Embracing the Grey

Embracing the Grey

I had a very random conversation with a complete stranger, yesterday. He said that the hot issue many counselors/therapists/psychotherapists are dealing with, lately, is how to help their clients deal with friends and family, with whom they have differing political views.  His point was that, in our current political climate, friends and family are being ripped apart by opposing loyalties and ideologies.  People are increasingly afraid to open their mouth, and state their opinions, for fear of other’s reactions and potentially being ostracized.

Differences of opinions – even within families – is nothing new.  But, tearing families and friends apart?

What’s wrong with us?

I listened to a speaker last night, who said many wise things, and much that I agreed with.  But, there were HUGE holes in his arguments.  And, he unfairly villainized his opposition.  As much as I liked and agreed with the speaker, the voice in my head kept screaming, “YEAH!  BUT…  WHAT ABOUT…..?”

Even my denomination is currently polarized around the issue of homosexuality; opposing sides condemning the other.  Many are fighting and praying to find a middle-way.  And, many fear that no middle-way will be found, and that we, like so many friends and families, will also be ripped apart.

It is just so easy to paint everyone with the absurdly broad brushes of black or white, right or wrong, saint or sinner, good or bad.  And, it is so inaccurate and so unfair.  Why must my opposition be evil, ignorant, and immoral?  Is it possible that both could be partially right, and partially wrong?  Is it possible that neither could be right?  Is it possible that both could be right, depending on your perspective and agenda?

Can’t we see that the truth – the TRUTH – is often somewhere in the middle?

As I watched the endless political debates of 2016, both Republican and Democrat, I constantly thought “There’s got to be more to the story.  The other side can’t be THAT wrong; THAT evil; THAT short-sided.  The solutions can’t be THAT obvious.”  Are either the Democrats or the Republicans right about everything?  Of course not.  Neither party can even find agreement even within their own ranks.  But, neither are 100% wrong, either!

Why must we villainize each other?  Don’t people matter more than points of view?  Can’t we disagree, and still find ways to respect one another, and even work together for solutions that just might be wiser and richer from considering broader points of view?

Grey is not a watered down version of black, nor is it a dirtier version of white.  Grey is a legitimate color.  In fact, it comes in many shades.

I’m embracing the grey.

What Have We Lost?

What Have We Lost?

Disclaimer:  I don’t I have a nostalgic bone in my body.  I don’t look back to my childhood, or any other era, as idyllic.  Every day, month, year, or decade of human existence had its problems and challenges.  Humans have never been perfect.  

Now.  Onto today’s topic.  Sabbath.

I try to keep Mondays as my Sabbath day.  No, the Bible does not say that Monday is a Sabbath.  Technically, the Bible doesn’t say that Sunday is a Sabbath day either.  Saturday – the seventh day – is the commanded day to Sabbath.  But, early in Christianity, the Sabbath was moved to Sunday, to commemorate Jesus’ day of resurrection.

On my Sabbath Mondays, I tend to rest.  I’m exhausted after Sunday, which is why it really can’t be a Sabbath day for me.  As a Pastor, Sunday is a work day.

On my Sabbath Mondays, I spend more time reading, writing, and praying.  I intentionally move slower.  Depending on the weather, I might work on my bonsai trees or go for a motorcycle ride.  Some days I just read.  Occasionally, I work on some tasks around the house.  All in all, I tend to be un-productive, which is the idea of the Sabbath.  Sometimes I have some work-related obligation on a Monday, like an evening meeting.  But, I try to avoid those as much as possible.

It  has taken me a while to realize that I need to Sabbath.  For years, I lived at an unsustainable pace, and burned out over and over.  My pattern was go-go-go-crash, go-go-go-crash.  I practiced sick-Sabbaths, only taking time to rest and recover when I got too sick to do anything else.  That really was sick.

I just can’t do that any more, and shouldn’t have done it to begin with.  I still go-go-go – for six days.  But, now, I fight to keep my Sabbath day.  I just have to.

Now, as I take Sabbath more seriously, I’ve become more observant of how little Sabbath I see in other’s lives.

I live near a conservative, traditional Jewish synagogue. On Friday nights and Saturdays (the Jewish and Biblical Sabbath), I observe Jewish families walking to the synagogue, dressed in traditional Jewish attire.  They are walking, because they believe that driving is a violation of the Sabbath, which also implies that they have chosen to live within walking distance of their synagogue.  Though I have never spoken with any of them, my observation is that Sabbath keeping is a priority in their lives.  They are honoring and keeping a sacred duty.

I respect that.  I envy that.

Though my family never consistently attended church, when I was a child,  I can still remember the influence of the Church on Sundays.  Sunday morning worship was followed by chatting with fellow congregants in the church parking lot, followed by lunch with church friends, followed by family time, and perhaps concluded with some evening church activity.  Sunday was for church, friends, family, and rest.

