Wednesday, December 30, 2009


The Starry Night - Vincent Van Gogh

Last weekend, I went to the Masterpieces of Paris exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia. I think I was only going there for the buzz of having seen these paintings ‘in the flesh’. I certainly didn’t expect to see anything new. Many of the paintings, I had already seen. Well, I hadn’t seen the real paintings, but I had seen reproductions – on posters, calendars, mugs, umbrellas and paint by numbers kits. I knew what they looked like. Or at least, I thought I did.

I’m sure it won’t come as any surprise to learn that the real paintings did not look like the reproductions. Well they did. But they didn’t. They were more vivid, more textured, more real. I was seeing the same images I had seen dozens of times, but in a way I had never seen them before.

One painting that I particularly enjoyed was The Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh. I had seen this painting – or least reproductions of this paintings – many, many times. And I had never been that impressed with it. But when I saw the real thing, I finally understand what the big deal about it was. I loved that painting. And I decided, as I was standing in front of it, that I would buy a bookmark or poster or something of it when I left the art exhibition. But when I got to the gift store and looked at the reproductions, I realised I would not be buying anything. The reproductions just didn’t do it justice. Even now, in looking at the image on the internet, I am thinking why exactly did I like it so much? Because I really can’t see anything that amazing about it.

After I looked at the Masterpieces of Paris exhibition, we looked at the other exhibitions in the National Gallery. One painting I always like to have a good look at is Bourke Street by Tom Roberts. I love that painting. I have a picture of it in my lounge room. But the reproduction I have up in my house looks so different to the original. My reproduction is faded and bits are torn and it’s really gives no idea of what the original is like. I still love it, because I love the picture. But it’s not the real thing.

It’s the same with music. Anybody who has ever gone to a concert knows that listening to a CD is not the same as hearing the same music live. It may sound exactly the same. But yet it is different. A real life experience is so much more intense than listening to a copy. I have a friend who can’t stand opera. I once played him a piece of music that I thought was beautiful and he thought it was boring. (Some people have no taste.) But once, his mother wanted to go and see Pavarotti in concert. So he took her. And he says that he will never forget that experience. He didn’t even like Pavarotti. But hearing him live was something very special.

In Colossians 2:17, Paul speaks of ‘the shadow of things to come’. It’s a bit of a hard phrase to understand and I certainly can’t claim to know exactly what Paul meant. But when I was thinking of the art exhibition, this phrase immediately came to mind.

I think that this earth and the Church we have here on earth (in all its forms) are just reproductions. Some of them may be good reproductions. Some of them are quite bad reproductions, a bit like my picture of Bourke Street in my lounge room. But they’re still reproductions. They can only show us what the heavenly Church looks like. But they still fall short of the reality of that Church. And if we actually saw the original, we would be amazed and astounded at how beautiful it really is.

Bourke Street by Tom Roberts

Art Prints Etc

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Not a Good Christmas

I hope you had a nice Christmas. I didn’t.

It started with me being woken at 5 o’clock in the morning, when I heard my youngest son, sounding very upset, telling his brother ‘We have to tell Mummy’. I raced out of bed, not sure what was happening, but knowing that something was definitely wrong. What was wrong was that my youngest son was sick and felt like he was about to throw about. Actually, it wasn’t as bad as what I had envisaged. But still, not a good start to Christmas.

He actually got better and then my eldest son got sick. He spent practically the entire day in bed with a headache and a high fever. At one point, he kept crying and crying because his head hurt and he couldn’t get to sleep. My friend rang me just as I was trying to get the fever down and I think it’s the quickest conversation I have ever had with her.

I missed Mass. And from about 10 o’clock to 12 o’clock, I was quite upset about it.

I cooked a beautiful Christmas lunch that cost a lot of money and a lot of time, and I was practically the only one eating it.

I had planned to sing Christmas carols with the boys after lunch, and it ended up being my youngest son and I singing about three carols and then giving up.

Not really a good Christmas.

And yet, in a strange way, it was probably the most peaceful Christmas I have ever had.

Because the pressure was off. There was no way this was going to be a perfect Christmas or even a good day. It had gone wrong right from the start. And so suddenly, it didn’t matter if other things went wrong.

I think sometimes there’s a lot of pressure on us to get Christmas right. Christmas will be the day we really focus on Jesus. Christmas will be the day we cook the perfect meal. Christmas will be the day that everybody eats what’s put in front of them. Christmas will be the day when everybody is selfless and generous. Christmas will be the day that we do a superb job of loving each other. Christmas will be the day that we do not fight.

And usually, something does go wrong. And then we get upset, because Christmas is not perfect anymore. And then we get angry because things aren’t happening the way we want them to.

The truth is it’s important to focus on Jesus every single day of our lives. It’s important to show our love for each other every single day of our lives. Christmas is important. But it shouldn’t be the day when we make up for a year’s worth of neglect. It should be the day when we continue to do what we have been doing all year.

When everything started going wrong this Christmas, I kept thinking that I have another year before I can try and make it up somehow. But that’s not really right. I may need to wait another year for Christmas presents to be given again. I may need to wait another year before I can cook another Christmas lunch - although the way things are at the moment, I could still have some of this year's leftovers. I may need to wait another year before it’s that special time when we remember Christ’s birthday. I may need to wait another year before I can go to a Christmas Mass. (Actually, that’s not strictly true, because I do go to the Ukrainian Christmas Mass on January 7th. But still, another year before I can go to Christmas Mass in the Roman Catholic Church.)

But every day is a good day to remember Jesus. And every day is a good day to give the gift of ourselves to others.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas is About Hope

Every Christmas, I go on a mini crusade against too much consumerism, too much Santa, too much stress and too little Christ. It’s not much of a crusade, because I’m just as guilty of those things as anyone else. Perhaps even more so. I guess I feel that, if I complain about it, it will somehow make me feel better. So as I shout out Merry Christmas to the world, I add a PS – But you’re getting it all wrong. Despite the fact that I’m getting it wrong myself.

Christmas should be a time of love, joy, peace and hope. I’ve turned into an excuse to point out the world’s faults.

I tend to point out the world’s faults quite a bit. I love to wag my finger at the world and say you’re getting it all wrong. I don’t do this because I need a hobby and finger-pointing seemed like an inexpensive one to choose. I do this because I do really believe that the world gets it terribly wrong sometimes. We place emphasis on materialism and success and downplay love and sacrifice. We judge things by scientific facts and evidence, and lose our ability to appreciate mystery and the sacred. But anyway, this is not meant to be another post about what’s wrong with the world.

And when I say the world has got it wrong, I include myself in that. I have it wrong just as much as the world does. Christ is so important in my life – at least that’s what I say – yet there are many occasions, each and every single day, when I fail to show that he is important. I do the things I don’t want to do and I fail to do the things I should be doing. The way I live is so far from the way I actually want to live.

When I look at how the world gets it wrong, I sometimes get angry. My children are pretty used to suddenly seeing me argue with the TV, when I’ve heard something on the news that I disagree with. Now, they’ve even started doing it themselves.

Sometimes, though, I just get depressed. This is particularly the case when it comes to my own faults. It is hard to continually feel as though I am failing in what I want to do.
Sometimes the situation just seems hopeless. The world has got it so far wrong that it seems impossible they will ever get it right. The problems are too big. People’s attitudes are too wrong. And my own life seems like a never-ending attempt to live the right way and never getting there. It just can’t be fixed. Why even bother trying?

But then Christmas comes and with it comes a message of hope. I’m sure you know that Christmas is not just about Santa and presents. But it’s not even just about Jesus being born. It’s about God’s Son being born. It’s about God taking on human form. Not so that He could have a short trip to Earth for a while to see what it was like. But because we were in a hopeless situation and we needed help. We were never going to get it right. We were never going to be good enough. So instead of giving up hope on the whole human race, God did something truly amazing. He sent his Son to give hope to the whole human race.

Recently, a boy was sent for psychological evaluation, after his teacher asked him to draw a picture of what Christmas meant for him and he drew a picture of Jesus on the cross. (I didn’t see this on the news, but I was arguing with my computer for a while. Why does the world get it so – oh, forget it.) At the risk of having my son sent in for psychological evaluation too, he made the same mistake. The other day he said, ‘Christmas is not about Santa. It’s about Jesus dying on the cross.’ My eldest son laughed in his ‘I’m an older brother and so much smarter’ laugh and said, ‘Christmas is not about Jesus dying on the cross. It’s about Jesus being born.’ But I told him that Christmas is about Jesus dying on the cross. It’s also about Jesus’ resurrection. Because the ending is what makes the beginning so special. At Christmastime, we must not only remember that Jesus was born, we must remember why He was born.

