Sunday, August 31, 2014

More Thoughts on Loving Leadership

Earlier this summer, I wrote a post entitled Loving Leadership, in which I shared some some things about leadership that I've learned in my experiences as both a leader and a follower.

But I've been thinking more about leadership lately, and I thought I'd follow up with another blog on loving leadership.

There's a popular children's game (or it used to be popular) called Follow the Leader.  The game was simple.  The leader would walk in front of a line of other children, and the followers would follow the leader around.  Sometimes the followers would just walk in line behind the leader, and sometimes they would mimic the leaders actions.

With children's games like this, it's no wonder I grew up with an image in my head of a leader being someone who goes in front of others.  And certainly, that is part of what a leader must do.  A leader should go before the followers.  A leader should either already know what's ahead or be the one to experience it first.

But I've been reading in Genesis lately, and I've realized there's another aspect of leadership.  I noted this aspect through two bad examples of leadership.

In Genesis, in the beginning, God created everything.  He made the earth and the skies, the sea and the land, the plants and all the animals.  And He made Adam and Eve and put them in the Garden of Eden.  They were allowed to eat from every tree except one.

It was never really clear how much time passed before Satan tempted Eve, and she ate of the fruit.  They might have lived quite happily in that garden for centuries.  They might not have lasted the week.  Knowing sin and temptation like I do, I'm going to guess it was the latter.

So Eve ate the forbidden fruit and really messed things up for everyone.  Thanks a lot, Eve.  Humanity was cursed forever because you just had to eat the fruit.

But I have one question.  Where was Adam?

Let's see if we can figure out where Adam was:

Gen. 3: 6 Then the woman saw that the tree was good for food and delightful to look at, and that it was desirable for obtaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 

That's interesting.  That's very interesting.  According to Scripture, Adam was right there with Eve when she ate the fruit.  I'm assuming that he was also there during the temptation.

And I'm not going to speculate too much on this, but I'm assuming also that Adam was already the established leader in the relationship.  I do know that part of Eve's curse was that her husband rule over her, but I think a Godly sort of husband leadership was already in place before the Fall.  If this was the case, then why didn't Adam speak up?  Why didn't Adam protect his wife?  Why didn't Adam stop her from doing what they both knew to be wrong?

He didn't do any of these things.  Instead, he ate of the fruit when she gave it to him.  He just ate it.  And later, when they got caught, Adam started the finger pointing.  He blamed Eve, and what's worse, he blamed God for giving Eve to him.  But my question still stands.  Where was Adam?

Because although Adam was right there with Eve, he wasn't present in the way that he needed to be.  I do not discount Eve's grave sin; she was at fault.  However, I would be so bold as to state that the greater sin was Adam's.  He was the leader, and as the leader, he should have stood by what God had commanded.  He should have protected his wife.  Instead, he went along with whatever she said, and thus, humanity was cursed with sin and all its wages.

This isn't Scripture, but I really like something John Milton wrote in Paradise Lost.  When God questioned Adam for his sin, and Adam blamed Eve, God had an interesting response:

"Was she thy god?"

Was she?  Perhaps so.  For instead of following God's leadership, instead of being the godly leader that he should have been, he just went along with Eve's sin.

I have another example from Genesis, also involving a husband and a wife.

In Genesis 19, we have the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.  We also have an unusual case of a lady, identified only as Lot's wife, who was turned into a pillar of salt after turning back to look at the doomed cities.  The angels had warned them not to look back.  But Lot's wife did, and she was also destroyed.

But my question here is similar to the one I asked in the Genesis 19 account.  Where was Lot?

Genesis 19:23-26
23 The sun had risen over the land when Lot reached Zoar. 24 Then out of the sky the Lord rained burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah from the Lord. 25 He demolished these cities, the entire plain, all the inhabitants of the cities, and whatever grew on the ground.26 But his wife looked back and became a pillar of salt.

Now, it's not clear exactly where Lot was when his wife looked back, but one thing is abundantly clear from the entire account of Lot's escape from Sodom.  He was terrified.  He didn't want to leave; the angels had to drag him and his family along.  He didn't want to flee to the mountains, but instead pleaded to be allowed to run to the small town of Zoar.  And after his wife became the first Morton's girl (yes, I went there), he took his daughters off to the mountains, after all, because it turned out that  he was also afraid to live in Zoar.  And that's when things got disgusting all over again, but I digress.

See, I think it can be assumed that Lot was running ahead of his wife.  It sounds as though he just might have reached the city before she did.  I think it can be assumed that he wasn't running with her, nor was he running ahead of her as to lead her, but he was running ahead to save his own skin.  And, again, I'm assuming much here, but I think it's reasonable to say that Lot's wife might not have looked back if Lot had been with her.  Had he been leading her out of love, running with her, she might have survived the flight from Sodom.  As a result, she might have been there to guide her daughters to make better choices.  The Moabites and Ammonites (born of the incestuous relationships between Lot and his daughters) might never have existed to cause strife with Israel.  A lot of sin might have been prevented if one man might have been less fearful for his own sake, and more concerned for the welfare of his family members.

Sometimes, a leader has to walk on ahead, go on before, to lead the way.  It's much like in those silly childhood games of follow the leader.  But I'm learning that a good leader sometimes leads in a much different way.  Instead of walking on before, sometimes the best leader will come along beside.  Because we're not children playing silly games anymore, and I've learned that people are more likely to follow well when the leader is able and willing to come down and meet them where they are. 

I have one other example of a leader, but this is a good example.

When Jesus called his disciples, they came.  They left their fishing boats and nets and family members and they came.  Immediately.  When Jesus called Matthew, a tax collector and sinner, he came.  Why?  Why would these men follow Jesus just because he told them to follow?  

Because Jesus wasn't afraid to get his hands dirty.  He wasn't afraid to dine with those tax collectors and sinners.  He wasn't afraid of what others might think or even of what others might do.  He came along others and met them at their point of need. 

