Sunday, October 06, 2013

It Wasn't My Fault

“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?”

Sometimes it’s really that simple to identify a problem

Consider the last fight you got into and see if you don’t agree that it all had to do with not getting your way.  Never mind if your way is right or wrong or even reasonable.  The essence of every argument is the same; you wanted something and didn't get it, so you became upset. 

You wanted to spend the money on a trip; she wanted a new sofa.

You wanted him to park closer; he wanted an easier spot to exit.

You wanted to be trusted; she wanted to be honored.

I tend to watch this healthcare/debt ceiling/government shutdown quagmire from this vantage point.  I tune into all kinds of media outlets looking for an equivalent perspective, but most channels seem to be looking at this in very much the same manner.  Everyone one is asking the same question:

“Who is to blame?”

I think it’s a bad question to start with. Sure, it’s a natural question, and a good one at that, but a solution won’t be discovered by answering it alone without a better inquiry.

Assigning blame is fine when two unrelated individuals collide.   It’s what you do when there is a traffic accident. The police hit the scene, determine who is at fault, write the ticket, tow away the damage and carry on. Blame keeps the two separated; it doesn't bring them together because reconciliation in this case isn't needed. Smooth traffic flow is all you and I and the authorities care about when driving.

Blame works on the highway, but at home, where you want more than just getting and going along, a better solution is required.

Instead, we should start with desire.

Desire is the source of all conflict and it’s imperative to understand it if there is to be any hope of finding a solution.  Without knowledge of desire, Dysfunction will continue to dig in its heels and prevent any kind of progress or growth.

If only our leaders would come to the table genuinely asking to know what each other would like to accomplish, we could maybe get somewhere. But this will never happen because Desire requires vulnerability.  It asks that the fists be dropped low enough to see what’s in the heart.

So we’re left with blame, which is a whole lot safer, but so inadequate for reconciliation.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Why are we so angry?

Why are we so angry?

This is the question I posed at the end of my last post. I don’t know how one would gather data on such a subject, but it appears to me that there is a lot more palpable and visible anger in our culture in the past 10 years, especially when it comes to the arena of politics.  Why is this? What’s the root of it? Who is responsible?

The Republicans, Gays, the NRA, Obama; take your pick.  We can find anyone on which to pin the blame for our anger, reasoning out that things would be so much better if (fill in name of hated entity) would just shut up and go away.  That’s how anger works. It has an uncanny way of allowing for rationalization of an opinion.

It’s easy to point the finger at the supposed culprit and justify our own position against the actions of another.  But this is what Jesus was especially good at uncovering.  He had a way of showing that the starting point of all inquiry is self examination.  Take the log out of our own eye before removing the speck out of our neighbor’s eye. Good advice like this is not always heeded. And there is a simple motivation why?

We are angry because we love being angry.

I do believe there is a reason Jesus spoke of anger as his very first point in his first recorded sermon.  Anger is a powerful, natural response. It is a call to personal action.  When hurt or wronged, anger provokes the soul to action. But think of it as a starting point, not a destination. Anger should be moved beyond, not wallowed in.

One of the first bits of parenting advice I remember was to never discipline my child in anger.  It did not take long until I understood what that meant. When my kids did not do what I wanted, anger would flare.  And often it was for very good reason. If one of them showed disrespect, I felt immediately angry, but I had to move very quickly away from that anger into a reasoned, calm response. If not, anger would take over as the ruler.

Anger has a flip side, and it is sadness.  Show me an angry person and I will show you a deeply sad person.  Their sadness may be buried so deep that it’s hard to detect.  This is because its far easier to be angry than it is to be sad.  Anger produces a protective sense of power.  The feeling that stems from it is compulsive, and therefore indulged. In this way, Anger becomes an addiction.  This is why we are angry.  We love it too much.

Addiction is nothing more than the exchange of personal control for the promise of reward.  Alcohol promises relief and escape, but it ends up stealing a person’s self restraint.  Anger can do the same thing.  Anger can promise a sense of personal power, but leads to nothing more than unconfined rage if indulged beyond necessity. If you’ve seen the movie Fight Club, it shows this clearly.

Yes, I believe our society is angry because we love it, we indulge it and thus become addicted to it.  The only way an addiction is broken is when the addict becomes bored with or sick of the drug and sees that it offers nothing but a false promise.

Break this addiction to anger and you will change the world.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Awakening and Anger

Spring is at best a spiritual season. Its arrival speaks of awakening and renewal, of growth and flourish. Everything about Spring signifies hope and possibility. Its why the soul is stirred when the temperature begins to warm.

For no logical or obvious explanation, Easter felt immensely meaningful this year. Maybe it’s because I’m older and feel life’s fragility more acutely. Could be nothing more than the warmth of the sunshine. All I know is that my cup runneth over.

Part of my yearning for the power of the Resurrection stems from the frustration I feel about the current state of our nation. Politics, religion, economics, you name it. Everywhere I turn there seems to be turmoil. I’ve had to take a fast from news sources for fear that my frustration will boil into anger, and my anger won’t do anybody any good.

I’ve often felt that the two best Evangelical vices were Anger and Gluttony, at least that’s what I remember being easily justified as a I grew up. What Baptist didn’t like to eat? And there were sure plenty of disagreeing people to be mad at. I like what Anne Lamott says about anger. She says “You know you’ve created God in your own image if He’s mad at the same people you are.” I think of Anger as a vice because it is so easily indulged, much like Lust or Greed. 
I recently had an opportunity to ask Scott Horsley, NPR White House correspondent, what he thought about the polarization in today’s news media. He said that with all the extreme, partisan options available, people just tune into whatever source that reinforces their belief. And I would add, fuels their anger.

I haven’t been a part of The Church As We Know It in a long time, but I haven’t gone without a sermon to challenge my thinking. I can’t get past the first point Jesus made in his famous Sermon on the Mount.
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.

A lot of us remember the recent WWJD acronym that manifested itself in the popular bracelet craze. I certainly don’t want to downplay it, but have to admit I can’t pretend to know with any certainty what Jesus would do or say if he walked the earth today. I think it’s easy to assume He would agree with our point of view and come to our rescue in whatever issue we have deemed absolute and certain. I have one idea, however, that I ponder in my mind if I were to meet him face to face.

I picture Jesus as a shrewd, clever man. He would certainly be the world’s best poker player because no one could ever quite read him. He would change his tells at the point you think you’ve got him figured out and push all in. I like to think that he would be so confident in his game that he could get me to fold on two aces. And yet I wouldn’t feel like I’d been cheated or had.

The marriage equality issue is now at the forefront of our water cooler and social media discussions. And it’s the perfect issue that serves my point here. Regardless of what side you take on it, if you are a person of faith, it’s likely you have a defense for your position that Jesus agrees with. In this corner you have “The Bible tells me so” vs. the opponent “Jesus said to love one another and that includes same sex relationships.” The dukes are up, the bell is rung and the fight is on.


“Why are you both so angry?”

“WTF?” both fighters look at Jesus with a befuddled look.

“Yes, why are you both so angry?” asks Jesus.

I imagine this similar scenario in his first point in his first Sermon. The Pharisees who knew the law inside out were angry at those who didn’t keep it. And those who hated the religious establishment doubtless felt justified in their disdain. Jesus, on the other hand, bypassed the peripheral concern and went straight to the heart.

Yes, why are we so angry?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Sword of Greed or the Sword of Generosity

An eye for an eye. A tooth for a tooth.

It’s an understandable reaction to being wronged, but sometimes the best answer doesn’t make logical sense.

Jesus said if you live by the sword, you die by it as well. Whatever rules we choose to engage in, we must be willing to have those same rules enacted upon us. If I live a critical, negative and judgmental life, I should not be surprised when you treat me in the same manner.

