Something Like A Collision

car collisionThe other night, I was driving home from the hospital. I had just gone to visit a friend who has been struggling with health issues lately. Visits like that are always helpful to put things in perspective for my own life.

On the drive home, I was fairly pensive, pondering the existential questions of life as I drove up Interstate 95. My phone buzzed as a message came in from another friend asking whether I had a minute to chat. After my talk-to-text affirmative response, I spent some time on the phone with him hearing about the challenges that he is facing in his life within his own family.

When I hung up the phone with him, my mind raced to a handful of other friends and acquaintances whose lives have been a bit of a challenge lately. Marriages on the rocks. Childrearing challenges. Sickness. Crises of faith. It was a little overwhelming for me to consider.

My mind wandered to this church planting journey that I am on. I thought about the name of this church we are starting, The Branch. Our tagline has been, “Where life and faith meet.” I couldn’t help but think that sometimes that meeting of life and faith meet feels more like an abrupt collision than a cordial meeting.

Years ago, a mentor reminded me that when you embrace a name for yourself as a church, you had better be prepared to embrace all that comes in that name. I couldn’t help but hear his words as I thought about life and faith meeting. I’ve known from the start that this collision of life and faith would be messy.

I’ve never been one to tolerate giving messages or advice that I am not following myself. To think that any kind of meeting of what can sometimes feel like diametrically opposed things like life and faith would be a walk in the park would be naive, in my opinion. Collisions rarely are tidy.

But that’s the thing, as I thought about it, the reason why I am doing what I am doing. I’ve grown weary of encountering people who are hurting who run from the church rather than running towards it. I’ve grown weary of the stories of people forming opinions about Jesus based on his imperfect followers. I’ve grown weary of church sometimes looking more like an insider’s club that suspiciously eyes outsiders for fear of what they might have brought with them. I’ve grown weary of church sometimes looking more like a retirement home for the already convinced rather than a hospital for the sick who are desperately in need of attention.

Different. Everyone wants to be different, to establish themselves within their own uniqueness. I guess we’ve embraced that same notion. We want to be different. We want to be a place where life and faith meet so that God can break down barriers to his grace. So, when we begin to see barriers being broken down, I guess you could say that we can begin to measure ourselves against our goal.

I’ve been in a handful of accidents in my lifetime, nothing tremendously horrible (thankfully), but enough to know that collisions rarely leave us without a mark. Even if there is no physical evidence of a collision, it generally impacts us mentally.

I fully expect that the more and more we see life and faith meet, collide even, we will be impacted by those meetings, those collisions. We won’t be the same, and frankly, I think that’s what we’re going for.


The “Why” and Not Just the “What”

As my children get older, the issues that they are dealing with become weightier and the questions that they ask become more poignant, requiring so much more than a simple “yes” or “no.” When they were much younger, it was not unusual for them to ask “why” in response to a command or an answer that they were given. But giving them the “why” of the answer was not always appropriate because of their lack of understanding and their maturity level.

Now, I find myself analyzing the questions that they ask and the instructions that I give them and realizing that simple commands of “do this” or “don’t do that” don’t suffice. If I’m honest, I know that they were never sufficient for me when I was their age and as I grew older. Prohibition without rationale seems to simply be given for the sake of controlling rather than because we want to see a change in behavior and heart. If we give commands to our children and scatter in prohibitions about what they should or should not do, the majority of children will push for something more, trite answers will not shut down the conversation. Giving the answer “because I said so” or “because I’m the parent” may have worked when the kids were toddlers, but those days are long gone.

Beyond parenting, I’ve thought about this in the church, with children, youth, and adults. Too often, the church has been quick to talk about prohibitions, the “what,” without giving sufficient reasons for them, the “why.” Then when people respond less than favorably, we get surprised or even angry at the response, as if answers that would never suffice for us should somehow be acceptable to those to whom we are giving those answers. But those answers we give are rarely sufficient.

We can all most likely think of some of the controversial topics that the church has dealt with for which clear boundaries have been given. Sexual relationships. Marriage. Abortion. Euthanasia. And many others. Even the Bible verses that we give when defending our position on some of these topics only address the “what” rather than the “why.” We want to give people a compelling reason to embrace the teachings or positions of Christianity and yet we can so often give restrictions without reasons or rationale.

