Distraction: Insights from an Amish Man and a Professional Blogger

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An Amish man sat down next to me in the train’s observation car. As the train climbed out of Denver we began pointing out amazing sights to each other. It was great to share the moments with someone as enthralled by the mountain vistas as I was. Part of me was just as excited about something else. An internal voice said, “Mark! You read and discuss an article about the Amish and technology every time you teach Discipleship and Ethics. Talk to him! See if the article is accurate.”

I asked questions, trying to get a feel for how direct I could be in our conversation. Harvey told me his parents were from Napanee, Indiana. He was born in Iowa where he still lives with his wife and seven children. He runs a business putting up metal pole buildings. We talked about language: was the low-German he spoke the same as the Pennsylvania Dutch my grandfather spoke? He was warm and friendly; I plunged in…

I asked him about his community’s approach to phones. He told me they did not have landline phones in their homes because they thought they would disrupt low-key family life. (They have a phone in a shed which they share with neighbors.) “How about cell phones?” He replied, “We think they would lead to a faster pace of life, which we do not want.” In addition, smart phones would open them up to inappropriate things, so not having phones acts as a helpful buffer.

Amish avoid some technology, but they are not technique adverse. As I say in class, they use a lot of technique to work around the technologies they opt not to use. So, I was curious what he would say about my thoughts on efficiency. I told him I am a seminary teacher and in my ethics class we talk about these themes. I explained my thinking about efficiency. To do something in the most efficient way means to do it in a way that uses the least amount of time, money, energy, space, etc.  Efficiency is not evil. Yet today the most efficient way is generally assumed to be the best way. It is this confusion—this equating “efficiency” with “best,” or “efficiency” with “effective”—that enables technique to act as an enslaving power.  In reality “efficient” is one of a variety of characteristics we could use to evaluate what method or approach is best or most effective. He agreed.

I told Harvey about the article on the Amish we read for class (“Look Who’s Talking,” by Howard Rheingold). The article states that a key question the Amish ask when reflecting on whether to adopt a new technology is: “Will it bring us together or draw us apart?” Harvey affirmed the authenticity of the question. I asked him about the discernment process. He replied, “I am not involved; that’s above me.” Not involved, but it impressed me that Harvey did know the “why” of decisions made. Apparently, those above did not simply hand down edicts, but explained their reasoning.

We continued talking about other things, including shared Anabaptist convictions and connections with Mennonite Central Committee. I am grateful for the opportunity to have spent time with Harvey. It made personal and concrete what I have read. I did not feel a pull to become Amish, but it reaffirmed my conviction that they have valuable things to teach us: a commitment to ask questions before adopting new technologies, the willingness to value something else above efficiency, and the practice of explaining the “why” of our decisions are worth emulating.

Part II 

“If the churches came to understand that the greatest threat to faith today is not hedonism but distraction, perhaps they might begin to appeal anew to a frazzled digital generation.” Andrew Sullivan

Not surprising that Harvey, an Amish man, would warn us of the downsides of smart phones. Increasingly, however, we hear some people deeply embedded in the tech world sounding warnings as well. A. J. Swoboda, Pentecostal pastor and professor, recently gave an impassioned lecture at the seminary on the value of times of turning off our phones: “Distracted: The Holy Spirit and Paying Attention.” He referred to an article by Andrew Sullivan, which I just read. (I recommend both the lecture and the article to you.)

In, “I Used to be a Human Being” Sullivan, an early blogger, tells what happened to him as his life became more and more absorbed by the Internet.

For a decade and a half, I’d been a web obsessive, publishing blog posts multiple times a day, seven days a week . . . Each morning began with a full immersion in the stream of internet consciousness and news, jumping from site to site, tweet to tweet, breaking news story to hottest take, scanning countless images and videos, catching up with multiple memes. . . Although I spent hours each day, alone and silent, attached to a laptop, it felt as if I were in a constant cacophonous crowd of words and images, sounds and ideas, emotions and tirades — a wind tunnel of deafening, deadening noise. So much of it was irresistible, as I fully understood. So much of the technology was irreversible, as I also knew. But I’d begun to fear that this new way of living was actually becoming a way of not-living. . . If you had to reinvent yourself as a writer in the internet age, I reassured myself, then I was ahead of the curve. The problem was that I hadn’t been able to reinvent myself as a human being.

He pulled the plug, stepped away from his lucrative blogging activity. Read the article to hear more of his story of how he sought healing and how he is trying now to live with internet moderation. He does much more, however, than just tell his story. I share with you just a few of his insights—flowing from research and reflecting on his experience.

Some point out that every new revolution in information technology has caused panicked shouts of apocalyptic doom. Sullivan observes, however, that the change this time is rapid and exponential. Think what has happened just in the last ten years.

“Not long ago, surfing the web, however addictive, was a stationary activity. At your desk at work, or at home on your laptop, you disappeared down a rabbit hole of links and resurfaced minutes (or hours) later to reencounter the world. But the smartphone then went and made the rabbit hole portable, inviting us to get lost in it anywhere, at any time, whatever else we might be doing. Information soon penetrated every waking moment of our lives.”

“We absorb this ‘content’ (as writing or video or photography is now called) no longer primarily by buying a magazine or paper, by bookmarking our favorite website, or by actively choosing to read or watch. We are instead guided to these info-nuggets by myriad little interruptions on social media, all cascading at us with individually tailored relevance and accuracy.”  

He digs deeper.

Automation and online living have sharply eroded the number of people physically making things . . .Yes, online and automated life is more efficient, it makes more economic sense, it ends monotony and “wasted” time in the achievement of practical goals. But it denies us the deep satisfaction and pride of workmanship that comes with accomplishing daily tasks well, a denial perhaps felt most acutely by those for whom such tasks are also a livelihood — and an identity. . . If we are to figure out why despair has spread so rapidly in so many left-behind communities, the atrophying of the practical vocations of the past — and the meaning they gave to people’s lives — seems as useful a place to explore as economic indices.

And shares some observations about church…

If the churches came to understand that the greatest threat to faith today is not hedonism but distraction, perhaps they might begin to appeal anew to a frazzled digital generation. Christian leaders seem to think that they need more distraction to counter the distraction. Their services have degenerated into emotional spasms, their spaces drowned with light and noise and locked shut throughout the day, when their darkness and silence might actually draw those whose minds and souls have grown web-weary. But the mysticism of Catholic meditation — of the Rosary, of Benediction, or simple contemplative prayer — is a tradition in search of rediscovery. The monasteries — opened up to more lay visitors — could try to answer to the same needs that the booming yoga movement has increasingly met.

