God shows up everywhere

I left my lunch at work. Well to be specific it was at another community centre. I was there helping out.

I got back to my office and realized I had left it. I, to be honest didn’t think much of it. It was just some left over pasta. I’ve got more at home and I’ve got more than enough in my freezer to make more.

It’s at moments like these I feel like I could not have less perspective on the world.

I wonder how many people in the world can just leave a full meal? I wonder how many folks could be aware that they are wasting a full me and not feel anything about it. Meh, just a one meal.

From my limited experience this is why people stay away from a real deep commitment to the life of compassion and the teachings of Jesus. It just pops up in the most unexpected and frustrating places. It just some pasta!

But it’s that mindset that is so troubling. I know how much I have and that I can afford to waste. I know I don’t really need anything and I don’t want for much. It’s just some food but I got loads more. I just see the world through the eyes of a person so blessed he doesn’t even notice anymore.

I’ve written here about understanding the experience of those who are marginalized. I’ve written about how you should get involved in supporting those on the fringes. I’ve written that you should see you budget as a moral document. Then I go and waste what I have.

So while out this afternoon I went and got my lunch. I’ll eat it for dinner tonight.

I can’t keep talking about stewarding the money God has given us and waste the resources I have. I can’t tell you how important it is to feed the hungry in our communities and support those without homes and then go and waste what I’ve been blessed with. How much money do I waste each year that I could give away simply by thinking about food not as a blessing but just something I get more of when I need it?

And that’s the problem. I don’t see it as a blessing. I earned it. I work hard, I save and somehow I’m owed the right to waste what’s mine. I can only imagine the number of times I take what I have for granted. It’s so ingrained in me that I don’t even realize that for the majority of the world to simply waste a full meal would be unfathomable.

God pops up in strange places. For me today it was how I waste what he’s given me. I don’t know where He’ll show up tomorrow. What I do know is that when I started looking at how God really wants me to live I never thought how or what I eat would matter. I never would have guess that God would convict me over leftovers.

But compassion is about everything. God wants it all and if you let him, He’ll show up everywhere.

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love in a crisis

A quick how to guide on how to be supportive to a friend/family member/co-worker/etc in crisis.

  • Don’t talk about yourself
  • Don’t try to fix it
  • Shut up and listen
  • Stop trying to fix it
  • Everything doesn’t have meaning. Cancer, a car accident, death, there may not be meaning. A silver lining can belittle the experience pain, confusion or loss the person is feeling. It’s not helping.
  • Be angry/sad/in pain with them. Encourage them to feel what they feel.
  • There is no formula so don’t tell them how they should feel
  • More listening
  • Seriously, stop trying to fix it
  • While it’s possible your story may be helpful it’s just as possible, perhaps and more possible, your story won’t help. Keep it short and to a really clear point (you’re not alone, yes I agree people do say dumb things, it helped me to take space). This is not the time for you to process.
  • There is no time frame on pain. Let them move at the pace they need to.
  • Be honest if you don’t know what to do. Tell them you don’t know what to do or how to help but you love them and you’re here.
  • Follow up: you can make them a meal, watch their kids, take them out for drinks, rent a movie for them, clean their house, do some laundry, get groceries, etc. Really practical things that they just may not have time or energy to do.
  • Offer to do some or all of the list above
  • Prayer is great, but if you can you should answer your own prayer for them.
  • I cannot stress this enough, your roll is not to fix this or render some kind of meaning. Some things just suck! Let them suck.
  • Listen more than you speak

It’s not an exhaustive list and it’s not universally applied but it’s a really good starting point for love in darkness.

deeply held and personal

Continuing on with this idea of how our understanding of love and grace are tied to time, I want to talk about how it may apply to those older than yourself. I’m not talking 5 or 6 years but a generation or two older.

Take my father for example.

My father and I had very different views on alcohol. He didn’t drink and never really understood why someone would. He had seen so much pain and damage caused by alcohol he could never get his head around why someone would do it. The idea of drinking responsibly seemed more like that, an idea than something that could actually happen.

I drink. I’m careful and responsible. I remember talking with my dad about it once. One of the things I admired about my dad was he was very aware of his bias. No one gets them all but he was really good at identifying his.

