Song 1

boy smiling
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/islandgyrl/1850085612/">Christine Olson</a>

Psalm 1

Happiness
Is not following bad advice,
Is not running with the wrong crowd,
Is not getting your self worth by comparison with others.

Happiness
Is loving what’s right in God’s sight,
Is practicing doing right around the clock.

Those who follow this advice are like trees planted on the riverbank,
Fruitful,
Lush,
Growing.

Not so with evil folk.
They are dust in the wind,
They won’t have a case in court,
They won’t get a pew in church.

God guards the righteous wherever they go,
But the evil road leads to certain death.

If only it were true!

In reality, bad things happen to good people, and quite often those who are most evil win their court cases and have plaques honoring them in churches. Better to think of this song as an ideal, so far as everyone getting what the deserve is concerned.

Even so, the wisdom in the song is in it’s description of where happiness is found – and where it’s not. Regardless of external circumstances and rewards, happiness is a result of an inner bent toward right.

A friend who just returned from a three-week tour of villages in central Africa yesterday told me how striking it was to see so many people in such terrible poverty who wore great smiles. Surely, their suffering is incongruent with their deserving. Yet they are in many moments, happy. Contrast that with the robber-baron who has everything but whose soul is so empty it’s turned his life into a black hole sucking in everything and anything indiscriminately. No happiness there.

You can have happiness now, even while longing for (and working for) the justice that is not yet.

The Theological Duck Test

Duck
Image via <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org">Wikipedia</a>

1 John 3:7-10

Kids, don’t let anyone fool you. People who practice doing right the way Jesus did right are righteous. People who do wrong are the devil’s children. The devil has been doing wrong from the beginning, but the child of God appeared to put the devil out of business. People who are God’s children don’t do wrong, because God’s nature is their nature. They can’t do wrong because they’re Gods children. So you can tell the children of God from the children of the devil, because if they’re not doing right, and if they don’t love their siblings, they’re not God’s.

This is the theological duck test.

If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.

For all the theological wrangling over propositions and faith statements and right belief, the crux of the matter comes down to whether someone is in the habit of doing right or not. If they’re righteous, then there is something of God in them. If they’re bent toward wrong, then it makes no difference what they say they believe in.

“But how does one know what is right and wrong?” you ask. John’s letter doesn’t pretend to lay out a system of ethics. John doesn’t go into much detail or lay out lots of rules. There’s just one clue. You can tell someone’s doing right by how they treat their siblings. Siblings broadly understood. Brothers and sisters of the human race. Is it loving? If so, it’s right.

Beyond that, the terms to describe love are left for you to work out. But there’s another test for that: the elephant test.

It is difficult to describe, but you know it when you see it.

How Not to Prove You Love Someone

twins
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/raleene/2109917367/">Raleen Cabrera</a>

Malachi 1:1-5

A word of advice. God’s advice to Israel via Malachi.

“I’ve always loved you,” God says. “But you say, ‘How have you loved us?'”

“Isn’t Esau Jacob’s brother?” God says. “But I loved Jacob and hated Esau. I’ve desolated Esau’s hills, and made the territory he inherited into a wasteland for jackals. As often as Edom says, ‘We may be down, but we’ll rebuild the ruins,'” God says, “They may rebuild. But I’ll keep tearing it down until they realize that they are the evil nation with whom God is eternally irate.

“You will see this with your own eyes and say, ‘God is great, even outside our borders.'”

Here’s an instance of a common misconception codified into Biblical stone. The misconception is this:

To know what love is, you have to know what hate is by comparison.

You’ll often hear it as: “If you didn’t have the bad, you wouldn’t be able to recognize and appreciate what’s good.” Same thing. The idea that the only way you can know about one thing is to know about its opposite.

But it’s just not true. Think about all the people living in tropical parts of the world that know what hot is without ever having experienced cold. Or all the Eskimos who never made it to Puerto Rico or Hawaii to experience what hot is.

You can experience love without proving it by comparison to hate. Good without comparison to bad.

It would be wrong, of course, to say that some of us will never experience hatred or evil. We will experience those things, too. But you’ll certainly be able to recognize them for what they are rather than by what they are the opposite of. Both certainly exist. And yes, they’re opposites. And yes, good and love is preferable over evil and hatred. But one is possible without the other. And who I love isn’t predicated on whether I hate someone else in equal measure. Same goes for you. Same goes for God.

So either God is mistaken about the need to be eternally hateful to some in order to prove God’s love to others, or Malachi is. I prefer to think it’s Malachi.

2 Paradoxes and the Common Good

Paradox
Paradox by Andrew

1 Corinthians 12:4-7

There are many ways of being spiritual, but the point of being spiritual is always the same. You can serve in any number of ways, but it’s always about serving Jesus. There are lots of things to do, but the energy to do them for everyone in every case comes from God. So whatever you have, its for the common good.

It’s when we miss the point that things go wrong, even if we’re “spiritual.” In fact, 99.44% of the trouble (church trouble, political trouble, job trouble, family trouble, personal trouble) stems from missing the point.

That point? That it’s about the common good.

Sure, we want it to be about us. But it’s not. And any road to “what’s good for us” that doesn’t pass through the common good is a dead end.

Two paradoxes:

  1. When you do something for the common good instead of for yourself, you end up better off yourself. But it doesn’t work if your motive for doing something for the common good is to end up better off yourself.
  2. When you do something in which you completely forget yourself, you end up doing what it is uniquely yours to do, and you become completely yourself.