Place your bet

Blaise Pascal was a famous mathematician who lived in France in the 1600’s.  A child prodigy, Pascal was also an inventor, physicist, writer as well as theologian.  He’s well known for a bet of sorts, “Pascal’s Wager”, that I believe is very relevant to consider today.

The decision

The basic premise is that every person has a decision to make: do you believe in God?  You can’t NOT make this decision, it’s either a yes or a no.  No fence exists to sit on here.  As you read this now, recall what you currently believe and whether you’re a “yes” or a “no”.  Part of the challenge here is that you have to decide without certainty, facts and proof.  Some of us may have personal experiences that lend strength to why we decide what we do, but this is a decision we all have to make rather than a conclusion we can arrive at scientifically or based on any real evidence.

Note, that whatever you decide, when you die you’ll find out whether Gods’ existence is a “yes” or “no”, but until then you’re making a choice and betting on that choice with how you live your life.

Here’s how the different scenarios play out based on this decision and the potential outcomes.

Screen Shot 2018-07-13 at 08.00.17

We can’t control (or know) the real “Yes” or “No” but we can decide on how we conduct our lives (Righteous or Sinful) – which is largely motivated by our decision.

How you live based on that decision

If you choose to be a “yes” you will very likely be motivated to live a righteous life.   Belief in God comes with a belief that there is an eternal reward for how we conduct ourselves, hence the righteous life.  The many Saints were happy to forego short-term enjoyment in their worldly lives on the belief that infinite enjoyment was waiting for them.

It’s a lot harder to be motivated to lead that kind of life if you choose “no”.  You may still be righteous if you have good values & ethics (most likely coming from positive influences in your childhood) but the motive for that is not near as strong as those who’ve chosen “yes”.  I would argue that the “No” betters are more inclined to lead a life focused on their own enjoyment and pleasure because of their belief that when they die it’s all over anyway.  What’s the point of making sacrifices or helping others, surely they should seek the very best for themselves (often at the cost of others) because when they die there’s nothing anyway?

What are the stakes?

Since we don’t know the real outcome of whether God exists until we die, we’re essentially placing a bet on our choice.  It becomes a matter of short term enjoyment and a risk/reward on infinite enjoyment based on the Yes/No dynamic.  Putting the Risk/Reward against each box of the above, it looks like this:

Screen Shot 2018-07-13 at 08.21.46

Place your bet

Ask anyone who gambles often (or professionally) and they’ll tell you that the bet they place is rarely tied to their own allegiances or favourites but where they get the best payout based on the stakes.  I’ve seen some ridiculous bets being placed because the payout – if it happens – is huge.

Consider the payouts of the above scenarios and how that impacts your choice, and the conduct to follow.  To bet on “No” you only have a short term gain at the risk of an infinite loss.  To bet on “Yes” you have an infinite gain at the cost of a short term loss.  Even if it turns out you’re wrong and God doesn’t exist and after dying it’s just nothingness.  Your only loss was the finite enjoyment that you sacrificed on – but you won’t exist to even regret this.  Betting on “No” being wrong, however, that’s not a place I’d like to find myself after death.

So what’s your decision?

 

the “new” corporate culture

Recently, I’ve read a lot about social media and how companies are using this to change their ways.  The old standard of a corporation being a one-way channel of communication (ie: they speak to us through advertising but there’s no hope for us speaking to them) is starting to dissolve into a new norm.  Thanks to social media (ie: Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, etc.), our voice is shared amongst all those we associate with, giving it much greater power and volume.  Companies wanting to stay fresh and current have a responsibility to listen to and respond to that feedback (positive and negative).

Is any of this a big surprise, though?  If you think of human relationships, it has to go both ways.  We need to listen to the other as much as we speak, otherwise we’re not in a valued relationship.  The false notion that this doesn’t apply to companies has been dismissed now that we have a powerful enough tool to communicate back to these companies, and this is requiring a whole new level of honesty and humility on the part of very large and powerful companies (think Walmart, McDonalds and Pepsi).

It’s one thing to simply listen, but if the content of that message is negative it requires humility and enough introspection to respond in a way that betters yourself and your relationships.  Now that the “flood-gates” are open to a whole new level of communication, we’re all charged with becoming better listeners and more aware of ourselves so that we can grow (regardless of whether “we” are a person or a company).

good luck? bad luck? maybe.

It’s been a while (sorry for that), but I wanted to return with an old Zen Buddhist story:

The Farmers’ Luck

There is an old farmer who had worked his crops for many long years.  One day his horse ran away.  Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit.  “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.

“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses.  “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.

“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The following day, the farmers’ son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown off, and broke his leg.  The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy.  “How unfortunate,” they said.

“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army.  Seeing the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by.  The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.

