Envy and Politics

The Bible warns us repeatedly not to envy. Envy “slays the simple” (Job 5:2), “rots the bones” (Prov. 14:30), and prevents us from inheriting the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21). This is no less true in the area of politics than it is in any other area of our lives. When we allow envy to influence our political thoughts and behavior, that envy not only harms us but also the people in our lives. In fact, when you analyze it you can see that envy in politics actually causes chain reactions that can harm people you’ve never met before.

I included this in the last “Love Is” post, but I want to share it here again. The definition of envy is a “painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage.” Reading that definition, do you think there is envy in politics? How could you not?

Love and Hatred in Politics

Many who read this probably have not been following this series from the beginning, so I will remind you that the reason I began studying 1 Corinthians 13 was because of all the accusations I heard, condemning the “right wing Christian conservatives” of being hateful. The irony of hatred coming from Christians was overwhelming to me. Irony? No, let’s call it hypocrisy! If the “Christian right” is hateful, me being a Christian, I wanted to know precisely what Christians are doing wrong. So I went to the Bible to find answers.

In 1 Corinthians 13, many of the words in the list are voiced in the negative. Love does NOT envy. Well then, isn’t it safe to say that someone who DOES envy is guilty of hate? If love is not proud, then someone who is proud is guilty of hate. Would you agree with that? If you disagree, I invite you to leave a comment and say so. But this is my understanding, that 1 Cor. 13 goes a long way towards helping us recognize love AND hatred in our own lives. The sad truth is that most hateful people do not even know that they are behaving hatefully.

Also equally true is that many people who accuse others of being hateful are expressing nothing more than their own displeasure and the accused are actually innocent. But that is a topic for another day.

I believe we see hatred in politics on a regular basis. If we apply the definition I quoted above, this “painful or resentful awareness” of advantages enjoyed by our political opponents – coupled with the desire to posses the same advantage – this saturates our political lives.

Class Warfare and Welfare

One of the most obvious examples plays itself out in the form of “class warfare.” When we have a painful or resentful awareness of someone else’s wealth, with the desire to make things more “fair,” that is envy. It is the most obvious form of envy in politics, but not the only example.

Going in the other direction, I saw a video on Facebook a few days ago of a girl talking about how wonderful it is to live in California if you “want” to be on welfare. The people who responded to that video saying “this makes me sick” are also expressing their envy. No, I am not saying that these people envy the girl on the video. It’s more subtle than that. They envy the power that their political opponents have that makes it possible for that girl to “get everything for free” (as she put it in the video). The people who are disgusted by the video would do something about it if they had the power to do so. They struggle desperately to muster enough political support to elect the people who would put an end to all the free rides.

The Bible says that this is wrong. 1 Cor. 13 says that “love doesn’t envy.”

I have personally observed a lot of examples of envy in politics. I encourage you to look for more examples yourself. Where do you see envy in politics?

A Serious Lack of Faith

The irony of envy from Christians in the context of politics is that it demonstrates a serious lack of faith. They fail to recognize God’s sovereignty and the power of the Holy Spirit. What would have happened if David didn’t know that God was with him on that battle field when he slew Goliath with a sling shot? It was NOT David himself who slew Goliath, it was God who did that, through David.

David was just a boy. A child. He couldn’t even wear a soldier’s armor because it was too heavy. This is not the kind of champion a sane man would support in a fierce battle of warriors. But David knew of God’s strength and power.

What room is there in your life for envy when you know the strength and power of the living God, the Alpha and Omega, and Author and Creator of all things? What is a mere giant to God?

No Room for Envy

As Christians, there is no room for envy in our lives, not even our political lives.

I understand well enough the way politics works. I understand that it’s all about getting your people into office. But I also know that our God is bigger than that. I also believe that when we do things the world’s way, we turn our back on the blessings God would give us. You cannot tap into God’s blessings for your life by doing things satan’s way. Wearing armor would have done nothing to make David more victorious. In fact, if he had done that, if he had worn the armor, I doubt the story would have ever survived the thousands of years that it did. No, David didn’t need the strength and power of this world for as long as he trusted in his God.

And as Christians, we must live the same way. We must trust in our God and live the life He wants us to live. We must stop envying our political opponents. Otherwise we are only Christian in name and nothing more.

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Christmas Music in Houston

Christmas concerts in HoustonThe thought of Christmas conjures up all manner of memories: time with family, decorating the tree, the smell of cookies baking in the oven, a fire crackling in the fireplace, and the sound of Christmas music. The music of the season has a way of taking the chill out of the winter air. Few could imagine Christmas without carols, choirs, and some hearty brass music. Houstonians who are feeling the first bite of winter can already start indulging in the sounds of Christmas. A variety of Christmas music concerts are on offer this week. Find what rings your bell, and start the musical countdown to Christmas.

