Ideology and prejudice: when does free speech become hate speech?

I’ve noted, as you probably have as well, that civil discourse in this country especially around political issues is almost impossible to find on the Internet. Here’s a sample from some comments on a recent article on Salon.com:

“Rot in hell authoritarian scum.”

“Authoritarian progressives are the worst sort of humanity”

“You right-wingers are the most despicable cowards on the planet.”

“you gun freaks need to sit down and STFU you are a dumb ass”

This is only a fraction of the over 500 comments on the article. Sure not all were this blatantly abusive, but spread this vitriol over the entire internet and you can see how bad things are. Continue reading

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1 Corinthians 13:1-7, for a funeral

 

1 Cor 13:1-7 If I speak in the tonguesof men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.3If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. 4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

These words are often heard at weddings, not at funerals. But they are just as appropriate. In marriage we see the romantic side of love, the love of one for another. But in reflecting back over an entire life we can see how that love flowed out to others, to see the hard work that it did in tough times, and to see that love is not merely something that is felt but something that one does.

When Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, he was writing to a church divided. There were rival groups fighting for attention and power while more serious issues were being ignored. They were boasting about their wisdom and knowledge, but Paul was pointing out that their wisdom was futile. The church was “majoring in the minors” to borrow a phrase. Paul responds to a number of their questions about the order of the service and so on, points out where he sees them in error. And then it’s at this point that he points them to the “why” behind the “what to do”. Continue reading

No-handed trust

It’s been just over two weeks without a job, and the fear is starting to kick in. I’ve had three serious interviews, but one was only for a per diem position and the other didn’t pan out. The third, with CCO, is still in process. However the fact that things aren’t sure yet bothers me. it’s unrealistic to expect a job so soon I know, but my unemployment is still not settled (I apparently haven’t worked anywhere) and my final paycheck hasn’t yet arrived. I had hoped those would have been resolved by now, so doubt is stealing the peace I had.

However I think that this is all still part of my own learning to trust God wholeheartedly. As a teen I would occasionally go on ropes courses with my youth group. The phrase you heard all the time was “let go of the rope!”, meaning the rope that connected you to the safety line overhead. Holding on to the rope made you feel more secure and was a purely instinctual reaction: “if I hold on to the rope I won’t fall”. However holding on to the rope also immobilized you as you couldn’t use your hands to move around or balance yourself. You had to trust that you weren’t going to fall even if you weren’t holding the rope – you had to let the rope hold you.

This is a hard task for anyone, especially those of us who are still struggling with confidence and trust in God, ourselves, or even those closest to us. Trusting God isn’t holding on to Him with both hands, hoping you won’t let to, it is trusting enough that he has you that I can let go with both hands.

Works and Grace

This morning I was having breakfast and skimming through the latest Christian book catalog that came through our mail when my son noticed the title of one of the books was on learning to “pray better”.  He asked, “How do you pray better?  Don’t we pray good enough already?”

I think this question goes to the heart of a lot of the problems we face as Christians, and maybe especially as Americans.  We have such a tendency to find ourselves, no matter how much we talk about grace, looking at our faith as a matter of how much effort we put in to it.  Sometimes that work is actual “work” – penance, good deeds, giving financially or of time. All these things in themselves are good, but we can easily fall into the trap of seeing these things as preliminaries and prerequisites for God’s grace to happen.

The Protestant mourns for his fellow Catholic brother, whom he sees as “works based” regarding salvation. Yet Protestants are just as trapped by the need to “do more” and “do better”. A glimpse through any Christian book catalog or bookstore shelf of popular Christian “inspiration” will prove my point. So much seems to be about doing more, doing better, gaining and striving. I think this comes out also in theology with the insistence that one’s theology be “right”. I remember growing up that faith wasn’t just about knowing Jesus, but knowing Calvin. You had to know the right things in the right way – not just Biblical truth but the correct interpretation of Biblical truth.

