to what end?

Lent started this week.

Lent leads to two obvious questions in a lot of Christian circles.

“Are you doing lent?”

“What are you lenting?”

But I often struggle with talking about it. This is more of an internal struggle than an external one because I love to hear myself talk. To an extent it’s the same reason I struggle with a lot of social media.

My mother’s voice runs through my head every time I think about posting anything. The question of “to what end?”

I can’t escape it.

That said, my mom and I have never talked about Facebook or Twitter with any real depth. We do however talk about work and life and often the idea of “to what end” comes up. I try to consider it with any important decisions, but Twitter and Facebook aren’t really important so why is it creeping in here?

It creeps in I suppose because lent is important. Perhaps more to the point who I am, my actions and the way I share myself is important.

And what does my online sharing say about me?

What does it say about what I value?

To what end am I posting _______?

Is it to encourage people, is it to draw them into community, is it to love them…

Or am I just saying look at me, look how smart I am, look how much I care, look what I’m doing, aren’t I great? Why does everyone know that I am lenting ______ and that it’s such struggle? Why do I make sure people see all the volunteering I’m doing and all the people I’m meeting?

We’ll most of you have come here through Facebook, so I’m clearly not opposed to Facebook entirely.

I just wonder if we should be more critical of what we post, why we post it, and what it says about us.

Are we commenting to be encouraging, to build community, to support others or because everyone else is and we want the world to know we care to. I worry that the ease with which we can say happy birthday, I’m sorry for your loss, excited for you, etc takes away from our desire to really engage. We miss being in the moment, in the messiness, in each other’s lives as much as we once were.

I think this is where community becomes so central.

Community is where we can go and share because our community knows us. They know why we’re doing what we’re doing. They can call us out when we’re being boastful and showy. They know our intentions and our hearts. They want this type of encouragement and challenge, because we know them relationally. We can lean on them and they will support us, because sometimes we need more than a few likes to get by. Sometimes we need someone to hold our hands, wipe our tears and listen as it all falls apart.

I worry that if we sat and reflected we’d find we pose/share/comment so others see how caring, smart, funny we are rather than to love. That when the option is presented we’d rather comment on a post then send a message, make a call, walk to their house because if we were being honest, part of why we’re doing it is so people know we’re doing it.

It’s not everyone, nor is it always, but if we never think “to what end” it might be happening more than we think. I know it does for me.

depth, darkness and all

This is going to be short.

More often than not I’ll recommend just listening but when you do speak consider these few thoughts on what to say. You can also check out this, this and this for some more ideas on supporting people in crisis.

Offer honest and real support. Don’t just say let me know If you need anything but tell them what you can and want to do. Say “I want to love you, here’s what I came up with. I want to do this with you.” Make it easy for them to be supported and loved.

Give them space to feel their feelings. People often don’t feel free to honestly explore and express how they actually feel. They think there is a way they are supposed to feel or a response they are supposed to have. Let them know that you’re ok with them being honest. Say “it’s ok to be honest with me. If you feel angry, hurt, flat, numb, happy, whatever. You don’t have to feel a certain way. If you want to talk about how you feel I’d love to listen. I just want to love you.” Let them feel what they feel and don’t try to direct it. Some people feel numb. They don’t really feel at all. They are told they are supposed to be sad but they just feel nothing. And then they feel guilt that they aren’t responding ‘the right way.’ Give space for the real expression of their feelings whatever they may be. Don’t look for one feeling or another but accept whatever it is they express.

Just keep affirming that you want to love them and be there with them.

The only advice I’d share with someone experiencing grief is “be gracious with yourself. Grief is a long tiring process. There is no time table.” Help them feel free to experience the process and not be too hard on themselves.

Love them. No expectations, just a journey you’re happy to go on with them, depth, darkness and all.

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.

come and see my brokenness

Did the prayer of brokenness resonate with you?

Are you aware how broken you are?

We talked yesterday about what Jesus has actually called us to. What we often say we want to be about. I really believe that for there to be a connection between the people we say we want to be, the one Jesus talks about, and the person we are takes hard self-reflection.

