Category: Life Together

Hands upon the bowstring

September 13th, 2013 — 10:09am

“Indeed in nothing is the power of the Dark Lord more clearly shown than in the estrangement that divides all those who still oppose him. Yet so little faith and trust do we find now in the world . . . that we dare not by our own trust endanger our land. We live now upon an island amid many perils, and our hands are more often upon the bowstring than upon the harp.” (Haldir of Lothlórien, in J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, Book II, Chapter VI)

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The scourge of casual dating

May 7th, 2013 — 9:52am

I grew up in Christian communion that was fiercely critical of “dating” and endorsed a sort of “courtship” model (though we didn’t use that term) of getting guys and girls together. The prevailing view was pretty rigid and, like many youth who grow up in rigid systems of faith or practice, I was glad to leave it behind when I came of age.

Then I became a father, and then a pastor. Nearly a decade later, while I’m still suspicious of rigid systems, I’ve seen enough of the “casual dating” ritual that prevails both inside and outside the church to believe that it’s absolutely ruinous. In many cases, it’s a hotbed of immorality, and not always for the reasons one might imagine (the backseat of a car, etc.).

I should disclose one or two things up front. I believe fervently that God made men and women different, and that the differences play out (because they’re supposed to) in the romantic “dance” between a man and a woman. I believe that, as in actual pair dances, the man’s romantic role is initiatory (he moves), and the woman’s role responsive (she moves with him); and in saying this I intend nothing rigid or formulaic. I’m not saying the woman should never initiate anything; I’m certainly not saying the man isn’t often in a position where he must respond to the woman. What I am saying is that, by creational design, a man is to offer to a woman a series of commitments, showing himself worthy of her trust, respect, and love; and if he isn’t man enough to do this, she’s in no position to – indeed, she shouldn’t – give away her heart, her body, or her life to him.

Now here’s the rub. Among evangelical Christians there’s an understanding (sometimes!) that a godly girl shouldn’t give her body to a guy until he says “I do,” until he commits himself to her in the form of marriage vows. We get that from the Bible without much difficulty: premarital sex is sin. But puzzlingly, among these very evangelical Christians, there’s often no conviction that a woman’s heart, like her body, is to be given away only to a man who shows himself worthy of it through a series of honorable, manly – one might even say, sacred – commitments.

Let me illustrate. If a young man becomes my daughter’s friend, that’s fine: I’ll encourage her to be discerning in her choice of friends, regardless of their gender. But if he wants to be anything more than a friend to her, I’ll want to know (and if I’ve taught her well, she’ll want to know) how he plans to demonstrate that he deserves anything more. Let’s suppose he asks to escort her to a dinner party, and let’s suppose for the sake of argument that I consent. Now, if at any point in the course of the evening he were to ask her to unbutton her outfit, I would break his face (non-metaphorically, of course). And lots of Christian dads are with me on that. But what if for weeks, dragging into months, he were to continue to lavish attention on her, making himself seem like a charming prince and drawing her to “unbutton” her heart more and more; but when asked what his plans and intentions are, he couldn’t give a satisfactory answer? He wants her heart (maybe it’s something else he wants), but he hasn’t made any commitment to which my daughter’s giving her heart away would be a suitable response. He hasn’t said, “I do.” He hasn’t said, “I will, on this date” (with accompanying ring). He hasn’t even said, “I will, I just have to figure out when, and I hope you’ll wait for me.” Yet meanwhile he’s treating her heart as if it’s already his. He’s toying with her. I would argue that he’s violating her. The manly thing would be to say, “I really, really like you; but we have to stop seeing each other romantically until I’m ready to commit, because otherwise I’m setting you up for a possible heartbreak, and I care for you too much to do that.” One would think this sort of chivalry wouldn’t need to be spelled out; but alas, a very different scenario plays out all the time in Christian circles, canonized (I’ve even heard Christian parents extol it) in the scourge that is “casual dating.”

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The controller

April 17th, 2013 — 2:52pm

I think in part because I tend to be this way, I’ve become more and more sensitive to the problem of the controlling person. I’m amazed at the pervasiveness of the problem – at the sheer number of people who manifest controlling behavior (not that they actually manage to acquire control over others, mind you, but do they ever wish they could!) and at the variety of methods by which we sinners try to control each other.

There are extremely juvenile manifestations of the problem: the flailing, screaming toddler wants her parents to stop stalling and obey her, and she uses a tantrum to hurry them along. Adults are not, in my experience, above such tactics. But before we get to all the colorful ways the problem shows itself, let’s take a moment with the root system.

