Tag Archives: truth

The Identified Patient

When there’s a breakdown in some families, you can sometimes find that everyone is clear that if ONE person changed, everything would be fine.  “If she just got her act together… if it wasn’t for her… if she just wasn’t here…”  What’s clearest, to anyone looking in from the outside, is that the problems, breakdowns or frustrations all stem from the presence and nature of one person.

Ever been “the identified patient?”  It’s a lousy position in which to be.  Any move you make, any breath you take, any cake you bake is evaluated from the position of the problem you are to the rest of the household.  Sort of the way a mountain creates its own weather, the identified patient creates atmospheric issues of life in a community.  It doesn’t really have to do much more than be there, just being present creates turbulence, crowdedness, disquiet.

Consider how the identified patient might feel in that setting.  They don’t have to try.  They just have to be there and they’re wrong.  If they say something, they’re wrong.  If they do something, they’re wrong.  But they don’t have to do or say anything… we just all know they’re wrong and will only, always, ever be wrong.  They’re in the way, roadblocks, hampering movement forward and so the best thing is just to ignore them or get rid of them, if possible.

But then someone comes along who wonders if anyone has ever climbed the mountain… and gives it a shot.  It’s treacherous, the air gets thin, sometimes it feels like they’re dying, but then, as they get to the top, suddenly a vista opens up, the world is clear.  They can see forever.  They’re glad they made the trip.

That’s what happens sometimes when the identified patient is not attended as a “patient” but as part of life, as a person.  It’s a hike, no question, and sometimes its more of a climb than a hike.  Mountains get driven up by a lot of ancient trauma from below.  But when someone takes the time and makes the effort, they can learn the mountain and can reach a spot where they see clearly and they also love the mountain.

There’s a story Jesus tells of the guy who is a problem.  Jesus tells those who follow him to go one-on-one to sort out the problem the guy has or is.  He goes on, if that doesn’t work then bring another with you and if not then, bring in some authority for help and if not then, get the community to come together to clear things up.  If that doesn’t work then “treat them like a tax collector or sinner.”  This has been used as a road-map on kicking someone out of the church… but that’s not how Jesus treated tax collectors and sinners.  He didn’t kick them out.  He chose to get to know them, to climb the mountain.

Just when you figure someone is nothing more than a pain in the butt, so we should just dismiss them… Jesus comes along and says, “Nah, …get your gear!  We got a hill to climb!”  Who does this guy think he is?

Blessings,
Geoff

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There’s Always Only One Side to Every Story

Have you ever noticed that there’s only one side to every story?  I know the old adage says it differently… something about “two sides.”  But, it’s been my experience that there’s always only one.  I used to think it was mine.

I used to know when I was in an argument or when there was a misunderstanding between me and someone else that there was only one side to the story and I had it.  I was right.  They were wrong.  They just weren’t seeing clearly or their logic was off or they were just being dull or they were looking for a good excuse to be angry at me or they were jerks or choosing to be stupid or numbskulls.  I like that word… “numb-skulls.”  It’s such a tangible expression.  It’s like “no-brain.”

I remember watching an interview where an actor referred to a director as having “the brain of a pea.”  He didn’t say he had a brain “the size of a pea” (which is how I’ve always heard it).  He said he had the brain of a pea.  I liked that, too.  It is so graphic.  I spent a little while looking forward to the moment when I could copy that, use it to refer to someone who ticked me off.

That was when I used to think that there was only one side and that it was mine.

Now, I’m convinced that there’s always only one side to every story… and it’s always God’s.

When I was at the place in my life where I was open to collecting clever insulting names to use on people I came upon “Raca.”  It’s the old word for “empty-head,” a different way of saying “no-brain.”  The trouble, for me, was it was used by Jesus and it was in the middle of his saying that people who refer to others this sort of way were just as guilty of murder as the person who just fired the gun.  Paying attention to Jesus means you have to give up clever insults.  That can feel like a drag for a while because they’re so tasty.  They have such a chewy, saltiness that it makes you want to hang onto them for a while… and there’s Jesus telling you to spit it out.  Like some Mom who discovered you picked up something from the ground and in her disgust, she’s still telling you to spit it into her hand.  Jesus is acting like that.  She wants it out of you.

