Friday, July 10, 2020

Uncertain Times

Uncertain Times

I learned a new word this week. It is a very appropriate word for these days in which we find ourselves. The word is liminal. It describes a type of space we pass through during certain phases of life. For example, one that all of us can identify with is puberty. It is a time when our bodies go through changes that we do not fully understand. We are "in between" being a child and an adult.

Another example of this is the wedding ceremony. The participants in the wedding go into the ceremony as individuals and they leave the ceremony as a couple, two become one. During the ceremony their status is somewhat ambiguous. Until the pronouncement is made, "Man and wife," they stand simply betrothed.

Liminal spaces are normally avoided because of the uncertainty that exists there. I wrote a book last year where I described these times as "wilderness." I like liminal because it is much more descriptive. When we become Christians we enter a liminal space. Before we were lost, separated from God. Eventually we will see Him face to face. In between those two is our ambassadorship, a liminal space, where we are citizens of Heaven, yet here on earth proclaiming the Good News of Jesus.

2020 has been wrought with major changes in every aspect of our existence. The onset of a virus that cannot be seen, but clearly is noticed if you come in contact with it. Our world is in a liminal place. We don't know exactly how things will end. Until then we adapt, we persevere, and we continue living. But for Christians we have an opportunity to be salt and light like never before. For us, this is just another facet of the liminal space we already experience. We can offer hope to others who do not have a Firm Foundation in Jesus Christ.

Do not allow "social distancing" to keep us from having spiritual encounters with those around us. Be creative. Find a way. Allow the Holy Spirit to direct you to give a "word in due season" to someone who may be suffering beyond our comprehension, but is hidden by a mask, not made of cloth, but one of a smiling face to hide their pain or shame. Speak the truth about Jesus and His love for us. It could literally save someone's life.



Sunday, May 31, 2020

Conversation with Facebook

Facebook: What's on your mind, Dudley?
Me: More than I can put into words. Words seem so futile; so redundant. Words, alone, do not and cannot change anything. Words are too often misunderstood because they are passed through the filter of the hearer to conform to their image of their world based on what they think of my world.
Words are pointless without consistent actions to demonstrate what is meant by the words spoken. "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." It wasn't until after Jesus died that his disciples realized the love he had for them was genuine.
So, how do we, short of actually dying, show that we have a love so strong that we are willing to lay down our life for others? How about we start by giving up our "right" to be offended, or to be preferred, or to be privileged, or to be __________ (whatever you feel when you are wronged)?
What if our first response to people different from us was not fear? The greatest problem of Western culture, in my opinion, is that fear has replaced faith in almost every area of our society. We fear losing a job, we fear not being "liked," we fear being harmed by THEM (whomever this might be in your mind).
What if we stopped using pronouns (us and they) and started referring to people as individuals?
What if we stopped sharing the memes that degrade other humans, especially those with a different color pigment?
What if ...?
I'm so tired of words. Words taken out of context. Words attributed wrongly to individuals that never said them, and then perpetuated to the point of being "viral" because we want it to be true. If THEY said THAT, then I have a LICENSE to do THIS!!!
No, you don't. You do not have a license to do anything harmful (physically, mentally, socially, financially, spiritually, or any other) to another human. If you have been wronged then contact the authorities. But, make sure you have been wronged. Make sure it wasn't an oversight, or an accident, or a mental lapse. Give others an opportunity to make amends before assuming the intent behind the action.
Words are very cheap. Actions are made of gold. You have the value equivalent to Ft. Knox (when it actually was a gold depository) in the actions you can take. It is almost impossible to calculate the value of actions taken toward another human to help them, to encourage them, to lift their head, to give them hope.
Let's try to empty that bank - actions over words - and see if something changes. So far the war of words has yet to move the line of demarcation and has totally eliminated the demilitarized zone. Let's give some space, allow some wiggle room. Let some time pass before giving a knee-jerk reaction. It's amazing what a little time of reflection can do to lower the temperature of a situation
Facebook: I got nothin'.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

What Is Fear?

What is Fear?

I shared a comment on Facebook today from Dr. John Stanko that said, “Many voices are vying for your attention right now; avoid ANY that foster fear or anger, even if they quote the Bible!” I like this comment because it speaks to me about where I place my faith. It is in God, alone.

A friend of mine asked for my definition of fear. He then referred to healthcare workers during this current coronavirus outbreak being concerned for their health and and the health of their patients, indicating their “fear” to be legitimate.

