Thinking Out Loud

March 25, 2019

Your Future Self Wants You to Read This

Part of the reason I had hoped to review Drew Dyck’s latest book before its publication is that there is so little available in the Christian market dealing with self-control. It’s one of the nine ‘Fruit of the Spirit,’ so why isn’t more being said? I had my only-ever audio-book experience this summer with Walter Mischel’s The Marshmallow Test, which looks at self-control in general and delayed gratification in particular through the lens of a study done on preschool children you may have seen on YouTube. But there was no Christian bookstore equivalent.

Then, mysteriously the book arrived in the mail about ten days ago. Better late than never. In this case, much better. Your Future Self Will Thank You: Secrets to Self-Control from the Bible and Brain Science (Moody Publishing, 2019, paperback) ranks as one of the best-researched and one of the most-transparent books I have read in a long time. I’ve already looked at parts of it twice.  I’m not saying this because I frequently interact with Drew online. As the disclaimer goes, we’ve never met in person, but I’ll reference him here by his first name, given we have some familiarity.

The book is a mix of spiritual practices and just plain practical advice on how we can bring our lifestyle under both our control and God’s control.

A few days ago, as a precursor to this review, I excerpted a passage from the book dealing with the difference between ‘resumé virtues’ and ‘eulogy virtues.’ If you missed that, take a minute now to read it. (We’ll wait here for you.) That one really left me thinking. As we assess character, could we be using the wrong metrics?

For the goal of a self-controlled life to become reality, there are certain principles that need to be drilled deep into our hearts. Drew points out that even in the most modern megachurches, “there’s often a rather predictable cycle of songs, prayers and preaching each Sunday. There’s Sunday school or midweek small group meetings. These rhythms shouldn’t be legalistic duties; at their best, they foster belief and help give individual members much-needed support for the tough task of living the Christian life.”

He then cites Alain de Botton, an atheist who “gushed about how brilliant the church is to establish such rhythms… He completely rejects the idea of God and the doctrines of the Christian faith.” however, “he realized that by failing to employ the practices of the religious, secular people were failing to make their ideas take hold.” He quotes de Botton directly: “We tend to believe in the modern secular world that if you tell someone something once, they’ll remember it… Religions go ‘Nonsense. You need to keep repeating the same lesson 10 times a day… Our minds are like sieves.” He also praised the liturgical calendar, “arranging time” so that the faithful “will bump into certain very important ideas.” (p 126)

One of the strengths of Your Future Self… is this most diverse collection of citations; authors culled from a wide variety of disciplines; both Christian and secular. One surprising quotation Drew included came from Philip Yancey who said he once read three books per week. No longer. Yancey blames the internet (as do I for a similar experience). “The internet and social media have trained by brain to read a paragraph or two, and then start looking around… [A]fter a few paragraphs I glance over at the slide bar to judge the article’s length. My mind strays, and I find myself clicking on the sidebars and the underlined links… Soon I’m over at CNN… or perhaps checking the weather.” (p 173)

There’s also a great section on self-control as it applies to addictions of various types, and programs used to treat addictions such as LifeChange a residential program operated by Bill Russell in Portland, OR. Drew notes “After a few months in the system the residents feel good about themselves. They’re clean, deepening their spiritual lives and sticking to a new schedule…And that’s when the real test comes.” Russell told him one of the challenges is participants “confuse system-control and self-control.” Any one of us could avoid certain types of temptation in a residential environment like theirs but it’s not the real world. Russell added that “external system-control needs to give way to internal self-control.” Russell uses the analogy of a broken leg; when broken “you need a cast;” however, “eventually you have start moving the leg again.” This then springboards into a discussion on the value of spiritual community. It’s easy to connect the dots: Your church, your small group, etc. can help you keep those new life resolutions.(pp 199-203)

There’s more to the book than just appropriately arranged citations from other works. One of my favorite parts of the book is where Drew goes into teaching mode and shares what follows on the subject of how our part in the self-control challenge is matched by God’s part; something he later cleverly describes as akin to an employers matching contribution to a payroll deduction. (This has much broader application as well.)

We need to guard against passivity and exert effort. On the other hand, we must draw on God’s power to live the Christian life. Fudging on either commitment will stall our spiritual growth. Discounting our role in sanctification leads to license. Ignoring God’s role leads to legalism.

