Be the Good You Expect to See Everywhere Else

be the good

Things seem to be getting worse.

Road rage, political anger, mass shootings, divorce, depression – all on the rise here in the US. It’s frightening to think about where things are headed.

It’s easy, sometimes down right entertaining to pass judgment on people who perpetrate all this bad stuff. We talk about how they’re ruining our country, ruining the future, making things difficult for everyone.

We, of course, have nothing to do with what’s unraveling in our culture. We’re the good people – we never rant on social media, belittle someone for their political views, or react with rudeness and disrespect when a lowly employee doesn’t respond as they should.

We always, in every way possible, spread kindness and peace, right?

Not me. While I’m trying hard to be the good in this world, I can’t seem to help being “the bad.” And here’s why.

This might be hard to accept at first, and will sound trite and sing-songy, but hang with me here – few can argue this truth.

It’s all about peace.

Peaceful people are more likely to be the good than people who’s lives are driven by fear, disappointment, impatience, and all the other traits of an un-peaceful life.

I see this in my kids all the time. When a sense of peace comes over them, their entire mood changes. They can be in the middle of a fight, but if I tell them something like “hey, let’s go watch TV,” the fight stops, they remember that they love their siblings, and I get a break for an hour.

It’s not TV that did it, it was the sense of peace that came from knowing something good’s coming.

Be the Good – Getting Rid of What’s in the Way

If we can’t manage to live a peaceful life, we can’t be the good person we expect everyone else to be. Ultimately, we’re going to have to learn to stop managing our stress, and start managing our peace.

While living with a sense of peace is something anyone can do, it’s extremely difficult in a culture that doesn’t value it. Few of us have peace-finding at the top of our to-do list.

The best way to find peace is to find the peace that’s already there. We’ve all got it, but it easily gets covered up. Us humans are hard-wired for peace – not only do we want it, it’s who we are. But, along the way, we take on hurts, humiliations, crushed dreams, betrayals and general letdowns that get in the way.

In other words, to be the good we expect in everyone else, we’re going to have to remove the barriers to it that we’ve been carrying for most of our lives.

In my career as a pastor, I’ve noticed 3 things that tend to get in the way as we attempt to live a good life.

Self Rejection

Another word for this is shame, which is just as popular as all the unsavory things that it drives in our culture. Show me an angry person and I’ll show you someone who’s dealing with a mountain of shame; someone who can’t think about themselves without feeling horrible.

Some try to salve this with “accomplishment,” thinking, “If I can just achieve/procure X, I’ll feel good about myself. This is called conditional self-acceptance, and works when the planets align, but leads us to more shame when things don’t work out.

High  Expectations

We expect the world to deliver, harboring high hopes for our careers, our relationships, our tech, our future, etc. When frustration and disappointment come along, we lose our minds, like a spoiled child.

When things don’t work out as we should, peace is nowhere to be found.

Poor Health

An out-of-shape body can never house a peaceful mind. Biologically speaking, exercise, diet, and regular, good sleep release “happy” chemicals, reduce stress, and help us cope when our shame or unmet expectations try to coerce us to give up our peace.

Fear of Emotional Pain

But exercise is difficult, and dieting is harder. Over-eating, over-boozing, and over-whatever-ing are our number one methods for dealing with life’s unsavory parts.

So we get addicted to comfort, addicted to food/booze, we binge watch, we do whatever we can to avoid the pain of facing our problems. We live in a culture that’s come to believe that comfort should be everyone’s #1 priority.

And it’s stealing our peace…

…and our ability to be the good people we expect everyone else to be.

About a year ago, I made a drastic change in how I respond to my temptations to forfeit peace.

I’m now at a point where I view these temptations as an opportunity. Instead of coming up with a 3 step plan, or implementing some kind of boring, repetitive, overly structured intentionality bazaar, I simply wait for temptation, and do the right thing.

Again, trite and sing-songy, but it works.

For example, when I’m tempted to judge somebody (driven by my sense of shame), I pray for them, or think about what their life story might be. I try to bring something positive that might supplant the negative.

It’s hard, and digs up a lot of the dirt that I’ve been carrying most of my life, but when I can manage it, it works.

Same thing with overeating/overdrinking. If I can hold off for 10 minutes, convince myself that I’m looking for something much deeper than food and alcohol, I end up with more peace than I did before I was tempted.

And more peace means a better life.

