Some things are intended to be fleeting, to finish, to fade away. Others are forever, eternal, of enduring value.
Too often we confuse the two. We grip a New Year’s Eve sparkler and hope it will light the year ahead.
We invest our emotional security in passing things, such as possessions or fame or wealth, holding them too tight, and then struggle with a persistent sense of despair.
Or we commodify the deep things of life, such as relationships, beauty or belief, discarding them too easily, and then find ourselves living in a murky shallow pool of want.
Many modern societal structures (including some that should know better) push us to view the world this way because it is good for business.
Often people are lost in this reversal but others have quietly realigned their thinking, perhaps when confronted with suffering or loss, and learn again how to live in the moment and forever.
‘I love you and you and you and you and me and you and you and me and you and you!’
Pointing at four of my grandchildren in turn and occasionally at myself for comic relief – it was a fun game with a happy message.
‘Funny Pa Pa, you love yourself?!’ said the oldest who at nearly 4 has a remarkable grasp on the subtleties of life.
‘It’s good to love yourself,’ I said, ‘Because God has made us amazing and loving ourselves helps us to love others.’
The moment moved on quickly but it stuck in my mind which means it stuck in her eminently more absorbant mind.
Loving self is the third of three loves forming part of Jesus’ Great Commandment. It is as hard to get right as the other two and in fact all three are contingent on the reason for it all – God so loves us.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31 NIV
At six minutes and 14 seconds past midnight on January 1, 2013 I took this photo.
I didn’t know this at the time, but my phone did, on which I captured the image.
At the same moment a person in front raised their hand also to take a photo so that it appears they are balancing an explosion on their fist.
Here we all are, leaning forward toward the new year, counting down the solidity of year with the stuff of split-seconds.
We have so much information at our fingertips without trying, down to the unconscious moment of tapping for a photo… and yet faced with a new year we know nothing at all, not even today, not even tomorrow.
If the psalmist David was among the crowd on this balmy Sydney night, passing through the crowd with reflective gaze, he may have strolled back up the hill in his shorts, thongs and a Tigers t-shirt, typing as he walked:
“The life of mortals is like fireworks,
they flourish like a sparkle in the night.” *
And at the same time, sensing Someone eternal, walking alongside.
* Psalm 103:15-17 – The life of mortals is like grass,
they flourish like a flower of the field;
16 the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.
17 But from everlasting to everlasting
the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,
The Christian life is a complex interplay of command, conscience and covenant – and none of these words are particularly popular or well understood in our culture or, perhaps, by many in the church.
From time to time debates rage in one corner of Christendom or another as to what Christians should or shouldn’t do and rarely is a mature understanding of these coexistent realities displayed.
Simplistically we could draw understanding from the humble traffic light. Red and green are commands and amber is more or less a matter of personal decision or conscience. Red does not ask you if you feel you should stop, it tells you that you must. Amber however allows you some measure of consideration. And green, like red, is a command to go and if you are in doubt about that you have not experienced missing a green light in Sydney traffic.
The context for the command and conscience of the traffic light is the covenant we all have with each other that we will obey the traffic rules, including traffic lights, and likewise drive safely and responsibly. When we as a community balance command, conscience and covenant well, there is relative safety and amenity on our roads. When these three are out of shape – frustration, damage and even death can result.
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The Sydney Morning Herald has started the year with a flurry of faith-related articles.
The church cricket competition, in which your’s truly plays (off to training this afternoon…), gets a mention in Cricket’s culture club hardest one to join.
That famous Australian Christian institution, beach mission, is covered favourably in Sun and salvation make a divine holiday for fun-seeking souls. And while this generous portrayal may be a pleasant surprise, it is unsurprising that David Marr has dug up some criticism of the highly acclaimed school chaplaincy program. Read his article (and what about sending in a letter to the editor in response?), Chaplains in schools are ‘inadequately supervised’.
It may be a new year, but the struggle in which all the world is involved, of ideas, reality, relationships and the true nature of personhood and love, continues unabated.