Do No Harm

Writer’s block, you are just a horrible, horrible thing.  Not only do you prevent me from actually be productive but you also force me to play 2048 in hopes that something in my creative brain will spring a leak and I’ll finally get the ambition to either get up and leave or just write something.  And how fickle she is with what will spark the fuel.

Facebook.  I spend so very little on Facebook when I’m not working on SSEM stuff or trying to fall asleep and I get bored easily on it.  But I do like to post interesting things, and when I see Vince Gilligan is making a show that has the same name as my home town (Battle Creek, which I assume is Michigan because a crime show about Battle Creek, Iowa is going to be about as exciting as Corner Gas), I had to post it.

After that, I looked a bit and I saw a Methodist pastor friend of mine had posted a short guide to a Wesleyan approach to social media and the first rule was “Do No Harm.”  I’ve also been bingeing on House, M.D. (thank you Netflix) and that whole ideal pretty much gets thrown out the window constantly in hopes of diagnosis and healing.  I’ve also had the Westboro Baptist Church in my mind, both their hatred and some of the positive response to their hatred (and negative response), and I’ve wanted to address that whole method of evangelism.

I think it sticks in my mind so much because my goal with every sermon is, first and foremost, to “Do No Harm.”  Whenever I’m writing a sermon and I come up on something that is going to poke the congregation in the eye with a sharp stick – which I do like to do – I always consider the ramifications beyond forcing thought and questioning.  I don’t even really mind offending people but just offending people for offense sake is going to do nothing for their soul.  There is no reason for me to kick the souls of those who are gathered there to worship on Sunday just because I want to be edgy and whack all of the preconceived notions they hold in their hearts with a flaming sledge-hammer as violently as possible.  There is not point or reason for that unless those preconceived notions are actually harming them in a way that is comparable to the harm I am doing to their psyche by doing this.  I am not that arrogant.

The one big thing that I am always stuck on is the harm that can be done around death and mourning.  I tell people their being jerks, their being judgmental, or that their views on sin are all sorts of wrong with only a slight amount of trepidation but even mentioning death and dying makes me want to fall into that path of no resistance.  If I can just get “Jesus loves you” across without saddening anyone too much, I think I’ve won.  In that moment of mourning, it is so incredibly easy to lose faith; trying to use that moment as a springboard for a prophetic word is basically forcing people away from God.

But the prophetic words are necessary.  We have 4 major prophets and 12 minor prophets that get their own book in the Bible.  We are sinful and we need those who have a prophetic word to share to actually share it with us and guide us back to a path of righteousness.  It is necessary and good, but it also should be intentional, timed well, and should focus on the glory and goodness of God and not at all on the goodness of the messenger.  “You’re evil and I’m good!” is not a prophetic message, as much as those who preach would like it to be.

No matter the message, and no matter the messenger, there are times that a prophetic message will do harm and no good.  I think about the prophetic messages in the Bible and I cannot think of message that was given in a time of mourning.  There are plenty that came preceding and telling of times of mourning, plenty that basically told the Jewish people that what was coming was brought upon them by themselves, but it was never delivered once they were mourning.  People don’t hear those messages in times of mourning.  Christ taught a lot of prophetic things and yet he simply mourned at Lazarus’s death (then brought him back to life, but that’s a bit off topic).

A prophetic word given specifically in terms of a death will do nothing but drive people away.  Even if the person was (insert horrible, disgusting sin that the community believes will send them to Hell), that moment is not the moment to remind people of Hell and condemnation.  The funeral of a 14-year-old son of a minister and grandson doctor is certainly not the time to give a universal prophetic of how the United States is going to Hell because of homosexuality and holding funerals.

Trying to not get pointed but can you see the flaw in their logic?  This boy probably loved everyone around him, his father has dedicated his life to teaching Christ’s message, his grandfather dedicated his life to healing, and they were shot in cold blood.  The Jewish people mourned and held services to honor the dead.  Christ’s body was to be prepared by Mary Magdalene.

Disagree with the theology around having a body at a funeral?  That’s fine.  Think we worship the dead a bit too much?  I agree with you.  Think the funeral of a 14-year-old boy who has friends who need to cope with the senseless loss of life and need to see a body for their psyche to accept that his death is real is the place to protest funerals?  No, it isn’t.