I remember one of the few times we talked about drinking and his insight was brilliant. He said “it’s just hard for me. I know it doesn’t say in the bible anywhere you can’t, but that’s what I was taught. I was taught it was bad. I’m 50 years old and it’s hard to just break that idea. You have to remember when I was a boy I wasn’t allowed to swim on a Sunday simply because it was a Sunday. So I know it’s not wrong but I feel like it is and it makes me uncomfortable.”

We didn’t talk much about it after that. I didn’t want to make him uncomfortable.

But he articulated what I think we can often miss. He saw his own bias, he saw the difference between what he was TAUGHT and what was FACT. Even with that he still had to fight his feelings about it because that’s all he’d ever known.

So what does this have to do with grace and love?

Dad was asking for grace. He wanted me to be gracious and understand that he’s not perfect and some of his ideas may not be mine and they may not be rational but they are deeply held and personal. He couldn’t just stop being who he had been or thinking what he’d been taught for so long.

We don’t control the other person. We can’t make someone who thinks differently than we do change and think like we feel they should but we can understand them. We can work to see where they are coming from and understand how the time and space they grew up in affects how they see the world.

While they may never see it different and they may not be aware enough to realize and say they see it different or that what they hold as truth may be more culture or an idea we need to love them. We need to shared grace and love. We only control our choices.

Remember, one day you’ll be old, outdated and seen as backwards and won’t it be nice if someone a little your junior showed you a little grace?

all your truth may not be true

Some people are hard to love.

Some people make it hard to love them.

Some people I make it hard to love them.

We talked about this idea of the temporal nature of our understanding of God and his love on Wednesday. I think this applies really nicely to people WE make it hard on ourselves to love.

I really dislike Tom Brady.

He’s a quarterback for the New England Patriots. I have no reason to dislike him. He’s really good at what he does. I know nothing about him as a person, but he bugs me.

But it’s entirely arbitrary and we do this alllll the time.

Sometimes however we may not realize how arbitrary our dislike may be. We may feel justified and assured that we not being arbitrary but objective. These are facts.

Let’s look at woman and the way they were treated 100 years ago. Can’t you hear people talking as if the idea that women are less than man is an objective truth as opposed to some contrived opinion?

No, no, no this isn’t’ arbitrary it just a fact, women are less than men. Women are still great and all but just not as good.

As if the idea that women might be equal to men was so ludicrous it was like arguing the sky isn’t actually blue. Common, just look up, it’s clearly blue.

But what about us now? When do we do this? Because lets be absolutely clear, we all do. We think these things are objective but they aren’t and we do this.

It might be the way we treat or think of someone who is poor or marginalized, “it’s just a fact, if they didn’t want to be poor or tried at all they wouldn’t be.”

Pick whatever you want, “look it’s sin and I will not tolerate it.”

The real problem for me is that we think we’re a) not really making a choice and b) consistent.

There are people you would treat different because of their sin (mistakes, ideas, actions, hate, whatever). But there are other people, who still sin and continue to do so, that you don’t treat different because of their sin.

Why?

Why do you care that this person is a drunk but not that your friend lies a little? Why does one get your love but not the other?

Or even better, this person is a liar but my friend, a professed Christian, doesn’t really serve at all, but that’s ok.

You rate out their sin and think some are ok and some aren’t. You choose what sins actually matter and which don’t.

You are called to love them, period.

Don’t think you do it? Here’s an exercise that won’t probably be all the fun but may be helpful.

Ask yourself “how would I treat someone I love in this situation?” When your with someone who bugs you and before you react place a friend you love in their place and not the person whom your choosing to judge. How would you act if it was your friend? How are you going to act now?

Don’t let you sense of rightness or your assumption that you’ve understood all of how God wants you to love stop you from loving. Don’t let your idea of objectivity allow you to treat someone with less than you are called to give them, which is your love, wholly and unabated.

Because history has shown us, we’re wrong on some of this.

love, grace, slaves, and the evolution of God

I was chatting a little last night with my home church about love and grace and how we have seen an evolution of that in the church

(small tangent: this is why I love home church. I love talking about God and the way that the idea or God impacts my lived life. I love talking about how as I understand God more it shapes how I live more. My deeper understanding calls me into deeper action and accountability and I work that out with people who think different than me and push me. You should get into a community if you’re not in one yet).