As I mentioned in my last post, the emotion that many of us are feeling towards the spirit of Greed we see in our country today is acute. It angers us to see it, and rightly so, but we must be fully aware of the sword it is causing us to wield.

Folks complain that Wall Street executives make zillions in bonuses while their employees suffer and their companies go under. The corporate big-wigs giving no concern for those who work for them; I’m not sure how that works in their mind. As a business owner, I look at this and scratch my head. I would never want to treat people that way. But if I lost my job at a company where the CEO got a huge Christmas bonus and I got a pink slip, how would that make me feel? Yea, I’d be pissed too.

But where should I direct that outrage? How effective would it be for me to protest in front of the CEO’s house? It might make me feel vindicated to give him the finger and a piece of my mind, but what impact would it have on the Spirit of Greed?

If I live by the sword of anger, I must be willing to die by that sword. What do I have in the end when I exchange Anger for Anger? Everybody ends up angry.

I am a fan of Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point, in which he addresses how movements begin. They often can be traced back to simple, small beginnings. A trend starts because a few kids start wearing a particular shoe, that then gets noticed by a photographer, that gets noticed by a fashion designer, that gets noticed by a buyer, that ends up in stores all across the country and on the feet of hundreds of thousands of people. This is the nutshell version.

What if a Spirit of Generosity reached a tipping point?

It bothers me that in the majority of the noise I hear on the news, you can feel the anger. This goes for the Left and the Right. Everyone is angry and mad as hell. Is that sword really going to make anyone change their tune?

I memorized this bible verse years ago, which says, by what a man is overcome, by this is he enslaved. The explanation given to me was in a negative light, that if you are overcome by alcohol, then you are enslaved to alcohol, if you are overcome by Greed, then you are a slave to possession. I affirm that this would be a true conclusion, but could it work in the converse? Just as a person can be overcome by Evil, can a person be overcome by Good? I see a lot of people overcome by anger and rage at the Greed that pervades our culture, but what would happen if a movement of people was overcome by Generosity?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Solutions to Undefined Problems

I say it often, and that is, I am fascinated by behavior I don’t understand, which is part reason why I don’t think I ever made a very good evangelical. I found myself more interested in knowing why you believe what you believe than in me trying to explain to you the Good News. Even though I was trained and capable of sharing the 4 Spiritual Laws in my sleep, I was never quite comfortable with the approach. I always found myself asking more questions than giving answers.

While I do hold to my opinions, I’m not one to feel the need to argue a point. Political news shows that get pundits riled up and shouting at each other lead me to switch channels to something a little mellower. Contention creates drama, which some people seem to thrive upon, but it wears me out and makes me want to change the subject.

Our current political discourse is rife with this kind of quarrelling, which is both repulsive and alluring. I’m turned off by the polarization, but I am drawn in like a mouse to the cheese because there is so much belief and behavior I don’t understand. And I want to know why.

Take the Tea Party/Occupy Wall Street extremes. Some would say these are, in essence, the same reaction to the same economic concerns, with the main difference being one is far right and the other is far left. I’m not sure it’s that clear cut, but for purposes of laying out my thought process, let’s use it as a starting point.

The Political Right becomes upset with the status quo. It rallies together, organizes itself into what is known as the Tea Party. It creates a fairly understandable message; smaller government, lower debt, lower taxes, and campaigns on this platform, and eventually made a difference in last year’s midterm election. As I see it, the source of their anger was quantifiable and practically addressed. Cutting government spending and lowering taxes, whether you agree with it or not, is something that can be easily understood and enacted upon.

On the other hand, The Political Left, also becomes upset with the status quo. It rallies together, organizes itself into what is known as the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Yet its message is not quite so clearly articulated. It lacks order and identifiable spokespersons. It is seen by the general public as chaotic and immature. Described as a movement of hippies, Marxists, anarchist, and losers, the effort lacks cohesion and clarity, and therefore dismissed by those who are unsympathetic.

But to the thoughtful I would offer an appeal to not write the movement off carte blanche. You may disagree with the solutions being offered and miss the root cause of the provocation in the first place.

