The Attack of the Lying Suits!

I think I am finally beginning to understand.

You see, last week I preached for a friend so that he could take some time off. I’ve preached for him before and so his congregation is familiar with me.  Familiarity helps when you’re doing pulpit supply, and it makes the congregation feel better too, so there I was for Memorial Day weekend.

I got there early so that I could get settled and say hello to the folks as they came through the door. One parishioner, I’ll call him Dave, got there only a few moments after I did so that he could hand out the bulletins and greet folks at the door.

I talked with Dave about how he’d been since I’d last seen him and about the weather, which was hot and dry even up in the mountains. I knew there was a brush fire nearby and had seen the smoke as I drove into town. I’d also heard about the fire on the news and so I knew that locals were very concerned about what was being released into the air by the fire. The long and short of it was that this area of forest hadn’t burned in decades, not since the government had used Agent Orange to reduce the chaparral and increase water flow for the Salt River Project.**

Now that the area that had been deforested was burning, the locals were alarmed at the dioxins that might be released into the air by the fire. I asked Dave if he had heard anything from the fire service or the local government and he immediately started shaking his head. “Oh yeah, we heard from them all right. They told us we have nothing to worry about. They’re lying to us and we know it…lying right to our faces.”

I can’t blame Dave for feeling the way he does, even though I can’t be sure that the fire service or the government is actually lying. And the truth is that we won’t find out for a long time, and if we do find out, it will be because the local citizens start getting sick in record numbers…and the lies will have cost them their health and maybe even their lives.

We’ve all seen it happen: something goes terribly wrong, and the government or the giant corporation sends some official representative to assure the public that everything is going to be just fine.  They come to us dressed in finely tailored suits, armed with smiles and slick lies.

It’s the attack of the lying suits.

Erin Brockovich.  Michael Clayton. Silkwood. All The President’s Men. Syrianna…every last one of these movies tells the true story of corporate or governmental lies and coverups that cost the American people dearly.  We know the story of the lying suit so well, that stories about striking back at the lying suits have become a part of what we call entertainment.

And this…THIS is how we got Donald Trump as President.

I have been trying for months to find a way to understand Trump voters.  I have listened to them try to explain why they like Trump and it hasn’t helped at all…until Dave.

Huge numbers of Americans, many of them working poor, are sick to death of the lying suits. They have come to believe that any person who comes with a suit and a smile cannot be trusted.  They have been lied to and cheated. They’ve lost their homes to the financial crisis and the greed of multinational banks.  They’ve have had their property devalued and their health destroyed by corporate dumping and the subsequent pollution of the soil and ground water. They have been told that fracking doesn’t harm the environment even after they told the lying suits that they could turn their kitchen faucets into blowtorches simply by turning them on and then lighting a match next to the faucet.  They have been told that the city’s water infrastructure was fine even though the levels of lead in the water were off the charts.

It’s not as if lives were at stake. Okay, lives were at stake, but they weren’t important lives because no one whose life was at stake was wearing a well-tailored suit and a smile.

And then along came a rich man in a well-tailored suit, with a slick smile…

And he talked in the exact same way as the-people-who-are-sick-of the-lying-suits like to talk. And he railed against the government, just like the-people-who-are-sick-of the-lying-suits rail against the government.  He said unkind, politically incorrect things, just like the-people-who-are-sick-of the-lying-suits wish they could say to the lying suits.  He publicly ridiculed the lying suits and he refused to play nice with them no matter how hard the lying suits tried to get him to do what was expected of him if he was going to play politics.

He did everything that the-people-who-are-sick-of the-lying-suits want to do but can’t do because they don’t have the money or the power or the prestige to get anyone to listen or pay attention to them.

This is why we have Donald Trump as President.

And you can’t really blame the-people-who-are-sick-of the-lying-suits, can you? Because those of us who didn’t vote for Donald Trump deal with those same lying suits every day.

We work for them. They are usually our boss’s boss. And we don’t like the lying suits very much either.  They tend to screw us out of our pension, or deny us the benefits they promised us if we would only work for them for 20+ years, or lay us off along with 4,000 of our coworkers, all while taking their million dollar bonus for keeping the company profitable.

I think I finally beginning to understand.

I don’t like the man who the-people-who-are-sick-of the-lying-suits elected, but I am beginning to understand why they thought he would be a better choice than Hillary, who (let’s be honest) sometimes looks an awful lot like all the other lying suits.

I may not agree with their choice, but if I can understand why they made their choice, maybe I can find compassion for how they feel, and if I can find compassion for how they feel, maybe we can finally start a dialogue about how best to unite and move forward.

I think I am finally beginning to understand, and it’s the first ray of hope I’ve had in a while.

**  Read more about the use of Agent Orange in Arizona HERE

Vive La Différence!

Once again I have fallen into the extrovert/introvert chasm, which inevitably leads to injuries based in assumptions that are usually incorrect and self-damaging.

