On being quick to hear and the limits of anger

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” –James 1:19-20

Every time I read it I jump straight to the part about being slow to speak and slow to anger and I silently reprimand myself for not having more self control.  Then I vow to be better in the future and completely miss the rest of what this verse has to say.

Most of the people I know would agree that being quick to say all that’s on one’s mind is not necessarily always the wisest course of action.  It’s often better to hold back until either we have more information, or in the case of very emotional topics, until things have cooled down and people are level headed.  From a religious stance I can definitely affirm this as well.  The Bible is pretty clear that a fool vents his anger but a wise person holds back (Proverbs 29:11).

What’s less often mentioned though, what I’m always prone to skip past, is what it means to be quick to listen.  James didn’t have to tack that part on.  It wasn’t simply a literary flourish there to emphasize the rest of the verse.

James is saying is that for those of us who would call ourselves followers of Christ, listening, really hearing someone out, is an active pursuit.  Listening isn’t something that we find ourselves in because we happen to not be talking.  It is to be something we are quick to.

Because anger, whether justified or not, simply isn’t capable of bringing about righteousness – the right things of God.  Anger may spur us into action and those actions can produce meaningful results but there’s a drastic gap between being right and making a difference.  It’s a gap that’s bridged by our understanding.  When we actively pursue understanding, it helps us direct that energy wisely.

And so listening is something we pursue

Even if we only took that one idea and tried to apply it to our “day-to-day”s how different would our interactions be?

Race?  Religion?  Politics?  Gender?

Is there a topic on which our conversations wouldn’t be vastly improved if listening was an active pursuit on our part?

I for one wonder what tomorrow would look like if I really made a conscious effort at this.

On the Trump tapes: mea culpa

By now everyone knows about the infamous “Trump tapes” and has heard just about every opinion the internet could possibly have to offer on the matter.  I’m fairly certain I couldn’t come up with some great new angle on the issue you haven’t heard.  I’m not going to try.

But now that its been a few days, and I’ve been mulling this over and reflecting on it, I do have a couple of thoughts that while uncomfortable, might hopefully be profitable.

 

  • A man’s place, a woman’s place 

I read a book several years ago titled “Manning Up: How the rise of women turned men into boys” by Kay Hymmowitz.  It was an interesting look at the social progression of gender over several decades.  Hymmowitz makes the observation that although the women’s rights movement (of which she was a part) produced some wonderful outcomes, they also produced an inadvertent consequence: the loss of social “place” for men.

In both the explicit and implicit messages, many men have now grown up hearing the message that they are not needed to hold any significant social role in the home, workplace, or public square.  The girls got this.  Unfortunately, this produces two types of responses: on one end there are men that react by “hyper-masculinizing” and basically becoming misogynistic “anti-women”.  On the other end, are all the boys who can shave and having believed culture’s message, are currently 35 playing video games on mom’s couch and when they do get married, their wives end up raising a husband.

And with no responsibility to the culture or the women around them, they default to whatever message they are sent.  Like for instance…

  • We aren’t really OK with it, but we still (sometimes) give it the “ok

Short version: Men in our culture are inundated with the idea that we are defined and given value by what we consume or acquire, including people.  In a sex-before-kissing  culture, our real sexual attitudes are starting more and more to resemble the cinematic world in which “no” means “come and get it”.  This is the culture in which we live, and the sad part is that we tolerate it.  We daily allow for a word in which men are given a pass in the worst parts of their behavior as being simply a result of their gender.  Sometimes we say “boys will be boys” other times we speak of it as “locker room talk”, always we give the OK to the worst men have to offer with the least of our expectations.

  • This says A LOT about the other men in our society, myself included

…and then there’s the third group.  The one I belong to.  We are in some ways worse than the first two.  We are those who sit silently and critique.  We see the injustice and the hurt around us, we are glad we’re not in those groups.  and we move on…

Completely content to be the “good guys” we take our “rightness” and walk right on home with it.  …and leave the women who need us the most to deal with the ‘other two’ guys.