Those familiar with what the Bible says about idolatry won’t be surprised that we humans want to make not only God in our image but also other people (our spouses and kids, for example). We want other people to be projections of ourselves; we want to carve their otherness into a form that suits our wishes. That, in brief, is the root of controlling behavior: I want you to be what I want you to be. I want you in my image. Simple idolatry.

If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of this sort of carving, you’ll know there’s a horrible dark side. You’ll be treated like the center of the universe until you do something that’s not what the carver has in mind, and then you’ll learn the hard way that you’re most certainly not the center of the universe – that place belongs to none other than the carver.

Which in itself wouldn’t be so bad, except that there’s something about messing with someone’s graven image that brings the wrath. The proverbial “doghouse” was invented by people whose idols got messed with. Some of you know what it’s like to spend a night, a week – shoot, maybe most of a marriage – out there.

Speaking of the doghouse reminds us that there are lots of non-aggressive or passive ways of trying to control people (silent treatment, cold shoulder, keeping score, etc.), but I’d like to identify one that may not be at all obvious. I’ll label the offender here Mr. Right (he’s got a twin sister, Mrs. Right, so you can insert “she” and “her” where applicable below).

Mr. Right has very strong opinions about the way things ought to be. He has strong views about the way people ought to be. His principles are not always religious, but in many cases you’ll see a well-used Bible under his arm. He knows which way is north, if you catch my meaning.

Very well. Let’s say you start up a relationship with Mr. Right. At first it feels just like any other “normal” relationship: you identify common interests, exchange ideas, do stuff together, engage each other in various ways. Maybe you even start dating and get married. Then, along the way, something happens. In some way you fail (usually without knowing it) to live up to Mr. Right’s expectations. You fall short of his standards. You don’t please him. Maybe you unwittingly step on some sore spot from his past; you touch some wound, whether real or perceived. You show yourself to be not quite what Mr. Right had in mind.

What happens next is important. It’s what distinguishes a relationship with Mr. Right from other, healthy relationships. Mr. Right doesn’t have much tolerance for relating that’s not on his terms. He doesn’t take at all kindly to being disappointed, hurt, or crossed. He doesn’t (you learn) have much interest in you, as the person you actually are – he’s interested in what he wants from you (or “needs” from you); he’s interested in what he envisioned when he started carving.

You, on the other hand, would really like a relationship with Mr. Right. You may even need the relationship (exponentially more so if you happen to be married to him). This, then, becomes the basis for a kind of emotional blackmail – Mr. Right starts to make it clear that if you don’t act as he wishes you to, he will mistreat you in a variety of ways (ranging from tantrums to a night or three in the doghouse).

Now let’s suppose you push back. You object to the mistreatment. This is where Mr. Right turns on the righteousness. He starts to point out all the ways you’ve failed him. If he’s religious, he opens up his Bible and starts showing how far you fall short of the glory of God. He may even play the victim card: he’s being so noble to suffer long with you, and now you’re wounding him even more. It’s all so hard and disappointing. You’re so selfish and unfair.

The tricky part is: he’s often right, or at least partially so. It’s rarely the case that what he wants from you is totally arbitrary, purely some whim of his own with no objective basis. True, you’ll sometimes hear something like: “Well, this is what says love to me, and you aren’t doing it, so that must mean you don’t love me.” Childish, but it does happen; to which the proper response is, “Just because you like being loved a certain way doesn’t mean I’m not loving you if I don’t love you just that way.” But more often, Mr. Right will strike an objective note; you’ll realize as he bears down on you that you truly could have loved him better. He makes some fair points.

Note carefully, however (this is crucial): Mr. Right has gone beyond pointing you toward a law of love to which you’re both accountable, respecting your reading of that law as well as his own, and offering to walk with you and serve you in every way as together you seek to live under that wholesome standard. Rather, he has set himself up as the interpreter and even the enforcer of the standard; he’s moved beyond brotherly appeal to a position of priesthood. And even if he’s right on the issues (has read the law correctly), this is the very definition of hubris, manipulation, and the controlling spirit. It is arguably setting oneself up as lord of another’s conscience. When you make your love for other people conditional on their being and doing as you demand, it makes no difference how right you are – you are manipulating them, you’re trying to control them, you are acting like a priest, you are seeking to carve them into your image. And they should run like hell.

