Monday, 23 August 2010

A destructive word

A basic rule that I have tried to apply to any job or position that I have held is that when people criticise something or someone I tell them "If you can't offer a positive alternative then don't criticise!". Sometimes people have looked aghast, others have stomped off and some, the majority, have re-thought their comments and attitudes as they look for a positive approach. Usually it results in a constructive solution with practical, positive alternatives to help the person being criticised.
Criticism is cheap, it is the easiest thing to do and is often a result of things other than the fact the person, activity or plan is wrong. It can be that we simply don't like it or the person giving the idea or talk or whatever. Read the critics on theatre, food, books in the national press - many fear their comments because they can make or break a work and yet each work has merit but may not fit the pattern a particular critic likes to see. Their comments are often destructive.

Don't misunderstand when something or someone is wrong, it needs to be corrected or put right. But the method that we use to do that correcting makes a huge difference as does the attitude from which we do it. The aim of correction is not to break but to reconstruct, to provide a better way, an alternative or possibility that is accepted and acted upon. This does not happen if the person, who is the object of our correction feels destroyed, stamped on and discredited.
Recently I started reading through the Exodus story, one thing stood out - the number of times God produced the goods for the people - freedom from slavery, saved from Pharaohs army, given water, food, a new life, protected from roving Amalekites, shoes and clothes that don't wear out. How does it fit with critisicm?
Well every time the people were not happy the complained to Moses about the way he was leading, what God was not doing for them and the result eventually was that Moses was so cross with them that he wacks a rock instead of speaking to it to bring water out of and disobeys God's direction - he does not make it into the promised land because of this (Num 20:8-13). I notice that the people never offered an alternative except to return to Egypt!
Criticism is destructive unless it is done constructively, criticising Gods people and leaders is almost a way of life with some. But ask yourself, could I do better and if I could why am I not? God often chooses the weak, broken and useless things (1Cor 1:27-28) -  (people) and transforms them and because they are who they are they follow him completely without questioning every direction and opportunity that he gives. They honour their call, so when we think they have got it wrong or we disagree with them, find a positive and affirming way to talk with them.

It works both ways of course and church leaders need to follow the same guidelines and avoid cutting people down because they disagree or have an alternative opinion. None of us are right all of the time and most of us are right only some of the time.

Don't destroy with words and cover it with the euphemism "of course I only tell you this in love!". Love first and think before talking and criticising.

Friday, 13 August 2010

When I'm sixty four ...

The other evening I was watching a T.V. documentary about bride stealing in Chechnya, the practice of grabbing a girl, then negotiating with her family to marry her. Often the girl hardly knows the man but more often than not the marriage takes place. One girl was asked, what about love, do you think you will love him? She replied that she hoped that in time she would. Many of us would put love as a major condition to want to marry someone - these girls get no choice. So it got me thinking.

In looking for a marriage partner we often put a high value on what the other person looks like, how they dress or what our emotional or sexual connection with them is and wrap it up by describing it as love. Of course these all play a part in our attraction but we should not forget that people change, wear different clothes, look different as they grow older then we might feel attracted to someone else as our partner changes. Perhaps the Beatles summed it up nicely in their song 'When I'm Sixty four' - "Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm sixty four?"

Do we expect relationships to last or are they just as disposable as last years "latest" mobile phone or i-pod version or last years fashions? Do we fall in and out of love with each other or is it really a choice we make to love someone else or to continue loving that same one person?

Well I know that other women catch my attention, as well they might, theres nothing wrong with admiring; I know that just as I mess up so does my wife and I am certain that I am at least as irritating and annoying as she is. Thirty plus years of marriage have taught me that whatever the initial attraction, love comes at a price, love hurts. A price that means loving through all things, in all situations, that one person who becomes a true soul-mate, a companion it says in Genesis as God decided to create woman and for all time men and women will leave their parents and be joined as one, for life. It means not following up on attraction to someone else, which often is just our greed being let loose; it also means gaining the reward of a relationship that grows and blossoms and matures in all of its beauty.

When I think about love as the Bible talks about it, 1 Corinthians 13 comes to mind - but then that has to be seen in the context of the Church before trying to apply it relationships. It tells us that love will overcome all if we are able to put the other first and seek to share with them, look out for them, understand their needs and above all continue to choose to love them in spite of how they change, how they meet up to our expectations or not and any other distractions that draw our eyes.

Ultimately our model is God, who loves each of us so deeply that he came himself, Jesus, to put right what we manage to repeatedly mess up. He offers relationship that is eternal, based on his love for us and his desire to know us and for us to know him. He will love us when we reach sixty four and beyond, he will love us in the great times and the hard times; he will never let us down. Choose that love for yourself and love the God who loves you enough to have been there, done it and got the T-shirt long before you.

This is the God who will not walk away from you when you are not all that he wanted you to be, this is the God whose love for you is so deep that he hurt - suffered for you.

Model your relationship with your partner on that kind of love and it will work out no matter how tough it might get at times.