When God Kills People III

Ok so the sausages were really good. We have a fantastic butcher here in Yanchep who creates some really interesting varieties – not your standard ‘meat paste’ rolled in plastic – but some really funky types like ‘cheesy-mite & bacon’ (bacon, vegemite and cheese) or ‘hot hot hot’ – so hot in fact I could only eat one before my mouth was on fire – and I’m a hot food lover!

But back to Boyd’s book…

He describes his idea as like one of those magic eye pictures that if you stare at it long enough it comes into view. Of course some people stare aimlessly for a very long time and just see blurry lines and he acknowledges that this may happen with the ‘cruciform hermeneutic’ for OT violence.. Right now I’m having rare moments of glimpsing the picture (you know that feeling?) but mostly its blurry lines and long periods of wondering if I’ve actually been conned… There is no picture after all…

I finished volume 1 earlier this week so it seems time for an update before I forget what I read. I appreciate that Boyd is unwilling to just dismiss what is inconvenient and that he takes a high view of scripture so obviously he needs a different plan for articulating the violence passages.

He is looking at possible solutions now and his next one is the Synthesis Solution where ‘the OT’s violent portraits of God must be accepted as accurate revelations alongside of Christ’. He acknowledges this as the broadest of the views with 4 main strands.

  1. The ‘Beyond Our Categories’ Defense ie. he is God and subject to our ethical constraints and he sees the bigger picture so he can do what we might find abhorrent without failing to be good. Think ‘potter and clay’ and ‘will not the Lord of the whole earth do what is right’ type scenarios. The end of this thinking means that we have to somehow see that ‘barbaric and atrocious-appearing behaviour is in fact ‘good” While I think there is an element of truth in this explanation he goes on to argue well that we simply cannot accept that good is simply defined by what God calls it at the time otherwise our understanding of morality has no north point.
  2. The ‘Divine Punishment’ Defense – this speaks to the violence being an ‘expression of God’s holy wrath against sin.’ Boyd rejects this on the basis that much of the violent behaviour in the OT seems unjust. eg being stoned to death for picking uo sticks on the sabbath (fairly harsh…)
  3. The ‘Greater Good’ Defense – the idea is fairly obvious – God is at work doing something bigger than we see, but Boyd suggests it comes unstuck when we look at an example like the complete wiping out of the Canaanites as being ‘necessary’ yet ‘subsequent to the invasion of Canaan the Israelites continued to live side by side with – and when in exile even in the midst of – wicked and idolatrous neighbours.’
  4. The ‘Progressive Revelation’ Defense – which he sees as the most tenable outside of this own ideas. This idea suggests that God interacts with his people in ways that are in keeping with their development. ‘In short God meets people where they are at, not where he wishes they were’. This view suggests ‘Yahweh acquiesed to violence as much as he had to but moved his people in the direction of peace as much as possible. He argues that if this were the correct view then why does God not minimalise violence rather than (as some times happens) allowing maximal violence. He maintains that this view means that under certain circumstances God’s character is such that he is willing to command and engage in horrific even genocidal violence.

These are very brief overviews and I’m not trying to argue for or against any of them. I’m just trying to keep my head above water and stay with his thinking.

He spends the rest of this volume in his ‘reinterpretation solution’ which he calls the ‘cruciform hermeneutic’. If I were to sum this approach up in as simple language as possible then it would be saying ‘If Jesus crucified is the ultimate revelation of God then when we read the violence texts we must assume something else is going on that bears witness to the crucified Christ and we need to ‘keep digging’ till we find that truth.

He cites Origen as an inspiration for this methodology and while he doesn’t agree with his conclusions he states that he was headed in the right direction by ‘digging deeper’. Boyd writes ‘Origen’s incarnational model of inspiration ld him to believe that there could never be anything superfluous in scripture’, so there has to be a way of understanding the difficult stuff and locate the ‘spiritual meaning’.

‘The method of the spirit’ he notes ‘is to conceal these truths and to hide them deeply underneath narratives which appear to be records of actual events.’

So this is where Boyd finds his ground to stand. Its a long spiel from here on and I’m no sure I will do it justice in this post, but perhaps Boyd’s summary of his path forward is enough:

I will argue that as we interpret these violent portraits through the lens of the cross, we can discern what God was doing when he ‘breathed’ these violent portraits through ancient authors anticipates, participates in and thereby bears witness to what God did in a decisive manner, and for all humanity on the cross. We can in a word, discern in these violent portraits that God was bearing the sins of his people and was thereby taking on an ugly literary semblance that reflected that sin, just as he did in a historical way for all humanity on Calvary p.457

I got to this point and then realised that the subsequent chapters in this first volume must have ‘gone in one ear and out the other’ so to speak, so I may need to re-read them to make sense of what’s ahead. (Don’t ya hate that?…)

I appreciate some folks are reading and commenting – and I’m not replying much – largely because I am yet to form any opinions on this subject and I am not writing this as an advocate for Boyd or to negate his ideas. I’m just curious… So if I don’t reply its largely because I don’t have a lot to say at this point.

I’m hoping to get into Volume 2 shortly, but the work of reviewing it is more than I anticipated – a bit like an ungraded essay for a theology class – so don’t be surprised if my next posts are thinner and more of a ‘good book’ / ‘bad book’ scenario!

(And I have stared at that ‘magic eye’ pic above for 5 minutes now and still can’t make out what it is so that might be indicative of my capacity for new ideas…)

The Wave That Sam Caught

I reverse the ute in tight against the car park fence and drop the tailgate to create a seat with an ocean view. We are the only ones at the beach on this still, warm autumn afternoon. It’s 4.00pm and I’ve driven Sam down for an afternoon surf at our local break. The waves are small and he is the only one in the water. The tide is precariously low exposing the reef, meaning his decision to use my surfboard might just bring us both unstuck.

He clambers across the reef and paddles out into the line up as I open my book. But it’s a weighty theological piece and it makes no sense to bury my head in it, while the ocean is doing its thing just 50m away and my son is surfing. Most days I’d be out there with him, but I had my share of waves earlier in the day.

Still I love to bring him down here and sit in the autumn sun watching him learn and push himself.

So I lean back and watch as he paddles over waves, misses others, sits, waits some more and then misses more waves. I see him size them up but back out and I know that paralysing fear that grips you when you lack confidence and are learning.

And I want to yell at him and coach – bellow instructions from the car park, but truth is every hour in the water he’s learning and finding his way, figuring it out. He doesn’t need me in his ear assaulting him, imposing my will on him, ‘helping’ him. He just needs time… to develop courage and confidence…

So I sit and wait watching diligently, patiently, and then he gets one… paddles strongly into a lefthander that he rides with unexpected confidence and composure. ‘You see! You can do it’ I want to call out, because I knew he could… And I think he knew he could too. He just had to actually do it.

And I realise now that all the way home we will talk about that wave… we will relive that wave from every angle and in slow motion. And I will get a commentary on how big it really was (its bigger when you’re out there you know), how shallow the reef was, how hard it was to catch… but how good it is when you do just commit…

And I will listen to it all (with pride) then we will do it again tomorrow.

And yes – that was the wave in picture

 

 

When God Kills People II

 

 

 

 

I still have a rather disturbing memory of a friend coming for dinner around 10 years ago and having a conversation around issues of faith. She picked up my ‘book of fairy tales’ as she sometimes called it and asked me how I could believe this nonsense.

‘What do you mean?’ I asked.

She opened it totally randomly and read the first words she came across which just happened to be Exodus 32:27 when Moses has just returned to the Hebrew people after they erected the golden calf.

It said this:

“Then he said to them, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbour.’ ”

And she asked ‘what the hell is that all about?’

Fair question?…

I don’t remember my exact answer but I imagine it would have had something to do with God’s holiness and people’s sin – fairly standard fare. But I would have much preferred she opened to John 3 or a more accommodating passage of scripture.

I’m about a third of the way thru Greg Boyd’s ‘Crucifixion of the Warrior God’ where he attempts to provide coherent answers to the horror passages of the Old Testament. I’m reading it slowly and trying to digest it (often I skim and get the gist) and I have to agree with Boyd that we have often been guilty of putting our ‘best spin’ on the difficult issues of violence and that we need a better way of dealing with this stuff.

At the end of the day I may read 1400 pages and disagree, but either way I’d like to open the subject up and give it a shake as I haven’t found a response that I can sit well with. I wrote about this here and I will continue it until I finish the book.

