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Old Year Resolutions

January 1, 2015

Old Year Resolutions…

Let’s be contrarian shall we? While everyone is busy about the business of setting goals, making resolutions, joining health clubs and smoking their “last” cigarette, why don’t we try something different? We’ve nothing to lose. Those who track such things tell us that the prospect for success in respect to achieving well-intentioned resolutions is somewhat slim. This from Vox.com:                 

                  The most rigorous study of New Year's resolutions, conducted by researchers at the University of Scranton, shows a steep drop off in how long New Year’s resolutions stick around. Seventy-seven percent of the resolvers studied made it through a full week, and then 55 percent stuck with their goals for a month. By June, six months into the New Year, only 40 percent of those who had made a New Year's resolution were still sticking with the goal.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all over a person taking some time to reflect, to dream, to stand naked in front of a mirror and say, “Yikes”, and to sketch out a preferred future. So, if you’re one of the 40 per centers, then God bless you Sir, or Madam, and Godspeed … and go ye. But for the rest – the dispirited, disillusioned, knuckle dragging 60 per centers whose life looks remarkably similar – if not worse – than January 1 of the previous year, I wish to offer the aforementioned contrarian suggestion.

With each passing year, it has begun to dawn on me that one of the primary reasons we make so little progress with our future is because we’ve not made peace with our past. This can have all sorts of deleterious effects on our prospects. I have read quite a bit of literature from those in the field of medicine and mental health and there seems to be an emerging consensus that stress is toxic to our emotional, relational and physical health. One writer said that our stress has to go somewhere and that our mind, like a traffic cop, will wave it through and park it somewhere in some part of our body. I’ve not the time to describe all of what I have read, but on a personal note, I can report that when I have dealt with stress in a healthy way, (i.e. acknowledging it, sharing it with God and allowing it to cycle completely through) I have found that all sorts of aches, headaches, pains and discomforts simply disappear.

So, what is stress? I will offer a few thoughts in broad strokes. Stress is: 1) Refusing to deal with something that I have done for which I am ashamed; 2) Refusing to let go of something which was done to me; 3) Refusing to acknowledge the mistakes I have made, the opportunities squandered, the relationships fractured, and the subsequent consequences of the aforementioned; 4) Fear – fear of being exposed, fear of loss, fear of an unknown future and fear mixed with frustration at not being able to control all events and all people at all times.  5) Sin – rightly translated as “missing the mark” of God’s purpose for my life. 

We could add to this list, but if you look it over carefully, I believe you’ll find it a rather decent summary of those areas that can coagulate the lifeblood of life. To put it simply, we were not created to drag around a monstrous chunk of a past replete with failure. We’re just not meant for that.

Now happily, the Christian faith meets this issue of “a monstrous chunk of a past replete with failure” head-on. Our heavenly Father has not designed us to be wretched or to be wretched failures. We’ve some choice in these matters. (Some theologians suggest otherwise, but it makes me curious as to what Bible they are reading). The Apostle Paul, using a thinly disguised scatological analogy to make his point, says this:                

                  But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor. Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor…”  II Timothy 2:20,21 

Any guesses as to what Paul is referring to when he mentions wood or clay vessels of dishonor? Think of pre-indoor plumbing and you’ll get it. Yep. He is referring to ye old chamber-pot, thunder-jug, or as the hard-rock miners called them – honey-pots. This is but one example of Paul at his curmudgeonly best. In effect he is saying, “Hey, if your life is in the crapper, or holds a load of the stuff – it doesn’t have to stay that way!” Go Paul.

The word honor in the original means, “a deference one has or obtains by reason of office or rank.” No matter where we are today, no matter the story of our past, we can become a vessel of honor. How? Look again at the passage, “…if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor.”

To become a vessel of honor, we need to be clean. To become clean, we need to come clean. There is no other way.

So, before you write a list for what you hope the year ahead will look like, why not pause - not for a moment, but for a morning - and have a conversation with Father God about all of the unresolved “stuff” of your past. You will find our Lord quite helpful with that sort of thing. And the wonderful thing about beginning this year by looking backwards is this: Our heavenly Father is just as ready as you to shed the intolerable and unnecessary burden of your past and restore your life to its honorable purpose. To walk into the New Year free or regret, guilt, shame, and fear is not a bad resolution.

