Tag Archives: Speak

Micro Aggressions; Macro Issues

The Lord said to Moses, “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.”

 Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff.
Numbers 20:7-8, 11a (NIV)

I’m currently doing character study for a play my friend and I are producing next year entitled Freud’s Last Session. The script is a “What if?” play that imagines an ailing Sigmund Freud inviting a young C.S. Lewis for a visit in his study in London. Freud escaped Nazi Germany to England where he worked and lived out the end of his life. The play is set on the day Britain entered war with Germany. The two intellectuals match wits for an hour on matters of life, death, faith, and the impending war.

In the play Freud makes an argument against Hitler’s use of Christianity and religion to support his fascist regime. Lewis concedes that the institutional church is an easy target. History is filled with evil done in the name of God.

The truth is, however, that what is true on a macro level (e.g. the institutional church in Germany supporting Hitler’s evil regime) can also exist on the micro level (e.g. me doing the wrong thing and cloaking it in spiritual motives). I have no control over the macro level concerns of the institutional church, but I do control my own thoughts, words, and actions.

In today’s chapter, the Hebrew tribes are once again in grumbling mode. The wayfaring nation is camped in the desert and there is no good water source. A couple million people wandering in the desert require a lot of water to survive. Let the rebellion commence.

Per the systemic pattern that’s been well established at this point, the people’s grumbling complaints prompt Moses and Aaron to go before God and throw themselves on the ground in exasperation. Also well established by this point is the fact that God has proven to come through with provision when the survival of the people is at stake. God tells Moses to “speak” to a rock there in the camp and it will miraculously produce flowing water.

Moses, however, goes on a bit of a rant against his grumbling people and “raises his hand” to strike the rock. In his rage Moses strikes the rock not once, but twice.

Moses actions are a micro level spiritual problem with macro implications. God was very specific about speaking to the rock. Moses lost his temper and went postal on the thing. My first impression is that it seems a small matter for God to get upset about, but as every psychologist knows micro aggressions hide macro issues. As Freud explains to Lewis in Freud’s Last Session, what his patients tell him is not as important as what they don’t.

This morning I’m doing a little spiritual inventory. Are there places in my life where I’m striking when God has directed me to speak? Are there places in life in which I’m speaking or acting for my own self-centered motives and cloaking under a guise of “doing it for the Lord”?

It is Well

Be careful to obey all these words that I command you today, so that it may go well with you and with your children after you forever, because you will be doing what is good and right in the sight of the Lord your God.
Deuteronomy 12:28 (NRSV)

Thinking back to childhood, there stand out a few examples of when I chose to blatantly do what I knew was wrong. For example, there are a couple of instances of petty theft on my pre-adolescent rap sheet. One of the forays into criminal conduct resulted in swiftly getting caught and punished. You could say that I got away with the other instance, though the lingering pain of a guilty conscience and the self-recrimination may have been worse punishment than if I had simply been caught in the act. I eventually chose, of my own free will, to come clean and pay my debt.

Those early experiences taught me that there is a peace of soul that comes with simply doing what is good and right. No one is perfect. I have my blind spots and I make poor choices — willfully and regularly, I’m afraid. I have learned , however, that life is certainly less anxious when I daily endeavor to live, speak, and act out of a respect for others and a desire to do the right thing. Sleep comes more easily and the day is experienced with a greater fullness of joy when my conscience is clear.

In today’s chapter Moses urges obedience to God’s commands “that it may go well with you and your children.” While I certainly believe that God blesses His children, I also recognize that there is a natural “going well” that occurs simply as a consequence of doing the right thing.

I cannot control all of the circumstances of life around me. I cannot control what others think, say, and do. I can, however, control my own thoughts, words, and actions. And, if I do things the right way then life, for the most part, tends to go well.

chapter a day banner 2015

featured photo by jsrcyclist via Flickr

Two Different Audiences

The Mix

My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to hear your words, but they do not put them into practice. Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice. Ezekiel 33:31-32 (NIV)

This past Wednesday night I was given the opportunity of speaking to a large gathering of Middle Schoolers. Many years ago, I regularly found myself in front of this particular demographic. I stress many years ago, because I can’t remember the last time I was in a room that was such a boiling cauldron of adolescent hormones and perpetual kinetic energy. Yikes!

To be honest, I had a blast. It was a great group of young people, they were a gracious audience, and I was jazzed at the opportunity to share with them. As I’ve contemplated the experience the past day or two I’ve come to a couple of realizations.

First, while a room full of middle schoolers can be an intimidating audience, they are also an incredibly transparent audience. If you are boring them you will know it because their uncontrollable kinetic energy will lead them to start twittering, fidgeting, and whispering to neighbors. This is very unlike a room full of adults. Adults have very little kinetic energy. They are, for the most part, very tired, and they have learned over time how to pretend to listen to you while their minds are organizing their work schedule and task lists for the week.

Second, middle schoolers are at a stage of life in which they are asking big questions and making big life choices. This means that the opportunity for big life impact and influence is huge. If  you can succeed at getting through to a middle schooler you might just help change a life for the better. Once again, I find this to be very unlike an audience of adults, who are pretty set in their ways and cynical. Adults are big on saying they want to make a positive change in their lives (e.g. We have a closet full of Nike athletic wear saying “Just Do It”) , but rarely do they we actually change our thoughts and behaviors (e.g. We haven’t exercised since the Clinton administration…the first term, to be specific).

