I receive email/blog posts from a program called “The Energy Project” headed up by Tony Schwartz. I usually appreciate the reading… even when it doesn’t seem like rocket science, I’ve spent a few minutes thinking about how to live better, which is good no matter how your slice it. Today he posted one of his articles featured in NY Times Dealbook: The Antidote to Emptiness
Tony Schwarts is a brilliant guy. He makes a few great points about why some arguably brilliant and powerful people do some fairly unbelievable things… the kind of stuff that makes us shake their heads in dismay and judgement… scandalous skirt chasers, performance enhancement drug users, senseless spending, and so on. He boldy shares his own struggles with the emptiness that comes from a constant search for validation through “the next level of success”… I admire that kind of brave vulnerability! Then he puts 3 antidotes out there for anyone who might struggle:
1) self awareness (of insecurity, etc)
2) acceptance of our deep opposites – the good and the bad, the success and the failure, the whole enchilada
3) serve others
OK Tony, I’m on board… you’re right. People sometimes act-out in emptiness and an addiction to validation, adventure, etc. amidst a canvas of a culture of success worship. Brene Brown (Daring Greatly) has some parallel thoughts on the matter… we live in a “shame culture” where success reigns and failure is shamed. Pride and shame on opposite sides of the same coin. The more our self worth is challenged, the more bizarre are our actions.
We look at would-be heroes who fall from favor with their transgressions. We shake our heads. We judge. we blame victims. We forget that things like that could happen to us. We too could act completely out of character. So maybe Tony’s article is spot-on and just what people need to wake up… to stop believing they are not susceptible.
But maybe there’s more…
Shame culture has cornered the market on the idea of “you must follow these rules in order to be worthy and accepted” and it’s the antithesis of Christ’s message… “You are worthy and accepted, flaws and all… Follow Me and let’s mend this broken world together.”
I’ve noticed since I’ve signed on and recognized the real gift of Grace, the real deal with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, that I worry less about what people think about me, about validation and self worth. That’s a new pair of shoes, friends. I was pretty good at shaking off self-consciousness before, but not like this. I’ll admit, I’ll resist checking for feedback on this blog or my wittiest facebook posts… was it liked? how many readers? any ping-backs? And I have witnessed inspirational bloggers recognize when they fall into this feedback frenzy and start to judge their worth by it. Again, I guess what’s important is to remember “it could happen to me” just as it could happen to you. And we have to know that when we get their, we’re going to have to do battle with our deep dark shame and pride monsters.
What strikes me is that even though Tony doesn’t mention accepting God’s Grace and being part of His team as being antidotes, I find myself wondering if God speaks through him a little bit… because really, between self-acceptance, self awareness, and serving others, we’re talking about an antidote sandwich just dying to be wrapped up in some beautiful spiritual paper and tied with God’s ribbon.
If you were to unwrap it, the sandwich might look like this…
1) Be aware: Know the evils and tendencies you’re up against
2) Stop worrying about your self-worth and how you measure up to others. Lean on God’s Grace and know you are good and loved and worthy
3) Live for more than yourself – be part of mending a broken world
Even if Tony does have spiritual or religious beliefs, that’s not the stuff that sells. That doesn’t bring readers back for more hits and higher advertising revenues. And that, I believe, is because of the way pride/shame and shame culture turns our attention toward ourselves, as opposed to toward God and toward each other. What a pity that so many people are so much more interested in furthering their own successes and lives and self-fulfillment than mending the brokenness of the world. How sad that self-development wins out over world-development and the commitment of belonging to each other. I say this not out of judgment… but rather in question and concern. How do we create a world where more people focus on a better world than a better life?
The timing of the bits and bytes that come into my life on any given day is usally pretty extraordinary once I find how the fit togehter. Last night I listened to a sermon from Flood Church about how what’s on our bucket list might not be what’s on God’s. Meanwhile, I am at exactly the midpoint of an international assignemnt and was looking at my bucket list for this trip all week. I found myself reviewing my assignment bucket list with the lens of my accomplishments in the eyes of my company when this article came through. And as what was missing from the article struck me… it occurred to me that among the to-do items, God had a way different bucket list for me than I knew about.
