struggling through the complex

I wrote the other day about the need to engage with the complex. It’s important that we dive into it rather than simplify the issue so we don’t need to change.

But how do we do that?

We’re busy and complex issues are well……complex.

How can we engage with them?

These are less steps as much as they are a few things I’ve found really helpful to consider when I’m looking at large complex issues. These aren’t absolutes and won’t apply in all situations but they are valuable as starting points. When the spectrum of the issue is beyond me and I can’t possible get my head around the entirety of it what do I do? Well…

  •  No absolute statements – I’m not an expert and to speak in the absolute encourages arguments and not discussion. It creates a space ripe for us vs them and I’m coming to believe an us vs them perspective is one of the most dangerous ways for people to view a problem
  • Does this encourage change or support the status quo? The status quo in the west is sadly one built upon exploitation.
  • If the change doesn’t mean less for me then its probably not what God wants me to do. If this change isn’t about me as a privileged white male releasing some of my privilege and power than there a good chance I’m working towards maintaining it. The maintenance of my privilege and power is often at the expense of the already marginalized.
  • I don’t get to talk about my rights. Jesus calls us to die to ourselves, so my rights die with him. This is way bigger than it sounds too. We are raised to fight for our rights and encouraged to stand for them. Jesus calls us to stand for those who have no rights, no power, no place and in most places that means me relinquishing rights of my own.
  • Ask those with lived experience. Confession time, I don’t do this enough. I make really great excuses why but ultimately I just don’t try hard enough. But I don’t understand what it’s like to be poor. I have glimpses and can imagine, but the daily grind of never having enough is something I cannot understand. Nor can I understand what it means to be marginalized minority. I just don’t get it. I want to and I understand much more than I ever have how much privilege my gender, orientation and skin colour afford me, but I’m still worlds away from understanding what it’s like on the other side. I’ve found the more often an issue has a face that I trust the harder it is for me to continue in my ignorance, willful or otherwise.

I’m sure there are way more things I’m missing but it’s a start. When it comes to the most important and complex issues we cannot over simplify them, but in reality few of us have the time or skill to see the totality of the issue. Because of that I consider the things above as a way remaining humble and working as hard as I can to place others first.

If I may simplify my process for not oversimplifying the complex it would be this.

How does what I’m doing/advocating for show those who are on the margins love?

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.

maybe Christian isn’t the right word

I don’t like to read my bible. Never have.

It’s just one point in a long list of reasons I’m not a great Christian, but I’m’ trying.

If you know me you know that everything is a question to me. My wife could not be less interested in all the things I find interesting, the actions we need to consider the implications of or the obvious questions everything we do seem to raise. Everything raises an interesting question. The problem is that more often than not, they are really only interesting to me.

But this issue I have with reading the bible lead to what is an obvious question to me, can you be a Christian without the bible?

The clear answer is yes but wow does that seem strange the write.

But the idea is so foreign and strange. The bible has such a place of esteem, and rightfully so, in the churches I have been a part of the idea that you could be a Christian without a bible seems ludicrous.

How would I know how to live, or what to believe about creation, head coverings and pork without a bible?

I dunno, but the early church, who the letters we now read as the bible, were sorting it out.

But how?

Well, they were Christians not Biblicists. They followed Christ not the bible and yes those can be really different.

Strictly speaking, it is entirely possible to be a Christian without a bible. While formative and massively important, it’s not required.

And we implicitly understand this, thought we live often in a Christian culture that refuses to acknowledge this. Again we know the early church didn’t have a bible.

So let’s take a moment to look at how we interact with the bible today

Be it head coverings, eating pork, selling all we have, or simply loving our neighbour, the bible is full of commands and actions we choose not to follow. Some, like head coverings and pork we interpret as cultural or part of a covenant we are no longer held to. Some like selling all we have we interpret as contextual or an outward example of the in workings of someone’s heart. And still some we rationalize away creating systems, categories and excuses to not love people because it’s hard and messy and requires more than we’re really willing to give.

The bible is interpreted.

Is the creation story a poem, an account handed down that mixes history and mythology from a people group, or a purely factual account that can and should be scientifically proven and defended?

I dunno but those are some really diverse ways to read the same thing.

