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I was watching the moon being hidden from sight last night during the eclipse – when it was suddenly hidden from sight! By clouds. I had been expecting a smooth transition that I could photograph bit by bit and then a gradual re-emergence (you can see the little I did get here) but instead, I only saw half the show, and then it was curtains. No more eclipse for the rest of the night, no photos of a ‘blood moon’ and nothing to do about it but go to bed.
It was a great reminder that we don’t actually have a remote control for life. I may be able to browse dozens of TV channels, hundreds of DVDs, and millions of web pages, but I only have one life. And it isn’t entirely in my control. Events that I think are going to go one way may well go differently! I may think that I can see everything in order, only to discover that the curtains are pulled on life half-way through. I’m glad I got the photos I did. But real life is about so much more than a photographic record.
When we have taken teams to India, I’ve insisted (especially on our second trip) that most people keep their cameras away most of the time; we had one photographer (Lynette) and her photos would be our official record and everyone could have them – and great photos they are, too. The reason for this insistence is that it is too easy to put a screen between ourselves and life – check out this commentary: – if you’ll excuse the irony that, once again, it’s on a screen. We have become so tied into our media that we frequently cease to be present in the real world around us. We are… remote, and that helps us to feel that we are in control. But we are meant to be present. And when we are, we discover that we are not in control; we are dependent. Dependent upon the weather, upon the world around us, upon our upbringing and inheritance, upon the treasures that have been stored in our hearts, and upon the generosity of others. Most especially, dependent upon God. As the song says, “Be still and Know that I am God…”
Many commentators have said that the prime sin – the one from which all others spring – is our refusal to let God be God, and the way in which we wilfully put ourselves, other people, and myriads of ‘things’ into that gap. In a word, Idolatry. In the modern world, we have an idolatry of self. We expect to be God in our own lives. To have complete control, and to be able to do it …remotely. But in Jesus Christ, God confounds our mistaken view of Godliness. Jesus is not distant and controlling; he relinquished control, became subject to all that troubles humanity – even death – so that he could be present to us. That’s Godliness. Present. NOT in control. But trusting. Even unto death.
Dare we put aside our remote controls, be they cameras or cars, cash, or cocaine, careers or caring for others, and be truly present to one another so that we can also be present to God? And perhaps we will find (again, as the old song says) that if we ‘draw near to him, he’ll draw near to us…’ and we will see by his light exactly how silly our little idolatries really are – and
how awesome and extravagant is his Grace.
how awesome and extravagant is his Grace.
So I do digital photography. And when I started it was with a ‘point-and-click’ fujifilm. Which was cool, and it had a lot of scene-settings (snow, beach, landscape, portrait, etc) that I used, and I loved it. I learned to compose my subject in the frame, and how to use the light in the scene. Then I got my first DSLR (actually my only DSLR, but I’m scheming an upgrade) and once again, it had all the same settings – and then some. I learned about shutter priority mode, and aperture priority mode (which meant learning what apertures and shutters do) and programmed modes aaaand …manual.
That was a big, scary step. Going from pre-set modes to manual, and having to take responsibility for exposure, and depth of field, and focus. But it also (after some photographic fumbles) marked the transition to much better and more interesting images. The old automatic presets worked in some situations – but not in many others. But by first noticing that my camera had more settings on it than I was using, and by reading the manual, and by asking experienced photographers who were further along the track than me, and by joining a community of photographers who could encourage me and give me feedback, and by getting out there and doing it I have got so much more out of my camera!
It’s like that with God, too. When I was first introduced to the possibility of knowing God, it was through religion. Religion provided me with the automatic settings I needed to be able to focus on the point of it all – God! Through religion I learned the basic disciplines of focusing and framing my life in the light of Jesus Christ.
But religion is limited. It’s a series of presets. It’s all automatic, and it doesn’t actually work in every situation. God calls us to more. The apostle Paul said that the Jewish Law was like the servant whose job it was to take the child to lessons and bring him (it was only boys who had lessons back then) safely back home again. The job of the old religion is to get us to where we can learn what we need to know, so we can grow up into our responsibilities and privileges as citizens of God’s kingdom – and as children of God (Galatians 3:23-26).
