He must increase…

When Jesus arrived on the scene, this was John the baptist’s response: He must increase, but I must decrease (John 3:30). That’s the theme of this week’s blog.

As you probably know, the Spiritual Blueprint Blog is winding down, and I’m gearing up for my new blog to begin with Advent next month. The Spiritual Blueprint blog has been a great opportunity to follow up on themes from my book, Spiritual Blueprint: How We Live, Work, Love, Play and Pray. It’s also been a great place for me to engage both spirituality and culture, and vent about some of my own pet peeves along the way.

But now I must decrease, and He (Jesus) must increase. What I mean by that is this – it’s been a nice two years doing this blog, but it’s become all about me – my thoughts, my opinions, etc. So it’s time for a switch.

The new blog will be called (drum roll…):

Romesick: The Pilgrimage

Actually, this new blog will continue one of the main themes of Spiritual Blueprint, that life is a journey. But I’m taking that idea to the next level. If life is a journey, make it a pilgrimage. What I mean is that we can approach all of life as a spiritual pilgrimage, and to that end, the new blog will present bite sized bits of spirituality for the daily walk, including prayers, songs, stories, Scripture, quotes from the Church fathers and mothers, photos, movie reviews, and other things to enhance the spirituality of everyday life and generally help people connect with God.

What does Romesick mean, you ask? It’s the feeling I get when I’ve been away from Rome too long – like homesick, only Romesick. But the interesting thing is that although Rome is considered one of the most significant pilgrimage destinations in the world, it started as a place for people who could not get to the holy land. In other words, if you couldn’t go on a pilgrimage to the holy land, you went to Rome instead.  Well, maybe we can’t even get to Rome as often as we’d like – maybe we can’t go anywhere at the moment. So the blog will provide a virtual pilgrimage every week. It will focus a lot on Rome, because that’s my own experience, but will also reach back through history to draw from our ancestors in the faith, that “great cloud of witnesses” who cheer us on as we run the race of faith (Hebrews 12:1).

Look for the new blog to be at the website: Romesick.net (it’s not up yet, so don’t go there now). My hope is that the new blog will be more than interesting, it will be useful. It will also be connected to a facebook page for people to participate, and encourage each other – as well as for people who actually do go to Rome to tell us about their experiences. So stay tuned…

Peace,

Jim Papandrea

My Books

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Sometimes Phoebe speaks Italian (and Other Stuff about Undecided Voters)

If you’re like me, you’ve seen every episode of the show Friends. Not because you let it control your life when it first aired, and you organized your whole existence around making sure you didn’t miss an episode, but because you can still turn on the TV at any time of day and find it on a least two different channels. Of course, we own the DVDs, too, but try not to judge us…

Also, if you’re like me, you know the show so well that you feel like the characters are YOUR friends. And once you get to that point, there’s something comforting about watching the show, even though you know it by heart.

So did you ever notice that sometimes Phoebe speaks Italian, and sometimes she doesn’t? There’s an episode where she calls someone a dirty word in Italian, and then says, “Well I guess Italian is one of the languages you don’t speak.” And there’s an episode where she speaks to Joey’s grandmother in Italian, and surprises herself – apparently she didn’t know she spoke Italian. And then there’s at least one episode where she doesn’t know Italian when Rachel is dating Paolo. This demonstrates something – not about the writers, but about us as an audience.

What it demonstrates is that we are happy and ready to suspend disbelief if it will facilitate our own entertainment. On one level, this is a good thing, because otherwise who could watch a time travel movie? (And if you know me, you know I love anything with time travel in it). But on another level, there’s a danger here, in that we are often too ready to forgive inconsistencies and even ignore reality when someone is telling us what we want to hear.

Apply this principle to the media and politics and you can see why it’s problematic. Normally, I’m the first one to defend Saturday Night Live and it’s particular brand of parody. But last night they made fun of undecided voters. Really, SNL? REALLY?? Actually, I’ve decided whom I’m voting for – but to imply that undecided voters are stupid or uninformed is… well… stupid and uninformed. Maybe those undecided voters are simply not ignoring inconsistencies, and not allowing their preconceived assumptions to let them accept everything their favorite candidate says because he’s telling them what they want to hear.

Here’s to you, undecided voters! I respect you for acknowledging that this election (and any election) is about choosing the lesser of two evils, and that’s not a choice to be made casually. Of course, I hope you vote for my guy, but even if you don’t, you should feel pretty special since all the money and energy the candidates are spending on campaigning – it’s all for you! Seriously, how often does such a small minority get such special treatment?

