October 24, 2017

“Mindfulness” and other contemporary legalisms

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Life in contemporary America is full of “should.”

And how can it not be? We are forever “shoulding” all over each other.

Modern American life is, at times, almost suffocating in self-righteousness and legalism. We may be the most judgmental people in history. And I’m not just talking about church folks, though I think this is one of the ways that the church in the U.S. is “worldly” in the bad kind of way. Freedom of speech and freedom of the press may be wonderful gifts in the big picture, but on the ground the liberty we have to share our ideas and feelings without constraint often leads us to voice relentless opinions that those around us fall short and would be better off if they would just embrace our particular quest for continuous improvement. Usually for a price.

I was reminded of this when I read Ruth Whippman’s eloquently commonsensical opinion piece in the New York Times over the weekend, “Actually, Let’s Not Be in the Moment.”

I’m making a failed attempt at “mindful dishwashing,” the subject of a how-to article an acquaintance recently shared on Facebook. According to the practice’s thought leaders, in order to maximize our happiness, we should refuse to succumb to domestic autopilot and instead be fully “in” the present moment, engaging completely with every clump of oatmeal and decomposing particle of scrambled egg. Mindfulness is supposed to be a defense against the pressures of modern life, but it’s starting to feel suspiciously like it’s actually adding to them. It’s a special circle of self-improvement hell, striving not just for a Pinterest-worthy home, but a Pinterest-worthy mind.

Perhaps the single philosophical consensus of our time is that the key to contentment lies in living fully mentally in the present. The idea that we should be constantly policing our thoughts away from the past, the future, the imagination or the abstract and back to whatever is happening right now has gained traction with spiritual leaders and investment bankers, armchair philosophers and government bureaucrats and human resources departments. Corporate America offers its employees mindfulness training to “streamline their productivity,” and the United States military offers it to the Marine Corps. Americans now spend an estimated $4 billion each year on “mindfulness products.” “Living in the Moment” has monetized its folksy charm into a multibillion-dollar spiritual industrial complex.

Circles of self-improvement hell. An apt description of life in today’s America, exemplified by this ostensibly “helpful” counsel to be always mindful. Here, by special offer, is another one of those “keys” or “secrets” or “steps” or “paths” that are being urged on us constantly so that we can climb another rung or two up the ladder to a life of righteousness and self-fulfillment.

Along with Ms. Whippman, I find it increasingly annoying that I am always being preached at by people like this.

But still, the advice to be more mindful often contains a hefty scoop of moralizing smugness, a kind of “moment-shaming” for the distractible, like a stern teacher scolding us for failing to concentrate in class. The implication is that by neglecting to live in the moment we are ungrateful and unspontaneous, we are wasting our lives, and therefore if we are unhappy, we really have only ourselves to blame.

This judgmental tone is part of a long history of self-help-based cultural thought policing. At its worst, the positive-thinking movement deftly rebranded actual problems as “problematic thoughts.” Now mindfulness has taken its place as the focus of our appetite for inner self-improvement. Where once problems ranging from bad marriages and work stress to poverty and race discrimination were routinely dismissed as a failure to “think positive,” now our preferred solution to life’s complex and entrenched problems is to instruct the distressed to be more mindful.

This is a kind of neo-liberalism of the emotions, in which happiness is seen not as a response to our circumstances but as a result of our own individual mental effort, a reward for the deserving. The problem is not your sky-high rent or meager paycheck, your cheating spouse or unfair boss or teetering pile of dirty dishes. The problem is you.

But maybe we haven’t really advanced beyond “positive thinking,” whose converts still evangelize us relentlessly.  Barbara Ehrenreich leveled a devastating critique against this form of thought-policing in her 2009 book Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America.

Ehrenreich was diagnosed with breast cancer, and soon encountered a world she didn’t know existed. She became part of the “pink-ribbon culture.” There she discovered, “Positive thinking seems to be mandatory in the breast cancer world, to the point that unhappiness requires a kind of apology.” Any talk of being a “victim” is proscribed in favor of always describing those with breast cancer as “brave” or “fierce” individuals who are “battling” or “fighting” their disease. Those who beat it, or who appear to do so, are crowned as “survivors,” though strangely there seems to be little acclaim for “martyrs.”

Indeed, she writes,

The cheerfulness of breast cancer culture goes beyond mere absence of anger to what looks, all too often, like a positive embrace of the disease. As “Mary” reports, on the Bosom Buds message board: “I really believe I am a much more sensitive and thoughtful person now. It might sound funny but I was a real worrier before. Now I don’t want to waste my energy on worrying. I enjoy life so much more now and in a lot of aspects I am much happier now.” Or this from “Andee”: “This was the hardest year of my life but also in many ways the most rewarding. I got rid of the baggage, made peace with my family, met many amazing people, learned to take very good care of my body so it will take care of me, and reprioritized my life.” Cindy Cherry, quoted in the Washington Post, goes further: “If I had to do it over, would I want breast cancer? Absolutely. I’m not the same person I was, and I’m glad I’m not. Money doesn’t matter anymore. I’ve met the most phenomenal people in my life through this. Your friends and family are what matter now.”

One author went so far as to give her book the title, The Gift of Cancer: A Call to Awakening, in which she claimed, “Cancer will lead you to God. Let me say that again. Cancer is your connection to the Divine.”

