Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Lessons from a moral storm

There are a lot of jokes already going around about the ill-fated Melbourne Storm Rugby League team. My favourite is this one: “What is the difference between a triangle and the Melbourne Storm?” Answer: "The triangle has three points more than the Storm". For those who might be living outside Sydney, or who have greater passions than rugby league, this past week the Melbourne Storm has paid a very, very high price for its rather too clever accounting procedures to get around the salary cap placed on all clubs. The idea of the salary cap is that no one rich club can literally buy victory by spending a greater amount on players' salaries. In reality, most of the clubs love the salary cap because it artificially pegs players salaries and thus makes it more possible for them to survive. But for years there have been all sorts of speculation about 'under the table' payments to special players. So now it has been revealed that all the other rugby league clubs are 'lily white' clean when it comes to this salary cap business and the wicked Melbourne Storm (and the wicked Bulldogs who were caught a few years back) must be punished almost to the point of oblivion, to allow the game to regain its just, fair and clean image. I don’t think so!

Warren Ryan, commentator and ex-player and coach, agrees that the other clubs will now be shaking in their boots. Who will be the next to have their books (both or all three sets) audited and found wanting. The defense “But everyone else was doing it!” seems a little lame, but time will tell that it is probably not far from the truth. We all like to live in the fantasyland that we are all basically honest and upright people, with just a few notable 'bad apples'. In reality, all the evidence points to the fact that corruptions seems a temptation that none are exempt from and most are enticed by.

We have a police force to deal with crime and corruption, but in NSW we realize that you need an independent commission against corruption to investigate police corruption. In the world of business, and especially the banking and investment banking sector, we are realizing that even the most admired names have endemic corruption, that in the eyes of some prosecutors is nothing short of fraud. But it goes even deeper and we find that even at the local soccer club, scout association, netball association and even church, corrupt financial and power decisions are only overshadowed by the even more devastating abuse of sexual power.

The problems of humanity are endemic and the real solutions need to go to the heart of the problem. We need to face up to our wrongdoings and guilt. We need to accept that before the ultimate investigator, God, all our victories are questionable and we deserve no moral competition points in our quest to make the spiritual and eternal second half of the season.

Our hope is not in our goodness but in God’s mercy and grace. God’s love has a greater power than enforcement to encourage us to fight corruption and choose to live His good ways.

What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God — through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Romans 7: 24-25

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Getting Rid Of Junk – Part 3

I am very tempted to devote this week's Word4LIfe to volcanoes, but as I can’t spell the name, let alone pronounce the name of the volcano in Iceland, I might just leave this topic in the hope that things improve quickly. If by this time next week there are still no flights coming out of Europe, I can easily return to a well worn theme that we are really not as in control of our destiny as we imagine.

Instead today I want to break tradition and comment for the third week in a row about clutter. I have been a little shocked at the amount of responses I have received on this topic. It seems that the problem of an ever increasing amount of stuff speaks to many generations in all sorts of places around the world. Last week my favourite response was from someone who shared the following quote with me about clutter. The quote comes from William Morris, an English textile designer, artist, writer and socialist associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the English Arts and Crafts movement. Morris had a refreshingly simple idea for determining what you keep in your house and what is not worth the space.

Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."

Morris’ idea is simple and rather challenging. Sure we will sometimes not know if that thing will one day become useful again, but chances are that the floral shirt you bought in Fiji that looked so exotic in Suva, is not really ever going to be of much use to you in Sydney or Melbourne. Yes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But if your wife tells you that the wooden sword you bought in New Zealand is an ugly eyesore and has to go, then she is probably right. The only problem I can see with Morris’ idea is that my wife might conclude that I am neither useful nor beautiful, but hopefully the marriage covenant trumps the 'getting rid of clutter' mantra.

When it comes to our intellectual, cultural and most importantly, spiritual development, getting rid of everything that is neither useful nor beautiful could make a real difference. We do tolerate a lot of ugly things like guilt, pride, revenge, bitterness and hatred. They often take up an inordinate amount of space in our cluttered lives and they really achieve less than nothing. There will always be space in our lives for relaxation but when TV, video games, social networking and procrastination take 20 hours or more out of our week, it is hardly surprising that we feel that we are too busy to do the things that matter.

