The Advocate – historical fiction at its best

advocate200I think more Christians need to read historical fiction. I know I do. Having recently finished Randy Singer’s The Advocate, I feel like I am only now re-emerging out of the Roman Empire of the first century back into life 2,000 years later.

The Advocate is the brilliantly detailed story of life under Roman rule as seen through the eyes of Theophilus, the “Most Excellent” one to whom Luke wrote his gospel and the Acts of the Apostles.

History doesn’t give us the luxury of knowing who Theophilus really was, but Randy Singer, using his creative imagination derived from real-life accounts, gives us an excellent insight as to how the life of this recipient of Luke’s writings might very well have played out.

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The Big Short is long on the human predicament

Left to right: Tracy Letts plays Lawrence Fields, Wayne Pere plays Martin Blaine and Christian Bale plays Michael Burry in The Big Short from Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprises

We all remember the Global Financial Crisis, or GFC, as it was called. It was a time when the world stood on the brink of economic catastrophe, to the point that it was being talked about as leading to another Great Depression such as the world suffered in the 1930s.

The Big Short is the story of why the GFC happened, and how a few people saw it coming but no one listened to them.

The movie is based on the 2010 book of the same name by Michael Lewis. It stars Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt. 

What this movie highlights is the problem of human greed at its worst, and the evil which is unleashed when people simply don’t care about anyone else but themselves.

The housing bubble of 2007/08, which led to the GFC, highlighted the problems of an economic system that is unregulated and doesn’t take into account human nature. The problem with unfettered market capitalism is that some people have to remain poor for others to get rich. It is an amoral system, which, when left to its own devices, produces unprecedented greed the likes of which took the world to the edge of the economic cliff just those few years ago.

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Christmas in the busyness

8293158697_5a42c9bcdf_kIs it just me or is this Christmas busier than ever for people? Right up until this evening, I haven’t really felt like I’ve been still and thought much about the real meaning of Christmas this year.

Part of it has been to do with work; it’s been a busy time right up until today. But I’ve also been rushing around getting things organised and just having so many errands to run.

I can see why so many people just want Christmas to be over so they can get back to some semblance of normality in their lives. I certainly don’t hate Christmas; I never have. In fact all my life I’ve loved this time of year. It’s only in the last couple of years that Christmas has been particularly painful for me, as life circumstances made it a lonely time of year.

I still believe though that our society needs Christmas, if not for the actual meaning it bestows in the form of celebrating the birth of a loving and gracious God coming into the world as a vulnerable baby. But Christmas also seems to be a time when the idea of goodwill and peace to all still holds some value.

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The Inbreaking is here

screen-shot-2015-10-24-at-9-19-40-pmThe Inbreaking is Eden Parris’ third album, and his music still impacts me the same way it did when I first heard it about five years ago.

Having known Eden for quite a few years now, I have seen how his music and lyrics arise out of a genuine, searching faith that seeks to make real his passion for the kingdom of Jesus to come on earth as in heaven.

Eden’s music is a breath of fresh air in a world of Christian music that is largely manufactured for marketing purposes. Albums like The Inbreaking are strangely reminiscent of many of the old Christian hymns, not for their musical style but for their earthy, genuinely Christian theology.

The title and opening song of the album illustrates this eloquently. A song about the inbreaking of the kingdom of God in Jesus, it strongly reflects the hope of the outbreaks of God’s reign on earth that are being seen across this weary world.

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There is no them, only us…

“There is no them, there’s only us” – U2, Invisible

Some mornings I wake up with a song in my head. More often than not it’s a U2 song. Their music has had a profound influence on me for many, many years.

This morning, for some reason, their song, Invisible, was playing in my head. I was scrolling through my emails and thinking of Advent, the time of waiting for the birth of Christ, in a world that doesn’t like waiting. As a blog I read this morning said, Advent is deeply counter-cultural because it is about waiting.

It was then that the lyrics of Invisible invaded my mind. Towards the end of the song come the words, “there is no them…only us”. Continue reading

Thoughts on Paris…

Eiffel_tower_from_trocaderoAs the horror of what happened in Paris sink in to our psyches, many predictable responses are being heard by different commentators and world leaders.

Some people think Paris happened because they let too many Syrian refugees in. Others counter that what those refugees were fleeing is the very same violence as happened in Paris. I think both lines of reasoning are overly simplistic.

The problem with distorted thinking is that it nearly always contains a tiny element of truth, and it is this that people grab on to in order to justify their own ideologies. As the U2 song, Raised by Wolves laments, “the worst things in the world are justified by belief”. Continue reading

Are the commands of Jesus only for Christians?

