Sometimes I Just Want to Give Up

Is it wrong to say that sometimes I just want to give up?

I feel like giving up on holding an opinion on anything because it is so easy to see people dismiss the opinions of others in a smug arrogant dismissal.

I feel like giving up because even people who agree with each other on large issues still seem to go for the neck when they disagree over details.

I feel like giving up because there are those who say I’m just another person writing and that I probably have nothing to say.

I feel like giving up because there are others who say that everyone has a voice and should be able to use it.

I feel like giving up because it often feels like you can never do anything right. People talk at each other, but rarely seem to talk with each other. People give their own view of how things are and ignore or put down the views of other. It seems like division, disrespect, and line drawing are the standards of how our culture communicates.

All that matters is if someone is on your side or not. Even if people have reasonable hesitation against going all or nothing the line is drawn, you are found wanting, and viewed as an enemy of the cause, whatever that cause may be. We pick through the actions, words, and images of everyone we get the chance to in order to criticize and oust, even those whose actions are not very controversial and their intentions seem to be for the good.

Perhaps the most discouraging thing about all this is that I know I do the same thing at times. It seems to be a human trait. It is easy to try to give people one size fits all labels that we make up in our head, that in reality are often worthless and do a poor job describing most of the people we run across. My aversion to labels and needing hivemind-like agreement tempers this quite a bit, but I still do it. It’s a lot easier to argue with and be condescending to a label we make than a whole person.

So often I want to give up on people. I tire of all the unwavering certainty, the us vs. them mentalities, and I don’t really know what to do about it. It’s frustrating enough when people you don’t agree with do it, but it is even more frustrating when people you tend to agree with do it too. You worry that some aspect of your thoughts on a particular issue doesn’t line up and the exile will begin.

I feel like giving up sometimes, but I don’t think that is really the right thing to do. My opinions may be considered wrong or even worse things by others, but they’re still mine. I don’t even really view my opinions or the things that I write about as unmoving boulders set in place for all eternity either. They are simply a reflection of where I am, just like other people’s opinions are a reflection of where they are. My guess is that over time views will change and/or become more developed over time.

It may be very odd posting something like this the week of Christmas. This sentiment feels  very anti-Christmas. To want to give up on humanity and any idea of striving to make the world a better place at all. At the same time I also wonder if this is not the most fitting time to put forward thoughts like this. The last few months have been fraught with conflict, tension, tragedy, and a multitude of opinions about those things. It just wears you out as you try to sort through it all, especially when you see people criticize other people just for trying to sort it out.

Yet at the same time, those who are Christians are celebrating the coming of Christ into the world. The incarnation of God into a messed up world that always seems to have its share of conflict, tension, and tragedy. I’m also sure critics are not just a product of our age. God didn’t give up on the flawed humanity that we are. If I am to embrace the coming of Christ and seek to follow that, then giving up doesn’t seem like a viable option no matter how tempting it may be.

So I keep hoping that people will become more understanding, even when they disagree, instead of divisive. I will keep striving to be more like that myself as well. I’ll also keep writing my thoughts and opinions, as flawed and in progress as they are and will probably always be. As much as I may want to give up sometimes seeing how messed up the world is, I’m pretty sure people giving up would only make it worse and not better. So we move forward day by day and hope that we will make progress.

Words Like Glass

“Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Have you ever heard that saying before? I know I have, I’m pretty sure I’ve said it before as well. Words will never hurt me? I wish that were true.

It’s funny though, I’ve been thinking about words for a number of reasons lately. In part, because of the fact that I put out words on a regular basis through this blog so you have to think of words in some ways. I also think about how we can see people use words, often poorly, when we interact with each other either online or in person. All this thought of words brought to mind a picture of glass.

I envision glass because I feel that words are simultaneously fragile and dangerous. I think of how often I worry about the words that I write because I worry that someone will barge in, shatter my words, my thoughts, and opinions with little care or concern that I’m a person just like them. Even worse I worry that nobody will care enough even to do that. When we tell people how we feel or our thoughts about something and our words are either dropped to the floor to shatter on the ground in apathy or actively shattered in antagonism, it displays just how fragile our words are.

The truth is in thinking about that, I wonder how often I’ve done the same. The times I’ve shattered words in my attempts to be right. The times that I’ve just not reciprocated at all and let the words crash to the ground shattering into a million invisible pieces. From the uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach, I’m assuming this is something I do more than I would like to admit.

For some I think we hold our words in because of how fragile they are. We don’t want to ever run the risk of those words being broken so we wrap them in layers and layers of protection and keep the stuffed deep down inside. They’re intact but never used, always in storage to stay safe, but I wonder if that is better or not.

