choosing to change or not

I was talking with a friend and she asked “couldn’t we just talk about the weather? Sometimes you are exhausting.”

She’s right.

I can be …….. a lot.
I’ve written about it before. Everything is something and that something is fascinating. I needs to be thought about and considered. It needs to be poked, prodded and examined in every which way.

And there are times when this is profoundly helpful. Times when this idiosyncratic part of me finds things that are interesting and in some exceptionally small circumstances even enlightening for people.

But my goodness can I make simple thing complicated.

We all do it from time to time don’t we?

The simple, obvious answer or choice is right there but we complicate it.

I wrote not long ago about how we create op-outs for our love. How we take something super clear like “love your enemies” and affirm it in our words but then slip these little opt outs on the end. These qualifiers.

“Of course you love your enemy, BUT if my family is in danger…”

“Of course we need to love everyone, BUT they need to be trying to change…”

And when a truly complicated issues arises? Far to often we refuse to even engage with it. To think about the implications and the way we are a part of it. Complicated issues involve other people in other parts of the world. We don’t need to get into it.

What are we doing?

We complicate the clear so we don’t have to act and we simplify the profoundly difficult to justify how we act.

The simple call to love your enemy is unbelievably difficult so we complicated it. We spend a lot of time trying to define exactly what is an enemy is or who our neighbour is. And until we get it sorted we feel fine loving no one. We don’t know who we’re supposed to love. We need to figure it out.

And the more we complicate it the longer we put off doing the things we know we are absolutely supposed to.

In almost the exact opposite way, we take the outrageously complicated and simplify it to reinforce the way we see things and the actions we are already taking, rather than do the hard work of changing our current behaviours.

Systemic oppression is still a huge issue in our society. But rather than understand the complexity of the systems and impact those systems are having on the people being oppressed by them, we simplify them.

“People are poor because they are lazy” simple, clean, easy. Let’s not let any context or understanding of one of the most complex issues facing our society creep in. It’s all about effort, making it entirely their fault and since it’s their own fault they can fix it themselves.

No need to get involved. No need to see how we are actually supporting that oppression. No need to be part of the change. The answer is easy, go get a job.

We do this over and over and over. Creating ways of thinking that do nothing more than reinforce the norm. A norm that often benefits us at the expense of the very people we are called to love.

In the end both of these ways of thinking do exactly the same thing. They stop us from changing. They stop us from loving.

They stop us from being Christian.

commitment is another word for action

Life gets in the way. Or I suppose obstacles get in the way of the life you want.

This week it was sickness.

Sarah has been sick for the past few days. Nothing major but enough that she sat on a couch for two days. Now if you know Sarah you’ll understand that Sarah simply doesn’t sit. She is the energizer bunny incarnate.

She just keeps going and going and going.

It’s tiring just to watch.

So I stepped into her shoes the past few days.

She is amazing, I don’t know how she gets it all done. I did not get it all done.

But that’s just life right?

Things pop up, life is chaotic at best often.

I missed a few days of writing. I missed a few days of work.

Life.

I didn’t connect this week like I had planned. There was time. I’d do it later in the week i said. But there wasn’t time later. I’ll get a great chance to connect with some of my work mates today and at our work Christmas party tonight. But that’s only once. I wanted more for this week.

But I didn’t put in the effort when the time was there. There were chances on Monday and Tuesday that I didn’t take.

I put it off.

Then life happened.

Then nothing happened because I didn’t do it.

I suppose my reflection on this week is the continuing realization that this stuff doesn’t’ just happen. That we need to make an effort. Purpose ourselves to love and be the people we are made to be.

Compassionate living is an amazing life. It’s full and deep, but it takes commitment and in this situation commitment is just another word for action.

what not to say around death

Yesterday we talked about getting in the same space related to death. Briefly we talked about:

How as a society and church we don’t tend to do well with death.

Death is not something that can be fixed.

Death is not purposeful.

And then we ended with the question of what don’t we say?

I have a few thoughts. My list isn’t exhaustive but it covers a lot.

What not to say:

  • Everything will be ok
  • It’s for the best
  • God needed another angel
  • There’s some good in this
  • Don’t worry Gods in control. He’s got a plan.

You may disagree with some of these but overall here’s why I think we need to avoid this lines of conversation.

This is an emotional experience not one to be conquer with logic or reason. It’s a deeply person, visceral experience that force us to face and engage with parts of ourselves we don’t often have to. Death causes questions and confusion. The problem with these statements isn’t necessarily their factual truth, though some are not true, but rather how little help and possibly how much damage they can do to someone experiencing loss. It’s not the time for ideas and theory, it’s time for love.

Think of all the ways these kinds of statements can be interpreted, especially considering that the person doing the interpretation is in pain. Consider these statements from the position of someone morning loss. They could very easily see it like this.

