Thursday, February 22, 2018

Lentblogging Day 10 - The Anatomy of Good Habits

Your brain can be your friend.
One-quarter through Lent! If you are enjoying this series, please consider tossing a little salmon the Bear's way. Or, better yet, add a few more and get an autographed copy of his Lenten Companion (see sidebar). While you're waiting, he'll email you enough of it to tide you over until you receive your copy.

___________________

You may have read somewhere that it takes some certain magic number of days to form a habit; Twenty-one is the most popular. However, that is closer to the minimum number of days. According to the latest studies, it takes an average of 66 days, or 18 to 254 days to develop a new habit.

The habits you strive to develop during Lent may or may not stick before Easter. That's okay, as long as you don't give up. Your brain is there to help.

However, we are not just white-knuckling our way out of bad habits and into good. By now (Bear hopes) you have planned your Tower of Lent down to the last penny. The Bear is all about Lenting smart. That means plan what you can accomplish, and accomplish what you planned. If you find that your plan isn't working, that's okay. Roll back on your haunches and figure out why.

One question to ask is whether you need to step back and discover a foundation habit before you begin to build. If, for example, you are not a person of regular habits, you may find any tower you attempt to build to have a foundation of sand.

You see, we seldom accomplish anything through sheer willpower. We must figure out specific, practical ways to avoid near occasions of sin. In other words, be smart and give yourself the best chance of success. That may mean making changes to your physical environment and daily routine; it will always mean frequent appeals to God in prayer. Unfortunately, we are seldom taught this. We are often merely exhorted to be more like this or that saint, say certain prayers, and in general, just be determined to be better.

And we wonder why we so often fail. Jesus was always using practical examples in his parables for a reason.

Sometimes we will fail. But, research shows a stumble or fall here and there does not appreciably slow the development of a new habit.

The Bear cannot tell you when your Lenten resolve to say the Divine Office, or read the Bible 30 minutes every day, or say a Rosary with your family every day (the latter two are both worth a plenary indulgence, with the usual conditions) will stick. He can't predict how long it will take to get out of a bad habit, either. He can predict that it will seem like all sorts of obstacles will rear their heads to stop and discourage you, though.

However, the research shows that if you stick with it, it will take root in your brain. And that's not even counting the help of the Holy Spirit.

We used to be told that our brain never changes, that nerve cells were the only cells in our bodies that were not renewed. We now know that's nonsense. The human brain is plastic. In other words it is like clay, and physically adapts to thoughts and experiences.

Every time you say "no" to a bad habit and say "yes" to a good one you are changing your brain a tiny bit, and a little closer to behaving like the person you want to be. (By the same token, every time you say "yes" to a bad habit, that will change your brain, too.) You may have become more like the person you want by the end of this very Lent. More likely, it will be sometime later. However, you can have confidence that, if you don't give up, you can do do it, with God's help.

Romans 12:2 (RSVCE2) - "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind."

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Lentblogging Day 9 - Discretion

St. Benedict
Those with a wide perspective and eyes to see will know that a cultural tsunami swept away an entire civilization during the 20th Century. No Western institution was spared. Today, we are watching them all fail at the same time and for the same reasons.

Would that Christianity had been spared.

It is only natural that we focus on our faith, but if we are observant, we can trace the correspondences to failings in other institutions of the West. They are all dying from the same disease.

The result is that most of us don't get to live out our faith in beauty and continuity with the past. It takes the virtues of discretion, perseverance, obedience and humility to survive. Often some of these are the very virtues our religious leaders seem to lack, but pretend to have in abundance. That makes it all the harder for the rest of us.

Righteous indignation is the order of the day for many, not excepting the Bear, he admits.

It is certainly the natural reaction for many, but is it the best one? The Bear often finds himself so full of us own ideas that his cup overfloweth - and he's the only one doing the pouring!

What if (the Bear wonders today) he came to his religion with an empty cup. What if he painfully watched all of his precious ideas - but, they're all right! - spill onto the ground until he was left with an empty cup and trusted God to fill it with new wine? No doubt, many readers are objecting that you can't trust God to fill your cup these days, at least not there, although you'd be safe if you came here, or maybe went over there.

The Bear, however, having only a 450 gm brain, wonders if there are things besides intellectual positions that God's pitcher might contain for us.



The Discretion of the Rule of St. Benedict

The discretion that is behind the Rule of St. Benedict is avoiding extremes. For example, St. Benedict did not think it was proper for monks to drink any wine at all. However, he exercises discretion and recognizes human weakness. He allows about three glasses of wine per day.

