Learning to Lie…

it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

~1 Corinthians 13 (ESV)

My Earliest Memory…

My earliest memory is of the day I learned how to lie.  I must have been about two or three – about the same age as our youngest boy now.  It really must be a developmental thing because we’re just now starting to see the “No, Mama, I don’t have a stinky diaper” and the “My brother did it” type stuff that we know to be untrue come out of our innocent little angel’s mouth.  Heartbreaking, but life! When I was that age my family lived in a small log cabin in the upstate of New York.

It’s funny how from that age you can remember certain things as if they were still in front of you, but others are just a void.  Of that cabin, I can vaguely remember my crib, but nothing of the room it was it – the crib was my world I guess, I can see the color of the bars, the mobile that hung above it, my blanket, but it’s as if the crib existed as if it floated in outer space, I can remember nothing outside of it in that room.  I can remember the hallway off of the living room.  At the beginning of that hallway, centered on the floor was a large metal duct cover through which the head from the wood burning in the fireplace was somehow cycled back under the floor in order to heat the cabin.  I have no memory of it, but I apparently burnt my hands and feet badly once on the cover of that duct and every once and a while my mother will rediscover a polaroid photograph of me, nekid, except for the bandages which had just put on my hands and feet at the hospital and a stuffed bunny rabbit, which has been the only thing preventing the countless number of people to whom she has shown that photo from seeing me in all my glory.  I have no idea where my parents slept; perhaps in the same room as my crib was in, perhaps in another room of which I have no memory.  And although there must have been a kitchen, you would never know of it by searching my memory.

The living room of that cabin I can remember as if I were sitting there now.  It had a wood floor with an area carpet and the warm glow of the wood fire would continuously drift out across the dull finish of the hardwood floor like tiny amber waves.  Two chairs on one side of the room, were separated by a small table and on the other an old couch, next to the front door, on which no one ever sat and really only served as a temporary storage area for things coming into and going out of the house.  In between these things, along one of the outside walls of the cabin, was the most prominent feature of the living room – a grand (at least in my mind) stone fireplace.

The fireplace to me was enormous; however I’m certain that should I ever see it again I will be surprised how small it actually was.  In those days however it was probably two or three times my height from the level of the floor to the level of the large stone mantle.   One of my greatest joys in life, I can recall, was my father returning from work at the end of his day, picking me up and setting me on top of that mantle.  He would do so often, always remaining only a step or two away so that he could catch me should I slide off of the mantle, he would place me in the same spot every time.  The far right side, as you were facing the fireplace, make sure that I was seated securely then let go and allow me to remain there on my own.  How grand this made me feel!  How alive!  When you’re two, the whole world is above you – that is your only perspective.  If you want to look at something, 9 times out of 10, you have to look up to do so.  When I was on top of the mantle, I felt as if I could see the whole world and in such a way that I was never able to do on my own.  I sat there on my own, but I knew that I would always need someone to put me there.  That small cabin was my whole world and from that perspective I could see from above nearly everything in it. Everything in the whole world.   It was glorious!  I am certain that this feeling is from where my inclination for climbing trees and flag poles would later come and for climbing buildings and clock towers would even later come.

It was after one of these wonderful moments in which the remainder of this story is set.  My time up on the mantle had expired.  I don’t remember at all how long I was permitted to be there, it never seemed long enough.  My father grabbed me under the arms and lowered me from my favorite spot in the world into one of the chairs next to the fireplace.  I began looking at one of my books when for some reason, I don’t remember why, both of my parents left the room.  Maybe to check on supper, maybe to go off smooching, maybe the house was on fire – I really don’t know, but I know I had a couple of minutes there left to myself.

Climbing up the stones of the fireplace was really not difficult at all.  I can close my eyes and still see the large smooth stones sticking out an inch or two, making excellent footholds, from the mortar in which they were set.  I can even, if I focus, see roughly the way the different colored stones were oriented in the wall – a light one here, dark ones here and here.  The challenge would be upon reaching the top of the stones in the wall and rounding the underside of the mantle in order to get myself on top of it.  It was during the process of doing so, hands and arms and head above the mantle, feet on stones below the mantle and diapered hinny sticking directly out in front of the mantle, that felt my father’s stern voice cut through me from down the hallway.

“Get off of there!”, he hollered.  He may have smacked my butt as well, I don’t recall.

“Oh Boy!” I thought, “I’m in for it now!”, but then the strangest thing happened next:

my Mother, in a voice much softer and more concerned said “Wait a minute.  Are you sure you didn’t leave him up there?”

By this time they had grabbed me and set me back in the chair and I could see on both of their faces that they were each searching their memories in order to confirm that they had actually not left the room and forgotten that I was still on top of the mantle.  I could also see that neither could do so with any certainty.  When they had reentered the room and saw me half on top the mantle and half dangling below, it was not clear to them if I was on my way up or on my way down.  They looked at each other with the same look that a dog got when he had pooped in the hallway and then each looked at me.

“Did we forget you up there?” she asked, almost like an apology.

“Yes Mama” I said.

The rest of that night was quite simply a two and a half year old’s dream!

To Lie or Not to Lie…

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if we couldn’t lie?  How different our relationships would be?  How different the world would be?  I wonder if it’s a coincidence that the happiest, most carefree period of my life, of most people’s lives, ends approximately the same time that we learn to lie.  Things become more complex.  There is a balance which must be maintained that had never existed before.  A balance between conscious and honesty and what we see as securing the things we want or feel we need or deserve.  A balance between telling the truth and dealing with the consequence and lying or withholding the truth and dealing with the consequence of being dishonest.   The risks of getting caught vs. the rewards of getting away with it.  A balance between self and non-self, that was not there before.  Never even a concern.  Now there is a calculus to our relationships that was never there before.  A decision to trust or suspect what people are saying to us.  A decision to trust or suspect someone enough to reveal to them the truth.  With all that thinking, how do we have time for anything else?

My wife said something to me the other day during an argument that we were having that really got me to thinking about the nature of the human condition and our ability to be honest with one and other.  She said “everyone is, to a certain degree, full of shit.  You really can’t trust anyone.”  Almost immediately, she was able to recognize that as a form of negative thinking and it was said during, what we both agreed to later as being,  one of her emotional “funks” as we like to put it, but I’ve been wondering how much truth was in those words.  Is it possible for us to live our lives and be completely honest, even if just with one other person?  Should we?  I’d like to write about honesty and lying, the effect these things have on ourselves and our relationships and the roll of our Christian faith in governing them.

