The People Disposers

On my blog last week, I wrote about disposable people. Today, I want to draw attention to those who dispose of people.

Image result for person in trash canLooking upon people as disposable is not limited to race, ethnic group or color, religion or creed, sex or sexual orientation, youthfulness or old age. People who are among the most impoverished and the ones who live in exquisite splendor as the richest of the rich can be a disposer. It is perpetrated by the ill upon the well and the well upon the ill. The prisoner upon the free, and the free upon the prisoner. The physically challenged upon the physically perfect and the physically perfect upon the physically challenged. No one is immune from the temptation to dispose of others.

What follows is my list of five disposers.

The Meerkat(s): The first disposers are meerkats. The meerkat lives in a colony ruled by an alpha male and alpha female. If any female, other than the alpha, delivers pups, the alpha pair will kill the young and evict the offending mother.

Meerkats dispose of others through unforgiveness and ostracization. Have you ever crossed a meerkat? Perhaps you intentionally did something wrong, or it could have been an unintentional consequence of a set of uncontrollable coincidences. It really doesn’t matter how you offended the meerkat. No manner of explaining, apologizing, or asking forgiveness will do. Mr. Meerkat is finished with you.

With a meerkat, once you are out, you can never get back in.

The Elephant(s): Another kind of disposer is the elephant. It almost seems a shame to cast these majestic animals in a negative light, however elephants have long memories. A caregiver observed two elephants, who had a brief encounter several years before, greet each other as if they were old friends. During prolonged droughts, park rangers say an older matriarch has been observed leading her herd to a watering hole she has not visited for over 30 years. The fact is, it is a compliment to be told you have a memory like an elephant.

But, just as sure as an elephant can remember the good you have done; it can remember the bad, too.  Elephants are the grudge holders that can’t seem to let it go. Long memories of real or perceived wrongs are retained for a lifetime. No matter how many years have passed since the original event, the elephant remembers it like it happened yesterday. They are the stamp collectors who carefully slide each offence into a plastic sleeve to be kept and treasured for years. From time to time, they like to share their collection of grudges with others. Once you have offended an elephant, you are going to hear about it for a very, very long time.

Elephants will not no allowance for a mistake or forget a wrongdoing.

The Honey Badger(s): One more disposer is the honey badger. This small animal is stubborn and savage. It will not walk away from a fight. This little member of the weasel family has been known to chase away lions and kill predators many times its size.

Honey badgers are uncooperative and stubborn. They hold on to their story regardless of the facts. Anyone who presumes to challenge their version of events will get a savage response. Ms. Honey Badger cannot be wrong, she is never mistaken.

Anyone who wants to reconcile with a honey badger must accept his/her version of things before the conversation can begin.

The Chicken’s Pecking Order: The fourth disposer is the chicken hierarchy. Those who observe chicken behavior notice that there are higher, middle, and lower classes of chickens and the lowliest is the henpecked bird. Chickens can be fierce about their position in the flock and will fight to protect their status or to advance. The older quickly put the younger in place. Established birds violently show a new comer its place. Some flocks have bullies who deny others access to food. Sick or injured chickens are killed or driven away. And then, there is the henpecked bird – last to eat or drink, at the end of the line for a spot to roost – this bird tries to be unseen. It keeps its distance from others. By being submissive, perhaps, just perhaps, it may not get any unwanted attention.

The pecking order is toxic for those at the bottom. The top and middle chickens are abusive and manipulative. They have active contempt for those beneath them. If you stay around the higher chickens long enough your self-esteem will be destroyed, your accomplishments dismissed, and your pain and suffering invalidated. You will be fed regular doses of shame, blame, and hatred. In Matthew 10:28, Jesus warned not against those who could kill the body, but against those who can kill the soul.

The toxic chickens who lord over you will never let you rise. They will always push you down in order to maintain their own position.

