Be the Change

Gandhi - quotes

One of Gandhi’s most famous quotes is, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” This pretty well wraps up the heart of true spirituality. True spirituality stops “waiting on the world to change,” recognizing that the world will not change until individual human beings change.

The reason this is not happening at the level it needs to is because we are each wired to think that others need to change more than we do.

Richard Rohr says that the cycle of violence actually begins with comparison. We compare, we compete, we conflict, we conspire, we condemn and we then crucify with impunity.

Comparing means that when I look at the world and think about what needs to be different, what I see is how much worse other people are than me. I think, “If they would just pull it together, this world would be a better place.”

The problem is that everyone is doing this at the same time.

I think you should change.

You think I should change.

Democrats think Republicans should change.

Republicans think Democrats should change.

Israelis think Palestinians should change.

Palestinians think Israelis should change.

Non-terrorists think terrorists should change, and terrorists think they are forced to be terrorists in order to get the rest of the world to change.

And the wheel goes ’round.

Everyone in the world longs for change, but we long for it in others. And since we are so powerless to make others change, we become increasingly frustrated, and then vocal, and then insistent, and then forceful, and eventually violent.

What is happening at the world level in terms of violence is happening constantly at the personal level in the heart of every human being on the planet.

You think your marriage would be better if your spouse would change, and your spouse thinks the exact same thing — how much better the marriage would be if you would change.

Most of us believe we are better than other people because we do  not allow our cycles of violence to erupt into actual physical violence, failing to see that the same root of violence grows in each of us.

Yes, it’s good to pull the plant out before it blossoms into violence, but we must see that the root is exactly the same. Jesus understood this well.

Matthew 5:21-24 (ESV)
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

Jesus insightfully targets malice, contempt, and anger as the root of physical violence like murder.

Even in most of those that never commit actual murder, the malice, contempt, and anger from which murder grows are alive and well — and often actually nurtured and excused, as we point the finger at others.

Jesus then says that the answer to this is to be proactive, not in forcing the other to change, but in accepting personal responsibility and seeking reconciliation.

He does not say that we are to seek reconciliation if we remember we have something against someone else, but rather if we remember that someone else has something against us.

He puts each of us in the place of being the person who needs to change. That is exactly what Gandhi does with “Be the change.”

Interesting enough, Jesus says we are to do this even if we are at worship.

Love between each of us is therefore exalted as more important than religious ritual, as well it should be.

Love IS the expression of God in human life.

Children

It is said that to have a child is to have your heart walking around outside your body. Think of that imagery.  So dangerous, so fragile.  Our physical heart is behind a rib CAGE for a reason — it is precious.  But we can’t keep our children in cages. All we can do is hope we have gotten them healthy enough to make it out there.

I think my hearts are growing up healthy.  They brought home fantastic report cards and gave me the best Father’s Day I’ve ever had this week.  They each bought (or made) me a card and then wrote down what it means to them to have me as their dad.  I thank God for them and am so proud of them.  Oftentimes when I tell them, “I love you,” they respond, “Love you more.”  Yeah, right…  One day they’ll have kids of their own and they’ll understand.

But let’s not rush things.  The sweetness is now, when they get up in the morning and their hair is a mess and their cheeks are so flushed, and when I hug them they are still warm from their blankets.  They’re always beautiful, but I often think that no matter how long they stand in front of the mirror, they can’t improve on how beautiful they already are when they first wake up.  I have always known that is one of the things I will miss most when they are gone.  Right behind that is how I will miss the smell of my bathroom after three girls have used it to get ready for school — makeup and perfume and girl soap and lavender shaving cream and lotion and warm curling irons.  It serves every day as a reminder of how much they have brought into my life — their sweetness, and joy, and enthusiasm.

And the lessons they teach!  When my oldest, Brittany — now 17 — was very small, I was leaving for my annual one-week getaway with a friend of mine.  Brittany pleaded with me, “Daddy, why do you have to go?”  I said, “Daddy doesn’t want to leave you, but going away on this trip every year helps me come back and be a better daddy.”  Her reply almost did me in.

“I’ll help you be a better daddy.”

I comprehended the deeper and unintended meaning immediately.  “You certainly will, sweetheart,” I said, as I hugged her and headed out the door, squeezing away tears.  She and her sisters have been teaching me to be a better daddy for 17 years now.

