Tuesday, October 30, 2007

wholes and holes

A couple of blindspots have been exposed in recent decades...

First-up there is the recognition that the earth needs stewardship and the environment needs care. The genius of Genesis 1 & 2 is that it constitutes every possible relationship (God:world; God:humanity; humanity:humanity; humanity:world) - but then from Genesis 3 all of these relationships get stained and ruined by sinfulness and evil. Part of aligning ourselves with the mission of God in the world is to be agents of reconciliation and restoration in each of these relationships. But the two involving the "world" have always struggled to grab some headlines. But I guess people like Al Gore have shamed followers of Jesus into waking up to these issues...

Then there is the recognition that this sinfulness and evil has wrecked the relationship which mentions "humanity" twice (humanity:humanity) leading to a world racked with poverty and injustice. Part of aligning ourselves with the mission of God in the world is to work for justice and equality now, knowing that a judgement day is coming that deals with those situations where we are unsuccessful. As my heart becomes more attuned to injustice (as it has been doing) I find I become so expectant, so excited, about that coming day when God will both punish badness and vindicate goodness and do so for eternity. The people of Israel used to sing about that hope (for example, Psalm 96:11-13) - and so should we.

But here is my question...
If we were to reach a point where the earth is fully cared-for and people everywhere live free from injustice and poverty, has the mission of God on earth been accomplished?

I don't think so!

There is more to the mission of God than this. There is a worrying danger today that in pursuit of a more wholistic gospel (that's good) we might end up with a gospel with gaping holes in it (that's bad).

When Jesus mourned over Jerusalem at the end of Matthew 23, it was not because the city of Jerusalem was beginning to slip into nearby Gehenna, an environmentally-unfriendly wasteland. Nor was it because the people of Jerusalem were oppressed and impoverished, even though they were. Jesus was mourning because they had rejected him and they were lost until they found him, enabling him to be to them "as a hen gathering her chicks under her wings" (Matt 23:37). That is why Jesus mourned. Lost people were remaining lost...

When the great commission was given to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 it expressed God's desire to bless all peoples on earth through Abraham. Then when we get to Rev 4 & 5 with "every tribe and language and people and nation" around the throne, God turns to Abraham and says "See, I told you so - I told you I'd do it - here they all are." Actually Chris Wright says it much better in The Mission of God (IVP, 2006): "And God, in the midst of the resounding praises, will turn to Abraham and say, 'There you are, I kept my promise. Mission accomplished." (251)

Ahhh, there are the words that matter -"mission accomplished" - and this is when it happens. Let's be careful that in following Jesus in this world we allow the biblically-shaped gospel to be our guide - in all its fullness and devoid of gaping holes.

nice chatting

Paul Windsor

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

love unknown

A 2005 song from Chris Martin (Coldplay) contains these lyrics:
My song is love
Love to the loveless shown
And it goes up
You don't have to be alone ...

My song is love, unknown
But I'm on fire for you, clearly...

You're the target I'm aiming at
And I'm nothing on my own
Got to get that message home ...

A 1664 hymn by Samuel Crossman contains these lyrics:
My song is love unknown
My Saviour's love for me;
Love to the loveless shown
That they might lovely be.
But who am I, that for my sake.
My Lord should take take frail flesh and die?

I stumbled across this combo as I was picking the hymn (wanting to fit into the mantra of 'teaching people a new song'!) for community worship at Carey this week. I haven't investigated this too deeply but Chris must have known about Sam - particularly when the two tunes are so hauntingly similar as well! However it is the comparisons between the two complete sets of lyrics that has captured me. Let me open this up a bit and invite you to jump in!

1. Chris is only horizontal; Sam is only vertical in their relational focus
The focus for both is on the word 'unknown'. For Chris it seems that the love of a guy for a girl is unknown by the girl and he 'has to get the message home'. For Sam Jesus' love for people with a sin-problem is being rejected and so remaining unknown to them - with particular reference to the hatred shown by those watching Jesus go to the cross.

