Me with my lovely wife, Kathy:

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Is Perception Reality? A Question for our current situation:

I have been following the reports of demonstrations, riots, emotional distress, etc. that has come an aftermath of the recent election of Donald Trump and Mike Pence.  I've also read and heard a good bit of reaction to these events.  For any who don't know me, I need to let you know that I'm in the heart of the demographic that is being talked about in many of these stories.  I'm White, conservative, Christian, straight, and from the Bible belt.  I'll try to not be scary.
Some of those who live in my cultural neighborhood have responded to the post-election reports with a combination of law-and-order rhetoric, and counsel that basically amounts to "just grow up."  I haven't been without my opinions, especially about looting and/or destruction of property, but I have tried to do something that I think all of us need to do more of--I'm trying to listen.
Sitting in my warm and comfortable living room this morning it occurs to me that a mantra that I have been reciting concerning a ministry I'm involved in probably has some relevance in the current situation in my world:


Now I'm not getting all New Age-y here.  For one thing the "New Age" is old enough to be on Medicare (and since it is sick it needs to be).  I have railed against concepts like, "If you can dream it you can do it."  I know there is a certain motivational factor to this kind of statement, but I have been around long enough to also see the truth behind this cynical view from
What I mean when I say "Perception is Reality," is if I am going to build any kind of positive relationship with people who have a different view of what is going on around us than I do, I need to grant their view a measure of legitimacy.  Say I'm having a pretty good day.  My caffeine intake is about right.  I haven't gotten any audit notices from the IRS, and the sun is shining.  In my bliss, perhaps ignorant bliss, I greet my friend, "Hi.  How are you?"  My friend clearly doesn't get that my question was a courtesy, a greeting more than a request for information, and proceeds to spew forth a stream of that witch is dark and painful.  At this point let's assume that I really do care about my friend.  I really would like to have a relationship with him going forward.  How will that best be achieved?
  • By immediately pointing out why I think his view of reality is utterly wrong?
  • By questioning his maturity, intelligence, and/or spirituality?
  • By uttering some feel-good platitude?  (The cartoon is offered tongue in cheek, but it make a point.)  Or,
  • Taking a moment to listen to my friend.
In the end I may conclude that my friend is utterly wrong, or I may totally understand why my friend has such a dark view on such a sunny day.  Either way, if I start by listening, I have laid a foundation that could lead to productive conversation.  I can tell you by experience--experience in which I am the bad-guy--that the other three responses don't lead to that opportunity.  At least they aren't likely to.
The way others perceive reality, is the reality that has to be dealt with in getting along with those
others.  When others see reality in the same way I do, that appears to be non-problematic.  I say "appears" because our world is becoming more and more a series of echo-chambers, side by side, each surrounded by totally sound proof walls.  We hear only those who say the same thing we say.  Too often, when we venture out of the realm where all is agreeable, all we do is shout what is constantly said in our group.  We are like kids throwing at rocks at each other.  Most miss, or hit us somewhere that causes little pain, but there is a scar, somewhere under the little hair I have left, that bears witness to the reality that they don't all miss.  Some draw blood.  My Granny was right to discipline my cousin and me, not just because she hit me--boy that girl could throw--but because throwing rocks at each other is not something civilized people do.  Neither is a lot of what I see on the news, or read on Facebook.
Don't get me wrong.  I'm not saying that we should surrender our intellect and act as if things that matter don't.  What I am saying is that out of the things that matter it is difficult to find anything that matters any more than another human being.  Listen to James, again.

. . . the tongue [I think we can extend this other forms  of communication].
It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison.
Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father,
and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. . .
blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth.
Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!
(James 3:8–10, NLT)

So, I've been working hard to stay out of the mudslinging business.

It doesn't help.  It just muddies things up.  I'm trying to hear.  I've read articles that forced me to my dictionary, and compelled me to go back and read paragraphs again.  I've read stuff that took pages to say, "I don't like this!"--the election, the demonstrations, etc..  I often don't agree with either--at least not completely.  I am, however, working to hear those on all sides.  I'm not saying that each of us
can create our own reality, but in the realm of, to quote that great philosopher Rodney King, just getting along, I have to start with the reality that at this moment what my friend is saying is reality as he sees it.
Like Frasier, I'm listening.  Or, at least I'm trying.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A Historic Election: Now What?

In our nation this morning, you can hear a collective “Wow!” 

"The most stunning political upset in American history."
That's how ABC News commentator George Stephanopoulos described Donald Trump's victory.

