Sunday, September 28, 2014

Mind Games


The New Testament lectionary readings today seem to have the theme of “minds”.

The gospel text is a parable of a two brothers asked to do a task. The first said “ no” but later “changed his mind” and did the work. The second agreed to do the task but didn’t do it.

The passage from the letter to the Philippians contains the phrase, “be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” It is here I want to dwell a little.

The thought I pondered this weekend was, what does it mean for us to “be of the same mind”, practically?

We are not robots. And I, certainly, don’t want us all to become robots, all saying exactly the same thing. We are human beings and as such have the ability to think through issues and form individual opinions.

If we started a discussion on various topics, for example, politics, pacifism, hermeneutics or vegetarianism we wouldn’t all have the same mind. There would be lots of different opinions. Some of us would claim to be republicans, democrats, labour, conservative or independent. Each of us would have opinions on the various current issues. Or, some of us would think wars are justified others would never espouse violence. Or, some of us would never eat “anything with a face”, others would think it okay to eat animals. Bible passages would be interpreted differently depending on the thoughts and life experiences of the reader.

We would not be of the same mind. I hope we can accept our difference and recognize and appreciate that there is richness in our diversity. As our ideas are challenged and we are exposed to new thoughts it will help us develop and refine our own beliefs.

This may cause us to change our minds. If we think back over our lives, even to beliefs held deeply we will probably have changed our minds several times and will continue to do so. This comes with maturity, with growth, with life experiences. We change and so to do are convictions. This is part of being human.

So how do we understand the author of Philippians who says “be of the same mind”? How can we “be of the same mind” when we all have different viewpoints and opinions in a variety of areas?

I think the rest of the text gives us some clues. As I read it, it feels to me that the “same mind” is about attitudes and values rather than opinions, beliefs and issues.

The text talks about love, compassion, sympathy, humility, regarding the other better than ourselves, regarding the interests of the others, doing nothing out of conceit or selfish ambition.

I think that is the same mind that we all need to cultivate. If our common aim is to look out for the other with love and humility then we can have discussion where we disagree without contention and bitterness.

The world of social media has opened up a new dimension to discussion and opinions. Too often someone puts an opinion and it is countered by another but rather than good discussion ensuing there sometimes seems to be a mean spirit creeping in. One of our “rules” with foster teens is that if they are on Facebook I have to be their friend so I can keep an eye on what they say. (Of course, I’m not na├»ve, I know they can set up accounts with false names, but you do what you can!). However, many times I have had to jump into a discussion and say “enough”, the comments were becoming nasty.

Of course, none of us are teenagers who are going to be putting up nasty comments on Facebook. Yet, I think there is something to be learned for us all. When we are faced with an opposite opinion, whether online, in email or face to face it is good practice to ask ourselves are we regarding the other, are we expressing our view in love, compassion and humility or are we expressing our thoughts through conceit and selfish ambition.

One of the things I like about our community is the variety of different viewpoints and the way mostly we can talk about issues without putting the other down. Long may this continue! This is often a really hard thing to do. Our viewpoints and opinions are usually well thought through and held deeply. They mean a lot to us. So, I’m not talking here about just abandoning them to someone else’s viewpoint. But it is about listening, respecting the other, recognizing that we are not always right, allowing ourselves to be challenged, ultimately our (and their) viewpoint may be unchanged but our relationship with each other will be stronger.

I think this is what the author of Philippians meant by having the same mind. Let us continue to strive to be a community where we try to “be of the same mind”.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Forgiveness


The lectionary passages today are troublesome.

I wonder how my times over the years I have started a blog with that thought. It seems to me that often the readings challenge and disturb. However, I don’t think that is a bad thing. Sometimes it is good to be challenged and disturbed. It causes us to think, to reassess our lives and values.

Today’s passages are all about forgiveness and not judging others. In the Old Testament the text is about Joseph forgiving the brothers who have caused him harm.

In the epistle the readers are urged to accept each other’s differences without judgment. It is a timely word for the days in which we live. It is perhaps a theme to meditate on this week.

However, I want to focus on the passage in Matthew. The gospel story reverts to the theme of forgiveness. In the story Peter asks Jesus should he forgive someone seven times. Jesus replies not seven but seventy times seven. Then Jesus tells a parable to illustrate forgiveness.

The parable is intriguing and raises more questions than it gives answers. The parable is about a king.

At this point I want to remind people that I do not think that characters in parables should be representative of anyone, human or divine. They are simply stories to illustrate a point and should be read as such. I do not think the king in this parable is meant to be God although I have heard that expressed. If one tries to equate the king to God, it would leave us with a god who is angry and sent someone to be tortured. Much better to just read the parable as a simple story which is used to illustrate a point.

Anyway, back to this story . . .

The king wanted to settle accounts with his slaves. One slave owed him 10,000 talents.

Another aside . . . why would a slave owe his/her owner money? I have tried to do a brief research on this but have found nothing. Perhaps someone else has the answer. It was a practice for a free person who had huge debts to go into slavery with their owner undertaking to pay their debts.  But this does not seem to be the case in this story. However, this is just a point of interest, it does not affect the parable as we just accept this slave owed a huge amount.

The king’s first reaction was that the slave’s wife, children and other possessions must be sold to pay the debt. The slave begged the king for time saying he would repay. The king had pity on him and forgave the debt.

So far, it is a nice simple story of forgiveness and kindness.  As is often the case with parables there is a twist.

A fellow-slave owed the forgiven-slave a much smaller amount. The story tells us the forgiven-slave went to him, caught him by the neck, demanded payment and ultimately had him gaoled. The word got back to the king who was angry at his lack of mercy, handed him over to be tortured and withdrew his forgiveness of the debt.

So what initially seemed a nice parable has become a “text of terror” to quote Trible. This is the point where it raises many questions about forgiveness.

Perhaps the biggest ones for me are;

Can forgiveness be taken back?
(The king withdrew his forgiveness of the slave’s debt)

Are there conditions (or expectations) to forgiveness?
(The king was angry because the slave in turn did not forgive)

Trible also talks about not letting a text go without it yielding a blessing.

So what is the blessing in this text. Maybe, it is that it causes us to think about forgiveness and to search ourselves about what it means to each of us. Forgiveness isn’t cheap or easy. It should not be undertaken lightly. Maybe, this week take some time to ponder over my questions (and any of your own).

Perhaps, ask ourselves if we forgive someone, is it conditional?
Are they required to behave the same way?
Do we get upset if they seemingly don’t show the same forgiveness to others?

Can this text yield a blessing?