Monday, 28 November 2011

'For wherein you judge another, you condemn yourself'

I write this with the hope of redemption for all.

I have decided to give up a deep-seated resentment over friendships and relations that offer so little genuine lasting affection, but rather provide hopeful protestations that easily give way to selfish mercenary tactics when I refuse the demand to sacrifice my own growth towards God for the unreliable posturing of 'fair weather' emotional warmth. My choice to 'say no' has incurred anger. Yet, I ultimately prefer peace at a respectful distance to lethal close-quarters hatred.

I know that if those seduced by their desperate emotional co-dependency hate me for my relative independence, they first hated Christ's own call for them to be independent from worldly greed. It is because of this that I bear the tacit pronouncement of after-life retribution to those I have known, who blatantly or subtly reject God. How can they bear His presence, or His testimony of blame through me against them?

God promises to repay those who have troubled me. In spite of this, as in the vineyard parable, I ask Him to give everyone another year and another season of His exceptional forbearance and providence. A season in which, perhaps, they may recognise the wisdom of sharing a few words of reconciliation before life expires. Where would any of us be without the benefit of that chance to give up hatred before we die?

I can't change my past, I can only commit to now follow an uncompromising line of integrity (that may ultimately expose the deceits of my detractors). Renewed insight and integrity shows up desperate greed, uncovers indifference to the harm of others and condemns continuation in that life of conscienceless double-dealing that I have long since left behind.

Whatever I was before, I am no longer. I will find a way to bury the loss of lip-service alliances by relieving and undoing the pain and the misfortunes of others. The assured alleviation of that suffering will be a balm to my wounded soul.

I pray that one day, God will grant me the respite that He gave Joseph in finding, at least, a distant truce with those at odds with me; those whom I did eventually learn to hold close as family; those whom I must now hold aloof as hostile. One thing I will never learn is to endure their gloating contempt for my year of deep repentance, the hollow ring to their self-congratulation and their resort to emotional double-dealing at my expense.

Nevertheless, may they either finally discover that their self-exonerating scape-goating was a gratuitous lie or know that they will face the relentless sentence of God for never relinquishing their own condemnations. They could have done better than heap ignominy on someone like me who, for all his mistakes and sins, eventually learnt to abandon them.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Uniformity or Unity of the Spirit

I have witnessed the legacy of uniformity in the pre-eminence of Anglican religious influence on the political establishment, not only in the UK, but also several territories in the West Indies, where I and my forbears previously lived. Typically, you could not even hope for a job without a character reference from the Anglican priest. In spite of this requirement, the lives of many of the established clergy (who carefully restricted references to Anglicans in good standing) were far from exemplary.

Beyond this anecdotal evidence, many studies of other parts of the former British Empire attest to the sway held by Anglicanism over the colonies. Perhaps, the post-colonial experience in the USA differs from the West Indies. Factually, we do know that it was the political influence of key members of the Church of England that established several colonial authorities, such as Virginia and Georgia (e.g. cf. Virginians Reborn: Anglican Monopoly, Evangelical Dissent, and the Rise of the Baptists in the Late Eighteenth Century). These colonies were committed to the predominance of Anglican influence through a provincial cultural hegemony: a mix of compulsory catechism, conspicuous churchmanship and insistence on externalised form and ritual. It is the insidious legacy of this kind of provincial uniformity that I consider to be malign and ripe for dismantling. Human beings may be won to a cause by the tyranny of the majority. They will desert it with contempt, once the old regime of coercive tactics is exposed. Persuasion of the truth is a far better way for Church of England to secure a lasting posterity.

We may note the greater popularity of other denominations in the US, such as the Baptist movement. However, their later ascendancy was largely a result to the American Revolution that created a new environment in which evangelical Protestants of other denominations could flourish.

While, in each case cited, the legal framework of uniformity (upon which the moral case for colonialism was built) was repealed, the history of how provincial uniformity was imposed continues to influence how Western ideals are established in the world and elsewhere maintains the perception of Western liberal thought as another form of neo-colonialism.

The reaction of conservatives is ironic, given that the Covenant reduces their own autonomy, rather than maintaining the relative freedom of the status quo.

While provinciality may indeed be a worthy ideal for internal self-government, the historic role and influence of the Anglican church is far from ideal. Especially in former colonies, it is tarnished with the brute force of colonial rule and, rightly or wrongly, viewed with suspicion of surreptitiously imposing its values on the wider society.

If there is a demonstrable commitment to undo the entire legacy of uniformity, it may engender enough trust between provinces for us to settle or accept differences without recourse to a written covenant.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Godliness with contentment is great gain!

