Vision New England Blog

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The general blog of Vision New England dedicated to equipping and encouraging New England Christ followers to do justice, love mercy, walk humbly and make disciples.


Not Doing Justice Equals Doing Injustice

James 4:17
If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is a sin for them.

 

 

Since being asked to write this blog, I’ve been praying for focus and direction. It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that the result has challenged me, and forced me to face some realities that I had previously been quite content ignoring; after all, God loves to challenge us, and push us to be better versions of ourselves. Nevertheless, what I’ve realized has still made me uncomfortable, and highlighted certain crucial shortcomings that I’ve been blatantly ignoring.

 

I’ve never been politically motivated. In fact, I’ve generally regarded serious discussions about the workings of the world as dangerous. I’ve also never felt like there was anything I could say or do that would change even the slightest thing about the problems society faces. Lately, however, I’ve been experiencing a profound shift that I would like to share, because I think it’s completely relevant to our responsibility to “do justice.” This shift began as I was scrolling through my Facebook feed, and I read something that made me think about Adolf Eichmann.

 

During my final year at college, I was assigned to read a book called Eichmann in Jerusalem, by Hannah Arendt. It became one of four books that have had a profound influence on my life. The book details Arendt’s journalistic investigation into the psychology and personality of Adolf Eichmann (one of the major organizers of the Holocaust) during his trial in Jerusalem in 1961. In this exploration, Arendt discovers the disturbing truth about Eichmann, and about humanity in general; she calls it “the banality of evil,” and highlights it in saying that, “The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together.” When you consider Eichmann’s admitted role in genocide, and that he was responsible for the horrific deaths of millions of Jews, you realize just how grim a revelation this is.

 

In addition to her discussion of Eichmann himself, Arendt also examines the actions of other groups and governments during the Holocaust. In doing so, she finds that these illustrations also depict the banality of evil, and how the majority of evil in the world is done by normal people, not monsters, who simply refuse to stand against injustice, are only doing their jobs, or obeying orders. For example, most countries failed to resist the identification and deportation of their Jews, and they more or less cooperated with the Germans in this task. Furthermore, most Jewish leaders themselves even cooperated with Nazi officials in organizing the Jewish population, a fact that Arendt points out led to gravely more deaths than what would have occurred had the leaders refrained from doing so. Only in Denmark was there real, direct, organized opposition to the Nazi’s efforts, and Arendt explains that because of this the Germans were virtually ineffective with their task. In fact, Arendt writes that, “It is the only case we know in which the Nazis met with open native resistance, and the result seems to have been that those exposed to it changed their minds. They themselves apparently no longer looked upon the extermination of a whole people as a matter of course. They had met resistance based on principle, and their ‘toughness’ had melted like butter in the sun.” What happened in Denmark is an example of political, decisive action, as opposed to the banality of evil, and it is the only thing that led to justice in a time when the standard was fear, and compliance.

 

What Arendt shows throughout her book is that evil reigns when normal people face injustice and refuse to do anything about it. They adhere to the means, and execute their orders, no matter how unthinkable. Actually, they don’t really even think about what they are doing at all; they simply obey blindly, because that is what we’ve all been brainwashed to do, and if they experience a moment of doubt, their fear of what will happen if they break away from the status quo cripples them, and they return to their unthinking, believing it to be safer than taking a stand. The only way to confront this is to take a definitive, unyielding position against wrongdoing, and model what it means to be political by taking action (as was the case in Denmark.) Only when this happens will others become willing to act as well.

 

Fear is a powerful motivator, and we live in a world of fear. These fears are both big and small, and they are tearing the world apart on countless levels. Fear of failure, fear of inadequacy, fear of others, fear of ourselves, fear of war, fear of pains – these are all commonplace, and they cause us to walk through life looking over our shoulder, under our beds, in the mirror, across the ocean, and everywhere else we could possibly conceive there to be danger. We create danger that wouldn’t even exist because we are afraid, and this illusory danger can even frequently overshadow real threats that we may face. Fear allows sin and injustice to thrive, and it needs to be confronted with courage.

 

I’ve been thinking about these themes quite a lot lately as I’ve seen different events unfold in the news, and even in my own life. Take a look at our broken world. It is easy to tune out all the suffering, wrongdoing, and hate, and deny that it’s happening, because accepting that this is the reality is not only terrifying, but it challenges us to the very core. Arendt states that “under conditions of terror most people will comply.” This inability to resist injustice and evil actually perpetuates it, and therefore is a sin and crime itself, and in my avoidance of conviction and action I have been an accomplice, like many others. This does not sit well with me.

