Thanks for stopping by, whether you got here by a link or hitting "next blog" -- I am glad you are here. I've also done some writing on homeschooling, and what I learned thinking I was teaching.

Friday, May 27, 2011

“It’s A Control Thing.”

That’s how a good friend confesses how he can generate unwarranted conflict.  And that “thing” is the root of how I can get so tied up in knots, and often the reason we all explode in angry declarations or in icy silences when conflict erupts. And many of us – even in the church -- go to great lengths to control people, places and things.  Such methods demonstrate a hard heart, and an unsoundness of mind; this type of control can generate needless conflict.

Not all conflict is bad – great solutions are often forged from opposing points of view. Frank A. Clark, a newspaper writer known as  "The Country Parson," wrote, "We find comfort among those who agree with us - growth among those who don't. "

Humans disagree; we take different positions because we are many and varied. Conflict is part of life – it shouldn’t be surprise me.  (John 16:33) But it always does.

Recently, I’ve experienced two painful examples of folks going to great lengths to get their way.  In both cases the folks who asserted control inflamed a smoldering conflict and my feelings were singed because of how both chose to express their frustrations. (So also, others’ feelings were hurt.)

One person with “a control thing” kept a fight going after her death – using her will to pronounce judgment in a conflict that started fifty-four years ago.  Another person immortalized her displeasure with me in a public e-mail; when she hit “send,” she communicated the same kind of public condemnation as the will.   Both people had conflicts they sought to control instead of resolve. Both people wounded others who read their words.

But will their angry words gain them the desired control over the people and situations?  Did they “win” the conflicts because they got the last word?

The person who chose to get the last word in the will is beyond all that now, and I can’t be a part of resolving a conflict taken to the grave. How she did what she did, though, changed how I will remember her – robbing me of the assurance she was a friend. Painful as this is, her method of control reminds me, if I can’t overlook an offense, go to the person and talk it out.  If that doesn’t work out, remember what Thumper’s mom advised: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Now, the author of the very public e-mail achieved a measure of control – public scolding stings.  And I hope God will use what was written in anger, for good.  Though she insisted I never contact her again, I hope I have the courage, when God makes a way, to reconcile this painful breech.  

Letting go of resentment is a first step. A quote from a children’s classic wisely counsels how to let go of people, places and things:
"The horror of that moment," the King went on, "I shall never, never forget!"  

"You will, though," the Queen said, "if you don't make a memorandum of it. 
 ~Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass, 1872

A bigger step is remembering I don’t control other people.

  • People are different and want different things. That’s the SPARK of conflict. 
  • Differences get worse when sinful selfishness and pride drive our actions. That’s the GASOLINE of conflict
  • Destruction results when we  . . . allow our sinful desires [to drive] our words and actions. That’s the FIRE of conflict. (Ken Sande, Resolving Everyday Conflict, pp 11-12) 

I say I am a follower of Christ – that means I know He did not die and leave me in charge. (Matthew 6:25-34)  Therefore, let go of anger!  “Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret." (Ambrose Bierce) And being willing to let go and let God act, listening before I speak – or write -- might dampen the embers of resentment and fireproof a few of our more combustible relationships.    

 "O that you would be completely silent,  And that it would become your wisdom!" (Job 13:5)

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Last Ten Days

Splashed across a billboard in a local shopping center is the prophecy that the world will end on May 21st this year. And this is from a prominent Christian, Harold Camping, the head of Christian Family Radio who has the money to proclaim the end is coming. Some people are acting accordingly, divesting themselves of property and pets; others are traveling around urging fellow citizens to repent and get right, for when the Lord returns, life will change for those who are at ease in their rejection of God.

I grew up saying I believed Christ will come again to judge the quick and the dead – seeing the announcement that this tenet of my faith is imminent, coupled with all news of earthquakes and wars, makes me wonder how I would spend the last ten days of my life?

Even if Mr. Camping turns out to be right, it’s only a lucky guess. Christ said nobody knows the hour of His return, including Him. (Matthew 24:36) He said when He does come it will be like a thief in the night – but everyone will see Him coming. Christ also said we are to stay busy at our work; Paul chastised those who refused to work, anticipating the Lord’s return (Luke 18:8; 1 Thessalonians 4)

But, if I knew I only had ten days to live, I would tell everybody I love how much they have meant to me; I would do my part to restore all broken relationships, and I would make restitution for all the damage I did. I would pray more to be ready to see Him. I would do whatever good I could to as many folks as I could reach – anticipating that in days I will finally see Christ, and know what He looks like, what His voice sounds like. I would be able to cope with all kinds of stuff, knowing that in ten days, I will have no more worry, pain or problems . . . no more doubts. Wow. I will see those who died in the same faith, that Christ is Lord, and God raised Him from the dead.

But, at the end of ten days, I will never again see those who do not believe God. I only have ten days to work . . . that understanding gives me no peace.

