and making your own way in life. Others have a more harrowing tale to tell of brokenness, abandonment, or escape from an unhealthy family situation. No matter the personal story, I’ve discovered along the journey that at one time or another almost everybody faces this life situation of returning home. Sometimes it’s a fun an nostalgic event, sometimes it’s a journey of repentance, sometimes it’s a confrontational situation or an event fraught with anxiety, fear and uncertainty. Very often, that return home is forced upon us by the death of a loved one as it was for Jacob as he returns to bury his father, Isaac.

I’ve also come to realize that this concept of going home is about reconciliation and about personal peace. I’ve witnessed a restlessness of spirit in those who live with broken relationships or unfinished business back home, especially with parents. The process of facing the issues which are churning that restlessness of soul can be one of the most pivotal and powerful in a person’s life journey. No matter what the outcome, the journey home and the confrontation can be the key to finding a sense of healing – even if it’s only with one’s self.

Sometimes, you have to go home.

My Life: A Photo Abecedarius

E is for Eyes.

I don’t know why, but I’ve always had a fascination with eyes. When I am struck by a stranger, it almost always their eyes that, well, “catch my eye.” Eyes have been a consistent motif in my artwork. I’ve heard it said that science has been able to replicate almost every human aspect in the form of robotics, but the eye  and it’s coordination with the brain and body has been virtually impossible to replicate in its complexity, sensitivity and rapid response.

I love that God created the eye to be the lamp of the soul. Eyes speak so much. They are so expressive. Eyes captivate.

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 32

When I refused to confess my sin,
    my body wasted away,
    and I groaned all day long.
Psalm 32:3 (NLT)

Like many, I’m a fan of The Godfather saga. The first two films in the trilogy undoubtedly rank among the greatest stories ever told on film. I’m also not alone in my belief that the third film of the series, while an okay film, does not come close to the quality of first two. Nevertheless, The Godfather III has moments of brilliance, and one of them came to mind this morning as I read today’s chapter.

In the film, an aged and unhealthy Michael Corleone seeks out one of the Cardinals in the Vatican to elicit his help with corruption that is taking place in the Holy See’s upper ranks. The stress of the situation is too much and in the moment of their meeting Michael suffers the beginnings of a diabetic seizure. The Cardinal, recognizing the spiritual agony as well as physical ailments Michael suffers, explains that when the soul is in agony the body cries out. He encourages Michael to unburden his soul in confession, something that Michael has not done since childhood. A lifetime of sin and corruption clogs his heart, but the Cardinal slowly urges Michael to let it out. It is one of the most poignant moments in the entire story arc of the three films.

Holding tight to our guilt and sin in an effort to keep it secret is holding on to spiritual cancer. It may not be noticeable at first, but slowly it begins to eat away at our heart, mind and spirit. Symptomatic effects begin to show up in our relationships, our thoughts, our emotions and even our bodies.

Confession is not only good for the soul, but it gives way to an inflow of Life that can bring healing in a myriad of ways.

Today is a good day for confession. Let it go.

Chapter-a-Day Acts 20

Fluoxetine (Prozac), an SSRI
Fluoxetine (Prozac), an SSRI (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.” Acts 20:24 (NLT)

It is a depressing thing not to have purpose in life. We were created for a purpose. When we are blind to or unaware of that purpose, it can slowly erode the health of our soul. Days become burdensome. Existence feels meaningless. At that point, I’ve observed that we either seek after endless distraction and pleasure to medicate and cover the growing sense of emptiness, or we fall into despair.

I watched a recent television news program that cited statistics showing well over half of all Americans are on antidepressant medication. We are in arguably the wealthiest, most well provisioned and stable nation on the face of the Earth where we recognize everyone’s  right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And yet, a majority of us are so depressed we are taking prescription medication for it.

Contrast that with Paul who, despite a terrible problem with his eyesight, worked the menial job as a tentmaker so that he could frugally travel from town to town sharing with others the Message of Jesus. He was ceaselessly harassed, beaten, imprisoned, shipwrecked and threatened. He was constantly on the run from those who sought to kill him. Multiple attempts were made on his life. And, his soul experienced a fullness of meaning, purpose, and joy.

Somehow, in our “pursuit of happiness,” I believe we have misplaced our understanding of what gives life true and motivating worth, meaning, and purpose.