Let’s start with some simple information:

Introverts are people who are fascinated by the interior world of thought.  Introverts love to interact with people, but on a limited basis because interacting with others drains their energy. In other words, being social drains an introvert of energy, requiring them to spend time alone to recharge and recoup.  Introverts in conversation tend to listen, think, synthesize and then respond. They are great folks to have in any group because they are incredibly capable of identifying emerging trends in group thought, pointing out inconsistencies in the group’s thinking and problem solving, and they are apt at summarizing and creating solid, useful conclusions.  Introverts are a quiet, thoughtful bunch of folks and that is their greatest strength.

The problem with introverts is that they are a quiet, thoughtful bunch of folks. This can be problematic when they are meeting new people who are extroverts. Introverted behavior is often perceived negatively by extroverts, who often experience introverts as standoffish, judgmental, and rejecting.  In all actuality, introverts are usually uncomfortable and anxious around new folks so they are especially quiet and thoughtful…and of course those thoughts play across the introvert’s face. Extroverts read those expressions and discern that the introvert is thinking quite a bit but they don’t know what the introvert is thinking…and human nature is to assume negative intent.  Consequently extroverts often find themselves perceiving introverts as rejecting and judgmental when the introvert is simply listening and trying to be cordial in a difficult situation because social interaction is draining and sometimes even anxious for them.

Extroverts are people who are fascinated with the exterior world of people and interaction. Extroverts love to interact with people because social interaction is energizing. Extroverts are gregarious and energetic, assertive and talkative. Extroverts can enjoy being alone and doing solitary things like reading and meditation, but in order to recharge, an extrovert will usually spend time with friends and family. Extroverts are great folks to have in a group because they help generate energy and bonding within the group; extroverts tend to be the ones that prevent group activities or group work from stalling and becoming boring or non-productive. Extroverts are quite talkative and they usually prefer to think out loud; this proves to be useful when groups are attempting to brainstorm or generate new ideas.  Extroverts are an outgoing, talkative, energetic bunch of folks and that is their greatest strength.

The problem with extroverts is that they are an outgoing, talkative, energetic bunch of folks. This can be problematic for the introverts in their circle. Extroverts are assertive and outgoing in their interactions with others, which can be overwhelming to the introverts around them. Moreover, introverts are a quiet bunch, which can make it difficult for them to get a word in edgewise when they are with an extrovert. What’s harder for introverts is that introverts tend to speak after they have thought things through; they evaluate their thoughts for validity so that they don’t spout any BS when they speak, therefore a lot goes into each sentence spoken before it comes out of an introvert’s mouth. Extroverts, on the other hand, speak in order to think. It’s not that extroverts are incapable of thought unless they are speaking. It’s that an introvert’s ‘BS indicator’ is located inside their brain and an extrovert’s ‘BS indicators’ are in their ears.  Thoughts in an extrovert’s head can seem perfectly valid and sensible until the extrovert speaks them out loud and then suddenly the extrovert realizes their error…or the BS!  Basically, extroverts speak to think so that they can practice evaluative thought, something that introverts do silently. The problem with this is that introverts—a group of people who only speak after they have practiced evaluative thought—often experience talkative extroverts as feeling like ‘bossy know-it-alls’ who think every one of their opinions are absolutely correct and that everyone should agree with them. This is a false assumption on the part of the introvert, but it can leave introverts feeling as if extroverts are judgmental and unwilling to listen to the opinions of others…which can feel quite rejecting.

In other words, introverts and extroverts encounter each other and both can go away feeling rejected and judged.

And both of them are usually WRONG.

Extroverts need to be mindful that introverts are naturally quiet and thoughtful. That behavior (which extroverts interpret as rejection and judgment) has nothing to do with the extrovert and everything to do with the introvert behaving like themselves.  This is how introverts are created by God…they are wonderful people and you want them among your friends and on your work/ministry team.  Always remember that introverts are busy thinking (and they are not usually thinking about you, Mr/Ms Extrovert.)   If you are an extrovert, remember that you won’t feel rejected or judged by an introvert if you choose to interpret their behaviors as evidence of their quiet, thoughtful nature.  And if you want to hear what an introvert is thinking, stop speaking. Every now and then, spend 30-60 full seconds in silence; many introverts need a break in conversation in order to feel comfortable speaking.  If you (Mr/Ms Extrovert) start feeling rejected and judged, remember that your thinking drives your feelings, and you always have the right to remind yourself that introverts are a quiet, thoughtful bunch who are no more rejecting and judgmental than you are.  Moreover, their BS indicators are in their mind, which means they need to run all their thoughts through the BS indicator before they speak and that causes introverts to be silent for longer than extroverts may be comfortable with. Please, extroverts, give the introverts around you space to be who they are and who they were created to be, and give yourself space to appreciate all the good stuff that introverts bring to the table.

