How could anyone…?!

How could you…?

How could anyone…?

One of my earliest recollections of this was early in my first year of college hearing someone say, “How could anyone grow up sane if they have to move a bunch of times as a child?”

This friend had grown up (all her life) in the same small town.  12 of the 16 in her high school graduating class, if I remember correctly, she had also started kindergarten with.

My response, a military brat who had moved at least ever 4 years, had wondered the opposite.

I have wondered the same thing: “how could anyone _____?”

I bet you have, too.

But this is another of those times that, if we are honest, we must recognize we don’t know the full story of the other person.

Just like no one else knows your full story.

At our best, we remember that we don’t know the other person’s story.  Then, still at our best, we acknowledge there may be good reason for whatever it is about them or their behavior we cannot imagine.

And if not a good reason, at least a reason we had not thought of.

Please don’t feel the need to hone your skills to learn every possible reason someone might do something differently or be something different from you.

Just let them be who they are.  Learn more (than you already know) about who they are.  Listen to their story.

You might still not understand them or what they do, but by the time you’ve listened to their story, you’ll likely be too tired to judge them.

Too much excess?

I like to think I am a “make your point and move on” kind of guy.  I tire of repetition. Especially when I feel like it is repetition for repetition’s sake.

But this one thing bears repeating.

During this season of Lent, we are looking at excess and what to do about it.  We believe that we live in a culture of excess – voices around us, and in us, tell us we should want more, we should have more, we need more.
Jesus, on the other hand, calls us in the opposite direction.  Jesus recognized that stuff – money, food, clothing, power, media, friends, etc., cannot satisfy.  Only God and a relationship with God can satisfy the deep longing of our souls.
Yet, as much as we talk about excess and our mutiny against it, we are not being judgmental.  Let me repeat that: we are NOT judging you or your excess or other people in their excess.
We are not even judging ourselves in our own excess.
Our intent, during this season of Lent, is to open ourselves to God’s presence and God’s leading. Judging can be off-putting and conversation-ending.  We want to start the conversation or continue it.  We want to admit to ourselves and one another that excess challenges us and that following Jesus means getting all excess out of the way.
If all of it is too much for you right now, feel free to start with a little.

Which Jesus are we talking about?

jesusThe other day I was involved in a thread discussion in a United Methodist Clergy group. The subject of that discussion is irrelevant for my present purposes. If you really feel the need to know, ask me.

In this discussion, a friend – no, an acquaintance – no, a colleague – maybe – a fellow UM clergyperson wrote this: “If you do not follow the rules, then you have lost all integrity.”

Whoa, I thought. I am, apparently, and have always been, low on integrity.

This won’t surprise those of you who know me, but I push at rules.  Over the years I have come to respect the need for rules, and the benefits.

I still have within me, though, a desire, an urge, to push against the rules, the norms, the status quo.

Which is one of the reasons I read as someone who, according to my colleague, has lost an integrity.

In my reading of the Gospels, Jesus is almost constantly breaking rules. When I was younger and more of a mind to break rules just because they were rules, I read Jesus this way, too.

And it is possible to read the gospels this way.

I have grown up. I know longer believe that all rules were made to be broken.  I understand the benefit, even the need, of rules and standards.

As a matter of fact, I now tend to read Jesus as having this same kind of attitude toward rules.

I will probably always tend to read Jesus favorably to the way I understand and work in the world.

If Jesus matters to you, I expect you do this, too.

You may suggest that we ought to interpret our own lives in terms of Jesus rather than the other way around.  I would agree that this is an admirable goal. In fact, it may be a good way of identifying true disciples.

But I am pretty sure that before we proclaim too loudly that we are more like Jesus than someone else is, we do well to investigate which Jesus we are comparing ourselves to. More often than not, I fear, we will find that we will find ourselves looking down on others by comparing them to the Jesus that we have made look an awful lot like the ideal version of ourselves.

