The E-Ministry of Uncle Eldon: a book review

Pastoring the Pastor: Emails of a Journey Through Ministry by Tim Cooper and Kelvin Gardiner

In Pastoring the Pastor Tim Cooper and Kelvin Gardiner tell the story of Daniel Donford, the new minister at Broadfield Community Church. Like many young ministers, pastor Dan begins his ministry feeling self-assured that he has the right skills and techniques to grow the church (applying the techniques of his favorite church growth guru). It doesn’t take him very long in ministry to discover that what he thinks will work and what actually works, is not necessarily the same.  Lucky for him, pastor Dan has an uncle who spent 38 years in ministry with the same church and has years of wisdom to impart. In a series of back and forth emails, Uncle Eldon guides young Dan in how to keep his priorities straight in ministry, how to care for his own spiritual health,  how to deal with conflict and difficult people in the church and power struggles,  and he encourages him  to make sure he develops a proper support network. He also guides him in how to offer pastor care to parishioners and a minister friend caught in the vice of pornography.

The entire book is made up of a series of emails, mostly between Dan and Eldon, though we also get to hear from parishioners about what they think about their new minister.  Despite my general skepticism of didactic fiction (fiction whose primary aim is to teach you something) I was engaged by the story and found that the fictional uncle Eldon had lots of wisdom to impart.  I would recommend this book for seminarians and those who are in ministry (certainly others could read it fruitfully but I think the audience who would benefit most from it are those).  The content and language of this book assumes that the pastor is male, so my ordained female friends would have to make some necessary adjustments but the advice is biblically sound and wise. As someone who is seminary trained and vocationally called to ministry, I appreciated the practical advice  even as I am still in the process of  looking for a call.  It reminded me of a couple of classes I had which warned of the pitfalls implicit in ministry. The fictional format allows Cooper and Gardiner to discuss the issues in an engaging way and makes difficult truths easy to swallow.   I do not hesitate to recommend this to any of my colleagues in ministry. I found it very encouraging and you will too. If anything this book underscores the necessity of good mentors if we are to be faithful in following our call.

I received this book through Cross Focused Reviews and Christian Focus Publications in exchange for this review.

Lust but not Least (an examination of a deadly sin)

Lust is defined as a disordered sexual desire. Certainly desire and attraction, properly ordered is not sin but our culture has gotten this out of whack. You might say Lust is sexual desire, for its own sake, divorced from relationship, a love of sex because of how it makes you feel.

And Lust is certainly everywhere in our culture. We use it to sell cars, web domains, beer and margarine. It is celebrated in movies, television and song. Little boys look at lingerie catalogues and National Geographic (Jane Goodall=Hot). Sex shops and strip clubs spring up in sleepy little communities and there is an ever-growing list of celebrities whose marriages end in some kind of sexual scandal.

It is certainly as prevalent as any of the other sins, but those caught in the clutches of Lust feel particularly isolated. It is easier to admit to gluttony, greed or envy than it is to admit that you are a Lust-monger. Personally I could abstractly tell you that I struggle with Lust (and the rest of the deadly sins) but I am reluctant to share the exact shape this struggle takes in my own life (I do have people I do talk to about this, just not the entire world wide web). What is it about this sin that isolates us in a sense of shame?

The strange flip-side is that we tell ourselves that our Lust doesn’t hurt anyone else. We say, “I’m only looking, I haven’t done anything.” But as we have seen with the other sins, internal thoughts and habits of mind will manifest themselves in our everyday lives. When we entertain private lustful thoughts, we withdraw from the hard word of relationship; when we objectify others this manifests itself in injustice towards them. One of the places where the damage of Lust is most evident is pornography, so I want to take a moment to explore that. Of course this isn’t the only place that Lust is damaging our society, but it’s worth looking at. The problem that is, not pornography. Pornography is just bad, don’t look at it.

Pornography: A Case Study of the Damage of Lust in Our Culture

According to, every second $3,075.64 is being spent on pornography, 28,258 internet users are viewing pornographic material and 372 internet users are typing adult search terms into internet search engines. Seventy percent of American men age 18-34 view pornography once a month. The internet provides few limits to accessing sexually explicit material and little accountability. 25% of all internet searches are related to pornography. In early 2008, Dennis Lohrmann observed that internet searches for “college girl,” “women” or “mature” returned over a billion results on Google. Whereas previous generations have had pornography, its access was limited and society shunned it. With the internet, television and movies, sexually explicit images are universally available. While it is clear that men use pornography much more than women, the use of porn by women has been steadily growing (28% of all people who admit to a ‘sexual addiction’ are women).

