10 Thoughts on Reconciliation

“We will live together in peace to the extent that we understand the love and grace of God.” – John Alexander, Being Church

Most days I do not feel like I’m a “divorcee.” It’s hard to accept that the one thing I worked hardest at, failed. Without a doubt it was my most painful experience. And without any doubt, the single greatest learning experience of my life.

I want to write about reconciliation. My friends are wrestling with it. And it is an important conversation in the downtown Fresno CCD circles. I’d love to hear others’ reflections as well!

Simply put, we either learn how to reconcile, or our relationships eventually break down.

The more time you spend with someone, the more likely it is you will have conflict. The more conflict you have, the more likely you may feel resentment and hurt. Therefore, the longer you know someone, the more issues you probably have with them. Either we work through these issues or they poison the relationship.

“When you think of love, do you think of pain?”

The more deeply you love someone, the more deeply they can wound you. Love requires vulnerability, but vulnerability opens us to hurt. “Love is not a victory march; it’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah.” The “hallelujah” of love is found in forgiveness. Without it, you are left only with the pain and hurt of love.

 

As I have processed my divorce (and continue to), here are some things I wish I knew about conflict and reconciliation:

  1. Feel your feelings. And be honest.

I think the first step is to acknowledge your feelings. Recognize your hurt, your sadness, your frustration and anger. So often these “negative” emotions are repressed or ignored. When people hurt you, don’t brush aside those feelings. They are important. Most of us, especially men, have no idea how to process feelings.

  1. Evaluate whether you need to say something.Nelson-Mandela-II

As hard as it is, forgiving someone does not require their penitence. Resentment and bitterness occurs when we give others control of our feelings, which is a mistake. Only you are responsible for your emotions.

Second, to say, “You hurt my feelings,” usually means, “You didn’t meet my expectations.” Before confronting someone who has hurt your feelings, first identify your expectations, and ask, “Are they fair?”

If you tend to have lots of conflict with others, you may need to focus on the personal work of identifying your expectations and explore whether you give others control of your emotions. If you have little conflict, you likely are avoiding important conversations.

  1. Lean in toward your discomfort. Name the brokenness.

I think it’s easier to avoid conflict, at least a first. That just means things will worsen over time. The hard, crucial conversations are a foundation for the future. The less we talk about our shame or the “scary thing,” the more power we give it. Name it. Through purification, we find redemption.

  1. The “where,” “when” and “how” of confrontation are more important than “what.”

Be intentional about confrontation. Don’t confront people when you are upset. I have found it helpful to begin with questions, to start with a learner’s posture. If it is obvious you want to understand their position first, before expressing your own, they will usually be more open to hearing your perspective. Also, and perhaps more importantly, be authentic and be vulnerable. Anger is a secondary emotion. If you can express the sadness behind your anger, usually compassion follows. When you wear a mask, you prolong the hurt.

  1. Acknowledge your fault.

Particularly in marriage and friendship, it is rarely (maybe never) just one person’s fault. You almost certainly have contributed to this conflict. Admit it. Apologize. Sometimes others want us to apologize for things we don’t think are wrong. Or we expect that of others. This is sometimes an example of projecting feelings. But it is always a good time to…

  1. Bring in a third party.

Conflict can be dreadfully complicated. Having a counselor, mediator, or even a trusted friend, can work wonders. Don’t be so prideful or cheap to avoid getting one. You will regret it. There is a point at which relationships become irreconcilable.

  1. Recognize that forgiveness is a mind and heart struggle.

It’s so easy to say, “I forgive you,” much harder to feel it. In your mind, you may have forgiven someone, but your heart may still hurt. Lean into these negative emotions – journal, listen to music, exercise, talk about it (appropriately). To feel the forgiveness you profess takes time.

  1. Forgive again and again.

Feelings are not linear; they cycle. Your anger and hurt will probably return. As there are steps of grief, I think it’s the same for forgiveness. When deeply hurt, there will be anger, sadness, pain, and then slowly acceptance. And in time you will experience all those feelings again.