But this new epidemic of distraction is our civilization’s specific weakness. And its threat is not so much to our minds, even as they shape-shift under the pressure. The threat is to our souls. At this rate, if the noise does not relent, we might even forget we have any.

What can you do today, this week to lessen distraction and open up spaces for silence, for listening to God? What can you do to help others in your family, in your church, those you teach or counsel lessen distraction and open up spaces for silence, for listening to God?

Posted on October 7, 2019 .

Deepening Already Deep Convictions Through Being on the Ground in Israel

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A set of plain steps—ancient, but very ordinary. It was my first day in Jerusalem. I saw ornate churches built on holy sites, large ruins, and the temple mount’s huge walls towered over it all. Yet looking at those steps most moved me that day. The steps come up from the Kidron Valley. After leaving the Garden of Gethsemane those who arrested Jesus would have brought him up these steps to get to the house of Caiphas the High Priest. (The ruins of his house were right behind me.) I stood looking down at those steps and thought, “God incarnate, Jesus, walked up those steps as an arrested criminal.” I have heard the story countless times (Mt 26:57; Lk 22:54; Jn 18:12-24) yet looking at the steps I felt the reality of it, the scandal of it, the significance of it, in a way I never had before. Incarnation felt more real; GOD, in the flesh, walked on these steps! GOD, in the flesh, was led up these steps bound as a criminal. I thought of the men in my jail Bible study, took this picture, and looked forward to proclaiming to them with more conviction: “God knows the fear and shame of being arrested. You pray to a God who understands.”

Christians confess that Jesus was fully human and fully divine. In my Christology class I challenge students to take both seriously—to not rush past his humanity in affirming his divinity. I considered myself someone who already emphasized incarnation and the humanity of Jesus. Yet repeatedly during my two weeks in Israel I found myself pressing deeper into the reality of God’s experience of human life through Jesus. The greater the depth and breadth we give to our conception of Jesus’ human experience the more able we are to feel the reality that God understands, experientially, what we encounter in life. The greater depth and breadth we give to our conception of Jesus’ human experience the more able we are to marvel at and worship a God who scandalously entered into human life in all its vulnerability.

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Just as the concreteness of seeing the steps took me to a greater appreciation of the reality of incarnation, so too being in the Garden of Gethsemane blew the dust off a story that had become dull and drama-less. Looking through the trees and imagining Judas and the guards storming in, I felt the tension of the scene in ways I had not before. Peter’s violent reaction made sense. Rather than just thinking, “silly Peter,” as I usually do when I read the story, I felt the aggressive threat and the fear it would have produced. It was no small, easy, or automatic thing to respond in a non-retaliatory way as Jesus did. My thoughts then went to the cross—forgiveness rather than revenge.

Ceremonial washing area in Roman-era temple

Ceremonial washing area in Roman-era temple

The ruins of Beth Shean,, an ancient Israeli city, are right next to ruins of the first-century Roman city Nyssa Scythopolis. I was just about to head up to the hill to the Old Testament-era ruins—that seemed the obvious thing to do. But then I had another thought, “This is the sort of place that Paul would have spent time in—it is from his era. Take advantage of the opportunity Mark. You may not ever visit one of the cities he actually spent time in.”

I entered the ruins and imagined Paul walking streets like these. I spent most of my time sitting in the ruins of two temples. As I looked at the altar, the big columns, a place for washing, rooms for other cultic practices I reflected on both the importance given to religion and the elaborateness and formality of its practice. Then it struck me. What a contrast to the Christians.

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Instead of going to a place like this, Christians met in houses, shared a meal. Very counter-cultural. What did their neighbors and fellow workers think!? I have written about shaming and pressure early Christians experienced,[1] but seeing these temples gave me much greater appreciation for how much they were going against the current of their times. I have even greater appreciation for Peter’s efforts in his first letter to counter the shame and ridicule and honor the Christians for following Jesus. May we be as courageous to be counter-cultural today and as generous in our affirmation of other Jesus followers going against the stream.

We cannot all go to the lands of the Bible. We can, however, seek to connect with the biblical text more concretely and experience the sort of things I did. Two suggestions: 1. With intentionality imagine the concrete reality of biblical texts—don’t just read the words, imagine the scene. 2. Read books by Bible scholars who have turned their research in fictionalized narratives to help us not just know about but feel the context of the biblical times. Two I recommend:

Lost Letters of Pergamum by Bruce Longenecker

The Shadow of the Galilean by Gerd Theissen

[1] Jayson Georges and Mark D. Baker, Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures: Biblical Foundations and Practical Essentials (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2016).

Posted on August 20, 2019 .

Greed + Efficiency = Poison: What to Do About Greed?

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What is in the strawberry jam you bought at the grocery store? You might wonder if it is sweetened with sugar or high fructose corn syrup. Or perhaps you might look at the ingredients label to see if strawberries or sugar is the first ingredient. You would not, however, wonder: does it have strawberries in it?  You might be suspicious of whether something labeled strawberry flavored jello actually has strawberries in it, but if the label says “strawberry jam” you assume it is made from strawberries, not apples. Safe assumption today, but not in the 19th century, early 20th century United States. There were no regulations on labeling food, no requirement to list ingredients. Greed and ingenuity led people to figure out how to make something that was sweet, looked like strawberry jam, was labeled as strawberry jam, sold at the price of strawberry jam, but had no strawberries in it. Instead of expensive strawberries they mashed up apple peelings, added grass seeds and red dye and called it strawberry jam. Greed and ingenuity led others to combine sawdust, wheat, beans, beets, peas, and dandelion seeds, scorch the mixture black, grind it and sell it as coffee. Ground stone was added to flour, Milk was diluted with water and then those greedy actors would cover their deed by adding plaster of paris or chalk to the mix.

This sort of thing has probably gone on for centuries—whether through putting a finger on the scale or through deception, dishonest greedy food sellers have cheated their customers. At times the deception was dangerous—people got sick, some died—mostly they just got cheated. With greater technical capabilities, however, things changed. What happens when you combine not just greed and ingenuity, but add technique/efficiency?

