I have few vices in my life, as many of them don’t fundamentally appeal to me, but the one that truly weakens my resolve and loosens up my determination is ice cream. Being a bit of an ice cream snob, I don’t go for the run of the mill stuff, but tend to spring for the more expensive types usually found in pint sizes and sold for more than the larger tubs. Additionally, the more items added to the ice cream, the better, especially if mixed with peanut butter. Soft ice cream is even more of a pleasure, as I am not quite as picky about quality, especially in the summer. In fact, I could probably eat it every day if I could choose to. However, if I were to do so, I would quickly gain great amounts of weight, lose aspects of my health, and quickly run the risk of a shorter life due to unhealthy eating. So, ice cream is regulated in my life as a pleasure point, one that I can occasionally indulge in but not make a habit of, as the benefits are only temporary and the pleasure not long-lasting. From another perspective, another activity I take part in frequently is running. I run three times a week for a half-hour each time, working my hardest and pushing myself past where I thought possible. It’s not exactly pleasurable, and pain and soreness come into play afterward, not to mention panting and exhaustion, but the experience is truly gratifying. There is no pleasurable desire to run this often, but the benefits include better health, increased speed, athleticism, and feeling good about myself. Thus, this activity is regulated in my life as a source of gratification, a habit where the benefits are not temporary and the gratification is very long lasting. I may not enjoy running as much as eating ice cream, but I am more fulfilled by the first much more so than the second. To be clear, pleasures indulge the senses and emotions; gratifications engage the whole person. The next day, the pleasurable feeling fades and is eventually gone whereas the feeling of gratification lasts well-beyond that period. Worst of all, pleasure beckons us back for more, never satisfying us, whereas gratification calls us to be better people. Even Proverbs 21.17 warns us of making pleasure a priority: “Whoever loves pleasure will become poor; whoever loves wine and olive oil will never be rich.” And it is very easy to head down that road especially when we decide to overindulge our pleasures instead of healthily spacing them out. As a society, we tend to pursue pleasure over gratification as the benefits are quicker, the immediate results are more enjoyable, and it is usually easier. We go to the restaurant with lesser tasting food but larger portions instead of the tastiest food with smaller portions. We turn on the TV and watch whatever is on instead of pursuing material that challenges our intellect. We choose to lay around lazily instead of starting up an exercise regimen. We have become pleasure addicts, where gratification no longer plays a role despite the immense benefits. I recently had my senior students journal on a daily basis with prompts, and despite the difficulty of the questions and the investment it took to complete, most students said they were very proud of their final product and would come to treasure it years from now. It is clearly better for us to engage in gratification over pleasure, or at least to balance out the two to our benefit. This week, despite the difficulty of the tasks, find at least three gratifying activities to engage in, and work towards fully completing them. Gratification isn’t always the easy choice but it is always the one that outlasts beyond and benefits over any pleasure. Amen.
One of my favorite genres of entertainment, be it TV, movies, whatever, is that of time-travel narratives. The idea of being able to change the past and have an effect on future events has always fascinated and entertained me. One of my favorite movies (and my son’s, which illustrates my upcoming point) is “Back to the Future,” where the main character accidentally travels back to when his parents were young and alters his own future by making them better people. However, the ramifications of our actions don’t necessarily have to solely transcend time: the effect can be immediate. In fact, a popular theory called “the butterfly effect” suggests just that concept: when a butterfly flaps its wings on one side of the earth, it can cause a hurricane on the other side. It’s an extreme example, but the concept is clear: actions have reactions, sometimes to enormous effect. Throwing the tiniest pebble in a calm lake creates ripples that can cover the entirety of the body of water. Trying to remember and apply this concept for myself, I keep in mind that my personal decisions can have far-flung consequences with results that go well beyond myself. For example, when I run and exercise, yes I am benefiting from my efforts by being healthy and feeling good about myself, but I am also making an investment in my son’s future, making sure that my health will last so that I will be around for when he grows up. He is someone I deeply care for, so I want to make sure that I can provide for him by being there for him. I am also acutely aware that he will grow up to become just like me in many ways, imitating me in my views and practices, so I want to be a good role model for him. We too often forget that our actions have consequences for others, that for every bad decision we make, we don’t just affect ourselves but we also negatively and selfishly affect those around us. Moses found this lesson out the hard way. In the Old Testament book of Numbers, Moses and the Israelites are finally released from captivity and slavery and are working their way to the Promised Land. As they approach it, despite the solid promises from God about the great land ahead and how He will bless them abundantly with it, Moses doubts and chooses to send spies out to see what awaits them. Angry with Moses’ decision to do so, God chooses to punish everyone and have them all wander the desert for much longer: “For forty years—one year for each of the forty days you explored the land—you will suffer for your sins and know what it is like to have me against you” (14.34). Because of Moses’ poor decision, the Israelites were denied access to the Promised Land and were forced out to the desert. His bad decision severely affected everyone, and his inability to trust God rippled outward and punished not only himself but the people around him, too. As we move through life, our selfish behaviors, our bad habits, and our sins affect more than just ourselves as they ripple through the people around us. For every word we speak, every action we make, the persona we put forth, the character we display, there are consequences for these things. You may not think you are harming yourself, but you might be silently destroying those who love and care for you. This week, when you throw your pebble into the water, avoid creating waves of toxin headed for the people in your life; make sure that your ramifications have encouraging and uplifting effects on those people. Be the change for good you desire for others and let that change flow outward. Amen.
