God, Work Ethic, and the Children of God

We believe in what we can earn, and the justice we demand is commensurate with our ability to gain what we deserve. Not so with God. Or so it seems….

The parable of the workers in the field exposes an attitude and way of thinking that gets in our way of knowing and understanding God and our relationship to Him. This parable is confusing and nonsensical to our naturally prideful and selfish inclinations.

The parable of the workers in the field begins with some people at the break of day who agree with the owner of a field to work for one denarius (a day’s wage). Throughout the day, the owner went out and solicited more workers to work in his field.

Workers began at different times during the day. Some workers didn’t even begin to work until late-afternoon. When the day was over, the owner of the field paid everyone the same wage (one denarius), regardless of when they started.

The workers who labored all day were upset. They challenged the owner, saying “Why are we being paid only one denarius when the workers who didn’t work the full day are being paid the same?” Some of them didn’t work more than a couple hours!

The owner’s answer to their question is something that typical Americans have a hard time understanding and accepting: he said, “I paid you what you agreed to work for. If I want to be generous to everyone else, what is that to you?” (See Matt. 20:1-16)

But, it isn’t fair! Right? Isn’t that the natural response we have? Nothing gets the blood rushing to the head like someone getting more than what I got! Especially, if they didn’t earn it like I did!!

As a person who grew up Catholic, these things did not make sense to me either. People should get what they deserve, right? Naturally, people should earn their own way. I would not ask for more than what I deserve, but I have a hard time with people getting the same as I do when they work less than me.

We think this way generally as Americans with our rugged individualism, labor unions, and the American Dream (which may have more to do with hard work than dreaming to hear someone tell of it).

The message that comes through this parable load and clear is that God doesn’t think like we do. God does what He wants, or (at least) He seems to have a different measure of fairness than we do.

Romans in the day of Jesus weren’t completely different than modern Americans, though they valued power and might, perhaps, more than we do. They despised the poor and vulnerable. The people who were able to exert their power and influence over other people were valued (and envied) most. This parable wouldn’t have made sense to romans either.

The Jews in Jesus’s day were proud of their heritage. They earned their status with millennia of adherence to the Mosaic Law. They bristled at the idea that upstart Gentiles might come along and gain some interest in God’s kingdom.

This parable made little sense to First Century Hebrews also. Maybe we all have our cultural barriers to this kind of message.

I image Jesus was a favorite son. He was the good young man, mostly polite, and obedient He was keenly interested in Scripture and all things pertaining to religious life that was the heartbeat of any Jewish community.

He was also not quite like the other young men, a bit odd, maybe a bit too into his heritage, if that is possible. They were all good Hebrews, but he seemed to take it a bit far, even for them.

Maybe they couldn’t put their finger on it, but people seemed to agree that he made them feel as if he thought he had an inside track. He sometimes made them feel like outsiders.

Jesus traveled one day to Nazareth where he grew up. He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath. (Luke 4:16) He stood up in front of his lifelong friends and neighbors, asked for the Isaiah scroll, and read from it:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Luke 4:18-19

When Jesus finished reading from the Isaiah scroll, he rolled it up, handed it back and sat down without immediate comment. All eyes were on Jesus during that pregnant pause. Then Jesus concluded:

“Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Mic drop moment. Followed by a moment of stunned silence. We might say they were flabbergasted. At least at first.

Jesus had a remarkable way about him that made people wonder about him, even if they were not completely comfortable with him. He had always seemed older than his age, but he spoke with insight and certainty like an elder of great age, experience, and learning.

They knew Jesus, though. They knew where he worked. He did not have the credentials fit for his seeming attitude. Nazareth was a forgotten, insignificant place in the Hebrew community, though it wasn’t far from more beaten paths. Jesus was always the enigma.

They knew Joseph was a quiet and simple man. He never called attention to himself. Mary always glowed with the pride of a mother who sees more in her children than anyone else on earth, especially in Jesus. No one could blame her.

As often was the case with Jesus, they didn’t know quite how to take him. “Good news to the poor”, “freedom for prisoners”, “sight for the blind”, and “the year of the Lord’s favor”: this was a good word. All good Hebrews have a hopeful expectancy for these things, even as they always seem just out of reach.

Still, they always hope. That’s what they do. They cling to God’s promise

That Joseph was always so quiet highlighted to them all the more how remarkable Jesus was that he seemed to have such a grand, if not slightly delusional, perspective. They were polite and appropriately appreciative, but they didn’t even have time to wonder what the elders had planned for Sabbath that day, when Jesus interrupted their thoughts. This time he dropped a grenade:

“Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’” (Luke 4:23)

What… is… he… saying? “Is he talking about himself? … Really?!

They were well aware of the zealots who riled people up in their area in recent years. Those trouble makers caused serious problems for good Hebrews just minding their own business and trying to get by.

Their minds played over the words Jesus just read: “The spirt of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me.” …. “Don’t tell me he believes he is God’s anointed!” This guy has a messiah complex!

As if that were not provocation enough, Jesus really pushed them over the edge with what he said next:

“Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.” (Luke 4:24-27)

Not only did Jesus appear to be claiming he was God’s anointed one; he seemed to be claiming that God cared more about the Gentiles than his own people! What else could be the point of referring to the Elijah visiting the foreign widow and Elisha healing the foreign general?

Continue reading “God, Work Ethic, and the Children of God”

Into Her Dreams

 (c) Can Stock Photo / Filedimage
(c) Can Stock Photo / Filedimage

Like skaters on icy pavement
gliding together into the city skyline,
grey against clouds of snow.
Winter storm warning, veiled
by music and coffee, conversation and silence.
Precious cargo
delivered into the Windy City,
big shoulders
Blonde and steel,
she slips into the hurried streets,
the streaming crowd,
Out into the world.
This father beams in consolation…
and sighs.
She doesn’t look back,
blue eyes piercing into her future.
No hesitation.
Heading home,
grey fading into western twilight.
slipping past long headlights.
Silence in music playing.
Snow dust, shifting like dry mist,
passing like sands of time.
Falling, the flurries whirling….
How easily she slipped out of my car

and into her dreams.

What Have We Done to Protect Our Children?

Julia at Hershey - Copy“The Overprotected Kid”, published in the Atlantic, has been circulating on Facebook. The goofy kid with broken, taped glasses and a silly grin drew my attention, but the byline under the title sucked me in:

“A preoccupation with safety has stripped childhood of independence, risk taking, and discovery—without making it safer.”

I thought, “What?!!” We have protected our children from every conceivable danger, imagined or real. We yelled at them when they crossed the street, for their own good. We kept a wary eye on their every movement. We cushioned every bump and angle, plugged up the electric sockets and planned every part of their lives from dawn to dusk with supervised activities and busyness to keep them from wandering into trouble. How could we have possibly failed to keep them safe?!

In spite of our best efforts, the article reminds us that child abductions still happen, children still get hurt on our “safe” playgrounds and accidents still happen. In fact, stranger abductions are as rare as they ever have been. Most abductions are by family. Family abductions seem to be an extension of the control we think we must have over our children. Mom (or dad) takes off with the children to keep them “safe” from other family members or simply to keep control of their situations, including their children.

From my childhood to the present time, parents have become much more controlling over the movements of their children, but The Overprotected Kid calls that approach into question. The article suggests  that cushioning playgrounds inhibits healthy exploration of risk. Continual adult supervision prevents kids from being kids and owning their natural development as human beings. On the other hand, it does not make our children’s lives safer.

“… we have come to think of accidents as preventable and not a natural part of life.”

All of our efforts may not have made our children’s lives safer, but those controls have taken away the valuable self-exploration, freedom, creativity and independence that we had when we were children with consequences that are only now being realized and understood.

“There is a big difference between avoiding major hazards and making every decision with the primary goal of optimizing child safety (or enrichment, or happiness). We can no more create the perfect environment for our children than we can create perfect children. To believe otherwise is a delusion….”

As I was stewing on the controls that may have stunted my own children’s growth in comparison to the freedom I enjoyed and what that means for them, I read another article, “Difference Between Encouragement and Entitlement”, by blogger and author, Courtney Walsh. She suggests another game changer:

“Disappointment breeds greatness.”

Really?!! I don’t want my children to be disappointed… EVER! How many times have I wanted to give that coach a piece of my mind! How could they not see my kid’s greatness! How does this woman think that disappointment leads to greatness?!

Courtney Walsh cautions against rushing to our children’s defense at every sign of potential disappointment. She suggests that parents should “let” their children fail sometimes, that it is actually good for them. She believes that learning through failures leads to success.

Then the Sherlock Holmes in me detected a common thread: good parenting does not mean preventing our children from being hurt. Kids need to explore boundaries themselves, not the ones we put there for them, but the ones they discover and set for themselves. That does not mean that allow them to walk into actual harm, but they need some freedom to learn for themselves. They need to understand that missteps and mistakes hurt. We can not cushion every fall or rescue our kids from every disappointment and expect them to become healthy, well-rounded productive, creative members of society.

