OK, we've all been laughing at (and creeped out by) the "pisseth against the wall" pastor that's been making the Christian blog rounds. But I have to admit that guy is in the bush leagues compared to Estus Pirkle, mastermind behind this one:
Is it any wonder we Christians have a rep for being Night of the Living Braindead zombies?
[h.t. Chaotic Hammer via Rick Ianniello via Tim Reed.]
Two other classics from Estus Pirkel.
Thursday, February 28, 2008
OK, we've all been laughing at (and creeped out by) the "pisseth against the wall" pastor that's been making the Christian blog rounds. But I have to admit that guy is in the bush leagues compared to Estus Pirkle, mastermind behind this one:
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Could you summarize your life story in six words?
Fun stuff. I played with the idea of writing this post using nothing but six word sentences like the New Yorker piece but decided I didn't want to work that hard. The idea fits in with my love of constrained forms of writing - for example I like haiku, too. In fact, one of my favorite activities in a boring meeting is to write haiku about the meeting. It makes me look like I'm paying attention and taking notes while passing the time. :o)
As for my own six word autobiography I could point at the title of my blog. Or how about:
"Once was lost; now am found"?
But I could also see the fun of coming up with a new one every day as the mood strikes and situations change. For example, the kids have been grumpy tonight, so the following has appeal:
"Nine more years until empty nest!"
Go ahead, try it yourself!
[I really don't get that many questions, but I thought the format was fitting for what I have to say.]
Q: Why a FAQ?
A: I've been getting pinged a lot lately by friends (Hi Aaron, Kim, Dan and Glenn! [waves]) with "concerns" about what I've been posting lately, its tone and tenor. So I thought I would write some of my responses up as answers to questions to see if I can set some minds to rest.
Q: What's up with all the confessional posts lately?
A: A bunch of things, really. A mild episode of depression and stress, for one. Writing helps me to deal with some of that. Plus Adam's challenge to find my spiritual barometer and tell people about it, which I accepted. And as I commented on Tina's blog just yesterday, "Some of my blog posts are actually written prayers - not aimed at any human reader, but actually addressed to God. The writing just gives it coherence." Oh, and I truly believe we are called to confess, and not with vague generalities, either. You can either hear about my crimes and misdemeanors now or in front of the throne later. I'd rather get most of them out now and not pay interest on the debt.
Q: When will you stop confessing?
A: When I stop sinning. Until then don't read this blog if it makes you feel uncomfortable (or bored).
Q: Don't you feel exposed by confessing all this to the whole world?
A: That's the point! To make me realize that I am a sinner and without God's grace and healing I have no chance of being anything other than a bad person. To make me know I can't run and hide. To step up and accept responsibility for my actions and inactions.
Q: What if someone you know (like your boss or future boss or church) finds this and uses it against you?
A: Maybe they shouldn't be my boss or church then. :-) Seriously, I feel God leading me to write this stuff here, and He and I will deal with any consequences from it if and when they arise. In the mean time I've gotten some real positive feedback in terms of comments and emails - enough to make it worthwhile just for that (but I'm not doing it for the pats on the back).
Q: How does Les feel about all this?
A: I honestly don't know. Ask her. We talk about some points because she reads this blog and I obviously know that when I write (so I make sure I don't write anything passive-aggressive toward her or about our relationship here), but ultimately I think (hope) she knows this is part of my spiritual growth and accepts it. She certainly can't complain she doesn't know what's on my mind! (Hi, honey! [waves] :o)
Q: Are you ever going to post anything other than this gloom-and-doom stuff?
A: I have been posting about other topics and will continue to do so. This blog isn't all about me and it isn't meant to be a downer, either. So here, have this.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
[The following is nowhere near as coherent as I wish, but I need to puke it up and get it out. Sorry about that. Here's a towel to wipe off the splatter.]
I recently wrote about the rule "A person who is nice to you but rude to the waiter...is not a nice person." The moral, of course, is that we should always be nice to people who can spit in our food if we make them mad. No wait...The moral, of course, is that we should be nice to people who represent no advantage or gain for us simply because they are humans and worthy of respect. I hope I do a decent job of that.
It's also easy to show love to others when we're supposed to, like to our family and friends. When we're temporarily not nice to them it's only a stumble and then we get back on track, often helped by a loving smack to the side of our head by a loved one. And it's easy to be nice when we have no real stake in it, such as when we volunteer or go to church (ha!). All of those things are easy and because of that I think there are a number of people who find me kind, caring, loving and friendly, once they get past my rather blunt nature.
However, there are people all over this country who would take exception to that comment and those are people I work with or have worked with. I'm not nice all the time at work. It's much, much harder to be nice when our livelihood is involved. Why? Is it simply that money warps everything it touches? I think that's part of it but I don't think it's all of it or even the largest piece. For me at least I think it's because my ego is involved. Work is a large part of "who I am". I have a lot ofeffort, education, experience and expertise wrapped up into my employment. Moreover, I wear a persona at work that I've crafted over decades of being a competent problem solver, one who can fix and figure out things others can't. And because of that I am not good with dealing with incompetence. I don't "suffer fools gladly".
I am not talking about someone who just doesn't know something they should. They can be taught and mentored. I am not even talking about those who can't be taught (in computer programming we call them "users" - just kidding! :o) I am instead talking about a small but prevalent subset of people who are both prideful of their "abilities" and yet a danger to themselves and others when it comes to performing their jobs. Consider the following poorly done graph.
When I encounter "Nice/Competent" I am happy because then I have a peer with whom I can share the excitement of programming and learning new things. Many such people I now count as close friends, some of whom I've known for decades. "Nice/Incompetent" people allow me to be a nice person, too, helpfully solving their problems (sometimes again and again). With "Not nice/Competent" I can grudgingly respect their abilities because in my profession sheer ability trumps all. "I don't like the guy, but he writes good code" is a compliment (and programming's full of such people - I fear I fall in that category myself).
But "Not nice/Incompetent"? It is an affront to my very being. It trips a real trigger in me and toward them I feel real animosity and a desire to work against them and push them out. I am ashamed to say I've had a part in getting at least one such person fired in my career. I struggle with it all the time. It's the combination of their repeated failings and their ego that gets to me.
Except wait. I am full of ego myself. I am the most egotistical person I know. And I fail all the time, at least on measures I find important (like being nice). Hmmm. I guess that makes me an incompetent jerk, too. Or more concisely it makes me the word that rhymes with the clue in the title of this post.
I don't know why, but Dan and I seem like we've both been "vibrating at the same frequency" lately. A lot of his posts resonate with me and inspire (or convict) me to write something. Today's ramble was interesting because I already had this post in mind yesterday and then Dan wrote:
I had an old retired pastor stop in Saturday morning. He was delivering something to me from someone else (another pastor, and my first thought was that this retired guy was having to do it because the one who should have didn't want to talk to me). I hate it when I get paranoid like this, but... what if it's true? I mean, I think the reason I am such an outcast in my "region" is because I'm seen as a loud-mouth malcontent. I've never been told that, but... I can sense it. I don't want people to think of me like that. I'm just difficult, ya know. Hey, it's hard for me to live with me. I know how they feel.
I don't know. It bums me out that I used to be involved in this great pastors group where five of us got together once a week and prayed and talked about the Bible and whatnot. And now it's just me and Tom, and all we do is complain about the fact that nobody will meet with us anymore. And I used to be involved in another blog where people (mostly pastors) shared stuff and talked about stuff and whatnot... and now no one talks anymore. I used to have a couple people in my church who always wanted to talk and get together to pray or whatever, and now I don't. So I sit here in my office, looking out the window at the snow falling, and it piles up all around. The dog lays in front of the door and pretends to be my best friend (sometimes).
Now, I am not saying Dan is a bad guy who chases everyone away from him. I personally think he's being too hard on himself. I've learned a lot from him, and in fact owe him a reply to something he wrote to me just today that was full of patient teaching.
