Friday, 17 August 2012

The Hammer & Sickle

It's an odd thing, the hammer and sickle. It seems to evoke a strong visceral reaction whenever we see it. I was raised in the anti-communist west, just after the Vietnam War and on through the Cold War. The Russkies were the enemy. They were going to launch the nukes first. The threat even made it into games I played. In Theatre Europe the Warsaw Pact had more units in play, but were poorly trained. Thus, the ultimate challenge was to play as NATO and hold off the overwhelming commies.

But now? So I take the demonising out of the equation and find out more about these people. I get it. I understand that it's about the solidarity of the proletariat and the peasantry, about remembering who wields the tools that feed us all and provide goods for us all and ensuring that they aren't exploited.

My shirt came from somewhere. My car came from somewhere. People made those things in a factory. My lunch was grown somewhere. My breakfast was grown somewhere. People worked on those farms.

Our supply chains are so long now that we've lost sight of these facts. Even with the prevalence of farmer's markets it's still easy to shop there and forget the workers.

For me, I can't ever forget the hammer. I'm in manufacturing. I hear the hammers striking all day long. We need the hammers. Thankfully my hammers produce something useful for society.

Whatever your instinctive reaction to the hammer and sickle, take a moment to think about it in all its idealism. Forget the evils of failed communist states just long enough to remember that in our daily lives we are supported by the masses of invisible workers who wield the hammer and the sickle all day long. We mustn't forget the evils entirely, of course, because remembering them will help us avoid them. But always remember the people who wield the hammer and sickle.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Is it possible?

A challenge of sorts has been put forward to liberal theo-bloggers. The challenge is to write something substantive about God but not Jesus or the Bible.

It seems like a good idea at first. Let's write about God to set out something, anything about God that we believe. Evangelicals have done it, so why not liberals?

Part of me wants to rise to that challenge and get cracking on a few hundred words about God, but there's a gnawing doubt that stops me. The gnaw is the very core of our faith, the declaration that Jesus is the Christ, that Jesus is the complete revelation of God. Without seeing Jesus, can we actually see God? Or to put it another way, the Christian faith derives from this declaration that God has revealed himself in Jesus and in no one else.

Proponents of natural theologies might like to argue otherwise, and I'll happily argue back. For this challenge, and for us as Christians, for as long as we insist that Jesus is the Christ we necessarily also say that we cannot talk intelligently or certainly about God without reference to Jesus.

So if I'm going to say anything in resinse to this liberal theo-blogger challenge to write about God, it's that whatever I say about God can only be said in reference to Jesus.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Why there are no Christian men

Like most fairytales, once upon a time it was clear that humanity could be divided into men and women. In lots of ways, we can still divide ourselves this way. If the income statistics are anything to go by, we clearly do. I've never seen the income information for transgenders but I'm sure it follows just as clear a division.

This post isn't about LGBT issues, though. This post is about the idea that there are no Christian men. It's a bit conceptual, but come with me on this one.

In the pre-Christian Greco-Roman world the roles and identities of women and men were different to each other. The salacious example often quoted is in marital fidelity. Women were expected to remain faithful to their husbands but men were free to take lovers, male or female. I think that in many ways the broader expectations society places on women and men hasn't actually changed much (e.g., domestic roles, income scales, recreational interests, entertainment topics).

Into this world comes Paul's letter to the Galatians, with one of the most revolutionary assertions in the whole new testament.
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
"There is no longer male and female," is the consequence of following Christ. Paul instructs his audience that the societal expectations of gender are irrelevant to Christians because they have been cancelled by belonging to Christ. For the people of the time this is an extraordinary claim. The roles and identities that they'd grown up with had to be abandoned. The pressure from society and non-believers had been overcome by Christ. As believers, they were no longer entitled to the privileges of gender, nor were they trapped by it.

Today, if there is something that we Christians are still to catch up with, it's Galatians. Every time we fly a national flag in a church, we deny that in Christ there is no Jew or Greek. Every time we host a Christian business breakfast or networking opportunity, we deny that in Christ there is neither slave or free. And every time we hold a men's or women's activity, we deny that in Christ there is no male and female. Those things belong to the old creation, to the way of this world.

Paul's message should be heard again today. "There is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus." For those who live in Christ, there is no theological category of "male" or "female" there is only "in Christ." If our theology is to mean anything, then it must be lived and acted upon. The sharp divisions we make in our congregations need to be brought under submission to Christ. Will we have the courage to live in the new creation that Christ has brought? Will we actually be able to be a community in which the non-Christian categories of male and female aren't applied?

If we can do it, we will find that there are no Christian men and no Christian women. We will find that we are simply Christians. We have to put our minds and our energies on being a community that has overcome the very structure of this world.