Ending the Blame Game

As I’ve been reflecting recently on who I am and what I believe, I’ve noticed I have a real lack of patience for political arguments. Now I don’t mean debating an idea or considering carefully which vote to cast. I mean ceaselessly ranting about this or that politician and those who think like they do and how all them libtards/fascists are going to destroy this country and the next war we fight will be a civil war and…

Blech.

I just can’t. It’s not just politics either, but any genre of endless complaining about things that can’t be helped or changed. I get that life can be complicated and painful, and I understand that people don’t often act like we think they ought to behave.

It’s also always been this way. It always will be this why. Life is a constant cycle of issues, some good, some bad. Many take that to be a negative way of thinking, but for me, it’s freedom.

There is a freedom to realizing that so much is out of our control. We can’t determine who takes over this country or what they do when it happens. We can’t control policy or greed or that stranger who raises their kids contrary to my unquestionable principles.

The only things we are responsible for are the choices we make every day. Namely, we are responsible for living our kindest, most loving, most generous, most compassionate life every day. It’s not glorious. It’s not sexy (well, I think it is), but it’s the best chance we have of actually achieving a level of serenity and positive impact in this life.

Now to many people, this sounds lazy or idealistic… I have nothing for you. If you think living kindly is easy, come visit me in Dallas. You’ll change your mind the minute you enter traffic on 635.

As for the idealistic part, think about this. When you establish habits of kindness, compassion, love, justice, and acceptance in your life, those things are a part of you. They inform how you think, how you speak, and how you act.

This means we engage people differently. We vote differently. We perceive life differently. Many of the problems we encounter as a society today are due to our perceptions, specifically our willingness to swallow whatever the commander-in-tweet or the talking heads on capitol hill or in the media present to us as the truth.

We are more divided than ever before (for the 1,000th time).

We are approaching another civil war.

There is a war on religion in this country.

Our nation is full of hate and malice and it’s ALL THE FAULT OF THAT GUY WITH WHOM I DISAGREE.

Nonsense. Sure, let’s say “civil war” time comes. What if no one shows up because we are too busy living life with one another? What if we decide that no one is going to tell us what is worth killing over?

What if we decide we’d rather disagree and live alongside each other in love than waste our lives trying to make everyone like us?

That’d be a most welcome change of pace.

So I am starting with me. I’m not going to sit there and stew or argue with someone who thinks Democrats/Republicans are the devil. I’m not going to contribute to gossip or bitching behind the backs of people of whom I disapprove. I’m not going to grouse about how much better the world was back when I didn’t have to consider the feelings of others.

Rather, I am going to invite others to share what really concerns them. I’m going to listen and be respectful. I’m going to vote with my heart. I’m going to be a Quaker, feed the hungry, care for the afflicted, and love my family, my neighbor, and my enemy. I’m going to love myself and allow the Light Within to shine in my life.

The time has come (and has long been here) when we need to stop blaming and pointing fingers. It’s time to challenge ourselves to be the difference we want to see.

Peace be with you!

Godly Living Means Godly Loving

… Yahweh is merciful and tenderhearted. — Psalm 111:4, JB

I tried this post yesterday, and I realized I wasn’t staying true to myself or my goal, so here is attempt number two!

Again, I hope the rendering of God’s name is not offensive to you, dear reader. After all, biblical writings have The Name written everywhere, but I understand Judaism’s (and certain Christians’) differing perspectives on that particular commandment.

Anyway, I came across this selection of Psalm 111 and at first just thought what I always thought. “Man, I am glad God is merciful and tenderhearted.” But something bugged me. I don’t think God just wants us to know stuff because it’s “good to know.” God always has purpose, and it’s always the Divine will that what we believe becomes something we enact.

Then it struck me. If God is merciful and tenderhearted, we should also strive to lead lives of such mercy and compassion. Jesus gives us a pattern to imitate in terms of unity with God, and this unity comes with adopting God’s nature as our own.

So take a moment today to consider God. Though we may not always agree with ancient expressions, it is clear that God is described as just, merciful, faithful, and loving. Therefore, I hope we all will practice this way of being as well!

Peace be with you!

The Myth of “Facts Not Feelings”

In recent years, there has been a surge of certainty that I feel has led to an utter breakdown in communication regarding very important topics. I keep seeing posts and quotes pointing to supposed critical thinkers offering a snide remark to the effect of “facts don’t care about your feelings.” While this sounds great (not at all jerk-ish), denying our inherent biases (emotional or otherwise) in a debate is a really… really bad idea. Why?

We trick ourselves into believing we are objective.

Despite what we’d like to think, when it comes to abortion, religion, LGBTQ+ rights, Israel, economics, and pretty much any other policy or issue that affects us personally, no one is objective.

Everyone has feelings that surround and inform their understanding of particular topics. But when we want to be “right” all the damned time, we rationalize and find whatever argument we need to prop us up. We pretend we have no bias driving our perception… and we are quite wrong in doing so.

Our denial of our own bias makes us less compassionate toward that of others. We believe we are right, and that is a truth that cannot and should not be altered no matter who it hurts.

After all, if facts don’t care about feelings, why should we?

This is the hypocritical move that makes steam shoot out of my ears. What B.S. statements like “Facts Not Feelings” actually provide is a means of dismissing other people and making ourselves feel more secure in our own perceptions. However, should the same move be used on us *gasp* we are stunned by the lack of understanding and tolerance on the part of others.

“How dare they go after our beliefs and what I think?!”

My question is: When did feelings become so bad? How did we arrive at a place where we are so willing to find any way to make someone feel stupid so we don’t have to be bothered with their “baggage?” Is there another way?

Of course there is.

CARE.

My point here is that maybe instead of whipping out one-liners that dismiss each other, we should actually listen and respond to one another. Even if someone’s belief doesn’t match your reality, it matches theirs, and as such it needs to be respectfully received and addressed if any headway is to be made toward a more productive conversation.

We all have biases. Most of us have feelings that guide our decision making, and all of us have emotions tied to our positions on particular subjects. I’m not saying that all of those feelings are always “right” or factual, but they exist and need to be handled with concern and compassion.

Will it be difficult? Yes.

Frustrating? You bet.

Worth it? Without a doubt.

Peace be with you!

Don’t Judge Your Journey…

Do not reproach one who is turning away from sin; remember that we all deserve punishment. Sirach 8:5, NRSV

At age 27, almost 28, I’ve learned a lot of lessons. I’ve learned lessons about managing emotions, honoring relationships, watching the words of my mouth, and avoiding situations I don’t need to be in. I’ve learned about my relationships with God, religion. and other people. As you can imagine, many of the lessons I have learned came through the undesireable avenue of mistakes made… and I used to hate myself for it.

As a society, it feels like we have gotten in the habit of judging not only the lessons we have learned, but also those others have had to learn. While one person may struggle with addiction, they cannot fathom why someone would cheat on their spouse. When one person works their way to an early grave, neglecting their family and friends, they can’t stand those who are overzealous with their opinions online or at social gatherings. In all these instances, we are resentful of ourselves because we weren’t born perfect, and downright wrathful toward those who have had to learn things we didn’t.

As I said before, I used to HATE that I ever had to learn how to be a decent spouse, son, friend, etc. I hated myself for not having a natural gift for navigating complicated people and situations. On top of that, I would find relief in the obvious flaws of others.

Guy that yelled at me after a sermon? What a jerk!

Lady that flipped me off in traffic for stopping at a stop sign? Rude!

Overzealous Facebook warrior? Crazy!

It feels good to hammer on people who are flawed in ways we are not. We are able to rationalize OUR mistakes because WE have good reasons, right? We couldn’t say the same about others… Could we?

The Book of Sirach teaches that we shouldn’t reproach people “turning away from sin” because “we all deserve punishment.” The language is somewhat condemning, but the message is powerful. Jesus says something similar in Matthew 7:1-5.