So I began…

I haven’t driven across the Nullarbor for a few years now, but the first 300 pages of Boyd’s book gave me that feeling. It’s a long and at times very repetitive trek through difficult terrain, with some great highlights along the way, but for the most part it’s just a place of endurance. You rarely drive across the country just for the fun of it.

Essentially Boyd is attempting to reconcile the issue of violence in the OT with the non-violent Jesus of the NT.

He begins with an introduction that serves as a roadmap to the journey ahead. Just reading this I felt weary, but I’ve signed up for the trip so I kept moving. His opening chapter, titled the faith of Jacob is about the importance of struggling with the tensions he is about to develop. This is an excellent intro and presents the reader with some of the key challenges for the road ahead. Issues like how we view God, how we read scripture and the link between ‘violent gods’ and violent devotees. A good kickstart.

He then devotes a chapter to explaining the idea of a christocentric hermeneutic but concludes by saying that focusing on Christ alone is ‘too ambiguous to be of value in interpreting the divine violence in the OT’, giving an overview of the direction he will head – towards what he calls a ‘cruciform hermeneutic’.

He then spends the next 200 pages showing how that cruciform hermeneutic (viewing the Bible thru the lens of Christ crucified) is present both in scripture and history. This part of the trip felt very dry… you could certainly call it ‘thorough’, but at times it veered into repetitive tedium.

He hammered the ‘cruciform hermeneutic’ and he did make a good case for it, as well as spending a fair slab of time arguing against his critics. I have certainly been challenged to look for this focus each time I read but I’m yet to appreciate how he makes it work in the violence narratives. He views this hermeneutical framing as critical for any further work hence the time spent on it.

From here it is on to a chapter entitled ‘The Dark Side of the Bible’ where he scans the Old Testament material for all kinds of divine violence. By the end of that chapter you are rather overwhelmed with the vast amount of problematic material.

He breaks it into 5 categories:

  1. Divinely sanctioned violence eg promised land entry
  2. Prescribed violence in the law – eg kids being put to death for being stubborn, lazy, drunk
  3. Divinely Caused Violence, eg flood and destroying angels.
  4. Violence in the Psalms, like Psalm 139:19, 21-23
  5. Violence in Biblical Stories, like the Levite and his concubine in Judges 19–21.

There is no shortage of material to deal with and I was quite stunned by how assaulted I felt having read the chapter. Most of this stuff I had come across over the years but in isolation. When you are confronted with it all together it really does make you take a breath. But I found this chapter helpful for simply laying out the weight of material that needs a response.

From here he moves to the solutions he rejects and this is the section I am in at present. He begins with the ‘dismissal’ solution, beginning with Marcion and moving on to more contemporary voices albeit to a lesser degree. Boyd states that he is committed to the inspiration and authority of the Bible (as well as what he calls ‘infallibility’ – as opposed to inerrancy) so obviously simply ‘ripping those pages out’ is not a valid solution.

He takes what I would consider a conservative view of scripture, but not so conservative that he can’t recognise genre, nuance and literary license. He argues that authority remains intact even if we conclude that certain ‘historical narratives’ fail to align with actual history. (eg Jericho entry)

He also states:

‘I believe every utterance of scripture should be taken literally; not in a shallow sense but in a deep sense. That is, it should be accepted as literal within the world of the biblical narrative, considered as God’s word which has an altogether deeper significance than taking something literally in that it corresponds to some scholar’s reconstruction of what actually happened.’

 

Make sense?

To be more specific he says:

‘The divine authority of a narrative is thus not diminished even if someone were to consider it proven that a particular narrative reflects no actual history.’

 

You might need to read the chapter to get the whole breadth of his argument here. He does go on to make the point that he considers himself a ‘maximalist’ in simply believing that most scripture does line up historically, so I’m curious as to why he needed to make the point so strongly. That said I think I would line up pretty closely with his views.

So I am now up to Chapter 9 ‘The Synthesis Solution’ and once I’ve read another 400 pages I will offer another update.

As a personal reflection I appreciate that its all too easy to read the Old testament with no prior knowledge of context and get tripped up in that, but if it takes 1400 pages of pretty serious reading to make sense of this stuff then what hope is there for the average church-goer who doesn’t have the time or energy to dive in this deep?

In other news I am cooking sausages for dinner tonight…

Sorry Charles?

Back in 1996 I ventured off to what was then called Baptist Theological College. I went reluctantly and not expecting to enjoy myself, but thankfully the experience was very different to the perception.

