Monday, June 24, 2013

Which One Would You Choose?

One of the great privileges of being the Daddy of daughters is the opportunities I have had to play Barbies. These Barbie playtimes have provided unexpected adventures, with my girls displaying amazing creativity and always discovering ways to make the Barbie experience more palatable for Daddy. I’ve been a chef for Barbie, a Barbie Body guard, a Barbie Chauffer, and this weekend, a judge for a Barbie singing contest extravaganza! All of the contestants were amazing, with performances powered by the strong vocal talents of our own Victoria! That fact, made judging the performances a bit of a challenge, since every last contestant was spot on in their presentations and absolutely equal in every way. It was apparent to Vic and to me that the only criteria I had left were criteria based on appearances. Hmmm. The Barbie contestants differed from each other in ways that were totally external: hairstyles, wardrobes, and physical features. As I thought about the choice I was being asked to make, I began to consider the message that my choice might give to my daughter. What would it say about how I viewed people and evaluate others? Was this really a teaching moment or mere child’s play? Flashes of doll experiments used to discover how children viewed themselves in terms of beauty came to mind. Perhaps this could be a teaching moment. But how?
As I pondered the decision, I thought back to my own childhood and my own experience with action figure dolls. I remember the talking Astronaut G.I. Joe my father brought back with him from a deployment to Puerto Rico. Joe was awesome! He spoke some excellent, tough guy phrases like, “Accomplish the Mission!” “Ten seconds to lift-off…and counting!” “We are entering lunar orbit!” and “Houston…we have landed!” There were a couple of problems though: he didn’t have any Army uniforms, and he wasn’t Airborne! As if they had read my mind, my parents shared some resources to bring my G.I. Joe up to speed. My mom showed me how to make uniforms I could sew from scraps of my dad’s old fatigues. Army uniforms? Check! Dad presented me with a real parachute from an illumination round with a ball-bearing attached to give it enough weight to descend at the proper speed. Airborne? Well, he was about to be!

After preparing Joe for his mission by putting him in the proper uniform, it was time for the Airborne operation to begin. First we had to get to altitude. I climbed up onto the 8-foot tall, 15-yard long carport that stood in front of our quarters. The carport gave me the running space to gain throwing momentum and to achieve the extra height needed to give Joe’s chute enough altitude to open. The chute had been carefully packed and I bound it to Joe with a special harness I had designed myself. I gathered speed, much like a javelin thrower approaching the release point, reared back and heaved! Joe went soaring through the air gaining tremendous altitude! His chute began to unfurl in textbook fashion but something wasn’t quite right. There was a twist! Joe had a Mae West! The partially opened chute slowed Joe down some, but not enough to lessen the terrible sound of Joe impacting the sidewalk with a thunderous “CRACK!!!” I jumped off of the carport, executing a perfect PLF (Parachute Landing Fall) just like Dad taught me and nothing like Joe’s impact. I picked Joe up and found him to be bent in a strange way. One great characteristic of G.I. Joe is his flexibility. I made a few bends and twists and he looked just about as good as new. I pulled his string and found that Joe only had one phrase left in him… “ACCOMPLISH MISSION!” Though he was damaged, it seemed his priorities were squared away! He was Airborne and he was mission driven! What more could I ask for?

Well, actually there was one thing. I wanted Joe to look like my dad. The life-like hair and Kung-Fu grip, were dead on…but his complexion, well… not quite! I thought about it and secured a brown magic marker. I began to color Joe’s face and exposed limbs in a brown tint almost identical to mine and my father’s. Mom saw it and said, “Beautiful!” For me, G.I. Joe now had at least a little bit of soul!

“Dad?” Victoria’s interrogative interrupted my blast to the past. “Who won?” I remained silent. Which Barbie would I choose? Before I could answer, Victoria had a most interesting solution. “I know!” She interjected. Picking up the blonde Barbie she reasoned, “This is our winner at the beginning of her time as queen.” Then, putting her down and picking up the Barbie of African decent she continued, “And this is our winner at the end of her time!” In her creative, child’s mind, there was room at the podium for both Barbies to reflect different characteristics of beauty and excellence in a single person. Upon hearing of Vic’s solution, one friend reasoned, “That doesn't surprise me at all! She [Barbie] got a new (much needed) hairdo, including color, obviously a major tan, and different outfit! Makes complete sense to me.” I guess I could see that too! From the mouths of babes…

A song from my childhood by Curtis Mayfield entitled, “Choice of Colors” asks, “If you had a choice of colors, which one would you choose, my brothers?”  The games I played with Victoria took me back to a time when the idea of being comfortable in one’s skin was relatively new for people of my ethnic background. Children less than half generation before often struggled to find beauty in their own faces. Some current studies suggest the struggle persists. Nevertheless, I am encouraged to find that my child has the ability to see equal beauty not only in her own face but in many faces and many hues. The aforementioned Mayfield song also says, “People must prove to the people a better day is coming for you and for me. With just a little bit more education, and love for our nation, we’ll make a better society.” Even at play, we possess moments to educate, guide and inspire our children to make better decisions forged in the furnace of being people of more steadfast character. It is said that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” May God grant us all the ability to behold the beauty we each possess as reflectors of His image so that we might witness at least a few rays of sunshine from “the better day”. Until next time…