This, I think, is just another form of works. Grace is something we accept without any merit on our part, and to make that grace beholden to anything we do (and I think belief can be a form of works as well) negates that.

Can I pray better, read more, give more? Surely. I stink at all of these. But I gave up worrying for Lent.

What are You Fasting From?

Ok, maybe my grammar is a bit sketchy title-wise, but I like it.

I never fasted in my life, save for bloodwork or the occasional operation. Most of this came from my Presbyterian/Calvinist upbringing, which saw fasting as something a bit too “Catholic”, which is code for works-oriented. It was spiritually good but unnecessary at best, idolatrous at worst. Lent tends to be interesting at times because, as I’m the hospice chaplain in a secular company, I’m seen by some as this pillar of sacredness. Especially by our Catholic staff. It freaks them out when on a Lenten Friday I pull out a ham sandwich and dig in. It has provided some opportunites to teach what I know about grace and works.

But I’m rethinking things a little this year. Not so much about abstaining from food or drink or whatever. I understand why fasting from things that are pleasurable is supposed to connect us with the suffering of Christ. However there have been plenty of folks who, rather than fast from something, try to increase the good that they do. I think that’s a good way of looking at things and not quite so self-centered. But I was thinking today that if I’m going to fast, I’d rather fast from the things that pollute my life…worry, fear, self criticism. Life without chocolate only promotes misery and desire. But life without worry for 40 days? Hallelujah! What would it be like to not be afraid for 40 days, or critical of myself or others, or anxious? What can be more enriching and spiritual than that?

So I’m going to fast from worry. What are you fasting from?

Timing

What a long trip it’s been!  Next week I’ll be finishing up my fourth unit of CPE – fourth consecutive unit I might add.  I’ve been spending my Tuesdays in CPE, getting up at 5:30am or worse, since last fall.  I said today that I felt like I was in a marathon with the end finally in sight.  The start was full of excitement but a lot of trips until I caught my pace.  Then I ran steady for a long time.  Then, this term, I hit my wall.  Now I feel like the “runner’s high” has kicked in as I finally realize the end is really in sight.

I am looking harder at not trying so hard.  I tend to feel that so much depends on me in order to keep up my own standards.  I’ve seen though that my own standards still can be unnecessarily high.  I felt very alone a few weeks ago, because I just couldn’t keep up with my own expectations and wanted someone to rescue me.  I was a fairly miserable person.  I realized that my priorities were so messed up – the things that I saw as important were really distracting me from the things that were important: my kids, my wife, personal time and so on.

I feel freer and happier.  How often are we our own worst enemies!

Surviving Hospice

I often hear people, when I tell them what I do, respond with something akin to “I don’t know how you do it”.  Some days I can respond with “I enjoy what I do” or “I meet so many interesting people” or something similar.  Other times I think “I don’t know either!”  So I brought up this question to myself – how does one survive working in hospice?

Self-care self-care self-care self-care…

Easy to say and harder to do!  But that’s precisely the core of survival here.  There’s lots of good material out there on ways to take care of yourself to avoid burnout: art, time off, reframing, maintaining good boundaries, etc.  All of these are good and beneficial.  However two other things are required and are even more important.

First, you have to know you need to take care of yourself.  More often than not, it takes a meltdown or crisis situation to show me that I need to take care of myself.  When I’m stressed I tend to pull in and try to shove through whatever storm is blowing in my face.  My concentration is usually on going forward, not stopping to rest.  In the middle of stress I think our tendency is to do just that – get out of it as quickly as possible by surging onward even when we’re exhausted.  I’ve read more than one account, though, of mountaineers who ignored their own internal warning signs of exhaustion and fatigue and, rather than stop to rest, pushed on through the stress only to walk off the mountain.  I can fall in to that same trap.  But it’s amazing how even just a brief adjustment – for me it was a day working at home rather than the office – can rejuvenate and reframe.

