Monday, 31 March 2014

Palm Sunday

Add another layer of meaning to your Easter observance. Go and read this blog post. Here's a snippet to whet your appetite.
Holy Week: Palm Sunday: "Less well-known is the historical fact that a Roman imperial procession was also entering Jerusalem for Passover from the other side of the city. It happened every year: the Roman governor of Judea, whose residence was in Caesarea on the coast, rode up to Jerusalem in order to be present in the city in case there were riots at Passover, the most politically volatile of the annual Jewish festivals. With him came soldiers and cavalry to reinforce the imperial garrison in Jerusalem."
Two processions into the same city at the same time, but in opposite direction and in opposite appearance. Which will you choose?

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Who is my neighbour?

World Vision USA has changed its employee conduct manual. Now it no requires its married employees to be heterosexual.

(Did you hear the sound of a thousand evangelical pastors' jaws dropping open? Perhaps the sound of a thousand coffee cups hitting the floor?)

I imagine that some churches will applaud this. And some will waggle their fingers at it. Some churches will loudly denounce the organisation. Some will do it quietly, perhaps promoting another child-sponsorship group instead.

What will be most telling, however, is what makes the most noise. Will the noise be about so-called declining morals? Or will the noise be about how the church needs to act in response to poverty? There's a place for both of those topics in a robust society, but I think that we Christians need to press harder for the latter rather than the former.

I'll go out on a limb and say something unambiguous about God. God is very concerned with wealth distribution. God is very concerned with how we look after each other. God is very concerned with how we treat the poor, the naked, the hungry, the widow, and the orphan. Our louder protests should therefore be in unison with that. We must be more outraged about abject poverty and oppression than by almost anything else. If we do not take care of the neighbour, whether that neighbour is literally next door or is in the foreign factory that makes our cheap clothes, then we have paid too much attention to the smaller matters and not enough attention to the weightier matters.

World Vision helps people in need. I don't care if it's a clean cut all-American, a homosexual, or a Samaritan who works for them. Which of these was a neighbour? Go and do likewise.

Monday, 24 March 2014

A heart without meaning

Somewhere, deep in your heart, is the real you. That's where you really feel the truth of a situation. That's where your soul resides.
"The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart." Genesis 6:5-6
Or is the heart something else?

For centuries it was considered scientific fact that thoughts came from the literal heart, the organ in your chest. Stop a heart and you stop the person. We hear echoes of it when the Israelites are forbidden to eat blood (Deut 12:23).

In European history, sometime towards the end of the 15th century, science took over. People started discovering (through some awful experiments, by the way) that the brain was involved in motion and speech and other control aspects. Eventually we know what we know today. Our thoughts are generated in our brains, not our hearts.

But the heart lingers as a poetic device. We love from our hearts. In Moby Dick, Captain Ahab stabs from hell's heart. Even though the biblical authors believed the heart generated thoughts, today we read it instinctively that the heart is just a metaphor for our inner thought life, our motives, our intentions.

I can't help but wonder why we so easily accept this and learn to read through that lens, and yet we seem unable to do the same with ideas of heaven, or demonic possession, or a host of other things which we can now view differently. It would be a laughable argument to suggest that because of cardiology and neurology, all biblical references to the heart are devoid of truth or meaning. Is it not just as laughable to say the same about the relation between psychology and demon possession?

Our view of the world has changed because of science, but it doesn't mean that we need throw out the meaning of our sacred texts. We can still figuratively understand the bible, even when it literally opposes science, without taking away any value.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

If I Was God

If I was God I wouldn't waste any more time. The world has too many horrible things in it for my liking. If I was God I'd be removing tyrants from power, teleporting murderers onto island prisons, destroying gun factories, curing cancer, and cancelling debts. There is too much evil in the world. Today would be judgement day.

If I was God...

This kind of wish fulfilment fantasy reveals something about God. God either can't or won't do those things. The Christian claim about God is that God is love, so "won't" is out of the question. But what about "can't?"

For a long time we've allowed our understanding of God to be defined by ideas of earthly power. Power is the ability to force our will, we've said. So we say that divine power must be the ability to force divine will. But what if divine power is not an infinite version of human power? What if our own ideas of power are if a different kind of power to God's power?

God showed us divine power in Jesus. Look at the way he treated people, even his enemies. It is weak in the eyes of the world. It is a different kind of power to Caesar's power. Caesar's power puts its enemies on a cross for all the world to mock. Jesus' power goes against social expectations and has a meal with the outcasts. Jesus' power rejects the crown and accepts the marginalised.

Even in the midst of cleansing the temple, Jesus did not hit anyone. He used a whip to drive out the animals (John 2). Matthew, Mark, and Luke don't mention a whip, only that he drove them out. In Matthew, the very next thing that happens is the excluded people (the blind and the lame) come in to the temple and are healed.

The truth is that if I was God I wouldn't bring judgement day today. No. If I was actually like God - even just a little bit - I'd be more interested in lifting up the lowly than I would in punishing the guilty. If I was God I'd be a better man than I am today.

If I was God...