Recently in light of all the bad economic news, I’ve started using a one-dollar bill as a bookmark. It’s just my way of reminding myself about what’s really important. And I don’t mean money.
In all honesty, the last few years have been a struggle for our family financially. While we didn’t suffer the direct effects of the housing bubble, we, like many of you, have had to tighten our belts, learn the difference between want and need, and pray a lot more. And at times, it has seemed like no matter how hard we work, we can’t get ahead.
For us at least, The American Dream simply isn’t.
But luckily, we have other dreams. Ones that rely less on picket fences and picket lines and more on picking our joys and learning to live in contentment and generosity. Ones that realize that even if we’re never in the 1%, we’re already among the wealthiest people
on this planet simply by virtue of being born where we were. And ones that believe that the only things of true value are the people around us.
Yet for all my starry-eyed idealism, I still struggle. I struggle as I watch friends and family move on, I struggle with having to say “no” to my children, and I struggle with the day-to-day weight of being forced to choose between good things. And apparently I struggle more than I’d realized.
A couple of weeks ago, my daughter made a list of the things she thought we needed to pray for as a family. And four out of the five were directly related to employment or income. (The fifth was about her daddy’s ability to sing, and the least said about that, the best.) As I read her list, my heart dropped and I realized that whether I’d meant to or not, somehow I had taught her that the most significant thing in life is money.
For those of us going through hard times, it’s easy to start thinking this way—maybe even easier than for those who are economically stable. Because when you lack money, it suddenly becomes your greatest need, and the next promotion, the next big windfall, the next extreme couponing experience will be your savior. When you’re poor, it’s easy to start thinking that the god of frugality will rescue you from your guilt, embarrassment, and helplessness.
And you forget, that all the money in the world is pointless if you loose your own soul in the process.
Trust me, I do understand how this world works, and I’m not demonizing frugality or poverty or even wealth for that matter. Money is essential to life and there are plenty of desperate people out there who need more of it. I’m just learning to not let my soul be consumed by it. I’m learning to pray that God will simply give me what I need—no more and no less. I’m also learning to be thankful that I have a roof over my head, food on my table, children that love me, and a husband who is my best friend. I’m learning that I’m rich already.
So rich in fact, that I can use money for bookmarks.
So today’s million-dollar question is this: Can a butcher and a vegetarian be friends?
This (slightly absurd) question has been rolling around inside my head for the last couple of weeks. For whatever reason, all at once, I’ve found myself wrestling through challenges to several close relationships. And while it’s entirely possible that I am just a very difficult person to get along with, I prefer
to think that the issue lies more in the fact that I’m a human being interacting with other human beings. And that my relationships, like everyone else’s, are often interrupted by differing opinions, dreams, beliefs, and values.
I’ve also realized that we human beings have funny ways of resolving these interpersonal tensions. Most of us end up doing one of two things. We either simply avoid the relationship altogether and make friends only with people who are like us and affirm our value systems. Or we rally the troops and come out fighting. Either, the butcher and the vegetarian simply never meet; or the vegetarian stages a protest outside the butcher’s shop, while the butcher inside makes snide remarks about grass-eating radicals.
I’ll be honest, I’ve done both. But I’m coming to realize that there’s something wrong
with both as well. While these responses are all too human, they are not at all Christian. Because usually the thing that’s driving them, first and foremost, is fear.
And the simple truth is that fear is not a Christian virtue
In fact, just the opposite is the case. Our faith actually frees
us from fear and empowers us to live lives marked by courage and openness. Our faith looks to Jesus and realizes that if ever there were a relationship doomed by differences, it is His with us. Our faith also recognizes that He made a better way and understands that this way is love.
So it is love that we must bring to our relationships, not only those that are easy for us, but especially to those that are difficult. And lest you, along with the butcher, think me a wild-eyed hippie, I’m not talking about that superficiality that masquerades as love and minimizes the differences between people. I’m talking about a courageous love that looks the differences square in the face and commits to wrestling through them together. A love that says I’m willing to hear and
I’m willing to speak. A love that casts out the fear that drives us to silence and keeps us from honestly sharing ourselves with each other.
