Wednesday, September 25, 2013

That someone has us covered

Near the end of our lovely holiday last month, Emma, Blake and I caught the sky rail from Cairns up to Kuranda and explored this little hippy market town all day before returning on the Kuranda train late in the afternoon. We saw some great things, including a rehabilitation hostel for sick and injured bats and flying foxes. In one stall, I discovered a pretty hat big enough for someone like me, with a larger than average head. Some things, you know you just have to buy.

At lunch time, we came across a nice rainforest cafe, and I told the kids that we'd be able to splash out on a sandwich each, as the menu prices were far cheaper than those I'd seen at other places. A couple of times earlier in the holiday, we'd made sandwiches in the morning to take with us, along with bottles of water. But this time, we could do it. I'd even treat Emma, who'd been spending money she'd saved up from her part-time job.

She chose a gourmet wrap, but Blake kept shaking his head and saying, "I don't want one." Now, I knew it was unusual for him not to be hungry. Whenever we get the chance, sandwiches from cafes and bakeries are his favourites. He even looked interested in the food photos on the menu. We kept asking him if he was sure, and trying to tempt him with yummy items. He kept shaking his head and saying, "I'll have nothing."

By this stage, I was getting tired of trying to talk him into what I knew he really wanted.

"You'll have to tell me right now, because I'm about to go up and order. If you don't come out with something, I'll get you a tub of chips by default, because I can't read your mind."

He kept looking solemn and muttering something about being happy with the plain old sandwiches we'd made. So I ordered chips for him, as I said, although I was sure he would have chosen something different if he was in the right mood. But I was irritated with all those attempts of persuasion, which wasn't working.

Later that night, as is often the way with him, he came out with what was really on his mind. This time, it was after we'd got home to my sister's apartment. "It's just that I was worried we wouldn't have enough money because I've heard you talking about it with Dad over the phone. I didn't want to eat a flash sandwich and then not have money for more important things, like whatever we're doing for the next few days before we go home."

Everybody started assuring him that he doesn't have to worry about that. "If your parents say they can manage, then it's true. You're only nine years old and it's not your job to worry about that sort of thing. If we tell you it's OK, you should just take our word for it and have a good meal."

Poor old Blake. If you're going to be the sort of person who keeps your feelings to yourself, it would help if you weren't a worry-wort over unfounded things. Yet I know he's not the only one.

How easy it can be to give lip service to trusting in God, calling Him our heavenly father. We truly believe that we do trust Him, yet how often do we stress and worry and try to help Him out? When we sit down to pray, we state our belief that, with Him overseeing, everything is bound to turn out fine. But then, as soon as we get up, our minds are already busy trying to work out how we're going to tweak things so we have a bit more time, money, health, or whatever we're worried about. I've done that such a lot. Sometimes I imagine the angels rolling their eyes, just as I did over Blake's foibles.

Once, I might have said that it's harder to figure things out with God, because His methods of communication leave a lot more to guesswork. But when I think about it, that's not true at all. He communicates differently than me standing by Blake's elbow, saying, "How about the ham and cheese foccaccia?" but it's just as clear. When His intentions toward me are written plainly in the book I claim to trust, it really is a bit silly to still fret.

He says such things as "Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things" and "If you know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him." He also says, "Do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. Consider the birds. They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn, yet God feeds them, and how much more valuable are you than the birds. Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labour or spin, yet Solomon in all his splendor, was not dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and gone tomorrow, how much more will He clothe you."

Those are far better promises than, "We can afford a sandwich from a cafe today, so what will you have?" If I'm going to get exasperated with Blake, I ought to make sure I'm not sharing the same characteristic.

He really did have a lovely holiday, in spite of this little moment of worry. He walked, swum, saw sights, loved his time with our Queensland relatives, and covered a lot of ground. We all did.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

to Remember the Oxen Cart

I was having a chat with my older son, who's 18 years old in his first year of Uni. This will be his first time of voting in the election. Here are some of Logan's feelings about the Gay Marriage Bill.

"They aren't hurting the rest of us, so if they're sticking to their monogamous relationships, why not leave them alone?... Why is it even considered a sin, when they're just minding their own business? It's way different to stealing or murder?... Isn't claiming that it's renounced in the Bible a cop-out? You see people pushing the boundaries of other parts of the Bible all the time. How many women do you see teaching men, for instance?.. I hate seeing Christians behaving like Pharisees, all self-righteous, making us look a bunch of Ned Flanders'. People elevating themselves as critics and judges of others is one thing I can't stand. Do you really think Jesus would have behaved with such disgusting intolerance as some Christians are behaving?"