That said, I got to thinking and it struck me that what he was writing about was feeling relational strain at work (even if he loves being a pastor, it's still his job). In fact, most of the time he posts about his struggles, it's about his work. Which he loves - I can tell it. And I have been thinking about how poorly I do with relationships at work. And I think I will now make a broad generalization - we all approach people at work differently than anywhere else. What makes work different? Why is it so hard to follow Christ there?
I want to know. Because I no longer want to be known as an asshole. I want to be known as someone who "was once broken, but Christ remade him as whole".
Monday, February 25, 2008
I was struck recently by a couple of columns in the Arcata Eye, the "mildly objectionable weekly newspaper for Arcata, California," home of Humboldt State University (go Jacks! Like I follow sports, haha :o). I drop in to the site a few times a month (because their RSS feed doesn't work) to catch up on the hilarious and well done police log (order the books). Then, while bored a few weeks ago I stumbled across a story about Pete, a man who had lived homeless in Arcata for decades, finally going to live with his family in Oregon after his health and mental state had deteriorated to the point where he could obviously no longer care for himself, even if his self-care up to that point had been life-threatening anyway. There followed a more intimate portrait of Pete (or "Pedro") by someone who actually gave him shelter (albeit in the tool shed), received his mail (Social Security checks) and looked after him as much as someone can look after a person who doesn't want to be looked after.
Pete was forever in the police logs, mentioned by name (like any other long-standing institution or tradition), including the last two weeks he was in town. I am sure there are many residents not interviewed who do not miss him "enlivening" their city. I am sure many others are simply happy he is back with his family - although I hold a rather mild but realistic pessimism on how long that will last. May God prove me wrong. Even so what struck me was the kindness, gentleness, fondness and love expressed in the two articles, even alongside the frustration with Pete and his stubborn refusal to be anything but, well, Pete. For all I know nobody mentioned in the pieces are Christian and yet I kept thinking about how well they exemplified some of Christ's teachings to love "the least of these" as we would ourselves be loved.
When I shared the stories of Pete with my friends Aaron responded with this. Now you can see why he's a friend - I like collecting intelligent, caring, articulate people around me; it helps me feel that way myself. Anyway, the first thing Aaron wrote that struck me was this:
I think there are at least three kinds of homeless. People down on their luck and trying to climb back out. Medically homeless: substance, physical or mental problems. And people who just don't fit in the "live in a house, work at a job" world that most of us have created. Pete sounds like he's a combination of the second and third types.
I regret that as our American world moves ahead, an existence like Pete's becomes impossible. I would be happy if there were no homeless, obviously, especially the unlucky and medically homeless. But for the third type, the people who don't fit ... I don't know. I don't know what they'll do. There will always be bad luck and medical problems. We can, if we choose (and if they accept), help those folks out of their circumstances.
But the third type are always going to be with us, as they have for thousands of years. Independence, genetics, faulty point of view, or the ability to see the world and themselves for what they really are. I don't know. But humans produce artists, geeks, yuppies, soccer moms, just plain folk, and Pete. Everyone but Pete gets a place to be who they are.
"Everyone but Pete gets a place to be who they are." That's so true. We complain about not fitting in at our church, or feeling out of place in our own family or at work. But what about those that feel out of place in our society as a whole? That never fit in and never will? Who makes a place for the placeless? A home for the homeless?
Aaron finished with this:
I admire the people in the story who are able to let the world be as it is, who recognise Pete's chosen lot and the limits of their responsibility. I couldn't let Pete sleep in my garage, for example. I'd feel guilty, and I'd want him to come inside and sleep. But that wouldn't be good for my family or my furniture, and so I'd never let him get as close as my garage.
Besides guilt, I'd feel fear. Having someone like Pete up close, someone from the foreign country of Homeless, I'd never know if I could trust him to not do harm to me or my family. And having him up close would also make me afraid of being like him, homeless. That's the biggest fear, the mirror.
The mirror. I think that's what I always feel when I see a homeless person. "There but for the grace of God..." But I don't mean that as some pompous prideful posturing. I was homeless for much of the late spring and summer of 1978. Lived in my car. Lived in the basement of a church (until the elders made the pastor kick me out). Was finally saved by my friend Mike's family, given a place to stay, food to eat and a job. Before, during and after that time I also was into heavy drug abuse (name it, if it was available in the 1970s I probably did it - PCP excepted). Oh, and then there was the depression, which I still fight to this day, but in that drug-fueled, social outcast time was tuned to a fevered pitch. More suicide attempts than I can count. Three hospitalizations in my teens and twenties.
There are any number of times in that period where I could've fried my brain (knew some fellow acid heads who did just that). Or been arrested and sent down that life-changing path. Or permanently crippled my body or brain from yet another suicide try. Or succeeded. I played dice with God a lot then, and He didn't let me win but He also didn't take me for everything I had. Lucky. There are lots of people who aren't so lucky. They play the same games and...go down paths I missed.
So now I feel drawn to helping the homeless. It was that draw that pushed me to volunteer at the Samaritan Center, inspired in part by a homeless person I kept seeing that summer (who has since died). But even there the clientèle are more bottom-rung, down-and-out poor, not homeless. So I continue to feel pushed to help the filthy, bearded guy sitting on the street corner with the cardboard sign. Even as I also flee him because I could be him. But I am not. "I got away with it." There's a part of me that doesn't want to look in that mirror. Doesn't want to "catch" the thing I narrowly escaped. But I know I must help. I have been feeling the push for a long time now (the Spirit doesn't let you alone), and it's time to do something more about it again. Chris is leading the way here, and I am cool looking toward a younger guy for inspiration. But he struggles with what Aaron struggles with which is what I struggle with - how do we do anything meaningful for the homeless, not just a weekend volunteer stint, when we have families to care and nurture and protect?
I don't know.
But I have to find out.
Stay tuned. Thanks for listening.
Chuck knocked me out with his latest, We are not afraid:
We are not afraid of inspiration because we want to join the vision of those who see the future as a place of hope. We are not afraid to put feet to our feelings, to live the dream, and to invite others to join the parade toward the possible. We are not afraid of words that give voice to our hopes, and echo the deep longings of our hearts. We are not afraid to hear the challenge, work together, and give of ourselves to make this country great again.
Go read the whole thing and commit to leaving fear behind.
Today Dan posted about negativity, and said,
I am too easily deflated, too sensitive to defeat and criticism, and too de-motivated by setbacks. It's no one else's responsibility, and it is entirely my fault. I don't say that out of pity or a false sense of humility... I say it as a confession of sin. It's true. I am the most negative person I know, and I hate it. I hate it! I don't want to be this way.
That entirely describes me, too, and much of the underpinnings to my struggle with "leadership" and why I don't want to be called a "leader". And to echo Dan, I hate it! But here's the scary part - Dan ends with a prayer for renewal and change in his heart. I want that, too. But I don't want it so I can then become a leader. Dan feels called to be such, or he wouldn't be a pastor. I do not. Basically, when it comes down to it I am a follower. And while God makes all things possible I would be suspect of Him changing the very nature of who I am, my basic personality. Yes, we are supposed to die and be reborn in Christ but does that mean we stop being ourselves?
I think a lot of people could chime in and say, "Yes, that's exactly what it means!", in which case I want to ask, "Then why did God make me who I am in the first place and why does He love me now, if all He wants out of me is someone different?" Combined with a sense of real disbelief that something as fundamental as personality is changeable.
I am really struggling with this, people, so no pat answers, por favor. However, comments are appreciated.
[c.f., earlier rants on same topic.]
Sunday, February 24, 2008
- The focus of all preaching and teaching at our church is Jesus, the cross, the resurrection and the sacrament of communion. Period. Every single sermon always comes back to our Lord and Savior and what He has done for us through grace and how we are a part of Him and His purpose for the world. Let me repeat it, because it gets repeated to me every week: Jesus, the cross, the resurrection and communion.
