Faith and relevance in the 21st century

Category: Politics (Page 3 of 5)

Movie Review – The Iron Lady

There is a sense of irony in the fact that this movie, told from the point of view of an ageing, frail, and dementia-suffering former Prime Minister of Great Britain, Margaret Thatcher, is called The Iron Lady. Her frailty proves again that life catches up with everyone in the end.

Right from the beginning of her entrance into public life, Thatcher had to fight harder than the vast majority of budding politicians of her time simply because she was a woman. I wonder if this was at least part of the reason that many of her policies were so incredibly harsh. Initiatives such as trying to introduce a flat tax – where everybody, rich and poor, pay the same amount, were rightly not tolerated, not just by the workers of Great Britain, but by many in her own Conservative Party itself. It was policies such as this, borne out of her own determination that people should work hard no matter their background, that ultimately led to her political demise after eleven turbulent years as Prime Minister.

This movie about Great Britain’s first female Prime Minister – played brilliantly by Meryl Streep – tells the story of a woman who is pretty much self-made; someone who rose above societal and cultural norms of the day which said that the harsh world of politics is best left to those who are ‘stronger’ – men. It tells the story of a determined woman who would let nothing get in the way of her own ideas. Her response to the Argentinian invasion of the Falkland Islands in 1982 was portrayed in the movie as one such example of her leadership being done either her way or no way.

As the ageing Thatcher looks back on her own life, one scene takes us back to her time as a young woman when her partner, Dennis Thatcher, proposes to her. After what must have seemed like an eternal pause for Dennis, she only says yes once she makes perfectly clear that she was not going to be the type of wife who was going to stay home and do the dishes, just washing others’ cups (Dennis then explains that this was the quality that he most admired in her). She wanted to be ‘more important’ than that. In the final scene of the movie, we then see a poignant moment in which she stands at the sink washing a cup herself, finally being able to let go of the past and move on with life on her own, without her beloved deceased husband of whom she had been having regular hallucinations. And when she finally and reluctantly says goodbye to Dennis in her mind, she hears him say, “You’ll be fine on your own dear; you always have been.” And so the self-made, determined woman finally comes to grips with a sense of reality in her world.

Though not referred to in the movie, it was Thatcher who once said that there is no such thing as a society, that we are all just individuals. Such a dog-eat-dog, competition-based foundation for her ideas has shown throughout history to lead ultimately not to a happier society, but to one which is more callous and uncaring. In my opinion – and I fully understand that many will disagree – Thatcher’s policies were reminiscent of those implemented in Victoria by Jeff Kennett in the 1990s; policies which certainly improved the economy, but at the cost of ultimately producing more losers than winners, thereby defeating the purpose of having a stronger economy if less people benefit from it.

For those who lived through the times and can remember them, this movie is an important reminder of a decade of huge change in the world. There was recession, privatisation of public assets on an unprecedented scale, the constant fear of nuclear holocaust, and the eventual fall of Communism. I was only a youth when Thatcher was in charge of Great Britain, but having since learned about her ideology, I am convinced that, while her ideas at a difficult time in British history were not difficult to understand, they created a society which was more divided than united. Such a society will not survive with any harmony in the long term.

This movie of the personal story, rise to power and subsequent reminiscing of the most controversial Prime Ministers in the recent history of Great Britain shows in fine detail how the Iron Lady came to form her ideas of how she could make her country a better one. Recommended.

Biblical politics

Sojourners today has a great article from Jim Wallis on biblical politics. The comment that stood out to me was,

“If you work with and for the poor, you inevitably run into injustice. In other words, poverty isn’t caused by accident. There are unjust systems and structures that create and perpetuate poverty and human suffering. And service alone is never enough; working to change both the attitudes and institutional arrangements that cause poverty is required.”

I remember a story a former colleague told once about when his small group watched the movie Bruce Almighty in which the main character gets to play God for a day. The small group discussed what they would do if they had the opportunity to be God for a day, and the main response was that they would redistribute all the wealth in the world so that everyone had the same. But then came the comment that the next day things would be unequal again because of systems that are in place that perpetuate inequality. Thus the need for justice and changing structures, and not just for ‘giving’.