The more things change, the more they stay the same. In today’s chapter we find Ezekiel struggling with the same issues 2500 years ago. His fellow Jewish exiles in Babylon loved gathering to hear his messages, but there was a big disconnect between their ears and their hearts.

Today, I’m thankful for young people and all of their boundless energy and untapped potential. I’m thankful for adults whose hearts and lives remain spiritually pliable. And, I’m praying for those of us who have frayed and severed connections between eye/ear and heart; Praying that a little spiritual reconstruction might take place and restore the potential for positive heart and life change.

Wisdom is Knowing When to Remain Silent

A reporter raises his hand to ask a question a...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is more hope for a fool
    than for someone who speaks without thinking.
Proverbs 29:2o (NLT)

I remember watching a press conference on television many years ago. The press were gathered around the podium of the official in a huddled mass. Cameras were clicking and whirring. There was a din of activity in the room as they pushed in around the speaker. Bright lights blazed in his eyes and a gaggle of people pressed in on the man from behind as well as in front.

A reporter fired a question at him. There was silence as the speaker stood and looked down at the podium. Seconds passed. Murmurs rose among the press. Cameras clicked as the speaker said nothing, but continued to look down with furrowed brow. You could feel the sense of curiosity in the room. It became almost a panic. What was wrong? What was happening? Why wasn’t he saying anything? The reporter fired another question at the official who immediately held up his hand and interrupted the reporter.

“Give me just a moment, please. I’m thinking about your question and I want to respond to it appropriately, but I find it better to think about what I’m going to say before I open my mouth.”

I’ve never seen anyone in a press conference say or do anything like that before. It stuck in my memory and I’ve never forgotten it. Here was a wise man who was not going to be bullied by the pressure of the moment and a chaotic press corp rifling questions at him. He understood Solomon’s words.

A mentor of mine used to consistently pray this prayer: “Lord, help me to know when to speak, and when to be silent.” I find myself repeating it often in my own whispered plea. When caught off guard it is foolish to speak without thinking. Better to say nothing than to say something foolish that will haunt you ever after.

Balancing Truth and Love

from Classblog via Flickr
from Classblog via Flickr

Soon Joseph had another dream, and again he told his brothers about it. “Listen, I have had another dream,” he said. “The sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed low before me!” Genesis 37:9 (NLT)

In today’s chapter, the book of Genesis takes up the story of Joseph who was Jacob’s son by Rachel. One of the stark contrasts we immediately see in the young Joseph is that he is a plain spoken truth teller born into a family system steeped in deception. Joseph had a dream and shared the dream with his brothers despite the ill-will and retribution it generated from his brothers. In this way, Joseph foreshadows the prophets who would also share God’s message through their dreams and visions and earn the ill-will and retribution of the nation.

Followers of Jesus are commanded to “speak the truth in love,” but I have come to appreciate the courage required to faithfully do so. Speaking truth often requires us to say what others do not want to hear. Doing it “in love” requires us to bless and be gracious with those who will respond to truth the way Joseph’s brothers did.

I have always struggled to balance my desire to be an obedient truth-teller with my personality of being a people pleaser. So often I err too far to one extreme or the other. When I speak truth I often harden myself so as to build up the courage to do so and it comes out as callous and angry. When I try to speak in love I often soften myself to the point that I conceal truth and avoid any potential unpleasantness it would generate. Once again, I find myself trying to find the point of tension between the two extremes. I hope as I get older I’m learning to get it right once in a while.

Chapter-a-Day Proverbs 24

Time Saving Truth from Falsehood and Envy
Saving Truth from Falsehood and Envy. Image via Wikipedia

An honest answer 
      is like a kiss of friendship.
Proverbs 24:26 (NLT) 

Along the journey, especially with respect to my vocation, I’ve commonly been asked very direct questions from people in authority. It’s not always a comfortable position to be in. I have learned from experience, however, that I am always best served to give an honest, direct answer whether it is what the person wants to hear or not.

The results are not always positive. Solomon said that an honest answer is a kiss of friendship, but that is only when the recipient of the answer recognizes the gift that you’ve given them in your honesty. An honest answer can just as easily be perceived as Judas’ kiss if the hearer is unwilling to hear and accept the honest truth of your response.

I cannot control whether the hearer receives of rejects my honest answer. That is his or her responsibility, not mine. My responsibility is simply to provide the honest answer no matter how I think the hearer will react.

Chapter-a-Day James 1

Day of Silence 2007
Image via Wikipedia

Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. James 1:19 (NLT)

A co-worker of mine has a favorite saying she uses when coaching people who work in sales or in collections on the phone: “He who speaks first, loses.” Another friend of mine is a therapist and has another favorite saying: “Let silence do the heavy lifting.” Along with this little gem from today’s chapter in James, I find myself being very conscious of what I say and what I don’t say in meetings and gatherings. Along the journey I’ve found myself choosing to say far less in meetings and make sure that what I do say is worth saying.

I can’t think of one angry word, spoken in haste, that I did not regret.

This little command from God’s Message has been my companion since I first read it in high school. In fact, I often find myself uttering it as a prayer when going into a meeting: “God, help me to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger.”

An apt prayer to start my day. I participate in a quarterly board meeting this afternoon.