- The congregation is genuinely friendly. If you show up as a newcomer, you will be noticed and greeted by lots of people. This is what attracted us in the first place, because the church we were attending and where my wife grew up has gotten very large and cold and we wanted somewhere we could fit in, not just be "lost in the crowd". If you like a church that's welcoming then you'd like our church.
- They put up with a tiny third service that obviously isn't a "moneymaker" or attendance draw. We go to a "contemporary" service with live music at 5:00 p.m. on Sundays. But the music isn't what's important. Besides the schedule being more amenable to us, the thing we like about it is it is small and intimate - a normal 5:00 service is 30 people, a big gathering would be 50. A few times it's dipped to 20, which is about the number of people involved in the music and lights and sound and their families. Compare that with the traditional service at 8:00 a.m. that typically draws 300 or so, and the more family-oriented service at 10:30 a.m. with 150 on average. Many of the people who attend the 5:00 service have already attended one of the others as well, so not only are the numbers small but in the sense of drawing in people who otherwise might not attend (like us) it is really sort of a miserable failure. But the pastor keeps it going and the elders let him. Thank God. I like the "country church" feel of it and of getting to know everyone in it over time.
There. That wasn't so hard! :o)
Consider this a meme if you wish. If you attend a church (traditional, house church, pub church, whatever), name three things you genuinely like about it. If you don't have a place you call "church" right now then name three things that if you see them in a gathering will tell you that you've finally found what you're looking for. I will leave the paid professionals out of the tagging (although you can join if you wish) and nominate the following to participate:
- Tina ('bout time she started blogging again :-)
- Chris ('cause he seems happy with his church)
- Erin (who may have found what she is looking for)
- Glenn (who may be creating something soon; I want to hear what he wants it to be like)
- John (just to get him off reviewing French theologians for a bit :-)
Looking forward to reading your replies! If you pass it along, please link back to here.
Saturday, February 23, 2008
Over the past week I have mentioned the new church A/V system three times, stating twice that it was $35,000. I was wrong. I am often wrong about details like that. I have a "pattern-recognition" brain, not a "detail-oriented" one, so often I will be off in the weeds about the details because my mind is grappling with some pattern it sees. My bad. The new A/V system at church was not $35,000. No. It was $42,395. I was off by $7,395, or to put it in units of measurement I am rapidly becoming accustomed to using, 3.6975 Human Care board budgets. I am sure God is pleased by how good our service worshiping Him now sounds.
I apologize for any inconvenience this mistake on my part may have caused.
- Bill Swanson, Raytheon CEO
So here's something that's been bothering me. Our pastor is typically a very nice man. He always seems friendly and outgoing, gives warm and thoughtful sermons, and points to his own failings and pride when giving examples. All good. However, I've also had the opportunity to observe him away from the "show" of service and Sunday school and council meetings. And in the three distinct times I am thinking of, twice to the church secretary, once to the parish nurse, he was...brusque. Not out and out rude, per se, but...short. Curt. Direct. Demanding. And I would dare to say, condescending. And in each case he then turned around and went back to being really nice to me.
I must admit this has bothered me. On the one hand he was a manager in business for decades before entering the ministry, so perhaps it is just his old business habits leaking through. On the other hand...he's the pastor, and if he isn't "nice to the help" then doesn't that cause a little worry? Dan? Tom? Glenn? Comments? I don't want to hold you guys to a double standard, but...still...
Anyway, I don't want to make a big deal out of it, but it has bothered me and I have held it in and now it's out and I can move on.
Of course, I'm not really a leader anyway but there have been some instances lately at church where, because of being a board chair, I get called a "leader". The new parish nurse was even told during the handover from the former chair, "He is effectively your boss." Ouch. I don't want that. I don't want any of that. I don't want to be a leader. I am not good at it.
I can look back over my entire life - my friendships, my work, my play, my volunteering - and the phrase that best describes me is "trusted lieutenant". I am not comfortable being the leader. In fact, I hate it. I really hated it during the period I was self-employed as a consultant. It's always humbling to find out what your not cut out to be - I am not made to be an entrepreneur. And even in a normal job where I may have to manage people I much prefer managing a group of my peers whom I can trust to all do their jobs and all I have to do is coordinate, rather than junior-level people who must be taught and mentored and monitored and corrected. Not to say I reject mentoring - I like doing that. I just don't want it to be on my job description.
Instead, I have always been comfortable being "the guy behind the leader", the one who is trusted because I speak truth in private counsel even when it isn't politically correct to do so. I would much rather leave the decisions to someone I trust and be the guy that figures out all the hard parts on how to make someone else's plan actually happen. Somehow I end up in that position nine times out of ten just by being me. Now, this isn't to say I can't exhibit "leadership qualities". I can. But I don't "feed" on that. In fact, it flat wears me out and ends up leaving me feeling depressed, defeated and drained.
But there's a downside to always being the follower and that is this - I have a need to look up to the people I follow. Once they disappoint me by being human (which, of course, always happens), then I begin to look for other faults, I begin to question their leadership, and ultimately I grow disaffected and distrustful and then leave. It is a common pattern (or common failing) in my career. At least I recognize it now and I can say I cut my current boss way more slack than I have others in the past because at the end of the day he's human, and 19 business days out of 20 he makes sane, rational decisions that I can follow without hesitation. And the other one day a month when he pisses me (and typically everyone else) off I have learned to just shrug because by the next day I will be over it and life moves on. Overall he is a great boss and very good to me and that's all that really counts. If we can't forgive the imperfections in others, we can't expect forgiveness ourselves.
So what does this have to do with anything? Well, lately I have been struggling with this whole Human Care board chair thing. Not that it's that big of a deal in one sense. I mean, my church marginalizes the whole subject to the point where you could almost say it's a sinecure. Have a meeting once a month and go to the church council once a month and call it square. But I feel like we should be doing so much more and yet I don't have the energy or will in me to take on the fight. Because I don't think it will work anyway. Our church is the way it is because the vast majority of people in it want it to be that way. They've voted for it to be that way, year in and year out. I can tell that just by the budget.
So I've been struggling with wanting to just say "Fuck it" and resign, in protest. Not because it will make any difference but because my being there won't make any difference, either. And per the above I can tell some of my resentment is coming from the fact I am not cut out to be a "leader" and so the whole thing is also stretching me into areas I don't feel comfortable or natural. I have convinced myself I won't resign because I did commit to it (if somewhat under pressure). But I would much rather just concentrate on helping other organizations (and other churches) in town who actually have their missional shit together rather than trying to convince a complacent church to look beyond their new A/V system (boy, I keep bringing that up - can you tell it rankles?) and building expansion and all the programs we have for ourselves and actually engage the community around us.
So, with that attitude, staying could be as toxic as quitting. And I don't want to be toxic, because the Human Care board does do some good things. Instead, I must adopt a servant attitude toward all this. I must keep my opinions to myself. I must help the programs the board supports keep going and where possible to help them grow. Keep my head down and just get through ten more months. I think I can do that. But please, don't call me a "leader".
Friday, February 22, 2008
Thursday, February 21, 2008
One minor note - The Plug's navigation, especially within a series, can seem, um, "obscure", although once you get the feel for how they tend to set up links it's fine. But if you find yourself reading something and think, "That's it?", look for links near the bottom of the page that may lead on to more. Or not. You'll see. Also, it doesn't look like RSS is available, which is too bad.
Anyway, go check it out. You will either love it and be hooked immediately or go "Huh" and never return. You can guess which camp I am in.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
If you are not reading the comic xkcd ("A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language") you are missing out on one of the best comics on the Web besides ASBO Jesus and indexed. It may look a little nerdy to non-techies, but here are three recent comics to convince you it's worth adding to your reader. Make sure to click through on each cartoon below so when you read them on the actual site you can hover over the comic and get the little "tool tip" post-punchline comment.
