Monday, July 25, 2005

untainted

I love progressive change. I love seeing things and people and relationships being restored. I love things getting better and better instead of worse and worse. I love to see people rising up and accepting challenges. I love encouraging people to reach their potential and going beyond those imaginary limits that we all put on ourselves. It is the process of redemption.

Part of the problem with redemption is that all we have ever known since the day we gasped our first breath of earth’s atmosphere, is a world tainted by the presence of sin and evil. We all long for things to be whole, be pure, be right, but if we truly ask ourselves, we have little concept of what that would look like. Just take a brief survey of what people think heaven is like and you will get everything from blank stares to elaborate imaginations that hold no basis in reality or perhaps a few vague notions of what we can expect. In the end, we really can’t grasp the concept of heaven, for it is totally foreign to us. We cannot fathom what perfection and “normal” is because we have never lived without the plague of sin.

When you break a bone, you know that something is wrong because of the pain and the abrupt feeling that something is different, out of place, not as it should be. As it heals, you slowly get back the sensation of what it was like before you injured yourself. You remember what being whole felt like, so you know when you are healed. This lack of recognition and comprehension of how God really meant for things to be has proved to be a fundamental weakness in my journey towards wholeness. It hampers my discernment, it distorts my view of God and goodness, it erodes away at my faith, and it blinds me to see the true nature of God.

Before we get all cynical and depressed here, let me state that sin and its consequences do not scare God nor render him impotent in any way. He is able to reveal himself through the darkest cloud and to the utmost reaches of depraved humanity. This is not a hopeless situation by any means. But I don’t believe I have realized just how much sin has ravaged everything in this world, and I have mistaken some things for normal and healthy and accepted them as such when they are in fact crippled and diseased. Knowing right from wrong is no good unless you can also tell life from death.

Understanding the first two chapters of Genesis is vital to comprehending true redemption – what was the world like that God created before sin stripped it of its colour and vitality and power? We must know what we are being redeemed towards if we are to embrace and walk in that redemption, and I fear I have fallen far short in my expectations here. This process is more than just a bandage to stop the blood loss and cover the wound; it is a total rebuilding of every affected cell – the creation of a new person. The second place we must look to understand redemption is the person of Jesus. His death and subsequent resurrection were so powerful that not only could he breathe and talk and eat, he could walk through walls! Now that’s redemption! Perhaps this was an ability Adam had as well. Who knows? The third place we look to get a picture of how things REALLY operate when God is in charge is the place where he rules – heaven. Contrary to the stereotypical harps and clouds, God’s throne seems to be associated with awe-inspiring activity and power and love and justice. Put these three pictures together and we can begin to see what God is calling us to.

Let me become a recipient of total redemption and in that way, a true carrier of the image of God. Untainted.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Money $$$ Bucks

This is another one of those topics that so quickly becomes awkward when you bring it up in a conversation. The most frequent arguments in family and business are about money. It is deemed impolite to inquire about someone’s financial status, to ask how much something cost, or to reveal too much about your own bank account. Why? These days we actually try to hide our financial status, and poverty as well as wealth carries some stigma with it. That makes no sense! Surely we are not that shallow as to judge a person by their personal belongings, or the number of zeros in their bank account. Or are we that paranoid that as soon as we get something of value, we believe others will want to strip us of it? Perhaps we think that if the unhealthy condition of our finances were truly known, people would think less of us, or be hesitant to trust us. I have no idea, but we certainly lack an openness on this topic in our society.

There is a power that we have given to money: it rules much of our lives and I believe this is neither biblical nor healthy, in fact, it looks an awful lot like idolatry. I have never concerned myself too much about money – there has always been enough for us to live. Sometimes we have lived with plenty, other times we have just scraped by to pay off the bills, but there was always enough. I do not make much money, but I do not spend much either. I lead a simple life (thanks to my Mennonite ancestors for instilling this in me). My husband is a business manager and spends his whole day crunching numbers and he has recently challenged me to get more involved in planning for our future financially. Now I have no problem balancing a chequebook or budgeting, but I have always maintained that money doesn’t interest me that much so I balked at his suggestion, feeling that I lacked the passion and the expertise. But in the last month, the ugly truth has been revealed: I am afraid of it.