All of those question and issues are important and worth of discussion, but they don’t make us Christian. But we feel, argue, and sadly condemn people as though they do. I worry that at times we defend the bible more vehemently than we defend Christ. His way, His love and His call to discipleship.

We understand the bible is important because it points us to Jesus. We should also get that while bible is important it’s when we make it more important than Jesus that we lose our way. It’s when we transition from Christian to Biblicist that we lose our way.

It’s when we use the bible and tradition to justify a system/belief/desire rather than look at the life of Jesus and try to be more like him.

It’s when we’d rather hide behind the bible than be the people Jesus calls us to be that we should really consider if Christian is the right word for us.

our love has a limit

For something that is supposed to be so naturally human we struggle with love.

Not the idea, we get it. But being love to someone? We struggle.

We understand that Jesus loved everyone and called us to do the same. We understand that He died for us in large part because He loves us. We know the verses that talk about how we are to follow His example and how people will know we are His disciple by our love.

We get it as an abstract concept but when it comes to real life it really breaks down.

This seems to be the underlying issue to me. While we would say “Jesus has called us to love everyone” we follow that up with a really reasonable and practical “expect _______.”

Of course we don’t say it that way. Let’s be honest, we’re more clever than that. Our brains wouldn’t allow for that kind of a statement. We need a better frame to allow us to accept that “love everyone but _____” proposition.

We talk about accountability.

We talk about holiness.

We talk about how we cannot condone sin.

We talk about plain reading of the scriptures.

We talk about justice.

We talk about when Jesus said “go and sin no more.”

But here’s the problem. We aren’t the woman caught in adultery and we aren’t Jesus. We are the religious leaders of the day. We are the ones dragging people in front of Jesus hoping He will condemn them. We are the ones using the law and the rules to dehumanize and belittle people.

We are the ones who refuse to see all the ways we’ve missed Christ in our own lives and point out the flaws in everyone else.

Yes Jesus tells the woman to go and sin no more. But it’s Jesus who tells her. It’s when she meets and connects with Jesus she leaves with the call to sin no more.

We are the ones in power, we are the ones trying to maintain the system, we are the ones raging against the outside world hoping it conforms to us and condemning it when it doesn’t.

We could be Jesus in this story.

But too often I think it’s just too satisfying to be right rather than to be love.

reallocating

This week I’m asking you to take the money you usually spend on yourself (buying coffee, eating out, new shirt, whatever) and spend or give it to someone. Ideally not a random act of kindness sort of thing but someone you’re in relationship with.

Random acts of kindness are fine, but I’m asking you to leverage this generosity for greater depth and love.

You know someone who’s struggling to cover bills? Help them out. Cover their cell bill this week.

Someone at work having a terrible day? Take them out for lunch, your treat.

You see how this requires relationship.

How awkward and strange to just tell someone you want to cover their phone bill when you don’t know them? You’d need to know them, talk often and understand their life. Know that bills are hard and with Christmas coming up things will be even tighter.

Maybe you say “Hey, I know things have been tough. I got this gift card so you can get your kids something cool for Christmas.”

Or just drop off a coffee on someone’s desk and say “looks like you needed one.”

Spend you actual real money on someone else this week.

And no it’s not a rule. You can buy yourself coffee too or eat out with your family. But if you spend $200.00 on yourself and family this week with dinners out and Starbucks, then pass along a $1.50 Tim Horton’s to a person at work, you’re missing the point.

less thinking, more loving

I think to much.

Everything is interesting to me. Most of if it, interesting to no one. I can’t tell you how many times I ask Sarah “Hey, have you ever thought of ______?”

“No.”

“Isn’t that interesting though? It’s never crossed your mind?”

“No.”

I love to know why things happen and how they work. But this need I have can cause a lot of damage.

On more than one occasion I can think of someone sharing their excitement, “look at this” or “you’ll never guess what I got” or “look what I’m being asked to do”.

Instantly I want to understand. Why is that interesting? Why would you buy that? Who would possibly ask you to do this?

I can be a real jerk.

I just can’t understand the why or how and so I try. I start to ask questions, but my questions don’t encourage, the discourage. Often my questions don’t add to the excitement but quash it.

Often my need to understand robs the person I’m speaking with of their joy and happiness.

Maybe this never happens to you. Maybe you’re great at being excited with someone.

