Saturday, September 12, 2020

Emotional Autofill

For the most part, I have gotten used to - and even sometimes grateful for - the auto text feature in my word processing program or to help me along the way in texting. To begin a word and have the rest of the word or sometimes a whole phrase suggested can be a time saver - with the added benefit of the program being a more accurate typer than I am! Of course, it can go hilariously or embarrassingly wrong but proof-reading before hitting print or send will catch most of those.

 

The challenge for me these days is what I am coming to think of as emotional – socio-cultural shaped - autofill. Somebody says a word or a phrase and it triggers a whole emotional response, complete with requisite outrage. Words are less and less able to defend themselves. It apparently doesn’t matter what the speaker of the word actually meant - the emotional response to what they didn’t mean completely drowns out the rest of what might have been a conversation.

 

This is a problem in a couple of ways. First, it shuts down reasoned dialogue seeking mutual ground before it even has a chance to start. Second, it is dismissive of the personhood of the one speaking in the first place - a type of emotional cut off, calculated to restore stability to a vibrating system by undermining their intent. It is demeaning to, in effect, say, “you don’t know what you mean - so let me tell you what you mean.” And, of course, it usually reflects what is in the one who is emotionally triggered - they are responding out of fear or something like it which has devolved into anger.

 

This kind of emotional autofill is not reserved for the fearful or angry on only one side of any given issue. This is the essence of cancel culture - I know what you mean better than you know what you mean - and, based on my knowing, I deem you unworthy of being. Or, at least, of being part of the conversation…

 

You can hear it bouncing off the canyon walls of our political divide… Because you indicated an interest in pushing resources from the top where it has accumulated in obscene amounts to those at the bottom, at whose expense it much of it was acquired, you are a socialist - and therefore of no account and, on top of it all, deplorable. Because you speak the value of black lives, you must therefore be a marxist because others who say similar things hold that agenda. You cannot possibly mean that, in fact, black lives matter especially if they are the lives under present attack. Because you are concerned with what appears to be an observable pattern of the abuse of power by some under cover of authority, you must therefore be opposed to all authority and, for that matter, law and order in general.

 

And, of course, it goes the other way, as well - because you speak of the value of the life of the unborn, you must therefore not be concerned about what happens to that child once it is born into abysmal social circumstances. Or because you value border protections that assist in protecting the well-being and safety of the citizens of a country, you must be anti-immigrant and favor the sending of those in the country illegally back to almost certain death in their countries of origin. Or because you support a more or less free-market capitalist economy, you must be okay with the exploitation of the poor by the rich in a kind of economic evolution guaranteeing the survival and thriving of those with resources in the first place.

 

And on and on it goes… Because you are in favor of respecting the human rights of those with alternate sexual and gender expressions, you must therefore be in favor of pedophilia and of any and all forms of sexual behavior, and think the society does not have any business being involved at all. Or, because you are concerned with protecting the young, the naive, the innocent from sexual predation, you must therefore be in favor of regulating all and any sexual behavior and institution of morality codes for employment. And so on, ad nauseum.

 

In the meantime, we are losing the battle for humanity – for our own souls - and because we fail to realize we are all on the same team, we are all of the same kind, we all have a common Father, we appear completely unaware of the real enemy who seeks nothing more than to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. Of course, he has little to do these days - we are doing all the heavy lifting for him. Our emotional auto-fill may be his greatest strategy yet.

 

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Hope grows by sharing

Hope grows by sharing

like love

like joy

 

there is a moment of risk

in the speaking

in the launching of hope

into the cold world

it may be crushed by

broken-hearted black holes

of longing disappointed

it may get knocked

out of the air by

cynics arrows of outraged misfortune

prickly in self-defense having

been sidelined by fear

it may be co-opted

distorted into wish fulfillment by

desperation confusing faith with longing

but still

it may fly

it may soar

it may lift eyes and hearts

above the horizon to a new dawn

and

it may find others of

similar kind with whom

to unite forming

a chorus

a choir

singing the songs

of hope into the darkness

becoming light 

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Repentance in Real Time

Today is the day on which Catholics remember the Passion of John the Baptist. John’s mission was to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah by prophetically calling for repentance - a change of mind, heart, and lifestyle based on the coming of a new reality. For John, the new reality was the imminent arrival of Messiah. It is interesting, and informative for those of us who seek the Kingdom, to listen in on his conversations framing repentance in response to three representative inquiries. Luke 3:10-14 records the results of the Q & A which followed his preaching.

