Christian hospitality is empowered by the Spirit of the hospitable God. We have been graciously invited to participate in this divine hospitality and given many gifts, many tongues, and many practices through which to meet, interact with, and perhaps even bless religious others. Along the way, the Spirit of hospitality will transform us precisely through the interreligious encounter into the image of Jesus, even as we hope and pray – to the point of daring to believe – that as guests and hosts we can be instruments of the hospitable God for the reconciliation, healing, and redemption of the world.

Hospitality & The Other: Pentecost, Christian Practices, and the Neighbor, p. 160
Amos Yong

Christianity & Islam, Holy Spirit, Hospitality

70 Years

Church, Grief, Holy Spirit, Psychology

Grief is a normal part of healthy human existence.  Without the ability to grieve we wouldn’t have the ability to love, to feel connected at a deep level to someone, something, or even an idea.  We can and should grieve the loss of a dream, the loss of our home, or the loss of a person that we love to death or relational mayhem.  It is a God designed part of our humanness.

Let Wisdom Lead the Way

Holy Spirit, Old Testament, Psychology

For counselors who profess Christ it is sometimes difficult to remember that God is at work in the world.  Spending day after day with clients who come into sessions with little to no change in their lives, and carrying the same brokenness around with them.  It is easy to question where God is in all of this mess, and it is easy to feel like we’re alone in the trenches with our clients, getting covered in the slime of a more-than-difficult situation.  Sometimes it feels like our client is in another trench and No Man’s Land is in between us with every attempt to cross the distance rebuffed by machine guns, razor wire, and artillery fire.

Culture Shock and Disappointment

Background, Holy Spirit

Is culture shock something that only happens when you move somewhere that people speak a different language?

Let me answer this question from recent personal experience.  While the degree of difference from the way that we are used to life being is much more when there is a language barrier, there are other forms of culture shock, some that are slight enough that we sometimes are unable to recognize them.  It may be that a move from geographical region to another within the same country (much like the move that my wife and I made) results in culture shock.  It is in the small things, in the things that we take for granted being a certain way.

For example, a move from a city of 159,498 to a small town of about 600 means that there are going to be significant differences in the way life is lived.  Entertainment is either homegrown or about 30 minutes away, something that isn’t too difficult, but when you’re used to having much more access it can be the kind of difference that wears on you with time.  In the city we were about 15 minutes from where our church met and able to be incredibly involved in the life of other Christians.  In the country we’re still able to find the involvement with other Christians.  But it doesn’t look the same. It’s easy to be disappointed.

There is a churning quality to disappointment though.  It isn’t an emotion that lends itself to giving up, at least not at first.  Disappointment suggests that either something external is not quite right, something internal is not quite right, or some combination of the two.  For those who acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus over the entire the Universe we have to consider that it is often some combination of the two.  There are injustices, inadequacies, and iniquities in the external; yet there is often pride, inadequacies, and darkness on the inside that keep us from trusting that the Spirit of God is at work in the world.  The disappointment that comes with culture shock reminds us that there is still pride in our hearts that often says that we know the way to do the small pieces of life better than others.

Someone that I consider a mentor told me to expect the geography of the Plains to produce a monastic effect in our life; our days that were moving so quickly have slowed down and have a greater capability to bring out the contents of the heart.  There is much ground and much time for the work of the Spirit, yet there are many ways to distract ourselves from where our disappointment comes from.  Disappointment becomes complacency, giving up, when we lose ourselves in distraction.

If you’re disappointed it’s an opportunity for God to do something in the world, in your heart, or maybe some of both.

Remember, we live in a universe where a loving God is king.

“Background” by Lecrae

Empathy and the Cure for Violence

Holy Spirit, Jesus, Psychology, Social Issues, Violence

One of the hot topics in psychology/counseling right now is empathy.  Born for Love: Why Empathy is Essential – and Endangered, by Bruce Perry and Maia Szalavitz, addresses a lack of empathy in society that the authors see as connected to some of the brokenness of contemporary US society: things like murder rates, gang activity, structural oppression, and other social issues.

Empathy is defined as:

  • a person’s ability to appreciate another person’s perspective and experience in a way that makes them care about that other person.
  • It is the skill/ability that helps us do things for the other person’s good, even at some cost to ourselves.

Perry and Szalavitz write about the developmental (i.e., human physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual, and moral growth) connection to the development of empathy and assert that those who grow up in highly stressful environments (inconsistent care from primary caregivers, abuse, neglect, etc.) are more at risk in developing empathy.  While a person can develop empathy even with severe deficits in learning/development in childhood, it is much harder to learn this important skill later in life and, according to the developmental model, some important time-periods for brain development tied to the growth of empathy are lost.  What this means is that the more a child is deprived of basic human needs in their life the more difficult it will be for them to develop the important skill/trait of empathy that assists them in contributing good things to their relationships and to society.

To jump to a topic not too far from the empathy discussion, we’ll look at some practical connections with nonviolence and peacemaking.   The War of the Lamb: The Ethics of Nonviolence and Peacemaking, a book planned and partially written before his untimely death by John Howard Yoder and edited by Glen Stassen, Mark Thiessen Nation, and Matt Hamsher, addresses a problem that Perry and Szalavitz find within their social science understanding of human nature.  While we all have the capacity for empathy, we all have a tendency to what Perry & Szalavitz call “Us vs. them thinking” and what John Howard Yoder calls “violence”.  Both agree that this is an inherent piece of being human, and while Perry & Szalavitz see it as a sometimes useful evolutionary mechanism, Yoder sees “Us vs. them thinking” or “violence” as a result of the fall of humanity and prototypically expressed in the story of Cain’s murder of his brother Abel in the book of Genesis in the Bible.  Both see this human trait as cyclical: those who are hurt lose the ability to empathize with the perpetrator and have a visceral need for retribution. Yoder contends that what is needed to address this violence within the human being is recognizing the natural human need for retribution and the subversion of the cyclical violence of retribution by the sacrifice of Jesus:

Yoder states “We have projected the tacit claim that there is something uncouth about the destructive reflex itself, rather than granting it a deep anthropological legitimacy.  Instead of posing the foundations for a nonretributive society upon ways of processing the deep demand of blood for blood […] we have tried to make our culture ashamed of its vengefulness […] Only when we retrieve an awareness of the foundational place of retribution in our social psyche can we hope to discover the role of redemption in a newly pertinent form”  (Yoder, p. 33).  He writes also, “The good news is that the violence with which we heirs of Cain respond to our brother’s differentness is the occasion of our salvation.   Were it not for that primeval destructive reflex, there would have been no suffering servant, and no wisdom and power of God in the cross” (Yoder, p. 32).

What we have then from Yoder’s understanding of the Christian Gospel is a way to satisfy and render powerless our deep need for retribution, for an eye for an eye, for blood payment, for sacrifice.  It is submission to the very instrument of our torture that is used to bring an end to that torture.  “Innocent suffering is the victory over the vengeful urge, and over the institutions that exploit it, on a anthropologically far more fundamental level than our usual theories of the state or of social hygiene” (Yoder, p. 33).  Justice has been done already for those who believe in the work of Jesus on the Cross, a work that was proven enough by His resurrection from the dead.  Empathy is essential, but it can only provide a safeguard against the violence in our hearts if it is not accompanied by our transformation by the work of the Spirit of Jesus.  Indeed, empathy for the perpetrator should be increased for those whose Lord is Jesus because we know that their retribution has been dealt with by a God who is in control of His universe and who has spoken the Sermon on the Mount:

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

(Matthew 5:38-48, NIV, 2010)