It is said that to have a child is to have your heart walking around outside your body.  I have three hearts outside my body.  My hearts are at band camp today.  They are a gift.

The Shame That Drives Us

shame

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The Shame Game

By and large, churches are still trying to shame people into right living.  Some of the biggest-selling books on Christian living in the past few years are shame-based books. Shame-based books are written by (usually well-intentioned) shame-based people who live shame-based lives and preach a shame-based gospel.  You’d think after centuries of the shame-game, we’d realize shame, fear, and threats do not work.  If they worked, the Catholic countries would be the most moral countries on the planet, but they’re not.  If they worked, the Holocaust could never have happened in “Christian” Europe, but it did.  If they worked, Christians would be known the world over for their compassion, their generosity, their love, their kindness, and their openness to people who might think differently from them, but we’re not.

Adventures in Missing the Point

As long as I have been in ministry, my message has always been, “There’s something wrong with the way we’re preaching the message.”  We’re  not getting it, and we’re not getting it on very deep and fundamental levels.  Levels that lead to depths of violence and lovelessness that are stunning to those who are  not Christians.  This is not about shame.  This is not about feeling guilty for anything.  This is not about working hard now so I can know God later.  This is not about earning the reward, it’s about finding that after all our years of trying to earn it, we had it all along.  But shame won’t allow us to take it.

How shame keeps religion in business

In a Christian world without shame, many pastors would have little to preach about.  In a Christian world without shame, many Christian authors couldn’t find readers.  In a Christian world without shame, many of the people who now flock to our churches to receive more lashes every week would find that the relentless love of God does not demand more of them but less — and then eventually leads naturally and easily to the “more” we are all seeking in our tortured efforts.  But we’re shame-based people.  Taking something we haven’t earned is — well — shameful.  We must deserve it and if we don’t deserve it, we must reject it.  That is why the lavish grace of God, freely available to all people, languishes on the shelf.

I hear regularly of preachers who will not do weddings for couples who live together.  After all, it’s important to stand on principles, isn’t it?  After all, if preachers don’t create those firm boundaries, who will?  But the point of the gospel, the point of the Christian god being a bloodied and naked man hanging on a piece of wood, is that love has no limits.  Love does not seek to divide.  Love does not say, “I care for you, but it’s important no one gets the wrong impression, so I cannot be open to you in the following ways…”  When love is truly love, it dies for the one it loves.  It suffers the humiliation and pain that sometimes comes with love, taking pain into itself and  never seeking to make victims of anyone else.  Isn’t marriage what we want to see, pastors?  Don’t we want to see people making those commitments to each other?  But we stand in judgment over them for living together without marriage, then refuse to actually bring them into matrimony because they live together, and then judge them for living together?  Is this madness?  Scratch that — it really wasn’t a question.  Yes, it is madness.

How shame gets in the way of love

Love wills the good of the object.  That’s love.  Love wants what is best for the one loved.  If a pastor believes marriage is better than living together, and loves the people in front of him/her, then he/she will seek to “love them into marriage.”  Turning people away because they are wrong (regardless of how strongly we feel about their lives, choices, behavior, etc.) is exactly what Jesus NEVER did.  How do we come up with so-called Christian systems of ethics that not only endorse things that Jesus never did, but that actually claim that our Jesus-less way is the most moral and ethical thing we could do?  Until we can come up with a way of understanding Christianity that actually allows us to love people the way Jesus did, instead of creating systems of excuses for not loving them, we’re missing something so critical that our entire message is in danger of being invalidated completely.  Attesting to this trend are millions of God-seeking and God-loving people who have found the church to be an inhospitable place for them or people they love, and dropped out in pain and frustration.

But this is what shame does, and the only thing shame can do.  Many who can no longer stand the shame and are hungry for love (which, of course, is what the message is supposed to be about to begin with and which, ironically, almost no one denies, even while we continue to teach shame) end up leaving the church.  For those who outgrow their shame-based identity and hunger for love, it becomes difficult to find a Christian church that preaches that gospel.  Those who remain in the church are often (though not always) those who haven’t  yet gotten enough of shame and fear and guilt and are not yet ready to receive grace.

And guess what?  God loves them all.  Because that’s what God does.