Deborah Blum writes, “By the end of the nineteenth century, the sweeping industrial revolution—and the rise of industrial chemistry—had brought a host of new chemical additives and synthetic compounds into the food supply. Still unchecked by government regulation, basic safety testing, or even labeling requirements, food and drink manufacturers embraced the new materials with enthusiasm, mixing them into goods destined for the grocery store at sometimes lethal levels” (2). Chemists gave food producers new ways to deceive and profit. Formaldehyde offered new embalming practices to undertakers, not a problem, but in food?! Producers found it not only worked as a preservative—enabling unrefrigerated meat to last longer—it actually restored the appearance of decaying meat or spoiled milk. It and other chemical preservatives used at that time, such as salicylic acid, caused sickness and death.

Not just preservation, but substitution. Producers found it more efficient to substitute chemical ingredients in place of actual food—for instance, saccharine, discovered in 1879, was much cheaper than sugar. Many of these chemical additives ended up causing significant health problems. The need for regulation and labeling was obvious, legislation was regularly introduced with broad popular support, yet it failed. Food producers and new chemical companies, like Monsanto and Dow, successfully blocked it for decades.

Blum, in her book The Poison Squad: One Chemist’s Single-Minded Crusade for Food Safety at the Turn of the Twentieth Century, chronicles many examples of intentional corruption of food, the dogged efforts to expose the dangers through testing, the denial and obfuscation by the producers, and the eventual success in passing legislation and in forming the Food and Drug Administration. Certainly there is too much government regulation in places, but this book makes it clear that we cannot rely on people or corporations to self-police. Where greed is present there will be problems. (I am summarizing a whole book in a few paragraphs. I want to be careful to make clear it was not all the food producers. Some, Heinz for instance, did not deceive nor use dangerous additives. Those producers who did not deceive were leading proponents of laws about honest labeling.)

Although these are stories from the past, the combination of greed and technique continues to poison life today. Just yesterday I read an article in TIME magazine, on how in many countries generic drugs do more harm than good. How? Generics, made in places like India and China, are cheaper than the originals made in North America or Europe. They are supposed to be, and are sold as, the chemical equivalent. But in reality the generic manufacturers often put different amounts of the active ingredient in pills with the same label. If it is going to a country with vigilant regulators they include the full amount, to countries with the less regulation they put in less, and to countries with the least regulation or enforcement they include much less in each pill. Read the article to find out how that is dangerous not only for the patient, but for all of us.

The combination of greed and technique, and its destructive consequences are, of course, not limited to food and drugs. I could share many examples. Here is just one I heard a couple weeks ago. Michael Lewis, in his podcast, “Against the Rules,” tells stories of the importance of referees in our lives—both literal sports referees and people and agencies that play that role in other area of our lives.  In the middle of the second episode, dedicated to the lack of referees in the arena of consumer finance, he explains the seven minute rule practiced at Navient a student loan servicing company. Lewis recounts one school teacher’s repeated efforts, stretched over months, to get help from Navient on entering a public service loan forgiveness program. Why did she have so much trouble? A key factor is that Navient makes its money through servicing loans for the Department of Education. The less time they spend on each person, the more money they make. The goal was for employees to spend seven minutes or less with each caller. Their computer tracked their performance efficiency throughout the day with color coded bars displaying, in real time, how much over or under the seven minute average they were for the day. They got bonuses if they stayed under. So who were the most prized employees? The ones paying more attention to the clock than to what the caller actually needed. Navient did not care whether the school teacher got the help she needed to enter the loan forgiveness program—they would lose money if she did. She missed the deadline for the program because of the incomplete help she got from her many calls. Greed combined with efficiency is hurting people today as it was a century ago.

Deborah Blum and Michael Lewis share these stories to emphasize the importance of regulations and the enforcement of regulations. In essence they are saying, because of some people’s greed we need controls for our protection. We have all experienced the frustration of government regulations gone awry, but next time you read a label or look at the list of ingredients on a food product give thanks that we have those regulations.

Blum and Lewis make a good point about the need for regulations. I, however, was left wondering: How about the root problem, greed? What can the church do to lessen greed? In the middle of Blum’s book I found myself wondering how I could re-arrange my ethics course to spend an hour reviewing examples of the damaging consequences that flow from greed combined with technique and then talk about how the church could confront greed more directly.

I continue to think lessening greed is of great importance, but I am less sure that we need to talk more about greed. I do not think we need to more often say “don’t be greedy!” Would that do any good?

Jesus and the Bible do talk about greed, but not in a bounded-group, finger-pointing sort of way. Rather it is more of a warning—greed is not good for you or others. So yes, let’s talk more often about greed, but more in the sense of truth-telling, exposing—let people know it does not deliver. It is not the path to shalom. But more important than warning people to get off the greed path, let us ponder what we are doing to help them experience the alternative—the richness that flows from loving service to others and the security of rooting our status not in consumption fueled by greed but in our belovedness by God.

I am left thinking that rather than attacking greed it is much better to promote generosity. How can we increase our generosity and encourage others in generosity?

As people aware of the reality of sin and powers of evil let us affirm the need for appropriate and well managed regulations. As bearers of the gospel let us contribute to more shalom in the world through inviting others to join us in the way of Jesus and join us in practicing generosity.

 

 

Posted on June 5, 2019 .

Intentional Simplicity…Actions Must Follow Thoughts

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Guest Blog by Rolando Mireles

Our family lives in deep South Texas, about four hours south of San Antonio right along the Mexican-U.S. border.  Besides being close to Mexico we are also only minutes away from South Padre Island, a great beach shoreline in South Texas.  During the many times we have visited the beach I am always amazed at how the longshore currents in the ocean lead to what is known as “beach drift.”  Beach drift is defined as the progressive movement of sand and sediment along the beach. It is what causes your volleyball or wakeboard to drift down the beach on their own.  For us, many times it was our kids who drifted, and it led us to constantly remind them to periodically take stock of their location on the beach in order to walk back against the current to the original spot where they began.  My wife Laura and I have found that this same phenomena of drifting takes place in our own lives. We set out to live our lives shaped by Christ’s call to ‘live lightly,’ to be content and not tied down to the things of this world.  But soon enough, the cares of this world had us drifting down the shore, far off from where we started or desired to go.

