Hollywood & Harassment

Image result for hollywood sign

Allegations of sexual harassment, rape, and molestation are being highlighted in Hollywood these past few weeks.  It seems like every day someone is coming out with an allegation against some director, actor, or writer.  Power and prestige have provided opportunities for some to take advantage of, manipulate, and force their wills upon others whom have trusted, admired or sought help.  Some actors and actresses are finally speaking up against such behaviors and it seems that previous tolerance to these behaviors has reached it’s limit (or has at least lowered).  It would seem that the best way many use to address such behaviors is to publicly out and shame the person for their alleged actions.  Perhaps they had once filed a complaint with supervisors or the police and it wasn’t taken seriously.  Yet once it reached the media, it becomes more serious and actions are finally made by the companies in order to save face.  Of course, this is not only is occurring in Hollywood, but we see it in the political world (Moore, Franken, etc.) and even in the church when church leaders  are caught taking advantage of parishioners or leading secret lives of sexual sin (Tchividjian, Haggard).  So what can we glean from such acts or accusations?  How do we process these biblically?  Let me give a few thoughts:

Consider the Heart

“For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (Matt 15:19 NIV).  These shameful acts from sexual harassment to rape show us the dangers of when we allow idols of power or sexual pleasure to reign in the hearts.  Our self-centerdness (sin-nature) and focus on our own personal pleasure lead to actions that de-value other human beings as being our servants or slaves to do our bidding.  This may start off as fantasy, but eventually it becomes reality as it marinates in our hearts, permeates in our thought lives, and penetrates into our actions.  This is the danger for all of us!  No one is exempt from this!  Considering how Hollywood films are filled with sexual scenes, innuendos, and themes, these accusations can’t really surprise us as many films and TV shows reflect the realities of people’s hearts. Since we live out of our hearts, we ought to reflect on our own hearts and what idols we are allowing to reign, so that we can seek His forgiveness and follow His reign.  When we do so, we do not look at others as our servants, but instead serve them.  Failure to do so may indeed result in a public embarrassment, and even worse, hurts the heart of God.  This is why God sent His Son for us, to free us from our ruling heart’s desires that lead to sin.

Darkness is Exposed by the Light

“But everything exposed by the light becomes visible”  (Eph 5:13 NIV).  When living in darkness, darkness becomes normal.  Yet darkness is deceiving because it doesn’t show what really is.  We are, in a sense, blind.  Spiritually speaking, we are even blind to our own blindness.  We can’t see that we can’t see.  We can’t see how we are ruled by our sin nature.  We fail to see how we our enslaved to our sin, but instead believe our enslavement is actually freedom.  Freedom to do as we wish. Freedom to experience pleasure.  Freedom to use others for our gratification.  Freedom to ____________ (fill in the blank).  Many believe that the Christian is enslaved to a dull and boring life, but it is they who may be enslaved to idols they must obey.  The darkness is deceiving, but when light is shed on it, we see things more for how they are.  And if we are humble, we may even see ourselves as slaves in need of real freedom through the light of Christ.  When darkness is exposed by light and truth, we need not be shocked at what the light and truth reveals, but only praise God for exposing the darkness.

Withhold Judgement

“The first to plead his case seems right, Until another comes and examines him” (Prov 18:17 NASB).  When accusations are made, we assume the accuser is right and just, and the accused is wrong and evil.  The accusations may indeed be true, but they may not be.  Obviously, the more who accuse the person of wrongful acts, the more we question the accused (Think Bill Cosby & Judge Moore).  Prov 18:17 tells us to be wary and withhold our judgment until we hear cross-examination.  Those who cross-examine are trained to find holes in stories and can bring doubt upon the accusations. Typically, this is done when there has been more research and question the motives of the accuser as well.    In today’s social media climate, public perception is the weapon used against people.  A simple accusation becoming public will likely have a significant effect on the person, because reputation is important.  Withholding judgment until there has been evidence, eye witness accounts, and additional investigation would be wise in all situations.

It’s important that Believers not believe everything that is put in front of us, especially if it includes unfounded accusations and negative press.  We are told in Scriptures to be wise in discerning, and also not to be involved in gossip, which is spreading such false information (even if that includes sharing it on facebook!).  Certainly we can be saddened about such accusations, whether they are true or not, and we can sympathize with those who have been harassed or abused, but we need to fall shy of declaring judgment upon them quickly.  Additionally, it is wise to consider our own hearts and our own need for a Savior.  Only when we live in light, will the light of Christ shine brightest in us.

What other Biblical advice would be appropriate in regards to accusations and Hollywood & Harassments?

Is it Right or Wrong?

