Fear Of Whales

Archive for June, 2015

Dealing With Conflict

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One of the things I most appreciate about dorm living is the opportunity it provides for growth as a natural result of people living so closely together. That’s not a backhanded way to say “it sucks” I really do appreciate the opportunities it provides.

This year there was some hubub over a whiteboard in which people were invited to ask what they were thankful for and someone wrote “condoms” so the powers that be erased it, and it was replaced, erased again, replaced in larger text, and the whole matter escalated to ridiculous proportions.

download (1)I was a part of a meeting that was called with all the dorm residents, to “share our feelings” about “the whiteboard incident” and I was appalled to find that in a room full of pastoral leaders, the capacity for constructive engagement on controversial issues was almost totally absent.

I kid you not: There was a talking stick used. Something I had not seen since the fourth or fifth grade. Nobody was permitted to speak to anyone else, or to respond to anything else which was said. We were all instructed to pass the stick and speak in turn in response to 4 or five very leading questions that were preselected.

It was insulting, it was humiliating, and I rocked it.

Each time stick of copious condescension came my way I was able to articulate a position with wit and verve, and punctuate it with a flourish that would warrant a mic drop. I made my case such that those who had agreed wanted to clap and those who disagreed wanted to apologize.

And it got me to thinking. “I am quite good at this conflict stuff”

I had never looked it in that way before. As a strength. But it turns out that as a result of my tense upbringing and general personality traits, I am able to thrive in situations that make many other people shrivel up. What’s more, I find that that is different in Key ways from being “Argumentative”

Someone with a faculty for conflict is able to address disagreements and communicate clearly under pressure in such a way that the pressure is abated and it allows the other person to hear, understand, and communicate clearly as well. Someone who is argumentative is interested in conflict for it’s own sake regardless of what is communicated.

Obviously the ideas are related and the two can coexist. I’m probably both. But even there the distinction is valuable. What if we as a people were able to know and understand the difference between these things when we see conflict in our midst?

So often when I am accused of being argumentative, my voice is silenced, the opinion that I value is disregarded without really being heard, and I am pushed into a corner where my choice is to fight or surrender. So a once important conflict becomes a tense fight about fighting.

Accusing someone of argumentativeness is argumentative behavior. It escalates the conflict and silences the truth.

What if instead I was told that my controversial point was being lost on my audience, and challenged to address the conflict more directly. Even to do so better. That I had a gift for conflict but I needed to take a breath and try again because it came off more antagonistic than articulate. That would have the opposite response in me, and tend to reduce the tension rather than build it through shame.

But of course nobody is going to do that to me, I have to do that for others and get the change started for future generations.

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June 24th, 2015 at 6:58 pm

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Petitionary Prayer

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I’ve had a tough relationship with the spiritual gifts. The spectacular spiritual side of Christianity is really compelling and interesting to me, the miraculous, the spectacular, the charismatic… I want to be in favor of it. I want to believe.

On my least cynical days I trust that God works that way in some places with some people, and with me he has chosen (as he often does) to work through the mundane. No superpowers for me. On my more cynical days I wonder if there is not more to it than wishful thinking and confirmation bias.

I want to tell you a story.

02-17-13-group-prayerOnce upon a time I was doing some ministry with a group of honest, authentic, transparent people whose understanding of God was a bit more charismatic than my own. One fellow worker in particular had story after story of divine appointment and miraculous healing in the name of God. I’d not seen any of it, but I wanted to.

Once in a meeting, the youngest of our group fell ill. She wanted to vomit. She told us that he had been feeling sicker and sicker and she did not know why. We began to pray.

It was uncomfortable, to be honest with you. There I was, with expectations upon my shoulders to pray and pray well when it was my turn, my superstar co-worker who’s done this a million times was there, my boss was there, and all I could think about was the inherent conflict between an omniscient deity and a contingent future that is a necessity for the efficacy of petitionary prayer.

The Devil was rebuked, the sickness was banished, the lord’s name was invoked in English and Hebrew as the God of healing in this world and the world to come. When it was my turn to pray I prayed as boldly as I ever had, that god would remove whatever was causing this illness and destroy it so that It would never return and your servant, God can continue her work.

She didn’t feel better for a while, then she felt hot. She said she felt like our hands were burning. Finally after some time she said she felt a lot better and we all praised God for healing her, but also that we could finally stop

I didn’t see her again until our next monthly meeting. She was beaming. “We’re pregnant” she announced in a voice just this side of a squeal. and we all gathered around and praised God again for such great news. It was morning sickness the whole time!