“Maybe,” the farmer replied

This story is very applicable to each of us, especially when times seem difficult.  We can never know if something is a good thing or a bad thing, as surprising results can come from anything.  God works in His own way and can bless tragic situations in a way that you couldn’t have imagined.  The important thing is that we withhold judgment of an event or a challenge and simply carry on.  Just like the farmer, continue to just be.

is your cup full?

A comment made in the early scenes of the movie Avatar really stuck with me.  One of the Na’vi criticized the ignorance of some of the humans by saying, “You can’t fill a cup that’s already full.”  This is a variation of a saying I’ve heard before, but it really got me thinking.

How truly open are we when it comes to our values and opinions?  Is our cup so full that we stubbornly close our eyes to truth (or just another perspective)?  Do we see this in others when trying to explain the basics of our faith?  We certainly can’t “empty” someone else’s cup that we’d like to re-fill, but we can take close look at our own cup and make sure we leave room for differing views and values.

Many arguments remain unresolved because both sides refuse to allow their cup to be filled with their counterparts reasoning.  I wonder how many wars would be averted if we all had a more open mind and compassionate heart.

environmentalism & faith

My wife and I had the great pleasure of seeing Avatar last night in 3D.  Amazing.  If you haven’t seen it, it’s definitely worth seeing if only for the experience of a truly immersive 3D movie.  That’s not what I want to talk about, though.

The story of the movie brings up a good critique of our society’s treatment of our planet, albeit in a very extreme sense.  On one side you have the humans (us) not caring about nature whatsoever and taking the resources they want through destructive force.  On the other side you have the natives (the Na’vi) who are in harmony with nature and represent the exact opposite.  I certainly don’t buy into the paganistic view they’re shown to have in their connection of nature and their god.  The dynamic between these two races, however, really brings to light the issue of environmentalism and I was wondering how that balances with my faith and other responsibilities.

As a Catholic, I often wonder how far we should take our view and treatment of the planet.  How much are we called to do, as part of our faith and love for God?  I believe that all of this is His creation and that we’re to treat it with love, just as we would for the people he created.  At the same time, I think a lesser emphasis should be placed on loving our earth as we place on loving others.  I would think that we’re judged on our treatment of other people first, then treatment of animals and our planet second.  All of them are important, but I think they do come in some form of hierarchy.

With that said, I think we need to bear some responsibility for our own actions.  Things like recycling, wasting less, supporting programs and companies that are more responsible are all things that we can personally be held accountable for.  All of us doing our share adds up, but feeling guilty for the actions of others won’t do any of us any good (neither will placing judgment on those we don’t think are doing their part).  There’s a very fine line between being actively “green” and negatively affecting others through pushing them to do so as well.  Think of the relationship with that person first and lead by example through your actions.

I look at this the same way I look at my faith and how I approach that with others.  I hold myself accountable for my own actions and take a serious look at where I should improve.  I don’t want anyone judging my progress, so in turn I shouldn’t judge theirs.  The last thing I want is someone challenging my faith, so I don’t go out of my way to do that to others.  The same should be true of my values in regards to my lifestyle and how that affects our planet.  I would hope that others have similar values, but it’s God’s responsibility to hold them accountable, not me.

finding yourself

Much is made about the question “who am I?”.  Retreats are conducted, books are written, self-help programs are followed, all with the goal that we “find ourselves”.  I agree that it important to know thyself, for how else can be be aware of what we do, how we act, etc.

What I don’t agree with is that our “self” can be defined, let alone found.  Our “selves”, in my opinion, are constantly growing and changing as a result of our experiences and lessons learned.  You could only define or find a single snapshot of that self, but that’s all it will be.  Other snapshots would reveal a different self due to the growth you’ve experienced.

I find it much more important and relevant to define who you want to be rather than who you are.  Doing that gives you a goal and a target which should help direct what experiences and paths you’ll need to take to get there.  If you want to be a more peaceful and prayerful person, you know what you can do to become that.  If you want to be a more healthy and happy person, you can put a plan together to achieve that.

The beauty is that this process never ends.  Since we’re constantly growing and experiencing new things in this life, you will constantly be directing yourself in who you want to be and where you want to grow.  This requires a great deal of attention and reflection as well as checking in on your progress.  As many have said before, the success rate of hitting a goal you don’t set is always 0%.