I have no idea how to fix the world’s problems. I have no idea how to put us on the right track again. I have no idea if we can be put on the right track. I don’t even know how to fix the problems in my own life. If I needed to work it all out, we may as well give us hope now. For I don’t know any solutions – beyond arguing with TVs and wagging my finger at the world.
There is one thing I do know though, one thing the Christmas story tells me, one thing the life of Jesus shows me and one thing Jesus’ death and resurrection makes real in my life – When things seem absolutely hopeless, God works in incredible and unimaginable ways to replace that hopelessness with hope.

Image details: Adoration by the shepherds, by Bronzino. From Wikimedia Commons. Image is in the public domain.

Friday, December 18, 2009

New Zealand Billboard of Mary and Joseph

One item of news that received a lot of internet discussion lately is the billboard a New Zealand church put up, of Joseph and the Virgin Mary lying in bed and Mary saying God was a hard act to follow. I refuse to put up a picture of this billboard, even though I’ve seen it on at least different articles so far. If you really want to see what I’m talking about, do a Google search and I’m sure you’ll find it. One man disliked the billboard so much that he attached it with a can on brown spray paint. I can’t say I blame him!

The billboard was placed outside St Matthew in the City. The Vicar, Glenn Cardy, apparently wants people to discuss God. Now I’m all for people discussing God. And I don’t limit that to discussions that I find acceptable. I’m quite comfortable when people say bizarre things about, or even show a complete lack of respect for God. Not that I don’t think God should be respected. I believe he should. But considering the lack of respect the world has for anything, it’s pretty understandable that some people believe God doesn’t deserve our respect either.

But when that disrespect comes from a church, I find that deplorable.

As I said, our world is not very respectful. We’ve lost the respect for authority figures we once had. And we regularly make fun of people, like the Prime Minister, in television shows and newspapers, for example. But imagine this. What if the people in the Labor Party started making fun of the Prime Minister? What if they started drawing pictures of him that drew attention to real or make believe flaws? Wouldn’t you kind of say – hold on. It’s okay for us to make fun of him. But you’re on his side.

There are quite enough people making fun of God without the Church coming in on the act. And why on earth should other people respect God – or at the very least, respect our beliefs – if we make fun of God ourselves?

That’s not to say that we can’t have a joke. I enjoy a fair bit of religious humour. I particular like humour that pokes fun at Christians. And I will say the odd joke or two that involves God or Jesus. But in all my humour, there is still respect. I like to tell jokes that involve God, when I think he’d laugh along with me. I prefer to laugh with God rather than at God.

And perhaps the point could be argued that this Church thought they were laughing along with God. Maybe they thought God got a good old chuckle out of it. I don’t think His sense of humour is that warped myself.

And despite all our disrespect and our desire to laugh at anything at anybody, surely there must be boundaries that should not be crossed. There must be something in our world that we hold sacred, that deserves not only our respect, but our reverence and awe. And Christmas is a time when we should be filled with awe. For God came down to earth in human form. Now Santa Claus coming through the chimney when you live in the middle of a high rise apartment building might be impressive. But God taking on human form, God entering earth as a human baby, that beats Santa Claus’ chimney sliding act hands down.

According to Glenn Cardy, most Christians do not believe that Mary was impregnated by God. I’d like to know what Christians he talks to. Most of the ones I know have a pretty solid belief in the incarnation. And they’re not the kind of Christians who believe it is the sort of thing that should be made fun of.

This idea of generating discussion about God is a good one. But at what cost? Sometimes it seems that it’s our excuse for everything. Well, we’re just trying to get people to talk about God. But we should make sure that when people are discussing God, that they’re not influenced by a whole lot of warped ideas and bad jokes. And we should also make sure that what initiates discussion amongst non-believers doesn’t cause some Christians to doubt their faith.

What if the people who do have faith start thinking losing their sense of God’s holiness? What if they start thinking he doesn’t deserve our awe and respect? What if Christians start thinking of God as just another figure of fun? And why bother following a God like that?

In these days of political correctness, Christmas has belong the holiday of nothing special at all. Instead celebrating the most event that ever happened, we have stripped it of all meaning. We think about presents, instead of the Incarnation. We look forward to when Santa will come to our houses, instead of thinking back to when God came to earth. We’re not allowed to mention Jesus or Christ or even Christmas, in case it happens to offend somebody. And yet billboards that poke fun of Mary and Joseph are quite okay. I guess it’s okay to mention religion – and offend a whole lot of people – just as long as you’re not respectful. And it’s okay to offend people, just so long as they’re the one group of people to whom Christmas actually still means something important.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Good Samaritan, Loving our Neighbour and the Environment

When Jesus commanded the disciples to love their neighbour, they asked him who their neighbour was. Jesus replied by telling the story of the Good Samaritan. I think the reason for the disciples question was to know where the limits were. They wanted clear boundaries about who they had to love and who they didn’t have to. How far did this neighbourly love has to extend?

But instead of having this idea of loving their neighbours limited in any way, Jesus extended it more than they would have imagined. Their neighbours did not just include the people they liked or the people they knew or people of the same tribe or same nation. It even included Samaritans.

Christians idea of neighbour must – and does – continue to expand. In this age of information and instant communication, we know so much more about people all over the world than we ever have before. We must pay attention to the problems that these people face, for they are also our neighbours. Indeed, many Christian organisations give aid to third world countries because they see those countries as our neighbours, who we are commanded to love.

It might seem as though our concept of neighbour has finally reached its limits. Now there it includes everybody in the world, there is nowhere left to go. Or is there?

If we continue to expand what we mean by loving our neighbour, then it should not be limited by people who are alive today. Not just our own neighbourhood, not just our own country, not just our own religion – not even just our own time. When we think of loving our neighbour, we should also include future generations, those that will come after us.

We must ensure that we do everything possible to help future generations and nothing that would cause them any harm. We must also recognise that our needs and wants (or our comfort and convenience) do not take precedence over their needs and wants. We are not more important than them. In fact, the Christian view should be to treat ourselves as less important.

This means ensuring that we pass on God’s gift to us (this earth) to them in a good condition. It means doing everything we can to protect their homes, food and livelihood. It means leaving them enough natural resources, instead of using them all up ourselves. And I also believe it means making sure that they too have the gift of nature, that they may look at the world that God has created and see how beautiful it is, that they may feel the spiritual uplifting that comes when we connect with what God has made.

I realise that there is some doubt about man-made climate warming. However, the doubters seem to be getting fewer as time goes on and more science comes to light. There is also serious doubt about whether the emissions trading scheme is a good way to tackle climate change. Maybe man-made climate change is a fallacy. That doesn’t let us off the hook.

Firstly, caring for the environment, in order to help future generations, is not just about reducing our carbon emissions. It’s about ensuring we do everything possible to minimise the negative impacts on others, both now and in the future, through the way we treat the earth today. It’s about not being greedy and taking all the natural resources we can, but leaving some for future generations. It’s about making sure that we leave natural places of beauty for our great-great-great-grandchildren to enjoy. It’s about recognising that the people in the future may need to live with what we do to the earth today.

And as Christians, we also have a duty to at least consider man-made climate warming. We can’t simply decide that the science is wrong and we don’t need to do anything about it.

I’m sure, if the Good Samaritan had asked around, he would have found a few so-called experts to tell him that the man lying by the side of the road was not really hurt. Maybe he was even pretending to be injured, to give him an opportunity to rob the Good Samaritan. But the Good Samaritan didn’t do this. He went and had a look to see for himself. Surely, we too, need to at least investigate the problem and see if anyone is likely to be harmed and whether anybody needs our help.

Note: After I had written and posted this blog entry, I saw an article about Pope Benedict XVI's message for World Peace Day on 1 January 2010. The article gives a really good message about why Christians could care about the environment. Here is one of the quotes from the article:

Pope Benedict said that because the environmental crisis is global, it must be met with a universal sense of responsibility and solidarity toward people living in other parts of the world as well as toward generations who have not yet been born.

You can find the whole article at Catholic News Service.