If anyone had any right to point fingers, it would have been Jesus.  If anyone had any right to save his own skin, it would have been Jesus.  But Jesus didn't flee from pain and death.  Jesus didn't pass blame.  Jesus loved.  And people followed him.  People still do.  I certainly try to.

And I know I'm still learning to be a leader.  Shoot, I'm still learning to be a follower.  But I know I've got to be humble and accept my own weaknesses.  I know that I have to trust beyond all my fears.

It's hard to follow.  It's hard to lead.  It's even harder to do both at the same time.  But I think a person has to learn to do both in order to be really good at either.  We need to trust God to come along side us as well as learn to come along side others.  We need to be humble as well as confident that the One who gave us our leadership abilities and positions is guiding us as we lead.  We need not to point fingers.  We need not to be afraid.  

We need to follow the Leader, and we need to trust Him as He leads us to lead.  

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Tantrums, Struggles, and What We Find in the Midst

It might be because I'm a little weird, but I consider it one of the biggest perks of working with young kids that I've gotten to experience some really amazing tantrums.

Yesterday, I had the blessing of caring for a very strong-willed little boy who had just turned four.  He was in a pretty good humor when he arrived, but then he chose to deliberately disobey me.

His older brother was in the room that was intended for older children, and the four year old asked me if he could go in the "big kid's room" and watch his brother play video games. I told the four-year-old that he was allowed to come in and watch his brother play video games, but that he wasn't allowed to play with any of the toys or games in the older kid's room because they were for the older kids only, and they weren't safe for him.  I turned my back to talk to another child, and I caught him playing at the air hockey table.  I reminded him that he wasn't allowed to play with it, and warned him he'd have to leave the "big kid's room" if he disobeyed again.

Well, after that warning, I turned to help another child with something.  Not a minute later, I looked over and caught the four-year-old playing air hockey again.  I told him he needed to leave the "big kid's room" because he broke the rules.

What happened next was one of the best tantrums I've ever had the honor of experiencing.  And since I was the one at which the tantrum was being thrown, I didn't just observe like an innocent bystander.  I got to be part of it.  And that, friends, is a wonderful thing.

I'm not being sarcastic, for a change.

The tantrum lasted about an hour.

It started with screaming at the top of his lungs.  This adorable four-year-old child stood in one spot and screamed.  And screamed.  And screamed.

I first tried talking to him, calmly and rationally.  And sometimes that works, and sometimes it doesn't.  Knowing how strong-willed this child was, I realized that he wasn't going to respond to calmness and reason.  Basically, he was unknowingly trying to manipulate me into doing what he wanted by throwing a tantrum.  But since I'm also a strong-willed child who has had a lot more practice at being strong-willed than he has, I wasn't going to give in to that sort of nonsense.  So I tried ignoring him.  I walked away and started singing a song to myself.

But there's a method to ignoring a tantrum-throwing child.  You walk away.  You don't look at the child.  None of their screaming or attention-seeking behavior will get your attention.  To that child, it looks like you are interested in everything besides them.

But in reality, that tantrum-throwing child was very much on my mind and heart.  While he was standing rigidly in one spot and loudly, repetitively screaming, I was praying for his little heart.  I was singing a hymn to remind myself of grace.  I wasn't just ignoring him out of meanness or because I was fed up with him.  I was ignoring him for his own good, to show him that he couldn't manipulate me.

And, of course, at the age of four he wasn't thinking all that through.  He didn't realize that he was trying to manipulate me.  It was all very innocent and natural for him, especially as a strong-willed child, to act out when he didn't get his way.

And he IS a very strong-willed child, because when he realized that I wasn't going to give him any attention for his tantrum, it didn't discourage him.  It just made him madder--and louder.  He didn't stop.  He didn't slow down.  After a good ten minutes of screaming, he just kept going.

And I realized that the ignoring method wasn't going to work.  So I took his hand and dragged him, literally kicking and screaming, to the back of the room.  I told him, "You are not in time out, but while you are crying and screaming, you have to sit in this chair.  Whenever you're done screaming and crying, you can get up and come talk to me."

Of course, it was hard to say all this to him, because while I was saying it, he was screaming in my face.  So I said it, not once or twice, but probably about ten times.  I said it calmly and firmly, repeating it and praying that it was getting through.

But strong-willed little four year old boy wasn't going to take that.  I was giving him some control over his situation, which was probably what he really wanted, but I wasn't giving it to him in the way that he wanted.  I was letting him be the one who dictated when the tantrum was over, when he could get up and be free to play again.  But he wanted it on his terms.  He wanted to be able to play with the toys he wanted to play with, and not the ones that I said were okay.  He saw the air hockey table, that was too tall for him to properly reach, as the Promised Land.  He fixated on that so much that he couldn't see the huge room full of age-appropriate toys just ready for him to enjoy.  And he was so angry with me for not allowing him what he thought he wanted.  He was angry with me because I enforced the rules I'd set for him, even though he knew he was the one who had disobeyed them.

Because what we all want is control, but we want it on our terms.  And that's not the way it works.

We think we want something, and we don't even want to let God stand in our way.

That's one of the biggest reasons why a lot of people just won't believe in a God that sets boundaries for His creation.  That's one of the biggest reasons why people have stopped believing in things like absolute truth.  That's one of the biggest reasons why people seem to want to create God in their image, instead of letting themselves be transformed into His image.

Boundaries aren't always fun, but children need them.

Boundaries aren't always fun, but we all need them.

But, as adults, we need to move past this childish mindset that boundaries mean we can't do anything fun or enjoyable.  We're so quick to yearn for something we can't have, while right in front of us is more than we could ever imagine, more than we could ever deserve.  We all want to be kings and queens, so we fight the King of Kings, when all along He's longing to adopt us and make us His children and heirs.

