Relating, Creating, Transforming

Posts tagged ‘authority’

Authority: Listening and Trusting

Matthew 21:23-32

trustFallWhen I was in middle school I went to summer camp once. I remember bits and pieces of my experience there, and one thing I remember distinctly is a certain “game” the camp counselors had us play called a trust fall. Now I’m sure a lot of you have at least heard of such a thing [and maybe some of you where unlucky enough to have actually done it]. I say unlucky, because, think about the concept: the camp counselor asked me to close my eyes, turn my back on the other middle school students, and then fall backwards without opening my eyes, looking back, or catching myself. It is not hyperbole to remark that I did not consider this such a great idea. I mean, I myself was 12 years old, and I thought: Would I even trust my own self to catch me?

nervous-preschooler-boyThe answer in my head was surprisingly no and so this led me to the conclusion that falling backwards and then expecting a group of other 12 year olds I had just met to catch me was not the wisest choice. I mean, even the couple of kids I knew were not really instilling confidence in me, considering that two of them in my cabin had recently stolen candy from my backpack and had threatened to dip my hand in warm water in the middle of the night while I slept. So…the trust fall? I kept my eyes open, and when I “fell” back, I probably waited a mere second before I turned around to see the anxious, uninspiring and nervous faces of my camping partners and I stopped the fall before it even began.

What is trust anyway? Let’s see what Collins English dictionary says. Trust is: the reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, etc., of a person or thing; confidence. Trust can also be a person on whom or thing on which one relies. Finally, trust can be the obligation or responsibility imposed on a person in whom confidence or authority is placed.

Which parts of this definition fit your own definition of trust?

Now do a quick Google search for songs about trust. What you’ll see in the results is that trust is not all that trustworthy after all? I mean, most of the songs written with trust in title are really about mistrust, betrayal, and manipulation! Trust in Me from The Jungle Book is one of the first songs that comes to my mind and it appears first on most internet searches. I mean, Kaa, the snake is singing this song to Mogli in a tree, using the song as a way to hypnotize the poor kid and then eat him.

Junglebook-disneyscreencaps_com-6045Trust in me.

Uh, no. And then the list goes on: I Don’t Trust Myself, Don’t You Trust Me, etc, etc. In fact, one of the most popular song titles is Don’t Trust Nobody.

So it appears we have a difficult relationship with trust. Not hard to see this in society. Recent Gallup and Pew Foundation polls and studies demonstrate the lack of trust we have in what we call the “great building block” institutions of society, to mention a few: religion, marriage, government, banks, public schools, and the media. According to Gallup, less than 32% of Americans trust said institutions.[1] Let’s hone in on religion, more specifically, the Christian church in the U.S. In 1975, 68% of Americans thought the church was trustworthy/they were confident in it; currently that number is at 42% and dropping.

Interestingly, since the current presidential election in 2016, the Pew Foundation found that people’s views of religions and other traditions outside of the traditional Christian church positively improved, specifically Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists, Jews, and Mormons. Trust in the Christian church, however, is at an all-time low. I don’t say this to be a Debbie Downer or to make any of you hearing this who are Christian to feel sad or hopeless. It’s the opposite. I want to honestly talk about trust. Why have many people lost trust in the Christian institution called church?

If you think clearly and listen to others with an open mind, you will know why. Really, there is no reason to trust, because trust is not a blind faith, falling back with your eyes closed, hoping that you will be caught and kept from harm. Trust is confidence in someone or something because that someone or something has instilled said confidence in you. In other words, we trust someone or something because it has been earned. Proven. Demonstrated. The church institution is not proving this to people.