The Bible is crammed with passages showing both the divine and the human role in sanctification.

Consider this passage from Romans: “if by the Spirit, you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live” (8:13). Note the dual roles represented in this verse. Who is the active agent here? Well, “you put to death the misdeeds of the body.” Does that mean God isn’t involved? Not at all! The passage is equally clear that this crucial act of killing sin only happens “by the Spirit.” We need the Spirit to eradicate sin in our lives.

In 2 Peter 1:3 we see the same pattern: “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” At first blush, it appears we are mere passengers on the train to holiness. After all, God has provided the power…what’s left for us to do? A lot, apparently. The passage goes on to command us, “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge self-control.” Did you catch that? We’re commanded to “make every effort” because “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life.” For Peter, divine empowerment and human effort aren’t enemies. They’re allies. God has given us His power. That’s why we strive.

In Philippians 2:12 we’re commanded to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” That language clearly shows the requirement of human effort. But the very next verse reminds us of who is really effecting the change: “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (2:13).

Perhaps the clearest example of the divine and human roles operating in tandem comes from Colossians 1:29: “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he [Jesus] powerfully works within me” (ESV, emphasis mine). Here there’s no doubt that Paul is expending effort. Another translation reads, “I strenuously contend.” At the same time, it is equally clear that it is “he” (Jesus) who is working within him. And it’s Jesus’ internal working that motivates Paul’s effort: “For this I toil…” These passages (and scores of others) show that divine empowerment and human effort are not only compatible, they’re complementary. We may be tempted to pit them against each other, but it appears that the writers of Scripture envisioned them working together. (pp 146-148)

Finally, Drew gets very transparent. There’s a danger in writing a book like this which both humorous and conversational that the entire treatment becomes subjective. The author is sharing his own journey on the road to self-control and at the end of the day, you’re left with his story, rather than practical help.

There are some personal family stories represented here, however this book solves the greater dilemma, by confining Drew’s own self-control story into nine concise diary entries he calls, “Self-Control Training.” Think of it as defining, albeit anecdotally, how all this plays out in real life; where the rubber meets the road. Drew isn’t perfect — neither are you and I — but as you compare his initial miserable lack of progress with your own, or my own; it becomes clear that it takes many different spiritual disciplines working together to bring about change.

To that end, I believe this is one of a much smaller subset of books on my shelves with the potential to genuinely change the direction of a person’s life. Their future selves will thank them for having read it earlier on.


Drew Dyck, holding an early print edition of Your Future Self Will Thank You seen here looking for a very large stapler.


■ Listen to Drew Dyck talk more about the book in a recent Church Leaders podcast.

■ Connect with Drew’s website and sign up for his newsletter at DrewDyck.com or read more at his blog.

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December 14, 2017

Introverts and Extroverts

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:59 am

A few weeks ago one of my sons had an opportunity to have a one-on-one meeting with the pastor of a megachurch. He’s seen this person pour himself into an energetic sermon each week, but found that, off the platform, he was very quiet and unassuming. This pastor has admitted to his introvert character many times, but it still came as a surprise to my son.

Perhaps you know what it’s like to, without hesitation, get up in front of large group of people and perform, but then turn around and be extremely intimidated in a group of three or four. I’ve been in a room where about 2,000 people listened to my piano playing, but invite me into your living room, point to the piano and say, “Play something;” and I will totally freeze.

I don’t remember us hearing as much about the introvert/extrovert distinction as we have in the last decade. Does it define more people, or are we just more sensitive to it? Additionally, it’s easy to forget the situation even exists when the person has a pubic role that overshadows the underlying core personality trait.

In his earthly body, Jesus would have had some identifiable personality characteristics. It sounds a little strange to think of him as introverted, but consider these scriptures:

Early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up and slipped out to a solitary place to pray.
 (Mark 1:35)

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
 (Luke 5:16

Then Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat.
 (Mark 6:31) 

When Jesus heard about [the death of] John, He withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. But the crowds found out and followed Him on foot from the towns.
(Matthew 14:13)

These verses are often discussed in terms of the spiritual discipline of prayer which Jesus demonstrated, but we also see the example of someone trying to de-stress away from the crowds.