The ubiquity of pornography extends into the church. According to one estimate, “sixty-four percent of Christian men struggle with sexual addition or sexual compulsion including, but not limited to, the use of pornography, compulsive masturbation, or other secret sexual activity.” 1 out of 6 Christian married men, use pornography to masturbate and in the year 2000, 33% of clergy have visited a sexually explicit website (I have also read statistics which suggest that use of pornography is greater among Christian’s who subscribe to traditional complementarian beliefs). This is a major problem, particularly when you consider how pornography rewires brains, creates unrealistic expectations and isolates pornography users from relationships and community. There is an interesting blog post exploring this dynamic over at the Good Man Project.

And that is just what porn does to ‘the user.’ The real problem is what porn does to ‘the used.’ Pornography is not victimless. Many of the women of porn have been forced against their will to have sex on film. Even those in porn who say they are not victims bear the scars of the repeated psychological impact of being wanted only for their body and not for their person-hood. When women (and men) are objectified in this way, and a major segment of society habitually takes pleasure in their abuse, we have a cycle of oppression. And ‘the users’ do not restrict their ‘using’ to pornography but it shifts in their attitudes to women (and men) poison all their relationships.

Other Ways Lust is a Problem

Lust drives the sex industry. Why do men pick up prostitutes (and this is overwhelmingly men)? I once heard Michelle Miller of REED (Resist Exploitation Embrace Dignity),s a non-profit working with sex-trade workers, once say to a congregation gathered for Sunday worship, “The men who are picking up prostitutes on the downtown Eastside [Vancouver] have baby seats in their backseat and Jesus fish on their bumper.” Evangelicals wax eloquent about family values but Lust has born its strange fruit in our midst (for the record, my only bumper sticker says “Reading is Sexy”). Certainly someone doesn’t just walk out of a Bible study one day and decide to go buy some sex; rather this stems from long cultivated habits of mind.

Freedom from Lust

The good news is that freedom from Lust’s control on your life is possible. This is not freedom from desire, desire is good when properly ordered. We can be free from the wrong expression of desire. There are thousands of ministries, counselors, books, internet filters available for sex addicts to get the help they need. If this is an area of major struggle, reach out for help. If the statistics above tell you anything, they tell you that you are not alone in this struggle. There is a ton of resources out there and I commend them to you.

But I want to commend something more fundamental to the struggle over lust: Relationship.

I once heard someone say, “Relational problems are best worked out in relationship.” Lust is preeminently a relational problem. And so if you want to experience victory and freedom then you need to cultivate good friendships. You need a network of support and care with people who know you and love you, and who you know and love. You need to have a relationship with your spouse or significant other where you are expressing love for them and not just using them. You need to cultivate a friendship with God, where you lay your soul bare before him and share your life with him. We need to move beyond our propensity to ‘use’ and learn how to appropriately give and receive love.

Of course relationships are not easy and to say the answer lies in cultivating healthy, satisfying relationships is not a quick fix. But you only conquer Lust when you get beyond the quick fixes. What is required is commitment, intentionality and vulnerability.
In the end, this is what it means to put on the virtue of Chastity. Rebecca DeYoung says:

Chastity is a positive project, a project of becoming a person with an outlook that allows one to selflessly appreciate good and attractive things–most especially bodies and the pleasures they afford–by keeping those goods ordered to the good of the whole person and his or her vocation to love. Chastity’s fundamental question is not, “How far should I go on a date without crossing some invisible line of ‘sin’?” but rather, “How can my life–my thoughts, my choices, my emotional responses, my conversation, and my behavior–make me a person who is best prepared to give and receive love in relationship with others?” Chastity preserves and protects and paves the way for wholeness in all our relationships, all of the time. To channel and control our sexual desires is to empower ourselves to love. (Glittering Vices, 178)

So what are the things that keep you from real relationship? What are some ways you can reign in the Lust of your flesh and pursue Love more?

