Thursday, January 28, 2010

Keep in step (spiritual formation on the run).

It's been a while since I last posted a reflection from Alex's "Spiritual Formation on the Run" ...

For this post I have chosen Chapter 25: Keep in Step.
First, the chapter in blue italics, and followed by my reflections and of course ramblings :-) Please be forewarned about the ramblings! :-)

Look at a herd of sheep. You may be able to get them to move together in one direction, which farmers in Australia use sheep dogs to do. The sheep dogs will herd the sheep, but the sheep will never be able to march in a precise and coordinated manner. They will trip over and run into each other, and make a lot of noise. A herd of sheep does not exhibit teamwork.

An emperor of China decided to see if his people could work together. Were they capable of teamwork? He issued a decree that everybody must eat with four-feet long chopsticks; they were not allowed to eat with their hands. The decree must be obeyed on pain of death. After six months, the emperor wondered how his people were responding to the decree. So he sent out his great captain to see what was happening. In the first village that he visited, the captain saw that the people were starving. They had a lot of food, but were unable to get the food into their mouths with the long chopsticks. The captain visited other villages and encountered the same situation. People were starving and dying, even though there was an abundance of food. One day, he came upon a village that was happy and well fed. He asked the people, "How is it that you are happy and well fed while others in the country are starving?" The villagers smiled and said, "When we first tried to eat with the long chopsticks, we just could not get food into our mouths. One day, we decided to feed each other." That was teamwork.

Teamwork is working together - whether you are feeding each other, or marching together in drill, or doing a project together in school. We need each other. To succeed in any enterprise, we must work as a team.

Even Jesus Christ had a team. His team was made up of 12 men called disciples. He told them, "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28:19).

I remember that I first read the chopsticks story many years ago in Readers Digest (a filler humorous (?) story of a dream). In this version, it was a story about heaven and hell. It was about how the situation in both realms were the same. There was plenty of food but in hell people were selfish, so everyone was miserable and starving. No one was willing to feed the other. In heaven, because people were selfless and caring, everyone was well fed because each would feed the other.

As I reflected afresh on contents of this chapter, and the chopstick story (both versions), a very "unspiritual" thought came to my mind. "What if I were to feed the other person, but when it came to my turn, he refuses to feed me?" It was a hypothetical question of course but the mere fact that I though of that question made me realize how sinful my heart still is. (Although I did try "arguing" with myself that I was just being "realistic" as I have been taken advantage of way too often when I am nice to others.)

It has been an interesting "lectio divina" exercise for me. Upon deeper reflection, I then felt that if I were ever in such a situation, I would do the right thing and not think so selfishly. That was a relief. But then later upon even more further reflection, I thought that I would probably want to come to an agreement first with the "other party" so that it would be clear that "I will first feed you, but I am doing this with the understanding that you will then also feed me." Oops ... my selfishness and insecurity wells up again! :-(

*sigh* Jeremiah 17: 9 comes to mind! "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?"

Yes, I know some of you might be asking, "Isn't this chapter / meditation about teamwork?" I haven't forgotten ... this is just one of my rambling tangents. I will get to the teamwork part later ... or eventually ... :-)

Anyway ... it was back and forth and back and forth as I tried to examine closer my motives and attitudes, and entered into the old debate of whether human beings are born essentially good or essentially evil. Then it got more complicated as I revisited the problem of many Christians not living the way they know they should ... should not a good tree bear good fruit? And even back to 1990 to my B.Th thesis topic that was part of my wrestling with the then "LORDSHIP SALVATION DEBATE".

Crazy really as earlier this week I watched an episode of FRASIER that I taped. (The sitcom with the psychiatrist brothers, Frasier and Niles Crane) and one of the debates they had (weaved into the storyline) was over their conflicting beliefs. For fans, Frasier held that people are essentially good, while Niles thought otherwise...

Then I had a conversation a couple of days ago during a pastoral visit to a church member in which we discussed (among many other things) a problem she faced where after years of trying to be nice in her approach to getting a solution about a defective service (which has been causing her so much inconvenience and money), she has had to go to court to rectify the problem. Fast disappearing are the days of a person's word being his or her bond. Then it made me think of the few courses I took on Law. Isn't a verbal agreement / contract still considered a binding contract? I think so but then I guess the problem is not the verbal contract but proving that there was such a verbal contract and how one interprets the contract.

So many questions, so many turns. Though in the end all these thoughts gave me a bit of comfort in that I do have a good reputation of being a man of my word. Not sure if I have a final conclusion to my messy thoughts but Romans 7:18-25 sure helps!

18 I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do-- this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. 21 So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God's law; 23 but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?

25 Thanks be to God-- through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.


Now back to the teamwork part ...

I think about teamwork very often. Stuff like how the many parts of that make up the body of Christ should function, the spiritual gifts Christians have been etc. And I do agree wholeheartedly that to succeed in any enterprise, we must work as a team.

And I like the chopstick story as it made me think of what I think is an oft neglected aspect of team work - that of "taking turns to feed and be fed".

Anyway ... as I reflected on aspects of team work, I realised that some of the best experiences has been when other team members cheerfully cover for a team member who is temporarily unable to function due to illness, needing a break etc. It means a lot of extra work for the rest but when the unwell team member gets better and returns, he / she is even more energized and the contribution is amazing. I have noticed that this happens often and in the long run it results in greater team work and stronger relationships. Many examples come to mind.

For example, on our last short term mission trip, one of our members was not well for the first two days. We covered for her and made her rest. We were down one key person and we had to do more work but when she recovered, it was almost as if she was doing the work of two.

Last year, a key ministry person asked for time off (one year) from some of the areas he was doing so well in. It was tough to let him take time off especially since we lost a number of key ministry leaders and active people due to migration. His year off meant a key ministry area would suffer. But some of us felt it was the right thing for him to take time off. This year he is back, re-energized and taking on bigger roles and doing such a greater job!

There are so many more stories like those above! It made me realize too that my "policy" of allowing or even asking people to take time off from ministry and taking over for them temporarily has been the right thing to do.

This year a few people have stepped up to spearhead some ministry projects that I helped start and so have normally taken charge of. They are taking these projects to a new level by their own initiative and it is exciting. And so now the "chopsticks" are in their hands and I am getting some much needed food (and rest) in those areas.... and allowing me to spend more time in other needful areas.

Feed others and you will be fed by them! :-)

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