The area which Jim Wallis’ article doesn’t touch on though is that even changing structures does not go far enough, because structures that are run by unredeemed people will corrupt again sooner or later. The sins of the past will be passed on to the current generation and beyond unless a radical change of heart occurs. When someone affirmed a pastor of mine once by saying they would vote for him to be Prime Minister, he replied that the job is too small. Politics cannot bring in the kingdom of God. Only the Holy Spirit working through the faithful people of God can do that.

That is not to say of course that politics is useless. Far from it. Christians have a responsibility to be politically engaged in the way that Jim Wallis describes in the article. The world needs people who stand in the prophetic tradition of the Amos’s, Isaiahs and Jeremiahs. But it also needs those same people to be filled with the Holy Spirit to proclaim the kingdom come, that there is a God of love and justice who is changing things, who is spreading rumours of hope (as those same prophets did proclaim). As C.S. Lewis puts it in the Narnia stories, Aslan is on the move. The yeast is working through the dough; the Spirit is moving in ways mysterious and some not so mysterious. Thank God for his grace that we are being changed and have been invited to be a part of it.

Aung San Suu Kyi – free at last

What a wonderful day for freedom today was, with the release of the one they call ‘The Lady’ – Aung San Suu Kyi.

Widely respected for her dignified stance while under house arrest for 15 years, I believe she is the Nelson Mandela of the 21st century. Now, if only the Burmese junta can show the courage that F.W. De Klerk did after he released Mandela and initiate free and fair elections. Of course Suu Kyi’s release was specifically timed by the Burmese generals to happen just after elections when they had been confirmed in their power for who knows how long. But free she is, and hopefully this will be a catalyst for an unstoppable wave of pressure on the military junta in Burma.

Now is the time for the world to apply more pressure than ever to this suffering country and push hard for elections that are not the sham that the recent ones (and the ones before that in 1990 when Suu Kyi’s NLD party won a landslide victory) were.

This is a day to remember and a day to pray – to pray that the generals won’t find another pitiful excuse to put Suu Kyi under house arrest again and that they will show courageous leadership and have the elections that the vast majority of people in that country want.

Watch this news report of The Lady’s release, and rejoice:

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Some thoughts on the election

After one of the most bizarre weekends in Australian political history, here are some thoughts:

  • Whatever one may think of Maxine McKew’s comments being sour grapes and said in the bitterness of the moment, they were profoundly accurate. Labor has shot itself in the foot. To have the most popular Prime Minister in the country’s history to possibly losing Government within 4 months is unheard of.
  • This election is uncannily similar to the 1999 Victorian state election in which 3 independents eventually decided the fate of the state and changed the Government. This time we also have 3 independents who will most likely determine what direction the country heads in over the next 3 years.
  • Having said the above, whoever is in Government for the next 3 years, some things will not change, namely the response to climate change. The response of both the major parties to this issue has been nothing short of lamentable. This is one of the reasons forr the huge swing to the Greens right across the country.
  • The Green vote highlights how much we need a change of voting system for the House of Representatives. As some Greens were saying last night, if we had proportional representation, the Greens would now have 17 Lower House seats. Instead they have 1, having polled more than 11% of the vote across the country.
  • The Greens need to be very careful about which major party they support if indeed they find themselves in that position. If the Coalition ends up winning more seats than Labor and the Coalition needs the support of the Greens to form a Government, then the Greens may feel morally bound to support the Coalition, as they would have secured the highest number of seats. However, by doing that, they may be seen to have sold out for the chance at power. We all know what happened to the Australian Democrats when that happened. The Liberal Democrats in the UK have also been accused of the same. On the other hand, if the Greens support Labor in such a situation, they may be accused of not supporting the will of the people who would have given the Coalition more seats.
  • One of the 3 independents mentioned above, Rob Oakeshott, made an important point tonight on the 7.30 Report when he said that decisions over who should govern should be made in the interests of the nation, not in the interests of the party. Tony Abbott can hardly claim that because the Coalition won more primary votes than Labor, the people wanted them more. Julia Gillard has equally climaed that the two-party-preferred vote shows that more people put Labor ahead of the Coalition. Such arguing will get us nowhere and is not in the best interests of the country. Australia has been known for having stable Government and that has to be one of the priorities in deciding who will govern us.

