Archive for the ‘Love’ Category

Thy Strong Word

March 11, 2020

She’s alone when I knock on the door.  The first time I met her, several years ago, it was she and her husband.  Recently relocated from further south where they had lived their lives as, among other things, active members of a Lutheran church.  But now they were older and beginning to falter a bit and to be closer to family they moved to a care facility here.  I took them Communion a few times before their daughter intervened, worrying it was more confusing for them than helpful.  A year or more passes, the daughter calls back.  Could I bring Communion to her mother now?  The confusion isn’t any better, so whatever stress entailed in me visiting seems no worse than the stress her mother normally lives with.

I’ve been making visits again for a few months now.  Her door is usually ajar and I knock.   I always tell her who I am and why I’m there.  It’s clear she’s confused, but she’s willing to receive Communion from a stranger-who-really-isn’t-a-stranger.  She often comments that she’s confused and doesn’t know what’s going on.  Today she sits on her couch with a blanket over her legs and her walker in front of her.  The television is on loud playing some black and white movie.

Since I just communed four other people in the same facility, I go to wash out one of the Communion cups.  As I finish I see a photo – clearly of she and her husband.  Many years ago.  The sun is shining on them and they look to be in their early 20’s at the oldest.  A beautiful reminder that the frail woman who looks at me hopefully but also with great trepidation was not always so.

I’ve learned that trying to make conversation with her is both uncomfortable and difficult, so I move to the brief order of service I use on Communion calls.  For the Bible reading I opt for the 23rd Psalm.  It’s the same reading I used with her last week and I know she enjoyed it and recited it from memory with me.  Since she likely doesn’t remember we used it last time, I use it again, changing the version on my app to the King James Version.  Sure enough, she joins right in for 70% of it.  She’s visibly calmer after we finish.

Now the Words of Institution, and it’s clear she remembers these as well, mouthing along in parts of it.  She recites the Lord’s Prayer with me and receives the bread and the wine.  She’s from the older tradition, and as well doesn’t trust her hands as much, so I place the wafer on her tongue and hold the small cup of wine to her lips.  I pack my things to go.

Sometimes, I open the Bible up.  And no matter where I open it to, it speaks to me.  This is the first time she’s offered much of anything conversationally since I’ve known her.  I smile and agree that God speaks to us when we’re reading his Word.  My Bible is in the other room.  Would you like me to get it?  She nods.  I find it easily on her nightstand and bring it to her.  Her whole face lights up when she takes it in her hands.  She flips through it, at a loss, looking for something but either not knowing what or where.  I notice a bookmarked page with highlighting on it.  I help her flip back to that.

Luke 12Just reading the title makes me feel better already, she says with a smile and I’m amazed at how present she is and how at peace she is.  Do Not Be Anxious.  I wonder if she highlighted that or her daughter did?  Would you read it to me, I ask her.  She hesitates a bit.  You don’t have to read all of it, just some of it I say.   She begins reading.  She loses her place a few times but corrects herself.  Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life….

The words of a man who claimed to be the very Son of God ring out in that small room with the  TV turned off.  Words she has heard over and over again across the span of a life from the young, confident girl in the photo to the frail,  confused woman on the couch.  Doing the best she can to keep from panicking.  Alone after so many years of being with a partner and a family.  His Word every bit as applicable and comforting and true as it was for the thousands who first heard him speak it 2000 years or so ago on a sunny hillside on the other side of the world.

As I take my leave and look back through the closing door, she’s still sitting with the Bible in her lap.  So much better than the blare of the television earlier.  A word not simply for waking up or going to sleep but for the uncertainties of a quiet afternoon by herself in a world  that has changed around her until she’s no longer certain who she is or where she is.  But those words are anchors, holding her fast to a truth she has clung to through all the changes of life, words that will lead her out of the confusion temporarily for now, but completely and permanently at last.

 

 

Friends in Low Places

November 14, 2019

I spend a lot of time in institutions.   Hospitals.  Skilled  nursing facilities.   Rehabilitation facilities. Assisted living facilities.  All institutions made necessary and profitable by the large wave of aging folks known as the Baby Boomers.

Few people want to be clients in these places. And if news reports and other anecdotal sources  are accurate, few people want to work in these places. At least at the lowest level of care providers.  Anyone from the janitors to the non-credentialed employees who assist with moving patients, changing them, cleaning them, feeding them,  even delivering pills to them.