After seminary in Fresno, our family moved to Guadalajara, Mexico, where we served on a church planting team.  After two and a half years in Mexico we returned to the States and started working in education as we sought God’s direction for our lives.  We returned from Mexico with no debt and few possessions. In time, however, the grip of even modest consumerism set us on a path of drifting.  Whatever we choose to call it, it is deceptive how quickly we can live our lives and consciously or unconsciously, planned or unplanned, end up flowing in the current that leads to some kind of American dream.  Inevitably the current leads us to a place where our lives are characterized by consumerism, comfort-seeking, and the ever increasing noise and hunger that come from a busy, unthought-of, unplanned, and unintentional life.  I am not pointing fingers; I am just offering ourselves up as an example of just how powerful that current can be.

New jobs, new salaries, new distractions, and before you know it we were miles away from where we began.  We purchased a new car because we needed to build credit, we purchased a 3,000 square foot home and convinced ourselves that if this is where God had led us God would continue to provide for the mortgage and reveal a reason to live in such a large home.  But with this big home investment came many related and unforeseen expenditures. (But isn’t the majority of consumption that way?) Now I am not saying our home was like the comedic portrayal with Tom Hanks and Shelley Long in the 1986 comedy The Money Pit, but at times it sure felt that way.  In time, we found ourselves in a cycle of working just to maintain our home, and worst of all if we truly analyzed our family’s use of our house, we spent the majority of our time in 20% of our home.  Within a few years not only were we up to our necks in debt and living paycheck to paycheck, but worst of all we felt helpless, trapped; we needed a wake-up call. That call came in my decision to downsize from my school administrator role.  We were not planning on a radical downsizing, I simply wanted to secure a job in education that would give me more time to invest in my family. But as a Good Father, God was gracious and began to lead us back against the current to a place of peace through some months and years of instability.

When I could not find work and I had to substitute, God was graciously leading us to put our house on the market and reminding us that our house was not our home.  When we could not sell our house and had to start selling its contents to make ends meet, God was lovingly showing us how to rely on his provision. We began to experience God’s love for us through difficulty.  And oh the depths of his love! As a dad of teenagers I sit up many times now into the late of night waiting for my son to drive home from work. My role as an earthly father gives me just a small glimpse of what my Heavenly Father has done and continues to do for me through Jesus.  I love my kids very imperfectly, but that doesn’t keep me from constantly attempting to love them even more. In the same way I believe that God’s desire for us is to all live lives that are intentional about how we relate to Him and how we trust Him as he shapes and leads us to relate to the world we live in right now.  

I don’t know what that looks like for you, but for Laura and I it meant trusting him as we were without a home but desired to live closer to our kid’s school, my teaching job, our church, and oh yes all while remaining debt free, which was a positive byproduct of selling our large home.  Psalms 37 verse 5 reminds us to “Commit your way to the Lord, trust in him, and he will act.” For us his amazing action was on display as we were able to rent a 3-bedroom apartment located 2 minutes from my job, our kids’ school and our church family! Along the journey of downsizing, I found that our home had become, at least for me, a source of pride.  I not only drove into a nicer gated community, but I always found myself using our geography and community status as a point of reference for people to place me. Now, when I tell people about where we live, I cannot help but turn our story of downsizing into a gospel story. For it is God who provided this place. Our apartment is 1/3 the size of our former home, but I would not trade it for the world!  Downsizing improved our lives. Financially we pay less than half of what we paid before, and not having all the related costs and time-consuming responsibilities that come with home ownership has allowed us to be present in the lives of our high school-aged kids. We even had a year where God allowed Laura to experience staying at home as a mom in order to bless our kids and their Christian school, and that is a memory that she will cherish forever.  Recently I was reminded that many people think about making such changes but few actually follow through. And yes, I do believe that our thoughts must be followed by actions, or else we are just posturing words like minimalism, simplicity, down-sizing, tiny living, etc. But our actions must follow the heart of our Father. Romans 12 verse 2 says “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  

Now I will not lie, every day that we live in this newfound freedom we are tempted to wade in the waters and be carried away by the consuming current of the American dream.  Sometimes it comes in a wave that says “you deserve a new car," at other times the waves sound like “you should stop throwing your money away in rent and buy a new place.” Whatever the wave and however strong the current, God is faithful to keep our eyes on him and on the freedom that comes in trusting him!  May we all learn to trust God and act on his calling to live our lives in an intentionally simple way!


Posted on May 9, 2019 .

The Power of Boundless Compassion

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Father Gregory Boyle since 1984 has ministered in a parish in East Los Angeles that has the highest concentration of gang activity in the city. In 1988 he started Homeboy Industries which has become the largest gang intervention, rehab, and reentry program on the planet. They provide jobs, tattoo removal, mental health counseling, case management, and legal services. I recently read Boyle’s new book, Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship, and then re-read his previous book, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion. These books overflow with stories and insights gained from decades of, not just gang ministry, but a life intertwined with gang members. How do you imagine the first book might begin? The second? Not with autobiography, not with dramatic tales of gang violence, or sad stories of addiction and brokenness, nor exhortation about the necessity of providing jobs and counseling—all things found in the books. The first chapter in both books focuses on God. In the first paragraph of the first chapter of Barking to the Choir he writes, “It is indeed a challenge to abandon the long-held belief that God yearns to blame and punish us, ask us to measure up or express disappointment and disapproval at every turn” (13). In Tattoos, he writes, “It is precisely because we have such an overactive disapproval gland ourselves that we tend to create God in our image” (28). He proclaims the opposite and tells moving stories of homies experiencing that not only is God love, but that they are beloved by God. Why does he start this way? What can we learn from that?

Gang members’ relational lives are riddled with abandonment, alienation, and attachment issues. And for most, the God they live with is part of that negative stew of rejection and shame. Boyle’s starting his books with God displays that his experience leads him to passionately state the powerful role that God can play in recovery and transformation. Yet, it is also because he has seen the destructive power, and hindrance to healing, of a distorted concept of God. He begins with God because one’s concept of God matters. Living with a disapproving God of accusation is a core problem for homies (and not just homies), and experiencing the loving embrace of a God looking at us with eyes of compassion and delight is a powerful contribution to healing (and not just for homies). How might this reorient us? Is concept of God the first chapter, figuratively speaking,  in our programs, ministry, teaching, counseling, mentoring, parenting, etc.?

