It Seemed Like a Good Idea…

Recently, I stopped at a convenience store and popped into the bathroom. When I went to wash my hands, it was one of those new-fangled combo deals — where the sink and the hand dryer are all built into the same vanity. And there was only one of them in this particular restroom. So, I waited for the guy in front of me to finish washing his hands, and as he dried his, I got started with the water. I was probably in his personal space, but, really, with only one sink, am I supposed to wait until he finishes the whole process before I get going? Anyway, as I washed, the air from the dryer was like a storm in that little sink — blowing the water places it wasn’t supposed to go.

Now, of course, it wasn’t that big of a deal. But it got me to thinking: What else seemed like a good idea when somebody drew it up, but doesn’t work so well in practice?

Well, just in the bathroom, I can think of at least a three more:

  1. Doors that open toward you when you exit. I’ve just washed my hands; why would I want to grab a door handle that’s been handled by hundreds of other people? I mean really, unless space requires it, why would they ever install bathroom doors that you push to enter, and pull to exit?
  2. Shower heads that are too short. This, of course, is a hotel deal. I was never very good in science, but it seems to me to be a basic principle that water always flows downward. So, whether the shower head is mounted four feet up, or eight feet up, it still goes to the same place. Therefore, my vertically-challenged friends can take a shower no matter where the shower head is placed; but we who are north of six feet really appreciate it when the engineers don’t design the water to come out at our navels.
  3. Finally — and this is my biggest pet peeve when it comes to restrooms — automatic anythingWhether it’s automatic toilets that don’t flush, or automatic soap dispensers that don’t dispense, or automatic sinks that don’t produce water, or automatic towel dispensers that don’t give you enough paper (like the one at my son’s work, which one time generously gave me 3/4 inch of paper for each wave of the hand). It used to be that “the wave” was a public sports cheer we all did in sync at the game; now it’s the game we all play at the sink in public restrooms. Is it really too much work for us to flush our own toilets (er, well, bad example, at least in men’s rooms). Is it really too much work to pull out our own paper towels?

And it’s not just restrooms that are full of things that seemed like a good idea. Life has those, too. My life has those, too.

It seemed like a good idea to:

  1. fix the leak myself
  2. eat that extra scoop of ice cream
  3. try to surf off the back of my friend’s boat
  4. watch just one more show on netflix

It also seemed like a good idea to:

  1. skip time in prayer
  2. yell at my kid when I was upset
  3. hold that grudge
  4. scream at that guy on the interstate

In other words, I wish it was just in public restrooms where dumb things happen. Sadly, it’s also in life. In my life.

So, how can I not believe in grace? How can I not cling to it fiercely? For what else makes sense in a world where just about everyday, I can say, But it seemed like a good idea….

Why Geese Can’t Act “Un-geesy”

Snapshot #1
Likely, you’ve heard of the Stanford Prison Experiment. Conducted in 1971, carefully-screened college students were chosen to play the role of prisoners and guards. The experiment was to last 2 weeks. The project coordinator, Philip Zimbardo, had to shut it down after 6 days. Why? Because the ones who were given authority in the game moved from acting to becoming.

Snapshot #2
In his book, Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power, Andy Crouch highlights Gary Haugen’s 15/70/15 principle, which applies to public justice systems around the world. This principle states that in a typical police force, 15% are honest and honorable; they simply cannot be bought or corrupted. On the other end of the spectrum, another 15% are corrupt, bent on using their power for their own sake. But the rest, the vast majority (70%) are just ordinary people who can be swayed by pressure from either direction. How they act will probably be due to which 15% have the largest influence in their context.

Snapshot #3
A couple of months ago, I arrived for church services and was walking through the parking lot to the building. As I did, some stuff on the ground caught my eye. I walked over to find a fast-food bag that someone had left, with sauce dipping cups laying around it. Clearly, someone had enjoyed a feast, and had left the remains for someone else to clean up. Right before I came across the trash, I had walked past a bunch of goose poop that also soiled our parking lot.

For me, all 3 of these “snapshots” point to the human condition. Power is easily misused. Authority can quickly turn from being benign, or even beneficial, to malignant. And when prison guards, or anyone with authority, misuses it in hurtful and hateful ways, we call their actions inhumane — that is to say, not acting in a human way.

And while leaving fast-food trash in a church parking lot is not a big deal, it is a minor offense against what it means to be human. And so, that Sunday, while it was frustrating to have to walk around all of that goose poop, I don’t blame the geese. They are just being geese. They were just acting geesy. So, when a goose snaps at someone, or leaves some crap for someone else to clean up, we don’t say: You’re acting un-goosy! There is no such thing as a goose acting “un-goosy.” Why? Because there’s only one way for a goose to act: by instinct.

But there is a way for people to act “un-people-y.” It’s when we choose, on the one end of the spectrum, to leave our trash for someone else to deal with — or, on the other end, when we mistreat our fellow human beings. In ways small and significant, when we act against our calling, against what we were made for — we are acting inhumanely.