The Chimpanzee(s): The last disposer is the chimp. Far from being the adorable creature we see on TV and film, Chimpanzees have been known to be murderers in the wild. In 2013 some observers with a video camera filmed a chimp that was out of favor with the community attempting to get back into the social group. The male chimp was attacked mercilessly, his body torn apart, and parts of him cannibalized.

Chimps are the haters. To hate someone is to wish that person would die and go to hell. Chimps actively try to destroy you. They make false accusations against you that cause others to be suspicious. They can make it difficult for you to do your job and problematic for your employer to keep you on the payroll. Every piece of mud and dirt they can dig up is publicly splattered asunder to see what sticks. Associations with the tainted are exploited and used to implicate you. They paste you with unflattering and harmful labels. After Raymond Donovan was cleared of fraud in 1987, he famously asked, “Which office do I go to to get my reputation back?” You may run, you may hide, but it is difficult to escape a chimp bent on a vendetta.

The chimp will never allow you to live outside the box they have painted for you.

This is my declaration: Unlike the meerkat, I will strive to be a reconciler who welcomes and forgives the offender. Unlike the elephant, I will release the grudges and bury the trespasses made against me. Unlike the honey badger, I will choose to be a peacemaker. Unlike the lordly chicken, I will be a servant to help and encourage others. Unlike the chimp, I will give hope, I will give life.

With all that is within me, I resolve to never actively or passively dispose of others. Their hearts are too precious, their minds too aware, their souls too valuable, and their spirits too alive to be dumped, discarded, or destroyed.

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Quotes on Restoration

Image result for galatians 6:1“Brethren, if any person is overtaken in misconduct or sin of any sort, you who are spiritual [who are responsive to and controlled by the Spirit] should set him right and restore and reinstate him, without any sense of superiority and with all gentleness, keeping an attentive eye on yourself, lest you should be tempted also.”

Galatians 6:1 Amplified Bible

Quotes on Restoration

Image result for God fixes the broken

“God is able to fix that which is broken so that what stands repaired is immeasurably greater than that which stood before it needed repair. Therefore, the most staggering brokenness conceivable is in reality the greatest opportunity imaginable.”
― Craig D. Lounsbrough

Quotes on Restoration

Image result for restore the fallen“You demonstrate biblical love when you take steps to restore a fellow-believer overtaken in sin. This not only encourages a fallen believer to return to his first love of Jesus Christ, but it also gives others involved in the restoration process on-going opportunities to examine the depth of their love to the Lord.”

– John C. Broger

 

Another Look at the Parable of the Prodigal

x-the-older-brotherIt has been called the pearl and crown of all the parables. The gospel within the Gospels. The Christian world’s most loved story. The parable of the prodigal son, Luke 15:11-32, is the story of a young man who tires of being under his father’s authority, leaves, and returns to the welcoming and loving arms of his father. His older brother? Not so much.

The story, however, is not really about either the wayward son or the bitter son. It is about the lavish love of the father.

The father loves his sons enough to allow them to make poor decisions – the younger son leaves, the elder son sulks. Neither one is coerced nor cajoled into doing the will of the father. They are left to decide for themselves.

The father loves his sons enough to suffer insult at their hands. Asking for one’s inheritance before the father’s death was extremely offensive. It was against every standard of decency. In essence, the younger son was saying, “I wish you were dead.” In a case like this it was the elder son’s responsibility to help his father save face. He didn’t.

The father loves his sons enough to give generously to them. He gave the younger his inheritance and when he came back home, he returned his authority to him by giving him the family seal. To the elder he said, “All that I have is yours.”

The father loves his sons enough to embarrass himself for them. In the Ancient Near East, an elder did not run. It was beneath his dignity. Yet, the father runs to welcome the younger son home. When the elder son refused to attend his brother’s welcome home party, the father left to talk to his son. It was considered very rude behavior for the host to leave his guests.

The father loves his sons enough to dismiss the charges he has against them. The prodigal son sold the land he inherited, therefore it was forever lost to all the family’s future generations. The elder brother assumed the worst about his younger sibling and wanted nothing to do with his restoration.

