I-It Relationships & a Recording of MLK’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Pam and I were talking about MLK’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail this morning and what a remarkable piece of writing and thought it is. If you haven’t read or listened to it lately you can find it at this link from Stanford University (among many other places). The bonus here is that the audio recording is MLK reading the text himself.

This version isn’t read by MLK. For that version you will need to go to the Stanford link above.

There is so much that is challenging in MLK’s letter. I want to briefly focus on his use of Martin Buber’s I/Thou argument. The basic premise of Buber’s argument is that humanity far too frequently finds itself in I-it relationships with each other, a relationship between a subject and an object, or even worse in it-it relationships, a relationship between two objects.

Objects are things we use. We don’t have true mutual relationships with objects. They are for our use, our enjoyment, or production.

Far too often humans see other humans as “it”s. Creatures that are less than image-bearers. Not really worthy of respect other than the respect we may give to a tool that we really enjoy. Any respect we give to an ‘It” comes from its value to us, not from any value that is possessed inherently within itself. You can treat an “it” in any manner that you want because, after all, an “it” is nothing more than an object to be owned and used. When we begin to view a person created in the image of God as an “it” we are at best missing the mark of what is best and very likely sinning.

Martin Buber - a great thinker and a fun name to say.
Martin Buber – a great thinker and a fun name to say.

Instead, we were meant for I-Thou relationships, subject to subject relationships. You have mutual relationships with subjects, even when you strongly disagree with them or they are your enemy. You see the image of God on them no matter how you may feel about the person. Such knowledge restrains and directs how we respond to a person when we are angry or disagree with them. They are always subjects and we must continue to relate to them as subjects worthy of respect.

Most times our us-vs-them relationships are I-it relationships. We disagree with them, perhaps rightly so, and begin to view those we disagree with as evil and less than human. Thus we are justified in any actions we do towards them. We don’t see our counterparts as humans and image-bearers first and foremost. Instead, we merely see them as an object to be defeated. This makes it easier for us to justify a whole “Flight 93 mindset” – they are evil and we have to take them down no matter the cost before they do real harm.

MLK saw Buber’s i-it relationships in racism and realized that was what needed to be fought against. To treat an image-bearer as an “it” hurts both the one viewed as an “it” and the one doing the viewing. It is thus a loving act for your enemy to confront this evil. MLK loved his oppressor and the most loving action he could do for his oppressor was to point out the harm that such i-it relationships did to all of humanity.

I believe we need to do the same with so many of the i-it relationships that still regularly continue as a part of our world, and sadly our faith.

Speaking to Our Kids During Scary News

I’m still a bit shocked by the events of the last week. A crowd attacked the U.S. Capitol while the people who are 1st (the Vice President), 2nd (The Speaker of the House), and 3rd (the Senate President Pro Tempore) in the line of presidential succession were in the building. If we are disturbed by the events that are going around us you can rest assured that our children pick up on these same feelings and they may or may not have the same skillset for managing how they feel and experience such news and events.

As a pastor and chaplain, it is not uncommon to be asked “how should I talk about these subjects with my kids?” I’ll begin by saying I am by no means an expert on this matter. I am just a minister who has dealt with many difficult circumstances and has dealt with the ramifications of people, both young and old, receiving and dealing with information about such circumstances.

That’s why when I heard NPR’s Upfirst episode this weekend concerning how to discuss such events with our kids I thought I would share the podcast episode (HERE) and summarize its contents. On a side note, if you like podcasts I would recommend Upfirst to you. It is a short (10-15 minutes) daily episode concerning news that matters for the day, plus a longer weekend edition on a specific subject that relates to the week.

Here are the main suggestions of the podcast for dealing with scrary news with the children that are in our lives.

  • Limit their exposure to breaking news – If you have the news on 24/7 they are going to hear it no matter what you do. Control the amount of information they hear or see.
  • For big stories, ask: “What have you heard and how are you feeling?” – Limiting doesn’t mean avoiding.
  • Give kids facts and context – We all know that in the heat of the moment lots of things are said and reported which are at best speculation, only share with your kids what we know to be facts (from trusted sources). Saying “we don’t know right now” is your friend.
  • When they ask why something happened, avoid labels like “bad guys.” – instead talk about people being in pain, being angry, and making bad and wrong choices.
  • Encourage kids to process the story through play and art – kids often process through art. Let them.
  • “Look for the helpers” – Fred Rodgers famously said “When something scary is happening, look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Mr. Rodgers knew of which he was speaking.
  • Take positive action together – Do something that helps. Even small things make a difference. Give some money, do an action, attend something that is helpful, write someone a note, etc.