I wanted so badly to tell my wife that why she was wrong in saying that.  I wanted so badly to find the words that would prove to her the error in her thinking.  That we could in fact trust others.  That everyone was indeed not prone to dishonesty and promoting themselves in a unbelievable light.  That she could in fact trust me and, that if we did it right, I could trust her again within the confines of our own marriage.  The alternative just seemed so dreadful, but I couldn’t find the words.  I consider myself to be a relatively honest person, I think most do, but can I be trusted 100% of the time to be telling the truth?  I’m not so sure.  If you can’t be trusted 100% of the time, can you be trusted at all? Are there times when it’s ok to keep things from others if your intentions are in the right place?

I used to brag that the only lie I ever told my wife was that one time, when we were dating, she made me a bunch of peanut butter cookies to take on a business trip I went on.  While I was on the plane halfway to the west coast, I remembered that I had left them behind.  One of the first things she asked me when I phoned her that night from the hotel was if I liked the cookies.  I said that they were the best cookies I ever had and subsequently called back home to make sure that someone disposed of the evidence.  To a very large extent, before the affair, I was very honest in my marriage.  Only one or two other “big” lies can I remember telling along with a dozen or so “no baby that dress don’t make your butt look fat” type things.

This largely changed after the affair was discovered.  Not even so much because I felt entitled to no longer be held to telling the truth in light of the hundreds upon hundreds of lies that it was now evident that I had been told.  What’s notable is that I think my wife expected me to start lying to her, to return the treatment in kind.  She became suspicious and questioned things that she had previously accepted on trust.  I still felt convicted to tell the truth.  The reason I feel as if my level of truthfulness changed after the affair was not about my feeling entitled to now be less truthful.  It changed because I was , as I understood it, counseled to change it.  From very early on, the counselor, the preacher,  doctors, my wife’s case manager, my mother, friends would all provide similar advice.  Something along the lines of “you can’t keep punishing her by being hurt” and that the “first step of forgiveness is not bringing up the past”.  The perception I was given that the outward expression of my pain was in some way selfish and detrimental to my wife’s recovery.  Now, I had a choice to make between allowing myself to convey that pain, purge it, and providing a stumbling block to my wife.  The horrible thoughts, dreams and feelings that I was experiencing were to be kept to myself, least I would now be the one responsible for hurting the relationship.  I’m certain it’s not what any of them were actually saying, but it’s the impression I was under.

I literally had to learn how to lie to my wife.  Each time she asked what I was thinking about, each time she felt me draw away, each morning that I sat in shock recovering from the almost daily nightmares during the previous night’s rest, I had to lie so as not to add fuel to her already burning guilt.  It was about the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do and I can’t say that I was always particular successful at it.  I would fight the urge daily to share with her, to seek her comfort, her council.  She had been the one I’d always gone to for such things, but could not be the one now.  Beyond this, I was also constantly being cautioned about protecting her reputation now, to not spread our story around so that the people of this small town would judge her and also contribute to impeding her recovery.  It sucked!  It was like trying to hold an exploding bomb inside a paper bag.

Certainly this cannot have a place in the Corinthians type of love which Paul speaks of here:

 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

~1 Corinthians 13 (ESV)

and this I find very interesting.  Do you see verse 6 “It does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth”?  It does not contrast truth with dishonesty or lying or secrets or anything like that; it says “wrongdoing”- instead of rejoicing at wrongdoing, love chooses to rejoice in the truth!  What if the truth is a wrongdoing?  What then?  Do I rejoice in the “truth” of the “wrongdoing” or do I not rejoice in the “wrongdoing” even if it is the “truth”?  Very confusing, but I’ve said it before – there’s no crap in the bible!  If it’s there like that, it’s there like that for a reason and I would like to know what that reason is.

So what’s the deal anyway about Christianity and being honest anyway?  That should be a simple one right?  I mean, it’s one of the Ten Commandments and all – no brainer!  I started to poke around the bible to confirm this certainty, thinking this would be a simple task.  Let’s try proverbs, surely I’ll find a host of those one line little ditties supporting the notion that honesty is always the best policy.  I start by finding:

The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out.

~Proverbs 10:9 (NIV)

There we go.  Honestly, integrity – too easy, but wait what’s this:

A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.

~Proverbs 11:13 (NIV)

Are you kidding me?  Didn’t they proofread this stuff?  I’ll look some other places.

In Zachariah were told to speak the truth:

16 These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace;

~Zachariah 8 (ESV)

But James tells us to hold our tongs:

If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

~James 3 (ESV)

Here too in Matthew, were told to shut up:

37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.

~Matthew 5 (ESV)

Paul will set us straight.  Let us have it Paul:

25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another

~Ephesians 4:25(NIV)

OK, the truth, oh wait:

29  Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

~Ephesians 4:29(NIV)

That sounds like he’s telling us to hush up.  How can I always be honest with my neighbor if I can only do so when it builds him up?  It’s not so up building to say “hey your dog’s craping in my azaleas”!  These verses are like four lines away from each other!  What are you doing to me?  Obviously these people were confused and we need to go straight to the man.  WWJD?  Now well sort this out:

17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness,

~Matthew 19 (ESV)

OK, that’s what I thought.  It’s a commandment!  No lying.  No deception.  No secrets….

20  Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.

~Matthew 16 (ESV)

What in the hell!  Y’all are driving me crazy!  Will somebody please just tell me if I’m supposed to speak up or shut up?  Because now I’m not so sure!

Even when it comes to telling people about God’s love there is apparently a time to speak:

9 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

~Matthew 28 (NASB)

And a time to keep it to ourselves:

“Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

~Matthew7 (NASB)

Obviously the bible is trying to tell us that there is both a time to speak up and a time to shut up, but how are we to know the difference? How do I know when it’s God’s will from me to speak my mind and when he wants me to keep my peace?  Specifically, what I need is biblical example of forgiveness that shows when I’m supposed to speak and when I’m supposed to shut my trap… Joseph!

Now here was a guy that had a hard time knowing when to keep his pie hole (ok raisin cake hole) shut!  Y’all remember Joseph, favorite son of Jacob and the kid brother that everyone hated because his father gave him the cool robe? When he had a dream, he was all too quick to go blab about it to his brothers:

5 Then Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. 6 He said to them, “Please listen to this dream which I have had; 7 for behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and lo, my sheaf rose up and also stood erect; and behold, your sheaves gathered around and bowed down to my sheaf.” 8 Then his brothers said to him, “Are you actually going to reign over us? Or are you really going to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.

~Genesis 37 (NASB)

He apparently didn’t learn his lesson, because it happens again and he shoot’s his mouth off again.  This time he even gets in trouble with Dad:

9 Now he had still another dream, and related it to his brothers, and said, “Lo, I have had still another dream; and behold, the sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” 10 He related it to his father and to his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you havehad? Shall I and your mother and your brothers actually come to bow ourselves down before you to the ground?” 11 His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind.

