Faith and relevance in the 21st century

Category: John Smith (Page 1 of 2)

Is Australia a nation of idiots?

australia-flag-mapAs we come to another Australia Day and thank God for the public holiday, I think it would do us well to have a read of a couple of very good articles decrying the fact that we generally live in a nation of self-centred idiots.

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald this week, Sam de Brito pointed out that “The ancient Greek word idiotes, from which the English version is derived, meant “one who put private pleasures before public duty and who was, for this reason, ignorant of everything that mattered”.

Is that the general perception you get when you watch commercial television in this country and listen to our political leaders spout three-word slogans? De Brito goes on to say that, in ancient Greek society, “the famous Greek statesman Pericles is recorded as saying: “We do not say that a man who takes no interest in politics is a man who minds his own business; we say he has no business here at all.”

In the last decade or so, Australians have become very cynical of our politicians. And generally for good reason. Question Time in our Parliament is shown on overseas news networks as an example of the abuse and name-calling that a nation’s elected leaders can stoop to.

The other article that came to my attention was Corinne Grant’s piece in The Hoopla, pretty much saying the same thing as Sam De Brito. Calling to mind our tendency to want to pacify ourselves with mindless pleasures while the world goes to hell in a handbasket, Grant, in her own comedic way, gives the example of satirising our phobia of asylum seekers by saying “The sooner we send ‘em back to get killed in their own country, the sooner we can stop worrying about them taking all our car parking spots at the supermarket.”

Have we become a nation of self-centred morons who passively sit back in our comfy chairs and blame asylum seekers for causing us all this trouble as we flick the channel over to the next episode of Million Dollar Minute? While of course we can’t label all of us in this way, it is a general perception of many Australians that we just don’t care about asylum seekers, what’s happening in Syria, or anything that has to do with what really matters in life, as long as I’m alright.

So what’s with this selfishness? How can we be so blind to the genuine needs of others and so gullible, so unthinking, about what we are told by our media and politicians? I see it as largely about protecting a way of life. Twice in recent years, Credit Suisse has voted Australia, per capita, as the richest nation in the world. No one wants their comfortable way of life threatened, and as long as “I’m alright Jack”, I don’t really want to know about the bad news I see on TV.

When we are so rich, we can easily become blinded to the difficulties of people outside our circle of reference. And when the media encourages this attitude by furthering our demonization of people groups such as asylum seekers and outlaw bikers, an unthinking populace tends to go along with it.

Our political leaders are equally culpable. Our most recent Federal Election campaign was characterised by its negativity and lack of genuine policy discussion. And we the people have become numb to it. So, when our Prime Minister refers to the complex situation in Syria as a war between “goodies and baddies,” we barely bat an eyelid. After all, we’ve just thrashed the Poms in the cricket. That’s what really gets our adrenalin pumping.

Our comfortable lifestyle is also a result of our history since European settlement. We are a nation that has never had a civil war (you could say there was one against our indigenous people but that’s more genocide than civil war, and that’s another story), and we are not bordered by a host of other nations like Europe is.

People often question why Europe has had so much conflict over the years. Why can’t they just get along and stop fighting each other? When you consider the fact that most conflict is over issues of land, you can see why the fact that there are so many different nations and cultures in Europe has fed so much conflict. That plus the fact that some of those conflicts go back centuries, a good deal longer than the history we have known since European settlement. In contrast to Europe, we are a nation surrounded entirely by coastline – “girt by sea” as our national anthem puts it.

Our love of pleasure while trying to ignore those aspects of life that make us who we are is a reflection of a lack of a sense of what we think life should be about. It was 25 years ago this year that John Smith wrote his magnificent Advance Australia Where? (different to Hugh Mackay’s more recent book of the same title). Smith’s book was a brilliant analysis of why a country with such material riches has such a tragic rate of social statistics. The tagline of the book was “a lack of meaning in the land of plenty.” That said it all then and it says it all today.

I am convinced that meaning lies only outside of ourselves. The more we look for life inside ourselves and in the idea of “individual freedom” as it is thrown at us by popular culture, the more we are sucked into its vortex and the more we lose a sense of who we really are. What I have found through living life with its associated consequences, good and bad, is that real meaning and ability to cope with the vagaries of life is only found in following Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus lived in a culture that was in some ways very different to ours, but in other ways was very similar. People in 1st century Palestine wanted their good life just like we do.