In search of “Sandi’s”

Thank you for the incredibly warm and supportive comments I have received from many of you on this blog, via email, in person, etc., with regard to my last post about the loss of my friend Sandi.  Her funeral is Tuesday and I’m already beginning to think a lot about it, feeling deeply sad, and nervous about how hard that day is going to be.  My wife and I and three other of Sandi’s friends from high school choir will be singing a beautiful piece at the funeral.

Though I hated the occasion that brought us together, I cannot describe the warmth I felt having Beth and Kim and Jeff in my home today.  Three more choir/band friends.  Three more people I love and care about.  Three that I have NOT lost.  Three into whom I will be investing more of my time and energy, more of my prayers, and more of my love.

Losing Sandi has got me to thinking about all my other “Sandi’s.”  Of course Sandi was one of a kind, but I have other people in my life for whom I have very deep affection; people who, if I were to lose them today, I would be devastated — but people who, like Sandi, I do not see very often.  Of course we can’t maintain close contact with everybody (seriously, thank God for Facebook in this regard), but in the coming days I will be thinking about the people in my life who I already love — the people who are most special to me, that I simply do not see that often and want to prioritize spending more time with.

After group practice today, Kim and Beth stayed at the piano and practiced a duet they are doing.  It was an incredibly beautiful piece, but even more beautiful was having them in my home and hearing them sing.  I want more moments like that in my life.  I want there to be fewer dear people to whom my attachment and connection is occasional, however sweet it may be.  I want to spend more time in the presence of people who I love, who know and love me deeply, who never expect me to explain myself, who “get me” and love me for who I am, to whom I am not this title or that title (pastor, professor, counselor, etc.), but just Dave — just a regular guy.

I am never happier than in those moments.  Never.  As an introvert, those friendships that go back all the way to high school and earlier are like well-worn shoes.  They fit comfortably, they don’t need any breaking in, you know just what to expect, and it’s all good.

There’ll never be another Sandi.  But I want to be more intentional about spending more time with the people I love most deeply — while we’re still at least somewhat young and beautiful.  🙂  Pat and Rita Hale, no reason we don’t see you more often.  Mike and Sheryl — more dinners and movies please.  Delynne and Lisa — more time in your presence!  Jeff Jackson — let’s hang out, man.  Kimi — you’re family and you know it, and you always will be.  Beth, what can I say?  I treasure you more than words can express.  Dawn Marra — you’re tops and I STILL haven’t seen you since you moved back to Davison!  Cindy and Corey — maybe only once every summer or two, but let’s keep it going.  Laura – so glad to be in touch with you again!

I guess this is my way of trying to focus on all the people I love who are still here.  But when I do that, I then have to ask myself why I am not seeing you more often, and there isn’t really a very good excuse.  You know what?  Every single one of you — either in choir, or connected to someone in choir.  Seriously, my friends.  Let’s spend some time together.  Let us say a last goodbye to our friend Sandi, and then let us be together once in a while.  When we are together, Sandi’s spirit will be with us.

QUESTION: Who are the “Sandi’s” in your life?

For Sandi

sandi

Sandi — far right, with Beth, Tammy, and Kay

I moved to Davison from Lapeer in the summer, just before starting 5th grade.

The transition was rough.

I was in an awkward stage, to say the least.  I  had bucked teeth and giant freckles on my cheeks.

My dad taught at Gates — the same school where I was enrolled, just across the hall, and was kind of the discipline guy for the school.

And oh yeah – my last name was Flowers.

All of this, plus being the new kid, put me in a prime position to be the butt of a lot of jokes that year, and for several years afterwards.

Sandi Alt was in my class that year.

Sandi was not only not mean to me, Sandi was sweet.

Sandi always treated me kindly and with respect.

I cannot say Sandi and I became best friends that year, but I can say that I felt safe around her.  I trusted her.

She and a small handful of people (Kim VanSlyke, Daryl Berryman, a few others) were people I knew I could be around without being made fun of.

Jr. high was even worse.

Not only was I still being picked on, but I was starting to believe the things that were being said to me.  They were becoming my self-concept.

Sandi was a musical person and joined choir, as did I.  She was also in band, as was I.

Our paths seemed to cross constantly and I came to develop deep affection for her.  I loved her spirit.

What’s more, I knew Sandi loved me.

When I was around Sandi, there were never harsh words.  Sandi saw me, and in doing so, helped me keep a hold on a proper view of myself.  

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