Hey everyone. Here is a video version of this week’s blog. For links and such, consult the written format. Thanks for reading and listening!
I had another Disney experience last week. Someone heard I was in Florida and said something like, “You’re kidding! Rod and Gwen do not seem like Disney people.” I assure you, they are right. But I sure met a lot of “Disney people” while I was away. One nice family from Kent had a plan for ten days in the parks! Ouch!
I do not go to Disney for Disney. I go for five-year olds. We committed to take each grandchild to Disney when they turned five and I have not regretted that decision for one minute. I just got back from a trip with the half-Elsa and half-Minnie pictured below. This is the same birthday girl who was jumping with delight to see Elsa on her Festival of Fantasy parade float and whose birthday badge was spotted by her hero, who then mouthed, “Happy birthday” right at her! Papa got choked up.
I always learn a lot on my “field work” excursions out of my blue, Northeast bubble (where it is quite a bit colder, btw). This trip was no different. When I was not thinking about where to find restrooms in the Magic Kingdom, I was in wonder that this many people have enough money to do the wildly expensive Disney experience.
The economy did not send people to Disney
My new, unexpected, best pundit friend, David Brooks, recently gave me some reasons for why the parks near Orlando are so crowded. He says, “We’re enjoying one of the best economies of our lifetime. The G.D.P. is growing at about 3.5 percent a year, which is about a point faster than many experts thought possible. We’re in the middle of the second-longest recovery in American history… If you were born in 1975, you’ve seen the U.S. economy triple in size over the course of your lifetime. The gains are finally being widely shared, even by the least skilled….The median usual weekly earnings for workers who didn’t complete high school shot up by 6.5 percent over the past year.”
The “recovery” should be making people feel great, right? Bill Clinton was famous for having a motto that helped him win the White House: “It’s the economy, stupid.” He wanted to remember to maintain his personal sell out to capitalist bondage as he was helping to teach our children to sell their souls as well. His winning strategy has been key to all the political playbooks ever since. As a result, we are up to our necks in economic microdata and even prominent Evangelicals defend Trump’s inaction on the Khashoggi murder by suggesting the country needs to protect its business deals with the Saudi’s other magic kingdom rather than protest assassinations!
But Brooks accurately notes that the economy is hardly what normal people care about the most, Clinton notwithstanding. A few minutes on the bus to Disney will prove that people will spend whatever it takes to get what the economy has ruined: relationships. Disney has discovered how to package up the relationships people want and sell them to us. I think we might have an experience similar to the day we bought at a Disney park at Fern Hill Park. But it was exciting to have my little Elsa creating the “snow” (so she said) that Disney Hollywood pumped out for the “holiday” show. We need to be together.
Money is not, again, making us happy or holy
People have more money, for the moment, but they are far from happy. The economy won’t make you happy! Jesus did not add “Stupid!” But I suppose he could have. Because we humans, in general, have a history of being rather stupid when it comes to what we think will save us. The U.S. Empire promised our big, fat, rapacious, world-dominating economy would save us. But it seems Trump has finally convinced many people such a promise is as faulty as they suspected.
Brooks notes that “about 60 percent of Americans are dissatisfied with the way things are going in this country. Researchers with the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index interviewed 160,000 adults in 2017 to ask about their financial security, social relationships, sense of purpose and connectedness to community. Last year turned out to be the worst year for well-being of any since the study began 10 years ago. As the recovery has advanced, people’s faith in capitalism has actually declined, especially among the young. Only 45 percent of those between 18 and 29 see capitalism positively, a lower rate than in 2010, when the country was climbing out of the Great Recession.” That’s not a big surprise: college debt, gig economy, unpaid internships, hugely expensive health care, high housing costs, tax cuts for the rich – Thanks “economy!”
The crisis we feel is not just the economy (I will not add the contemptuous “stupid.” and if you hear it in your brain, you should resist). The bigger problem is the crisis of connection. The following has become common knowledge (except, maybe, in Congress). Brooks says, “People, especially in the middle- and working-class slices of society, are less likely to volunteer in their community, less likely to go to church, less likely to know their neighbors, less likely to be married than they were at any time over the past several decades. In short, they have fewer resources to help them ride the creative destruction that is ever-present in a market economy.” That’s the crisis.
“And they are dying.” Last week, “the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that life expectancy in the United States declined for the third straight year. This is an absolutely stunning trend. In affluent, well-connected societies, life expectancies rise almost as a matter of course. The last time the American mortality rate fell for three straight years was 1915-1918, during World War I and the flu pandemic, which took 675,000 American lives. And yet here we are — a straight-up social catastrophe.” It is a crisis of caring and sharing, led by the most immoral president ever and his collaborating Senate, characterized by a flood of opioids, guns and video games ready for purchase by eager teenagers.
The economy can’t sell us a solution to the crisis
Circle of Hope was designed as an antidote to the sociological, psychological and spiritual decay that even pundits are starting to talk about. Just call us a “tribe of covenant partners in Christ” and you can see, in every rarely-used word in that phrase, that we supply quite an alternative. As Brooks notes, many young people are bereft of the support structures they need to persevere in school and get the skills to help them survive — we provide them as a matter of course. The natural, organic system of our church provides the so-called “soft skills” that Brooks says the economy can’t locate: leadership, communication and collaboration. The society is awash in technical capacity but people can’t bring themselves to answer personal email (I know, I write them!). We can figure out how to program our phone-app-run thermostats but rarely listen to our voicemail, if anyone still records one. We are sold a lot of ways to connect, but many in the society are having a terrible time getting connected.
