How could anyone…?!

How could you…?

How could anyone…?

One of my earliest recollections of this was early in my first year of college hearing someone say, “How could anyone grow up sane if they have to move a bunch of times as a child?”

This friend had grown up (all her life) in the same small town.  12 of the 16 in her high school graduating class, if I remember correctly, she had also started kindergarten with.

My response, a military brat who had moved at least ever 4 years, had wondered the opposite.

I have wondered the same thing: “how could anyone _____?”

I bet you have, too.

But this is another of those times that, if we are honest, we must recognize we don’t know the full story of the other person.

Just like no one else knows your full story.

At our best, we remember that we don’t know the other person’s story.  Then, still at our best, we acknowledge there may be good reason for whatever it is about them or their behavior we cannot imagine.

And if not a good reason, at least a reason we had not thought of.

Please don’t feel the need to hone your skills to learn every possible reason someone might do something differently or be something different from you.

Just let them be who they are.  Learn more (than you already know) about who they are.  Listen to their story.

You might still not understand them or what they do, but by the time you’ve listened to their story, you’ll likely be too tired to judge them.

How could anyone…?!

Too much excess?

I like to think I am a “make your point and move on” kind of guy.  I tire of repetition. Especially when I feel like it is repetition for repetition’s sake.

But this one thing bears repeating.

During this season of Lent, we are looking at excess and what to do about it.  We believe that we live in a culture of excess – voices around us, and in us, tell us we should want more, we should have more, we need more.
Jesus, on the other hand, calls us in the opposite direction.  Jesus recognized that stuff – money, food, clothing, power, media, friends, etc., cannot satisfy.  Only God and a relationship with God can satisfy the deep longing of our souls.
Yet, as much as we talk about excess and our mutiny against it, we are not being judgmental.  Let me repeat that: we are NOT judging you or your excess or other people in their excess.
We are not even judging ourselves in our own excess.
Our intent, during this season of Lent, is to open ourselves to God’s presence and God’s leading. Judging can be off-putting and conversation-ending.  We want to start the conversation or continue it.  We want to admit to ourselves and one another that excess challenges us and that following Jesus means getting all excess out of the way.
If all of it is too much for you right now, feel free to start with a little.
Too much excess?

Which Jesus are we talking about?

jesusThe other day I was involved in a thread discussion in a United Methodist Clergy group. The subject of that discussion is irrelevant for my present purposes. If you really feel the need to know, ask me.

In this discussion, a friend – no, an acquaintance – no, a colleague – maybe – a fellow UM clergyperson wrote this: “If you do not follow the rules, then you have lost all integrity.”

Whoa, I thought. I am, apparently, and have always been, low on integrity.

This won’t surprise those of you who know me, but I push at rules.  Over the years I have come to respect the need for rules, and the benefits.

I still have within me, though, a desire, an urge, to push against the rules, the norms, the status quo.

Which is one of the reasons I read as someone who, according to my colleague, has lost an integrity.

In my reading of the Gospels, Jesus is almost constantly breaking rules. When I was younger and more of a mind to break rules just because they were rules, I read Jesus this way, too.

And it is possible to read the gospels this way.

I have grown up. I know longer believe that all rules were made to be broken.  I understand the benefit, even the need, of rules and standards.

As a matter of fact, I now tend to read Jesus as having this same kind of attitude toward rules.

I will probably always tend to read Jesus favorably to the way I understand and work in the world.

If Jesus matters to you, I expect you do this, too.

You may suggest that we ought to interpret our own lives in terms of Jesus rather than the other way around.  I would agree that this is an admirable goal. In fact, it may be a good way of identifying true disciples.

But I am pretty sure that before we proclaim too loudly that we are more like Jesus than someone else is, we do well to investigate which Jesus we are comparing ourselves to. More often than not, I fear, we will find that we will find ourselves looking down on others by comparing them to the Jesus that we have made look an awful lot like the ideal version of ourselves.

Which Jesus are we talking about?

Racial This, Ethnic That…

The first step is admitting you have a problem. Or, in this case, the first step is admitting you have an identity.

A racial identity.

An ethnic identity.

Once more I received notice from something/somewhere United Methodist offering “racial/ethnic scholarship”

Does this mean that anyone who has a racial or ethnic identification, but only those who have such identification can apply?

Of course not!  It clearly means that emphasis is being made to attract and include people of racial and ethnic minority groups to participate.

Am I opposed to that?  As Pete the Cat would say, “Oh, heavens no!”

Rather, I think that recognizing the condition of racial ethnic minorities as such is not enough.

I think that we ought all recognize our own racial and ethnic identities.

