Archive for November, 2013

A Time and Place

November 21, 2013

If a man is lazy, the rafters sag; if his friends are idle, the house leaks.

A feast is made for laughter, and wine makes life merry, but money is the answer for everything.  Ecclesiastes 10: 18, 19.

 

Every time I read a passage of Scripture in recent years I question my first take on it.  I don’t trust my judgment on most first reactions which is why it takes me so long to make decisions sometimes.  Scripture especially gives me pause; meaning I don’t trust my grasp of the subject or my immediate understanding of the words.

While I get verse 18 readily enough, verse 19 leaves me a little baffled.  It’s that Eastern mindset/philosophical style which trips me up and holds the world at bay for a minute or hours and days, months and years.

Anyone with half a brain will get that laziness produces faulty function in possessions.  The roof is there to keep the sun, wind and rain out and the people protected for a time.  For thousands of year the roof was made of mud and reeds/straw, which must be renewed every so often to ensure it works properly.  Constant vigilance is needed to keep the roofing material from sagging or leaking during wet weather, which just means laziness as factor guarantees bad function.

So I get the first phrase quite easily, since Solomon just got through with making a point that a land is blessed only when its princes eat a proper time—for strength and not for drunkenness.  I understand what a feast is for—i.e. laughter and being merry—but not how money ties in as the answer for everything.  Oh, I understand the acerbic (almost) caustic sarcasm in that last assertion as truth, but I don’t get how it’s tied into this subject.

In that frame of mind I have to chew on this until something clears.

Unless…Solomon is saying feasting might make life happy for a time but it’s money that provides the feast.  Without the means to supply the feast the merry-making won’t happen.  Lazy people look for money at the end of rainbows instead of the ethic of daily work.  In order for them to get to the merry-making they need money but refuse to do the work necessary to provide it.  If the rulers of a country are unwilling to put in the work it takes to provide their own feast(s), they will tax their fellow countrymen into poverty to get the means to sustain their lavish lifestyle.  Such a method can go on for a time but eventually the country will begin to “sag” financially because no one can afford to bolster up the economy.

Money (I wanted to say “Monet” for some reason) is also the answer to a lazy person’s desires as well as to anyone who lives responsibly.  Oddly enough, though the former will do very little to collect the desired income to fund his/her workless ethic, without said income the roof sags and fields go unplanted.  Laziness produces a form of negotiation we don’t see in the industrious people.  For example, anyone doing their best to avoid work will work hard to manipulate everyone around them into doing all the jobs they loath.  They also tend to see others as a means to an end, believing themselves to be either above such things or incapable.  The latter sound humble but really they are unwilling to get their hands dirty.  The industrious people, on the other hand, will work along side anyone they seek to inspire.  You won’t see them afraid to get their hands dirty at all.

Yet I don’t believe God is just the god of industry because feasts are used in the Bible constantly to show His provision and goodwill.  Some of the more work-oriented people among us believe God is more like them whereas the get-happy-oriented folks disagree and shout joyfully He is more like them.

I believe He’s both.

I generally use the NIV for my texts.  The Amplified Version treats verse 19 like this [Instead of repairing the breaches, the officials] make a feast for laughter, serve wine to cheer life, and [depend on tax] money to answer for all of it.  Whereas the Contemporary English Bible sticks closer to the NIV and my point Eating and drinking make you feel happy, and money can buy everything you need.

The problem with parceling out verses is that we take them out of the subject from whence they came (like my Shakespearian usage here?) because they don’t fit linearly into our style of reasoning.  Whew!  That was a long sentence but it had to be said because it’s definitely something I believe strongly.

I’m more inclined to go with the Amplified’s contextual interpretation, even though the brackets usually mean added words for clarity.  My reasoning goes like this:  Every government official I’ve ever dealt with or heard about through the news tends to view more tax money as the answer to the problems they face instead of frugal use of what they already receive.  In this context we see misuse of those funds for the pleasure of the officials rather than governing the country.

