No Sins But Our Own

More and more I become convinced that the biggest problem we have in American culture is our obsession with any sin that isn’t our own.

Cecil the Lion. Planned Parenthood. Barack Obama. Donald Trump. The entire GOP presidential field.

I get caught up in the hysteria. I’ve tweeted out things about certain cultural phenomena in an haughty, contemptuous way that only serves to reveal my self-ignorance. It’s a human reflex to see clearly the issue in someone else’s life while ignoring the massive dysfunction in your own.

But lately I’ve come to feel disgusted with myself when I point out the fallibility in others. I think of funny things all the time and normally don’t hesitate to share them; but lately, I find myself thinking more and more about the targets of my jokes. I think about their humanity. I think about what made them the way they are. I think about the burden some of them experience, of living under the never-ending spotlight.

That gets me thinking about myself. How would I hold up under scrutiny?

Truth is, I’m not sure. I know there would be plenty of people happy to take shots at the way I spend my time or my money, plenty of folks happy to pick apart everything from my choice of wardrobe to my choice of restaurants. I know there would be plenty of people just waiting for their chance to point out my stumbles and shout their disagreement with venomous glee.

I know this because it happens in everyday life anyway.

“You let your kids eat a McDonald’s?”

“Personally, I think anyone who buys non-organic milk is just abusing their children.”

“I would never allow my children to play in a public pool. Too many germs.”

Once upon a time we were a society that focused more on personal development within ourselves. We honored self-improvement. We praised folks who worked hard and overcame obstacles. We held people up for achieving things we had not yet attempted because they inspired us to want more.

Now we just tear folks down to our level. We don’t celebrate successes, we celebrate sins, because if there’s one thing we all know how to do equally well it’s screw things up. So we watch others. We wait. And when they succumb to being human, we pounce and pull down the rafters.

It’s easier to tear down someone else’s home than build our own.

And in a perverse way, we end up taking responsibility for the sins of others. We end up enabling the very destruction we celebrate, all because we get a kick out of the whole cycle. It sounds trite, but it’s true: if we would quit watching the Kardashians, the Duggers, the whomevers, they would fade away.

The same is true of the people around you. If we’ll quit looking for the sins of others, those sins will fade from our awareness. That’s not to say those folks will stop screwing up (they are human, after all), but we will stop looking for it.

And it’s a funny thing: when you quit looking for other people’s mistakes, when you quit obsessing over other people’s sins, two things happen. One, you start noticing things in your own life that need work, and two, you start developing a sense of compassion for others.

And that’s the key: we can’t have compassion for others if all we look for are their mistakes. And we can’t live our own lives to the fullest if we are too busy obsessing over someone else’s issues.

We are responsible for no sins but our own. That’s not to say we ignore evil when we see, or don’t confront sin when it bursts into our lives; we should be outraged at things like Planned Parenthood selling the body parts of aborted children or a sudden resurgence in the KKK.

But that outrage will only mean something, will only have resonance, if it doesn’t flow from our mouths and keyboards in a constant stream. Think of it this way: my kids know when I’m upset because I don’t talk and act upset all the time. In fact, I spend most of my words encouraging them, loving them, asking them questions and letting them know how much I truly love them.

Thus, it is the rarity of my anger that provides it power.

Jesus was the same way. He didn’t hesitate to call out sin, and there’s only one instance of him flipping tables. Christ spent the majority of his ministry speaking truthfully in love, calling people to God’s best by living it out himself.

His, it would seem, is a much better way.

Keep the Train Rolling

This week I’m participating in Seth Godin’s #YourTurnChallenge. My goal is to blog everyday this week (Mon-Sun) here on my site as well as on the challenge’s official Tumblr blog. Here’s my Day 4 submission.

Today is my 39th birthday. One year away from 40.

I wrestle most days with feeling like a failure. The definition of success I learned growing up (marriage, family, steady job, plenty of money) hasn’t played out in my life. I’m almost 40 and still starting over in so many ways.

But then I stop and think:

  • I am a husband to a wonderful wife, Rachel.
  • I am daddy to two beautiful children, Ella and Jon, and a third, Ruthanne, who waits for me in heaven.
  • We have a beautiful home.
  • We have nice cars.
  • I have a wide and wonderful assortment of friends.
  • I rock Twitter.
  • I get paid to do what I do best: communicate (both written and verbal).
  • I’ve recorded and released an album with two of my closest friends.
  • I’ve written over 365 radio programs that still air to this day on 1700 radio stations worldwide (not to mention podcast downloads).
  • I’ve written and directed three short films, and won a Telly award for one of them.
  • I’ve written and published 5 books.
  • I’ve started three blogs, two websites, and one company.
  • I’ve pastored a church that was dying, and helped it not only die with dignity but give over $300,000 away to deserving causes as a last act.
  • I’ve performed over 30 marriages, many of those being the marriages of students who sat under my teaching and mentoring.
  • I’ve been privileged to write for a Fortune 500 company, a multi-national leadership firm, one of the nation’s largest churches, one of my community’s finest charities, and countless other people whose vision deserved to be shared.
  • I’ve interviewed entrepreneurs, civic leaders, spiritual leaders, and other interesting people and been privileged to share their stories with the public via magazine articles.

