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Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things


Tom Elenbaas

The culture that I grew up in is Dutch. For those of you who don't get that, it has its own quirks - cleanliness (I didn't get that one), well manicured yards (I didn't get that one), fiscal conservatism (I didn't get that one), resting on Sunday (I didn't do well at that one), and stoicism about emotions (I got that and didn't). Sometimes I wonder if I'm really Dutch. 

In any case, it doesn't really matter if you're Dutch, German, English, or from some other tribe that didn't do expression well, learning to emote can be difficult. Well, maybe not some emotions. Sometimes we're good at anger, frustration, or expressing disappointment and at the same time not so good at joy, encouragement, love, and terms of endearment.

Here is how one writer says it:

It is easier to articulate the pain of love’s absence than to describe its presence and meaning our lives.
— "All About Love: new visions" by Bell Hooks

I remember Bono from U2 once saying (and I can't find the exact quote) that it's easy to write a song about pain, hurt, and difficulty, but it's really hard to write a good, happy song that's not cheesy. Or maybe better, when commenting on their song Pride, which began as an attack on Ronald Reagan, and failed, then turned to a positive song about MLK Jr., Bono said, "We build the positive rather than fighting with the finger."

I have two confessions today and then a personal challenge:

First, I want to confess that I find it too easy to find fault in others. I find criticism comes naturally. I can easily judge and find problems without even trying. I can cut people down and find the worst in them. I'm finding as I get older that's not working. The enemy is the one who comes to condemn, accuse, steal and destroy. By the enemy, I mean the one who or the force that is working against all that is good, wonderful, and beautiful in the universe. I find myself playing devil's advocate, and then realizing that it's not good to advocate for the devil. Why, as Hooks says, is it so easy to articulate the pain of love's absence and then be so silent in its presence?

Second, I want to confess that I am finding the culture of criticism and negativity in the world around me something that has and is affecting my soul. I have done my fair share of ingesting the powerful negativity of a culture that cuts, demeans, tears down, and destroys. And we wonder why our children are bullying each other on the playground? We speak constant words of hate couched in the politics of rightness and often even baptize it with a Christian adjective.  How on earth have we come so far from the simple command, "Love one another?" How is it that the very people who are called to be known for their love are known as progenitors of hate?

So here is my personal challenge - which means I am personally challenged by it. It's not rocket science and its nothing new. In fact, it's positively ancient. 

Finally, brothers and sisters, 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.
— The Bible, Philippians 4:8, written by Paul

I'm not asking us to be a Pollyanas. I'm not asking us to pretend the world is better than it is. I'm not suggesting that following Jesus is as simple as niceness. I'm not asking us to hide the darkness or ignore the pain and dysfunction. In fact, justice requires that we shine the light and make changes. But, I wonder, might Jesus be right that fighting the darkness is not so much about chasing it, as it is about seeking the good and the beautiful. I do think there is a deep complexity to the power of goodness, love, and joy expressed in meaningful, lasting, and powerful ways that change relationships, communities, and cultures. I think that may be what Jesus meant by seeking the Kingdom and by his so called sermon on the mount. 

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