Securing our lives

There is a bird nest outside my back door located atop a drainage spout. I did not notice it until perhaps a week or two ago, but only today has it affected me in any way.

Every time I go outside, or even open my back door, the bird leaves her nest and flies around chirping in the most annoying way. From the safety of the glass security door I observe this watchful creature. She observes me as well from a perch hardly half a meter above my head. Her feathers are ruffled and she chirps threateningly. Despite our comparative sizes she seems utterly unintimidated by me or perhaps she is bold because I am such a large threat to her offspring. If I open the door and venture out, she will commence to chirping even louder and flying about in warning.

The efforts of this small bird to secure her safety or rather the safety of her precious offspring are comic in some ways, but only because I know how little she could do to harm me. But then again how must I appear: diligently setting my alarm whenever I leave home, being careful to purchase good locks for my doors, thinking about what can be seen of my home from the street. All of these are efforts to secure my life.

Since I read David’s post the other day I’ve been reminded of a question asked by a ministry colleague while we were in South Africa studying apartheid and its effects on the people. He asked a question that strikes right to the heart of both mine and the bird’s efforts to secure our existence: What’s wrong with me doing what is best for me and my family?

On the surface the answer is simply: nothing. But he asked that question in the context of studying a system that radically privileged one group of people over another. Why would any White South African choose to put himself and his family at risk? Or in the U.S., why shouldn’t I choose to live as far away as possible from crime, poverty, and ignorance so that I and my family can dwell in safety?

As a follower of Jesus who believes that we ought to be concerned and involved in the tragedies of injustice and oppression in our world, I can give all the right answers to these challenges while making every effort to personally secure my life; to protect myself from having to deal with any real injustice or oppression. David said it well:

“I know how to respond to the environment, racism, and poverty but this was altogether new for me — this was senseless and yet calculating evil. This is what some people live with all the time, I thought. And suddenly, I realized what an idol security had become. Everything suddenly looked unbelievably fragile to me and a sense of worry and low-grade panic seemed to set in. Even though I could acknowledge that every day, week, month, year that we had lived there in safety was God’s providence, I couldn’t help but to be overwhelmed by fear.””

It is an understandable response and a worthy one given what has happened in his neighborhood. I am amazed at how readily I and we allow security, safety, and prosperity to become idols. These are idols that remain happily unchallenged in our churches. Oh yes, we preach about confronting these evils and we take missions trips into difficult areas, but mostly we do it from the safety of our suburban existence. Because when it comes right down to it, we only like sharing in the sufferings of the poor and oppressed as long as we retain the option of escape. And so when tragedy strikes, we are caught off guard. Things like that are not supposed to happen in places like this.

As difficult as it sounds, these moments are graces. Not in the trite way that people spout about the sovereignty of God as if rape and burglary somehow contribute to his glory. It is a grace rather that the palpable nature of evil is exposed and our flimsy and idolatrous efforts to secure our lives: by living in the right place, going to the right schools, entering the right profession, eating the right foods, all of these things are exposed for what they are. We will have as much success in securing our lives as the bird outside my doorway. If I chose, I could devour both the bird and her offspring with hardly any effort, and all her flying about and frantic chirping would be in vain.

In a bird, such a search for security is funny at best and annoying at worst. But in us, it is a stark and sad reminder of how far we are from Eden; that our only really safety lies not in security systems or gated suburbs, but in crying out to God for protection and help. Our security is in recognition of just how fragile and small our bird’s nests are, but knowing that though we will face evil and we will suffer and we will die, our God carries us through. Some trust in chariots, and some in horses, but let us hope to trust only in the name of the Lord our God.

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One thought on “Securing our lives

  1. Great post. I’ve come to same conclusion, that these moments are graces. My wife and I are really wrestling with this “idealism” vs.”reality” dilemma. Of course, the fact that we can even entertain such a dilemma suggests our wealth (and arrogance), but still it does seem like a real choice we have at hand. Do we move higher up on the socio-economic ladder so that we can show people the way? perhaps be an oak of righteousness for others? or do we willingly forfeit the benefits that our education, our race, our class, or income bracket purchase for us?

    The materialist asks the question, am I rich enough?, but I’m not sure if the right question in response is, am I poor enough?

    Ultimately, we should be willing to let anything go, even our righteous deeds and our righteous lives, which we know is not more than filthy rags. I just can’t help but to ponder what is to become of my rag.

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