Conflict Unresolution

Hello, All!

I’ve been dealing a lot with the idea of what I thought was “conflict resolution” in my head lately, until I realized that what I needed to be focusing on was conflict UN-resolution.

I have this obsessive compulsion to force things into some sort of resolution when there is conflict.  So, any time that cannot happen because one or both parties cannot or are not willing to attempt to come to a satisfying middle ground, I find myself unable to let the situation go.

It’s such an amorphous being, though…conflict, I mean.  It never looks the same twice.  How do you take something to the mat (Conflict, as an entity, not the individual on the other side of it) when its face is always changing?

I will go over and over everything that was said on both sides, trying to see if I missed something, if I said something I shouldn’t have, if there was something I could’ve done differently.  The situation will eat at me for basically as long as I let it, and even then will pop up in my mental microscope at the most surprising of times, sometimes years later, and that same feeling will arise.  It’s the feeling of self-doubt, of injustice, of longing for some way to understand what in the world happened, and wishing there were judge and jury to determine if, as I usually believe, I did everything I knew how to do in order to resolve it.  Don’t get me wrong, I know I’ve made mistakes in my efforts to resolve conflict.  But when I DO believe I’ve made a mistake, I try to acknowledge it, and hope that the effort is recognized in the proceedings.

And so I find myself with an ever growing list of conflicts that just feel…open.  Unfinished.

Examples, you say?  Everyone is always squirming for an anecdote.  I don’t feel like going into details, but I will attempt a generic list. (Aside: my list proved to be thoroughly opposed to condensing itself.)

The most recent is an ongoing customer service issue with a group of people with which I must continue doing business for a time, and in a personal setting, not over the internet.  After a number of unsatisfactory events, where I would calmly express that I was frustrated, and calmly ask for a little more communication next time there was an issue (you get the idea), I was sent a very defensive, sarcastic message.  I responded with a message that was a good deal more to the point, though still nothing I feel the need to apologize for.  This interaction was completely ignored by the recipient.  *Queue obsessive over-analyzation.*  My next week was spent in dissatisfaction, trying to determine whether a) I really did go to far, b) they are just insanely bad at customer service or c) is there a c?  Someone help me out if there’s another option.  After that week of misery, I decided it was clearly not going to be resolved to my satisfaction unless I was pro-active.  I didn’t want to make enemies of those people, but I also did not want to seem copacetic towards being treated like that by someone to whom I was paying money.  So, I took them a box of chocolates with a card that said, essentially, “Hey, I don’t want to be enemies, so let’s make peace, thanks.”  I didn’t apologize, still not feeling that one was needed, though I’m sure they thought otherwise.  The devil on my shoulder didn’t want me to do even this, as it could be misconstrued an apology, but the angel won out.

I will say that this is one step towards accepting conflict unresolution – doing what you can to make peace, despite ongoing differences, and then letting the chips fall where they may, so to speak.  My inner soul still does not find it overwhelmingly settled…it’s like a song that someone brought one chord closer to finishing, but still did not complete.  It continues to linger, though no longer in manic waves.

Another recent event involves a person…a friend…whom I feel is frequently trying to manipulate me (and others) into doing various things.  If a tag showed up under this person’s name when you introduced them, lately I feel it would be: “Donna*: Always Wanting Something from You.” (*Names changed to protect the living.)  This is one of those different faces of conflict..the conflict that arises in you to which the other person may very well be entirely ignorant.  To raise or not to raise?  That is the question.  And even this is different for every person, in every situation.  There is no hard and fast rule.

Historically, in my life, I have been a conflict raiser.  If something was wrong, you were going to know about it, and truthfully, because I wanted to fix the issue that I was having trouble dealing with so that we could all go on living happily and peacefully, and not (generally) because I wanted to be able to complain to you about your faults.  I clearly have not always done this successfully, but it was my goal 90% of the time.  The other 10%, I admit, amounts to something akin to verbal abuse as a way to satisfy my feelings of injustice.  I’m not proud of that, but I am going for full disclosure here.  I have tried to come to a level of moderation in this, because I felt that I was becoming, myself, defensive and imperious…not who I want to be.  Accepting the injustices done to you, after all, was a trait carried by Jesus to a level that most of us will never even understand.  And what I call “injustices” are generally so petty, that I would be ashamed to face the Lord and tell him about the level of wrath that was kindled because of some minor inconvenience.  Hebrews 10 discusses the new Christians having faithfully and joyfully accepted the stealing of their property as well as many public punishments and reproaches.  How foolish are most of my complaints?