It takes humility to accept things we know are less than the ideal. To make allowance for human weakness. It takes obedience to follow authority. No doubt, there were many monks who pointed to some other abbot who did not limit wine. Others said, "In the past monks were not allowed any wine at all. Who is this Benedict fellow to come in and make some liberal innovation?"

And yet, it is the Rule of St. Benedict that survived the Fall of the Roman Empire is still with us to this day. The same sort of humility and discretion is found in St. Benedict's Rule concerning the psalms.

Above all else we urge that if anyone finds this distribution of the psalms unsatisfactory, he should arrange whatever he judges better, provided that the full complement of one hundred and fifty psalms is by all means carefully maintained every week, and that the series begins anew each Sunday at Vigils. For monks who in a week’s time say less than the full Psalter with the customary canticles betray extreme indolence and lack of devotion in their service. We read, after all, that our holy Fathers, energetic as they were, did all this in a single day. Let us hope that we, lukewarm as we are, can achieve it in a whole week.

Once again, St. Benedict is not holding his monks to the ideal of the past. The singing of the psalms was at the heart of his Rule. It was no small thing to tinker with the liturgy, the opus - they both mean the same thing: work. Today, we have our four-week psalters, and even those leave out a bit. It is doubtful many would say all 150 psalms in a week.

When we find ourselves outraged and scandalized, we may justify it on the very best of grounds - we're right. At least we have excellent arguments and can cite authority. Of course, only Bears take this to such an extreme that it begins to get between them and God. Humans are too smart for that.

Some Benedictine Monk - Bear cannot remember where he saw it, but it was recently - wrote this: the vessels of the altar are treated no differently than the dishes in the sink!

What do you think of that? Sacrilege? Or is it a comment on our tendency to turn off and on our Christianity depending on what we're doing? What if the heart of each of us sang a different, but harmonious unbroken hymn to God from waking to falling asleep?

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Lentblogging Day 8 - The Devil's Fast

The Devil's Fast

Giving up something is a valuable discipline. Hopefully, you have chosen something you like, but do not need, and can faithfully observe.

However, unless you are adding to your usual measure of prayer, alms and service to others, giving something up won't do you much good. There are some who have even given up regular prayer without realizing it! If you have been following the Lentblogging of the Bear, or using his Lenten Companion, you will have figured out that the Bear is all about a common sense approach to Lenting.

When you fast but neglect prayer, you may become proud of your discipline without receiving any benefits from it.


The Liturgy of the Hours for Example

Every Christian tradition has its signature prayers and overall style. One of the most time-tested is the Liturgy of the Hours, or Divine Office. It is based on the psalms. It has the added advantage of a daily schedule that sanctifies your whole day. It is also makes prayer time harder to forget and becomes a good habit.

In previous times, it was prayed only by religious and clerics. Now, it has been made more accessible for lay persons of all traditions.

The four-volume set or even the one volume Christian Prayer can be daunting. You can, however, purchase a slim one-volume Shorter Christian Prayer that has different prayers for each day of the week for four weeks. Another excellent choice, especially if you would like to learn to sing the Hours (which is well worth the effort) is the Liturgy of the Hours for Benedictine Oblates from St. Meinrad Archabbey. The Bear confesses he is partial to this one.

The four-week psalters do not observe the Church calendar. That makes them much less complicated to learn. The St. Meinrad edition covers prayers for morning and evening in the four-week cycle, plus midday and Compline at bedtime.

On the first Sunday of Lent, the cycle "resets" to week one. After the fourth week, it starts over again. The Bear would be happy to answer any questions about the LOTH. Just ask in the comments. You can read another article about the LOTH with pictures, here.

The important thing, however, is to pray and give alms. You don't want to do the Devil's Fast.

You may watch the 60-second book trailer or skip it, although there is rare footage of the Bear in the wild.


60-second trailer for 
the Bear's Lenten Companion.
PayPal $18.99 for autographed copy &
Bear will email a PDF to get you started.
(Available from Amazon as ebook for $9.99.)
See DONATE button in the sidebar on the right.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Lentblogging Day 6 - 10 Unintended Lessons


Blessed Holy Water gone from stoups,
but where is the traditional
Blessed Lenten Sand
this Year? 
One thing about live Lentblogging is that, if the blogger is honest, some days are going to be better than others. Sunday was pretty lousy. Poor Bear spent a lot of time in thought and prayer that night.