Image details: The Good Samaritan, Master of the Good Samaritan (active between 1500-1549, Northern Netherlands). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Image is in the public domain.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Make Room for Christ at Christmas - or - Why Santa Should Be Sent to the Dog Kennel

Yesterday, I posted one of my short stories called No Room. Although I’m pretty sure the historical details aren’t entirely correct, I wrote it that way because I wanted to write a story about someone who finds it hard to make room for Christ at Christmas.

In Bethlehem, over 2000 years ago, it was hard to find a place for the Baby Jesus to be born. In the 21st Century, we are still finding it hard to make room for Jesus in our lives.

Ironically, one of the hardest times to make room for Jesus is at Christmas, the time when we should most be thinking of him. Instead of preparing a room and welcoming him as an honored guest, we treat him as an inconvenience – and one we don’t have time for right now.

Everybody is so busy at Christmas. There’s the Christmas cards to be sent, the Christmas shopping to be done, the Christmas decorations to be put up, the Christmas lunch to be prepared, the Christmas presents to be wrapped.

Sometimes we’re so busy, we can’t even keep the Christ in the Christmas things we are doing. That’s Xmas cards, Xmas shopping, Xmas decorations, Xmas lunch and Xmas presents. I guess ‘X’ is less time-consuming than Christ.

Well we have to save time somewhere and nothing else can go, can it? If we didn’t send out Christmas cards, people would think we didn’t care about Christmas. If we didn’t put up an amazing outdoor Christmas light display, we wouldn’t be being very festive. To tell people we don’t want to exchange gifts would show a distinct lack of Christmas spirit. And perhaps a cooking a smaller lunch (with say enough food for the afternoon, not for the week) is possible, but it’s Christmas and you need to celebrate at Christmas time.

We’ll get rid of Christ easily enough, with the excuse that there’s not enough time for him. But there’s no way we’ll get rid of anything else that is related to the season.

Now to be fair, many people will fit in a church service somewhere between opening presents and eating lunch. They might even make room for a Christmas carol or two. (Although it is hard to find time to sing the carols about Jesus, when there’s so many songs about Santa to be sung.)

But we’re hardly treating his as an honoured guest. In Bethlehem, there was no room for Jesus in the inn, but they found a space for him in a manger, with the animals. Nowadays, there’s no room for Jesus at Christmas, except for a small parcel of time between 10 am and 11 am on Christmas morning.

And yet nobody seems to have a problem making room for Santa.

The next time you see a nativity scene, take a good look at it. (Presuming you do see a nativity scene. They’re becoming somewhat endangered lately. Better make it a good, long look. It may be the last time you ever see one.)

Anyway, take a good, long look and ask yourself where Jesus is placed during your Christmas time. Is he squeezed in between the donkey and cow (or Santa and presents), placed in a manger because that’s the only place he will fit, without it inconveniencing you? Or he is given the best room and welcomed as an honoured guest?

And may I suggest, if you are finding it difficult to make room for Jesus this Christmas, take Santa out of the best guest room and make him sleep with the animals instead. Relegate him to the dog kennel. You have a more important guest coming you need to make room for.

We can all make room for Jesus. But it may mean realising that some things are just not that important.

Image Details: Cappella Scrovegni a Padova, Life of Christ, Nativity, Birth of Jesus, Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337). Taken from Wikimedia Commons. Image is in the public domain.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

No Room - A Short Story for Christmas

This short story comes from my book, titled She Thinks of Jesus, a collection of short stories told from the point of view of women who witnessed the events in the gospels. You can find and buy this book at Lulu.

…and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. – Luke 2:7

Not another knock on the door. It hasn’t stopped all day.

“There’s no room,” I keep telling them, “no room.”

Then they sit there and they plead and they beg and they tell of what a long trip they have had and how they can’t find a room anywhere and I look like such a kind lady and they had to come here because of the census and can’t I find any room in my inn.

“No room,” I say, with a shrug of my shoulders. “There isn’t any room.”

Sometimes they get mad. Sometimes they cry. Neither emotion bothers me. I refuse to let myself get swayed by feelings. There’s no room for feelings in my inn.

I consider leaving the door unanswered, but perhaps they have lots of money? There’s no room for feelings, but there’s plenty of room for money. Show me enough Roman coins and I’ll show my guests a long-lost uncle who has unexpectedly turned up for the night and someone will have to move. There’s no room at the inn, but room can be found if the money is right.

I peer through the window, and then quickly move away. They look too poor to make it worthwhile.

“Please open the door,” the man cries. “My wife is about to have a baby.”

I look through the window again. I have heard that said before. I have even heard the groans and the moans that go with it. I have also seen the bundle of clothes removed from underneath the women’s garment the minutes she enters the house. There’s no room for anyone like that at my inn. I back away from the window.

“Please,” the man says. “You don’t understand. My son is special.”

One of my very few failings is that I can’t resist the chance to show people how stupid and wrong they are. Even though I know I should let the comment past, I cannot help myself. I yell back through the door.

"Every man thinks his wife’s baby is going to be a son. And what if it should be a daughter? Will she still be special then?”

“He will be a boy.”

“And how do you know?”

“I know.”

“Well, I don’t. I don’t know whether your son will be special – although I’m pretty sure he won’t be. I don’t know that he will be a boy, but there’s half a chance he will be. The only thing I do know is that there’s no room at the inn.”

I go back to the window in time to see the woman shrug and smile. A-ha! If she were really pregnant, she wouldn’t be so complacent. But I keep watching them anyway, and as they leave she holds her stomach in pain and grimaces. Just a small grimace - no exaggerated groan, for my benefit. That’s strange. Perhaps she really is pregnant.

Does it matter? There’s no room for pregnant women in my inn, especially not ones who might be in labour. There’s no room for contractions or agonized yells or extra requests or blood or mess or newborn baby’s cries. There’s no room for newborn babies – no matter how special they are.

But still I stare out the window, my eyes drawn to the woman, to her womb. I seem to imagine a baby speaking to me. Is it a baby? Or is it a man? Or is it a God?

Make room for me
, he seems to say, you need to make room for me in your life.
I open the door.

“Wait,” I yell. They turn around with expectant faces. “There’s no room in the inn, but you can sleep with the animals if you like.”

The man looks at the woman and she nods.

Ten hours later, and I wonder if I have been deceived after all. There has been no loud moans, nor any requests. The husband hasn’t asked for anything. But, no, there is a baby’s cry. So soft and gentle, though, not the usual bawl. Perhaps I should see if they need anything? No, I won’t. There’s no room for compassion in my life.

Some shepherds have turned up at my door. Shepherds! In the middle of the night! There’s no room for shepherds anywhere near my inn. Not in the middle of the night, and not ever! And I open the door to tell them so.

“We have come to see the Messiah,” they say.

“The Messiah?”

“We were told he was here.”

There’s no room for deluded people here. There’s no room for people who imagine things that aren’t there. There’s no room for faith in someone that doesn’t exist. No room for faith in a Messiah that people hope for just because they need a dream to cling to. There’s no room for Messiahs, hopes or dreams in my inn. And yet – and yet –

“He’s in the stable,” I say. And I wonder how I knew whom they meant. And I wonder why I am even wondering. There is no room for wonder in my life.

Perhaps you need to make room.

“What did you say?”

The shepherds turn around and look at each other, shaking their heads.
“We didn’t say anything,” one of them says.

They walk towards the stable, and as soon as I have returned to my bed there is another knock on the door. I want to ignore it, but with everything going on, who knows whom it will be? Three kings, perhaps?

It is not kings, but a wealthy man nonetheless. I can tell from his jewels and the quality of his garments.

“Sorry for the late hour,” he says. “I needed to come for the census, but my business transactions meant I got away later than usual. I have been told you are a woman who can find room for a lodger if the price is right.”

I say nothing.

“I can pay you handsomely,” he says.

I shake my head. “I’m sorry,” I say, “but there isn’t any room.”

Image Details: Joseph looks for shelter in Bethlehem , Tissot, 1899

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Sorry for not posting

It has been quite a while since I posted on this blog, and I apologise for the delay. There’s no excuse other than the general busyness of life. Family and study, plus work, has taken up just about all of my time.

However, I will try to post a bit more frequently in future. I’m on a break from study for the next couple of months. So for that time, at least, you should be seeing a bit more of me. I might also try to post a few more shorter posts or things that I have previously written. Hopefully, I will be able to keep it going, even when I return to study.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Christianity and Consumerism

Recently, I was reading ‘The College Student’s Introduction to Christology’, by William P. Loewe, when I came across the following sentence:

Fourth and finally, we can also ask whether there is not a tendency on the part of the economic sector to spread out and rationalize every conceivable aspect of our human living as a commodity in the production of which a profit is to be had.