However, interpersonal issues are real, and must still be dealt with.  In this particular scenario, I realized today that I was allowing someone else’s expectations of what I should do cause me to feel pressured, guilted, and often, in the end, forced to do something I didn’t want to do.  And that is on ME.  Not them.  Someone else’s expectations do not have the ability to force me into those actions.  Boundaries, people.  Simple boundaries.  The expectations are theirs, but I get to decide what I will do with them.  If saying, “No,” and disappointing or angering someone is the result, then so be it. I don’t have to get mad, I just have to not do things I don’t want.

The last face of conflict I’m going to talk about is on the flip side: when you think someone has internal conflict involving you, but instead of trying to resolve it, they just disappear.  The disappearing is usually when you begin thinking they have said internal conflict involving you, because I’m not talking acquaintances here.  I’m talking about people you’ve been through stuff with, people you opened your soul to…friends you thought would be around forever.  And then suddenly, they’re gone.  As an introvert (I’ve been reading a lot of books about introversion), I don’t make close friends easily, nor take them lightly.  So, the sudden absence of those people with no explanation (or in some cases, just inadequate platitudes) becomes something close to, if not an actual, traumatic event.  The lack of information creates a world where anything terrible they could have thought of you becomes a possible truth, playing and re-playing the chart-topping broken records of self-accusation and self-doubt, whatever those might be for you: “Am I boring? Too serious?  Too intense in friendship?  Critical?  Judgmental? Negative?”  And then, because you want to feel OK, you run to the other extreme and start considering good traits that maybe they just couldn’t handle in you:  “I’m probably too honest or too spiritual.”  The problem is that you don’t believe any of them. You feel that there must be some glaring flaw deep down in your soul that you’ve never even considered and you will never know, because no one will be honest or brave enough to expose it to you.  And by “you,” I mean me.

This one, I don’t have an answer for.  I’ve been trying to figure it out for years.  How do you learn from mistakes you don’t know you’ve made?  On days I am putting my confidence in the Lord (as I should always do) and not basing my emotional stability on my own capabilities and persona, I can look at this philosophically, distance myself from it, and realize that whatever flaws I have, Jesus is well aware of them and loves me anyway.  And that if those people were still needed in my life, God would’ve left them there.  But on days when my conflict unresolution obsessive-compulsive disorder rears its head and I am focused on my faults and downfalls, my broken record still plays the top ten, and sometimes throws some new ones in there, too.

This is a tough post for me.  I usually won’t let myself say anything until I’ve got it mostly figured out.  I bet that there are some folks out there, though, who are further along in figuring this out than I am, so maybe I’ll get the chance to learn a few things.

If Only I Had an Enemy…

Lately I’ve had a lot of thoughts about my lack of concern for other people.  My husband and I have been talking a lot about all of the times the Bible, often through Jesus, says to be kind to the strangers, to show hospitality to them, to visit the sick, to care for the orphans and widows, to feed the hungry, to clothe the poor, to love your neighbor as yourself (expounded on in the story of the Good Samaritan), etc.  There are a lot of them.  Here are a few:

Galatians 5:13-14: For you were called to freedom, brothers.  Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.  For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

James 2:8-9: If you fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself,” you do well.  But if you have respect to persons, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.

John 13:34-35: A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another.

John 15:9: As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue in my love.

John 15:12-13: This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you.  Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

John 15:17: These things I command you, that you love one another.

Matthew 22:37-40: Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the Prophets.

Mark 10:42-45:  And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  But it shall not be so among you.  But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man [Jesus] came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

James 2:14-18: What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith, but does not have works?  Can that faith save him?  If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body what good is that?   So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.  But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.”  Show me your faith apart fro your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

James 1:27: Pure and undefiled religion before our God and father is this, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

I could keep going, but the point is, I think that I have somehow overlooked the radical nature of what it means if I actually DID this consistently in my daily life, and not just as an occasional “act of kindness” in order to make me feel good about myself.  Right here, my flesh really wants to defend myself, and tell you that I do sometimes do nice things…and I do, but I think I recuse myself from this responsibility far too often.  Sometimes it is time-related: I say I am too busy, but I still manage to fit my favorite TV shows in.  Sometimes it is comfort: I feel that I need some sort of embossed invitation in order to make sure that putting myself outside of my comfort zone is what God wants of me.  Sometimes it is pure laziness: I just don’t want to.  Sometimes it is fear: what if I try to reach out and it is not welcomed, appreciated, effective?

