Author: brianthejenkins

Voice Veto Vote

 

I shared these thoughts at my day job, GigSalad, last Friday.

I thought I’d put them here.

People’s opinions affect us in different ways.

We need to decide how to filter people’s opinions and when to decide to respond.

Who gets a:

  • Voice? The broadest group of people, these are the influences that we trust, believe, and respect. They may be friends, family, co-workers, authors, activists, or other leaders. We respect these opinions and take them into account.
  • Vote? Narrow than the Voices, this group helps frame and shape our decisions. They help us decide life. Not every voice gets a vote.
  • Veto? Who in your life gets to say “No” to you? This handful of people has the right and permission to challenge your decisions and choices and discover the best possible life path. This group typically includes family, spouses and partners, your closest friends or mentors, and spiritual or ethical teachings. Gather people around you who are willing to disagree. Challenge and dissent should never be confused with betrayal or disloyalty.

How do I decide who makes it into each group?

Are they:

  • Informed? Do they know you? People who influence you should know you well, beyond shallow social interaction. They should understand and get you at s fundamental level, and their values and concerns are aligned or compatible with your own.
  • Invested? Do they care? Empathetic personalities care deeply about the outcomes of their influence. People whose opinion we consider ought to be willing to walk with through the consequences and ought to have demonstrated their concern and commitment to our best.
  • Invited? To put it simply, did you ask for their opinion? If someone is freely offering their estimations of your finances, parenting, or work from the outside of your life, don’t spend too much time worrying about it. Ask yourself if it is true or not, then move on to the people you let in.

Opinions are humanity’s greatest renewable resource. We’ll never run out of them. Taking the time to consider who gets to influence us is a valuable exercise for personal health and peace.

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Moderate Radicalization

calm_down_spaz_snap_back_mesh_trucker_hat_green-r4718b473235945bf90b7cacef6cd7ba0_v9wib_8byvr_324Last week, psychopaths stormed a French humor magazine and ruthlessly murdered people because they made fun of Muhammed.

Last Sunday, I spent time with a dear friend and philosophy professor talking about violence in the name of religion and how so many Christian young adults are ill-prepared to deal with objections to their belief system.

Earlier this week, I listened to an NPR interview with Maajid Nawaz, an Islamist radical who, after reading “Animal Farm” in prison, denounced his radical fundamentalism in favor of moderate interaction with society.

Mid-week, I participated in a denominational appeal to attract college students to participate in church planting. They were told it’s what they needed to do. Then given pizza. I also met some young women (age and gender given not in a patriarchal, misogynist way, but only to clarify that I’m old and a dude and they’re neither) who created a blog to help women discover worth and value.

Last night, members of my community, including friends and peers, gathered to fight a repeal of my city’s anti-discrimination policy concerning Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. There are people in my town actively admitting they want to discriminate. I was home eating nachos. Without sour cream.

It’s been a weird week.

Throughout my cognitive life, I have run a spectrum of beliefs, staying mostly within right or left of center. Sure, there was that time in grad school when I rejected total depravity, and the experimentation in college with revivalist preaching, but for the most part, I like to keep the ideological spaz cap tightly secured.

However, at the risk of over-simplicity, we live in a world of polemic extremes. People on every side of aisle are playing this game to win, creating enemies, both real and perceived, and figuring out strategies to defeat them. The Culture War, The Gay Agenda, Islam vs. The West, Ken Hamm and Bill Nye The Science Guy, The Battle over Obamacare, The War on Christmas, The Game of Thrones, everybody seems to hate somebody. You’re nobody ’til somebody hates you.

I have opinions and I have beliefs. (No really, I do.) I hold strongly to them, I believe and do my best to live them, and I have no intention or desire to change several of them. What I cannot do is join the frenzy. What I cannot do is actively seek to exclude. What I cannot do is participate in the creation of extremist radicals who revel in rejecting dissent and demand certitude and servitude, who may never blow up a building, but would blow up relationships, family, and community over opinion, perspectives, and ideologies.

