Reflections by Jerry Webber

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Honor the Interior . . . Do Not Judge

Sometimes I scratch my head at the behavior of people. I just don’t get it. Why do folks act like they do? Of course, the other part of my head-scratching is the thought, “Why can’t people act sane and reasonable . . . like me!” And then, there is the realization that I, too, do stupid things day after day after day.

I may fool myself into thinking that I have insight into someone else’s motivations, or that I can read another’s life, or that crazy behavior ought to be dismissed out of hand. But for all the information available to me, I am not privy to the interior landscape of another person’s life . . . to all the life experiences that have shaped her . . . to the numerous wounds and betrayals that lead him to act as he does . . . to the intricate, interior web of motivations that move her to act the way she does. I may see what appears on the surface of his life, but I cannot see the inner workings that are behind the behavior.

That is why Jesus said this:

"Do not judge others. Then you will not be judged. You will be judged in the same way you judge others. You will be measured in the same way you measure others.

"You look at the bit of sawdust in your friend's eye. But you pay no attention to the piece of wood in your own eye. How can you say to your friend, 'Let me take the bit of sawdust out of your eye'? How can you say this while there is a piece of wood in your own eye?

"You pretender! First take the piece of wood out of your own eye. Then you will be able to see clearly to take the bit of sawdust out of your friend's eye.
” (Matt. 7:1 – 5)

Within each of us are hidden patterns not visible from the outside. The human interior is infinitely intricate, woven mysteriously of our life experiences, our personalities and giftedness, as well as our brokenness and wounds. Thus, what we observe in others (and in ourselves) at the surface of life is a very small part of our stories.

I cannot see or know the motivations of another person, the interior landscape that leads them to certain behaviors and ways of being in the world. And those other persons don’t fully know their own interior motivations, either. It is all a part of our labyrinthine interior, the tangled rootage which becomes the source of our lived experience, the source of our attitudes, ideas, beliefs and behaviors.

This interior is the part of me most in need of transformation and reorientation. It is this more interior place within me that needs “conversion” and “salvation” – if we use traditional language.

Christian “salvation” is not some temporary behavior adjustment or behavior modification technique. Behavior adjustment is generally surface change which may evaporate when will-power subsides. Inner change that lasts must happen within me at the level of the roots of my behaviors, at the source of my motivations.

As we grow in Christ, we recognize that the actions of others arise from interior places we cannot see, and they are not subject to easy projections about motive and cause/effect. Each human is too complex for that kind of simple judgment. So Jesus said, “Do not judge others. . . .”

And growth comes in seeing my own interior landscape more and more clearly . . . not deceiving myself, but facing who I am and the truth of my life.

So I refrain from judging others, because I cannot fully see the wounds and brokenness from which their behaviors arise.

And I refrain from judging myself, because my behaviors come from my own intricate history.

The response of Christ to this, both in others and within myself, is compassion and mercy, not judgment. . . . And an ongoing invitation to see more truthfully, both my own life and the lives of others.

For Prayer: I ask God to soak me in love and compassion. Then I ask the same for others.

I think of a particular person in my life-world, and consider the complexity of who that person is, a complexity that I cannot fully see. I pray for her/him with compassion, both for their actions and for their motivations.

Then I pray for others who are judged hastily or harshly.

Finally, I pray with compassion for all – including myself – who judge others hastily or harshly, based on what we see at life’s surface.

Praying with Psalm 137: Reflections in a Foreign Land

A few weeks ago, I found myself in touch with the dark and angry spirit of Psalm 137. I was surprised at what came out of me . . . and grateful for the honesty with which I could offer my real life in prayer.

Psalm 137 Psalm-Prayer
praying from a foreign land

I sat in a foreign land and wept
among those of strange tongue
among those who hated me
among those who wanted me gone
I remembered You
remembered the thought of You

My songs and instruments
hung in a closet
stored away
no longer needed or useful
I was
who they said
I was

No longer was there dialogue
now there was one way
their way
the tone of taunt in every exchange
“Why can’t you sing your song?
We’ll play the music . . .
you just sing along.”

The song You’ve given buried deep
I don’t want to sing their song
I’ll do anything to keep from singing
a pseudo-song

God, don’t ever let me be too far away
to forget Your song
burn it upon my heart
weave it into my soul

And for them, these pretenders
who take their delight in my despair
who have won the struggle
to steer the ship
who said,
“Damn you! Damn you!”