I’ve been here for a coworker who has an opportunity to learn to stretch into grief (another timely blog post I read and shared with her from Deeper Story) and who needed to learn about the choices before her, rather than assume she had none. She would never have shared her delicate situation with me from afar. I’ve had the opportunity to share my testimony with coworkers over lunch… coworkers who have grown up oppressed by catholic churches and a very heavy shame culture. I’m not saying I converted anyone and I’m not claiming victories for His Kingdom, but perhaps I gave them an opportunity to give it a second look. I’ve had the opportunity to build relationships with people who, like coconuts, hide their vulnerability and tenderness and authenticity behind tough shells of bravado, diversions, and sarcasm…and pride. I’ve read about vulnerability and shame resilience and belonging to each other. I’ve considered what I’ve read about how people tend to treat people of service and actively practiced treating them as though we belong to each other. I’ve helped to financially support two families who have been here for us like family for transportation and childcare. I’ve had opportunities to reach people, and find people who reach children in ways I never knew were needed so desperately. I’ve shared a smile and light conversation with a sweet child on the street… and bought handmade straw flowers from her to give to my daughter, a travelling coworker’s daughter, and my driver’s wife… and this child and her mother and baby sister will have another meal. I’ve been inspired. I’ve had time to read a book that has taught me about the Apostle Paul. I’ve reflected. I’ve blogged deep thoughts to share with strangers and found people who think similarly… and I know we’ll all grow from sharing our thoughts and loving each other up. I’ve built memories and a deeper bond with my daughter. I’ve given her an opportunity to expand her world view. And along the way, I’ve built some infrastructure for an office of 25 people to know they are supported by the company they work for.
When the discussion of this assignment came up, I didn’t worry too much about justifying it or whether or not it would happen. I just asked God that I would be sent here if it was His Will and that He would provide me opportunities to do my best to reflect His Image, here or otherwise. I asked him to Lead so that I could follow.
I’m aware that I have begun to ramble… I can always tell because I find myself checking the title to see what this was supposed to be about… and I mention that only because it’s the reason it occurs to me to tie this back to the main idea: Antidotes for Emptiness. I don’t feel emptiness from this trip. I don’t feel like my worth is based on how well I do to master the tasks of the bucket list. And while I’m certainly not immune to emptiness… I know from the depths of my heart the antidote I’m taking in heavy doses along the way… God’s Grace, Love, and Guidance… and my connection with Him that leads me only to follow and bask in the warmth of purpose that is His role for me in a partnership toward mending a broken world.
Over the past few weeks I have reflected on some of the things that pushed me away from faith for a number of years, some of which came to light when thinking about shame culture (see Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly) and getting the Gospel broken down for me in a powerful new way I wish I had seen so many years before. One statement in particular rang through my ears for a long time. Tonight, I’ve got(way more than)5onit…
“You can’t just pick and choose what you believe and call yourself a Christian” he said, as we discussed variouos religious/spirtual beliefs. He was right. Inasmuch as it’s silly to call a sea star a star fish, when it lacks the defining characteristics of a fish, to label oneself as belonging to a group and not believing in the same values as that group is a miss in integrity.
So why does the title of this post include a relatively nasty term in our world… “rhetoric”? Rhetoric isn’t really so nasty… but it’s got that connotation as words thrown around to convince others of a view. My issue with “pick and choose rhetoric” is that it seeks to exclude if the rhetoric is not accepted. It seeks to squash questioning and alternate views. It seeks unchecked faith and blind acceptance. It closes minds. It shames. It is a control device.
Certainly there are some things that must be agreed upon to label oneself, and sometimes I prefer not to for that simple fact, but the rhetoric is damaging and pushes people away… It divides when it should unite…
***I knew 5 minutes wouldn’t be enough!***
I (and millions of others) read a truly beautiful piece from Momastery, where Glennon writes a letter to her young son for the future… just in case he’s gay. That even be that the case, she loves and accepts him and celebrates him, despite what her christian friends might think about it. They might apply what I call pick and choose rhetoric, but she fires back with how they pick and choose what rules from the Bible to follow too.
Sometimes what we believe (or choose to believe) we understand and sense about the world and our situations and what’s Written has the potential to be inaccurate. Can we stop and savor the humility of that for just a moment?
Sometimes what we “know” turns out to be incorrect.
Sometimes someone we “knew” would never betray us, does.
Sometimes “evidence” belies truth.
Sometimes we “prove” someone is guilty, only to find out later they were innocent.
Sometimes we believe the world is flat only to discover it is round.
