Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘boundaries’


I used to read a fair amount of Henry Cloud. Tapes of his were common in my car for a few years while I was going through an MA program in Counseling. I ran a Boundaries group with a classmate of mine as well.

At some point Cloud seems to have shifted from counseling to consulting. He applies the same psychological concepts and adding some results of research in neuroscience to the business world.

As I was looking for a book on effective leadership, Boundaries for Leaders caught my eye. Most books on leadership I’ve read have been about being a godly person as well as some of the struggles of leadership. I was looking for something that focused more on leading a group and building a culture. This book looked like it may be helpful.

“.. the leader sets the boundaries that will determine whether the vision and the people thrive or fail.”

Cloud begins with the reality that people matter. He doesn’t approach this from a theological view (imago dei) but rather the practical reality that bringing a vision to reality requires people. Healthy people have healthy boundaries, and so do healthy leadership groups. He identifies seven boundaries necessary for people’s brains to work efficiently.

Leaders are “always building teams and culture.” When an unhealthy team and culture are built, the team becomes dysfunctional and filled with blame games, pettiness, mediocrity and downward morale.

Culture is established by what you build or by what you allow. You can actively build a healthy culture or you can passively allow an unhealthy culture to form. The role of the leader is to actively build a culture. Boundaries can help us “cut through the noise” so we can make better decisions. The leader chooses what information to let in and what to keep out (not because it is ‘negative’ but unnecessary and distracting).

Cloud talks about leading so brains can work. He talks about the brain’s executive functions: attention, inhibition and working memory. Leaders set boundaries so this happens. You want to get rid of the “organizational ADD” and rabbit trails that keep you from getting work done. You also inhibit bad behavior. Getting the work done includes where you are going, how you are going to get there, persisting in getting there, the time frame to get there and solving problems in the way of getting there.

He shifts into the emotional climate that helps us perform. He talks about hijacking and flooding. Discussion devolves into yelling, accusations and the fight or flight response. The emotional tone of meetings is important, and boundaries can greatly affect that emotional tone. A healthy boundary keeps unhealthy attitudes and behavior out. People agree such actions or language are not permitted and self-police rather than watching a co-worker be attacked.

A healthy boundary allows critique, asking how can. we do this better?. It also prohibits criticism which focuses on what someone did wrong and feel much more like a personal attack.

He discusses both fear as a positive motivator and a destructive force. Fear of not having a job can motivate behavior. It is the fear of circumstances produced by bad behavior. When you are afraid of a person instead of concerned with an issue, it is destructive. You don’t act or speak as necessary because you are afraid of how someone will respond. He also brings in the notion of reward. He doesn’t formulate this in terms of covenant with blessings and sanctions, but that is essentially what Cloud is talking about.

He shifts to the importance of relationship in a leadership team. Healthy relationships reduce stress in the team. Just as failure to thrive as a child is a result of parental neglect, a failure to thrive professionally can be a result of neglect by leadership. Leadership fosters “connection and unity.” Where there is no positive connection suspicion, paranoia and conflict will thrive. That isn’t what you want to thrive. You need to invest in the team and its relationships. That includes conflict resolution, emotional repair and listening.

Good leadership provides a gate on thinking. Boundaries let in positive discussion but keeps out negativity. Negativity is called the “Can’t be Done” virus. Healthy thinking admits obstacles but doesn’t obsess on obstacles as unsolvable. Unhealthy thinking is also paralysis by analysis. When you try to keep that out, bad things can happen so be forewarned.

“Focus your people on what they have control of that directly affects the desired outcome of the organization.”

One tool of leadership is the relationship between control and results. You can’t necessarily control results, but you can control things that affect outcomes. You want to cultivate personal responsibility. Instead of trying to control everything, let “others be in control of what they should be in control of that drives results.” Make war on learned helplessness and address error repeaters. The way to change outcomes is to change the behaviors that affect outcomes.

“… what drives strong performance is a commitment to a shared vision and shared goals with behaviors and relationships aligned with reaching those goals.”

Cloud then shifts to trust. He talks about the things that build trust. If we don’t feel trust, we won’t invest ourselves in a project. Leaders are asking people to invest their hearts, minds and souls in them.

He then talks about boundaries for yourself. You don’t want your weaknesses to sink your ship, so establish boundaries so they don’t. He advocates for being an open system, receiving output from others. He addresses fear again. The bottom line is that “the first person you have to lead is yourself.”

“Remember, you never need new ways to fail. The old ones are working just fine. And until they are addressed, they will continue to work.”

He wraps up with three kinds of leaders: those aware of the issues in the book and inclined to apply them; those for whom this is new but are open to them; and those who will resist the notion that people are the plan and continue to just work the plan as if relationships were irrelevant in an organization.

This book is geared for the business world, which is different in some significant ways from the world of church leadership. Sometimes there are church staff for which this book applies most directly. When dealing with lay leadership it is more challenging. Enforcing boundaries can be trickier since there isn’t the motivation of a paycheck.

But this book gave me plenty to think about and apply as I try to shift the culture of our leadership and congregation. I think it was worth my time, and will be worth your time. At times it can be a little “rah, rah” but mostly this is helpful. I’ve begun to implement some of it already and will continue to discuss this among our leaders.

