Tuesday, May 3, 2016
I'm not really talking about passing information along, but more along the lines of our interactions with one another.
The definition of communication is : a means of connection between people, and also, the successful conveying or sharing of ideas and feelings.
Every time we interact with someone, we're communicating.
We can talk about the different ways of how we communicate, but that's not nearly as important as what we're communicating.
So what is it that we're communicating?
As the Body of Christ, we've been given a charge: to express Christ.
But how in the world do we do this?
By living in the resurrection life.
Now, this all sounds good and easy, but I think that if it was as easy as it sounds, we wouldn't need most of the New Testament to explain what that looks like.
We call it the "cruciform", because that's the shape that it takes when Paul describes it. But the word "cruciform" - that just sounds more painful that resurrection life, doesn't it? I believe there's a reason for that: In order to be resurrected, you have to be dead first.
For me, this concept was completely foreign, and hard to grasp, to I'll share how I was able to come to terms with what that means.
We all live our lives, and because of the experiences we go through, we are conditioned to react a particular way to whatever life throws at us. For some people it's fear; for others, anger; maybe it's to become defensive; or maybe the fight-or-flight-or-freeze instinct kicks in. For others still, it may be a combination of the above, as plain rebellion.
For me, because of the life experiences I've had, the relationships I've been in, and the battles I've fought, I was conditioned to react with anger. I was quick to spout off verbal violence, usually threatening physical violence somewhere in there. This manifested into a mentality of "RETURN FIRE!!" You can ask my husband, he will confirm this. This slightest correction from him sent me into self-defense mode. And we worked together for years. There was lots of correction.
You can almost picture the visual: He would say or suggest something, and inside my head was like the helm of a battleship, with my broken emotions barking out the commands:
"Memory! Bring up some crappy thing he did 5 years ago!"
"Nerves! Be on high alert!"
"Mouth! Prepare to fire!"
But, at the right time, God showed me that this wasn't how it was supposed to be between he and I.
I'm sure that my husband was a little surprised when I stopped returning fire. In fact, if we got into a heated "discussion", I would walk away instead of engaging.
It was when I walked away that I would ask God what I was supposed to be seeing in our conversation. I would also ask why I felt the way I did, and here's the big one, I would ask if those feelings were even valid.
I didn't know it then, but I was beginning the process of dying-to-self. I was letting go of my flesh's reactions to life's circumstances, in order to let God begin the process of pruning me.
Once this process started for me, because it had everything to do with the context of my relationship with my husband, it seemed like our communication was faltering. Honestly, for a while there, it was.
Part of the fall-out from this was that I wasn't listening to him. By not listening, I was completely shutting down the possibility of putting myself in his shoes. I was still so focused on my own death on the cross, and not the other half of the equation - the listening- I began to resent him for being the one who put me there in the first place!
So there I was. Not listening to my husband, ignoring why he might have felt the way he did, and getting miffed at him for being the one who made me get on the cross. God reminded me that it wasn't my husband who put me on that cross, it was me. And I wasn't up there to focus on me, I was up there so God could do what he had to do.
Talk about a shift in perspective!
Over the course of this process taking place, I learned that the cruciform isn't just for marriage, it's for all of our lives. If I am truly interested in what God's will is for any person or situation, I have to be on that cross.
It might sound weird, or sound like I'm some glutton for punishment, but let me tell you... as painful as it is at first, the view from the cross is incredible. When you're on the cross, you get a different perspective: one where you can see Christ doing the most amazing things - things you never would have dreamt of, things so much bigger and better than you've ever imagined. From the cross we can see that we don't have the answers, but God sure does.
If we're going to express Christ, the only way to do that is from the cross.
Back to communication: Did anyone catch how the definition of communication said that it is the successful conveying of ideas or feelings?
If we look at the world around us, everyone seems to have a voice. Technology has given us the wonderful platforms of social media, empowering the masses to speak from their soapboxes. (Let the collective groan arise, because we all know what I'm talking about.)
But despite this amazing opportunity to communicate instantly, there really isn't much communication happening. For one, I wouldn't call any of it successful, and two, despite all the shouting, no one is getting to know (and value) one another, because no one's listening.
Every day, among the barrage of hot issues that plague our collective social awareness, polarizing statements are made. (Imagine the battleship again.) Someone responds emotionally with their opposition to the initial expressed viewpoint or statement. Shots are fired: both sides take hits. The damage is immeasurable.
What happens here is NOT communication; in fact, it is quite the opposite: alienation. Neither side of the exchange learned anything about the other side's views, because neither side was listening.
We as the church are not immune to this! When we engage in these kinds of interactions, we're making whatever that thing or topic we're fighting over our god. And no matter what we claim, when we make our position of self-righteousness more important than Christ and any kind of connection, we then become the exact hypocrite the world thinks we are.