 

Because of this realization I’ve decided to become political. I’m not running for government, or starting a political movement, or anything like that, but I’m choosing to be more informed, and to act on my convictions and beliefs. I’ve begun to challenge myself to advocate for others, and reach out with compassion (even when it’s inconvenient) when I see them treated unfairly, rather than remain silent because this just spreads darkness and despair rather than love and hope. I’ve decided not to turn a blind eye to the injustices of the world, but to confront them whenever possible. I’ve committed to engaging in respectful discourse with others, even if they hold different beliefs than me, in an effort to understand them better, and to help them understand me, rather than continuing to feel threatened by one another. I refuse to sit back any longer, staying out of the mess and being comfortable, because the mess has gotten out of control, and I will not be a part of the global bystander affect that has allowed this to happen.

 

I think as Christians, it is our duty to challenge our fears, to act courageously on the convictions God has placed in our hearts and, moreover, to actively search ourselves for these convictions. Even if it’s not something overtly political that we are standing for, we need to be political about something. We can all do something. It doesn’t need to be a largescale display, we just need to do what we can in whatever situation we face. We need to be for justice, because allowing injustice when you can prevent it is as equally wrong as directly committing it.

 

 


4 Hindrances To Transformative Accountability

I Can’t tell you how many conversations that I’ve been in with people, or leadership training sessions that I’ve participated in, where the subject of “the need for accountability” has come up.
And more times than not, this subject comes up within the context of a discussion about battling against, and/or protecting ourselves against, a particular area of sin or brokenness in our lives (or in the lives of others).

In books, blogs, YouTube clips, seminars, Bible studies and from the pulpit, we are continuously reminded of our need to have accountability built into our schedules to protect ourselves, to protect our marriages, to protect our families, to protect our ministries, etc…

And, many of us claim to either currently have, or desire to have, accountability in our lives (at least that’s what we’re telling ourselves).
But, “what does it really mean to be held to account, to be held accountable?”

Let me offer this as a definition – to be held accountable, means to be put in a position of having to explain, to answer for, to justify, to report on, and/or to accept responsibility for, something (or someone).

So, when we say that we want to be held accountable, we are saying that we want to intentionally put ourselves in a position of having to explain, to answer for, to justify, to report on, and/or to accept personal responsibility for, something about ourselves (our thoughts, our words, our behaviors, our decisions, our progress, etc…).
How we view this thing called accountability will play a determinative role in how we approach our own personal accountability.

If we view accountability as a form of surveillance, or intrusion, or imposition in our lives, then we probably won’t be too motivated to embrace it for ourselves, or to submit ourselves to it.
If we view having an accountability “partner” as more like having a kind of spiritual “parole officer” with whom we check in with periodically, then we will most likely shy away from pursuing this.
If, however, we view it as a protective “safety net” for ourselves, a healthy and necessary tool for our personal good, then we will be much more likely to seek it out, and to submit ourselves to it.
I’m wondering, however, how many of us are really capable of actually entering into the kind of transformative accountability “safety net” that we really need.

The reason that I say this is because of the kind of natural “instincts” and “tendencies” that are inherent within us that tend to impact many of the decisions that we make; instincts that actually work against this kind of “life-giving” accountability.

Let me share a few of these instincts:
1. Self-Protection – Most of us are experts at self-protection. It is a natural tendency of ours to want to do everything that we can to protect ourselves. We want to protect ourselves from being hurt, from being uncomfortable, from being vulnerable, from being too transparent and from being “found out”. Our self-protection “instinct” drives us to try to find ways to manage our “image”, doing everything that we can to protect what others see in us and what others think about us. So, when we think about being held “accountable” by anyone, our instincts tell us “no, not going there”, or if we do go, we will only want to “go there” on our terms. Transformative accountability, however, requires authentic transparency on our part.

2. Self-Denial – Many of us have a tendency to operate in a constant state of self-denial, denying that we are in trouble, denying that we need help, denying that we really can’t fix ourselves, and on and on and on (Biblical images of this can be seen in – Ps. 36:2; Is. 44:20; Gal. 6:3; 1 Jn. 1:8; Rev. 3:17). So, when we think about being held to account, our natural instinct is to deny our need, or to deny our level of need. Transformative accountability, however, requires an honest acceptance on our part of the realities of who we really are and what’s really going on within us.

3. Self-Diagnostic – Another natural instinct that can get in our way, is our tendency to self-diagnose, to look to ourselves to determine what’s going on within us, how significant (or insignificant) our issues are, and what we need to do to fix them. We deceive ourselves into thinking that because we actually are our own best advisor, and thus can correct our own flaws, we don’t need outside
help. After all, no one knows me like I do. God said that “the way of a fool is right in his own eyes…” (Pr. 12:15). Transformative accountability requires that we admit that we don’t always know what’s best for us, and, that it is a healthy thing for us to regularly seek out, listen to, and act upon the counsel (and the correction) that we receive from others.