In the seamless world of breast cancer culture, where one Web site links to another— from personal narratives and grassroots endeavors to the glitzy level of corporate sponsors and celebrity spokespeople— cheerfulness is required, dissent a kind of treason. Within this tightly knit world, attitudes are subtly adjusted, doubters gently brought back to the fold.

Barbara Ehrenreich valiantly dissents against this “tyranny of positive thinking.”

Breast cancer, I can now report, did not make me prettier or stronger, more feminine or spiritual. What it gave me, if you want to call this a “gift,” was a very personal, agonizing encounter with an ideological force in American culture that I had not been aware of before— one that encourages us to deny reality, submit cheerfully to misfortune, and blame only ourselves for our fate.

In the recent election, cries from the right against “political correctness” rose to a fever pitch. What those people failed to see when they labeled one form of political advocacy the way they did is that all America is and has always been the land of innumerable political correctnesses.

In the world of psychology, spirituality, and self-help there is the “mindfulness” political correctness and “positive thinking” political correctness we’ve discussed today. But there’s a lot more. Right and left-wing politics political correctnesses. Pro-life and pro-choice anyone? The political correctnesses of the elite and the hoi polloi. Various types of Christian political correctness as well as atheistic political correctness. And a multitude of other varieties, and tribes within tribes, all with their own thought-police and many with their own stores and merchandise.

Anywhere you have people who think they are right and that others would be better off by just following them — thinking “correctly,” speaking the right code words, staying within the designated boundaries that mark a person as acceptable, you have “political correctness” — the moralistic, legalistic enforcement of endorsed speech and behavior.

America, the land of the free? Hah! We are the land of a thousand different tribes, each proclaiming its own righteousness and doing its best to sell its vision of how each one of us ought to think and behave.

I have only one thing to say: Stop “shoulding” on me.

Comments

  1. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Perhaps the single philosophical consensus of our time is that the key to contentment lies in living fully mentally in the present. The idea that we should be constantly policing our thoughts away from the past, the future, the imagination or the abstract and back to whatever is happening right now has gained traction with spiritual leaders and investment bankers, armchair philosophers and government bureaucrats and human resources departments.

    Don’t ANIMALS think only in the present?
    Only what they’re doing/experiencing right now?
    Without abstractions?

    Any talk of being a “victim” is proscribed in favor of always describing those with breast cancer as “brave” or “fierce” individuals who are “battling” or “fighting” their disease. Those who beat it, or who appear to do so, are crowned as “survivors,” though strangely there seems to be little acclaim for “martyrs.”

    Because Nobody Likes a LOSER.

    One author went so far as to give her book the title, The Gift of Cancer: A Call to Awakening, in which she claimed, “Cancer will lead you to God. Let me say that again. Cancer is your connection to the Divine.”

    Sounds like something Flutterhands Piper would say. At length.
    Eagle? Comment on this one?

    In the seamless world of breast cancer culture…— cheerfulness is required, dissent a kind of treason.

    “Hell hath no torment like Constant Forced Cheerfulness.”
    — G.K.Chesterton, “Three Tools of Death” (Father Brown Mystery)

    • I don’t know if animals think in abstractions or not (why wouldn’t they?), but I do think they spend much time attending to the present moment. I think they do this because they need to be on continual high-alert, since at any moment their existence could be in danger. Constant alertness is survival strategy for them, not a spiritual exercise. They appear to be most lost in (or to?) the present moment (including its dangers) when they are at play, but even that is practice for survival.

      • –> “…they need to be on continual high-alert…”

        Yes. My dog even POOS in high-alert! Seriously, you should see the poor guy in the backyard at night! Every two steps, as he’s trying to find that perfect spot to lay down his load, he jerks his head upright, ears cocked forward. It’s hilarious!

        • Truth be told, if I didn’t have a nice, warm bathroom with a flushing toilet in it, if I had to do my business in the backyard, I would POO on high-alert, too. I’d probably make your dog look positively relaxed by comparison.

    • Dear HUG: No, animals don’t just always think in the present. Science on animal thought and even emotion has changed drastically in the last decade. Studies, including at Colorado Univ. Boulder, Ohio St., Tufts, etc have shown that animals do think in symbolic and even abstract terms, and revert to memory of past experience to decide action relevant to the current — and even near future — when planning food-obtaining or safety strategies. So while I follow your drift, the animal in the present doesn’t apply anymore…sorry for the l lecture, occupational hazard…used to ve a veterinary medical writer.

      • That doesn’t exclude the idea that animals are highly attentive to their environment, with an eye toward surviving its threats and getting what they need from it to maintain life, right? Observing my cat (who has it good compared to most animals) I see that she makes careful decisions when presented with different options; that she can anticipate my actions by “thinking ahead”; and that she has expectations, just like I do. If she doesn’t think in abstractions, then maybe I don’t either.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > If she doesn’t think in abstractions, then maybe I don’t either.

          Yep. It is getting off-topic – but perhaps it is as much our over-estimating how much we “think” as it is how much we under-estimate much how our non-human co-habitats “think”.