It does seem sometimes that consumerism has invaded every single aspect of our life. Whatever we need, whatever we want, whatever we hope for, there’s a product that can either help us obtain it or improve it. Christmas and Easter have practically been reduced to long shopping lists and busy malls. Even something as meaningful and important as the arrival of a new baby comes with a list of ‘things to buy’ – preferably new, preferably expensive – often containing a whole heap of things that aren’t even necessary, but new parents buy them anyway, because the magazines say we need them.

Even Christianity is not safe from the consumer bug. There used to be a time when all you needed was a bible and a church to follow Jesus. (And to be perfectly honest, you don’t actually need that. Many Christians around the world don’t have either. But they sure do help.) Now we have Christian books, CDs, DVDs, conferences, toys, computer games, bible covers, jewelry, t-shirts and even mints! Instead of the one bible, we have a multitude of versions, not to mention bibles on CD, MP3, software and iPhone applications. Not only is every single area of our life reduced to a consumer product, if you’re a Christian, you can find a Christian consumer product to suit every area of your life.

And we are often told we need these products. At the end of many sermons, you’ll hear the preacher urge everybody to buy this or that book, because it will bless you and really improve your Christian walk. You almost feel like you’re a bad Christian if you don’t immediately rush to the stalls. Christians are kind of expected to have more than one bible version, with a bible cover, Christian books and Christian CDs. I remember hearing one Christian say that he had never been to the local Christian bookstore. The looks of amazement on people’s faces. What? You’ve never been to the Christian bookstore. But you’re a Christian. Shouldn’t you be out there buying Christian products?

Now I’m not pointing the finger at anyone. When it comes to Christian products, I have more bibles, Christian books and Christian CDs than anyone I know. Just before writing this post, I was going through a book catalogue circling what I wanted to buy. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. (Well, I hope there isn’t. Because if there is, I’m in trouble.) But I do think there’s something wrong with turning every single little thing into a Christian product. Do we really need Christian mints? Seriously.

It can also become a problem when we think we need to have all these consumer products. There is absolutely no book or DVD or CD that we absolutely must get. It can also become a problem if we think buying things makes us a good Christian. It doesn’t. Nobody is going to be judged by how much money they spend at the Christian bookstore.

And maybe instead of telling people, ‘Oh, you really should read this book,’ we’d be better of pointing to the bible and saying, ‘You really must do what’s in that book.’

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

iChurch 2.0

Australians have decided they’re not happy with the name of Vegemite’s new product. There were complaints when Vegemite was taken over by an American company. There were murmurs when they put out a new product. But it’s nothing compared to the uproar that iSnack 2.0 has caused.

So what does all this have to do with Christianity? Well, not much. But there are some lessons to be learnt here.

Some people have suggested that Vegemite deliberately picked a bad name, in order to generate a lot of publicity. But publicity doesn’t always translate into sales – let alone brand loyalty. I’m sure there’s some people who will try iSnack 2.0 just because it’s in the news. But the real question is will they keep eating it? I tried it, back when it was simply called Name Me. But I refuse to eat a product with such a dumb name.

Another marketing campaign that has generated a bit of publicity is the Jesus, All About Life campaign, run by Australian Christian Churches. But again, just because people are talking about it doesn’t mean they’re going to start following Jesus. In fact, a bad marketing campaign can actually keep people away from the churches. The saying, ‘Any publicity is good publicity,’ is not a saying that should apply to Christians. And dare I suggest that the best advertisement for Christianity is to fill the world with Christians who do their best to act like Christ.

Another problem with iSnack 2.0 is that its attempt to be relevant to the younger generation has just made them look ridiculous. Back when I was in school, sitting in the playground, eating Vegemite sandwiches, we called people try-hards. Try-hards were people who tried too hard to be cool. So instead of looking cool, they just looked stupid. iSnack 2.0 is a try-hard name.

And sometimes the church can also fall into try-hard mode. We try to be ‘relevant’ and ‘trendy’, and end up failing miserably. And people aren’t actually that stupid. They’re not going to suddenly become interested in something just because it has an ‘i’ in front of its name or something else that shows they understand today’s world. And they can see when someone is trying too hard to be trendy. Most of the time, they’re not impressed. And often, sometimes we’d be better off not trying to be trendy at all.

One reason why I think iSnack 2.0 received such a bad reception is because it’s an Australian icon. It’s like the Sydney Opera House, only edible – although this may be debated by people who aren’t Australians. But if you are an Aussie, you’re used to Vegemite. You grew up eating the stuff. And that’s one of the reasons why it is an Australian icon. It never changes. The product we eat now looks the same, tastes the same and has the same logo as the product from our youth. For a long time, we even had the same jingle and the same rosy cheeks. It was a constant in an ever-changing world. And we liked that.

We make a mistake when we think that everything needs to change to be any good. Sure, there are some products where we always want the newest and the best. Most of us would be horrified to go back to our first phone or first computer. We want to know that these products are continually improving and giving us their latest versions. But just because we feel this way about technology doesn’t mean we feel this way about everything. There are some things we want to stay the same.

There are those that always want the latest and newest version of church. They’re continually looking for improvements that can be made and fixing up any problems. And sometimes this can be a good thing. However, not everybody feels this way. Some people want a church that doesn’t change. Some people prefer a church that is constant, rather than one that is tossed here and there by cultural waves. And this can also apply to people who aren’t even in the church. I feel sorry for anyone who makes a decision to return to the church of their youth, only to find it has been replaced by a newer, unrecognisable version.

Some Christians do the same with Jesus, too. They’re not content to follow the first version of Jesus. They want a new and improved version. And they tell everybody else that they must update Jesus 1.0 to iJesus 8.7.3 as well. This newer version gets rid of all the problems of the past. They’ve removed suffering, guilt and sacrifice and replaced them with blessings, fun and electric guitars. Why would anyone stick with Jesus 1.0 when iJesus 8.7.3 is so much more user friendly?

The newest is not always the best. And quite often, it’s the original version that is the only authentic version. iSnack 2.0 is not Vegemite. It will never become an Australian icon. It’s a passing fad that will soon pass when people get sick of twittering how awful the new name is. And iJesus 8.7.3 is also a passing fad, along with iChurch 2.0. And Jesus and the Church should never be passing fads. They should be like the original Vegemite – a constant in an ever-changing world.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Fighting for Our Rights and Philippians 2:6-7

In a world that has grown ambivalent about many things, there is one thing we care passionately about – our rights. In Australia, there is a move to introduce a bill of rights. Equal rights has been with us, in many shapes and forms, for some time now. And it still finds its way into conversations, newspaper articles and job descriptions. We believe we have a right to many things – marriage, children, employment, privacy, education, freedom of speech – not to mention the little things like good customer service. We’re very fond of telling people what are rights are and causing a fuss if anyone seems to infringe them.

Now I have nothing against trying to secure equal rights for people. I believe one of the things that God wants us to do is speak out against injustice – and often this will mean standing up for people’s rights.

I do, however, have a problem with rights when they hurt or possibly may hurt other people. I’m sorry, but abortion is not a right. Nor is adoption. I also have a problem with the attitude that says everybody should have a right to everything. Well no, actually I don’t think they should. Not everybody gets want they want. It’s called life.

I also think that maybe we’re holding onto our individual rights a bit too zealously. And maybe, just maybe, there would be nothing wrong with letting some of them go. That view doesn’t tend to go down too well in today’s world. If you have a right to something, you’re meant to make sure that you get it. If somebody decides not to fight for their rights, they’re almost looked down on or seen as weak. ‘Do something, you have rights, you know,’ is a comment they’re more than likely to hear.

It’s funny, because it’s only now, halfway into this article, that I have just remembered what I have on my bin. I have one of those stickers from the 2007 Australian election that says ‘Your Rights at Work’. There’s also a similar sticker on the ceiling of my boys’ bedroom. (Don’t ask me how it got there, because I still haven’t figured it out. I believe they put it there more for the thrill of getting it on the ceiling, rather than any deep desire to promote the message.) And so I’ve been influenced by the whole ‘rights’ thing as well.

