Author Archives: Howard Cassidy-Moffatt

About Howard Cassidy-Moffatt

Christ follower, husband, son, father, grandfather, step-father, friend, pastor, teacher, blogger.

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work (Guest Post)

By Laura Cassidy-Moffatt

The faithful gathered together. They loved being together and enjoyed one another’s company. Some even knew each other’s extended families. They shared what food they had and watched over each other’s children. When something good or exciting happened, they all cheered and hugged one another. When something not so good occurred, they commiserated with one another and tried to encourage each other to keep hoping for something good. They had kind words of encouragement for those who were opposed to them. They walked away from their time together looking forward to seeing each other again soon, focused on and hoping for what is to come.

I’d like to tell you that I was describing a small group of Christ-followers meeting for Bible study, prayer, discipleship, and mutual encouragement in the faith. That is the ideal, right?

Instead, I’m describing the recent experience of being among those who were part of supporting a 10-year-old baseball team–the parents, grandparents, coaches, siblings, and friends. It was interesting, as a pastor, to watch this dynamic. The people are great. They truly care about one another. They enjoy being together and they discuss what’s going on in their lives, jobs, and families. Some of them have children in the same schools, which further deepens their connections. They display remarkable sportsmanship, both to their own players, if they make an error or strike out when up to bat–and even to players on the other team when they make a good play or try hard to do well. There are high-fives and cheering, regardless of the score. It’s a positive environment that the kids are blessed to be a part of.

As a pastor, I thought to myself, this is what the church is supposed to be like: the encouragement, the enjoyment of being together, the sense of unity of purpose. The sharing. The hope. The knowledge that when the other team (church) does well, it is ultimately a good thing, because it helps the players learn, and thereby makes everyone better in the process. Every player knew his role–what he was supposed to do–and how to help and back up other players so that the team did well as a whole. The players respected their coaches, took direction, and became better through each experience. Although everyone was in it to win–it wasn’t a cut-throat competitiveness that made bystanders uncomfortable. It was an atmosphere that you were happy and proud to be included in.

Too often, we have experiences in and around churches that are, sadly, completely unlike this fun and positive atmosphere. People are too competitive, too focused on their own roles without understanding how they can benefit the church’s mission as a whole. There are even some who are more concerned with their own sense of happiness or fulfillment than is helpful for the church body a whole. There are some who, like some overly involved parents at other sporting events I’ve been to, try to tell the coach (pastors, in the case of the church) how best to run the team (church) because they mistakenly believe that they are smarter or more skilled. There is an atmosphere of judgmentalism and criticism. There is an overemphasis on money, or attendance numbers. Too much keeping score. There is jealousy if other teams (churches) are doing well and we are struggling. There is not enough encouragement to go around, it seems.

There are also, sadly, people who are in church that don’t feel cared for, shared with, or included in the group’s goal’s and mission. They are lonely spectators. They are attending, but not really PART OF what’s going on. They are there and have the potential to add to the value of the team, but are discounted, disregarded, or ignored. There are people who used to be more ‘part of the game’ but do not play as much anymore, but they also aren’t consulted for their wisdom to be passed on to younger generations of ‘players’.

Anyone who knows Pastor Howard and me knows that we love baseball. At the risk of pushing the comparative analogy too far–why can’t the church be better? Why? Why does it sometimes seem more encouraging to be in places, among people, and doing activities that have nothing to do with church or building God’s kingdom? Why is there more encouragement for a team of baseball players than there is among believers for one another as we walk the Christian walk, in both good times and challenging ones? Why is there more cooperation, encouragement, and mutual working toward the goal of the team in baseball than there often is in the church?

This is the reality of living in a fallen, sinful world. We get glimpses of ‘how it’s supposed to be’, but they are the exception rather than the norm. But, you say, we as believers have God. We have the Spirit. We are divinely empowered to accomplish great things and build the kingdom through love, care and selfless service to our neighbors. Yes. Yes, we are, but do we?

Listen to Paul’s words of challenge and encouragement from Philippians 2: 1-11:

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion,  then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.

