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Who is my neighbour?

(Originally published in ACR, Sept 2005)

Who is neighbour?

The last person to ask this question ended up on the wrong end of a stinging rebuke from Jesus. So it is with caution that I reopen this question. After all, what Jesus said was clear enough; anybody might be our neighbour.

Which is where things start to go wrong for us; this anybody, it seems, is actually quite hard to find. By this I don’t mean we can no longer find people to love, rather the opposite. We meet more people than we can ever hope to remember the name of, let alone pray for, let alone love. Anybody is Everywhere.

And so we seek not so much to love our neighbour, but to love the world. We set out to love everyone, and so we go about implementing programs that are good for people in general, perhaps not realizing that to love everyone in general is to love no-one in particular.

And it is the particular person who misses out. We leave the one before us, in search of the 99 out there.

We have missed that our neighbour is someone. A person with a name and (probably) an address, and they might not need what we customarily offer, but they will need, and you can love them, even if you can’t love all of them. It is at once both liberating and challenging. It is liberating because we are free to respond to the call of Jesus and give ourselves over to loving some people and not others. It is challenging because we will have to give ourselves over to loving some people.

Remember God so loved the world. We are called to love our neighbour. It might be anyone, it can’t be everyone, it must be someone.

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Oversight

(Originally published in Eternity in 2009/10)

Oversight

‘One of my employees cost me $11,000 this morning’. We were catching up for an 8am social coffee, and Mike was experiencing the privilege of being the half owner of a business. It has been a simple error, and fortunately he had done something similar for a greater sum for a previous employer just a few years earlier. And he was keen to honour Christ in the way he treated his staff. So yes he was going to be gracious, yes he was going to treat it as a ‘training’ experience, sure he was still going to make good money, but yes it still hurt.

It is the side of owning a business we don’t often acknowledge. Most of us are very pro work, we would like to use the gifts God has given us to make a difference to the world – and we would like to be well paid for doing so. Strangely, though, we can be quite against the people who create the opportunity for other people to work – the boss. We are generally very keen to be rewarded for our effort, but sometimes resentful when they are rewarded for theirs. Perhaps we forget that in world where the ground is cursed by God, where everything tends to disorder and decay, that it is quite an achievement to get something done that someone else finds valuable enough to pay money for, let alone enough to cover costs and make a profit.

If you create and manage opportunities for others to work you do a good thing. Maybe the product or service you offer is also a good thing, maybe the way you use the money you make is a good thing, but the work you create is certainly one. You give people the means to provide and raise families and you give people the opportunity to bless others with the gifts God has given them – and perhaps you even create a mission field. No, not all employers are good, but this shouldn’t prevent us from noticing it when they are. They are a few good men and women and we could simply say thank you.

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Are you about to buy a puppy? Or when to say No

Some project are projects, and some projects are puppies.

Let’s suppose I want to sign up to study a subject at University. I know roughly what I am getting into: the government legislates a subject to be 150 hours work over 15 weeks, and universities do a reasonable job of complying. Yes, there are spikes (some weeks requiring more than the average 10 hours); yes, there will be disorganisation; and yes, I don’t yet know the date of the final exam, but all these changes happen within a range.

And then there are puppies.

Once we have bought a puppy we cannot anymore think about whether the cost or inconvenience is worth it. We will feed it, train it, vaccinate it, walk it, clean it, clean up after it. We’ll find it a home during holidays, and to reciprocate, be a ‘home for other puppies’. When it gets sick we will stay up at night, and when the vet bill is due we will pay. Our insurance won’t bring peace and we’ll wonder whether a trip to Disneyland might have been cheaper. And in our darkest moments we’ll start comparing our kids’ promises to politicians’.

And so to, some projects. We enter with clear intentions to commit to a specific scope, to know our boundaries, and to stand firm to additional encroachments. But we find ourselves shouting at the surf; the cost of not complying is too high – we’ll lose friendships; or our kids will, or a career, or a business, or someone will die, or some other calamity. In the end, we will catch the wave and do what is needed to be done.

For the most, this is a good thing. It is a good thing that people who own puppies look after them. It is good that some doctors and nurses work on Christmas Day. It is good that Prime Ministers visit disaster zones. It is a good thing to care for your dying mother (as one Uber driver I met had been before he started driving). It is good that the show goes on.

