Posts Tagged 'god'

A Lenten Reflection–To be More like Christ

You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect–Matthew 5:43~47

I was deeply moved by this Lenten passage.  It epitomizes what I need to strive for in my journey of faith.

In one sense I have come pretty far in that journey, for I no longer find the having of faith to be that difficult.  To be sure, faith has never come easy and it probably never will, but if you ask me the pointed question “Do you believe in God and His son Jesus Christ?” the answer I would give is an unequivocal “Yes.”

But having faith and living it are two very different things.  If action speak louder than words, as the old cliché goes, then my proclamation of faith is drowned out by my everyday behavior.

Regarding this shortfall, I am very much self-aware.  Of all the challenges in my life, the living of faith is probably the one I find most difficult.

There are so many reasons this is so.

For one, I aspire to live a full life, filled with numerous things that occupy my time like friends, work, hobbies and curiosities.  I’m constantly stimulated and rarely find a moment of boredom, but I confess, faith is not what mostly occupies my mind, heart and soul.  I feel in touch with faith whenever I have moments to reflect, but those moments are few and far between. In the day in and day out, in the every moment of every hour, my faith takes a back seat.

My personality also doesn’t help.

I am passionately opinionated about everything, which also means that I can be highly judgmental. There is not a moment that goes by that I’m not judging a person to be good or bad or right or wrong, and cutting loose in my mind the people who fall into the latter category.  I am terrible at forgiveness, regarding which my take is “why is there a need to forgive the bad and the wrong?”

That attitude, of course, is entirely at odds with Christianity.  As Jesus taught in the Matthew passage above, what the followers of Christ are called upon to do is to forgive the unforgivable, as Jesus Himself exhibited when he forgave those who nailed Him to the cross.

I realize I fall woefully short of this standards set by Jesus, yet there is a part of me that has remained unapologetic.  I cannot help but ask: if God created every person in His image, then am I not in His image despite my inclinations to judge?

It is only recently that I’ve come to terms with the fact that I need to change this line of thinking.

For the last couple years, I’ve concluded every prayer with the request that Jesus remain with me always, realizing that my moments with Him are fleeting, but recently, I’ve been adding that I may live my life more like Him, in the recognition that I am ever imperfect.

This Lenten season, I have made a commitment to do my own part to bring those prayers to fruition, to at least make an effort to act the way that Christ would have acted.

That means I don’t judge, I just observe.

That means I don’t dismiss a person for his or her perceived shortcomings.

That means I treat every person, no matter how perceivably indecent, with dignity and respect.

That means I cherish every life and lament the loss of any.

That means I don’t get angry with perceived slights, against me or others.

That means I forgive even if the wrong is seemingly unforgivable.

And that means I become always mindful of how Christ would have acted, despite all that is going on in my life.

None of this will come easy, for they represent a fundamental change in the way I go about my life.

In fact, I’m very likely to fail.

But during Lent, I have made a commitment to try.  That may not be much, but I’d like to think that it is a major step forward in my every continuing journey of faith.



Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  –John 20:29

The story of the doubting Thomas is my favorite passage from the bible.  It was a favorite passage when I lacked faith because I was a Thomas who needed to see to believe.  I like it now because I have come to understand what Jesus meant.

Faith is not easy, not for a logical realist like me.  I attended a Catholic elementary school in Japan, but lost exposure to faith once I began attending public school in the United States.  Any child is influenced by his environment, but the secular atmosphere fit my way of thinking just fine.  I was never a dreamer but a pragmatist.  I may not have understood physics, chemistry or biology, but knew that those subjects were dedicated to seeking facts of this world.  My faith was in the knowledge of science.  I could observe gravity at work and understand the mathematics of Mendel’s laws on genetics.   Just like Thomas, I needed to see to believe, and science was something I could readily see.

Later years in high school, I gained faith because of two monumental events.  I care not to go into what those experiences were because I believe faith is a deeply personal experience between God and the individual.  What I’ve learned from that experience, though, is that faith is belief without seeing, or at least not seeing in the way that your eyes and your mind sees.  Ultimately, faith is a matter of whether you have it or you don’t.  To me, an argument about illogic of faith or rationalization for faith (“it’s a clutch for those who need it”) is as nonsensical as arguing about the logic of someone’s emotions.  Just as there is no right or wrong in someone feeling angry–after all, that the person feels a certain way is a matter of fact that you either understand or you don’t–faith too is something that can’t be explained with your mind.  Because of this, I love the phrase “leap” of faith.  It perfectly describes the way in which I had to overcome hurdles to move beyond the confines of pure logic (and emotions).

Faith hasn’t changed much the way I think.  I am still as logical and pragmatic as I was before I had my ephiphany.   I simply now view knowledge and science from a different prism.  I found this power to make my life more wholesome without changing how I am to be the most rewarding aspect of faith–and the most challenging.  The fact is that this world and the world of God are not necessarily in harmony.  Because I don’t struggle with dealing with the former, I struggle with understanding, absorbing and seeking the latter.  For the first couple years, this struggle consumed my efforts to develop faith, but I’ve come to realize that this struggle is something that I’ll be dealing with with the rest of my life.  I’ve found not only peace in this but also an indescribable sense of blessing.  Facing challenges to my faith is what makes me grow closer to God.  That I’ve found blessing in the struggle is an evidence of my faith, and evidence that it is growing.