  1. Most conflicts cannot be completely resolved. Don’t expect it.

Despite our desire for full healing, often that isn’t possible. Wounds create scars, and scar tissue can still cause problems. Imagine bad conflict like a broken hip. Though healed and walking again, there may be tender areas and a limp.

  1. Learn to laugh at your previous shames.

It’s easy to take yourself too seriously. “Laughter is really carbonated holiness.” You can usually gauge your healing in a certain area by how much you can laugh about it. That, or you’re repressing your pain.

These four statements are important for reconciliation:

  • Thank you.
  • I love you.
  • Forgive me.
  • I forgive you.

What would you add? Or push back on? How do we forgive and reconcile through conflict? How do we keep our relationships from accumulating brokenness?

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Best Dating Advice I Ever Got (From a Guy’s Perspective)

  1. Dating AdviceBe yourself.

As we grow from infancy we begin wearing masks. As we mature, we slowly learn to take those masks off. In other words, be vulnerable. It is the key to connection and finding meaning in life. As you date, focus not on what others think but on being true to yourself.

  1. Leave them wanting more.

After saying goodbye, you always want them to be wishing for more interaction, not less.

  1. Work on yourself.

Don’t make marriage an idol. It will not fulfill you, fix you, or help you. At its core, marriage is simply a commitment. Marriage can be a living hell. The quality of your marriage is dependent on your maturity, your compatibility, and shared experiences, in that order. Focus on your own maturity, being complete in God alone as a single person over finding the “right” person.

  1. Don’t be afraid of your emotions.

Learning to be okay with sadness and pain has probably been the most difficult lesson of my life. There is no shame in crying. One of the bravest things you can do is fully experience your own emotions. To feel is to be human. Therefore, lean into your emotions. The more you’re willing to feel, the more alive you become.

  1. Cherish her.

Every woman I know wants to be cherished. Work hard at figuring out how she feels cherished. It might be opening the door for her, carrying her purse on occasion, doing the dishes, or cleaning the toilet. It might be having dinner ready when she gets home, buying flowers just because, deleting that app from your phone, playing with her hair as you fall asleep or throwing out that old shirt she hates. Listen to her, think about her, take note of how she feels loved, and do those things. On repeat. Paul said it better: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church.” The counterpart for men, I think, is respect.

What would you add? Or push back on? What’s the best dating advice you’ve ever gotten?

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An important part of spiritual growth

purification by fireMore and more I’m convinced that how we deal with our suffering is central to experiencing spiritual growth and life’s depth. In other words, suffering and pain is our greatest teacher in this spiritual journey called life. If you refuse to acknowledge your pain, you will likely remain shallow and immature.

A few quotes:

“I have learned to love the darkness of sorrow, for it is there I see the brightness of God’s face.” – Madame Guyon

“Pain and suffering that are not transformed are usually projected onto others.” –Richard Rohr

“Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.” – Khalil Gibran

The longer we live, the more likely we will experience deep suffering particularly through the death of those we love. Yet, if you feel like you don’t really suffer much, three thoughts:

  1. You probably have suppressed your sadness. What pains and traumas have you experienced (or seen through others) and never talked about, processed, shared, and grown from?
  2. Jesus assumes that “in this world you will have trouble (Jn 16:33)” – that you will struggle. If you aren’t struggling, you probably aren’t standing against the principalities and powers (Eph. 6:10-16) like Jesus did and expects us to. If we walk this way of Jesus, we will struggle and have pain.
  3. If you are not suffering, you are disconnected emotionally from the poor and hurting around the world. If we actually stand in solidarity with the marginalized, like Jesus did, we will know their suffering.

I suggest this not that we lose our joy or that we are supposed to mope around because of all the darkness and pain. Through the good news of Jesus we paradoxically hold in one hand the hope and joy of salvation and in the other the pain and suffering of the world. They come together. God’s blessings to you in leaning into your suffering and growing to new life and deeper joy as we journey through the fire of purification.

