Archive for the ‘Love’ Category

Slow Dating and Demisexuality

July 13, 2021

Of course we can’t have any “puritanical sensibility” in the realm of dating and sexuality, but the idea that sex isn’t best as something freely distributed to anyone and everyone at any time is making a comeback, though of course without any religious baggage.

Multiple surveys and studies for years have indicated young people are having less sex than previous generations (assuming we trust the answers of those sorts of surveys). Slow dating is one practice being promoted or defended as a better way to deeper, longer-lasting relationships. If this isn’t hip sounding enough there’s a newer slang term for people who want to build a deep relationship with someone before becoming sexually active with them – demisexuals. It can’t be common sense and it certainly can’t be that Biblical precepts (and the Bible isn’t the only religious text to stress the importance/value/benefit of monogamy and a non-libertine approach to sexuality) have been right all along. We just have to come up with a cooler way to describe people who don’t bed-hop.

Of course both slow dating and the demisexual tag both assume you’ll have multiple sexual relationships, you’ll just have them slower and one at a time, similar to the old joke about serial monogamy. At least people don’t have to feel ashamed any longer because they aren’t following our culture’s obsessive drive about sexual activity. Instead of risking being classified (and dismissed) as just religious, they can now claim to be hip and cool like everyone else.

What a relief.

In the meantime, the Biblical Word on this topic remains unchanged. God who created us knows best about how sexuality can be expressed, even when we’d like to think we know better.

Breaking Good

February 8, 2021

The Supreme Court Friday determined the State of California could no longer enforce bans on indoor worship. This is good news for people of faith – Christian or otherwise – who over the past nearly year have by and large been unable to worship indoors and required to meet virtually or in parked cars, separated from one another by varying degrees of frankly arbitrary directions enacted by executive fiat rather than a due process of legislative evaluation and feedback. Good intentions to curb the pandemic, but good intentions which look at only the material, physical side of the suffering and ignore and even exacerbate the emotional, psychological, and spiritual sides.

Of course, just because you can do something doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Some religious groups may opt to continue worshiping outdoors because they believe it safest for their members. Others will joyfully be back inside tomorrow – or today. This will be another test for congregations – to determine what the best course of action is for them and their people regardless of what congregations around them might be doing.

Further, while indoor worship cannot be banned any longer, additional limitations – such as stronger language prohibiting singing or chanting – may may outdoor worship the preferred option for many congregations, especially if (like ours) the weather makes such an option reasonable. Good news in this case comes tempered by additional restrictions which may ultimately make it less good.

Back in June when the first stay-at-home order was lifted, I pushed easily to have us move back inside. We had already polled our members on this and their response was nearly unanimous that they wanted to return to indoor worship. We didn’t yet realize the staying power of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it seemed the most reasonable course of action. Eight months later, the option to return to indoor worship is more complicated for me.

Firstly, we’re blessed to live in an area where the weather is temperate year round, rainy days are rare and snow days are practically non-existent. It might be nippy at mid-morning still – in the 50’s – but workable, particularly when the sun is shining and there isn’t a breeze. As such even though my congregation is comprised almost exclusively of post-retirement adults, they’re not only willing but able to handle outdoor worship with some layers of clothing. The seats aren’t terribly comfortable, but they weren’t happy with the 50-year old cushions on the pews inside either!

More than a few people have commented how much they like being outside. A change of venue perhaps, or the ability to enjoy our glorious weather a little more than they might otherwise. Because a small group of dedicated volunteers has committed to coming early to set out chairs and set up the sound board and microphones and electronic keyboard, our outdoor worship really is a beautiful setting, even in a parking lot.

The pandemic certainly appears to be affecting our county more in the past couple of months than it did the rest of the previous pandemic period. While I still personally know very few people sickened by COVID, the reported numbers for the county are far higher than they used to be. Those numbers have dropped dramatically in the past two weeks or so, but they’re still comparable to earlier rates we considered high.

While many of my parishioners have either begun or completed their vaccination cycles, some of them won’t. None of our members have had COVID at all, despite our continued in-person worship whether outdoor or indoor. Some dismiss the media frenzy about COVID and point to the overwhelming recovery rates from COVID, despite the fact they are in the highest vulnerability demographic. Some of our folks may not feel comfortable worshiping indoors again knowing not everyone is going to be vaccinated, but that will likely be a minority and moreover that shouldn’t matter if they themselves have received the vaccine.

