re-post: The Danger of Making Your Experiences Fit Reality by Brad Sumner

The Danger of Making Your Experiences Fit Reality

I love the book of Job.  To me, part of the fun in reading it is assessing what part of the various speeches are true and square with God’s picture of reality and what parts are vain or idle words (of which all parties are guilty at points).  That’s why Job 21 is so intriguing to me.  Job’s friends have spent the better part of their speeches to date building a case that the wicked do not proposer and that everything they have will be riped painfully from them as God’s judgement on their behaviour.

But good ol’ Job looks around and notes that this isn’t usually true. He notes that the wicked “spend their days in prosperity, then go down to the grave in peace. And yet they say to God, ‘Go away. We want no part of you and your ways. Who is the Almighty, and why should we obey him? What good will it do us to pray?’” (Job 21:13-15).  Job’s assessment of the situation seems Prosperity-gospel-motivation1fairly realistic and level-headed to me.  People with no regard for God, both then and now, often do fine at business, parenting, finance, marriage and life in general.  The rain falls on the just and the unjust.  The prosperity gospel is alive and well.

But poor Job’s friends can’t resist an opportunity to moralize, so they do something that is all to common then and now: they find selective stories that fit their worldview and they pontificate and over-spiritualize them ad nausea.  What they fail to realize, however, is that their selectivity doesn’t square with the overall data of experience.  Job reminds them “Look, I know what you’re thinking. I know the schemes you plot against me. You will tell me of rich and wicked people whose houses have vanished because of their sins. But ask those who have been around, and they will tell you the truth. Evil people are spared in times of calamity and are allowed to escape disaster. No one criticizes them openly or pays them back for what they have done.” (21:27-31).   His friends have conveniently ignored any examples that don’t fit their worldview or make their point effectively.

So next time you go to tell as story as an illustration of a point you are making, you might want to ask yourself if you have a sneaky habit of finding and sharing only blogs or tweets or experiences that agree with your pre-formed opinions. Or do you genuinely allow the aggregate and long-term data around the issue to speak for itself?  If you don’t you might be making your experiences into a reality that doesn’t exist!

Brad Sumner is the head pastor at Jericho Ridge Community Church in Langley BC. He has an amazing ability to open up the bible and challenge your everyday thinking.  This is a re-post of his latest entry on his blog Leadership Confessions on TypePad.  http://leadershipconfessions.typepad.com/leadership_confessions/

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Steve Grissom and Me and Christmas Time

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For anyone who doesn’t know who Steve Grissom is, he is the founder and president of Divorce Care.  He also narrates the video series.  Steve may not realize it but he and I talked all through the series. We have been through all the emotions I can think of. There were times when I was about to really react and he’d disappear and another speaker would intercept my responses and turn my attention to the next step.  At times I’ve wanted to mess up his perfect hair and justify my viewpoint or say amen or sorrow for his experiences.

A week ago we finished our Divorce Care classes and we were told there would be one more on Surviving the Holidays.  I wasn’t too worried as I would have my son with me at my mom’s and then I’d do the trade off on boxing day.  I settled in to see what Steve would say. It started as I expected with a review of potential problems and being prepared. Check. Steve and I were doing fine. We explored ways to prepare for celebrating the holidays. Check.  Then things got into misty-eyed territory for me.

He talked about keeping traditions and how that didn’t necessarily work.  I thought about making the yearly gingerbread house. Each year he (my son not Steve) did that with his dad. I had the pictures of them every year.  After R. left  I’d offered to do that with him but he wouldn’t even consider it. Aah. The traditions had lost their joy.  We would need to create our own new traditions.  O.K. That was something pro-active I could do.  A girlfriend of mine was way ahead on that one. Her daughter suggested they drive into the mountains until they found snow. They’d go and find a tree to decorate and open their gifts under the tree. After a rousing snowball fight they’d head home.  How great is that?  Yes I was ready for the challenge.