How It Works
So, this morning I was going to write about something that happened last night at the Human Care board meeting. I was excitedly talking about how Compassion, one of my favorite causes/ministries/charities, is sponsoring an upcoming Compassion Sunday to raise awareness worldwide on their efforts. I wanted to get our church involved, show a video and just spread the word. And then one of the other members proceeded to shoot down all such "sponsor a child" organizations, saying "I worked for Lutheran World Relief for twenty seven years and those other organizations really don't have you sponsor just one child because they can't make that model work", and implied it's all a sham and a waste of time and money and she wouldn't support any such thing in our church.
I protested about how we've gotten letters from our sponsor children but in the end I just went quiet and we moved on, and frankly now I won't proceed with doing anything about Compassion Sunday in our church because I just don't have the energy to fight the battles - if I can't even get the board behind it, then whatever. I am not a strong leader (there's a squelched post on that subject I wrote days ago but have held back on publishing because it just comes across as too negative - I may still post it, though, because it has some very personal thoughts on "leadership" and how I fail at it).
Now, before anyone criticizes this woman let me say she's a good person and through the rest of the meeting she had good ideas and observations and was very supportive. Her life experience has just led her to feel strongly about a topic in exactly the opposite way in which my life experience has led me to feel strongly about the same subject. Somehow in all of that, God is working. Or is He?
The thing I was originally going to post was an observation I've had long before last night about people's (peoples'? peoples? :-) reaction to enthusiasm. I can just about guarantee that if you say something really enthusiastically about anything - a new diet, a book, a movie, a band, a church, a charity, a product, whatever - to any random three people including family and close friends, at least one of those people will well-meaningly and for your own good squat and defecate all over your enthusiasm. And in every case they will be driven by their own life experience to prove your enthusiasm unfounded and try to dampen it if not kill it outright. These same people may be your absolute best friend on the whole planet, too, so you know they're not doing it just to be a dour asshole, even if that's how everyone comes across when they do such things. They just feel compelled to "set you right." Then I was going to write some little pontification about how this is obviously a bad trait and we shouldn't do such things, etc., etc., blah blah blah.
Now consider, I had all of that already formed in my head this morning when I then went and read a post on Adam's blog about a conference he just got back from and was enthusing about, and then I proceeded to do exactly the same thing in a comment there! And right after I posted it, I went "OMG!" (as a prayer), "I do it, too!" And of course I do. We all do. Luckily Adam has replied via email that he gets where I was coming from and will be writing a post to better explain some of the issues my comment was based on, and he was gracious enough to understand that I wasn't trying to be negative even though I came across that way. He's an insightful guy - that's why I read his blog.
To me, all of this can be summed up under "busybodiness", and frankly, I don't think it's a very constructive thing - in fact, maybe it should be considered the eighth deadly sin. In fact, I think it is the #1 enthusiasm killer around. So why do we do it? If we're so well-meaning, why do we wrap our well-meaningness in sharp negativity? Do we think that's better than nurturing enthusiasm, even if we personally may think that enthusiasm is misguided? Are we supposed to be the cop, prosecutor and judge for someone else's experiences? Are we sure the Spirit isn't guiding someone else in their enthusiasm? Or are we trying to dampen their joy because the Spirit hasn't visited our grumbling, downcast life in a while? And huh, I wonder why that may be? Maybe the first thing we owe God after gratitude, is enthusiasm.
So Adam already knows how I meant what I should have said and has my apology. And I have already forgiven the woman from last night and moved on. Now I am pondering what we - you and me - can do to stop playing out this destructive role in the future? How can we take our experiences, which are a gift and which do inform us as to right and wrong, and translate them in such a way that we don't take a dump on someone else's enthusiasm? I don't know the answer. That's why I'm asking you.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
I've written before about one of the places I fall down the most and the hardest on trying to be a good follower of Jesus is at work, and boy, did I do it again today. Without going into details (who knows who reads this thing), I will say that I still don't know how else I could have handled the situation differently, given the very large import of the matter and the fact it is a recurring problem. But still, even as it was happening I was thinking "I wish I could figure out a better way, but still take the appropriate action." It's a conundrum, and I need to pray about it (Say! There's an idea!)
Monday, February 18, 2008
And the one gaping void has always been the same for me: I don't read
fiction. I practically never have. That's what you're all interested
in, I know it, and I'm sorry, but I can't help you. I do not have a
subscription to any newspapers or magazines, either, now that I think
of it. We own screens, but we can't watch broadcast or cable television
on any of them. I told you I was strange, but you don't listen.
What is bugging me is that I really don't have a good reason for my filtering other than "I don't like that" or "That can't be taken literally" or "That obviously doesn't apply today". And whenever I leave myself to be the subjective judge of things with no rhyme or reason beyond preference for my decisions I am usually wrong.
Now, the obvious answer is that I need help in my exegesis beyond "Scripture interprets Scripture". And perhaps I do, because the Scripture passages given to interpret other Scripture passages often seem quite weak to me (but not as weak as the Scripture passages used to support some parts of the catechism, which often seems to stretch to the worst forms of prooftexting). So where are we to turn for help?
Well, first, of course, is to your pastor. He (or she - but not in my denomination, unfortunately) is a trained professional, often with a graduate degree or more in understanding just such things. He (or she, etc.) may speak and read Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic in order to get right down to what it really says. He is supposed to edify us every week with a sermon picking apart passages in the Bible and explaining what they mean and should mean in our lives. Except there's a problem with this model, I think. First is the fact that the part of the Bible I need explaining right now may not be on the lectionary rotation for a while. I can, of course, call the pastor or go see him for a talk, but he's a busy man and I feel guilty doing so (and the few times I have I have walked out feeling dissatisfied, like I was "answered" but not "educated").
The second issue is just how much that service costs me. [Following is one of the reasons I keep my church anonymous, so I can speak freely.] At my church we will pay $91,560 in 2008 for our senior pastor's salary and benefits. We will also pay $37,367 salary and benefits for a part-time associate pastor (and that's actually better value for our money, because from what I can tell he works pretty close to full-time, even though he's really in "working retirement"). The church directory says there are 353 families in our church. Assuming we're all tithing, and just for "back of the envelope" calculation purposes assuming that we're all paying equally, that means that for pastoral services I am paying $365 a year (a dollar a day - how convenient! "Why, for only a dollar a day..."). Of which some of that is providing those regularly scheduled sermons and Sunday School Bible explications, and some can be seen as a "retainer" upon which I can draw for individual instruction on particularly tricky passages. Hmmm...OK.
And of course I can also go and buy books on various things in the Bible. I can buy books about single Bible books. I can buy books about specific Bible passages. I can buy books about themes in the Bible. I can buy books about people in the Bible. I can buy Biblical dictionaries and concordances. In fact, I bet that if I had the money I could buy eight shelf feet of books on any single random thing I chose out of the Bible. And yet after some period of time of buying these books and reading them I've come to notice something. They still don't explain the Bible. Because if they did, you'd only need one of them on any topic, eh? But of course we don't have one book on Romans - we have a library full. All that produced from studying a single letter from a single man to a single church. Huh. And none of them agree with each other because they'd be obviously redundant and useless if they did, and besides what's our religion without schism and conflict?
One of the outcomes of the Protestant Reformation, thanks to Luther, Tyndale (a hero of mine, actually), et al., is the translation of the Bible into a myriad of languages. In fact, we don't have the Bible in English now - we have dozens of different translations into English. Oh, and those don't agree with each other, either, and all have some sort of editorial agenda. So we're taught we each can (and should) read the Bible for ourselves, except obviously we can't, can we? Because if we could and we could decide what it means for ourselves then why would I need to pay someone trained in the classical languages and exegesis? Why would I need shelves (plural) in my library of other books telling me what the Good Book says in case my pastor has no clue? What about when the books disagree with the pastor? Or my denomination? What about when they disagree with each other? Obviously I am too stupid to pick God's plan out of the Bible without the help of an entire hierarchy of church workers and an industry of experts. So maybe the Catholics were right - keep it locked in a "sacred" language and only dole out the good parts we hoi polloi can understand in our small brains. Maybe we mere mortals are here solely to be passive vessels with heads to be filled by the "clerical staff".
