Today I learned that I shouldn’t be singing carols as long as suffering persists in the world.
At least that’s the charge of John Pavlovitz, a Christian progressivist blogger whose post I stumbled across today, quite unintentionally, in the course of my internet wanderings (I will not link it). He says our holiday joy should take a sober and subdued form as long as poverty, disease, injustice, and war persist.
I’m still trying to decide how literal he’s being. At first, this seems like a rigid and unfair stance. Suffering will always be around. The poor will always be with us. If you’re holding out for utopia on earth, you’re in for a long wait.
Should we never again sing at Christmas, then?
As I was wrapping up Air Force basic training (never have seven weeks passed so swiftly and so slowly), one of the final bureaucratic details was the chance to tell the Air Force our preference of first posting.
We were given a “dream sheet” on which to list eight desired destinations. We could select a preference of base, state, region, or country for them to promptly ignore.
Some of us got an insider tip: wait until tech school to file your sheet. For whatever reason, sheets filed there tended to be actually seen by someone, whereas those filed at basic vanished into the same black hole that has probably consumed all my socks.
So I waited until tech school, filed my sheet, and waited with bated breath. The sergeant announced postings weekly at formation, usually triggering jeers for anyone getting “Why Not Minot?”
Finally, my turn came. I got a posting in the…half of the country I’d requested.
Wrong border, though. 1,500 miles away.
Did the Air Force just not care?
Growing up and as a young man, I always had to be the guy in the room with the joke.
Always. Whenever anyone said something, my brain would immediately look for a way to turn it into a tease.
Combined with not being very good at it, this resulted in years without a lot of friends. As I grew older, I got better at it. At the teasing part, that is, unfortunately, not the “just knock it off already” part that people were no doubt wishing I’d master.
And then…I would wonder why I wasn’t getting anywhere socially.
Clueless, I tell you.
Then, for some reason, one day I started asking myself, “What do my role models do to engender such trust with people?”
A young man I admire was expressing, shall we say, a little bit of an evangelistic comedown recently.
He’s been sharing his faith with a number of people at work and school, including some longer-term contacts whom he’s met frequently with. An enthusiastic person by nature (he approaches little in life without his signature fervency), he loved telling us about how God was moving.
Lately, those contacts seem to have run into dead ends. Though seemingly open at first, they have clammed up, stopped meeting, stopped returning calls. And it left him wondering whether he’d gotten a little…too excited?
I thought about it for a while.
I posted last week about a sensitive topic that’s been on my heart for a long time but eluded my words: that it’s a little awkward for us to be teaching people to “stop comparing themselves to others” when we ourselves hold a considerable amount of power over whether they feel the need to compare.
We all have a part to play. Whenever we choose someone else’s companionship or potential over another, we make a comparison. Everyone’s got their A-lists and D-lists, and I’m no exception. I’ve been rejected, and I’ve done some rejecting. And when people learn, in their youth, that they are being compared to others by others, it is only natural that they’ll join in. Lonely people can tell you this better than anyone.
To be sure, our lives are jam-packed and we don’t have time for everyone or everything. But even that feels like an excuse at some point. I know I’ve missed opportunities to show the love of Christ. It makes me wonder what the kingdom would look like if we really celebrated everyone as an image-bearer of God.
What is the Biblical solution?
The woman who gazes at a hated reflection and wishes she were thinner and prettier.
The poor man who wears himself out pursuing the worry-free life of a millionaire.
The failed applicant who lost to someone with a longer resume (or better connections).
The scrawny sophomore who sits at home envying the senior jock who seems to go nowhere without an entourage.
All these people are comparing ourselves to others. It’s a rampant problem in today’s society. I needn’t rehash the costly and damaging things people do to attain the standards society promotes.
Much Christian teaching these days, directed at millennials in particular, has recognized the insecurity bred by this phenomenon and offers an answer: to “stop comparing yourself to others and find your satisfaction in God“.
There is truth to this. Even the world manages to stumble haphazardly upon this truth as it blindly gropes its way across the landscape. “A broken clock is right twice a day” and all that. And I would hasten to add that there are good reasons for some of the comparisons we perform. Job hunts are comparisons. We want the best person for the job. We would not hand a pulpit to an uneducated layman (or Satanist), or an engineer’s desk to a botanist who doesn’t know a wrench from his rear end.
However, at the end of the day, there are still lonely and undervalued people out there. There’s a missing piece to the puzzle: us. We have a role to play. And I suspect that we have allowed the competition aspect of life to spill its banks, become more prevalent than it should be.
So, you’re signing on the dotted line.
First thing I’d say is, thank you. Good decision. You’ve either got a lot of guts, a lot of devotion, or a lot of trust in God to be joining the armed forces. Or some combination of all three.
I served a four-year tour in the Air Force. It was all stateside, the only really notable aspect being that it took place in the immediate post-9/11 world. Over a decade since my separation, I still vividly remember the lessons – how they equipped me for the future and simultaneously cast a pall over my track record. I have regrets from those days that the grace of God is still chipping off.
So I humbly ask for your ear now, because I want you to do better than I did. Here is the advice I’d give for surviving military life.
1. Learn to admit fault.
One of the best life skills I ever learned is the ability to admit fault.