Sunday, October 31, 2010

Coerced change?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Dear friends,

I have been thinking this week about one way in which behavior, attitudes and beliefs change in the context of coercion.

In the present culture in which people are encouraged to “do their own thing,” it is considered a serious violation of individual freedom to compel anyone to do anything. Nevertheless, despite its bad reputation, on occasion coercion appears to bring about desirable change in relatively short order. This seductive “short cut” between coercion and change is a fascinating one. It occurs in ordinary life events although we may be too distracted to identify what we see.

On a recent road trip I travelled several hours on a two lane highway through rolling hill-covered countryside that made assured clear passing lanes short and, to frustrated travelers, very far between.

As the miles (and time) crept by, the risks being taken by impatient drivers increased noticeably; distance between vehicles shortened while bursts of speed and abrupt braking increased as people attempted with increasing frequency to pass in the no passing zones.

Then a change came. Speed slowed dramatically; distance between vehicles lengthened. Efforts to pass in no passing zones ceased entirely.

“What is happening to traffic?” I asked.

My friend who was driving smiled. “I can’t see yet, but my guess is that somewhere ahead of us someone has spotted a highway patrolman.”

Sure enough, as we crested the next hill we too could see a patrol car parked carefully off the highway at the edge of an intersecting country road. As we passed we could see the patrolman sitting peacefully, watching the crowded two-lane traffic moving carefully with commendable attention to speed limits and the no passing zones.

Simply by sitting quietly in his visibly marked patrol car, the patrolman had evoked major visible positive change—increased safety, decreased risk of injury or death. He had, in effect, “made” a group of irritable, law-breaking drivers into model citizens. No passing in the no passing zones under his watchful supervision.

“That’s the command presence of the Law,” my friend smiled as we drove past, “but let’s see how long this improvement lasts.”

As you have likely guessed, this changed behavior lasted through six hills and the crossing of a narrow country bridge. The change continued only until drivers judged the police radar had become unreliable and the patrolman’s vision had become blocked by woods and hills and a long slow curve in the road. Once through the curve and across the bridge, to no one’s surprise, the driver’s speed resumed, and attempted passing in the no passing zone became once more the norm.

I’ve been thinking lately about Paul’s letter to the Roman church, and his careful analysis of the relationship of the law to change in human behavior. I was intrigued by this “road” demonstration in part because it demonstrated Paul’s argument that Law (even Torah) could not produce the change in human behavior that God desires. Paul’s argument, played out on that winding two-lane road, was that the Law demonstrates both human willingness to break the Law, and, ultimately, human inability to keep the Law. Only when the human heart is changed, Paul argued, does lasting change emerge in behavior.

The Law is good, Paul argued; but gaining that kind of human heart change required more than the gift of Torah , to God’s great cost.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold the new has come.” 2 Cor. 5:17 RSV

The problem is, of course, that the “new” does not translate immediately into behavior that is perfect and unchangeable. Change comes, but this new life is worked out in the “already but not yet” of driving winding country roads.

Thinking with you about the necessity for change that is greater than rule deep.

See you next week.


Coerced change?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Unchosen? Think again.

October 24, 2010

Hello, Friends,

I have been thinking this week about one pattern of change that sometimes results from the human experience of being unchosen.

Being unchosen happens in life with painful regularity. In the sanctuary of my office, I listen as wounded survivors remember: unchosen as a child ("They wished I'd never been born and told me so."); unchosen by peers(no friends, no date for the prom). Then, as an adult, unchosen for promotion, unchosen for friendship, for parenthood, unchosen for participation in the world of work and play inhabited by the beautiful 'chosen' ones; unchosen for parental approval, unchosen for the cherished role of wife; unchosen sexually as husband--people who, judged from outer appearance, are making their life journey successfully, but who inwardly view themselves as unchosen at a hundred human points of hunger for love, respect, and affirmation.

Most of us can recount at least one experience of "unchoosing" that has left a legacy of shame and remembered pain. However, we are often less aware of the ways in which such moments of "unchoosing" shape our present sense of ourselves, and alter the risks and relationships we presently choose.

