Random thoughts on faith, culture and hope

Over the past few days I have had an interesting conversation with some of the people I love and respect the most about the people in our lives who drive us crazy.  We all have them so it was helpful to hear how my band mates as well as wife and daughter make sense of this challenge.  It would seem that their are four broad categories of people who make us nuts:  colleagues, customers, family and strangers. 

+ The exploration started while we were setting up our equipment before Thursday's jazz gig when someone said, "Have you ever been playing and having a blast when you notice that somebody in the audience doesn't like you?  You don't know why - everybody else seems to in the groove - but this one soul has copped a clear attitude and is sending you looks like daggers?"  We all agreed we've experienced this and wondered why:  why would a stranger decided YOU were a problem?  (This hasn't happened so much in the jazz band I think mostly because we're such a "happy machine of good vibes" that we just overwhelm any negativity with beauty and laughter.  But when I played coffee houses back in the day - or solo gigs in a bar - every now and again there was a heckler who was a real pain in the ass!)  Who knows why this happens, but every performer I've ever met knows what this is like and is equally mystified. 

+ The conversation took a new form over a late family dinner the next night, too. I noted that for me - my customers and strangers - took the form of church members and guests, so it was both professionally unacceptable and theologically offensive to treat trouble makers the way I learned as a child.  Given my family of origin, my preferred way of handling conflict was to either run away and avoid the hassles - like moving to California - or else run them over in anger like a tank.  You know, the whole a good defensive is a strong offense strategy, right?  But we agreed that not only was this not such a winning strategy for a church - or a business - but that there have to be better ways of protecting your boundaries and integrity while being open and compassionate.

Some people are masters. One of my dearest mentors in ministry, Ray Swartzback, used to say:  "Lord, we love all your children and want them to with your forever - we just pray that some go home sooner rather than later!"  I've tried to use that approach and it works with some people.  I've also learned to trust Jesus' admonition not to triangulate:  "If you have a problem... take it to the source."  No gossipping or carping allowed. And if someone at church tells me about a problem with somebody else, I have to insist:  take it to the source before you talk to me about it.  Now even my church council embraces it as a way to minimize complaining.  Most people won't take the time to solve their own problems - and it doesn't advance the cause of Christ or the healing of culture to do their heavy-lifting - so we don't do their work for them.  Praying the Serenity Prayers is essential, too.

But no matter how good we work our professional boundaries and mental/spiritual health, someone still gets through it all and just rubs you raw.  An old friend from my Cleveland school board days - along with the wise old psychedelic sage Don Juan - used to call them "petty tyrants" who are put in our lives to help us learn to really let go and grow stronger.  Not easy or quick, but essential for the long haul, yes?  They will rob your soul - and steal your time and energy - if you let them.  How did this man put it:  "Even Jesus has his Judas, ok, so why should you expect any less?"

With the trouble-makers on TV, we can turn off the sound.  With the problem-makers in our families, we can make wise use of telephone answering machines.  But you can't escape hecklers or soul-bandits or just those souls who don't know how to NOT be a pain in our places of work or ministry.  For them, nothing is better than friends and colleagues who know how to share and love us - and offer a guiding light when needed.  James Taylor and Carol King got it right...

"You're blessed," the Sermon on the Mount begins, "when you're at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule."

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