Monday, September 23, 2013

Hello, My Name is Victim

Are you a victim?  Did someone hurt you?  Did someone take advantage of you?  Did someone betray you?  Use you?  Lie to you?  Trick you?  Or better... do you find that people are often just cold and thoughtless of how their actions make life more difficult, lonely, and painful for you?

Well, welcome to the human race. You are a victim, and so am I.  And so are those people who victimized you.  In fact, if there is one thing certain, as certain as death and taxes, it is that all of us will be a victim at some point.

And many of us camp on this.  We use our victim status as a sort of crutch.  We blame others for our unhappiness as a way to refuse to take some responsibility for our lives, our choices, our potential, our goals, and our focus.  We get used to being a victim.  It's almost as though we like it in some sick way.  It becomes a familiar friend, a way to rage against the world that let us down by wallowing in self-pity and destroying ourselves.  Good one.  You're really teaching them a lesson *wink*.

But there is another response to life's pains and betrayals that is equally disastrous and cruel to ourselves, just in a different way.  It goes like this... "I'm never going to let them hurt me again.  Ever.  I need to never let anyone take advantage of me or get the better of me ever again.  I need to never put myself in a position where I can get hurt.  I need to be stronger, smarter, and more vigilant than all of them.  I'm never going to let myself be tricked, and I'm always going to stand up and put a stop to anybody who tries to pull one over on me.  @#$&!!, I need to get away from all those people!"

This kind of hyper-vigilance can border on paranoia.  This kind of ultra "take responsibility for my own life by making sure I'm awesome enough to never get hurt again" thing puts you always on the defensive, always on guard, always in performance-mode, always feeling like you need to control this and prevent that, and really... it sucks.  It is exhausting.  It leads to more misery, frustration, and disappointment with life.  Why?  Here are two huge reasons:

1. Even the best of us, and even the most seasoned and experienced, get betrayed, used, tricked, lied to, and hurt.  If someone really wants to do that to you, there is very little you can do about it except build a cabin in the woods and avoid people altogether or place all the people you have emotional investment in into a cage.  Good luck with that.  Think about it.  Think about someone right now that you are close to and care about deeply.  If they simply decided they wanted to hurt you or trick you, right now, at this moment, they could very easily, in spite of all of your hyper-vigilance.  There are few things more self-destructive than placing yourself into an impossible position that can never achieve what you intend through all of your exhausting effort.  Control is an illusion, my friend.

2. You are basically blaming yourself.  See, what ultimately comes out of that attitude is, "It's my fault.  I should have been smarter, more vigilant, more aware, more manly, more whatever."  And the next time someone gets the better of you, you take the blame on yourself even harder, "I'm so stupid!  I should have been more this or that way."  Guess what?  No, it is not your fault when someone betrays you, it isn't your fault when it happens again, and it does absolutely nothing but cause you more misery when you blame yourself like that.  It is taking the blame on yourself instead of sitting is squarely on the offender.

I came face-to-face with this recently when I realized that I was duped into taking on a responsibility that should have not been mine.  There was an item that someone was giving back to me, and originally I thought they were going to bring it over to me.  Although this other person wanted this item out of their home, and apparently wanted it out badly, suddenly I found myself going over there to pick it up for them and bring it back to my place because they were too "busy."  Huh?!  What just happened?  I had no idea.  It was like a switch-a-roo right before my eyes.  I had already agreed to go pick it up, but after I realized what had just happened, I began to get angry and feel stupid at the same time.

"Man, I'm so stupid.  They manipulated the situation and tricked me... again!  What a dope!"  I started to ruminate... "Oh, they probably don't even know they are doing it because they are so trained to act that way.  It is just natural."  My negative emotions were not even mostly about being tricked.  They were mostly negative emotions against myself for being a "stupid patsy again."  I was beating myself up.