Everything will be ok –It’s not that big a deal. In a little while this person and their loss won’t be as meaningful or painful to you. It minimizes what’s happening in that moment. “Just buck up you’ll be fine soon. Now isn’t that important.” But that person is trapped in the now, in the full experience of the now. We need to speak to their now not some possible whole future.

It’s for the best – someone how your pain and anguish are for the best. God’s best plan and the best plan for you and your loved one is for that loved one to no longer be in your life. That’s harsh. May dad was in pain for 13 years but even when he passed I’ve never seen it as ‘for the best’. The best would be a healthy dad who met my sons and saw the man I’m becoming. Not one who left years before his time. That’s not the best. Why can’t God just health the person, why is them dying for the best?

God needed another angel – this is so often said when a child dies. It paints God as some kind of selfish malevolent being. He made and gave you a child then changed His mind because He needed it more. He can speak things into existence but needed YOUR child. You don’t need them as much as God does. But make sure you go and ask God for healing a support after He took your child.

There’s some good in this – while I understand the goal, there isn’t. Death wasn’t part of God’s plan. There is no good. Do we think so little of God that He can’t fulfill His purpose unless someone is taken? He’s so constrained that He can’t do good without first horrible trauma. What possible good is here that requires my loss?

Don’t worry God’s in control. He’s got a plan – again, an omnipotent God that can’t do good without causing tram and harm. A God who WANTS bad things to happen to you. It’s part of His plan. Not how I would describe a loving God. Not how I would describe a God of infinite power and grace. God can use pain but when we talk about how God is in control and has a plan we imply that God wanted the bad to happen to fulfill His plan. Like an abusive partner that uses pain and coercion to keep someone under their control.

I talked about God in all of these but they all still apply if the person isn’t a person of faith. In that case there is nothing more. There is this life and that’s it. Saying it’s for the best that someone loss the only life they will ever have or any of the other statements is just a damaging.

The point here is that what you mean and what you say aren’t always the same thing. You can have all the best intentions and still be hurtful. Where you mean to bring healing you can bring greater pain. Be aware of the implications of what you say.

Often it’s better to say nothing. It’s better just to love in presence and in deed.

But if you must say something I’ve got a few ideas for you tomorrow.

who is my neighbour?

This is it.

It’s finally here.

This is the first week I’m asking you to dip into your normal everyday life. To not change the way you interact with people in your life but to actively seek out a new interaction.

I want you to have dinner.

Or coffee, wine, cookies, hotdogs, whatever you want.

I want you to connect, probably over food and drink because it’s easier, with your neighbour.

Invite them over if you don’t know them well or accept their invitation to coffee you’ve been avoiding.

Connect with your neighbour this week.  And this not some sort of deep theological question around ‘who is my neighbour’? it’s the person who lives near you, in geographical proximity.

Go knock on somones door and say “Hi, I’m your neighbour. I was wondering if you’d want to come by for dinner/drink/cookies sometime. We’ve been neighbours for _______ and I thought it’d be nice to know who’s around us.”

No agenda.

No ulterior motives.

Just get to know your neighbour for who they are, as they are right now.

a chance easily missed

This space is heavy with things to do.

It’s a lot of ideas and actions to integrate and try in your life.

Your busy, already full life.

Rest isn’t something that’s valued in the West. We value drive. But rest is such a Godly thing.

Don’t miss it.

Don’t miss the need to stop. Don’t miss the need to connect with God. Don’t miss the need to be silent and listen. Don’t miss the chance to let God speak. Don’t miss the chance to just be quiet.

Commit to rest. Don’t let the busyness of life and doing good work push rest out of your life.

And if you’re not the type who has ever rested, today is a great day to start. I know a prayer you could say.

generous with your generosity

I hope you’re trying to put some of these weekly challenges into your everyday life. They are a terrific way to get your mind and you actions in line with this life of compassion. It just forces you to see the world a little different and that’s a good thing.

This week I’m asking you to be generous once a day.

Originally I wanted to say “be generous one a day to someone who you think doesn’t deserve it” but there were some problems with that.

What if someone you know was generous with you? Does that mean they think you don’t deserve it? How do you know if someone does or doesn’t’ deserve generosity?

It got a little messy.

There was however a reason I started with it worded that way.

Sometimes we hold back our generosity or are generosity is based on merit.

That person is trying so hard we should give them a hand.

Well I’m not going to help someone who isn’t even trying to help themselves.

They have lots, they don’t need me.

That person is so desperate I need to help them.

We test the validity of the request. We want to make sure they are deserving of our help. That they have earned our generosity somehow.

I didn’t want you to do that. I want you to be obedient to God’s call to be generous with all we have.

So once a day when the opportunity is presented we are just generous. It’s not about someone earning it or deserving it, it’s about grace. The chance to be generous is there and we just take it. We don’t hold back our generosity but we are generous with our generosity.

