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Double Standards

What I'm Reading Today: Genesis 37-39

While I mean well in many circumstances, there are times in my life when I fail to live up to the standards I espouse for others.

A great example of this comes to issues of leadership. I spend a whole lot of time and energy talking with others about my strongly held conviction that leadership is largely about sharing whatever power and authority one has with others in order to empower them and build a strong, broad-based community. On most occasions, I try to follow that vision.

There are certainly those times, however, when sharing my power and authority seems either inconvenient or inefficient to me – so I revert to traditional ways of leading and unnecessarily assert my own power and authority.

When I slip and this happens, I am usually quick to defend myself by saying, "Empowerment is USUALLY a good thing. However, in this PARTICULAR instance I did not have the luxury of being able to do that."

When other people around me do the same thing – assert their power and authority over others – I am extremely quick to point that out and decry their actions. I rarely slow down and give them the benefit of the doubt – the same benefit of the doubt that I so often ask for. In other words, I act as if it's okay for me to occasionally deviate from that vision, but it's not okay for others to occasionally deviate.

This reminds me that I'm just as prone as the next person to fall prey to the age old thing known as "the double standard".

Today's reading in Genesis gives us a beautiful example of a double standard. In that passage, we hear the story of Tamar – the daughter-in-law of Judah who was widowed. Judah responded to Tamar's loss by promising her his son Shelah's hand in marriage. Judah went back on the deal, however. So in order to produce the child she wanted; Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute, slept with Judah, and became pregnant.

When Judah found out the unmarried Tamar was pregnant, how did he respond? With love and compassion?

No! He responded by saying, "Get her out of here. Burn her up!"

He was so quick to recognize and judge her sexual activity outside of a marital relationship, yet he completed overlooked his own sexual activity outside of a marital relationship. That is a classic example of a double standard. Luckily, Tamar was clever enough to expose that double standard before it cost her her life.

While you may not be practicing/holding on to a double standard in your own life that is quite as dramatic as Judah's, chances are there is one lurking somewhere in your life. Today, I would invite you to spend some time searching out your double standard and then committing yourself to getting rid of it.

Til next time …

Framing God

What I'm Reading Today: Genesis 33-36

Like many folks it's easy for me to succumb to the old "Why me?" response when the going in my life gets rough. Luckily, today's story from Genesis provides a counter from such an approach.

Early in today's reading we encounter the story of how Shechem raped Dinah, Jacob and Leah's daughter. Dinah's brothers responded in the way many individuals might – by seeking vengeance not only against Shechem but against the entire community in which Shechem lived. It would appear they took such radical action without informing their father Jacob – for when Jacob heard what they had done, he lost it.

At that point in the story, it would have been easy for Jacob to slide into full-blown "Why me?" mode. He could have cried out, "Why did MY daughter Dinah get raped? Why did MY sons act so impulsively? Why did MY family get put in such a precarious position now that they have ticked off our neighbors? Why ME?"

It certainly would have been understandable for Jacob to respond by asking any (and all) of these questions.

Instead, Jacob responded by doing something else. After conversing with God and developing an action plan, Jacob responded by framing his actions in the following way: "I'm going to build an altar [in Bethel] to the God who answered me when I was in trouble and has stuck with me everywhere I've gone since."

What an amazing way to frame God in a moment of crisis. Not as one who was the cause of the trouble, or one who allowed the trouble to happen; but rather as the one who answers him when he is in trouble and sticks by him everywhere he goes!

There's a great lesson in there for all of us regarding how we frame (or think about) God when the going gets tough. Today, I would invite you to think about that question for yourself. When your back is up against a wall and anxiety threatens to take over your life, how do you frame God?

Til next time …


Thursday, September 30, 2010

What I'm Reading Today: Genesis 30-32

One of the things I LOVE about reading the sacred texts of our tradition consistently throughout one's life is that one's experience of the stories varies greatly over time – depending upon the things that happen to you in your life between readings. Each of those experiences greatly informs our subsequent reading of the text.

