The Opposite

“Why did it all turn out like this for me? I had so much promise. I was personable. I was bright. Oh, maybe not academically speaking, but I was perceptive. I always know when someone’s uncomfortable at a party. It all became very clear to me sitting out there today, that every decision I’ve ever made in my entire life has been wrong. My life is the complete opposite of everything I want it to be. Every instinct I have in every aspect of life, be it something to wear, something to eat… It’s often wrong.”

–George Costanza – “The Opposite”, Seinfeld Episode 22, Season 5

If I’m truthful, I have to say that I’ve found this tendency to be true in my life more than I’d like to admit.  As I pondered this reality I began to realize a bigger truth…

This is often the case for many people, not just me.  It’s also true for entire groups and institutions.  Rarely are we really in control.  Rarely do events turn out the way we envision them.  In fact, when we stop and think about it we begin to realize that we’re not really in control of anything.  Yet we continue to function as if we can be.

Recently, I’ve seen this played out in a particularly peculiar way in my church.

As is so common in the Christian community today, my church struggles a bit financially.  We make ends meet.  But we also suffer from corporate worry about failing infrastructure and systems that we just don’t seem to have the means to care for.  Sure, we could appeal to members to give more so we can pave the parking lot.  But, it’s not a very sexy appeal is it?  Let’s face it.  If given a choice more people would toss in more money for the installation of a coffee bar than for a new furnace.  Unless of course it’s the dead of winter and we can’t keep the building warm.  Although…. Even then….  Folks might be inclined to just complain and not come.  But if we had a coffee bar?  And if the coffee was free!?!  Yeah boy!  Count me in!

So… my church could use some additional funding.  We have infrastructure needs and expenses that we have to juggle to pay for.  We could ask more from our members.  But, the economy has been rough and some people really are giving all they can.  Right?  Besides, there’s the whole “what do we ask for” question that I posed above.

Okay. So I need to get back on topic.

The natural inclination in situations like this is to look at what we need to do to attract more members.  More members = more money.  More money = funding for projects.  Funding for projects = bathroom repairs.  What could be wrong with that?

Simple.  It never works.

We’re like George.  We instinctively work tirelessly to solve the problem faced by a lack of funds.  When what we need to do is to fight our instincts and do the opposite.

Interestingly enough, there is biblical guidance that also suggests that we should fight our instincts.  Heck, just look at the entire way that Jesus lived his life.  Eye for an eye?  No! Turn the other cheek.  Fight against Caesar’s taxes?  No!  Give Caesar what is Caesar’s.  The poorest are the richest.  Give up your life to have life.

He taught us that all of life is paradox.  It’s not what it seems to be.  We have no control.

So how do we function in light of this realization?  We DO faith!  That wonderful yet completely misunderstood concept.  Faith.

All my life people have told me that I should HAVE faith.  That it’s good to HAVE faith.  To BE faithful.  I was taught to believe that faith was something that I could possess.  And if I possessed enough of it, I’d be okay.  Kinda like money.  If ya got enough… what have ya got to worry about, right?

Of course we all know that even people with “enough” money still have problems.  So, if you can’t have enough money….  can you have enough faith?

The problem is that faith isn’t something you possess.  It’s something you DO.  It’s an action.  A state of mind.  A state of being.  It becomes you when you become it.  It’s a philosophy of being, not an understanding.  The same is true of control.

This life is not controllable by us.  The most we can hope for is to react well.  God set a miraculous chain of events in to motion when He began to create.  We’re a part of that creation – not the creators.  Sure, we can influence things.  We have that power.  But can we really control them?  I think not.  Nor should it be the point.

George Costanza stumbled on a great truth.  Control is a myth.  It’s an illusion.   Sometimes, the best course of action is to ignore our desire to try and control things and learn how to live within the boundaries of the gifts our life gives us.


The Big Question – Part 3

Who I am not

I am not an academic.

Never have been.

At least not in the common sense of the word.  I was a mediocre student at best.  I stopped getting all A’s at about the same time that all A’s weren’t given to everyone.  Let’s say 2nd or 3rd grade.

I remember being teased in 6th grade English class by the girl who sat behind me.  (She was behind me in many classes because her name followed mine alphabetically – she was bright and outgoing – and I think she truly enjoyed seeing shy guys squirm – my first encounter with a bully)

English was not my strong suit.  I still don’t understand the rules and couldn’t diagram a sentence if my life depended on it.

I had a girlfriend in 8th grade who was keen on the exchange of love notes.  As much as I dreaded writing them, she really insisted on receiving them, so I capitulated and wrote them.  It’s not that the content was lacking.  It’s just that my English usage and spelling was very poor.  I was blissfully unaware of this for most of the year.  Until I visited her home one day when some relatives were visiting – including her Grandmother.  Her Grandmother delighted in letting me know that she had read all the letters I’d written and that my spelling was horrible!   I never returned to her home.  I was too embarrassed.  I had been bullied again.  This time by a grandmother, and by my former girlfriend too I suppose.  After all, she really shouldn’t have shared my private correspondence that was intended for her eyes only.

My high school years were marked by increasing skill in the ability to do as little work as possible yet still get that passing grade.

It didn’t take much to get into a state liberal arts school back in the mid 1970’s so my high school experience proved to be sufficient to get me into college.

Once at university and again excelled in mediocrity in every academic pursuit.  I received one academic A in the four years I was there.  Surprisingly at the time, it was in a computer programming class that I took for fun.  The writing was on the wall I suppose.

I graduated from college with a BA in Sociology and left the education world behind me.  I tried going back as an adult while working at the same time.  That was simply not going to work.  I’m just not an academic.  That is not who I am.

I don’t like to work

This one needs some qualification.  Some would look at what I do and think that I work very hard.  But…  Is it work if it’s something you enjoy?  For me, work is what I do because I have to.  I don’t like it when I have to do things just to exist in this world.  I much prefer to do what I enjoy doing.  I’m fortunate that my job entails something I enjoy doing.  So, it really doesn’t seem like work.  Getting to the job (3 hour round trip commute) is work.  Doing what I have to do (most of the time) is not.

So there you have it.  A summery of who I am by looking at who I am not.  Why was this important for me to do?

I intend to toss out thoughts and ideas that critics would say I have no authority to be discussing.  Simply put, I have opinions for some things that are not backed by extensive qualifications.  So, if you’re inclined to wonder where I came by my ideas…. you may be left wondering, because I may not be able to tell you.

I believe that it is rare to have a truly unique thought or idea.  I think that most of the time, when I believe I’m coming up with some new concept, it’s really just a mash up of stuff I’ve read or learned about over the years.  It’s strange how often I think I must be the only one to think those things – until I research them and find out – there’s a whole movement based on those ideas out there!

So – enough qualifying …. let’s get on to the big questions!