Sometimes we find out we’re just plain wrong.
Why with our history of fallibility do we still insist with such fierce resoluteness that we “know” God’s will, His messages, His intent for our lives… and to such an extent that we are willing to shame and alienate people who see things differently?
I believe we each need to be able to listen to the depths of our hearts, where His messages for each of us are truly spoken… to ask questions and sometimes even let go of what doesn’t make sense…
But that brings us back to Integrity, doesn’t it…
There’s an awfully big difference between questioning something that doesn’t make sense because it conflicts with what your heart and conscience tell you versus something that just isn’t convenient for you to believe. Deep levels of integrity and humility and self-awareness are needed to tell the difference. If we’re being honest with ourselves, sometimes those things are in short supply. And certainly we have witnessed denial in others and can expect that kind of thing of ourselves, yes? Try as we might to fight it… sometimes an outside perspective, a constructive discussion, bathed in a glow of humility might get us closer to “truth” than we can get on our own.
We have all heard the proverb begging us to “lean not on [our] own understanding.” I have at many times felt this too has been used as rhetoric, empowering churches to proclaim special knowledge and power to guide the masses… to keep people from determining their own beliefs and understandings that challenge the collectively accepted truths and morals and instructions for life and salvation (not the intent of the passage).
Today I ponder a potential different interpretation of those words. Suppose God’s inspired message was to say that under no circumstances is a book of books written by strangers (even with the best of intentions) of another place, time, and culture about a history, an eternity, and a love so vast and unfathomable to be contemplated and understood by one mind on it’s own… that we might unlock more and more of the story and God’s intent and our potential to partner with him to fix this broken world by leaning on each other and sharing what God inspires us to consider and share…
Imagine for just one moment that God has inspired messages of more prophets than just those we hear about in the Bible… Imagine even non-religious inspirational speakers are inspired by God (whether they know and/or believe it or not) to bring us messages. Imagine even people who have brought forth the worst messages in our history actually were inspired by God with messages that they just grossly contorted and misconstrued…
What arrogance to so boldly declare we have interpreted God’s messages as he intended.
What arrogance to so boldy declare we understand the meaning and relevance of God’s messages to men we have never met.
And what arrogance to threaten each other’s belonging based on the truths and beliefs they question… to condemn, to judge, to attempt to control…
With every ounce of my being, I choose to believe that those who cry out against “picking and choosing” what to believe do so with basically good intentions. If we’re all on the same page… what solidarity, unity, and momentum we might have to do God’s work. There are certainly moral virtues the vast vast majority of us (christian or not) agree are not negotiable.
The problem that strikes my heart is the use of rhetoric as a control mechanism over open conversation, sharing, and leaning on our collectively received messages for understanding.
Rhetoric binds us tightly to those we have counted as “in” and creates barriers to belonging that our Father likely never intended.
Rhetoric builds walls and leaves no room for open discussion and sharing of thoughts, feelings, and perceptions.
Rhetoric deceives faith and honest thought and defeats love and invitation with arrogance, fear, and exclusion.
By no means do I mean to sound judgemental or appear to condemn anyone who has leaned on rhetoric to make a point… I am surely guilty of it myself. But I propose that we spend some moments purposefully basking in humility and grace… that we look more for ways we agree than disagree… that we lean on each other – and yes, even those with whom we disagree – for understanding, and that we try to catch ourselves using devices like rhetoric and bravely, boldy, and humbly open our hearts that we might invite others in.
I’ll close with a quote I stumbled upon by “coincidence”* as I looked to find the links for this post…
“The only reason we don’t open our hearts and minds to other people is that they trigger confusion in us that we don’t feel brave enough or sane enough to deal with. To the degree that we look clearly and compassionately at ourselves, we feel confident and fearless about looking into someone else’s eyes. ” – Pema Chödrön
Best wishes to you and yours… and that those who are not yours become yours…
I went to Momastery’s page today to find the links to her letter and discovered 2 posts from this week.
Adding to the many reasons I wish she would move into my neighborhood, she chose to write about this: http://momastery.com/blog/2013/07/18/you-do-not-have-to-agree-with-me-to-love-me/ and begged the question of why do we make getting people to agree with us our goal. Great question, isn’t it?
