Monday, January 31, 2011

New Sermon Podcast:.11/23 - Peace in Community

Lessons from the Shirtless Dancing Guy

"I read about what Jesus did and said and then I go to church and I think, I don't think this is what Jesus had in mind." -Reoccurring Statement

I have been reading through Jesus' words recently. Just Jesus' words. It's really easy because in Bible they are the red words. So I just started in Mark asking simple questions like: What did Jesus say? Why did he say what he said? Who did he say it to? How did they understand or misunderstand what he was saying? How am I then to understand and respond to what Jesus said?I few things that have jumped out at me, some reminders, some new insights.

The Kingdom of God: This is far and away Jesus' dominant and essential message. If we miss this, we might miss everything. Jesus says some strange things about the Kingdom of God (KOG). The KOG is here. The KOG is near. The KOG will come before some of you have died. The KOG is like a seed, etc, etc. Jesus was (is) obsessed (can I use that word) about the Kingdom of God - "May Your Kingdom come, on Earth as it is in Heaven."

The Group Dynamics of Dynamic Groups: One reoccurring theme is how some people will get his message and others won't. He seems at peace about this. In fact, he seems strategic about it. "This is why I speak in parables..." In one passage he is delighting joyfully in the beauty of this truth - "O Father, Thank You for hiding the truth from those who think themselves wise and clever, and for revealing to the childlike. Jesus doesn't spend much time or energy trying to convince people who aren't open to his message. He says, if you want to be my disciple, you will have to take up your cross and follow me. He doesn't sugar coat it. He doesn't try to please those who dislike his message. In his own home town people are reluctant to believe in him. They say "show us a sign," essentially "prove yourself." Jesus basically says, this is so predictable. I'm not going to try to prove myself. At times he seems almost pragmatic in his understanding of leadership, structures and groups. In his first recorded parable Jesus says, you can't patch an old garment with unshrunk cloth. For the new patch shrinks and pulls away, leaving an even bigger hole than before... No one puts new wine in new wineskins, the new wine would burst the wineskins."

Conflict: Jesus is so amazing in his ways of dealing with conflict. Somebody accuses him of something really bad, and he tells a story. They corner him and want to stone a young woman, he draws in the sand and says, "Sure...just let the one without sin throw the first stone..." And then he doodles in the sand some more. When Jesus' enemies have traditional wisdom on their side, like when they didn't want him to heal on the Sabbath, Jesus gets at the heart of their real motives. "Is today a day for doing good or evil." Then he heals the man.

Jesus' Peeps: Jesus got a lot of flack for the people he was spending considerable time with..."sinners." Jesus would just say things like, "It's not the healthy that need a doctor, but the sick... I didn't come to spend my time with those who think they are already good enough." The first time Jesus is almost killed it is because he praises outsiders. He says, Elijah was sent not to one of us, but to an outsider. And what about Elisha he could have healed one of the lepers among us but he healed an outsider. Jesus says to his accusers, "you say I am a glutton and a drunkard and a friend of the worst kind of sinners. But wisdom is shown to be right by the people who follow it."

What implications might this have for Christ-Followers and the Church? Recently I have been wondering (sometimes out loud) about how much (or little as the case may be) the church is shaped by Jesus. We sing, Be Thou My Vision, but do we really mean it? Is the JesusVision our guiding force for shaping the way we focus our time, energy, resources, budget, staff, buildings. Is the JesusVision the model for how we handle conflict and think about group dymanics/ dynamic groups? Are we unapologetically cultivating a kingdom culture? 

In Len Sweet's new book FirstFollowers (yet to be released) he talks about the importance of leaders (actually everybody) to be first-followers of Jesus. To let the JesusVision shape one's life and to organize around that. If churches, families, people, individuals could do that something really radical could happen. Movement.

Check out this video ~ Lessons about Leadership from the Shirtless, Dancing Guy. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

THE Bomb and Telling the Truth

"Speak Truth to Power" -Quaker Phrase

In 1994 the Smithsonian was working on restoring and displaying the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the Hiroshima Bomb incinerating 130,000 people instantly and an unknown number of people later from radiation poisoning. They planned to include a plaque explaining why it was necessary to drop the bomb. The plaque described how the bomb had saved tens of thousands of US lives and ended the war, despite evidence to the contrary.