So many of these suggestions ring true to me from my own experience as a parent and as a minister. Personally, I am still haunted by some of the drawings made by the kids we worked with after Hurricane Katrina displaying their experience of their homes being flooded. But I also know those drawings helped them to process what they were going through..

One of the kids’ drawings from Katrina.

If you would rather read than listen to the discussion on these suggestions you can find the same basic information in this NOW article “- What To Say To Kids When The News Is Scary. Our children pick up on the things going on around them and us. We need to be proactive in helping them to understand and handle such events without being overwhelmed with fear.

My Question was on the Clark Howard Podcast

I would use the phrase “as many of you know” but the reality is only a couple of people read my blog so I can’t really use the word “few”. I will therefore use the word “couple” since it is more accurate.

So as a couple of you know personal finance is kind of a hobby for me. I read and listen to as much information as I can concerning how to be wise with our finances and every now and then help someone else with their finances. The whole subject means a great deal to me because Pam and I have had to be very careful with our finances. You see, despite what you might think from televangelists, ministers aren’t known for getting the best salaries, and youth ministers and pastors of small churches are definitely not known for having large salaries. So we have needed to be very careful with our money and listen to wise voices in how to best control our finacnes.

One of the voices that has helped me the most is Clark Howard and his team. They have helped us with great advice. Seriously if you want great instruction on how “to save more and spend less” you should listen to his show. This is why I was super pumped today when a question I had submitted to the podcast website was read online today.

They read, and answered, my question at nine minutes and thirty-five seconds in today’s episode.

My question was pretty mundane concerning whether we can contribute to a 529 plan for Noah and still get the Wisconsin tax credit. It was a pretty exciting, however, to hear them say on the podcast “Robert in Wisconsin says…” while I was walking Clive. Seriously, Clark Howard is the best. You should listen to his show.

Soul Toupee

Thanks to Conor H and Adam T I regularly listen to the wonderful Mockingbird podcast. If you enjoy listening to podcasts concerning faith I encourage you to give it a try. I believe they do an excellent job of exploring places where they see grace and its absence. In this past week’s episode, they brought up a term that they had used earlier but I had not had the fortune of hearing. The phrase is “soul toupee”.

A “soul toupee” is what one of their friends uses to describe the behavior that a person does to cover up an insecurity of theirs that in fact only draws all the more attention to the insecurity, like a really bad toupee calls attention to the lack of hair that the toupee wearer is so desperately trying to prevent us from noticing. If you have ever seen a really bad toupee you will get the image. It is hard to look away from it.

The attempts to look and act younger than a person is probably acts in the same manner. As a fan of The Office I can’t help but think of the time that Creed, scared for his job, tried to convince everyone he was 30 years old.

All Creed’s behavior does it draw all eyes to him. SIDE NOTE – I love Creed in The Office. Back to the too young behavior, being older is a good thing, and dressing and acting like you are twenty merely tells everyone around you that you are UNcomfortable being older.

I know I can relate to the behavior of trying to cover up something I don’t feel great about. I am reminded of my insecurities often and every now and then I catch myself doing something in an attempt to hide them. Like other people can’t see through my attempts to hide my insecurities. Ha! I’m sure my attempts are often pretty hysterical.

If only I can remember that I am accepted, loved, and belong – insecurities, failures, and all. There is no need for a “soul toupee” when you realize being bald isn’t a detriment.

Advent is Coming

For years Tapestry has participated with many other churches in the Advent movement known as Advent Conspiracy. The goal of Advent Conspiracy is to celebrate our Lord’s Incarnation by focusing on the following four actions. We will:

  • Worship Fully
  • Spend Less
  • Give More
  • Love All

The above commercial from Coca-Cola is a pretty good reminder of one of the key aspects by which we try to do these four things. We try to give more presence which doesn’t necessarily mean giving more presents. This is always important but all the more so during the time we are currently living through when so many people feel isolated.

Giving presence requires much greater creativity and sacrifice than giving just presents. You can give a present with just money, and to quote Grandpas George from “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” “there’s plenty of money out there, they print more of it every day.”

Giving presence on the other hand requires giving of yourself and there is only one of you. It is much more precious.

This doesn’t mean not giving a gift. Going all Scoorage doesn’t really celebrate Advent either. It just means that when we give the gift is more about the one(s) receiving and the one(s) giving the gift than it is about a mere exchange of goods. Some of the best gifts of presence I have ever received have been presents, but it was more about the thought put into the gift than the gift itself. I imagine we have all received gifts that were costly in money but basically cost nothing in the currency of presence.

