Tag Archives: misunderstandings

A Bit of a Restructure

It figures – life gets exceptionally busy, yet my mind finds that it is exceptionally quiet as of late. Well, mostly quiet. One of the hazards of the chaos that goes with being a new homeowner is that it leaves me very little time with which to stay in touch with current events. As a result there hasn’t been much for me to think and ponder on the last couple of weeks, hence the dearth of writing here lately. Of course, that doesn’t mean that my brain is actually inactive. It just means that I’m focusing on a number of _other_ things right now.

I recently read a book called For Women Only at my wife’s request. The book had been loaned to her by one of our friends, and it became a great conversation point for us in clarifying some areas of miscommunication in our relationship. ((You know, a lot of the usual male/female misunderstandings with which we are all familiar.)) Well, I’ve been working on the counterpart to that book, For Men Only and finding quite a lot of useful information there, as well. Once I’m done reading it, then my wife will read it, and we will sit down and compare notes. I also have the opportunity to read through Stephen Lawhead’s Pendragon cycle, so what little free time I have will probably go toward that.

As always, there are _lots_ of stories percolating in my brain demanding my attention. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to do anything more than scribble some quick notes about each, just so I don’t forget the basic storyline, and hope that I will be able to get back to them at some point in the near future and put them down on paper.

I’m also doing a little bit of a restructure on my website. I’ve added a wiki in order to catalogue some hard-to-find bits of information, and I am eventually going to replace the portal on my “main page”:http://www.open-dialogue.com with something else that will make it much easier to access my forum, wiki, and blogs. This all takes time to set up, of course, and what little free time I get at work has been going toward that endeavor.

Respect for What’s Important

bq. If you can’t laugh about your religion or personal beliefs on occasion then you need to take a serious look at what it means to you. You can find humor in any situation.

I ran across this quote earlier today, and it gave me pause. A lot of non-religious folk quip and make jokes (or simply snide remarks or witticisms) about various religions, laughing to each other over the punch line and nudging each other in the side as they watch the people about whom the joke was made vent and fume and react with offense. Then, they can’t understand why these people get so upset over what was so obviously a joke, telling them that they really need to learn how to have a sense of humor. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard this recently. Person A cracks joke about Person B. Person B gets offended and responds with words to that effect. Person A puts up his hands and says, Now hold on, pardner, itwasjustajoke. Person B is not placated because he cannot see any way in which the joke was funny. Person A chalks Person B off as being an extremist or having an underdeveloped sense of humor (or both).

What we actually have here is a failure for both parties to understand each other.

For Person A, who made the offensive joke, he fails to understand that Person B’s religious beliefs are _very_ important to him. They are, in fact, an integral part of Person B’s way of life. When Person B hears Person A making the joke about his own beliefs, what he hears is someone ridiculing and mocking his beliefs. What Person A is saying, by implication, is that Person B’s beliefs are stupid and childish. Even if Person B doesn’t know Person A from a stranger on the street, Person B is still hurt on a personal and emotional level because no one likes to be told that their beliefs are stupid, particularly when such a message is communicated via mockery. That mockery stings and hurts, and most people placed in such a situation are going to react defensively in some manner or another. What Person A fails to understand is just how important Person B’s beliefs are to him. Yet, when the roles are reversed, Person A reacts with offense whenever Person B (or Persons C, D, E…) make jokes about a belief that Person A holds particularly dear. Person A cannot find anything funny about Person B’s joke, just as Person B could not find anything funny about Person A’s joke. In both instances, the belief joked about was held dear by the joke’s ‘victim’, making it no laughing matter for that person. Unfortunately, Person A gripes about how unfair Person B’s joke was, often forgetting about how unfair his own joke about Person B was. Person B, on the other hand, fails to grasp how unimportant his own beliefs are to Person A and forgets that he should not take Person A’s joke personally. So Person B ends up reacting in a way that does little to make the situation better.

Sure, it hurts to have others make fun of you for your beliefs. But unfortunately, it is also a part of life. Lashing out because you feel hurt is not usually a good way to handle the situation and, in fact, typically only serves to justify the point of the joke. If you are going to address the joke at all, ignore the joke itself and discuss the _point_ of the joke. Make a good discussion about it, and don’t let yourself get all up in arms about it.

Water off a duck’s back, as they say.

