Intrinsic Living: The Eternal Perspective
By Charles Rush
Oct 2, 2005
Psalm 1 and Matthew 5: 3-10
read a book a journalist wrote about fundamentalist Christians in Dallas, Texas. He goes down to South America with a group of them on a mission trip, like our mission trips… only different. It seems that the Fundamentalists would set up a pretty sophisticated movie projector and show a free film at night, which they would advertise for a couple days previously. The film was about the Rapture. It was a rather literal depiction of the highly allegorical book of Revelation. The film depicts 'the end days' when a false Messiah will come and deceive the countries of the world, probably through the United Nations, and persecution, famine, and all manner of natural disaster will happen. Then suddenly Jesus comes back and in an instant, all of the true believers will be ascended into the heavens. The film shows two people driving in a car, one gone and the other left behind. And the film ends with "Le Gran Pregunta", the big question. If Jesus were to come back today, would you go to heaven or hell? Unfortunately, I know the answer to that question for the vast majority of us gathered here today.
“Seeing the crowds Jesus
went up to the mountain and there he began teaching them saying: Blessed are
those who have a heart for the dispossessed for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are those who have compassion for others in suffering, for they too
shall be comforted. Blessed are those who understand their limits and live in
them, for they will inherit all this world has to offer. Blessed are those who
hunger and thirst for what is right and virtuous, for they shall be filled up.
Blessed are those that are merciful, for they shall have mercy shown them.
Blessed are those that have a character of integrity, for they shall see God.
Blessed are those who are reconciling and make the peace, for they shall be
called the Sons and Daughters of God.”
as you know, is very prevalent, not only among Fundamentalists but, with a few
variations, among the Orthodox in the Catholic tradition as well. I read just a
week ago that the Chaplain for one of the Pro Football teams was placed on
administrative leave for saying that Jews don't go to heaven because they don't
confess Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
Now, one of
the more profound affirmations made by all of Abrahamic
faith traditions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is
the idea that we all have to give an
account of our lives to the Almighty. It means that there is a moral canopy of wise
judgment beyond all of us. It means that we bear responsibility in an
ultimate way for the manner in which we lead our lives, what we do and what we
leave undone. And it comes quite naturally, I might add, when people have some
time and know that they are going to die in a short while, to reflect on what
they have been about and whether or not it has been a worthwhile life.
But, it has
never been convincing to me that the mere confession of allegiance to the
Almighty, through Jesus or Allah or Moses is enough to pass muster before the
court of Divine Justice. The Force which created the immense universe will
surely have a depth of discernment and a penetrating insight into who we really
are and what we are actually about that we will immediately respond in
respectful awe. Or as, St. Paul used to say, "Every knee will
bow and every tongue confess". The actual God of the Universe,
simply has to be more complicated and sophisticated than this simplistic
In point of
fact, this approach to spirituality is rather elementary on the scale of moral
development as developed by Psychologists who study the maturation of our moral
consciousness like Lawrence Kohlberg at Harvard University. It is based on reward and punishment, stage 1 of Kohlberg's 6 stages of moral development. If we believe
the right things, then we get a ticket through the pearly gates. If we don't,
we end up in a form of Hell personally tailored to suit our spiritual vices…
like the adulterer's in Dante's Inferno that perpetually lust for one another
and can see one another and exchange longing for one another but are prevented
from actual contact.
elementary in approach because it is based on extrinsic reward rather than
intrinsic value. Extrinsic rewards encourage a quid pro quo approach to living,
a conditional morality. You owe me this and for this I give you that. Now much
of the world needs to operate that way, particularly on the mundane level. It
is the way we operate most of our simple business transactions, the way we run
the daily chores of household living at home. "You finish your homework, we can go to MacDonald's." "You wash the
car, I'll pay you X".
rewards are very limited motivators as we know. They only work best on simple,
mundane transactions. They work less and less well as we begin to try to
motivate people's souls. We all run up against this wall at some point.
