Cutting Room Floor: Interruption – Frameworks & Filters

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IMG_0715 - Version 2We all operate with certain ways of thinking, certain frameworks about what is Christian or not-Christian, what is good or not-good, what is right and wrong and best.

Everyone has these frameworks. Most of the time, they go unexamined. Usually great suffering brings them to the forefront, or great surprises, or great confrontation. We find ourselves asking questions like “If God is so……” or saying things like “I thought that….” or “It’s wrong to…” It’s at these moments that everyone’s a theologian. Not a great theologian, maybe–we probably aren’t all that consistent and are usually pretty blind to our prejudices–but the ways we think about the world and our place in it rise to the surface.

We have theological frameworks that we operate with. How engaged or disengaged God is in our lives, how holy the church should or shouldn’t be, what we should or shouldn’t expect of non-Christians, how we should structure a country economically. The Should’s reveal our theological frameworks.

And we filter life, too. What we hear and see or don’t hear and see, who we allow to influence us or not influence us. Happenstance and chance filter life for us: where we’re born and what language we speak and what climate we live in. The choices our parents and institutions and others around us make filter life for us.

Between the frameworks we live with and the filters that we’re surrounded by, it can be very, very difficult to get to the nuts and bolts of an issue, to get to universals, or objectivity, when it comes to thinking deeply about theological things. And the reason I mention this is that we are all stuck in the molasses of our circumstances, our prejudices, and our philosophies. Frameworks and filters are real, and part of reflecting theologically on life is to take stock of what we’ve accepted as right that isn’t right. This is something that we have to deal with even as we narrate to ourselves our life events, analyze what’s going on, make meaning of life and enact what we see.

We are texts in a context, and we can’t forget this as we enter into the process of making faith-sense of what’s going on in our lives. And if we remember this, we’ll do an important thing, a “must” when it comes to living a theological life, which is to go outside ourselves for counsel.

Post Written by Pastor Rich Hagopian

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Cutting Room Floor: Keep Short Accounts

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IMG_0715 - Version 2On Forgiveness:

Justice, for God’s people, means mercy, forgiveness. If justice is a transaction, forgiveness is the opposite of one. It’s writing off a debt. To forgive is the hardest thing, because to forgive means you absorb the costs that you’re forgiving, it means the loss stays on your books, stays in your heart–until, of course, we take up God’s unending offer of peace and healing, and find it. Forgiveness doesn’t zero things out, right? Do we get this? If I say to you, “All is forgiven.” What I’m saying is, “I’m going to bear the costs of what you did, rather than make you pay me back. The costs are real. But you don’t owe me.” We can’t forgive, can’t show mercy, unless we realize that every act of forgiveness is an act of bearing the costs ourselves, of not demanding payback, whether that’s financial payback, or some meager replacement for the emotional and spiritual costs that we bear.

I’m beating this into the ground because, frankly, for me this was incredibly empowering to own. To forgive means that I bear the costs of your sin against me. I take on the costs, not you. To pray either, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” or “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” is to pray dangerously, because it invites God to use our standards and behavior as his own in dealing with us.

Post Written by Pastor Rich Hagopian

Cutting Room Floor: Love

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IMG_0715 - Version 2When was the last time we said no to that urge to give voice to something that takes away from another person? Because love does this, more than anything else: it makes other people more human than when we found them.

The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference: that what happens to those around us just doesn’t matter. What we say about them just doesn’t matter–who’s going to hear it? What we think about things just doesn’t matter–who’s going to know? What we do with our things just doesn’t matter.

And indifference, at its heart, is the choice to make ourselves more important than anything else, and our opinions, our wants, our needs, our goals, our vision, and our comfort the biggest and brightest things in the constellations of our universe.

But God is anything but indifferent: God is humanizing, because God pays attention to us, and through his attention we are made more human, more real, more persons than we otherwise were. We’re made into children of God because of love.

~ Post Written by Pastor Rich Hagopian

Cutting Room Floor: “Let me talk about guilt, here”

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IMG_0715 - Version 2Sometimes the most dutiful among us are the most guilty-feeling, no matter what’s going on: We feel like we should be doing more, we feel like we should be better than we are, we feel guilty about something, and until we’re sure of what it is, we’ll let that sense of guilt motivate our behavior in all sorts of ways. The Church, any congregation, is codependent in this, too, unfortunately, because guilty people make good volunteers, so, hey, come work it off.