Paul declared this truth in delivering solemn orders to Timothy (1 Tim. 6:6), his young protégé in service of God’s great Moral Mercy Mission.

He explains why in verses 7 and 8, ‘For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.’ It is because this is an easily forgotten truism that we need to be reminded of it. All the comforts that we have around us, whether positive or positively harmful, must never be craved at the expense of lasting moral values, commitment and integrity.

Consider family, friends, recreation and resources. All of these can yield great benefits in our lives, but consider also the vast harm caused by those who crave them, or through them to be relieved of emotional deprivation, but at the cost of their morals. Once abdicated, the steady decline continues with the underlying assumption that the mutually agreed social norms of expected conduct (common decencies) do not impose a responsibility to reciprocate. What begins to matter most is cultivating an environment of social, material and emotional insulation: comfort that is geared towards one’s individual satisfaction above all else. Paul is saying, once the means of basic food and clothing are available, that should be enough to keep at bay the thought of compromising integrity to gain ‘creature comforts’.

None of the advancements accrued in this life are inherent to the human condition. We enter and leave life without them. Even so, most of us are hard pressed to understand why we shouldn’t exploit and accumulate them to our maximum personal advantage. As the passage indicates, Paul’s response is that maximum personal advantage involves greed. It’s one thing to advance yourself and quite another to do so in a manner that carelessly deprives others. Rightly, many people work hard to improve their professional and social prospects. Paul did NOT say that ‘godliness with destitution is great gain’. There is no virtue in deprivation per se. However, hardship experienced in furtherance of godliness is different from mere deprivation.

Achieving godliness involves the aim to be fashioned in the likeness of God, i.e. god-likeness: those traits that we can discern of God from our understanding of nature itself. His generosity, willingness to alleviate hardship and extend providence in spite of provocation are all discernible traits that we can imitate. In contrast, ungodliness is often manifested in propelling cruelty, slander and wrathful contempt towards those who might thwart our ambition to end our deprivations at all cost. Making other lives and emotions expendable in pursuit of our ambitions begins the dangerous process of acquiring a single-minded indifference, thereby replacing compassion and generosity with greed. We begin to lose the moral stamp of God: the defining traits of His character. We begin to justify and plan compromises with selfishness at the expense of others. In one phrase, describing the premeditated practice of withholding compassion and understanding in order to further our own ends: we become wicked.

Wickedness can also cause us to destroy lives and reputations in an attempt to absolve our greed. It becomes a means of silencing critics who challenge our efforts to plunder, dismiss and misappropriate the rights of others (including God) to ourselves. All of us have participated in this to some degree. Yet, it matters that we can eventually point the accusing finger at ourselves for once and admit the wrong we cause to others, pleading to God, ‘Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us’ (Matt. 6:12)

As an alternative to greed, we can find a contentment that limits our desires to the sort of fair-minded choices that maintain our integrity. This may involve a measure of emotional restraint and physical discomfort, but the consistent commitment to integrity will yield a reward from God to our consciences and in the resurrection.

As Paul said, ‘To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honour and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.’ (Romans 2:7,8). It’s not that the former are better in themselves. they may make terrible mistakes, as King David did. Yet they allowed themselves to be persistently challenged to moral greatness as measured by God’s approval, whereas the self-seeking aim to clear nothing higher than the relatively moderate bar of mainstream social esteem, what the bible calls, ‘respect of persons’.

So, for this life alone, we may indeed enjoy short-sighted privileges that harm other lives, near and far, lives that we deem to have a lesser worth than our own. Alternatively, we can open the grasping hand to those who thwart our progress and share kindness, ending the mad grab for personal gain, whether material, social, or emotional.

Beyond death, God will reward both remorseless harm and repentant generosity, but in very different ways.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Don't Cry Out Loud!

I remember this Melissa Manchester song:

Baby cried the day the circus came to town,
'cause she didn't want parades just passin' by her,
So she painted on a smile and took up with some clown,
While she danced without a net upon the wire,
I know a lot about 'er 'cause, you see,
Baby is an awful lot like me

Don't cry out loud
Just keep it inside,
Learn how to hide your feelings,
Fly high and proud,
And if you should fall, remember you almost had it all

Baby saw that when they pulled that big top down,
They left behind her dreams among the litter
The different kind of love she thought she'd found
There was nothin' left but sawdust and some glitter,
But baby can't be broken 'cause you see,
She had the finest teacher-that was me-I told 'er

Don't cry out loud
Just keep it inside and learn how to hide your feelings
Fly high and proud
And if you should fall, remember you almost had it all!