Oil & Water

It is impossible to be arrogant and have wisdom. The presence of pride precludes the presence of wisdom. Pride suggests to the individual that he already knows everything he needs to know, that he already sees as clearly as it is possible to see, that his insight is clear and complete. The individual, therefore, does not seek the wisdom and advice of others, or if he does, he does not really listen to the wisdom of others, unless it matches the conclusion he has already reached, because he believes his perspective to already be perfect.

Arrogant people are prone to miscommunications, believing as they do that they always have a complete understanding of what other people are about, what other people mean to communicate. They assume implied meanings to other people’s communication, reading insults and slanderings where there are none. This is because arrogance often comes at a price, even though the individual does not know it. Despite the arrogance, despite the overpowering self-confidence, arrogant people are also usually extremely self-conscious and insecure, harboring fears and worries that their braggadocio attempts to cover. They fear failure, they fear rejection, and to compensate they boast and swagger and claim wisdom and insight where there is none, mocking those who they view as having no wisdom, all in the effort to prove to everyone else how valuable they are and how worthy they are of love and attention.

Everyone but the prideful knows the truth, however, knows that wisdom and insight are figments of the individual’s mind, that the individual is, in fact, a fool, made all the more so by his continued attempts to prove his value and worth.

I know about these things — I have often been the one who is prideful and arrogant.

bq. When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. Prov. 11:2

Living On the Fringes

It is the extremists of any major religion that end up giving the whole a bad reputation. Bad news travels more quickly than good news does, and poor behavior is more easily remembered and available to memory than is good behavior. So what typically ends up happening is that the whole organization gets placed under the banner of those who make the most noise, even though they are not necessarily a representative sample of that population. Christians are often perceived as hateful, unforgiving bigots because there are many who are exactly that. Note, however, that I did not say ‘majority’ or ‘most’ because it has been my own experience that, in general, those who call themselves Christian do strive to live up to the compassionate, forgiving ideals of the Bible and of Christ’s teachings. The same goes, as I understand it, for those of the Muslim faith. The vast majority are a peace-loving people, and those who perform heinous acts of murder and bombing are the fringe extremists, just as are those Christians who bomb abortion clinics, twisting the ideals of their religion into a perverted distortion of the actual. In the process they give the entire faith a black eye, and the world sees the whole as being just like the extremists.

So, the question becomes then, what underlies these fringe, extreme groups? What drives them to justify horrible acts and behaviors that are counter to the basic tenets of belief that define the faith they claim to espouse? Ultimately, I can only conclude that they are flawed people, just like the rest of us, who, whether through willful disobedience or through genuine ignorance, misunderstand the teachings of their religious system in such a way as to justify hatred and murder. They are the people who lack the personal discipline to control their emotional impulses, who act on their base desires, rather than striving to live up to a higher ideal of morality. They are the people who pick and choose which parts of their canon to abide by, rather than understanding that the bits they follow are parts of a whole and cannot be separated from it without ending up, by definition, with a completely different set of beliefs. They are the people who were already angry and bitter, who found a system of belief that was attractive to them and fit at least somewhat with their own preconceived notions of how the world should operate. They are the people who then twisted the system of belief to fit their own ideals, rather then reshaping their own ideals to fit the system. In so doing they found justification and an outlet for the violence already in their hearts, and by acting upon that violence, then sullied the name and reputation of the group they claimed to be a part of. Christians who bomb abortion clinics or express hatred, bigotry, and superiority to those not like them are Christian only in name; they are not Christian in actuality because anyone who truly understands the teachings of the Bible would not perform the sorts of behaviors that these extremists tend toward. Similarly, Muslims who fly planes into buildings and strap bombs to themselves and blow up a group of children, and who decapitate innocent victims are Muslim in name only; they do not represent the Muslim faith at large or the teaching of the Qu’ran and do more harm to people of that faith than good. These extremists cannot and should not be called Christian or Muslim, even though they call themselves that. They should be called murderers and hatemongers and should be separated, both in name and in deed, from the whole of the groups that they claim to be part of. Yet, perhaps because it is convenient to do so, they continue to be categorized into the group by the population at large, thereby stereotyping the whole by the deeds of the few. Unfair? You bet. But stereotyping is easy and convenient, even if it is at times unfair and makes it harder for those with the true ideals of their beliefs to communicate them. It is a challenge, no doubt, and that is why unity of the whole is necessary in order to overcome the misdeeds of the few.