 

The crowd wanted to know what repentance looked like for them - John responds with characteristic bluntness. “If you have two coats, give one to the person who has none - and do the same with the food that you have.” Repentance - preparing the way of Messiah - seeking the Kingdom of God and partnering in its coming - looks like sharing with those who do not have what you have. The conditions which produced the disparity are not John’s concern here - he won’t let us hide behind the protective cover of the other’s supposed laziness, or character defaults, or justified economic inequity. It is enough that I have, and that he does not. Perhaps we can talk after we have leveled the playing field - but, given the soon arrival of Messiah, I don’t want to be caught with a closet full of extra while another waits without enough. Notice, this is not about generosity - this is about wisdom! When Messiah comes, the paradigm shifts - values are upended. You don’t want to find yourself wealthy in things that are no longer valuable - especially when you can use those presently valued things now to provide real wealth in the age that is certainly coming!

 

Not deterred by this challenging response, a tax collector presses in with the same query. John’s answer does not include taking up a different profession, but about doing the job but informed by repentance. “Collect no more than what you have been authorized to.” The system of tax collection was built for corruption – the amount authorized included a small percentage for the agent, but the system provided protection for that agent should he decide to add a surcharge to cover additional personal expenses. The result was that tax collectors were doubly loathed – for collaborating with the occupying force and for padding their pockets under cover of authority. To prepare for Messiah, John challenges them to collect only what they are entitled to. He is not concerned with their government work – perhaps his vision of the age of the messiah will require experienced, honest, and honorable tax collectors. Regardless, it is informative for those who now, at the end of time, seek the Kingdom. Do your job well, and don’t use your authority to take advantage.

 

Next up to the mic with their question were men in camo – soldiers whose hearts have been stirred by this guerilla prophet. Perhaps they recognize in him a kindred spirit – a warrior for a cause greater than himself. They respect him – and take him seriously. Their question is not asked out of idle curiosity – if a new order is on the way, if a new king is coming, how ought they prepare for his arrival? Again, it is interesting that John doesn’t tell them to resign their commissions or to take up another line of work. Serving in the military can be an honorable profession. But, like everything else associated with power, it can be more than tempting to abuse authority – especially when in such a hostile, hate filled environment where they are viewed as enemies. John responds, “Don’t take money from anyone by force, don’t file false charges – be content with your wages.” John is of the opinion that they can repent – they can prepare for the coming of Messiah – by treating those over whom they have authority with dignity and by acting honorably and without greed.

 

The parallels are not exact, but these three case studies give us a window into the practical nature of repentance – it is not about feeling bad for long enough until we can feel ok about feeling ok again. It is to change attitudes and behaviors in response to the awareness of a dawning reality. In our case, it is a primary way to prepare for and seek the Kingdom. In each case, it is about justice – especially exercised by those with power or authority or position or privilege. Those things are not to be leveraged for personal gain at the expense of others – rather, they are to be used for the good of those who aren’t similarly advantaged. The last speaks, perhaps, to those in law enforcement who are seeking the Kingdom. Even though they ought not, other officers may perhaps abuse their authority – driven by fear, they may hide behind the badge in their harsh treatment of those they are called to protect and serve. But Kingdom seekers uniformed in blue may not – they are called to prepare the way for the King by modeling what law enforcement, the exercise of appropriate authority, in the Kingdom might look like.

                                                                                                          

Today, remembering John, I am challenged to consider what repentance looks like for me. I want it to be true of me as it was of him – I want to decrease that Jesus may increase.

