Perception = reality

Several years ago my husband was caught flat-footed when some of his teachers told him that they didn’t feel like he was a particularly supportive principal. He felt he was very supportive and was hurt by their criticism. But when he stepped back and took time to listen and hear what they were saying, he realized that what he thought he was doing to be supportive instead wasn’t what they needed. He changed–and the relationship between him and the teachers improved significantly.

What he learned from that experience is that perception = reality.

We may be caught flat-footed ourselves when something we say or do is taken in a different way than we intended. We may intend something as a joke–but someone else sees it as hurtful. We may say something in what we think is a compliment–but because of life circumstances, it may come across as a put-down.

Our response might be “That’s not what I meant at all!” and we may be frustrated and irritated. We may say “You shouldn’t feel that way”…and perhaps that’s true.

But…perception = reality. And we need to learn to accept that.

It’s not always easy, and it requires a willingness to listen. We have to put our own defensiveness aside and try to put ourselves in someone else’s place. How we see and experience life is impacted by many factors, and it’s unique to each of us. We see the world through a constantly shifting lens, because our life experiences are constantly changing.

Our world is full of people who are convinced that everyone sees and responds to stimuli the same way…but we don’t. The more we are able to recognize that–and the more we are willing to understand that perception = reality–that more we have opportunity for meaningful interaction with and understanding of each other.

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The Bible says… (part 2)

I’ve been thinking about what I think the Bible says…and realized that in some ways it was incomplete.

What I said there is still very definitely my belief, but sometimes people end up asking, “Well, then, what do you believe the Bible says? My response in the last post was this:

God loves us–completely and fully. All God asks in return is that we love God…and our neighbors.

Obviously that’s my paraphrase…and that doesn’t satisfy some who want specific words–words from the Bible. Okay, I can understand that.

So…as I’ve listened to the debates and political “discourse” (although I’m not sure it’s been discourse as much as it’s been seeing who can yell loud enough to get their points heard), these are the words from the Bible that I believe are what the Bible says to us today. They come from the NRSV version (emphasis added by me):

Matthew 22:36-40

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Matthew 25:31-45:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’”

It’s that time of year again…

So…it’s that time of year again. Time to put away the winter clothes and pull out the summer ones. But not completely.

The weather forecast is calling for a chilly night again tonight (about 39 degrees), although it’s supposed to warm up again–at least somewhat–next week.

I’ve almost done this several times, but every time I was about ready to, the forecast called for a return to more winter-like weather.

But I decided that today it was the right time of year.

I put away almost all of my winter clothes…just kept out a few items that can work for either cool spring days or winter. I kept out a few jackets as well that will work just about any season. So hopefully I’m ready for the next few days.

For many of us, we’ve also just recently celebrated a time of putting away the old and entering into the new. Last week was Easter–a time that acknowledges death and yet rejoices in the power of life over death. In some ways that sounds so easy…after all, we see it happen every spring as trees and other plants bud out again and the grass turns from its seeming death into green.

But it’s not.

For life to triumph over death, something has to die. Our old way of seeing…our old expectations and hopes…sometimes even loved ones.

It’s not easy to let go of all that.

But every time I seasonally change my closet, I’m reminded that there are things I have to let go of…they no longer fit…I no longer like them…I don’t need them. And the same is true of my life.

It’s that time of year again. Time to let go…and time to be reborn!

Sunday’s coming…

I don’t know anyone who hasn’t gone through some difficult times in their lives. For some that’s caught up in the loss of a loved one…for others loss of a job…or a faith crisis…or anyone of a myriad of things that can send one into dark places.

About 2000 years ago, there was a community that went through another difficult time. The one they had followed…the one who challenged the status quo on behalf of the poor, the dispossessed, the “other”…this one who came in unconditional love had been taken by the authorities…beaten…crucified…and buried. His followers didn’t know what the future held–for themselves but also for what he believed and taught. Was this the end?

We know the story. We know that his death was not the end–but the middle of the story. We live the end of the story by the way we live. It is our responsibility to keep his teachings and actions alive…to stand with and for the poor, the dispossessed, the “other”…those the status quo would call “less than.”

We know that when they laid him in the tomb…and they went through the dark days of mourning…we know that Sunday was coming…the day of resurrection!

And so, for all who are in dark places…for those who wonder if the church is dying…if there is hope for the future, I would simply say this:

This is not the end. Sometimes we have to go through a time of death in order to come out on the other side into the new life that is beyond anything we can currently imagine. This isn’t to say that it’s easy. It’s not. But Sunday’s coming…!

 

“What is truth?”

It’s Lent…a time when those who follow Jesus take time to prepare for the journey to the cross and through into Easter Sunday.

For whatever reason, part of the conversation between Jesus and Pilate has been on my mind lately. It takes place after Jesus has been arrested…taken to the high priest for questioning and then sent to Pilate. There is a brief conversation between the two about whether Jesus is a king or not (as Pilate understands kingship). Jesus says he is a witness to the truth–that anyone who cares for truth would recognize his voice. And then Pilate asks the question: “What is truth?”

Is that a serious question? a rhetorical one? a cynical one? The story doesn’t say. Pilate just immediately moves back to the crowd…tells them he didn’t find any reason to put Jesus to death…and ultimately caves when the crowd accuses him of not kowtowing enough to Rome.