It's like what C. S. Lewis said in The Weight of Glory:

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

That same day the child threw a tantrum, another little boy who had been so good while under my care suddenly turned into a beast when his mother arrived.  He wanted to keep playing with the toys and games at the drop-in center.  His mother told him that she was going to take him to "Frankie's Fun Park," but he was so focused on what he wanted that he couldn't imagine being happier elsewhere.  And we're the same way.  We are far too easily pleased.

But boundaries aren't meant to keep us from enjoyment; they're put in place for our own good.  The trouble is that we like to believe that we know what's best for us, more so than God.  

In my favorite novel, A Wrinkle in Time (by Madeleine L'Engle), I've found one of the greatest illustrations of free will.  One of the most interesting characters in all of literature (in my humble opinion), Mrs Whatsit, describes the human life as a sonnet.  There is a strict form that must be followed, otherwise it is not a sonnet.  But within that form, the poet has complete freedom to write whatever he or she desires. 

God has given us a form.  And I don't like having a form to follow, especially a strict one, because I'm a strong-willed kid.  But when I stop being angry that I can't do everything my way, I realize that I actually do have a lot of freedom.  I realize, when I stop being angry, that I have a lot of opportunity for joy.

We want things a certain way, and even if we're not throwing a deliberate tantrum, we're struggling to understand this life He's calling us to live.  We're struggling to understand grace--sometimes throwing tantrums just so we can see how God will react, because our sinful hearts just don't understand things like unconditional love.  Like Jacob, who was basically a weak mama's boy and a liar to boot, who didn't deserve any kind of grace, we need to wrestle with God.  We don't deserve a blessing, but we need to be foolish and bold enough to hold out for it.  And that takes a life-long wrestling match.

Because let me tell you something I've learned.  If you think Christianity isn't meant to be a struggle, then you're doing it wrong.  But I know that there's so much mercy in the struggle.  And I know something more: There's joy in the struggle.

And after that precious little boy threw a tantrum for almost a solid hour, he was just exhausted.  He was still trying to scream, but I could tell his throat was getting sore.  He had fought me so hard, refusing to back down, and he was weakening.  His strong-little will wasn't broken.  I never meant to break it; I never meant to break him.  But he needed to know that I wasn't going to break, either.  As tired as I was, he was so much more tired; I'd had more practice, after all.  His strong little will was just DONE.  He was too tired to fight anymore.  And it's sad that we have to get to that point sometimes, but that's why there's mercy in the struggle.

I finally pulled up a chair mere inches away from that screaming little boy.  He tried to pull away from me, but he was too tired to fight that hard.  I sat there, inches away from him.  I put my hands out.  I said his name.  I said, "Come here. Come on, buddy. Come here."  I kept repeating the call, kept saying his name.  I probably said his name fifty times.  He only had an inch to move.

And finally, after an hour of fighting, he stopped screaming.  He said, "I want my mommy and daddy."  And I said, "I know, buddy, and they're coming back soon, but I'm here now, and I love you so much."  And he bridged that inch gap and leaned on me, too weak to even pull himself into my lap.  But I picked him up and pulled him close to me.  I held him and rocked him and told him that I loved him.  I told him I loved him when he was good and that I loved him when he was bad.  And he sobbed into my shoulder and hugged me so tight, because the fight was over, and he knew that he was safe with his Miss Ruth who loved him.

So tired from the fight, so secure now in my arms, he fell asleep.  And, to me, that sweet, sweet moment was worth the entire tantrum.  I was really blessed to be part of that, because I saw so much of how God relates to little strong-willed me in how I related to that little strong-willed boy.

Because I know there's times when I fight against God, either because I'm stubborn or stupid or just want my way, and I put up a really good tantrum.  He might seem distant, ignoring me, but I'm on His mind and heart.  He might be speaking to me calmly, reasoning with me, and I might be too angry to listen.  He might be sitting right next to me, calling me to Him, waiting for me to come. 

And when I do, there's not the anger and distance I expect from Him.  I don't have to be afraid.  He comforts me with His presence, reminding me of His unconditional love.  I'm His kid.  I never had to do anything to get His attention; I've always had it.

And in the times when I'm not exactly throwing that tantrum, I'm still forever struggling to understand God and who I am to Him.  If I'm not struggling, it's because I'm not really living.  I'm not seeking for the life He has for me.  

But I know there's blessing beyond what I can understand, if I just keep holding on, if I just keep struggling and keep wrestling.  The dawn is coming, though the battle has lasted all night.  

And, hallelujah, there's mercy in the struggle. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Nothing to Prove

My first grade teacher was horrible.  I mean, I'm sure she had her good qualities, but I could tell, even at the age of six, that teaching wasn't one of them.  I also need to acknowledge that the poor woman had to deal with awkward, advanced-reader/writer me.  I know I wasn't the easiest first grader to deal with, either.

I made good grades, but she would always cut me down in conduct.  I got a poor grade in conduct on my first semester report card, which made my parents very upset with me, but to this day I don't think I deserved it.  I'm not saying I was always perfect, but I think most issues rose out of her misunderstandings, rather than my misbehavior or disobedience.  Basically, I wasn't really all that challenged in her class.  That wasn't her fault, really, but it gave rise to a lot of problems.  I'd skip ahead in writing or reading assignments, sometimes going too fast for my own good.  She seemed to think it was arrogance on my part, and maybe some of it was.  I think most of it was just that I had already been reading simple books at the age of three or four.  I was already very interested in writing my own stories when I was in kindergarten.  My parents were teachers and encouraged that.  She thought I was doing things to show her up or irritate her, when I was just doing what came naturally to me.  I loved learning.

I remember one time in particular, when things really got completely out of hand.  The class was taking turns reading out loud.  Now, reading has always come VERY easily to me, but speaking and reading aloud has NEVER come easily.  And the book we were reading was a little bit ridiculous and below my reading level.  I remember seeing the words very vividly on the page.  I'm a visual learner, and always have been, so those simple words have been ingrained on my brain forever.