Finding Our Way to Clear, Accurate Communication

I’m reminded again of just how important clear communication is. I actually had my employment with my temporary services agency terminated a couple of days early due to what ended up being a pretty major miscommunication. (My contract was to expire at the end of this week, anyway, since I start my new job at Purdue on Monday.) What started simply as an erroneous assumption became something more significant because people failed to listen appropriately and failed to say what they actually meant.

Communication is a 4-part exercise — Person A has to listen, Person B has to clearly articulate the message, Person A then has to clearly articulate in response, and Person B has to then listen to that response. If even just one part of this process breaks down, the message fails to be communicated effectively, oftentimes leading to uncomfortable or angry confrontations.

The philosophy of our politically correct culture doesn’t always help the process of communication. We have attempted to remove, in the name of fairness and sensitivity, all language that would be offensive, that would potentially hurt someone else’s feelings. Negative language has been pushed aside as much as possible because we don’t want to give cause for anyone to feel bad about themselves (or about us). What we end up with is a form of dialogue that beats around the bush without always finding its way to the point. Verbal exchange hints at and implies actual meaning, as we find ways to soften our words.

What’s sad and frustrating about this is that, in a discussion of two, one may walk away feeling like good, productive discussion was had while the other is left feeling confused and unclear about the resolution. The former may think the message was communicated and that the job will get done properly, and the latter may either wonder what the job is supposed to be or think he knows what it is and do it, only to find out later that the actual job was something completely different. Or the former may communicate his dislike for the latter, only using terms that are ‘warm’ and ‘non-confrontational’, which may leave the latter thinking he is well-liked and appreciated. The possible combinations for confusion are endless.

No one likes confrontation, and most people will do anything to avoid it, if possible. Where one runs into trouble, however, is when confrontation is unavoidable. Rather than facing it openly, honestly, and humbly, one might couch his words in softer language, which, in turn, may not communicate the concerns or criticisms as effectively.

Honesty is a virtue, however much it may hurt sometimes. The real world tends to be harsh and cruel, and while we as communicators can avoid behaving similarly, we can still speak honestly and openly in a way that speaks actual feelings and thoughts, rather than shadows of the same. Smoke and mirrors have no place in communication (unless your intent _is_ to deceive). Where possible speak plainly, speak clearly, and speak with a frankness that, althought possibly uncomfortable, is clear, concise, and precise. Add to that the skill of listening as others are speaking, hearing what is said, what is implied, and what is left unspoken, and you will find, rather than a foe, a great friend in open communication.

Response to a Blog

You can find the blog in question here. Discussion can be found here.

*sigh*

Once again, it is the hatred, ignorance, and bigotry of the fanatical minority that earns the vast majority an undeserved label and stigma. It is exactly because of this reaction that I sometimes wish to distance myself from those people who call themselves Christians, yet somehow use those beliefs to justify their hatred and bitterness toward anyone who does not believe exactly like them.

Unfortunately, the instances of behavior cited in this blog are examples of people who have little to no understanding of the Scripture and of the work of Christ. The author himself demonstrates his complete unfamiliarity with the teachings of the Bible (and historical and
archaeological evidence), yet somehow considers himself informed enough to comment. Seems ironic to me, somehow.

I understand and appreciate the fact that Christians are going to be hated by the world. I have accepted the inevitable. People simply do not like to be told that they are sinners, that their self-indulgent behaviors are wrong and damaging, that ultimately a life lived without God is a complete waste, utter vanity. And as such, they voice their scorn and exercise their displeasure at every point possible. They do hold valid points, so far as they go — there are some Christians who obviously violate the teachings of their own belief system. They are the only ones, however, who ever make headlines, who anyone ever hears about. As a result the entire Christian faith is characterized by those few individuals who really messed up. It’s not fair, but it is the way it is.

The rest of us have to work ten times harder to share our faith. Persecution increases, though in the US we have yet to see it escalate to physical violence. Partly, we as Christians have brought this on ourselves; partly, it is the ‘natural’ order of things as we share a message that many simply do not wish to hear. The only way for Christians to overcome the stigma assigned to us is to be even more open and obvious in our lifestyles about the TRUE message of Christianity, so that those who hate in the name of Christ are exposed as the true minority. We must share our Message, we must love more strongly than others can hate, we must sacrifice and serve and care so that others can see that Christ truly is the Son of God and that God
is, in actuality, a God of love and justice.

