Faith and relevance in the 21st century

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The Easter anguish of Jesse Adams

Aime-Morot-Le-bon-SamaritainWe are so fortunate that God has come to Earth in the form of Jesus. If we want to know what God is like, we need only look at Jesus.

How did Jesus treat people? He went to the outcast and the poor. Most importantly though, he went to those who were hated and despised by mainstream society.
I’ve recently been reading the Australian novel, The Songs of Jesse Adams. This fascinating story is about what it could be like if Jesus came to Melbourne in the 1960s.
What has struck me about the story is something that is not often emphasised by Christians of a social justice persuasion. It is the magnitude in which Jesus seemed to upset and offend those who had a vested interest in the status quo. Everywhere he went, those in power felt threatened by this upstart young preacher who had the audacity to claim the most outrageous things about himself, and who had the gumption to love those who didn’t deserve it: the morally loose and low lifes of society.

In the novel, Jesse Adams, the Christ figure, manages to offend people at the very top of power, from the Premier of Victoria to the head of a major commercial television network. And he does it by going to the poor and resolutely resisting the lures of power, wealth and fame that any up and coming star who is supposedly in their right mind would jump at.
What this novel shows us is that Jesus is no moralist. He doesn’t go around telling society it is going to hell by pointing out its sins. What he does though is expose the folly of selfish power and violence by living out a life of absolute love, and it is his love of those considered unworthy of and beyond love that Jesus is most comfortable with and the powers that be are most uncomfortable with.

Jesse Adams shows this by spending his time in places like King’s Cross in Sydney, amongst the low lifes, the alcoholics, druggies and corrupt. Interestingly, when Jesse does his equivalent of turning the tables over in the temple, it is done in the form of going to a porn cinema and ripping the projector out of its socket, dragging it bouncing down the stairs and throwing it into a fountain. He does this straight after talking to a young woman who has been lured into porn. Continue reading

Dancing on the grave of division

nils-boots-on-berlin-wallThis is a slightly reworked piece I wrote in 2009 for the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. This year marks the 25th anniversary of that most momentous of occasions in world history. If it has some meaning for you, I hope you take a lot out of it.

1989 was a big year for me, and for the wider world. It was the year I left my teenage years behind. It was also the year that the brutality of government repression in Tiananmen Square rocked the world, U2 came to town and rocked the tennis centre for seven nights straight, and Hawthorn went back-to-back.

The biggest news by far that year though happened in November when the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, literally overnight. For 28 years the wall had separated Berliners from each other, dividing not just a nation but whole systems of government, as well as of course families, traumatising them in the process.

This is all very personal for me, having German parents who grew up during a world war which saw their country devastated both from within and without.

Continue reading

Coming alive and staying alive

Unfinished-Excerpt-2-Feature-494x196There has been a lot written recently about finding God’s calling on your life. It generally centres around finding out what makes you come alive and then going out and doing it. The common line is that where your gifts and the world’s needs collide, there lies your calling.

Now there is nothing wrong with that idea. God has clearly given everyone certain gifts, and it is our responsibility to use them for the good of the world. This is where meaning and purpose in our lives is found. When we are using our gifts and talents for the good of the world, we are contributing to things eternal. I have been affirmed by different people that I have a gift in writing. If I then use that gift for the purpose of furthering my own ego (“gee, he’s a great writer isn’t he”) then it is not furthering the common good (although God could still use it), and it won’t satisfy.

There is something that doesn’t sit right with me though about all the talk of finding God’s calling and doing what makes you come alive. The idea of doing what makes you come alive is, I think, largely a Western one. It is an idea born of privilege. Millions of people don’t have the opportunity to do what makes them come alive because they’re trying to stay alive. For the majority of the world, finding God’s call on their lives never comes to mind. Martin Luther King made this point when he said that for those stuck in the mire of poverty, “it is the struggle to have clean water, breathe clean air and have clean energy, to eat fresh, untainted food from organic soil; to live in harmony with the earth and live in peace with their neighbours; to actualise their God-given potential to make the world a better place.”

What this does is give us greater responsibility to use our gifts wisely. Luke 12:48 says that for those to whom much has been given, much is expected. We have been given much in the Western world. Millions of us in the West have the opportunity in our lives to live out our full potential. That’s why I think one of the saddest things in life is wasted talent; people who have such potential but get to the end of their lives never having realised it. I remember a pastor of mine talking years ago about a conversation he had with an elderly man. The man was talking to my pastor about the blink of an eye that our life is in the scheme of existence. He described it as waking up one morning and you’re 65 years old, and your life has gone just like the click of your fingers.

When you’re young you don’t think about such things. And many of us spend our whole lives letting ourselves be distracted by the constant entertainment served up to us. As Walter Brueggemann says so powerfully in The Prophetic Imagination, we are so satiated that we don’t realise we are wasting our lives riding down a river of purposelessness.

So what is the best way we can discern what our call is, apart from realising what your gifts are and using them to meet the needs of a broken world? Rich Stearns, President of World Vision US, describes it well in his recent book, Unfinished. Here is some of what he says: Continue reading

Back online

I’m finally back online after changing hosting companies. Gradually I’ll be getting the old theme back as well as all of my articles and links, as well as the bookstore. I’ll still be posting new articles during that time. Stay tuned over the next few weeks.

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