As Iron Sharpens Iron

Iron-Sharpens

As iron sharpens iron,
so one person sharpens another.
(Proverbs 27:17 NIV)

There is something fundamentally true in this statement. Indeed I think it can be stretched our further.

Every day we are making the people around us better or worse.

We make each other better by :

• Affirming good actions,
• Affirming good choices,
• Congratulating on the development of new competencies.
• Deprecating bad actions,
• Pointing our poor choices,
• Indicating areas where improvement is possible.

These are not things strangers can generally do for each other.

To be criticised is a painful existential experience.

To have some part of yourself held up to scrutiny and exposed at weak and wrong, can only be borne when the person doing so has earned the right to do so. A right they can only earn through proving consistently and convincingly their esteem for us. In which case their motives can at least be hoped to be pure – that they want our best – rather than being unworthy.

This process transforms not only individuals but their communities and societies.

When this process is absent, we make no forward progress in becoming a nobler, better person, in fulfilling our human potential and, at best, individuals and communities stay as bad as they are.

In the worst case scenario, in the presence of negative character reinforcement – applauding that which is base and poor and deprecating the good – we quickly take each other and our community into the deepest experience of hell.

So how do we choose to live?

Will we establish ‘sharpening’ relationships, invite mutually close observation and truth telling, in the hope of growth and advancement in character?

Or will we avoid the pain, difficulty and discomfort and accept the status quo?

Or will we embrace a pathology of mutual negative reinforcement that will take us all to hell?

The choice and the consequences are ours.

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Faith in Three Pictures

godshapedholegregolsenpainting-1hand-of-god

I was asked to talk to a group of young children and tell them about my faith and spiritual life.

I said yes, but then as I started to think about how I might do it, it became really challenging.

I’ve been a student of theology for nearly 2 decades. Almost everything I have learned is complex and in order to say anything I have to spend a lot of time listing exceptions, limiting applications etc.

So how on earth was I to share my faith with little children?!

I eventually decided that the best thing I could do was use pictures that show some of the things I hold most deeply as spiritual convictions.

godshapedholeMy first picture was this one. It shows a despondent man with a heart-shaped hole in his chest.

For me this illustrates that quote from St Augustine, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee”. This is often stated as there being a God-shaped hole in us that nothing but a relationship with Jesus can fulfil.

In sharing this with the children I used the example of the children’s toy with different shaped holes and different shaped blocks.  You cannot fill a hole with any shape other than the one that corresponds. In a similar way I believe that all other attempts to find fulfilment, purpose in life, significance, or to make sense of the way the universe is, with be ultimately unsatisfactory outside of a relationship with Jesus.

gregolsenpainting-1

The second picture I showed the children was this one by Greg OLSEN.

The image shows a young man, a backpacker, sitting down on a bench chatting with Jesus.

The young man looks a little tired, despondent; Jesus looks friendly, interested, animated, and concerned.

For me this picture sums up how fantastic it is to be able to talk to Jesus at any moment in my life’s journey. When I’m tired, sad, angry, losing me way, scared, confused etc. I can just stop. Take a few minutes out and talk with Jesus. It is so great to know that he comes to me, listens and that he will help me find my way forward. Whatever I need – encouragement, challenge, direction, perspective etc. Jesus can give that to me.

Of course prayer is also really great for the positive moments in my journey too. Jesus loves to share my joys and successes and to share my simple enjoyment of the everyday pleasures of life. Expressing gratitude to Jesus for these things is really important and also health-giving if scientific studies are to be believed.

hand-of-god

The final picture was this one by YONGSUNG KIM.

It shows a moment from the story when Jesus walked on the water to his disciples who were in a small boat in a storm.

One of the disciples, St Peter, had had the courage to ask Jesus if he could walk on the water and come to meet him.

Jesus invited Peter to come to him and he was initially able to walk on the water too.

But then Peter took his eyes off Jesus, he started to look at the waves and the storm instead. At that moment St Peter started to sink.

This picture captures the moment when Jesus reaches down to a sinking Peter and draws he back up and brings him safely to the boat. There is no anger, disappointment, disapproval in the face of Jesus, simply a welcoming smile.

I find this picture a powerful reminder that when I foul up, lose faith, make mistakes, get it badly wrong etc. Jesus is not angry, he is not disappointed. He simply comes to me, stretches out his hand, helps me up and says, ‘Let’s try again’.

 

These were my three pictures. The children seemed to understand them and to understand something of what I was trying to share.

Which, I suppose reminds me that ultimately the Christian faith is both a mystery too deep for human minds to fully comprehend and a simple love relationships with Jesus that is accessible even to the youngest child.

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering that you have forgotten.

String-tied-on-finger

There is a fantastic film called Memento. In it the central character is seeking to avenge his murdered girlfriend – so far, so formulaic. The twist in this film is that the man suffers from short-term memory loss, so every time he wakes up he has forgotten everything that happened the day before.

His strategy for coping with this handicap is the use of a notebook, Polaroid photographs and tattoos. When he awakes he looks at the marks on his body which re-tell his story, he looks through his Polaroids and his notes and he works out where he is in his quest and then seeks to move forward.

The plot gets even more complex as things go on, but suffice to say, it is one of those films you need to watch again and again, it is such a brilliantly clever film.

As I thought about this film, and it does make you think, it struck me that there are many resonances between this film and the life of Christian discipleship.

Like the character in the film we are on a quest – not for vengeance but for the re-establishment of the rule of the rightful King over His Creation; we are fifth columnists fighting against an evil usurper, working for his overthrow and the coming of the King.

Unfortunately, like the character in the film, we all too apt to forget about our quest.

I wrote in one of my recent running blogs about how a two word greeting, ‘How do’, triggered a whole flood of memories about my beloved and long-departed grandad. Such unlooked for ‘memory triggers’ are a grace, and quite rare.

If we are not to forget the quest that is the meaning of our lives, we need – like the character in Memento – a strategy to help us remember.

It strikes me that the first stage in remembering is the realization that there is something that you’ve forgotten.

The classic ruse of tying a piece of string around your finger will probably work for helping you remember simple things, like to buy a loaf of bread on the way home from work. However, more complex memories such as the meaning of the universe, your place in it and your task and engagement in the work of deposing the usurper and re-establishing the rightful King on his throne, require a more complex system.

It is for this reason that gathering together is a vital part of Christian discipleship. At these times we help each other remember the meaning of our lives by telling each other the story so far, re-stating the goal of our quest, recounting past battles won and lost, the deeds done.

At our times of gathering the King Himself walks amongst us, dispensing words here and there of encouragement, exhortation, rebuke, challenge, and appreciation. In a real and physical way we meet Him and are strengthened by His presence.

Our King has also left us a manuscript in which He sets out his goals and His means, His battle plan. Our duty as faithful warriors, who want to be as prepared as they can to fight well, is to read and study this text- it is our Bushido text (The Way of the Warrior).

Our King has also given us a system of instantaneous and unlimited communication, through which we have unfiltered and unrestricted access to Him. We can turn to Him at any and every moment, during our communication with Him we attune our thoughts and priorities to His, we attune ourselves to Him.

It is through these three activities of gathering, study and communication that our King is able to enthuse us with His Spirit and to embolden us for the fight.

No successful conclusion to our life of quest will be possible without the disciplined use of these three helps.