In the last few years the financial institution, Credit Suisse, has ranked Australia, per capita, in the top three richest countries in the world. At the same time, loneliness, depression and anxiety are at epidemic levels, and the suicide rate is at a peak not seen in the last decade.
Our culture teaches us that life is found in the freedom to be yourself, which generally means without the distractions and interruptions of others, even our significant others. But while that excitement might last for a season, it ultimately leaves us unsatisfied. Then we try to fill the hole with the next experience, only to find that that doesn’t last either.
We try to fill our lives with externals. We try to make ourselves rich so we can live a life of leisure; we want to be entertained constantly; we are addicted to our devices to the point where we check them when we wake up in the middle of the night in case there might be something we are missing out on.Continue reading
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
– C.S. Lewis
Love, by its very nature, involves a level of pain, because it is sacrificial. It’s very essence is to give, thereby leaving it open to betrayal and abuse. But to love is to live; it is the only way to have joy in life.
I find it fascinating that, in the moment of his greatest betrayal and desertion by his best friends, Jesus spoke of his own joy (John 15:11). This is the only time in all the gospels that Jesus speaks of his own joy. This was also the night before the agony of his crucifixion, which was also his greatest act of love.
For Jesus, love involved great pain. But he loved anyway. And within it he knew joy.
This all reminds me of another quote from a person who knew what it was to love. Mother Teresa once said this:
“People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”
If you’re after a good trivia question for upcoming Christmas BBQs, try this one: Which two other famous people died on the same day as JFK, 22 November 1963? The answers are CS Lewis and Aldous Huxley. Most readers will be well aware of CS Lewis, but not as many will be aware of Huxley.
The latter is the author of the influential book, Brave New World. The story is about a futuristic society in which happiness is chemically engineered. It’s a famous work which takes the line that happiness can be achieved through external influences. Such a contrast to the Christian worldview of Lewis, which says that happiness is only achieved through surrender to the Spirit of God as revealed in Jesus. And a contrast again to Kennedy, the first Catholic president and by all accounts, a man who desired peace in the world, would have pulled combat troops out of Vietnam, and above all, the person we can thank for life still existing on this planet due to his role in the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.
I’ve always been fascinated by the JFK assassination. Like millions of others around the world, I find the continuing mystery surrounding his death to be incredibly alluring. Everything about the story, a young President with movie star looks, his wife with equally stunning looks and elegance, the optimism he brought to America, and the national and global struggles that he oversaw during his brief presidency, make for a script that the most creative film producer would probably never have dreamed up.
One of the many great paradoxes of Christian faith is he fact that we simultaneously live in the ‘now and the not yet.’ In Jesus, God’s future world has come into the present. Through his life, death and resurrection, and through the continuing acts of faith lived out throughout history, preparation for the final act of a totally transformed existence has begun.
Explaining this in terms that are understandable to the layperson however is not easy. The best analogies I can think of have come from C.S. Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles. But I recently came across another excellent description of it in the December 2012 edition of the Uniting Church’s Crosslight magazine. In this issue, Chris Mostert, recently retired Professor of Systematic Theology in the MCD University of Divinity, wrote a reflection about Advent. He says Christianity is fundamentally an eschatological faith: we ultimately live with the great hope of Revelation 21:1-5, the complete renewal of all relationships in the universe. I was so impressed by Mostert’s article that I want to quote all of it here, but I will stick to the most salient parts.
Christian philosopher Jeff Cook, in his book Seven, uses an illustration originally made by C.S. Lewis on how ridiculous our obsession with lust is in our society. Here’s how Cook describes what Lewis said:
“CS Lewis invites us to imagine that we have visited an alien world where scores of people have assembled to watch a striptease. Imagine, however, that instead of a woman, a small, covered platter is brought out—and with all eyes wide, someone slowly removes the lid, revealing a steaming hamburger. We think the striptease is a joke, but all around us, people begin howling. Others snicker, elbowing their friends. Some just sit quivering in their seats. If such a world did exist, we would not think this display merely odd. We would think something inside the audience was broken. A healthy appetite for food is good, but when appetites turn into manic behavior, something is in a state of disrepair.”
Armand Nicholi, in his book, The Question of God, brings to life an imaginary debate between two of the great minds of the 20th century, Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis. Here is what they both say about ethics and morality:
“Freud, however, asserts that ethics and morals come from human need and experience. The idea of a universal moral law as proposed by philosophers is “in conflict with reason.” He writes that “ethics are not based on a moral world order but on the inescapable exigencies of human cohabitation.” In other words, our moral code comes from what humans find to be useful and expedient. It is ironic that Lewis contrasted ethics with traffic laws; Freud wrote that “ethics are a kind of highway code for traffic among mankind.” That is, they change with time and culture. … Lewis points out that although the moral law does not change over time or from culture to culture, the sensitivity to the law, and how a culture or an individual expresses the law, may vary. For example, the German nation under the Nazi regime obviously ignored the law and practiced a morality the rest of the world considered abominable. Lewis claims that when we assert that the moral ideas of one culture are better than those of another, we are using the moral law to make that judgment. “The moment you say that one set of moral ideas can be better than another,” Lewis writes “you are, in fact, measuring them both by a standard, saying that one of them conforms to that standard more nearly than the other . . . the standard that measures two things is something different from either. You are in fact comparing them both with some Real Morality, admitting there is such a thing as a real Right, independent of what people think, and that some people’s ideas get nearer to that real Right than others.” Lewis concludes that “if your moral ideas can be truer, and those of the Nazis less true, there must be something— some Real Morality— for them to be true about.”