One of my first year units was Intro to Old Testament, a subject I really couldn’t give due diligence to because I was also studying New Testament Greek and it was the ultimate time thief. Every other unit got studied at half capacity while I sought to pass Greek and invested all my spare time in rote memorising Greek words and expressions. While I eventually got HDs for Greek I missed out on really digging into the other areas, something I was somewhat bummed about (and the reason I never did study Hebrew and subsequently dropped out of the accreditation process.)

In that first year of OT study I remember beginning to explore some difficult questions around the early chapters of Genesis. I picked up The Biblical Flood by Davis Young, that looked at the biblical flood and began to raise questions from a geological perspective about the legitimacy of a worldwide flood, an ark inhabited by two of every species and the sheer logistics of having predators housed with prey, not to mention the means of dealing with animal excrement.

The author made a very good case for reconsidering and re-reading the Genesis story, and I was intrigued by what that meant and how it would play out. But ‘Greek’ called (bellowed) and I was forced to abandon real learning to try and get my head around an ancient language I had very little interest in, but without which I couldn’t make it to second year.  I doubt I would have been half as resentful towards learning biblical languages if it hadn’t impinged so negatively on the learning I really wanted to do. But as it was I ended up shelving many pressing questions to make sure I could enter my next year with Greek behind me.

So when a friend recommended Adam & The Genome recently by Venema and McKnight I felt it may be time to re-open some of those questions. I also have Greg Boyd’s ‘Warrior God’ sitting on the table, but it only arrived this week so I felt it worth finishing the ‘Genome’ first.

I must admit I am something of a McKnight groupie – if theology lecturers had fan clubs then I would join his as he has a remarkable ability to express in readable English, thoughts and concepts that are often inaccessible to us mere mortals. I also find myself on a very similar theological trajectory to McKnight, who is (to my perception) thoroughly conservative evangelical but willing to think, reconsider and adjust his conclusions if needed.

My short ‘Danelle-language’ summary of the book is that these two make a case for Darwin’s theory of evolution to be the best explanation of human origins and as a result call for a reading of Genesis that does not see Adam (and Eve) as historical, but literary. Venema makes the case from genetics for modern humanity descending from approximately 10000 individuals rather than just two distinct people. If the science is correct – and it does seem to be quite compelling – then we either have to see the biblical story as an aberration in history where God intervened dramatically, or we need to consider how we read it differently.

So Venema writes the first half of the book and explains the science behind all the genome stuff. To be honest I struggled to stay with him at times, but I did pick up the gist of his argument – essentially that Darwin got it right. McKnight then begins to look at how we view Adam and Eve in light of this scientific insight and offers an alternate and (to my mind) fairly convincing reading of Genesis that does not see two literal human beings, but rather two people as part of a story suitable for its time that is a way of giving sense to origins.

I have never had any trouble subscribing to an old earth point of view, but up until reading this I hadn’t given serious thought to Darwin’s theory as palatable. I could swallow ‘intra-species’ evolution, but the inter-species form Darwin required for us to get here today was always a bit of a stretch for my mind. Venema suggests it is legit and part of God’s creative process. He suggests the sheer weight of scientific evidence leaves us with no option but to let go of our abhorrence towards evolution and begin to accept that God chose to work thru the evolutionary process.

I don’t have time to unpack all of McKnight’s discussion, but suffice to say that his tracing of understandings of Adam through history, the genre of Genesis and his subsequent conclusions are not easily dismissed either.

It certainly isn’t a denial of the miraculous or supernatural as McKnight agrees that we still read the gospels as historical documents. But I am certainly up for revisiting and re-considering the early chapters of Genesis and where they fit in the broader story.

Am I convinced?

It’d be foolish to be convinced on the basis of one author, but it has certainly led me to think more about the subject as it is a much more believable rendering of things than anyone else I have heard to date.

Anyone else read it and can comment?

Smile and Say ‘G’day’

Remember primary school – and those basic skills in making friends we were introduced to?

So what happened to that stuff as we became adults?

I’ve been surfing a lot lately, mostly at our local break just across the road from home (pic above), but occasionally I venture to the more popular (and crowded) spots. At our local you can paddle out and instantly be in conversation with the other 3 or 4 blokes in the water and most of us know each other quite well now.

