“Can we envy ourselves and, if we can, is it a sin?” This is “Just a Thought” I had this morning. As you know from other posts, when one of these thoughts hits my mind it becomes an obsession until it is worked through. It also occurred to me that the truth of the answer to this question would be important to me and countless others. Having said that, this is one post I do not want to write, which may be the strongest reason I need to. Not because the truth is not valuable, but because of the events involved and the potential to cause some suffering. There are some who were involved who will recognize this time and hard feelings could arise. There are newer members of the group who were not involved and from whom the truth of these events have been kept hidden. These members know my name and will recognize certain unique markers and identify this as their “church.” Finally, to be honest, recalling this story and telling it to you is a painful exercise. However, because this is about the lesson and not the events, I will only refer to the events to the extent necessary to address the question and provide its foundation. (Note: You know my affection (sarcasm) for revisionist history. For that reason, these events were documented at the time of occurrence to prevent such revisions by others or myself.)
I woke up this morning fresh out of a dream state. While the dream was new, the content was not….This would be a good point to pause and clarify. I am not one who overvalues the meaning of a dream, but do recognize God’s authority to guide us however He sees fit. The only point here is that, to some extent, our dreams come from what is in our subconscious. I do believe that what is in our subconscious is made up of remnants of our conscious mind. So, I focus on what is the context of the dream, not the specifics. Before we get to the dream, let’s look back at our question for a moment. “Can we envy ourselves?” Any of you like the Sci-Fi idea of a multi-verse, the idea that every possible outcome exists in its own universe? This is not that. This is not wondering if somewhere in another universe there is a me who gets everything I ever wanted so I sit here and wish I could be him.
Before we can address the question, you must have context for the dream; you must know what I know. When we were kids, my father worked 12-hour days on the swing shift. This meant he could only randomly initiate family outings and events. One of the most regular, and one of my most favorite, were the Sunday trips to the local flea market. Sometimes dad would load up the whole family, and sometimes just me and my brother. Either way it was a great time. This flea market existed in an old red barn where there were many vendors who carried many interesting and exciting things. It was a great adventure to explore the market and discover those things and, once in a while, barter for and buy them. We could literally spend hours roaming around the market, hot chocolate and freshly made donut in hand. Sometimes the place would be so packed you could barely move through it. This flea market had become a local icon. Sadly, after I had grown up, sickness forced the owners to sell. A few owners later, the flea market fell into disarray and fell out of popularity as a result. Some years later life would bring me to purchase a house around the corner. I would drive by the flea market practically daily and mourn its loss. As I drove by, I would think how great it would be if one day I could acquire the market, return it to its former glory and return it to the family oasis I loved as a child. Of course, this was one of those frivolous dreams we never expect to happen. Thankfully, God never lives down to our expectations.
Years later a friend of mine did acquire the flea market, and shortly after my brother joined him in his struggle to revive it. Seeing the physical and mental toll this was taking on my brother, I would punch out of my full-time job and go around by the market to help him out. Day after day I would see an exhausted man fight to accomplish more than was in his power. Worse than just that, he was fighting certain parts of the market itself. One of the most negatively impactful was the café. Once the home of those tasty treats we enjoyed as kids, what it now produced excited no-one. After a year of doing what I could while also pursuing my own full-time career, I was at one of those “fork in the road” moments. Do I continue in my career having been offered my own store? Do I sit and watch as my brother continues to kill himself every day fighting to fulfill my frivolous dream? Or, do I trust God, leave my job and work full-time to relieve my brother’s burden? I’m sure you guessed correctly. I said, “Thanks, but no thanks,” to my current job and went to help my brother. Because one of the gifts God has given me is a “Natural Talent for cooking” as a culinary professor my brother brought in called it, I immediately bought out the person operating the café. I changed the menu, upgraded the food, found the old donut maker in a back room, got the original popcorn maker operational and added an Ice Cream counter. Later, I would discover that the original dairy farm for which the barn began its life had a Dairy & Ice Cream bar in front. This I could not resist. I renovated that area as the new Dairy Bar. One of the greatest benefits was that I got to spend hours nearly every day with my “little helper,” my niece, whom I loved very much. I would also spend parts of every day helping my brother with his work load as well as assisting our friend with his. As a result, a short time later they would sit me down in the café and reward my efforts with an equal partnership in all parts of the flea market. Obviously, I happily accepted.
