Tag Archives: Misunderstanding

The Recipe of Stereotype

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.
1 Timothy 1:15 (NIV)

The other day I wrote about seeing through stereotypes, as it is very common for people to paint certain “other” people groups with a broad brush of generalization. I approached this notion from the perspective of being the perpetrator of the stereotype, but this morning I find myself thinking about it from the perspective of being stereotype’s casualty.

For the record, I have never suffered serious injury or been particularly harmed by another person’s stereotype. I have, however, experienced being labeled, misunderstood, falsely accused, and socially marginalized in specific situations because I have always been up-front about being a Jesus follower. I get that stereo-types are often rooted in partial-truths. The world is full of judgmental, condemning, narrow-minded groups and individuals who wear the label of Christian. When I have been causality of stereotype, I recognize that I am being lumped into one’s mental basket with them.

Here’s a thing that I’ve found to be true in my faith journey. The further I get in the journey the more clearly I see my own faults, the more important I find it to own my mistakes, and the more readily I feel the on-going need for God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness. I find myself less concerned about the moral speck of dust in the eyes of non-believers because I’m blinded by the 2×6 of moral failure in my own. Whatever righteous anger I might feel is not stirred by sinners in need of Jesus’ grace, but by the legalistic, self-righteous religious types who sourced the stereotype with which I’ve occasionally been labeled.

Paul’s letters to Timothy are, chronologically, the final two of his surviving letters.  They were written late in his life to the young protégé who traveled with him and became a leader among the groups of Jesus followers they founded. One of the interesting observations to be made in these two very personal and heart-felt letters is how different they are in spirit and tone from the fiery letters Paul wrote to the believers in Galatia and the Corinth earlier in his journey. Paul’s passion for Jesus’ message and his ministry have not abated in any way, but there is a tenderness and humility with which he is passing the baton. Paul is embracing Jesus’ mercy and his personal need of grace as he owns that of all sinners “I am the worst.”

Stereotype is made with just a few ingredients: a pinch of truth, a pound of ignorance, and a cup of passivity. I’ve been guilty of it more times than I’ve been a victim of it, and so this morning I find myself whispering a prayer of grace, forgiveness, and blessing over those who may have stereotyped me unfairly along the way.

Letters, Numbers, Part and Whole

“On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.”

“Awake, sword, against my shepherd,
    against the man who is close to me!”
    declares the Lord Almighty.
“Strike the shepherd,
    and the sheep will be scattered,
    and I will turn my hand against the little ones.”
Zechariah 13:1, 7 (NIV)

I am currently leading a team of teachers among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers as we share messages from Paul’s first letter to the believers in Corinth. [My kick-off message in the series on YouTube if you’re interested]

One of the first things that I did was to take the text of 1 Corinthians, strip it of all headings, footnotes, text notes, cross references, along with chapter and verse numbers. Then I put the text in a hand written font and handed it out to my team. “Here is Paul’s letter to the believers in Corinth,” I told them. “Put yourself in the shoes of a member of the Corinthian believers and read it as if you just got it out of your mailbox.” The process has been transformational.

It’s amazing how the simple act of separating original, ancient texts into chapters and verses can alter our reading and understanding. I’m sure there are some readers who don’t even stop and consider that the Bible wasn’t originally written with all those numbers. They were added by scribes centuries later, and in doing so they sometimes detract from the writers’ original works.

Take today’s chapter for example. In yesterday’s chapter I mentioned Zechariah’s word from God  in which God speaks of the people looking upon Him, “the one they have pierced“, and mourn as mourning for the firstborn son. It’s a prophetic foreshadowing of Jesus on the cross, pierced by the Roman soldier’s spear, as they sky darkens, the earth shakes, and His followers look on in disbelief. Then I got to the end of chapter 12 on this chapter-a-day journey and stopped reading.

Today I picked up with chapter 13 as if it’s a completely new section or thought and read the first verse:

“On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.”