Read Full Post »


This has been a long time coming.

Image may contain: 2 people

My Wedding Reception in 2001

Long, long ago (so it seems) in this here galaxy, I began to notice that my mom began faking it. While talking on the phone she stopped answering questions with any detail. I began to get very short answers that were excruciatingly vague. Things like “It was good.” “It was okay.” And really long pauses. I knew something was up. Shortly after this she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

When we visited she would obsess with where the kids played as if they would do serious damage to their manufactured home with their toys. The next year my kids didn’t go inside, but if they got within 20 feet of the road she got worried. The fear she had hidden for so long (and so well I didn’t know about it) had taken over as her ability to control it was gone.

When she didn’t recognize me I didn’t realize how much it affected me. I mean, how can a mom forget her kid? But that is what this disease does. I had visited while we were on vacation. For the rest of that vacation (and beyond) little things set me off. I had so much anger and didn’t put the pieces together. It is so obvious now, but it wasn’t then. Grief seems so difficult for me because I grew up on a family that seemed to avoid grief. Ain’t nobody got no time for dat grief.

From afar I watched my dad care for her. It was like he was a different man- a better man. The first time we’d visited my parents after getting married, they began to bicker about how to put the growlers of beer I brought in the fridge. CavWife’s experience with them was VERY limited (she married me on faith!). “Oh, they’re kinda like the Costanzas,” I said. That changed after his heart stent. They realized the party would eventually end.

While Alzheimer’s brought out the not so good in her, it brought out the best in him. He was so patient with her. I think the right parent got Alzheimer’s. As the disease progressed, he struggled with when to put her into a nursing home. When I’d visit I was his friend, not her son. Her hallucinations were ordinary- her little brothers in the other room. Unlike other people with Alzheimer’s I knew there were no little friends hiding by your feet. But then she largely stopped talking.

Caring for her was tiring. He was always on duty because she’d get up in the middle of the night and try to flush the adult diaper, flooding the bathroom. But, understandably, he had trouble entrusting her into someone else’s care. The doctor and his staff would say she was ready. He wasn’t. For some reason I remember one of those conversations with him during the Red Sox 2013 World Series run. I was driving home from a hospital visit and the Sox game was on the radio. Yet, the timing is off. Odd how the memory can work.

Hanging Up PosterI remember starting to watch Hanging Up with Meg Ryan, Diane Keaton and Lisa Kudrow one Saturday afternoon during this period. Pre-plastic surgery Meg Ryan. When Meg’s character put her father (Walter Matthau) in a nursing home I completely lost it. I had to hang up, so to speak, on the movie. The kids didn’t need to come downstairs to find their father in a pool of tears and snot because he was watching a movie. This would be one in a long series of grief stuffing moments to come.

She wouldn’t end up in a nursing home until the fall of 2017. Those were 4 long years of visits when I was on vacation. I had started going alone, initially because I wasn’t sure how the kids would react to her declining condition and inability to understand why she didn’t talk to them or know who they were. But I went because I knew my father needed me to be there. It was hard to be so far away, but it was obviously so much harder on my father.

I struggled with guilt, false guilt. He wanted me to move closer. I thought about moving closer. There was a big church nearby looking for a pastor. The fact they had a woman as the interim pastor was a big clue to me that I would not be their first, or 30th, choice. Most of the churches that would be a fit were small. I was nearing 50 and a pay cut combined with a higher cost of living didn’t seem wise. I also knew myself, once she died I’d want to get out of the cold and snow. There’s a reason I’ve lived in Florida and Arizona for the last 30 years.

While the disease initially seemed to proceed quickly it seemed to have stalled. She was still mobile. My father was thinking about financial realities. Their long-term disability insurance would cover about 2-3 years of care and he was trying to maximize it. He hung on as long as he could because he loved her. Visits were with my father while she was the quiet spectator. We’d go to lunch and he’d order for her knowing what she’d like based on 50+ years of experience. At the house the Game Show Network would be on since she couldn’t follow a plot. The crosswords and Suduko she loved to do were put away. Soon the mirrors were covered because she’d yell at the old woman who was following her.

Eventually he couldn’t do it any more. She could get angry. I experienced that a few times when my attempts to be kind and convey warmth were misunderstood (or perhaps that squeeze on the shoulder was stronger than I realized), and there it was. It was sort of like Gollum fighting over his precious. And he lived with that 24/7. It got to be too much.

Going into the nursing home didn’t start well. She wandered into someone else’s room. When the care giver tried to lead her to her own room a fight erupted. I laughed out loud thinking about my 80+ year-old mom punching someone in a fist fight, but she was sent to the hospital. And my father was crushed. He wondered if he’d done the right thing (he did!). He didn’t want her sedated all the time. But sedated she was, and they backed it off to the minimal level necessary.

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling

Summer of 2018

It is hard to face the good and the bad of my mother. My parents didn’t talk about their childhood. She was the oldest of 8, having 7 brothers. Her father was not in good health (he died when I was 4 or 5. She was likely engaged in child-rearing at a very young age. She was likely robbed of a childhood and adultified.

