Emoji spirituality

So here we are at “Bookends,” and just when I thought I had seen it all, along comes the translation of the Bible into emoji characters!  You know, those cute little pictures that appear in e-mails and other on-line messages.  I suppose the idea behind it is to introduce the Good Book to a generation who may not otherwise read it.  Far be it from me to pan such an effort.  In my own youth there were comic book versions, including a paperback book called “The Gospel according to Peanuts,” claiming to illustrate biblical teachings in the mouths of Charlie Brown, Linus and company, including Snoopy (who, however, did not speak but was a mute witness).

So all that is cool, if you like that sort of thing, though experience would show that accurate insight and useful understanding will have to go at least a step or two beyond the comics and emojis.  And like any difficult topic, it only becomes simple after we have grown to really understand it quite well.  My observation (not criticism) has been that only after many years of living and learning have acquaintances of mine become able to summarize in a nutshell what the Bible teaches about the living of life.  Before that, they had many theories and preferences, but now they often just speak of “a walk.”

The walking-part is about learning and living in relationship.  Yup.  Relationship is what they now say it’s really all about.  All kinds of relationships, with oneself, with special others, with people out there, with animals and nature, and most of all with God.  And I agree with them.  Certainly, most of us have had some serious issues with God, often because it’s hard to understand why some very tough things happened to us and we instinctively know that God must have had something to do with it.  But just saying it’s about the relationship is not enough — rather, do I understand the relationship and the person who is in it with me?

Relationship as a “walk,”  that’s quite a concept, and very biblical too.  And in many places the Good Book insists that the walk is primarily about two things — about truth and about love — both together and not one without the other.  In fact, in one place the apostle Paul says it boils down to “speaking the truth in love,” and the scholars say that the original language here has the sense of “living by the truth,” not just speaking.  One leg is a genuine interest in knowing what is true, what is right and accurate, and not mere gossip, hunches, hasty assumptions, tradition, or social pressure.  The other leg is living nonjudgmentally towards others, with grace and patience, practical compassion and generosity.  One leg at a time, one after the other, not hopping for too long on one alone — that is how the walk is done.

Too simple?  Just try to be consistent in it for a week or so.  It’s not so easy, but this is how progress is made in the relationship, one day at a time, one leg at a time.  We can get it wrong is if we start thinking the truth is the most important leg, because then we won’t have a balanced walk and people may start to wonder why we’re so unloving or extreme in our views.  On the other hand, trying to be loving without a sound foundation of belief and thought will likely lead to shallow sentiment or the kind of political correctness that pretends to ignore significant differences.  Truth and love are both equally necessary.

To illustrate (without emoticons), on various occasions I have watched a person of faith being figuratively crucified by other people of faith, and the tools used were reviling and gossip.  Those who believed the stories going around typically avoided further conversation with the person under attack, so that they never did investigate or learn another side of the story.  No interest in truth there, and consequently no real love shown.  Yet the same people would insist that they only had the best of intentions.  But no way, no how.  No interest in truth means no demonstration of love, no matter who the relationship is with.

Sorry, but I don’t have a really good emoji to accurately reflect that.

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Anger about best laid plans

“The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley,” wrote Robbie Burns, meaning that we seriously intend to do some very good things but somehow or other these just don’t get done.  It is a human reality almost everywhere we look, yet we tend to blame particular people for it.  “Why don’t they ever do what they promised?”  So we become angry, as many people are these days, especially at governments.

Just down the street from where I live are two short blocks of homes and businesses that are on land belonging to the Mi’kmaq native people, and a careful look at a good map of the Maritime provinces shows other such tiny reserves, many of them in remote areas with no easy way to get to them.  “Racist governments did this,” I immediately concluded.  But lately I have had reason to change that point of view, or least to see another side of this matter, and of similar problems elsewhere in our lives.

New information came to me from reading Stubborn Resistance, a book by Brian Cuthbertson that describes in detail how native people in New Brunswick were left with such small reserved lots here and there, and how they tried to hold on to it against white encroachment.  But this is not just history because the same sort of process goes on every day, even in our own personal experience.   You see, a very simplified version of the research Cuthbertson has done goes like this — British colonial leaders one after another showed good intention to be generous and fair in providing the natives with sufficient resources to hunt, trap, fish, build homes and villages, and well-laid plans were put in place for this time and again, but somehow much of it just never got done.  There certainly was racism involved, or at least lack of appreciation for the native way of life, particularly among settlers who resisted and undercut the government’s plans.  But there was another problem as well, one that we’re all familiar with.