Monday, June 3, 2013

No Condemnation

Justice. We seek it. We long for it. We relentlessly pursue it. We read incredible stories of horrible acts that ignite our hearts and create a longing for justice within us that is difficult to satisfy. Some acts are so horrible that we cry for justice at any price, eager to rid this world of evildoers no matter what it takes. We want justice and we want it now – at least that’s what we think.
A friend from years back penned lyrics that exposed a deeper truth. He wrote, “Everybody wants justice…for somebody else!” When we’re the victimizers, the wrong-doers, and the ones who have committed unacceptable acts, we find ourselves in a position of seeing a situation differently. “But officer, I was in a hurry to pick up my girl from day care. I wasn’t meaning to break the law. I normally drive at regular speed!” “Mom, I just couldn’t resist your cookies! I was just trying to reach them when I knocked the cookies jar down and broke it!” “I’m not a killer! But I just got so angry at what he did, I couldn’t control myself! You’d have done the same thing too if you had experienced what I did!” When we are the ones for whom the gavel falls, we are then not so much seekers of justice as much as we are seekers of understanding, forgiveness and mercy.
A Facebook conversation stimulated my thoughts on the subject, especially as it pertains to forgiveness being meted out to the perpetrators of particularly wicked crimes. We often become cynical and unforgiving when we hear of “death bed repentance” or “jailhouse conversions”. No WAY is that guy going to Heaven!” We say. “How dare that preacher tell us, ‘he gave his life to Jesus, now he’s free?’ Free to go to Heaven? Free of sin? I hope he burns in Hell forever and a day!” Our mercy tolerance can be quite low when the pain hits close to home.
Is it really possible for God to forgive “big time” sinners and sinners who have no opportunity to make things right by giving them the exact same gift of eternal life as those who have “labored long” in the Lord’s vineyard? Consider the Parable of the Laborer in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:16ff).
Jesus tells a story which seems to violate every Human Resource and Fair Practices code ever recorded! In the story, a landowner invites workers throughout the day to labor in his vineyard. Some come first towards the beginning of the day. Others come at midday and still others just before closing time.” When the time comes to give the wage for completed work, the landowner gives everyone, the exact same pay! Stunned, those who labored longer protested. “How could you?” the Landowner responds that the money was his to do with as he pleased and asked if he had not kept the terms of the promises he had made with them. The response quieted the workers, giving them something to think about while leaving us with some critical lessons as well.

The website has this to say re: the Matthew 20, 1-16 passage:

[This is]a heavenly story put into an earthly perspective, [with] all the characters represent someone or something else. [The] landowner represents the Lord, the workers His followers, and the vineyard, His Kingdom. The pay stands for the rewards of salvation. The work is what His followers do to deserve the reward, and the day is the length of time they’re given to do it, normally their lifespan. This parable wasn’t meant to be a management seminar. It was given to illuminate three critical principles having to do with the Kingdom of Heaven.
Three Principles

First, no matter when in your life you decide to join His Kingdom, you are entitled to all the rights and benefits pertaining thereto the moment you do. (Ephesians 1:13-14) The last ones hired got the same pay as the first.

Second, you have to sign up before the end of the day. (Hebrews. 4:7) No one was hired after the end of the day and as I said, the day represents our lifetime.

Third, if you think you deserve more in the Kingdom because you worked longer or harder or lived a better life than someone else, then you’ve forgotten how you got in. You weren’t saved because of your merit or worthiness, but because of His mercy and grace. Thinking He owes you something extra is a sin that if left unconfessed won’t get you thrown out, (remember every worker is a believer) but it could put a strain on your relationship with the Lord during your life and will certainly diminish your joy at having been accepted into the Kingdom.
A personal story might help to further clarify. I have friend from my Jr. High days who committed a series of heinous crimes that gained him infamy. After a couple of years of inner turmoil, he surrendered his life to Christ. He became a truly transformed man, who was the "go to" guy in times of trouble and prevented a number of riots, suicides etc. He had also been sentenced to death. He didn't allow his attorneys to publicly announce his being born-again until after his execution, feeling it might be seen as a ploy for clemency. Though he certainly would have preferred life, he accepted the sentence he earned without protest as a consequence of his sin. He shared his testimony in front of a prison Bible Study for the record a few days before dying. It was published after his sentence was carried out.

His transformation - evident some 8 plus years after his claimed born-again experience - was so profound that the crew who would have normally carried out the sentence asked and received special permission to have another crew carry out the execution because they could not bring themselves to harm him after coming to know him once came to Christ. He was repentant and sought every way he could to demonstrate his understanding of the impact of his sin (he refused a last meal, stating that his victims never had the opportunity to choose their last meals on this earth).

Why do I share this? It's a simple testimony to the transforming power that comes through faith in Jesus' finished work on the Cross which sufficiently paid in full for the sins of the world. Consequences may remain, but forgiveness, freedom and peace are available for murders, liars, adulterers, cheaters, rapist, tax evaders - anyone who recognizes their helpless state and trusts in Jesus' Work. That's the Good News! And because of that, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus…” Praise God for His grace! Relishing His love and mercy until next time…