Archive for the ‘relationships’ Category

There is a some angst in the United States these days and it surfaces in the fear of strangers, and it takes on the language of “us” and “them,” and the language of our national “greatness.”

People say things like “We Americans need take care of ourselves first, we need to do what is best for us, we need protect our interests so we can be great again.” This makes sense to many people who aren’t doing well economically and to people who feel that they have lost power or place or status.

As a result our national sentiment has grown in being against those who aren’t like us. It is in vogue to suspect the stranger. The thinking is that they keep us from being great.

People of another color, people from another religion, people from another socio-economic background, people from another country — too often, these days, they are suspect. If they are not of us then perhaps they are not for us.

Hmmm.

But the facts are this; we are one humanity, one human family, all cut from the same cloth, all bearing the same needs, wanting many of the same things, and in truth — to be quite spiritual about this —  we are made, according to holy writ, in the same image.

I’m am not suggesting that there are not people to fear, dangerous ones  — there are — but I am suggesting that difference in culture, color, cult or cannon, doesn’t not mean that we can’t — even if we are strange to each other — respect one another, live close to each other, and even benefit from each other, and even help each other avoid harm from dangerous ones.

And, in fact, we do, benefit from each other.

I ran across a really interesting book a while back, The Necessity of Strangers. In it, the author, Alan Gregerman, asks the question, “What if strangers are more important than friends?”

He then explains that the advantage to strangers is that they can fill in the gaps in our knowledge. They can teach us stuff, and thus help us be more innovative and help us create more value and help us make our world great.

Is this true?

It has been for me.

At two points in my life, I have been overwhelmed by difficulty.  At both those times, I have gone to counseling for therapy. The two best counselors of my life were both Chinese women, both with PhD’s, one a Christian, one not. They helped move toward greatness, if my greatness is defined as surviving and triumphing in the face of difficulty, if greatness is defined as being more loving, if greatness is defined as being more understanding of emotions and becoming more skilled in handling conflict.

These strangers, these wise, educated women, from other countries, helped healed my heart. They did me much good. Professional counseling — think about it  —  it is the knowing and unburdening our hearts, to strangers, who can perhaps be more objective than family and fiends, who have been trained to have more skill in responding to relational hurt and difficulty.

This is not all. This is not the sole example of strangers who help, who have helped me, who help all of us.

Many, many strangers, people very different from us, have benefited each of us in the United States.

Strangers, in the form of farmers, grow our food. Strangers, in the form of doctors — virtual strangers, many from other countries — have treated and healed our diseases. Strangers from other countries — and strangers here in America  —   they have made and perfected the the technology we drive and the advanced tech we work with and communicate with. Strangers, from the past and present, have written the books that have influenced our thinking, they have made the great discoveries that has given us better lives, advanced the best political systems, furthered civilization, done us all much good.

It is endless. Our lives are enriched and sustained by strangers. Our scientific, philosophical, cultural, psychological, sociological, historical and spiritual knowledge has been built up and perfected by the work of strangers, both in other countries and in ours

And economic peace and prosperity —  if that is one of our standards of greatness in our now globally dependent system — will very much hinge on the cooperation of strangers.

I have nothing against striving for greatness, but as we do, we would do well to remember this: strangers, they have made us great, again and again.

Life is a series of choices about what we value.

What do you value? What about me? I like the advice in Matthew 6:19

 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

This is a challenging, powerful teaching. It is a good word about our hearts

In Matthew 6, Jesus is challenging you and me with a provocative question, “Where is your heart?”

Jesus says our heart is where our treasures is.

This week Tasia, my office manger and I worked on the REFINERY Church youth center. We bought wood, and paint, and furniture.

We assembled a big black farm table and bench we bought for the youth. We carried out trash. We nailed some decorative wood on the walls. On Friday, we swept the floor, so the youth could have an nice environment for their Sunday group.

You could say, what we bought and worked on is the stuff that rots. The room and it’s furniture will age over time. The youth will sit on that new table, stand on that table, jump on that table. They will break the windows with game balls.  They will trash that room!