 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

 Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,

 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

(c) 2019, All Rights Reserved.  Scripture from the New International Version (Zondervan)


It’s All Relational Communication

feed my sheep

I was in my favorite local Mexican restaurant the other day…anticipating a fine repast after the morning’s worship service. We were seated and one of the servers came to the table. “Hola, mis amigos!” It’s the regular greeting from this young man who often attends to our lunch needs.

I, having just finished preaching to vast throngs (ok, a couple) of worshippers at the church, was entirely focused on “what’s for lunch.” Our friendly server, however, was more focused on updating us on his family situation: his son was turning one in a few days; he expressed some consternation over how much money to spend on the party (“An $80 pinata!” he said, chagrined that his wife wanted to spend so much); the reluctant acknowledgement of surrender to his wife’s fiscal plans for the baby’s birthday; and the requisite recent picture of the cute lad.

Meanwhile, back at the menu…which I was clearly brandishing in my hand and which was supposed to be signaling my strong desire for some, you know, food…I realized that I had fallen into the wrong conversational category–again.

Communication theorists like to tell us that there are different modes and manners of communication. There is, though, a bit of “art” in the attempt to parse the different kinds of communication (by the way, we’re talking between people here, not between people and their dogs or cats or other species of pet).

Two frequently noted types of communication are transactional and relational. Transactional communication is viewed as the simple, well, transaction of business. “I’d like an iced tea, please?” “Would you like sweet or unsweet?” “Sweet, of course, you dolt” (actually, that last phrase is best left unsaid–otherwise the transaction might go awry).

You get the idea–transactional communication is a short-term exchange of information to accomplish a set purpose. There is no sense that anything of personal impact is going on (unless, of course, you try to pass along some unsweet tea to this particular tea connoisseur). That doesn’t diminish the weight or content of a particular transaction, it is just to say that the point is usually the exchange itself.

Relational communication is deeper, personal, affective, and impactful. It is the mode of communication we use when we value our connections with people and are trying to enhance those connections. “I love you, Sweetie!” Some academics hold that relational communication is only happens between people with already close connections–I think they’re mistaken.

Of course, out here in the real world where theorists dare not tread, the lines between the communication categories are not so neatly drawn. Our communication patterns tend to float back and forth betwixt the two types and become entangled with each other such that it’s sometimes hard to tell where the emphasis lies.

As an example, the use of what may appear (on the surface) to be relational communication to accomplish a given task is just gussied up transactional communication. “I love you, Sweetie! Would you get me some sweet tea?” (Did you see the clever use of “sweet” variants there?)

Transactional communication is usually easy. It’s direct, operates with an economy of words, and requires minimal (usually no) investment of relational energy. And, I think we do this all the time. At the store; at the favored fast food joint; wherever we find ourselves, it is easy to default to transactional communication. This is particularly true if you find yourself on the introverted end of the personality profile assessment results.

I think though, as Christians, we miss the point of communication when we let ourselves fall into a habit of transactional communication. It lends itself to us thinking that others are just agents placed here to meet our personal needs.

I’ve scoured the Gospels and I cannot find a place where Jesus was merely transactional. Every word seems to have been packed with relational and redemptive purpose. Even those moments that may have seemed to be purely transactional (“Hey, go get me a donkey to ride into the city”) resulted in marvel at His wisdom and power and deepened people’s connection with Him.

Would that we would be so relationally purposeful in our communication. Our everyday interactions could be characterized by a deepened sense of purpose in connection as we look people in the eye and really see them.

Our responses to public issues could transcend pointed, twitter-sharpened communication and, instead, drip with winsomeness as we speak life into the culture.

The thing is, a focus on relational communication is not hard, it just takes a bit of time. Time that we often believe that we don’t have because we are too stinkin’ busy with our “important things.”

How can we measure the impact of our words and ensure those words genuinely reflect the love of Christ in our hearts? At every juncture we can pause to do basic relational things: we can find out people’s names; we can engage them with them by using their names; we can inquire about how things are going for them; we can pause to pray if that’s warranted (or at least commit to praying for them, lest we incur the wrath of those behind us in the express checkout lane). Simple? Yes. Regularly done even though simple? Not at all.

