PRIDE AND PREJUDICE

I know Pride and Prejudice is the title of Jane Austen’s 1813 romance novel, but that’s not what I’m thinking about as I write this post. What I have in mind is some people’s attitude about where they live in relation to where others live.

It first happened to me when I accepted the call to a small church in the Philadelphia area in 1975. A man I looked up to threw a wet blanket on my excitement when he asked me, “Why would you go there?” Then he added, “You could have gotten a good church here in Ohio, Kentucky, or Indiana.” I loved growing up in and going to school in the Cincinnati area, but Jan and I also loved our 10 years in Philadelphia.

Our next move was in 1984 to small but growing community in Southern California and I took some hits from a few Midwesterners about going to the land of hippies and marijuana. That was bad enough, but once we settled in and started the church we moved to plant I often heard snide remarks about Moreno Valley from people who lived in Orange County and other more attractive places in the area. Jan and I thoroughly enjoyed and loved our 32 years in Moreno Valley.

Late last year we relocated to Amarillo, Texas, to be near our grandsons and I was surprised by the negative comments we received from a few in Southern California about the place to which we were moving. You might think I would be used to it, but I was shocked last week when we were in Dallas for a conference to have three different people respond negatively when they learned we were from Amarillo. For the record, Jan and I are overjoyed to be living in Amarillo, being a part of the community, fellowshipping with our new church, and being fully engaged with our grandsons.

I understand and applaud an appropriate pride in terms of where a person lives. I’ve had that in every place I have lived during my 66 years. What I don’t understand is the prejudice some have about the places where others live. It seems to me we can be positive about and pleased with our community without looking down on the communities of others.

I think the prophet Jeremiah’s advice to the Israelites who were taken captive to Babylon is good advice for Christians today regardless of where they live: This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jeremiah 29:4-7).

Have pride in where you live and don’t be prejudiced against other places. And be sure to make the most of where you live.

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AMBITION: GOOD OR BAD?

Is ambition a good or bad thing? My response is something of a cop out: I don’t know; it all depends. How would you answer? Like many words, ambition can be used in a variety of ways. Some of the ways it is used make it a bad thing. On the other hand, some of the ways it is used make it a good thing.

The definitions given for ambition suggest both the good and bad. For example, one online definition describes ambition as “a strong desire to do or to achieve something, typically requiring determination and hard work.” Nothing wrong with that. But the next description of the word is “an ardent desire for rank, fame, or power.” Not so appealing.

Another entry says ambition is “a particular goal or aim, something that a person hopes to do or achieve.” Again, nothing wrong with that. But then comes the description “a desire to be successful, powerful, or famous.” Again, two of the three words are not as positive.

William Barclay discusses the Greek work in his book New Testament Words with the title “The Wrong Kind of Ambition.” He reports that in the beginning it was a perfectly respectable word meaning “labor for wages.” But with the passing of time the meaning of the word degenerated to describe something a person did “simply and solely for his [sic] own honor and glory and for his [sic] own profit.” The word is used seven times in the New Testament and always has a negative implication.

The best known and clearest usage of the word in the Bible is in the Apostle Paul’s instruction to Christians in Philippians 2:3a, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit” (NIV). I think the NIV’s addition of the adjective selfish to ambition captures the degeneration of the word Barclay traces. The NLT renders the warning, “Don’t be selfish; don’t live to make a good impression on others.” And in The Message Eugene Peterson has Paul caution, “Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top.”

In the next chapter in the letter Paul doesn’t use the actual word, but I think he is writing about his ambition and what I would call good ambition. He writes in Philippians 3:12-14, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

In his review of a book of essays about ambition James A.K. Smith makes a couple of observations that ring true and are descriptive of Paul’s ambition. One is that “the opposite of ambition is not humility; it is sloth, passivity, timidity, and complacency.” And he is right to note the ambitious are not always prideful and arrogant. His second observation is that “it is the telos [goal] of ambition that distinguishes good from bad, separating faithful aspiration from self-serving aggrandizement.”

At the age of 66 I am not as ambitious as I was in years gone by, but I haven’t lost all my ambition. I pray my ambitions are not self-serving or arrogant. I hope they are more in line with the Apostle Paul’s—to become more and more the person God has called me to be as a follower of Jesus.

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