Our denominational leadership at global, national and local levels has maintained a position since the pandemic began asking local congregations to adhere to all applicable restrictions and instructions from health officials. Our denomination does not see doing so as in any way restricting our ability to worship our God (since we can do so virtually, outdoors, or with other reasonable adjustments), and a failure to abide by instructions runs us afoul of admonitions to civic obedience in Romans 13. Every individual congregation must make their decisions in this regard for themselves, and the range of responses is a rather wide spectrum.

Thrown into the mix are varying ideas of what our obligations are to one another in terms of safety and Christian love. Is it loving our fellow-parishioners to return to indoor worship knowing if they contract COVID they are more likely to have complications from it – complications which could prove lethal? What is the duty of a Christian congregation in the pursuit of safety? Christians around the world routinely choose to worship together despite a host of very real dangers in terms of arrest, imprisonment, capture, or worse. Christians the world over and throughout history have prioritized Christian worship and fellowship as worth risking their lives for. How does that reality and history impact decisions we make today in relative safety and comfort? And how do our decisions balance the reality that we proclaim a God who created all things and sustains all things and is more than able to keep us safe, with the recognition that this God also gave us our brains and we should therefore use them?

So the possibility of worshiping indoors again is more complicated this time than it was eight months ago. At least for me. But I remain steadfast in maintaining that regardless of the decision made, it is the duty and privilege of that local body of Christ – my particular congregation – to keep loving one another. Even if we’re not thrilled with the decision. Even if we would have preferred to stay outdoors or return indoors. Our personal preferences don’t outweigh direct Scriptural commands to show love to our brothers and sisters in Christ in our patience and willingness to sacrifice our personal rights if it in any way might endanger the faith of a brother or sister in Christ (1 Corinthians 8-10; Romans 14-15). It sounds simple but it turns out to be quite challenging for many people. Pandemics apparently don’t make it any easier, either. I trust we’ll make a good decision. Maybe not perfect, but one our people can work and will work with in love for one another and their God.

The Christian Life and Social Media

September 11, 2020

Yet another famous Christian is drawing criticism for posting pictures on social media that some deem inappropriate. This time it’s not Jerry Falwell, Jr., but rather actress Candace Cameron Bure. Bure achieved fame with the comedy television series Full House in the 90’s.

Bure, an outspoken Christian, drew criticism from some Christians for a photo she posted to her Instagram account. The photo is of her and her husband, his arm draped over around her shoulders and resting, well, resting considerably lower than her shoulders. Based on current standards of decency the photo isn’t terribly controversial. They’re both fully clothed and there are no other erotic or sexual aspects to the photo other than the location of his hand. Clearly it’s intended as a playful photo.

Critics point out the picture isn’t appropriate for social media and indiscriminate sharing by someone who is a Christian. One critic claims when determining what photos to post to social media, choose only photos depicting something you would do in front of Jesus. It’s an interesting guideline, if a theologically strange one. I understand where he’s coming from but I chafe at that way of expressing it. Marital intimacy does take place in front of God, though that’s not really something we tend to want to think too much about, or perhaps we should think more about?

I don’t think the issue is so much what would we do in front of Jesus (I suspect that will consist of basically worshiping him, a spectrum of possible photo options I suspect the critic himself would find too restrictive). The issue is really what do we share and with whom? The photo – while tacky – is not intended to be offensive or titillating (couldn’t resist). Shared with closer friends and family there might not be any offense or objection. But shared to a social media account followed by literally anyone, the photo does seem unnecessary to say the least and inappropriate at worst.

Why choose to share such a photo in the first place to the world? What is your goal? In this age of carefully curated social media pictures and comments it can’t really be argued you just weren’t thinking. Clearly you were thinking, the question is what were you thinking? What did you want to convey, and why? The issue of causing a brother (or sister) in the faith to stumble that Jesus teaches on in Matthew 18 applies here. And not knowing who is looking at it or why, it seems that regardless of what positive statements you want to make about playfulness in marriage are outweighed by the risk that someone could be led into sin or misunderstand your message.

Another critic points more accurately (in my opinion) to the inappropriateness of such a picture in public. Marital intimacy – playful or otherwise – is not something the world needs/should be privy to.

