Extravagant Ideals

Truly He taught us to

(Continuing in the series on books/stories that changed me in some way.)

An Odd Story

I don’t remember where I first read the story, but it was probably in one of my mother’s old Ideals magazines. They had glossy covers, harder than standard paper magazine covers yet still obviously of the genre, sized like a magazine with the same slightly slippery, big pages inside. They were typically a mix of bad poetry, Kincaid-esque photography, and short stories originally designed to lift war-weary spirits.

Until researching for this post, I had no idea Ideals still existed, but in fact it does. At Christmas and Easter, they still publish something that looks remarkably like what I held as a child, though the company has changed hands more often than 20-somethings change jobs. I haven’t read it since I was 8 or 10. Yet this one story stayed with me.

As a child, I read “The Gift of the Magi” in that magazine. I didn’t understand it. First off, I had no idea what magi were. Was that the young couple’s last name? How did one pronounce it? I hadn’t been raised on nativity scenes and Christmas stories read every December. Other than Rudolph, anyway.

It’s possible I had a passing knowledge of the supposed trio of wise men from The Little Drummer Boy, but that story called them kings, not that strange word that didn’t come easily to a little tongue. Magi? What even as that? And was it close to magic?

Living Wisely

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Photo by Joel Overbeck on Unsplash

I was a practical child. A non-dramatic little girl. I preferred to have a few friends, stay far away from emotional frenzy, and make wise decisions about life. Even then, I observed before I acted. It may have looked (and still looks) like a split-second decision to act, but believe me, the undercurrent of always thinking didn’t disappoint me. Safe, smart choices made for a safe, smart life.

I had a decent number of examples of the opposite sort. So I knew to stay the course that naturally came to me anyway.

You might have guessed by now that how we start is usually how we continue. That timid child is still here—she’s the default, without the sanctifying butt-kick of the Holy Spirit.

Why, Jim and Della?

So the story of two very young (he was 22!) people selling their dearest possessions so that they could buy one another Christmas presents did not compute to my logical mind.

Why would you ever sell your family heirloom pocket watch, Mr. James Dillingham Young? Don’t you know you can buy your wife a bigger Christmas present someday when you’re not young and poor? Can’t you just make her something pretty now? Haven’t you ever heard of Walmart, man?

And you, young woman. OK, your hair will grow back. But seriously, you had to have other options for something small and special. Something Enough.

We all know their lives are going to get better. Everyone starts our poor. Relatively, anyway. At least, I know we did.

Probably in an earlier edition of the same magazine, I also read the poem “The Friendly Beasts,” and I fell in love with it. I loved animals. I loved poems. I loved the idea of sacrifice, even though, still, I really didn’t know anything about this Christ child to whom all the animals gave their best gifts. (I also didn’t know it was really a Christmas carol.)

The Same Story

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Animals. Young lovers. The two are the same story. All gave the best they had, and some sacrificed greatly to do so. I didn’t understand the humans; I loved the animals. I memorized that poem.  

O Henry, the man who wrote “Gift of the Magi,” doesn’t appear to have lived as if he understood this story, either. Yet he wrote it, so maybe, like me as a little girl, he longed to understand it, wished for it to be real, more than really knew it to be. Such is, I suspect, the way most good stories are born.

“The magi, as you know, were wise men—wonderfully wise men— who brought gifts to the newborn Christ-child. They were the first to give Christmas gifts. Being wise, their gifts were doubtless wise ones. And here I have told you the story of two children who were not wise. Each sold the most valuable thing he owned in order to buy a gift for the other. But let me speak a last word to the wise of these days: Of all who give gifts, these two were the most wise. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are the most wise. Everywhere they are the wise ones. They are the magi.”

I thought I was wise as a child, with my careful calculations and safe choices. I’ve thought the same as an adult, prioritizing safety over risk, sensible over extravagant. The truth is, this is usually the case. Most of the time, like Jim and Della, we will do far better to hold off on the crazy impulses and wait for our wiser muses to kick in. We will do better to reign in the immediate gratification and patiently sit, waiting for the greater rewards.

Wise or Smart?

Yet sometimes, wisdom needs a Holy Spirit butt kick. Sometimes, wisdom is too wise for its own good. Sometimes, we need to do the very thing the rest of the world deems unwise indeed in order to live out the Kingdom God has given us in Christ.

Sometimes, our zeal to distance ourselves from risk and cling to safe choices makes us stagnant disciples, people who have observed too much and acted too little.

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field. Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it!” (Matthew 13.44-46)

That sounds a lot like selling your hair or your watch to offer a loved one all you have. Only this time, the loved one is Jesus, and the stakes are so much greater.

No one, least of all Jesus, promises safety in this journey of learning to give like the magi. Not even O Henry did so, however happily most of his stories ended.

