Ways Off the Path: The Spiritual Discipline of Becoming Less of a Jerk

(Note: This is the second in my Lent series, Ways Off the Path, on some of the ways we can fall of the path and get separated with God.  You can find a link to last week’s post at the bottom of the page.)

Once, in an online employee profile a co-worker shared that she believed one of my primary spiritual gifts is sarcasm.  I’m fairly certain it wasn’t a compliment.

In my defense, I come by it honestly.  I spent a good part of my 20’s being trained as a newspaper reporter, where cynicism and sarcasm aren’t personality types but job requirements.

So, it isn’t much of a surprise that some of my colleagues have been known to ask how I chose House M.D., as  a spiritual mentor or that I’ve long been drawn to the characters of the Coen Brothers and shows like The Wire.  For years my mom has suggested I spend less time on these stories and more time on lighter fare like The Hallmark Channel – but I’m proud to say that up to this point I’ve been able to hold her off.

Everybody has their own ways of pursuing spiritual growth, but one of the ways I am choosing to try to follow closer to Jesus these days is what I call, in a phrase you can only learn in Divinity School, becoming less of a jerk.

photo-1444828589547-4ee6f3cb625a

Well, that’s not exactly true. But during this holy season of Lent – this time in which we are encouraged to take an honest and searing look at our lives and the habits that keep us away from God – I am working to become less critical of myself and of other people.

One of the byproducts of being trained as an analyst and to be skeptical is that you become an expert in identifying the ways that people fall short of the glory of God and the inherent failures of groups and systems.

There is a place for clear-minded and honest analysis, because we can only grow more faithful if we are willing to tell the truth about ourselves and our communities and organizations.  But when these efforts command so much of our time and attention, the costs can be too high.

We pay the price that comes from perfectionism when we fail to meet the impossible standards we set for ourselves.  It doesn’t matter that no one can meet them – that’s beside the point we tell ourselves.  And the standards not only lead to self-doubt and self-criticism but also being unable to live the life God wants for us. Instead of honestly trying to be obedient to God’s call on our lives, we find ourselves stuck and unable to move because we become paralyzed by the fear of not being able to live without failure.

Another steep price we pay is that we miss out and fail to appreciate the incredible gifts of the people around us.  When all we can see is the ways it can be better, we become blinded to the ways that God has been and still is at work in and through our community.

The truth is the more devoted we become to critical analysis the harder it is to appreciate the good things in our lives.

And when we miss the good things in our lives, we miss the blessing and the presence of God – in our friends, in our families, and in the countless people who reveal God’s love to us each and every day.

I was reminded of this last week when my wife and I were discussing a chapter in the book we are reading together for Lent.  As we were reflecting on the chapter, she reminded both of us that we are so much better off focusing on the blessings God has given us than stressing out on the things we don’t have. (Writer’s Note: I clearly married up.)

So, during these forty holy days of Lent I am trying to build a habit that will stick – to spend less time in analysis and snark and more time in celebration and appreciation.  We all can be good at a lot of things, but I am hoping to become better at learning how to see and celebrate the way God is at work in my life, in my family’s life, and in the life of the church and the people and the community we love.

It generally takes about six weeks for habits to take hold – so I have high hopes for this season of life.  I don’t know what you are up for Lent – probably something much holier than trying to become less cynical and critical- but whatever it is I hope and pray that you experience God’s grace and power to see the change you long for.

Ways Off the Path

Week 1: Paying Attention to the Wrong Things

Thank You So Much For Sharing...

Ways Off the Path: The Spiritual Discipline of Becoming Less of a Jerk

(Note: This is the second in my Lent series, Ways Off the Path, on some of the ways we can fall of the path and get separated with God.  You can find a link to last week’s post at the bottom of the page.)

Once, in an online employee profile a co-worker shared that she believed one of my primary spiritual gifts is sarcasm.  I’m fairly certain it wasn’t a compliment.

In my defense, I come by it honestly.  I spent a good part of my 20’s being trained as a newspaper reporter, where cynicism and sarcasm aren’t personality types but job requirements.