Anyway, they’re my thoughts for the moment. I’d be interested to hear what others think. We have a long week or two ahead of us.

More faith in the election

This morning I spoke at my church about how I think Christians should think about the issue of how to vote at our Federal election next Saturday. The following is an extended version of a post I put on this website on 7 August.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to approach this, because politics of course is a very sensitive issue; it brings out both the best and worst of us. It can cause normally rational people to be irrational, and so I’m aware that I need to be very careful about what I say. That’s why I want to bring across some points as to how I want to approach this topic and how I think a Christian ought to think when deciding their vote.

Firstly, I come at this topic first and foremost as a follower of Jesus and not to endorse any political party. These thoughts do come out of a deep concern for biblical faith and as a follower of Jesus who asks for God’s will to be done in his life every day. I can’t be so arrogant as to claim to know who Jesus would vote for, but I do believe there are particular biblical principles to keep in mind when deciding which way to cast our vote next week.

Secondly, we are amazingly privileged in this country. We are a peaceful democracy where we have the freedom to vote for who we wish. Dave Andrews recently related how he was speaking to someone who I think was from Pakistan, and they couldn’t believe that we could place our vote and there could be a change of Government without any talk of corruption, that the losing party would hand over power without any resistance and that it would all happen peacefully. He couldn’t believe it. Yet this is what we take for granted.

Thirdly, Christianity is not a set of values. When talking about an election and how we should vote, it obviously does relate to a set of values and which party we think will live that out. But ultimately, Christianity is not about that; it is about God transforming the creation, not just societies but the human heart as well.

Fourthly, Christians of all persuasions are politically active, and Christians have a right to vote according to how their faith informs their vote. And there are Christians in all political parties, which just shows the different ways in which our faith is expressed, and what God has called different people to.

Fifthly, it is vitally important for Christians to be involved in the political process in one way or another. God loves this world and we are called to love what God loves and seek the betterment of the world around us. In fact the word ‘politics’ in its Greek root means of and for citizens – for the people. So political involvement in some form or other is a godly way of living out your faith. For some that might mean writing letters to your MP, while for others it might mean joining a political party or even running for office. Some people say that the best way to effect real policy change is to join a political party while others would say that to be part of a lobby group has the best effect at change. Personally I believe that prophetic political engagement is one that has access to those in power but is able to remain neutral and speak God’s Word without compromise and without endorsing a particular party overall. Some can do that from the inside, such as the prophet Daniel in the Old Testament who was high up in the Government of his day. So God uses people in all sorts of ways.

Sixthly, I don’t agree that the pulpit should ever be used to promote any particular political party, either subtly or overtly. What matters is that, whoever you vote for, that we vote according to Christian principles and that we vote as a follower of Jesus. The pulpit is not a place to endorse a particular political party.

Seventh, I think it’s important to expose ideas which claim to be Christian but which clearly are not. Of course there are different interpretations of what is Christian and what is not, but some things are clear. In some cases I believe it is right to name names. Paul did so in 2 Timothy, and Jesus did so as well. However as I have not met the Christian leaders who I believe have made some dangerous statements in this election campaign, I will not name them here. You can look them up for yourselves. I do believe though that when people make public statements they need to be open to public scrutiny. We should never attack them personally though; we should only attack their policies with a reasoned argument that is biblically based. I believe in these people’s sincerity as people who love God, but I also believe that it is possible to be sincerely wrong. I am also open to the possibility that I am sincerely wrong. So whatever I say about this topic in this sermon, don’t just blindly accept it. Acts 17 says that “the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” So rather than just accepting what I say, go back to your Bibles and check it out for yourself.