I still remember Publix being closed on Sundays.  I remember the glass doors at gas stations being locked on Sundays, prohibiting the sale of beer.  I’ve been told that movie theaters and bowling alleys were also closed during my childhood – but, I wouldn’t know.  We never would have gone anyway.  Instead, most Sundays we visited my grandparents, which included long afternoon motorcycle rides on country roads, followed by big dinners.

Things have changed.  The Sabbath is no longer sacred in our society – nor in our churches.  I observe so many young families (the vast majority, really) that come to church when they can.  They are torn between attending church and various sporting activities.  I watch families scurry out of church, when they can make it, on to the next activity, which I am sure will be followed by several more.  More and more people have to work on Sundays.

I’m not saying that sports or other Sunday activities are bad, necessarily.  I just wonder what we have lost – and are losing – and are stealing from our children – by habitually violating the Sabbath.  What are we teaching them about priorities, rest, and the value of worship and time with family?

Sabbath is a commandment, by the way – not optional.

I’m thankful to have finally discovered the wisdom of Sabbath-keeping – even if I have to do it on Monday.  Now, it’s time to finish my coffee, eat my breakfast, and see where my motorcycle takes me today.

Unconscious Implicit Bias

Unconscious Implicit Bias

To the best of my knowledge, my ancestry is predominantly British and Polish.  I’m sure a DNA a test might reveal more diversity than that.  But, I’m not aware of what that might be.

I’ve been tempted to take a DNA test to find out.  I’d love to discover that my ancestry includes some exotic cultural heritage!  I’d love to be able to mark something other than “white” when I am asked about my race.  Frankly, I’ve never felt like I have any defining ethnic heritage – beyond being moderately “southern” – and I’ve envied those who do.  There is something very appealing to me about wearing distinctively ethnic clothing, having distinctively ethnic traditions, and maintaining connections to family and friends in your country of origin.

I’m fascinated by other cultures…

  • My favorite musician is Bob Marley (Jamaican and Rastafarian)
  • I have a great love for Guatemalan and the Mayan culture. I’m still trying to learn to speak Spanish and a Mayan dialect called Kiche.  (Soy Guatemalteco!  Yo deseo…)
  • One of my hobbies is bonsai, which is primarily a Japanese art.  And, I love martial arts.
  • I love foods from everywhere – from Indian to Mexican, and loads in-between.
  • I’ve traveled around the world, and have been truly fascinated by the diversity of cultures I have experienced, and am now influenced by.

As of July, 2017, I’m the pastor of the most ethnically and culturally diverse church I’ve ever served!  And, I’m thrilled to have the opportunity.  I’m learning and growing.  And, I’m hopeful that we will become even more diverse in the years to come.

So, while I am well aware of my “whiteness,” I’ve honestly believed that I’m open and respectful to people of diverse backgrounds, cultures and ethnicities.

This morning I was reading a chapter called “Shalom and Race,” in the book,  The Very Good Gospel, by Lisa Sharon Harper.  She references a study, by Harvard University, that is called the Implicit Association Test, which was designed to indicate “racial” bias as either for “whiteness” or “blackness.”  Harper reports that 75% of the people who’ve taken the test – which includes a diversity of participants – tested positive for an implicit bias toward whiteness.

I had to take the test, of course, to prove that I do NOT have that bias.  I took the test as carefully as I could, as honestly as I could, as thoughtfully as I could.  Even as I was concluding the test, I was sure that it would indicate NO bias for “whiteness.”  My test result – “a strong bias for whiteness over blackness.”

I feel sick.

The test is designed to force you to quickly associate categories of goodness and badness with whiteness and blackness.  Your result is determined by how quickly you can make those associations.  Apparently, I moved faster when I was associating goodness with whiteness and badness with blackness, than when I did the opposite.

Harper describes this as “an unconscious implicit ethnic bias.”  Unconscious.  That means I can consciously, rationally know that there is no such thing as generalized “white goodness” and “black badness.”  But, my unconscious biases are a different story.

So, I obviously have work to do.  What I know and desire consciously, may be undermined by unconscious biases that I am blind to.  And, obviously I am not the only one.

If the eternal Kingdom of God is truly a place for every tribe, tongue and nation; if Christ has really torn down the walls that divide us; if there really is no longer male or female, slave or free, Jew or Gentile; if we worship a Jewish savior; then we have some real work to do on overcoming our biases, this side of eternity.  I wonder if “putting on the mind of Christ” and “not being conformed to the patterns of this world, but transformed by the renewing of our thoughts” has anything to do with this?

If you want to find out about your “unconscious implicit racial biases,” check out the test at Implicit Association Test.  Choose the “take a test” tab, and choose the “Race IAT.”