I was kind of down a few weeks ago; I was (and still am) feeling convicted about how little of my time is spent intentionally reaching out to others in distress.  I was reading in the Bible and came across chapter 58 of Isaiah.  I was stunned…we had been discussing all of the Scriptures telling us to help others, to love others, and I was in a sort of spiritual funk, feeling like I didn’t know how to get out of it.  And then I read this:

Isaiah 58: 3-12: “Why have we fasted and you see it not?  Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?”  Behold, in the day of your fast, you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers.  Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist.  Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high.  Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself?  Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?  Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord?  Is not THIS the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?  Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?  THEN shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your  healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.  THEN you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’  If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, THEN shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.  And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy YOUR desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.

It’s a lot like some things Jesus said in the New Testament as well, that acts of “religion” are not regarded by him:  Matthew 6:16-18 – “Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting.  Truly, I say to you, they have their reward in full.  But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others, but by your Father who is in secret.  And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”  And also as it says in Psalm 51, “For you do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; you are not pleased with burnt offering.  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

He doesn’t want us following a list of rules; he doesn’t even want us (per Isaiah 58) to pray and fast and mourn and cry out to him if we don’t plan to act on his words about helping those around us.  He wants our hearts.  He wants them because he wants them to love…him first because that enables us to do the second, which is loving one another.

As I said, I was feeling pretty down before I read Isaiah 58, but it literally gives you a cure for depression.  It says (paraphrasing), “Care for these people, and your gloom will lift.  Meet the desires of the afflicted, and the Lord will meet your desires.  Where you felt disconnected from him (the Lord), he will show up.  Where you were feeling empty and destroyed, you will begin to bloom again.”  Wow.  Depression is caused by selfishness?  It actually makes sense.  We are depressed largely because we are wanting something for ourselves, which we are not getting, feeling, experiencing.  Even if those things are good things, i.e. the presence of God as it discusses in the chapter, we are depressed over them because we are self-focused instead of others-focused.  It’s like all of the things the Lord asks of us, He asks for us to give up self, to die to self even (Galatians 2:20), but it is all because that is what, in the end, will satisfy our deepest longings.  “For this light, momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory, beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen.  For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

There is a song by Mumford & Sons with one single line that has run over and over in my head since the first time I heard it…”if only I had an enemy bigger than my apathy, I could have won.”  I often think that our battle would be more easily won if the enemy were like David’s.  As he was speaking to Goliath, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.”  At least in our American culture, our enemies are much more subtle: 2 Corinthians 11: 14-15 – “And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.  So, it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.  Their end will correspond to their deeds.”  My enemy is indeed a master of deceit, he is Satan, the Father of Lies (John 8:44) disguised as my own feelings of laziness, apathy, selfishness – if I were to see those things as they really are, even my flesh would rail against them.  I would be appalled at their ugliness.  I watched a video recently about reaching out to the poor and hungry, though I can’t remember what it was from.  At one point in the video, there is a man, clearly starving and malnourished, on his hands and knees, reaching out his hand to a man walking by…but the man doesn’t stop.  He doesn’t even look.  That image has also run through my mind over and over since I saw it.  I am the man who is just walking by, not looking.  One hundred years ago, in our world, we had the excuse of ignorance, the excuse of the logistical difficulties of helping, even if we learned of an issue around the world.  Now, we have no excuse.  Even if there were no hurting, no starving, no poor, no sick around us (which there are), it is so easy to send aid to anyone anywhere in the world.  We have no end of information about those who need help, and no limit to the ways we can help them.  My enemy has become more clear, as I have pictured that man, reaching out to me as I walk out of my house to my car, as I walk into church.  I cannot escape him as he stretches out his arm, pleading for aid.  My enemy is my self-absorption…my desire for a smart phone, though with the extra $ I would pay on my monthly bill, I could probably feed that man each month; my desire for a vacation that, even on a budget, would probably cost more than that man has ever seen, because I “deserve” it…as if that man does not deserve to eat…to live.  If there were a starving man outside my door, even one starving man, I would be callous and cruel to walk past him each day, living comfortably in my relative luxury, but taking no notice.  But there is not just one starving man, there are 15 million children dying every year, and they are all reaching out to me.

So, what will I do?  I am not sure, specifically.  But I know that I MUST cease pretending I am obeying Christ’s words while only nominally reaching out to others who need help.  I must view my apathy as the enemy that it is.  I must take the Scriptures I have included and am including below to heart.  Here’s an interview that my husband did with a man who has done just that, transforming his Christian life from what he acknowledges was just going through the motions, to a life that reflects Christ and his power: Victor’s Story.  Please listen, and note how he embodies the precepts in the texts below:

Matthew 25: 31-46: When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.  Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  And when did  see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.’  Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’  Then they will also answer saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’  Then he will answer them saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’  And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

Luke 10:25-37: And behold a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

I Corinthians 13: If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Why?

