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Finding Faith in Faith

This blog is dedicated to exploring the intersections of faith and politics, the intricacies of religious culture and the struggle to balance devotion to a higher being and to oneÕs culture.

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Sunday, January 16, 2005

The fruits of my spirit

This past Sunday, I attended Skillman Church of Christ. In the morning class, we contrasted the desires of the flesh with the fruits of the spirit from Galatians 5. Though I had some reservations about the nature of the contrast (I see PaulÕs focus in Corinthians as outlining things to focus on, not as lists of outcomes per se), the class got me thinking about the fruits of the spirit in a different way.

As I looked at the list of fruits (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control), I suddenly saw them as a pattern and began to link them together in succession. Now, I donÕt think for a moment that Paul intended for this list to be seen as a progression of the spirit, but the pattern made me look at the individual components differently, so I jotted down some personal notes in the form of a personal reflection. I donÕt believe in New YearÕs Resolutions, but somehow looking back on the year made me realize where IÕve been:

Love. This year God continued to teach me about love. Not the gushy, warm happy feelings most people mistake for love, but the hard work of loving those who are not particularly kind and friendly. When people actively betrayed or hurt me, it made it very hard for me to love them. I think part of the problem is how difficult these situations make being in their presence and feeling É

Joy. Why isnÕt joy something I feel every moment? We are commanded to rejoice, to celebrate our love with others, regardless of what theyÕve done to us. But I live in a cynical world, and I constantly struggle to keep the cynicism rising from the conflict and betrayals in life from killing my joy. And yet, the command to rejoice does not seem to come on the conditions of feeling rosy. It seems that I have been called to CHOOSE joy, not to experience it. And I think part of what keeps me from choosing joy is my struggle with finding É

Peace. Where do I begin with peace? There has been so much familial strife this year. I take consolation in the fact that I did not seek conflict, that the conflict I did engage in was brought to me by others. But is that enough? I have always been a restless spirit, seeking for ways to become a better person. But that energy works against me when I am pitched into a conflict with another who does not seem to share my ambitions for sacrifice. Which of course, naturally leads me to examine my É

Patience. It is truly amazing how patient I can be with those I am trying to help. I also seem to be far more patient with those who show me love and who respect me for who I am and what IÕm trying to do. But I definitely have trouble being patient with those who disrespect me or who cannot see the injustice in their own actions. I am driven by an overwhelming sense of honesty and justice, and those who display dishonest methods and seem to be driven by impulses and desires that serve them at the expense of everyone else strain my patience to the breaking point. They make it hard for me to show É

Kindness. It strikes me as noble to be kind to someone, to be cordial to those who have earned no such response, to offer grace where no duties or obligations are demanded. The heart of kindness is putting the needs of others first, and I am generally good at doing that. However, I have found it more difficult to be kind to those who have been unkind to me or someone I dearly love. But if kindness is truly based on grace, why do I struggle so? ShouldnÕt kindness be an offering to the undeserved as well? IsnÕt undeserved kindness really the only real kindness (since kindness cannot be earned)? Am I really kind, if I cannot show kindness to those who hurt me most? Kindness taken to a personal level is what makes me consider my É

Generosity. If generosity is sharing who I am and what I have with others, I know I have been generally generous (and surprisingly alliterate) with most people at most times. I can honestly say that I have always given freely of my material wealth (such as it is) and my possessions. Perhaps my greatest struggle with generosity comes with my intellectual wealth. I desperately want to share my intellect with others, particularly when I see them make unknowing errors in judgment or logic that will lead them towards negative consequences. Where I think I fail most often is giving those who do not seem to have equal footing with me on an intellectual issue the latitude to explore their own assumptions. I am too eager (impatient?) to tear away egregious understanding when it presents itself and struggle to give others the respect they do not deserve when they are not as intellectually honest or rigorous as they could be to answer their own questions. This is a failing of generosity. And I think this failing most often grows out of a problem with my É

Faithfulness. I certainly believe in God, and strive to follow the path that is laid out before me, but I think I have a blindspot in my faithfulness. Specifically, I donÕt always trust that others can find their own path without help. God has blessed me with much and bestowed a generous spirit in me, and I think my desire to share sometimes gets in the way of my understanding that God blesses others as well. I often think that I am being called to meet a challenge, so I must assume the responsibility for the outcome of the struggle. I have a hard time letting God work through other means than me in these cases, and I think this tension challenges the limits of my faith. When I get charged up with purpose, I take too much on, things seem too important and I begin to struggle mightily with my É

Gentleness. I am not normally an abrasive or rough person, but when I feel that dire consequences await a failed effort, I sometimes lose all sense of gentleness with others. How is it that Jesus can be so commanding and yet so gentle? Why canÕt I find that balance more often than I do? I think if I were more faithful, more generous, more kind, more patient, more peaceful, more joyous and more loving that these attributes would show through an increased gentleness when dealing with those that commit wrongs against my person. Of course, deciding to be more gentle may simply be achieved through an increase in É

Self-control. I have worked my entire life to control the impulses and emotions that drive me to passion. Considering the incredible levels of raw emotion I experience, I believe that the level of control I have achieved is nothing short of miraculous. But once again, I am willing to hold my emotions and my behavior in check much better when I am not under attack or being defamed. My idealism and sense of justice lead me to drop my controls when I feel wronged and my obsession with truth often leads me away from the other fruits as I try and explain truth and reveal injustice. And yet, at the core of my belief structure is a story about a man who suffered not just physical pain, but the gravest of injustices. Sometimes, to me, the worst of the passion narrative is the refusal of Jesus to speak out, to express his outrage at the injustice and disrespect being shown him. How can I become so enraged at an attack upon my honor or my person when my example for life endured such indignity without using the power and voice at his command in the name of justice. Perhaps my sense of justice (not listed among the fruits) is the real passion of the flesh that impedes my spiritual walk.

Perhaps my basket is made out of the strands of truth and justice. And maybe this basket is what keeps some people from getting to my fruit.

Verses 24-26 tells us that Ōthose who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.Ķ

So why does my overdeveloped sense of justice cry out against the Spirit? Why do I demand truth in place of the Spirit?

Why canÕt my sense of injustice be crucified with my other passions? Why does it alone slip out and unweave the basket containing the other fruit?

I certainly know that those who see me in those moments have accused me or conceit (even arrogance). And I have been accused of being competitive and even (bafflingly at times) of being envious of those I am in conflict with. So I understand Paul's connections between an absence of fruit due to passion to be true.

But I'm not sure where this leaves me.

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