So I found this chart at Psychological Facts rather interesting. I also learned on the introverted side of things, that I haven’t been sensitive to people around me in terms of items #4, 5 and 6. We tend to read these things and immediately start thinking of ourselves instead of — as in the case with the book The Five Love Langauges — remember that our goal should be to see how this information helps us connect with others.

Caring for Introverts and Extroverts

How conscious are you of the introvert/extrovert dichotomy in your family, church, or workplace?

December 12, 2017

Don’t Worry

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:11 am

Years ago someone told me that when you say to someone, “Don’t forget…” you are actually introducing the possibility that they might. So when my wife says to me,

Don’t forget to pick up at milk at the grocery store on your way home

my brain hears

There is a possibility that you will forget to pick up milk at the grocery store on your way home

or some say that my brain possibly deletes the first word and hears

Forget to pick up at milk at the grocery store on your way home.

I’m not sure how widespread the view is that this is how the brain operates, though I certainly understand the potential and the principle. Furthermore, I’m not sure that

Remember to pick up milk at the grocery store on your way home

while it eliminates the negative, is not simply introducing the same possibility that I might not remember…

…So when I’m reminded that the Bible’s most frequent command is “Fear not;” I can certainly see how that phrase, repeated to someone in my family where anxiety runs high, might not have the soothing, calming effect the speaker intends.

As to the frequency of the command, a popular idea is that the phrase occurs 365 times in scripture; conveniently one for each day. Here’s a blog post that refutes that notion, and one that argues against trying to refute it.

The point is that even though I know positionally that “The Lord is my shepherd;” I am given to anxiety and right now, my youngest son is going through a time where fear is running high and I’m certainly empathizing with his pain.

Just telling someone not to fear may not be helpful. A hug might be much better. Or an hour in conversation. Or an activity which distracts from the cause of the anxiety.

 

September 25, 2017

Defiance

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:03 am

There was something in the air on Sunday.

After viewing, I went on Twitter to what people were saying about the airing of Star Trek Discovery on CBS-TV. The mood was somewhat defiant. Well over half — in some stretches closer to 80% — of people commenting did not like the pilot and were adamant that they would not pay a subscription fee to CBS All Access to watch successive episodes. I think some were predisposed to not like the show because they knew it was moving to pay-per-view.

In a microcosm of that defiance, the second in command on the star-ship defies the Captain and several commented that defiance is usually not seen among the ranks of Star Fleet. There were also indications that the science officer was not going to necessarily be always obedient.

The show itself was delayed when an NFL game went into overtime, pushing back 60 Minutes (with new correspondent Oprah Winfrey); a game which was one of many on Sunday where players defied the President of the U.S. by either kneeling or locking arms or not showing up at all during the playing of the National Anthem. The “Take a Knee” action is also spreading on Twitter.

The Miriam-Webster Dictionary online reminds us that defiance can be an action or an attitude:

Definition of defiance

1 :the act or an instance of defying :challenge

  • jailed for defiance of a court order

2 :disposition to resist :willingness to contend or fight

  • dealing with a child’s defiance

Googling “What the Bible Says About Defiance” points often to defiance in children and there are also references to rebellion. The scripture context when referring to adults is usually in reference to rebellion against God. (See 1 Thess. 4:8)

I don’t want to go especially deep into this today except to note my personal conviction that defiance and rebellion can be contagious. While I applaud those who make peaceful protests surrounding key issues that really matter, I am hesitant to see the spread of protest culture. In some cases these demonstrations can be a great agent for social change, but in others they simply cultivate anger and can be breeding grounds for violence.

But defiance is definitely in the air these days.

 

 

April 25, 2016

Camp Memories (1)

Through a variety of circumstances, and with only three years experience ever having been a camper in my teens, I found myself on senior staff at a Christian camp for three summers.

The first year of the three the camp was in somewhat of a recovery mode. A previous administration hadn’t worked out and in desperation, the general director turned to an old friend who had spent a career in foreign missions to whip the place into shape. That man in turn rounded up a dozen people from the mission agency who were also catapulted into senior staff roles.

