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Why in the world am I sorting spinach? you might ask.

Well, because the big bag of spinach we bought from Costco (with all the good intentions in the world of making salads and smoothies galore) has been slowly turning that dreaded dark green which signifies that certain leaves are better suited for compost than for consumption.

And because there are still a bunch of good leaves left, and–I think to myself–perhaps I can still eke out a couple more salads from this bag . . . .

For some, this stage of development is the stage at which they simply throw out the rest of the spinach and get a new bag. And sometimes I do that, too, considering that my time is worth more than it would take to separate the yummy from the yucky, and deciding that composting is not quite so wasteful as throwing the whole mess in the trash. But tonight it seemed worth my while to sort through the bag of spinach looking for the good leaves in and amongst the mush.

And as it is a rather large bag, there is time for thought as well as for action . . .

I take a spinach clump in my hand. The dark green seems to be predominant. No, wait, there’s a nice vibrant and whole leaf still on the bottom. And in pulling that one off, I find a couple smaller ones all bunched together. Ew, this dark green sludge can go in the compost stack, and with it these other leaves that are so covered in the sludge that I doubt they’d last long even if I did save them.

I take another clump. The one on top has a large bit of dark green in its center, but I see that it’s from another leaf that has turned to mush on top of it. The leaf itself may still be good. No, actually, it’s starting to rot, too, right where the sludge was lying on top of it. This leaf won’t last long. Too bad. If I weren’t trying to salvage more than just today’s salad, I’d probably keep it and eat it as it is. But I’m hoping to save some for tomorrow, so this leaf won’t make it.

It occurs to me that much of my life is spent sorting spinach. Pulling things apart to see what is good and what is not; what to keep and what to discard.

I am surrounded by ideas–from books, from tv and movies, from stories people tell and from actions that people take, from conversations and from silences. Not ideas, as in “hey, let’s do this!” but ideas as in opinions, beliefs, themes, and notions. What is good? What is worthless? What is decaying, and what is alive? Like spinach, the ideas are all clumped together and sometimes seem inseparable. And like spinach, sometimes a vital thought comes sandwiched between worthless ones.

I’d rather not have to sort the spinach, of course. I’d rather buy it from the store–presorted, prewashed, certified good and ready to digest.

I’d rather not have to sort the spinach. When it’s starting to become all gross and slimy, I’d rather just toss it and get a new bag. But tonight, its value as a source of nutrition was worth the trouble of taking the time to sort through.

And it occurs to me that we all choose what is worth sorting.

Here are a few reflections that come to mind in thinking about sorting:

First: It’s hard to sort carefully. And sometimes we don’t want sort carefully, we just take whatever we can get at the moment! We’d never do that with a handful of dark green–and slimy–spinach, but we don’t mind it with a funny movie! I’m not here to disparage our viewing habits, I’m simply reflecting on the fact that I know I have swallowed things I’ve seen or read or heard without really recognizing that they were decaying rather than vibrantly good–and often at the same time as taking the good.

Second: Sometimes we choose not to sort. When we come up against something that is clearly slimy and icky, it is sometimes quite best for us to decide to toss the whole thing and start afresh. (I tend to feel this way about horror flicks. It’s pretty easy for me to decide to toss the whole thing rather than picking through for the one or two leaves I might find there. Might.)

Third: Sometimes we choose to sort and get little from it. We toss and toss and toss and toss, and we are left with nothing. The thing is that there really are some bags that are completely gone. But sometimes it’s just that we don’t want to touch anything that’s not perfectly whole. If it’s even slimy, don’t wash it off; just toss it! That’s not going in my mouth!

Fourth: Sorting often yields surprises. My family and I recently visited the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles. Fascinating site! Also fascinating to watch the scientists carefully sorting through all of the tiny little pieces they find, painstakingly separating them from their asphalt coverings and reconstructing prehistoric (and not so prehistoric) skeletons. To them it is worth getting down in the black sticky mess if they can come away with a shred more information to add to what they already know about “life back then.”

And it’s no different with us. Where we might be terribly tempted to discount ideas where we see absolutely nothing but slimy green . . . it’s somehow worth our while to do some sorting when someone we know and love is handing us the spinach of life. We can toss out everything they say as untouchable, but we toss them out with it, too.

And this is where Common Grace comes in.

Because every human is made in God’s image, every human has good leaves mixed in with their decaying ones. In fact, all of us have slimy green beliefs mixed in with our very best ideas about life, the universe, and all things in between. And because we are each made in God’s image, it may just be that our ideas are worth hearing out and sorting through rather than being thrown out at the first sign of sludge. It’s one thing to sort out a horror flick, but what about my neighbor?

