Hi there. This Friday and Saturday I will be away attending a training for members of the Southern California-Nevada Conference's Committees on Ministry at Pilgrim Pines. I'll be back with you on Monday. Folks from WHCC, I'll see you on Sunday. Hope you all have a great weekend!
What I'm Reading Today: Exodus 12-14
Over the years I've worked with lots of folks whose lives were affected by a family member's alcoholism. In almost every instance, I have heard a variation of the same story.
Folks will tell me that at first it was hell. Over time, however, each member of the family/system figured out a role to play so his or her family could make it through the ordeal. The son, for instance, learned that his role when his father came home drunk was to carry his dad to bed and let him sleep it off. This helped keep the problem out of sight. The daughter learned that when her dad came home drunk and argumentative, her role was to prevent other family members from arguing with her father. This kept the peace. The mother learned that her job was to call her husband's employer and make up an excuse why her husband wouldn't be coming in to work that day.
Usually in these scenarios there is one member of the family that is forced to take responsibility for the overall functioning of the family/system. As long as that individual agrees to play that role, the family/system worked just fine (or so they thought). Eventually, however, that person in the leading role reaches his or her breaking point. He or she becomes consumed with anger or resentment that he or she has to assume all the responsibility for the family's well-being.
The truth is that the individual is not trapped. He or she could make a different choice at any time and let go of carrying the responsibility for others.
You would think it would be an easy decision for the person who plays the leading role in the family's/system's drama to make the decision to let go of their role and invite others in to the process. In truth, it is a hard decision. For there is a tremendous amount of pressure placed on the individual to quit rocking the boat and revert back to the previous way of living.
This temptation to slide back into unhealthy ways of being is something that jumped right out at me in today's story from Exodus. For in today's story, we hear are told how the Israelites were able to break free from the bonds of slavery in Egypt and obtain a new sense of freedom as the journeyed into the desert.
You would think they would be thrilled by this development, right?
Almost as soon as they hit the desert, they started complaining about their new life. They even started longing for the good old days in slavery – when life was familiar and comfortable. They wanted Moses (the primary actor in their drama) to take them back to slavery in Egypt. How sick was that?
All of this reminds me that the process of change is a painful – and long-term process. At each juncture, it is easy to want to give in and resort to one's old ways. If you find yourself in the midst of living into a new way of being in your own life, be aware of this tendency to revert to old ways of being and catch yourself. Remember that just because a way of being was easy doesn't mean that it was healthy.
Til next time …
What I'm Reading Today: Exodus 9-11
One of the most challenging elements contained in all of Scriptures is the way the story of the plagues is told in today's passage from Exodus. I say that because the story tells us that at each turning point in the story it was God who hardened Pharaoh's heart so that Pharaoh would ignore Moses' plea to let the people go – thereby unleashing the next horrible plague upon Egypt. It's uncomfortable to entertain for even a moment the notion that God could be responsible for bringing such pain on the people of Egypt.
So if I don't like to think of God as being responsible for causing the plagues due to God's hardening of Pharaoh's heart, what do I think caused Pharaoh's remarkable stubbornness?
Here's what I think happened.
Those of you who have participated in a Twelve-Step movement know that the First Step (or stage in recovery) involves coming to terms with the following statement: "We admitted we were powerless over [fill in your form of the addiction here] – that our lives had become unmanageable." There are two concepts contained in that step that I think represented what was going on for Pharaoh.
First, I think that like many of us Pharaoh could not accept the fact that he was powerless over the series of events that were unfolding before him. As the people went from one plague to another, it was more important for Pharaoh to cling to the misguided belief that at any point he could simply assert his will and bring the plagues to an end. He held on to that belief in spite of the evidence around him. Second, Pharaoh was unwilling to admit his life was unmanageable because such an admission would have reflected poorly upon him and his leadership. Sure he looked around and saw the carcasses of the dead animals, the boils, the destruction from the hail, the work of the swarms of locusts, the paralyzing darkness, and the bodies of the firstborn. But did Pharaoh REALLY see any of those things? Or did his need to maintain the illusion of control cause him to look through those things? That is the question.
I suppose what I'm suggesting is that Pharaoh – like many of us – spent time in the throes of an addiction. In his case, his addiction was to control. The series of plagues that were unleashed upon Egypt represented a sort of "bottoming out" process for Pharaoh that was needed in order him to admit he was powerless - that his life had truly become unmanageable. Sadly, a whole nation had to go through this "bottoming out" process with Pharaoh before they could get on with their lives.
It's easy to look at Pharaoh and say, "Why didn't he snap out of it earlier and spare the Egyptians the pain and suffering?" I would caution against being too hard on Pharaoh – for lots of us live with our own addictive thinking and behavior. We can be every bit as stubborn as Pharaoh – every bit as unwilling to admit we are powerless over some aspect of our life, and that our lives have become unmanageable. Today, I would invite you to explore what it is that you might be so addicted to that it would take a series of plagues to get you to open your eyes?
Til next time …
What I'm Reading Today: Exodus 6-8
When I was first grappling with my call to ministry, I had a huge obstacle to overcome. That obstacle wasn't what many people assume it was. Let me set up my situation, and then identify what that primary obstacle was.
I was raised as a member of the United Methodist Church. My family had been Methodist for several generations. Growing up, I knew that the UMC had a policy against ordaining people who were openly Gay or Lesbian. As I grew into an understanding of who I was (a gay man), I figured that this meant I could never be ordained as a parish minister.
Let me stop there for a moment and talk about the primary obstacle I faced on my path toward ordination. Many folks hear this and assume the primary obstacle I faced was the denominational policy that excluded me from consideration for ordination. While the denominational policy certainly was one obstacle, it wasn't the primary obstacle.
So what was the primary obstacle?
The primary obstacle was my decision to buy into the thinking behind the policy. I spent years questioning my value and worth because of the policy: not only as a candidate but as a human being. Because of that, I didn't even think of pursuing ordination in other traditions that were inclusive. In other words, the greatest obstacle before me was between my ears. I was imposing limitations upon myself because of the way I thought about myself.
Thankfully, God was stubborn and hung in there until I was able to recover from the religious abuse I suffered at the hand of the UMC. Eventually I realized I was a gifted, capable person whom God could use to touch the lives of others.
Of course I wasn't the only one who felt inadequate when it came time to answer God's call. In today's reading we learn that Moses (the greatest figure in Hebrew Scripture/the Old Testament) also felt inadequate. When God first called Moses by saying, "Go and speak to Pharaoh king of Egypt so that he will release the Israelites from his land," Moses fought that call. He said, "Look-the Israelites won't even listen to me. How do you expect Pharaoh to? And besides, I stutter."
Moses reason for concern was different than mine – but the obstacle was the same. It was the same self-doubt that stemmed from between Moses' ears that caused him to think he wasn't capable of answering God's call. Once again, God was stubborn and refused to let Moses off the hook just because he thought of himself as incapable.
This issue of self-imposed limitations is an important issue because so many of us these days think poorly of ourselves. We think to ourselves, "I could never answer God's call. I'm too – (and you can fill in the blank here with your own limitation). You might think of yourself as either too old or too young; too skinny or too heavy; too poor or too rich – you name it. Whatever your self-imposed limitation is, today spend some time thinking about how your life might be different if you finally gave in to God's persistence and answered that call that you've been avoiding. Not only would you be better for it - the world would be as well.
Til next time …