One of the most basic, yet frequently forgotten things I’ve found in my own Christian life is that every word I say to others has a relational component (contra those communication wise ones)–whether I act purposefully on that relational component or not.

If I’m purposeful and caring and loving, I can move someone a little further along in their journey toward Jesus (or, at least, not put a pothole in the road). If I am not purposeful and caring and loving, I will (at the least) miss an opportunity to briefly invest in someone’s life. I will (more often than not) be counted among those whose conversational interactions are characterized by mere transaction.

The Apostle Paul said, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Galatians 4:5,6). I think he was onto something about relational communication long before the contemporary theorists arrived on the scene.

© 2019, All rights reserved. Scripture from the New International Version, Zondervan.


‘Twas the Night Before Christmas — Redux

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when through the church house,

All the creatures were stirring, including the mouse.

The decorations were hung by the committee with care,

In hopes that Mrs. Grumplestilskin just wouldn’t dare (complain, that is).

The children were robed for their Christmas play skits,

While visions of presents kept giving them fits.

The pastors in frocks and ushers in place,

Hoped that the cherubs wouldn’t burn down the place.

When outside the doors there rose such a clatter,

You’d think Mrs. Bones had dropped her old platter.

Away to the sidewalk deacons flew in a flash

            (well, not really a flash–average age is 92),

To see if folks had come, perhaps flush with some cash.

The moon on the top of the stinkin’, slick ice,

Made their stroll on the sidewalk not very nice.

When what to their wondering eyes did appear,

But a late Uber driver all red in his ears.

With passengers old but so lively and quick,

I knew in a moment ‘twas some medical trick.

To the church doors they moved, so promptly they came,

As the driver shouted for his fare and called them by name.

“Now, Asher! Now, Stanfield! Now Tricia, you vixen!

Hey, darn it, I’m calling! Come on now, please listen!”

As leaves before a good leaf blower fly,

They scurried to the front, all eager and spry.

So up to the stage did the play director crawl,

Hoping this year there’d be no post-production brawl.

And then, in a twinkling, I couldn’t believe,

Young Johnny missed his cue and forgot to bring Steve.

But there was sweet Mary (her actual name) who played the best part,

Of the little babe’s Mom, all dressed for the start.

The innkeeper was garbed in white from his head to his foot,

But he’d gotten into the furnace room and was covered with soot.

The pastors let out a simultaneous sigh,

Wondering if they could just escape on the sly.

To their utmost chagrin they could not escape,

Sadly, seminary had not prepared them for this (ahem) wonderful fate.

Proceeded then the play, with its fits and its starts,

Until little Johnny let out a series of loud (nope, can’t say that).

The faint-hearted director was taken aback,

By the prospects of (still can’t say that) taking over the pack.

Cherub giggling broke out and there was some very great chatter,

The spry ones in front pew couldn’t tell just what ‘twas the matter.

The pastors tried to seem like not a thing was astray,

But they knew they couldn’t pull it off, no how and no way.

All of a sudden, from way in the back,

Five live sheep appeared and a man with a sack.

They stumbled forward not realizing the fuss,

The sheep all wondering whom they could trust.

They got to the front and saw the small crowd,

Of cherubs all giggling and talking aloud.

The play was so lost that the director made haste,

To get to the finish with no time to waste.

But the sheep not clued in to the need for some speed,

Spent time chewing stuff and one of them (nope, can’t say that either).

The director cried out that she’d had enough,

And went for the door in a pretty great huff.

The kids left alone without any direction,

Didn’t really care about the want of attention.

By this time the crowd was after the pastors,

It seems they own everything, even those old gal crafters.

So, one pastor stood with his face all aglow,

He wanted to land just one mighty blow.

But they did say, in that seminary school,

That throttling kids or sheep was, well, totally uncool.

The play with kids and the sheep and the smells,

Couldn’t go any more badly on this day of the bells.

But just when all thought nothing worse could be done,

Flames shot out from one young sheep’s buns.

It seems that a cherub had taken a candle,

Even one he’d been told that he shouldn’t handle.

