End the Fear

I am fortunate because I have friends from diverse cultural backgrounds. However, I am remiss for my failures to consistently seek understanding of the life experiences — the trials and the celebrations — of those who are different from me. I don’t see such things as race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation as a barrier to prevent me from loving them. But perhaps the problem is that I just don’t see. I just don’t fully understand. That is a symptom of my privilege. On numerous occasions I have had to ask for patience and forgiveness as I’ve stumbled from a lack of sensitivity. Sensitivity is only a starting point. Each one of us must take action. That action should begin with a deepening of our relationships. And we must address our fear.
 
We have had too many tragedies triggered because of our “differences.” Whether it be skin color, religion, gender, or political persuasion, we need to understand that all of this is God’s creation. All the differences are part of God’s creativeness and are meant to bring us joy. Instead of joy, we are bringing fear to God’s party.
 
Terrible things have been happening. Some have been addressed. Some answers have come very slowly. Some answers seem impossible to find.
 
Violence is not one of those answers. Sadly, violence is part of the cycle that demands law and order. And law and order can go astray quickly in the face of fear. Those steps backward do not justify the end of law and order. That fear does not justify unequal treatment.
 
Today is a sad day in Dallas, Texas. Our hearts and our prayers are with that city, with the families who have empty chairs at their tables this morning, with the citizens who are enduring a time when fear seems to be the safest place because of the vigilance it brings.
 
But remember that yesterday was a sad day somewhere else — in Louisiana, in Minnesota, in Istanbul . . .
 
If we are to fully accept our roles as God’s children, we have to stop taking sides. We must seek relationship with those who see things differently and even those who adamantly disagree with us. If we don’t, we are left only with fear. No understanding. No blessed intimacy with others who can teach us so much about what God truly wants.
 
Please end the fear. Talk to people. All people. Pray for people. All people. Perhaps while we are praying, God will provide a holy space where we can make better decisions, choose better words, take a different course of action.
 
 
To those among my friends who this post offends or disturbs. I will not ask that you unfriend me or obliterate my blogsite from your internet, although that is your choice. It has become all too easy in this world to press that “unfriend” button. I would ask that you be respectful of me, however. I will be glad to talk with you about anything. Social media can be a wonderful place to bring understanding. However, it often lacks the context of that blessed moment when two people come together. Remember, Jesus specifically identified that space as a place he’ll join us.  Thanks in advance for listening to me, even if you disagree.

NEAT Communication – Effective

How much time do you invest in your choice of words? If you’re like me, you really want to get them right the first time — and you are a little impatient if you have to repeat them. We want to be known as effective communicators.

Yet, what are the rights words? We have to judge the moment . . . and the audience . . . and the culture . . . and the impact of the eventual soundbite that will be distilled from what we say.

And, for most of our communications, this all must be done at the speed of sound.

In this mini-series on “NEAT Communication,” we are looking at the four elements that set us apart as excellent communicators: Necessary, Effective, Accurate, and Timely. One element, without consideration of the other three, can be devastating to our meaning. The effectiveness of what we say or attempt to convey is part of a broader package.

Memes.007To be truly effective, ask yourself these three questions before speaking (or writing a text or email). It’s an easy exercise with dramatic potential.

  1. Have I “listened to the end?” A major detractor to effective communication is our failure to fully hear the other side of a conversation. Don’t worry so much about when you can jump in. Pause. Reflect. If you’re not certain, ask curious questions.
  2. Do I want to nurture conversation or simply end it? Chances are, if you are wanting to end a conversation, your choice of words may be effective for that purpose. However, similar to the “win at all costs” approach to life, the lingering aura of negativity will limit your present relationships as well as those that will be preempted by your reputation. Respond in a way that keeps the conversation viable, even if you must interrupt it in the moment. Choose words that convey your thoughts in clear, but non-threatening language. A phrase that threatens only escalates the conflict.
  3. If I repeat what I am about to say, will it have the same meaning that I intended in the first moment? When confronted with their own hasty words, people often reply, “That’s not what I meant!” That sentence is not particularly effective, because it’s too late. (See the upcoming post on Timely.) After pausing and reflecting, speak slowly. Don’t be afraid of a little silence as you craft your meaning. If the other person is impatient, ask them for a moment to make your words right. In most cases, the first meaning assigned to your communication is the one that will survive.

Choice of words is a mixture of knowledge and wisdom. Words do matter and the right words will set you apart — and save your relationships and your reputation.

Opening the Package

A post Christmas post

The package.

Opening the package is a necessary part of the joy.

Christmas gifts can occupy a lot of our time. Coming up with just the right gift. Wrapping it in just the right paper. (Unless you’re like me and forgot to get wrapping paper — so, whatever scraps are left from many Christmases ago on the rolls still stacked in the closet.) Finding a complementary bow. Writing on the little, tiny Christmas tag. Blowing on the writing to keep the ink from smearing. Placing the package in just the right space under the tree — not right out front, but conspicuous enough to draw interest. And all of that is just Phase One.