I’m going to simplify this for myself and hopefully anyone reading the blog:  Laziness by its very nature is neglectful of what is vital.  For the sake of pleasure, the necessities of life are ignored just so that all the fun can go on.  Solomon made his case earlier about everything having a time which means he’s continuing that theme here.  There is a time to dance and celebrate but not everyday.  There is a time to feast and get a good buzz on but not when justice or the house is sagging.  We must be aware of our immediate world for the sake of not only function but down time.  What I mean is we can’t really rest with a quiet mind if we know things haven’t been done up to snuff.

At the same time, even the Law designates breaks starting weekly with the seventh day off and ending in several feasts per year which act as vacations within a holy context.  I believe we can learn something from the Mosaic Law in this regard.  Since most people who practice legalism seem to find the law so attractive as proof of their specific slant on life, it would stand to reason that these same people would find these truths as well.  But they don’t.  Instead they focus on nothing but the performance of rituals with almost a determined blind eye for the things of grace, mercy and justice found there as well.  The legalistic approach then sets off reactions in some of their more sensitive members and these people become what I’m going to call legalistic for grace.  The hardliners of the Law become the permissive “liberals” of the message of Christ.  Boundaries almost become taboo while remaining important in some ephemeral state.  And while it appears these people are on opposite sides, they accomplish the same thing:  namely defeating the whole life God designed and intended for us.  Unfortunately for the grace side they become “legalistic” about grace—or their reactive interpretation of it.

To me both the legalistic or grace-only approach amount to the same thing.  Both sides are lazy and refuse to do the work at building and maintaining their spiritual house as they should.  One thing I’ve definitely learned from construction is that the structural work has to be done right for the finish to function properly.  To build a house using only the functionality as a guideline rules out the aesthetic appreciation God designed in us as well.  Gravitating toward utilitarianism might be natural for some but it’s definitely dysfunctional in the long run for God not only made a world to sustain life He made it beautiful and pleasing as well.  A house needs walls to hold up the roof, but the paint can be colorful and the trim unnecessarily creative because God designed us with this option.  Those who live devoid of artistic input or surroundings rob themselves of the complete experience God desires for them.  Those who live only for the art will suffer unnecessarily because God desires for them to be safe and live within boundaries which offer a defined place.  Both are necessary for us to function at capacity.

The Law commands a time for rest, contemplation, celebration and feasting/fasting.  When we get out of balance we tend to gravitate to one side of the equation or the other.  God desires us to recognize we need both.

Into the Unknowable

November 1, 2013

No one knows what is coming—who can tell him what will happen after him?  Ecclesiastes 10:14b

 

…Yet we can kind of predict what might happen in the future by what we know to be true in the present.  For instance, the next verse says, A fool’s work wearies him; he does not know the way to town.  We know that last phrase reflects a more contemporary saying like he’s so stupid he can’t find the light switch or she’s so dumb she can’t find her way out of the shower.  It’s a general comment on someone’s ability to navigate life, which, once we know them, we can predict whether disaster or success will follow their choices.  I don’t know anyone who can forecast the details—and as the saying goes “The devil’s in the details.”  I like to watch people so I see many who look like they are on the road to the success crash and burn because they made a few “minor” mistakes.  Habits, whether small or large, often dictate the outcomes for us, since they become the building blocks of our routines.

Solomon follows up his declaration about the future and fools with this gem:  Woe to you, O land whose king was a servant and whose princes feast in the morning.  Blessed are you, O land whose king is of noble birth and whose princes eat at a proper time—for strength and not for drunkenness.  Ecclesiastes 10:16, 17.  It appears to be a random statement thrown in but the Teacher has a purpose.  While we can’t predict the future or know what is to be after us, we can see trends which predict a general outcome.  Rulers who don’t take care of business or average people who fixate on foolish living both have poverty and decay on the horizon.  No may be able to predict for certain what will happen in the immediate future but we can  see plenty of examples for the outcomes of both to get a pretty good idea.

