Nils von Kalm

My take on faith, life and how it all might fit together

What Donald Trump and Jesus have in common

You may (or may not) be surprised to find that Donald Trump and Jesus have one significant thing in common…

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Navigating these strange days

Mark Sayers has a knack of articulating what many of us deep-down know to be true.

Here is my review of his latest book, Strange Days

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On not having a bucket list

Life is more than experiences. The endless chase for the next one won’t fill the ache in your soul…

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Nothing else matters

Life is short. When you see the deterioration of people in old age and you realise that, while you’re not old, you’re not young anymore either, it makes you think about how you want to leave this world.

As I see people wither in old age, people who you’ve always seen as somehow invincible, you realise how fragile life is. We are dust, and to dust we return. It makes you think about the meaning in your life, and that we really haven’t got long to make a real difference. I wonder if it’s impossible for a young person to really realise that. When you’re young, it’s all ahead of you. It’s a young person’s world, it was said to me once.

It’s only the experience that comes from years; either that or great suffering in your younger years, that allows you to see that life really is fragile. A pastor once told a story of a man he visited who had just turned 65. The man wondered how he got to that age so quickly. It was like he woke up one morning and all of a sudden his life was almost over, just like that.

Life is not a dress rehearsal. It is to be made the most of. As I get older and see the frailty of the elderly, I feel anxious about getting old and I feel more of an urgency to leave the world a better place. It’s not about leaving a legacy; whatever people think of you doesn’t matter. It’s what you actually did that matters, whether people think it was good or not.

I think of the great sermon by Martin Luther King, ‘The Drum Major Instinct’. It’s about true greatness. Being great is fine. Be great at serving, be great at loving others, be great at not needing recognition for your good deeds. Just do them, whether people notice them or not. That is greatness. It’s the contribution that matters, not the recognition of it.

We are here and gone in a puff of smoke. But what we do lasts forever. Eternity is in our hearts. It is our destiny to leave a contribution that matters. Nothing else measures up but to have done your bit to improve the world.

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Abraham – the good, the bad and the ugly

This is my latest sermon at my church, Kaleidoscope Community. We have been doing a series on the good, the bad and the ugly of biblical characters. Mine was on Abraham. 

You can listen to the audio here, download my notes here, and have a look at a few PowerPoint slides from the sermon here.

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The power of one

Jesus’ prayer in John 17 can tear down the walls of division that divide this broken world.

Read more in my latest article for Christian Today. Thanks also to The Gippsland Anglican for republishing it.

The power of one

We’re one but we’re not the sameWe get to carry each other- U2, OneIn John chapter 17, verse 1, Jesus prayed that his disciples would be one as he and the Father are one. It was a prayer of boldness and, on the surface at least, impossibly naïve and unrealistic.But the fact that this prayer …

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Movie review – Churchill

Here’s my review of the movie, Churchill, which I saw last week. 

ON THE SCREEN: ‘CHURCHILL’S’ NARROW FOCUS LEAVES AUDIENCE WANTING MORE

Churchill (M) In a Word: Flat MOMENT OF DECISION: Brian Cox stars as the British PM in the film Churchill. “This is a story of courage in the midst of personal despair, of perseverance when you are at the very edge of giving up and being given up on.

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Seeing Jesus through Palestinian eyes

The thing that has always touched me the most when I have visited non-Western cultures is the personal stories of people’s lives.

Going into Gaza and and East Jerusalem last year gave me the opportunity to hear some more.

Here are some of them…

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Climate change – why should Christians care?

Psalm 148 is a song of praise to God for everything that has been created. That, if anything, is enough reason for people of faith to care for the environment. But it goes a lot deeper than that.

With the United States deciding to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement this week, many Christians are again debating whether or not we should care about the planet. I really thought we had gone past this as Christians. The fact that we still have to sit here and debate with some people whether or not we should even care about the planet is incredibly frustrating.

I first wrote this article back in 2006 for a talk I gave at World Vision on this topic. While many Christians have no problem with the need to care for the Earth, they struggle to explain exactly why, apart from a general acceptance that we should because God made it.

So, given the US decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement and that today is World Environment Day, here is a slightly updated rewrite of the theological background for why it is an obligation for people of faith to care for the planet.

While there are still people who disagree over the extent of climate change and whether or not it is happening as a result of human activity, more and more people are accepting that it is a current fact and that human actions since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution are playing a major part.

However, we still have a lot of work to do. While many evangelical leaders in the US have spoken out about the moral obligation to care for the earth that God made, there remain Christians in the US and Australia today who are advising President Trump that policies that look after the environment are a waste of time. Their reason for that advice is that God will take care of it and it is a threat to God’s omnipotence. And so we now have one of the biggest carbon-emitting nations on the planet telling the rest of the world to go to hell.

