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.

3 things you should be able to put to bed

3 things you should be able to put to bed

This post is wrapping up a series in which I looked at what marks a Christian man, or really any man as mature.  In a letter from the apostle Paul, a young pastor named Titus is told:

“Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness.” Titus 2:2

The last three things on the list are things are things that men ought to be “sound” in.  In other words, there are things about us, maybe core beliefs or values, that change throughout the seasons of life; but there are some things that shouldn’t.

 

Faith

There are seasons in life where we are all prone to questioning or doubting but at some point, we should be able to put certain things to rest.  Being sound in faith means that your belief in God’s goodness should not be based on whether or not you’re getting what you want.  Your faith should not depend on your circumstances or your emotional state, it should be something that carries you through the changes in all of those circumstances and emotions.

 

Love

The Bible is very clear in 1 John 4:20 that if anyone says he loves God but hates his brother, he is a liar.  Jesus made the two ideas inseparable.  Elsewhere in scripture, we’re told that love is part of the evidence on God’s work in a person’s heart.  I once heard it said that some men age like wine, getting sweeter as they get older, while others age more like milk.  Paul is telling Titus, and by extension us, that a mature man ages like wine not milk.

 

Steadfastness

Being patient in the midst of your circumstances is probably one of the most valuable skills for anyone to develop.  In our culture in particular, we tend to let our situation define us or at least shape our worldview to a large degree.  Part of being all the other things Paul has described: self-controlled, respectable, etc. is simply not letting your circumstance tell you who you are or shape your ultimate outlook on life.

The engine of success and the thing you need most

The engine of success and the thing you need most

Among things that define maturity, this week’s is probably the most widely agreed upon marker of it.  I have yet to meet anyone that thinks otherwise, wishes they didn’t have more of it, or doesn’t regret some moments when they didn’t have it.

We’re in the middle of 6 weeks of looking at what marks a mature man.  2000 years ago, the apostle Paul gave a short list to one of his proteges of what men ought to be marked by as they mature:

“Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness.” Titus 2:2

Walter Mischel, a famous psychologist, began a series of tests in the 1960’s that have been repeated in different forms and settings since and resulted ultimately in a book named after the test: “The Marshmallow Test”.  In short, Mischel and colleagues that self-control really is the engine of success.  It’s what keeps the student at their studies, keeps people dedicated to their work, or controls unwise impulses; leading to better academic performance, career success, and healthy relationships.

In short, self-control is what fuels a healthy, productive, and vibrant life; and 2,000 years ago, Paul knew that.

 

Over and over again in the Bible we hear this lauded as a critical virtue:

Proverbs 25:28 calls a person without it a city without walls: defenseless

Galatians 5:23 lists it as evidence of God’s work in us through the Holy Spirit

and in 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 2 Timothy, 1 Corinthians, and Romans we hear it again and again

…to name a few

but if we’re honest…

The most compelling evidence for the importance of self-control however, is our experience with those that don’t have it or didn’t when we needed them to.

Without self-control we eventually end up ____

Drunk

Violent

Sexually Abusive and/or irresponsible

Selfish

Immature

Consumed with work

Self-interested

Which have you been burned by?  Which have you fallen prey to?

 

So, if we know that we’re to cultivate this and we know that life goes better for us and for everyone around us if we do, why don’t we pursue it more?

Wouldn’t it be better, wouldn’t our families, churches, lives, and society be better if we had more men that pursued being master over their passions, desires, and impulses; rather than the boys who are enslaved to them?

 

Men and Maturity: Respect-worthy

Men and Maturity: Respect-worthy

Last week I opened up a series of blogs on six things that comprise a mature man. In a letter to a pastor named Titus, the apostle Paul once wrote about the things that ought to mark “older men”.

“Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness.” Titus 2:2

While our initial response to a Bible verse aimed at “older men” may be to dismiss it if we do not consider ourselves “older”, we have to consider two simple facts:

All of us men will at some point be ‘older men’ and therefore need to be cultivating these things.
We have all seen at some point, a man older than us who was not developed in these areas. Chances are you were burned by it.
So we talked about being Sober-Minded last week, this week let’s take a look at the next thing on Paul’s list:

Dignified

Kind of a cool word, huh?  Makes me think of a guy with a pipe, a British accent, and ‘esquire’ at the end of his name.  What this word means in the original language is to be worthy of respect, someone who gets taken seriously.  If we’re honest, this isn’t really the pursuit of a lot of men in our culture.  Oh sure, we want to be respected and taken seriously; but the pursuit of a life worthy of those things has largely been replaced by prolonged adolescence, responsibility avoidance, and a life filled with childish distractions.

Video games, heavy drinking, and a fear of commitment are the hallmark of a great many guys in America today who are caught somewhere between a desire for the mantle of manhood and a fear of the responsibilities that come with it.  It’s as though our culture has told men that they have no real unique role in the home, workplace, or as leaders in our culture and believing it, we’ve resigned ourselves to living like boys.

