Monday, September 27, 2010

P4E.182 Ecce Homo

There's been a lot of discussion recently about what makes a man a MAN. Mark Driscoll, Pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA was given space in The Washington Post last month for an article which he entitled "The world is filled with boys who can shave." Driscoll's article was a response to an earlier New York Times Magazine article called "What Is It About 20-Somethings?" The July issue of Esquire magazine was titled "How to Be a Man." Finally (for my purposes), in response to the Esquire article, Christianity Today ran an on-line article last month titled "How to be a man? Turn to the Bible."

The Christianity Today article asks the questions "What does it mean to be a man today? Is it determined by what we consume, or by the clothes we wear or the gadgets and gizmos we use?" The article featured the thoughts of Nick Bogardus, Director of PR/Media Relations at Mars Hill Church. He insightfully says "The truth is, culture has ceased being able to define manhood..." and  "A man isn't going to be able to base his life on what he can buy with a credit card." as well as "...we need more men to look to Jesus and the Bible for answers to the question of what it means to be a man."

In the Washington Post article Driscoll flounders, saying things like, "The artsy, techie metrosexual types consume clothes, decaf lattes, shoes, gadgets, cars (not trucks), furniture, hair products, and underwear with the names of very important people on the waistband. For them, manhood means being in touch with one's feelings, wardrobe, and appearance." Eventually, he gets to his point: "Men, you are to be creators and cultivators. God is a creator and a cultivator and you were made to image him. Create a family and cultivate your wife and children. Create a ministry and cultivate other people. Create a business and cultivate it. Be a giver, not a taker, a producer and not just a consumer."

What I find surprisingly missing from the dialogue coming from Christian circles, is a spiritual value system. This is perhaps indicative of where the American church finds itself in relation to our culture. We have striven so hard to be "relevant" that we have begun to define ourselves in the culture's terms. Later in the Christianity Today article, Bogardus concludes that men need to know "more about who they are to protect and defend, what truth is, what righteousness is, and what justice is." Frankly, this sounds more like the definition of a comic book superhero than it does the spiritual man. As I said in P4E.008, "If you think that Christ came to fight for "truth, justice and the American way" you are confusing Him with a fictional superhero."

So what does it mean to be a Christian man? We will do well if we do as Bogardus says and look to Jesus for answers. Jesus encouraged us to use a spiritual value system. He said "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." When Driscoll encourages us to be creators and cultivators of families and ministries and businesses, he's using a worldly/fleshly value system even if he's talking about things that have value in church society. When Bogardus places emphasis on protecting and defending and truth, righteousness and justice, it sounds more like worldly politics than spiritual understanding.

What Christian men don't want to acknowledge is that, by definition, it would be a very rare event to achieve worldly success and spiritual success simultaneously. In a fleshly sense, when Pontius Pilate declared "Ecce Homo," he presented a Christ that had been stripped, scourged, and crowned with thorns. He presented a thoroughly beaten man with no prospects other than to be crucified. A dead man walking. But, in a spiritual sense, he presented an incredibly powerful man. One who was willing to die for others. A servant leader in complete self-control. A man. My man. My hero. My role model. My Savior.

As Christian men, we don't want to hear that we are called to follow Christ and die to ourselves. That we also are called to crucify our egos. That we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves. That we are called to serve, not to be served. We wonder, "what good will it do if I die? Who will replace me?" The answer is a spiritually "re-born" man. A man who will produce the fruit of the Spirit. A man who will continue to die to himself every day and put other's interests before his own. It's a tough sell, but there it is. In a worldly sense, this man is a loser. He's considered a nice guy and you know what happens to them. But, in a spiritual sense this man is an incredibly powerful man. One who is willing to die to himself for others. A servant leader in complete self-control.
A man.