Additionally she posted a goodbye note to her readers as she takes a 40 day hiatus from blogging, social media, and internet in general which included a quote from her new “shero” which led me to google quotes of this shero who may become another of my own. The first quote that came up was “coincidentally” very relevant and hence the closer for this post…
Funny how that works… isn’t it? 🙂
I’ve long cherished my gifts of understanding and forgiveness… an ability to let things slide and move forward or not take things to heart that may have stopped others in their tracks. So as I started to hear and listen about Grace, I thought I understood the concept.
This week, like a fantasticaly orchestrated surprise birthday party, I was met with a symphony of thoughts, passages, articles, and discussions that instead of yelling “Surprise” and throwing confetti, gently took me by the heart and quietly brought me to my knees with the culminated conclusion that forgiveness is earned (or rationalized), but Grace is simply given. Tonight, I Got5onit…
I had been under the impression that God was the only one who really does the Grace bit, and that it was just the christian word for God’s flavor of forgiveness, a forgiveness bigger than what most of us are capable of. A friend blogged her “Grace story” (her testimony she gave in church) that challenged readers to think about to whom they should ask for or give forgiveness, as God forgives our many trespasses through his Grace. Another friend posted a link on forgiving one’s self… and through that, we might find forgiveness for others more freely… I listened to a coworker’s struggle to forgive a neighbor and prayed he’d find a different course of more forgiving action than the legal action he was pursuing (admittedly a rerouted judgment)… and beyond these and a few other tips, a close friend and I got into a deep discussion leading to a discussion about something we did at the age of 19, that we now find rather unforgiveable. And this unforgiveable moment and action was directed at another close friend, who has somehow freely forgiven me, when I truly haven’t earned it. And then it dawned on me… she has given me… Grace.
Grace isn’t when you say “it’s ok, we were kids” or forgiveness that follows mental olympics to understand what happened. Grace is loving and letting go outside of the “facts.” Grace is embracing someone even though they haven’t acknowledged their true accountability for your hurt. If you truly think about it, it’s a lot harder to give Grace than it is to find a way to forgive.
***And time… but I can’t help but close below…***
I drink a brand of tea whose bags include a tag with a phrase (like a fortune cookie). My favorite this week was “Strength does not lie in what you have; It lies in what you can give.” When I read it, I pondered it, wondering how one would have to be strong in order to give and what giving would show strength, beyond the obvious strength to give of yourself through time and/or money. It is so clear to me now, that we are our strongest when we learn to give Grace… the most precious resource of all. And now, thanks to that symphony of thoughts, passages, articles, and discussions, and the example of a very dear friend (and other examples I have recognized since) I recognize that we actually all have that ability to learn to apply Grace, especially when forgiveness seems so difficult to achieve… and in doing so, grow one step nearer to living in his His image.
We are theoretically unworthy sinners but through Christ we are worthy beyond measure. Our worthiness and salvation comes through our faith in what Christ sacrificed for us (his life!), not through rigid following of laws… how freeing! Not freeing to do whatever we please, but free to live in the sunshine, rather than in a shadow of shame. Our “shame culture” as Brene Brown calls it in her book “Daring Greatly” is what I believe is at the core of so many of our heart wrenching issues… It eats away at our perception of our worthiness. And upon listening to her and reading from her, I’ve been taking steps to be shame resilient, and recognized that as a child of God, I am worthy, flaws and all… and with that, I strive to live more and more in His image and be part of a growing body of Christ determined to help God mend a broken world… Dear reader… you too are worthy, flaws and all, of God’s Grace… and so is everyone around you. I challenge you today to deeply consider the gift of Grace that has been given to you and how you might give that gift to others!
So thankful for the opportunity to interact with these ideas and grow personally and spiritually, with new appreciation for several people in my life, and in particular the two wonderful women who are part of that story and are so close and dear to me, and with new strengths to strive for. all the glory to God, as it would be difficult to call this symphony a collection of “coincidences” as usual.
A few of the resources that came through this week:
and comments in response I learned from …
“Grace–from Greek “charis”–GIFT!”
“Forgiveness is “letting go” or “leaving it behind” or a liberation and this acronym: Leaving It Behind, Ever Reaching Ahead Toward Incredible Opportunities Now.”
Dear friend’s blog post: http://mylifeaslori.wordpress.com/2013/07/08/my-grace-story-aka-what-is-a-testimony/
And what is truly my favorite Bible passage (so far) and so relevant…
Galatians 2:19-21 (NIV)
19 “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”[