Tuesday, March 11, 2008

judges with evil thoughts

I've been listening to a sermon by Don Carson called "How to think about money," on 1 Timothy 6:3-19. I was particularly challenged by what he said about the danger of wanting material things:

The fact of the matter is that we eventually get into some pattern of one-upmanship, of wanting more. It becomes part of our self-identity, doesn’t it? As soon as we are identified with what we possess, then our ultimate delight is not being identified as forgiven sinners, God’s children.

Our ultimate delight is being identified as belonging to a certain economic social stratum.

The thing is so subtle, isn’t it, even when we think we’re beating it. You start off and you’re really content to have that beat-up, rattle-trap 15-year-old rust-bucket of a Chevrolet. But somewhere along the line you have the money for an Audi or a BMW and then without in any sense trying to be condescending or arrogant, it’s just so easy to pull up at a stop-sign and see a rust-bucket of a Chevrolet next to you and think that you’re a little better. Or you fly economy class and then you get bumped up to business class and you feel just a wee bit of pity for those people back in the cattle-car.

Isn’t that right? Our self-identity begins to get connected with these things. And it’s at every level, isn’t it? It’s painful, so sinful are we. Instead of being justified by grace through faith before God, we’re justified, at least in part, in our own eyes, in the eyes of those around us, by how well we’re doing.

What he said reminded me of this passage:

    My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favouritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:1-4)
I am deeply ashamed of the attitudes these words brought to light in me.

I have a fairly privileged background. Not incredibly wealthy, just somewhere in the spectrum of the educated middle class.

I went to a public primary school, a private high school, and a respected university, where I completed a year of Medicine (as expected when you get good marks at a private school) before transferring to Arts, which sounded far more interesting. Arts eventually turned into a history PhD, which means that I have the dubious privilege of calling myself "Doctor" (although I don't very often) and of potentially regarding myself as better educated than most of the humans on this planet.

What I gained from my private high school - besides a safe and secure environment, an unfamiliarity with boys, and the ability to pass exams with flying colours - was a subtle and enduring snobbery.

I always thought I'd managed to avoid this. I compared myself with some of my friends, who clearly looked down on those who were less well-educated ("They really can't talk at the same level, can they?").

But is it possible to be uninfluenced by 6 formative years in a school which prides itself so highly on its test scores? Where virtually the only non-white faces were from North East Asia? Where you regularly hear snide remarks about the moccasin-wearing bogans of Melbourne's working-class suburbs?

I didn't realise how deeply I'd been influenced by my background - and this is where it gets embarrassing, so bear with me - until Steve and I bought a house in a "working class" suburb 7 years ago.

Suddenly, I was standing in the play ground of the local school, waiting for my children to come out of class, surrounded by women from a different background to my own. It was hard not to subtly look down on them, or feel intimidated by them, on the superficial basis of accents, hairstyles, clothing. I found myself grasping for topics of conversation, and hiding the fact that I'd ever heard of a PhD, let alone done one.

My discomfort has faded with time. I've made lots of friends, and have discovered what I knew theoretically all along: that we are all much the same under the skin. Some mothers are cliquey, others stand-offish, and others kind and friendly, it doesn't matter what suburb they come from.

(And while writing this, I've become aware of a more subtle kind of snobbery: the reverse snobbery which takes pride in our relatively low status, which subtly despises those who are wealthy and socially sophisticated, people who make me feel uncomfortable by their refined tones, aloof manner and polished etiquette.)

How easy it is to become a "judge with evil thoughts"! To treat people differently on the basis of wealth, education, social position. To avoid someone just because they don't look like the kind of person I could relate to. To despise people at the most unacknowledged level, with the kinds of attitudes we would be deeply ashamed of sharing with anyone else.

God help me to regard every person as they are: an eternal creature of immense value made in his image, with a desperate need for forgiveness and relationship with him, and the infinite potential to become a beloved and joyous child of God.


Rachach said...

Thanks Jean for that helpful reflection.
I have been realising lately how much I compare myself with other mothers and how judgemental I can be. How does a Christian women overcome such thoughts? What helps you?

Gordon Cheng said...

Nice one Jean!

Jean said...

Rach, I'm not sure how you overcome such thoughts! I know that being aware of the problem, repenting before God, and reflecting on the truth about people (that they are made in God's image etc.) will help. And praying for the individual people you feel uncomfortable with will help change your attitude too. Also just biting the bullet and making the effort to approach and love people you feel uncomfortable with!