It’s made me think an awful lot as I’ve dealt with my own children but also as I’ve had conversations with the various generations represented within my church. If you’re younger than fifty, chances are that you’re not going to take the “what” answer to a question about restrictions and run with it. You’re going to want something more. You’re going to want to know the “why” of something.

If the church is to remain relevant, she won’t become relevant by dressing up with various accoutrements that make her look like our culture. Instead, the church needs to engage the various topics that come to the forefront by providing rationale and reasons for the worldview we embrace. If we simply hold to clichés like “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it for me” then we will find many abandoning the church.

But if we choose to dig deep and understand for ourselves and teach to others why we’ve come to the conclusions that we have come to and what has shaped and formed our worldview, I believe that more people will see that we’re not simply trying to put restrictions on life for the sake of restriction but rather that those restrictions are given in order that we may have life more abundantly. We may find that we begin to live into the image in which we were created. While not everyone will agree, it’s an approach that seems far more valid to me.

Too often, it seems, the church points backwards in history to places where rules and regulations were given, but we don’t point back far enough. Most of what we point to is just outward rules. We need to point deeper into the heart and soul, into who we are at creation. We need to connect things to the overarching themes of Scripture that point to God’s intent in creation. We need to point at the image in which we were created, the imago dei.

Considering our culture, this becomes problematic as our culture continues to try to divorce and separate our hearts and souls from our bodies. We’ve become a neo-Gnostic culture that embraces the inward and emotional, while abandoning its connection with the physical. We see Francis Schaeffer’s two story imagery playing out every day within our culture and our world.

We are emotional, spiritual beings, but we are also physical, sexual beings, and those things cannot be easily separated, certainly not as easily as our culture wants us to believe. But saying that we cannot separate them is not an answer that will suffice, it’s the “what” rather than the “why.” We are emotional, spiritual, physical, and sexual beings because that’s how we were created by God, in his image, for his purpose. Those aspects of our being did not come about after sin entered the world. They were there before, sin just skewed our perspective of them all.

The gap between the church and the culture seems to be growing larger. That gap seems insurmountable from a human perspective, but the church will not do herself any favors until we begin to have conversations that begin to address the “why” of our beliefs and worldview rather than simply regurgitating the “what” and expecting that everyone will just come along for the ride.


I’m Seeing More Clearly Now

When I was in high school, I worked two jobs on Saturdays to make some money. I worked from 7AM until 2PM at a local gas station and 3PM until 7PM at the local Baskin-Robbins ice cream shop. Not only did it benefit me financially, but it also gave me two very distinct windows into my culture and context. Working for people and with people has a way of doing that.

The job at Baskin-Robbins wasn’t quite as formative for me as the job at the gas station. My co-workers at the ice cream shop were much more like me while I felt like a foreigner while working at the gas station, which was a really good thing. As good of a thing as it was, I had some big lessons to learn while I was there.

You see, I was getting a good education and was most likely headed to college to pursue a professional career. My white privilege mindset had been formed in me by my surrounding culture and I thought that I was so important and special and that I knew an awful lot. Turns out, I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought I did.

I remember one day when it became abundantly clear to me that I didn’t know as much as I thought that I did. I watched one of my coworkers make his way around a car engine in a way that was completely foreign to me. He might not have been able to pull up all of the useless knowledge that I had stocked within my brain, but when it came to the practical and useful information of a car engine, he danced circles around me.

In that moment, I came to the realization that just because someone didn’t know what I knew didn’t mean that they didn’t know anything. While it may seem like a simple lesson, it was an important one for me to learn as a fifteen year old growing up in an incredibly affluent town surrounded by privilege and plenty. It’s stuck with me since that day, nearly thirty years ago.

The lesson that I learned that day was not something that I simply walked away from and put behind me, it was a lesson that I am brought back to over and over again in my life. If I don’t intentionally find ways to put myself into someone else’s shoes and get a different perspective and appreciation of something, I find that life has a way of forcing me into that place where I can see things more clearly.

Last week, my wife was pretty sick for days in a row. While she’s been sick before, I don’t think she’s ever been hit this hard by something (besides pregnancy) since we’ve had all three kids.

I realized early on that she wasn’t going to be able to do everything that she would normally do. The cooking. The laundry. The cleaning. The keeping track of everyone all at once. I knew that I would need to step up my game. So, that’s what I tried to do.

