Thinking Out Loud

November 18, 2017

The Relational Quality of a Personal Relationship

Often I think that those of us who comprise “the Church” suffer greatly because language is often inadequate to describe some of the most elementary principles of faith. Much ink (or in the case of the internet, electrons) is used up trying to describe atonement, salvation, the indwelling presence of Christ, or even the subject which returns on a regular cycle much like certain comets: “What is the Gospel?”

Entering into “a personal relationship with Jesus Christ” or “asking Jesus into your heart” or “accepting Jesus as your personal savior” probably means something to most readers here, but we forget how quickly we’re losing our audience if we’re speaking to seekers, skeptics, atheists or agnostics. The quality of “relationship” probably reminds them more of something likely to be encountered on a dating website. (“If you think Jesus would be a good match, swipe right.”)

I believe the idea of relationship serves us better if we think about it visually. Since we can only share with others what we’ve experienced ourselves, let’s aside evangelistic efforts and make this personal. For example…
Relationship between us and God

I am at the front of the room speaking and I invite my wife to come and stand about six feet from me. “What does it mean,” I ask everyone, “to say I am in relationship to Ruth?”

Some of the answers are:

  • “You love each other.”
  • “You have shared history and experiences, that the rest of us don’t know about.”
  • “You are intimate with each other.”

But then I ask her to sit down and invite Mike to come up to the front. Mike and I are not close, I had to ask his permission before this point because we only know each other superficially. I position him in the same spot.

“So again,” I ask, “Where am I in relationship to Mike?”

After a bit of laughter, some dare to come up with something:

  • “You are standing to his right and he is on your left.”

“Let’s go with that,” I respond, “What does that entail?”

  • “He can see you and hear you and knows what you’re doing.”

I start to deliberately creep back from him. “What about now?”

  • “The distance between you can change.”

The first set of answers all have to do with what we normally think of with the word relationship.

The second set of answers could easily involve other words or phrases: Where I am with respect to Mike; Where I am according to Mike.

When we think about our relationship with God, we might want to consider it in terms of love, intimacy and shared history. “And he walks with me and he talks with me, and he tells me I am His own…

Today I’m proposing we look for ways to expand that and consider the possibilities that:

  • We need to be aware of God’s position in our lives; that he does stand next to us, and our posture should be that of standing next to him. One counselor I know would say we need to visualize this. The example of me standing next to Ruth or Mike can provide the imagery we need to do this.
  • He sees us; he is watching us (“the eyes of the Lord run to and fro”) and this is also true for everyone on earth; whether they acknowledge him as Lord or not, he sees them. But this works both ways; I think we could also include in this an awareness of seeing Him in the everyday routine.
  • We ought to keep close to him; not let ourselves drift away from the awareness of His presence, either on a momentary basis or over a period of time. (For example, I could continue speaking and forget that Mike is still standing there until he asks if he can sit down now!)

In other words, asking the question “Where I am in relationship to God?” is only partly about the nature or quality of the relationship itself, but also about where God is in my life, and where I stand with respect to Him. The focus shifts from the tie that bind us to how I act and live my life according to Him.

The issue is one of proximity or closeness.

God is omnipresent but that sterile piece theological information means, by definition, that He is also present… 

…Only when have this relationship solidly mapped out in our own understanding can we begin to share the dynamics of it with others. If we think in terms of it in terms of physical proximity (as with the example of Mike) we’re on the right track. But hopefully we move on to something that involves more intimacy (as with the example of Ruth.)  

Out of the overflow of that type of relationship is something we will be excited to share with others.

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March 13, 2017

For the Smart People in the Room

Filed under: Christianity, relationships — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:21 am

You’re considered a smart person. You

  • are a quick study
  • have an encyclopedic knowledge on a variety of subjects
  • know how to think and articulate things logically
  • rarely find yourself at a loss for words

So many times you find yourself in conversations with people who may not share your gifts and understanding of different things. Here’s what I want to share with you today:

Your gifts and knowledge are only as good as your ability to present them in ways that the common person can understand them

and

your only barometer of how well you are getting through is to make high levels of eye contact with the listener and look for signs of recognition.