Eighth, I believe that any reading of the Bible simply has to be done in context, and therefore the issues that Christians claim the Bible has a clear statement on need to be looked at in the context in which they were written and in the context of the overall message of the Bible. It has been said, rightly I believe, that we often read the Bible too devotionally ie. we take little passages or verses and don’t read them in the light of the overall message of what God is saying to us through His Word.

Along those lines one of this country’s more prominent Christian leaders, in a recent newsletter, effectively said that you cannot be a Christian and not vote Liberal. Here’s what he said, and I quote – “If you still say “I will vote Labor” that is your choice. That’s the freedom we enjoy in a democracy, but I must say you definitely cannot be a Christian who has a proper relationship with Jesus if you vote this way.” And many of us here will no doubt think the opposite.

I was also at a wedding on election day 2007 where the MC said he hoped the Liberals would win. I thought that was inappropriate at that time, just as I think it would be inappropriate for someone to get up in the pulpit and say you should vote for a particular party if you are a real Christian. There will be people in churches all over this country with a diverse range of opinions.

One guide as to how a Christian should vote that you may have come across recently is the Australian Christian Values checklist. This checklist shows a large number of issues and where the parties stand on each of them. Each party then receives a tick or a cross depending on whether or not they support these ‘Christian values. This list however simply does not represent the full spectrum of Christian values. There is literally nothing on refugees and asylum seekers, nor anything whatsoever about caring for the poor. Thank goodness for that. Here I have been all these years working on these issues thinking they were Christian(!). It seems I can take a rest for a while.

The language that is used to endorse the Australian Christian Values checklist is deliberately aimed at supporting particular parties and denigrating others. Terms like ‘the abortion holocaust’ clearly imply a particular voting position. Now please don’t misunderstand me on this. I am not saying that abortion is not an important issue. Just like issues of poverty are often ignored by those on the right, issues like abortion are equally ignored by those on the left). But you will notice that in the advice given on the website that endorses this checklist, there is not one word about the holocaust of 24,000 children dying of poverty every day around the world. As Jim Wallis from Sojourners has said, why is it that for some Christians, saving the lives of children in the womb is paramount, but as soon as they come out of the womb we don’t care about them anymore? The same could of course be said the other way too.

Now when asked why his position did not include anything on issues of poverty and asylum seekers, one Christian leader who endorses this checklist says that the Bible is clear on some issues like abortion, and that’s why they were featured in his articles and in the Australian Christian Values checklist. Then he says that the Bible gives some leeway on other issues but there is room to move on ways to achieve things like economic justice. So is the Bible not clear on issues of wealth and poverty, and are there not different ways of dealing with the abortion issue? This is not a neutral checklist. It clearly promotes certain parties against others. Where I believe these people have it wrong is that I believe that everything we know about God we know through Jesus who loved those who were powerless and marginalised. It seems that is not the position taken by those who have put together this checklist.

Thankfully though the other side is also being reported. The ABC had an article a couple of weeks ago in which a candidate from another party who is a Christian tells her side of the story about why she is a member of that party.

So to promote issues of wealth and poverty, I think it is best to show a list of issues that the Sojourners community in the US put forward prior to a recent election over there. They released these statements before the 2004 election under the heading, ‘God is not a Republican. Or a Democrat’. While the statements released by Sojourners were intended specifically for the US election, they apply equally to our own election in Australia. And so we can say that God is not a Liberal, nor Labor, nor a Green, or tied to any other party. They are a very useful guide when we think of who to vote for on August 21. You can also find this list in an article by Tim Costello in this month’s Eternity magazine. The points listed are as follows: 