Introverts need to be mindful that extroverts are super-comfortable when they are with others, and that causes them to think out loud even more than they do when they are alone. (Yes…extroverts often talk to themselves when they are alone so they can practice evaluative thinking.) That behavior has nothing to do with the introvert and everything to do with the extroverts behaving like themselves.  This is how extroverts are created by God…they are wonderful people and you want them among your friends and on your work/ministry team.  Always remember that extroverts think out loud so those sentences they are speaking are NOT usually conclusions and are probably just thoughts that will hopefully lead to a wise and thoughtful conclusion.  Extroverts are as open to changing their opinions as any introvert might be, and if you share your opinion with them, you might discover just how much extroverts love spirited conversations. Their energy may make them appear argumentative…and some extroverts are argumentative, just like some introverts are argumentative.  Don’t mistake energy for argument, and never mistake statements for conclusions. Also, remember that extroverts do not expect you to agree with them no matter how energetically they share their opinion.  Again, don’t mistake energy for argument. If you (Mr/Ms Introvert) start feeling rejected and judged, remember that your thinking drives your feelings, and you always have the right to remind yourself that extroverts are an outgoing, energetic, talkative bunch who are no more rejecting and judgmental than you are.  Moreover, their BS indicators are in their ears, so extroverts need to talk so that they can evaluate their own thoughts for fallacy or error and that can cause extroverts to talk more than introverts may be comfortable with.  Please, introverts, give the extroverts around you space to be who they are and who they were created to be, and give yourself space to appreciate all the good stuff that extroverts bring to the table.

Most important in all this is to remember that God created as we are, and while we can learn from each other and grow as people, we cannot change our basic personality. Introversion/Extroversion is a component of basic personality that God determines (or you could say ‘installs’) when He creates us.  While I thoroughly encourage each of us to grow and become more and more of what God created us to be, I want to remind you that first you must embrace that creation fully.  Extroverts don’t often become introverts; not without the kind of injury or trauma that changes us by force.  Introverts are not supposed to become extroverts either, and any injury or trauma they sustain often only serves to increase the level of their introversion. In the end, we need to embrace our creation and then seek to use it to the best advantage of the Kingdom.

And when it comes to understanding and accepting each other, we need to remember that our perceptions of each other drive our feelings about one another.  As individuals, we are always free to challenge our perceptions in order to grant the other person some grace…like maybe trying not to automatically ascribe negative intent to their behaviors…like maybe perceiving differences as helpful and accepting others for their particular weirdness without deciding that their particular weirdness renders them less acceptable or ‘good’ than we are.  Finally, I encourage you to consider that the person who is closest to your polar opposite will likely be the most irritating person you meet…and also the person who has the biggest gift to offer you.  After all, their perspective might not even be visible to you because of how different you are from each other…and do you really want to be blind to the experience of another person? Probably not.

The hardest path is often the best, and the most unfamiliar thing, the most valuable.

Vive la différence!

Holy Discontent, Batman!

Do you remember when I told you that I had a case of the BLAHs? I realized that God had placed some holy discontent into my life to get me out of my rut and move me forward.

Things were getting better there for a while.  I got a workbook about burnout and compassion fatigue. I started reading it and took the tests to see just how burned out I was, how badly beaten and fatigued that my compassion had become.

Guess what? I’m not burned out and I don’t have compassion fatigue.

Apparently, the longer you are a practicing counselor the more likely you have let go of unrealistic beliefs about what you should be able to achieve and have accepted that you will have unlimited capacity for compassion and giving.

I took those tests and discovered that I was just fine, scoring somewhere in the range where folks who’ve been in the industry over 10 years tend to score.

It was great relief.

I also started doing things that bring me happiness just to do them. I started baking regularly and trying new recipes for weekend dinners.  It was fun! I love to bake and I love to watch baking shows.

I was starting to smile and laugh and feel human again and I felt like my holy discontent was lifting.

And then…

A colleague gave me some feedback that was very uncomfortable, and while I’m not sure it’s accurate, I’m also not sure that it isn’t right on the money.  I have chewed on this feedback for more than two days now, and I’m beginning to find streaks of truth that I want to understand more deeply.

It’s not fun. I’m teary and uncomfortable. I feel vulnerable and exposed. I don’t like this one bit.

On the other hand, I told you that God has this kind habit of putting people in my path to help me discern His will, and then I asked Him to break my heart and set me on fire for His Kingdom.

Well…my heart feels a little broken and this person was definitely in my path.

As much as I don’t like it, I do believe God is answering my prayer.  And while it isn’t comfortable, answers to prayer are always good news.  I also know that following God’s will can be profoundly disturbing when you first start down the path, but God always works amazing miracles around us and in us when we submit to Him fully.

It appears the holy discontent train has left the station with me on board and I am on my way.  I’ll keep you posted as things develop.