Brooks concludes by saying, “Conservatives were wrong to think that economic growth would lead to healthy families and communities all by itself. Moderate Democrats were wrong to think it was sufficient to maximize growth and then address inequalities with transfer payments. The progressives are wrong to think life would be better if we just made our political economy look more like Denmark’s. The Danes and the Swedes take for granted a cohesive social fabric [that hygge] that simply does not exist here.” The country is experiencing a lot of wrongheaded stuff! We all need a “cohesive social fabric” — but the “economy,” as presently dominated, won’t give it to us even if we fight for it, mainly because it is not interested in cohesion, society or even fabric, unless it is being sold by the bolt.
We know all that. We are among those people who are more alone than ever, as well, of course. We struggle to know our anonymous neighbors and have a tough time “volunteering” for our own church and sharing with our own covenant partners in Christ! We are not immune to the social catastrophe the “economy” continues to exacerbate. Lord save us! — the “economy” is dithering about whether it should sacrifice profits to save the world from climate change disaster!! We know all this and we are all this, to a degree. But we are also bravely on the front lines with whatever gifts we have to build an alternative.
OK, I was on the “front lines” in Orlando last week. The big disaster I faced was when they cancelled the last, giant show they had planned for 3000 of us, or so, because of technical difficulties. But, in the middle of waiting for that catastrophe to be announced by a pre-recorded message, I played a lot of rock/paper/scissors, with a giggling five-year-old. It’s not the economy, it’s the relationships. It is not the money, it is the love. It is not the magic kingdom of the American dream, it is the kingdom of God represented by normal people filled with the Spirit. Those truths are easier to hang on to when a child is hanging on to your hand or a cell mate is hanging on to their faith for dear life in your living room. There is an alternative being created in us every day.
In my 40+ years of counseling and pastoring I’ve heard about many kinds of emotionally distressing situations triggered in all sorts of ways. But one of the greatest sources of pain I hear about is feeling cut off. The cutoff hurts most in a family or an intimate relationship. But it is also probably the main pain people experience and fear in the church – which is like a family and often full of intimacy or the desire for it. Regardless of the reasons, people who are cut off when people leave them or the church (and sometimes when they stay) feel much the same: shame, confusion, stress, and sometimes even depression and a feeling of being disempowered. [Remember Gotye?] They particularly feel these things when no explanation for the cutoff is provided. People may cut each other off for months, years, and sometimes even a lifetime with little or no explanation.
I am experiencing variations on this theme right now. A couple of very significant people in my life have cut me off. So I have felt some of the feelings just mentioned!
University of Chicago neuroscientist John Cacioppo told Psychology Today, “The pain of losing a meaningful relationship [that one still wants or needs] can be especially searing in the absence of direct social contact. With no definitive closure, we’re left wondering what the heck happened, which can lead to the kind of endless rumination that often leads to depression.”
In The Journey from Abandonment to Healing, Susan Anderson writes, “When a loved one dies, the loss is absolutely final…[but] abandonment survivors may remain in denial and postpone closure, sometimes indefinitely.” Some people never accept the need to grieve and come to acceptance when their pain comes from the loss of romantic attachment or intimate friendship, especially when the loss is extended over time (as in they keep meeting up with the person who has cut them off or they are connected via other relationships).
When there are emotional loose ends — unanswered questions, mistrust, betrayal, disbelief, bewilderment — it can be very difficult to heal. What makes it worse is that our culture is somewhat hostile to people in this situation. People often judge those who don’t move on right away. Being the one struggling without answers is a difficult experience.
People with abuse and trauma in their backgrounds are especially vulnerable. The breaking of attachments can trigger anxiety, depression and evoke unhealed psychic wounds. Anderson goes on the say: “Emotional experience is more painful when it echoes an episode from the past; that’s especially true when it comes to rejection and loss. The relationship that ended today may be the fulfillment of your worst nightmares from childhood. Grieving over that lost love opens a primal wound.”
The following are some of the most frequent reasons why someone is likely to cut someone off, or to freeze them out of the fold. Before I get there, let me say a couple of things. This is not an exhaustive list. I am NOT suggesting that cutoffs are healthy or even reasonable. I can’t imagine something less like Jesus than cutting someone off. On the other hand, I am also NOT suggesting that people need to put up with abusive, demanding, overwhelming people. We’re not as able as Jesus, for the most part. When boundaries are set and someone refuses to consider them, something’s got to give. So there is another side to what I am about to list and we can talk about that some other time. This time I am honoring people who have been cut off. It can be tough on them. As I enter this confusing set of dynamics that go so dreadfully awry, keep in mind that love is as hard as it is crucial.
So why is the cutoff so common these days?
Some people grew up in families that have a history of cutting off members when they are disappointed, angry, or experiencing other less-than-pleasant emotions toward them. Perhaps you witnessed your mother do this to her mother-in-law while you were growing up. You then learned that cutting off relatives is an option. You may follow the pattern when you feel similarly disenchanted with someone. We all learn from what we see modeled at home.
Trauma specialist Hala Khouri says, “If it’s hysterical, it’s often historical.” People who have experienced trauma often don’t differentiate between the person triggering them and the original source of trauma. When difficult emotions arise, they may feel real feelings of threat and anxiety. Their brain may shift toward fight-or-flight mode. A cutoff can be a flight response that helps keep difficult emotions at bay.