It isn’t glamorous work.  The halls echo with the moans and shouts and cries of the lonely, the confused, the needful.  It takes a special kind of person to work in these places, regardless of what our society may think of them.  To a culture obsessed with glamour and youth and power and prestige these are low places filled with low people.

When I first met her nearly three years ago she was fairly mobile.  Walking with difficulty.  Living with her sister.  She became a member, dependent on her sister to take her to church, which didn’t always work out.  A year later or so, I received a note from a friend of hers out of state indicating she wouldn’t be coming to church any more  but would like Communion at home.  I contacted her, confirmed this, and began regular visitations.   I learned she suffered from a rare degenerative neurological condition.  So rare, a major research university in the north of California requested her brain and spinal column after her death, and would handle all the necessary costs for those issues.  It was a waiting game at this point.

She moved to a hospice house and I continued to see her regularly.   She outlived her prognosis, and her Medicare coverage for that facility, so earlier this year she  moved to a new facility.  Not a house but an institution.  Over these few years she became wheelchair bound.  Then bed-bound.  The condition slowly paralyzes her.  First it was just the left side of her body.  Now she can only move her head ever so slightly to the left and right.  Her eyes are always active.  Her mind is keen and she’s always looking and listening to everything around her.   Speech grows more and more  difficult..  Thankfully, she has no pain.

But she’s in an institution, and institutions are large, impersonal places.  It’s easy to get lost in the shuffle.  It’s easy to be on the neglected end of a system that employs the bare minimum number of staff to provide adequate care for all of the patients and clients.  But adequate care is not necessary personal.  Not necessarily timely.   And for someone now immobilized, that can be terrifying.

She has a wonderful personality.  A faith as strong as any I’ve ever witnessed.  She’s ready to go, but God apparently isn’t ready for her yet.  We talk about this often, which sometimes elicits loud wails and tears, which come more easily as a result of her condition.  When the research university called to check in on her last week, they asked her sister – who spends hours every day with her – whether she was afraid or not.  Good grief, no.  She’s not afraid!  She knows what lies ahead.

In the meantime, until God is ready to bring her home, she becomes a joy to everyone who meets her.  Staff pop in to say hi to her, knowing she’s almost  always smiling.  She’s a rare source of sunshine in a place often filled with clouds of confusion and despair.

But with shift changes every day,  and with changes in institutional ownership that further affect who stays and who goes and who is hired on, friends are rare and special things in an institution like this.   An institution that tries to do well and by and large does, but still operates within the broken confines of a sinful creation.

But friends can ease that brokenness.  They can attend to her quickly when she needs them.  They remember she needs her food pureed now because swallowing is becoming more difficult.  They are as close to clockwork as is possible in a place like this with the hoyer lift, an amazing device that enables a single elderly caregiver to hoist this woman from her  bed and deposit her in a wheelchair, and visa versa, almost every day for a few moments of cherished fresh air and sunshine and a cigarette outside.  Friends help ensure she doesn’t sit alone in her wheelchair for hours on end because nobody remembered to return her to bed.  Friends remember to bring her pills on time.

Friends make things bearable.  Little touches of God’s grace for a woman who has lost everything but her mind.  Who is kept awake most nights by her insomniac roommate.  Whose family is all the way across the country and isn’t able to get out to see her very often.  Friends offer a smile, a bit of humanity in a place that can be very dehumanizing.  Friends help her sister rest easier, knowing she is taken care of for the other 20 hours a day she can’t be at her side.

It’s not a glamorous place or glamorous work but it so vital and necessary, and when it’s done with a little bit of care and love, with a smile, it means the world to the one receiving it.  Who can’t do anything but smile back and try to speak her gratitude, try to share a bit of the love of Christ with whomever is with her at the moment.  Who prays and worries when her friends aren’t on shift when they should be, and rejoices for and with them when she learns it was just a cold and not a layoff.

Friends in low places are beautiful things.  Pity they aren’t the heroes of our days.  Pity they aren’t the ones feted and followed by the Instagram crowds.  Pity that sex tapes and obscenity are more revered and respected than honest, difficult, sometimes very unpleasant work.  But thanks be to God for those people who do this work anyways.  I hope they know how special they can be when the become not just an employee of an institution, but a cherished friend of the patients because of  a little love and care and extra effort.