"Pots and pans and pans and pots."

That's what I was supposed to read.  And I knew that's what it said.  But when it came time for me to read out loud, I got nervous.  My words got jumbled and I stuttered out, "Pans and pots and pots and pans."

My teacher immediately made a huge deal about how I read it wrong and that I needed to read it again correctly.  Well, I got extremely nervous and embarrassed and overwhelmed then, and I started crying.  I tend to still do that when I get nervous and embarrassed and overwhelmed--ain't anxiety great?  But my teacher was either oblivious to my emotional state, or she thought I was faking--or she just didn't care.  She demanded that I read it again, but I was so distraught that I couldn't even speak, let alone read out loud.  I tried.  All that came out was a few soft-spoken, jumbled sounds.

It was time for recess, and I figured I was saved by the bell, but no.  My teacher said, "You are going to stay in here with me while everyone else goes to recess.  You can't go to recess until you read this correctly, as it's written."

And even as a six year old, I knew that my teacher was making a huge deal out of something extremely unimportant.  She knew I could read those words.  She knew that it didn't matter if I got them backwards, because she knew I was probably the best reader in the class at that point.  I have no idea why she wanted to do a Mexican stand-off over something as simple as that, but apparently she was ready to fight me to the death over it.  She had something to prove.

And I'm not sure how long I sat in there with her, in the dark room (she had turned the lights off as part of my punishment--to make me feel more isolated while the other kids were out playing).  She kept telling me I had to read the words correctly, or I'd have to sit by myself for the rest of the day.  And I just kept crying, but by that point, my embarrassed, anxious tears had turned to frustrated, angry tears.

She was going to make me conform.  She was going to make me say things exactly as they were written.  And I didn't see the point.  I didn't see why it was so important to her that I do things so precisely, especially when we both knew I understood the concepts.  And even at that young age, I was incredibly stubborn.  If she was going to have a stand-off, I was going to have a stand-off.  I had something to prove, too.

I wasn't sure how long this thing went on, but it felt like an eternity.  I'll never forget how alone and misunderstood little six year old me felt as I sat in the darkness, exchanging stubborn glares with a grown woman.

She started fussing at me again.  I started crying again.  And then, out of nowhere, like a knight in shining armor, my daddy appeared in the classroom door.  The relief was tangible, like a cool breeze.  My daddy knew, somehow he knew, that I needed to be rescued.

He asked my teacher why I was all alone with her in the classroom while the rest of the class was outside.  She immediately became very sheepish, then very smug as she came up with a good cover story.  She informed my dad that I was refusing to read the words correctly.  My dad picked up the book and gently said, "She can read this.  Ruth, what does this say?"

Everything that had been impossibly difficult for me before was suddenly very easy, now that my daddy was there.  I told him, quietly, but with certainty, "It says, 'Pots and pans and pans and pots.'"

My dad looked at my teacher, still unsure of what the problem was.  My teacher just said, "There, now, Ruth, was that so hard?"

I nodded through my tears, smiling, but not for her sake.  It was because I'd been able to do something my daddy asked me to do, and the ordeal was finally over.  So I took his hand and we left.

Turns out, my dad was supposed to pick me up early that day because my family was leaving town early for a vacation.  I had forgotten, and so had my teacher.  He caught both of us off guard.

I know I cried some more and talked to my dad about what had happened during the "Great Pots and Pans Reading Standoff of 1986," but I don't remember what either of us said.  I don't remember if my parents really said anything to me about it, or if they just talked between themselves.  But I do know that when my next report card came, and I got an even LOWER conduct grade, my parents weren't upset--at least not with me.  I remember being terrified about getting that bad grade, but they didn't punish me or fuss at me or anything.  And when I was older, I asked my parents about my first grade teacher.  I learned that they had taken my side.  They agreed with me that my first grade teacher was far too hard on me, knew that I was advanced for my age, and that she probably did have a lot of issues with insecurity.

Don't we all.

I write all that not to berate a teacher I had almost three decades ago.  I'm not perfect either, and I'm sure in my time in childcare that I've caused a few kids to feel embarrassed and angry.  I know I have trouble picking my battles sometimes, too.  We all need grace, especially when dealing with children!

But I'll never forget how I felt when I was in such a dark, oppressive place, when there was no justice, when I was pressured to be something, to do something that didn't make sense to me, when everything was just WRONG--my daddy rescued me.  My daddy gave me strength when the world just brought me anxiety.  When I took his hand, everything was right and good again.

Because my teacher made me think that I had something to prove.  But my wonderful daddy already knew what I was capable of.

And I'm not naturally assertive, and I'm not naturally aggressive, and I'm not naturally full of gumption--at least not how the world sees it.  Sometimes it feels as though the world sets up some kind of stand-off against me.  It wants me to conform.  It wants me to be like it.  It wants me to do things the way it things I'm supposed to, or it's going to abandon me to darkness and isolation with the other soft-spoken, introverted, anxious people who don't matter.

Sometimes I am tempted to believe that I have something to prove.

I have to be good enough, strong enough, smart enough, pretty enough, loud enough, cool enough, talented enough.  I have to be enough.

But I'm not.

And when I lift up my eyes and see my Father standing there in the doorway, when my Father assures me that He already knows me, I realize:

I don't have anything to prove.

He's the One who comes to my defense.  He's the One who gives me the strength I need.  Through Him, I have what I need in any circumstance.  When the world is oppressive, when the world breaks my heart, He's the One who holds my hand.

I don't have to be anything.  Just His.