Without conscious awareness, we sometimes begin to structure our lives protectively. We are "out of town" the week of the class reunion. We are "not interested" in submitting a proposal in a competitive bid for grant money. We are "too busy" to participate in a grassroots neighborhood organization.

We position ourselves quietly and carefully. We take few chances that expose us to the possibility of further "unchoosing." Better to be out of town and miss the renewal of relationships than risk becoming the unchosen wallflower at the class reunion. Better to appear disinterested than to author a proposal not chosen by the review committee. Safer to limit community participation than risk the embarrassment of never being considered a candidate for office.

Such protective actions are seldom obvious, and their consequences rarely acknowledged. We do not often count the cost of lost opportunities in relationships and creativity that result from our effort to protect ourselves. Learning to think productively about old injuries and our resulting efforts to stay safe is not an easy task.

However, for those of us who incorporate our faith as a foundational part of our emotional well-being, there is a paradoxical place from which we can begin the journey toward healing. We can face our "unchoseness" straightforwardly and place it in the amazing context of our being chosen as God's loved one. The emotional meaning of those experiences in which we were NOT chosen, however painful and real they may remain, are changed when placed in the perspective that, just as we were--and as we are--God choses us in Christ, and indeed, has done so since before the foundation of the world. [Eph.1:3-4]

A client who had struggled with many painful issues of rejection in her life came to view God's choice of her as one of the foundational truths of her identity. When she terminated her work with me, she brought me a gift, a lframed piece of needlepoint that continues to hang near my desk. It reads:

He called me.
Humanly speaking
it was no extravaganza;
earth scarcely noticed.

Yet, I've been told
that beyond the galaxies
a fanfare broke out
when I said "Yes" to Him
and took His name.

-Author unknown

Feeling unchosen? It often helps to think again seeing yourself from the perspective of God's choice of you.

Thinking with you about the meaning His choice gives our lives.

See you next week,


Sunday, October 17, 2010

The habit of hurt

October 17, 2010

Dear friends,

This week has given me reason to think about habits of hurt.

The occasion arose out of a conversation with a friend about Sam, a promising young horse in her riding stable. Sam had been injured while excitedly exiting from the trailer at a horse show.

"Was he badly hurt?" I asked.

"No," my friend answered. "He acquired a nasty-looking scrape and a mild sprain, but he's fine now."

"Is he back to his old tricks again?" I asked. (Sam in his short life has already acquired a reputation for the escapades into which his curiosity and inquisitiveness frequently lead him.)

"Well, no," my friend said, then added with a smile, "He still favors that leg a bit. His leg's OK, but Sam doesn't believe yet that it's well."

Later, sitting peaceably at home in my 'thinking chair,' Sam came into my mind. In my mind's eye, I could see him standing at the corral fence, his bay coat shining in the autumn sunlight, his ears pricked forward alertly to take in the fascinating world that surrounded him. But in my mind, Sam, when he moved, now moved tentatively, bearing most of his weight on only three legs.

Watching this picture in my mind, I wondered if we humans do not at times behave more like Sam than we would care to admit. Without question, there are times when we experience some severe scrapes and sprains in life, injuries that are quite painful, but are not fatal--we do recover. Nevertheless, we humans, like Sam, can develop a chronic emotional limp not because of an old injury but because we do not recognize (or trust) healing when it comes.

Have made a note to myself this week (with copy to God) to check out any chronic emotional limping I may be doing. I have an uncomfortable sense that like Sam it is possible for me to remember a hurt that was then in a way that keeps me from enjoying and trusting the healing that is now.

How is the change from 'then' to 'now' being lived out in your life? Notice any habits rooted in hurt?

Thinking with you about embracing the challenge of change that healing brings.

See you next week.



Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Tyranny of Attention

October 17, 2010

Good afternoon, friends,

Recently my friend L. was scheduled for an out-of-town trip. She called shortly before she left, confirmed her departure time, and added that she would stop by on her way out of town and leave some chicken salad in the refrigerator. Knowing that I was scheduled at a luncheon meeting at the time she planned to stop, I wrote her a note, put her name on the envelope, and taped it to the refrigerator door. I assumed she would see the note and pick it up when she put the salad in the 'frig.