Do no harm.  No matter what your theology is, what your message is, there is no where in the Bible we are called to do harm.  If we take Christ as an example, especially on this Maundy Thursday submitting himself to the priests to become the sacrificial lamb for humanity, we should also be submitting ourselves, sacrificing ourselves for others and looking to life them up, not tear them down.

Do no harm.  I’m also struck, though, at the hatred that is shown towards people of this nature.  I’m not surprised by it – heck, I’ve even joyfully participated at times – but I am struck at how easily we hate them because of the sins they commit.

Have you thought about what kind of room in Hell Fred Phelps is sitting in right now? Because I have, and I am shamed by that.  I have had a serious shift in how my theological stances express themselves in a practical manner and if I am going to stand by the ideal that there isn’t a sin that is uniquely capable to condemning you to Hell, I have to stand by that.  Condemning anyone, judging anyone, and glorifying yourself are each sinful, but so is gluttony and sloth.  If my sins don’t condemn me to Hell because of my faith in Christ and recognition of my sin, then I cannot begin to claim that he is in Hell when I am saved.

I posted this sign before but I am going to post it again.  I’m going to be working with the “What Not To Do” when talking about sin but I think we need to worry about what to do, as well.  So in practice, the inverse of “Do No Harm” is “Do Good.”  So if I wanted to do good with this, this would be my option:

Do good.  I wonder why people don’t offer them food and drink, feed them and make sure they are healthy.  I get the counter-protests, I get the desire to drive them away, but we should be like the Good Samaritan.  Even if they are the most detestable group of people to us, we should be loving them like we love each other.

“Do No Harm”

To loving each other,

– Robby

Jerks

I’ve looked them up twice in the last 72 hours and they’re stuck in my craw so anyone who reads this page is just going to have to deal with me complaining about them.

The Westboro Baptist Church makes me mad and it isn’t even because they picket funerals and sue people who even get a little bit aggressive with them for being jerks.  I get so frustrated with them because of this:

Source: WBC Twitter page. No Photoshop aside from cropping…

Even if their views on homosexuality, the US Military, and death are all true, they have no idea if I am a sinner or not. “You are probably an Esau.” That really just gets under my skin.

Part of why is because I personally think the bible calls us to humility.  Humble people tend to look at themselves and see their own flaws, understand they are below Christ, and act as people who are forgiven moment from moment, not people who have stopped sinning and are perfect.  But that’s just my personal bias.

I can say, without doubt, that humans cannot judge each other.  There is a list of scriptures that prove that; I’ll let James prove it specifically today:

Brothers and sisters, don’t say evil things about each other. Whoever insults or criticizes a brother or sister insults and criticizes the Law. If you find fault with the Law, you are not a doer of the Law but a judge over it.  There is only one lawgiver and judge, and he is able to save and to destroy. But you who judge your neighbor, who are you?

– James 4:11-12

Did anyone that is a physical entity today create the law?  No?  Then stop judging one another.  I don’t care if you believe a person is sinning, you are not in a position to condemn.  Period.  So stop it, or stop calling yourself a Christian.

Yesterday I said that the call of the Gospels was to love radically, no matter the sin or shortcomings of the people you love.  Calling them names, dehumanizing them, and saying that they are going to Hell is the exact opposite of loving them.  And using the excuse “I want them to stop sinning” to justify your hateful actions is a lie; again, name calling and dehumanization aren’t loving, period.

Now, I’m not arguing that holding each other accountable for our sins is a bad thing and calling a sin a sin is actually a good thing, but there is a fatal flaw when we only look at the sins that make us uncomfortable and forget other sins (especially not loving our neighbor as ourself).

So instead of saying everyone but a select few people are going to Hell, do this instead:

Source: New York Daily News and KSHB Action News

Love radically. Period.

– Robby

Surviving Long-Distance

I saw this post today on Reddit and I knew, from the start, what caused this and why it didn’t work.  I know because Nora and I had similar things blow up on us.  I know it’s going to cause them to question if their relationship – and engagement as the case is in that story –  is worth the struggle and the pain.  I know how to prevent that.  I know, because I made the mistakes already.

So I decided to put my thoughts on the subject out there for all to read.  This is deviating from the norm of this blog, but yet it still seems relevant if I can salvage one relationship and prevent pain and hurt from anyone.

Note: Some of this is going to seem familiar if you have ever seen The Dating Doctor.  I will admit, some of it boils down to affirming what he says (and I try to give him credit where I can remember him saying it).  Others, though, are my own thought.

