value

How We Talk

Last Sunday, we walked right into a trap. We were just learning about how to live like the new creations that we are, how to love God and each other, and “love” is supposed to be soft and squishy, like walking in healthy morning grass or good night kisses. These weeks are supposed to be comfortable greatest hit albums.

Then, verse 10: Honor one another above yourselves. So far, so good, relatively innocuous, we can usually ignore the ‘above yourselves’ part and keep reading, right?  

But upon closer examination, I found this (in Gill’s exposition of the Bible): “In honour preferring one another; saints should think honourably of one another, and entertain an honourable esteem of each other; yea, should esteem each other better thou themselves; and not indulge evil surmises, and groundless jealousies of one another, which is contrary to that love that thinks no evil. They should speak honourably of each other in Christian company, and discourage that evil practice of whisperings, backbitings, and innuendos; they should treat each other with honour and respect in their common conversation, and especially when met together as a church of Christ. They should go before each other in giving honour, and showing respect, as the word signifies: they should set each other an example; and which also may be taken into the sense of the word, should prevent one another, not waiting until respect is shown on one side to return it again.”

I always love the extra English ‘u,’ as in honour or favourite – bringing to mind the Depeche Mode classic ‘Blasphemous Rumours,’ but we can’t get distracted by its superfluous beauty. This evil surmises and groundless jealousies business hurts, because I often know exactly what everyone else’s motivations are, and that they are not often positive. I know just what the politicians aims are, what co-workers and neighbors really mean when they ask favours, what my sister means when she says that, or my wife with that look she gives. Our expositor Gill seems to think we should stop that. What?!? He seems to be writing that it’s less than honouring to the other to pretend we have clearly discerned their heart.     

And whisperings, backbitings and innuendos? How else is there to talk about someone?

Gill goes on to call us to treat each other with honor and respect in conversation. Ok, but what about the sarcasm, condescension, or manipulation in which we have become so proficient? Sometimes, they don’t even know we’re talking down to them! So funny, isn’t it? Or the open rudeness we proudly call honesty and rationalize as one who “tell(s) it like it is?” Principle and strength of character.

[I was just about to shift the tone of this piece and confess that I am one who has trafficked in sarcasm for much of my life, but the funny part is that you already know that. I’ve been unwittingly employing it for the past several paragraphs, thinking how clever and subversive I was. There wasn’t any in my expressed love for the extra ‘u,’ though.]

The first problem with these tactics we so casually employ is that their chief purpose is to tear down and to minimize another’s worth and value. It’s garden variety judgment – we decide they are less (using whatever qualification) and act accordingly.

Of course, we engage in this judgment for just one reason: our own poor self-esteem. I am afraid that I am actually the one who doesn’t measure up, so I point at others, spread news (always negative information,) gossip, mock. I actively try to belittle and demean thinking that I am fooling everyone into thinking that I am the powerful, the moral, the intellectually superior, when the sorry truth is that I am scared to death of being ‘found out,’of being exposed. This is simple bully behavior. Kids who bully are the most insecure of all, and it’s the same with us. The meanest, most arrogant, selfish, condescending of us are without exception buried under our own perceived inadequacies, desperately wearing masks to hide behind. 

The second problem is that, as we tear each other down, we also destroy any true, authentic relationship. It’s impossible to relate on any deeper level without trust, care, kindness and love. We use our words as a wrecking ball to clear the area around us, further isolating ourselves until we are finally alone. 

The Scriptures are laying out details to bring us closer together, to create a beautiful unity. I’ve only recently begun to read these many lists of ‘shall’s and ‘shall not’s as gifts to protect us from ourselves, providing a vision that we may flourish. We simply can’t achieve this vision while our goal is, ultimately, to defend the altar we’ve erected to ourselves.   

    

  

Every Detail.

After more than 2 months, today is the last week of this series, the week where we take all we’ve been discussing and reflecting on and tie it all together. Mostly, it’ll be an entire post of questions, because remember, no one can tell you what is actually important to you.

(Of course, everyone can, and usually does, tell you what should be important to you. Even you know “the right answer” and will happily state what should be important to you. But we are not in high school, we are not in the business of “right answers” and should be’s. We all ‘should’ like Radiohead albums but if we were all totally honest and not pretentious music-snob pretenders, they’re all unlistenable since The Bends.)

So, first and most important, who do you want to be? This question is made up of many factors. Who are you? Whose are you? What gives you peace? What is the deepest desire of your heart? What gets you out of bed in the morning? What do you do that makes you lose time and have that feeling that (fill in the blank) is what you are made for? What gives you joy? What do you want? 

*Maybe this isn’t very difficult. I suspect it will not be, because these things are hard-wired in our souls, they’ve just been buried under many, many years of unconscious routine, too many moments asleep. We’ve been made a certain way, it just takes some time and quiet and honest contemplation for your heart to re-engage.  

Once you start down this path, these answers will inform your concept of weight. We all have internal value rankings of people, actions, possessions, everything. If we don’t give any attention to these rankings, it doesn’t mean we don’t have them, it just means we don’t give them any thought. Instead of, say, Jesus, we give the throne to comfort or laziness or the People’s Court or whatever is popular or pressing or discomfort or fear or what they think. It means we are building our lives on a foundation that shifts and will collapse under stress.    

*In contrast to the first step, this is super hard in practice, because our initial answers are hardly ever what we truly live.

If you decide that honesty weighs heavily to you, but you call in “sick” from work, um… 

If you say creating a safe, healthy home for your children is your priority, but haven’t seen them in days because the demands of work have you working late hours… 

If it’s your friendships, but the second your life goes off the rails, you drop out and isolate yourself…    

If living a healthy lifestyle is your deal, but you spend each evening with cocktails…

If your wife and marriage is what you’ve decided, yet haven’t sat down to dinner with her or told her you loved her or held her hand or laid like spoons in months… 

(See, this is really uncomfortable. I’ve been struggling with questions, here, because I want to build a home of grace and service, but I also want that home to be one where consequences and discipline live together. But sometimes, they come into conflict. If I ask Elisha to put his clothes away (because for some reason HE DOESN”T MIND RANDOM PILES OF CLOTHES AROUND HIS ROOM?!!!???????) and he doesn’t (BUT WHY WOULDN’T HE?!!!???!???) then maybe I would do that for him or I would ground his filthy buns for 6 months so he can learn the values of cleanliness, order, respect for authority, and obedience. Or maybe I wouldn’t ask him at all and put them away because I want to show him what it means to do things to help someone else, for no reason other than you want to do something for someone else. Which weighs more?)

And when we rank these qualities, we must clearly define what they mean to us. Sometimes, words don’t mean what we think they do. For instance, provision can mean a lot of different things to different people. It’s possible two men both rank providing for their families in the top 3, but those ideas of provision bear little resemblance. One believes that being a strong provider carries largely financial implications. The bills are paid, the house is warm and cozy, and the kids have clothes that fit. To do this they might have to work long hours away from the family that is the focus, away from the people who are the motivation. The other man believes that he is called to provide financially, but also spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically in equal measures. He might carry the stress of late fees, but doesn’t miss a game, devotions or date night.  

It’s these small, ‘insignificant’ details that are the bricks of our character and are, ultimately, who we actually are. 

For instance, whether or not to allow space in our lives for pornography appears relatively inconsequential, yet its radius of affect is wide. As a man, such ‘entertainment’ completely transforms the way you perceive sex, women, yourself, and on and on. The word pornography itself has roots in commerce, or the buying and selling of goods and services. Except, in this case, the goods are people. Porn is the buying and selling – the using – of people. Now, how you see the performers – if they are to be consumed, if they are to be regarded only in terms of whatever pleasure they can provide to you, if they can be segmented into only one aspect of their physical makeup instead of as complete, fully integrated human beings – holds to the same rules as everything else. 

How you perceive, or value, one is how you value all. To dehumanize one woman is to dehumanize them all.

How you do anything is how you do everything.  

Do you really want to outsource such important matters?

The point of these past 3 months is really mindfulness; active participation in the creation of your own character and the pillars of our lives. It’s not alcoholism or overtime or socks or baseball or messy living rooms or porn or the People’s Court or cake or watch batteries. It’s about all of them. And what you think about each of those is what you think about each of those, the point is that you think about each of those. The enemy of full-on presence is disengagement, distraction and routine. 

The first question in the first entry in this series (after “what is Todd Syndrome?”) was “Sooooo, how do we change it?” This is the answer, and it’s also why there’s so many rules and shall’s and shall not’s in the Bible. Details. Marie Kondo’s method isn’t to clean the whole house now as fast as you can, it’s to look at that one blouse in your hands with thankfulness and decide if it brings you joy, if you’re the kind of person who wears a blouse like that…and if you can do that with them all, with each item getting respect and care, then the house will be the sort of house you want to live in, one you’ve built with attention, intention, gratitude, and most of all, love.  

Watches

This morning, I picked up 6 watches I had taken to a local jeweler for battery replacements. I had been missing them for quite some time, and it is very nice to have them back and the one that is apparently my favorite, back on my wrist.

I love the look and function of a nice watch, I think it says something wonderful about the person that wears it. I also like the look and function of people, too, so I engaged him, asking an innocent question – more a statement with a question mark, really: “There sure aren’t many that still do watch batteries anymore, are there?”

He had opinions (and we’ll get back to this in a minute.)

First, there is a machine that exerts pressure on the face to put the piece back together. This machine is fairly complex and, if the proper fitting isn’t used, the crystal can easily break. Sometimes, the hands get bent and the mechanics get damaged as well, if this machine is used inappropriately. To prevent this sort of problem, it takes patience, training and careful operators.

Second, watches can be pretty cheap. Most of mine are. In fact, I bought 2 in Canada at a department store that was having a GIANT sale for less than $2 each. My watches aren’t all that inexpensive, but I also don’t have any that I have to insure.

These 2 actually share the same root. We are living in an increasingly disposable world. It’s cheaper and easier to buy a new watch than replace a battery, it’s cheaper and easier to hire a new employee than train and keep the old one. TV repairman are relics; if my picture fails, next Thursday I’ll take it out to the curb with the rest of the trash. Sewing is a lost art. I’ll put the pants that split right next to the tv.

I find this mostly depressing. I like cheap and easy, but I’m not sure I like it as much as patience and care. Speaking with the jeweler, who would’ve gone on all day about the watch replacement battery procedure and the many different choices of tools involved, who spoke slowly, softly and clearly (also anomalies), I was struck by his passion and talent. You know how that is, when someone cares deeply for something, you find yourself completely engrossed in whatever it is, right? (I have a good friend who is a tax lawyer and absolutely love to hear stories about codes and assessments) I wanted him to go one all day, was disappointed when the next customer opened the door. (She wanted a bracelet engraved. Engraved. Nothing I own is engraved. Yet.) I wanted him to offer to show me the machine, to train me, to give me a job. I wanted to be a jeweler. I wanted more fancy watches and I wanted them engraved.

Now, it’s an hour later and I don’t honestly care too much about watch batteries, outside of the simple fact that my watches tell time again. But this disposable world issue is farther reaching, and that’s harder to ignore. Our relationships are disposable, people are disposable. I guess it was inevitable, We treat each other as commodities, as we would dish soap or bedsheets  – remaining as long as they are useful. If my buddy has a rough patch and is no longer making me laugh or providing a fun time, I’ll find a new buddy, leaving him to deal with his rough patch alone. If my marriage doesn’t feel very good lately, maybe it’s time to upgrade and get a new one. Of if he disagrees with me, or has something negative to say about a decision of mine, or she expects too much of me, or wants me to do things I don’t want to, everyone can be replaced. Who has the time to invest in something that doesn’t offer a high return immediately? 

Marriages, authentic relationships, honesty, loyalty, kindness, care, love – these things aren’t cheap and easy, but they’re so great, they’re the best things about being alive. What does it say about us when we so quickly discard the most important for the most convenient? When we trade commitment for detachment and indifference? 

I know they’re only watches, but I’m not convinced we should become the kind of people who just mindlessly throw anything away.              

What Do You Want?

There’s this story in the Bible: 

Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

“Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road. (Mark 10:46-52)

We have spent the previous weeks discussing weight and value and priority, and this is why. Because sometimes Jesus stops, as He’s leaving the city and asks, What do you want?

What will you say??? What He’s really asking is, what’s important to you, what is the desire of your heart, who are you and what are you about?

So, what is it that we want Him to do for us? (…And how you interpret that question speaks volumes…)

It’s entirely possible we don’t really know.

Modern political elections have become exercises in complaint, shouting from a negative stance. We are asked to not vote for him or her, to vote against this or that, to look at problems and grumble over what is obviously broken – the notion that we could support ideas or people and discuss solutions is quaint and hopelessly outdated.

In our lives, it’s easy to focus on what we don’t want. We know what we don’t want to do, where things have gone wrong, where we are unfulfilled, and you know what, Jesus, now that You mention it, I actually have no idea. I’ve been sitting here on this road shouting because I know my situation is messed up, that I am uncomfortable and empty and anxious and depressed and angry, I don’t sleep at night and I have this ulcer and I couldn’t pay my bills last month and my boss is super-mean to me and I’m bored and tired all the time… I know I don’t want that, but what do I want?

Again, I’m not going to tell anyone what they want – maybe I want a fancy pair of jeans or my sidewalk fixed or better health insurance or to build a wall or a new job or a new boyfriend or this boyfriend to treat me better or whatever. That’s between you and Jesus (we’ll get right back to this.)

What I will say is: that blind man could’ve said, “You know, Son Of David, it’s hard being blind, what I want is a new special cane or a service dog or a friend who can lead me around.” Right? We very often settle for less. We settle for the good when we really want the great. We don’t want to ask for too much, maybe, not be greedy. We end our prayers, our answer to this question, with “whatever is Your will.” This man shoots for the moon and makes no apology for asking. “I want to see.”

It’s impossible, it’s pretty narrow in scope, small in relation to the world, but Jesus asked, and this blind man knows exactly what he wants. AND he believes Jesus can – and will – do it.

Maybe He has a bigger gift for us than those jeans. Maybe we are asking for a ‘standard of living’ pay raise when He has a corner office reserved for us. Maybe we’re just asking for the abuse to stop when He has a complete transformation planned.

Maybe He is just aching to say Yes, and give us our sight, give us a vision.

Did you ever think, “you’re so much better than that?” Sarah McLachlan had a song (called ‘Good Enough’ and is my #4 favorite song of all time) where she sang, “you’re so much more than good enough.”

But that’s between you and Jesus. That’s why we’ve spent the last several weeks discussing weight and value and priority. So that we actually give some time to learning ourselves, figuring ourselves out and getting an answer to His question. Because when we do, when we invite Him into this search and self-discovery (sometimes a little at a time, sometimes a maddeningly slow process), He will show us where we have settled, where we’ve been looking for canes, where we’ve been praying for just ok. He will show us who we are, what we’ve been created for, and why we are all “so much more than [the] good enough” we’ve accepted for far too long.    

3 Examples of Weight in Real Time

We’ve been discussing weight and value and our ability to choose and leave behind the hopelessness of victimhood in our daily lives. Next time, the tone will shift to the way these minor choices can affect our lives in major ways, increasing our presence and peace. 

