Front Row or Back Seat?

Do you ever compare yourself to others? Presuming that you’re human, and that it is a human tendency to do so, you presumably have. Unfortunately it seems to be a natural weakness, a tendency we’re all inclined toward, until we overcome it.

I recently heard the story of one of my peers, recounting his life since we were in school together in eighth grade through to our mid-40s. He told of amazing accomplishments, helping people on small and large scales, locally and around the world. I was impressed! Inspired! Discouraged. After my initial reaction of genuine awe and appreciation, my hells latched onto that fleck of comparison, and I felt myself holding his marvellous good deeds on a pedestal and my puny, pathetic life in the gutter.

Once I’d processed those thoughts for a while, I managed to take a step back in an attempt to view our lives more objectively. For one thing, I only heard the good parts from my friend – he was giving a public inspirational talk, so of course he focussed on the inspirational parts. I don’t know what his home life is like, for example; he may be doing all this good stuff at the expense of the people closest to him. For another, it’s not my business to care how much more useful someone else is: I need to concern myself with myself, with my own usefulness and regeneration. If someone inspires me to be more useful than I was, great! But I’m not meant to judge others, I’m meant to evaluate whether I’m doing the best I can do. And anyway, life isn’t a contest or a race: it’s up to each of us to live our own lives according to the principles we hold dear.

Another perspective that occurred to me is that some people are ‘front-row’ people, helping and being useful in obvious ways – such as my classmate – while others are ‘back seat’ people, being just as useful and helpful but in the shadows, not in view of the public – a little more like me, I suppose. Being more obviously useful does not make those people any better than us back-seaters, I remind myself. The Lord, in His infinite wisdom, has created everyone to be useful, each in our own way. Everyone has her/his unique gifts and talents, which we’re to use to our advantage in being good and useful people. When I think about it, I remember that it takes all sorts: I wouldn’t want to be doing those massive public things, frankly; I’d much rather be doing my little, behind-the-scene things.

One of these ‘little’ uses is parenting my son. In evaluating my usefulness, unfortunately sometimes the number of children I’m mothering has crept into the dark shadows of my mind. I’ve only got one measly child (despite our best efforts); wouldn’t I be way more useful if I had a gaggle of kids? ….Then again, for all I know, maybe my ‘big use’ in life is to support someone else: maybe the main point of my life is to educate and nurture a future super-awesome global leader?! I guess this is one of those things that only time will reveal; in the meantime, I need to do my best with what I’ve got, doing my meaningful ‘little things’, keeping my eyes on The Goal.

In situations like these, where I feel inferior to these impressive people, I can (in retrospect, sigh) see that it’s the hells preying on my weakness, on my self-esteem. In those times, they’re attacking my desire to be the best, the most useful, the most impressive, the most important, the most superlative person. Most of the time that obsession with self is dormant, but nonetheless it’s still there, and it’s a difficult weakness to overcome. The Lord tells us that it’s the hardest to overcome, in fact.

‘The hardest battle of all… is with our love of being in control because of our sense of self-importance. If we overcome this, we have no trouble overcoming our other evil loves, because this is the head of them all.’ (Divine Providence 146)

(How encouraging! All we need to do is overcome our love of self……..)

Although our position in this world is an issue with which we each have to grapple, what it actually boils down to is the value we place on our self-importance. When we compare ourselves to others, we’re assessing how we rate relative to them – whether we are better or worse, more or less; we’re gauging who, in our own eyes, ‘wins’, who is more important. It is human nature – human, base, not spiritual – to want the best for ourselves, to love ourselves first, to desire the ‘more’ side of things, not so much the ‘less’, and in trying to be ‘more’, we want to determine our worth, to be in control of our worlds. While it is important to love and look after ourselves in order to serve others, the Lord clearly teaches that putting ourselves head and shoulders above the rest, for our own sakes, is not desirable.

‘The essential pleasure of our life is to love ourselves and the world more than anything else. This pleasure cannot be taken away instantly, only gradually; and to the extent that any of this pleasure stays with us, evil is stronger. The only way this evil can be taken away is for our love for ourselves to become a love of service, or for our love of power for our own sake to become a love of power for the sake of service. This makes service the head and for the first time makes the love of ourselves, or for power, the body beneath the head, and eventually the feet we walk on. …Goodness should be the head, and …when it is, the Lord is present.’ (Divine Providence 233)

Instead of thinking about whether we are front-row or back-seat people, let’s instead shift our focus to whether our love for others is front-row or back-seat. We do need to work on not comparing ourselves to others, as a step along the way to treating the bigger problem, the essential pleasure of loving ourselves and the world more than anything else.

OMG

If “OMG” were a spice, it would be salt. It’s in everything.

From “Oh my god, that dress looks great on you” to “Oh my god, can you believe gas prices?” people seem to throw “OMG” into just about any sentence. It’s a one-size-fits-all exclamation that is as pervasive as “um” or “like.”

