Friday, July 17, 2020

Masked Communication

Communication has become even more difficult with masks.

As we continue to battle this pandemic, and, as uncomfortable as it may be, I’m trying to learn a few lessons along the way. This week I have learned how much we communicate with our mouths. That sounds pretty obvious, but what I mean is not what comes out of our mouths but how we communicate with our facial expressions. I find myself talking to people or just passing by people and giving them a little smile and then I realize that they can’t see it. My attempts at communicating some measure of good will is masked by my mask.

It’s common knowledge that communication is so much more than just the words that come out of our mouths. Our tone, inflection, body language, and facial expression all contribute meaning to what is actually heard.

There have been times when I’ve said something that I thought was innocuous only to get a negative response. You see, I have been told I have a “tone” - a mysterious and unbeknownst quality of my voice that can communicate anger or disgust. I must admit, sometimes it is intentional but more often it’s because I’m in a rush or just not thinking. It’s then that I have to use many more words to explain what I really meant.

These masks are teaching me how complex communication is and reminding me that I need to be aware of and monitor the subtle ways I am adding meaning to my words. The dangerous thing about this is that many of these gestures and signals have become almost instinctive.

Communication can be difficult, even without masks, so let me offer some advice that has helped me:
  • When you get an unexpected response to something you said, ask the one you are talking to if you said something that offended them or made them angry. Even though you didn’t intend to, you probably have a “tone”, or something similar, communicating something you didn’t intend. Take the time to listen to what the other person heard—it may not be what you were trying to say.
  • Apologize for miscommunicating. Don’t put the blame on the other person. Don’t defend yourself. Admit to yourself that you are like every other person who sometimes contradicts their words with misleading body language or facial expressions.
  • When on the other end of the conversation and you are angered by someone’s tone or body language, be merciful. Everyone gets tired. Everyone struggles with clear communication. Give them a chance to  clarify themselves. Too many arguments are over what you thought someone said and not what they actually wanted to communicate.
The Bible talks about how healing and how destructive words can be. In fulfilling the command to love one another, we must include in that mandate our willingness to communicate well. Commit yourself to being a good communicator. It will bless your life and your relationships in so many ways.


Tuesday, June 16, 2020

2020 - A Year of Clear Vision

Well, we are halfway through 2020 and what a first half it has been! I had been looking forward to 2020 for a long time. This was going to be the year of clear vision when we would be able to see things with a precision and accuracy of a person with 2020 sight. It started out just fine, then kaboom!

A microscopic virus closes down the plant. Racial tensions reignite. It’s downright depressing following the news, and things are not looking much better for the second half of this much anticipated year.

I really thought we were beyond all this.

Plagues were something from the middle ages. You would think that with all the medical and technological advances of the last century that we would be able to deal with a virus. Hadn’t we found all the cures? Couldn’t all the bright minds of science come up with an instant vaccine?

Racial tensions were the issue of the 1960’s. Hadn’t all the legislation made it clear that we are all created equal? Didn’t Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement put an end to racism?

I guess not!

2020 was the year we were supposed to see clearly into the future – a future filled with health and peace. We were hoping that our 2020 vision would reveal how far we as a human race had come. We were expecting to see progress and unity.

Instead, our 2020 vision has revealed how far we are from what we should be. Our 2020 vision has exposed how susceptible we are despite our advanced intelligence and our progressive social thinking.

Oh, 2020 has helped us see clearly, but it has hardly been what we hoped for. The world is broken and we can’t seem to fix it. Any hope we had that, with more knowledge, some utopian society is within our grasp is gone. Any hope that justice will someday be administered flawlessly has vanished.

This has come into clear focus – we are hopeless. We can’t learn enough to keep us healthy and we can’t enlighten ourselves enough to keep us at peace. If hope has any hope it must come from somewhere and someone other than this world.

Isn’t that the message of the Bible?
  • This world has been irreparably broken by sin. But God has promised to make all things new.
  • He has prepared a place immune to all disease and devoid of all hate. But it’s not planet earth.
  • He is gracious enough to invite us and even qualify us to live in this new world. But we must have faith.

2020 has opened our eyes. God help us see.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Greet one another with a holy ??????

We’re coming back Sunday and, while I’m excited, I must admit I’m a little apprehensive as well. How many people will show up? Have we done all we can reasonably do to keep people safe? Will we be somewhat disappointed with a smaller crowd? Will the live stream be effective? Will those who stay home feel left out? If you haven’t guessed it, I’m a bit of a worrier. Please forgive.

But while I’m at it, another concern I have about Sunday is how will we greet each other? We instinctively hold out our hand for a handshake. Others go right in for the hug. It’s part of who we are, but for now we will have to abstain from both handshakes and hugs. It almost sounds cold and even unbiblical but, if it is, it won’t be the first time we’ve deviated from a biblical greeting mandate.