No Excuses

April 8, 2019

Last night was another exhausting exercise in building trust and relationship with wounded people.  I wrote a few weeks ago about deliberately choosing to be shorter in response to some things one of our Sunday evening folks was putting out there.  Last night the follow-up conversation I knew would come eventually came.  I’m not sure if the conversation is done yet, but it at least began.

Towards the end of a two-hour long emotion-laden conversation with this person, he asked me a question, the precise nature of which I can’t remember exactly in the fog of the evening.  Something to do with why we welcomed him to our house every week.  My response was immediate.  Because I love you.  He responded with a follow-up question – why do you love me?

It’s the type of question from a wounded person who needs and wants affirmation and encouragement as he’s rebuilding his emotional life.  It was an invitation to make comments about him personally, comments that would in some ways soften the blunter responses I gave him a month ago.  I knew there were things I could have said that would have made him happy, but I also was convicted that the right answer was theologically, not emotional or psychological.

Because you’re a child of God.

The disappointment was immediate and palpable.  And he drew the conclusion I assumed he would – that such a basis for love was relatively indiscriminate.  The same rationale would apply to any person who walked through that front door.  I agreed.  And I went on to affirm that yes, the rationale was indiscriminate in quantitative terms.  I am called to love every person I come across in my life because God created them.  Whether they like me or visa versa is irrelevant.  The command from my Savior is unequivocal.

This prevents me, ideally, from favoritism.  I’m not allowed to love some and not love others.  It will be easier to love some more than others.  I may like some more than others.  But I am called to love everyone.  That decision has been made for me already by my Lord and I am under his command in this regard.

But the love that I show to the people in my life does differ qualitatively.  It is in this category that I need to figure out the best way to love each particular person.  One person is more delicate and needs more encouragement.  Another is more cocky and sometimes needs a challenge.  Each needs to feel welcomed and important but hopefully in ways that are best received by them.  This should not be favoritism, though of course everyone has favorites.  There’s nothing wrong with having favorites but there is something wrong with favoritism (read James 2:1-12).  It can be a tricky line at times.

I imagine there will be more conversations ahead.  In talking and debriefing with my wife today, she commented that I was brave to be willing to confront this individual as I did a month ago, and then to follow-through with the harder work of working through that with him.  Community and relationship is a two-way exchange, though.  In our culture that demands that everyone accept everyone else for who they are there is no actual exchange, no actual interaction between real people.  The relationship is artificial if there is not honesty.  That honesty should be conveyed in love, but sometimes the loving thing to do is not the polite thing to do.  Ultimately I believe that committing to this way of relationship ultimately offers the greatest hope of real relationship, and then the greatest hope of the Holy Spirit being at work in that relationship to point the way to Christ.

Not easy but necessary.  In a culture of convenience, just as I’ve rejected the use of a microwave in our home as antithetical to the kind of life we want to embrace, certain relational short-cuts have to be eschewed as well.  It might mean that people who aren’t able to handle this will walk away.  But it does encourage the people who remain (myself included) to really learn and grow in how to relate to one another as children of God pointing the way to Christ.

 

Connectivity Doesn’t Stop Loneliness

March 26, 2019

An interesting essay challenging our concepts of success and suggesting that a robust community should be one of our top goals in life.

While I struggle with some of the language towards the end of the essay, it’s a good case study in the importance of people around us.  Not just bumping against each other on separate trajectories but rather walking with one another in and out of the various situations we can find ourselves in.  I don’t know that I would describe community as an “insurance policy”.  While there are elements of accuracy there, it strikes me as too calculated, too transactional.  Yes, community can support us in amazing ways, but it goes beyond just what happens when things fall apart.  Community shapes us, strengthens us for everyday life together as well.

Nor is community an “immunity”, some sort of vaccination that keeps us from suffering “loss and disappointment and rage”.  But it is true that community helps us deal with these things in healthier, more constructive, less destructive (whether internally or externally) ways.  Community is not a means of  “future-proofing”.  Community is a way of shaping today and therefore shaping tomorrow.  In the process today is richer, and we can look forward to a richer tomorrow.

