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

1-0605151607

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.

Invasive Species

Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul. ~ Thomas Merton

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I’m unable to be simultaneously perturbed and in a state of grace. I’m increasingly aware that when I choose to be annoyed, I take a step away from grace and open myself to invasion.

In ecology, invasive species are generally non-native plants or animals that harm the environments they invade. Removed from their natural habitat, you would think these transplants might struggle to survive, but in fact, they thrive. Imported, invasive species are largely without natural enemies, leaving them free to multiply and overwhelm their environments.

In the spiritual realm, the soul is like loamy soil, able to sustain most anything planted in it. Sacred spaces, our souls are designed to be nourished by wisdom and love and grace.

But soul health has its own delicate ecosystem. One of the most common invasive soul species are pet peeves. Here are a few of the things I often hear mentioned:

People who don’t use turn signals/ tailgate/ take up 2 parking spaces
People who intimidate/ humiliate/ ridicule others
People who let their dogs bark/ children scream/ babies cry incessantly
People who act superior/ arrogant/ patronizing
People who throw trash out the car window/ on the beach/ on the sidewalk
People who text/ read a book/ shave/ apply make-up while driving
People who leave shopping carts in the middle of the parking lot
People who are self-righteous/ defensive/ argumentative
People who rant about political/ religious views that differ from your own
People with a full cart of groceries in the express line
People who allow their children to yell/ fight/ run in restaurants
People who lie/ gossip/ back-stab/ stir-the-pot
People who make excuses for their mistakes/ their children/ their habits
People who continually criticize/ correct/ find fault
People who ask for advice and then do the opposite of what you suggest
People who talk on their cell phone/ to each other/ walk around at movies
People who are prejudiced/ judgmental/ bigoted/ racist                               People who whine/ complain/ feel sorry for themselves
People who are always negative

If you’re like most folks, there’s something that consistently bugs you. My personal peeves are comprised more of attitudes than actions, which makes it easy for me to justify maintaining them. It isn’t hard for me to make a case against arrogance or bigotry or cruelty. If I start down that path, my mind rolls those peeves over and over until they’ve taken root in my all too accommodating loam.

Most invasive species do not spread randomly, but move along corridors through suitable habitats. ~ Indiana University Pub

My heart’s desire is to be peeve-less.

I’m trying to be diligent about what I plant in the corridors of my soul. Pet peeves thrive because they aren’t native and don’t belong there. Unchecked, they choke out the love and compassion and kindness I’m called to offer.

Plant a peeve and it will grow. When Grace is the gardener, peeves get plucked. But when we lose sight of Grace and instead, begin petting our peeves, they will most certainly flourish, causing real harm to our souls.

Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul.

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

Commentary

The letters before your name, the letters after your name, the books published, the awards won – all that is just commentary. What we really want to be is good people. ~ Harlan Coben

I have a dumb job. That’s what I say sometimes – just to my friends and family.

I used to have a smart job.

I had a job where people took copious notes when I spoke and stood up and applauded when I finished. It made me feel important. It made me feel like what I was doing mattered. Over time, I think it made me feel like I mattered.

No one applauds me now. Working the night shift as a gate guard on an oil rig is lower than the lowest rung on the ladder. Sometimes I mix up what I do with who I am and I wonder if I matter at all anymore.

Last week my friend died. He was driving to a rig when a truck crossed the center line and plowed into him. He was only 45. To be honest, I didn’t even realize how very much we’d become friends until after his death. The persistent ache in my heart is a tangible testimony now.

Lee didn’t have any letters after his name. I don’t know if he finished high school. I don’t think so. Maybe. I’m pretty sure he never had a room full of people stand up and applaud him. He didn’t need applause to feel important. I don’t think feeling important was particularly important to Lee.

But he was important and he did matter. He was kind and fair and unassuming. He brought me chicken at midnight and I miss him. I’ll probably miss him for a very long time.

I learned a lot from Lee about what important people do. Important people are generous. They extend grace. They go out of their way to be encouraging. They don’t think too much of themselves or too little of others.

My life was better because he was a part of it.

Lee, with no awards or extra letters, reminded me that all the rest is just commentary.

How TO Help the Hurting

Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken”.  ~ C.S. Lewis

Before listening, before doing anything or saying anything to the hurting person, we have the task of keeping our own attitudes in check.

We won’t always understand another person’s struggle. We won’t always agree with their choices. And we certainly aren’t called to be their fixers. If our approach to the hurting person is to fix them, we’re likely to do harm, however well intended. God heals. We’re just here to lighten the load.

A few things to try;

  • Listen – Listen without assumption. Listen like you’ve never heard or experienced anything like this before so that you really hear what’s being said, not what you expect to hear.

*Caveat – Not everyone wants to talk. And even if they do, you may not be the person they choose to share with. There’s a difference between being an attentive listener and going in with a crowbar.

  • Touch – Sometimes a touch on the arm, holding a hand or a hug conveys caring in a way that words can’t.

*Caveat – Some people don’t like to be touched. It’s not up to you to decide that what they need is a good hug. If a person stiffens or pulls away from your touch, honor their physical space without disconnecting emotionally.

  • Pray – If you have a shared faith, you may want to pray out loud with them.

*Caveat – If the individual doesn’t share your belief system, praying can be construed as preaching. Your lips don’t have to move for God to hear your heart.

  • Act – Look for practical ways to lighten the load. Give a gift a certificate for a pizza, do yard work, run an errand etc…

*Caveat – We often say, Please call me if you need anything and almost no one does. If you know there is a need (and the need isn’t always for yet another casserole) assist or enlist another to assist when you can’t. Don’t expect the hurting person to ask. That said, it’s important to be certain that the hurting person is OK with your help. Honor their boundaries.

Above all, remember that it takes immense courage to be vulnerable. When someone trusts you enough to truly let you in, tread softly because you will, without a doubt, be leaving footprints.

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.

What Do You # ?

We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions. ~ Brené Brown

I grew up in a climate that was greatly shaped by clichés. Two had a particular impact on me: Think before you speak and If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything. As I got older, I added the principle of taking every thought captive (2 Cor 5:5).

Times have changed. We’re socially evolved. Every thought/action/reaction is # without a ponderous thought.

But I put those original principles together and charted a life course. I tried to mitigate all of what I perceived as potentially negative by not talking and by taking my thoughts captive and burying them alive. I grew up with no template for working through ‘negative’  emotions/reactions –  mine or others’.

I didn’t confront, argue, defend or even engage. I just kept digging more holes and waited for time to suffocate the feelings.

Prisoners, by definition, are subjugated to some kind of authority. Clearly taking every thought captive doesn’t mean to bury, it means to subjugate to God. I didn’t subjugate, I annihilated.

I thought this was holy and right but I was wrong. I not only buried feelings, I buried relationships and I buried bits of myself. I buried those bits that may or may not have been acceptable to others, I’ll never know. They weren’t acceptable to me.

When we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.

I don’t hash-tag my feelings. I’m a selective sharer but I’m learning to value offering something to others that carries emotional risk.

I want to be the real deal. Wholly engaged people share real thoughts and real feelings that span the spectrum: love, fear, hurt, joy, disappointment, anger, hope, pain….

God, who is very into real, leaves His mark everywhere: # Grace.