Jesus coming changed everything. He said very clearly that nothing of the old law would pass away as long as earth endured. But he was also very clear that the role of the law had changed. The servant who used to take the child to lessons still has a role to play in the family even after the child has grown. When the child has grown, the servant is subject to the child, not vice versa. And it’s the same with the Law. Jesus said, “The sabbath was made for people, people weren’t made for the sabbath.” Sabbath-keeping, circumcision and a kosher diet were the essential markers of law-abiding religious people in Jesus’ day. All these were explicitly set aside by Jesus himself and his apostles after him. Not because they were wrong or bad, but because God’s children were learning to live in a new way; not according to the automatic presets of the old religion, but according to the more nuanced, person-focused way of Jesus; the way of Love.
As followers of Jesus we must move beyond religion and into relationships. It’s not enough to stick with the presets. There is more. It’s not about making great photographic images; it’s about being conformed to His image – the person of God’s own son, Jesus Christ. This isn’t something that is achieved through the cookie-cutter processes of religion, but by the manual settings – the ‘made-by-hand’ individualised attention of someone who loves us and calls us to live within and live out of that love.
It’s harder work, taking photographs in manual. I need more people in my life to help me do it well, and I have to work much more carefully with the people around me to get the images I want. I have to give each situation more thought, and it takes a lot more practice than the old preset automatic mode. But it’s infinitely more satisfying. Come and try it.
Something gentle and true…
But when I became that man the hope said Don’t be afraid. So I unprayed the sinner’s prayer, trusting the truest salvation lies in losing oneself to this world that is too much,
filled with the laughter of summer children backlit by our gorgeous dying sun.
Colossians 1:11- 14
I saw the old fisherman again as I sped to my first appointment of the day.
He was standing as always, dressed in a battered green jumper and grey shorts, bushy eyebrows peering from beneath a terry towelling hat, and rod pointing to some place between the horizon and the heights of heaven.
“Keep your eyes on the road!” squawked the parrot beside me.
“Lucky beggar,” I grumped to myself as I negotiated the next curve of the coastal highway. “Nice for some.” And then carried on to do business as best I could in the more isolated settlements of the north. It wasn’t a bad day, and it wasn’t good. I probably paid my way. But not much more than that. Maybe a little less. “Awk! Loser!” squawked the parrot.
Driving home at the end of the day, I saw the fisherman again – in a different spot now. Read the rest of this entry »
C & R Driver-Burgess’ photostream on Flickr.
My latest set of photos from our drive up from WEllington last weekend.
This year God used my annual retreat to challenge me about my greed. About my sense of entitlement to the good things in my life, about my resentment when anything (even He) gets between me and what I consider ‘mine’. About my refusal to let the good things he’s given me become a means of communion with others; my refusal to share in His name. I don’t stuff my face at buffet meals. I don’t avariciously seek to maximise every penny. I don’t feel any need to wear designer clothes or drive a flash car. I can sneer at all these things – and yet greed has innumerable tiny hooks in my soul, and it was only the spiritual disciplines of prayer and fasting, scripture reading and contemplation that exposed me. That showed me my need for God’s grace and God’s forgiveness and God’s discipline in my life.
There are episodes of devotion, like my annual retreat, that are intense and that can overthrow spiritual mountains (or expose spiritual undermining), but if those intense episodes aren’t grounded in daily life, then they are meaningless. How do we live in the valleys and on the plains by the light of the mountain-top visions? Here’s where the disciplines are essential. The discipline of fasting is taking the ordinary discipline of self-denial to a pointed extreme. On its own, fasting is meaningless. If I’m only prepared to deny myself on those special occasions when I ‘fast’, then I’m not really fasting at all; I’m just trying to earn spiritual brownie-points – yet another form of greed! I need to be able to deny my desires, my lust and greed on a daily basis. How? Start small. What’s something small that you know you don’t actually need or even want, but take for yourself because you’re afraid of missing out? Something that is a little self-indulgence. A little guilty. Whatever it is, it can be your opportunity to practice the discipline of self-denial. Say to yourself that you’ll forgo whatever it is next time you have the opportunity. Tell yourself that you are free to leave it for someone else to enjoy. Remind yourself that God will supply all your needs – abundantly. Consider how denying yourself in this way might help you to serve others.