All of that by 39. Sure there are folks who’ve achieved more–but there are those who’ve achieved less. It’s not a competition anyway.

But more than all I’ve achieved, I’ve come to realize what I’m proudest of is that we–my wife, my kids and myself–keep looking for the next thing. The next step. The next challenge. We may fail, but as my wife is fond of saying, “We’re going to keep the train rolling.”

We don’t know what tomorrow holds, but we know this: if we win today, tomorrow will take care of itself.

It’s taken me 39 years to understand just what that means. Here’s to another 39 (and more) to keep living it the best I can.

Change the Game

If the purpose of your business, organization, church or personal platform is discover and engage new audiences, then chances are you need to change your game.

Content must be continually refreshed if you want it to find a new audience. What captures the imagination today isn’t what captured it yesterday. True, there will always be folks who appreciate your approach, but if you’re looking to expand, you have to move beyond the same old stuff.

And let me add this: if you really hope to capture an audience, insulting them–or vilifying them–won’t work either. If you attack the audience they’ll never hear what you have to say. But you have to decide if you’re okay with that transaction.

You don’t have to change your message, but you have to change your approach.

In a Boat With a Tiger

ImageLast night Rachel and I watched the Oscar winning film, “Life of Pi.” It was a homework assignment given to me by my friend, Kevin, who forbade us from any more coffee get-togethers until I’d seen the flick. I picked it up from Redbox on Blu-Ray, we put the kiddos to bed, and we settled down to watch…

…well, we didn’t know, exactly.

I mean, we both knew it was about a guy in a boat with a tiger, but we weren’t sure of much beyond that. I knew that the visuals were supposed to be remarkable and unlike anything anyone had ever seen, but I had no sense of the plot. Kevin had given me a bit of a hint – as had his girlfriend, Kristin – but knowing that a movie has something to do with God doesn’t quite constitute a spoiler alert.

So when the first five minutes of the movie were slow pans of various animals inside some sort of sub-tropical jungle/zoo-type-enclosure-thingy, Rachel turned to me and said, “I thought this was about a guy and a tiger.”

“It is,” I said. “But I have no idea how it gets there from here.”

I really didn’t have any idea how the crux of the story – Pi on the boat with a tiger named, strangely enough, Richard Parker – came about. And I certainly wasn’t prepared for the journey. If you’ve not seen the movie I won’t spoil it for you, but it was moving and heart-wrenching and had me rooting for the boy with the unusual name the entire time.

In fact, the plot of the movie wasn’t what really captivated me. It rang true, even with its fantastical elements, and that was what mattered; you can watch a good movie with a great plot and not have it say something to your heart. While the story was fantastic, Life of Pi is powerful precisely because it says something about the nature of faith and the struggle we all endure to make sense of our lives on a daily basis. In Pi, plenty of people find a doppleganger: a person who, as a result of growing up in a multi-cultural world, has a powerful faith in God – be it Vishnu, Christ, or Allah.

Pi isn’t someone whose faith tradition was simply handed to him; he comes to believe the various things he believes because of his own search for meaning and purpose. He seeks out God in so many places because he believes God may be found. He sees the hand of God in places others can’t be bothered to look. And while I may not subscribe to the polytheistic ecumenism that Pi embraces, I can certainly say that the desire to believe in something, to see the majestic at work in my life, is a longing I can identify with.

Being adrift in a boat with a tiger isn’t a perfect metaphor for everything, but it’s apt for where my family finds itself right now. We are at the mercy of God’s hand; we are moved by His leading; we are aware that the danger before is also something of terrible beauty. And like Pi, we’re simply looking to come ashore somewhere safe. I can’t remember when a movie collided with my life so perfectly.

Is it for everyone? Nope. There are plenty of people who won’t be able to get past the fact that Pi, born in India, doesn’t stick with one religion over another. Others won’t be able to swallow the admittedly dream-like story. But for those who are looking for something undefinable, something outside the normal channels, this might be a movie for you.

I can’t promise it will say anything to you, but I can tell you that it stuck with me in quiet ways; long after I’ve returned the movie to Redbox, I’ll still be thinking about the visuals, and the story, and the power of a heart that is open to life’s great moments, no matter how they arrive. For that, I am grateful.