Faith and relevance in the 21st century

Category: Addiction (Page 4 of 5)

Reflections on 9/11 – The Last Days of Mohamed Atta

Over the next 3 days I will be reflecting on the 11th anniversary of 9/11. The events of that terrible day reveal some fascinating insights into our Western contradictions, hope, happiness and what really matters in life. Today’s post is called ‘The Last Days of Mohamed Atta’ (Atta was of course one of the hijackers). 

In his latest book, The Road Trip that Changed the World, Mark Sayers talks about the contradictions we all live with. He uses the very revealing example of the 9/11 hijackers and their exploits in the days before they slammed planes into icons of what they saw as Western decadence. Here is what Sayers says:

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The extraordinary actions of the hijackers highlights for me, not just the contradictions of our lives, but the confusion and deception we all buy into, whether or not we are aware of them (and mostly I don’t think we are aware).

All humans want to be happy. To quote an unlikely source – current Collingwood AFL coach Nathan Buckley – we all want to feel good. And our culture drums the message into us that a certain type of lifestyle will bring us the happiness we all crave. As M. Scott Peck said, we are people of the lie. In this case it is the lie that possessions will fill the void within.

In The Road Trip that Changed the World, Sayers goes on to talk about the consumer Christianity which has become so dominant in The US and in Australia. Relevant Magazine recently had an article questioning whether or not we would still follow Jesus if your life didn’t get any better. Here is a penetrating quote from the article:

“If we’re not careful, we inadvertently imply that if one only focuses enough on Jesus, one’s circumstances will get better, and better, and oh-so infinitely better.” This is the subtle promise of much Christianity today. If it is not straight out prosperity teaching, where the idea is that God has a plan for you to be fabulously rich and beautiful, then it is something more subtle where the idea is that God will ‘bless’ you when you serve him. And ‘blessing’ implies that things will go well for you.”

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Adding Power to Our Passion – 2

Fire smokeThis is the second part of the ‘Adding Power to Our Passion’ post. Read the first part here.

Often these words of life will not be easy to hear. Look at the words of life that Jesus spoke. They didn’t end up getting him very far in the popularity stakes. But they were words of life nonetheless.

For many people this will be a difficult thing to do, as we have been hurt at different times in our life. This is where we need to be sensitive to people, and sensitive to the Spirit leading us in our own lives. It is not loving to barge into someone’s life speaking truth but without love. That is just destructive. 

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Adding Power to Our Passion – 1

eagle(Firstly, thanks and apologies to Midnight Oil for the title of this post. I thought up the title myself but I then realised that it is very much like the title of their 1980s hit, ‘The Power and the Passion.’)

Yesterday we asked what our passion is. For me it is something that has to provide ultimate meaning in my life and in the life of the world. I need to be a part of something that is contributing to a greater cause than me. But how do we do this in real life? The sentiments are fine, but how do we get the power to live out our deepest passions? As has been said by many people, the road to hell is paved with good intentions and fine resolve. How do we find where the rubber hits that road and we turn around and start walking the uphill journey to the life we are meant to live?

Human beings are flawed. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work that out. Our biggest problem in life is that we so often don’t live what we believe. We need to start living ‘as is.’ What I mean by that is that we need to start living by what we say we believe. If we believe that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life, then we need to live that out. Many people call this ‘acting as if,’ meaning to live as if it really is true that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. But as someone pointed out to me not long ago, it is really living ‘as is,’ not ‘as if.’ If Jesus really is true, we need to start living that truth – living it because it is true. We are not being true to who we really are if we don’t.

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What is Your Passion?

full-potentialMy passion has for years to show people how Jesus Christ is relevant to all of life. If I really believe in him, that he is who he says he is – the Son of God come into the world to save us from our sins and renew all things – then of course that is relevant to all of life. Jesus has to be relevant to our politics, our personal lives, our marriages, our inner lives, our sexuality, our economics, our law, our morality, our sport. He has to be relevant to everything. And not just relevant, but central. He has to underpin it all. If it wasn’t for him we wouldn’t have any politics, morality, sport etc.