Now, let me say, I do my best to tell my wife how much I appreciate her. I’ve never been a fan of Mother’s Day for lots of reasons, not the least of which is that mothers need to be appreciated every day, not just on a Hallmark holiday in May. Just because I do my best doesn’t mean that there isn’t lots of room for improvement. As I surveyed the landscape of the house, the list of groceries waiting to be bought, the calendar items waiting to be attended, and the general condition of the house and our family, I realized just how much I had taken my wife for granted. I realized how I just always expected that she would be there, walking behind everyone, waiting to pick up the pieces that were dropped along the way, quietly serving and putting them back into their respective places.

While I had struggled with reentry after some much needed, restful time away, reentry is a luxury that my wife is rarely afforded because in order to experience reentry, you actually need to leave for a time. Moms are always on, whether they are working outside of the home or if they are stay at home moms, their jobs are rarely done and their “me” time is few and far between.

I’ve gained a new appreciation for a role that is not my usual role. My prayer in it all is that I show that appreciation every day. I know that my own capacity to accomplish the things that my wife accomplishes (and accomplishes well) on a daily basis is limited. I can play “Mr. Mom” for so long before I finally crash, my wife has a knack for making it look easy. No, she’s not perfect, but she’s perfect for me.

Now, you’ll have to excuse me, I think there’s something I need to be tending to around this house.

Change Your Perspective

As a pastor, I don’t often have the opportunity to get out of my own context and see how other communities function on Sunday mornings. The Sundays that I am away I am usually visiting the church of my in-laws or friends, maybe spending a day traveling in the car. The opportunity to go visit other places is a luxury that I am not always afforded.

This weekend, I had the opportunity to visit one of our sister churches within our denomination down in Charlotte, North Carolina. Sunday morning was a little harried as I visited two of the three campuses of this church. Needless to say, I did not make the service at my second location on time. I got hung up in conversation and was about 10 minutes late (the lead pastor told me later that I arrived right around the time that everyone else did).

It was great to see what God is doing down in Charlotte. It’s always neat to see how things differ from your own context. A shift of perspective is always helpful to give me added insight. Getting outside the familiar always forces me to look more closely at things.

One thing that happens when I am able to get out of my context is that I can see what things I feel like we are doing well in my own context. I’m not afraid to admit that I look at things through a very critical lens. I know what I like and what I want and I have specific thoughts and ideas about how to make that happen. I know what things are helping to make those thoughts and ideas come to fruition and I know what things are hindering them from coming true. So, realizing that a different perspective or context can help me be more encouraging is a “Win” for me.

That’s not to say that seeing a different context and realizing that we’re doing things well in my own context means that the other context isn’t doing it well, it just means that it clarifies my vision a little better. I don’t honestly think that you can carbon copy things from one context to another and make things work successfully and smoothly. Context is key and if you don’t know your context before trying something, it could be detrimental.

Experiencing a different context also helps to get new and different ideas. While some things might simply confirm that you’re doing things well and right in your own context, there might be opportunities to experience something new and different, to see how things are done elsewhere which in turn can inject a little creativity (or “borrowing”) from this new context.

When I’ve had the chance to get out of my own context and visit somewhere else, I’ve always been grateful when I’ve seen things done well and differently than I am used to. It helps to shake me out of a rut that I might have found myself in and jumpstart something in me that rethinks how I am doing something. It might mean that I borrow something that I have observed or it might mean that seeing something different helps me to think outside of the box just enough to come up with something new and different for my own context.

The best part of seeing another context is when this new context is filled with people who admit that they’re just doing their best to make it and who never claim to be experts. Humility is always a key factor for me because I’m kind of turned off when I hear someone say (either explicitly or between the lines) that they’re doing things perfectly and have no room for improvement.

We all don’t have the luxury of getting out of our own contexts, whatever they may be, to look elsewhere and to potentially shift our thinking. When we are limited in this ability, then we need to bring that shifting context to ourselves by enlisting someone else from another context to come in and give some honest feedback. It’s not the same as going to check out something different, but it can help to achieve the same goals by giving you a different perspective outside or yourself.

I was grateful for the new perspective I had after this weekend. I’ll get to spend some more time in this new context over the next few days and know that I will gain even more insights as I soak in what’s all around me.

