Mission Impossible: Loving Everyone ALL the Time

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Growing up, would your Mom correct you if you ever said, “I hate Billy Dean!” (the class bully) The motherly refrain was “Don’t say that! You don’t hate anybody!” 

Years later, long after Billy Dean, I hated someone. Oh, yeah, I did. I truly did.

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The Guy You Love To Hate

I really hated him and if you were my friend, you would have to hate him too. Let’s face it… if you didn’t have enough sense to hate this guy then you were too dumb to be my friend. This hatred was a noble, character-building hatred because this jerk was a liar, a cheat, a megalomaniac, selfish, greedy, immoral and a deceiver. And you know what was even worse?? So many people thought he was wonderful. What is wrong with them? How could so many people be so wrong… so gullible… so blind to what a monster this guy was? Gossip about him? Oh, yeah it was sort of like prayer. Any thing bad about this idiot should be shouted from the mountain tops. Everybody should be made aware of his nefarious doings and intentions. If there is a Hell this guy will be in the hottest corner. 

Several years after this man left office and another President took his place my temper began to cool down. I began to consider how “over the top” my anger and hatred had been. And after all was said and done… I was alive. And amazingly enough, the country was alive. Our nation  was still in “one piece” and had not slid down the slippery slope to oblivion. And I could tolerate the new president so I was reasonably happy once again. 

But then…

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That Irritating Conscience

My conscience would not leave me alone. Had I not decided to follow in the footsteps of a man  who said that to love God is to love your neighbor? Hey! I’m nice to people! I love my neighbor… ok, I do have some troubles with Bubba two doors down with the crazy dogs and flea-bitten wife… or is that the flea-bitten dogs &… oh, never mind.  But basically, I don’t have any trouble loving my neighbors. And, obviously, these people are NOT my neighbors — the people on television, the political figures, so corrupt and hypocritical. These people are so far removed from me surely it isn’t an offense (a sin) to hate people like that. They’re like, in another dimension, for pete’s sake! Not my neighbor!! And besides, I have to stand up for what is right! And a big part of taking that stance is hating these idiots in the public arena. I have to let others know how wrong they are and how right we are. Is this not “serving God?” Is this not “taking a stand for Jesus?”

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Stop looking at me that way. What?? Ok, I get it. I know what your problem is. Yeah, ok maybe hating public figures and loving God is not exactly the same thing. But showing my love for God and showing my disdain for immoral public figures… well, that’s pretty close, eh? What is wrong with you? Stop pushing me! If you won’t let me hate and gossip about dirty politicians then… well, you don’t understand… you take away part of me. That’s me. Get it? I’m the actor. The funny guy. The part-time chef, the husband, the Dogfather. The guy who gets justifiably outraged at shameless, degenerate presidents, governors, congressmen and senators! It’s just who I am!! 

Well, this argument with my delusional Pollyanna conscience could go on and on. And it did. For a while. Slowly, I began to realize one of the reasons why God really gets a kick out of people who don’t hate. It’s because they are lighter, freer human beings. And He kinda likes those kinds of people. He can trust them with more and “tell” them more.

Angels can fly because they take themselves so lightly!
— -- GK Chesterton
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Growing Like a Cancer...

Yep, I began to see how this hatred was like a cancer to my soul. Sorta like the cancer I just had and am now recovering from. Prior to my diagnosis, I only had a couple of stark indicators that there was something wrong (I will spare you the details!) but seemingly it was nothing that I couldn’t live with. I was fine; felt fine, got along fine. But then professionals stepped in to let me know that this was a cancer which would begin to grow and spread all over my body like kudzu on the banks of an Interstate highway in Alabama. And the scary part of that is, it could spread like that with few symptoms showing themselves on the outside until it was too late. Once the cancer gets a major portion of the body… well, you might as well lie down and let the kudzu bury you. 