      • Oooo here’s a new study report just today about dogs using memory to fit current situations:
        https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/11/161123141547.htm

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        “””No, animals don’t just always think in the present. Science on animal thought and even emotion has changed drastically in the last decade”””

        +1,000 Beware old science and documentaries. Even some of the lowly cephalopods, with no central nervous system, to speak of can recognize **human** faces as well as demonstrate recall and theory-of-mind behavior. They clearly **should** not be able to do that… 🙂

    • In Buddhism reincarnation in the form of an animal is said to be the result of bad karma, because it’s believed that animals exist in a state of nearly constant fear. As such, unlike human beings, they are unable to undertake the practices (including mindfulness) that develop the wisdom and compassion necessary to achieve nirvana.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > animals exist in a state of nearly constant fear.

        Huh, they have clearly never seen a feral cat lounging on a garage roof on a warm spring morning.

        • They are clearly wrong about this. To be fair, there are many different forms of Buddhism, and different opinions on many subjects among them. What most have in common is that they believe nirvana can not be achieved in animal form. But all bets are off when it comes to Zen Buddhism: Zen doesn’t like to be pinned down to any set of beliefs.

  2. “Anywhere you have people who think they are right and that others would be better off by just following them — thinking ‘correctly,’ speaking the right code words, staying within the designated boundaries that mark a person as acceptable, you have ‘political correctness’ — the moralistic, legalistic enforcement of endorsed speech and behavior.”

    (T)ruth without love will always lead to this, whether the (T)ruth/(T)ruthsayer is religious or secular. Without love, truth is merely another tool for the Will to Power.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > Without love, truth is merely another tool for the Will to Power.

      Love is a hard thing to pin down . It is the default to think of Love as intense and invasive. But one of the most Loving things one can do is to chill, back-off, and ‘provide space’. There is something deeply Loving about I’ll-do-my-thing and you-do-your-thing (which is a kind of Loving a younger me struggled to understand).

      mantra: “I don’t need to Win”

  3. I assume, based on the title of this post, that anything can become a legalism (exercise, healthy diet, simplicity, rooting for your sports team, etc.). I also assume that there is a healthy medium between the polarities of constant mindfulness and not being attentive to the reality all around us.

    Generally, I have found the practice helpful in my personal and spiritual life. Becoming aware of “how I show up” or the quality of my presence usually influences the quality of my engagement, whether with God or with others. I would compare this to the exhortations in scripture about being alert or watchful or taking notice.

    It would seem to me that in our time of smart phones, social media, hundreds of TV channels, and all the other ways we entertain or distract ourselves from reality, that the practice of being mindful is worth considering.

    • Most legalisms, in my experience, involve commendable behavior.

      • The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and all that…

      • Most legalisms, in my experience, involve commendable behavior.

        Yes–and often commendable outcomes. Like the woman above who, after her battle with cancer, placed less value on money and more on family and friends. That’s wonderful!

        The legalistic problem occurs when these narratives shift from descriptive to prescriptive. Look at all these great things that happened to me as a result of cancer/mindfulness/etc. and if you’re not experiencing the same transformation YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG!

        • –> “The legalistic problem occurs when these narratives shift from descriptive to prescriptive.”

          Excellent point and insight!

      • I agree with you, Mike. I just was struck by the title of your post, which as I read it, implied that mindfulness (and it practice) was a “contemporary legalism.”

        I suppose I felt a bit defensive since mindfulness has been helpful to me personally. I don’t insist that everyone should practice it, since not every practice is life-giving for everyone, but it’s worth considering. I would say the same about various prayer practices, different methods of engaging scripture or the many ways to express our faith through service.

        On a separate note, I appreciate your contribution through this blog and the important ministry you provide through hospice work. Thank you.

    • Christiane says:

      “It would seem to me that in our time of smart phones, social media, hundreds of TV channels, and all the other ways we entertain or distract ourselves from reality, that the practice of being mindful is worth considering.”
      sometimes, if the distraction is temporary and involves a journey into a world that is unspoiled, it can refresh and ‘reset’ and even call up in us a kind of gratefulness for that in our own situation that we had not lately celebrated:

      when the ‘world is too much with’ me, I make some tea and venture out as a mental traveler (escape) into some video that has a content that clears my mind long enough to allow me to emerge more humbled and thankful and ready to give my own reality a go once more:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYJKd0rkKss

    • I don’t think this post is saying anything for or against the merits of the practice of mindfulness.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        +1

        But that is the trap of Habitual Legalism Spotting; every Recommendation can be read as Legalism. The place we are, which this post describes, is a difficult thicket to find one’s way out of.

  4. Modern American life is, at times, almost suffocating in self-righteousness and legalism. We may be the most judgmental people in history.

    I’m not sure how we would compare one age and society to another. Wouldn’t we need to live within those other places and times to get a real sense of how ours compares? I tend to think that judgmentalism is an ingrained habit of the human spirit, one that expresses itself in different ways in different times and places. In our society expressing our thoughts and feelings is one of the primary ways we judge and police other people’s thoughts and feelings (and the way they judge and police ours); in other times and places unwritten and dangerous-to-question codes and understandings enforced themselves without anyone needing or daring to say a word: they were just part of the air everyone breathed, the heavy hand of tradition. But it seems that in all times and places gossip, in one form or another, has been widely utilized to curb behavior, and gossip goes hand in hand with judgment.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      “I tend to think that judgmentalism is an ingrained habit of the human spirit,”

      Sure, I agree. But it certainly varies intensity; I think it is extreme here-and-now. I do not find it as dominant when I communicate with distant others; Americans have a unique level, currently, IMNSHO.