The candle had lit up the front of the place,

Bright flames were alighting in most every space.

With everything wrong and the prospect of danger,

It seemed that there’d be no time for the manger.

It ‘twas such surreal and crazy, fraught scene,

That the pastors both just wanted to scream.

It couldn’t be; they couldn’t take any more,

They both ran (with no twinkle) right for the door.

Sad tale this is and pretty darn rotten,

But truth is, it doesn’t happen that often.

Turns out this time that the pastor was dreaming,

His wife woke him up when he started some screaming.

He couldn’t believe the old play gave such great fright,

He just wanted to try to make everything right.

But it seems that tradition grabs hold of all things,

And fills up the nights with such very bad dreams.

It appears that it’s true that it’s most hard to do,

To hold onto Jesus and everything true.

But still, those pastors will try with all of their might,

Even this year to say,

“Happy Christmas to all and, to all a good night!”

 

© 2018, All Rights Reserved


Six More Things I Learned about Church Life & Ministry from Baseball

baseball_graphic1

Baseball is the gift that keeps on giving. In a previous post, I detailed eight things that I have taken away from baseball that I think have impact on the Christian life and ministry. A recent game brought these other six things to light:

One: Sometimes you must step into a role you don’t expect and deal with discomfort for the sake of the team. It was the ninth inning. The opposing team had gone through their available pitchers for that game (it was a bad, bad game for them…but that’s a story for another day). Seated in the stands, the fans began to murmur–they couldn’t believe what they were seeing. The backup (yes, backup) catcher was coming in to, ahem, pitch. His first couple of pitches weren’t bad, but then there were the balls he flung into low-earth orbit and the succession of walks (and walked in runs) his pitching generated. The fans’ initial bemusement/sympathy turned quickly to hostility when it took a very looooong time to get out of the inning.

I thought, wow, what a guy! His coach had no other available options and he sent this guy in to pitch…and he went! He went out; he got put in one of the toughest situations a ballplayer can experience, and he did the best he could to serve the team. Now, I’m not saying that every game should go like that. And I am certainly not saying that the church should put people in at “positions” for which they are neither gifted or called. But I am saying that there are plenty of times in church life when something just has to get done and the perfectly gifted person is just not there. Step up, will you. Step in…the Coach needs you now while He positions another player to take the job on a regular basis. (“Put me in coach; I’m ready to play,” courtesy of John Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater Revival.) “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

Two: Fair-weather fans are a thing. It’s interesting to me that there are lots more fans when a team is doing well than when the team is struggling. It happens that this year, my favorite team is doing pretty well so far, and it’s fun to watch them win. But I was at Fenway with a former parishioner once–enjoying a game–when he said something very interesting. He said he thought there were baseball fans (people who just loved the game), fans of a particular baseball team (people who loved their team), and fans of a particular team only when their team was doing well–fair weather fans. That’s what I’ve observed as well.

There are church fans–people who are engaged in the Christian life because that is where they find their joy and where they find grace for each day–good or bad. There are fans of a particular church–or something very specific about that church–and they will generally stick with that church as they put one foot in front of the other in their daily walk with Jesus. Then there are the fair-weather fans who define their church as “doing well” when everything on their expectation list is met exactly the way they’ve dictated that it should be. It’s not surprising that the fair-weather fans disappear when things don’t go their way. But it is another way that Kingdom work gets derailed. When we impose our preferences on the Body of Christ (or fume when our preferences are not honored), we handicap a local fellowship’s capacity to be the church. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3,4).

