Happy New Year. Stop Lying!

A few years ago I decided to stop lying as a New Year’s resolution. This seemed like a reasonably positive development in my growth as a human. I would not have identified as a chronic misleader, or as a person with a strained relationship with the truth; I was certainly not pathological. My resolution was not an attempt to correct some deep character flaw unique to me. Rather, it felt like a worthy goal—and maybe a necessary one if I wanted to enjoy meaningful relationships—to raise my awareness of how I think and speak. I hoped to pay full attention to the way I characterized my actions in order to do the hard work of fully owning my junk.

 When I told others about my plan to stop lying, many laughed, intrigued, but some were appalled. They seemed to be mostly bothered by the implication I left floating out in the air: If I had resolved to stop lying then I was suggesting to others that I had a big problem with lying. They wanted to protect my reputation from me, and urged me to stop describing my resolution in a way that reflected so poorly on me.

In this way, they missed the point entirely. I resolved, in fact, to stop protecting my reputation. It is exactly the urge to protect ourselves that causes us to edit out our mistakes, misgivings, selfishness, and failings. It is our need to appear good that incentivizes us to not look too closely at our selves. I realized I had a tendency to revise my life in real time in a way that helped me seem awesome, with little regard for others. When I openly shared I planned to confront said tendency, some people lost respect for me, a fact that strikes me as absurd.

More than absurd though, such a reaction confirmed for me that most of us are wholly unwilling to even admit all the ways we subtly choose our own narratives over the narratives of others. Put another way, most of us are pretty good at critiquing others, but we often view ourselves sympathetically. The term myside bias sums this up nicely: we are more likely to truthfully and critically evaluate the arguments of others than we are our own. When it comes to self-reflection, it is difficult to see clearly. Indeed, we often even lie to ourselves, and we have to stop if we want to enjoy lasting community with others.

I have often shared my conviction that defensiveness destroys the possibility of meaningful relationships. In a very real way my commitment to stop lying was less about my own integrity and more about my desire to collaboratively create meaning with those around me. Driven by a need to defend ourselves, we cut off the possibility of discovering truth in community. On the other hand, what if we could learn a new way to be that makes self-defense an odd waste of time? What if we disciplined ourselves in such a way that overcame myside bias by actively inviting others to help us in the work of reflection?

Today, as 2019 begins, I’d like to offer self-honesty as a way to make room for meaningful relationships in our lives. For me, as we’ve just discussed, this work begins with a commitment to stop lying. It then quickly requires me to correct these mistakes, to confess and make amends every time I notice my need to revise history in a way that defends or favors me. My hope is that this personal work will impact our communities in transformative ways.

In the Holy Scriptures that record the life of Christ, there is a story of a man sent before the Messiah to prepare the way for the Lord. His job was to get people ready for the Savior who would bring Good News to poor and broken people. He did this in a few ways: First, he realized that the status quo was to live in a way that protected and defended the self at the expense of others. He instinctively knew this way of being in the world was incompatible with embracing the Messiah, so he rejected a lot of society and lived counter culturally. Next, he was crystal clear about his own weakness. He caused a stir everywhere he went, but he continually stated he was not the main event. He helped people realize they could be honest about their own disappointments and even failings because a Savior was coming to rescue them. Finally, and this is my favorite part, he loved to call out people so committed to their own lies about themselves that they could no longer see the impact of their selfishness on the people around them. He called them snakes sometimes, which feels a bit harsh. But he followed that up with this amazing suggestion: “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”

Long story short, this man, John, who lived his life trying to help people get ready for a Messiah who came to create a community of honest people who thrived in their need for each other, knew that self-honesty always led to apologizing and forgiveness, and that doing that kind of self-work always produced fruit. The fruit of honesty is the ability to belong to a community. To be a part of a large and messy we. To stop trying to be right, or well-defended, or exceptional, or deserving. The fruit of repentance is an ever-expanding sense of “us.”

To be a person who fully owns her mess miraculously makes me a person safe for the mess of others.

In 2019, let’s stop lying. Let’s stop revising history to make us look good. Let’s be people willing to see our flaws, to name them, to repent of them, and then to enjoy the fruit John talked about. To enjoy each other, because we have lifted our eyes away from our own reflection long enough to see the beauty in those around us. Happy New Year.

 

Advent Readings Week 4

Prayer for the Final Days of Advent:

“Lord our God, you wanted to live not only in heaven, but also with us, here on earth; not only to be high and great, but also to be small and lowly, as we are; not only to rule, but also to serve us; not only to be God in eternity, but also to be born as a person, to live, and to die. In your dear Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, you have given us none other than yourself, that we may wholly belong to you. This affects all of us, and none of us has deserved this.  What remains for us to do but to wonder, to rejoice, to be thankful, and to hold fast to what you have done for us?”   -Karl Barth

 

Readings for the Final Week:

“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”                                                                                     -Revelation 2:20

“The birth, death and resurrection of Jesus means that one day everything sad will come untrue.”                                                                        -JRR Tolkien 

“Hope does not rely on human achievement or triumphalism, but instead on God’s grace…. However, the hope for restoration comes not from a distant God, but from Immanuel, ‘God is with us.’”                                                   -Soong-Chan Rah

