Conversion of our Minds

1 Corinthians 10:1-6, 10-12

Today’s readings give us plenty of imagery to latch onto. In the First Reading, there’s the burning bush from which God speaks to Moses, and then there’s the parable of the fig tree where God plays the role of the merciful gardener.  But the one line that galvanized, that brought a “call to action” for me in these readings was the last line of the Second Reading, where Paul says, “Whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall.” Yes, the Lord is kind and merciful, but we bear a responsibility to allow him to fertilize our minds and change our way of thinking, so that we become fruit-bearing fig trees in his orchard.

 

There’s that scripture quote from Romans that says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” God is patient, as he demonstrates with the failing fig tree in the Gospel, but in the end, there will be an accounting. He calls upon us to keep our feet moving, not allowing our minds to become content with our standing before him.

 

How do we become transformed by the renewal of our minds?  How to we win the battle for our minds when the landscape all around us is bereft of the enriching fertilizer we need to become fruitful? I have three principles in mind for how to succeed in today’s environment:

 

1-Don’t believe everything you think. It’s natural for us to feel that if we think something, it must be true because it comes within us.  But just because we think something does not make it true, necessarily. We can all probably recount many times in our lives when we bought into some narrative that we can see now, in retrospect, to be false. The world does that to us all the time. Satan does that to us all the time.

 

We all have blind spots.  Some of us have bald spots, but all of us have blind spots. Our blind spots develop because we simply don’t know what we don’t know. We don’t always stop to really think things through. We jump to conclusions. We make snap judgments. We fail to notice important details. And we all have more background biases than we realize, which distorts for us what is really real.  Quick story:

 

Much of my professional career was spent in outside sales. One day, I was out making sales calls with a companion sales rep who was just breaking into the business: a common practice: an experienced person mentoring a rookie. This new fellow happened to be an African American. Most of the sales calls that we went on that day were “cold calls” without the benefit of a scheduled appointment. Those calls were always, as you might suspect, long shots for gaining business, but they were necessary.  But we had one call that day that came as a result of an appointment set by our home office – a “phone bank” appointment. 

 

Phone bank appointments were rare, but they were like gold, because the prospect had agreed to sit down and talk in advance of the visit. So it was natural to walk into an appointment like that with a little more of a spring in one’s step, having a much higher expectation of success.

 

So we arrive at the appointment and we ventured back to meet with the owner of the business in his office.  We had, I thought, a cordial greeting, but within about two minutes of conversation, the owner had abruptly decided that he was going to stay with his current vendor and he pretty much sent us on our way.

 

I don’t remember that much detail about the sales call itself. What I remember (to this day) was the conversation with my companion once we got back to the car. He turned to me and said, “You come back next week, by yourself.  I bet he’ll give you the business.”  I said to him, “What? Were you on the same sales call that I was?  He didn’t even give us the chance to sit down and talk to him about our product?”  He replied back to me, “I know the look. He turned us down because I am black.” 

 

You know, I didn’t know that business owner from Adam, so I myself can’t assign motivations to him, but the fact that this individual that was riding with me that day was so convinced that it was racism that derailed our sales call, it really shook me. It changed my thinking. It reminded me that never having spent one day as a black person, as much as I might think otherwise, I had a blind spot.  There can be things in life that I think I have a handle on, but I really don’t. Don’t believe everything you think.  By the way, I never did go back to visit upon that prospect. I didn’t have enough of an appetite to win him over.

                                        

Those words from the second reading, “whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall” should animate us to engage others outside of our usual circle to seek a more perfect truth than the sometimes faulty truths that we carry around with us.

 

How else can we win the battle for our minds? 2-Guard our minds from garbage. In Proverbs we hear, “A wise person is hungry for knowledge, while the fool feeds on trash.” 

 

Any nutritionist will tell us that there are three kinds of food for our physical bodies. There is brain food that actually makes us smarter. There is junk food which is empty calories. And then there are toxic foods, which are like poison. The same is true in what we see, what we hear, and what we allow in our minds.

 

In scripture we hear, “The peace of God which is beyond all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”  If we want to be healthy and successful in the Christian life, and in ministering to others, we need to fix our minds on the right things.  How do we do that?

 

Ongoing conversational prayer with God and a focus on that which is holy, allows us to fix our minds on the right things and overcome the temptation for the empty calories and the toxic foods of our minds. One of the keys to overcoming temptation is not merely to resist it, but to replace it. There’s an expression: “Whatever we merely resist persists.” The more we keep hitting a nail into the wood, the deeper it goes and the tougher it is to pull it out of there.  And when people say, “I don’t want to think about this”, guess what?  They are thinking about it.

 

When we were little kids, when we knew mom had just baked some cookies, we’d go up to the edge of the kitchen counter where the cookies lay, and she would say, “Kids, don’t eat those cookies!” What would our response be? “I’m not mom – I’m just looking.  Really, I’m just looking!” And then, we’d spend our time obsessing over a plan to re-organize the cookies on the counter, so when she wasn’t looking, we’d be able to scarf up a couple and she’d never know the difference.

 

Don’t just resist, replace. Change the channel. Refocus. Thomas Chalmers called this the “expulsive power of new affection” - we turn our mind away from the things that the Devil wants us to focus on to the things that God wants us to focus on - guarding our minds from garbage.

 

Those words from the second reading, “whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall” should animate us to not just count down the days remaining in Lent, resisting things that we know are not good for our stomachs or our minds, but to replace them with things that are life giving. What life giving things can we use as a replacement for the junk? That leads me to our third and final principle:

 

3- Never let up on learning. Become a lifelong learner. Love wisdom. Love knowledge.  Learn to love the act of learning. The word disciple means “learner.” How can we be a disciple of Christ without being a learner?  Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me”.

 

What we find is that when we immerse ourselves in learning and knowing God’s word, we can’t come to any other conclusion than to say, God is love.  And the more we learn about God, the more loving we become. Love is grounded in knowledge.

 

In his book called Catholicism, Bishop Robert Barron speaks of the transformative value of God’s words in the history of the world and in our own lives.  He goes through a whole litany of truths spoken by Jesus that have changed the world years beyond his time on earth.

 

He puts them in the form of questions: Would the end of slavery have happened without Jesus’ command to love one’s neighbor as oneself? Would the civil rights movement in the US gotten underway without Jesus’ teaching about loving one’s enemy? Would Ghandi’s liberation of India or the collapse of Communism have been possible without Jesus’ summons to nonviolence? These are all good questions to ask.

 

At every Mass and every time we sit with the Scriptures in some fashion, we learn from them and we’re drawn to the love of God more deeply and become more like his disciples.  And the more we are like his disciples, the more fulfilling our lives become.

 

Those words from the second reading, “whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall” should animate us to invest more of ourselves, in whatever fashion we are comfortable with, in enriching our minds with God’s word.  Knowledge is just the beginning - it’s knowing what God does. Wisdom provides us with the perspective of knowing why he does it, and that’s what’s most useful.

 

The meaning of the Christian life is to walk the path of conversion, to encourage each other to seek and follow Jesus. And our chances for conversion are enhanced by 1) remembering not to believe everything we think, 2) replace our life draining activities with life giving ones, and 3) never letting up on learning, seeking wisdom and strength from God’s word.

 

And so we pray, Lord, we thank you for the gift of your patience. You are the same today as you were yesterday, and will be tomorrow. We pray for your guidance this week as we seek your path to conversion, to align our minds and our thinking to be more like yours, and that we come back next week more enriched and more fruitful as your disciples.

 

Amen!

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