I Need You Need We Need

needYou need to read this post.  All of it.

Ok; you may not need to read it.  But I think you’ll get my point in having said that.

I have recently become aware of a conversational habit. It seems to me to be growing in our culture.

This habit involves the word “need.”  My concern is over who is doing the needing.

I have noticed more than a few times that need seems to be very easily attributed to others.

In simple terms, if I need you to do something, I say, “You need to….”

For example, you need to read this post. This actually means I need you to read this post.

This is problematic.  At least it is problematic for me, and for people like me.  You see, I, and people like me, do not easily or comfortably absorb the needs of others.  Especially when these needs are foisted upon us from a pretence of power.

Don’t assign me your needs.  Own them. Share them if you like, but don’t assign them to me.

I find this especially dangerous in ministry. Even more in youth ministry.  Folks in leadership: your leadership and integrity are seriously compromised when you assign your needs to others.

For example, if you are trying to quiet a room full of people because you need to make an announcement or begin a worship service or for whatever reason, telling them “You need to be quiet” may be neither true nor as effective as “I need you to be quiet.”

Own your needs.  Feel free to share them, but inviting others to share them will be more likely effective than assigning it to them.

I need you to know this.

The point of limits

Most of my daily commute is a single road that varies between 45 and 50 miles per hour.speedlimit1

The other day, both going to work and coming home, traffic was thick but not heavy. It was also moving more slowly than usual.

Apparently it was “Drive 5 MPH under the limit day” and no one had told me.

As I am, during this season of Lent, always on the lookout for a blog topic, I considered being left out of such a national event as “Drive 5 MPH under the limit Day.”

Now: I admit I have issues with driving and traffic.  During Lent a few years ago, my main focus was to improve my attitude while driving.  I’ve come a long way.

I’ve come so far that this year, on National “Drive 5 MPH under the limit Day”  I didn’t get mad.

I didn’t get even.

I realized that the posted speed limit is not a requirement.  One is not required to drive 50, for example, just because the speed limit is 50.

In that case, 50 is the upper limit.  Hence the word, “limit.”

It just so happens that I am almost always in enough hurry to get to wherever I am going next that I push the limit.

Yes, I admit right here on the internet that I regularly drive a little above the speed limit.

Some people think limits are made to be pushed.  I tend to be one of those people.

How about you?

Jesus Loves Everyone Except Greg Hardy

Just when you thought it was safe to watch professional football again, Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys sign Greg Hardy to a 1 year contract.

We couldn’t be more excited.

We couldn’t be more outraged.

If my facebook newsfeed is any indication, everyone loves @DaleHansen‘s commentary on this incident. “Is there no line you won’t cross? Is there any crime you won’t accept? Is there no behavior you will not tolerate?”

Great questions, Dale.  As we approach Easter, here’s my answer:

All of Greg Hardy’s behaviors are included in Jesus’ willingness to give up his life to reconcile humanity with God.  While we’re at it, all of your behaviors, and mine too, fit in that list.

Should Greg Hardy be punished for his behaviors?  Should you? Should I?  We have a criminal justice system to weigh those questions and mete out answers.

Perhaps if we are so opposed to violence, we can find other things to do with our time and money than support the NFL.

Or at least we can admit that we look elsewhere for moral exemplars.

I absolutely believe that professional athletes (like TV sports commentators) do well to consider they are role models whether they like it or not.

As a parent, and especially as a pastor, I am also a role model. Whether I like it or not.

One of the roles I must model is that of forgiveness.  I have no business talking about a savior who offers not only forgiveness but transformation if I don’t model the same.

A long time ago, someone wisely wrote “Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 2)

BTW, Greg, if you read this, I apologize for the title.  To be clear, I fully believe Jesus loves you.  I apologize for the way we are treating you.

Meaning missing

Easter is less than three weeks away.  Let the advertising onslaught begin!

risen ChristIt seems to me like way too many of these Easter ads emphasize the wrong image, and thus miss the meaning of Easter.