In this New Year, take some time to reflect on who you want to be as a person, as a member of your family, as a member of society, as a child of God.  Write down or visualize who that person is and start to look at what would need to change in you (behaviors, attitudes, activities, etc.) to get closer to that goal.  As you start to feel you’re getting closer, do it again.  As time passes, you’ll be able to look back on where you’ve come from and where you are and you’ll realize that you’ve steadily climbed towards a more loving and joyful life…with full wakefulness of it too!

message from Christ

You might be familiar with Anne, the lay apostle from Direction for Our Times, but if not here’s a quick intro.  She has been receiving locutions from Jesus, Mary and the Saints for several years now (I believe).  On the first day of every month, Jesus gives Anne a new message for the all of His apostles trying to live a holy life.  If you are not familiar with any of this, check out http://www.directionforourtimes.org for more information (trust me, you will be glad you did).

I wanted to post the most recent message (from January 1, 2010) as it hit me right in the heart and was exactly what I needed to hear.  Because of how direct and straight-forward this message is, I don’t think any reflection is necessary (of mine, that is).  Read it through…then read it through again…then take it to prayer.  Here it is:

Jesus
There are many different ways to communicate love. One of the ways that I communicate love to My apostles is through My constant presence. I am in each moment, in each day, offering you My heavenly companionship. I offer you a constant stream of love which heals and reassures, which steadies and directs. When allowed, I can help an apostle to adjust his viewpoint to My viewpoint, which is very different from the viewpoint of one who has either forgotten about My presence or rejected My companionship. With this viewpoint comes calm purpose. The days flow past, one by one, and My will flows through each one of you who has accepted My presence. You do not see big changes at your hands. Perhaps you wonder if your cooperation is helpful at all. I assure you today that if you were to reject Me tomorrow, My kingdom would suffer. Without you, I would have one less home for My great love on earth. Each time I use you to love another, I feel gratitude. My gratitude is a force for change in the lives of those around you. You are gaining graces that only heaven can understand. Only heaven can see how an action of grace is stored in waiting. This grace surrounds each person you intercede for and at a moment when it is possible, meaning that heaven sees the opening, that grace is utilised to protect and advance the soul. Dear apostle, serving heaven so steadily, leave all of your difficulties to Me. Abandon yourself to My providence completely. Serve with discipline in this moment and I will care for your loved ones. I am using you for the purpose of love and I want to use you even more fully. When you become discouraged, please sit with Me and I will help you to grasp the limited nature of your vision. Concentrate on My will for your day. Concentrate on remaining in the present, connected to your service in each moment. Avoid being trapped by the past and avoid being drawn into a future on earth which may not include you. You do not know when I will come for you. But I am with you now, as you read these words, and I have work for you today. Look, together with Me, at what I am asking of you and together we will be a successful force for love. I crave love from you. When you trust Me and reject fear, I am delighted. Calm, steady service is what I require from My beloved apostles who seek to serve Me. Be at peace. I am with you.

There are many different ways to communicate love. One of the ways that I communicate love to My apostles is through My constant presence. I am in each moment, in each day, offering you My heavenly companionship. I offer you a constant stream of love which heals and reassures, which steadies and directs. When allowed, I can help an apostle to adjust his viewpoint to My viewpoint, which is very different from the viewpoint of one who has either forgotten about My presence or rejected My companionship. With this viewpoint comes calm purpose. The days flow past, one by one, and My will flows through each one of you who has accepted My presence. You do not see big changes at your hands. Perhaps you wonder if your cooperation is helpful at all. I assure you today that if you were to reject Me tomorrow, My kingdom would suffer. Without you, I would have one less home for My great love on earth. Each time I use you to love another, I feel gratitude. My gratitude is a force for change in the lives of those around you. You are gaining graces that only heaven can understand. Only heaven can see how an action of grace is stored in waiting. This grace surrounds each person you intercede for and at a moment when it is possible, meaning that heaven sees the opening, that grace is utilised to protect and advance the soul. Dear apostle, serving heaven so steadily, leave all of your difficulties to Me. Abandon yourself to My providence completely. Serve with discipline in this moment and I will care for your loved ones. I am using you for the purpose of love and I want to use you even more fully. When you become discouraged, please sit with Me and I will help you to grasp the limited nature of your vision. Concentrate on My will for your day. Concentrate on remaining in the present, connected to your service in each moment. Avoid being trapped by the past and avoid being drawn into a future on earth which may not include you. You do not know when I will come for you. But I am with you now, as you read these words, and I have work for you today. Look, together with Me, at what I am asking of you and together we will be a successful force for love. I crave love from you. When you trust Me and reject fear, I am delighted. Calm, steady service is what I require from My beloved apostles who seek to serve Me. Be at peace. I am with you.

keeping Christ in Christmas

A lot of criticism and disgust turns up around this time of year due to the commercialism that seems to have taken over Christmas.  Much of this is aimed at the many attempts to exclude Jesus and even the word “Christmas” from cards, letters, comments etc.  It also comes from ridiculous things like “Holiday Trees” and “Holiday Lights”.  It’s very easy to be annoyed with this type of behavior as it may seem that our holiday of celebrating Jesus’ birth is being taken away from us.