Hello, world.  It’s been a very long time.  As to the why…I don’t really have a reason.  If anyone cares to read the last post from Dec, 2008 (Pursuing What You Love), then I guess I could kind of continue from there with the fact that I did get the job I spoke of in that post, and have been in it ever since.  I think, at first, I did not write because I was focusing on trying to do what I spoke of in that post…learn how not to sub-consciously put myself in some position of superiority, but to really live out love with the people I encounter.

I would say that at first I did pretty well with that, reigning in internal grumblings that would usually cause me to become frustrated with co-workers or work in general, i.e. my schedule being changed from 8-4 to 10-6.  I wasn’t a fan of that, but in trying to live the servant life, took it all in stride and figured God had it all in control, so I didn’t make a fuss.

However, as with all things, I am confessing now that the novelty of being loving seems to have worn off, and I am back to being grouchy with others and thinking about myself and what I want all the time instead of living in the knowledge that most of the things I am wanting or I am frustrated with are not important AT ALL.  Realizing that I have slowly allowed satan to creep back up on me in this area is just making me frustrated with myself, and I have not managed to pull out of the cycle yet.

It comes back to re-surrendering “self.”  Allowing the Holy Spirit to take control again, which will in turn cause me to live as Christ did, unconcerned with self-promotion, unfazed by injustices done to me, actively seeking the good of all I come in contact with, whether friend of foe or some intertwined mess of both.  Most people are that, you know.  Most of the time, the people we have a hard time with are those we would call our loved ones and our friends.  They are not enemies, and yet we treat them, or at least feel inside that we must always be prepared to stick up for ourselves and our own rights against them, or else they will all constantly be taking advantage of us or taking us for granted.  The bottom line is that even if that’s true, it’s not our job to make sure we are treated correctly or recognized sufficiently by everyone around us.  That is not the reward.

The reward for acting like Christ is never shown as a warm, fuzzy existence in which no one will ever get mad at you or treat you unfairly.  Paul was repeatedly imprisoned and held on false charges which the government knew to be false, people routinely tried to kill him, and he was in multiple shipwrecks.  Christ Himself had it no better.

This is not to say that we should react smugly to poor treatment as if we are martyrs who must be living the Christ-life to be treated this way…that only comes from condescension which has nothing to do with love.  Our responses to others must not be based on their responses to us.  Love your enemies and the Golden Rule do not give conditions.  If I am walking in love because I am waiting for the world around me to applaud my behavior, I will always grow weary, because there will never been enough praise.  There will always be at least one person around me who cannot be pleased or who finds something wrong with what I do.  If I walk in love because Christ is in my Spirit, and He is living through me, nothing can burn me out…on the condition that I continue to seek Him above all things.

That is the key.  I believe through this after a time, I stopped seeking my strength, my identity, my validation in Him, and started looking to others for approval and reward.  That is when my spirit grew cold, and “loving” started to seem like an impossible drudgery.

The Politics of Love

A friend of mine received an e-mail forward that greatly grieved her.  I wrote a response below; original text in black, my response is in red.

(Forgive the poor formatting – wordpress does not like things pasted from Word!)

I’m The One You’re Talking About

 

With all of the hurt I recognize from those labeled “left-wingers,” I decided to respond to the following e-mail post in order to show that there is a difference in those who consider themselves Christians first and Republicans later and the reverse.

 

With all the vitriol I’ve been hearing from the right-wingers of late, I can’t help but recognize myself as the target of their obsessive hatred. So I thought I’d take this opportunity to out  

myself, just so they know who it is they’re spending so much time talking about.
Yes, I’m that American-hating broad who believes in life, liberty and equality for all Americans, not just those of a “socially acceptable” color, religion, address, pay scale or political affiliation.

 

 

And I am the Christian who wishes that I could make up for all of the anger, hatred and fear that is displayed in the name of Jesus Christ – all of the fanaticism that states that if you are not like me, you are not a worthwhile person.


I’m that baby-killer who thinks that every child should be a wanted child, and that the ultimate decision to give birth is the domain of the woman whose body is involved. I also believe that people who really care about saving babies might want to think about the ones who are already born – especially the ones born in places our government is currently blowing off the map, or might plan to in future.