But once the crowd becomes unfamiliar the tone changes. It becomes the same kind of crowd you find in a train, or an elevator, except that there is an added air of competition afoot for the best wave. A pecking order forms and I am under no illusions where I sit these days…

I love my local break partly because its a relatively unknown gem close to home, but I also love it for the men I spend time with while I’m out there. Recently I’ve taken Sam with me on most surfs and he has been welcomed into the crew too. The other men encourage him and cheer him on as he learns and improves.

It’s what surfing ought to feel like.

Last week as I paddled out to a break north of Two Rocks amidst 20 other guys I became a face on the train again – another competitor – a threat – and it felt somewhat icy. So I decided it was time to ‘smile and say g’day’. Not kooky, dorky ‘smile and say g’day’, but warm and friendly – change the tone kinda ‘smile and say g’day’.

In a sullen crowd of snarling faces a smile could well be seen as a sign of weakness – a way to further lower my place in the pecking order. Or a smile could be a way to return surfing to a shared experience of the ocean where we all enjoy ourselves rather than separating into winners and losers.

In a silent group of 8 or 9 blokes all scanning the horizon to snaffle the next wave, sometimes all it takes is a ‘beautiful day hey?’ to break the ice, but it so often seems to go against the grain. I’ve actually had people plain ignore me as I’ve looked them in the eye and said ‘g’day’… bizarre… so I’ve waited 5 minutes and then tried a different tack. ‘Day off today?’ And sooner or later they cave. No one really wants to be an rude, arrogant pig.

I’m not out there for a ‘chat’, but neither am I out there to compete.

As with most things in life someone has to go first to change the culture. So if you happen to see me in the water chances are I’ll be that guy who paddles over and smiles at you – then says ‘g’day’.

Try to be nice.

It makes for a much better world.

Evidence That Demands Skepticism

The older I get the less theological stuff I want to be dogmatic on.

There is some core teaching I’ll go hard with, but there is plenty that is either negotiable, mysterious or just plain incomprehensible. That would have scared me when I was 20.

As my kids get older they ask me questions that I once knew the answers to, but now am not so sure about. That’s difficult because at their stage in life and faith they need fairly black and white answers and I see shades of grey far more easily. I refuse to give them trite answers to complex questions.

It was nice to be certain and assured of my responses and a part of me would like to go back there, but 52 years of life has left me with plenty of questions that aren’t easily resolved. In fact if I weren’t a Christian today then I doubt I’d have much chance of finding my way to faith. I seriously doubt you could put me in an Alpha course and have me pop out the other side convinced and converted.

That said I know the ‘reasons for faith’ and I could present them to you. Plenty of them have strong currency, but I subscribed to them when I wanted to believe. I ‘bought’ them when I was growing up in a Christian community. I think now I’d try to poke holes in them and I’d find a flaw in every piece of reasoning and use that to hold all belief systems at arms length.

I’m a natural skeptic and questioner, so things I just took as ‘gospel’ earlier in my life I have been revisiting and asking ‘what do I think now?’ And that’s a trickier question when you get paid money to be (at least somewhat) sure of things and to lead people to a strong place in faith.

What its helped me grasp is that there are few people out there just waiting to be intellectually convinced of faith (sorry ‘Case for Christ’ fans). I became a Christian largely because the ‘data made sense’ – the ‘numbers added up’ and I couldn’t refute the evidence (but I was also unconsciously being strongly formed by the Christian community I was in). It was the Josh McDowell / apologetics era, but much of what I took on board then is still valuable in holding a reasonable faith.

However in a world where there are so many competing ideas I don’t think people are chasing a ‘reasonable faith’. I don’t think many people are waiting for someone to hit them with a killer argument for the gospel.

Rather I sense that the difference will be encounters with God that have undeniable potency – prophetic insights, experiences with the divine that send chills down the spine – inexplicable love and grace. If faith is all down to logic and reason then I think we are fighting a losing battle.

But because my faith has been formed in a community, where I have experienced God repeatedly and also heard stories of his actions, I have a much harder time when it comes to letting go of my belief system. I would have to deny or re-interpret so much of my life experience.

As I’ve pondered how we approach evangelism in this climate it has led me to consider that the keys will be the supernatural experiences / divine encounters that give people a context in which to consider the ‘evidence’. I’ve begun praying for people more – and telling them I’m praying for them. It certainly opens up conversation and allows for God to do his thing. In that context there has been opportunity to speak of how I see the world – of how I see Jesus.

