why the blame game is so tempting but doesn’t help us heal

It seems like we are blaming each other a lot more these days.  Well maybe not more per se, but definitely more publicly.  There’s not a day, or heck an hour, that goes by that I don’t see someone on my Facebook feed blaming another person (or group of people) for all the problems we’ve got.   I find it to be pretty anxiety producing for me to even get on my Facebook/Twitter account these days, and yet I can’t give it up.  I like to pretend it’s because that’s where ministry happens and I need to stay a part of the conversation in order to try to foster real Christian community through these social media mediums, but, that’s only part of the truth.  The other part of the truth is that even though I get a little bit of anxiety going onto Facebook to see who it is I am supposed to hate, shame or blame today, I also get a little bit of satisfaction from it too.

I’m not above admitting that sometimes it nice and easy to know who’s wrong and who’s right in the world.  It’s comforting to believe myself to be superior in my thinking and judgment to all those other people who are gullible, susceptible, or misled.  My ego likes to believe in my own infallibility and in my own ability to see so clearly why everyone who disagrees with me is just so stinking wrong about everything.

The only problem is that it’s also a lie and an illusion that really only ‘satisfies’ for a fleeting moment.  I can’t be right about everything just like ‘they’ can’t be wrong about everything. And if I’m not careful I’ll end up becoming everything I despise about the other.

The truth is blaming others for all the problems in life fails to recognize that we are bound to one another in this mysterious tapestry of life nor does it make my inner life more balanced or whole.   It usually just makes me feel resentful, bitter and cynical, which doesn’t help me work toward co-creating a better world.

In fact blaming others is typically a function of my imbalanced inner life working itself out on someone else.  In other words when I’m desperately grasping to my desire to be right about everything it’s probably because I’m living in fear and lost sight of the real aim of a spiritual life; which isn’t about winning but about experiencing a redemptive love that liberates, saves and sets us free.  It’s not about being right but about being humble enough to recognize the tug of God’s transcendent compassion at work which exists for us all and to extend that to the other who might disagree with me, trusting that we can both (or all) share in the healing and wholeness that comes when we receive grace (unearned love).

Unfortunately, when I blame others I find it far too easy to dismiss, dehumanize or objectify ‘them’.  It’s like Mother Theresa said ‘if you judge (or blame) others you don’t have any room (or time) to love them.’  All I know that love is the better way, the humble way, the Jesus way and the only way things will get better.

why God works slower than I would often like

So I just got back from a conference in Portland about transformation, innovation and the future of the church.  It was a really cool conference where we learned from some secular innovators about design thinking and leadership through the unique challenges of the creative process.  It really was pretty great and often inspiring.

But, having said all that, there was something that was kind of nagging at me the whole time: I felt a certain sense of anxious, fear-driven urgency to the whole thing.

This was probably because we talked a couple times during the conference about the United Methodist ‘shelf-life,’ or about how long we have until it all our institution kind of implodes in on itself.  This was not new information to me as I heard it all through the ordination process, as older generations in the church have been ‘Princess Leiaing’ me and other young clergy for years, i.e. ‘help me, Obi Wan, you’re the only hope.’

But, as we sat and listened to these wonderful and inspiring stories of innovation and creativity there was this underlying narrative at work within me (and maybe it was only me): ‘well you better do this quick and fast and big or the whole thing’s going to fall apart.’

The funny thing that occurred to me in hindsight was that the presenters never talked about rushing the process or about instant results.  In fact, they often talked about just the opposite. They talked about patience, perseverance, stability, and longevity.  The story of their companies and their ability to innovate weren’t about a quick fix, a one hit wonder, or a time where everything just kind of blew up in an instant.  They presented a different pace of growth, a growth that happens over years of cultivating an idea, a process and a way of life.

As Christians, I believe we are called to resist the narrative of quick fixes and instant gratification.  We are called to cultivate lives of patience, stability, and longevity over a lifetime.  As Eugene Peterson once said, ‘discipleship is long obedience in the same direction.’  Perhaps we in the church need to be committing to the long haul of sustaining innovation instead of jumping from one thing to the next in hopes that eventually it will blow up and save the church because, in the end, the church doesn’t need another savior, it’s already got one.

So I feel resolved at the moment to keep trying to do what we are doing at simple church, to tweak, to pivot, to respond, to innovate, to respond faithfully to the creative call from God, but to remember that my timeline is far less significant in the grand scheme than God’s timeline, captured by these words of Teilhard de Chardin:

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.”

 

Why walking through Holy Week can make a difference

I was talking with someone yesterday who went to 6 Holy Week worship services in three days for the first time ever.  After assuring her that this meant she would definitely receive extra gold stars in heaven, the conversation drifted to her insights and spiritual learnings from her intentional walk through this the Holiest of Week.  She relayed that this experience opened her to receive the good news of Christ’s resurrection in a way that she had never experienced before; the story had moved from sort of swirling around in her head to making a home inside her heart.  It was an enlightening witness to the power of Holy Week and the spiritual practice (discipline) of intentionally walking through all the different movements of the week.

It brought to mind a line from our Simple Church Easter Vigil as we were preparing ourselves to hear a series of readings focused on God’s saving acts throughout all of history.  The line says: Let us hear the record of God’s saving deeds in history, and pray that each of us receive the fullness of this grace.

