As humans we have had a bad week. We are not doing well in caring for one another, for seeking love over hate, peace over war or forgiveness and compassion over revenge. Yet somehow lights have been turned on. The light of love is shining and we have to be its bearers.
While there has be much said and written about ISIS, the most commented on article appeared on The Project and went viral on social media, with over 23 million hits. Waleed Aly, a Muslim presenter, suggested that by turning on ourselves, our communities, people who are not like us, which includes the millions of Muslins around the world and many of the refugees fleeing conflict and war, we are helping ISIS.
This is what Waleed Ali had to say…
“There is a reason ISIL still want to appear so powerful, why they don’t want to acknowledge that the land they control has been taken from weak enemies, that they are pinned down by air strikes or that just last weekend they lost a significant part of their territory,” he said on the program.
“ISIL don’t want you to know they would quickly be crushed if they ever faced a proper Army on a battlefield’
“They want you to fear them. They want you to get angry. They want all of us to become hostile and here is why: ISIL’s strategy is to split the world into two camps. It is that black and white”.
Aly asserted that ISIL’s ultimate aim is to turn the western world against Muslims, and have Muslims of the world turn to ISIL.
“So, if you are a member of Parliament or a has-been member of Parliament preaching hate at a time when what we actually need is more love — you are helping ISIL. They have told us that. If you are a Muslim leader telling your community they have no place here or basically them saying the same thing — you are helping ISIL”.
‘If you are just someone with a Facebook or Twitter account firing off misguided messages of hate, you are helping ISIL”.
“I am pretty sure that right now none of us wants to help these bastards”.
These words have struck a cord with many, many people around the world.
But there has been others, less profile, but still powerful. This from a French journalist who was held captive for a time by ISIS. He wrote….
“They [IS] present themselves to the public as superheroes, but away from the camera are a bit pathetic in many ways: street kids drunk on ideology and power … there is much we can achieve in the aftermath of the [Paris] atrocity, and the key is strong hearts and resilience, for that is what they fear. I know them: bombing they expect. What they fear is unity.”
Unity, I feel like shouting out, is a call from Jesus, is a call to us.
In Jesus we see and have an alternative vision for our world and for us. In Jesus we see our hope. Not a magical other worldly Jesus or a Jesus who rules with violence and fear, and not a Jesus whose clothes are sparkling and who only eats and drinks with the rich and powerful. No, our hope lies in a Jesus who calls us together, as one, to build up life, not destroy it. For all people, not just for some.
As Desmond Tutu has said, the only way we can be human is together, the only way we can be free is together. The only way we can be secure is together. That is the logic of God’s creation.
Let us light a candle, a Christ candle, a light in the darkness, in our homes and in our churches. There is a song by Carrie Newcomer, who I introduced you to in my last blog, which says it all. We listen to this knowing there are calls coming from around the world and within Australia to reduce our compassion for refugees, out of fear….. When what is needed is more love.
Let our hearts not be hardened to those living on the margin
There is room at the table for everyone
This is where it all begins, this is how we gather in
There is room at the table for everyone
I have added this post after the terrible events in Paris, which mirrors the terrible events in places like Beruit and Ankara recently. How we long for peace! How we long for the love and compassion for all people shown by and through Jesus. But it starts and stays with us. Let us be bringers of peace and love in our own lives and with those we are with.
In a service on Sunday we prayed and lit a candle for those in Paris, in Beruit and anywhere where the darkness of hate tries to blot out the light of love.
Rather than the sermon I want to add a poem and a prayer I used, which speaks to me and hopefully you much more powerfully. Here is the poem, by Maya Angelou
A Brave and Startling Truth – Maya Angelou
We, this people, on a small and lonely planet
Traveling through casual space
Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns
To a destination where all signs tell us
It is possible and imperative that we learn
A brave and startling truth
And when we come to it
To the day of peacemaking
When we release our fingers
From fists of hostility
And allow the pure air to cool our palms
When we come to it
When the curtain falls on the minstrel show of hate
And faces sooted with scorn are scrubbed clean
When battlefields and coliseum
No longer rake our unique and particular sons and daughters
Up with the bruised and bloody grass
To lie in identical plots in foreign soil
When the rapacious storming of the churches
The screaming racket in the temples have ceased
When the pennants are waving gaily
When the banners of the world tremble
Stoutly in the good, clean breeze
When we come to it
When we let the rifles fall from our shoulders
And children dress their dolls in flags of truce
When land mines of death have been removed
And the aged can walk into evenings of peace
When religious ritual is not perfumed
By the incense of burning flesh
And childhood dreams are not kicked awake
By nightmares of abuse
When we come to it
Then we will confess that not the Pyramids
With their stones set in mysterious perfection
Nor the Gardens of Babylon
Hanging as eternal beauty
In our collective memory
Not the Grand Canyon
Kindled into delicious color
By Western sunsets
Nor the Danube, flowing its blue soul into Europe
Not the sacred peak of Mount Fuji
Stretching to the Rising Sun
Neither Father Amazon nor Mother Mississippi who, without favor,
Nurture all creatures in the depths and on the shores
These are not the only wonders of the world
When we come to it
We, this people, on this minuscule and kithless globe
Who reach daily for the bomb, the blade and the dagger
Yet who petition in the dark for tokens of peace
We, this people on this mote of matter
In whose mouths abide cankerous words
Which challenge our very existence
Yet out of those same mouths
Come songs of such exquisite sweetness
That the heart falters in its labor
And the body is quieted into awe
We, this people, on this small and drifting planet
Whose hands can strike with such abandon
That in a twinkling, life is sapped from the living
Yet those same hands can touch with such healing, irresistible tenderness
That the haughty neck is happy to bow
And the proud back is glad to bend
Out of such chaos, of such contradiction
We learn that we are neither devils nor divines
When we come to it
We, this people, on this wayward, floating body
Created on this earth, of this earth
Have the power to fashion for this earth
A climate where every man and every woman
Can live freely without sanctimonious piety
Without crippling fear
When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
That is when, and only when
We come to it.