“[In Advent waiting,] a longing emerges within us, which will not be silenced, a longing that all should be fulfilled amidst all the failures and against all the evidence, yet we protest its fulfillment all the stronger. This is a waiting within us for nothing less than that this world will be redeemed through and through—not by this or that political means, but by God. When God himself comes to, then Advent truly becomes real.”                                                                                                -Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“If the perception of the human body shapes the body of the city, then the way the church understands itself as the embodiment of Christ should transform our interaction with the body of the city. Our understanding of the incarnation, therefore, takes on an added measure of importance. In the incarnation, here is the full expression of God’s active love for humanity and the act of making his dwelling among us. The incarnation, therefore, gives us the model of an active body of Christ confronting the passive body of the city…The church as the body of Christ embodies Christ in the world…The church is called to embody Christ in the city.”                                                                                                                              -Soong-Chan Rah

“Our identity rests in God’s relentless tenderness for us revealed in Jesus Christ.”                                                                                                    -Brennan Manning

Hymn of Peace

“O holy night! The stars are brightly shining, it is the night of the dear Savior’s birth.  Long lay the world, in sin and error pining, til He appeared, and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn. Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices! O night divine, the night when Christ was born. O night, O holy night, O night divine!

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming, with glowing hearts by His cradle we stand. O’er the world a star is sweetly gleaming, now come the wise men from out of Orient land. The King of kings lay thus in lowly manger; in all our trials born to be our friends. He knows our need, to our weakness is no stranger. Behold your King!  Before him lowly bend.

Truly He taught us to love one another, His law is love and His gospel is peace.  Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother, and in his name all oppression shall cease. Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we, with all our hearts we praise His holy name. His power and glory ever more proclaim!”

Christmas Eve Eve, Dec 23 Light the purple candle of Peace or Purity.

Read Isaiah 11:1-12; 9:6-7

The baby who becomes a man brings his incredibly present Spirit to us; the Prince of Peace abides in us still.

Christmas Eve, Dec 24

Read Luke 2:1-40.

The Christ child is born.

Christmas Day, Dec 25 Light the white candle of Christ.

Read Micah 5:2-5a

God with us, Immanuel has come.

Hymn of Birth

“Joy to the world, the Lord is come!

Let earth receive her King;

Let every heart prepare Him room,

And Heaven and nature sing,

And Heaven and Nature sing,

And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.”

Dec 26: As you look to the year ahead, know you aren’t alone.

John 14:15-20; Psalm 78:4-8

Advent Readings Week 3

Prayer for the Third Week of Advent: “Lord, our God and Father, give to many, to all, and to us as well, that we may celebrate Christmas like this: that in complete thankfulness, utter humility, and then complete joy and confidence we may come to the One whom you have sent, and in whom you yourself have come to us. Clean out the many things in us that, now that the hour has come, have become impossible for us, can no longer belong to us, may, must, and will fall away from us, by virtue of your beloved Son, our Lord and Savior, entering into our midst and creating order. We thank you that you have let your light rise, that it shines in the darkness, and that the darkness will not overcome it. We thank you that you are our God, and that we may be your people. Amen.”                        -Karl Barth

Readings for the Third Week:

“Patience asks us to live the moment to the fullest, to be completely present to the moment, to taste the here and now, to be where we are. When we are impatient, we try to get away from where we are. We behave as if the real thing will happen tomorrow, later, and somewhere else. Let’s be patient and trust that the treasure we look for is hidden in the ground on which we stand.”                                                                                               -Henri Nouwen

“But in our waiting there always lingers a certain amount of resignation. Our fondest hopes, all that we wish for, are weakened by an inner feeling that they may not be fulfilled. We don’t want to be foolish. And it would be foolish to assume that the hopes for the future were already achieved; foolish to hold so firmly to our belief that our life would collapse if it were not to happen. Our foolish waiting would then become an agonizing waiting, an unholy selfish grabbing from one another…And we know quite well that this is not the kind of waiting that Jesus speaks of. Such waiting is not Advent waiting.”                                          –Dietrich Bonhoeffer

 “It is my belief, that we should not be too sure of having found Christ in ourselves until we have found him also in that part of humanity that is most remote from our own.”                                                                                                            -Thomas Merton

“The kind of peace shalom represents is active and engaged…Shalom is communal, holistic and tangible. There is no private or partial shalom. The whole community must have shalom or no one has shalom…Shalom is not for the many, while a few suffer; nor is it for the few while many suffer.”                       -Randy Woodley

Hymn of Joy

Hark the herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King. Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.” Joyful, all ye nations rise, join the triumph of the skies. With the angelic host proclaim: “Christ is born in Bethlehem.” Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”

Dec 16: Light the pink candle of Joy or Shepherds. Read Luke 2:8-18

Christ brings remarkable joy into our everyday lives; every moment transformed by wonder!


Dec 17 Matthew 2:1-15

Dec 18 Exo 15:11-14a; John 1:35-51

Dec 19 Isaiah 61:1-7

Dec 20 Mark 1:9-11; John 15:8-17

Dec 21 Psalm 46:1-11

Dec 22 Luke 2:8-18