I was half-listening to a conversation on a TV show:

She: “Don’t go all ish on me.”
He : “Wha?”
She: “You know, like, with all your issues.”

Ish – issues . . . I kind of like that.

We all have issues; that is, things that really bother us out of proportion to their logical significance. One of mine is drivers who always assume they have the right-of-way and roll through stop signs without making eye contact with me; I have an impulse to drive into them. I won’t tell you about the rest of my issues, but then, they’re probably obvious to you.

There are two important things I’ve learned about issues. The first is that the issue belongs to the person who’s reacting in an irrational way, not to the people and situations around him or her. We tend to blame everyone and everything else, rather than owning the issue as our problem. The woman in the TV interaction could recognize from long experience when her partner was going ish on her, and she was holding up a mirror to remind him that the problem was his, not hers.

The second important thing I’ve learned about issues is that they have their origin in the deep, dark recesses of our unconscious mind, often from feelings, events and interactions in our early childhood. That means it’s very hard to become aware of them, let alone to change them. We can’t just wave a magic wand and make them go away.

The Pharisees in Jesus’ time had lots of issues. He seemed know this, and he kept saying things that got under their skin. Finally, they couldn’t take it anymore, and they participated in the plot to kill him.

When I study the history of the Pharisees, I feel a kinship with them. They focused on the historical roots of Biblical faith in the Torah, the five books of Moses, against the cultural waves around them from the more elitist Sadducee Jewish leaders, the governing Romans’ secular tradition and the Greek trade-language and literature. They were able to make the ancient traditions and values relevant to the common Jewish person of that day. In short, they come across to me as “good guys,” rather than the “bad guys” I read about in the New Testament.

The problem was that they had issues, and Jesus exposed them. They tried to present the values of their “club” in terms of timeless law, and they called Jesus a blasphemer and a heretic for questioning them. But Jesus kept facing them with the fact that behind these “laws” were personal issues of control and resistance to change that resulted in their hurting the people they were supposed to be helping.

So, Evangelical Christians today probably ought to be looking at the Pharisees to learn about why they are not communicating the forgiveness, grace and love of Jesus to hurting people today. Instead, in the name of theological correctness and high moral standards, they are turning off the people most in need of the gospel message. When they encounter individuals who identify themselves as gay, or were brought into this country from Mexico as a toddler, or have decided to have an abortion, or have been living on welfare for years, they go all ish on them.

This is a very serious problem that won’t be resolved quickly or easily. However, I think we can begin with the humble spirit of the Gospel song:

It’s me, it’s me, O Lord,
Standing in the need of prayer.
Not my sister, not my brother,
Not the preacher, not the sinner;
But it’s me, O Lord,
Standing in the need of prayer.

Lord, help me to own my issues and not impose them on others.

— Pastor George Van Alstine