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Christians and Politics: Asking Questions?

Where is our hope? Where is our allegiance?

I do not believe the Christian Church in America has figured out how to live politically involved and serve Christ first. As I said to my mother the other day, I do not believe the best book on engaging politics as a Christian has been written yet. Nor do I believe that the church as a whole has ever truly ‘figured it out’.

                This is not an indictment against the church, but an example of Christ faithfulness to his people despite their flaws. Regardless of the church as a whole, or societies stereotype of the church, Christ remains faithful. This is true even in my own writings, thoughts, opinions, and life choices. I hope that I speak with the grace of truth and may contribute well to the conversation of, “How should we then live?”

                Generally, the Christian should be aloof in politics. That does not mean un-involved, it means involved with a disconnect of hope or belief in governing bodies. The Christian faith and call transcends cultural, political, or socio economic standings. Regardless of whether you live in South Africa, Communist China, the USSR or the USA your job is the same: Follow Christ. Be kind, put others before yourself, feed the homeless, take care of the widow, be a father to the fatherless.

                In the USA it doesn’t matter if the president is democratic, republican, or has purple skin: Follow Christ. The question is, what does following him look like in these contexts? In Africa one who is trained in Nursing may need to provide free medical services. The same nurse living in Orange County, CA may choose to not “work off the clock” especially for those who have insurance. A refusal to help in one case would be a failure to put others first. The failure to say no in another may be a foolish use of time.

                How do we discern what to do? That is the subject of my next several blog posts. But think on these questions:

                Am I afraid of the current political climate? If so, where does that leave my faith in Christ as King?

                What do I spend most of my time thinking about, talking about, or doing?

                Is the political position regarding a policy or leader going to help or hinder a life lived for others?                 Is my obsession with politics preventing me from seeing the good deeds that are set before me?

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Average Joe

“There is no room here [the Christian life] for such contemporary ideas as the looking-glass self, and no consideration here for trivial contemporary obsessions such as one’s legacy” Os Guiness – Fools Talk      

Today I recount the story of the Christian called average Joe. He works as a routing and process engineer at a waste management company, is married to a wonderful girl Cindy and has three kids, Julie, Aaron, and Victor.

              In the future his grandkids call him ‘Pops’. His great grand kids know nothing about him, except the story of how he met his wife. He ran into her car on her way to a date. Her car was inoperable, so he gave her a ride. The man stood her up and Joe bought her dinner. They got married six months later. Aaron and Victors kids tell the story in jest and scold their deceased grandma as foolish for getting into cars with strangers. Julie tells the story in reference to God’s mysterious work and taking chances leads to a worthwhile life.

              Nothing else will be remembered of Joe. He did well at work and shared the gospel with several coworkers, four of whom eventually followed Christ. He stops to buy food for the homeless and plays with the children at church. When told he has done well for himself, he simply responds, “Well, my wife still loves me and all my kids are making wise choices. So, I guess I have.”

              He was saving money to take his wife on a surprise trip to Cancun. He loaned the money to someone in need at the church. They took the two-thousand dollars and left. He never told anyone. He lamented later that he hadn’t told his wife out of embarrassment rather than because he was turning the other cheek. In a later incident he was wronged much worse. No one knows but the offender, Joe’s best friend Greg, and the pastor who helped him through the situation. The incident died with them and I will not repeat it here.

              Joe struggled with pornography up until he was married. He had 4 relapses during his marriage. Each time he came forward to his close friends confessed and turned from his sin. He also struggled with a short tempter up until he was in his forties. The early death of his son changed his heart to always be compassionate.

              When his best friend, Greg, got terminal cancer he spent three nights a week for five months helping Greg’s family with needs. Joe cared for his parents in law as well when they were aging. He never got the big promotion due to these choices that took up his time.

He joined the water board on recommendation by his colleagues and helped secure more fair water policies for their town. NPR would eventually do a short documentary on the change, but his name was never mentioned.

              This is average Joe. He tried to be kind to whoever he met. He never failed to share the gospel when given the chance. He spoke almost every night with his wife regarding the good deeds laid before them. You will never read of him in a book. You will never see him on television.