If that’s the case, how should we respond?  Do we really think that criticizing those responsible for this exclusion or being upset about this situation will bring Christ back into the picture?  Acting in this way takes Christ out of OUR Christmas as well, as we’re no longer focusing on him but on the behavior of others.  To me, the forces behind this secularization win an additional battle by bringing us down and frustrating us at a time when we’re called to be joyful, expectant and loving.

So, this year, instead of hearing “Happy Holidays” and being frustrated, smile and let Christ shine through you to that person so that you can be a living example for what He stood for and was here to teach us.  The more people living as Jesus calls us to live and loving others, the more representatives He will have showing the true Christmas spirit.

Think about it, it’s not our job to be offended on Jesus’ behalf.  He took much more verbal abuse and scorning during His passion than He takes now by his birthday being “taken over”, I’m sure He’s capable of handling it lovingly.  I would think that He would be more saddened by one of His followers being brought down by all of this than by a non-believer trying to join in the Holiday in their own secular way.  So smile, love, enjoy your friends and family and make Him proud through your actions and kindness.

enjoy the symphony of life

Let me start with a story:  Imagine you’re at a symphony.  The orchestra is playing the most beautiful music you’ve ever heard and you’re completely wrapped up in the moment.  Then you realize you might have left your car unlocked.  If you leave the symphony, you can’t re-enter until intermission, so you stay.  That nagging thought about your car won’t leave you alone, however, so you can no longer enjoy the music the same way nor can you resolve the issue with your car.

This is an illustration of life.  God’s creation and the love that is shared throughout our world is this symphony.  There are times where we’re completely absorbed in the present moment and we feel and experience that love and witness the beauty of His creation, His symphony.  Most of the time, however, one thing or another distracts us from enjoying life (just like the unlocked car in the above story).  Whatever pulls us from that enjoyment is an attachment and the presence of those attachments keep us from fully living our lives as God meant us to.

Look at everything Jesus tells us in scripture and you’ll see how true this is.  Take, for example, his comments about the birds and flowers not worrying about being cared for.  They don’t have any attachments and so they enjoy God’s love and creation uninhibited.  Our worries, cares and attachments prevent us from this same experience.

We’ve all heard that it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich person to enter heaven.  Certainly Heaven does not look at our net worth when deciding who enters and who doesn’t (as there have been many Saints who were wealthy during their lives).  Instead, think of that “richness” as the quantity and vastness of our attachments.  It’s our own attachments that hold us back, just like our own sin that distances us from God (not the other way around).  Like with everything else, this is from our own choice, not punishment from God.  We need to detach ourselves from these “things” in order to fully receive God and His love.  In turn, that will prepare us for Heaven.  Without these attachments, we too will be able to pass through the eye of that needle.

(Note: as much as I’d like to take credit for this great story, I read it in “A Way to Love” by Fr. Anthony De Mello).

we are not our feelings

You might be thinking, that subject doesn’t quite make sense.  This is one of Father De Mello’s mantras that focuses on the concepts rather than the words and grammar.

Let me illustrate this one:  say you’re feeling depressed.  You’re likely to think (or say), “I am depressed”.  That’s not true, though.  You are not your depression.  You are much more than just that emotion.  Think of it this way, your every fiber of being and essence is not 100% depression.  In fact, it’s 0% depression.  Depression is a feeling that you happen to be experiencing at that particular time, but it does not identify who you are.  This holds true for any emotion.

You might be thinking, what does it matter?  Isn’t this just an issue of word choice?  No, it’s much more important than that.  When you identify with an emotion or feeling, particularly a negative one, you’ll hold on to it much longer than you need to because you’ve tied it to your identity, your essence.  If you detach yourself and your identify from this feeling, you can realize that this emotion is fleeting and will pass.  Just like a cloud passes through the sky (even the ones that last for days), your emotion will come and go.  Being detached will allow you to still be you while that “cloud” is present and when it passes.

Think of how this works when a positive emotion comes into play, for example: “joy”.  You might think that you are overjoyed when a great thing happens, but just like that “depression cloud” passes, so will your joy.  If you identify with that joy, you can expect quite a crash when the “joy cloud” departs as well.   If you detach yourself and your identity from this positive feeling, you can realize that this emotion can be enjoyed while it’s here but you won’t be sad or disappointed when it leaves.

Have I confused you yet?  Good!  Now you’re thinking and becoming awake!  The point of all this is to prevent the huge ups and downs that can come from our emotions.  Wouldn’t it be better if you can stay at a nice blissful, happy, state of being regardless of what gets thrown your way?  You’ll be much more prepared to take on anything in that state rather than being held at the mercy of your feelings.