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But still I protested, “I am not eaten up with hate! It’s not spreading! It’s just these idiots who are screwing up this country…” Well, finally I had to realize that hatred always corrupts the soul or portions of the soul. It is sort of like a “gateway drug” to hardness and harshness. And then I started thinking about my friends and the people I am comfortable with… they all had the same political points of view as me. Of course! Who would hang out with those imbeciles who believe that _________ or who are in favor of ___________? It was around this time as I was thinking through these issues that I remember talking with a friend (a true friend… you know… one who had the same political stance as me) and he talked about this great guy he played racquetball with on Tuesdays. He talked about how much he admired him and he told me how much fun this guy was AND that he was diametrically opposite (from us) politically! I didn’t say it out loud but I thought, “How could you spend time with a guy like that? And even stranger still, how could you admire and like someone like that?” 

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The cancer had spread. The kudzu was killing the grass and the trees. I had become totally unaware of how my “innocent" TV-persona hatred had worked it’s way into one of the core sectors of my life: who I associated with and who I thought was worthy to be loved. There it was ugly, writhing, wiggling and slimy like a slug who’s had salt sprinkled on his back. (Did you ever do that as a kid?) I didn’t like it. I didn’t like the looks of it. I was stunned at the disgusting idea that I hated people because they saw the world differently from me. 

I am much more than my political views. I am much more than my theological bent. I am much more than my philosophy of life. Do these things comprise a large part of me? Yes. But they are not who I am. I am made in the image of God. His glory is the very foundation of my being. Even before a theology or a philosophy crosses my mind, I am fearfully and wonderfully made. 

And so are they. 

I am attempting to change my ways... and my heart.

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We STRONGLY encourage your comments and dialogue in the Comments section below. Would lov to know if anyone has had a similar experience of hating public figures only to realize that they are people too. Do you think that they are our neighbors?

 

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I want to be a Shock Absorber!

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It was hot. I was at the end of my frazzled rope. We had been in airports since 6:30 AM, waiting and boarding and sardining and waiting and lining-up and disembarking. And now, after waiting another ETERNITY, the flight attendant was telling us that our 30-minute connecting flight from Memphis to Nashville had been canceled and the airline had arranged a four-hour BUS ride instead to get us home that night…”Wait! What?? They can’t do that to us! NO! This isn’t right! It isn't fair!” And that was the beginning of a rant that was laid on the airline personnel who were helping us passengers at the luggage carousel. (Charlie stood by, slack-jawed.) I was angry at the unfairness, really the injustice, of it all. I was mad about the inconvenience and uncomfortable with the feeling of not being in control of the situation. If I had been any younger I probably would have laid on the floor crying, kicking my feet and pounding my fists into the carpet.

I felt bad about it later. But remember, I was tired and hungry and had important things going on in my life and had paid for a PLANE ticket and… I could go on. I had some pretty good reasons for venting, don’t you think?

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You see, as I’ve gotten older I have, to put it nicely, “found my voice.” And I can be quite volcanic when I get angry—always justifiably so, of course. It’s liberating, in a way. And I have built quite a sturdy edifice to my righteous anger. That just feels safer than being out there unprotected from all the unfairness and unjustified meanness thrown my way. But I also don’t like this tank-armored me very much. Before I was kind, now I’m just nice. And niceness is pretty thin-skinned like a balloon. And like a balloon, it’s prone to blow up under pressure. So here I am, like a steel balloon.

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One day a few years ago I was listening to a sermon by pastor and author Timothy Keller when I heard a phrase that hit this Statue of My Liberty like a wrecking ball. Have you ever had something jump out at you and then keep coming back again and again into your conscious sphere — almost as if it were meant for you and you were meant for it? It’s like the moment you hear it it is hardwired into the neurons and synapsis of your brain for all time? Well, that happened to me when Tim Keller said, “Absorb more pain that you inflict.” I can’t remember the context, or if the sentence was longer, or if there were any other qualifiers, or why it was said, or how. I just remember those words. “Absorb more pain than you inflict.”

It kept coming back to me, like a better angel. They’re angry, eyes flashing…absorb it, answer calmly. They are rude and ignoring…can you be gentle and attentive in return? They are assuming unjustly from some surface appearance…try to resist defensive maneuvers and remain open. Their abuse is like daggers to my heart…walk away before you throw your own javelin and address it later in peace. I want them to understand the hurt they have caused me…can you leave that to God and seek to forgive them because they really don’t know what they're doing?

