christian life

Maybe Don't Pray for People So Much

Praying for someone or for a situation is a common Christian practice. Prayer brings us into solidarity with one another, but it also is a confessional posture. Praying for someone often suggests a powerlessness to a situation and that we pray that God may intervene. Prayer is a powerful practice that bathes the Christian life and it is good a right thing to pray for people.

Sympathy vs. Empathy - Brown and RSA

My co-pastor and wife showed the Brene Brown clip making the distinction between sympathy and empathy. Brown points out that sympathy is a noble thing, but sympathy is something that one feels at a distance from another. When a tragedy strikes we send our sympathies. These are well intentions, but sympathy can only get one so far. Which is why Brown points out the need for empathy.

Empathy is that posture of being with someone who is in the pit or dark night. Empathy requires that we sit with another. That we move toward them and be with them. Empathy is with another while sympathy is for another.

Christians are called to pray for people to be sure, however Christians have the greater call to pray with people. In order to pray with people we have to move to where the people are. We have to go out into the world and not just pray at our dinner tables for the world. We are to pray with the dying not just for those on hospice. We are to pray with the prisoner not just for the incarcerated.

I am comfortable praying for people but praying with people has changed my life.

Is Jesus Your Private Lord and Savior?

"Is Jesus your personal Lord and Savior?"

I was asked the question in college just about each week I attended the after-church-social-time at the coffee bar down the road from the church. I did not have much money and discovered that the evangelical church had money and would buy deserts in bulk. I participated in worship but then sat through the social time so I could take a few of these baked "meals" to go.

This important question is not one to scoff at. It is a question about your priorities, values and how you were living them out. If Jesus is your personal Lord and Savior then that means that your priorities and values reflected those of Jesus. Christians think that the priorities and values of Jesus are very good and trust that the world is transformed when they are lived out. 

Too often when we think about this question of Jesus as personal Lord and Savior, we (the Church) has failed to communicate what just that means. We have gotten lazy and just let the fringe define what this means. So let me be clear: accepting Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior is not a punch card to heaven. It is not the secret code or the earned merit to get access to the Grace of God. Accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior is personal, it is not private. And therein lies the difference. 

Photo by  Dayne Topkin  on  Unsplash

Photo by Dayne Topkin on Unsplash

Jesus is not your private Lord and Savior. In fact, Jesus not not anyone's private Lord and Savior. Jesus does not do private. Jesus is very personal, but not private. 

Accepting Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior means at the very least you are living with those you find abhorrent and frustrating. It means being committed to upholding the value of another person even if you are repulsed by them. Yes, we need to keep proper boundaries when there is abuse, but boundaries drawn to isolate ourselves from everyone so that we live "just me and Jesus" is a misunderstanding of boundaries. 

If Jesus is your personal Lord and Savior than it means that you have given up the idea of exclusively practicing spirituality or religion on your own "private" time and "private" way. If your relationship with Jesus is private then you are treating him as your butler, not your Lord. 

Like Parenting, Christianity is Less Carpenter; More Gardener

A few weeks ago Hidden Brain had a wonderful little episode titled Kinder-Gardening. You can listen to the episode to the right if you would like.

If you have not heard this episode, it focuses on two competing metaphors for being a parent: a carpenter and a gardener. Where most of the books parents are encouraged to read and much of the conversation about how to raise children are influenced by the parent as carpenter metaphor, it stands to reason that for most of human history it is the parent as gardener metaphor that has guided us. 

The key difference in these metaphors, as you can imagine, is the locus of control. If a carpenter does the proper work they will get the proper product. The carpenter is a metaphor of control and is the dominate metaphor for living in the United States. Those of us in the United States have a false sense of control in our lives that it is almost laughable at how fragile we are when we are only slightly out of control. Just watch many Americans stand in a line or have to wait for the server to bring the menu, you can see frustration boil over because the lack of control is maddening (I know this all too well myself!).

Photo by  Igor Ovsyannykov  on  Unsplash

The dominance of the carpenter metaphor bleeds into parenting to the point that society believes that raising children is like building a table. Just look at the most popular books on parenting. The carpenter parent metaphor is booming business. However, for anyone who has raised a child you know that there is so much that you cannot control that it is almost laughable to think that anyone could build the proper child to being with! Thus the metaphor of parenting as gardener may be more helpful.

Just as you cannot control the weather, birds dropping odd seeds and bugs eating your fruits, so too you cannot control much of a child: their DNA, their likes and dislikes, their strengths and weaknesses, their friends, etc. Parenting today feels like having to unlearn the carpenter and learn the skill set of the gardener. 

Which leads me to Jesus. 

Jesus was raised by a carpenter and yet the vast majority of his parables use gardening imagery. In fact, other than the parable of the foolish builder in Matthew 7 and again in Luke 6, I could not think of any parable that connected to carpentry. 

It is interesting to me that even Jesus had to unlearn the carpenter and learn the skill of the gardener so to teach God's children how to live. 

Perhaps the invitation is to put down the hammer and pick up the shovel.

The Time I Hear a Sermon in the Bathroom

This very hard working man violating two social mores in one moment: 1) the oft cited rule that socially acceptable conversation avoids politics and religion and 2) the unspoken rule that conversation between men in the restroom is restricted to dads coaxing their sons to aim properly. So when he said, “give me a word.” I was caught off guard.

Photo by  Paul Green  on  Unsplash

Photo by Paul Green on Unsplash

I shared with him that I have been reading about Saint Moses who said that a monk should sit in his cell for the cell will teach you all you need to know. I said I have been reflecting on this as a need for silence and solitude in a hyper-connected and noisy world.

The worker smiled and grunted with satisfaction. So I asked in return “give me a word.”

The worker began to tell me the story of the rich man who avoided Lazarus their whole lives. He recalled how when they both died the rich man, from hell, asked that Lazarus would come, from heaven, to give him a cool drink. (Those of you who know this story from the Gospels can fill in the details.)

I smiled and grunted with satisfaction.

We “man hugged” (the handshake where you pull each other to bump chests and slap the back of the other two times before you disengage) and went our separate ways.

The life of the Christian is one that holds the call to action and the call to contemplation in tension. It is not sufficient for the social justice warrior to dismiss the need for silence and stillness. It is not sufficient for the hermit to dismiss the prophetic action need in the world.

You may think that action and contemplation are opposite ends of the spectrum, that they cannot coexist in one church much less in one person. We are led to believe that we must be either/or. Justice or worship. Action or contemplation. Left or right. Unity or disunity.

The deeper call of Christ is not either but both. Perhaps this is in part why the way of Christ is so difficult – you have to embody a constant and unresolvable mystery.

It is easier to take a side.