May the Lord Jesus free us from the clutches of Lust and set us free to Love him and others

The Grape Jelly of Wrath (an examination of the sin of Anger)

Jar of WrathAmong other things that I have at my house, I have a two-year-old living under my roof. She is precious to me but she is at a willful stage and therefore angry a lot. She’ll scream if you carry her because she wants to walk. If you let her walk she screams because you won’t let her walk where she wants to walk. If you put food in front of her, she’ll scream because she doesn’t want it. If you eat the food from her plate that she doesn’t want, you will feel the full brunt of her wrath. When she gets ready for bed, she is angry if she doesn’t get to wear her first choice of P.J.s. She is angry if you make her wear a diaper instead of underwear. Parents of two-year-olds know, at certain stages, your life is organized around angry outbursts.

Most of the time, my wife and I can take these outbursts in stride because lets face it, a strong-willed two-year old demanding her way about absolutely everything is terribly funny. Quite adorable actually. It is hard not to laugh at a two-year old who picks up her dinner plate full of food and carries it to the kitchen and asks for cheese and crackers instead (this doesn’t work, if you are wondering). Our older daughter was just as bad at this age, so we know it’s just a developmental life-stage we have to get through before peace again reigns in our house (of course then number 3 is going Rage Against the Machine).

What isn’t particularly adorable is when grown men and women act as though they have the emotional intelligence of my two-year-old. They don’t act rationally but fly off the handle when the littlest thing raises their ire: waiting in line at the supermarket behind the coupon queen, when a spouse asks something they were going to do anyway, when they are forced to go around that idiot who is only going 5 miles above the speed limit in the left lane. When we see people lash out at the world because it has failed to accommodate their every whim, we don’t find it funny, but sad. How could anyone be so self-centered and demanding? It’s particularly embarrassing when the angry two-year-old of an adult is me.

Lets face it, all of us let our anger run wild and demand our way. When we are tired and stressed this can happen a lot (which is par for the course at our house). But then there are other times where our anger seems wholly justified and we are sure we are in the right. Jesus himself chased out the money lenders from the temple and his anger burned against the religious leaders’ hypocrisy for how they unnecessarily burdened the people. Martin Luther got the whole Protestant ball rolling because he was pretty peeved. And he had good reason, the Roman See was thoroughly corrupt and the selling of indulgences preyed on the poor. Luther also praised the focusing energy that anger brought to his life and ministry:

I have no better remedy than anger. If I want to write, pray, preach well, then I must be angry. Then my entire blood supply refreshes itself, my mind is made keen, and all temptations depart.(What Luther Says: An Anthology, Vol. 1, 74, 27).

Today we similarly see many things that make us angry. African warlords who rape women and kidnap children, systemic racism which still locks minorities in poverty, colonial paternalism which acts with good intentions but demeans the nations and peoples we perpetually victimize, the abuse of women and their objectification in pornography, magazines and super bowl ads. If these things do not make you angry then either you haven’t really looked at these issues or you have no heart Tin-Man.

So if Anger is the right response to these things, why is it a deadly sin? Like the other vices, Anger is a habit of mind which can poison us from the inside out. Sometimes anger is the appropriate response but it is sinful when it is excessive or misdirected. There are things that should make us angry and things that should not. If we like my two-year-old, are Angry every time we don’t get our own way then our Anger is subservient to our own selfishness. If our Anger over real injustice (large or small) causes bitterness and hatred to take root in our heart then our souls are in mortal danger. Anger at injustice, easily may give way to bitterness at particular people for perpetuating it. When injustice has a face it is hard not to hate and we can easily cross over to the dark side.

Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung points us to the example of Martin Luther King, Jr. which illuminates a different way:

Martin Luther King Jr., for example was undoubtedly passionate in his pursuit of racial justice, but he was not a person dominated by anger or one who hated his racial oppressors. His passion for injustice was deeply rooted in his desire that all people learn to love one another and see them as God sees them, and his manner of pursuing justice showed that he knew that the matter was not solely in his hands. The righteous angry person can still pray, “Not my will, but yours be done.” Moreover King engaged in his project among a community of believers. He did not attempt to discern God’s will all by himself or mete out God’s judgement as an individual. The checks and balances of shared power and wisdom are good ways to prevent wrathful rationalizations about the way our agendas and God’s do or do not coincide (Glittering Vices, 132-3).

Anyone who has read King’s Letter From A Birmingham Jail has marveled at King’s ability to extend shalom towards his oppressors (jailers and white clergy).