JLUgraffiti

While driving down the highways, perhaps you’ve come across “Christian vandalism” that has sayings like, “Jesus Saves” or “Jesus Loves U” spray painted on the side of a bridge or a wall of rock.  I always wonder what they were thinking when they did that.  Why would someone break the law to share a message that, although important, shows people that Christians do not respect the law?  Does the end truly justify the means?  Perhaps the Christian vandals believed what was good (or better) was the message, therefore they declared their vandalism, which is legally wrong, was right.  This leads me to the passage of Scripture (Isa 5:20) that states, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!”  How easy it is to excuse or justify actions and call them good when they have already been defined as bad (or evil).

How does evil become good and good become evil?  How does wrong become right, and right become wrong?  How does this exchange of morals happen in our lives?  Let me give a few thoughts as to how this happens:

  1. Acceptance of Rationalizing, Justifying & Blaming:  When we rationalize, we minimize the seriousness of ours and other’s actions.  “Oh, he was just tired,” “It’s no big deal.  Others have done worse,” “I wouldn’t have done it if you didn’t do that,” “She made me angry!”“He deserved it!”  “God wants me to be happy, so it’s OK that I leave my spouse.” All of these are rationalizations justifying ourselves or other’s actions, and we accept them as excuses.  When we rationalize, justify, blame, or excuse our actions, we proclaim our actions are “better than” others’ actions, or we declare our actions are acceptable.  As we believe our own rationalizations and justifications, we begin to declare our actions as morally good. It’s OK to break the law and spray paint “Jesus Loves You” on another’s property because maybe somebody will get saved.  It’s OK to personally tear down a public statue because it represented something I never believed in.  It’s right to be rude to people who don’t agree with me because they are dumb.  Sometimes it doesn’t take long to convince ourselves into doing something we know may be wrong for something we believe is right.  Eventually, however, we’ll actually believe our actions are right because our cause is right, too.
  2. Defining what is “Good” and “Evil”:  Who defines what is “good” or what is “evil”? If what is “good” and what is “evil” is simply defined by God, we have a starting point of discussion and interpretation.  If we define what “good” or “evil” is, not God, then our definition of “good” or “evil” must be suspect as we are imperfect & flawed beings due to our sinful or selfish natures.  Since we are not All-Knowing, our perspectives are based on our own experiences, perceptions, and assumptions. We may act on what seems to be right / best for us, but that may not be right / best for others or right / good according to God.  If we can’t agree on what is good, and defining good is subjective (we define our own good), then we will be more likely to stray and turn from what God has defined as evil as good, and vice versa.  Why? Because we’ll be guided by our seared consciences, selfish tendencies, misguided assumptions and interpretations, and personal experiences.  We call evil good and good evil because we’ve redefined these words and decided to trust ourselves and not Him.  In Mark 10:18, Jesus states that “no one is good, but God.”  If that is the case (and I believe it is), then only one who is truly Good can truly define good, not ones who are tainted by sin.
  3. Interpretive Lens: As stated in former blogs on Black & White Thinking: An Introduction (Part 1 and Part 2), our interpretive lenses play a significant role in defining what is right and wrong.  For example, in our political climate, we see how both Republicans and Democrats are guided by what they think is good and right. On one hand, many Republicans are presently guided by following the law, constitution, and following processes and procedures to make laws (consider DACA and immigration – illegal aliens are “illegal”, and congress must change laws, not the president).  Following the laws is what is good and right and best.  Many Democrats are presently guided by hearts of compassion for immigrants and their families. Compassion, love, and sympathy for the suffering is what is good and right and best.  Although this brief explanation is somewhat simplified, both parties (and individuals) act according to what they believe is good, right, or best.  Each side has strengths and weaknesses, but our interpretive lenses (law, black & white thinking, concrete issues/concepts vs compassion, empathy, abstract issues/concepts) play a significant role in what we determine is right or wrong.  Being created in His image means that we have the capacity for both (as He is both law-giver and merciful), but we tend to lean more towards one than the other.   Micah 6:8 gives us a great reminder of what we need to do that is good: He has shown you, O mortal, what is goodAnd what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”  Both are good, according to God, but we must tread humbly as we discern what is best.

How do you define what is “good and right” versus what is “bad and wrong”?  Would you stand on your own definitions, those of the culture or society, or on God’s definitions?  Do you personally lean towards following laws or standards as good and right or on following your feelings as good and right? Or perhaps being compassionate is right and following laws are therefore wrong?

Many of the conflicts in American society and politics, from kneeling or standing for the anthem or issues such as DACA and building walls, come down to how we align ourselves in determining what is good/right from what is bad/wrong.  As believers, we certainly do need humility and discernment to listen to opposing views and to treat one another with respect and dignity despite any differences.  And perhaps there will, at times, not be a choice between what is right & good versus what is wrong & bad, but instead about what is “better or best.”  One day, perhaps very near for us in America or here already in other countries, there will need to be a choice between obedience to the law (which is largely good) versus obedience to God (which is always good).  We will need to discern and choose the best option, which is to follow God over worldly authorities.  Until that time comes, let’s make sure that the good we believe and know is the good that comes from God alone, and is not defined by culture or by ourselves.