To be clear, it is not that Boyle just has an obligatory spiritual chapter and leaves God behind in the first chapter. Deep in the second book he writes, “’Working on yourself’ doesn’t move the dial on God’s love. After all, that is already fixed at its highest setting. But the work one does seeks to align our lives with God’s longing for us—that we be happy, joyful, and liberated from all that prevents us from seeing ourselves as God does” (111). Amen! I deeply affirm his passionate proclamation of God’s unconditional love. There was one line where he may have overstated it, “God is just too busy loving us to have any time left for disappointment” (Tattoos, 28). I wonder, because God loves us don’t our actions that hurt others and ourselves sadden God? Perhaps Boyle and I think of the word “disappointment” differently. Because, clearly Father Boyle recognizes that actions matter. His is not a fuzzy approach. Homeboy Industries has standards, they fire people. Boyle includes stories of loving confrontation of homies.

Yes, not fuzzy, but also so intentionally centered and not bounded. Boyle takes a centered approach not only as an alternative to bounded church, but, even more so, to the bounded character of gangs. He writes, “Gangs are bastions of conditional love—one false move, and you find yourself outside. Slights are remembered, errors in judgment held against you forever” (Tattoos, 94). Homeboy Industries seeks to offer the alternative, a community of unconditional love that avoids the boundedness of the gang and the judgementalism of society. I recommend reading the books and taking notes, as I did, on how to improve at practicing a centered approach. Here are just two items from my notes. 

Like many recovery programs, those who work at Homeboy must do drug testing. Yet, reflect on Boyle’s explanation for their strict approach: “Embarking on the ‘the good journey’ requires confronting the inevitable emotional obstacles in that path. It’s always a painful process, and we don’t want them to numb themselves by self-medication. Once they let go of the hatred for their gang rivals—every homie’s starting point—they are left to deal with their own pain” (Choir, 84).

When we step away from anxiety about the purity of the group and the imperative of drawing lines of exclusion, we can follow Father Boyle in turning from judgmentalism to compassionate accompaniment. He states, “the ultimate measure of health in any community might well reside in our ability to stand in awe at what folks have to carry rather than judgement at how they carry it” (Choir, 51).

I am getting increasingly uncomfortable with each additional paragraph I write in this blog. I have shared ideas, insights—and there are some great insights in the books—but first and foremost Boyle is a great story teller. His books, unlike my blog, are not essays. Immerse yourself in the stories, laugh with him, cry with him, learn with him. (To get a taste of the stories in the book listen to this Ted Talk.)

So, just one more insight to end with. Perhaps what most impresses me with the books is how much they affirm Bob Brenneman’s thesis in Homies and Hermanos, and James Gilligan’s thesis in Violence. At the root of addiction, violence, gang membership is shame. Boyle communicates this through stories and captures it in great lines like: “there is a palpable sense of disgrace strapped like an oxygen tank onto the back of every homie I know. . . they strut around in protective shells of posturing” (Tattoos, 52). Boyle seeks to counter “the wreck of a lifetime of internalized shame” by communicating the reality that “God finds them (us) wholly acceptable” (Tattoos, 44). “One of the signature marks of our God is the lifting of shame” (Choir, 135). Boyles calls us to follow Jesus in showering the shamed with love and dignity through radical inclusion and kinship. “Precisely to those paralyzed in this toxic shame, Jesus says, ‘I will eat with you.’ . . . He goes where love has not yet arrived. . . Eating with outcasts rendered them acceptable” (Tattoos, 70).

I end with Father Boyle’s words:

Soon we imagine, with God, this circle of compassion. Then we imagine no one standing outside of that circle, moving ourselves closer to the margins so that the margins themselves will be erased. We stand there with those whose dignity has been denied. We locate ourselves with the poor and the powerless and the voiceless. At the edges, we join the easily despised and the readily left out. We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away. The prophet Habakkuk writes, “The vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment and it will not disappoint. . . and if it delays, wait for it” (Tattoos, 190).

Posted on April 8, 2019 .

Timely Words from Another Time

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France surrendered to Nazi invaders and an armistice was signed June 22, 1940. Presbyterian pastors André Trocmé and Edouard Theis wrote a joint declaration that Trocmé read as a sermon the next day in the Le Chambon church. Catherine Cambessédès recalls, “In the church you could have heard a pin drop. I was only fifteen, yet I clearly remember my mood going from lost and frightened to safe and calm. Can you imagine what a sermon like that meant to us at a time of fear and despair? To be told, in church, that if the military situation had changed, our source of inspiration had not: it was still to follow in the steps of Jesus and the New Testament. We were not lost. We still had direction. The day remains one of the most illuminating of my life” (A Good Place to Hide, 43).

I invite you to step into that special moment and let these brief excerpts from that sermon illuminate, inspire, provide direction and calm for us as well. How do Theis and Trocmé speak to you and your community of faith today?

In this call to Christian humility, brothers and sisters, we would like to add a few exhortations addressed to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. First, let us abandon today all divisions among Christians, and all squabbles among the French people. Let us stop labeling ourselves and others, because that is the language of scorn: let us abandon right and left, peasants, workers, intellectuals, proletarians and plutocrats, all the terms we use to accuse each other of some wrongdoing or other. Let us learn to trust each other again, to receive each other, to welcome each other, reminding ourselves that every time we come together, like the early Christians, we are brothers and sisters in Christ.

Then, having abandoned these suspicions and hatreds, and the political passions that go with them, let us gather resolutely around Jesus Christ, the head of the universal Church, and embrace his Gospel, and only his Gospel, as our source of inspiration, obedience and action.

Finally, understand that the return to obedience obliges us to make some breaks: breaks with the world, and breaks with ways of living that we have accepted so far. We face powerful heathen pressures on ourselves and on our families, pressures to force us to cave in to this totalitarian ideology. If this ideology cannot immediately subjugate our souls, it will try, at the very least, to make us cave in with our bodies. The duty of Christians is to resist the violence directed at our consciences with the weapons of the spirit. We appeal to all our brothers in Christ to refuse to agree with or cooperate in violence, especially in the coming days when that violence is directed against the English people.

To love, to forgive, to show kindness to our enemies, that is our duty. But we must do our duty without conceding defeat, without servility, without cowardice. We will resist when our enemies demand that we act in way that go against the teachings of the Gospel. We will resist without fear, without pride, and without hatred. But the moral resistance is not possible without a clean break from the selfishness that, for a long time, has ruled our lives. We face a period of suffering, perhaps even shortages of food. We have all more or less worshiped Mammon; we have all basked in the selfish comforts of our close family, in easy pleasure, in idle drinking. We will now be made to do without many things. We will be tempted to play our own selfish game, to cling on to what we have, to be better off than our brothers. Let us abandon, brothers and sisters, our pride and our egotism, our love of money and our faith in material possessions, and learn to trust God in Heaven, both today and tomorrow, to bring us our daily bread, and to share that bread with our brothers and sisters.        