There are plenty of would-be controllers who haven’t really managed to get control; people make notoriously uncooperative idols. Rather than repenting, though, the would-be controller simply becomes a frustrated would-be controller. The issue is never whether we’re actually in control; the issue is whether we want to be.

If we want to be, one thing is obvious: we really haven’t come to terms with the cross. God not only has the power to control His creation, He has the right to. He could bend us to His will, and we would have no right whatever to complain. How, then, do you explain the cross? How do you worship the Son of God hanging there and still cling to your ridiculous sovereignty complex?

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Irony and innocence

March 6th, 2013 — 4:53pm

Rearing children has a way of giving you all sorts of insight into adult issues. Let me juxtapose three recent experiences that, on the surface, have nothing to do with each other, but which taken together illustrate something I’ve been thinking about more and more.

First, I often find that it’s difficult to catechize my two-year-old at the same table with her brothers and sister, because they think she’s cute and hilarious, and she gets terribly distracted when she feels they are laughing at her.

Second, one of my other children recently had the experience – common enough among children, but grim to the one who suffers it – of watching a circle of friends reconfigure such that he or she was no longer in the “inner ring” but landed (due to no fault that I could discern) “on the outs.” It hurt a lot.

Third, I recently had a conversation with a young intellectual friend who said something like this: “For my generation, everything is ironic. We can hardly talk about anything without irony.”

Now how on earth, you ask, doth all this hang together?

Let me begin with a definition of irony. Irony is a form of humor, ridicule, or sarcasm expressed in words that literally signify the opposite of what is intended. So, for instance, I might greet a friend in a torrential downpour by saying, “Lovely day!” with a rueful glance at the skies. Unless my friend is a hopeless literalist, he’ll no doubt catch my meaning.

There are lots of great uses for irony. It can aid detachment from circumstances, people, even ourselves; it can open up new angles and nuances, and help us keep a sense of humor. But when irony goes mainstream in a culture, when it becomes a staple of the communicative diet, when it’s so common that we can no longer distinguish an ironically silly comment about something serious from an ironically serious comment about something silly, then we have reason to worry that irony is both expressive of and contributing to puerility in our thinking. Consider a few observations from the world of the young.

Children have a massive need for approval, for a sense of importance, and there’s no better way to feel liked than to make people laugh. No child wants to be mocked, surely, but most children like to be thought clever and funny, and if they can get a laugh once, they’ll try again and again.

Now think of children you know (or adults, for that matter) who are always trying to be funny. Think how annoying it can be, leading you to ask in exasperation: “Can’t you ever say anything serious?” This is where humor can lead: you’re never sure if anything that’s said can be taken at face value. Sarcasm, ridicule, and irony tend especially toward this: when regardless of subject matter we suspect someone’s making a joke, it’s hard to talk about anything seriously – you must either join in the joke or be made the brunt of it (if you don’t laugh along, you’re taking things far too seriously, which is itself very funny). The result is intellectual shallowness masquerading as a kind of scientific appraisal – we stand apart from things, size them up, coolly patronize them with tongue firmly in cheek. Soon virtually nothing is exempt for the simple reason that, if we exempt something, we risk becoming the butt of the joke. “God rocks” (wink, wink).

If irony slides easily into profanity, it is for that reason deeply political. There is no weapon more potent than irony (“love the haircut, dude”), because no one likes being mocked (perhaps a better word is profaned), and no one likes sensing there’s a deeper meaning known to the inner ring but obscure to oneself. It’s a terribly vulnerable feeling, like being the only one without clothes on.

Social masters of irony keep those around them off balance with inside jokes, layered meanings, knowing half-smiles, and friendliness that may or may not be sincere. You can’t question their motives or actions without immediately being targeted – in Joker’s words, “Why so serious?” It enables them to move in and out of engagements without ever committing or doing any of the other serious work of building a relationship. When everything is ironic, trust is an illusion. And (ironically) all of this can look very modest, humble, and self-deprecating.

Time now to connect these ruminations (following lunch with my young intellectual friend) to recent experience with my children. As a homeschooling dad, I probably haven’t done enough to prepare my kids for the fact that other kids will enjoy inflicting pain on them by means of humor. My kids spend all day talking with adults who take them and their interests seriously; they don’t have much experience with the playground dynamic of making oneself appear big (read: funny) by making others appear and feel very small (read: laughable). It hasn’t occurred to them that kids can’t take anything seriously when they’re with other kids, because that makes you a laughee instead of a laugher, and the quickest wit is king of the hill. In many ways, my kids are still artists caught up in the grandeur, excitement, and wonder of the world; they haven’t learned (yet) the cool detachment, the smirking appraisal, the “science” of the mocker.