When we are on the cross, God's goal becomes our goal. God's goal is community.
That means that when we're on the cross, we're in community. And when we're not on the cross, we might call it "community", but it's not God's community. It's the community that our own religion wants to establish. And isn't it funny how that community is headed by a Jesus who looks and sounds just like us.
Do we realize that when we're not on the cross and we try to act in community that we take up false authority?
Our authority - the authority we have in Christ - is only present when we're on the cross.
It's easy to tell when we're operating out of false authority, because we'll start qualifying our words with statements like, "telling the truth in love", or "the Bible says...".
Let me tell you: People, whether they've been in church their whole lives, or have never stepped foot in a church before, they recognize real love, because it sounds like communication and not condemnation.
So how do we communicate?
When talking about communication, I have a favorite saying. I used to say it to one of my troops in the Air Force who never shut up: "God gave you two ears and only one mouth for a reason."
We have to listen twice as much as we talk. And that's a skill that has to be practiced. One ear listening to the person we're with, and the other ear listening to God. And only then can we talk.
Too many people are in the practice of listening to respond (and defend themselves) instead of listening to understand.
Once we start doing this, we'll be able to start to see a bigger perspective; our worldview will grow, little by little.
We'll start to be able to see that we're different for a reason.
We'll start to realize that maybe, just maybe, God needs people who are different that we are, so He can reach people we can't.
Remember, Christ came for all humanity, not just the ones we like.
Learn about one another. Learn where we've come from, learn about our backgrounds. Learn about each other's audiences - the people we each influence. Learn about our fears, our dreams, our strength and our weaknesses.
We'll start to see how deep down, we're all connected. But this will only happen if we push past the fear that defines our comfort zones, the fear that prevents of from getting on the cross.
It's scary to realize, and humbling to admit that we don't have all the answers to the gigantic puzzle of God's worldview. It's also humbling to realize that we need each other in order to even catch a glimpse of what God is doing.
But that's a perspective we can only get from the cross.
Friday, December 4, 2015
There's something safe, something comforting, that hides in the fog.
It crept in on a smothering silence, I didn't realize it was here until it was already firmly rooted in place.
No time to appreciate it, or revel in it, or contemplate it.
Finals, papers, all-nighters, all at the same time as life.
It lingered, patiently waiting for me to notice... to really notice.
A night, a morning, waiting through my oblivion;
a day, an evening, a night; still waiting;
The whisper of the fog in the morning finally caught my eye; maybe I finally caught the sound of an unfalling rain, vestiges of lingering clouds building up on the leves, the weight of the unnoticed heaviness finally crashing to the ground.
I slowly began to open my eyes to the thickness of the fog when I saw the effects of its persistent loitering everywhere: slick moisture on the surface of every resting place, even those under the protection of cover.
Held captive by my car on the way to school, I gave in to the invitation of the fog.
There's something strange about actually planning an all-nighter in order to finish an assignment for school.
In none of my previous college or work experiences of the past have I ever been able to actually prepare to (voluntarily) lose sleep, to (voluntarily) work through usual rest time, to (voluntarily) push through the dark hours of fading ambition and physical resistance for the sake of completion.
But this time I was.
Knowing I had to produce seven thousand words, coherently, and with valid sources, by a particular date and time, I was able to gather all my resources together, I was able to schedule a full night of glorious, uninterrupted sleep the night before, and I was able to build, ahead of time, the most time-consuming, perfection-demanding, and aggravating section of the assignment; the works cited page.
I barely noticed the arrival of the fog during the initial stretch of writing my paper. It was more of an inconvenience to me, something else out of the norm, while I worked on a project that was just as much out of the norm.
The fog wove itself in between the trees in my backyard and into the clearing, tickling the windows, blocking any and all sources of natural distraction. I was able to focus on my assignment for a full fifteen hours; the clouded intruder silenced the normal sounds of the woods at night. It allowed me to keep my train of thought, even when I stepped away from the keyboard to sate my nicotine habit in the midst of the witching hours; it is only now that I can be thankful for that.
I'm used to the delusion setting in around dawn when I miss sleep; the fog covered for me again by blurring the transition.
This time, my body failed me before my mind shut down.
I always look forward to breaks. Makes me sound lazy, but in fact, I'm quite the opposite. Breaks force me to slow down, or else I'd just keep going until I collapsed.
This semester is no different. I'm looking forward to the month-long break like a weary traveler, with no plans, no major projects to accomplish, nowhere I need to be.
This longing set in around October, but deepened and strengthened as the weeks went by, intensifying as they went.
Life reared her ugly head during this time as well, testing and pushing every definition, playing scrabble with the words, mixing up the letters, and forcing me to choose wisely; deadlines and assignments still looming, poking me when I wasn't looking.