If you’re getting through, you can then move on to the next point, or know you can continue but communicating at a higher level. If you’re not, don’t be afraid to say,

  • “Are you with me?”
  • “Are you tracking with that?”
  • “Have I lost you?”
  • “That’s not too confusing, is it?”

But if that’s the axiom, here’s the corollary: Sometimes you find yourself in conversation with someone who

  • is simply better educated
  • has a much more specialized knowledge of or training in the subject at hand
  • has progressed to an aspect of the topic that is above your pay grade
  • processes things more quickly than you and therefore talks faster

Certainly at times like that humility sets in. And smart people need that to take place in their lives from time to time.1 In those situations:

A truly smart person won’t continue the conversation beyond the point where they’ve lost the plot

and

it’s okay to ask the person to backtrack so you can regroup your forces and continue.

Faking it — pretending you understand — is a terrible choice. In those moments don’t be afraid to say,

  • “Can we go back to the previous point so I can see how we just got to where we are?”
  • “What’s the ‘…for Dummies‘ version of how you would say that?”
  • “What is the 25-words-or-less take-away of what you’re saying?”
  • “I’m hearing you but I’m missing the nuances of that particular argument/distinction.”

Rarely if ever are our interactions a conversation of equals.2 Wisdom will dictate that you do all that is in your power to level the playing field as much as possible.


1 A really smart person won’t begin a sentence with “And;” but that’s another discussion.
2 Sometimes you have to ask yourself why you’re in the conversation to begin with. Jesus talked about casting pearls before swine. Are you simply trying to look intelligent to someone, or feign intelligence to someone else? Talking over someone’s head, or allowing someone to talk over yours for an extended period is just a waste of time. Wisdom lies in knowing when to proceed and when to bail and cut your losses.

April 11, 2016

How Are You?

Daniel White turned off the car engine and just sat in his car for an extra 30 seconds before walking into the church. On entering the church lobby there was a rush of sound as children carrying Sunday School take-home papers ran through the lobby, a woman at a table spoke loudly selling tickets for an upcoming banquet, and people engaged in conversation while drinking coffee from the church’s new café, open five days a week besides Sunday.

Fred Smits, the director of mens ministry spied Daniel coming in and with a big smile and a firm handshake asked Daniel how he was doing.

“Fine;” Daniel replied. But Daniel was far from fine. As he said the words, he was looking at Fred and internally screaming, “Help me!” The mental scream was so loud he wondered how Fred could not hear it.

“Good to hear;” replied Fred before noticing another member of the mens group arriving through the same door.

There is better acting done in that church lobby than you’ll ever see on the great stages of London and New York. People saying things are ‘fine’ when inside they are screaming.

So what about Fred and Daniel? Is it up to people who are hurting to be more honest, or is it up to the people who ask the question to probe deeper, to spend more time beyond superficial greeting?

November 9, 2015

In Relationship With God

Filed under: Christianity, God, relationships — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:26 am

Relationship between us and God

I am at the front of the room speaking and I invite my wife to come and stand about six feet from me. “What does it mean,” I ask everyone, “to say I am in relationship to Ruth?”

Some of the answers are:

  • “You love each other.”
  • “You have shared history and experiences, that the rest of us don’t know about.”
  • “You are intimate with each other.”

But then I ask her to sit down and invite Mike to come up to the front. Mike and I are not close, I had to ask his permission before this point because we only know each other superficially. I position him in the same spot.

“So again,” I ask, “Where am I in relationship to Mike?”

After a bit of laughter, some dare to come up with something:

  • “You are standing to his right and he is on your left.”

“Let’s go with that,” I respond, “What does that entail?”

  • “He can see you and hear you and knows what you’re doing.”

I start to deliberately creep back from him. “What about now?”

  • “The distance between you can change.”

The first set of answers all have to do with what we normally think of with the word relationship.

The second set of answers could easily involve other words or phrases: Where I am with respect to Mike; Where I am according to Mike.