But I went home severely disturbed. Did this not bother anybody else? Is it not a problem that I banished her baby to eternal destruction for doing the work of Satan? Is there not just a little hypocrisy to be identified on our side that we believed she has been “healed” of her pregnancy? Shouldn’t we, at some point, be honest with ourselfs that a mistake was made, and chalk this one up as a miss so that we can have some confidence that when we hit we really hit? And that hits happen more often than with placebo?

It’s not that I believe there is no way to resolve this under a theology of effective prayer for miracles. But if we are going to find it it’s certainly worth an honest debrief

Here’s the thing. I don’t think my boss counts it as a miss. I don’t think the spiritual superstar who prayed next to me does. I think debrief would challenge and confuse them. She said she felt hot, that’s proof enough, God turned a bad situation (unexplained nausea) into a good situation (planned pregnancy) thanks to our petitionary intervention.

But I just can’t not ask the logistics of that.

Was there like a burgeoning morula that would have been flushed had we not been praying? If so, wouldn’t that be more in accordance with what we asked for (return to normalcy) and not less? Was our prayerful diagnosis automatically correct because of it’s sincerity such that God turned the virus into a baby? If so was the husband unnecessary? Is there anything we might have prayed or news we might have gotten that would have made us call this a miss? What if she had dropped dead?

I don’t want to be cynical, but I can’t help but think of this and other similar stories when I hear about a friends cousin who totally saw a guy healed of a tumor in Africa.

Everyone has smartphones now. Where’s the video?

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June 17th, 2015 at 3:08 am

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Chapter and Verse

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Evangelist by Jeremy JarvisThis is not the first time I have spun theological insight from a game of Dungeons and Dragons.

I play at the seminary now. And I’m struck by the ardent literalism of the players when it comes to the rulebook.

You see, we are serious academics here in the Masters education program. We do not presume to know the meaning on any text until It’s been deconstructed and reconstructed in at least 3 marginal contexts. We know well about the death of the author and the idle, unjustifiable presumption that meaning is a thing which can be found within a text as opposed to within a reader as a result of the reader’s culture and background.

We look at the Bible this way. We look at other theologians. We look for variant readings, alternative interpretations and radical redefinitions of everything we possibly can. And then we quickly and unabashedly take what we like and condemn the rest as systemic distortion. We call this process “reading”

Mykal-1That is until we sit down to play D&D at which point the author springs back to life along with the meaning and confident search for a true interpretation of the text. Everyone is a literalist in D&D, because nobody wants the paladin to go rogue and infinitely heal himself on the flimsy justification that he is singing a resting song while laying hands on his own shoulder because he took one level of bard. that “radical redefinition” is not allowed. it’s OP.

I get such glee out of seeing my friends, Christian ministers who I see all day roll their eyes at prooftexting in the word of God, only to cite chapter and verse of the 5e Players handbook about why a halfling can totally use a lance without a penalty (they are light weapons)

So what’s the takeaway? Does that mean there is more to literalist theology than meets the eye? That there is hypocrisy inherent in reading the Bible differently from everything else? Or does it just mean that the fundys should stop reading the Bible like it’s a board game handbook?

I have no strong argument in either direction, I just found in interesting.

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June 11th, 2015 at 2:21 am

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Letting Go: C&T

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Here is a like to a group that I know I should give up on


Why in the world is it so hard to let go?

I’ve preached the sermon a million times in pulpits and coffee shops, you don’t need to work yourself ragged, Sabbath is a commandment, it’s arrogant to think God needs you for everything. But it’s a lot easier to say about other people’s projects.

oLast year I was a part of a group called Cigars and Theology. It was a good group, a bright spot on the landscape where people spoke openly about big ideas. Although I neither smoked nor drank, it was my kind of place,

This year the organizer got busier, meetings got farther apart, and he finally decided he didn’t have room on his plate for the meetup. I was not content to see it die so easily, so I picked it up to see what I might do with it. There was an existing contact list, all I had to do was schedule events, right?

Wrong. Turns out the months of decline left virtually the entire group inactive, and I’ve now sunk several hours into planning and going to poorly attended meetups, and trying to sent e-mails and revitalize a dead site for a dead group. But God’s a God of resurrection!

I have an incredible girlfriend. I run a ministry on a college campus that’s going really well, I’m a full time student at a different campus, and on Sundays I preach for peanuts at dying churches for extra practice. It’s not like I don’t have enough to do for the kingdom.

But something in my just will not let go of this. I’m waiting for the blowout, the nail in the coffin, but I;ve also seen a hundred ministry structures do this while I roll my eyes that they can’t let anything go without leaving claw marks in it.

We are like the disciples after the Ascension. Always looking at where Jesus was recently, not doing his work today.

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June 4th, 2015 at 1:43 am

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