Monday, December 19, 2016

Christmas Hypocrite

That would be me. The Christmas hypocrite.

I hate, hate, hate the questions, "What do you want for Christmas?" and "What's on your Christmas list?" Very kind, well-intentioned people (to whom I am related, in most cases) wanting to know how to shop for me. I don't blame them. I already have my basic needs, and I'm not too picky about what I wear. I have only one hobby, and I have everything affordable that I need for that. So, I'm not easy to shop for, I know. But I'm also easy to shop for, since I'm equally as mildly-excited about really cool gifts as mediocre gifts. So I frustrate those who want to buy something for me, but I still hate those questions.

I'm not sure why I'm so messed up. I don't like to be demanding. Being selfish is bad, they say, so I try not to be. I don't like the attention of the question, or even the attention I get when opening a gift. The giver is usually more excited than I am, and my even-keeled reaction usually disappoints. "Hey, that's nice. Thanks. What time is kickoff?" I'm truly grateful, but not very demonstrative. Worse, if the gift is something I want, then I feel bad that I got it. There's got to be a disease name for this. Presentosis.

When people ask those question, I try to remember they are being nice, and yet no matter how I try, I can only manage to mumble and stutter and say nothing helpful.

But I'm a Christmas hypocrite, because I'm lightning quick to ask the exact same questions of them!

I'm admittedly an unskilled gift-receiver. But I'm a horrible gift-giver. So I ask those questions. I never have had a good idea of a gift to buy. Never. I despise shopping, and I'm uncontrollably hostile against malls (those non-sequential zoos of colorful, loud, tortuous frenzy!). Ideas I think will be great invariably end up falling flat (I get less than "Hey, that's nice" because they say lying is bad, too). Then there it is ... I've wasted yet another entire year of gift-giving, and it will be twelve long months before I can disappoint again.

So, I ask the questions in order to avoid pain for both of us - the very questions I hate to be asked and can never answer comfortably. Hypocrite, and at Christmas of all things! 'Tis the season to be sorry, fa la la la blah!

First-world problem, I realize.

Some people are great gift-givers. I married one of those. Some are great gift-receivers - so gracious, making the giver feel so good. These people are aliens to me. They come from a different world, speak a different language (called Giftonian), and collectively think that I'm the alien. Strange beasts who make it all look so easy.

I probably won't change. I'm tired of trying. To be honest, friendship is the only gift I really value.

So don't be surprised if you get burlap socks or a paint-by-numbers kit that uses Roman numerals. Whatever it is, it will be poorly wrapped and likely missing a tag saying who it is to and who it is from. But you'll know who it's from. Sorry.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Taming the Selfish Jerk

Recently, I had an evening ahead of me that I was not looking forward to. I'll save the details, but I was facing back-to-back events that I knew would not be enjoyable. In fact, they would be very taxing to me because of my particular personality. Others could well have enjoyed themselves, but not me. Either one of the events would have drained me by itself, but two of them back-to-back loomed like a two-headed monster. But I was going of my own volition. Lynne was already preparing for me to come home late, exhausted, and withdrawn.

As I'm driving to my first appointment, I found myself in rush hour. Normally, I'm a little competitive and self-righteous when I drive. I sometimes let people in, but I usually have to think about it twice. If there's enough room for me to switch lanes to get an advantage, I'll attack the open space aggressively and competitively. But my worst trait is when I see other drivers who are more aggressive than I am. I subconsciously become the Lane Czar, dictating who should be allowed to change lanes. Yes, I will accelerate subtly just enough to prevent the violator from violating. If they zoom down the lane that's going to merge in, I resist giving them space to squeeze in at the last minute when they finally flick on their blinkers. I figure if they don't have a conscience, I can share mine. I have enough for two. Terrible, I know. But I'm right. Right?

Taming my selfishness 1. While driving, I could feel that competitive, czarist stress rising in my chest while I was contemplating the night ahead of me. And I knew that in order to survive the night, I needed to just be what others needed me to be, despite what I personally wanted. So I decided to start with the commute. I started letting everyone in ahead of me. Whoever wanted that space, I gave it to them. If I wanted that space and someone else was ready to gun it, I gave it to them. Whoever wanted to merge, I slowed a bit and gave them the margin they needed. Even those who zoomed down to the last foot of asphalt, I gave them space to come in. I let go of every desire to have that space for myself, I regulated my speed so I didn't cause chain reaction slowdowns, and I gave space to everyone who wanted it, no matter how they were driving. My job was not to get to my destination on time, but to do what I could to help all traffic move forward.