As Della analyzes her lost locks and head of shameful tight curls, he rhapsodizes,

“Love and large-hearted giving, when added together, can leave deep marks. It is never easy to cover these marks, dear friends— never easy.”

No, sometimes the marks stay. Generous, risky giving can leave marks of personal hurt, financial loss, or emotional tenderness. Neither the author of my childhood story nor Jesus blanches at the thought.

Jesus’ marks of large-hearted giving were nail scars in the palms of his hands.

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An Old Story

“In this world you will have trouble . . .” Live an abundant, crazy, generous life anyway. Cultivate wisdom, to be sure. Yet be willing to do the even wiser thing—give it all for what is worth infinitely more. Knowing Christ through our sacrifices.

“Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!” (Philippians 3.8-11)

As a child, reading The Gift of the Magi, I didn’t understand extravagant giving, the kind that didn’t make sense, that offers our most important treasures for what appears to be little gain.

To be honest, I’m still not so sure I do. But I’m learning, slowly.

Workplace Bullying

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Photo by Timothy Eberly on Unsplash

This week, I’m taking a short break from the books theme because, well, Christmas. And being a pastor at Christmas. And . . . that.

But today, we’re fortunate to have some expert advice on a topic I’ve long championed. Bullying. (Meaning, I champion not bullying, not bullying. Just making sure that’s crystal.)

Bullying happens to adults, too. In fact, adult are the ones who teach the kids, am I right? Adults do it better, and sneakier. But there are laws, and there are alternatives, and if you or someone you know is being bullied, please read on to see what your options are. Feel free to pass this information on–whether it’s on the playground, at the workplace, or in our national ethos, bullying is against everything we know about treating others as we would like to be treated.

(From Hogan Injury, with permission)

Bullying in the workplace

which includes yelling, insulting and belittling comments, teasing, threatening, and name-calling – often goes unchecked and overlooked. The Workplace Bullying Institute defines workplace bullying as the repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators. It is abusive conduct that is threatening, humiliating, or intimidating, or work interference—sabotage—which prevents work from getting done, or verbal abuse.

What the law says

Bullying among schoolchildren and cyberbullying have been widely talked about; and legislation and programs that address the problem continue to be developed. To date, there is no federal law that would definitely make workplace bullying illegal. There are laws that protect employees from being mistreated based on gender, race, age, national origin, or disability; therefore, bullying becomes illegal when it violates federal or state laws that prohibit discrimination and harassment of those in protected status. However, there is still no law that protects an employee from mistreatment where the mistreatment is not based on a protected characteristic.

Despite the lack of a comprehensive federal legislation on bullying, many states have introduced anti-bullying bills that have similar and consistent themes. Members of state legislatures have sponsored versions of the Healthy Workplace Bill and at least three states have passed laws that regulate workplace bullying: Utah, Tennessee, and California. Utah and Tennessee laws are focused on public employers. The California law applies to companies with more than 50 employees, and it requires them to train managers on preventing abusive conduct at work, even if the harassment or abuse is not based on a protected status. Abusive conduct would include verbal abuse, threats, and efforts to sabotage or undermine someone’s work performance.

The Healthy Workplace Campaign, through the bill, pushes for strong legislation that prohibits workplace bullying and protection for employees who experience abuse at work on a basis other than a protected class. The bill does the following for workers: allow them to sue the bully as an individual, hold the employer accountable, provide an avenue for legal compensation in case of health-harming abuse at work, seek restoration for lost wages and benefits, and require employers to take corrective actions and prevent future instances.

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Photo by Anh Nguyen on Unsplash

What to do if you’re bullied at work

Even if the bully is not breaking the law, it is in your employer’s best interest to address and stop bullying in the workplace. Workplace bullying has many detrimental effects such as decreased productivity, performance, and morale. Therefore, if you are being bullied at work, file a complaint with your company’s Human Resources department.

Keep tabs of all the instances of bullying. Take note of the dates, times, and those who may have witnessed the incidents. These information are necessary should there be an investigation. Keep records of how the bullying has affected you – stressmedical problems, missed workdays, etc.

In case your company does not take your complaints seriously, it is time to talk to an attorney. Contact us at Hogan Injury for expert legal advice.

 

 

Re Born

David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife.” 
(Matthew 1.6)

Bathsheba, aka Uriah’s wife—the last of the women mentioned in Matthew 1 as part of Jesus’ bloodline. (See the last three weeks for the other women.)

Lets just say from the beginning, Bathsheba gets a bad rap. It seems like we can’t bring ourselves to say that King David could commit anything so heinous as he does, though we have plenty of evidence both in Scripture and in our own lives to prove that good people can do rotten things in the name of self-interest. 

