I Probably Shouldn’t Say This . . .

OK, I just want to say at the outset that what I am about to say is not in anyway meant to insult Jesus. I would swear it to you, but Jesus says not to swear on anything. But you should know that that’s how much I mean it when I say that I’m not insulting Jesus. So don’t go taking this all the wrong way . . . But . . .

Did you know that pretty much everything Jesus said could totally come out the mouth of the sort of drunken, bitter man who yells at people at the bar?* Before you get mad, just stop and think of something Jesus said that you can remember off the top of your head. Go ahead. Do it. Think of something else he said. It’s true, isn’t it? I mean, I haven’t done an intense reading of the gospels with this idea in mind, but I’m still pretty sure this is a thing.

Now, I’m not at all saying that Jesus was a drunken bitter man who yelled at people at bars. But isn’t it interesting that you could put the entire Sermon on the Mount into the mouth of some drunk, embittered wise man in a bar and it would totally be believable. You couldn’t put those words in the mouth of Herod or a congressman and get anyone to believe they meant it.

Or maybe Jesus was a bit of a comedian. Maybe he said, “blessed are the poor” and the crowd roared with laughter.

Maybe he was a specialist in the absurd. He could tell stories about a woman throwing a party because she found her coin and people would laugh knowingly at the irony of it.

In my head and in the movies and at church, Jesus words are always spoken in a flat, peaceful sort of way with an edge of what was suppose to be authority. But that’s not how people speak. And Jesus was a real, live people. But we’ve lost the tone. The words go flat and lose their power. We hear words of revolution and comfort and bitterness and humor and they all come out just the same. We can rely on scholars to help us tell one from the other.

But what we really need to do, I suspect, is to imagine the words coming out of a drunk guy. Or a smart ass. Or a person smiling as they die.

Imagine that Jesus’ words were your words. Could you really say with conviction that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be satisfied without being bitter or angry or mocking?

When you give Jesus’ words personality, you start to discover that after all this time, they still have power after all. They bring you up short with the power of “I never saw it like that before”. They take you to a place where you could understand why the drunk man is so bitter and why the people laugh and encourage him to keep sharing his thoughts. For entertainment if nothing else.

It starts to dawn on you that Jesus couldn’t just say these things without understanding at a deep level what they mean. Because they aren’t easy things to say honestly when you’re not drunk or bitter or cynical or asleep or laughing. But Jesus said them and meant them.

In fact, it turns out that after 2000 years, his words can still change a person and how they see the world. Or at least that’s how it’s been for me. Maybe you’re too hung up on me conflating Jesus with an angry drunk guy to find out for yourself. 😉

*I did not come up with this pseudo-blasphemous idea of Jesus as a bitter drunk guy, btw. Someone else pointed it out to me but I can’t remember who for the life of me. But they were right – it does work!

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What Not Judging Is and Is Not

I wrote last week about not judging as a form of spiritual discipline. It occurs to me that part of our problem with not judging is that there’s a great deal of confusion regarding what is meant by not judging. So I thought I’d share a couple of thoughts regarding my understanding of it.

Primarily, not judging means being open to correction. My parents used to always say to me, “you think you’re always right”. Which was true. If I thought I was wrong, I would change my mind. Why would I knowingly hold onto a belief which I knew was wrong?

The truth is, we all work from the assumption that what we think is correct. That’s not the problem. The problem is that when we judge, we cut ourselves off from considering that we might be wrong. And we’re always wrong about something. Otherwise we’d be God.

We get into trouble when we fail to accept that our understanding of what is right is always going to be inadequate and flawed. Unfortunately, a lot of churches actively encourage us to judge by insisting that their teachings are indesputably correct. Adopt church teachings as your own, and you never have to face the limits of your own understanding. In fact, holding firm to your faith, they teach, requires that you refuse to be open to the possibility of correction.

Of course, this is simple idolotry and not faith. It is churches claiming for themselves authority which only God is able to hold. And contrary to what some Christians try to tell you, the church and God are not interchangeable.

If we want to follow God and learn his ways, we have to always, always, always be open to having our judgment corrected. Not judging, to me, doesn’t mean refraining from seeing what’s right in front of your face. It just means being open to having your understanding or judgment regarding what you see corrected. Continue reading

Looking for the Good – People Edition

Finding and explaining what’s wrong with people is a great past-time.  It’s fun, easy and makes you feel better about your life.  It’s the junk food of human relationships!

Believe it or not, figuring out what’s good about people is a great past-time as well.  It’s challenging, satisfying and makes you feel better about the world.  It’s the gourmet meal of human relationships.

There are always people in our life who cause us to yearn for a delete button to use on them.  It could be our child’s principal or some politician or your own family.  Instead of just letting them drive you nuts over and over, make yourself look for something you could genuinely like about the person.  Turn it into a game if you need to.  Some people need you to think of multiple things to like about them just so you can stand their existence.  Well, guess what?  They aren’t going anywhere, so you might as well learn to like something about them!