Because otherwise aren't we being scammed into making more of it than is really there? I mean, what if the Bible says exactly what it says, no more and no less? What if God's crazy plan is that we are to follow what Jesus said to do, and what He said pretty clearly at that? Where's the justification for a $35,000 audio/visual system in that?
Sunday, February 17, 2008
It seems like it's all, it's all for nothing
I know the barricades, and
I know the mortar in the wall breaks
I recognize the weapons, I used them well
This is my mistake. Let me make it good
I raised the wall and I will be the one to knock it down
I've a rich understanding of my finest defenses
I proclaim that claims are left unstated,
I demand a rematch
I decree a stalemate
I divine my deeper motives
I recognize the weapons
I've practiced them well. I fitted them myself
It's amazing what devices you can sympathize, empathize
This is my mistake. Let me make it good
I raised the wall and I will be the one to knock it down
Reach out for me and hold me tight. Hold that memory
Let my machine talk to me, let my machine talk to me
This is my world
And I am world leader pretend
This is my life
And this is my time
I have been given the freedom
To do as I see fit
It's high time I've razed the walls
That I've constructed
You fill in the mortar. You fill in the harmony
You fill in the mortar. I raised the wall
And I'm the only one
I will be the one to knock it down
- "World Leader Pretend", Berry/Buck/Mills/Stipe
So my question today is "Which parts of the Bible do you throw away?" This is a touchy topic for me because the first time the subject hit me full on it caused me to leave the faith for almost two decades. Now I am back and plan on staying but the issue still bothers me. And don't say you don't throw any of it away, that it is all precious and sacred and meaningful to you and how you live your life, because that would be a lie. Nobody pays equal attention to all the different books in the Bible, nor lives their lives as if they held every piece of it dear.
Don't think I am going down some legalistic path, either. I am not. But it seems to me that under the mantle of "grace" and "forgiveness" we allow ourselves pretty much to ignore anything we don't like or don't agree with in the Bible. It's easiest to ignore the Old Testament. After all Jesus is the New Covenant, and we can just concentrate on the Good News, right? Except for pesky verses like in Matthew 5:
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished."But a lot of the O.T. we can (and do) just ignore either as stories for our children's Bible study (Cain and Abel, Babel, Noah, David and Goliath) or as laws that (thankfully) don't apply to us. For example, I skim most of the Pentateuch - at least all the mind-numbing details around the building of the ark of the covenant and the tent of meeting, the graphic (and somewhat sickening) rituals for the sacrifices, and all those censuses. We leave in the good stories (Genesis, Job, Judges, Kings) and the Psalms, perhaps (so we know how to pray angrily toward our enemies), and the prophets so we can see that they were pointing the way to Christ, and have something to sing at Christmas time.
However, the New Testament seems like it should be the part we ignore at our own peril, but of course, we pick and choose what we're going to believe out of it, too. No? You don't think so? OK, how about this?
Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."Or this?
"If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where 'their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'"Oh, but Jesus can't have meant that literally, right? Right? So we can also feel comfortable ignoring this:
"Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."Plus that whole bothersome Sermon on the Mount and everything that follows. Everything Jesus said was parables, I guess, and not meant to be taken at face value. But hey, we don't ignore just Jesus. We spend a lot of time ignoring Paul, too. Like that troublesome stuff he says about women:
I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God....and homosexuals:
A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.
In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.We're sure he wouldn't mean those things if he were alive and preaching in a post-modern, culturally-sensitive context today. Paul would be hip. Wouldn't he?
[And before you chase me for gay bashing, let me just say (at least) two of my friends are gay and the only thing I can do with the whole issue is love them as they are and let God do the judging when we all stand in front of Him. I do not have it in my heart to condemn them, especially because I do not believe it was their "choice" to be so. ]
Don't get me wrong - I am not turning into a Bible-thumping literalist. I pick and choose pieces as much or more than the next person. For example, I think women make fine teachers of men and have no problem with them having authority over them (me), either. What is bugging me is that I really don't have a good reason for my filtering other than "I don't like that" or "That can't be taken literally" or "That obviously doesn't apply today". And whenever I leave myself to be the subjective judge of things with no rhyme or reason beyond preference for my decisions I am usually wrong.
Some of the above can be argued as being ancillary to the Good News, and some of it is. But I wonder which parts of the Gospel are critical that we are excising as well? I suspect I know at least part of the answer, and Matthew 5 and 6 are a big part of it, as is Mark 10. Everywhere Jesus teaches about the poor. Everywhere He and Paul talk about real life changing belief. Everywhere He says that we are to "take up his cross and follow me." Yup - I read those parts, nod, and then don't do anything about them. Frankly, it is time to change that.
So...What parts of the Bible do you throw away, gloss over and ignore?
National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) is changing:
NaBloPoMo is going monthly.
This means that you'll have twelve opportunities a year to jump-start your blogging by posting thirty (or thirty-one, or twenty-eight, or you know what I mean) days in a row with a bunch of other crazy people!
This is not the same as Blog365. Those nuts are blogging every day FOR A YEAR.
No, the new monthly NaBloPoMo is just meant for people who want to try setting the habit of blogging by doing it thirty (etc.) days in a row starting any time of the year.
Go read the rest for the details. I like that they called those of us trying to do Blog365 "nuts". I guess we are. Anyway, I joined the NaBloPoMo contest last November and I am glad I did. It got me in the habit of writing here every day. I will admit some of my posts both for it and now for Blog365 have been trivial ("It's 9:59 p.m.! Gotta get something out on the blog!"), but in general I think it's helped both in my writing and in keeping me engaged in the world around me ("Hey! I can use that for a post! But wait - what do I actually think about it, first?")
If you have been looking for a little more rigor in your blogging, I can't think of a better way than to try a month of NaBloPoMo. March's theme is lists. That sounds like a good way to put your foot into the water of daily writing. Gee, how hard can it be to come up with a list every day for 31 days? :o) Go for it!
Saturday, February 16, 2008
I just need some place where I can lay my head.
"Hey, mister, can you tell me where a man might find a bed?"
He just grinned and shook my hand, and "No!", was all he said.
Take a load off Fannie, take a load for free;
Take a load off Fannie, And (and) (and) you can put the load right on me.
I picked up my bag, I went lookin' for a place to hide;
When I saw Carmen and the Devil walkin' side by side.
I said, "Hey, Carmen, come on, let's go downtown."
She said, "I gotta go, but m'friend can stick around."
Go down, Miss Moses, there's nothin' you can say
It's just ol' Luke, and Luke's waitin' on the Judgement Day.
"Well, Luke, my friend, what about young Anna Lee?"
He said, "Do me a favor, son, woncha stay an' keep Anna Lee company?"
Crazy Chester followed me, and he caught me in the fog.
He said, "I will fix your rags, if you'll take Jack, my dog."
I said, "Wait a minute, Chester, you know I'm a peaceful man."
He said, "That's okay, boy, won't you feed him when you can."
Catch a Cannonball, now, t'take me down the line
My bag is sinkin' low and I do believe it's time.
To get back to Miss Fannie, you know she's the only one.
Who sent me here with her regards for everyone.
"The Weight", The Band
[Elided] and I spent some time today going over our Church’s designated funds. [Elided] is a member of our church and also an accountant with [Elided] Accounting, the firm that keeps the Church’s books. Currently there are over 50 of these funds. Some are active, with frequent deposits and withdrawals. Others are rarely used. Contribution(s) were made a year or more ago and the balance has remained the same since. Since all of these funds require attention each month, in my role with Stewardship I will be trying to contact the Board Chairs that have responsibility for these inactive funds to see if they can be used to benefit the goals of the Board and then closed.
There are two accounts that may come from your board. One is called Food Pantry. It has a balance of $2,649.44. This is money that was given to buy food before the food pantry was closed.
The second account is African Famine which has $375. I am not aware of who gave the money or exactly why or when it was given to Faith. The balance has been the same for several years.
