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!