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Three Theses Why Sunday Morning Service is Failing the American Church

LutherToday marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses and igniting the Reformation, so it seems appropriate to offer a critique of the Sunday morning gathering in line with the tradition of “reformed and always reforming.”

Culture is everywhere. And culture influences everything. It is the matrix, latent yet ubiquitous, affecting everything we do. Jesus came and stood against the negative influences of culture around him. So we too must always be critiquing, continually questioning how we are being impacted.

My argument is this: Sunday morning service fails at accomplishing two of the most important goals of the church – discipleship and loving well, and acquiesces the culture’s influence of entertainment and consumerism.

       1. Church is consumeristic.Consumer church

In one of the most profound social critiques of the last three decades, George Ritzer argues that society has adopted the values of the fast-food industry – predictability, control, calculability and efficiency. And the church is not an exception.

Like any other performance, we are trained at our Sunday gatherings to “come and receive.” Those leading the gatherings feel this pressure too. Pressure to preach well, sing well, plan well, and heaven forbid avoid mistakes.

Our use of the word “church” betrays us. “I’m going to ‘church’ tomorrow.” Or, “we’re going to do ‘church’ tonight.” Or “church is consumeristic.” (Didn’t even realize my hypocrisy until after posting…) Such uses of the word “church” are not found in the Bible. The “church” is always a people, never a place or time or action. You are the church, always representing Jesus at every moment of every day.

Think of how you answer the question, “Why do you attend your church?” Try and answer that question without being consumeristic. “The worship is good.” “They have a good youth ministry.” “I like the preaching.” “Their theology is biblical.” All of these reasons are to serve you, the religious consumer. If the preaching falters or the music stinks or the theology doesn’t sit well with me, I’ll just go somewhere else.

Have you ever talked about going “church shopping?” I definitely have. This influence is so pervasive that despite recognizing it, I still fall prey to its power.

Three thoughts: 1) The consumer’s desire is insatiable. If we pander to it, then we become its victim. This is why so much energy is being poured into the Sunday gathering.

2) What we win people with, we win them to. If one’s idea of following Jesus means consumerism church, we’ve missed the mark.

3) There’s always better preaching and music online. If we are in competition with what’s online, we will always lose. Rather we should focus on loving and discipling well and maybe utilize free online resources from time to time rather than try and compete against them.

2. Sunday service fails to make disciples. 

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus concludes by commissioning his followers to “go and make disciples.” A disciple is a follower, one who works to become like their teacher. Christians are to make more Christians – to help each other become more and more like Jesus.

the learning pyramid

How well does Sunday morning service accomplish this goal of disciple-making?

There is little doubt in my mind, that I have been profoundly impacted by all the hundreds of Sunday gatherings I’ve attended. And I think it could be better.

Discipleship at its core is an educational process; it is learning a new way of life and thinking.

If there’s any truth to the graphic at our right, why then do we insist on bad pedagogy?!

3. Sunday service fails to facilitate deep love and accountability.

The early church started in houses, in groups of probably 35 to 50 at the most. It was not until after Constantine – 300 years after Jesus – that “church buildings” become standard. We should not be surprised that increasing our group gathering sizes changes us.

Over 100 times in the New Testament, we are given “one another” passages. “Build up one another.” “Bear one another’s burdens.” “Comfort one another.” And especially “love one another.” In fact, Jesus says in John 13 that love is the distinguishing characteristic of his disciples.

If love is so central to following Jesus, we have to ask: How well does the Sunday morning service enable and empower us to love, especially because it is the only time most Christians gather?

To love well requires limitations. For instance, if I gather with 1,000 people, there is no way I will even know everyone’s name, much less their burdens. It seems to me that if we are to follow the “one another” passages, our gathering size cannot be larger than maybe 35. No doubt small groups help in this arena. But if our primary gathering is a larger Sunday morning service, we have problems.

Conclusion: If the Sunday gathering has been co-opted into consumer culture and it fails to accomplish our two primary goals of discipleship and deep love, it seems logical to conclude that we are overdue time to rethink how we gather and what we emphasize. 