Even if, in the end, we don’t agree.
And yes, I’ll quickly recognize that differences between people can at some point preclude them from traveling through life together. (As Tevye
reminds us, "A bird may love a fish, but where would they make their home?") Still, this is a far cry from having simple love-filled relationships with people who are different from us. In the end, we may not be able to agree, we may have profound and honest objection to each other’s choices, but as Christians, we will always be able to love.
And that’s my final answer.
So today's two-for-one special is a book review AND and an interview with another fabulous person, Ben Freeth.
Several months ago, my husband and I watched the following documentary
about the racially-inspired violence against the white farming community of rural Zimbabwe. I have a latent interest in the issues surrounding Africa’s complicated colonial past and her progress to self-governance that first began when I read Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country
. So while it was the topic itself that initially caught my attention, when the film began exploring the protagonists’ Christian faith, I was hooked. It tells the story of Mike Campbell and his son-in-law Ben Freeth, two white African farmers and their decision to take a stand against Zimbabwe's tyrannical dictator, Robert Mugabe.
Initially I thought about simply posting a review of the film, but in the crazy working that is Providence, I ended up reviewing Ben Freeth’ s book, also titled Mugabe and the White African
and interviewing him. The Freeth and Campbell families definitely make the cut of people quietly going about their business responding to God’s call when it comes and I’m thrilled to help share the story of their courage and faith. Here's the review
and the interview.
(PS--If you hurry, you can still view the film online at POV
My daughter, not surprisingly, appears to have the same philosophical bent of her scatter-brained mother. On her first day of second grade after being homeschooled for nearly two years, when her teacher asked if anyone had any questions, she raised her hand and asked,“Why are we here? I mean, why are we made the way we are—why do we have hands, why do we have feet? Why do I have to go to school? Why do we sit in seats? I mean, WHY?”
He’ll never make that mistake again.
As long as I can remember, she’s been this way, and whether it’s nature or nurture or some complicated interplay between the two, I don’t know. But just like me, she prone to distraction and going “off with the faeries.
” A couple years ago, while she was swinging, gazing up into the sky, her baby-fine hair blowing in the wind, legs pumping against the air, she abruptly exclaimed: “I know-- maybe… maybe the world is like a great big dollhouse. And people are God’s dolls. Maybe we’re just God’s dolls!” Or maybe, like her mama, she needs to learn how to have a little fun now and again without over-analyzing everything.
But what if she’s right—are we just God’s dolls? Over the last
few years, many of us have gained a renewed vision of God’s sovereignty and His overwhelming majesty. We’ve
He did it with just a touch of his big toe.
My husband and I were having coffee with friends, sharing our spiritual highs and lows of the previous week when he saw the warning signs. It was subtle: a rise of my shoulders, an intake of air, leaning forward, my mouth beginning to open, and he knew. He knew what I was thinking and what I was about to say. He knew that I was prepping myself to be argumentative and to say something unnecessarily controversial.
So he nudged me under the table. Just once.
In full disclosure, we’re not the stereotypical conservative couple—we simply don’t fit the personality paradigm. He’s type B; I’m type A. He’s quiet; I’m outspoken. He actually enjoys cleaning and after ten years, I think I finally believe him. (He says he likes bringing order to chaos, which on further reflection shines significant light on why he fell for me in the first place.) But there in that moment when he expressed his disapproval with the slightest nudge of his big toe, I immediately stopped.
Most conservatives would hail this as a great victory, that this is exactly how marriages should function. Husband directs, wife obeys. But I have to admit, my response to him in that moment had little to do with an immediate understanding of headship and hierarchy. It wasn’t mapped out by a complementarian flow-chart. It wasn’t because of a role.
It was because I love him.