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That phrase, absorb more pain than you inflict, has rolled over and over in my head. It has been sitting beside my bathroom mirror on a yellow sheet of tablet paper, printed out carefully on a day its significance hit me in a particularly poignant way. I think about it almost every day.

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So what does that mean in daily life? Absorb more pain than you inflict? One of the definitions for this word in the Merriam-Webster dictionary is: “to receive without recoil or echo.” I think it means that at moments of conflict, disagreement, sorrow, uncertainty, lack of control or anything else that give us pain or discomfort— we have a choice. Absorb it or inflict it. Take it in or return it with a vengeance. Soften the response or harden it. Improvise or echo. Love one another or return evil for evil.

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 As I understand it, shock absorbers in a car are not just for comfort but also to protect the innards of the automobile. So that it can keep running smoothy. Otherwise, it might break apart! Go careening across the road, killing and maiming all in its wake and throwing its passengers out into the ditch to bleed to death. There certainly is a place to take the car apart and repair it but that’s in the safety of a shop and through the skill of the Mechanic. We in this country are in an extremely volatile social milieu right now. It’s as if we are traveling down a really bumpy road and we need a lot of really good shock absorbers right now.

So…let’s get on the road & take some shocks, baby!

Hey, please dialogue with us in the Comments section below. We now know how to respond to the comments! (We do it from the "back side" of the site!)

 

 

 

Longing: The Human Condition

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We were about to leave the hospital room. We had come to visit Butch. He was a homeless man; an alcoholic. His liver and his body were falling apart. We had struck up a friendship years ago. He was intrigued by us. He would tell shop owners and others along Elm Street about this couple "who really loved the Lord" and did great things in the city. He would tell them that they just had to meet us. Well, with such glowing reports on our behalf, the least we could do was visit him in the hospital! During our visit, we talked about Elm Street and our dogs (he especially loved Java our Rottweiler). He put on a brave "Devil may care" attitude and tried to make us laugh. (And was pretty successful at it!) As we left I took hold of his shoulders and I said, "Butch, you know what I see in you? I see someone who can recover from alcoholism. I see you in our coffee shop talking to young men about life and giving them wise advice. I see you as mentor and counselor to many who need the knowledge & wisdom you have gathered through the years. I see a whole new life for you." Well, that did it. He started to cry. It wasn't a messy sob but tears rolling down his cheeks onto his yellow-white beard. Butch never did become the man I envisioned. He died within the year. But one thing I know: he longed for the vision more than I did. 

What do you want? What do you dream about having or attaining? Do you think you will realize your dreams? Do you long for something you can't quite describe? Is there something in your heart that is unsettled but you're not exactly sure why? Butch wanted sobriety and sanity but it was too much to hope for after all the times he had disappointed himself. 

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I want to use this blog to dialogue with you about our longings. Strange, eh? But I do believe that we are a lot like Butch. We have longings and dreams but we settle for something far less because we don't dare hope to have these desires satisfied. We settle for money, material goods, fame or sex or any number of substitutes. There is a famous quotation that is attributed to Blaise Pascal:   “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person, and it can never be filled by any created thing.  It can only be filled by God, made known through Jesus Christ.” However, there is some argument about the true author of that quote, it seems that Pascal's original quote is much more profound and nuanced:  “What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace?
This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those things that are, though none can help since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself”

There was once in man a true happiness. It is true. There was a time when Adam & Eve walked with God on a daily basis. There was nothing to separate them from this love affair. There was true happiness. But selfishness, sin,and willful autonomy ended this relationship and we are left with a longing that we don't know how to fill. Even Christians who claim to have a restored relationship with God have difficulty finding their longing fulfilled. That is why we need to dialogue about this. 

Let me end with a quote from C.S. Lewis.

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“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

― C.S. LewisThe Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses

In the coming months, I want to explore with you what it would be like to go on that holiday at sea. 

Please add your comments. A dialogue would be great. 

Passionate about Community!

 The Bean Feast by Jan Steen

The Bean Feast by Jan Steen

 Charlie with Santa circa 1959

Charlie with Santa circa 1959

For those of you keeping track of the Joyful Community blog, I last posted on Monday... that is the day we will explore thoughts on loving others. On Wednesdays, we will post about our passion for all things community. So let's get started. 