What if this is NOT a story about a life-long sinner who makes his way to a loving God? And, what if it is not about a bitter man who feels neglected, overlooked, used, and unappreciated? What if it is really about two faithful and obedient sons, one of whom rebels against the rule of the father, and the other who grows cold and indifferent to the heart of the father?

Allow me to suggest a different story. Oh, the character and the love of the father does not change, but the sons are wearing different clothes.

A second century Jewish scholar, R. Judah ben Tema, gave a list at what age it could be assumed a man was ready for certain responsibilities. He wrote that 18 was the age for marriage, 20 for work, and 30 for authority. Perhaps, then, the “prodigal” was over 30 years old since he already was wearing the father’s signet ring. He is a man who has faithfully served the father his entire life – not the young teenager we often picture. Rather, he is married, hard at work, and has gained authority in his family and community.

If so, this second son becomes a once faithful man who has willingly fallen into sin. A faithful husband who leaves his wife and family for the tawdry pleasures of brothels. A faithful worker who quits his job for bar parties. A man of authority who gives it all up to chase some youthful fantasy.

The first son was an equally faithful man. He was faithful and committed to his wife and family, but it was more to garner favor with the father than out of any sense of personal conviction. He was a faithful worker and served the father well, but he expected public acknowledgement and recognition in return. He was a man of authority and never abused his position, but he guarded it fiercely against all rivals.

The vast majority agree that the “father” of Jesus’ parable is a picture of the Heavenly Father and His great love for all humankind. If you accept my possible image of the sons, then the younger is not a lifelong sinner, but a faithful follower of Jesus who falls in the most dramatic and public way. The elder is a faithful follower of Jesus who trades the soul of the Gospel – redemption and restoration – for sanitized reputation and disinfected community.

There is something unusual about this parable – Jesus leaves it unfinished. Is the younger son kicked to the curb to appease the elder? Does the elder son recognize the all-encompassing joy of the father over a lost and dead son being found and restored to life? The story is left for us to finish. How are you, how am I writing the ending?

Letters from Jail: #1

The following is excerpts from letters I wrote while serving a 360-day sentence in county lock-up. I edited and arranged the material for readability.

Began on 05/18/2013

Image result for letters from jailIt is my first opportunity to write; I had no paper until now. It is in pencil because that is all we’re allowed – they are those little golf pencils that are too small for big hands.

My first few days have been uneventful. The dorm holds ten men and has one restroom and one shower. I can change my clothes and bed sheets once a week. With that, I’m not sure what the point of a shower is, but I guess some semblance of civilization must prevail.

There are eight other guys in here. One is a reader, cites and writes poetry, and appears very intelligent. Another controls the T.V. remote, changing the channels frequently. The rest sleep much of the day. If I could record the variety of snores coming from this room of men, perhaps I could produce one of those Jingle Bells recordings – you know, like the dogs barking. I can’t lay in the bunk all day, reading and writing have become my refuge.

The tedium is suffocating – three meals, morning and evening medication calls, and a midnight walk down the hall to get my blood pressure checked. The only break in the monotony of the day is when the guards come through the dorm on their hourly bed check. I hope to get involved in work, church, and/or Bible study.

After midnight blood pressure check, the dorm comes to life with activity. Showers, T.V., visiting with each other, card games, and reading. This goes on until 1:30 or 2:00 AM or until the guard in central control turns off the T.V.

One of the men gave me a Bible until the chaplain sent me one I could have for myself. It’s an NIV (New International Version), which was what I was reading at home. Reading is tough amidst the constant noise of the T.V.  Prayer is even tougher. Sometimes God seems close, but most of the time He feels far away. I’m trying to read a Psalm and a chapter from Proverbs each day. I’m also reading from Mark.

I’ve been writing a list of events and happenings over the past 35 years for which to repent of, ask forgiveness for, and to forgive others for. The act of writing them all down gives me an opportunity to pray about each one and to release any anger that I may have about them. I need forgiveness, a sense of release from my guilt, and peace in my heart, mind, and soul. Pray with me that “no root of bitterness” will spring up in me. I don’t want to hate or despise anyone.