When we think about our relationship with God, we might want to consider it in terms of love, intimacy and shared history. “And he walks with me and he talks with me, and he tells me I am His own…”

Today I’m proposing we look for ways to expand that and consider the possibilities that:

  • We need to be aware of God’s position in our lives; that he does stand next to us, and our posture should be that of standing next to him. One counselor I know would say we need to visualize this. The example of me standing next to Ruth or Mike can provide the imagery we need to do this.
  • He sees us; he is watching us (“the eyes of the Lord run to and fro”) and this is also true for everyone on earth; whether they acknowledge him as Lord or not, he sees them. But this works both ways; I think we could also include in this an awareness of seeing Him in the everyday routine.
  • We ought to keep close to him; not let ourselves drift away from the awareness of His presence, either on a momentary basis or over a period of time. (For example, I could continue speaking and forget that Mike is still standing there until he asks if he can sit down now!)

In other words, asking the question “Where I am in relationship to God?” is only partly about the nature or quality of the relationship itself, but also about where God is in my life, and where I stand with respect to Him. The focus shifts from the tie that bind us to how I act and live my life according to Him.

The issue is one of proximity or closeness. 

God is omnipresent but that sterile piece theological information means, by definition, that He is also present.

 

September 27, 2015

Letter to a Friend

Filed under: Christianity, relationships — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 2:28 pm

Dear ________;

I hope you didn’t mind the email I sent you last week. We all get unwanted mail, and I try to make a point of not sending you things too frequently, or pictures of cats, which is probably worse.

Fact is, every once in awhile I run across a news piece, or a blog article, or a website, or a podcast, and I think of you. But I know you’re a very busy person, and I try to restrict my recommendations to things I think you will genuinely appreciate.

Full disclosure: There are a lot of people with whom I had contact with and involvement with at earlier points in life whom I no longer have that same type of engagement. Yes, I suppose that I have people in my life now who are part of this current season of life, but there’s nothing like people who knew you ‘when’ who you can be honest with, and who can give you a different perspective on life.

Twitter and Facebook and blogging provide context for many of those types of contact, but truth be told, I am as fragile and vulnerable as everyone else — maybe more so — and I have issues with rejection. I think I need affirmation simply because I don’t get a whole lot of it. I want to believe our time together mattered to you as much as it did me.

So that’s why I send you the occasional email forward, or link, or rhetorical question. I think I just want a reminder that those places we went, those tasks we shared, those moments that are part of our common history are real.

Your response means a lot. I know you’ve had many more people in your life than I have had in mine, but if you ever want to send me an article or ask my opinion on something, I would be honored.

Your friend (I hope),

 

Paul.

 

September 4, 2015

Friendships Come and Friendships Go

friendshipsIt is said that one of the finest blessings you can experience is to have one friendship that lasts a lifetime. I’m not sure if the writer had your spouse in mind, but I believe that was not the context, which is better since it allows singles, separateds and divorced to play the home version of the game.

In reality however, many friendships last for only a season. In Christian ministry, some turn out to be task oriented. As long as you continue to manage the church nursery, play the guitar or be a youth group sponsor, you’re in. Step down from those positions and watch your social life die. My wife and I have experienced this over and over.

Some friendships are geographically based. Move away and promise to keep in touch and you’ll find it’s a promise that doesn’t always get kept. You’ve been told absence makes the heart grow fonder? Try out of sight, out of mind. You might hear the classic, ‘I think I accidentally blocked you on Facebook.’

But some simply die out. Again, because this is a Christian writing platform, I want to deal with a few that have a church or ministry context:

  • You’ve been a mentor to a person who is growing spiritually by leaps and bounds and you’ve reached that stage where the student has surpassed the teacher. They are now acutely aware of inconsistencies in your life and thus disillusioned, find it best to dump you.

or

  • You came alongside someone at a particularly low point in their life, but now that they are back on their feet, their renewed personality makes them attractive to other people and they receive attention from a far greater pool of people in the church family.

or

  • You taught Sunday School with someone for years but decided in the Spring that you’d like to audition for the worship team. You made it in, but now that person has distanced themselves from you.

or

  • Your friend is part of a church culture that feeds on new blood, and some people have arrived on the scene that are simply more interesting that you are.

or finally,

  • You yourself have been at a particularly low point in life. It may be spiritual, or it may be circumstantial, but now your ‘friend’ just doesn’t want to have to prop you up during a time of challenge.