 

Insecurity and Black & White Thinkers

in·se·cu·ri·ty  ˌinsəˈkyo͝orədē/
noun
 1.  uncertainty or anxiety about oneself; lack of confidence.
  1. “she had a deep sense of insecurity”
    synonyms:  lack of confidence, self-  doubtdiffidence, unassertiveness,  timidityuncertaintynervousness,  inhibitionMore

Insecure _brett ellis

Insecurity is something most of us have faced at some time or another.  It doesn’t matter who you are, your personality, location, ethnicity, sex, etc.  Insecurity is feeling self-doubt and a lack of confidence in who we are (identity) and what we are worth (value). Typically, most of us have felt this in our teen years, or even earlier.  We first look to our parents for security (worth, etc.), then to peers and also to performance.  If our peers like and accept us, or our performance in school or sports or arts gets us recognition & praise, then we feel good and have value.  When considering parents, peers, and performance for our sense of security or worth, we can generally do without one, maybe two of them, but we have a hard time living without affirmation in all three.  We may even grow older continuing to seek worth and approval by continuing to perform well, please parents, or please peers, but eventually performance and people pleasing backfire in relationships.

For Black & White Thinkers who are insecure,  the “all or nothing” thinking plays a significant role in the interpretation of both words spoken to them and events surrounding them. As a result of the “all or nothing” / “right or wrong” thinking, they come to conclusions of negative self-worth.  (Note: As a negative self-worth is present in depression, I recommend reading Black & White Thinking in Depression to understand how some of the thinking occurs.)  Insecure individuals have a difficult time distinguishing between behaviors / actions and personhood.  If you do something bad (actions), this means you are bad (personhood).  And if you are bad, then your sense of worth decreases.

An insecure person generally takes things personally.  Words of instruction or direction may be taken as criticism.  Where Black & White Thinking may occur is when another person says they didn’t do something well, this is interpreted as meaning they did horrible.  If one says they did good, this means they either did great or horrible (if they are perfectionists).  It typically goes to either side of the extreme.  There is no middle ground for many Black & White Thinkers.  

Responsibility & Protection

For some Black & White Thinkers, to accept responsibility for wrong (actions) would mean to admit fault.  Admitting fault or guilt would mean they are bad, horrible, no good and worthless (personhood), and means they are entirely to blame for the issue (100% at fault).  In order to protect themselves, some use blame-shifting, justifying (“I yelled because you disrespected me!“), and may even attack others so as to keep their fragile personhood in tact (0% at fault).  For example, if you try to tell a Black & White Thinker that they did something wrong in a conflict, it is quite possible that they will think you are blaming them for the entire conflict.  Why? Because they are either all to blame or not at all to blame.  If they are all to blame, they are all bad or wrong. There may not be any middle ground.  To take responsibility (or admit guilt or wrongdoing) only for their part (25%, 50%. 75%, etc.) may be difficult to grasp.  So, they may either become down and depressed (feeling blamed for everything) or they may become more verbally aggressive (attacking others who they feel attacked them).  This does not occur in all Black & White Thinkers, only those who are more insecure.

Self-Protection & Preservation is one of key tasks of an insecure Black & White Thinker. Often, feelings of hurt, rejection, grief, abandonment, etc. are too difficult to bear.  Since Black & White Thinkers are more concrete, and feelings are abstract, working through such intangible feelings may seem an impossible task. Additionally, since such negative feelings of hurt, rejection, and abandonment are both difficult and painful to feel,  Black & White Thinking may increase in order to simplify life and nullify feelings.   It’s almost as if the protection mantra is this, “If the feelings aren’t acknowledged or felt, they are not there.  They don’t exist.”*  So life is simplified outside of emotions by refusing to feel, painful emotions are minimized, and the concrete words and actions become more of a focus.

Healing often begins when the negative emotions of hurt, rejection, and abandonment are acknowledged and worked through (felt), rather than ignored.  This is best done after the individual first recognizes that their emotional security (identity, self-worth & value) rests in God’s love and Christ’s actions on the cross, and not on what others have said or done to them, or in their own performance.  In order to work through such emotions, it would be wise to work through them with a trained Christ-centered counselor or a close, trusted friend or pastor.  Being anchored in the Truth of God’s love and grace for them is essential in working through insecurity, as our worth and value must be anchored in the Truth of God’s Word.  As God’s love and grace for us becomes more real, we are able to acknowledge guilt and responsibility because our sense of value and worth is based on the permanence of His love and grace, and not on our inconsistent selves or others varying words or actions.

