Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Moment

I glimpsed at the light filtering through the blinds in my windows. I felt guilty. The weather was beautiful and the only things behind my eyes were threads of cyber conversations and semi-interesting articles I'd read online. Another morning lost on me. What was this?

Not that those things are bad. They are just thieves sometimes, stealing my attention from the richness of the moment, the weather, the journey. It's almost a form of self-medication.

I think some of us are more susceptible than others. The deeply relational (and probably somewhat narcissistic) part of me combines with the microwave tendencies of my generation, and I find myself clicking through Facebook, reading about other people's lives, commenting on things, managing, in a very loose sense, those relationships. It's a space to turn my brain off at the end of the day, or medium to laugh at another time. It's "social" media, and provides a little bit of "social" for the gaps when I'm not actually with people.

But it's not...helpful. When the first thing I think of at breakfast is how my food would make a bomb Instagram photo,

"Look at this amazing breakfast I made all by myself!!"

or when I can't wait to document a fun (or even a completely ordinary) experience I am having,

"Oh, just me at work." 

I'm plucked out of that moment. I'm no longer present, enjoying the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tangibility of my environment. There's a time and a place, to be sure. But everything in my life, it seems, calls me away from the moment. This moment. I'm no longer as available to think critically, to laugh deeply, to sit quietly and enjoy something, or to just be. Because somehow in all this mess, instead of living my story, I get caught up in telling it. It still surprising to me how big this difference can be.

When I let it, my five-dimensional world is reduced to two: sight and sound - the only things that can be conveyed over internet waves.

What does this do for me? Or you, for that matter?

Can we set aside "15 Things 99% of People Don't Know They're Doing Wrong" and go on a walk with a friend? Can we unplug our earphones every once in awhile and linger over coffee with that person we've been meaning to catch up with?

I'm not condemning the internet. There are times when laughing at goats dubbed in for Taylor Swift is refreshing. But I'm proposing a little more courageous and tactile lifestyle for myself, and possibly for you too. Maybe this week (and this month, this year, etc) we can step outside our doors a little more, meet more new people, be more efficient with our time and understand what it means to be genuinely relational.

Not sure what the right boundaries are here. Got any ideas?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Gentleness and Respect

Every lesson that I have been learning lately, at least spiritually, has centered around stretching deeper into what it means to love and understand other people. Practically, this has meant engaging in a number of conversations with people who see the world differently than I do. I like these conversations, and I often seek them out. I wholeheartedly believe in open discussion and think it strengthens us. I know that my own opinions have come with experience and reflection, so I am learning to expect and respect that about the opinions of others.

But it surprises me how quickly we are to dismiss other people when they think differently than we do. And what a loss it is! Within these beautiful conversations, I've occasionally been insulted and called names because of what I think. At these times, the tone of someone's response is sometimes just snide enough to convey an utter lack of respect, or other times outright condescending. What I find most unfortunate about that is not that someone would call a stranger names, but that I think these people are otherwise very enjoyable people who would gladly befriend me if they knew nothing else about my beliefs.

Are we really so scared or so proud as that? To quote someone I can't remember, "We have lost the ability to disagree with civility." And this, this, makes me sad.

The rest of this post is written specifically with a Christian audience in mind:

So what do we do then? This is the stretch. This is the part that Jesus holds in his hands like taffy, and gently pulls further and further. We love.

I can't tell you how many choice words have come to mind in some of these conversations. I wanted to point out that their insults weren't even logical, I've wanted to correct, I've wanted to say a hundred things to establish myself as smart, and worthy, and equal. Sometimes the conversations would stick in my thoughts for inordinate amounts of time. I would lie against my pillow and think about the words that were said, how I could have responded to them better, or sometimes, how I could have just smacked down with an instant-gratification gnarly comeback. I wanted to complain about them to friends and fish for a compassionate "You were right" from loved ones. I wanted many things that were secondary to what I really wanted, which was for them to know and understand how much I loved and accepted them, regardless of what they thought.

Let the taffy keep on stretching...