Where_is_the_loveThe recent speech by our former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, in honour of the late Margaret Thatcher in London, has certainly stirred the pot in terms of what it means to love our neigbour.

In the speech, Abbott spoke about asylum seekers making their way into Europe, and compared the situation to his former Government’s attempt to stop asylum seekers from reaching Australia by boat. In invoking the command of Jesus to love your neighbour, Abbott made the point that, while it is a wholesome ethic, it is currently leading Europe into “catastrophic error”.

The speech predictably gave rise to much heated debate about the treatment of asylum seekers and, in particular, whether or not Abbott was actually trying to say that Jesus was misguided in saying that loving your neighbour is the best way to live life. It has also raised the question once again of whether or not Jesus’ command is meant only for Christians.

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Life, death, love and grief

white flower

A former colleague and friend of mine died last week. She was too young, and left behind a husband and two kids.

People who were closer to her than I was have been comforting each other this week in their grief. It has been terribly sad to witness.

The times in my life when I have known people who have died have been times of bonding with other loved ones of the deceased. It is not shared experiences necessarily or shared happiness that bonds people. It is shared suffering. When you grieve together over the suffering of a loved one, love comes to the fore.

It’s ultimately what life is about, really. Life is primarily about the experience of loss, ultimately to the loss of our life. 

Martin Luther King said once that suffering is redemptive. What he meant by that is that it is not meaningless. In a friendly universe, where the moral arc bends towards love, suffering can always be turned into good.

Jesus was known as a man of sorrows, one who was familiar with grief. He cried at the death of his friend Lazarus, he agonised over his coming suffering and death in the Garden of Gethsemane. and he cried out in desperation as he hung limp on a Roman cross. Jesus’ suffering was real, but it was not meaningless. Continue reading

Why you need to chill out more

 

 

This little clip from ABC News 24 speaks to the common disease of our over-stressed age.

A common comment we ask people when we greet them is “Are you busy?” I do it myself sometimes. It also goes to something I have mentioned before: FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out.

We live in a culture where we have so many options that attract us, where advertising is designed to make us perpetually unhappy by creating felt needs in us to the point where we are never satisfied until we have that next product.

A culture which is built around the god of economic growth, where the economy is king, is a culture that will quickly become addicted to making money and getting ahead.

And speaking of addiction, when we have so many options available to us, so many options to titillate us and satiate our insatiable appetites for more, addiction will be rife.

Long may we remember what is really important to our psyches, to what Christians have often called our souls (though we have incorrectly understood our souls to be that which will go to heaven when we die. Jesus never meant the term “soul” to be understood in that way).

Indeed, what does it profit us if we gain the whole world but lose our souls in the process? In a culture that is fixated on the self as number one, the old wisdom of denying yourself, embracing life on life’s terms and following in the footsteps of Jesus is not popular, including in our success-oriented churches.

What is central to being human is relationship and connection. In a word, love. Loving connection with a Source of Love outside of ourselves and greater than ourselves is what the soul needs. And when that love is then directed in connection towards others, humanity lives at peace.

Life does not consist in the abundance of possessions. It is much more interesting than that. The words of God in the flesh 2,000 years ago ring true in our over-busy and over-stressed 21st century culture.

Peace in Hiroshima

“Strike a bell in Hiroshima park
You know that we can’t see in the dark
We try and we try and we try…”

– Midnight Oil, Hercules

Hiroshima_Peace_BellAs the world remembers the most terrible day in Japan’s history, and one of the most terrible days in our planet’s history, it is just unbelievable that the world is closer to nuclear armageddon today than during the Cold War. And the other problem is that no one is talking about it.

The attack on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945 showed the world that, for the first time in human history, we knew we had the ability to destroy ourselves. Today that ability is closer than ever. In October 1962 we came incredibly close, but with relations today between Russia and the West as they are, the Doomsday Clock has been closer to midnight only once in its history.

The late Ross Langmead used to sing a song simply called Love One Another, in which the opening lines were,

Some trust in nations, some trust in war

But trust in my love

For I am the Lord

Stop all the fighting

Let the wars cease

For I am your God

The Fountain of Peace

During this solemn day, I am reminded of another song, Peace on Earth by U2, or John Mellencamp’s Now More Than Ever (“the world needs love”). Most of all though, I am reminded of the Prince of Peace, the source of love. As Ross Langmead goes on to sing in the above-mentioned song, the great hope of Christian faith is that war will one day be over forever, fighting will cease, and the kingdom of peace will reign forevermore.

May Hiroshima never happen again. The world must not forget. Life on this planet depends on it.