Related to this for me is the passion to show that the Western way of living that I have been a part of and contributed to for all of my 43 years, doesn’t work. That it is indeed killing us; that it is what Brian McLaren calls the ‘suicide machine;’ a completely unsustainable way of life that will one day come to a shattering end and will change the world like it has never been changed before.

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A culture of fear

Recently I posted on the fact that in the West we live in a culture of addiction, where we continue on a pathway that is destructive, despite overwhelming evidence of its negative consequences. In this post I want to explore another part of Western culture, one that has been tragically highlighted by the recent shooting in Aurora, Colorado.

The US (and Australia to a lesser extent) has long lived in a culture of fear, in which the response to tragedy has been to respond with fear-based actions. 9/11 was a classic example of this. Within weeks of the terrorist attacks on the US, military strikes commenced in Afghanistan, which was followed by a dubiously argued war in Iraq. Back home, the response was the Patriot Act which restricted the liberties of ordinary Americans while proclaiming the idea that they were intended for the security of the nation.

Source:,29307,1910204_1909321,00.htmlA similar response has been seen in the actions of Americans to the Colorado shootings. The emotional response to tragedy reflects where a culture is at, and the fact that gun sales in the US have skyrocketed since Aurora is alarming to say the least. You would think that people would want less guns to be available when yet another shooting takes place, so to arm yourself to the teeth is a reaction that is purely based on fear. Make sure you kill them before they kill you. Check out some of these quotes from a Time magazine article on the shooting:

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A culture of addiction

lotto addiction

Just watching TV tonight, I saw an ad for the latest Powerball draw being a whopping $50million. As I watched the ad I was reminded again about how addicted our society is to a way of life that is slowly killing us. It’s what Brian McLaren calls the ‘suicide machine.’

Study after study has shown that money does not make us happy, and, in Australian society, once you own more than about $100,000 any amount over that won’t increase your happiness. Yet despite this we still enter lotto draws that offer such incredible amounts of money, believing that ‘life could be a dream.’ And it is becoming more popular. If this is not addiction then I don’t know what is.

For the addict, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. The thing we are doing over and over is trying to get rich, and the different result we are expecting – which goes against all the evidence – is that it will be different for us. If we were an addict in a 12 Step program, we wouldn’t be at Step 1 which is the acknowledgment that we have a problem. We are a culture in denial.

The God-shaped hole

“There’s a void in my heart that I can’t seem to fill. I do charity work when I believe in a cause, but my soul it bothers me still.
John Mellencamp, Void in My Heart

In the heart of every human being is a God-shaped hole. A saying that has been mostly attributed to Augustine is that humanity was made to worship God, and we are restless until we do.

20120710-213309.jpgIf we are able to grasp this truth, we will see more clearly that everything we do in life is done in search of meaning. Despite the decline of faith in Australia and the media coverage of the ‘New Atheism’ over the years, the search for meaning never goes away, even if it might be drowned out by our lifestyle of endless consumption.

One of the signs of this search is the rapid increase in recent decades in the tide of addiction. When the alcoholic takes another drink, thinking this one will be different; when the drug addict injects again honestly believing this time it will give him what he needs; or when the sex addict settles on what he believes is finally the perfect porn clip, they are all actually searching for something deeper. They are searching for God.

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Mental health and consumer culture

The latest New Internationalist focuses on mental illness and has a great article on what is called the collective insanity of consumer culture. It is certainly no exaggeration that our obsession with stuff is an addiction. The fact that, as Brene Brown says, we are the most obese, addicted, medicated society in history, coupled with the widely acknowledged fact that the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, shows that we are in a seriously dangerous place in our mentally ill culture. Here are some quotes from the article, along with comments from me in blue:

  • A century on from Oscar Wilde’s immortal poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol, death comes gift-wrapped and perfumed, in beguiling guilt-free varieties, delivered with a toothy smile and prophecy of material salvation. Betrayal gets absolved as the consumer age supplants conscience with craving, and duty with self-devotion. Even with our beloved Earth and the future of humankind balanced on a knife’s edge, our killing feels strangely like a bargain.
  • In Escape from Evil, cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker describes consumer culture as a second-rate religion that has programed a society of ‘cheerful robots’ to martyr all to “a grotesque spectacle of unrestrained material production, perhaps the greatest and most pervasive evil to have emerged in all of history.”
  • If consumer culture were a separate individual and assessed psychiatrically, its diagnosis would be criminal psychosis of the most fiendish variety.
  • Once sold on ourselves, we can be wooed by the most impoverished of ambitions, from ‘having it all,’ and ‘living the dream,’ right on down to ‘making it to the top.’
  • Hyper-competitive individualism is a lonely straightjacket that fuels frustration, alienation, and rage. Freedom has cheapened into a demeaning free-for-all in a prison of petty wants. As a springboard to happiness, emotional health, and social well-being, ‘the good life’ is an exhausting flop. As evidenced by Martin Seligman’s research which shows that consumer culture now has ten times the rate of depression we had at the end of the Second World War.
  • The term ‘cultural insanity’ refers to normative templates that have become so counter-productive and self-defeating, or so misaligned to our basic human needs, that they stand to undo society or its life supports. In fact, normality can be the deadliest of foes.
  • Never before has a society indebted itself so heavily to unreality.
  • For the first time, Utopia is a matter of life or death. Getting it half right or even mostly right is not enough.
  • For cultural psychologist Erich Fromm, the only defense against our all-consuming social insanity was ‘a radical change of the human heart.’ Perhaps the most important change that needs to happen, because all the other changes will not last unless the human heart is connected with a Source outside of itself.
  • We recognize in films like The Matrix and The Truman Show our phantasmagoric world of factory-farmed experience that keeps us blankly nippled to fantasy, and numbed to life beyond our brainwashing.
  • God, increasingly hell-bent on wanting us to be rich, is resisting the green makeover that some prayed could spare Creation. Unfortunately, as with many article of this type, written by those with a socialist leaning, the God they critique is the God of fundamentalism, who is a kill-joy and only cares about punishing homosexuals and people who have had abortions. Millions of Christians don’t believe in this God either.
  • The highest act of love in a criminally insane society is disobedience. Normality can no longer be trusted. Unconditional obedience is an unaffordable luxury. To be “well-adjusted” is to be part of the problem. Brilliant; a great definition of love in this context.
  • Economics, once the boring background affair it should be, is now the cornerstone for cultural consciousness. What will it profit someone if they gain the whole world but lose their very self?
  • For the same price as the insanity-saving ‘credit crunch’ bailout, we could be well on our way to a society of minimalists, naturalists, humanitarians, and debt-dodging vegetarians. Compassion and childlessness could be chic, and conservationists sexy. Throw in half a year’s military budget and peace could be hip, education could enlighten, and eloquent simplicity could be all the rage. A society where childlessness is encouraged is a society on its way to extinction. What else could it be? And as far as education goes, as I read once, because of human nature, education doesn’t achieve the desired outcome. If you educate a devil, you don’t get an angel, you just get a clever devil.
  • There is nothing that we cannot be or believe. We are as perfectible as we are corruptible. Thousands of years of human history has shown us by now that this is simply not true. This type of thinking is really the same addictive thinking that says that despite the mountain of evidence, we can still be perfect one day. It is not for nothing that Jesus said that without Him we can do nothing. It is only when we find ourselves in our ultimate Connection that we will eventually be made perfect, and that will not be this side od death.
  • The biggest problem is that, by design, we are cultural creatures, fated to be normal except for rare individuals with enough courage and conviction to liberate themselves partially from culture’s powerful gravitational pull. Even well meaning individuals who profess concern about the unfolding apocalypse usually plod on like zombies in allegiance to their cultural norms.
  • Culture is the last great frontier. While it would be a spectacular leap of maturity on our parts, the deliberate and preemptive management of collective consciousness guided by a responsibility-based culture is the next and most important step in our evolution.

This magnificent article needs to be shared far and wide, despite its naivety and seeming ignorance of the deception of the human heart. It comes closer to a vision of the kingdom of God than much of what we hear in our churches. I am reminded of a couple of brilliant books that should also be must-reads for people of faith. They are Brian McLaren’s Everything Must Change, and Walter Brueggemann’s The Prophetic Imagination.