I might use their two-year-old sister as an example, though. They see right away what happens to her when they laugh at her cuteness during catechism. Maybe as they watch me help her filter the distractions they will be equipped to deal with some of their own.

There’s a lot more to be said about this, but I think I’ll wait for a future installment.

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Forgiveness and excuses

March 6th, 2013 — 11:25am

I find that when I think I am asking God to forgive me I am often in reality (unless I watch myself very carefully) asking Him to do something quite different. I am asking him not to forgive me but to excuse me. But there is all the difference in the world between forgiving and excusing. Forgiveness says “Yes, you have done this thing, but I accept your apology; I will never hold it against you and everything between us two will be exactly as it was before.” But excusing says “I see that you couldn’t help it or didn’t mean it; you weren’t really to blame.” If one was not really to blame then there is nothing to forgive. In that sense forgiveness and excusing are almost opposites. Of course, in dozens of cases, either between God and man, or between one man and another, there may be a mixture of the two. Part of what seemed at first to be the sins [sic] turns out to be really nobody’s fault and is excused; the bit that is left over is forgiven. If you had a perfect excuse, you would not need forgiveness; if the whole of your action needs forgiveness, then there was no excuse for it. But the trouble is that what we call “asking God’s forgiveness” very often really consists in asking God to accept our excuses. What leads us into this mistake is the fact that there usually is some amount of excuse, some “extenuating circumstances.” We are so very anxious to point these out to God (and to ourselves) that we are apt to forget the really important thing; that is, the bit left over, the bit which the excuses don’t cover, the bit which is inexcusable but not, thank God, unforgivable. And if we forget this, we shall go away imagining that we have repented and been forgiven when all that has really happened is that we have satisfied ourselves with our own excuses. They may be very bad excuses; we are all too easily satisfied about ourselves. . . .

As regards my own sins it is a safe bet (though not a certainty) that the excuses are not really so good as I think; as regards other men’s [sins] against me it is a safe bet (though not a certainty) that the excuses are better than I think. One must therefore begin by attending to everything which may show that the other man was not so much to blame as we thought. But even if he is absolutely fully to blame we still have to forgive him; and even if ninety-nine per cent of his apparent guilt can be explained away by really good excuses, the problem of forgiveness begins with the one per cent of guilt which is left over. To excuse what can really produce good excuses is not Christian charity; it is only fairness. To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you. (C. S. Lewis, “On Forgiveness,” in The Weight of Glory, pp. 178–80, 182)

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The lure of Downton Abbey

February 5th, 2013 — 1:53pm

Which event was more culturally significant: the airing of the Downton Abbey Series 3 finale in the U.K. on November 4 last year, or Barack Obama’s reelection in the U.S. on November 6?

It’s a ridiculous question, of course, but I ask it to expose what I think is an unfortunate tendency among amateur cultural analysts like myself: we tend to regard the goings-on in halls of political power as more important indicators of where a culture is going than the stories that are capturing the hearts and minds of its people. Arguably, the opposite is true: the stories are more culturally formative than the political events. (I might suggest that the drop in viewing from 37.8 million Americans to 20.6 million between President Obama’s first and second inaugurations illustrates this – the story was more captivating in 2009.)

On to the real reason for this post: I’m interested in why so many people (including myself) have fallen for Downton Abbey. Various answers come to mind. The storytelling is good, the casting is (in my judgment) outstanding, and visually the show is enormously pleasing.

I’d like to suggest another feature that may be attracting people to the series, and urge that God’s people in the 21st century sit up and take a cue. The feature I have in mind is decorum.

Downton Abbey is the story of a British aristocratic household in the early 20th century. As such, it is permeated by a very rich, at times nettlesome, but by no means harsh or cold formality. The problem of social stratification does arise more than once as we follow both the lives of the aristocrats themselves and those of their body of household servants, but the formality to which I have referred exists – and “works” charmingly – on both of these levels. The servants dress just as formally as the lords and ladies, albeit much less lavishly. They address each other by their appropriate titles (“Mr. Carson” [does anyone know his first name?] or “Mrs. Hughes”) as surely as they address their superiors as “m’lord” and “m’lady.” Conversation on both levels of society, and across the levels, while not stilted, is bounded by strict propriety even when parties are thoroughly aggravated. Informality and rudeness are simply not tolerated; there is an unapologetic keeping up of appearances, though due to the character of (most of) the characters this doesn’t degenerate into rigid stuffiness or stifling of candor. Parties do disagree – sometimes vehemently – but not at the cost of decorum; and when decorum is breached, there is great cost indeed (one thinks of Lord Grantham’s brief “forgetting of himself” in Series 2).

