Understanding Others Starts with Understanding Self

I was on a video conference call with people from the other side of the world last week. People who have become friends from time that we have gotten to spend together and now work we are getting to do together. People of different cultures and countries with a common goal. Even seeing them on video and interacting in that way stirred warm feelings of friendship and appreciation for them.

As we finished our meeting, someone asked me to close our meeting with prayer. As I started to pray, the Lord stirred the story of the Tower of Babel and I prayed in agreement. In that story from Genesis 11, people were building a tower to reach the heavens. God decided to confuse their common language to prevent their understanding and stop them from accomplishing their task.

Where we can gain common understanding, we can reach heaven and heaven will reach us. Where we can break through the common and preferred way we know things to understand them from a foreign perspective, we’ll gain insight into the Kingdom of God. When we are willing to be uncomfortable and hold our preferences loosely, we can gain the eternal alternative.

Ephesians 2:22 says that God, on the cornerstone of Christ, is building His household to house His Spirit. The household is people in relationship, not institutions, buildings or programs. Where we seek common understanding relationally, we have the capacity to house the very Spirit of God among us.

When stones are arranged relationally to build a structure, they require shaping. The shaping incorporates hammers, chisels and saws. There is abrasive effort to take a stone and alter it in such a way that it can fit with other stones unto a greater purpose than any of the single stones will serve alone. We require the same shaping.

We can reach the heavens as part of the household of God. Where we seek and depend on common understanding, we come closer to heaven and invite heaven closer to earth. That understanding comes at the expense of our preferences and sacrifice of the selfishness of our soul. If we will allow the shaping, our individual purpose will be multiplied in relational agreement with others who are being shaped, as well.

We won’t really understand them until we understand us. Until we are honest about our faults and insecurities, we won’t have any true strength. Our faults will be a fault in the structure until they are recognized and compensated for by the offsetting strengths of the others. We’ll know their strengths compared to our weaknesses if we are willing to admit our weaknesses first.

The Never Ending Salute

Seven months later, we ebb and flow in the adjustment to my father’s absence. Following weeks of apparent resolution to the deep, tangible grief, there is a relapse of pain that can be momentary or persistent. Triggers can range from pictures to places to experiences to nothing at all.

I’ve said recently, “I think Dad underestimated the impact of his departure.” It’s because he did. He didn’t understand the power of his presence. He was deferential and humble, especially with family as he served us without any apparent expectations of a quid pro quo return. His investment was into the legacy that his humility wouldn’t allow him to entertain credit for.

His life had changed the last 15 years or so. I didn’t see him cry until he was in his 60’s. You could guarantee his tears in the past decade every time he went to talk about us with any spotlight at all, including something as private as a prayer before a family dinner. My father was transformed.

Increasingly over the past several years, my dad had some health challenges. Sometimes they would limit his ability to do things but mostly they would cause him to feel bad. I didn’t realize the extent of it until after his death as my mother has shared some of the details. He never put it on display or drew attention to himself, and at times he walked further or smiled more than his body would have made easy for him.

The gradual yet evident demise of his capacity wore on his soul, too. He didn’t want to be a burden or burdened; he lived with purpose and with passion. He was mentally sharp and his ideas were weighted with wisdom and vision. That wisdom and vision combined with his selflessness to serve had always put him in motion but as his motion was increasingly limited the frustration would set in.

The value, however, of his place in the room was likely not something he ever completely embraced. As such, he was not overly impressed with the possibility of death. He wasn’t reckless by any means, but he was not afraid either. If he had known with greater certainty, I suspect, that he was a mountain of comfort and confidence in our lives then he might have been a little more hesitant to embrace the glory of eternity.

At his memorial service, the picture above was taken during the playing of taps. He received my first salute when I became a Second Lieutenant and I offered him his final salute (and possibly the final salute I offer) as a gesture which had meant something to both he and I. The gesture, however, is a temporary effort to convey eternal gratitude, honor and love.

The Weight, Power and Privilege of Legacy

I felt it right away. I mean, in the hallway in the minutes following my father’s death, I knew something that I didn’t understand. There was a shifting of a mantle that was real. I was no longer simply the son of Tom; I was now one of the carriers of his legacy.

My father’s father struggled. He had an alcohol problem and the life my father knew as a son was drastically different from the life I have known as a son. The benefits of my father’s faithfulness which I have enjoyed were not a product his heritage as much as it was the legacy he began. As a result, I inherited a heritage with benefits that had predominately begun with my parents. They initiated a legacy that was significantly distinct from the heritage they received.

It’s easier for me than it was for my dad. He made a way for me. He created and I get to build on. My sister and I have the benefit of a higher floor than the one which was passed on to our father. Now we get to steward that and our ceiling is higher since the floor was elevated for us.

The mantle of a legacy is a mantle of honor. It has a weight to it, but not a burden as much as a privilege. There is privilege in my position as an heir of the legacy my father passed on. As such, I have an appreciation for its value and want to handle it with intentional care.

My father wasn’t perfect and neither am I. Legacy is not the burden of perfection but the choice to honor. The choice to be intentional is what multiplies what was started before me. Whatever I received, I want to pass on to the best of my ability. I choose to honor my father, his memory and legacy by paying attention to it as displayed through how I serve and care for my family.

That responsibility has a weight to it, but it isn’t burdensome as much as it is empowering. I’ve seen what it looks like and have been equipped to walk in it. Now I lean into the grace of Jesus to realize the fullness of the potential that has been handed off. Multiplication of blessings is available to the thousandth generation by the grace and favor or God, and by agreeing with Him regarding His heart and desire to continue what He started in my dad.