Much Love,


Merry Christmas!

The Prophetic Babe

December 24, 2014

The prophets of old were not folks you would normally consider as you compiled your guest list for a Christmas party. Nor would they come to mind as a pleasant companion for a stroll on the beach. They saw things…far away things. And those things they saw were, to them, more real and infinitely more important than kicking back for a moment of self-indulgence. They were insular, blinkered chaps who were lacking in the social elegance and panache of their times – serious, passionate and driven. They had heard God’s voice. They had seen, sometimes almost in impressionistic-like strokes of a Monet, the traces of a fantastic future – either one of unspeakable beauty, or one dystopian. Some saw both.

To be a prophet was a heavy load. To be told to announce grim pronouncements to a group of people predisposed to apathy, and, more often than not – downright antipathy – was a rough assignment. To have the temerity to say, either feebly or boldly, “Thus saith the Lord!” was an invitation to scorn, alienation and even death.

With the exception of a very few, were I to take you on a tour of the prophets of old, we would meet with some very coarse, odd, and off-putting characters. To be a prophet would allow for little else. You carried a voice in your head. It was a voice calling for people to change, to repent, to get their act together. It was a splinter in the brain that was terminal. To get the people to bleed a mere trickle of transformation, the prophet would have to hemorrhage.

And oftentimes, the very One who called you to prophesy seemed oblivious to the stagecraft of timing. It is not so difficult to be a prophet if you can say, “Repent or the entire city is going to be swallowed up by a massive sinkhole at 7:00 p.m. next week during Monday Night Football.” That is a fairly easy thing to quantify that might draw the interest of the most jaded listener. But often, the pronouncements that were made were, well…a ways off.

In the book of Isaiah we find a number of remarkable passages that are peppered, sprinkled, and strewn about that speaks of a certain person who is coming, someday, who will be unlike anything the world has ever seen, or will see.  In context, some of the prophecies seem disjointed and out of place. It is as if Isaiah suddenly declares a random vision in the middle of a thought then comes back to earth to deal with the context of his day. But, it is the specificity and the mass of these prophetic glimpses that give the honest reader pause. Isaiah is seeing things that are some 700 hundred years into the future. That is extraordinary. It is a bumpy ride, but the prophecies are so outlandish that it causes the reader to hesitate and say, “Wait…what?”

Isaiah tells us the following: This person will be born of a virgin; He will be called Emmanuel, God with us; He will begin his ministry in Galilee; He will be both human and Divine; He will be a healer; He will have a ministry of miracles; He will be a hope to the Gentiles; He will die for people’s sins; He will be crucified (a punishment unknown in Isaiah’s day); He will come back to life; He will be called Yeshua (Jesus); He would be sold out for thirty pieces of silver… 

I could go on and on. Together, the prophets bring us well over 300 specific prophesies concerning Jesus, hundreds and sometimes thousands of years before the great events that we are to celebrate today. That is something worth noting. It is no small thing.

Why is it no small thing? Well, for the very simple fact that we have the luxury of looking back and seeing that the Christian faith is rooted in a fait accompli. This thing was predicted. This thing happened. On a night, a little over 2000 years ago, a real man, with a real and really pregnant wife wended their way to a small village called Bethlehem. Within a short period of time, a real baby was born – Emmanuel, God with us, just as Isaiah had prophesied: 

The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call Him Emmanuel.” Isaiah 7:14

In this infant, all of the scattered prophecies converge at the moment the Creator of all things draws his first breath in human flesh.  He is here! Rejoice!

I offer my prayers on your behalf for a joyous Christmas and a blessed New Year!

Much Love,


What If Jesus Had Carried A Smart Phone?