Could your Board consider ways to use these funds? I imagine that the money from the Food Pantry could be used in a number of ways. Since the other fund dealt with Africa, I was reminded of a program I heard of called Cows for Kenyan Pastors. The program was from a couple years ago, so I’m not sure of it still exists, but it sounds really neat. For $300, a Kenyan was given a cow which would provide milk for the Pastor’s family and possibly for sale.
WTF? WTFF?!?! The Human Care board has an annual budget of $2,000 (compared to a church mortgage of over $1,000,000 just for the "church expansion" last year). So now I find we have one and half times that amount that's just been sitting there untouched and unknown for a year or more?
Don't get me wrong - I am happy to find out about the money, and we will spend it. You bet we will. Fast. There's a couple of food pantries in town and a lucky pastor in Kenya that are going to get its benefit Real Soon Now. But I am incredulous that $3,000 can basically just get "lost" for a year or more. Especially when it can be put to good use (as opposed, to say, the $35,000 we just spent on a new A/V system for the church). So for all my ranting in the prior post, don't think I believe the institutional church has it figured out, either. I think the lure of small churches, home churches and the like is that such things simply don't come up. But then the problems are probably something else. I don't know.
I thought not. It shows from your Web sites, for one. All full of pictures of cool young people rejoicing in their personal, intimate relationships with the Lord. Everybody laughing and enjoying the ease of young bodies in good health arguing over the meaning of life like there's time aplenty to do so. Nobody with a walker or a cane or a dozen boring stories to tell you about back in the day to be found. Nobody trembling from a stroke, unable to speak, kind blue eyes trapped in a body that doesn't work any more. Nobody that can remind us of our ultimate fate.
Here's where I am coming from when I ask this. Now that I am on the Human Care ministry board at my church it has become apparent to me just how much of the board's mission is taken up with caring for the "least of these" in terms of the elderly. While we may all focus on the poor because Jesus said to and they obviously need it, there is another silent group in our communities that require our help and time just as much. In our society the elderly are mostly ignored or warehoused. They often live alone, isolated, poor and lonely and listening to the clock tick out the remainder of their days. They may have been devout travelers with Christ their entire life, devoted to the church because they didn't know it was not what Christ wanted, poor things! They didn't know about post-modernism and how it is necessary to make the church culturally relevant. They thought it was relevant because it was the church - God's house - and they found Him there and lived their lives according to what they were taught there. How stupid of them. How much better we are at discerning God's word than they, who only made it through the Great Depression and WWII and everything since with nothing to rely on but faith.
And now they are mostly pushed out of sight and out of mind. The ever-shrinking institutional churches try to take care of their elderly members, but it is a mission always begging for volunteers. Even I am reticent for I am no more comfortable with an old person I don't know than the next person (except my wife Les, who has worked in long-term care for almost two decades and is God's own hands at it - her work is mission - how lucky is that?). But there they are, the old, patiently waiting for a bit of God's love, too. A few more times of companionship, a few more stories to tell, a few more complaints to anyone who will listen, before they are called home.
This may sound combative, and I guess it is. I am not enamored of the institutional church and anyone who has been reading this blog for a while knows that. But I wonder if "the answer" to the institutional church in the form of the emerging churches isn't skewed too much toward the younger demographic? Isn't it just recreating the "church as club" experience all over again, only this time with our people, not our parents or worse, our grandparents? It seems so much easier and friendly and loving and warm because, gee, everyone in it is just like us. If we let loose the F-bomb, nobody is going to get upset.
I dunno. I am in a battle for my soul right now, as I wrestle with whether I want to even stay in the church. Oh, don't worry - I am Christ's, that isn't changing. What I am struggling with is the institutional church's failings and my lack of desire to engage it to try and change it (more posts to come on that). But what keeps me there at all is thinking that walking away isn't necessarily the answer, either. It reeks too much of the "I am just going to take all my toys and go home" mindset. Now, I am not talking about those who have suffered abuse at the hands of a church - there is only one answer for that, and it is "Leave, now". But I am talking about people like me, where church just seems to be this big, slow-moving irrelevant thing - except when it does some things that no one else in the community seems interested in doing, like helping the elderly. I worry about that. What happens when there's nobody left in the old churches except the old? Who will care for them then?
Go ahead, heap on the abuse. Take umbrage and convince me your new! improved! church is on top of this issue and really involved. But when you answer make sure you are clear about how your non-institutional church is helping the old, and not just in a once-in-a-while program or outreach way, but in a day-to-day, week-in-and-week-out manner. Because I am interested in whether there is another way, or if people are just walking away from the institutional church because it's full of unsexy stuff like this that takes effort and isn't much fun. Fire away.
Yours in Christ, and getting older by the day,
Sovereign God, everything we have belongs to you. May we use what we have to bless others and woo people into the Kingdom, rather than for our own comfort and ease. Bless us so that we may bless others. If we do not bless others, take our resources from us and give them to those who will bless others.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
This is a scary one - which is usually an indication to me that Jesus would like it, since He was never a big fan of comfort and safety.
Friday, February 15, 2008
What do you use for an editor when blogging? The built-in one that comes with the blog platform or something else?
Update (3/9/2008) - ScribeFire is dead to me.
Thursday, February 14, 2008
I love Sippican Cottage. I rant about that blog here periodically. About just how good it is. How his writing seeps into my very being, making me laugh often, cry occasionally and sometimes do both at once. How I wish I could write half as well.
Today is one of those days where I am going to say go read it. Then share it with the one you love.
According to Wikipedia, Valentine's Day is "named after two among the numerous Early Christian martyrs named Valentine." So, shouldn't it be Valentines' Day? :o) Either way, a happy one to you and your loved ones. My beloved is somewhat of a gadgethead so I scored points buying her this (hey, it's pink - that's romantic!).
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
We do. And really, you already knew that. But it's still a fascinating article, and I recommend reading the entire thing. Following are some snippets to get you interested:
All kids lie
“They began the interviews saying that parents give you everything and yes, you should tell them everything,” Darling observes. By the end of the interview, the kids saw for the first time how much they were lying and how many of the family’s rules they had broken. Darling says 98 percent of the teens reported lying to their parents.Liars are smart
Out of the 36 topics, the average teen was lying to his parents about twelve of them. The teens lied about what they spent their allowances on, and whether they’d started dating, and what clothes they put on away from the house. They lied about what movie they went to, and whom they went with. They lied about alcohol and drug use, and they lied about whether they were hanging out with friends their parents disapproved of. They lied about how they spent their afternoons while their parents were at work. They lied about whether chaperones were in attendance at a party or whether they rode in cars driven by drunken teens.
Yes, YOU teach them to lie
It starts very young. Indeed, bright kids—those who do better on other academic indicators—are able to start lying at 2 or 3. “Lying is related to intelligence,” explains Dr. Victoria Talwar, an assistant professor at Montreal’s McGill University and a leading expert on children’s lying behavior.
Although we think of truthfulness as a young child’s paramount virtue, it turns out that lying is the more advanced skill. A child who is going to lie must recognize the truth, intellectually conceive of an alternate reality, and be able to convincingly sell that new reality to someone else. Therefore, lying demands both advanced cognitive development and social skills that honesty simply doesn’t require. “It’s a developmental milestone,” Talwar has concluded.
This puts parents in the position of being either damned or blessed, depending on how they choose to look at it. If your 4-year-old is a good liar, it’s a strong sign she’s got brains. And it’s the smart, savvy kid who’s most at risk of becoming a habitual liar.
The most disturbing reason children lie is that parents teach them to. According to Talwar, they learn it from us. “We don’t explicitly tell them to lie, but they see us do it. They see us tell the telemarketer, ‘I’m just a guest here.’ They see us boast and lie to smooth social relationships.”
Consider how we expect a child to act when he opens a gift he doesn’t like. We instruct him to swallow all his honest reactions and put on a polite smile. Talwar runs an experiment where children play games to win a present, but when they finally receive the present, it’s a lousy bar of soap. After giving the kids a moment to overcome the shock, a researcher asks them how they like it. About a quarter of preschoolers can lie that they like the gift—by elementary school, about half. Telling this lie makes them extremely uncomfortable, especially when pressed to offer a few reasons why they like the bar of soap. Kids who shouted with glee when they won the Peeking Game suddenly mumble quietly and fidget.