And it troubles me. So much so that even writing it out gives me pause. I don’t capitalize the word “god” in these contexts because it doesn’t seem like the Lord is really any part of the subject matter. I was always taught that saying “OMG” in a casual way is taking the Lord’s name in vain—using the Lord’s name without any true, reverent thought of Him was breaking the second commandment. As an adult, after studying the Word and the Heavenly Doctrines, it seems pretty clear to me that the casual use of OMG is problematic and we shouldn’t say it carelessly (my emphasis below):

You are not to take the name of Jehovah your God in vain, for Jehovah will not hold anyone guiltless, who takes His name in vain. (Exodus 20:7)

Taking the name of Jehovah God in vain means in the natural or literal sense the misuse of the name itself in all sorts of conversation, especially false statements or lies, and in swearing without good cause, or in order to avoid being blamed, in evil intentions, which are curses, and in witchcraft and spells. (True Christianity 297)

In the spiritual sense the name of God means the whole of the church’s teaching taken from the Word, and through which the Lord is invoked and worshipped. Therefore taking the same of God in vain means using anything from this source in idle talk, false statements, lies, curses, witchcraft and spells; for this too is slandering and blaspheming God, and so His name. (True Christianity 298)

I guess what I’m focusing on here is the “idle talk” referred to in True Christianity 298. I’m not talking about deliberately disrespecting the Lord’s name. That’s more obviously wrong. I’m more concerned with the way people throw OMG around in an unintentional and thoughtless manner.

After some Googling on the subject, I found that other Christian groups are troubled by the OMG phenomenon, so this isn’t just a New Church thing. On the other hand, some people seem to think that “OMG” just doesn’t mean what it used to, so we shouldn’t worry about it. Sort of how “literally” used to be mean the opposite of “figuratively” and now they are considered synonyms. Language does crazy things over time. To many people, “OMG” is just another way of saying “Wow!” or “Are you kidding me?” and we shouldn’t give it a second thought.

Well I have given it much more than a second thought. I flinch every time I hear someone utter OMG in a way that seems irreverent. But that’s part of the problem—it seems irreverent. How do I know? Sure, I know plenty of atheists who use OMG regularly and I wonder what it is they think they’re saying. But I don’t think they intend to be irreverent. Maybe they say it just because it’s something that people say. It might be thoughtless and a misuse of the Lord’s name, but I don’t think it is typically an intentional slight to God or to those who believe in Him.

But what about people who believe in and love God? Who am I to say that someone doesn’t enjoy a very chummy kind of relationship with the Lord (as they understand Him) and that they really do think of the Lord whenever they slip OMG into conversation? It’s possible. Maybe I shouldn’t flinch as reflexively as I do.

I guess what troubles me the most is being uncertain of what to do about this phenomenon where the “G” in “OMG” seems essentially meaningless to most speakers. Since I can’t judge another person’s relationship to the Lord, it is hard for me to speak up about my discomfort even when close (non-New Church) friends use OMG in everyday conversation. It feels wrong to stay silent, but it also feels wrong to speak up when I can’t know a person’s mind or heart.

I’m not sure what there is to do besides live by example and not use the Lord’s name in this way. That’s better than nothing, but it does little to ease my concern about how this excessive use of OMG came to be socially acceptable and how this trend might affect people’s ability to connect with the Lord. After all, when we call someone by name, we’re referring to the whole person and not just a label. Saying someone’s name is fundamentally an effort to make contact with that person. And knowing how to connect with God is the greatest gift there is.

Do phrases like OMG trouble you? Why or why not? Have any of you had any breakthroughs in navigating our OMG culture in your relationships with people who may or may not be a part of the New Church? How do you handle the use of OMG in your home or workplace? How do you establish boundaries about this phrase being used in your presence? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject.

Seeking Inner Calm

About a year ago, I was not myself. It was a paradoxical time. Having just married the love of my life and celebrated a wonderful wedding with our loved ones, my heart was full. I had been showered with love and surrounded by blessings which truly humbled me. It was an incredibly special time.

On the other hand, I had been through a year of intense stress and was also coming down from a major high. Being a perfectionist, allowing my wedding day to be anything less than perfect was not an option. I wanted to execute my vision perfectly and was acutely aware that this was a once off event – the most meaningful and important of all the days I would have on this Earth. I promised myself that as long as I did every single thing I could ahead of time to ensure that the day would be as faultless as I had the power to ensure, I would “let go” on the day itself. This would make certain that I could be present in the moment with peace of mind, knowing that the rest was out of my control. Being naturally future orientated, living in the present is very difficult for me, but I knew that on this day, being present was the most important thing I could do. I am grateful that I can look back on our wedding day and see, feel, hear and experience it again in my memory. I was able to “let go” and be as present as I could be, and that is largely thanks to extreme planning. It was a beautiful day and even my inner perfectionistic critic is overjoyed with how it turned out. Continue reading Seeking Inner Calm

Beautiful for One or Many?

Last week we received this intriguing comment regarding beauty from Ebute-metta Gloria in Nigeria:

“Why is it that women(Wives) like to wear open and transparent dressing irrespective of the season. There is this saying that beauty is to be internal, let our beauty be kept for the our husband alone. My worry is on the married women who are called wives. There was an argument in the spiritual world where women or rather wives wanted to dress beautifully in order to be seen by others but the men said no, it should be only to her husband, and this was confirmed by wives from heaven, that the men are correct, married women are only to appear beautiful to their husband…….. C.L. 330.4. What is your opinion as a New Church woman?”

I was fascinated by this concept and had to look up Conjugial Love 330. Though I’ve read through this book several times, somehow I don’t remember this poignant little memorable relation all about how men and women relate to female beauty. The portion Gloria is referencing is at the very end:

“I once heard a friendly discussion among some men regarding the feminine sex, as to whether any woman can love her husband if she is constantly in love with her own beauty, that is, if she loves herself on account of her appearance. The men agreed among themselves, first that women have a twofold beauty, one a natural beauty having to do with their face and figure, and the other a spiritual beauty having to do with their love and demeanor. They agreed also that these two kinds of beauty are very often separated in the natural world, but that they are always united in the spiritual world; for outward beauty in the spiritual world is an expression of a person’s love and demeanor. It frequently happens after death therefore that homely women become beautiful, and beautiful women homely. Continue reading Beautiful for One or Many?