more than just my feelings

I would love a wider breadth of worship music on a Sunday.

I’ve got a bunch of personal reasons why I’d like more variety and why the lack of variety frustrates me. That said, there is more to my frustration than simply my own personal desire for a space and time that reflects my experience.

Essentially this is not just about me. At least, that’s how the story goes in my mind so hopefully there is some truth to it.

There are some really important practical problems with an always up beat worship experience.

I think that we teach theology, expectations and actions in our worship. And if I’m right then perhaps we should spend more time critically thinking about the worship we present at church.

If worship teaches theology was does it teach?

That God makes us feel good.

That God will come.

That God fixes.

That God changes everything for the better.

This theology will directly impact expectations. However I’m not particularly worried about the expectations of the church. Those are absolutely skewed but the church, for the most part, knows when it’s being serious and when it’s being more rhetorical.

For those new to our spaces however, this may pose a problem.

What does it say to someone who comes to church broken and looking, sings songs about how God will comes, how he will fix and how everything will be better. Then reflects back on their life months later to see the same brokenness present. What happens when they see that their life isn’t perfect and mended? What happens when they stand in a service look around at all the other “happy” people and realize they are alone? What has to go through their mind?

What didn’t I do?

Why doesn’t God love me like them?

Why isn’t God fixing it?

Does God even care?

Is God even real?

Maybe it’s a step to far. But I doubt it.

If every Sunday we drill the theology of happy people living happy lives because God has made it that way this expectation will happen.

All because we couldn’t be open and honest without pain. All because we want to be happy on a Sunday rather than real.

And this leads nicely into my last thought (almost like I planned it).

In worship we talk about doing a lot of things; raising hands, bowing our knee, giving over our lives, trusting God, etc.

How many of them do we actually do? Some church are better than others but there aren’t many where people literally bow their knee when they say they are bowing before Christ.

We just talk about all the things we do and then wonder why we can’t get people involved in each other’s lives. Why we can’t build spaces that people feel safe to be open about their doubt and pain. Why we can’t get people to volunteer or to give back to their community or talk to their neighbour or do literally anything that would bring them closer to being like Christ.

It’s so pervasive it’s almost like there is something happening every Sunday teaching them and encouraging them to say one thing and do another. Something teaching them to hide the honest reality of their life because somewhere it’s being reinforced that the honest expression means they don’t know God or worse God isn’t even there.

Thank goodness we’d never do something like that every single Sunday…

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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.

don’t get me wrong prayer is important…

Prayer is important.

I worry every I write about prayer that people will get the impression that I don’t see it as important. I do. I value it a great deal. If you’ve been following along here you know that I wrote three prayers (here, here and here) and then reflected on them the following week (here, here and here).

Prayer is important.

But so often we stop there. I’ve written about it before. The temptation to just pray. To see or know someone in need and just pray. We are so much more than that.

That’s why this week’s challenge is for you to think of someone who you have recently said or have been tempted to say “I’ll pray for you” and go the next step. Make sure you pray for them, but also draft a list of the things you’re really and honestly prepared to do to love and support them. Then give it to them.

Most of us truly mean it when we say “let me know if there is anything I can do” but I’ve found this to be more impactful. It shows time, caring and thought. It wasn’t something that just slipped out or was said out of duty.

They’ll know you’re serious and that’s the point.

To be serious about our love and to not just pray for support but answer that prayer with tangible support as well.

Phil says yes

A life of compassion is not one that is marked by saying yes to everything, but it says yes to way more than a life not trying to live like Jesus has called us.

Its amazing how much you can do and what you can offer when you commit to it. When you choose too.

A lot of us really honestly want to help. We want to give and want to be involved.

But we miss the chance. It presents itself and we start to process and think about all the reasons why it’d be too hard and talk ourselves out of it.

I have a buddy named Phil. He is arguably the busiest person I know. The man is a farmer and can without exaggeration work 70-80 hour weeks. In 6 days no less because his boss, a great man of God, shuts the operation down for rest on Sunday. They have to squeeze 7 days of farming into 6.

If anyone has an excuse to be busy and not say yes its Phil.

Phil always says yes.

He showed up at my place around 8pm the Friday of the weekend we were moving. He’d been out working all day and was going back out the next morning. But he help me move our GIANT outrageously heavy fridge to our new house in the rain. I think he got home at midnight.

But that’s Phil.

Compassionate living just pours out of him.

And if you ask people who know Phil no one will be surprised. Everyone who knows him knows him as one of the most generous people they’ve ever met.

His answer is yes.

That’s the kind of person I want to be. I want to be like Phil. I want people to know they can count on me. I want people to know that I will love them with my actions not just my words.

That my busy life isn’t’ more important than my relationships, my friends and family.