Thankfully, by the time I got to their house reality kicked in... Why am I punishing myself?  Why am I feeling stupid?  And why am I only adding to my stress by ruminating about this?  I didn't do anything wrong.  They did.  They should feel stupid.  They should feel badly, not me.  There is zero reason to put this on me.  None.

This is not to say that we should naively continue to place ourselves in situations and relationships that are abusive or manipulative.  Of course we shouldn't.  That goes without saying.  But ultimately we have to recognize that, despite our best intentions, we cannot be bullet-proof and we cannot beat the system.  The illusion of control only makes us miserable, and blaming and punishing ourselves for being victimized only compounds that misery.  Why should I suffer from my own hand for what someone else has done?  Why take the world's side against myself?  I vote for giving myself a break and having a little realistic compassion on myself, something the "tough" refuse to do.

So, there are three ways you can respond as a "victim" in this world.  You can be a poor little victim who is always seeking sympathy, wallowing in misery, and blaming others for how your life didn't go as you wanted.  You can become a "tough guy" who will allegedly stop people from victimizing him, living in a constant and exhausting state of hyper-vigilance, frustration, and self-blame when it doesn't actually protect you.  Is it really any wonder why these first two approaches leave us hard and bitter?  Or you can be realistic and non-punishing toward yourself, taking reasonable steps to avoid destructive people and situations but treating yourself with compassion in acceptance of the fact that you aren't going to somehow be the first person in the history of human civilization to figure out how to conclusively beat the system.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Hating Others and Ourselves

We hate others because we hate ourselves.  We hate others because they have what we don't have, causing others (we believe) to want them and reject us, or we hate others because they have rejected us because of our flaws or struggles.  These situations stir up and remind us of the self-destructive disdain we have for ourselves for being imperfect, for not being able to stop rejection by being everything others want.

But if we did not hate ourselves, if we did not turn against ourselves like that, and if we stuck by our own side, refusing to take the side of the world against ourselves for being imperfect, then we may be hurt or angered by someone's rejection, but we would not hate them.  Their rejection of us, or their alleged possession of that one thing we wished we had that would prevent rejection for us, would no longer be a reminder of how much we loathe ourselves for being imperfect.

The world will not stop rejecting us.  It will not stop telling us that if we were more of this or more of that, more this way and not that way, then they would like us.  Then we would be worthy of love.  It will not stop setting standards and expectations of what it says we should be like in order to receive the status of beloved.  It will not stop selling that lie.  And it is a lie, for the moment you fall, and all of us will, it will turn on you faster than you can blink.

Still we do not have to reject and hate ourselves.  That is something we are doing to ourselves in response to the coldness of the world.  Sometimes the most difficult thing is to willingly and graciously occupy our own life.  We can find the freedom of not having to hate anyone, but it begins with us.  It begins with a declaration... a Declaration of Independence, if you will.  It begins with a rebellion.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Cultural Leaders?

I know that for many Christians, the dream is to go back to the "good old days" where Christians were "cultural leaders."  The dream is to change the culture, somehow, back to where it was in our idealized minds so that the world will presumably be a better place (in any number of ways, depending on what our pet issue is at the moment).

Here's my take on that...  I think I'll let God worry about if Christianity becomes the "cultural leader" again.  I have zero interest in trying to prove how Christianity and Christians can be "relevant" again or leaders in certain spheres of culture, such as the arts.  And after all, the Christian faith is relevant.  If I am trying to prove it to people, then maybe I'm not convinced it is really relevant, myself.  Maybe I'm the one who is out of touch with its relevance to real life, and if I were more in touch with it I would simply live it rather than trying to prove it.

What would be wonderful is if Christians simply wanted to excel at things because those things are amazing gifts to be cherished and adored.  What would be wonderful is if we gave up this ridiculous, "I'm going to prove that Christians can do it well, too" thing.  Trust me.  People actually care way less about that than we do, and the more we care about it, the more outsiders are annoyed with our sectarian drive to promote our own tribe only.

