The Journey series
This week's Mustard Seed continues the theme of setting God as our final destination. Today, I look at a theme that recurs in my life at pivotal times: context. An excellent english teacher in high school and an eccentric philosophy professor in college both stressed the importance of context. Not just where words are on a page, but where they stand in history, culture, and the world. So here's some context for my journey to today's post.
My first attempt to read the Bible failed within the first few pages of Genesis. I was completely lost and I abandoned the project. A friend then suggested I begin with the New Testament, quickly amending her advise to, "Start with Matthew." Even at this, I floundered. Understanding even one book of the Bible seemed beyond me. I needed something even smaller.
The Creed is a brief summary of the Christian faith. Perhaps that would be a good start. 'One God' seemed simple enough. 'Father Almighty' was a bit of a stretch. My father left when I was young; I didn't understand human fathers, let alone a God father. 'Creator of all things, visible and invisible.' I was back to the same beginning that led to my earlier despair. Yet, since this idea came so early in both the Bible and creed, it must be worth understanding. Authors start where they start for a reason. Perhaps understanding my life in the context of creation would be a good start.
Contemplating my place relative to all that God has and will create brought to mind how small I felt at sea. Once land slips below the horizon, all one sees in any direction is sky and water. Sometimes for several days. At night, the darkness, punctuated by innumerable stars, amplifies our insignificance. In storms, when the ship heaves and tosses while waves crash over the bow, we know our frailty. How much smaller still I felt then, comparing myself to all that ever has been, is, and ever will be in the whole universe. Yet I existed. Amidst this vast creation, that knows me only as a cosmic speck for an instant of time, God deemed that I should be. That's a wonderful place to start.
Next week: More on context.
Solving algebra problems, I first identified what needed to be found. Charting a voyage, I first determined my destination. Designing computer systems, I first determined my desired output. In all these disciplines, the goal is the first thing to know. But what of our life? There are many goals; health, wealth, happiness, world peace, truth, beauty, goodness. Which one is best?
When in doubt, I pray and God answers with simple analogies. For this quest, He showed me a jug and a glass. It is possible to get a glass of water from a jug of water but not a jug of water from a glass of water (excluding tricks such as huge glasses and tiny jugs). The source of anything must be greater than or equal to that which comes from it.
Next, He brought to my mind, seek ye first the kingdom of God. I pondered the two thoughts together and realized God is the creator, source, of all things, ergo, as in the jug and glass analogy, God must be greater than or equal to all things. Since anything is less than all things, God is greater than anything. If we set God as our goal, that must be a higher goal than anything. Each of the aforementioned goal can only be a fraction of God as the goal.
Fine I thought, but what of our need to live somewhere? Our need food and clothes, our need to work? My experience as captain came to mind. I had my ship and crew but, before each journey, I needed passengers, cargo, and, most of all, I needed a destination. Once I had those, I could plan the rest. I would know how much of my vessel's capacity was needed and whether to seek extra passengers and cargo. I could determine fuel and provision requirements. I could plan way-stops. I could schedule the trip around tides and currents. None of these subordinate tasks could be planned without knowing the final destination. Some could not even be anticipated. All of the subordinate task were planned such that they achieved the ultimate goal.
So, too, with personal and social goals. We must first know our ultimate goal and subordinate all else to it. Once we set God as our final destination, all else in our life must lead us in His direction. Whatever leads us away from Him must be rejected. For each opportunity lost, new, better ones will open up. When we steer our ship toward God, all who journey with us; family, friends, and neighbours; will also wind up closer to God.
Next week: We continue
Today's Mustard Seed is inspired by a conversation with my son about laws. Laws regulate the actions of members within a society. This week I intend only to lay the groundwork for this discussion.
A society is a group of individuals who join together to pursue common goals under a set of basic tenets. Those goals and tenets are defined in its constitution. A tenet is held to be objectively true, therefor unalterable. Laws are particular interpretations and applications of the constitution.
All men being created equal is the foundational tenet of all western societies. Without accepting this, there is no basis for objecting to oppression and domination. But by what authority can we claim this?
Science finds male and female, blonde and dark-haired, young and old. The long and short of it; we are unequal in many ways. In ancient cultures there were rulers and subjects, masters and slaves, conquerors and conquered. Many people's lives held very little value, they were completely subject to the whims of their superiors.