~Genesis 37 (NASB)

So his brothers seize him, chuck him in a pit and leave him for dead, then change their mind and decide to go back and sell him into slavery.  Nice guys.  God is with Joseph though and his master can see it.  After a while Joseph becomes so favored by his master that he is made overseer of the master’s entire estate.  When his master goes away, he thinks nothing of leaving everything in Joseph’s charge, but once again Joseph finds himself in hot water:

Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. 7 It came about after these events that his master’s wife looked with desire at Joseph, and she said, “Lie with me.” 8 But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Behold, with me here, my master does not concern himself with anything in the house, and he has put all that he owns in my charge. 9 There is no one greater in this house than I, and he has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great evil and sin against God?” 10 As she spoke to Joseph day after day, he did not listen to her to lie beside her or be with her. 11 Now it happened one day that he went into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the household was there inside. 12 She caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me!” And he left his garment in her hand and fled, and went outside. 13 When she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled outside, 14she called to the men of her household and said to them, “See, he has brought in a Hebrew to us to make sport of us; he came in to me to lie with me, and I screamed. 15 When he heard that I raised my voice and screamed, he left his garment beside me and fled and went outside.” 16 So she left his garment beside her until his master came home. 17 Then she spoke to him with these words, “The Hebrew slave, whom you brought to us, came in to me to make sport of me; 18 and as I raised my voice and screamed, he left his garment beside me and fled outside.”

Joseph Imprisoned

19 Now when his master heard the words of his wife, which she spoke to him, saying, “This is what your slave did to me,” his anger burned. 20 So Joseph’s master took him and put him into the jail, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined; and he was there in the jail. 21 But the LORD was with Joseph and extended kindness to him, and gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer. 22 The chief jailer committed to Joseph’s charge all the prisoners who were in the jail; so that whatever was done there, he was responsible for it. 23 The chief jailer did not supervise anything under Joseph’s charge because the LORD was with him; and whatever he did, the LORD made to prosper.

~Genesis 39 (NASB)

Y’all notice there’s nothing there about Joseph speaking up for himself.  No “hey Master, just to let you know, you’re wife’s getting a little handsy with me”, no “hey, here’s my side of the story”, no “she’s a flat out liar!”.  There’s no account of him speaking for himself at all.  Where’s all the yakkin now, when it might could do him so good?  This time his inability to know when to speak and when to not ends him up in the jailhouse.  But God’s still with Joseph.  He gives him favor with the jailer and Joseph is soon to be made the leader of those jailed with him.  One day Joseph finds himself in the company of the King’s baker and cupbearer, each of whom has just had a dream.  Joseph correctly interprets the dreams

8 Then they said to him, “We have had a dream and there is no one to interpret it.” Then Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell it to me, please.”

. . .

23 Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.

~Genesis 40 (NASB)

This time Joseph chooses to speak up, but it has no immediate effect.  Though his predictions come to be true, they are quickly forgotten.  Until one day the Pharaoh has a dream and in order to find favor with him, the cup bearer remembers Joseph:

9 Then the chief cupbearer spoke to Pharaoh, saying, “I would make mention today of my own offenses. 10Pharaoh was furious with his servants, and he put me in confinement in the house of the captain of the bodyguard, both me and the chief baker. 11 We had a dream on the same night, he and I; each of us dreamed according to the interpretation of his own dream. 12 Now a Hebrew youth was with us there, a servant of the captain of the bodyguard, and we related them to him, and he interpreted our dreams for us. To each one he interpreted according to his own dream. 13 And just as he interpreted for us, so it happened; he restored me in my office, but he hanged him.”

Joseph Interprets

14 Then Pharaoh sent and called for Joseph, and they hurriedly brought him out of the dungeon; and when he had shaved himself and changed his clothes, he came to Pharaoh. 15 Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, but no one can interpret it; and I have heard it said about you, that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.”

~Genesis 41 (NASB)

So what’s the deal with Joseph?  How come sometimes this guy opens his mouth with the truth and we see it get him up the stream and sometimes he opens his mouth in the truth and he’s made second in command of all of Egypt?  There’s a message there that I’m just not seeing and what I’ve learned is that it’s almost always in the small print, so to speak.  The words that I just sort of glance over trying to get to the juicy parts.  The stuff I just tell myself is there for filler, or to make the story grammatically correct or for stupid people.  I forget that sometimes I’m the stupid person.  I read the story again looking for things that I may have just scanned over before and I notice these versus.

8 . . . Then Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God?

~Genesis 40 (NASB)

And

16 Joseph then answered Pharaoh, saying, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.”

~Genesis 41 (NASB)

When I look back on the account of Joseph relaying his dreams to his brothers and also the account of his experience with Potiphar’s wife, there is no mention of God.  No God telling him to share his experiences, no “I get it but the glory really goes to God”, no “it’s not my will but God’s will that this be shared”.  Can you see how with his brothers it was really more of a “hey check me out” kind of thing?  Perhaps a little bit of retaliation for their treatment of him, their hatred of him?  He just has the dreams and boom! Opens his mouth.  No God’s timing, no concern for what God wants shared, just “hey check me out”!  Likewise with Potiphar’s wife.  There is no mention here that God tells Joseph to go blabbing to his master about his wife’s adulterous intentions.  I don’t know why.  Maybe it was part of God’s plan.  Maybe God had another way to deal with her sinfulness.  Maybe Potiphar was just as bad and deserved it.  I don’t know anything about why he wouldn’t, but he doesn’t and if he had, the story may have ended in a very different way.

Y’all ever wonder what would have happened if Joseph had enough sense to keep his dreams about himself and his brothers to himself way back when?  How his story may have been different.  He’d likely still be back home reporting on his brothers labors in the field and we never would have been given one of the greatest bible stories about forgiveness:

16 So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father charged before he died, saying, 17 ‘Thus you shall say to Joseph, “Please forgive, I beg you, the transgression of your brothers and their sin, for they did you wrong.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” And Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 Then his brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.

~Genesis 50(NASB)

You see that in verse 19 “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result”.  That’s cool!  We can make mistakes (and let others make mistakes) and God is clever enough to turn them around and use them for good.  Like my Tom-Tom.  I know what I want my final destination to be (with God) and it gives me the best route to get there.  Step by step, turn by turn, it even beeps and tells me when the turns are approaching.  How many times have I told myself “oh she (the tom-tom’s female voice) doesn’t know about this shortcut or that shortcut.  That old farm road probably isn’t even in her databank” or simply just drifted off into my own thoughts while driving and forgotten to pay attention to what the Tom-Tom was telling me.  I end up lost in the middle of Newark!

