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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

dashboard confessional

okay, so what is it about anger that makes it so inspiring?

seriously, i was at a conference this weekend and was afforded the opportunity to sit under the teaching of an ardent biblical scolder.

yes, correct... not scholar- scolder.

you know how it can go: a strongly opinionated, well-studied and proof-texted presentation from a very right-wing, fundamentalist Christian faith and belief system that seems to be a bit lacking in the grace elements of the gospel (grace being the only thing that actually makes the news good)... i found myself wondering if there is any room for grace when we've drawn the bible-belt so tightly around us that
the circulation is cut off to our legs, rendering us
missionally disabled
mere recipients of fellowship and favour
recievers who no longer give anything but advice and admonishment
from seats set upon high-sounding, morally authoritative pedestals
of our own design.

with verbal shock absorbers like
'do we know God well enough to spot what is wrong-
not to judge but to discern?
i found myself imagining how awfully perilous it would be for me if, for some reason, the speaker were mad at me.

scary is as scary does. lucky for me i'm a heterosexually married, white, anglo-saxon, protestant guy with a job in the church and a happy, healthy family or i might just be outside of the margins. good thing i've got my genetically latent alcoholism under control and my love for celebratory cigars held in check by the basic infeasibility of celebrating anything with a cigar in forty degrees below zero plus wind...

lest i fear the sting of that same bible belt across my own back.

but why did this all make me so angry? why did the words of a complete stranger who reads the same holy scriptures as i so inflame my own sensibilities to the point of returning violence with violence?

is it simply that whole 'righteous anger' thing? that if you can somehow inspire some well-intentioned aggression then people will often mistake their passion for purpose and principle, moving to act in the moment of this passion using means which are, for the most part, embarrassing because they are so 'typical.'

the statement is made:
'when you presume to teach the Word, you face greater condemnation
for mishandling God's word...

and suddenly my back's up, going
'that is exactly right, and there is some rather intense mishandling based on some rather exclusive social and cultural defaults going on here."

violence, say hello to violence.

for each action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

(newton's third law)

somewhere in the scriptures is the challenge to begin with love, that all the actions which follow the hearing of this word need to be somehow characterized and in all ways recognizable by the love from which we all begin and through which our greatest self is realized.

somehow, purity and love only matter
when they split the rent in the same heart.

me? i'm still trying to give them enough room in there to work that out. there's a lot of stuff out in the dumpster, left in my heart by the former tenants and tossed out by these ones.

however, i am deeply indebted to that speaker for reminding me that earnestly studying scriptures and thoughtfully working through the lessons contained within them- making sure that what i hold to believe is consistent with the scriptures from which i draw this believe- is my responsibility... recognizing that the teachings of one are in all ways informed by the personality, experience and relationships of the teacher, just as the learnings drawn from the teachings presented are informed by experience and relationships of the student.

it is not about agreement.
it is about being able to grow within challenging social contexts as well as simply mystical ones.

still working on that one. thank you for hearing my confession.

jude- especially vv4, 21
1 corinthians 6.9-10
the good people at will be able to provide online reference...

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

people person

recently a friend of mine sent me a sad email. there was further breakdown in an old relationship that had remained damaged for months, and it seemed that the other person involved wasn't interested in restoration of any kind. my friend had tried everything...

everything, that is, except letting go.

it hurts to be hated. there's no way around that one.
you can push it down, back, away, whatever seems to work...
but it takes nothing to bring it right back to the front of the emotional line.

absolutely nothing.
even the tiniest of nothings is something, is enough.

so where is the peace?

for me, it has been in embracing the reality that there are things that extend way beyond my control to fix them, and yet are still within my realm to affect negatively.


yep- the harder a person tries to fix a situation that is not theirs to fix,
the worse it has the potential of becoming.

wow- that sucks.

yeah, it does.

remember the old serenity prayer?

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

this is the part that we all remember, having read it on kitchen magnets and plaques on the walls of the homes of many a grandmother... but there is more to it:

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.

--Reinhold Niebuhr

"as it is, not as i would have it..."

especially in the area of relationships, it is really important to remember that others are actually involved- that others' free will is part of the context in which i find myself. i can want whatever i want, good or bad, but this doesn't have any impact at all on what the other wants.

so how do i serve the other in this case? with my well-intentioned designs on restoration, how do i work towards their realization?

the rather easy answer is to meet the other person halfway- although, for a number of reasons, this one is nowhere near as easy as it looks.

within the safety and seclusion of my own house, i am free to sort out what this all means to me... i am free to attend to the needs of my own heart- especially the need for restoration. however, it's really important to remember that the other person also has a house, and that there is a road between the two of us that is maintained by both of us through the taxes we pay.

somewhere between one person (A) and the other (B) is the point where the interpersonal friction stops being about the one and starts being about the other. the 'middle' may or may not be exactly halfway on the road- depends on the road.

more than likely, it is not.
(see the thrilling diagram above, created at great expense for this post)

more than likely, the geometric bisecting point between A and B has more actual road on one side of it than the other. this is because the road between our two houses has many curves and hills and we are trying to see the journey the way the crow flies. the road is different between every pair of houses. sometimes, my side is the shorter side, other times, my side is the longer one.