The first of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous says ‘we realised were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable.’ 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 our culture was 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. As well as the fact that study after study shows that money doesn’t make us happy, we now know that since the end of the Second World War, the rate of depression in Western countries has risen tenfold. Materially we are the richest people in the history of humanity, and we have ten times the rate of depression to show for it.
But as I mentioned above, don’t misunderstand this. This is about finding life, not making us all feel guilty and miserable. Jesus came to give us life and life in all its fullness. It’s about a better way, a way that is life-giving, but not the way we are told is life-giving. The way that really is life-giving often feels like the way to unhappiness and death.
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:
[vimeo http://vimeo.com/40927169 ]
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.”
Recently when I was having a moment of doubt, wondering if this Christian stuff really is true, I was reminded of the argument that people like Francis Collins, former Director of the Human Genome project, put forward for their faith. Collins and others such as C.S. Lewis have talked about the moral law, or the sense of right and wrong which we all inherently share. As far as I know, we are the only creatures that are able to transcend our feelings, our basic instincts. Every human being who has ever lived has had a moral sense about them.
We are so trained in our world to see life only in terms of the physical or
material. If we can’t see it, touch it or taste it, it doesn’t exist. But the discovery we make when we don’t subscribe to that worldview, but live as if there really is a moral law, is that we develop an increasingly acute sense of right and wrong.
Eden Parris is a friend of mine who I have known for a few years now. He has always impressed me as a man who is genuine in his friendship and desire to be a good person. I spent some time with him on a men’s camp last year and we ended up having quite a deep conversation about our lives and about our view of Christian faith. It turned out that we share similar views. So when, as he left the camp, he gave me a copy of his album Rumours of Hope, I looked forward to listening to it, not really knowing what to expect in terms of the type of music and what he would be singing about.
After listening to a few songs I was hooked. This is a special album, and Eden is a special songwriter. Of all the Christian music going around today, you don’t hear alot about the biblical message of the kingdom of God and about the good news of who Jesus really is and the new creation that he has inaugurated. Much Christian music is about feeling good, and unlike most of the old hymns, does not contain much good theology, and therefore doesn’t bring us close to the God we worship. As far as great theology goes, Eden’s songs are alot closer to the old hymns than much of today’s Christian music.
To paraphrase Walter Brueggemann, this is an album of prophetic imagination. Throughout the songs, Parris inspires us to dream of a better world, a world that is not just a pipe dream, but a world that, if we dare to believe it, has already been inaugurated in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Some of the lyrics from the first song, A Deeper Magic, say it all:
Have you heard on the wind
Distant murmurs of Spring
They say Aslan is on the move
And the people in caves are beginning to pray
They say that he will be here soon
To banish the night and to make all things right
To colour the earth with his song
But the most precious thing is it’s already Spring
It was hidden right here all along
This is just a sample of the quality of lyric (more of which can be seen in the video of the whole song above) and inspiration that we see on this album. But it is not just dreaming that we are called to in these songs. They also draw us out of our fears and natural cynicisms to be a part of something bigger, something worthwhile, rather than be caught up in the treadmill of a life that is on its way out.
Clearly influenced by Jesus’ message of the kingdom that is both now and not yet, as well as by such geniuses as C.S. Lewis, this is an album that is easy to relate to. It not only draws you out of yourself, but Parris also gets quite personal and sings of issues that resonate with the astute listener, be they about the relationship struggles that we all go through if we want to make them work, or about the encouragement that we all need on the often trudging road to our destiny of love.
It is not just the lyrics that make this album so enjoyable though. It is the musical style that evokes a certain simple joy in the midst of struggle and pain. The lyrics and the music complement each other to bring out the sure and certain hope of the kingdom despite what too many people experience in our world of injustice and inhumanity.
This is an album that leaves you wanting more. It inspires a desire to live the dream, but not the dream that our society talks of. This album speaks of a dream that is just so much better and complete that it doesn’t bear comparing to anything that we think is special in this world’s way of thinking.
This album has lyrics and music that more people need to be made aware of. I recently watched Eden play live with one of his band members, during which he played a song that will be on a forthcoming album. I’ll be keeping an eye on Eden’s Facebook page for the details. If it is anything like Rumours of Hope, it will be well worth the wait.