I’m persuaded that part of the Downton attraction, at least in North America, is that we suffer from pathological informality, indecorousness, and incivility; and deep down, when exposed to the beauty of manners – dare I say, cultured ways of behaving – we realize we’ve lost something precious. We’re not yet such brutes as not to see that wholesome propriety is refreshing. The splendid respect, for example, with which Lord Grantham and his daughters address each other, even when provoked, or with which John Bates and Anna Smith carry off their romance, cannot fail to resonate. It’s magnificently human.

I know this may sound outrageous, but I think one of the best ways for Christians to contribute to the healing of modern cultural ills is to work on their manners. We North Americans do love our freedoms, our rights, our independence. We get real itchy when someone tells us we ought to obey rules, especially if they can’t show us chapter and verse. We don’t want those fancy-dancy Old World ways imposed on us. And I guess it’s true – there’s no law that says you have to wear a tie to dinner or church; comb your hair when you get out of bed; keep your elbows off the table and thank the host for dinner; address your elderly neighbor as “Mr. Smith”; refrain from using certain words and phrases in polite company; or even make sure your company is polite. You can be as informal, indecorous, and uncivil as you darn well please.

But I’ll tell you where this is going. I live in a part of the country where Christian thinking was jettisoned long ago, and the remainders of Christian civilization have slowly but surely followed. And while sin isn’t any more sinful than it used to be, it has a lot fewer cages now. It’s on the loose and everywhere to be seen. I stopped at a four-way stop the other day, about the same time as another vehicle driven by an elderly man. In an attempt at courtesy, I waved him through. Instantly, he began gesticulating wildly, and in a most unflattering manner, indicating that he was most certainly not going to go through, and that I needed to get my posterior in gear. Finally, I pulled through, treated to more hand signals to my right. All I could think was: “Here’s what an old man acts like who’s lived his entire long life in a place where people don’t have manners, where he’s had to deal every day with rudeness and incivility.” It was incredibly sad.

I see the effects of the loss of decorum, the loss of civilized manners, especially when I do family counseling. People haven’t learned the art of conversation, so they can’t articulate things clearly. This is frustrating enough; but to compound matters, the moment either party feels frustration, all responsibility to maintain control, respectfulness, or even basic courtesy, is out the window. It’s considered okay to raise your voice to ridiculous decibel levels, spew profanities (I’ve even heard Christians defend spewing profanities in the name of Christian liberty), say horrible things you don’t mean and will (hopefully) regret an hour or two later, and – if things are exasperating enough – throw objects or engage in other forms of physical violence. And these aren’t even the abuse cases! Human character without the discipline of decorum slides into putridity.

It may not sound like a big deal to teach your child to say “please” when he asks for the carrots; or to close her eyes, fold her hands, and sit still during family prayers. It may not seem like a big deal that your children say “Yes, sir” or “Yes, ma’am” when given a directive. I suppose it’s no sin to forego such formalities. A life without decorum isn’t so much immoral as it is immature and brutish. It lacks the infrastructures on which excellent virtue can be framed. And couldn’t we then say that, at some level, to be uncivil is to be unholy? Here I think Downton has something important to teach us, as do all great stories that exhibit the compelling beauty of decorum.

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Notes on criticism

November 20th, 2012 — 12:32pm

Since I think a case can be made that cessation of conflict is central to the mission of God and His people in the world, I’m fascinated by conflict resolution. Maybe this is a throwback to my legal days; certainly it has a lot to do with my current work as a pastor. Anyway, with many others I have observed that almost all conflicts happen because of disappointment, of frustrated expectations. Party A didn’t measure up to Party B’s standards, and Party B is upset. In short, conflicts happen because someone thinks someone else isn’t doing enough.

Not long ago I was on the receiving end of criticism from a person who thought I wasn’t doing enough, and it got me thinking again about the problem of falling short of another person’s standards. There’s something peculiar about this accusation: “You’re not doing enough. There’s so much more you should be doing. How could you not have done this, that, or the other thing?”