As I had anticipated, the excellent chicken salad was in the refrigerator when I returned home. The note, however, somewhat to my surprise, was still taped to the refrigerator door, unopened.

I realized what had happened, and smiled to myself. My friend who has a powerful ability to focus narrowly on the task at hand had been concentrating on her "get out of town" check-list. That list included, "Leave left-over chicken salad at Gay's" but did not include "Pick up note from Gay." She saw what she viewed as relevant to her task--Gay's house, refrigerator, chicken salad. Other things, while present, simply did not appear on her radar.

After some thought, I left the note taped to the door of the refrigerator. A week or so later, now back in town, L. and another friend came for dinner. The three of us smiled about the note, still on the refrigerator door, and discussed the way our minds can sometimes bend in "blind" obedience to a task our wills have set. At such times, in complex ways, we often see only what we have assigned ourselves to see.

After shared good food, we discussed a fine book we jointly had been reading. We were surprised when we realized what time it was.

"It's time for me to gather myself together and go home," L. said, and promptly did so. She carried dishes to the kitchen, gave each of us hugs, retrieved her purse, gathered up her tote bag along with a number of bulky parcels, and efficiently, no help needed, got herself out the door, into her car and started for home.

Later while turning off kitchen lights I walked by the refrigerator and laughed aloud. There stuck in place on the refrigerator door, was the note, much discussed but still "unseen" while posted in plain sight.

One of the ways we change our environment lies in the instructions we give ourselves about the things to which we are to pay attention.

I found myself wondering how often God had posted a note for me, and I had left it "unseen" and unread simply because I didn't expect to hear from God.

This week I have made myself an assignment: to see epiphanies--glimpses of God at work in His kingdom, in others, and in my own life, doing that which God has promised to do. We are not alone--God has assured us of his loving, generous presence. I think, however, that I grow in capacity to respond to God's presence in relationship to the instructions I give my eyes: See God, and worship Him.

What--or whom--do you plan to see this week?

Thinking with you about the unsuspected tyranny of attention.

See you next week,


Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Raspberry Blog, Number Two

October 3, 2010

Good evening, friends,

In last week's blog I introduced you to a wild mountain raspberry that made me think. This week I have done some more thinking about that persistent raspberry, and have decided to use "The Raspberry Blog, Number Two," as a title for this week's time together.

I realize there is risk in this. I know that readers who were not overly fond of last week's raspberry may not be up for a second helping. Nevertheless, I want to give this cheeky little raspberry a second look.

Initially, sleepy as I was, I believe my thinking was correct--it is indeed the work of both the mountains and the raspberry to be about their God assigned tasks of being mountains and being a raspberry in ways that image God.

But what does that nifty little theological phrase mean in everyday terms?

Image God by being a perfect mountain? Being a perfect raspberry? But who could define "perfect" mountain or "perfect" raspberry if that were the case? And how could we know that the "perfectness" of God was God's point of existence for the mountain or the raspberry? After all, there are other aspects about God in addition to His perfectness that merit knowing. I quickly abandoned the "be perfect" approach to the mountain/raspberry matter; nothing of practical value appeared to lie down that path.

However, as I revisited in my mind God's teaching moment with me there on the mountain, I glimpsed something that was practical indeed.

When you remember where it was, this raspberry, clinging to the edge of a mountain road in Wyoming in late September, I think you'll agree, this was a cheeky raspberry. I can see it yet, an impudent little bit of glowing red cupped in my hand--a raspberry!! and having the nerve to be a raspberry in a difficult and unlikely place at the edge of winter. So far as I could tell, this raspberry wasn't worrying about the coming snow; it wasn't complaining about the wind, or the rocks--it just kept busy being a raspberry. So far as I could tell, this raspberry lost no time comparing its small self unfavorably to the massive granite walls around it, or to the deep mysterious depths of the glacier lake below us. That raspberry went about its business of being a raspberry, knowing out of its unconscious essence that being a raspberry was both its calling and God's glory, and that, therefore, being a raspberry was enough.

Are you practicing with resilient courage your God-imaging task of "blooming where you're planted?" God's kingdom is always in need of more raspberries.

Thinking with you what it means to persist contentedly as a part of God's creation where I have been placed.

See you next week.