My Curmudgeon Speaks

Yesterday I drove a friend home from her chemotherapy appointment. She was starting a new regimen and wasn’t sure how she’d react to it, so she wasn’t sure she would be able to drive herself home.  I was grateful that I was able to help her, considering there isn’t much else that I can do to help her deal with having terminal cancer.  She, on the other hand, was sorry that she had to inconvenience me.  She is uncomfortable with the ways that cancer has forced her to rely on friends for help with stuff she used to be able to easily handle on her own.  I think anyone in her situation would be terrified of just how helpless they could become and how much they might have to rely on others to care for them and for their family before the whole thing would be over.

And you can’t really blame someone for feeling like that.

I don’t think anyone likes to ask for help from others. For some of us, asking for help makes us feel weak and incapable. Here in the US, we like to think of ourselves as independent and resourceful; we don’t rely on others, they rely on us.  How that equation is supposed to work is beyond me. If everyone relies only on themselves, then being reliable for others is impossible.  The math of this equation is beyond me, and I have two master’s degrees, so I’m not going to try and figure that one out. Instead, let’s deal with the assumptions that come with asking for help, one at a time.

Here we go, folks:

The truth is that humans are weak and incapable— every day, all the time, in one aspect or another of our life and health we humans are weak and incapable. Get used to it. No matter how healthy you are today, your body is ultimately frail and bound to fail.  Eventually we will all need the services of a surgeon, a physical therapist, a mental health counselor, an oncologist, a rheumatologist, or a neurologist (just to name a few.)  Eventually the frailty of our body will cause us to rely on our family, our friends, hired help, and even skilled nursing facilities just to be able to attend to our daily needs.  Our bodies are fascinating machines, capable of so much but they are also capable of terrible amounts of sickness, frailty, and failure.

Get used to it.  It isn’t a pleasant thought, but it is important to remember that birth is a terminal disease, as the mortality rate for human beings (as it is for all other living creatures) is 100%. If you are born, you will eventually die, and the majority of people will not come on their death suddenly but instead through a process of decline and increasing disability that will require the assistance of others in order to meet simple daily needs.

Having said that (rather bluntly…but I was hoping that we could talk turkey here on this blog)…

As a counselor, I frequently ask my clients why they have not asked friends and family for assistance when they are really struggling, and I get a host of reasons:

“I don’t want to be a bother.”

“I can never repay them for all their help.”

“I don’t want to be beholden to anyone.”

For my thoughts about the first one of those reasons, see the section above.  You will be a bother occasionally, and that’s the way life works. Get used to being human for the sake of everyone who loves you, please.

But what is our issue with needing to ‘repay’ the good that is done for us?

We seem to view assistance from others as if it is a loan we receive from the bank, requiring repayment with interest.  This is especially evident in the statement “I don’t want to be beholden to anyone.”  This betrays the belief that any assistance we receive is like a debt held over our head to be called in at random when it will be most painful or perhaps even destructive.

Folks…our friends and family members are not loan sharks lurking around, hoping that we’ll need something from them so that they can squeeze us later for whatever we’re worth. If the people who supposedly ‘love’ us behave like that, perhaps it’s time to consider finding a new group of friends and putting some distance between ourselves and our extended families, because there is no love in behavior like that.

The other thing that this attitude betrays is a transactional sense of friendship and love. “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.”  There is nothing wrong with reciprocity; it gets a lot done in this world. The thing about reciprocity is that it creates a closed system where you only ever give to someone who can give back in equal amounts.  The implication of such a system is that we often end up refusing to give to someone who cannot give back in equal amounts, and that puts service and random acts of kindness out in the cold. It also reduces all of our most loving relationships to simple transactions where we give only so that we can receive in kind.

And that seems to be a huge problem in our society these days: many of us refuse to give to others unless there is something explicit that we can receive in return.  And don’t start on me about how giving to others “feels good”, because the people who refuse to be beholden to others only give for the “good feeling” when their giving is to faceless others like the poverty-stricken folks in Africa.  It’s easy to give to faceless others, and so much harder to give or receive when the face before you is not only known, but in close relation to you; giving like that creates the emotional debt of “beholden-ness” that these people are trying so hard to avoid.

What would happen in the world if we simply abolished the concept of repayment when it comes to kind acts? What would happen if no one was ever beholden to the one who helped them?

I would remind you that Christ, who died so that we might know eternal life, did not expect a payback for his love or his sacrifice.  You cannot give God anything as God possesses everything.  God is not ever in need. Christ did, however, expect that we would take the grace and forgiveness that we received because of him and pass it on.  He asked that we go to all corners of the world, making disciples and teaching them everything that he taught us…basically he asked that we give away all that we’ve learned from him and all that we’ve received from him, and then teach the next recipient to pass it on just as we have.

Jesus…turns out he’s the guy who invented “Pay it Forward.”

Perhaps that’s the answer to our feelings of indebtedness when someone helps us. Don’t pay it back! Take the grace that we’ve been given and pay it forward to the next person who needs us. Give to others as we have been given to. Help others as we have been helped.  And give without thought of repayment because we have been given to by Jesus without any thought of repayment.

And when that day comes that we can no longer give to anyone—on the day that we find ourselves helpless to pay anything forward ever again—let us pay back the service we receive in humble thanks and genuine gratitude, something else that is in short supply these days.

