Tag Archives: Differences

Differences in Interpretation

But Abijah grew in strength.
2 Chronicles 13:21 (NIV)

Yesterday at work I was helping a client with their company’s internal Quality Assessment criteria. One of the common mistakes made when it comes to assessing quality of a service interaction is the avoidance of defining simple, observable behaviors. Instead companies often create criteria in ways that leave the assessment wide-open to the analyst’s interpretation. An analyst who has a bent towards strict, “they could have done better” thinking will mark it one way while an analyst with a bent towards a more gracious “they did the best they could” thinking will mark it another way. The result is worthless data.

Along my journey I’ve observed these kinds of differences in all manners of life. We have diverse personality types with bents toward interpreting and reacting to the same set of circumstances in equally diverse ways. We have differences in life experiences, differences in world-view, and differences in life situations that all lend themselves to me seeing and interpreting things a particular way, while you may see it a bit differently.

I don’ know if you’ve caught it in these chapter-a-day posts the past couple of weeks, but one of the interesting things about the historic accounts we’re reading in 2 Chronicles is that the same historical events are also covered in the book of 1 Kings. One of the things I’m discovering is that some of the most fascinating lessons I’m learning come from comparing the two different accounts. They were written by different scribes living in different time periods and circumstances.

Take today’s chapter for example. The Chronicler tells a great story about Abijah’s (King of the southern kingdom of Judah) battle with the rebel Jereboam (King of the northern kingdom of Israel). Abijah’s battle speech is quoted at length in which Abijah blasts Jereboam for abandoning the God of Israel while Abijah and his tribe of Judah are still worshiping and trusting the God of their ancestors. The Chronicler then leaves his account of Abijah’s reign on a positive note. Abijah defeated Jereboam, grew strong, and had a bunch of wives and children.

The scribe of 1 Kings, however looked at the same reign of Abijah and described it differently. The account of Abijah’s reign is much shorter and the battle speech wasn’t mentioned at all. The writer of the 1 Kings account gives a more negative conclusion of Abijah’s reign:

He committed all the sins his father had done before him; his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his forefather had been.

As I’ve progressed in my Life journey I’ve come to recognize that human groups and systems (religious denominations, political parties, families, communities, and etc.) are naturally driven to building a sense of unity and safety by seeing and interpreting things the same way. These same systems, and the members of that system, often become resistant to respecting, considering, and working with systems that see and interpret things a different way. I become afraid. I feel threatened. I entrench myself in my thinking. I attack and discredit the person or system that thinks differently.

The types of rote and repetitive sales and service interactions I assess on a regular basis for my work are relatively easy to break down, define, and interpret once you know how to do it. Driving a consistent and repetitive user experience is one thing. Reducing an individual’s lifetime of stories, experiences, events, choices, words, and relationships into bullet point is a completely different ball game.

Of late I’ve been feeling the pain and frustration of watching societal groups and their members entrench themselves out of fear and suspicion of anyone who thinks differently. I find myself personally rebelling against that mentality. As a follower of Jesus I find it antithetical to the inclusive, boundary-breaking love that Jesus exemplified and commanded of those of us who follow Him. I always tell the Customer Service Representatives I coach and train that Rule #1 is “do the best you can with what you have.” I’m trying to do the same thing with my faith. I can’t change the entire culture of a nation, but I can daily control my own words, actions, interactions, and relationships. I can change the culture around me, the one I immediately impact.

Today, I once again endeavor to be a little more respectful, a little more considerate, a little more open, and a little more loving to the people I run into and those with whom I interact. People who may be members of a group who interpret the world much differently than myself.

The Special People Among Us

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
1 Corinthians 12:21-26 (NIV)

Along my journey I have lived in a handful of different places from really small towns (e.g. 110-318 people) to larger towns (e.g. 10,000-30,000 people), and a couple of urban regions (e.g. 250,000- 9,000,000 people). Across all of the places I’ve lived I have served and worshipped in a number of churches, both small and large, and of different denominational or theological backgrounds.

One of the things that I’ve noticed is that there has virtually always been at least a couple of special people in every gathering in which I’ve been a part. In the quiet this morning I bring to mind a number of faces and memories I’ve not thought about in a long time. These special individuals are a combination of persons who get labeled “odd duck,” “slow,” “off,” or any number of phrases such as “a few bricks shy of a full load” or “the elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top.

I’m chuckling to myself as I recall one gentleman named Norman. Norman was a huge grizzly bear of a man, who was cross-eyed unkept. His hair was never clean or brushed. His clothes were always disheveled. He commonly paired an ratty, old suit jacket he owned with his dirty overalls. Norman’s speech was always gravely and slurred. His body odor generally arrived ahead of him and lingered well after he left. He would typically arrive late to the meeting and he was known to belch in the middle of my message with the decibel level of your average 737 at take-off.

Norman was also amazingly sweet spirited, regularly attended, never ceased to display a grateful heart, and he always had a kind word to say to any who would take the time to actually have a conversation with him.

Today’s chapter of Paul’s letter to the believers in first century Corinth is normally interpreted to be about how different individuals in the church have different gifts and abilities and they all work together to make up the whole. When Paul writes the words, The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” it is typically interpreted to mean that we all need each others gifts and talents. At least, that’s the way I’ve typically read it and presented it.

As I read the familiar passage this morning, however, I was struck by what Paul had just addressed in the previous chapter:

for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing?

In other words, the divisions among the followers of Jesus in Corinth were not just about differences of talent, culture, philosophy and doctrine. The divisions included the “haves” and the “have nots.” This might have been socio-economic status, but also might well have included those who were healthy and those who were sick, those who were “normal” and those who were…special. So when Paul writes, “those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor” he was talking about those among us whom we typically marginalize, ignore, shy away from, and from whom we distance ourselves.

I’m reminded this morning that what originally differentiated the followers of Jesus in the first century was that they welcomed everyone to the table no matter the gender, race, nationality, background, health, talent, or socio-economic status. The “everyone is welcome” attitude was breaking down big-time in Corinth, as I observe it has in most places I’ve lived and worshipped.

This morning I’m thanking God for the special people in my midst who are typically difficult to appreciate, often painful to talk to, and sometimes are just plain awkward when trying to make connection. I’m also confessing that I too often shy away and distance myself from those who are different when I should be leaning in, honoring, and loving. Even if they belch loudly in the middle of my message.

Blueprints, Planning, and Appreciation

Sewer LineIt was because you, the Levites, did not bring it up the first time that theLord our God broke out in anger against us. We did not inquire of him about how to do it in the prescribed way.” 1 Chronicles 15:13 (NIV)

For the past three months, Wendy and I have been working on plans to build a house.  We’d vigorously pursued a plan to renovate and update our existing home for the past few years. However, very much in the spirit of what I wrote in yesterday’s post, the answer to our prayers was not what we had anticipated. So, we suddenly find ourselves pouring over blueprints and contemplating an endless number of decisions regarding the most minute details.

When it comes to these types of projects, the stark differences between Wendy and me become readily apparent. Wendy’s brain works very logically and methodically. She is great with details, processes, plans, and methods. My brain works in imaginative, big picture vistas and doesn’t sweat the details. Within this contrast lies both our strength and our struggle.

Despite the conflicts that arise out of our differences, I have a real appreciation for the logic and details which stimulate Wendy’s brain, and I understand that when things are not done properly then bad, or at the very least frustrating, things can happen. When we planned the lower level of the house at the lake (which we finished ourselves with the help of family and friends), Wendy had the floor plan mapped out perfectly. The contractor didn’t read her plans carefully, however, and ran the sewer line in the wrong spot. We had to alter our plan and change the dimensions of the bathroom. To this day, we don’t walk in the bathroom on the lower level without noticing the wrong proportions.

Through the years I’ve come to realize and appreciate that God is the epitome of both the left brain and right brain that he designed into we humans who are “made in His image.” God is both artist and engineer. He creates in an endless stream of big picture imagination and, at the same time, designs things down to the sub-atomic level. There is a place, purpose, and a need for both.

In today’s chapter, David realizes that in his big picture idea of moving the Ark of the Covenant to his newly establish capitol of Jerusalem, he had missed the details God designed into the proper way the Ark was to be handled and moved. Realizing his mistake, David goes back to the drawing board and makes sure that everything would be done properly according to the detailed instructions God had laid out.

I can confidently say that my brain will never work like Wendy’s. I doubt there will ever be a time in which I will be excited and stimulated by planning processes and minute details. I can, however, confidently say that I’ve learned to appreciate and value those like Wendy who are wired that way. I appreciate that God reveals Himself to be intimately concerned with details. Sometimes, I am required to consciously adjust both my thoughts and my attitude accordingly.

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Related Bozos

Source: Peter Bakker via Flickr
Source: Peter Bakker via Flickr

Adam, Seth, Enosh, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech, Noah. 1 Chronicles 1:-3 (NIV) I thought we would follow the history of David from the book of 2 Samuel to the book of 1 Chronicles. If you’re reading along, you’ll notice a big difference between this book and the one we just finished. The books of Samuel read much like a biography in which the author is trying to tell the story of a person (in this case, David) from beginning to end. Chronicles is more of an official government record which chronicles the history of the kingdom and the monarchy. The royal scribe, traditionally believed to have been Ezra who lived and wrote his Chronicle about 500 years after King David’s life, begins his record of the kingdom with the beginning of human history and connects the dots through the ages. We’re in for what you might consider a dry couple of chapters of genealogy, but there are some important spiritual nuggets buried in the endless lists of names:

  1. We all come from the same place. The chronicler’s list begins at the beginning with Adam, and even modern science has proven that, genetically, we all come from the same woman. We can speculate and argue endlessly about exactly how things happened, but after reading through God’s Message a number of times I’ve come to the conclusion that God, as a storyteller, was not concerned about telling us exactly how thing happened (because, ultimately, that’s not the point) but why things happened (because, ultimately, that’s the whole point).
  2. Even our enemies are family. As we read through the list in today’s chapter we stumble over a few references to Israel’s traditional enemies such as the Philistines, Moabites, and Edomites. And yet, even the kings official record revealed from the beginning that they were all distant relatives. In fact, we all are. This may not make a huge difference with regard to world politics, but I think it should make a huge difference in my personal view of others.