I can think of some very personal examples–things I have been sorting through in my own life lately, finding unexpected good leaves and being uncertain about others (will they stand the test of time and eternity?). But rather than giving a lot of backstory for personal sorting, let me choose a more national example.

Islam.

For those of us who have lived our lives by the truths and traditions of Christianity, the thought of welcoming Islam into our schools, communities, and friendships–let alone our country!–is a no-brainer. Islam is not the truth, it’s the dark green decayed sludge. Toss it out! Keep it out! It’s dangerous in more ways than we can count (even without its associations with terrorism). Don’t sort it, toss it!

But I remember a movie I saw the summer of my junior year in high school. It was about a young adult who’d gone to an Islamic country on a mission trip, and had made friends with a Muslim man who, in the movie I watched, immigrates to the United States. The American man does his best to win the Muslim man to Christ, but instead finds that he is learning from this non-Christian’s example how shallow his own Christianity really is. We’d love for the movie to end with the Muslim recognizing his need for Christ and being gloriously saved, but the movie ends instead with the Christian man recognizing his need for Christ and for the lovely zeal he sees in his Muslim friend’s life.

Thinking back to that movie, I see that it forced me to do some sorting. Rather than throwing Islam out, I had to recognize that it had something to teach me. No, not that I should be working harder as a Christian, but that maybe my love for and zeal for God should be strong–though for a different reason, perhaps.

And thinking today of the White Helmets of Syria, the group that goes into danger to save as many lives as they can, I see many vibrantly green leaves to honor: courage & compassion among them. Their motto “Whoever saves one life, saves all of humanity” comes from the Koran. That isn’t something I can easily toss.

And so I find myself sorting spinach yet again.

 

 

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“We hold these truths to be self-evident . . . ” The words that follow this beginning come automatically to the American mind:

” . . . that all men are created equal . . . ” (and a few other “thats” follow in the first document of the United States, the Declaration of Independence.)

I just spent the last two posts discussing equality:
a) it’s a fact and not a goal and
b) it’s not as good a determiner of value as love.

Where, oh where, did we get the idea that equality makes us valuable?

We got it from God Himself. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that Whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” God–the only person who can love individually every being that He created, loving them both uniquely and possibly equally.

But who really thinks about love in terms of equality?

Well, kids do sometimes when they look at how Mom and Dad do different things with one child than with another and begin to compare those things. Sometimes they are right–one kid IS getting preferential treatment. More often they are missing the fact that Mom and Dad do different things for different kids because each kid is different and what would be fun for the one would not be as fun for the other.

We don’t really love people because they are equal; we love them because we love them. Because they are ours to love. Because we choose to love them.

And if loving them makes them valuable, then all people are valuable because God loves them all.

My brother’s economics teacher told a story about his brother who had been studying in England and had to go to the emergency room for a relatively minor (though uncomfortable and necessary) complaint. He waited, as expected, for several hours to be seen. Not so different from any American emergency room. However, while he was there waiting, a man came into the emergency room with a badly broken arm. He clearly needed more immediate treatment than the brother did, but he had to wait just as long. First come, first served. It’s all equal. That system, of course, is socialism and not Marxism per se, but the two are very closely related. Both of them use “equality” as their by-word and guiding principle. But equality is not as beautiful a guiding star as it seems to be. In fact, it’s not really a star at all, just a hard, cold meteorite of a fact.

The fact is that all men were created equal. No one has to make them equal, they already are.

But equality does not create value. And the funny thing about love (this just hit me) is that it raises the loved one from the original starting point of equality to the higher plane. When you are loved, you know that you are noticed, that you are more than just another pebble among all the other identical pebbles. By loving someone, you inherently affirm that someone’s uniqueness. Loving someone raises that someone from a position of equality to a position of worth.

Equality is what we have already; value and honor, love–those are the stars to navigate by.

So here we have the real difference between capitalism and Marxism/socialism: capitalism does one thing and does it well while Marxism/socialism try to do more than one thing and do both very badly.

Capitalism is merely an economic system in which individuals are free to make their own choices. It is only an economic system. It does not try to control the choices that those people make. If it did, it wouldn’t be a free-market system. It always works like it is supposed to–whether the free choices are based on selfishness and greed or on love and honoring others. By “working” I mean that it allows individuals to make their own choices and those choices produce results in a natural way–wise use of wealth begets more wealth. Greedy use of wealth begets more wealth, but only for a time. In fact, when you hear people talking about “the failure of capitalism” they are really talking about the moral failures of individuals and groups that have led to great losses. Capitalism did not fail. As an economic system it worked just fine and did just what it was supposed to do. The people working the capitalism left out the moral ingredients necessary to produce long-lasting success. In an accident you can’t blame the perfectly functioning car for the choices of the drunk driver.

