Monday, April 23, 2012

Unwanted Gifts

for decoration only
photo © Miroslav Vajdić for

Let me relate an insignificant incident. Many years ago when I was living with mum and dad we had a new magazine rack. I asked my mum whom this was a gift from. She told me that she and dad had bought it for themselves. I had a good childhood and never went without. We had holidays every year and led a full family life. But money was tight and frivolous spending was out of the question.

Had my parents been more liberal with their spending we would not have had the treats that we always looked forward to but that meant we couldn't have something unless it was a gift, had been pre-planned or was a necessity. In my mind the magazine rack was an attractive accessory but not entirely necessary which placed it in the category of a gift. On the one hand this thinking has blighted my life because I've convinced myself I'm unworthy to gift myself just like I thought it strange that my parents would give themselves a gift (not that it stopped me buying stuff).

On the other hand I understand the value of a gift. If it were merely the intrinsic value of the gift itself it really wouldn't matter whether it was given or bought. The true value of a gift lies with the giver. How many living room shelves and mantelpieces are home to ugly, badly made objects whose only value lies in the relationship of the one who made it. Our lives are often home to ugly, ill fitting and apparently useless gifts that would not be thrown out so easily if we knew the relationship of the giver.

Everyone knows that pain is a gift, no more so than those who lack the pain receptors to tell them when harm is being done to their bodies. No one willingly submits to an experience that has no benefit to them or those they care about. Even under compulsion we are able to make the decision to face the consequences of non-compliance depending on which option is the more desirable. We choose to suffer in order to fulfil a higher purpose. Bereavement seems particularly pointless but it's a necessary part of the healing process following a critical loss. We receive the gift if begrudgingly.

The critical difference between a pessimist and an optimist is that the optimist sees everything as a gift - that which doesn't kill us makes us stronger. The pessimist sees everything as a threat. It's easy to be philosophical when you've been turned down for a promotion; its much more difficult when you've just been told you have a terminal illness. Death, in itself, is no gift but every one of us will die someday. No one likes having their fingers burned (in my experience) but we should all welcome the pain. We can't un-burn our fingers but we can avoid further damage or unnecessary suffering.

We can't afford the luxury of placing these unwanted gifts on our mantelpieces; life must be lived, not observed. Whether you believe in a generous universe or, in my case, a generous God, seeing life in all its ugly, misshapen, dysfunctional forms as unwanted gifts from a generous giver can make the difference between facing the future as un unfortunate victim or as a fortunate survivor.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

In Spirit and Truth

for decoration only
photo © Sarah Klockars-Clauser for

This was written some time ago in response to a guest article and the blogger's response to that article. The point I'm trying to make is that worship is a gift of God and, like the gift horse, should not be examined clinically. What should be tested is not the attitude of worshippers but attitudes towards worship. At one extreme some worship is viewed as entertainment or merely emotional and at the other that worshipping in spirit and in truth necessitates informality or freedom from constraint.

We are in danger of being guests at the party arguing over who has given the best gift. The following is the main body of my response:

I feel sad that the author feels we "must be very careful how we worship". It was for freedom that Christ set us free, no longer to be tied to customs, obligations and ritual. I also find it pompous to suggest that it is all about God. In corporate worship we are to build up the body of Christ, his bride. It should be edifying and mutually encouraging. Even the Levites partook of meat that was sacrificed to God. If we are to offer ourselves as living sacrifices then we must give God everything including our pleasures, ambitions and shared enjoyment. A life lived according to the Spirit, (i.e. exhibiting joy, peace, patience, self-control etc.) is glorifying to God. The author seems very pleased with himself for being a true worshipper and discerner of wolves - verging on the smug. The parable of the publican and Pharisee springs to mind.

I believe that God is utterly holy and that he demands perfection. Therefore if we fall short even very slightly we will incur God's wrath. Anyone who claims to be without sin is a liar, therefore anyone claiming to worship God in the right way is also a liar and the truth is not in him. You are either under the Law, in which case the Law will condemn you, or you are under grace which means Jesus is your righteousness and he will cover your failings even when your attitude is not quite right. Its not mix and match.

"Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence."