Monday, May 16, 2016

Struggling to love

In his last lecture, Randy Pausch posits that "the best gift an educator can give is to get somebody to become self reflective." That, combined with the wisdom my best friend Marissa has shared with me - "preach the sermon you yourself need to hear" - means tonight's blog post is more about what I need to learn, and my hope along the way is that someone else, whether you're friend, family, or a stranger on the Internet, will join me in my journey toward trying to have a little more understanding a little less judging. It's a journey on which I frequently stumble and trip and fall.

I am struggling to love. I am struggling to act like I believe I, as a Christ-follower, should. And I am struggling to have mercy and compassion and understanding toward those whom, in my hurt and broken judgement, I do not want to extend Grace.

In short: three of the past four weekends have each beaten me down emotionally, and quite severely. The details of each incident aren't that important, because I'd rather dwell on my response, than the hurt. (Also to be clear: this isn't about "oh poor me." This is about documenting my struggle, because while I wish I had it all figured out, I think it's more edifying to be honest.)

In each case, my natural desire was, and remains: lash out. I've been wronged, after all! Shouldn't I defend myself? Isn't that fair?

It probably is "fair" by most people's definitions. But it's not Jesus-like.

Last week at Upper Room, Stefan (our worship leader, who is preaching for a 4-sermon series this month) presented a beautiful sermon about violence. Not only physical violence; also emotional, sexual, economic (like sanctions against other countries), social, cultural, and psychological. And at the end he talked about what our response, as a Church, and as individual Christians, might look like. I think it's worth sharing:

  • Recognize and confess our own violence.
  • Seek to understand the violence of others instead of condemning it. There's a message they're trying to tell you. It's hard to condemn if you're honest about your own violence.
  • Disrupt the law of necessity. When you put God in the mix, it changes the scenario. For example, we think work is going to give us fullness, and so the Christian response is Sabbath, which cuts off the lie of necessity. Everyone thinks money is going to give us freedom, and Christians instead give, to resist that lie of necessity. We need to do the same with violence.
  • Absorb the violence we deserve and don't return it. The only way to stop the cycle is that it has to stop with someone. This is really hard. This is redemptive for the self.
  • Absorb the violence we don't deserve. This is the picture of Jesus, of the cross. This is redemptive for the world. And the world won't be able to make sense of it. It's the most Christ-like thing we can engage in.

That last one on the list. Wow.

Less than a week after Stefan preached that, I would have the opportunity to put it into practice.

And let me tell you, it sucks.

It's going through withdrawal from an addiction I never realized I had: self-righteousness. Fighting against a deep-seated need to prove why I'm right, and the other person is wrong. Restraining myself every hour from the urge to whip out my phone and start drafting a scathing response.

In the end, my addiction to "rightness" was defeated only by God's grace, not my own strength. This frustrates me, because it makes me dependent (on God), and I don't like knowing I'm dependent. (though isn't that exactly what Christian doctrine teaches me I should be, even from the earliest stories in my book of scriptures?)

Even though I'd given myself a hard-pass on seeking reconciliation, God hadn't. I rarely invoke the "God Called me to such-and-such," because I think the words lose their power when over-used. This is one case, though, where I believe I can say God was tugging at my heart to seek peace. I can say that because, well, it didn't come from inside of me, and it certainly didn't come from my spiritual enemies, so that really leaves only one other source. With this intent in mind, last night at church I asked two separate prayer-warriors to pray over me, because I knew I didn't have strength to fight the devils whispering constant streams of anger into my mind.

While the final outcome is yet to be determined (both in terms of this specific relationship, and in general about my addiction to proving myself right), I can say that for last night, the prayers worked. I was able to collect my thoughts into a letter that turned out calm, thoughtful, compassionate, thankful, and also, sincerely apologetic for the wrongs I had committed. How the other person responds is well beyond my control. I only can control my own words and actions, and the choice to respond with love, rather than escalating violence.

I even got to share my story with a coworker today, too, and who knows the reaching effect that may have in his interactions with others?

Jacob's Well played this song a few weeks ago, and the lyrics have been resonating around my head ever since. It's well-worth a listen, if you need a few minutes' break from the day:

I used to think I needed all the answers.
I used to need to know that I was right
I used to be afraid of things I couldn't cover up in black and white.
But now I just want to look more like love..."

Monday, May 09, 2016

Jesus in McDonald's

A couple weeks ago I flew to visit a customer site. I had a bit of a drive from the airport, and after consuming a large quantity of juice and water I was feeling some pressure to give those liquids safe passage out of my body. And also I was hungry. It was getting late, and I didn't want to spend a lot of time at a fancier sit-down restaurant, so I made the next-most-responsible and healthy adult decision: McDonald's.

As I stood admiring the lists of tasty (and I'm sure healthy) food items, I observed a man and woman ahead of me in line, wearing bright red shirts with ginormous black lettering on both front and back proclaiming "JESUS SAVES". I eyed them up, wondering what flavor of ... well let's be honest the first word I thought of was "whackos"... Christians they might be. But the truth is that at the same time as I gawked, a feeling of peace descended upon me in that place.

I chose a table nearby them where I could casually observe (there's nothing creepy about that at all, right?), and what I saw every time I looked over were two people so incredibly joy-filled, that I was forced to start asking myself "what am I missing in my own faith? I want some of THAT!"

After consuming my probably-wasn't-that-healthy-for-me-after-all meal, and channeling my inner Elwood P. Dowd, I approached the red shirts, apologized for interrupting their conversation, and inquired, "I have to ask: obviously you're missionaries, what're you doing?" (blog text doesn't emote, so to clarify: this last clause was asked with a tone of genuine curiosity, not accusatorially).

Their names were Jerry and Cheryl, they had just married 6 months ago, and they felt God calling them to embark upon a weekend trip up into the city with nothing but their sleeping bags, to minister to the people they met in the community, and sleep under the stars like Jesus did in His ministry. That day already they'd witnessed to a dozen or more people (in English and in fluent Spanish!), many of whom experienced God in those moments and chose to embark on their own Christian journeys. That afternoon while visiting a yard sale, after the seller asked the story behind their shirts, she donated to them two hiking backpacks to carry their things. Jerry shared with me story after story of God's provision in their journey, and it reminded me of the verse about "take nothing for your journey, no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt." (citation: in the bible somewhere, in red text). I shared with them about my sense of peace in the restaurant, simply being near their presence. And Jerry gave me the Words he felt God speaking to him for me. We talked for probably half an hour or more. (and, living up to my Elwood P. Dowd aspirations, we ended with me saying "here, let me give you one of my cards...")

I consider our meeting a Divine appointment, a spiritually-uplifting encounter I hadn't realized how much I needed until afterward. And having had that encounter, I wish I carried an aura like Jerry and Cheryl do, one that brings peace to the people around me. (I could also describe my coworker Tom in this way, for he is the most serene man I've ever met; and I'm not just saying that because I know he reads my blog :) This is something I hope to improve on, because while perhaps some of the time I do [bring peace], I fear that too often I instead succumb to negativity, or at the least, intensity, which lends itself not toward peaceful and serene living. God, grant me grace, that I would be as full of You as were my brother and sister whom I met in a McDonald's two weeks ago.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

The Book of Job as written by a lawyer

I follow a legal humor blog called Lowering the Bar, not because I love law but simply because I find the guy's writing style hilarious. I also love the Torah / Old Testament book of Job (which is why any time a sermon or article mentions Job, it instantly grabs my attention... and sets my expectations high, because I like to make-believe I'm extremely knowledgeable about the subject). So you can imagine my excitement about today's LtB headline: "And Then Job Spake, and Said, Let a Restraining Order Issue Against the Lord".

After stifling giggles from my cubicle (for example, this sentence: "The reporter apparently has a transcript of the hearing, and yet has failed to link it, which hath caused me to rent my garments and wail in frustration (working at home today)."), I followed a link at the bottom of the article with the words, "If Great Literary Works Had Been Written by Lawyers." Here I found a 2-page Lawyerly retelling of the book of Job that was hysterical (namely, Job's now-infamous words, "Indeed, this sucketh") and also, as all great parodies should, showed a deeply intimate knowledge of the original source text.

As I read Job's law firm woes, I starting picturing the Venn diagram of how extremely narrow a population this particular piece of prose might appeal to: lawyers (and also real people) who enjoy law, have a sense of humor, and who are at least passingly familiar with the book of Job (aka likely "religious" people). While I have no solid statistics, I suspect that total number world-wide to be ... rather small. Yet Kevin wrote the piece anyway, and I think that's beautiful.

My friend Michelle writes frequently on her blog how vitally important it is for authors to write the stories that are yearning to burst onto the page, rather than wasting time worrying how many readers may read them:

"You love writing fantasy? Then write it. You have a passion for Westerns? Pen a saddle-buster of a tale. The point is that whatever genre makes your heart go pitter-patter is the genre you should be writing."
- From Writer Off The Leash

Which, from my view, is exactly what Kevin did. And I thoroughly enjoyed reading the end product.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016


I'm'a let you finish, but...

One of my pet peeves in being interrupted by the person I'm talking to. I know I do it myself, too, sometimes, though, so I'll confess to a minor hypocrisy there.

One of my pet peeves of greatest egregiousness, though, is being interrupted by someone else who wasn't ever part of the conversation (and wasn't invited in). Now to clarify: it's not that they're interrupting for the sake of contributing something into the conversation (a fact-correction, or a jog-your-memory when you're struggling to think of a movie title, for example; those interruptions I will oftentimes value). I'm talking about, just to use an example from this past Sunday, when I'm listening to a story from a friend after church and a stranger-to-me comes up, interjects him/herself into our conversation, and begins talking to my friend about a completely different topic, cutting off my conversation and excluding me.

If you pay attention, you'll start seeing people do this all. the. time. At church, at work, at weddings, in the lunchroom, basically anywhere and everywhere social. It irks me when I see it happen to others, and drives me nuts when it happens to me.

When did this behavior become an acceptable social norm?

I've struggled for years about what to do in this situation. On the rarer occasion I'm the person who the newcomer is engaging, rather than being the odd-man out, then I tell them, hang on, I was just talking with so-and-so, let me finish that conversation up first (or, if the newcomer brings urgent news that must be addressed immediately, then I'll apologize to my first friend, and promise to follow-up with them later; this is less preferable, but sometimes necessary).

But most of the time I'm the one not being approached, which typically leaves me standing by uncomfortably until the 3rd party finishes and walks away, allowing person #1 and I to resume. By then I've wasted 5 minutes waiting (and awkwardly eavesdropping) on another conversation to resolve in order to continue the conversation I was already having. Frankly, I'm sick of this solution.

From now on, I think I'll try implementing some new approaches:

1) Walking away. Clearly, if my friend thinks the newcomer's conversation is more interesting than the one we were having, well, then sadly the odds are they were already disengaged from our conversation anyway.

2) That solution won't work all of the time, though, because sometimes I still need information from the friend I was talking to. In that case, I need to work on a polite and direct way of asking the newcomer, "may we finish our conversation first, or is this urgent?" Actually, that right there might do it...

People checking their phones in the middle of a conversation is also a pet peeve, but I've probably ranted enough for one evening.