De-cluttering our house allows space for the useful and the beautiful. De-cluttering our lives allows us the joy of being productive and the delight of experiencing real beauty.

“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” Genesis 1: 31

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Getting rid of the junk - Part 2

My favourite piece of de-clutter advice is very simple: if you buy something, then at the same time get rid of its equivalent. If you buy a new shirt, then take the oldest and least worn (or most worn out) and put it in the recycling clothing bin. 'But', you might say, 'there is nothing I can throw out because nothing is worn'. The obvious de-clutter advice to that comment is, 'Then don’t buy anything new'. It’s that simple. Today I bought three pair of socks, so it’s time to throw out those three pair with holes sulking in the back of the drawer. I know we can get attached to our belongings but often that attachment is literally sinking the ship. (And yes I know my garage is not perfect but it is a work in progress).

What really changed my mind on clutter was experiencing first hand the task of sorting through a loved ones belongings after he died. The simple fact is that if you don’t throw out that rubbish today, then someone of some generation is one day going to have to do it. Even the desktop of a computer is so much nicer when the clutter is gone. So strike a blow today - get rid of the rubbish and you will be surprised by the delight in having some space and not being overrun by stuff.

Anyone who has ever moved house knows that moving is one of life’s real pains. Moving is such a pain you could describe it as a curse. When Adam and Eve sinned, one of the first things that happened was that they were moved out of the garden. We have been moving ever since. But the real pain is not in the moving, it is in the moving of our stuff. The stuff actually slows us down and sometimes determines our fate. But all this is all temporary. One day, one way or another, we will part with our stuff. One day we will go to a nursing home at best or a box at worst and the stuff will be left for future generations to divide up, bicker over, sell and take to the tip.

The Old Book explains things so simply – we came into the world with nothing and we will leave with nothing and who we are and how we relate to God matters a great deal more than how much stuff we have.

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” Job 1: 21

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Getting rid of the junk

An invention in Australia known as the council clean up somehow brings out the best in human ingenuity and the worst in human folly. Three or four times a year most areas have a council clean up. How it works is that people can clean out their broken, unwanted and useless things and place them on the nature strip out the front of their house. The council sends compactor trucks around and on the appointed day, in fact usually a few days after the appointed day, they collect the rubbish free of charge. But the real beauty of the system is that most of the rubbish is not picked up by the council at all, as it has already been redistributed by others in the community.

Occasionally neighbours see something out the front of someone else’s house and decide they may have a use for that unwanted thing. To be honest, we have a few old decorative wheelbarrows, a bike that needs renovating and a few pieces of furniture we have collected this way. Apart from neighbours there are the professional collectors who cruise the streets, normally in large vans or trucks looking for treasure amongst everyone else’s trash. This week we were visited by one guy in a truck who was obviously a scrap metal dealer, as he collected not only everything metal from our heap, but was also happy to collect some more oversized metal rubbish from our backyard that I knew was too large and heavy for the council to collect. These collectors know that each piece of metal will not be worth much but collectively there is quite some value to be found.

The real crazies of this whole process are the people who cruise the streets, only to fill their own garages with junk that one day they hope they will have a use for. There isn't a determined effort to reclaim value; rather there is a wistful hope that one day something might be of some use. Collecting other people's rubbish for such a vague notion may well be a community service, but I fear it must also be threatening marriages and relationships across the country, as these collectors are invariably men whose garages fill with what the rest of us are firmly convinced is nothing but junk.

Learning to de-clutter in a materialistic age is essential before we are overrun with stuff. Even more important is getting rid of the junk in our lives and replacing it with things that are good - a process that has application far beyond our garages. Removing the vain, the trivial and the banal from our minds leaves room for deep things that can fuel our souls. Letting go, even a little, of the rubbish of jealousy, vanity and revenge leaves us with space to love. Replacing regret with commitment, guilt with thankfulness and worry with work, can revolutionize our daily lives.

Finally, taking the step of faith and abandoning our false gods to follow the true and living God, is nothing short of eternal salvation.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.”

Philippians 4: 8