Her ethos, shared with a Mormon missionary at the door when I was older, was “do your best.” I think she did, but I suspect she didn’t have all we might want in a mother. She loved me as best she could, I don’t deny that. Yet I found myself “adopting” other moms to supplement, never realizing what was really going on until many years later while in a counseling program. I began to sort through some of this as I read books like The Mom Factor. I learned the phrase “good enough mom.”

“For one, she was my mother. Who knew her better than me? Who knew her stories? Her triumphs and losses? Who knew what she had overcome? Who knew her great loves and dreams? I did…” Mike Glenn in Coffee with Mom

I read the above and thought … I don’t know those things. So much was hidden, undisclosed. She was shut up tighter than a house ready for a cold New England winter. I knew her from my experience with her, but I didn’t know her experience. I feel like a man trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle with more than a few pieces gone.

She got her nursing degree but was quickly married and having children. I’m not sure she had a firm sense of herself apart from raising kids. For a time she worked at the hospital, as an operator not a nurse. But when I was in middle school she began to watch kids for teachers at the school down the road. She’d do this until they moved to California.

She confused me at times. She taught me to save. But in round about ways. She made me save for driver’s ed. So, I put aside money from my paper route, mowing lawns and shoveling drive ways. I saved the money and took the course, which she then proceeded to paid for. She hid her motives at times, but when you are a teenager it was very frustrating.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. When I was young (5 or so) her mother gave me $5 for my birthday (that was quite a bit in 1970). While going somewhere my mom stopped to get gas. My grandmother said I should offer to pay for the gas with my birthday money. That didn’t make sense to my young, greedy, selfish self. “Don’t you think I’d give you more?” was her reply. Confusing. And my mom could be the same way. Life was a series of tests of my character.

We didn’t talk about emotions aside from the admonition to not to get so angry. Like many in her generation, she couldn’t really go there. As a result, I wasn’t sure how to go there and didn’t really grasp that it was an issue until a girlfriend got angry with my obvious struggle to empathize with her own loss. I’m not making excuses, but she loved me (us) as best she could.

When I graduated from high school we all went out for dinner. I think she had a tad too much wine because for the one and only time she mentioned she had miscarried a daughter. In talking with one of my brothers later, he indicated they knew something had happened but not what it was. The timing was shortly before I was conceived. This had to be incredibly painful for her. She had only brothers, and give birth to only boys. It was a wound she didn’t share, wouldn’t share and probably couldn’t share. When I had a daughter, she was filled with joy. They made a trip to Florida in order to meet their granddaughter. But I was left with the sense of “I wasn’t supposed to be here, someone else was.”

Image may contain: 3 people

With the first grandchild.

When I moved to Florida in 1991, my parents moved to California for a job. She’d never lived more than 40 minutes from where she grew up. That decade in California was hard for her. They lived in 3 different cities for 3 different jobs until my dad retired early. He loved southern California, but with the birth of the first grandson she wanted to move back.

I visited them a few times while they were in California. The only of their 3 children to do so. They flew me out twice. They were generous toward me in many ways. During a few times I lived at home post-college she kept a mini-fridge in the basement family room stocked with Bud and Sipps (still a joke with one of my old friends). When my car died while I was in seminary, a check arrived so I could buy a used car another student was selling. I borrowed money to buy my next car. There was a loan when I was in between pastoral calls and under-employed. They showed their love through gifts like the money I needed to buy an engagement ring, and a new washer & dryer when we moved to AZ.

I also extended a work trip for Ligonier to spend some time with them. But those trips were also hard. It was like I was still a kid (Let’s do the time warp again!). She had a hard time hearing my ‘no’. This sounds stupid, but I didn’t want her to do my laundry. I was an adult for the love of Pete. But she’d do it anyway. She did it out of love, but I felt disrespected and treated like a child. I struggled with that. It was like a time machine, and I wasn’t liking it. She struggled with boundaries.

They traveled to New Hampshire in September 2001 to look for a new home as a result of that grandson. They were originally booked to fly back to Los Angeles from Boston on 9/11 but decided to stay longer. I got the gift of two more decades of my parents as a result. I had also learned to accept my parents’ limitations better. I was learning to love them better instead of demanding that they be the parents I wanted instead of the parents I actually had.

Image may contain: 4 people

2011 by the source of the joke that bombed.

She had a strange sense of humor. Like many teens I wanted a car for my 16th birthday. So she got me a matchbox car. That’s okay when your 16. But when you’re 6 or 3, not so much. After we moved to Tucson they came to visit us. During that visit we put in a swing set. While I was working on it, and my kids excited about it, she told them it wasn’t for them but for other kids. They were confused, and hurt. I have to be careful that my sense of humor doesn’t hurt the ones I love. She loved them, but didn’t always know how to show it.

I guess that is how I process my experience with my mother. She loved me, but didn’t always know how to show it appropriately.

Loving someone with Alzheimer’s is difficult. It is like they are gone, but they aren’t. You feel like you should grieve, but there they are. Sort of. When I visited her in 2018, I tried to use my phone to show her pictures of her grand kids and AZ. She took the phone and studied it as if it was something new and strange. To her it was. On a later visit she largely ignored me and my brother, wandered the common area and straightened just about everything. As my dad noted at the time, she always kept a clean house. This was a remnant of who she was. The woman I knew was there, but not there. And I was no one to her.