Advent Conspiracy puts out resources each year to help us to celebrate the birth of the Messiah in a manner that He would enjoy. HERE are this year’s resources.

I hope you enjoyed the commercial. I know I did.

Advent begins November 29th this year.

Blocking Trolls

I can’t really tell you why but I am not a big fan of blocking people on social media. It just doesn’t typically feel right to me. I have blocked a few people before (a total of four as I write this post) but all but one have been people that I don’t really know in real life and they had to be extreme pains in the butt for me to finally block them. Thanks to the small group of “threads” that Pam and I meet with regularly (BTW if you are not a part of a small group of believers, hopefully within your church, I would highly encourage it) that is about to change.

We have been reading Paul’s letter to Titus and this week I was reminded through the reading and discussion of the fact that Paul was by no means shy about blocking people when he saw them as a danger to the church. Here’s the portion from Titus that hit me:

10 Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. 11 You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.

Titus 3:10-12

What a great passage for dealing with trolls. People who are trollish online are concerned with fighting, not truth. They enjoy the argument itself and merely winning that argument is the goal. Arguing with a troll is like fighting with water, there is nothing of substance there so they take whatever shape or argument necessary to win the discussion. Bruce Lee gave this advice in fighting, be water. It is great advice for winning a fight … but not for exploring truth.

Exploring truth requires substance pounding against substance. Finding truth isn’t about winning the argument. It is divergent viewpoints chipping away at each other to find the truth that is somewhere beneath all the extraneous points. Finding truth is believing there is a David underneath that big block of stone and chipping away at what doesn’t matter to find it. This requires hard substance to pound against. This is iron sharpening iron.

But trolls don’t sharpen anything because there isn’t any substance there to pound against. There is just water that takes whatever shape is necessary to win an argument. I often find myself wondering what a conversation was actually about after I have had an online discussion with a troll. There was nothing really there to discuss or than one’s desire to win an argument.

So what does Paul say to do with people who divide for entertainment and power? He says “to have nothing to do with them.” Hopefully, I’m learning to be a little better as spotting those whose goal is merely to be divise.

Today I have blocked my 5th person on Facebook.

Piously Unfaithful

Golden Calf

One of my favorite stories from scripture is the story of God giving King Ahaz a sign that the Lord is with him. The situation was that Judah was under siege by her enemies and God sent the prophet Isaiah to the King to reassure him that God was still with him.

Here’s the passage:

10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 11 “Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”

12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.”

13 Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. 

(Isaiah 7:10-14)

I love this passage for two main reasons:

1st, Immanuel – can’t get much better than that.

2nd, Ahaz rebels against God while looking like he is actually obeying God. He is right not to “put the Lord to the test” in all situations EXCEPT for when the Lord tells you to put Him to the test. When God tells you to do something you are supposed to do that. But Ahaz spouts off religious-sounding language while refusing to do what God has told him to do.

He sounds so pious as he is actually disobeying God.

This is a theme you will see often in scripture. Someone does an action as though they are obeying God while actually doing the opposite of what God wants. Israel did this with the golden calf. God tells them to wait and instead they get bored and create an image of the brought them up out of Egypt and worshipped it (The Bible Project has a great podcast episode on this HERE – thanks for introducing me to this podcast Adam) (Exodus 32:1-8). Saul does then when he feels like he can’t wait any longer for Samuel to come and make a sacrifice (1 Samuel 13:7-14). It happens again and again where someone acts pious while they are actually disobeying God.

This isn’t just true in faith.

I believe it is true in so much of life. We love the symbolism and language of things (the piousity – I may have just made this word up) but not the actual day to day obedience to and sacrifice for the thing we are praising. We talk about loving family, tear up at sentimental family themes, and say that “family is what is most important”, while not actually spending time with our family. We love the symbolism of patriotism, put flags on everything, and sing the national anthem with gusto, but don’t actually love our country enough to sacrifice or serve within it. Etc. etc. etc. You probably can think of your own examples.

Piousity, of all types, is easy, costs us little, and gives us the reward of feeling and looking pious. Actually loving someone or something is more difficult, much more costly, and while the visible rewards are often not much the actual rewards are more real and long lasting, if not eternal.

