Checking my Privilege and Changing Myself

We can do this the easy way, or the hard way…”

A huge part of the Christian life is self-reflection. It is baked into the very core of the beliefs I hold; by choosing to be baptised I acknowledged that I am a person in need of changing and that would require a lifetime of examining myself and my actions. Christianity is realising you are broken, but by Gods grace we can be better.

As such, I try to keep myself in check, particularly by trying to be empathetic to someone else’s situation. This is tricky and I often fail at doing so (more on that later), but in the whole I want to try and improve myself. Understanding how others see the world and themselves is a very useful tool to have when dealing with the world and other people. And that’s also understanding how they see me also. When someone looks at me, what do they see?

Privilege

Privilege has become a buzzword in the 21st century, particularly in the past decade. When people talk about privilege, they talk about the advantages you have as a person that help you get further in life. Basically, I got the privilege jackpot; I am a white cis-het middle class male, born into one of the most prosperous nations on Earth. I think a misunderstanding of the conversation around privilege is that privilege automatically makes life easier, and people who do not wish to reflect on their privilege will often point to the existence of poor white people relative to rich black people to “prove” that privilege does not exist. But this is a severe misrepresentation of what privilege means. Having certain privileges does not mean your life would be easy, it just means someone in your position but didn’t look like you would have an even harder time being successful.

I am very much aware that I have been blessed with amazing privilege. It is a shame the things listed in the previous paragraph do give me advantages over others, because the world is a messed up place. I therefore try and be conscious in my interactions that I do have certain power within conversations over others and therefore try and mitigate that. I read the tweets and articles written by women, PoCs and LGBTQ people to try and broaden my perspective and make it less likely that I will make a faux pas.

Buuuuuut that doesn’t always happen.

Learning a Lesson

Life has a habit of trying to teach you things.

Depending on who you are, life can give you easy or hard lessons. I try and maximise my opportunity for receiving easy lessons as opposed to hard ones. for example, I like to read books to learn how others coped with things that might be useful to me. But sometimes life serves you up a lesson that swings in like a fist wrapped in barbed wire. My breakup last year was one of those times; I learned that my unresolved trauma had damaged my relationship and that some of my other more minor flaws (but flaws nevertheless) also contributed to its end. I have thus far done a poor job in addressing these, but I know that I need to work through some stuff in order to move on. But today was another time where I was punched by a life lesson.

Although I try to be aware of my privileges that I listed above, I had a blind spot towards quite an important one; my physical ability. It speaks to a lot about society and the circles that I travel in that I don’t actually know anyone closely who is themselves disabled. I am only dimly aware of issues surrounding disability.

So I was waiting by my staff lift today when a student walked up to the lift, put her card against the reader (I didn’t see if it went green) and tried to get in the lift with me. I told her it was a lift for staff members only, and she very quickly said she was disabled. Now, disabled students have card access to the staff lift, but often students without disability will try and blag their way into using it.

This is where I made my big mistake. I looked at the girl. She was not in a chair or using a stick, so I wrongfully assumed she wasn’t disabled. I asked her “are you disabled?” And she replied back “I am legally registered blind, and the fact you asked me that is bang out of order.” I mumbled an apology and she got out on the next floor. Her friend complained at the desk later on when I was there and I admitted my mistake and that I was sorry I ever made it. I also said if the girl wanted to hear it directly from me I would be willing to give her one.

So life really taught me a lesson today. I shouldn’t assume that people without visible signs are not disabled. I need to remember that I have more privileges than I am aware of and I need to fundamentally shift my perspective by bringing in the views of disabled activists to better understand how I can be better. For a while I have been reading the tweets of Sharon Dingle, a Christian author who is herself disabled and who has also adopted children who are disabled. Her tweets are funny, heartbreaking and informative, but I realise I need to pay more attention to her tweets about her experience with disability.

My life is full of mistakes. I stumble down this road, constantly tripping over my own wrongdoing and bad decisions. I know that when the Kingdom comes, I will be changed for the better permanently, but here and now, with Jesus’ help, I need to learn to be better, for the sake of myself and those who I meet along the way

The Road to Bad Faith 1: Choose Other Gods

As a Christian, God should be the centre of your life. So centre something else instead.

The old gods and the new

Paul visited Athens and found that the city was full of idol worship (Acts 17:16). He found that the people of Athens worshipped the gods of their ancestors. These gods were ancient and part of many fantastic stories, creating the beasts such as the Minotaur and Cyclops. The city was full of temples and shrines to these gods where people could make sacrifices to these gods in order to gain their favour. A not insignificant portion of the local economy would have been established primarily to facilitate this worship.

So why is this relevant to you? No one worships those gods anymore! Just how the heck am I supposed to offer a sacrifice to Zeus if there is no priest to clean up the blood or burn the incense?

Timothy Keller in his book ‘Counterfeit gods’ applies idol worship of the past to today by reminding us that the gods people like the ancient Greeks used to worship represented things and concepts in their world. There were gods of war, wisdom, beauty, fertility, farming, family, money, etc. People would sacrifice to the god of their choice; a warrior may sacrifice to Ares for favour in battle, whereas a teenager may sacrifice to Aphrodite in order to find love. The difference between now and then is that the gods have gone, but the concepts they represent have remained.

Choosing your god

So, what do you need to do for bad faith? Easy. Find another god to worship. Because these gods no longer have specific identities, you can worship them without ever leaving the church building. You can still attend church every week, as long as the central focus of your life remains elsewhere.

So what god should you worship? Timothy Keller tells us that our idols are what we build around, what becomes the foundation of our lives. So for you it should be the thing you want most in your life? What thing, if you had it, would make your life complete? No one is completely content so there must be the magic cure-all, that one thing that fills that little hole inside of you.

