Monthly Archives: April 2011

What have I learned in 15 years of marriage?

It’s unfortunate that celebrating a day like today is seemingly becoming more and more rare. I’ve found that for Theresa and I, there have been some crucial, hard lessons we’ve had to learn as a couple that have helped us get to where we’re at today. There are certain things in a marriage relationship that are unique to the individuals, but I think there are things that are universal, if you ever expect to spend the rest of your life with someone. This is what I’ve learned over 15 years. Let it be said, though, that some of the things I’ve learned continue to be struggles, continue to be worked on, and take constant, proactive effort. This is by no means a “I’ve figured it all out” list.

1. Communication. One of the most vital things we’ve learned is to communicate. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about menial day-to-day catching up, or discussing major decisions and events in our lives. If you do not communicate with your spouse, you do not succeed.

2. Compromise. Give and take has to occur if you’re going to thrive in the closest interpersonal relationship you will have with another human on this earth. And I’m not talking about wives who act like Stepford Wives, or guys who are so spineless they do everything their wife demands without question. Either of those scenarios do NOT lead to a healthy marriage, they lead to resentment. They lead to grumbling, complaining, and eventually, a volcano eruption that stifles #1. Furthermore, expecting either a Stepford Wife, or an unquestioning, always accomodating husband is unrealistic and unhealthy. By doing so, you’re stealing away a little bit of who that person is by the demand you put on them.

3. Patience. Face it, it’s going to take patience to deal with the idiosyncrasies in your spouse after Cupid goes away, the dust settles, the honeymoon ends, and it’s just the two of you. One of the worst things dating couples do in a relationship is to only reveal their best side. Doing so is a disservice to you significant other, and unfair. It shows them nothing of who you are in the good and bad times, it only shows what you want them to see. And if there’s one things we as people are good at, it’s hiding who we really are, and giving others only the perception of who we want them to think we are. When that fades away (and it WILL fade away), you’re going to need patience and grace. God knows Theresa has needed it in spades with me over the years.

4. Understanding. If your relationship is going to work, you’re going to need to try understanding their side, even when you don’t want to. This kinda goes along with communicating well, but in my estimation, relationships that work are such that each person understands and is pliable enough to entertain a perspective that is not their own.

5. Be Selfless. Something I’ve said for years now, is that the primary cause of any any ANY divorce or seperation is selfishness on one, but more often than not, both sides. One person’s selfishness often precipitates it, but at the core, it’s a selfish attitude on the part of both. We live in a selfish society, and selfishness is ingrained in us as part of the “American Dream” (the part few want to acknowledge exists). So it’s no surprise that a selfish attitude pervades in our relationships. Pride is a marriage killer, and it’s rampant. You’re a team, not an island.

6. Faith. I have found, for Theresa and I, that our shared faith in God has been a sustaining force in our marriage being what it is today. Knowing that not everyone shares our set of beliefs, I will say that at the very least, you should be on common ground with your spouse theologically. If you are not, you’re fighting an uphill battle. It will be difficult, especially if/when children come into the picture, to maintain commonality if a shared faith isn’t present. When kids hit the scene, suddenly the questions of “how are we going to raise this child?” come into play. It happened with Theresa and I, but we were on somewhat common ground throughout (even though our upbringings were different), and much of our spiritual journey happened in unison. I know that’s not the case with everyone though.

7. Realistic Expectations Another one that dovetails with a few previously listed. It’s amazing to me how relationships are so strained and broken apart as a result of unrealistic expectations put on the other person. Here’s a newsflash: At least to a certain degree, you KNEW what you were getting into when you got married. If you didn’t, then you’re silly for going in with unrealistic expectations. If you did know, then you have the responsibility to work at it, and MAKE it work. If that means you drop some of what you think the other person should be, or your “perfect” idea of what you want them to be, then drop it. It’s unfair to them, and again, it’s a resentment-builder for you. Don’t set unrealistic expectations. By doing so, you’re just giving yourself less room to be let down, and you’re operating in a little more of the grace you need just as much as the other person.

8. Apologize. If you’re never willing to admit you’re wrong (another selfish trait), you’re never going to have strong relationships with anyone, let alone a spouse. And while both sides need to know how to apologize, this one’s especially for the guys. Guys, have that macho pride thing going that women don’t deal with (at least not in the same ways, or to the same extent). So guys, when you say, “I’m sorry, but…” you’ve already disqualified your apology. Use any counterpoint or perspective to argue that, but I assure you, you’re wrong. I have found, over and over and over and…….that the times I’ve ONLY said, “I’m sorry”, are the times I didn’t have to worry about Theresa’s response or if she would “fess up” to her side of things. Trying to qualify your actions puts up a wall between you and your spouse. When you show that you are sorry, without trying to explain yourself away, your spouse will do the same (or at least should). Think of it as killing them with kindness. There are times I had to say sorry and leave it at that. There are times Theresa did as well. Do yourself a favor: Say you’re sorry. Then SHUT. UP.