Organization PoliticsAs it turned out, that was oil and water. The senior staff was definitely split along “us” and “them” lines. One of the staff members had a baby girl, and various members of the “them” would take turns bouncing her on their knees. Let’s say the girl’s name was Carly. I did notice that the senior staff seemed divided into Carly-bouncers and non-Carly-bouncers. That was my own appraisal.

Beyond that, I was completely blind to the politics of the organization. Although most of my Christian service orientation at that point was with parachurch organizations, it was around the same time that I was discovering local church politics. But generally speaking, I was completely oblivious to the two factions that persisted at camp. I was there to do a job, and I tried to do most of my socializing with junior staff and if context permitted, even campers.

I also joined a coffee klatch, so to speak, consisting of two or three other senior staff members. The invitation to join had been highly qualified. I was told how Lewis and Tolkien and Kierkegaard would meet regularly for drinks and that the trip to the local village bakery for coffee and butter tarts (and me to pick up the camp mail) would be the equivalent. Really, they wanted to know if I, as one of the catapultees was a “them” or an “us.” And they were being very carefully guarded about what they said to me and I was being extremely vague because I had no idea about the organizational politics. Questions included shots in the dark such as, “Have you noticed anything unusual going on at camp?” (For the record, I was equally clued out about some of the young women on staff and missed a lot of social cues. If you were a female housekeeper or dishwasher that year and you’re somehow reading this, I apologize for not responding.)

However, once they heard my Carly-bouncer analogy, I was accepted as an “us,” even though it took about three weeks to get that far.

Caught in the Middle - DivorceThe mission agency people knew very little about Christian camping or even youth ministry in general, especially in comparison the “us-es” but their third world exposure meant they had good organizational skills, an ability to adapt, and a variety of gifts. Overall, I think the kids who attended that year got their money’s worth from this diversity, even if things at the senior staff level were a constant tug of war. (Important takeaway: Parachuting people from other ministry disciplines into unfamiliar contexts is not always a great idea.) I felt that within their own missions-and-development tribe, there were probably reasons to respect some of these people, not to mention their willingness to take on the camp challenge at the last minute.

What I was not prepared for was the very low view they had of those on the other side of the great divide. I had come to this job because I at a young age, I had youth ministry experience, had already started my own business, and brought an extensive knowledge of music, particularly the modern worship genre that was still in its infancy at that point. One of my other coffee klatch club members had vast experience in Christian camping, the third was studying to be a pastor and the fourth had both camping and pastoral training. Three of the four of us returned the following year when the missions people were swiftly dispatched in a spring cleanup the following spring.

So nothing prepared me for the moment when one of the “thems” came to me one day, looked me straight in the eye and said, “Your problem is, you’re completely shallow.” Wow! There’s an insult. Try it on someone sometime. Or don’t.

Shallowness I look back on it now and imagine Lucy from Peanuts, “You know what’s wrong with you, Charlie Brown? You’re totally shallow. You have no depth.”

I suppose in comparison to the travel and education opportunities she had experienced, I may have seemed like one of the kids on the farm, even if the farm was the urban ministry environment of Canada’s largest city. On that day however, the choice of words was devastating. I think it hit me hardest because it was everything I felt I wasn’t. I was a Renaissance man. I was tech and media savvy. I was well-read. I had a attended churches in a wide swath of denominations. And I did have a little travel under my belt, four countries including 40 of the 50 U.S. states.

Still, I did allow the short exchange to have some redemptive value. I worked hard to not be a one-issue candidate. To not obsess over certain pet subjects or causes. To read outside my comfort zone. To immerse myself in contexts and conversations with persons who are different. To study articles about things that aren’t my usual interests. To try to meet different people and then get inside their heads and understand their histories.

I don’t think I’m a shallow person, but…

…I do ask myself in certain situations if I’m being shallow. Is the conversation or relationship at the point of taking a leap to the next level — sure, use the video game analogy if it helps you — but I am remaining stuck at Level One? Or is the person on the other side of the exchange really hurting and I can’t see the question behind the question? Or am I missing an opportunity to go deeper because I’ve formulated some entirely different other agenda as to where I think the discussion is going? Or do I have a simplistic view of the topic at hand because I’ve never tracked with that discipline or genre? Or are my own topical choices tending toward the superficial?