I totally agree, in this context, that there is a place for “concern,” which can be classified as fear. However, fear has many definitions and applications. That is one of the problems with English. We are already two levels deep in the potential for problems with communication: 1) I read the post by Dr. Stanko (I have not spoken with him, so I cannot be certain what he meant), 2) I re-posted the comment implying my understanding of what I meant by “fear,” 3) Those who read my re-post read it through their lens and their definition of what they believe I meant by “fear.”

This is why I am very slow to argue with anyone on the platform of social media. Through the sometimes terse, or even curt, exchanges there is little opportunity to truly gain understanding of what the true intended message is.

So, in attempt to answer my friend's question, here is what I believe Dr. Stanko meant by his original post, and why I shared it on my Facebook feed.

First of all, a little about Dr. Stanko. This man's passion is to help others find and walk in their purpose. He seizes any opportunity to challenge others, and even provoke them to search for their purpose. It is sad that so many wander through their existence and never tap into their purpose. Dr. Stanko was speaking on these lines when he made the above-quoted statement.

In these days of quarantine, there are many people trying to get attention for various and sundry reasons. Many have good intentions of helping people stay safe and manage the chaos that has gripped the world. Some have selfish intentions to promote their notoriety or a particular cause. Regardless of the intent, anyone who resorts to scare tactics in order to manipulate people is wrong. The primary weapon that many of these use is fear. By amplifying the uncertainty of the situation many can be prodded into a knee-jerk reaction based solely on fear; fear for themselves or those they love.

To me, this is the same as terrorism. The goal of terrorism is not necessarily to harm you. Instead, if they can make a very public display of harming others, it will instill in you a fear that can immobilize, and even harm you, without ever attacking you personally. This is the fear that I believe has no place in our society. Whether it comes from a terrorist or a minister, fear has no place.

We should heed the warnings from learned people that give their best guess as to what might occur with the current pandemic. We should heed the edicts of our governmental leaders and follow the law of our land. However, we do not have to give in to a fear of the future, regardless of what our senses present to us because there is always hope of a better outcome. There is always the possibility of things changing, of the experts being wrong, or that creative people will find new ways to circumvent, prevent, or cure the effects of this nasty thing called COVID-19.

I choose to have hope. I choose to not live in fear. I choose to continue to live my life.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

The Body of Christ

The article from this week's FBCR Newsletter:

One of the first songs in my lifetime that carried a self-examining theme was Simon and Garfunkel’s Sound of Silence. Verse 1:

Hello darkness, my old friend
I've come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains within the sound of silence

Diana Ross recorded a song in the ‘70s which repeated the theme. “Do you know where you’re going to, do you like the things that life is showing you? Where are you going to; do you know?”

Bono repeated this theme in ’87 with his song, Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.

In ’91 Michael W. Smith found great success with his version of this common theme with A Place In This World. The chorus:

Looking for a reason
Roaming through the night to find
My place in this world
My place in this world
Not a lot to lean on
I need Your light to help me find
My place in this world
My place in this world

I remember times in my early teens that I would seek solitude when a melancholy feeling would come, and listen to sad songs. There is something cathartic about listening to others talking, or singing, about the same emotions we feel. It helps us understand that we are not the only ones. This is the very reason God designed the Church as a Body. We need each other. Yes, “iron sharpens iron” and we need “fruit inspectors,” but we also need loving arms that embrace and a welcoming shoulder on which to lay our heads without being told, “I told you so.”

Teaching moments will come. Times of rebuke or correction are needed. But, discernment is also needed. I cannot hear your correction if I cannot feel your compassion. Shouting rebukes at me does not convey the core of the message you claim to have: Love others as you love yourself. Maybe that is the problem! We don’t love ourselves anymore.

It is possible that when we walk around, unsettled in our own skin, unable to articulate the purpose we have in life, it results in us spewing vindictive judgment toward others we feel have even less purpose in their lives. A line from one of my favorite movies, You’ve Got Mail, comes toward the end when Joe and Kathleen speak for the last time before being introduced as NY152 and Shop Girl. Joe says, “Let me ask you something? How come you'll forgive him for standing you up and you won't forgive me for a little tiny thing like putting you out of business? Oh, how I wish you would.”

The man standing in front of her had wrecked her life, and of all the people working for her, by forcing her to close the shop that her mother had built. It was her whole life and now it was gone. Joe knew something that Kathleen didn’t. If she had not been able to move past the hurt of losing her business she would not have been able to embrace the amazing future that was waiting for her around the turn in the path.