The way Jesus handled this desire in people was not to criticise them for having the desire, but to accept them for who they were as people while pointing out better ways to live the good life. If we want to be first, he said, be first at serving. If we want riches, seek riches in heaven. That will give us what we are really after.

Thankfully the church in Australia is talking a lot more these days about issues of meaning and identity. Churches run courses on depression, addiction and other critical life issues. Despite the dumbing down that we generally see in popular culture, many Australians are searching for a genuine spirituality as they realise that something is drastically wrong in a country where we are told that life could be a dream if only we won that elusive lotto draw. In some ways, the church is answering the call.

The search for what really matters in life is one that lasts a lifetime. It is a journey of discovery, difficulty, joy and love, especially when we do it with others who are on the same journey with us and accept us for all our foibles. May this Australia Day be more than a celebration of (hopefully!) another win over the Poms in the cricket, but a genuine reflection of who we are and who we want to be as a nation. Our destiny depends on it.

Grace beyond comprehension

GraceJohn 21:15-19 is possibly the most profound story in the whole Bible. It shows the simply, well ‘extravagant’ is too small a word for it, grace of God to sinners like you and me. Jesus deliberately singles out Peter and purposefully asks him three times if he loves him. This is not a sign of neurotic insecurity from Jesus, having to ask three times if one of his best friends loves him. It is a declaration of forgiveness of the highest order.

It follows directly Peter’s denial of Jesus three times on the night of Jesus’ greatest need. On the darkest night of Jesus’ life, a night so dark that no one before or since has had to endure anything like it, Peter deserted him. Ever the outspoken one, always quick to declare his undying loyalty to Jesus during their three years together, Peter fails when the true test of his loyalty faces him.

The extravagant forgiveness of Jesus as a new day dawns by the Sea of Galilee – a new day in a truer sense than even the disciples probably then realised – is simply mind boggling. The interesting thing is how Jesus forgives Peter. He does not simply tell Peter that it’s ok, don’t worry about it. Many translations put a heading above this story called ‘Jesus reinstates Peter.’ I don’t think this goes even far enough. Jesus actually gets Peter to step up to the plate. He forgives him by commanding him to be a leader in spreading the Good News that he is now receiving, and to look after the new movement that is about to change the world forever.

When a person in a leadership in a church confesses something terrible they have done, the usual step is to get them to step down from their position for at least a time. This occurs even if the person is fully repentant. You see it over and over. But as we see in this incredible passage, it is not the way of Jesus. Instead of getting Peter to step down, Jesus gets him to step up. He affirms Peter, telling him that he will be one of the main leaders in the fledgling movement.

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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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The writer’s self-promotion dilemma

I have an ego problem. I think it’s getting better but I still have many times when thoughts come into my mind about people telling me what a great writer I am and that they want me to speak at their major church or stuff like that. I can’t stop the thoughts coming into my mind, but it’s what I do with them when they get there that is the problem. Some years ago I even took this blog offline for a while to figure out what I should do about this issue. A couple of people told me independently that it was fine to put my blog back online and deal with the issue as it comes up. I think that was good advice.

The purpose of this website is to show how Jesus is relevant to all of life and that he is the only one through whom we will ever find the peace we all want, both inside us and in the world around. I have been told by quite a few people that I have a gift in writing. I appreciate their sentiments. I used to think that saying I have a gift was arrogant and equivalent to telling people how good I was. But having a gift has nothing to do with anything I’ve done. If it was, it wouldn’t be a gift. John Smith said once that there is nothing in our lives which has not been given to us. So if God has given me a gift, he has given it for a purpose which is to do my part in bringing in his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. And if it is a gift from God for this purpose, then I have a responsibility to use it to the best of my ability and for God’s glory. To use it for my own ends, to try to get people to think how wonderful I am, then I am abusing it.

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Tiredness, frustration, and trust

In the U2 song, Peace on Earth, Bono sings of his frustration about our constant talk of peace without it ever really happening. Peace, peace, when there is no peace is the cry of the prophet he is echoing. All around we see power corrupting and people in power getting their way at the expense of those with no power. Over and over again it happens.

