Monday, April 27, 2015

Is the Way of Christ a Better Way?

All religions espouse moral and ethical ideals, buttressed by certain rules and regulations about worship, holiness, goodness, truth, integrity, honor, respect, loyalty, honesty, justice, obedience, etc.  And they all have to do with relationship: One’s relationship to God and one’s relationship to others.

Hence religions also teach and model rites and rituals to their adherents who are to practice and observe them—prescribed ways of appropriately approaching God, ways of relating to, praying to, or referring to God, and ways of asking and requesting of God, that is, seeking God’s aid, favor, and/or approval.

Thus religious institutions play a major role in defining humanity’s nature and status before God: Who can approach God and how, what and who is acceptable before God, and who and what is not?  When and how is one forgiven and allowed access to a perfectly Holy God and when or how is one denied such access, that is, considered impure—rejected and condemned before God.

To say the least, this is heady powerful stuff.  And so, sadly, many adherents of whatever religion believe and act as if they have the right and the privileged status to be God’s gatekeepers—to force or enforce religious rule upon others, even going so far as assuming the right to deliver judgment and its consequence upon nonbelievers and stray-believers alike (as they so define), along with the self-righteous condemnation of anyone who challenges them or disagrees with their particular brand of religious practice.

As a Christian I readily acknowledge that adherents of Christianity can be just as guilty of this attitude as followers of any other Faith.  Still, it doesn’t negate the integrity of the person of Christ Himself.  It was Jesus who scolded the self-righteous religious leaders of his day when he said things like, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture, ‘I desire compassion [or mercy], not sacrifice.’”  He referred to this more than once.  See Matthew 9:13.  In Matthew 12:7 Jesus adds the comment that, if they would have understood this truth, they would not have condemned the innocent.

In our religiosity, we humans tend to become judgmental and take on a superior attitude against those who fail to live up to our religious beliefs, practices, and ideals.  And in doing so, we often then condemned even the innocent.

Jesus also said, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged,” adding that we must first take out the “log” that is in our own eye before we worry about trying to take out the “speck” that is in someone else’s eye.  Here Jesus seems to be saying that the one presuming to judge others has the greater guilt (has the log) rather than the one being judged (having only a speck).  See Matthew 7:1-5.

Is there a better way then the Way of Christ?  Contemplate Jesus.  Meditate on His words, consider His actions.  Dare to practice His teachings.  Look at His life, what He modeled, how He lived?  Take Him at His word.  Digest Him.  Drink Him.  For He Himself said that he is the living water and the bread of life.  The challenge is to seriously follow Him—despite the apparent hypocrisy of those who now already claim the name of “Christian.”

You may not respect most of Jesus’ followers, but you’ve got to respect Jesus himself.  And if you do, and you seriously embrace Jesus as a master moral teacher or as a great spiritual role model, your challenge is to live as He lived.  If you take up this challenge, I have no doubt that your life will never be the same and that in the end you too will most likely and gladly confess Him as Lord and Savior.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Holding Our Police Forces Accountable?

Our city police forces across the nation are on the defensive.  Videos are popping up everywhere exposing what appears to be systemic police brutality: the use of excessive force and seemingly indefensible shootings of unarmed young black men stopped for minor offenses.

Citizens are protesting, wanting justice and demanding change and accountability.  This is only right.  But what do we mean by “accountability”?

There are two ways the word is used.  One is negative, the other is appropriately positive.

The negative manner in the way the word “accountable” is used is a subtle way of saying: we want to control the person(s) being held accountable.  We want to monitor them in such a way that we can catch them and pounce on them when they are caught doing wrong or committing grave mistakes.  It is a “gotcha” attitude—“Ah, ha, we gotcha now!  You’re going down!!”  (Ironically not unlike the mentality of abusive police officers who shoot down unarmed black men.)

This kind of “accountability” is just another form of abusive power to search and attack with the intent to catch in order to oust and condemn.  It says, “You are being watched, and if you make one slip-up, do anything wrong, we’re coming after you and we will destroy you.”  It puts one on the defensive and makes one distrust the power and authority that holds the “accountability” strings.

The positive meaning of accountability is more like when a coach says to a trainee, “I’m here to help.  I’m here so that you can do your best, so you will succeed.  If you slip-up or fall-short, or even fail, I’m here to help get you back on your feet and improve, so that you can make progress and do better.  I’m holding you accountable to the highest standards of good sportsmanship and development.”

The negative or oppressive use of the term accountability elicits a reaction of furtiveness, secretiveness, and the desire to avoid “being caught.”  It results in a spirit of defensiveness, distrust, and evasiveness.  The positive use of accountability invites engagement and welcomes scrutiny, eliciting transparency and cooperation.  Hence, healthy positive “accountability” nurtures mutual engagement and reciprocated trust and transparency with welcomed constructive critique, resulting in practical development.