Sometimes we really need a prayer like that when we start to reflect.

Honest, full of real pain and worry. One where we don’t lie to ourselves or God. From the heart. The head has been told God is coming, but the heart worries. He may never come. This persistent darkness may be just that, persistent. One where God doesn’t just show up and fix the world at the end. No “I know you hear me and all will be ok.” Because if you’ve ever been there like I have you don’t know that.

God may not come.

But we still praise God.

Not because He fixes us but because He is worthy.

I think this honest reflection on our pain, brokenness, and doubt is important. Its important when we reach out to community. It’s important in our own lives. How can we expect to connect when we answer everything with “don’t worry God’s going to fix it” when there is a distinct possibility that what the person is praying for, broken because of, or pain they are feeling won’t just go away.

Life is too complicated for insincere or simple answers.

It’s all a part of Gods plan.

God is in control don’t worry.

You just need to trust more

Maybe you need to have a little more faith.

Placing God as some kind of fix all solution cheapens who God is and starts people down a path that can often lead to hatred and resentment of God. If you’re told that if you believe in God he will fix everything. And then you go to church and sings songs every week that reinforce how God is in control and see nothing but people who appear to be super happy and full of joy that makes a very clear statement that if you know God you should be happy and whole.

But your real struggles continue, what do you do with that?

You can start to think what you’re doing wrong. You go to church, you sing the songs, participate in home church, read your bible, pray, you do everything your told you should to make God come and fix your pain, brokenness, doubt.

And a year, 2 years, 35 years later it’s all still there and you just start to wonder.

Maybe God doesn’t love me.

Maybe God isn’t real.

Maybe it’s all been a lie.

That’s why we have to be honest when we’re sharing our experience, good and bad.

We hide our doubt despite the fact that it’s part or humanity. It resonates with those who haven’t found God yet because everyone has it.

But we hide it making it seem like we are different, better than they are. Fixed and whole.

We are different but different because we have seen our brokenness and said God I need you. It’s our honest response to brokenness that is different not the experience of having it.

And it’s that response, Jesus that we need to share.

tithing is outdate right?

If you are not a churchy type of person I’d skip right to the bold words even if you’re not churchy this stuff still applies, because today I’m going to talk about tithing and giving to church to start, but there is something I think for you at the bold marks (also thanks for reading, let me know if there are some other not so churchy/religious things you’d be interested in reading about or stuff I’ve written that was applicable to you. You’re just as much a part of this journey even if religious churchy stuff isn’t your thing).

Ok back to talking about money.

This is not the first time I’ve touched on it. I like talking about money here, here, here and here. I suppose it’s because I like taking about things that we often don’t talk about. Money is definitely one of those topics.

Bruxy talk about it on Sunday and so it’s on my mind again, specifically the idea of tithing.

Couple of starting points.

No your time doesn’t count.

Yes it should go to the church.

No you don’t have to do it anymore.

There we go all sorted, right?

Ok, so were starting at the same point and I suspect you’re thinking “do you have anything remotely helpful here or are you just filling space?”

I hope so and not the just filling space part.

To start then, why the church? The tithe is to help the poor and widow and others group do that.

Support them for sure. I wrote about giving to cbm (which you should go do right now). But do that over and above. Let the tithe to the church be the starting point or a primer for your generosity not the end.

I think where our money goes says a lot about what we value and who we trust.

I think when we keep out tithe from the church what we’re really saying is “I don’t trust you with my money. You don’t love the world the way I think you should and I’m going to put my money somewhere that does it right.”

I think it says “while I appreciate all that you do to pour into me and support me I’m not going to help sustain this. I’m just going to take.”

I think at times it says “I know best.”

You think that helping orphans in Uganda is more important than the work your local church is doing.

If that’s true you’re part of the problem. Why are you not connecting with your leadership and asking them to support orphans in Uganda or whatever you think is more important than what the church is doing now? Why have you not started the ministry through your church that you are so passionate about or made the connection to the group that supports orphans for the church? Why does none of this misuse of dollars involve you, an engaged member of the local church?