If you are a Black & White Thinker, please consider how you have dealt with the negative emotions of rejection, hurt, grief or abandonment.  Have you allowed yourself to feel them and work through them, or have you simplified the emotions into anger or ignored them entirely?   Are you able to take responsibility for your actions alone and seek forgiveness for them, or do you blame-shift, justify, or refuse any guilt for words or actions you have expressed?  If so, please also consider that God made you to be both a physical being, spiritual being, and emotional being.  Working through painful emotions is a sign of maturity, and admitting fault or blame does not change your worth or value (it is actually acting in obedience to Christ!) and may even bring you closer to family members.

 

*At times, negative feelings of hurt, rejection, grief and abandonment filter into the one emotion that is acknowledged and deemed acceptable: anger.  Anger can be a lightning rod of emotions where the negative emotions are simplified in the expression of anger.  In such situations, physical confrontations or emotional abuse may not be far behind…

For More on Black & White Thinkers:

The Black & White Thinker: An Introduction

The Black & White Thinker: An Introduction (Part 2)

Black & White Thinking Through a Biblical Lens

Grace & the Black & White Thinker

The Black & White Thinking Christian

Is Black & White Thinking a Mental Illness?

Black & White Thinking in Depression

When Black & White Thinking is Ruled by Pride

Black & White Thinking in Anxiety

Black & White Thinking in Relationships: Men & Women

Black & White Thinking in Anger

Emotions & the Black & White Thinker

Black & White Thinking in Relationships: Differences in Men & Women

Below is Part 10 in the Black & White Thinking Series.  Please click on the respective links for Parts 1-9:  Part 1 (Introduction), Introduction (Part 2)Part 2 (Biblical Lens),  Part 3 (Grace),  Part 4 (Mental Illness), Part 5 (Depression), Part 6 (Anxiety), Part 7 (Pride), Part 8 (Christian), and Part 9 (Anger).man and woman head

Men are from Mars.  Women are from Venus.  Men are like Waffles.  Women are like Spaghetti.  There is no doubt that men and women are different, yet both men and women can be Black & White Thinkers.  And even though there are some similarities in the sexes with Black & White thinking, there are some differences as well.

SIMILARITIES

To review, Black & White Thinking involves processing events and situations as “all or nothing,” “either – or,” or “right or wrong.”   This type of thinking over-simplifies all the ins and outs of situations and reduces them to basically two choices.  Since there are only two choices (good or bad, right or wrong, etc.), it is important to meet the standard (successful/good), or else you fail (failure/bad).  While standards can be good, setting standards without a measure of grace is unwise.  Black & White Thinking may lead to setting high standards for others and criticizing them when they fail to meet them.  Such interactions will cause others you are close to to feel insecure, lonely, and resentful.  In situations of abuse, Black & White Thinking combined with pride is always present.

DIFFERENCES

Generally, men and women who think or process things in Black & White do so differently because they are created male or female.  Hormones, societal norms, and past events and relationships will certainly influence how one perceives, processes, and performs (acts).  These influences will also impact the amount of Black & White Thinking that is present in the individual.  Typically, the greater the hurt, broken relationships, or trauma of the past, the greater the Black & White Thinking may be in every area of life.  In all cases, when Black & White Thinking is combined with pride, it is about my way, or my will be done in the relationship.  It is important to be mindful of these laws (expectations / standards) as they can harm the relationship and cause hurt feelings, fears, and resentments.

Ladies First

In general, women seem to be more relational (and probably less Black & White as a whole) than men. I believe this is because women were created by God to be Relational. This conclusion is based on the ability and plumbing to give birth and bond with their children through breastfeeding.  In addition, the Creation order and reasons for Woman to be created seems to suggest that woman was created FOR relationship (Gen 3) with man. Therefore, I would conclude that women seem to be created to be more Relational, in general.  So it would make sense that either women are more Relational and less Black & White in their thinking, or, at least, the content of their Black & White Thinking may be more relationship oriented.   For example, in many Black & White Thinkers with whom I have spoken, the Black & White Thinking in women often occurs as “relational laws.”  In other words, your husband MUST love you (love is desired by women, whereas respect is more desired by men) by spending time, serving, etc. That becomes the right way and only way to love, and your husband must do this or a punishment (criticism, withholding sex, etc.) will be given.  Either you love me this way (which is rightor you don’t love me (which is wrong).  Demanding love (instead of desiring it) thus becomes an idol of the heart.  This idol is held on to because she knows she is right, but in holding onto it, she becomes wrong.  This can turn into being controlling and will cause damage in the relationship.

Some questions for female Black & White thinkers: What if your husband was loving you in other ways?  Why are these other ways dismissed as wrong?  What relationship laws have you set in your heart? How do you respond when you don’t get what you want? 

