Put your money where your mouth is

Much of the thread that I commented on yesterday focuses on “pro-life”, with abortion standing out as a significant issue. One person made a comment that I think should both encourage and sober anyone who professes to hold a view on this topic. The commentor writes the following:

If you are on this comments list and you are vehemently pro-life… kudos to you… but if you do not participate in one or more of the following: adoption, foster care, helping provide babysitting for low income families and single parents… helping out pregnant teens… than frankly, your opinion is just that: an opinion. How many opinions did Jesus have without actions?”

You can read the rest of her response here. Where is the church (as in you and me) in this? Do we hold opinions and opinions alone? Where is the action?

No hint of ‘morality’

Please don’t interpret my title here to mean that I am opposed to morality. I am not. However, I do object to Christian meddlings in politics seeing morality as the beginning and end to the Christian response to what is wrong in our society. Not even morality in the broader sense of what is right or wrong, but generally fixated (a nice Freudian term) on sexual matters and unborn babies. This fixation elevates one area of human conduct above others whilst ignoring the richness of human conduct that the term should encompass. This is certainly the case in Australia. If as a Christian, I want to vote for a political party that professes to believe in Jesus, I have no choice other than to vote according to this blinkered view of morality. Surely as Christians we have something deeper, more holistic, and hopefully Christlike, to bring to the political arena.

I have been watching a blog called God’s politics, and noticed today that Brian Mclaren has joined in the debate with a conversation on values voters should consider. You can read it in full here.

In summary, Brian identifies stewardship of the earth, justice for the poor, and reconciliation with “God and neighbour and enemy”. The last is a pertinent sticking point for our society at the moment with its manic fear of terrorism and demonisation of people defined as “other”.

I don’t hear Australia’s most recent Christian party to gain recognition (Families First) going anywhere near these issues. It seems that they are still stuck in “the bedroom”, so to speak. Where are the Christians speaking out about loving our enemies? Feeding the poor? Responsible tending of the earth so that those who come after us have a fighting chance?

Generous Orthodoxy.

I always knew that there had to be an alternative to having a pat answer for everything. That it was possible to know some things for sure, hold others in tension, and respectfully consider everything else, with a view to learning from what seems “other” without having to be utterly persuaded by it. This is what Brian McClaren achieves rather brilliantly in his book “A generous Orthodoxy“. If you haven’t read it, I would encourage you do so.  It doesn’t matter if you don’t agree with everything Brian writes, only read with the attitude with which it has been written – grace.

This book challenged me.  Much of ‘Christianity’ seems consumed with what it does or does not stand for – both in regard to doctrine and practice.  We believe this but not that, practice ‘a’ but not ‘b’.  Condemn one behaviour and uphold another.  These distinctions serve to define who is in or out.  Who is saved or damned.  Who is a Catholic, Anglican, Pentecostal etc.

Brian spends much of this book looking at how different traditions etc contribute to what it means to be a follower of Jesus.  The amazing thing is that while some “brands” may seem really ‘out there’ and different, they also have incredible potential to enrich our understanding and living as disciples, if only we can be generous enough in our ‘orthodoxy’ to see it. Brian doesn’t call for open slather relativism or disollution of the basic tenets of the Christian faith, but rather an acknowledgement that our faith can be enriched by other disciplines and perspectives.  Ultimately, who amongst us can claim to have worked out all there is to know, believe and practise about our God?  We can’t reduce God to our finite capacity to know.  And we need to be open to the fact that God may have revealed different aspects of himself throughout his creation, some of which we have not even begun to grasp in our little spiritual patch.

I expect to write a bit more here about this book, as it has certainly got me thinking….

Dr Warnie

I am not one given to blogging about sport, its icons or events. In fact (apart from a vague monitoring of Essendon’s progress or sadly, lack thereof), my interest in spectator sport is minimal – I would far rather be out there playing myself. However, I was very disturbed today by Warnie’s latest geurnsey in the Herald Sun today. Ok, he is probably the best thing to happen to Australian cricket in recent times. He is one of Australia’s loved larrikins, in a “Geez, did you hear what Warnie got up to.” kind of way… But does this make him worthy of a doctorate? Dr Warne? For what? His ball handling skills? Honary or otherwise, “that’s just not cricket”, so to speak. Actually, in the photo (on page 5) he looks more like a crossing lady in his dashing orange robe than someone who has earned a doctorate. If you look closely he is wearing his trademark zinc too. I wonder what other Aussie achievers might be considered for honourary doctorates.

Reject the prosperity doctrine and be hit with the ugly stick?

“Who would want to get in on something where you’re miserable, poor, broke and ugly and you just have to muddle through until you get to heaven?” asks Joyce Meyer, a popular television preacher and author often lumped in the Prosperity Lite camp. “I believe God wants to give us nice things.”

This quote comes from a Time magazine article called “Does God want you to be rich?” – you can read it in full here. Now I have heard good things about Joyce Meyer as a preacher, but I have to say that if this quote is accurate, it leaves a lot to be desired. Now I know that prosperity doctrine is alive and well in west, and financial success appears to metered out by God’s grand ATM in the sky where your deposits and a good measure of faith increase your withdrawals, but since when did our physical attributes get lumped in this fantasy land of theology? Does this mean that as a Christian who does not espouse prosperity doctrine, I am destined to be miserable, poor, broke, and now ugly? Maybe because I can’t afford liposuction, a personal trainer / dietician and a nose job…. Sign up for Jesus, so you too can be beautiful, happy and rich? Whatever happened to taking up your cross and following Jesus? Metaphoric of course. The first is certainly a more appealing advertising slogan, but it just doesn’t match up the Jesus I read about in the gospels, the Jesus I have dedicated my life to following and serving as best I can. Over at the green book Ruth has been reflecting on taking the beautiful things of Christianity and discarding the rest, and prosperity doctrine of this ilk sounds exactly like that.