I know it’s strange to ask you to generous with your generosity but it’s true. We can be really strange about our generosity. Who can and can’t get it. Who does and doesn’t’ deserve it.

This week is simple.

Just be generous. No strings, no earning, no deserving, just generosity.

pain, scars and the life we chose

I didn’t know of to start this post.

I didn’t have a good story or clever intro. I realize that you’re probably thinking “that’s different than most days how?”

It all just felt forced and contrived. So I’ll be blunt.

The life of compassion is one without rights.

That’s not a little thing.

That’s a gigantic, massive, life shaking thing.

I think for those of us who have grown up in the West is hard to understand the idea of a life without rights. We have a right to everything. And if we don’t have a right we’ll fight to get it.

Our culture, the church included, has taught us a lot about all the rights we have.

We have a right to happiness.

We have a right to be heard.

We have a right to have stuff and to get to keep our stuff.

We have a right to comfort.

We have a right to not be offended.

We have a right to justice.

But we’re called to give them up. It’s not that they are bad or that we shouldn’t strive to create a society where everyone has these rights. We should. We should strive for equality.

It’s just that these rights are not for us keep. We give them up, freely.

Yes we have a right to happiness, but we give it up to put others first.

Yes we have a right to be heard, but we give it up so others are heard and valued and seen.

Yes we have a right to have stuff and to get to keep our stuff, but we give up our claim to generously bless others freely with all we have.

Yes we have a right to comfort, but we give it up to create spaces comfortable for others where they can be and express who they are, free of judgment.

Yes we have a right to not be offended, but we give it up so others can share their hearts and their pain.

Yes we have a right to justice, but we give it up to seek restoration and wholeness.

This isn’t hyperbole, this is the hard reality of the life of compassion. Everyone comes before us. Sure there will be times when we give up our right to happiness and in putting others first find a fulfillment and happiness that deeper and truer.

Then there will be times we just get yelled at because of the pain Christians and the church have caused. We don’t get to offer reasons or take offence. We gave up that right. We will be wronged so many times and we keep responding with grace.

It’s not fun, it hurts. Sometimes it scars. But we keep responding with grace.

Other centred living costs.

But I see the value in that cost. I see what my sacrifice can and will do in the lives of my friends, family, community and my own. I think it’s worth it. I hurts, but it’s worth it.

we gave it up

I want you to live a life of compassion.

I honestly and truly believe it’s the life we were created to live. It’s the way we are the best versions of ourselves. We find the greatest depth in life when we live an other centred life. Life lived in community is best. Groups of people living lives marked by grace and love for each other and their neighbours creates a communities people want to be a part of.

But it’s not without its costs.

This week I want to look at what some of those costs are. I’m big into transparency. I try my best to be open and honest about every aspect of my life. This space is littered with my failures and flaws. I don’t hide how and what I am, at least I try not to.

In the same way I don’t want you to start into this life not realizing what it may cost.

This isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned cost, but it bears reminding.

When thinking about cost if can’t help but come back to Dietrich Bonhoeffer when he wrote “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” This resonates with me in a way that’s hard to describe.

It almost haunts me.

I understand it, I believe it, I just didn’t realize it when I started down this path. I knew that God called all of us not just parts but I didn’t grasp the extent to which all means….well all I guess.

I wonder when it will end. When will I have given enough?

“God wouldn’t ask me to give up ____ would he?”

And that’s the point of this week. Not to discourage you but that you know what you’re in for.

One of the things you’ll need to die to is the approval of others. Not everyone, but most.

The approval of my wife matters a great deal to me, as it should. We’re a team doing life together. If she doesn’t approve of what I’m doing or who I am, it’s because I’m doing something stupid. But I can’t live my life in search of the approval of everyone.

It might be odd to talk about the approval of others when we started with the idea of being other centred but it’s very present and it’s subversive to what we’re doing.

Ironically one of the ways we can strive for approval is one of the biggest parts of this entire journey, sharing our story.

Ever hear someone tell a story about what they’re doing and walk away not feeling encouraged that you can do the same but rather that the story teller seems to think rather highly of themselves?

It’s not hard to boast in our compassion.

It’s not hard to talk down to people who are new to the idea and the life style.

It’s not hard to judge those who don’t agree with you or do as much as you think you do.

It’s not hard to share all the amazing things you’re doing hoping to hear “wow that’s amazing. I don’t think I could do that” or “I hope I can be more like you” or just simply so that everyone knows how good you are. Specifically how much more good you are than them.

So what do we do? How do we share stories but not boast and seek approval?

Two steps.

First, whenever possible share someone else’s story.

Talk about this amazing person you’ve meet and what they are doing. Share stories from people in your community doing something cool. You don’t have to share names, it’s about the story not the person.