And of course ultimately community in and of itself, with nothing greater within it or behind it or ahead of it is as pointless as any other isolated human experience or endeavor.  What gives community it’s real power is being grounded in the ultimate, eternal community, a God who in his very essence is communal as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  It is this reality that gives meaning and purpose to our communal experiences here and now, knowing they are preparations for an eternal communion not simply with one another but with Him.

Standing Firm

March 4, 2019

We live in a squishy culture.  Nothing is firm and set.  People and ideas and beliefs and practices are expected to be equally squishy.  Like jello or marshmallow, like sponge cake you can poke and push and it will bend and form to the shape of your finger or fist, allowing you to pass through or pass on before it begins to take shape again.

When you listen to people talk this is readily apparent.  I hate that I catch it in my writing and speaking as well, though I try to ferret it out.  You know what I mean, the constant prefacing or concluding of any statement with in my opinion or it seems to me, or  in my experience.  The kind of statements that devalue whatever follows or precedes, even though the speaker or writer believes those statements.  It is the assumption that nothing can be stated absolutely, that everything is up for question and grabs, and that any opinion is ultimately as good as another, even if we don’t treat them that way.

Squishy.

It is shocking to people to run into non-squishiness.  It is painful.  But it is necessary.

Last night we had a deep conversation with some of the core people in that community.  People who have been coming every Sunday night  literally for years.  They come because they know us and trust us and love us to some degree.  All things that evolved because in our home they found love and acceptance and respect.  They know we don’t necessarily agree with them about everything they think or say or do.  They know that we’re Christian, even if they aren’t sure what they are at the moment.

Yet in conversations – those rare, deep conversations that I live for – there is the expectation that we will converse like everyone else in their lives has conditioned them to converse.  State what you think or feel.  Couch it in the squishy terms mentioned above, but put it out there and nobody is allowed to question or disagree.  Or if they must disagree, they need to do so in the same squishy terms the original assertion was made.  Disagreement must be couched in dismissive language that softens it for the hearer and, in my opinion, assures them that they can go on feeling what they feel or thinking what they think because I’ve acknowledged that my disagreement has no stronger basis than their opinion.  It’s a self-defeating form of expression that ultimately makes any sort of progress meaningless or pointless as there is no acknowledged objective reality to strive for.  If I asked them to defend a mathematical equation they would leap to it readily and easily.  If I asked for the proper  medical treatment for a specific condition they could provide it authoritatively.  But in the biggest questions of life, of meaning and purpose, of truth and beauty and good and evil – these things are supposed to be squishy.

So there were tears last night because I wasn’t squishy.  Because I responded to assertions with simple nos and you’re wrong and that makes no sense sorts of statements.  No squishy comfort words before or after, simply confronting their statements with hard, abrupt words.  I was reprimanded for it, at which point I assume I was expected to apologize and back down and be more squishy.

And I refused.

I meant to be hard.  Not mean or cruel, but hard.  Unyielding.  Anti-squishy.  I know these people and they know me.  And I rely on that built up relationship of love and mutual respect to be able to be hard and  unyielding when I deem it necessary.  Because when everyone is talking squishy talk it’s easy to lose track of things, easy to discount things, easy to move past things.  And some things shouldn’t be moved past or through or around so easily.  Some things, like Truth, need to be run into and bounced off of.  People need to be shaken at times out of the stupor of relativism and subjectivity which now passes for intellectual discourse.

I am not squishy.  I mean, I am, personally.  But what defines me, what anchors me, what is my rock and fortress is not squishy.  I don’t stand on my own ideas – at least as much as I can avoid it.  I stand on a word I believe with all my heart and mind and experience and observation and reflection  is given by the Creator of the Universe himself.  I stand on a rock that cannot be moved no matter how much simpler life would be for some people if it did.  And it’s my job to stand firm on that rock.  To not be squishy.  To not be hesitant.  To speak with boldness and confidence as God the Holy Spirit allows and leads me to.

NOT to be unloving or uncaring, but to stand firm.  In love and care for others and refusing to allow them the misconception that I think these ideas of truth and reality are soft and squishy and malleable.  And hopefully, in standing firm in the midst of tears and shock and anger, to trust that the relationships we’ve build over the past three plus years will drive us back to these topics for explanation and clarification and discussion.