I want people to know that if they need me I’m there.

It isn’t about saying yes every time. I’m sure Phil has said no, I just can’t remember it because Phil is a consistent person who consistent answer is yes. It’s who he is. He gives of himself and his time and his resources and he does it by saying yes.

I want to be more like Phil and lucky for me I’ve got a head start since we already share a name.

they need time to soak

I had another not so spectacular week.

I did better than last week. I didn’t find myself looking for ways out of conversations or rationalizing why a certain instance didn’t count like I did last week. I like to talk so it wasn’t hard for me to keep talking.

A few times I was about to stop a conversation but didn’t.

But like last week it wasn’t like God showed up in some unmistakable way.

I didn’t get the chance to be a part of someone’s life changing. No one broke down in tears bearing their heart because I gave them time. Just a lot of really nice conversations.

And that’s not good enough is it?

Not in this world where we need to constantly achieve and a healthy church is measured by the number of people who attend or how big the building is.

Nope we need to see change we can stick on a marketing pamphlet. We need lives to be changed and if that chance doesn’t present itself we need to force it to happen.

These projects aren’t just going to change themselves. We can’t miss an opportunity to work on the projects in our lives.

Nope we can’t just have really nice conversations with people in our lives. If all we do is have nice conversations;

How will we know when our project is done?

How will we know if we’re a good Christian or not?

How will we let other people know how good of a Christian we are?

How did we get here?

In some way or another all of those crossed my mind this week.

I was worried about what I would write on Friday as more and more conversations were just conversations.

I was worried about why God wasn’t using me.

I was worried that I wasn’t being pushy or direct enough.

I was worried that no one was closer to God this week because I tried to invest in them.

Maybe old habits die hard. Maybe I’ve been a part of church for so long I can’t help but think back to some of the ways church has been done or the way I thought church was done.

It’s not a maybe at all that I need to grow a lot more yet. I need to remember that so much of compassion is relationship. Honest, real relationships motivated by love not some ulterior motive. And if I’m able to be loving to someone. If I’m able to share love with someone, then God was there.

God showed up and was in our conversation every time I’m able to love someone. A nice conversation is more than enough, if love is what makes it nice.

So when I talk about video games, or budgets, or family it can be entirely soaked in God. As long as I choose to soak that conversation in love. And giving every conversation the time it needed is a really good way to put a little love in every conversation.

money, money, money!

I decided I wanted pick a really easy topic for this week, so we’re going to talk about money all week!

See nice and easy. No one’s every gotten upset about money before right? I’m sure I read that somewhere.

Look, money’s touchy. We talk around it, we talk about it in abstract terms but rarely in a way that creates accountability. We don’t want anyone telling us what we should do with our hard earned money.

We have commitments and responsibilities and you don’t know what I’m dealing with so don’t tell me what to do.

Any of that sound familiar?

We are talking about money and to be honest if you don’t like it, tough. It’s an important topic.

I think one of the things we need to break when it comes to money is that is ours.

I know we’ve all heard it and if asked in church we’d say “everything I own is Gods” or something like.

No it’s not.

It’s supposed to be but it’s not. No worries, it’s a process.

One thing that we lack however is how to we begin or grow in the process of giving everything over to God. We know it’s all supposed to be God’s but I don’t feel like we have real tangible ways to start.

Here’s a start for you to try. It’s more about changing your perspective and getting you thinking than it is about huge monolithic change so don’t get too worried.

Think about your average week (reflection) and look at how you spend your money. Is there one thing you could change about how you spend (action)?

For me it was coffee. Ah, so dark, so delicious, so caffeiney. Caffeiney’s a word right? I’m just going to assume you agreed with me and move on.

At one point in my life I bought coffee almost every day. I was young and had some free dollars to spend. So to get my head in the right space about who’s money it was and get me to be more generous I started giving my coffee money away.

Some days that looked like be buying coffee for someone else. Some days it was me not buying coffee so I’d have some money to be generous in another way.  Some days I forgot and just bought myself coffee.

It didn’t cost me any more than I was already spending. I didn’t give up coffee at all and I’m not asking you to stop what you’re doing, just change it. Yes I had to drink coffee at work which wasn’t as nice but my budget didn’t change one cent

My mind however changed a bunch.

It just gets you thinking about money. It gets you thinking about how much you actually have and how you spend it and ultimately who’s money it really is.

Maybe you cut back eating out by one time a week. Maybe you buy 1 coffee a day instead of 2. Maybe you buy a sweat at the consignment store and give the difference away. Maybe you decide that you won’t by brand name groceries and donate the difference to the food bank.

I’m not asking you to change your budget, yet, just how you spend within it.

I’m asking you to start thinking about what the spending of a person who lives a compassionate life would look like and I think this is a good start.

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.