To tell the truth…

Just finished reading two excellent books by Justin Holcomb… Know the Creeds and Councils, and Know the Heretics… at the conclusion of the latter, I found a most excellent thought.

“Why…does it even matter if we believe the right things about God as long as we love God and other people? …Two responses… 1) part of loving God is loving him with all our minds, souls, and strength… 2) in order to love God, we have to know who he is… Believing right things about God is part of loving him, in the same way that it matters to you whether someone knows your interests, likes, and dislikes, occupation, and past.”

So, today as I counsel married couples, I want to tell them that they should know each other truthfully, and let themselves be known truthfully.

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A Trip to Frog Level

Travel with me to a place in my imagination, but it is real. After being in ministry for a few years I invented this place to work through some frustrations. We will visit the “Little Hope Baptist Church” in Frog Level, Arkansas.
I have since found out that there actually are churches with that name. Did they not realize how it sounded? And, yes, there are actually several places called Frog Level, but the one I saw for myself is a small community near De Queen, Arkansas. De Queen was the place of my first pastorate, and a difficult one, in the early 1970’s. That was in the day when most young pastors did not have mentors. Thankfully, this is changing. A young pastor is much more likely today to get mentor support from other ministers.
Still, over the years, I have witnessed many sad instances of churches which are not ready for pastors. They are still deeply entrenched in game-playing. One game in particular was the “Best Christian in the Church” contest. Most of us lost this one. It is a game that made appearances more important than reality. While the way we appear to the world is important, the healthy way to produce that “look” is by being real, not by being good at “make-up”. Paul made an impression on his world, yet he also did not seem to see himself as a failure when people called him weak, nor did he use “flattering speech, as you know, nor …a pretext for greed”. (I Thessalonians 2:5) In fact, he said, “we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” (II Corinthians 4:2)
If you are not trying to win the Best Christian in the Church contest, you are scorned or pitied at Little Hope. To someone like me, who never figured out the politics of church, it always seemed like a place far from home.
Openness is crucial to good mental health, and I think it is crucial to spiritual health, too. But, openness is still an art, since not everyone at church is a safe enough person, or a mature enough person to trust with our openness. Openness includes being open to others, as well. Vance Havner pointed out, “It is not our job to see through other people, but rather, to see other people through.” When we make our relationships (with God and with others) more important than issues, and when we love and live the truth, appearances will take care of themselves.

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Recently, in a sermon I quoted a brief poetic verse to illustrate Grace, a verse that has been a favorite of mine for many years. It was the last two lines of the poem found below. They express my own amazement about the Grace, that changed my life into an amazing adventure. A church member asked me about the origin and I gladly provided it. It reminded me again that there is a world of treasure in the generations behind us. Years ago, people felt the same thrill you and I can feel, at the very thought of God’s Grace. Ralph Erskine (1685-1752) wrote some of the best thought of all time in his work, Gospel Sonnets. Will you visit the early 1700’s with me? I have edited some of his lines into (mostly) modern English. It is still a bit tough to read, but it is worth it.  Mr. Erskine was writing about Law and Grace.

“The law may rouse me from my sloth, To faith and to repentance both : And though the law commands each, Yet neither of them can it teach.

To what the law by fear may move, To that the gospel leads by love. To run to work, the law commands ; The gospel gives me feet and hands : The one requires that I obey ; The other does the power convey. What in the law has duty’s place, The gospel changes to a grace : Hence legal duties therein named, Are herein gospel-graces framed.

Arise and walk, the Law commands, but gives me neither feet, nor hands.

A better word, the Gospel brings, It bids me fly, but gives me Wings.”

            The faith we are offered is not a recent invention. I find it encouraging and enlightening to read people of all times celebrating the same good news that I celebrate. As I read international news, I see that people from all over the world are committing their lives to this same Christ. The scripture says he is “full of Grace and Truth.” (John 1:14) One reason grace is amazing is that Christ who knows all the truth about us, can still offer all his grace and love to us. Truth and grace meet in him without conflict.

           

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Marriage Minute # 148 Mirror, Hero, and Twin

From my book, Marriage Minutes… available on Amazon.com

 

Marriage Minute # 148 Mirror, Hero, and Twin

 

            We depended on our parents and other caregivers for several things, and hopefully they finished much of their job. But, some patterns of unfinished business rightly continue throughout our life, and we begin to look for similar things in other relationships. Let’s take a look at these things. For a background I am thankful to Ikar Kalogjera and his colleagues at the Milwaukee Group for the advancement of Self-Psychology. (Writing in, The Disordered Couple, edited by Jon Carlson and Len Sperry)

            Many theorists about childhood assert that we need, among other things, some early psychological experience with three “things”, a mirror, a hero, and a twin. First, we need to “see” ourselves in our parents. They need to reflect pride (not just theirs, but our own pride) in our accomplishments, and the ability to accommodate with growth (not shame) when we find that we need to change. This is where we first learn to enjoy physical and mental activities, and pursue goals. Later, we can continue to “mirror” with our own experience, and with selected individuals in friendships and/or mentoring relationships. Without “mirroring”, we may find ourselves feeling empty, inadequate, and in constant need of reassurance.

