control

Prosponsive Proactors

This is an extraordinarily uncertain time, where any illusion of control is stripped from our hands. Honestly I suppose it’s not “extraordinarily uncertain,” but I do think the uncertainty is much more difficult to ignore. 6 months ago, if I told you the world could, or would, come to a screeching halt, you’d laugh and shake your head and talk about how I had lost touch with reality. And now it’s entirely possible that that exact scenario could happen AGAIN (!??!) next week, tomorrow, in an hour.

One of the unintended consequences of that sort of precarious standing is that we are forced to become reactors instead proactors (that’s not a word, but you know what I mean.) I think it’s sort of the same as the difference between thermometers and thermostats. Using overly simplified definitions I’ve constructed out of thin air, proactors prepare and move in a direction they choose intentionally, reactors read the room and move based on the environment of the room.

LeBron James said, about basketball in this Orlando bubble, that you control what you can and adjust to the rest (or something like that.) Last weekend I was explaining to my boy Elisha that I prepare so much for a wedding because then I am free to respond to anything that happens to come in my direction. That outdoor wedding had a torrential downpour 5 minutes before the scheduled start time which delayed the scheduled start, then after we (the groom, wedding party, my wife & I, and a few others) toweled off the soaked chairs, we stood in swampy puddles and oppressive humidity for this sacred ceremony, only to have forgotten the rings. Nothing went according to plan and it was just beautiful.

(It’s actually a solid metaphor for marriage, isn’t it?)

So. We’re forced to be reactors. Or are we?

Maybe there are some things we can control that will make us far more adaptable to the threat of rapid, jarring change.

Rabbi Josh Feigelson, PhD, Executive Director of Institute for Jewish Spirituality, wrote in an email I received a few weeks ago, “One of the core values we hold at IJS is to be responsive, not reactive. We have taken our time in listening and reflecting on what this moment means for us, as an organization, as a community, and as individuals. We are still listening and reflecting, even as we take action. 

Yet the nature of our work is that, regardless of the particular issue at hand, there are some questions we invite and even demand of ourselves to ask:

Am I/Are we acting with as much compassion as I/we can? 

Am I/Are we acting with as much wisdom as I/we can? 

Am I/Are we listening as deeply as I/we can? 

Am I/Are we being truly honest with myself/ourselves?

Am I/Are we reflecting and deepening the image of God in each and every human being as much as I/we can?

Am I/Are we creating greater capacity for shleimut, wholeness which embraces difference and contradiction, which is the essence of shalom, peace?  

The answer to these questions is always “No,” because we can always do better. We can always broaden our awareness, deepen our compassion, and elevate our wisdom. We can always listen better. We can always be more honest. We can always do more to see and lift up the image of God.”

(He uses responsive but I am using prosponsive or proactors or pro-whatever in much the same way, to avoid the ‘re-’ confusion)

The interesting thing is that with a focus on our work, our journey, our quest, we have a different perspective and the uncertainty is reframed as landscape. If the story isn’t COVID and is instead the redemptive work of Jesus in the world, and in us, then it is less menacing and far more hopeful. We control the little patch of land that is ours to control (like our compassion, wisdom, listening, honesty, shleimut, LOVE) and let it translate into whatever setting we encounter.

If my path is to show the love of Jesus, there’s a strong possibility that whether it’s in school or not won’t matter as much. If my interest is the union of Steph & Tom, then how much it rains is less damaging. Shalom is desperately needed in every room, regardless of the temperature.

I know it’s a hard anxious time for all of us, maybe we could use a fresh (old) word, maybe we could remember a new story.

Catfish, pt 2 (or 3 or 4)

COVID-19 is now a fully political issue. Of course, it has always been a political issue (alcohol- and smoking-related illnesses kill far more than this virus could in any worst-case scenario, but they have much better public relations, more effective lobbyists, so we’ve decided we don’t care too much) but now we have straight party-line protests and “Republicans are now pro-choice” memes. Ah yes, the meme, an ultra-modern genre that feeds on generalized oversimplifications. This particular meme obviously goes both ways but the point of politically generalized oversimplifications is to ignore all that doesn’t support the opinion of the writer. Our hopes that this was a human issue that would bring us together and not a left/right issue have been dashed on the rocks of partisanship, replaced with the usual political maneuvering and more of the same acid-tongued sniping. It’s super depressing and has driven me to posting Red Hot Chili Peppers and Billy Idol album covers on Facebook just to break up the vitriol – I am now that guy. I swore I’d never be that guy, yet here we are.

Everybody knows I loooove the tv show Catfish, about people employing fake profiles online. They do this for any number of reasons (from romance to revenge) and the hosts/detectives track them down and expose them. The show began as a movie, also called Catfish, where the soon-to-be host of the tv show was himself “catfished.” He had fallen in love with a woman that turned out to be a married, middle-aged mother of 3. She had created several fake profiles to interact with each other on Facebook to add depth and reality to the deception.

When you watch the movie (or the show), as the ruse begins to unravel, you’ll feel some level of indignance – “How could they do that????!!?” – decide they are “monsters” and wish for their just desserts. You will get angry at their inhumanity, their vicious callousness at breaking another’s heart. They are the villains in the story, and we along with the victims are the righteous innocent.

In the movie, the filmmakers show up at her door and she continues to lie, as my mom says, like a rug. Finally, she is forced to come clean and the narrative transforms, as do our easy characterizations.

Earlier, I wrote that they do this “for any number of reasons,” and that’s not really true. They mostly do it to find a personal connection that has been lacking.

That sounds familiar, doesn’t it? We’re created for personal connection – this is undeniable, especially now.

But why have they decided that who they are isn’t good enough for this connection?

Well, why have we? Think of all the ways we compromise or cultivate an image that might be more appealing to him or her…because we aren’t satisfied with who we are, because we have believed that we aren’t good enough.

This woman, the “monster,” is a talented artist, 2 of the 3 children are severely disabled. In fact, they are step-children, she chose to marry a man and care for those 2 boys for the rest of their lives. She is intelligent and soft, empathetic and funny. She is terrific. She made a very poor catfishing decision out of loneliness and disconnect that she will regret forever, but it is something she did and not who she is.

I think Catfish should be required viewing for every human being living on earth. We easily fall into the trap where we think those who believe differently are dumb, inhumane, ignorant, misinformed, heartless, but they’re not. (Well, maybe they are, but not always;) Usually, they are exactly like you and me, formed by experiences, wounds, mistakes, ideas, environment, education, suffering, and on and on.

Every Catfish follows pretty much the same arc. Fingers crossed that the person is actually the person we think it is. This wish melts into broken-hearted sadness that what was hoped for, isn’t the reality. Finally, we rebound into a deeper understanding, where we see the other as they are, not an idealized picture on a screen and not the 2dimensional generalization based on their behavior and our fear. This last space can also be called love, where it’s not about control or our wants and desires, not about us at all. Love because it is free of our fearful boxes and labels, free of The Other, free of the desperate need to win (and for someone else to lose.)

Maybe this COVID-19 crisis is like that, too. Maybe this IS a human issue, a global act of grace, but we first have to get past the fearful grasping for what we want, what we think, what we need, before we can discover the love that has been there all along, just waiting for us to arrive.

Blocked

I’m not sure there will be a post this week… I mean, outside of this detailed mess explaining why there won’t be a post this week.

This isn’t because there isn’t anything to write about. Quite the opposite, actually; There’s so much and most of it hasn’t been processed in my own head. I’ve spent more time than I could tell you starting and starting over and starting over again and again. If it were an old movie, there would be a wastecan in the corner overflowing with crumpled papers thrown across the room to illustrate frustration and defeat.

I’m not too frustrated and not at all defeated, though. This is all part of the experience, and one I kind of like. Sure, it’s cool to post and to see who reads or watches and if you liked it or if you didn’t, if it forced questions and examination, sparked a train of thought to move through previously untouched areas. The birth of our work, when it’s finished and available for…whatever it will be…is fun and exciting. When I wrote my book, I loved holding it, sharing it with you and giving it space to breathe.

But that wasn’t the best part. The best part was the planning, outlining, thinking, meditating, agonizing; the best part was actually writing. The best part was the creation itself.

If our only joy is in the product… Well, the product is only such a small part of the work. And then what? What if no one “likes” our posts? What if no one reads them? What if I still have boxes of books left over? If I write and no one is there to read it, what was the point at all? What is success? How much is enough? Does everyone have to think it’s awesome (and the obvious implication is that then everyone thinks I am awesome) or be moved or have some sort of reaction? If we give a gift and there’s no “thank you” or acknowledgment at all, then what? Is the gift wasted? Meaningless?

It’s like an iceberg – the product is only the very tippy top. The hours and hours and sweat and tears and heartache are the rest.

If you coach a team, there’s all of the many hours of practice, building relationships with while teaching the players. The games are such a small part, they can seem almost irrelevant. Yet it’s too often the only tool we use to evaluate a season.

I have lots to say and no idea how to say it. This chaos will separate, crystallize, (it always does), and come to you in the next several weeks. For today, I’m sitting in it, watching it swirl and listening to the clanging noise that signifies something valuable.

I’m just not sure what it is yet.

But there is the truth that is in this room, standing by the window begging to be noticed. It’s the chaos, asking us to engage, inviting us to wrestle and stretch the boundaries of who and what we are, that is the purpose. If we miss the moments of the journey, focusing only on the product, we’ve completely missed the lesson. Our output will be largely superficial and hollow, never having been lived in or allowed to transform us. We trade the process for the end, and when we do that, the end is never going to be enough (there are never enough likes or shares or views or zeroes on a paycheck), we are never going to be enough, the noise will never stop and we will never rest.

I was 100% wrong earlier, the birth isn’t the finished product, it’s us, it’s our lives, and it’s a really big deal that we not miss them.

Change the Details, Change Your Life!!!!

Before we get to the details that will change your life (that sounds like a spiritualish self-help promise on a book jacket – “Change the Details, Change Your Life!!!!” – in a whimsical font over a gauzy picture of me with a cheesy smile and big hair, doesn’t it?) Before we get there, we have to ask some hard questions, figure some things out and do some homework. You can’t paint the walls and choose fixtures before you pour the foundation. 

In the Bible, we see that there are some situations where we are faced with a choice where the options come into conflict with each other and are both mandated in the Scriptures. (Wait, WHAT?!!!?) 

There’s a story about a Good Samaritan. (It’s found in Luke 10:25-37, you can read it now, I’ll wait…) So, the first 2 religious men crossed the street to avoid him and walked right on by. The horror, right? Except for, in Numbers 19:11 “All those who touch a dead human body will be ceremonially unclean for seven days.” and Leviticus 5:2 “Or if a person touches anything unclean–whether the carcass of an unclean wild animal or livestock or crawling creature–even if he is unaware of it, he is unclean and guilty.” and Leviticus 21:1 The Lord said to Moses: “Say to the priests, the sons of Aaron—say to them, ‘For a dead person no priest is to defile himself among his people…” and Leviticus 21:11 “He must not go near any dead body or make himself unclean, even for his father or mother.” 

It’s a horrible thing they did, until we realize they did exactly what they were supposed to do! 

George Bradford Caird says, “it weighed more with them that he might be dead and defiling to the touch of those whose business was with holy things than that he might be alive and in need of care.” 

But, as far as “care” goes, also in Leviticus (19:18), it says “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” and Deuteronomy 15:11 “Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.” and Proverbs 14:21 “Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor.” and Psalm 82:4 “Rescue the weak and the needy”

So, what would you do? Would you follow the law, the Bible? Which part? How do you choose? Which is weightier?

In Luke 14:1-5 “One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. There in front of him was a man suffering from abnormal swelling of his body. Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him on his way. Then he asked them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?””

Well, of course we’d all pull our donkey out of the well. But in Exodus 20:8-10 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.” 

Isn’t rescuing our donkeys “work?” Of course, it is. 

Now what? 

And add to that that we might choose differently, right? The honest truth is that things that are weightier to me might not be to you.

It seems that the Scriptures are an invitation into a certain way of life, where everything isn’t spelled out and it’s not all black and white. Maybe this is because what you may value, or need, at certain times in your life aren’t the things you will value at others. And maybe its because we’re not all at the same place on the journey. Maybe maybe maybe, so many maybe’s. But this big, beautiful book is like a doorway into questions and more questions and transformation, and letting go of our need to understand, to have everything under control, and to be right. 

There’s another story, about a kid who disowns his family, runs off and makes a giant mess of his life. Eventually, when he realizes how giant the mess is, he returns. The Father doesn’t wait for an explanation or even an “I’m sorry, dad,” He throws a party because He’s just so happy the son is home. Now, everyone is happy about this, except for one, the kid’s brother. And it ends with the Father inviting him in. But if he chooses to go in, he’ll have to leave all of his ‘rightness’ outside, and discover who his Father is, who his brother is, and what he’s been dying to know all along: who he is. What weighs more, the party or being right? 

And I’ll give you one guess to what the Bible does with this… nothing. The story ends before he decides, with the brother, with you and me, outside, the invitation hanging unanswered in the thick night air.

Before Me

Psalm 16:8-9 “I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells (rests) secure.”

Months ago, we began a study on rest that was supposed to be a day but turned into a season. I thought it would be great for everyone else, but I turned out to to be wrong about that, too. This series was pointed straight at my heart, and my life, and this Psalm showed up in a journal like a sledgehammer, on 10/16/18. (I know because I date each entry)

I was gifted this journal that has a passage per page and it has never been far from my side. Which is not to say I write in it often – I’ve had it for over 15 years!!! But I always come back to it and it never fails to inspire. Why don’t I spend more time writing in it? Who knows? There’s lots of things I should do, things that give immeasurably more than they take, that I don’t do and who knows why about those things, either? But that is a discussion for another day. 

Anyway, this Psalm said to often-shaken-me that if I were to only set the Lord before me, then I could be glad, joyful, and rest peacefully. Then, I could abide. Like the Dude (in the Big Lebowski.) 

This made perfect sense, like the lights were finally turned on in the dark room of my soul – an epiphany! – and I would never be the same again. I had attained some new level of enlightenment.

Until I didn’t. And the next season of dark soul rooms began. For me, this time of year is often a catalyst for discouragement and depression. I get shaken, not resting securely at all. 

And this is especially strange because I just gave a months-long sermon series on precisely this. Shouldn’t this be behind me???

Then, yesterday I opened my journal and the passage was Psalm 16:8.

Now, I have seen prayer/Bible verse journals elsewhere and I’ve never replaced this one because all of the ones I see in stores repeat the same 4 verses over and over for 200 sheets. This one is perfect, just perfect, because it does not repeat at all. No other verse repeats in the entire book. And here, 7 pages apart (7 pages!!) (7?!!? 7 is an awfully significant number, isn’t it?), the first repeated verse.

So.

Maybe it’s coincidence, a lazy editor not paying attention. And maybe a coincidence that I was less than diligent with my entries, until this verse hit me right in the middle of a search for answers, for hope. Maybe.

Or maybe it’s something more.

But the answer I did find was for my question, “shouldn’t this be behind me?” And that answer is, sadly, no. It’s a process, and maybe it gets easier and maybe the time in between gets longer and longer, but a life of faith is a daily submission, a conscious decision to lay whatever down and leave it there. And then, when we pick it up again and worry or try to control the whole world and everyone in it, to lay it down again. This time, we promise we’ll leave it down, right? But we don’t. Our expectations or fears or anxieties growl and pace in our heads yet again. But we lay it down, again and again and again, trusting God to take it each time.

And of course, He could take it and keep it. When we demand it back, He could say, “no,” but that’s not really what He does. He gives us the choice to weigh ourselves down with unreasonable chains, gives us the choice to carry it ourselves and also gives us the choice to give it to Him.

And when we don’t, and it hurts so much and steals our peace and I do not abide, maybe He is the ‘something more’ in the coincidences.