Archive for November, 2011

Chewing is the First Stage to Digesting

November 25, 2011

What does a worker gain from his toil?  I have seen the burden God has laid on men.  He has made everything beautiful in its time.  He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.  I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live.  That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God.  I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it.  God does it so that men will revere Him.  Ecclesiastes 3:9-14.

 

The passage I’m about to chew on for the next couple days.

Love Peace; Hate War

November 23, 2011

…A time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.  Ecclesiastes 3:8.

 

 

I can hear the howls of consternation and offended sensibilities from many of my Portlandia friends and neighbors.  No one in their right mind would consider hate and war as having any virtue whatsoever.  But I don’t believe Solomon is giving them value as we think of it, instead he’s acknowledging they are sometimes unavoidable and even preferable in certain situations.

The difference between love and hate, war and peace, can be compared to mixing oil in water knowing they don’t blend with each other; or trying to get two South Pole magnets to attract each other.  Yet this is exactly what is happening in this statement of seeming polar opposites being in the same sentence.

For instance, I absolutely abhor violence against women or children and I have no tolerance for those who tolerate it either.  I don’t exactly hate these people who practice such things but I would fight them tooth and nail if they tried to legalize or justify such foolishness in my presence.  I also see no reason to tolerate dictators who use up the resources of their own country then attempt to take over another so they can rape and pillage it.  In this case, war is the only option.

I know, I know, it sounds like I’m justifying war—and you’re right, I am.  I hate starvation and all its causes.  I hate political systems which exist to serve themselves rather than the people they are supposed to represent.  I believe war is preferable over slavery.  I would rather go to war than be under the rule of a dictatorship which attempted to rule my conscience.

Oh, and did I mention I hate war?

I love-love, hate-hate, love-peace, hate-war.  I am willing to go by the name Christian precisely because I hate the misery of death, disease, war and hate.  The timeliness of each is important.  I don’t go around bombing funeral homes as part of my protest against death and disease.  I don’t live a negative existence just because I’m angry at what these things do to our world.  Instead I’ve chosen to think about a possible reason they exist and the solution to them.

Jesus commanded us,  “Love your enemies; do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you…”  His instructions sounds like He’s talking out of both sides of His mouth if you consider that He’s the One who dictated the OT to the prophets and scribes.  If this latter statement is true, then it makes His command to be peaceful that much more confusing for some.  It’s like a dichotomy that won’t go away unless we give into the Spirit of Truth.

You see, God used a lot of methods in the past that didn’t work—not because they weren’t effective, but due to the dual nature of the human race.  He wasn’t and isn’t defeated by our nature, though, that’s not what I’m implying here; rather His attempts to provide a safe place through war with the nations in Canaan came up short because Israel chose another path.  The same could be said of us with both His Word and will.

Jesus started off saying,  “You have heard it said,  ‘Love your friends and hate your enemies,’ but I tell you, Love your enemies.”  His reference isn’t to the law which never told the Hebrews to hate their enemies and love only their countrymen, but to a common practice among humans in general.  The law never told anyone to hate their neighbors instead it instructed them to do good to the foreigners and strangers.  I’ve often wondered why God allowed slavery in the OT and basically struck it down in the NT.  As I pondered (such an intellectual word, huh) this it came to me that in that era and society the only way one could guarantee conformity was subjugation.  The Israelites could own slaves from other nations but they couldn’t enslave one of their own.  This set it up so that the foreigner had to be involved in the household traditions, and if the family practiced the law, the slave would be affected by the atmosphere of the house—and hopefully not the other way around.

Unfortunately, it never worked out that way because Israel, like most of us, found the exotic nature of the gods and goddesses of the nations around them alluring and enticing.  It’s hard not to see God’s allowance for slavery as inconsistent but the perspective of maturity must constantly recognize the need to compromise with even the worst options.  I don’t like slavery nor will I condone it, so I’m not justifying it even now, rather the intention is to show God’s handling of the cards He had to play with—sin in the mix creates an imperfect dynamic.  We created the scenario through choosing to live without Him, as a counter move He comes back with a deal to rescue the relationship.

