Archive for September, 2008

18
Sep
08

Men and the Spirit

In preparation to facilitate a support group at our church, I had an opportunity recently to read some material worth reflecting upon. The group is a men’s grief support group, made up of men who have experienced a significant loss in their life. It is an interesting and diverse group with a wide range of loss experiences. We spent part of our time together talking about some of the ways that gender becomes an influencing factor in the grieving process. One resource I used was a paper by Sabine Buchebner-Ferstl (not sure of her credentials, actually) that points out some of the “Of course!” reasons for the differences between the genders. Women tend to spend more energy building social networks, for example, and so are in a better position to be supported in loss than men. As a rule women tend to be more emotionally oriented in their coping strategies while men are more problem-oriented. When this has been the lifelong pattern for a person it simply stands to reason that in the event of a significant personal loss the woman would already be pretty familiar with the “terrain” of the emotions and perhaps have a better feel for navigating in it.

Makes sense.

But here is where I really began to ponder and am really interested in hearing any ideas or inputs that you might feel impelled to offer. Are there significant differences between men and women in the manner in which they navigate the spiritual realms that might factor into the issue of grief? My immediate focus right now is in the area of grief, but I really am interested in considering ALL of the ways the sexes might diverge in their approach to spiritual matters. We have all seen those stories about the pastors who have crafted their worship services for the “cave man” sensitivities, designing the inside of worship centers to look like a sacred hunting lodge, decorated with beaver pelts and antlers. So there are obviously some folks out there who really believe that there are such realities as “male spirit” vs. “female spirit” and that the two really don’t mix and match very well.

I really do believe there might be something to that notion, but I am not convinced that the differences are as profound as some might lead us to believe. What is really behind the statistics suggesting that our congregations being more heavily female than ever before? Blogger Gene Edward Veith says that in the average congregation on Sunday, 60% of the worshippers will be female, with that percentage edging upward all the time.

Is there something here worth pondering? Are there stylistic dimensions that have worked their way into the way we conduct worship that appeal more to the female vs. the male mindset? What are those? And what is the difference in the core make-up of people that would create such differences?

I am just throwing it out there to see if anyone wants to offer up a cogent thought or two of your own. This could really be a subject worth batting around.

11
Sep
08

Wanna fight?

“He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” Isaiah 2:4.

Have you ever been in a fight? I don’t mean an argument with your spouse, boss, or co-worker. I am talking about a fist fight… standing at arm’s length away from another person, fists clenched, feet shuffling, sweating and moving around while hoping and praying that someone will rush in and break things up before either of you hits or gets hit. I was probably in three fist fights in my life, all before entering the 7th grade. But what I remember the most about those three fights was being SCARED out of my mind, so MAD I couldn’t see straight, and hurting like the blazes when my face connected with the other guy’s fist.

I remember it as such a thoroughly painful and humiliating experience that even now, 40+ years later I absolutely HATE the so-called “sport” of boxing.

So now our country has decided that mere boxing is just not exciting or violent enough. The newest rage sweeping the country (and gaining fans and adherents by DROVES) is something called Mixed Martial Arts, or Ultimate Fighting. It is boxing combined with wrestling combined with kicking, biting, scratching and just about any other approach that one person could take to inflict injury on another. “Human cock fighting” is a popular description of MMA. Tonight – for the first time ever – I watched one round of an MMA match. It was really a whole lot of nothing, accompanied by the palpable promise of genuine face-breaking violence pulsing just below the surface.

But here is my point: after a high level, civil, and issues-focused beginning, it seems as if the current presidential race is sliding into that old familiar territory of name calling and mud slinging. The incident earlier this week of Obama describing McCain’s economic policies as “putting lipstick on a pig,” followed by McCain’s people accusing Obama of blatant sexism, as if the remark were meant to describe Sarah Palin. So whether it shows up in the form of “human cock fighting” or in nasty verbal swipes by highly educated public servants, violence seems to be our primary operating mode of settling conflict. Why is that? I really don’t think it is a uniquely American trait, but we certainly seem to experience a national commitment to blasting and bullying our way into a superior position… no matter what the issue.

We bully because we can. When you are the big kid on the block with all the muscle, all the toys, all the means, and all of the supposed “moral authority” on your side of the ledger, bullying and bulldozing comes somewhat naturally I suppose. But why couldn’t those advantages lead us in the opposite direction? Why couldn’t our nation’s position (God-given, some mistakenly argue) of global advantage just as easily propel us toward generosity, benevolence, and a consensus-building approach to conflict resolution? I know a lot of people see an idea like this as hopelessly naive and impossible. But if we are ever to reverse our penchant for violence, where will it start? Will it start at the top with our government officials? Or will it start much closer to home… for example with YOU and ME?

04
Sep
08

It’s that time again!

Time for politics! Did you get to watch any of the Democratic National convention last week? It is great to watch the unspontaneous, carefully scripted drama that happens every four years when the major parties gather, isn’t it? Outside of church, I am not sure where you could go to see people become so passionate about the task of defining a new vision for the future. I think one of the really fun aspects of each party’s convention is watching to see which surprising people appear on the speaker’s rostrum to help drive home one or another of the party’s platform planks. You always expect to see the traditional “stars” and heavy hitters of the party… certainly the nominees, their families, and the senior party leadership. But then there are the “surprise” speakers that show up now and then. There was the senator (sorry… can’t remember his name. I am not really that much of a political geek) who served in the Army in Iraq before running for office. Then there was the woman who brought a sex discrimination lawsuit that went all the way to the Supreme Court. Regular, ordinary people whose lives have been touched or affected somehow by the political process. They stand up and tell their story, looking straight into the camera wanting more than anything to see SOMETHING change that will make life better for everyone. It really is stirring.

It is now Wednesday night and I am watching the beginning of Sarah Palin’s speech at the Republican convention. I am trying really hard to stay completely non-partisan in this comment, but we are ten minutes in and I am still waiting for the “WOW!” moment that really carves out the defining vision she and her party have for the country. But I sure am getting to know her family really well! Who knew her husband was a world champion snow machine racer?

But seriously, there is a special electricity in the air at this time of year, isn’t there? I think it is because every one of us yearns for the inspiration of a vision that will bring meaning to our lives. We want to be inspired. We want to hope. We want to have a sense that there is a nobility to the quest we are on as individuals and as a nation. We put all of our eggs in the basket of voting the right way and electing the right candidate as the way to do that. Now certainly the make-up and the overall worldview of the people making and enforcing the laws of the land make a huge difference in the kind of lives we all lead. But a worldview that brings with it hope, meaning, nobility, and access to life that extends even beyond the temporal plane is what is available for each of us, freely given by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ! And you don’t have to wait until the next election cycle to have access to it. It is available here. It is available now. It is available to ALL. Praise be to the God and father of us all!




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