  • We believe that sincere Christians can choose to vote for any party for reasons deeply rooted in their faith.
  • We believe that poverty—caring for the poor and vulnerable—is a Christian issue. Do the parties’ budget and tax policies reward the rich or show compassion for poor families? Do their foreign policies include fair trade and debt cancellation for the poorest countries? (Matt 25: 35-40, Isaiah 10: 1-2)
  • We believe that the environment – caring for God’s earth – is a Christian issue. Do the parties’ policies protect the creation or serve corporate interests that damage it? (Genesis 2:15, Psalm 24:1)
  • We believe that war—and our call to be peacemakers—is a Christian issue. Do the parties’ policies pursue ‘wars of choice’ or respect international law and cooperation in responding to real global threats? (Matt 5:9)
  • We believe that truth-telling is a Christian issue. Do the parties tell the truth in foreign and domestic policies? (John 8:32)
  • We believe that human rights – respecting the image of God in every person – is a Christian issue. In our case, do the parties have a compassionate approach to asylum seekers? (Genesis 1:27)
  • We believe that our response to terrorism is a Christian issue. Do the parties see evil only in our enemies but never in our own policies? (Matt 6:33, Proverbs 8:12-13)
  • We believe that a consistent ethic of human life is a Christian issue. Do the parties’ positions on abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, weapons of mass destruction. HIV/AIDS – and other pandemics – and genocide around the world obey the biblical injunction to choose life? (Deut 30:19)

Barney Zwartz, the religion editor of The Age, wrote a couple of weeks ago something which is really pretty obvious but something which we don’t always consider, and that is that no party is perfect. He highlights this by saying that “whenever we get the perfect candidate, she or he has a habit of disappointing us the most.” Witness the outpouring of hope that came with the rise of Barack Obama. I remember thinking at the time, paraphrasing Monty Python, that he’s not the Messiah, he’s just the President, and he’s inevitably going to disappoint. Whoever you vote for, they are going to disappoint you.

As well as this, there are going to be policies in every party that we won’t agree with. You might vote for a particular party with your Christian conscience and someone will come up to you and ask how you could possibly be a Christian and vote for them?

One of the issues that has arisen amongst Christians in this election campaign is that of voting for someone because they are a Christian. I think that is one of the most irresponsible actions that a Christian voter can take. It shows a profound ignorance of the issues that different parties stand for. Tim Costello sometimes tells the story of the South African government during the apartheid years. They were all Bible-believing Christians. They believed all the right things but they were inherently racist and therefore an evil regime. Recently there’s been talk of Julia Gillard’s atheistic position. I agree though with Tony Abbott when he says that we should vote for a person not because they are a Christian or not, but because of their policies. Real faith is lived out, not just proclaimed.

Whichever party you plan to vote for, there are certain things that Christians need to take into account. The core of this is about voting for those less fortunate than ourselves. It has been said by quite a few people over the years that the measure of a society lies in how it treats its most vulnerable citizens.

In recent times the place of Christian faith in politics has gained traction in the media. Of course we all knew about the previous Prime Minister’s faith position, and how the current Prime Minister’s own position as someone who does not profess a Christian faith. And a couple of months ago we had Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott speaking to Christians across the nation in a live feed from the old Parliament House in Canberra. I think it’s great to see Christian faith getting an airing during this campaign, all sides of the story being laid out for all to see and decide on.

In the end we need to vote prayerfully and with our conscience. The final word is probably best left to the Brotherhood of St Laurence, who came out with a pearler during a past election. It simply said “vote for somebody else.” Amen.

Jesus was an asylum seeker

As the race to the bottom of the asylum seeker policy ocean by the two major parties shows no signs of stopping, I thought it timely to put this information up. Not that it hasn’t been seen before by alot of people, but the more it gets put out there the better.

A Christian leader in Australia recently tried to say that Jesus and his parents were not asylum seekers. He said the following (a direct quote):

“I had one critic write in recently saying Jesus and his family were asylum seekers. Sorry, but they were of course nothing of the sort, and it is quite silly to suggest they were.”

Now let me read to you the words of Matthew 2:13-15 which talks about this:

“When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod.”

Now if that is not seeking asylum from persecution then I don’t know what is.

If you’re not sure about this issue and want to know more, my friend Eden Parris has sent this asylum seeker myth buster sheet from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. As the fake Greens ad on Gruen Nation this week said – “if you think boat people should be treated as people…”, then get stuck into your local MP and let them know that this is an issue they simply must do better on.

Faith in the election

Many people will by now have seen the video put together by a handful of Christians urging people to vote on certain issues, and particularly to not vote Green. The main people involved include some from the Christian Democrats.

