Hush the Noise, Cease the Strife

img_6060It’s a busy time of year. We run. We shop. We bake. We visit. We wrap. We wait in line. And in traffic. We decorate. We host. We travel. We carol. We volunteer. And that’s just Tuesday.

Our stress goes up as our calendars grow full and our receipts pile high, as we juggle in-laws and office parties. It’s the most wonderful time of the year, we say, but I can’t help wondering if we rush and fret right past the most wonderful parts of it.

There is a version of an old Christmas carol that sings, “O hush the noise and cease the strife and hear the angels sing.” I can’t get that line out of my head.

It has me thinking about about the noise and strife in my life. There is a lot of it. It all has an impact on me. Some of it exhausts me. Some distracts me. All of it influences me in some way or another.

Maybe silencing it for a short time would be beneficial to me. Maybe I’d hear more angels singing. Or children laughing. Or friends sharing their lives with me.

Maybe hushing and ceasing would allow me to be more present with those that matter most. Perhaps I’d be healthier for it. Maybe I’d eat and sleep better. And be less angry. Or at least shake my head in disgust a few less times a day. Maybe I’d eventually discover that “peace on earth and goodwill to men” thing.

I’m certain there are times to make noise. And there are good reasons to wade into strife, especially as peacemakers and justice seekers. But there are times when we need rest and reset. When we need to withdraw for our well-being and the good of those we are tasked with loving. The journey is long and if we aren’t careful it can eat us alive, making us cynical or apathetic and leaving us empty inside.

As this is the most wonderfully busy time of the year, perhaps its a good time to practice hushing the noise and ceasing the strife. As we run from event to event and drown ourselves in around the clock media coverage, perhaps it is a good time to hit pause and take a deep breath or two.

The Christian calendar starts with a season called Advent. In Advent we wait in anticipation and prepare for the coming of Jesus (both his birth, which we celebrate anew each year, and his eventual return to make all things new). Each year we remember our need for saving and the hope that is found in a God who shows up in our world. This year Advent runs from December 2 to 24.

I’m planning on adopting some practices during these weeks to help me make the most of my time. For me it is important that my heart is ready for Jesus’ arrival. I don’t want to miss it while I’m busying crafting clever tweets about how wrong someone is. I don’t want to miss it by filling my world with obligations and shopping and non-stop running.

I don’t want to be so busy celebrating what we call Christmas that I miss Christ.

I don’t want to be surrounded by such incessant noise that I miss the call to come and celebrate the birth of Christ the King.

So I’ve come up with a list of practices I believe would make a difference in my life. Not so I can end up on the Nice List or get some heavenly reward. But to ensure I’m ready. To ensure I’m present. To ensure I’m listening to what and who matters most.

To hush the noise and cease the strife.

I share them here just in case you’d want to practice one or two of them with me from now until Christmas Day.

Whether you try these or something else or nothing else, may we be ready to meet the child who is coming. May we hear his voice and call. May we find his hope. May we rise above the noise and strife that distracts or disrupts. May we find peace and rest. And may we find this season as wonderful as all our songs proclaim.


A sampling of practices for a more peaceable Advent

Turn off cable news. I’m convinced we are not meant to listen to people telling us what we should be angry about night after night. Turn it off for an extended time. Watch the local news if you need some connection to the outside world. I promise if anything earth shattering happens you’ll hear about it. Cable news isn’t inherently bad, but if its adding to our distrust of neighbors or elevated doses of anxiety to our lives, maybe we could do with a break.

Abstain from social media. Shut it down for a while. Block out the noise. You probably don’t need to know everyone’s opinions. And you (read: I) certainly don’t need to enter into anymore unproductive Facebook debates. Or, if that isn’t an option…

Uninstall your Facebook and Twitter apps. You’ll be less likely to mindlessly check in on what your former neighbor’s daughter ate for lunch and what conspiracy that one person is peddling on your news feed again. You can still check in from your browser, it will simply be more intentional. Of if that is too much to ask…

Commit to one month of no potentially divisive social media posts. Stop sharing everything you think slam dunks on the people you disagree with. Even if you know just how right it it is. Instead share pictures of your grandkids or puppies or stories that enlarge even the smallest of hearts three sizes. Don’t contribute to the strife in others’ lives. You can do it and we need you to.

Have dinner with a friend you haven’t seen in a while. Preferably out at a restaurant so no one has to do dishes. And tip well. Friendship is a gift to the soul. We need reminded we are not alone and there are people who love us.

Say no. Find a way to resist filling every moment of every day. Make sure you have an evening at home at least once or twice a week. Ensure you have time to get the laundry done so that the mounds of clothes don’t taunt you every time you drag yourself in from the latest obligation. Create space for yourself.

Play board games. Gather friends or family and spend time laughing over Scrabble or Ticket to Ride. Be together and have fun.