Besides, I'm not sure having Christians as cultural leaders would necessarily make everything all better.  If anyone is a serious student of history, human nature, or religious history, they will recognize the fact that sometimes the most well-meaning of "faith-motivated" ideas turn, over time, into vehicles for oppression and division.  It is not just secularism and other "isms" we need to worry about.  It is ourselves.  The Bible is unique in that it contains the most exhaustive, deep, accurate, and staggering critiques of our own faith compared to anything else out there.  We need to heed it.  Even if we do wind up contributing many positive things, Christians are just as capable of running the culture into the toilet as anyone else, just in a different and less obvious way.

This is why I suggest letting God worry about those things.  Just do what you need to do, and do it well.  If you are a Christian film-maker, just make a good movie.  If you are a Christian author, just write a good book -it doesn't even have to be a "Christian" book (I know, shocking).

Has it dawned on any of us that perhaps the very thing that today's culture rebels against and rejects most about Christianity and a Christian worldview is our die-hard drive to take over and make things go back to how they were?  And that is interesting because, while there is certainly an essential place for speaking truth and speaking our minds, I don't get the impression that the early church was endeavoring to take over anything or gain footing in any way.  I could be wrong, but my understanding is that they were simply living our their faith, amidst awful persecution, and that is what spread like wildfire.

Let God worry about showing the world how His children can impact culture.  And relax for once.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

An Ordinary Life

If you asked most Christians what the greatest thing they could do for God would be, you would get varied answers.  Many would say something like, "Sell everything I have and become a missionary."  Others would say, "Spend all my time evangelizing."  Others might say something more spiritual, abstract, and Gospel-centered-sounding like "Abide in Him!" or "Worship Him!" 

The common thread is that most of these answers involve to some degree leaving behind or escaping an ordinary life, including an ordinary job and ordinary activities, and engaging in some kind of "super-ministry" or spiritual activity.  The main issue I want to point out is that an ordinary life, and an ordinary job, is often not viewed as being "ministry" or service to others or God.  It is a life that is often relegated to the lukewarm or half-serious Christians, the mediocre, the rest of the pack.  The "on-fire" Christians, however, want to stand out and leave that kind of life behind and do something super-duper.

I take serious issue with this sentiment.  This is not, of course, to say that there is anything wrong with wanting to be a missionary, start an orphanage in a foreign land, or quit your job and become a full-time evangelist.  Some people are called to such things.  But the concerning thing is that an "ordinary" calling is not seen as a comparable and viable and equally valid Christian calling.  It seems we have run back to the pre-Reformation days when the "really holy people" became monks and learned Latin and the ordinary people worked and took care of their families.  That mindset is something the Reformers worked very hard to overthrow, yet it still lives in various forms, it seems.

I'm with the Reformers.  I don't believe our service to God or others should be about standing out from the crowd.  I don't believe in "classes" of service and ministry.  I believe that for most of us, our service to God and others will (and should) be nothing more than an ordinary life where we daily live, love our families, love our neighbors, and serve others by providing our services through our very ordinary, very non-spiritual looking jobs.

"But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and to mind your own affairs and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one." (from 1 Thess 4)

The plumber makes people's lives a little better by making sure the luxury of indoor plumbing is working in their home.  The food server makes people's lives a little better by serving their food with a smile and a warm greeting, helping them relax and enjoy a meal.  The corporate computer-programmer makes people's lives a little better by providing software solutions that enhance and automate business processes.

And this is how God acts in our lives and in the world, through the tangible hands, feet, smiles, hugs, and service of regular people.  This is how God ordinarily provides.... through the very simple and ordinary routines and activities and services of ordinary people like you and I.

