Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Why Inexperience is a Good Thing

Most people reading this have likely said or been told the reasons experience is helpful. Among other things, experience offers the benefit of having done something before and understanding how the next trial will go. Experience helps in understanding what’s superficial and what really matters.

Experience is valuable.
Inexperience can be just as valuable.

Obviously, inexperience is valuable in different ways, and that is the first of its benefits. Inexperience is completely different from experience, so it’s not in competition with it. In fact, the two really can complement rather than compete with one another if given the chance.

Beyond the simple advantage of balancing out experience, inexperience has benefits all on its own. Even the wisest beings can often see the merit in looking at the world from a new perspective.

Inexperience enables a fresh, new energy that allows the traditionally impossible to happen. Possibilities and options need to be explored and evaluated. Inexperience may respond and engage with rather than react to new scenarios.

You don’t know what you can’t do. Since you’ve never tried before, almost anything could be an option. Nothing is discarded because it didn’t work last time if there is no last time. Being inexperienced requires the imagination work to find creative solutions to questions and situations.

Adaptation is possible. If something doesn’t work, you can try something different. Of course, the negative side to this is the risk of changing something that others have worked on and offending someone in the process. The hidden landmines of tradition can be a great threat to inexperience. Step on one, and the whole situation can blow up in your face. However, if the experienced help and allow an occasional misstep, change and adaptation to new contexts and situations can occur.

Everyone has inexperience in something. It may be an idea you’ve always wanted to try, an art or activity you’ve wanted to learn, or a role you’ve wanted to volunteer to fill. Let inexperience work for you even as you work with inexperience.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Cliches and Religion

This is a reflection about what we do when we say canned phrases but don't think them through. Words and phrases hold meaning, even if we don't intend to say what we say.

Clichés and Religion:
When good intentions go bad, or,
Say what you mean and know what you’re saying

I’ve caught myself using them up to ten times in a conversation. Quick little phrases that are easy to say and received without question because they’ve been used so many times they’ve lost any real meaning. “Beat around the bush.” “I can’t see the forest for the trees.” “It’s a drop in the bucket.” I say them often because they’re easy, quick, and generally accepted without question. Before I use a cliché, though, I have to think about what I really mean.

Words matter.

Most of the time, conversational clichés are relatively harmless if we think about the meaning behind them. However, we have religious clichés as well. Little slogans we say to ourselves and others, and they have a little more weight when we look at what we’re really saying.

To be clear, I honestly believe that when these clichés are used, no harm is meant by the person saying them. Usually we don’t consider the deeper meaning of clichés like these, but when we do, we can hopefully see that we need to pause and consider what we really want to say.


“God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.”

This saying is the most common religious cliché I’ve heard in my life. It’s also the most concerning to me. It implies that God causes our suffering and struggles. This saying does not acknowledge the brokenness of our human world or the forces of the world that defy God. Pushed to the extreme, this saying holds a double standard on free will—that you as a human can handle it, but not that someone besides God did whatever it was that caused struggle. Worst of all, it discounts completely the individuals that the world does overwhelm with more than they can handle; those who take their own life to escape it. We live in a fallen and broken world. God walks with us in struggle and suffering, but does not cause it.

“Heaven needed another angel.”

This one is probably the most harmful saying I’ve encountered. Usually said when a child dies, it has some really awful implications and effects. While it’s often intended to comfort a family, it undermines the grief process by implying that they should be okay or even grateful that their loved one is gone. It also begs the question about all of the other potential angels who are still living on earth. Did heaven not want or need them? Of course not. Again, this saying disregards the brokenness of the world and claims that God is the source of all suffering.

“An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”

Revenge. This one is more difficult, because it is in the Bible—four times. Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy talk about judgment and restitution for people who cause severe harm to another individual. The fourth instance is Matthew 5:38-41, where Jesus says,

“You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.”

