Monthly Archives: January 2016

The Zen of Dog Poop

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My daughter and son-in-law moved back into our place while they start a new business. They brought with them two dogs, which brings our household total to four canine quadrupeds. I know what you’re thinking: “Who scoops all that poop in the back yard?” Well, the same guy who types these pearls of wisdom, that’s who. Most likely I was assigned the job of household pooper scooper because of my uncanny ability to relate to the fell beasts in our home, and that occasionally includes the dogs. Some call me the misfit dog whisperer, though I’m not entirely sure who is the misfit. In any case, I have come to embrace the scooping of dog poop as a transcendental path to wisdom.

How, you might ask, does scooping dog poop lead to wisdom? Well, one has to humble oneself to scoop dog poop. You won’t catch a narcissist scooping dog poop. But first let me say that selecting the proper tools is crucial to successful poop scooping. A simple shovel will not do, for ergonomic reasons, when scooping volume poop. A shovel requires the scooper to repeatedly bend his or her back when scooping. It’s better to go to one of those warehouse pet stores and buy an official scooper and pan with long handles so you don’t have to bend over repeatedly while scooping. You also need a pair of old shoes that you detest because, trust me, no matter how careful or persnickety you are, you WILL step in poop . . . a lot. This, or course, teaches us to not hold on to material possessions, which isn’t all that difficult once they’ve been baptized in dog pooh.

Need more examples of the mystical benefits of scooping poop? Scooping poop requires the dulling of one’s senses to a certain degree, especially the sense of smell. When you dull one sense, others senses come alive with greater intensity. When I scoop poop, I become more keenly aware of the breeze on my skin, the chirping of birds in the yard, and the looks of my dogs (who watch from a safe distance) that seem to inquire: “Why do we call you Master when clearly your status in this home is not what you’d have us believe?” Ignoring their condescending expressions, I encourage myself with the thought that I have become a master at spotting petrified dog poop amidst a sea of like-colored decorative bark. Occasionally I am rewarded for my efforts by a dog poop that reveals the diversity in diet that our canine friends enjoy, often unbeknownst to us. Yep, just yesterday I found two poops containing large chunks of Cindy’s chartreuse flip flops. This gave me an epiphany—we humans, like the dogs, consume both good and evil throughout our lives, but only the good can nourish us. Or it might just mean that Cindy has poor taste in flip flops.

But let’s return to the topic of humility. The most important life-lesson I’ve learned from scooping dog poop has to do with male pride. If a guy has to scoop dog poop, it keeps his feet firmly planted on solid ground. Dog poop does not suffer pride in a man. If a man can’t bring himself to enter the domain of his own dogs to scoop the poop, well, he may be headed for the proverbial fall that follows pride. Perhaps presidents, and members of Congress, and captains of industry, and even some high priests in the clergy should all be required to own a dog and scoop the pooh. We’d likely have less crap going on in the world. (I crack me up sometimes.)

Scooping dog pooh in volume requires such concentration that one does not have room in the cranium to worry about life’s cares and woes while transferring poop from the yard to the waste bin. In other words, scooping poop enables the mind to zone out for a while. Scooping poop also buys a guy a lot of chore cred at home. When my wife berates me for neglecting to load the dish washer or failing to take out the trash, I need only remind her, in a gentle tone, who it is that scoops the poop, and the berating comes to an abrupt end. Of course I still have to load the dishwasher and take out the trash. I’m not THAT dimwitted.

