W’s Qs #2

wesleys questionsPart of John Wesley’s genius, as the founder of the Methodist Movement, was the way he organized to make disciples.  He established small groups everywhere he went.  When these small groups met, they would go through a list of questions at each meeting. The questions were designed to guide the group members into a deeper walk with God.

Here is the second question:

  1. Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?

Many congregations have at least one of these people, but in one church I served her name was Esther.  Esther believed that she should always speak her mind, no matter who it hurt along the way.

I read in a Chuck Swindoll book of that same era that “honesty is a virtue, but it is not the highest virtue.”

I think this misconception of honesty – sharing my opinion no matter the personal or relational cost – is exactly what this second question of Wesley’s small groups intends to address.

Notice it asks, “Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?” (emphasis added) I think honesty in our actions will sometimes cause us to limit the words we use. Honest actions make us choose our words more wisely.

So, “Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?” Is a great question for any of us who would follow Jesus to consider regularly.  Additionally, we are most likely to grow more honest in acts and words when we hold ourselves accountable to someone else.

I believe that, at its best, honesty in acts and words means consideration for one’s own worth and that of others.

W’s Qs #2

But it’s in my DNA…

Blaming things on DNA is so 1990’s.dna.jpg

You’re going to need a better excuse.

In church work and leadership, it’s still a big thing to talk about identifying your church’s DNA. Of course DNA is a metaphor in this case.  We use this metaphor we we talk about a congregation’s origin story and significant points in that story that define it or limit it for the rest of the life of the congregation.

For instance,  in the late ’90s, I  pastored a church that had moved to its current location in 1925.  For the ensuing 75 years, this congregation perceived itself as a church that struggles financially.  It makes a lot of sense for a church, which relocated and built just 4 years before the Great Depression, to come to understand itself in such a way.

This insight is helpful. Defining as DNA, however, might not be.

Way back in the 80’s, when I was in college, all the psychology classes included some time for discussion on the “nature v nurture” debate.  What caused or most contributed to a person’s behavior, attitude, intelligence: the intangibles (DNA) one was born with, or the environment in which one was raised?

The answer was always some combination of the two, but we were pretty sure of one thing,: that DNA held deterministic power over the “nature” side of the argument.

But what we knew and what we know are always in a dance together, and this dance has changed.

Sure, genetics, or DNA sets some baselines, or some expectations.  But we now know that genes can be turned on and off during one’s lifetime. My favorite study – maybe because it is the only one of which I know any particulars. In a long-term study, rhesus monkies genetically prone to anxiety, when raised by non-anxious, ‘super-nurturing’ parents, had the gene indicating for anxiety turned off.

The DNA of the anxious monkeys didn’t condemn them to lives of anxiety.  In fact, the expression of the DNA was changed by nurture.

Takeaway:  You are not enslaved by your genes.  I believe this is especially true for any of those settings where DNA is used as a metaphor.  It can be helpful in understanding some of the primal forces that brought you, or the institution, or organization, to where you are today, but there is no good reason to let it limit or determine the paths who walk from this day forward.

So: “What’s in your DNA?” might be a good conversation starter, but it is not a conversation ender nor is it more ammunition for blame games or excuse making.

But it’s in my DNA…

Conditioned to Blame

Just a few months ago I posted about our tendency to blame.

Working on Sunday’s sermon, I had a further thought along these lines.

blame 1-6-16We have been conditioned to blame the government.  More specifically, we have been conditioned to blame those we view as “against us,” but I believe there has been a growing tendency for at least 30 years, to blame the government.

Not very long after Obama succeeded Bush as president, some people started complaining about his vacation practices.  How many days he vacationed. How expense it is for the US President to go on vacation.

Obama supporters, of course, immediately rush to his defense.

Which was odd, because some of them had spent much of the years 2001-09 whining about how much vacation President Bush took.

Not to be outdone, I have no doubt that some of Bush’s staunchest supporters have since been leading the charge opposing Obama’s vacations.

Can we all just get a grip and acknowledge that If you are President of the United States, you don’t actually get vacation?

But we have a felt need to blame someone, and for the last several decades the government, at every level, has been an easy target.