"If you get a part in the play, I'll buy you a TV/DVD/Game Boy rig for
your room." Sometimes it works, but you feel nervous and vulnerable before
you say it because you know… you know… that your teenagers will undermine the
situation somehow if their heart is not in it and if their heart is not in it,
this approach to motivation won't work, no matter how big the reward. And you
will know that you are at the limit on this approach because it will feel risky and involve
some pretty big rewards.
approach works less well as we move toward motivating what is inside
of us. I watched a neighbor, as many of us have, whose marriage just lacked
intimacy. I didn't know them well enough or long enough to have any real idea
of why it lacked intimacy or what was to blame. But what I remember was how
painful it was from a distance when he tried to redeem it by extravagant
gifting- jewelry, car, dream vacations- they worked but… with diminishing returns, for
shorter periods of time. As these exterior motivators got bigger, the internal
relationship that he wanted proved more fleeting and elusive. It dragged out
over quite a period of time but I remember a conversation where he voiced what
he had been doing, more or less to himself and someone else, and how stupid and
frustrated he felt.
What we want is mutuality. We want
interdependence and reciprocal relatedness that makes for caring intimacy.
Quid pro quo relations are merely conditional and extrinsic.
As we move
towards the core of our being, who we are and what we are about, we have to
think more intrinsically. That is what Jesus was trying to teach us
spiritually. He taught us to live lives that are intrinsically worthwhile. If
you live out of these values and in this way, you will have a blessed life; you
will find a quality of fulfillment that you are looking for spiritually and
emotionally. You will be living out of our Spiritual center, out of who you were meant to become.
We want to
live from the inside out. We want our outer life to be a realization of who we are inside and what we are all about. There is a
quality to that so surpasses extrinsic motivation in breadth and depth.
privileged to know a few entrepreneurs that exhibited this inside/out approach
to their work that is quite different from the experience of work that most
people have. They have an idea. Perhaps most importantly, it is their
idea. They work it through, line up the resources and the financing,
watch it come to fruition in the marketplace, and sometimes grow like a weed,
hiring new people, and, when it all comes together, the enterprise starts
throwing off mad cash…
And you talk
to them, flush with success, and in the middle of this conversation, they say
"It's not about the money."
I'm like "What do you mean it's not about the money? You have a big, new house
and a brand new high, end Porsche." "Yeah, great car, drives like zippeddee doo… but it's not about
the money." And they are not pulling your leg because… it is about so much
more than the money. Sure, everyone likes a bigger dwelling space, new appliances…
But, it is so much more when it happens because you have actualized something that
is within you; it is so much more when you do that and you win the recognition
of your peers, the respect of others when they meet you. It is so much more
when you exercise meaningful leadership and develop a community enterprise and
make the lives of all those that are working for you better. It is so much more
when you can genuinely feel like the world is a better place
because of your small contribution, your invention. And
if it throws off great material blessing, so much the better. But it is
not about the money alone, it is about all these things and all of them coming
from the inside out. That is
fulfilling in a deep way.
I think of
that single mother in Edinburgh, Scotland that was on the dole twenty years
ago. She started writing a story for her son about the world of magic that
would help him see some of the mystery of the world and teach about what was
important. She found an agent and a publisher… way led to way… and Harry Potter
made J.K. Rowling one of the richest people in all of Britain. Now, I've never heard her
interviewed but I bet that she would also tell you, "It's not about the
One of my
friends from college owned a small publishing company and he signed that same
unknown author of children's books from Edinburgh, Scotland for the American rights to her work
back when she was nobody. After the publication of that first book, when it
became obvious that Harry Potter would be a publishing success of record
proportions, he told me it was like having the tiger by the tail. Way led to
way, this was so big, that he couldn't simply sell her contract,
he actually ended up selling his whole company to one of the major publishing
houses. And now he is retired. When I talk to him about what that is like, he
more or less describes it as hitting the lotto. It is great, materially quite
prosperous, but it doesn't have the same fulfilling quality to it that actually
writing the story has, of actually watching as the characters of your
imagination bloom and become stable fixtures on the imaginations of and entire
generation of children. That fulfillment comes from inside/out, from living out
of our center and watching it bloom around us. That is more fulfilling by far.
maturity is all about moving from extrinsic motivations to intrinsic ones. It
is all about finding a way of living that is intrinsically worthwhile. It is a way of living that you don't have
to regret if disappointment and tragedy comes your way because the quality of
fulfillment that comes from substantial love and substantial actualization of
your potential. You can live with yourself and sleep at night. You don't need
outside motivations to tease you into your routine; you do what you do because
that is what you are about.
