When Messages Conflict

Call Jan

I couldn’t attend the meeting. Icy roads, time pressure – the reason doesn’t matter – but the outcome of the meeting did matter. Decisions made there affect decisions made here. I asked three people what happened. They gave me three different versions and three different interpretations of the implications they each took away from the discussion. Had I not known these three people I would have thrown my hands up in frustration, but knowing their strengths and biases I actually had a fuller picture, even though they sometimes contradicted each other.

I thought about the way believers in Jesus Christ interpret their experiences and how they deliver messages. Of course, they are going to relate things differently. Take this phone conversation for example:

“Hello. This is Jan. Is Michael there, please?”
“No. I’m sorry, he just stepped out. Can I take a message?”
“Oh dear. I need some information from him. Well, just tell him to give me a dingle.”
“Okay.”

When Michael comes back I will probably say something like, “Jan called. She sounded a little stressed. You had better call her.”

I may add to the message because I heard something in her tone of voice that makes me feel she needs to know someone cares. I tend to interpret events through the lens of a mercy gift. But that’s just me.

Another person, who has a gift for administration or even prophecy might be more blunt, “Call Jan. She needs those numbers now! Let’s get this show on the road!”

An encourager might say, “Wow. You’ve been busy. I hope you had a refreshing break. I love the way you keep things running so smoothly. By the way, Jan called. I think she could use your expertise about now. Give her a call when you can. Your information is vital and we all appreciate it.”

A helpful, somewhat literal message-taker would be more precise. “Jan called. She needs some information – and she wants you to give her a dingle. What’s a dingle? Is it a candy? Because I can run down to the shops on my break and try to pick her up one, or however many come in a package, unless it’s a computer part, but if you give me the information I can order that online for you…”

The message can also be filtered through another person’s experiences or emotions:
“Jan called. Again. I was in the middle of something and now I have to start all over. Maybe you should consider putting someone who can work more independently in that position.”

“Jan called. Hey, is she seeing anyone?”

“Jan called. She sounded so sad. I know what it’s like to lose your cat. My little Pookie was so sweet…pass the tissue.”

“Jan called. She’s probably tired of waiting for you to get your act together too. Are we going to make the deadlines? What if we don’t? Will we lose everything?”

“So what’d you think of the game last night? Oh, there’s a message on your desk. That second half was crazy, eh?”

“Hello, Jan? He just came back from lunch.”
“Here. Talk to her.”

“I didn’t know you had eco-freak friends. What does bleeding-heart Jan want now?”

 

I wonder if some of our difficulties in communication derive from the assumption that our views should be the same without considering that our points of view may be quite different.

On my social media yesterday a post comparing a certain politician to Winston Churchill was immediately followed by another comparing the same person to Adolf Hitler. They are both my friends (the posters, I mean, not Winston and Adolf. I’m not that old.) Frankly, I thought both writers made good points.

Another friend, a tell-it-like-I-see-it communicator, charged into a discussion rather like a bull in a china shop who resented the porcelain figurines  for being so *#&*#ing fragile.

Yet another was in tears over a video of a grandfather who announced his own death so the family would gather together. I didn’t say anything to her but I can tell you from experience there are limits on the number of times a person can get away with playing that trump card and then using the captured time to criticize, complain and spread gloom and misery everywhere. I’m not hard-hearted but, you know, my history is different from hers. I’m going to see that video commercial through a dusty lens.

Some people who  hear God’s communication with them (through scripture verses that stand out to them in virtual neon lights, or dreams, or an internal or even external voice, or through other circumstances) have a message to either pray about or deliver to others for the purposes of building people up and expressing God’s love and concern. But they also have lenses.

Would to God we all started out mature enough to see through Jesus’ eyes without any of our own stuff getting in the way. Some are more capable of this than others, but nearly everyone needs to learn to quiet their own heart so they can hear and repeat the message more clearly.

Besides interpreting what we believe the Lord is telling us from the viewpoint of motivational giftings he has placed inside us (e.g. mercy, encouragement, prophecy, teaching, serving, giving, administering) most of us will interpret through lenses that still contain residue from past disappointment, or perhaps fear, or fatigue, or guilty self-defence. We are also affected by geography, ethnicity, denominational leanings, and political or educational history. Sometimes there is a lot to un-learn. That’s why we need each other.

We need more than one perspective and we need to help each other heal so our perception is more accurate and our hurts and assumptions do not taint the message so much. We also need humility to realize that we may only have part of the picture and that someone who sees things quite differently may not be entirely wrong but could have another crucial part that adds dimension. Paradox and all that. (Or one of us could be missing it by a mile. It happens. Humility and all that.)