Thank you for enduring my curmudgeonly frustrations.  It isn’t often that I want to use this space to rail against human foolishness.  You are a generous, giving reader and I intend to pay your kindness forward with a less curmudgeonly post shortly in the future.

That is all.

Unclean

So…we United Methodists have been in the news lately.

Nothing big, we just elected ourselves an openly gay bishop last July and someone on the other side of the nation got their undies in a knot about it and asked the United Methodist Judicial Council for a ruling about whether or not this was ‘legal’ under the UMC Book of Discipline rules regarding clergy and specifically bishops.

The Book of Discipline (BOD) of the United Methodist Church states that homosexuality of any kind (thus including all LGBTQIA persons) is ‘incompatible with Christian teaching’ although the BOD does say that the UMC affirms “that all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God.”  Then in a later section on ordained ministry, the BOD goes on to restate how “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be…ordained as ministers…or appointed to serve in the United Methodist Church.”

Wow…feels discriminatory to me.  Not what I want to see in my church’s polity.

Setting that aside, I have been thinking all week about that statement “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

Says WHO??

Who decides what is “Christian teaching”?  Is there a central committee somewhere that I’m not aware of?   I’m really confused about the statement “incompatible with Christian teaching”.

You see…I went to seminary, and when I was in seminary, I read a host of theology books. Some of those books were written by neo-Orthodox theologians like Karl Barth, some were written by evangelical theologians like Stanley Grenz, some were by liberationist theologians like Ronaldo Muñoz or Dorote Sölle, some were written by process theologians like Marjorie Suchoki or C. Robert Mesle, and some were by progressive theologians like Phillip Gulley or Roger Wolsey. Basically, I read a whole lot of theologians who understood God in very different ways, and how they defined ‘Christian teaching’ differed. Some basics (like the existence of God and Jesus) were the same from theologian to theologian, but what each theologian considered important was different and unique, and therefore the things they defined as tenets of ‘Christian teaching’ was also unique.

What I’m trying to tell you is that there very little consensus as to what the full complement of ‘Christian teaching’ is, so to have something as basic as sexuality be ‘incompatible with Christian teaching’ begs the question “Whose Christian teaching?”  Because it is not incompatible with my Christian teaching or that of many of my colleagues and we all have Master’s of Divinity degrees and are ordained ministers and therefore theologians in our own right.  Moreover, we have a lot of theologians who are far more well-known and well-spoken than we are who back us up.

The thing that strikes me as odd is that the Book of Discipline doesn’t state that homosexuality is forbidden in the Bible (Rom 1:26-27), or that it is an abomination to the Lord (Lev 18:22), or that it is a sin and therefore worthy of condemnation (Lev 20:13).  The Book of Discipline doesn’t cite scripture to condemn homosexuality, it just gives a weak statement about homosexuality’s ‘compatibility with Christian teaching.’

Well, if that’s the argument they are using, then let’s get out our Bibles and turn to Acts 10. It’s time for some ‘Christian teaching’.

9b Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. 12 In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 Then he heard a voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” 15 The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” 16 This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven. 17 Now while Peter was greatly puzzled about what to make of the vision that he had seen, suddenly the men sent by Cornelius appeared. They were asking for Simon’s house and were standing by the gate. 18 They called out to ask whether Simon, who was called Peter, was staying there. 19 While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Look, three men are searching for you. 20 Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation; for I have sent them.” 21 So Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for your coming?” 22 They answered, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.” 23 So Peter invited them in and gave them lodging. The next day he got up and went with them, and some of the believers from Joppa accompanied him. 24 The following day they came to Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 On Peter’s arrival Cornelius met him, and falling at his feet, worshiped him. 26 But Peter made him get up, saying, “Stand up; I am only a mortal.” 27 And as he talked with him, he went in and found that many had assembled; 28 and he said to them, “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.   (Acts 10:9b-28 NRSV)

Okay, anyone with half a brain who wants to argue with me is going to read this and say “Yeah, but this is about the food laws.”

NO it is not. The vision was about food, but the rest of the passage of scripture is about God sending Peter to teach a Gentile, a man who Peter (a righteous Jew) would have found unclean according to Jewish law. Let me remind you that Jewish law is laid out in books of the Bible like Deuteronomy and Leviticus, a book that I quoted earlier in reference to laws against homosexuality.

In Acts 10:28, Peter tells Cornelius and the people in his home that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit Gentiles, and then Peter says “but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.”   God didn’t tell Peter that the laws in question were now null and void.  The laws stood as they were written and yet…God was simply no longer interested in maintaining God’s own law when it caused certain people to be cast aside and considered unworthy.

The point of today’s Christian teaching is: God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.

God has shown me that I should NOT call anyone profane or unclean, no matter how nicely I do it, or how sweetly I preface it with a statement acknowledging that “all persons are of sacred worth, created in the image of God.”

