The Super Bowl and the conventions

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political football

Last week and this week are like the Super Bowl for politics and politicians – it’s the political party conventions here in the US.  There are like the Super Bowl in so many ways.  People watch the Super Bowl for the ads.  In the conventions, the speeches are the ads.  How else to explain all the wonderful words that will be spewed in favor of the nominee who the speaker hopes to get a job from in their administration.

The Super Bowl has a ton of analysis and speculation of what plays will be made and who will start and who will play the whole game and yada-yada-yada.  The conventions are filled with journalists and party hacks and spin doctors doing the same thing.  In politics the speculation is about what the speakers will say, who’s talked about for what position in the potential administration, yada-yada-yada.

The Super Bowl has a lot of glitz and glitter – There is plenty of trash to clean up from conventions too.  Sometimes the trash comes in the form of some of the speeches at conventions.  You know, clean up from a poor or dull speech, or when there are issues with a speech.  Oh, I don’t know, maybe something like plagiarism – but that’s just a crazy example.  Who would do such a thing?

The Super Bowl usually ends up being predictable.  You know who is going to be nominated at the conventions.

The Super Bowl features the two teams who were able to pull off wins during the playoffs – not necessarily the best or the strongest teams.  The convention features candidates who did the same thing during the primaries.

The Super Bowl is watched by a lot of people who don’t care about the teams playing, they do it because, well, because…everyone else is watching and I guess you are supposed to.  Oh yeah, it’s “fun” watching teams you don’t care about play in the year’s biggest game – wishing your team was there and saying to your friends: yeah, well, there’s always next year.  Lots of fun.  Or, maybe it’s the social aspect of getting together with people, some of them die hard fans who would support the team even if Satan were the quarterback.  It gives you an excuse to drink in public, pretend you care about the game, but in fact you’re really just there to eat all the food other people brought.

The conventions…oh hell, there’s the same thing.  Be honest.

I usually watch the Super Bowl – although not always.  Sometime I even have a team to cheer for.  I used to be a fan of NFL football.  I even had a team that I cheered for.  I was passionate about the team. I stuck with them through thick and thin.  But then I saw past all of that and saw the reality – the NFL is a money making machine that doesn’t have a lot of concern for the players and really only cares about them and the fans so far as they can make a buck (or millions) from them.  The NFL is a non-profit, yet is extremely profitable.

I used to watch the conventions.  I even had a party that I cheered for.  I was loyal to the party – worked my butt off for the party and the candidates.  I was passionate about the party.  I stuck with them through thick and thin.  But then I opened my eyes and acknowledged reality – the political parties are power grabbing and power maintenance machines that don’t have a lot of concern for the people of the country and really only care about them so far as they can get a vote or donation from them.

Yet, like the Super Bowl, you have die hards:  People who drink the cool-aid.  They will rationalize away all the negatives and insanity.  They do it in the name of being right.  Because being right is important for humans.  Being right means that someone else is wrong. And we all know that in the US, there are only these two options.  So we set up systems that allow us to think we are right and the other side is wrong.  And we sit by happily in our rightness.  We use language that softens what we really think or what we want to do, or what we do to our opponents and enemies.  We talk about defeating our opponents and/or enemies.  That’s so quaint isn’t it?  It’s like we’re playing a game.

The problem though is, this isn’t a game.  This is life and there are consequences.

Being right isn’t just about having the facts on your side.  It’s an attitude I’m talking about here.  It’s a you’d-better-get-on-board-or-else attitude.  An attitude of egotism.  And attitude of I’m-right-and-you’re-wrong-you-idiot.

Being right, being really committed to a specific set of beliefs, to the point of not questioning them and seeing anyone who does as the enemy, has some real consequences.  When being right aligns with political party or politician, that can start to be dangerous.  When being right takes priority over governing and leading all people – even those you disagree with – the results are devastating.

Being right has brought more death, destruction, and lives ruined than anything else. Being right in the name of God, country, party, demagogue, politician, ideology, patriotism, etc. ends up being wrong in history.  It doesn’t matter how right you were in terms of facts when your concern with being right leads to destruction and death.  If your ideas and beliefs about what is right can’t stand on their own, can’t handle questions and criticisms, but requires force and compliance – then they are weak and ultimately wrong.