            Secondly, we need a hero. The hero of our childhood is often one, or hopefully both, parents. Idealizing gives us a sense of consistency, security, and a sort of optimism about values and purpose. We learn to regulate ourselves, soothe and calm ourselves, and pursue ideals with commitment. (This is not the same as being driven by guilt or fear of a “giant”. It is the drawing power of a hero.) Later, we find heroes in our adult life. Healthy relationships with God, and with other people, provide more idealizing influence. A marriage needs the mutual admiration, the wonder, the curiosity, and the security of this experience.

            Third, the child needs a twin. This isn’t about whether or not we ought to be our child’s friend. This is about whether we encourage our children, and help them see that they can also become the “hero” they have seen demonstrated. Will we be heirs of the good giants who raised us? Can we be heirs of God? Will we be able to be a “hero” to others and live as a contributing person in the world? Can we successfully become a person with “empathy, creativeness, humor, wisdom, and acceptance of one’s transience”? (p. 218) After all, a hero that I cannot become “like” is a useless hero in the long run. Marriage, similarly, should be a relationship where we support each other’s growth, and thereby our own. Sadly, many marriages are places where people try to make themselves superior by making the other inferior. Personhood, realized, needs twinship.

            In fact, personhood needs all three of these things, the mirror, the hero, and the twin. To be able to say, “I am loved and worth love, I can value and understand love, and I can love and be lovable.” These three needs may also be understood as the needs to be seen, valued, and joined with in building the relationship.

            A warning is in order. The Narcissistic person will horribly abuse this whole issue. They will demand a mirror, but they won’t be one for others. They will claim to be a giant, but will do all they can to deny any peerage, nor will they have any heroes but themselves. They will refuse twinship, because that would mean their personhood might depend upon relationship, and upon growth, cure, change, and mutuality.

            The one who chooses to love, finds personhood, and makes it available.

 

 

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The Complaint Department (Excerpt from Marriage Minutes, available on Amazon.com)

Marriage Minute #   1 The Complaint Department

 

            “Where is your Complaint Department?” Before you figure that some business person dreads hearing this question, think again. Long ago, I attended a marketing class and heard some interesting data about this. It seems that for every customer that addresses a problem, there are about ten who don’t complain, they just don’t come back. To the wise business owner, the customer who complains is the customer who can help improve the business, and is the customer who is more likely to come back. The store without a Complaint Department is soon out of business. As an example, it was said that J.W. Marriott, himself, responded personally to many of the feedback cards that were placed in his hotel rooms. (It’s not the devil that is in the details. Success is in the details.)

            Marriages can benefit from this business concept. Every married person needs a way of hearing and responding to complaints. And, they need a way to voice their complaints, constructively. When issues float, or get consistently negative responses, the “customer” may not come back.

            First, a few caveats. Complaints should not be confused with criticism. As researcher John Gottman says in, Seven Principles for Making Your Marriage Work,[1] criticism and ridicule invite defensiveness and resentment. Criticism becomes denigrating. Sarcasm does this, too. These are not what I mean by giving and receiving complaints. [Another warning is that complaints need to be handled one at a time, and with more care, not less than we give to happier topics. If anger is our most frequently used emotion, for example, the care necessary for a gracious complaint will decrease. One more thing; the complaint should not be over-used, and it should not be the only tool, or even the major one, used to improve the relationship. Unless a particular complaint is consistently disregarded, a major conflict is not necessary.]

            Complaints, given and received well, are good for both business and relationships. If you haven’t heard a complaint lately, there may be something wrong. Does your spouse have the confidence that you will hear and respect them if they speak up about an issue? Is your spouse invested in personal and relational growth? Do you, or your spouse see complaints as a one-way street, or a dead-end? Does only one of you have a Complaint Department, while the other is only set up to deliver complaints?

            How it is done well, begins with motive, and then it involves skill. And, both people need this motive and skill. The motive is loving improvement and growth of the relationship. Criticism and ridicule, on the other hand, often have the motive of revenge. Healthy problem solving, expressing empathy, and mutually committing to the building of relationship will allow you to give and receive complaints as growth projects.

            The listening skills (and motives) necessary for hearing a complaint are just as important as the speaking skills (and motives) in giving them.


[1] From The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, by John M. Gottman, Ph.D. and Nan Silver, copyright © 1999 by John M. Gottman, Ph.D. and Nan Silver, Used by Permission of Crown Publishers, a division of Random House, Inc.