Here’s an example.  Most church denominations encourage their congregations to conduct a congregational/pastoral review every few years.  If the review is one-sided and seen as the congregation’s opportunity as a fault-finding session to cough-up all that is wrong with the pastor and to list all the pastor’s faults and failures, the evaluation quickly turns into an all out attack against the pastor with little positive redeeming or constructive dynamics.  It becomes a kind of witch hunt for anyone who dislikes the pastor and wants to get rid of him/her.

On the other hand if the review is conducted in such a way that the intent is to both highlight the pastor’s strengths and maximize the good, as well as to strengthen his/her weaknesses and correct recurring mistakes (while at the same time also doing as much for the congregation itself), the accountability session results in a strengthening of the pastoral/congregational bond and adds momentum to a positive growing congregational dynamic.  Note then that healthy accountability is really a two-way street and should be applied for the purpose of enhancing and growing or developing the subjects involved rather than simply used for attacking, denouncing, and demeaning those “being held accountable.”

Thus, as our communities demand more accountability of our police departments, let it be done so in a positive spirit with constructive intent—to enhance trust and encourage reciprocal engagement, and build a more positive relationship between the community and police.  Neither side should be put on the defensive or be made to feel as if they are being watched so as to be pounced on, attacked, and “taken-out.”

Healthy positive accountability is relational, reciprocal, transparent, trust enhancing, and constructive.  Its aim is to build-up and make better, never to attack and destroy, always seeking the good and the “betterment” of those being held accountable.  That’s the kind of accountability that anyone in any profession should want to have and should be willing to invite.

Monday, April 13, 2015

When Life’s not Fair, What to Do?

“That’s not fair!!” cries the brother as the sister seems to get away with something that he could not.  What’s the parental response?  At best it’s simply to say, “Life’s not fair.”  And it’s true.  It’s not.

There are incongruities, inconsistencies, and imbalances in life that certainly seem unfair.  Too much rain and flooding over there, not enough rain and drought over here.  Bad people seem to have all the luck while good people get trounced.  Or the guilty go free and the innocent are found guilty.  Lopsided, contorted, twisted, uneven and imbalanced, that’s life.  Life is not fair.  What to do?

Remember the Biblical injunction, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth….”?  (See Exodus 21:24.)  The point was not to emphasize retaliation but to restrain it.  Because, when it comes to demanding payback for harm done to us, we tend to multiply exponentially: You take my arm; in retaliation I want your arm and your two legs as well.  We tend to be that way.  It’s no wonder that God says, “Vengeance is mine.”  (See Romans 12:19.)

So, Biblically speaking, we humans are unjust by nature.  Though we have the natural instinct to demand justice for ourselves, we don’t seem to have the natural instinct for giving it to others—it is learned behavior that must be studied and developed.  If you don’t believe this, the next time your child behaves unjustly toward his/her sibling, don’t bother stepping-in to correct or teach the child, just say to yourself, “Don’t worry, he will become fair and just on his own without my having to teach him a thing about it.”  Right!!

Minimally, the least we could do in this unjust world is to avoid adding to life’s inequities and try bringing justice where we can, when we can.  But to do even that, we should probably understand the basic nature of justice itself: understand its source, its character, and its purpose.

Let’s begin with its purpose.  What is the point of justice?  What is justice trying to “get at”?  The purpose of justice is to keep us true to the value of human worth, to keep us respectful of human dignity.  All humans are to be respected, valued, and honored for who and what they are as fellow Humans Beings.  Hence, Human Beings are not to be hurt, harmed, trashed, degraded and dumped, or otherwise de-humanized by any means without consequence.  Ergo, anything that we do to another human-being that gratuitously devalues, hurts, degrades, or otherwise harms, is unjust.  Such injustice must be made right, be corrected because of the victim’s value and worth as a fellow human being.

If the purpose of justice is to keep sacrosanct human dignity and value, what is its nature or character?  That is, what are the necessary ingredients that go into the making of a just cause or act?  In short, when we act, work, play, relate, negotiate, or connect with others in any form, what do we hope to receive from each other?  What we want from each other is truth, integrity, honesty, transparency, equality, respect, dignity, and reciprocated personal value and trust.

Relationships are hindered at best, broken and destroyed at worse, without these basic relational ingredients.  Without these things, we feel cheated and ill-treated or unjustly used.  Hence, the essential nature of justice has to do with relational dynamics as described by such words as respect, honor, dignity, integrity, honesty, faithfulness, truth, trust, loyalty, and love.  That is to say: When these things are happening, justice is happening.

So, what is the source of justice, its foundation?  Ask yourself: Why should we value any Human Being?  Think about it.  Our worth can’t come from Nature itself, not really.  And it really can’t come from our own selves.  We can’t validate ourselves by self-proclamation; as if to simply claim it automatically makes it so.  It doesn’t work that way.  For, what do we do when other humans counter our claim and pronounce us to be scum, trash, and less than human—as has so often been done by one group of humans to another group of humans throughout human history?

Hence, our real value has to come from someone greater than ourselves.  That is, it must find its source in God, the God who created all humans in His image.  It’s God who asserts our dignity and gives us our value and is therefore the measure of all that is just and right in human relational dynamics.