But let’s set aside government for a moment: can we just admit that we are all generally eager to cast the blame at someone, anyone, besides ourselves?

I am working on a sermon series about conflict between faith and science.  As I began to prepare the first sermon, I was struck with the realization that much of the perceived conflict between the two is related to our need to blame.January.png

Want to know more? Come Sunday, January 10th, to Euless First United Methodist Church. We worship at 8:30 and 11 am.

 

Conditioned to Blame

You Don’t Preach Right!

“You didn’t begin your sermon with the reading of the scripture text. You are always supposed to read the scripture as the beginning of your sermon.”

This is a very close approximation to something a colleague of mine was told recently.  This colleague is soon to go before the Board of Ordained Ministry for commissioning – a major step towards ordination.

Part of the qualifying process is submission of a sermon – both manuscript and video recording.

My colleague asked for my insights as to whether such a particularity could, in fact, derail his quest.

I shared that I cannot remember the last time I read the scripture text as the beginning of my sermon.

For me, anyway, this rarely if ever happens in part because our liturgist reads one of our texts immediately before I stand to preach.  Re-reading the scripture myself would give in to the notion that preaching is not really a part of the worship service as a whole, but rather a stand-alone event thrown into the midst of a worship service.

I encouraged my colleague to continue to preach the Word, and to preach the text for the service, whether or not that scripture text was written into the sermon.

A much larger concern for me is that someone would suggest so simple a component done differently would disqualify a sermon altogether.  What I think really happened was an incident of either

  1. “You didn’t preach the way I was taught to preach” or
  2. “You didn’t preach the way I like to hear someone preach.

Are there specific mechanics that you believe are absolutely essential to the successful preaching of a sermon? Do Jesus’ and Peter’s and Paul’s preaching always follow your rules?

You Don’t Preach Right!

Confirmation Bias

I just read another blog post about an atheist attempting to disprove Christianity and becoming converted in the process.

landing-pages-confirmation-bias-lessonOnce upon a time I was impressed by such stories.  No; more than impressed, I was convinced this kind of thing was the linchpin to converting the rest of the world to the truth of Christianity.

Because I was interpreting such an event from the perspective of a Christian, I now believe it is fair to say that I was suffering from confirmation bias. Evidence that agrees with me or supports my side in an argument gets extra weight in my thinking.

I mean, lets face it: does it even make news that a Christian walks away from the faith?  Do you know someone who once considered him or herself a christian but now claims to be an atheist?

Christians: Please join me in being excited for any who come to the faith, no matter the place from whence they’ve come, or the difficulty of the journey of following Jesus along side us.  But lets get rid of the scoreboard we are prone to keep in our minds that values our ‘wins’ with more points than our ‘losses.’

Confirmation Bias

Lesson from a 3rd Grader

Yesterday I made my weekly trek to South Euless Elementary Schoolsouth euless 2where I mentor a couple of boys.  One of them is in 3rd grade, the other in 6th.  This week, I met only with the 3rd grader.

As usual, I checked in on social media. This time, I checked in with this statement: “What will I learn from a 3rd grader today?”

And my bluff was called. So, what did I learn from a 3rd grader yesterday?

That I don’t always communicate what I intend to communicate, and that if I don’t pay attention, I’ll miss something.

He and I have been meeting together over lunch most of this school year. Each time, he seems eager to sit down with me and start talking.

I learned early on that we are better off if I don’t force the conversation where I want it to go.  When I do, I quickly sound like just another older person dispensing advice and wisdom.  I know this because I see it in his eyes, and I hear it as he gently mocks me.  Sometimes he’ll parrot my words back to me. Sometimes he just says, at increased volume, “You tell me that every week!”

I don’t believe I do tell him the same think every week, but if I argue with him about that, then I’ve lost the battle for relationship before I’ve even started.

It is a challenge for a 52 year old to meet a 3rd grader on his own terms, but if I want this child to respect my experience and the wisdom and insight I’ve gained along the way, I owe it to him to try my best.

We only have 30 minutes together each week. Sometimes this will be filled with significant conversation. Sometimes it will be mostly his making faces at his friends at other tables.

But he still looks forward to my meeting him at lunch. That’s something I’ll take any day of the week.

Lesson from a 3rd Grader