Funny how Saint Corbinian's Bear Lenten Companion for Bearish Humans describes the very same challenges. Religion as a near occasion of sin and legitimate disappointment in one's shepherds. Poor Bear has been dealing with this stuff since the 8th Century and still struggles.

Most of all, the Bear realizes that he foresaw what would challenge him Sunday, and yet, stupidly, he did not prepare himself in advance. For a Bear who is supposed to be Lenting smart, this was a huge oversight.

Here are 10 unintended lessons he learned Sunday. At the end is a video that inspires the Bear during Lent, although he must admit St. Benedict would not approve. One of the most important lessons is to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again.





10 Unintended Lessons the Bear Learned Sunday
  1. Most important is this: Usually, we are hurt more by our reaction ("the very idea!") than the actual injury. There may be a bit of ego hidden beneath the scandal (although that does not take responsibility from the one causing scandal.) A little bit of Bearish righteous indignation goes a long way.
  2. The second is we do not have to stick our heads in the sand and pretend there are no problems. That would not be honest. There are big problems. The real question, then, is narrow: How do we plan on dealing with them during this Lent? Are we stuck complaining about the same things from year to year?
  3. We must Lent smart. That means planning to meet foreseeable challenges. For example, if we know some upcoming religious event will be turned into political theater, we should decide in advance the best response. You may hear some obnoxious hobbyhorse flogged every Sunday. Where the Bear is, it's all about the interfaiths. The Devil is clever, but prefers to get under your skin in ways that have proved reliable in the past. His tactics should not surprise smart Christians and should definitely be a part of the plans for your Tower of Lent.
  4. The Bear expected some jiggery-pokery with the holy water during Lent. Yes, he thinks removing it shows confusion between a blessed sacramental and a mere symbol and is a dumb local innovation. What can he say, except, o tempera, o mores? He can use all the holy water he wants at home, or even bring it with him to church if he needs it that bad. (See 1 above.)
  5. Similarly, when it comes to Holy Scripture, the Bear knows the USCCB's NABRE has inclusive language and smartest-kid-in-the-room footnotes that appear to question the unique inspired character of the Bible. Since that bothers the Bear, he must either ignore it or pick a different approved translation.**
  6. We must expect that the Devil will hit us where it hurts the most during Lent: our religion. Knowing this going in, we should plan a sound strategy and pick ourselves up when we get knocked down anyway. For the Bear, that usually takes 24 hours: some growling, some ranting, some thinking, a quiet talk with God, and a good night's sleep. (Reading Lamentations helped put things in perspective, too.)
  7. During Lent, we should focus on prayer, fasting and alms, one day at a time. We should take each day as a lesson, just as the Bear did during his very first Lent and is still doing 1300 years later. We can learn even from our failures. Remember: experience is not what happens to you, it's what you learn from what happens to you.
  8. Whatever else is going on in the wide world beyond our homes, the actual daily practice of Christianity remains the same: (1) a consistent prayer life; (2) regular devout reading of Holy Scripture; (3) cultivating an appreciation for the presence of God in our daily lives; (4) trying to conform ourselves to the requirements of our religion; and (5) following a sensible personal rule.
  9. We are all psychologically different. Some of us meet frustration with plenty of room to back up and handle it. Others (Bears) live with their backs to the wall. We should always strive for insight into our own psychology as one ingredient to Lenting smart- and living smart. In a way, you might see your Christian life as a whole boiled down to the essentials during these 40 days.
  10. If your religion consistently robs you of the peace of Christ, you might sit down and take inventory of specific problems. Where can you humble yourself by submitting your intellect? Where are you being stubborn and self-willed? How often do you seek and find perverse enjoyment in scandal? How do you plan on dealing with the real obstacles while remaining true to your faith?
On second thought, perhaps these lessons might not have been intended by any human, but God Himself knows what the Bear needs to learn.


Some Wise Words on Lent from Fred & Ginger
(Unless Ginger is a Near Occasion of Sin)
from Swing Time, RKO, 1936




*As an aside, suggestions to find a traditional parish are not helpful for many who live hours from a major metropolitan area. Moreover, it's just not the style of Bears to give up their territory. Experience has taught the Bear that if he cannot live his faith in his own parish, he doubts he would be able to do better somewhere else. His instinct is to stay and adapt to harsh conditions.