The market was a lot of hard work. In addition to the everyday load, we were open to the public on weekends, which included Saturdays that began at 7:00 a.m. and ended at midnight… I loved every tiring moment of it. My “frivolous dream” was becoming a reality. However, there was a “fly in the ointment.” My brother and our partner belonged to a religious group, and the market was inseparably tied to this group. Being “connected” to a religious group was not the “fly.” The group, whose origins were cordial and well-intended, grew its own doctrine. This doctrine developed one particular belief that would be the “fly.” The group had put too much authority in its leader. In practice he was given authority over God. He was God’s interpreter and validator. The day came where the leader told me directly, “I know this is God’s will, but I…” It doesn’t matter what followed; this is where an unacceptable line is crossed. – I would be willing to bet we have all crossed this line, and, when we have, it has been just as unacceptable. – The difference here is… the person who said this takes on the responsibility of leading a flock. The difference here is… this leader did not repent of this position, but defended it as Scriptural and ran the flock under this mandate. The difference here is… I watched as the flock viciously and hurtfully attacked one of their own (they loved) for defying this mandate (actually, more than one). This was the “Fly.” I sat my partners down at the very same café table where they had offered my partnership and took the following stand:
The doctrine of this group to put any man above, before or between God was unscriptural and unacceptable. The actions of the group in enforcement of this doctrine were ungodly and unacceptable. I recognized that the market would always be tied to and support this group. Therefore, if I were to remain with the market… I would be supporting this group and this doctrine. If I were to remain opposing this doctrine… I would put my relationship with my brother at risk. This being the Truth, I would leave the partnership, the “frivolous dream” and all the work I had done behind. I would demand no particular “buy-out,” but would leave it to them to do what they felt God would have them do.
After leaving, I would see my “regulars” from the café and they would tell me how sad they were I left and how the quality dropped the minute I did. My “frivolous dream” was dying and my efforts to help my brother and save the market erased from history.
Believe it or not, that was the “cliff notes” version. As I said in the beginning, this post is not about the events, they are only the foundation for “Just a Thought.” “Can we envy ourselves?” Instead of telling you about any particular dream, I will tell you the general context of many dreams over the 10+ years since I left.
A flea market, a restaurant never reaching their potential or serving the families of the community, never re-creating the memories I had for new families. I watch from the outside saddened and frustrated, knowing I could save these community icons, knowing that they had been sacrificed on the altar of this false doctrine. In the dream, I am angry at what has been taken from me and the community in the name of their god.
As I also said in the beginning, dreams represent remnants of our conscious mind, but what were these remnants? Was God shining a light in my “Vessel?” When I am not asleep and I drive by the market and am saddened, what is that? You see, for the last month or so we have been reading Mc’Clure’s sermons on the Decalogue, the moral law and the ceremonial law. We have all been amazed at the clarity he brought to the issues contained. We have also been acutely aware of how little of what he spoke on the issue is understood by the Modern Church… much less taught in it. Having this on my mind I awoke this morning and asked, “Can we Envy Ourselves?” Can we and was I? Was I looking back at “what might have been” and Coveting it? Mc’Clure defines it like this: “COVETOUSNESS is a sordid, selfish passion. It is an excess of love and complacency in earthly objects…” Have I had an “excess of love” for what the other me had and for what I had lost? Mc’Clure continues: “FOR the miseries which mankind bring upon themselves and on others, by the crimes of injustice, and unmercifulness; the invasion of social and civil rights, intemperance, lasciviousness, contentions, robbery and war; and the banishment of the benevolent affections from the human heart, may all be traced to the sin of coveting, or eagerly thirsting after the goods and enjoyments of this life.” The life I “frivolously dreamed” of, the road I had begun to walk… was I allowing the longing for what that me could have had, in any way, to interfere with my current walk? Was I Ahab and the other me and the market Naboth and the vineyard? Was I breaking this “Moral Law?” …I think we just answered the second part of my question. “If we can, is it a sin?” Obviously, to Envy is breaking a Moral Law and, as such, is a sin. So, we are left with, “Can we Envy Ourselves” and was I doing that? One more from Mc’Clure: “IT (Envy) is a temper and practice, directly opposed to the will of God. For it is his pleasure that mankind should possess and enjoy the bounties of his providence, and the fruits of their lawful industry: but covetousness opposes this benevolent intention of the creator.”
If we look back at what we might have had and “Thirst” after it, if we Long after “the fruits of their (the other us) lawful industry,” then I think we can safely say that the answer to the first part of my question is, We Can Envy Ourselves. I think we can also safely conclude What a Sin That Is. For those who claim to Believe, Trust and Walk with God, it not only questions God’s providence but throws an insult directly in His face. It accuses Him of needlessly taking away what we believe is ours. It puts our physical world desires above any spiritual world outcome. It does exactly what the Leader of the religious group does; it says, “I know this is God’s will, but I…” and, as said, it is no more acceptable for us.
To be clear, the life I’ve led, the road I’ve traveled since leaving the market, has been rough and sometimes scary, but it has brought me such growth, such happiness, such closeness to God, that I cannot deny His providence. The lives, families and communities I’ve seen impacted I would not undo. To what extent I have even entertained the thought that I would trade it, I remedy that now; I would not. To the extent that I ever drove by the market and envied the other me or “what might have been,” I repent. To those who think this has never happened to you… Think Again! To all who read or repeat this story, “Just a Thought.” “We Can Envy Ourselves” and, to the extent that we have or do, “It Is a Sin.” If we do not admit it, fail to repent of it or refuse to discard it, it will water the growth of other unacceptable Sins and deepen the divide between us and God.
© Scott A Caughel 2/27/2019