A 100 years ago it wouldn’t have been odd to think of a member of the black community as less important or not even a person. It was Christians in England who promoted that your treat your slaves with respect when the rest of society wasn’t.

Read that again.

Not that you stop slavery but that you treat your slaves with respect.

But our understanding of love and grace and how God wants that expressed has evolved and changed. Change to the point where we don’t believe slavery is right and a black person is just as valuable as a white person.

We think we wouldn’t have done it, “if I was there I would have known slavery was wrong.”

Really?

So much of what we do and how we live is created and crafted by our society and we don’t even recognize it. We talked about how time in Canada is different. You need to be punctual and exact and careful with your time. But there are all kinds of cultures where time is more fluid.

When I was in the Dominican doing some work on a school they would say that the guy with the cement is coming after lunch. He might show up the next day and no one thought that was weird. It was just a different way of seeing time and it was a learned system.

This static time is more of construct than we might want to think.

We were taught that it’s rude to be late and being on time shows respect. But what if we weren’t taught that? Would be really just act that way? No.

So what does all of this mean?

Well I was pondering what the world will think in 100 years from now. What will they look back on and say “how could Christians with the same bible we have and the same God talking them not see that _____ is ridiculous and not what a God of love and grace would want?”

Because that’s what we’d think about someone in the past, 100 years ago talking about treating a slave appropriately. Not abolishing slavery and treating everyone as equals in love and grace. Nope, just be nice to your piece of property.

But they didn’t even see it. They were taught that you must be on time because its rude to be late and that’s just how it is. They didn’t even see the system or that it was oppressive and not in line with God.

And you and I are doing the exact same thing. We are living in a system, conducting activities that smart, loving, Godly people will look back on and say “how did this happen?”

How did the church not take a stronger stand on the environment. How did they drive those horrible cars that destroyed our earth?

How did the church not take a stronger stand on capitalism, a system to exploit the weak? How did they participate in it?

How did the church…

I think this idea of our faith and understanding of God in the temporal context has huge impacts on how we live. It impacts how we love and share grace with everyone we know.

Over the next few posts we’re going to look at a few important groups and see how we, in light of this temporal perspective, show love and grace.

they demand it

I didn’t know what to write about yesterday.

I knew I wanted to do something but didn’t know what. I hum and hawed. I started and stopped. I looked at a few drafts but nothing was coming together.

So I did nothing.

You ever do that?

You don’t know what to do so you just do nothing at all?

We worry about the perfect thing to say. We worry about what they’ll think of us if we say the wrong thing. We worry about putting out less than our best because people may disagree or may not want it.

What if I say the wrong thing and hurt someone? I should just do nothing.

What if I bring up something they don’t want to talk about? I’ll just leave it be

What if….we thought a little less about ourselves?

I wrote nothing because it wasn’t what I wanted to write. I wrote nothing because it wasn’t going to sound the way I wanted it too. But maybe it would have been right for you. Maybe you needed my fragmented and non-cohesive thoughts yesterday.

Maybe I think about what I need way too much.

We think about what to say/do/be more than we think about what those in our relationships need. They need to be seen and loved not us fixed and perfect.

Honest, real, open relationships demand times where we don’t know what to do but we stay anyway. They demand that we think more of the other and what they need. They demand that we do something.

we don’t get it

How do we live out compassion in our wider community?

I hope for you this is one of the largest themes you see here. I think it’s the area that we so often fail the most in. We love our families and those in our close knit community but what about the others?

Well, we have to go to them. We have to go out of our circles and our comfort and not talk about them as a “them.” People become marginalized because we talk about “them” as though those who are different or experience poverty are some kind of idea and not a living breathing person.

Groups of people are marginalized because we don’t see them as people, wholly and masterfully made and crafted by God. People whose lives have placed them in circumstances and required choices most of us will never have to make and honestly don’t understand.

So what do we do about it?

Archbishop Helder Camara spoke one of my all time favourite quotes and I think it gives us the two steps we should be taking here. He said “When I feed the hungry, they call me a saint. When I ask why they have no food, they call me a Communist.”

It’s so great! Isn’t that how we are as a society? The dissonance in our culture around those that are marginalized.