Self awareness comes only with time and honesty with yourself.

Second, I must actually do what I need to do to take care of myself.  There are many times where I’ve stopped and said, “boy I’m exhausted!  I need a break!” and then never do so.  This is the pain of inertia that hits when we know we need to stop but don’t for fear of never starting up again.  I think that fear, rather than pride, keeps us from doing those things that we recognize that we need to do.  I fear letting things go, I fear appearing lazy while others (who aren’t taking care of themselves) push on, I fear lots of things.  Overcoming that fear again only comes with time, honesty, and practice.

When the world doesn’t fall apart when I let go of it, or when I stop caring what others think of me, or when I stop comparing myself to the “saints” around me, that itself is self-care!

Sound like grace to anybody?

Grace, Part II

I wrote previously on grace, stating that I have a hard time believing in it.  That’s true, but still not quite accurate.  I believe in God’s grace – including his grace toward me.  It’s all encompassing and all surpassing.  However I think that, just as Jesus’ parable of the sower relates, that reception of grace is so often stolen away or starved by lack of nourishment.

The third chapter in Keller’s book deals with idolatry, the “sin beneath the sin”.  It’s common to see material things as idols (cars, home, money), as well as work, power, all those things.  Keller makes a wonderful point though, that an idol is anything that we pursue more than God’s grace.  And that thing that we pursue might not be something that we love, it might be something that we fear.  He notes that we are driven not just our dreams, but even more so by our nightmares.

And that gave me pause – there are many things that I love, but how many more things that I fear!  I’m the type of personality that tends to be anxious and depressed a good deal of the time.  In the Old Testament era especially, we see so many gods and goddesses around.  These gods were worshiped not for love but to either get something (based on fear of not getting something, like rain) or not get something (like plague).  The Israelites inevitably returned to the foreign gods not out of love or merely out of cultural blending, but I think out of fear.  The fear that God would hold back or punish.  So they kept their options open, just like I do.

But I don’t run to a wooden idol,  I run to the idol of myself – my own actions, my own work, my own need to do good and be good.  I don’t see this as pride, as one of my friends likes to call it.  It doesn’t feel prideful.  It feels afraid.

Perfect love casts out all fear…

and off to do a funeral!

Grace

In my church we’re doing a study of Timothy Keller’s book/DVD series “Gospel in Life: Grace Changes Everything”.  I’ve only just started but I’m hoping that this will be a strong influence in my walk right now, as grace is a major issue in my life.

I’ve had a very hard time really believing in God’s grace.  At first I wanted to say understanding God’s grace, but I rewrote that.  I think I understand it fine.  I don’t think that I apply it though.

I think that this is a major problem for a lot of Christians, and Keller identifies this as Christians being religious and Chrisitians being gospel to themselves and the world.  I think most of us can give the nuts and bolts of what grace is, quote the appropriate verses and authors, and make it sound as if we have it completely together.  Yet we understand grace but so often fail to live it and experience it.

I am having one difficulty with Keller though.  Maybe it’s not as much of a difficulty as it is something just not jiving with my own experience.  Keller often states that Christians tend to fall into moralism and works in order to credit their own salvation.  While this certainly can be true, this doesn’t ring true to me.  When I think about my own salvation and need for forgiveness, I do tend to fall sometimes on the need to make myself feel worthy of God’s grace.  But when I think about why I strive for approval, try to gain acceptance and feel worthy, it doesn’t feel as much about earning my salvation to me as it is about self-worth.  Perhaps my bigger issue with grace and accepting it as the free gift of God is how little I apparently cherish it.  I strive so much more for the approval of others that I ignore the free gift in front of me.

I see many areas in my life where I have sought that blessing – from family, from work, from achievements, from parents and so on.  And when I have that blessing it isn’t enough, because it still isn’t God’s blessing.  So why chase so much after approval and the blessing of others when God’s approval and blessing have already been given?