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.

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Project: Bathroom and Trust

Our bathroom had not been remodeled since my wife bought the house 20 years ago. It was in rather poor shape. The shower quit working, the tub and commode were leaking, the ceiling fan had stopped a long time ago, and there was carpet on the floor – a poor choice for a bathroom.

I asked my wife if she would trust me to remodel our bath. She said yes. Now that was quite a leap of faith for her. You see, I have never done it before. Oh, I have watched hundreds of episodes of This Old House and other construction/remodel shows. And I was not totally ignorant because my brother has taught me some basic carpentry skills and I worked with him for three years when I was a teenager. I felt confident I knew how to do it, but, for the most part, I did not have any real world experience.

I started by fixing the leak in the tub, changed the seal at the bottom of the commode tank (a first), and replaced the O-ring under the commode (another first). Next, I built a wall for the new shower, plumbed the shower (first), put in a new tub surround (first), installed the shower head and valves, built an access panel, and sealed it all with calking.

There was a lot of drywall work that needed done. It went on the newly built wall, four corners with aluminum corner beads, and several other places that needed attention. I mudded and finished it all (first). (I used way too much dry wall mud and had to use an electric sander to smooth and reduce it. There was white residue about a quarter of an inch deep on everything in the bathroom, including me.)

My wife chose beige and chocolate brown for the paint scheme. The walls were painted beige. I set up a little workshop on the porch for the trim. Each piece was pre-fitted, hung with eye-screws from the porch rafters, and painted brown without the need to touch it. There was one window, two doors, three mirrors, and the new access panel to trim. It went well for the very limited experience I have with trim work.

Afterwards, I built a new closet, installed two shelves with clothing rods, and put up a new door – frame and all (first). The door sticks a bit (okay, a lot), but it will trim itself out with time. The bathroom exhaust fan followed (first). I was always afraid to work with electricity, but if I was going to finish the project I had to do it. The choice of fans was made that would fit into the 8 X 8 inch cut in the ceiling. The old one did not want to come out and the new one did not want to go in. How can a 7 1/2 X 7 1/2 replacement fan  not fit into an 8 X 8 hole? The electrical part was easy compared to all that. Alas, I prevailed and the fan and new flexible, foil duct are working great.

The last step was the floor. The old carpet was hard to get up and I had to change the blade in my utility knife multiple times. (Good thing I bought ten.) The padding came up without much effort and then there were all the nails and staples that had to be pounded down or pulled out. I got real intimate with our bathroom floor – much more than I cared to. The order for our new bamboo flooring was made and I installed the eco-cork padding (first). The flooring came in and I started to lay it (first). The most difficult thing was to cut around the commode, the other cuts were fairly routine. My wife put up some decorations and our newly remodeled bathroom has been upgraded to the 21st century.

Because I am a perfectionist, I can only see the flaws, but everyone else, most importantly my wife, appear to be happy with it. When I have attempted such things in the past, I was ridiculed and told that I was not capable of doing it. But my wife believed in me and trusted me, even with my want of experience. That kind of trust brings confidence and freedom.  “What’s the next project, dear?”

 

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.

A Consumer’s Choice

Image result for computerI ordered a new desktop computer for our family last week. It took quite a long time for me to decide what we needed and wanted. A lot of research went into finding the best configuration for our computer – processor, operating system, graphics, memory, hard drive, among other things. And, the best brand of computer for our price range – Dell, HP, Acer, Lenovo, Apple, Asus, Samsung, and others, including build-it-on-demand companies. I consulted best to worst rating lists by both professionals and consumers. It was my intent to choose the very best computer that we could afford.

Looking at this abnormal and chaotic 2016 presidential election cycle I am faced with yet another decision. Can my method of purchasing a consumer item be applied to choosing a candidate?

First, what are the essentials I need in the product I am considering?