Friday, September 13, 2013

One Thing

If there is one thing I have learned it is this:  Do not look to others to believe in you for you.  Do not depend on them to be for you what you will not be for yourself, first.  When you look to others to believe in you for you, in place of you, you lose yourself in them and enter into slavery.  Because you seek your foundation in someone else, you unwittingly take on the full-time job of always trying to please them, chase them, wait for them, pressure them, squeeze them, or argue with them about how they feel about you and what they think about you in the hopes of getting them to fulfill what you need.  Or maybe you go the other route and reject people, running to the next hope of finding what you need, over and over, squeezing the life out of people to be what you ought to be for yourself, first, and then throwing them away when you discover that they are human.  Such an occupation is futile and ultimately self-punishing.  It's like running on a treadmill, expecting to get somewhere.  The only place you will come to is exhaustion... and the perpetuation of the very rejection and loneliness you were desperate to avoid.

Everyone wants someone who believes in them, who cares for them and their feelings, who sees their potential.  That is normal.  But you must not put someone in this role in lieu of yourself.  It is your job to believe in yourself, to see and seize your potential, to be on your own side rather than abandoning yourself.  Only you, and your God, can and should fill that position first.  Then you will have the inner stability to find people who can add support and love and partnership to your life.  You will no longer be a tiny boat led around by the nose, to and fro in the midst of a storm, chasing after anything you hope will be a life boat.  You will recognize the people who really do love and believe in you (and who do not), and they will be the icing on the cake, rather than being made the cake itself.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Truth Hurts

"It's funny how most people consider honesty a virtue yet nobody wants to hear the truth."

This is true.  We do seem to have an aversion to the truth.  It is hard-wired in some weird sense.  When the truth confronts some of our most cherished strongholds, we will not relent easily.  We will deny, run, deflect, project, and do anything to either discredit or downplay the claim against us or put the other person on the defensive.

Yet sometimes people don't want to hear the "truth" because its either only your opinion which you blindly and carelessly blow out your mouth, as though you are some kind of expert on other people, or because it is truth spoken without love.

See, when "truth" is used to put people down or elevate yourself, it betrays the One who is the Truth.  People love to use the "truth" in this way when they are angry, for example, and then they say something equally as cold when they see how it hurt the hearer... "It's not my fault you cannot handle the truth."  Shameless.

Granted, some people could not see the love in your words even if you put it right in front of their faces, but could part of the problem be that there isn't any?

We love to use the "truth" for all kinds of reasons, deceiving ourselves into thinking that our intentions are purely noble.  We conveniently hide behind the fact that the truth is the truth -the sterile, objective, impartial, blind, non-emotional facts.  It doesn't pick sides.  It just is what it is.  But in so doing, we turn a blind eye to how we are using the "truth" (if it really is the truth) in a certain way and for a certain purpose.  That, my friends, is never purely objective.

There is a flawed person behind those words and intentions.  The truth may be impartial but we certainly are not.  We may want to hurt people, put them down, lift ourselves up, show our dominance, show how smart we think we are, control them, or simply reject them while leaving them with the final, echoing message that they are wrong, flawed, and deserving of our dismissal and we are right.  We use the truth to win, to manipulate, and to dominate.

Yet how often do we really stand across from someone, eye-to-eye, standing in their shoes, and tell them the truth in love?

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Bad Arguments... Blech!

In this video, a member of Australian parliament, a "devout Christian", allegedly stuns a Christian pastor with his reasoning for why he has changed his mind and chosen to support "marriage equality."

I've known other Christians who, for reasons they believe are entirely Christian, have chosen to drop the fight over the legalization of gay marriage.  That's fine.  But what I can't stand is bad argumentation.

Here are a list of his arguments with my responses:

1. People do not consciously choose their sexual orientation and therefore are born that way; therefore, it cannot be wrong.  God made them that way.  Case closed.