 

And I am the Christian who believes that if more believers would put down their arms about an “issue” and take up the cause of the already fatherless, there would be far less of a need for abortion in the first place.  I am sad that Christians demonize the results of failing our duty to humanity.

I’m that godless whore who believes that if the government wants a say in how I conduct myself in my own bedroom, they’d better be prepared to lay down a lot of cold, hard cash – because if I’m going to screw according to someone else’s specifications, it’s only right that I be paid handsomely for satisfying the john.
 

 

And I am the Christian who believes that I am not God’s police.  The greatest of the commandments, from Christ’s own lips, is that we love God and love others.  We have failed to show anyone a reason to love God, and have no right to ask anyone to live up to standards that we ourselves cannot and have never been able to meet.
 

 

I’m that infamous anti-Christian who actually believes that I am my Brother’s Keeper – and that includes supporting social safety-nets that provide food for the hungry, shelter for the homeless, care for the sick – you know, all that yadda-yadda stuff that Christ used to preach about back when people who called themselves Christians had a passing familiarity with his teachings. I also believe that just because Christ was tortured to death doesn’t mean he was promoting the idea as something we are free to do with his approval.

 

And I am the Christian who believes that the government has only to take up this responsibility because we largely fail to do it as the Body of Christ.  We were called to be an extension of His care, and have chosen instead the easy road of militant cause – lending us falsely free consciences when we turn our backs on those who we have decided are living “in sin.”

I’m that unscrupulous libertine, apparently devoid of any morals whatsoever, who has deluded myself into thinking that if the gay couple down the street get married, they’re not  going to destroy every heterosexual marriage in the neighborhood – and by the way, I’ve yet to hear a coherent argument as to how that would happen if they did.

 

 

And I am the Christian believes that we have destroyed marriage ourselves by treating it with such flippancy.  Marriage is about commitment and who are we Christians to bark about its sanctity when we divorce as often as those around us?

I’m that unpatriotic bitch who thinks that sporting a flag pin in your lapel doesn’t mean shit if you’re wearing it while supporting pay-cuts for the troops, or budget cuts to veterans’ care – or, for that matter, calling anyone and everyone who disagrees with you “unpatriotic” because you really have nothing of substance to say, but just love the sound of your own meaningless rhetoric blasted over the airwaves.

 

 

And I am the Christian who believes that disagreement does not equal hatred.  If we could re-learn to look beyond issues and labels and groups and see humans, perhaps we could learn that those humans have hearts.

I’m that blatant sexist who thinks that if someone like Sarah Palin has nothing more to offer than a pair of tits while seeking the office of the vice presidency, she’d damned well better have something more in her training bra than a wad of Kleenex – like actual knowledge of the responsibilities of the job, for starters.

 

 

And I am the Christian who wishes to apologize for our lack of faith in God – for the fact that we feel the need to press on everyone else and force them to fit in to our mold, like the school bully, instead of showing God’s love and trusting that He can work it out if we would just obey Him ourselves.

I’m that socialist commie who thinks people should reap the financial rewards of their own hard work while the CEOs of the corporations they toil for share the resulting profits, rather than pocket them all while throwing crumbs to those whose labor created those profits in the first place. Yup, that’s me – another anti-capitalist, spouting my big mouth off when oil companies earning record profits get tax subsidies, as though they don’t deserve them.
 

 

And I am the Christian who believes that capitalism is the life-blood of our economy, but for the fact that it has been hi-jacked and subsidized by a government seeking to attain its own ends and fill its own pockets.  The corporations receiving government payouts because they have run their companies into the ground with poor business practices are the same corporations that put Mom and Pop’s Hardware Store out of business, though they were possibly the most honest, hardest working people in the town.


I’m that big city chick, who couldn’t possibly share the same values of the kid from the suburbs, or the mid-western farmer, or the small-town librarian – or anyone who, unlike me, was raised in the right pocket of Americana – wherever that may be.

 

And I am the Christians who wishes we could do away with all references to “right” or “left” and learn to see the things that we hold in common – to protect the innocent, to bring hope to the weary and food to the hungry.  We are all in this together – who cares where the “pockets” are?

I’m that no-good Bush-basher who had the gall to notice that an idiot who couldn’t string two words together without getting both of them wrong would inevitably lead this country into an unwinnable war (or two), financial ruin, complete moral failure, and global disgrace.
 

 

And I am the Christian who does not turn a blind eye to disgraces from anyone just because they are in power, and I definitely do not make an exception just to make myself feel better about it if it is someone that I helped put there.