But remodeling the youth center isn’t about the stuff, it is about valuing young people, loving our youth, creating a safe attractive space for them, about attracting more of them to church so they can know God.

That matters. They matter. That they have a good place to meet matters.

They are the treasure that we use our treasure for. This is what Jesus is teaching in Matthew 6. Keep straight on what the treasure is. Treasure the true treasure, not the lesser treasure.

If we treasure only temporary stuff that rots, stuff that people steal, stuff that goes up and down in value — cars, clothes, food, houses, money, although those aren’t bad — if we put them in the center of our hearts, then our hearts will be filled with insecurity.

The recent great recession, 2007 to 2009, showed us how insecure our earthly treasure is.

But If we treasures stuff that which lasts on into heaven — eternal stuff like young people, all people, Christian community, virtue, beauty, love, God himself — then our hearts will be secure, for these things were made to last.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, He [God] has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart.

God has put eternity in us. God has set a desire for what lasts in us. Our souls are eternal, our hearts are eternal, the kingdom of God is eternal. The Bible is clear on this, go for the gold Christians. Pursue what lasts!

Question. Hard question. One Christians have always struggled with.

Does God hate stuff? Is God anti-material? Does God hate earth? Does only heaven have value?

No, no, no. That is not what Jesus is saying here.

The church fathers, our best theologians, the famous historic church councils, the best Christian thinkers have always answered:God loves his creation, God loves nature, God loves earth — in fact heaven will be a new earth. God loves humans, and God loves buildings that his people can be safe in, live in and worship in.

God himself oversaw the building of the beautiful Jewish temple.

In fact I think our need and longing for a place to worship, and a safe place to live is our longing for heaven. It is the old Gnostic heresy that God hates evil flesh and evil material things and that only heaven and spirit are good. That is heresy. It is false.

The whole book of Matthew is about Jesus healing bodies, feeding crowds, loving humans, honoring the temple, teaching with examples from creation.

NT Wright puts it well, “God’s plan is not to abandon this world, the world which he said was ‘very good.’ Rather, he intends to remake it.”

The beautiful thing of this world, nature, flowers, bodies, the beautiful accomplishments of human beings, art, music, literature, dance, our God loves and revels in these things and they are part of the kingdom of God and they will be a part of heaven.

In Matthew 6, Jesus isn’t directing us to be weirdly anti-material and super-spiritual, he is directing us to wrap our hearts around kingdom values, around what is most important:

People, not money
God, not stuff
The body of Christ, not our separated individual lives.

Jesus us saying, “I really care about your hearts. I want them to choose the best things. Matthew 6:19 is Proverbs 4:23, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the well  spring of life.”

In my family, when it comes to technology we use Apple products.

Once, my daughter’s Apple device was stolen by a participant in her day program. But we had turned on the app Find My IPhone on the device. So we saw where the IPod went.

It was in Santee. At a shopping mall. Then a house. We contacted the director of her program. He knew the student who lived in Santee. The director called the mom. Surprise! Your son has a stolen iPod. Busted!

The iPod was guarded and protected by it’s finding app and it’s GPS system.

In a similar way, guard your heart. Turn on the GPS in your heart. Watch where your heart goes. Protect it,  don’t let it get stolen away by temporary things, by keeping it focused on that which lasts.

Jesus was so serious about this, he came at it again in Matthew 6:22

Matthew 6:22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”

24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

Jesus is very confrontational here, very strong. The over-valuing of the kingdom of the world can darken our eyes, and darken our hearts, master and rule us.

Money can rule us. And keep us insecure.

How do we avoid this?

How to keep I keep my eye healthy? How do I serve the right master? How do I guard my heart?

Three simple ways.

1. Put the most important things first.

Put God first, not money.

Put people first, not things.

I like things. I have things. But to keep myself balanced, every month I give money to support a missionary, every month I pay for children’s education in TJ, every month I pay for my parents food at their rest home, every month I give generously to my church.

