Friday, September 28, 2012

See the Other as You Want to Be Seen

There are the safe people, the good people, honorable, trustworthy and noble; that would be "us."  And then there is everyone else.  The "other."  And we often view the "other" as possessing none of those same qualities.  The "other" easily can become the enemy.

Whether individually or collectively as a nation people upon encountering someone "other than" themselves often look downward at them rather than eye to eye.  Someone of a different color moves into the established family neighborhood and they are often viewed with suspicion before even meeting anyone.  The person who doesn't speak our language is told to learn English and abandon his native tongue; his language is "other" than ours and obviously inferior.     I look down on the guy that wears his pants halfway down his butt; I doubt his mother has a " My Son is an Honor Roll Student" bumpersticker.  Notice I mention his mother, because I doubt his father is around.  The young man is the "other."

George Byron Koch, in a paper, "The Ministry of Reconciliation," illustrates how profoundly this lens can affect our viewing of others.

Several years ago my brother was staying in a small village in Ireland.  He asked in the local pub about a similar small  village a mere 6 miles away that he was considering visiting.  He was told sharply that the village he was in had nothing to do with the other village, would not speak to anyone there--ever--and that they had no information to share with him about that village.  The anger and distrust in their voices were obvious.  The nearby village was "other," the enemy.
Nonplussed he asked about the reasons for their anger and distrust.
They said, " In 1066 when William the Conqueror came through Ireland he attacked that village first.  They didn't send anyone here to warn us that he was coming."
So "they" couldn't be trusted.  "They" were a danger.  And for nearly a thousand years "they" had remained "other," the enemy.  

At first glance this seems so appalling.  How could "they" be so narrow-minded and short-sighted?  But a look in the mirror silences my judgment.  I, too, tend to look through the same lens of distrust and suspicion. Different target, same lens.  

We all are created in the image of God and, therefore, each of us  and each of "them" are image-bearers of God.  I have to make a conscious effort not see "them" as "other" but as my brother and sister.  I need to step down off my ladder of superiority and look eye to eye at this "other " person.  

To rid myself of that downward look I need to look upward and seek God's grace to do so.  Sixty two years of will power alone hasn't worked so far. 

What a beautiful world it would be if we all could look at the "other" through the same lens that we would want the "other" to view us.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

High School Reunions: The Agony and The Ecstasy

A reality check--attend your 45th high school reunion.  

Seeing my former classmates was like a look in the mirror.  I look as old as they do.  That was one sobering glimpse.  In my state of denial I choose to believe that my physical appearance hasn't changed all that much through the years.  A reunion asserts loudly and clearly, "You gotta be kidding."

It's a hard adjustment when, if your mind works similar to mine, you remember people like they were, rather than like they are.  I recall "Bill"* as the class playboy; seeing him today I doubt he can even remember the last time he had sex.  "Virginia"* was captain of the cheerleader squad--outgoing and gregarious,blond, body of a goddess.  Add 50 lbs and subtract her personality she only speaks when spoken to. Fortunately, "Steve"** is still charming, confident, debonair, engaging, --the list goes on.  And completely psychotic. 

A 45th reunion serves as a sobering reminder of our mortality.  Of a graduating class of about 70, 10 are deceased.  That seems like a high percentage that the Grim Reaper has claimed for his own.  It reminds me to treasure each day and live it in a full way because I might also be living it in a final way.

I grew up in small-town America, graduating from Hicksville High School.  Seriously.  Upon graduation I left and never turned back,  escaping my sheltered existence and wanting to experience all that life has to offer.  I wanted to travel and explore.  I've lived with all the jokes about Hicksville.  Do you know what it was like to sit in front of a prospective employer and as he is going through your resume he notes aloud, "So you say you graduated from Hicksville High.  Are you trying to be a smartass?"  I do my best to convince him of my truthfulness but he looks at me, squinting his eyes in suspicion.

Truth is, though I don't miss small-town America  I can say with certainty there is a loyalty to each other, a mutual care and pulling together when a friend is down, a camaraderie that is seldom found elsewhere. The reunion reminded me of those glowing qualities in my friends who have remained in Hicksville.

I look forward to the 50th reunion.  I was asked if I would provide the sermon on that Sunday morning.  Talk about planning ahead.  Then it dawned on me.  I was given so much notice because they probably figure it will take me five years to come up with something of substance to say.  

Some things haven't changed at all.