Take, for example, the work I've done on codependency over the past twelve months. In focusing on what it means to have healthy relationships (with one's Higher Power, with oneself, and with others), I've come to pick up on unhealthy things that I completely missed before.

Let me use a piece of today's story about Jacob as one example.

Since Jacob/Israel is one of the great patriarchs of the nation of Israel, I grew up reading the stories about Jacob/Israel making certain assumptions about the man. "Sure he participated in cheating his brother Esau out of his birthright," I would think to myself, "but it was part of a larger process that led to the establishment of the nation of Israel – so I guess his actions weren't all THAT bad." I never realized how deeply I was buying into the whole "the ends justify the means" argument, but I digress.

Today, however, as I was reading the portion of the text where Jacob is returning to his homeland and receives news about his brother Esau's approach, I had a sort of epiphany about Jacob.

When he was informed about Esau's approach, what was Jacob's first thought? Was it, "Boy, I did my brother wrong and he's still probably understandably angry with me; I need to figure out a way to apologize and make things right"?

Nope. That wasn't Jacob's response at all.

Instead, his first response was fear for himself. He then responded not by preparing an apology, but by dividing up his property so Esau couldn't destroy his belongings in one fair swoop. He then went on to strategize ways of trying to buy off Esau's acceptance. Not once in the early stages of receiving the news about his brother did Jacob ever step out of himself and think about the well-being of another. How frustrating!

The good news in the story – I suppose - is that God can still work through self-absorbed individuals like Jacob (and certainly at times myself) to accomplish great things. That good news, however, shouldn't completely trump a lesson buried within the text: don't be as self-absorbed as Jacob; look outside of yourself and have compassion/care for others.

Today I would invite you to find time and reflect on your ways of being in relationship with others. As you reflect on your ways of being in relationship with others ask yourself, "Is God able to be present in situations in which I'm present IN SPITE OF the ways in which I conduct myself; or is God's compassion/care for other evident BECAUSE OF the way I'm conducting myself?"

Til next time …

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What I'm Reading Today: Genesis 27-29

There are lots of sneaky, under-handed games that get played out in the field of politics. One of the sneakiest and most-underhanded is something known in political circles as push polls.

Push polls are instruments designed to influence voters by using hypothetical charges against one's opponents that are subtly wrapped into the poll itself.

Let's say, for instance, that John is running for office against Barbara. John goes out and hires a firm to do some polling to determine how close the race is. When the polling company calls voters, in addition to asking a direct question like "Are you voting for John or Barbara?" they will sneak in a deceptive question like, "Would it influence your vote if you learned that Barbara stole a million dollars from one of her previous employers?"

The question that is asked most often has no basis in truth. And because of its wording, John's campaign usually is not held liable for slander since his campaign never actually said Barbara stole a million dollars. John's campaign simply planted the seed in the back of voters mind by asking the question. This is one of the dirtiest tactics in American politics.

While the court system has tried to reign in some of this unethical behavior, lots and lots of unethical candidates have won election to office based on the use of this practice. It's just not right that those who engage in unethical behavior so often seem to get rewarded.

I was reminded of this practice as I read today's passage from Genesis. In that passage, we hear the story of how Rebekah teamed up with Jacob to unethically steal the birth right from Esau. Every time I read that story I get riled up that Rebekah and Jacob got away with their treachery.

"What kind of a lesson is that to include in the Bible!?" I wondered for years.

Little by little over the years, my perspective on the matter has shifted somewhat. Instead of assuming that God had explicitly endorsed Rebekah and Jacob's unethical behavior – as if God were behind their awful plan – instead I see how God found a way to be present behind the scenes and still be there to help achieve a positive outcome. Despite his moral shortcomings, for instance, Jacob still became the father of the twelve sons whose descendants formed the tribes of Israel.

That shift in thinking helped lower my frustration level and begin to see things differently.