I’ve told people for years now, that I know for a fact that my wife and I will never, ever separate, except by death. The response has always been, “Oh man, don’t say that. You never know what might happen.” If I can be frank, the people who most often say that to me are the ones who have failed at a marriage. I know that we won’t, because we both have practiced the things above. I know that we won’t because after 15 years, the last thing I would ever, ever do would be to intentionally hurt her or do something idiotic and selfish to damage our relationship. And I know the same can be said by her. THAT is what marriage is about, and that’s what a self-less, two-way, successful relationship is about. And I know that the truth of that will never, ever change with us.

Marriage is tough, no doubt. Another thing I think anyone who’s made it any length of time can authoritatively say is that if you can make it through the early years, you can make it. I think much of what I’m talking about here is most vital in the early (first 7-8) years of marriage. When we had issues early on (and believe me, we DID have issues) we resolved that we could either split, seek counseling, or sit down, drop the gloves, and put everything out on the table in an attempt to work through our issues, find reconciliation, grow, learn, and move forward together. So we did. We worked hard at it, had arguments, didn’t always agree, but worked through it and were better for it. If you don’t put in the work, you’re not going to get the result. It’s simple, but it’s true. An NBA player doesn’t become so by not practicing, and a marriage isn’t successful without endless, tiring but rewarding effort. Again, not saying this is some end-all, be-all list of how to make it work. But being married means you’re going to become a statistic. It’s just a matter of what kind of statistic you’re going to be.

I’m thankful for my wife. I’m thankful for the trials, the arguments, the rough patches, the fun, the joy, and the happiness she brings. And I’m thankful that she puts up with all the same with me.

Paradox

Today I’ve seen and heard things that anger, sadden, and sicken me about humanity, and things that give me hope. I won’t go into it tonight for the sake of reprisal. What I will say, is that the paradigms come from the opposite sources of what one might expect. I’m choosing hope, because I won’t let despair have the last word.

Joy comes in the morning.

Happy Easter.

Easter thoughts from Shane Claiborne

Once again, Shane puts it so eloquently. Read his Easter message “Death Be Not Proud” here. Feel free to contribute your thoughts as well.

Blessings this Easter season.
Jeff

Colony Collapse & One Night Stands

About 2 1/2 years ago, a book idea was birthed by Mike Signorelli and myself called “Real On Nine”. It’s been a work in progress for some time. We’re hoping to let it see the light of day soon. The following is from a chapter called “Colony Collapse & One Night Stands”. Hope you enjoy.

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Honey bee colony collapse is a phenomenon that is believed to be caused by bee keepers that take too much of the honey for commercial uses. The bees are then given high fructose corn syrup in place of their own honey. Pushing these bees, taking the best of their product, and replacing with a lesser substitute is causing “colony collapse”. This is essentially what I see happening in our church world today. This one night stand mentality is the epitome of our throwaway society. We have to remember that souls coming into the kingdom aren’t another tally on Sunday, or even a confirmation that we’re right. How often do we forget about the workers in taking their product?

In this extravagant attempt to extract mass quantities of honey from bees, we have removed their sense of belonging, ownership, and appreciation. It’s not just new converts that are being abandoned–it’s the men and women who help run the show. We have to be very careful in our taking. What may eventually happen is that members are no longer stakeholders, but rather a means to serve self.

Humanity has proven that it has this way of misappropriating resources. We’ve proven that we crave excess at any cost. The idea that we can make money from “honey” is far more tantalizing than the thought of preserving the workers that make it possible. I’m afraid far too many churches have sought to exploit the creations of talented individuals without any regard for the longevity of the creator’s career. When the product is valued more than the producer—you can expect abandonment, bitterness, and resentment.

Many have turned in search of other colonies when they realize that their conversion was just another tally for attendance, or that their youth was just another public relations ploy. People want to know that they are in service of something real. They want to know that they will be developed, pruned, and molded in tender compassion. Colony collapse happens when the myth of genuine concern unravels. When people have been used at maximum potential, discarded, and forgotten, they come to the conclusion that the colony is in fact, not their own.