Meanwhile, the child’s parent usually cheers when the child comes up with the white lie. “Often, the parents are proud that their kids are ‘polite’—they don’t see it as lying,” Talwar remarks. She’s regularly amazed at parents’ seeming inability to recognize that white lies are still lies.
When adults are asked to keep diaries of their own lies, they admit to about one lie per every five social interactions, which works out to one per day, on average. The vast majority of these lies are white lies, lies to protect yourself or others, like telling the guy at work who brought in his wife’s muffins that they taste great or saying, “Of course this is my natural hair color.”
Arguing is better than lying
Go read the whole article, it's worth the time.
The average Pennsylvania teen was 244 percent more likely to lie than to protest a rule. In the families where there was less deception, however, there was a much higher ratio of arguing and complaining. The argument enabled the child to speak honestly. Certain types of fighting, despite the acrimony, were ultimately signs of respect—not of disrespect.
But most parents don’t make this distinction in how they perceive arguments with their children. Dr. Tabitha Holmes of SUNY–New Paltz conducted extensive interviews asking mothers and adolescents, separately, to describe their arguments and how they felt about them. And there was a big difference.
Forty-six percent of the mothers rated their arguments as being destructive to their relationships with their teens. Being challenged was stressful, chaotic, and (in their perception) disrespectful. The more frequently they fought, and the more intense the fights were, the more the mother rated the fighting as harmful. But only 23 percent of the adolescents felt that their arguments were destructive. Far more believed that fighting strengthened their relationship with their mothers. “Their perception of the fighting was really sophisticated, far more than we anticipated for teenagers,” notes Holmes. “They saw fighting as a way to see their parents in a new way, as a result of hearing their mother’s point of view be articulated.”
What most surprised Holmes was learning that for the teens, fighting often, or having big fights, did not cause them to rate the fighting as harmful and destructive. Statistically, it made no difference at all. Certainly, there is a point in families where there is too much conflict, Holmes notes. “But we didn’t have anybody in our study with an extreme amount of conflict.” Instead, the variable that seemed to really matter was how the arguments were resolved.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
[Title is part of a lyric - points to whoever recognizes it first (without Googling! :-).]
So, in what is turning into an ongoing series without me intending it, I want to make another comment about the reaction to my two blog posts about me being a sinner and wondering what part of me is the part that God loves, since I can't separate me from the sin. In the comments to those Glenn stated that he's a fixer and wants to jump in and help. I recognize the symptoms, I suffer from the malady myself. :-) But what caught my mind this morning was that Glenn categorized my thoughts as being "self-loathing". I am not so sure. In fact, I think those posts are more along the lines of a confession. And confessions don't count if they aren't complete, if they try and gloss over the problems being confessed. Would you accept a confession from your child like, "I admit to hitting my sister, but really it wasn't that bad and besides, she deserved it!"?
The thing that hit me this morning is that Protestants have really lost the art of confession even though it is an integral part of our faith. Sure, perhaps we make a public confession in service (at least my denomination does), everyone reciting the same dull words off the bulletin (or slide, if you go to a trendy "contemporary" service - ooh! PowerPoint!) Everyone may be truly confessing to God during that time but we all get to hide in the crowd and hold our sins inside, hidden to all but God, safe in our anonymity in the crowd. But real, true, personal confessions make us...uncomfortable. We don't want to hear them because we don't know what to say when someone "spills their guts". If the person is part of our family or friends we immediately try to either change the subject or tell them, "Oh, come on, you're not that bad! Where's all this self-loathing coming from?"
I think one of the reasons we are uncomfortable when someone confesses to us is akin to people not liking to talk about sickness. As more than one comedian has noticed it is like we're afraid that if we mention a word like "cancer" we may get it ourself. Isn't that similar to not wanting someone to mentions their struggles with sin, because it brings to mind not that we may catch that illness, too, but that we already have it?
Combine that with a general de-emphasis of guilt in our society. We have made confessions into tawdry entertainment on TV (Jerry Springer, et al.), but those aren't real confessions, they don't exhibit true repentence. They're said for shock value and paybacks ("Mom and Dad loved you most, so I slept with your husband!"). I am not talking about that type of "cheap confession". I am talking about when we have done something that gnaws at us until all we can do is truly confess, in sorrowful tears. The first person we always need to confess to is God, of course, and most Protestants would feel quite comfortable to leave it there. But there's more to it than that. We need to also confess to those we have harmed and ask their forgiveness. And sometimes we need to confess to a broader group, especially if it is the start of a healing process for ourselves. AA meetings come to mind here.
The subtitle to this blog includes "recording my thoughts, ideas, insights, struggles, battles, blessings, stumblings, hopes and victories on my road to salvation." I have not been spending much time of late writing on the struggles, battles and stumblings part. So many of us (me, anyway) pretend that everything is "Just Fine With Us, Thanks!" when we're at church or around other Christians. "Yup, no problems here, my walk with the Lord is going great, sure, you betcha." It is even easier to pretend everything is cool online, where nobody knows we're a dog. How phony is that? Where does the community and relationship building come from if we're all basically lying to each other?
Thus, part of my return to discussing my inner turmoil in this forum is to get back on the path a bit, because I feel I have been wandering off and I can feel it. And part of that involves confession. Simply put:
Now, we can wrap nice theological language around that and pretty it up. I could have said "I am fallen" or "I was born in sin." Or I could protest "I am the product of my environment and genetics and hence nothing is my fault!" But both of those options seem to me to deny a major part of confession, which is taking responsibility for our sin. Sure, I am fallen. We all are ("We all suck"). Yes, I am a product of my background. We all are. But that doesn't mean I just get to skate by and blame my behavior on Adam ("Not my fault, God!"). Or my parents ("I'm a mess because you raised me wrong!"). Or God ("You damned us, it's all your fault!"). At some point I have to stand up, face all of you and God above and confess, "I suck." Because otherwise nothing I say counts. Certainly not my claim to grace. Moreover, since we sin again and again, we don't get to confess just once. It is a lifetime process, I think, and I think it is quite Christian to do so.
So, fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, I confess to you here and now that I talk a good game but I don't follow through on most of it. I project that I am a much better Christian than I am. I have a wonderful wife and soul mate who truly loves me and yet I still lust. I have incredible children to whom I am often off-putting and short-tempered. I have great parents who I sometimes ignore so I can concentrate on "my own life" as if they aren't a part of it. I count on a wide circle of friends remaining friends even if I go for months without maintaining the relationships. I have a great job and yet type this while at work. I have a healthy body in the image of God and mistreat it every day through gluttony and sloth. I am rich by most measures of the world and don't do enough for the poor. And most of all, I don't spend enough time in relationship with my Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. I don't deserve His favor and yet I greedily count on His grace.
To all those things and more, I confess and should confess, and for all those things and more, I am truly sorry. If that is self-loathing so be it, although I would say it is more truly self-awareness. Being forgiven doesn't erase being fallen. And that I am and shall remain, even as Jesus wipes away my sins with each confession.
Monday, February 11, 2008
Yesterday I posted a rant and then ranted some more in the comments when Glenn tried to jump in and help (sorry, Glenn!). This morning I had one of my "shower thoughts" (does anyone else get all their flashes of insight in the shower? I figure it must be the cranial stimulation from shampooing) that may make what I am trying to say a bit clearer. One of the main things I was trying to express was that there is a lot in Christianity that seems to be centered around "God loves you - now change".