There’s also a dynamic that takes place in churches — and in life in general — that reflects the nature of the people being unfriended. Some people are simply gregarious. We don’t use that word much today, instead we talk about extroverts. Others are introverts and much has been written about how church culture can mitigate against such people (but also about how they can thrive just the same.)

Example:

  • Dan is a single dad with ties to people in the Men’s group. So is Bruce. But Bruce has six really close relationships to other guys in the group — going to sports events, working on model planes and drones, playing in pick-up bands, etc. — while Dan is really just friends with Bruce. So when Bruce and Dan start to connect on fewer occasions, it still leaves Bruce with five really close friendships, but leaves Dan with none.

And then there is the “couples complication.” Remember the line from Frasier? “When you get the one, you get the other one.”

  • Jennifer and Mark are good friends with Wanda and Jason. Dinners, shopping trips, and watching each others kids when one couple wants a night out. But then Mark gets into a major fight with Jason. Suddenly, Jennifer and Wanda have fewer contexts to connect.

or

  • Rob and Jocelyn are longtime friends of Ben and Katie. But now Ben and Katie have decided to migrate over to the new church plant that’s meeting at the high school. Nothing can kill a friendship as what happens when someone leaves a church.

So…relationships are complex and church life probably complicates this even further. What can you do?

When circumstances change, you need to work twice as hard to nurture the relationship. You also need to be aware of the vulnerability of the relationship during times of change.

Personally, I believe that if superficial circumstances are all it takes to fracture a relationship, it was never there in the first place.

June 7, 2015

When Interpersonal Relationships Break Down

Six years later, I honestly don’t remember what it was that precipitated this column…

Lately I’ve been keeping track of a number of relationships in my personal life and business life that have been changing. Some of these represent cases where there have been relationship breakdowns, usually precipitated by something external that I did not instigate, but often compounded by my reaction(s). I’m a very principled person, and I’ve never let a great friendship stand in the way of taking a stand for an ethical or moral precept, at least not among people who I expect should know better.

But some of them are relationships which have been in a wonderful state of repair and healing. Enough time clicks by on the magic clock and both parties say, “Who cares?” and pick things up where they left off. In one case, I can no longer remember what the issue was between myself and the woman concerned, though when we do meet up, I hope she gives me some kind of clue. I don’t want to reopen old wounds, but I’m dying to know what the deal was. It must have been a doozie, but with God, forgetfulness — which we regard as a human failing — is actually a divine attribute.

So here’s my five rules for surviving relational breakdowns:

  1. bizarrobelieverjerkNothing should be so severe that it would cause you to move to the sidewalk on the other side of the road if you saw that person coming down the street. Civility is always the higher good.
  2. You should never have relational estrangement with more than five people at a time. To get a sixth person on the list, you have to be willing to call up the person who has been on the list the longest and make peace. You may prefer to use four or three as your magic number. It should never be more than five.
  3. Treat the whole thing as if it’s entirely your own fault, even if it wasn’t to begin with. Sometimes that can be difficult. A pastor I know took great issue with something I sent him in an e-mail a year ago; then just weeks later got up and gave his congregation the same message. I know that I was right, but if I ever happened to run into him, the first thing I would probably say is, “Look, I’m sorry…” In fact, I have nothing to apologize for, but it can be a great opportunity to practice humility and thereby model Christian charity.
  4. Ask yourself if there’s some other factor at play that you haven’t considered. For about 15 years, I knew that a particular individual was angry with me. A mutual friend said, “He’s never going to forgive you.” I always thought it concerned something in our professional relationship, but about a year ago, my mind flashed back to something that happened at a party involving our children. I immediately contacted him to make things right.
  5. An irreparable situation means the relationship can’t be fixed for now. The bible is very clear that as far as it is up to you, you should live at peace with everyone. Elsewhere, we’re told that loving our brothers and sisters means believing the best. I interpret that as believing the best is yet to come.

P.S.: I’m still working some of these out, so don’t expect to see my book on this on the shelves anytime soon!