**The RSV2-CE Ignatius Press Didache Bible is much better, but even it includes a disclaimer for the beginning of chapter 9 of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) about the Jewish "patriarchal society," to go with the NABRE's fancier "androcentric viewpoint." So much fuss over sound advice to men about avoiding near occasions of sin! See this EWTN page for a concise rundown of Catholic Bibles.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Lentblogging Day 5 & 6 - Religion as a Near Occasion of Sin UPDATE

The Bear's Article on Religion as a Near Occasion of Sin Was Prescient

Today, no holy water. Its absence represents the
spiritual and intellectual desert in which
poor Bear must live, he supposes.
UPDATE: Before Mass Sunday, the priest read a letter from the bishop urging stronger gun control. Then gun control was presented as a "prayer intention." (As the Pope Videos prove, "intentions" are a great way to present left-wing agitprop in religious garb.) Also, there was no holy water in the stoup. At least there was not sand or sticks.

The Bear watched every single person dipping their fingers into the dry bowl as they entered the church. It was like some Catholic Candid Camera setup.

Well, well. Here the Bear finds himself obligated by his own integrity to discuss the very sort of thing he so blithely dismissed before. It's one thing to preach in the abstract, and something else to have the very problem crammed down your throat. How can he ignore this sort of thing, even during Lent, when it is a practical challenge?

So, here are a couple of articles you might find interesting. One is a detailed article on the Church and gun control, and the other discloses the astonishing roster of Soros-connected lefties that produced the USCCB's gun-grab position.

Finally, there is an article on the forgotten Bath Township school massacre which remains the deadliest in the U.S. to date with a final death toll of 44. Forgotten, perhaps, because the killer did not use guns. See Before They Blamed Guns, They Blamed Catholics.

The homosexual child abuse scandal has reared its scaly head, again, in the background, as it seems that clients of Pope Francis were protected and promoted despite apparently credible allegations.

The implications of his encyclical Amoris Laetitia are being worked out on an ad hoc basis around the world when it comes to the propriety of divorced and remarried Catholics in the communion line.

The Bear does not know who said it, but the Catholic Church in America truly is the Democrat party at prayer. This is not the place to launch into a defense of the second amendment, which the Supreme Court has recognized as a personal right. At a minimum, however, it is one of several political issues that have polarized Americans. Perhaps, Church leaders might at least have the prudence to recognize that and not see worshippers as a captive audience for their debatable political positions.

They just can't help themselves from taking advantage of an opportunity like this, though.

Aside from politics, one can only marvel at the wrong-headedness of depriving people of an important sacramental like holy water during Lent.

So, yes, indeed, it was a prescient article for the Bear. Since this is a very practical series of articles on succeeding in Lent, the Bear thinks he ought to share good strategies for dealing with the kind of thing he experienced Sunday. His catch phrase for Catholics has always been, "Nail your foot to the floor in front of your favorite pew and die there."

What do you think? Is that good enough? Or are there no significant problems in the Catholic Church today?

Sunday before last a woman dressed up in some sort of priestess outfit conducted the service (not a Mass) because there was no priest available. Think about that for a moment.

When we are trying to attract people to the Catholic Church, as one commenter suggested, what is the best thing to tell them? Shrug and say the Church just has always had some flawed human beings in it, but is still unique in teaching the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the unchanging truth? Or just say nothing and hope they don't notice anything before we have them in the boat?

Of course, there is a good answer.

Pope Francis has suggested over and over the dismay that has divided Catholics and scandalized a large segment of the faithful who blog about the Church is simply the result of ignorance but mostly ill will. How does that answer sit with you?

Maybe the absence of holy water during Lent - where there is no tradition or rule allowing it - should just make us think about the desert in which Jesus fasted. If that line of reasoning is correct, perhaps we should go further and remove all sacramentals from our homes, too. We should not make the sign of the cross, or say the rosary, or display crucifixes during Lent. How far could you imagine such "symbolism" could go, if carried to its logical conclusion? Is there a problem with seeing holy water as a nothing more than a symbol to be manipulated at the whim of parish priests?

And, with the sole exception of abortion, it seems one must be a member of a certain political party in order to be a good American Catholic.

It would be the easiest thing in the world for the Bear to sweep his concerns under the rug during a series on Lent. That was his earlier idea. However, he suspects he is not the only person who is scandalized by their religion and whose Lenten peace and growth is challenged by the very institution to which he looks for assistance. The Bear would not feel like he was being honest if he ignored all this in a series about practical strategies for Lent.