So, it isn’t much of a surprise that some of my colleagues have been known to ask how I chose House M.D., as  a spiritual mentor or that I’ve long been drawn to the characters of the Coen Brothers and shows like The Wire.  For years my mom has suggested I spend less time on these stories and more time on lighter fare like The Hallmark Channel – but I’m proud to say that up to this point I’ve been able to hold her off.

Everybody has their own ways of pursuing spiritual growth, but one of the ways I am choosing to try to follow closer to Jesus these days is what I call, in a phrase you can only learn in Divinity School, becoming less of a jerk.

photo-1444828589547-4ee6f3cb625a

Well, that’s not exactly true. But during this holy season of Lent – this time in which we are encouraged to take an honest and searing look at our lives and the habits that keep us away from God – I am working to become less critical of myself and of other people.

One of the byproducts of being trained as an analyst and to be skeptical is that you become an expert in identifying the ways that people fall short of the glory of God and the inherent failures of groups and systems.

There is a place for clear-minded and honest analysis, because we can only grow more faithful if we are willing to tell the truth about ourselves and our communities and organizations.  But when these efforts command so much of our time and attention, the costs can be too high.

We pay the price that comes from perfectionism when we fail to meet the impossible standards we set for ourselves.  It doesn’t matter that no one can meet them – that’s beside the point we tell ourselves.  And the standards not only lead to self-doubt and self-criticism but also being unable to live the life God wants for us. Instead of honestly trying to be obedient to God’s call on our lives, we find ourselves stuck and unable to move because we become paralyzed by the fear of not being able to live without failure.

Another steep price we pay is that we miss out and fail to appreciate the incredible gifts of the people around us.  When all we can see is the ways it can be better, we become blinded to the ways that God has been and still is at work in and through our community.

The truth is the more devoted we become to critical analysis the harder it is to appreciate the good things in our lives.

And when we miss the good things in our lives, we miss the blessing and the presence of God – in our friends, in our families, and in the countless people who reveal God’s love to us each and every day.

I was reminded of this last week when my wife and I were discussing a chapter in the book we are reading together for Lent.  As we were reflecting on the chapter, she reminded both of us that we are so much better off focusing on the blessings God has given us than stressing out on the things we don’t have. (Writer’s Note: I clearly married up.)

So, during these forty holy days of Lent I am trying to build a habit that will stick – to spend less time in analysis and snark and more time in celebration and appreciation.  We all can be good at a lot of things, but I am hoping to become better at learning how to see and celebrate the way God is at work in my life, in my family’s life, and in the life of the church and the people and the community we love.

It generally takes about six weeks for habits to take hold – so I have high hopes for this season of life.  I don’t know what you are up for Lent – probably something much holier than trying to become less cynical and critical- but whatever it is I hope and pray that you experience God’s grace and power to see the change you long for.

Ways Off the Path

Week 1: Paying Attention to the Wrong Things

Thank You So Much For Sharing...

The Lessons: January 2016 Edition

There’s plenty to learn if we will just pay attention.  Here are a few things I learned in the last month.

LESSONS

1. Fargo is more than a movie.  

When The Men in Blazers call something The Best Show since The Wire, well, I had to check it out. And it didn’t disappoint. Fargo has great and interesting characters, beautiful scenery, and insight into the big questions of life – all without a wood chipper. Billy Bob Thornton is frighteningly convincing as a serial killer in season one and Kirsten Dunst is excellent as a wife trying to make the best of her life while being chased by various branches of the mob in season two.

2.  The Main Thing Still Makes A Difference

Teaching a weekly Bible Study at my church has reminded me that we don’t have to get cute and overthink how to invite people to church. People are hungry for real spiritual food and when you offer them a chance to come and learn about who Jesus is and how we wants them to live their lives, they will come.

3. The Church Sounds Really Angry Online

Or at least the edges of our church are angry online. Listening to those on the edge spat over various reports and issues convinces me that they have such different understandings of what the Gospel actually is, the ethics of discipleship, and the primary task of the church that it makes conversation and growth increasingly difficult if not impossible. Fortunately, the edges aren’t the only ones speaking and writing and leading. I’m grateful for leaders and writers who help us encounter grace in the midst of conflict and remind us of the truth that One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism makes room for all kinds.