When Jesus spoke about fasting, he talked about dressing up festively – “put oil on your head and wash your face” – instead of covering ourselves with sackcloth and ashes. His point was that the fast is between us and God so we don’t need to advertise. We should beware of using the disciplines as an opportunity for boasting, but the picture he paints goes a little further than that, too. We should dress up festively not just to put on a false face, but because we can be glad in our fasting – because God really is an amazingly generous God, and pours his grace out to us superabundantly. When we detach ourselves from our petty desires, and pause to see all that God gives, we live in gratitude and celebration. Fasting and self-denial shouldn’t lead us to pretend that God’s goodness isn’t good, but should sharpen our appreciation for the richness of God’s bounty. And that should overflow into generosity. These are the spiritual fruit that come from fasting; not misery and resentment and suspicion of pleasure and plenty, but joy in God’s blessings, and a warm open-handedness. We may first have to confront our resentment of God’s Lordship in our lives, and our anxieties about not having enough, and our fear of missing out, and so forth, and that might be a painful process. But the outcome should be a much greater freedom, and an easier communion for us all.
The whole world is now clutched tight in the grip of rampant commercialisation. There is nothing that has not been reduced to a market opportunity. Our worship of wealth has led to a tiny elite of super-rich, and ever-increasing poverty for those who supply the wants and desires of the 1%. The world needs better answers than “increased quarterly growth” and “buoyant markets”. It needs a new vision. It needs God’s Kingdom. And it needs us to show them what the kingdom looks like. But for us to show forth the kingdom, it has to become real in our own hearts. Can I commend to you the discipline of fasting? Prepare yourself well, and find a spiritual overseer to guide you in it, and then enjoy what God will do in your soul.
Society is changing – but not all at once. We need to acknowledge that social attitudes to homosexuality are going through a significant shift, and that it’s not all one way. While the NZ Herald reports that “A Herald-DigiPoll showed that 61.2 per cent of the public felt adoption law should be changed to allow all couples, including same-sex couples, to adopt,” it also notes that “35.1 per cent felt adoption should be kept to heterosexual couples”. That is still a considerable proportion of the population. The survey also showed that “more than half of New Zealanders approved of gay marriage, while 40.5 per cent opposed it”. Again, those figures both for and against are significant, but perhaps the most significant figure is that “the latest poll showed a 20 per cent jump in support for same-sex adoption since 2009”. So there is a significant swing toward support for treating homosexual people equally in all aspects of life– but it is not unequivocal; the same paper carried an opinion piece questioning the ‘right’ of gay men to adopt children and the Guardian reports that the US Boy Scouts organisation has decided to continue to ban openly gay and bisexual people from membership. While most people are now shocked and ashamed by the treatment meted out to homosexuals in the past (often by church members, or with church approval), clearly not everybody agrees that heterosexuality and homosexuality are equivalents as normal variants on human sexual expression.
The church has a responsibility to speak out on issues of injustice and immorality. Christians stand in an uneasy relationship to society – on the one hand we are very much part of the societies in which we live, and want to have a positive impact upon them, on the other hand we often view the surrounding society as no more than the repository of all evil. The truth is always much more complicated, and while sometimes the church has followed social standards, and other times it has led social changes, on other occasions we have opposed change, and continued to go our own way. We need to acknowledge that we are influenced by society, and that society is not always wrong, but also that we serve a God who transcends any one human culture, and that his gospel always stands in tension with society to some degree. When society supports burning homosexuals at the stake, or, more recently, winks at gay-bashing the church should speak out. Too often we have connived at these acts of violence. When society encourages or legitimises immorality (for instance, the sexualisation of children through advertising and fashion, and the trafficking of children for prostitution) the church must stand against it. In the question of child abuse, we are certain that there are issues of injustice, exploitation, and immorality. Regarding homosexuality, however, we are less certain about both the issues of injustice and the issues of immorality; hence our current debate.