My mood yesterday was depressed. It seems I overcome one battle of forgiveness only to face another. Two more things came up in court. I didn’t contest either one, although I thought parts of the first were unfair; and all I can say about the second is, “Good luck!” (More was disclosed here than I feel free to share for the sake of others.) You see my struggle to forgive when hurt keeps coming, but forgive I must. Yesterday morning I felt free, today I am attempting to break free of these chains.

Why can’t it be easier, but then again, if forgiveness was easy God would not have required the blood of Jesus. Battle must be part of the victory. In battle you discover both your weaknesses and strengths. What can I say? I must march forward. I dare not go back or stay stagnate. I’m reminded of what Jesus told Peter, 70 times seven. Seventy times seven, Jay.

I don’t know how I got here. I was too weak, too emotionally drained, too mentally spent, too sick to walk away. I broke one of my fundamental principles – don’t fight over material things. Too tightly did I hang onto the loaves and fishes and missed the message of Jesus as He passed by. It begs the question; do we own our possessions or do our possessions own us? Help me pray.

It is the Lord’s Day and I just got back from church. There is no singing, but one man gave a really good testimony. I’m not sure where the chaplain got his training, but he leaves a lot to be desired. Today, he had The Lord’s Prayer at the end of Matthew and Pentecost on Thursday. I feel sorry for the men in here if that’s all the spiritual instruction they get. Whatever his faults, though, he appears to have a good rapport with them.

My brother came to see me today. If we’d had a gavel it could have been a real business meeting. There are so many things to do. So many decisions to make.

Goodbye for now. Pray for hearts to be softened towards me and that I would forgive and be forgiven.

Sincerely,

Jay

Contradictions Revisited

Image result for contradictionsMy writer’s group thought that my article, Contradictions, last week lacked a connection between contradictions and expectations and they felt that the conclusion lacked connection between the aforementioned subjects and a neat wrap-up to the whole. Therefore, without regurgitating the original Contradictions, I want to try to revisit the subject for the purpose of clarity and connection.

Throughout the summer and fall of 2016 I was attempting to make amends to people I had harmed and repair friendships that had been damaged or broken. To that end I joined Facebook – after a three-year absence – and sent emails and letters. In several instances I was disappointed, hurt, and disillusioned by the response. One person I sent a letter to responded with a phone call extending forgiveness, but then proceeded to justify all his/her actions leading up to our break. I was disappointed and angry. The self-justification was unnecessary. It left me feeling like I had worked and processed my words and actions from the past, accepted responsibility for the same, made thorough admission of my guilt, sincerely apologized, and sought reconciliation for nothing. S/He responded in a way that left me believing that s/he had no confidence in my growth, no culpability in the whole affair, and had performed perfectly. It was not the response I had expected or wanted to hear. (Thankfully, after several more gentle and earnest attempts, the relationship is mending.)

In another letter I sent I recalled the close friendship this person and I had shared and some of the humorous and serious moments we experienced together. In the letter I asked him/her what I had done to him/her for him/her to not respond to me in my hour of need. The reply I received thanked me for the recollection of good memories and abruptly ended there. Not only was there no response to the questions I asked, there was no acknowledgement of them at all. Within days of receiving his/her letter s/he published an article on his/her blog about the need for a fallen Christian to embrace the church rather than run away from it. S/He used words and phrases like “safety,” “embrace,” “a place to grow,” a place where one can have the “freedom to fall and get back up again,” and a “community (where the fallen one) could have … an opportunity to flourish in faith and life,” The contradiction of his/her words and actions were dark clouds, pouring rain, heavy winds, and stormy seas to my mind, soul, and spirit.

