* to encourage a reasoned awareness of how our beliefs impact the way we interact with the world around us
* to foster intelligent and open dialogue
* to inspire a sense of spirituality that has real meaning in day-to-day life

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

John 10:22-42 Trailblazing

When you begin to develop your emotional maturity beyond where it has been, an interesting thing often happens. You might start to notice how many people around you are emotionally immature. It isn’t that everybody else suddenly changed. Your perspective changes when you start engaging in some deeper personal work. It can be tempting to just settle back into a comfortable level of emotional immaturity, particularly since you developed most of your relationships at that lower level of emotional maturity. If we want to cast more inspiring vision for our lives, though, we have to experience the growing pains of developing ourselves into the capacity required to journey toward what we want.

This is largely what John 10:22–42 is about. The crowd meets the Jesus character in this passage with hostility, because he’s saying things in a way that challenges their assumptions. He has insights they don’t have, and he wants to share his knowledge with them so that they might grow. Sharing insights with people who are comfortable where they are is often met with defiance, however, even in the real world of the twenty-first century. The Jesus character sets up an example for us as people growing in emotional maturity and developing a clear vision for our lives.

Primarily, he gently sticks to his insights. When you are in a room full of people who are used to doing things a certain way, and you have a revolutionary idea, that room full of people might not want to hear your innovative thoughts. Even if you have researched more than anyone else and tested theories in your own life, people may not be interested in hearing what you have to say. The Jesus character shows patience, attempts to persuade them to consider the merits of his insights, and gives the crowd a chance to let down their defenses a little bit. Then, he moves on. He doesn’t insist that they agree with him. He accepts their belligerence and moves on.

Of course, the explanations that the authors of John express through the Jesus character are a bit difficult to hear. They don’t use plain language. They use metaphors and provocative terminology. It is almost as if the way the ideas are expressed is intended to rouse the ire of the crowd. This is not an example worth following. If you want people to listen to you, use language they can hear. If you want a small band of friends who agree with you and a massive adversarial population against you, use nuanced, unclear, incendiary turns of phrase.

If we translate the words put in the Jesus character’s mouth into greater clarity, we might interpret this passage (John 10:25–38) as:
The exemplar said, “Listen, what I’m doing is well-aligned with my deepest, most noble self, and if you look at my actions, then you know my values. You don’t trust that, because you are used to living by a set of external rules. You’re constantly reacting to your own anxieties and the anxieties of people around you. The people who are connected to their deepest, most noble selves understand what I’m doing. The example that I’m setting—to live by a meaningful set of deep values—is the way to live a truly fulfilling life. Once you have lived into that level of personal satisfaction, nobody can convince you that you ought to be doing something different. What my deepest, most noble self prompts me to do is more compelling than any set of external rules or societal expectations.” 
The crowd responded with violence. The exemplar replied, “Everything I’m doing contributes to the well-being of everyone around me. With which of those actions do you take offense?” The crowd answered, “We don’t take offense at your actions, but at your arrogance. You talk about connection with your deepest most noble self and your principles like you’re better than everyone else.” 
The exemplar replied, “Do you think I consider myself uniquely capable? Do you not realize that everyone has the capacity to connect with a deepest, most noble self? To develop a compelling vision of a best possible version of oneself? Every person has the ability to clarify meaningful guiding principles and live by them with integrity. If you would choose to do so, you would act for the greater well-being as I do. You can see by my actions that my way is noble and beneficial. Your unwillingness to live by my example is what truly limits you.” The crowd wouldn’t relent in their hostility, so the exemplar slipped away.
No matter how insightful, tactful, or purposeful you are, there will be those who take insult at your intentionality and integrity. Some people will assume that because you have a vision of how you will move toward what you most want, they are somehow prevented from moving toward what they most want, even though few people have connected with themselves deeply enough to know what they actually want.

On the other hand, there will also be people who are inspired by your path. Sometimes, we have a tendency to focus more on the people who disapprove of us, the people who call our ideals or even our value into question. Chances are that there are also a few people who are ready to encourage and support us. Sometimes we may need to let them know when we need a little encouragement and support. And sometimes the people who believe in us also challenge us and help bring us back on course when we get distracted.

Part of our own challenge is not to fall into the same trap the crowd of John 10 falls into. When we see someone doing something inspiring or admirable, we might learn something from them that can contribute to our own journey. We may not agree with their reasoning or their beliefs, but if we can tell that they are contributing to building a better world, we can hopefully accept some differences of opinion in service to a greater goal. We don’t need to dismiss the good work that someone does just because they believe something different from us. In fact, we can appreciate and acknowledge someone and still challenge some of their ideas respectfully.

So, it’s important for us to find those people who are more emotionally mature than we are—who are a little further along in their journey than we are in ours. And it’s important for us to recognize that, as we move forward, a lot of people we know are going to resist that forward motion. The people who know us and approve of us as we are today would be most comfortable if we stayed just as we are today. When we grow, we can expect that some people around us won’t like it. Hopefully, they don’t actually pick up stones to throw at us, but even their words of derision or hostility can hurt. Even so, our deep values most likely steer us toward compassion and not retaliation. Most importantly, there will be people who see what we are doing and decide to journey with us, even if they are not the people we started the journey with or even the people we hoped for. 

A Little Experiment: Speak. Practice speaking what's so for you without insisting that others agree with you. It may be tempting to get defensive or "persuasive." How do others respond when you just speak for yourself? Is it different from the way they respond when you try to convince them of something?

Another Little Experiment: Focus. It helps us to grow when we have others sharpening and challenging us in a supportive and empowering way. Lots of people think they know better than you. You may receive advice or "correction" from a great many people if you're willing to listen. Not all of those people are wise, however. Consider how other people are living out their values in their own lives, and choose the people who will offer you the best consistent challenge and sharpening.

A Big Experiment: Forecasting. It is said that if we look at the people we spend the most time around today, we can see what we will be like in five years. So, take a look at the people you spend the most time around. Do they reflect who you want to be in five years? Are you being influenced in a direction that makes sense and is satisfying to you?

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