      Here in America I think it has reached a fever-pitch fueled by a feed-back loop. We are Shoulded so much the default posture is Defensive[*1]; and we can interpret even non-shoulding as shoulding, diminishing our capacity to hear each other [insert a lot about diminished Bridging Social Capital here]. It looks a lot like ~1896 to me, when things were desperately intense … and then at some point that feed-back loop collapsed in on itself and America spent several remarkable decades building up a wealth of social capital. So… maybe that will happen again. Pessimistically hopeful.

      [*1] After a not-Cancer but health related kick in the pants I took a turn in life. I returned to my love of data – economic, demographic, etc… And I found a beautiful fascinating world that is nothing like what I, and I suspect most people, realize is the reality. It is a fun world to share and look at with people. And that sharing can be done with an openness only raw data can provide – carefully avoiding any Shoulding – just here-look-at-this… WOW! Many people ATTACK. This is why I believe the Shoulding builds a Defensive posture that feeds on itself. Because – it is a graph of credit card sales by category in the metro area… that’s it, vanilla reality, no intent to shame anyone, it is data. Many people **assume** that some shame or moral claim must be implied – even if you carefully preamble that aggregate data likely reflects nobody individually.

  5. The Gift of Cancer? Lol! The gift that keeps on giving: even after remission, it always hangs like a shadow of threat over you and your loved ones, ready to come back in another form at any moment. There is no ultimate victory over cancer that doesn’t lead through death, and that victory (when it comes) will not be of our doing.

    • David Cornwell says:

      Cancer is hell. It is death. I had cancer 16 years ago and my body still is in bondage to some of its lasting devastation. Cancer is an attack against this temple that God has given to us, in which he has promised to dwell. Can some good come from it? I suppose so, though I’d need to stop and think for a bit, and perhaps be more “mindful.” I’ve seen too much cancer to think of it in any other way, other than a sentence of death.

    • William Martin says:

      Cindy died of cancer. Never met anyone who loved so greatly. All even her enemies and those who were not nice to her. What happened to me I asked and why didn’t I get more of that being so close to her. something I now am shooting for. She didn’t lose, nope never, she won fighting the good fight to the end. She praised the Lord for saving her. Right till the end. Didn’t even say goodbye to her husband. Her husband had strange things going on in their house till He finally said goodbye and that hurt was cleansed. I believe then she left. Nobody has ever been saved by man. Only the son of Man. One man and he wasn’t a doctor so to speak. We all lose this life at our end. Nothing escapes this here physically. I always have wondered at the church I use to attend if you weren’t a cheerful joyous Christen something was the matter with you. Promoted divine healing why people in wheel chairs were never brought up front and slowly died, Only pains in the neck, knees , back and any part were healed. Kind of made me sick.

      I’m not happy here…. Sorry…This is a mean place. Name where it isn’t. How many dead animals do you see. and do you feel the twinge as much as I do or don’t you notice. Hit a little yellow bird once going down the highway pulled off found it held it as it took its last breath, cried, buried him. This is how I work inside. I thanked God for his life but it still hurt like hell. This place between. Fallen in nature and still this grand. I can only imagine…….

      This last year it is so apparent to me that Jesus loves me no matter what I do he will not leave. I might not feel him as I have at times but He didn’t leave. It isn’t anything I do or don’t do. The question always is will I follow. He came partying with sinners and John strictly reigned in the body. They had opinions on both.

      I agree Robert cancer is no gift. Disease is a scourge of this world. Evil in nature as if you found your suffering cat dying of one it could never be gift. Even God can take what is used as evil against us and turn it around but that is personal and not everyone finds that.

      I’ve always cried more than I have laughed and can’t understand why that isn’t just fine.

      • Christiane says:

        “I’m not happy here…. Sorry…This is a mean place. Name where it isn’t. How many dead animals do you see. and do you feel the twinge as much as I do or don’t you notice. Hit a little yellow bird once going down the highway pulled off found it held it as it took its last breath, cried, buried him. This is how I work inside. I thanked God for his life but it still hurt like hell. This place between. Fallen in nature and still this grand. I can only imagine……. ”

        This is the best writing I’ve seen in a long time about some of the themes explored in Romans 8. ….. the ideas that all of creation is groaning awaiting its coming renewal at the Hand of God, the ideas that the Spirit groans within us when there are no words for the sadness felt in some souls at a very deep level

        it is not without good reason that Our Lord has sent ‘the Comforter’ to sojourn beside us, William

        • William Martin says:

          I guess I needed that. Our comforter. I really needed to hear that this day……….Thanks

          • Christiane says:

            I have such days, too. Sometimes I take comfort from a poem written by the step-daughter of a dear friend wherein she has written these healing words:

            “Let me embrace all broken things–
            unlimbed spiders,
            the curled corpse of a rat,
            drug-addicted mothers,
            my humanly perfect son,
            my aging face–
            with tenderness.
            Let me stop being that thing against which anything, everything, can break.”

            • William Martin says:

              If You see this please expand on the last line as it is eluding me. I’ve always been that which everything breaks upon. Like a breaker of the ocean.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:
      • William Martin says:

        Read it……Does anyone ever wonder if a disease is of God why we don’t pray for more of them to come upon us?