And He's enough.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Please Prove You're Not a Robot (Thank You, Robin Williams)

When I was a little girl, I was extremely self-conscious about the way I looked.  I suppose I still am, but I definitely like the way I look a lot more now than I ever did as a kid (I guess I finally grew into my face or something).  My parents cut my hair short because it was so unruly and I didn't know how to take care of it.  I had huge 80s glasses (and I wasn't cute in them).  I was overweight.  My face was all weird, too.  I've always had a pointy chin and a big nose.  And people teased me constantly.  I hated the way I looked and wondered why I couldn't be pretty--or at least normal looking-- like the other girls.

But when I was 8 or 9, there was some Disney Channel special with Carol Burnett, Carl Reiner, Whoopi Goldberg, and Robin Williams (pretty sure it was appropriately named "Carol, Carl, Whoopi, and Robin," and I'm pretty sure it was all kinds of brilliant).  This was also about the time I started seeing "Mork and Mindy" reruns on Nick at Nite.  And I was suddenly just entranced by Robin Williams.  He was over-the-top hilarious, but in a way that was genuine and natural (a lot of the other comedians of my childhood seemed like they were trying too hard).  I saw in Robin Williams a guy I could relate to.  He was a pretty funny looking guy, at least to my 8 or 9 year old brain (I think he was handsome, now--those eyes!).  The more I looked at him, the more I realized that he looked a little bit like me.  He could have been my father with his funny face--his unruly feathery hair and pointed chin and protruding nose.

But people weren't laughing at him like they laughed at me--because they wanted to make me feel badly about myself.  They were laughing at him (and usually with him) because he was funny.  They weren't laughing in a cruel way, but they were laughing at him because he was hilarious, because he made them happy.  It was such a gift to be able to make others laugh like that.  And I actually started thinking, at the age of 8 or 9, that God maybe had a reason for making me look the way I did.  Maybe I wasn't supposed to be classically beautiful like some of the other girls.  Maybe I was supposed to look funny so that I could make others laugh--like Robin Williams did.

Suddenly, everything changed in the way I looked at things.  I was still self-conscious and awkward, but I decided that I wanted to be funny.  I wanted to make people laugh.  I wanted to bring others happiness by being as funny as possible.

I wasn't always class clown material, though, and I was probably more annoying than least for a few years.  But now?  Well, now I have people telling me all the time how much I make them laugh.  I have people telling me they purposely stalk me on Facebook because they know I'll have something funny posted.  They tell me that I bring happiness to their lives.

The kids I watch?  Most of them know two things about me 1) I love them, and 2) I'm silly.  And those reasons, more than anything else, are why I'm good with kids.  I have the tough love stuff down pretty well, too, but only when its necessary.  Most of the time, I'm the fun teacher.  Children understand that life doesn't have to be as serious as adults sometimes make it out to be.  When an adult takes the time to stop being a serious adult and just have fun with them, that actually communicates love to most children.

And in the light of this tragic loss of my favorite comedian of all time, Robin Williams, I've suddenly realized that he is the main reason that I have wanted to touch others' lives with humor and wit.  When I was that awkward, strange-looking kid, Robin Williams helped me see that I could use even my awkwardness and strange-lookingness and quirkiness to bless others.

I just read a very touching Robin Williams tribute blog over at my friend Jay Mims' blog, and I was trying to write a comment without crying.  And no one should feel badly about crying for Robin Williams' death, or for the death of any entertainer, for that matter.  I think it's sometimes very appropriate to grieve for the entertainers and artists we've never met.  Even though we never knew them, we connected with them.  They have made us laugh and cry and feel and hope and dream.  They've been a vital part of our human experiences.

And sometimes I'm tempted to feel useless in what I do.  The childcare is definitely useful, and I love doing it, but I also want to do more with the other gifts I have been given.  I want to write.  I want to sing.  I want to continue making people laugh.  But the world seems to scream at artists that they're impractical.  There's so much emphasis on practical careers nowadays.  Science!  Math!  Technology!  Practical!  Practical!  Practical!  Go back to school and become a nurse!  Go back to school and become an engineer!  Go back to school and become a legal consultant. Go back to school, you dreaming adult who never got a practical job, and do something USEFUL with your life!

It's very discouraging.

But I thought about Robin Williams and how much joy he brought to my life, about how much joy he brought to so many others.  I thought about how appropriate it is to grieve for those artists and musicians and entertainers who have been part of our lives--how we've laughed and mourned and danced and dreamed alongside them--how we've taken their stories as part of our own.

I haven't talked to anyone who isn't just devastated that Robin Williams is dead.  Everyone is grieving.  It's because he made a difference in our lives.  And I remember now.  I remember now why I do what I do, why I want to encourage others to laugh and to dream.

The world needs a little impractical.

When I finally managed to comment on my friend's blog, a security window popped up asking me one of those annoying code questions to ensure I wasn't a spammer.  It read, "Please prove you're not a robot."

Well, I started crying again.  Why?  Because I'm not a robot.  I'm human.  I'm an entertainer.  I'm a writer and a songstress and a laugher and a weeper and a hoper and a dreamer.

I think sometimes we need the impractical, the nonsensical, the beautifully, wonderfully, hilariously brilliant dreamers of the world to remind us, to PROVE to us.  We are not robots.

So thanks, Robin Williams.  Thanks for all you gave us.  Thanks for all you gave me.

Monday, August 11, 2014

I'm With Gungor

With all the things circulating in social media lately, one of the things that caught my eye was a controversy over something Christian musician, Michael Gungor, wrote in a post on his blog.  It was a blessing, I believe, that I came across an article from Relevant Magazine addressing the "Gungor issue" before I came across an article from Answers in Genesis that addressed the same issue.

Both of the articles above led me to go read Gungor's blogs for myself.  I read three separate blogs that addressed the issue, the issue being that Gungor doesn't take a literal approach to some of the Biblical accounts in Genesis.  The first blog was entitled "What Do We Believe."  This is the blog that started all the problems, but anyone who has only read the article from Answers in Genesis might have the wrong idea of what Gungor was really saying in the blog.  Anyone who has only read the AIG article might also misunderstand the rationale behind Gungor's second blog on the aforementioned issue, "I'm With You."