Again, remember you should still support MCC or World Vision or cbm. But if we gave generously to the local church and those in leadership knew the heart of their community was for the work of cbm, cbm could be supported by the church organization. But we do it as a community, pulling our resources together and working as a community.

Instead we take OUR money and give to OUR charities because the church isn’t going to do it right.

If you’ve spent much time here you know I’m hard on the church, but I really believe that’s the way it was supposed to be. A community pooling it’s everything to support what God has called them as a community to support. And I get that sometimes your passion and the vision of the church or the leadership can’t seem line up. We’re a bunch of imperfect people doing imperfect work. But you need to start there. Give church a chance to be what it was meant to be first. Do your part to build church the way Jesus wanted it.

We need to be committed to the church. There has been a long period of my life where I struggled and questioned if that was true but we do. Jesus called us to church. We need to support and foster the community it was designed to be and committed giving is part of it.

If you still don’t believe me go read your bible. 1 Corinthians 16 sounds an awful lot like a community (the church) consistently pooling it’s resources.

Re-cap:

  • give to the church first
  • if your church doesn’t’ give the way it should your responsible for that miss too
  • if the ministry you’re passionate about isn’t there go start it with the support of your church (or at the very least try first)
  • keep giving to worthy organizations. This is not an excuse to stop giving to other spaces.

Even if you’re not churchy this stuff still applies.

The idea of a tithe, committed consistent support of a cause you are passionate about, is so important to this life of compassion.

I run a community centre and when we get donations it really speaks to me. It so clearly shows that the person believes in what we do and that what we do matters to them.  We don’t have anyone that gives monthly to us. But that commitment would be amazing. It would speak volumes about how that person sees the work that we do.

Pick something that your passionate about and invest in their work, consistently. It may be a stretch and it may be hard but the life of compassion is hard. It opens you up to being a more generous person on the whole. Continued, committed generosity breaks the hold money can have our lives and lets us be the generous people a person marked by compassion should be.

Tomorrow, how much.

door to door

I had someone come to my door yesterday. They were from Amnesty International. They were going door to door asking people to support Amnesty International in their efforts in Syria.

As she left I said “try to stay dry” and she responded with “I’m out here trying to help with human rights, what’s a little rain?”

This brought three things to mind for me so I thought we’d work through them this week. It’s amazing how something so small can make you think so much. That or I’ve just got some sort of cognitive problem that I should see someone about.

It’s probably the second one.

The first thing I pondered on after she left was “should I have given her some money?”

I didn’t.

Was I wrong?

For someone who talks about generosity I was strikingly ungenerous.

I’d made up my mind when she came to the door. I don’t have money for this.

I didn’t consider it might be an opportunity from God. I didn’t pray or search my spirit to see if this is something God was leading me in. It was someone at the door soooooo be polite and get out of the conversation as fast as possible.

Just like Jesus would do.

But the larger question is do you have to give every time? How do you know when to give?

I said that we already have charities we support. They work building community and capacity. They are organizations that speak to our hearts. When I started to speak I made up my mind not to argue. I wasn’t going to get into if one was better or worse. I decided I wouldn’t discuss which was more deserving. Luckily she didn’t’ push.

The point isn’t to judge which is better. Aiding those in what will probably soon be classified as a genocide, that’s always good.

Taking those shunned by their community and giving them a chance to be productive for the first time in heir life? Also good.

Giving someone who’s never had the resources to support their family that chance? Good choice.

See it’s all good. There is so much good working going on.

Back to the question of action.

It starts with a wiling heart, which mine was not when that young lady came to the door. It starts with a sensitivity to the ask and the heart of God.

So back to my response. No is entirely ok, if you at least consider the question. I didn’t. So I was wrong this time.

That said, all your resources are going to other meaningful work? Great, thank you for getting involved.

But if that young lady comes to your door and not only do you say no to her you say no to all of the calls to support justice, love, peace and the work of God?

Point blank, you’re doing something wrong.

two sides from two brothers

My brother and I were talking about church.