  6. Still: better to have a thousand different tribes, each trying to sell its vision to the others, than one tribe imposing its vision on all by force. I like pluralism, and an historically unprecedented freedom to join whichever tribe (or church) I choose.

  7. It’s perhaps useful to note that in Buddhist thought the concept is not simply “mindfulness”, but “RIGHT mindfulness”, acknowledging that there are distinctions that need to be made. This is a case where a concept has been translated from one culture to another and consequently had its meaning almost completely reversed. The goal of the Buddhist is to annihilate the individual personality not indulge it. The Buddhists aren’t interested in making us better people. It’s the “person” they’re trying to cure us of.

    • Yes. As long as you recognize that the concept of person is also part of dependent origination: there’s no “person” to cure or annihilate.

  8. The legalism of the law of Moses promised a reward from God if the law was kept. The motive was centered in a reward that you earned. IMHO, I believe that sets the pattern for any kind of legalism. Such a pattern is focused on my performance and my reward. Since I like myself so much ;), legalism is very appealing. In contrast is the way of Christ and the apostles, who do things that are good and right simply because those things are right and good. They struggle and fail in the pursuit of that which is good, and their memoirs candidly reflect that struggle. The reward for their effort is prison, the lash, and much suffering. It is the beauty of the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel that attracts them and presses them forward. I would like to say that is my motive, but I can only say that it has been on rare occasions. Legalism seems to be my default setting.

  9. senecagriggs says:

    Loved the post C.M.

    There’s always something new that will “change your life.” After a bit, we find, nobody’s life was actually changed. You work hard, then you die. Or maybe you don’t work hard, and then you die. But certainly you die, mindful or not mindful.

    As Solomon noted, “There is nothing new under the sun.”

  10. Started off this morning thinking how helpful it would be to me to have fellowship with people who supported each other in the quest for spiritual Oneness in the mind of Messiah, mindfulness if you will, something that I find the most difficult of all pursuits or practices. What Jesus called the narrow gate. Instead I find division, opposition, fear, anger, and ignorance. My Quaker meeting may not have survived this past election. This place becomes increasingly partisan and divisive and even corrosive. Where do I turn?

    The Desert Fathers didn’t start out to found a monastery, they headed out as individuals to find a place where they could practice mindfulness as best they understood it without being pulled down by the world and other people resisting and opposing that single mindfulness. Tom Merton entered the monastery hoping to find others in support of his quest for Oneness and ended up begging to be allowed to live solitary to escape the resistance and opposition to mindfulness. How does that apply to a place called Internet Monk? Still working on that one.

    So it’s human nature and the way of the world at work here. Probably shouldn’t be surprised if we look at the life lived by Jesus. The narrow way, pick up your cross and follow me. Cue the chorus of scoffers and naysayers. Why don’t you put that cross down and take a break, see if there isn’t something good on TV or watch a movie, read a good novel or find an interesting intellectual discussion to join. All this business about living in the Now is just a scam meant to deprive you of your money, peace of mind, and hard-won pleasure. I dunno. I’m real close to being outta here. Maybe the whole point is people help you realize in the end it’s just you and Jesus.

    • William Martin says:

      Close to being out of here….Me too….. Sometimes I can’t wait….but for the ones I feed and run to see me. I watched them be healed. First met oreo, white cream center and the rest black. She had no Hair. what a coat now. Her only kitten left that year lives with me now. Three months of trying to pick her up for the first time. She slept above my head on the couch the whole time I was sick. 2 Months on and off last time couldn’t hardly move for seven days straight. Up moving now some and still trying for my strength back. To much time so I can’t help but comment. it will switch when work comes back into my schedule.

      One thing I always wanted to accomplish was a book of poems followed by scripture for a daily Devotional. A monarch butterfly wing dropped to my feet in the middle of winter right as I was untying my boots. Many things happened there after that. Then when I was contemplating this book to give away butterfly wings I found I perfectly whole monarch in my back sit underneath a tee shirt . It’s on my desk now. I hope I get the time and the help because Bible verses are not my strong suit. I love reading you here Charles…FRIEND

  11. Richard Hershberger says:

    It would be difficult to overstate how easy I find it to ignore most of this stuff. I come across blather about constant mindfulness? I move on. My problem is not a shortage of subjects to occupy my attention. Identify the blather, and move on. The breast cancer shtick is more of a problem, because seeking a support group under those circumstances is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. If the blather brigade has completely taken over, there may not be a non-blather support group available. You can start your own, but that is a burden at a tough time. The whole point of a support group is to lighten the burden, not to increase it.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      The breast cancer shtick is more of a problem, because seeking a support group under those circumstances is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. If the blather brigade has completely taken over, there may not be a non-blather support group available.

      During the six-month diagnostic limbo of my last Prostate Cancer scare, I hooked up with a local support group.
      Woo. Never again.
      Feuding between Pro-Surgery and Anti-Surgery factions, vegan kale-and-quinona cures (not mentioning the $10,000-a-month meds, only Vitamins Vitamins Vitamins), everybody Witnessing for what worked for them as The One True Cure (all others Heretical).

    • –> “…the blather brigade…”

      Love that term! I must be mindful to not become a member of one.

      The Blather Brigade would also make a good name for a rock group, or a worship band.

    • >> The whole point of a support group is to lighten the burden, not to increase it.