If God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean, wouldn’t it be ‘incompatible with Christian teaching’ to label someone unfit for ministry because of their sexuality?

Yeah, I’m thinking so.

And if we don’t want to be profane and unclean ourselves, maybe we should knock that off, you think?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Calling It Like I See It

Today my colleagues and I were at an all-day meeting where we tried to discuss our differences and come to consensus in regard to ordaining LGBTQIA persons.

Say whatever you will about the church in general, or what you think of the church’s hang-ups about sexuality, or even what you think about LGBTQIA persons…you have to admit that this is a hot-button issue when it comes to church politics.

And of course, we didn’t really resolve anything or come to any stunning conclusions. I, however, came home having learned some things.  Take these for what they are worth—I’m not saying that there is any real wisdom here—but since I committed to honesty today, that’s what I’m going to put in my blog.

Our moderator for the day asked us to think about what we were willing to do to in order to bring more maturity and wisdom to the debate.   With the moderator’s encouragement, many of us chose to speak our “I will…” statements out loud to the entire group.  I’m not sure if we did that so that we could be held accountable for our commitment, or just so that it would be food for thought for the group.

Anyway, I committed to being “scarily honest.”  Shortly after making that commitment, we broke into small groups and began discussing what we personally needed to do in order to contribute to consensus and understanding (instead of increased conflict)…and I immediately started shutting down and refusing to be honest.  I realized that I was struggling to trust one of the members in my small group (I’ll call him ‘Bob’) who wasn’t joining the conversation except to make light jokes to break the tension. Bob appeared to be very closed off, as if he was hiding himself from the group. Being committed to honesty, I challenged Bob about it (poorly…I think I came across as judgmental and self-righteous instead of as honest and questioning) and discovered that I was right: he admitted he was purposely hiding himself from the group.  The thing is that Bob had a really good reason for not risking trust with us…and he chose to be scarily honest by telling us why.  Bob revealed that he had been badly burned when he reached out to several colleagues in ministry for advice and a listening ear. Bob asked them for confidentiality, only to have them break his confidentiality and cause him a great deal of emotional pain.  My heart broke for him. No wonder he didn’t trust us! I cannot imagine what it must be like to be so deeply betrayed by people you are supposed to be able to trust. The paradox of the moment was that Bob’s choice to share his pain with us broke down the wall of mistrust. I immediately felt comfortable trusting Bob, and he contributed a great deal to the conversation after that. For all my commitment to scary honesty, it didn’t take much to shut me down…luckily it didn’t take much to open me back up, either.  Again and again I learn that honesty pays off in the strangest and most amazing ways, even when your honesty is clumsy and unkind (as I think I was.)  My hope is that Bob found our small group to be trustworthy (and that’s why I’m not using his real name) and that he will continue to trust us, even if just a little.  Unconditional trust takes a while to earn, and we were only together for a few hours…but it is a great start!  Bob if you see this…you are one brave dude and I greatly appreciate the risk you took in telling us how badly you got hurt.  Hang in there man, because I think you are one great minister!

It turns out that the small group experience was the best part of the day. Once we reconvened as one large group, I found myself increasingly frustrated with what I’ll call ‘corporate happy crap’. I spent plenty of years in the corporate world before going into ministry, and I heard way too many of my managers say things that sounded decisive and committed but that actually meant very little and were frequently used to sidestep the commitment later on.  I thought I had escaped corporate happy crap when I went into ministry, but no.  Sadly, I heard a lot of corporate happy crap today.  I heard my colleagues speaking sincerely about committing to pray or to listen.  I expect clergy to pray, so that seemed like a no-brainer, but the commitments to listening riled me up a bit. Despite all those commitments to ‘listen’, those same colleagues did not offer to genuinely try and connect with the pain and struggle of the ‘other’ side.  The truth is that listening is easier than you think.  I listen to all sorts of things: talk radio, close friends, music, lousy sitcoms, my counseling clients, my family, etc.  I spend a huge portion of my day ‘listening’.  Despite all that listening, the only things that actually impact me are the things I open my heart to, which is usually my friends, my clients, and my family.  Talk radio, sitcoms, etc…not so much, but oh my Lord don’t I listen to them.  I open my ears and the sound comes in and I don’t protest. Sometimes I can actually repeat what I hear—verbatim—to confirm that I’ve understood what I ‘listened’ to. But let the words in deep enough to let them impact my emotions?  That only happens when I open my heart on purpose and let the speaker’s words all the way in.  And this is what I mean when I call it corporate happy crap: it sounds SO good but it actually doesn’t require much real commitment.

I realize that I don’t know what was in the hearts of my colleagues as they committed to pray, or to listen, or to try not to jump to judgment.  They might have been deeply sincere and truly trying to do the right thing. On the other hand, I heard way too many hollow commitments during my corporate days, and it left me with a finely tuned radar for words that serve as escape hatches to avoid conflict and real commitment.  I fear that I heard a lot of corporate happy crap today and it leaves me frustrated and sad.