The Bear cannot tell you what you should do when religion becomes a near occasion of sin, unless it is to convince yourself that you are the problem and be assimilated.

Or, if that does not ring true to you, perhaps the answer is just to do your best to ignore it. That might be easy for humans. It is not so easy for Bears.

________________________________________

Many times, going to church has been a near occasion of sin for the Bear. Sometimes it's all he can do to remain quiet in his pew without rising up on his hind legs and roaring in indignation.

Many Catholics  have grown increasingly confused and worried over the past few years. However, many Protestants have also found the Evangelical movement wanting and waning. It would serve no purpose to prepare charges and specifications against any religion. If you are satisfied where you are, the Bear is very happy for you. If you are not, he does not need to give you the reasons.



Wisdom from Pope Benedict XVI

But, whether it is a strange gospel of social and material equality without Christ - of "issues" - or a feel-good faith that builds self-esteem, many are turning away from such ideas and looking for the truth.

In Pope Benedict XVI's book Co-Workers of the Truth, the reading for February 17th says something we don't often hear these days:


It is a thoroughly Christian impulse to combat suffering and injustice in the world. But to imagine that men can construct a world without them by means of social reform, and the desire to do so here and now, is an error, a deep misunderstanding of human nature. For suffering does not come into the world solely because of the inequality of possessions and power. 


From: Die Situation der Kirche heute, pp. 37–38

Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 64). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.


Certitude

Blaise Pascal
It seems to Bear that disaffected Christians crave intellectual certainty. In other words, they want the truth, which seems reasonable enough. Some believe they may find it in looking to the past, or to the East, or, increasingly, to the stark security of TULIP Calvinism. (Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace and Perseverance.)

The Bear doesn't really have much to say about that. He understands. May the Holy Spirit guide you, but may you accept that you may very well go to your grave as a sheep poorly fed, if fed at all.

This Lent might be a good time to look beyond our doubts and even our disgust and accept that the kind of security we crave might never be found in having all our doctrinal ducks in a row. No, it isn't fair, and, yes, you should expect better than you are often getting from your shepherds.

Friends, the Bear respectfully invites you to wonder if your religion is getting between you and God, and what you might try to do about that. Obsessing over the latest scandal cannot be spiritually healthy, especially during Lent. 

There are ways, the Bear believes, that one may be right, but wrong.

One possible response is to turn directly to God more often through reading Scripture, through prayer, and through alms-giving and service. We cannot go far wrong in our religion if we take more responsibility for loving and serving God, and practicing charity toward our neighbor.

Another spiritual discipline for this Lent might be to just tune out. Avoid the constant grumbling, even if it is justified. Many of us must simply accept that we are unlikely to ever find rest for our souls in our religions.

This seems like a shame, but even the Bear has not changed things to his liking, no matter how clever his agitprop.

However, who knows if we might find a different kind of certitude? The brilliant mathematician Blaise Pascal recorded a mystical experience that gave him just that.



Pascal's Memorial

Monday, 23 November, feast of St. Clement, pope and martyr, and others in the martyrology. Vigil of St. Chrysogonus, martyr, and others.

From about half past ten at night until about half past midnight, 



FIRE

GOD of Abraham, GOD of Isaac, GOD of Jacob
not of the philosophers and of the learned.
Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace.
GOD of Jesus Christ.
My God and your God.
Your GOD will be my God.
Forgetfulness of the world and of everything, except GOD.
He is only found by the ways taught in the Gospel.
Grandeur of the human soul.
Righteous Father, the world has not known you, but I have known you.
Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy.
I have departed from him:
They have forsaken me, the fount of living water.
My God, will you leave me?
Let me not be separated from him forever.
This is eternal life, that they know you, the one true God, and the one that you sent, Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ.
I left him; I fled him, renounced, crucified.
Let me never be separated from him.
He is only kept securely by the ways taught in the Gospel:
Renunciation, total and sweet.
Complete submission to Jesus Christ and to my director.
Eternally in joy for a day's exercise on the earth.
May I not forget your words. Amen.


And the Bear said Amen.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Lentblogging Day 4 - Holy Selfishness

St. Corbinian and a rather pitifully small Bear.


