Who Are You Going to Please?

Most of us are people-pleasers. We will please almost anyone if it keeps us from pain or adds some “bling” to our lives. Ministers can be terrible people-pleasers; but they don’t seem to know who to please, so they try to please everybody or ignore anybody.

One pastor I know would lie in a fetal position behind his office desk on bad Sundays after his sermon, crying and hiding, hoping that no one would find him. Not only was he not found, he almost lost himself and his family.

Today we speak of “boundaries” – that is, to think and reason who you will let “get in” your soul and in your face; who you will trust and who you might wish to please.

Here is something about Jesus that reflects on this: “All [in the synagogue] spoke well of him [Jesus] and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips.” [and then, a little later] “All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this [what he said]. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill … in order to throw him down the cliff” (Luke 4:22,29 NIV).

Interesting isn’t it? We may try to please people and then they inevitably turn on us. At least they did for Jesus and they probably will for you if you stand for something worthwhile.

Psychologists say that people are motivated by the appreciation of others, especially significant others, like parents or bosses or God. But not everyone will be pleased by how you live your life and so you have to choose who matters. Who will you please?

When I was hired as the team-leading pastor of CapChurch in North Vancouver, I boldly said that I would do all I could to please God, and satisfy my elders but I wouldn’t overly labour to please the pew-people generally. I figured that I would dissociate running after all these people’s whims, worries and wants. 16 years later I think that was a good decision. And I have learned that pleasing your spouse is a good idea and in so doing you are often pleasing God in the bargain.

This is not to say that we (those who decide who they will please) need to be rabble-rousers or demagogues. But it’s not like the English bishop who once remarked, “Everywhere Jesus or Paul went, there was either a revival or a revolution. Everywhere I go, they serve tea!” (An old preacher’s story. Who knows if it’s true.)

I don’t want to be like that. At the end of the day, I want my life to count for something and for a long time. This will mean I am going to run into opposition somewhere along the way. And, knowing me, probably a lot of it.

What Star Are You Following? (David Ducklow)

I received this Christmas blessing from my son, David Ducklow. David is a chaplain in training at Vancouver General Hospital and completed a Masters degree in Spiritual Formation. Here is his blessing to me and now to you.

Isn’t it amazing how, because of our work and efforts in preparing for Christmas, we ‘crash’ soon after the meal is finished, the presents have been opened and the relatives have left? I don’t imagine the wise men doing the same thing. The joys of seeing a newborn King probably made sleeping the last idea on their minds.

The gospel of Matthew follows them on their marathon mission, and though they had good reason to be tired, remarkably they show no hint of it. Matthew says they spent two years following the star, hunting Jesus down. I have never followed a star before, let alone for two years, but I can imagine that it may be like trying to find the hypothetical pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Next to impossible. So I would probably talk myself out of this on the first day.

However, the wise men had enough energy and motivation, not just to walk for one day, but for seven hundred and thirty days! Their reason? “When they saw the star, they were filled with joy!” (Matthew 2:10)

How would you react if you saw a star that moved? Would you refuse to follow it? “Not today. Maybe tomorrow. I had a bad night sleep and I have a crick in my neck.” The wise men most definitely had this option during their two-year pilgrimage. Or would you be so excited that nothing could keep you from getting to that pot of gold?

What star are you following? Where do you think it will lead you? How long have you been following it? Are you willing to follow it to its end or are you about to crash? I am sure these are questions the wise men asked themselves. They certainly had enough time to discuss their reasons for doing such a crazy thing.

But, what was their motivation? Who had told them to do this crazy thing? What would they receive in exchange for their gold, frankincense and myrrh?

(David also is a Spiritual Director and an “Intentional Tutor” especially for kids with disabilities. You can reach him on our web site.)

Just Thinking with Jasper

Jasper, my first grandchild, had a stunning insight recently. We were driving from a movie (Kungfu Panda) at a downtown cinema in Vancouver. We saw some obviously poor people on the sidewalk and I said to him that the church tries to help poor people. He asked me, “How does all the singing we do at church help the poor people?”

Interesting.

I was thinking of trying to answer Jasper’s question and then I remembered what I have taught for years; that an unanswered question can open a relationship for a lifetime. Answers often close down conversations. They certainly close down thinking.