May God free us from both worry and complacency. May he give us his peace, which nothing and nobody can take away from his children. May he comfort us in our sorrows and in all our trials. May he see fit to make each of us humble and faithful members of the Church of Jesus Christ, of the body of Christ, waiting for his kingdom of justice and love, where his will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven (A Good Place to Hide, 307-08).

For more on the story of how Christians in this French town peacefully resisted fascism and aided Jewish refugees:

Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed, by Philip Hallie. I use this book in class.

Love in a Time of Hate: The Story of Magda and André Trocmé and the Village that Said No to the Nazis, by Hanna Schott. Provides much more information on Magda and also their lives before and after the war.

A Good Place to Hide, by Peter Grose. A broader, more carefully researched history than Lest Innocent Blood be Shed. It does not add much to the faith-oriented material of the other two books, but provides greater information on the actual activities of aiding refugees, includes surrounding towns, and includes stories of refugees.

Weapons of the Spirit, a documentary that includes interviews with people from Le Chambon who lived there during the war.

Posted on February 18, 2019 .

Let’s use More Indicatives! (but not all indicatives are the same)

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Seeds of this blog, part 1: A good sermon, but…. The sermon provided helpful advice and exhorted the listeners to take important action steps. There were a few lines about Jesus as an example to follow, but no indicative proclamation of God’s action that would enable this behavior. No words of God’s grace. I left the sermon thinking “people need to do better at including more indicative;” then it changed from “they” to “we need to do better.” A few days later I humbly recognized that my class that week was like the sermon—lacking in indicatives. I decided, “I want to write a blog to encourage the use of more indicatives about God in preaching, teaching, and conversation with others.”

Seeds of this blog, part 2: Who should be given the low grade, the students or me? I advocate for following Paul--when exhorting include more indicative than imperative. I qualify this by saying that talking about Jesus as an example, although technically indicative, is not an indicative that undermines our tendency to experience ethical exhortation as bounded group religiosity. Yet, when I read the last batch of ethical exhortation assignments I found that most all their talk about God was God as an example. Then I had the thought, “maybe it is not them, maybe it is me; maybe I am the one who deserves the low grade. How can I explain this better?” Humbling, and even more humbling that it took me 20 years to see this. So, for students who have heard my lecture on offering exhortation in a centered, non-religious way, my apologies. Please consider this as an upgrade to one section of that lecture. Others, feel free to listen in. Hopefully if what I have said so far feels a bit foreign what follows will clarify.

Ethical Exhortation: Learning from Paul

Because of human religious tendencies and because of their experience of bounded group religiosity, many people will experience commands in a religious way. The fuzzy solution to this is to avoid making imperative statements about things we are called to do. What is the centered  alternative? How can we exhort people to action, give imperatives?

In Religious No More I quoted Robert Hill who observed that, “Paul was ever answering the question of what we should do by saying something first about what God has done” (143). In more technical terms: Paul’s imperatives flow from his indicatives. Before defining those terms further it might be helpful to experience and feel the difference between an exhortation without indicatives and an exhortation rooted in an indicative of what God has done. Listen to these brief examples (3 minutes each).

To speak or write in the indicative mode is to indicate or point.

General Indicative

The vast majority of the Bible is indicative, giving information about God and humans. A common use of general indicatives in exhortation is to use God as an example. It is fine to do this; to, for instance, point to Jesus as model of loving enemies, but this type of indicative does nothing to undermine bounded group religiosity. Like any “naked” imperative, people easily hear it as an “ought” that they must comply with to meet the standard, to be in. Therefore, our exhortations must include other types of indicatives as well.

Indicatives Linked to Imperatives

Bounded group religious thinking is: if you do X then God (or the church) will respond by giving you Y. We can turn this religious thinking on its head and undermine bounded group judgmentalism when the call to action is linked to an imperative of what God has already done:

- forgive as you have been forgiven

- having been loved by God love others

- having tasted the gift of reconciliation with God and inclusion in God’s family let the ripples

 of that reconciliation flow by reaching out to others.

I often use the word “flow” in relation to these linked indicatives. They make clear that, what we are called to, flows from what God has done. They often have an indicative statement of who we are because of God’s action, and the imperative calls us to live out who we are. We see this in the following line from an Earl Palmer sermon:

“You are loved, love one another. Live out the grace that has happened to us.”

The linking of an imperative to an indicative pours sand into the gears of religion. It is much harder to hear Palmer’s exhortation as something you must do to get on the right side of a line. Sometimes, as in the above examples, linked-indicatives have clear statements of God’s action and the response called for. There are, however, variety of ways of stating and linking. Take for instance this example from a current student, Natalie Reinhart “Can you imagine the possibilities that could emerge in your family, friendships, workplace, schools, if we responded to our enemies through our own experience of God’s mercy and grace?”

Linked indicatives and imperatives are not always short and in the same sentence. For instance, the first eleven chapters of Romans are indicative. Paul points to the reality of who God is, he describes the human reality of alienation from God, and he indicates how God has responded to that reality. After eleven chapters of the indicative mode he begins chapter twelve by saying “Therefore.” Based on what he has indicated and pointed to he now turns to discuss ethical actions—imperatives linked to the previous 11 chapters of indicative.

Empowering Indicative

Linked-indicatives make clear that God’s action precedes our action. They still, however, can leave people feeling burdened by the difficulty of the challenge. Empowering-indicatives point to the possibility of living out what we are called to do because of what God has done. One of my favorite songs that we often sang at Amor Fe y Vida church states:

“Porque tu Dios es amor tu puedes amar” (Because your God is love you can love)

It is not just: God or Jesus show us what love is, but God’s love enables us to love.