The other day I received very poor customer service from a pizza place. I was angry. Not just because of the inconvenience of everything that happened, but because I felt like I had a right to be angry. I deserve good customer service. I shouldn’t be treated like this. When I pay for a pizza, I have a right to expect what I ordered, delivered on time and sincere apologies for any inconvenience. And there was no way that I wasn’t going to have my say about it. I even wrote to Domino’s and complained. Not that I received an answer. And I’m not that happy about that either. Surely I have the right to expect at least some sort of response?

This belief that we have a right to things is very hard to lose. And some people would say why should we? We’re meant to stick up for our rights, aren’t we?

Well, the reason this issue came into my mind is because I have been looking at the Christological hymn in Philippians 2:5-11. I’ll include it here, so you know what I’m talking about.

5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

6Who, being in very nature God,

did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,

7but made himself nothing,

taking the very nature of a servant,

being made in human likeness.

8And being found in appearance as a man,

he humbled himself

and became obedient to death—

even death on a cross!

9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place

and gave him the name that is above every name,

10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.

There’s a lot of different views about what many of the words used in this hymn mean. One of the words is ‘harpagmon’, found in 2:6. Does it mean he didn’t see equality with God as something to be seized, something to be guarded or something to exploit? Another word is found in 2:7, with the word ‘kenoo’. It means to make empty, but how exactly did Jesus empty himself?

There’s not really the room here to go into a detailed discussion of what they might mean. But I do think this passage makes one thing very clear. Jesus Christ wasn’t too interested in knowing and fighting for his rights.

He was in the form of God. We keep talking about all the rights that individuals have. Well God has even more rights. If Jesus was a person in the 21st century western world, he might have said something like this. ‘Seriously, God, you want me to go down there as a human. I have rights, you know.’ To which God might have replied, ‘I know you do. But I want you to give them up anyway.’

And the great thing is he did. He had rights and privileges as God, but He gave them up when he took on the form of a human (or servant or slave, depending which version of 2:7 you read.) And not only did he give up his rights as God by simply becoming human, but he didn’t push for them when he was human. Jesus could have demanded that people bow down and worship him. He could have insisted that 12 legions of angels come to his rescue when he was being arrested. He didn’t.

Jesus Christ was prepared to give up his rights. Maybe we should be at least a little bit more ready to do the same.

(Image details - Entkleidung Christi by El Greco, 1590-1595. Image is in the public domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Religion Not Allowed on Library Noticeboards

Well, the great white-washers of religion have struck again. The latest place to be hit in their attempt to remove all visible trace of religion from the public area is a library notice-board in Camden, North London. They told The Roman Catholic Our Lady Help of Christians parish church that it could not put up posters about climate change, because they mentioned Christianity and God.

You mustn't mention God... council bans church from putting up notices about its

In July, the Sunday school at St Mary’s Church was told that it could not put up posters advertising a craft, singing and drama day for children, because it had religious content.

Library bans Sunday school’s ‘religious’ poster

One wonders whether the two libraries in question have any books that mention God. I certainly hope so. Because if not, they’ll be left with a very small library. Even you get rid of the religion section, there’s still travel, culture, holidays and festivals, literature, history, biographies and novels that have to be thrown out.

But even if they did manage to remove all visible traces of God from public libraries, they could not remove all traces of Him completely. Because every time a Christian walked through those library doors, they would be bringing God in with them. And there’s a lot of Christians who visit libraries. Some of them even think of God while they’re there.

But that’s one of the things that makes the removal of faith-based public notices quite ridiculous. I haven’t seen the notice-boards in question, but I’m willing to bet that a notice advertising a fun day for children and a notice that mentions climate change and God would be relevant and interesting to more people than any other notice that is allowed. Not too many people are interested in things like council notices, high school plays, book clubs, tae kwan do classes, pilates or walking groups. Even with declining number, an average weekly church service is going to attract more people than any of these events. And what happens at Christmas time? Remove all notice that say ‘Christmas’ not ‘Xmas’, thereby getting rid of all the notices that people most want to hear about during the festive season.

Another reason why it’s so ridiculous is because library notice-boards are meant to be community notice-boards. And churches, whether we like it or not, a very real and very important part of our communities. But strangely enough, for the most part, society likes them being part of their communities. We like them visiting the sick, feeding the poor, comforting the mourners, welcoming the strangers and volunteering with community organisations. So considering all the wonderful work they do for the community, shouldn’t they be allowed to post a community notice?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Women are not Men

It sounds like a silly title for a post. Of course, women are not men. That’s why we have books titled, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. It's because we're different. Although I think now they should put out a sequel. Call it Men are from Mars, and Women are complaining that they don’t have Martian citizenship.

The latest push in Australia is for combat roles on the frontline to be open to women. The argument for it seems to be something along the lines of, ‘Why shouldn’t it be open to women, if they’re physically capable?’ Sure. And IVF should probably be open to any men who are capable of giving birth. And how long would it be before people start saying, ‘You’ve opened combat roles up to women. So why aren’t there any women on the frontline yet?’ And they’re probably not going to be satisfied with an answer that says, ‘None of them have proved physically capable.’

Now just to be clear, there’s a lot of things that feminism has done that I’m very thankful for. I’m extremely pleased that I can go to university. I’m glad that there are career options available to me that would have not have been there in the past. But at the same time, a lot of feminism seems to me to be devaluing women in their push for equal rights.

Because it’s often about women being like men. There’s a lot of talk about how women are just as capable as men of doing this, that or the other. It kind of leaves the impression that women have to be like men in order to have any value. Or that, for much of their existence, women lived of little worth because they were only women.

If gold had a voice, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t start campaigning for equal rights. It wouldn’t start demanding that it be given jobs as aluminum cans and computer parts and barbed wire fences. Why? Because one of the reasons it doesn’t do this job is because it’s valuable just the way it is. I wish some women would start realising that we have immense value as women. We don’t need to become like men to have any worth.

In our days of equal rights and feminism, what do we think of the women of the past? Do we consider them as having worthwhile jobs, contributing to society in a way that only women can? Or do we only admire the people like Queen Elizabeth, who stayed single and did a ‘man’s job’? And even she said she may be a woman, but she has the heart of a king. Why would she want to say that? Because she saw that one had to become like a man in order to rule a country? Or because she saw women as being somehow inferior? Maybe a bit of both.

We seem to have taken that saying to heart. We may be women, we say, but we have the heart and the physical capabilities of a man.

Well no, actually, we don’t. Our hearts tend to be more tender, more nurturing, more caring. That’s a good thing. Our bodies are softer, but they are capable of carrying babies, giving birth and breastfeeding. That’s a good thing too. Why would we want to become like men, when we are so special just the way we are?

In the 19th Century, Caroline Chisolm did a lot of work in bringing females to the Australian bush. She didn’t do this so they could get jobs as farm-hands. She did this because there was a lack of females, and Caroline Chisolm saw that the country was missing out on something very important because of that. She took females there not so that they could act like men, but because the bush needed women. They had a special role to play. It couldn’t happen nowadays. There’d be hundreds of feminists saying, ‘What about equal rights?’ And so an opportunity to recognise and benefit from the worth of women would be missed.

As an end note, do you want to know who had the most important job ever in history? It was Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Mary, who carried Christ in her womb, gave birth to Him, and nurtured and cared for him in his childhood. Mary, who was a mother without any equal rights. Mary, who I’m pretty sure never ever thought, ‘Gee, I wish I could trade this job in for a combat role.’

(Image details: La vierge aux raisins by Pierre Mignard. Image is in the public domain. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

Friday, September 4, 2009

God as Father

One of the most popular terms used to understand God is that of Father. There’s a good reason for this. Jesus himself taught us to pray to ‘Our Father’. And the bible makes it very clear that we are to think of God as a Father.

Perhaps another reason why we like the term so much is we understand it – or at least, we think we do. The idea of Jesus has a shepherd has lost a lot of its meaning. Jesus’ first listeners would have understood the term. For most of us here in the western world, not so much. Many of us have never met a shepherd, let alone formed a good understand of what a shepherd is. But we all have an idea about Father. We have fathers. We have met fathers. We think we know what Jesus meant when he asked us to call God ‘Father’.

But do we? Yes, we might have an understanding of Father. But do we understand it in the same way that Jesus used it.

The fact that we do have impressions about fathers and fatherhood can sometimes give us a false impression of God, rather than point us towards the truth.

