Thursday, August 9, 2018

what is my worth?

What is my worth? We live in a culture that prizes worth and worthiness. Some stories:

Late last year and early this year, I passed through several tiers of a vetting process in applying for an executive level position for a Christian organization with more than 850 churches across North America. In January, my application process reached the stage where it was clear the selection committee was seriously considering me as a viable candidate for the post.

To be honest, I was shocked my resume even piqued their interest. My educational background was sub-par, I was relatively new to the organization (hardly anyone knows who I am in this organization) and my most recent role with them was about as low on the vocational ladder as you can get.

Nevertheless, in the interview several stages later, the key decision-maker actually said to me: “The fact that you have made it this far in the process means we can see you doing the job. Even if we don’t offer you the job, we will be calling on you so we can draw on your expertise.”

The experience was a source of both exhilaration and tension; so, to help myself remain centered, I reached out to a few trusted advisors to learn how I could present my best self to the selection committee. Significantly, each one said to me to just be myself. After all, if I try to be someone I’m not, it will end in frustration for me, for the team and for the organization as a whole.

I trusted their advice, so I decided I was going to make sure to be true to my deep-seated convictions about…the nature and value of playfulness. I have come to think of play as my “voice.”

…………………….

The paradox of play is that we don’t do it to “get something out of it” but rather we do it “just for the fun of it.” Play is wasteful.

But it is so, so valuable.

As a Christian minister, I am in the process of articulating a theology of play. I’m not the first one to try to do this, to be sure, so I’ve been reading other scholars on play and faith. One of the key components of a theology of play involves creation. The Bible opens with a portrait of a God who makes the world a good and beautiful place: light and color, sky and sea, land and plants, sun, moon and stars, animals and people.

One scholar (Jürgen Moltmann) delightfully engages this text by asking the question all children ask about it: “Why?” Why did God make all this?

And the child’s answer (which is the best answer, I do believe) is, quite simply: “Because God wanted to do it. That’s why.”

I feel this is the best answer because it reminds us that God’s happiness about creation is not dependent on what it can do for him or how he can put it to use…but rather just because it is good. In fact, many Christians often miss the fact that God does not call the creation good. He simply sees that it is good. He notices its intrinsic value, apart from its usefulness.

The implication: God loves people not by how they can be put to use but just because they are people. Everyone, no matter their level of skill or intelligence, is valuable just by…being. All life is precious.

…………………………

Recently, a friend of mine (whom I will call Derek) posted what I assume is something he learned at the Global Leadership Summit which is running today and tomorrow. The Summit is an annual conference that attracts almost half a million people in various locations around the world to learn how to be better leaders from many of the world’s top-notch leaders. To give you an idea: in the past, the Summit has hosted leaders like Bill Clinton, Melinda Gates and Patrick Lencioni.

My friend is attending this year’s Summit at a satellite location and here is what he posted: “Your core values are what make you valuable to others.”

His statement both resonated with me and repelled me. Here’s why:

His daughter (whom I will call Lisa) replied to his statement about our “value” with these words: “And also that you are my dad and you are awesome!”

In other words: “Dad, you’re not valuable because of your values—you’re valuable to me just because you’re my Dad.”

Spot on.

……………….

What is the true worth of a person? What is it, truly, that makes someone “valuable” to another?

My experience in applying for a job confirms what my friend originally posted. Organizations tend to value those individuals who have clear values…a clear sense of “self.” Employers want employees who are self-aware; they want employees who know what their strengths and weaknesses are and individuals who bring something distinctive to the group that truly adds value.

So, yes: “Your core values are what make you valuable to others.” Be true to yourself.

But there is a limit to this. If we only value people because of their (presumably, shared) “core values,” we need to do some soul-searching as to whether our values are really very valuable, after all.

……………………………

Last night I was in Indianapolis with a small faith community called Diakonos  (meaning, Servant). I admire the people of Diakonos because they are particularly skilled at befriending folks who are homeless (and those who are vulnerable to homelessness).  In fact, when Diakonos holds their weekly meeting, they do so in a particular place so they can be close to where some of their friends without homes live.

Before the scheduled part of the evening began, I had the privilege of visiting with a young man (whom I will call Tim). Tim lives in a house-group setting now and he is on the road to recovery.

Prior to this, he lived in one of the camps in Indianapolis where homeless people gather to set up a makeshift village. While there, he was using heroin and he suffered from alcoholism. Life in the camps can be okay, he told me, if you are living with the right kind of people who know how to get along. But sometimes people show up who just want power, so they make overtures to become “mayor” or “president” of the village. Often, violence erupts in the scramble to secure power.

Tim told me that sometimes he’d get so drunk he’d wake up in the morning with blood crusted on his face and not remember who (or why) he fought the previous night. Thankfully, he said he was doing better now that he was pursuing recovery.

I asked him, “What has helped you change?” And he told me that the moment he tried to kill himself was one of the big turning points.

He felt worthless, so he tried to hang himself. He said that as soon as he made the move to do it, he instantly thought: “I don’t want to die.” But it was too late. The rope was tightening around his neck as gravity was doing its inexorable work.  

He said he doesn’t know exactly what happened because he blacked out, but when he woke up he was on the ground and it appeared the tree branch had broken.

While he was lying there some people came by and took his wallet and some other personal items—until, finally, someone called for help and he was taken to recovery.

My friend Leon visited Tim while he was recovering and Tim credits Leon with his commitment to recovery today. Leon had known Tim at that point for at least a year because Leon visited Tim in the camp when he was still using heroin and getting drunk. Tim says he remembers Leon telling him, “You’re a smart guy. Why are you doing this to yourself?”

In Leon, Tim saw unconditional love—because, in Tim, Leon saw a value beyond mere “values.”

………………….

In my work with children I have become keenly aware that they just want to be loved, to be seen and heard and respected. Children learn surprisingly early the sting of rejection, what it feels like to not “measure up” to the expectations of others.

I have dedicated my life to Christian ministry because I am convinced there is inside all of us a yearning to be loved not because of anything we have said or done but simply because we all have intrinsic worth that can never be diminished.

In a world where we often have to “sell ourselves” to others, I experience the unconditional love of God as my saving grace—a great relief when I feel like I don’t measure up or can’t measure up.

While it is true that I do well to live by my values (to be true to how God has made me), I am thankful that my ultimate value is not dependent on my values.

Is there any greater gift we can give to someone than to value them just for who they are, just because they are?

……………….

Last night, with Diakonos in Indianapolis, I told a story that portrayed God by several metaphors: a Gardener, a seed, a Shepherd, the bread of life and the light of the world.

When given the opportunity to respond freely to this story, Tim chose to respond by drawing a picture. He picked the image of the Good Shepherd and I feel it is little wonder he did so.



Is there any better news to someone like Tim than to know he has a Good Shepherd—than to know someone like Jesus-in-Leon came searching for him in the wilderness? Is there any better news than to know God wants you to live just because you’re valuable—just because you’re loved?

There is no better news and we really need nothing else.

…………………….

I must be honest: I am growing weary of all the talk in Christian ministries that borrows language from the business world and corporate culture that stresses a person’s value boils down to their values. I can think of little else that seems to me now so antithetical to the Gospel: God loves you just because he loves you just because he loves you—not because of any so-called “values match” with an “organization” he is (probably not) building. If the Church is to truly be the Body of Christ, it is time for us to reckon with just how counter-cultural the Gospel is. Grace is prophetic: the Good News of grace disrupts the corporate system that measures a person’s worth by their skills, experience (and values).

When the deepest cry of the human heart is to be named worthy just because every person is loved, I have to wonder why we put so much stock in mere “values-assessment”?

We can never look in the face of another human being and not see the image of God in them. That’s why God only has one measure for us: the measure of measureless love. People are not to be classified in terms of  “valuable” or “not valuable.” People are to be loved. My heart’s prayer is that we would just learn to love as God loves. Amen.