I had friends, next-door neighbors, when I was little, who decided to try out the taste of tar from the new coating that had just been put down on the road outside our houses.  Their mom not only made them spit it out, but she used a little Lestoil to get it off their teeth.  Talk about washing your mouth out with soap!  My Mom made a big deal of telling me NEVER to do that or she might need to use Lestoil on me.

That’s a word from God.  If you do something like that, if you put words like this in your mouth, we’re going to have to do some heavy-duty cleansing.

Jesus has this way of taking something that seems like a cool idea at the time and showing us how it impacts us really.  Which can feel like buzz-kill until you think about it with him… and then you’re getting to the one side of the story.

The one side belongs to God because God’s the only one who sees the whole story.  He knows what’s going on in everyone’s head and heart.  He knows what we have seen and what we haven’t seen, what we’ve mixed up or ignored.  He knows… and we don’t.  There’s always one side to every story and it belongs to God.  That’s why he calls us to reconciliation.  He’s telling us that we need to join him in getting back together with people, so we both admit to the story he’s revealing to us.

Blessings,

Geoff

Seeing is Kneeling

“Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart…”  If we’re not talking about having a vision, then what a fascinating thought to think that God, the one who rules my heart would become my eyesight.  We sang this in church the other day and this is how the song was introduced, that we come praying for God to become our eyesight, that we would share that kind of intimacy.
What becomes true for people who follow Jesus is that seeing is kneeling.  What we see moves us to bow before God whether in seeing beauty and awed into wonder, or seeing destruction that makes us seek understanding of it or the power to oppose it.  We are moved to kneel by what we see because we do not deny what we see nor make excuses for it.seeing
I am a big movie fan.  I love good stories told well and I love exploring the world through stories.  I admit I’m a fan of science fiction and horror (not gore, but horror) for the same reason I enjoy roller coasters.  But there are movies that fit into genres I enjoy that I choose not to see.  This is because I know the indelible connection made by the imagery.  By indelible I mean that I know this imagery will never go away and that it will affect my soul.  It will cause a change within me.  So, even though I believe I’d have a good time I don’t go because I don’t want that change within me.
There is a story being told to our generation that calls us to be blind.  It suggests that brutality can be mixed into sexuality and achieve pleasure.  “50 Shades of Grey” suggests that if acts of pain are consensual or seemingly consensual that they are harmless.  Yet, the story of Christian Grey… (what a fabulous choice for a name… suggesting “Love… almost”) is one that includes a history of abuse and a deep need for control.  Abusive control reveals a lack of worth within the one who applies it and it creates a lack of worth within the one who receives it.  The idea that this is a joint decision doesn’t change the impact on the souls of those involved.
So, the story calls us to close our eyes, the eyes of our soul and to pretend that the imagery will not affect us this time.  It will not cause change.  It will not call us to delight in the thought of control over another, to getting what we want as we want it.  It will not cause us to consider deeply that the things we have heard from the voices of life that shelved our worth were true.  But the truth is that they will.  The imagery will change our souls.
So, seeing must be placed under the truth of God’s love for us, the one who taught us that we had worth we almost cannot believe.  There are women, men and children in the world for whom domination is not something that gets mixed with popcorn and soda.  They are severely taught that their worth lies in the hands and voice of the one who controls.seeing1
Seeing, recognizing the difference even in the dark, is something that comes from within us.  It is an aspect of our souls.  So, the things, the stories, the people who call us to close the eyes of our souls are asking us to bow to them and to allow them to change us.  Seeing remains kneeling.  With God, it also means eyes wide open.
Blessings,
Geoff