Anger Management is all the Rage

So what are the practices which help us to reign in our anger and keep it in check? Principally, I see three:

    1. Life in community and systems of accountability, like King’s example above guard us from pursuing our own rights and agenda and help us discern God’s heart in the matter. Clearly friends can also re-enforce our Anger, so intentionality is important!
    2. Establishing ongoing systems of self-reflection. This could be as keeping a journal about your anger. Or you can pray the Examen and pay attention to your soul feels consolation and desolation. Learning to take inventory of inner thoughts is necessary if we are to grow in the virtuous life.
    3. Learn from Jesus. Yes, Jesus got angry, irritated and crazy mad. If you read the gospels you see instances where his ire was raised, but you still could not describe Jesus as an angry man. instead he was characterized by his compassion and gentleness. Part of conquering our inner beast, involves learning from Jesus a new way of navigating injustice in our world. His ultimate response to injustice was not an angry outburst where he smote the wicked. His response was the cross.

As we continue walking with Jesus the way of the cross, may he transform us from Angry hate mongers to his gentle and compassionate servants.

…and I am a Material Girl (an examination of the sin of Avarice)

Contrary to 1980’s era pop culture and politics, Greed is not good. As one of the big baddies known as the Seven Deadly Sins Greed is a vice which threatens to poison our souls.

This is a sin that is universally condemned but is all over our consumer society. You see Avarice in investment firms that profited from subprime loans and in those who took the loans and were living beyond their means. Avarice drives shopping seasons,corporate greed, casinos and get rich quick schemes. If we are honest, we also know the ways Avarice has grabbed on to our hearts and caused us to want ‘just a little bit more.’ And Greed poisons everything we do and touch. Once upon a time there was a follower of Jesus who began skimming money from the treasury but when Avarice had poisoned his soul he sold his Lord for thirty more coins. Extreme I know, but we recognize the impulse in our own heart, and we recoil.

Avarice is the inordinate love of worldly wealth–the love of money and all that money can buy. When you and I see someone who is totally in the grips of this sin we rightly bemoan their sad estate. The problem is that it is in the water and our whole culture drives us to prioritize wealth. It promises it will buy us security, happiness, novelty, pleasure. And when I taste the fruits of the money tree and am dissatisfied, I reach for more, thinking the problem is ‘I just can’t get enough. No, I just can’t get enough.

When we greedily grab for the gold, we over-value temporal wealth but undervalue heavenly riches.S. McDuck We place a premium on our personal happiness but ignore everybody else. We amass wealth without a care for those who have nothing.

The sad thing is that when we read over the last paragraph, we think of other people’s Greed. But where has Greed grabbed hold of you? What are the things that if you thought you had, you would be happy? A new iPad? A car? A house? A bigger paycheck (or a paycheck)? None of these things are bad, in and of themselves, but when you reach for stuff to fulfill an inner need, Avarice sets up residence in your heart. And grows.

Counter Practices

The way to counter the vice of Avarice is to develop counter practices which reign in your inner Trump. The Christian tradition suggests two such practices. Try these on: Simplicity and generosity.

Simplicity is means singleness of purpose. To borrow Kierkegaard’s phrase, “Purity of heart is to will one thing.” A passionate pursuit of God’s Kingdom excludes the pursuit of other, lesser goods. We decide to go without so that we can pursue God more. When we feel the pull of riches and wealth, we amass for ourselves less, so that we can learn to love God more. This is a counter cultural discipline in one sense, but we also have seen the way our greedy consumption of the world’s resources has contributed to environmental problems and global poverty. By choosing to cultivate simplicity and countering Greed, we are saying we choose to no longer greedily consume and amass resources solely for our own gain.

Generosity (the counter virtue to Greed) trains us to give what we have for the good of others. This is why Christians tithe to their churches, not to make pastors rich but to loosen the grip of finances on our soul and set us free. Giving sets us free from the tyranny of Avarice. It frees us to love others and not just care for our own miserly selves.

May this season of Lent mark a shift for us, from consumption to compassion. As we walk the road to the cross, may we learn from Jesus who did not amass worldly wealth but poured out his life for us all.

Sloth is a deadly sin?

After several days of stalling, here are my reflections on the sin of Sloth. I think this is one of the most misunderstood and underestimated of the big seven. Sloth
Despite its status as a ‘Deadly Sin’ we don’t often think of Sloth as particularly deadly. Image is everything and when the sins got together and chose mascots, Sloth chose the sweetest, cuddliest one it could find. it is hard not to think of it as innocuous. How can something like this be deadly? When did a sloth kill anyone? It just doesn’t happen.