In the first place, the power someone can wield through this accusation is mind-blowing, for the simple reason that it’s always true and, in that sense, always unanswerable. When is it not the case that one might have done more, done other, and/or done better? There’s not a moment in my life when someone couldn’t look over my shoulder and say there’s more I could and should be doing. Could I love God more? Of course! Should I love Him more? Definitely. How about my neighbors – could I love them more, and should I? Without question. There’s not a person in my life I couldn’t (and shouldn’t) love more. So the accusation “You’re not doing enough” is cheap; it packs more wallop than it ought, because while true, it merely states what is and will always be the case – which means it doesn’t really say anything. It’s like a petulant child saying to a sibling, “You keep breathing. It bothers me.” Well, duh. The issue is not whether the accused should be doing more, but whether the accuser has a right to expect more. So why does the accusation so often have such bullying power? This brings us to a further consideration.

There are always reasons why someone isn’t doing more. Finitude, for one. There may be less excusable reasons. But the accusation “You’re not doing enough” doesn’t require the accuser to care about these reasons in the slightest. He or she can simply fire off the accusation, it will sting every time because the accused knows it contains an element of truth, and then the accuser can buzz on without bearing the slightest burden to think about (or mention to anyone else, in cases of public accusation) why the accused has not done more. It’s a win-win for the accuser: all the force of an argument without any need to examine the evidence.

The simple fact is: one can’t do everything. So, while there are many things one can (and should) be doing, one must be selective, and selectivity (as anyone knows who’s ever tried to practice it) takes a ton of wisdom. There will always be good things – really compelling things – that must be left undone. And at day’s end, this isn’t wrong, it doesn’t mean one is failing culpably; so perhaps we need to revisit the language of “should” or “ought.” Is it really the case that because there are people starving in the world, I ought to drop out of school or quit my job and go feed them? Is it really the case that because I have friends who are lonely, I should be out multiple evenings a week offering them society? Is it really the case that because my spouse has told me it means the world when I respond in certain ways, I’m duty bound to respond in those ways every single time an opportunity presents? Certainly not – though these are very good things to do, and in some qualified sense I “ought” to do them (there are always more horizons of love before me).

Thinking about all of this led me to something else, and it hit me hard. Perhaps we shouldn’t feel too badly when we hear we’re “not doing enough.” Yes, we ought to take the criticism seriously and learn from it what we can. But there’s Someone Else who suffers the same criticism all the time, and He doesn’t even have the excuse of finitude! God is a disappointment to everyone who has ever worshiped Him (except Jesus); no human has ever been grumbled against as much as God. And He’s perfect! “Did He bring us out into this wilderness to kill us?” “Why is He healing on the Sabbath?” “Why couldn’t He have let me be healthy on a day when I have so much work to do?” It makes you think, again, that the problem is not with the accused, but with the accuser. I’m frustrated: God ought to be doing more for me. Really?

Let me offer an encouraging word to you if people don’t understand (or want to understand) why you’re not doing more, and if you’re in the teeth of their grumbling and criticism. Your critics are not your judge, God is, and He sympathizes as no one else can with the pain of being snarled at by disaffected people who’re supposed to be on your side. He has suffered long over millennia with a grumbling, demanding, critical people. Yet being reviled, He reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not. Don’t try to answer your accusers (unless they’re the sort of friends with whom you can speak constructively about these things and learn together); commit yourself and your works to Him who judges righteously – who takes account of your deepest desires and motives, your finitude and frailty, your many competing callings and duties. He will receive the work of your hands with grace; He has made it all acceptable through the imputed righteousness of One who did all that He requires, whatever the human critics of that One may have thought. If the conflict with your accusers doesn’t cease, at least the conflict in your own heart will; and that is a peace not to be taken lightly.

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One and many

June 27th, 2012 — 11:05am


A basic problem of human society is how to move from singularity (single instrument) to diversity (multiple instruments) without creating disharmony, and how harmony can be sustained without compromising diversity (resolving to a mere unison).


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Unfit for love

June 20th, 2012 — 11:24am

Those who cannot embrace deep disappointments without bitterness are unfit for love.

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Ingratitude hiding behind

June 13th, 2012 — 10:12am

“A true desire for growth in oneself or others, or in the effectiveness of our ministries, can be misshapen by a combination of restlessness, lack of fidelity, and ingratitude hiding behind a ‘prophetic’ posture. We surely want congregations to grow in faithfulness and maturity, but they can suffer profoundly under people who misunderstand the ways to challenge a community toward deeper vision or fuller commitment.” (Christine Pohl, Living into Community, p. 21)

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