Barney Zwartz wrote a balanced view of it in The Age this week where he condemns the distortion of Greens’ policies. He also points out the obvious which we don’t always see, and that is that no party is perfect. He highlights this by saying that “whenever we get the perfect candidate, she or he has a habit of disappointing us the most.” Witness the outpouring of hope that came with the rise of Barack Obama. I remember thinking at the time, paraphrasing Monty Pyton, that he’s not the Messiah, he’s just the President, and he’s inevitably going to disappoint.

Whichever party you plan to vote for, there are certain things that Christians need to take into account. The core of this is about voting for those less fortunate than ourselves. It has been said by quite a few people over the years that the measure of a society lies in how it treats its most vulnerable citizens.

One of the issues that has come out of the release of the above-mentioned video is that of voting for someone because they are a Christian. I think that is one of the most irresponsible actions that a Christian voter can take. It shows a profound ignorance of the issues that different parties stand for. Tim Costello sometimes tells the story of the South African government during the apartheid years. They were all Bible-believing Christians. They believed all the right things but they were inherently racist and therefore an evil regime. One Christian leader in Australia has shown his colours in this regard by effectively saying someone cannot be a Christian and vote Green, and seing a Labor victory as a step backwards for the nation, and then in the next breath saying that God is “far too big to be adequately represented by any one political party or position”. He can’t have it both ways.

Thankkfully the other side is also being reported. The ABC had a great article during the week in which a candidate from another party who is a Christian tells her side of the story.

It’s encouraging to see faith getting an airing, all this dirty laundry coming to the fore, and both sides of the story being laid out for all to see and decide on. In the end we need to vote prayerfully and with our conscience. The final word is probably best left to the Brotherhood of St Laurence, who came out with a pearler during a past election. It simply said “vote for somebody else.”

Voices for Justice – prophetic engagement with the powers

One of the workshops I attended on day 3 of VFJ 2010 was on prophetic engagement with politics and society. It was a panel discussion facilitated by Jeanette Matthews who is currently completing a PhD in Old Testament studies. The panel included Dave Andrews, Deborah Storie, and Phil Ireland. Jeanette opened the discussion by explaining that the prophets of the Old Testament were primarily spokespersons and not fortune tellers, which is pretty much the opposite of what I was told when I first became a Christian in my teens.

The prophets often performed strange symbolic acts. Ezekiel 4 is a good example of this. Generally, the prophets were into what you might call ‘shock and awe’, unlike the people in the wisdom books of the OT. The message that a prophet carries is a burden to them. But the point that really challenged me was that a prophet embraced the Word, that is, they lived out what they spoke. Some examples of prophetic actions from the OT are as follows:

  • Elijah and Elisha (1 Kings 19)
  • Ezekiel (3:1-3, 4:1-3, 24:3-13)
  • Jeremiah (chapter 19)
  • Zechariah
  • Jeroboam and the prophet Ahijah (1 Kings 11)
  • Isaiah (chapter 20)
  • Micah (1:8)

One of the questions Jeanette raised about this is about whether or not there is room for such prophetic action today. I have no doubt that there is, and as usual, Dave Andrews gave a wonderful example. He was once out in his home town of Brisbane when a young man had just smashed a window and vandalised a shop front. The owner came out, mad as a snake as you would expect, and demanded that the youth be dealt with severely. On hearing the fracas, others came out and also had a go at the youth. But then one man said, “I know what we should do. Why don’t we give him a hug?” What?!!! But the man persisted, and he went up and gave the youth a hug. Slowly and awkwardly, the others standing around also went up and gave him a hug. Eventually, after yet another hug, the youth dissolved into tears and blurted out in remorse about how he was so sorry and he just wanted to be noticed. It was a perfect example of prophetic action in practise. It was non-violent and saved potential further violence. It is highly likely that if the hug-fest hadn’t of happened, the youth would not have shown any remorse and would have continued his angry life of committing the same offences again. But this prophetic act of love (they weren’t condoning his vandalism remember) brought the youth to his metaphorical knees and caused a heart change that mere punishment never could. Dave then made the point that prophetic action needs to be colourful and creative, designed to engage people. Anger is to be a last resort. My first thought on hearing this was that Jesus expressed prophetic anger at times, particularly in turning over the tables in the temple. But Dave emphasised that this was one of Jesus’ last acts and it got him killed.