Politics aside it lays out both sides of what we need to involved in. We need to feed the hungry and work towards a community where they are no hungry. We need to support “the other” until there isn’t an “other” what every group that may be. The problem as he so perfectly put is that people tend to leave the systems or worse continue to support and attack those working for real change. We work to lessen the impact of a broken system of oppression but how often do we work to change it entirely?

This is a big topic for a Friday afternoon but there are some really practical things you can do on both sides.

When it comes to investing in those who are marginalized try one of these progressively more involved ideas:

  • Give to the food bank. Take something from your budget you don’t need (name brand foods, chips, beer, Tim Horton’s, etc) and support the food bank.
  • Find a local agency that works with a community that you are passionate about (youth, parents, seniors, those with mental health issues, trauma survivors) and volunteer
  • Connect with one of our local jails (Grand Valley Institute for Women or Ray of Hope) and invest in some of the most marginalized people in our community
  • Become a foster parent. What better way to love and share grace and hope with someone then to bring a young person needing stability and love into your home

Systems are always harder. They are big and we often don’t even see them. They just are. I think for most of us there are some simple starts and I stress these are just starts but we need to understand poverty and marginalization:

  • There are loads of articles on what the experience of poverty is like, do some reading
  • Talk with a friend, colleague, acquaintance about what living on Ontario Works (welfare) is like. It’s surprising how little a family is given to survive on. We as a community don’t do enough for some of our most vulnerable people
  • Connect with immigrant services and what that experience is like. What is life like here for a new immigrant? What is it like to not know the language? How jarring is it to not understand a culture?
  • Talk to someone who is gay and specifically their experience with Christians. It’s usually not good which is exactly what you’d expect from a religion based on love and grace…….

If you want to really get into this, live a week in the shoes of someone in poverty.

Let’s be generous and say you have a full time job. So $10.25 an hour (minimum wage) for 35 hours a week means you get $358.75 before taxes. Assume taxes around 22% and you net $279.83 a week, monthly income of $1,119.30. Now lets start taking it alllllllll away. Rent: not getting much for less than $700 a month especially if you need space for your family. Ok so single mom, 2 kids and $419.30 left for EVERYTHING. That $105.00 a week for food, clothing, transportation, entertainment, etc.

Give it a go.

Try living on $105 for a week. Probably can’t use your cell phone that week because how would you pay for the $60 a month bill? It’s actually a miracle you go at job at all without a phone, how did they call you back to tell you you got it? No eating out. No using your car because how can you afford the gas let alone the insurance on it so you’re walking or taking a bus but remember those bus tickets come out of your $105 a week literally taking food from your child.

Hope you don’t need to get anywhere.

And you’d best we some kind of a wizard to make decent healthy meals for your kids on whatever you’ve got left after you paid your bills.

We don’t get it and we don’t do enough to fix it. Get involved and get educated. We can’t call ourselves a community of love and grace if we just ignore the hell we leave people alone to live in every day.

nothing to flaunt about

On Monday we talked about how we can begin to live out our life of compassion at home. Today I want to go back to Home Church, but to be honest this works for any group of people you’re consistently connected with.

I am far from perfect. Go back and read some of my older writing and you’ll notice the theme. I have so many spaces I want to grow in. There is some ideal me I’m trying to become. A person motivated by love and who chooses grace.

But I still suck on a fairly consistent basis.

One thing I’ve asked my home church to do is help me to suck less. Specifically I’ve asked my community to help me in the areas I’m weak.

I’m not good or consistent at all at reading my bible. I know it’s part of the person I want to be but I just miss it.

So I took my weakness to the group and I think this does some really special things when we bring our weakness to community.

Not that people actively think it, but it shows your humanity. You’re not perfect and you know it.

It’s show that you value the group. You trust them and you need them.

It gives the community a chance to support you which may be a space that some of them need to grow. There will be those in your community who need blatant opportunities to start becoming other centred.

It builds connection. You will become closer as you share more of who you really and truly are and who you think God is trying to make you.

So they text me. It’s simple and easy “hey, read your bible” “did you read today” and it’s working.

Take time to be open. Take time to share your weakness and ask for help. Give people and opportunity to love you and love them back when they are vulnerable.

Be humble and gracious. Just because you’ve identified your weakness doesn’t mean everyone has or that everyone is ready to work on theirs.