The truth is, I think there are a lot more undecided voters than the polls suggest (and I think the candidates know that). In fact, I think polls are a joke, because they are automatically skewed by the very fact that some people are polled and others aren’t. The demographic category of people who respond to polls vs. people who do not respond to polls is enough to make all polls invalid. Not to mention the category of people who tell the truth in polls vs. people who don’t tell the truth in polls. Hmmm… maybe we should take a poll to see what percentage of people tell the truth in polls…

Peace,

Jim Papandrea

My Books

P.S. Don’t forget… in a few weeks I will be launching my NEW blog, focused on making every day of our lives a spiritual pilgrimage. More to come…

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Not a Blog About Politics

In this election season, I’ve chosen not to blog about political issues. Chances are, you’ve already made up your mind about the election, and even if you haven’t, why should you believe what I say about politics? I’m not an expert on politics… or an actor.

NEW BLOG COMING

In fact, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s time for a new direction in my blog. Over the last two years, I’ve had a great time blogging, and following up on the concepts in my book, Spiritual Blueprint. It’s been fun to have a place to vent and complain about things (and hopefully readers haven’t found that to be too self-indulgent, but found they could commiserate with my pet peeves).

But when Advent comes this fall, I will be launching a new blog, with a new focus. The new blog will coincide with the release of my forthcoming book, Rome: A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Eternal City. The book’s photo gallery is already up at www.Romesick.org.

Actually, this new blog will be the continuation of some of the philosophy behind Spiritual Blueprint, in the sense that life is a journey – a spiritual pilgrimage – so the new blog will focus on making our lives a spiritual pilgrimage. In other words, the blog will offer (in a concise format) ways to connect with God, and stay connected throughout the week. It will include prayers, songs, stories, pictures, videos, and links that will help the reader make every day a spiritual journey – even if we can’t travel at the moment. In this way I hope to provide some value to the reader, rather than just words of wisdom (or my own rantings, depending on how you see it). People might find they use the blog as a devotional, or just to live vicariously through the elements of spiritual pilgrimage that will be included.

So, I’ll keep up the Spiritual Blueprint blog until its two year anniversary, about a month from now, and I’ll keep on giving you more information about the new blog. Then I’ll take a bit of a hiatus, and launch the new blog in November. When the new blog launches, it will be at a new website. So stay tuned…

Peace,

Jim Papandrea

My Books

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Olympic Golden

Now that the Olympics are over, I had a few thoughts. First of all, I thought it was interesting (actually disturbing, but let’s go with interesting)… anyway, I thought it was interesting that human beings have pushed the development of their muscles to the point where they can now break their own bones. There was the guy who tried to lift weights so heavy that his elbow snapped. And then there was the guy who ran so hard that his leg just broke (and… he kept on running!). I don’t really know what to think of all that.

But the more prevalent thought in my mind right now has to do with the discussion about medals. People were talking about whether it’s better to win a bronze than a silver, because it might not feel so much like losing. This is part of the bigger conversation about whether getting the silver is more like winning second place (better than all save one) or more like losing to the person who got the gold (a dream unfulfilled, etc.). To me, all of that is nonsense.

As far as I’m concerned, all of the athletes are winners. I know that sounds trite, but here’s what I mean. If you get to go to the Olympics, you win. Not just because you get to go to the Olympics, but because it means you got to spend the last four years (not to mention the better part of your life) not having to work a day job. Of course it’s a lot of hard work, but you got to do something you love for a living. (Unless of course you live in one of those countries where they force you to do it, but that’s a different conversation.)

Speaking as one who has had jobs that I hated, and who now has a job that I love, I know the value, the blessing, the privilege, the gift that it is to get to do something you love for a living. If you get to do that, you’re golden – regardless of any accolades. Sure, winning awards would be nice – it would mean that your peers and fans appreciate your work, or that you’re at the top of your field. When I get a good review on one of my books it makes my day, and it’s a little like winning something. But that’s not why I do it. I do if for the lifestyle.

This is what the Spiritual Blueprint method is all about. Success is not about accomplishments or achieving goals. Success is a lifestyle. Happiness is not in the destination, but in the journey. Otherwise, happiness may never come, or if it does, it’s fleeting. Focus on running the race, because the finish line will come when it comes, and the result is often out of your control. But the way you live your life – that is under your control.