Prepare the Way – Handel’s Messiah: Houston Baptist University, Friday 30 November.
Christmas Pops Concert: Clear Lake Symphony, Friday 30 November and Saturday 1 December.
A Christmas Potpourri: Houston Choral Society, Saturday 1 December (at Foundry United Methodist Church).
A Christmas Concert: Houston Masterworks Chorus and Sugar Land Baptist Church, Saturday 1 December (at Sugarland Baptist Church).
CELEBRATE!: Bay Area Chorus of Greater Houston,  Saturday 1 December 1 (at the Chapel of the Villa de Matel).
CELEBRATE!: Bay Area Chorus of Greater Houston, and Sunday 2 December 2 (at Clear Lake Presbyterian Church).
Deck the Halls: Fort Bend Symphony Orchestra, Sunday 2 December (at Stafford Centre).
Natale con Strumenti a Corda:  Early Music Southwest, Sunday 2 December.
University Singers: Christmas in the Chapel:  University of St. Thomas, Tuesday 4 December (in the Chapel of St. Basil).

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King Porter Stomp

King Porter Stomp – Very Interesting Information

As I mentioned in a blog post a few months ago, I have been commissioned to do a lot of writing work for a new band and their CD projects. Most of what this involves is transcribing songs from the original recordings and arranging them for the band’s specific instrumentation.

Part of the way I do this kind of work is to do informal research on the songs so that I understand the spirit in which the song was written.  In the process of doing this sort of homework for King Porter Stomp, I found a very Interesting Article that claims the development of the King Porter Stomp as a swing tune is something of a canonical representation of the history of early jazz. I encourage you to read the article if you are into jazz history. I enjoyed it!

The following Youtube play list is a string of videos mentioned in the article. It’s interesting to listen to them one after the other to hear how the song developed.

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The Displeasure Vacuum

There have been a few lessons in the past several weeks when I found myself talking to the students about the creative process from a would be negative perspective. In each case, the students expressed a displeasure for an assignment, a style of music or some instruction I had given them. I shared with each of them a concept which is relatively new to me, something positive I took from my divorce.

The Displeasure Vacuum

When I was going through the worst days of my life, I tried to listen to music but everything I listened to hurt my soul. It didn’t matter if it was jazz, classical, Christian contemporary, pop, or rock, none of it sounded good to me and was actually painful to listen to.

At first I responded to this mental anguish by initiating a search for the music that I could enjoy. I began surfing through different stations on the radio and clicking on random videos on youtube. But it was all to no effect. I was beginning to believe that I just didn’t like music anymore.

That’s when the Holy Spirit spoke to me and told me that it was time torealize the music I was looking for. He told me that the reason I could not find the music I wanted to hear was because it hadn’t been written yet. He said that it was my job to compose that music so that other people could enjoy it, not just for me to hear.

As a result, an entirely new personal era of compositions followed. I think my favorite of those has been “Jesus, Bring Me Peace.” It is a very simple melody that I have written four different arrangements of so far. The first version of “Jesus, Bring Me Peace” was just for trumpet alone. It was something of a personal, musical prayer. It even has words… “Jesus, Jesus, bring me peace. Bring me peace.” The second arrangement was for jazz combo with four horns. Then I put the melody in my duet book, Celebrations. Finally, the best version of “Jesus, Bring Me Peace” – my favorite arrangement is the one for brass quintet (we are working on making it available at the store as a download – hopefully within the next couple weeks).

Prompting Creativity

The point of writing about all of this is to say that the Holy Spirit prompted me to take my discomfort and use it as an opportunity to be more creative. Instead of just quitting listening to music, He prompted me to create the music that I felt was missing.

The reason I am writing about this is because their have been three students in the past few weeks who didn’t want to do their assignments because they didn’t like something about what I had given them to do. Since these were creative assignments, they weren’t feeling very creative in that context. The one student had a composition assignment for which he didn’t like the parameters. When I asked him what he didn’t like about it, he said that he didn’t like other people’s compositions that were written within those parameters.

That’s when I told him about my experience with displeasure in listening to music. Then I explained to him that he can do exactly the same thing as I did. He can take those parameters and do something different from what other composers have done. I told him to write something that he WOULD like instead of limiting himself to just writing what other people have already written.

I do give composition lessons, but the student I’m writing about is a trumpet student. I also give composition assignments to some of my trumpet students when I feel that it is appropriate.

We Can All Be Creative This Way

I believe we all have the capacity to turn our displeasure around in this way. We can take what we see is missing and fill in the blanks the way we think it should be done.

When I was teaching that student, it dawned on me that we are probably most creative when we work this way. I know this is true outside of music. When inventors see that there is no device that does what they want to do, well….that’s when they design what they need. They say that necessity is the mother of invention. I see no reason why this can’t be as true in music as it is in other fields.

So I encourage you to respond differently to the things you do not like. Don’t use them as an excuse to quit or give up trying. No! Look at what you need to do and what you don’t like about it, then take that as an invitation to create something that does the job the way you want it to be done. If you have been following my writing, you know that I do not believe in originality for its own sake. I do not believe much good comes from just sitting around trying to come up with original ideas. This displeasure vacuum is one answer. When you see a need, fill it! That’s when true creativity will kick in.