Empowering indicatives not only point to how God enables what is commanded, they often add a sense of invitation—of promise and possibility. Feel that in these examples of empowering indicatives I lifted out of exemplar exhortations from former students:

“God has reconciled with humanity; because of Christ, reconciliation with each other is possible. Our restored relationship with God and the power of the Spirit allows us to do the impossible in the face of our enemies. He is making all things new!” Grace Spencer

“The transforming Spirit of God, living and active in our midst, empowers us to embrace, bless, show hospitality to, offer kindness to, those persons afflicted with the same malice that crucified our Lord…that would have us crucified.” Brad Isaak

The following two contain both linked-indicatives and empowering-indicatives:

 “Take hold of His hand as He offers you a freedom that you have never before known. You have no need to live in the shame of deception but are free to speak openly and honestly. Therefore, I urge you to speak with the authority of the truth, because you can! Choosing to speak the truth will become less a decision and more an outpouring of Christ working from within you; so, let your honestly come from your feelings laid bare and know that in the love of Christ, you will blossom forth into the person that you have been made to be!” Bryan Taylor

 “You are loved and forgiven. Be who the Spirit has empowered you to be. Be who you are. Love.” Heather Loewen

Religion Undermining Indicative

As I describe in chapter two of Religious No More Jacques Ellul portrays religion with an upward arrow ↑ because our natural tendency is to think we must do things to earn God’s acceptance. Ellul uses a downward arrow ↓ to communicate that Christian revelation, the God of the Bible, is the opposite. Any indicative statement that points to the primacy of God’s loving action, even if not linked to an imperative, challenges our religious tendency and reinforces the gospel ↓ arrow. Therefore, in an exhortation, statements about God’s unconditional love and grace help prevent people from experiencing the command as bounded group judgmentalism. Let us, as we prepare Bible studies, sermons, and classes ask the question: What am I doing in this exhortation to undermine the default arrow ↑ of religion and to prevent people from hearing what I am saying as bounded group religiosity?

In response to that question, quantity matters. Take note, in Romans Paul has 11 indicative chapters before four chapters of ethical exhortation and ends the letter with indicative words. In Galatians after four and a half chapters of indicative Paul turns to the imperative mode in chapters five and six, and then ends with religion-undermining-indicatives. Why does quantity matter? Because of our natural religious tendency, one short statement of God’s grace is not enough to overcome it. Many sermons are the opposite of Paul. They speak much more about what humans ought to be doing than about what God has done. Paul spoke first about what God has done and spoke much more about what God has done.

Let us follow Paul’s example! Use linked-indicatives, empowering-indicatives, religion-undermining-indicatives—and use more indicatives than imperatives.

See the ethical exhortation section of the Discipleship and Ethics website for exemplars of exhortations that use the above types of indicatives well.

Posted on January 9, 2019 .

Advent Reflection: Presence in an Age of Absence – Luke 1:68-79

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 “. . . to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” -  Luke 1:79

            You have seen it: a group of friends together at a table, but all looking down at their phones; a couple taking a walk and each talking on a phone; or a family eating together but repeatedly one or another turning aside to respond to a text. Is this the picture of peace? “Shalom,” is one of my favorite words. The Hebrew word is so much richer than our English word “peace.” It means not just absence of conflict, but the presence of harmony and well-being. Mobile devices connect us to someone or something far away but disconnect us from the person next to us. This is not shalom.

            Advent is preparation for presence. John the Baptist, in the flesh, prepares the way for God incarnate—Jesus. God did not send a text; God came to be present and live amongst us. Ours is an age of absence. We sit in the artificial light of screens of all sizes, yet in terms of relationship we too often sit in darkness—absent even from those close at hand.

            How might you prepare the way for presence this Advent? How might you be more present to yourself, to God, to others? Might you experience more shalom through taking a Sabbath from your phone? Through setting times away from all screens? Through covenanting to be present with others and putting your mobile devices aside?

            Jesus may we experience the richness of your presence and may we be present to others so lacking in shalom in this age of absence.

Posted on December 7, 2018 .

Inequality, Shame, and Violence

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On Friday afternoon I led a Bible study with a circle of men in the Fresno County Jail. It included entering the biblical story ourselves and experiencing Jesus countering voices of shame we hear. I passionately invited them to imagine Jesus’ loving gaze when they hear shaming voices. One way or another, I address shame about once a month in the jail Bible study. Why so often?

Inequality feeds violence. James Gilligan, a psychiatrist who served as director of mental health for the Massachusetts prison system, explains that dividing people into categories of superior and inferior feeds violence. He states that as societal inequality increases so does violence. In a previous blog and in a section of this website, I have summarized research that shows that many problems, not just violence, increase with inequality—and everyone is affected, not just the poor. Why? Why does greater inequality feed these problems? Gilligan’s writing on violence powerfully displays the answer. At the root of violence, he found shame; and increased inequality is a catalyst for shame. My friend, and sociologist, Bob Brenneman found the same thing in his research on why people join gangs in Central America. There are a number of contributing factors, but the one that stood out was shame. Therefore, as we work for shalom, two key things to pursue are lessening inequality and healing shame.

The men in the Bible study come from a high security pod. Most are gang members. Violence is a part of their past, if not their present. What would Gilligan’s and Brenneman’s books tell me? If I dig beneath the tattoos and the criminal records what will I find? Shame. Therefore, I frequently proclaim liberation from shame through Jesus. That Friday, after doing the shame-healing exercise we had a time of prayer. I invited them to speak the names of people they love who have needs that the inmates themselves cannot address or solve. By naming them we would be asking God to bless them and do what we are unable to do.

We spoke names, one at time. The names kept coming, often tumbling one over the other—rarely a gap of more than a few seconds. I felt loving concern echo off the cement block walls. After five minutes I spoke a brief closing prayer—not because of awkward silence, but because our time was up. We shook hands, embraced. They thanked me for coming. Robert said, “thank you I needed this today. I look forward to Friday’s. This is reorienting.”

After the correctional officer took the men back to their pod he came to unlock the closet where I turn in my report on how many attended. He asked me, “How were they?” From time to time a C.O. asks me a “how did it go?” question that feels supportive, interested. This felt different. I replied, “Fine, it was a good study. They engaged well. They treat me well. Thanked me for coming.” All he said in reply was, “they are the worst of the worst.” I assume he was making a general comment about them coming from one of two high-security pods in the building. I guess on paper, if you look at the number of past infractions, and assume that tells you who they are—then yes, “worst of the worst.” But the words shocked me. I did an internal double-take. “What did he just say?” Is he talking about the same men who just lovingly prayed for others? Who thanked me for coming? Yes, they acknowledge they have done bad things in the past, but they long for a chance to live differently and not be defined by their past. As I rode home on my bike I pondered those words, “worst of the worst.” How does that categorization seep out through the words, the looks, the actions of that C. O. and shower the men with shame? What does it do to the men to wear that label? If Gilligan is correct, that correctional officer and the shaming system he is a part of will increase, not decrease the level of violence in society. I do Bible studies to counter shaming voices frequently . . . perhaps not frequently enough.