Friday, September 17, 2010

P4E.181 An Example

"Things are shifting.
The wreckage gets stirred up.
Beneath the surface is where I cover up.
A sense of feeling is what I want.
To be taken apart."
Head Space - We Barbarians

I have been exploring some suggestions about what might come after one has checked off the "Christian checklist." I have suggested that the pursuit of Christianity is entirely relational and that we should therefore pay more attention to our feelings and those around us. The idea of lending credence to our feelings is surprisingly controversial in Christian circles. In an effort to clarify the sort of thing I'm writing about, I have a recent example:

It was one of those days at work. Unusually frustrating in a SNAFU sort of way. In the past, I might have bulldozed right by the circumstances and not paid much heed to how my spirit was being affected. In this case I was aware enough to realize that I was getting pretty spiritually banged up.

What I did next, I would not suggest to you unless you are willing to bear the consequences without getting defensive, making excuses, getting hurt or offended. Not unless you are willing to remain open and teachable. It's an exercise that I learned through Ken Nair's Christ-Quest Institute and I didn't do it lightly or without some consideration. Ken says that God uses physical circumstances to teach us spiritual lessons. Because God foreknew that we men can be spiritually handicapped, He made for us a help. I texted my wife, Gwen:

"Have I ever made you feel like you had to work under completely irrational circumstances that made no sense at all and were a perfect setup for failure?"

Soon, came the answer:

"Yes, I am afraid so. Also, so afraid of your reaction after all is done. The dread of your anger and lack of understanding."

Ouch. It brought back memories of when our oldest sons were young. The disagreements we would have over their upbringing. In my more liberal Christian mind, I was preparing the boys for life in the world. They wouldn't be shielded from much. If Gwen openly disagreed with me, I would become angry and sulking. Resentful. Harsh. Gwen would say trying to reason with me was like trying to argue with a Philadelphia lawyer. To Gwen, it must have seemed like spiritual abuse. It must have seemed irrational. She must have thought, "How can he consider himself a Christian? It doesn't make any sense at all. He is thwarting everything I'm trying to do as a mother to raise godly young men. He's setting me up for failure."

This is what I'm saying about paying attention to my feelings: God used the physical circumstances of an unusually frustrating day. Because I was aware of my spirit, I was able to ask an important question that, when answered, let me know how Gwen felt when our boys were young. I weep just thinking about it now.

Gwen's answer gave me an opportunity to acknowledge to Gwen that I was starting to truly understand how I affected her in those times. It gave me an opportunity to confess that it was thoroughly wrong of me to have acted that way. It opened the door for me to make a heartfelt apology for how I acted and make a promise to do better in the future. It brought some element of closure when Gwen extended her grace to me. This process brings us closer almost every time we use it. I say "almost" because I don't always put it into practice as I should.

One final element in the process is for me to ask the question, "Did Jesus ever feel this way?" In most cases, the answer is "Yes, I can find times in Scripture where I'm sure He must have felt this." In the example above, I can imagine that Jesus' disciples must have made Him think twice about what He was trying to accomplish. Can you imagine how He felt when the disciples were arguing among themselves who among them was the greatest? When they couldn't figure out Jesus' parables? When Nicodemus asks the question, "How can these things be?" When the disciples couldn't stay awake in the Garden of Gethsemane? When His Father had to turn away from Him on the cross because of the sin that he bore? When I ponder these things I connect with Christ in a remarkable way. He felt what I feel and remained holy. Can I follow His example? It gives me a goal. Shooting high never hurts.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

P4E.180 - Now What? - Part 10

In his book, "Cultural Literacy," E.D. Hirsch, Jr. makes the case that communication is intimately connected to what he calls "cultural literacy." He says that our ability to communicate is greatly affected by shared knowledge. Even the perception of what is shared knowledge can affect our ability to communicate well.

A friend who is a professor at Cal State Fullerton once told me that during a discussion in his classroom he happened to mention "Alice in Wonderland." By the blank looks on his students' faces he could tell that he had made a reference to a piece of literature that they were not familiar with. The analogy he was trying to draw was therefore lost on them and he was not able to accurately communicate his point. He had to resort to another reference that they could relate to before they understood his meaning.