Go to bed earlier than you normally would. Rest is important. I’m terrible at this. There is always something to do. Or those few moments of quiet in the house are too enjoyable to waste on sleep. But we need it. It makes a difference in physical and emotional health. An extra hour of sleep over four weeks sounds pretty beautiful and is likely needed if you are anything like me.

Shut out distractions. Maybe its a phone game or a person who is no good for you. Maybe its not something bad, just something unproductive. Can you set it aside until Christmas? Would your life be better for it?

Spend less. Credit card debt is not healthy. Not knowing how we will pay the rent next month is not helpful. Don’t buy into the idea that we have to spend a lot to show we love a lot.

Hand make a gift or two. Hello Pinterest. Or maybe you aren’t crafty. Hand write a letter. Take time to think of a person or persons who matter to you and instead of throwing money at them, give them a gift with meaning.

Be generous. A pastor friend of mine said recently, “Being generous is the most fun you you can have.” I believe it. Share with others. Open your home. Give cookies. Give grace. Generosity changes us. Its why Scrooge and the Grinch are the villains this time of year. Don’t believe the lie of scarcity. Share what you have and watch your joy grow.

Less television. Especially Hallmark movies (just kidding). Perhaps just sit by the fire or Christmas lights. And talk. Or read a book. Or just rest in the quiet. Embrace silence. Especially if the idea of silence bothers you.

Go slow. Don’t speed. Don’t honk when the light turns green. Don’t eat fast food. Make yourself slow down. Slowing down means we have to plan better. It keeps us from the chaotic stress of constantly running. Maybe we will notice something we would have missed otherwise.

Be kind to yourself. Don’t beat yourself up for all you aren’t doing or the ways this year didn’t turn out how you’d hoped. Don’t compare yourself to that person who looks like they have it all together (they don’t). Give yourself permission to mess up. We all have room to grow, but we won’t get there by dragging ourselves down.

Be kind to others. Cashiers are extra busy. Wait staff have kids at home with babysitters. Teachers are herding over-tired and sugared up children. Some folks are hurting. Some are missing loved ones. Some are struggling in heavy ways. Take the time to be kind. Make it a discipline. Speak life. Hold your tongue. Give compliments. Be a blessing.

Study your way to Christmas. Join an Advent reading plan. Read the Scriptures in a posture of listening. Hear the good news again and again. Some options here, here, and here.

Perhaps you can think of other things we could start or stop in the coming weeks. Let’s be intentional about how we get to Christmas this year. Together lets hush the noise and cease the strife.

 

 

Surviving Thanksgiving with *Those* People

12I have a friend who lives a long distance from family and is considering not making the trek home for Thanksgiving. They are anxious about the conversations that will surround the table and fill the hours around the meal.

They don’t vote the way their extended family votes and they dread the offhand comments, the arguments, and the judgement that will come their way this week. The mental energy needed to absorb it all without overturning the table or damaging relationships is more than they feel they can handle right now.

This is who we are in 2018: it is wholly exhausting to share a meal or weekend with people we disagree with politically.

This reveals a deep problem within our culture, where we love our political agendas more than the people who share our blood. Where we assume everyone must think like us, or at least all the smart, loving, faithful people. Where we assign moral value to things that are morally ambivalent and justify things that are immoral as long as it’s our side doing it. Where we are more loyal to pundits and politicians than to those sharing our last name.

It’s ugly. Its unfortunate. It’s real. And many of us will spend time this week navigating these circumstances.

So how do we survive?

We can avoid any and all political talk, but that doesn’t seem likely, or helpful. We should be able to discuss these things. Politics matter and in a world where we infrequently leave our echo chambers, its important to have respectful conversations with those who think differently. Even those who are wrong.

So while we can’t control other people’s behavior and language, we can control ours. And perhaps we can set the tone and keep ourselves from becoming *those* people to folks who disagree with us.

For starters, let’s avoid blanket statements or assumptions. Don’t speak for or label entire groups of people.

“Republicans hate poor people” is not helpful, no matter how strongly you believe it. Same with “Democrats hate baby Jesus.” These things shut down conversation and put up defenses. Don’t do it. Use specific examples, not broad brushes.

Let’s ask good questions. Not, “How could you?” or “Didn’t I raise you better?” But questions that come from a place of humility and assume a posture of learning.

  • Can you tell me how you came to that conclusion?
  • Can you show me a source for that information?
  • What do you think about this?

Curiosity demonstrates that these people matter to us. We may learn something. Or perhaps they will. Good questions dig deeper and require thoughtfulness. Good questions lead to understanding.

Let’s also listen well. Hear what people are saying. Don’t formulate your argument while they are talking. Care enough about them to value their concerns.

Listening is a lost art in the age of social media and late night news. Let’s take the time to take in what is being said. At a minimum we will understand each other better. Perhaps we will hear things that aren’t all that different than what we want as well.