This verse is a continuation of yesterday’s vision that foreshadows Jesus’ death, but in my one chapter a day habit it’s easy to think of this verse in my daily time capsule existence independent of yesterday’s chapter. But it was all one vision, one thought, one piece of writing. The death and piercing and mourning were all about God cleansing the people of sin and impurity. If I don’t connect the two chapters as one text I miss a crucial understanding of the whole thing in the same way that reading a hand-written letter as a bunch of independent verses and chapters loses its original intent as a personal letter from Paul to his friends in Greece.

Zac’s amazing prophetic roll continues today, describing the “shepherd” who is “struck” and the flock is scattered. Two-thirds are decimated and one-third survives but is “refined” by the process. Once again I find an uncanny description of the events of Jesus and  His followers in the first century. After Jesus’ death His followers scatter in fear for their lives, but instead of snuffing out the movement Jesus started it actually gains momentum. This momentum eventually sparks terrible persecution from the religious and Roman establishment. Jesus’ followers are hunted down, fed to lions in the Roman circus, stoned to death, impaled on pikes and burned alive to light Caesar’s garden. Many of them were wiped out just as Zechariah’s vision describes but it did not destroy the faith of those who survived. It refined their faith and made it stronger. Eventually, a few hundred years later, even Caesar becomes a believer.

This morning I find myself once again mulling over parts and whole. The first verse of today’s chapter doesn’t make sense apart from the previous chapter. Jesus’ death and the events of believers in the first century are made more meaningful and poignant when seen in light of Zechariah’s prophetic words penned 500 years earlier. In the same way people across the centuries have taken individual verses from the text of the Bible both to make inspirational Pinterest graphics and to justify all sorts of horrific acts of judgement, prejudice, violence, hatred, and persecution.

Some verses have incredible meaning in and of themselves, but I’ve come to understand that meaning should never be separated from the context of the author’s work and the Great Story that God is revealing across time, space, history and creation.

Creative False Narratives

“No! We did it from fear that in time to come your children might say to our children, ‘What have you to do with the Lord, the God of Israel? For the Lord has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you, you Reubenites and Gadites; you have no portion in the Lord.’ So your children might make our children cease to worship the Lord.”
Joshua 22:24-25 (NRSV)

Along life’s journey I have repeatedly encountered situations in which others have chosen to believe things about me or my intentions that were far askew from reality. Misreading a word, an action, or my intentions led someone to create a narrative in their head about what I desired, felt, or intended. Their narrative, created out of fear, ignorance, or personal insecurity led to accusation, conflict, and relational distance. As I sit here in the quiet I can feel the scars of several specific examples on my soul.

If I am honest with myself, I must confess that I have created similar narratives in my own head about others. I am not merely a victim of this phenomenon. I am a perpetrator, too.

Conflicts often arise out of misunderstandings. In today’s chapter we find a story about this type of misconception between the tribes of Israel. The tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh had been given land on the west side of the Jordan River prior to Israel’s conquest of  Canaan, but with the caveat that they must cross the Jordan with the rest of the tribes and assist in the conquest. With the conquest over, they were released to return back over the Jordan to the lands they’d been promised.

Without saying a word to their kindred, the three tribes secretly harbored fear that in time their fellow tribes would turn against them. The Jordan River had become an important boundary line, and the people of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh feared that they would eventually be branded outcasts for living on the west side of the river. They created a narrative in their minds in which the other tribes rejected them and treated them like foreigners. This led them to the build an altar as a symbol of their devotion to God and their connection to the other tribes.

Without having actually communicated their fears, the building of the altar was misunderstood by the remaining tribes east of the Jordan. It was the remaining tribes turn to create a false narrative in their minds in which Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh were abandoning their faith and tradition. The altar was misconstrued as an attempt to abandon God and start their own religious system. Whipped into a frenzy by their misperceptions, they gathered for war against their kindred.

As things were about to turn into a bloody civil war, the three western tribes confessed their fears and their intentions in building the altar. The crisis was averted at the last minute by the two sides communicating with one another, coming to a mutual understanding of each other’s intentions, and reuniting in mutual respect for each other.

Today, I’m thinking about the many ways I project onto others what I believe that person desires, thinks, feels and intends without any conversation or inquiry with that person. I confess that conflicts and misunderstandings arise out of my own fears and insecurities. I create false narratives about others that are really reflections of my own weaknesses. And, I suffer from when others do the same with me.