One commentator speaking about how we—the talking heads on TV—got it so wrong, said, “Pollilng broken.”  Indeed as we look at not only the two candidates in this contentious campaign, but the methodology behind them, it shows clearly that, in spite of our best efforts, we are not nearly so in control as we would like to think.  The losing campaign was powered by an incredibly sophisticated data-driven, computer aided, algorithm guided, scientific process.  The winning campaign was run by a man’s gut.  (No pun intended, but if a bit of humor helps, go with it.)  It kind of reminds me of the John Henry statue a few miles from where I sit.  On this night, man beat machine.  Since most of us had already accepted that the machine couldn’t be beaten, we find it a bit un-nerving.
Just this past Monday I was talking to a fellow pastor.  Like me, he sees the man who is now our President-elect as a flawed individual.  He articulated his support, not of this candidate, but of the platform that he represents.  He articulated why he would vote for Donald Trump.  He articulated about seven points—prolife concerns, gender issues, a desire to see a proper respect for law, etc.—all had to do with matters concerning which God’s word speaks; none had to do with prejudice or ill-will toward any group of people.  My friend wanted the outcome that has come to pass, but toward the end of our conversation he said, “I really feel that Secretary Clinton is going to win.”  Then there are those who were so invested in a Clinton-Kaine victory that they couldn’t imagine any other outcome.  As I listen to the morning-after commentary words like shock, seismic, bomb-shell, and greatest-upset dominate the reports.  How should we as God’s people be God’s people in this critical time?
From my position I heard from fellow-Christians over the past few months who were, on the one hand, clearly in favor of a Trump victory, and other—equally Godly, in-love-with-Jesus—sisters and brothers who rather passionately were opposed.  Many of my friends concluded that they could vote for neither of the two leading candidates.  I won’t be surprised to find out that my name was written-in somewhere.  Because of the computer-driven ability to track and crunch numbers, we not only know the big, important, number—who has the most Electoral College votes—but all kinds of other statistics.  As a result we see the deep divisions that exist within our nation more clearly than ever.  There is a knee-jerk reaction to this kind of shocking outcome.  On the one hand those on the winning side can have a tendency to look at those groups who “opposed this historic victory” and seek ways to make them pay.  On the other hand, it is easy for those who did not win the day to be on the “See, I told you so.” watch.  A recent “60 Minutes” piece fleshes out the observation that 82% of Americans were disgusted with the recent political campaign.  (I warn you, in speaking frankly, some of the folk in this focus group express themselves using words of which I don’t approve.)  Frank Luntz’s words, especially what he said at the end of the piece, are worth considering.  Far more eloquent than the pollster, are the words of Abraham Lincoln at his second inaugural.

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations” (Lincoln).

This is true about us as a nation.  It is absolutely indisputable for us who are part of the body of Christ.  Many of us—others with far more eloquence than me--have said for months, now, that we need to remember—no, we need to militantly cling to the reality—that all of us who by God’s grace have been made new creatures in Christ have something in common that supersedes anything that might divide us.  Scott McKnight, on this historic morning, stood to lead us in prayer.  I encourage you to join him.
There is a low spot in the bed.  Unless we resist we’ll roll into it.  The tendency is abundantly clear in the 60 Minutes excerpt above.  We tend to look for what is worst in the motives of those on the other side.  I heard it come out clearly in some of the comments that were made by dedicated Hillary/Kaine supporters as it became clear that they were not going to win the day.  “I guess there are more people who support bigotry and xenophobia, than there are who support the dignity of all people”  (That is not an exact quotation, but an honest attempt to capture what I heard.).  I know John MacArthur is, himself, a polarizing person.  I ask you to set that aside for a moment.  I was surprised that he spoke with a clarity with which I was not comfortable, even as a former pastor.  He does, however, articulate the carefully parsed reasoning that entered into not only his decision, but a great many Christians’.  I don’t doubt that such people are out there, but I will say clearly that I did not hear any supporters say anything remotely like, “I support Donald Trump because I hate ______,” or, “because I want to see ______, put down, discriminated against, etc.”  Likewise I heard none of the Hillary/Kaine supporters say, “I want to kill babies.”  Sure, the ideas that each candidate espoused—indeed, the ideas that motivate each of us—have consequences, and it is entirely appropriate for us to point where the way one thinks leads, it is, however, very important that we avoid rhetoric that enflames, and rather seek to engage in conversation that enlightens.

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt,
 so that you may know how you ought to answer each person”
(Col 4:6, ESV).

Let’s be careful about how we talk in the days ahead.  Like David, let’s pray that God will guard our speech.  “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3)
Let me again quote from our Sixteenth president.

“Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.” 

God has His own purposes, and, I add, His purposes are not necessarily ours, and we don’t have them figured out.  (Read Romans 11:34-36.)
Let me close what is a fairly gloomy post with an invitation to watch a beautiful sunrise.  No, what I speak of has nothing to do with which candidate or which party prevailed yesterday; it has to do with the end of the Bible.  I read the end of the book, and God wins.  This is one of those times when it is easier than on other occasions to believe God’s sovereignty.  I find myself clinging to that reality, this morning, like a person grasps a piece of flotsam after a shipwreck. 

Hold on tightly, child of God.  He will not forsake His own.