The fact that we can see trends in a person’s life doesn’t necessarily give us a crystal ball into the future.  So many different *ingredients* go into situations and circumstances (as we’ve discussed before) that it’s hard to predict with any accuracy what will be.  Far too often fools gain wealth or power only to begin to selling it their method as a brand to other people.  The equation for success should look like this:

 

Skill + Hard work = Success

 

In reality it looks more like:

 

Skill + Hard work + Clever Marketing + Time & Chance = Success

 

The first two are negotiable as far as the outcome is concerned.  I’ve seen people with minimal skills work just hard enough to get promoted because they were very good at marketing themselves and their successes.  Then we meet the type of people who don’t mind lying to get the job or golden ticket and who claim other people’s success as their own.  There are plenty of examples of people who made it in a business they were never that knowledgeable about, good at or even qualified for.  We all know of actors, for example, who really can’t act their way out of a paper bag but remain popular the world over.  And don’t get me started on the French voting Michael Stipe (lead singer of the rock band REM) as best male vocalist of the year in the 80s…

All this rhetoric works into the main point Solomon is touting as a reality in our world.  Yet all is not lost necessarily, merely unpredictable.  A man who gains wisdom, hones his skill set and works hard to increase not only his holdings but his contacts for life in general should find success in one form or another.  A person who takes care to do what is honest, right and wise has a much better chance of finding lasting success than one who cheats to get there.  Cheaters target the honest hard-working individual, which sets in motion bad results to varying degrees, depending on the level of fraud.  A wise person learns from these mistakes and uses these lessons to read prospective clientele or partners better.

Still, success in any of its forms can never be guaranteed.  Remember Solomon’s assertion time and chance happen to them all. Moreover, no man knows when his hour will come:  As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so men are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them.  Ecclesiastes 9:11c, 12.  Unless and until we can extricate ourselves from the world we remain subject to the choices of others who may or may not live wisely.  And even if someone does their level best to live a well ordered life with wisdom and love, there’s no guarantee they won’t come in contact with disaster in one form or another that makes them the first of many dominoes to fall.

I’m not saying that there is nothing we can predict but that even if we do have all our ducks in a row, the outcome remains uncertain until the curtain call.  Take some time to meditate on the more predictable outcomes and you’ll see what I mean.

Now a little blurb on success.

I am not a big fan of motivational speakers because, quite frankly, what they really sell us is themselves.  Where these people make their big money is often the ticket sales to their events and convincing us they have the answers to our success and happiness.  So literally they create their success off of selling how to be successful.  They go into great detail about how successful people make it to the top and what they do to stay there, almost as if it’s some kind of mystery (and it may be to some since they refuse to improve themselves).

Here’s the reality:  The most wildly successful (financially) people are fairly single minded, ambitious, often times relentless in their pursuit and work 80+ hours a week.  Many of them sacrifice relationships with their families, friends and their own hearts to grasp the golden ticket.  At the end of the day most of them have health problems, divorce (one or several) and generally aren’t satisfied with what they achieve.  Eventually, the habit of long hours and “self” denial becomes the only thing that feeds them.  Rarely have I met anyone who experiences great success financially who isn’t on the brink of a personal collapse somewhere. At the same time several books in the Bible outline the formula to success and happiness in God’s view—which includes wealth in the form of money and possessions.

Sound like a negative take on wealth?  It’s not, merely a realistic take on what I see around me.  Success in its purest form is being able to live comfortably within the bounds of healthy relationships.  It also requires a certain big dose of knowing how to be content with what cannot be changed.  On the other hand, I know plenty of people who live within their means, work hard, continue to invest in family, friends and hobbies who are doing well financially.  So there isn’t a set-in-stone rule about it either, merely I believe we think the financial part to be the best evidence and I disagree.

I want to end this section with the very realistic Serenity Prayer:

God, give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed, and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.  Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as a pathway to peace, Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it, trusting that You will make all things right, if I surrender to Your will, so that I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with You forever in the next.  Amen.