Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Flexibility or Compromise, Anyone? : The Business of Christian Education XLIV

Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless - like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup, you put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle, you put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”
Bruce Lee

An important skill that is required when we enter real life is being flexible.  If we are too rigid to the theories we have learned in school, then often we will fail.  For most of the time things go unexpectedly in the real world.  Flexibility becomes a key factor in the path to success one may trace in life.  Relying on academic theories and knowledge alone will lead us to the road of naiveté.  In all kinds of work, flexibility is proved to be extremely beneficial.  Even in hard science, flexibility becomes one of the key ingredients that leads to innovation and breakthrough.  No wonder, flexibility is a highly sought after quality when a search committee is searching for the right person to fill in a position.

Flexibility, however, is a quality that is difficult to cultivate.  For someone to be able to achieve the kind of flexibility the world demands, he or she must sacrifice a part of him/herself.  One’s identity must change in order to accommodate the requirement of flexibility.  A lot of times, flexibility means that
we will need to always accommodate.  To be accommodating requires reorganizing our principles, categories, beliefs, and many other things in us in order for what we want to accommodate to fit in and achieve our stated purpose.  Often, being flexible makes one be considered as unprincipled or unfounded.

In Asia especially, Bruce Lee’s resurrecting the old Chinese philosophy of “being water” is hailed to the highest.  Flexibility is the most important quality one must have if one is to be successful in life.  Bruce Lee proved it with his Jeet Kune Do technique.  More than that, Bruce Lee also proved it with his breakthrough idea in the film industry that gave birth to street fighting style that captivates the eyes of action movie lovers even to this day.  All kinds of street fighting style action movie produced after Bruce Lee’s five silver screen movies are just following Lee’s brilliant invention.

Now, in the West, this idea of flexibility might be best understood in the Darwinian’s theory of evolution.  Darwin talks about the survival of the fittest.  Those who successfully survive in this world, according to Darwin, are those who can adapt to the environment.  Those who refused to adapt to the environment simply died.  The fact that the world environment changes and, ironically, cannot be easily changed by the power of an individual, prompts adaptation by individual by way of accommodation.  The individual needs to adapt to the speed of change of the environment as well as adapt to the change the environment brings.

Now, our world today is changing very rapidly.  Such environment calls for faster adaptation.  This means for greater flexibility on the part of the individual.  The thing is, human soul can only handle so much in accommodating the environment.  Too much of accommodation, the human soul will start losing its identity.  When one loses his/her identity, the soul must take up another identity to fill the blank space.  What is readily available is the identity of the world.  When this happens, the identity of the individual will be no different than the identity of the world.  Therefore, the person will no longer have his/her own identity.  Just like water, its form is determined by the environment.  When one becomes water, his/her identity will be determined by the world they live in.

To some degree flexibility is necessary.  But if it is stretched too much, it will become a compromise.  The sad thing is that one does not stop at being flexible as needed, but he/she becomes “flexible.”  His/her identity is “flexible.”  In order to do so, one must change his/her identity.  Such change can’t be done without compromising his/her principles of life.  Like water, there is no principle anymore.  The only principle is “be water.”  If the condition requires one to lie, then lie.  If the condition requires one to cheat, then cheat.  If the condition requires one to sacrifice others, then sacrifice others.  No principle will be held anymore.  For holding on to any principle will mean suffering.  Since the world changes and demands us to change, staying on principle will only mean fighting against the current.  The current of the world is too big to fight, and so fighting it will result in our misery and even death.  For the sake of survival, one must not hold on to principle too dearly.  Losing our principles is allowed in the name of survival.  Often what happens is that we negotiate this internally within ourselves.  The challenge presented before us tempts us to reconsider our principles.  With the philosophy of the survival of the fittest, and the desire to continue to live, and the push of the world, sooner or later one will have to make a crucial decision, either to die with our principle or to compromise our principle.  In today’s world, it is more likely for an individual to compromise than to die in his/her principle.

Two thousand years ago, recorded in Matthew 16:24-27, Jesus said:

24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.”

When we compromise our identity to the world, we might gain the world, but yet we lose our life for the world.  Once it is lost, how can it be gained back?  The world is like a strong current, once we give in, we will be lost.  Once we compromise our principle, we lose it for good.  So, yes, how do we answer Jesus’ question?  What good will it be to gain the world but yet forfeits one’s own soul?  When we become water, we lose our identity as a human being.  When we become water, we lose who we are.  When we lose who we are, we lose our soul.  Yes, we may be considered successful in the eye of the world.  But in the eye of the creator of our soul, we have lost it all.

            Is there a way to come back and regain what was lost?  Fortunately, yes!  In Jesus we may regain what was lost.  In Jesus we may regain our lost soul.  There is only one thing we must do, to believe in Jesus.  Believing in Jesus means the opposite of accommodating the world.  Since the world is against Jesus from the beginning, following Jesus means against the world.  Thus, we ought to deny ourselves and lose ourselves for Jesus.  The world might kill us, but in Jesus we find our lives.  The world might harass us, but we continue to stand on principle in Jesus.  Thus we do not lose our identity as the image of God.  When we don’t compromise we might not be successful in this world.  When we don’t compromise, we might be despised.  But yet, we are honored by our creator.  This is the only way.  This is the way of grace.  And this way of grace is only available in Jesus Christ.

            The world offers flexibility, compromise.  Many people, being ignorant, lose their souls under the flag of flexibility, not knowing that the flexibility required by the world demands our soul to be saturated with the world.  Thus many compromise their principle, their identity, and “be water” in order to accommodate the demands of the world.  Survival and success becomes the goal no matter what.  Sadly, such path is also taken by the followers of Christ.  The bigger the organization, the stronger the demand of the people, the harder for Christians to stand on principles.  So they too compromise.  Little by little they begin to shed their principle in the name of flexibility for the purpose of survival and achieving success.  Soon, they adopt the identity of the world and thus be conformed by the pattern of the world instead of being transformed by the renewing of their mind in Jesus Christ.

            I don’t deny that there is a place for flexibility.  To some degree we will need to be flexible.  Because we know that our knowledge is not absolute.  So we too need to be flexible.  But our flexibility must not compromise our basic foundations of our identity, of our faith.  Flexibility in the sense of creativity is a good thing to have.  But flexibility in the sense of compromising our principles we need to be wary about.  It is true that sometimes we make a mistake on making what is not fundamental as our principle.  That is why we must come back to the Scripture over and over again to get our foundations deep in the truth, in the word of God.  Jesus is the truth.

            This is a very complicated matter.  But it all boils down to whose words are we hearing, the world or Jesus?  What do we say?  To follow Jesus by denying ourselves and taking up the cross or to follow the world by denying Jesus and climbing up the world ranking?  What do we say?  The right answer is to choose to lose our life for Jesus rather than to gain the whole world but forfeiting one’s soul.

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