Chipping Paint and Oncoming Complacency

chipping paintI heard a quote this past week that has been bouncing around my cranium since I heard it. I’ve made reference to it no less than half a dozen times since I heard it because the truth of the statement resonates so deeply with me.

“Time in erodes awareness of.”

That’s it! Might not seem too profound to the average reader or hearer, but to me, who has seen it played out a lot, it makes sense and there is a profoundness in its simplicity. The basic premise being that the longer you look at something, the longer that you are exposed to something, the less impact it has on you without a change of perspective.

Let me illustrate.

In your house, you have a section of wall going up the stairs where the paint is chipping. Every time that you walk past it, you scold yourself inside your head, telling yourself that you need to take time on a Saturday to repaint that section. But the more times that you walk past that chipping paint and don’t do anything about it, the more likely you are to just start to ignore it. The longer amount of time passes, the less your awareness of it will be.

This is why it’s absolutely ESSENTIAL to always be introducing new perspectives and viewpoints into an organization that is truly seeking to change and get better. If organizations or churches continue to have the people who have been within those organizations and churches take “fresh” looks at things, it won’t matter. The amount of time that a person is in an organization can be directly proportionate to their own awareness of that environment.

That’s not to say that a person’s awareness is completely eroded if they have been within an organization or a church for a long time, but the longer they are there, the more effort will have to be taken to gain new perspectives, inviting feedback not from those whose awareness has been eroded over their time and longevity within that place, but from those whose fresh look allows them to see more clearly, without the blinders and lenses of time that have eroded that awareness.

When we stay in the same place for a long period of time, there is a tendency towards complacency if we fail to do something to combat it. Unless we are intentional about changing our perspective and getting a glimpse of things with fresh eyes, we will grow complacent to the very things, ideas, and issues that need to be addressed.

So, what can we do within an organization or a church to change things up in order to avoid the erosion of awareness and the onset of complacency?

1) Be aware – Awareness is the first key ingredient to combating this. If we fail to be aware of our own inadequacies in seeing things clearly, we will continue to do the same thing over and over again, all the while expecting different results. We know where that leads, regardless of whether or not we are willing to admit it. We need to be aware of our own propensity towards complacency and a lack of awareness.

2) Be intentional – Once we are aware of this, we can’t just leave it there. We need to be intentional in addressing the issue. We have to create a structure and environment that looks for opportunities to see the possible erosion of awareness and move towards greater awareness. Intentionality means finding ways to raise awareness and perspective.

3) Invite feedback – This is a dangerous one, I will fully admit it, so I’m following it up with #4, so be sure not to stop here. We need to invite feedback. If we fail to invite feedback, how else are we to measure things? In order to raise awareness, we need to realize our own limited perspective and invite the perspectives of others who see things differently than we do. It doesn’t mean that we take everything that we receive as feedback and implement it. That’s why we need this next one.

4) Measure feedback – This has become one of the hardest things for churches to do, at least the churches of which I have been a part. Measuring feedback is essential, yet the methods for measurement will vary based upon the individual unless there is a uniform process or procedure implemented and put into play that will allow for a more consistent measurement. In the case of awareness, time in erodes awareness of, so it’s important to measure feedback in terms of time in. Like I said, this doesn’t meant that you throw the baby out with the bathwater and you automatically dismiss feedback from someone who has been around a long time, but it also means that you carefully consider how much that person’s awareness of a situation has been eroded by their time within the organization or church.

We were never meant to be alone. In the second chapter of the book of Genesis, everything has been created and God has set Adam over these things, but he realizes that Adam does not have a suitable helpmate. His solution is to create Eve, and we see the beginning of community and partnership. We need each other, that’s how we can avoid complacency, that’s how we can avoid an eroded awareness of our current environment and situation.

As we build deeper relationships with one another, we build up trust and allow for feedback from each other. If our relationships remain shallow, the chances of us drifting down into complacency and erosion of awareness will become greater. Our lives will easily become environments of chipping paint, in need of restoration but lacking the awareness to realize that our perspectives have diminished and eroded our ability to see things as clearly as they really are.

A Learning Experience on Race

A few weeks ago, I came under fire by a friend after a critical remark that I made on social media about the President.  It was nothing that I thought was off color or more than playful poking, but there were some strong comments in the thread underneath that were criticized even more than my own initial comment.  In exchanging messages with the friend who had brought the criticism, I decided that I needed to pursue a conversation about the comment and something that seemed to have eluded me.