November 19, 2014

And so I muse…What if Jesus and the disciples had carried smart phones? Wouldn’t it be helpful to have some Facebook video of a quadriplegic leaping to his feet? Or, how about Jesus taking a few selfies while strolling on the water? I wonder how many likes that would get? My favorite would have been Lazarus. I could just picture the disciples standing around Peter as he says, “Hey guys, check this out!”  Later, the man who was raised from the dead, would get to watch his own resurrection, over and over, because it had gone viral. “Lazurus, look right here! Man, everybody is holding their noses because you bro were rank! (That insight taken from John 11:39, one of the more amusing verses found in the Bible when read in the old King James Version, “Jesus said, ‘Take ye away the stone…’ Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, ‘Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.’”) I love the old English. It just doesn’t get any better than “he stinketh.”

We live in an age of information. When it comes to matters of faith, we might be curious as to why God didn’t send His son to the earth when the prospects of publicity were a little more advanced. Wouldn’t a website, a Facebook page, a Jesus tweet, and a few selfies have helped the cause? Moreover, how about T.V. appearances, book deals and say…a Christmas Special? “And here he is folks…the One born in a manger, the King of of Kings and Lord of Lords…let’s give it up for Jesus!”   

But the Scriptures tell us that Christ came in the fullness of time and in a surreptitious way. Obviously that means he came before the cellular revolution and a mass media reach that is able to bring us news from around the globe in real time. He came in a time of Roman dominance and Jewish obsequiousness, a time of cobblestone roads, chariots and wind powered ships. Jesus arrived to a world where communication was slow. His works and His words were entrusted to eyewitnesses. Does that seem like poor planning on heaven’s part?

I‘m not so sure. The explosion of information has not improved our natural proclivity toward skepticism. It doesn’t matter all that much if we read it or saw it on the internet – we remain dubious (or should) about certain material posted for our viewing. We have all been “had” by clever photo-shopped images and by inspiring stories that turn out to be fabrications. The point being, technology has not improved the credibility of current events much if any more than the witness of a group of astonished fisherman relaying what they saw with their own eyes 2000 years ago. There were skeptics then and there are skeptics now. Availability of information aside, that has remained constant. And we should also mention this – even some who were eyewitnesses to Christ’s life and works remained skeptical. Their skepticism was such that they would soon lead the crowds in the thundering ball-park chant of, “Crucify him!”

I mentioned in my last post an intentionality to introduce, or perhaps re-introduce my readers to a prospective life of faith. I understand that in so doing we need the gloves off at the outset. I write with a supreme confidence that you are a skeptic or that you intimately know one. Or, even if you are a person who believes, your faith flame may be little more than a faint flicker.  That is okay for now. If you’re reading this you’ve at least arrived at a place of respectful consideration. You’re also, in case you didn’t know, at a place where you are the recipient of my affectionate prayers. Whether you have the wherewithal to pray for yourself doesn’t matter just yet. I have you covered. 

As we move along, we will talk more about skepticism. I believe we can go quite far in removing, what the Scriptures refer to as: “…speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God.”  As we do so, I will remain profoundly respectful of sincere unbelief and persistently pesky towards slovenly unbelief.

Okay, that’s enough for today. Let me close with something I once heard - a clever aphorism which I have found helpful over the years. It went like this:

We have always been taught that seeing is believing, but a great truth that I have learned says just the opposite: believing is seeing.

And so it goes…sometimes we have to take a step toward the light before we begin to see the light. 


Raison d'être

November 12, 2014

So…I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my raison d'être. Do I really have one?  Or, do  I think I have one while my reality suggests a meandering pursuit of half a million lesser raison d'êtres? Or perhaps I had one at an earlier time and carelessly misplaced it. That doesn’t sound good. And how about you? What and/or where is your raison d'être? Is it healthy? Is it sustainable?  Or, do you find yourself so consumed with the daily struggle and distraction of living to even consider such weighty, French sounding words?

Well I suppose, before we go much further, we ought to at least learn how to pronounce the word. It goes like this: rā-ˌzōⁿ-ˈdetrə. You find it peppered throughout much philosophical discourse from both a spiritual perspective and by others who proffer a closed universe  - i.e. those who would self-identify as an agnostic at best or as an atheist at, well…less best. It is interesting, and not a little surprising, that each philosophical camp roots its raison d'être in a universal constant. For the spiritually inclined, the universal constant is God, the Creator of heaven and earth. For the spiritually unconvinced, it is natural law that determines their raison d'être.