Taming my selfishness 2: At my first appointment of the night, it was very busy  and noisy, with a lot of voices creating a kind of verbal traffic jam. I had a particular way I thought things should go, but instead, I repeated the same attitude I had driving. I gave up "my lane" and allowed others to drive as they wanted to drive, the circumstance to flow as it wanted to flow, and just be someone who helped traffic flow in whatever way I could. My job was not to get to my "destination" on time.

Taming my selfishness 2.5: While driving to the second appointment, I was charged with picking up dinner for others. I was running late, so I didn't need to waste any time. However, I had to embarrassingly slip out of the drive-thru lane because I couldn't find the list of requests. I went inside, found my list, and ordered, and of course, my order was the one that got caught in some equipment failure. Another traffic jam. Rather than get annoyed, I let that "car" pull in front of me, so to speak.

Taming my selfishness 3: At the second appointment, the situation was hard to take. People I care about in an unimaginably difficult set of circumstances. It was a traffic jam of problems. And they needed someone to hear them and understand them. It's no fun listening to problems layered upon problems with no solution in sight. This was not a time for mutually beneficial back-and-forth catching up like we used to. It was a time to slow down a bit and let the car get in ahead of me.

None of this was easy for me. And I'm fully aware that my end of the evening was easier than for others. This was not heroic on my part. It was not enjoyable. I did come home weary, sad, and ready to crawl into a cave of solitude. But there were people who needed to get in front of me, and I tried to allow them to do so without any effort on my part to grab my place in the flow of traffic.

More importantly, what I did get out of this was freedom. I didn't have that competitive stress of trying to aggressively take something for myself, to get my place in traffic and slip ahead of others to get to my destination on time. I didn't get the feeling of "winning" by grabbing what I could. And to be honest, I didn't get that kind of satisfaction that comes from helping others, either. But I had freedom. For an evening, I was free from having to seize what I wanted.

The driving was an intentional exercise to get myself in the mood for the rest of the night, to put myself in the habit of giving up my lane. The exercise actually helped. During both events, when I felt like I wanted to grab the reigns and steer things in my direction, I remembered the drive and just repeated the same action. And on a very unpleasant night, I had some freedom.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Too Small

I love science. I love the discipline, the process, the inquisitive posture, the discoveries, the imagination, and the accountability of community. But science is not big enough to satisfy my soul.

I'm moderately interested in politics and government. I see the necessity, I see the potential for the common good, and I love that our society will spend thousands of dollars pursuing the well-being of even just one child in need. But politics is not big enough to give me hope.

I tolerate religion. For all the ways that it can be abused, I can appreciate how religion can contribute to community, mutual support, and attaching to something bigger than oneself. But religion is not big enough to make me good.

I enjoy sports and leisure. I'm my most animated when following a close game. Bicycling clears my head and improves my mood. Travel is like spice, giving the rest of life a rich flavor. But sports and leisure are not big enough to give me peace.

I like myself, usually. I must - I do things to take care of me. I don't have an irresistible charm or anything, but I usually treat myself kindly. But I'm not a big enough reason to press on through this broken world.

If Jesus isn't who he says he is, then nothing is big enough for me.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Compared to what Fixates

I have been reading in 1 Peter in my quiet time lately, and was particularly struck by three verses in chapter 1 as I was considering the context that Peter wrote into. The readers were suffering and dispersed because of their faith, so Peter wrote to give them some perspective to encourage them. In vv. 10-12, Peter mentions two groups of beings in order to build that perspective.

10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace meant for you sought and made careful inquiry, 11 investigating for what person or which time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he testified beforehand to the sufferings with reference to Christ and the glories after these things, 12 to whom it was revealed that they were serving not themselves but you with reference to the same things which now have been announced to you through those who proclaimed the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels desire to look. 

First, the Old Testament prophets. They sought and made careful inquiry to understand more about this Messiah that they had prophesied about. In prayer, and perhaps be reading Scripture and asking the experts of their day, they went out of the way to understand what they could, because this Messiah figure was going to be so central, so important, so crucial to their entire life's work. They somehow realized that they were not serving their generation only, but also the generations to follow them hundreds of years later (the grace meant for you) - Peter's contemporaries of of the First Century Christians. By extension, they were also serving us (the Church). Their life's work was anchored in the central figure and message of the future Church, without any way to even conceive of the Church in their day.

