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Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Self-Same Road of Tragedy and Redemption

What has been, or is, the most tragic thing about your life? What has been, or is, the most redeeming? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, p.387).

In yesterday's blog, I wrote of the insightful moment when Huckleberry Finn saw that his true interest lay in helping free Jim. This would not only prove to be a redemptive moment for Jim, but also most directly for Huck. After conflicted consideration, he resolved that his love for Jim was more important than the inhibitions of custom and culture. In this moment he replaced a spirit of fear and conformity with a spirit of courage, freedom, and service. The snapshot of Huck coming to this fresh insight represents the essential crossroad that sooner or later will face each of us (though the insight comes by grace, not through self-control of perception).

In undergraduate school I was hounded by repressive conformity. Picture me in speech class under this condition. I had lost all the spontaneous animation I once had as a child. Fear imprisoned me. It was only later that I learned to concentrate on one thing alone when before the class—helping each person understand each point of my presentation. When I took the focus off myself and focused on helping others understand, my eye contact improved and my speeches began to flow.

Both the most tragic and redeeming thing about life lies in perception. Perception can bind us in ropes or can release us for service. Jesus spent much of his time trying to free the captives—trying to empower others by changing their perception from self-centeredness to love. For example, he said that you are the salt of the earth—in other words, make an effective contribution to the tone of society through love. The famous parable of the Good Samaritan makes a similar point.

Monotheism is essentially the result of knocking down false gods until only one is left. We can perceive that redemption lies in a zillion things before finally arriving at the conclusion made by Candide and CunĂ©gonde—we need to love each other and make our garden grow. Concluding that God is love is the result of trial and error leading finally to perception of ultimate reality and the immediate and undeniable experience of positive self-awareness. (In part to say that Jesus had no sin implies that he alone did not need to learn this by trial and error.) There is no substitute in any form of contrived self-confidence to compare to the undeniable and deep sense of self-worth arising from the exercise of loving service under the leadership of the Holy Spirit.

A parent may ask, which do I most want to instill in my children—a sense of self-confidence or a sense of self-worth? Surely a wise parent will answer the latter; for self-confidence is a derivative of success while self-worth is a derivative of love. Self-confidence is often short-term, shallow, and fickle; whereas self-worth is timeless. Self-confidence is subject to phoniness and from its demands can arise neurosis, whereas self-worth is genuine and sure and brings peace. Self-worth is fertile soil from which grow resolute conviction and ethical behavior. The art of parenting rests on discernment of the better course, namely, that of instilling self-worth.

For human beings, perception is often a single road that leads through tragedy towards redemption. Learning what true freedom is all about comes after much trial and error and repeated failures. For many of us effectiveness is a promise that will only be realized when, like Huckleberry Finn, we decide at last to generously return in some small measure the love we have so generously received.

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