  • All hope is not lost

The anti-woman and the man-child are what they are, but the rest of us still have a voice.  Men, it’s time to stop being passive simply because that’s what we’ve been taught.  It’s time to stand up and BE MEN.  The kind who don’t let those around us become the victims of our cultural conditioning.  We can be the kind of men who neither “grab her by the p*ssy” nor sit back and play our video games while it happens.

We have the choice to be different.

For their sake, I hope we will be.

Dear Trump Jr: Jesus wants the skittles

Dear Trump Jr: Jesus wants the skittles

Short rant on a big topic:

Trump Jr’s tweet:

I’ll bypass the possible racist message implicit in this white bowl filled with “potentially poisonous” colored candy.  I’ll even forego the argument that numbers and past experience argue against the main idea of this picture (e.g. the attacks that are coming aren’t from people who are refugees, they’ve been here).

As a Christian, this strikes a deeper nerve.

I’m not much for legislating my theology, in fact I’m of the belief that if God had wanted a theocracy he would have established one.  However, where scripture plants its flag, I plant mine.  So as an evangelical Christian voter (the kind you and Trump sr. are trying to court) allow me offer a Biblical perspective on the issue:

From cover to cover, the Bible is very clear about foreigners and those in need:

“When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.”  -Leviticus 19:33-34

“Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” -Ezekiel 16:49

And when asked what the greatest commandment in the entire Bible was, Jesus’ response was to tie two concepts together that simply cannot be separated:

Love God.  Love people.

It’s that simple.  However distorted or diluted the practice of the Christian faith may become in our culture or any other, the essence of the gospel is this: as we were once alienated from God and have been reconciled through Christ, so we have been sent into the world as ministers of reconciliation.

You sir may be afraid of the foreigner, but Jesus wants the Skittles.

 

The other problem with Tennessee’s law: our culture on mental healthcare

The other problem with Tennessee’s law: our culture on mental healthcare

Last spring, the state of Tennessee passed a law that caused a fair amount of commotion in the public square.  Not long after, Arkansas followed suit setting a new and disturbing trend in mental health.

The law allows mental health professionals to refer a client based on “sincerely held beliefs”.  Seeing a barely veiled attempt to allow religious counselors to refuse to treat members of the LGBT community, activists and counselors everywhere were up in arms.  For many clients in rural areas where mental health resources are limited, this law could spell disaster.  It was contentious enough of an issue that Richard Yep, president of the American Counseling Association, moved the ACA’s 2017 conference from Nashville to San Francisco.

While there’s a lot that could be and has been said on this issue, there’s one important factor I think got left out.  Let me throw a scenario your way:

 

 

My wife is an occupational therapist who works in inpatient geriatric rehab.  Suppose she goes into a client’s room, picks up her chart, and says “Alright Mrs. smith I see you’re 87, suffered a stroke a month and a half ago, looks like you lived with your wi…. oh.  wife.  Yeah, I’m gonna see if I can get someone else to treat you.”

There’s no controversy.  No headlines.  No national discussion.  My wife gets fired, loses her license, and likely we get sued.

Why?

Because in America and most of the rest of the world, we value the right of people to live well and be healthy so highly that there is literally no sector of our society untouched by that value.  In fact even our battlefields are not exempt from it.  Our medics will actually provide medical aid to enemy combatants.  That’s how important this is to us.

So however heated or nuanced our conversations may be on this subject, we have to address a serious problem revealed by the very way we even have this conversation:

we clearly don’t consider mental healthcare “real” healthcare

There is still a lot of stigma surrounding mental health, that much is clear.  I mean let’s be honest, you would never be ashamed of your trip to the ER for your broken arm or keep your flu a secret, hoping no one found out.  …but that trip to the counselor?

So with a promise that we will come back to this topic (probably frequently) can I make a suggestion that I’ve made in a previous post?  Can we have more awkward conversations?  The kind where we’re honest and vulnerable and authentic and well….. the people we would actually want to have conversations with?

Because at the end of the day, there are a lot of people suffering out there with the belief that their suffering itself is shameful.

We can change that

As a veteran, here’s why I don’t care about the Colin Kaepernick issue

Ok, just a quick one here.  Now that everyone’s had a chance to throw their two cents in on the Colin Kaepernick issue.  Can I just float a question out there?:

What does this change?