So often, commentators and scholars dole the blame out to her, as if bathing on your own house was just asking for the king’s salacious attention. (Times have not changed, in far too many ways, ladies. Sounds like a familiar argument.)

The simple fact is, we don’t know. We don’t know if she was a willing participant in adultery or if David exercised his kingly privilege to take any woman he wanted. We don’t know if she adored her husband and mourned his death. We don’t know if she had a happy content life or if she coveted the higher plane she got. We don’t know anything. 

Perhaps it’s right that she’s mentioned in Matthew only as “Uriah’s wife.” She is the beautiful but invisible woman, whose life is played with and altered by those around her rather than under her own control.

Aren’t there Bathshebas all around us? Girls working in sweat shops as young as eight? Fourteen-year-olds branded by their pimps as property with which they do what they please? Wives and girlfriends locked in abusive relationships because they fear an unknown alternative? If you don’t think so, think again. It’s right in front of you, and you’re not seeing it. In the hallowed “Christian” upper class suburbs around where I live, it’s far more common than we want to believe.

But what about the lesser slaveries? Girls who believe their bodies have to look like Victoria’s Secret posters in order to be wanted? People who have made so many mistakes they believe there is no road back? Women who are convinced by various conflicting doctrines of their culture that they have to be submissive, aggressive, young, working, stay-at-home, sexually “free,” obedient—anything and everything but what they feel in their God-gifted souls they were created to be. 

We are all slaves of what we choose to listen to. And so many have lost the ability to hear the message God spoke into their souls when He created them.

I’m sure Bathsheba did. The despair she must have felt at the loss of her life, her husband, and her child must have crushed all belief that her life would ever be her own.

Of course, the message of Christmas is that it isn’t. It never was. But when it’s given to Christ, it’s returned in fuller form that we ever imagined. The baby born under the star gives us birth as well.

Bathsheba is included in the list because she had to muster the ability to begin again. And beginning again is the Christmas specialty. It’s what Jesus came to explode into our lives. The chance, the vision, the flat-out non-theoretical capability, to start over. From wherever you are. To have control of your life—just as soon as you turn it over to the only One who wants to set you free.

How silently, how silently,

The wondrous Gift is giv’n!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still,
The dear Christ enters in.

O holy Child of Bethlehem,

Descend to us, we pray;

Cast out our sins and enter in, Be born in us today.”


Be born in us. No matter what our mistakes. Regardless of what has been done to us. Despite any and all circumstances of our past. Be born in us, and let us be born again. 

Not a cheesy, televangelist born again. Real, sweat and tears, labor and screaming, born again, away from all the hell of the past and toward the promise of the future.

It’s the promise. It’s yours. You just have to ask. Because it’s Christmas.

do try this at home. Just not on a balance beam

This is how balance beam work is supposed to look.
This is not how I looked. At all.
In college, I took a gymnastics class for fun. It is pretty much the only time in my entire life I considered PE fun. At some point, standing on the balance beam, I got the thought, Why don’t I try a cartwheel? It doesn’t look so hard. I mean, if I can do one on the floor, what’s the big deal about doing it in the air? On four inches of wood?

Note to self: Always examine stray thoughts before carrying them out.

I got halfway through said cartwheel and had another thought: What were you thinking? You don’t know how to do this! You are going to crash and fall and, I repeat, WHAT WERE YOU THINKING? So, I did. Crash. Hard. Hard enough to make the coach look around the room wondering what had hit the floor and (probably) would he be liable for it. As my gymnastics-savvy daughter would explain, I crotched the beam. Before bouncing onto the floor. It hurt. A lot.

The power of fear midway in a project is astounding.

I bring this up not to relive (really) painful memories but to open our thoughts up to the question—where else do we get stuck in the middle of things and Just. Freak. Out?

It happens when I sit down to write a talk or a sermon. I get about two days into it, and I panic. Nothing is coming together. It’s a jumbled mess on paper. No order. (I love order.) No thesis and three easy bullet points. (I love bullet points.) No flow. (I do notlike unflowing, jumbled messes. Although that is often what my house looks like.)

Yes, I do sing on stage. And yes, I get terrified.
You’d think appearing in public like THIS would
terrify me. Eh, not so much.
Then something miraculous happens. It comes together. It makes sense. It begins to flow, and I see flashes of actual “Hey, this is stuff worth saying.” Every time. Yet every time, I still feel that panic. Why am I surprised by the chaos? I should know. I should patiently wait for the order. But I don’t. And I get mad at myself for the panic.

Do you know this feeling? Do you feel it, in the writing of a talk or an article? In the “calm discussion” with a teenager? In the studying for a test? In the taking on of a new job, the starting of a new business venture, or bright, shiny hopes for an exercise program? Things are supposed to progress toward natural order. It’s clear in your head.