Break beckoned, like the glare produced by a dirty pane-glass window when the sun shines directly in; knowing you won't be able to feel the warmth until you go outside; when all you want to do is feel it, experience it... but life gets in the way... homework gets in the way... work gets in the way. Before you know it, the sun has changed position, and illuminates something else.
Held captive, I had no choice but to hear what the fog had to say.
The first indication of the coming intensity was the rain; the view out my windshield blurring as the fat, pelting drops exploded on my windshield, this the only perceivable announcement of their presence, since the cloud surrounding me made every background color absent.
It was quiet. I couldn't hear the rain hitting my windshield, I couldn't hear the whistle of the wind outside my window, I couldn't hear the sound of my tires against the asphalt. No jingling of my keys in the ignition, no rhythmic thump of my misaligned tire. I didn't feel like I was driving on the road at all, but gliding over it, or even flying.
I couldn't see anything outside of twenty feet in front of me. The unease of my usual speed sunk in, forcing me to slow down. I had to pay attention; every roadside hedge became a jack-in-the-box, concealing what may have been hiding behind. Intersections that I would normally fly through with barely a glance now demanded complete scrutiny; I had to look through the edges of heaven on earth in order to see any extraordinary signs of oncoming traffic, dispersed glare from headlights, shadows from metal moving through the mist.
Landmarks became black and white paintings, now forever etched into my memory. All that approached me closely becames vivid, whether a crimson tree on the roadside, or the single leaf falling, twirling, dancing diagonally across my path.
A car pulls out ahead of me, and won't go any faster than a slow crawl. My itchy right foot taps the gas like an addict as my eyes scan the turns ahead. Yet, the fog. I wait, biting my lip for the next upcoming turn that I know will give me the opportunity to scoot ahead. The turn approaches, and with it, the voice of the white-haired wizard whispering "You shall not pass"... which instantly meant less about passing the vehicle in front of me, and more about not getting out of where I am any faster than I should.
The book arrived in the mail the day I had scheduled to write my paper, a gift to myself that had long been on my wishlist; a treat, something to dive into when I had the time after classes and finals ended.
I set it aside to do my paper, but threw it in my bag the next day in order to kill some time while waiting at school.
I wasn't planning on opening the book, but had a few minutes to kill, so I cracked it open.
Like a fog that rolls away, or gets burned off by starlight so bright it burns the eyes.
When the fog is here, everything is close. Quietly intimate, personal.
But when the time comes for the fog to depart, it takes something immense, something powerful, to break the bond that has formed between earth and sky.
Like the sun... whose light has to traverse unthinkable distances, passing through the vacuum of space, and penetrating atmospheres...
still, arriving with the strength to sear the windows of the soul.
Wednesday, November 11, 2015
Veteran's Day. The day when a grateful nation recognizes the service and sacrifice made by those who have chosen to defend freedom.
As we celebrate with our parades and ceremonies, flags and thank you's, keep in mind that for some, the battle still rages within.
For some, the sacrifices beyond the obvious will never be known outside the bonds of shared experience, sometimes horrific, and sometimes at the cost of a piece of their soul.
War wreaks havoc on the heart and soul, clinging to the conscience, for sometimes decades, after the return home. The trauma isn't always physical; the wounds inflicted by armed conflict can be etched permanently into the emotions, the memory, or into the very being of the bravest of volunteers.
Sometimes a "thank you for your service" is all that's needed to plunge a vet back into the horrors of war; our intentional yet potentially ignorant gratitude reawakening the demons that have taken God-only-knows how long to subdue.
Maybe it's time to return the favor. Instead of blindly thanking our vets, maybe it's time we stood in the ever-widening gap for them.
The Veteran's Administration is sinking faster than the Titanic with the growing burden of vets returning from an ideological war that seems to never end; a war that, fittingly, and by nature, is causing just as much emotional damage as physical disabilities.
Are you really thankful for our veterans' service? Offer more than lip service with your thanks:
Fight for the resources needed to help our vets.
Fight for the organizations that provide for the emotional and mental health of the vets who so desperately need it.
Fight for the lesser known non-profits who are doing the most for our vets,who are maximizing every cent creatively for the maximum benefit.
Fight for the proper spiritual training for those who are called to help those whose injuries concern the conscience.
Our green light bulbs and our purchased t-shirts, while raising awareness, can not, nor will they ever, take the place of us standing in the gap for our vets.
We must remember that raising awareness for the issues and struggles our vets face is a whole different animal than being there, in the struggle, with our vets. We are sadly mistaken if we think that by doing one, we're helping the other.
Our vets need to know they are not alone... not alone in their experiences, not alone in their trauma, not alone in their coping, and not alone in the battles they wage within.
