Diagnosed with “Foot in Mouth” Syndrom

One of the things about being a pastor is trying to strike up conversations with people who have varying degrees of expectations of what a pastor is/does. Some people desire that the pastor know a lot about their lives while others have the pastor on a need to know basis. I am still learning to be comfortable with who I am and as such I tend to over-function and want to try to meet others expectations of me rather than focus on what I am called to do/be.

This over-functioning in order to try to meet the expectations of others leads to the diagnoses of “foot in mouth” disease. Perhaps you have this diagnosis as well? Let me share a few of my more memorable afflictions:

  • I asked a seminar leader for specific advice before the conference began. When the conference began the first rule that was shared was not to bother the leader with specific advice. The leader looked right at me when the rule was shared.
  • I asked if someone got some sun over the weekend, only to be told that the redness is a skin condition.
  •  I stood on the General Conference floor (the governing body of the entire UMC) and asked a three minute question in order to clarify where we were in the proceedings in the hopes of moving the body forward only to be told after the explanation that all I had to do was say, “I call the question.”
  • I said the wrong last name at a wedding.
  • I gave looked Joe in the eyes for a year as I said, “The body of Christ broken for you Joe.” Only to be told when he moved that his name is not Joe.
  • I welcomed a family to worship and asked their son if he liked superman. The parents shared with me that their nine year old was their daughter.
  • I asked a member of AA if they ever wanted to get a drink with me to talk about their life I would open to that.

Perhaps you have your own situations. I share these in order to remind us you that we all mess up in social situations. I have foot in mouth. Sometimes I mess up so bad people leave the church or I just embarrass myself or make it awkward. I wait patiently for a cure for Foot in Mouth, but until then I trust in the Grace of God and God’s people when I step in it.

"Think with your eyes and feel with your ears"

Malcolm Gladwell was on "Late Show" with Stephen Colbert not long ago. Colbert asked Gladwell why he was making a podcast when he is more than able to sell books and is quite popular in the world of popular writing. In response, Gladwell cited his friend Charles (I cannot catch the last name) who said, "you think with eyes and feel with your ears." 

There is a little back and forth here between the two while Gladwell attempts to make his overall point but here is the interview in full to consider:

While Colbert has a point that there are times that we "feel" deeply when we read a book or a poem. I would argue that the times we are emotionally moved by a text is when we allow it to "speak" to us and we "hear it" in our souls. However, Gladwell's point is getting at there is so much conveyed in sound that is lost on a page. You don't catch the nuances that come though when someone is speaking about something that is at their core. Sure you can read a sermon, but it is much different to hear a sermon.

For instance, this is the video clip of the moment that Gladwell mentions that will forever be remembered from Colbert's previous interview: 

Notice Munoz's voice and pauses and pacing and tone. There is an emotion and a feeling that one cannot get by just reading the transcripts. 

At risk of sounding like a technology curmudgeon, when we prefer to use text over voice as a primary communication then we need to understand what we are loosing. The gains in productivity we may get in "texting" another are perhaps by way of sacrificing the emotional connection we build when we talk to one another. 

I am not sure how one would go about tracking if the rise of text communication is inversely related to the decline of empathy but there are interesting studies that explore the decline of empathy.

We may be getting smarter but we may also getting "the feels" less often. 

Reciting Creeds: Act of Humility and Justice

Creeds are interesting in that they serve several functions in the Christian tradition. For many they are seen as a litmus test for who is Christian and who is not. I would submit that this is a misuse of the creeds of our tradition and to distill their role as just a test we all sign off on cheapens the richness of the creeds. 

So what else are creeds? 

I would submit that reciting the creed in corporate worship is more an act of humility and justice rather than a way to decide who is in and who is out. The creeds stated in worship, for the most part, are older than the people speaking them today. And this highlights why recited creeds are an act of humility and justice. Because these words are not "our" words means that we must stop talking and speak the words of others. When we speak these words we are humbled with the reality that others might have something to teach us. 

Even more than that, when we give voice to the voiceless we participate in a act of justice. While the creeds are often written by those in power in their time, those people are no longer in power. Said another way, when we give voice to the powerless we recall all those who are powerless and voiceless. 

So when you say a creed, perhaps you do not believe all (or any) of the lines, that is okay. Say them anyway. Say them as a practice of humility and as an act of justice. Then go out into the world and continue works of humility so that justice may be made real for all. 

And perhaps, that is the greater goal of our creeds.

Being Christian is less "light switch" and more "language"

For reasons that I cannot fully understand, for many people, being Christian is like a light switch. That is to say you either are a Christian or you are not. You are on or you are off. Others have noted the light switch metaphor is not helpful and suggest a "dimmer" switch to be better metaphor. That is we are rarely all the way on or all the way off. Being Christian is being in flux.

For years the dimmer switch metaphor has been helpful for me to talk about evangelism as well as my own understanding of the Christian life. The more I sit with it the more I settle into a different metaphor - being Christian is like learning a language.

  1. It takes time. Humans may have a propensity for language but it still takes time to learn language. We make mistakes. We learn the nuances. We have difficulties making new sounds. Learning any language takes time, learning the language of God in Christ takes time. 
  2. We build on the past. Language builds on the communities of people over time. For instance, English is indebted to at least the German and Anglo-Frisian communities. Being Christian requires that we take seriously the past and understands the debt we owe to the Sinners and Saints that came before us. 
  3. We evolve. Language evolves. The word nice has evolved over time and what it meant to be nice today is different than years ago. Being Christian today might look a little different than it did years ago there is not ONE universal never changing way to be Christian. We are all learning how to be Christian together. 
  4. Yelling louder to non-speakers does not help. You know that old joke where the English man is trying to communicate with the Frenchwoman by just speaking English louder? It does not help. Yelling Christian language louder to others who do not speak the language does not help. 
  5. We do not have to fear mixing. In Texas there is another language called "Spanglish" which is mix of Spanish and English. Being Christian means that we are able to mix different ideas with Christianity without fear of "losing our religion". Instead we are helping to create a new generation of people who can speak Christian. Finding ways to mix the message of Christ with other faith traditions only makes each tradition more dynamic and accessible for new people.
  6. We are not able to speak it perfectly. No one has perfect grasp of language and no one has perfect grasp on being Christian. We are all learning and trying the best we can. This is in part why grace is important in both communicating and being Christian. 
  7. There are some universals. It seems there are universals in language. For instance shaking a head universally means "no". There is even suggestions that politeness in language is universal. Being Christian recognizes the universals between the message of Jesus and Shintoism to Sikhism. It is in the universals that we can communicate and build relationships.
  8. It is the best we have. Language is great but even language falls short on being able to describe the mysteries of the world. How do you describe the color blue or the feeling of rage? Metaphor, story, parable and simile are the best we have. How do you describe the love of God or how to be in relationship with others? Christians know that Christianity is not perfect but it is the best that we know of. This does not mean it is supreme, just like one dialect is not supreme, it is the one that we have found that continues to be the best we personally have.
  9.  It helps to learn about others. In order to better understand the world around us as well as build relationships it helps to learn about other languages. Likewise, it is helpful to learn about other religious traditions in order to better understand our neighbor. 
  10. Some people just know more than we do. Shakespeare had a better understanding of how to use words than I do. It does not mean I am a fool, I understand that some people are gifted in language in a way that I want to learn from them and even mimic them. There are some people who know more about being faithful to God than I do, for instance Jesus. It does not mean I am a fool, I understand that there are some people who are gifted in the way that I want to learn from them and even (gasp!) mimic them.

How are you practicing being a Christian?