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews wrote: Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Run the race – walk the walk – whatever metaphor carries the right amount of physical exertion for you. Live life intentionally, and find the joy in the journey, so that you will have no regrets when you get to the finish line.

Peace,

Jim Papandrea

My Books

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Simple Life

Francis of Assisi is known for, among other things, preaching a message of peace through simplicity of life. I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty attractive – but very hard to attain. In my own book, Spiritual Blueprint (not to compare myself to the saint at all, believe me) I have also talked about how “less is more.” But for someone who is driven to accomplish goals (and with the big 5-0 staring me down from its vantage point in 2013), sometimes it feels like a paradoxical choice between pursuing my passions and stopping to smell the rosary, as it were.

The other day I was on my way to the recording studio (did I mention I’m also working on a new CD?), and as it happened, I was a bit early. So I stopped at a gas station to fill up and to treat myself to that gift from heaven known as the Hostess Apple Pie. The thing is, having a few extra minutes to sit in my car and eat the Apple Pie was almost as sweet as the pie itself. While I was putting gas in the car, I had noticed a guy on a motorcycle, trying to start it by pushing the motorcycle, then jumping on and throwing it into gear. Since I had extra time, I offered to help push. It turned out the guy was able to get the bike started without me pushing, but he was grateful for the offer. Now, I’m not telling you this to brag because the truth is, on any other day I might have seen that guy as an annoyance – someone in my way when I was in a hurry. The guy is the same, the motorcycle is the same – what was different was my sense of time, and my sense of urgency (or not) about the things I have to accomplish in any given day.

So what’s the point? The point is: I’m a nicer person when I’m not pressed for time. Sounds simple (and maybe you can relate) but it’s important to be self-aware enough to recognize and admit stuff like this.

Shortly after enjoying my Apple Pie, the song that came up in my “driving mix” was Alanis Morissette’s You Learn, in which she sings a line about recommending biting off more than you can chew. Yep – that’s me all right. I always have multiple projects going on, including writing a couple of books, the music thing, speaking gigs, and the list goes on.

It’s hard to find the balance of work and rest (let alone prayer), and it’s even harder to figure out what to set aside in order to have more time between things. I don’t claim to have figured this one out, though I do have some concrete suggestions in Spiritual Blueprint. But even though I’ve written about it, it’s sometimes hard to follow my own advice. All I know for sure is that St. Francis was right. Less really is more, and in fact, the more time I have, the more kind I am, because I’m not as stressed, and I have more time to think about people other than myself.

Speaking of peace, I can’t end this week’s blog without mentioning the most recent mass murder, this time at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin (not too far from where I grew up by the way). As far as I know, the Sikhs never hurt anybody, and I can’t figure out why someone would target them. The media keep talking about white supremacists, but really – trying to prove white people are better by committing mass murder is like trying to prove your car is faster by taking the wheels off and filling the gas tank with sand. You’re actually proving the opposite. When you kill people in cold blood, you’re just demonstrating that your crazier, not better. I don’t know what else to say about that. Anyone who wants to prove the supremacy of their group should do it by loving their neighbor more perfectly than everyone else. Let’s have that kind of contest, shall we?

And so this brings me back to my point. If the lack of stress makes me a better person, what kind of stress causes someone to snap? It must be a lifetime of pressure and frustration that leads to such acts of insanity. But maybe if people like me try a little harder to slow down and claim the peace that comes from living a more simple life – maybe it will be contagious. Maybe having the time to think of others will catch on and go viral in the real world. Anyway it’s worth a try.

Peace,

Jim Papandrea

www.JimPapandrea.com

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Where are we at with the end of the world?

So where are we at with the end of the world? After all, didn’t the Mayans predict the world would end this year? And I remember hearing of several other more recent predictions of the end of time (12/12/12, anyone?). But it turns out the whole thing is an urban myth. The Mayans never predicted that the world would end in 2012, they only created a calendar that ended in 2012 – however their assumption was that a new cycle of time would begin when that calendar ended. It’s a little like someone from the future uncovering my office in an archaeological dig, finding my Chuck Norris calendar, and upon turning the December page and finding nothing after it, speculating that I thought that would be the end of time – rather than simply assuming that I need to buy a new calendar for 2013. As it turns out, archaeologists have also found Mayan calendars that go way beyond 2012.