But first, this week I had (at least) 3 opportunities to practice weight that illustrate perfectly the water we’ve been swimming in.  

A nearby theater does a super-cool thing where they play an older film for free at 10am on Tuesdays, and for months I had been anxiously waiting for this Tuesday, April 2, and Fight Club. Everybody knows Fight Club is my absolute favorite movie and The Most Spiritual Movie Ever (and I’m mostly not kidding about that, and I promise I’ll eventually write a detailed defense of that position.) I invited several of the men in our church community to experience this together, with me, and have our minds blown and souls filled together. Then Monday, I picked my oldest son up from school and he looked like he had been run over, the kind of look that, instead of “Hey buddy,” requires “Oh no! What happened to you?” He had managed to make it through the season relatively unscathed by the illness everyone else suffered through until now. I hoped and prayed that it would move through him in a night and he’d wake up new and healthy, hopes and prayers that went unanswered (I say that, but maybe they were answered. Maybe the answer was just no.) 

I had a choice to make. I could call someone to watch him. I could go, and leave him home alone. I could ask my wife to take a sick day to be with him. I could stay with him. I’m sure there are more. I guess I could even take him with me. I had no shortage of options. 

But I work from home for many reasons. One of the very biggest is so my boys (or my special lady) would have their daddy (or husband) right next to them to fill their water, feed them tissues, rub their feet, or worse, hold their hair while they, um, fill a bucket. But the “right next to them” is the point. I usually don’t do any other work, I just am.

BUT THIS WAS FIGHT CLUB!!! It long ago passed through its theatrical release, how often do you get to see a life-changing movie on the big screen with your brothers? He would understand, right? Of course he would.

I didn’t go to Fight Club, we watched DVD’s of Three’s Company instead. Some things weigh more and, as it turned out I didn’t have much of a choice to make at all. I had already made it, long before the circumstance dictated a decision.

Next.

We have a gathering at the Bridge where we eat pizza together and talk about all sorts of things that come up – we thoroughly enjoy each other. This lovely space was scheduled for last night. Last night, I also had baseball practice. No, I don’t play (I’m much too old and my knees and ankles hurt and crack far too much), but I do help to coach. 

The Bridge is my priority, my job, and the people there are my family. No question as to weight here, right?

The son who was sick had recovered and Thursday was his first baseball practice of the year, first practice with a new team on a newly expanded field, first practice at an entirely new level. 

I coach baseball for 1 reason and 1 reason alone, and they live in this house. I coach to spend time with my sons. (The relationships I’ve made with other coaches is second. As a matter of fact, baseball itself is pretty low on the list of why’s. Of course, I do love baseball, have always loved baseball, but the best part of baseball is my dad. I can love baseball and my dad from home.) 

On the field (or basketball court), we worship the God who gave us these amazing physical gifts, we face challenges and our own fears, we do hard things, we learn to pick ourselves up, we discover what we are capable of, we love. 

And we walk into firsts together.     

I went to practice and it was awesome. He was awesome. I missed my Bridge family terribly. No one ever said this discernment of weight was easy, Saying yes to something means saying no to lots of other somethings.

One more. 

I get up early to go to the gym around 4am. This requires me to go to bed before 9, sometimes well before 9. My wife mentioned Tuesday night that she might like me to be up later, until at least 9, so she might have a bit more time with a conscious me. 

There are a million choices to be made in just this tiny example. Do I no longer go at 4? But what about the reasons I decided to go at 4 in the first place? What about sleep? How much do I need? She would surely deal with it easily if I still went down early. But what would that say, about her, about weight, about priority? To live at as high of a level as I value, I do need sleep. But I also need to work out. And most importantly, I need my wife to understand her significance. 

Sooooooo. You’ll forgive me if I’m a little tired this week because I’m now a night owl.

Next time, we’ll talk about a GIANT question Jesus asks. But for now, I’m going to take a nap.