That being said, we have to acknowledge interpretations of what ‘too much shared intimacy’ means changes over time. Even the most conservative of Christians would probably agree that 1920’s women’s bathing suits are unnecessarily restrictive and overly modest, while women from the 1920’s would likely disagree. Movie studios once dictated that not even married couples could be depicted sleeping in or laying on the same bed together regardless of whether they were doing anything affectionate or not, and I doubt many Christians would feel such a limitation was still necessary today. While the Bible talks about chasteness as well as modesty, it doesn’t provide a lot of solid examples or directives about how this looks – perhaps knowing darn well (as only God can) that specifics will change over time.

And curiously enough, when it does provide specific directives, Christians are prone to ignoring them. Hmmm.

Bure has since pushed back against such criticism. Her defense is twofold. Firstly, it’s her and not a someone else. In other words, the picture could only be considered offensive or inappropriate if another person was touching her intimately. Since it’s her husband, no harm-no foul. Again, in a more private or selective sharing of the picture this might be very true. But in posting it to an openly public social media account, the concerns raised in Matthew 18 again should predominate.

Bure’s second objection to complaints is less about the social media posting and more a defense of playfulness and intimacy in marriage. Again, her point is true, but is this the best way to convey these things? Is it necessary for her to convey them in the first place, and why? After all, the assumption is that married couples enjoy their intimacy together. Is it necessary to demonstrate this in a publicly shared photo? Erring on the side of caution, I’d argue no.

How we communicate Biblical truths (the God-given beauty and joy of marital intimacy, for example) matters just as much as the truths themselves. Social media escalates this exponentially as you have no control over who is seeing what you post, the effect it may have on them, and so. And we should be open to the possibility that, while we thought what we were posting was OK, maybe it really wasn’t. Not because it was anything wrong per se, but simply because the Internet is a dangerous place to put much of anything.

What’s valuable is the opportunity for dialogue and discussion. I’d have preferred if her critics started out by asking why she posted the picture in the first place. That might help mitigate some of their concerns about it. And perhaps in such a conversation Bure might be led to rethink her own position as well. Unity, rather than bickering, might be demonstrated and achieved.

That takes a lot more work, but it’s what we’re called to as followers of Christ who are commanded to love God and to love our neighbor. Even on Instagram.

Racism Is Sin

June 4, 2020

Earlier this week I sent a devotional to my congregation based on the Gospel reading for this Sunday, Matthew 28:16-20. I urged them in this season of unrest and disquiet and anger and fear to remember Jesus’ promise that whatever we face we will not face alone. I encouraged them to take these words to heart rather than allow the anger and demands of the culture around us to drive them to sin in terms of anger or fear. But after I sent that message I found myself asking the question why I didn’t write to them telling them to begin working for peace?  In the midst of chaos and hatred and confusion on a variety of levels  and fronts, shouldn’t this be the message of a pastor to his people?  Work for peace?  Demonstrate for peace?


This is the proper message, but demonstrations are not only in the streets.  Some are called to demonstrate in the streets, to exercise civil disobedience.  Never out of joy but always in the hopes of change.  Change as it inevitably is and must remain this side of heaven  – imperfect, fleeting at best, flawed more than not.  Sin must be called out for what it is and when confession and absolution are not enough, it must be dealt with through courts and penal systems.  Always with the prayer of repentance and forgiveness in Jesus for all involved, not simply the accused.  Some of you may well demonstrate for change and so long as you do so without hatred and malice this is your privilege first as a Christian and secondarily as an American.


Some of you will demonstrate for peace in other ways.  Quiet ways, by some  accounts.  With yourself.  With your spouse.  With your children and grandchildren.  With your neighbors.  We are called to be imperfect vessels  of peace to all people and at all times, even when retired or less mobile than we once were or would like to be.  Whether with our doctor or the grocery store clerk or the bank teller or the gardener, we should meet all people regardless of race or gender or creed with the love of Christ as Christ himself has welcomed us with his love.  There are no exceptions to this and no excuses for  refusing to follow it.  


You also demonstrate for peace when you refuse to allow yourself to be agitated or manipulated by the media or  various talking heads.  When you refuse to allow yourself or your faith to be  co-opted by others.  When you insist on spending your time in God’s Word and meditation on whatever is true or honorable  or just or pure or lovely or commendable or excellent.  When we refuse to allow ourselves  to be stirred to hatred on the pretext of righteousness we demonstrate for peace.  In your living room  or the driveway or at family reunions or in the quiet of your own heart.  