So how do we relate this flat lining statement about love and hate?

Timing is everything.  I don’t have to hate anyone but I can hate what they do, what they’ve become through bad choices, the results of those choices on others in their world.  I can hate and love at the same time.  I’ve heard of studies which suggest that even saying the word “hate” brings up negative responses in our bodies—blood pressure rising, anxiety, things like that.  If this is true, we weren’t built for sustained hate because it will kill us; however, if we hate something, then to acknowledge and express it is about choosing the right place and time not avoiding the truth.  In the meantime, burying the emotion as undesirable is not a healthy response to it.  The best way to handle any of these negative emotions is to set them aside as realities rather than denying they exist—putting them in a box of our own making, sidelined like a player in the game the coach must bench.

I’ve spent a lot of time on the word “hate” here because we don’t deal with it enough—or may it’s just me.  I don’t like the emotion or the word.  Most of the people who practice hate do so in such a destructive and counter productive manner that I want to avoid it altogether.   But that’s the point.  Try another subject as an example:  Just because someone can’t handle marriage in a healthy way isn’t a reason to destroy the institution or deny the need for it.  Again, just because someone uses war as a means of stripping another country of its wealth isn’t a reason to forego war to protect the invaded; instead I see it as a warning not to repeat the evil.  I can hate the sin without hating the sinner.  Hating the sinner dehumanizes them without quarter; hating the sin acknowledges the act as “hateful” without suggesting the person who perpetrated the act or attitude is irredeemable.  The thief on the cross cries out against those who would condemn the most sinful as irredeemable.

War is necessary when the rights, freedoms and lives of other people are at stake.  We don’t need to go into the enemy camp and cut them down to a man, instead by showing mercy, grace and a willingness to restore them we demonstrate the higher calling of love.  Hate what is evil, cling to what is good; again, war on warmongers in order to protect the helpless.  In this way we use war as a response to an extreme evil rather than a preferred method of dealing with every problem.  When the perpetrators are subdued, it is time for peace to weigh in and take over.

Mending the Tear By Knowing When to Speak

November 14, 2011

…A time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak…  Ecclesiastes 3:7.

 

By now anyone would get the rhythm of these pithy little truths.  They speak into our lives such a wealth of simple reality that we have to just nod and agree.  What we usually miss, however, is the scope of their reach.

Knowing when to mend or tear relates to us in the physical realm quite easily because we can assess the damage.  The spiritual world baffles most of us as does the heart of a person.  We can’t know the motives of the heart anymore than we can know what is in the secret regions of God.  God might choose to open a window of understanding so we can gain some sort of grasp on the truth hidden there, but this is a privilege won by being trustworthy, not by works or we would boast about our status.

The Knowledge of the right time to speak or shut up, mend or tear only arrives when we submit to the wisdom of heaven.  I don’t know many people who succeed at the “knowing” part all that well.  Most of us make decisions based on the evidence and circumstances we have available then hope for the best.  This is called “wisdom” and is no guarantee of success.  As much as the self-help gurus would like to preach otherwise, making all the right decisions doesn’t make for success or prosperity—internally or financially.

When a person invests in a community their fate becomes linked to the outcome of that community’s choices and investments.  If this community continues to use wise careful consideration of its assets and investments, the outcome is more likely to be positive.  Unfortunately, nature plays a part in our plans as well.  If nature takes a turn for the worse—say a drought or hurricane—there’s nothing the community can do to change the outcome for the foreseeable future until the problem ends.  No one can ever fully divest themselves from the actions of others, which makes decisions a real pain, quite honestly.

Question:  Why should I be held responsible for the bad choices of someone else?

Answer:  We’re not responsible, just caught in the web of their natural consequences.

What has this got to do with tearing, mending, speaking or being quiet?

Every choice demands another choice.  We cannot escape the outcomes we’ve purchased by our efforts.  Oh, the specific outcome might vary from the expected, but then there are always a few to choose from aren’t there.