Psychoanalyst Erik Erikson has shown that, as we go
through life, we have different internal issues that define our psychsocial development at different phases of our life.
For example, in school age children, we are wrestling with developing industry
and working through inferiority. The psychosocial goal is to develop a sense of
competence, pride in the positive sense of that word.
adolescence, we are trying to develop a sense of our own identity and to avoid
a sense of confusion. The goal that we are trying to achieve is one of
fidelity, a place where we are true to our selves and also loyal to our
friends. You notice just how much time teenager spend reflecting on cheating
and betrayal; how much energy goes into dealing with themselves and whether
they find themselves acceptable or not.
adulthood, we the broadest psychosocial issue is developing intimacy and
working through a sense of isolation. The goal that we want to achieve is that
of love, a caring and being cared for.
adulthood, our psychosocial issue is developing generativity,
growing things in ways that will out live us. Likewise, we are seeking to avoid
stagnation, that sense of dead end that happens when careers are blunted or
marriages don't work out like they are supposed to. The goal is to develop
And in the
final stage of our life, we deal with the psychosocial issue of integrity and
overcoming despair and disgust. We are asking ourselves questions in a more penetrating
way, 'was my life worth living?' Was it
significant? Did I make an impact that was worth the energy that was put into me. Here we have to deal with regret in a deeper way
that previously. It is that regret that can occasionally overwhelm us with a
sense of despair. People have different ways of dealing with this,
one of them is to tell stories of their lives over and over. They are
processing their lives when they do that, internally assessing the story of
their lives again and it is important to let them repeat stories that you have
heard before for this reason. The goal in this phase of life is wisdom.
me about Erikson's description of our life cycle is
how fundamentally spiritual the process of psychsocial
maturation really is. If you look at Erikson's full
list from infancy on, what is it that we are trying to achieve? Hope,
will, purpose, competence, fidelity, love, care, wisdom. These are the
intrinsic questions that we are wrestling with as we move through the cycle of
pointed us towards, are spiritual qualities that help us to achieve the same
internal goals and to live a life here and now that is richer and more
substantial than the alternative. When he says, "Blessed are those who
show compassion, who live a life of love… Blessed are those who show mercy… who
have integrity, who long for what is virtuous and right.",
he is inviting us to simply try a spiritual way of being that will validate itself in a
better way of living.
Just try the
life of love, trying praying for your enemies, try focusing on what makes for
peace; pray to be surrounded by people of substantial spiritual quality that
will positively influence you; pray that you will be a person of integrity.
What you will find is that this is an intrinsically richer, more substantial
way of being in our world. What you will find is that your life is more
fulfilling and your relationships around you start to become like a garden of
beautiful things that bloom wonderfully with a little tending. You will see the
world healing around you.
There is a
story about a Navajo Grandfather who once told his grandson, "Two wolves
live inside me. One is the bad wolf, full of greed and laziness, full of anger
and jealousy and regret. The other is the good wolf, full of joy and compassion
and willingness and a great love for the world. All the time these two wolves
are fighting inside me."
Grandfather," the boy said, "Which wolf will win?"
grandfather answered, "The one I feed."
are indeed a strange admixture of virtue and vice, noble purpose and petty
concern. We think great thoughts and perverted ones too. We are our best
champion and our own worst enemy. My brothers and sisters, focus yourself on intrinsically worthy living. As St. Paul said in Philippians, and is quoted
on the front of our church. "Whatever is true, whatever is excellent,
anything worthy of praise, whatever is beautiful, think on these things". Amen.
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