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Making music after church conflict

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To be honest, I don’t have a Norman Rockwell image in my head of what a church looks like any more. That image of a sublime country church where kind, loving people gather each Sunday morning was wiped from my consciousness a long time ago by, you guessed it, much time spent in the real deal. In the real world, church life doesn’t always go well for congregations or pastors. In other words, conflict happens. One such brouhaha in church life occurs when a once cherished pastor leaves the church as a result of conflict that reaches critical mass behind the scenes. It can be especially ugly when the pastor does not recognize, for whatever reason, his contribution to the split. When the breakup happens, the congregation can tend to divide into four camps: those who are angry because they feel the pastor was treated unjustly, those who are relieved that the pastor left because they experienced the pastor’s questionable behavior firsthand, those who use the event to find another church, thus avoiding the unpleasantness (in which case they are no longer part of the equation), and those who are bewildered as to what happened (often the largest group). All four groups can include people who feel wounded by the event.

One of the reasons why people permanently sour on the church has to do with the unfortunate tendency of congregations and church leaders to overlook the wounded who get hurt in conflicts between congregants and pastors. When a pastor leaves a church due to conflict reaching critical mass, there is often an outpouring of support for the pastor, which can be a healthy and proper response (but not always). That said, I wonder why we do little to offer support to our fellow congregants who were wounded in the melee, as well. The use of social media exacerbates this problem. Some people think nothing of jumping on Facebook to express their fawning support of a pastor who leaves a church due to excessive conflict, yet it seems like nary is any support forthcoming for the wounded who left the congregation as well as the wounded who remain in the congregation. Granted, we all have a Biblical mandate to forgive those who hurt us and to apologize and seek forgiveness when we hurt others. But a valid question remains: is there an unhealthy one-way street when it comes to forgiveness and healing in church culture today? An example will help answer that question.

Steve (not his real name) was a pastor on staff at Good Shepherd Church (not its real name) before Cindy and I became members. Apparently some of the good folks of Good Shepherd had treated Steve poorly, which eventually prompted him to resign and join the staff of another local church. We started attending Good Shepherd about the time they recruited a new senior pastor, long after Steve’s departure. Our new pastor eventually became aware that a few people in the church had mistreated Steve in the past. One day our new pastor asked the congregation to go to Steve’s new church during an evening service so we could apologize for hurting him and seek his forgiveness. It was a moving and healing experience to witness. Our new senior pastor simply became aware of an injustice and sought to make it right in accordance with Romans 14:19. Our pastor discerned that the church would struggle to move forward until we made amends with Steve. But what happens when a pastor’s actions or words hurts people in the church? Should the church expect an apology from the pastor? What happens to the wounded if no apology is forthcoming? Should those who were wounded turn their backs on the church forever and retreat to their darkened bedroom with a bottle of vodka and a book of teachings by Friedrich Nietzsche?

People naturally want to move forward after a bad experience. But after a major conflict in the church, I wonder if moving forward too quickly sends the unintended message to the wounded that their pain and disappointments are inconsequential and they should get over it and move on. Also my gut tells me that The Almighty isn’t too pleased when some in his flock are left to nurse their wounds as best they can after a significant conflict. We humans are complex beings. Some of us recover quickly while others require years to work through anger and disillusion following emotional or spiritual wounding, especially if the wounds come from a spiritual leader for whom we had great admiration. When our wounds run deep and raw, God’s tender spirit often does not rush us through the healing process. You see, healing requires a malleable heart, which, like it or not, can require a lengthy season of crushing and softening on the road to healing. And even those who weren’t directly hurt in a church conflict may have their own issues to work through in its aftermath. All of this takes time to heal. It takes time spent in the Gospels or in the books of wisdom like Proverbs and Psalms. It takes prayer, patience, and time with other men and women of God who have the wisdom to navigate turbulent times in the church. A softer heart filled with God’s love can indeed emerge from the aftermath of conflict in the church.

Unfortunately, untended wounds can fester and rob us of contentment and spiritual growth. Such situations are stressful and destabilizing in a church. The best medicine is to forgive. And forgive. And forgive again. But we must also acknowledge our culpability, if any. Not sure if you have any flaws that made you culpable in the conflict? With a sincere heart, ask God and he will be glad to show you (and don’t I know it). And if you know brothers or sisters who were wounded in a church embroiled in conflict, encourage them to not give up on God, or the church, and what God wants to show them. Perhaps it would be wise of church leaders to provide trusted and credible professional or spiritual counselors to aid the wounded in the aftermath of a church conflict with the pastor. Yet ultimately our source of healing comes from God and the people in the pews who love us as we love them.

