There’s No “I” in “Team”

Where I work there is a sign up that reads like the above title. I really don’t appreciate it. Sublimating one’s identity and individuality to a group is a horrible violation of the natural order. Group-think like this is best left to stinking communists. If someone wants to give up who they are, they can join a commune. Throwing this out as a cultural ideal or virtue is sickening.

Helping Those I Can…Helping Those I Choose

In the news this week we read about Warren Buffet giving around $30 billion to the Gates Foundation. This foundation seeks, among other worthy goals, to end malaria and save at least 3 million children a year from vaccine-preventable disease. This is laudable, correct and wonderful. I applaude the philanthropic, voluntary use of private funds for such excellent work.

As I look at my bank account and other resources, I am reminded that I cannot save the world, or impact it in any way near to that of the Gates Foundation.

Recently I have been thinking about how I can help those around me, in keeping with my second ongoing directive: “Help those I care about to live free.” Already I’ve found myself in the trap of collective thinking, aiming to help all descendants of my mother-in-law (hey, I figured I had to use some means to draw the line). Now I realize this was an error. My goal is not to help groups, but individuals. Not individuals because they are part of a group, but individuals because I, for my own satisfaction, want to see them enabled to succeed. It’s not that I want to hand success to anyone, by any means. Rather, I want to help people I know and care about to be in a position to realize their dreams, or fail in the attempt despite the advantages I give.

Self-Discipline: Sticking to Your Values in the Heat of the Moment

Joseph, son of Jacob, in the Old Testament of the Bible, was a man who really got the shaft. His father gave him fine gifts and made it clear to Joseph’s brother’s that he was the favorite. His jealous brothers made it look like he had been killed and sold him into slavery. In Egypt he was bought by a man named Potiphar, a man he served faithfully until Potiphar’s slutty wife tried to get him into bed.

This is where the story gets interesting, not because of what happened, but because of Joseph’s reaction. He resisted. In fact, against all circumstances and motivations to cave in (Potiphar wasn’t in, the woman was powerful, ect) Joseph literally ran out of his shirt and got away. And the spurned woman accused him of attempted rape (some versions say he was trying to “insult” her). Joseph landed in jail.

So, do you think Joseph decided on the spur of the moment to avoid sexual contact with a married woman. I sort of doubt it. Was Joseph a man of better stamina than most? Perhaps, but I don’t think that’s what kept him from immorality here. Certainly Joseph had already done what we should all do: Decide on our values ahead of time and not leave them open to re-evaluation in the heat of the moment.

Tom has a terrible day at work. His boss comes down on him hard, his work is piling up and it looks like he’ll have to come in Saturday and Sunday just to catch up. Should he storm in to his supervisor’s office right then and resign? Bad idea. It is imperative that he find a time and place to cool off and go over his situation and options rationally. Decisions made in the thick of a bad experience are rarely the right ones, and even if they sometimes are, those decisions are still better made in a calm state of mind. If a move really is the right one when you are angry or lustful or euphoric, it will still be the right decision after the moment has passed. Let the moment pass, then make the decision one way or the other.

The point is this: Make up your mind about your core values beforehand, then stick to them with all self-discipline when they are tested. Consider what the apostle Paul had to say:

“But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof” (Romans 13:14 KJVA).

Need I say it again? Make up your mind about your values and stick to them when they are challenged. You can reconsider them once things have calmed down.

Competing Against Myself

Competition is loathesome to me. I hate it. Whether it’s an athletic competition or just daily “keeping up with the Jones’s,” I never have wanted any part of it. Now, I’m talking about competition against others, because in truth I compete in the most difficult way possible: Against myself.

When I was in high school, my sense of self-competition was debilitating. I’ve mentioned in an earlier post how it was faith that helped me to overcome my fear. My greatest fear, I believe, was of not living up to my own high expectations of myself.

In high school I’d receive a writing assignment or a research project. Not thinking I knew where to start or what to do to get it right, I simply did nothing. I imagined that anything I did would be…well…crappy.