What we are talking about with this fancy word is none other than a person’s “reason for existence”, the dictionary definition of raison d'être.  “Why am I here?” “What is my purpose?” It is sometimes referred to as the study of passion, but that can actually sidetrack us from the literal etymology. One can have a number of passions that never touch the seminal and spooky question of, “Why am I here?” At the risk of sounding high-brow, I can safely say that your and my raison d'être does not involve:  Watching an entire weekend of football until the eyes bleed; Being a foodie; Going shopping; Sex; Hunting; Fishing; Rock n’ Roll; Politics; or, Facebook. We can all agree that those might be passions, but in a very limited and often pathetic way.  Even the most self-obsessed would probably agree that they were not placed on this beautiful planet to take, and then post, endless selfies. A higher calling might be found. (Perhaps pointing the camera in the other direction would be a healthful beginning).

Now, if the prospect of a Creator seasons our thinking, then the answer to our raison d'être will inevitably lead in the direction of a spiritual quest back to the Creator. If our world-view discounts God and involves the belief (and belief is the correct term) that we came from nothing – i.e. from super-heated then super cooled, inanimate matter – then we will seek our raison d'être there. (Skip past the question of whether or not our forefathers were chimps…In this line of thinking our forefathers were hunks of molten lava hurtling through space. “My Dad was a hottie!”). The former, the spiritual, suggests accountability. The latter places value on survival. 

Whichever side of the fence we find ourselves, we know that we will not survive - at least not in our present form. Thus, mere survival seems to me a rather imprudent, short-term bet.  We will not survive this life. Time will not stand still. We will each have a gathering hosted in our name where we will be absent, save in the form of unflattering, embalmed remains. Given another hundred years or so, we will become a small footnote in Ancestry.com. The life of faith suggests a hope that we will go on, that we will be transformed into something different, eternal and infinitely better. The life that discounts a Creator places all hope for happiness, pleasure and purpose in this short sprint we call “our life.”  I do not judge those who try to squeeze as much out of this life as they possibly can. Given the premise, it makes total sense.

My raison d'être is quite simple…I have been put on this earth to help others find their way back to the Creator – to tell them that their life has an intrinsic and infinite value and a raison d'être born of heaven itself. As I once more gear up to write with some regularity, I will do my best to share with you not only what I believe but why I believe it. For those who have read my past efforts, I know that a number of you have not yet arrived at faith in God. You remain unconvinced, skeptical, disillusioned, distracted and even cynical. That is quite okay. For now, I am honored that you allow me into your mailbox and give me a moment of consideration. I have found many of your return comments refreshing, kind and challenging.  But a fair warning…I am feeling a sense of urgency to write, to contend and to convince. Perhaps it has something to do with a world that seems to be fraying at the seams and seems hell-bent (literally) on self-destruction. But mostly it has to do with the fact that I am, at heart, a shepherd and I love souls…

And, I love your soul.  -CJ

Hey Jude!

November 4, 2014

Easton & Jude - Superheroes.

It is the wee hours of the morning and I am nursing a grand headache whose cause originated from overworking my surgically repaired shoulder yesterday. My young grandson Easton had decided that he didn’t care to ride in the grocery cart nor was he willing to push it for me – he of two foot stature – so I lugged him around as best as I could. But quite frankly, men just don’t have the hips for such things. We carry kids like a football. I ‘ve tried resting him on my love handles but he just slides right through. (Vanity moment: For the record, my love handles are not all that big and appear to be shrinking even as I write)!

All of which brings me to the newest addition to Clan Alderton/Brothers, a bouncy “baby” boy by the name of Jude. Baby is a bit of a misnomer. Jude is six years old. He is the newly adopted son of my son Riley and daughter-in-law Kristy.  Jude hails from Uganda.