      Indeed, Richard, wholehearted agreement with that, the whole point of my post above yours. So why do I find myself having to take out a thirty pound rock of discouragement from my pack that you slipped in while I was sitting down catching a breather? Life is hard, really hard, and I truly would like not to have to do this over. Why do you want to make it even harder with your scathing tearing down of what I am trying to build up? Is it possible you think that tearing down those who are struggling is what Paul meant by bearing each others burdens? You may well be correct that there is not a non-blather support group available. This is sad, but as I said, life is hard.

  12. I will comment first on your thoughtful point about legalism. I have a migraine clinic and one of the mantras (pun intended) that I address with my incoming patients is to give up the legalisms that they have been taught. Before seeing me, they have seen countless medical providers, listened to hundreds of friends, watch too many doctor shows, read too many books, which all give the same message. “Having severe headaches is your fault. You need to follow strict rules for diet, exercise, supplements, right thinking and then you will be just like me, no headaches.” So, these poor people have given up all that they love, chocolate, wine, bread, cheese and the list goes on and on. HOWEVER, ( and I attend all scientific meetings around the world and read all the research journals) that if you subtract the placebo effect from these diets and legalism, here is the benefit for the headaches = 0. No benefit! My message to them is that their headaches are not their fault (most of the time) and that they have done a fantastic job in trying all of these things, now give yourself a break and enjoy these things to improve your quality of life. But, as you said, the Christian does not have the corner on legalism.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      “Having severe headaches is your fault. You need to follow strict rules for diet, exercise, supplements, right thinking and then you will be just like me, no headaches.”

      Money quote boldfaced — a secular version of the Christianese smackdown where The Proof of Salvation is Whatever I Do That You Don’t and the Unpardonable Sin is Whatever YOU Do that I Don’t.

      • You’re most correct HUG as usual. This really applies to mental illness when those who have the luxury of never having to deal with depression or anxiety tell those that do, “you should be a better person like me.”

        • Burro [Mule] says:

          Dividing the world into the Saved® and the Lost® is Manichee, not Christain.

          What did our Lord say about not being able to tell the difference?

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          This really applies to mental illness when those who have the luxury of never having to deal with depression or anxiety tell those that do, “you should be a better person like me.”

          Remember Job’s Counselors?
          It’s always those who have never been there who are first with the glib advice for those who are.

  13. I like the practice of mindfulness – it acts as a very helpful, very necessary counterweight to my tendencies towards regrets of the past and fears of the future, and orients me towards gratitude for the present moment that I’m in. The scary thing for me is how he world of commerce is getting its talons into mindfulness – if industry is getting into it, it generally isn’t because primarily it helps people, it is because primarily it makes people more efficient and more productive. I haven’t seen the extent to which it has become a legalism in the US – in the UK it’s still at an earlier stage of public awareness.

  14. I know that the issue of mindfulness was not your specific purpose of writing this excellent piece. But, my opinion, is that this whole mindfulness movement (and it is hard to find a psychologist for my patients who is not preaching this new gospel) is a perverted view of creation. It comes from the pantheistic view that this material world is nasty and the more that we remove ourselves from it, the better we are. One way to remove ourselves from it is by ignoring history (the past) and not thinking about the future but savoring in your own feelings at this very moment. I believe the Biblical view of nature is that 1) it was created by God outside of himself and was created fabulously for our good pleasure, 2) It is now broken (but not totally ruined) and we humans have been assigned to be the fixers of this world (redeemers). 3) That God dwells in reality and the most separated we are from reality (like celebrating the gift of cancer) the more blurred the face of God becomes and 4) as NT Wright has said, (and that I’m trying to say in my coming boo)k, is that God has a wonderful plan for this world in the future . . . it is not the Late-Great Planet but the coming Great Planet.

  15. Ronald Avra says:

    Good and timely thoughts, Chaplain. Good to know that your thoughts run in veins like these occasionally.

  16. The Onion nailed this a while back:

    http://www.theonion.com/article/loved-ones-recall-local-mans-cowardly-battle-with–772

    Headline: “Loved Ones Recall Local Man’s Cowardly Battle With Cancer”

  17. Wayne Essel (kurmujjin) says:

    Should not throw the baby out with the bath water, though. Yes, stop “shoulding” on people! But also, realize that being stuck in the past or the future because of fear and obsession can rob you of life in the present. Many of our spiritual heroes make the case for mindfulness and I bet all of them would decry “shoulding”.

    Aside, I observe that we, as a culture, seem to have lost the distinction between liberty and license…

  18. “Should” is a terrible word. In the two men’s groups I’m in (one Christian, one secular), we’ve talked about the need to eradicate it. Whenever I catch myself saying it, I try to quickly rephrase it with something less shaming or guilt-laden.

    • >> Whenever I catch myself saying it . . .

      Rick, as you well know, this is extremely difficult to do. I envy you not only one but two support groups who recognize the importance of this and, presumably, are able to gently mention it when we’ve once again blown it. This as opposed to getting into a full-scale debate over whether we should or should not minimize the use of should. Also I note the equal benefit to you of a non-religious group. More and more I am finding myself turning to non-Christian groups in the search for truth and enlightenment, tho non-Christian does not necessarily mean non-spiritual. Things are moving along at an ever-increasing pace, and I expect new meanings to that concept we love to deride of being Left Behind.