Walking through Holy week, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil, Sunrise and Easter Sunday Sanctuary worship, grants us the opportunity to digest the fullness of the story of God’s undying, life-giving love.  It takes us to places within ourselves we might otherwise prefer to ignore or avoid; i.e., empty promises we make, our moments of betrayal, the denial we carry, the isolation of living in this hyper-individualistic culture,  the darkness of the tomb.

But when we fumble around in the dark long enough we will eventually find that which we can touch, and feel, lean on to and grab ahold of.  If we sacrifice enough time from our busy and overscheduled lives to allow the fullness of this story to work on our hearts, we can start to open ourselves up to receive the fullness of this grace.  We can humbly remember that this good work of God’s saving love began long before we ever came into being and will continue on into eternity.  We can fit our small and beautifully ordinary story into this larger landscape.  We can give our entire self, every part that is slowly unearthed during the journey of Holy Week, over to the resurrecting love of God, whose best work is done while we fumble around in the dark.

Practically imperfect in every way

I have a 2 and a half year old who loves to watch Mary Poppins.  I do I love that movie, but after the millionth viewing it’s starting to get under my skin.  Especially that scene where Mary pulls out her tape measure and measures herself to be ‘Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way.’

This scene has always annoyed me a little and after all these viewings I finally started to see why: Mary Poppins comes off as pretty smug and arrogant with the children.  I mean who carries around their own tape measure that measures their height to be perfection?  Come on!

Reflecting upon my unusually strong reaction to such a trivial scene revealed some of my own underlying character defects.  I too have a tendency to be slightly smug and arrogant from time to time; further confirming this one fundamental truth about my own human condition: I am not perfect, nor am I even close to being ‘practical perfect’ in any-way, let alone every-way.

This confession is hard to make because I am part of a denomination that talks a lot about Christian perfection.  And, like some of my friends in ministry, I have struggled with this idea of Christian perfection.  What does it mean when Jesus says to his follower ‘be perfect as your Father in heaven in perfect’? I think that my struggle with this idea really boils down to the confusion that I often have between Christian perfection and perfectionism.

See perfectionism is having and completing your list of ‘to-dos’ in the right order at the right time, without error…… perfectionism is enforcing your own mistake management program of shame and guilt every time you slip up…. perfectionism is holding unreasonably high expectations or standards for yourself and others….. Perfectionism isn’t Christian because it is really all about ego, manipulating your life circumstance in order to be seen the right way or flawlessly working your way up the ladder of success until you’ve finally received the reputation you deserve.

None of this really fits at all with what Jesus taught, lived or advocated for, so what the heck does he mean by ‘be perfect, like my Father in heaven is perfect?’

Maybe what Jesus is actually getting at is not to rid yourself of all those rough edges that make you ‘you’, not to carefully micromanage every move you make so that you can be without fault….. but, maybe for Jesus perfection is when we allow ourselves to be loved first, with a perfect love, for all those things we try to hide.  Maybe he meant we should allow ourselves to be loved first, with a perfect love, for all those mistakes we feel ashamed of, all those moments we felt exposed, vulnerable, or embarrassed.  Maybe Christian perfection is the practice of receiving God’s extravagant wasteful love for us instantaneously in the moment of any perceived imperfection and allowing that love to make us whole.

Maybe that’s all it means; being perfect for Jesus means being made complete, whole, connected.  It seems to me that this would make a little more sense because ultimately the most perfect and awesome thing we can ever do or participate in is love.  The coolest thing about the spiritual life is that once you start receiving love for all of those imperfections and rough edges you start loving others for theirs, instead of in spite of theirs.  Because in the end grace begets grace and loved people love.

why I often miss the point of Christmas

Growing up I used to watch a lot of Hallmark Channel Christmas movies with my family.  Nothing wrong with these movies per se, but if left unchecked you can start to miss the whole point of the Christmas.  No, I don’t mean that the Hallmark Christmas Channel movies don’t contain enough Jesus.

What I mean is that if I watch too many Hallmark Channel movies I start to think that the point of Christmas is to get everything just right, just perfect enough, so I can finally earn the spiritual gifts of joy, hope, love, and peace.

These movies tend to reinforce a false narrative we have in our world that we have to work insanely hard to create the perfect conditions for our life before we can experience a transcendent love, or what I call grace.  To put it theologically: we believe in salvation through works, or to put it simply: we believe the meaning of life is to work our way into perfection.

Now, of course, we know on some deep level that this isn’t really the point, but our false selves, our egos, tell us otherwise.  They tell us to give in to the illusion, to decorate, to clean, to perfect the meal, to buy the right thing, to polish all the silver in just the right way, so that all the external circumstances of our lives can be arranged in the way that looks the best for our Instagram (#nofliter) so that then and only then can we know salvation, spiritual healing, and wholeness.

But the truth of Christmas is that God is with us in the messiness of our lives.  The truth power of Christmas is that Jesus is born into a normal, somewhat dysfunctional family, that God’s grace enters into our imperfect human story and condition to show us the power of unconditional love.

My prayer for you and for me as we approach the birth of our savior, is that we embrace our mess, embrace our imperfections, embrace our broken relationships and somewhat dysfunctional family dynamics, because God embraces them wholly and holy.  Merry almost Christmas, Robert