Speaking Order Into the Chaos. (Thoughts On Marriage)

In this past season of life, as I've done pre-marital counseling with younger couples, I've often made a statement along these lines:

"Ash and I have been fighting more and more in our marriage, and it has been great."

When I say that, I usually see a look of shock or concern in the couple. I imagine they are wondering silently, "Why did we pick this guy to do our counseling? We've made a huge mistake..." Here is what I mean by it.

In the first few years of my marriage, I would shut down at the first sign of disagreement. I'd give Ashley the silent treatment. Stonewall her. Play dead.  Sometimes I still do. It's my default defense. When I'm tired or overwhelmed, I still want to retreat into my inner sanctum. But I'm doing it less and less. We are getting better at staying in the tension and having hard conversations. In my opinion, our marriage is flourishing. 

In Jordan Peterson's podcast, he compares the marriage relationship to the Creation account in Genesis 1. Much like when God spoke to the chaos and created order, we speak into the chaos of a new relationship and create something of substance. Look at Genesis 1:1-5

"The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. Then he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day” and the darkness “night." And evening passed and morning came, marking the first day."

Christians often refer to the Creation event as "ex nihilo."  Out of nothing, something. "Formless" and "empty" sound like two great descriptors for the early years of marriage. You both come in with optimism and expectation but nothing has been established yet. Once you realize you have conflicting expectations, tensions arise and the real challenge of marriage begins.

Jordan Peterson notes:

"You make your marriage out of the arguments. (In the beginning,) no one has been able to formulate a habitable order... through dialogue, you construct a structure that's a house that you both can live in."

Don't shy away from difficult conversations. Don't shy away from conversations that you think are dull or tedious. They are often necessary components, building blocks for a substantial relationship. The inability or the unwillingness to live in tension and have an honest conversation is a death nail on intimacy.

Do the hard work. Hover over the deep. Speak into the chaos. Build a home worth living in. And it's not like the work is ever done. Life is constantly moving, evolving, changing. You often have to take stock, come to the table again, have more conversations. Keep giving form to the chaos of life.

Change is Violent.

Last Spring, I went to a transformation experience called the Revenant Process. I highly recommend it to anyone who is feeling stuck and wants to grow in self-awareness and in their leadership. In the room were a dozen or so banners with provocative ideas. One has stuck with me over the past few months:

"Transformation constantly has the character of doing violence
whether to the claims of the everyday interpretation or to its complacency and its tranquilized obliviousness." 

In other words, change is painful. Resurrection can't take place without a death of some sorts. In order for something new to happen, something old has to give. Jesus would often use violent metaphors to describe the type of work he was doing in people's lives.

"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." (John 12:24)

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)

"First, take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly." (Matthew 7:5)

"Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:17)

New wine is moving, bubbling, and expanding as it ferments. Old wineskins are rigid and brittle, incapable of handling the volatility of change taking place within. New wineskins are flexible, adaptable. Able to survive.

Jesus showed up on the scene and was doing an entirely new thing. He was the volatile new wine. People kept trying to stuff his teachings and his work into their old paradigms, but it wasn't working. Their old systems (full of greed, power grabs, legalism, and self-righteousness) weren't built to handle his new work (asking for generosity, servant leadership, grace-filled truth, and God-given-righteousness.) You can't expect rigid mindsets to hold an expanding worldview.

To be able to see what Jesus was doing clearly and join him in the kingdom work, they would have to take the plank out of their eyes. Change the way they see things. Expand their view.

They would have to be born again. We have three daughters, and are about to give birth to our fourth. Childbirth is a violent event. But from that violence comes new life. I don't think this metaphor is an accident.

As I've mentioned before, the word Jesus used for repentance was metanoia, which literally means to change your mind. In a sense, it is having a mental breakdown so that a rebuilding and a healing can begin.

I'm not advocating change for the sake of change. There must be something or someone that we are being called to. Jesus is the new wine. We may not have the legalism of the Pharisees or the paganism of the Romans, but we have our own versions of it. Jesus is inviting us to the difficult task of abandoning those systems for an abundant life. If we are patient and pliable, He is the new wine that brings life and joy. "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble."

Change is painful, and because of that, most of us don't change unless we are forced to. Henry Cloud wrote, “We change our behavior when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing. Consequences give us the pain that motivates us to change.”

Change requires a death. A death to me being 'right.'  A death to the way I've interpreted the story. Perhaps a death to a relationship. And because it requires sacrifice, we resist. We fight. We cling. There's a lot at stake if we let go. There's a lot more at stake if we don't.

 

Things I've Loved in 2017.

As we're wrapping up 2017 and looking forward to what 2018 may bring (for us, a new child and at least a few months of chaos there,) I'm looking back over the past year and celebrating some things that I'm grateful for. 2017 felt like a rough year overall, but there is still room for gratitude. Here are some things I loved this year:

JOCKO WILLINK

I discovered Jocko on a Tim Ferriss podcast a while ago, bought his book Extreme Ownership, and this past year have been devouring his podcasts. It has quickly become my favorite and a go to during workouts. Jocko's voice and insights paired with war stories from history make it hard to feel tired or wimpy. My goal as a preacher now is to mimic his voice. My gameplan for accomplishing that is smoking a carton a day and eating charcoal for breakfast.

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BARNABAS TRAINING

I wrapped up my final semester of Barnabas Training from the Barnabas Center here in Richmond. It was a great time of learning how to be a better listener and growing in self-awareness of the strategies that I often employ when trying to avoid or control conflict in my life. It was a game-changing experience. If you are in Richmond, do this!

THE REVENANT PROCESS

Dan Tocchini is a master of pulling truth out of you that leads to transformation. The Revenant Process was a four day, INTENSE time with a group of strangers (who are now good friends.) I won't go into much detail so as to not spoil it for anyone who might want to experience it, but I think I'll look back years from now and see where Revenant was a defining time for my life and my leadership. So grateful for Dan.

THE ENNEAGRAM

The Enneagram has been around for a while and is picking up major steam over these past few years. In short, it is one of the best self-assessment tools I've ever seen. (like Myers Briggs, DISC, Strength-Finders, but much more...accurate? nuanced? I dunno.)  If you haven't taken the test, find a group of friends, take it together, read the content, and discuss. Here's a great podcast on it.  Here's a great entry level book on it. This website has so much good info. Oh, and I'm a 9.

WRITING

I've been writing for as long as I can remember. When I thought about it earlier this year, I realized that I've been a creative type since early childhood although I honestly never saw it. (wrote poetry, songs, stories, was in Newspaper, have made a living as a musician...) Starting this blog and committing to writing weekly has been really fun. I'm looking forward to improving and refining that skill next year as I keep pressing on. I've got a new album coming out next year, and hopefully my first book too.  (Bucket list item.)

FRIENDS AND FAMILY

I feel really fortunate for the group of friends I have in my life. They push me to grow, allow me to do the same with them, and we have lots of fun along the way too. My wife and I had an awesome vacation with friends in Utah this year, and I was able to spend some refreshing time in Colorado with a group of great men. Lots of great days and nights spent in community as well. Looking forward to more of that in 2018.

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This year for our family, our oldest daughter started Kindergarten. That was a huge shift for us, but she is thriving and we are proud. Our youngest daughter, when not punching, pushing, biting, or wailing, has become quite the charmer too. These girls are so much work, but so much fun. Completely terrified and slightly excited about the new arrival only days away. It's been great to see Ashley continue to grow and develop as a friend, wife, and mother. We celebrated our 10 year anniversary this year, and this has obviously been the best decade of my life because of her.

DEADLIFTS

I've been doing these for a few years now, so not really 2017 specific. But still, I'm grateful. When life gets stressful, I'm grateful for the joy and endorphins that come from picking up something heavy, putting it back down, and repeating.

A 2018 Goal. Do This Verse.

The past few weeks, I've been mapping out some goals and plans for 2018. I'm excited about this season in life and excited about what I hope to get done over the next stretch of time. One of my goals is to live out Paul's words in Philippians 2:14.  It's easy to grasp but difficult to do.
 

"Do all things without grumbling or disputing."


With the news cycle constantly serving up new fodder, it is easy to fall into a pattern of grumbling. Ministry is tough. Burnout can be real. When relationships are strained, when things get overwhelming, when uncertainty looms, griping and moaning can become a default response. It's a quick dopamine hit with long-lasting negative impact.

"To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back--in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.” (Frederick Buechner)

Grumbling, or murmuring, is not the same thing as a complaint. A complaint can be useful, provided a few things-  A) That you direct towards the actual person that can do something about it/is the source of your frustration. B) That you know what you are actually frustrated about. C) That you're willing to consider you don't have all of the information and are willing to pivot your interpretation.

Grumbling is different. It isn't really looking for resolution, it's looking for affirmation. For others to pity you or agree with you and share your frustration. Grumbling doesn't bring the complaint directly to the source, it multiplies the frustration among others. It multiplies the frustration in you. It leads to drawing wrong conclusions, making bad decisions, and furthering dissatisfaction. James describes the compounding effect that a loose tongue can have:

"The tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire".

When Paul uses the word 'grumbling' in Philippians 2:14, he is pointing back to the people of Israel in the book of Numbers. They had just been rescued from slavery in Egypt, witnessing God do great things there. Now they were in the 'in between' and starting to have doubts. They grumbled openly against God (Numbers 11), against their leader Moses (Numbers 12 and 16), and about their situation (Numbers 13 and 14). We can learn a few things about grumbling from the Israelites here.

Grumbling often arises when you are uncertain. The Israelites literally said it would better to go back and be slaves in Egypt than it would to take one more step towards a promising but uncertain future. It is so easy for us to want to run back to our defaults even when we know there is nothing for us back there. Better the devil you know... When you lose sight of the vision and mission of your life, it's easy to spend that energy sideways on grumbling rather than forward on action. Solomon once wrote, "Where there is no vision, the people perish."

Grumbling often arises when you are afraid. The Israelites heard about the 'giants' in the land and rather than own their fear or dare to trust in God, they lied and exaggerated about the land and blamed the leaders for their poor leadership. (Numbers 13:31-32) Fear makes us do a lot of crazy things, we hate not being in control. It's much easier to blame others than to own our fears.

Grumbling often arises when you are overwhelmed. I can't imagine the head-spinning that was going on for the Israelites. They had left the comfort of what they knew, were living day by day by the provision of God, and now the destination they were promised was occupied by a seemingly unconquerable foe. They had traveled long and hard only to be met with perceived disaster. In moments of being overwhelmed, rather than taking stock and coming up with an actionable plan, it's easy to just shut down and groan.

The key to controlling your grumbling is not to beat yourself when you slip up, but to slow down and notice what is going on. What are you afraid of? Where are you feeling overwhelmed? Out of control? Unclear about? The more you reflect on this, you might find out that the actual source of your grumbling is you. not the object of your frustration.

It does no good to murmur to everyone about your frustrations. In fact, it often makes it worse because you are spreading the discord. Rather than murmur all over the place, find a trusted friend to process with that has your permission to challenge your perspectives, ask probing questions, and encourage you to make progress.

I'm preaching to myself here. This is one of my goals for 2018. A few more quotes to drive it home:

"We cannot control our external circumstances, but we can always choose how we respond to them." -Epictetus

"Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom." -Victor Frankl

What Do You Do When You Disagree? (Deconstruction Part 6)

I think one of the hardest parts of deconstruction is to not hold arrogance or bitterness towards people that don't agree with you. I've already mentioned that you need to remember that you believed the same thing not long ago. Here are some other thoughts on how to pursue humility, kindness, and relationship even when you are in disagreement.

 

ACKNOWLEDGE THAT YOU MIGHT BE WRONG.

Maybe not on this particular issue, but certainly somewhere in your belief system. David Platt says, "I'm fairly confident that I've got it right on 90% of my theology. The problem is, I don't know which 10% is wrong."

I love Sir John Templeton's thought:

“The idea that an individual can find God is terribly self-centered. It is like a wave thinking it can find the sea.”

Somewhere in your theology, you are wrong. Don't be so harsh or critical of others when you think they are missing the mark.

 

DETERMINE IF THE ISSUE IS ESSENTIAL, IMPORTANT, OR PREFERENCE.

Augustine famously wrote:

"In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, freedom. In all things, love."

Ask yourself if the disagreement is over something essential to the faith. There are only a handful of 'essentials,' things that you must believe in order to be considered a Christian. (Must is a really strong word...) You could look to the Apostle's Creed as a ballpark if you want.

If the disagreement is over something that is not essential, is it still important enough to you to break fellowship? For example, you may be of the mindset that you can't be in a church that isn't open and affirming towards LGBT. (Or you can't be a part of a church that IS open and affirming.) This disagreement is important because it is personal. So this issue, while not essential (to being a Christian,) might be important enough to you to cut ties over.

If the disagreement isn't over something that is essential or important enough to end the relationship, perhaps t it is merely a preference. It might be fun to debate, but at the end of the day, you can still be in community with people that you disagree with. In my opinion, most disagreements are simply about preferences, but we make them important or essential.



ASSUME THE BEST INTENTIONS OF THE OTHER PERSON.

I'd encourage both sides in any disagreement to assume the best intentions of the other. Don't demonize the opposition or incorrectly assume moral superiority. (Especially if the issue isn't really about morality to begin with.)

Sticking with the issue of LGBT as an example (because that's not controversial at all...), it is all too common for progressives to label the conservative side as bigoted or homophobic. It is common for the conservative side to accuse the progressive side of not valuing the Bible and wanting to tear it down.

What if your assumption is wrong? If you've already made your mind up about the opposition, you're going to interpret your interaction through the lens of that bias. You're just going to try and 'win' the argument. You aren't going to connect with the other. And you aren't going to learn anything either.

And what if your assumption is right? Jesus plainly told us, "Love your enemies." This might be a great time to practice. 

If you're willing to engage in tense conservations and work through nuance without over-generalizing, you might learn you are much closer than you think. You might learn things that reinforce your position. You might learn things that make you reconsider.

"It is impossible to teach a man something that he already thinks he knows." -Epictetus



FOCUS ON A MISSION BIGGER THAN YOUR DIFFERENCES. REALIZE THE STRENGTH OF DIVERSITY, FLEXIBILITY, AND HUMILITY.

When Jesus created his movement, he pulled together people from all different economic, political, and social backgrounds. He got them to get over their differences (it took a while) and focus on what the kingdom of God was doing in their communities. The beauty of what was going on overshadowed their petty disagreements. We often lose the sense of awe and mission and turn in on each other.

Paul copies the model of Jesus by planting churches in a wide variety of cultures all over the Roman Empire. Most of Paul's letters are trying to teach people with different backgrounds how to unite under the Lordship of Jesus. The faith he developed had to be resilient, flexible, adaptable.

Since the Reformation, we've often taken the opposite approach, splintering off over specifics, being rigid over non-essentials and creating systems that are not resilient. We should look to Paul's words in Philippians as a path forward:

If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. (Philippians 2:1-4, The Message)