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Being Thankful – Take a Different Perspective

Sometimes it takes seeing things from a different perspective to appreciate what we have. Sometimes we need to see our own lives through the eyes of someone else. This happened to me years ago when I was talking to a friend of mine on the phone. I told him that I was engaged and would soon be remarried. When I shared this news with my friend, instead of being happy for me, he became very angry with me. He told me off and we never spoke again before he died about a year later.

Why was my friend so upset with me?

Well, because he had never been married. For all I know, he had never even dated. He told me how unfair he thought it was that I had one failed marriage and was already working on the second one, while he remained hopelessly single. Nothing I said to him seemed to make him feel better so I let it go.

I think about my friend sometimes when my life seems a little difficult. I try to see my life through his eyes and to appreciate better what I have.

You know, as Americans, we have so much and we actually appreciate very little of it. I remember reading Louis Armstrong’s autobiography and learning the answer to the question “how poor is poor?” He told the story about how every once in a while, for a special treat, his mom would send him down to the harbor with a dime to buy a bucket of fish heads. She would make soup or something with the disgusting stuff that we typically throw away. Most of us today couldn’t imagine a meal of fish heads, and for that to be their special treat? Wow, now we’re talking poor!

I also remember a story my ex-wife’s mother told me about the women she hired to help with the house work. Now, the place my ex-mother-in-law lives in is not like a mansion or anything fancy like that. It’s a modest duplex. But she hired some women from across the border because she wanted to help them out. One day when they were working, one of the women told the other (in Spanish), “I can’t believe people actually live like this.”

When you look across the border from El Paso, you see entire communities that look much like the townships in South Africa. Actually, back when I lived in El Paso, the community across the Rio Grande from U.T.E.P. was more poverty stricken than the townships I saw when I was in South Africa. Imagine an entire community of cardboard huts!

So yeah, when you hire someone who lives in a cardboard hut to work in your house, I could see how they might gawk in wonderment about the typical American’s lifestyle. As Americans, we have so much stuff and yet we are some of the most unhappy people in the world.

I am a big fan of Mother Teresa, and I remember reading about Americans who would leave their families to serve in her ministry, only for her to tell them to go back home. She told them that the poverty of the third world countries is economical, but the poverty of the USA is emotional (I’m paraphrasing this). She told them to go back home to be present in the lives of their families and stop contributing to the emotional poverty of our country.

This Thanks Giving, I encourage people to take a step back and look at what you have to be thankful for through the eyes of those who have so very little. My friend was right. I am a very fortunate man for having Pearl in my life and I understand that there are many people who never have that opportunity to enjoy the experience of sharing life with a loving spouse.

I have so very much to be thankful for and I praise God for His love, His grace, and all that He has provided for me and my family during my lifetime.

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What’s Wrong With Envy?

They say every snowflake is different. In that way, they are just like people.

I have often heard people compliment others with the phrase, “I envy you.” In fact, very rarely have I ever heard anyone use the word envy in a negative context. So it begs the question, if the Bible says, “love doesn’t envy,” then why? What’s wrong with envy?”

My copy of Merriam-Webster’s dictionary lists the definition of envy as a “painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage.”

Looking at this definition, I can see that it may still be difficult to see what’s wrong with it. After all, isn’t this the American way? When you look at what defines us as Americans, isn’t this desire at the very core of our lives? This desire is what fuels our consumerism. We want what others have and we can get it ourselves for just $9.99. Right? So what’s wrong with it?

Their Best Is Not Your Best

If you are a Christian like I am, then you probably believe that God has a plan for your life. The Bible says that God knows his plans for us (Jeremiah 29:11). When we envy other people and desire the advantages they have, be it wealth, power, popularity, etc, then we have stepped out of God’s will and His plan for our lives. By desiring the best that someone else has, we prevent God’s best from manifesting in our own lives.

Envy Devalues Kindness

Another very serious problem with envy is that when we envy what others have, we devalue what we have. Second on the famous “Love Is” list is kindness. Love is kind! And if you have been following this blog, you know that kindness is when we give what has not been earned or is undeserved. But when we envy, we tend to feel as if we have nothing of value to give.

I made a discovery about a year ago. I realized that “love doesn’t envy” stated in the converse is “love knows its own worth.” When we look at it that way, it’s easy to see that envy prevents us from being kind and generous to others. When we envy, we are saying that what we posses is of little value and we assume that no one would benefit from what we have to give.

Know Your Worth

I believe that it is far easier to do something than it is to not do something. People are more successful at stopping a habit if they replace that habit with a new one. A good example of this is smokers who chew gum to help them quit smoking. In the same spirit, I feel that it’s better to try to know your own worth than to try to stop envying. As my pastor, Don Nordon put it in a few different sermons, you can’t focus on Christ if you are always focused on the problem.

If you don’t know this already, God loves you just the way you are. For most Christians, this is the essence of our self worth. We have worth because God values us and He has given us each something that makes us unique. When you come to understand how much God values you, then you will stop envying others and open the pathway in your heart toward being more generous and kind to the people God places in your life.

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