It is things like this article that sometimes make me wonder if we as Christians have a chance of influencing the world for Christ. Yet, I am reminded that we cannot change the world all once. It can only be changed one person at a time, and sometimes I feel like that is much
too slow for me. But Christ’s focus was always on the relationship, and so to change the world, we must have relationship with those of the world and demonstrate Christ’s love through that relationship.

Using Statistics in Christian Ministry

Interesting factoid: Statistics are better and more accurate predictors of human behavior than estimations of human behavior based on ‘known’ facts. For instance, I can say that so-and-so will do such-and-such a thing because I have seen examples of people doing such things. I’m basing my judgment on anectodal evidence. The problem with anectodal evidence is that it is just that — anecdotal. My own observations are very, very limited and generally do not reflect true trends.

There are all kinds of organizations, companies, and agencies in the world at large that do nothing but collect statistics on human behavior. One such area where research of this kind is extremely useful is in the social sciences, specifically psychology and counseling. Counselors are beginning to rely more and more on statistics in predicting patient/treatment outcome because it has been shown that these numbers are better at prediction than are our own estimations. An example of this is predicting that a patient is going to relapse into former unhealthy behaviors, even though current treatment is going very well, because the numbers indicate that the vast majority of patients similar to this one have themselves relapsed. Such knowledge gives the counselor a heads-up and gives them the opportunity to head the problem off and try a different tack to avoid the relapse itself.

Many Christians I know cringe when they see statistics used in this way. The general notion as I perceive it is that these statistics tend to remove or negate man’s free will, placing him into a box and taking away his ability to control his own actions. The fear here, I think, is that the use of statistics in the helping professions will prove our methods useless and redundant, that they will prove that man has no choice but to act in such ways, that all our work and effort
is, ultimately, in vain. The fundamental misunderstanding here is, however, that while statistics predict accurate future behavior, they in no way influence behavior itself. Statistics are simply
descriptive and serve certain purposes in the helping professions.

This all leads me to wonder how much of a role statistics plays in Christian ministries. I am sure that there are organizations out there that gather such data, analyze it, organize it, and deliver it to churches, ministries, and various similar Christian agencies, but I am personally unaware of such groups. Organizations like Focus on the Family and Crisis Pregnancy Centers undoubtedly collect data to some extent, but I wonder how much of that is used to write and publish reports and journals that would be useful to the Christian community at large. Since my Master’s degree is in psychology and my background and area of interest is in research, data collection, and analysis, I have a vested interest in finding or establishing an organization that conducts surveys, tests, and the like and uses the resultant data in a meaningful way to aid the Christian community in outreach. So, if anyone has heard of such organizations (or has
money to throw toward funding research grants), I would love to hear about it. It would be very cool to put my particular skills and interests to work for the furtherance of the work of God.

Postscript: 2 Peter has a lot of good stuff! I may write a bit about it in the near future…

Say What?!

Communication seems to be something of a lost art these days. I find that when communication breaks down, the cause is either that someone simply failed to communicate or that someone didn’t quite know how to communicate. The solution to the first cause is relatively simple — just do it. The solution to the second poses a bit more of a challenge. Breakdown in written communication is typically due to a lack of knowledge and/or skill at the mechanics of writing
(something I will not go into here since, for most of us, grammar, punctuation, and spelling was beaten into us in high school English classes). Breakdown in verbal communication is a horse of another color, however. Here’s an example:

I briefly interacted with a gentleman this afternoon (about a 5-minute conversation). We started out on common ground (and common understanding), but when I walked away a few moments later, I felt a bit chagrined to realize I had no idea about what it was he ended up
talking. Somehow, in those few, brief moments of conversation, he had managed to completely lose me so that I wasn’t quite sure what point he had made (and he had made a point, as was apparent by the look of satisfaction on his face at the end of the conversation).

Looking back on that conversation, I realized, at least in part, what contributed to the breakdown in communication — he had completely skipped over the explanation of certain assumptions and background information in his haste to make his point before we parted ways. This left me thinking that he was talking about one thing when, in reality, he was talking about a related, but different, thing.