And while I’m at it, I may as well come completely clean – because, let’s face it, you’ve got me dead-to-rights: I’m also a tree-huggin’ environmentalist who believes in such outrageous ideas as upholding the Constitution, equal treatment under the law, and civil rights – and the hypocrisy of you people who call ME un-American makes me want to retch.

 

And I am the Christian who believes that our Constitution has been trampled on from persons of all political parties whenever it best suited their needs at the time, because politics is no longer “by the people, for the people,” but it is a selfish grasping for power and agenda.

So now that you know who I am, please feel free to rant about me all you want. I’m proud of who I am, what I believe in, and what I stand for – a feeling you’ll never know.

 

 

And now that I hope that you know we do not all hate you.  Some of us are saddened by the mis-use of our God’s name to try to manipulate the world around them so they can feel comfortable in a controlled moral environment instead of worrying about the hearts and souls of individuals.

But don’t be embarrassed by not recognizing me in a crowd – you see, there are tens of millions like me, and you know what they say: All those damned anti-Americans look alike.And we’re all about to vote alike – which means voting your asses out of office.

 

 

I hope that you also can see that I think it is completely irrelevant who is in office, because I believe in a God who loves – a God who is not threatened by man and our selfish, confused attempts at running a country, a business, a family or our own lives – a God who will be working in the hearts and lives of those who are seeking Him regardless of the political climate.  I am not threatened by political change, because my God is not a God of politics.  He is not trying to “win.”  He only wants to love.

See ya around, chumps. And the next time you think about calling me or anyone like me anti-American, you might want to look back at what this election has been all about – and who the REAL Americans truly are.

 

 

And along the same lines, I am not trying to be more American than you.  I do not want to compete with you.  I want all competition to be put aside so we can work together, live together…together, though not identical; in harmony, though not the same.

 

Thanks for taking the time to learn who we are, too.  We’re out there, I promise.

Circus Christianity

This morning as I was sitting in church, an image popped into my head.  It was the image of a clown.  This particular clown had a sad face with tears painted on, but was still doing its silly clown show to make people laugh.  And I thought about how Christians do this…how there are Christians who act like clowns.  They might vary in how they look – some of them may have the sad faces, but some have happy ones and some just look a little crazy.  The common denominator is that each of them has painted on a persona that is not their own – a persona that, in fact, hides what each of them really is.  Have you ever seen a movie or a TV show portraying a clown that ends his or her act, then when they no longer have an audience, they begin treating everyone like scum or you find out that they are a raging alcoholic?  It’s a ridiculous analogy, I know, but this style of Christians does the same ridiculous thing.  Their real character is completely incongruous with what they try to portray, leaving people disillusioned and disappointed when they find out the truth.  They thought those Clown Christians had it all together, but turns out, that’s only while they were on stage. 

 

Christianity is not about faking it.  Some people may say, “Well, we have to look cheerful or act cheerful or do something to make everything look great.”  I say this is one of the best ways to chase people away from Christianity.  It doesn’t take a very long look for anyone to tell that everything is not always great for anyone.  It’s hypocrisy at its grandest.  So, if people do fall for it initially, they drift away easily after coming to the truth of the matter: that Christians struggle and mess up, too.  Even the clowns with the sad faces are going through the motions of making people happy…a performance they’ve often been rigorously taught.  People pleasers rarely please people.  Let’s be real, Christians.  The clown act doesn’t become us.

 

And as I thought through this, I realized it was more than just clowns.  There is an entire Christian Circus going on all around us. 

 

There’s the guy/girl walking the tight rope.  It doesn’t take long to spot this one.  These guys are in shape.  They’ve worked hard.  They probably even have a little talent.  And now they want to show it off.  “Look at me – I can walk this rope.  It’s a fine line, but I can do it.”  They put themselves way up there…they are the elite.  They’re not going to fall…falling is not an option.  I mean, if you fall, you die, right?  There’s no net.  God’s not big enough for me to fall.  These are the legalists.  There’s no room for error, and anyone who can’t do what they can do has not quite got it all together.  What happens with them?  They crash…and burn.  They live in fear of stepping one toe out of line, and inevitably find out that they can’t stay up there forever.  It’s a lonely road.

 

Christianity is not about fear.  And all this act does is scare people.  “Ooh, I could never do that.  I might as well not even try.  I’ll just stay down here and walk around on this dusty tent floor.  You have to really work too hard…and it’s dangerous, too…I mean, what if you fall?  You’re done for.”  When are we going to learn that it’s not about what we can do, but about what God already did?