Men, Your Turn

Although the same Genesis account shows us that Adam desired companionship and, I believe, wanted to be IN relationship (It was not good that man was alone – Gen 2:18), man was not created FOR relationship like woman (unless it is a relationship with God), but instead was created FOR work (there was no one to tend the Garden -Gen 2:5, 15).  But to be clear, relationship is important and necessary for men to learn, grow, love, and become like Christ.  In addition, although women were created FOR relationship, they were created to be equal with man, and not FOR man to do as he wishes. If the Black & White Thinker believes that his spouse is created FOR him, to please him and make him happy, he is outside of God’s plan for marriage.  Like women, male Black & White Thinkers also have “relationship laws,” but these laws are not about being loved, but about being respected. When these desires become demands (from desiring respect to demanding obedience), however, the laws will become overbearing to spouses.

Some Questions for male Black & White thinkers: What if your wife is honoring or serving you in other ways?  Why are these other ways dismissed as wrong?  What relationship laws have you set in your heart? How do you respond when you don’t get what you want?

Final Thoughts

The differences above are not meant to be comprehensive, by any means, but outline areas where God has created men and women differently (men desiring respect and women desiring love – see Eph 5 and the book, Love & Respect by Emerson Eggerichs).  “Relationship Laws” are essentially expectations and standards set for the other person (or maybe for oneself), that when unmet, result in criticisms or “advice” for the other person.  The goal is to make the other person into your image of a perfect spouse (as if they are created to make you happy or fulfilled).  However, our goal is not to get others to meet our standards, but for us to seek after Christ and be changed so that we become like Him (the full image of God).  Future blogs will continue to address other relationship issues that occur in relationships with someone who is a Black & White Thinker.  What would you like to know more about?  Write any questions of comments below…

Black & White Thinking in Anger

Here is Part 9 in the Black & White Thinking Series.  Please click on the respective links for Parts 1-8:  Part 1 (Introduction), Introduction (Part 2)Part 2 (Biblical Lens),  Part 3 (Grace),  Part 4 (Mental Illness), Part 5 (Depression), Part 6 (Anxiety), Part 7 (Pride), and Part 8 (Christian).

angry-dude

“You’re always doing that!”  “You never (fill in the blank)!”  “That stupid, #@!*%!”  You probably don’t have to look too far in the distant past (perhaps minutes!) to think about the last time you’ve been angry.  Anger is a universal emotion that all of us feel at different times, some more often than others.  Anger is an emotional reaction or response to situations or circumstances that we find are unfair, unjust, or simply wrong.  Being created in God’s image means that we will experience the emotion of anger as He does, though admittedly, our anger is often tainted by our sin and not as righteous as His.  Throughout the Old Testament, God’s anger and wrath is poured out on humanity for sins against Him and against others.  In the New Testament, we see God’s anger and wrath poured out on His Son for our sins.

There are several themes of anger that are fairly consistent with the Black & White Thinking.  These themes include 1) being right vs. wrong (meeting a standard), and the 2) difficulty of reconciliation.

BEING RIGHT vs WRONG (meeting a standard or expectation)

There are two points that are worth mentioning about rightness and wrongness that are reasons Black & White Thinkers can become angry: 1) What is right and 2) The need to be right.

  1. First, anger typically occurs when something happens that we know is not right. Since we are created in God’s image, we essentially are created to become angry at sin (wrong).  If you learn of sexual or physical abuse to children, do you become angry at the perpetrator?  Of course you do.  It is how we are made.  Ultimately, we ought to be angry at sin and evil and at all the things with which God is angry.  Yet, since sin entered the world, our anger has not been totally aligned with God’s anger. Instead of being angry at sin, we are more prone to welcome sin into our lives, and our anger shifts from being angry at the breaking of God’s law (sin) to the breaking of our own laws (expectations or standards).

We don’t need to look much further about anger than the story of Jonah, who, after running from God, finally relented and preached to the Ninevites to repent and turn to God.  After he delivered this message of repentance, he waited, hoping that God would wipe them off the face of the earth.  And when God didn’t give the Ninevites what they deserved, Jonah became so angry, he even wished death upon himself. Jonah was angry at God because God did not meet Jonah’s standard/expectation/law.  God SHOULD have wiped them out, because it’s what they deserved, but He didn’t.

Our anger is not much different than Jonah’s.  We get angry at ourselves because we did not meet our standards for ourselves.  We get angry with others because they did not meet our standards and expectations.  We get angry at God because He did not respond the way we think He should have (BTW, the word “should” is a buzzword to let us know that we have a standard or expectation).  Just this morning I got angry at a driver at my sons’ school for parking in the dropoff lane.  Why?  Because that’s the dropoff lane.  That’s the rule!  And he was breaking it, causing a backup of multiple vehicles waiting for him to follow the rules.  He should have known better!  He should have been more considerate of others!  You get the idea.