It’s not easy or pleasant, but by the grace of God, because of His infinitely greater love and care for these people than my own love and care for them, it’s getting easier.  Easier because it’s becoming so much clearer.  Such a fascinating process!  And such a blessing to know that He is at work in all of these things not simply to vindicate my point of view, but ultimately to draw these children of his back into his arms to find the peace and hope and healing they need so desperately.

 

Confusing

September 4, 2018

I was at my Sunday morning coffee shop for my weekly tea and bagel Sunday morning.  The barista is the new regular on Sunday mornings.  She worked there several years ago before disappearing.  Now that she’s back working here again, she refers to her former self as a degenerate, but hasn’t elaborated much beyond that.  There probably isn’t need to.

Most recently, she announced to me that she’s pregnant, and explained that she is letting people in on it now that she’s about three months along.  She doesn’t want people to think she’s getting fat.

My first thought wasn’t that she was fat, or that she isn’t fat (she isn’t).  My first thought was terror.  Should I be happy for her announcement?  Was this a good thing or not?  I gleaned from earlier conversations that she had a boyfriend she seemed serious about.  But these days, the announcement of a pregnancy can be a nail-biting moment.  For some folks it’s fantastic news.  For others it’s a source of worry or concern.  Sometimes the guy is happy about it, sometimes not.  Sometimes it’s planned, sometimes (like this one) it isn’t.

The fact is that our culture’s insistence on tossing sexuality up into the air as a free-for-all results directly in this confusion.  Once upon a time, while a pregnancy might be a surprise, it would generally not have been entirely unexpected, and even if unexpected, there was a reasonable certainty that the pregnancy occurred within a marriage and that they would all muddle through somehow together.  Now women are instructed they don’t need a man to raise a child, and the media continues to demonstrate to men and women alike that men shouldn’t be expected to settle down and support a family.  All of which makes pregnancy a complicated thing.

Culturally we’re still trying to figure out how to make everything less confusing, but by and large we’re failing.  There’s a lot of hope that we’ll figure it out, though, and not surprisingly the biggest hope is in the arena of education.  But educating about sexuality  that is open and permissive between literally anyone – except if one person doesn’t really want it – is tricky business.

Our culture wants sex to be easy and painless and consequence-less but the reality is that it isn’t any of those things.  It’s inherently difficult, full of potential pain, and designed with myriad consequences.  The message is everyone should just have a good time sexxualy whenever they feel like it and with whomever is down for it but never ever make anyone do anything they don’t really want to do whether they can articulate that or not or are clear about it or really don’t decide until afterwards that they didn’t want to do it.  Sex is fun and wonderful until it isn’t.  Until the hesitancy is determined to be non-consent, or inadequate consent.  Until people change their minds.  Until the flush of the moment is replaced with repulsion for the person in the moments or weeks or years after.  Until someone decides that it isn’t or wasn’t fun, isn’t or wasn’t welcome.  Definitions shift and flux in time, but what is at stake is literally life changing for everyone involved.

And all that is without considering the very real possibility of children, which is kind of what sex was designed for.

Compared to the simple idea that sex is special and sacred not because it is shared with anyone but because it is only shared with one person to whom you’re bound in a lifetime covenant of trust and love, our modern notions are pure insanity.  The create infinite more problems than the outdated problem of  love and marriage they claim to solve.  The idea that if you aren’t married to someone, then sex isn’t an option is  so simple.  Not fool-proof, of course, but certainly a lot simpler than trying to write and re-write the rules of courtship or invent the rules of hooking up.   In the meantime, lives are being destroyed.  Women continue to be victimized, but now by generations of boys and men raised on ubiquitous porn that promises that every woman really wants sex.  Victimized by generations of boys and men who can’t handle rejection because they don’t believe it should exist because rejection doesn’t exist in porn.

Men in turn are victimized, taught that their interest in the opposite sex is somehow sick and twisted and perverse instead of a natural and God-given interest that needs rules and boundaries in order to keep both men and women safe.  Yet we’re all supposed to sexually liberated.  The media pushes out the message today that boys and men are broken somehow, that women are superior and must take over because they can do things right that men can’t – sexually and otherwise.  Yet at the same time women are supposed to be free to dress and act in ways that are suggestive to men – to say the least – yet shocked and offended when men respond.  Talk about confusing messages.