Power and Control
In all systems, there are dominant and less-than-dominant members. The dominant may lead the whole group to cut someone off simply to exert their high level of power and control (or for any of the other reasons on this list). Where do children learn the playground dynamics of bullying? At home, a bully may be exerting the same kind of power and control.
Not long ago our pastors warned covenant members about a “wolf” among us (who is still threatening people!). That was a necessary use of their power. But cutting someone off from the church is so rare it seems like it never happens among us. In Christ, people should generally need to prove they are untrustworthy. Our love does not overlook sin, but it does not demand perfection before we give it.
Sometimes people simply get exhausted and depleted by a person who seems difficult to them. They may feel that they have put up with certain behaviors for too long, and they may feel hopeless about things ever changing. They may start by phasing out a person and then handily place them on the “do not interact with” list. Everyone has their own pain tolerance level and can only handle so much.
People who are addicted or mentally/chronically ill often end up over-the-tolerance level, a warning our church often notably ignores – but we can get tired too. If you are truly exhausted, maybe you shouldn’t ignore it. Thank God we live in community and someone else may not be exhausted at all.
New life stories
There are many people who know a lot about your history and your younger self. Perhaps you don’t want to be reminded of your past. How do you go about rewriting your history and changing your narrative when those people won’t let you outlive it? One way is to shut them out. Eliminate them from your life, and you can rewrite your story without anyone letting the proverbial cat out of the bag. Avoid those people, and your past is more likely to be left right where you feel it belongs — in the past.
Maybe you moved to Philadelphia to make a new story possible! When we had our “divorce dialogues” this year, a few of the divorced felt shamed because people talked about their history; but we were just trying not to participate in their cutoff narrative. We were not avoiding. Instead, we were acknowledging that a new story was being written.
Some of us have felt forced into situations in which we had to choose between people who were cut off from each other (like in a divorce). Or maybe you feel coerced into choosing between pastors, or even a former pastor. These are dreadful situations, but we all know someone who has been in this position. Is the situation common? Yes. Is it easy? Not at all.
In our church, where we have formed a nice, often tight community, people who cut off sometimes hover around the edges and ask for collusion, even ask for a pledge to cut off the same people they have. This kind of power play tends to hurt everyone. Sometimes relationships break; it never feels good. But we can make it worse when we try to get people to join in our sense of being cut off or join us in getting even with someone who has cut us off.
Avoiding slighting and being slighted
Sometimes a set of misunderstandings occur between people in a community, like the church. If the misunderstandings don’t get discussed, understood, and forgiven they can build up, and eventually break down relationships. It is tragic when such build-ups lead to breakdowns.
I often feel like avoiding things, but I also feel like it is an obligation to God not to do so. But for many people, “discussion” is synonymous with “confrontation,” and so avoidance is their go-to choice. When a new person wanders into a set of relationships in which people are covering up their distress with avoidance, it all feels rather inauthentic.
Why cut someone off without saying why? For one thing, explaining opens a conversation, implying you want to work things out, which you don’t. But there’s another reason, too. Many of us find it hard to say anything “negative” outright, so we swallow our hurt—until it chokes us. Ghosting means still not saying anything negative.
For those who are pondering what they did to cause them to be ghosted, it may help to know the answer may be: nothing. For instance, a woman was relieved when–-decades later— a friend who had disappeared reconnected and explained that she’d been going through a tough time and had cut everyone off. Another woman recalled her own habit, when she was younger, of cutting friends off: she’d pursue a friendship, then feel overwhelmed by the closeness she’d created — and flee. It might be you, but it might not be.
A person doing the cutoff may benefit from taking a deep breath and asking, “What am I trying to avoid here?”
Financial issues are often the source of relationship difficulties. Money may not always be able to buy love, but it sure can lead to lots of bad feelings. Consider the dynamics of the church dividing up a diminishing income, or imagine the bad things that often happen when a family system is also a business (like Circle of Hope!). People sometimes flee the pressures.
In the church (and families and roommate situations) people can cut themselves off by not paying their share or get cut off because others feel like they are freeloading.
The demands of the needy
Do you want to see a church disintegrate? Watch what happens when people try to share the responsibilities involved in caring for people who can’t care for themselves – sort of like the need to bring grandma into the home of one of her kids. There are certainly family systems that come together and handle these sorts of situations beautifully, but putting a needy person in the middle of the system is also high on the list of reasons that relatives get disenchanted with one another — and sometimes cut off.
In the church, people sometimes get cut off because they are not functioning up to standards; they are too needy. Sometimes people cut off because they are overwhelmed with people who can’t contribute and they feel they don’t have enough to give what is required.
Unfortunately, many people have been emotionally and/or physically abused in their past – even by relatives, as I already mentioned. This damage cannot always be completely repaired. In many cases, people cut off because they have painful interactions with people that are reminiscent of the abuse in their past. The repeat feels intolerable and often the system (like your cell) does not acknowledge it, so it again feels like the secret trauma they experienced before.
Lack of Elasticity
Some communities simply lack elasticity. They lack the ability to recover from difficulties and, like a rubber band, snap when stretched too far. Flexibility takes confidence that we are not cut off from God and that, no matter what trials we face, Jesus has and will overcome them with us. Even when someone cuts us off, Jesus is with us as we recover and find our way into what is next. If a group does not have the character to bend and grow, people cut off or get cut off.