Here is what happened.  The colonial office in Britain decided on a policy for the fair treatment of the Indians, it appointed a new governor with instructions to see that the policy was followed, the governor then initiated a plan to survey thousand of hectares of good land for the natives so that incoming settlers would know where to stop and would have to vacate any land that they already occupied as squatters, and if any reserve land was later to be sold the profits were to go into a fund to help the sick and elderly among the native population.  The wheels began turning on these intentions, the governor after a few short years returned to England, leaving the accomplishment of the plan to the next one.  Nothing was put in place to make sure the surveys were completed, no squatters were ever removed, no fund was set up, some government officials even disregarded their orders entirely, and important records were often not kept or were readily lost.  It was the kind of loose situation that not only failed to achieve the good plans but that also easily allowed a corrupt official or a violent settler to get his way to the detriment of the natives.

But let’s get away from the history.   These things continue to happen with governments, with businesses, with various organizations in our world including hospitals, churches and charities.  We might even mention our own intentions and New Year’s resolutions.  So often the problem in getting good things accomplished is less in “evil opposition” than in mere lack of persistent follow-through and an absence of the kind of leadership that can chart a good course and stay to deliver it.  That seems to be really hard.  It’s much easier to shout harsh words that express frustration and anger, but this rarely changes anything for the better.

“Deliverology” is the new term being used for moving from good intentions to visible and measurable results.  The current Canadian government is focusing on deliverology to not only promise and plan but also to make sure things actually get done in decent time.  I suppose we’ll see if it works better than the usual politicking and bureaucratic confusion.   But at least I think it would help if we and the media decided to ease up on the habit of hasty personal and political attacks.  Often the way to get good things done, whether in government, in other organizations, or in our personal lives, is basically about putting effective legs onto a body of good plans and intentions.

If you like this, please pass it on.   A new posting of mine appears each Thursday here at Bookends2016.wordpress.com


Blogs, books, blarney

This blog site is called Bookends because it’s about thoughts that have come to me after a book, or part of a book, has been read.  Of course, I could just start writing each blog post without any book, and some readers might prefer if I just expressed my own feelings and opinions.  There is a place for that, for sure, and I do read and like some other blogs in which the writers do exactly that, and that’s fine with me.  But for myself I’ve chosen to publish things a little differently, and here is why.

The best thing about books is that they take time to read.  That means I won’t get through one in just a day, let alone a few minutes.  Its content will stay will me for several days, allowing the thoughts and descriptions to percolate and settle and be reviewed.  And I am in control of the process:  I can pick up the book, flip through the pages or read beginning to end, and put it down as often as I like or need to.  But what I like most about books is that, in most cases, the writers have worked hard at putting words on the page.  Some of them have spent years in writing just one volume, researching, rearranging, editing and being edited, and in the end have a really creative and enjoyable product.

Now, a very practical and active person may say, “So what?  It’s real life, its joys and its problems, that I care about!”  And I would reply, “That’s good, and do you care enough to get it right?  Is it important not to be tossed about by every wind of doctrine or every pang and pulse of feeling?  Is it worth our while to get some insight into our lives instead of being influenced by an off-the-cuff remark or some gossipy myth?

What I see and hear so much of these days are cheap-shots and angry accusations.  Just this past week, I followed a bit of the race for the job of Mayor of London in England.  The front runner is a Muslim and his nearest rival is a Jew, and so, predictably, the general media as well as social media were full of charges of “racism” from both camps, making shouts of anti-Semitism! and Islamophobia!  Yet I don’t recall hearing all that much about any actual issues of how these candidates plan to govern the city.  How sadly typical of how things are these days, and not just in the realm of politics.

When I take some time, by means of a book, to think matters through a bit more than I otherwise might, some good things happen.  One of these is that I enter into someone else’s world for a while and learn a bit of how he or she experiences and understands life, and how she views the world she lives in.  That’s sort of a conversation, a kind of communication.  Sometimes I start by not liking the writer’s outlook at all and think it’s all blarney, but instead of throwing the book away, I plug away at reading more, and then usually find myself learning something from the writer and appreciating his personal struggles.

My aim, therefore, through reading books, is to learn more about other people, past or present, and in the process learn more about myself.  And that may be pleasant or it can be downright frightening, but I do find it worthwhile.  I think this is something called discernment, seeing the truth behind the appearances, going beyond immediate impressions or apparent blarney, and getting a longer view that may show how things look from a different angle.  It is something that leads me from point A where I am critical of various people and blame them for troubles in my life, toward the direction of point Z where I no longer criticize people but instead critique certain ideas, delusions, systems, and the evils that life is heir to.

I have always been a “front-line” kind of guy who enjoyed working directly with people, as opposed to being a keen academic who reads mostly for intellectual stimulation.  But I have learned to become a life-long student of life, and rather than blog you over the head with my own strong reactions, I much prefer to write only after someone has helped me think it through a bit more.

If you like this, please pass it on.   A new posting of mine appears each Thursday here at Bookends2016.wordpress.com