Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Chasing Our Thoughts

When Animals Could Talk

Long ago the humans and the animals got along fine. All the peoples, human and animal, could communicate with each other and were at peace. The animals of that long-ago time were much larger than the animals of today. Indeed, the animals of today are but shadows of those who once were.

There came a time when we humans forgot our place and broke the harmony. We humans began to reproduce at an alarming rate, and we gave ourselves to the production of all sorts of weapons meant for the destruction of the animals – spears, bows, arrows, blowguns and traps of all kinds. We began to hunt, not just for food, but simply for the fun of killing. We humans also killed many animals just by pure carelessness, never stopping to think of the results of our actions. Even as we walked from place to place, we were not careful where we stepped, so that many of the tiny many-legged and legless ones were crushed to death or maimed. Some humans went so far as to purposely kill little animals merely from a feeling of disgust or loathing, going out of their way to step on a bug or squash a harmless spider. It was clear that we humans believed ourselves to be the only ones who mattered in all of creation, and as we continued clearing land and building our cities, it looked as if there would soon be no more room for anyone else to live in the earth.

The animals decided something had to be done about this human problem. The bears met separately from the other animals. The Great White Bear, presiding at the council asked, "What's the problem?"

"It's these humans; they kill us indiscriminately."

"How do they kill us?"

"With bows and arrows."

"Of what are their bows made?"

"The bow of locust wood and the bowstring of our guts."

The bears decided they would make bows of their own with which to kill the humans. They got some good wood, and one of the bears sacrificed himself to give material for the bowstring. When the bow was finished and arrows were made, one of the bears stood up to shoot. He could pull the string, but releasing it was a problem. His long claws would get hung and throw him off target. The other bears, ducking his wild arrows, cried out, "Stop, stop. Something must be done. We'll cut your claws."

After the bear's claws were cut, he could shoot a bow as well as any man. "Now the humans have had it!" all the bears said. "We will hunt them, as they have hunted us! All we have to do is cut our claws."

"Wait!" said the Great White Bear. "How is it that we bears make our living?"

"By climbing trees to get honey and by ripping open rotten logs to find insects and by digging in the earth for rodents and by catching fish."

"How do we do all these things?"

"With our long claws."

The bears understood that if they cut their claws they could no longer make a living as bears and would starve to death. The idea to hunt the humans with bows and arrows was scrapped, and they never came up with another solution.

All the other animals came together in a joint council to discuss the human problem. The Grubworm presided at the council. After all, it was his people, the little creeping and crawling peoples of the earth, who had suffered most from the actions of the humans. The animals all sat in a circle. The talking stick was passed, giving each an opportunity to speak. The Toad said, "Something must be done. These humans despise me. They are forever kicking me or throwing things at me, because they think I am ugly. Just look at all the bumps they've put on my back!"

One of the little birds rose and said, "Although I'm too small to provide much meat, their little boys kill my people and roast us over the fire until our feathers and feet are burned off." One after the other, the animals spoke of atrocities committed by the humans. The only one with nothing to say against the humans was the little chipmunk, who was too small to be hunted for food and too quick to be stepped on. When he spoke in defence of the humans, the other animals jumped on him and gave him such a scratching down his back that the stripes are there to this day!

Once it was established that something must be done about the humans in order to save the rest of creation, the floor was open for discussion of what to do. It was finally decided that each of the animal peoples would come up with at least one disease with which to inflict the humans, in order to kill most of them and to teach the rest some respect. Various animals attending the council agreed to come up with every sort of ailment from cancer to p.m.s. When the Grubworm heard this last one, he laughed so hard he fell over backwards and has been crawling around like that ever since.

So all the animals went their separate ways to meet in council, each with their own kind, to work out the details of what they would do. The deer met in council, with their chief, Little Deer presiding. The deer understood the humans to be a pitiful and needy people who live only by the deaths of others. For this reason, the deer decided to allow the humans to continue killing some deer each year, but only what is needed for food, NEVER FOR SPORT. Furthermore, a human hunter, upon killing a deer, is required to show respect for the spirit of the deer by begging the deer's pardon and making a proper tobacco offering. And so, Little Deer, the chief and leader of all the deer will come. Swiftly and invisibly he will come to the place where the deer has died. Gently he will bend down over the blood. In a whisper, he will ask the spirit of the slain deer, "Did this hunter treat you with respect? Did he beg your pardon? Did he give thanks that you gave your life so he could eat?"

If the answer is, "Yes," all is well, and Little Deer will go on his way. But if the answer is, "No," Little Deer will track that hunter to his home. There, Little Deer will strike that hunter with rheumatism, so that he may never hunt again!

Word was sent to humans to our ancestors, and we Native people have not forgotten this treaty with the deer.

