Archive for December, 2002

Hope and Despair

Hope and Despair

I finished reading the Lord of the Rings series! The movies are great but I’d say the book is better. Tolkien does an amazing job of illustrating the battle between good and evil. I see so much of my own life and my own struggles in that book. It works on so many levels.



It’s amazing how people try to dissect Tolkien like they dissect the bible. They are busily trying to identify what the “true” meaning of the text is. Tolkien hated it when people did this in his lifetime. He knew that his writings had the potential to change people. I believe that once you try to systematically dissect the book you rob it of its real power. I’ve been quietly thinking that my approach to scripture could use some adjusting.



In the last third of the trilogy Tolkien illustrates the tension between despair and hope. When you have hope evil will stop at nothing to erase that hope. Evil will try to convince you that your situation is hopeless when it isn’t. In the last 6 weeks I’ve seen this. All it takes is hopelessness to destroy a person. The power of the enemy is subtle and deceptive.

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Internship Journal IX

Measuring Ministry



This semester I did what I’ve always wanted my teachers to do. I was transparent. I spoke out of weakness. I recounted the biggest failures in my life and the lessons learned from them. Unfortunately not everyone saw the merit in learning from my mistakes. In the end I think I’ve discovered at least one solid reason why people are fearful of speaking from their own personal failure. It hurts when people reject your message when so much of you is in that message.



I think I had an idealistic view of the teaching experience. For some silly reason I thought it might be like the classroom in Dead Poets Society. Perhaps in some ways it was. Things are rarely as simple as they seem. Advances usually involve some sort of cost. I really believed that the success in my career could easily be repeated in ministry. This hasn’t been the case. I’m not saying there haven’t been positive aspects to what I’ve done. Some people thought I did a pretty good job. It didn’t go as well as I expected, and I really want to improve.



In some ways it’s a lot easier to tell if you’re doing well as a web programmer. If you write bug free code in a reasonable amount of time and it executes quickly you’ve done your job. If you aren’t any good you can keep trying until you get it right and spend all night doing it. If a company pays you a significant amount of cash to write code for them then you are probably doing your job well.



If you want to evaluate what you do in ministry you need to rely on people’s opinions. One person thinks you’ve done well. Other’s think you are terrible. It’s hard to sort out the real truth. It’s hard to know what to believe.

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Responding to Criticism

Responding to Criticism

I think I’ve made a seemingly obvious discovery. Some people don’t like critical analysis. Some people take it well but lots of people don’t. In the last 4 months I’ve seen both. My desire to please everyone and constructively criticize is combining to put me in a really bad position. One of those two aspects of my personality is going to have to go or I’ll end up mentally ill. Needless to say I haven’t always been well received.



There are several really good ways to avoid the truth in a criticism.



1. Label the critic as tactless, insensitive or inappropriate

2. Silence the critic because criticism makes people uncomfortable

3. React emotionally and view all criticism as a personal attack

4. Attack the criticism while avoiding the issues presented in the criticism

5. Pool ignorance: Avoid talking to anyone with a different perspective

6. Claim divine inspiration

7. Tenaciously hold on to every assumption

8. Convince yourself that because everyone in your group agrees you must be right



I have a few rules about the criticism in my life



1. Go beyond the emotional reaction and look for truth in the criticism

2. Truth is truth regardless of the source

3. Look past a poor delivery

4. Seek to understand fully before responding

5. Remember that opinion is far less important than truth

6. Keep wise counsellors that are brave enough to be honest with you

7. One flaw doesn’t invalidate the entire criticism

8. Dialogue with people from various perspectives

9. Be willing to re-examine your assumptions

10. Seek divine guidance

11. Understand the context of the critic

12. Just because I’m wrong it doesn’t mean I’m a failure

13. God loves me

14. Seek constructive criticism



The pivotal issue in criticism is not the delivery, but in the response.



Proverbs 1:23-26

Give heed to my reproof; behold, I will pour out my thoughts to you; I will make my words known to you. Because I have called and you refused to listen, have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded, and you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof, I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when panic strikes you,

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Internship Journal VIII

I’m nearing the end of my first semester as an intern. I have no more classes to teach and nothing left to do but a box full of marking. I don’t have much energy left. I’ve grown to appreciate my former life. A life with a little more financial security. I’d like to return to that life because this one is wearing me out.



It’s hard to put difficult circumstances and God together. Everytime I encounter a rough spot I expect God to make it all better. It just doesn’t seem to happen that way. When I endure and persevere I’m usually better off. Then I can celebrate my growth. In this last month I’ve had to endure more than I’m used to. I hope that after my internship is over I can return to a more familiar, less stretching role in IT or ministry.