Oh, the warrior in me wants to fight to the death,
to take them down
and stand over their plot
And the diplomat in me wants to run far
to get out of their sight
and reach
and make a new life somewhere else
And the poet in me – at this moment –
just wants to sing my song
to spill out the verse from within
no vengeance or vindication
just song

so that the cycle stops
and all the little ones

Monday, June 4, 2012

Digging for Treasure in the Field of My Life

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field." (Matt. 13:44)

My life is full of treasure . . . the relationships, experiences and encounters that have shaped me and continue to shape me.

Jesus told a short story in which he likened a person’s life to a field, and to the search for treasure in that field.

I don’t know that I’ll ever get to the end of exploring, searching, digging around in the fields of my life. I know some folks find a treasure, claim it for themselves, then go on with life in possession of that treasure. It hasn’t worked that way for me. It’s not that I haven’t found any treasure, or that I have no treasure to show for my life. But just about the time I dig up something that seems to be THE treasure, the priceless trinket to end all trinkets, I keep on searching and digging, to find something else of even more value.

They are all treasures, but the notion that soon I’ll discover THE treasure, or the end-all treasure just doesn’t seem true to my experience with God. I imagine that God knows I’d stop seeking, stop knocking, stop finding if I ever found the treasure that was final.

Again, though, so many things I’ve found in life are treasures. So many things have been precious to me, of great and lasting value to me. So it is not a stretch for me to think that there are many treasures open and available to me, and that these treasures taken together, play a significant role in shaping and ordering my living.

That’s pretty strange thinking, I know. From my experience, though, I recognize that so many things have felt like the big discovery, the ultimate treasure. In fact, part of being human is to believe that where we are at THIS MOMENT is the place where we’ll be settled forever. Every discovery feels like the ultimate discovery. Every movement that reveals new depths of truth to us feels like the final movement out of darkness and into the light.

If you’ll check your life, though, you may find a number of these movements into so-called “finality.” And if you’re honest, you may also recognize that what felt “final” and “complete” in the moment was actually a doorway or threshold into something else. New discoveries led to more exploring and other discoveries. The pattern continues.

In fact, there may be a time when the things we once considered to be treasures are treasures no more. In Phil. 3:7 - 8, the Apostle Paul wrote about things he once valued that he later considered rubbish or garbage.

So for me, my stance always has to be open hands, holding open who I am and what I have discovered, always open to other treasures and deeper, more meaningful treasures.

One corollary for me, then, is that someone else's treasure cannot be my treasure. I can learn from others. I can use maps others have left of the field in which I seek. But in truth, a map that leads to your treasure won’t necessarily lead me to mine. It might be helpful to me if it gave some tips on how to search, how to dig, how to explore. It won’t, however, be helpful if it tries to make your treasure mine.

I think of it like this: Someone else – friend, mentor, pastor, counselor, author – can help me in the exploration, but they can never do all my discovery for me. I may use some of the maps they’ve left and some of the tools they found helpful in exploring, but my life is different from theirs.

For instance, using someone else’s map to find your own spiritual treasure may be something like trying to find my most authentic and true self within the biography of Francis of Assisi, Martin Luther, or Mother Teresa. They had maps for their own lives and for what it meant to be who God created them to be . . . and for me to try and live into their maps will mean that I miss my own life, my own truest self.

One more thing . . . In thinking about my own treasure, my own most authentic self, a part of my social responsibility in life is to live in relationship with others in such a way that I discover my own treasure and that I help others discover theirs.

That means I am not charged with leading others to discover my treasure, as if there were only one treasure for all people, and as if I were the one who had the secret key to that treasure.

No, my place is to be in relationship with others in a way that encourages their exploration with God, helps them to discover their own treasure, and then encourages them to live into it.

This may happen through acts of service, of feeding and care-giving. It may happen through empowering others to explore and make those discoveries. It may happen through giving others a voice where they are voiceless.

The question for me is: “How am I to be with others in a way that frees them to do their own necessary digging in the field? How do I help others explore and search and dig so they can find their own unique treasure?”

This is my very basic purpose in engaging the world, engaging others, and encouraging their growth and fullness in God.