Sociologists distinguish two main types of groups for life – primary and secondary groups. A primary group is typically a small social group whose members share close, personal, enduring relationships. They have face-to-face contact and can develop loyalty and personal identity. A secondary group is larger, more formal and more impersonal. The members typically do not know much about each other.

Churches have made secondary groups our primary form of gathering and for that reason we fail to disciple or love one another as we are called. 

Is it any surprise that Paul’s favorite metaphor for the church is family?

If the church is going to become family, then the primary group needs to be the foundation of the congregation. Smaller and frequent gatherings are essential in fostering a family like atmosphere. Large gatherings are helpful in encouragement and energy, but they should not be the main emphasis.

I recognize the ease and self-righteousness of deconstructing Sunday worship. It is always easier to tear down a sandcastle than to build one.

I see two options in going forward:
  1. Work within the system, cognizant of its brokenness.
  2. Start something new (knowing that whatever you build will have it’s own faults and limitations).

Imagine if the central structure was a small group or house church or intentional community. You might all watch a Tim Keller sermon at home and then gather to discuss and apply ideas, caring for one another and sharing a meal. Or adopt the idea Paul mentions in 1 Cor. 14:26 where everyone is expected to bring something to encourage and build one another up. Is there a place for a large group gathering? Yes, most definitely. But maybe monthly or quarterly.

Lastly, grace.

  1. I know many of you may feel like you are sacrificing yourselves on the alter of successful Sunday morning services. I am not saying it’s a waste, by no means. Who I am today is incredibly impacted by beautiful, loving Sunday gatherings, and I am so grateful. And God calls us deeper still in love with her and with one another.
  2. I also recognize that so so many people are not ready to hear this critique, especially in the Bible Belt. And it is a failure of love to try and force your will on others when they are not ready. In essence you are the “strong one” from Romans 14 & 15, and you are called to submit to your “weaker brother” in love. That is what I’m convinced God calls us to, if you are in that position. Unity is more important than being right. Remain faithful. Continue fighting the good fight, slowly ever slowly moving the church toward deeper levels of connection and love, naming the powers of consumerism and technology and recognizing how they influence your church family. Make every effort to grow deeper in love and work at establishing primary groups outside the Sunday gathering. Change how you preach to be more participatory.

I’m always interested in your feedback. Special thanks to my good friend Todd Dildine for his insight and contributions! Grace and peace.

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4 Reasons to hope, despite a world that is falling apart.

mushroom cloudOur world seems to be spiraling into chaos. From hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria to the Las Vegas shooting. From the wildfires in California to escalating conflict with North Korea. From the refugee crisis to Russia’s influence in the US presidential election to famine in Africa. Tied to these are deeply disturbing fears regarding artificial intelligence, global warming (see here or here), and nuclear warfare, not to mention the negative influence of smart phones, or the unintended consequences of editing human DNA. Simply put, if these dangers produce no concern for you, you are not paying attention. Crisis is happening everywhere, and often hope is fleeting.

Nevertheless, I want to make the argument for hope from three perspectives: the secular humanist, the mystic, and the Christian.

An argument for hope for the secular humanist:

Threats are future possibilities that may or may not come to fruition. Here are 4 principles that guarder hope:

  1. One can never quantify human capability. We live in a world of limitless possibility. Today’s realities were yesterday’s dreams. We cannot know what humans are capable of accomplishing. It is possible that trends can be reversed and progress can move faster than anticipated. These predicted “points of no return” might be false. No one knows until the possibilities have been exhausted. For inspiration, watch this.
  2. Media profits from our fear and therefore skews our perspective. Arguably our strongest emotion is fear; therefore, to win our attention (and to make money), the media sensationalize and exaggerate their stories. To sell articles, newspapers must create interest, which means they highlight events that shock or create latent desire. One example might be publicizing a shark attack, despite unlikely odds of a repeat occurrence. Or a second example might be how fear mixed with feelings of moral superiority increase readership. Think of any fake news article. Or the next time you look at a newspaper, count how many articles illicit fear. Our worldview is driven towards fear, which is the opposite of hope.  
  3. The world really is becoming a better, safer place. Despite what the media might lead you to believe (see point #2), violence is less (See here or here). Life expectancy is higher. Child mortality is lower. Hans Rosling’s TED talks on global health statistics are both inspiring and hopeful. Watch this one. Are you smarter than chimpanzees?
  4. Experts vary on predicting the future. Some see artificial intelligence as a good thing to be anticipated. Others are severely concerned with little hope. Who do we believe? The person who makes us feel better? Or the one who stokes the flames of fear? Objectivity is the goal, but biases play a role in everything (one example: confirmation bias). That being said, 97% of climatologists agree that human activity is increasing global warming. If you trust the diagnosis of your doctor, you should also trust the diagnosis of other scientists.