       

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Threats

From the book, Marriage Minutes…..

Marriage Minute # 130 Threats

A while ago, I asked the question, “What attracted you to marriage?” One of the good things about a good marriage is a quality seldom discussed but almost always found in what we usually call “good” marriages. Let’s take a minute and think about it.
Marriage gives two people the ability to experience both Connection, at the core of who they are, and Growth, moving into mature adult life, achieving, contributing, and fulfilling the life-calling they discover. Relationship with God does this, and good marriages do it, and a few excellent friendships do it, but beyond these relationships, no other such opportunity seems to exist. And, marriage seems to be alone in its way of bringing this about.
Despite the common fears we hear about, intimacy need not be a threat to the full development of the personality, the career, the interests, and the life-calling of each individual. Neither does the outer world of an individual have to be a threat to intimacy and connection. There are threats, but I believe that these threats are something other than connection or growth.
Threat number one is the belief that intimacy is a hiding place; a place to avoid the demands of personal growth. The person who believes that they won’t have to face the world, assume challenges, risk failure, or stretch their abilities, will bring a lethargy to marriage. Though they won’t intend to do so, they put their relationship, and their own life, in “park.” Intimacy gets confused with dependency and fear. True intimacy requires independence and courage. The privacy of the marriage is not the threat. Believing that the privacy is all there is to marriage, is the threat.
Threat number two is the belief that personal growth is a hiding place. Many people say they “just outgrew” their spouse. That can happen, but we ought to be careful about this problem. Sometimes people grow apart because they failed to communicate about their pilgrimage, and they failed to invite the other to go along with them on the journey. For many generations, the world of personal growth and accomplishment was seen as exclusive from home. The Industrial Revolution (not genetics) sent men to work and devalued Connection and Personal Growth of the people in relationship. For years, women have been seen as props for the husband’s career, leaving her out of the world of achievement. Both men and women need trophies, but the trophies can’t be the other person.
Another real threat is the belief that marriage is a trap in which to trap another person. Our culture is rife with jokes about the problems that happen in marriage. Yet, I believe that it is a unique place to accomplish growth inside and out, growing at both edges, both in intimacy and in outer growth.
Let’s say you are hungry. You go to a restaurant and you get food poisoning. You go to another restaurant and get food poisoning again. Now, you have some choices. You can decide that these restaurants are bad. You can decide that hunger is bad. If you decide that hunger is bad, you have to stop eating. My point is this- don’t give up on marriage because of the fact that some problems occur, or because some people hurt others and make marriage look bad. Don’t give up on marriage because you are bored, anxious, or depressed. It’s not the intimacy that is interfering with your life dreams. Nor is it the life dreams that interfere with intimacy. What interferes, is not understanding, that these are two growing edges of each of the two people in the marriage.

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A Sin Question

Psalm 19:13…Also keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins; Let them not rule over me; Then I will be blameless, And I shall be acquitted of great transgression.

Seeker: Rabbi, What it is a presumptuous sin????? I think I must avoid these.

Rabbi: Ahhh, Yes, my child, they are to be avoided, but what they are often eludes us. A presumptuous sin is one in which we take God for granted. They are usually detected by words like, “Oh Well…”.

Seeker: What do you mean, “Oh, Well”?

Rabbi: When someone says, “Oh, Well, God wants us to be happy”, they may be avoiding the higher calling of being holy, and practicing committed love. It is true that godliness will make a person happy, and joyful, but it is also true that, in this world, selfishness and recklessness also go under the name of happiness.

Seeker: I am starting to see… and if I say, “Oh Well, God will forgive me…”, then I am presuming on his Grace, and taking Him for granted.

Rabbi: Yes, that’s right. It is true that God is wonderfully forgiving, but as Brother Paul has said, (in Romans 6) “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? ……….For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—

Seeker: Wow, in that case, taking love and grace for granted must take (and make) a very hard heart. And, tell me, Rabbi… does taking love and grace honestly and deeply make my heart healthy?

Rabbi: You are becoming wise, my child. This is true.

Seeker: I think I also have sinned presumptuous sins toward other people, too… when I take their love for granted.

Rabbi: So true, also… to love others as we should, we must avoid presumption. For example, when a husband or wife treats their spouse poorly, just because they figure they aren’t going to leave “anyway”, they are committing a presumptuous sin against their spouse and their spouse’s love.

Seeker: Yes, I don’t want my wife to stay with me just because my religion says, “Don’t divorce…”. I want her to stay with me because she is having a blast, because deep attachment needs are being met, and because we don’t take each other’s love for granted.

Rabbi: So, my brother, you are applying this scripture to loving both God and other people. It sounds like the Will of God is being done in Earth as it is in Heaven.