Having little means there is little to account for, virtually nothing to risk, and a minimal amount of knowledge and effort required on my part. Having much means I am responsible for investing and dealing with it in a wise and timely manner, for much is at stake. I am reading the story of Abraham again and this forefather of faith lived no “simple” life. He had great wealth, travelled widely, embarked on numerous business and personal adventures, encountered kings and armies, took many risks, made some really big mistakes, but in the end, was faithful with what God had entrusted to him and managed to increase in every realm. I do believe that anyone who has accomplished anything great has been someone not afraid to take some risks and shoulder some big responsibility.

So how has my attitude toward money changed? While I still believe in wise and prudent fiscal spending, I am realizing that the phrase, “I can’t afford it” is often based in fear and should more accurately be stated as “I’m not willing to take the risk.” Some things are obviously bad risks. There are, however, some risks that are worth taking. Not all debt is evil, and it can in fact be used to invest in some very worthwhile ventures that will pay for themselves many times over. I must stop separating money from the rest of my life like some insane relative that no one wants to talk about. What I do with my financial resources has a huge impact on my life and I must develop wisdom and exercise faith just like I do with any other situation. I must open my mind to develop knowledge, wisdom, experience, and a passion for dealing with my resources in a way indicative of my values and personality. This is a little scary, I will admit, but the problem is that many of us have been lulled into a false state of small-minded security by our social systems and bi-weekly paycheques. There is no such thing as job security or guaranteed investments! Every dollar is a gift as much as every talent I have. I do not dare bury these gifts in the ground in the hope that they will maintain their value. Like muscles, finances not used will become atrophied and begin to lose their power.

I don’t care if you have little or much – there is something significant you could be doing with it right now instead of just seeking to stretch it out to last as long as possible. Talk to any great person of faith, or any successful businessman and they will tell you the same thing: there is no significant change without significant risk.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Free the Will

I have just finished a most interesting book, A Vindication of The Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft. I admit that this is a bit of an unusual read for me, but a friend gave it to me at exactly the same time as I was studying the beginning of Genesis and really understanding for the first time the curses we as women (and men) live under as a result of defying God, and I thought the timing was most apropos. I will not revisit the topic (see my previous blog entitled “Curses”), but let me give you a few quotes that have stirred my mind:

“Strengthen the female mind by enlarging it, and there will be an end to blind obedience; but as blind obedience is ever sought for by power, tyrants and sensualists are in the right when they endeavour to keep woman in the dark, because the former only want slaves, and the latter a plaything. The sensualist, indeed, has been the most dangerous of tyrants, and women have been duped by their lovers, as princes by their ministers, whilst dreaming that they reigned over them.”

“…that they who are taught blindly to obey authority, will endeavour cunningly to elude it, is most natural and certain.”

Now let me take these thoughts and apply them to any person who has been oppressed, not just women. I do believe that free will is possibly the most valuable, dangerous and mysterious gift that God has given mankind and one of the sure signs of this is that we seem to be determined to strip it from our fellowman. Throughout history, people (and unfortunately the church has been a major abuser of this type of power) have sought to exercise power over other people, to control them, for this ability to make other people bend to our wishes is an intoxicating drug. All too often those with some semblance of authority use it as a weapon to subjugate others or as a device to satisfy their wants. This is not true authority. As my husband says, “Anyone who has to tell me I have to submit to him, does not have true authority.” And as Ms. Wollstonecraft so aptly points out, those whom circumstances has stripped of obvious power, often resort to manipulation and cunning to achieve their ends.

Let’s take this out of the realm of philosophy and get personal. There is a part of me that would love to be able to control people, because I believe I would only do good things with that power. That’s a lie, plain and simple. There are certain things that I think are important and right, and instead of presenting my ideas and values and letting them speak for themselves, I have (and I am not proud of the fact) resorted to other methods to convince people these things have merit. I have seen other well-intentioned people do this as well. We might put a spin on the words we use, slanting the facts so that our angle is seen in a more advantageous light; I can add a twist of emotion and heartfelt sincerity to soften people to my ideas; someone might throw in a little guilt trip because we know everyone feels they should do more; you can assault someone with such a barrage of words and facts and knowledge that they are overwhelmed; a person can get angry and unpleasant to be around, making acquiescence the more pleasant option; or I can resort to pointing out a weakness in someone’s character and endeavour to win the case by sheer underhanded meanness and degradation. We see all these manipulative behaviours in their rawest form in children when they are learning to exert their own wills, and it is not an attractive qualitiy. But as adults with a righteous cause, especially the cause of Christ, or helping the poor, or saving souls, the end is so vital that we sometimes wrongly suppose that it merits adding a little muscle to the message. Admit it, this basic human right to make your own choice just seems so ineffective in bringing people to the truth and encouraging good behaviour. What was God thinking when he dreamed that one up?