And for those who like me claim to follow Jesus, everything we do should be marked by love. If we can’t share a meal with our family without making hateful or bigoted or dismissive comments about *those* people, I’m not sure we are living the way we have been tasked. Disagreeing is okay. Standing up for what is right is necessary. But how we do it, how we respond, is essential to Christians.

In a handwritten sermon outline Dr. Martin Luther King Jr answered the question of why we should love our enemies. He wrote: “Because the process of hate for hate brings disaster to all involved. Because hate distorts the whole personality. Because love has within in a redemptive power.”

I’m not convinced that everyone who disagrees with me on taxes or healthcare or immigration is my enemy, but sometimes we act like they are. And for the Christian we have a clear mandate on how to respond to *those* people: love them.

Hate brings disaster but love is redemptive.

If we can’t be right and loving at the same time, we are wrong.

If we can’t hold both our political values and the people we gather with around the table, lets let go of the politics.

If we can’t speak truth in love, than our truth doesn’t matter.

If we can’t see past bad positions to care for the person in front of us, we have our priorities out of sync.

If we call people to a better way, but that way isn’t marked by love, we are lost.

This Thanksgiving, lets do better. Let’s make room. Lets be kind and loving and patient. Lets laugh and share memories and tell what we are thankful for. And lets disagree well.

Oh, and we should eat lots of pie too. That helps.

Happy Thanksgiving people. And good luck.

(It should be noted that there are indeed times to avoid people who are toxic to us. Use discretion and be aware of what is healthy for you. If some place or person is not safe for you, the advice here won’t make it any better.)

Vote Early, Vote Often

Praise report: Election season is almost over. I’m sure the next one will pick up steam quickly, but I’m ready for this one to go away.

In the meantime, I have some advice for us:

Vote early, vote often.

Of course, I don’t mean we should commit voter fraud. I’m not for cheating or fudging numbers or anything like that. What I’m advocating is that we live out our votes today, Tuesday, next month, and next year.

When we vote we are communicating what kind of world we want, what kind of world we believe in. Our votes declare what is important to us, but our votes are not restricted to the ballot box.

We vote every time we spend money. We vote when we post something online. We vote with the way we use our time. We vote in our daily conversations.

Our words, our wallets, our free time all tell far more about our worldview than our preferred political platforms.

So please, vote early, vote often.

Whatever issues motivate you to support a candidate or show up at the polls should be important to you beyond a Tuesday in November.

For example, do you vote for pro-life candidates? Live pro-life.

Are we doing anything to support pregnancy centers? Are we working to decrease the number of abortions sought? What are we doing to support single parents, poor parents, foster parents, orphans?

These are things that demonstrate a pro-life ethic and work to see it implemented. More than checking a box we should be volunteering, donating, mentoring, fostering, adopting, educating, and more. There are plenty of attitudes and actions we can participate in beyond November if we are truly pro-life people.

Do you think our country should be more welcoming to refugees?

Get involved with refugees already here. Walk alongside them, help them secure jobs and insurance, partner with resettlement organizations.

Think we should first support our homeless veterans? Get involved with people doing just that. Make it happen.

Do you vote for those who prefer diplomacy over war? Work for peace in your family and neighborhood and on Facebook today.

Do you think the uptick in racially or religiously motivated hate is a problem? You can vote for candidates who agree with you on paper and still not do much to help the problem.

Make friends across religious lines. Read and share stories of people not like you. Resist the urge to polarize and dehumanize. Have dinner with a political opposite.

For me it is easy to sit behind my computer or phone and list my opinions on the internet. This may be helpful in some (very rare) instances, but this isn’t the solution.

It is also fairly easy for most of us to show up at the local voting booth and check a box. This may be helpful in some cases, but, again, it’s not the solution to the problems we face.

Outlawing abortion tomorrow will not solve the issues surrounding unwanted pregnancies.

Welcoming every refugee in the world will not solve the problem of war, poverty, and complications that come with relocating to a new country.

Raising or lowering taxes, shifting spending, negotiating trade are all things worth having an opinion on but how are we spending our days?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t vote toward these ends. I’m saying we should do a lot more than vote on Tuesday. Voting is great but only scratches the surface of what is necessary.

What matters to you? Not what do you say matters – how do you actually live? How do you talk? Spend? Give? What do I do that shows where my values lie?

The life we live will be far more indicative of what matters most than all the ballots we ever cast. And I believe will have far greater impact.

The world changes more when we live and give and share and laugh than when we fill in a bubble for congresspeople and presidents.

So please, vote well. Vote early. Vote often.

Vote in word and deed, online and in person. Vote with your attitudes and by being a good neighbor. Put your money and heart where your vote is. And whether your candidates win or lose, we’ll change the world for better.