Normalcy

I had a conversation recently and, actually, it’s been a number of conversations and they each shifted at some point to normalcy. They shifted to that because that’s the point of society’s conversation now, right? The point is not acceptance. The point isn’t love. It’s normalcy. The reason my conversations shifted to normalcy is because that’s my road to acceptance of anyone. It’s that each one of us is normal.
As a pastoring counselor I have had a variety of moments where I’ve shared with people that they should have the anguish, pain, frustration, anger, sadness, despair that they are feeling. They should because that’s what human beings feel in moments like the one they’re in. It’s normal. Normal is an enormous word at times like that. I’ve seen waves of rest settle into someone’s physic as that word hit their souls. They are normal.normal It brings that relaxing because they are part of the community, they’re of a kind.
But there’s another meaning to “normal” that is even larger than just sharing similar appropriate reactions to circumstances, and I find that when I talk about “normal” this way it is different from others’ expectations. It is part of my personal acceptance of others, but in some cases it makes others uncomfortable.
What I find around me now is that people want to be or want others to be seen as “normal” and what they mean is “good.” And what makes them uncomfortable is that what I see as “normal” means “messed up.”
That’s not new with me, but it is what I believe church is all about. Church is all about being a group of sincerely, deeply and utterly messed up people. And what we offer as the way we get “better” is that we help each other grow ever more aware of how messed up we actually are. It’s as we confess, admit the truth of that, to each other, that we actually get more in contact with God because it is through confession that we find grace. We discover how well God knows us.
There’s a moment in Paul’s letter to the Philippians where he encourages them to “continue to work out [their] salvation with fear and trembling,” and he goes on to explain that “it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” I think that the fear and trembling part comes into play when we confess we are messed up to each other. How scary is that? We’d like it to be demonstrating that we’re strong, able, mature, but it’s not our will that moves us ahead and it is not our power to act. Paul tells us that God is the one who does that. Our work, sincerely, deeply and utterly is being humble before each other and with God.
Humility is the road in.humility
Normalcy that leads to acceptance of anyone by the church is admitting that what I am at the heart of things is messed up. If you’re there before God… you’re already in.
Blessings,
Geoff

10 Reasons Men go to Church

One day I asked my Mom, why we went to the Presbyterian Church and she said, “Oh, your father said, ‘that’s where they preach the Gospel,’ so that’s where we were going.”

That’s the first reason a man goes to church.
And…
They go to church to hear plain truth about living.
They go to find verbs that when acted out create worth.
They go to find one or two relationships on which they can count.
They go because they want to be in a community where others can depend on them.
They go because they believe that whatever they’re asked to participate in will make someone else’s life better.
They go to get stronger in making hard choices.
They go because they find things that make them laugh, that don’t make them embarrassed or ashamed at the same time.
They go because they don’t have all the answers and they believe they’re gathering with others who know the same thing.
They go because they feel a potency that draws them into a depth of living they desire to know, and because they believe it can bring about change they cannot achieve on their own.

Personally, if I didn’t find these kinds of things… I’d rather be camping.
Blessings,
Geoff

