On How I Hate Asking for Help

Hand in a hand

My life is largely about helping people. I help people in the spiritual journey as they struggle with big questions about God. I try to help people mend broken relationships. I try to energize our church to help the poor, to feed the hungry. I try to help out at home as much as I can. I help my friends whenever I can, building decks, fences, cooking food, whatever.

And of course, there are times when it’s exhausting. There are times that I want to go crawl in a hole and hide from the world – that’s what Sunday afternoon Sabbath is for, that’s what vacation is all about. But that’s only a small fraction of the time. Most of the time, I’m happy to help. I’m grateful that my “job” is such that I can be available to people.

And, I’m happy when people ask for help. I want people to ask. And of course, I have to say “no” sometimes. And I really feel deeply conflicted when I do, but I never begrudge people for asking. It’s very seldom that I feel put out.

But here’s the thing: I hate asking people for help. I really, really hate it.

In fact, writing this blog post is an exercise in delaying the writing of an email that I need to write where I need to ask a lot of people for help. And it’s not something for church – I’m totally comfortable asking people to help with volunteering for the church. This is something personal. And I hate asking for help.

If I’m honest, some of this is a spiritual issue. I don’t like feeling indebted. I’m a proud, proud man, and I’m much more comfortable when I feel like “I don’t owe anyone.” Of course, this is so ridiculous. Maybe some people are keeping score, but I know that I’m not. I don’t keep a record of who I’ve helped and who “owes me.” I just don’t think that way about other people. But I’m hyper-aware of who I “owe.”

And, I know people have busy lives. And it’s hard for me to ask people to sacrifice what’s going on in their lives to help me. This is going to sound so lame, but I don’t feel worthy of other people’s help.

And, I like to keep the “Charlie is SuperMan and can accomplish anything” myth alive and well – even if it’s only in my own head. I could probably write about this one all day long, but just naming this one out loud is vulnerable enough for today!

Over the last two years I’ve been trying to cultivate a habit of asking for help. Occasionally, I get in a “funk.” I get a little depressed, a little melancholy, a little insecure and I second-guess myself a lot. It’s never gotten so bad that I’ve sought out medication, but who knows, maybe someday I’ll pursue that route. I used to just suffer through it on my own, hoping against hope that someone would spontaneously ask me how I’m doing. And when no one noticed, I’d resent everyone in my life who didn’t ask. (real mature, I know). But a couple years ago I tried to start asking for help. Now, there are two friends of mine who, probably once or twice a year, get an email from me that says something like, “I’m struggling, it’s been a tough week/month, I’d value your prayers.”

It’s hard for me, this asking for help. And I usually delay this request for days on end. But every time, my friends offer a gracious, kind response. And, I don’t know this, but I suspect that they’re grateful that I trust them enough to ask for help.

In the next 8 months, I’m going to have to ask for a lot of help. And I don’t like it. But perhaps its good. Perhaps it will cultivate humility where I lack. Sigh.

Now, I have an email that I need to write…

 

Help a Preacher With the Gospel

A friend and I have set an ambitious goal for ourselves this year to read NT Wright’s new book on the apostle Paul called Paul and the Faithfulness of God. It’s almost 1500 pages. (And it’s small print!) It takes me about an hour to get through 25 pages, which means that this one book will eat up nearly 60 hours of reading by the time I’m finished. It’s dense, but so, so very good.

Anyway, 400 pages in I am still reading introductory material regarding Paul’s worldview. Paul was a Jew, born in a Roman city in a culture deeply influenced by Greek mythology and legend. Needless to say, most of the time, this makes reading Paul super-difficult as he is writing in a complicated context over 2000 years ago. And yet, Paul is so important to shaping the early church that we can’t simply ignore or skip over him.

Anyway, in talking about Paul’s worldview, Wright writes, “The gospel, the gospel, the gospel. It defined Paul. It defined his work. It defined his communities. It was the shorthand summary of the theology which, in turn, was the foundation of the central pillar for the new worldview. It carried God’s power.”

And yet, even as I write this, I know that in much of the American Christian world, that word gospel doesn’t mean anything close to what Paul meant. It seems to me, at least in my community, that gospel has simply become shorthand for “how to get more people into heaven when they die.”

Case in point: this post has been slowly evolving over the last couple of days, and when I was nearly finished, I went to search for some kind of picture to place in the header. And just googling, “gospel” I came across this:

Gospel_Hope

So, the gospel is about 1) evangelism and 2) where you go when you die. That’s it.

Think about these two things I hear in conversations all the time:

  • “Have you shared the gospel with her?” This usually means, have you informed someone about a particular plan of salvation?
  • “That church really preaches the gospel.” I think this usually means that said church has altar calls, or frequently invites people to get saved.

