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
meetings http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1213714/You-mustnt-mention-God--council-bans-church-putting-notices-meetings.html#ixzz0RRB4I1Df

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, NĂ¡poles. Image is in the public domain. From Wikimedia Commons.)


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