As a postgrad student, I am constantly reading. That is my life now! I read about neoliberalism, and then new-managerialism, before moving onto the very stimulating topic of participatory practices before delving into theoretical approaches on sustainability practices.
Of course in-between these required readings I do also tend to 'browse' upon other literary sources such as Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.
Yet whilst these readings are super stimulating—introducing me to numerous concepts, theories and paradigms in the field of community development—there are times when I glance upon their vast pages and think, Well that sounds nice in theory, but would it actually work in real life?
In the sinful and fallen world in which we inhabit, I can't help but wonder how these ideals for social and community betterment work in reality.
I question how participatory, horizontal structures can really operate in a world that highly values hierarchical and bureaucratic organisations?
I consider whether empowerment strategies for disadvantaged groups and individuals can really challenge existing power structures?
And I wonder if our hopes and desires for justice and change can truly transpire in a modern context driven by greed, discrimination, competition and wastefulness.
These are the questions that rattle through my brain as I attempt to apply my 'theoretical' learnings to real life practices.
Rhetoric versus Real Life
Just like my university studies, there are many times when I delve into the bible, and depart feeling utterly encouraged and re-committed to my daily walk with Christ. As I read verses such as 1 John 4 verse 11 (which commands us to "love one another" as God loves us) and 1 Thessalonians 4 verse 7 (where we are instructed to remain pure and to "live a holy life"), I cannot stop the overwhelming desire to joyfully change and to be better in my "dailyness" with God (thank you Beth Moore for this very cool, yet totally fictional word).
But then reality hits us, doesn't it? Or more likely it is our sinful nature. When our sinful selves appear suddenly seeking the pleasures and temptations of this world, our once zealous and burning desires to practice the Word dissolve into a wretched haze of broken promises and shallow declarations.
We see that cute guy or girl and begin to lust after them. Desiring them in an impure way. We are betrayed by that dear friend and instantly retaliate in a hateful or unkind manner. So where then has the love and purity from 1 John and 1 Thessalonians gone? Why does our desire to submit to and honour God's word dissipate so swiftly once we close our bibles and begin to just 'do' life?
Is it because God's word is so stringent and harsh? Or our sinful sides simply too strong to tame? Or are we merely doomed to fail at being obedient Christians?
Just accept it...you are going to Fail
Sometimes I feel as if my Christian walk is one marred with broken promises and failures. Of course these are not the failures or broken promises of God; these are all my own. My own failings, my own struggles and my own shortcomings.
So pervasive has my disobedience and failure been, that many times throughout my Christian journey, I have wondered, and even struggled with the belief, that maybe I'm capable of obedience and compliance. That maybe I was simply a weak Christian; lacklustre and incapable of controlling one's self.
But these failures and struggles do not separate me from God. In fact I need to see them as the very actions that draw me closer to Jesus.
Because lets face it...we are always going to fail at living the perfect Christian walk. It is IMPOSSIBLE not to sin. We are sinful human beings and because of that unfailing fact, we can never truly live or maintain a perfect living Christian example.
But thankfully we don't have to. Jesus already did that for us. He was perfect. He not only maintained the word and lived by the word; He WAS the word.
So we just need to STOP trying, attempting, wishing, praying or hoping to be perfect. And we need to stop the self-flagellation and persistent self-condemnation.
We need to accept that we will fail. Many times actually.
But in saying that we also need to recognise that failings do not, and should not, be an excuse to knowingly and persistently sin. Our failings should be an impetus for us to learn from our mistakes and to draw closer to God, not something to delight in before seeking premeditated grasps at redemption.
We need to draw near to God. We will still sin of course. But the difference is this; when we draw near to God we won't vigorously desire or seek sin.
As Henri J. M. Nouwen wrote so beautifully:
"Do not despair, thinking that you cannot change yourself after so many years. Simply enter into the presence of Jesus as you are and ask him to give you a fearless heart where he can be with you. You cannot make yourself different. Jesus came to give you a new heart, a new spirit, a new mind, and a new body. Let him transform you by his love and so enable you to receive his affection in your whole being".
How then do we absorb Gods words and his commandments and just live them?
We submit to him daily and we accept that perfection is not something with which we should seek to attain for ourselves. We should rather seek to draw as close to perfection, and his name is Jesus.
Alison Barkley lives in Newcastle and is a post graduate student at Deakin University. Alison is serving in the Philippines with an aid organisation.
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