I have no trust in political and economic systems. Ultimately I trust more in Jesus, whose power did not corrupt and through whom our desires for power are redeemed. John Smith asked a question many years ago which is a challenge for everyone who claims to be a serious follower of Jesus. The question is this: who are your friends and who are your enemies? The point he was making is that, when you look at the life of Jesus, his friends were overwhelmingly the powerless, the marginalised and the oppressed. And his enemies were overwhelmingly the rich, the powerful and the oppressors. If our friends and enemies are the same type of people who Jesus had as friends and enemies, then chances are that we are following Him and can claim the name ‘Christian’. If our friends are the rich and powerful, and our enemies are the poor and powerless, then it is pretty much certain that you are not following Jesus and cannot legitimately call yourself a Christian. Harsh words, but I defy anyone to tell me that what I am saying is not biblical.

Another question that John Smith has asked is along similar lines. It is a study of Jesus’ encounters with the powerful and the powerless, and whether they were positive or negative encounters. Not surprisingly with Jesus, his encounters with the poor and powerless were overwhelmingly positive, whilst his encounters with the rich and powerful were overwhelmingly negative. Jesus was constantly in trouble with the authorities, and at the same time, the common people heard him gladly (Mark 12:37).

Until the day Jesus returns there will be injustice and abuse of power in this world. Humanity is too sick to change itself on its own. Martin Luther King knew this. On the day that President Kennedy was gunned down in Dallas, King told his wife that the same would happen to him one day, because society is too sick to know any better. Tragically, this great prophet of the 20th century was right, cut down himself only five years later, one more person who stood up for the powerless being silenced in the ultimate manner.

I feel a deep sadness and frustration when I see the powerful abuse their power at the expense of the powerless. A clearly guilty white collar worker gets off because he can afford the best lawyers; executives give themselves huge bonuses while they decry any request for a pay rise by those lower down as dangerous for the economy, and politicians share the perks of office while their constituents struggle each day to make ends meet.

Who can we believe in any more? Who is trustworthy? And here is where I point the finger at myself. Am I trustworthy? Do I abuse my power to get what I want at the expense of those who don’t have the resources that I do?

It is at the times when I hear of power being abused that my faith in Jesus is strengthened. He is the only one who is ultimately trustworthy; He walked his talk, he lived out the courage of his convictions, and when abused himself, he continued to show the way of love. In him is our trust ultimately not misplaced. In him is our only salvation.

Truth in a postmodern culture

Showing Christ to be relevant in a postmodern, largely secular society has its share of conundrums. I will say upfront that I am not an expert on postmodernism; the following are simply my observations of being a follower of Jesus in 21st century Melbourne, as well as some insights picked up from other followers on the way.

I have a deep conviction, and in fact I can say – and I understand that this will seem like an incredibly arrogant assertion to make in a postmodern culture – that I know that Jesus is the answer to the question of life, of what it’s all about and how we deal with it. He is the only one who delivers on the life that humanity is after. This conviction has been borne out of years of surrendering my life to this Christ, asking for His will and not my own to be done in my life each day. As C.S. Lewis said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” You can’t prove that by the logic of reason, and that is one of the benefits of bringing across Jesus today. Many people are not seeking ‘proofs’ these days. As John Smith has said, you could convince someone that Jesus really did rise from the dead, but they could at the same time turn around and say, ‘so what?!’.

People want to know that Christianity works. But whilst it is important to bring that across, it is equally important to remember that Christianity isn’t true because it works; it works because it’s true. Again, this will come across to many people as another seemingly arrogant assertion to make. But I learnt from Rikk Watts some time ago, and I agree with him, that truth is something different to what I had always thought. In these postmodern times where what’s true for you doesn’t have to be true for me, I believe we have forgotten what the definition of truth is. I believe we have been looking at it the wrong way. We are still caught in the trap of our post-Enlightenment thinking that sees truth as a concept. But the Scriptures never describe truth in such a way. Have a read through John’s gospel and you will see it. Truth is personal. The truth has come to us in a Person, the person of none other than God incarnate. A concept is impersonal, and truth is not that.

When talking about truth we have been asking the wrong question. Ever since Pilate asked Jesus that great existential question, ‘what is truth?’ (John 18:38), we have thought of truth as a concept. But John tells us that truth is a person. Jesus said I am the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6). And John in his gospel says that the law was given through Moses, and grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17). This Truth is the great ‘I Am’, a designation that the Jewish hearers of Jesus would have instantly recognised as nothing other than the outrageous statement of someone who is claiming to be the living God. No wonder they tried to kill him. How dare he make such claims in front of those who claimed to have a monopoly on truth!