What are your kids being taught about sexuality in school?  Their own or how they should relate to someone elses?  What are you talking about with them on this topic?  Lord knows they’re going to need all the help they can get, including whether to be happy or not when they’re told someone is pregnant.

 

 

 

How Your Kids and Grandkids are Dating

January 25, 2018

Coming of age in the 80’s, the possibilities of who to date were limited by who I knew and what they knew about me.  Possibilities were limited to the social circles I moved in – school, work, and church.  In high school I thought it was exotic that some people would date people who went to a different school.  I went to a big high school (my graduating class had over 900 people in it), so while I might not know the girl who caught my eye, I could network socially (with actual real people, in person) to dig up information that would help me determine whether or not I they were someone I might be interested in asking out, and whether I stood a chance in asking them out.  Life was further simplified by the fact that regardless of the first answer, the second answer was nearly always a resounding no.

But I digress.

Things didn’t change a lot in the workplace.  You’d meet the new co-worker, chat a little bit around the copier, and between those interactions and the input of co-workers, figure out the answer to those same two questions.  Church was the same.

There were places you could go, of course, to meet different people that you might want to date but weren’t likely to meet at work or school or church.  But there were also stigmas to certain degrees about such encounters as well.   Bars, nightclubs, the local mall, video arcades.  I personally didn’t find those options terribly appealing or effective, but I know that some people did, and still do.

But people today of dating age evidently consider those options claustrophobic and very limiting.  Why limit yourself to potentially dating just people that you know casually at school or work, or have seen in those environments?  Aren’t more options always better than fewer?  How about eliminating the human factor in social networking and just rely solely on what a person looks like and how clever they can be in 2-3 sentences?  What could possibly go wrong?

So early on in the Internet, people were working out ways to meet people for romantic possibilities, and now in the age of mobile phones we have not only dating web sites where people can take the time and effort to input meaningful answers to help others determine if they might be compatible (or to make up completely false stuff they hope sounds good to others), but there are myriad dating apps that provide a face and a very short bio as the sole criteria for determining possible interest.

With little more than a face and a concise, curated online persona, they determine whether to swipe left (pass over) or swipe right (express interest in) to begin chatting and determining if they want to meet up in person.  But just because they meet in person doesn’t mean that they really know each other after texting each other or maybe talking on the phone.  In fact, odds are that they don’t even know the other person’s last name until well into the relationship, according to this Wall Street Journal essay.

Young folks now find it creepy that someone would want their last name, presumably to look up more information about them online.  So they’re not divulging last names in favor of nicknames until they determine the relationship is important enough to risk revealing their fuller online personality.  The story opens with a vignette of a young woman at dinner with a man she’s been dating for three months, and it’s at this point that he asks her for her last name, cluing her in that he was elevating the relationship level.  I’ll assume she didn’t know his last name either, and this wasn’t a problem for either of them.

Considering that in our culture having sex by the third date is considered normal (if not a bit on the late side), this means couples are doing a heck of a lot more than just having dinner together without knowing anything more about the other person than what that person chooses to tell them or show them on the date or via online texts and phone conversations.

Is it just me or is that really weird – regardless of the sex aspect of things?  It seems to highlight all sorts of things about how dating is approached these days.

  1.  People find it unsafe to share with a suitor the details they routinely share with the hundreds or thousands of acquaintances, friends and family they are connected with online.
  2. The assumption is that everyone is dating (or just hooking up with for casual sex) multiple people at any given time, therefore the need for more personal information is unnecessary unless the relationship is moving beyond the casual hang-out or hook-up to something more serious (and I presume exclusive).
  3. Actually having other people who can provide information helpful to us about someone who has caught our eye is a thing of the past.  Perhaps because of the 2nd item above, people prefer anonymity in dating, hiding their friends and family from who they’re seeing, and visa versa.
  4. Wanting to be able to validate that what someone claims is true about themselves is actually true is now seen as creepy and in itself a reason to potentially quit seeing the other person.

It’s not that people haven’t always been able to lie in relationships.  If you met a cute girl at the mall or a bar you had no idea whether what she told you about herself was true or not.  That was the understanding, at one level or another.  And perhaps part of the appeal.  And perhaps that’s why I never really found those dating options appealing.  It made much more sense to me to have a better idea of what I might be getting myself into rather than seeking out a series of essentially blind dates with people I knew nothing about.