So to bring this home [and in coming weeks we’ll talk more about trust, because there is no way to adequately address it in one segment], let’s look briefly at an example of trust in a story about Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus was teaching in the temple [a religious institution that people were taught to have confidence in but which had been oppressing women, the poor, lepers, the marginalized, and was also in the pocket of the Roman Empire.] Those present were chief priests and elders [also the religious elites who were supposed to be trusted]. And said elites came to Jesus upset, asking him by what authority did he teach and heal and hang out with those who were considered unclean. But Jesus knew what they were doing. They were trapping him with questions that had no right answers. So he asked them a trap question. Did the baptism of his cousin John come from heaven, or was it of human origin? Jesus asked this, because there was an argument among the religious elites about whether John or Jesus was the true prophet, or whether both of them were wrong and just competing against each other’s teachings.

So the religious elites who were supposed to be the trusted role models, were worried about saving face in front of the crowds and maintaining their power; they copped out and said: We don’t know.

And then Jesus told a parable, one that was meant to drive the point home. It was a story about authority, and this authority is only granted because of trust. John and Jesus had the same message of love and acceptance to the tax collectors and the prostitutes [the marginalized of society]. Those on the margins accepted this message and trusted the love and acceptance they were shown.

They got none of this love or acceptance from the institutions, from the elites they were supposed to trust.

And this was [and is] the consistent message and good news of Jesus. Trust is not about blind faith in a church or a religion or a person or a thing. Jesus didn’t expect people to close their eyes and fall backwards into his arms. Jesus invited people to receive healing, to join community, to forgive and be forgiven, and to love, and be loved above all else. Trust is, on every level, about experiencing love and respect, commitment and honesty.

Trust must be shown and proven.

It must be lived. So when ministers or prospective members of most Christian traditions are asked: “Do you trust in the Lord Jesus Christ…” what are they are really committing to? A belief statement? A doctrine? A religious creed? Loyalty to an institution? I hope not.

Because trust in institutions hasn’t gotten us very far as humanity. Many in this world [and maybe you too] have been marginalized, manipulated, used, or even betrayed by institutions [whether government, religion or others] because you were vulnerable and someone or something took advantage of that.

This is wrong.

I am sad that this happened to you or to anyone else.

So let us reclaim this word and concept of trust. In my view, Jesus exemplified what it means to love and accept people and proved it.

So may we have confidence in the people who love and accept us as we are, who sit with us in vulnerable times and don’t take advantage; may we also be especially aware of those we encounter who are vulnerable and looking for love and acceptance. May we give them a reason to find us trustworthy by showing them that we are.

[1] http://news.gallup.com/poll/192581/americans-confidence-institutions-stays-low.aspx

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Open-Ended Possibilities

Matthew 21:23-32

I was in the church office last Sunday facilitating a wedding planning meeting when one of the children from the church burst in the room. He politely stopped in the doorway, though, and asked me a question:

Is there a door that leads to outside?

doors.jpegLet me explain how the office is set up. I was sitting at my desk facing the doorway through which this kid entered. Behind me [and to the left of the desk] is another door that does indeed lead outside.

That door was closed.

The kid was actually staring at that particular door that leads outside when he asked me the question.
Is there a door that leads outside?

Now listen–he could have just entered the office and then, without hesitation, he could have gone to that other door and opened it.

But he didn’t. Why?

Two reasons, I think.
First, the door was closed. He wasn’t sure that this door would lead to where he wanted to go. So he hesitated.

And second, he gave authority to me. Even though he already saw a possible “way out” he wanted to check with me first. He knows me; I think he trusts me as someone who will not hurt him or lead him astray; and, quite possibly another adult may have told him that I have some sort of authority. Whatever the case, he wanted to ask me first if this door was the right one.

He gave me authority.

We need to talk about authority.

Authority is power, but…

Power itself is something someone or something can have.

A great white shark’s bite is powerful.
The rays of the sun are powerful.
Chia seed is powerful in its nutrition. Other foods are powerful antioxidants.

But authority is something totally different.

Authority is not something you have.

Authority is power given to you or given by you.

If someone has authority over you, that is because you gave him/her that authority.
Likewise if you have authority over someone or something, it is not innate; it was given to you.

We often associate authority with someone “above” us.
But authority can also be given by those who are considered “below.”

