Faith, Life, Philosophy

Otherness

Otherness by tokyoform on flickr

“There are only two types of people in this world,” announced the waiter – obviously a man of experience – to my young parents, “There are those who like parmesan… and there are those who hate it.”

I remember my folks telling this story (although, admittedly, I don’t actually remember that the appreciation for parmesan was the line upon which he divided the human race – I know it was something equally ludicrous!). You’ve probably heard a few of these statements, yourself.

There’s something that appeals to human nature about having a neat system to categorize the people around us.  It seems that, particularly regarding subjects about which we’re passionate, we see things in dualities: either you’re ‘for’ what I’m for, or you’re against me.  It’s ‘us’ vs. ‘them’.  But even when it’s a more nebulous concept – something less obvious than a preference for Italian cheeses – we can be quick to draw lines of division.

Those people…”

Have you ever said, or thought, those words?

Maybe ‘those people’ were the ones from the wrong side of town; the kids whose parents worked jobs that your white-collar parents would disparage because they were ‘unskilled’ or ‘uneducated’ – or perhaps ‘those people’ were the privileged offspring of the ‘entitled’ elite, never having to work to earn the riches they enjoyed, looking down at you and ‘your people’ because they think that they’re where they are because they work ‘smart’ while your blue-collar families just work hard.

Maybe those people were in a community from which you felt an outsider – separated from them by language, culture, or religion.  You don’t understand why they don’t think like you, act like you, talk like you – and why they don’t seem to want to change, as you think they should, to ‘fit in better’ in their new country.  Or perhaps you’re the new one on the block, and you feel like ‘those people’ whose citizenship goes back some generations view you with suspicion, treat you as ‘other,’ subtly exclude you from things because “you won’t get it.”  You feel like they’ll probably never consider you to be truly one of them…  You don’t trust them, and they don’t trust you.

Whatever the case, the assumption you make is that those people are essentially different from you.  You assume that they have different values, different beliefs, different motives…  You figure that they don’t care about the things you care about, and – if you were honest about it – you’d admit that you don’t like them for it.

Money, education, culture, race, politics, religion – these things can be the lines upon which we divide ourselves from others; they’re at the root of some pretty deep rifts between fellow humans.

I’m originally from South Africa.

I wonder if anyone thinks, when reading that, ‘Oh, she must be one of THOSE people…’

Well, I will tell you that I do know a thing or two about the issue of ‘those people’.  I’ve been the fish-out-of-water; I’ve been the standout ‘other’; I’ve been the new kid in class.  I have also, very occasionally, been the ‘local’ with something of a history in a place.  But let’s look beyond my own history to see what History says about what happens when we get a bit caught up in maintaining that separation between ‘us’ and ‘them’.

Apartheid was a system adopted by the ruling parties of South Africa toward the end of the 1940s.  We know now that this policy of separate development resulted in an oppressive regime in which people of one race enjoyed every benefit at the expense of everyone else – and we know now that the system of apartheid, aside from being intrinsically unjust, was one that perpetuated injustice, prejudice, and the subjugation of these ‘minority’ peoples under the rule of the others.

We know that NOW, but back then – when apartheid was first instituted – it was based upon a very idealistic (and misguided) belief by many white South Africans that it was in everyone’s best interests for each group to retain their own customs, culture, and language within the confines of their separate but parallel societies.  In theory, this was a kindness (such was the lie that was sold to the voting public).  In practice, there was nothing kind, respectful or just about it; apartheid was simply the institutionalization of racial discrimination.

We know THIS: History has proven that the separation of people based on these divisions – ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ – results in greater misunderstanding, greater prejudice, and greater rifts between one person and another.

Not knowing people personally, but instead confining them to a category, leads to a kind of small-minded cynicism about their motives as well as a hard-heartedness towards them as fellow humans.

Remember that assumption I mentioned earlier?  That ‘those people’ are essentially different from you?

We’re all ‘other’ to someone else.

This post isn’t me being political; this is me being personal.  I’m not immune to these lines of division. I have also sometimes been caught up in concern about ‘others’.

I love diversity.  I think that one of the special things about our world is the colour and texture provided by different cultures, languages, traditions – even ethnic differences; the spectrum of eye colours, hair colours, skin…  I love it that, just the other week, here in New Zealand a pair of little girls from our school – one Sri Lankan and one South African – joined together to perform at a local Chinese singing competition (and they won an award!).  So sometimes, when I’ve been thinking about the potential for one nationality or another to dominate all the others because of that nationality’s increasing population, I’ve been concerned about the dilution of that diversity.