Historically, industrialization plays a major role in our collective mentality. This idea that “numbers” matter isn’t the stance that Christ would take. The most captivating moments in His ministry occurred when He crossed the line of socially appropriate and found someone alone. He wasn’t concerned with a pastor’s opinion about his productivity, youth retreat’s effectiveness, or minimum church attendance requirements. He was staring into the windows of a creation that longs for nothing more than only one inhabitant. He understood that their seemingly trivial affairs were paramount to unlocking potential. To disentangle an individual from their worries was to unleash a believer.

Isn’t this a model for ministry; that Christ would care most for the individual, that He would know each hair on our head? That He would care for each bird that annoyingly scavenges and chirps outside our ledge of luxury? That He would clothe each lily? But somehow, we’ve forgotten to take care of our brother who is infinitely valuable to the kingdom of heaven. Are his needs not our needs? Be careful not to misidentify what is waste and what is not. Don’t discard the china with the scraps. We are losing multitudes at the cost of a phone call. We are misdirecting passions at the cost of a letter. We cannot afford to return the riches of glory (people, not things) back to the wicked, because the Church couldn’t find time to care. Don’t take the busy bees for granted. Don’t take their product without reciprocating appreciation.

As soon as you accept Christ, you receive a mission. Religion has never, and will never accomplish the task. Start a dialogue with non-Christians in your life. Listen to them. Allow them the freedom to explain themselves without fear of judgment. After you’ve emptied your hand, you may empty your mouth. Christians have done a far better job of talking than listening. When you meet the physical and emotional needs of those around you, they are far more likely to believe in your Christ. The monologue must become a dialogue if we are ever going to successfully engage this generation. The Holy Spirit’s job is to change us. We will be far more effective when our friends are friends (rather than a potential number in the congregation). And we will never make a lasting impression on people if all we express of our faith is a works-based, morality driven theology that stresses a list of rules over a relationship based in love for our Creator.

Matt. 3:8 – “Prove by the way that you live that you have repented.”

Earlier we said that evangelism is most effective when it’s beginning and ending is found in our love for others. This is just as true today as it was 2000 years ago. The Church has tapped into a truth that is impossible to the outside world. When we truly have a faith in Christ, we know that we can only love others to the degree that we love Christ. Our love we find through a faith in Christ comes from the basis of knowing His love for us (even though we sometimes forget it). What we forget is that we can only extend love to others around us to the extent that we love God.

I wonder if this truth hasn’t been forgotten in the 21st century, even in the church world. We search everywhere, some endlessly, to fill the void left by people who were absent from our lives. From the neglectful parent, the abusive relationship, and the abuse and neglect that came not from being absent, but from being present without speaking into our lives. Those scars have bore an indelible mark on who we are as humanity; a humanity that cries out for love, who looks countless places to fill the voids left by lack of relationship, or relationship that was not as it should have been.

If we are ever going to effect the change we say we want in the Church of the 21st century, we have to realize that we will never know how to love horizontally (other people) before we know how to love vertically (our Heavenly Father). We have to first love God before we can love others. This is the reason for so many shallow relationships in the world, but are we also making it the norm inside the Church? As time has progressed, we have become more impersonal, rather than doing life together, sharing in community, and looking out for our fellow man. We have not been a community like the prophet Nehemiah spoke about. We are not standing on the wall, ready to lift up our brothers and sisters when they fall. We’ve allowed gaps, entertained a divisive spirit, and looked out for ourselves, rather than helping one another and lifting each other up in love.

We are the body of Christ; we should act like it. The book of Acts illustrated a culture of community that wasn’t forced. Relationship was formed as a result of a desire for fellowship. We are most effective when we come together. In the spirit of fellowship and community is where we will thrive in truly fulfilling everything Christ has commanded us to be. It’s when we change our outlook on humanity that people around us will notice a love inside of us that extends beyond the differences that separate us. It is only then that true reconciliation with our fellow man can take place, and we can who God called us to be.

Shane Claiborne’s Letter To The IRS

Shane wrote a letter to the IRS. You can find it here. Thoughts?

Ordinary Radicals

Watched “Ordinary Radicals” tonight. I know it’s a few years old now, but I hadn’t previously had a chance to watch it. A very well done documentary by Jamie Moffett, “Ordinary Radicals” chronicles the “Jesus For President” book tour for the book of the same name by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw.

The tour (and the book) hit on a deeper level some of the things said by Shane in his previous book, “Irresistible Revolution”, which he expounded on more in “Jesus For President”, and it reminded me about the wonder and simplicity of the Gospel message, and Jesus’ call to love others. And while Shane lives in the community he helped start called The Simple Way, he makes his own clothes, grows his own food, and drives a veggie bus, it’s a great reminder that you don’t have to grow out dreads or live communally to make an impact on your surroundings, live intentionally, and love unconditionally.

Some might find Shane, Simple Way, and their circles as too political or wrapped up in some “hippie” movement, but that’s not at all the case. It’s safe to say that Shane’s speaking, as well as his books, have meant more to me over the last 5 years than anything else I’ve read, studied or heard, outside the Bible.

If you haven’t seen this documentary, or read one of Shane’s books, do yourself a favor and seek out his stuff. You won’t regret it.

Shane Claiborne & The Simple Way

Frustration

Some days, all I can do is scream.

I’ve got to scream, because punching something like an inadament object does no good, and only hurts you, and punching people isn’t something I’ve ever made a habit out of doing. Being a peacemaker has been a lifelong thing for me, not a trend to latch onto when “Irresistible Revolution” scame out a few years ago.

So instead of lashing out, I contemplate. I weigh things, navigate a variety of emotions, and in the end…detach.

That’s where I’ve been lately. I’ve detached. A certain situation has been going on in my family for close to a year now, and it’s been a up and down roller coaster ride of emotions. Some good, most bad. It involves family members who are close to me, and family members who’s closeness has only ever been related to physical proximity in a room.

Tonight, I found out that the family member I’m close to is going to get news next week that’s going to forever change the course of her life. For a second time. In LESS THAN A YEAR. She’s young, and she’s going to be sent through a tornado of emotions and pain because of the idiocy of others. And I can’t do a damn. thing. about it.

For months, I’ve sat back, had to watch it all unfold, and stay silent. When I have spoken up, and offered words of encouragement and heartfelt words of concern over the situation, I was railed against. I’m not saying that because I feel like a martyr. I don’t. But the behavior was indicative. Indicative of the endgame; indicative of the mindset of the others involved. And indicative of exactly where this was going to go.

I’ll be honest. I’ve prayed. Alot. I’ve leaned on Scripture for comfort. I’ve done all the things a Christian is supposed to do. But right now, I just want to beat the hell out of the people involved that are going to inflict this pain next week. They’ve been planning it for weeks. She’ll never see it coming. They’ve been resolved that this is what is going to happen. She asks when she can go home.

Honestly, I don’t need to hear that “God doesn’t give us anything we can’t handle.” And knowing that “all things work together for good for those who love God” isn’t helping me. People are doing things, knowing it’s going to hurt someone, and they’re thinking of their own comfort and desires (while masking it in doing “what’s best for her”) as primary. The amount of rage that wells up is unfathomable. It brings out emotions so deep that at times it physically takes my breath away.

There’s an instinctive trigger inside us all, that when confronted with something traumatic, we go into self-preservation mode. So that is, for the time being, me. I’m in self-preservation mode. My only option is to detach emotions. Detach from those who are causing this, knowing that no advice, no words, no reasoning will ever do any good with them. They are right. Always. And when they’re wrong, they’re still right. Impossible you say? You’d think so, but they’re not. ever. wrong. Ever.

EVER.

Detachment is my self-preservation. If I detach, I remove emotion from them, their actions, their selfishness, stupidity, lies, and deception. I focus my energy on the victim in this situation, because the perpetrators aren’t worth it. We all have worth. We are all precious to God. But the perpetrators, right now, aren’t worth it. I don’t know if they’ll ever be in my mind. Right now, I don’t care. So I don’t do anything stupid myself. I don’t react, I don’t lash out, and I certainly don’t say anything. But they’ve shown their cards, I know who they are. Today I’m ashamed to say I’m related to them.

Rob Bell’s Confession of Faith

A little postscript to last week’s blog, “The Simplicity of the Gospel”.

Removing the filter

Sometimes when I speak or blog I fear what people are going to think of me. I have this unnatural fear (at least in my estimation) of being misunderstood. I’m afraid sometimes that what I say will be misconstrued, that the full intention of what I’m trying to convey will get lost in a wash of perspective. I’ve always been like this, and I hate it. It’s one of those things that, when someone asks “If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?”, comes screaming to the forefront of my mind. I can handle the physical blemishes. I can handle idiosyncracies and the odd things that make me, “me”. But I hate the desire for approval inside me, and the fear of other’s opinions.

I. Hate. It.

I don’t say that for your pity. And as much as it would be appreciated if offered, I’m not really looking for advice on how to better handle it. I’ve always found it mildly irritating when I hear someone say, “Hey, I just tell it like it is”, or “I just speak my mind.” I’ve always contended that anyone who has to point that out to someone are only giving everyone the excuse for why they act like a jackass. In a way, though, I admire that ability. Not the ability to tell everyone that you’re just “keeping it real”, but moreso the ability to do it. I believe there is a difference between taking the filter off, and speaking with the a motive of being contentious and argumentative.