Or to put it another way, there seems to be that sneaky Greek Platonism sneaking in all the time, in which we are somehow led to believe that there is a perfect me somewhere "out there" and then the bad fallen me here, and if I can just shed the bad parts then I will become the perfect me that God loves. Except there is no perfect me - there's just me. This me. This fallen, sinful me. More to the point, I am the sum of all my experiences, thoughts and actions. There isn't another "me" in here waiting to be let out. There isn't a "good me" and a "bad me". Don't point out my good points and say, "See? That's the part God loves!" Just because I'm nice to children and doggies and smile at a sunset and support a family doesn't make me a good person. Most people do that (there's a Gospel verse along those lines I can't find right now, where Jesus pretty much says, "Even the Gentiles do those things").
So I am told I am loved by God, and yet all I can see in me is sin. Ashes. Dust. So how can God love me? Do you mean He loves that Platonic ideal me that doesn't exist? Because that's what telling me, "He loves you but hates your sin" means to me. I can't separate out who or what I am supposed to be from who and what I am. I don't even know how to pray for that, because it is the fallen me that is praying.
So yes, I pray to be changed. But I am not so sure I am going to know how any change in my life is God-driven vs. just me making it up as I go along, again. In the mean time the me that is here typing this is no better than the me that was here yesterday. I am still a sinner. More to the point, I can't separate out the sins in my thoughts, words and deeds from any other more fundamental "me". Those things comprise who I am.
If you have any comments, and you can help me figure my way out of this hole, go for it. Just make sure you don't wander down any heretical paths while you do.
Sunday, February 10, 2008
So, I propose that we all need a spiritual barometer, so that we can measure how we are doing spiritually, and so that other people can easily see how we are doing. Otherwise we will just keep fooling ourselves, and fooling everyone around us.Challenge accepted.
For me (this is getting personal) the barometer is blogging. If I am writing about deep things, that means I am reading deep things and thinking about deep things. When this blog is silent, or just full of video clips, 90% of the time that means I’m being a slacker spiritually.
I’m telling you this because it holds me accountable. I’m also telling you this to encourage you to do the same: find your spiritual barometer and tell people about it. I dare you…
So this blog will continue to have recipes and links to things of interest and family news and whatnot. But it is also going to get back to being more of a log book on my pilgrimage toward faith. It might not be pretty. There are storms on the horizon. Sorry about that.
[The following is probably not coherent. Take it for the rant it is. Warning: Language alert.]
I am getting pretty sick and tired of myself lately. Tired of my ego. Sick over my pride. Depressed about my judging nature, prejudices, complaining, gluttony and sloth. There are days I just want to run and hide from God and everyone else.
Lots of the blogs I read talk about how God loves us and wants what's best for us, which is true. They emphasize grace and how there's no salvation through works. They reject the heavy-handed judgmental nature of traditional Christianity. All good. However, some then go on to say that God takes us where we are and for what we are, and I am not so sure about that. In fact, I am so not sure about it that I've stopped reading some of those blogs, because it seems to me like there's a real danger in them. What's left seems dangerously close to accepting what Bonhoeffer calls "cheap grace", i.e., accepting grace without trying to change for the better, even if we know we can't earn salvation. Go read this excerpt to get what he was talking about, but here are a few quotes to whet your appetite:
Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.
Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.
Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.
Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: 'ye were bought at a price', and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, pg. 44-5 (emphasis in the original book)
Luther had said that all we can do is of no avail, however good a life we live. He had said that nothing can avail us in the sight of God but 'the grace and favour which confers the forgiveness of sin'. But he spoke as one who knew that at the very moment of his crisis he was called to leave all that he had a second time and follow Jesus. The recognition of grace was his final, radical breach with his besetting sin, but it was never the justification of that sin. By laying hold of God's forgiveness, he made the final, radical renunciation of a self-willed life, and this breach was such that it led inevitably to a serious following of Christ. He always looked upon it as the answer to a sum, but an answer which had been arrived at by God, not by man. But then his followers changed the 'answer' into the data for a calculation of their own. That was the root of the trouble. If grace is God's answer, the gift of Christian life, then we cannot for a moment dispense with following Christ. But if grace is the data for my Christian life, it means that I set out to live the Christian life in the world with all my sins justified beforehand. I can go and sin as much as I like, and rely on this grace to forgive me, for after all the world is justified in principle by grace. I can therefore cling to my bourgeois secular existence, and remain as I was before, but with the added assurance that the grace of God will cover me. It is under the influence of this kind of 'grace' that the world has been made 'Christian', but at the cost of secularizing the Christian religion as never before. The antithesis between the Christian life and the life of bourgeois respectability is at an end. The Christian life comes to mean nothing more than living in the world and as the world, in being no different from the world, in fact, in being prohibited from being different from the world for the sake of grace. The upshot of it all is that my only duty as a Christian is to leave the world for an hour or soon a Sunday morning and go to church to be assured that my sins are all forgiven. I need no longer try to follow Christ, for cheap grace, the bitterest foe of discipleship, which true discipleship must loathe and detest, has freed me from that. Grace as the data for our calculations means grace at the cheapest price, but grace as the answer to the sum means costly grace. It is terrifying to realize what use can be made of a genuine evangelical doctrine. In both cases we have the indentical formula — 'justification by faith alone'. Yet the misuse of the formula leads to the complete destruction of its very essence.
- ibid., pg. 50-1
I am certainly guilty of accepting cheap grace. I may rail here about how church should be different, how it's become a group of poseurs professing Christ without following Him, but I am just as guilty of all that as anyone I point a finger at! So guilty of it in fact that I am currently frozen in indecision about what to do about it. Part of me wants to just throw up my hands and walk away from it all. I mean, if we believe God made us who we are, then how can we reconcile that He loves us with the belief that we are fallen? If the door is narrow then which parts of "me" will fit through it? Any of me? God loves me but hates the sin in me, and frankly, I just don't know any more which parts of "me" are "me" without the sin being in there. Yes, we are supposed to be born again and become a new person in following Christ, but yet at the end of the day I'm still, well, me. And the thing is, I don't know how to not be me. I don't know which parts to leave behind and which to carry forward.
For example, I make my living as a programmer. I literally get paid to think. And I am good at it. Better than most, it seems. It has taken me decades of overcoming false Midwestern modesty to be able to acknowledge that I am smart. So I could believe that God gave me the gift of a brain, and I am supposed to use it for His glory. Except that same gift is what leads me to unbearable levels of pride and all kinds of hurtful thoughts. I hate it. I hate my ego. But I say that here, on my blog - and what is a blog other than signaling to the world, "Look at me! Look at me! Look at me!" Pure ego talking.
So, if I throw away all rational thought and put my brain into cold storage (a method many traditional Christians seem to believe is necessary), then I can get rid of one of the main sources of my being a failure at following Christ. But I also leave behind one of the biggest gifts God appears to have given me. And if I do that, what part of "me" is left? And is that "me" me? And is it the me that God loves? I don't know.
In the mean time I don't want to pretend any more. I don't want to go to church and smile and nod and act like it's all OK, when it's not. I don't want to just sit in a committee and act like that is discipleship, when it's not. I don't want to volunteer once a week and hope that's enough, when it's not. I don't want to live a comfortable middle class lifestyle and believe that this doesn't apply to me:
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. "Good teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
"Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'"
"Teacher," he declared, "all these I have kept since I was a boy."
Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."
At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Like any suburbanite American I could argue, "But I'm not rich!", but that's a fucking lie. Compared to what that man had at the time he was talking to Jesus, I am rich beyond comprehension. Compared to 7/8 of the world's population now, I am unbelievably wealthy. And I am not one of those people who try to explain away Jesus's words. I am a red letter Christian. If Jesus said it, I am compelled to follow it. Yet I don't. I fail. And failing about this has a price:
Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!"
The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."
Frankly, I feel doomed. And because of that, depressed. Chris and I have been having an ongoing conversation about whether the Great Commission is possible without a major change in what it means to live with a family as a middle class American. Today Grace posted a link about the same thing. Two weeks ago Dan's son Isaac posted on much the same topic. Obviously there are many of us who are wondering the same thoughts, worrying about the same thing, living in fear and trembling of what we know is the right thing to do. And we do know it. We do. I do. And yet I don't do it.