I tend toward being materialistic, but I purposefully counter this by choosing to use a significant portion of my money for eternal things.

2. To guard your heart, invest in the kingdom.

Invest in people. Invest in friends, invest in youth, and children and old people too.Place the value of relationships higher than the value of material things.

Use your time to stop and talk to people. Build up your relationships at church.Use your house or apartment for hospitality.Use your personal skills to volunteer.

Invest in your kids. Invest in family. Spend more time with them that with stuff. If you are a leader in the church, mentor someone, apprentice someone, disciple someone. Build into the life of a younger person

3. Finally, thirdly, go beyond using money for God. Use your skills for God.

N. T. Wright again gets at this perfectly, “What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself— that will last into God’s future.

These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether.They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom.”

Here is how we have good hearts. Here is how we have secure hearts.

We remain clear on what the treasure is.

We put up-and-down things second, and we put lasting, eternal things first.

Last week, one night for dinner, my wife made homemade stew.

The stew was very savory, full of sweet onions, fresh carrots, tangy celery and hearty beef chunks.We topped the stew with a sprinkling of sea salt and the flavors just popped out of it. The salt crystals were little flavor bombs that exploded with pungent delectability in your mouth.

Well they explode in my mouth, not yours, because you weren’t there.

Also, my wife made some fluffy home-made biscuits to go with the stew. We cut them in half and put butter and honey on the hot, steaming bread. The honey melted into the butter, and made the top of the biscuit a sweet gooey mess while the bottom of the biscuit was still floury and crispy.

The savory stew combined with the honey-sweet biscuits like shooting stars in my mouth — to even remember it makes me salivate.

Salt is king of the taste buds! Sugar is its gorgeous queen!

Matthew 5:13

“You are the salt of the earth.”

I want to remind you of something important that Jesus said about you. You Christians are the salt in the savory stew. We, as Christians, are the honey on top of the fluffy biscuit.

You season your community, you season the world.

How? Where? When salty?

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Colossians 4:6

According to scripture, you can be salt, when you speak. How you talk.

By letting your words be encouraging, gracious and helpful to others — that’s salt.

So lets be clear. It is expected of you and me by Christ is to speak with grace our mouths.

We are to open our mouths, and pour out grace on others.
….
I was in Home Depot once. The checker was super slow. It took several decades for him … to process the person in front of me.

I waited, and waited and waited.

So when I got to the checker, I said, my heart was exposed when I said, “Could you possibly just go a little slower.”

That was of course before I was a Christian. Actually it was last week. Not really.

Negativity is so distasteful, in me, nasty sarcasm, it is yuck, it is embarrassing, it is life-sucking. When I said that, I felt shame.

With a positive mouth, we season the world; with a negative, unattractive mouth, our value is lost. Jesus said we might as well throw out the salt that has lost it’s saltiness.

This is straight up Jesus.

If you want influence, if you want to be heard, if you want a voice, for God, you must commit to being gracious. Otherwise, God will only see you as,  needing to go.

I have an uncle.

We went to his house for Thanksgiving a few years ago. We all brought food. My young nephew brought bread.

My uncle claimed it was the wrong kind, and got he so upset he went to the store for his choice of bread.

It crushed my young nephew. My uncle made a scene, over the bread.

To be truthful, I don’t like to go to my uncle’s house much.

Negativity — it demolishes hospitality, and it can ruin family relationships.

This was so important, this thing of being gracious, to Jesus, that he communicated a second image to talk to us about it.

Jesus went on to say, in Matthew 5::14

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.”

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

What did Jesus say? He said be quiet more, let your actions talk for you.

Yesterday, two of the plumbers in our church came down and spent five hours putting eight new toilets in the church.

If you go in the women’s bathroom, you might have the honor of being the first one …

I like plumbers. They typically don’t say much. They just shut up, and create a good flush.

For being quiet and doing their jobs, these guys make like $60-$80 per hour, but yesterday we were the recipients of their work — for free.