Please understand me: I don’t claim to have any of this figured out. I am not somehow smarter or better than my colleagues. I have, however, repeatedly discovered the value of scary honesty as a way of moving past conflict and differences of opinion to reach vulnerable places of connection and deep, heart-felt compromise.  I may have done a poor job of being gentle with my honesty, but it worked anyway. Honesty is vulnerable, and vulnerability invites intimacy, and my honesty—flawed as it was—reached right into Bob’s heart, and he stepped into the relationship space and the whole group became closer and more honest with each other because of it.  I risked honesty and Bob risked it back and everything changed in an instant. Our group may not have solved anything, but we got honest about difficult topics; we became free to admit our failures and fears; we genuinely laughed and genuinely ached together.  And the best part is we came away better friends than we were when we started.

To my LGBTQIA colleagues and friends, know that I will do my best to use my straight privilege to create honest dialogue wherever I can and to help you in your quest for full inclusion and equality. You have a voice that needs (and deserves) to be heard and I will do my best not be foolish and speak for you just because I already have the privilege and therefore the floor (so to speak.)  I also promise to avoid flinging any corporate happy crap your way.  If you catch me flinging crap, call me on it. I committed to scary honesty and I’m sticking with my commitment. If it keeps paying off the way it did today, it will be worth everything I put into it.

Doubt, Reason, and a Bag of Chips!

I got to preach this morning and it was glorious!

Let me explain. I may be a minister in the Methodist Church but I am not your garden-variety minister. (They grow ministers in the garden?)  Anyway…I am an ordained Deacon. We are ‘specialist’ ministers, meaning that we have education in a specialty area, like Christian education, or music, or youth leadership, or counseling.  This enables us to do ministry in a specialized field while the ordained Elders in the church are there to run the church, preach and teach, attend a million committee meetings, and do way too much work in general.  My ministry is in counseling—I have a private practice—and when the Elders in my church need a little vacation or just some assistance, they’ll ask me to preach for the week.

So I got to preach this morning and it was glorious!

I preached on Doubting Thomas, which is the traditional scripture for the Sunday after Easter.  We read this scripture after Easter for two reasons: 1) it is the first appearance of Jesus to his disciples after his resurrection, and 2) so that we can exhort people to believe in the resurrection instead of being a ‘Doubting Thomas’.  Doubting Thomas, bad!  Believing, good!

Can you tell just how much I dislike the traditional interpretation of this passage of scripture?

Thomas always gets a bad rap, and it just isn’t fair.  If you read the passage carefully (which you can do here) you will notice that Jesus almost immediately shows the other disciples the wounds in his hands and in his side, presumably to prove that the person who hung on the cross is the same person who is standing in front of them at that moment. So why does Thomas get such a bad reputation for wanting to see those same wounds before he believes that Jesus lives? It makes no sense.

I think part of the reason that I want to defend Thomas is because I relate to his wariness.  It comes from my upbringing.

I grew up in a fundamentalist evangelical non-denomination church. That is a lot to type, so for short, I’ll just call them fundamentalist.  The people in that church believed…we firmly believed, and firm is the key word there. We knew what we believed and we could state it clearly, and we did state it…often. We were certain in our faith because anything less than certainty in that church was considered tantamount to saying that God wasn’t all that and a bag of chips…and if you are fundamentalist and evangelical, too, God is most certainly all that and a bag of chips and a couple of chocolate cookies on the side, and don’t you forget it!

And for lots of years that worked for me, until I got into college.  And then I started encountering things that directly contradicted what I had been taught in church.

You see, the church I was raised in believed that all the mainline denominations were filled with ‘carnal’ Christians, meaning fake Christians who didn’t really believe the way they were supposed to. Basically, think “Christian in name only.”  My church believed that every person who attended one of those mainline Churches was going to Hell…and of all the mainline denominations, my church thought the Catholics were the worst.

The problem for me was that I had become good friends with several Catholics during my freshman year of college. We talked about our faith quite a bit and I had learned a lot about what they believed and about Catholicism in general.  After getting to know them, I found that I couldn’t go on believing that being Catholic was a bad thing…nor could I believe that my friends were going to Hell for being Catholic.  It just made no sense.

And this put me at odds with my church. My very firm believing, enthusiastic, certain church who wasn’t going to be okay with me suddenly doubting their doctrines. Is God still all that and a bag of chips!  You BET God is all that and a bag of chips!

I started reading my Bible, because I needed some answers.  No matter how much I read (and I read a lot!) I wasn’t able to find anything that said “If you don’t believe in the exact right way or if you attend the wrong church, you are going to Hell.” That wasn’t in the Bible…anywhere. And of course, that made me start questioning a whole bunch of other stuff I’d been taught at church. For many people, this kind of questioning becomes the moment where they lose their faith. Thank God I didn’t lose my faith…but I definitely lost my faith in the church of my childhood.  I began to question everything and where I had previously had a firm faith, suddenly all I had was doubt.