Jean said...

And I just realised I may not have answered your question. Sorry. You were actually asking about mothers. Now there's a hard one. It's got a lot to do with pride, doesn't it, these kinds of attitudes towards others mums? What has helped me is realising how much of my kids' behaviour is affected by personality as well as parenting (a strong-willed child will do that for you) - but I think you've already done that.

But I guess there's always some general principles with thought-sins:
- repenting of wrong attitudes, and
- replacing them with right attitudes, by
- reflecting on God's truth (reading, memorising and meditating on relevant Bible passages is one way you can do this)

Or there's:
- soliloquy (arguing yourself out of wrong attitudes)
- meditation (reflecting on God's truth)
- prayer (repent and pray for God to change you)

Just some scattered ideas! I need to think more about this myself.

Susie said...

I have thought a lot about the "sin" of discontentment over the last year. This feeling that raises its ugly head regularly is spurned on by money, material possessions, loneliness, isolation, work, fatigue...a whole plethora of things. But God is good and meets me in my discontentment as I repent and reminds me again of His love and grace.

Experiencing what I call "reverse discrimination" at a local church, that is people of lower class/education/money looking "down" on you for having wealth and education, has been a real challenge and eye opener.And this happens, as you say in the school playground even more.

It has made me work harder to pray that God's love would allow me to love big, those around me.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this Jean. My husband and I (wounds like the Queen doesn't it?!) - Greg and I, rather, having been debating the private/public school choice and it was helpful to read of your reflections of 6 years in the private system. While we can't afford private without severe stress on the family (mum working to pay for it)and of course on our participation and service at church, we like to think we wouldn't go private even if we could do so quite easily. mainly for reasons of elitism and the not so subtle values and messages it would teach our children.
Do you have a view on this?


Jean said...

I don't think there's any "right" or "wrong" kind of schooling. God doesn't say we have to use one kind of schooling rather than another, so neither will I!

I think the choice of school depends on the individual family and child. Like all decisions, it's important to pray about it, asking for wisdom and insight, and maybe talk to some wise Christian friends or advisers about it.

Even within a family, one child may be more suited to a public school, and one child to a private or Christian school. One family with 4 kids I know had at least one child at each kind of school simultaneously! They allowed the children to be involved in the decision-making process.

My husband prefers a public school, because he thinks it helps kids learn to relate to non-Christians and people from different backgrounds (I'm less convinced one type is better than the other!) But my husband would consider sending one of our kids to a private (if we could afford it!) or Christian school if they were struggling at their school.

There are advantages and disadvantages to any kind of school - private will generally offer a great education, lots of opportunities, good facilities, and a relatively safe environment; public may offer a broader range of experiences, and may help you to relate to different kinds of people when you are older.

As a Christian, there will be other things to consider: homeschooling gives you control over what your children learn; a Christian school will (hopefully!) teach Christian truth and values; a private school may be a secure and supportive environment for Christians; and a public school may teach kids to relate to people in the wider world, and the uni/work environment may be less of a shock to them.

We should avoid the modern Western tendency to idolise education, as if a good education is the passport to a happy and fulfilled adult life. So sending a child to a private school may have too high a cost if:
a) both parents must work even when this puts strain on the family;
b) it involves moving suburbs, away from church and relationships;
c) it uses too high a proportion of family income, or maybe allows less money for giving;
d) it reduces participation and service at church, as you suggested.

Anonymous said...

Thanks again Jean - that is really balanced and helpful advice.


Jean said...

That's fine Cathy, glad to be of help. Just one more thought: I think there are incredible advantages in choosing a school down the road - walking distance if possible. Nothing replaces the involvement in the community this provides you and your children! They get to live near their friends; you get to know non-Christian parents in the local area. And you may find you're in and out of each others' homes, especially the kids. What a wonderful opportunity for love and sharing Jesus with them!

Anonymous said...

I quite agree. This is also why I find it very important that I help teach Scripture at our local primary school and, in particular, have chosen to be part of the class groups my kids are in. I want to be identified as a Christian mum to the children who are my kids peers and friends and also to the families they represent. I love having their friends over and caring for them and it keeps me accountable too.
Will have to keep the locality in mind too when sorting out high school as currently it looks like they may end up at a music high school in the city with children coming from all over the place.


Jean said...

Oh, well, you can't have it all, and most high schools are geographically distant. It sounds like you will find ways to make it work out and do lots of ministry and evangelism regardless. Go girl! :)