That’s light; that’s kingdom light.

The light goes on, said Jesus, when we shut up more and just serve others.

What can we do to be salt and light.  To be so, a few things seem obvious:

Stop complaining.

Stop complaining about your job and be grateful you have one.

Stop complaining about those who think differently than you and be grateful that they and you have freedom of speech.

Stop complaining about your family and just love them. Be glad you have a family. Some people don’t.

Research shows that simply smiling at others produces chemicals in them that make them feel better.

Be grateful.

I have been realizing what a privilege it is to have people do things for me, make my food in a restaurant, make my coffee, wait on me at the bank.

So, I have a new line. it isn’t hurry up and serve me. It is “Thank you so much for making my coffee drink today, or thank you very much or serving me today.”

Listen more, and try to understand.

You can do that  with the people you disagree with by asking lots of questions, before spouting your answers.

As of course you know, there is lots of political conflict these days.

It is okay to disagree, even to protest, (lets uphold the right of free speech in America), but Christians, let’s not hate and make villains out of the other side, whatever the other side is for you.

What we need is more dialogue, more understanding … not more putting each other down

I called a friend this week who I think voted the opposite of me in the last election.

He told me he appreciated me, because of my willingness to be open, to always be trying to understand.

Graciousness, openness to try to understand others, that is salt and light. To keep friends, who you disagree with, that is maturity, that is the honey on the fluffy biscuit, the tangy salt on the savory stew.

And another thing …

Apologize when you are wrong.

I know people who never admit they are wrong. They don’t say I’m sorry.

But you can’t be salt and light if you won’t own up to your mistakes and apologize.

I was working with someone recently and we got tangled up over who was in charge. So immediately, after, I called them.

Why? I wanted to understand their side.

Then I apologized for over-stepping my role.

It helped.

Lastly, compliment people more.

I have been realizing what a privilege it is to have people do things for me, make my food in a restaurant, make my coffee, wait on me at the bank.

So, I have a new line, “Thank you so much for making my coffee drink today, or thank you very much or serving me today.”

Yesterday, I  bought pizza for the volunteers at the church. When asked what kind they wanted, the plumbers, who don’t say much, said anything, with meat. So I got the works: savory sausage, pepperoni, onions, peppers, salty sauce, flaky crust. It tasted so good, someone asked me where I got it.

That’s it! That is what we want, to be so delicious people ask us,  where did you get that from?

Then we can show them.

The room was full of people, the candles glowed in most every hand. The place was baked in yellow candle light, it was relationally warm, it was psycho-cozy, and I only wanted to stay in that moment — the Christmas Eve service at the REFINERY Church, at the end of a good year, surrounded by people who love me — a long time.

Only the weekend before this, I had been in another similar space, a church in Pasadena, at my brother’s last service of his career, where the love was similarly palpable, a veritable stratosphere of appreciation and care for him as the pastor. I didn’t want that to end either, but it was the end, he was leaving and yet it was warm, and also cold, like the the days and  nights in the fall.

Life — it’s together, and then apart, and then together again, warm and then cold, and I like both. I better like both because this is reality and there is no other. We are close, those moments pass, we are alone again, and then we move back close.

Yesterday, when I came downstairs, I found my iPhone singing, and I was happy. It was my friend Tony, in Maine, Face-timing me.

Cool! And then it was warm.

I  answered, I wanted to connect with Maine, and I wanted to connect with Japan too, and Hawaii, New York, Florida, Colorado, Missouri, Illinois and everywhere else my transplanted people live, my migrating friends, my military family, those Navy and Army folks and nonmilitaries who became my family at church, then moved away.

So Tony and Melissa and I chatted up the Maine snow, the California sun, the family cats and our mental states while I could see via Facetime that one of their kids was running around — just out of his bath — naked.

Life, meaning, health, sanity, good, God — it’ s in the connectedness, in community, the movement from being alone and then being with people again.There is no good life outside of this movement. There is no mental health outside of relationships, the moments of togetherness, and the moments of recovery after being together — the musings and processings alone, and then the mixing, learning and loving together.