So, our anger has shifted from God’s law being broken (sin) to our own laws (standards/expectations) being broken, and when that happens, others deserve our wrath.  Or perhaps, these laws are not our own laws, per se, but societal laws (driving laws, etc.) or even unwritten laws (you have to wait in line with all the other cars when merging from 2 lanes to one).  In all cases, we feel justified because they did wrong according to the laws, and since we believe we are in the right, they are all “idiots.”  And, of course, being in the right can certainly feed self-righteousness.

2. When pride enters the picture (which it does for all of us), the need to be right in our own eyes and in the eyes of others often gains momentum.  Black & White Thinkers think more Right and Wrong or Good & Bad, and when pride reigns in the heart, admitting wrong is equivalent to being bad.  Some Black & White Thinkers feel the need to be right and find their esteem in being right.  When being right becomes more important than anything else, anger is often used to keep others quiet so as to remain under the illusion that they are right.  Anger, then, is used more as a control tactic to silence others and remain in the right…often by being wrong.

DIFFICULTY WITH RECONCILIATION

Anger is typically resolved when there is a good process of reconciliation.  Reconciliation often occurs when there is an acknowledgement of wrong, a seeking forgiveness (which often comes from brokenness for hurting the other person), and then followed by a change in behavior that comes from the brokenness. Reconciliation also occurs when forgiveness is granted combined with the willingness to move forward and work on trust. Granting forgiveness for past hurts may be difficult for some Black & White Thinkers since forgiveness is not a concrete concept to grasp, and to grant forgiveness would seem to “go against” the works related theme, “you get what you deserve” (as opposed to the grace related theme, ‘you don’t get what you deserve’).  Since the other person doesn’t deserve forgiveness and hasn’t earned it, forgiveness will not be granted, and anger can resume.   Individuals who hold to this belief do not grasp that forgiveness can never be earned, but is freely given; nor is it for the other person, but is actually for God (and us!).  Just as we will never deserve God’s forgiveness, others will not deserve ours.  But as we forgive as God has forgiven us, we are released from our anger and freed from resentment.  At minimum, the Black & White Thinker’s form of forgiveness may simply be to just not think about it anymore, but this falls short of actual reconciliation as discussed above, which involves the emotions of hurt, brokenness, and love.  When these emotions are not worked through, anger can remain the dominant emotion.

Is acknowledging wrong and apologizing enough to reconcile and move forward?  For some, yes, because apologizing is a tangible action (words) and corrective actions may be taken to show the other person change. Some may not find a need to apologize, but simply to recognize where they may have been “mistaken,” correct the mistakes, and move forward.  This seems more like a “taking responsibility for actions” type of response (though ‘mistaken’ is not admitting wrong), yet it certainly falls short of “taking responsibility for the relationship” type of response. Some Black & White Thinkers don’t recognize that apologies help heal any brokenness that exists in the relationship.  And some more severe Black & White Thinkers have an extremely hard time even being broken over their sin as they cannot empathize with those they hurt.  This is because these emotions have not been felt themselves for a very long time because they are uncomfortable and painful.

Some additional reasons for anger in the Black & White Thinker include situations perceived as being unfair, anger masking depression, or anger being used as a defense mechanism to protect oneself against hurt.  Protecting against being hurt is learned early in life, and some say causes Black & White Thinking.  Though I won’t say it is a cause, it can certainly be a heavy influence leading Black & White Thinking to increase, and thinking Relationally to decrease.

Anger is a universal emotion that we all experience.  Just as has previously been written in anxiety and depression, Black & White Thinking can certainly be present in anger as well. If you see this thinking in your anger, think some more about the situation.  When does it happen?  What laws/rules are being broken? What expectations do you have?  Then look at your own heart and how you have not met God’s expectations either and are deserving of the same anger (times infinity) you have towards others.  Yet in His love and grace, His anger was poured out on His Son instead of you.  Other people may be wrong, but so have I been wrong…many times.  Thank God for His grace and love on undeserving people like us.

The Black & White Thinking Christian

Here’s Part 8 of the Black & White Thinking (BWT) Series.  I would encourage you, at minimum, to read BWT Intro, BWT Thinking (OT & NT Thinkers)BWT through a Biblical Lens, and Grace & the BWT before reading this blog.  Part 4 (Mental Illness), Part 5 (Depression), Part 6 (Anxiety), and Part 7 (Pride) can be read by clicking the appropriate links.

black-and-white-puzzle-profileWhether in the counseling office, at church, or at home, all of us either know a person who thinks more Black & White, or we are one.  Christians are as different from one another as the rest of the world are from each other.  Our shared beliefs in Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection, & our trust in His Word unite us together to live out our faith together at a local church.  Yet, how we live out our faith can be very different than the next person.  How we interpret Scriptures, perceive events, and treat our fellow Christians will partly depend on whether our thinking is more Black & White or Relational.  This particular Blog is more about how the Black & White Thinker lives out their faith.