Marxism and socialism are more than economic systems. They are attempts to ensure that people will make the right choices. These systems begin from the position that humans by nature will be greedy and will exploit inequalities for their own gain; therefore these systems try to eliminate human greed and vice by eliminating inequality. To do so, they attempt to control all individual choices–for the greater good. Because no one can legislate love, they fail miserably at righting the evils they claim capitalism allows (which it does because it’s only an economic system, after all). Because inequality makes everyone ride in the boat at the same time, they fail miserably at maintaining the greater good.

You can’t eliminate the individual and still maintain the greater good. Neither can you eliminate economics for the greater good. Owning and managing one’s own stuff is part of living and being able to do good. Those with more stuff have great potential to use that stuff to help other people–just ask the hospitals that each year write off thousands of dollars’ worth of services for those who cannot pay for the care they so desperately need. That benevolent action has nothing to do with equality. It has everything to do with value, with the value they place on helping others.

[Anyone care to poke a hole or two in my boat? 😉 ]

[Joyous Thirst goes political 😉 ]

On a teaching blog I read every week, a commenter left this comment on a post about the purpose of learning (“Why Do I Have to Learn This?“):

“Whereas the rules of capitalism said that if there were ten people on a riverbank and one boat moored nearby, they had to fight until one of them got the boat, the rules of Marxism said they all had to get into the boat at once, even if it sunk.” (kvennarad)

First, I had to laugh at the truth of the statement–capitalism does allow fighting for the boat while Marxism insists that everyone must sink together, since sinking is the only fair choice. Perhaps staying on the bank is another option, but theoretically no one wants to stay on the bank and everyone wants to get in the boat and so we must all get in the boat at the same time because taking turns presupposes an inequality. And above all things there must be equality.

My second thought was “wait, there’s a third option.” This is actually a false dilemma. There is something better than equality to be gained and to be practiced, and this something is “value” or “honor.”

Let me state it a bit more simply: it is possible for 10 people to not fight over the boat but to use to boat to help one another get to the other side. This helping one another is something that Marxism rules as improbable and therefore rules it out completely. This helping one another is something that is completely outside the domain of capitalism. I mean, capitalism does not and cannot dictate the morals of those that use its system. It’s only an economic system, after all! It can be practiced with disregard for others or it can be practiced with the principle of “do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” or better yet: “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”

See, if the people on the bank with the boat treat each other with honor, then they begin to think “how can we all get across the river without sinking the boat . . . and in the most effective, least time-consuming way?”

And if they treat each other with value, they begin to evaluate their own and each other’s strengths (who here knows how to manage a boat?), weaknesses (does anyone get seasick?), and needs (you’re a doctor on your way to deliver a baby? we need to get you across right away!). They also evaluate their assets (the boat) and liabilities (the river, the stormy night, and the limited capacity of the boat).

This allows them to use the capitalistic system of inequality in a way that benefits everyone. And yes, it is a system of inequality because, as kvennarad pointed out, complete equality either gets us nowhere or kills us all.

Beholding glory
Comfort, trust, sufficiency
God raises the dead
2-8-2011
Christ arose and was seen,
Forerunner of believers:
We live through Him
2-5-2011

This last portion of the poem deals with the one word that seems to be impossible–hope. Because that is the message of the Resurrection. Hope. Hope for new life that springs from the inside and changes us for eternity. Hope because the One who knew no sin became sin for us so that WE MAY BE MADE THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD IN HIM. That’s hope. And not the wishful-thinking kind. It’s the hang-your-hat-on kind. The lay-your-every-waking-moment-on-the-line kind of hope. Expectation.

I’m standing at the tomb
His tomb
My tomb
Your tomb
Dare I hope to see an angel
Announcing over empty grave-clothes
The Impossible has happened?
Where does my heart,
My death-wounded heart go
to find Your Resurrection?
Like Martha, I believe
You are Who You Are—
God, the Son of God,
The Resurrection and the Life.
Can this belief become
the spice I bring to mourn the dead?
Here is where we dwell:
We dwell with Death—
death of loved-ones, hopes, and dreams
Should I really be
Surprised that You should die?
It’s not ok
But I’m used
To it, to death
There’s always one more tomb.