Now a Christian might tell you that you should fill that hole with God, but you don’t want that! You want a faith that is weakened critically! Fortunately, it’s really hard to build your life around God because He is so abstract. The things in this world are physically right in front of you and have the appearance of being solid foundations.

Below is a list of the sort of things you could feasibly build your life around:

  • Money/stuff: very obvious one this. The modern world of advertising is geared towards the pursuit of ever greater riches, but also increasingly out of reach for the majority of people. Building around this god is a surefire way to disappointment
  • Status: another perhaps obvious god. This has been made even easier to follow due to social media. You can actually break down your influence statistically to see how well you’re following your god
  • Family/relationships/friendships: another really easy one. The people in your life are primed and ready to be placed on the god pedestal, whether it’s friends you want to impress, parents whose validation you crave, children you push your hopes and dreams onto, or that special someone you can’t stop thinking about. These people, although they can never give you what you really need, are perfect candidates for your worship.
  • Identity: aspects of your personal identity are good candidates for your worship. Just take something about you, even the tiniest thing, and make it central to your entire existence. You already have a perfect candidate right in front of you with your particular brand of Christianity or scriptural interpretation. Some, like your race if your white are even back in vogue for some stupid reason!

The catch

The thing with these idols is that they are trying to fill a hole that only god can fill. The writer of Ecclesiastes, usually attributed to King Solomon spends much of the opening chapters talking about how all his achievements, wealth and relationships were ultimately meaningless.

If God is the rock, these things are the sand. They are easy to build your identity around, but fall apart easily when the bad times hit. Money can be lost, or an excess can poison your relationships; people die, move away, or stop being your friends. All things are transient except God, but for your bad faith to succeed, something else must take its place.

The Road to a Bad Faith: Introduction

Imagine you want to build a house.

You wander the land trying to find the ideal location to call home. You will need water, fertile soil and plenty of space to grow crops. You keep wandering until you find a valley which seems ideal; there is a river and plenty of flat land in which to develop. But your eyes are drawn to a high rocky outcrop that sticks out above the river. You climb the outcrop with difficulty, but once you are at the top you decide that is where you will build.

The work is hard and long; digging the foundations into the rock wrecks your back and arms, drenching you in sweat. Once that is done, you have to collect the materials you need… down in the valley. Every trip is agony, tiring and frustrating. Only when all the materials have been collected, can you begin building, brick by brick. You strain to lift the logs and stone into place, your muscles screaming in resistance. Finally, after several days, you have finished your house. It is small and a little crooked in places, but it’s home.

Now let’s step back and imagine the same scenario. You find the valley with the river and the land, but instead of using the rock, you decide to build close to river, down in the soft riverbank sand. You think this makes sense; it’s really close to all the things you will need, and besides, why make a lot of unnecessary effort?

Building is quick and easy. Your tools easily break through the soft sand and the foundations are finished in no time. Collecting the resources is easy as everything can be rolled down the slopes towards your new house. Finally, you step back and admire your handiwork. Your house is sprawling and elaborate, and all with minimal effort on your part. You sit down by your bay window overlooking the river, and in the distance, you see the other version of you, covered in sweat and burned from the sun, still breaking in the foundation. You smile to yourself; if only they had had your foresight and cunning, they could have been lounging in the shade with a cold beer, but instead they have hit their foot with the pick axe for the 5th time! And when their house is finished, you scoff at it’s tiny space, it’s crude design and crooked doorframe. Your house, with its many rooms and chic design is far better than that crap shack!

But one day, a small, white cloud appears over the valley. The small cloud begins to expand and turn violent until the entire sky is a raging sea of grey and black. As a fork of lightning splits the sky, heavy drops of rain hammer your roof. The river, rising due to the increased water flow, begins to break its banks. The sand absorbs some of the water until it can’t hold it any longer. You realise the west wing of your house begins to sink. You run in to find your dining room furniture floating past you. You run into the bathroom and just manage to climb into your bathtub before the river breaks the walls and sweeps your house away. Nothing is left standing. As you float in your bathtub, wondering where you went wrong, you look up and see the other you, sitting safely and snugly in their little house, reading a book as the rain batters the windows, but quite protected from the storm outside.

One of the first stories a young child learns in Sunday school is the parable of the wise and foolish builders. Jesus uses this parable to describe to his followers how to build their lives. God is a rock and everything else is sand. Although building your life on God is hard, when the bad times come, your strong foundation with God will keep you standing. This is contrasted with a foolish builder who chooses to build his life on anything that isn’t God. Although this is easier, when the bad times come, these things cannot support your weight and you collapse.

But here is an interesting point; what if you took the opposite point of the story? What if you chose to follow the sand builder, and build your life on unsturdy foundations? What if you built a faith that couldn’t last?

The premise

The idea for this series came about three years ago when I saw a video by Youtuber CGP Grey called “7 ways to maximise misery”. https://youtu.be/LO1mTELoj6o

Based off of a new self help book, the idea of the video is that happiness is really difficult and vague, so it is conversely easier to work out how to live the most miserable life possible. Suggestions in the video and book involved things like avoiding all exercise, having an irregular sleeping pattern, and maximising your time in front of screens. So I thought, could the same principle be applied to your faith? I have found it difficult to build a strong faith over the years. It takes a lot of work. The path to bad faith seems so much easier both to identify and also to accomplish.

So this series is about walking the road towards Jesus and God but with a faith that will make it far more likely you will not make it to journeys end. Are you ready? Let’s begin.