American culture moves with increasing rapidity these days. We find better and more effective shortcuts for just about everything. What’s interesting to me is that we have as yet to find a more effective shortcut for good communication. The pace of culture does seem to have an effect on communication (though I would definitely love to see some stats on this). We have less time to do everything and more activities crammed into the same 24 hours. As a result, communication tends to suffer and misunderstandings occur (and we’ve all experienced the effects of that). Good communication requires conscientiousness on behalf of the communicator (not to mention good listening skills on the part of the listener) and requires the communicator to take the time necessary to 1) make sure the effort is actually made to communicate, 2) make sure the appropriate groundwork was laid upon which to build conversation, and 3) make sure the subsequent message was communicated adequately and clearly. In effect, good communication requires slowing down a little and paying attention to the little nuances of effective dialogue, something that few of us have yet to master.

Look Before You Leap (or, Make Sure You Know What You’re Talking About Before You Speak)

I love irony. Right up until the point where it teaches me something about myself that I’d really rather not know.

I was laid low this morning by a singular realization. I love the written word. I love the way it can express a thought with an array of color, a depth of emotion, and a transcendance of thought. I love the way the written word gives me time and opportunity to fully articulate a thought, to express it the way I really mean to. The irony is this — in writing a response to a thought or an idea, I don’t always take the time to make sure I understand the original point. I sometimes find myself simply reacting rather than addressing the intended point, and in the process I end up missing the point altogether. I forget to ask the question, What is he/she saying here? Instead, I end up simply asking, albeit unconsciously, How can I react to this? What thoughts are spurred by what this individual is saying? I really need to learn to pay more attention, to ask the right questions, and to answer in kind. I need to be more thoughtful in my responses, in my interactions with others, because failure to do so can potentially cause great harm, embarrassment, and shame.

I need to learn wisdom.

Misunderstanding the Gospel

I am of the opinion that the Gospel is the single most misunderstood topic in the history of mankind (even among Christians themselves). It has incited Crusades of death and persecution and yet has inspired millions to give their lives to Christ.

The most current example of this misunderstanding is the criticism of the release of The Passion of the Christ. One news periodical criticizes the movie harshly, saying, “The Reporter also says that the movie’s violence is so intense and more important than character development that audiences may have trouble with that.” I’ve not yet seen the movie (though I hope to this weekend), but the point of this particular movie is NOT to provide quality character development or shield us from the violence of that moment in history. Quite the opposite in fact. It is to show us the very graphic nature of what Christ went through to atone for our sins. And quite frankly, if you want character development, take some time to read through the Gospels for the complete view of Christ and his earthly ministry.

A local talkshow host advocated the movie during his broadcast last night, pointing out that many of the critics of this movie have yet to see it. His advice to said critics was to go see the movie and then form an opinion. And while he advocated the movie and was so close to being correct, he was also soFAR from being correct. He made the statement that Gibson’s goal in producing this movie was marketing and that local churches also are using it as marketing to get people into the pews. This is both correct and not correct (and here is a facet of the misunderstanding). On one hand, it is marketing insofar as it is intended to draw people. But that is NOT the primary goal. The primary goal is to share the Gospel, using a clear depiction of what Christ went through in His final hours to drive home the weight of that moment that has forever impacted and changed history. This is the thing that the unsaved world simply cannot understand. It is not marketing that we care about — it is souls. We desire to bring others to Christ so that they, too, may be spared from eternal damnation, as we have been. And the ONLY reason this movie has been so criticized so harshly even before its official release is because it is a religious movie, and a Christian religious movie at that. No one complains about the intense violence and lack of character development in a Jean Claude Van Damme movie (or any other movie or television show, for that matter).

..edit.. This website is a prime example of the Christian contribution to the misunderstanding of the Gospel. While I respect this organization’s attempt to exhort and correct a perceived wrong, it is Christian ‘wackos’like these who inspire hate and disgust of all those who bear the name of Christ while at the same time taking the Scriptures out of context in order to suit their own purposes and interpretations of the Bible. And it is exactly this kind of ‘Christian’ that makes me want to distance myself from everyone who claims to be a follower of Christ so as to avoid tainting my own ministry to others and to cleanse this bitter taste from my mouth.