Then you threw me a curveball Steve.  You talked about custody arrangements and a shared Christmas. Your next words froze my heart. You said it wasn’t a good idea. What???  You and I just worked through the lesson of Reconciliation. It was even suggested that I call him every six months and see if he’d come home. Seriously?  Steve, what are you saying?  Then one of the ladies said that we should ask ourselves if we had pure motives in wanting a family Christmas for the kids.  The implication was that if we were hoping the occasion would rekindle a longing for home then it wasn’t pure.  Now I was starting to steam.  What could be a purer motive?  Wanting to give a child a mended home and to forgive is at the top of my sainthood chart.  Steve and I had hit a rough patch.  I was upset because though I knew my ex wouldn’t come home I really wanted to keep my son’s life as normal and happy as possible.  I was trying so hard to be gentle and peaceful so that my ex would feel comfortable visiting.  That’s when one of the wingmen came in to back up Steve before he and I had words.

It was explained that for the child to be put in that situation could give them false hope. It could be very disappointing and put them back in that  first place of hurt and loss.  I was silent.  I didn’t want my son to go through the pain again.  That was the worst part of being left, seeing the sorrow on his face when dad disappeared.  I had honestly wanted to give him the life I thought he deserved.  It was another loss to realize I had to let both of us live in the reality of the divorce in order for him to heal.  It was another piece of grieving I hadn’t expected, but I was not going to hurt my son to try and preserve the past.  I realized that Steve was opening my eyes to something I couldn’t see.

For you that have taken Divorce Care but haven’t seen the video Survivng the Holidays it is worth it.  If you haven’t taken Divorce Care it is worth the internal conversation with Steve.

I still want to mess his hair up but I’d more likely shake his hand. On behalf of myself and my son thanks for caring Steve and thanks for the chats. D.

P.S. This blog entry was never meant to be interpreted as being endorsed by Steve Grissom or his hair.

The Ultimate Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything

The title for this post is not actually a delusional rambling.  I save those for close friends, family and politicians who come to my door soliciting votes. It is a chapter within The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a sci. fi./humour book by Douglas Adams. In it a group of hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings demand to learn the Ultimate Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything from the supercomputer, Deep Thought specially built for this purpose. It takes Deep Thought 7½ million years to compute and check the answer, which turns out to be 42 The Ultimate Question itself is unknown.  I read this years ago and thought it was rather brilliant.  In the past couple of years I realized it has huge theological significance.  Now don’t run away yet.  I promise I will bring this back to something that makes sense. Honest.

When I got married I knew it would be forever.  I married a man who would never leave.  I would have put money on it. I would have ended up broke. Thanks for not taking that bet.

Afterwards I tried to make sense of what had happened.  Why didn’t God fix it? Why didn’t he tell me how to fix it?  Why didn’t he fix us? What purpose did he have in this? Why didn’t it work?   I don’t need to keep on going. If you’ve gone through divorce or trauma you have your own list of hurts and confusions.  It was easy to feel that others were looking at me as defective and the unspoken “if you’d had real faith this wouldn’t have happened.”

Thankfully Mr. Adams came to the rescue and he did it in the form of the book of Ruth. (No really.  Please hang on. It will make sense in a minute.)

Naomi marries a man named Elimelech. They have two sons whose names mean puny and pining.  Really.  Who gives their kids names like this? Famine has hit Judah so we may have a hint as to how desparate things were. Imagine how you would be praying, begging God for help.  Save us. Save our boys. They decide to move to Moab, away from friends, family and their faith community. You would be praying that God would protect you there. Eventually the boys marry foreign women outside of the faith. How that must have burned and shamed Naomi, but it got worse. Her husband dies and then both boys die.  Naomi knows that God has abandoned her.  She hears that things are better in Judah and so plans to return home to survive. She sends the girls home. There would be no love for these foreign women back home.  One goes but one refuses to leave Naomi.  Naomi is a broken woman. She says she has nothing to offer, no future sons and she says she sees no future husband for herself. “It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has gone out against me!”  How could she think anything else?  She knew that that is how others would judge her life. She was not favoured by God and now she would be a burden to her family until the day she died.

