Friday, December 30, 2011

On the alert for Fact Stackers

Interesting how kids can totally throw you off the scent of something they are doing that is not quite right.

"So why were you late coming home?" you may well ask.

"Brian got hurt and had to get stitches"

"What happened?  Did he fall?"

"Yeah, he tripped or something and then I went to find his mom."

"Why didn't you call me?"

"He was really hurt, Mom, I couldn't stop to call..."  as he wanders off to the kitchen to see what kind of snacks there are before dinner.

"So that took you two hours to find his mom?" you ask, following your distracted son.

"I dunno, can I eat this?  I'm starving..."

Something is fishy - you know that if your child's friend really smashed his face into the concrete, needing stitches and an urgent search for his mother, your child, who hates the sight of blood, would not be behaving so casually and sending signals to forget the whole subject and let him eat.

Only later, much later, do you find what you suspected.  You were scammed by a fact-stacker.  Your sweet little one did tell you truths... just conveniently ordered to create a harmless story, with significant other facts left out.

So what happened?  Your angel and the aforementioned Brian, got into an argument that turned into a fight, that led your sweet angel to try out a jujitsu trick he saw on YouTube, sending Brian face-first into the sidewalk, busting his nose and lip and screaming for revenge.  Your angel child sees blood, turns around and runs the other direction, just as Brian's mom drives around the corner in her car.  Panic ensues and your sweet angel has been hiding in the park for two hours, hoping that everyone will forget what happened.  You find out all this of course, when you call Brian's mom.

Why did he lie?  Why did he run away?  Easy.  He was scared of getting in trouble.  Why did he fight?  There could be many reasons and a combination of many reasons why he felt he had to argue, then use violence, then run, then stack his facts, and hope against hope that no one will ever find out.  Your angel is frustrated, scared, and living like a wild animal on survival mode.  He needs you to help him sort out his very complicated ten-year-old life. 

Fact stacking is interesting, because there are some people who don't outgrow it.  Adults who still feel a need to twist and rearrange the facts to make themselves look just a little better, might be forgiven if the subject was why you just ate that slice of cake.  "It was his birthday and he wanted me to."  Yeah, but you ate the cake after you said no up front, but then snuck into the kitchen for a slice when you couldn't resist it any more...

But when the subject leads to important issues of why you were found in the bar last night - "I was inviting them to church..." or why your car smells like marijuana, "It's the leather seats, I think someone threw up in the car when I loaned it to my cousin..." or why your ex-boyfriend keeps sending you messages on Facebook, "He's just a friend..." - you find yourself in the territory of the devil.  No one is as expert a fact-stacker as Satan himself.  Just read the smooth talking arguments he tried on Jesus while He was fasting in the wilderness.  

From your children to your friends, to yourself, be intolerant of this very easy trap to fall into.  Have no tolerance for stacking, twisting or hiding the facts.  "...for your Father, who sees what is done in secret will reward you."  

Friday, December 23, 2011

And now for something completely different

I just read an article that a guy wrote a few years ago about our church in Finsbury Park.  He calls himself, "The Mystery Worshipper" and visits churches all around England on a Sunday morning, and then writes reviews about them.  Apparently he had visited our main London church and had his observations about the beautiful building, the friendliness (or lack thereof) of the church staff, of the loudness of the microphones and the "patrolling" of the assistants who he called stewards.  He thought it was generally a friendly place, but strongly disliked any of the teachings on tithes and offerings.  Even though he said there were other teachings as well, he zoomed in on the giving aspect and felt it was "disturbing."

He came with some preconceptions, no doubt; he was a white English guy going to a predominantly black immigrant community church, and he didn't come with the purpose of humbling himself before God, but to add another post to his blog of reviews. I don't take everything he said as the gospel, yet there is something intriguing about this Mystery Worshipper.

We rarely get to see what our churches, our groups and even we as individuals appear to be in the eyes of others who observe us.  We like to assume that because all we do is with the best of intentions and for the noblest of causes, it covers for any mistakes we might inadvertently make.  In the eyes of God, yes, He judges us by our motives and our faith, and can bless us despite our faults.  Obviously He does or none of us would survive!

But if our lives, and our churches are to exist for the purpose of reaching out to others with the Good News, removing potential obstacles is only common sense.  We should be willing to hear what others say about their impressions, if they have the courage to do so - like this Mystery Worshipper.  An assistant ran after him as he was leaving the service to ask if he liked it.  I'm sure the man told him yes, because what else could he say to the assistant's eager face?  Most are too polite to say how horrendously we sing, or how confusing the songs or prayers are or how unwelcoming we may be (just as examples - I'm not picking on anyone.)

The more modern hip churches on the other hand, are so concerned about appearances that they have gone to extremes to be cool.  When I turn on the TV and see a guy on a black stage with a mike and tailored dress shirt with the tails out, skinny jeans and perfectly coiffed messy hair with blond highlights, a leather wrist band and a Bible, I think, this guy's trying way too hard... and change the channel.

So we can't please everyone. We can't be obsessed with appearances.  We have to say what God leads us to say whether people like it or not. We have to be sincere. That's a fact.

But there needs to be room for listening and understanding how we may be turning people off so much that they can't hear what God is saying because we stubbornly want to stick with our traditions or the idea that, "this is just the way I do things."  Who said that the way you are is the way it has to be?