Friday, July 09, 2010

The Triangle : Balancing The Relationships Of Life

‘Lifeshapes’ are a series of tools for discipleship – for helping us to follow Jesus, and to help others to follow Jesus. Recognising that we live in an iconic culture, where brand logos both carry and unlock significant volumes of experience for us – try it: how much information and experience does the Disney logo, or the Apple logo, or the M&S logo recall to your mind? Choose a logo and write a list – they make use of simple iconic shapes to carry and unlock biblical teaching to live by, with a focus on the life and ministry of Jesus. The beauty of iconic symbols is this: that, just as with every new Disney (etc.) release, the reservoir of knowledge their logo carries and unlocks expands; so with every new thing we learn about living as disciples, the reservoir of knowledge the Lifeshapes carries and unlocks for us also expands.

According to Jesus, the greatest commandment is this: to love God with all of our heart (volitional, what we choose), and with all of our soul (emotional, what we feel), and with all of our mind (intellectual, what we think), and with all of our strength (physical, what we do). And the second greatest commandment is this: to love our neighbour (Jesus defined our neighbour as whoever does not share our beliefs about God) as much as we love ourselves (that is, those who share our beliefs, our own faith community). Indeed, Jesus goes so far as to say that everything else in the Bible hangs on these two commands: is, in effect, commentary, showing us who God is and how to love him; who we are and what loving one another looks like in practice; and who is our neighbour and how we are to relate to them.

And so life is all about attending to these three different relationships, and learning how to express love for God, self and neighbour in the choices we make, in what we feel about ourselves and others (emotions are important, but don’t overrule choice), in what we think about ourselves and others, and in what we do towards ourselves and others.

This is worked out in all kinds of ways. For example, in raising children to maturity, we need to give them three things: love, discipline, and freedom. They need the security of knowing that they are loved, of growing up in a loving environment – and love, whether we acknowledge it or not, comes from God. And they need discipline and freedom, which go hand-in-hand. For example, my children are currently under the discipline of learning to read and write and manipulate numbers – and the extent to which they can experience freedom in the world is determined, to a large degree, by the extent to which they can take on these disciplines. Likewise, they experience the discipline of having breakfast every morning, and a (more or less) regular bedtime at night. Again, the discipline of healthy nutition and sleep patterns – of a disciplined lifestyle – directly impact their capacity to explore the world in which they live, and how they relate to others.

This is simple – just three things to attend to – but hard (our mistake is to believe that parenting is complex, but somehow ought to be easy). It is interesting to observe the relationship between Millennials (those born after 1980) and their parents (the youngest of the Baby Boomer generation and oldest of Generation X). These parents have largely reacted to their own childhood experience of absent fathers – whether emotionally absent because they found their identity almost entirely through their career, rather than as husbands/fathers; or physically absent, through rapidly rising divorce. In reaction, as parents themselves, they have sought to always be there for their children, and to be friends with their children. They have seen discipline as punishment, rather than training – and raised a generation who see discipline as rejection. They have seen freedom as abandonment, rather than maturity – and raised a dependent generation who have a high view of entitlement and a low capacity for perseverance. As a result, Millennials struggle to leave home, or even contribute to the running of their parents’ home (in truth, their parents struggle to let them go, or even let them contribute); struggle to operate as adults in the workplace; struggle to enter into lasting relationships. But love hopes to see the one it loves grow to maturity, and compels us to attend to finding the balance between too much/too little discipline and too much/too little freedom.

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