Yesterday I had lunch with an insightful friend.

“How do we find a point of connection with all this confusion and disagreement going on lately? “ I asked her.

“Stories,” she said. “There’s a reason why most of the Bible is a narrative. We learn from stories. We need to listen to each others stories. We connect through stories – and everybody has a story.”

I realized the reason I found the three different versions of the meeting helpful is because I knew each one of these people’s stories. They knew mine. We understood each other because we have spent time listening to each other. I knew where they were coming from and why they interpreted events as they did. We have connection.

The same exact facts and interpretation repeated over and over do not necessarily represent unity. Hearts connecting? That’s unity.

It’s a journey.

Donkey Tales

 

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My grandchildren are visiting and we decided to do “home church” on Sunday. They remembered doing that last time they were here because somebody had something potentially infectious that was not wise to share at Sunday School. They thought the experience was worth repeating.

It’s interesting to observe what little kids consider essential to a church experience. According to the eldest, one must, apparently, have decorations on the wall, a theme, a sign on the door posting expectations re: starting and finishing times, music, snacks, crafts, and story time. They loved being in charge of “church time” (although one was clearly more in charge than the others.)

We had a great time, especially after I gave the only boy real drum sticks and a real drum and the girls my box of craft materials. If only Michelangelo had construction paper, toothpicks, butterfly stickers  and tape. Who knows what he could have accomplished.

The kids chose the stories. They asked me to read as they dramatized: King Saul going pee in the cave and sneaky David cutting his robe, David (with rolled up sock stones and uncle’s old plastic slingshot found in the bottom of the toy box) and Goliath (holding a badminton racquet and pot lid shield and standing on a chair with Mommy’s long skirt covering the legs), and The Talking Donkey with a blanket saddle.

Silly me, I failed to notice the escalating violence in these scenarios until the final re-enactment needed to be cut short by a bribe of watermelon and granola bars. Balaam had the donkey in a strangle hold while the menacing angel of the Lord wound up for a good smiting from the top of the sofa back with the re-purposed badminton racquet sword. Good will was restored with juice box communion and then church was dismissed.

 

For some reason seeing the wrestling match in the middle of our home church reminded me of a few unexpected agents of grace in my life that have frustrated me. I think I may have attacked and tried to wrestle messenger donkeys to the ground myself when I didn’t recognize their purpose.

In the story the prophet Balaam hears the Lord accurately but imposes his own agenda. He misses the fact that a big old angel bringing the message of “No! Not this way” is terrifying the wits out of his mount. The donkey collapses under him, then smashes his foot against a wall. When an upset and hurting Balaam starts beating the animal, it supernaturally starts talking saying, essentially, “Sheesh! You really don’t get it, do you?”

I wonder if sometimes when the Lord speaks dramatically to people through crazy, unusual, dramatic, out-of-the-ordinary manifestations it’s not necessarily a compliment or sign of how super-spiritual they are. Maybe it’s not so much an experience to be bragged about as much as  Sheesh! What-does-it-take-to-get-your-attention moment?

Anyway the prophet and donkey who were thrashing it out on my living room floor reminded me of something I read years ago about anxiety attacks and depression and stress-related illnesses and really annoying relationship problems being agents of grace. We are traveling down the road expecting our plans to go smoothly when the things or people we rely on fail us.They collapse under us, or ram us into a wall, or yell Sheesh!  loud enough to scare the wits out of us. The usual reaction is to become frustrated and fight rather than listen to the message – at least mine is.  (Balaam was so defensive he barely noticed it was a bloomin’ donkey talking to him.)

By the time a dramatic attention-grabber shows up we have probably been ignoring the Lord or justifying doing thing our own way for quite a while. It’s the goodness of God that sets up circumstances that get our attention. It’s as if he is saying, “Stop! Yes, you have a gift. Every body in the family gets at least one. No, you may not use it in a way that will hurt others.”

A good tool is one that performs its job well. A knife that can slice through fresh hot bread without squashing it is a good knife. A knife sticking out of a friend’s back — not so much.

Here’s the thing about using the gifts (tools) that Father God gives us: they come with instructions on their safe use. The most essential instructions are found in 1 Corinthians 13 right in the middle of the discussion on the gifts. Without love it’s all a gong show.

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing…. 

Love never fails.

Without love, “church” is in danger of turning into a chaotic pile-up on the living room floor.

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