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.

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.’”

The Bible says…?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve sung the song “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so…”

I sometimes wonder today, though…I hear a lot of people saying “The Bible says…” and then that’s followed by some statement that I have to go “huh??” at.

Here–in no particular order–are some things I believe about the Bible (definitely not a complete list, though):

  • It’s not a scientific textbook…it doesn’t give a history of the development of the earth.
  • The “biographies” found in it were designed to make a point, not be full of facts and figures, as we would expect of a modern biography.
  • It has a variety of writings – poetry, letters, court histories, “biographies” – and to treat them all the same doesn’t honor the various forms.
  • It’s full of contradictions…and that’s okay, because it’s a collection of writings by people trying to make sense of their world at various times and ages.
  • Both the Hebrew scriptures (what Christians often call the Old Testament) and the New Testament are important to read.
  • It would be possible to come up with a list of laws to be kept every day…but you’d have to figure out which of the contradictory ones take precedence.
  • We all pick and choose which portions of the Bible speak to (and for) us.

Most importantly for me, the most important thing that the Bible says is that God loves us. Every one of us…each one of us…regardless of where we live, how we worship, what name we call the Divine…every one of us–without us having to do anything to earn that love.

And if you want to ask me what the Bible says, this is my response:

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

And if you want to continue the question by asking who our neighbors are…they are anyone and everyone we share this planet with.

 

“I want to be an adult!”

The graduation season has just ended, and there’s a comment (sometimes implied, but sometimes stated) that I’ve heard from a lot of graduates and those who are close to graduation.

“I want to be an adult!”

Just what does that mean? Probably not what those who are saying that phrase think that it means!

Often it seems to mean that somebody just simply doesn’t want anyone else to be telling them what to do. Or they want to be able to do what they want without worrying about consequences….or they want to be out on their own…

But being an adult is much more than that.

One of the big things about being an adult is taking responsibility for yourself–and the consequences of your decisions. When you are child, your parents are able to protect you from those consequences sometimes, although good parents don’t shield you from all of them. But when you are an adult, you are responsible…for both good choices and less than good ones, along with the responsibilities coming from them.

It means figuring out how to pay for many of the things that were provided for you when you were at home…food, shelter, clothing, utilities, health care, car expenses…

That requires a job. And finding a good job–and by that, I mean a job with a future–means getting some training, whether that’s through college, an internship, an apprenticeship…

It also means making wise choices about how to deal with your sexuality. For some, that means coming to terms with sexual identity and/or gender identity. For most, it means figuring out wise decisions about when/whether to have sex–and the potential consequences of that! An unexpected child can throw a significant monkey wrench into your plans…as can sexually transmitted diseases.

It means listening to that little voice inside that suggests when something may not be wise…or when the “friend” may not be the best person to hang out with.

Not everything has to be learned the hard way. There are older adults who are willing to mentor you–if you will let them. Sometimes they want you to learn from their mistakes so you don’t have to go through what they did. Sometimes they are simply people who care for you.

Don’t be in a hurry…listen…try…fail–and learn from your failures…fall–and get up again…and trust. Trust that there are people who want only the best for (and from) you. Trust that there are people who love you. Trust that there are people who will walk with you.

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Praying–and working–for peace

Since December 3, 1993, my faith tradition has joined millions of others around the world who pray for peace on a regular basis. The short Prayer for Peace service has taken place every day, praying for peace in general but also specifically with a focus on an individual country each time. Yesterday I had the privilege of again playing for the service, and the hymn that we sang really spoke to me.

It was written by Geoffrey Spencer, a former leader from Australia (and a friend)…a man who in many ways spoke prophetically and was ahead of his time. His words were not always appreciated, but they were often prescient.

As I look around our world today–and especially what is happening in my own country–this is one of those times when I think his words provide a challenge for us all.

Why should the earth disclose a face
distraught by pain and anguish?
And how can hearts that beat with ours,
in tortured bondage languish?

Should men despair, or women weep,
in cruel deprivation;
or haunted eyes in children mock
the bounties of creation?

Oh, may our hearts be tuned to hear
their cries of quiet weeping,
and may the echoes of distress
disturb our restful sleeping.

The rich resources of the earth,
a table set for sharing,
are bread and wine for humankind,
a sacrament of caring.

The word made flesh in Christ declares
our lives belong to others;
so let us take our stand beside
our sisters and our brothers.

Let heart and hand reach out across
the walls of tribe and nation,
till every voice on earth shall raise
a hymn of jubilation.