Image may contain: 1 person, standing and indoor

Summer of 2019

You struggle with wanting her to live and also wanting her suffering to end. You know there is likely a high level of fear in there precisely because they don’t understand much of what is happening. There are also the realities of the physical decline, the inability to do what you used to do for yourself. She had become like a child in many ways. Add to that what you see your father enduring. You become seriously conflicted.

I had hoped to visit after Christmas. But it just kept snowing and I’m 30 years removed from regularly driving in ice and snow. The journey from my in-laws to my parents goes thru Vermont and Killington ski area, not a place I want to drive right after a winter storm. I was also struggling with plantar fasciitis in my right foot. A 4-hour drive would be incredibly painful.

A niece was heading to NH to visit her brother and I could have gone along. But it was during my daughter’s birthday which I didn’t want to miss. I also had that flu/cold going through the family. I made what I thought was a wise decision. While my niece was in NH my mother collapsed and ended up on the hospital. I wished I could be there for my father. It was likely the result of a virus, but after a hospice consultation she was approved for hospice care. Another mile marker.

While I wasn’t physically there, my dad and I had a long over-due conversation about her care. CavWife and I had talked about this over our anniversary lunch a few days earlier. I didn’t want a repeat of his delay in putting her into a nursing home. She met the markers for hospice care, and they could provide him with experience and wisdom in questions of appropriate care based on her terminal disease. It also helped him with out of pocket expenses. This was a win even though she could live much longer.

She seemed to bounce back. She was eating again, and with her walker make it to the dining area. She was talking more than she had in quite some time. It didn’t make any sense but she was verbal.

A few weeks later she walked to breakfast and all seemed fine. While he was visiting something suddenly seemed wrong to him. She suddenly seemed unable to walk, and any sign of recognition of my father vanished. He wondered it her knee was giving her trouble again. But then he discovered she couldn’t use her right arm. She’d had a stroke. Everything changed.

And so I travel home tomorrow. I might make it in time to say goodbye. I might not. She hasn’t been eating and drinking. Her breathing has finally become labored. Flights are harder to come by last minute these days. I want to go, and don’t want to go. My inner conflict continues.

 

Read Full Post »


Song of Songs (Reformed Expository Commentary)About 4 years ago I taught a SS lesson on The Song of Songs. One of the resources I used was Iain Duguid’s new (at the time) commentary on the Song in the Tyndale Old Covenant Commentary series. It was one of the more helpful commentaries I used. At the time, there was also notice of his Reformed Expository Commentary series volume on the Song. I had hoped it would come out in time, but it hadn’t.

When the volume was finally published, I bought a copy. While on vacation/study leave I decided to read for reasons I’ll lay out in the follow-up post.

The Reformed Expository Commentary series is rooted in expository sermons on the subject at hand. They are a popularization, so to speak, of the material he presents elsewhere. He’s making it accessible and applicable to his congregation. So, in addition to some background and linguistic material there is a focus on application not as readily found in his commentary.

In his preface, Duguid notes that this was the first sermon series for the church he planted in Philadelphia. In addition to being a professor he has also planted churches near the schools in which he’s taught. When we re-started our church in FL eons ago, we had been in Ephesians and I decided to begin our newly renamed and relocated congregation with a series on marriage which would end up in Ephesians 5 where I’d left off. I thought it would be an “attention getter” in the flyers we handed out. It got no one’s attention, apparently. But Christ Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia is still going so it was moderately effective for him.

The Introduction covers issues of interpretation. This seems shorter than in his TOTC volume, which is understandable. It is Hebrew poetry and this must be taken into consideration when interpreting the text.

“Poetry is the art of condensation: expressing maximum meaning in the minimum number of words. … Poetry tends to be open ended, leaving us pondering and wondering rather than tying up every loose end with a watertight argument.”

As a result, what it means is not always very clear especially due to the great distance in time and culture. There are plenty of times you need to toss out caveats and address varying interpretations.

He briefly discusses and rules out the allegorical method which so many reject in every book of the Bible except this one. An allegory is typically a story in which everything represents something else. Pilgrim’s Progress is an allegory. There was no real Christian and all that transpired was intended to be a picture of the Christian life. There are lions, giants and more that represent something else. In the case of The Song of Songs, this is to avoid discussion of … sex. This is because we somehow think Christians should not talk about the beauty of sex. Or something like that.

The way many Christians who use an allegorical interpretation for this book makes it incomprehensible for the original audience. The original meaning is not about God and His people. Duguid sees The Song as a love poem which does have a typological function in pointing us to Christ and the Church (iow God and His people). There is an original meaning with application to people about marital love which must be reckoned with first.

He also addresses the issue of Solomon. You really have to stretch things to make Solomon the hero or the Beloved. Solomon is viewed as a contrast to the Beloved. He has many wives and concubines and cannot know them like the man and woman here know each other.

“For these reasons I take the Song of Songs to be a poem by an unknown and anonymous author about two idealized people, a man and a woman, whose exclusive and committed love is great but, like all loves in this fallen world, is far from perfect. … Thus, the Son is designed to show each of us how far short of perfection we fall both as humans and as lovers, and to drive us into the arms of our true heavenly Husband, Jesus Christ, whose love for his bride is truly perfect.”