As weird as this might sound, I’ve come to view temptation as an opportunity, an invitation to deal with the bad parts of my life so I can be more free, happier, and far more likely to be the good.

Compassion for Not So Good People, and Ourselves

The bad that surrounds us, and the bad that we perpetrate is always a symptom of something deeper. If we could see it for what it really is, we’d be heartbroken at how many of our comrades are hurting.

Maybe we’d be so heartbroken that we’d want to step in and help, instead of judging, finger pointing, and doing all the other stuff we think others shouldn’t be doing.

But our culture of high expectations, self-loathing, poor health, and love of comfort doesn’t do help, we don’t do compassion. It’s too hard. It requires too much.

It’s easier to convince ourselves that we’re being the good.

We need to come to grips with how our culture is running our lives, and the places where we’ve buried our peace so deeply that we feel like it’s gone.

We need to implement simple, easy to follow strategies that allow our peace to begin running the show, so that we can stop being part of the problem, and start being part of the good.

How to Overcome Disappointment by Adopting a New Perspective

how to overcome disappointment

One of the biggest differences between older folk and younger folk is hope.

Late 20-somethings don’t just live with vision, they tend to live with the belief that life will deliver.

For us soon-to-be-elderly mortals, we have a harder time living with the hope of our younger days. We’ve faced a mountain of disappointment, let-downs, betrayals, personal failures, etc. We’re like a kid who keeps getting socks for Christmas; we’ve come to expect nothing else

So we get boring. We settle.

Have pity. Some of us have had enough of “dreams.” Things didn’t work out. We got hurt, gave up, and can now be frequently found on the sofa in our bathrobes and black socks binge-watching someone else’s interesting life.

And for us Christians, it’s super hard to trust God when life isn’t going as we think it should.

But disappointment is part and parcel to a good life, especially a life that goes for the good stuff. The bigger the dream, the bigger the disappointments. It’s easy to get tired, discouraged, Continue reading “How to Overcome Disappointment by Adopting a New Perspective”

God Hates Sin: Especially the Sins We Think We’re Not Guilty Of

god hates sin

You don’t have to spend much time in church to learn that us Christian folk get confused about what God wants from us, what He wants us to avoid, and what He downright hates.

Some believe, for example, with every fiber of their being, that God hates all homosexuals. Many say that’s crazy, God loves everyone, but most of those folk don’t have any gay friends, or black friends, or liberal friends. If God loves all of these people, why don’t we?

Love doesn’t happen from a distance.

The answer? We’re confused. I don’t presume to clear everything up in one post, but I think, given our political discord, and all the hell that comes with it, a reminder of what God hates (and loves) might be a good thing this snowy Sunday AM.

7 Things God Hates

Let’s start with the Old Testament – tons of hateful God-things in that book. Most of the hate rhetoric in the American church today is Continue reading “God Hates Sin: Especially the Sins We Think We’re Not Guilty Of”

When Saints Seem Like Sinners, You Can Bet There’s a Change Coming

troublemakers in the church

Following are excerpts from an article a friend wrote for Relevant Magazine. Michael Hidalgo is lead pastor/teacher of Denver Community Church and author of Unlost: Being Found by the One We Are Looking For, and Changing Faith: Doubts and Choices about an Unchanging God.

The highest vision of most churches is “safe.” We focus on making church predictable, comfy, typically full of people who think and live as we do. But, from time to time, God wants things to change, which, for whatever reason, means trouble, which won’t happen without troublemakers.

Troublemakers are the people who help God’s church make the changes He wants. They’re folks who have nothing to lose, and a clear vision of where things need to go. But because change can be so painful, these troublemaking servants of the Lord are often seen as “sinners.”

Change may be the only constant, but it is a terrifying idea for many. Many of us resist change, and are just fine with the way things are. Something in us knows change is a form of loss, and loss is painful. And change brings something else that few people like, the unknown.

When things stay the same, life is comfortable, predictable and familiar. And when that is threatened we become uncomfortable, uncertain and confused. We often find ourselves reacting against change, and we think of those leading change as troublemakers.

Continue reading “When Saints Seem Like Sinners, You Can Bet There’s a Change Coming”

When Bad Theology Meets a Caravan of Homeless People

migrant caravan

There’s a large group of people heading towards our border, seeking shelter and a new home. As a friend helped me understand, we can’t process so many via our legal immigration system, so, unless we make drastic changes, there’s nothing we can do.