Ken Ham's approach was hostile from the start, from the accusatory headline, "Award-Winning Christian Musicians Mock Biblical Creationists."  And if you merely read his article, you might think that's exactly what Gungor (and his wife) were doing.  When I read the blog entry, "I'm With You, " however, it was like I was reading something completely different than what Ken Ham had read.  I didn't see a mocker; I saw a thinker.  I saw someone who had gotten flak from a post (the original "What Do We Believe") that wasn't even about creationism, but rather about being slow to judge others when we don't understand the reasons why they believe what they believe.  Many of those who have read "I'm With You" tend to take Ham's approach, that Gungor was being rude or condescending.  Rather, I think he was defending his beliefs.

I don't want to speak for Gungor, because I don't know him and I'm only vaguely familiar with his music and writing style.  But most people realize that it's hard to say how a person sounds when they're writing--whether they're being hostile or conversational or whatever.  Personally, I don't think Gungor meant to sound like he was mocking anyone.  It seemed to me that he was stating what he believed and why, and he was just doing it in a way that naturally came to him.  He might have been trying to be funny, not because he was flippant about his ideas, but because that's the way he thinks and writes.  And I don't think it's fair that he's being called a mocker simply for defending his beliefs in a way that was natural for him to do so.

When I say "I'm With Gungor," please understand, I'm not at all saying I agree with all of his beliefs.  I think he's wrong on some things, BUT I think it's okay that we don't share all the same beliefs.  I don't think I'll ever meet another human being I agree with on every issue.  What I'm saying when I say, "I'm With Gungor" is that I think the dude has gotten a lot of backlash over something that's really not as big of a deal as many are making it out to be.  I'm not saying it's not important.  I'm saying that it's not so important that we should be giving it this much attention, especially with all the other things going on in the world that deserve our attention.

With that being said, I really wrestled with whether or not I wanted to write this blog.  I think the "Gungor Issue" is overblown, so why would I possibly want to add to the chatter?  Well, aside from the snazzy blog title, this post isn't really so much about Gungor and what he wrote as it is about how the Christian community has responded.  I don't want to talk about Gungor or what he wrote as much as I want to talk about how SCARED I am that people have taken the "Gungor Issue" to the extreme.

This is why it scares me.

1. Too many people are believing something they read ABOUT Gungor instead of actually reading what Gungor actually wrote.

I don't really follow Answers in Genesis or Ken Ham as much as a lot of my Christian friends do.  It's not that I don't agree with him or his ministry--he's just not really on my radar that much.  I don't want to make any judgments about what he writes or does, because honestly, I don't know that much about what he writes or does.  It's not because I have any disrespect for him; I just don't follow him or his teachings that closely.

However, what he has recently written about Gungor might have made me lose a little respect for him, had I had enough of an opinion of him to have respect for him (I don't have disrespect for him; I'm just neutral since I know very little about him).   To read the article from AIG, I would have thought that Gungor was on a mission to corrupt the minds of the youth who listen to his music.  And from some of the conversations I've had about the "Gungor Issue," there are a lot of people who believe just that.  This leads me to a second reason why the Christian response to the "Gungor Issue" scares me.

2. If the Christian community believes that Christian musicians are one of the main sources where young people are getting their theology, well, that's a whole other problem.

This is one of my favorite Rich Mullins quotes:

 It's so funny being a Christian musician. It always scares me when people think so highly of Christian music, Contemporary Christian music especially. Because I kinda go, I know a lot of us, and we don't know jack about anything. Not that I don't want you to buy our records and come to our concerts. I sure do. But you should come for entertainment. If you really want spiritual nourishment, you should go to should read the Scriptures.

I think there are a lot of really amazing Christian musicians.  I have gotten so much encouragement from listening to Christian music, from an old cherished hymn to the newest jam on KLOVE.  I've written several songs myself, and I draw comfort and encouragement from writing Christian songs as well as singing and hearing them.  But Mullins understood that Christian musicians are not supposed to be great theologians.  He knew that they were not supposed to be great role models for others to follow.  That's kind of ironic, because Rich Mullins is one of my role models--mainly because he didn't think or make much of himself, but he made much of God.

But if parents are so concerned that their kids are going to start following the beliefs of the Great Gungor Cult, well, that's problematic because there is no Great Gungor Cult, at least not to my knowledge.  I don't think Gungor is trying to proclaim himself as a great theologian.  Ken Hamm (in the aforementioned AIG article) wrote that: "[Lisa and Michael Gungor] are writing as though they know more than people who have spent their lives studying the inerrancy of Scripture."

Actually, Michael Gungor was simply stating his beliefs in his personal blog.  I find Ham's above statement to be a little outrageous, and more than a little unfair.  Apparently, it's not okay to say what you believe if you're a fairly well-known Christian who has opinions that are different from the accepted norm.  That's all he was doing.  He was writing his thoughts in his personal blog, not publishing a manifest he expected everyone to agree with.  Does that mean he shouldn't have people disagree with him and offer rebuttal?  No, of course there's going to be disagreements and rude internet comments from strangers.  That's what happens when anyone has an opinion on anything these days.  I just think the extreme to which Ham took his response was unfair, especially since HE is in a position of influence.

And parents, if you think your kids are going to start believing or mimicking any old wackadoo thing a Christian musician says or does, then that's saying something about your parenting.  That's saying something about how you've taught or not taught them in the Scripture.  Theology begins at home.  Not in the Church.  AT HOME.  And then Church.  If you don't trust your children enough to make informed decisions about what they're going to believe, then that isn't Michael Gungor's fault.  If anything, he was saying (especially in "I'm With You--Part 2") that we need to actively think about what we believe.  We need to question our faith.  Otherwise, how will we ever know what we believe?  He wasn't trying to lead anyone astray.