But Yours is empty
Empty, hollow, vacant—
Incomprehensibly absent
Is the corpse I came to find.
“Because I live, ye shall live also”
Was Your promise,
A promise just as impossible,
Just as improbable—
Teach me to believe!
For now, just help me trust
In You, the One I’ve come to know.
I know You’ll read my message
When I send to You saying,
“Lord, the one You love is sick, is dead.”
You’ll come, e’en though he’s dead,
Because You love him, too.
I’m waiting for the glory of God
Promised by You,
Incomprehensibly impossible.
Hoping, waiting, believing
That You defeated Death.

Jesus, I need
Your arms and blessing
Enfolding and securing me
So I can remember
What it is
To be a little child

God reminded me of a piece by Elisabeth Elliot in The Music of His Promises and it was what I needed to remember in my busy day . . .

God can make room for it all–
Responsibilities, concerns, tasks–
I had forgotten to ask.

This post should, most likely, be some piece of poetry . . . preferably by me and not someone else . . . or so I’ve been told 😉

However, since it’s late at night and I shouldn’t even be up right now, let alone on the computer,
And since I haven’t written any poetry lately,
And since I haven’t gone through old poems in a while to see if there are any new ones to post,
This will have to do,
For now =)

So I had forgotten to add a link to a blog that contains some student writings that are really quite fun: Around the Writer’s Block. Check out the pantoums. And if you want something to sink your teeth into, there are the essays =)

And then there is the blog of the friend who does cakes for a living–you should totally check out the pictures! She’s amazing! Cakes by Suzy is as fun as the name implies =)

Finally there’s the one I found most recently. Meditations for the Liminal is not for everyone, though there was definitely something there for me. It’s primarily for those who have found themselves hurt by those who looked very spiritual and turned out to be modern-day Pharisees (probably because they themselves truly knew nothing of God’s love). It’s for those who are “liminal” as the author explains: those who have found themselves “in between,” so to speak–not easily categorized as “Fundamentalist” but also not willing to deny the things that are fundamental to a relationship with Jesus Christ. I have been moved by the way the blog explores Who Jesus is–something that we all find ourselves coming back to again and again as we grow in our Christian lives. Growing closer to God and learning to be more like Christ inevitably leads us to ponder what Christ is really like. =)

So now I am going to conclude this post and head for bed . . . maybe. 😉

(found this in perusing old journals today, Aug 24, 2010 . . . was both amused and encouraged!)

Tuesday, January 27, 2004
written after reading MEN OF IRON by Howard Pyle

Lord and Master,
how weary I be in “well-doing” Thou wottest all to well of. Yet, peradventure I be not doing even half so well as Thou wouldest desire and dost deserve.

Arm me within to the challenges I must face ere my race be run–be they challenges glamorous or tedious, be they adventures dreadful or monotonous. Strengthen my resolve by Thine omnipotent right arm.

Champion I would be, yet have I the heart of a child and the will of a peasant. My champion Thou must be else my defeat is certain.

Nerve me to face whatever may be my lot. I know not whether I be fitted for greatness and victory or no. Thou knowest. Frame me and fashion me to play the part Thy wisdom hath written for me.

One boon I would ask of Thee: preserve this manly faith within my heart. Cause Thou my soul to trust in Thee through continued glimpses into Thy loving heart and superior wisdom. Let me know mine own foolishness that I may know Thy magnanimity. Burnish my shield of faith.

I stand on trial again . . .
Faced with my Accuser . . .
And I know myself to be
All that I am accused of, and worse,
As though he holds a mirror
To my face and I see myself
Again just as I am:
Ugly, dirty, scarred;
Clothed in rags and torn;
Foolish, weak, and useless;
Careworn.
What does it matter that
The price is paid already?
I stand ashamed to know
So much was paid for
Something–someone–so
Very worthless.

I stand on trial again . . .
O Advocate! What have I to say?
I hear my accusations and
I think, I feel, I know them
To be possible. But are they true?
Is it Your robes of righteousness
Or my own rags of shame I wear?
And what do the garments matter
Anyway, if all is true as my Accuser says?

O Advocate, my dear Lord Jesus Christ!
You know this hurt more deeply
Than I know my share–
You wore my rags, becoming
What I feel myself to be:
Sin-stained, guilt-laden,
Shamed and bearing shame.
All that I was before Your advent
(springing up Your very life within my soul)
You became for me.
It is still true, though I can’t feel it so,
That You have made me into
What You Are?
Which clothes are mine in truth:
The righteous gown I wear–cloth
Of Your joy and glory–or
The rags I see upon my form
In the Adversary’s mirror?

3-3-2010

originally published 12 May, 2010 at 23:20 (for those who read it back then *smile*)

Oh, God of dust and rainbows, help us see That without dust the rainbow would not be. ~ Langston Hughes

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