Following this, Phil Ireland mentioned that one of the most prophetic acts that anyone can engage in today is to participate in a church. And he emphasised the word ‘participate’. It is being active in a church, not being a pew-warmer. His point was that participating in a church community dismantles the individualist ethos so prevalent in our culture. He followed this up by saying that our primary prophetic actions need to be through the church. People in the church can also inspire each other. For instance, often it’s the little acts that nobody notices that can be the most prophetic, such as tending your garden, as it tears down the culture of consumerism and reconnects us with the earth. Dave added that the most effective acts are often the most unseen ones. The most important thing is to live the prophetic life.

One of the points that Dave made was that a distinguishing characteristic of the prophets was their sympathy with God. And in the example given by Jesus who was strong in relating to the powerful and gentle in relating to the powerless, the prophet is to do the same. Deb reiterated this in saying that prophets always treat people as human beings – as people with dignity, especially the people they are prophesying to. We need to remember what we are wanting to draw people to. Finally, Deb mentioned that we need to respect the non-Christian prophetic voice. God does not only work through Christians. God can and indeed does work through anyone he wishes.

One of the points that Deb Storie made was that not everyone is called to be prophetic, and similarly, sometimes to be prophetic is to make space for others to do the prophetic acts. Backing up Dave’s comment, she also emphasised that prophets see the world through the eyes of God. Another interesting point she mentioned was that often, people in the OT thought the prophets suffered from mental illness. It is pertinent to remember that Jesus’ own family thought the same of him. But we need to remember too, Deb reminded us, that if they do have a mental illness, then that is fine. Dave mentioned that Michael Leunig is a great example of this, as someone who has been public about his own struggles.

It is panel discussions like this that stay with me for a very long time. A colleague mentioned to me afterwards that it was dialogues like this that made her want to go back to the Bible. That of course can only be a good thing. We sing a song at our church sometimes which talks about being a prophet of hope. The term ‘prophet of doom’ has widespread use, so the term ‘prophet of hope’ sounds somewhat of an oxymoron. I think the prophets were both. They sounded warnings of judgment as well as the hope of what a future with God can be like. God help me to be a prophet of yours. Amen.

The Robinsons' affair

Is it just me or is it true that, in light of the recent revelations of the affair of the wife of Northern Ireland’s First Minister, the radio has been playing more of the Paul Simon classic Mrs Robinson? There’s nothing like a good sex scandal to get the media going, especially when it involves politicians.

I’m glad I’ve been hearing this song recently. I just hope that Mrs Robinson herself hears it too. And I hope that it rings true for her. The simple but profound words, “here’s to you Mrs Robinson, Jesus loves you more than you will know” remind me of the woman caught in the act of adultery in John 8:1-11. Jesus’ words to her were “neither do I condemn you”. While the prevailing (religious) culture want to have her stoned to make a public example of her, Jesus’ way was the way of grace. God bless you please Mrs Robinson…Jesus loves you more than you will know.

November 1989

Nils' boots on Berlin WallThis month marks the 20th anniversary of one of the most wonderful moments in the history of what was a turbulent 20th century. For millions of Germans it will no doubt be one of the enduring memories of their lives. November 9, 1989 was the day that the infamous Berlin Wall finally fell.

I can still recall watching it on TV at my mother’s home. As I was watching, my mother who, along with my father, was born and raised in Germany, had tears streaming down her face, unable to believe the enormity of what was happening before her eyes – this beautiful celebration of unity after so many years of division.

A BBC news report from the time states that,

“the first indication that change was imminent [on that day] came when East Berlin’s Communist party spokesman, Gunther Schabowski, announced that East Germans would be allowed to travel directly to West Germany. This announcement was intended to stem an exodus into West Germany through the “back door” which began [the previous] summer when the new and more liberal regime in Hungary opened its border. The flow of migrants was intensified [in early November 1989] when Czechoslovakia also granted free access to West Germany through its border.”