It is true that what we need is a change in the human heart, but what this article proposes is a kingdom without a king. As Johnny Cash sang in the song The Wanderer, ‘they say they want the kingdom but they don’t want God in it.’

Perhaps the most important omission from the article is the house on rock that Jesus spoke of, that of hope; not just hope that we will one day get to our utopia, but a hope based on a fact of history, that because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, there will indeed come a day when utopia will be a reality, and we can indeed build for it now. But it will not be one that is finally completed by defective humanity, but one that is completed and consummated by God himself. It will be the wonderful new creation that the Scriptures point to and whose consummation is gloriously described in Revelation 21. May that day come quickly because God knows we need it.

An Eye-Opening, Gut-Wrenching Film

A friend sent me this article and link to a movie about sex slavery. One of the alarming things is the quote that “we know that porn profits directly fund the acquisition of new women and children being forced into sex slavery.”

Porn is never a bit of innocent, harmless fun. It is not even a victimless crime. Simply, there is nothing good about porn at all. I wrote more about this here some time ago.

Reflection, information, obsession, and Jesus

“All the books you never read, just started; all the meals you rushed, never tasted” – U2, Falling at Your Feet

I lament our loss of reflection in this information age. We are the most informed generation in history but we are losing the art of reflection. We are constantly wired, and I don’t mean just connected to an iPod or iPhone but emotionally wired. When we are constantly consuming information we are no longer being still and thinking about the deeper issues of life. Everything is rushed. We are overwhelmed with choice and we no longer feel at peace with ourselves. We have everything at our fingertips but don’t know anymore how to be. We think we have to always be doing something; we feel guilty when we aren’t being ‘productive’; and we wonder if we’re being lazy when we’re lying around on a Sunday afternoon.

Linked to this loss of reflection is our culture’s obsession with experience. We have a terrifying fear of missing out. We are the addict who thinks we cannot do without more and better. We talk about things being boring or cool. Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe in leading a boring life. The life of following Jesus is anything but boring; it is counter-cultural and filled with opportunities. But what this means is that we live a life that is other-centred and not based on how we feel at a certain time. A life of other-centredness is one that doesn’t have to look for the next fix, because it is inherently satisfying. It is borne out of a deep knowing that we are loved by God and therefore don’t need to spend our days and years trying to prove ourselves to others. We are free to love and serve our fellow human beings. This is what it is to be a follower of Jesus. This is life, and deep down we know it is the right way to live.

The way of Jesus gives the most satisfaction, the most depth and the greatest enjoyment of life. This is anything but boring, but it is not a life that seeks to avoid boredom as an end in itself. It is a life that has a higher end; a life that has found something better. For if we do not find what we are really looking for we will inevitably go back to the life we lived before, and, such being human nature, we will pick up where we left off and it will be worse than before. Jesus spoke of this when he told about the house from which a demon has departed but then has other demons more evil than the first one come back and make the house worse than before (Matthew 12:43-45).

Life in the information age promises so much but delivers so little. We are still dependent beings. The fact of human nature is that we simply cannot live without outside help. We are created with a God-shaped hole and as St Augustine and others down through the ages have said, we are forever restless until we find our hope in Christ. No wonder Edward Mote could write the words of that famous hymn back in the 1830s, “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand”.

We are indeed in trouble when our information age gives us so much to take in but leaves us with so little time to reflect on it. The Christian message is one which offers a way out of our malaise; a way out of the self-centred slavery to which we are addicted. The way to life is to fall at the feet of the One who is Life itself; Jesus, who says to our tired and information-burdened age, “Come to me all you who are weary and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). It is when we reflect on this that we come back to reality and find the life that is truly life, where we share with those people down through the centuries who have had their lives unburdened and their hopes transformed.

Some more words from Falling at Your Feet sum it up eloquently:

all the information
all the radio waves
electronic seas
how to navigate
how to simply be
to know when to wait
this plain simplicity
in whom shall I trust
how might I be still
teach me to surrender
not my will, Thy will

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