In heaven above
With the saints that we love
It will be glory

But on earth here below
With the saints that we know
Well… that’s a different story.

 

January 3, 2015

The Bizarre World of Domestic Discipline

Domestic Discipline

Sometimes in a relationship someone forgets to do something. Or lets the other person down. It may be something as trivial as burning the toast. I remember one time, early on in our marriage after some random event saying to Mrs. W., “Oh, oh! I’ll have to give you a spanking.”

I said this rather playfully, since probably in my mind it conjured up something sexual; something kinky. Mrs. W. was not amused. Down other branches of her family tree there is some history of abuse. After using this line on one or two more occasions, I learned to drop the suggestion of corporal punishment. And for the record, we’re not into the kinky stuff, and nobody has ever dressed up in black in the bedroom.

But wife-spanking as a disciplinary action is more common than you might think.

Enter the website Learning Domestic Discipline, a collection of resources dedicated to help you “Learn the DD Lifestyle.”

To begin with, egalitarians need not apply. This is for hardcore complementarians, though I suggest I’m only using that word because in our Evangelical milieu the one is considered the opposite of the other. The blog approach is friendly enough, but the situation described is much more authoritarian, with the husband described as the HoH or “head of household,” and submissive wife described as… the wife.

To best understand this, you need to go to some of the earliest posts on the blog, go to the archives and scroll back to Spring, 2011. (Clicking the image at the top of this article takes you to one specific article on spanking positions. One in May, 2011 discusses whether this should be over or under clothing.)

Again, the earlier articles spell out the lifestyle most clearly, such as one in June, 2011 which tries to clarify the difference between spanking and abuse or BDSM. Anyone who has been a victim of domestic violence — who is probably cringing as they read this — would want to read that article and see if they feel it checks out.

An ‘About’ page makes clear that everything being discussed is fully consentual, and I trust that both partners would see it that way. (The issue of consent was at the center of one of Canada’s biggest news stories late in 2014.) In many ultra-conservative or fundamentalist setting, the role of the husband as HoH is given to be granted by divine authority, and the blogosphere is filled with horror stories of women who suffered all manner of abuse before breaking free.

In the case of Clint and Chelsea, who co-write the LDD blog, it seems to be working for them. They conduct retreats — next one is September, 2015 — and I’m not sure if you bring your own ‘equipment’ or if it is provided. (I’m not saying that tongue-in-cheek, I would think you need to know before you pack.)

More recently, the blog takes a Q&A approach, and unless they’re making up all the questions, they do have an army of followers. Still, these questions are all concerned with the how of DD practice, the why is taken as a given. You pretty much have to have bought in before you start reading. But one column dealt with why the woman would want to go along with this.  Reason #1: “It make women feel more loved.”

I know I may get pushback from DD advocates here, but longtime readers of this blog may find all of this eerily similar to some articles we did about the child discipline advocated by Michael Perl and Debi Pearl in To Train Up a Child and other resources, such as this one, or this one. I can easily see how a situation like this could be, for lack of a better word, abused; or how Clint and Chelsea’s blog and website could be used to justify a host of activities that they are careful not to condone.

I should also say that nowhere on the blog did I see specific references to the spiritual authority of the HoH. This in no way overtly purports to be a Christian resource, though obviously we’re discussing it here because of the way it would suit the purposes of many fundamentalist groups. Any temptation to quote scripture verses here or discuss church contexts seems to be carefully avoided.

But of course we can’t end there.  There is in fact, CDD or Christian Domestic Discipline. One 2013 article goes so far as to describe it as a “new Christian trend sweeping America.” Huffington Post called it “Spanking in the name of the Lord.”

I’m also presenting this relatively without comment. It’s one of the those internet curiosities that proves the “different strokes for different folks” adage. Quite literally as it turns out.

 

 

 

 

December 21, 2014

What Goes Into a Mind Comes Out in a Life

Filed under: relationships, writing — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:23 am

For several years the Christian Booksellers Association* adopted the phrase

What Goes Into a Mind Comes Out in a Life

as a promotional tool to encourage reading.  The idea was that as you saturate your mind with the truths of God’s Word, Christian literature, and Christian music, you will be changed by what you listen to and read.