Does support for the civil rights of homosexuals = supporting the gay agenda? What silences many church members as regards the civil rights of homosexual people is not so much a lack of compassion or even an active desire to punish people for being gay (though these attitudes certainly do exist in the church) but the concern that upholding the civil rights of homosexual people may be seen as support for a gay agenda in toto. This was illustrated vividly in the response of many Baptist churches to the NZ Baptist Union public questions committee submission to the homosexual law reform bill in 1985. The submission cautiously agreed that decriminalising homosexual acts was the best option, but rejected the human rights provisions which formed the second part of the bill, as it was seen that these would act to normalise homosexuality in society while most Baptists still saw it as aberrant. This moderate stand was seen by many churches as bowing before a gay agenda, and the submission was substantially modified before being made.
The gay lobby is deliberately seeking to change social standards. Reaction against homosexual issues in the church arising from fear of a liberal or gay conspiracy is not completely groundless. Laurie Guy’s book, and other research clearly demonstrate that gay people and their allies planned, organised, thought carefully, and fought vigorously in the lead-up to that initial victory, and have done so since, with the aim of normalising homosexuality in society at large, and also in the churches. It is inappropriate to describe it as a ‘conspiracy’, however as it is not particularly secretive or hidden. Many groups have agendas for social change – the church among them – and promote their causes energetically in the public arena. This is normal for a democratic society, and Baptists have historically fought and died for the right to democracy and freedom in public life. What we react against is the feeling that someone is trying to change ‘us’ – the idea that people are deliberately acting to change the thinking and actions of the church is one that we all feel uncomfortable with.
We must take responsibility for our own thinking. We need not fear that our minds are being changed for us, however, provided we take responsibility for our own thinking, examine our motives, and determine to submit to the truth as best we may discern it. The twin dangers before us are that we simply slide from one unformed opinion to another, or that we react to change with a closed conservatism that cuts us off from the world in which we are meant to be salt and light. We need to be sure that our thinking on this issue is careful and fully informed by all the facts.
What rights and protections do people who are homosexual have?
Consenting, adult, homosexual relationships are no longer illegal. It is no longer legal to discriminate against homosexuals in most areas of public life. Since the 1986 decriminalisation of homosexual activity, and the passing of the 1993 Human Rights Act, it is no longer legal for homosexual people to be evicted from their homes or dismissed from their jobs because of their sexual orientation. Nor can people be imprisoned or given compulsory medical treatment such as frontal lobotomies or electroconvulsive treatment for no other reason than consenting homosexual activity. As a matter of justice, the pressures and abuses of the past are now largely just that; of the past. Non-consenting or underage (under 16 years) sexual activity remains illegal whether it is homosexual or heterosexual.
Churches have some exemptions under the law. Some are concerned that the church might be sued for discrimination if we find that a traditional understanding of homosexuality is best, and allow that to guide our practice. In fact there are some exemption clauses in the Human Rights legislation for religious institutions to discriminate in employment where it is clearly within the tradition of that religious institution to do so. Thus, a strictly male order of Buddhist monks can’t be required to employ a woman gardener.
The law does not apply to many aspects of life. Apart from employment, the provision of goods and services, and education, the law preventing discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation only applies to the actions of Government institutions, those funded by government, and those who are acting “pursuant to the law”.
 (I. Davison 2012)
 (Roughan 2012),
 (Holpuch 2012)
 (Guy 2002, 133)
 (Grenz 1998, 71-2) (Guy 2002, 9)
 One writer quotes the bumper sticker; “Kill a Queer for Christ”. (Lowe 2001, 9)
 (Guy 2002, 144 – 147)
 (Guy 2002) (Brickell 2005) (Pritchard 2005) all discuss the campaigns around homosexual issues in New Zealand in some detail, with Guy’s book being the most extensive published resource available. See also the American campaign plan proposed in (Kirk and Madsen 1987).
 (The Human Rights Act, 1993, Sect. 28)