Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Loving Enemies (2): Bad First Impressions

Our world is so quick to take offense. Making more friends than enemies is much harder work. When it comes to first impressions, I don't know what I don't know. Yet, I rely on my first impressions to form what could be lasting judgments based on scant evidence, maybe the first few seconds of a first meeting. I am full of hidden biases -hidden from me but not necessarily from others!*

At a two-week leadership camp, my class was challenged to reset a poor first impression we had within the last day or two. The instructor mentioned that one of the most difficult blocks to reconciliation was faulty first impressions. We were asked to start over with this person, choose to engage in a casual conversation, and to do it with a sincere, open mind. As I approached this person, I was, in reality, only risking my own false prejudgments. 

You could say I passed the assignment because our visit revealed a friendly, outgoing person who didn't know or care about my first impression. The exercise proved to me that, with an intentional action, I can let the wisdom of an open mind form my impressions of others, not hidden bias or emotional reactivity. Here are some ideas to consider in forming more friends and fewer enemies:

1. What is behind my impression of this person? Is it their different-ness? Or is it something they did non-verbally or the words they spoke?  

2. Review only the last day or two of your interactions. I can only only act on what is in the present. I cannot change the past.

3. Resetting a first impression is a choice to free MY mind- it is not about changing anyone else. The work needed takes place within. With honesty, engage in honest self-examination.

4. Refrain from grand gestures. DO resist the temptation to avoid this person based on your first impression. 

5. Ask God to reveal to you a pejorative label that keeps you in the rut of making enemies. With God's help, how can you throw away a harmful label?

*In Talking to Strangers, Malcom Gladwell provides a sharp critique of the assumptions we have and the judgments we make about strangers. Gladwell substantiates his premise that much more humility and restraint is needed in truly knowing a person we do not know. A notable example Gladwell gives: a computer can do a better job determining whether a perpetrator will repeat a crime than the judge, who relies on the first impression of looking the offender square in the eye. 

Friday, July 22, 2022

Being an Online Guest: Nashville's GracePoint

I like attending GracePoint's online worship. Here's a short list of what I appreciated in this worshipping community.
* My struggle to believe and fully trust God, are not judged as weak or inadequate; my experience is valued. 
* Preachers and topics are shown in weekly email. 
* The musical melodies are not familiar. It was refreshing to hear something new.  
* I am not asked to sing songs that I honestly cannot believe nor pretend that I do. 
* Everyone was worshipping online- not sure if this was due to the spike in Covid-19 variants. This gave the sense that we are all in this together.
* Beyond a simple, one- time registration, I could focus on the service
* The church partners with community needs in concrete acts of doing justice and loving mercy. 

This church is self-defined as "Progressive Christianity," and there's an absence of the classic creeds as well as the familiar hymns. There is a belief presented, for example, regarding what the Bible is and is not.  To be honest, what is stated is also a tradition, just not the one of contemporary Evangelical Christianity. 

While using the right and agreed upon words has always been central in Christian faith (for example, the Bible is the Word of God), what is understood by those words? What do they mean?  Asking question will take us beyond ascent. What is genuine faith if it is not an honest searching for the core beneath, even beyond the correct words and phrases. 


Thursday, July 21, 2022

Loving Enemies (1): Niceness Isn't Love

Enemy: one that is antagonistic to another, especially : one seeking to injure, overthrow, or confound an opponent.*

Being nice to everybody, especially with those whom I disagree, is not the measure of Christian discipleship. The law of love is, according to Jesus, measured by my treatment of my enemies. If growing in love is the point, it has to be more than being nice, whether it's returned or met with a scowl.

What is the taproot of this teaching of Jesus?Besides the honest declaration that I have enemies, the rule is a sharp restraint to my propensity for making and maintaining enemies.**

But there is even a deeper root of enemy- love that' forms the core of my discipleship: given the fact that real enemies do exist, i.e., those who plot, speak, or act in harmful ways, I am asked, required, taught, to love and pray for them. 

I will long remember the wisdom learned in a covenant group where we agreed to pray for our enemies daily. Praying for my enemies on a daily basis restrained me from harmful behaviors that would have certainly made a difficult situation worse. This practice helped me survive, ethically and spiritually, one of the more challenging seasons in my life and ministry. 

Inevitably, praying for my enemy is not magic; it's hard spiritual work. It's repentance from enacting harm and plotting self-vindication. From making a bad situation worse. Yet, I cannot think of a more non-violent way of resisting evil as a Christ-follower than to pray for my foes as well as my friends. 

Nice-ness pretends there are no enemies and shrivels in face of evil. Nice-ness also excuses me of my complicity in stoking the fires of hate and harm. What about the faith of Jesus Christ? In the end, while pleasantness is helpful to get along, nice-ness is not necessarily a mark of growing in love.   


**The word "restraint" is named as a work of the Holy Spirit in the classic baptismal prayer (UMC). The pastor prays to God, for the newly baptized infant, that, "by the restraining and renewing influence of the Holy Spirit, she may always be a true child of yours, serving you faithfully all the days of her life."

Loving Enemies (2): Bad First Impressions

Our world is so quick to take offense. Making more friends than enemies is much harder work. When it comes to first impressions, I don't...