Of course, even if a project is a puppy, there are occasions when it’s appropriate and possible to say no. But when a project that we don’t yet own stares up at us with those eyes, the time to say no is now.

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A Modest Curriculum

Much like the essay marker who suggests 10 things you should have included, but offers no suggestions for what to exclude, so most of us approach school curriculums. We have ideas about what to add but not about what to cut.

So here is my suggestion for a modest curriculum.

  1. Reading
  2. Writing
  3. Maths
  4. Learning a marketable skill (e.g. web design, painting a house, bookkeeping etc)
  5. Opportunities to learn other non-compulsory non-curriculum things (with the hope that students will learn to learn, learn to love learning for its own sake and perhaps develop deep knowledge and skills in one or two areas that interest them).

To believe this you will need to believe other things: that most children like to learn but compulsory learning with standardised tests kills most learning; that conformity is overrated and different students need to learn different things; and that our curriculum and the bureaucracy that grows around it is slowly suffocating our schools, students and teachers.

But change is unlikely, a modest curriculum is too ambitious.

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Slime and Punishment

While driving in the car we heard a man had been sentenced to 27 years in jail.

My youngest asked, “How do they calculate how long you stay in jail?”

“Proportion!” I thought, and I think I said, before a slightly longer explanation ending with something like ‘the worse the crime, the longer the time’.

Then I tried something more personal.

“For example” I said, “if you were to deliberately put slime in the carpet it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to send you to jail, although you probably should get some punishment”

She replied, “Yeah.. and slime comes out of carpet easily anyway… except butter slime”

“So butter slime would deserve a bigger punishment than normal slime?”

“I guess”

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I Will Crush Your Dreams

Dream crushing has a bad name. We modern parents know we are supposed to foster, promote, enable and support ‘All The Dreams’.

But crushing dreams has its place.

I’m reluctant to recount specific stories – so let me just say we have had ‘the dance conversation’ more than once. We have four daughters, many daughters like to dance, ‘making it’ in dance is rare enough, but if you are “tallest in your class” (or thereabouts) it is impossible.

Now I can hear some of you proclaiming that I am discouraging my children from pursuing difficult or risky paths, but I think the opposite is true.

The distinction I hope they learn is between the impossible and the merely very difficult. If I hope they never take a risk, never fail, or never undertake something difficult, then I have no need of dream crushing; they will never stand on the lookout of very difficult to be close enough to risk falling down the cliff of impossible. But if I hope they go out onto lookouts then it matters that they know about cliffs.

I do not want them, as ethicist Oliver O’Donovan puts it, to become “enchanted by unrealised possibilities [they] cannot bring about”, to “fall in love with what is not the case: a world free of misunderstanding and suspicion, a world free of strife and conflict, a world where nobody goes to bed hungry, marvellous worlds which [they] are incapable of bringing to pass.”

I would rather they pursued some concrete achievable good, even one with a high chance of failure.

Put differently, I do not want my children to pursue world peace, but to pursue some peace in the world – that would be good, and difficult enough.

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‘Adequate Skills’

One of my daughters recently set out to paint a small bedside table she had bought from an op shop. She loved the shape but not the colour. Nothing remarkable here, except she is the daughter least likely to undertake anything related to craft or manual labour.

Once the task was completed the table looked ‘really good’. My daughter announced she had adequate skills at painting. Since then we have used ‘adequate skills’ to describe what’s required in all kinds of domains. We even turned it into a jingle:

Adequate skills, adequate skills, [Name] has adequate skills at [Domain]

Yes, in life we will need to develop superior skills in one or two areas, and we’ll hope to help our children do the same, but for everything else there’s ‘adequate skills.’

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No One Goes To Heaven, Not Even One

That’s because creation itself is saved.

We’ll be here, the world will be here.

Sure it will have been renewed, sure it will be (largely) unrecognizeable, but it will still be this world, and it will be here – not there.

Like when you get a ‘new’ kitchen. There may be almost no trace of the old, but the new still inhabits the same space, and still has some continuity to the old.

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Four powerful words

As we have opportunity‘ (Galatians 6:10)

These four words admit that we can’t do everything and that we are not responsible for everything. There are things we have opportunity to do, and there are things that we do not.

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I’m used to it

PARENT: I’m sorry I won’t be able to _ _ _ today

6 YEAR OLD: Don’t worry I’m used to it

Ouch