2. For Chris the purpose of the pursuit seems more selfish; for Sam the purpose is sacrificial.
While Chris goes on about 'you don't have to be alone' and this does sound selfless (although we don't know if she wants his company!), the deeper motivation is to fill the void in himself: "I'm nothing on my own". For Sam the purpose is about this fabulous gospel story. It is about this sacrificial death of Jesus - 'for my sake ... who at my need His life did spend' - which then enables this profound friendship with this same Jesus - 'my friend, my friend indeed' - to develop and writer's own person to become deeply 'lovely': 'love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be.'

3. For Chris this love remains unknown until the end; for Sam the love becomes known by the end.
Both songs tell a story. For Chris there is intense longing and emotional turmoil all the way through. The message doesn't seem to get home. For Sam the hatred and scorn and anger of the crowds in that final week is contrasted by the writer experiencing something quite different: "Never was love ... like yours. This is my Friend, in whose sweet praise I all my days could gladly spend." This love actually can be known and experienced...

Maybe you can uncover a few other observations. Here are a couple of clips from YouTube:

The Coldplay song:

The Crossman song:

nice chatting


Sunday, October 07, 2007

great to good: nz rugby

The inexplicable has happened - again! Going into their fourth straight World Cup rugby tournament as overwhelming favourites NZ's All Blacks were yesterday knocked out, this time earlier than ever before. If the inexplicable keeps happening when will it cease to be called inexplicable?

My mind goes to the Good to Great book by Jim Collins. He surveys 1400+ companies in the search of a recipe for greatness in leadership. He finds it far from the madding crowd ... in about 10 leaders who have a "compelling modesty" and a "fierce resolve". Personal humility and personal resilience seem to be the key.

My mind returns to NZ, our rugby, our All Blacks ... and this ability to stumble from greatness into goodness.

I wonder - is there not something lacking in the 'compelling modesty' department? I now find myself wincing at the arrogance that NZers bring to their passion for rugby. We do not tend to respect the opposition. One TV station's average score from viewers before the French game was 43-8! Maybe the reason why we see so much arrogance in the English is because there is so much arrogance in us about the way we view our place in the game?
We may not have an arrogance borne out of our dominance of the world stage (like we see so often in the Americans, for example) - but there is one that can emerge out of our insignificance on the global stage. When we 'box above our weight', it is exciting for us and we want to make sure everybody knows about it. Gee - this can so easily morph into the wrong kind of pride (that diminishes others!) as we become the sheep that roared from our little home in our comma on the bottom of the global page.
While I realise that many find the passionless, staunch, inarticulate, and lets-be-the-only-team-not-to-sing-our-anthem persona of our sportsmen to be an expression of compelling modesty, I am far from convinced. I find the winsome and gracious and animated persona so frequently displayed by our sportswomen far more compelling and authentic in its modesty.

I wonder - is there not something lacking in the 'fierce resolve' department? Huge criticism is about to be heaped on the 'reconditioning' and 'rotational' policies of the coaches. Those two words are going to need some couch-time to recover their place in the Kiwi vocabulary - a bit like the hammering Lord of the Rings gave to poor little "precious".
But how is it that rugby league players can play up to three games in a week, while our elite rugby union players have struggled to play ten full games in eight months? Where is the physical toughness and resolve in that fact?
Then the reality behind the 'inexplicable' is that we are deficient in some sort of mental resolve as well. The rest of the rugby world speaks of us as 'chokers'. Maybe we do freeze. Maybe we are the possum stuck in the headlights. Maybe we do struggle with the professional era. Rugby is not the only Kiwi sport that struggles here. Look at golf!
And it is not just physical and mental resolve ... to hear the coach say that France had more passion than the All Blacks. WOW! Really? After three early exits from World Cups and in our first knock-out game in this tournament ... and the All Blacks were out-passioned by the opposition? Where is the emotional resolve? Maybe we could start by learning to sing our anthem like the Portugese sing theirs?!