We live move and have our best being within the the communal dance, in and out, close then far and close again.

I love my people, my brother, my family, my church friends, and my extended military family too, my Tony’s and my Nate’s, my Jen’s, my Megan’s, my Melissa’s and all the others I know.

And there it is, the best life, a bondedness, a befriendedness, an emotionally naked and unashamed witness.

We need to be alone sometimes, but we are best, always and forever befamilied.

It’s interesting, people’s reactions, their choices. Sometimes I wish I could manage them. Sometimes it would be nice to just manage my own.

Neither of those work — much. I’ve got the anti-Midas touch.

We are all inextricably connected  — all befriended, enemied, spoused, familied, churched, vocationed, ganged, communitied, nationed, planeted, universed.

There is no my way, only our many ways all waying along with each other down a wayward road. We live roped together, stringed, tangled — like fishing line. Life is a snarled mess of togetherness.

We show up, they don’t. We are late, they are early. They say thank you, they don’t. They get offended, we don’t — or we do. We like, we love; we hit, we shove. The immediate and particular status, motive, inclination, sincerity, immorality and civility of the heart  — it’s a mystery. We lack social acutance.

What to do?

I’m abulic; I’m not.

“Help!”

Do I pick at people, or shut up mostly?

Do I chill, chomp, churn, chuff or chew?

Do I get over it, look over it, look under it, or blow it up with an IED, an Incendiary Emotional Device — twice?

Lately I’m tying to shut up more. It’s not working totally, but accepting imperfection, allowing for error, being good with less-than-what-I-want — in others, in myself — it has a kind of cracked beauty to it, a dented loveliness, a rusted sheen.  It’s ameliorative.

It’s a bit like God — robust graciousness.

Forget the akrasia. Forget harsh judgment. Staying calm, nobody getting dinged up much more than they already are — that is kind of working for me lately.

Being good with a bent-fork, cracked-mug, chipped-plate humanity — it’s easier on me than the alternative.

And the other people in my life — they are liking it just fine too.

We have all had those moments, when someone said something to us and it just froze us, it was so off-the-freakin-charts insensitive.

I told someone one time that my daughter had epilepsy.

She look at me and responded with all sincerity.

“My Saint Bernard had epilepsy. He had a seizure one time and died of it.”

People say stuff. They aren’t thinking — clearly.

They tell us if we are single that one day we can hope to be married, if we lost a family member that they lost one too and they are better now. If our pet dies, well, we can get another one, if we have lost money “it is only money.”

If they offer to help with something, it is often on their terms, in a way that works for them, mostly advice — or veiled criticism.

A young single mom with young children told me recently that people have said to her, “You are a beautiful woman, you can easily get a man again.”

But would you want one?

It is just assumed that you would, because this is the patriarchal mindset that dominates everyday family-style clishmaclaver.

Helping often seems to be all about the helper, and the world view they are comfortable with.

People aren’t okay with our losses because it makes them insecure about their lives — that they could lose too — and so when they encounter our difficulties they want us to “get well,” to get back to social normal, for their sake, so they can continue basking in the blissful myth that all is well with the world — always or at least eventually.

It is not. God doesn’t fix everything, neither does money, nor does time, nor does “a man.”

What to do?

We can get cynical. We can get comical. We can get snarky. We can get quiet. All these work, and we will need this whole arsenal of response to survive — them, our saviors, our little helpers.

That being said, it occurs to me that no pleasure is greater than a comeback — that’s not later.

Someone I don’t know told me a while back that I was going to hell for not giving them money when they asked.

The next time I get that I think I’ll just agree with them. I have often thought the same thing myself. But I don’t think the main thing against me will be stinginess with users. God knows there is worse than that.

Of late I am of a mind to simply agree with those who think poorly of me. They don’t know the half of it. If we had time, I could give them a truck load of my failings, but it might just upset them more — poor things.

