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.
C & R Driver-Burgess’ photostream on Flickr.
My latest set of photos from our drive up from WEllington last weekend.
Ok, so last night I watched this year’s Superman movie by Zack Snyder. I recognised the high-contrast desaturated look of the movie from 300, and it was mostly a big techno-romp, with a little bit of classy acting. Henry Cavill did ok in a title role that required some angst as well as a lot of heavy hitting. I liked him better when he was wearing the beard. Russell Crowe was pretty impassive as superman’s father, Jor-el; I felt he could have been played by a computer simulacrum – which is what he was supposed to be playing a lot of the time, so was that good acting or not? Michael Shannon as the supervillain was sufficiently nasty, while actually managing to look like a man with integrity according to his own lights. It was great to see Laurence Fishburn doing a sterling job – even in such a cramped role. Amy Adams as Lois Lane was competent in a forgettable role. For my money the big awards should go to Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as Superman’s adoptive parents. Decent script-writing and understated acting made for some touching scenes as they worked out their relationships with a distressed child. And it was those relationships that gave the action movie a beating heart.
*Spoiler Alert* Don’t read the following if you don’t want to find out what happens in the movie:
Driving the big fisti-cuff/ let’s knock each other through buildings/ throw bombs at one another/ rip planets apart conflict is the decision facing superman as he has to choose between two futures; that offered by his fellow Kryptonians (the exiled leaders of a failed military coup on their now-destroyed home planet) to use the earth (and Superman’s own genetic material) as the foundation for renewing the Kryptonian race – at the expense of our entire planetary ecology. Or to fight against his own kind in defence of the technologically and physically overmatched humans. The flash-backs through his childhood and emergence into adulthood through his adoptive father’s death provide a coherent and believable set of motivations for Superman to reject the cruelty of the Kryptonians in favour of those who have given him shelter, understanding, wisdom, and love. Cool. There is very little drama in this decision-making. We know from the outset that he’s on our side; that one of his major motivations is to protect others. That character development almost manages to make up for the absurdities of superman’s powers (it looks like they tried to give his flying some basis in physics – but utterly failed, sorry) and the continued referencing of 9/11, a bit of LotR (Gandalf leaping from Saruman’s tower onto an eagle), a MASSIVE borrowing from the matrix as machines pluck pods of babies grown in an artificial environment, and even some Harry Potter (a blogger as the combination of Rita Skeeter and the Quibbler). As my eldest son said, “Don’t pick at it, it makes it worse!” Let it pass – those are minor issues.
The big issue for me is the central conflict for Superman; which isn’t actually a choice between Kryptonian planetary destruction over defending the helpless little humans, but rather the question does he positively accept his super-powers and use them to make a difference, or does he stay in hiding and lay low, so that humans won’t reject him out of fear of his differences? Essentially, it’s the reluctant messiah complex. And it’s framed as such. In the early moments of the movie, Jor-el predicts that humans would see his infant son ‘as a god’. At the turning point of the movie, immediately before he offers himself to the invaders as a ransom for the people of earth, Clark Kent seeks counsel from a young priest in a church. As they talk, you can see over his shoulder a stained glass image of Christ kneeling in the garden of Gethsemane, praying “If it is possible let this cup pass me by – but not my will, yours be done.” The obvious happens; Clark Kent puts on the cape, becomes Superman, and gives himself up to the evil General Zod. He even submits to a sort of death; losing his superpowers on their spacecraft, and then hallucinating sinking into a landscape of skulls. But he inevitably recovers, and (with some help from his ghostly Father) knocks the baddies out of existence (eventually).
So what we have here is a clearly contrived Superman-as-Jesus parallel. I guess it helped the movie to sell well in an America where Jesus is supposed to be something of a military crusader and his anti-violence message is derided and underplayed. This is the key discontinuity at the heart of this movie – and perhaps at the heart of modern culture. We want a messiah; someone to protect us from the evils that we have brought upon ourselves (no matter how much we protest that they are ‘aliens’ from ‘out there’ – we created our own enemies!) But we want that messiah to be just like us. Mark Driscoll, in the article linked above, has a point; the Bible is not a comfortable document for modern peace-makers. But nor is it a comfortable document for modern war-mongers. And at the heart of the Christian scriptures is a Jesus who most emphatically did not use violence or force against his enemies; instead he prayed for their forgiveness. He sought their reconciliation. He gave himself up to death (real death, not just some hallucination of it) on their behalf. Driscoll reads the pages of Revelation as if he were one of the oppressed minority churches of Asia to whom that book was written, and who were being assured – through powerful visual metaphors – that they are on the winning side, that they will overcome evil “by the word of their testimony and by the blood of the lamb“!!! Not by boxing their enemies through buildings and then breaking their necks. For someone living comfortably within the most militaristic society in history, that’s just got to be a bad idea. Driscoll is acting as an apologist for the modern incarnation of Revelation’s Beast.