The Importance of Getting Kicked Out

I’ve been thinking on the issues facing the PCUSA and it occurred to me that the point is the Gospel. The point is not church. It is not ordination. It is not the definition of “marriage” or “family.” Amazingly, the point is not even equal rights. The point is the Gospel. The point is the relationship between God and humanity.
The church is an institution that was created, organized and structured to assist the meeting of those who heard and received the Gospel. Leaders for the institution were selected and designated through procedure and ceremony for special responsibilities within the institution to guide and assist those who heard and received the Gospel. These responsibilities included a number of ceremonies to be led by these leaders alone in hopes of protecting, guiding and assisting those who heard and received the Gospel.
Those who heard and received the Gospel brought life and hope to those around them in the greater community. They sought to share the Gospel. Their primary motivational force was and has been to teach those who live near them that they are valued by their Creator in a manner that was far beyond their imaginations. This included, as they had experienced, a relationship with their Creator that was love best expressed in obedience. Sometimes sharing this Gospel to their neighbors cost them their possessions and sometimes it cost them their families and sometimes it cost them their own lives. They found within the Gospel a stalwart truth that taught them that any of this sacrifice was worth it, entirely.
One essential element within this Gospel was that they did not have within themselves any resource by which to achieve or through which to create purity or wholeness. This essential element included the truth that they must rely abjectly on the one who brought the Gospel initially. All power and wholeness was to be ascribed to this one alone.be still
We now come to a place within the life of the institution, as we have before, where there is a battle raging over the retaining or obtaining of power. We are at the place, again, where those designated haves and have-nots are at odds and each is confident of the rightness of their position. But this has nothing to do with the Gospel. It has to do with power. For those who point to the definition of words as battle sites at which to find defeat or victory, the issue remains power. For those who claim victimhood as an ally in the battle over rights, the issue remains power. The war for power within the institution does not alter or establish or have anything to do with the Gospel.
The Gospel is now and always will be expressed in the everyday life of individuals and their small communities. It will never be within the purview of institutions. It is its own authority and is obeyed by individuals who show this by treating others with kindness or dignity beyond their societal rights. Participating in any of the institutional battles would make those under the Gospel’s authority ashamed.
For individuals who live under the authority of the Gospel within the institution, there is one choice and that is to teach, celebrate and live out obedience to the Gospel. That work should be done until one is asked to leave by the institution that does not want them anymore. This is the example of Jesus, the disciples, the reformers and others in the life of the Gospel until we reached America, where we started the practice of leaving. Those before us did not leave. They got kicked out and that is the example to follow.kicked out We remain and share the Gospel until we are kicked out.
And this is important because we will then clearly learn and demonstrate that our dismissal doesn’t change us or what we do with our lives. Whether we are in the institution or not, we live this Good News in obedience to the one who brought it to us.
Blessings,
Geoff

Dearest Friend

          One of things that captures my attention is the nature of lonely people, like how they talk.  Have you ever been with someone who can’t stop talking and do you experience that as a sign of loneliness?  People who have no one with whom to talk, to grab a cup of coffee, to walk with to the bus, to make dinner for or with, can also be the ones who fill up meetings with reading reports that were sent earlier or asking questions which should be answered by one person separately and not be part of the full meeting.  They give reports and think of something that goes with that and should also add because it pertains to this and just remember this other thing that they meant to bring up or get on the agenda and they might as well just bring it up here…  Lonely.

      Image    Lonely in that they are in need of creatively listening ears and so can’t stop their mouths.  None of the stuff really means a whole lot to everyone, but being attended to means a whole lot to this one speaking.  It’s the closest they get to conversation that really makes a difference.  This isn’t just conversation.  It is that conversation that is part of friendship.  It’s conversation that is a give and take between people who are paying attention to learn more and to participate more.

          Makes me think about the way we talk with God.  Some people are shy in talking with God and others are just talking forever.  Both of these suggest loneliness to me now.  They make me think that this person is not in a relationship where they expect this one they’re talking with actually knows and cares.  In other words, they want someone who talks back because of their interest. They are poor in their sense of worth.  This is the essence of poverty, right?  Having no relationships becomes poverty because there are no resources, no participation, no good word on “where you can get one of those… cheap.”  Poverty at its basis is loneliness.

          So, here’s Advent, the approach of God… where people, particularly poor people who were living in the midst of the community that was supposed to understand that God was close and interested, and suddenly they were told God wanted a conversation.  He announced he was going to live right in town, just down the street, that he’ll be able to answer questions, tell stories and listen.  He was going to play by all the rules… with us.  He was going to be God… with us… so we can discover that we have someone who is a friend, and, in fact, our dearest friend.Image

          Try starting your prayers with those words… “Dearest Friend…” and see where it leads you.  See if you can trust someone like that more, whether you can share what is actually going on more, share what’s true more… learn how much we’re enjoyed and paid attention to…

          Blessings,
          Geoff