Transforming the Blink

  And when they were ended, he was hungry.  The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.”-Luke 4.3

Each Saturday last year I would jump in our Volkswagon Jetta, scurry out of the Presidio and over the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin Headlands for some leg conditioning as I trained for the JMT.   One of these glorious (tongue-in-cheek) Saturdays, I got off to a late start.  The traffic was killer.  Bumper-to-touristy-rubber-necking-bumper.  I was agitated and anxious.  I had to get my miles in before the sun set and it wasn't looking good.  As I crawled to the exit for Bunker Tunnel I noticed in my rearview mirror a convertible sports car coming up lickety-split.  

Oh no you don't!  I said under my breath.  I had a feeling this was a cutter-someone who thinks his status has earned him the right to cut other people off.

Sure enough!  The sleek luxury convertible with four millennials, laughing and carrying on, squeezed over trying to cut in front of me and the other 40 cars behind me.

My holy-road rage kicked in.  I pushed my car up on the bumper of the car in front of me refusing an entry to the spoiled brats.  They looked at me, smiled continued pushing in on me.  I felt the unholy spirit of Jeff rising up from within.  

You @%*@$$!* (rhymes with _____).  I broke the sound barrier out from under my breath into the crisp Golden Gate Bridge air.   I  felt comfortable saying this out loud since no one was in the car with me.  I pushed, they pushed.  I pushed.

There was this whole other conversation going on inside of me since now my inner-Jesus was awake trying to reign me in.   Let them in, said the inner Jesus.

No way, I pushed back, its too late for that.  I'm going to feel guilty anyway, might as well have something to really feel guilty for.  

Jesus won, kind of....  I gave them the dirtiest, meanest, angriest, look of "you-spoiled-rotten-trust fund-brats, you don't know what an honest day's work is, scum-of-the-earth arrogant pricks." and let them in.

My neck was burning.  I parked the car started my hike.  About halfway up Hill 88 the ol' accuser started in.  "You're a lousy pastor.  It's Saturday.  Sabbath.  Tomorrow you will need to get up in front of God's beautiful children and share his glorious word.  Look at you! You cannot even cross the Golden Gate Bridge on your Sabbath to rest in God.  You get nothing! You lose! Good day, sir!" (in a Willy Wonka voice).

I couldn't figure out how a piece of moving metal, 4 millennials, and an exit could undo me so.  Why did I pre-judge them?  What was it in me that quickly labeled them? I judged and condemned them in the court of my insecurities with no evidence, no proof, and no authority.   Besides, so what if they were trust-fund kids, why would that even matter?  What was it in me that wanted to curse their parents for blessing them?  Wouldn't I do the same?  I struggled with how far I felt I had come spiritually that spring, how could I get so thrown off.  I kept thinking about Mother Teresa (why I have no earthly idea) but I was like, "I thought I was on my path to sainthood, how the heck did I lose my steam so quick."  Ugh. 

Obviously, the issues are much deeper than the car that cut me off.  The issues are related to my own sense of worth.  The nice car and youth juxtaposed with my older car and fleeting life and the constant barrage in the City--billboards advertising to the affluent, all the exotic lamborghinis and ferraris in parked at the local 76 station, and unaffordable housing--shouted at the top of its lungs, "You get nothing! You lose! Good day, sir!"  My rage was not at the convertible car and its occupants, it was directed at me and really directed at that part of me that feels that I am not enough, and it was that part vulnerable part of me that longed for transformation.

Another moment of confession: there are days, although I am doing so much better for reasons we are journeying toward; but there are days still when I strive after the voice that says, "If you are the son of God .... you would make more money, have more opportunities, be a greater success, have given your children a better life...."   But, this too you should know, those days are dying.  They are less frequent, less evident, distant and have given way to a far greater, much more valuable treasure.   Here is what I discovered along the way.

We need a transformation that affects us down to the blink.  A transformation that affects us down to our soul-reactor, so that our reactions and responses, those decisions made in a blink before we think, are kingdomesque.   The wilderness journey, when it's completed, will bring us to a place where we are "unconsciously competent"* in imaging the divine nature.   Yep, all the way down to the blink.

Jean-Paul Sartre, the great French philosopher of the 20th century, says something very relevant to us and this first temptation that Jesus faced.  He was of the opinion that scarcity is the root of all human violence--wars, massacres, genocide, famine and cruelty.  The great world wars, where humans acted like animals toward each other are directly traced to this notion of scarcity.  A societal fear of there not being enough, is the cause for famine.  People at the top of governments hoarding aid, food, and supplies out of fear of scarcity.  The holocaust's attempt to exterminate Jews was rooted in Hitler's interiorized scarcity.   Sartre argued that if scarcity could be eliminated there would be no need for violence at any level of social interaction.   He also pointed out that scarcity is the fundamental way in which man relates to nature.  We tend to act and react toward nature from this default position of "there just isn't enough."  What I find most intriguing is this quote from Sartre:

 Violence is not necessarily an action. . . .  Nor is it a feature of nature, or a hidden potentiality.  It is the constant non-humanity of human conduct as interiorized scarcity; it is, in short, what makes people see each other as the Other as the principle of Evil.