But it does not happen that way. It gets jumbled. Your precision gets off target. Your arguments are as fuzzy as month-old cottage cheese, and all the bright shininess you felt get a tad tarnished somewhere in the middle. You suddenly realize you don’t know what you’re doing, and the hard cold floor is getting real close. Cue panic.

But you know what? I’m not sure anymore that that’s a bad thing. 

What if, instead of chastising ourselves for the panic, we embraced it? What if, stay with me here, what if we decided to lean into the fear rather than fight it? What if that fear is part of the process? A necessary part? What if terror part way into a project actually makes the project better? And us? Could we handle that?

What I’m discovering is that crafting that speech, writing that article, learning that stage solo—if I attempt to do those things bypassing the fear stage? That terror-filled belief that “This is no way-no how going to come out good, great, or even acceptable for human consumption”? You know that one you get every freaking time no matter how often you’ve done it? If I try to dodge that stage–

I end up making that thing, whatever it is, all about me.

All about my ability to hone the message. All about getting my point heard. All about what people think of me. All about making me look good.

“Me” is seriously overrated.

Remove the fear, you remove the lack of control. Remove the lack of control, you remove the dependence. Remove the dependence, you remove the potential for magic. Fear opens us up to listening for magic. It admits, even in tiny ways–I can’t do this. I need guidance. I need someone to speak into my soul and put in the words that create magic that I cannot do.

Fear edges me past the limits of me toward the limitless You. . It’s like crawling out from under a rock and seeing the open sunshine when you had no idea there was more than your rock.

The limitless. What’s not to like?

Fear is not always a bad thing. (Unless you’re on a balance beam.)


What are you trying to do that scares you? What about that outright wet-your-pants terrifies you? (Now I have your attention.) Maybe it’s not working because you’re running away from the fear. Thinking you’re less faithful for even having it. Try something different. Try leaning into the fear. Try embracing it like a helper. Say to it—lead me to the place where it is no longer all about me. Make me dependent on the One who will enter with what I need to finish what’s started here.

And wait–for the magic.

It’s a Conspiracy

A while back, a friend emailed me a photo of a theater prop from her phone. She sent the picture and apologized that it came out upside down, claiming ineptness with her new iPhone. The odd thing was, it came out upside down on my desktop PC. But it came out right side up on my Mac laptop. 
Which led me to wonder—did the Apple electronic devices talk to one another to get the picture right side up in spite of the human beings involved? Clearly, the phone refused cooperation with the inferior life species known as a PC. If this is possible, is it also possible that my computer talks to other random Apple products I am unaware of? Does my phone, for instance, have a good laugh with its friends over my iTunes playlists? Do they make a habit of talking to one another? If so, do they sit around chortling their keypads off, and saying things like, “What fools these mortals be?” 
With all the talking behind our backs we mortals already worry about, now we have to worry about our electronic devices having confabs about their owners? Or do they call us owners? Maybe it’s the other way around. Maybe as I type this thing is planning on going all G-Force on me and taking over the world. Or at least the living room. It’s welcome to it if it plans on cleaning up. 
I know this computer already has a lot of goods on me if it chose to use it. I’ve seen my image on Skype. That gorgeous under-the-chin angle? I would pay whatever blackmail it asked to keep that from going public. 
OK, this is not truly a fear of mine. You don’t have to get concerned and consider blocking me from your Facebook account. But irrational fears claw their little roots into all of us in one way or another, and one person’s irrationality is another’s perfectly logical fear. 
My daughter runs for cover whenever birds fly overhead. She is certain they’re going to do their business on her hair. This seems rather irrational, though it is a great source of entertainment for us. I used to be unnaturally afraid of seaweed. I could not swim anywhere the stuff might reach out its slimy arms and touch my defenseless leg. I don’t know what I thought it was going to do with my leg. The same daughter has a friend who is afraid of . . . fruit. Not kidding.
A lot of irrational fears center around animals. Bats, birds, rats, snakes, mice, spiders, wasps. Many focus on the unknown—darkness, murky water, tunnels, and the possibility of life in our toilet pipes waiting to come up and bite our unprotected derrieres. Another common set revolves around what we view as unnatural. Clowns are a big one here. As well as puppets, mimes, masks, and Snookie.
So last year I decided to tackle one of my biggest fears head on and actually allow someone to put a tarantula in my hand. A living one. And you know what? We both lived through the experience. You know why I did it? Because I decided I don’t want to allow anything to control me. (Except God. He’s good at it.) But I did not want to remain at the mercy of spiders or anything else that could control my choices but shouldn’t. We spend way too much of our lives giving over control to fears that don’t deserve it. Do you want to quit? Me too.  
So what’s your best irrational fear? Why do you think it’s so scary to you?