As stated in previous blogs, Black & White Thinkers often focus more on the fruit (the actions & behaviors) than they do the heart (motives, desires), although the heart is certainly acknowledged. Typically, in the heart of the Black & White Thinking Christian, the motives tend to be more focused on the importance of obedience to the Word / Law (you can also exchange “law” for expectation or standard) and living a life that demonstrates this.  If you are not obedient, which is right, you are disobedient, which is wrong.  And if you are wrong, consequences are deserved.  And basically, this would be correct.  The Black & White Thinking Christian emphasizes obedience in his or her Christianity, yet may have more difficulty feeling or understanding the relational component that is also important in the Christian faith.  While some acknowledge that Christianity is not about religion, but a relationship, the relationship is often lived out by works, which may tend to lean toward religion.

“I’m a Christian.  I believe all Jesus did for me.  Now, just tell me what to do and I will do it.”  Devotions and service, for example, stem from the desire to be a good (not bad) Christian. Relational individuals will focus more on God’s love for them and their love for God as motivation for doing something for Him, and may tend to de-emphasize the obedience to God.  Black & White Thinking Christians tend to focus more on obedience to God and have difficulty with less concrete things such as the feelings and emotions of faith.  According to Jesus’ words in John (14:15, 23), “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” or “obey me.”  This verse captures the love of a Black & White Thinking Christian towards God…it is demonstrated mostly through obedience.

One of the main concerns of Black & White Thinking Christians in the church and in family life is that grace becomes a license for people to sin and do what they want (see Romans 6:1-2) . This is one of the reasons grace is a difficult concept for many.  If you give grace (a relational concept) to others, then others will take advantage, they won’t learn, and they will be more disobedient.  If fellow Christians live by grace (as opposed to obedience), they will not act regularly according to His Word.  Since obedience is such an important dimension of faith, grace seems to stand in contradiction to obedience.  What the Black & White Thinking Christian needs to comprehend on a greater level is that while remaining true to being obedient to God, it is God’s grace that empowers such obedience. If you haven’t already, please read the Blog on Grace & the Black & White Thinker for more on this…

While recognizing that overemphasizing grace (some call it cheapening grace) and overemphasizing obedience (religion) is a danger to our faith, Black & White Thinking Christians ought to be cautious of not judging others by the standards of obedience. Obedience is certainly important in the life of a believer, but it is not the standard by which others are measured (as good/real or bad/fake Christians).  Christ’s obedience on the cross is the measure of obedience necessary for us to be considered righteous by faith.

One additional caution for Black & White Thinking Christians is to recognize that relationship is just as necessary as obedience.  This relationship between God and us was made possible only through God’s love and grace (“We love because God first loved us” – 1 Jn 4:19), and was never made possible through our own actions.  We will never be able to earn God’s favor, love, or attention through our works.  Therefore, all of us, Relational and Black & White Thinking Christians alike, need to remember to focus specifically on Him and His love and Grace through the cross, and not focus on our own or other people’s works.  Our treatment of others must reflect our relationship with God through Christ, based on His grace and mercy to us, and not on whether others are obedient or not (good or bad Christians).

Finally, I would also argue that paying attention to the vertical relationship with God through Christ will help us to be able to acknowledge our own blindness.  Often, while focusing on obedience to certain standards, we can be blinded to the relational commands in Scripture.  For example, we may speak truth to those who are disobedient,  but we are often blinded to the fact that in speaking truth, we do not speak it “in love” (Eph 4:15). When speaking the truth overshadows the “in love” part, the truth spoken ceases to carry any weight of the Truth (with a capital “T”).

Black & White Thinking Christians are very important to the Body of Christ.  Although I’ve mentioned some weaknesses and cautions, let me share one significant strength as well. The Black & White Thinking Christian’s passion to stand for the Truth and the Word of God is exemplary, and often guides and challenges others around them (hopefully in a good way). Though personal feelings may heavily influence interpretation of a Relational person, feelings are typically submissive to the Truth with Christian Black & White Thinkers. Any feelings that are present are more of a response to Truth (or of other people’s not believing the Truth) than an actual guide for discovering or learning Truth. Without this anchor to the Truth, the Christian faith can easily become watered down if we gave in to the demands of “feel good” culture or even the fears of our hearts.  If we cannot stand with the Truth, we will fall with this world.