A common question that I have asked recently is, “what am I missing?”  I have lived enough life to realize that as objective as I think that I am, I still have blind spots and am in need of others whom I trust to help me see in those blind spots.  I realized that there was something much deeper than what I could see on the surface.  I had made a criticism of the President but it seemed to have been interpreted as a racist remark, something that I had never intended and something that I definitely wanted to avoid even the possible interpretation of in the future.

While I was in seminary, I had the privilege of taking classes at a branch of my seminary in the Metro D.C. area.  The classes were held at a large African American church.  It was an incredible learning experience for me, not only biblically, but culturally.  Over the course of my years, I have not often been a minority in many settings, but I was there and it was a very good thing for me.  I was able to learn a lot about myself and was grateful to meet some neat people, particularly one African American professor who remains one of my favorites from my time there.

I have such respect and admiration for this professor that I felt that it could be beneficial to email him about my situation.  I excelled as a student in his classes and I felt that the level of respect and admiration went both ways.  I figured that if he was willing to share them, his insights would be incredibly beneficial for me, I knew that I could learn an awful lot.

I emailed him and he graciously agreed to have a phone conversation with me.  After exchanging the usual pleasantries, I jumped right into the conversation, asking him about the criticism of the President and how that could be perceived as a deeper criticism of the character rather than the role.  He was forthright and honest about his own experience.  He talked of professors who had caused him to question his own ability because of his own color of skin.  He spoke of the constant doubting that had been caused by his experiences and the desire to see anyone who could possibly be viewed as an underdog rise to the challenges that they faced.  Seeing those who had been marginalized rise to the top was a victory, not only for them, but for others who had similar experiences.

I began to see that beyond my own experience, or lack thereof, was the experience of so many others, an experience which could not easily be downplayed or ignored.  Although I had never been privy to these experiences and although I had never felt that I had exhibited racist behaviors, to deny their existence was to belittle the experience of others and the history of our country which left wounds and scars that, although they may have been forgiven, have had lasting impacts well beyond the decades that have passed since.  Racism is real, rearing its ugly head even in today’s society.

As we talked, I offered ideas and sought suggestions as to how to enter into dialogue about bringing restoration to the race relationships within the Church.  How could we move towards reconciliation?  We could start by refusing to deny the issue and realizing that although we may not have been guilty of creating it personally, we can be guilty of perpetuating it should we ignore it or deny its existence.  In the course of a thirty minute phone call, I felt that I had been enlightened, even getting the sense that I was doing research for a paper that I had not been assigned nor was I even planning to write.

After we hung up, I prayed a prayer of thanksgiving.  I was grateful that God had brought this humble and wise man into my life.  I was grateful for his willingness to share his own experience in order that I might learn something from it.  I was grateful for my parents and the way that they had raised me, to acknowledge differences but to look towards commonalities instead.  I was grateful for a father and mother who had modeled the love of Christ through the relationships that they chose to have.  I was grateful that I had looked around for a rearview mirror which could help me with my own blind spots and had been given the gift of perspective, a perspective different than my own.

So, what has changed?  How am I different?  I have looked at things from another side.  Joni Mitchell wrote, “I’ve looked at life from both sides now.”  While that would be an overstatement, I would say that I have had a glimpse of another perspective and found myself wanting for a more full understanding, but that wanting has led to an awareness that may not have been there before.  The different perspective has helped to make me more conscious of what I say and more importantly, how it may be interpreted.

I told my professor and friend that I looked forward to the day that we would all gather at the throne of God, people from every tribe, tongue, and nation.  While we can look ahead to that day, we need to be about the work of making that kind of multi-ethnic experience happen sooner.  It seems a daunting task, but we have to start somewhere and the best place to start is with me.  Today, I am a little more understanding of what others who are different than me have had to endure and I look forward to seeing how God can shape and transform me.

The struggle in fighting against racism can easily be diminished by making statements that we “see past color” or that we are “color blind.”  While I think I understand the sentiment behind those statements, we have been created with differences that make us unique.  To pretend that they don’t exist is to also diminish their significance and importance.  I still have a long way to go to gain more understanding in this area, but every step forward is growth, every opportunity that I move through and seize can help me gain perspective, one step at a time.  I am a learner and I hope that I will always and ever be learning.