Wednesday, August 8, 2018

fear nothing

fear neither uncertainty nor exposure,
privation, malice nor slander;
fear nothing—
not even evil.

evil feeds on fear
and fear feeds on falsehood.

true Love drives out fear.
true Love is faithful and friendly;
fear fosters infidelity.
fear is fickle (thank God);
It stays only as long as it needs—
until fear’s victim has picked up
the habit of fearing
and forgotten who they are,
and Whose they are.
Be loved and love;
Love kicks the habit of fear.

fear never gives birth
to anything living;
it only preys on
what has been given life by Love,
distorting Love’s purpose,
Love’s clarity,
clouding Love’s face—
but Love’s embrace prevails.

Fear’s so-called children
are all stillborn,
maturing only
towards death and decay.
Love flourishes;
Love is life.

Love is always with you;
a gentle and gracious presence,
humble,
in whose presence
we can humbly confess
we still need to learn Love’s ways.

Love reminds you
who you are
and Whose you are.
Love is personal,
Love sees you as you are—
and loves.
Love smiles when
Love thinks of you,
sees you.
Love looks for
new sacred gifts in you,
in all that is around you.
Love invites you
to notice and know the sacred gifts
that surround, enfold
and dwell within,
gifts given by Love
to you and to all those around you.

There is no fear
when Love is perfected in us.
Fear nothing;
just let Love perfect Love’s work.

Are you still learning
not to fear—
just to be loved and love?
So am I.
But don’t fear:
Love will never stop loving
people like me
(and you?)
who sometimes fear.



………..



fear nothing
by troy cady


Monday, August 6, 2018

Why Grave Moral Failure in Christian Leaders is Especially Upsetting

When a Christian leader is exposed in a serious, habitual and “secret” moral lapse, sometimes I hear people say things like:

-“People are bound to fail and the church is made up of imperfect people. Keep your eyes on Jesus; he is all that matters.” or,

-“The message still may be true, even if the messenger is untrue. Stay focused on the message and don’t get sidetracked by the messenger.”

This response, however, is unsatisfying to me for the following reasons:

1. Because…growth opportunity.

Saying “just stay focused on Jesus” can easily be used as a cop-out. Serious, secret, habitual moral lapses in those who are supposed to help us live according to our better nature should cause us to wonder “what went wrong” and “how can we truly mature?” When we too easily dismiss tragedies of this nature, we neglect to reflect on what may be flawed in our systems or thinking that may have created the conditions for such tragedies.

For example, the way we structure “leadership” probably needs to be changed if we are going to avoid repeating and enabling the dysfunction. One other friend suggested to me that we may also need to take another look at the sexual ethics of evangelical Christianity. I’m not sure to what extent that holds, but at least part of what he is saying may be right. In either case, if we too easily dismiss what has happened by employing the maxim “just stay focused on Jesus,” we miss the opportunity for deeper reflection and spiritual growth in our own lives.

2. Because…incarnation.

I am especially focusing on Christian leaders in these reflections because of an important distinction that Christians say is unique to their faith. It’s this: Christianity is not, first and foremost, a philosophical system, a thought-grid composed of abstractions. Christianity is about a Person and his Body (a Body that is supposedly animated by the Spirit of the Person we claim to follow). Implications:

A. In the Christian faith, one cannot separate the message from the messenger.

Christianity asserts: “The message IS the messenger.” The apostle John put it this way: “The Word became FLESH.” Jesus himself put it this way: “I MYSELF am…the truth.” (Yes, he used a double emphasis on the word “I”). The Christian has no message but “Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” The messenger is our message.

B. The Church, as the Body of Christ, is called to exhibit the same integrity as her Lord, who was both fully human and fully divine. He became what we are so that we could become what he is.

Now, granted: none of us will ever be perfect. That is why we need grace and forgiveness. And, thanks be to God, he never stops offering us grace and forgiveness when we stumble and fall. His mercies are truly new every morning.