Metaphorically, I believe God wants the people of his church to experience the divine joy of singing, dancing, and making music in harmony. It can happen. Finally, pray that God will give our church leaders the vision, time, wisdom, and resources for healing the wounded that come under their care. This will help people grow in deeper faith that Jesus is real because the response of the church is very different from a world that chews people up and spits them out like rubbish.

God Speaks: Don’t abuse his voice

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Over the last 16 years I have known a few pastors who regularly invoked the assertion “God told me” or “God gave me a sense that . . . (you fill in the blank).” Before going any further, I need to make it clear that God does indeed communicate to his people. I’ve experienced divine communication myself, albeit mostly directed at my bad attitudes, sins, and assorted shortcomings that God wanted to change in my life. And I’ve no doubt more such fun dispatches from above will be forthcoming in the future. Fortunately God has also graciously affirmed his love for me on numerous occasions. Yet I worry about an unhealthy trend coming from some pulpits these days. It’s the God-told-me-what-we-are-supposed-to-do-so-the-discussion-is-over message coming from some pastors. This worries me because at worst it feels like an abuse of power bordering on the edge of cult-like behavior, or at best an effort to avoid the hard work of convincing hardheaded people (aka congregations that disagree, criticize, and debate everything down to the soul-sucking minutia of the mundane) about the correctness of the vision and direction of a church that is set by our pastor and church leaders. It could also indicate that something has gone awry in the mind and heart of the pastor who drops God’s name in an effort to gain concession without much protest. Who, after all, would dare to challenge God’s will?

But what happens when the pastor says God told him that the church needs to do X and the chairman of the board of elders says God told him that the church needs to do Y? It’s a sticky situation. When a spiritual leader, such as a pastor, claims that God told him that the church needs to do X, even if X seems outrageous, the mere invoking of God’s will creates doubt in the minds of those who might otherwise disagree with the plan to do X. The doubt goes like this: what if God really DID tell the pastor we need to do X and I just don’t have enough faith or spiritual savvy to comprehend God’s will? This seed of doubt in the congregant’s heart gives the pastor more power and authority. Is it too much power? Certainly knowing God’s will helps his people accomplish great things, but it is also an aspect of church life that can be abused.

So what can be done to make sure our clergy do not abuse this power? Having a strong and theologically astute board of elders or a governing board can help hold pastors accountable. In addition, we would be wise to follow, as much as possible, the format for making crucial decisions in the church found in Acts 1:12-26 where the disciples set about to select a replacement for Judas. The process used by the disciples involved much prayer, and probably some discussion about the qualifications of the candidates. They narrowed the field to two qualified candidates, but they left the final decision up to God by casting lots. Perhaps the church should reintroduce the practice of casting lots. In any case, I am struck by what is missing in this scene where the disciples chose a replacement: nobody stood up and said God told them who should replace Judas. It was a group effort with God making the final decision. Well, you say, we don’t do things that way anymore because we hire professional clergy and church administrators to make decisions. And that’s my point: we have given pastors and church leaders a lot of autonomy, and we expect them to hear from God when it comes to crucial church decisions. But should we?

Some of my brothers and sisters in Christ get very accustomed to hearing God’s voice in their lives. And who am I to say they are wrong? But the human heart is deceitful. I’ve watched fellow Christians face crisis and bewilderment when the voice they thought was God turned out to be something else, or God was silent and life took them in an unexpected and painful direction. Perhaps we are wise to proceed with more caution when we think we have heard from God, especially before we claim to know his will in much of our earthly matters. A little mystery about God and life isn’t a bad thing.