I get it, we live in a culture where simply being loud enough to be heard is the end-all-be-all of public discourse.  As such whether it means not standing during the national anthem, burning or wiping your tushy with the American flag, or just Tweeting provocative things, everyone is out to make a point.  Here’s the thing though, there’s a huge difference between making a point and making a difference.

Just as no international policies have ever been changed or even influenced by somebody burning a flag and posting it on Facebook, Mr. Kaepernick has had very little if any real impact on the injustices he protests.I think I heard somewhere that he gave to charity, great.  That’s at least one step ahead of flag tushy-wipers.  It still pales in comparison to the teachers in Camden, New Jersey, the counselors in St. Louis., and the social workers in Detroit.

I love this country, all of you.  Even the crazy ones I don’t always agree with but after 15 years of service in the Army, you know who impresses me?  It isn’t the loud ones.  It’s the ones quietly changing one world at a time, making a difference rather than a point.  Those are the heroes we should all look up to.

In response to a Tweet: Christians and gender boundaries

So I saw an interesting tweet not too long ago that got me thinking:

 

I know that Christians can be pretty um… careful about our relational boundaries and protecting our marriages.  We’ll often view a lack of opposite sex relationships as a means to ‘protect and guard’ our marriages.  I also realize that we can be an opinionated bunch at times.  It’s said that if you have 2 baptists in a room, there’s at least 3 different opinions on any given topic.  I personally have achieved Baptist Level: Expert.  I can be the only person in a room and there’s still at least 3 opinions on a given topic.  So with this confession out in the open, can I humbly submit a few concerns that come to mind when I hear even the idea mentioned in this tweet?

 

#1 The reality

Depending on which polar icecap you reside under, this may not really be a very viable option.  If you plan on having never having your boss, colleague, student, professor, employee, or other associate who is a woman, you either live in a country where such things (and possibly Christianity) are outlawed or you aren’t being very realistic.  Certainly in a profession such as the one I’m going into (clinical counseling, which is a largely female dominated field) don’t allow for that.

#2 The Message

We live in a culture where men are inundated with the pornography-fueled notion that women exist for the purpose of sexual gratification alone. Separating ourselves from healthy relationships with women enables if not reinforces that sexist and downright misogynistic message, it does not protect us from it.

 

#3 Who isn’t included

Second, there’s a little bit of subtle arrogance in this statement. If I say “Yeah, there’s no way I could be friends with that woman over there without something eventually happening” did you notice what just happened to the woman in that statement? Where’s her free will? Because you know, obviously any woman would throw herself at me just like in the movies, right?

 

#4 Your heart

The Bible is pretty clear about our relationship to sin both before and after we are saved.  Before we are saved, we are slaves to sin and completely powerless to do anything about it.  When we put our faith in Jesus as our substitute, living perfectly on our behalf and taking the punishment for the imperfect lives we do live, the game changes.  When we are told in 1 Corinthians 6:18 to flee sexual immorality, or to put to death sin in our lives in Romans 8:13, it means that those are now options for us by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Your lust? You can (and should!) make war against it.  Actively pursue finding rest and value in Christ that eclipses the small and wicked desires that would otherwise rob you of such things.

At the end of the day, a woman that you are unable to set healthy boundaries with is not responsible for either the state of your heart or your actions.  If you are honestly incapable of allowing a woman to fill a role other than stranger or intimate partner you’ve got the problem bro, not her.

 

So where are the boundaries?

So where are the lines?  What about grabbing coffee?  Lunch?  Dinner?  What about close and very personal conversations for an hour at a time in a counseling office?  The reality is that these are ongoing conversations for you to have with your spouse.  Where it is that you personally draw the lines isn’t up for me to dictate.  If your approach is complete avoidance however, that’s probably indicative of a problem.

Black & Blue: awkward conversations worth having

Black & Blue: awkward conversations worth having

Well, there certainly hasn’t been a lack of things to write about in the last week so I guess no one to blame but me and my own time management for both posting anything.  Getting back into the swing of blogging, I’ve been processing a lot of what has been going on in the U.S. and around the world lately.  Bloody is one word to describe it, tragic hits the mark as well.

