Posts Tagged ‘Life Lessons’

Why Bad News Sells

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News travels fast in our world these days. And bad news travels fastest of all. And as quickly as we hear the bad news we’re ready to anathematize whoever is responsible!

It’s handy, you know. We can look at the perpetrator of some heinous crime and say how horrible he or she is, advocate for the most strict penalty, and go back to our regularly scheduled lives feeling better about ourselves.

“I would never do that!” we insist, whatever “that” may be.

Another white person unleashes unspeakable harm against a person of color? “We’re past racism in America.” “It’s an isolated incident.” “I have plenty of friends of other races than my own.”

Another celebrity pastor ‘falls from grace’ in an affair? “Those Christians are just a bunch of hypocrites anyway.” “I never trusted a word that preacher said.”

There’s always something about the ‘newsworthy’ cases that makes the villain clearly in another whole category–perhaps having mental problems, maybe less than human, or maybe evil incarnate.

But none of the evil-doing in our world happens in a vacuum.

An act of racial terrorism doesn’t just pop up out of nowhere. Somebody doesn’t just wake up one day and suddenly decide that people of a certain color need to be eliminated. There’s a history in how the person’s ideas about race have been shaped over time in both conscious and unconscious ways.

A marriage doesn’t get broken in a day. Clothes don’t just fall off by surprise, and people don’t just happen to wind up in bed together. There can be any number of vulnerabilities in a person’s life or in a marriage that contribute to the ease with which a partner becomes unfaithful.

In a way, I wish that categories of “good” and “evil” could be so simple as just to say “I’m good and that guy over there who did that heinous thing is evil.”

I mean, I spit-shine my halo every day. Don’t you see how good I am?

But it’s a lie.

The people of our world aren’t so easily divided into good and bad.

You know the country that raised up that racial terrorist? I live there too and so do 315-million or so other people.

The vulnerabilities that contribute to the temptation to look in the wrong places for love? I am not exempt from those. Nobody is.

Any other evil you want to mention? It would be folly for any of us to say we wouldn’t, couldn’t ever even so much as think about it.

But it’s worse than folly. It’s actually counter-productive, potentially destructive even.

If I claimed to be above anything even remotely racist, then I would be absolved from ever taking responsibility to bridge racial divides. If I pretended to be holier than thou with respect to marriage, I would not see the need to take the very concrete steps I do take to protect my marriage.

When we distance ourselves from evil, as if we’re above it, and we anathemetize those we think of as “evil-doers” we give evil greater chance to take root in our hearts and minds.

But looking more squarely at subtler forms of evil and recognizing a downward spiral before it starts can be tremendous opportunities for growth for ourselves, our relationships, and the communities of which we are a part.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to just pretend to be good. I want to submit myself to scrutiny so that I can confess what in me is not affirming love and life. It is only in that honesty that I am truly open to becoming more fully loving.

It’s risky to have that kind of honesty–to admit that I’m not all good, that I don’t actually have a halo. But to me it is a far better thing to examine what in me is amiss rather than look to anathematize that guy on the news. Maybe then, I can be part of the solutions for our world rather than contribute to the problems.

It may not make the headline news to live this way. But being in the news is a precarious place anyway.

Editor’s note: This post was previously titled “The Measure by Which We Anathematize”

Small Children Are Whole People -or- “What do you mean, ‘and a half’?!!!”

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A nearly-forgotten pet-peeve resurfaced for me the other night: It really bugs me when people talk about a baby as “half” a person!

This came up while my husband, son, and I were playing a family game. My son got a question about how many pets he would like to have. His answer was 5 1/2. Puzzled, I asked him about the “half” pet.

“Well, you know, like a little baby pet of some kind.”

And I think, or at least, I hope, I mustered a smile and an uncomfortable laugh before I gave my son my thoughts on the “half” verbiage.

I don’t think I would have thought quite so deeply about the “half a pet” explanation he gave me if, when he himself was a “little baby,” I hadn’t already thought quite a lot about how younglings are not “half” anything. When he was very young, I was keenly aware of how wholly there this tiny person was.

Back then, I always felt indignant when staff at restaurants would observe that we had “two and a half” in our party. Inside I was thinking, “What do you mean, ‘and a half’?!!!” My baby being only a fraction the size of a mature human did not mean he was only a fraction of a person!

