An Ascent Towards Wisdom

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Peaceableness, justice, compassion, hospitality, simplicity, and community. These virtues are part of the soil of renewal, but there’s one last virtue I left for last, as it just may be what makes these other virtues stand out. Wisdom. I am not talking about high IQ’s, scholasticism, or technological know-how. Instead, what I mean by wisdom is the ability to discern when and where peace, justice, compassion, hospitality, simplicity, and community are most needed and how to go about modeling these virtues without a patriarchal, authoritarian, paternalistic, self-righteous mindset.

The proverbs teach us that wisdom is a gift from God (Prov. 2:6), and I do agree with that, but I also believe that it’s learned by those who are humble and teachable. Wisdom is also known in the proverbs as insight, or understanding (Prov. 3:13, 19), and understanding comes when one is willing to listen and learn in a posture of humility, especially when God speaks, for respect and reverence of God is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 1:7). People who revere God will soon understand justice, compassion, etc.

In the book, Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement, Bouma-Prediger and Walsh state that “wisdom… is the ability to discern compassionate paths of justice and peace” (222). They conclude this because wisdom comes from God, and through wisdom God has created all things, and even worked out redemption for the brokenness of His creation, which as we learned in an earlier post, Jesus is the ultimate picture of compassion and justice wrapped up into one.

It’s God’s wisdom which is referred to as the master workman of creation (Prov. 8:30), and it was this same craftsman that saw the path towards renewal for creation as sacrificial and costly, something only His wisdom could know and understand. It’s God’s wisdom that was patient enough to listen to and know the deep recesses of the human heart and the fragmented realities of the earth, and it’s His wisdom that offers paths back towards God after we have burned all of our supposed bridges.

It is at this starting point that one can begin to possess the ability to be for all of creation in the fullest sense. Wisdom is needed to live an alternative life in the midst of a culture that rarely considers healthy limits. Wisdom is needed to stand against habits that have been acceptable to society, but destructive to the earth and humans. Wisdom is needed to navigate right living in the midst of competing philosophies and conflicting interests. It will also be wisdom that holds back unhelpful anger for those who are destructive towards universal peace and flourishing.

What wisdom can offer leaders, policy makers, pastors, professors, bosses, and parents, is how to think about and plan for what’s best not just for today or tomorrow, but what’s best for the next seven generations. Considering prosperity for the long-haul, even if we are not going to be immediately benefited by our decisions, is birthed out of wisdom, not folly.

We need more wise stewards of the earth and of people. We need an awakening of wise women and men who critically think through the issues of our day, and live in light of the next seven generations. Wisdom gives us holy imaginations to consider what a city or neighborhood could look like if we took seriously the story we are called to live in; God’s story of redemption and renewal, for humans and for the whole earth. We need mothers and fathers who are wise, who can offer themselves to the fatherless and the motherless and be givers not takers.

Dr. Michael Goheen, a wise and godly professor from Vancouver, Canada, comprised an unpublished list (posted below which I adapted from a personal lecture/powerpoint) of what a community of faith could look like if it took seriously it’s call to live in light of God’s redemptive and renewing narrative. I find this a fitting way to wrap up this series of posts about church renewal with an imagination of what kingdom life could look like on earth, as it is in heaven:

What if the church was known as…
– a community of self-control and marital fidelity in a world saturated by sex.

– a community of generosity and “enough” in world of consumption.

– a community of forgiveness in a world of hatred, competition, grudges, and revenge.

– a community of thankfulness in a world of entitlement.

– a community of God-worship in a world of narcissism.

– a community of sacrificial love in a world of selfishness and self-gratification.

– a community of wisdom in a world of proliferating knowledge and information technology.

– a community of humility in a world of arrogant self-interest.

– a community of patience in a world of immediate gratification.

– a community of compassion in a world numbed by overexposure to violence, tragedy and abuse.

– a community that uses language positively in a world of destructive communication.

– a community of joy in a world dominated by a frantic and hedonistic pursuit of pleasure.
- a community of depth in a culture of superficiality.

– a community of cheerful seriousness in a culture of triviality.

– a community committed to the important issues of our globe in a culture of apathy and indifference.

– a community of selflessness in a culture of self-absorption and entitlement.

– a community of joyful purpose in a culture “amusing ourselves to death.”

– a community of ecological and economic stewardship in a world that has been raped ecologically and economically.

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An Honest Conversation 

“I go on this great republican principle, that the people will have virtue and intelligence to select men of virtue and wisdom… Is there no virtue among us?… If there be not, no form of government can render us secure. To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people is a chimerical (highly unrealistic) idea.” James Madison, late 18th century, via Habits of the Heart, 254.

This is indeed a powerful statement from a man who was the chief architect of our infamous Constitution that has helped shape a great nation. The power was always meant to be in the hands of the collective people, people with virtue and wisdom, people who are able to see goodness and honor, and to elect only those who displayed such characteristics. Is this not what we long for in America? Is this not why many people are outraged over the amount of support Trump has won over? The disregard of virtue and character disgusts us and confuses many in our country today. It also reveals how many of us have things we love more than goodness, truthfulness, and human dignity.

I would be neglectful however, if I focused only on Trump’s (or any other candidate’s) virtues and wisdom (or lack thereof) and did not take the time reflect on the virtue and wisdom of our founding fathers as well. The tension of this powerful statement comes from a man (James Madison) who did not count blacks as part of “We the people.” They didn’t even see them as fully human. To be exact, they saw them as 3/5 human. The “We the people” didn’t even fully include women, as they were void of many rights as well, including the ability to vote. This was a founding group of white men who forcefully took land, lives, and dignity from the natives, and to this day, has never fully been acknowledged and dealt with. It seems so easy to overlook this reality and romanticized the goodness of our founding fathers because of all the other good they stood for and the amazing Constitution they created, but to overlook this seems like a grave injustice and inhumane.

