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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Kids and divorce

People in a pastoral role are often asked if a divorce will hurt or help the kids.

Our culture has so indulged itself in lies about relationships and life that even those who genuinely put forth a concerted effort are destined to fail. Nonetheless, I say the only appropriate cause of divorce is when a spouse is abusive or controlling. Life works out the way it works out. It is not always fair and often arbitrary and random. And that is NOT bad news.

Our responsibility, if we accept it, is to become the sort of people we can become who effectively respond to the circumstances we find ourselves in. An effective response means changing circumstances when possible with decisions that properly belong to us but it also means accepting the circumstances when THEY do not change and yet we still need to have an effective response within the circumstances even if others refuse to change. But too often we refuse to accept life the way it is. We would rather complain about how IT is unfair or how OTHERS are not doing what they are supposed to do.

People put forth so much wasted effort trying to become the kind of people they would like to be as they hope to avoid too many obstacles but they put forth little to no effort becoming the people required by the circumstances and the real obstacles that are not going away. For example, many parents adopt a style of parenting that makes sense to them -- a style they like and can believe in -- a style they imagine to be biblical or recommended by a respected psychologist. How foolish and self centered is that!

Parenting is not about YOU, its not about being biblical, its not about "correct methods," its about who you AND the kids are and who you as a parent need to become in light of that. We need to be the sort of parents that are effective in a way that meets our kids needs and does not indulge them with what they do not need. All  kids need certain consequences -- some more than others, all need discipline -- some more than others, graciousness, encouragement, mercy, justice. Balance is required. If it is out of balance your kids are either indulged or abused. A good parent is willing to master a wide array of skills incorporating a wider variety of management methods than they personally enjoy or like. When you parent your child, your responsibility is to use the method that achieves balance, not the method you prefer or that others approve. It requires openness to see if this is really working for the kids. When it is not working, do not complain about incorrigible kids, switch to a different method - say one that is effective with incorrigible kids.

I want to be a nice guy, but some people take advantage of nice guys. So I am prepared to be an advantage takers worst enemy and be not at all nice. In so doing I might behave in ways even I dislike if that is the way of behaving that can effectively stop the advantage taker in their path from violating my boundaries. Truth is there have been a few times when my daughter or my wife discovered I can be difficult deliberately and intentionally. And I am not deterred if that creates an impression of me they do not like. Being liked is an indulgence for those whose boundaries are insecure.

Similarly, do you feel your spouse does not appreciate you? Well then, you need to become the kind of person who is learning how to effectively win the appreciation of a person who does not give appreciation easily. If you can learn to do that, you will grow in wisdom and strength as a person. You might also need to learn how to effectively call out that lack of appreciation in a way that is experienced as empathetic and healing to whatever scars keep them from being appreciative. An unappreciative spouse could prove to be a great gift in your growth. The required effort might throw a monkey wrench in your plans. So be it.

Do you feel your spouse is unattractive or uninspiring? What a marvelous opportunity to discover what it is that makes every person precious and lovely to the core. You may even discover that by shallow standards, those who feel they are genuinely regarded as truly precious actually become far more attractive and involved.

Most importantly, lets not kid ourselves. None of us are easy to live with. If our kids and our spouse are the sort of people seeking ways of being effective with us, we will need to embrace a number of faults in ourselves they do not appreciate. If we have modeled effective behavior we have also armed those around us with the means of effectively confronting us.

Life is an opportunity, not to pursue YOUR dreams, but to respond to life as it is. The sort of expertise that emerges with that attitude will be highly valuable to you and others because it gives us the skills we really need, not just the skills we admire. It will create a you and an us that is so genuine to who and what we actually are.

Statistically kids are better off without having to deal with parents who cannot find a way of successfully embracing their reality. The main reason is that a failed marriage models foolish and ineffective ways of responding to life and ways of adopting acceptable excuses for blaming others rather than accepting responsibility to be the only difference your circumstances really require. That is how it hurts the kids, it becomes their normal.

Learning to be content in any circumstance is not a form of spiritual lobotomy or Buddhist like detachment where you don't care what the circumstances are. It is instead a deep engagement and embracing of reality meeting it head on and accepting the challenge in the confidence that God is with you and you are thereby sufficient to any circumstance so that you really have nothing to complain about -- merely a number of opportunities you had not anticipated.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Is it obedience vs disobedience or is it love that brings growth in grace?

As I see it obedience vs disobedience is the wrong axis. Obedience merely conforms to outward behavior even if the heart is delightfully engaged. It also causes the person to shrink into diminutiveness and hesitancy in their personality development failing to make their own decisions. It stunts our genuine growth. Disobedience, on the other hand, rebels from within. It gets us to be stupid and gets us to shoot ourselves in the foot. So as I see it both obedience and disobedience are totally useless when it comes to spiritual maturity because they both relate to externals and growth is an internal dynamic not an external one.

As I get older, I do not find it gets easier to obey. I've been involved in a maverick approach to Jesus for quite some time. So as I get older I find myself even more absolutely opposed to allowing anyone to place their expectations upon me concerning what I am going to do. As a Christ follower I find instead that I get so engaged in pursuing and discovering what I have come to value through my abiding with Jesus as genuinely good for its own sake that I simply have less and less time to stop to think about if I am being compliant to any one's articulated expectations or standards.

