Thinking Out Loud

April 25, 2019

Things Better Left Unsaid

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:46 am

This was submitted by someone whose writing has appeared here a few times in the past, but requested anonymity this time around. What do you think? 

…I mentioned my Aunt who is dying from pancreatic cancer. Guess what the first question was?

“Is she a Christian?”

Why do people ask this question when you have just let them know a loss is imminent? My reply was “nominally” so I would not have to hear sighs and recriminations.

This is one of the rudest questions to ask someone. And arrogant, and presumptuous. Is Heaven the only reason we are on this journey? What about the three years of teaching Jesus gave us?

Questions like this and their “certain” responses are not what faith is about. A better question would have been “How are you all managing this time?”

Even, “What can I pray for?” may have been better.

I have seen this certain belief that only Christians have real estate in the afterlife take a person to terrible lows, disrupt the grieving process and offer no closure at all, nor a celebration of a life well lived. It is a question that does not really deserve an answer. As if I can see inside a person’s heart. Externals are meaningless in the Christian faith.

My Aunt is well loved, and loved well…if there are any questions allowed at all, maybe these two would be better.

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January 3, 2019

Worlds Colliding

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:43 am

There’s a classic Seinfeld episode where the character of George, played by Jason Alexander, is concerned that people he knows from one context are invading an entirely separate context. “Worlds Are Colliding!” he announces to anyone who might care.

Seinfeld was a big hit, but was produced at a time when our social media was unknown. Today, I wonder the degree to which George would obtain separate accounts for his “worlds.”


You can imagine my surprise when Leonard, a cousin I hadn’t seen in nearly six years showed up at my workplace. When I say “at my workplace,” I literally mean at my desk. He told the receptionist that I was expecting him and without stopping, pointed down a hallway and said, “His office is this way, right?” to which she could do no more than nod.

I was in a conversation with Jake, who manages our marketing about why our East Coast sales are down and Leonard, without even introducing himself, proceeded to tell Jake that all our marketing in New England is being placed in the wrong media. Jake extended his hand and said, “And you are???” but Leonard just kept talking. Embarrassment doesn’t even begin to describe how I was feeling…

…That evening, Brian, who plays bass guitar on our church worship team unexpectedly walked into our condo tenants’ association meeting and sat next to me with a big grin. The meeting isn’t restricted to voting members so Brian was wearing a name tag that simply said “Visitor.”

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

He said that I had posted online that I was off to a residents’ meeting in our building and since I had told the world what I was doing, I seemed to be asking for company. He even told the association’s Vice President at the door that I had invited him. I like Brian and I would be willing to go for coffee at a moment’s notice, but I didn’t see what he was going to get out of our 45-minute discussion to change two of our bylaws and discuss parking problems. When we reached the latter, his hand suddenly shot up and he started describing the parking problems at his building on the other side of town.

Like Seinfeld‘s George, I was succeeding in keeping my worlds separate. But suddenly the walls were crumbling. In the case of Leonard, I had to use some tough love. My workplace isn’t a family reunion. In the case of Brian, I tackled the problem at the opposite end and got our condo Vice President to be a little more restrictive when random visitors show up at meetings.

For my part, I tried to analyze how much of my life I was sharing with whom. Should my cousins know where I work? Certainly. Why not? Should they know we have marketing issues along the Atlantic seaboard? No. Not at all. Should my worship team members know I’m the Treasurer of our condo board? Hopefully it sets an example of how we should be involved in our communities; how we need to be salt and light. Should they show up at business meetings? No. That’s ridiculous.

Fortunately some of my social media interactions take place on closed pages. But I also believe in transparency. I don’t want to have to block certain people from certain parts of my world. I don’t want to be perceived as having secrets.

But Leonard, I swear if you ever start giving marketing advice to my boss again, I will give him my blessing to call security. And Brian, next time you want to drop over, let’s make it my living room instead of the common area meeting room, okay?


► So how about you? Has social media meant that worlds that might have previously had a buffer zone of separation are now open-access to everyone? Do you have trouble keeping your life compartmentalized? Or is this not necessarily a priority objective?

 

September 20, 2018

Your Smartphone and Family Gatherings at Thanksgiving and Christmas

Who are these people?

Why must we spend Thanksgiving with them every year?

Isn’t there a game on right now?