I truly am often surprised that the Tom-Tom doesn’t get angry with me.  “You see, you should have listened” I keep expecting it to say, or “I can see why your first two wives left you, jackass!”  She probably would be within her rights to say so.  I wouldn’t be able to argue.  I thought that I knew better, I trusted myself rather than the instructions I had been given,  and now I’m lost in the middle of Newark, the only white guy in a pick-up truck in the city, with everyone looking like they want to kill me and eat me.  I am a jackass sometimes!

Those words never come.  No “I told you so”.  No “Well now you’re on your own now!”, just a momentary pause and then an new set of perfect directions.  The tom-tom is clever enough to realize that I screwed up and am going to, even more than ever, need her direction.  What a forgiving little gadget it is!

God’s like that too, only his database is infinite.  Whereas with the tom-tom, every once and a while there’s an old dirt road, that it may not know about, God’s directions are always up to date, always perfect and always made with love.  Even so sometimes I forget to pay attention, sometimes I think I know better and I, figuratively speaking, always end up lost in the middle of Newark with everyone looking like they want to kill me and eat me.  Without pause, he just says “well, you’ve gone astray.  Here are some new directions”.  All I have to do is submit my pride and listen:

Wisdom from Above

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

James 3 (ESV)

So looking back at Corinthians 13

 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

~1 Corinthians 13 (ESV)

The truth is that the statement is perfectly self-explanatory – We can tell the truth in a way that is sinful.  It a way that actually does represent the opposite of what love rejoices in.  Telling the truth does not always equate to not doing wrong.  With respect to love; the opposite of telling the truth is not brutal honesty, but not doing wrong.  Say I have a bad dream about the affair and when I wake up in the morning I’m still in a little bit of a funk over it.  I may be unsettled by the dream, preoccupied by it, maybe even a little resentful of my wife for being responsible for me having the dream, but in my heart and in my mind I know it’s just a dream.  It’s not really going to hurt me.  I can still see all the progress my wife has made, how hard she is trying.  My wife, from a place of caring, can see that I’m not right and asks what is wrong.  Now, here there are a number of different ways in which I can serve “the truth”.  I can say “nothing” which really doesn’t mean nothing – untrue.  I can tell her the truth, but let her know that I’m ok, or I can tell her the truth in a way that leverages that resentment onto her, converting my resentment into her guilt – guilt for something about which I have supposedly forgiven her.

Now that’s a tight line to walk, because it makes us completely accountable for the “truth” we choose to share.  If I’m saying that “I’m hurt” that can come from a place of honestly sharing what’s going on with me or it can come from a place of punishing you for what you’ve done to me.  No one except me and God know the truth about where it’s coming from or how the truth is being used.  Near as I can tell there are two things we need to consider before we choose to speak:

Intention

15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.

~James 3 (ESV)

and timing.

do not worry about how or what you are to speak in your defense, or what you are to say; 12 forthe Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.

~Luke 12 (NASB)

When you think about it, it’s the same decision which we make when we decide whether or not to share God’s love with people.  When we are witnessing the sower and the field must both be ready.  We can toss our seeds into the weeds and no good will come.  Likewise if we try to witness from a place of “hey check me out!  How holy am I”, even a willing listener may be turned away.  We can tell the truth in a way that is not really doing right.  How can we ever hope to give someone a new perspective, if we ourselves are not sure what that perspective is?

When I think back to my father sitting me up on the mantle, I realize that this is what meant so much to me – a new perspective.  He gave me each evening the gift of a new perspective.  I’ll never forget it.  How it made me feel.  How freeing it was.  How wonderful.  Now some forty plus years later, it is the singular most memorable gift I’ve been given.  The memory which has been with me the longest in life, was his gift of a new perspective.  Once, my wife and I were driving alone together along the highway near our home.  I looked over and noticed her considering the many scars along both of her forearms – the outward reminder of years upon years of self-injury and self-hatred.  She noticed me watching her looking at them and said with shame “look how many there are?”  Without hesitation I replied “look how old they are?”

She still talks about that day.  Still caries that with her.  Like my father sitting me on the mantle, I was able to give her that day a new perspective and I think that’s really at the heart of what “truth” means – a new perspective.  Am I sharing information in order to give someone a new perspective or to confirm their old perspective and if it’s the latter than what’s really the point?  Does opening my mouth serve love or does it serve anger?  Am I withholding the truth in order to build up the relationship or compound my own status of being a victim?

Lord, give me the wisdom to see those things.  To know the difference between serving myself with my words and serving my love for my wife, my family and for you.  Guide me each time I decide to use my tongue.  Please use me, time and time again to give others the wonderful gift of being given a new perspective – a perspective of love, of kindness, of forgiveness, a perspective of you.  And may I never forget the new perspective which you have given to me.

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How Do You Say “Peter You Need to Cut Your Toenails” In Hungarian?…

 29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

Ephesians 4 (NIV)

Communication…

Well, I’ve been at this a little while now and have read a great deal about the plight of others who are going through the same thing as I am. I truly find the sheer number of stories that are out there to be both sickening and comforting at the same time. Some couples get through it and some don’t. I have noticed two trends among the ones who do. First , in the ones that do, both partners are willing and committed to do the work of healing. The second is the ability to learn to communicate with one and other. I want to write about both of these things, but separately. Today I want to talk about communication.

Hey! That Clock’s Not Right…

I believe I’ve mentioned previously that I was always liked school and that this took me places. One of those places was Hungary. I was accepted into a Medical School in a small city in the South of Hungary called Szeged. I lived there for about two and a half years. Now don’t be terribly impressed by that. That acceptance was secured by an American company that guaranteed your acceptance at a foreign medical school, provided you had completed the necessary prerequisite coursework. It wasn’t competitive in the least.

It was that company that arranged for us to fly over there, helped us find apartments, provided us a translator to assist us in the process of getting our visas and medical examinations and registered for school. They flew us over there about two weeks before classes would begin and they had become so efficient at this process that it only took about two days for most of us to find apartments and take care of the necessary paperwork in order to begin school.

It was the late 90’s and Hungry at that time was this little burgeoning democracy. The Berlin wall had come down only less than a decade before and Hungary was just beginning to feel its way around as a Democratic state and capitalistic economy. I’ve heard an expression that goes something like “the only thing worse than communism is what comes after communism and before democracy” – this is the period in which I lived there.