Sorry for the sarcasm of this post. As you may have gathered, I feel rather strongly about this!

red rooster

The scene: the disciples have gone back to fishing – not much else to do now that Jesus is gone. They go back to the world they know, perhaps trying to make sense of the world that had totally unravelled and mystified them, the world in which they glimpsed the son of God. Fitting for their mood, the fishing trip is fruitless (or perhaps more aptly, fishless). So often the way – when you feel at your lowest, it seems even more so that everything you do screams out failure. Back to the story. The disciples see a lone figure on the shore who calls out the question eternally put to fishermen – “caught anything?”. It is not hard to imagine the flat reply. “Nothing”. The man calls out “try your net on the other side”. If I were in the boat, I would be a bit cheesed off at this point. Already miserable, and feeling a failure at the one thing that I used to be good at, and here’s someone who is not even out in the water, telling me what to do. The disciples give it a go – nothing to lose I guess. And they struggle to bring in the fish. John realises that it is Jesus on the shore. Passionate Peter, the impetuous one, plunges into the sea to swim to shore, to Jesus. They eat, and then there is a wonderful conversation between Jesus and Peter. Now as someone more than occasionally given to sarcasm, I could easily imagine Jesus having a bit of a joke with Peter here. A little reminder about the crowing of a rooster, a toasty fire. Cock-a-doodle-doo, Peter. An “I told you so” moment of incredible proportions. Jesus asks Peter simply, “Do you love me?” Three times. Once for each time the rooster crowed. Once for each time Peter denied his Lord. Three times Peter responds with a proclamation of Jesus knowledge of Peter’s love for him. I can imagine Peter’s heart breaking as he says the words that are the very opposite of those uttered by a fireside and marked by a rooster’s crow. Jesus meets Peter’s response with acceptance, a reinstatement of Peter’s purpose, an entrusting of those whom Jesus loves – “Feed my sheep”.

This post was prompted by (and borrows from) Geoff Bullock’s story “The Beach”, in ‘Australian Stories for the spirit‘. He writes at the end:

“it may take us a lifetime of fishing to realise that there is a figure waiting on our shoreline, waiting for us to recognise who he really is. Waiting for us to turn from ‘earning’ to ‘accepting’. We can choose to look away, humiliated by our inadequacy; we can refuse his identity, preferring to retreat into our own concepts of how God should deal with us; we can bury our hope in activity. But that will never change who he is, what he has done and what he expects of us.”

Well said Geoff.

Interventionist God

Free will. This has got to be one of the most readily used “escape out of a difficult conversation for free” cards by Christians. It is my argument of choice (at least currently anyway!) in addressing the ugly problem of evil.  Especially the evil committed by human kind to itself.  The existence of evildoers etc is not so much the issue, but the fact that we believe in a God who does not appear to intervene.  God did not stop Hitler’s plans, even though one may believe that God knew Hitler’s destiny from even before the womb.  So why not?  How could a merciful loving God who desires to be reconciled with his creation allow these things to occur?  Surely this is inconsistent?  Either that, or God can’t intervene.  Ta Da!  Out comes the free will card.  God does not intervene with our capacity to exercise our free will, whether we use it for the betterment or the detriment of ourselves and others.  If He did intervene and override our will, we would be reduced to puppets, robots.  So the argument goes.  Now my tone is a tad sarcastic here, but I have faithfully reproduced this argument when confronted by  spiritual seekers who struggle to climb over this mountain.  To be honest, I don’t think my argument helps them. I don’t think debates full stop are terribly effective in drawing people to Jesus, but that is not the point of this post.

God does not need to be defended.  A brief perusal of my fave book of Job makes this point loud and clear.  However,  on this topic Christians are often called to explain their beliefs and God’s seeming inaction.

The book “The Openness of God” has an interesting comment to make on this topic in the preface, highlighting a logical inconsistency in the use of the “free will perspective”.  How many of us pray for a job?  A spouse?  A relationship that seems to be struggling?  Someone who needs protection from something, or even themselves?  When we ask God to intervene in these situations, what exactly are we asking Him to do?  Er… override the free will of the desired recipient of God’s intervention.

So God does not intervene in stopping evil, but will make the “gorgeous brunette over there notice me”, because I ask Him to?  Please note this comment is to make the point only, not to suggest that I am seeking a love interest!  Nick Cave has an interesting lyric on this idea:

“I don’t believe in an interventionist God
But I know darling that you do
But if I did I would kneel down and ask Him
Not to intervene when it came to you
Not to touch a hair on your head
To leave you as you are
And if He felt He had to direct you
Then direct you into my arms
Into my arms O Lord                (from The Boatman’s Call, Into My Arms)

I think the problem is clear, although I wish the solution was also.  The bible speaks of praying for each other, praying for our needs, intercession etc, suggesting that God does intervene in the lives of His people.  And, I believe this has been borne out in my own personal experiences. However, I am now less certain how the “free will” card really works, if indeed it does.  Maybe getting out of the preface of the book will help…