Thankfully, however, not everyone in the system thinks and acts as that officer does. Earlier this year I was walking with a different correctional officer to same closet. I said, “How have you been? I have not seen you for a while.” He replied, “I was on yard duty.” I asked, “Is that good or is it better to be on one of the floors?” He said, “You could say it was punishment.” I did not press for more information, but he went on. “I refused to do something I was told to do, because it was not right. These men are people too.” He named the number of a legal code, and said, “I refuse to go against that code.” I then asked him if he had heard of Bryan Stevenson and told him about the line from his book Just Mercy, “Each of us is more than the worst thing we've ever done.”  He said, “yes, I have done bad things. These men have done bad things too, and yes, the quote is right.” Then he said, “I call them men, I do not call them inmates.”

He has worked in the jail and before that prisons, for years. This week I heard him say to another. C.O. that he had not had a break all day. I asked him why. He said, “A couple of the other guys working are new. I can’t leave them alone. The men would eat them alive.” (I assume he meant take advantage of them.) He is not naïve, but unlike the other C. O. he works with intentionality to lessen shame. He refuses to divide them into an inferior category.

Which of these two men represents more accurately the system as a whole, society as a whole?  Sarah Koenig, of the Serial podcast, has spent months interacting with people in Cleveland’s criminal justice system. How would she answer the question? I listened to the first episode of season three while working in our garden. Her words near the end of the episode led me to put down my spade and, through the lens Gilligan’s work, sadly ponder the implications of what she said.

A felony judge I was talking to for a different story in this series told me he was thinking of giving a defendant serious time. “What's serious time?” I asked. He explained, well, to someone with common sense, even one day in jail is devastating, life changing. To someone who's got no common sense, maybe they do three years, five years. Means nothing. They go right back out and commit more crimes.

I knew what he meant. Punishment is relative. What it takes to teach you a lesson depends on what you're used to. But there was a more disturbing implication as well. One that prowls this courthouse and throughout our criminal justice system. That we are not like them. The ones we arrest and punish, the ones with the stink, they're slightly different species, with senses dulled and toughened. They don't feel pain or sorrow or joy or freedom or the loss of freedom the same way you or I would.

“We are not like them.” What a potent shaming mechanism prowling through our justice system and society.

To be an agent of peace is not just to defuse and de-escalate a situation of active violence. It is also to work at the root causes of violence. James Gilligan would tell us that includes lessening the inequality gap, alleviating shame and building dignity. Clearly Jesus knew this before Gilligan. Whereas the first Correctional Officer’s words sound like things we hear from the Pharisees, Jesus’ words and actions match and go beyond those of the second officer.

What are ways we as individuals contribute to making distinctions between superior and inferior? What are ways our church communities do that? How do we participate in and go along with ways society builds the inequality gap?

What actions can we take toward dismantling or transforming systems that contribute to the inequality gap? How can we follow Jesus in alleviating shame and restoring dignity? What are ways we can lead the shamed to experience Jesus’s loving embrace?

 

Posted on October 17, 2018 .

Unkindly Eyes or Compassionate Eyes?

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Who is someone you have thought critically of today? A person or two you have looked at with disdain or disapproval this week? I invite you, pray a blessing on those people. What happens (to you)? Years ago, I thought critically of the pastor of the church I attended. He was a good orator, but often appeared to make up the sermon as he delivered it. He led us in making plans, but not in carrying them out. I could go on, but the point is I had a list of critical thoughts about him. I brought them to church with me each week. Seeing him through the filter of that list made it hard for me to see anything else about him. I had a hyper-sensitive radar to his negative attributes. It was a critical feedback loop. My growing disdain and frustration became a barrier to experiencing positive things that he and the church had to offer and also a barrier to my involvement in the church. My friend and mentor, Doug Frank, suggested that each week at church I imagine the vulnerable hurting little boy within the pastor. (Just as Doug had previously led me to think of the little Mark Baker within me.) What happened? I still had critiques of things the pastor did or did not do, but the starting point was compassion. The filter changed. I saw him differently.

How might it change our days if we wrapped every thought about another person in a blanket of blessing and compassion? How might it change our interactions if blessing and compassion were our starting points? How might that help us live out a centered approach to church? I will say more on that in a moment, but first a few thoughts about God. How might it change our concept of God, our experience of the God we live with, if we knew, in the depth of our being, that God looks at us through eyes of blessing and compassion?

For many, to hear the words, “God sees into the innermost parts of your being” provokes fear. If the peering eyes are unkindly ones, the fear is appropriate. Roberta Bondi, in her memoir, Memories of God: Theological Reflections on a Life (great book!) describes a turning point in her relationship with God and Christianity. Through reading one of the early desert monastics she realized, “that only God can judge us because it is only God who can look with compassion on the depth and variety of our individual experience and our suffering, and know us as we really are” (78). God looks at you with eyes of compassion. Rest in that thought for a moment. Imagine Jesus looking at you—looking not just at your actions, but probing with understanding at the roots of those actions.

Having the God revealed by Jesus, the God described by Bondi, at the center is a key element in the difference between the character of a centered church and a bounded church. It is not, however, just because of how it changes an individual’s experience of God. Emphasizing relationship with the center includes the biblical imperative of seeking to live in conformity with the center, to imitate Christ. Deepening relationship with Jesus calls and enables us to view others with compassion. That too will change the character of a church.

Would you like to be part of a church community filled with people like I was with their radar set to highest sensitivity for others’ shortcomings, or with people like Doug Frank who look at others with eyes of compassion? A critical posture feeds a bounded approach. Looking critically at others enables me to feel a sense of superiority. Even if not done consciously, it is an over-and-above move. What happened when I looked at the pastor through different lenses? Thinking compassionately about his hurts and wounds was a leveling move. It was not pity; I too carry wounds. It put his actions that I was critical of in a new light and led to different thoughts about what might bring change in his life.

How about fuzzy? Note that Bondi does not say that the turning point was realizing God does not judge. Doug did not suggest I ignore the pastor’s shortcomings. Experiencing tolerance feels better than a critical unkindly eye, but tolerance is also less than blessing. A fuzzy approach could compassionately understand why a person acts as they do, but would stop there. It would be hesitant to take the next step. It would not seek to use that understanding to work with the person for change. Is that full compassion? Is that naming?

Let us look at others with eyes of compassion and prayers of blessing.

Posted on September 21, 2018 .