Being called shallow could have been a scarring experience, but instead, I used it to form a system of checks and balances in my life. Though the rebuke was done entirely to hurt and to wound, I think it shaped me in some positive ways.

 

 

March 5, 2015

Bicycles, Mental Health, and Life at Our House

The secret algorithm of repeated articles on this blog is that every new month I give myself permission to re-post items that appeared in the same month. Usually I go back several years, but if I feel something was important it might get reused as soon as 12 months later. This particular article represented some major stuff we were dealing with at this time a year ago… Today I’m happy to report that for the most part, things resolved and we’ve moved on.


More than a dozen years ago, we woke up one morning to discover a pair of children’s bicycles had been left at the foot of our driveway. After giving the kids 24-hours to retrieve them, we realized they were probably stolen, and since the municipal police here deal with stolen bikes — and twice-yearly auction off unclaimed ones — we told them to come and get them.

When the officer arrived, he started asking questions; a lot of questions as it turned out. I know that in a criminal investigation, everyone should be considered a possible suspect, but the absurdity of proposing that a community leader with no previous record should suddenly steal children’s bicycles and call the police about it was more than I could bear.

“You think I stole the bikes?” I asked him.

“Well, we don’t know;” he replied.

To the best of my knowledge, this is a cold case. For all I know my name is in a file somewhere under “suspected bike thieves.”

=O=O=

Two weeks ago my son found himself in a very difficult situation. He was trying to help someone who clearly was experiencing some behavioral, psychological issues. That’s really all I need to say about it. At the same time however, he realized how little he could do to help, which was draining him physically and emotionally, and as parents, we decided to step in and help him escalate awareness of the situation to a point where there would be some resolution.

sometimes helping hurtsBut in the days that followed, the issue became less about the other student at the university, and more about my son and his response to it. I think that, not realizing the severity of the toll it was taking on my son, they felt he should have just ‘rolled with the punches’ or ‘risen above the circumstances’ or in some other way not be defeated by what has taking place.

While there’s some universal truth to that principle, I realized, in the course of a 40-minute phone call from the university administration that they felt that he stole the bicycles, so to speak, and today, their perception of the true problem probably has less to do with the problems the other student faces, and more about my son’s reaction.

=O=O=

I haven’t read it, but there’s a book out called When Helping Hurts. Putting yourself in the middle of a situation — or having no choice — is always difficult, and sometimes the other person experiences complete recovery but you now bear the battle scars. I can’t promise you that nobody is going to leave bicycles on your lawn or cross your path with psychological problems, but I can almost guarantee that someday you’ll find yourself caught up in a issue not of your own making, and have to reap the consequences of your involvement. It happens

=O=O=

There’s a rule in writing this kind of essay that you don’t suddenly introduce another analogy at the end, but I couldn’t help but add that my wife likened my son’s experience to a man who goes out into the river to save his dog, only to drown himself.

Sometimes the weight of personal or social or corporate responsibility pulls you under.

December 30, 2014

The Introvert / Extrovert Distinction

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:59 am

It came up again yesterday in a discussion, and it also is a recurring theme when our whole family is together over the holiday season.

There are three of the four of us in our family who without hesitation will get up in front of large group of people and perform, but in each case, we can be extremely intimidated in a group of three or four. I’ve been in a room where about 2,000 people listened to my piano playing, but invite me into your living room, point to the piano and say, “Play something;” and I will totally freeze.

I don’t remember us hearing as much about the introvert/extrovert distinction as we have in the last year or so. Does it define more people, or are we just more sensitive to it?

So I found this chart at Psychological Facts rather interesting. I also learned on the introverted side of things, that I haven’t been sensitive to people around me in terms of items #4, 5 and 6.

Caring for Introverts and Extroverts

How do you deal with the introvert/extrovert dichotomy in your family, church, or workplace?

February 15, 2014

On Bicycles and Mental Health

More than a dozen years ago, we woke up one morning to discover a pair of children’s bicycles had been left at the foot of our driveway. After giving the kids 24-hours to retrieve them, we realized they were probably stolen, and since the municipal police here deal with stolen bikes — and twice-yearly auction off unclaimed ones — we told them to come and get them.