 

Let’s be and live rightly instead.  Living rightly doesn’t force itself onto anyone.  Lives are changed when that happens – yours and those that you touch.  Living rightly doesn’t require force or compliance.  Living rightly leaves you open to others and their beliefs about the world.  Living rightly has it’s foundation in belief, but it’s a different belief.  It’s a belief that claims to know the truth – or at least a part of it, but is open to questioning and doubt and examination.  And leaves you open to the possibility that you are wrong.  Living rightly is based in humility and accepting the idea that we don’t know everything.  Living rightly is based on the idea that we are called to be Christ-like – not believe that we are all-knowing.

So, watch the Super Bowl and the conventions if you want to.  Just be careful of what you drink.  Don’t drink the cool-aid.  It’ll make you sick.

Praying for our enemies

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More bombings, more terror, more shootings.  We hear candidates for office give speeches that focus on fear of others and how dangerous the world is.  We hear how we need a strong leader who can defend us, protect us, save us.  We are supposed to be united in our fear.  We are supposed to stand behind politicians who would like nothing better than for the masses to rely on them, hand over our freedoms to them, and to tell the public what to do, what to say, and what to think.

We Christians claim to have faith in God, yet we listen so intently and believe with unquestionable faith the words of these would-be “leaders.” Excuse me if I call that what it is – idolatry.

And in covering the horrific events and by sharing posts about what is reported, do we think about what we are actually doing?   Are we assisting in distributing a message of fear – the message of those who commit the violence?  Have we become enablers of their false gospel message – that everyone should fear them.  Do we assist in spreading a message of those who seek attention and want to impose their narrative on the rest of the world?

I wonder what it would look like if we changed how we covered such violence.  What if we spent very little time focused on the perpetrator, on who is responsible, and spending endless hours trying to figure out the motivation.

Why do we give so much attention and publicity to those who spread fear, division, hatred, and commit violence?

What if instead we did something completely different?  What if we focused on the victims of these horrors instead?  What if we showed their faces, talked about the victims, their lives, who they were, what they believed?

What if we started calling the victims what they truly are – martyrs.  Is that a stretch?  They were killed for who they are, what they stand for, what belief system they were associated with.  They are martyrs.

We should be careful how we report the news.  Who do we give credibility to?  Whose narrative are we advancing?  Are we just reporting the facts, or by moving to speculation, are we just giving unneeded attention to those who would commit violence and terror and advance a message of fear?

Today is a day to mourn the martyrs – the martyrs of Kabal, the martyrs of Munich, the Martyrs of Nice, the martyrs of Orlando, the martyrs of San Bernidino, the martyrs of all shootings and attacks to come.  Focus on the martyrs – stop giving perpetrators attention and credibility.  Stop giving them credit and worrying about who takes the credit for spreading fear.  Stop analyzing and spinning.  Stop the madness in the name of being informed – as if we all need to know every single detail and all the theories.  We don’t.  What we need to do is be there for the victims and their families.

Here is something we can all do – focus on the martyrs and pray for those who would commit violence, terror, promote fear and division, and seek blood.

We pray for the victims, but what about the perpetrators?  What about those whose beliefs are so warped?  Can we bring ourselves to pray for those who want to kill us?  Can we be so bold?  Can we be so risky?  Can we test our faith in such a way?

Or would we rather pray a prayer that seeks revenge or, dare I say it, death to our enemies. Only we would call it defeat – that’s much a more sanitary use of language isn’t it?  It covers our real intent.

When we pray for peace, can we really then turn around and speak and post words of revenge, defeat of enemies, and justified violence?  Do we really believe the prayer?  Do we really take in and live out the words we pray when we speak this way?  Do we really believe that God can do this?  Or are we just mouthing the words with empty faith?

When we pray for forgiveness, can we really then turn around and speak and post words of judgement on our enemies, our political opponents, and anyone we disagree with?  Do we really believe the prayer?  Do we live it out?  We we honestly believe that God is capable of such a thing?  Or are we just saying the things we think we are supposed to say?