And here is the song, by Carrie Newcomber, called “I heard the owl call my name”. I have posted it as a YouTube video so you will get the words. She is the most amazing singer songwriter, who I have discovered recently.
This is the chorus…
So don’t tell me hate is ever right or God’s will
these are the wheels we put in motion ourselves
and the whole world weeps
and is weeping still
though shaken I still believe
the best of what we all can be
and the only peace this world will know
can only come from love.
The Brave Ones
Tidying up my study the other day I chanced upon a press release dated 18th June 2003 – the day of the march celebrating the return of Australian service men and women from the Iraq war.
I remember it well. Along with the thousands of people waving flags and cheering the marching military, a small group of people lined up outside the U.S. embassy holding pictures of an Iraqi child killed in the war. We had two signs with us. One said “Thankfully no Australians were killed. Hundreds of Iraqi children were”. The other: “We will remember them”.
Even I had my doubts about the wisdom of the protest and this was increased by person after person ringing up and saying that they would not be attending. It was, they said, “too culturally sensitive”. My reservations were heightened when a faithful TV camera man told me his producer had ruled against any coverage of our humble little group.
The press release stated that an Iraq veteran would address the protest group at 11am, and I duly addressed them with these words:
“In an hour’s time, our society will celebrate the return of soldiers from the Iraq war. We share with them their joy and their family’s joy at their safe return. I hope we will never again do what we did to the soldiers returning from Vietnam. That kind of treatment should have been reserved for the politicians who sent them. Like Vietnam, the recent war will be regarded by history as a monumental mistake. Iraq posed no threat. We were deceived into the use of unwarranted armed force. It was not Iraq that was the aggressor. It was the United States and Australia. We do not question the commitment of our armed forces. We do however challenge the lie that sent them to war
The fact that not one Australian life was lost is very significant. What kind of a war is it when one side has no casualties? It points up the fact that it was not in fact a war. It was a massacre! The enemy had no air force, no navy and no weapons of mass destruction. The destruction was reserved for thousands of Iraqi women and children.
This is what we gathered here today will not forget. Alongside the posturing of our Prime Minister, we will remember the devastated families of Iraq, families that were massacred in the name of war.”
As I was speaking I noted another brave one nearby, the TV camera man who had put his conscience before his producer and who left with the words “I will see what I can do”. And he did! At the end of three minutes covering thousands of service men and women marching with people cheering and waving flags, there was a three second shot of eighteen people holding photos – people whom I today salute as “The Brave Ones”.
The other night I was approached by a year 8 student to answer a few questions set by his faith and values teacher from school. Sure I said, without really thinking. Then came the question …
Is God good?
Mmm, a question that theologians and philosophers have wrestled with over the centuries, that people of faith deal with in the midst of the tragedy and grief of life. Is God good? And a teacher wants a one sentence answer!
In a theologically conservative school, and probably teacher, the nature of God is all important. Usually God is assumed to be omniscient (all-knowing), omnipotent (all-powerful) and perfectly good.
So firstly the problem is with the idea of good. What is good? Most would equate good with loving. Is God loving? But good could mean compassionate, or mean something more ethically, it has a sense of fair play, of justice in it. Good is a value judgement, one that we make. So when we ask, is God good, what do we actually mean!
But let’s stick with the assumption that when we are asked, is God good, we really mean, is God all loving.
The second problem is about God being all powerful.