 

And now we have the lion tamer.  This is the dude with the whip.  He is all about beating everyone into submission.  There’s no love in this act.  It’s all force: conversion by conquest.  And then once you get them conquered, you make sure you keep them controlled.  He’s not getting people to follow God; he’s getting people to follow him.  It’s all about the power.

 

Christianity is not about force.  The lion tamer eventually gets his head ripped off when one of the lions he thought he had tamed suddenly realizes this guy doesn’t have its best interest at heart.  He’s just a mean guy with a whip on a power trip.  If conquest were the answer, then the whole world would’ve been Christian after the Crusades.  Let’s stop pretending we can hold people down until they say uncle…or Jesus.  This would only establish that the strongest guy wins.  It says nothing about truth.

 

Then we have the guy who eats fire.  He’s a showman.  He uses a lot of slight of hand, illusions, tricks.  The Christian fire-eater is really not much more than a magician with an agenda, but he sure does make it look exciting.

 

Christianity is not about the hype.  Hype goes away.  People get tired of watching him eat fire every day…he’s a one trick wonder.  They lose interest.  There is no substance to his message.  People don’t get tired of watching someone who is living the abundant life that Christ offers us to the fullest, day in, day out, in every area of their life.  THAT is something to see.

 

The next one is more like a category.  It includes the bearded lady, the tattooed man, etc. – the pejorative “freak show.”  These are the Christians who have embraced their fears and insecurities.  They have accepted the lie that they have nothing to offer anyone, except as a novelty, and therefore have retracted from normal daily interaction with people.  They get mocked a little bit and just take it as their lumps in life, figuring this is the price you pay for being different.  You may as well just own it, right?  Their inability to fit in has become their identity.  It’s an excuse not to become something else, something more.

 

Christianity is not about hiding behind your insecurities.  It’s about facing them head on, and allowing God to make something of you in spite, or possibly because of them.  When we, as Christians, retreat because we feel inadequate, that says to the world, “Look, they really don’t have anything to offer.  They don’t even believe in the power of it themselves.”  God has promised that He will make something of us, and we need to start acting like it!

 

There are probably more, but this is as far as I got on the performers in the circus.  However, there’s one more I want to mention: the ringmaster.

 

You might think that I’m going to say the ringmaster is God.  Not in this case.  In the case of Circus Christianity, the ringmaster is Satan.  He is standing in the middle of that big red tent, directing the performance.  “Yes, that’s right,” he says.  To the clown: “Don’t you dare show your true colors.”  To the tightrope walker: “You (and everyone else) must be perfect or it was all a complete failure.”  To the lion tamer: “Anyone who disagrees with you should be treated as a hostile.”  To the fire-eater: “Give them a good thrill!”  To the bearded lady: “You are not worth anything.”  Satan applauds it all…anything that makes us ineffective, impotent Christians.

 

How many spectators of a circus do you know who watch it, and then decide they’re going to go join up and become part of the circus, too?  It’s just a show; something to do…see what those crazy Circus Christians are up to now.  There is nothing remotely desirable in it.

 

So, this is a call to all Christians – step out of the circus!  Stop doing tricks and putting on shows.  Become a real person with real purpose as God has called us to.  Be engaged with those around you and with what you believe.  Don’t be afraid of people questioning things; know that God is big enough to handle their questions as well as your own.  Don’t pretend to have it all together; if you don’t know, say so.  Respond to people with the love that God asks us to respond with.  Don’t focus on your own insecurities or other people’s faults; focus on God’s strength and the way He can make something out of anyone – just like He does over and over again in the Bible.

What If They’re Right?

The day before yesterday, I was sitting talking to my neighbor.  I loaned her a book by one of my favorite authors a while back, and she told me that she had finally started reading it.  She had first loaned it to her granddaughter to read.  The book was Patrick by Stephen R. Lawhead, and it is about the famous St. Patrick whom we all celebrate, depending on our lifestyle and culture, with wearing green and leprechauns and four leaf clovers or excessive amounts of beer or some varied combination of those things.  I’ll be honest – I don’t know much about the real St. Patrick.  I’ve never looked into how much Lawhead may have embellished in his novel, but I know he does not claim it to be anything other than historical fiction.  Either way, what Lawhead wrote is all I know about our beloved Patrick, and that is scant as it has been some time since I read the book.  So, as my neighbor began discussing it, I have to admit that my recollections, for the most part, failed me.  I cannot confirm nor deny her allegations against Patrick until she completes (if she completes) and returns my book.  However, this is what she thought of him.  She said that she got to about page 235 or so, and had grown increasingly more angry with Patrick, culminating, at this point, in her throwing down the book and refusing to read any more.  She said she was thinking something like, “If what he’s got is Christianity, I don’t want any part of it.”  Now, my neighbor is a Christian, so she was just upset with Patrick’s version of it, I guess.  She went on to tell me that she was frustrated by Patrick’s ingratitude, arrogance, selfishness and lack of personal growth in the face of undeniable truths.  She asked me if he redeemed himself, and although I feel like I remember that he did, I cannot remember the story well enough to be certain.  To be honest, I don’t remember being angry with Patrick once while reading this book.  In fact, I remember identifying with him greatly.  I almost told my neighbor this, but then I was afraid she wouldn’t like me anymore.  Sorry, guys, I’m getting to a point here, really I am.   