I wonder how society would react if He made those claims today. I don’t think it would be much different to 2,000 years ago. We live in interesting times. While we live in a time when modernity seems a relic of the past, there are still strong glimpses of it. People know integrity when they see it. You will not meet many people have major problems with the church who will also write Jesus off. As Dan Kimball has noted in his book of the same title, ‘they like Jesus but not the church. And, as N.T. Wright says, “we generally know deep down what is good. When we see someone living out a Christian life, we don’t ask ourselves if it’s good or not; we just wish there were more people like that around.”

Throughout the ages, from modern days to these postmodern days, actions still speak loudest. If we want to find out whether or not Christian faith is relevant in the 21st century, we need only look at the actions of those Christians who are walking their talk. The fact is that Christians have had a profound impact on society. I have written elsewhere of the massive contributions that people of faith have made over the centuries. It is that more than anything that has convinced people of the reality of God in the world.

If we want to see what Scriptures speak best to a postmodern culture, I think the relevance of Christ today is seen most profoundly in those magnificent words of Colossians 1:15-20. This is what brings it all together for me. Check it out:

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

I think this is one of the most radical passages we can think of for the 21st century. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And, contrary to popular church opinion, God did not make everything for our glory. Colossians tells us that it was all made for Him. The creation and all that is in it was not made for us. We don’t own it. We are stewards, and stewards take care of what they have. If the church would only grasp this and get over its mind-numbing superficiality and obsession with growth and success, we would be more of a fragrance of life than a fragrance of sameness and conformity. And we would actually have something powerful to say to a society that is drowning.

We need to be more aware that society has largely given up on modernity and its failed promises of the good life and inevitable progress. But, as alluded to above, people still want to believe in something bigger. Witness the extraordinary outpouring of hope in Barack Obama in 2008. It’s interesting that such an outpouring of emotion and hope occurred in a country with Christian roots, nominal though its Christianity generally is now. It has largely been overtaken by a consumerism that has taken it to the eve of destruction, as Barry McGuire put it so many years ago.

In such a consumerist society, with so much choice, we suffer from choice anxiety. When our only commitment to life is the commitment to – in that postmodern catchphrase – ‘keep our options open’, we become confused people. We become terrified of missing out because we’re addicted to experience. As a result of this we become wired, unable to settle with being committed to something for the long term. That’s why I think Facebook has taken off like it has. It is a service that both reflects and shapes our times. On the other hand, as I have said previously, it is why marriage is so good for the soul: it’s about a commitment for life to one person.

When we ‘keep our options open’, we rarely take up any of those options and we miss out on much of the joy of being alive, of standing for something, of living with purpose. The line from a John Mellencamp song from the 1980s rings true today more than ever: “if you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything.”

Having said all this, some thinkers, notably Mark Sayers, believe we are moving away from postmodernity back into something more akin to modernity. Sayers adds though that while there has been a decline in the concept of postmodernity in the wake of 9/11 and the rise of the ‘New Atheism’ with its modernist catchcry of ‘celebrating reason’, the reality of postmodernity is being lived out by average people in the suburbs. Consider this comment by Sayers:

“Postmodernity is seen most clearly in the ethically incoherent lives lived by Western people. Its beat of relativism is heard most clearly in the contradictory hedonistic/altruistic, nihilistic/optimistic, spiritualistic/materialistic lifestyles of average people everywhere in the West.”

Sayers goes on to say that therein lies the challenge of mission in the 21st century. We do well to remember that postmodernism too has made the same mistake as the church. It too still has traits of modernism about it in that it still sees truth as a concept. It just sees truth as relative instead of absolute.

Whilst in our conversations, the use of modernist concepts like reason (an essentially Christian idea by the way) and logic can have its place, there is a challenge to be given to those who live a contradictory lifestyle. But the challenge first has to be faced by people like me who often decry the subversive effects of the very materialism we secretly still hang on to at times; in my case the very technology I secretly want more of. We too need to walk our talk. That will speak louder than anything.

I wonder if we have let ourselves be walked over by the claims of postmodernism. Can we say that truth still has a claim on the hearts and minds of people today? Can we talk about truth in a world where there is no meta-narrative, no greater over-arching story anymore? We can, but only if we remember the nature of truth, that truth is a Person, that it is about relationship, something that goes to the very core of our identity as human beings. Jesus never spoke in abstracts; he told stories, and people respond to stories because there is usually something in them they can relate to. The Christian message is a story. It is the story of creation, fall, Jesus, redemption, and new creation. Stories touch something deep in us. That is why the Christian Gospel will always touch the deepest part of our soul, that part which wants a place to call home, which wants to know absolutely that all will be ok, that there is love in the universe, and that good will triumph in the end.