S/He is not the only Christian who turned away from me. The community of Christians from which s/he came and of which I had been a part for 25 years did not reach out to me either. Not one person from that fellowship has ever asked me what happened or ever attempted to contact me in any of the myriad of ways one person can get in touch with another these days. Furthermore, when I attempted to befriend people from the Christian communities of my past – going back to my childhood – on Facebook, I was ignored or blocked by a host of them. (I thank God for the Christian people – mostly from my adolescent years – who embraced me, loved me, expressed confidence in me, and helped me in so many ways.)

You see, I have certain expectations of people, especially those who profess to be a follower and disciple of Jesus Christ. I not only have these expectations of them, but also hold myself to the same standard. If I announce to all that I have a certain and clear set of values, then you have a certain expectation that I will adhere to them. The same is true of me to you, I expect you to be what you profess to be. It is at this very point where expectations and contradictions converge. When you or I do not live up to the system of beliefs we profess, you and I are disappointed, disillusioned, hurt, and yes, even angry.

As I mentioned last week, contradictions of our expectations come from a variety of sources. There is/are . . .

  • Accidental and unaware contradictions. We are human and we are bound to say one thing and do another some point in our lives. For me, it has been several times I am sure.
  • Rethought positions. Beliefs that change with careful study of the original sources from which our belief systems flow.
  • Immature thinking on a subject. Beliefs often change with time, experience, and maturity.
  • Blind spots. These are words and actions that are unknown, unintentional, and unawares to us that contradict our stated standards. Others may see it in you, but you do not see it in yourself. It awaits revelation.
  • Blatant contradictions. These are known, intentional, and purposeful violations of ones stated belief system.

It is this last category that causes me the most irritation. It concerns me when Christians profess to believe in forgiveness and reconciliation and fail to do either. When they profess to embrace 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new,” (NKJV) and fail to accept that in another. I have come to believe that the Christian community at large has a systemic issue with reclaiming their failing or fallen brother or sister in Christ. This appears to be especially true of any who sin in a dramatic or public way that embarrasses the Church or betrays its trust. At this point the Church appears to actually become hostile, critical, condemning, unforgiving, and unwelcoming. The lost sheep is not sought and the prodigal cannot return home. I will not be the judge of the intentions of others, but when it is happening to you it is hard to feel that it is not intentional.

It is a bit tricky to recognize when my expectations are mine alone and not related to a larger scheme. In my first illustration regarding the phone call I received in reply to my letter, this is the case. I had no right to expect this person to respond in the manner that I thought s/he should. The hurt and anger were of my own making because I set myself up to expect one reply and received another. I still do not like the response, but it did not necessarily violate a dearly held set of values.

However, the second illustration is, I think, an example of a person acting contrary to his/her stated standards. Instead of “safety,” and all the other things contained within his/her writing, I found coldness, disinterest, lack of concern, distance, and a refusal to engage. I will leave it to God to judge whether these were blind spots or blatant contradictions, but contradictions they clearly are. It is here where my expectations of certain behavior based on ones proclaimed position and his/her actual behavior contradicted each other. I expected him/her to act like a follower and disciple of Jesus Christ and he/she did not. That is the contradiction that most disillusions and disappoints me.

What can I do about this conflict between beliefs and behavior? As I stated last week, I can …

  • Shield myself from all pain and become emotionally unattached to my own feelings and the feelings of others.
  • Become a cynic or skeptic and not believe in myself or others, or in God’s ability to give one enough grace to live consistent with his/her beliefs. This is not an expectation of perfection, but an expectation of reliability and dependability.
  • Believe in God and in people.

I choose to believe. I choose to believe that God’s grace is sufficient to redeem and change people and provide them with the will and desire to live free of blatant contradictions and respond quickly to blind spots when discovered. I choose to believe that people, although fallible and imperfect, want to live consistently and adhere faithfully to their system of beliefs. When my expectations are not met and there is just and clear evidence of contradictions, I will still choose to believe. As a result of believing in people to be what they profess they are, I will continue to have my expectations of myself and others unmet at times. Because people intentionally or unintentionally fall short of their professed belief system – I include myself here – there will be contradictions between profession and practice. I choose to believe in people anyway.