A Matter of Perspective

perspectiveRecently, a major cold front has come through the United States bringing temperatures to 20 year lows.  While the majority of that cold front had its most severe impact on the central United States, there were some residual effects felt in other areas which aren’t used to feeling temperatures that are so cold.  Schools were closed all over the place, even in the places where they generally experience cold winters, the temperatures were even a little much more for them to handle.  In the places where mild winters are generally experienced, reactions rose to near panic as people wondered what it was like to actually have to wear a winter coat for the first time…..ever.

Where I live, just outside of Richmond, Virginia, the temperatures reached all the way down to 10 degrees.  Considering that it doesn’t usually get into the 20s or lower than freezing temperature during the Winter here, it was quite a shock to the system, especially for those who have never lived or spent considerable amounts of time in places where temperatures linger around 0 or even far below.  Other parts of the country were experiencing a temperature differential of about 60 or more degrees from us, but considering that they were used to lower temperatures in the winter, it didn’t seem nearly as extreme to them.

Through it all, I watched it play out in my news feed in social media and came to the conclusion that it’s what you’re used to and what you know that informs your experience and reaction to the present.  But there were lines being drawn in the sand as people voiced their opinions over the reactions, normal or extreme, to the temperatures.  To say that it was amusing to watch my northern and southern friends duke it out on social media would be an understatement.  I watched the “digital hand grenades” be thrown between friends as insults flew.  School delays were justified and criticized equally.  Policies and equipment handling was questioned.  It even came to the point where some began to point to the poor and less fortunate as a reason to delay or cancel school as they didn’t even own winter coats…..

it seemed that the weather we were experiencing, for some, was of biblical proportions, causing people to make their obligatory run to the grocery store for the obligatory bread and milk.  If I didn’t know better, I would have looked on the doorframes of houses to see if I had seen the blood of spotless animals as people readied themselves for another Passover of sorts.  Buses stalled.  Heating systems broke down.  Parents panicked that their children might have to spend a few minutes in temperatures that would require some extra clothing.

It was amusing in a strange sort of way but it was also a commentary on our society.  Through it all, I observed three things which were the greatest takeaways for me.

As much as some might criticize me for saying this, the whole thing played out in such a way that it made me ashamed of our society in culture.  We are a culture of privilege and entitlement, we love our cushy experiences.  When we are inconvenienced (translation: have to give up our cushy experiences), we get very testy and lash out at whoever and whatever might be to blame for our inconveniences.  But inconveniences are relative.  When you stop to take a breath and reassess, you realize that some of the things that you’re getting worked up about and feeling “oppressed” over are ridiculous.  Equalizing moments are important in life, they help us remember what we have, what are rights versus privileges, and what others might be lacking.

Which leads to my second takeaway.  We can’t all be Boy Scouts, but we can certainly do our best to be prepared.  There seemed a genuine concern where I live for those who are less fortunate and who might be forced to brave the elements without the right clothing or protection.  That was a noble argument, but a nobler argument would have been for us to have been proactive.  If we knew of a need for winter clothing among those who were poor and less fortunate, wouldn’t it have made sense for us to have gotten our butts in gear to collect new or gently used clothing to remedy the situation?  If we know of needs that could lead to panic or emergency, what are we doing to take care of those needs early in order to prevent that state of emergency from ever being reached?

And finally, I learned that it’s really just a matter of perspective.  I grew up in New England.  I hated Winter up there, but I still had to deal with it.  For those who are used to cold Winters, it doesn’t seem as big of a deal.  I laughed as one friend observed what was playing out in her news feed when she said that friends in one place were commenting on the cold weather which was between 7° and -11° while elsewhere, friends commented on the temperatures being between -25° to -49°.  That’s a pretty large gap, but people were experiencing cold based upon what they were used to, what had become normal to them.

Over the years, I’ve learned to listen a little bit better.  I’ve learned that there’s always more to the story than just what comes out on the surface.  Usually, if there’s a strong reaction, stronger than what might be considered “normal,” it’s because of something else.  When I’ve stopped to dig deeper, I’ve realized that my perspective and the perspective of who I am speaking with are very different.  We react based upon our experience and our perspective.  While reactions might seem strange or out of place for us, a little empathy can go a long way.  It doesn’t mean that we have to agree with the reaction, but it might help us to understand it a little bit better.  Once we take that time to listen (something I don’t always do very well), we might gain some understanding and realize that what seems extreme and crazy to us is normal and rational to someone else.  Chances are, someone’s looking at you and seeing your normal and rational as extreme and crazy.