In 1986 Harper Magazine published a series of ads about each of the deadly sins. This is the ad that ran for Sloth:

We just don’t believe that Sloth is sin, or think that if its sin it really isn’t that bad. I mean aren’t we entitled to a little rest and relaxation? Certainly all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy! But is this what Sloth is about? There is much more to Sloth than simply traversing the Protestant Work Ethic!

From Acedia to Sloth

Part of our confusion about Sloth, is that even within the Christian tradition it has undergone a sort of metamorphosis. One of the original eight thoughts (or passions) of Evagrius, it was originally called Acedia and referred to a a restless boredom that makes ordinary tasks seem too dull to bear (Bondi, To Love as God Loves, 74). In the West, Acedia was systemized as the Capital Sin of Sloth and the emphasis gradually shifted from internal struggle to exterior practice (Norris, Acedia & Me, 21). Acedia became Sloth, and Sloth was identified as merely laziness.

The difference between the two is significant. With “Sloth” the emphasis is on our inaction; with “Acedia” the emphasis was on an internal disposition irregardless of action or inaction. While the ideas are distinct, there is clearly overlap. Kathleen Norris says that Sloth and Acedia exist in a symbiotic relationship to one another (Sloth is Acedia‘s handmaiden, Acedia & Me, 12)

Getting to the Bottom of Acedia

The word Acedia, literally means ‘lack of care,’ which for me conjures up my father’s ‘you got potential’ lectures aimed at my under-achieving adolescence. “You could be at the top of your class, but your problem is you just don’t care.” I can quote the entire lecture verbatim and will one day pull it out of my parenting arsenal and against my will, thrust it on my own children. I hated that lecture and it wasn’t always fair; nevertheless my father’s point is a good one, when we care about something we diligently attend to it.

But spiritual writers were not concerned simply with are lack of diligence and apathy in general; rather they wanted us to attend to where laziness and lack of care have affected our relationship with God. For example, a workaholic businesswoman who crowds her schedule and time with activities and interests can still be guilty of Acedia by failing to cultivate her prayer life and attend to her own spiritual growth. The man who doesn’t go to church with his family but instead putzes at home is slothful regardless of how hard-working he is in his vocation. There is laziness and then there is laziness of the soul.

Basically Sloth is resistance to soul work. We resist the transformations that Love demands of us and instead opt for an easy existence and simply go with the flow. We perceive struggle ahead and rather than press forward we meander through our monotonous existence. Evagrius called Acedia the noon-day demon because it named the struggle desert monks had in staying committed to prayer in the heat of the desert sun. They were sleepy, their minds wandered and they had a hard time keeping their minds and hearts on God in prayer. The demonic temptation was to just let their commitment to God slide. It is precisely this failure to attend to one’s spiritual health that makes Sloth deadly.

Alternative Practices

If Acedia is an attitude of boredom and apathy and Sloth names laziness and inactivity, how do we conquer these tendencies in ourselves? The Desert and Monastic tradition suggests three practices designed to rein in our laziness, inattention, and listlessness. (The list below owes much to Kathleen Norris in Acedia & Me).

    • Hard work. Seems obvious that the way to conquer laziness is by not being lazy and working hard. This is what the writer of Proverbs means when he advises the lazybones (sluggard) to look at ants (because as long as they aren’t doing anything, might as well find an anthill). Something about hard work frees us from our inner apathy, and allows us to press fully into joy of the Lord. If we stew on it, or fail to act, inertia carries us into further apathy and inaction; when we work, Acedia loses its stronghold.
    • Stability. St. Benedict in his rule suggested a vow of stability in which monks committed to a particular place and didn’t wander from monastery to monastery. In a transient culture this is a value seldom practiced by sorely needed if we are to grow to spiritual maturity. When we fall victim to Acedia–that listless boredom and lack of commitment in the spiritual life–are tendency may be to run somewhere more fun or at least less monotonous. However, our growth often demands that we ‘stay in our cell’ and face ourselves. By committing to a place, you commit to community, to a way of life, and your practices. You decide to work through your issues and not bolt for the door.
    • A Rule of Life. Another way to break the bondage of sloth and Acedia is through a ‘rule of life.’ A rule of life is a pattern of spiritual disciplines and commitments which provide structure and direction for your spiritual life. Communities often follow a rule, like the Benedictine Rule I mentioned above. People may also opt to write their own personal rule. I have lived under a rule when I lived in community in my twenties, doing an urban ministry program called Mission Year. Rather than finding the rules and regulations laid out for me restrictive, I found that they enabled me to stay on task and keep my priorities in place so that I could love God and others more effectively. This week I am working on a personal rule of life (I may share it here later, if I have the guts). Consider this practice, it may be worthwhile in conquering your inner sloth.