The economy was struggling to grow. They were only now learning what a grocery store was as prior to this they would get their groceries like we would go to the pharmacist – they would give the employees a list of what they needed and the employees would go get the items and bring it to the counter. Even now that you would actually go get your own groceries, it made store owners so nervous that they would be stolen from that there were armed guards at the store with machine guns. Shortly before we came they had opened a McDonalds in the center of town. I was told some time later that the wage for working an entire shift at McDonalds was not sufficient to buy a Big Mac, fries and a Coke from McDonald’s. You could get a steak dinner and a bottle of wine and the nicest restaurant in town and it would cost you the equivalent of like six bucks. The country was so poor that you almost just didn’t need money to live there. Everyone should have one chance in their lifetimes to live like that. Our student loans permitted us to live like kings while we were there.

In any event, that was the economic backdrop against which the story which I’m about to tell takes place – we were big shots. We could go out every night, eat, drink, go to the opera etc. Despite who we were and from wherever we had come from, there we were the beautiful people. We had over a week and a half to kill before classes began and a half a liter (about a pint) of Dreher (national beer) would run you about a quarter (50 forints, although now I believe the use the euro). If you’ve been reading along here, you’ll probably be able to guess how I spent my week and a half.

I had secured a Hungarian-English dictionary before I left home and being the highly dedicated consummate prepared individual that I am, had learned exactly two words; “igen” meaning yes and “nem” meaning no. The night on which this all happened was relatively soon after we all had arrived. As a matter of fact it was so soon after we had arrived, that I had not yet figured out how to change the time on my watch from East Cost time to Hungarian time and was becoming increasingly annoyed at having to endure the anguish of needing to perform the addition of 8 in order to determine what time it was. It was about 7:00pm + 8 = 3:00am, and my new friends and I were walking through the center of town after the bar had closed and had come to our school. The school included all of the buildings on one city block, the center of which was vacant – the “ter” they would call it, but we would probably say “quad”, except for a beautiful old Catholic Cathedral.

It was beautiful, statues and art. There is a bone there which belonged to St. Peter, I think encased in glass. The building itself was a work of art, with it’s two identically imposing brick clock towers (one pictured right) soaring seemingly hundreds of feet in the air. From any direction the towers were the most prominent feature of the little city’s skyline. Next to the cathedral was a large stone courtyard and on the other side of that courtyard there remained metal bleachers which had been set up so that the courtyard could be used for outdoor theater that previous summer.

It was on those bleachers that I found myself sitting with my new friends – a Canadian guy and Norwegian girl.  There was scaffolding along one side of the towers as they must have been using the remainder of the warm weather that autumn to clean it after the years summer outdoor cultural schedule had concluded.  Through the scaffolding I could see the face of one of those enormous clocks telling all of Szeged that I should have been in bed.  I glanced at my watch and was reminded that I had not yet figured out how to change the time to local time and looked back at the tower, then at my watch, then at the tower.  I can climb some stuff now (I reckon that I can brag about that, because I’m not good at much else)!  I’ve just always been very good at climbing things and this particular skill of mine is clearly not limited to any particular continent as the next thing I knew, having apparently forgotten at the bar all the good sense that my Mother had insisted on me packing, was making very short order of scaling up the scaffolding in order to do the city of Szeged the very great favor of righting the me sized hands of the clock on their beloved Cathedral tower to East Cost time.

The view was amazing and I sat for a while on top of one of those triangular rooftops which you may be able to see in the picture above each of the clocks.  I looked out over my new home and let the wind at my elevated altitude remind me that winter would soon be here as my new friends were in all likelihood at the beginning stages of  questioning their own judgment in befriending me.  I stood up and stretched out my hands.  Reaching for the sky, I felt my own solitude, my own humanity.  I tried to reach for the sky as far as I could, before I realized that it was only my own balance which prevented me from plummeting down into the courtyard and being presented rather abruptly, and gruesomely, before my friends.

My friends pleaded with me to come down, but I wanted to remain just a little while longer – “Nem!” I called down to them and began tossing coins from my pocket down onto the courtyard.  When they finally did persuaded me to descend, I realized that the scaffolding supports must have been covered with some sort of grease,  well somewhat less grease than before I had ascended, because now a large portion of it was on my pants, shirt, hands and face.

Great story huh?  It’s not over.  The reason I’m actually subjecting y’all to all of this is what happens next.  With feet back firmly on the ground I began walking back across the courtyard toward my friends when I noticed the doors of an old junky Trabant open that had been parked on the street.  If y’all don’t know about this marvel of engineering known as Trabant it was a communist remnant, formerly produced in East Germany.  A car having a two stroke engine (you’re weed whacker has a two stroke engine) that ran on leaded (remember leaded or unleaded) gasoline which was still being used in Hungary back then.  It was the type of car that only a few years before you could trade for a pair of Levis.  You could sell one and likely get yourself a nice breakfast with the proceeds.  Simply put it was not a vehicle of any status.

The two men who had exited the trabant were now approaching me.  In my mind they had a somewhat disheveled appearance and I assumed they were gypsies.  Gypsies throughout most of Europe do not enjoy the romantic, violin playing, nomadic reputation that they do in the United States.  In Europe they are thought of roughly the same as the homeless are in the United States.  I had been warned to avoid them as they were often desperate impoverished people who were likely to view me as an easy target.  I’m assuming the conversation went something like this, but I never understood a word they said.

“Jó estét kívánok. Mi vagyunk a rendőrség.”, one said.

“They must be asking me for money” I thought.  “Nem” I said somewhat sternly.

Again they spoke “Mi vagyunk a rendőrség. Mit csinálsz ott fent?”

“Nem!” I said with more emphasis.

“voltál ivást?”  the other said.

“Nem! Nem! NEM!!!” I said, with increasing anger. “Nem! Nem”

“oh hey they have badges” I remember thinking to myself “they must have found or stole those”

I continued “Nem!  Nem! Neeemmmm!!!” by now I was yelling.

Gypsies don’t have badges.  They don’t want badges.  They don’t need badges so they don’t steal badges.  If they find badges, unless they think they can be sold, they are likely to leave them right where they found them. Hungarian policemen have badges.  The rest of that night and most of the next morning was spent thumbing through my pocket dictionary in order to figure out if Hungary had the death penalty as these men hurled threats at me that I could never hope (nor wish to) understand.  Finally the translator arrived and I was told that all they needed was to make copies of my visa and passport and that I would be held accountable for any damage which I had done to the Cathedral during my escapades.  Still, to this day, somewhere in a Hungarian police file cabinet, sits my mug shot tucked safely away in a folder which is likely labeled “the Ugly American”.

Bad things happen when people can’t communicate with each other and marriage is no different.  In many ways the way in which my wife and I communicate is very much like me and those policemen trying to communicate that night.  We recognize anger, frustration, but cannot understand what the other is trying to tell us.  Being unable to do so, we make assumptions about the other’s motive.  We attribute malice or ill will where none is really do and we make asses of ourselves.  There’s been many a night where I have gone to bed wondering, figuratively speaking, if I was to be given the death penalty.