Every day we wake up ready to effect reconciliation in the world. We are all about helping each other mend relationships. Sometimes there is so much history and damage that there is little desire and energy to do the mending. Yet Jesus continues to highlight the need to plant and grow love in the world. And he promises to not leave us orphans in the process – he will never cut us off; we’ll have to do that ourselves. We’ve been cut off enough times to have trouble believing that. So we will need to meditate on what we have been given. We will need to leave what we DON’T have to God and move with what we have been GIVEN.
So how was the meeting of the church yesterday? Was it about as exciting as the Eagles’ rout of the Bears? Did you skip it because you thought it might not be worth driving to? Are you out of the habit?
Maybe prayer has even slipped out of your schedule and you replaced it with caustic remarks about people who “drank the Kool-aid” and keep acting excited about things you “got over” a long time ago. Maybe you chalk up your boredom to your “meeting fatigue” or “lack of bandwidth.”
I don’t mean to shame you if any of this is true about you. I just want to be honest. Christianity is intense – all the time. It is a life and death matter – all the time. Most of us have a moment of that intensity here and there, or we would desert Jesus altogether. But we need a movement, not a moment. And if we expect to reveal Jesus to the world and work with the Spirit as God transforms it, we certainly can’t do it with a few moments of intensity.
In Philippians 1:20 Paul says, “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.” Many translations says he has “earnest expectation” and hope. He is intense. The Greek word has the idea of a head that is outstretched, as if waiting in suspense, eyes peeled, ears open.
We can all relate to this sense of expectation. My grandchildren were afraid and delighted to be going to race go-carts the other day. You may have a job interview lined up. The baby might be due. For Paul, he is writing while awaiting trial before a Roman court. It could be that the delusional Nero will give him a death sentence. What was Paul’s expectation? That Christ’s glory would be seen in his body whether he lived or died. That was his EARNEST expectation.
Paul’s intense desire was that Jesus, in whom he lived and who lived in him, would have free rein of him so he would prove to be the best vehicle of transformation he could be. If dying proved to be a better strategy, then so be it. Really! He wrote that to the church in Philippi, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” That’s intense.
Paul did not come equipped with his courage or will. We humans have those capacities, but they are mostly moments, not movements. His courage came from the Spirit of Christ who made him alive, even if he died. He was not talking about achieving an ongoing integration of Christ “into his life.” This was not post-therapy, post-intellectualizing Paul telling us how he ended up enlightened. Jesus is his light and he is confident Jesus will shine through what he is and does whether he lives or dies. That is basic Christianity. It feels intense to us.
If the Sunday meeting does not provide us a moment, we might feel like we have no movement. If a person feels like they are too intense, we might want to put the brakes on their movement, since it feels like we are getting run over. I supposed we are getting run over — meanwhile, Paul appears to like getting run over. Being a vehicle for God’s glory is his definition of wonder-ful.
How do we get into the movement and stop living off the “crumbs” of the spiritual moments that don’t add up to enough?
1) We need to pray
Pray for yourself. Pray for others. Pray for the Congo. Intercession is crucial if anything is going to happen. If things seem flat, maybe we are not praying! But even before you get to interceding, practice the turn into the movement of God’s Spirit. Work on the meditation that gets you out of thinking your courage and capacity makes it all happen.
2) We need to relate rightly
If you are talking about people instead of to them; if you’ve decided you can’t talk to them so you are just avoiding everyone, you are starving for connection and it is wrecking you. The moments of love you get may hurt, since they just point out how much more you need. Those moments might make you mad, since they seem to be depriving you or demanding of you. You need to be in the movement.
I wish our leaders told us every week that the Sunday meeting is not just about the speech or the songs; it is about the relating, the being together in the Spirit, the relationships built and the plans being made. What happens before and after the scheduled events should be just as important as what happens during them.
3) We need to do something. Trump is president.
The fact that the populace (or at least the system) elected a liar who would rather have a strong-man government like Russia’s demonstrates that the world needs saved. What are you going to do about it? Get depressed? Be resentful? Withdraw? Join in and make as much money as possible while the doors are open to exploitation? Get as mean and divided as the powers are promoting? Conform to an even more debased way of thinking? I wish I did not have to even list those things, but people are doing all those things.
Many people are doing just the opposite, of course, but temptation is everywhere. Black Friday background checks for gun purchases soared last week while we were calling for “buy nothing” day. While we are calling each other to Turn Up to Bail Out, the Ku Klux Klan claimed a surge in new members. Some of us are overwhelmed. We would never have done anything to get into prison like Paul did and if we did get there we might have gone crazy instead of converting the Praetorian Guard.
The main thing Paul does is demonstrate the glory of God in his body whether he lives or dies. He does not have a plan to save democracy or depose Nero. He is part of a movement of God’s Spirit that is way more than the present moment. He trusts in it. He is confident in it. He is not waiting for a moment or disappointed because he missed it. He lives in an eternal now with Jesus.
The main thing Paul expects the followers of Jesus to do is demonstrate the presence of the risen Lord as the body of Christ. How we do that is discerned moment by moment, but we are always in the movement. If the powers that be try to kill us, that will make Jesus even more obvious.
I, for one, would not be a Jesus follower if Christianity were not intense. That’s why it is hard, sometimes, when I think the meetings feel a little dead, or I run into loved ones who are more resistant than resplendent with glory. But then, like today, I often remember Paul’s letter to the Philippians and note the contours of my cell — and maybe even pen my own letter, of sorts. Jesus is with me.