Jasper surprises me how intelligent he is. He is 6 years old and has superpowers like his dad, who is really smart. Brent is not from our side of the family. We are more attachers-emoters than thinkers. (Christine, if you read this, you are really smart and have superpowers too.)

I have come to think that the church is great for attachers-emoters that need to believe something or lots of things, to keep their attachments in check. Otherwise, they would jump on their high horses and ride in all directions at once.

But thinkers are in trouble at church. Most preachers work to have you believe stuff, not think stuff through. This has resulted (humble opinion only) in a paucity of thinkers and a plethora of believers.

Seminaries train their seminarians in how to believe and to convince others on what to believe. Sermons might take 5 hours a week or 20 hours a week to prepare, depending on whether we are more OCD or less. Sermon prep is a thinking process. But then sermonaters preach it like like listeners are to believe it. Not think it.

I have a yearning to preach a sermon or many sermons first saying, “I don’t think I believe what I am about to say, but I am thinking it. Will you think with me?”

I would like to call my churchly friends “thinkers,” rather than “believers” as in “I love being at church with fellow thinkers.” Jasper Patrick McLaren would probably like this kind of church more. So would his dad.

And I don’t think there is a connection between singing and helping.

Called to Move (David Ducklow)

As we look around at the world, we are encouraged to “do this,” “love that,” “be more” and “expect all our dreams to come true.” But once we have them, we no longer appreciate them as much as we did when they were simply desires.

Life can look greener on the other side of the fence, and our current realities never match up to them. How do we get out of this cycle? How can we take our desires captive, before they do this to us, and we experience an unexpected and inevitable calamity? The answer is: move.

This does not mean that we change vocations, associations or relations. But, as priest, professor, Henri Nouwen writes, we must listen to our call. “You are called to live out of a new place, beyond your emotions, passions, and feelings. As long as you live amid [them], you will continue to experience loneliness, jealousy, anger, resentment, and even rage, because those are the most obvious responses” when we desire what we see, just beyond the fence.

The idea of living from a new place, while physically living in our present place is a challenge that is avoided by many. But those who attempt to make this move realize that heeding its call is exactly what is needed. Then we realize that moving was the best decision we could have ever made.

What does it mean to you to live out of a new place?

(David Ducklow, Spiritual Director / Chaplain)

Standing for the Relationship

I am used to conflict both in myself and with those that mean the most to me. I read somewhere (a Family Systems Theory book) that conflict is most likely a result of too much closeness (as in smothering) or too much distance (as in cutoff). Either way, people then often blame, attack or hide and get all emotionally flooded. We stop thinking. Emotional ruminating is not thinking.

Even when we hide from the other who we feel has hurt us, we probably fight with them in our heads. We imagine beating them into powerlessness with our wonderfully practiced attacks. Our opponent is probably doing the same thing right when we are.

It seems to me that when we attack and defend, we ignore our relationship. How we are covenanted suffer-ers in the elusive benefit of defeating the other.

Who stands for the relationship?

I visited with a couple in noisy conflict yesterday. Like pugilists whacking and hacking, they listened only to their “inner dialogue” not to each other and thus projected rage and hurt to their partner.

I asked them “how is your hatred working for you?“ The husband complained that he didn’t hate his wife, but she agreed with the word “hatred.” I said, “how is your hatred towards your marriage working for you.“

Hmmm.

When couples bicker they bleed the goodness of what is between them. The couple may harangue each other thinking that it is just about them. But it is the marriage — a distinct entity — that loses most.

Grief: Part 2 – Grief is Another Way of Remembering

“Grief is another way of remembering,” said my pastor friend who died too young (see previous blog). She said this at my father’s memorial. He died from drinking. For many years all I could remember was the slovenliness of drunkenness. Grieving, like remembering, takes time. It is a process, never fully accomplished.

But slowly I remembered finer memories. Looking at photos helped me to discover what was also there. I see sober Christmases and I can hear telephone conversations when I worked in a mining camp and I had something to say that impressed him. He would call me “son.” I remembered him putting together my green CCM bike with ribbons falling from the handgrips.

I was afraid of my father and I felt hurt and anger much of my life. That was the core of my grief. Grief is often a mush of fear and hurt and anger – all primitive emotions. When I experienced some of this over time, I discovered the tenderness just below. Sorrow needs to be wept out or sobbed out – it can hardly be thought out. Tears help us drain the pain.