as i shared this idea with another friend of mine, he confessed that his side of the road between his house and the house of a person with which he has been struggling probably looks more like a twisting, turning, knotted ball of string than a road. wow- such insight!

a lot of our effort (not to mention a lot of our interpersonal grief) seems to ultimately be about our attempts to fix something that is not ours to fix or otherwise take upon ourselves something that is actually someone else's burden to shoulder... if there may very well be more road on the other person's side of the 'midpoint' than on mine, then traveling their road back to where they are may be intrusive, causing resistance or resentment or worse. it is probably more important that everyone travels their own piece of road, than it is that restoration be swift. most journeys take time and cost us all something- especially if one is making this journey in such a way as to become intimately acquainted with the road itself.

growing up in kamloops, british columbia, i was very familiar with mountains and valleys- particularly the set of them that connects kamloops to kelowna, which is roughly ninety miles away in the okanagen fruit belt. as a family, we must have made the trip by car or volkswagen van at least a thousand times.

i was sure that i knew the road, but only when i rode my bike that distance as a 14 year-old kid did i actually come to know it intimately. suddenly every hill had new meaning and every tree that offered shade in the summer heat was sent by God. with that trip came an incredible understanding of that road that has never left me, the kind that only comes from actively owning the journey.

to try to explain it to another with words falls short.

to try to convince another of its depth without affording the other the opportunity to actually take the trip is rather presumptuous. perhaps well-intentioned, but presumptuous nonetheless.

tangent: it could be similar to trying to talk someone into converting to a religion when they are not ready to do so. we've all seen how well that works- probably from both sides of the line drawn in the sand by the person doing the talking. i mean, apparently free will characterizes all of our actions and all of our relationships, whether it is a relationship with God or a relationship with another person, and the true restorative power is that of the Holy Spirit...

whatever the difference or conflict separating our two houses, i need to let the Holy Spirit do the Holy Spirit's job on the road of the other while i wait on my side of the signpost that marks the continental divide, having journeyed with this same Spirit of unity there.

my desire to own the road together cannot really be addressed until we both meet together at the point of restoration. the one who gets there first may need to wait all day, all month, all year, all life... letting the other person gain the wisdom of traveling their own road in order to meet in the middle.

in conflict, perhaps the greatest grace we can offer is the grace we extend to someone who requires more travel time in order to make it to the meeting.

i have a quote on my facebook page that has been there awhile:

Homer, how can one man have so many enemies?
I'm a people person.

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Plague of Darkness

It's always the darkest time of year when we read about the plague of darkness in Parashah Bo during the yearly Torah reading cycle.

I've always been fascinated by the Torah teachings on darkness since there are two contradictory images to be found. One is the image of darkness as a place devoid of God's presence; the other is of darkness as a place where God hides. In today's parashah a plague of darkness descends of the Egyptians. Darkness is a part of everyday living, however, so why is this plague considered so awful? If it's dark out why not light a lamp? And don't our eyes adjust to dark after awhile so that we can see? It seems like darkness that goes on for days would be frightening, but why would it be considered worse than all the plagues which preceded it?

Rabbi Yitzhak Shemuel Reggio taught: From here we learn that they were terrified by strange visions until fear made it impossible for them to move from place to place, as happens to a person who is frightened by a catastrophe.....that there was no darkness in the land, but only in the eyes of the Egyptians.

Rabbi Lisa Gelber teaches: The Torah reminds us that the Israelites were afflicted with hard labor and spiritual strain. The Egyptians did not see the despair of the people of Israel. They could not look into the eyes of their fellow human beings and acknowledge their pain. They stumbled about in the darkness, tripping over the core institutions of respect and freedom. “No one could see the other. And no one could rise from his or her place for three days (Lo ra’u ish et ahiv. V’lo kamu ish mitachtav shloshet yamim)” (Exod. 10:23)....How does darkness become a plague? By blocking the light, turning off our awareness, shutting down relationships, and preventing us from becoming agents of change.

Midrash: The plague of darkness is 'the darkness of Geihinnon'. It connects the darkness that afflicted the Egyptians with the primordial darkness that existed before God said, "Let there be light." Just as the light of Shabbat is a foretaste of the world to come, the reward that awaits the righteous, the darkness of the ninth plague is a foretaste of Geihinnon, the punishment that awaits those who cannot truly see their neighbor, who cannot feel the pain and recognize the dignity of their afflicted neighbors.

Rabbi's comments: And so, the pure righteous ones do not complain about darkness, instead, they add light. They do not complain about evil, but instead add justice. They do not complain about heresy, but instead add faith. They do not complain about ignorance, but instead add wisdom.

Yael's thoughts: Always in religion we talk about lighting the world, about darkness being something to overcome. Yet, I find darkness fascinating. Darkness is easy on the eyes, bright light is so harsh and glaring. With darkness we can see eternity, the moon and stars, forever. In light we can only see the earth around us. In darkness we can be honest and open, intimate. In light we are vulnerable, barriers appear, we withdraw into our own worlds of busyness. Darkness can be a plague, a thing to fear, but it doesn’t have to be. God hides in darkness, one of my favorite images. In the dark God is near and there is a peace I seldom find in the light….Perhaps darkness is only a plague to the person totally alone, with no sense of God or community?