We talk about church a lot. We’re both always right so it’s good we are on roughly the same page. We talk about all aspects of church. Growing up as pastor’s sons and my brother now a pastor it’s been a part of our lives since the very beginning.

We talked a little about how to encourage people to live a more compassionate life. We agreed that there is a large portion of people who have the language (you might say missional, other centred, whatever) and but still don’t’ apply it.

I said it was priorities that hold people back.

He said it was time.

The more we talked about it the more we realized that priorities and time are two sides of the same compassionate life style blocking coin. It’s a big complicated coin.

I said it was priorities because people make time for what matters. They do what’s most important first and work their way down. I’ve written about this before.

He said that part of the problem about saying its priorities makes it sound like something else. Another thing that needs to be added. I’ve got work, soccer practices, church, Home Church, volunteering, date night and now you want me to add compassion into that too? Nope, sorry I’m just too busy.

He’s right (and so am I but we’ll get there).

Talking about it like a priority makes it sound like more. The idea is that you live a life of compassion. It’s not something you add it’s how you go to work, soccer practices, church, Home Church, volunteering, date night and the way you spend your time while you’re there. Is the way you live your life.

Not something more, a change to how. So he’s right. That’s the call of Jesus in our lives.

But that’s big and scary and for a lot of people who are working towards the life style, the all-encompassing nature is too much. It’s all or nothing. So he’s right.

And that’s why I often start with priorities. Changing the way you live is hard. It will take commitment and effort and a struggle. So I ask you to start small. Prioritize this new way of living over a few other things in your life by engaging in timed events to get started. Planning to meet with your neighbours, plan to go out to the pub with a co-worker. Prioritize relationships as a start.

In the end it won’t be a priority but rather a way of living. For me though, I think prioritizing some time for relationship is a good first step to that changed life.

you can’t go home again

You can’t go home again – Thomas Wolfe

When I got married I found it really difficult to leave home. I was so excited to start my life with Sarah, but I’d lived in the same house for my entire life. I didn’t move out for university or even go away for a whole summer. I was a huge change for me.

Some of the stuff I missed was dumb. I missed not having satellite to watch sports. I missed not having loads of food just there.

But some of it was more.

I missed not hearing dad yell down to our living room “good night boys.” I missed the comfort and routine.

I also knew that this change was important. I knew I wanted, and still want, to spend the rest of my life with Sarah. I knew we wanted to start a family and do life together. That took me leaving home.

And once I left it wasn’t the same to go back. I remember one night I had stopped at home and dad said I could stay and watch the baseball game if I wanted. I’d missed not having it at my new place so I plunked myself on the couch and started watching.

It was different.

That’s one of my honest goals for writing here. I want you to grasp what a life lived the way it was designed looks like. I want you to try it. I want you to see that there is a better way to live and you to have the tools to get there.

What I really want is for you to see that you’re suppose to live in relationship and community. It’s messy and tough and it’s easier to just stay where you are and tell yourself “I’m a good person who cares about others” than it is to be a good person who cares about others. I want to draw you past the easy.

My hope is that you’ll slowly put into practice some of these things and realize you can’t go back. You can’t go home to a comfortable life with you at the centre.

You’ll step into real relationships and build honest, open, supportive communities, brokenness and all. I hope you’ll draw others into this new life you’re finding .

My hope is you’ll embed this life of compassion so deep into your life you won’t be able to go home, and that revelation will excite you.

You know, just in case you were ever wondering why this space is here.

bounus content: give presentation

A few years ago I was doing some writing encouraging people to be more generous. The idea was that people could be generous once a day. Slowly start a revolution of generosity.

So I made a presentation about why we should be more generous and what that might look like.

In light of yesterdays idea of looking at ourselves this presentation came to mind. There’s a call for reflection, action, and perhaps a push to give in areas you might not have considered before.

We’ll come back to our discussion of what holds us back from giving and living the compassionate live we are called to tomorrow and Friday.

Today, I hope you find the presentation interesting, challenging and again a call to look at how your beliefs about compassion and who you are do or maybe don’t line up with your actions.