Four times in the New Testament we are commanded to greet one another with a holy kiss. All growing up I was told that we were exempt from that command, at least exempt from the “kiss” part of it. (And I must admit I was relieved to know that. Outside of my immediate family I’m not much of a physically affectionate person.) I was told that it’s not so much the specific manner of greeting that was important. What mattered was that we all gratefully acknowledge other people and in our culture the kiss could be replaced by a handshake or a hug.

And I agree with that interpretation. Never once have I felt in violation of scripture because I didn’t kiss someone when I saw them at church. One of the difficulties of interpreting a document written millennia ago is how to factor in cultural conventions. The kiss was the appropriate cultural greeting then (and even now in some places), but not so much in 21st century America.

As culture changes, so do greetings. Culture is changing again and so should our greetings.

Come Sunday there will be fewer if any handshakes and hugs. I will not be extending my hand or offering an embrace. But please don’t take it the wrong way – no more than you would that I haven’t been kissing you all these years.  You may not get a handshake or hug from me, but you will be greeted.  With an eye-to-eye glance. With a salute or a wave. Maybe with a hand over my heart. Maybe with a thumbs up. Maybe with a smile. We’ve had to be adaptive these last few months and I’m confident we can creatively greet one another.

I know there’s power in physical touch and I really hope we can get back to those handshakes and hugs (I can live without the kisses) but for now it’s not the kiss or the handshake or the hug that really matters. It’s acknowledging each other. It’s valuing each other’s presence in our lives. It’s greeting one another with a holy expression of the sacred love we have for one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Thursday, May 07, 2020

For All Women on Mother’s Day

“To those who gave birth this year to their first child—we celebrate with you.
To those who lost a child this year – we mourn with you.
To those who are in the trenches with little ones every day and wear the badge of food stains – we appreciate you.
To those who experienced loss through miscarriage, failed adoptions, or running away—we mourn with you.
To those who walk the hard path of infertility, fraught with pokes, prods, tears, and disappointment – we walk with you. Forgive us when we say foolish things. We don’t mean to make this harder than it is.
To those who are foster moms, mentor moms, and spiritual moms – we need you.
To those who have warm and close relationships with your children – we celebrate with you.
To those who have disappointment, heartache, and distance with your children – we sit with you.
To those who lost their mothers this year – we grieve with you.
To those who experienced abuse at the hands of your own mother – we acknowledge your experience.
To those who lived through driving tests, medical tests, and the overall testing of motherhood – we are better for having you in our midst.
To those who have aborted children – we remember them and you on this day.
To those who are single and long to be married and mothering your own children – we mourn that life has not turned out the way you longed for it to be.
To those who step-parent – we walk with you on these complex paths.
To those who envisioned lavishing love on grandchildren - yet that dream is not to be, we grieve with you.
To those who will have emptier nests in the upcoming year – we grieve and rejoice with you.
To those who placed children up for adoption — we commend you for your selflessness and remember how you hold that child in your heart.
And to those who are pregnant with new life, both expected and surprising –we anticipate with you.
This Mother’s Day, we walk with you. Mothering is not for the faint of heart and we have real warriors in our midst. We remember you.”

Amy Young
@TheMessyMiddle /

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Confessions of a dog owner

Years ago we had a dog, a Welsh corgi named Callie.  I don't dislike dogs, but I've never really been a "dog person."  My wife is much more the animal lover.  She was the one to care for her, walk her, and be the kind master every dog deserves.  I must confess, Callie never did get too much attention from me.  In fact, I often considered her a nuisance more than anything else.

We got Callie as a puppy, and she was all puppy.  She raced around the back-yard moving those little legs faster than you thought was possible.  When anyone would go outside Callie would race to their side.  We would later get her a companion, Jem, and they would frolic in the yard together chasing each other and doing that dog wrestling thing that dogs do.  But then one day, we noticed Callie was slowing down a bit.  She had even developed a slight limp.

So, we brought her to the veterinarian to see what the problem might be.  After examinations and tests the doctor told us that Callie had a condition called hip dysplasia.  We were given the medical explanation of the disease, but the bottom line was that Callie was in pain and, although that pain could be treated with medicine, she would always suffer to some degree.

From that day on I became more of a dog person.  I found myself a little more tolerant of her annoying behavior and even found myself petting her more often. Knowing that she was in pain I treated her with more compassion and kindness.  Perhaps a little rub on the belly would help her forget about that pain, even if just for a moment. Isn't that what a person should do?  Be kind to others who are in pain.  That whole experience caused me to reexamine how I treated my dog, but it also caused me to rethink how I treat people. 