I was struggling with this recently, because I try to be conscious of identifying and erasing those lines of division in my own heart that separate me from my fellow humans; and I said to God,
“But if one group or another of us kind of ‘takes over’ then we’ll lose all that diversity that I love so much!”

I felt instantly convicted by this response:

“That stuff doesn’t matter to me!”

What???  But why did God create such interest and diversity if he didn’t care about all those differences?  Variety is the spice of life!

The truth is, our world will always have diversity.  Between the crazy and wonderful gene combinations we’ve got floating around, the variety of physical characteristics, personalities, styles of dress (and other forms of self-expression), and opinions – which we know will never align completely on this side of heaven – we’ve got plenty of diversity.  What we need to do is to ensure that those distinctions don’t become a barrier to connection between ourselves and others.

We’re all equal before God:

“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” – Galatians 3:28

Ultimately, all the differences we see – those things that separate ‘us’ from ‘them’ – are nothing to God.  Clinging too tightly to our national/ethnic identity has a way of blinding us to the hearts and virtue of others; God wants us to recognize our kinship with others.  We’re all His children.  And there’s none of us – not a single one – that God wouldn’t be glad to have in heaven.  We all have equal access to Jesus – and His heart is that we’d all accept him as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, so that we can spend eternity together.

So what are we doing drawing divisions where none truly exist?  Really, the only ‘us’ and ‘them’ there can be are those who’ve answered His call and those to whom He’s still calling.  We’re all his children – and that makes us family.

Go out today and greet your brothers and sisters with love and warmth.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”

-Matt.22:37-39

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Easter, Faith, Grace, Life, Reflection

Sanctuary to Sacrifice

2 Corinthians 1 4

Maybe it’s the stage of life I’m in, where one child’s nighttime waking is almost guaranteed (and so, therefore, is my tiredness), or maybe it’s because we sprang for the extra layer of cushioning on our mattress, but I love my bed.  I could just nestle in there and stay snuggled up all day.  The demands of my life don’t permit such laziness, though (more’s the pity!); in order to attend to my necessary duties, I’m forced to leave the comfort of my bed.

A couple of years ago I was compelled to write about not dwelling in comfort; I wrote the following article for our church magazine, because it was to my fellow Christians that I felt this message should be directed.  Basically, I felt the need to remind us all that comfort is not a dwelling place; i.e. it is good and necessary for us to nestle into the comfort of our salvation; it is good and right that we should draw near to Jesus and find peace and joy in His presence; but we need to remember that we are called to be His hands and feet.

God calls us to take refuge in Him.  He calls us to find comfort in Him, to ‘dwell’ in His perfection and light as a respite from a world in which we experience pain and struggle and darkness.  Our Lord encourages us to take time to reflect and revel in being in Him.  We are to embrace and celebrate the sanctuary of God’s love – but our responsibility does not end there.  The purpose of this refuge is to re-charge us to go into the world and embody that love for others. Second Corinthians 1 instructs us that God comforts us in order that we may then provide the same comfort to others.

Christ himself took comfort in the Father.  Jesus went up to Gethsemane to pray and to seek peace from the turmoil in his soul.  But he did not stay there; from that hilltop he went out, strengthened in his resolve, to do what God was calling him to do.

God is calling us to do His work, too.  Like a mother whose reluctant child is clinging too long to her skirts, He is ushering, cajoling, exhorting us to take heart and trust in his love to go with us as we leave the sanctuary of His breast.  We have things to do in the world around us and we must not tarry in this place of comfort for too long, lest we deny our calling to be God’s heart out there in a hurting world.

As we approach Easter, we’re invited to look upon the Cross.  Often, we’re tempted to bypass the gritty crucifixion scene and move straight to the more comforting symbol of the empty cross and the hope and peace offered there.  It’s easier to skip the hard parts of Christ’s story – His suffering for our gain – and go directly to the joy of our redemption and His resurrection.  But let us pause before the Cross, and Christ upon it – bound there by our sins – and consider the challenge therein.

It’s difficult to contemplate the Christ’s experience on the cross.  It is not comfortable to encounter the pain or suffering of our fellow human beings; it’s not comfortable to consider how much we have and what our responsibility might be to those who have not; it’s not comfortable to think about speaking God’s truth into a world which has, historically and continuously, rejected Jesus. “I’m not called to missions,” we declare – forgetting that we are called to be God’s hands and feet in this world.  “It’s a fallen world – there will always be sin and poverty and sickness.  There’s nothing we can do to change that.”  But do we really think we’ve got no responsibility to pass on the comfort of the Father to those who struggle beyond our natural sphere of influence and interaction?