The first step in any kind of problem solving process is to first identify the problem. It sounds simple enough, but it fails to get done in many cases. Leadership must ask, “What is the problem we need to address?” and assist everyone involved to at least agree on what the answer to that question is. But too often we leap over this initial first step into providing our own answers to how we think the problem should be handled and heave blasting critiques to the solutions offered by those with whom we disagree.

In casual conversations with people, I like to ask those with opposing views if they know what problem the Tea Party is trying to address. I’m amazed at some of the first things out of the mouth are not defined problems, but characterizations of what they think of the movement; bigots, racists, homophobes, etc. When I do the same for the other side, and ask for opinions of what the Occupy Wall Street Movement stands for, I get the same kinds of replies; losers, lazy, socialists, freaks.

No problem identified yet.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and try to oversimplify the two movements from my vantage point. As I see it, the Right is trying to address a practical problem, while the Left is feeling the brunt of a spiritual matter.

Our country has a debt crisis. I would hope that is obvious to see. Our government spends more than it takes in. This is not a hard concept to understand. It’s the essence of sustainability. Produce more than you consume, and you can count on a sustained future. If we all agree on this, then we can get to work on a solution. Whether you think there should be more tax cuts, tax hikes, taxing the rich, cut this, cut that, spend more, spend less; these are solutions, however differing they may be. But before we tear each other apart for our solutions, have we agreed upon a common problem?

But our country is also in a spiritual crisis, and this one is a whole lot harder to pin down and address. By spiritual I don’t imply religious, but I would like to believe than an atheist, agnostic and religious person can all agree that Greed is a problem. Greed has wrecked havoc on our financial system, and not just within our borders, but around the globe as well. Greed is a longstanding human transgression, branded as one of the seven deadly sins. It has been with us since the beginning of time, and it’s not planning to go away anytime soon.

When I say spiritual, I mean just that. Greed is a spirit, much like the wind, you don’t see it, but you recognize its presence and acknowledge its consequences. And like telling the wind which way to blow, it’s my view that similarly, Greed that is immune to legislation. Sure, we can put regulations in place, stack on more and more layers of oversight and control, but Greed will still find a way around the system, and will forever take advantage of those who get in its way. Regulation is a solution, but the problem of Greed will still exist.

When I check in on the Occupy Protesters, I listen for their yearnings, not their demands. Yearning is provoked by the Problem; demands are only a response to the Problem. And if the problem is spiritual, it only makes sense to me that the reaction to it would be equally hard to pin down and quantify. Anger and outrage are understandable. They, too, are spiritual reactions.

I remember reading the parenting books when my kids were toddlers. The consensus among them was never discipline or act out in anger. The emotion may be justified as an initial response to behavior, but unchecked anger will only be interpreted as combative, not constructive. An eye for an eye leaves two people blind.

Greed is a problem and should make us angry, but it needs to lead to a constructive solution. Spiritual matters require spiritual solutions, and there is no better solution than an inspiring one versus a condemning one. Greed can be countered by its antithesis, Generosity. Can you imagine what it would look like if our nation adopted a spirit of bounty in response?

Every great awakening starts somewhere…

Sunday, June 19, 2011

All that glitters is not gold

Those who are not have a hard time understanding those of us who are, we introverts, who have an odd sort of need for time alone. The extroverts have interpretations of this requirement of anything from being unfriendly to Ted Kaczynski-like strange. But if you are one, you have an innate knowledge of what I am talking about. You may not be able to explain it, but just as effective as aspirin to a headache, so is solitude to your internal soul.

On Father's Day this morning, I began a little hashtag on Twitter (#rememberingdad) of little sayings I recall hearing from my Dad over the years. Like the time I had a flat and was so flustered by it that he simply replied, "don't cuss the one that went down; be glad the other four didn't."

"The other four? I asked. "What do you mean?"

"You've got a spare don't you? Three plus one equals four."

