April 30th, 2009

Four Rules

I mentioned this on Twitter yesterday, but yesterday I was in a group of guys that were discussing the “Four Rules of Communication.” It’s a well-known topic at our church, and it happened to come up in our normal study schedule.

Here are the Four Rules of Communication:

  1. Be honest
  2. Keep current
  3. Attack the problem not the person
  4. Act, don’t react

The idea behind these rules is that every human relationship will run into rough spots, disagreements, and plain old outright fights. While those things can’t be avoided, these rules can help the rough spots be smoother. The rules are designed to solve problems.

Be honest – Makes sense. You can’t solve problems if the problems aren’t being presented as they are. Solving fake problems doesn’t help anyone.

Keep current – This one has two elements to it. First, the idea is to deal with things as they come up. If you dwell on something and let it fester for months, the problem multiplies and gets harder to fix. The second part is letting go of the past. If a problem has been brought up and dealt with and forgiveness has been granted, don’t bring it up again in future discussions. “I can’t trust you in this situation because of what you did in that situation, even though I forgave you for it” doesn’t work.

Attack the problem not the person – Again, just makes sense. Calling into question the other person’s abilities or calling them names will make them defensive and make the situation even more thorny than it already was. Our pastor likes to say, “Problems were meant for solving,” and if you’re attacking the other person, you’re not working on solving the problem.

Act, don’t react – This is the one I have the hardest time understanding, but I think it has more to do with dealing with the actual issues, not reacting to the symptoms or hurt feelings. I’m going to react to things differently when I’m tired or sick or excited or in a good mood, so reactions aren’t a good judge of “what needs to happen.” Acting on what I know is the better way.

I wish I could remember everything that we discussed. The guys had some good insight that I know I’m forgetting here. It’s always a challenge to me when the subject comes up because I know I’m not the best communicator. I avoid problems and hope they go away, and that isn’t right. I need to learn how to meet problems head-on and deal with them.

The Bible is full of all kinds of practical advice alongside its spiritual guidelines. I think the four rules stand on their own pretty well, but in case you’re interested, they are based on Ephesians 4:25-32:

Therefore, laying aside falsehood, SPEAK TRUTH EACH ONE of you WITH HIS
NEIGHBOR, for we are members of one another.
BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

April 7th, 2009

Passion Week

Every year my church puts on the Lafayette Passion Play. We rent out a theater downtown and perform the three nights before Easter Sunday.  It is a major undertaking, requiring more than a hundred people to pull it off every night. This is the twentieth year the church has presented the play.  A version of the play will generally be performed for three years, and then a new version is done.  This is the first year for this new version.

The general method is to present the Biblical story with a modern-day frame story to present it.  In past years the frame story has been set in a college dormroom, an office breakroom, and even a tour of the Holy Land.  This year the “modern” part is set in the late 1940’s, with a town presenting their own Passion Play.  The set is built on a revolving stage, so the audience will see the backstage of that town’s play, with that town’s actors interacting while also presenting their Passion Play.  I may be too close to it, but I think it’s a really neat idea, and some of the scene changes I’ve seen are really cool.

I tend to subject my acting to the same overly-harsh criticisms I subject pretty much any acting to, so while I don’t really feel I’m well-suited to the job, it is something I like to do, and being willing is half the battle, I guess.  When I tried out, it was just a general try-out, not for any specific part.  Later that week, the director contacted me about whether or not I’d be interested in playing the part of the the actor who plays Jesus.  I eventually agreed, but I felt very strange about it.

The whole process has continued to be strange, and not just because I’ve been letting my beard and hair grow out.  I’m very familiar with the life and teachings of Jesus, but to take those things on as a role puts it in a different light for me.  I’ve always been concerned about what He said, but now I’ve been looking at how and why as well, and it’s been very interesting for me.  During this same time, I’ve also been reading through A Harmony of the Gospels, which presents the first four books of the New Testament side-by-side and in chronological order. That has helped me to see things I hadn’t before, and given me a better overall view of the life of Christ.