When Riley and Kristy announced to us their plans to seek to adopt a child from overseas, we took a sort of wait and see approach. Having worked with other adoptive couples in the past we knew the process could be complicated, tedious, pricey, dangerous and fraught with the reality of dishonest humankind along the way looking for palms to be greased. I am happy to report that we experienced ALL  of these things and more! Even before the kids set foot in Uganda, a certified adoption agency that we were using, stateside, cashed a $7,000.00 check from our ministry and declared bankruptcy the next day! I made the news with some spirited rants in the Peninsula Daily News of Port Angeles, WA where the dishonest bunch was located, but to little avail. A difficult lesson regarding both forgiveness and fortitude was offered to us. We accepted it and moved on. 

Throughout all of this, Kristy and Riley remained determined and prayerful. I have learned this much: when you raise your kids to pray and teach them to walk by faith and to be led of heaven – you best not protest when they do just that.  It was Kristy and Riley’s faith that led us to believe that this thing would happen – obstacles be damned. 

Now, in the context of one small devotional, I cannot recount all of the details of this adoption. If you’re interested in a longer version, I hope to publish those thoughts sometime around Christmas of this year. Some of what I will cover will be the whirlwind of events once the dream became a reality, to wit: the text from Kristy that said, “Holy .…, Uganda just called and we have to be there in a week!”;  the mad, hectic planning, packing, kisses and hugs and putting the kids on the plane; the sketchy communication from a world away; a terrorist plot that was thwarted just a few miles from where the kids were staying in Kampala; the prayer vigils and sleepless nights; and the frustrating pace of Ugandan bureaucracy. Each of these are worth a few hundred words and I do plan to write them down. 

But for now, let’s just talk about this remarkable little guy named Jude: Born of  parents who each died of AIDS; given to an Aunt, a single mother of many who is also suffering from AIDS; raised in a village where he seldom saw a car, never saw a city or an airplane, deprived to the point that he was at the beginning stages of the bloated belly formed by malnutrition; and, both feet infected with parasites that, within a few weeks, would have taken his feet and his life….

Now picture the scene of living out this painful, hopeless existence day after dreary day – until one day, two mzungus (white people) show up, kneel down and extend their arms for an embrace – and your life and your destiny is forever changed…just in time. 

The pictures tell it all….The hollowed out eyes, the fear, and the confusion upon the first meeting. And now, just a little over two months stateside – we see this beautiful, healthy smiling boy rescued from death because a young couple made the happy mistake of having a chat with Father God.  Good job young couple! Way to go God!

For heaven to go that much trouble to rescue just one child is another story worth telling, but not just yet.  Suffice now to close with a line from an old Beatles classic: “Hey Jude….take a sad song and make it better.” 

The Great Dane

October 24, 2014

Now and again and more often than not, we each will experience a moment of cold clarity that alarms us. We will be stunned by a flash of insight that says, “This is what and who you are…It is time for a change. And change always begins in the now!” These moments are, by and large, good things – a stiff, chill breeze sent from heaven to awaken the soul to its true condition. But as is our want, we scurry quickly - in the words of  Solomon – to find a place where there is: “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest”  (Proverbs 6:10) That passage is lifted from a larger section (Proverbs 6:6-11) where Solomon sets up a wee ant as an instructor.  Solomon is basically saying, “Hey sluggard….while you’re laying there take a gander at that ant passing by. He doesn’t have a boss or a life coach or a motivational speaker or a yoga instructor – but just look at him get on with his purposeful little life.” Solomon’s point? Warm and cozy is the default position of a soul adrift. And this…ants are brilliant.

So, back to that cold clarity thing. To linger in that moment of self-revelation forms the possibility of true transformation. Lingering provides a bit of space for us to consider the reality that, “If I continue in this way, allowing this life, that habit and these thoughts to harden – to have my life informed by anything other than the Savior to whom I mouth an allegiance – then I will have chosen futility. I will miss His heaven come to earth.” That right there is some good ant logic.

I would here like to introduce you to a Great Dane, not of the canine genus, but rather  a Danish Philosopher/Theologian who seemed to have spent much of his life receiving, lingering and acting out on these moments of clarity. From one such struggle with heaven he wrote thus: 

“The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. “My God”, you will say, “if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world?” Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.” ~ Søren Kierkegaard, Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard

How about that? Kierkegaard takes a knife and puts it to the throat of his own profession – that of scholar/theologian – to reveal to us his moment of clarity. He reminds us that the difficulty with the Christian faith is not in the knowing, it is in the doing.  And now, I’ve just reminded you! 