According to the Wikipedia article J. Samuel Walker, chief historian of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has stated: "The consensus among scholars is that the bomb was not needed to avoid an invasion of Japan and to end the war within a relatively short time. It is clear that alternatives to the bomb existed and that Truman and his advisers knew it."

Furthermore, some leading historians such as Gar Alperovitz and Kai Bird claim they can prove that the war was about to end and that the U.S. planned to use the bomb in order to show the U.S., not the soviet union would be recognized as the world's new superpower.

Catholic Priest and peace activist John Dear (not like the tractor), recounts his attempts at persuading the Smithsonian to tell the truth about these events and to have a more accurate historical account that carries a tone of deep remorse and repentance - something akin to the Holocaust Museum.

Dear entered the Air and Space Museum and spoke to the curator asking to see the manuscript for the proposed exhibit. He suggested that representatives from national peace organiztions also examine the exhibit. The Smithsonian agreed. They all met and the peace activists suggested including faces of some of the victims and a rewriting of the historical account. A few weeks later they met with a delgation of historians and scholars from around the country. They confirmed that the US new that Japan was about to surrender because they had intercepted  and decoded Japanese messages sent to the Soviets.

Over fifty historians and scholars released and signed a letter calling for a new exhibit. "It is most unfortunate that the Smithsonian is becoming associated with a transparent attempt at historical cleansing... the archival documents and artifacts have been removed from the exhibit under political pressure and intellectual corruption..."

In the end the Enola Gay was displayed with a brief plaque that simply read, "dropped the atomic bomb that ended the war and saved lives." The pentagon, senate, and veterans groups were all relieved. Rush Limbaugh publicly denounced the peace activists.

To this day the U.S. maintains well over 20,000 nuclear weapons. The U.S. is the only nation to have ever dropped an atomic bomb as a weapon of destruction. In the world there are approximately 5,000 nuclear weapons on a hair-trigger alert, ready to fire at a moments notice.

Sometimes the truth is really difficult to hear - the truth about our country's history, the truth about the church's history, the truth about suffering, injustice, and poverty in the world. The truth challenges us, confronts us, shakes us out of our comfort levels and convenient beliefs. The truth, as Jesus said, sets us free. The truth sets us free from having to keep propping up the myths, from having to fear that what we have propped up will come crashing down around us like a house of cards. As we pursue truth wherever it leads us and plunge into the depths of that truth, we will begin to be freed and to find the way of peace.

*Story taken from John Dear's book Living Peace

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Fable:The (inverse) Power of Belief

Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. This is why I speak to them in parables: Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. -Jesus

These are some really confusing and counter-intuitive words aren't they? Why would Jesus not want people to understand? How is taking from the have-nots and giving to the haves fair? I think that Jesus was talking about this idea (that I have been hashing out in other posts) that those who are unmotivated to change are impenetrable to insight. The question that many leaders (churches, companies, families) have is who do we focus on to create a healthy environment for all? Some leaders focus on those with the most pathology (dysfunction) only to become frustrated, discouraged and more stuck.

Jesus didn't do that. He didn't spend all his time thinking that he could convince those who were unmotivated to see things his way. He said, "come follow me" to a few and then he went. When he encountered those who misunerdstood him and accused him, he told stories, he got to the root of people's motivations, and he found creative ways to deescalate conflict.

The following Friedman Fable shows just how powerful belief can be to help people not change.

One evening a man came home and announced that he was dead. Immediately, some of his neighbors tried to show him how foolish this notion was. He walked, and dead men cannot move themselves. He was thinking, his brain was functioning, and he was breathing; and that after all, is the quintessence of living. But none of these arguments had any effect. No matter what reason was brought to bear against his position, no matter how sensible the argument, the man maintained he was dead. He parried their thrusts with ingenious skill.

He seemed to have a way of constantly putting the burden of proof on the other. Every now and then someone thought, Now, I!ve pinned him down,"having brought evidence so obvious no one could deny it; But then he would use his trump: "If I am dead, you don!t exist either since surely the living do not traffic with the dead." 

As the mixture of fear and frustration thickened, it was finally agreed that
outside help must be called. A psychiatrist, and preacher were both brought in, but to no avail. Finally they brought in the family doctor. He had known the man since he was a little boy, and besides being a physician with a reputation for patience and skill, he was respected everywhere for his homey

"Tell me, do dead men bleed?"
"Of course not," said the man. "Then," said the doctor, "would you allow me to make a small cut in your arm, say above the elbow? I will treat it; there's no reason to worry about infection. I'll stop the flow immediately, and we can see, once and for all whether you are dead."