 Charlie 7th-8th grade

Charlie 7th-8th grade

It might be difficult for some people to believe but I grew up with very few friends. From as early as I can remember I was overweight or to use the common vernacular I was FAT. Some of my earliest memories are those of being embarrassed by how fat I was. Guess what... insecure, scared people have a difficult time making friends. Yet I needed to "survive" school and other social occasions. That's how I learned that if I can make you laugh at a joke (even a joke about me being fat) then your attention was quickly taken off my looks and onto the humor of the joke. I learned to "leave 'em laughing" and then scoot away before you got too close. I spent my entire childhood into adulthood with this modus operandi. People who tell drive-by jokes have a difficult time making a list of their closest friends. Remember lunchtime at high school and/or junior high? You probably remember sitting with a friend or the same group of friends every day. I have no such memory. I would not allow anyone to get to know me that well. Instead, I would gulp down my food and then make the rounds to various tables where I would tell a joke or two and scoot off to the next table. I have other examples of this but I think you get my point. Now that I have settled down, done some soul searching and spent hours in counseling, I see the friendships I missed. I don't want to miss anymore. This is one of the reasons I am passionate about community.

Being in loving community with very different individuals, well it is a dream. It is a memory of a time that has not happened yet. It is the haunting melody of a song I've never heard. Yet I believe I will sing that song and I will live that future memory. It is what we yearn for and what God has called us to. In Winston-Salem, there is a hospital called "Baptist Hospital" and in Charlotte there is one called "Presbyterian Hospital". No one assumes that if you are admitted, to either hospital then they will attempt to make you leave there as a Baptist or a Presbyterian (thank God). But rather the people who founded these hospitals have responded to the love of God by making their community a better place to live. We also have been touched by the grace and love of God. We want to respond by making our city or our corner of the city a better place to live. 

 The Heavenly City

The Heavenly City

Another reason we are passionate about community? It's the way God created us. For more on this you might want to check out an earlier post by CLICKING HERE.  Stop and think about it. Every image and scenario that the Bible gives about Heaven always talks about bringing us into community. We will rejoice in community together at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. In Revelation we see a heavenly city descending from the sky. A city... a huge city, not a suburb or a remote place in the mountains. From the beginning, God said it was not good that we should be alone. We are just created that way. One of the ways we are to show our love for God is to love those around us. You know, God sort of assumes that we will have others around us most of the time. Isn't it interesting that Jesus went through His time of ministry here on earth in the midst of community? He didn't do much without the disciples nearby. And not just the twelve disciples but there is a reference to as many as 70 following Him fairly consistently. If we look at the disciples then we know that Jesus' community was not a homogenized group of middle-class Jews that looked alike, thought alike and had similar political views. No, this was a rough and tumble lot that had to work hard at community because they were so different. 

 Goggles and headphones

Goggles and headphones

To demonstrate how we are wired for community let's take a look at what happens when one is exposed to the opposite of community. We've all heard of solitary confinement. Unfortunately, this is a practice that is still permitted in our prisons. In 1951 researchers at McGill University paid a group of male graduate students to participate in an experiment on sensory deprivation. They were to stay in small chambers equipped with only a bed . They could leave to use the bathroom, but that’s all. They wore goggles and earphones to limit their sense of sight and hearing, and gloves to limit their sense of touch. The plan was to observe the students for six weeks, but not one lasted more than seven days. Nearly every student lost the ability “to think clearly about anything for any length of time,” while several others began to suffer hallucinations. “One man could see nothing but dogs,” wrote one of the study’s collaborators, “another nothing but eyeglasses of various types, and so on.” Okay, okay... that might be a little extreme... goggles and earphones and gloves! But I thought I would include it because it is so amazing that no one could make it through seven days of sensory deprivation and no human contact. 