When we get to heaven and we see everyone as they are, but just before we are healed of comparing others, we may notice that his crown is just a little larger, and his robes a little brighter than the pastors we see on television or book covers. Joe followed Christ in humility, he put others first, he did the good things that he came across, and he daily sought Christ for answers and forgiveness.

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Compassion for Strangers

I was on my way to work from a coffee shop for the sole reason that I enjoy talking to strangers. On the way I observed a young man in a very disheveled appearance having a fit; flailing his arms, talking and yelling to himself. He continues this for about fifteen feet, spins in three circles, and falls down flat on grass. His arm or leg occasionally twitches and flails.

               I felt like I was looking into a mirror of my soul. I sympathize with the struggle he must have with his own mind. I don’t know if he is aware of a fight in his soul, whether he is friends or enemies with voices in his head or even voices from strangers around him.

I wonder if the strangers in my head would get along with the strangers in his. I may never know because unfortunately I drove past him without stopping. Perhaps by God’s grace I will see him on my return and we can have a conversation. Maybe it will be the two of us, maybe it will be four or five of us.

Most of my adult life I have struggled with depression. I am convinced that all forms of suffering trivial or severe serve to make us more like Christ. I have been trying to figure out for years how depression is making me more like Christ. Despite many conversations with friends I never could figure out a satisfying answer.

               I recently woke up in the middle of the night in a great deal of angst over something that in a few years will seem trivial. I couldn’t fall back asleep, gave up, and went about my day on two hours of sleep. This morning I felt a sudden onset of guilt and regret over past choices with enough emotional force to make my chest hurt.

              It is a struggle. I am aware that my emotions are out of line. I am routinely fighting with myself. I wonder if this man intensely feels this struggle. Does he feel as though he has demons and wants freedom? I wish I knew how to help. I realized that even if I had stopped I would not have had the slightest clue as how to be helpful.

(As a side note, according to Jesus we are not to worry about what we will say when taken in front of courts and kings and queens for the Holy Spirit will guide us. I assert that he will do the same for us when speaking to his lost children. I should have stopped).

              I enjoy talking to strangers. But I find that those who are most strange are not strangers. When asked who is our neighbor, Christ responds with a story about a person who chose to be a neighbor to a stranger. Now here This young man taught me something important about my struggle; compassion. How can he be anything but a neighbor to care for?

The Dating Disease

No one knows when the epidemic started. But it spread rapidly and was discovered all at once all over the world. It infected young and old and crossed international borders. The devastation broke up families, caused best friends to abandon each other, and un-measurable heartache. The dating game is now a disease and wrecks emotional havoc on the human heart.

This phenomenon is not unique to America. I have friends in Germany, Latin America, France, Japan, and even neutral Switzerland that all attest that dating is horrible. Symptoms include ghosting, bread crumming, one date willies, long drawn out breakups, repeated makeups, and more time spent analyzing symptoms than living.

Articles are starting to pop up with cures for the above list of dating symptoms. Most articles deal with avoiding the symptoms. These are not cures if you want fulfilling lifelong relationship. The only way to cure dating rather than avoid symptoms is with healthy platonic friendships. If you can find un-infected ones. The worst part is that the cure itself has its own issues.

Platonic friendships are infected by the transient delusional realities of social media and a consumer driven culture. Most communication happens through electronics. Interpersonal communication has mutated from an in-person eye to eye communication of events that requires intention and care, to the upload of a simple photo / or status share with no particular ‘friend’ in mind as the recipient. Without a specific intent, the communication becomes insignificant to a relationship.

Friends become commodities. A seemingly endless supply exists through dating apps / friendship apps, and the ease of adding someone on social media. One can try on friends like one tries on clothes. Don’t like how they respond to your complaints? There is that one acquaintance you had in high school you can meet again. Do they expect you to grow up and occasionally disagree with you? There is that other person you met at the bar last week. No permanence. No humility. No self-sacrifice to stick by your friends.

Friendships should be for life, at least a few of them. You should have a few friends that know everything, you intentionally make time for, plan trips with, bring up the difficult conversations, allow to call you out, and call them out. These types of relationships are difficult, time consuming and require you to sacrifice your own wants and needs for theirs.