I find it fascinating that Jesus did not concern himself in the least with the political issues of his day. Whenever the topic of earthly kingdoms and politics arose, Jesus always changed the subject to the Kingdom of God. At the same time, Jesus radically chose to talk to and relate with those whom his contemporary culture had raised him to believe were unworthy of his time and consideration: women, tax-collectors, prostitutes, Romans, Samaritans, etc., and etc. I believe Jesus looked at these people and saw, not the human differences between them, but the similarities. He didn’t see “different” people physically, politically, culturally, ideologically, or morally. He saw people who were fundamentally the same in human and spiritual terms. As I like to say, we’re all just bozos on the bus trying to find our way home. Jesus understood that, and didn’t discriminate what kind of bozo one person was over another.Today, I’m thinking about the ways I continue to divide and categorize people in my mind and heart. I’m repenting of my attitude, and heading into the day choosing to see each person as just another bozo like me (who is related to me as a matter of fact) and who is worthy of my love and consideration. Today, once again, I’m trying to be more like Jesus.

Learning to Please

Celebrating Wendy's Birthday with the VLs at the Lyric Opera
Celebrating Wendy’s Birthday with the VLs at the Lyric Opera

…and find out what pleases the Lord. Ephesians 5:10 (NIV)

In many ways, Wendy and I are the epitome of the adage “opposites attract.” Several months ago, prompted by Taylor, our entire family took the Enneagram personality test on-line. Since that time we’ve often found ourselves in family conversations about how we are alike and how we are different. According to the test (and validated by loved ones) I am a #4 (Individualist) and Wendy is a #8 (Challenger).

While visiting a few weeks ago Taylor mentioned that someone had told her that 4s and 8s “should never get married” to which Taylor laughed thinking of Wendy and me. The truth is, there are challenges with almost any mixture of people and personality types. Part of being married is learning where there are gaps of communication, expectation and choosing to meet the other where they are at.

The first year of marriage, I made the mistake of being thought-less and inconsiderate about Wendy’s birthday. In my family, birthdays are never a big deal – but I’ve learned with my wife and with my friends that others view birthdays as a much bigger deal than I do. I’ve had to regularly retrain my thinking to realize how important it is for others in my life. I’ve learned that it pleases Wendy when I’m prepared for the birthday-Christmas-wedding anniversary trifecta that descends on us every December 21-31.

I was struck this morning by the little verse (above) that’s crammed into a chapter filled with meaty teaching about life and relationships. Having been reminded of my need to be more considerate of what pleases other key relationships in my life, I am now reminded to apply the same principle to God. How often am I thoughtless and inconsiderate of what pleases God? If I am motivated to change my thought patterns and behaviors in a way that shows love in a way pleasing to my wife and friends, wouldn’t I also be willing to learn what pleases my Creator?

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A Proper Challenge for a Go With the Flow Guy

2012 11 Decorations1But be sure that everything is done properly and in order. 1 Corinthians 14:40 (NLT)

Wendy and I celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary on New Year’s Eve. It was a wonderful occasion and celebration that makes the holiday extra special for us. On New Year’s Day we celebrated by taking down our Christmas decorations and returning Vander Well Manor back to it’s normal daily appearance. The holidays, the celebration of our anniversary, and the extra time we have to be together during the holidays always gives me opportunity to think about our relationship.

Wendy and I have a lot in common when it comes to our interests, but those who know us well will tell you that we are opposites in temperament. I am laid back and tend to go with the flow while Wendy is very particular and highly organized. After seven years of marriage, I realized yesterday that our annual taking down of the decorations was as efficient and stress free as we’d ever experienced. I believe that this was due in a large part to an unspoken understanding of one another and how best to attack the process in a way that played to our strengths.

No matter what our individual bent, the strength of our personal temperament always comes with a corollary weakness. Being laid back and able to go with the flow helps me to weather change and to bring flexibility and stability to rapidly changing circumstances. At the same time, I tend not to sweat certain details and give little thought to the long term implications of my momentary decisions. The result can often create frustration since Wendy’s bent is to give careful thought to each decision in order to anticipate the future chain of events to where it will lead.

Today’s chapter is all about similar differences in the way the followers of Jesus in Corinth were going about their meetings together. Conflict arose because the meetings had become a bit of a laid back free-for-all and Paul was trying to address some of the specific issues the local group of believers were experiencing. I thought Paul’s bullet at the end of the discussion summed things up nicely: Do things properly and in order. I can hear Wendy’s voice in my head lending a hearty “Amen.”.

I’m not one for formal New Year’s resolutions, but as we put away decorations yesterday and cleaned up the house I told myself to make 2013 a year of “getting my house in order.” I find it interesting to wake up this morning and, in a little moment of synchronicity, read Paul’s succinct directive. We don’t make much progress in our personal journey unless we consciously choose to address areas of needed improvement. For a easy going person like me, that means consciously doing a better job of sweating the details, doing things properly, and going about my day in a more orderly fashion.

(Which means I need to end this post and get ready for my day. Happy New Year.)