And so, many diseases came into the earth. Many people died. For awhile, it looked as though maybe no humans would survive in the earth. Great cities rose and fell and were forgotten.

The plant peoples who saw all of this, though, also elected to come together and meet in council. Deciding to take pity on us humans, each plant agreed to give of itself to provide medicine for at least one human disease or ailment. All we humans had to do was ask in a respectful way.

A Good Friend of mine, Robert Francis writes:

At home, I have a reference Bible. [ …]it can be handy for searching out certain themes in scripture. I was thinking about balance, and the importance of seeking balance in our lives. Balance is the basis of health and well-being, of peace and harmony too, I think. In all the cultures of the earth, balance, the very essence of goodness, is sought. At least that's what I thought.

I looked up a scripture that was unmistakably within this theme of balance. I looked up Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. You know, "For everything there is a season," and it follows that everything written in those verses is presented in balanced pairs of two. I looked in the margin for some reference to this obvious theme of balance in the study notes. There was none. I looked in the back of the Bible in the index but found no references to balance at all. There was no recognition of balance, as a biblical theme in the way people organized its powerful teachings. Yet this theme of balance runs throughout the Bible.

Books of the Old Testament are written in such a way as to reflect this overarching theme of balance. If you want to find the most important phrase in an Old Testament book, don't look at the beginning or the end, find the exact middle. There it is. Each book is balanced on its own midpoint.

As recorded in the Book of Leviticus, the Sabbatical years and the Year of Jubilee were for the restoration of balance. Each seventh year the crop land was laid to rest and slaves were set free (with pay). The fiftieth year was the Year of Jubilee, when freedom was proclaimed, land went back to its original owners and debts were forgiven (Exodus 21:2-4; Leviticus 25). It was a system which, if followed, would keep individual fortunes from accumulating indefinitely at the expense of the common people. From time to time, balance would be restored.

Look at the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These are four separate stories of the life and teachings of Jesus. They don’t all [record the same] details. Matthew, Mark and Luke, in particular, agree on many points, yet there are many differences in what they write. There are even what some have called “outright contradictions,” especially between the first three Gospels and the last one. But they are all four included in the Bible, four stories of Jesus which serve to balance one another [and offer different perspectives].

Together they brings all things into perspective and balance.


People have been aware for centuries and centuries that thinking about a certain thing and any action we may take – doing something about what we are thinking – are closely related.

In fact, the bible makes the statement, “As a man thinks in his heart….so goes the man.” Prov 23:7 (KJV). Here, as elsewhere in scripture, a direct link is made between our thoughts and our actions. So according to scripture, thought and action are not just closely related, they are tightly tied together. This is particularly true when it comes to matters of faith and life. How we imagine God to be even more importantly, how we imagine God wants us to be – directly affects our behaviour!

Philip Hughes makes this point: what we believe – our “actual beliefs … are those beliefs which [we] hold[s] which influence [our] behaviour and actions.” Hughes research based conclusion is simply echoing the biblical author James in Chapter 2:17 who says, “…faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

What we truly believe then, is not determined by what we say we believe but by what we do about it!

So, how do we ensure that our thoughts about God and what we do about them – our actions – take us in the right direction in life? How do we prevent our thoughts from leading us astray?

Let me offer something for us to use as a guide.

Though not as prominent as they once were in people’s language, two words still pop up time and again when people think about religion, beliefs, faith and God. They are Theology and Doctrine.

Theology is the thoughtful study of what God has done or is doing. It comes from the Greek words theos meaning God and logos meaning word or reason. Some might say correctly that theology is just plain thinking about God – what God is like; how God acts in the world and in our lives; what God expects of us. And, whether you think so or not, all of us are theologians. It doesn’t require that you go to seminary or a Bible College to be one. It simply requires that you have spent time – any amount of time whether one minute or a lifetime – thinking about the existence, character, activity and designs of God.

Doctrine on the other hand, is one of the ways we respond to what we know about God – about what God does and what God wants – some say doctrine is our thinking about God which is wearing shoe leather – our theology walking itself out in the way we live – our behaviour toward God. More often than not, when we think of it in a formal sense it means the way we understand such important things as: who Jesus is; how we think about the work of the Holy Spirit; what Jesus’ resurrection was all about; how Jesus saves us from an eternity of separation from God.

But doctrine also focuses us on what might seem to be more mundane things: what we think about and how we act in relation to money and belongings; what or who we treat as most important to us in our lives; our views of and behaviour toward sexuality or things like theft and corruption – even how we think about governing the churches we fellowship in.

Even a cursory read of the Bible makes it clear that not all actions we might take in our world – not all behaviour (we might say “doctrine”) is correct and pleasing to God – right thinking leading to right action is essential. In other words, well examined theology leading to sound doctrine – is essential.