There is so much more that can be said of Black & White Thinking Christians that has not been said in this blog.  Hopefully, in reading the series, additional insights can be gleaned throughout that can bring some clarity to our differences in our world views.  My hope is to one day put all this together into a resource for many…

(Note: The Black & White Series is based on observations and conversations with many individuals in the counseling office and beyond, and includes various insights into the Scriptures as well.  While not stating all that is said in these blogs are Truth, the series is meant to be a starting point for further discussion and perhaps help us to understand, love, and live out our faith and relationships better.  That being said, I would love to dialogue with you and hear your thoughts and add to the discussion and one another’s understanding.  So, in that spirit, let me ask you: What other areas do you see are different for the Black & White Thinking Christian?  What challenges or questions do you have that you can add to the discussion?  I hope to hear from you soon!)

When Black & White Thinking is Ruled by Pride

This is part 7 in the Black & White Thinking Series.  Click on these links for Part 1 (Intro), Introduction (Part 2), Part 2 (Biblical Lens), Part 3 (Grace), Part 4 (Mental Illness?), Part 5 (Depression), and Part 6 (Anxiety).

pride-comes-b4-a-fall

Let’s be honest, pride is something all of us have.  I’m not talking about pride as in “taking pride in our work” kind of pride.  No, I’m talking about the self-centered, self-aggrandizing, self-focus, all about me kind of pride.  The kind of self-centeredness that all of us have inside of us, thanks to that inherited sinful nature all of us have received from Adam & Eve.

Our pride and self-centeredness manifests itself in different ways.  At times it occurs in subtle ways that nobody really notices, such as in our unspoken thoughts.  At times it can be disguised in our kindness to others, while we are doing the acts for our own benefit. Other times, it is seen and heard by others in comments, conversations, and actions.

While pride is present in everyone, all of us seem to have one or two areas that seem to be displayed more frequently than other areas.  Authors Paul Tripp & Tim Lane, in their book, Relationships: A Mess Worth Making, describe many areas of pride that are present in our lives.  They are self-centeredness (seeks attention & approval), self-rule (seeks to be right, in control), self-sufficiency (seeks independence), self-satisfaction (seeks pleasure), self-righteousness (seeks to be right in eyes of others), & self-taught (seeks to give opinion). Personally, as I look at this list, I see all of them in me, though self-centeredness and self-satisfaction seem to be more prevalent in my life.

As previously mentioned in other blogs, Black & White Thinkers simplify their judgments into whatever is good/bad, black/white, or right/wrong.  When pride is present, admitting wrong is tantamount to being wrong or bad.  And if you “can’t” be wrong, than you must be right and others are wrong.  When pride reigns in the Black & White Thinker, self-righteousness and self-rule are often the two highest heart struggles on the list dealing with pride.  The need to be right and to be right in other’s eyes lends itself to making justifications, excuses, blaming, etc. for personal actions in order to convince themselves and others that they are in the right (and others in the wrong).  Truth be told, all of us do this, Relational and Black & White Thinkers alike.  However, when pride reigns in the Black & White Thinker’s heart, the justifications, blaming, and excuses are regular occurrences.  Additionally, if being “right” is considered “good” and being “wrong” is considered “bad” (heart), then the tendency to look at self as better and others as worse is demonstrated in bragging, insults, and criticisms (fruit).

Similarly, I had mentioned that Black & White Thinkers are likened to the Pharisees in Scripture who obey the “law” or standards.  That is, anyone who falls short of obeying the law deserves punishment.  The Pharisees started with God’s Law, and then added thousands of other laws on top of God’s laws so that the original laws would not be violated.  When Black & White Thinkers make their own laws or standards in their own homes and then require others to follow them, they can become controlling through criticisms and conflicts, and they may look down upon others who don’t meet their standards.  This occurs in emotionally or physically abusive relationships.  Their laws or standards are high for others, and they can’t admit to being wrong, so their actions and beliefs are justified, excused, or blame is placed elsewhere.

Of course, it is important to note that abusive relationships are more likely to occur when pride REIGNS in Black & White Thinkers, not if pride is simply PRESENT.  The presence of pride in our lives means that we are fallen humanity living in a fallen world.   The reign of pride means that we are completely absorbed in ourselves and we are moving towards what psychologists would call narcissistic.  In order to keep pride from reigning in our hearts, it is essential to recognize that we are indeed wrong (sinful) and that it is OK to be wrong. That doesn’t mean that we are to pursue wrong-doing, of course, but simply to expect it as fallen human beings.  Our wrongness, per se, does not impact our value or worth as humans, but it does help us recognize the great love Christ has for us which is not based on our wrong-doing, but on his love.  This is the path to humility.  As we recognize and believe these things, and we seek Christ, he begins to change us inwardly so that pride does not reign in our hearts.

“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6, Prov 29:23)