In more positive terms, instead of condemning others for their darkness because we don’t want to confront our own, we should remember that just like “them,” we have lessons to learn, and THAT IS OKAY. We are imperfect creatures, and each of us is on a path. When we despise our path, we start to envy or judge those of others, and no one gets anywhere.

Instead, we should mind our own road, fearlessly and compassionately embracing that which we must learn about life and ourselves. In that process, we become more understanding of others and what they are going through. That understanding enables us to lovingly embrace others where they are, possibly helping them along just as Jesus does in the Gospels.

All of this boils down to treating ourselves more kindly. I had to learn through long processes and lots of therapy that my lessons are nothing to fear or be ashamed of. They’ve made me a better man, husband, friend, son, and (God willing) father. The acceptance of who I am and how I got here has also made me more accepting of others, and I believe this is something God desires for us all.

I pray that you will ease up on yourself. Learn the lessons before you, for that’s what mistakes are intended to be. Through them, we learn humility, patience, and how to do better. Embracing that ride also helps us to be more compassionate toward others, and I don’t have to tell you how important that is.

God loves you. I love you. It’s time for you to love you, so you can love others.

Peace be with you!

From Within

there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defileMark 7:15, NRSV

I’ve always looked at this teaching with an emphasis on the “all foods are clean” thing (Mark 7:19). After all, it means I can enjoy bacon guilt-free and it represents a shift from religious box-checking to a more transformative spirituality. But the last part… the “defilement from within” part… that didn’t truly sink in until recently.

We as humans always look to external causes for our inappropriate actions. It’s never our fault. It’s the unclean “stuff” out there that got us.

We see this when the media crucifies an assault survivor for what they were wearing; we hear it about the victim of a careless police officer for what they may or may not have been doing out so late in that neighborhood OR we see the same logic used to justify the assault on a police officer. After all, there’s this back story…

It’s never our fault.

I’ve done this in my own life. Old habits die hard, and all the more so when changing seems too scary or painful. There was always a reason, whether it be my childhood, my losses, or my depression.

We always look for external sources of trouble and salvation. We don’t want to be responsible for our mistakes because then we might be responsible for fixing them. Jesus rightly criticizes this attitude.

Agreeing with James (4:1-3), Jesus asserts that “it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly(Mark 7:21-22). Our desires and our fears produce the evil we enact in the world. Other people or situations may stimulate or add specificity to these things, but our response is ours alone.

Now this is not a guilt trip or a statement about my own perfection. I am simply indicating that this passage has taken on new life for me because I now understand that I must heal what is within rather than waiting for something from without.

When many of us entered into faith, we are taught that God is a Savior, which is true. But what often follows is the expectation that God will do it all, which is actually a blatant denial of free will. God gives us the means and awareness, and He is with us always, but to change and grow and leave behind our harmful practices is our work. We must desire it, initiate it, and see it through while relying on God’s grace to keep us moving with compassion for ourselves and each other as we all embark on our roads to healing.

For me to change, I have to want it. If any of us have habits in need of changing, it must be us that seek to enter into that process with God. God’s already where He needs to be, He’s just waiting on us to meet Him at the station.

Whatever is plaguing your life, and whatever negative habits or behaviors are manifesting in you, I pray that you will know that it is never hopeless or too late. All that you need to make the change is already with you, waiting for you to find that motivation and get started. Is it your relationship with your family, friends, or kids? Your relationship with God or yourself? Are you simply sick and tired? Whatever it is, may the grace of God light a fire within, and may we all choose to take a step into that transforming Light.

Peace be with you!

When Your Best is Your Worst

Therefore consider whether the light in you is not darkness. — Luke 11:35, NRSV

We humans have a tendency to focus on the negative. If you’ve ever been in any kind of relationship at any time, you ought to be aware of this. We tend to notice and emphasize the flaws in ourselves and/or each other, and negative memories are often closer at hand than positive ones. Obviously, this isn’t good for us, but what do we do?