The fruit of pressing through Sloth is that we enter more fully into the joy of the Lord and experience more of his love and freedom.

May God break the power of Sloth in our hearts as we walk this Lenten journey together. But first look how cute this one is:

I Bet You Think This Blog is About You (an examination of the sin of Vainglory)

Vanity Smurf The sin of Vainglory is the desire for inordinate glory. Despite this image of Vanity Smurf, Vainglory isn’t exactly the same as vanity. Vanity often implies an all-consuming narcissism; Vainglory longs for personal glory and the applause of others(hence: vain-glory). As Rebecca DeYoung puts it:

The vainglorious primarily desire attention, approval, and applause–preferably (but not necessarily) heard far and wide. The attention is necessary, and the approval is necessary, but they are both for the sake of generating the public acknowledgment–the applause.(Glittering Vices, 63-4)

Rather than Vanity Smurf (pictured above), an image of any number of smurfs could show Vainglory. Brainy Smurf’s incessant need to be the smartest of his peers; Hefty Smurf’s need to show off his incredible smurf strength; Smurfette’s enjoyment of her own feminine charms, style and appeal. Smurfs are a vainglorious bunch.

But we’d be wrong to assume that Vainglory has been properly quarantined in the Smurf village. It is rampant in our culture and in our own hearts. Everyday we see advertisements that promise that if we where their clothes, put on their makeup, drink their beer and drive their cars, we will be seen as having style, as beautiful, as having superb taste and swagger. We buy in, even though we can spot the lie, because we desperately want people’s praise.

Vainglory manifests itself in countless ways but the Christian tradition points to three biggies: hypocrisy, boastfulness and the lover of novelties (Glittering Vices,69-71). Hypocrites display an exterior image without the internal reality. They desire to appear holy without actually becoming holy. The boastful call attention to their best qualities so that others will take notice. The ‘lover of novelties’ names what we today might call ‘the early adopters.’ There are those who have the newest gadget, fashion, Apps, etc. because they want to be seen as a cutting-edge trendsetter.

Being a trend-setting hypocrite boaster myself I can see how I have been caught in the grips of Vainglory, but I’m not alone. Vainglory is sneaky and perverts even good acts of service. Roberta Bondi captures this well:

Vainglory is a particularly insidious passion in our modern era. It lies behind the notion that whatever your skills, it is essentially yourself you are selling to others. Women are trained to please as little girls, and many women suffer from it all their lives to such an extent that they are not aware of any needs of their own, except to be approved of or loved. It is a special passion for ministers and priests or teachers, and anyone else whose self-identity is bound up in the idea of service. It is deceptively easy to combine being liked with having done a good job. Vainglory is probably the root of a lot of burn-out as the desire for approval replaces the goals of the vocation; certainly an enormous amount of self-deception and hence blindness stem from Vainglory (To Love as God Loves, 75-6)

What do we do about our Vainglory

Vainglory, like Envy, comes from a place of insecurity and involves habits of wrong thinking which manifest itself in our actions. In order to overcome Vainglory we need an awareness of the ways this sin entangles are best efforts and re-train ourselves. DeYoung provides a list of practices(Glittering Vices,72-77) which I have adapted here:

    • Overcome (personal) boasting by boasting in the Lord (2 Cor. 10:17-18). If the problem with boasting is that it is a strategy to bring yourself glory, the way to combat that is to redirect it towards the one worthy of all our praise. Acts of worship, testimony of God’s goodness, prayerful adoration are all counter-practices of vanity.
    • Overcome hypocrisy by being personally vulnerable with others. DeYoung observes that Vainglory would win us praise by showcasing our best self and hiding our flaws. When we strive for applause we hide ourselves, when we share ourselves and shed our false facades we give ourselves back to community.
    • Overcome the need for approval by cultivating an interior life in solitude. Solitude frees us from the need to perform, to feel approval and to gain acclaim. It is when we are alone and spend time with God. As with the sin of Envy, the way to overcome Vainglory is by knowing God’s love and acceptance of us, the real us.
    • Overcome our culture’s obsession with image by ‘fasting’ from media, Ads, TV, the internet.
    • Cut Vainglory out at the root and deal with your Pride.