“I was talking with this guy who…”

“A heard about this family in my church who is…”

If you don’t have one from a friend, share yours but don’t say it’s yours. Tell it as though it’s someone else’s. Let it be about the story and not you.

The second, which is admittedly more difficult, is to quickly reflect on why.

Why are you telling this story? What are you hoping will happen? Will this build up the listener or build up you?

This means there will be times you don’t share your story. It means there will be amazing things you do that no one knows about.

And it’s not because what you did isn’t worth sharing. It just means that in certain situations with certain people sharing becomes boasting and we shift from other centered to ego centred.

It’s the times you hear others boasting all the good work they do and you want to jump in.

It’s the times you hear someone talking and you want to put them in their place because they aren’t as good as they say they are or really doing all the much.

It’s the times you force in a story about how great you are when the conversation never allowed it.

It’s the times that you are the center.

We don’t get to be the center anymore. We gave it up.

And sometimes when you haven’t’ heard a thank you in months, you are struggling to keep putting others first, you are biting your tongue and responding with grace you just want to shout:

YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW MUCH I GIVE OF MYSELF!

WHY DOES NO ONE CARE!?

IS THIS WORTH IT!?

I think it is. I think this is the life we were made to live.

It’s not the easiest life, but it is the life of greatest depth and the one I think Christ has called us to.

making space

This is one of my favourites.

This week we will be committing to: not being the one to end a conversation.

I love this one. It’s such an easy choice that gives so much space for relationship to grow.

Think about how often we are too busy for people. Too busy to connect, too busy to talk, too busy to see someone? This is an easy way to create space for people in your life.

What I think you’ll find is that it doesn’t strain your time as much as you might worry it will. I remember a while back Sarah told me about when she was out walking. She was walking with our first son, our second hadn’t been born yet, and ran into someone we knew. Sarah chatted briefly then excused herself to get home.

But she wasn’t doing anything at home. There was no rush. No reason to jump out of that conversation other than to just finish the walk and get home.

I think we do this a lot more than we realize. We end conversations so we can finish whatever we are doing with no real time pressure being there. We artificially create a busyness that we can’t just connect.

Or the things we NEED to do don’t NEED to be done. It would be good if I got back from my walk and did the dishes, but they will be there in 10 minutes this opportunity to connect won’t. We forfeit this very time sensitive relationship for chores or activities that have no real time connection other than our own personal desire for them to be finished.

Give it a try. Don’t be too busy for people or for relationships.

Instead invest in people. Give them space to share what matters and to connect. So often people just want to be seen. They want someone to give them the time of day. This is a great way to do that and it gives God loads of space to move in a conversation and to give openings for real depth that wouldn’t be there if we rush.

Relationships take time, be the one to make it this week.

police officers and ATMs

How was your week? Did anything funny happen? Did nothing happen at all? Did God show up? I’d love to hear about it.

I didn’t do very well at my own challenge for this week.

Or maybe I haven’t done super well so far, I’ve still got a few days (this is what we call rationalization).

The people I’ve said hi to have been friendly but nothing special happened. Nothing particularly of interest came out of saying hi. To be honest, that’s going to happen. Every interaction won’t end with an amazing story. Some will but lots are just what they are and in this case that’s you being a friendly engaged member of your community.

What was of interest was the times I didn’t say anything. I guess as I reflect back on the week the times I didn’t speak were the ones that intrigue me the most.

I was walking from my car into a building in down town Galt for a meeting. As I walked I passed a police officer. He did not look particularly interested in saying hi, or smiling, or anything particularly positive. At least that’s what his well worn scowl was telling me.

This might seem like a totally reasonable response to office angry, but it’s really not.

I sit on some committees with the police. Often they folks on the committee are managers. They support and supervise the folks in the community like the fellow I passed.

I know for a fact that the Police want to be engaged in community. They want people to see them as approachable. Knowing this I still didn’t say anything.

It’s basically his job to say hi back. He is obligated to be at the very least pleasant. It was a guaranteed win. I was not going to get yelled at.

But I still didn’t do it.

I was getting some money form an ATM the next day. I turned to walk out and saw a friendly looking lady standing behind me waiting to use the ATM.

I walked right by.

It’s weird to talk around ATMs and money right? People want to be just left alone right?

That’s what I told myself as I walked past without even smiling.

This should be so easy! Just say hi to people. Just connect in the most basic way possible with the people you come across. No going out of your way. It’s not like I’m looking for ways to bear my soul. It’s just a hello.

And I missed it over and over. I missed it when it was easy. I talked myself out of it more than once.

It just goes to show me how much more growing I have to do. It shows me how much I let my actions be dictated by fear more than love and grace. It shows me that this life I keep trying to live takes a lot of effort and choice day after day.

But I get another shot at it tomorrow and the next day and I’m going to be better than I was. Not perfect but better.