Another word for this is sin. To act, to choose, another way than the way God designed us to be, is to choose to act in a way that harms others, harms the human community, harms this place we call home; harms us. And while geese and their “geesy ways” will probably never stop annoying me, what is more devastating is when I choose to act inhumanely. When I choose to act for self. When I choose to act based on what I feel, rather than I know. When I use others, belittle others, mistreat others.

In these ways, and so many more, we are forgetting who we are, and who we are truly called to be. That is to say: human. Which is precisely the reason Jesus came, “taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross” (Philippians 2.7-8).

And so, the path from inhumanity to true and restored humanity? It’s through a cross, and a human who took on himself ALL our inhumanity — making us, finally and fully, truly human.

How to Find Yourself: thoughts about marriage that are about more than marriage

This past weekend, I presided at a wedding. As always, the ceremony is a time of joy and celebration. The bride and groom look their best, and everything that happens point to one thing: happiness and smiles.

So, when I stand before the just-about-to-be-married couple, speaking to them (and to those who are gathered), I want to say nice, happy things. I want to add to the festive spirit. And I do.

But I also want to say: Do you really know what you’re doing? Are you really ready for this? Because your vows are real. This is the real deal. And marriage will be one of the most difficult things you ever do.

Now, that’s not what I say. At least not in so many words. But I do say this:

We live in a world that can be cynical about marriage. There are those who doubt that a couple can spend a lifetime of love together. That instead of finding freedom in marriage, it ends up being a shackle.

As someone once sarcastically said, “Marriage is a wonderful institution. But who would want to live in an institution?”

But that’s not how the Bible sees it. In fact, from the very beginning, God makes man, and then provides man a helper; an equal, a partner for the journey. For life – with all its challenges and disappointments, with all of its joys and pleasures – is meant to be shared. The good, the bad, and the ugly. The days your heart aches and the days your heart skips a beat. The day you get a promotion, AND the day you lose your job.

And the way to grow stronger through Whatever comes your way – is by firmly holding onto each other.

In other words, marriage is hard. In part, because life is hard. And there’s a reason that in our marriage vows, we don’t say: “I do, if I feel like it,” or “I do, as long as it works for me,” or, “I do, as long as it’s not too difficult.” That’s not how marriage works. That’s not how life works. The way through the difficult times is to walk through those difficult times together.

I recently read a long article, published by the New York Times, that talked with couples who are practicing what is called “open marriage.” If you’re not familiar with the concept, it’s pretty much what it sounds like. Open marriage is where a couple “opens” their marriage to other intimate relationships, to other lovers. And the article is full of people giving reasons why this makes things better, at least in their minds.

While most of us can come up with a number of reasons why open marriage doesn’t work and doesn’t make sense, perhaps it’s a perfect sign of our times — where so many believe that life is found, not in our commitments, but in our freedoms. That is to say: real life is found by always keeping our options open.

The preacher and writer John Ortberg contends that so many who live for so much freedom end up coming to the end of their lives, and they can’t remember what they did with all the money they were free to make and spend. They can’t remember what they did with all that time they were so busy protecting. They can’t remember what happened to all those relationships that they were so free to exit. In the end, by keeping their options open, and by not fully committing to anything, they end up with a life committed to nothing.

Then Ortberg makes this vital point: It’s not in our freedom, but in our commitments, that we find ourselves.

What an absolutely counter-cultural argument, one that is sure to mystify many. But what a vital truth that is spot on. In a world where so many run from commitment — whether it’s in marriage, or parenting, or a job, or church, or just settling in one place to be a blessing to those around us — it’s really true: real life is found, not in what we keep open, but what we hold onto. In the end, we are defined, we are shaped, we become: not by what we run from, but what we commit to.

 

What’s the best way to worship?

Some words just beg for definition. When we use words like good or government or, for that matter, good government, we have to say what we mean.

The same is true for worship. Often when we use this word, we are referring to the songs we sing at the beginning of a church service. We often specifically refer to that as the worship time. The person who leads this is called the worship minister.

But we also use the word worship to refer to the entire gathering of the church. So, we call it the worship service. We’ll often try to highlight this by saying things like, “We now continue our worship through our offering time….”

But the word worship has a broader meaning, too — as when we talk about living a life of worship. This idea encompasses not just Sunday, but everyday — where worship is an approach, a stance, a way to live.

Which of the 3 usages of the word worship is correct? Well …. all of them. They all describe an element of worship that is important.

But the place to start, I believe, is with the third definition. If worship is about how I live; if it involves how I work and how I treat my family; if it encompasses who I sleep with (or don’t), what I watch (or don’t), what I say (or don’t) — then such a life of worship leads naturally to a time of worship. If I am already living a life of adoration and submission (a pretty good definition of worship I picked up somewhere), then I will naturally gather with others who are doing the same. And we will spend some time once a week (or more), adoring and submitting, together.

In other words, living a life of worship daily leads to expressing that worship weekly. And when I come together with God’s people, the focus isn’t me, or my preferences. It’s God, and what God has done. And it’s us, and what God is doing in us, as we come together, united, in worship.

So, my challenge to me, and to you, is simply this: Focus on the third definition of worship. Seek to make that your daily reality. Then the first 2 will come into clearer focus.