Second, the angels. They desire to look into the affairs of the Gospel. The events centered on the message of the Church, the Good News of Jesus, is something they are intensely curious about. It's important to them, and it captivates their attention.

Two groups of very important beings, the prophets and the angels, are transfixed on Jesus, His Gospel, and all the affairs of the Gospel.

And this is how Peter intended to encourage these suffering readers in their circumstance. They were (and by extension, we are) living out the stuff that captivates prophets and angels! Therefore, any suffering we might have as a result of our faith is put in the perspective of what grabs their attention! This is so key, so pivotal, so intriguing to them that any suffering we might have relative to our faith suddenly has tremendous importance.

Mocked for your faith? The prophets and angels are eager to see how that plays out. Have fewer things than your neighbor because you financially support the work of the Gospel? The prophets and angels can't wait to see how that investment will bear fruit. Uncomfortable being the only one who can bring Truth into a situation? The prophets and angels are on the edge of their seats to see how you might lean into the lives of others.

Sometimes, we try to gain perspective on our suffering by comparing ourselves to the martyrs who suffered greatly and died for their faith. At least my situation isn't that bad. If they can do that big thing, then I can do this little thing. I don't find that kind of perspective to be effective for very long.

Peter takes a different angle. Instead of comparing sufferers to those who paid an even higher price, he focused them on the fantastic thing that captivates prophets and angels. That's how to gain perspective on suffering for the sake of the Gospel. Suffering may well be a necessary component to the storyline that prophets and angels are intensely eager to follow. It's that important.

Monday, November 21, 2016

No Thanks!

Lynne and I pray that you will all have a wonderful Thanksgiving this week. Thanksgiving has always been family, food, and football for me, with a time to reflect on our real blessings in Christ.

Perhaps you also feel what I often feel at Thanksgiving ... that I'm being forced to be thankful. Yes, there's family, food, and football and whatever else Thanksgiving may bring for you (like shopping with family - please don't make me), but it's Thanksgiving, so we're supposed to be thankful because God-something. But sometimes I feel more guilt and pressure about giving thanks than I feel thankful.

Plus, I'm really bad at that "What are we thankful for?" question while the stuffing is getting cold. I'm thankful for warm stuffing, thank you very much! The question can be awkward, producing peer pressure to say something adequately thankful (but somehow only the little kids get a pass for saying something cute like, "I'm thankful for snot").

We don't always happen to feel thankful on the fourth Thursday of November each year. Some years, we can successfully reflect on our blessings and the feelings of thanksgiving come genuinely. Other years, we don't reflect or we reflect with no tangible result.

So, we fake it. Or we sour it for others. After all, this is not a holiday that God ordained for us - it's a national holiday with origins in a God-consciousness. It's not a sin against God to skip this holiday, right?

The Bible teaches us in several passages to "be thankful." That doesn't mean, "celebrate the American Thanksgiving," but it does mean to be thankful to God for who He is and what He's done. Why does God tell us so many times to be thankful?

Precisely because we don't always feel it, we sometimes feel forced to express it, we have been known to fake it, and at times, we just skip it. God tells us to be thankful for the same reasons that we sometimes struggle a bit on Thanksgiving - we're not naturally thankful at all times. But being thankful is not only what we ought to do, it's good for us. It's healthier to be thankful.

In other words, we do need to be told on occasion to be thankful because our nature sometimes draws us away from it. So, holidays on the calendar can be the exact external push we need to remember to be thankful, even if we do have to force it some, fake it some, and feel a little awkward at times. Not to be disingenuous, but to intentionally counter our own nature with some effort.

May this Thanksgiving be a genuine excuse to embrace a thankful heart yet again.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016


This week, I posted something for sale on Craigslist - 4 cemetery plots that my grandfather bought in 1953. They are not going to be used by my family, so we want to sell them and let my parents enjoy the proceeds. I've listed them twice before with no success, so I dropped the price again. If this doesn't work, then I'll get a plot broker, which eats up the profit. But I really want to sell these at a decent price for the good of my folks. And that's a problem.