Phase Two begins when the gift recipient notices the package . . . and begins to wonder about what’s inside. The left side of their brains begin to calculate size and possibilities. Perhaps, when everyone is away, they heft the package to get a better idea of weight and volume. And then, they wonder about the contents.

At the designated time for opening, we smile with pleasure as Santa’s designated helper places the present in the recipient’s hands. A wash of anticipation reaches peak velocity. And then, the decision. Should the package be unwrapped neatly, without tearing the paper? Or should the wrapping be fully exploited, ripped to smithereens? Most choose a thorough trashing of the paper, a messy exercise of exuberance. And that’s Phase Three.

Then, the moment comes. The somewhat unknown, but much-desired, treasure is in hand. For some, it is the object of wishes and hints. For others, it is a surprise, bringing pleasure from the thought behind the giving. Phase Four begins. Living with the package and all of its meaning and often its utility.

Christmas giving. Christmas receiving.

Our ultimate Christmas package comes in those four phases, as well.

For centuries, God’s people were told of a gift that was coming. A Messiah. A Savior. They waited with expectations of wonder. They dreamed of the way that God’s gift would be packaged. The thought and the meaning of the gift were incredibly complex and almost incomprehensible. Phase One.

Then, as the gift came near and as the Christ-child lived and walked this earth, people had images of what He would become. Some expected a military leader, one who would free God’s people from the captivity of earthly rulers. Others, perhaps those who came to know him best, fought confusion but relished the hope of something wonderful. An existence closer to God and His love. Phase Two.

With the gift in hand, all of us were faced with the choice of how to unwrap the package. Some do it delicately, with an elegant regard for all of the splendor and beauty. The rest of us rip through the wrappings, creating a mess with our lives, but keeping that hope that the content of this gift from above will bring us joy and peace. Phase Three.

Repeat the chorus:

Then, the moment comes. The somewhat unknown, but much-desired, treasure is in hand. For some, it is the object of wishes and hints. For others, it is a surprise, bringing pleasure from the thought behind the giving. Phase Four begins. Living with the package and all of its meaning and often its utility.

For many of us, we’re in that final time. Learning how to live with this gift, this Jesus. Discovering every day the value of the package. Understanding a little bit at a time about the waiting, the anticipation, the hope and the love expressed by God’s gift. For others, the package remains unopened. Still hoped for. Still anticipated.

Open the package.

Emmanuel. God with us.

 

Friends . . . Actually

Years ago, my decisions about who my friends were or were not were more simply made. I simply avoided you if you said or did things that I found disturbing.

You would think that the same principle would be involved in social media. I fully understand that it can be. I see posts all the time where people “unfriend” others and, if pushed hard enough, completely leave FaceBook or whatever their platform of choice is.

I’ve “unfriended” a few people in the past. To date, my standard has been to unfriend anyone who exhibits hate and discrimination in their personal posts. Oh, and anyone who has a fascination with the “F” bomb or taking God’s name in vain. (“OMG! Addicts,” you’re nearing the edge.)  I am “friends” with a wide array of individuals — many of them sensitive to such rubbish. Others are young and losing their innocence to what our greater society has begun to find acceptable. Enlightenment never looked so dark. I don’t choose for my internet spaces to be the place where they get further exposure to such things.

I am close to “unfriending” some others of you. You’re pushing the line by reposting things that you haven’t checked out and that are largely false or misleading. Just writing the word “Truth” by those posts doesn’t make them true. Others of you are posting things that do have truth at their base. However, by watching what you post day after day, I have to wonder if you choose to feature only stories that will escalate violence and hatred. If I unfriend you, it won’t be because of your view of what is right and wrong, but only because of the way your actions are perpetuating bad sentiment and behavior among others.

Because of my life experience, I have been honored to form friendships among diverse groups of people. Politically, racially, ethnically, spiritually. I have been stretched by that diversity and I am grateful. But lest you think that you are on the “right” side of my friend set and that you’re safe from the point I’m trying to make, I want to be clear that I’ve found people on both sides of the dividing line. The desire to incite negative outcomes seems to be an equal opportunity malady. I am not immune either.

I strongly believe that unfriending any of you (except for those who violate my standards about the personal bile and profanity) is not the best answer. No, I’m not keeping you on as friends because I think I can change you. I need my perspective to be broad. I need to have as friends those who think differently, see differently, and choose differently than I do. You make me uncomfortable sometimes. But that’s the point. I see goodness in you. And I hope you can look past my multitude of failings. Friends do that.

In fact, some of the discomfort you’ve blessed me with has caused me to pause and reconsider my position on some things. I’ve changed as a result. Thank you. Other things I don’t agree with have convinced me that I need to find ways to better understand you, because the ideas you are posting aren’t doing it.

My plea to you, my friend, is to be responsible. No matter how badly you see and know an injustice to be, remember that we, as God’s children, as peacemakers, are to be a peculiar people. Don’t escalate violence. Talk. Talk loudly if you must, but respectfully. March peacefully. Help bring change to this broken world. But please help stop this vicious cycle of retaliation and justification of the unholy — from both sides.

I say this as one friend to another.