I say that faith is a personal matter between God and me, but I also think the relationship cannot develop in solitary confinement.  I deem my relationship with God to be particularly personal–I don’t like to discuss to much how I believe in God and want to grow closer to Him–but I’ve learned I can only seek Him with the assistance of others.

Perhaps the most important fact of life that I gained through my faith is that God works through others in my life.  I consider myself extraodinarily blessed because I am surrounded by people, some of whom are not Christians, who have helped me in my journey.  I see God’s work there, and by “see,” I don’t mean the way Thomas saw but in a way only the faithful can see.  Boston College was not my first choice of college, yet that is where my faith, still in its infancy, really flourished.  In places where I’ve worked, I’ve had colleagues whose faith are stronger than mine kindly share their faith with me.  And while there are many friends who do not share my faith, this difference doesn’t hinder our relationship because they help me in ways they don’t realize and I get what it means to be a non-believer because I was one only a short time ago.

So this Christmas season, I’m thankful to everyone in my life, all of whom have helped me progress in this timeless journey. This, though, is something I should be thankful for every day of the year, every year. And I am.

A Moral Compass

I recently finished reading “The Smartest Guys in the Room,” an amazing account of the characters who were complicit in the rise and fall of Enron.   It is a page turner; I couldn’t put it down.

The authors, Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind, tell a story of how exaggeration, manipulation and obsession with the numbers, particularly stock price and quarterly earnings, were ingrained in the culture of the company long before anyone had heard of Enron.  From executive management down to the traders, all anyone at the company cared about was making money–and making it now.  If they had to fiddle with the numbers and push the limits of the rules, so be it.  If the auditors could be coerced to agree and the bankers blackmailed, they can be considered on board.  They simply did what had to be done.

I wrote about Enron nearly eight years ago just as the Enron outrage was hitting full stride.  Although the piece reads somewhat pedestrian and overly simplistic–to this day, it’s not clear any single act of Enron was  illegal–what I believed then was reinforced by what I read in the book: Enron’s corporate culture bred corruption.

Mind you, I’m no saint.  I am an unrepentant capitalist.  I make no apologies for making money during the current recession that drove people out of their jobs and homes.  And although I’ve commented that Altria Group (MO) manufactures products that kill people, I don’t find it morally reprehensible that some people choose to invest in a company that pays a 6% yield in a fairly stable business.

But I don’t cheat, lie, steal or mislead in order to make money.*  I, like most members of society, have a moral compass, that part of myself called the conscience that tells me there are some lines I cannot cross even if I can’t precisely demarcate it.  It is what enables me to realize that the rules aren’t there to be circumvented, but are there to articulate in a concrete manner the amorphous ideals that we as society hold ourselves up to.  It is what stops me from saying “just because I can, doesn’t mean I should.”

Enron lacked that sense of right and wrong that goes beyond (even within)  the written rules.  From the earliest days, Enron rewarded those who moved debt off the books and inflated earnings.  It was driven by booking the deal in this quarter rather than serving the customers for the term of the contract.  The company’s culture was not of innovative ideas–which need not have been, for its idea of trading natural gas did revolutionize the industry–but of creative accounting.

The saddest part about fully understanding the story of Enron is that I believe Jeff Skilling, the company’s former CEO, when he says that he doesn’t think he did anything wrong.  He blames the “classic run on the bank” for the company’s collapse yet conveniently ignores all the accounting misstatements that led to the run in the first place.  He  simply doesn’t get it.  Much like an entity in two dimensions that can never imagine, much less comprehend, a sphere, Jeff Skilling can’t understand what most of us with a common sense of decency see as an obvious wrong.  No amount of Congressional oversight or bureaucratic regulation can compensate for this deficiency.  For people like Skilling, rules are just words to be strictly abided, lacking any context or substance.

The Enron story is a tale of tragic flaws,  but not in the mode of a Shakespearean tragedy.  Shakespeare’s characters are imperfect people undone by their hubris, indecisiveness and ambition, yet the same traits may be turned into a virtue as confidence, thoughtfulness and the drive to excel.

There is no way to positively spin a moral vacuüm.  There is no bright side to moral bankruptcy.  When I think of the filth cultivated at Enron, I don’t feel disbelief as much as despair.  There is an overwhelming dreariness in realizing that we, as society, should be conducting ourselves in much higher standards but we aren’t because of some who simply can’t, not due to their inability to live up to the higher standard, but due to their inability to know any better.

Yet, I can comfortably sleep at night because I have faith, not only in God but also in most people.  Most members of society have developed a sense of right and wrong even if they fail to live up to it.  I can live with myself–and find joy in the every day I do so–because I have surrounded myself with people who have developed it.

*John McCain told his son, a fourth generation McCain to enter the Naval Academy, that so long as you don’t cheat, lie or steal, everything is fair game.  I mostly agree with that, but I think you need to throw in “mislead” and the ancillary “deceive” to remain a distinguished, even if competitive, gentleman.

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