      • Several guys in both groups – BOTH groups – chuckle when we catch each other dropping the “should’ word. It’s become a fun thing, not a heavy burden. And it’s also amazing how often that words is used.

  19. Obi-Wan Kenobi: I have a bad feeling about this.
    Qui-Gon Jinn: I don’t sense anything.
    Obi-Wan: It’s not about the mission, Master. It’s something… elsewhere. Elusive.
    Qui-Gon: Don’t center on your anxieties, Obi-Wan. Keep your concentration here and now, where it belongs.
    Obi-Wan: But Master Yoda said I should be mindful of the future.
    Qui-Gon: But not at the expense of the moment. Be mindful of the living Force, young Padawan.

    Sorry. Couldn’t help it.

  20. Iain Lovejoy says:

    Mindfulness for Christians…
    Matthew 6:34: So do not fret over tomorrow’s things, for tomorrow can fret about itself; a day has enough troubles of its own.
    Substitute “the future” for “tomorrow” and “the present” or “the present task” for “a day” and this is what I understand active mindfulness to actually be, not some forced attempt to hyper-concentrate on everything.

  21. To be frank, this post sounds more like a commentary on the author’s inner furniture than anything else.

    • I’m tired of the dominant worldview that views me and treats me as a project and a consumer.

      • William Martin says:

        If I have done this my deepest apologies

      • “I’m tired of the dominant worldview that views me and treats me as a project and a consumer.”
        This. Yes.
        Me and the whole non-Christian world as projects that we need to court, coerce, or coddle to get them on our team.

      • Patrick Kyle says:

        I’m tired of the dominant worldview that views me and treats me as wrong and morally repugnant for holding differing political views. The irony of this post is overwhelming given that the focus of this blog is how Evangelicalism is a failure (they’re doing Christianity ‘wrong’) and those who disagree with theological and political progressivism are failing intellectually and morally.

        • From the post: “But there’s a lot more. Right and left-wing politics political correctnesses. Pro-life and pro-choice anyone? The political correctnesses of the elite and the hoi polloi. Various types of Christian political correctness as well as atheistic political correctness. And a multitude of other varieties, and tribes within tribes, all with their own thought-police and many with their own stores and merchandise.”

          I don’t get your beef, Patrick. I think I’ve given an equal-opportunity critique here.

          I also contend that I have always treated you as a discussion-partner with respect, even when we differ. “Morally repugnant”? Heavens. And “the focus of this blog is how Evangelicalism is a failure (they’re doing Christianity ‘wrong’) and those who disagree with theological and political progressivism are failing intellectually and morally.” I call baloney on that one. I know some blogs that fit that description well, but not this one.

  22. William Martin says:

    Sorry Chap but I do have a question and any one can answer but it mostly is to you. John the Baptist came and reigned over his body and preached repentance. Wouldn’t that be a kind of you should. I know of the Kingdom pf men Jesus said there are none greater than he but the least of the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he. I kind of get that meaning of His gift to us. I wonder did John do miracles like Jesus did or was it just a repentance ministry pointing to Jesus. I never felt John’s faith waiver all through his life from womb on. So when he told his disciples to go ask if He is the one I don’t think it was about him but the love he had for those who would not leave his side. I do realize this was a specific time and place and in context.

    Off topic I would love to learn more on the Saint of animals. Objectively and not exaggerated. A book reference is fine. Or at some point maybe ways we could look at and take better care of this place. I once saw a dead fawn on a bridge here and I wondered why no one could stop and help it. I have taken fawns separated and they followed me as I hid them for mom to find later and they actually listened to me as I put them in for the night. so righteous they were.

    • I wonder did John do miracles like Jesus did or was it just a repentance ministry pointing to Jesus.

      AFAIK there are no miracles attributed to JtB, either in Scripture or in traditions (Mule & Co. can set me straight on this).

      I never felt John’s faith waiver all through his life from womb on.

      I’ve never encountered that interpretation. Every major interpretation of John sending his disciples to Jesus was that he was indeed starting to waiver – Dorothy Sayer’s *The Man Born to be King* is very good at portraying John in this matter.

      • William Martin says:

        Eeyore I have heard that sermon many times how his faith wavered. I just can’t believe it. Never do I see it anywhere before this. His mission was to become less. He had disciples that wouldn’t leave him. He was completely an unselfish man. I can only see this as an attempt to get those men to see what he always saw from before His birth. It surely would makes sense from our point of view here and now that his faith wavered. Without meeting him John that is it would be hard to agree with the wavering. I hope I can someday see the fierceness of this man. I don’t mean fierceness as a violent thing but of spirit.

    • >> Mindfulness for Christians…

      The light of the body is the eye. Therefore, if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. Matt. 6:22
      But we have the mind of Christ. 1 Cor. 2:16
      Pray without ceasing. 1 Thess. 5.17

      In case it needs saying, Jesus is not talking about putting Visine in your eyeballs. Paul is not talking about intellectualism when he speaks of the mind of Christ. Paul is not talking about words when he says pray without ceasing. And just because someone abuses the concept of mindfulness is no reason to throw it out. Along with mindfulness there is another mostly ignored concept called discernment.

    • >> I would love to learn more on the Saint of animals.