Note 2: This is just specific relationship advice to getting into, being in, and coming out of long-distance. There are times when I thought of just basic relationship advice to put but I’m absolutely not qualified to advice on general relationships and every relationships weirdly different, so I stuck to what I know.


Robby’s Long-Distance Relationship Rules

0. I do not ever recommend anyone getting into a Long-Distance relationship

I know one married couple that was successful long-distance. I’ve seen a bunch of couples try long-distance for a variety of reasons and fail. Notice a difference there? One (or two if you include me) vs Many. It doesn’t work most of the time.

0.1 If you are married, most of what I say is irrelevant, and I can’t recommend you ending your marriage because you have to be physically separated for a time.

Never done long-distance married for more than a weekend. If I pretend to know what I’m talking about long-distance marriage, then I am failing. Period.

1. If you are in Long-Distance, or getting into Long-Distance, the immediate end-game of that relationship has to be marriage/lifetime commitment or it won’t work. Period.

If you are just dating, testing the waters, trying to get to know someone more and see if the relationship progresses to a point where you could consider marriage, don’t go long-distance. Yes, that person may be great. Yes, that person may be a good match for a marriage partner. No, that person isn’t the only person you could ever marry successfully. As much as I believe in marriage and finding your soul mate, I’m not delusional enough to believe that out of 7 billion people (3.5 in your preferred gender), there is only one that matches you.  I believe that love is kindled, built, and maintained and part of what makes marriage is how good of a fire you build with what you two bring to the table.  I could meet someone nearly identical to my wife and I wouldn’t love them the way I love my wife because I haven’t built a fire with them.  I love my wife both because of who she is and the experiences we’ve had.

What I’m basically saying, there are other fish in the sea.  If you aren’t already planning on committing your life to this person, don’t go into long-distance.

2. Two years.  Period.

I know I stole this one from The Dating Doctor but I can affirm it 100%.  Nora and I were in long-distance for two years, three months.  The hardest time frame of that was the last 3 months, which was also the only time when we knew exactly when we were no longer going to be in long-distance.

If you look at the calendar that is your life and you plan on being apart more than two years, don’t do it to yourself.  How long past two years you have to go will have a lot to do with it – don’t jump ship for ten days after two years – but I will guarantee the hardest times you have in long-distance are after two years.

3. Surprise trips are for Rom. Coms. only. In real life, they all mostly all fail.

I’m going tell you a little story. I was living in Sioux City but I had a wedding to go to in Milford, IA. I had it on my calendar as the correct weekend; somehow, in telling Nora, she had it as the weekend after. As I’m preparing to go to this wedding (and leave within the hour I believe), I get a call from Nora saying she is on her way to Sioux City. She decided to surprise me for the weekend, and I wasn’t going to be there for most of Saturday.

If I were to pinpoint a point where I thought we weren’t going to make it, and it wasn’t in those last three months, that’s the point I would pinpoint.

The problem with surprise trips is that you are dating but you lead two completely different lives that happen to intersect occasionally.  To assume that you can force them to intersect without planning is romantic, thoughtful, loving, and stupid.  Really, really stupid.

Real life doesn’t work that way.  When you try to make your live intersect without planning and fail fantastically, it creates trust issues – especially if they are busy with someone that could be a potential mate if you weren’t in the picture – and pretty impressive delusions about commitment issues that the other party has even though there is probably no truth to it.

Plan trips.  It isn’t as romantic, it doesn’t fit into a romance movie, and it doesn’t blow up in your face.  You pick which one your are most worried about.

4. Talk to each other at least once between sleeps.

I’ve been in two long-distance relationships; one lasted 6 weeks, one lasted the duration and now we’re married.  One major difference between the two:

When we are apart, Nora and I talk every day without fail.

We do that even now that we are married.  The only time we didn’t do that is when she was on a cruise ship and I was in Southwest Iowa, and it was horrible.  She actually couldn’t make it the entire cruise and called me before they got back.

This needs to happen.

4.1 Though it takes work, talking every day should never be a chore.  

If talking every day to the person you are in a long-distance relationship with is a chore and you don’t want to do it, that is probably the best sign you should break it off. You aren’t committed to each other enough to make this work. That isn’t to say you couldn’t work if you were in close proximity but long-distance isn’t design for this relationship. Stop dating. Keep in touch if you want, but just stop putting yourself through the struggle when your heart isn’t into it.