My response:  The question of where sexual orientation comes from is something that mankind, even with our best knowledge, still has yet to definitively answer.  To me, the fact that nobody consciously chooses sexual preference means little to nothing, and to suggest that this fact means that our sexual preference is purely innate and therefore above moral accountability is simply not true.  I've never heard of a sexual predator who said they chose to be sexually attracted to little boys.  You can try to dismiss this comparison with shock, but do we really have any reason to make a distinction here?  Some people have a sexual preference for children.  They never chose it.  They never woke up one day and said, "I think I will choose to think little boys are sexy."  We can say it is "wrong" because it involves children, but really, based on the logic above, who are we to say it is wrong?  "Well, it is just obvious".  Yes, and 80 years ago it was obvious to us that same-sex sexual preference was just "wrong", too, so who are we to believe our miniscule cultural moment in history is so damn right?  Arrogant much?

The Bible says that we are born sinners.  We are born corrupt, with a tendency away from God and away from His design for us as humans.  That does not mean that God "made us" that way.  In fact, the Bible teaches that we are born corrupt because this entire world is corrupt due to man's original rebellion away from God.  You can disagree with the Bible on this, but don't pretend that doing so gives you a "Christian" argument.  Call it what you will, but it is not Christian.

Thus, even if we argue that our sexual inclinations, like many of our other inclinations, are somehow innate, it still does not mean they are above reproach or natural or according to God's design.  I would argue that what is wrong with us is woven into the very core of us, into the fabric of our being, and that won't change until Jesus returns to end this age and bring the new age to fruition.

2. If you accept #1, then it follows that it is not right to deny two same-sex-oriented people who want to love and be together romantically, relationally, and sexually and have it be recognized by the state.

My response:  Yes, if we grant that his starting point is true.  But notice where his starting point leads.  It leads away from the Bible, which is shown when the pastor who asked the question promotes the definition of marriage re-affirmed by the word of Jesus as being one man and one woman.  And if your view contradicts Jesus, then okay, but again... don't call it Christian.  This actually does illustrate the big picture issue.  Both people in the video, the pastor and the parliament member, have two completely different starting points.  The parliament member tries to prose his argument under the guise of Christianity, but his arguments thus far do not come from God's Word.

3. "If I was going to have that view, uh, the Bible also says that slavery is a natural condition."

My response:  Huh???  Let's see, if he was going to have "that view"... oh, you mean the view that the Bible and, in particular, the words of Jesus, should shape our view and direction on things, the very view that Jesus says is definitional of one of his followers... then that would mean embracing evil things that the Bible allegedly teaches and condones.  His example?  Slavery.

I'm sorry, but this is just ignorant tripe being regurgitated.  It is a common objection that is thrown out there, and people buy right into it.  Note the loud applause by the audience.  The problem is that the Bible nowhere says that slavery is a "natural condition."  What does the Bible say about slavery?

It says that we are all born corrupt and slaves to sin, slaves to our desires that draw us away from God and toward the idea that we are gods who define everything for ourselves (ironic?).  In the Old Testament, slavery was common, just as was polygamy.  Slavery was never condoned, in fact the Law itself condemns capturing a man and oppressing him.  The Old Testament records many things, including illicit sex, murder, affairs, etc.  This does not mean they are taught or condoned.  In fact, chaos and destruction is always shown to be the result.  There is no way you can read the Exodus story, the story of Israel's redemption from 400 years of slavery and oppression under the Egyptians, the centerpiece of the Old Testament, and think for a moment that the Bible teaches that oppression is okay.

But he then does actually try to surmount some proof for his statement by quoting from the New Testament where the apostle Paul instructs slaves to be "obedient to your masters."  "And therefore we should have all fought for the confederacy... blah blah blah."  Really?  It sounds really good, but it comes up short when it comes to facts.  First, first-century Roman-culture slavery was not the same as African slavery in early America.  I learned that in 7th grade Latin class, long before I became a Christian.  Roman-culture slavery was not race-based and did not involve kidnapping people and treating them as animals.  Roman-culture slavery was more like indentured servitude.  Let's not try to compare apples and oranges.  This is a canard that is casually passed off by this Prime Minister either because he is ignorant, himself, or he assumes that his hearers are.  I'm not sure which is better.