The very fact that Solomon mentions tearing and silence as the “balance” of mending and speaking should give us pause.  I hear a lot of talk about what love is and how it should be expressed.  Some would take issue (and do from the discussions I’ve had) with the “negative” part of these statements.  Yet these same people will rip apart a family through divorce if the marriage is dragging them down.  I’m not saying they don’t feel anything or that they’re completely heartless, rather these types of thinkers don’t consider “looking out for themselves” as part of list.

It is, though.

The moment we take care of business we move into the realm of timely living.  It’s impossible not to look at life with some sort of balance sheet, ticking off the different goals and obligations we engender throughout a lifetime of being.  I don’t know of too many people who wouldn’t relate to Newton’s third law of physics in its basic form—To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction…for we live with this everyday and continue to practice it in both the physical and social worlds.

To tear something we must know the purpose the tearing will serve or it becomes a worthless, and quite possibly harmful, exercise.  In the Jewish culture, tearing one’s garments was a public sign of distress, an expression of extreme anguish brought on by grief or humiliation.  There would be a time to tear the garment and when the grieving finished, mending the tear.  Some people don’t ever mend the torn spots in their garments or spirits, opting instead to live with the brokenness as some sort of badge or banner to their loss or social disgrace.

In keeping with this, there is a time to speak up and take notice of something bad or good in order to identify.  There is also a time when speaking into a situation or person’s life will do no good—especially once we’ve said the same thing several times.  But if we don’t speak up when we see evil, we bear part of the responsibility for the outcome of it.  At the same time, acknowledging evil is different than being able to fight it or stand against it successfully.  I know of very little in the way of opposition that could stand against a powerful nation in a full on confrontation, but there are other ways to win against the big dogs.

Ecclesiastes 9:17, 18 The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools.  Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good.

We can’t always win within our lifetimes for the grinding wheels of change take a while to effectively infiltrate the world around us.  But if we don’t speak up, those words may never be heard—or won’t be for a long era.  Change is not about seeing results instantly rather we see the incremental adjustments and affected areas grow healthier by degrees.  I may speak a word into my son’s life now that will only come back to him when he’s an adult and faced with the situation.  I may not even be alive when he considers what I said, but that’s not the point.

Yet the more the words the less the effectiveness which doesn’t benefit anyone.  So, weighing out what we plan to say is far more profitable than blurting it out.  I tend towards effusiveness (in case you haven’t noticed); giving people wa-a-a-a-a-a-y too much information to process in a short amount of time.  I’m learning what a powerful tool silence is.  In fact, the truth be known, I’m finding out the less I say, the more what I do say impacts those who listen.

If we learn the lesson of timeliness, we gain the best tool in our arsenal of social and personal growth packages we could find.  I have a long way to go…

To Search or Give up? To Keep or Throw Away?

November 1, 2011

…A time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away…Ecclesiastes 3:6.

 

In some ways it seems too simple to continue commenting on the list given by Solomon because the points written are just such basic commonsense that to say anymore is almost intellectually insulting.  Yet, though we acknowledge the wisdom of these basic truths, we don’t always know when or where to practice them.

For instance, a show like “Hoarders” would never even get off the ground in popularity unless we all had some sympathy for the people we’re watching obsess about stuff.  I know it sounds weird to say, but I think there’s a little hoarder in all of us in one way or another, because those who react strongly to “too much junk” in their garage or home are the same people who collected it in the first place.  Their worry isn’t that they have the stuff itself, it’s that they appear to be wasting space they could use better for some other purpose or thing.

Almost every reaction is equal to its counterpart action, except in the realm of emotional energy, for most of us overreact when it comes to certain things.  If we were hurt as children by other kids making fun of us, we’ll be crusaders for eliminating such behavior in people wherever we go.  If we experience poverty or witness the awful tragedy of starvation elsewhere in the world, those of us who have a strong empathy bone will crusade to eliminate hunger and poverty in the world.  Much of the time, the emotion the thing or situation inspires in us is stronger than warranted; although I will say watching children suffer cannot get enough attention.

The problem with most reactions is they aren’t sensible solution-based responses but rather over the top.  The way to solve most problems is to methodically approach them with a plan of action which takes care of the root issue causing the tragic consequence.  In the case of most starving children, poverty isn’t caused by the rich countries exploiting the poor necessarily; instead it grows out of the political climate in which these kids live.  I lived in South Africa for a number of years, and what I saw forced me to take a deep breath and reassess what caused such awful conditions.