As a follower of the Carpenter who came to change the world, the fifth verse especially speaks to me. He never said that following him would be easy–in fact, he indicated it would be difficult…and many would say that what he asked is impossible. But if we want a better world for ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren…we really don’t have any choice but to see others as sisters and brothers. We have no choice but to find others who want peace as well, regardless of whether we call the Divine by the same name…or look alike…or worship alike…or have the same political beliefs.

Is it going to be easy? No. But is it possible? I believe so…because I am reminded of a quote often attributed to Margaret Mead…and because the small group that followed the Carpenter shows its truth:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

Creating a place where people want to work…

There’s a weekly column in our area Sunday paper that I’ve read with interest for a number of years. Its focus is on job-related issues, but much of what is discussed there can relate to any situation / organization in which two or more people are involved.

Sometimes the topic has been in an area of interest to me; sometimes it’s not.

But I’ve sometimes thought about what I would write–if I were ever asked to write a guest column. The chances of that happening are pretty slim, so I decided I’d do it myself!

From the perspective of a couple of different work-related experiences I’ve had, here’s what I think I would say:

Have you ever looked at those articles that list “the best places to work”? and wondered what it would take for yours to be listed there? It doesn’t necessarily take a lot of money. Money is nice, but it doesn’t solve the issues I’ve experienced.

Here’s a few suggestions:

  • Treat everyone with respect. That means everyone, from the person who is highest on the totem pole to the lowest.
  • Listen to your employees. You may not be able to do what they would like to see done, but they often have good ideas. Don’t dismiss them out of hand because you (as a supervisor) “know better.” Your employees are often the first line of contact with your customers, and they often have a really good grasp of issues and concerns that need to be taken care of.
  • Share with your employees. Yes, I know, there is sometimes information that cannot be shared; I don’t know of any employee who doesn’t understand that. But sharing as much as possible helps employees buy-in to what you are wanting (and / or needing) to do.
  • Acknowledge the work that your employees do. Yes, a monetary bonus is always nice. But when that’s not possible, there are other ways of acknowledging how important your employees are. Perhaps an extra day off…a public acknowledgement in the company newsletter…a personal letter (not a template with the name filled in)…a certificate of appreciation…
  • Work to create an environment where all are seen as essential. Too often there’s an “us / them” attitude. It can be described as “bosses / peons”, “that end of the hall / everyone else”, “us / them”…or any one of a number of ways. If that’s the feeling in your workplace, you’re missing out on relationships that can enhance your company.

There’s a lot more that could be said. But it’s not really important. It’s really kind of like what happened when someone came to Jesus and asked him what the most important religious law was. There were a lot of them that Jesus could have picked from. But he only chose two: (1) to love God with all one’s being, and (2) to love your neighbor as you love yourself. Two of the Gospels says that he continued by saying that all the rest of the law and prophets hung on those two.

My feeling is that if you look at my suggestions and work to create them in your company, you don’t need a thick employee handbook full of rules and regulations. They’ll pretty much take care of themselves.

Welcome the stranger…

Last night I sat in on a wonderful evening of story-telling from members of (and about) my faith tradition. Some of the stories were funny…some were more somber.

My faith tradition was birthed in the United States, but it did not have an easy birth or childhood. We were “different”…we challenged the status quo…and we became refugees. We were driven from place to place, and our founder was ultimately murdered. In many ways, it’s a wonder that we survived.

But the story that caught my attention last night was of one of those times of wandering. We were forcibly driven out of our homes in winter. We lost most of our earthly possessions–and many families did not know where their fathers were…or even if they were still alive. The journey was a difficult one. Sometimes we were able to find shelter–even if it was dirty and smelly; sometimes we were denied even that. Ultimately we found people who cared…people who saw us not as “other” but as human beings in need. We found a city of 1500 who were willing to take in 5000 refugees who had nothing. We found a temporary home while we regrouped so that we could go on.

As I listened to that story, I thought about the parallels with today…with my parents’ generation and my own.

In the 1930s there were people fleeing and looking for a place of shelter. They were people who had lost everything and who were afraid for their lives–and the lives of their children. Some found shelter, but many did not and perished.

Credit Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

Today there are many fleeing and looking for safe places for themselves and their children. Some have found shelter–but many are still looking.

Yes, they are “other”…they are different.

But I am part of a country that has grown from the contributions of immigrants and refugees. I am part of a faith tradition that was welcomed as refugees. I am also part of a bigger faith tradition whose story includes both being welcomed as a stranger–and then being challenged to do the same to others. My people were welcomed…and I grew up believing this poem by Emma Lazarus:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)