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Since the 1980’s there has been even more fighting in the church than ever! As postmodern thinking takes over the philosophical playing field and becomes more and more codified into law, conflict about the old, modern way of doing things happens all the time. The other day I was in a dialogue about what Circle of Hope is all about and someone kind of accosted me because they assumed I would be a proponent of some old-school church idea. A woman who was listening in to this impending conflict said, “Rod’s pretty much postmodern, if anyone is. I don’t think you’ll have to worry.” I did not think it showed.
The truth is (and you’ll have to decide, I’m afraid, what that means) is that I am not postmodern or modern. I am a Jesus follower.
- I could easily be postmodern, since my life is “made” every day in relationship with the resurrected Jesus; grace is new every morning to experience and I experience it in a community based on that common experience.
- But I could easily be modern too, since the source of my life is transhistorical and my call to live it is built right into my essence as a human being; before I was, Jesus is.
Saying things like that about the truth can get one into a conflict almost every day. That is, you can have a fight if you hang out with people who have not just shut down in the face of the barrage of input beaming at them and attempting to reform them according to the latest new-improved paradigm. For instance, I included the term “postmodern” in my speech at Broad and Dauphin a few weeks ago and was schooled in both meetings about what I meant. I did not shut down; but I did think “Boy! If you are a leader you are asking for trouble.” Since Christians generally hate conflict — it feels so unloving and probably unholy, they certainly would not want to get into trouble! Our cell leaders face the pain of real or prospective conflict all the time and wonder how they ever got into the mess they are in!
But Jesus is not afraid to cause conflict. To read the scripture it would appear that his main mission was a conflict. Likewise, the Apostle Paul exemplifies how a Jesus-follower inevitably fights. He teaches about it so much that I could hardly summarize it in a blog post. But I do want to reflect on four of his teachings for the sake of people who have not shut down, but are still speaking the truth in love. There are new things being born in this era; there is no sense trying to keep the baby from being born, even if it hurts. Here are four paraphrases of significant examples of Paul having conflict and the basic things he hangs on to when he is in a fight.
Trust God to be at work
Philippians 3:14-16 – Let’s walk by the same rule and mind the same thing: our call to follow Jesus with our all into His all. If you have another mindset, God will be revealing that to you.
We get all ramped up when we don’t agree. We are tempted to cut people off as a result, or to flee to like-minded people and create a faction. Paul is confident that God is at work. People pursuing maturity in Christ will figure things out with God’s help. Our anxiety (and judgment) about how immature they are or how right they aren’t won’t help. Hang on to trust.
Accept one another
Romans 15:1-7 – We should be like-minded toward one another with the mindset of Christ. He has received us in love through great suffering in all our weakness. With one mind and mouth, let’s praise God.
Even if I think my loved one or acquaintance is flat-out wrong, or even being wicked, my discernment about how to respond is based on my ultimate goal that we should be one in Christ. I don’t write them off, even if they seem unholy or dangerous. I don’t write them off by relativizing them, either. “Freedom” for postmoderns is being left alone to get what I deserve according to what I can achieve. “Acceptance” has become keeping an appropriate distance, not spiritual intimacy or even agreement. I don’t let me or mine get reduced to that. Hang on to longsuffering.
Galatians 5:7-15 – There are always law-keepers and law-givers who tempt us to re-enslave ourselves. They don’t walk in the Spirit and their goal is not love like Christ’s, demonstrated on the cross. It is our liberty in Christ that allows us to serve. We don’t demonstrate our love by following rules that don’t come from Jesus.
Paul is so frustrated by interlopers who are trying to make the Galatians follow Jewish laws, especially circumcision, that he wishes they would emasculate themselves in the same way they are trying to cut people off from the Spirit. The aggressive new laws associated with social construction philosophy, such as campus “hate speech” codes, find their way into the church and cause conflict similar to Paul’s these days. Any number of people will think they are not accepted and loved (like Christians are supposed to do!) if their “laws” are not followed. I think the “laws” have some good intentions behind them (as did the Judaizers in Galatia!), but they need to come from God to be in everyone’s best interests – somewhere from which postmodern laws consciously have not come. Hang on to the Holy Spirit.
1 Corinthians 4:1-7 – We have what we have received. If we don’t think this, our comparisons make us judges when only God is the judge. Any light we bring was generated by God. Any hidden thing revealed will find its final meaning in Christ.
The conviction that “we only have what God gives us” makes Jesus-followers prone to conflicted situations, which makes a lot of them want to stay hidden. The new regime marching under the colors of postmodern thought says things like: “Irrespective of what one might assume, in the sciences, problems do not arise by themselves. It is, precisely, because all problems are posed that they embody the scientific spirit. If there were no question, there would be no scientific knowledge. Nothing proceeds from itself. Nothing is given. All is constructed.” — Gaston Blanchard. There is truth in what he says if God is not with us, but he’s basically opposed to what Christians know.
Our faith leads us to know that goodness can be experienced; grace is imminent. Our questions do not call reality into being; and our lack of questions do not protect us from our built-in yearning to connect with our Creator. The fact that humans still make meaning of life still implies that there is meaning. Jesus is the truth of God. The Holy Spirit keeps affirming that. We’re going to have conflict. Hang on to your receptivity.
Conflict is not intrinsically bad. But it is likely to be painful – just like Jesus experienced. The world keeps trying to make laws against the violence being engendered by requiring people to endlessly compete for their rights in the social landscape. The most marginalized are supposedly protected enough to fight as hard as the dominators who protect them. Jesus-followers have another way.