The lack of these tightly connected relationships allows the infection of romantic relationships with the feelings and desire for support that should be held by lifetime friends. This emotional attachment is more than a dating relationship, or any romantic relationship, should bear on its own. The emotional attachment to an innately unstable relationship is what causes most of the pain in dating.

Each relationship needs to have an emotional, physical, and time commitment that is equal to its permanency. If the relationship has no permanency or commitment, don’t give up the emotional parts of yourself that are important. Is the friendship permanent? Then you should actively seek them out to share in person the important parts of your life.

A dating relationship is not permanent. When it is given the same amount of emotional and energy input as a permanent relationship, it causes the pain and sickness. The only way to make dating less painful, is to treat it like dating, and treat your best friends like best friends, with energy, intention, and dedicated love.

How to Fight Brokenness, Do Good

The world hurts. All around I see things that are broken, divorces, yelling matches, ongoing jaded arguments, affairs, violence, controlling behavior, bigotry etc. I see things that are not necessarily broken but just ugly, a mean word, negative assumptions, miscommunication, obsession, unhealthy habits, pushing work on to others and more. It all comes down to relationships. Broken and ugly relationships between family members, among friends, students and teachers, politicians and their constituents.

I know friends struggling with a divorce, another an eating disorder, another that feels lonely and neglected, another wasting their life on a career they don’t love. People matter a great deal to me and all of these hurts and pain can be overwhelming. I immaturely can default to just keeping busy in my own world to distract from everything I see. Not only those people I know personally but the eyes and weary faces of those at the grocery store can weigh on my heart.

Even more so I am burdened when it is through my hand that the ugliness comes. From obvious things like saying unkind things to those that are close, being mean to my mother, failing to respect boundaries, or most recently the subtlety of planning to be able to deal with a bad marriage rather than working towards being ready for a great one.

That last one, that subtle move from focusing on negative to positive is very helpful. In a world with the media spewing all of the things gone wrong with the world from violence, to political systems, to laws, child kidnappings, sex trade, etc. Where can we even begin? What really helps? There are those that have a voice and an audience with several million views. Me? I had seven views of my blog yesterday. Mostly from Canada. Where I am pretty sure even thieves say they are sorry.

Do good. Do right. Have compassion. When someone is posting inflammatory language on Facebook, siding with one person or another, listen to their heart. They are probably hurting. Coming back with the other extreme probably won’t help. Even if kind words won’t change their view, they will contribute to beauty in the world and not an ugly argument.

Do good for the world in front of you. You may be able to go out and serve at a homeless shelter or spend hours a week mentoring children at risk. But if you don’t, then simply do good to all of those around you and what touches your heart. Do at risk youth touch your heart? Then play with kids you know. Share words of advice. Encourage them and tell them nice things. Share stories of your life that teach a lesson.

Do divorces pain your heart? Then listen to those struggling in their marriage. Have compassion on the divorced, and do good in your own relationships. Listen, understand, communicate, encourage, write letters, leave notes for others, especially a significant other. Kindly speak up when you see ugly behavior in others that are single or taken.

For me, most of all, I just feel for those that are sad, stressed, burdened or confused. So, I smile. I smile in public, I smile at the gym. I may not change their life, but for a moment I share something meaningful. I am trying to add being as encouraging and uplifting as possible. I believe in the potential of all my friends whether they see it or not. I want to remind them of who they are, because we all forget who we are at times.

The best way to combat wrong is to do right. Actively. That may be actively targeting a specific wrong, or it may just be doing the right thing in your own life. Spread beauty.

Spirals, Doors, and Feelings

Have you ever noticed that every time you hold a door for someone who is more than four feet away? They always smile, look at you, look down and rush the open door avoiding any awkward human contact. Or when you stop in the car and wave someone across the street: smile, look down, and then run.

I do the same thing when someone holds the door open for me or when I cross the street. I do not want to make them wait. Which, is silly and insulting. I feel insulted when I am holding the door and others rush. Excuse me, but do you really think that my kindness and charm is so petty that I would not be willing to wait? I did offer. At the same time I feel bad that I caused them to rush.