When we pray for our enemies, what we do pray for?  And do we honestly believe it?

I’m asking you to do something bold right now with me.  I’m asking you to put your faith where you mouth is.  I’m asking you to do something that may feel impossible.  I’m asking you to pray for the martyrs and the perpetrators of violence.  If you want to be really bold and take a risk, then copy the prayer and post it on social media and ask others to pray it with you and to share it.

Please pray with me:  Holy God, today we pray for the families of victims of violence and terror – they are modern day martyrs.  They died for who they were, what they stood for, and what they believed.  Many died not knowing why.  We ask that you be with the families and friends – be with them in this time of pain and sorrow.  We know you weep with them.  Help them to feel your presence.

God of peace, we also pray for those who condone violence, are committed to death and fear, and those who perpetuate these things in the world – maybe even in your name.  We ask for a change of heart.  Break down the walls around their hearts and minds.  Soften their hearts Lord.  Help them to see you, to see your face in the face of these martyrs.  Change them and their ways Lord.  Let them experience love, forgiveness, mercy, and peace so that they would start to live these things.

Help us to break the cycle of violence in not seeking revenge or retribution, but in offering peace and forgiveness – even to those who have wronged us and to those who hate us.  That’s a tall order Lord, but we know only you can make that happen in us and in those who are different from us.  We believe that this change can happen Lord – we truly believe it.  Help us to be peacemakers, as costly as it is, being the ones who take the first step.  We pray for the impossible Lord, knowing that you are in the business of making the impossible not just possible, but reality.  We pray this in the name of the one known as the Prince of Peace.  Amen.

The volcano

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We made it to the top of the volcano.  And this was what we saw.

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It’s looking down in.  But it also gives a view of the landscape around.  For many, many kilometers (Sorry American friends, when in Europe, you measure like Europeans).

The view from the top is simply amazing.

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Our next stop, going down in the volcano.  The boys were excited to go in an explore.  So many rocks to play with.

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Theology of the Neighbor

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The last several weeks I’ve done a great deal of thinking about what it means to be a neighbor.  The Gospel reading two Sundays ago was the parable of the Good Samaritan in which the lawyer asks: “Who is my neighbor?”  He wants to know who is with “us” and who is with “them.”

The political conventions this week and next will offer their own definitions of who is with “us” and who is with “them.”  And people will lap it up because it speaks to something very human – identity.  More specifically – tribal identity.

Who is part of my tribe?  By tribe I mean, who is part of the group I identify with.  The tribe can be based on nationality, political leanings, skin color variations, type of work I do, language I speak, dialect I speak, what sports team do I cheer for, religion, subgroup within a religion, etc.  We are told that our tribes are the ones we should care for – we should defend.  They are like family to us.  Anyone else is not our tribe – they are not to be trusted.  In fact, they have less worth and deserve less respect than members of our tribe.  Besides we have God on our side – we can point to some random verse taken out of context to support why we divide people the way we do.

Most of the time, this tribal mentality stays inside people’s heads.  It might come out in the words that are communicated to others not part of the tribe – making for heated exchanges.  It might come out in other ways too – some kind of physical representation that shows pride in a tribe – like a flag or other object that people can easily identify with.

But we also see physical violence as well.  This becomes a concern when trust in institutions break down.  We turn to violence when words will not solve our differences, when words become gasoline on a lit fire.  We turn to violence when we no longer trust – even if the trust we had was extremely small.

Resorting to physical violence is really only the outgrowth of what we think.  We have violent and dehumanizing beliefs about our neighbors, although we don’t call them neighbors – we have other labels for them instead.  And so we can speak in dehumanizing ways with violent labels.

It is just a small step to take, a small line to cross, to carry out violent actions against our neighbors.  Besides, if we have believe that they are less than human, less than equal in rights and respect, then when institutions start to brake down, we must act to uphold those beliefs we have held dear.  We can’t rely on institutions to maintain the status quo.  We can’t rely on them to provide us a safe space to hold our beliefs that there is an “us” and a “them.”  We can’t rely on the status quo to keep “us” separated from “them” – to keep us safe from the vermin. We must have war.  We must take the law into our own hands.  We must defend our honor.  We must avenge the offense.  We are justified!

When this happens we have to come face-to-face with “them” and that has become too much because something has to give when we interact with the “them.”  Most likely it would be our beliefs about “them.”  That is too painful for many people to even consider.  Especially in an age when we will only look for evidence of how vile “they” are rather than be open to seeing who they are – people just like us, but with some differences.  So we act out of the pain.  We act out out beliefs.  We become violent – forcing “them” to become the very people we hate and dehumanize.  It justifies our beliefs.  It makes it much easier to kill, hurt, or defile someone that you hate or you deem as a threat.

But the theology of the neighbor is far different.  Jesus presents a story to the lawyer.  He tells the story of a man who has been beaten and the hero of the story is the Samaritan – someone the lawyer has been taught is not part of his tribe, not to be trusted, someone who it’s ok to hate and revile.

This would have been very upsetting to hear.  We sense how upsetting it is at the end of the story when Jesus asks the lawyer: which of the people who came upon the man who was beaten was a neighbor?  The lawyer gives an answer – “The one who showed mercy.”  This is technically correct.  He’s a lawyer, so he knows how to give technically correct answers without having to say words he would rather not say. (in a way, aren’t we all like this?) In this case, he can’t bring himself to say Samaritan.  It’s just too painful for him.  It contradicts everything he believes about the Samaritan.  It’s too painful to even think about equating Samaritan with anything good and he can’t bring himself to say Samaritan.

The theology of the neighbor is this – the tribes we align ourselves with are human distinctions and separations.  God sees us differently.  God sees us as a part of creation – something that God loves and even said was good – all of it.  Thinking in terms of creation means taking a much larger view of everything. It goes beyond our little tribes, our little communities, our little language variations, our little nationalities, etc. Thinking in terms of creation is so much larger.  The differences are just so small in the grand scheme of things.

God sees variations in God’s creation, but these exemplify the beauty of creation – so diverse and unique, yet all part of God’s creation.  When we see the unity of it all, we can see others as neighbors, not as threats or as something so radically different from ourselves, because they aren’t – we are all part of God’s creation, God’s kingdom.

Yes, we might think, act, sound, move, and look different, but do we really think that God or creation is so small that these variations and differences create insurmountable divisions?  Really?  Maybe if we believe that God is just like us, or that we can control God.  Maybe if we make God into an idol – something that we create, rather than the other way around.

The theology of the neighbor comes down to this – which way do we go?  Do we believe that God aligns Godself with us, our beliefs about the world, stands on our side, carries our flag and rides into battle to defend us and our way of thinking?  Is God really that small?  Is God created in our image?

Or do we carry a different vision – it is us who are moved to be in alignment with God.  We are the small ones.  We are changed so that that our beliefs about the world and creation change.  We see the world differently.  We are changed by laying down our violent thoughts, beliefs, and actions to take up something far riskier – being a neighbor to all.

Being a neighbor means having our trust in God.  Being a neighbor means seeing past the divisions and labels.  Being a neighbor is costly.  Being a neighbor means doing things that go against common belief.  Being a neighbor means we are more concerned with living out what God calls us to be rather than with being right about God.  Being a neighbor means that we are not in control and that we acknowledge that we don’t know the answers.  Being a neighbor is what we are called to.  Being a neighbor means being vulnerable.  Being a neighbor means taking the first step to be a peacemaker, to show mercy, to offer hope, rather than just talking about it or waiting for someone else to start.  Being a neighbor means acting out of love and with love – a love that is unconditional.

The world offers us conditions, divisions, labels.  God offers creation and calls it good.  Let us see that we are a part of creation, not apart from it.

Up to the top!

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We continued our journey to the top of the volcano.  We were almost there.  It was getting steeper now – more effort was needed to keep climbing.

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Even there though, there was beauty all around us.  Our guide would stop along the way and show us wildflowers and other beauties of nature.  Things that grow in places you would never dream of.  Yet they defy the odds and thrive.

One last effort and we would be there.  One last climb up the side of the volcano and we would be rewarded with beautiful sights.

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Almost there…

Lava remains

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We continued our journey up to the dormant volcano and kept seeing more and more interesting sights.