You’re trying to feign interest and laugh in the right places, but with such limited contact you really don’t have much in the way of shared experiences or shared interests with your spouse’s family. The thing that matters to you is your Savior, but past experience has shown that when it comes to religion, this is a tough crowd.

Your wife’s great aunt is sitting at the opposite end of the couch from you. She’s getting less out of this than you are, since English isn’t her first language. What part of Eastern Europe is she from again?

You pull out your smartphone and open YouVersion. Scanning the list of languages in the menu, one stands out. You give it a try. And then you pass her your phone gesturing for her to have a look.

You watch as she smiles as she reads, in her own tongue,

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.

And then she does something rather remarkable. She doesn’t give the phone back. Instead, very tentatively, she takes the hand that isn’t holding the phone and places a finger on the screen, scrolling down to read more.

After a few minutes she realizes she’s monopolizing the thing. “Thank you;” she says, passing it back. At least she speaks some English.

You turn to another passage, this time highlighting it; and again she reads in her own language,

11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.

As fast as you can navigate the menu — you’re accustomed to just looking things up in English, after all — and as soon as verse references come to mind, you’re passing the phone back and forth. You have no idea where she stands on matters of faith, but something is resonating, to the point where both of you are oblivious to anything else happening in the room.

Weeks later, it’s another Christmas gathering.

This time it’s your side of the family, yet you’re equally bored.

You wonder how the aunt’s getting on, and if you can repeat what you did at Thanksgiving, but everybody here speaks English. And again, it’s a roomful of people who wouldn’t be caught dead with a Bible in their hands at an event like this. That discussion would devolve rather quickly.

But again, at the opposite end of a similarly long couch is your twelve year old nephew. His own smartphone has had a technical issue and he doesn’t get along well with his cousins who are playing the latest game on the big screen downstairs. They consider him too nerdy.
You pull out your phone and hunt down one of the more “cool” versions of John 9 and pass him the story of Jesus healing a man born blind. No comment, you simply pass your phone.

…“Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?”

3-5 Jesus said, “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do…

Soon the town was buzzing. His relatives and those who year after year had seen him as a blind man begging were saying, “Why, isn’t this the man we knew, who sat here and begged?”

Others said, “It’s him all right!”

But others objected, “It’s not the same man at all. It just looks like him.”…

18-19 The Jews didn’t believe it, didn’t believe the man was blind to begin with. So they called the parents of the man now bright-eyed with sight. They asked them, “Is this your son, the one you say was born blind? So how is it that he now sees?”

20-23 His parents said, “We know he is our son, and we know he was born blind. But we don’t know how he came to see—haven’t a clue about who opened his eyes. Why don’t you ask him? He’s a grown man and can speak for himself.” (His parents were talking like this because they were intimidated by the Jewish leaders, who had already decided that anyone who took a stand that this was the Messiah would be kicked out of the meeting place. That’s why his parents said, “Ask him. He’s a grown man.”)

24 They called the man back a second time—the man who had been blind—and told him, “Give credit to God. We know this man is an imposter.”

25 He replied, “I know nothing about that one way or the other. But I know one thing for sure: I was blind . . . I now see.”

26 They said, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

27 “I’ve told you over and over and you haven’t listened. Why do you want to hear it again? Are you so eager to become his disciples?”

28-29 With that they jumped all over him. “You might be a disciple of that man, but we’re disciples of Moses. We know for sure that God spoke to Moses, but we have no idea where this man even comes from.”

“Did you write this?” he says to me; oblivious to the information at the top of the screen; adding “Why do the sentences have numbers?”

You throw a question back to him, “Did you like the story?”

“The guy that healed the blind man seems to be in trouble for doing it, but the blind man seems to be in trouble, too for getting healed. It’s like something good happened, but everybody’s afraid to admit it.”

He’s got that part right. Then the question of the day: “Did the guy who could heal the blind man do anything else in the story?”

For twenty minutes, your nephew is your captive. You tell him that it’s not just a story. You tell him some of the bigger picture. You tell him about incarnation. You tell him about the cross

He downloads the app…

You might not think about your smartphone’s Bible app when you’re waiting for all the relatives to arrive at Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or the family reunion, or the engagement party; so they can get on with serving the dinner.

But it can be a tremendous tool in a moment like this, especially where people who would never read a Bible are seeing pages from the Bible for the first time.

Imagine what could happen.

I just did.

 

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