But we will be in a fight too, just like Paul demonstrates. Some of us will opt out and just try to be as inconspicuous as possible. Some of us will not control our tongues too well and be conspicuous in a bad way. But let’s try to stay with Jesus and one another and meet the new era with joy, not just with dread about the next conflict. God is at work. We have been accepted by Jesus. No one can enslave us anymore. We have received wonderful things. There is a mystery that is unfolding to each person about their relationship with God.
A doula told me the other day that no matter how many mothers she accompanies, each birth she attends is like a brand-new miracle. Each rebirth is similarly amazing. If, as in the birth of a baby, there is suffering, why should we not attend the birth of faith in Jesus with the same understanding? People are fighting for their lives. Hang on to your amazement.
Other thoughts on conflict:
The intrinsic affront built into believing
Conflict with the world: Disentangling from addiction
Why is being part of Circle of Hope so demanding?
I’m kind of enjoying the geekiness (no offence) of Pentatonix these days. So let’s start out with them. They do a cover of Gotye’s big song of 2012: Somebody That I Used to Know:
Apart from telling a good story, Gotye and Kimbra summarize in song what so many people experience every day: being cut off and screwed over. Those are common ways NOT to relate. But a lot of people have experienced so much abuse and have had so little opportunity to recover, that they don’t know how to relate another way. They’d like to love, but they are always getting cut off and screwed over. Let’s talk about that.
In the song, Gotye’s character sings about how she “cut him off.” That’s a common experience in relationships that is worth noting. We could talk about how someone refused sex or did some emasculating thing (another time, maybe). But I want to talk about how people try to disappear their intimates to manage their fears. [More here]
When Kimbra’s character comes into the song, she’s talking about something just as relevant: how she feels screwed over. She is so glad she got free of his unprocessed manipulation! And she doesn’t mind telling him so. Maybe you’ve been there.
The song demonstrates two relationship traits common to people when they are not safe in Jesus and are not aware of the frailties they need to have healed. These two common traits are sinful ways we kill love.
Getting cut off happens.
It feels terrible. Gotye paints a vivid picture of it.
- Make out like it never happened and that we were nothing
- But you treat me like a stranger and that feels so rough
- Have your friends collect your records and then change your number
That last line hints that that he may have caused the cut-off himself, since who sends their friends to get their stuff or who changes their number unless there is some kind of weirdness going on? Were there constant texts? I heard about that a few times lately. Friends did have to send their buddies to retrieve their stuff because the ex might go off.
I have a friend who has perfected the cut-off. She says it – you do me wrong I cut you off, you’re dead to me. Most of us would not say that; we’d just do it [even legally with restraining orders]. When we are threatened, we disappear people. We make them nothing. So a lot of us feel cut off. You might feel like a relationship is bleeding right now and you are emotionally wounded.
I am not going to do a big Bible study to respond. I think it is enough to say that our preoccupation with Matthew 18 around Circle of Hope is important because people have been cut-off and have cut people off. Cutting someone off is the common sinful way to deal with “problem” people and with our own troubled feelings. We cut them off. In an abusive and abused, violent society the laws are all about protecting victims (who are numerous). So the society even teaches us to cut-off.
That’s the problem Gotye’s character has in this song. What he did not do is presume that he was in a relationship in which all the parties are sinners, including himself, and that reconciliation was going to be a constant necessity. He actually says in the song that they discovered that they did not make sense, as if that’s how relationships work – like they are supposed to magically make sense, or the interaction is supposed to be so effortless that they never don’t make sense. That’s very unlikely.
Christians relate with reconciliation in mind. They know they need to be listening for God to make sense of things. They know that their loved one needs to be loved, not to make sense according to some tiny idea we have of what makes sense. I know so many people, including myself, who have spent entire evenings arguing about how their interpretation of what happened an hour ago makes more sense than their mate’s interpretation! Reconciliation is more important than everything making sense.
Getting screwed over also happens.
It is a terrible feeling and Kimbra paints a vivid picture of it.
- You “had me believing it was always something that I’d done.”
- You did not talk so I was “Reading into every word you say.”
- When we broke up “You said that you could let it go”
That last line has a lot packed into it (which is one of the things that makes this a good song, isn’t it?). Between the lines she is saying, “Now we are broken up and you are still obsessed and angry. That points out how you had been simmering with anger the whole time we were together. I was trying to make that work for you. So I basically screwed myself in your honor. And that makes me angry!”
Sorry to keep using the word “screwed.” But this song is basically about sex. They don’t really get to intimacy. Being used for sex is part of the woman’s pain, I think. “Having sex” in our language right now is not necessarily a term of endearment. “Fuck” is one of the meanest things people say. We “get screwed over” a lot. Sex is often a violation and we are mad about it. A lot of people talk about sex as if they need their rights protected, like they are so shallow that intimacy can be regulated by state law or something – or maybe they feel so hurt they think there ought to be a law.
Kimbra could have helped herself if she had just had one small rule of communication: “Don’t read between the lines.” Clear communication includes the recognition that the other person hasn’t actually said something until they have said it. If you think their body language means something, ask them if it means what you think it means. Don’t react as if you know what they have not articulated. Conversely, communication happens when a person has responded to what you say in such a way that they confirm they heard what you said. Just providing a lot of information and expecting people to find it is not enough. We’re tempted to treat each other like we are websites – “I already laid out all the info, search it. I don’t need to talk to you because I posted it on my timeline. It’s on my blog.”