 Prisnoer in Solitary

Prisnoer in Solitary

To hone in more specifically on the lack of human contact, another recent study on actual prisoners who had been subjected to solitary confinement was pretty amazing.  Stuart Grassian, a board-certified psychiatrist and a former faculty member at Harvard Medical School, has interviewed hundreds of prisoners in solitary confinement. In one study, he found that roughly a third of solitary inmates were “actively psychotic and/or acutely suicidal.” Grassian has since concluded that solitary can cause a specific psychiatric syndrome, characterized by hallucinations, panic attacks, overt paranoia, diminished impulse control, hypersensitivity to external stimuli, and difficulties with thinking, concentration and memory. Some inmates lose the ability to maintain a state of alertness, while others develop crippling obsessions. (from PBS website HERE

Well, that lays the groundwork for our thoughts on community and why we are so jazzed about it. As the weeks go by we hope to develop more ways of doing community and bringing you in on the process. 

 Living in Community is a hoot!

Living in Community is a hoot!

Please share your thoughts on community in the Comments below and tell us when and where you have experienced community. 

Other posts of similar subject: Isolation and Gray Areas

 

 

It's Monday... you need some LOVE!

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Welcome back to the Joyful Community blog by City 616 and Peculiar People and Charlie & Ruth Jones! 

Happy Monday! Or maybe I should say Lovely Monday. And the reason I say that is because of my decision to blog on loving others every Monday. Why do that you ask? Well, I'll tell you. It has always struck me as an odd contradiction that every Sunday at least 52 million people in the United States go to church where they learn about a Savior whose #1 command is to love. As a matter of fact, He is even called "The Lord of Love." Yet many times it is the religious type o' people who are the most unloving and/or ungracious people you could ever bump into. Just ask any waitress who works at a popular restaurant from noon to 6pm on Sundays... oh, the stories she could tell! 

We not only show a lack of love to those outside the Church but we've got some pretty nasty feelings to those within the Church, too! And don't think I am only speaking of the Evangelical types either. Liberal Christians have as much disdain for conservative, "Bible-bangin'" Christians as the more conservative Christians judge and have comtempt for the wishy-washy, "anything goes" Liberal Christians. 

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But spats within the Church are not what I want to focus on. I want to have a dialogue with you about how well or how poorly we love those all around us in everyday life. Jesus said that we should love our neighbor as we love ourselves. And when someone asked for the definition of "neighbor" He made it pretty clear... our neighbors are everywhere; next door, across the street, the man in the next car at the stop light, the homeless guy panhandling on the corner, our family, our enemies and even the grouchy lady at the DMV! There is no one who is NOT our neighbor -- Democrats, Republicans, Baptists, Presbyterians, Muslims, Blacks, Whites, Hispanics and even the Kardashians! They're all our neighbors and our Lord tells us to love them. And love them sacrificially! 

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I've always marveled at how various religious groups try to ascend to political power and use their influence to get "our laws" passed or to impose "our morals" on the populace. How necessary would such arm twisting be if half of our group were like Mother Teresa? Can you imagine the influence we would have in the world? People would be changed. Lives would be changed. Minds would be changed. Laws would be changed. Ok, ok... maybe half of us Christian-type folk acting this way is too much to hope for. Let's say 10% were like Mother Teresa. Still too much to hope for? Okay, let's take it down to 1%... what about that? Well, let's do the math. There are approximately 300 million people in the U.S. About 45% of that number say they believe in God and they hold the Bible to be His Word. (BTW, about 89% of Americans say they believe in God... but I am just interested in the Christians for this illustration.) So 45% of 300 million is 135 million. So 1% of 135 million is 1,350,000. So you tell me -- what would happen if there were 1.35 million Mother Teresas in the U.S. Do you think that would make a difference? But let's not stop there. Let's spread the love around! If we took all those Mother Teresas and sent equal numbers to each state... well, it would mean that each state would have 27,000 Mother Teresas! Wow! If we send 27,000 Mother Teresas to Rhode Island... they'd be tripping over each other! No kidding, I think you begin to see my point. So now I ask you this: what if the 52 million of us who are regular church goers would start to love radically? That is something to think about. 

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So on Mondays I would like start giving us ideas and talk about ways that we can love our neighbors. We'll look at how radical love can change a city, a state, a nation. 

What I need from you are some examples of how you have seen love make a difference in other people. Or even better... how loving behavior towards you changed you. Just fill in the Comments section below.