And thus was his simplicity of reason and his thoughtful approach to life that I saw over and over again. To this day, one of the most profound sayings he would share with me when something didn't seem quite right, like finding a bargain too good to be true, or a sales pitch offering something for nothing.

"All that glitters is not gold; All that titters is not tit."

Here again reminding me that not everything is as it seems.

But this can work in the converse, also. Some situations are much better than they appear to the naked eye. The old proverb states that there is a man who appears to be poor, yet has great wealth. Treasure is hidden, and many times left that way. It's much easier to safeguard by keeping it quiet.

Now, nearly six years after my dad's passing, I realize he was a man of great wealth, a keeper of a deep reservoir of thought, insight and knowledge, that very few people got access to. I remember him spending hours alone, on the tractor tending to our 26 acres of woods and pasture grass, or in his hand-built workshop, fixing, welding or maybe just simply enjoying the reward that the privacy proffered. I never really thought of it at the time. I was busy in my own mind to even notice or inquire. But if I had the opportunity today, I'd begin with my list of questions for him that grows longer with each continual year without him.

The more complicated my life becomes, the more I yearn for a tractor to ride, a pasture to mow, or a rose garden to tend. These were among Dad's diversions in which he found great pleasure, and which gave his mind the space it needed to explore his thoughts, much like a spelunker moving into a passage only large enough for one person to pass. It's not that you don't like people; it's just that there are some internal places too tiny for inclusion and need to be sussed out alone.

While I wish my Dad was still alive, to be able to call him today, hear his voice, and to feel his pride, I am still able to enjoy another bit of wisdom he left behind. "Don't be sad for what you don't have; be thankful for what you missed out on." Dad isn't with us any longer, but I missed out not having a father of which I was not proud.

Thank you, Dad. May I carry your legacy well.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Of music and woodsmoke

Today is my annual day to sort through my guilt for not attending a gathering of The Church As We Know It, even though I haven't participated in years. I would lie if I said I didn't ponder it, or that I am indifferent to it, even though I have been exiled for quite some time.

I think part of the residue I still carry is that my faith was public for about half of my life. I made my living because of my faith. There were expectations put on me to set an example that was culturally agreed upon by the evangelical community of which I was a part. When someone else pays your salary, you have an obligation to follow their rules. I see nothing wrong with that. The predicament arises when you can no longer balance your questions with the expectations.

When I finally came to the point of assuming sole responsibility and accountability for my faith, I decided I could start doing away with some of the excess baggage and loosen my load. Since I would be sailing uncharted waters and exploring terra incognito, it seemed a good idea to travel light. Attending The Church As We Know It was one of the parcels that got left on the dock.

So here I sit alone, Easter Sunday, watching the smoker billow its gray breath of apple wood fumes. My wife and daughter off to their respective houses of worship as I stay home and listen to the soundtrack to The Last Temptation of Christ, something I have done every year for the last ten or so years. Between the ancient sound of the music and the primal sensation of the fire, I have enough to keep my mind occupied with these two simple, natural promptings. My soul is full. There is not room for much more right now.

I know all across my city, and all across this land, there are major productions of worship being staged for the benefit and blessing of millions. I hesitate to dub it with a negative description, because many will find their way closer to God via these means, for which I am glad. It's just that, for me, when the stage that gets set, literally, with trusses of lights, cameras, video screens, sound reinforcement, and choreography, all put in place by an army of workers and volunteers for a moment in time on Sunday morning, my circuit breakers trip as quickly as running four hair dryers out of one outlet. That which I once participated and even promoted, now feels so foreign, so far away, from the point on my current horizon.

As with most of my writing, I am authoring these words for my own benefit. I am reminding myself of the reason I embarked on this journey in the first place. The unexplored seas can bring isolation, but also great exhilaration. The solitude of my new direction fosters a profundity of new stimulation for the sake of my faith. I never knew what I had until I stripped away the veneer that covered the true foundation.

He is risen, and He has risen in me, indeed.

Happy Easter

PS. Fitting to finish on track 15, it captures the passion for which the song is aptly titled.