And it hurts the people in our lives who need us to be men.

So what does it look like to be dignified?  As men in our culture, how do we step up our game enough that our lives are worthy of respect?  I’m sure this list could be added to but here are a few things that come to mind:

Authenticity

It is perhaps the most over-used and under-practiced tern in our current cultural vernacular.  We love to talk about being “authentic”, usually it shows up with words like “brave” and “strong” and a theme of pushing back on some great social construct or idea that no one likes.  In short, “authenticity” is the latest way for us to build up our own awesomeness in the eyes of others.

But that’s not real authenticity and it doesn’t warrant respect.  Being authentic means being honest about the fact that we don’t have it all together and owning our weaknesses. More than that, it means going to others for help in growing in those weak areas.

Think about it, who earns your respect more?  The guy who wants everyone to buy in to his vision of how awesome he is?  Or the man who knows himself and shamelessly uses the healthy relationships in his life to grow himself?  Exactly.

 

Grace

When we’re honest about the fact that we don’t have it all together, we can free others in our lives from carrying the burden of feeling like they have to have it all together for us.  We can graciously love and appreciate them where they’re at and love them enough to help them grow as well.

 

Wisdom

Literally, do the decisions you make with your life line up with the goals you have for your life?  And when they don’t are you humble enough to rethink your strategy and make better decisions for the sake of those who need you to be a man worthy of their respect?

 

Humility

And while we’re at it, are you the center of your entire world?  C.S. Lewis once said that humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.  A life worthy of respect is marked by a kind of regard for others that shows that you are not the center and sum of your entire world.  It shows that you’ve broken away from the cult-of-self (really need to blog about that sometime) that has hijacked our culture.

 

So, how’d you score?  Yeah, me too.  You know what else a respectable man does though?  He takes an honest review of his life, rolls up his sleeves, and gets to work in the areas he needs to work on instead of running and hiding from them.  That’s for boys, and you aren’t one anymore.

Men and maturity: sober-minded

Men and maturity: sober-minded

Many many years ago, there was a man who was writing a letter to one of his proteges named Titus  who happened to be a young pastor in Crete.  The apostle Paul laid out how church ought to be run but also gave some insight to how the people that comprised that church ought to be maturing and growing.  He had specifically six qualities that ought to mark an “older man”.  Several years ago, it occurred to me that although speaking about older men, this list is really applicable to all men since at some point the younger ones become older ones.  Right?  Stands to reason that the things that Paul says ought be present in the lives of older men ought also to be being cultivated and grown in the lives of younger men.  So for the next few blogs, we’re going to look at this list in contrast to our culture.

“Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness.”  Titus 2:2

Sober-minded

First up on the list is a term we don’t hear often used in the modern vernacular.  Oh sure, we hear the word sober but what does it mean to be sober-minded.  Well, one thing that it can’t not mean is this: sober.  To be sober-minded is to think clearly and rationally, and you’re not doing that if you’re drunk or high all the time.

Thinking clearly and rationally though extends beyond simply ingesting something to make us less cognizant.  It means that the way we approach ourselves, our circumstances and others is marked by realistic perspective.  This means not reacting out of proportion with the situation and being reasonable.

In many ways, sober-mindedness is the opposite of the way our culture leans in its discourse and I think we all recognize it and know it’s wrong.  Just think about the political and social responses in your social media feed, the drama at your workplace, or the last heated conversation you were in.  As a culture we crave outrage, gossip, and zero-sum game style discourse where one of us wins, one of us loses and there can be no compromise or mutually beneficial outcome.  We don’t converse to learn or understand, we do it to “win” and the intelligence of our arguments proves it.

The reason that the apostle Paul points to this as a mark of maturity in men as we age is I think because most of us don’t start here if we’re honest.  And most of us get burned by it. Paul is saying, look a mature man has arrived at the point where he’s interested in more than just his opinion on a situation.  A mature man is able to think clearly, rationally, and with a right perspective.

 

And thinking about the men in our lives that aren’t or weren’t, doesn’t that seem like something worth pursuing and encouraging in others?

Good news: your behavior doesn’t make you a better person either

Good news: your behavior doesn’t make you a better person either

So, there’s this meme I see on Facebook all the time.  It’s a quote from Sukhraj S. Dhillon and it says “Your beliefs don’t make you a better person, your behavior does”.  I can certainly understand the sentiment, I mean I’m all about hopping on the ‘actions mean more than words’ bandwagon.  I guess the problems I have with it are:

1. It simply can’t be true and

2. If it were, that would be bad news for all of us.

 

The false choice:

The thing about our behavior is that it reveals our beliefs in that moment. I can say all day that I believe that a husband ought to selflessly love his wife, but whether I’m willing to cook dinner, clean up after, and do the things on her chore list for her so she can relax after a hard day reveals whether that’s what I actually believe deep down.  In my relationships, finances, and day-to-day choices, the things I believe are right, true, and most important are revealed.