Repentance realizes that our sin has cost us relationships. Feeling guilty is just as often wrapped up in our relationships, too. It’s wrapped up in our relationships in two very different ways, although they end in the same place for we guilty-feeling people. In one case, we’re the actor, the agent, the do-er; in the other, victim, the one acted upon.

In the first case, repentance is “feeling guilty’s” opposite, because repentance takes seriously a situation, a behavioral choice, and the relationship it has affected, and seeks to not do it again because the relationship is just so important to us. Feeling guilty lingers, unattached to any particular thing but affecting everything. If we are people who feel guilty all the time, and we know that it’s related to something we ourselves have done, part of my advice would be to be as specific as possible with your feelings; What is it in our past or our present that we have done that could really use the emotional house-cleaning work of repentance? Do our feelings of guilt have to do with some break in our relationship with God? Or are they related to some alienation we feel toward some other person, even toward ourselves?

“Feeling guilt” is often tied, though, to things we ourselves have never done. We are victims, whether evilly victimized by others, or victims of the capriciousness of the world, of an accident or force of nature. And we can deal with the nature thing, usually; it doesn’t leave us feeling guilty, but to be a victim of another person, to be sinned against, is a difficult, terrible thing. Because we recognize that the relationship was broken; but it wasn’t broken by us. People do come to places of forgiveness, discover in the peace of God and security of self an ability to not hold liable the one who hurt them, because the person can’t pay back what their sin cost anyway. And that forgiveness–which is not reconciliation, a thing that may not be called for at all in the situation–is both enough and basically a miracle. But many of us only inch and creep forward toward a place like that. And for those of us who have had another person hurt us, it is often the case that one of the marks of their hurt is the lie that we ourselves are responsible for it. Yet we aren’t; we can’t fix a relationship we ourselves had no part in breaking. And that lingering regret, that lingering disempowerment, can haunt us with guilty feelings for a very long time, until we come to a place where we can reject the lie that we have done anything wrong at all.

Feeling guilty, remember, is nothing like repentance. We probably think of them as similar, you know, “feeling repentful” and “feeling guilty”, but they aren’t. Guilt is a legal declaration; You’ve broken a law. You deserve to be punished. Feeling as if we’re waiting for punishment is a terrible way to live; feeling as if we’re working of a debt we can’t pay is a terrible way to live, particularly when we have been forgiven, when our debt has been written off. Being made to feel guilty for actions that we ourselves have no responsibility for is a work of the devil, and an evil that can bind us so tightly that we forget we’ve been forgiven at all.

So if we are people prone to feeling guilty, or people who always feel guilty, I would suggest that there’s soul work that needs done in our lives, some work that in our inner being that we need to take up. It may be simply that we need repentance’s specificity, and the release that comes of it; it may mean we have a long road to walk toward healing. If we do, let’s walk it with people wiser than us who we can trust.

~Post written by Rich Hagopian

Cutting Room Floor: Expertise

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IMG_0715 - Version 2There is no way to become an expert at following Christ without also being an expert at living your own life. There’s no way to expertly follow Christ without expertly living your own life.

We can be an expert at all sorts of thing while being more or less absent from huge areas of our lives. We can be a terrible father or mother or spouse, but great at our jobs. We can be excellent parents, but terrible spouses, wonderful neighbors, but ineffectual employees, good students, but bad friends. We can be really good at those areas our subculture rewards–whether it’s work, or school, or church, or whatever–and, in the end, be only good at those things, and little else. We become one-dimensional people, and all those others who are part of our lives outside that one area of expertise suffers for it, and we suffer for it.

But God doesn’t reward us for specializing the way those who flock around our specialties reward us. God doesn’t cheer us on for being excellent parents and terrible employees, excellent friends and terrible spouses. We’re meant to specialize in everything–or nothing at all.

Actually, the language of specialization doesn’t really fit, here. What we’re really talking about, I think, is integrity.

What I mean is this; you can’t specialize when it comes to following Christ. You can’t. You can’t neglect your mouth by focusing on your eyes; you can’t neglect your body by focusing on your soul, you can’t neglect your eyes by focusing on your hands. That which we’ve neglected will find a way to destroy our success. And this is because God doesn’t want our sense of touch to be holy, or taste to be holy, or sight or hearing or smell; God wants us to live caught up in his holiness, aware and thankful for it, and reflecting it in the littlest ways we’re able.

We’re faced with two options. We can throw up our hands because of the pressure, tune out and give up, because it’s just too much. Or we can give into the rewarding work of practice. I’ve been thinking of practicing…

~Post written by Rich Hagopian