As a Christian I am called to love others. The  greatest commandment is to love God and the second is to love others. This is the core of the Christian faith. It is precisely this call to love others that results in my disappointment and disillusionment, but I choose to love others as unconditionally as I am capable. The risk of pain pales in importance to the belief in and love of God and others.

CONTRADICTIONS

Image result for cartoon character scratching headThere has been a question that has haunted me for the past eight months, “Why do people disappoint me?” “Why am I hurt by the words and actions of others?” I have come to the conclusion that disappointment and hurt are the result of my expectations of others. Am I wrong to have expectations of others?

As a former counselor, my clients had an expectation that I would keep their confidences. Nearly every session I informed them that everything they said was confidential with the exceptions of voiced desire to harm themselves or others, confession of juvenile abuse or molestation or elder abuse, or if the courts demanded disclosure (which is extremely rare). I held that trust inviolate. Whether in the role of pastor or counselor, to me the pastoral/mental health/substance abuse counseling office was as sacrosanct as the confessional. Once I was asked to disclose to appropriate staff and faculty the content of my counseling with college students if said counseling revealed violation of school rules or codes. I strongly objected and flatly refused to do it. And I never did. In whatever setting, clients have the right to expect that their counselors will keep their confidences.

Other types of businesses and relationships have their own set of ethical and moral expectations to which we expect adherence. The same is true of my Christian walk. If I tell you that I am a practicing disciple of Jesus Christ and if you tell me the same, it comes with an implied set of spiritual, moral, and behavioral standards. When my attitudes, actions, and words contradict my profession of faith, I should expect you to be disappointed in me. And, if you fall short, you should expect me to be disappointed in you. These I call – contradictions.

Contradictions come from a variety of sources. There is/are . . .

  • Accidental and unaware contradictions. Inevitably it happens that you and I will say one thing at one time and another thing at another time and not even be conscious of your or my contradiction.
  • Rethought positions. A sincerely held position at one point in time may not last the microscope of learning and revelation. St. Augustine of Hippo lived long enough to write, “Retractions.” A work from his mature years of life that “retracted” some of his ideas recorded earlier in his youth. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, revised his journals and other writings with margin notations that expressed his current understanding. Oh, that we all would live long enough and have such a sense of responsibility to truth and accuracy to do the same to our proclamations, speeches, and writings.
  • Immature thinking on a subject. It is the evolution of thought where what was spoken at the beginning of your understanding changes with the maturing of your study. As a first time and very young pastor, I used my college class notes to lead a Wednesday night Bible study on the book of Revelation. While preparing for and teaching each lesson, I became aware that I was disagreeing with what I had learned and was now teaching. I finished the series, but never used those notes again. Over the years, my thinking on the subject has matured and is far from what I taught and began to question over 35 years ago.
  • Blind spots. These are areas that are unknown to us and unintentional. The Johari relationship window has four panes: 1) known to us and others, 2) known to us, but not others, 3) known to others, but unknown to us, and 4) neither known to us nor others. The third pane is my meaning here. It represents places in our lives that need to be confessed and corrected. They may be clear to others, but as of yet unclear to us.
  • Blatant contradictions. It is when you say or do something that you know contradicts your belief system. About three dozen years ago I was a passenger in the car of a minister who was throwing trash out onto the side of the road. The next day his sermon was about our responsibility to God’s creation. In my eyes, he spoke without much credibility on the subject.

It is this last category that causes me the most irritation. Because of my personal failures there have been some in the Christian community who have turned their backs on me. It hurts when I send a letter seeking reconciliation that gets no reply or one that is very formal. I feel anger rise when I confess and beg forgiveness for my sins, faults, and failings to another only to hear them become sanctimonious and “holier-than-thou.” One person spent our entire conversation without taking any responsibility for his/her actions, instead s/he justified them.  When I see the names and faces of people within the Christian community who have blocked me on Facebook, ignored my friend requests, or made it impossible for me to send them a friend request, I feel pain.