From a conservative understanding God is an all-powerful interventionist God, humanity is a fallen creation and Jesus comes as a perfect sacrifice to save humanity from itself and from God. We are then called to follow Jesus, as our lord and saviour, with the Holy Spirit as our companion and guide.
God in this understanding is like an angry parent, requiring some payment for our sinful ways. We are somehow in need of rescuing. Yet it is not all that are rescued! Somehow God cannot act unless a price has been paid, some legal rules have been followed. Is this the action of a loving deity? To save some and not others, and to require some payment for it.
And then we have the problem of evil. If God is all powerful, omnipotent as the theologians would say, or all loving, or all good, how does evil in the world flourish? Why doesn’t God intervene?
Now we get into the nitty gritty! The universal dilemma!
If God is all powerful he cannot be all loving if he/she does not intervene to save those who are suffering. If God is all loving then he/she must not be all powerful else he/she would intervene to save those who are suffering. It is brought home when you think of all the terrible things that have happened and continue to happen in the world. The holocaust is usually referred to as a terrible example, and it was rammed home to me on the weekend when I revisited the movie, Schindler’s List. A very confronting movie about a very confronting event!
It is a dilemma that leads to creative and really mostly absurd reasons as to why God can be both. About the choices God makes or the freedom we have. It makes God into a person, who sits and ponders these things, making decisions about the world as though we are puppets in a play.
If we believe God is good and all powerful then we have to accept that we don’t understand his/her concept of good.
The problem with all of this is the starting point, the image of God and of Jesus and of our faith.
What about entering the twenty first century, a century of discovery. Evolution, Hubble telescopes, quantum physics, and incredible discoveries in the human story, in psychology, biology and philosophy.
What if we see God a little differently? A spirit or presence within all of life, from the very beginning of time, in all of creation from the big bang until now. What if we see God as all pervasive, an energy that holds all things in connectedness and relationship. That pulls us together and pushes us forward. This God is not a person, somewhere else, intervening sometimes and not others times. This God is personal. In you and me and every element of life on earth and has been from the very beginning. This God can be sensed and felt by us, and we can express this God in the world by being better people, by living with one another in peace and love.
This understanding of God does not find it difficult to say God is good. Or that God is all loving. This is old language, our language, but it does bring a truth that we can take hold of. This God, this creative divine spirit, or energy, is a universal presence, and we can all give expression to this God reality. For God is about life, our life, the life of all those that will follow and all those that have come before. God is a life giving presence that can lead us into the future. But it is a shared future, and we have a shared responsibility.
Perhaps it helps to look at Jesus to link it together. Rather than some sacrificial payment for our sinfulness that God requires let us see Jesus as a reflection of this universal God. He loved freely, he forgave freely, he called for peace and he worked for justice for those marginalised and poor. Jesus died, that is a certainty, at the hands of the Roman Empire. But his death was an answer to all that is evil in the world, his world and ours, rather than some set piece arranged by God. His death shows us that love is stronger than hate, and peace is stronger than violence and that all people are of value. When Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow him, it is to follow him in this way of living.
Yet this new way of seeing God also dismisses fully the notion that this divine presence is making decisions about where to intervene and for who. This God reality is a power within not over, and remains with us through our suffering, a presence that can lift us out of the chaos. But this God is not the reason for our suffering, some arbitrary judge who can determine our lives at a whim. As people of faith we cannot expect there will not be death or destruction or pain or grief in life. Only that God’s presence never leaves us as we look to bring light into the darkness, for ourselves and others.
If we return to the movie, Schindler’s list, this reality becomes clear. There was such horror and evil, and then there was a little light. Surprisingly a greedy, womanising German who was a member of the SS, rescued over 1200 Jews by paying the Germans for them to work in his factory with every dollar he had. In the end his contribution to humanity lives on, with the descendants of all those he saved amounting to over 7,000 people. A little light in the darkness leading us forward. Was God present? Of course, in both Schindler, in the terrible suffering of the Jews and in all those who helped, hindered, ignored or participated in this awful moment in history. Evil flourishes when the God light is dimmed or extinguished. It does not mean that it is not there.
I hope I have planted some seeds. Perhaps that the role of questions like this!
In the light of my last contribution in which I recounted my first experience of memory loss, one could easily be excused for thinking that the title of this piece is its logical outcome. Such is fortunately not the case – at least I don’t think so! At my age it really is difficult to determine how far the exigencies of age have progressed and one is reminded of the concert pianist who said “If I don’t practice it takes me a week to notice its effects, the orchestra two weeks and the public a month.” Where I am on that continuum I have no idea – nor does it really matter because in no way can I be compared to a concert pianist. I am indeed tone deaf! I see it more in terms of an old man whose mind and memory is clearly on the wane but who still has enough left to set some alarm bells ringing as to the state of the nation and our society.
Two things in particular have contributed to the mini resurrection.