And Christ came to give me (and you) peace. (John 14:27) He also gives hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11) And a purpose. (Hebrews 12:13-15)

Nothing is stopping me from doing all the things I would do if I knew May 21, 2011 were my last day – nothing except the complacency that Peter warned against. (2 Peter 3:3- 9) So, on to realize the ambitions, dreams, and the chores for the day , so I can say, with Erma Bombeck:
“When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, 'I used everything you gave me.”

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Series and A Sermon

I am a Masterpiece Theatre fan. Unfortunately the most recent production, “South Riding,” has been a dismal reminder how invisible the visible church was in a corner of Great Britain – Yorkshire -- in the aftermath of WWI and the Depression. No village, town or city escaped the grief WWI brought – and this dramatization portrays the troubles that are the hallmark of the early twentieth century. Great Britain mobilized 8,904,467 men; 36% of these men became casualties: killed, missing or wounded. That percentage of men, gone or incapacitated, affected the women – and it surely affected the village churches! Some have written that the established churches in this era stumbled badly and were unable to maintain moral authority. (Wayne M Riggs, "The ecclesiastical response in Britain to World War I: A study of the Church of England, the Church of Scotland, and the Roman Catholic Church" (January 1, 2008).)

Some characters in “South Riding” are spunky – feisty – taking on the task of never repeating the mistakes that led their nation into war. Others are victims -- physically, mentally, and emotionally. None have hope; none act like a power greater than themselves can save them. Even the clergyman, a powerful defender of Christian charity, is hopeless, a captive of his passions, and sinks into depressing debaucheries.

These fictional characters, and the uncertainty of their times are not so different from folks we meet today – or the times in which we live. As critical as I might be about England’s churches to “maintain moral authority,” how is the American church doing? How’s my local church doing, maintaining moral authority? And how am I doing? Are we as ineffective to influence our times as the English church appeared to be in 1934? Am I?

Serendipitously on Sunday last, the pastor described a dimension of the Holy’s Spirit’s power and authority and purpose from Acts, and offered a checklist by which I might gauge my the pressure in my spiritual tires. Just how far do I get on the power Christ offers me? By Christ’s last words, He expects that we will go far:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8)

And then the pastor cited four marks of an effective witness by which we may test for leaks in our own witness: contrition, certainty, confrontation, and compassion.

* Contrition – How sorry am I for my sins? My answer: Like the wretched fictional clergyman in the BBC production, I am often sorry and ashamed. But then I deceive myself that what I want to do really doesn’t seem too bad.

Certainty -- Christ said it – that settles it! My reaction, however, can wobble: Yes, but . . . too often wafts through my mind unsettling what is supposed to be settled. (Mark 9:24)

Confrontation – By definition, confrontation is creating an intentional conflict. It means not only telling you, I think you are wrong, and why; it means walking with you – clearing the path, helping each other out. (Proverbs 24:11-12; Hebrews 12:13.) But I am too often more worried about your opinion of me than your welfare.

Compassion – This is God’s defining attribute, and it means passing on to others the loving-kindness that drew me away from my self-centered and gave me a hope and a future. (John 4)

So, a drama series and a sermon providentially showed me how impotent and unproductive I can be when I turn down or misuse the Holy Spirit’s power. The Great War, the Roaring Twenties, and the great Depression swept through the church, and many in it were overcome by grief and sin. Times are not getting easier – and I can feel myself weakening. The first decade of this century has swept through the church, carrying as much terror, disgrace, death and destruction. But the Christ’s church, me included, has a choice and a chance:
. . . I have to write insisting — begging! — that you fight with everything you have in you for this faith entrusted to us as a gift to guard and cherish . . .
Go easy on those who hesitate in the faith. Go after those who take the wrong way. Be tender with sinners, but not soft on sin. . . .
(Selected verses from Jude -- THE MESSAGE)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Going in Circles?

Years ago I was taught to think of my relationships as an increasing series of concentric circles: first is my relationship with my Maker, (Psalm 139:13-16) my husband and family, (Proverbs 31:10-31 Titus 2:2-5) and then my Christian family and those outside these circles. (Acts 18:26)

The core circle is God, who enables me to expand my devotion and duties in larger and larger spheres. Too often, though, it is the outer “circle” -- the world -- that drives me, distracting me from paying attention to God, and then my closest relationships. The result is predictable: I spin out of control, wobbling like a top, ending up in places I never intended.

Too often I project about what (I think) other people will think of how I do what I do and act accordingly -- more worried about their opinion than God’s, or those closest to me. Or, I form opinions on how and what others do, without really understanding why. So, a favorite “commentator” of mine, Eugene Peterson helps me realign my relationships. He paraphrased Matthew 6:1-4: Christ’s warning to His disciples on carrying out duties and devotions this way:
The World Is Not a Stage

"Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don't make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won't be applauding.

"When you do something for someone else, don't call attention to yourself. You've seen them in action, I'm sure — 'playactors' I call them — treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that's all they get. When you help someone out, don't think about how it looks. Just do it — quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out. (Matthew 6:1-4 from THE MESSAGE.)