This is the understanding behind these twelve sermons that work through the Song. He speaks often of romantic love as friendship on fire. The Song begins before marriage as they express their longing for on another but also maintain boundaries. In many ways it was counter-cultural in that it begins with her desires and longings. She is interested in him physically, not just emotionally. She is neither a feminist nor a traditionalist. She communicates her desires, and those include him providing leadership and direction. She wants him to kiss her, but isn’t kissing him first.

One of the things that Duguid stresses often is the connection, in the Song, between sex, marriage and children. This couple wants to possess one another, when the time is right, and sees its logical and desired end in having children together. He also stresses the role of family and community that is found in the Song. At times it is negative (like her brothers) but also often positive.

The Song functions to correct our fallen views of sex and relationship. Each culture should experience correction. While, for instance, purity is prized here it is not an idolatrous pursuit as can often happen. Duguid explains this in terms of beams and bombs. We find sturdy beams of truth upon which to build a biblical worldview, and bunkerbusting bombs that explode our false notions and worldviews. The Song reminds us that we need to positively teach the good things God says about sex, including in the Song. Duguid reminds us that one of Satan’s biggest lies is that God is a cosmic kill-joy and that His law is repressive rather than the law of love and freedom. God designed our bodies to enjoy sex. On the other hand, our desires are disordered so not all we want to do sexually is good and conforms to God’s law.

He speaks much about purity. We see the couple refusing to act on their desires until they are married. They still have desires for connection that are person specific. Purity is not simply a good unto itself. We can make an idol virginity losing sight of it as a faithfulness designed to minimize our sexual baggage that disrupts and corrupts the marriage bed. We are mirroring His fidelity to His people.

In his application Duguid regularly addresses single adults and those struggling with same sex attraction. The Song is for them too, as God re-orders their disordered desires (however slowly at times) as well as pointing them to Jesus.

The twelve chapters bring us from the awakening of their love to marriage, the reality of struggles in marriage and ending with the power of love. While the Song is not a relational handbook, it does teach much about fidelity and passion in a love that moves toward and continues in marriage. Duguid applies this in chastising those who put off love for careers when in reality love finds us at unexpected times. Putting off marriage at the height of sexual desire sets many up for failure. Yet neither should we make an idol of marriage as if it will satisfy. No one person can meet all our needs. The limitations of human love are intended to drive us to Jesus, not serial monogamy. Or polygamy/polyamory.

Love is powerful, as the Song warns us. It can make us crazy. There is the repeated warning not to arouse or awaken love until it is time. We can’t give full reign to our desires until the right time and context.

All in all this is a great book. Because it is a series of sermons the focus is on the relationship between them and our relationship with God. It is a volume I’d recommend to the single adults in my life so they can develop godly and realistic expectations. He dispensed plenty of wisdom without trying to advance the norms of some bygone culture. He brings us to Jesus in each sermon (providing great examples of Christ-centered sermons). I appreciate this book as a pastor & preacher, husband & father.

In part 2, I will compare this expositional commentary with his other commentary. I’ll try to see the differences in how he handles the text for those different audiences.

Read Full Post »


The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World Butterfield, Rosaria cover imageRosaria Butterfield has written two quite different books so far. Her first, Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, was largely narrative with some extended musings. It was easy to read and quite interesting. It allowed her gifts as a story-teller and writer to come out and play. Her second, Openness Unhindered, exhibited her gifts as a teacher. Far more didactic, it also drew on her past life as an academic who was a lesbian activist teaching queer theory at Syracuse University in NY. She wrote to interact with the controversial subjects regarding sex and gender of our day from the perspective of a Christian who used to be an activist.

Both books were representative of who Rosaria is. Her third book, The Gospel Comes with a House Key, is also representative of who Rosaria is. Her first book talked about the key role hospitality played in her life as part of the homosexual community, her conversion and then as a Christian. The book wasn’t really about that subject but you recognized this was an important topic to her. It would be natural for her, and desired by her audience, for her to write a book on the subject that seems to so permeate her experience.

It is written in a style quite like Secret Thoughts. It is narrative used to communicate a lesson. The main narrative is the story of a neighbor, Hank. She and her family slowly pursue the reclusive war vet and build a friendship which has survived some major trauma. She also includes the story of her life with her mother after her conversion.

For Rosaria, hospitality isn’t a faceless practice. It is the long-term investment in particular people through hills and valleys. This investment is understood in terms of the gospel. First, God has welcomed us through His Son. That doesn’t seem like a big deal until you realize we were ungodly, helpless sinners and therefore His enemies. She isn’t as explicit about this as she could be, but it is there. Second, He sends us out to welcome others in the hopes of their coming to faith as we meet tangible needs. It is a form of mercy ministry that takes place in the home, not on church property.

The subtitle, Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in our Post-Christian World, helps set some of the boundaries. This is some thing to be practiced. When we practice we start off rather poorly but continue to get better if we continue to invest the time and energy needed. This is something we may not be great at but can and should become better at with time because we continue to invest ourselves into it.

It is from the root, or radical. We are sharing ourselves, and not just the good part. We are full people and she notes that true hospitality receives too. We are not to be like Martha, ever the good host, but some of Mary who is truly interested in her Guest and needs Him. The hospitality she has in mind is reciprocal in nature: not paternalistic. It is radical in terms of being sacrificial as well. It is a big part of her family budget, and that means there are things they do without.