An Alternative to Vainglory: Magnanimity

Ambitious people are loved by God and used by him for his Glory. To condemn Vainglory is not to condemn ambition, but only the self-centered variety. We were made to achieve great things and not merely build temples of our own ego.

Let us strive towards the great things of God, radiating his Truth, Beauty and Goodness in all that we do. May we bring Glory to his name and do great things in His service.

You Are Better than Me and That’s Why I Hate You: An examination of Envy

Envy Giotto Envy is the consuming desire to have everyone as unsuccessful as you are –Fredrick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC, 24.

Envy is another one of the deadly sins that has a hold on my heart. As a parent I envy you for having better behaved and smarter kids (theoretically). As a runner I envy other runners’ speed, stamina, commitment and technique. I think I am a pretty outgoing, friendly guy whose smart, caring and funny. The problem is I keep meeting people who are more likable, more intelligent, more sensitive, and funnier. I think I can lead well but there are better leaders with better ideas and much more follow through. And when I see them it tears me up inside because they embody qualities I want but don’t have. So I hate them.

This is worse when you consider that I see my life calling as a minister of the gospel. I am ashamed of the fact that when I hear someone else preach better, pray better and have deeper insights than I have, I feel the sin of Envy tighten its grip on my heart. When I am at the bedside of someone who is sick trying to listen, love and care for this person and someone else comes and does something more touching and thoughtful than anything did, I feel I am a complete failure as a minister. Rather than appreciating the gifts and characteristics of other people, I see only what is lacking in my own gifts, talents and character.

If you’ve felt these sort of feelings too than you know how Envy can poison your soul, steal your joy and cause you to dwell unhealthily on your own failings.The sin of Envy desires what another has. It ‘targets the inner qualities of another person, qualities that give a person worth, honor, standing or status (DeYoung, Glittering Vices, 43).’ Envy causes us to recoil at another’s good qualities because it reveals our own lack of worth and status. We are incapable of rejoicing with them for their success because they have shown us up for what we truly are: failures.

Of course we aren’t threatened by everyone. We are comfortable putting some people on a pedestal because their rank, social standing and aptitudes far outstrip our own. Those people we can appreciate, but the people who are like us but just a little better are rivals we want to see fail.

Why We Are Envious

When we look at others we are bound to see virtues and goods that we do not have. Somewhere along the way we got in the habit of comparing ourselves and measuring our worth against them. We think that because someone is better than us in some respect, they are inherently more lovable than we are. At our core we doubt the Love of God for us and that manifests itself in bitterness towards people because God must love them more. We might know, intellectually, that God loves us but we doubt it when we look at our neighbor. We are Peter perpetually pissed off because Jesus keeps saying John is the one that he loves. We wish we were the successful and they weren’t. Then we would be the lovable ones. Gollum

How to not Envy

Altering unhelpful thought patterns is a hard habit to break. How do we not Envy our better looking, smarter, more talented neighbor? Fulton Sheen once said, “The only way to overcome envy is, like the thief on the right, to show pity. (Victory Over Vice, 23). With due respect to the late Monsignor, ‘pity’ doesn’t mean what it used to. Today we think of ‘pity’ as patronizing and condescending. What he meant was compassionate action towards our neighbor. What if when we feel the pangs of Envy toward our neighbor we disciplined ourselves to actively respond in love? When we feel Envy towards others for their character, status and talent we can choose to act in love and care. Envy is a great enemy of real love but a practiced love weakens its grip on our hearts.

But there is more. We also need to grow in our knowledge of God’s love. I find that it is as I grow in my confidence of God’s love that I am freed to love my neighbor without feeling threatened by them. To love as God loves I need to cultivate my awareness of the God who is love. This is done through prayer. Taking time to thank God for his goodness, to extol the blessings he bestows on you everyday sets you free from the comparison game. You see more of who you are in God’s eyes: beloved.

As you continue your journey through Lent, may you turn your heart towards the Lover of your Soul and be freed from the tyranny of Envy.