I'm no philosopher but what it sounds like to me that Sartre is saying is that scarcity is a pretty big deal; it's anthropological.  It's in our history and our nature.  It tempts us into some pretty disturbing behaviors.  And here is the catch, it's not that things and material are scarce, it's rather an "interiorized scarcity."  In other words, scarcity is an internal thing.  It's something inside of us.

This is huge.  The struggle that we have with there not being enough time, for example, is not that there isn't enough time, everyone has 24 hours.  It's that there is something inside of us saying "there isn't enough time."  

Jesus shows us not just how to deal with scarcity, but how to transform our relationship with nature and the world.   

Situation:  Jesus is hungry.  40 days hungry.
Setting:  The wilderness has only stones.  No food. (scarcity)
Satan's Solution:  "command this stone to become bread" (be self-sufficient, don't need God)
Decision: Quotes** Deuteronomy 8.1-10
Transformation:  Jesus faces the internal scarcity issue by living out Deuteronomy 8.1-10, which says, "[the Lord] humbled you and let you hunger . . . that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord."  The hunger had a purpose, it was transforming him to trust in the Voice.
On The Next Wilderness Hunger Episode:    On the next wilderness-hunger situation Jesus will be faced with a tough situation.  5000 hungry men.  5 loaves and 2 fishes.  What will he do?  Given the fact that he has faced the wilderness with nothing for 40 days and nights I can imagine when we read about this he will be grateful for 5 loaves and 2 fish.  In fact, based upon the lessons he has learned from the grumbling and complaining Wilderness Exodusers I imagine he will bless the scarcity and share it.   That is the real work of transformation.  To stare scarcity in the eye, the thing that has brought so many humans to violent ends, and bless it.    

Before my inner transformation, I would curse my scarcity of I.Q., get angry with how hard I had to work to understand things.   I would curse the scarcity of affordable housing in San Francisco.  I would curse the scarcity of inner-generational families in our church.  I would curse the scarcity of resources.  What the wilderness began to teach me was that the scarcity problem isn't out there (pointing to my city), it's in here (pointing to my heart).  And Jesus came to heal that part of my heart, to speak to that part of me and say, "You have me.  Inside.  Depend on me.  Trust me. Let me deal with that thing inside of you that always feels like there isn't enough."

Isn't it true that when you're aware of the Presence, the Voice, in your life you are at full peace, joy, and love?  Even in the midst of scarcity, extreme difficulty, hardship, and suffering, if you have the Voice you are really good to go.  Crazy!  And isn't it also true that when you are unaware disconnected from the Presence and the Voice no amount of surplus or abundance is satisfying or fulfilling?  You still feel like you need a little more and then you'll finally be secure.

To be sure, God's very nature is generosity, abundance, and blessing.  Just look at Genesis.  He Blesses creation over and over with these words, "Be fruitful, multiply and replenish the earth."  He gives a whole garden with all kinds of fruit trees to eat from to Adam and Eve.   We see abundance in the water-to-wine miracle,  almost 2 pallets of wine.  Or in the feeding of the 5000, 12 baskets were left over.  Or in the 153 fish catch.

What the wilderness teaches us is to bless the scarcity not curse it.
Is to realize the transformational issue is an inner one.
Is to know that if you have the Voice, you have the treasure.



  • Conversation.  Have a conversation with Cleopas about scarcity in your life.  What you feel there is a shortage of, a lack of.    
  • Reflection.   Reflect on this question:  If only I had more____________________ then I would be happy.  
  • Prayer.  Pray a Lectio Divina of Deuteronomy 8.1-10.  End the prayer blessing your "five loaves and 2 fish" whatever they represent to you.

*My mentor uses 4 movements of our journey.   The first is characterized by "unconsciously incompetent" (15 year old looking at mom and dad driving car and going that's so easy, anyone could do that); second is "consciously incompetent" (the 16 year old dinging the car, freaked out on the HWY, scratching the car beside him as he parallel parks); third "consciously competent" (the 17 year old who as long as he focuses he does just fine); fourth "unconsciously competent" (the 30 year old who doesn't have to even think about driving, it's now second nature).

**Jesus quote, "Man shall not live by bread alone." is intended to be an abbreviation of the entire story that Jesus references.  Jesus would have recited the entire story perhaps over and over as he faced this temptation again and again over the 40 days.  And the quote serves as a kind of reference for the readers and hearers to return to the story and glean strength from it.