But God’s offer of grace only accomplishes half the glorious exchange. He doesn’t force his grace on us. If we don’t want it, he’ll respect that—he loves us that much. Christianity says: “To apply God’s grace to your life, you have to want it; you have to be willing to receive it. You don’t have to DO anything for it…but you do have to want it.”

Part of receiving it is acknowledging you need to receive it, humbly confessing your need of it, and then letting that love re-order all your affections throughout the entire course of your life. It takes humility to receive grace. That’s all; just humility.

Humility accomplishes this because it prompts a sinner like me to conduct a fearless moral inventory, trusting that truth itself is grace—my saving grace. Without honesty, there can be no reception of grace. There will always be an offer of grace and that grace continuously invites me into a hospitable spiritual place where honesty is welcome—but unless I am willing to take Grace up on her offer, and unless I am willing to be honest before the face of Grace…there can be no personal redemption and renewal—only hiding and faking it.

This kind of honesty feels like crucifixion to sinners like me. But, wonder of wonders, that is when Jesus, by his grace, breaks the power of death and says, “Take heart! To die to self is to rise to new life! The two always come together! Do you mourn? You’ll be comforted! Do you hunger? You’ll be fed! Are you guilty and ashamed? You’ll be forgiven and lifted up!”

By this process—the process of receiving grace day by day humbly—the Spirit of Christ transforms us. That is the real hope we profess: transformation, redemption, freedom. So…

What is true of the message
must be true of the messenger
or we have no message at all.

That is why habitual, secret transgressions such as those that occur sometimes among Christian leaders is especially upsetting to me. If what the messenger is saying isn’t true of the messenger…we have no message.

Christianity is encounter.    

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

the grace of imperfection

Lord,
thank you
for the grace
of imperfection—
chipped plates,
cracked earth
still clinging to dry grass,
scuffs on the car’s finish,
stacks that need filing,
laundry to be washed.

Here in the midst of these trifles
I wonder about the imperfection
of the injustice that was done to you,
my Jesus—crucified beauty—
your death, my grace—
your disfigurement, my shape—
your lashes, my healing.

Enough with image—
thank you
for the grace
of imperfection.
Love beyond measure,
taking me as I am,
just as I am—
captive to your
foolishness,
Christ.


…………….

the grace of imperfection
by troy cady






Thursday, July 26, 2018

for the least of these

On Thursday at sunset
I was hungry
and you gave me
maror on matzah
I was thirsty
and you gave me
wine diminished by plague

On trial
I was estranged
by my own people

On the cross
I was naked
soul-sick weak
and you speared my side

In death
imprisoned
I visited you
but did you visit me?
If I plunder the grave
will you accuse
or embrace—
will you question me
as if love were a threat?

Weak, stripped stranger—
on trial, hungry and thirsty:
I did all this for love—
food you did not know I had
and still have,
drink that will never be finished.

…………………….

for the least of these
by troy cady



Wednesday, July 18, 2018

what beauty

What beauty—
in the soil of humility
a life grows gently,
naturally,
maturing,
knowing just
who to be—oneself,
soft-hearted, open,
a strong soul
flourishing in love
and able to love,
lovely through and through.

What beauty comes
of roots one cannot see—
a seed of simple hope
will open up in joy,
opening up for all to see.


what beauty
by troy cady




Monday, June 25, 2018

how you feel sometimes

sometimes
returning home
feels like
swallowing sand,
while a faint moon
rises early
during the afternoon light,
hiding herself in plain sight
as just another cloud;
sometimes the traffic is flowing
while the heart is ebbing;
sometimes the horizon is apparent
but the future unclear;
sometimes the hand
right next to you
reaches over gently,
trying to bridge the void;
sometimes you feel alone
in the company of others,
passing cars,
confused amid construction,
eastbound,
glancing rearview,
trying to make sense of what has happened,
looking back to make sense of what is to come,
what will catch up to you,
like the certainty of dusk,
making peace with what cannot be changed,
praying for what can.

……………….

how you feel sometimes
by troy cady
for a friend