It right before the second semester of my junior year began that I made a personal commitment to Christ and left the Catholic Church. To fulfill my dream of becoming an ordained minister, I knew I had to get my grades up and get into college. That meant I had to overcome my fear of failure and at least try to do my schoolwork. A crucial verse for me at that time was the following:

“Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established” (Proverbs 16:3 NRSV).

Further, I believed that my life was the property of Christ, and that I existed for His glory. Therefore, I would commit my work to Him, do it for His sake, and leave the results to God.

I was on the A or B honor roll for the rest of high school. I graduated (my parents had previously had every reason to doubt that day would come, at least on schedule) and went to college. I have a Bachelor of Ministry degree and had an amazing decade of adventures and experiences, all related to my faith. Faith helped me overcome fear, helping me disregard my sense of incapacity at acheiving my goals. A lot was accomplished.

Now I’m just trying to find my faith again.

Courage

For years I have said that I lacked motivation as a teenager. Since I couldn’t see any credible purpose in life, I simply didn’t take action. My grades – a symptom of the deeper problem – were miserably low until the second half of my junior year. It was then that I left the Roman Catholic Church to “follow Jesus.”

Now, over a decade later, with my faith practically reduced to nothing, I find that the key element was not motivation…it was courage. Fear and uncertainty were what plagued me most. Fear not of success or failure in school as much as fear of simply trying. Fear that would have kept me from change…especially in striking out into the unknown. Had I not found courage in my faith, which also motivated and inspired me, graduating high school, going to college and eventually doing mission work in Brazil would have been impossible. These and other challenges were massive hurdles to me. I still remember how sick I got when I spent the night at the dormitory of the Christian College on their “get acquainted” night at the beginning of summer in 1994. I actually became physically ill from being so nervous.

My faith gave me confidence. It gave me courage. Now I find getting out of bed to be an obstacle to me. The future holds little or no promise for me, my only motivation is to keep the family going, and my courage is almost nil. Summoning courage is difficult.

Comments on 2nd Esdras, Part 1

A couple of my NRSV Bibles has the apocrypha included. Growing up Catholic, our Bibles always had a handful of these books interspersed among the other, more widely accepted, canonical works. Tobit, Ecclesiasticus and Wisdom were always my favorites. Now, in my NRSV Bibles, I’m getting familiar with others, including 2nd Esdras.

This book may have been composed in the late first century as an explanation to the Jews for why Jerusalem was destroyed, but sections that appear to be Christian interpolations may date from as last as the third century AD. Scholars tend to believe the original work was in Hebrew, then translated to Greek and finally Latin. Other ancient translations of it exist, but no copies of it in the Hebrew or Greek are extant.

To me, it is a fascinating work. Having read the Book of Mormon (I strongly recommend the Community of Christ’s “Revised Authorized” edition) I can see many parallels in style, approach and content.

Time and energy permitting, I plan to make some comments here on selected verses I like in 2nd Esdras. No particular plan is in mind, just an interest in finding what is worthy or curious in this book.

7th Heaven…Or 9th Circle of Hell?

Until tonight it had been about 10 years since the last time I saw an episode of the WB program “7th Heaven.” The quality still leaves something to be desired, but that’s another matter I don’t need to pursue right now. I was especially struck by how much the kids have grown (most are adults now) and struggled to catch up on their stories. It surpised me a little that the second daughter in the family has followed in her father’s footsteps to be a minister.

It was a couple of phone calls received by that daughter from a busybody member of the church that brought back nasty memories. An unpleasant, bellyaching woman who has an opinion about everything and the minister’s home and office on speed dial called twice to gossip/complain about issues she couldn’t fully understand, and to require action on the part of the senior minister…in a matter in which he couldn’t claim full authority to resolve.

This is one of the main reasons why, if I ever serve a congregation again, it must be on my own terms. As soon as the church starts paying me, I’m their hired hand and whipping boy. I won’t have it. Not again. I won’t bail at the first sign of trouble, but I also won’t waste time on spoiled members. They can find someone else to dump their intrusive behavior and bad attitudes on.