We all face this same type of dilemma each time we encounter a “…” I leave that blank because it is different for each person. For some it is a person with a different skin tone. Others cannot bear those of a different socioeconomic group. Fans of a different ball team. A different nationality. Culturally different. Less educated. More educated. Etc. Etc. Regardless of the differences we must find a way to be Christ to our neighbor. A quote I use often is from C. S. Lewis. “Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.” (from The Weight of Glory)

Jesus put it a little more succinctly: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself.” Your neighbor is ANYONE that is not you! In every moment of every day we have a choice how to respond to the stimuli around us. We can retreat into ourselves and ignore the chaos, we can recoil with vitriolic banter, or we can respond as Christ to a hurting world. The only way this is possible is for us to have the mind of Christ, to be in communion with the Holy Spirit, and willing to take every thought captive so we can be obedient to Christ.

It’s not easy. It’s not an event. It is an arduous process that we will have to work for the rest of lives. But the benefits are remarkable, and the peace that will come to you when you respond in this way will be “beyond your ability to comprehend.” Something has to change in this world. Why not start with “me”?



Thursday, March 12, 2020

Prejudice (Much More Than Just Race)

Prejudice (Much More Than Just Race)

I think I've written on this before; perhaps ever recently. But, a few things came to mind today and thought I would write them down incase someone else might benefit from them.

In the basic definition, prejudice is simply pre-judging someone. This can be good or bad. I remember as a child desperate for some sweets found my mom's baking chocolate. It looked like a Hershey Bar. It smelled like a Hershey Bar. I took a huge bite and quickly realized it didn't taste like a Hershey Bar. I pre-judged, wrongly, that it would meet my expectations of something sweet.

The few anecdotes that came to mind today may be too technical to communicate in a few sentences, but try not to let some of the jargon get in the way of the deeper message. A few years ago I worked for a software vendor in Atlanta. One of my first projects was to help a carpet company in Dalton, Georgia, install our software on their computer. Our code was written using IBM COBOL. They had a Stratus computer. The original intent of COBOL was to make it a portable language; your code should run on any machine that uses COBOL. However, not all computers were created equal.

They had tried for months to get this up and running and patience was wearing thin. When the Stratus engineers developed their version of COBOL they made one simple change, that in their world, made perfect sense. However, the IBM version of COBOL took exception (for you coders out there, that is a pun) to this seemingly minor change causing every program to terminate with errors. Once discovered, it took just a few short weeks and everything was up and running. The culprit in this case was slack-bytes.

The second incident I remembered was my first “paying” job programming a computer. It was Radio Shack Model II. Only of few of you know what Radio Shack is/was and even fewer know what a Model II is/was. That's not the point here. We had completed the program for a property manager to help manage all of their data. It worked like a charm and we were very proud of our efforts. The key operator sat down at the console and was, herself, quite excited about the prospects.

The trainer said, “Enter your option from the menu.” She proceeded to make her select, but before typing the number, she pressed the ENTER button. The program immediately blew up! The first keystroke and we were toast. When asked, “Why did you press ENTER before typing your menu selection?” Her answer revealed a prejudice she had learned from typing class. You always make sure the carriage is in position one before typing. A seemingly simple issue, but this one problem caused us many hours of adding edits to every keystroke made by the operator.

Here's one that I think everyone can identify with. I heard a story from my former pastor about a newlywed couple cooking a ham for the first time. The wife was about to place it in the oven when the husband stopped her and exclaimed, “You have to cut the butt end of the ham off before you cook it!” The wife simply responded with, “Why?” The husband had no clue. He then called his mother to find out the reason. She had no idea other than, “that's the way my mom did it,” so the husband called his grandmother to seek her wisdom on this puzzling turn of events.

The grandmother's sage counsel was simple, “I don't know why you cut it off, but I did it because the ham wouldn't fit in my pan.” This was a prejudice passed down through generations. It started out of need, but continued out of tradition. No one was really harmed by this, but a lot of ham was wasted by two generations of cooks.

Even while I was writing this article I took a phone call from a client that has been battling fires with her major customer for several days. The customer reported a problem with a file that we send them each month that consists of our invoice. This month they reported a problem. “Nothing changed on our end!” they proclaimed. I just as adamantly insist, “Nothing change on our end!” We were at an impasse. My colleague reached out to a recently retired employee of the customer's company that they still bring in occasionally for consulting. This person described the problem. “This is not a new issue,” she begins, “I corrected that file every month since 2015.” What?!?!? Yes, instead of reporting the issue it was such simple correction she made it each month because she deemed it easier than actually addressing the root cause.

