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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Aunt Doo-Doo and Uncle Fart-in-the-Wind

There, that got your attention, didn't it? It's a phrase coined by a dear friend of mine, whose world is full of people who could fit those designations. She also once paraphrased the thinking of a fool who was making predictably foolish decisions, thusly: "Poop-a-doo on you [the person who was cautioning him about his folly]! I'm at the edge of this cliff, and I'm gonna jump off just because you tell me not to, and maybe it'll hurt, but not as much as heeding your advice would!"

My friend of the creative nicknames was using them to vent exasperation about the behavior of others over which she had no control. She continues to embrace the Biblical idea of a merry heart being good medicine (Proverbs 17:22). This lovely saint realized a long time ago that laughter is much better for her health than incessant tears (or worse, unremitting anger).

Despite my friend's good example, I'm righteously indignant today, and that pique feels a lot like a thick slab of wood blocking my vision (Matthew 7:3). Sitting in church this morning, I found myself stewing about another believer's choices. I had decided I just couldn't let this individual go unchastened, and so fired off a not-so-nice email before heading out to worship in spirit and in truth. Meanwhile, my own spirit was steeped in criticism, and my truth had been spoken harshly. 

The thing that's bothering me is the same thing that ought to have bothered Young Goodman Brown in Hawthorne's story of the same name. The main character in this classic tale is confronted with the sin, hypocrisy and even apostasy of people he had trusted and worshiped with. Unable to bear their human frailty, he chose rather to separate himself from his his neighbors (and wife), hiding behind a cloak of judgment and disdain till his dying day. The Minister's Black Veil, by the same author, imparts a similar message.

If nothing else, it's tiring to pass judgment, even silently, on those around us. This one didn't acknowledge a gift. That one doesn't visit the sick. Another one took advantage.  On and on and on and on ... 

Our pastor recently shared the enlightening idea that what waits for us in heaven is so out of bounds that everything on earth should pale by comparison. When one knows, our fearless leader suggested, that one's service is for one's magnanimous KING, one need not worry about earthly compensation or fairness. The KING will see to all that later (Hebrews 6:10). 

I've been privileged in my working career to serve under a number of managers for whom no task was beneath them. They would sweep floors, wipe tables, clean bathrooms, all with a smile on their faces. Behind the scenes, they were also responsible for all the headaches that were "above my pay grade." It was truly a joy to work for these individuals, because they appreciated and rewarded their employees, working alongside (as well as above) them, doing the same hard stuff they asked of others.

Come to think of it, I know of another boss who operates just that way. He wasn't satisfied to briefly check out the job site as an "Undercover Boss;" rather, He stepped out of His "office" and spent a lifetime working side by side with His underlings, while at the same time modeling how to do the job right. 

Will I sit on high and pass judgment (which is above my pay grade), or leave that to Higher Management?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Uncommon Courtesy, AKA, Do No Harm

Isn't that what the Hippocratic Oath says? When one can do no appreciable good, mustn't one settle for doing no harm?

I seem to be at just such a crossroads. Once again I find myself at odds with a pair of individuals who cannot or will not be reasoned with. Simultaneously, my church has just finished a series on Romans 12, in which the apostle Paul stresses the need to:

"Hate what is evil; cling to what is good... Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer... Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse... Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord. 'On the contrary: If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."(vv. 9-21 excerpts)

While trying to apply this passage to my circumstances, I must confess to feeling frustrated and fed up at this point. It has been going on for quite some time, and no efforts of mine seem to make any difference. If anything, my kindness and cooperation have been met with stony silence alternating with outright rudeness. I can only assume from past experience that further attempts to reconcile will simply make matters worse.

I give up. 
I'm out of ideas - and energy - to try to mend this spite fence. The only course left, it would appear, is to let them live their lives as they will, do nothing to exacerbate the problem, and most especially keep them in my prayers. While I am directed by Scripture to try my best to forgive, it's clear I can't win them over. Only God can do that. 