Seeker/Finder: Let it be, so…

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You Have Not Because You Ask Not

James (the half-brother of Jesus) wrote this to some early Christians, assuring them that in talking honestly with God about their needs they would see those needs being met as their relationship grew and progressed. (See the fourth chapter of James) We can’t promise that another person will be as faithful as God when it comes to hearing and responding, but we can rightly say this… that if we don’t communicate about our needs, they are probably not going to be met. Here is how the principle may look in a marriage.
The caring and loving response you are looking for may begin in the intimacy and vulnerability you put into the asking. It may take humility to ask. It certainly may take a risk, at least in the first few attempts at letting the needs be known. This intimate request may get ignored, or it may get mocked. The refusal may have been what you received from certain key people previously, so maybe you hesitate to ask. If you ask, perhaps you ask with your guards already up, and your hopes down. But, let’s be careful lest in fearing one rejection, we may miss acceptance.
It may be tempting to make this need for love into a power play, or a demand. Maybe toughness and shaming will make the other person love you, love you warmly and tenderly. No, that will happen about the same time as the guard dog throws a party for the neighbors.
Letting down your guards and asking for your needs to be understood and valued opens the door for another person to offer their love. The safety you want may begin with your own vulnerability, and the intimacy you want to receive may begin with the intimacy you offer. Love can be clumsy; that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Talking honestly about our needs, in a healthy relationship, we shall see those needs being met as the relationship grows and progresses. (Key word= Healthy) I am speaking, of course, of the relationship with a person who shows that they intend to love, to give, to value whom we are, and who wants to be loved by us in the same way. I am speaking of the person who will respond to our intimacy and vulnerability with intimacy and vulnerability of their own. But I must be willing to take the risk, again and again, to approach and engage this one who has accepted me. If I am in a relationship with someone who lovingly hears, who thoughtfully considers me and creates space for me in their life, and yet I fail to communicate, then I have not because I ask not.
The caring and loving response you are looking for may begin in the intimacy and vulnerability you put into the asking.

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Teach your children to read… and teach them about People.

Susan Greenfield, in her Plasticity studies, has made the following admonition: (I paraphrase)

The person who saves the Princess [or, the Prince] in the computer game cares about the game—the person who saves the Princess [or, the Prince] in real life has to care about the Princess [the Person]. In terms of learning and development the reader is more likely to grapple with the issues of care for the Person, while the gamer is less likely to care for the Person, and more likely to focus only on the game.

I find this true in theological circles, too. Many theological discussions in the marketplace are about the game, and not about the People. A colleague of mine, a female pastor, was in a discussion recently that demonstrates this. Ann Bayliss says,

“I was at a party having a discussion with two egalitarian brothers about why their church pastor is unwilling to become fully egalitarian, i.e. not having women preach or be elders. He said, “The women’s issue is not something he is willing to fight for.” To which I replied, “I am not an issue.” The words “I matter” were implied in my following silence.”

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Jesus put stock in Words

Let’s consider what Jesus said—Matthew 12: 33″Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. 34″You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. 35″The good man brings out of [his] good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of [his] evil treasure what is evil. 36″But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. 37″For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (NASB)
Jesus put a lot of stock in words, and he even is identified by the name “Word” in John’s Gospel when it is said that the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us. (John 1:14)
Both as minister and counselor, I constantly hear things about words, and about communication, and in particular, verbal abuse. A few things have stood out over the years.
First of all, I observe that many verbally abusive people do not admit to knowing they are verbally abusive. I suppose it is possible that they really don’t hear themselves like others hear them, and to some extent this may be true of all of us. But, if your partner says that you are harsh or unkind with them, just replying with saying, “No, I’m not”, is not helpful at all, for either one of you. While there are some false accusations of verbal abuse, most of the time in the counseling room when I hear someone deny they are verbally abusive I am reminded of the old joke about the man who was talking with his wife on the phone, hearing her say, “Watch out, the news says there is a driver on the wrong side of the freeway.” Then the guy says, “It’s worse than that, I’m seeing about a hundred cars on the wrong side.” If your words don’t bless, and heal, and build others up, and if your words wound, and tear down… then it’s time to look at them seriously.
Second, I often hear people say, “But our problem is more than communication.” Now, that is probably true. I have little doubt that a communication problem travels alone. People who are verbally abusive often fail to see the connections between words and attitudes. People who wish to connect with others, to engage, to share, to understand and be understood, discover that words fitly spoken help make those connections. By the same token, people who do not want quality relationships are likely to disregard the building blocks of relationship. Often, the rejection or minimization of communication is the first step in rejecting intimacy, rejecting connection, and rejecting togetherness.
Jesus put a lot of stock into words. We should, also.

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