Three: Sometimes loud is just loud. “There he is! There he is!” screamed the fan, “there’s Big Papi!” Trouble is, it wasn’t Big Papi (#34, David Ortiz). It was just another big guy wearing the right uniform. Loud does not equal right. There are often voices in church life that are loud…loud in meetings…loud in conversation…just plain loud. The volume springs from conviction that they are right and that others, if they would only just listen, are wrong. In order to be heard, they increase the volume…or the backroom chit chat. Trouble is, like that loud fan at the baseball game, sometimes they’re loud while also being wrong. We must pay attention to the “still, small voice.” We look for “the least of these.” We measure both the truth and the grace in our communication as we seek to discern God’s way ahead. “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

Four: Laughing when others fall is not cool. It was one of those silly, during the commercial break, stunts that they employ at Big League parks to keep the fans’ attention. The mustard guy was racing the ketchup guy and the relish guy. Twenty feet into the race, the mustard guy tripped and splatted to the ground in the outfield. The crowd’s unanimous response? Laughter. And, I admit, I laughed too. But then I thought, how much like the Body of Christ is that crowd. Someone is running the race the best they know how, and they tumble to the ground–sometimes the fall is their fault–sometimes it’s not. We laugh out loud (or we chuckle inwardly at their misfortune). Falling is hard. Getting back up, harder. We don’t need folks laughing at us when we fall, we need folks to come alongside (no matter the nature of the fall) and help us get back up. “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:1,2).

Five: When you let go of the bat, someone can get hurt. The batter took a powerful cut at a 97-mph fastball and the bat slipped from his grip. The bat sailed toward the visitor side seats and would have been genuine trouble for someone, except that nets had recently been installed at the ball park. Fans’ initial, reflexive panic gave way to bemused relief as we realized the bat wasn’t going to hurt anyone. Someone yelled to the batter, “Hold on!” Indeed. We have tools in our hands and hearts…amongst those tools are the words we speak. When we use our words, we best hold on tight…we best wield them carefully. We best wield our words in ways that honor God’s Word…making sure that they don’t get away from us and hurt someone. Because, unlike that bat which could be retrieved without any ill effect, our hurtful words may forever linger in the hearts and minds of those who hear them. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29).

Six: Graciousness is always in order, even when the opposition comes to town. I have been to opposition ball parks. When I go to a game, I usually wear a shirt or a hat that reveals my team allegiance. In some opposition ball parks, the mere act of showing up in another team’s colors is tantamount to begging some fan of the other team to hit you in the face. In some opposition parks, the hostility is more latent, but you know it could surface at any time. Imagine my surprise at Kauffman Stadium where I was not only genuinely welcomed (despite my Red Sox gear) but was able to engage in light-hearted banter with some Royals fans. It was a genuine delight to be there to watch a game. And yes, winning was great (see how I threw that in–subtle, eh?), but the atmosphere in the ball park, amongst those others who truly loved baseball, made the experience all the more memorable.

In today’s culture we have genuine and deeply seated disagreements across the theological spectrum. Imagine a local mainline church pastor being told that he wasn’t welcome at an evangelical pastors’ lunch. “Not welcome?!?” How can that be? It makes my head hurt and discounts the graciousness we are called to display in the Body of Christ. “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. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil” (1 Peter 3:15-17).

© All Rights Reserved. Scripture Quotations from the NIV.


Winnebangos and Other Self-Help Projects

Americans love self-help projects. Take the time to browse any bookstore (if you can find one) or tiptoe through Amazon.com and you’ll see hundreds of titles: everything from How to Build and Furnish a Log Cabin to Be Your Own Chimney Sweep. The aisles of local building supply stores are filled with weekend plumbers, carpenters, and electricians. “Home Improvement” was, in its day (I know, last century) a popular TV show, not only because it was funny, but because millions of Americans resonate with the heartbeat of the “do-it-yourself’ kind of guy that Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor represented.

These days, the self-helpers troll HGTV and Pinterest for the latest ideas. (Just a note–contrary to what you may have heard, I do not call “Pinterest,” “Dispinterest”–much.)

Many of you have probably had your own share of do-it-yourself triumphs. Years ago, I acquired a 25-year-old Winnebago. Why I bought it is another story but buy it I did. I took it on a 2,500-mile, round-trip to visit my parents who were then living in Brownsville, Texas.

I thought the Winnebago looked and felt sturdy. My first clue to the contrary should have been when I pulled into a gas station and the guy filling up the Mercedes in the next lane actually fell over laughing. He was still laughing when I pulled out of the gas station. He’s probably still there–paralyzed by the visual of that ancient RV.

Anyway, along the way on the trip to Brownsville, everything in the Winnebago that could break, did–some things broke several times. And–with each new breakdown–I (surprised and shocked and surprised) discovered a hidden aptitude for things mechanical. You see, my typical mechanical question is, “I wonder when the dealership opens?” But, along with the frustrations associated with breaking down, I managed to fix some stuff–all on my own.

But, there come in many endeavors a kind of “Dagwood” (of Blondie cartoon fame–thank you Chic and Dean Young) moment. You know the moment: would be-do-it-yourselfers find themselves at the end of their do-it-yourself capacity. In Dagwood’s case, it’s the moment when he reluctantly allows Blondie to call in the professional plumber, carpenter, electrician, etc.

In the case of the “Winnebango” as I, ummm, “affectionately” began to call the RV, the moment came while I was underneath the thing fixing a broken tailpipe. It was then I noticed that the right rear axle seal was gushing fluid. At that moment I knew I needed someone with skill and expertise far beyond my own. Doing it myself wouldn’t do.

Life is like that. We cruise (or bump) along, thinking that things are pretty well under our control. And, in those times when we do encounter difficulty, our first response is the classically American one: “I can fix this myself.”

But the Dagwood moments are out there for all of us. Moments when we stare at the  ceiling in the middle of the night or become oblivious to the beauty and blessings that surround us; moment when our souls just cannot rest; moments when we know that we have encountered something we cannot do, fix, or solve ourselves.

Those moments, when they come, force us to face the ultimate do-it-yourself dilemma. The Bible says that meaningful existence is found in relationship with the person of Jesus Christ. He said, “I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).

He also said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Hard words, words that run counter to our do-it-yourself notions, but words that reflect a truth we feel in our gut: some things require an expert’s attention.

And, who better to fix us than the God who created us and who desires to have eternal relationship with us? The reality is that the human existence is not a do-it-yourself proposition; it is a Do-It-Himself proposition.

I can remember the initial despair I felt when I looked over at the Winnebango axle and saw the growing and meandering pool of axle fluid. I can also remember the relief I felt when I realized that there were mechanical resources nearby to fix my problem.

You may be in a moment of despair generated by a host of challenges that you think are mental, emotional, relational, physical, or spiritual do-it-yourself jobs. The reality is that, in Christ, you can find the expert help you need–if you will acknowledge that your life is, ultimately, a Do-It-Himself job.

I think we should all carefully consider our do-it-yourself tendencies and embrace the care and attention of God in the person of His son, Jesus Christ. Things really do get better when we let the experts attend to their field of expertise.

You are God’s workmanship–the wonderful product of His creative ability. Won’t you let Him Do-It-Himself in the difficulties of your life?

© 2018. All Scripture references are from the New International Version.

 


On Being Wise, or Smart, or a Smart A**

I saw my dermatologist a while back. She looked me over in search of problematic skin developments because I once had a Basel Cell Carcinoma episode. (Note: when they carve on your ear, you can hear every scrape–it’s creepy.)

Anyway, I pointed to a dark spot on the back of my hand that had given me pause and she said, “Oh, that is a wisdom spot.” My dermatologist hails from China where they graciously refer to what I would have called an “age spot” (if I’d known what I was looking at) as a “wisdom spot.” This, in apparent deference to the biological reality that most of these spots are carried by, ahem, older folks. And, given traditional oriental respect for the aged and reverence for ancestors, there is a pervasive cultural mindset that associates age with wisdom.

Now, I know that the accumulation of years and wisdom do not necessarily travel together (I have met some folks who have not lived 75 years, but just one year, 75 times). But the wisdom/age couplet is more frequently observed than say, kindergarten and wisdom. Which brings me to this.

I have a concern that we no longer value wisdom. Wisdom has been replaced by its normally less mature cousin: smart. And smart itself is often been traded in for smart a**.

(Another note: some of you may stop reading here because you are offended by my asterisked version of the word “a**.” Sorry about that, but it is apropos for this particular post and, while I will bemoan the coarsening of culture, I here call it like I see it.)