There is actually a little incident in John 14 where Jesus has to negotiate this process of communication with one of his intimates. Philip says, “Just show me the father. “ And Jesus is a little exasperated. He says, “Haven’t you heard the words of the father in me? Haven’t you seen the miracles?” I suppose Jesus could have cut Philip off at that point. Or he could have remembered Philip’s cluelessness as an example of all the ways his disciples had screwed him over. Instead, Jesus humbly communicates it again, as clearly as he can. Philip is not required to “read between the lines:” “It is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.” The Lord humbly, clearly communicates.
Christians know that truth and love are hard to communicate because they know how hard it is for them to receive the truth and love of God, who is the source of truth and love! So we are patient with our intimates, and with everyone else. We know we are hard to understand; we know the other person is hard to understand — they don’t even understand themselves! Why get all hacked off when they behave as confused and as detached as they are! Help them! Listen to them! Speak clearly and in love!
There is hope
My favorite part of the video is at the end, when Kimbra stands apart and loses the paint of this unloving relationship. She kind of returns to the state of being naked and unashamed like Adam and Eve were before sin messed them up and they got separated from God and each other. She gets out of the damaging matrix. Now that they aren’t locked in some sinful way to relate, maybe something better can happen. Hopefully, they both learn to practice reconciliation, not just self-defense. Hopefully, they learn to communicate, not just react in some pre-verbal way.
I don’t think Gotye intended for me to get any hope at all out of his sad song. But I am way Christian. I really wanted that woman’s unpainted self to get out of that messy video, so I took it that way. Why not? Jesus is doing the best God can do to call us out of the condemned and condemning ways we relate and into real love. If we let him be present and don’t suck up some bogus narrative, if we don’t cut him off, if we let him communicate, we have a good chance of being restored to love ourselves and even having great intimacy — and great sex.
You’ve all seen this video, right?
It has been viewed over 440 million times on YouTube. Which kind of made me wonder why I had never heard of it until it was already old news. It was the top song on the Billboard 100 in 2012.
I’m not sure what is better, this addictive little song called Somebody That I Used to Know or the parodies of it. As soon as I got to listening to: “now you’re just somebody that I used to know.” I also heard
- “Obama that I used to know” — “Now and then I think of that election day, November. When you won I felt so happy I could die.”
- “Some study that I used to know” – “Sometimes I think about the things I learned in high school.”
- And my favorite: “Now you’re just somebody used to be my bro. – “How and when I passed out on the floor is hazy.” (Don’t view it if R-rated is bad for you).
- Now someone has mashed them all into the ultimate parody — which is also funny.
People are creative — and this song apparently strikes a chord with them. When Gotye sang it at the University of Michigan, people loudly sang along with him. In an interview he said all that singing was about “Releasing pent up relationship angst,” which he thought was also kind of sad. We could also sing along at Broad and Dauphin.
To hear Wally De Backer talk about the song, it seems like it just kind of happened. He had a story to tell about how a guy is processing a break up. It was such a short song he decided he was missing the other part of the story – how the girl was reacting, so he put her in. He almost gave up on it at different times and then it ended up being his first big hit that made him famous.
The “new and improved” Adam and Eve story
I think it is famous because we are all right there in the video, at least a little bit, as the present generation rushes to “socially construct” their new, improved Adam and Eve story. I seriously doubt Gotye intended to do this, but his song is channeling the prevailing philosophy that is making relationships what they are today. The song is like an Adam and Eve story, only this narrative does not have God, Adam or Eve. It has Gotye as the story-telling god, then Gotye and Kimbra in a new narrative that amounts to a revised version of Adam and Eve. In this version there is only Gotye’s “red state” reverie and Kimbra’s “blue state deconstruction” coming to a mysterious, inconclusive conclusion, showing a typically distant ending to a relationship. It is the story of a new normal.
I think we should keep looking at how new narratives are affecting how we think about relationships.
What makes this an Adam and Eve song in my mind probably has to do with the fact that I am way Christian. I was at the Sleep-Eze store not long ago laying on beds to try them out and I befriended a rather odd woman who was laying on the bed next to mine. She ended up kind of trailing us as we were making a deal on a mattress. She finally asked, “You must be Christians, right?” Gwen and I said, “Oh yes, we are way Christians.” I even see bed-buying as a Christian activity. So listening to Gotye is a similar experience for me.
That being said, I think Gotye’s song is an Adam and Eve story, right down to the title lyric. Somebody that I used to know could be titled Somebody that I used to have sex with using “know” the way Genesis uses it when talking about Adam and Eve. Genesis 4:1 says: Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the Lord. The second story of creation in Genesis 2-4 is essentially an explanation of how men and women relate the way they do. It is about sex and marriage, love and children, family and mutual care.
Gotye’s song is about sex and what it is like when the couple is no longer having it, how they don’t get to love and mutual care. They had sex; they got painted into a common picture, in this case, his common picture. Like Adam and Eve were both naked and felt no shame, Gotye and Kimbra are shamelessly naked in their video (which is probably how it got viewed 440 million times). But then the woman wakes up to the fact that he isn’t willing or capable of actually forming something that is mutual, so she gets out, gets unpainted.
The new normal of postmodern relationships
What makes this story so interestingly postmodern is this:
- It goes without saying that God is banished from the picture.
- People have sex first, then they try to form intimacy. That’s elemental to the relational landscape to which many of us have conformed.
- But mainly, the two people in the story are struggling over having a shared sense of what the reality they have created together means. And they don’t agree. They “don’t make sense.” They can’t even talk civilly about it.