Back in 2004 I had to wear a cast on my leg and use crutches for six weeks. During that time people offered to hold doors, they yielded to me, they asked if they could do anything for me.  People treated me with an extra measure of kindness. People treat others better when they know they are in pain. My bright orange cast was an obvious sign of my pain. My hurt was apparent - most people hide their hurts so that no one else knows the pain they are in. 
I'm guilty of ignoring people at times and, I must admit, sometimes I look at people as a nuisance more than anything else.  Then, when I realize that most people are bearing some sort of pain, my response changes.  And even if they show no signs of pain, I just assume it, and, truth be told, most people are in pain to some degree - they just are very good about concealing it! Everyone needs to be treated with compassion and tenderness.

Perhaps we should find ourselves a little more tolerant of others. Perhaps we should take the time to be more gentle and considerate to those around us. Maybe a kind word or a friendly gesture is just what people need. After all, shouldn’t people be kind to others, especially when they are in pain? 

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Friday, April 03, 2020

Sad silence at 3000 S. Park Avenue

I can’t begin to say how much I miss us all being together. I can’t say how much I miss my weekly routines.

I write this on Friday morning. My normal routine is to get everything wrapped up for Sunday which includes a trip or two to the auditorium to make sure all the technology for Sunday is in place.  It’s lonely and quiet in there on those Fridays, but I always leave with the anticipation that come Sunday the church will be full of people and noise!

These Fridays I leave the church building knowing that Sunday will be just like today—still and quiet. This building was made to be occupied. This building was made to be noisy. This building was made for gatherings. Large gatherings of loud people.

But Sundays have gone silent here at 3000 S. Park Avenue. Parking lots are empty. Lights are turned out. Pews are vacant. Instead of preaching to a crowd, I’m preaching to a lens. Emoji’s have replaced handshakes. Thumbs up's have replaced amen’s. Friendly but poor replacements.

I miss the crowds and I miss the noise. I miss the handshakes and I miss the hugs.

Please excuse me for my lamentation, but all of us have to do this.  All of us have to mourn what we have lost.

I miss it. I miss it all. And it makes me sad. I’m trying to keep up a positive attitude, but I’m sad and I’m wondering if things will ever be the same as they used to be.

Even now I’m trying to think of the positives, but my heart is stuck on sad. Isn’t it my job to give people hope? Aren’t I the one who is supposed to be upbeat? Aren’t I the one who is supposed to lift people out of the doldrums?  Maybe I am, but not today.  Today I’m sad. Tears are coming to my eyes. Maybe tomorrow or next week or next month I can get back to the “sun will come out tomorrow” Todd I usually am. But right now I think I need to be sad. And maybe that’s okay. I hope it is. And maybe I need to let everyone be sad in their own time and in their own way.

Don’t take this wrong. It’s not like I’ve lost my faith. I’m just learning that faith and sadness can coexist. And I’m not giving up. I’ll continue to preach to the lens and upload the videos and learn some new routines.

But Sundays have gone silent at 3000 S. Park Avenue. And I’m sad.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Our National Timeout

Most parents and kids are familiar with the discipline technique affectionately known as the “timeout.”  A child misbehaves and is sent to the timeout chair to think about their behavior and usually can only resume their normal activities when they apologize for their misbehavior and are able to articulate to their parents what they have learned from their time in isolation. Seems like we’ve all been sent to timeout.

So, here’s my apology.
  • I apologize for taking for granted the full shelves at my grocery store.
  • I apologize for not appreciating a handshake.
  • I apologize for complaining about anything my child’s teacher ever said or did.
  • I apologize for not utterly relishing sitting in a church or a  movie theater or a restaurant with crowds of other people.
  • I apologize for standing in lines and ignoring the people around me.
  • I apologize for not appreciating good health.
  • I apologize for being the selfish, overfed, under-grateful, unappreciative person I so often am.
  • I apologize for not absolutely loving all the simple, everyday gifts I was blinded to before I was sent to this timeout.

And here’s what I’ve learned:
  • I’ve learned that life can turn on a dime and I need to be thankful for every day.
  • I’ve learned that we are not really in as much control over this life as we once thought.
  • I’ve learned that slowing down should be a pattern in my life and not a punishment.
  • I’ve learned that if my hope is in this world, then I will eventually be disappointed.
  • I’ve learned to be nicer to people, especially those who regularly experience isolation.
  • I’ve learned we may need each other a little more than I was once thought.
  • I’ve learned I can get by without some things that I thought were indispensable.
  • I’ve learned that I need to treat every day as a gift that has a 24-hour expiration date with no returns or refunds.

I am not enjoying this timeout but, after all, timeouts are not meant to be enjoyed. They’re meant to make us think. To reflect. To change. To become better people. And if that happens, then maybe this timeout is exactly what we need.