If my unconscious carries an unexpressed wound from my past, I will always be black and blue inside. I will not be able to approach life with my eyes looking forward for fear they will trigger the repressed pain. Have you met people who cannot look into your eyes for fear that you will look into theirs?

People have said to me, “It was the way you looked at me. You didn’t take your eyes from mine.” I have learned to see grief and the emotional mush that is behind it.

The grief that I carry stowed away has great power over me. More than ruminating, I become a rumination. Until I feel my grief and allow myself to know it, I will not be free of its grip.

You may know the song, “Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton as he grieved the accidental death of his young son. He sings, “I must be strong and carry on, ‘Cuz I know I don’t belong, here in heaven.” This grief connects him to the child he loves.

Until I know how to grieve with my heart and my soul, with my voice and my time, I will never know how to love with all my heart either. Jesus gives us a model to follow. And his words are true: “Blessed are they who mourn: for they shall be comforted.”

Grief: Part 1 — Lying to Ourselves

I have led three memorial services in the past couple of months.

One was a young and once vibrant woman who had a near-fatal car accident that left her with a serious brain injury and personality change. She spent her insurance money on “sex, drugs and rock and roll,” eventually killing herself.

The second was a municipal councilor who invested his life in making his community better, advocating for the ordinary, and insisting on budgetary prudence. He was a champion of autism and died far too young with brain cancer.

The third was a woman who was a covenant friend of mine. She was a pastor, a counsellor, a teacher and a loving mother, wife and grandmother and she was funny too. Her middle name could have been integrity or compassion.

They left people behind.

Jesus said an odd thing to those that these people left: “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4). How weird is that?

I led my mother’s memorial service years back. It was over a year before I could visualize her or smell her perfume. Sure I cried, in fact I wailed – but I couldn’t connect. She was dead to me.

When Jesus’ best friend Lazarus died, Jesus wailed too. And when we experience loss and are anxious and grieved, we do the same – loud and often in public. But when we say we are “just fine, thanks,” we lie to ourselves and the friends that ask.

Someone said, “Every unshed tear is a prism through which all of life’s hurts are distorted.”

Distorted emotions make us do distorted things. We don’t feel, we don’t think, we don’t talk. That’s distorted. And we ruminate. Our brooding circles our brain, repeating untruths, causing more distortion, aching our stomachs, taking away our energy and delight.

In a strange way, like the person who has died, we stop living. Not feeling, not thinking, and not talking sounds like death to me.

(More when I get to it.)

 

Questions for Living

Many of you know that I like questions more than answers. And when I come across a good question, I almost always write it down. Imagine my delight in finding a bunch of questions written by Ellie Harris entitled “Questions for Living.” We learn by asking questions when we have the patience to grow into our answers. So here they are from the beautiful magazine “Bella Grace” (Spring, 2016). (I’ve italicised the ones I love.)

  • What do you want to be and who are you now?
  • What do you unequivocally believe in?
  • What was the last time you were your own best friend?
  • Have you found that something you are looking for? Do you even know what it is?
  • Do you welcome things you don’t understand and give room for clarity to grow?
  • Who or what do you wake up for?
  • What makes you feel like a child?
  • When are you in your past self? When are you in your best self?
  • Can you truly forgive others? Can you forgive yourself?
  • Whose voice brings you peace?
  • Have you decided what to be when you grow up?
  • Do you like what you’ve become?
  • What are you holding onto? Is it time to let it go?
  • What memory do you hold the tightest?
  • When is enough truly enough?
  • Why do you fear what you fear?
  • Why do you believe what you believe?
  • What makes you feel important?
  • What are you sorry for?
  • What is your most secret wish?
  • When is the last time you have a real conversation with God?
  • Do you wish you had a do-over?
  • How can you make this day not ordinary?
  • What you love about yourself?
  • What is the dictionary definition of you?
  • Are you living out of desire or circumstance?
  • Do you wake up thankful?
  • What are you waiting for?
  • Who do you love? Do they know?
  • If you could have a conversation with anyone, who would you want to talk to?
  • What is the last time you took yourself out for a date?

Here is something interesting – people with social anxiety can often “solve” it by digging a bit deeper and getting out of the superficiality of superficial conversation. I ask my anxious clients to pick 3 questions to ask a friend or a stranger and watch what happens.