Hirsch says that if people, "take a lot for granted, their communications can be short and efficient, subtle and complex. But if [people] share very little knowledge, their communications must be long and relatively rudimentary."

For those of us who are attempting to mature spiritually and acknowledge that our growth as Christians is linked directly to relationships, this is critical information. As a husband, I'm looking at my ability to communicate with my wife and children. My emphasis has shifted from the desire to be understood to the desire to understand my wife and children. My friend and mentor, Ken Nair, says that women speak a language that is foreign to us men. He calls it "womanese." The Urban Dictionary playfully defines "womanese" this way:

a. the mysterious language of the species 'woman', which men find extremely difficult to grasp. It's primary function is as an almost impenetrable code only fully understood within their own circle.
b. a form of female telepathy used to confound men. Involves giving impossibly subtle verbal clues which the man is expected to know before they are spoken.
c. a method of communication that involves not saying something in order to communicate something.
d. Any conversation within a circle of women; or any word that does or does not come out of a woman's mouth.

Some stereotypes are stereotypes because they accurately reflect some common characteristics of a group. When women speak to each other they use emotional/relational language because they are emotional/relational creatures. They can be subtle and complex with each other because they take for granted that each knows what the other is trying to communicate. Their conversations go to the relationships in their lives.

Men, on the other hand, rarely talk about relationships. Instead we focus on work, hobbies, sports and politics. We may talk about our children in relation to the sports they are involved in. We are short and efficient in our communication because we are mechanically minded.

Husband: "What?"
Wife: "Nothing..."
Husband: "Uh, ok..."

I am not here asking the question "Why can't a woman be more like a man?" (Speaking of shared knowledge, that is the title of a song from the 1956 Broadway musical "My Fair Lady," which in turn was based on George Bernard Shaw's play "Pygmalion" and was later made into a movie) I am however, challenging myself (and any readers up to the challenge) to learn a new language; womanese. As part of becoming a keen observer of my wife so that I'm able to take her physical/verbal cues and connect with her on a spiritual level, I need to increase my knowledge of her dialect of womanese.

As I've watched and listened, I've realized that my wife is an expert with respect to relationships and I have a lot to learn about her, my children and my relationships with others. I've learned to ask her questions and seek her advice about impending meetings or relational interactions. God gave me great help and I'm sure he did you too. It's just a matter of learning the language and taking the advice.

Peace, Kim

Monday, September 13, 2010

P4E.179 Now What? - Part 9

As part of becoming a spiritual leader, we're looking at the idea that we must understand our own spirits as well as those of others around us. We must become keen observers of people so that we are able to take their physical cues and connect with them on a spiritual level. Spiritual matters are matters of the heart and matters of the heart are matters of emotions and feelings.

One of the easiest and most obvious places to look for how another person is feeling is their eyes. Certainly, there are common things that happen to people's eyes or that people consciously do with their eyes depending on their spiritual state. Even though this idea is obvious, I have in the past been either unaware or purposefully disregarded what I was seeing in other people's eyes. This left me spiritually clueless.

The most obvious clue that a person is feeling some emotion is when they are just about to cry. I've seen this so many times since I've become aware of it, but I know I've missed it thousands of times before I became aware. When people are about to cry, they blink (or squint). They may look down and to their left (your right). People look down and to their left when thinking about their feelings. They may also look up and to their right (your left). People look up and to the right when they are accessing visual memories. They also do this to try not to let the tears fall. Their eyes brim with tears and turn red. They may move their hand to their face to cover or rub their eyes. If tears flow, people will typically wipe them with their hands. In the US (and probably many other countries) it is socially acceptable for women to cry to express a variety of emotions, from happiness to anger, from disappointment to confusion to resignation. On the other hand, it is socially unacceptable in the US (and probably many other countries) for men to cry in most situations. This is in keeping with the stoicism that is associated with "being a man" in the US. So, it is especially significant when you see a man about to cry or actually crying.