Superman is the messiah as we want him; a messiah who conforms to our violence-fetish culture. He overcomes evil through bravery, yes. But mostly, just because he’s stronger and smarter than the other guy. And actually, that’s just a little bit unbelievable. What Christmas was all about was God becoming flesh, not steel. God joining us in our suffering, so that we can join him in his perfection. If I had to choose between messiahs, I know I’d be tempted to pick superman, oh yes! But I hope I would choose Jesus, instead. Because beating ourselves up all the time doesn’t actually work. We need grace and forgiveness, not pyrotechnics. Jesus Christ, not Clark Kent.
I wanna be Super-Christian!
I want to get up before dawn every morning without fail
and spend three hours in prayer and meditation!
I want to fast twice a week
without thinking once about my waist-line.
I want to be able to perform miracles of healing
and cast out demons,
and diagnose short legs and roots of bitterness
with a single glance of my compassionate eyes,
and then, with a mere gesture or a whispered word,
set people free from whatever it is that binds them.
I want to be so filled with faith that I never have a single doubt
and I never have to work again,
because all my needs are meet by God.
I want to be so free from materialism that I own nothing,
but can still give away hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
I want people to immediately think of me
when they’re asked what a great Christian looks like.
And I want to be so immensely humble
that I’m never aware of this mass adulation.
I want to be so good at evangelism
that I just have to walk into a room for everyone to be instantly converted.
I want to be able to read and remember a book of the Bible a day
and actually understand everything I read.
And everything I write
(or at least, everything my researchers write in my name)
becomes an instant best-seller.
And not just in Christian bookshops either.
I want this direct line to God,
so that I always know exactly what He wants me to do
and he always knows exactly what I want Him to do.
And he does it.
Because I’m such a fantastic Christian.
I wanna be Super Christian.
What a pity I’m just me.
And the Bible says this:
1 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels,
but do not have love,
I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
2 And if I have prophetic powers,
and understand all mysteries and all knowledge,
and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains,
but do not have love,
I am nothing.
3 If I give away all my possessions,
and if I hand over my body so that I may boast,
but do not have love,
I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient;
love is kind;
love is not envious or boastful or arrogant5 or rude.
It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;
6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.
7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things,
endures all things.
8 Love never ends.
But as for prophecies, they will come to an end;
as for tongues, they will cease;
as for knowledge, it will come to an end.
9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part;
10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.
11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child,
I reasoned like a child;
when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.
12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly,
but then we will see face to face.
Now I know only in part;
then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.
13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three;
and the greatest of these is love. 
According to the Bible, nothing else really matters apart from love.
Only love is eternal.
Hope and faith are right up there,
but hope is all about the future
and one day that future will arrive and we will need hope no more.
And faith is our trust in the one who we do not now see,
but one day we will see him face to face
and our faith will be taken up into adoration.
Faith and hope will one day be redundant,
love is eternal.
When Paul wrote those words to the Corinthians,
he was writing to a church where people saw themselves as super-Christians.
Earlier in this letter he said he was writing to them,
“so that none of you will be puffed up in favor of one against another.
7 For who sees anything different in you?
What do you have that you did not receive?
And if you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?
8 Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich!
Quite apart from us you have become kings!
Indeed, I wish that you had become kings,
so that we might be kings with you!
Paul can be really sarcastic when he wants to be.
To this church full of puffed-up people
who thought that the goal of Christianity is to become super-spiritual
he prescribes a radical change of direction.
It’s not about you, he writes, it’s about other people.
It doesn’t matter if you can speak in tongues or prophecy or move mountains;
what matters is how much you love.
It’s important to anchor Sunday morning sermon thoughts in reality,
so having your own personal examples of what Godly love looks like
is far better than having a few vague words from the pulpit.
So can we just pause for a few minutes
and talk amongst yourselves at your tables.
Ask each other this question:
“Who do I know
or what have I seen
that has shown me what real love is?
1 Corinthians 13 type love?”
Anybody want to share the example of Love they thought of?
Of course, Jesus is the greatest single example of love that we know of.
Paul points us towards him when he wrote to the Philippians:
2 If then there is any encouragement in Christ,
any consolation from love,
any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy,
2 make my joy complete:
be of the same mind, having the same love,
being in full accord and of one mind.
(and here’s where he really begins to warm up…)
3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit,
but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.
4 Let each of you look not to your own interests,
but to the interests of others.
5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
This passage is one of the most important Christmas passages in the Bible,
because it talks about Jesus’ birth in the same breath as Jesus’ death,
and it shows us that the birth, no less than the death,
was an act of humility and obedience and love on Jesus’ part.
By entering into creation with us;
by becoming one with the world he made
Jesus healed the division between creator and creation.
In his body He is the bridge between heaven and earth.
And in his embrace of creation,
his holding and enfolding of sinful humanity into the inner life of the Trinity,
he didn’t stop at the manger
but continued to the cross and the grave.
Manger scenes tend to be prettily painted and very sweet.
I’ve done that myself.
The danger is that we miss the amazing indecency of what actually happened!
There was the out-of-wedlock conception,
There was the long journey in the final days of pregnancy,
There was the inability to find a decent room,
and the agony of birth – amongst animals!
There was the use of a feed-trough as a cradle.
There was a frightened and jealous king
who slaughtered an entire village of baby boys,
and there was a frantic flight by night from the danger zone
and being a refugee in a foreign land.