Do these ideas guarantee a positive future? Or even a positive outlook on the future? No. Sadly, it isn’t hard to tear down the arguments.

Let us remember that a secular humanist trusts in nothing but human endeavor and goodwill, which is not to be maligned. There is no guarantee things will progress or even be okay. We are fools to forget the atrocities of the Jewish Holocaust or the lesson of Easter Island, a people group who used up the island’s resources, resorted to cannibalism and all died.

Nevertheless, contrary to the religious who may place their hope in an idealistic future, the humanist perspective remains essential for human success because it roots us firmly in the present moment. Further, it spurs people to work hard at making a difference. We must make every effort the thwart the dystopian possibilities of global warming, artificial intelligence and nuclear holocaust.

In closing, I write with the assumption that most people reading this are Christians. I began with a secular perspective partly to highlight how Christians sometimes view hope through a non-Christian worldview. In part two I plan to explore our relationship to hope through the mystic’s perspective of the unknown future. And in part three I will flesh out what a Christian perspective contributes to the conversation and some practical applications.

Lastly, I want to add – I struggle to separate hope from meaning in life. In other words, to really find hope, I would say, you need to find meaningfulness. Look into the face a child, start a gratitude journal, spend more time in nature, play!, do what she says or these things.

I’m curious what you all would add? How do we remain hopeful (exclusively) from a humanist stance? Blessings on the journey!

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Two more thoughts on Wisdom

WisdomI’d like to add a couple more thoughts on finding wisdom. For part 1, click here:

     1. Wisdom is often found through the outsider’s voice.

I’m convinced we are often blind to the influences of our environment, our collective biases. Therefore, when someone outside our circle can peer in, they will see things differently than we do. Second, I’m convinced we are often blind to our individual biases. There’s a reason Jesus said to first remove the log in your eye before the speck in another’s. Often we downplay or overlook our weaknesses and faults and exaggerate our strengths.

Here are some examples:

  • A marital counselor – think of how much wisdom can be offered by a third party when you and your spouse are speaking past each other. Sometimes they can diagnose a relational malady neither of you is even aware of (i.e. co-dependence).
  • A referee. Think of how unfair a game would be if a coach or parent reffed a game instead of an unbiased third party.
  • Someone from another country. Ask a person from India about consumption or a person from China about individualism. Ask a person from Serbia, Iraq, or El Salvador about American militarism. The world’s perspective of the US is often different that how we see it. And there is much here to learn.
  • Minorities. Those of us in the majority are often completely ignorant of what life is like for minority groups. And what’s worse is that we are often arrogant despite our ignorance. How often do you read books or sermons or talks by our sisters and brothers of color? So so much wisdom here about race, oppression, and systematic brokenness, just name a few.
  • Consultants. Every year billions of dollars are spent on consultants for marketing, production efficiency, taxes, law advice, and other stuff I have no idea about. We turn to others because 1) they know stuff we don’t and 2) their perspective helps us to see our flaws, make improvements and grow.

Imagine if you asked your spouse, a good friend, or even someone who does not like you, “What are my character flaws that I’m blind to?” I don’t know about you, but my pits start sweating just thinking about that situation. It’s likely they’ll tell you something you don’t want to hear and you may see yourself a little more clearly.

These conversations are tough. Defense mechanisms go berserk. But you will grow. Your view of the world will expand and perhaps your opinions and lifestyle might change a little.