And let’s say we bend our rules a bit. What if we let them in and set up a compound of sorts, just within our border, providing food and shelter while we process these people. Can we handle such an influx? What about all the criminals and “known” terrorists in this caravan? And if we help them, wouldn’t that incite another caravan? Wouldn’t the poor and homeless of the world say, “Boom! Pack up, we’re heading to America!!”

We’d be screwed, right?

There’s a lot of anger here, especially from my Evangelical brothers and sisters. Listening to my camp, fielding their thoughts about all of this, I’d say that fear is driving the anger. Check out a few comments from my Facebook feed:

“Refugees don’t wave their nation’s flag while marching toward’s another country. Invaders do!”

“Massive caravan of illegals.. soon to be terrorists …headed toward the US.. knowingly going to break the law to enter the country.. with their children….WTF!!!!”

“No one has the right to march across our border, or into our homes, unannounced, uninvited, or unvetted. No one!”

“Heaven has a wall, a gate and a strict immigration policy. Hell has open borders. Let that sink in.”

Why are so many of the caravan’s future victims Continue reading “When Bad Theology Meets a Caravan of Homeless People”

I Believe in Ghost Stories – I Was in One

true ghost story

A quick back story before I talk about what happened.

First, I’ve never, at any point in my life, had some kind of spooky event where I was convinced that I had encountered something from the netherworld; except for the time that I was napping on the couch in an old house that some friends and I were renting.

We called it “The Mansion,” 2 stories, 100 years old, 5 beds, 5 baths, and a creepy old attic. The place took up half a city block. And a guy was murdered there.

During my nap, on the couch in the library, I had a dream that I was harassing some sort of demonic thing. I woke up, gasping for breath, and felt like there was something standing next to me.

But who knows, that can easily be explained away. I didn’t see or hear anything. I told some friends about it, we laughed it off, and I never had an encounter like that again, until the one I’m getting ready to talk about.

Second, about 100 years ago, the city of Denver decided to move one of its cemeteries, and turn it into a park, now called Cheesman Park.

Families were given 90 days to dig up their loved ones and bury them somewhere else. Not many responded, and the city was left with 100’s of bodies to deal with.

A guy named E.P. Mcgovern was hired, and offered $1.90 for each body exhumed, given a fresh casket, and relocated to Denver’s Riverside cemetery. McGovern took the deal, and quickly figured out that he could make more money if he put each body in a child-sized coffin. Most of the bodies he relocated were hacked up and stuffed in the smaller caskets.

All of this was done in public – broad daylight. Continue reading “I Believe in Ghost Stories – I Was in One”

The Importance of Saying I’m Sorry, and How to Make it a Bit Easier

apology

I recently watched a friend do something stupid to another friend, but friend #1, clearly in the wrong, won’t apologize.

I’ve been there. I’m married with kids, a former pastor and business owner, surrounded by opportunities to screw up, rarely feeling like I should apologize when I do. But I’ve never sat down and pondered on why apologizing is so hard – why us ‘Mericans do it so infrequently; why, so many times, we’ll let a relationship end before we’ll say our “sorrys.”

It’s not because we don’t know how to make an apology.

We hate apologizing because it hurts to feel “wrong.” We need to feel “right,” like we’re one of the few good people in the world. That’s why we’re living with so much political anger – it’s not about the issues, or the candidates, our anger is about us feeling like our side is right and the other side’s wrong.

If feels good, especially for people who typically feel bad about themselves. I”m in that boat. I’ve met few who aren’t.

I’d say that our need to feel right is so strong that it scares us to admit when we’re not. It’s frightening to be vulnerable, to let people see our weakness – our dark side(s).

We frequently say that pride gets in the way of a good apology, but I think fear is the culprit. We don’t apologize because we’re scared – we lack the courage to do the right thing Continue reading “The Importance of Saying I’m Sorry, and How to Make it a Bit Easier”

What Jesus Meant When He Said “Follow Me,” and How it Should Affect Our Political Anger

political anger

To Jesus’ followers back in the day, “Follow me” was a literal statement, something akin to, “hey, I’m heading to this particular geographic location, come with.” As a rabbi, it was also an invitation to accept His teachings, which for this army of ragtag volunteers meant certain physical danger.

For them, it was hard to screw up, misinterpret, or miss Jesus’ meaning altogether because He would immediately get in their face and make an attempt at setting them straight.