 

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Love Slows

 Love slows

 

the rush of demand

leaves love standing

still

waiting…

     knowing

rush hurry push shove grab get

miss

     what love receives

in stillness… slowness

 

love knows

broken hearts

     bruised bodies

          crushed spirits

call out

     for calm

     for still

     for slow

and so love slows

 

love’s pull

     love’s attraction

is more gravity

     than magnetism

glacial in comparison

but drawing equally

like and unlike

not requiring something

     attractive

in the other but

trusting deeply

it’s unconditionality

 

But such a draw

     inexorable

is slow

     knowing fast

will break

will stumble

will fall

     so

     love slows

     Love slows

 

Love invites and… waits

     without demand

but with openness

to the moment

fear loosens grip

enough to risk

     embrace

 

God is love

and slowed to

walk at human pace

inviting us

even now

     to slow

     to walk with

     Love

to slow

     to walk with

     God

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Out of Pain... New Life!

 Grateful for the opportunity to reflect on the creative capacity of the Holy Spirit to bring beauty out of ashes - joy even while mourning. Deeply needed, I think, for such time as ours...

Out of Pain... New Life!

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Wisdom in a Time of Distraction

Wisdom in a Time of Distraction

In what passes as news these days, it is important to distinguish what is actually news, what is contextualizing analysis or explanation of that news, and what is more or less informed opinion about either the news or the analysis. The first is useful, the second can be useful depending primarily on the degree to which, and the perspective from which, the analysis is informed, whereas the third is rarely useful - albeit occasionally entertaining. Unfortunately, the volume - in both senses - increases in reverse order to usefulness. In moving towards necessary simplicity, the third and largest layer ought be the first to go. The challenge, often, is to know which is which! For that, often, Spirit guided discernment is the only recourse. Of course, the Holy Spirit works better with the humble heart. Perhaps we should start all posts with “It seems to be - I could be wrong…”

In an opinion rich but wisdom poor media environment, James (3:13-18) partners with the Holy Spirit to provide a helpful metric for filtering out what is worthwhile from toxic trash. It is no surprise that the first layer, the gross filter, is character – good behavior reflecting gentleness. This is challenging in the deliberate anonymity of the news cycle – but speaks to the importance of knowing those from whom we receive even information, let alone from whom we take advice or counsel. I suspect the fact that a person is a Facebook friend is not be enough to accept everything they endorse by posting.

The primary mark of a believable character formed by wisdom is gentleness. The wise person doesn’t need to resort to insecurity generated bluster or bully to force acceptance of his or her perspective. There is a quiet strength to wisdom that does not need to assert itself but that underlies the whole of a life lived in alignment from the inside out. The wise person is a calm and non-anxious presence – engaged, but not enmeshed.

According to James, big red flags indicating lack of wisdom are bitter jealousy and ambitious striving. If a person is not solid in who they are, if they are not building on a foundation of beauty and goodness having believed the Voice from the heavens, inevitably they will resort to identity by comparison, with anger and resentment as the driving forces. And, because comparison never produces reality, they will find themselves striving – grabbing and grasping for the handles of more and better, forever climbing towards an illusive “some place” at which all will be well. Only to discover that wherever they end up, there they are. That, however, doesn’t stop them from boldly and brashly declaring their point of view as the only one worth having. Arrogance, anchored in insecurity and fear, drives them to continue long after they have become aware that they are wrong. Even though they produce chaos and increasing fear and confusion, such tactics evidently work on occasion in the Kingdom of this world – but they are never part of the coming of the Kingdom of God.

The wisdom that flows from and towards God’s Kingdom is refreshing by contrast. It is simple and singular – reflecting integrity inside and out – making for wholeness in relationships and in life. It is deeply anchored in enormous strength – and so is amenable to reason, able to yield without loss or defensiveness, marked by a kindness that enables mercy to those with whom there is disagreement, good to all without selective, self-aggrandizing manipulation of relationships. The long term outcome of a life shaped by such wisdom is righteousness informed peace. Sounds good to me.

As might be predicted, finding the latter type of wisdom is challenging on social media – or in media generally. So, we probably need to look elsewhere – perhaps to Him Who is the source of wisdom – and then use that as the lens through which to view the “news” and what passes as news.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Lord... Have Mercy

Had a chance to reflect on our deep need for mercy as the only solution to being in over our heads...
(sermon starts about 25 minutes in)