And as I think about the events of today in Baton Rouge, a few thoughts come to mind that I’d like to share with you guys:

  1. We tend to have the hard conversations when hard times are upon us.  This is unfortunate since we’re usually very emotional during those times.  When it comes to race, police brutality, understanding culture through the eyes of those police officers who are NOT breaking the law or abusing their position, and all the rest we could talk about, we are generally silent when our speech could be most productive.
  2. It’s usually the outliers at the margins who are loudest.  We all know this and yet we rarely ever seem to have the boldness to speak into that conversation until something tragic hits the news.
  3. There are other conversations on other topics that we’re not having right now because there isn’t a news story about them.  We should be.

 

So for lack of a magic bullet answer to all of society’s woes, can I just offer one suggestion? Can we please have more awkward conversations?  We need them.  We need for the ordinary people of this country, heck of this world, to just talk about race, religion, politics, gender issues, and a myriad of other volatile topics more regularly.

We need to talk more to people whose perspective we don’t share or aren’t familiar with.  We need have those awkward conversations with other ordinary people like us in our daily lives; not because it solves the problems of our culture, but because it makes us more informed and capable problem solvers in that culture.

Don’t know a police officer?  Befriend one and learn about the daily challenges they face.

Look at the last 5 contacts on your phone that you’ve called/texted.  What race or ethnicity is missing?  Go cultivate some friendships.

Get to know people of other sexual orientations or gender identities, or someone who doesn’t understand yours with the intent of getting to know them.

Have a conversation about religion or politics in which you care more about the person than their stance.

 

For the love of God, whatever you do, please have more awkward conversations before tragedy forces them upon us (again) in an ill-timed manner.  Let this be an opportunity for unity and growth.

 

Grace & Peace

Dave

 

…mourn with those who mourn

There was a point in time when I actually stopped following the news altogether just to see if it would make me a happier person.  In some regards it worked and it others it didn’t but it says something that I even tried doesn’t it?  The last 48 hours attest to as much.

Videos have surfaced showing  two police shootings in which people were killed and ice case you’re on a ‘no news’ experiment here’s the fast version:

Alton Sterling was shot and killed after police responded to a call saying that he had threatened someone with a gun.

The next day the news reports that Philando Castile was killed during a traffic stop while reaching for his wallet.

Over the last few days, I’ve heard and read quite a few responses to these situations and you know what’s struck me the most?  The cynicism.

Immediately, there are calls for “more information” about the victims.  I’ve read some responses that seem to imply that Alton Sterling’s death was less regrettable because he had a rap sheet.

Really?  No empathy?  No mourning?  He had an ugly past so his death really doesn’t matter?

Look no matter what happened, one thing is certain: a tragedy has occurred.  Can we not rush past that fact?!?

If you would consider yourself a follower of Christ, this reaction is even more disturbing given that you know that each person has been made in the image of God.  These are two image-bearers of God, dead.  And all we want to know is whether or not they deserved it?

Repulsive.  Disgraceful.

It’s worth noting that Paul’s command in Romans 12:15 to weep with those who weep comes with no caveat saying “as long as you’re sure they’re completely justified in weeping”

Also, if you’re known for your staunch pro-life stance on abortion and you’re not equally appealed by this, don’t you see just a little inconsistency here?  It’s hard for people to buy that you are truly pro life when you view abortion as murder and murder as inconsequential.

 

In the next several weeks and months, details will emerge and stories will unfold.  I pray though that we can be compassionate enough to see human beings and not simply headlines, that we don’t get so caught up in figuring out who was justified in what that we lose our ability to be human.  We are created in the image of a God who chooses mercy and grace over justice with us.  May we bear that image out faithfully with others.

 

Finally, can I just admit to having been these cops?  True story: in a training exercise with pop-ups, I once shot the guy holding a power drill.  I understand that bad shoots happen and who knows, maybe one or both of these were exactly that.  These police officers along with the many others out there keeping us safe bear that same “Imago Dei” – that same image of God.  May we find mercy, grace, and compassion for them as well.

 

When tragedy happens, let us not rush out to justify it or seek revenge for it.  Let us mourn with those who mourn, pray for justice, and be imitators of Christ.