But if you’re like me, we have got to be less selfish, because there is nothing loving about it.

just shut up

Some times we need to shut up.

We may know what’s best. We may be right. Shut up anyway.

My mother often asks the question “to what end?”

So often the end is my rightness. I need people to know I was right. They need to know how smart, or clever, or whatever I am and my rightness will show them. But it’s really all about me. It’s not for them.

There have been so many times I’ve told someone what to do and how to do it and they refuse to listen. A few weeks later they come back and tell me how they’ve changed or solved their problem and it’s exactly what I said to do. But they needed to find it. They needed to get there on their own.

I needed to shut up. I needed to listen.

As compassionate people we are called to love and there are so many times when love means we hold our tongue.

It’s nothing earth shattering. Listening is often better than talking. But the reminder that even when you have the right answer the answer is still often, shut up.

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.

no true Christian

People love a good controversy. I love a good controversy. I love to debate.

It’s like a logic puzzle to me. Looking at all sides, taking in the information, probing and testing the ideas and their implications. I find it all fascinating.

And it’s a good time for controversy. At times it seems like the internet was built to create and perpetuate controversy.

You could look at what’s happening in Toronto with the mayor or in Ottawa with white poppies or the senate if that’s more you thing.

But if like me you love controversy the church may be the best place in the world to find it. We’ll argue about anything.

Love vs. judgement.

Saving money vs. trusting God.

Hymns vs. chorus’.

Big churches vs. small churches.

I remember being in a discussion about music and if it was possible for specific beat patterns to be demonic.

Not the words or ideas, the actual sound of the music.

And those are off the top of my head with no real thought. I didn’t even hit the big media ones!

We so often require either or. We so often want a clear definitive answer.

But life is so much harder than that. We push people to choose an answer. Pick and defend your side. And to do that we start to build these mutually exclusive perspectives. It’s like one giant no true Scotsman argument, “no true Christian would believe that.”

Rob Bell in his video Everything is Spiritual looks at these mutually exclusive perspectives and when asked “is it this or that?” he answers “yep.”

Not what I was expecting.

Watch it here.

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If you didn’t watch it Bell is talking about the shift from two dimensions to three. When you shift from two dimensions to three everything changes. He holds up a marker and notes that from the side the marker is a rectangle but looking at its end it’s a circle.

The answer then to the question of is it a rectangle or a circle is, yep.

So often we create division and disconnect with either or. And as we go out into community it is often the easy response. We need people to affirm that the marker is a rectangle and not a circle before we can love and connect with them.

Controversy and debate are fun but not when we use them to keep people away. Not when we use them to keep God to ourselves and not shared. Not when they are used to divide. Not when the controversy is at the centre and not Jesus.

Hymns vs. Chorus’, yep.

Big church vs. small church, yep.

Love vs. judgement, yep.

Saving money vs. trusting God, yep.

We have our beliefs and our understanding and that’s ok. But so often we take one stance and extrapolate it out.

“You think God calls us to love everyone? So there is no judgment? You’re not a real Christian.”

And worse

“You’re interested in connecting with God? Well you must believe in only hymns, the King James bible only and a God of wrath and judgment. If you don’t you can’t be a Christian. You can’t know Jesus.”

When we go out and share the God we know, share a God with space for the answer to be “yep.”

sometimes…

I so want you to care about this.

I so want this to mean something to you.

I so want this life for you.

I so want you to want this life.

 

Why is it so hard?

Why doesn’t God make this easier?

Why isn’t this just how we are?

Why do we need to change?

 

What am I doing wrong?

What is it that I can’t show you?

What is it that I can’t teach you?

What is it I can’t help you to feel?

What am I missing?

 

Sometimes when all of these thoughts come I don’t know what to do. I just want to yell. I want to shake people. I want to press and be harsh. I want to scream. I want to leave people where they are because that’s all they want anyway. I want to not come back to someone who is content with what seems to me like a life that’s just existence. I don’t want to meet them where they are at, I want to drag them to what’s better. I want just loving people to not be enough. I want an excuse or reason or permission to make people a project because that is so much easier. I want love to be easier. I want life to be easier, mine and theirs. I want to give up on people. I want to just care about me.

I just thought you may appreciate knowing how I feel about compassion sometimes.