It goes without saying that our own human attempt at applying justice among ourselves leaves much to be desired.  Human justice is quite inept, imperfect and full of flaws.  In that sense, actual justice is only relative here on earth.  Without the hope of a Final Day-of-Reckoning before God, we are much to be pitied.  For, we’ll never get real justice, only approximate justice.  Our only hope is that God will bring us ultimate true justice, in the end.  However, such a promise from God should be both comforting and foreboding at the same time.  Imagine getting what you really and truly deserve for the things you’ve done wrong in life.

Nevertheless God’s justice is best, for it will have the necessary breadth and depth to it that we humans don’t have.  As humans we often fail to “see the forest for the trees.”  We get lost in the details and forget to look at the larger picture.  But we can trust in God’s greater perspective.  For example, real justice takes into account differences and unique or special considerations; it does not equate equality with sameness—as in “one size fits all.”  This requires a breadth and depth of information that only God can have.  Humans manipulate, deceive, cover-up, dissuade.  Thankfully God sees through us, and knows our hearts, looking at what truly is, with integrity and truth, revealing the human soul with true openness and transparency.  This is what we should all want, if only it were not also so dreadful to think about in the facing of it.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Why A Savior Is Needed?

The enemy within!  Your worst enemy is yourself.  Save me from myself!  Ever say that?  I’m sure you’ve heard it.  I am my worst enemy?  Why?

We always fall short of our best intentions.  We fail ourselves.  We fail our children.  We fail our spouses.  Everyone does.  No one can claim otherwise.  Who shall save us from our selves?  Can we save ourselves; if so, how?  We can always try to “make things right,” but what about irreparable damage we may have done along the way?  There are just some things that cannot be made right again: e.g., driving under the influence and taking the life of a family or child because of it.  How does one repair that kind of damage?

We are inconsistent.  We do not practice what we preach.  We do no live up to our own standards.  Our children are the first to point this out to us.  And so we say to them, “Do as I say, not as I do.”  We have rules and values that we embrace and preach and teach to our children, that we ourselves regularly break.  We say, “Just tell me the truth.  Be honest for once in your life!”  Then we turn around and tell our own little white lies, half-truths, and outright lies—with full self-justification of course!  What makes us think that our children will do better or should do better than us?

Even the best of us can become self-absorbed.  For example, ask yourself, why do you exist?  Or why do your children exist?  Now imagine answering the first question by saying: “I exist in order to please myself.  The world should revolve around me.  I should have what I want, when I want, and how I want it, my way.  It’s all about me!”  Few of us would ever say this, as adults.   Yet, even as adults, who hasn’t actually behaved as such, at various times in their lives?  As to your children, would you ever say, “My children exist in order to please me and satisfy all my desires for love, recognition, honor, and pride.  In short, my children exist in order to meet and serve all my ego needs.”  Would you ever say that?  Yet, how many parents are guilty of doing exactly that?

So, if we do not exist simply to please ourselves, why do we live?   Another way of asking the question is: What are you about?  What is your life’s aim, its purpose?  What will be the outcome of your life at life’s end?  If you succeed in life, how will that have been measured—by money, things, position?  Just what is the essential nature of actual success? 

For the sake of argument, consider “Judgement Day.”  No doubt we will be judged for our actions, what we have done.  But will we not also be judged for whom we are, what we have become over the years—our character?  Indeed, do not our actions stem from who we are?  Likewise, will we not also be judged for our intentions, what we purposed?  The intentions behind our actions make a big difference as to whether they are to be applauded or appalled.  Furthermore we are likely to be judged for our ignorance as well.  You’ve heard of the saying, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking it”?  It has to do with willful ignorance.  You didn’t want to know because you wanted to avoid responsibility.  And that is no excuse!

Finally, have you ever done something bad?  I mean really bad, something that would horrify you if anybody found out.  Do you have guilt, real guilt; the kind of guilt that settles-in and sinks deep into your soul?  You knew it was wrong; you knew it when you did it.  But in spite of it, you chose to do it anyway.  Many will have to admit, yes, they have.  Yet, when it comes to being good or bad, we humans tend to grade ourselves on a curve rather than in absolute terms.  We think, “Well, at least I’m not as bad as…!”

That’s why.  That’s why we need a Savior.  See, the sad truth about human nature is that we cannot really self-repair.  There are no self-help courses or books or action-steps that we can take to turn ourselves into perfect little saints.  Indeed, even if there were, most of us would rather NOT take steps to become “the perfect little saint”—it would make us very unpopular for one.  We also think that it would be just too boring to be so.  We’d rather be befriended and liked than to be worshiped and respected from a distance.

Thus, as Jesus said, “Can a bad tree bear good fruit?”  No!  It cannot.  And so, for us humans good and evil are relative.  It is only by comparison with others that some of us could think of ourselves as “almost perfect in every way.”  True, some are better than others, others are far worse, but no one is perfect.  But for those of us that all too easily see ourselves as not-so-bad or, in fact, pretty good.  Think of standing before an all Perfect, Holy, and totally Righteous God in Judgement.  Then ask yourself, are you sure you do not need a Savior?