That night, what I was trying to communicate is “I’m not going to let you take advantage of me”.  What the policemen were trying to communicate was “hey, you need to respect our authority here.  You screwed up.  Now stop acting like a jack-ass and take responsibility for what you did!”  Both reasonable positions, but when pitted against one and other and in such a way where the other’s needs were hidden, we became a threat to one and other.  Now it ended up alright I guess, once the translator arrived.  The only permanent consequence of the event is my Polaroid photograph sitting in a file cabinet somewhere, but what could have happened?  I can envision that ending far worse.

My wife and I alternate these rolls: “you’re not going to take advantage of me” and “I need you to respect me”.  Back and forth we change them; sometimes I play the first roll and she plays the other, sometimes she plays the first and I the other, sometimes we’re both playing both rolls simultaneously; “if you respect me you’ll assure me that you’re not still cheating” vs. “if you respect me you’ll stop asking me to prove it”.  Those are powerful motivators; to be respected and to not be taken advantage of, and I’m not sure that any one of us can, or should, be asked to give them up.  I shouldn’t have to let her continue to take advantage of me in order to save my marriage.  Likewise she shouldn’t have to endure accusation after accusation simply to prove that she no longer is.  To do so would be allowing me to take advantage of her, based not on who she is, but who she was -her past mistakes.  In addition we both are entitled to each other’s respect; the respect to not be ignored and the respect of not being constantly reminded of our past transgressions.  But what happens when these things get all pitted against one and other and we can’t understand for what the other is asking?  Bad things happen when we can’t communicate.

Ok Jesus, a snare like this… I know you must have told us something about.  Where is it?  Give it up!  When I look up “communication” in my bible, I find all kinds of nifty stuff:

But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned

~Matthew 12:37

A wise man’s heart guides his mouth, and his lips promote instruction

~Proverbs 16:23

The lips of the righteous know what is fitting, but the mouth of the wicked only what is perverse

~Proverbs 10:29

• gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger ~Proverbs 15:1

Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing

~Proverbs 12.

A wise man’s heart guides his mouth, and his lips promote instruction 

~Proverbs 16:23

The lips of the righteous know what is fitting, but the mouth of the wicked only what is perverse 

~Proverbs 10:29

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger 

~Proverbs 15:1

Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing 

~Proverbs 12:18

and many many more!  All good stuff.  All applicable to communication, but none of them are really getting it for me.  Yeah, I get it – I gotta be nice!  Right?  I’ve tried that and it doesn’t seem to, on its own, do the trick.  I still am not communicating effectively with my wife.  While, yes, I know that controlling my sharp tongue is something that I need to work on, and probably always will, there has to be something else about how to communicate.  Something that gets at both respect and the fear of being taken advantage of.  Something that I’m not seeing.

How do we communicate respect to one and other?  I live in the South, when my wife or a teacher or any adult asks my boys a question they are expected to reply “Yes Ma’am” or “No Ma’am”.  The words are intended to convey respect for your elders.  But, if you live in the South, you also know that these words convey a hollow sentiment.  While they do literally convey respect – hey it’s better than straight out saying “bite me!”, that respect represents the absolute minimum amount respect that is imposed on us by convention.  The words can also be said simply dripping with disdain.  Go into any Piggly-Wiggly in the state of South Carolina and try to order green beans without bacon (although I don’t know why anyone would) in them – you’ll get a “Yes Ma’am” or a “Yes Sir” that makes you feel anything but respected!  The words themselves become a way of conveying sarcasm not respect.  A comment about how ridiculous your request of them is, how ridiculous it is that they are required to show you respect.  It’s about the tone, the facial expression, the body language, the speed with which they respond and the subsequent tone and facial expression and body language and speed with which they provide you with what you are asking.  In short, what they are communicating has almost nothing to do with what they’re saying.  It’s almost entirely about what they’re doing.  Communicating respect has far more to do with what we do than what we say.

Check this out:

Jesus Washes His Disciples’ Feet

 1 It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

 2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

 7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

 8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

   Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

 9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

 10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

 12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

~John 13:1-15(NIV)

Did you read it?  I know it’s long and you’ve probably seen it before, but it’s what I’m going to be talking about for the rest of this chapter.  Don’t skip the Bible verses y’all – it’s what this is all about!  Go back and read it now!

I mean it!  Go back and read it!  God knows if you did or didn’t.  Don’t just skip through here looking for the juicy bits.  God might have something to say to you in between.  I trust you, even though you tried to fool me twice now,  I trust that you’re going to go back and read it for real this time.  I’m very fragile with the trust thing, please don’t take advantage.

OK, I had never really thought of this passage as speaking to how we should communicate with one and other, but there is a ton of stuff going on here that has to do with communications.  So much in fact that I’m not really sure how to approach it now.  How about the beginning:

 1 It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

 2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 

3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 

The most striking thing about this verse to me is the words “Jesus knew”.  He knew.  He knew he was about to die.  He knew Judas was about to betray him.  He knew Peter would deny him.  He knew these guys were full of horse shit, but still he loved them.  Jesus knew that, from their perspective anyway, he was about to be taken advantage of.  Sold out for 30 pieces of silver, denied by his greatest disciple.  That even now, as these men professed their devout love for him to his face, they soon would be embarrassed of their association with him, abandon him to die on the cross and deny even knowing him.

I know something about that.  I’ve felt that stink of knowing the truth in my heart when the person I’m talking to is telling me something else.  I remember my wife professing her love for me and our family, defending it, even becoming angry when it was questioned at home, and the go to town and belittle me in front of her coworkers, people with whom we go to church and others in our community.  Convincing them how horrible I was, denying her love for me, absolving herself of the responsibility of treating me with respect.  There are rumors which remain to this day about me being a drunk, an abusive husband, and abusive father, that I am gay and never was able to satisfy my wife in that way, that I was a religious tyrant who used scripture to belittle and control my family, that I would use our family’s financial resources only for myself and not permit her or the boys even the simplest of niceties.  The things she must have said to this man as they lied next to each other, horrible things, things designed to justify her being with him to him, to herself, things that I know she will never even confess to me; they haunt me, and will likely continue to haunt me for the rest of my life.  She’ll never know how much her honesty about them would mean to me and has firmly convinced herself that what I don’t know will never hurt me, but still, from time to time, one reveals itself and the process of recovery for me begins again from square one.

