Relativity: the Problem

 Short men are happy, for they can pass easily through the door. Tall men are happy, for they can stand erect and pluck oranges with their hands. Again, short men are angry, for they cannot stand erect and pluck oranges with their hands. Again, tall men are angry, for they cannot pass easily through the door.  ~  Michael Bassey Johnson

 

There’s a virus circulating on social media sites. It’s the same contagion we’re vulnerable to when we go to the grocery store, turn on the TV or text on our cells. We’re so susceptible that most of us have been passive hosts since childhood. We became infected by phrases like: You should be grateful, others have it so much worse…

It’s embedded in the thoughts that comfort us, sometimes dormant, sometimes flaring up. We reflexively think it and often speak it: Comparatively speaking…

Comparatively speaking the weather is good; the pay is fine; the pain is manageable; the loss is less…

If my contentment lies in anything beyond my present reality, it’s fragile at best and worse yet, it’s a covetous contentment.  The contentment of relativity says I can only find my stability, peace, serenity, bliss in relationship to the lesser security, peace, contentment, and happiness of another.

It’s the It could be worse syndrome.  Yes things could always be worse but that isn’t gratitude that’s just fatalism. It could just as well be better and that certainly isn’t gratitude, that’s greed.

Debbie

 

Relativity: the Cure

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion. ~ 14th Dalai Lama

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If my weight is too high, my features too plain, my health too precarious, my finances too tight, I can always look around and find someone who faces greater challenges in those areas. Therein lies the trap: when uncomfortable, seek solace in comfort by comparison.

It seems that much of our measure of pain and pleasure and our sense of thankfulness and peace is based less on our experience in the moment and more on our perception of how this experience compares to that of others.

Comparison carries the pathogens of jealousy, greed, lust, revenge, envy and narcissism- permeating the thin membranes of our mind and the thin skin of our heart, tainting the meaning we assign to life events.

The condition is fed by gaining comfort by comparison, making it nearly impossible to focus on giving comfort through compassion.

If I can only appreciate my situation in relationship to the suffering or to the bounty of others, I don’t know anything about gratitude. And if I know nothing about gratitude, I have very little to offer in the way of compassion which is the antidote to the disease of comparison.

Compassion isn’t relative.

Compassion isn’t reserved for the worthy.

Compassion is what we owe each other simply based on our shared humanity and fragility.

True compassion is poured out freely in light of another’s path or plight, not meted out relative to our own circumstances. Compassion is the inoculation against the rampant contagion of comparison.

Comparison sickens. Compassion heals us. Gratitude keeps us well.

 

Iconoclast

My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself. He is the great iconoclast.                        ~ C.S. Lewis

Sometimes I can feel myself teetering on a precipice. I’m drawn to the edge.

I’m not in danger of stepping off and falling into disbelief.

I believe.

That’s solid ground. I’ve believed for a very long time. That can lead to a  different kind of precipice.

It’s the perilous step from the realm of mystery and grace into the free-fall of knowledge and stringency. It’s the allure of a place where I used to live; a land where I could firmly plant my feet and explain the will and actions of the Creator of the Universe.

There are times when I long for the easy comfort of certainty. When I miss well-ordered theology that allowed me to predict God’s moves, determine God’s mind, act as His interpreter.

There are moments when complacency overtakes contemplation. When I’m lulled into worshiping my favorite predictable, explainable, understandable, small god.

There is always an edge. I’m called, again and again, to practice a little iconoclasm; to deconstruct my preconceptions and misconceptions and icons.

He is the great iconoclast. God is the great Mystery.

Pious Playwrights

Do you see why Christianity is called “good news”? Christianity proclaims that it is an equal-opportunity faith, open to all, in spite of the abundance of playwrights in the church who are more than anxious to announce, “There is no place for you in Christianity if you: wear an earring/ have a tattoo/ drink wine/ have too many questions/ look weird/ smoke/ dance/ haven’t been filled with the Spirit/ aren’t baptized/ swear/ have pink hair/ are in the wrong ethnic group/ have a nose ring/ have had an abortion/ are gay or lesbian/ are too conservative or too liberal.                                    ~ Michael Yaconelli

I’m a fairly new Twitter user. I’m pretty long-winded for tweeting. In the past, I’ve only keep an account to keep up with a few family members. But tonight I did and saw a re-tweet from one year ago from the Westboro Baptist Church that read: Cory Monteith found dead in Vancouver hotel room – STRUCK DOWN BY RAGING MAD GOD!

I’m uncertain what compelled God to kill Cory Monteith. I don’t know if God was RAGING because Cory was on a television program that has gay characters; or if God was MAD at him because he was intimately involved with a girl he wasn’t married to; or if God STRUCK him DOWN because at 31, he took a lethal mixture of heroin and alcohol.

Here’s what I’m certain of, Michael Yaconelli had it right. The Gospel is “good news”. And whoever you are, there is a place for you in this equal-opportunity faith.

When I read the WBC tweet, I’ll be honest, it made me angry. I thought things like: No wonder no one wants what we say we have when this is how our faith is represented.

And I thought other things. Things like: How can people be so: ignorant, hateful, malevolent, evil.

In a moment my heart was seared. Hating the hateful is my spiritual Achilles. I was ready to assume the role of a playwright, too. So quick to say there is no room for you Westboro and your brethren who preach hate and proclaim the message of an angry God.

I’m more willing to extend unqualified grace to those who hate Christians than to Christians who hate.

Tonight I’m praying for a heart like my Father’s heart. The One who says: Come to Me, ALL of you who are weak and weary and I will give you rest.

I’m Done Being Nice

Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.
― Henry James

I’ve always been a nice person. By always, of course, I mean overall, not every single moment. But generally speaking, I think even people who don’t like me much probably would describe me as nice. There are many fine behaviors that I lack, but nice I can do.