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The lava formations were each like a work of art with their own uniqueness.

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Lava formations have this weird quality – they are solid but look like they caught a moment of time in which fluid had ruled the area.  You can almost feel the movement of the lava flow.

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The flows and cliffs are fun for exploring.  We did plenty of that.

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Modern Good Samaritan parable

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Luke 10:25-37 – A modern interpretation of the Good Samaritan parable.  One you’re  going to hate.  Embrace that feeling because it’s probably how the religious lawyer in the original Gospel lesson felt upon hearing Jesus tell it to him.  Here we go:

Just then a devout US Christian who was also a political party activist stood up to test Jesus.  ‘Teacher’ he said.  ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’  Jesus said to him, ‘What is written in the bible? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ Jesus replied, ‘A candidate was running for office, and fell into the hands of political enemies, who stripped the candidate’s credibility and integrity, berated the candidate verbally, and went away, leaving the candidate dehumanized and the nation divided. Now by chance an activist of the same party was going down that road; and when he saw the candidate, he passed by on the other side because the candidate wasn’t ideologically pure. So likewise an elected official of the same party, when he came to the place and saw the candidate, passed by on the other side, not wanting to be dragged down by the reputation of the candidate. But an activist of the opposition party while traveling came near the candidate; and when he saw the candidate, he was moved with pity. He went to the candidate and bandaged the candidate’s wounds, having asked for forgiveness for his own past dehumanizing statements and offering a prayer of peace. Then he put the candidate on his own prayer list, gave the candidate respect all humans deserve, and took care to ensure that he only spoke respectfully of the candidate even when they disagreed about policy. The next day he wrote two articles, posted them on social media that said, “Take care of this candidate for the candidate may win and we will need to be a country that espouses forgiveness, mercy, peace and love in order to face the challenges that will come.” Jesus asked: “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the candidate who fell into the hands of their enemies?’ 37He said, ‘The one who showed the candidate mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

If you want to really understand the message that Jesus was conveying to the religious lawyer in the original version of the text (and how upsetting it would have been to hear it), then try rewriting the parable into your own context like I did.  If it helps, substitute in specific names.  i.e. in place of “candidate,” put in your presidential choice.  For “activist in the opposition party,” put in Republican or Democrat – whichever you are not aligned with.  I tried doing just that with this modern interpretation.  My reaction was “ouch, that hurts. Boy have I failed here plenty of times.”

We can justify attacking political opponents – “They are wrong, don’t you know?  Don’t be an idiot, can you see how wrong they are?!?”

We can offer “prayers” to God that ask Jesus to empower worldly rulers and politicians to defeat our political enemies and opponents for the sake of country and party unity.  We pray that all people will be enlightened by the purity of our ideological beliefs – how God must get a kick out of some of our prayers!

We can call our political opponents names and give them vicious labels that we believe they so readily deserve for what they have said and what they supposedly stand for.

We can show how our side is right and the other side is wrong.  And not just wrong, but dangerous, possibly even evil because of what we believe they stand for.

We can dehumanize, degrade, and diminish them all in the name of defending our own version of the truth and defending the country.  And we can say that the other side started it – we have to finish it.  We can point out how they and their policies are the reason we are screwed up and so divided.  If only they would see the light and believe our beliefs and do what we think is right.

We can do all of these things and we do so very often.  This week and next are prime examples that jump in our face.  The conventions of these two political parties will shout out the doctrines of pure belief in party and leader. They will preach to us how their anointed one will save the nation and defeat evil incarnate represented by the opposing party and candidate.  They will define who is our neighbor and who is not our neighbor.  They will use the language of religion and use God – claiming that God is on their side and against the enemy.

But we don’t have to be this way.  We are called to something much better.  We Christians are called by Jesus to be a neighbor to all, even, and especially our political opponents.  That might suck because it means we have to be the ones who start treating our opponents and enemies differently – not waiting for them to start.  It would be great to get a last dig in, but that’s not what Jesus calls us to.  No, instead he calls us to a different life – outside of the bickering of left vs. right.  He calls on us to be a neighbor to all, regardless of human labels and divisions, because we are all part of God’s creation and whether we like it or not, we are God’s children.  He calls us to take up our cross and follow him.  He calls us to be a neighbor to all, regardless of what they would do to us or the country.  We don’t get to decide who’s in and who is out – that’s not ours to decide.  In the kingdom of God, there is no us vs. them.  Jesus calls us to be a neighbor, especially to those we are taught are our enemies.  It’s being a peacemaker.  It’s dying to self.  It’s what it means to follow.  It’s not fair, but then again, Jesus and God aren’t interested in what’s fair.  Instead, it is a very real example of the kingdom of God unfolding right before our eyes.

 

Cracks in the crust

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Iceland is an island that is constantly changing and moving.  Earthquakes are common and the landscape is always different.  We discovered one of the areas where there was a crack in the ground and did a little exploring.

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We walked all around the crack and then dove right in.  Our guide said it would be ok.

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I was deep, but the boys had a great time exploring this crack.  We discovered an abundance of things and views in the crack.

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And even some snow.  Remember this was July.  Of course it doesn’t really get hot in Iceland, so there are places where snow sticks around all year.  Even in places that aren’t covered by the glaciers. This was one small place, but it was snow!

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Doing the wrong thing right

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Are we doing things right?  Are we more concerned with doing what we are doing the right way, or with doing the right things?

Will Richardson wrote a great piece that explored this subject when it comes to education.  He offers some thought provoking ideas and questions about how we do (or don’t do) education in the US.

Here’s just one question from the very beginning of the article:

Do we do the things we do because they’re better for kids or because they are easier for us? For instance: separating kids by age in school. Is that something we do because kids learn better that way? Or do we do it because it’s just an easier way organizing our work? I think all of us know the answer to that.

He’s got plenty more questions like this.  Questions we’d be asking if we really wanted to improve our education system, instead of just rearrange the deck chairs while we fight about who’s in charge of the ship.

What about other areas of life though?  How about in your family?  Are you more focused on doing things right, rather than on doing the right things?  Do you even know what that means when it comes to your family?  One example – a general question.  Are you spending time together as a family?  There’s a way to do this right and a right way to do this.  Doing this right means that you all happen to be in the same room together for hours, but you either ignore each other or miss the opportunity to grow in relationship because all you really care about is the entertainment that is being shown on some screen in front of you.  The right way to do it would be to pay attention to each other, do things together, talk, listen, etc.

This can be applied to so many areas of life.  A book could be written on this concept as it relates to politics.  Politics is an area that excels in doing things right, rather than doing the right thing.

And we could apply it to church too.  Unfortunately, there are plenty of churches that focus on doing things right as opposed to doing the right thing.

The reality is that doing things right is much safer.  It doesn’t require us to rethink what we are doing.  It allows us to think that what we are doing is right.  We’re in control, we only need to tweak what we are doing.  Focusing on doing things right means we get to point at people who have new ideas and say that they are only interested in rocking the boat.  We can blame people for wanting to create chaos.  We can say that we actually changing because we are doing what we have always done, but just a bit differently – better actually.  Focusing on doing things right is more concerned with being right.

When we focus on doing the right things, we approach life differently.  We are open to the possibility that what we are doing is less than ideal, maybe even wrong or dangerous or divisive.  We let go of the desire to control everything.  We open ourselves to new ideas and new people.  We become vulnerable.  It can be scary – everything we knew to be true might not be true anymore.  We are open to change and seeing possibilities.  We are open to thriving and life.  We are open to the possibility that more change will be required.  We are open to the possibility that our vision might actually become reality.  That can be scary too.  Doing the right thing means letting go of being right.  That might sound contradictory, but it’s actually pretty accurate.

So, what are you focused on – doing things right or doing the right thing?  Or is it something else?  Because we all know, life isn’t as simple as just two choices.  And it’s never just that clear and easy.  Life is complicated.  And you know what – that’s ok.  Even if you are thinking about this question, you’re moving in the right direction.  Focus on what matters in life.  And I’ll tell you from personal experience – it’s not being right or having the right answers.  It’s knowing that you don’t, yet still moving forward in love, patience, forgiveness, mercy, and grace.

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