Grace & Peace

 

 

A return to writing and a new direction

So, it’s been a few months and I’ve had a chance to “reset” myself and find a new direction for my writing. A LOT has gone on in the world and a lot has gone on in my own life that has left me with some fresh ideas about where to take this blog next:

My wife and I moved to Raleigh, NC and I will be starting grad school at NC State, studying clinical counseling. It’s no surprise to you if you’ve read my blog before that I’m also a huge theology nerd. So one of the areas that I’m going to start exploring more is the relationship between psychology and theology. Many Christians of my theological bent have questions and concerns about that relationship. I’m not purporting to have all the answers, but I’m willing to explore the questions with you.

Culture and how we engage with it will still be a topic I return to. A few examples:

Between the migration of many evangelicals away from presidential nominee Donald Trump, the Southern Baptist Convention’s recent repudiation of the confederate flag, and a movement toward religious freedom that extends in every direction led by people like Russel Moore, a seismic shift is occurring among Christians in America. Theologically conservative and politically conservative are no longer functionally synonymous for us. Our faith is becoming ever increasingly unmoored from the civil religion it was once indistinguishable from. No matter where you fall on the spectrum of either politics or religion, this has some serious implications.

There will be some hard social topics as well. Things like rape culture, racial inequality, gender, and our culture’s apparent problems with things like violence, the family, and a porn-saturated culture with its natural consequences (which feeds right back into rape culture) are things I don’t thing we should either ignore or simply fire off angry tweets about. These topics deserve serious discussion and consideration and I hope that you’ll join me in that.

This blog, like me and like you, is a work in progress. I’m honored to have your company and I look forward to what our future discussions hold.

Grace & Peace

Dave

Burpees and 9 terrible things to have to grow in

I hate burpees.  Just like everyone else (especially Crossfitters) I have a special place of hate in my heart for the exercise (if you don’t know, google it or just read this).  They’re terrible when I do them and yet I know they’re good for me.  We all have some discipline or component of our lives that is there for the benefit it provides us and not how much we enjoy it.  I had a thought recently on a related topic.

Here are 9 other things that suck to grow in:

Love

To quote C.S. Lewis:

“Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

It’s true.  If we are to ever be marked by a love that moves from our heads to our hearts to our hands, a love that actually does something, we have to get that heart broken from time to time.

 

Joy

Joy is not the same thing as happiness.  The process of discovering that often means losing the things that simply keep us happy so that we can discover joy.

 

Peace

Everyone who has ever found peace has found it at the other end of a storm.  You never get to skip the storm.

 

Patience

With people.  With our circumstances.  Crappy thing about patience is that it takes so long to cultivate, ya know?

 

Kindness

I don’t learn to grow in kindness by being kind to those that deserve it.

 

Goodness

Sure, none of us are perfectly ‘good’ all the time.  But let’s be honest, some of us age more like wine while others age more like milk.  Which one is easier do you suppose?  Letting life sour you or learning to become sweeter despite life?

 

Faithfulness

Because I come from a culture that declares “To thine own self be true!”  To be true to anyone or anything other than myself much less at the expense of myself just seems too demanding.

 

Gentleness

Especially with stupid drivers, dumb people on social media, and any other group of people I oppose.  We are a people who long to be seen as strong and brave culturally speaking.  I wonder sometimes if we do so at the expense of an even greater virtue.  One that our culture may look down on us for.

 

Self-Control

Because “you only live once” right?  Our YOLO culture doesn’t prize restraint.  It’s not seen as “living life to the fullest” and yet, as I’ve previously mentioned, it has been scientifically linked to success in life.

 

Burpees and theology

Burpees suck.  The process of growing in these 9 things suck.  And yet according to the Bible, it’s these 9 things that mark the work of God in a person’s life.  The fruit of this struggle is proof that God is not done with us in our ‘don’t have it even close to all together’ state.

So maybe what I need then is a better understanding of what’s required to get good things in life.  After all, imagine someone whose life was characterized by those 9 things.  Isn’t that someone you’d want to be around?  Isn’t that someone you’d want to be?

 

Growth always requires struggle.

Grow anyways.