I don’t want to bore you to tears this morning with a treatise on theology or a long-winded description of doctrine. But, I do want us to think about behaviour – our behaviour – and how it may connect (or doesn’t connect) to the way you and I think about God.

If we follow wise teaching – good doctrine - it will lead us down a good path in life. If we ignore wise teaching or, more directly, follow the teachings of the unwise, we will be led astray, waste time chasing the wrong thoughts about God and damage our life and the lives of those around us.

And that is what sound doctrine is designed to do – bring stability to life – personal, community, and spiritual.

The Bible says we are not to be people who are unstable and changeable in what we believe about God, the scriptures or how life is to be lived. We are to be well-founded and well-grounded.

In fact, this was so important that the apostle Paul wrote Timothy to: “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” 1 Timothy 4:16

Paul went on to say that: “…the time will come when [people] will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” 2 Timothy 4:3,4

It was the desire for and the need to have personal and community stability which led Native North American people to adopt a “doctrinal code” of conduct – a code which, when followed, ensured community health, well-being and ultimately survival. These are known, by those tribal groups who have embraced them, as the Seven Teachings.

The Seven Teachings

to learn truth, to live with truth and to walk with truth, to speak truth

humble yourself and recognize that no matter how much you think you know, you know
very little of all the universe.

to achieve honesty within yourself to recognize who and what you are do this and you can be honest with all others

to be courageous is to do something right even if you know it's going to hurt you.

Honour others and show respect to them and to yourself. If you cannot show respect you cannot expect respect to be given

unconditional love to know that when people are weak they need your love the most, that your love is given freely and you cannot put conditions on it or your love is not true

to have wisdom is to know – the difference between right and wrong, good and bad; to know the result of your actions and to make right decisions accordingly

Stated another way,

To cherish knowledge is to find wisdom.
To give and receive love is to find peace.
To honour all of creation is to have respect.
To be courageous is to face life with integrity.
Honesty in difficult situations is to be brave; being brave means being free.
Humility is to understand your place as a sacred part of creation.
To live the truth is to know all these things.
These basic doctrines allowed for life to be lived in a good way --- for people to experience life in healthy ways – for the people to survive and be who they were created to be – to bring stability to life.

As we think about the need for stability in our lives and in our church community in the face of shifting social standards, changing principals of morality, diverse understandings of godly spiritual life, our doctrine must once again become an important facet of our lives.

So, what is doctrine – and what isn’t it?

Doctrine flows out of what we think of God – or at least the doctrine we hold dear to us flows out of the experiences we have had with God – what we might call our theology.

This is why it is never a good idea to use only our own experiences to fashion theology – it can lead us down some seriously wrong trails. What’s more, left to ourselves, we can take a rigid and narrow view of doctrine and become cemented in our thinking. We need one another in community to work these things out well together. And, we need differing opinions and experiences of God to help us make correct choices about how to live life well how to listen well to God and act well for God.

Doctrine can be viewed in a number of different ways:

For some people it is The Hammer of the Law

Do what’s right always – or else. And, what’s right is what I or a small group of others have to say. The main thinking here is captured in the words, “Thus says the Lord!”

For other people the response to the need for doctrine is “Just me and You Lord”

I’m all alone with God – no one has the right to tell me anything. I am the sole arbiter of what is good and acceptable and true. God speaks to me and if he speaks to you it better agree with what God said to me! The catch phrase here is often, “God told me!”

Others believe doctrine is a matter of personal choice – that even if our doctrine differs so dramatically that it’s hard to imagine we think about the same God we are all going in the same direction. This is the Que Sera, sera! Approach. Whatever will be, will be! Albert Ellis popularized this as the “I’m okay, you’re okay” approach to psychology. Well, I’m not okay and neither are you!! The main thinking here is ….. whatever!!!

Alternately, sound doctrine may be seen as a more described way to think about God and about our actions toward God. Yes, there are options for behaviour but they are founded on basics which are stable and essentially unchangeable. Things like the way we think about the person, work, life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus. Or, the way we understand the bible and its teachings.

This way is the way of a trialogue, not a monologue with ourselves, nor a dialogue between ourselves and God alone; but a conversation between scripture, the Holy Spirit and ourselves – not as single individuals trying to plumb the mysteries of God, but as communities of people gathered in Jesus name to see what it means to be created in and live in his image. It’s about our traditions & experiences – in the community of God’s church being fit together into a more complete picture of God. It’s about thinking well and walking well – about Chasing our Thoughts with right actions.

The animals in our opening story knew what life should be like. They understood how life should be lived in response to the one who made us. And, when it went awry they took counsel together to see what must be done to bring life back to balance and harmony. Let us also counsel together so that we might walk well, walk in balance, walk in harmony.

by Terry LeBlanc, My People Canada


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