As this blog is targeted at married men, it is especially important for us to be aware of what happens to our wives when they are about to cry. When I recognize it, if I'm unaware of why my wife might be about to cry, it's time to figure it out. Many times, it may only take a moment of thought to figure it out. No matter what emotion my wife is feeling that is causing her to cry, I've found that it is NOT time to physically move away from her, but time to move towards her. In the past, I HAVE sometimes been aware of when my wife was about to cry, but I might tend to ignore or dismiss it. When we ignore or dismiss what we observe in other's spirits it hampers our ability to spiritually lead. Good spiritual leaders do not ignore or dismiss their people's spirits, hearts or emotions. More to follow...

Peace, Kim

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

P4E.178 Now What? - Part 8

The part of Christianity that we Believers participate in is entirely relational. As aspiring spiritual leaders, it is incumbent on us to be able to "perceive the spirit of another" and "understand its condition at that moment" (Ken Nair).

How do we do that? To answer the question in part, let's look at three different types of people. As strange as it sounds, and even though our motivations will be quite different, let's look at con men, business negotiators and human lie detectors.

Con men use the knowledge they obtain for personal gain, but we want to develop the same awareness to do good. Business negotiators want to benefit financially by their negotiations, but we are interested here in benefiting spiritually. The motivation of human lie detectors is to discover whether someone is being truthful or not. We are interested in understanding the spiritual condition of the people we have relationships with. So, even though we have different motivations, what do con men, business negotiators and human lie detectors look for in the people they interact with?

Interestingly, confidence men are expert in their awareness of people and their spirits. They take advantage of their ability to "read" people. They study their victim's circumstances, weaknesses, insecurities and ignorances. They know how to make people feel confidence in them and build trust.

In business negotiations, it is understood that non-verbal communication, "body language" accounts for up to 90% of the communication that actually happens between negotiators. We may lean forward or back, use our hands in gestures, make facial expressions and place our arms in different positions. We may physically move in close (even touch) or keep our distance. Our physical appearance and the way we dress send unspoken messages. We may maintain eye-contact or avoid it. We use voluntary and involuntary facial expressions that communicate our inner-feelings. Even our posture sends messages about what we are thinking and feeling.

Some people are unusually adept at detecting when others are lying to them. Human lie detectors carefully listen to what people are telling them, read body language, for example fidgeting and what a person does with their hands, and carefully watch the eyes to determine if someone is lying to them.

As you can see, all of these types of people develop keen powers of observation. They watch body language, especially the face and eyes. They listen carefully to pick up verbal cues as to how a person is feeling by their words and voice inflection. These people are also able to control their own body language, facial expressions, eye movements, voice inflection, words, hands, arms, posture and gestures to achieve their desired objectives.

If we are to be effective spiritual leaders we must also develop keen powers of observation (the ability to perceive the spirit of another and understand its condition) and we must increase our ability to exhibit "self-control" (a fruit of the Spirit) not only of our emotions, but of our physical communication, to achieve our desired objective of Christlikeness. Examples to follow...

Peace, Kim

Monday, September 6, 2010

P4E.177 Now What? - Part 7

I had the Christianity list checked off. The only thing I hadn't succumbed to was the obligatory Christian sticker on the rear window of the car. Being a mechanically minded man, I went through a Christianity checklist and since nothing appeared to be broken, I didn't mess with it. I "left well-enough alone" and I didn't try to fix what wasn't broken. But, I simply wasn't experiencing what Scripture calls the fruit of the Spirit: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. My marriage was nearly at the breaking point. I'm very blessed that it did not break. Through the ministry of Life Partners and Ken Nair (author, speaker and marriage counsellor) and the help of my wife and wonderful, Godly friends, I came to an understanding of what it means to pursue Christlikeness.