The most stressful part of the process for me has been memorizing lines.  I’m not as young as I once was, and the memorization isn’t as easy as it used to be!  On top of that, the lines I say as Jesus come directly from the Bible, and … well, let’s just say I don’t want to be putting words into Jesus’s mouth that He didn’t say!

The play is this week, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night.  It is a good lead-in to Easter Sunday, a reminder of what we celebrate.  This week is a lot of work, but it will ultimately be worth it.

If you follow me on Twitter or are a friend on Facebook, you’ve already seen me post this.  This is the commercial we made to promote the Passion Play, and it is airing on our local channel this week.

If you’re in the area, I invite you to come see the play.  Tickets are free and are available for reserve by calling the church at 765.448.1986. If you come, make sure to say hi after the play!

March 25th, 2009

The Lottery

If you’ve taken any American Lit classes at all, there’s about a 98.2% chance that you’ve read “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson. It’s a great little twisted story and it’s full of all kinds of things that literature teachers love… I just can’t remember any of those things any more. I’m left with remembering that I liked the story and that’s okay for me. I write videogame reviews, but I honestly was never any good at picking apart literature and seeing all the stuff I was supposed to.

Anyway, I’m going to assume that you’ve read the story (and if you haven’t, follow that link up there and go read it real quick and come back – I’ll wait here), so you know the ending to it. The town has made their choice and Mrs. Hutchinson is it. Scapegoat time, dearie. Here’s the last line in the story:

“It isn’t fair, it isn’t right,” Mrs. Hutchinson screamed, and then they were upon her.

Everybody in town had the same exact chance of being chosen as she did, but of course that meant nothing to her once she was. That, I think, is usually how it is. The phrase “it isn’t fair” is generally only uttered by a person who thinks they’re getting the raw end of a deal. You never hear someone who just got free ice cream say “It isn’t fair that no one else got this!” Sean Penn didn’t say, “It isn’t fair that Mickey Rourke didn’t get this” when he won his Oscar this year. We only tend to bust out the “it isn’t fair” when we don’t like what’s happening.

It’s been a few years, enough so I don’t remember exactly how many, but I made a concerted effort to excise the phrase “it isn’t fair” out of my vocabulary. Of course, I’m not perfect, so it still works its way in from time to time, but its frequency has been less and less. Videogames that cheat are most often the recipients of the phrase, but it has snuck into actual life here and there.

I had to make the choice for me because I felt it was damaging me. More correctly, it wasn’t helping me, and it held me back from making choices. If it wasn’t fair and God or life or whatever else was just out to get me, then there was nothing I could do about it, so I might as well get angry and sit there and fume. If I realize that life just isn’t “fair” sometimes and I need to just get on with living anyway, that helps me be more productive in my response to the “unfair” circumstances.

The thing is, I don’t really want life to be fair. I have been a jerk to people often in my life. If life was completely fair, I’d be paying for that for the rest of my time here. Every cutting remark would come back to me, every lie, every time I took the bigger piece of cake, every time I broke my parents’ hearts, every time I hurt someone I loved, every time I cut someone off in traffic — all of that, heaped back on my head. No, thank you. I’d prefer that life not be fair.

The Bible teaches me that if things were fair, I’d get a lot worse, too. But the Bible also teaches me some great things about the greatness of an unfair life:

  • James 1:17 (NIV) – “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” – Anything good that happens to me comes from God, and He never changes.
  • 1 Corinthians 10:13 (ESV) – “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” – “Temptation” can be read “trial” there – God doesn’t give me more than I can handle.
  • Romans 8:28 (NASB) – “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” – God knows the end from whatever beginnings I am going through, and He’s promised that it is good.

So, I try. I try to understand when I can’t. I try to not worry when I can’t understand. Even with those promises staring me right in the face, I’m not always good at it, and I am sometimes really, really bad at it. I try to remember that I deserve a lot of bad stuff, and when good stuff happens… well, it’s like William Munny said:

Deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it.

And I’m okay with that.