People are just full of judgment, and advice. When I was going through a particularly hard stretch I got this trite and untrue message from overly-Christianized people, “Everything happens for a reason.”

Yeah, it does. A lot happens because some people are jerks! People do bad stuff, and there are no good reasons lurking in the background behind all their mess making. God didn’t do it, the harmful stuff, a person did, and that isn’t easy to live with.

People want to nullify that, the legitimacy of hurt, taking responsibility for evil, and they want to powder away all negative responses. “Don’t get bitter,” they advise sagely.

“Bitter, of course we get bitter! And do you know what, I’m sure God is bitter too, in his own righteous way, because he didn’t want this stuff to happen to us,  and you would have a bitter taste in your mouth if this kind of thing happened to you!”

When we eat bitter fruit, we taste a bitter taste, and that isn’t a sin or a failure or a choice. It’s a bitter reality.

Now I’m getting worked up and so you can all see clearly,  “Wow, he’s a piece of work.”

Yup, you have no idea.

Little things make us sane — a delicious pastry with coffee, a flowering vine on a trellis, a hug, a cat on our lap, the sound of small round pebbles rolling in a wave on a beach.

Little things also drive us crazy — a wood splinter in our finger, dropping a plate in the kitchen, an unanswered text, a sarcastic comment or unwanted behavior by a friend or family member.

It’s funny how much little stuff can make or break social equanimity, especially in our close relationships.

Someone makes a comment. It has a slight edge to it — we flinch. “What did they mean?”

We make a mistake, suffer an omission, toss off a negative comment, fail to do what was asked.

“Will they like us anymore?”

“Are we still okay with them?”

They fail us, in these same ways, or so we think.

Are we still okay with them?

It comes down to this: self-management, the management of emotion, the management of response, the management of behavior,  the management of our hearts, the management of each of our precious relationships — to wisdom.

Responding to small irritations is always a decision, a judgment — just let it go, shed it, process it by yourself (“It doesn’t mean anything. It is an isolated incident.”), or the other route — bring it up, talk about it, find out what is really going on, work it through with them or with someone we trust, “Hey, what’s really going on here?”

There is no formula, but a few things might help.

We need to ground our emotions in reality. Often the problem, our anxiety, our irritation is in us, in our own pickiness, our own insecurity, our family of origin issues, our friendship of origin issues. Our emotion is rising out of our previous conflicts and tensions with others. If this is the case we must identify the real source of our emotion.

If the emotion is coming from a past harmful or toxic relationship, we must be careful not to let that emotion contaminate our new relationships. What ruined one friendship must not be allow to ruin another. Toxicity from one relationship doesn’t belong in another. It has no right, no place there. The people who have hurt us in the past, how we responded, does not belong in our new, healthy relationships. We must bar the door.

But if the current irritation is the result of a persistent abrasive behavior that currently exists in us, or in our current friends, in or colleagues and is beginning to build up, to cause resentment, to fester, then we must bring it up, to the surface, with ourself, with others, and apply the talking cure to heal it. If someone is letting us down, failing us, hurting us repeatedly, we must be brave and bring this up to them.

This helps, this kind of analysis. We do well when we ask the question: “Where are these feelings coming from?” And, “What is reality here?”

We must identify relational and emotional reality, ground our emotions and our responses in reality, and proceed from there.

The proper handling of little things, our emotions, our specific behaviors, other’s emotions and behaviors, this is essential to maintaining mental health and good relationships.

Get this right, and we will remain sane, and connected — kind of, the best we can, okay for now.

I’m good with okay for now.

 

The other day someone told me, “I feel like I have tried so hard to do everything right, but I still haven’t gotten what I want — or what I so badly need.”

Bingo! Yeah, I have sometimes felt that way too.

Then the person said, “Why not just give up, quit trying to be right, and just do what other people are doing?”

Yeah, I have felt that weary-of-doing-the-right thing too. And I have felt that might-as-well-just give-up-now, good-egg pouting, righteous-fruit-despairing type thing.