Jesus lived hundreds of years after the Law had been written, and certain sayings had become misinterpreted clichés. This one has morphed to where it can mean something as simple as “If someone hits you, hit them back.” Jesus reminds us that this is not the way or the intent of the Law.


I must restate that I truly believe that when these clichés are used, no harm is meant by the person saying them. In fact, most of the time help or comfort is intended in the midst of a confusing and often impossible situation. Clichés fill a space of silence when there aren’t words for the situation. However, even the best intentions can cause pain and harm. Some things can be worse than nothing. Sometimes a silent, comforting presence will be the best we can offer.

Clichés are nothing new. Jesus dealt with them in his life and teaching (as can be seen in the last cliché). The Apostle Paul had trouble with people using religious slogans, too. In his letter of I Corinthians, Paul quotes the phrase “All things are lawful” several times, but refutes it each time for this Corinthian Christian community. For example, I Corinthians 10:23 reads, “‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are beneficial. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up.”

Words matter. Are all religious sayings harmful? Hopefully not. However, we do need to really consider what we’re saying when we use them. “We are both saint and sinner” is a common saying. It acknowledges human nature, but it's an explanation, not an excuse, for when we mess up. “We are saved by grace through faith,” but we are not to cheapen that gift and our identity by forgetting about the needs of the world and just doing whatever we want.

Words matter. We communicate what we believe with our words and actions, and we need to care for that gift of communication. We need to be aware of what we’re saying and how we say it. It matters.

Monday, May 20, 2013

A Tradition of Change

Christmas carols, Easter lilies, table grace, communion cards, friendship pads, coffee hour—our church is full of traditions. From the simple rituals we do daily to the particular ways we celebrate holidays, our lives are influenced by the traditions we’ve inherited. All of these traditions started somewhere, though, as something new—as change. In actuality, we often overlook one of the biggest traditions of our faith: change.

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light.”        --Genesis 1:1-3

From the very start, everything changes. There was a formless void—a nothing. God didn’t just leave it that way, though. God spoke, and—just like that—there was light. Then there was sky, then earth, then plants, then stars, sun and moon, sea creatures and birds, land animals, and finally, humans. Eventually, God would give a set of laws to God’s people as they wandered the desert. These laws spoke of promise and hope of a future lived in relationship with God and one another. They are part of a dynamic covenant that has been formed and reformed over the ages. Prophets would later come to encourage care of the ignored people of society—to change the status quo.

Hundreds of years later, another person—a man born in Bethlehem—overturned tables of profiteers in the temple and taught about love, care, and forgiveness. Jesus reinterpreted the faith *in the culture and society around him. Jesus’ followers, empowered by the Holy Spirit, would start the Christian church.

The changes didn’t stop there, however.

What started out as a movement of followers became more organized and institutional. Those who studied faith fought over what exactly to believe about the Holy Trinity, and a common creed was formed. A collection of sacred writings was gathered and evaluated. The books brought together formed the Bible, which was translated into the common language of Latin.

The change continues. Martin Luther translated the Scriptures into his common language of German, and he returned to the message of forgiveness and salvation by grace through faith. In an age of working for your salvation, Luther’s reading of the Bible returned to the righteousness and forgiveness received through Christ. In the Augsburg Confession, Luther's contemporaries acknowledged the differences of style and practice that occur in the church.*

Today we celebrate a variety of traditions within our faith. We have inherited changes as tradition. As such, we’ve also inherited a tradition of change. The Holy Spirit is still moving—still working. Where this work and change is happening today is for us to discover and to follow.

“I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”    --Isaiah 43:19

* "And it is enough for the true unity of the church to agree concerning the teaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments. It is not necessary that human traditions, rites, or ceremonies instituted by human beings be alike everywhere." Melanchthon, Augsburg Confession: Article VII, Latin Text, Robert Kolb and Timothy Wengert, eds., Charles Arand, et al., trans., The Book of Concord (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 43.