Firstly, many people understand the term ‘father’ in a negative way. Unfortunately, not all of us have good fathers in our lives. Some of them can do awful things. Often our relationship with our father is something that has caused a lot of pain and trauma. And many father-child relationships become strained or damaged in some way. If this is our idea of father, then our idea of God can also be negative. We think of God in the same way we think of father. And often that means that idea of God is quite distorted.

Secondly, today’s world does not have the same respect for fathers as the people in Jesus’ day. Part of this is because we have lost respect for people in general. But I dare say that no one group of people has lost respect quite as much as our dads. They’re not really considered the head of the family anymore. We’re likely to laugh at them if they try to talk to us with the attitude that their word is law. Half the time, we don’t even listen to their advice. And I think this loss of respect has also affected our understanding of God.

There are many different understandings of ‘father’ and this is certainly not a comprehensive list. But I would like to show two ways that we now think of father, and how this might influence how we think of God.

First of all, for those who have a good relationship with their dad, the relationship can sometimes seem more like friendship than anything else. We take them to the pub. We tease them because they’ve put on weight. We feel free to be ourselves around them. We feel like the relationship is good simply because it doesn’t make demands on us. It is comfortable and easy and non-threatening. We treat them the same way we would treat anybody else. Our dads have become our mates.

There’s not necessarily anything wrong with a father who acts like a friend. Although I do think fathers should get more respect than they currently do. But the main point I want to make here is that has become the way we treat God. He is no longer respected the way he once was. We approach him casually, as one would a friend. The relationship is comfortable and non-threatening. We can be ourselves. God has become our mate.

The second way our understanding of father may have affected the way we see God, is in the idea that our fathers are old-fashioned. There used to be a time when a person’s views were respected because they were older than us. Nowadays, the older a person is, the less we listen to what they have to say. We feel like we know more than them, simply because we’re younger. They’re behind the times. They don’t understand that views have moved on. In a world where progress means everything, and new is always better, why would we listen to people who are still caught in the views of 20 years ago?

This may not be how we see God, but it’s a pretty true reflection of how some people see the church. The church is old-fashioned. It won’t get with the times. It’s refuses to let go of the views of the past. It doesn’t understand the world anymore. And what can a 2000 year old Church have to say to today’s generation? New ways of thinking are seen as better, not in spite of, but actually because they are not as old.

Our views of fathers have certainly changed since Jesus’ day. And as our understanding of fatherhood continues to change, so our understanding of God will change, distorting our idea of what Jesus meant when he asked us to call God ‘Father’.

(Image details: Deus Pai (God the Father) - Raffaello Sanzio, Museo di Capodimonte, Nápoles. Image is in the public domain. From Wikimedia Commons.)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Church unity as a circle

It seeking to understand Church unity, it’s tempting to think a circle, where people inside the circle are part of the Church, and people outside the circle are not in the Church. The Church is one, because it is one circle.

However, thinking of the Church as one circle is a bit more difficult when you try to actually decide who is in and who is out of the circle. And it also raises the question of how big should the circle be?

We could have a small circle, where the Church may include only those people, for example, who belong to the Roman Catholic Church. But even with a circle this small, perhaps it is not small enough. What about lapsed Catholics? What about those who go to communion once a year, but fail to even think about Jesus the rest of the time? What about those who do not even believe in God, but continuing going to church to keep the family happy? Should our circle be smaller?

We could have a large circle that includes the whole world. But presuming we don’t want our circle to be quite this large, what about a circle that includes everybody who claims to follow Jesus. But maybe this isn’t quite large enough? What about those people of other religions who have never heard the name Jesus, but who live a life that is more in keeping with Jesus’ commandments than those who claim to be Christians?

And speaking of those who claim to be Christians, can all of them really be said to be a part of the Church? Many cults claimed to be following Jesus. There are some people who have thought they were Jesus.

Another approach is to say the Church includes those people who have certain beliefs or who follow certain practices. Do you believe in a Trinitarian God? Do you believe Jesus rose from the dead? Are you baptised? Do you have communion? Kind of like a Church check-list, if you like. I sound like I’m making fun of it. But it does have a lot to recommend itself. It’s not too small a circle that it only includes one denomination. It’s not so large that it includes a whole range of people who say they’re following Jesus, but who have very warped ideas of who exactly Jesus is.

Although I like this kind of circle, it does have problems. For one, there are a number of people who consider themselves members of the church, may even be part of mainstream denominations, and yet cannot tick all the boxes. Maybe they haven’t been baptised. Maybe they can’t take communion. There are also people who do not believe in a physical resurrection of Jesus. Are these people Christians? I’m not sure. But they still think they are part of the Church. Does anyone have the right to tell them they don’t actually belong? I’m not sure about that one either.

I tend to favour the larger circles, rather than the smaller ones. I would rather a definition of Church that includes people that aren’t really Christians, rather than one that excludes those that are. In the Parables of the Wheat and the Tares, Jesus says that they should both grow together and they will be separated at harvest time. And so maybe, as we seek to understand what the Church actually is, the aim should not be to exclude anyone. But instead to let God decide who belongs to His Church and who doesn’t.

But in saying this, it is also important to remember that the Church has a centre. That centre is the truth and that centre is Jesus Christ. One can be part of the circle and yet be very far from the centre.

Perhaps it is more helpful to think not of a circle with definite boundaries. But as a centre that radiates outward. Kind of like a sun. Anyone who is orbiting around the sun is part of the church. But some are closer to the sun (or the Son) than others. Some receive more of its light. That sounds patronising, but it has to be true. If there is one truth, and very many different understandings of that truth, then some have to be closer to the real truth than others.

So when we include people in our definition of Church, that is not to say that their understanding of Jesus is as good as any other understanding of Jesus. It is to say that they are may be part of the one Church, but they may also be far away from its centre.

(Image details: Nicolaus Copernicus - The Heliocentric Solar System. Image is in the public domain. Courtesty of Wikimedia Commons.)

Monday, August 24, 2009

This post was originally published at my old blog, But it does seem a waste to let a post that combines both Christianity and Bon Jovi just sit there. So I’ve decided to publish it again here.

Bon Jovi is the band I never quite grew out of. I started liking them as a teenager. And even though my taste in music has changed considerably since then, and I no longer like many of the bands I liked them, my love for Bon Jovi remains.

I think one of the reasons for that is that Bon Jovi continues to produce great music. Another reason is that everybody needs at one teenage band they don’t quite grow out of. And the third reason is that a lot of Bon Jovi’s music seems to say something to me about faith and God. I once joked to a friend that if you think of any song that has the words ‘God, faith, Jesus or prayer’ in it as a Christian song, then I spend a lot of time listening to Christian music. Of course, they’re not really Christian songs. But they do have some good messages, from a Christian perspective.

So here are my top 5 Bon Jovi songs, purely from a faith perspective.

Hey God!
Hey God -
Tell me what the hell is going on
Seems like all the good shits gone
It keeps on getting harder hanging on
Hey God,
there's nights you know I want to scream
These days you've even harder to believe
I know how busy you must be,
but Hey God...
Do you ever think about me

I like this song because it reminds me of all the people who want to believe in God, but find it hard to, because life isn’t working out the way they want and it seems like God doesn’t care. Now I don’t think God’s role is to go around making sure that everybody’s life is perfect. But the fact remains that life is tough for some people. And often it’s hard to believe in God, when life is tough.

Everybody’s Broken

It's so hard to believe
It's easier to doubt
You're trying to hold in
But you're dying to scream out
It's okay to be a little broken
Everybody's broken in this life
It's okay to feel a little broken
Everybody's broken, you're alright
It's alright, it's just life
Take a look around
Tell me what you see
Is who you think you are
Who you wanna be?

This song sounds a bit depressing, but it’s actually quite a feel good song. I know I love to play it when I’m feeling inadequate or like I just want to retreat from the world for a while, because I’m too ‘broken’ to belong to it. Because it reminds me that everybody is broken. We all have problems. We all have pains. We all have things that need fixing. We’re all sinners, in other words.

