Friday, April 18, 2014

Abstaining from meat on Good Friday - have we missed the point?

I'm always amazed by the people who never spare a thought for God in their everyday lives, but get very legalistic about abstaining from meat on Good Friday - sometimes to the point of being horrified when someone else does eat meat on that day - and I'm not just talking about Catholics. Now there's nothing wrong with abstaining from meat - and there are many good reasons to do so, not all of them religious. But I can't help thinking this legalistic approach kind of misses the point.

After all, didn't Jesus say it's not what a person puts into their mouth that defiles them, but what comes out of their mouth (Matthew 15:11).

I don't think this means we should just scrap the rule about not eating meat on Good Friday - at least for those who want to keep abstaining. I believe that symbolic actions and practices like this are important, meaningful and help turn our thoughts towards God.

But those symbolic actions should never become more important than the reason behind those symbolic actions.

It's pointless abstaining from meat if we don't give any thought to why we might be abstaining from meat.

So why do we?

The reason behind abstaining from meat on Good Friday was to share in the sufferings of Jesus. By denying ourselves, we entered into the suffering that Jesus underwent on that day. And by denying ourselves, hopefully we remember that suffering - because we too are suffering.

Okay, confession time. The meal I eat on Good Friday is often one of the best meals I eat that year. Because while I eat fish and vegetarian meals frequently, I make the Good Friday meal a little bit fancy and a little bit special.

And that kind of defeats the purpose.

Or maybe not.

Because in reality, what actually matters about abstaining from meat is whether we are remembering the suffering of Jesus. We don't have to do this by eating fish. We can do it by denying ourselves something else. We can do this by reflecting on the crucifixion. We can do this by remembering the suffering of people around the world.

You can do this while eating a big beefy steak or a meat pie or a baked fish dish or a bowl of rice.

It's not what we put into our mouths that defile us, it's what comes out of our mouth.

It's what's in our hearts.

And it's the suffering of Jesus that is important - and the suffering of the whole world that he entered into - rather than what we eat.

How we reflect and think about that suffering is up to us. For some, it may mean abstaining from meat. Others may choose different ways to remember it. But it definitely shouldn't become a legalistic rule where abstaining from meat is more important than our reasons for doing so.


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Tell them about the dream

Just about everybody has heard of Martin Luther King Jr's 'I have a dream speech'. But not everyone knows that, if it wasn't for Mahalia Jackson saying 'Tell them about the dream, Martin', the most famous parts of that speech may never have happened. While Martin Luther King Jr's speech is known - and rightly so - as one of the greatest speeches of the 20th Century, sometimes it is Mahalia's Jackson's words that I continue to dwell on.

'Tell them about the dream, Martin.'

So often our dreams are silenced - either by ourselves or by others. We share our dreams with nobody, convinced that nobody wants to hear them and frightened that if they did they'd laugh. Or we do tell someone and they do laugh. They tell us our dream is impractical, unrealistic, idealistic or just plain stupid. The greater the dream, often, the greater the ridicule.

Sometimes a dream is silenced so well that it stops having a voice even inside our own minds. And a dream that isn't speaking to anyone ceases to be a dream at all.

Does it matter? Maybe our dreams are impractical, unrealistic and idealistic. Maybe we're better off forgetting about them.

But it's the impractical, unrealistic and idealistic dreams we have to listen to. It's the impractical, unrealistic and idealistic dreams that have the power to change the world.

When you listen to Martin Luther King Jr's 'I have a dream' speech, it's obvious that he dreamed big. His dream wasn't something he realistically expected to happen in his lifetime. He didn't have a step-by-step process of how to get there. It was 'I have a dream' not I have an achievable goal'. But he still dreamed - and still he told others of his dream. And while not all of his dream has come to fruition even now, I think it's fair to say that his dream helped change the world.

Jesus spoke a lot about the Kingdom of God. And for the people listening to him, it must have seemed at times like an impractical, unrealistic, idealistic dream.

And maybe it was a dream. But if it was a dream, then it was God's dream. And it continues to be God's dream. And God doesn't dream achievable goals. God dreams big.

And I'm glad he does. Who wants to follow a God that has a plan for the world that doesn't aim too high? What's the point of hoping for the Kingdom of God, if it just involves hoping for things that we can realistically expect to see?

We have a big God and he has big plans. Plans that seem not only impractical, unrealistic and idealistic - but plans that often seem impossible. But because it's God, the impractical, the unrealistic, the idealistic dream he has is not just going to happen, but it's happening now.

And as Christians we are invited to enter into that dream - to imagine it with God and to participate in the ways it is already coming true.

And maybe our impractical, unrealistic and idealistic dreams are actually pointing us towards God's dream. Maybe the reason they seem so unachievable is because they're part of God's dream - and God dreams big.

So maybe it's time we stopped silencing our dreams. Maybe it's time we gave our dreams a voice. So if you do have a dream, don't hide it away, tell them about it! Because in listening to our dreams, we may just be listening to God.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Every Asylum Seeker has a name

What do you think of the term 'boat people'? Note I didn't ask what you think of refugees, but the term itself. When you see or hear the term 'boat people', what immediately comes to mind?

For me, it's boats. Makes sense really. That's the first word. People, used almost as an afterthought.

So I think of boats - not people, not faces, not names and not stories. Boats.

I don't stop with boats. The people, the faces, the names and the stories follow afterwards. But my guess is I'm not the only person whose initial thought when faced with the term 'boat people' is boats.

And I don't think that's an accident.

The Guy Sebastian song, 'Get Along' contains the lyrics, 'And it's easy when they're faceless, to hate the other side.'

It's not only easy to hate people when they're faceless, it's harder to show compassion. We humans may not seem like it at times, but we really do care about other humans - that is when we see their faces, learn their names and hear their stories. Some may show more empathy than others. But the person who can look into someone's eyes and hear their story of suffering or pain or loss and not be moved in any way is rare.

But if we generally care about individuals we're not so good about caring about strangers - particularly groups of strangers - whose names we don't know, whose faces we haven't seen and whose stories we haven't heard.

It's like the natural inclination to care about other humans stops - perhaps because in some way we stop seeing them as humans - or at least as humans the same as us. We've been doing it for hundreds of years. We say they're not like us - not civilised like us or not Christian like us or not intelligent like us or not feeling like us. We turn them into groups with labels, rather than seeing them as individuals. We refuse to hear their stories. We refuse to learn their names. We refuse to look into their faces.

And the more removed we are from those names and those faces and those stories, the easier it is not to care.

So how much easier is it to turn away from the plight of refugees when we see 'boats' rather than people? A boat is a thing, a mode of transport, a problem, a threat. A boat deserves no compassion, no empathy.

Those boats are filled with people - but it's so hard to care about those people when their names and their faces and their stories remain hidden from us.

The Gosford Anglican Church has had some very good signs up recently. But this one I think is my favourite:



Every Asylum Seeker has a name.

We may not ever learn their names. We may bundle them altogether in one group called 'boat people' and replace images of their faces with images of boats in our head. But their names don't disappear just because we give them a number and turn them into a statistic. Their faces don't become blurry just because we label them 'boat people'. And their stories aren't erased just because we haven't heard them.

And chances are - human nature being what it is - if we learnt their names and saw their faces and heard their stories, we would care.

So let's care anyway - as if we had learnt their names and seen their faces and heard those stories. Because those names and those faces and those stories still exist - even if we do try and hide them behind the term 'boat people'.


            

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