Imagine being her, crying out to God as to why he hated her so much.  What was her sin?  What was her purpose?  In reality the answer is 42.  We know from reading the book of Ruth (and if you haven’t, take my word for it, and then check it out yourself) that the purpose of her life was to bring Ruth into the line of David and ultimately Jesus. Come again?

There is no way that Naomi would have ever understood the purpose of her life.  She had no ability to get that answer and if she got it to understand it.  The meaning of her life could not be puzzled out.

I believe we treat God like a glorious Rubik’s cube that if we line things up right, we can figure out. He is the Holy Wild and we do not have the capacity to understand his thoughts and workings.  Does it make it easier? Yes and no.  It reminds me that it isn’t always about causal connections.  I still have to deal with pain and confusion but I can step away from the thinking that says things like “pain is God megaphone” and trying to fit everything into my frame of reference. Sometimes the answers for what happens in our lives is 42. I am so sad that Naomi died thinking she wasn’t loved.  I am grateful to Mr. Adams for a great life lesson.  Reflection is good but endless navel gazing is a lousy view. Sometimes the answers are not where or what we would think.  The meaning of life is way beyond us and I’m O.K. with that.

Take care, D.

You’ll never guess the butler did it

Sue: ” Hey Megan.  I have a book you have just got to read.  You would never guess that the butler was actually the twins dad. He’d been disfigured in a car accident and blamed the family for stealing his children and was killing them off in vengance.  You will just love it. It is the most suspenseful book I’ve ever read.”

Megan: Cue sound of crickets chirping.

Knowing the ending of a book or a movie disrupts the story telling art.  It is the building up, the guessing and being on a shared voyage with the characters that creates the impact.

When presented with our bibles we are told that it is the living breathing word of God.  It is not like any other book. Most books you read from the beginning as opposed to New and Old divisions.  We read the histories but we have a big problem.  We know the endings.  We know that the ultimate battle will be won my God.  The suspense factor has been taken out.

I think we lose a lot of the meaning and impact of what we are reading because we see an overview of people’s lives and experiences.

Moving forward as someone who is divorced in the church it is easy to feel that we are alienated.  What if we stepped back and re-read some of the stories that we thought we knew from the perspective of the characters who had no idea what was next or what would happen to them?  What could we learn and take strength in?

I think of the story of Esther. We celebrate that she saved the Jews. We know the finished story. We don’t feel the true horror and sorrow that was her life.  To be a young girl without parents  must have been so isolating. To be sent to the palace meant to lose all her hopes and dreams. She would never have a nice Jewish husband and be able to raise their children in their faith. She was being taken out of her community to be put in a place of debauchery, violence and madness. She would be hated by the other women competing for favour and would be targeted for violence by them. She would undergo treatments and training that would be against her upbringing. She would have seen him drunk and out of control and pictured him touching her.  Her wedding night would be without mercy or love or committment. She would have no protection and nowhere to run. He could do anything he liked. She’d be tied to a man who killed his best friends son on a whim. His best friend had already lost one of his two sons in battle. He asked Xerxes if his second son could be spared. Xerxes called his friend to the courtyard and the friend witnessed his second son murdered as a penalty.  This was the man Esther faced.  Can you imagine her fear and hopelessness?  We know the rest of the story but she did not. We don’t know what happened to her afterwards but the dreams of her youth would never be given back to her and the rest of her days would be in this environment.  God put her in a place that was a nightmare and yet she trusted and served him.  It did work but she could not have known that.

Many times we will end up in places and situations that seem impossible for God to redeem.  We might see facets of our lives as nightmares. Re-read the stories as if you didn’t know the endings.  You will find that you are not such an alien after all.   D.

 

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