Welcome to Wherever You Are

Maybe we're different, but we're still the same
We all got the blood of Eden, running through our veins
I know sometimes it's hard for you to see
You come between just who you are and who you wanna be
If you feel alone, and lost and need a friend
Remember every new beginning, is some beginning's end
Welcome to wherever you are
This is your life, you made it this far
Welcome, you gotta believe
That right here right now, you're exactly where you're supposed to be
Welcome, to wherever you are

This song is similar to Everybody’s broken, in that it reminds me that we all have problems, and none of us are perfect. I particularly like the line ‘You come between just who you are and who you wanna be.’ It reminds me of Romans 7:15: I do not know why I do the things I do. I do not do what I want to do. But I do the things I hate. I think many Christians can relate to the fact that we are caught between who are are and who we want to be. But it’s a reminder also that, even though we’re not yet at that place where we do want to be, we should be thankful for being where we are.

Keep the Faith

Walking in the footsteps
Of society’s lies
I dont like what I see no more
Sometimes I wish that I was blind
Sometimes I wait forever
To stand out in the rain
So no one sees me cryin
Trying to wash away the pain
Mother father
There’s things I’ve done I can’t erase
Every night we fall from grace
It’s hard with the world in your face
Trying to hold on, trying to hold on
Faith: you know you’re gonna live thru the rain
Lord you got to keep the faith
Faith: don’t let your love turn to hate
Right now we got to keep the faith
Faith: now its not too late
Try to hold on, trying to hold on
Keep the faith

It was really hard to find a small portion of this to cut and paste. I just wanted to use the whole song. This song is a reminder that having faith is hard. And that the world isn’t that nice a place sometimes. There are things out there I don’t want to see. Things that cause me pain. And things that make it very hard sometimes to continue to live as a Christian. But despite all that, despite all the pain, despite all the ugliness, despite all the ways that I fail, I’ve got to keep the faith anyway. I’ve got to continue to believe and hold on to God.

I am

I Am
When you think that no-one needs you
Sees you or believes you
No ones there to understand
I Am
I'll be there to be that someone
When you think that no one, is there to hold your hand
I Am
We're just who we are, there's no pretending
It takes a while to learn to live in your own skin
Say a prayer that we might find our happy ending
And if you're in, you know I'm in
I'm ready and I'm willing

Okay, I see this song as basically a song about God. And it is such a beautiful reminder of the love that God has for us. Because when we think no-one sees us, or understands us, God is there. Yahweh (I am) is that someone who will always be there. I also like that line that says, ‘It takes a while to learn to live in your own skin’. Another reminder that we’re all on the journey. None of us are where we need to be yet.

Friday, August 21, 2009

A Comfortable Christian

I recently started going to the Catholic Church. And although it’s quite embarrassing to admit this, one of the things I find difficult is the kneeling. It’s just so uncomfortable. And I’m a fairly fit 35 year old who doesn’t have arthritis or anything else that causes me pain.

It seems today that we’re pretty used to comfort. We like our air-conditioning and our lounges and our cushioned seats and our comfy beds. I know I get annoyed if I don’t have my own three pillows to sleep with. I just can’t get comfortable. And it is so annoying being uncomfortable.

But this idea that we need to be comfortable is pretty new. Not that long ago, people were cold in the winter, hot in the summer, slept on hard beds and just generally put up with a lot more discomfort than we do.

And not only do we just want to be comfortable. We act like it’s a God-given right sometimes. And there’s millions of products that are designed with the aim of keeping us comfortable. The beds, the lounges, the air-conditioning systems. Have you ever gotten into a car with someone who doesn’t have air-conditioning? Generally, they mention the fact in a very apologetic way. They don’t quite say it like this, but there’s the idea that they are very sorry that we may have to put up with some discomfort for the entire 15 minute car trip. How on earth will we cope?

But being comfortable is not a God-given right. In fact, I’m pretty sure that our desire for comfort does not come from God at all. And I really don’t think that Jesus’ main aim for the church is for it to be comfortable.

The reason why I find kneeling weird is that the Protestant churches that I’ve been to don’t do it. And I wonder why? Is it because it is too uncomfortable? And discomfort has no place in a 21st century church? We stand and we sit and that’s it. Hardly any new churches have wooden seats or pews. Some have cushioned chairs and air-conditioning.

But our desire for comfort goes behind physical comfort. We also create churches in which life is comfortable. In fact, some churches seem to promote the view that becoming a Christian will make you comfortable. God will start answering your prayers and blessing you. And all you really have to do is turn up to church and worship God in our air-conditioning building. You don’t even need to dress up, if you don’t want to. Jeans and sneakers are fine.

Not only that, but we worship a God we are comfortable with. We have our own idea of Christianity, and we get very annoyed when someone challenges that view. Why? Could it be because it makes us uncomfortable? Could it be that our view of Christianity seems to justify our own comfort? Who wouldn’t want to believe in a God who wants us to be rich and shower blessings on us and answer our prayers. Don’t anyone mention suffering, please. It could make people uncomfortable.

It’s funny because when I look at the prophets in the bible, none of them seem too concerned about making people comfortable. Neither for that matter did Jesus. Instead, they seemed to want to shock people out of their comfortable mindset. And the Christians of the past didn’t seem too worried about creating a comfortable life for themselves. Instead of driving in air-conditioning buses, they were heading for the lions. Instead of wearing jeans and sneakers, they were wearing hair-shirts. This idea that kneeling was uncomfortable would not have even crossed their minds.

(Image details: Den helige Franciskus i bon (1635-1639), Francisco de Zurbarán. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Image is in the public domain.)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Erasmus' paraphrase of the Book of James

Today I am going to have a bit of a lazy day and let others do the speaking. This is Erasmus’ paraphrase of James. I read this last night and I liked it so much I wanted to share it.

Now Martin Luther did not like the Book of James at all. And I can understand why. For a person who was big on the whole ‘faith, not works’ things, it does jar a bit. However, I think the very reasons why Martin Luther disliked James is what makes me like it so much.

But just because we are saved through faith, not works, does not mean we should just be turn our back on everything that God wants us to do. We can’t simply say ‘Well I’m saved through faith’ and therefore I do not even need to think about doing anything to please him. As this paraphrase makes clear, our professions of faith should not just be meaningless words. Our faith needs to be acted out in our lives.

The book of James and this paraphrase reminds us that being a Christian is not just a matter of going to church every week and looking spiritual and thinking we are saved because we have faith. We also need to be doing God wants. Not to earn our salvation. But because we love Him.

Erasmus’ paraphrase of the Book of James

But what is faith without love? Love moreover is a living thing; it does not go on holiday; it is not idle; it expresses itself in kind acts wherever it is present. If these acts are lacking, my brothers, I ask you, will the empty word ‘faith’ save a person? Faith which does not work through love is unproductive; no, it is faith in name only. An example here will make clear what I mean. If someone says blandly to a brother or a sister who lacks clothing or daily food, ‘Depart in peace, keep warm, and remember to eat well,’ and after saying this, gives him or her none of the things the body needs, will his fine talk be of any use to the ones in need? They will be no less cold and hungry for all his fine talk, which is of no help to their need. He gives him only verbal support, but does nothing in actual fact. A profession of faith will certainly be equally useless if it consists only of words and does nothing except remain inactive as though dead. It should no more be called faith than a human corpse merits the name of human being. Love is to faith what the soul is to the body. Take away love and the word faith is like something dead and inert. It will do you no more good before God to confess in words an idle faith than fine speech benefits a neighbour in need when he must be helped with action. People think they are being mocked when you say to them, ‘Keep warm and well fed,’ and give them neither food nor clothing. Just so the person who offers no tangible proofs of his faith but repeats every day, ‘I believe in God, I believe in God,’ seems to be mocking God. A person who gives lip service to love possesses a fruitless charity. In the same way a person whose belief is only a matter of words possesses a faith that serves no purpose.

(Image details: Erasmus by Hans Holbein the Younger. Courtesty of Wikimedia Commons. Image is in the public domain.)

Monday, August 17, 2009


There are very few of us who don’t have at least a little part of us that want people to suffer when they hurt us. In its mildest form, this may mean just getting the teeniest bit of pleasure when someone who has hurt us goes through their own pain, through no fault of our own. It is even better when their suffering is caused through their own doing. A bit like guilt-free revenge, in a way. Kind of like ‘Well God showed you, didn’t he?’

Then there are the times when we imagine the terrible things we would like to have happen to a person who has hurt us. It could mean just spending a brief moment picturing something slightly discomforting. At the other end, it could mean spending countless hours actively plotting their ruin and downfall. There’s a big difference between the two, but nevertheless, both are dangerous.