If we cushion our children from every disappointment by telling them always they are great, when sometimes they are not, and rescuing them from there not-so-greatness, we actually prevent them from growing. The “real world” is not full of people telling us we are great when we are not. If we continually tell our children there are great, when they are not so great, we are not, then, doing a very job of preparing our children to leave the safety of the nest.

Courtney Walsh suggests that people need to fight through disappointment and the consequences of our own not-so-greatness to become the best kind of people we are able to be, and we need to give (or allow) our children those opportunities.

Fighting through disappointment is actually the way to greatness. Great people are not born great. Greatness is not handed out like ribbons. The character of greatness is forged in the crucible of disappointment, failure, hard work, resilience, patience, perseverance and learning to believe in principals, values and, in the end, our own selves. That does not happen in a world that is controlled to be free of consequences.

I have included the links to both articles below. There is a theme. We parents cannot protect our kids from every harm or disappointment, and our efforts in doing so may actually produce another kind of harm and even more disappointment when our children find that the world does not think they are quite great as their parents told them they were – at least not without earning it!

I think there is a lesson of faith in there too. Jesus told us not worry. I worry more about my children than anything in my life. Does not God take care of the flowers in the field and the birds? Will He not all the more take care of us – and our children?! I am convinced more than ever that we (parents) have really blown it with the current generations. By “we” I mean Baby Boomers. We have “saved” our children from everything we feared and have stunted and stilted them in the process.

The Overprotected Kid

The Difference between Encouragement and Entitlement

No Man’s Land

I try to stay out of the political fray. I have my views, but I also know well that reasonable people can differ on many things. Most of the political pundits are polarizing. I do not want to be polarizing. I think most people are earnest in their choices and do not take lightly the positions they take. I would rather add to the dialogue than entrench and through stones.

I am more interested in bridging gaps than creating them. Abortion is one of those things as to which people have tried to carve out a middle ground without success. I agree with freedom of choice. I agree that women should be able to control their bodies and not be intruded upon by other people or government. We have a history, a human history, of abuse toward women by men and government.

I think we have emerged out the other side of that dark reality for the most part, though men still prey on women sometimes. More accurately, people still prey on people. It is the sad human condition since the time of Cain and Abel. The powerful prey on and take advantage of the weak. Parents abuse children, men abuse women, sometimes women abuse men, the criminal among us take advantage of the weak in body or mind. Government and the people should stand up against these injustices and seek to prevent violence and crime and bring to justice those who perpetuate it.

The trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell has been playing out in recent weeks in Pennsylvania. Dr. Gosnell is a doctor who for many, many years performed abortions in an abortion clinic in Philadelphia that catered to the poor women in that area. He is accused of negligently performing procedures on at least one woman who died at his hands. There were other women who died at his clinic, but charges are only pending in regard to one. He is also accused of killing in astoundingly brutal and cold blooded ways babies who were born alive. These babies were “allowed” to live for twenty minutes or more, moving their hands and feet and crying, before he or someone at his direction took scissors and “snipped” their heads off. (They referred to the “procedure” as “snipping”.)

This is where the intellectual debate on abortion begins to come unglued. Roe v. Wade carved out the first trimester of pregnancy as a no man’s land between human life and something else. Since that time, the line has been advanced to the point of birth. Now, we have playing out in a court room in Pennsylvania a murder trial, and the only reason it is a murder trial is that the babies were “allowed” to live beyond birth, even if for only 20 minutes.

The dialogue is fascinating if not brutal, cold and frightful. Because the Doctor was negligent in performing the medical procedure of abortion, the fetuses were born alive; he is now being tried for the murder of babies. Four of them to be exact.

What turns an aborted fetus into a baby? The transition from fetus to child is minutes. Twenty minutes before birth, it is a surgical procedure; twenty minutes after birth it is cold blooded murder.

The Gosnell case is messy and makes a real mess of the abortion debate. It is hard to keep it at the intellectual level when babies’ heads are being snipped off as they lie on the table moving their limbs, breathing, trying to see the faces of the people who would otherwise be there to comfort and hold them. This case is hard to stomach and hard to fit into the intellectual boxes when the facts stare you in the face. The middle ground in the abortion debate is a no man’s land that is extremely uncomfortable to abide after reading the details of this case.

At least one reporter has completely changed positions on abortion as a result of covering the case. For an account, read and watch the interview of JD Mullane.