For Michael Meyer, author of The Year That Changed the World: The Untold Story Behind the Fall of the Berlin Wall (Simon & Schuster), there is an “untold story” about the fall of the Wall which

“revolves around Miklós Neméth, the reform-minded and diplomatically brilliant prime minister of Hungary. By 1989, like most of the Warsaw Pact countries, Hungary faced dismal financial straits, and Neméth looked West for answers. Upon taking power, Neméth took his time making the ceremonial visit to Moscow. When he finally arrived, he privately broached the possibility of Hungarian elections with Gorbachev. The Soviet leader was furious. Neméth pushed him, asking point blank: if communists in Budapest were voted from power, would Russia retaliate? “Nyet,” Gorbachev finally said. “At least, not while I am sitting in this chair.” It was a startling admission of restraint. For Meyer, what came next was legendary. After ultrasecret negotiations with the West Germans, Neméth opened the country’s border with Austria, striking a blow at the heart of Moscow’s grip. The empire could no longer control the borders of the Warsaw Pact. Meyer calls the choreography “one of the great subterfuges in the annals of diplomatic history,” one that would set in motion the breakaways of other states to the West, culminating in the Nov. 9 opening of the Berlin Wall.”

Common consensus though says that the real hero of the fall of the Berlin Wall was Mikhail Gorbachev who wanted to restructure the Soviet Union and make it more open. What ‘open’ meant was indeed open to interpretation, but history now tells us exactly what Gorbachev meant by it. The words he used for these changes were ‘perestroika’ and ‘glasnost’.

Newsweek describes the opening of the Wall on that incredible night by saying,

“On Nov. 9, a commander at Checkpoint Charlie, the most iconic locale of the Cold War, caved to the shouting of the throngs amassed around him. In Meyer’s account, “Whatever the case, at 11:17 p.m., precisely, [the border guard] shrugged his shoulders…as if to say, why not?” And the wall opened. Tens of thousands flooded the West.”  

The scenes were overwhelming. Complete strangers hugged each other; hundreds danced on the wall, while others hacked at it with their own picks and other tools. Families who had been forcibly separated for almost 30 years were finally reunited. The tears overflowed as a nation divided was finally brought back together again.

There was concern at the time about whether or not Gorbachev would crack down on the opening of the Wall. But it never happened, and one of the most remarkable nights of the 20th century happened with a completely non-violent revolution. Of course, as we now know, it led the way for the collapse of the Communist bloc across Eastern Europe.

In 2003 my wife, Nell, and I visited Berlin on a tour through Europe. As we were taken around the city by a cousin, the remains of the infamous concrete structure were still there for all to see in some places. They were there as a reminder of what once was, and what must never be again. Throughout Berlin you can see bricks in the ground where the Wall used to run, literally cutting across streets and cutting families off from each other.

My cousin who was taking us through the city that day described to us how she used to feel when she would occasionally make the trip from East Berlin to the West in those dark days, and the relief she would feel as she crossed the checkpoint back into West Berlin. On this day she said she could still feel hose same emotions as she literally stepped over the same line where the Wall used to be.

I felt a mixture of emotions as I thought about my heritage in this old city, this city of division and now of amazing reunification. What happened in Berlin in November 1989 was just part of a tidal wave that swept across eastern Europe as a whole system of government collapsed, seemingly overnight.

On November 9, 2009, Berlin will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall with a “Festival of Freedom”, during which over 1,000 foam domino tiles over 8 feet tall will be stacked along the former route of the wall in the centre of the city and toppled over. I wish I could be there to celebrate with them. For many, there will no doubt be painful memories of those brave souls who were shot dead by border guards over the years in a desperate attempt to escape the East. I hope this celebration will also be a tribute to them.

November 9, 1989 was a night unlike any other. It was a night which is a reminder of what the Kingdom of God will be like, a place where the only tears will be tears of joy, and the pain will be long forgotten as we worship the Prince of Peace together in the new creation.

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