After talking about the fragility of our words, it may seem contradictory to view them as dangerous as well. However, we can break glass fairly easily and still be cut by it at the same time. In a similar way our words can be fragile, but can also be dangerous and hurt us despite what the nursery rhyme quoted earlier implies.

Our words can be harmful, maybe not in the same way that sticks, stones, or glass can be, but harmful enough. Sometimes this is unintentional. It is done by being careless with our words or in our receiving of other peoples words and it is like dropping something glass. People get hurt because the words weren’t handled properly in the process and we can get harmed by the shards that are scattered around. It’s harming and being harmed due to carelessness not maliciousness.

However, there are times we harm with words very intentionally. We pick up pointy shards of glass and use it to stab and slice other people with. The intention is to go out and hurt other people with words. Sometimes this is done by shattering the words that others have put out there and then stabbing them with shards that remain.

Other times, we provide the words and simply set out to harm. This can be under the guise of being right, protecting our rights, or some other cause we believe to be noble. We can also wound others out of jealousy, retaliation, or dislike for another person. Sometimes it is about power, dominance, and being about to subdue others with our words. We can wound others in all kinds of ways for all kinds of reasons with our words.

So our words are so strange. On the one hand they feel so fragile sometimes. So easily broken. So easily taken out of context or dismissed without a second thought. On the other hand, we can so easily turn our words into weapons to harm. Sometimes it is the careless comment, other times we craft our words into shivs to stick other people with.

Being careful with our words and the words of others is something that I think we could all do better with. We’ve all tried to hurt people with our words and we’ve all treated other people’s words poorly. Now this isn’t a call to accept any argument without criticism or anything like that. It is about treating people like people. It is about caring about what people say and think, even when you’re trying to change their minds or correct them. It’s about treating other people’s words the way we want ours treated, especially when we disagree. Our words are like glass and I long for a day that the ground isn’t littered with shards of glass everywhere from our smashing of each others words.


Love, Respect and Making Things Up As We Go Along

About four years ago we were involved in a couples group that went through the Love & Respect DVD series done by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs and his wife Sarah Eggerichs. The basic premise of the series is that men need to feel respected particularly when conflict is involved, and women need to feel loved. While often my wife and I felt that in reality we both need love and respect, the study was enjoyable (well except for the fact that we got constantly labeled as still being in the “newlywed” phase by a few of the other older couples). The idea that we need love and respect in a healthy relationship is an important one, even if you don’t necessarily agree that men need to feel respected more or that women need to feel loved more. Another thing that came out of it was that communication, meaningful, intentional communication is a must. I can’t remember if that was really driven home intentionally or was more woven throughout, but it was there.

Thankfully, my wife and I had the advantage/disadvantage of being a semi-long distance couple while we were dating. This resulted in not getting to see each other a lot, but it meant a lot of communication for the three years of dating where we were both in college. Our only connection was talking on the phone or writing e-mails or cards to each other. Even our dates usually consisted of going to the local park and walking around the park’s walking trail talking. Communication is one of the bedrocks of our relationship and still is. It takes work and time, but it has really been a benefit to our relationship. We are able to know each other well and can often tell when the other one is off or not well, even when they don’t want to talk about it. That isn’t always something that feels too positive when you’re the one not wanting to talk about what’s bothering you though.

This focus on communication, hasn’t meant that we don’t have any problems (we do), but I think it has allowed us to respect and love each other for who we are better. Does that mean that there aren’t things my wife wants me to work on or vice versa? No, I mean let’s be honest we’re still human we all need work. That and it is so easy to see the faults of the people you’re closest to and want to “fix” them. My point in that is that we know each other for who we are, not so much for who we want the other person to be or measured against some type of gender role.

Now let’s come back to today. In my reading of other blogs, I’ve realized that there is this fairly large battle going on over gender roles. You have the battle lines drawn between the complimentarians and the egalitarians. I wish I could give you a great definition of these two positions. My understanding is that complimentarians believe that while women and men are of equal value to God they have different roles to play particularly in the church and the family. Egalitarians tend to believe that women and men are of equal worth and have equal ability to use their gifts both in the church and the family. Most of the time this seems to be primarily a debate about if women should hold leadership roles in the church, but it does hit a little about the roles of men and women in the household, but these seem less clear.

