Monday, May 30, 2016

I love that my kids complain - And you should too

We've all been there:  Your kid is going bananas (or your husband or wife or mother or sister though it may look different).  They are MAD.  I mean, throwing themselves down, going all limp-arm, screaming so much theres spit flying mad.

They wanted that toy.  Or to play the game their way.  Or not to be told what to do.

Our daughter Leah does this super cute arms folded pouty thing.

Melissa hates that face.  I mean hates it.  I love it and think it's super cute.  Melissa hates that too:)  She loses her cool every time Leah pulls that look.  I can't remember Melissa ever saying this, but her face reads "Listen girl!  I brought you into this world and I can take you out!"

Of course, Melissa's response internally may be a little more R-rated as well, I'll let her comment on that if she likes ;)

Emotions are funny things.  They point out the truth of our internal world far more than the words we say.  You may say "I love you" or "I hate you" or "I miss you" but you always know, when you hear those words, if they really mean it.

How do you know?  You know intuitively based on their emotion.  If the words they're saying are coming from the depths of the soul, you know it.  You can see it in their emotion.

This is what makes some people good lovers and others poor.  Some people just are loving people, and their emotions adhere to that reality.  Others are not.  Now obviously, that is a ridiculously loaded blanket statement, but it's more or less true.

Kids?  Well kids are little people without emotional filters.  They just let out what they feel.  They haven't been stifled or stunted or squelched or proprietized or gotten their little minds around what are our culturally acceptable or unacceptable emotional responses.

They just let loose.  And it's awesome.  Why?

Kids are living truly and authentically out of the core of their being (this is where our emotional responses come from).  They are sincerely being themselves.

They want things.  They desire things.  They envy.  They dream.  They grow infuriated when the world is not working out the way they think it should.  They scream "that's not fair!" or "that's not right!" or even better "you suck!"

And they are truly being themselves.

Which would you rather have, honestly?  A child that is sincerely and authentically living in this world as their true self, or a child that has learned appropriate and acceptable cultural emotional responses?  In other words, would you rather have a kid that never throws tantrums, never gets angry, and is generally dead inside, or a kid that lives out their emotional life to the fullest and sincerest reality of themselves, forgetting what is acceptable?

Seriously though, which would you rather have?

Now, I'm not saying that only a tantrum throwing kid can be authentically living out their emotional world.  There is a correct way to deal with big emotions; namely, for a Christian, it is to bring those BIG emotions into both a vertical direction as a rage against God, and in a horizontal direction in a relationally safe area.  The Psalms give tons of help in walking through this.

Walter Brueggemann says of the lament Psalms that they "are refusals to settle for the way things are.  They are acts of relentless hope that believes no situation falls outside Yahweh's capacity for transformation.  No situation falls outside of Yahweh's responsibility."

How about that.  You kid is living out a relentless hope when he/she is throwing that tantrum.  The world is not working the way they think it should work.  Some correction for their incorrect picture of what the world should be may be needed, but a normal "Be quiet!" or "Calm down!" or "Stop whining!" or the myriad of other natural parental response is just not a very helpful response.

I think the way to really nurture a healthy emotional world in my kids, or friends or whoever, is not to squelch their big emotions, but to see them as a hopeful cry for the way the world could be.  These tantrums are cries of hope.  They are dreams.  Let's dream along with em.  Let's cry alongside em at the injustice of the world.

Maybe our kids can teach us a thing or two about hoping for a better world -- rather than just going along living culturally acceptable proper lives?

And ironically, Melissa's response (and our normal response) to our kids tantrums is a hopeful one as well.  "I want a world void of strife and pain and hurting and chaos.  I want just one day of peace from a screaming child!"  So, the ultimate twist is that Melissa is the relentless hope-er as well.  She wants the world to be different than it is.  Her emotional outburst shows her inner desire.

I say let's just bring all our hope and dream-fullness together to the One who could ultimately do something about it.  Rather then seeing these outbursts as problems, let's view them properly: cries of the soul for a better world.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

How would you answer Charles Darwin?

Melissa and I are currently taking a class on Christian apologetics.  This week we're discussing the problem of evil/pain.  The following is a class discussion prompt, followed by my answer:

Many people believe like Charles Darwin.  His beloved daughter Annie, died at an early age and something broke inside of him.  He determined to have nothing to do with a so-called God who would allow his Annie to die.  If you were to sit down with Darwin over coffee, what are some questions you might ask that would surface some of the underlying issues?  How would you evaluate Darwin's feelings?  How would you analyze the logic of his argument?  How is you response to Darwin different than your response to someone who has doubts about the possibility of God and suffering both existing in the world?

My answer:
How would I answer Darwin?  I wouldn't, honestly.