Cool Cats & Kittens and a God Who Isn’t Chased Away

The above video is Eric G’s latest half-hearted attempt to get this phrase past me and into the weekly Tapestry Worship Video Gathering. He has been saying this phrase from the Netflix documentary series Tiger King for the past 10 weeks or so. I think it is pretty funny but I am also thankful that he only does it at the beginning of each video so it is easier for me to remove. This week’s version was a little cuter, and ironically creepier than normal because of the Glaze girls being involved in it, so I asked his permission to post it. Enjoy and try not to be too disturbed by it.

Not actual color

I have been meaning to post for a while now concerning my favorite part of each week’s videos. They aren’t usually a part of the final video though I find myself leaving more and more of them in the video. My favorite parts of the videos sent to me are usually the small moments that happen before and after the actual video.

In these intros and outros, I get to see small moments of real life that are wonderful. Couples that I now and love smiling knowingly at each other, kids that I have seen grow up in the church interrupting the video, people improving at musical or oratory skills, friends pushing themselves out of their comfort zones, pets suddenly causing a second take of the video, conversations that have ended just prior to the video where I get to hear the last phrase of it, sometimes messages that are meant for me telling me something that is going on, etc., etc. These moments of life pop up in the videos and I smile almost every time. I find myself allowing longer and longer pauses of seeming “nothingness” to be left in the video segments because I want other people to be able to see these moments too. Each week I find myself thinking “Look! Jesus is peeking out of that moment!”

He is so often barely hiding in plain sight.

I have worked with a few ministers in my life who were very concerned with the flow of a worship service. They were worried that anything could interrupt the smoothness of a service and thereby distract from people intimately connecting with God. So they spent a real deal of time making sure everything flowed smoothly.

I appreciate that these ministers were concerned with enabling people to connect with God, but I worried that their focus was on the personal emotional feeling of connection rather than the actual presence of God. If your god is chased off by a cell phone ringing, a missed cue, or the songs having space in between them as something is rearranged, well, you have a rather small god. My God isn’t chased off by the ordinary, mundane, boring, slow, or awkward moments of life. Thanks to the Incarnation He is actually present in those moments. Of course, He is also present in the exciting and emotional moments of life too, but there are many more boring moments than there are exciting ones. At least that’s true in my life.

I am so glad that Jesus is peeking through the boring moments hoping I will see Him. I hope I regularly see Him. I can’t wait to see Him again in these week’s batch of videos.

Bioshock Infinite & Eyes on Jesus

I am not a huge gamer but there are some video game series that I really love. One of those is the Bioshock world of games. I love the first two because they challenge the philosophical underpinnings of Ayn Rand‘s thought (which I despise and think is a threat to genuine Christianity). I love the third game in the series, Bioshock Infinite, because of its confrontation of civil religion, an equally abhorrent threat to real Christianity.

Proclaiming that Caesar is Lord is a denial that Jesus is Lord.

By civic religion here I don’t mean the general civil religious values of a society a religious ideology in which the state is the deity. Rome, as well as others, did this with the Imperial Cult. To worship Caesar was the highest good. Such worship led to the Caesar’s believing in their own divinity and that they alone could save the world. The early church denied the divinity of the Caesars and in the process gained its first confession, Jesus is Lord, from its refusal to say the creed of the Imperial Cult that Caesar is Lord.

The second you place anything else in Jesus’s position you commit idolatry.

The thing is that it is quite common for this to happen with people who love their nation. Don’t get me wrong, it is a good thing to love your nation within some boundaries. Our homelands are good things. It is good that we love them. I hope everyone can love the place you are from. Yet when the homeland becomes our ultimate source of meaning and purpose that is a terrible and dangerous thing. Our nation should never be our ultimate source of meaning and purpose.

Bioshock Infinite does a great job of breaking this down. The game displays so many of the symbols of our country being treated as religious symbols. In the game there is religious zeal associated with them. In the game’s reality people pray to and worship the founding fathers and the flag. In Bioshock Infinite Jesus has been replaced with and image of America, Washington, and even Old Glory.

The sad thing is that it happens in the real world too.

If you look around you will see it. It is one thing if you don’t proclaim Jesus as your Lord. I still think such civic religion is bad for you because I don’t believe such a faith in the state can healthy be anyone’s ultimate value. It is an entirely different thing if you, like me, are someone who proclaims that Jesus is their Lord. If He is your Lord then you can’t allow anything, no matter how good it may be, to replace Jesus.

When we take our eyes off Jesus and place them on a nation or the symbols of our nation we make an idolatrous choice and idols, even the ones that come from originally good items, are destructive to us and the world in which we are a part.