The fact is that this God we believe in cares deeply for the planet we get to live on. Throughout the Bible there is a common thread of God’s concern for the planet, and from this comes our responsibility and privilege to love what God loves.

Mark Brett from Whitley College in Melbourne has said that, “to reduce the complexity of the many references in the Bible that call us to care for the planet, people have often narrowed creation theology down to the key point which serves human interests: God said ‘subdue the earth’, so let’s get on with it”. Brett goes on to say that “both humans and animals are made from the earth, and in this sense we all belong to the same lineage system or ‘earth community’”. From the dust we were made. Genesis tells us that.

It’s interesting to note that Genesis also tells us that God told all species to be fruitful and multiply, so one of our responsibilities is to allow the other species to do just that.

So let’s have a brief look at what Genesis actually says. Ched Myers has said that,

“The first creation account (Genesis 1:1-2:4a) is structured around the Creator’s repeated pronouncements that each layer of the world is “fantastic”. After day 1, he made the universe, and he said it was very good. Day 2 he made the sky and it was very good. Day 3…and it was very good and so it goes on with everything that God makes. The Hebrew word “tov” signifies intense delight. God says this way before humans arrive on the scene, showing that God thought this planet was pretty amazing when we weren’t even here yet. The environment is part of God’s creation which He said was very good.”

Then God goes on to make us, with the world as our habitat. As Myers goes on to say, “humans have received the world as a gift from the Creator and must never mistake it for a possession (Leviticus 25:23)”.

After humans are created, God tells us what our vocation is. The human vocation is summarised in Genesis 2:15: The human being is to “till and keep” (‘abad and shamar). The Hebrew word for tend (Hebrew: ‘abad) means “to work or serve,” and so, referring to the ground or a garden, it can be defined as “to till or cultivate”. It implies adornment, embellishment, and improvement.

The Hebrew word for keep (‘shamar’) means “to exercise great care over.” In the context of Genesis 2:15, it expresses God’s wish that humankind, “take care of,” “guard,” or “watch over” the earth. What we’re noticing is that Genesis 1 to 2, the very first words of God that we have, are a sharp contrast from the once-prevalent and still persistent interpretation of “dominion” that many Christians use to sanction environmental destruction in the name of progress. The exercise of dominion means that we are to exercise dominion with mercy, justice, and compassion – as servants of creation, and as Jesus was the ultimate servant leader, we are to follow His example in living like this.

Jesus also said that our lives do not consist in the abundance of our possessions. As a result, life works best when we resist the allure of wastefulness and overconsumption by making personal lifestyle choices that express humility, patience, self-restraint and frugality.

Put simply, care for the earth fulfills the Great Commandments to love God and love what God loves. Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbour as ourselves. Do unto others. As a group called Creation Care says, “it’s hardly showing love to a child with asthma when you’re filling her lungs with pollution”.

Another reason that God calls us to care for the planet is because environmental degradation hurts the poor the most. Let’s get this straight: climate change is a poverty issue. Care for the earth is an expression of our love for God and, as an extension of that, our love for the poor.

Despite our call for relationship with the environment as a Biblical mandate, there is also the danger of doing what many environmentalists do and going to the other extreme of idolising the creation instead of the creator. The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Romans, said that God’s handiwork is seen in all of creation. Paul saw in creation the evidence of God at work, in the beauty and order of it all, and how it all fits together.

In recent decades scientists have been discovering that the laws of physics seem to be fine-tuned for the existence of complex life. All the evidence suggests that our planet is not just a meaningless “lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark” as the famous astronomer Carl Sagan once said.

The Earth is situated in just the right location in our galaxy; that we’re in a planetary system with giant planets that can shield the other planets from too many comet impacts; that we’re orbiting the right kind of star that’s not too cool or too hot; that the earth has an atmosphere that has enough oxygen to allow for complex organisms to survive; that has enough water and enough continents that allow for the diversity of life, and an active biodiversity that you need to support complex creatures such as ourselves. All of these factors give the direct impression that something amazing has taken place, that this did not just happen by a series of chance events.

Scientists are also discovering that the universe itself seems to be fine-tuned for life. Currently there are about 20 known different physical laws and forces that hold the universe together and allow it to sustain life; and if just one of them was altered by a tiny fraction, the universe would not exist. The universe, and this planet, are precious.

Scientists are also telling us about the interdependence of life on the planet. David Suzuki describes how, if all of humanity disappeared off the face of the earth, the rest of life would benefit enormously. The forests would gradually grow back, and relative stability would return to the ecosystems that control global temperature and the atmosphere. The fish in the oceans would recover and most endangered species would slowly come back. On the other hand, for example, if all species of ants disappeared, the results would be close to catastrophic. There would be major extinctions of other species and probably partial collapse of some ecosystems. The functions of the creatures living in the air we breathe, and beneath our feet, all work together to keep us alive.