Yet, it seems that everyone is going crazy, afraid that Gungor is going to play his guitar and lead all the children away like some modern day Pied Piper.

We. are. going. too. far.

Teach your children to study the Bible.  Teach your children to be discerning.  Pray for your children. Chances are that when they're older, they aren't going to be led astray by something as simple as a blog post by a Christian musician.

And don't get carried away every time a well-known Christian says something controversial.

3. People are getting carried away every time a well-known Christian says something controversial.  AND THE WORLD IS WATCHING.

This is what scares me the most.  Some of my non-Christian friends have been watching this "Gungor Issue" unfold.  And I'm embarrassed.  I'm so, so embarrassed.

Why?  Because I've been trying to communicate to them and show them for years that Christians aren't the intolerant people they want to assume we are.  Because I've been trying to break down the walls between us, the walls built because they've seen too many Christians act without love, without consideration of another person's ideas.  Because I've been trying to show them that Christians can use their brains and form their own opinions and not just blindly follow what someone else says about another person or an issue.  And the Christian response to this issue has shown them exactly the opposite.

I'm not saying we have to agree with Gungor.  We don't.  We absolutely don't.  But in the past three days, I've seen people say the most ridiculous things about a man they don't know.

"I've never heard of Gungor before, but I'm boycotting him from now on."

And my non-Christian friends are seeing yet another example of how Christians shut out anything that makes them uncomfortable.  And, side note, it's not really boycotting if you weren't actively supporting something before.  Nothing changes if you're "boycotting" something you'd never heard of before.

"Gungor isn't a real Christian."

And my non-Christian friends are seeing yet another example of how Christians judge without taking the time to understand.  And, another side note, it's not our place to say that someone is a Christian or not.  That's between him and God.  I could say more on my thoughts on his apparent Christianity, but in the end, it doesn't matter.  It's between him and God.

"Gungor doesn't believe in the Bible."
"Gungor thinks he's better than everyone else."
"Gungor is leading people astray."
"Gungor is undermining the authority of God."
"Gungor steps on kittens."

Okay, I might have made that last one up, but the thing is, the overall response to the "Gungor Issue" is too much.  It's just too much.

I am not saying we shouldn't speak up when we disagree with someone, especially over a matter that we deem important.  I think it's important, but I do recognize that there are a lot of people who find this issue a lot more important than I do.  If that's you, I don't want to disregard you.  I don't want to disregard your feelings.

But here's the thing.  When we are fighting to show the world that we're not intolerant, as so many in the world truly believe us to be, then how does it look when we flat out attack someone for saying something we disagree with?  Or do we only have to be tolerant to non-Christians because we want to show Jesus' love to them?  Should we not also show love and grace and understanding to fellow Christians (even if some don't believe he really is a Christian--especially for those some who don't believe he really is a Christian)?

Tolerance isn't what the world thinks it is, okay?  The world says tolerance means we have to agree with everyone about everything, or otherwise, we're intolerant.  But here's what I've seen in this "Gungor Issue" that scares me, that makes me absolutely sick to my stomach.  I'm seeing Christians act with TRUE intolerance.  We've become like the rest of the world, the ones who say, "You disagree with me, so I must disassociate with you."

When we take our ideas to the extreme and start treating a (supposed) fellow Christian like an outcast because he said something we don't like, what does that look like to the world?  Can we not disagree with someone without going crazy?  Can we not say, "Your understanding of Scripture is wrong, and here's why" without attacking a person instead of just addressing his ideas?

This is a quote from the aforementioned article from Relevant Magazine: Christians we tend to act like we have a belief system that is like a bubble: It is fragile and easily popped if anything even touches any part of it. We think we have to protect our bubble.
But when did the Christian faith become so fragile? It is OK to ask the tough questions, to question our beliefs to find them to be true (and if not true to find the truth God is revealing to us).
I'm embarrassed and I'm scared because I'm afraid this "Gungor Issue" has revealed just how fragile the Christian faith might have become--at least to the eyes of those in the world who are watching.  And the world is watching.  
I'm not sure what the solution is, but I'm hoping next time something like this happens (because it's going to happen), the Christian community will respond with a little less crazy and a lot more love.  We need to still be WITH the ones we disagree with.  

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Power of Not-Always-So-Exasperatingly-Positive Thinking

The other day while I was watching children, one of them came running up to me in "Tattle Mode."  I hate "Tattle Mode."  The part of my brain that has worked with children for 13 years, that has been to workshops and training seminars and such, well it understands that sometimes children can't see past themselves, and therefore interpret any action exercised by another person, however minor or innocent, is something done against THEM.  Then there's the part of my brain that just thinks the kid in "Tattle Mode" is just being a short little jerk.

It's particularly hard to be patient after the fifteenth ridiculous tattle (i.e. that boy just scratched his head, or that girl just sneezed without saying excuse me).  But sometimes, sometimes there are tattles so ridiculous that it just makes me want to reconsider my entire career and go become a Forest Ranger.

Little girl in "Tattle Mode" rushed up to me and declared, with much urgency, "That boy just told me that cheetahs are REAL."






Oh, tattles like that make Baby Jesus cry.

After a brief facepalm, I calmly explained to Tattle Girl that the boy she was tattling on hadn't done anything wrong, since, well, cheetahs do have the tendency to be real.  She replied, "No.  They aren't.  They aren't real.  Cheetahs scare me.  Things that scare me aren't real.  So cheetahs aren't real."

That's it.  I'm off to Forest Ranger school.

Actually, I found Tattlin' Tina (that's what I've decided to name her) to be unintentionally profound, because the more I thought about what she said, the more I realize that there are a lot of grown ups who think the way that she does.  And there are probably even some grown ups who would praise her logic.