Besides, Paul's point was not even that this kind of slavery was "good" or "natural".  Within the same breath, Paul instructed these early Christians to be subject to the governmental authorities, to be good citizens, even though Paul would certainly not accept or condone the Roman oppression of the Jews and the occupation of their home.  His point was to encourage them to find ways to live out their faith, to live out the Gospel of their freedom and acceptance in God's sight for the sake of Jesus and what He did for them, by being a light of love and humility to others.  In other words,

Need I point out how vehemently Paul also taught that in the Gospel, in the Kingdom of God, in the new reality created by Jesus for us, there is no Jew or Greek, no slave or free, no male or female.  All of those man-made distinctions for status and approval and special treatment that were so prevalent in that culture, and are in their own way today, mean nothing. We are all one in Christ.  Using the common tools one uses to understand any document (such as looking at the context), it is easy to see that Paul's point was not to condone oppression or call it "natural" but rather that "you are already free in Christ, so use the present conditions you are in as an occasion to demonstrate the light of that freedom to others."

4. The fundamental principle of the New Testament is one of universal love, loving your fellow man.

My response:  Even if that is true, real love does not mean thinking everything someone thinks or does is right or acceptable.  Jesus died on the cross for us out of love.  Has this man considered that while this is a wonderful testimony of his love toward us, it is simultaneously a stark condemnation of our wickedness?  It says, "You are so beloved, I was glad to do this for you.  But you are so wicked, I had to.  There was no other way."  The cross of Christ both condemns and revives us.  Love does not draw back from being honest about what it sees.

But secondly, is that really the fundamental principle of the New Testament?  Or is "love" something that stands within a much greater context that this man is totally missing in his desire to turn the New Testament into a pick-and-choose selection of instructions that suit his purposes?  After all, 30 seconds ago the Bible condoned and taught that slavery is a "natural condition".  Now, the New Testament, which contains the very passage he quoted to prove his point about the Bible and slavery, suddenly teaches "universal love, love for your fellow man."  Okay, well which is it?  Does it teach that oppression is acceptable, even natural, as you tried to make it say that it did?  Or does it teach universal love?  Those seem pretty different to me, even exclusive.  Could it be, Mr. Prime Minister, that you are trying to pick and choose what you like when it suits your position but then crapping on the Bible when it doesn't?  Could it be that the Bible forms nothing of your opinion whatsoever, and you use it only when it is convenient?  Yes, I think so.  Good show.

Universal love is very important, but the New Testament is not primarily about a principle of love.  Come on, it isn't like we didn't already know we needed to love each other.  Did Jesus really go through all the trouble of coming down here and living and dying just to tell us to be nicer to each other?  Did the early Christians, for the first few hundred years (and today in other parts of the world, still) give up their lives to be tortured and killed for a message of "love everybody and be nice?"  Sorry, something MAJOR is missing.

The New Testament is primarily about how the God who created the heavens and the earth, who then chose to create a people Israel for Himself, through whom He would some day redeem all of humanity and reverse the curse on this entire world, finally came to do so, to live up to all of His promises, but did so in a way that nobody really predicted and few really wanted.  He did so by sending Jesus into the world, born of a woman, born into this world like you and I, to do His Father's business of healing the sick, forgiving sins, loving outcasts, and standing up to the bullies, while eventually giving up his life in the stead of every one of us and then rising from the dead so that sin and death do not have to be the final condemning word for us, for those who by faith embrace Him and His words, and that there is a new age growing out of his resurrection.  It is about the promised Kingdom of God coming, not in a way any of us expected, and not in the way we (or the Jews at the time) wanted.  But it came in Jesus Christ and in His life, death, and resurrection from the dead, and it is coming in its fullness when He returns.  That is what the New Testament is about.  To miss this and focus on just "universal love" in a way you can use to suit your arguments is either ignorant or dishonest.