Let me explain.

Apartheid (pronounced “apart-hate” in Afrikaans, meaning “separate heads”) created a climate where abuse could continue without much interruption from the rule of law.  At first, it seemed like a great idea to give the tribes homelands (separate states not the abuse), a solution which the Americans practiced with the Indian tribes by giving them reservations on which to live autonomously, to keep them spread out so they wouldn’t be close enough to war with each other.  What it ended up being (and probably was intended to be by the white powers of the day) was a way to keep the African people in a place outside of the white habitat.  This didn’t bother the blacks until they began to adopt Western culture in certain ways and technology.  Yet the poverty and disease amongst the African people didn’t directly result from white people’s interference or strategy.

Indigenous societies only function well within the paradigm of their traditions and historical framework.  Introduce a new culture and the two create either a vacuum for the native culture or a hybrid in which both adjust their framework to adopt certain aspects of the another.  In South Africa the blacks didn’t remain in the homelands but became increasingly urbanized without the necessary adjustments to the Western emphasis on education and holding down a regular occupation.  Certain African cultures are by nature a very fluid and they view time in a rather easy going way.  The same can be said of most tropical cultures for the need to be constantly on guard against cold weather doesn’t exist so the food supply isn’t as much of a problem as in northern regions.  This said, Africans are not lazy, though they might appear to be by Western standards, they are just more laid back about time itself.  When they began to mix more and more with the White culture through work and services, it changed the paradigm and their traditions began to get fuzzy around the middle.  What the country ended up with was townships.  This produced another problem which the white government wrestled with internationally.

The point is, letting go of our traditions for the sake of adopting a new paradigm is a struggle we all go through to some extent.  We can’t judge a third world mentality by our “sophisticated” modern society because we too hold within even this traditions which science and education have shown to be both hubris or, at the very least, hair-splitting and unnecessary.  The South African Natives’ rate of adjustment has been remarkable since the change of government.  The people are beginning to see the difference between the ideal and the reality.

Again, the main point is that the reaction of the European settlers to the native cultures overreached and over reacted, as did, in turn, the native cultures.  We can blame the whites for their disregard of the blacks’ humanity without losing sight of the nature of the tribal wars spurred by the same problem.  This isn’t a lesson on African politics or inspired by any desire to convince you who was at fault, but what I want to point out is that the Africans failed themselves by clinging to the traditions of their past which wouldn’t fit into the new paradigm.  The Europeans failed everybody (including themselves) by refusing or may be just ignoring the humanity of the native tribes.  The European cultures felt superior to the natives; the natives felt superior to the Europeans.  Wars broke out and those with the guns won.  History is written by the victors until someone comes along with better information.

The European culture clung to their attitudes towards the natives long after they should have adjusted their thinking, and lost the country to the change that inevitably came.  If both sides had integrated and appreciated one another’s strengths as well as historical significance, South Africa would’ve turned into a truly amazing place to live.

But here’s the kicker:  The abuser is now being marginalized and condemned by not only the ruling party but the world at large.  When we cling to things too long the value goes down except in our emotional attachment to them.

There’s a time to stop sharpening tools that have metal fatigue (you didn’t know metal did this?).  There’s a time to hold onto a tool what hasn’t been used enough.  There’s a time to let go of friendships which are toxic or at best, a drag on life in general.  There are times to hold onto even painful friendships because the person we’re involved with is going through a season which won’t change them except for the better.  There’s a time to search for new things and time to just be content with what we have now; to search for that missing person and a time to give up because the resources and time spent don’t produce any evidence or the person.

These are sometimes hard decisions to make.  It’s tough to navigate the waters of when, where and how long if the evidence isn’t clear.  The best we can do is judge by what we know works for us personally and won’t harm anyone in the process.  Sometimes we can’t avoid hurt to another by our choices because the circumstance demands choosing the best of bad options.

Whatever the case, we must develop godly wisdom to make these decisions.  I’ll end with James 3:17, 18But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.  Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.