What to do?

First, I’d say keep the big picture in mind, the long-journey in mind, keep the game plan right smack dab in front of you. Being good, doing right, living according to your values will take time to show off it’s value and yield its reward.

But that reward, when it comes, maybe months or even years down the road will be sweet and tasty — and worth the wait.

Hang on; doing the right thing pays off — over time. Good things take time.

It took so long for me as a credentialed teacher to really become a good teacher — years of practice, failure, tying again, showing up for class with a knot in my stomach, until one day — I led that great discussion on that great novel and made that great homework assignment and knew, I had really taught them well.

Hang on! It took years for my wife and I to develop a truly good relationship, lots of fights, hurts, make-ups,  forgiving and being forgiven, getting counseling, until we got it, mostly, kind of  — peace, love, power to do the right thing for each other, self-control, deep emotional connection.

Good things are seldom gotten easily. The good is always hard won, and yet the good-good is so very good when earned by a long moral march in the right direction. And when you get there, to something good you have long longed for, you will be glad you didn’t cheat your way there, or bribe your way there,  or immoralize your way there so that you are left with an uneasy heart or regretful mind, or nothing that is really good at all. We are capable of ruining what is good by how we get it.

Yeah, that is the reality to face on this issue. Doing the wrong things to get the right thing doesn’t work. It doesn’t get you the right things. Right begets right. Wrong leads to wrong.

In career, taking short cuts will lead to incompetence, and forcing your way to the top will leave a sad trail of bodies behind you.

In relationships, doing wrong to get to right often leads leads to a poor fit —  that we don’t see until too late — to a poor match and to the painful reality that it didn’t work and we are right back where we started, ten years later, but now brutally damaged.

Hang on. Doing right, being good — it pays off. Good isn’t a panacea. We must not treat it as such. We don’t get everything we want in life no matter how we live. And being good is not some nifty tool, we use to manipulate others or God to give us what we want.

Good is good, and good is and has it own reward. Good produces good; it produces good people, people in charge of themselves, able to exercise control, able to love, and able to do so much good for others.

Doing the right thing isn’t a shield against all pain or disappointment or loss, but it is the proven, safe route up the great eight thousand meter mountain of life to the gorgeous view from the top.

 

 

When I got up this morning, I went outside. It was still dark. Venus glowed in the east. It was cool; the sky was blue-black, with a slight lightening in the east where the earth turned toward the sun.

Looking at Venus, I thought of Jesus, who has been called the bright morning star. I paused, refreshed, not alone, enmeshed in Christianity, in an kind of metaphoric, historical, institutionalized beauty.

I came back in the house and sat and talked to my wife. When we talk, we  usually connect, very smoothly, very deeply, very satisfyingly. My identity and her’s merge, we easily understand each other’s abreviations, the rhetoric of love, our freshly invented eloquences. With these we work out the subliminal deep structure of our relationship, the one that exists within the institution of marriage.

Later in the morning, I drove into work, opened the door to my office, and walked into a third institution.

My office manager came to work too. We are both well-individuated, but as we talked, worked out the plan for the day, sampled the pastry we would later serve to guests, laughed at ourselves, played our separate roles, made progress, we became a useful institutional team.

What is my life? It is a life of living and moving and having my being within institutions.

What are institutions?

Institutions are not places, they are not buildings. Institutions are the rules that structure the interactions we have with the people we know.  Institutions define the way we relate.

The national government, our church, our marriage, our school system, our economic system, even our language — all are institutions, that is, all structure rules for our relationships.

A woman told me last week that our church hurt her feelings.

I apologized. I hated that she was hurt. The protocol, the unwritten rules, the tendancy of a church to favor certain people — the unexamined structure of our interactions — these can damage. Institutions can brutalize people.

I have been harmed by institutions. You probably have too. But we have also been helped by them — medicine, art, family.

What can we do to make our institutions healthy, even good?

First, in institutions, make exceptions, regarding the rules.