Also don’t lose sight of the fact that you’re talking about your weakness, nothing to flaunt about.

love what they love

I’m going back to my week 2 topic. If you didn’t read compassion at home, home church in action, as they are because they are I think you should. It’s a great primer for this week. I’m going to talk about how we live a life of compassion with our family, with our home church and with our community. So let’s start at home.

If you know me, it won’t be a surprise that I really enjoy video games. It’s probably a little more than a hobby for me and it takes up a lot more time than I’d like to admit. Never the less they are great and I have loads of fun playing.

Sarah……not such a fan.

She has no problem with me playing them but she could not care less. It’s the same glazed sort of look when I talk about fantasy sports or try to explain why this particular basketball play is so exciting.

I start talking about fantasy baseball numbers and my strategy and she is just gone.

But to her credit she has tried with video games. She’s said “do you have a game we could play together” and I usually answer “nope”.

I make it so easy for her don’t I?

But on Friday night I was downloading a load of demos for some new games and picked one a co-worker plays with her husband. Maybe it’d work for Sarah and I too.

We had a BLAST Saturday night. It was just the right balance of silly game play, easy goals and not hard to play at all. It was so much fun we’re going to buy the full game and play together more. We laughed the entire time and stayed up WAY to late playing. It was fabulous.

There are two things I want to pull out of this really normal seeming exchange.

The first and biggest is Sarah.

She was and has been for a while trying to invest in what matters to me. Be it video games or actually watching a quarter of a football game Sarah is trying to care about things that matter to me even if they are small or not really important.

Are video games important? No. Do I care about them? Yes, so Sarah is trying to care about them and in turn connect with me.

But I haven’t made it easy. I didn’t make myself and my interests accessible to her. I didn’t find a game she could play or one that I thought we’d both enjoy. I just kept playing games I knew she’d hate.

It took both of us and that’s the second thing. It took Sarah trying and me making my interests accessible to her. We both had to be invested in this. It’s not one sided. I can’t sit back upset or frustrated that Sarah doesn’t love what I love when I don’t allow her a way to begin to understand and engage with what matters to me.

I think when we talk about compassion at home we’re talking about finding more and more ways to love our family. We are finding more ways to connect and be connected to each other and shared experiences are a fantastic way to connect. Sharing our interests is such and easy way for us to grow our loving relationship.

This week try to care about what your family cares about. Learn about their interests, listen to them talk about their passion but really listen, try to understand it not just hear about it.

Or maybe you make your interests accessible to your family so they CAN care about what you care about. Find a way that it will be engaging for everyone.

Create space for shared interests so that you can have more shared experience and in turn experience greater connection. Love what your family loves this week.

a harsh critic

I’m a harsh critic.

I’m working really hard on being gracious but I’m still difficult. I have super high expectations of spaces and people and they are often so unreasonable it’s no wonder I get frustrated.

I’m exceptionally hard on myself.

So often I should and do know better. So often I continue to make bad choices even after identifying it’s a bad choice.

Take yesterday as a simple but telling example. I want to be fit and healthy. I want to look good and feel like I look good. So I try to watch what I eat. But then I do something dumb. I was watching a basketball game yesterday and finished an entire bag of chips in one sitting. As I’m eating them I said to myself “ok, you shouldn’t really eat chips so don’t eat too many” and then “ok you’ve had a bunch” and then “ok just don’t eat the entire bag.”

And then I beat myself up about it.

But for those of us who are trying to be more like Jesus and live a life marked by love and grace and compassion it’s often not about eating a bag of chips is it?

We’re short with a co-worker.

We’re greedy about what we have and aren’t generous with our money.

We see a friend in need but are too busy to help.

We’re afraid of what people will think and we stay closed and don’t open up.

We’re hurt and want justice or pay back as opposed to showing grace.

I’m lucky enough to have two mothers in law. They are fabulous ladies. Jan sent me a Facebook message a few weeks near the anniversary of my father’s death. She told me to be gentle with myself because grief is hard and tiring.

Its good advice for a critic like me and it goes way beyond my grief. I need to be gentle with myself when I’m not yet the person I’m becoming. I need to be gentle with others when they aren’t the people they wish they were or I want them to be.

I need to be gentle because this world is often far too harsh.