God, grant me the honesty to perceive when I am jumping to conclusions that are born out of my own fear and shame. Grant me the courage to speak with others rather than about them, to address misunderstandings before they become conflicts – both in my relationships with others and with You.

So be it. Yes. Word. Amen.

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The Collateral Damage of Miscommunication

English: David Attacks the Ammonites (2Sam. 12...
English: David Attacks the Ammonites Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the course of time, the king of the Ammonites died, and his son Hanun succeeded him as king. David thought, “I will show kindness to Hanun son of Nahash, just as his father showed kindness to me.” So David sent a delegation to express his sympathy to Hanun concerning his father.

When David’s men came to the land of the Ammonites, the Ammonite commanders said to Hanun their lord, “Do you think David is honoring your father by sending envoys to you to express sympathy? Hasn’t David sent them to you only to explore the city and spy it out and overthrow it?” So Hanun seized David’s envoys, shaved off half of each man’s beard, cut off their garments at the buttocks, and sent them away.
2 Samuel 10:1-4 (NIV)

This past week I was witness to an unexpected public confrontation. An intoxicated friend publicly confronted another friend regarding a particular past incident. The former blind-sided and blamed the latter for something after it had been poorly communicated via a third party and created projected misunderstanding of intent and consequence. It was messy and awkward and completely unnecessary.

Almost every conflict I’ve ever encountered can be traced back to miscommunication and/or misunderstanding of intentions. So it was for the Ammonites in today’s chapter. David sent his envoys with the purest of intentions, but his intentions were misunderstood and the resulting escalation and conflict claimed the lives of over 40,000 soldiers.

Today I’m mindful of communication and the importance of both speaking and hearing with clarity and discernment. Miscommunication of both words and intent can carry a high price in collateral damage relationally, spiritually, and sometimes even physically. When it comes to those types of price tags, I prefer to be a cheapskate.

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Chapter-a-Day Mark 8

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Jesus turned around and looked at his disciples, then reprimanded Peter. “Get away from me, Satan!” he said. “You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.” Mark 8:33 (MSG)

This past weekend, Wendy and I went to see the musical Wicked at the Des Moines Civic Center. For those who don’t know anything about the musical, Wicked tells the untold back story to the well known Wizard of Oz. The Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba, and Glinda are roommates at school. Glinda is Miss Popular while Elphaba is shunned and misunderstood with her mysterious green skin. Initially hating one another, the two begin to see things from a different perspective as they grow to understand and appreciate one another. As we left the theatre and walked towards our car, Wendy said, “Now I have to rethink everything I thought I knew about the Wizard of Oz.”

I’m reminded this morning of how often conflict comes from misperception and misunderstanding. I expect everyone to simply see things the way I do. I project my way of thinking on someone else and then get irritated when he or she misunderstands me and “just doesn’t get it.” I think about how many silly arguments around the house are rooted in a male and a female having different perspectives as they approach a particular circumstance.

Taking it a step further, how many frustrations in life are rooted in refusing to see or to trust God’s perspective? Upon hearing Jesus prophetically announce that He must be rejected, crucified and resurrected, Peter pulls Him aside and reprimands his teacher and friend. Peter and the boys have seen Jesus’ miracles, and from their perspective a completely different plan is in order. They have plans to ride triumphantly into Jerusalem, kill the Romans, put the religious leaders under their thumb and live a life of power and prestige with Jesus on the throne. Jesus gives His own reprimand to Peter for seeing things with such a self-centered, temporal perspective.

Just as many little conflicts around the house are rooted in misunderstanding or being ignorant of my wife’s perspective, I am increasingly aware that many of life’s sorrows are rooted in misunderstanding or being ignorant of God’s eternal perspective. Like Peter, I find myself thinking only of myself in this space at this moment in time. In my spirit I reprimand God for not seeing things my way, I bark at Him for not following my plan.

The end of Wicked, like all Broadway musicals, is wrapped in a happy ending. Glinda comes to the realization that her life was “changed for the better” for having known the wicked, green witch.

Today, I’m acknowledging my limited, narrow perspective. I’m asking God to continually open my eyes to His eternal truth that this temporal life might be eternally changed for the better for knowing Him more.

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