We don’t have that today. We’ve got our Bibles, and our interpretations of our Bibles, and our Christian culture, and from that we try to figure out the life that Jesus wants us to live. We don’t have Jesus in our faces every time we get something wrong.

For many of us, especially us Evangelicals, we’ve distilled His invitation to “follow” into three categories:

  • Think the right things about Jesus and God (theology)
  • Embrace a particular list of rules and try hard not to break them (morality)
  • Protect our world from moral decay (politics)

I’d add an unwritten rule to this list: no matter what the cost, be safe. Don’t get in trouble, don’t make anyone mad (unless they’re not Christian) and for God’s sake don’t get yourself killed.

As an Evangelical of 30 years I understand this list, and with the exception of being a dyed in the wool conservative, this is my list too – especially the safety part. I don’t like physical pain, or danger, or fear, and there are plenty of places I could go and get hurt telling people about Jesus. Continue reading “What Jesus Meant When He Said “Follow Me,” and How it Should Affect Our Political Anger”

Why Your Stress Management Definition Needs a Reboot

stress management

Job, marriage, kids, money, image, things.

We worry. A lot. Too much.

Sometime around the industrial revolution, we coined a term for our worry. We downgraded it to “stress,” and began to treat it like something you can manage, something that can be controlled. And when we failed to call it what it really is, it became a permanent part of our culture, and our day-to-day lives.

We should have called it fear.

“Stress” has the same effect as fear – adrenaline, the “fight-or-flight” response, an inability to focus on anything else until the threat is mitigated.

The biggest problem with “stress” is that it’s not the kind of fear that you’d get from, say, being chased by a bear. It’s not a temporary, one-off thing. “Stress” is a long-term, ongoing event, often called chronic stress – constantly taxing our nervous system, making us tired, grumpy, discouraged, and not-so-fun to be around.

But because we’re so afraid to call it fear, we try to manage our chronic stress – vacations, drinking, hobbies, drugs (legal and beyond), sex, etc. And while we might get a brief respite, our chronic stress will be waiting when the vacation’s over, or the affair gets old, or the buzz wears off – no matter how many stress management coping strategies we might come up with.

A Better Stress Management Definition

If the goal of “stress” management is a very short break from scary things, I guess you could say it works. The marketing world sure seems to think so.

But there’s no such thing as fear management. Fear is a big thing, much bigger than “stress.” It must be dealt with directly, forcefully, with a view towards permanent annihilation.  When we downgrade our fears to something that’s “manageable,” we’re welcoming them into our lives as permanent guests.

The typical stress management definition needs a reboot. The best first step to take is to say to ourselves, and maybe to a few close friends, “I’m scared. Really scared. So scared that it’s making me tired, hard to get along with. I can’t sleep at night because I’m so scared.”

Our “stress” needs an upgrade.

And that’s something that most of us won’t do. We don’t like saying “I’m scared.”

Fear is weakness. How would it sound if you were hanging out with friends and you said something akin to “I really screwed up at work and I’m scared of what people are saying about me. Really scared. So scared that it’s keeping me up at night.” How awkward would that be? Your friends would have to be super healthy people to respond appropriately.

Far better to say, “Jeeze, I really screwed up at work and it’s stressing me out.” Then everyone can say, “Oh yeah, stress,” and seamlessly move to the next topic.

I think most psychotherapeutic professionals would call that weak. Facing our fears, and taking the very important first step of calling them what they are requires strength, as does any step you might take towards the total obliteration of fears.

I realize that I’m talking a big game here. Can we get rid of our fears? Can we find complete freedom from the things that scare the crap out us?

I can’t. I’ve tried.

I’ve lived most of my life with a debilitating fear of being rejected. I was a nerd in junior high/high school, got picked on, laughed at, etc. and frequently went to bed worried about what would happen at school the next day.

I didn’t know who to talk to, or how to talk about it, so I did my best to plod through the trauma – alone.

Years later I went to seminary and started a career as a pastor. I wasn’t very good at it, but got enough exposure to get a good taste of how mean God’s people can be. If you need everyone to like you, don’t go into ministry.

People talked about me behind my back, some laughed at my mistakes and my awkwardness – not because I was worse than other pastors – it’s simply/unfortunately common to the calling. But I couldn’t focus on all the good things that were going on. I was scared – and my stress management coping strategies were a failure. All the old memories of my teen years came flooding in, the unhealed hurts, the trauma. It was overwhelming. So I quit and started a web business, which was much more “friendly.”