As we will hear in the Epistle lesson this Sunday, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  That’s you and I and George Floyd and Derek Chauvin.  Christ died for all of us because we are all ungodly.   All have sinned and fallen short.  Justice should be pursued and in this sinful world that means sometimes criminal and penal systems must be brought to bear to punish those whose sins are more  egregious.  These systems are themselves comprised of broken human beings and therefore imperfect but they are what we must deal with until our Lord’s return.  We can and should work for reform and change where we identify it is necessary.  But we should always remember systems will never end sin and if we put less faith and trust in them we will be less shocked and outraged when we find that sin exists in even the  most well-intentioned systems and solutions. 

The cure to racism and all sin is not a system but a Savior.  

So yes, work for peace because I can guarantee you somewhere in your lives is a place where more peace is needed.  Advocate for those in your life who are ostracized.  Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.  Give thanks that forgiveness is available to anyone and everyone in Jesus  Christ, and look towards the horizon constantly for his  return.  Be skeptical of easy answers.  Ground yourself  not in slogans or platforms or bumper stickers but in the Word of God that alone brings us the Son of God in whom alone are we promised real and true and lasting peace in this life and in eternity to come.

Juggling Hats

April 9, 2020

There is no shortage of weirdness these days going around as people try to adjust.  Who and what is essential, and what does that make the rest of us?  How do we adjust to sheltering in place and social distancing?  How many people were essentially doing those things before all the madness, before there were names for these things and we simply had to call them isolation and loneliness?

Who and what are we when we aren’t allowed to be around other people?  Difficult questions to answer both privately and professionally.

But there are opportunities as patterns and routines and expectations are disrupted.  The opportunities aren’t necessarily good or bad per se, they just are what they are – something out of the ordinary.  We can step into them and see where they lead us or we can fixate simply on what we don’t have and can’t do and be.

So it is that on Maunday Thursday I would normally be leading my congregation in worship and remembrance, in celebration as well as somber reflection.  But we’re all sheltering in place and isolating ourselves socially.  Separated by a modicum of prudence and perhaps an overabundance of worry.  I can’t be and do who and what I would normally be and do on this night, but it isn’t that I don’t have other roles to fulfill, other hats I could be wearing when my pastor-leading-worship hat must be set aside for a time.

So it is that I could wear my father hat tonight.  My head-of-the-family hat.  Hats that sometimes have to be set aside to wear the pastor hat, just as for other guys they’re set aside for their engineer hat or their IT-professional hat or whatever particular hat they need to wear at times.  Some hats can be set aside at 5:00 pm and other hats keep unusual hours, and my hat is one of those.  But tonight I can wear my father hat instead, and lead my family in a favorite tradition of ours but one that’s difficult to keep up on because it conflicts with my pastoring duties, and that’s celebrating a Seder meal together.

I got to lead my family and a few friends through a ritual that dates back hundreds and more  likely thousands of years.  Roughly 3500 years or so, though we can’t know for certain if it was observed the same way through all of that time or not.  A ritual and a meal celebrating God’s deliverance of his people from death and slavery and oppressors.  A ritual and a meal transformed roughly 2000 years ago by an intinerant Jewish teacher who also claimed to be the divine Son of God who would provide forgiveness for the sins of the world, deliverance from death and sin and an ancient enemy through his own death and resurrection.  A death and resurrection historically attested  to by multiple eye-witnesses.

It was a blessing to recite the Haggadah again, to move  through the texts of Scripture telling the story of God freeing his people, and knowing that freedom is extended to myself and my family because of Jesus of Nazareth.  A blessing to taste once again the unleavened bread and the charoset, the bitter herb dipped in salt water.  To raise the cups of wine, remembering how Jesus participated in three of the four, while promising He would not drink the fourth and final cup of the Passover celebration until we drink it with him after the Last Day.  A blessing to hear my children participate, to tell the story, both the very old story of deliverance from Egypt, as well as the old, old story of Jesus and his love.

I’m not sure when we’ll be able to celebrate this as a family again.  My children now older and on the cusp of adulthood and whatever that brings them.  My pastor-leading-worship hat likely to be back in place next year.  But I’m grateful for this opportunity in the midst of craziness.

 

 

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.