Archives For Culture Change

“Our culture has accepted two huge lies: The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear them or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.” ~ Rick Warren

Not too many days from now, billions of people around the world will gather with their families to celebrate the holidays. Even in the most ordinary of years, these gatherings can be stressful. In most families, not every member sees the world in the same way. Not everyone agrees on what’s to be done about the common challenges we face. Not everyone likes the leaders we’ve had or have now, or the decisions they’ve made, or plan to make.

In a year like the one we’ve just experienced, these tensions of difference are running particularly high for just about all of us. You’ve probably already wondered just how volatile things might get around the holiday table this year. Even in the calmest of families, the likelihood that somebody will say something that sets somebody else off are considerably higher than they may have been in previous years.

If this past election cycle has shown us anything, it’s that we need a better way of talking with each other. Attacking, judging, shaming, yelling, condescending, hating, breaking off relationship…these approaches may feel justified in the moment, but they’re very unlikely to produce any sort of lasting solution that honors us all.

Thankfully, there is an alternative approach. It’s called “Civil Conversation,” and it’s a skilled way of talking and listening that every one of us needs to learn for the sake of the common challenges we share and must find a way to resolve together.

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grandcentralstation

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” ~ Mother Teresa

I want to talk with you for a minute about the United States as a Relationship System.

When I say “Relationship System,” I mean something that’s in some ways quite similar to the nervous system in your body. For example, imagine you’re running a marathon. You’re determined to beat a certain time you’ve set in your head, and you’ve been training your body for months to achieve that goal. But on the day of the race, at about mile 14, your right heel begins to scream in pain. Now nothing else in your body is hurting, at least not yet. The vast majority of your body is signaling All Systems Go, except for this annoying heel, which is screaming at you that something isn’t right. So what do you do? How do you respond to that signal in your heel?

This is similar to how a Relationship System works. A Relationship System is a web of people who are linked together via a network of relationships. Such a system can be as small as two individuals (such a married couple) or as large as the entire population of the world. At whatever level you parse it out, however, every relationship system tends to function a bit like a living organism, like the body of the athlete running the marathon. No one part of the system has a complete picture of the Current Reality. Rather, each part of the system provides vital (but partial) information back to the whole, and the “whole” must collectively decide how to proceed based on that information.

Right now in our nation, we’ve all begun to recognize that there’s been a significant breakdown in this information loop within our National Relationship System. A large segment of the nation perceives the current reality in our country in a radically different way from another large segment of the nation. We’re all looking at the same picture, but perceiving very different realities. It’s like we’re the marathon runner, but the signal pathways between the major parts of our body have been cut off. Part of us is feeling one way, another part is feeling very differently. But the connection between the two has been severed, so neither part understands what the other part is experiencing. Thus the whole body suffers.

Now, I have some very good news about all this. In Relationship Systems Theory, which is a big part of the work I do every day, there is a simple solution to this system-wide breakdown. It’s so simple, in fact, it almost sounds too simplistic to be true. But my experience, and more importantly loads of research, have demonstrated that it works, time and again.

What is the solution?

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faith-politics

“Love is the only aspiration big enough for the immensity of human community and challenge in the 21st Century.” ~ Krista Tippett

When I look at the way we do politics in the U.S., and in particular the way my fellow Christians and I engage with it, I can’t help but wonder what Jesus thinks about it all. I wonder how each of our words and actions in the political arena affect him. If he were given the stage at one of our televised debates, I wonder what he would say to his followers about this current election, about the candidates, and about the way we’re all handling it.

That is, if he’d say anything at all. I mean, Jesus’ life in the flesh happened under the tyranny of Roman rule. Israel was an occupied nation, and it would be ludicrous to think that Jesus didn’t witness blatant acts of injustice against his countrymen on a regular basis. He most certainly experienced oppression himself. It was the Roman overlords, after all, who ultimately killed him.

Despite all this, in the years of his public life, Jesus seemed to go out of his way to avoid talking about his Roman oppressors. His message was stubbornly non-political. In some ways, this must have seemed ridiculous to a lot of people living back then, or at the very least naïve. How could you speak out in favor of the Kingdom of God, and not speak out against the Kingdom of Rome? Yet when people spoke of their disdain for Roman oppression, Jesus spoke of loving your enemies (Matthew 5:38-48). When the religious leaders of the day tried to make Jesus take sides in the political debate, he rebuked them and refused to be pinned down (Matthew 22:15-22).

Maybe he thought getting into politics would only cloud and confuse his primary mission. Or maybe he saw that the message of hope he had come to share was for the Romans too.

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guy-overlookingglory

“Beauty is not a luxury.” ~ John O’Donohue, Beauty

There’s just so much beauty. It’s everywhere. There’s so much, it hurts. If you look at it for too long, your heart will break. It will break wide open like the husk on a grain of wheat, and you’ll be utterly undone.

Maybe that’s what we’re all here to do. Train our eyes to see the beauty, then let it break our hearts. Maybe that’s the way the whole world gets healed.

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guy-churchpraying

In the outstanding PBS documentary series “God in America,” researchers provide compelling evidence to suggest that the United States was founded in large part on the concept of a national “contract with God.” That is, the underlying belief that we as a nation were called out by God to form a “more perfect union,” a union founded on certain commitments we would make to God, and as long as we held to those agreements, God’s blessing and favor would always remain on us.

The researchers go on to suggest that our national belief in that contract remains strong even today, in spite of the country’s ever-increasing secularization. It’s a fascinating exploration of our national story, one that I encourage every American to watch (regardless of your belief system). I especially recommend it to Christian faith leaders, as I think it provides great insight into the national narrative of the United States (i.e. who we tell ourselves we are), and how that works both for and against the work of God’s Spirit among us.

But nations aren’t the only ones to believe they have a contract with God. Most individuals I know do as well. It’s subtle, and we don’t often look at it directly, but for almost all of us, the contract is there, buried deep in our psyche. And once we really see it, it quickly becomes clear that it runs almost everything we do.

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churchiniceland

“Being well-taught is not the same thing as being transformed.” ~ Ruth Haley Barton

When the world looks at the Church, and maybe particularly at the leaders of the Church, you know what they’re asking themselves?

Certainly they’re asking about what we believe or who is Jesus and all that. But what they’re really asking underneath it all is this:

Do I want to be like you? Do I want the life you have?

And frankly for most of the Church there isn’t much about who they are or the life they have that’s very appealing to people.

That’s the elephant in the room for Christianity today.

LuvYo

“Those who are at war with others are not at peace with themselves.” ~ William Hazlitt

As I mentioned in my previous post, too often our efforts at self-discipline are motivated by feelings of self-hatred and self-rejection, rather than love or self-compassion. Any discipline fueled by shame, I said, cannot produce freedom. It leads only to a soul divided, at war with itself, continually bound in a struggle that can never be won.

To continue that thought…This internal war with self is what inevitably leads to war with others as well.

Here’s how that happens:

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