One author wrote, we who fail should “embrace the (Christian) community as a safe place to grow. Within holy community, we have a freedom to fall and get back up again. We shouldn’t leave when we fail!” That has not been my experience. Instead of a forgiving “embrace,” I found rejection. Instead of “safety,” hostility. Instead of a “place to grow,” a toxic and unhealthy environment. Instead of “freedom to fall and get back up again,” condemnation and ostracization. Ronald Reagan once said, “I did not leave the Democrat party, it left me.” I feel the same about many in my “family” of Christian friends, I did not leave my church family, they left me. Here I stand repentant with wounded arms reaching out for help, but many are they who pass by on the other side. (I thank God for those who did welcome me, allowed me to minister in the ways I could, and who demonstrated confidence in and acceptance of me.)

The author of the above statement is one who passed me by. Is this a blatant contradiction or a blind spot on his part? “Christian community could have given (a fallen person) an opportunity to flourish in faith and life,” he says. Does he think that statement includes me? Unfortunately, I have found it best to hide my failures from the Christian community and make them known to God and a very few confidants alone. The risk of rejection and condemnation is too great to disclose to the Church. This “haven of rest” for the redeemed Christian can become an anchorage of death for the fallen. Therefore, I stay silent. It robs me of an opportunity to share what God’s grace can do and has done, and it robs them of the joy in rejoicing with a lost son who has returned home.

I know the cause of my woundedness – expectations – yet the question goes beyond the cause. It is not enough to identify the why, I need to determine the next step. In my estimation, there are three possibilities. I can . . .

  • Shield myself from all pain. Although that sounds reasonable, pain actually serves a valuable purpose in our lives. If I ignore the pain, I risk greater injury, not less. If I harden myself to my feelings and emotions, I leave myself without empathy. Star Trek’s Spock is an example of this brand of Stoicism. He is presented as a praiseworthy character, but he is stunted in the department of relationships and pleasure. By suppressing the painful lows, he also loses the pleasant and exhilarating highs. My personal pain has taught me too much and afforded me too many opportunities to help others to give it up.
  • Become a cynic or skeptic. A cynic is one who distrusts the motives of others, and a skeptic is one who distrusts belief systems. The cynic questions whether you have God in your life, while the skeptic questions whether there is a God. If I cannot believe that people are who they represent themselves to be, then I must logically question the same in myself. As a Christian, it leaves me without assurance of my standing with God and without confidence that God can truly change you or me. It is only a small leap from there to question if God is really active in our world today or is He distant and uninvolved. Ultimately, it leads to questioning the very existence of God. I believe in redemption – the power of God to change people from the chains of sinfulness to appropriated and actual righteousness.
  • Choose to believe redeemed people are who they say they are. I choose to believe the grace of God can change people. I choose to pray for those who intentionally or unintentionally cause me pain. When I am hurt, disappointed, or disillusioned; I choose to believe in God. For I have found that God is always good, faithful, true, and trustworthy.

Will I be hurt again? Most definitely. I will be frustrated. I will be annoyed. I will be offended. But I choose to embrace all the negative risks that come with loving and believing in people.

Our LORD be with you.

The Price of Forgiveness and Reconciliation

Image result for reconciliation“My dad was an angry and volatile man,” the young man exploded the information across my desk. “You never knew whether he’d respond to news with anger, resolve, defeat, or acceptance. If I did something wrong or didn’t do what he asked, I wasn’t sure if I was going to get yelled at or gently counseled. My godly mother took the brunt of much of his anger. It appeared she could do nothing right for him. After she told him to leave, she disclosed to me that she feared for her life.” He paused, appearing to be searching for clues to a mystery, and then continued. “He professed to be a Christian man and he was a minister. You couldn’t help but admire his intellect and his preaching and teaching abilities. In public he was a composed, unflappable man. You could tell that, although quiet and reserved, he was clearly in charge. Few things rattled him. When everyone else was in a panic, he remained calm. But, at home he was an unpredictable, angry beast.” He bowed his head and quietly said, “I know he struggled with mental illness. Maybe that explains it. He asked me to forgive him and reconcile with him. I don’t know what to do,” his voice trailed off in resignation.