With everyone watching anxiously the doctor deftly slit the flesh, and blood came spurting out. There was a gasp of joy throughout the group. Some laughed, others even applauded though a few seemed rather to be relieved. The doctor quickly dressed the wound and turned to everyone saying, "Well, I hope that puts an end to this foolishness." Everyone was congratulating the physician when they suddenly realized that the man was headed for the door. As he opened it, he turned to the group and said, "I see that I was wrong." Then, as he turned to leave, he added, "Dead men in fact, do bleed."

  • How much energy do you spend trying to persuade or change other people?
  • Have you ever found yourself impenetrable to insight?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Bridge and the Rope: A Fable about (not?) being Responsible

I sometimes wonder about relationships and what sabotages them. I wonder about how much I should let others' expectations of me (as a person, pastor, Christian, Father, Husband) define me. What about when people want me to be responsible for their emotional well-being? Do you ever get that sneaking suspicion that someone is giving you the message that if you don't do such-and-such, they cannot be happy, fulfilled, at peace, whatever? And if they are unhappy, dissatisfied, not living up to their potential you feel responsible? Truthfully, this is one of my greatest struggles - getting absorbed into others' emotional spheres, and making my happiness contingent on others' happiness.

The always edgy and paradoxical  (late) Edwin Friedman says that some time ago he stopped trying to educate people and instead began trying to free them from this "syndrome". He developed a presentation called, How to Get Your Kid to Drop Out and Save $100,000 in Tuition. He began every session by describing the techniques he would introduce such as: how to escalate conflict, screw up communication, and increase the generation gap. He insisted that parents read everything they can about parenting to ensure that they become more anxious, and inconsistent, and less the kind of self-confident, non-anxious, challenging presence that could ultimately cost them a bundle.

Below I have included one of his Fables that I think relates. Tell me what you think.

It is a moonlit night and alone in his thoughts he starts crossing a bridge. The man sees out of the corner of his eye a stranger dressed much like himself coming towards him. He thinks the man approaching is putting his hand out to greet him. However, the stranger has the end of a rope in his hand with the other end entwined around him.

The stranger asks the man to hold the end of the rope. Whilst perplexed the man complies.

The stranger asks the man to hold on tight with two hands and then promptly jumps off the bridge toward the swift running deep river below. "Hold on" the stranger cries. The free-falling body hurtled the distance of the rope's length, and from the bridge the man abruptly felt the pull. He held tight despite being almost pulled over the side of the bridge.

Peering down at the stranger who was close to oblivion, the man yelled, "What are you trying to do?"

"Just hold tight," said the other.

The man tried to haul the stranger in but he could not. He could not get enough leverage. His strength was almost perfectly counterbalanced by the other man's weight.

"Why did you do this?" the man called out. "Remember," said the other, "if you let go, I will be lost." "But I cannot pull you up," the man cried. "I am your responsibility," said the other. "Well, I did not ask for it," the man said. "If you let go, I am lost," repeated the other.

The man looked around for help, tried to invent solutions but could not think of any that would work. He waited for someone to come and help pull the stranger up, but no one came. Fearing that his arms could not hold out much longer, he tied the rope around his waist.

"Why did you do this?" he asked again. "Don't you see what you have done? What possible purpose could you have had in mind?" "Just remember," said the other, "my life is in your hands."

Time passed and a decision needed to be made. The man could not hold on much longer.

A thought occurred to him. If the stranger hauled himself up and he kept the end steady and pulled a bit, together they could get the stranger back to safety. But the other wasn't interested.

"You mean you won't help? But I told you I cannot pull you up myself, and I don't think I can hang on much longer either." "You must try," the other shouted back in tears. "If you fail, I die." The point of decision arrived. The man said to the other, "Listen to me. I will not accept the position of choice for your life, only for my own; the position of choice for your own life, I hereby give back to you."

"What do you mean?" the other asked, afraid. "I mean, simply, it's up to you. You decide which way this ends. I will help you if you help yourself."

"You cannot mean what you say," the other shrieked. "You would not be so selfish. I am your responsibility. What could be so important that you would let someone die? Do not do this to me."

He waited a moment. There was no change i the tension of the rope. "I accept your choice," the man said, at last, and freed his hands.