A few years later, I was offered a volunteer position as a pastor in the church we were attending. I was honored, took the position, and jumped back into the world of helping others, making mistakes, delivering bad sermons, and knowing that not everybody was a fan.

All the fears came flooding back in, but in the middle of the sleepless nights something new came to bear. I took an inventory of all my “fans” – the people who I’d helped, mentored, pastored, etc. There were many. In spite of my detractors, I was winning, moving forward. Things were working.

I’d always been afraid that if someone didn’t like me, others would follow suit, and I’d be ruined. That wasn’t the case here. I didn’t actually have anything to be afraid of. I also noticed that people who talk about others aren’t healthy – there’s something broken inside that’s driving them to focus on the mistakes and frailties of other people.

I can’t say that I’m completely free from the fear of rejection, but I’m closer to freedom.

And none of that would have happened if I hadn’t admitted, “I’m scared.”

I still have plenty of sleepless nights, a mountain of fear, but I’ve learned two things. First, telling myself and others, “I’m scared” is the best first step I can take towards getting rid of these fears. Second, while I’ll never totally eradicate my fears, I can take small steps towards a fear-free life.

I know, I just said “set your goals high in life and you will go far,” but it happens to be true in this case.

The point isn’t total annihilation, it’s more freedom, but we won’t get more freedom unless we shoot for total annihilation.

And none of that will happen if we’re too scared to say “I’m scared.”

I see people in my Christian camp frequently looking for Bible verses for stress. There aren’t any, but I can assure you that there are plenty of Bible verses for fear.

Don’t take my word for it. Try it yourself. Pick something that “stresses” you out – Job, marriage, kids, money, image, things, whatever. Take an hour alone and admit how scared you are, and how your fear of this thing is running your life, and stealing from it. Don’t downplay it, don’t say things like “but everybody gets scared,” or, “it’s not really that bad.”

Face it, admit it.

Then take it to the next level. Grab someone close to you, sit down with them and confess what you just admitted to yourself. Make it a big deal, formal. This will be awkward. And scary. You’ll really want to downplay it, make it sound like you’re not that “weak.”

If you do this right, what you’ll find is that there’s something powerful in saying “I’m scared.” I have no idea how it works, maybe it’s a God thing, but it works.

These aren’t the only steps to freedom, there’ll be more work to do. But like most difficult things, especially freedom, the process gets much more clear once we’ve taken first steps.

What the #MeToo Movement Implies About Men in America

me too movement men

The biggest complaint I hear about the #metoo movement is that women shouldn’t have this kind of power.

Nobody should have the ability to simply utter something that could ruin a person’s career. But that’s what’s happening. Judge Kavanaugh’s name has been dragged through the mud, so has Donald Trump’s, and a host of other powerful/famous people.

Many claim that these women are merely seeking fame, or hate their victims, or both.

For me, there are two things about the #metoo movement that I never hear, two things that, in my opinion, stink to high heaven.

First, where are the lawsuits?

Crying “sexual harassment,” especially if it never happened, is something that can get you in a ton of trouble. Donald Trump could easily turn around and ruin you financially if he wanted to. Brett Kavanaugh could do the same.

Why don’t they?

If I had a career that could be ruined by an accusation like this, I’d seek legal action. I’d do everything in my power to clear my name, prove my innocence, and hold onto my career – unless I was guilty, then I’d do everything in my power to steer clear of these people, lie to my fans, and try to move forward.

In this #metoo movement, to my knowledge, there have been 0 lawsuits.

The second thing that stinks is the very popular declaration that these women have no evidence and therefore shouldn’t have a voice, or the power that comes with it.

And this is where things get downright silly to me. I hear, over and over again, because of the lack of evidence: “These women are lying,” and, “All they want is fame/power/revenge, etc.”

True enough that there’s a dirth of evidence in all of this – you can’t convict Judge Kavanaugh on someone’s word, even if there are three someones. But, apparently, you can convict these women of lying based on the same lack of evidence.

I’m begging – If we can’t convict someone like Brett Kavanaugh because there’s not enough evidence, can we please stop calling these women liars – there’s no evidence there either. We should be Continue reading “What the #MeToo Movement Implies About Men in America”