A green light bulb will never give a troubled vet peace, only the presence of a non-judgemental and caring friend can do that. And that will always mean more than the generic, blanket gratitude from a stranger.
To my brothers and sisters in arms: you are not alone.
Sunday, October 18, 2015
Father, we come together, before you, and we recognize we're in a weird place.
Father, we're stuck.
We're stuck in between what we know about you, and what you're showing us.
We're stuck in between our understanding of worship as something we do, and what you're showing us - sharing our lives together as worship, as who we are.
Father, draw us together, closer, despite our urges to run.
Show us the one thing that we run from is the one thing we need most.
With your resurrection life inside of us, let us be what we each need for one another.
Tuesday, October 13, 2015
As long as we remain "offended", we'll never be able to ask why. Why something is the way it is, or why someone is the way they are, or why something is happening.
Being offended by something just proves how self-centered we've become.
When the words or actions of others have to be pre-approved by us, then we've effectively made ourselves (and our view of the world), a god. This makes everyone else around us subject to our demands, desires, and limitations.
This stifles relationships, and throws any kind of equality or partnership out the window.
This also crushes creativity and freedom, because now the people around us aren't free to discover their own paths or purposes, or giftings, or strengths on their own; they have to conform to a worldview that's only as big as we are.
God forbid those around us have a purpose that's different from ours.
But fear does that, doesn't it.
It keeps us focused on ourselves, paralyzing us into a short of self- preservation mode, which we then project onto everyone around us.
Maybe the next time we're offended, we should focus on something that isn't us.
We might just learn something.
Wednesday, July 8, 2015
Telling us we need this, or how we deserve that.
No wonder everyone's driving a big red truck.
Working for something used to be called "delayed gratification";
Earning what we could in order to get what we really needed.
But as the years have gone by, somewhere in there,
the value of "value" has changed;
debt became our master,
and we lost our souls.
Delayed gratification became instant gratification became entitlement,
And we consumed our way into an abysmal pit.
The blackness spreading on the back of the lie
that "more will satisfy",
Where the "greater good" and our "fellow man" are shoved under the carpet called "MINE",
That gets more plush, more thick, more (blood) stain resistant, and more smothering as the generations pass by.
We stand back and watch as corrupt old men buy their way into power.
We recognize the greed.
By doing nothing, we acknowledge and validate the all-consuming, blood-thirsty hunger behind it all...
We might even find ways to justify it in our own warped and broken minds.
But then, someone notices the bodies left in their wake...
living and breathing,
lonely and bleeding,
And we have to wonder, how did we go so far? How have we let it get so far gone?
When year after year of people seeking and buying what they want,
(and mortgaging their future to get it)
we wonder why our children aren't satisfied by anything we have to give anymore.
After decades of darkening backdoor deals to obtain whatever goods our dark hearts desire,
we wonder why our daughters are being sold into black market slavery,
and we wonder why our sons are the ones forking over the cash.
After years of filling our grocery carts, and our homes;
with a system that supports us,
and a collective identity that ignores those who can't,
It's no wonder that homelessness and hunger and destitution are spreading like a smoldering prairie wildfire.
As our cars and our clothes and our homes become more opulent,
It's no wonder the cycle of poverty continues to gain speed on its devastating tracks.
After years of allowing our offenses to drive us (instead of common sense),
It's no wonder that at the beginning and the end of the day, the only person we view as important is our self.
What if it's like Newton's third law of physics: that every action has an equal and opposite reaction, except with people?
Sons and daughters,
mothers and fathers,
sisters and brothers,
husbands and wives...
If this is the case,that something I do, or something I want, or something I buy, affects someone else in an equal and opposite way...
If I find myself in the mentality of consuming, the mentality of chasing things,
then it's really me who's hurting someone else.
When I get that thing I want, the equal and opposite reaction is that someone else doesn't get what they need.
It's no wonder then,
that the day the world started falling apart
is the day we forgot our neighbor.
Wednesday, June 24, 2015
What have we become?
People who would sooner divide ourselves than be united by something greater...
People who would rather criticize than encourage...
People who would rather shout from our ignorance rather than humbly learn...
People who would more easily rely on our learned economy of self-preservation and the resulting outward hatred, rather than expend the energy it takes to understand...
People who have idolized our symbols, without understanding or knowing our history, and without understanding all the perspectives of our precious symbols, and without grasping the concept of the symbolism changing our evolving over time...
People who would rather unknowingly fall with the majority than stand for a minute with the least...
People who would rather live in self-created isolation and polarity than grasp the true freedom that comes from recognizing and destroying our self-centered universes...
People who have idolized ourselves and our beliefs, without the knowledge of where we, or our beliefs, originated from...
Father, forgive us...