Here is my list of cannot-live-without components for my candidate:

  • Trustworthiness

Trustworthiness includes dependability, honesty, integrity, truthfulness, and honor. Does my candidate deserve my trust? Is s/he morally upright, virtuous, sincere? Does s/he hold to firm moral and professional principles, and possess personal, moral, and ethical integrity? Can his/her word be trusted and does it correspond to fact or reality.

  • Respect

Respect consists of consideration, gentleness, and temperance. Is s/he held in high regard and does s/he command my respect? Does s/he respect others? Are the words thoughtfulness, sensitivity, and kindness descriptive of my candidate? When speaking of others does my candidate demonstrate concern for the feelings of others? Can it be said of my candidate that s/he is restrained in behavior and attitude?

  • Responsibility

Responsibility embraces commitment, consistency, and self-control. Is my candidate loyal to his/her family, friends, party, and constituents? Can it be said of my candidate that s/he is reliable and free of gross contradictions? Does s/he have self-restraint and self-control over his/her own behavior? When s/he gets things wrong can s/he accept blame and be accountable?

  • Fairness

Fairness incorporates tolerance, justice, equitableness, and mercy. Does my candidate know how to accept differing views as the rights of an individual and is s/he capable of differentiating between the person and his/her views? Does my candidate judge the motives and condemn people who do not agree with him/her? Can my candidate be fair and impartial?

  • Caring

Caring is made up of concern, generosity, kindness, and involvement. Does my candidate demonstrate sympathy for the plight of others? If s/he has the means does s/he give of his/her time and resources to relieve the suffering of others?

  • Wisdom

Wisdom comprises discernment, prudence, discretion, and understanding. Does my candidate have good taste, sound judgment, common sense, tact, and knowledge?

Second, what is the best and most reputable brand?

 With consumer brands there are often the big boys, secondary, and tertiary brands. Sometimes the largest companies offer what they want to sell and not necessarily what I want to buy. The American auto industry did this in the 1970’s and 80’s with inferior quality cars and ugly ones, too. As a consumer I look for what I want/need, not for what I am trying to be sold. Can the same be applied to politics? If the big boys, Democrats and Republicans, do not have what I want, am I forced to vote for them anyway?

I know the argument that the two big parties are the only ones with a reasonable chance of winning. But, as a consumer, if the big boys will not play, I will not pay. It was only after foreign car makers started grabbing market share that the American auto industry began to produce better quality and more stylish and comfortable vehicles. What if, in this election, the secondary and tertiary parties won record amounts of votes throughout the country, and the primary candidates received only pluralities? Would that send a message and initiate change in the major parties? Perhaps, perhaps not, but it might mark the rise of other brands as a real threat to the major ones.

Third, what is nearest the top on the best/worst list?  

There are four parties that have made the ballot in all fifty states and territories. One party has made the ballot in more than twenty states and is eligible as a write-in candidate in all but nine. Five candidates have made the ballot in less than twenty states, but more than five and are eligible for write-in in many more. Twenty-three candidates have made the ballot in less than five states. There are an estimated 400 candidates who have met federal eligibility requirements as write-in candidates. Laws differ from state to state as to who is eligible to be a write-in candidate, but only nine states do not allow write-ins at all. Check your local Secretary of State’s office to see who is on the ballot and who can be written in.

I wonder, if I was to make a consumer best/worst list of the estimated 400 plus candidates running, would the top two party candidates make my top ten? Both have negative approval ratings. Neither is polling above 50% nationally. Party support for either candidate is tepid and underwhelming at best. Am I being forced to choose a product that I do not want or like?

I will not reveal my choice (That is not the purpose of this blog and I am not sure I have decided yet), but these are my certainties:

  1. I will choose the person with the configurations (beliefs) that I think best serve our country and our progeny.
  2. I will not choose based on brand (party) if that brand does not represent my essentials.
  3. I will not choose from the bottom of the list when better alternatives exist (even if they have no realistic chance of winning).