Wisdom listens. Wisdom admits, “I don’t know everything” and “I’m usually blind to my biases.” Wisdom works to learn from “the other.” 

2. Wisdom is usually found in groups.

I am convinced there is immense wisdom in the Mennonite tradition of communal discernment. Basically, it means when you are making a decision of significance, you look to a small group at your church in how to navigate the process. Sometimes it might mean submitting to the group in how to proceed. Submission. Sheesh, what a dirty word! Honestly I struggle to think of a word more disdained in America today? What’s more American than the “freedom” to make my own decision independent from anyone else?! “Submission” is easy when you agree with what’s being asked of you. That’s actually agreement. Submission is doing something you disagree with for the other.

Can groups be wrong? Absolutely. Herd mentality is real. Is a process of group discernment immune to manipulation and coercion?  Absolutely not. Corporate corruption is always a possibility. However, our culture has swung so far towards individualism, we are miles from it.

Ask for guidance from those you trust. Seek wisdom from older mature people. 

What do you think? Any other thoughts on how we find wisdom?

Wisdom, Part 1!

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Wisdom: essential for an abundant life

Tree of Contemplative PracticesI have had the opportunity to meet a handful of truly exceptional older folks, people with whom you cannot help but admire. And I’ve met others who are a struggle to be with.

Age and maturity do not always go together. And the difference between the two is wisdom.

Is there a love, a desire for wisdom – to grow, to be challenged and stretched, to live deeply?

Two initial thoughts on wisdom:

  1. Wisdom is everywhere. Proverbs 1:20-21 reads – “Out in the open wisdom calls aloud, she raises her voice in the public square; on top of the wall she cries out, at the city gate she makes her speech.”

Christians should not be surprised when other religions produce wisdom. In fact, we should expect it. The Bible teaches that wisdom is everywhere.

  1. Seek wisdom, and you will find her. James 1:5 is clear: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” Of note, in both the Hebrew and Greek tradition, wisdom is feminine. Listen up, men.

Fall in love with wisdom. She is what makes life rich. “Interesting people find life interesting (Rob).”

I return to my first observation. Why do some grow to maturity and others flounder?  

A few thoughts:

  1. Wisdom requires that you lean into your pain. To learn this lesson, I had to have my whole life turned upside-down. I could no longer hide from my pain. Yet, a personal breakdown became a spiritual awakening (Brene). If you want to experience joy, you must dive deep into sorrow. “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain (Gibran).” We all have pain in our lives. It is how we handle our pain which will determine our maturity as we age. “If we cannot find a way to make our wounds into sacred wounds, we invariably become negative or bitter (Rohr).”
  2. Pay attention to what you pay attention to. Some say, “Your most valuable asset is being stolen and you don’t even know it.” (See here.) That asset is your attention. Psychologists and marketers know better and better how to hack your brain to steal attention (See here). Making money requires they first gain our attention. Take control of your phone. When our attention is on shallow things, we remain shallow people. Focus your attention on wisdom and you will find her.
  3. Produce; don’t just consume. Consuming is inevitable – everyone eats. Most of us enjoy movies and music and books. Yet some of my richest life experiences have been when I’ve tried to produce rather than just consume (hence this blog). I wrote a song once in college. The handful of tomatoes and cucumbers I’ve grown myself and my sad attempt at artwork have all been surprisingly rich experiences. I believe wisdom lurks in acts of creation.
  4. Wisdom asks questions. Be curious. Admit your ignorance. And arrogance. Wisdom comes to those who listen well. Continually ask: “What can I learn in this situation?” Life success will be determined more by the questions you ask than the answers you get.
  5. Don’t take yourself too seriously. If God is a good, loving Father, as Christians presume, then a good tickle fight is needed from time to time. 😊 “Laughter is really carbonated holiness. (Lamont)”

What are your thoughts? Do you have any other insights on how to grow in wisdom? Why do you think some mature deeply while others don’t?

Blessings on the journey!

—-

I wrote up two more thoughts on wisdom here.

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