Yesterday I recorded an interview with my old high school friend, professor Anthony Gill, for his Research on Religion podcast. It will go up on their website on August 20th, but you can subscribe to the podcast at www.researchonreligion.org. I’ll make sure to post the link when it goes live. Professor Gill was asking me about the end of the world, the Book of Revelation and my book, The Wedding of the Lamb: A Historical Approach to the Book of Revelation. One of the questions he asked was why there’s so much hype about the end of the world. That got me thinking… sometimes it seems like some people can’t wait for the world to end.

I think that, to a certain extent, the obsession with the end of the world is a form of escapism – a way to focus on something other than the responsibilities of the present. Historically, some Christians have even used an emphasis on the afterlife to avoid helping the needy or confronting injustice, or worse, to tell the oppressed that they should stop complaining about oppression. Now I believe in eternal life and the Kingdom of Heaven as much as anyone, but I’ll be straight with you. I don’t want the world to end just yet, because I’m having too much fun. There are people I love and food I love to eat, and I haven’t yet had my fill of it all. Maybe I’m not spiritual enough, but it seems to me that this world was created good by a good God, and it’s a gift to us, not a curse. Like Peter Tosh once sang, “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.”

Anyway, I wrote The Wedding of the Lamb to point out that the Book of Revelation is not a book of pie-in-the-sky escapism. In fact, most of the Book of Revelation is describing events that are not in our future, but are in our past. Events like the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE (already in the past when the book was written), and the fall of Rome (predicted in the author’s future, but fulfilled in our past).

Therefore, as it turns out, the Book of Revelation is not a doomsday prophecy. It is, however, entirely consistent with the preaching of Jesus – it is a message of good news. The good news is that those who follow Christ in life, and in death, will also follow him in resurrection and in eternal life. In its original historical context, the Revelation contained a message of encouragement for a persecuted church. And this is exactly where the message of Revelation is still relevant for us today. In a time when being a Christian is becoming increasingly counter-cultural, the message is: keep the faith, no matter what comes your way, and don’t give up.

Peace,

Jim Papandrea

www.JimPapandrea.com

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Shared Humanity (A Response to the Tragedy in Aurora, CO)

What happens to humanity when one human snaps? What effect does it have on the rest of us, when one person “goes postal” and kills innocent people?

First, there is the obvious: the loss of life and loved ones, which has a ripple effect that touches many people in profound ways. And for that, our hearts go out to the victims, their families and loved ones, and to the community of Aurora Colorado, whose faith in security (and perhaps in humanity) is shaken once again.

But there is also a less obvious effect, one which I think explains why everyone feels shaken by an event like this. This is the effect of a shared humanity: when even just one human suffers, we are all affected; and when one human tramples across that fragile line between being made in the image of God, and playing God, and takes innocent lives, we all somehow participate in it, and we are all diminished by it.

As you may know, the Catholics have a new word in the most recent translation of the Nicene creed: consubstantial. By saying that Jesus Christ is consubstantial with the Father, we mean that he shares the same divine nature with God the Father. But did you know that Christ is also consubstantial with humanity? Yeah, you probably did, but maybe you didn’t know the word applies here, too. To say that Jesus Christ is consubstantial with humanity is to affirm that he also shares the same human nature as the rest of us. He is one of us, and he is connected to us through our common human nature.

The point is that the actions of one human affect all of humanity, by virtue of the fact that we all share a common human nature (Romans 5:12-15). When one human causes suffering, all of humanity both suffers with the victim(s) and also participates in the sin. But the good news is that the principle works the other way, too. When one human loves his or her neighbor, humanity is raised up in dignity. And when one particular human (Jesus Christ) went to the cross, he did so on behalf of all of humanity. And because of the fact that we share a common human nature with him, he was able to take our curse, and give us his blessing (Galatians 3:13-14), which is that we can be reconciled to God, and by that reconciliation, even our humanity is glorified.

There is nothing that a human being can do, that the love of God in Christ can’t undo (Romans 8:31-39). I know that doesn’t bring the victims back, however. All I can say about that, which I hope will be a little comforting, is that whatever else heaven is, it is a reunion of those who were separated in this life. This is why the apostle Paul said (in I Thessalonians 4: 13-18) that though we grieve, let us allow our grief to have a spark of hope in it.

Peace,

(and by that I mean that I wish you both kinds of peace: peace on earth, and peace of mind)

Jim Papandrea

www.JimPapandrea.com

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments