Thursday, July 24, 2014

A Philosophical / Theological Quandary

I have an ethical dilemma I would like to pose.  I would love to get feedback on it.

On the one hand, you've got the Bible.  And it says that when your brother is sinning, you're supposed to go to him, in love, and see if you can't nudge him back in the right direction.  Some Christians take this as an excuse to get in everyone's business and tell them what they can and can't do.  I believe it's telling us that we have a responsibility to gently correct those with whom we are in community.  Not everyone, but those within your circle of influence and care.

Alright, good.  But then there's this.

In my experience, people don't change until they get to the place where they're ready to change.  No amount of persuasion or clever arguments is going to sway them.  And the best way to help them along is often to lead them into a safe place of community and trust, where they can then feel safe enough to consider making changes on their own.  Sometimes they'll bring up their stuff in their own time, and you can talk about it.  And sometimes you just know (or hope) that you've reached a point where it would be OK to bring it up.  But if they're not feeling safe, then bringing stuff up will just make them defensive and make them retreat.

So there's my dilemma.  On one hand, the Bible tells me to gently correct my brother.  On the other, my philosophy tells me that people simply don't change until they're ready.  Got it?  Now, two real-life examples.

My nephew is an extremely talented film-maker.  I went to the premier of his feature documentary last night, No Cameras Allowed.  1800 people sold out the Wiltern Theater.  And it is an amazing film, which tells the story of how he breaks into music festival after music festival, from Coachella to Bonnaroo to Ultra to Glastonbury, culminating with breaking 16 of his friends into the Austin City Limits festival.  And he's still doing it to this day.

What he's doing is clearly wrong.  And it's past the point of youthful exuberance - I think it's understandable, maybe even healthy, to test the boundaries when you're young.  But, to me, it's beyond that.  It's just plain stealing, done because it's fun.

He's my nephew.  He's family.  There was a time when I had a little bit of influence with him, but that's long past.  So, what can I do?  What should I do?

Example number two.  There's a guy in my community who lies a lot.  Everyone knows it.  Big, audacious lies and small, don't-realize-it-at-first lies.  It's kind of bizarre, because it seems like he's trying to impress us, not realizing that we honestly don't care about the stuff he's lying about.  And we don't call him on it, because we're convinced that if we do, he'll stop coming around.  He'd deny it.  And we'd rather he stick around, so he has a place of community.

I don't know if I would call him a friend.  He could be a friend, but it seems impossible to get to know him, because I just don't know if anything he says is true.  Conversations are awkward between us because I choose not to respond to the outrageous things he says.  I so wish he would just stop or own up to it, so we could make a real attempt at friendship.

So, what to do?  Keep providing a safe place of community where he'll hopefully, eventually, get to a place of change on his own?  Or call him out and risk pushing him away?

There you have it.  Let me know what you think.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

A Funny Story

Wherein this skeptic allows that God may may have been at work in his life.  Maybe.

So, I was having dinner with my mother (actually dinner and show, but this isn't about the show - OK, it's Abbamemnon at the Falcon Theater and it's terrific - get your tickets before it's gone!) and she brought up an idea that some family members had cooked up.  I guess I'm a frequent subject, given my unemployed status.  My mother has some extra money coming in, and wanted to help me out, but she didn't think it would be healthy to just give me the money (I would tend to agree).  And my brother-in-law's cousin had a friend who was planning on starting a new church in Pasadena.  The idea was for my mother to donate money to the church each month, for 6 months, in exchange for them hiring me and paying me that same amount.  This would allow my mother to be charitable and get a tax write-off and help me, it would give the church plant some extra help, and it would provide a stop-gap for me while I continue to look for work.

My mother gave me the contact information.  I called and explained who I was, and gave my mother's name, my brother-in-law's name and the cousin's name.  And the guy called me back, confused, because he had no idea who any of those people were.  But he was intrigued by the suggestion, and we agreed to meet.