How much does forgiveness cost? For most of us, if someone wrongs us by hurting our feelings, it’s the price of a verbal apology. Sometimes the price involves flowers, especially when it’s our significant others. However, the deeper the wound, the higher the price. For others, the cost of forgiveness is time, as we hold grudges for extended periods until our ire simmers and our tempers cease. By what happens when the cost of forgiveness is beyond material possessions? Such is the case with Pakistan’s resident Saba Qaiser. As documented in the film “A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness” (Currently streaming on HBO), Saba lives in a society where the rights of women, especially young women, are not as strong as they are in our country. It was at the age of 19 when she decided to marry her boyfriend against her father’s wishes. This boyfriend was a member of a lower income class, so her father decided that she had dishonored her family. To regain honor for his family, the father and Saba’s uncle decided to commit what is known as an “honor killing.” They lured her to the outskirts of town, shot her in the face, threw her in a bag, and tossed her into the river to die. Miraculously, she survived, as at the last second she tilted her head away from the gunshot, so what was supposed to kill her instead tore through the left side of her face. Crawling to safety, she reported the crime and her father and uncle were placed into police custody. Horrifically injured, she was operated upon and left facially scarred. Interviewed in jail, her father praised his own actions, saying that she had brought shame to her family and he had restored it, that he does not regret his actions. But for Saba, she was now left with a choice: condemn their actions and let them serve their sentence or forgive them and by law, have them acquitted. Because of the pressures of the town, her family, and the elders, she was forced to forgive them in court, and they now walk free despite their actions. She says that she may have forgiven them in the eyes of the law, but she does not forgive them in her heart, as that price is incalculable. That such atrocities and human rights violations occur is unforgivable, but what we should really focus our attention to is that sometimes, for us on this Earth, there are actions that speak beyond forgiveness, events so horrific that forgiveness is not possible. So what does this then say about our savior, whom we treated much worse? To quantify: we beat Him, placed a crown of thorns on His head, whipped Him with leather straps that held bits of metal and glass that ripped at His flesh, nailed Him to a cross, taunted and humiliated Him, and He ultimately died as a result of His injuries. What is the cost of forgiveness for these actions? According Ephesians 2.8: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” So what then is our cost to Christ for forgiveness? Nothing, according to this scripture: it is free, thus there is nothing we can do to earn or deserve it. Grace is the receiving of undeserved blessing, or in this case, the cost of forgiveness. This comparison helps us understand how much Christ truly loves us. Because of His divine nature, He grants forgiveness freely, making His sacrifice that much more astounding. We are completely undeserving of His forgiveness, but despite our actions and because of His love for us and His perfect nature, we are forgiven and saved. Amen.
There are some topics that people avoid like the plague because it incites too much debate and discussion. If you are unsure of this fact, try bringing up either religion or politics at your next family dinner. As for me, I love to be able to challenge people’s thinking. Being able to present a new idea or concept that reveals some aspect of the world to a group that was beforehand unaware of that information which then causes them to make a positive change in their life has always been a strong desire for me. For that reason alone is most likely why I went into teaching, because it’s there that I have a captive audience whom I can challenge on a daily basis. My students are somewhat used to this approach, so it was very much a surprise to me when I brought up questions of latent racism that exists in our country and was greeted with an immense amount of argument and resistance. We were reading articles about the daily feelings and struggles of people of color, and as I continued, hands shot up, anger was induced, and many voices were heard. Many balked at these claims and argued them to the smallest detail, most arguments stemming from the point that they themselves are not racist in their speech or actions. I allowed them to present their ideas with little commentary on my part. Having recently presented this material to two of my black senior boys, they both confirmed it as true, saying that as black men, they feel these feelings daily. The next day in class, I addressed the outrage of the previous day, but this time I reminded them that these articles accurately reflected the way that these two boys, and many others like them, actually feel on a daily basis. Although the class was not actively racist, their inaction to squash racism and to not speak for those who can’t may implicate them, a difficult truth for them to accept. This confrontation with my class brought a very harsh truth to my own attention: when we are presented with harsh truths, we often times react badly through rejection and avoidance. We don’t deal well with truths that challenge our thinking, and in a childlike manner, throw proverbial tantrums to either avoid the conversation or immediately prove the other person wrong. Maybe it’s because when we hear a harsh truth, we are forced to make a choice: accept it or reject it. Christ encountered this resistance quite often. When He walked among us, despite that He accomplished much in His ministry on Earth, when we were confronted with the truth of Him being the Messiah, our prejudices kicked in when we chose to free a thief instead of a Nazarene, we rejected His truth as savior, and we crucified Him, an act that Peter addressed to the crowds: “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you…and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross” (Acts 2.22-23). The truth of His power was irrefutable, but we fought against the harsh truth of Him being our God. Christ as our savior is a harsh truth that forces us to choose. And like my students who bravely faced down harsh truths, we are changed in the wake of that acceptance. Being confronted with a harsh truth is never easy, and we may hide from it, shun it, and argue it to no end. But tackling one is absolutely life changing. This week, stare down those truths that you have been avoiding and make your decision. In its aftermath, your new life and view awaits. Amen.