Thursday, April 28, 2011

Привет России!

Just checked my stats and I was really surprised to see the country with the second highest readership was Russia so...Hi Russia!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Being the good apple

Now, I'm all for showing love for jerks. Sometimes they're just misunderstood or hurt or confused...but what do you do when you're in a group and there's one person that's just... ruining everything by the sheer fact that they exist? I don't mean a personality difference or occasional conflict. I mean someone that absolutely obliterates any harmony and happiness a group or organization may have ever known. The kind of person whose venom no one seems to be immune to.

I just finished reading this blog on Psychology Today that addresses these "bad apples". Unfortunately, it doesn't give too much insight (in this post) on how to deal with them, but it does bring up a very interesting point.

"Conclusions - "Bad apples" are people who are internally conflicted. These internal conflicts tend to spread up to the level of the group, decreasing the groups' complexity, flexibility, and their ability to grow and adapt. On the more positive side, conflict resolution spreads as well, up from inside us and into our relationships, and down from our relationships to make us more internally flexible as well.

Implications - Expect conflict. Embrace it as a human condition. It is a means to our peril, as well as to our future resilience. And if you run into a bad apple, RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!"

That little bold part? Crazy important for anyone that aims (or has) to function as part of an organization. It tells me that if you want to truly resolve conflict, it has to come from you, internally to do so at any lasting level. 

Doing the whole business jig for the past few years, I've had my share of conflict resolution classes and one thing they don't seem to reflect, is that conflict resolution, very much like breaking up a fight, means you're very likely to incur some personal damage for the sake of maintaining peace. Even if a person, like me, isn't very prone to internalizing direct verbal jabs or general animosity, remaining calm and stifling emotional reactions while swimming deep in highly emotional situations does take a toll. 

I've come to realize that God has put me into a couple of situations in my life to pay that toll. Someone's even told me to my face that I have a calming effect on people. I genuinely enjoy that I can be an aid in adding a little rationality and calm to situations where there seems to be so little. Over the long term though, I've found that it can become burdensome, with me eventually harboring resentment and anger toward those who allow the "bad apples" to flourish be they the bad apples themselves, or someone else. 

Hearing God's guidance when it comes to timing of my involvement in situations is particularly difficult for me...knowing when to show up (not just when it's comfortable for me or when I'm excited about something) and when to leave (not just when I'm tired...or after I'm too exhausted to carry on) requires a lot of listening, which in turn takes vigilance in my prayer life. 

Monday, April 25, 2011

Why does God let bad things happen?

I'm half posting this for myself because I just ran across it on a friend's blog and after the day I spent at Universal Studios (honestly...I was kinda disappointed in everything but Harry Potter), I'm was only able to get a small ways through it. It's a common question though, and one I don't even come close to even partly understandingunderstanding. Even my personal acceptance of the idea that most of us humans are WAY off on what the purpose of  life is, doesn't satisfactorily explain some of the atrocities that happen in the world. It's something I'll be praying to better understand.

Sermon: Why Evil and Suffering?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Does church pull you farther away from God?

I hadn't thought about this in a while, but Rick mentioned it in the Easter message this morning. If I hadn't experienced it myself, I'd likely interpret it to mean that some churches are doing things that are against Biblical teachings that separate you from God by means of encouraging, supporting, disguising or ignoring sin in their congregations. Which yes, that does happen, but for me, it involved participating in highly extroverted worship services.

It was years ago, but one day, I was sitting in my usual corner, staring across a sea of about four hundred people from my armless usher chair. In the midst of praise and worship, I suddenly felt an intense need to dig a hole and hide in it. I stared at the blue carpet beneath my feet, longing for it to open up so I could get away from the shouts and screams and get closer to God. We were directed to have time for private prayer, and I couldn't focus because of regular, loud commands echoing through the building.

All this time I thought I was simply experiencing my introvert reflex to run from anything crowded and loud, but I just realized today that two forces were pulling on me. I genuinely believe that, at the time, I was attending services at a place that put its parishioners in a place where, if they wanted to deepen their relationship with God, they'd have to do so IN SPITE OF the leadership and environment. So yes, introvert Megan wanted to run, but even if I'd been thoroughly enjoying services, I undoubtedly would have had to reorient myself after leaving the building. I sometimes wonder how many other people there were experiencing the same thing I was, but simply reacting differently.

Happy Easter!!

(I'm a fan of Byzantine religious music...this piece is absolutely haunting.)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Are some people just inherently religious?

So there's been a lot of talk on the faults of religion lately. It's been unfairly blamed for starting every war the planet's ever seen, enslaving races and basically being the root of everything bad on the earth. I hold on to the relatively common belief that religion is a construct of man, different than faith, and is therefore subject to all the weaknesses and faults that we carry within ourselves...I also understand that that theory is only palatable if a person believes that humans are, in fact, inherently flawed.

My cousin posed the title question to me the other day, after observing the behavior of a friend. He's agnostic, educated, works a job in business and is, like me, a foodie. She described how dogmatic he is about the uses and presentations of food. How he tries to "convert" people to his gastronomic choices and spread the gospel of his culinary experiences. How, when in his presence, she sometimes felt she got insight into the experiences of those who complain of the overbearing approach of some Christians. If you put his behavior into the context of the concept of non-theistic belief, it very much mirrors devout followers of any religion. 

I do not believe that a person has to believe in a deity to be religious...especially if you take the definition of religion to be a body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices. I believe that people worship at the temple of science, food, sex, pleasure, and even in Christianity at "sub religions" of leaders, churches, spiritual experiences, causes, earthly Biblical figures and even buildings. 

