Friday, June 23, 2017

Search Me

At CentriKid camp this morning, the personal devotions material pointed us to a very familiar verse, Psalm 139:23-24:

23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

I have read and heard this passage so many times before. But today I read it as a deeper prayer. The psalmist is asking God to search him and test him, to look for any wrong thought patterns, then to lead him in the way of truth.

We all have wrong thought patterns, and rarely do we want others to point them out. But a healthy soul requires healthy thoughts. Who better to find the wrong thoughts than God? I prefer to ignore those issues and work around them. God wants to find them and disarm them. He wants to expose them to the light of truth.

We can stop hiding from our messed up thinking. We can get God to find those corrupted, false patterns of thinking and free us from them. That's the only way to walk in the way everlasting.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Good at Being a Person

Life is not easy. There are all kinds of ways we can mess up life. And we all do. Personhood is harder than it looks.

Who is really good at being a person? And is that the same thing as being a good person?

Personhood entails a wide range of skills: walking, talking, listening, loving, eating, serving, creating, working, sharing, confessing, confronting, exploring, explaining... The list is endless. So personhood is about doing life. Some people are better at personhood than others.

I'm still learning how to be a person: how to navigate through life, how to keep (gain?) my sanity, how to develop my strengths, how to love others, how to worship.

It's not easy, but it is rewarding.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A Tree of Life and Love

The maple tree in my mother's backyard.
It must be at least 45 years old.
This maple has a story. This tree reminds me of my dad's love.

Some time in the early 1970s my dad and I cut down a tall pine tree. We used a big bow saw, with one of us on each end. We teamed up to fell dozens of trees with that saw (which I still have). But I especially remember that pine.

Now anyone who knows about ice storms knows about the problem of pines in winter weather. Their roots are shallow, their trunks not especially strong, and they become top-heavy when laden with frozen precipitation. Such a pine tree doesn't belong in a planned landscape. It did not belong in my dad's beautiful yard.

And so we skillfully took out this pine, and cut it into firewood. When the stump was cut, Dad prepared to cut down a little maple sapling, sprouting by the pine roots.

"Wait!" I shouted.

"What?" he asked.

"Why are you cutting down that little tree?"

The question from this 8-year-old caught him off guard. "Well, it's just in the way."

"In the way of what?"

He envisioned an open space in the yard with no tree. I saw a little tree causing no problems, striving mightily to live. I reasoned with him that this maple, a hardwood, would not cause problems like a pine. This tree deserved to live.

The tree was spared, and it grew right along with me all these years. To this day it stands tall in my mother's backyard.

That maple reminds me of my father's love and his willingness to try things my way. You see, he and I often disagreed. We rarely saw life through the same lens. Yes, I would often find ways to disagree with him, constantly challenging his perspective on virtually everything. It surely wore on him over the years. But that day he listened. He did as I asked. The tree is there to prove it.

My dad never really understood me. But he loved me. It took me years to realize the significance of his sparing that tree. That act spoke volumes about our relationship, and had little to do with landscaping.

Dad died 16 years ago this month. I think of him often. And I remember how much he loved me.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Loaded Inheritance: Resistance

You don’t get to choose your situation of birth. You just arrive on the scene and have to make the best of it. It’s part of your inheritance. You don’t set the stage, but you do have to deal with it. You can exploit it to your own advantage, cooperate with it to your own comfort, or you can resist it to help your heirs.

Everybody’s inheritance is loaded. With it you can blow things up and cause damage, or can use it to fuel positive change.

Some have had the courage to see the problems with the status quo and worked to make things better. These people made a difference and left the world a better place. And they all paid a great price. Resisting the status quo is dangerous business.

  • Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat for a white person. She resisted.
  • Nelson Mandela went to prison for standing against the apartheid system of South Africa. He resisted.
  • Mahatma Gandhi led a movement of freedom for the nation of India as they struggled under British colonialism. He resisted.
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer recognized the murderous religious oppression of Nazi Germany. He resisted.
  • William Wilberforce worked to change the laws of England to abolish the profitable slave trade. He resisted.
  • Abraham Lincoln recognized the moral bankruptcy of American slavery. He resisted.

These people saw the problems of the society they inherited. And they took a stand. They made a difference. The world is better for their work.

Think of your own inheritance. Where are the problems? How can it be better? Effective resistance requires a strong moral foundation, a clear sense of right and wrong. Commitment to truth puts people on the “right side of history.” A true moral compass can show us what is wrong with the world. And with the foundation of truth one can stand against injustice, oppression, and evil.

Jesus is the Truth. He is the Moral Compass. He resisted. Then he died. Then he arose. He conquered death for us, so there is nothing more to fear.

Will you see the problems in the systems of this world? Will you take a stand? Will you resist? If so, be prepared to pay a price.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Loaded Inheritance: Cooperation

Everyone inherits a life situation. No one creates the setting for her own life. We arrive on the scene, surrounded by people who seem to know what they are doing, and we try to make the best of it. We can exploit the situation (see previous post), we can cooperate with the situation, or we can resist the situation.

I think most people opt to cooperate with life's situation. We follow the rules (mostly) and try to maximize our own comfort. We play the hand we are dealt, and we play to win--whatever winning means to us. It could mean making money, having toys, owning land, experiencing pleasure, enjoying peace and quiet, raising children, wielding power, achieving fame. We decide what matters most to us, and we go for it.

We aspire, adapt, accomplish.

Think about the world Southerners inherited in the early 1800s. In the antebellum South, many accepted slavery because there seemed to be no way out of it. The South had followed their “peculiar institution” down into a dark, wicked cavern, where they could only light candles and share blankets to deal with the wretched conditions. Finding a way out was impossible. Freeing the slaves was inhumane—what would they do with no one to feed them and house them? Within this entrenched, imperfect system, people had to live life.