And therein lies the problem. Nice I can do and have done and in-spite of all my niceness, I’ve remained fundamentally unchanged at my core.

I gradually became aware of the cracks that can’t be papered-over with niceness. My feelings could be easily hurt. I was quick to take offense. But the real tell was that I was critical of other people’s choices when they differed from my own in everything from parenting to politics. I made  character and motive assessments (i.e. He/She is so: raciest, arrogant, judgmental, moody, harsh, deceitful, critical, greedy, selfish, needy, negative etc… )

Get the irony, here? How arrogantly critical and judgmental of me to feel so free to evaluate others. While I kept those thoughts largely to myself, there they were, fermenting and staining my heart.

I’m done being nice. Instead, I want to be kind.

Niceness is a presentation. Kindness is a condition. I want a heart conditioned by grace to be kind. I can be nice in action without being kind-hearted. I can act warm when my thoughts are cold. Kindness requires a depth plumbed by God and infused with His grace.

Nice is pleasant, polite, agreeable, satisfactory. Niceness is about what I do.

Kind is having a sympathetic or helpful nature; having a forbearing (patient) nature; affectionate; loving; gentle. Kindness is about what I am, about what I hope to become.

Being nice wins favor, but being nice is transitory. Niceness easily evaporates in the light of unmet expectations. But out of a kind heart comes compassion and forgiveness and the generous act of thinking of others.

Kindness is spiritual practice. It’s a deep current that runs beneath the surface, supplying the grace to respond to both adversity and adversary with a gentleness that doesn’t come naturally. Grace is required and that grace is abundantly supplied to all Seekers.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:32

How to NOT to Help the Hurting

We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world. ~ C.S. Lewis

We’re often at a loss when it comes to coming along side someone who is hurting. In this post, and the next, I’ll share a few suggestions. Sometimes it’s helpful to look at what comes naturally that doesn’t help before moving on to some ideas that might be more useful. Here’s a partial list of things not to do if we want to encourage a person who’s experiencing emotional or physical pain.

  • Don’t view pain as a teaching moment.

Be sensitive and compassionate in your use of Bible verses and exhortations. We are very hard of hearing when we’re suffering. Leave the megaphone to God.

  • NEVER say: I know how you feel

Of course you don’t. Each person’s pain is unique.

When you’re hurting, I have no idea how you’re feeling no matter how similar I may think our experiences are because I’m not you.

It’s tempting (and often preached) to try to understand how someone else is feeling by walking a mile in their shoes; putting yourself in their place etc… In other words, I should try to understand how you’re feeling by thinking about me. But I’m not you!

While we may have gone through similar situations, every other experience that has led you to this moment has shaped you into who you are and how you experience emotional or physical pain.

In our eagerness to show empathy, we often share our story, inadvertently changing the focus of the conversation from the other person to ourselves.

  • Toss the cliché’s

Time heals all wounds. Time isn’t magical.

What doesn’t kill you makes you strongerBlatantly untrue. What doesn’t kill you will change you but it may or may not make you stronger.

Other’s have it so much worse. Comparing pain is minimizing.

You need to be strong. Why? For whom? What does that even mean?

Take care of yourself. Don’t tell a hurting person what they need to do when they’re already doing all they can to hang on.

Your loved one wouldn’t want you to be sad. Completely irrelevant (and may or may not be true). This moment is about the hurting person, not someone else.

I’m sorry for your loss. This isn’t all bad, but the word loss is problematic and once again, minimizing. Try just I’m so sorry (leaving off the loss). It’s genuine and doesn’t sound like you picked it up on Law and Order. 

In the next post I’ll share a few thoughts on ways to help and encourage someone who is hurting.

(She Loves Me) Like Jesus Does

I’m a long gone Waylon song on vinyl.
I’m a back row sinner at a tent revival.
She believes in me like she believes her Bible.
She loves me like Jesus does.

I’m a left foot leaning on a souped up Chevy.
I’m a good ole boy drinkin’ whiskey and rye on the levee.
But she carries me when my sins make me heavy.
She loves me like Jesus does.

All the crazy in my dreams,
Both my broken wings,
Every single piece of everything I am.
She knows the man I ain’t,
She forgives me when I can’t.
That devil, man, he don’t stand a chance.
She loves me like Jesus does.

~ Casey Beathard/Monty Criswell

If they could only use one phrase, what would you like folks to say about you? I found my phrase in a country song playing on the radio on a one and a half- laned road in Texas.

I was channel surfing stations while driving my souped up Chevy (it’s a Silverado with duallys so I guess that’s only semi-souped) down miles of really far back, back roads. Channel surfing in southern Texas means Classic Country, Hot Country, My Country, Top Country, Hit Country or Talk Radio.

Talk Radio was out. I don’t much care for Talk Radio. Talk Radio seems to be mostly a mash-up of shtick and insults. So the only choice was which kind of Country and I’m rusty on that one.

I mostly listen to Vivaldi and Rachmaninoff at home, not because I’m sophisticated, but because I can’t do two things at once anymore. If there are lyrics then I’m listening, which means I can’t read or write or talk much. But on the road, with no other words streaming in, I can drive and listen to music that has lyrics.

The Seek button stopped on Hit Country. The song that was just beginning was Loves Me Like Jesus.

If I hadn’t been halfway lost on my way to the dentist, I would have pulled off the road just to listen and maybe pray. This is what I want people to think when they think of me, to say when they talk about me.

She forgives me when I can’t.

She carries me when my sins make me heavy.

She loves me like Jesus does.

I’m not there yet, but that’s my one phrase. That’s love wrapped in grace.

~

I’m including a YouTube video for those of you who want to hear the rest of the lyrics and the beat behind the message.