Over the last couple of decades, there’s been a strong push to recover a Biblical understanding of roles in marriage. But somewhere on that path, we’ve started taking short-cuts. Short-cuts around the gospel and right into legalism. And these short cuts have led us to think that obedience to the roles, that our ability to have perfect families and properly ordered homes, will show Christ to the world. So we end up talking more about paradigms and less about people, more about rules and less about Spirit.
Maybe it’s time we remembered what it’s all about in the first place. The truth is that we were never made for roles; we were made for relationships. And just as Christ had to remind the first-century Jews that man was not made for the Sabbath but the Sabbath for man, we have to remember that marriage was not made for roles but roles for the benefit of the marriage. That the relationship, the one flesh unity, the loving communion is what is of greatest significance. That this, the love we have for one another, is what will show the world that we are His disciples.
And if you think about it, the differences in marriage are one of the greatest opportunities to do just that. Because here you have two sinful human beings--so diverse that even their molecular composition is different--who must learn to live in loving, daily communion. Not temporarily, but for a lifetime. And we learn that as we fail each other, as we selfishly demand our own way, and as we run to Christ for mercy. For only there do we experience true love and only there will we learn to extend that same love to each other. We will never learn it by simply conforming to roles.
So in that moment, when my husband nudged me, my deferring to him had less to do with performing my role as his wife than it did with loving him already. And quite frankly, why would I have done anything else? Why would I have chosen to barge ahead knowing that the man I loved didn’t want me to? Why would I have insisted on my own way when I knew it would make him uncomfortable? What wisdom, what convoluted sense of liberation would have led me to do something that he thought was unwise?
And so I didn’t.
As quickly as he had understood what I as about to do, I understood his objection. We looked each other in the eye and smiled that knowing smile that comes only from living and loving together. I settled back into my chair and comfortably nestled my head against his shoulder as if to tell him, “Yes, dear, of course I won’t.”
Once while we were living in New Zealand, my ever-efficient husband went to help a friend move. (Or was that “shift flats”?) He arrived early enough to dig in, help box up the remaining bits and bobs, and start loading the lorry. Easily it should have taken only a couple of hours. But then, suddenly in the middle of it all, everything and everyone stopped.
It was tea time.
Now to be fair, tea time meant more than tea; it could have been tea and a biscuit, tea and cake, or even “tea” as the evening meal. But whatever accompanied The Tea, everything else stopped. And in those moments, for those blessed fleeting minutes, it were as if someone had hit the pause button on the entire world.
Of course, here in the States we have our own ritual--the coffee break--but for whatever reason, it’s not the same. And I don’t think it’s just about our choice of beverage. It’s a subtle distinction and probably one (like most of my rambling philosophical thoughts) isn’t all that significant; but I couldn’t help but notice a different attitude in NZ, a different approach, almost as if those moments, those minutes were sacred. There, we were not so much taking a break from
work as we were taking time for
Remembering this, this weekend as I sipped my tea with a splash of milk, I was struck by the purposefulness of taking time
, of setting aside a moment, of hallowing it. And I realized that this, this is how we must live. And perhaps just as significantly, this is how we must rest. Whether it’s fifteen minutes at work or one day a week or a period of extended sabbatical, we must rest with purpose and focus on what is happening in this
moment. Not what we just completed or what will come. But what is happening now.
And that takes faith. Especially for those of us addicted to multi-tasking.
In Ecclesiastes, Solomon reminds us that “for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”
(No, that wasn’t original with Pete Seeger or the Byrds
, but go ahead you can sing it anyway –“turn, turn, turn…”) And yet, surprisingly, contrary to common perception, Solomon wasn’t talking about accepting the cycle of life so much as trusting the One who’s in control of it all in the first place. About trusting that these diverse moments, each with its own purpose, are His sovereignly shaped gifts to be used in the way He intended.
So when it comes to those “time for tea” moments, those moments where your efficiency is stifled, have enough faith to pause and enjoy your cuppa or your coffee (preferably with a Tim Tam
). Have enough faith to savor the moment, to rest in the moment, and to bless God for His gift of the moment.