My first exposure to the concept came on the back of rapper KRS-One's "I Got Next" album. It included a brief introduction to the Temple of Hip Hop. If you read up on it, you'll see that it's not actually presented as a religion in the traditional sense...I believe the effort of the organization is one toward awareness and understanding of an often misunderstood form of, like many things, could satisfy the needs of a person who is inherently religious, or who wants to be a religious leader.

I see vegans and vegetarians elevate their set of tastes, health and dietary choices to the level of a moral code, berating, condemning and judging those who have "sinned" against their religion. We're all aware of judgmental behavior of some members of organizations like PETA, or we have a friend or friend of a friend who protests loudly against the consumption of meat or treatment of animals (things I actually disapprove of on a certain level myself). 

From dietary choices, to treatment of hair, patriotism, chosen art, science and everything in between...Yes, I do believe there are those of us that are more prone to "religious behavior" than others. Myself, I believe that I lean toward inherently non-religious. I've often said that if I weren't Christian, I'd likely be a Nihilist...not because I'm a naturally hopeless person, but because I simply don't see evidence of the inherent good of humanity, the infinite virtue of caring for family, and friends, nor do I have faith that all of our advancement over the short time we've been on this planet has done anything to solve any of our real issues. I've never understood people that come to church on a regular basis, yet openly confess that they do it out of pure ritual. That, however, is easy to say from this side of the fence. I really don't know how I would react to life if I didn't have the hope and purpose that God has blessed me with.

I do believe though, that religion has a purpose, and feeds a need that we as humans, at some level, all carry within ourselves. As Christians, I believe it gives us context for many spiritual concepts and a framework for the practical application of many forms of discipleship.  

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Is hate ever ok?

Before you read this  post, check out the literal definition of the word "Hate”. Let it it? Ok...let's go. 

“Hate the sin, love the sinner”

This phrase gets thrown around so much by Christians, it should be inducted into the “almost a Bible verse, but not” hall of fame. Come to think of it, it’s mostly cited as a means to point out judgmental or prejudicial behavior. Not to be too trusting of the credibility of the internet, but most signs seem to indicate that it’s actually a quote of Ghandi’s.

Ever since I saw Jet Li’s Unleashed, I’ve questioned people’s processing of their feelings of love, and recently, hate. As a true martial arts fan, I draw a lot lessons from any film that involves high kicks and back flips.  One of the final scenes of the movie involved Jet Li’s character’s “adoptive father”, crying at the prospect of losing Li, exclaiming that he loved him. If it weren’t for the fact that he’d kept his “son” collared and locked in a cage, letting him out only to fight for money and protection, the scene would have been sweet.

Instead, it was saddening. You were getting a clear look at the long sitting and uninterrupted perversion of a human being. (Bob Hoskins is one of my favorite actors and played the scene beautifully.) My first thought was “wow, this guy’s twisted.” Then it hit me that maybe, he really was experiencing love, and when he listed how he’d fed and clothed and cared for his child, that he meant it. Maybe he felt the exact same thing that you or I feel, but executed it in the language of abuse. 

This same concept can be extended to the terrorist, who for love of country and family, kills and sacrifices their own life. Even Hitler, extreme though the reference may be…it seems that most psychohistorians put him in the category of having narcissistic personality disorder as opposed to being an “unfeeling” sociopath. With the qualification that I have no background in psychology, I don’t find it impossible to believe that the same person who commits unspeakable atrocities against those he views as sub-human, has feelings he processes as love for those he sees as his equals…this is not to say that the executions of love would be perfect, or even good (a chapter in this book takes a brilliant look at the effects that slave ownership took on the families of the owners themselves...let's just say the slave masters weren't unaffected by their "work"). The fact that we acknowledge that God’s love is perfect tells me, that we do understand that love can be imperfect, and exercised in perverse and horrible ways. 

So after the topic of hate came up in Bible study, and I kicked it around with my cousin, I started looking at it from a Christian perspective. All I have to say is thank goodness for online searches and Strong’s, because despite a lifetime of Bible reading and memorization…I’m still embarrassingly sketchy when it comes to verse citation. So yeah…I started wondering…who’s doing the hating in the Bible? Is it ever commanded? Is it ever condoned? Is this possibly an issue of translation?

I pulled 127 references to the word “hate”. As I expected, it was pretty common in the Old Testament.  God did a lot of it and I don’t doubt he still does and I’m sure he does it perfectly…but does that mean it’s ok for us? Can we sustain an emotion like hate without it eventually corrupting our already fragile and imperfect love? Are we able to ever, on our own, discern its application well enough to let it grow unchecked? Here are some of the verses I found: 

Psalm 97:10
Let those who love the LORD hate evil, for he guards the lives of his faithful ones and delivers them from the hand of the wicked

Proverbs 8:13
To fear the LORD is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech.

Luke 14:26
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.

John 12:25
Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

Romans 12:9
[ Love in Action ] Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

I find a few things interesting…things that make me question the translation of the word “hate” (I’d love to hear input on the translation if anybody has any). Specifically, Luke. Is Jesus commanding us to have an intense hostility, and aversion to our family? I don’t think so. What I do think though, is that we are being commanded to reject, and let go of the things that tie and bind us to this life…and that, makes me think that the concept of the English word "hate" in the Bible…well, it doesn’t have one set meaning.

There goes my clear answer.

I’m still left wondering, if we as people should actively embrace the emotion (not to be confused with the rejection of what is wrong or against God’s teaching) of hatred and not eventually let it consume, and even override the love that pulls 686 references in the same Bible.