As Christians, we’re called to be people of action.  Our deeds should reflect God’s heart in the world.  But too often we go to that place of refuge in our faith and we STAY there. Instead of taking sanctuary, being filled up and encouraged, and then getting back into the thick of things to do God’s work, we wrap ourselves up in the comfort of our salvation, in the comfort of our blessed lives, in the comfort of our smug completeness – and we do nothing.

Instead, let’s commit to the challenge of aligning ourselves with God’s will for our lives.  This is an ongoing process; the action God expects of us depends on our particular gifts and talents as well as the stage of life we’re in – we need to remain open to God’s calling in small ways as well. But we do need to be willing to embrace discomfort in order to show God’s heart to others.

Accepting grace is simply not enough.  How can we receive a transformative gift and remain unchanged by it?  God is calling us to demonstrate His love in this world.  He is moving in us, dwelling with us, encouraging us and renewing us; all for the purpose of equipping us to go out and be active in our faith.

This year, as we complete the Lenten season, perhaps we can challenge ourselves: if comfort is something we strive towards or even spend a lot of time thinking about, then perhaps it’s time to re-examine our priorities.

Jesus didn’t die to ensure our comfort.

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Something to consider: When we encounter difficulty/challenges, do we seek a way out of those challenges or do we seek God in the midst of those challenges?  Remember, God invites us to take comfort from Him; from there we are equipped to go out, strengthened by His love and His presence, and do whatever we’re called to do.

Go in peace (but do make sure you GO OUT THERE!),

 – Trix

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Faith, Life, Parenting

This Is How a House Is Built

Foundation by Brett Neilson, flickr

 

My folks are building a house in their (our) backyard, and we’ve been watching the progress with great interest.

First, the ground had to be prepared.  There was digging and bulldozing and then the long, labourious process of building the forms and pouring the concrete for the foundation, then more digging and filling as they installed gas lines and other connections.

This was slow, dirty, tough work; the guys were out there in rain and sleet and eventually snow, at the mercy of the elements for hour after hour, day after day, week after week.  When it rained, the earth became heavy and muddy – manual digging was excruciatingly slow, and if they left it for any time without adequate supports in place, the sides would collapse and undo much of their labour.  When it snowed or got cold enough to do so, the existing pipes (exposed by their digging) froze, and they had to bring in heaters to keep the water flowing to the main house.

This process of preparing and building seems to me a great parallel to the process of parenting.

Drafting a Blueprint and Preparing the Land

We begin with a plan; a vision of what we expect to accomplish through our efforts.  (Of course, this is where the analogy of raising kids digresses somewhat from the ‘concrete’ process of building a house; in parenting you start by thinking you’re going to build a mansion and you end up with a modest bungalow, a garden shed, or a dingy.)  Preparing the ground, digging up old pipes and making new connections – this is us taking what we know about raising a family, examining what we’ve experienced in our own lives and making decisions about how we’ll proceed in our new roles as parents.  Those of us who have a partner in raising our kids need to make sure that our two ‘blueprints’ for parenting match; having common goals and a unified vision helps us to work together to raise kids whose lives and hearts are wholesome, healthy, and resilient.

Lots of old junk came up during the digging.  Large boulders, tree roots and other obstacles had to be removed.  There were bits of glass and old tools and other things that needed to be discarded.  Plans had to be adjusted for the slope of the land, and other factors required alterations to the original plans.

West and I have to do this all the time – we are constantly attending parenting seminars and reading things (OK, I read things and report my conclusions – he grunts his assent and follows through) and talking, talking, talking about how we’re going about this business of raising our boys.

My parents’ new place is being built to be their retirement home – so they’ve taken care to think of details that will be useful as they age.  My Mum has added a tile bench into the shower, in case they need/want to sit whilst bathing.  Of course, I couldn’t help but point out that this would provide the perfect spot upon which they might strike their skulls if they slipped in the shower, and asked if they’d considered the comfort of sitting on cold tile with bare bottoms…  Which leads me to this point:

In the building/parenting process, people will give you lots of advice – whether you want it or not. And more than likely, I’m going to be one of those people.

A firm foundation

And then the foundation – arguably the most important part of any house, and yet possibly the least glamourous aspect of any architectural plan.

“Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock.”