Perhaps there is an area in your life where it may seem as if someone is being rewarded for the unethical ways in which the person conducts him/herself and it has frustrated you to no end. Instead of looking at the situation in the short-term, I would encourage you to find a way to step back and look at the situation from a long-term perspective. Maybe - just maybe – there might still be a chance for a positive outcome that can come from the bad situation.

Til next time …

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

What I'm Reading Today: Genesis 24-26

There are lots of ways individuals can be motivated to build or pursue relationships with individuals in our lives. When I first met my partner Mike, for instance, there were two things that first caught my eye: his physical appearance, and the fact that he was wearing a UNC sweatshirt (which I interpreted to mean that he was a big sports fan - much like myself). When I met Andrea, one of my closest friends for the past twenty-one years, I was drawn to her by her amazing sense of warmth and humor. And when I encountered Anne, one of my clergy colleagues here in the Valley whom I've grown closest to, I was drawn to her sense of passion for social justice and her love of parish ministry.

While each of the significant relationships in my life began under slightly different circumstances, in each instance I've found that the things that initially compelled me to spend time and energy with an individual are often the things that come to shape the ensuing relationship.

As I read the series of stories about Abraham and Isaac, I was particularly taken with the story of how Abraham's servant came to choose Rebekah as the one who would be Isaac's wife. The servant could have been superficial and chosen Rebekah based upon her physical appearance. The servant also could have shown himself to be shallow and chosen Rebekah because of her family or social status. Thankfully, the servant didn't use either of those yardsticks. He used something deeper than either of those things.

So what measuring stick did he use in making his choice?

The servant used the sorely underutilized standard of hospitality to discern which young woman was the right one for Isaac. This spirit of hospitality was shown through Rebekah's offer to care not only for the servant for the camels as well. What a wonderful yardstick to use when deciding whether or not to invest one's time and energy in a particular relationship.

So what about you? What quality or qualities do you look for when deciding whether or not to invest your time and energy in building a relationship with another person?

Til next time …

Monday, September 27, 2010

What I'm Reading Today: Genesis 21-23

I was blessed to attend a seminary (The Iliff School of Theology in Denver, CO) that had a variety of faith traditions represented on campus. In addition to the usual assortment of mainline Protestants, there were Roman Catholics, Jews, Mormons, and Buddhists in attendance. This gave me insights into my studies that I would otherwise never had had if it the student population had been more homogenous.

One of my friends – Daniel – was Buddhist. Daniel introduced me on a deeper level to a Buddhist concept known as detachment. Detachment in their tradition is associated with the word renunciation – which he said means something like a determination to be free.

When I first heard about the concept, I was a little hesitant to embrace it. "Who would want to go through life without attachments or passions?" I wondered. It did NOT sound appealing. As I've grown older, I grown into a healthier realization of what Daniel might have been trying to convey. He wasn't suggesting you don't care about others or things. Rather, you aren't attached to them to the degree that if things don't go your way, you don't get completely thrown off kilter.

I could see Abraham practicing the principles of detachment in a couple places in today's reading. First, he had to practice the principle when Sarah demand that he get rid of Hagar and Ishmael since she viewed them as threats. Second, Abraham had to practice the principle of detachment when he heard God call him to sacrifice his son Isaac on a nearby mountain.

On the surface, each of those stories is incredibly disturbing since they seem to treat people like Hagar, Ishmael, and Isaac as if they were nothing more than objects that could be tossed aside at a moments notice. That's how I read the stories for years.

Because of the way Daniel enlightened me about the concept of detachment, however, I began to open myself to read the stories a little differently. I began to look at them as opportunities to love God and others so completely that you let go of the outcome of the situation/relationship. You don't let the status of those relationships with loved ones dictate your connection with God (i.e. if anything happens to so and so I would be so devastated that I would lose my faith). In other words, you achieve a level of consciousness (or God-consciousness) that has a level of stability and peace that eludes most of us who remained attached to people or things.

So how open are you to the concept of detachment? Do you see such a determination to be free as a cold way to move through the world; or do you see it as something that offers you the opportunity to open yourself to whatever unfolds without trying to control or judge it?

Til next time …