Saint Corbinian's Priorities

Here's a very interesting thing about St. Corbinian the Bear found while doing research for his Lenten Companion for Bearish Humans. It is just like they tell you on the airplane.
Though indefatigable in his apostolic functions, he was careful not to overlay himself with more business than he could bear, lest he should forget what he owed to his own soul. He always performed the divine office with great leisure, and reserved to himself every day set hours for holy meditations, in older to recruit and improve the spiritual vigor of his soul, and to cast up his accounts before God, gathering constantly resolution of more vigilance in all his actions.

Butler, A. (1903). The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs and Other Principal Saints (Vol. 3, pp. 624–625). New York: P. J. Kenedy.


Busy Bear

The Bear keeps very busy with daily ephemeris articles, writing novels and other books, the crazy-making work surrounding their publishing, researching the faith, and doing narration for short features. (The Pillars of Creation is wonderful, but the next one is epic in comparison.)

Today, Bear woke up, got out of bed, and prayed a sleepy Lauds. So far so good. (He always prays for his readers, too, especially those using his new Lenten Companion right now. The prayer goes, God, please don't let anything Bear has written cause a brother or sister in Christ to stumble. Please make up for any stupid Bear things.)

Bear did not say his midday prayers. That's not all he didn't do.

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.” (Luke 10:41)


Bear is Derelict in his Duties

He had his Liturgy of the Hours for Benedictine Oblates all ready. He had his Bible for lectio divina and his Rule of Saint Benedict for today's reading. He even had his rosary. But as Vespers approached, poor Bear had not found the time for doing any of it.

Bear realizes he puts in so much time helping his friends he often leaves little time to care for his own soul. That's not a boast; it's the sort of clear-sighted realization we wait for during Lent. The problem is, he realizes, you can't give to others what you do not have yourself. 

Saint Corbinian realized the soul for whom he was most responsible was his own.


Are You Too Busy Doing Good to Take Care of Your Own Soul?

Bear knows people who are very busy with their jobs and families or school. Sometimes, doing good things can leave little time for our own relationship with God. 

What would it take to put God first in your life this Lent? Regular Daily Habits is a wonderful foundation for a Tower of Lent. Do you include in your Lenten strategy firm commitments to take care of your own soul, even if you must postpone or limit your business on behalf of others?

If St. Corbinian thought reserving time for his own religious practices was necessary even for a saint, it is even more important for Bears and you.

It's like they tell you on the airplane. When the oxygen masks drop, first put yours on, and only then help anyone else with theirs.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Lentblogging Day 3 - The Crook Who Was Admired by Jesus

Jesus: "Be like this crook."
We are careful in matters of the world, practical and full of plans. That's good. Prudence is a virtue.

And, yet, when it comes to our faith, we tend to bumble along from one disaster to another like Rowan Atkinson's good-natured comic character, Mr. Bean.

That's because we don't Lent smart.

Instead of being practical and full of plans to give ourselves a fighting chance, we see growth as a product of our own effort. Will power. Instead of identifying one vice to root out or one virtue to  cultivate, and drawing up a practical plan, we stumble along with a vague intention of being better people. 

Somehow, the very practical religion of Christianity has gotten separated from common sense and floats in a separate "spiritual" sphere we don't engage with our brains.

Remember the Tower of Lent? (Luke 14:25-30) Jesus was always talking about hard-nosed practicality. His parables use everyday situations to illustrate his teachings. No one was more practical than Jesus. In fact, his very first miracle was turning water into wine at a wedding after his mom noticed they were running out.

He even found something to admire in a clever embezzler.

Read Luke 16:1-9. A rich man had a crooked steward - business agent - who got caught lining his own pockets with the boss's money. He was ordered to wrap things up and hit the road. The steward was horrified at the thought of having to make an honest living, so he devised a cunning plan.

He went to everyone who owed his boss money and settled their accounts as favorably as 50 cents on the dollar. Perhaps many of these debtors were delinquent, because, when the steward brought back a large sum of money, the boss was not angry, but admired his cleverness.

When we don't have specific goals, when we don't make practical plans, when we don't pray for God's help, in short, when we rely on our own white knuckled efforts to "be a better person," we fail. Instead, we should focus on a few specific problems and devise a cunning plan that specifically addresses them. 

If you are following these 40 days of lentblogging, you may recall the Bear has for a goal Regular Daily Habits. It is the foundation of his Tower of Lent. On one, he followed his plan - all one step of it. He woke up at the right time, but then he got on his computer instead of getting out of bed.

A reader gave some very practical advice: keep your computer somewhere else.

Now, that's what the Bear is talking about!

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