My conviction is that Jesus makes internal and external sense. Internal in the sense of giving meaning and real hope as well as joy and the ability to become more loving and more whole. And externally in the sense of being the initiator of the new creation, a world where justice rules, where everyone knows both their own and everyone else’s dignity, a world where all is renewed and in its rightful place, where people are truly humble – seeing themselves rightly in relation to God, a world where grace rules. And it is all because of Him, it is all for Him. He satisfies the hungry soul with goodness (Psalm 107:9) and fills our cups to overflowing (Psalm 23:5). A postmodern culture longs for such Truth.

Plugging into life

In a day when everyone is connected, there is more evidence that we are actually more disconnected than ever. Our greatest human need is for a different kind of connection – connection with the other, but most importantly, connection with the Other. Star-struck lovers gaze into each other’s eyes, longing to be one with each other; in our Western culture, when we engage in conversation, we know when someone is listening when they are looking into our eyes; and when you want someone’s attention, you try to find eye contact. Richard Rohr also talks about a connection with animals. It is not for nothing that we call a dog our best friend. Many elderly people live much healthier lives for having a dog as a companion in their lives. Rohr talks about looking into the eyes of an animal like a dog and sensing a connection with another creature of the universe.

Much of our behaviour, in fact I would probably argue all of it, is a symptom of our desire for connection. Whether our behaviour be good or evil, it is all about our desire to find life, to transcend the purely physical part of our existence. Years ago, John Smith emphasised that the Rolling Stones song Satisfaction was not about sex and trying to ‘get some girly action’ at all, but about a frustration at not finding something deeper. U2 sang about not having found what they were looking for – in their own lives and in the injustice in the world – despite ‘believing in the kingdom come’. Believers in God or not, we long for something more. Our lives are about trying to find a connection with something higher, something greater than ourselves. And the fact is we will never find it fully until that day when all things are renewed and there will be no more striving after futile things. We look through a glass darkly; now we know in part; then we shall know fully, even as we are fully known (1 Cor 13:12).

Our problem with our desire for connection though is that we often do it by trying to find our self in someone else. We get married believing that our spouse is there to fulfill all our emotional needs, and when he or she doesn’t, we get disillusioned and look elsewhere. The next relationship is sure to fail as well until we come to realise that it is not about finding the right person but being the right person. I am so thankful for an older male pointing this out to me back in my 20s. In our desire for love and connection, we go too far and use other people. Jonathan Burnside says ‘the essence of a perverted relationship is getting information about someone else, and then working out what I want to do, so I get what I want’. I am getting better at not doing this but I still do it way too often.

We are inherently selfish people. We live as if it is my way or the highway. We actually believe at times that if everyone would just do things my way the world would be a much better place. But this only leads to more disillusionment. It has been said that you only get disillusioned if you have illusions to begin with. How true is that? What disillusionment then gives birth to is resentment. Someone else has said that ‘expectation is the mother of resentment’. We expect someone else to behave in a certain way, and when they inevitably don’t, we get resentful at them. Who do we think we are? I have found that to be true time and time again in my life. You would think I would have learnt it enough by now that it would have sunk in. But no, when I have my own expectations of what I want to do on a particular weekend at home and my wife tells me her thoughts, that old feeling of resentment kicks in yet again.

The word ‘resent’ actually means to re-experience pain. A friend of mine has said that resentment is the poison I drink to kill someone else. When you think of what is going on when we are feeling resentment towards someone, it’s maddening isn’t it? We are actually choosing to go back and feel the pain of the anger again and again. Often the person we are feeling the resentment towards doesn’t even know about it. Yet we still have the attitude of ‘I’ll show them!’. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

The human desire for connection is a curious thing. We desire more than anything to be close to someone but at the same time we so often choose to lock ourselves away in isolation and separateness from the ones closest to us. Resentment is a classic way of doing this. The old saying that it is the ones we love the most who we hurt the most is as true as anything that has ever been uttered. The irony is that in trying to connect, we actually willingly disconnect, depriving the other person of ourselves. It is then that we are often tempted to misconnect with another in an inappropriate and destructive way. I talked about this in my previous post on affairs.