This next paragraph may come across as shocking. If you cannot say it wholeheartedly for yourself I understand and appreciate your concerns. If God does not like what I am doing, as far as I am concerned that is His own damn problem. He should have considered the consequences of how He would feel about my behavior when He gave me my own heart and my own mind and my own ability to make my own decisions and told me to be fruitful and multiply and take dominion over the earth. He did not make me as smart as He is nor as capable and I refuse to accept any expectations from Him that reach beyond the nature of who and what I am as His creation. If He is thinking of going back on the deal, then to hell with Him. Besides, although I am willing to own my own behavior as mine for better or worse (Jesus taught me to do that and it is far more valuable than I had first imagined), God is fully responsible for His own disappointments. I refuse to accept any of them. If He does not enjoy living inside me, then He is free to leave!

As time goes on I am loosing track of any sense of any list of external requirements. Seeking to live by the "law of love" requires only only to be mindful and honest with my motives and to be actively engaged in a motive that has the well being of God and the entire universe as its purpose. It also requires an honest willingness to discover the truth about what really secures that well being. That purpose has been in a process of ongoing remodeling by the resurrection power of the indwelling Christ. As time goes on I am given more over to that sense of purpose and less to questions of right or wrong.

As I understand it, my "growth in grace" is the freedom to not have it all figured out correctly while I am in the process of becoming someone who totally agrees with God about how lovely and meaningful all of His creation is and as I discover how life can be a celebration of opportunity to live in a way that upholds such an awesome and unsearchable preciousness as is found in the person of God, the faithfulness of Christ, the beauty of God's image in each of us and this amazing universe we have as place to exist and know each other.

So I turn to another axis. Is this love? Is it really love? Wouldn't it be beyond awesome to see even more of the value that love brings into this creation? And so as I grow in grace I stretch my grasp for even more of unsearchable love.

Warning: Reading the bible can be harmful or just useless

I read the bible often and I read it using numerous translations. It is the one book I read and reread more often than any other. So it is a strange thing for a pastoral care giver to say. Reading the bible can be useless. It can make you believe lies and harm your spiritual well being. How could such a thing be so?

Have you ever stopped to realize how it is that controversies, abuse and long standing perspectives can each create emotional and intellectual blindness.

People who are caught up in a controversy identify and attach certain vital values to their position. It can become difficult if not impossible for them to empathetically acknowledge those same values being genuinely shared by others who do not also align themselves with the same side of a controversy. Loyalty to an important value can add complications that distort our ability to have an objective perspective. For example: pro life people often cannot see how pro choice people might really value human life and pro choice people often cannot see how pro life people might really respect boundaries.

Be it freedom, family values or whatever. We can develop the habit of reacting immediately internally to anything that resembles a threat to what we value and the way we have come to understand how that value is honored. In some ways this is unavoidable. When those we love have been harmed, our personal experience compels us to value the things we believe will protect them in the future. They are too valuable for us to let go for even a moment. When meaningful possessions have been lost, stolen, or damaged our personal experience compels us to value the things we believe will minimize such losses. We develop, as it were, a story inside our minds that explains this value and identifies its enemies.

What we might not notice, however, is that embracing this story unquestionably prevents us from recognizing some valid aspect of truth that is subtly or significantly different. Over time we even become insensitive to subtleties often failing to recognize them. It is as if upon hearing that which we associate as "the wrong view" triggers in us an immediate rejection.

When we have been abused or violated -- it makes little difference if such abuse is imagined or real -- we have a strong tendency to reject ways of thinking embraced by our abusers and can also hold on to ideas we imagine keep us safe.

Long standing perspectives, even ones we disagree with have a strong tendency to operate within a rut. Many people, for example, who do not read or trust the bible have grown so accustomed to hearing certain verses quoted and explained by Fundamentalists that even though they reject the bible and the Fundamentalist teaching, they still might perceive that verse as indeed teaching what the fundamentalist claimed it to be clearly saying. Traditions create within us a rut where our mind takes an uncritical trip through an interpretation remaining unaware of all the forks in the road where a different direction could be a valid choice. Unaware of the alternatives, the traditional view takes on an assumed obviousness. The words or the specific bible verses commonly used to undergird the tradition become triggers that automatically set our thinking into the rut.

Personal and denominational beliefs are filled with, and influenced by both an adherence to and a rejection of many controversies, abuse and traditions. This can make reading the bible difficult. So many passages say something we have become too desensitized to hear, or invoke ideas too common so that a fresh reading that allows a new perspective becomes difficult or seem to assert some idea we experienced as abusive.

Many who have left abusive religious organizations, or left traditions they no longer embrace have found that reading the bible only reinforces what they left. It can take months and even years before they can read the bible again and not see something different than the clear but abusive or traditional meaning. Very often, the meaning seems so clear that those who reject a particular tradition might also feel it necessary to reject the bible altogether.

This is not because they are stupid, it is because they are human. Human beings, in order to accomplish more complex thought, develop certain habits of thought without having to always reinvent the interpretive wheel. If we have a bad thought habit, it can take time before we realize it is the habit that is at work rather than the, so called, obvious meaning. We have to shake loose from bad interpretive habits before we can read the bible anew.