31 January, 2009

Whatever is lovely...

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Phil 4:8-9)

Sometimes you can just tell that God is trying to tell you something. It doesn't often happen that He speaks so clearly, but when He does I have learned to listen.

Last weekend I went to hear Jerram Barrs speak. Barrs, known for his association with Francis Schaeffer and L’Abri, spoke at a church in DC about engaging culture. Several times he referenced Phil. 4:8 saying that we need to, "start with something true, just, etc. in a person's life and let God work/shine in that." It's about seeing where He is already working in their lives and going from there. It's the idea of looking for what we have in common, not what divides us. It’s respecting people as God’s creation first and foremost.

As a Christian I believe that anything good, lovely, right, etc. must be contributed back to God. God is love, and from that love flows an abundance of truth and beauty. Also, I believe that there is good in everyone. In some people it’s easy to find (Mother Teresa) in others it’s harder (Joseph Kony) but it does exist.

The next day I was reading “Walking with the Poor.” Myers does a very excellent job of writing about development from a place that starts with humility and, as an underlying concept, gives the people you are helping these qualities. It’s about realizing that these people don’t need us to “rescue” them, we cannot go into a community with our Western mindset and treat people as if they were stupid or ignorant. We have far more to learn from them then they do from us. The best thing we can do is stand beside them (not above, before, or over) and let them tell us what they want to see done.

“We need to use every conversation, every program activity as an opportunity to point to the work of God.” (Myers) (see Phil 4:8-9).

In every community there is beauty, truth, things that are admirable. It’s again, using the good and letting that move us towards what could be better. It’s about letting those we are serving tells us what they like and what they want to see changed.

In Bible study later that weekend I was again confronted with this verse. Verse 8 is so much more powerful when it is coupled with verse 9 (imagine!) because it gives credit back to who made all the things listed in verse 8.

I tend to start in the pessimistic side, the side of what has gone wrong, the faults in other people, the bad things they do. But if you start there where is there to go? You dig a thirty-foot hole, jump in, and say before we can start work we have to get to the top. By looking at the faults of others “you are --, and --- and you don’t ---“ you set both sides against each other. People don’t need to be told what they are not; they need to be told the good things they are.
“People all around us treasure things in their hears and lives, and we need to recognize those things and call them out.” (Barrs)

In development: you have a good irrigation system, and lots of land for farming, there is an able workforce and you have a place for the kids to go to school. Verses: you don’t respect women, your school has no walls, you have seven fallow acres, and you aren’t harvesting all the water the best way you could… See the difference?

There are some situations in my life I am really struggling in. It’s really hard for me to see the good in them, it’s hard for me to find places where things are right or just or lovely – but I have to. Because part of it is our approach going in. If I am against you because I think you’re a jerk then we aren’t going to have a very good interaction. But if I can go into our discourse thinking you are an jerk who is efficient, who is doing the best they can given the circumstances, who treats me with respect (most the time) and really wants this to succeed - my view/focus is different.

It is hard to find the positive all the time. And that does not mean we don’t look at the bad things happening or hold people accountable for what they have done – but no one or nothing is all one or the other and we need to focus on the good in order to fix/end what is not.

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