I want to talk about a few things in a few blog posts. I want to share my perspective on moderate radicalization, how many people in and out of my tradition are being pushed to see their neighbors, family, even friends as an enemy, and how that perception erodes the fundamental teachings of my faith tradition. 

What’s Next?

the_west_wing

Those who know me, know that I am a rabid fan of the TV series “The West Wing.” The characters speak with intellect, eruditely addressing issues with wit and conviction. They also walk when they meet, and I like that.

If you have to pick one phrase to sum up the show, it would be President Jed Bartlett’s “What’s next?” It drove the show, keeping the plot moving, and displaying the energy and focus needed to manage the expanse of the federal government.

I love that phrase, “What’s Next?” It speaks of us anticipation, vitality, and expectation.

It’s a new year tomorrow. 2014. And the question for all of us is, “What’s next?”

It can be a question of dread, painfully expecting another disaster in a series. Like Sisyphus, we roll life uphill only to have t crash back down on us. We pay off one credit card and the water heater breaks. We finally get a new job and then break an ankle. For the dreadful, what’s next is simply another tragedy in a line of victimizations.

It can be a question of apathy. As life grinds forward, we anticipate no change, every day hazing into the next. We live life in muted tones, with what little color we see washed out and faded.

What it can be, however, is a question of great hope. “What’s next!?” What’s the next adventure, the next challenge? What’s the new job, the new flavor, the new song? What new friend am I about to meet, what new prospect am I about to connect with?

Looking to the new year, I want to be in the third category. I want to face each new day with vigor and vitality, with anticipation and adventure. I want to see challenges as opportunities and defeats as lessons. I want to seize life and not simply live it. I want to be the hero of my story, not the victim.

Enjoy your new year, have fun and be safe. And when 12:01 gets here, take a deep breath, gaze into the future with steely resolve, and ask the universe, “What’s next?”

Anticipating Christmas

We’re not meeting this evening, so I’m processing some thoughts this morning. wallcoo-com_christmas_66-550x412

Christmas is coming, and for The Community Church that means our first Christmas Eve service. We’re doing this to give all of us, on our atypical, individualistic, Jesus-Take-The-Wheel-God-Bless-The-Broken-Road, post-modern, progressive selves a small dose of holiday ritual and ceremony. It will be fun, sentimental, reflective, irreverent, contemplative, and goofy just like all our other services. Please come.

For many, Christmas Eve is the longest night of the year. If you come from one of those families that only opens presents on Christmas Day, it’s the worst. Looking forward to the next day, thinking about the things that make Christmas special, only prolongs the agony. Kids can’t sleep and parents can’t stay up. We are exhausted and restless waiting for the relationships, gifts, food, and all the other joys the day can bring. (If the day is a good thing for you)

In Christianity, the Birth of Jesus symbolizes the same exhausted restlessness. Our weary world, torn by evil, hate, and fear, gropes in the long dark winter of defiance, ignoring our Creator and His hope for us. Instead of leaving us to our own devices, destined to be destroyed by the crushing entropy of self-driven living, He gave us a way out. He became us, leading us to the light by entering the darkness. Rather than standing on the edge, shouting out directions from afar, through Jesus He walked among us, igniting the divine light placed in each of us, and illuminating the way out. Like presents under the tree, whose only clues are size, shape, weight, and imagination, the goodness that we strive for, that we demand from others, is fully revealed in Jesus. As we open the present of His image in us, we open the limitless possibilities of creation forged in the imagination of the Divine.

And so we waited, each of us. Knowing there was more, we sought a better, just world, where compassion defeats apathy, generosity cancels greed, hope subdues fear, acceptance quells bigotry, and love conquers all. This is the world Jesus spoke of when talked about the “life abundant” He offers us. This is the coming of the Kingdom of God. It is not a world where righteousness wins, but serves; it is a world where we are given freedom in order to set others free.

In the next few days, what gift in you is ready to be given to the world? What darkness needs the light you carry?

I’m not teaching today, but if I was…

Picture: Alex Coppel. Source: HWT Image Library, Herald News Sun.