Thought? Perspectives? Insights? Questions?

  • How does this Fable relate to living at peace with others?
  • Does this Fable promote selfishness?
  • What would you do in this situation?
  • What do you do in these situations?
  • What do you think God wants you to do in these situations?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Tiger and the Lamb: A Fable about (Not?) Keeping the Peace

"The colossal misunderstanding of our time is the assumption that insight will work with people who are unmotivated to change.” -Edwin Friedman

The story below is from a book called Friedman's Fables. Edwin Friedman is one of my favorite authors regarding issues of family and systems dynamics. He was a beloved Rabbi, therapist, and author. He often has counter-intuitive insights for getting outside of a group's emotional regressive patterns. He promoted nurturing your own challenging, paradoxical, non-anxious presence. What lessons do you glean from this story. Please include a response because frankly I am a little confused...
The Friendly Forest

Once upon a time in the Friendly Forest there lived a lamb who loved to graze and frolic about. One day a tiger came to the forest and said to the animals, "I would like to live among you." There were delighted. For, unlike some of the other forests, they had no tiger in their woods. The lamb, however, had some apprehensions, which, being a lamb, she sheepishly expressed to her friends. But, said they, "Do not worry, we will talk to the tiger and explain that one of the conditions for living in this forest is that you must also let the other animals live in the forest."

So the lamb went about her life as usual. But it was not long before the tiger began to growl and make threatening gestures and menacing motions. Each time the frightened lamb went to her friends and said, "It is very uncomfortable for me here in the forest." But her friends reassured her, "Do not worry; that's just the way tigers behave."

Every day, as she went about her life, the lamb tried to remember this advice, hoping that the tiger would find someone else to growl at. And it is probably correct to say that the tiger did not really spend all or even most of its time stalking the lamb. Still, the lamb found it increasingly difficult to remove the tiger from her thoughts. Sometimes she would just catch it out of the corner of her eye, but that seemed enough to disconcert her for the day, even if the cat were asleep. Soon the lamb found that she was actually looking for the tiger. Sometimes days or even weeks went by between its intrusive actions, yet, somehow, the tiger had succeeded in always being there. Eventually the tiger's existence became a part of the lamb's existence. When she tried to explain this to her friends, however, they pointed out that no harm had really befallen her and that perhaps she was just being too sensitive.

So the lamb again tried to put the tiger out of her mind. "Why," she said to herself, "should I let my relationship with just one member of the forest ruin my relationships with all the others?" But every now and then, usually when she was least prepared, the tiger would give her another start.

Finally the lamb could not take it anymore. She decided that, much as she loved the forest and her friends, more than she had ever loved any other forest or friends, the cost was too great. So she went to the other animals in the woods and said good-bye.

Her friends would not hear of it, "This is silly," they said, "Nothing has happened. You are still in one piece. You must remember that a tiger is a tiger." they repeated. "Surely this is the nicest forest in the world. We really like you very much. We would be very sad if you left." (Though it must be admitted that several of the animals were wondering what the lamb might be doing to contribute to the tiger's aggressiveness.)

Then said two of the animals in the Friendly Forest, "Surely this whole thing can be worked out. We're all reasonable here. Stay calm. There is probably just some misunderstanding that can easily be resolved if we all sit down together and communicate." The lamb, however, had several misgivings about such a meeting. First of all, if her friends had explained away the tiger's behavior by saying it was simply a tiger's nature to behave that way, why did they now think that as a result of communication the tiger would be able to change that nature? Second, thought the lamb, such meetings, well intentioned as they might be, usually try to resolve problems through compromise. Now, while the tiger might agree to growl less, and indeed might succeed in reducing some of its aggressive behavior, what would she, the lamb, be expected to give up in return? Be more accepting of the tiger's growling? There was something wrong, thought the lamb, with the notion that an agreement is equal if the invasive creature agrees to be less invasive and the invaded one agrees to tolerate some invasivenss. She tried to explain this to her friends but, being reasonable animals, they assured her that the important thing was to keep communicating. Perhaps the tiger didn't understand the ways of the lamb. "Don't be so sheepish," they said. "Speak up strongly when it does these things."

Though one of the less subtle animals in the forest, more uncouth in expression and unconcerned about just who remained, was overheard to remark, "I never heard of anything so ridiculous. If you want a lamb and a tiger to live in the same forest, you don't try to make them communicate. You cage the bloody tiger."