However, the opposite is also true.

If your mind is saturated with unhealthy thoughts and ideas, it will manifest itself in several ways:

In your conversation: We all have heard the Biblical principle that out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. Even the most guarded, careful, filtered person will let something slip that betrays where their heart is wandering. Or they may lose interest in topics that would normally engage them.

Stresses: For the Christian, having made poor choices in the area of inputs and influences will result in an inner conflict that may come to the surface in being short or snappy with the people we love or people we’re close to. The inner turmoil may simply result from a feeling of personal failure.

Distractions: A mind focused on things below instead of things above will inevitably be un-ordered, resulting in forgetting to return a phone call, missing a payment deadline, forgetting the directions to an appointment. Time allocation to responsibilities may slip noticeably.

Acting Out: Experts say that people dealing with online addictions often end up taking some action as a result of the content they have been viewing, but we tend to think of that as more overt. In fact, acting out often takes places in subtle ways that are more tangential to the addiction than direct. It’s possible that only the person themselves knows that the behavior trigger.

Reticence: Other people whose mind is otherwise preoccupied will simply become withdrawn. An unhealthy mind condition will manifest itself similar to worry and anxiety. For the Christian who senses that they are moving away from The Cross instead of moving toward The Cross, they may opt to retreat from their fellowship group or simply be less animated than is typical.

…Of course, I write all this not out of extensive reading in Christian counseling or a background in Christian psychology, but out of personal experience. The dictum to know thyself, means we ought to be able to identify some of the danger signs when we’re in the middle of mind-battle, or when we’re losing that fight. But a concerned friend or a discerning acquaintance will also be able to identify these signs and then care enough to confront the individual in question.


*It was either the CBA in Canada, the U.S., or both that used this phrase, it was very effective and ought to be brought back. What goes into a mind overflows to what is spoken, visible, etc.

For a previous article on the idea of “moving toward the cross” versus “moving away from the cross” click here.

June 20, 2014

Gauging the Spirituality of Others by Superficialities

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you read The Message, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.
  (I Timothy 4:12, somewhat altered)

Good News bibleYesterday I had a conversation with an elderly woman who told me quite plainly that her Christian friends look down on her because she reads and memorizes verses in the Good News Bible (aka Today’s English Version).

This should raise all kinds of red flags.

First of all, it denigrates the translation itself. As BibleGateway.com‘s writeup states, “The GNT is a highly trusted version.” The American Bible Society continues to support the translation with fresh printings and formats.

But more important, it concerns me that her “friends” feel the need to implement correction in terms of her Bible reading choice. In other words, there is an attitude of superiority here, either in terms of their knowledge of what is the best Bible for her, or in terms of their own personal piety or spiritual maturity.  In Romans 14 we read:

4Who are you to judge the servants of someone else? It is their own Master who will decide whether they succeed or fail. And they will succeed, because the Lord is able to make them succeed.

(Quoted, just for good measure, from the Good News Translation.)

There are so many things one’s choice of translation doesn’t tell us about the person. How often to they read it? How much time do they spend in the Word in each reading? How are they allowing the seed of God’s Word to take root in their life?

Good News for Modern ManWhy do we judge?

Why do we sometimes seem to want to judge?

Honestly, we don’t know the heart of another. Even our closest friends. I Samuel 16 offers us a verse we know but tend not to practice:

7b…I do not judge as people judge. They look at the outward appearance, but I look at the heart.”

The Louis Segund translation renders it this way:

…l’homme regarde à ce qui frappe les yeux, mais l’Éternel regarde au coeur.

In English, it would read that man looks at what “strikes the eyes;” in other words first impressions and superficial indicators.

But God is concerned with the heart.

I got the impression that her “friends” wanted to present a caring attitude, but were perhaps looking for a vulnerability or a weakness because they possibly see her as more spiritual than they are, and by knocking her down a peg or two, they were elevating themselves.

Still, in a “NIV versus ESV” Evangelical environment, it was nice to see someone voting for the Good News Bible.

 

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