Once a person didn’t meet a requriement of our church for leadership. In this case, we overlooked that one institutional requirement. We kept the requirement in general —  it’s a good one — but we made an exception in this one case. It wasn’t a slippery slope. It was just plain smart, right, fair. And it worked well. The person has proven to be an excellent leader.

This is one way we kept our institution from harming the individual — we value the individual more than the general rule.

What else can be done?

We can keep changing. A healthy person keeps changing.  Healthy institutions also keep changing. They change the rules, to address problems, to find creative solutions.

Our church is currently becoming more economically and racially diverse. So we are including more types of people in leadership. Women, ethnic minorities, young people, older people, introverts, highly spiritual people, practical ones too. We are opening the doors to a different look, to different kinds of relational structures. Some of the rules are changing, and so the institution is changing in a good way.

Today as I sat writing this in Starbucks — a major institution — two strangers got into a conversation about how to cool their houses in the current heat wave. One gave the other a new idea. This “third place” within our culture, this public office, creates a space for people to relate to each other in ways of their own choosing, and come to solutions of their own choosing.

The bottom line?

Love your institutions, use them to connect to others, to solve problems; make them work for you and others.

I really love my dad. He is a good man.

Odd though, I cannot remember my dad ever playing baseball with me as I was growing up — and I loved baseball. I played a lot of it with my brothers and friends, but not with dad. And growing up, I also loved school; it was my thing, but I cannot think of any conversations with my dad about school, or any particular excitement from him about my academic accomplishments, or about going to college. I pretty much went to the university alone, on my own, with my own initiative, my own encouragement and my own money.

I love my mom. She loved my so much as a little child. But the other day I was thinking about how challenging my teen years were, especially my years trying to negotiate my relationships with girls. There was an emotional gap in those years for me, between my mom and I, and we didn’t talk much about how to process life and emotions and love. We loved each other, but I cannot think of one time my mom ever talked to me about girls, about relationships, about dating or about what women need from men.

As I grew into manhood, I did so without having gotten all I needed from my family. I was loved, but I was in part, insecurely, and anxiously attached.

Sue Johnson, an expert in the field of attachment theory explains what I experienced. From birth, from our earliest years, “we have a wired-in need for emotional contact and responsiveness from significant others.”

And when we don’t get that, when we are isolated, it messes with us. Sue explains. “Isolation—not just physical isolation but emotional isolation—is traumatizing for human beings. The brain actually codes it as danger.”

I experienced some emotional isolation in my teen years, and in my college years I actually became afraid of negotiating close relationships, especially with girls. And so my need remained. The research shows that the deep need and longing for a secure attachment never goes away. It just evolves, and the need of the child for the parent becomes the need of the adult for the lover.

Despite the deficit I brought along with me from my childhood, in my twenties I met a girl that met the need I had for emotional safety. She became my confidant, then my best friend, then my wife.

But our early years of marriage were rough. Like me, she came from a family where she didn’t get some of her very basic needs met, the need to be heard, to be loved and to be listened to. And so because of how we grew up, neither of us knew how to talk about our emotional needs very well. We battled. I was critical. She was angry. I tried to fix things. It made them worse.

What eventually helped?

We went through some hard things together — a birth of a disabled daughter, a dramatic career change, some medical problems — and we began to learn to tell each other how we really felt. We learned how to be broken, together, and to accept that as okay. Through difficult times we learned to listen to each other and to listen to our own needs, and to finally, just understand.

With a therapists help, I began to understand my own deep need for love, for connection, for attachment. My therapist helped me to learn to see that I was — like my wife — weak, vulnerable, helpless, needy, and to learn to be okay with that, and to communicate that, first to myself and then in my wife and to others. I learned to bond, over weakness, and to make being human, normal.

And it is at this level of weakness and vulnerability, that we really bond with other people, emotionally and deeply. At the level of complete emotional honesty, we become securely attached. This happens when we are safe to say and feel anything, without judgment or disapproval.

This is what we all need.