Gotye’s audience really relates.
One of the public’s favorite lines of the song is: “You can get addicted to a certain kind of sadness. Like resignation to the end, always the end” — that mysterious inconclusive conclusion that marks this generation’s lives. In some sense, it is relieving when you expect something to happen, even if it is bad, and then it actually happens. It at least comes to some kind of end. He calls his feeling a “certain kind” of sadness, since he won’t admit to anything really being anything. But this despair is so compelling that he can’t resist an extra lament, “resignation to the end, always the end.” The narcissistic emptiness of this makes me want to cry — which is something the people avoid in this sad little song, even though it is sad. It’s all in his head.
When Kimbra adds her side of the story it is equally compelling. The lack of centeredness, of substance, of commitment is making her crazy. His ambivalence made her feel like “it was always something that I’d done.” Doesn’t the whole society make you feel that way these days? I am always shocked when I call customer service for a problem and they regularly tell me I have caused the problem. When I demonstrate it was really them, they don’t apologize. I’m responsible for everything, but no one thanks me for taking care of things — another way we are like gods. People are enraged by the futility of their relationships in this context. Having sex should imply that we want to know one another but the knowing does not happen. So Kimbra moves over toward Gotye in the video and yells: “I don’t wanna live that way, reading into every word you say. You said that you could let it go, and I wouldn’t catch you hung up on somebody that you used to know!”
Then they just start screaming at each other musically. She lets him have it. He winces and withdraws, and keeps sticking to his story. She finally moves away, gets unpainted, and they sadly end up whispering “somebody that I used to know.” They apparently think, “It’s really sad that the relationship happened to me that way.”
It is an unstisfying narrative
The postmodern narrative about how things work is all there. It teaches us that reality is inevitably made up of what we create together. That’s it. “I was lonely in your company but that was love and it’s an ache I still remember.” That’s it. But people are angry about that. They want more and expected more. But everyone is locked in their singularity — defensive, enraged, unsatisfied, intimate without intimacy. That’s happening to people. They think it is sadly normal. Gotye told the story and people bought it — again. And they sang it with him until they knew all the words.
The ongoing Biblical creation story continues to say that it is not good for us to be alone without God and each other. That’s the true normal we were singing about last night at our Sunday meeting. We know we need to get together, but we also need to know that we really need to get with God to get together with one another. God makes reality. We co-create with Him, but we are not lonely gods, ourselves, failing at creating love on our own — at least we are not meant to live like that. If God doesn’t create, if Jesus doesn’t get us back with God, life is just one damned thing after another. A lot of us are really enraged that we end up with people who are resigned to their godless end: cut-off and screwed over. Let’s talk about that more next time. Until then, let’s be aware of the new narratives that are lying to us about the relational landscape.
Similar idea here [link]
But to the one who had told him this, Jesus* replied, ‘Who is my mother, and who are
my brothers?’And pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’ Matthew 12:48-50
A lot of commentators have a lot of reasons why Jesus appears to be so cold to his family when they show up outside the house where he is teaching. But let’s be honest, the main reason for this awkward scene is that Jesus is a very difficult child and a puzzling brother. Like so many of our loved ones, Jesus does the unexpected – or he keeps doing what we have come to expect and we still don’t like it. Like I had to quit in the middle of that last sentence because Nat, in the next room, started having his predictable one-year-old issues – predictable, but still not what I had in mind.
I just spent the weekend with a house full of my children and their children and three grandchildren have come home with me; so I know what I am talking about. During our nice time together, we were all kind of difficult in our own way, because we are all kind of difficult in our own way. According to my siblings, I was a spectacularly weird part of their family (and I get the idea that they are being kind to talk about things in the past tense).
So let me reiterate what I think Jesus was getting at, as he was being difficult: If you are looking to your relationships, even your blood relationships, to get you through, you are probably in trouble. If you are going to spend your whole life waiting for loved ones to do what is expected or to fulfill what you need, you will be waiting a long time. Mary’s son and her children’s brother was God-with-us and they could not rely on him to fulfill their expectations! If you are looking to your friends and family to sustain you, you are probably disappointed right now. Who knows? Maybe we are friends and I am disappointing you as I write this sentence!
Even your dear friends and family need to get their worth from God, same as you, if
the relationships are going to be sustainable. Their worth cannot be in the quality of the relationship. Their value cannot be merely in what they mean to you. No matter how many times the movies tell us that all we need is family and friends to get by, we don’t get by that well even when we have the family and friends. Someone is always in the next room complaining about what they aren’t getting as quickly or as completely as they think they need.
My lesson: If I desire wonderful relationships (and I do) I need to keep my eyes on my primary relationship with Jesus. My desires, my neediness, my unfinished stuff, my general weirdness clutters up my relationships until all they feel like is inadequate. And the same thing is happening on the other side of each relationship! Being a brother to Jesus, is my deepest hope for my other relationships, as well.
When Jesus asks, “Who is my family?” I intend to say, “Me!” That is my first step in
realigning myself with God. If any other unaligned pieces are to come into place, like all those wonderful relationships I cherish, answering “Me!” daily is my best hope of making that happen.
That seems very simple, until the baby starts crying, or the spouse starts complaining, or the friend moves away. Jesus can end up in the middle of our “house,” where everyone is clamoring after what they need or what they think should happen and end up wondering out loud, “Who are my mother and brothers?” He is difficult like that, thank God!