I’d talk about acceptance. As we in Springfield join in the emerging reality of post-Christian America, where Christian faith is no longer an assumed fact and no longer enjoys its preferred status, we who are people of Christian tradition and faith need to explore new ways of expressing our ethics and convictions. “I believe” is a statement that rests solely in our own experience and existential reality. We cannot expect anyone to respect or join our truth simply because we believe it.

At The Community Church, we have been working through the book of James for the last several weeks. I believe that this letter is James’ attempt to bring the teachings of Jesus to a livable level when dealing with persecutions and trials that serving Christ in the 1st century entailed. James’ central theme is that faith is best expressed through external behaviors. In other words, if you claim to follow Jesus, do good things and don’t be a jerk.

One of the ways we can do good things is to accept people. James used the example of favoring the rich over the poor to illustrate this point. If we extrapolate the truth to a 21st century context, who do we give a favored seat to? The wealthy, the influential, those in agreement? James echoes the teachings of his half-brother, reminding his readers that Christianity’s acceptance of others is based on “whosoever will.” Anyone, ANYONE, who wants to come to the Kingdom is invited. For our church, we hope that anyone who is seeking truth and is safe to the community has a place.

I’ve been taught great lessons on acceptance since coming to Springfield. Acceptance only exists in diversity. Acceptance is not the same as compliance. Acceptance means staying different and existing together. Acceptance requires listening and learning, not talking and teaching. Acceptance is a grace given and a grace received. 

I may never convince someone of my truth, but I can demonstrate that, just like me, God accepts them for no other reason than that they exist.

I was in an Anglican church in Oxford a few years ago. One of the staff members told us a story of a homeless man and his dog who had wandered into the sanctuary of this stunning, centuries-old church. A worker moved quickly to get the man and his dog out of this hallowed, sacred space. The pastor stopped them, saying, “I love the smell of dogs in church.” Whosoever will.

Trivial Pursuits

Yesterday at The Community Church, I spoke about the useless religious details that distract us from Jesus. From dinosaurs to politics, all too often we use minutiae to avoid the hard questions of faith and belief, of morality and responsibility. Is my faith the sum total of my opinions on Horned Beasts or Ecstatic Utterances? Is it the songs I sing or whether or not my hands are in the air or at my side when I sing them? Is it what I drink or eat, or how I vote, or how my taxes are spent?

Someone asked Jesus this question. “What’s faith about? What’s the most important thing I need to believe?” Jesus avoided the religious trap, avoided the trivial opinions on ceremonial washings or the resurrection of the dead and summarized the essence of faith, the core of vital belief. “Love God with everything you’re capable of; Love others with same priority you place on yourself.” After this the details become expressions of those truths. They are extensions of love for God and love for others in balanced perspective with love for self.

It’s not that the other stuff doesn’t matter or that it is irrelevant. They are the things with which we decorate our spiritual home, the flair that makes our faith ours. They are not the foundations. I don’t need to worry about dinosaurs or Democrats, because Jesus didn’t. I don’t need to agree with you about Antichrist or amillennialism. That’s your house, not mine.

The questions we need to push each other with, to challenge each other, are, “Do you love God? Are you loving people?”

Beyond that…

God is real.

He made me.

He loves me.

Jesus makes it all possible.

In My Shoes

Yesterday, as I was getting ready for work, I went to put on my shoes. As I was sliding them on, I noticed that the tongues were jammed down into the toe of each shoe. I thought for a second, then I realized that this was the result of one of Jenktank 3’s favorite pastimes, putting on Daddy’s shoes. She puts them on and then walks around like some kind of hobbit Ronald McDonald, laughing at the simple absurdity of the whole thing.

They follow us, you know. They see us, and they want to be like us. And then one day they don’t. I wonder what parts of my life my kids will pick up. What do they see in me that they hope to see in themselves? What about me will they say they never want to be when they grow up? “Train up a child,” the Bible says, “and when they are old they will not depart from it.” Is that a promise or a warning?

Look around, what do we leave out for our kids to pick up and use for themselves?