(Matthew 7:24&25)

When we build a strong foundation, it functions as this ‘solid rock’ upon which we are constructing our house (we’ll take it as a given that the land itself was adequately chosen and prepared for this purpose as well). Jesus spoke of a life built on his teachings being the wisest choice; one that would offer protection and sustenance in times of difficulty.  So what are these teachings?

Jesus himself summed up the most important commandments as follows (Matt.22:36-40):

  •          Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind
  •          Love your neighbor as yourself

A life built on the tenets of loving God wholly and loving and valuing others as you love and value your very self – this is a constructive, useful, generous life.

Jesus mentions following the ‘demands of the prophets’, too; one of which is this:

O people, the Lord has told you what is good,
and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with your God.

(Micah 6:8)

Then there is ‘The Golden Rule’:

  •          ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ – or, put more simply, ‘Treat other people the way you’d like them to treat you’.

Our job as parents is to lay this foundation – to teach our kids right from wrong and show them how to love others, practice grace, and to walk in the light.

These are practical things we can work on; and what we cannot accomplish in our own strength, we pray for.  Never, ever, underestimate the power of prayer – it will help you see God’s heart for you and your family and it will help you know your children’s hearts better as well.  This is not just the privilege of the Christian. God will bend his ear for the least of us.

Support Structures

After the foundation came the framing.  Seeing the internal and external walls go up was thrilling; it was really starting to look more like a house.  These supports are essential elements in the building of any sound structure.

They say it takes a village to raise a child.  We in the Western World rarely have the luxury of such a close natural community; but we can forge relationships with others around us and allow them to share our burdens while we share theirs.

We can surround ourselves with people who will love and nurture our children as we seek to love and nurture them.  A good church will help with this, and good circles of friends and family can offer support as well.

A Roof Overhead

Once the walls were in place to support it, the roof went on.  This was an important step; now there was some protection from the elements – a necessary move, especially as the weather was growing colder and wetter.  Now when the torrents poured and the snow fell heavily from the sky, the house stayed dry.

How do we protect our families?  We offer spiritual and emotional protection through prayer, teaching and conversation.  We provide physical protection in training our children to make wise and safe choices.

Let the Sun Shine In

No house would be complete without windows to let the light in and to provide an outlook on the world.  My parents also chose frosted glass for the side that would be exposed to passing cars (to minimize the glare of the headlights), and double-glazing to reduce noise and provide insulation from the cold.

In parenting, we provide our kids with the benefit of our outlook on life – a way of interpreting the world around them.  We help translate and make sense of the perplexing barrage of ideas, events and experiences faced by our children as they grow.  And we reinforce the fact of our belief that there is a plan and a purpose at work throughout this life, even when we ourselves can’t see the bigger picture.  We teach them how to let the light in.

Insulation and Flooring

In addition to the insulation provided by the double-glazed windows and roof, the builders needed to place batting/foam as insulation.  The floor, too, has layers of protection against the elements.

Our love and care for our kids is underpinned by a thousand small acts of sacrifice; making time for them, celebrating their successes and encouraging them through challenges.  This is the hidden work of ours that provides necessary, sustaining comfort to our families – it might seem like a bunch of fluff, but these ‘behind the scenes’ things we do can make a big difference.

The End Result

We’re still waiting to see the completion of my parents’ house.  There’s a lot yet to be done to make the house (though by now structurally whole) livable.  The addition of cupboards, appliances, hardware and furnishings will personalize the house and make it more functional.  And it will be delightful to finally see the end result of all the careful planning and hard work.

When we do that first walk-through, I doubt that we will be worried about what it isn’t.  I don’t think we’ll see the deficiencies (if any) or worry that it’s not a two-story mansion.  I imagine that we will remember the effort made to create this dwelling, and we will look forward to all the memories to be made in it.

Each house, even if built from the same plan, has its unique qualities.  So many things can contribute to the uniqueness of a home: using different blueprints and materials, building in and for a specific climate and purpose, the setting and the furnishings…  We would be foolish to try to compare this house to any other.

In the same way, we as parents have to wait many years – perhaps a lifetime – to see some of the end results of our efforts.  And as we watch our children grow, we do well to avoid comparisons; instead, I believe that we do best to delight in the joy of what is ours – and to put in the hard work now with a vision towards the future.  To humbly and patiently assist the process of the construction of a whole person, beautifully created and nurtured according to God’s good purpose.

Because this is how a house is built.

Cottage by Stefan Ray on flickr

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