But it’s an important question. What is truth?

Today there are lots of ways that “truth” is being defined. But I think that the truth that stood in front of Pilate was truth then and is truth for us now. And that truth can at least partially be described this way:

  • All people are of worth! It doesn’t matter what their political status is…their wealth…their religion…their background…their lifestyle. Jesus mingled with everyone.
  • We show God’s love by the way we treat others. Again, it doesn’t matter about political status…wealth…religion…background…lifestyle. Do we treat them like we would want to be treated ourselves? If we don’t, then we’re not truly showing God’s love.
  • There are always more questions than answers. Sometimes the questions are uncomfortable–Jesus put people on the spot. And sometimes the answers are uncomfortable. But if we’re not willing to ask those questions–and listen to the answers–then we are like Pilate. We ask the question…but don’t really want to know the answer.
  • Truth is demanding. It calls us out of our comfort zones.

If I’m honest, there are times in my own life when I’m like Pilate. I ask the question–but then walk away from the answer. But how do we remember Pilate today? Not how I’d like to be remembered!

I’d much rather try to live like Jesus, who has influenced our world for 2000 or so years. Yes, I know there are many groups/people who claim to be like Jesus–but I want to be like the one standing before Pilate as “truth with flesh on.” It’s not going to be comfortable…or easy…and I’m not always going to succeed. But it’s the Jesus people need to see…in order to know they are of worth and are loved.

Barth and Bonhoeffer…why them? why now?

A couple of nights ago I was having trouble getting to sleep. I kept thinking about Karl Barth and  Dietrich Bonhoeffer…why?

I remembered my preaching instructor (and others!) in seminary liked to quote a statement often attributed to Karl Barth: “We must hold the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.” In other words, we cannot divorce what is going on in life around us from what the Bible calls us to do and be. We must be informed both of the news and events surround us but we must also be biblically literate. (Please note–I did not say “literalist.” There is a significant difference.)

With my spiritual advisor, I’ve spent a lot of time reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a young German pastor in the 1930s. Barth, a Swiss theologian, was forced to leave Germany and return to Switzerland, as Hitler rose to power. Bonhoeffer took a different path. He came to the United States for post-graduate education at Union Theological Seminary, but returned to Germany in 1931. He watched as Hitler came to power–and was a staunch foe from the beginning. He saw in Hitler a danger to the church, a danger he watched as more and more church leaders either actively supported the Nazi movement or passively stood aside.

In 1933 Bonhoeffer accepted a post in London, but he returned to Germany in response to Barth’s question of him: “And what of the German church?” They needed strong pastors.

Bonhoeffer–and Barth–felt that something had to be done…something had to be said to call Christians to repentance. They were responsible for the formation of the Confessing Church, which basically was a resistance movement. They wanted to preserve traditional Christian beliefs and practices. And in 1934, they drafted a statement known as the Barmen Declaration. In this document, they laid out their position that Christ–not the Fuhrer–was the head of the church. It was a pointed rebuke towards Hitler and his movement.

As I lay in bed, the thought kept coming to mind that perhaps it was time for a Barmen Declaration for our day and time.

I was, therefore, pleasantly surprised when I received a link to a statement by Princeton Seminary faculty members related to the Trump presidency and the current political situation in the United States. As I read it, I thought “Yes, this is our Barmen Declaration.” I was pleased that each member who signed it did not feel that they had to agree to every word–that they worked together as colleagues to draft a statement that they were each comfortable signing.

I have seen statements questioning why religious leaders and ministers should be speaking against Trump–sometimes with the specific question of why are we not praying for him? I believe many are praying for him…but also believe that in good faith, they must speak against those policies, statements, and actions that are not representative of who Christ calls us to be.

I am grateful for this statement…and I agree with it.

Advent 4…

I did not get my article posted yesterday for Advent 4…but we are still in that week.

There were valid reasons for my delay. We had extremely cold and bitter temperatures…we had ice and snow…I had a graduation and a nursing recognition ceremony to play for…and our musician at church got sick and I needed to cover (and also take a couple of other responsibilities in the service as well)…

Valid reasons…but also in many ways a response to the theme and focus yesterday.

Our them for Sunday was “Emmanuel: God with us”…and we celebrated the emphasis of love.

“God with us”…God meeting us where we are. But it’s not just God doing that.

We meet each other for ministry where each person is.

Sometimes that means playing the organ for a celebration of a life activity, such as a graduation. It’s an opportunity to acknowledge all the hard work someone has put into that accomplishment.

Sometimes that means allowing someone else to take the time they need to recuperate.

Sometimes it just means being aware of what’s going on in someone else’s life.

And sometimes it’s pretty easy…sometimes it’s not.

Love isn’t particularly difficult when someone is lovable. But when someone is angry…or upset…or smelly…or any of the other myriad of reasons we don’t really want to have anything to do with them, it can be difficult.

But there’s a lovely poem by Christina Rossetti that I think catches up the theme…and the challenge…of this week:

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine,
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,
Love Incarnate, Love Divine,
Worship we our Jesus,
But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token,
Love be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.