~ CJ

“Deer" Congregation

May 4, 2014

It is the perfect time of year to sit on the front porch and strum the guitar. The evenings are cool and the insects are still a bit groggy – not having ramped up their blood-lust traditions just yet. I enjoy the brief seasons in both the fall and spring to serenade both heaven and neighbor with these impromptu worship services. Not once have the authorities been alerted nor the hounds released.

Tonight’s vesper service was joined by a friendly herd of deer that came up the driveway toward the music, two by two. Soon, I had a congregation of ten or more “deer” souls in attendance.  I offered refreshments to my guests in the form of un-mowed spring grass and lots and lots of dandelion greens. They grazed a few feet away. Together we worshipped.

I have had a number of these close encounters with creation over the years.  A couple of summers ago, as my father and I were loading up our clubs after a round of golf, I sensed a presence at my feet. I looked down to see a fox sitting quietly a foot or two away. He didn’t seem to have a care in the world. And since he didn’t – I didn’t. He was so beautiful with his red coat, black feet, and huge foxy grin. I have had similar encounters with elk, bear and a mama moose with her calf. Somehow, a timeout is called by heaven from that untrusting enmity between nature and man. For a few moments we experience the joy of Eden.

We ache for this. If we are really honest we ache to reconcile with all creation. The Apostle Paul discloses to his readers that nature aches as well. In Romans 8 he speaks of all creation groaning in eager anticipation of the reconciliation of man to beast and then of all creation to heaven - an Edenic reset. Lambs will snuggle up to lions and young children will play with vipers.  For those who have ears to hear and eyes to see, these whispers of a reconciled creation  - to wit: a yard full of peaceful deer congregants – are meant to encourage and attract. It is the picture of how it once was and how it once more shall be. One day, as Lady Julian of Norwich prophesied, "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”  

Until then, I pray God grant you both a brush and a holy hush with His creation and yards full of furry worshippers.   


Psalm 27

January 6, 2014

As I was praying this morning, my devotional reading had me in Psalm 27 where I came across this passage, "I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. (v.13)

In the midst of a culture that appears to be coming undone, where the things of God are mocked and neglected as a matter of course, we find this encouraging word from David. He believes, that while he is still alive, the goodness of God is going to have a break out moment and his own eyes will see it. He is not content to resign the residents of this world to live out a temporal hell before an eternal one ensues. Rather, he steadfastly believes that the kingdom will show up and show itself in such a way that all will witness God’s goodness.

Our job is to hold steady that vision - to believe and look past the contrary evidence before us. We have to believe in the goodness of God and the bigness of God to overtake and overcome the machinations, strutting and preening of the evil kingdom. That means we have to believe on behalf of others who have no such inklings. That is quite an assignment. We have to believe not just for ourselves, but for those around who presently resist, mock, scorn, lampoon, despise and disbelieve the goodness of God.

What that means in practical terms is that we humbly contend against the evil of which we hear or encounter, and then speak and act in a way that is just the opposite. Such contending defined Jesus' ministry from the first time he opened the scrolls in the temple and read this passage from Isaiah: "For the Spirit of the Lord is upon me because He has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to free those who are downtrodden, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”

Jesus was not overcome by evil. He overcame evil with good. In so doing, people saw the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

More to come…

Labels - Part 3

After a busy music season with our Celtic band, I am settling back into some writing ventures. Writing is a tedious and laborious task to master during our stunted Rocky Mountain springs and our diminutive summers. I need my sunshine as much as anyone else: perhaps more so, being a fair-skinned Celt. But, I am encouraged and given consent to be a seasonal writer when I read these words of Nathaniel Hawthorne to his publisher, “I sha’nt have the new story ready by November for I am never good for anything in the literary way till after the first autumnal frost, which has somewhat such an effect on my imagination that is does on the foliage here about me - multiplying and brightening its hues.”  I think what he was getting at was something like…“ I don’t like to sit still and write when it is nice outside.” I have found that it is always helpful to quote a genius when proffering excuses.