Honor Makes a Way for Solutions to Disagreements

Last night, the Dallas Cowboys stood together. More accurately, they knelt together. They knelt together in a sign of protest against racism in the United States, and they did it before the National Anthem. As a reminder, that is what all the kneeling was about in the first place, although it has been largely forgotten in the politics and opinions.

In case you didn’t see it or hear about it they came out as a team, joined arms and knelt. Then they stood up. They knelt before the National Anthem ever began and they stood up during the national anthem.

All along, the objection to the protest has been that protestors should stand and respect the flag. Last night, they did. Yet, in an overnight poll in the Dallas Morning News, the initial opinions offered were that 54% of respondents felt “Cowboys should not have knelt at all.” This was a┬áDallas newspaper, mind you, so this is a biased sampling presumably in favor of what the Cowboys do. I don’t know what the sampling size was, but that result is disheartening.

This poll showed that for some, it was never about the flag in the first place. It was about being right. For some, they aren’t patriotic as much as they are just prejudiced. When you don’t want somebody that is different from you to say anything about their perception or experience based in those differences, you are protecting the status quo, not the traditions surrounding the flag.

We tend to like what we like and want what we want and will often find justifications to protect our preferences. Our preferences are rooted in our perspective and our perspective is limited to our experiences. Those experiences, in this nation, are vastly different. Experiences surrounding race and racism cannot be the same where the there are differences in race. It’s just not possible.

The opportunity going forward is honor. I’ve been a Dallas Cowboys fan for the past four decades, but my admiration of their collective voice last night isn’t about winning or losing. It’s about honor. They were able to show honor towards the flag while also projecting the voice of the perspective that was calling out. They were able to agree about disagreements that they had not all experienced. That’s what the flag stands for, in part; the freedom to be heard in an honorable way.

When 54% say there should be no disagreement at all, there is going to be disagreement. If and when the majority can agree that the experience of the minority is different from their own, then there can be solutions. Honor makes a way for solutions to disagreements.

God is Present Among Us

Like everyone, I have been working through various challenges that are practical in nature. There are real and present circumstances that require attention and that attention is tangible. The actions and reactions are manifest in and around people.

At the same time, I have been intently and purposefully drawing near to God. I went through a season where I felt a bit disconnected and lacking any intimacy with Him. The times of connection which I have been finding with Him as I pursue depth are rich and refreshing.

Recently, I noticed a collision of the practical and the private. The refreshment of intimate connection to the love of the Father played out in the practical decision-making process. Was I saw was the multiplication of His presence as the manifestation of His wisdom was displayed through community.

As I discussed a thought process and developing strategy with two people who serve as wise counsel and co-laborers, one of them offered, “when you first started talking about this, I believe God stirred in me, ‘not this week.'”

The second person confirmed that they were stirred to wait in similar fashion as there was an upcoming event that they believed needed to unfold first. Same counsel, different yet consistent reasoning.

The counsel and the rationale, in both instances, resonated with me as right and true. The wisdom of the Lord was manifesting in the counsel of those that know Him. In this case, there were three of us.

We draw into the love of the Father by the grace of Jesus. We seek the filling and refreshing of the Holy Spirit as we draw near to Him. We need to be refreshed and connected through times of individual worship, study and prayer. Then the walking out of our purpose in agreement with Him is with others.

The fellowship of the Holy Spirit, as referenced in 2 Corinthians 13:14, is played out in the fellowship of others. He manifests, as often as not, through others that are intimately connected with Him. There is agreement and grace when we are submitted in humility, one to another, to allow for His wisdom to be manifest through His carriers. His carriers are us.

There are no rogue prophets. We seek his voice and insight submitted one to the other (1 Corinthians 14:32). The natural application of the supernatural begs for agreement between imperfect vessels of the Perfect. If and when we will allow Him to speak through us and among us, then He will be displayed through us. All of us as the corporate body will put Him on display, not a single one of us elevated to His place as the Head.

Tearing Down the Important Statues

Perhaps more than the statues themselves, the opinions about statues need to be torn down. The concrete or steel or whatever they are made of when placed along a street or in a park are not nearly as offensive as the stuff that comes out of us regarding them. Keep them or preserve them, it’s all about the heart.

Things that are offensive, especially inanimate objects, don’t have to be. It’s a choice. The security that comes with knowing who you are and being grounded in that identity affords the peace of no opinion. Being grounded in who God calls you and focused on where He is calling you leaves no margin for the distraction of pigeon stands.

Rising up to defend those same objects isn’t anybody’s eternal destiny. The hearts and souls of those that are offended, separated or alienated is in the balance. Every issue is about people and how they are impacted on one side or the other of the divide. Hard stands either way prevents connection, which prevents relationship, which frustrates the point.

Again, this is for Christ followers. If you aren’t a follower of Jesus, none of what I am saying has any weight or bearing. If you are, however, then the invitation to follow Him is at the cost of your need to have opinions on everything but Him. He calls us to care about what He cares about and what He cares about is relationship. Relationship with Him, relationship with each other and relationship with a world needing His hope and grace.

It’s imperative that we maintain First things first while intentionally resisting distractions that pull us towards any seconds. Second things are an enemy of the One thing. Being right, persuasive, passionate or opinionated about second stuff at the cost of gracefully portraying First stuff forfeits relational opportunities that might have eternal implications.

We can care about second stuff, just not much. We can be right about the extras, but we can’t compete to win where there is no lasting victory. Eternal glory is available here and now as heaven and earth collide and the Kingdom of God is revealed. That revelation, however, is not in the competition surrounding issues that divide and don’t unite.