I could understand all of his points, but reminded him that his antagonistic feelings toward those Christians (which are plastered all over social media generally) may not be too different from the homo-phobia he was objecting about. And I mentioned another thing which may help him try to understand the point of view of those others.

Some people feel wary about shoving aside something that is clearly renounced in the Bible just because it conveniently fits with the popular opinions of society, tolerant and generous as it may seem. When the church flows agreeably with every politically correct stance, maybe alarm bells should be making at least a bit of a tinkle. It is the narrow path, after all. Not the broad road we see every day crammed with people shouting loudly. Once we choose to ignore things because they make us look unpopular and uncool, some Christians get worried. Especially over such definite scriptures as Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, Romans 1: 26-27, I Corinthians 6:9 and I Timothy 1:10 (for the sake of keeping this as brief as possible, I'll say look them up, if you care to.)

I remembered the unfortunate episode with that poor fellow in 2 Samuel 6. King David had ordered the Ark of the Covenant to be brought into Jerusalem. It was meant to be a joyful celebration. They set it on a new cart but along the road, one of the oxen pulling it lurched. A guy named Uzzah instinctively reached out his hand to steady the Ark and was instantly incinerated. David was understandably upset and confused. Why would God let such a tragedy happen when they were only acting out of good intentions, wanting to honour Him?

A little bit of research revealed what the problem was. David hadn't thought to consult the Scriptures about the right way to handle the Ark. The oxen cart was his own idea. A careful examination shows that he should have got a group of Levites, Kohathites specifically, to carry it with poles on their shoulders. It was a terrible disaster for Uzzah, but just a cause and effect sort of thing. It wasn't as if God had wanted it to happen and zapped Uzzah with lightning from His fingers. Clear directions had been given to divert such a catastrophe, but these had been overlooked somewhere in the archives and ignored.

I told Logan that's why others may seem nervous with the way things are heading. They may imagine a society in which gay pastors and Christian leaders are embraced, those verses are completely swept aside, yet we still feel our main aim is to honour God and attend to His word. Their concern is that one day, we may find out that we've been using an oxen cart.

It's sad to see so many Christians, who all genuinely claim to love God and want to live by His statutes, polarised by issues like this. It may do well for those with more embracing views to consider that instead of branding everybody with these misgivings as intolerant homophobes and haters, we should consider their honest feelings that as we have a Holy Book to guide us, that's exactly what it should do.They may be correct in saying that in no way does the New Testament negate the strong words of the Old Testament on this issue. Being shamed by people who confess their own faith for simply wanting to do the right thing as they see it is a shame.

 I'd half expected Logan to say that Uzzah's story has nothing to do homophobia, but he just gave one of those thoughtful, non-committal types of grunts that I recognise, after all the years of living with him. It means that he can concede the point.

A tricky issue indeed, but let's keep our Christian civility intact, no matter which way we happen to see it. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

We are not moving forward but 2000 years backwards

I recently finished reading a novel in which the hero teacher was fired by the headmistress because he wouldn't stick to the curriculum guidelines set by the education department, but deviated from the plan for individual students based on their interests and ability levels. This was deemed unacceptable, even though his classes of former rebels always produced fantastic results. Bureaucracy gone mad.

Crazy bureaucratic policies aren't limited to work of fiction. They crop up in life every day. Centrelink hires a staff member especially to tell people in the queue that they only take queries by telephone nowadays. You have to wait on hold for 45 minutes to have your small question answered in a few seconds. Crazy. A little child dies of anaphylactic shock because the staff can't find his epipen, although the identical epipen of another student with a similar allergy is on hand. But they aren't authorised to use that one. Not just crazy but needlessly horrible and tragic. People every day are accused of racism, sexism and all sorts of motives far from their hearts when they make innocent comments or social gaffes. Come on, people, show a little grace. At the TAFE campus my husband attended, a couple of young guys were summarily expelled simply for wolf-whistling at a girl. Boys used to do far worse than that to me in the 80s, without even getting a reprimand. Where do you draw the line? Or isn't there a line to draw anymore, because it would be lost in the ridiculously stringent lines bureaucracy are drawing themselves?