I believe that we were talking about labels and my well-nurtured abhorrence of them. I have not yet exhausted the depths of my despising, so on we go. Think of it as writing therapy.

Let’s look at the word, “Christian.”  When I was in college, a very strident non-Christian professor – in fact, a self-proclaimed atheist – was discussing the subject of absolutes and axiomatic philosophy when he asked this question: “So, I would like to hear the opinion of a “good little Christian” on this topic.” He waited…We waited… No one raised their hand. He had stuck a couple of explosive adjectives in front of the word Christian and I was left to micro-process the following thoughts: 1) Was I, in fact, a “good little” Christian? 2) If I raised my hand, would I then be thought of as haughty and self-righteous by the professor and my classmates? 3) If I didn’t raise my hand would Jesus hang His head in shame?  The silence lingered. He then said, “What? There are no “good little” Christians in this class? Okay, (chuckle, chuckle) are there any “bad little” Christians in this class?”  That question wasn’t any less volatile than the first. The silence continued. He then became very agitated. “You are telling me that there are no good little Christians or bad little Christians in this class?”  Evidently, by our silence, the answer was no. (I would like to report one small victory in this otherwise sad tale. When the professor made the statement, “There is no such thing as absolute truth!” I did ask, “Absolutely?”  Cha-ching!) 

I am not sure if the age in which we are living is any more or any less stressful for the word “Christian” than other ages. I can only report the view from the fields as I have experienced them. My report is this: the label Christian carries much baggage by way of association. Whether or not the associations are fair is somewhat immaterial. It is what it is. But, I have a suspicion that some of the baggage has been well earned.

The late Senator Mark Hatfield, “a good little Christian,” once wrote a book about his life in politics entitled, Between A Rock And A Hard Place. The book was, I feel, a rather noble attempt to think through how Jesus would do politics. To say he was vilified by one sector of the Christian community would be quite accurate. His book was a counter-weight to much of the noise and popularity issuing forth from Jerry Falwell, Jim Bakker and Pat Robertson at the time. I do not have the space to parse either side in this essay, but I will make this observation: I live under the label of other people’s representation of what it means to be a Christian. As I move about in the world of ideas and artists and musicians, I find certain assumptions being made about my beliefs and practices because of the attention that has been garnered by media-driven Christianity. The conjecture is made that all Christians must share the same DNA, the same politics, and the same point of view as the notables. To fight through such presuppositions, to earn the right to be speak, to give Jesus a chance to be heard in His own words and by His own actions – this is the true work of ministry…at least this ministry.

Labels - Part 2 (INFP vs. ESTJ)

              I was chatting with an old friend this morning over a cup of coffee. It was one of those wonderful “accidents” that God is so generous to arrange. My young friend, who I met when he was a college student, happened to be passing through town.

            He is now a college minister and I am so very proud of him. Looking back on our relationship, I marveled at the growth that had taken place in his life. A lot of it has to do of course with the natural process of maturing. And, the fact that he married a lovely, bright, and talented woman has not at all hurt his drift toward refinement. She is definitely sanding off the rough edges of her husband as is the common task of all lovely, bright and talented wives - which describes pretty much all wives by my book! (Shameless pandering, but it increases Blog-traffic). Their job is to “de-Neanderthal-ize” us nose-picking, knuckle-draggers.

            As we chatted, he told me that a part of his leadership training that had been especially meaningful to him had been to work through the Myers-Briggs profiling test. This test is commonly used in the business world to help people better understand one another and to build group dynamics...allegedly. (More on that in a moment). I use this tool in pre-marital counseling quite often, thus, I had already formed a few educated guesses in regard to my friend's profile. Allow me a moment to recount a few memories…

            When I first met my friend, he was a football player at Fort Lewis College. When we would get together to chat, he almost always had some topic, or someone, with which he was taking “serious” issue. Being an ESFJ (the J standing for Judging), he excelled nicely with the “J” portion. In other words, he suffered no fools, and the world, in his mind, was chock-full of them.