I would ask questions and listen.  I would esteem his pain.  I'd weep with him and affirm his emotional place.  I'd ask if there was anything I could do to help.  How can I serve his family?  How can I listen?  Is there anything he needs?

The incoherent logic of his argument for disbelieving in God is irrelevant in that context.  Ultimately, a time may come when we could visit his logic, but that could be a long way away, if it ever comes.

Communicating, even things such as the gospel, demand that we first understand and plow the soil in order for people to even be able to hear what we are saying.  Otherwise, we're throwing pearls to swine.  Theres a reason Jesus didn't preach in certain towns and a reason he only explained certain parables to his disciples.

To that end, honestly, I have a hard time believing anybody can just be in the "intellectual argument" side wholly and be void of the emotional argument to the problem of pain.  We have a lot of tilling to do in people's lives if we're to bring them to a place in which they're willing to listen to logical arguments regarding the problem of evil/pain.

Then, and only then, can we begin to present our answer to the problem of pain/evil -- but we'll find that we've been incarnation-ally presenting it all along.  

God's answer to the problem of pain was to enter himself into it.  It was to stoop down and embrace it headfirst, finding that it meant his own death.  His answer to pain was to let it do its worst to him, and then find it crushed 3 days later.

As Albert Schweitzer once put it, Jesus was called to throw himself on the wheel of world history, so that, even though it crushed him, it might start to turn in the opposite direction.

What it means to be people that follow Christ is to be a people that would enter into the pain of a hurting world and embrace it.  Let you pain do it's worst to us.  We know that the victory of Christ can not only stem the tide of evil, but reshape it into a beautiful new creation.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Revisiting the pain

This morning I've dedicated some time to revisiting one of the more painful experiences of my life.  Yay!

Revisiting is an interesting word for me to use.  Dwelling in, or sitting with, or reliving would be apt terms as well.

One immediate hurdle I have is to even give these past experiences the time of day.  "Don't be such a wimp," I hear within.  Or, "It wasn't such a big deal, get over it."  Or "other people have it much worse."

But regardless of the pull of inner-Bart's voice (or is it someone else's voice?), I deeply hold the belief that in order to begin to be a whole, functioning, helpful and healthy part of this world it requires that I revisit the pain.  I see only one future destination if I do not: a grumpy, embittered, whiny old man.  Or, at the very least, a man that holds wounds within that can and will cause harm to others and himself.

Ignoring pain is never a wise choice physically, so why should I do so emotionally?

So I opened my journal and began to process.  I do so with an awareness that this is something God is asking me to do.  His presence seems hovering over this whole time.

I'm surprised at the things I can remember.  The smells.  The exact place I was sitting.  I remember the morning before.  I remember my insides boiling.  I remember my hands shaking.  I can feel my eyes darting around, trying to grab hold of anything that could anchor my heart.  I remember how I felt.  Betrayed.  Abandoned.  Like an animal caged and trapped.  I felt my personhood slipping away. I felt dehumanized.  I was bewildered and lost.  How could this be happening?!



I sit there, in process, for a while.  I sit there now with a heavy heart as I write.

And yet.  Something is different this time.  I've invited someone else along into the past.

He is there.  He takes my hand as the betrayal sets in my heart.  I notice that his hands shake along with mine, he is going through the exact thing I am.  He enters the cage and is animalized along with me.  He sets aside his humanity to be present.  And there, in the cage, he weeps with me.  His eyes glistening and knowing the depths of the hurt.  He doesn't wipe the tears away, but just weeps with me.  He is present.  He wishes this were not my story, nor his.

And there, in the cage together, I know once again that this man is my best friend and the love of my life.

And maybe, just maybe, my best friend can heal these wounds and bring healing to my heart.

"No one can ever go so low that God in Jesus has not gone lower.  What other faith has at its heart a writhing body, torn flesh, shameful desertion and disgrace, anguished desolation, and a darkness that can be felt?  God liberates not by removing suffering from us, but by sharing it with us.  Jesus is 'God-who-suffers-with-us.'" -- Os Guiness, philosopher, survivor of the Henan famine in China, 1943

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Where am I, really?

This morning I went on sort've a bender.  No, not that sort of bender.  An angry-depressive-don'ttalktome and leavemealone kind of bender.

It was all because my kids' elementary school gym teacher was enforcing the rules.

It was raining pretty hard this morning, so we thought we would just drive the kids to school instead of making them stand in the rain at the bus stop.  We had fun little giggles and a small dance party in the car on the way (these are not uncommon in our car).  As we pulled up to the school we realized that the carpool lane was horribly long and slow, so, breaking the rules, we decided to pull into the bus lane.

We pulled around the empty lane.  No buses to be seen.  No kids either.  Totally empty.  We just thought, let's throw em out real quick, no biggie.  So the kids start unbuckling and begin to give hugs and kisses.  Then the gyn teacher walks up as they're getting out.