Within an hour of posting, I got an inquiry. Yes, they are still for sale. The person offered to send a certified check and then after the check is deposited, come pick up the title. Fair enough. But following Craigslist safety wisdom, I gave the church address instead of my home address. It turns out because of a "family emergency," the buyer won't be able to come by to pick up the title personally, but would send someone. First red flag. This person was called the "shipper." Second red flag. The longer the emails got, the more I saw that the person's grammar and spelling were atrocious. Third red flag. But I really wanted to get my folks some extra cash.

Then a full garrison of red flags. The check arrived UPS. It was not a certified check as promised, but still legitimate-looking. It wasn't made out to what I specified. The payer was not listed as the buyer, but "San Lorenzo Unified School District" (in California) without a logo or address. The check was for $100 too little. The "shipper's" name was given with an address in Tennessee, at an address that according to Google Maps doesn't exist. The return address on the package was a bank in North Carolina, but the UPS tracking showed the drop off to be in Colorado. The instructions included (of course) how to use some of the money from the check for me to send an amount by Moneygram to the "shipper" for shipping expenses (for an envelop that she was going to pick up in person?). CA to TN to NC to CO ... for cemetery plots in KC. It went from cautious to comical.

After poking around all the names and addresses, I merely responded that the deal was canceled because of the insufficient amount in the check. Then I got two more emails pushing for the deal, but clearly the second email was sent without connecting it to the first, as would happen when you're sending off many emails like this at the same time. After that, I noticed that except for the subject line of the emails, the cemetery plots were never specifically mentioned in the bodies of the emails. It was just "the item." Cutting and pasting is enough effort, apparently.

The scam didn't work. I started off cautious and never took any irrecoverable steps. Early on, I gave the buyer the benefit of the doubt, and then I just wanted to see what would happen. But I could see how someone would fall for this scam. It's because I really wanted it to be true. I wanted to be able to give something to my folks. And because I wanted it to be true, I (cautiously) went one more step than I would have otherwise. People get scammed because they ignore normal caution for things they really want to be true and take one, two, three more steps.

This is the exact same thing that happens when we surround ourselves only with news sources and social media that reinforces what we want to be true. We really want something to be true, so we listen almost exclusively to sources that tell us that it is true. And that's how we get scammed with "news," tossing our normal skepticism aside to more quickly get what we want. Then on top of that, we repost it and forward it to perpetuate it to others like the common cold. Be it politics, social justice, or religious news, we get scammed ... and we're the ones doing the scamming. Because we don't take simple steps of caution, we're to blame, not the authors of the articles. We're falling for our own scams!

This is also how we buy bad theology - someone says something that we really want to be true, so we loosen our safeguards and take one, two, three more steps into it.

How do we avoid "media-scamming" ourselves? By the same way we avoid getting scammed on Craigslist.
  1. Check the details, like I checked the drop-off location of the UPS package and the return address. 
  2. Know the source. I didn't know this person (or the form of English he or she used), so I was already cautious. These fake news sites are run by people we don't know and are being treated as legitimate to the point where Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook has taken some heat over it (but I still love the satirical news sites). But if they say what I really want to be true and it sounds vaguely like a news source, that's all I need to grab onto it, right?
  3. Ask yourself some caution questions, such as, "Am I making an excuse to ignore a normal safeguard?" If you're looking for a way around your own safeguards, you're well on your way to media-scamming yourself.
  4. Or, "Am I listening to the opposite view?", so that you can see what you want with a more critical eye. 
  5. Or, "Am I too embarrassed to ask someone what they think?", because that would indicate that you probably already know deep down that you're not being cautious. 
We can prevent falling for our own media-scams in the same way we prevent falling for money scams.

This may seem harmless, but we're talking about ideas that form our actions and our relationships.

We allow people we don't know tell us what the "news" is and what it means with less caution than we use to avoid a Craigslist scammer ripping us off for money. We guard our money better than we guard our minds and hearts.

On an unrelated note, you really want 4 cemetery plots, don't you?

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

I woke up Wednesday morning and ...

I woke up Wednesday morning and ...

... my neighbors are still people who deserve my good neighborliness;

... pizza still tastes good;

... abuse of power, bigotry, oppression, and disrespect still give me a holy discontent;

... my mission is still to show others who Jesus is and invite them to simply consider His place in their lives;

... my politics still pale in comparison to loving others;

... Daylight Saving Time is still useless;

... my government still can't save me;

... my bank account still can't satisfy my soul;

... my wife is still sweet;

... my president still needs my prayers;

... my car still pulls a little to one side;

... and the things of the human race are still wonderful, horrible, and limited.