It is ordinary. She’s not talking about fancy dinner parties with the fine china and special silverware. She’s talking burgers on a picnic table, Thanksgiving turkey seated on the coach or folding chairs, soup and bread before reading the Bible and singing Psalms. She’s talking about inviting people in for community, not a state dinner at the White House.

It is ordinary in that it is for ordinary people, not elite Christians. Anyone can do this because it is simply about loving people.

The context of hospitality for the American Christian is changing too. We are in a post-Christian society. The influence of the gospel is waning, not growing. Disdain for Christianity is growing. We can no longer assume people have a basic understanding of the Bible. Many know only what they’ve been told on TV or the radio. Post-Christian America has a hunger for community. Much like pre-Christian Rome, hospitality is our way to gain an ear by granting a seat at the table with give and take.

This makes for an interesting, challenging book that is both easy and difficult to read at the same time but in different senses. It is a book that can make you laugh and cry. Her gifts as a story-teller (or teller of the Story) are on display in the course of the many narratives. She does provide a few sections on “nuts and bolts” of hospitality. This could be expanded and moved up in the material. It seems almost an afterthought. As a result she may have lost some people earlier; people who think she wants them to practice hospitality just like she does. Some in the conclusion deal with temperament and marriage roles in hospitality.

Caveats and Impressions

I should give a little personal background so you, dear reader, don’t think I’m simply reactionary. As a kid it was normal for friends to “stay for dinner” or me to stay there for dinner last minute. The families who “raised” me as a new convert in my early 20’s practiced hospitality. Their doors were open and I was often there on Friday nights or Saturdays. I helped them with projects and they fed me with conversation and meals.

My wife’s family routinely took in strays: animals and then people. They still do.

When we lived in Florida we knew many of our neighbors and had been in many of their homes. They had been in ours. At times we had to eat in our garage because the kitchen/dining area was so small and there were so many toddlers toddling about.

Since moving to Arizona we had a young man live with us for 18 months because he was struggling spiritually & relationally. We frequently have people in our home. But now we pretty much know 3 neighbors. Arizona is not Florida or the Christ-haunted North Carolina where Rosaria resides. The relationships seem limited to the Next Door app, rather than using it to get together in person.

It would be easy to feel like an inhospitable person reading this book. That is not her intention, but know yourself. Will you compare yourself to her example? Or are you able to simply take her example as an encouragement to be more hospitable in your particular setting? There is a part of me that longs to be in a neighborhood like hers, where my kids have heaps of friends (it is MUCH larger than our subdivision), where people are open, even if opinionated, instead of driving directly into their garage closing the door before they even get out of the car. Some people may confuse such longing with condemnation.

Image result for soup and breadRosaria usually has a soapbox topic in each book. She goes on a bit of a rabbit trail on a controversial subject. For instance, in Secret Thoughts she spent a few pages on Exclusive Psalmody. Here it is “biblical patriarchy”. It is introduced when a friend asks her “how the magic happens”. Her answer was a husband who leads and a wife who submits herself to her calling as wife and mother. She has chosen not to pursue a career as a teacher at this time. She is a writer, which happens in the quiet mornings before the kids bring their chaos.

I wish she had actually spent a little more time on this one so I knew more of what she is talking about. Patriarchy is a loaded term in my theological circles. She may be using the term in a way I could agree with, but often this term is used in  a way I don’t agree with and many will find unnecessarily offensive. If she’s using it for complementarianism (wives submitting to their husbands who love them like Christ loved the church, and male leadership in the church) then I’m onboard. Patriarchy is often used for the view that women submit to men, thereby granting women an inferior status rather than role. I do not find that position to be biblical. Since she doesn’t clarify, it causes needless confusion and possible stumbling blocks.

Rosaria is honest about her life, and her sins. Therefore she is honest about her rather dysfunctional relationship with her mother. At times I sensed a dysfunctional relationship with her neighbors. I wasn’t sure if the co-dependency she had with her mother transferred to others. There was a lot of community processing of community events. In some ways commendable.

A few years ago the house across the street from us was raided by a number of law enforcement agencies. My wife was out on her walk when it started. She got permission to come home, but was initially told to stay on the other side of the house, just in case. We did some watching from the window. But there was no gathering of neighbors (as their was in FL after a resident committed suicide by cop). There was no community processing of the arrest, and aside from his friend down the street it wasn’t perceived as a tragedy. As a member of the HOA, I got no rants about property values.

Therefore it is hard to discern where her concern for others crossed into perceived responsibility or unhealthy response. Healthy hospitality respects that boundary. She does mention boundaries, but that is an area that needed more attention.

The last issue is kids. Contemporary culture wants to protect kids from real life. As a pastor my kids are protected from some things, but get a big dose of other things. Our hospitality has introduced them to couples who live together before getting married, among other things. So, I’m not approaching this from an overly protective posture.