      Bill, I don’t know anyone better for this than Francis of Assisi. He didn’t major in this, he just assumed that if Jesus came to heal the whole world, that this included animals as well as the rest of it. Legend has him preaching to birds and that’s on my bucket list. He didn’t write books but there must be a lifetime of reading about him both in books and online. Richard Rohr is a Franciscan. The current pope was the first to name himself after Francis. I think you and Francis Assisi would get along quite well. Perhaps Francis the pope too.

      >> I never felt John’s faith waiver all through his life from womb on.

      Mebbe so, but I expect you will have the opportunity to ask him some day. Apparently John was also the prophet we know as Elijah come around again in service to God, and Elijah once performed a mighty miracle in obedience to God, and then cut and run out of fear of a nasty queen, complained to God that he, Elijah, was the only one left and not being taken care of, in effect abandoned by God. Not his most shining moment, possibly something we all know something about. Mebbe John too, but mostly he hung in there and did right, as Elijah too.

      I think about you and your service to critters that cross your path. Hats off! I have buried two dogs in the past year, one I loved tho she was broken and difficult, one was my wife’s that I took care of dutifully when she abandoned ship and left him behind. I’m down to one cat, who was very specifically given to me by God, and I yearn for the day he leaves the planet. He is eighteen years old and well beyond his shelf life expiration date. We yell at each other a lot. I am doing my best to be grateful for him in my life, doing my best not to take him out into the back yard and send him on his way ahead of time, but he pushes it 24/7, constantly complaining, constantly demanding, occasionally acting like a decent human being. I often wonder, is this what I sound like to God? ~Charley

      • William Martin says:

        I have one like that. I saved from the streets here as he was starving. Been trying for 4 long years and still no affection what so ever on his part. Instead I get bitten regularly and clawed always drawing blood. I swear some days I would put the needle in myself only to feel bad later and to keep trying. Thought I could find a home for him but as people came he was always at his worst. Just wish he wouldn’t draw blood I can’t stand that.

        I knew it was Saint Francis at the time I was having a mental block on names. I was looking for an objective book as I believe as time goes things get exaggerated. Know a man who can do it in less than an hour…lol I speak to the animals. Have prayed over some watch them get healed. Some fast some with constant prayer. Always different. The who bites is so stubborn he never listens. Abuse can do that.

      • William Martin says:

        Saw Lisa Dye’s book On Saint Francis. Tried to buy it but couldn’t figure out how to pay. I guess I have to try and become a member or something. I think it was Amazon. Going to try again I like her get to the point way.

        • William H. Martin Jr says:

          Got it and another. Hope I have time by the time they get here. Guess I’ll Have to make it

  23. Idk. These legalisms are changing my life after fundamentalism messed it up. I remember well the sermons mocking those who ‘worshipped their bodies’ and went to the gym instead of going to church. Well, guess what happened? At 21 I looked like a SBC preacher passing out the KFC bucket to gather donations for his family of 13 to go to Old Country Buffet. Guess what turned that around? Mindfulness and exercise and self-esteem and so many other new legalisms.

    I’ll take them over the old ways any day.

    I realize that that’s not the point of this post, but it still irks me a little.

    • StuartB, I doubt that you shame or judge others for not finding the same value that you do in the “legalisms” (I’m not sure that’s the right word for what you’re describing — disciplines and legalisms are not the same thing) that are changing your life, but there are plenty who do. CM concludes, “Stop ‘shoulding’ on me,” which is directed at all those who play the shaming and guilting game.

      • Yeah, I know. But it’s hard for me to look at people who are hurting and need/ask for help and not offer what’s helped me.

        Just as I’d never offer Christianity to anyone, tho they’d offer it to me if it helped them.

        It’s tough.

  24. Stephen S. Mack says:

    Another definition of ‘political correctness’ is the abiding belief that it IS possible to pick up a turd by its clean end…

    With best regards.

    Stephen

    • William Martin says:

      Pick up turds everyday from the sweetest little 15 pound dog who never hurt anything in his life. Even the stray cats come walk with him as we walk him 6 times a day. Never seen anything like it. They all stink go figure…

    • Mike Jones says:

      I’ve got to remember that one.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      …abiding belief that it IS possible to pick up a turd by its clean end…

      That anything like the Little-enders of Lilliput and the Big-enders of Blefescu in Gulliver’s Travels?

  25. senecagriggs says:

    http://www.upi.com/Health_News/2016/11/28/Calories-on-fast-food-menus-not-changing-eating-habits-study-says/9361480384996/

    When all is said and done, nothing really changes.

    “MIndfulness” will be buried as an effective change agent in just a few years.

    • William Martin says:

      Nothing ever seems to change. They still cry out how long. I wonder if he hears my how long

    • Brianthedad says:

      When all is said and done, more has been said than done. Something I try to be mindful of.

      • William Martin says:

        Wouldn’t know,,,,,,,I have worked from before sunrise to midnight more times than I know. I have been all over the east coast working 70 hour weeks. I can’t even remember all the places I’ve been and it seems quite amazing to me as i was doing it for my family as well as me. Be 57 soon so it was only 40 years or more because I started at 14. Some of those days I never said a word. There was no one to talk to. Some the best things I had some days was putting food out to the strays on the mountain.

        I am only speaking on here because I’m still sick and all day to myself…..Frankly I’m lonely..

  26. time to go to bed
    morning finds its own daybreak
    but first the moon shines