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Wisdom from Lester Bangs

Wisdom from Lester Bangs



Last night I introduced one of my roommates to Almost Famous. This movie is one of my favorites. It’s an honest look at the prevailingly decadent industry of rock music in the mid 70′s. The main character, William Miller, is a 15 year old emerging rock journalist. William joins Stillwater on their tour in hopes of completing an assignment for Rolling Stone magazine.



Woven through the movie is an ideological struggle between those who love rock music for what it is, and those who wish to exploit for their own purposes. Lester Bangs, editor of Creem magazine, warns William of this struggle.




They [rock stars] want you to write sanctimonious stories about the genius of rock stars and they will ruin rock n roll, and strangle everything we love about it. They are trying to buy respectability for a forum that is gloriously and righteously dumb. You’re smart enough to know that. The day it ceases to be dumb is the day it ceases to be real. Right, then it just becomes and industry of cool. I’m telling you, you are coming along in a very dangerous time for rock n roll. The war is over. They won. 99 percent of what passes for rock n roll, silence is more compelling.




The antithesis of Lester Bangs is Stillwater’s appointed band manager who counsels the band to lie to Rolling Stone to maintain their image. He reminds the band of what they are in this for and its merchandising, money, and fame.



I resonate strongly with these themes. I’m not a musician but I feel this struggle parallels one that I find between church and kingdom life. If I were to rewrite Lester’s rant it would go like this.




They [church leaders] want you to write sanctimonious stories about the effectiveness of their ministry and they will ruin Christianity, and strangle everything we love about it. They are trying to create respectability for a forum that is gloriously and righteously beyond them. You’re smart enough to know that. They day ceases to be God is the day it ceases to be real. Right, then it just becomes and industry of success. I’m telling you, you are coming along in a very dangerous time for the church. The war is over. They won. 99 percent of what passes for ministry, silence is more compelling.




In the realm of rock music, the rock industry pressures the people involved to serve themselves rather than create genuine art. In church the carrot of ministry success and the tradition of our institutions slowly and subtly trick us in to serving ourselves more than serving God.

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Internship Journal VII

Burnout

Last week I had a taste of burnout. I’ve been thinking about so many things and worried by so many things that for a period of time I completely lost hope. I went from living in faith to living in fear. I think the worst is over, but it was one of the most horrible things I’ve encountered. Beset by irrational fears all I could do was worry or distract myself from the worry. When the distraction was over the worry returned.



During the beginning of the week people would ask me how I was doing. I would say I was fine except that I was worried about my corporate tax return for my company. Underneath the surface I was quickly becoming overwhelmed and I didn’t realize it. When a number of stresses combined it’s like this huge mound of anxiety was unleashed. Unexpectedly I found myself shaking with my heart pounding. As I worked through many of the urgent things that were paramount in my mind last week my anxiety eased. I feel tempted to believe that it was just a bad set of circumstances that combined to send me off. In reality I believe that deep down inside I really don’t trust God with some areas of my life.



There are a few things I can take from this experience. I can relate to people when they say they are “stressed out” over seemingly irrational things. I learned that lots of people live with anxiety but don’t talk about it. After I shared my struggles in a staff prayer meeting a couple people told me they often experience anxiety. Sometimes I wonder if many of us are hurting alone in our little worlds imprisoned by the fear of condemnation and judgement.



Last summer we had a particularly warm streak of weather. A good friend of mine raises Llamas. I joined him as we filled up a water tanker with good clear clean city water and trucked it down to the Llamas. We filled up the barrel with far better water they would get out of any pond or stream. The animals all gathered around it but none would drink. Brett explained to me that there is a heirarchical order in the Llamas social structure. If any Llama but the highest ranked tried to drink the other Llamas would physically show their displeasure. In the end there were a number of animals gathered around this water each suffering from thirst but too afraid to drink. It seemed like the purest example of hell I’d ever seen. I think our churches are like this. So many of us are suffering but we are too afraid to let people in to help ease our burden. We stand at the edge of the healing water but our fear of condemnation and judgement keeps us from drinking.



Fear is one of the principal enemies of mankind. Through my crisis I asked God to do many things. I asked Him to change my circumstances, remove my symptoms, help me sleep and a few other things. It didn’t ever seem to help much. Instead of asking God to take away my fear I began asking for faith, hope and vision. I’m trying to simplify my life and let people see my weakness. I feel much better. I can see my way through some of the challenges that face me.







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