The flip side is I’ve been a pastor to people whose parents had time for everyone’s problems but their children’s. They were neglected by “good Christian parents” out to save the world who forgot their kids needed nurture and care. This is one of those boundaries that didn’t get nearly enough attention in the book. I’m not going to pretend to know enough about how this plays out in the Butterfield home, but more attention should have been paid to this subject in the book. There has to be something between over-protective helicopter parents and bringing your kids to the front lines of ministry by bringing it all in the home. I have had some difficult conversations with people on my front porch. Hospitality with boundaries because my kids were inside or out back. We can’t be paranoid and overprotective, but neither should we be clueless.

These are some of the gaps I noticed in this otherwise excellent book. You can’t say everything anytime you say anything, but these seemed like important things to say.

 

 

Read Full Post »


Making All Things New by David Powlison is largely a view of sexual brokenness and renewal from 20,000 feet.

The book is unusual in that it addresses both groups of the sexual broken, those who sin and those who’ve been sinned against. And the truth of the matter is that those groups have a large overlap. The addicted and the abused not only share a soiled view of sexuality, but the abused can often become addicted in response to their abuse. The time, unfortunately, is not evenly divided. More focus is given to the addicted when he does pull in for a closer look at the problems.

“Our sexuality was designed to be a willing servant of love. It becomes distorted by our willfulness or our fear. It is being remade into a willing servant of love.”

My use of “the addicted and the abused” points to vast amount of similar alliteration in the early chapters. He uses a few literary devices like that to help people get the point. Perhaps adapted from lectures, this stands out early on.

“There is one gospel of Jesus Christ, who came to make saints of all kinds of sinner-sufferers and sufferer-sinners, whatever our particular configuration of defections and distresses.”

Powlison does focus on the big picture of God’s work of renewing our sexuality. This doesn’t mean there isn’t practical advice. There is plenty of that as he swoops down for closer looks.

Some of the most helpful material is in chapter 4 which is appropriate entitled Renewal is Lifelong. There is often pressure, internal, relational and ecclesiastical, to be renewed in short order. While abuse may have taken place in an instant (in some circumstances), the patterns we developed as a result have been developing for years. Patterns of sexual license have developed and been in place for years. These things don’t change overnight.

This is not to be soft on sin, but realistic about sanctification. As a conservative Presbyterian, I’m often discouraged by how often our confessional views are ignored in this area. While God may grant great change at conversion, or thru sanctification, we never arrive to where we should be until glorification. It isn’t just our sexual renewal that will take the rest of our lives but our renewal, period. Therefore, it is more helpful to think of sanctification as a direction. As we think of ourselves, or talk with a congregant, we should focus on direction. Are they wandering or continuing to fight the good fight? Setbacks happen and treating them like the end of the world is one of Satan’s devices to discourage toward depression and despair.

He also is particularly helpful in the next chapter, Renewal is a Wider Battle. We are prone to focus on the sex, the visible sin. His metaphor of a movie theater is helpful. There are other things going on in our lives that, unknown to us, are resulting in sexual temptation or sin. Often sex isn’t just about sex. For instance, we can be disappointed or angry with God and act out sexually. Tracking patterns is one of the useful things he discusses in that chapter and the one that follows, Renewal is a Deeper Battle.

The tendency of individuals and churches, is to focus so much on the sexual aspect that the larger issues in the person’s life go unaddressed. Sex is only the tip of the ice burg. Beneath the surface lie bitterness, envy, anger, betrayal and more.

One thing that isn’t here (it is a short book!) is how early sexualization thru either abuse or chosen experiences inhibit emotional growth. The person suffers relationally as a result. They will often struggle with anger, boundaries etc. Until these areas are addressed they can come across as the children they may be emotionally.

This is a great little book to prompt discussion and help in some big picture items. If you want to get into the trenches resources like The Wounded Heart (and workbook), False Intimacy or Breaking Free are a good place to turn.

Read Full Post »


11001532_10206025186488500_1318611866669102824_oMy mother has Alzheimer’s. She was diagnosed in the Fall of 2013, if I remember correctly. That’s because I went to visit my parents in the summer of 2014 and she was to the point that she didn’t know who I was.

I never got to say ‘good-bye’, at least so she’d know what was happening. It is hard to see a person who looks like your mother, but who doesn’t remember the last 60 or so years of her life. She doesn’t know who my father is, and calls him “The Boss”. The woman I knew is gone.

She lives in fear. She’s always been a fearful person, but there is less of a capacity to deal with her fear. When I visited with the kids she nearly panicked if they were even remotely near the road. But having them play outside was better than having her not letting them play inside (as happened on a previous visit).

It is tough to consider her life. In many ways she had a hard life as a kid. In some ways this made it difficult for her to be a mother, and to be her son. Nothing like Mommie Dearest, but difficult.

She was born in 1936, shortly before WWII. She was the eldest of 9 kids, and the only girl. That had to be difficult. I think that she, as a kid herself, raised some of her brothers. In some ways I’m not sure she had a childhood, or really knew how to be a mature parent. She did the best she could.

That was actually her understanding of life: God expected you to do the best you could. At least that is what she told the Mormon missionary who came to our door when I was a young Christian. I wish this were so since she was a nominal Catholic who did her best to raise us in the Church. I, her last son, was the only one to be confirmed. Having fulfilled her commitment, I was now free to choose whether or not I went to Mass. I didn’t.