Jesus birth wasn’t especially pretty or lovely.
It wasn’t even a standard first century birth;
It was awful.
It was a pointer to the death that was to follow.
When God chose to close the gap between us,
he didn’t just come to the good things and the good people;
he came to the lowest of the low – shepherds and tax-gatherers.
Foreign astrologers and village no-bodies.
And in becoming human, Jesus embraced sin, and pain, and sickness
– and death.
Even death on a cross.
It is because God has entered into the very worst of human evil
and has destroyed it from the inside
that we have hope today.
Jesus has kicked down the doors of death
and thrown open the gates of the grave.
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Christmas is the beginning of Easter
and Easter is the completion of Christmas.
The two holidays cannot be understood apart from one another.
This has obvious implications for us:
This means that Christmas is not all about getting stuff
but is all about giving to people.
Giving hope and forgiveness.
Giving respect, and care and attention and compassion;
those things that mean so much more than stocking-fillers
and make such an amazing difference in the lives of lost individuals.
Please turn again to those around you, or simply sit and ponder,
and ask yourselves:
“what can I do this Christmas that will make a difference for someone else?”
(Close in prayer)
There’s a problem with that title – right there, in the verb. Being. There’s a problem that we can all too easily slip into an either-or mode of thinking about reality, and make our faith all about ‘being’ and nothing at all about ‘doing’. In this version of reality, my ‘being’ Christian is something static. It is the way I am, like the colour of my skin or the length of my nose or my place of birth. There might be some slow, minor developments over the years, but it is essentially always the same.
Yet Jesus taught us that those who love him (and that’s a good definition of Christian, right there) would DO what he commanded. He taught that the highest expression of godliness is love. And love is active. The writings of the earliest Christians and our records of Jesus’ teaching (the New Testament) abound with instructions for how to act. It’s all too easy for us to slip into a somnambulant state of ‘being’ in which all is well with my soul – and the rest of the world can go to hell. And that’s why Christianity is an ‘activist’ religion. Because the world – the lives of individuals and families all around us – are full of pain and suffering. God rejects the idea that human pain and suffering are normal and we just have to ‘toughen up’ and ‘get over it’, and comes to us to bring liberation and celebration. That’s the whole story of the scriptures, climaxing in Christ’s Cross and resurrection, and looking forward to the fulfillment of God’s kingdom on earth.
So because we have an activist God – a God on a mission – we get to go along for the ride, and we even get to play our part in God’s mission of bringing Shalom – peace with Justice – to the earth he created and loves. And so we are busy with the business of God’s kingdom. Doing works of righteousness and love. Bringing peace and truth to the earth.
So if ‘doing’ is so central to Christianity, how come I’m writing about ‘being’ Christian?
Because even though you can’t really keep being and doing separate (unless you’re involved in Greek philosophy) there is this essential point to be made – that who we are in Christ is in fact more important that what we do. The doing comes out of the being. Because I’m Christian, I do stuff, but I’m not Christian because I do stuff. I’m Christian because of what God has done – and is doing – in and for me. We talk of God saving us, reconciling us, adopting us, healing us, redeeming us, purchasing our lives from the slavery of sin and setting us free. In many different ways we describe what God has done for us, and the upshot of it all is that I have a different life now, and a different status. I am different. If before I was a slave, now I am free. If before I was an orphan, now I belong in a Holy family. If before I was sick unto death, now I am healed and whole and well. These are differences in my basic being. Before I was mortal and my life was no more than a brief flicker of existence across the inky darkness of infinity. Now I am eternal, sharing by the Spirit in the resurrection of Christ, and through him, the immortality of God.
Because who I am is different, what I do is different, too. My human doing is meant to reflect my human being. But being comes first.
Putting ‘being’ first has certain consequences. It means that we don’t fall into the trap of legalism; making our status dependant upon a certain set of actions; “You’re only Christian / saved / one of the elect if you do things our way.” Putting ‘being’ first undercuts all the human power plays by which we seek to control one another. No-one else can give or take from me the status that God has given.
Putting ‘being’ first leaves me without protection from God; I can’t hide my sin behind a cloak of religious respectability – ticking all the boxes on the outside, but continuing to be filled with envy, lust, fear, greed, sloth, pride, and anger on the inside. My ‘good works’ aren’t good enough. Only God’s work is good enough to save me from these things, and so I need him to have and to hold the real me. I need to lay down my religious defenses long enough to let God make me his own, and bring me healing and hope.
Putting ‘being’ first means that what I end up doing is done with integrity. I do it, not because it’s what others have told me is right, or it’s what others want me to do, so much as because it is consistent with my true nature as God’s beloved child in Christ. Because it’s consistent with what God himself is doing.
I’m an activist. I want to do so much and I want to make a difference, and I want to see God’s kingdom unfolding in the lives of those around me, and I believe that I might have a role to play in that – by God’s grace. I am an activist, but only because I am in the hands of an active God. It is who I am in Christ that makes me what I am. Being Christian leads inevitably to Christian action, but it is ‘being’ that comes first.
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.
Ok, this is the list of references for the blog posts immediately preceding. Enjoy!
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