Our desire to connect is often masked as a desire to find happiness. Our society is built around the individual’s desire or even demand to be happy. Our advertising is specifically designed to create artificial desires in us to make us consume products we believe we actually need. How often do we wonder how we ever got by without mobile phones or without email. But the fact is we did, and quite nicely (don’t get me wrong; I am not knocking mobile phones or email. They are wonderful inventions, but, like anything, if relied upon inappropriately, they will inevitably disappoint). In trying to find happiness in life, we often seek connection in a misconnection. That which we think will solve all our problems actually turns out to make us feel more apart from and more isolated.

I wonder what all this says about what we really believe about life? When we choose a direction that is so clearly not constructive for our relationships, I wonder if the truth has ever made that longest of journeys from our head to our heart. It is possible to believe something intellectually, to ‘know’ it in your head, but not have a deep conviction about it. It is only when a truth is lodged deeply in our heart that we really know it. Deep down we all have a longing for relationship, ultimately a relationship with God. It is the essence of who we are. We are made by a God who is in his very being, relationship. That’s why coming to faith in Christ often feels like a coming home. When I had an experience of this in my late teens, my overriding sense was that this is what I’ve been looking for all my life. Not that I had often even been consciously aware of it. But when I found it, it was like one of those ‘a-ha’ moments when I had a realisation of something I had always known. It was a bit like the scene in Return of the Jedi when Luke Skywalker tells Leia that she is his sister, and she looks into the distance and quietly exclaims “I know. Somehow…I’ve always known.”

Nature abhors a vacuum, and so does our soul. We simply cannot survive with our souls unplugged, just hanging out in the nothingness of a seemingly empty universe. Our human desire is to be plugged into life and love. When we love we have a clearer sense of what life is all about. It is then that we find what our souls have been looking for all our lives. It is then that we know joy, in humility and submission. It is about surrendering our ego, our arrogance, and our self-sufficiency. Augustine said that our hearts are restless until they rest in God. Jesus bid those who are weary and heavy-laden to come to him and find rest for their souls. This is where we find life, in resting in him and finding out how to live right. When Martin Luther King asked a colleague on one of their freedom marches if she was tired, this old lady said calmly, “my feets is tired but my soul is rested.” She was plugged into life. She had found her true connection, and she was living the dream. God help me to do the same each day.

Orthodoxy and orthopraxy

For a long time now I have been thinking of the tension in living Christianly between right belief and right action. I have been writing notes for an article over the last few years called ‘Christ or Creeds’. In the church I grew up in there was a heavy focus on believing the right things – as long as you believed that Jesus was God and that God raised him from the dead, you were a Christian. After all, that’s what it says in Romans 10:9.

As has been aid before though, we cannot ‘cherry-pick’ verses and passages and form them into doctrine on their own. The Bible needs to be read in terms of its meta-narrative, not in terms of systematic theology ie. taking themes from different passages throughout the Old and New Testaments.

Rowland Croucher makes the point that, of all the Christian creeds we have, none of them talk about love. None. They all talk about what we believe, but apparently we don’t believe in love and living that out. John Smith also pointed out many years ago that the Gospels state once that we need to be born again, but those same Gospels have Jesus saying no less than 87 times, “follow me”. Ours is an activist Gospel.

Now please don’t get me wrong. I believe in belief. I think it is highly important that we believe correctly about who Jesus is, for this informs our actions. But the evangelical church has placed too much emphasis on creeds and right belief instead of right action. And too often we have created a dualism – separating belief from action. Jesus would never have countenanced such a thing. For him there was no dualism. Relationship with God was living it out. After all, that’s what James says – faith without action is dead (James 2:26).

The Christian church (and that includes me) has for too long focused on being right rather than being loving. As I have done a bit lately, I’ll leave the last word to Richard Rohr:

Where has this obsession with believing correct dogmas and doctrines gotten us? Presently, the Roman church, and fundamentalists of all stripes, are right back into it. It creates great dramas on both sides. Maybe that is why God is humbling us at this time.  The obsession with being right and having the whole truth has not served the Gospel well at all, nor has it kept us humble and honest. 

If you go to the four Gospels and read what Jesus actually taught, you will see that He talks much more about the “How” (practices which we ourselves must do) rather than the “What” (which just allow us to argue and try to be verbally right).

From Emerging Christianity: the conference recordings

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