Like so many Kiwis I feel gutted. Knowing I couldn't drive back from Wellington in time, I spent the night in Room 88 in the Safari Motel in Taihape and watched the match on my own. Ugh! I'll get over it, knowing that God's mission in the world is far more concerned with other inexplicabilities ... but wouldn't it be great if we allowed this experience to build more modesty and resolve into our national psyche? It might make us even more useful in God's hands as well.

nice chatting


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

robin and marian

I grew up with Robin Hood. My Dad is a big fan of the 1938 movie version starring Errol Flynn. We watched it as kids. The storyline has grafted into my heritage. Then there was the 1991 version with Kevin Costner as Robin Hood. And now ... on Monday nights the phone gets ignored and the video recorder purrs away as we tune into Prime TV to watch the 2006 TV series from the BBC.
What so entices me with this TV series - and so ruins it for anyone within audible range of me as I watch - is that the same old storyline changes so much over time. Take two examples of this: identity and religion.

In terms of identity...
In 1938 Robin is chivalrous and heroic. He is a 'for God and King and country' leader of a throng of merry men. He stands on tables and up trees above his people urging them on to greater works of compassion and justice. In 2006 he cuts a more uncertain figure. Looking like he has just stepped out of a boy band, the charm is there but the plans are less grand. At one point Much, the one who knows him best, observes that 'he just wants to be loved'. And his leadership? He is rarely up front or up high. He leads from within a small group of followers.

And Marian? In 1938 she is a mostly passive and refined lady who knows well her elevated place in a hierarchial society. In 2006 the "Maid" has gone! She fights. She handles the bow and arrow. She moves easily between Nottingham and Sherwood. She is still beautiful - but now she is also fearless and smart. Anything Robin can do, she tends to do better. When all is said and done she is more the hero and heart of the storyline.

In terms of religion...
The Crusades (as they had started to do in the 1991 version) with their brutality of Christians towards Muslims hovers over the 2006 version. Friar Tuck, as the representative of Christianity, does not even make the script (and in 1991 he had morphed into a drunken, stupid, and useless buffoon, eclipsed completely by the Muslim Azeem character in the religious stakes)."For God" is long gone ... and "for King and country" (from 1938) is muted. At one point, when an unlikely pearl of wisdom emerges from Robin he is asked, "Where did that come from - the Bible?". His response? "No, the Koran".

As the series develops - Episode 9 last Monday - the spiritual heart of the movie is carried by a young Muslim woman (Djaq) who enters the story as the leader (how is that possible?) of a slave-gang brought to Sherwood by the Sheriff to work the mines. Djaq is redeemed by Robin and stays on with the group as a Muslim woman, masquerading as a young man. Go figure!? That could never have happened...

It is not difficult to see what is going on here ... but oh, it is such fun! Movie directors are not as creative as they think. They tend to reflect the world in which they live ... and maybe lead it a bit as well. Watch the 1938, 1991, and 2006 versions and we gather insight into the worldview that shapes my parents' generation, my own generation, and now my children's generation. [NB: I might also add that the same sort of thing can be done with many an enduring Disney storyline and Romeo & Juliet is a good one too. In fact I once shared some basic ideas about Romeo & Juliet with someone who ran with it, developed it further ... and it became a foundational part of his doctoral work. There is a doctorate in Robin Hood as well].

And with my childrens' world - both at high school and university - no aspects of worldview are more 'on the move' than identity and religion. These movies are case-studies in leadership and power relationships with 2006 giving prominence to a feminist perspective. These movies are case-studies in religion and spirituality and pluralism, with 2006 presenting this prevailing bias against Christianity. In our universities today the Crusades tend to be mentioned in the same breath as the Holocaust. Christian faith is being humbled and humiliated... None of these features would be anywhere near the original story as the contemporary penchant for revisionist history comes to the fore.

This is all SO useful ... To be effective as participants in the mission of God in the world we need to know our God and know our world and what it is that makes our world go round: worldviews! "To ignore worldviews, either our own or those of the culture we are studying, results in an extraordinary shallowness" (NT Wright). "The critical ideas in society are not the ones being argued, but the ones being assumed" (CS Lewis).

Robin Hood is a big help. We need to know our biblical worldview and let it engage these types of worldviews and find the response which is full of grace and truth. I fear that the christian mysticism spawned by charismatic renewal/contemplative tradition together with the pragmatism to which we so easily gravitate (which together have had such prominence in our NZ church life from 1991 to 2006) just do not have enough grunt for this crucial mission task...

nice chatting