Am I the only one thinks this way? That there is a slow downward spiraling trend towards bad feelings? The door opening recievee, (the walker? Wait… no.) feels bad that someone has taken the time to hold the door and must wait. The person holding the door feels bad for the one who ran. Both feel they did a good deed. The one holding the door knows they held the door. The runner feels they saved the door opener from having to wait longer. But for why?

Why cannot we, or I, graciously except the offer of an open door just as we are? Walking whatever speed we are at. Do we not believe they are gracious enough? They may have offered yet still are burdened? As though their lives are so poor that waiting a few minutes longer would mean a mental breakdown later that evening.

But it is the same thing most anything we are offered. When parched and given water we suffice with one glass when we could have four. When fed we eat a meager portion when we could eat the whole pig.

If you ask me a question for which I have a ten-minute energetic answer, I shorten and deprecate my own answer. I do not have faith in the other person’s patience. I do not want to be a burden. I am afraid that if I talk to much I will not be liked. Living through fear and belittling my own voice I am depriving them from an experience of life, listening. I am depriving both of us the relationship developed from experiencing me more fully. I sink myself into a deeper isolation.

I am not a hero when I do this, and even if I was I am not the Hulk. I am not endless in my patience and long suffering. I am human and need a friend to speak with, share with, to be free to talk for five hours strait with (I have done this when I was little). I will take the risk. If you ask I will answer, and if I wear your patience thin I learned more about you and we are both better off.

So I commend you, when someone opens the door for you do not rush. Walk at the same pace through, smile, and look up. Look them in the eye with all the time it takes you to get to the door. Make it a real connection, and say thank you.

From belief to doubt to love part 1

From belief, to doubt to love part 2

I care deeply about people and want them to feel loved. One of my principle ways of doing this is thoughtful intentional listening and probing questions to help them open up. My goal was always to console past hurts and pains.

I had many experiences pouring time and energy into others in this way. I was always happy and joyous about the opportunity and saw the blessings and the fruit. It was a signature part of who I was and how I loved people. Then I met Eric.

Eric had previously been known to be a very happy go lucky energetic individual. Everyone on campus knew who he was. We had very opposite upbringings. He was raised mostly by a single mother from divorced parents just above poverty. I was raised by two married parents in a middle class home. However, we always respected each others point of view and enjoyed our conversations that stretched our previous beliefs. I was looking forward to my year with him as a roommate.

Unfortunately, the happy bubbly individual I had known went through an identity crisis and began wallowing in all of his childhood daddy and family issues. I was happy to help despite my own identity crisis where I was terrified of who I would become and that our conversations were rarely conducive to my sleep cycle.

He believed that he was a sham on the outside pretending to always happy. Now he was going to live in each moment honestly. He wanted so bad to have some sort of female affection. And many things like that. On several occasions I gave up what turned out to be a whole letter grade in order to spend time listening and sympathizing with him. Worth it.

I was falling into my own pit of depression, but still I made it a point to share in his life. A girl he had been good friends with had written him a letter saying he was sexy. Most of the conversation I do not remember, but this, “You know what she said, she thought I was sexy. Sexy? Me?” He was rather overweight. “She has a boyfriend and yet she has been my friend and encouraged me. She wrote me a note. The only bit of encouragement I have had all semester. No one else has tried to be a part of my life or encourage me or understands what I am going through.”

Of course not. Especially not the guy sitting across from you two hours past his bedtime who was in the middle of spiraling towards thoughts of suicide. Nope no one.

It was at that moment that I realized… People suck. People will suck you dry of all of your energy. Then, in return. They just sit there and do nothing. No growth. No life change. No progress. Just a black hole sucking up all of the attention.

My identity was wrapped up in my ability to help effect a positive change in others. I had always been able to be some sort of a blessings in others lives, regardless of how small. And now someone who I thought was going to be a close friend threw out all of my loving efforts. My care was rejected and the seed of doubt was planted. If they can just throw away all of the care and attention, why bother?