Christians, remember when you are interacting with people, that they come from so many different places. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is shut your mouth and listen, ask good questions, seek to understand their stories. The truth is, there will be angry people who will insult you. But chances are, if the topic is faith, they are angry because they've been hurt or disillusioned by someone who looked a lot like you. Love them to the best of your ability, even if it means absorbing the nasty things they have to say about you and swallowing your defensiveness. When you're at your wits end, pray to be able to love them more. Love them by listening. Love them with choice words that are kind, not choice words that are retaliatory. Don't try to be right. Just try to be present.

Be willing to be wrong, too. Just because we believe in Jesus, who is true, doesn't mean that we are true in everything. People will try to polarize you, raise the hair on the back of your neck. Give them ground instead, and give it genuinely. Be ready to accept the wisdom (sometimes sharply packaged) from other people. Reflect on their words. Give them the respect of engaging with them thoughtfully and openly. Always, always, be respectful to the best of your ability. Even if it means that you close your mouth to keep from saying something rude back.

I wish I could write the same thing to everyone, because it hurts when people throw sticks and stones shaped like words. Even when it doesn't hurt immediately, somehow the hate behind the words gets under our skin. But I'm writing to the Christians because we of all people should know what forgiveness looks like. We of all people have been broken, ugly, sinful people - and the tenet of our faith is that God chose to invest in us rather than condemn us. Shall we not act this way, too? There is a time and a place for our words to stand in the void and offer information and guidance. Lots of times and places! But there is also a time and a place where we lay down our lives and let other people walk over us to Jesus.

And finally, I know, I know, that this can be a painful process. We are not doormats in Christ, but sometimes in our journey as Christians we have the opportunity to be bridges. I'm sure you've noticed that bridges get a lot of foot traffic, too. These times are blessings, they teach us to press into our relationship with God to understand and give to people who are so very unlike us. They humble us. They refine us. They make us better.

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.
1 Peter 3:15-16

Thursday, October 3, 2013

A Better Solution for Millennials

The first time I heard someone speak about the state of my generation, I was actually pleased. Finally, I thought, someone is addressing out loud some of the major character issues with people my age.

You've seen it, you know. Millennials, or people born between the 1980s and mid 90s (current 18-30 somethings), are hailed as being entitled, adolescent, dependent, uninspired people. We're the ones you see glued to our iPhones, working at the local coffee shop and living at home. Our expectations about what life will give us are impressive, yet we don't expect it to come at much cost. Because, well, we're awesome. Nor do we always see the disconnect between the digital world and the real world. We post selfies on Facebook at an insufferable rate. We don't have plans to settle down any time soon. We're still finding ourselves, and at times our maturity.

And yet, a couple years and what seems like a few hundred articles later still picking on us, I have to say something.

I know that people my age can be frivolous and entitled. I know that we walk to the beat of one interesting hipster drum. I'm not excusing our behavior. But realize when you are mocking us that you're making fun of a nearly fatherless generation. Understand that we graduated into one of the worst economic downturns since the great depression, with record-breaking college loans not far behind. Hear us say that we were promised the world as children, not prepared for reality. Those things become part of a person.

But you know what?

I think it would be hugely constructive solution, rather than enumerating the ways that we have been disgraceful, to get to know us. Are you older and wiser? Great! Mentor us. Know our stories. Inspire us with your own. Go to those places with us relationally so that we can hear you rationally. Then teach us the things our families didn't. Disagree respectfully with us, and in fact, show us what that looks like. Model healthy relationships, stimulating discussion, and good life practice for us. Tell us when we're off track, but tell us with love. Chances are, when you've taken the time to do all those things, we're a lot more likely to listen.

You might say that's not your job, and you would be right. Where are our parents? You might ask. But the truth is, we are the next generation. And more than some of the generations ahead of us, we haven't had a lot of people in our lives to be frank and honest with us about life (re: fatherless and broken homes). But I can tell you this, more than anything, we need the people who are older and wiser than us to instruct us, not to insult us.

So next time you're tempted to let it rip about millennials, ask yourself first: How many young people am I currently and intentionally investing in? If the answer is zero, consider keeping your commentary to yourself. Because the truth is, if the answer is zero, then you're not doing anything to help the situation, so you've little ground to complain about it.