And, Gospel has become in a hands of some, a certain kind of line in the sand whereby those who hold a particularly conservative theology are “gospel” Christians, thereby insinuating that the rest of us somehow don’t “have” or “believe” or “accept” the gospel.

And all of this is not so much wrong as it is incomplete. Sure, I believe the gospel is about salvation, but it’s also about so much more. It’s about the redemption of all things. It’s about recovering our humanity. It’s about becoming the best version of myself. It’s about the faithfulness of God for the good of all humanity. To speak only of salvation would be like going to a baseball game, watching someone hit a home run and declaring that baseball is home runs. And those of us who are lovers of the game would scream out “no!” it’s only a part of the game.

In short, in many sectors of the American church we’ve reduced the amplitude of the gospel to the single frequency of ones own, personal salvation experience, leaving out the fuller implications of the gospel.

Here’s what motivates this post: as a person who regular teaches the Bible and theology I’m struggling with how to talk about the gospel in a cultural context where the word has been almost entirely stripped of its original meaning. I believe deeply in the gospel, but I’m pretty sure that I’m mean something quite different that what others mean.

So, here’s the question. Do we need to find another word for gospel? Has it been so co-opted that its no longer useful? And if we do jettison it, what word(s) do we used instead to describe the good news, that God is putting the world back to right? And if we don’t jettison the word, how do we bring new life to it? How do we flood it with all the depth that Paul had in mind when he used it as short hand for his theology?

 

When You Can’t Un-See What You Now See

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It was just a couple years ago I was reading a leadership book and as an illustration of some point I’ve long since forgotten, the author talked about how the FedEx has an arrow embedded in the logo’s white space. Check it out. Right there between the E and the x.

FedEx_Logo_Wallpaper

I can’t believe I had never noticed that before. In all the years that I had seen commercials, trucks, planes and packages bearing the logo, I had never noticed the arrow. Now, it’s the only thing I see.

There are a lot of things like that in life if you really stop to thing about it. At some point you have an epiphany about someone or something. You see something in a new light or come into a new understanding and you can’t believe that you missed it all these years.

Just last night, Jennifer and I were talking about a friend of ours and I said to Jennifer about this friend who was coming over to celebrate with us this new season of our life, “I finally get it about ____, she LOVES change.” And later in the evening, she was standing in our kitchen as we drank champagne and said those exact words, “I LOVE change. It’s so exciting to me.” How did I not see this about her all along? I’ve known her for a long time, and I don’t know why I hadn’t seen it. It’s so obvious. But yesterday, it was like an epiphany; it’s a huge part of who she is. I’ve come into a new understanding of our friend. It will change how I think about her.

Really, we do this all the time. We find that we like a food, or a band, or some kind of clothing or hobby that we never liked before. Or we find something new in a friend that changes everything. And even though we used to think one way, something about this season of life, and this new way of experiencing it and we’re hooked.

And the same thing is true of how we think about God. I think more so at Imago Dei than any other church I’ve pastored, I’m in conversations with people all the time who are coming into new understandings of how they think about God, the Bible and God’s people. And as they read a different kind of book, or hear a different kind of teaching than they grew up with, or they open themselves up to a new way of experiencing God it’s exciting and new and scary all at the same time.

But here’s the thing that has really struck me the last couple months. Once you see things in a new way, you can’t just go back to the old way. I can’t “unsee” the arrow in the FedEx logo. I can’t not think of my friend as a lover of change. I can’t just go back to thinking about God the way I was taught in my Fundamentalist Baptist schools & college.

In my undergrad, we were taught that people who disagreed with our conservative theologies differed from us because they had unresolved sin issues. Okay, to be fair, we weren’t taught that per se, but it was strongly insinuated that people chose liberal theologies in order to justify their sinful lives. Or, that they chose their wrong-thinking because they didn’t really love God or Jesus or the Bible as much as we did. Of course we believed the correct theology because we were properly humble before God (or so, we were taught).

Here’s what I’m trying to say in my meandering fashion: when I think back to graduating from seminary 15 years ago in June, I’ve changed how I think about nearly everything related to my faith. And it’s not an act of rebellion or really even of volition. Mostly it’s just been that I’ve read books, or heard teachings or had conversations along the way that have sparked something good in me. And I don’t think the way I do now in order to justify a particular way of living any more than we all do to some degree.

And now that I see things this way, I just simply can’t go back and “unsee” them. There is simply no going back.

And of course, I’ll continue to evolve. I’ll continue to change. I’ll continue to have epiphanies and see things in new ways. And, who knows, maybe I’ll get more conservative again in my theology. (Wouldn’t that be a hilarious turn of events!) But, I won’t be able to do so without seeing what I see now.

 

And if you want some other logos with cleverly hidden symbolism, here are 20 if them.