Sunday, November 27, 2016

Enter His Gates with Thanksgiving

Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. (Psalm 100:4)

It has been an exceptionally rough year this year. It has been affecting my attitude, and my "spiritual life" if you want to call it that. When a friend suggested that I try practicing gratitude, I wasn't very receptive to the idea. Without realizing it, I had started counting my curses instead of my blessings. Still, the friend challenged me to try for 30 days, each day writing down 3 things for which I'm grateful.

My first few days were fairly surly. They were in the "thanks a lot" category. As I continued day after day, I realized that I had been focusing on negatives -- which had been more common this past year -- while ignoring a lot of good things as if they didn't matter. Everything in my field of vision had looked dark. I was focusing on the things that were going wrong to the point where I couldn't even see the good, even though it was there. The rough season in my life is clearly not finished. But neither is everything 100% dark. And it turns out that a certain amount of my misery was self-inflicted by giving all my focus to worst.

I've come to believe that gratitude is the art of appreciating life. If we don't enjoy the good, what's the point of it? Enjoyment seems incomplete without gratitude. With gratitude, my spiritual life is not completely stuck in dark-night mode. "Bidden or unbidden, God is present." But it was gratitude -- or "thanksgiving" -- that re-opened that door for me. So when I hear Psalm 100 now, I hear it differently. Thanksgiving opens that gate, and praise opens us to God's presence.
Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. (Psalm 100:4)

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Perks of Being an Introvert

Over at CADRE Comments, BK has an excellent and piece that I'm sure many of us can relate to, about being an introvert at social gatherings, and how he is intrigued by the thought of going into a social setting with a particular kind of Christian agenda: being a blessing to those around him.

He brings up an excellent point, so I wanted to continue spreading that message. Over the years I have slowly gone from "painfully introverted" to "somewhat introverted" to "somewhat extroverted." These days I generally enjoy being around a group of people. What moved me to that point was awakening more to the idea that my involvement could be positive or even welcome. I didn't have to focus on my insecurities. And once I stopped focusing on them and getting tripped up by them, they gradually started to fade away.

I try to remember a few things in a conversation:
  • If someone is hurting: Listen. Really listen. Just listen. Don't plan a response, don't question whether they should feel the way that they feel, don't intellectualize to hide from uncomfortable emotions, don't fix, just listen. 
  • Not zombie-listening, but validating-listening. Acknowledge the point of their story. Maybe they tell a story about being ignored, treated unfairly, or not being taken seriously. Make it right for them: be the one who pays attention, treats them fairly, and takes them seriously.
  • We listen better when we have an active mind, so here's an agenda in a conversation: try to understand. Try to empathize. Try to see things through their eyes.
  • If we find ourselves listening for points for followup in a conversation, find something good to acknowledge or recognize about the other person: find a way to encourage them. 
  • Lots of people really do want to tell you how their day was. Or, more to the point, they want someone who will actually listen and care if they can't honestly say "Everything Is Awesome!" 
  • "Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn."
Kudos to BK for a topic that I imagine is helpful to many of us. We can be a blessing just by being truly human to each other. I'd be glad to hear additions from people with their own experiences there. It would be a worthy project to build a collection of Christian insights into how to season our conversations.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

The Middle Ground is the Humanity of the Enemy

"Let your light so shine" : I'm concerned that we're nearing the critical mass of hatred. We're at a dark time. Before it gets any darker, if you see someone promoting hatred, please try to counteract it -- with gentleness and respect. Bless those who curse us, pray for those who persecute us.

I beg your pardon for again mixing religion and politics. The tension in the U.S. is thicker than I've seen it in my lifetime. The issue is that the candidates are a little on the disturbing side this time around, which makes it tempting -- and so easy -- to mix religion and politics in order to justify hating people who have a different opinion of which is the lesser of two evils. I have heard both candidates called "Satanic" by people trying to incite hatred of the other team's candidate -- and the one inciting the hatred had been successfully inflamed by someone else's hatred. I have seen two people who are for the most part decent people -- and even consider themselves Christians -- make jokes about wishing the other party's candidate dead (I've heard that from one friend or relative on each side of the aisle). By a steady stream of dehumanizing messages about "them", we are being conditioned to hate, trained to despise people over the faults of candidates that, for the most part, nobody is defending. And there is nothing Christian about that.

When I talk about "middle ground" I don't want anyone to misunderstand. I am not saying that there is middle ground on (for instance) whether we should tolerate a public figure being lewd (language I'd prefer not to quote but I expect everyone has heard by now), or whether we should tolerate a politician's publicity team discussing "If the objective is purely to undermine the Benghazi hearings, I think these spots will certainly help do that." I'm saying that the best argument for Hillary is Trump, and the best argument for Trump is Hillary, and we should not be drawn into denying the humanity of another person by pretending that they support their candidate's flaws. There is something about the political process -- especially when the stakes are this high -- that tends to distort our view of "the other". I truly believe that we can't have that distorted a view of someone else unless we have first let someone else distort our perceptions and therefore to some extent distort us and our own worldview.

The middle ground is not to pretend that any of the awful stuff is ok; it's not. The middle ground is to remember that "the enemy" that voted for "the monster" (pardon, "the Satanic monster") is still human, and would probably have gladly voted for someone else given more (viable) choices. (This would have been such a great chance for a third party, if they had bothered to field a serious candidate.) The next four years are going to be rough enough no matter which of those two wins this election; we have to stick together better than that. If there is no middle ground, what options remain except deadlock, oppression or civil war?

According to Jesus, the greatest commandment is love of God, and the second is love of neighbor. Therefore Jesus -- and any religion that actually takes guidance from him -- will not provide top-cover for our hatred of our neighbor. If anyone cannot bear the thought of one or the other candidate escaping justice, we can take comfort: whoever escapes accountability for their crimes in this world, there is a Just Judge they will meet one day who was not appointed by a politician or bought by political groups, and no PR campaign in the world will help on that day. The same goes for us all, which is a thing that we can keep in mind, whenever we're tempted to hate.

Seriously, please help push back against the hatred when you see it on Facebook or elsewhere.