This is important to understand because Jesus and the chief priests of the temple were discussing authority. The priests wanted Jesus to explain himself. What he was teaching and doing did not fit into their dogma or temple system. So they tried to make him look bad.

By what authority are you doing these things; who gave you this authority?
It was a trap question.

If Jesus said that God gave him the authority, then that would be blasphemy.
If Jesus said that certain people gave him the authority, then the priests would be able to negate that with their temple authority.
Of course, Jesus sensed the trap and didn’t answer. He asked them a question.

Where did John get his authority?
After all, John and Jesus were inextricably connected.
John the prophet prepared the way for Jesus.
There was no way the chief priests would recognize John’s authority as being from God.
Neither would the priests acknowledge John as having authority among the people.
That would take away the chief priests’ authority.

They weren’t going to give that up!

And so they copped out. They avoided the question to save face.
We don’t know.

And then Jesus tells a parable.
One son says: Sure, dad, I’ll help out!
And then he didn’t help.

Another son says: No thanks dad, I won’t help.
But in the end, he does.

So this connects nicely with the questions about authority.
The son who says I won’t help but then does help is like all those people considered to be outside the temple, not religious enough, incapable of obeying the law.
The son who says I’ll help but then does not is like all those so-called religious people who claim authority and holiness and then continually break the religious laws they claim to follow.

I cannot tell you how many people I have met who look uber-religious on the outside and present themselves that way, as church insiders. They have no trouble criticizing others for their lack of faith or how they live their lives. But they don’t follow through on their religious commitments any more than others do. They treat people badly. They are not seeking spiritual growth. It’s hypocrisy.

And I’ve known lots of people who are non-religious and considered “outside” the church. They don’t present themselves as Christians—or at least are not in your face about it. But they follow through on their commitments; they are helpful, caring, actively growing in their spirituality.

Once again, with the questions about authority and in this Matthew parable, Jesus is inviting us to consider that things are not as they seem.

And the book is not written.
The future is open.
There are endless possibilities to change your mind and your life.
All the pointless arguments of the past about who is more religious can go away if we let them.

If we stop giving authority to them.

The invitation is to let go of the past and to embrace an open future.
And don’t assume for one moment that if you identify as a Christian or go to church that you are not in the shoes of the stubborn chief priests. Many times, those who clearly identify themselves as religious struggle the most with letting go of the past or letting go of dogmas that claim authority.

But to Jesus, this is all a waste of time and a supreme limitation on our lives.

For we allow so many people to have authority over us.
We allow them to hurt us; to tell us we don’t matter; to make us feel that our lifestyle is wrong; we allow them to make us feel guilty if we don’t pray or think or believe like they do; we allow them to lord over us and keep us from healing, reconciliation, and an open future.

This is why Jesus mentions “tax collectors” and “prostitutes”—not because they are somehow “worse” people—but because society considered them “outside” of God’s grace and yet somehow they were the ones so eager to embrace that grace and walk forward into a promising future.

So whatever shoes you find yourselves filling today—the shoes of the chief priests, or the prostitutes, or the tax collectors—you are all invited to move.

To change your mind about your past so that it does not cement your future.
All the things that people have said to you.
All the ways you’ve been conditioned to believe this or that.
All the hurt, the suffering, abuse, the deceit, the manipulation.

You are invited to not give these things or these people authority.

Not anymore!

Look, it’s not easy to do this and to let go of the past. It’s comfortable to stay there.
But the Jesus of scripture is not as concerned with the past and certainly does not give it any authority—so why should we?

There’s no period at the end of our sentence; it is a comma.
We can change our minds.
We can change our perspectives.
We can change our experience of life.
We can be refreshed, healed, and strengthened.

So friends, ask yourselves:
To whom and to what do you give authority?

If the authority you have given to people and to things has made you feel heavy, or controlled, or limited, or lesser—it’s time to rethink it.

Instead, take this with you:

Wherever we are in life, whoever we are—we are invited to see our lives as open.
We are invited to reconcile, heal, and restore.

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