Firstly, when we spend any time engaging in mental revenge, there’s a good chance we are carrying out another form of revenge. Sure we may not be carrying out the big email campaign against Jane Doe, who stole our idea at work. We may not be going through her files and destroying her work. We may not be ringing up our boss anonymously, pretending to be the police investigating Jane Doe for murder. But we’re probably doing at least something to make Jane Doe suffer, even if it’s not what we would really like to do.

How are we talking about Jane Doe to other work colleagues? Are we trying to poison their minds against her? Are we treating Jane Doe in the same way we would treat other people? If she leaves something on a desk, do we return it to her? Or do we leave it, because it belongs to that silly woman who stole our idea? And what’s our attitude towards Jane Doe like? It is almost impossible to have a good attitude towards someone, when we are spending a lot of time imagining their suffering. Are we using every opportunity to show Jane that we are don’t like her? Are we trying to make her feel guilty?

Trying to make someone feel guilty is probably one of the top ways that people try to make others suffer for the hurt they have caused. Sometimes there’s no even the conscious desire for revenge. But the subconscious desire to make someone suffer for what they did is still there. I know it’s a generalisation, but I think wives are the ones who do this most often. Their husband hurts them. So they pout and they cry and they huff and give the cold shoulder and they withdraw affection. They might say they’re doing it because they are hurt. There’s a good chance they are also doing it because they want their husband to suffer for what he did.

The other danger with imagining some misfortune befalling those that have hurt us is that what starts off as brief harmless fantasy can quickly turn to an all-consuming desire to revenge. It starts to become all we think about. It destroys our peace. It can affect our relationships. Eventually, it can get to the stage where we feel we will never be happy until that person gets what they deserve.

There are three options when we’re in that place. The first is to simply be miserable and bitter for our entire lives. Not a good option. The other is to take matters into our own hands and try to punish them ourselves. Also not a good option. Not only does it usually lead us away from the will of God, but it can get us into all sorts of trouble. Plus, if we’re successful, we often end up feeling more hollow than satisfied.

The last option is to let it go. Just let it go. Forgive them and move on.

It’s easier to say than to do. There seems to be this idea hard-wired into us that when somebody does something wrong, then somebody has to pay. Well guess what? Somebody already did.

In today’s world of the personalised Jesus, we often look at Jesus on the cross and say ‘he died for my sins’. True enough. But he also died for the sins of our enemies. Whenever we think somebody should suffer, it would be worthwhile remember that somebody already did suffer. Jesus Christ did the suffering for those very sins that have hurt us.

That’s not to say that God will not punish them for what they did. Perhaps he will. But we should leave the punishment up to God. And we should give up all thoughts of revenge – even if they’re only in our imagination.

(Image details: Retribution; - tarring and feathering; - or - the patriots revenge, by James Gillray (died 1815), published 1795. Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.)

Friday, August 14, 2009

Frustration or My Computer Has an Attitude Problem

This week has been a very frustrating week, most of which has had to do with my computer. When I tell it do something, it decides to do something different. And I am almost positive that at the moment it’s getting a real kick out of seeing me waste my time. I enter all this information in and, with a flick of the mouse, it’s gone. It’s like it has an attitude problem or something. As though it’s telling me ‘Nuh, don’t want to do that. Find yourself another slave.’

It has been so frustrating, because I rely on the computer a lot. Perhaps too much. Maybe that’s why it’s suddenly decided to become temperamental and only help me when it feels like it. But I do use my computer for most of my daily tasks. I work at home, on my computer. I blog and write, using my computer. I do my banking and pay my bills with my computer. I do my university work on my computer. I even order groceries on my computer.

And let me tell you, my computer really pushed it too far the other day. I had ordered groceries, and as I was ordering, things kept getting deleted from my basket. I thought I caught them all and added them all again. But when my groceries arrived, no diet coke. Anyone who knows me would understand how completely frustrated I felt at this point. I’m kind of a bit addicted to diet coke. Okay, I’m a lot addicted to diet coke.

Now my computer may delete work that I’ve done, refresh a page when I’m in the middle of writing an email, decide to keep making me sign into ebay for some unknown reason, slow down completely when I have about 20 things to do and refuse to send my emails to hotmail addresses (Actually I think that’s a problem with my internet provider. But they’re friends. I think they’re ganging up on me.) And I can kind of understand. The poor thing is a bit overworked. But when my computer deletes my DIET COKE, I am not happy AT ALL.

Now admittedly my computer has not done anything really bad. It hasn’t shut down on me. It hasn’t sent money off to Nigeria. It hasn’t deleted my book that I’ve been working on for five years. None of the things it has done has caused any real dramas. Even the missing diet coke wasn’t really that bad. My life is not going to suffer if my diet coke does not come on the day I ordered it.

It’s just been frustrating. And inconvenient. And time-consuming. Did I mention frustrating?

But sometimes I think it’s those little frustrations that are more upsetting than the big dramas. When I have something really go bad, I tend to be pretty philosophical about it. I say things like well God has a purpose and something better might come along. I feel calm and in control and peaceful. When my computer decides I’m spending too much time on ebay, I start yelling and crying.

Why is that?

Well, most frustration comes down to the fact that I am not getting my way. Things aren’t working out the way I want them to. In other words, it’s all about me and my desires. And one thing this week has taught me is just how annoyed I do get when I don’t get what I want.

And I guess with the big things, there is that hope that God’s in control. God has a plan. Maybe I didn’t get what I want here, because there is something better around the corner. But with the little things, there is no reason to it. My life is not going to suddenly get better because I have to write an email again. God doesn’t have a better email planned for me. It’s just a frustration. A frustration that serves no purpose except to make me yell at the computer, cry over missing diet coke and frustrate me.

Well, maybe it does serve a little purpose. As I said, it has made me realise just how much I like getting my own way. It has made me recognise a few of my faults that I didn’t actually know were there. And hopefully, it will eventually make the kind of person who is not so easily frustrated, who can still remain peaceful when things don’t go my own way. Maybe. With God, there’s always hope.

And maybe it’s also God’s way of telling me that I rely on my computer more than I rely on Him. God isn’t going to break down, delete my prayers or make me wait five minutes for the page on the bible to download. And unlike my computer, he doesn’t have an attitude problem. My computer problems can possibly be solved with a good clean-up and running a program to fix bugs and improve performance. But to fix my frustration problems, I’m going to need to spend less time on the computer and more time with God. He is the best anti-virus program for the human soul there is.

Postscript: While trying to upload this post, my internet encountered a problem and had to close. I find it hard to believe that is simply encounters problems. I am quite positive that it goes out searching for them. And then when I tried to find a picture to add, it moved so slowly, I could have built my own computer and taken a photograph of it before it was done. So I ditched the picture idea. I am not a person who swears often. If I do, people tend to look at me in shock. But in the middle of doing this blog, I have said the F word about 10 times. And I don't mean the word 'frustration'. I think I've already said this once or twice in this post, but this is very FRUSTRATING!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Manna and Trusting God

In the desert, the Israelites were given manna to eat. Each day, they had to collect what they needed for that day, except for the day before the Sabbath, when they were to collect what they needed for the Sabbath as well. They could not try to collect for more than one day or save what they had collected. Any manna left over at the end of the day went bad. The only exception to this was the Sabbath, when the manna would miraculously last for two days.

Talk about an exercising in trusting God. They were compliant reliant on God providing what they needed.

To put it in perspective, imagine if you only had enough food in your house for today. And if you tried to stock your pantries with food for beyond one day, it went mouldy. Or imagine that you only had enough money for today. No savings, no extra money in the bank account and no retirement plans. Scary, isn’t it?

In today’s western world, we like to make plans. We don’t just fill our cupboards and refrigerators with food for one day. Often we have enough food there to keep us going for a month. We start to stress when our money runs low or we’re not sure what our next source of income will be or we don’t know if we can survive through retirement.

Now there’s nothing wrong with planning. In today’s world, we need do at least some planning. But most of us are pretty good with planning. Well at least, we do a very good job at worrying about the future. But we’re not so good with trusting God.

Maybe we need to do a little less worrying and a little more trusting. Maybe we need to stop being so anxious over problems that aren’t even here yet. Maybe we need to start enjoying what God provides us with, instead of wanting to hoard it for a rainy day. And maybe we need to spend a lot more time being thankful for each and every day that we have what we need for that day. Because for today at least, that’s all we really need.

(Image details: The Gathering of the Manna at the Musée de la Chartreuse. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Image is in the public domain)


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