And if you think I’m referring to bunnies and eggs, think again.

I refer, friends, to the cross.

The cross is not the central image or focus of Easter.

Do an image search for Easter and you’ll get a bunch of bunnies and eggs in pastels, but you’ll also get a lot of crosses.

I am not anti-cross!  I am deeply appreciative the cross and all that it represents.

Valuable – no, essential – as the cross is to Easter, the cross isn’t the main point of Easter.

Easter is the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection!  Easter tells us that death – even death on a cross – is defeated by what God has done in and through Jesus.

So, enjoy your bunnies and eggs.  Ponder and reflect on the cross and all it says and means.

But please, this Easter, remember, and celebrate, the resurrection of Jesus!

Make Yourself

I knew this day would come.  In fact, in an odd way, I hoped this day would come.

When I took on blogging daily for Lent, I knew I wouldn’t have something worth writing about everyday.  So far I’ve done pretty well. Some days I’ve written ahead.

I’ve started observing the world around me, and the thoughts in my head, keeping in mind that I need my next topic.

It’s gotten so bad that I thought I had a topic or two from Mickey Mouse Clubhouse this morning.  And that from seeing mere bits of it as I passed through the room.

But, I’ve got nothing.

So, I suppose, like any episode of Seinfeld, this post is about nothing.

Or, more to the point, this post is about following through.  I have committed to blogging each day.  I have not committed to having something worth blogging each day.  I have not committed to making this worth your reading.

The promise I made was to do something.  I didn’t promise quality.

Yet I am reminded of that art class where the teacher divided the class into 2 groups.  One would be graded on the quantity of pieces they produced, the other one only their best piece.

Those from the first group not only produced more pieces of art (obviously), they also produced better work.

Sometimes you just have to do it.  Go through the motions.  Make yourself do something you know you should do, even when you don’t feel like it.

Who knows: this simple thing might be all it takes to keep you honest in that moment.  And it might actually make a difference for someone else.

How close is too close?

As with most Mondays, I follow Rachel to work in the mornings.  She drives the kids to preschool, then we go to work.  Sometimes We leave home at about the same time, sometimes I follow by a few minutes.  Today, I was right behind her all the way.

toocloseThe first time we reached a stoplight, I pulled up very close behind her.  Closer than I would normally do in traffic.

Closer than I am comfortable when I look in my rearview mirror and see someone else.

This was not exactly like normal traffic, though.  I was driving behind a person I know and who knows me. Once the light changed, I gave her appropriate lead time, and followed at a safe distance.

After I had pulled that close, though, I became a  little uncomfortable with what I had done.  I wondered how analogous driving patterns are for personal relationships.

You know: people have very different senses of personal space!  I remember particularly a professor I worked with at one point in my academic life.  He was, what we called, a space invader.

For normal conversation, he would stand within a foot of me.  Though I never felt threatened or endangered in any way, standing this close to a professional acquaintance was uncomfortable for me.

Thankfully, I was a good 6 inches taller than he, so could find space by looking up a little.

In addition to these, I’ve come to notice many different ways we live in space relationship with others.

Just yesterday, in fact, a variant:  I entered the sanctuary well before the next worship service and proceeded to greet the few people who were already there.  As I approached one, he asked if he could talk to me briefly.  I said yes, and as he stood he said, relatively quietly, that this was confidential.

I leaned in a little and nodded to indicate my understanding.

Then, with a raised voice (to normal conversation level, but clearly loud enough for others to hear), he proceeded to tell me what he had to say.

I thought about asking if he was familiar with the word “confidential,” but choose not to.

What he meant, I think, was that he was telling me this “for my own good,” and not for me to tell others.

I had moved close enough to listen, only to find out I really hadn’t needed to get closer at all.

How sensitive are you to the space around you, and the distances you maintain from others?