Using “racial/ethnic” as shorthand for “racial/ethnic minorities” maintains the fiction that some of us have no identity except as individuals.  It’s just all those other people – the hyphenateds – who have some specific identity.

That some people have an identity as individuals and others don’t is fiction.

All of us have a story.  More importantly, every one of us has a story and is part of a larger story.

If or when some of us pretend we all have the same story we deny the reality of another person’s story.

If or when some of us pretend that we have no story at all, that we are each just absolute individuals in the moment, we deny social reality and the fact that we live in time.

There is no subset of humanity that can be defined as “racial/ethnic.” We all are.

And I am quite confident we will be better off once we admit it.

Racial This, Ethnic That…

Thinking without thinking

We had a fascinating discussion yesterday at our Lenten Wednesday Lunch Study.  As you might expect, the discussion really got me thinking.

We were talking about being righteous. Specifically about whether or not we are. Righteous, that is; whether or not we are righteous.

Of course, the talk quickly moved toward our being righteous “in God’s eyes.”  This, many Christians understand, is the work and gift of Jesus.

God sees us as righteous thanks to Jesus’ life and sacrificial death on the cross.

Good news, right?

Yes, except that thinking of ourselves as righteous tends to get us into trouble.  (See “self-righteous”)

On the other hand, refusing to recognize that Jesus actually opens this opportunity to us, leaves us as miserable sinners, condemned always to fail.

How do we carve out space in the middle – acknowledging AND accepting this good gift from God – to understand that, thanks to Jesus, we are (first) seen as righteous by God and (second) actually grow in righteousness as we follow Jesus?

I’ve got a few ideas, and invite yours as well.

  1. We must keep in mind that the righteousness that indeed becomes ours is given – offered freely - to us.
  2. In would likely help if we focused more on recognizing everyone else as someone who has been offered this gift even more than remembering that we (ourselves) have been offered the gift.  In other words, practice this: every person you see, think to yourself “God sees that person as righteous through Jesus’ gift.”
  3. Take some time each day to reflect on the ways God has worked in your life that day.
Thinking without thinking

Do you really want what you want?

snowroofAfter a few fleeting moments of playing in the snow this morning, the kids were inside, warm, and dry. And ready to watch something.

Hello, Netflix!

Eliza wanted to watch Annie.

Liam wanted to watch Mater’s Tale Tales. Then Mr. Peabody and Sherman.

It turns out it was Liam’s turn to choose, so two things happened:

1) we started Mr. Peabody and Sherman, and
2) Eliza the a small fit.

It was a very small fit: actually fairly worthy of the moment, and quickly left behind.
Within minutes – no more than 10 – both of them were enjoying the movie.

This is how it often goes with our kids.  Loudly (and proudly?) claim your preference.  Get louder if someone else claims an alternative preference.

Stand your ground

Raise the stakes

Refuse to listen, negotiate, or compromise.

Throw a fit if you don’t get your way.

I realized yesterday that we don’t necessarily unlearn this pattern as we grow up.

We don’t always want what we want. Sometimes we just don’t want to let someone else have a say.

It’s hard to listen when you are shouting, “My way or the highway!”

While this is worth considering for anyone, I particularly hope my church, the United Methodist Church #UMC, will give it thought.

We’ve not been listening so well to each other lately.  On some things, we have dug in for decades and refused to actually listen.

We want what we want. Or do we?

Do you really want what you want?

Welcome!

Every so often, I am “surprised” by my children greeting me as I come through the door from the garage into the house.  As I open the door, they are both crouched a few feet back, and together they jump up and yell “surprise!”

Honestly, I’m not really surprised.  I hear it coming.

More honestly, nothing could make me happier.

A good friend of mine once imagined out loud that heaven must be Mrs. Johnson’s doughnuts and touch football. He said this, of course, as a way of saying that he understood those two things – eating doughnuts and playing football as pure joyful relaxation.

I might define heaven as being greeted at the door by my children, full of energy and joy.

I wouldn’t be surprised if they might rather be upstairs playing or watching a show.  It doesn’t make any difference to me if they went to the back door begrudgingly at mom’s request.

All that matters in that moment is the beaming faces of my children glad to see me.

Comparing oneself to God can be really risky, but when I think about being greeted that way, I cannot help but wonder what joy it might bring God when you and I take the time to stop whatever else we are doing and welcome God into our presence.

You can shout “Surprise!” if you want.  God won’t likely be surprised; but I can almost guarantee God will smile. Even if you do it because someone else suggested it, give it a try.

I can imagine a little of what God must feel like.  And it is very, very good!

Welcome!