Broken Cars and Houses Get Me Down

Rainy Days and MondaysIt was over 40 years ago that Karen Carpenter sang, “Rainy Days and Mondays get me down.”  Over the last few weeks, I’ve been tempted (not strongly enough) to redo the song, changing the lyrics to “Broken Cars and Houses” to better reflect my life.  Things never break conveniently, do they?

My house is at about the age where everything seems to break on houses.  So, we’ve replaced lights, toilets, patched leaks, reinstalled door seals, and done various other things.  It’s a reminder to me of all the “joys” of being a homeowner.

Right around the same time that all this was taking place, one of the cars started losing air in its tire.  Not that big of a deal, but in an attempt to get it fixed, it was discovered that one of the doors had been left open, draining the battery.  I couldn’t get the car in neutral to roll it out of the garage to jump it, so it required some creative maneuvering to get the other car alongside it in the garage to jumpstart the battery.

One problem fixed, on to the next one.  In an effort to remove the flat tire, I realized that without a pneumatic tool, it’s pretty much impossible to move lug nuts from tires.  So began a fairly frustrating Friday where my impatience got the best of me, but I was reminded of many things in the midst of all of the frustration.

In fact, I had woken up a few hours prior to all of this and had dragged myself downstairs to the computer.  Once there, I proceeded to go through my morning routine, email, social networks, Bible reading.  While on Facebook, I was disheartened to find out that yet another friend had lost his job, this one who has twin girls who are less than a year old.  Another friend whose children are both special needs announced that his daughter has leukemia.  A few weeks ago, another friend’s husband lost his mother.  And on and on and on I could go.

Life doesn’t stop simply because Advent arrives.  Just because we’re getting ready for the celebration of the birth of Christ doesn’t mean that everything else gets put on hold.  Life continues to move.  In the immortal words of John Lennon, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”  Ain’t that the truth?

After dropping my car off at the tire store, I walked myself over to the nearest fast food restaurant where I could get warm coffee and free wi-fi.  During that walk, I called my wife to apologize for being so impatient.  She wasn’t mad, she assured me, but I was embarrassed.  Why should I be so angry and frustrated by such insignificant problems?  There are people who have experienced significantly worse who are still holding their heads up high.

In the midst of my own frustration, I took time to pray for those around me whose problems far exceed a flat tire and a few measly leaks in the roof.  As I read through another friend’s list of broken things in their own house, I was reminded that I shouldn’t let temporal inconveniences steal my eternal joy, especially in light of this Advent season, a season of preparation, anticipation, and expectation.

Eugene Peterson talks about how pastors tend to preach one sermon over and over again.  My one sermon is a constant push towards community.  Over the past few years, that sermon has grown stronger because of the benefits that I have seen in my own community.  Healthy community gives us a healthy perspective.  Healthy community helps us keep some accountability in our lives.  Healthy community helps us when we are in the midst of the storms of life.  Healthy community helps us to remember that we’re not alone.  I don’t think that I’ll ever grow tired of that, even if it is the only sermon that I ever preach.

Fear of Heights

replacing the chandelierThe other day, my wife and I were talking and she said that she was beginning to feel “normal” again.  By that, she meant that there was a “fog” in which she found herself after having all three of our kids.  She said that about the time that they all turned 2 was about the time when she began to feel like herself again.  So much happened in the first years of all of my children’s lives, so it’s no wonder that neither of us have completely felt like ourselves.  Seminary.  Job changes.  Health issues.  Loss of parents.

Surveying the house, my wife began eyeing all of these projects that she had been wanting to do but either never had motivation, energy, or time.  Thus the creation of the “Honey Do” list.  I told her that she was trying to make up for 4 1/2 years in seminary.  Painting.  Lighting fixtures.  Chandeliers.  New toilets.

Of course, the best laid plans seem to fall by the wayside at times.  What begins as a little project can easily spiral into something bigger.  Having a house that’s a little bit newer, we thought that we would be in pretty good shape when repairing or replacing things.  We were wrong.  We have found shoddy craftsmanship in many of the nooks and crannies in our house.  A simple replacement of a lighting fixture generally means some kind of drywall repair as well.