4. On to Leadership: It’s A Lot Easier to Read and Write About Leadership Than it is to Actually Lead

There is a probably a longer post coming on this at some point, but stepping into a leadership role where the buck actually stops with you is a non-stop experience.  There isn’t a day or really a time when you aren’t thinking about what it is important, struggling to decide what issues are worth sticking your nose into, and how you can help people you love and care about grow into the kind of life that God wants for them.  It is a rewarding, yet at times exhausting, task and calling. And you can’t try to do it for any length of time without becoming convinced that it is a calling.

5.  Everyone needs someone who just gets you. 

And my wife gets me. She gave me a coffee subscription which ensured fresh snobby coffee is in our mailbox every two weeks with a t-shirt to match.  Perfect. You can get your own here.

image.skreened-long-sleeve.heather-grey.w460h520b3z1

You know you need one. www.skreened.com

 

6. People Are Still Making Good Stuff

There’s a lot of good stuff out there that will inspire you, make you laugh and help you think.  Here are just a few that I’ve enjoyed this month.

Pages: Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Link: Friendship is the Last Romance, Courtney Martin

Pod: Theology on Mission Podcast

Youtube: The Gilbert and Sullivan Mass, Hilarious satire on mission, preaching and worship. Those Lutherans are funny and, unfortunately, frighteningly accurate.

iPod: Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors: Start here and then listen to everything you can find.

 

How about you?  What did you learn  this month?

Thank You So Much For Sharing...

The Lessons: January 2016 Edition

There’s plenty to learn if we will just pay attention.  Here are a few things I learned in the last month.

LESSONS

1. Fargo is more than a movie.  

When The Men in Blazers call something The Best Show since The Wire, well, I had to check it out. And it didn’t disappoint. Fargo has great and interesting characters, beautiful scenery, and insight into the big questions of life – all without a wood chipper. Billy Bob Thornton is frighteningly convincing as a serial killer in season one and Kirsten Dunst is excellent as a wife trying to make the best of her life while being chased by various branches of the mob in season two.

2.  The Main Thing Still Makes A Difference

Teaching a weekly Bible Study at my church has reminded me that we don’t have to get cute and overthink how to invite people to church. People are hungry for real spiritual food and when you offer them a chance to come and learn about who Jesus is and how we wants them to live their lives, they will come.

3. The Church Sounds Really Angry Online

Or at least the edges of our church are angry online. Listening to those on the edge spat over various reports and issues convinces me that they have such different understandings of what the Gospel actually is, the ethics of discipleship, and the primary task of the church that it makes conversation and growth increasingly difficult if not impossible. Fortunately, the edges aren’t the only ones speaking and writing and leading. I’m grateful for leaders and writers who help us encounter grace in the midst of conflict and remind us of the truth that One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism makes room for all kinds.

4. On to Leadership: It’s A Lot Easier to Read and Write About Leadership Than it is to Actually Lead

There is a probably a longer post coming on this at some point, but stepping into a leadership role where the buck actually stops with you is a non-stop experience.  There isn’t a day or really a time when you aren’t thinking about what it is important, struggling to decide what issues are worth sticking your nose into, and how you can help people you love and care about grow into the kind of life that God wants for them.  It is a rewarding, yet at times exhausting, task and calling. And you can’t try to do it for any length of time without becoming convinced that it is a calling.

5.  Everyone needs someone who just gets you. 

And my wife gets me. She gave me a coffee subscription which ensured fresh snobby coffee is in our mailbox every two weeks with a t-shirt to match.  Perfect. You can get your own here.

image.skreened-long-sleeve.heather-grey.w460h520b3z1

You know you need one. www.skreened.com

 

6. People Are Still Making Good Stuff

There’s a lot of good stuff out there that will inspire you, make you laugh and help you think.  Here are just a few that I’ve enjoyed this month.

Pages: Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Link: Friendship is the Last Romance, Courtney Martin

Pod: Theology on Mission Podcast

Youtube: The Gilbert and Sullivan Mass, Hilarious satire on mission, preaching and worship. Those Lutherans are funny and, unfortunately, frighteningly accurate.

iPod: Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors: Start here and then listen to everything you can find.

 

How about you?  What did you learn  this month?

Thank You So Much For Sharing...