If we do not consider the effects of a changing climate, we are not working with the poor; we are actually working against the poor. Let me say that again: if we are not considering the effects of environmental degradation, we are working against the poor. The late Ross Langmead said that “the transforming power of the gospel is not just spiritual, and not just social and economic, but also cosmic and environmental. The gospel is bigger than many of us thought!”

Ecology is increasingly teaching us that everything is related. A theme running through the Old Testament is that a distortion of right relationships affects us, affects our societies and affects our environment. As Romans 8 tells us, the creation is groaning and awaiting the setting right of all relationships in the universe.

There is simply no question that doing what we can to care about climate change is our responsibility as Christians, just as much as caring for the poor, no more and no less. And as affluent Christians here in Australia, we have the resources to make a real difference.

Jesus said that from everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required. We have been given much here in Australia. It is incumbent on our generation to love what God loves.

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Love in the face of terror

”We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you…Bomb our places of gathering and threaten our children, and, as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Drive into our crowds at busy markets and stab anyone in the way, shoot up people in our cinemas with your automatic weapons, and we will still love you. Send your messages of fear and hatred around the world, and we will still love you. But be assured that we’ll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.”

 – Paraphrasing Martin Luther King

No one should have to bury their own child. As I think of what happened in Manchester recently, and in London this week, and in Kabul last week (which you probably didn’t hear about because it wasn’t all over social media and mainstream media), I feel for the mothers of children who have died and who have to organise another funeral for a loved one. What the parents of those sweet young children have to go through when they identify bodies and grieve over innocence just cannot be comprehended.

As we wake up to more news of terror attacks, I am more convinced than ever that love is the only force that can truly make a difference. I am inspired by the words of Martin Luther King and his unshakable conviction about the power and influence of love in the face of tragedy.

The shock we feel when we hear of cowardly attacks like those in Manchester, Kabul and London can be overwhelming. Anger runs high, along with the disbelief. It all rings too close to home for most of us. We know it could have been us. So a natural and understandable response is to lash out and want to hit back and wipe out the bastards who took away our loved ones. What I am convinced of though is that there is no solution in that way of responding. As Dr King said, hate begets hate and violence begets violence. As long as political leaders keep calling for Muslim bans, make billion dollar deals with governments with shady links to terrorists (as the US did last week), and we keep bombing the crap out of Muslim countries, of course the problem is not going to end.

This boils down to what sort of society we want. If we destroy the terrorists, we don’t destroy terror, because more will come up and take their place. And by destroying the terrorists we stoop to their level. As Gandhi said, an eye for an eye just leaves everybody blind. 

So I am more convinced than ever that love is the only way. Many say that love is weakness and hopelessly idealistic, especially in the area of international terrorism. For a world in which violent thinking is so ingrained, love is indeed weakness. But it is the only option we have if we want an enlightened society.

As the great powers of the world advocate bombing the terrorists into submission, love quietly goes about its work, converting enemies into friends and thereby defeating its enemies. Abraham Lincoln, a President who really did make America great, said that.

Love absorbs suffering and thereby defeats it. That is what Jesus did on the cross. An innocent man, violently put to death, did not strike out violently in revenge against his oppressors . He took the suffering upon himself and exposed it for what it was. And thousands of Christians in the first century did the same, following in the footsteps of their Master.

As people live out the virtue of love, many suffer and even die. That is what Jesus meant in the first century context when he talked about taking up your cross. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, when Jesus tells someone to take up their cross, he bids them come and die. Bonhoeffer would know. He did exactly that. He did it because his hope was in a better day, a far country that was coming, a day when love will have finally won the victory. Death now had no sting for people like Bonhoeffer. It was impotent in the face of love.

N.T. Wright talks about this hope using the analogy of the D-Day landings in Normandy. The success of that invasion meant that the Second World War was effectively over. It was just a matter of time. But it would still take another year and the loss of thousands more lives for the war to be officially over. But it didn’t mean that the war hadn’t been effectively won on D-Day. It’s the same now. The fact that people die today for standing up for love in the face of terror doesn’t mean that love doesn’t work; it means that their hope is in something more powerful, something bigger, something inevitable.

Love is the only thing that will eventually defeat terrorism. Just even writing that feels hopelessly naive and idealistic. But that is a reflection of how deeply our culture of violence has ingrained that belief in us. To believe in love is to swim against the tide. Jesus was seen by many as just another failed messiah when he was lifted onto a Roman cross. But if we believe, like those first Christians did, that that was not the end of the story, then we will have the courage to show love in the face of terror.

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