When the officer arrived, he started asking questions; a lot of questions as it turned out. I know that in a criminal investigation, everyone should be considered a possible suspect, but the absurdity of proposing that a community leader with no previous record should suddenly steal children’s bicycles and call the police about it was more than I could bear.

“You think I stole the bikes?” I asked him.

“Well, we don’t know;” he replied.

To the best of my knowledge, this is a cold case. For all I know my name is in a file somewhere under “suspected bike thieves.”

=O=O=

Two weeks ago my son found himself in a very difficult situation. He was trying to help someone who clearly was experiencing some behavioral issues. That’s really all I need to say about it. At the same time however, he realized how little he could do to help, which was draining him physically and emotionally, and as parents, we decided to step in and help him escalate awareness of the situation to a point where there would be some resolution.

sometimes helping hurtsBut in the days that followed, the issue became less about the other student at the university, and more about my son and his response to it. I think that, not realizing the severity of the toll it was taking on my son, they felt he should have just ‘rolled with the punches’ or ‘risen above the circumstances’ or in some other way not be defeated by what has taking place.

While there’s some universal truth to that principle, I realized, in the course of a 40-minute phone call from the university administration that they felt that he stole the bicycles, so to speak, and today, their perception of the true problem probably has less to do with the problems the other student faces, and more about my son’s reaction.

=O=O=

I haven’t read it, but there’s a book out called When Helping Hurts. Putting yourself in the middle of a situation — or having no choice — is always difficult, and sometimes the other person experiences complete recovery but you now bear the battle scars. I can’t promise you that nobody is going to leave bicycles on your lawn or cross your path with psychological problems, but I can almost guarantee that someday you’ll find yourself caught up in a issue not of your own making, and have to reap the consequences of your involvement. It happens

=O=O=

There’s a rule in writing this kind of essay that you don’t suddenly introduce another analogy at the end, but I couldn’t help but add that my wife likened my son’s experience to a man who goes out into the river to save his dog, only to drown himself.

Sometimes the weight of personal or social or corporate responsibility pulls you under.

October 30, 2011

I am a Bigot

But hopefully I am a bigot in recovery.

When I was 15 I got my first job at a discount department store in Toronto.  When I say, “discount department store,” it was actually a two-level enterprise with multiple locations across the city.  Because my job allowed me to roam the store somewhat freely, I got to meet people in different departments on different floors.

One of them was a girl I was trying to describe to another staff member who needed to contact her regarding some kind of inter-departmental business.  “She’s about 5’6″;” I said; “And skinny, and dark hair which is frizzy, and she usually wears round glasses with dark rims.”

He still couldn’t place her.

“She always works the cash registers by the north exit; or the ones at the mall exit;”  I continued.

Nothing. 

Then I remembered, “Oh yeah, she’s black.”

I think I said “black.”  Or “African American.”  Or whatever the currently appropriate adjectives were needed.

Either way, I was somewhat proud of the fact that in describing her height, her hair, or her glasses; the nature of her race hadn’t quite occurred to me as significant.  Clearly, there was not a racist bone in my body.

Archie Bunker; but sometimes bigotry isn't so overt

But later in my teenage years, I discovered I had a strong aversion to people with red hair.  This was several generations before the animated-sitcom-inspired “Kick a Ginger” campaign; I had simply had a few run-ins with people of the carrot-top persuasion and had formed some generalizations.

Around the same time, I began to have issues with left-handed people.  There was nothing particular sinister about this — sorry, couldn’t resist — I had just had some conflicts with some left-handed people and had started to form some prejudices and biases.

The problem — as if there wasn’t a problem already — was that I actually knew a handful of people who were both red-haired and left-handed.  God help them.

However, I outgrew all this, and today I am glad to report that some of my best friends… well, you get the idea.

The problem is, I’m still a bigot.

For the past decade or so, my bigotry has been directed against people who drive black pickup trucks.  In the area where I live, they are legion, and it doesn’t help that many of them, for the same reason they wanted a black pickup truck in the first place, drive like idiots. Or people fleeing a crime scene. Or both.

To me, the mark of what makes a person, what writes their inner programming, what motivates their actions; the mark of these things is the way a person drives a motorized vehicle.  Forget having a resumé or a CV or a page on LinkedIn.  If I am the HR person considering hiring you, all I would need to do is spend 30 minutes as a passenger in your car, van or truck.  (Or whatever class of vehicle a Hummer is, though at this point, I can tell you that you’re not getting the job.)

