What we really believe

What does it mean to live out one’s calling as a Christian? This is the question I’ve struggled with for most of my adult life. And this is the question that Rosemary brought into focus for me in last week’s Parental Failings.

Rosemary describes her failure – at least in the eyes of her friend – to equip her daughter to be financial independent, or to put aside enough money to be financially independent herself. Of course, we Christians know that “financial independence” is not one of the chief virtues. Charity, on the other hand, is. So is generosity, kindness, liberality, and hospitality. As Rosemary notes, the entire gospel is the story of Jesus’ “giving beyond reason.”

I say, “of course, we Christians know,” but actually, I almost never know. For me, parenthood was the test where I discovered the wide gap between my professed values and the ones I actually held.

Cleanliness or Godliness?

If you had asked me, “what are the values you would like to pass on to your children?,” I could have rattled off the list: love, joy, peace, patience, mercy, and so on. But if you had looked at my behavior every school-day morning, you would conclude the chief virtues were punctuality, cleanliness, and completed homework. And throughout their teen years, my chief hopes for them were healthy habits, personal safety, good friends, academic success and job readiness.

I don’t think any of these are bad things. They are the qualities that will allow them to make their way in this world. They just aren’t the important things. Yet I know that they are the standard by which I, as a parent, judge myself and will be judged by others. And I never found a way to be a parent any other way.

Empowerment or sacrifice?

Which brings me to a fascinating conversation I had with some friends about community engagement. I have always taken for granted that my professional values align closely with my Christian values. But now I’m not so sure.

The values statements of many of the organizations I work for would include words such as independence, self-determination, dignity, pride, rights, and that over-used word “empowerment.”

But, as my friend John pointed out, are these really Christian ideals? In the gospels, we’re called to dependence on God and each other. We’re told to be humble, not proud. We’re described as sheep, followers, disciples and servants. It is the undignified – the ones who cry out, who fall on their face, who wash Jesus’ feet with their hair – who are honoured. And Jesus does not stand on his rights. Instead, he is called to live sacrificially, and calls us to the same.

What does all this mean for my work? Or to the values I aim to promote?

Friends, I haven’t a clue. If you have, clue me in!



Filed under Joy's entries

5 responses to “What we really believe

  1. Dan Cooperstock

    I have often reflected on disparities between the principles gleaned from various things I espouse, like my Quakerism, left-wing politics, feminism, LGBT liberation views, etc. These are hard questions with no easy answers, but I also think it’s dangerous to take some of the Biblical stuff too literally and as being too all-encompasing. The world was a very different place when it was being written, and even in the New Testament they still supported slavery. So there are many ways in which we have advanced from Biblical morality, IMHO.

    I do have one specific reaction about the issue about saving to be financially independent. The Jesus of the Bible clearly believed that the end times were nigh – within the next generation. 1 Thessalonians 4:15, and many other places. If nobody will be around for more than a generation, saving isn’t such a big deal. But we know that’s not what happened, and most of us tend to believe that those who go around preaching the end times being imminent now are cooks. So, that sort of changes things, doesn’t it? Makes there be a bit more point in being financially prudent?

    None of which takes away from the blessing of doing charity, which I completely agree with.

  2. Barbara Anderson

    Parenting and Christian values- a great topic. When my two kids were little I hardly had time to reflect on parenting – life was so busy I mostly acted instinctively parenting they way my parents had or consciously making sure I didn’t parent like my own parents. I admit both tactics worked or didn’t work equally.
    What I wanted to instil in my children was compassion, tolerance and respect for differences – and when I see them as adults I see two individuals who are compassionate, very tolerant and respectful of others. I consider those values to be Christian values but I admit those values don’t really ‘pay off’ in any kind of worldly success. (my son was a little too tolerant of a previous girlfriend who had drinking and mental health issues and my daughter has been too ‘respectful’ of some people in her life who have been less than respectful in return)
    And even though I’m glad they have those values, I admit it would be nice to say they were financially independent (I still pay for extended health care and car repairs etc.) and holding stable jobs and saving money.
    Both kids are too generous – spending money on gifts instead of saving or investing. And Dan is right about the Christian view of end-times vs our lives today – much longer lives with expensive care at the end.
    Jesus spoke about money far more often than anything else – in terms of how we use our resources. But there seem to be two messages in the gospels – investing the talents so they multiply (in the parable) and living for today trusting God will provide – Sermon on the Mount.
    I want to be careful that I don’t covet the rich and move into ‘political’ values that divide the world into classes and then hate categories of people. On the other hand is it really okay to make millions with questionable ethics and then give it away later (like Bill Gates)?
    I still believe in cooperative housing which I think can help people to live a more Christian, less consuming life – yet I co-own a house so I can be ‘self-sufficient’ in my old age. I want to be less materialistic but how much is enough? My children will have less then my generation – that’s just economics and demographics but will they be satisfied with less? I hope I have passed on the Christian value of gratitude.

  3. Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove

    I really like that several if not MANY or ALL of us are continuing to try to work out how to live in this world at this time with both our trained practical thinking about how to act as a responsible citizen (i.e. one who won’t have to depend on everybody else to survive into old old age) AND how to be a true follower of Jesus as we interact with other, especially our children. There are no end to the dilemmas, and Joy’s introduction of Salutin’s Bizlam really laid out the universal dilemma in this 21st century. The only comment I have now – apart from my gladness as knowing that we are apparently all in this together and can maybe work some of it through – is that this generation of teens and young adults are the first post-hippy, post ‘square’ (forgive me – but it was such a key term 40 years ago), post ‘liberated’ kids. Forgive me as I now generalize madly. We, who parented actively in the 80′s, 90′s, 2000′s, were in reaction to our parents. We were conflicted because the best of good loving parents in our childhood days taught us good lessons well. The thrift, the cleanliness, politeness, the effort to succeed – good values. But we had to try loosening up. Saving up for tomorrow? Inflation makes debt sensible! Clean? Better relaxed and happy. Polite? What if the adult is rude first? Success? Each of us decides what that is, no? Except one day we’d be modelling one thing to the child, and the next day talking the other. They picked up on the confusion. They sorted it out with peers and there’s been no stopping them. It’s a WHOLE NEW GENERATION.

  4. Joy Connelly

    Rosemary, I thought you and other bloggers might like this quote:

    “Faith is not belief in spite of evidence, but a life in scorn of consequences.” — Clarence Jordan, founder of Koinonia Farms, an intentional Christian community in the southern US.

  5. What’s that line about ‘a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?’
    As someone who has on occasion had to articulate his faith and found himself caught in the dilemma of choosing between Jesus and me as subject material – to speak about the former rather the latter, means the latter isn’t going to look so good. Nor will the wisdom of common sense do too well either – ‘achieve to succeed’,
    ‘save enough for retirement’, ‘don’t get too close to people with contagious ailments’ etc.
    It’s the variance between what he taught and what passes as wisdom among us that makes his words and life so special and so worthy of expression even if coupled in our confession is a word about our hypocrisy. It assures to both speaker and hearer alike that mercy and not judgment is what Jesus is all about which is both rare and good news indeed.

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