There are probably adults who would say, "Oh, but she's saying that her fears don't exist, and so she's overcoming them!  That's bravery."  And I guess I can see what they're trying to do.  I am just far too literal minded, and children are literal minded, and so I don't think that Tattlin' Tina is being brave.  I think she might even be the opposite of brave.  She's either taken something a well-meaning adult has told her to the extreme (i.e. an adult told her that she shouldn't be afraid of ghosts or something that ISN'T real, and she interpreted that to mean anything she's afraid of isn't real), or she has learned to lie to herself.

Given Tattlin' Tina's tendency to misinterpret reality, I'm kind of going with the latter.  She's learned to lie to herself.  If something scares her, it isn't real.  And if someone tries to tell her a truth she doesn't want to hear (i.e. the boy who said cheetahs are real), it upsets her enough to feel the need to tattle.

I know a lot of adults like that.

As a realist, I get a bad rap.  I've blogged a lot about that lately.  The thing is, the so-called Donnie and Debbie Downers of the world aren't always being as down as some might believe.  Are there people who go around complaining and painting every situation in the saddest light possible?  Yes.  Yes there are.

But then there are people who just speak the truth and have to figuratively pay hell for it.

Sometimes, it's something really simple.  I could just say, "It looks like it will rain" or "My throat is starting to hurt a little" and get called a complainer.  For years, I used to think something was wrong with me when people called me a complainer for saying things like that.  But the thing is, I wasn't always complaining.  It's not necessarily a complaint to just point out a truth.  If it looks like it will rain, it's not necessarily a complaint to point it out.  If my throat is hurting (and I just state the fact without moaning and groaning about it), it's not necessarily a complaint to just state a fact and ask if anyone has any cough drops.

This is especially irritating when someone actually asks me how I'm doing, and I reply back with an honest answer, such as "I'm tired," or "My back hurts a little," and then I'm accused of complaining.  I understand that most of the time, people just ask how you are to be polite or as a greeting, but, as I said: I'm literal minded.  If you ask me how I am, I might just tell you.  And sometimes the answer might be "Fine," because I might be fine.  Sometimes, however, I might not be fine.  And I might tell you how I'm really doing if I'm not fine.  My thought is, if you asked, then let me answer.  And don't get upset if the answer wasn't what you wanted or expected.

Also, and this might be a bit of a surprise to some, but I've got a bit of a sarcastic streak.  No.  Really.

(See what I did there?)

And I get it that sarcasm isn't everyone's love language, okay?  Not everyone gets the humor.  But sometimes, I'm being sarcastically hilarious, and some Positive Peter or Polly decides to ruin the joke by telling me to stop complaining.  I'm sorry...but if you can't take a joke, then who's the one being negative?  I'm not at ALL condoning sarcasm that hurts people or cruel jokes at the expense of others, but sometimes things are darkly funny.  And, I'm telling you Positive Pete and Polly (can I call you P.P.?), it's okay to laugh.

The thing is, like with Tattlin' Tina, there are some people who just can't seem to tolerate anything that's not over-the-top positive, whether it's an actual complaint, sarcasm, or just a simple statement of fact.  I guess I can see why.  There is a lot of complaining in this world.  You can't find a restaurant or movie theater or anything that doesn't have at least a couple of really horrible Yelp reviews.  I've read some bad reviews for some great places, and those same places have very few good reviews.  It's not always because the places are bad.  It's because people like to complain about something more than they like to say something good about it.  So don't hear me wrong and say I don't think it's okay to be positive.  I think that sometimes we need to be more positive.  I just think that some people over-correct and become super-duper ultra uber positive to the point that they can't handle a neutral comment, loving criticism, or a gentle rebuke.

A while ago, I went to see a movie with some friends, and after the movie I wanted to talk about some of the things that really bothered me.  These were fairly important issues, as the movie in question was geared towards tweenage girls, and one of the main characters was rewarded for some inappropriate behavior.  I thought the protagonist was a poor role model for tweenage girls, and I said so.  Before I even really began my argument, one of my friends stopped me and said, "Can't you just enjoy a movie without being so critical?"

No.  No I can't.  Because that's not the way my mind works.  But there is a huge difference between being critical and being negative.  And I'm a little afraid for a world that doesn't seem to be able to handle thoughtful criticism.

I've struggled just a little bit in the writing/publishing world, and part of me just wants to throw the towel in before I struggle anymore.  Part of me doesn't even want to bother because there are so many politics involved even in the publishing industry.  I've discussed in writing forums and online groups and such about the dangers of book reviews.  If you want to be published and you write book reviews, it's incredibly dangerous to give a book a bad review.  You risk offending the wrong person, be it agent or editor or publisher or whoever.  And the whole thing seems so dishonest to my realistic, literal mind that I just want to go be a Forest Ranger.  It's sad to me that people can't just be honest without risk.  But then, being honest has always been a pretty risky thing.

I'm just going to touch on this a little--because we live in a world that's so tolerantly intolerant.  It's okay to believe whatever you want, as long as you don't disagree with anyone.  That's why you can't give someone a loving rebuke when they're doing something wrong.  If you are, then you're being intolerant.  You're being negative and judgmental, just for trying to speak the truth.  And all I'm going to say about that is that if people who speak the truth today have to pay figurative hell for their truth-telling, then at least we can be comforted that Jesus paid literal hell for doing the same thing.

That's all I'm going to say about that.  For now.

But I have a problem with the Tattlin' Tina's of the world.

In Tattlin' Tina's world, it's impossible for there to be anything that frightens her.  Some people might actually applaud that and say she's being courageous for overcoming her fears.  But I don't see her overcoming her fears.  She's just denying them and pretending they aren't there.  That's actually cowardice, not bravery.  And Tattlin' Tina is just a five-year-old girl.  And I think it's just a phase (I hope it's just a phase), but if she doesn't grow out of that mindset, she's going to have a pretty rude awakening one day. when she visits the zoo.

But for those of us who aren't five years old anymore, maybe it's time we stop pretending cheetahs aren't real.

And I've decided that I might just want to be a Zookeeper instead.