One is the fatuous nonsense of our former Prime Minister in the Margaret Thatcher lecture when he said “The imperative to love your neighbor as yourself is at the heart of every Western polity …. but right now this wholesome instinct is leading much of Europe into catastrophic error.”
The other is a statement of Ranier Maria Rilke “ For one human being to love another; that is perhaps the most difficult of our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but a preparation”.
My thanks to both of these for the shot of adrenalin that encourages me to yet another penultimate statement, this time about “A Culture in Crisis”.
Where then lies the significance of the title of “The End of the Road”? It comes from a cartoon by Jon Kudelka – the original of which seems to have become lost in the halls of history. Here is a copy of a copy of it to give you the general idea.
If memory serves me right, the original had the passenger saying “Is our GPS working?” which I changed to point up the fact that it is more than just a question of technology. Many people see technology as the savior of society. I do not. Technology merely provides a more efficient means of doing something. We now have, for example, the ability to communicate at any time and any place – but that is not the point. It is what we communicate that matters. We have the power to destroy by nuclear bombs. That is not the point. Whether we use it is what matters.
Having had some embarrassing experiences with a faulty GPS, I was temped to leave the original words of the passenger in the cartoon. But in the end I decided on a more personal approach and used words that I have heard on many occasions.
Be all that as it may, I have a problem with the cartoon in that the car has pulled up in time and can now retrace the route it took. In today’s culture I see no signs of the brakes being applied and it may well be that the end result is a tangled wreck with no voices coming from it – a dead end so to speak!
As you will probably have guessed by the foregoing, I am a cartoon enthusiast. Why? Because they are the inheritors of the parabolic teaching method of Jesus. Cartoons, if you get what they are on about, have a punch like a parable. They are designed to impact upon a person and (like a joke) you either get it or you don’t. And if you do get it, it could change not only your life but also the lives of those around you and the life of our society. Long live the cartoon, particularly if it points up that our Culture is in Crisis.
Let me now, in the interests of clarity, share the meaning to some of the words that I will be using. I will be using the word culture in the sense of “a way of living that is transmitted from one generation to another” and the word crisis in the sense of “a turning point”. I have in mind the medical use of the term crisis – the point where a decisive change occurs leading either to recovery or death’ The word crisis is also interesting from a biblical point of view where it is translated as “judgment” – not in the sense of some oriental despot in the heavens sending the thunderbolt of Armageddon but in the sense of that magnificent verse John 3:19. “This is the judgment (krisis) that the light is in the world and people prefer the darkness to the light.” I should also mention that when I use the word God I am not speaking in terms of a personal God in the heavens controlling what goes on in the world. The idea that the world was created by a personal being who continues to watch over it is outdated and has been for the last two hundred or so years. Bishop Robinson in his “Honest to God” pointed it out in 1963 and said it would take a hundred years before it was generally accepted. We are half way through that period. I use the word “God” in the sense of the energy of the universe, the energy of life, not a being but the ground of our being. Of what significance then is Jesus of Nazareth. He embodies (and I use that word deliberately) he “embodies” the highest values of humankind, with the greatest text in the bible being John 10:10: “I am about life in all its fullness”.
God is the energy of life. Jesus embodies the highest hopes of humankind. And our culture is in a state of crisis.
I am not, of course, alone in my concern and, as Simon Critchley observes, we seem to have moved to a situation portrayed by a triangle with the three points being politics, religion and violence. He identified this situation before the rise of Islamic State and must now be wondering how prescient one can be. The title of his book is also pertinent: “The Faith of the Faithless”. He is one of many who are concerned by the Cultural Crisis that confronts us. His answers to the situation are, however, very different to mine so let me then give you a précis of how I see the situation .
Firstly, that our modern secular society emerged from and is a product of the Christian West. Barth, Bonhoeffer and Bultmann made this quite clear in the middle of last century.
Secondly, that our culture has cut itself off from its roots and, as plants wither and die when cut off from their roots, so do cultures that forget their past. I am not for a moment suggesting a return to the Christianity of the past. Much of that belongs in a museum. What I am asserting is that to jettison the Christian faith completely is to cut ourselves off from our spiritual and cultural roots, and that the death of our culture is an inevitable consequence.
Thirdly, that our culture is in crisis. We have reached the crisis point, the critical moment that leads to life or death. The evidence for this is overwhelming, and I literally could speak for hours on the way our culture is collapsing. I have a file of newspaper cuttings three centimetres thick giving instances of it.
Fourthly, the catalyst for life for positive change is what I refer to as “awareness” – known in the Christian faith as “Contemplative Prayer”. And at this point I would ask you to hold judgment as to the meaning of word “prayer”. It is certainly very different from trying to change God’s mind, or asking God for something.
(TO BE CONTINUED)