Gifted in Public

My kids and I took a little trip today to a local cave.  It’s a sight seeing sort of place with some cool geology and stalactites and stalagmites and such.  We’ve been there before, but not for a couple of years, so it was new enough for my boys for them to enjoy it again.  I was, however, kind of disturbed to learn that they let the bats that overwinter in the cave stay in the attached gift shop as well.  At least I think they said they let the little guano machines hibernate there – I was a little distracted corralling my girls.

What was interesting about this trip for me, however, was to watch the reaction me and my kids got from the various people on the tour with us.  You see, half of the group was attending through a local Young Mensa field trip group.  The other half were just random folks who had the bad luck to take the tour at the same time as us.  My kids were the youngest ones there and, as usual, they made a spectacle of themselves.  My girls (almost 2 and 3) did get obnoxious towards the end, but that was just a part of the problem.  You see, my boys are just very outspoken – quick to answer any question, even the rhetorical ones.  And they ask enough questions to get a reference librarian to tell them to give it a rest.  Plus they say odd things like, “I find these stairs more disconcerting than I remember them being last time.”  (The 9 year old.)  or “I can’t wait to get off of these stairs so I can put my feet back on terra firma.” (The 13 year old.)  The (almost) 2 year old pretended to be a cat-dog (a puppy that meows)  most of the time and dramatically warned us, “no touching” if we got too close to walls or “look out – monsters!” when we were warned about a creepy part coming up.  The 3 year old suggested that there might be a tiger behind a gate leading to a dark area she couldn’t see and pointed to every calcium carbonate formation in the place.

What I noticed and what I finally have something of an answer for, was that half of the group did not seem to enjoy our presence.  One older woman in particular repeatedly glared at me and my kids.  Her husband kept shaking his head at us as if to say, “what has this world come to?”  These are the responses I have become quite familiar with: the disapproving looks, the stares which seem to say “why don’t you make them shut-up!”, the averted eyes which indicate that we’re embarrassingly weird.  I get them everywhere I go it seems.

However, I noticed a quite different reaction from the folks with the Young Mensa group.  I caught of lot of knowing smiles and some rather reassuring nods from the parents whose kids had already made it through the younger, more rambunctious years.  They too probably knew what it is like to have kids who talk too much, ask too many questions, are too smart for their own good and unnerve the more normal people around them.

I live in a part of the country which is largely populated by much more somber, serious and conformist people that I am used to.  There’s a joke which captures the flavor of a lot of the people here which goes: “Did you hear about the Norwegian farmer who really loved his wife?  Yeah, he felt so passionately about her that he almost told her.”  We, on the other hand, are from Chicago.  We were socialized by intense, argumentative Poles, lively, talkative Irish and rowdy, playing-the-dozens African Americans.  Even if my kids weren’t the sort who go around using words like “undulate” and “non-sequituer” in a sentence, we still wouldn’t fit in real well here. Continue reading

Heartless in Hartford?

Wow.  This is the creepiest video.  A surveillance camera caught video of a man being hit by a hit and run driver while crossing the street in Hartford, CN.  The man is left laying in the middle of the street and no one rushes over to help him.  He lays there until a police car shows up about a minute and a half later (if that doesn’t sound like a long time, watch the video.  It’s a long time.)  Apparently, several calls were put into 911 within a minute of the hit and run.  But no one actually approached the man to see if he was alive or offer comfort or whatever.  Here’s the video:

Argh!  The video won’t upload.  Oh well, here’s a link to the video.  I’ll try to get it loaded again later.

Can you imagine?  It always boggles my mind when something like this happens.  You wonder what is going through people’s heads.  A lot of people think it reflects a disregard for others.  There’s probably some of that.  However, it seems to me that a lot of these sorts of things come from people not knowing how to act.  We don’t raise people with a set of guidelines for how to act.  Everyone’s kind of winging it all the time.  And we’ve internalized a hyper-independent ethos which abolishes any sense of looking out for each other. In many cases, anyone who would try to get involved in something going on outside their immediate family is judged quite harshly.  I think people may have a hard time making snap judgements about when to turn off that ingrained laise faire attitude to step in to help another.

Of course, people don’t always respond like this.  A few weeks ago my husband was hit by a car while crossing the street in downtown Minneapolis.  He said people immediately reacted and came over to see if he was OK.  Others ran in the direction of the car which hit him.  Fortunately, he got away with a slight concussion and is fine.  A near-by cop saw the whole thing and pulled over the driver as he tried to turn onto a side street.  I can’t, however, imagine everyone mulling around with their hands in their pockets while he lay in the middle of the street.  Maybe it’s an East Coast thing.  I dunno.