But if this is now the norm for things, which I can’t help but think is problematic.  According to this Pew Research study from two years ago, while the stigma of online dating has declined, and while more people claim to be using online dating services and apps, only 5% of married couples at the time reported they met online.  I’d be curious what those rates are now.  If that rate remains low, it could indicate that people are using dating apps more for hook-ups and casual sex than with any real intention of a serious relationship.  Which would make the information they provide about themselves potentially even more suspect, which would justify not sharing any more about themselves than they absolutely have to – including last names.

Which means that people need to be honest about what they’re hoping for from online dating sites or apps, and regardless of their intentions personally, recognize what the intentions likely are of the people they’re hoping to meet.  Hoping to meet and date a stranger you meet by chance isn’t any less dangerous or unreliable than it ever has been.  But it likely is a lot more so.

 

 

 

Holding the Line

October 21, 2017

Thanks to Blake for sharing this timely and helpful article on the value of Christian sexual ethics as opposed to the sexual licentiousness our culture has adopted not only as inevitable but actually admirable.

If sex is the unspoken possibility any time two people of any gender are in contact with each other, the possibility for problems to arise is incredibly high.  Only in the movies and on TV is unrestrained sexual indulgence something wonderful and easy – free of the fear of STDs, unexpected pregnancy and emotional entanglement.  To sexualize every potential encounter and relationship in our lives is unhealthy not just to those who want to act on that possibility, but those who don’t want to, but have to be on guard all the same.

Being prudent, wise, aware – these are all good and admirable traits that have been highlighted and honored in cultures around the world and throughout history.  But now they are decried as restrictive and unnecessary and unwanted.  We should be free to indulge ourselves in any way we desire, to any extent we desire, without any worry about consequences of any kind.  Such a demand might be appropriate to a utopian society, but in case people haven’t looked outside the window recently (or into their own hearts), we don’t live in a utopian society.  Not by a long shot.

I wish my kids didn’t have to worry about predatory sexual behavior as they enter their teen years and adulthood.  And by predatory I don’t mean illegal, but rather the predatory assumption being drilled into both girls and boys that sex is wonderful and good and fine wherever and whenever and pretty much with whomever you like, so long as you both agree.  Whatever agree means.  It seems clear that agreement will only mean agreement if you still agree after the fact, which of course often is not the case for a variety of reasons.  It’s easy to read coercion or intimidation backwards into a situation once you’ve decided you’re not happy with the decisions you made.

So my kids are entering a world where sex will be assumed or expected with and from them as they begin dating.  My sons will face this as well as my daughter.  We’ve  taught them the inappropriateness and danger of this, provided rational explanations for why it isn’t a healthy way to live, both for themselves and those they meet.  We’ve tried to model and describe a Biblical sexual ethic that holds sexuality to be far more valuable than our society pretends to think it is.  But they’re still going to encounter those expectations.  As such, they’re going to have to conduct themselves in such a way as to enable them to live consistently with their morals and beliefs.  Part of this means being modest – both my sons and my daughter – and there’s no harm in that.  It only makes sense in a sinful world where things get misinterpreted all too easily.

People may want to laugh off Biblical sexual morality as antiquated and outdated, but compared to the massive harm inflicted on people in an open sexual culture, antiquated and outdated should start looking better than it has in a long time.

Making Up Is Hard to Do

October 2, 2017

You see it on social media all the time.  Those pithy little encouraging quotes about how you should just ditch anybody in your life that disagrees with you about anything because you don’t need that kind of negativity in your life.  Life should be an unending stream of positive affirmations and warm fuzzies, and if anybody doesn’t fit that mold, you don’t need them.

Yet the Bible calls us to a fundamentally different understanding of life and people, radically re-oriented not around ourselves but around a man who lived and died and came back to life 2000 years ago.  In professing faith in that series of events and the reality that He did those things for us, we give our lives over in obedience to him and what He tells us about how to live.  We no longer get to define our life by how warm and fuzzy and affirming it is, because our Lord warns us that “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before you” (John 15:18).  And we no longer get to simply throw people out of our lives when they do or say something we don’t agree with because our Lord commands us “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.  If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” (Matthew 18:15).