And this is where I get where Thomas is coming from when he refuses to believe the disciples.

I know that the scripture passage says that the disciples came to Thomas saying “We have seen the Lord” but I don’t think that’s how it went down, not really. That just seems too calm to me.  If I just found out that my friend, the one I thought was dead, was actually alive, I’d be ecstatic, bouncing around the room, overflowing with joy.  That’s why I am betting that the disciples were much more enthusiastic than that…somewhere along the lines of 10 guys, gesturing wildly, all talking at once, looking a little like a basketball team that just won the championship.  I think all that enthusiasm and excitement was what made Thomas so wary.

It’s that funny feeling you get when someone is all wrapped up in their belief and they are so enthusiastic and so very certain and they want you to be so very certain too. They want you to jump into their belief like you would jump in a pool.  Just immerse yourself totally and buy into whatever they are selling.

It reminds me of the church I grew up in, and it sets off all of my alarms every time I encounter it.

There is nothing wrong with being enthusiastic about your faith, and there is nothing wrong with being certain that what you believe about God is true.  Just remember that strong faith and certainty don’t develop overnight. They develop slowly, and usually there’s a good deal of questioning that goes on before anything gets strong or certain. Sometimes there is a good deal of questioning that goes on even after things are strong and certain…and that’s a good thing.

I’m a Methodist for a reason. In the Methodist Church, we lean on John Wesley for theological guidance…meaning that Wesley informs the way we think about God. The first thing you need to know about John Wesley is that he was not a fan of blind faith. While Wesley wouldn’t quite say it this way, I will: DON’T EVER TURN OFF YOUR BRAIN.

You see, faith isn’t about believing whatever you’re told by your pastor, or your teacher, or the televangelist.  Faith is about reading the Word—not just a verse or two for inspiration. Read whole passages, whole books, maybe even the whole Bible.  While you are reading the Bible, let yourself be informed by the Church and its teachings and its traditions, and then feed all of that through your own experiences and your reason…your brain…and then decide what you believe to be true.*  And if you’re really smart, you’ll leave space for questions and doubt even after you’ve decided what you believe to be true.  Faith built with room for doubt is a solid foundation for spiritual growth—a foundation that is firm but flexible enough to withstand serious testing. Anything else is like building your faith out of cotton candy where somebody else spins the tale and you just swallow it whole.

Doubt gets a bad rap, but the truth is that doubt can be one of the best things that happens to your faith.

Doubt is useful, not just because it slows you down and encourages you to question what you are being told, but also because it causes you to seek until you find the truth.  Doubt will lead you on a search for God—one that might lead you away from the obvious places, if you let it.  Doubt also turns out to be the biggest evangelism tool you have.  You see, doubt isn’t an instance or a singular experience.  People who create space for doubt within their faith discover that doubt is a kind of journey, a journey towards greater faith, and along that journey is where you’ll find the Seekers…the people who are still questioning if Jesus is the real thing, the people who are questioning if they can ever be Christian at all.  There are folks who try to bring the message of Jesus Christ to Seekers by bringing them a shiny package of faith all sewn up and nicely decorated because they think that’s what the Seekers need.  And I don’t know what’s worse: that the Seekers might run away from that shiny package and maybe end up running away from the church entirely, or that they might buy into it that shiny package, hook, line, and sinker!  I know that this is probably not a very good thing for a pastor to say, but I don’t want people coming to my church looking to buy into a pre-packaged faith with all the accessories, because I can’t deliver that!

The funny thing is that God doesn’t deliver that either. God created you with a brain for a reason…and the reason is that God is really fond of reason. God created reason…and questions…and God created doubt, too.  The world is littered with folks who used to believe and USED to have faith who lost their faith when their shiny, stiff, pre-packaged beliefs didn’t actually function in the day to day world, not in the long term. They thought that a nice stiff, strong faith would give them backbone and strength…when all it did was make them inflexible and prone to breaking when life got heavy.  Faith that is able to accommodate doubt isn’t very shiny and it’s definitely not very stiff—in fact, it’s downright wiggly—but doubt blesses us with the flexibility to bend when life gets challenging. Doubt gives us space in our faith to accommodate new experiences, to struggle with horrible tragedies that make no sense, and to stand stunned in the face of unexpected discoveries and find our faith still intact…changed, but intact.

Better still, faith that can accommodate doubt can discover that Jesus lives in ways that we cannot yet imagine, in places that we thought that God would never go, to bring life in abundance to all the wrong people—sinners just like you and me—people who want to believe but who still have that one nagging doubt.  God is fine with our doubt and it doesn’t scare Him at all, because doubt is the space where God likes to hide so that He can surprise us.  God is good like that.

May you find your doubts like Easter eggs hidden in the grass, and when you open them, I pray that you find Jesus hiding inside.  Just when you thought Easter was over…the resurrection goes on, and on, and on…

* We call this method the Wesleyan Quadrilateral: Scripture, Tradition, Experience, and Reason.