Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Individual Jesus

I referred recently in a note to "individual Jesus." Those words came off my fingertips on the keyboard without my really thinking about it, but they sounded good and meant what I wanted them to mean as I typed, so I kept them and decided to revisit them in another note. Here we go.

I've thought a lot lately about my personal interactions with others. Mostly because of a personal movement I've been undergoing to improve my people skills and my leadership skills, I have examined my own comings and goings with people I encounter. I encounter a lot of the same people day in and day out, and so I have the opportunity for repeated interaction with people day in and day out. Examining that has lent some light to some habits I have with people, and I recently had the chance to really explore one of those habits that bothers me to no end. I hate it actually. I believe that its something every person does; because I believe that to be true, I also believe that if you read this and it doesn't resonate with you, you aren't telling yourself the truth. :) You're probably a lot better about it than I am, but please don't be in denial that it ever happens.

You may have eaten in a restaurant before. In that restaurant you might have noticed a manager or Person in Charge walking around the dining area, visiting visitors. This probably strikes you as a good thing for the manager to do. But let's take a closer look at what MIGHT really be going on, if that manager's name is Lee Davidson.

Lee is walking from table to table, greeting people, asking how they are doing, smiling as they reply that everything's great, then doing the same thing at the next table. And the next. Except the people he's talking to realize he's talking to them but not listening to them. He's got a foot headed to the next table before they finish speaking. And his eyes are looking for the next greetee before they've said their piece. And his actions are entirely self-centered and shallow; and what's worse, they make it obvious that they are.

Or, maybe you were at church that Sunday, and you were engaged with Lee in a conversation, and Lee had a meeting to get too after church. You were headed home. And as you realized it was time to wrap up the chat, you shook Lee's hand and wished him a good meeting. "Have a good meeting!" you said. And after eye contact was broken and Lee was headed to his meeting, you heard floating back from him, "You, too." "What?" you thought? I'm not going to a meeting. You probably laughed. Most likely it occurred to you that this kind of thing happens regularly. You might thank someone because it's one of the phrases in your "polite things to say" bin when there's no real reason to thank them. You might say, "Y'all take care," when there's only one person on the other side of the conversation. You might offer, "You too," like Lee did, when someone wishes you the best of something that they aren't going to be a part of.

Those moments are awkward, silly, perhaps funny... When I do it, I feel bad though. In fact, I feel GUILTY AS SIN. I realized that today. I didn't start feeling it today -- I realized that's my emotion when I do that to someone. Too harsh? Maybe.

I also realized this very day that I have been writing off the part of the Episcopal liturgy in which we confess our sins. Honestly. I'm a pretty innocent person, by worldly standards. I have been moving through life knowing that I don't hold hatred in my heart for anyone. Knowing I haven't been holding a grudge against anyone. Knowing that I'm pretty safe with the ten commandments. I hardly ever just think really nasty thoughts about people. I think I've come a long way toward honoring mom and dad. I don't think I can remember the last time time I stole anything. Etc, etc, etc. That's such a comfortable place to be, you know? You say the confession... you even mean it... Heck, you even try to remember things that make you feel guilty so you can confess them. But you just... don't... think.... it.... really.... applies... that... much.

But I realize today that in the same way that I commit murder when I hold a hateful feeling or thought against someone, I commit every sin against my brothers and sister hundreds of times a day.

Let me tell you how I got here. Thank you, Jessica Defee, for sharing a book with me. People of God, if you haven't read this book, I urge you mightily to go check it out or buy it. It is entitled Leadership and Self-Deception and it is authored by The Arbinger Institute. It is mis-titled though. It should be called You fake, slimy, ingenuine rat. You don't really know most people you claim to. You are fooling yourself if you think you are treating people well. You need to wake up and smell the coffee because you are committing murder hundreds of times a day by turning your back on the people you interact with. It could be a coffee table book.

The book teaches the reader -- who, in his defense, hasn't necessarily done anything wrong intentionally and may be, like me, a generally good kind of person -- that through subtle, oh-so-subtle, seemingly inconsequential choices we make hundreds of times a day, we have a tremendous effect -- and again perhaps surprisingly a tremendous effect that the people we're having it on don't even realize we're having -- on people. And most of the time we are likely failing to make the right choices. I'll leave you to get the book with that teaser. I seriously couldn't recommend it more highly. Even if you don't consider yourself a leader and/or have no desire to. It's really about people, not leaders. Even if my description doesn't make the book strike you as interesting. It is, trust me. You deserve it.

One of the sorts of choices which falls under the topic of the book is that decision about what kind of conversation I'm going to have with you at church before my meeting. I mean, it's getting ready to start, we're done talking about what we're done talking about... there's no good reason why we shouldn't be wrapping up and taking the first step in opposite directions.

Except that I murder you when I say, "You too." Too harsh? I don't think so.

See, this is where the Individual Jesus comes in. Matthew 25:31-46 says that we ought to treat the "least" as if he were Jesus. Whatever the "least" is in our eyes, we should honor, dignify, and respect him as if he were Jesus himself. That's the Individual Jesus I think I was reaching for when I used that phrase. You have an Individual Jesus, I have an Individual Jesus, and so does everyone else. And if we fail to recognize that Individual Jesus in each person, we fail to recognize that each person deserves our honor, our dignity, and our respect.

So the question becomes this...
If I'd walked out of church that Sunday and bumped into Jesus, and I knew it was Him, and we chatted... And our conversation was wrapping up, and it was time for me to head to my meeting, would I have said "You too" to Him? No heck no. Jesus would have had my full attention. Until He was done with me. Jesus would have had my eye contact, my body language, my ears, my eyes, my head, and my heart. Even in a casual conversation, I would have been literally immersed in Jesus' every word. I would have honored Him with my listening. And Jesus would have said, "Have a good meeting." And my eyes would remain with His, and I would have smiled, and I would have felt so thankful that this person thought to wish me good will. And I would have said, "Thank you, Jesus. We will, now."

If I'd seen Mark Jeffares' individual Jesus that day, I would have given HIM my full attention too. I would have lent my full self to our conversation. I would have been intentional and focused about my connection with him in that time and place. There is no chance in this world Mark remembers that interaction. But I do. I'd done it countless times before that, I'm sure. But that conversation was the beginning of my awakening to this habit of mine. Saturday, my awakening hit full stride as we talked about valuing results and relationships in our Leadership Development 101 forum. What does it mean to TRULY value relationship? It's more than we might think. VALUE is a big word. It doesn't JUST mean we pay attention to something. To value something is to hold it dearly, to "regard or esteem highly" according to

So if I VALUE our relationship, or the potential for a relationship, can't I just take the time to listen to your words before I respond to them? If I truly valued our interaction... my potential for serving you, your potential for serving me, our potential for serving others... if I VALUED that, wouldn't I say to Mark Jeffares, "Thank you, Mark. We will, now." Wow.

We're too late for New Year's Resolutions, and we're too late for Lenten Disciplines. So I've just decided to change some. I'm going to try my hardest to be genuinely attentive to people I interact with. I'm going to try to find your personal Jesus whenever we talk. I'm going to try to stay connected through eye contact. And I'm going to try to listen with both of my ears. You deserve it. Honestly, you deserve it. In fact, it is the absolute LEAST I can do, to just listen to you while you talk to me. Isn't it?

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