Equality in our western societies derives from the Judeo-Christian understanding of man made in the image of God. Man is in a unique position below God but above the rest of creation. This relationship is just as important to remember as man's equality.
The ideals of society are not the reality. Though every man is created equal, not all men have been or are treated equally. Laws are debated, enacted, and repealed to restore equal treatment but injustices remain. How do we move society from where it is to where it belongs? How do we calculate reparation for past wrongs and how do we determine who should pay? When one man steals from another it is quite easy to say that they should return the property and apologize. But how does one value emotional, psychological and cultural damage? How wide a net should we cast; community, city, state, country, or world?
We hold that all are created equal, but should we force societies who believe differently to conform?
Next week we continue the discussion.
This week, all normalcy has been removed by an incredible number of medical appointments. I contemplated not posting this week but, after a short prayer, decided I would write a post thankful of Canada's socialized health system. The care I have received and am receiving would be beyond my means in many countries.
It is my custom to examine my life through faith so, in prayer, Physician heal thyself came to mind. Pictures add to the popularity of my posts so I always select an image by Googling a Bible passage. For whatever reason, the attached Dilbert cartoon came up.
It immediately brought to mind all the health professionals who went far beyond minimum requirements. Next, an image of a doctor performing surgery on himself flashed through my mind. The absurdity of a surgeon removing his own appendix is obvious. Then Rabbi Haim's allegory of long spoons came to mind.
In hell, people seated either side of a long table spread with a fine feast are tormented by spoons attached to their hands which are so long they are unable to get them to their mouths. In heaven, the same scenario is plays out with each person happily feeding the one seated across the table.
We are not here to serve ourselves; we are here to serve first God and then neighbour. We were not created to serve enterprise; enterprise was created to serve us. Enterprise functions properly when it assists in serving God and neighbour. Certainly, job descriptions are of value. They assign responsibility and authority as necessary to accomplish the goal of the enterprise effectively, efficiently and economically. But we are not tools molded to serve industry. We are, each of us, an end, created in God's image.
My sister developed a theory of slack for married couples:
1) There will always be more chores to do than are on the list.
2) Our estimation of the worth of chores we do exceeds the value our spouse assigns them.
3) Our estimation of the worth of chores our spouse does is less than the value they assign them.
If each spouse is willing to contribute only their half:
1) There is still plenty left to do.
2) Each spouse will feel they have done more than the other.
3) There will be arguments.
I can attest through my experience in construction management that this theory is easily adapted to construction projects with contractors and subcontractors.
1) The general contractor will have employees to do what falls outside the sub-contracts.
2) Every sub-trade feels they have done work that should have been done by another trade.
3) There will be phone calls, emails, deficiency lists, and back-charges.
Doing things not in our job descriptions, far from being a waste of time, is a necessity. Jesus tells us: Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. I am very thankful that Canada's medical system and the people who staff it follow this practice.
For the second week running I am starting my Mustard Seed the morning of posting. As busy as I’ve been these past two weeks, I watched a significant amount of TV. It’s research; how will I write a good screenplay if I don’t (watch) analyze a few?
It’s difficult to reduce a 317-page novel to a two-hour script. There’s a lot of ego on each page; cutting anything is painful. This task is amplified by my ignorance of screenplay formatting. I am learning as I go, so I’m not sure when priority ought to shift from writing to learning accepted standards. Each time I try to decide, the third option, do nothing, tries very hard to sneak in.
So where lays the Mustard Seed in this? John 15:1-10; I am pruning my story. I am taking away every branch that does not bear fruit, and every one that does I am pruning so that it bears more fruit. I must also, if I wish to meet my deadlines, prune my activities.
As I proceed I find, not only does my story becomes better, but I understand it better. I am learning that the inspirations which became my story have more and deeper meanings than I first recognized. I found a second protagonist who journeys with the first to arrive at the same destination from a very different beginning. I think back to a haiku I wrote in second grade:
Walking through the mud;
Slish slosh, slish slosh, slish slosh, slish…
Oops! Too deep — so long.
I meant exactly what the poem says. Later, in high school, I submitted the poem to be analyzed by my classmates. Most of them came up with analogies that were deeper than the mud puddle. At the time, I thought the whole exercise foolish. Now I think that inspiration runs far deeper than the purpose of the artist. It is vanity to think that what we do has only the purpose we intend.
I must end here to meet my noon deadline.
Next week: We'll see where the Spirit takes me.
Peter T Elliott