"You can't drop them off here," he says as our kids are already hanging out the door.  "This is a bus lane.  You have to pull around to the other lane."  Our kids get back into the car; and my inner world gets dark.  Melissa begins to pull away.

I mean, if I shared the things I was thinking in that moment it'd make a sailor blush.  I'm glad Melissa rolled up the windows cause I may have hung out the window and yelled things that would've gotten our kids thrown out of school.  I'm not joking; that's how dark I got.

This is not the first time something like that has happened to me recently.  Last week I was rebuked for grabbing too many M&M's out of the  community pot here at work and I wanted to go on a killing spree.  Really.  I was so mad about it I could barely function the rest of the day.  And these two events are not isolated, believe me.  This keeps happening to me.

A quick addendum at this point may be necessary for me to say that I now completely understand neither the gym teacher nor the M&M police were doing anything wrong.

Here's what I'm gathering, finally.  Call me inordinately slow for taking this long to realize it, but these reactions are not normal.  Something in me is broken.  I am really messed up.

Each of the last three days I've begun reading a portion of a book I started on seeking healing amidst PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).  And each time I've broken down in tears.  Like snotty, red eyed tears.

I hesitate to say it like this publicly, but I have had, and currently still am processing through PTSD.  I have virtually all the symptoms.  Outbursts of anger are definitely a symptom.

I'm already at 500 words here, and this could go in a multitude of different directions, some of which I'm hoping to discuss in coming posts.  But I'll get to the heart of what has been so hard for me:

I have trouble admitting reality about myself.  Especially when that reality is difficult or painful or broken.

I always want to feel good, and I deny feeling bad.  I grew up in a culture in which you "throw some dirt on it" or "walk it off" when you're wounded, weak, troubled or sad and grieved.  Compound that culture with the Christian culture's emphasis on the victorious Christian life and I began to believe that I should always feel good.  I should be joyful and loving and peaceful; I should not be sad or angry or hurt.  I should be growing in trust and peace in Jesus, not distress and outbursts of anger.

So I denied it.  I didn't deny it in a ridiculously caricatured way, please don't misunderstand me.  I would admit my pain and hurt and trouble.  But I did not want to stay there.  I hated it there.  That place was death to me.  Only weaklings dwell there.

I have a lot more to say about this.  Hopefully I'll write more about it.  But denial is real, and my suspicion is that it's not just real for me.

I wanted to pause here to pose a question for the reader.  Where are you, really?  If you had nobodies' opinion of you to weigh, no-one to impress, and no "right" emotion -- how are you doing?  When you sit quietly and allow yourself to truly answer, what would you say?

Or, to put it another way, if your feelings were all neutral--as in, there are no "good" or "preferred" feelings, there are no things you should be feeling-- how would you describe where you are?

A follow up question may be: why do you think it is that you tend to always put off a sunny disposition?  Is it suspicious to you that your answer to the common "How are you?" is always "good"?

Monday, January 11, 2016

"Slowly, slowly"

Some things in life just stick with you: memories, joys, pains, milestones.  Sometimes rather random things just seem stapled to your brain, for only God knows what reason.  One phrase that has stuck with me ever since our STINT year in Azerbiajan has been the Azeri phrase “yavash yavash.”  The phrase is really a bit nonsensical but can loosely be translated “slowly, slowly.”  For whatever reason, this phrase has always had a special connotation for me. 

I’m finding that, much to my surprise, I’m a rather driven guy.  I want things done, and I want them done well.  I want to succeed, to accomplish big things, to, literally, change the world.  This has been a huge impetus to our mission and ministry.  This is usually a good thing.  But in the midst of hurt or disorientation, being deeply driven to head somewhere or do something can be somewhat destructive.  Consider yourself in a fog: should you choose to just run off wildly in one direction or another, there is no telling the danger you may run into.  That’s my tendency. 

What I have needed—and here is why yavash, yavash has always appealed to me—is a calming force.  A present sign of the slowness of the spiritual life.  A gentle reminder that though crazy things aren’t happening every day, God is indeed moving.  A nudge to remain faithful in the midst of the process.

Perhaps you need to hear the Lord whisper the same thing to you?  Perhaps you could benefit from instead of seeing all the ebbs and flows of the day-to-day grind as distractions and little annoying interruptions, you could see them as God-given gifts of change in a turn-style world?  To slow down and breathe deeply in the reality of God’s pace and His presence is beginning to open new doors for me in my relationship with Him, His people, and His world.  This is a world that, I believe, most assuredly does not need more Christian rat-racers, but more people walking in the peace, comfort, and joy of a meditative spirituality led by Christ.

This has been a rather fun lesson to learn.  We look forward to sharing with you more of the fruit that we feel God has been graciously giving us as a result of this mindset change.