*    not actual name or person
**  my actual name

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Snake and The Church: Each Can be Deadly

Venom is typically derived from snakes, but lately I think you could obtain a lethal dose from many of my fellow believers.  (hiss) 

I am appalled at the vitriolic criticism of President Obama, particularly the scathing attacks by my evangelical, conservative friends.   I am not thrilled with some of his policies, the state of the economy,  the hell of healthcare, etc.   But the hateful posts on fb both frighten and embarrass me.  Just today a friend called Obama "a traitor and "unpatriotic" and urged that he be impeached.  And this is one of the kinder, more gentle posts of late.

Many of these friends regard themselves as patriots, but it appears we are patriots as long as the one in office is the one for whom I voted.  Respect for Reagan, admiration for Bush, absolute disdain for Obama.
What became of Christian civility?  Can we disagree, but respectfully?  Can we challenge the existing administration without resorting to name-calling?  If we claim to be followers of Jesus Christ then shouldn't our conversations, our  social networking be characterized by Christ's qualities of grace-giving, meekness, and mercy?  

Hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, Isaiah prophesied about this coming Messiah and described him in this manner:  "A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering reed he will not snuff out. . . "  He will not crush even the weakest and seemingly useless reed nor put out a flickering candle, as little light as it might provide.  That same spirit seems to be missing in many of us, his followers.  In contrast, during this political season we are consumed with crushing and would love to snuff out the political opponent or the enemy.  

Another  friend posted a photo of a gun and a Bible and the caption read (close paraphrase), Two things that belong in every home and neither of which are taught in our schools.   Maybe I am hyper-sensitive but doesn't that urge a violence of spirit?  I daresay that if a Muslim had posted the same photo of a gun and the Koran with the same caption that he would be been castigated and condemned by us, but we apparently have a Christian prerogative to post such things because, after all, we are right.

As Christ followers we are to be flavoring society.  Jesus called us "salt" and "light."  Salt adds flavor to bland foods.  Light shows the way, rather than condemning everyone else's way.  Richard Rohr, in Breathing Underwater:  Spirituality and the 12 Steps,  pegs us well:

Christians are usually sincere and well-intentioned people until you get to any real issues of ego, control power, money, pleasure, and security. Then they tend to be pretty much like everybody else. We often given a bogus version of the Gospel, some fast-food religion, without any deep transformation of the self; and the result has been the spiritual disaster of "Christian" countries that tend to be as consumer-oriented, proud, warlike, racist, class conscious, and addictive as everybody else-and often more so, I'm afraid. 

May God give us grace to avoid our automatic knee-jerk reactions and to hit the pause button before spewing.  

May God work more deeply than that.  God, shape me, form me into the very likeness of Christ.  May my own core, my spirit become loving like yours, so that I'm not merely engaging in behavior management and conversation policing.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

I'm Back at the Helm, I Hope

I'm back.  More accurately, I nearly went down with the Titanic.  

I have wrestled with chronic, underlying depression for decades.  Typically, I am aware of it, feel it, but it doesn't significantly impair functioning.  I will have seasons wherein it comes to the surface and I feel its tentacles begin to wrap around my throat, but for various reasons it has released its grip and the dry, barren season tapers off.  Not this time.  

About a year and a half ago I could sense slippage.  I began to neglect responsibility.  I procrastinated more than my usual.  Motivation began to take a hit.  My energy slowly dissipated.  This has been steadily eroding my spirit, my psyche and, to be honest, and has continued to do so.  To clarify and to assuage any of your concerns, I am not suicidal.  I do not contemplate killing myself, I do not formulate plans, blah blah blah.  So knock off any unwarranted alarm.  I just don't give a crap about nearly anything.  Formerly, the task or activities that I wanted to do I now have to make myself do, including this post.

However, I am somewhat excited and maybe hopeful in that after months of writer's drought I am actually sitting at my keyboard and communicating with you.   I hope to continue posting with some consistency. I say "hope to" because while still in the throes of this prolonged dark night of the soul I am hesitant to make any absolute commitments, fearing that if I fail that will further depress me.  

I apologize for the delay, for dropping out of sight without providing any of you followers any explanation.  

There's no doubt about it--I was drowning, feeling like I was going down with the ship.  I'm not suggesting that now I'm sipping pina coladas and basking in the sun.  Not close.  But I do feel some minimal stirring of energy and motivation.  A level of nudging that  previously was not there.  We'll see.

As the song goes, "I'm in the dance band on the Titanic, singing "Nearer, My God, To Thee.""