My point is about my knee-jerk reaction to people saying anything like what she thought about not wanting Patrick’s kind of Christianity.  This reaction is composed of myself saying something to the effect of, “You can’t blame God for how stupid Christians act,” or “That’s why we need Jesus, because we’re not perfect” or “Of course Christians make mistakes, too.  If they didn’t struggle with things, no one would listen to them because they would not be able to relate to the masses.”  Or it may contain a reference to what Ghandi said when asked what the biggest obstacle to Christianity coming to India was: “Christians,” he stated.  Now, I didn’t say anything of this sort when talking to my neighbor yesterday for a couple of reasons.  One being, as I stated, this lady is actually a Christian, so Patrick was not really a stumbling block for her; she just disapproved of his kind of Christianity, and by this I mean the way he lived (or didn’t live) it out.  Another reason I did not give any of my usual retorts is that my neighbor is nearly seventy, and, well, I am not quite thirty, and somehow my trying to impart my version of “wisdom” to her seems a little silly if not presumptuous.   

But there is another reason – just this: of all the arguments against Christianity, which is heard the most?  Christians are hypocrites.  What if they’re right?  I’m starting to believe maybe I should pay more attention to it than giving it the canned answers I usually do…that maybe my responses carry within them a lack of accountability that is part of the reason Christians are such hypocrites.  The Bible does say that we will be known by our fruits.  I am sitting here trying to imagine if I could see my life as a tree; branches extending out to everyone I’ve come into contact with and the people they’ve come in contact with and so on.  I wonder what my fruits would look like.  I think I’m kind of glad I don’t know, because I can recall far to many times when I’m sure the fruit is not pretty.  Now, here’s the deal: I’m not advocating a kind of legalistic Christianity that crushes you and throws you out when you mess up.  Grace is the most beautiful part of Christianity…the fact that it is unconditional is astounding.  However, I’m afraid the problem is that there is not enough grace.  I, as a Christian, am not very grace-ful to others in return.  And I’m not talking about balancing books on my head.  I’m talking about extending that unconditional love to everyone I come into contact with.   

I realize that I also said something about accountability above, and somehow that may seem counter to unconditional love.  However, accountability should be a reaction to wanting to help others become their best, do their best, be what God created them to be.  I don’t mean a schoolmaster running around cracking a whip and threatening you with beatings, just itching for you to do something wrong.  We’re so screwed up in America that we can hardly even understand the concept of loving correction.  I try to talk about it here, but feel like I have to explain its validity to do so.  Accountability between Christians is encompassed in this unconditional love that I was speaking of, not opposite to it.  And by the way, God never tells us to call un-believers out on their sins.  He just tells us to take them the Gospel.  Why should we expect them to live by a morality they do not believe in?  This is why I consider all the boycotts in the world to be hopeless failures.  (It wouldn’t take me a far stretch to say that I think they are completely contradictory to Christianity, but I’d have to study and ponder a bit more to go that far.)  All of the Christians pointing fingers simply make everyone else want to point fingers back, and I would wager that it brings no one to Christ.   

You could all be reading this post and thinking I am being very condemning and making you feel like a useless dirt bag as a Christian.  That’s not my point.  I’m not saying that we have to be perfect.  I am saying that for all of the people out there saying, “Christians are hypocrites,” I wish I could find a few who said, “Well, I don’t know…I know this one guy….” I am conceding to non-Christians that they are valid in their mistrust of us.  And I’m not claiming to be included in the precious few good examples.  I don’t think I’m very good at showing people the love of Christ.  So, even though all of my customary answers to this accusation are still valid – God should not be blamed for our stupidity, etc., etc., there is a better answer to this.  Let’s change.  When people look around and find no positive Christian examples in their lives, no one who breaks the mold, no one who lives differently, makes them feel differently or treats everyone differently, then there is something wrong.  Where are we?