Now, I have nothing against smart. Smart people have brought many advances, in multiple fields of endeavor. I, for one, am grateful that I can check my email, or text, or read the news headlines on my “smart” phone “anywhere” (I was going to say, “in the bathroom,” but my very wise ministry partner and wife said I should change that–so I did).

But I am afraid that western culture worships at the altar of “smart.” We see the intelligent and presume that with intelligence comes wisdom. But intelligence (smart) and wisdom are not partners as often as we would like to think.

It was smart that someone figured out how to mine the data and capture hundreds of thousands of social media connections. But was it wise that social media trolls used that data to try and manipulate voters? No. The lessons of wisdom often lag woefully behind “smart.” Wisdom takes time; wisdom takes reflection; wisdom benefits from, nay, depends on lived experience.

It seems our culture is in a desperate search for smarts and often that desperate search for smarts is itself reduced to settling for smart a**.

Good Will Hunting was a film in 1997 that featured the late Robin Williams and Matt Damon (the “Will Hunting” from the movie title). Damon’s character was an autodidact savant (wicked smaaht in his Bostonian native environs), particularly gifted in math, who was discovered by a professor at M.I.T. The trouble with the savant was that he was very fond of demonstrating his intelligence and most often did it in a smart a** way.

Inevitably, the tendency toward smart a**ness got him in trouble. He had trouble with the law and, when he found a woman he liked, he had trouble sustaining a relationship.

Williams’ character was a psychologist–wise, caring, insightful, bruised by the loss of his wife to cancer–who worked at the local community college and was engaged to help Damon’s character mute his smart a** tendencies and deflate his recurring self-destructive antics–to find a path towards becoming the Good Will Hunting.

The difference between Damon’s character’s smarts and Williams’ character’s wisdom? Lived smarts…validating actual “smartness” and discarding faux “smartness” (usually of the smart a** kind) through many laps around the life track.

After a particularly emotive, smart a** outbreak on the part of “Good Will,” Williams’ character looks at him and says, “So if I asked you about art you’d probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo? You know a lot about him. Life’s work, political aspirations, him and the pope, sexual orientation, the whole works, right? But I bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling… “(when I) look at you, I don’t see an intelligent, confident man. I see a cocky, scared sh*tless kid.”

Eventually Williams’ character says to “Good Will,” “You’re just a kid; you don’t have the faintest idea what you’re talking about.”

Fast forward twenty years and smart a** tendencies have been magnified by social media. Witness the many posts, tweets, comments, emojis, and the unflagging determination on the part of many to underscore the “dis” in discourse–no matter what the subject.

Kids from 8 to 80 are contributing to the ever-growing smart a** quotient in our culture. There may be smarts, but the smarts are so often devoid of wisdom and couched in smart a**ness, that the only result is self-congratulatory applause from within one’s own “tribe.”

For us in the Christian community we cannot submit to or participate in this cultural crassness. We are called to be agents of salt and light, reflecting the image of Jesus and pointing to the source of real wisdom–God Himself. Because, in fact, wisdom is not the mere accumulation of information (see the previous post); wisdom is pointing beyond ourselves to that source of all wisdom.

The Ancient of Days is the source for all the wisdom of the ages and He most often expresses that biblically nurtured wisdom through the lived experience of those who have aged. A recent crop of soup commercials to the contrary, there is no “Wisest Kid.” There may be some very smart ones–and there are certainly some smart a** ones–but wise? I think not.

To be sure, there are moments in the lives of young persons when we recognize insights of a masterful quality. But, when those moments come, we call those folks, “wise beyond their years,” recognizing an atypical expression of youth-sprung wisdom.

“From the lips of children and infants” was not a call to abandon wisdom but to embrace the celebration of God’s presence among the people. “Out of the mouths of babes” is not a universal prescription for what ails humanity; it was a commendation of worship of Jesus in the face of religious hypocrisy on the part of those who should have known better.

What we all need to do–youngsters, oldsters, in betweensters, deniers of being oldsters–is immerse ourselves in God’s truth and grow in our personal understanding of the “way we should go.” Then, as we apply those truths in lived experience, we will grow into the kind of people who can be seen as wise–even if we’re not the smartest person in the room.