As a teenager I felt like the Gerry Cooney of our family- the last Great White Hope. All my parents hopes seemed to be set on me. That is only my perspective. They never said that. But I was the one who went to college. I am the one with advanced degrees.

She also carried secrets. When I graduated from high school we all went out for dinner. She had a little too much wine, and the next thing I knew I heard about a miscarriage. The woman who had 8 brothers, and at the time had 2 sons lost a little girl. If that girl had been born, I wouldn’t have. I know of a few more, but who knows how many secrets she carried until she lost them all.

I struggled as I fell into the family’s sins. There was warning, but no apparent capacity to help me untangle myself from those sins. One of those sins was her sin- she was an angry person. At times my friends and I took a hellish delight in provoking her to anger.

My real struggle was with her apparent lack of boundaries, or at least her inability to respect mine. She thought she was being helpful. I thought she was being intrusive. I loved her, but I wanted her to realize I was an adult. I think she figured that out by the time I got married, when I was 36.

I think this desire to still parent kids drove her for years. She would baby sit for teachers at the school down the street.

Oh, there were positives. She was the saver in the family. She tried to pass that frugality on to us. She made me save my money from the paper route to pay for driver’s education. When I had it all, she only made me pay half of it. That was a bit frustrating, since I could have taken driver’s ed earlier.

Relationships with parents can be complex. As I tried to sort ours out, I didn’t always handle it well. As a young Christian I wanted something better for them than “doing their best.” I wanted her to know the freedom of forgiveness, to stop having to protect those secrets. I was probably disrespectful. At times I pushed. I didn’t understand how authority affects evangelism. They probably had not idea what to do with me. Thankfully they didn’t cast me out after my conversion like a few of my friends did.

Later, while in a counseling degree program I was angry. I withdrew. It was my relationship with my eventual wife that changed it. Family is important to her. I also knew I had plenty of baggage and I didn’t want her to suffer for the sins of others. I began to address my own anger. I began to realize that my parents didn’t have the capacity to understand or own up to certain things. I couldn’t wait for an apology before forgiving them.

I think CavWife was the only daughter-in-law she liked and respected. I think. It was hard since she really didn’t reach out to CavWife. I’m glad she got to hold her granddaughter. I’m glad she got to visit us here in AZ. My kids did not get her sense of humor. Oh, well.

I still deal with the debris, but I’m choosing not to hang on to things.

Another incremental step in her decline presses in. I’m not sure the best path for my father to take. I’m not sure how to support him from 2,000 miles away.

It still makes it difficult to process her absence because it was a complicated relationship. As a result my desire to mourn seems complicated too. And not just because she is here but also isn’t. I reach for thoughts and words but they seem so slippery.  I’m left with memories, conflicting and confusing (at times) memories.

Read Full Post »


Our world is insane about many things. Sin will do that, produce a form of insanity. But when it comes to Sex & Money, our world is really crazy. Paul Tripp’s newest book is about these “pleasures that leave you empty and the grace that satisfies.”

He confesses that this was a very difficult book for him to write, precisely because of what it revealed about his own heart. Really, that is what most of this book is about: the heart. The manifestations of a heart gone astray he’s focused on are sex and money. This is not an easy book to read for the very same reasons- the waywardness of your own heart will be revealed.

“I am sad to think that when it comes to sex and money, we still buy into the legalism that says if we can organize people’s lives, give them the right set of rules, and attach them to efficient systems of accountability, we can deliver people from their sex-and-money insanity. … Few areas of the human struggle reveal more powerfully the sad sinfulness of sin than the sex-and-money evils that are done thousands of times every day.”

He begins the book with a series of scenarios that illustrate our insanity when it comes to sex and money.

  • A fifteen year-old self-appointed expert on oral sex.
  • An 8 year-old boy who is addicted to internet pornography.
  • A married man who masturbates daily.
  • Teachers having sex with under age students (nearly nightly on the news these days).
  • Unemployed high school students bombarded with offers for credit cards.
  • The average amount of consumer debt people carry creating an “anxiety-producing dance debt.”
  • Governments worldwide are deep in debt, near bankruptcy. And their citizens are rioting because they don’t get enough benefits.

And we could go on. You could go on. I know of pastors arrested in “massage parlors”. I know people arrested in the sting operations designed to get men trying to have sex with minors. And these are only what comes out in public. What of the sex and money sins that are still hidden?

“Both offer you an inner sense of well-being while having no capacity whatsoever to satisfy your heart.”

But there is a deeper theological orientation that Tripp wants us to consider: both creation and redemption. He made us sexual beings. He placed us in a world where sex and money issues are unavoidable and significant part of our ordinary experience. You should get the feeling that you are living in your own version of Deuteronomy 8: test, humbled and too often found wanting. Yet…

“The gospel graces us with everything we need to celebrate and participate in both areas of life in a way that honors God and fully enjoys the good things he’s given us to enjoy.”

Tripp moves into the dangerous dichotomy, expanding on the fact that God is Creator. One of the teachings that has done us much harm is that some of life is sacred and some is secular. The fact of creation shows, as Paul says in Colossians 1, that everything was made by God and for God. It is all intended to bring Him glory, and us good. it is all under His rule. A gospel-centered approach starts here because sex and money aren’t the real problem. We are.

(more…)

Read Full Post »