Now neither my wife or I have ever really paid much attention to these distinctions, in fact my wife had never really heard of them. So as I’ve looked at the debate, my question was where do we fit? The answer is I’m not too certain. We’ve kind of just made things up as we’ve gone along. We both tend to like male pastoral leadership in the church better, but we also have women friends who are pastors or feel called to be in the future and we’re okay with that. My wife is the one who works while I stay at home with the kids, so clearly traditional gender roles are not a do or die issue for us.  Despite the fact that she is probably looked at by the outside world as a career woman, she doesn’t really look at herself that way, and it isn’t like staying at home with the kids was my first choice.

When thinking about parenting, I’m sure there are many things that we will do similarly for our children. At the same time I’m sure there will be differences in how we treat them based on gender, even if it isn’t always intentional. A somewhat silly example is that we won’t be putting our son in dresses or skirts, but we will and have done that for our daughter. At the same time we’ll want our children to be themselves and chase after the dreams and the calling that they feel they have on their lives. We aren’t about setting rigid gender roles for them to follow, but we’ll probably have some sort of gender differences.

As I said, I don’t know where this puts us.  I’m not entirely sure we care about the label we fall into either. My wife and I believe in treating each other with love and respect because we are both people. In some ways we seem to hedge egalitarian, but I’m not entirely sure about that. We’ll probably refrain from labeling ourselves in either camp. In cases like this it seems like the labels are more to see who is in our camp and who is outside of it. Do I believe that both can have examples of people living and practicing love and respect to each other? Yes. Do I think that there are examples in both where love and respect isn’t present? Yes.

I guess I’m a little wary of telling people how they should specifically look in terms of husband and wife. Is it wrong for the male to be looked at as the leader? Is it wrong for a husband and wife to work together as leaders? Is it wrong when the mother stays home with the kids? Is it wrong when the father stays home? Is it wrong when both parents work? I don’t necessarily think there is a clear right or wrong in these issues, but there are challenges in all of these scenarios. I think the bigger question is whether or not there is mutual love and respect present in the relationship. If there isn’t that’s a larger problem than whether you are egalitarian or complimentarian.

So feel free to debate from those standpoints. We probably won’t look like your model egalitarian or your model complementarian, but we’ll be trying to treat each other with love and respect as best as we can that given day. We also probably won’t care what you label yourselves either. We’ll probably be living our lives, making things up as we go along.

Direct Communication

How do you keep score in your church? What do you look at when you determine if you are successful? These were questions that we were asking ourselves as leaders of the church a few weeks ago. The common answers are often the number of people in a service, amount of money coming in, and/or the number of programs that are operating. We were trying to move away from such answers, because we all knew that those things do not always mean you have a healthy church. One of the values we wanted to have be a measure of our success was direct communication.

What do I mean by direct communication? It is quite simple in theory. It involves two basic things, directness and communication, quite profound eh? Let’s break it down a little more. First, it means being direct. It means going to the person you have problems with. In Matthew 18:15 Jesus calls us to go and talk to the brother who has sinned against us. Just us and the person who sinned against us, nobody else at first. That means no telling ten other people to gain support for your side or even harboring some sort of grudge without ever actually dealing with the issues.

Of course the need for this directness is beyond just when things go wrong. Are you able be direct and earnest in talking about your life, likes, and dislikes with people or are you constantly hiding and on the defensive around people. Not to say we have to be so open that people around us know everything there is to know about us. However, we do need to ask if we are hiding behind a facade or are we being who we are?

Let’s move to the communication part. Communication requires two things; talking and listening. It also requires at least two people. This is where things get really difficult, because you can only control the way you act and approach communication. You may be willing to talk and listen to those around you in a direct fashion, but that does not always mean that the person you’re communicating with will.

Why is this so important? Whether it is because we live in an age of mass media or just because of our massive egos, it seems that our definition of communication is only to talk. Even worse it is usually only talk to those who agree with us and call those who don’t names and/or never directly address what valid points they may bring up. We have, all too often, turned communication into a one way street. All this does is create tension and resentment. It divides when we are called to be united.

Sadly, we don’t have to look too far to see evidence of this. People complain about things that someone did, without going to them and communicating with them about it. We fail to listen and think that the role of communication is to get the person we disagree with to do what we want or to agree with our view. We call people names and make caricatures of them when they disagree with our views instead of talking with them and getting to know them and their views.

Obviously, direct communication is not easy and goes against the flow of where we are today. However, I see a lack of communications in too many corners. I see it in our churches, our country, and even in my own relationships with people. It takes a lot of work to do, and it is not always work that is appreciated. However, it is work that we need to do, even though I know it is hard and I have a lot of work to do. Honestly, as Christians, we should be the champions of this, but I don’t see that we are. I know I want to be known for this, care to join me and help the cause?