How easy would it have been for Jesus to call these jack-wagons on their horse shit?  How tempting would it have been to be like; “Peter, look at you all, I love you and won’t let you wash my feet, because I’m so devoted to you.  You’re not even gonna what to admit that you have ever known me here soon” and “look at Judas over there sweating like a hooker in church!  Yeah, Mr. Money Bags, I can see what’s really in your heart!”  Jesus doesn’t do that stuff.  Despite” knowing” that what is being said to him, what is being shown to him was a lie, he chooses to remain centered on his intended message, the message of love.  He does not permit himself this distraction, does not cater to what must have been a pretty tempting urge to just say “whatever, if you guys are gonna insist on being full of it, then what’s even the point”  He remains true to that which he has already decided to communicate.  “I’m fixin to tell you that I love you and y’all being a bunch of lying jack-asses is not gonna stop me from doin so!”

 1 I said, “I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin; I will put a muzzle on my mouth while in the presence of the wicked.”

~Psalms 39:1(NIV)

How?  How does he do that?  How does he resist that temptation, resist taking that tiny little step that takes us from communicating about what we are intending, to communicating our displeasure about how it is being received, that its effect is not immediate?  How does what I’m trying to communicate to my wife go so quickly from “because I love you, it hurts me when you…” to “what the heck, if you were really sorry and really wanted for me to feel respected, you’d understand… You must still be the way you used to be!!!”?  It’s such a tiny little step and so hard to resist to go from what we wanted to say to something completely different.

Verse 3 tells us how.  “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God” .  Now y’all pray that he never puts “all” things in my power, but God has put some things under my power.  I have the power to choose to love God or not.  I have the power to choose what I want to have for lunch and I have the power to choose the words that I let come out of my mouth when I’m speaking to my wife.  The key thing to remember as I’m working towards all those proverb recommendations I have listed above is in the second part of the third verse; “he knew . . .  that he had come from God and was returning to God”.  Can you see how that makes it seem like it really doesn’t matter if the person to whom you’re speaking is full of nonsense or not?  How petty it makes it seem that I be so concerned about the other person’s immediate reaction to what I am saying?  There is always another set of ears in the room and they hear everything.  Another set of eyes that see everything.  When we’re communication with others, were not just communicating with them, were communication with God.  When I speak to my wife, I am also speaking to God.  God’s not trying to pull one over on me.  He’s not lying to me.  He’s not telling me something that isn’t true.  It sounds harsh, but it really doesn’t matter if my wife is telling me the truth about what is going on with her.  It really doesn’t matter if it’s still going on – if she’s still just lying to my face and the only thing that’s changed is that she’s getting better at it.  It’s not my instruction to know if she is telling the truth or not, it’s my instruction to forgive her and to love her and to communicate these things to her.  That’s it and that’s all! As much as I want her to be telling the truth, as much as I want things to be different now, as much as I want to truly love me and express that to me, these things are of this world and ultimately mean very little.  I’ve come from the father and will return to the father – that is from where my true comfort should come, not whether or not my wife is rolling her eyes at me.  That sounds like I’m betraying my love for her, but it’s really not, because love that is unwilling to show trust is not really love at all.

What’s next:

4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

One thing that I’d like to point out here (but it was also mentioned in verse two) is that this all was taking place at supper time.  Twice now John mentions that this was going on during their meal.  What’s up?  There’s just not stuff in the bible that doesn’t need to be there so why, two times now, have we been told that it was supper time.  Oh No! It’s more of that psycho-socio-babble about families eating together instead of eating in front of the TV, isn’t it.  Yup!  But maybe there is something to it.  I think there is probably a reason that we are continuously being told that that meal time is an effective time for communication.  First we’re all together and want to be there.  It’s supper time, we’re hungry, it doesn’t take much convincing in my house to get everyone to the table.  Second, we’re meeting one of our basic needs, we’re eating, we’re not going to have to worry again until morning where to get us some more food.  That’s at least one stressor that we can let go of for a little while.  Third we generally with people that we know love us.  We’re not worried about making impressions or if our zipper’s open or what he will think or she will think if we take another chicken wing.  We feel accepted.  These are pretty key states of mind to communicate and to be communicated to.  I guess Jesus knew that.

Now I’m not saying that my wife and I should be hashing out the details of her affair at the supper table.  Clearly that’s not appropriate, but we are seemingly being told here about something about choosing the where and when for communication.  I can’t tell you how many times I insist on staying up late at night forcing my wife, who only wants to sleep, to talk about something.  How many times I’ve hammered at her as she’s still wiping the sleep from her eyes and only trying to focus on pouring her morning coffee.  How many times we’ve engaged in a deliberately vague argument because we were doing so in front of the boys, or company, or in public, or by text message or when one or both of us was at work?  These really aren’t the time or place to have effective communication.  I’ll be the first to admit that its my way to rush into the “this needs to be dealt with now” mentality, instead of just sitting back on something, thinking about it, understanding what it really means or where its coming from, before opening my mouth.  My wife’s the exact opposite, if God would strike her mute today, she’d probably consider it a blessing.

Here there obviously needs to be a compromise.  We need to work together to find times that we can communicate effectively without impeding on our other responsibilities.  It needs to be a priority, but not such a priority that it supersedes all other priorities.  It needs to be frequent enough to be effective, but not so frequent that it takes over our lives and it has to be done in a setting where we’re both comfortable and willing to communicate.

Then Jesus gets him a bowl with some water and sets off to wash everybody’s feet.  As you can imagine, this was not considered to be a very dignified task.  Still we see Jesus symbolically removing his outer garments  (fancy clothes) put on a towel (work clothes), divesting himself of his true greatness and entitlement to the respect and honor due a king, assuming the task expected of the least valued person in the room, and willingly, wantingly beginning to engage in preforming this lowly task.  A task that was usually reserved for slaves, servants or hosts who truly wanted to display respect to their guests.  There’s nothing symbolic here, they actually washed there feet, stinky foot grime and toe jam – Peter was a fisherman, can you imagine what that guys tootsies looked like!

Still here we find our king, our beloved savior, down on his knees doing so for those who called him “Lord”.  Now I wouldn’t even know where to begin to describe the amount of information which is being communicated here.  Volumes have been written about it.  We sometimes do it at churches.  The Brother’s at Kyros do it before entering into the prisons in order to bring the word of God to those confined there.  In terms of symbolic gestures I’m not sure you could offer someone more respect.  Does it mean that I should keep a washbasin and a towel next to my wife’s chair in the living room? No, I mean sometimes that might be nice, or a foot rub, or something along those lines, but what I think, I’m actually being told here is that when I want to communicate something to my wife, I have to be willing to divest myself from the things I think that I deserve.  My role as the head of our household, my role as her husband, my role as the father, my role as a spouse who has been cheated on…  these robes, this “outer clothing” that I wear, does not entitle me to behave as though I have more value that my wife.  That I deserve better treatment than she does.  How can I ever expect her to behave as a person worthy of respect if I myself am unwilling to respect her?