When I look at Scripture from God's Ten Commandments, to Jesus' condensation of the Law, to Jesus final command I've come to realize that the "Now What?" part of Christianity is entirely relational. Relationship with God (Have no gods before me, make no idols, don't use My name in vain, etc., etc.), relationship with others (Love your neighbor as yourself) and relationship with myself (If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.)

I had some sense that I had to move forward in my relationship with Christ and others, but I simply wasn't clear on how to do it. My definition of what made a spiritual leader had become seriously flawed. A breakthrough came when I heard Ken Nair's definition of what a spiritual leader is:

"A man who has the ability to perceive the spirit of another, understand its condition at that moment, and know what is required by God to care for that person's spirit in a manner that will increase that person's spiritual maturity."

Ken's encouragement to understand my own spirit as a prerequisite to perceiving the spirit of another was key. This is not a selfish pursuit, if the goal is ultimately to relate to others in a more spiritually sensitive and caring way. Jesus' phrase "Physician heal thyself" is relevant here. It carries with it the idea that I must attend to my own defects before I point out and criticize the defects of others (especially my wife and children). Also, the understanding that emotions are a gauge of my own spirit and other's spirits has been so helpful in terms of being able to perceive my own condition and how to care for it and other's spirits.

I honestly had no idea how barren, numb, and detached my spirit had become. As I mentioned before, the only emotions I could name were "angry, impatient and frustrated." There was no way I could be the Romans 12 Believer. I had no vehicle by which I could "rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep." I simply could not empathize with others, because I had no point of emotional connection that I could draw on. Hopefully, I've come a long way from there and a long way towards understanding the pursuit of Christlikeness.

I'm going to keep pressing on. It's definitely not easy. It's a narrow way. A less traveled way. A way that invites ridicule and scorn. A way that will ultimately end in there being no more me and only Christ left.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

P4E.176 Now What? - Part 6

In Part 5 of Now What? I said that "I pay attention to other's spirits to see what I can discern in them and I pay attention to the physical circumstances that come into my life and how they make me feel and affect my spirit." and you may wonder what that looks like on a daily basis.

The physical circumstances that make me stop and take notice fall into two categories:

1. The same %^&*#! thing keeps happening over and over again.
2. Something that's never or rarely ever happened before.

These two types of circumstances get my attention because they cause my spirit to be affected and me to feel things that I know I need to take notice of. I'll be honest and tell you that this was not always the case. Gwen used to wonder at my lack of response to both of these types of circumstances. I was the type that would minimize when God would work a miracle in my life and take it for granted that the same old #@!*&* was going to happen again and again. I was that numb man that I described previously. I didn't even know that I had a spirit that was being affected. Before, I couldn't name any emotions other that angry, frustrated and impatient.

I'll give you a couple of recent examples of things that have never or rarely happened before. First, we have planted some ivys in our garden. In a matter of a week, one of them went from looking great to the leaves looking like lace. It was infested by a caterpillar-like bug that quickly ate the leaves and made the ivy look dead. Second, someone came into our home, while my son was still sleeping and my wife was out walking her dog, and went to the master bedroom closet and stole most of Gwen's jewelry. Both of these circumstances caused me to feel "robbed," "threatened," "concerned," "violated," "loss," on some level "inconvenienced," "worried," about my wife and son and then "relief" that no permanent damage had occurred, no lives threatened.

You might still be wondering why it's important to identify and express these feelings. Two reasons:

1. To identify with Christ. Two millennia ago, He walked the earth and lived among us. He was a spiritual leader and felt what we felt and experienced what we experience. If I can identify in Scripture times when He might have felt the way I'm feeling I can connect with Him and Him with me in an amazing way.

2. To empathize with others. Scripture tells us to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. This means that I have to pay attention to my feelings so that I can empathize with others and understand their spirits. So when you tell me that you feel "robbed," I REALLY DO know what you mean and can "go there" with you. Then, hopefully, I can encourage you to a better place than "robbed."

Next time we talk more about paying attention to other people's spirits.

Peace, Kim