So with this loaded inheritance, many chose to cooperate with life's circumstances. They learned their place in the system and sought to make the most of it. Landowners leveraged slavery to work their land and make a profit. It was all perfectly legal. Matriarchs learned how to run their households, caring for their children and managing the slaves. Merchants engaged in every kind of legal trade. Soldiers followed orders.

Some slaves, meanwhile, became resigned to their lot in life, and cooperated with the system for the sake of personal health and safety.

Of course we can find plenty wrong with the social and economic systems of the American South in the early 1800s. But it seems that most people accepted the system as it was, and made the most of it. They cooperated to their own comfort.

And today, most people cooperate with the system. They don't openly exploit others, but work the system to their own advantage. For some people this works well. Others become frustrated; they continue to aspire and adapt, even if they never accomplish.

Unfortunately this spirit of cooperation can be rather selfish. We work the system for our own advantage, never asking if this system is good, right, or fair. It's just our inheritance. We accept it, so often, without question. If it works for us--or if it might someday work for us--we just accept it.

As this attitude prevails, our world barely and rarely changes. Rather than making the world a better place, we make ourselves better suited for this imperfect world.

Next time
Loaded Inheritance: Resistance

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Loaded Inheritance: Exploitation

All we have is this moment. It is our inheritance. And it is loaded. What I mean is that the people before us blew it. Well, not all of them, but most of them. They blew it. They behaved selfishly in ways we cannot imagine. In ways that, well, we would never behave. And so we inherit a world that’s far from right, because of all those selfish ancestors. Yes, there were a few shining examples of virtue, but even these heroes and heroines had their flaws.

So, here we are, in an unfair world. It is full of abuses, corruption, and violence, with systems that protect the powerful and oppress the poor. This is our world. This is our inheritance. How do we live in such a world?

We have three choices:

  • We can exploit it to our own advantage.
  • We can cooperate with it to our own comfort.
  • We can push against it to make it better.
History books overflow with stories of the exploiters of inheritance. Alexander the Great inherited the throne of Macedonia after his father Philip II was assassinated in 326 B.C. He took the reins of power and marshalled forces to keep territories from revolting. After securing his throne, he kept the military spirit and took over much of the known world. He exploited his inheritance and seems well regarded by history.

All the rulers of Rome exploited their situations, from Julius Caesar to Trajan to Constantine. They made moves to gain and retain power. One strains to think of a figure in Western history who did not exploit his situation to personal benefit.
Trajan's Column in Rome

Even among the American Founding Fathers we see a struggle for power. George Washington's cabinet wrestled through a power struggle so painful that in his Farewell Address, he cautioned against the tug-of-war caused by the rule of alternating factions of power.

Closer to home, the antebellum American South sought to leverage their "peculiar institution" of slavery into an economic profit machine. They inherited this institution and exploited it (by brutally exploiting people) to their own advantage.

Later in the 19th century, the Robber Barons exploited the opportunities provided by the industrial revolution, amassing unprecedented wealth, often through unethical means. They seized the day for their own advantage.

Of course we know of all the evil dictators who gained and exploited power: Hitler, Mao, Stalin, Mussolini, Hirohito, Idi Amin, Fidel Castro, and Pol Pot, to name a few.

And we all know stories of opportunistic bosses or relatives or neighbors who have selfishly manipulated people and circumstances to get what they want -- power, money, recognition, adoration, position, etc. They saw the system in place, played their cards right, and came out on top.

So, that's one way to deal with your loaded inheritance: just make the most of it, selfishly getting all you can manage of everything you want, disregarding others in the process. You will be in the company of many well-known people. Then again, do you want to pass along that legacy to future generations?

Next time:
Loaded Inheritance: Cooperation

Monday, February 27, 2017

Loaded Inheritance: The Human Condition

This may be our moment. It may be a moment in modern history when we can take a step back and really look at what we believe and where we are going. We need to be careful with this inheritance.

We all have inherited the societal situation we are in. We were plopped down here with no input on the matter. Our inheritance is loaded, too, like a powder keg. It can explode and create devastation, or it can burn with power, purpose, and direction. With our inheritance, we can do what is very good, what is very evil, or something in between.

Condemnation of history frustrates me. People criticize individuals, such as the racist N.C. governor Charles Aycock. They criticize the feudal world of the Middle Ages. They criticize the politics of the Vietnam War. They criticize the sexism of literature of every previous generation. They criticize the Europeans who stole a continent from militarily inferior Native Americans. And there is an abundance of criticism for the whole American institution of slavery.

Criticism of history is a lazy man’s self-righteousness. We can look so high and mighty when we point out the flaws of previous generations. But remember, we can’t change history. Of course it is flawed. Anyone can see that.

We can’t change history, but we can understand it. If we really want to understand it, we need to dig deeper to learn why people thought and behaved as they did. Why in the world would so many Southerners in 1860 support the institution of slavery? Were they that much more evil than we are? Were they just morally blind? How could they be that blind?

Once we understand the loaded inheritance of that generation, we can begin to make sense of their choices. Not that we would have behaved similarly, but that we can see how they got there. Critical looks at previous generations are most helpful to us if they do one thing: if they help us find our own blind spots.

I don’t want to defend any of those people, systems, or institutions. They were wrong. But those people inherited a world different from ours. In 100 years, many will look back at the early twenty-first century and wonder how we could have been so cruel and selfish. Every generation is blind to the wrongs of the world. If we don’t know any different, how can we think any differently?

Next time:
Loaded Inheritance: Exploitation