You’ll notice that all this which I have described to this point, everything which Jesus has already communicated; it all happens before Jesus even opens his mouth.  Action truly does speak louder than words!

Now Peter:

 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

 7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

 8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

   Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

 9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

 10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

You know for being Jesus’ right hand guy, Peter really is quite dull!  Still Peter was the rock and rocks are quite dull.  What it the world is Peter doing here?  Sure I get the “no, you’re Jesus, you’re too good to wash my feet” thing, but then the “ok, well then can you catch my hands and head as well?” thing?  Uhm, Peter!  What are you doing?  That’s Jesus you’re talking to, why not just ask him to trim your nose hair and wax your back while you’re at it?  How about a nice cucumber facial and back massage? Common Peter!  Stop being so wishy-washy and get your game on!

What I’m told is that this all is symbolic of the sort of zealot, over enthusiastic Christian who engages in “Christian” activity not as a form of genuine worship, but rather to serve themselves.   If you go to church, you probably know exactly who I’m talking about.  The guy that has to be on every committee, have his hand on every account, his nose in every conversation, who thinks his theology is beyond reproach, uncorrectable, even the preacher would do well to yield to his viewpoints.  Or the woman, who sits in the front row every Sunday, sings the loudest, asks the preacher to repeat himself to make it obvious she’s taking notes, goes to bible study to show how much she knows rather than to try to learn, thinks that everyone sees her as sinless and therefore should all want to be exactly like her. Yeah, those are the ones.  First to correct, last to accept correction.  Who do these people go to church to serve?

I think that that’s what Jesus is talking about when he says “hey if you’ve had a bath, you just gotta wash your feet”.  Jews would often take baths before going to the place where they would have supper, but on their way there their feet would again get dirty.  They would have to wash them off again before going in to eat.  What Jesus is saying, in my understanding, is “hey, even after you come to me your still gonna be a sinner.  You’re still gonna get a little mud on your boots.  You don’t have to be born again and again and again and again, when you screw up, just stomp the mud off your boots and get on with being a Christian.  Stop being so overly dramatic!  It’s not impressing anyone!  Somebody here, I’m not saying any names Judas, needs to go and get him a bath!”.  – I’m thinking about doing my own bible translation.

OK, what does all this say to me about communicating with my wife?  Here’s what.  There are times when we are trying to communicate to one and other, that we do not receive the reaction that we expect.  I can say something to her; “I wish you would…” and her reaction may be over the top and over the top in one of two ways really, she can head what I am saying and overcompensate for it; “I wish you would show me more affection” and then the woman won’t get off my lap, or she can resent what I am saying and take it the cut off your nose to spite your face route; one time I fussed at her to stop whispering to one of our boys because I thought they were becoming a distraction and she didn’t say a word in church for months after that.

The point is that I can’t script her responses to what I am saying in my mind, then get pissed when she doesn’t know her lines in the script.  There were times, back when she was in the hospital, when I would literally rehearse out loud conversations that I expected to have with her.  Pausing between each point in order to hear in my mind her expected and then responding again out loud to the imaginary her.  If someone had ever seen me sitting alone in my living room doing that, we both would have been in the nut house, but I did.  What I’m saying is that although we should be prepared to communicate, know what it is that we value and are trying to express, we cannot try to communicate thinking that we already know what the other person is thinking.  We don’t get to be angry because their reaction does not match or expectations?  We’ll get a chance to talk again, just shut up and listen!  You see how Jesus did that?

 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

 7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

 8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

   Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

 9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

 10 Jesus answered, . . .

Jesus waits, nice and patient for Peter to say what he’s gonna say.  Then replies, not in anger or frustration, but to address Peter’s misunderstanding. Jesus doesn’t store up his anger that Peter is contradicting him, but rather knows to address it in a Godly way:

 “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down on your wrath”

~ Ephesians 4:26(NIV)

He engages Peter gently.  Involves him in the process of communication without accusing him or putting him on the defensive.

Then again, he does not overreact to Peter’s second over corrective error, but gently corrects him again.  Back and Forth.  Your turn, my turn.  I respect you, you respect me.  You didn’t understand me that way, let me try to explain it this way.  Our therapist has an exercise where whenever my wife and I had a serious conversation we were supposed to use a salt shaker to pass back and forth.  When she had the salt shaker, it was her turn to talk and my turn to listen. When I had the salt shaker in was my turn to talk and her turn to listen.  Before we spoke we were to reiterate in our own words what the other had just said.  Often times, the salt shaker would just sit on the table between us, as we both sat silently, reminding us to pick it up if we needed to.

And finally Jesus lets them know what he is doing:

 12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

Jesus became first what he wanted his disciples to be.  He himself provided the example for them to model their own behavior after.  He didn’t just shoot out an email or text message; “Hey, I want y’all to start washing each other’s feet” or “hey, I want y’all to start respecting folks regardless of their position in life”, he showed them.  He taught them to respect each other, by respecting them first.  He taught them to value each other by valuing them first.  He didn’t just insist on it, because he was God and it’s his way or the highway, he actually did it first.

Not only did he do it, but he did it in a way that communicated what he wanted by building them up.

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

~Ephesians 4:29(NIV)

“Hey, did Jesus really just wash my feet? That’s something now!”  He taught them in a way that let them know that they had value, that he respected them and that built their dignity.  To often we see someone’s dignity as the greatest obstacle to getting our point across.  We think we must break them down in order to build them back up as we would like them to be.  We mistake dignity for pride and convince ourselves that it is for their own good, but were really serving ourselves.  Inappropriately displaying our own anger and managing our own fears by exerting our control.  How can I expect my wife to show me the respect that I so desperately crave, if I cannot respect her first?  How can I ask her to stop being the monster that I’m constantly reminding her that she is?  How can I expect her to move on, grow, improve and become a better person if I am constantly reminding her of who she used to be.  Can I really expect her to freely choose to express her love and respect for me and her regret for what she’s done by insisting on it in the format that I want?  There’s no choice there.  Forcing her to respect me, to show her love for me, to express remorse, is like putting a gun to someone’s head and forcing them to say they love you.  The words will almost assuredly come, but can they really ever mean anything?

At its core communication is about recognizing each other’s vulnerability.  And not exploiting  that vulnerability to simply get our way, but building each other up so that the marriage is not vulnerable.  Her vulnerabilities become my vulnerabilities, mine become hers.  The are ours now.  Together.  One person trying to become better, trying to serve God better.  Two hearts in one body reaching for the sky.