When we bask in the wisdom of God’s Word and we lean into the wisdom that God has packed into the lives of ever-maturing, more “seasoned” saints, we can begin ourselves the path toward acquired wisdom and shed the culture’s current default toward smart a**ness.

While being sensitive to the “new”–in terms of cultural engagement–we ought not forget the “old”–many of whom (not all, but many) are sitting in our churches who have the life battle scars as evidence of their ability to help us navigate contemporary struggles.

© 2018

 


In Order to Be Servers, We Have to Be Servers

I will inevitably misapply some technological terms in this post. I beg your indulgence.

We used to be servers (in the technology sense). We had built in capacity. We had memory–both working memory and storage. Arguably, we used a fairly significant portion of our brains actually holding onto data. We never reached capacity–and some stored more data than others–but we were servers. Our teachers asked us to remember stuff. The more we remembered, the better able we were to navigate–life, jobs, algebra, friendships, the world. We paid attention. We were intrigued by interesting ideas and, when we “looked something up,” it was to hold onto the information we acquired, not just briefly “fondle” it.

I know what you’re thinking: someone else piling onto the “we use technology too much” bandwagon.

But I am not–piling on–that is. At least not in the way you might think I am. I do bemoan my own readily acknowledged shortened attention span. I’ve noticed that I often don’t read articles all the way through any more. I skim them, pick up the information that made it into the first few paragraphs, and then discard the article  because I can “always look it up again later.” There is reputable research to suggest that we have become beholden to our devices (indeed, perhaps becoming one with those devices) and that our cognitive capacity is reduced as a result.

We used to be servers–holding onto data because we knew that acquisition and personal processing of information better prepared us to face the persons and ideas that came our way. But now we’re just peripheral devices. We go to the servers via our preferred search engines (Google, etc., those collections of ones and zeroes that someone else holds onto, out there, in the “cloud”) and acquire data for utility in the moment, and then we let it slip away–back to the cloud–which never forgets. Our Google search history will remind us, when go to look up the same data again, and again, and again.

Why does this matter for Christians? Because, in my view, we cannot be servers (in the biblical sense) if we’re not servers (data hosts) in the technological sense. Putting aside the cultural forces at play and generational transitions, the much researched and readily acknowledged decline in biblical worldview can, I think, be directly traced to a concomitant decline in personal storage of biblical information.

Accumulating Bible knowledge was (and is) never an end in itself. It is always information acquired for purposes: helping us recognize our need for Jesus; helping us better reflect His image; helping us better serve Him; helping us better serve the world around us; helping us better serve. The original languages of the Bible have words for acquiring knowledge. Both the Hebrew word and the Greek word imply knowledge gained with informed action in mind.

But we do not act on the truth from the Bible because we do not know it. When we run into a personal or cultural jam, we try to Google our way out of it–like lighting one match at a time to find our way out of a dark cave, finding just the right passage to support our idea of the moment. When we do that–find those passages, that is–we rip them from their context and apply them in foolish ways–handicapping our capacity to serve Jesus well.

We do not have a fully orbed Christian worldview because we do not have, in resident memory, the stuff from which that worldview is formed. We get trapped in conversations about particular issues–often finding ourselves at the end of a self-constructed mental cul-de-sac–because we do not know the larger context of the pertinent biblical teaching. We settle for ineptly crafted, fortune cookie “wisdom” when we could be offering full slices of the Bread of Life.

I believe that the steady accumulation of biblical data (returning to becoming “servers”) will incrementally and, perhaps even exponentially, enhance our capacity to serve this world in the ways that God would have us.

Exposure to the sweep of the Gospel will enable us to recognize injustice and respond with compassion. Ingesting and digesting the biblical data about love will make us better lovers of God and others and, yes, self. A steady diet of biblical truth will enable us to sort through the multi-channel waves of cultural and political upheaval to discern a way forward that honors God and lifts people up.

We must bask in the truth of the totality of God’s Word to discern the way forward with Him. Let’s become servers in order to be servers.

© 2018


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