This is a generational narrative that has set an infinite amount of implicit rules that most white people are not able to see nor admit. Our nation was founded by white men who set up a nation to cater to people with the same color of skin as theirs. Within all this, implicit rules were established, rules that put white mans needs above everyone else. These unspoken implicit rules have set a culture that has so utterly permeated today’s culture, that to deny there is not equality or equity for people who have darker skin than the average Englishman is ignorant. There are forces at work that people in the dominant culture are not able to see unless they’re able to humbly get out of their privilege and see through the lenses of sub-dominant cultures perspectives.

I say this not to discount the goodness of what America has stood for in many other ways through out all the years, but to seek honest reflection about a nation that has become my heritage, my home. I do believe we live in a very great nation that has fought for justice and peace in many ways. But any good historian (and I am no where close to an historian) would never recount only the good and forsake the ugly of the past. Yet, we as Americans seem to easily neglect the mess as a way to anesthetize our senses to the dysfunction of our heritage, leaving cancer in our souls, slowly growing and hurting and killing us, like a frog boiling in water, and we wonder how we are in the place we are today.

So what is virtue and wisdom? How should we define those words? Does our founding father’s neglect of human dignity towards Women, Blacks, and Indians matter to any of us, or is it easy for us to overlook it and spin the truth of what it was like back then? Was our country founded with “integrous” virtue and wisdom? Does anyone care about our heritage? Do we even care that we’ve never fully acknowledged the atrocious acts of our beginnings? Are we willing to be honest about them, or is it too much for us to take in? Are white people scared to speak out and say that the race issue is the dominant cultures problem? Will white people read this and miss the point I’m trying to make, and become angry with what I’m saying? Where’s our virtue, our wisdom, our courage?

At this moment in history, we’ve been offered another gift. A gift that has exposed, once again, where we are at as a nation, where we are morally, where our allegiances lay, what we truly love and value, and our individual concern that has neglected the common good of the “whole.”

Many of us today are disgusted at what we see? The question is, what are we going to do with our disgust? Are we going to numb ourselves from it and say it really is not a big deal? Are we going to keep on spinning our heritage and twisting historical facts? Are we going to be selective listeners? Are we going to allow our disgust to move us to hate certain people and groups and create more division? Are we going to let the oppressive culture dictate how we treat people? Or are we going to let it move us to compassion that seeks alternative ways to live and honor each other’s diversity? Is it crazy to think that we would allow our disgust to radically change the way we live and love both privately and publicly?

The future holds the mysterious and unknown answers to these questions, and we will soon see what’s next for this people group called Americans. We are all responsible to act and change according to our convictions, and do so in a way that restores human dignity, with a virtue of humility and the wisdom of the divine. May we all be willing to not only take an honest loom at our heritage, but also an honest look at our own lives, our loyalties. We truly are what we love, and what our fore fathers loved, has shaped what we believe and how we behave more than we’re willing to admit.

What do you love, really? Be honest. It’s brutal at first, then you’ll realize you’re human, you’re flawed, and so is everyone else around you. Maybe then we’ll be able to offer more grace to others who are different than us, and will be able to see with a new set of lenses, our country, our families, our personal and public lives, and our need for one another.

Is this the world you want? You’re making it everyday you breathe the air of this world. What is your life song singing? Are you playing on tune? Are you playing in harmony with others or do you prefer solos, or should I say silos? We need each other more than we know, but we need to admit it first. Freedom is at hand, and it’s not the kind of freedom most of us think of. It’s a freedom to be exposed, to be wrong, and to admit it. It’s a freedom to not be in control, and to give up power, and to offer life to those who have had life robbed from them. The freedom we’ve been given, at whatever level we actually have freedom, has been given so that we are able to offer it to others as well.

The Art of ‘Flipping the Bird’

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Has this ever happened to you? Being flipped off that is… Last week I was driving on 19th Ave near Indian School (in Phoenix) with my friend Billy Thrall. I was in the passenger seat when these guys drove up next to us motioning through the window to roll down our window. So we did, and the driver said, “You guys want to buy an entertainment center?” With my camera already in hand ready to go, I said, “No, but can I take your picture?”

The picture above was their response. I’m so happy I captured that moment, and Billy and I died laughing thinking, “Did that really just happen?” Yes, yes it did just happen, and you know what, I respect them for doing it. I know, I know, I’m weird like that. I can remember when I was an adolescent and I learned what ‘flipping someone the bird’ was, and one night I was talking with my dad about it and other things about life and relationships. My dad told me, “Jeff, it’s better to be honest with how you feel than to hold it in and brew with anger gossip in your heart and gossip to others about it.”

That’s wisdom, and I listened to it and took it in. Later that night, after some small, petty disagreement with my dad before I went to bed, I looked at my dad while ‘flipping him the bird’ (literally) and said, “Hey dad, good night!” We got a good laugh about that back then, and we still do today.

Many of us have ‘flipped the birds’ in our hearts to people we love, and then acted like we were all buddy, buddy with them at the same time. These guys in the truck are more respectable because they had the freedom (albeit a rebellious freedom that I’m not advocating!) to let out how they truly felt. We would do well, and it would be very loving to those we know, not to BS them with fake affection if we aren’t feeling it. Honesty is beautiful. Being honest about being mad at someone you are close to is even more beautiful.

A Proverb says: Faithful are the wounds of a friend; deceitful are the kisses of an enemy. (27:6) Don’t give kisses to brothers and sisters when you’re ‘flipping them off’ in your heart. Be real. Be loving. Give them the gift of honesty, which is loving. After all, it feels good sometimes to let the birds fly free!