I worked at being gracious when people referred to my son as “a half.” I didn’t want to be unkind, but I felt like I needed to say something. Quite often I used a little humor to make my point and would playfully mention that we think of him as a whole person.

On a strictly practical level, I can tell you that keeping up with the demands of an infant is no small undertaking! When sleep is scarce, showers get further apart, and conversation becomes increasingly child-related, it is clear that this small person is all there, all the time.

But on a deeper level, I’m big on the sacredness of life and part of that means that I honor and treasure the lives of even very young humans. Treating kids as whole people, respecting them as beings all their own, is really important to me.

I know that my son didn’t mean any harm by talk of half a pet, and restaurant staff don’t intend disrespect by referring to a babe in arms as “and a half.”

But how we talk about this matters. The words we use hold meaning.

It matters if we verbally discount another person (or pet, or any other living being). Even if that person is very tiny, that person is worthy of our full respect.

In fact, I would go further to say that especially if another person is tiny, or vulnerable in any way, the onus is on us to make sure that we honor the agency and dignity of that one.

So, I tried to explain some of this to my son. And I tried to do it light-heartedly enough, because it was game night, after all. I didn’t want to make it too heavy, but I do hope it gave my son something to think about.

If nothing else, my son got to hear about how his mom defended his honor when he was too young to do it himself. And I think, or at least, I hope, that matters.

I’m No Fool

Foolishness

Art by Jennifer Clark Tinker

“Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”

–1 Corinthians 1:20

When I was in 8th grade my health teacher told me, “You should be a defense attorney because you’re the most argumentative person I know.” This was after a particularly lively class discussion in which I was defending an unpopular viewpoint, and doing quite well for myself.

In 9th grade, my team and I (we were Ben, Ken, & Jen) won our big debate in history class that year.

In 10th grade, my English teacher predicted, “I see you as a zealous ACLU lawyer” because I had been outspoken about certain issues in papers I wrote for her class.

I tell ya, when I get on a topic I can really go at it.

I’m passionate about what I believe in and I don’t mind speaking up. Okay, let me be perfectly frank, I enjoy speaking up. I like a good hot-topic discussion.

In recent years I have had some great opportunities to have some of these kinds of discussions online. There is a particular Facebook group of ministry colleagues with whom I especially enjoying bantering.

However, online discussions lack a lot of the check points you have in in-person dialogues. You don’t get to see the other people’s faces or hear their tone of voice. It’s possible to ram right through a discussion and not realize that you’re coming across all wrong.

I try to watch myself online. I work at being civil–talking about issues rather than making personal attacks on my conversation partners. I admit when I’m wrong and I apologize when I realize I have made a conversational misstep.

But…I do love a good debate. I can hold my own quite well. I’m pretty stubborn persistent too. And with my goal not to make the discussion “personal,” sometimes I err too far the other way and get so caught up in the impersonal ideas behind it all that I can forget about the people.

One of the texts for my sermon on Sunday was 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 and it’s all about the foolishness of the cross and comparing human wisdom with God’s “foolishness” (see art of verse 25).

It’s a great passage to preach on.

But verse 20 (quoted above in bold type) about “the debater of this age,” preached to me this weekend as I reflected on my zeal for a good debate.

It was a bit of a warning shot. Sometimes when I get on a roll, the sheer energy of the discussion fuels my passion all the more. I needed this warning to remind me to continue to watch myself that I don’t get too carried away in cool, rational, debating.

I cherish my people and I never want to be so “argumentative” as to harm a relationship. I’m not giving up on the friendly banter–I just want to be sure to keep the “friendly” in there.

I’m glad that God have me this reminder not to behave like a fool.

Rain, Rain, What Can I Say?

Artwork by Jennifer Clark Tinker Watercolor with gel pen

Artwork by Jennifer Clark Tinker
Watercolor with gel pen

It has been cold, wet, and rainy all day. And I keep telling myself not to complain because we need the rain.

It was only a few months ago I was fretting about drought conditions, worrying that we weren’t getting the rain we so desperately needed!

So, all day as I have shivered to the bone–I mean, to the bone, people–I have tried not to curse this cold, wet, much-needed rain.

I did complain a while about being cold at lunch out with my husband and son, but I was careful not to curse the rain itself.

“Mom, you really should bundle up more,” was my son’s unsympathetic reply.

I muttered something about not having a warm enough coat, but I did not curse the rain.

Out again into the rain to get into my car, I shivered yet again. Still I did not curse the rain. I blasted the heater as soon as I got my car running, hoping it would warm up noticeably on my way home.

Turning into my driveway, the rain continued its steady downfall. I braced myself for the moment when I would have to quickly gather my belongings and run into my home, trying keep as dry and warm as possible in that transition from car to house.

Then I looked up toward the bend in the driveway and I saw water streaming around the bend from up by the house. I wanted to curse, not the rain, but the gravel driveway that has ruts worn as river-beds.

My gravel driveway with "ruts worn as river-beds" Photo by Jennifer Clark Tinker

My gravel driveway with “ruts worn as river-beds”
Photo by Jennifer Clark Tinker

But then, the word of the the Lord came unto me. A verse of a Psalm sprang to mind:

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High. –Psalm 46:4

 These streams of rain are glad tidings for our drought-recovering lands!

And so, my heart was turned from barely holding back curses, to delight. I sat back and laughed at my fickleness about rain–wanting it when I’m scared of drought but cursing it when it gets inconvenient for me.

I laughed at my shivering and my complaining. And I chose gladness instead.

Rain, I know you don’t need my approval. What else can I say, rain, but that I am glad for you streaming here this day.

Risk, Loss, and Gain -or- What I Gained from Losing

I lost my deaconess pin. Again. And I started on a downward spiral of berating myself for losing something so special. Blessedly, before I got too far down, I interrupted myself and was able to reframe the loss in a way that gave me peace.

Don’t get me wrong, the deaconess pin—made of real silver—is very special. I received it as part of the consecration rite in which I officially became a deaconess. Each of us, as deaconess students, look forward to the day when we will get to wear the pin.

The basin on the crossbar is a reminder of the basin Jesus used to wash his disciples' feet. It is in that spirit that deaconesses serve the church and the world.

The basin on the crossbar is a reminder of the basin Jesus used to wash his disciples’ feet. It is in that spirit that deaconesses serve the church and the world.

The deaconess pin is an important reminder of our servant-hearted ministry. And wearing the pin is a great conversation starter with folks who don’t know about our ministry, or about the love of Jesus—the source and model of our serving.

But sometimes even important things get lost.

What really turned around my thinking about losing my deaconess pin this time (it is the third pin I’ve lost), was when I paused and remembered the stories of other deaconesses I admire who have lost pins more than once. “I’m in good company,” I told myself.

What’s more, part of why I lost my pin was because I was wearing it a lot. I wore it everyday (and every night) that I went to spend time with my mother-in-law, Elaine, in the hospital before she died. I wore it everyday that I planned meals for the Tinker family in the days surrounding Elaine’s death and funeral.

I wore it to remind myself that what I was doing was, in fact, ministry. It wasn’t some ground-breaking innovation in church-work, nonetheless it was ministry. It was ordinary, everyday ministry.

So, the clincher for me was the realization that I lost my pin because I was…using it.

It reminded me of my attitude about the “good dishes.” I know some people have the idea that you don’t want to use the good dishes because something might happen to them!

But my thinking is, if I’m never gonna use my good dishes, then why do I have them? What good are they?

Not much, not really.

I mean, sure they can sit there and look pretty. But tucked away in a china cabinet, they’ll be quickly forgotten—out of sight, out of mind. And even their beauty will fade into the background.

They will be safe though.

Of course, my deaconess pin, like the good dishes, was vulnerable by being used so much.

But what good is it if I don’t wear it? It would be safe in one sense, but not wearing it is its own kind of loss.

And you know all those nights I spent with Elaine? I made myself vulnerable by being of service in that way—my sleep was often interrupted, I was away from my husband and son, and I lived out of a couple of bags for 3 1/2 weeks.

Most of all though, by being there with Elaine—by spending so very much time with her—I came to care more and more deeply for her. And while that bond being strengthened was its own reward, it also made me more vulnerable to the pain of losing her.

But I wouldn’t exchange that experience for the finest china. No amount of silver could replace the ways my life was enriched by being there with Elaine in that time.

I took risks with that pin. And I lost it. But what I gained made it all worthwhile.