Courtesy, it seems in this instance, is becoming less common all the time.  

Someone else once knew what it felt like to have generosity go unappreciated and blame cast where there was none. God forbid that self-righteousness be implied by this comparison. On the contrary, He's showing me just how fallible and imperfect I am, especially when it comes to suffering. How amazing that He deems me worth the effort. As my friend and prayer partner mused this morning, I'd rather be a toilet seat in the House of God than crown molding in the house of the enemy!

"Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked." Psalm 84:10

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Annoying Body Parts

Yup, you read that right. A silly title, I'll admit, but it gets the point across.

What I'm pondering here is those body parts that, for one reason or another, trouble us. I, for example, have robust thighs (that's a nice way of saying they shake like jello when not confined by a pair of jeans). Also, my eyebrows are too thin, non-existent almost, from years of over-plucking; trying to get them to grow in at this point would require patience and probably Rogaine. These are but a few of the less-than-perfect aspects of my earthly temple (I'm not telling you the rest).

In addition, there is the problem of, well, problem parts. These are the ones that simply don't work as expected. Deviated septum, obstructed bowels, undescended testicles (I hear tell) - these types of conditions upset the body's proper functioning, causing pain and discomfort, not to mention embarrassment!

At times we have to take matters in hand, even seek expert help, when the behavior of one part begins to adversely affect the rest of the body. A broken or injured right foot, for example, could cause us to rely more heavily on the left to compensate. Before long, we notice a new pain as a result of overtaxing the uninjured limb. Wisdom and guidance from skilled practitioners are necessary to protect us from such consequences.

The Body of Christ has annoying parts too. We've all seen them: they may present as grumblers (like gassy stomachs), whiners (like overactive tear glands), manipulators (like itchy fingers). Some are unkempt and even offend the senses. Others fail to behave as propriety dictates due to ignorance or disability. Sometimes we choose to avoid them because they don't fit the mold we envision for our church body.

While a valid argument could be made that not everyone who sits in the pew is an actual believer (which would provide a convenient loophole to justify ignoring distasteful churchgoers), I'm not sure yours truly is qualified to make that judgment. Unless a person is spouting outright heresy or behaving criminally, it's a tall order to try to read the fine print inside another person's heart (believe me, I've tried). That said, it is important not to let needier parts of the body take unfair advantage of the brethren. I don't think we're called upon to wear a "Kick Me" sign or subject ourselves to exploitation. There's a fine line, it seems to me, between befriending and allowing oneself to be used.

I once read an article by a woman who had decided to view her unsightly thighs (now you know why this piece spoke to me) in the same way she would view maiden aunts who were a bit unfashionable. She said henceforth she would treat them with affection and care, and even show them off in public, rather than continue hiding them away out of embarrassment. This concept blends well with Paul's description of how we are to behave towards less attractive members of the church body:

"Those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. 
And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 
while our presentable parts need no special treatment. 
But God has put the body together, 
giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it."
1 Corinthians 12:22-24

One last thought: if I ever make the time, I hope to write a book or short story about a diverse group of Christians caught in a life and death situation (TBD). The background of the piece would emphasize the differences in personalities and opinions that create ripples in their corporate relationship. Ultimately they would realize that only through interdependence on each other's respective gifts and abilities could they hope to escape their dire situation. This idea has arisen from years of observing and interacting with believers whose temperaments frankly irritated me. I'm ashamed to admit that I've struggled with being somewhat intolerant of my brothers and sisters whose makeup tends towards coolness or lack of emotion (being wired with intense feelings myself). I labeled their temperaments underwhelmed at best and uncaring at worst. It took me years to realize that these believers are made in the image of God just as I am, but their particular style of ministry reflects His analytical and discernment skills, while mine more closely resembles His emotive side. Both sets of qualities are essential for a healthy church. For example, those who find it awkward to visit the sick may be better suited to objectively sort out a sticky situation of church discipline. Bottom line: neither can thrive without the other.