When we met, I told him about myself, and he told me about his church plant.  And I really liked him and his vision.  He's starting a church in Santa Monica, because that area is 95% unchurched people.  And all of his ideas about how to draw people in and his various philosophies about connecting with people in the modern age really struck a chord with me.  Two things to note.  First, he still had no idea who my mother or any of those other people were.  And his church was starting in Santa Monica, not Pasadena.

I called my mother, and she was also confused.  But then it dawned on her that she had given me the wrong contact information.  She wasn't sure how it had happened at the time.  She has since figured out that she had planned on giving the info to my nephew, who lives in Venice and is looking for a church.  But how bizarre is it that the wrong contact info was for a different church planter?

My mother gave me the correct contact information, and I contacted the right guy, and we met.  Let me say that he's a perfectly nice guy, but I didn't care for him or his vision at all.  The Santa Monica guy wants to reach the unchurched and is trying to draw people in through word-of-mouth, outreach projects and community events.  The Pasadena guy is going to send a mailer to every address in Pasadena.  The Santa Monica guy asked for my resume and references, and he called them.  The Pasadena guy didn't even ask.  Santa Monica was more of a discussion, while Pasadena was more of a monologue.

And after the Pasadena guy got done monologing, he asked me how excited I was by his vision.  I responded that I wanted to be honest with him, that I wasn't looking for a ministry opportunity, per se, but for a job.  That said, I might become excited along the way and I was especially interested in helping with the small groups he had talked about, as I've always had a heart for facilitating community.  At that, his face fell.  It was like he realized I wasn't drinking the Koolade.

So.  On one hand, the Pasadena gig would be much closer, and it seemed like there was somewhat better potential for the job to continue past the original 6 months that my mother was underwriting.  But the Santa Monica gig ... just felt right.

Well, I went home and thought and prayed and talked to some folks, and the answer just seemed obvious.  So, I called the Santa Monica guy and told him I was on board.  So, I'll be working for them part-time for a while, and we'll just see how it goes, but I'm excited and think it could be an interesting new chapter for me.

A few things.  First, I was feeling some jitters about the new position.  And at the same time, I've been quite frustrated the last couple of years, with my lack of having a close friend to just hang out with (several of my close friends have gotten married over the years, and it's left a gap, something I've prayed about quite a bit). What do these two things have to do with each other?  Well, just a few days ago, a friend from high school invited me to coffee.  I hadn't seen her in maybe 15 years.  But we clicked right away and had a terrific conversation for a couple of hours.  It so filled up my tank that I just about floated through the rest of the day and my jitters completely disappeared.  Now, she's busy with a husband and kids, so I don't expect her to become my new best friend that I hang out with every other day, but we are hanging out again next week.  And I think that her occasional presence may go a long way to alleviate my need for companionship.

Second, I've been praying in the past year that God would push me out of my comfort zone.  A scary prayer, to be sure, but I've become convinced that in our affluent American society, even someone like me who is unemployed and down on his luck, still has a roof over his head and food to eat - well, I think it's all to easy to become comfortable and complacent.  This new position is a nice blend of the comfortable (administrative work) and stepping out of my comfort zone (meeting new people and in a new arena).

Third, I've been praying during this time of unemployment that while I do my part to diligently look for work, that I would also trust God to provide for me.  And I've chosen to give that to Him and not to worry.  This new position helps my situation, but because it may only be for 6 months, it still leaves me in a position where  I'm going to need to trust God to take care of me.

And finally, as you may have noted just a couple of posts back, I've been frustrated by what I've perceived as God's lack of response when I pray.  And I think that God is oh-so-amused to pull all of these strings together at the same time that I'm bemoaning His lack of responding to me.

I am grateful to my God.  And I am inclined to agree with what so many have pointed out, that He has had a hand in orchestrating these recent events.

Inclined.  I think it's probable.  But you know, don't hold me to it.