My wife is a bargain hunter too.  She’s been looking to find just the right deal on the lights that she wanted.  The other day, I got an email from her announcing that she had found the new chandelier for our entranceway foyer.  The price was about half of what it usually would be, but I wasn’t certain about it for a number of reasons.

First of all, I had no idea how I was going to get to the ceiling of our 2 story foyer.  I didn’t expect that my ladder would reach.  Secondly, and more importantly, I have a fear of heights that can easily disqualify me from jumping buildings in a single bound…..or replacing lamps at 2 stories.  I just didn’t know that I would be able to hack it.

I put the plea out on social media for a ladder that might work and within hours, some friends came over with a ladder.  Together, we managed to conquer the job, but not without a lot of sweat and a lot of fighting my inner battle with heights.  I guess that I realized I was more afraid of my children and wife thinking me a coward than I was of heights.  My hands were incredibly sweaty though, and I had visions of me falling the 15-20 feet from the top of the ladder because of my sweaty palms.

Many times in the past, when I’ve tried to conquer my fear of heights, I have found that if I am distracted, I can easily put aside the fear.  When I have something that I am focusing on like replacing a chandelier, cleaning a gutter, repairing siding, or something else, I can more easily focus on the task at hand and put aside my fears.

I wonder how many of us have fears that might be conquered in a similar manner.  Sometimes, our fears seem bigger because they are the only thing that we are focusing on.  We look at them and they seem so big and glaring and we neglect to focus on the bigger thing, usually the task at hand.

Fear can easily overtake us, paralyze us, and convince us that it’s bigger than it really is.  What we need in those times is perspective, to look at something bigger to pull things back into perspective.  When we do that, somehow the fears seem to diminish..

I’ve tried and tried to conquer my fear of heights.  I think I’ve done a pretty good job.  I’ve rappelled off of buildings, climbed ladders, stood on rooftops, and ridden roller coasters, all in an attempt to conquer the fear.  Still, focus remains the key.  I need to remind myself of that the next time a fear seems too big for me.  If it seems too big, I’m probably focusing on the wrong thing.  A simple readjustment might be all that it takes.  I’ll let you know how that works out for me.

A Mile In Your Shoes

a mile in your shoesOnce upon a time, I was much less refined than I am now.  I was dogmatic and saw so much of life as black and white rather than appreciating the tension that exists all over the place.  It was simple and easy to compartmentalize things in one place or another rather than dealing with the ugly and messy work of dealing with tension.

It’s so much easier to come out with such extreme and absolute statements like, “I would never….” until you actually have an experience or condition that makes you eat your words.  Case in point is those young couples who are in their honeymoon/pre-children stage.  How many times, those of us who once were there, did we confidently list off the things that we would never do once we became parents?  I will never let my children sleep in my bed with us.  I will never let my children wear character clothing.  I will never let my children wear light-up sneakers.  I will never tell my kids things that make me sound like my parents.

Lo and behold, we find ourselves in a place where we are eating our words when life comes along and hands us the unexpected.  We soon discover that making platitudes about situations that we have not yet experienced can easily result in us looking as foolish as others once looked to us.  We find out that until we’ve walked a mile in the shoes or footsteps of someone else, we can’t always presume that we will “always” react a certain way.

Now, this can easily turn into a slippery slope.  I am not claiming that there are no certainties, absolutes, or even “black and white” situations in life.  I believe in absolutes and I believe that there are situations where we might speak more strongly, but I think that we need to be careful to make such strong proclamations before we’ve actually been faced with certain situations.

Again, a case in point, if a certain leader were to make claims from their ivory tower that they would never make a certain decision such as going to war against a country without any other support from any of his allies.  What would happen If that leader were to find himself smack dab in the middle of a situation where he was faced with that very decision, not while looking down from his ivory tower?  What would happen if he were facing that very situation head on and in the midst of the trenches?  He may be singing a different tune and even realizing that his earlier claims looked very different now than they did before he found himself in the middle of that very situation.

It’s a valuable lesson to learn for those of us who find ourselves in positions of leadership.  Too many times, I can make snap judgments without really putting myself in the position of someone else.  While there are certain times that call for snap judgments, there are also times when changing your perspective can be helpful to see things differently.  Just some food for thought.