Archive for category Politics
This is from my weekly church newsletter, sent yesterday…
Tomorrow is ANZAC day, and we remember those who have served our nation in the armed services. Regardless of what we think about war and peace, and whether it is ever ok for Christians to take up arms, I believe it is right to respect those who, in good conscience, put their lives on the line for the sake of their nation. Having said that, I also know that most young people who enter the armed services have far less altruistic motives in doing so, and the reality of life in the services is usually a long way from saintly. So let’s remember that there have been occasions in which our nations young people have found themselves called upon to make supreme sacrifices – and many of them have responded with what can only be described as heroism. And let’s also reflect upon what we actually mean by heroism…
I wrote here about how our normal human fascination with power for its own sake leads us to cast our heroes in the shape of Superman, who, for all his moral qualities, is ultimately described as ‘super’ simply because of his physical power. In other words, because he’s the biggest boy in the playground. If there is no God, or if the gods are those of the pagans, then that is not only normal, but right. Nietzsche’s logic on this point is fairly compelling – though it drove him to despair. BUT believing in the God of the scriptures is to encounter a God who moderated the law of the jungle – from “If you injure me, I will kill you!” (Lamech – Genesis 4:24) to “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth – and no more than that!” (Exodus 21:24) and then the radical teaching of Jesus in Matthew 5:38-40, directly contradicting this older law with his command to “turn the other cheek.” And then there was Jesus’ own demonstration of this different way of living; living without retaliation. Though, as he said, he could have called down “twelve legions of angels” in his defence, he was more concerned that his followers should do no violence, telling Peter to “put up your sword – those who live by the sword, die by the sword.” (Matt 26:52-53) Jesus submitted to extraordinary indignities for the sake of God’s mission – our salvation. And his life was consistent with his own teaching; he breathed forgiveness for his enemies in his dying moments.
This is not the heroic superman of our culture. He does not overcome violence with more violence, but with self-sacrifice. He trusts God to hold him, even in death, and to bring goodness out of the cruelty and senselessness of the cross. How often are we willing to trust God for justice? How often are we prepared for him to offer mercy to those who harm us – or even to offer that mercy ourselves, in his name? How often are we willing to let go of revenge – even just the satisfaction of being proved right. Paul teaches us that “we proclaim Christ – and him crucified; a scandal to the Jews and foolishness to the gentiles.” (1 Cor 1:23). So it is today, too. Jesus, and his apparent ‘failure’ as messiah doesn’t look attractive to a world that worships technology and wealth and health and power. But those who enjoy these things know also that none of these things satisfies. Many are actually willing, in their quiet moments, to consider the claims of the crucified to offer a better way. We can make him available to them, not by trying to be as powerful, and wealthy, and slick as the world around us, but by living fully in the Spirit of the Jesus we follow. We can make Jesus known to our friends and neighbours by following him more nearly, loving him more dearly, and seeing him more clearly, day by day. We can make Jesus known by knowing him better ourselves. That won’t happen if we attach ourselves to the blinding, soul-sapping idols of the world.
Tomorrow we remember those who have fallen for our sake. Many of them would say to us that the hero they most tried to be like was the one who laid down his life for his friends. Not necessarily the fastest marksman or the hardest fighter. Let us remember them with honour, and let us remember – and love – our Risen Lord with great glory.
This video impacted on me – like a rotten egg on my Sunday morning face. I’ve lived in these cities, and met and enjoyed time with people like those featured here. I’ve seen the industrial waste dumped into the local farmer’s fish-ponds, and I’ve seen farmers turned off the land their families have been working for generations to make way for giant industrial complexes; leaving them with no option but to take new jobs for abominable wages in dangerous conditions. And, yes, I have a cell phone in my pocket.
What’s the answer? Well what about we start asking questions of the current round of ‘free’ trade talks. Because it seems to me that the ‘free’ market means the freedom of richer people to become even wealthier at the expense of poorer people.
How about we start insisting on fair trade, instead? How about we begin the long journey of changing our trade agreements, one commercial sector at a time, so that we only trade with those who offer their employees the same protections we insist upon for our own workforce?
How about we re-establish industries in NZ that have been outsourced (at great cost) to ‘cheaper’ (read ‘more easily exploited’) labour forces, and work to supply our own needs for things like electronics, and shoes, and fruit? What would it be like, if we all went back to eating food seasonally, instead of expecting to have everything available, all the time?
How about we offer favourable tariffs to enterprises that provide worker protections and benefits over and above the minimum standards (often non-existent) of their own legal setting?
Pipe dreams? Perhaps, but what are the alternatives? More of the same? More industrial deaths? More exploitation? Unceasing market ‘growth’ requiring increasing consumption of diminishing resources? More, More MORE?!
Perhaps we need to make a start on a new path. The one we’re on leads inevitably to a terrible cliff, and too many are falling by the wayside as we rush head-long to that drop. Perhaps we need to forget the ‘free’ market. We might end up with fewer consumer choices – but more real freedom. Until all are free, none are.
A British politician has offended a number of people with racist remarks, and a Guardian opinion writer has written about how annoying it is, in the 21st century, to still have to argue with people about why racism is not witty – it’s just wrong. I sympathise with her, but I can’t agree with the headline: “Bigots must not be tolerated”. Tolerated is exactly what they must be.
When we tolerate someone, it means we accord them the same respect as everyone else, but we disagree. The alternative is to agree with everyone (impossible for anyone with a functioning brain) or to eliminate everyone who differs from us. That last solution has always been the most appealing – and the most appalling. Totalitarian societies everywhere – from the smallest schoolyard clique or over-controlled household to the largest of militaristic nations – have only ever produced facsimiles of freedom and happiness, and are always directly responsible for the rebellions they create amongst their own members. Civil society – a loving society – in an imperfect world must grant others the right to be wrong. We need to have some basic parameters for what level of wrong we won’t allow to overflow into action, and we have to recognise the impact of media upon people’s beliefs and therefore their behaviour; so we need some level of censorship, and we need to police behaviours that are clearly harmful. But beyond those basic limits, we also need to allow other people to be wrong. Because who knows, they may actually be more right than I am, and I need them to point this out to me.
So I think political bigotry is wrong – dangerously wrong – but it would be even more wrong for me to try to shut the bigot up. In the age of the sound-bite and the tweet – wisdom in 140 characters or less – we are becoming dangerously unskilled in the art of argumentation. We want everything to be resolved in a couple of snide remarks and a slick put-down, followed by a witty one-liner that is only barely relevant. We want to be able to tell who the good guys and the bad guys are by the way they’re presented by media massagers. We want to be led by the nose – provided our leaders smell of roses. We don’t want to have to tolerate people who disagree with us, because that means engaging with people who are different to us.
Toleration is easy if we don’t have contact with people we disagree with. It’s like William Booth’s first attempts to serve the poor of his parish; when he encouraged them to attend worship the regular parishioners complained about the smell. He ended up instituting services especially for the poor, because the well-to-do wouldn’t tolerate the stink of poverty. Isolating ourselves from those with whom we disagree or from realities that we find disagreeable is not tolerance; it’s the opposite. Tolerance means staying close enough to be made uncomfortable, staying there while we try to deal with the difference. In the end, we may still disagree, but we may also have made friends and learned to respect each other.
We might even have made a difference for someone else. And that’s worth a whole lot more in God’s kingdom than a whole pile of self-righteous preaching.