Many of us can identify with this man’s dilemma, actually, two dilemmas – forgiveness AND reconciliation. I must admit, within the past few days the distinction between the two has become much clearer. Forgiveness and reconciliation are separate issues. You can give forgiveness without reconciliation. In fact, it is sometimes necessary and preferred. However, in some cases forgiveness also requires reconciliation.

In Christian teaching, God both forgives and reconciles us to Himself at the same time when we seek Him. But, with we mortal and finite humans this is sometimes a two step process.

Forgiveness always comes first and is required. Biblically, we are to seek forgiveness from those we have harmed and we are to extend forgiveness to those who ask it of us. I will forgive because it is the right thing to do. Peter learned in Matthew 18 that forgiveness for others comes as a result of our gratefulness to God for forgiving us. Not only is it a mandate from God – it is also good for our emotional well-being. Mental health literature is replete with the benefits of forgiving. It releases the searing pain that torments our memories. It rids us of the burdensome obligation to seek personal revenge. And, the festering anger that threatens to destroy our relationships can be discharged. I have found that forgiving frees me and gives me peace.

Not forgiving is often a survival mechanism from being betrayed, wronged, injured, or humiliated. We know that among the risks of not forgiving are eternal victimization, continual emotional upheaval, smug self-righteousness, and the inevitable loss of compassion for others.

It is only human for us to build defenses against hurt and pain, both physically and emotionally. That is why we seek shelter during a storm and lock our doors at night. It is why we fortify and guard our hearts and minds against hurtful people and unhealthy situations. We are particular about who we let in to our inner sanctums. To use a home analogy, some people get no nearer than the sidewalk or street, others are allowed into the yard, a few are invited onto the porch, a smaller number are allowed inside to the formal living room, but those who are invited into the kitchen with refrigerator privileges are numbered often on a single hand.

Reconciliation is another step. Sometimes it is not possible or ill advised. We cannot reconcile with those who are deceased, beyond our reach, or rebuff our efforts. We do not and should not expect people who have been physically or sexually assaulted or some other violence perpetrated upon their person to reconcile, especially if the offender is a stranger. However, there are times when we need to reconcile.

I know of a couple of neighbors in a small southern Indiana town who hated each other. Both of them had planted “keep out” signs on their property line. And, the two signs faced each other. Clearly, there was not only some forgiveness that needed to go on, but also some reconciliation. If not for their own sake, at least for neighborhood peace and an end to the negative example being portrayed in front of their young children.

I have come to the conclusion that a greater price is paid by both the seeker and giver for reconciliation than that of forgiveness. It requires trust and vulnerability. Once trust has been broken it necessitates a heroic effort to reclaim. Trust has faith. Trust believes. Trust has confidence. Can I trust that his remorse is genuine? Can I trust that she has made genuine changes and is fortifying her gains and continues to grow? Am I able to see him for what he is now and not for what he was?

Trust extends toward another while vulnerability is about me. The less we trust the more fences we build for protection; the more we trust the fewer fences we have and the more vulnerable we become. If we do not trust we insulate ourselves. Now, insulation has a two-fold purpose – it keeps the cold in and the heat out in summer and it keeps the heat in and the cold out in winter. When we make ourselves vulnerable we remove the insulation and expose ourselves to the elements. To be vulnerable means we risk getting burned by the searing heat of anger and resentment. To be vulnerable means we risk exposure to the bitter and frosty bite of indifference. Relationships require an element of vulnerability, without it we have no relationships.

The young man in my office could readily forgive his father, but he was not yet ready to reconcile with him. He did not trust his father in spite of evidence he had changed. Nor would he allow himself to be vulnerable enough to take the risk. That is where the situation remains as of this writing.

Forgiveness and reconciliation are not for the weak. Only those with strength coupled with empathy and love can make this journey.