5. Long-Distance requires more trust then marriage under the same roof.

I don’t know if anyone else will agree with me on this one, or if I just trust my wife an inordinately high amount because of long-distance, but I haven’t tested the depths of my trust for her since we got married, and we live two very different schedules and she works with men and drives some of them home sometimes. Long-distance, on the other hands, tested the depths of my trust on a nearly daily basis.

It’s the nature of the beast. If you are going to trust someone to live a completely autonomous life and yet remain loyal and faithful to you, it requires a level of trust that I don’t know how I did. I can’t even describe how much I had to trust her.

5.1 You also need to be trustworthy

About the only things in this world more loyal than Nora are labrador retrievers and Subaru wagons. About the only thing more honest than me is a voice recorder. We each have a laundry list of faults but in these two areas, we were set up to be perfect for long-distance.

5.2 Communication builds trust. You should be the best communicating

partners of all time to make long-distance work.
When we went through Prepare and Enrich, we got the highest possible score on communication. Kat was super-impressed. We have lots of other weaknesses, but by God we can communicate!

Successful long-distance relationships foster that naturally, but there should always be an effort to do improve communication at all times. Trust me, it can change breaking up over driving four hours to an empty house to shifting plans and making the most out of a bad situation. And increase trust and sense of commitment all at the same time.

6. Being a strong conversation partner is super freaking helpful.

The majority of your time together is going to be spent talking. In 2014 your can see each other while you talk, but that’s about all you can do. Maybe synchronize a Netflix movie and hope your internet connection is reliable enough to handle both at once. Beyond that, the bulk of your relationship is going to be talking. It’s probably a good idea to know how to have a long conversation with someone, and be with someone you enjoy long conversations with.

6.1 You are going to burn through most, if not all, of your stories while you are in Long-Distance.

Nora likes to have me tell her stories. I like to tell her stories. She’s heard almost all of my stories. The ones she hasn’t heard, I don’t recall without prompting of some sort. We’ve been married for nearly a year, been in the same city two years longer, and last month was the first time in those three years I had a story she hadn’t heard that wasn’t something that happened within those three years.

Just a heads up. No idea what to do about it besides get really good about talking politics, religion, and other hot-button topics so you can keep talking and not get bored (or let TV be how you interact).

7. It sucks.

If this weren’t a Christian website, I would have put a explicative on that, or maybe ten. It is probably the worst thing that you can do to your relationship. Here’s a few examples of why:

Like physical contact of any sort, especially the romantic kind? Once a month, if you are lucky. Like doing activities together? Once a month. Like cooking together? Once a month. Like to do silent things in the same room as that person (work, write, read, draw, etc.)? Never, because you are too busy during that once a month you have with each other having physical contact, doing activities, and cooking. you don’t have a normal relationship because all of your time together is distilled into one weekend a month and two weeks a year. Actually probably less than that. Yup, you have less time with your significant other than the Guard has with its people.

It sucks. Having a relationship that you can’t live without and is ending with marriage is the only reason to tough it out.

8. This is a short list.

This is just the stuff that is specific to being in any kind of long distance relationship. On top of all of this, you are also in a unique relationship that you have to foster in the same way that everyone else does. Long distance isn’t a special kind of relationship; it’s an additional hardship placed on a regular relationship. Relationships are tough; long-distance just is a specially level of tough.

Caveat: There are exceptions to every rule. For some reason, super-busy people who don’t have time to date tend to work really well in long-distance because they can have that connection, that permanence, and yet live an autonomous life. I’ve seen that more in marriages than dating but it applies. And it’s weird. But it works and their happy, so who am I to judge.

Caveat to the Caveat: If you feel the need to express that you are the exception to the rule, you aren’t. If you feel the need to defend your relationship, you aren’t the exception to the rule. If, though, your relationship works, you both are happy, and there isn’t resentment, you are the exception. Pat yourself on the back, give each other a hug when you see each other, and know I hate you for being an exception to the rules.


I hope this helps someone.  I don’t want to claim God status or to have supreme knowledge, but this is some stuff I wish I had known going in.  And don’t break up because some guy on the internet told you to; I don’t know you or your relationship. Take it with the grain of salt it deserves, weight what it means to you, and try to learn from the many times I messed up.

To love, happiness, marriage, and the blessing that Skype had on long-distance relationships,

– Robby