I’ve decided to take off the filter.

I’m sure there are already some who thought I took the filter off. To be fair, that could partially be true. Not sure if that’s a matter of fact or perspective. Either way, it happens.

If there’s one thing I’ve noticed over the last few years, it’s that you find out quickly who your friends are or aren’t when disagreement or dissent arises. I’ve noticed that people are your friends, are friendly, and will treat you like part of the “in” crowd when you walk in lock-step with what they think is right or wrong. Once you step outside those boundaries, though, things change. Drastically. Phone calls stop, whispered conversations near you become more prevalent, you start “catching wind” of things, and there is a marked shift in your day-to-day dealings with them. You go from the in-crowd to the outsider, from accepted to marginalized, from friend to leper.

I’ve seen it happend to my family, and I’ve seen it happen to people near and dear to me. And it pisses me off and hurts every. single. time.

So I come to a point of writing about things tonight. Getting words on paper, expressing feelings on recent dealings through my blog. Then the thoughts creep in.

“You’re ranting again. No one wants to hear what you have to say.”
“You’re going to start turning people off with that sort of talk.”
“You shouldn’t be so confrontational.”

I say all this, realizing that it sounds presumptuous to think that anyone even cares about what I have to say in the first place. Maybe talking about the things on my mind would turn people off, but maybe it would crank up some healthy dialogue.

Regardless, I’ve seen the behavior. I’ve grown past the notion that someone following or unfollowing, friending or de-friending me on twitter or facebook means ANYTHING. It doesn’t have so much to do with that, because people are petty, and when you’re petty, you do petty things. When you’re petty, you also see things like de-friending or unfollowing as the end of the world. It’s deeper than that. It has more to do with real-life contact, real-life interaction, and how that works in concert with interaction via social networking.

See, when you know who your friends are, you know that you can say anything to them, and they’re going to love you regardless. You know that even if they don’t see things from the same perspective, they’re not going to judge you based on it. They’re going to take that thing into account, consider it as part of a larger conversation, and maybe even put themselves in your shoes and try to see things from your perspective.

It’s the other ones that really grind my gears. The one’s who view friendship as conditional, then use those conditions to write you off when you disagree with them. The ones who have great things to say when you agree with them. but belittle you when you don’t agree with them.

So when you tell me that I’m a solid Christian dude who knows the Bible, but then warn me not to get into “intellectual discussions” with humanists and agnostics, I see the contradiction in your “advice” (as well as the lousy example you set for being a Christ-follower in the first place).

When you try to antagonize me into a response, and use your warped logic and false superiority to paint me into a corner, then tell me I was “never there for you”, frankly, I want nothing to do with you.

When you tell me you’re “unfollowing me in Twitter, but not in life”, I see you as the shallow person that you are, considering the proximity of our “friendship”.

When you’re cool with me as long as I vote the “right way”, but when I don’t, or when I give a valid point that counters yours, you tell me to not use “talking points”, while your counter-argument consists of……talking points, I’ll take it with a grain of salt.

And when you’re eager to ask me about the Rob Bell “thing”, but weeks later know that I’m experiencing a trial and walk past without saying a word to acknowledge it, I know where your priorities are.

Here’s the thing: I’m not going to get into a theological discussion about the minutia of details that comes with different applications of Scripture, solely dependent on what camp you or I were raised in within Christianity. I’m not going to hyper-analyze Rob Bell to the Nth degree to see whether or not my opinion of if he’s a Christian or not lines up with you (as if either of us even have the right to make that determination). I’m going to live my life by this standard:

I believe in God. I believe I cannot succeed without Him. I believe that nothing I can do could measure up to what He’s done for me. I believe He died on a cross, was resurrected 3 days later, and is reconciling all things to Himself. I’m going to love my neighbor, and speak up for the rights of every person who has been “told to speak only when spoken to….and then are never spoken to.”

If that lines me up more with Bono, Bob Dylan, and Cornel West than it does with whatever standard you’ve set for what a “Christian” should be, then hear me now.

I. don’t. care.

It may sound like I’m jaded. I’m not. I’m just tired of the BS. I’m tired of feeling like I’m crazy, and I refuse to feel that way any longer. I know that I’m not, and I know that not all reading this think that I’m nuts. I may not see things like you do, but I’m willing enough to be wrong, and certainly open to change. I would hope we all are, but I know better.

One of my favorite MLK sayings is this: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

I’ve heard alot of silence lately. I just quit caring.