What do you think?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

How Not to Be A Knee-Jerk

"What I want in my life is compassion, a flow between myself and others based on a mutual giving from the heart." -Marshall Rosenberg
Knee-jerk: A person who lives reactively and defensively to others and the world around them. As in, when someone hits your knee in just the right spot and your leg kicks out uncontrollably. So often, we live out of this kind of place. We live reactive lives. We feel emotionally powerless against other people's actions, opinion, criticisms. We say things like, "Ahh! He makes me so mad!!!" As if we have no other alternatives to feeling the way we do. Edwin Friedman (Rabbi and Councilor) talks about how another person's or group's emotions have almost a gravitational pull. We find ourselves getting sucked into the drama and reacting in predictable patterns of behavior. It feels like these are forces outside of our control. The flip-side of being held emotionally hostage is called being "self-differentiated." Self-differentiation is the ability to maintain a non-anxious presence in the midst of an emotionally intense, even hostile environment. The quick definition might be "to take maximum responsibility for one's own emotional well being and destiny."

We have all experience the gravitational pull of an anxious person or system. It's that feeling when you go back to stay with your parents for a week on vacation and suddenly you feel like your are 15 yrs old again. Or it's that person who has a grudge against you and so you are completely incapable of loving him. Or maybe it's a work environment that is turning ugly and you get swept up in the drama and gossip and you never thought of yourself as a gossip. It's the conflict at church that sits heavy in the pit of your stomach and you just can't move on. It is feeling emotionally stuck.

This feeling, that we are held emotionally hostage by how others respond to us, makes having healthy, nurturing relationships really difficult. It makes having peaceful relationships impossible. Sometimes our understanding of Christianity compounds our problems with conflict. We hear Jesus' words about forgiveness, turning the other cheek, and blessing those who persecute us and interpret that to mean we should be passive and avoid conflict. The result is that we become a doormat for others to walk all over. Even more dangerous- we become resentful.

So, is there a third way to peacemaking? How do we move from reactive to responsive? From resentment to reconciliation? Marshall Rosenberg in his book Nonviolent Communication outlines an approach and philosophy toward having a mutual flow of compassionate communication.  Some of the questions he answers (better than anyone else I have read) are: How do we help others know what we need emotionally and practically? How do we initiate these courageous conversations in a way that will open the other to compassion and not defensiveness?

I realized a while back that there must be a better way to communicate in times of conflict. When my wife would tell me about a conflict she had with someone else, I was a fountain of empathy. When her problem was with something I did or said, I was defensive, incapable of empathy, and more interested in her seeing my side of things. This would result in an attempt at conversation, during which I would make things worst, this would turn into an argument, and then we would both sulk for a few hours. A very predictable pattern. I would say really unhelpful things like, "What do you want me to do, just feel crappy?" I would minimize her feelings (and my part in the conflict) and imply that she should just "get over it."

I realized that if I could somehow take myself (and all my defensiveness) out of the interaction, that I could (in my best moments) offer empathy, suggest what needs might be going unmet, and offer some possible ways to help meet those needs immediately or in the future. This might sound something like, "sounds like you're feeling a little lonely, because I've been going out with friends for the past few nights. Is there something I could do to help?"

On the other side, when we feel sad, mad, glad, etc we can help others now what that feeling is and how they can help meet an unmet need. "I'm feeling, afriad, sad, etc because __________. Would you be willing to _________? This is a scary and vulnerable, but powerful and effective way to open the lines of compassionate communication. And when we become more self-aware about our feelings and needs we become emotionally liberated from the power others hold over us. We have the possibility of increasing our level of self-differentiation. And ultimately we will be able to love others more fully and effectively. We will be able to stay connected with people because we won't fear becoming effected or absorbed into their emotional field.

I think that ultimately Jesus would have us not be so bothered by what other people say or do to us. He would want us to be able to quickly forgive and move on. But pretending like it doesn't bother us in not even close to an acceptable alternative. Jesus offers us some brilliant examples of finding third ways to respond to conflict. Somebody tries to corner him, and he tells a story. Things are escalating, he starts doodling in the sand. People accuse him of breaking the law, he gets to the heart of their motives by asking questions and telling parables. I think Jesus offers us an alternative to being either reactive or resentful. Call it self-differentiation, compassionate communication, or creative love.