4. Self-Selection – When it comes to accountability, our natural tendency is to self-select who we want to hold us accountable, at what level we want to be held accountable, and what we actually want to be held accountable for. And because we tend to self-protect, self-deny and self-diagnose, we will tend to self-select an accountability “mechanism” that fits within the framework of the outworking of these other natural instincts of ours. Transformative accountability, however, requires that we connect with someone who not only loves us, but who is also wise enough to “see through” our natural tendencies, and patient (and strong) enough to help us get beyond where we would most naturally want to “settle”.

Our natural instincts drive the way that we tend to approach accountability in our lives. And if we’re not careful, instead of experiencing real and significant breakthrough, healing, protection and growth in our lives, we will end up perpetuating a harmful behavior pattern or character flaw.

One of the life-giving components of a biblically-guided, disciple-making relationship, is the built-in accountability “safety net” that it contains. Within the context of this kind of loving and trusting friendship, we are able to put down our defenses, be transparent about ourselves, accept our limitations, and allow someone else to help us gain a stronger understanding of what’s going on with us.

So, how ‘bout you? Are you currently on the “receiving” end of a disciple-making relationship with someone who provides the accountability safety net that you need?
If we’re not relationally connected in this way, then I think it’s reasonable to ask, “why not?” Could the reason be that we have fallen prey to our own self-protecting, self-denying, self-diagnosing, or self-selection instincts?

Keith Tolley, Lead Consultant, Vision New England & Lead Pastor, Greenfield Alliance Church.


Monty Williams and Mercy

 

As Christians, one of our primary responsibilities is to “love mercy.” As an individual who admittedly struggles with forgiveness and holding grudges (as many people do), this statement alone presents a daunting task. Still, the task may seem even more daunting when we see Jesus model it to such an extreme in various Bible stories. In fact, I think I’ve occasionally convinced myself that since Jesus is the extreme example of a characteristic (such as mercy) I am not really expected to live quite up to his standard; he is, after all, Jesus, and I am not. This reasoning, of course, is a major cop out from forcing myself to do something difficult, and I try to challenge myself when this thinking emerges. True, I can’t ever live up to Jesus’ standard, but I have the obligation to do the absolute most I’m capable of doing, and to try to meet the standard as closely as possible.

 

Even for people who may naturally have more merciful inclinations than I do, however, there are undoubtedly challenging situations and events that make mercy and forgiveness difficult. In the news recently, I read that Ingrid Williams (the wife of Oklahoma City Thunder assistant coach, Monty Williams) was tragically killed in a car accident, when her car collided head-on with a vehicle that crossed into their lane. The driver of the other vehicle was speeding at 92 mph. The limit was 40 mph. Three of the Williams’ five children were also in the car, and they sustained serious injuries, as well.

 

I think that most of us can agree that if we found ourselves in the situation Monty Williams faced, we would feel some level of animosity towards the driver of the other car. Astonishingly, though, in the powerful eulogy he delivered for his wife only days later, Monty exhibited no such bitterness. In fact, he modeled true mercy, asking those supporting him and his family to also pray for the family of the other driver.

 

As I watched Monty Williams deliver his speech with genuine sincerity, I was really moved by how his trust in God was able to help him let go of any possible anger, resentment, and blame that he may have had, instead replacing it with kindness, forgiveness, and love. Of course, what happened was terrible, and he was in pain, but I saw an amazing peace in him, as well, and I was blown away by his message.

 

I think that a lot of times when we hold grudges, and resist letting go of the offenses people have inflicted upon us, we lack trust that God has a greater purpose, and that a mishap or tragedy in our lives indicates that God is wrong, gone, or not big enough to solve the hurts of this earth. The truth, however hard it may be to see through our despair, is that God’s plan is bigger than all of us. Despite the horrific event that happened to Monty Williams and his family, he has managed to touch peoples’ lives with his words.

 

There’s no doubt in my mind that he is imperfect. He is simply a man, not Jesus. Yet he is a man that understood the standard Jesus set in regards to mercy, and he delivered in his responsibility to demonstrate it. I would find it totally understandable if he had chosen, instead, to accept that he wasn’t Jesus, and rationalize that he had no obligation to forgive the woman driving the car that killed his wife, and risked the lives of three of his children, let alone pray for her family. But Monty Williams refused to cop out, and his example of mercy is one that I think we can all learn from. When I think of God using people to spread his light and love, I think that Monty Williams, amidst the darkness of death and loss, did just this.