            I remember many times that I sat and listened, slowly drumming my fingers on the table, wishing I had brought along just a fragment of duct-tape. Two or three inches of the magic adhesive would have come in quite handy. But, I did what my profile (INFP) does rather easily – I listened and sympathized. My “P” (perceiving) as opposed to his “J” (judging) offered him another way of looking at the people or the situations. I am not at all saying that my personality type is better than his. I, in fact, often put a lot of trust in people – especially in their unrealized potential – while overlooking the present realities of a person’s journey. That has bitten me on more than one occasion. The disappointment always circled back to my projection of what a person could be that was frequently at odds with who they really were. It is both an encouraging gift to many people and yet at times was wrought with wrongful expectations on my part. It took me awhile to figure this out.

            What is my point? I am speaking here again, as I did in the previous blog, about labels. I hate them. I really do. Yet we seem to be incurably driven to find a place in our minds to categorize people: He is a banker; She is an accountant; He is a Baptist; She is a Homemaker; He is a jerk; She is a flake. On and on the labels go. We unfairly summarize an entire person’s life with meager amounts of data and impressions gathered by fleeting moments in their presence.

            It is terribly unfair but also unsurprising.  Psychologists tell us that our brains need a way to resolve what they call cognitive dissonance in our minds; thus, we merrily and unconsciously go about cataloguing people as: friend, enemy, weirdo, attractive, not so much, etc.  When I was in my doctoral studies, I had a professor describe cognitive dissonance as a bunch of untethered strings floating around in our brain. Categorizing people and subjects help tie these thoughts down and bring us a measure of peace.

            It is right here where we can go off the tracks and where we can find help with the Christian celebration of the word “grace”.  The word in the Greek: “charis”, when tracked down to its effectual usage in the Scriptures, means: “God’s empowering presence.”  I have heard other definitions, but this one seems to work in all circumstances, so it is the one I prefer.  Grace is God’s active goodness, influence and participation in our lives. Grace is God becoming a man, a human being, and experiencing the dust and disappointment of earth. Grace is the effort given to understanding every temptation and shortcoming and weakness common to the human race and enduring it all. Grace is placing oneself on a cross as a substitute to take the blame for all of our naughtiness. And grace is seeing within each human being the potential of what they might someday be. Yes, I like to fancy that God is a bit of an INFP Himself! But, that would be overly flattering to my profile type and it is simply less than honest. He is all of the personality types noted by the Myer-Briggs profilers and much more. His character is one of: holiness, mercy, kindness, matchless beauty, mystery, self-revelation, justice and judgment, downy-soft tenderness, transcendence and imminence.  Try labeling God into one category and you will come away with a tiny, manageable God – but you will be missing the real thing. In a sense, Deity defies labels.

            And here is the big point I wish to make…grace, when freely received, never allows us to remain the same. It is transforming. It is metamorphosing. But there is more…grace freely received is almost meant to be freely given. It is a pass-through gift. It is a river, not a reservoir.

            Here is where we come to the limitations of personality profiling. I once worked through a Myers-Brigg facilitator to help me resolve some conflicts with a few business partners. Actually, I was in the middle of the conflict – a tormented peace-maker of sorts. The Myers-Briggs actually mapped it out quite accurately. One guy was in the upper right hand corner, a driver, and a controller. The other partner was down in the lower left corner – a very easy-going, “collie” type. My personality was in between the two. As our facilitator shared with us our personality types, the controlling fellow lit up and got excited. He said, “Yes, this is me!”  And…then he used his newfound knowledge to define and defend his nastiness to the other guy. “This is me! This is me! This is me!  You have to adjust to it because…This is me!”  As retreats went, it wasn’t one of my more successful ones. He used his personality type as sledge-hammer.

            Grace never leaves us that way. Grace would never attempt to bend the entire universe to one’s own will and personality. Rather, grace fuels a love of others that cures such things – even if very slowly. Grace is always about the business of changing us from the inside out into something more beautiful. And, as it changes us, it makes us extremely sympathetic to other people’s struggles. We become the change we would hope for in other people.      

            Thanks for hanging out and completing this marathon of a blog. May God’s grace be yours in abundance…


© Patrick Crossing 2015