However, she is no longer there and no mention was made to her successor about this minor change she made each month. Instead, the new folks dug in their heels and made a major issue out of a simple problem. This is prejudice. When we make choices before gaining the facts we act out of prejudice.

It happens every day. Most of the time we are not even aware it has happened. Choosing a seat in the self-serve eating establishment, deciding which checkout line to go through, selecting the shop we patronize, making vacation plans, determining which church you attend: all of these are driven by prejudice. Most do not cause direct harm to an individual or people group. However, many do.

Deciding who to hire to fill the new vacancy, processing loan applications at the bank, showing courtesy in public spaces, and the list goes on: these can cause irreparable harm. I tend to have a positive approach to things and, therefore, do not believe that most people make intentional decisions to harm based on prejudice, but it does happen. I believe most make these prejudicial decisions out of ignorance of their own prejudice. It's a heart issue, and the only way these can be rooted out is by Word of God.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4:12 (ESV)

Division of the soul and spirit. Thoughts and intentions of the heart. That is where prejudice is rooted, and until we are open to deal with it we will continue to struggle in many areas of our lives, wasting ham and hurting people. I pray you take time today to examine your own heart and get real with what you find there. Change is possible. Change is required!

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

The Names of God - The Glory of Their Strength

The Glory of Their Strength

Psalm 89:15-17 (ESV)
Blessed are the people who know the festal shout, who walk, O Lord, in the light of your face, who exult in your name all the day and in your righteousness are exalted. For you are the glory of their strength; by your favor our horn is exalted.

Everything presented to our senses is filtered through our experiences. Our brains are programmed to view our world (sight, sound, taste, touch, smell) a certain way from data we have collected during our life. You know when you see a small black animal with a white stripe down its back that you need to run the opposite way. The scar on the tip of the finger is a reminder not to touch a hot skillet or glowing ember. These are static experiences that will always be true. The ones that cause us the most grief are the encounters with other people because the responses are so varied based on the experiences of the other person.

We call this pre-programmed response to people “prejudice,” which usually has a negative connotation because it means, “to prejudge.” Your senses give you a narrative of what another person is like before you even hear a single word from their mouth or observe a single action. We do this out of reflex based our previous experience.

Others do the same thing with us. We know who we are and totally understand our motives, but others do not. Occasionally, my wife and I will go to a place (store, restaurant, recreation area, etc.) and are amazed that it is crowded. We exclaim, “We know why we are here, but why are all of these other people here?” The truth is, each of us do this every time we encounter another human. “I know what I'm doing, but what are they doing?”

As children we are taught to fear the stranger. We are instructed to “be careful” when attempting even the most menial task. As we grow we encounter “bullies” or “mean girls” that wreak havoc on our self-esteems and cause us to begin digging the foundation for the walls we will construct over a lifetime of experiences. However, there is a different way!

The psalmist that penned Psalm 89 knew something about the character of mankind and found a remedy for the dreadful predisposition toward pre-judged actions based on experience. It requires conscious effort, but the rewards are worth every bit of energy expended. Look at his words again:

Blessed are the people who know the festal shout, who walk, O Lord, in the light of your face, who exult in your name all the day and in your righteousness are exalted. For you are the glory of their strength; by your favor our horn is exalted.

God created you to have interaction with those around you in a good way. When we know the “festal shout,” or as the King James Version says, “joyful sound,” it becomes a new point of reference for us. The affect of God's love and forgiveness in our life allows us to erase many of the life experiences that cause us pain and allows us to see others with a fresh perspective. We can see them as God created them, not what their life-choices has created.

When we “walk in the light of Your (the Lord's) face” we can trust in the “glory of their (those who know the festal shout) strength,” which is the Spirit of God abiding in us. God's Spirit is the great “neutralizer” when it comes to human encounters. Through Him we can love the unlovable, enjoy peace with warmongers, and live a life of freedom because of the righteousness given to us through salvation in Christ. This is not a panacea. It is the reality of the life reconciled to God.

If Christians- those transformed from darkness to light, from death to life, from hopelessness to faith - do not reflect this “glory of their strength” then the world we touch will be unaffected by the sacrifice of Jesus. We must allow the reverberation of the “festal shout” that changed us to be heard by everyone we have opportunity to engage. Let us be intentional in our transparency so the “light from His face” will be seen instead of our own prejudice or fear.

We do this by remaining in the posture of those who “exult in Your (the Lord's) name all the day.” It's a choice we must make. As we do, God will meet us there with grace.