So, it seems we’ve been given a fake choice.  It’s your behavior that reveals your beliefs and that (supposedly) is what makes me a good or a bad person, right?  God, I hope not.

 

What makes me good?

So, what I believe is ultimately revealed in my decisions (behavior) right?  Problem: I’m not too consistent there.  Like honestly, I generally believe that I should be selfless and help others but can we just be honest?  I don’t always live there.  I’ve written previously about Christian hypocrisy, let’s face it: none of us are perfectly consistent all the time.  The apostle Paul who wrote a solid chunk of the Bible said that his own hypocrisy literally perplexed him.

“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”  Romans 7:15

Another problem with the idea that behavior rather than belief makes you a good person, comes down to motive.  I can do a LOT of seemingly “good” things from a really bad heart or do something from the best of intentions that ends up hurting others.

So, whether we’re judging my beliefs or my behaviors, it gets a little dicey when we start trying to quantify me as either a good or bad person.  So what makes me good?  As i said in the Christmas post, how do I get on the “good” list?  It’s pretty much the perennial question isn’t it?

 

Personally, I say screw it25583628

 

I’ve said countless times that it’s not about how “good” you can be.  We slave away under this horrible taskmaster of performance-based value in the guise of religion, career, family, social standing, or “spirituality” endlessly striving to be enough.  There’s another option.  You don’t have it all together and neither do I.

What if instead of trying to “believe” or “behave” our way into being good people,  we rested in the fact that someone was on are behalf because we can’t be?

My beef with Santa

So, I have a little bit of a bone to pick with this Santa guy.  For a solid chunk of my childhood, he reenforced some pretty bunk philosophy and really bad ideals.  I’m a little worried about the impact it’s had on me as an adult.

Take this whole rewards/punishment system he’s got going on for example.  I was told for years that if I was good, I’d get presents.  If I wasn’t, I’d get nothing (or coal).  Now that I’ve been adulting for a few years, I’m calling shenanigans.  That is NOT the way the world works.

Fact: bad things happen to good people and bad people don’t always face justice.

Could there be anything more cruel than raising a child with a worldview that says that my performance determines what I get in life?  Sure it seems like a harmless way to get your kids to stop being little hellions and behave for the next 5 minutes, but seriously consider the implications of reenforcing this worldview for a second:

Like many adolescent boys, I did my best to impress girls in any way I could growing up.  Being a late bloomer, and since athletic ability wasn’t my forte, I did my best to be the guy all the adolescent girls bemoaned not being able to find: the ‘good guy’.  You know, caring, sensitive, good communicator, and all that. And ya know what?  One year there was a girlfriend under the Christmas tree.

No.  No, not really.  Why?  Because this is real life.

So, as I entered my 20’s, bitter jaded Dave emerged and I was done trying to be ‘nice’.  I’d be lying if I told you that in relationships, my career, and life in general, I didn’t earn myself a little coal every now and then.

And that’s a lot of our stories, isn’t it?  We’re very prone to live performance-based lives and then find ourselves in a state of crisis when the real world doesn’t deal with us based on our perceived performance.  We did “everything right” and still got our hearts broken, got passed over for promotion, and got our hopes and dreams stomped on.  Meanwhile, some people just seem to catch all the breaks or worse: they get there dishonestly and never seem to get caught or pay for it.

It even effected my outlook on God.  I was the good little church boy who followed all the rules until eventually, after watching the injustice of God not delivering on my performance, I left the church and struck out to find something I could believe in.

After about a decade of angry-Dave, constantly striving to perform, to be good enough, and at the same time bitter that life didn’t deal with me on those terms, I discovered something better than the naughty/nice list:

Grace

If I’m honest, I don’t mean socially polite ‘honest’, I mean really honest – I’m not as ‘good’ as I like to think I am.  You know what, I mess up.  I’m not perfect.  Sometimes I’ the one doing the heartbreaking and the dream-stomping.  I don’t mean to, not most of the time, but I do it anyways.  And it’s in those moments that not thinking about which ‘list’ I’m on is most appealing.  So, you know, I try to make up for it.  Work my way back to the other list.

What if we tried something different though.  What if we made a new list.  One that says Grace: you don’t have it all together and neither do I and I’m going to deal with you not based on your performance but based on my decision to love and treat my neighbor exactly the way I would want to be treated.  Why?  Because that’s how God deals with us.

Apart from being a necessary part of any good nativity scene, Jesus is proof that God is willing to deal with us better than Santa does.  God is willing to deal with us based on His performance in our place.  That degree of grace should give us pause to think about the lists we put others on and rest from our performance-based slavery.

 

Let Santa keep his lists.  There’s something better.

Merry Christmas