There are many flaws in that train of thought, but the main one is that I suppose I have discovered the ultimate truth and in some way, that gives me the right to force it on other people. Only Jesus carries the ultimate truth within him; I am simply stumbling along discovering shards of it scattered here and there in this broken world – and anytime I misplace my humility, the truth I do have a grasp on quickly slips from my fingers, because truth and love are inextricably intertwined, and if I infringe on someone’s dignity by attempting to usurp their God-given right to choose and exert pressure on them to do a certain thing because I believe I know what is best for them, I am in error. (Please note that I am talking as one adult to another and not about the care and protection of children.)

If God, in his infinite wisdom, allows people to make their own choices, be they good or bad, I cannot work against that. He is ever present, ever loving, always caring for us, offering wisdom and truth to those who ask for it, merciful yet just, but never a tyrant. That the most powerful being in the whole universe would restrain his authority in order to give us power over our own lives is indeed a great and unfathomable gift, but He refuses to overstep that boundary, and so should I. Blind obedience, as tempting as it may be to demand in order to effectively achieve a noble goal, has no lasting value. Even the creator of the universe does not stoop to such methodolgy.

I will openly speak about and live out those things I believe to be true and right, and I will be passionate about them, but I will not demand that you accept them, nor devalue you if you do not embrace them. The truth is not a sledgehammer, it is a sharp sword, and it does not need heavy-handed wielding to make it effective.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Tolerance

Is that word starting to irritate you just a tiny bit? The misplaced empowerment put on this word makes me cringe. This concept is being touted as the new “standard” that we are to work towards as responsible world citizens. Okay, I’ll play. Let’s try that word out in a few situations:

I will tolerate my children.
I desire to tolerate my husband.
Wouldn’t it be great if I could invite my closest friends over and we could tolerate each other.
I look forward to going to work on Monday and tolerating my colleagues.
All those poor people in Africa with AIDS, how I long to tolerate them.
I wish we could have a world leader who was a really strong tolerator.

Hmmm. It seems to lack a certain something, doesn’t it? I understand the concept of not standing in judgment of those who are different than I am, but “tolerance” is a very weak concept and a totally inadequate way of combating prejudice. Tolerance boils down to one thing: avoidance.

Have you ever observed tolerant parents or a tolerant elementary school teacher? The children are allowed to do whatever they want, but not one harsh word is spoken, not one judgment made on the appropriateness of the behaviour and nothing said about the ramifications of all this lack of self-control and discipline. I will readily admit that it is easier to avoid conflict than to tackle issues head on, but conflict is not the “bad boy” it has been made out to be.

You will agree with me that there is evil and that there is good in this world – many of our classic stories and movies revolve around the conflict between these two forces. Conflict is not a bad thing, in fact it is inevitable in this world, so let us stop pointing at conflict as being the source of the problem, and realize that it is the lack of generosity and love in our hearts that makes us the selfish, critical, small-minded bigots we adamantly insist we are not. Tolerance is a form of passivity and a lack of action that has never accomplished anything great in this world. In fact, it has only served to aid the corruption and decay of more than one civilisation.

There is a way to bring balance to this world and it is much more effective than tolerance, but it not an easy road. It requires humility, sacrifice, consistency, discipline, and just plain old hard work. It is called "unconditional love." This love does not ignore others or turn a blind eye – it walks right up to someone and wants to be their friend, no matter how different they are. This lover of all that is right does not stand by and sigh as multiple differing opinions are voiced, she stands up for the truth but refuses to add anything (her opinion or cultural bias) to it. The man who loves justice will not insist that governments and business leaders do something about these terrible social problems – he will go out at his own expense and begin to help people one at a time.

Tolerance is cheap – it costs you nothing, it requires nothing, and in that way, has become an easy, albeit ineffective, mantra to promote faux harmony.

If you want the real stuff…get off the sidelines and into the thick of things. The world needs those who would love other people more than they love their own comfortable lack of conflict.