I'd be scared to venture out in the corporate world or workplace because there are so many rules to keep track of, such a lot of politically correct nuances I'd be nervous to accidentally break. It's beginning to remind me very much of a system that was set up in Israel around 2000+ years ago. We give derogative laughs when we hear some of their extremes, but aren't we heading in a scarily similar direction in the 21st century? Theirs was called Phariseeism.

I guess you might say the biggest difference, is that their system was based on religion while ours isn't, but hold on, doesn't ours infiltrate the whole of society, including the sacred Christian sanctuaries you might think shouldn't be touched? Yep, sadly, crazy bureaucracy is seeping into Christian places too, necessarily they say.

Several years ago, I attended BSF (Bible Study Fellowship) down in the city with my mother and Primary School aged children. I'd been happy with my class at Stirling closer to home but ventured down from the Hills because I heard they had an excellent children's program at Norwood.

One evening, we navigated the traffic well and arrived about twenty minutes early. My 6-year-old saw some of her friends already in their little classroom, playing games of hang man on the blackboard and jigsaw puzzles on the floor. They were the children of the teachers and discussion group leaders, who had to be there early each week. Being as enthusiastic and friendly as she still is, Emma ran in to join them, and the other children were pleased to see her.

One of the regular teachers, who was supervising this free time, came and tapped my shoulder. "You'll have to take her out. Only the children of leaders are allowed in here before starting time." I'd put it to you that this example of protocol gone rampant is not an example of Christian love. Having to fetch Emma out of there because she wasn't allowed to play with her friends for another 10 minutes might not seem a big deal to some, but being a sensitive soul, it stung and hurt me enough to have to blink back my tears. Especially when she was confused and miserable about having to sit, twiddling her thumbs instead of joining her friends.

Interestingly, our time with that particular BSF group ended due to another bureaucratic reason. I got a phone call from the lady in charge, telling me that because my older child, Logan, has a peanut allergy, they no longer had a place for him. "We don't have a proper procedure set up for that sort of emergency."

I said, "But we have our own procedure set up. I carry an epipen everywhere. And you never give the kids snacks anyway, so I can't see that it would ever be a problem."

"Just the same, without a policy in place, we feel the easiest thing is to tell you that we'd rather Logan didn't attend from now on. But Emma is still welcome in the younger class."

Well, you mean, she's welcome as long as we don't arrive too early. "That's OK, your phone call has helped me to make a clear decision. None of us will be coming anymore."

Sometimes I've thought we might have even had grounds for taking this further, if we wanted to. It's got a bit of a Current Affair sort of a tang to it, don't you think? "Young boy is denied the chance to attend Bible Study because he has a peanut allergy." Surely that's some sort of 'ism' on their part. Then it occurred to me that we wouldn't want to get sucked in to the world of craziness, playing the same game and getting all bureaucratic on them. We didn't care to find out, and the truth was, Logan wasn't all that upset about having to leave.

It's such a shame when things done in the name of Jesus must bow to this type of bureaucracy. When I wonder how he might have taken it, I think I can make a reasonable guess. Do you remember what happened when he healed the man with the withered hand in the synagogue on the Sabbath? The Pharisees put on a big song and dance because he did the healing on the wrong day. He told them in effect, "The Sabbath was made for man, not the other way around. Stop your ridiculous carry on and just be glad that this man who God loves has been made whole."

As a helper in Sunday School, I was just given a Child Safe Environment Policy to read through. You can't give piggy back rides or have little ones sit on your lap. Nor can you give a child a small, impromptu gift. The only physical contact you can make is from knees down or on the arms and hands. Pats on head and High Fives are fine, but not play wrestling or tickling. Although I wouldn't dispute any of this, it's a bit sad to think of somebody having the need to sit there and write it all out, and equally sad to think of someone who innocently forgets and breaks one of these breaches having to be reprimanded. But the world of bureaucracy demands that this must be so. It's the world we live in, so we have to attend the meetings, sign the forms, say the right things, do our best to keep abreast of it all.

Yes, even though it's all about Jesus, I can't imagine him tapping anyone's shoulder to say, "Your little girl isn't allowed in with her friends until the big hand of the clock is firmly on the twelve."
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