But this is really, really, really hard work.  Supernaturally hard, I would argue, and possible only by the grace of God (whether the people involved are aware of this or not).  And last night at Happy Hour, we got to see and participate in such a miracle.

Two of the young men who come on Sunday nights hit it off badly when they first met a couple of months ago.  Unfortunately, the friction of that first meeting has lingered and in the last two weeks has erupted into very angry comments from one of them towards the other.  I wasn’t there last week to see it, but fortunately I was there last night to see it as it unfolded.  And more blessedly, I wasn’t the only one.  With the help of a couple of other people and by the grace and wisdom of God the Holy Spirit, we were able to begin interjecting ourselves into the situation in order to shift it from an angry outburst into an opportunity for personal sharing and learning about the parties involved.

This went on for at least an hour.  It seemed like six hours!  Each of the two had a chance to share about themselves and one another.  They sought input from the three of us as to what we saw and heard going on.  We discussed possible reasons for the way these two rubbed each other the wrong way.  They hugged and affirmed their love for one another, exhibiting a mutual commitment to learning how to deal with one another.  By the time everyone left just before midnight, I was exhausted, but also excited.  The group had accomplished something important together, and I think that God was glorified in that process.

I’m sure that things will still be strained.  The two people involved operate very differently.  But we can now work with them as necessary to call them back to last evening and their commitment to one another.  I look forward to seeing how the coming weeks play out in their interactions.  Awkward, undoubtedly, but hopefully improving over time!

Authentic Community?

August 6, 2017

I’ve shared a bit about how I’ve struggled, internally, with the concept of Christian community.  More accurately, I’ve struggled with how other people might want to define Christian community.  What makes it valid, legitimate, authentic?  There are no shortage of answers to those questions.  I’m sure that some folks would define Christian community as centered in worship, but then that begs the question of how is worship defined?  Is worship always and only defined as the Divine Service of Sunday mornings?  Is worship only where the Word or Sacraments are explicitly presented, or can these form the backdrop, the living context in which human beings are gathered?  Does Christian community only exist when acts of service are performed?  But how do we define acts of service?  Is it only reaching out to the socially or economically marginalized?  Or does it involve nursing and nurturing people through heartbreak, through disappointment, into joy?

Perhaps the confusion isn’t the nature of community so much as the nature of ministry.  If a congregation supports an outreach, a ministry to a group of people, what does this mean?  Are there explicit or implicit assumptions and expectations?  Is that outreach only valid when a certain set of criteria are met?  Or is just loving people and being together enough?

It seems that in most church-sponsored ministry, something gets done.  What if there are no tangible outcomes?  No quilts made?  No bags for the homeless stuffed?  No meals prepared?  No funds raised?  Not that any of these things are bad, of course!  It’s wonderful that God’s people are motivated to show love in so many ways!  But is such a tangible outcome the only criteria for a ministry?

As pastor I feel an obligation – a reasonable one – to be a good steward of my community’s resources.  Certainly those resources that are allocated to my work in various ministries.  Perhaps that’s what makes me most uncomfortable, the worry that some might view a ministry as pointless or irrelevant – ultimately as a bad investment for not meeting certain expectations.  On the other hand, I also feel it’s important to model what I believe the life of faith looks like.  Imperfectly, to be sure.  But intentionally as much as I can.

There are various ministries described in the Bible, but the command is ultimately to love our neighbor and to love our God.  That means I need to be comfortable – and encourage others to be comfortable – simply in loving one another.  When opportunity and interest present themselves to be of tangible service in some way, wonderful!  But love is often intangible, expressed in word and presence rather than in product.  Much like our Lord comes to us in worship – in Word and Sacrament, promising us that the Holy Spirit within us has drawn us into community.  His community.  Not based on what we do but who we are in faith.

So I have to trust that it’s enough to just gather, with gathering being the main point.  Joy in one another and the peculiar vibe created around family and friends, food and drink.  The simple enjoyment of the Lord’s good gifts on so many levels.  It isn’t always easy.  It’s definitely work (at least being the hosts and preparing for the gathering each week!).  But it’s work I enjoy and look forward to, never knowing quite what is going to happen, who is going to be there, and how we will be blessed through and in it.  But never doubting that we have been blessed in it, that we are, and that we will continue to be.