The Body Song (Guest: Eryn-Faye Frans)

This past week, I had the privilege of introducing my family to Paddy and Carole Ducklow.  Back in the 60’s, when my parents left Texas to move up to Canada, Dad met Paddy in graduate school and they began a life-long friendship. My father wrote his first book in the basement of their home. He logged countless hours sitting out on their deck drinking beer and debating life, the universe and everything. Paddy flew to Texas to attend his funeral.

As a child, I have many memories of the Ducklow’s being a part of our lives. Even when the two men were living in different parts of the Lower Mainland, they always stayed connected. And then, several years before our family returned to Texas, they worked together at Burnaby Christian Fellowship. Dad was senior pastor, and Paddy was on staff as the church psychologist who ran a practice in the church.

One of the programs that they collaborated on during this time was a seminar to teach kids and their parents about the concept of “appropriate touch”. The kids and parents were split into different rooms and taught about issues surrounding personal boundaries, safety and communication. I was one of those kids, and my favourite part of the whole seminar was learning the song, My Body by Peter Alsop (which was thereinafter referred to by us simply as “the body song”).

Fast-forward 20+ years. My family is driving to the Ducklow’s house for the first time and I am explaining to my daughter about the importance of this family in my life. Having a vague memory of the body song, I decided that it would be spectacularly impressive if I could teach it to my daughter to sing for Paddy over dinner. Riley was very much into this idea (life is, after all, a musical for her) and enthusiastically embraced the task. The more we sang it, the more furrowed my husband’s brow became. He finally cleared his throat and said, “Uh, honey? I think you are not remembering that song right. I am pretty sure that’s not how it goes.” I pooh-poohed his concerns and, undaunted, Riley and I sang the song a few more times – to ensure that she really knew it.

When we arrived at Ducklow’s, the conversation inevitably turned to the body song. Actually, Eric brought it up because he was so smug in his assumption that I had the words wrong and thought it would be hilarious to see Paddy’s reaction. I was hesitant because I had an ever-growing suspicion that Eric was, unfortunately, right. Eventually, he coaxed Riley and me into singing it together.  So, in a vain attempt to prove that I was correct (or more that he was wrong) I belted out with great gusto:

My body’s nobody’s body but mine.

You touch your own body,

Let me touch mine.

There was an eerie silence that fell over the room for what was only a moment but felt like eternity.  Then the room erupted!  I thought Paddy was going to fall off the couch laughing. He fell to the side and buried his face in a pillow as he howled in laughter.  It was suddenly inherently obvious to me that I had turned a song on appropriate touch into one on mutual masturbation.

***Epic FAIL***

Later in the evening, Paddy and Riley went to the computer and drudged up the words to this 1980’s song. Thank goodness for Google!

The true version of the body song can be found here and goes like this:

My body’s nobody’s body but mine.

You run your own body,

Let me run mine.

I will admit that the correct one is a much better version for Riley to be singing out in public.  But as I am not one to be easily dismayed, I will brazenly confess that personally prefer my version…even if you’ll never hear me sing it aloud ever again.

So inn the midst of all of this personal humiliation, I figured that I should try to redeem myself by unabashedly sharing the story with everyone and using it as a teaching tool to help parents talk with their children.

Eric, however, is still laughing.

(And so is Paddy!)

My Life Now: An Alliteration of “P”s

Thinking About My Semi-retirement

My name is Paddy. I have been a psychologist, pastor and professor, an alliteration of “P”s. These days I am mostly a fellow pilgrim in the practice of personhood, a new set of “P”s. And I am a Poppa to my 3 grandkids.

To change primary letters for a moment, I would like to learn how to be a friend. This does not come easily to me. I think that I want to be a good friend but I am not naturally wired for it. I am used to influencing more than anything else. It seems to me that women do things together (“Let’s go shopping for shoes”) but men don’t go shopping for a new pair of pants. Men compete with and dismiss each other, often humorously. We men find our social lives through occupations (what occupies us like computers and fishing trips).

Unlike many friendships that seldom appeal, I deeply enjoy and am challenged by the people I visit with in counselling. I think of therapy as confronting, sometimes confusing, frequently funny and always pressing into change. And counselling is also a safe place to tell the truth and to grow. I think it is here that I have the privilege of being most honest and of being me. I think of these people as “client-friends.”

Carole laughs at me when I say I don’t have many friends. But with these good folk I mostly do not practice personhood. I settle for superficial catch-ups and positive gossip. I don’t think that I am so good at being a friend.

 

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