In the Scripture for today, Jesus reflects on the healthiness of our “eye,” for it “is the lamp of the body” (Luke 11:34). As such, the health of our “eye” determines whether or not we are full of light or darkness. We are cautioned to “consider whether the light in you is not darkness,” in order that we may be “full of light as when a lamp gives you light with its rays” (11:35-36).

This teaching of Jesus has a prophetic quality to it, meaning it is something of which we should always be aware. At any time, that which should lead us to living lives of light could become a means by which we stumble and bring about darkness. However, this also works in reverse!

When we face our darkness or that of others, it’s important to remember that the same qualities that drive us nuts are also part of what makes us beautiful. The trick is acknowledging this and tempering those qualities so that our light shines brighter and brighter.

For example, I deal with depression. I feel thingsĀ intensely, and this can obviously cause problems for myself and others. However, it’s also true that this emotional turbulence is actually the inverse of the ferocity with which I love and care for other people. My wife deals with anxiety and is always looking for the next thing to accomplish or the next “life stage” we can get to. It drives me crazy! Yet I am also aware that this is simply the extreme of those qualities that make her the most gracious, accommodating, and driven person I know.

The light in us can easily become our darkness, and this is a life-long balancing act for which we should be graciously and compassionately prepared. Our gifts can quickly become our curses if we are not careful, and we can also be too quick to judge the darkness in one another without considering how these qualities are a part of what make them a source of light in the world. Likewise, when all we can see is the darkness, we should be encouraged by the knowledge that light is always close at hand!

You may be in a place in life that’s limiting your vision to your faults or those of others. Take heart, and remember that the light is never far. Sometimes all it takes is getting back into balance and focusing our energy on those parts of us in which God delights.

Peace be with you!

 

Entertaining Angels

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. — Hebrews 13:2, NRSV

I have a habit of which I have recently become aware. When I am nervous, uncomfortable, or emotionally hurting, I hold my right fingers in my left hand, gripping them firmly. It’s something I have done since I was a child because it made me feel safe. My love language is touch, and when I was a boy I would hug myself or hold my hands like this when I couldn’t sleep. Somehow, this habit has stuck with me even as I approach the age of 30.

In the Letter to the Hebrews, the author talks about showing “hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Often, we who have heard this passage taught year after year immediately flip to the interpretation that our kindness should be automatic because literal, heavenly beings might be spying on us. I suppose this carries some weight, but after thinking on this habit of mine, I came to the conclusion that there is another way to approach this idea.

Every person bears God’s image. We learn this in Genesis 1, when God says as much (1:26-27). Even without that text, we know that all people are born capable of incredible and horrible things. Often, their choice between these two depends on their upbringing and experiences.

So let’s consider that for a moment.

My own experiences led to far-reaching consequences in the form of holding my own hand and resisting relationships that could hurt me. My wife has graciously and bravely contended with my issues over the years, both acknowledging my scars and refusing to let me be defined by them. While I am better than I was, I have hurt her and others, a reality which now horrifies me.

Odds are, the same is true for you. It’s likely that you have been shaped by many things, both negative and positive, and your less-than-desirable qualities have roots that go deep into the pain you carry. If you don’t think you have less-than-desirable qualities, congrats, we just found one.

So what does this have to do with the passage from Hebrews?

Just as you and I have our issues that can be explained by our past pain, so do others. Sure, they may not hold their own hand or be afraid of relationships. Maybe they are just raging jerks or internet trolls. Maybe they are alcoholics. Perhaps they abuse drugs or bully others. They could also be strict or uncompromising. They could be a mass shooter or terrorist. The point is, every person we meet has been shaped by their world. While they may not respond to it appropriately or responsibly, they still merit compassion because they were once a child like you or I, with all the potential in the world.

In that way, they are undercover angels, hidden by the ugliness of the world.

I am becoming more cognizant of how I treat others, especially those who are difficult or negative toward me, even when they aren’t around. Odds are, it all comes from their own pain, and while I don’t have to take their crap, I also don’t have to add to it by imitating their expression of pain. Perhaps if we can all learn this lesson together and put it into practice, we can see a world transformed by the compassion of Jesus, who calls out to us all.

Peace be with you!