Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Intolerance of Tolerance

For the holiday weekend, my best friend and I drove 400 miles to visit a friend. It’s been a few years since we’ve all been together and we had a wonderful time. We walked along the beach, shopped, and had a great time catching up. I’d never been in that part of the country before, so it was an adventure for me. What I learned there is that people, no matter where they live, are essentially the same. They work and play just like me. They have the same challenges and the same comforts. With the exception of a very strong accent, the people I met would blend right in around my hometown.

Sure, I could make a list of the many ways in which they are different, and then I could explain why those differences created a huge gulf between us. I could make the argument that based on those differences, we could never truly relate in friendship. I could reasonably argue that those differences not only inhibit our peaceful coexistence, but that they are the righteous basis on which I oppose those differences and the people who perpetuate them. You see where this is going. So it seems, doesn’t it, that the key to relating with others must be tolerance if we are to avoid in the future tragedies such as World War II and 9-11?

Or is tolerance just another road paved with good intentions? So often in today’s society, we hear about the Tolerance Movement. We are encouraged to be tolerant, sometimes beyond reason, of each other’s differences. I suspect the proponents of the movement are hoping to circumvent the hate and violence that so often is born out of intolerant attitudes. But what happens when the human conscious guides this noble pursuit? You end up with a world where everything, no matter how morally inconceivable, is permissible.

It seems that expressing your own belief that someone else’s beliefs and actions are wrong is the only thing today’s society will not permit. In our zeal for complete tolerance, we will strive at all costs to not offend anyone with our own beliefs. We are encouraged to keep our beliefs to ourselves so that we can show tolerance to others. In fact, I know a woman whose employer has instituted a no-offense policy. No matter what it is, if you say something there that someone else finds offensive, you are warned. Say something again remotely similar and you could lose your job. The tolerance movement blown out of proportion can become the pinnacle of intolerance.

So what is the answer? I suppose that the only way to find the straight path through tolerance and intolerance is to look to Jesus and the example he gave in his own life on this earth. He was tolerant where God would have him be and intolerant where he needed to be to bring people into a closer relationship with God. He was able to accept each person’s uniqueness without tolerating his or her sinfulness. In our attempts to emulate Jesus, we would do well to remember that Jesus ruffled a few feathers along the way. On a daily basis, people berated him for being intolerant of those society tolerated and of being excessively lenient on those for whom society had no tolerance. He was a social outcast. Following Jesus’ example is hard. But then, who among us has a better way?
About the Photos
Building - New York, New York (May 2009)
Beach - Long Island, New York (May 2009)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Former Non-Conformist's Look at the Faith Community

"They’re all fakes and hypocrites. Even if I believed there was a God, you’d never catch me in a church again!" For many years, that’s what I told anyone who started talking to me about religion or God. When they’d try to convince me I was wrong, I would tell them that I knew it as fact from my own experience. That always led right into their "Well things are different at my church..." commercial. I’d quietly listen to their spiel for a couple of minutes and then say, "Yup, sounds just like the churches I grew up in. You proved my point." Then I’d walk away proud that I bested another one of those organized religion nuts, and angry that they even brought up the subject.

Now in all fairness, my childhood church was actually very nice. My family celebrated my birthday at the church fair every year and the adults were nice enough. I was never abused or mistreated there. We showed up on Sunday morning, did our business, and then went to breakfast. After breakfast, Sunday was like any other day: finishing up homework and the chores. When that was done, I played on the back yard swing or in my room. My older brother shot basketball with his friends out front and my younger brother tore through the house making a mess. Dad did work or slept on the couch and Mom cleaned. Mom was always cleaning. When I was ten, we moved from one side of the city to the other and found a new church to attend. There was nothing wrong with this church either except that it was bigger, and easier for a person to go unnoticed, as it lacked that small neighborhood intimacy. Still a fine church, though.

It was here that I began to notice the blank looks on people’s faces as they went through the motions and spoke their lines in a synchronized monotone murmur. I watched my own father fall asleep in the "sitting down" times. I saw people arrive as late as they could, stay just long enough so that it would count as attending church that Sunday, then duck out the back door before it was over. At home, there was no talk of God or faith and I was the only one who touched the family Bible. (It was my job to dust the "looking room" where it sat on the bottom shelf of the coffee table. I had to move it to dust the coffee table every week.) I grew more disillusioned with the church as I saw the Jekyll and Hyde personalities of the "I'm a good person because I go to church" people during the week. When I was thirteen, I asked my dad why I had to go to church if I didn't believe in it and he replied, "Nobody likes going to church. You’re just going to have to come and suffer along with the rest of us." That's when I decided that there was no God and that church was a farce. I went until I moved out of the house because I had no choice. Every week, the resentment built as I felt increasingly justified in my decision that there were only two kinds of church people - the hypocrites and the poor dumb suckers who fell for the religious rhetoric.

Now here I am - twenty years later - a worship leader in a mainline church!!! (That just goes to prove that there is a God and that he has a bizarre sense of humor.) A recent incident brought out that old non-conformist streak in me. The incident itself is not important except to say that it fit right in with the empty rituals I fought so hard against in my youth. Now this isn't the first time that I've experienced this sort of nostalgia concerning the church and the religion God has brought me into and I'm certain it won't be the last. I could revert back to my self-involved justification and hold this church and this religion responsible for the high offense of hypocrisy and disengage or I can reach deep down and find the grace that God has so freely given me and pass it along. I can choose to understand what I couldn't see in my youth: that the church is full of people and people make mistakes.

I guess my advise to all the angry non-conformists out there is to stop looking for the perfection in others that you can't find in yourself. This faith thing isn't about the rituals and church attendance, or how good we can be, or even how much of the Bible we've read or memorized. It doesn't mean that God doesn't exist or that he doesn't love us because someone you know who claims to be a Christian doesn't live up to your idea of the Christian standard 100% of the time. Faith is about knowing that we are imperfect and believing that God loves us just as we are. Look for that in the faith community and the imperfections you find will be a glaring testament to just how much God loves each of us.
About the Photos
Florals - Phipps Conservatory (April 2009)

Friday, May 15, 2009

Live the Moments of Your Life Like You Mean It!

Yesterday, I made a visit to a funeral home. Someone I knew from church lost his battle with cancer. He was in his 30's and his wife is the second young woman that I know to become a widow in this past year. I can't help but think about what life was like for me years ago, when my son died in that unfortunate accident, and my heart goes out to them. They too are now on a road they would have never chosen. I hope that somewhere down that road, they find what I've found: That life does get good again. It will never be the same. They will always be affected by the pain of this event in their lives, but it is really up to them to decide how it will affect them. I can truthfully say that I am happy now and that I love my life even though my son is no longer a part of it. I wrote the following poem for the ten-year anniversary of his death. At first it may seem sad and you may even shed a few tears. But look at it closer and you will also see a call to action - a call to make each moment count. A call to love those in your life with all you have and to let them know it often. A call to live your life to the fullest until the last moment.

The Last Day
I couldn't know that morning
what the day would hold
as the minutes rushed by without notice.
Did we laugh?
Did we yell?
Did I grumble at you?
Did we talk?
Did we hug?
Did I even look at your clothes?
I probably rushed through the morning routine
squandering the time that we had.
"Eat your breakfast."
"Get your books."
"Is your homework all done?"
"Don't talk back!"
"Get your shoes."
"Would you get in the car?!"
What did we say as I drove you to school?
Another parent-adolescent debate?
Was there talk of the evening?
Or no words at all?
Morning after morning - they never much varied.
How could I know it was the last of its kind?
Hour after hour the morning retreated.
File this.
Type that.
Thank you for calling.
Order five.
Print a list.
Run the errands.
Go home.
Why didn't I know how trivial it was?
Why did I think we had plenty of time?
No time to waste as evening approaches.
Clean the house.
Set the table.
Dinner is done.
Where is that boy?
Didn't I say, "Be home at 6:30."?
Car tires screeching.
The sirens - they wail.
A crumpled bicycle lies lifeless
at the side of the road
as my little boy's name is etched into stone.

May you live every day to its fullest and may the moments of your life be filled with the glorious love of the God who created you, died for you, and walks with you now.
About the Photos
Bryan - Age 10 (taken by his grandmother)
Bryan - Age 11 (last school photo)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Welcome to My Blog.

Over the last few years, I've shared with my friends, family, and church the amazing things that God has taught me through the people and events in my life. On more occasions than I can count, I've been told that I need to share this insight with the world. So here I am - sharing with the world. Maybe because my past has been challenging, I consider my present to be a great adventure. The way I see it, everyone's life story is like a living parable that we can learn from if we just look for the lesson. I hope the parable of my life speaks to you in some wonderful ways.
You may ask - who am I to be trying to teach you anything. I'm not a celebrity, or famous author or journalist. I graduated high school, but I've had only a few college courses - nothing that would give me creditials or authority to teach anybody anything. Maybe that makes me the best kind of teacher. Because I'm just like you - learning to live life one day at a time with no special advantage or formula for getting through the day. What I do have is faith in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior and an ever-deepening relationship with the Holy Spirit. I have a heavenly Father who loves me for who I am, just as I am.

My favorite saying is a quote from Dolly Parton: "Find out who you are and do it on purpose." I've made a small change - Find out who you are in God and do it on purpose - and adopted it as my life's ambition. God has given me the gift of writing and I am excited about sharing it.
About the Photo
Deer Lake Park (July 2007)