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The Lake News Online
  • Religion column: Don't get stuck on a shortcut

  • When we were first married and living about 20 miles west of Cleveland, my wife and I occasionally went to Severance Hall on Cleveland’s east side to hear the famed Cleveland Orchestra perform. (Those were the days when Lorin Maazel held the baton.)
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  • When we were first married and living about 20 miles west of Cleveland, my wife and I occasionally went to Severance Hall on Cleveland’s east side to hear the famed Cleveland Orchestra perform. (Those were the days when Lorin Maazel held the baton.)
    One night after work we headed to the concert hall to hear a performance of Dvorak's Symphony Number Nine.
    It was getting late, and I tried taking a shortcut to Severance Hall. (This was before the advent of gps.)
    I found myself stuck on the west side of the Cuyahoga River in The Flats. In those days, The Flats was a largely abandoned industrial and warehouse area.
    My shortcut kept bringing us to the edge of the river, with no way to get across.
    I still remember sitting at a railroad crossing and watching a rat about the size of a cat leisurely stroll across the road.
    You would think that I’d have learned my lesson. Not a chance. This past autumn, my wife and I were in a largely undeveloped part of northern Michigan. Rather than following main roads as a local instructed me, I found more "direct" routes (most of them were dirt) which deteriorated into two-tracks with grass growing in the middle. There were no signs of human life.
    I am, it seems, addicted to shortcuts. Even when I’ve been given directions from someone who knows an area that is unfamiliar to me, I still sometimes strike out on my own in search of a more "direct" route. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who does that.
    None of my shortcuts has led to disaster. No one has died because of them. The rat in The Flats did not eat us, even if it looked like it could. The worst that has happened is that I’ve been late for a meeting or a concert, which is bad enough. But shortcuts in the spiritual world are another matter. They really can lead to disaster.
    Take the shortcut of using manipulative speech to get someone to do what (we think) is right, even spiritually right.
    If we are good at it, we can make our children or our friends feel guilty unless they do what we deem best. Of course it’s their good we have in mind. But guilt cannot sustain healthy behaviors.
    It can, however, leave a conscience scarred for decades.
    Or consider the shortcut to spiritual strength and health that bypasses character and tries to reach its goal through emotional experience alone.
    Emotional experiences are a part of the journey, but if one bypasses the practices that build character — practices flowing from faith and issuing to obedience – he or she will never arrive at the proper destination.
    Page 2 of 2 - Yet people try to do so — and become spiritual junkies in the process. Addicted to emotional highs, they travel across the country to hear a thrilling speaker or to catch the latest spiritual wave.
    Instead of talking about the God they worship, they talk about the "worship experiences" they have had. St. Paul’s describes them when he writes, "Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions."
    Some people are tempted to take the shortcut marked "Looking Spiritual" rather than follow the longer road marked "Being Real." They disregard Jesus’ wise instruction: "Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them." In fact, they wouldn’t do their "acts of righteousness" if they couldn’t let other people know about them.
    So they notify the media whenever they make a financial contribution to charity.
    They alert their friends in oh-so-subtle ways to the deeds of service they’ve performed.
    They drop names and recall their own laudable deeds — not to brag of course, but to illustrate a point.
    But the shortcut does not lead to happiness, only to an addiction to respect. Indeed, those who insist on following spiritual shortcuts are in danger of missing their destination, because we are not just headed for a place (heaven) but for a state (being the kind of people who can actually be at home in heaven).
     
    Shayne Looper is the pastor at Lockwood Community Church in Coldwater, Mich.
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