A guy in our church had a black pickup truck.  That was a difficult one for me to wrap my brain around.  But he got rid of it, solving the problem.  I’m not sure if it changed my relationship with him; rather, I think he’s become a kinder, gentler person for not having it.  But I digress; plus, I think his wife reads this blog.

These people shouldn’t drive the way they do.  The epitomize the selfishness that is at the core of sin. They need deliverance.  And they need to sell the truck.  If it’s absolutely necessary to their work or hobbies, then they at least need to paint it beige, or green or light blue.

But of course, the problem is me.  I am pre-judging people before I’ve even met them; and while my generalizations have statistical backup, I’m not operating according to Rule of Love.

I have triumphed in many ways.  I never got into racial bias.  But I traded my feelings toward the redheads and the backhand-writers for feelings about people who have a thing for having a certain type of machine parked in their driveways.

So, what about you?  Are there some hidden biases and prejudices you find present over things strange or trivial?  Is this an area that you feel God would have you change?

November 27, 2010

Self Editing: Careful Monitoring of What You Say

My oldest son made an interesting comment about a speaker we heard recently:  “I appreciated what she had to say, but she doesn’t self-edit.”   Self-editing involves that little 2.3 milliseconds between what your brain is thinking, and the actual movement of your lips.   It’s a brief allowance in time for you to decide what you’re about to say is not really in your best interests.   The wisdom to make this decision might arise from maybe reading a little book called Proverbs.

It happens all the time…

  • the husband who knows how to answer when his wife asks, “Does this make me look fat?”
  • the car dealer who is careful not to let slip that the $11,000 used car only fetched its previous owner $2,000 as a trade-in
  • the gift recipient who doesn’t want to admit that she already has two George Foreman grills; neither one out of the box
  • the student who doesn’t want to tell her math teacher that he has bits of his lunch on his sport jacket

…and other situations of that ilk.

What I’ve found is that sometimes we are more careful to avoid potentially awkward situations than we to avoid ones that are more blatantly hurtful.  In other words, we’re more likely to censor ourselves, or if you prefer the term, self-edit, for reasons other than those that would cause direct pain.

Maybe we think the amended adage “Sticks and stones may break your bones but names will never hurt you” is true.   But neither it nor its original version comes close to the truth.   Names do hurt, and they cause damage that causes people to shut down socially, or even end up in counseling for years following the hurt.


I am always amazed that otherwise seemingly intelligent people are capable of self-editing in so many different business, educational and social situations, but lack the grace to stop their mouths in situations where they are clearly bringing hurt to someone else.

Why do they do this?

There are a number of reasons, but one of them might be that they believe that certain people are impervious to pain and injury.

And one of the groups they believe fit this category is pastors, clergy,  and people generally in ministry.   We believe they are tough enough to take a lot of pain, take a lot of pain, our words are like a cloud, bring a lot of rain.  (Wow! I should copyright that line.)   We believe that something in their seminary training gave them rhinoceros hides — skin so thick that nothing can injure them.   We believe that as God’s representatives on earth they will just smile and nod and continue to say, “God bless you.”

Well it ain’t so.

Pastors and ministry workers are people, too.   They have their own spiritual life which can be devastated by insensitive remarks.   They have their own spiritual formation happening.   If anything, their profession leaves them more vulnerable to hurt.

And they cry.

Ministry profile has its price; and some of that is increased sensitivity to careless remarks or outright criticism.   Some pastors would gladly shed the large round target that is apparently painted on all their vestments.

But for all of us, in every situation, and every type of interaction, it begins with a heightened self-editing mechanism that is set to monitor potential hurt.

Several months ago, someone in ministry I know was dealt an unexpected blow that was actually quite calculated on the part of the perpetrator, who was out to prove a point, and out to accomplish an objective, but never thought to monitor for potential long-term damage. In carrying out their crusade, the perpetrator had a billion times more than the normal 2.3 milliseconds, but never bothered to self-edit themselves.

The recipient of their words is still hurting.

Related post on this blog:  Words Matter.

Another related post: Easy To Be Hard.

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