I’m sure there is still a place for well formed apologetics, but it seems that for every answer there is an equal and opposite response. I don’t really know how to do it, but reclaiming a faith that is more spine chillingly supernatural may just be a foothold in a slippery world.

 

When God Kills People?

Its been said that ‘where you stand determines what you see’, which is why theology in a western context often looks very different to perspectives from other more impoverished or persecuted parts of the world.

Equally the lens you read the Bible through determines what you see and how you understand what you see. I recently ordered Greg Boyd’s new book, Crucifixion of the Warrior God, a 1492 page tome looking at how we reconcile the violence in the OT with the non-violent Jesus – assuming that we hold a strong view of biblical inspiration and don’t just toss out the hard bits.

Boyd’s lens seems to be the ‘God who is revealed in the crucified Christ’ and after watching this youtube clip I get a sense of what he means by that. Essentially he is saying that if we now have this revelation – this information on who God is – whereas those before Jesus time didn’t then we have a lens for looking back on that historical information and interpreting it more intelligently. He suggests the violence attributed to God by the biblical writers is not actually God at work, but may be God allowing others to act in that way. (Watch the clip for fuller explanation).

I’m curious to see how he develops this thinking – and also why he stops at the ‘crucified Christ’ rather than ‘ the crucified and resurrected Christ’.

In recent years my own primary lens for approaching the difficult passages of scripture has been via the premise that ‘God is good’. Its the foundation stone of all of my theological thinking. If God is good then I have to be able to understand various events in light of that truth – or I can live with them as mystery knowing that God is good. (And if God isn’t good then we’re in some pretty deep poo…)

Lately I’ve pondered some difficult questions that don’t have any easy answers and without a strong primary lens I imagine a thinking person’s faith could unravel. I have just come back from my brother in law’s funeral, where a good, faithful man suffered for 9 years with motor neurone disease and then eventually died. You have to ask questions of God’s character in those situations. People were praying for his healing to the end. He didn’t ‘curse God’ and walk away, but when all was said and done he suffered and died. So maybe God is a heartless jerk?…

Or maybe God doesn’t see, doesn’t care, doesn’t care enough?… These are all very fair questions. Maybe God is ‘working all things together for good’?… Well… yeah… but really? He couldn’t have found a better plan? Is he God or not?

If God isn’t good then Graham’s death was a senseless waste of life and a tragic loss for his family, but if God is good then there must be another way of looking at that situation – not to minimise the pain, or trivialise it, but to ask ‘what is going on that we can’t see?’ The answer may be that ‘we just can’t see it’ and we have to live with that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the funeral one of the images shared in a eulogy was Graham’s own take on life as a bit like a ‘cross-stitch’ ie. what looks like a complete mess of fabric and knots from one side is actually a coherent and beautiful picture from another side. With limited perspective we can only see part of the picture.

I can sit pretty well with mystery, but I have always found the OT slaughter passages a bit of struggle because even the best answers have left me somewhat ‘meh’. So here’s hoping Boyd has a take that allows me to put that one to bed and in the process gives a lens for viewing the dark times of life.

 

The Problem is Not With Reality

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bunnings was shut today.

That’s a rare event, almost on a par with a visit from Haley’s comet.

But then it is Good Friday – possibly the only day on the Christian calendar to still command some degree of reverence (at least in hardware)…

In my own mind this day feels like the ‘big one’, more a day of mourning and reflection than Easter Sunday which is a celebration, or Christmas where the vibe is similar.

So when I got texts and emails from people wanting retic work done today I found myself a little irate.

Don’t they know what day it is?!

And that was the rub. Yes they do – it’s Friday and it’s a public holiday. They aren’t at work and have had time to go into the garden to notice that their sprinklers aren’t working. So they decided to get in touch and ask for help.

It’s only ‘Good Friday’ to those of us who are in the know – to those of us who buy the whole Jesus story. To everyone else it’s a day for fishing, gardening or taking off to Busso.

I found myself a little miffed at the insensitivity of people daring to ask about reticulation on this of all days.

And then as I stopped to ponder I simply had to realise that I was seeing the world very differently to them.

Why should I expect ordinary, secular Aussies to view Easter as a significant Christian event?

That’s absurd.

But it was a reminder of how easy it is to live within a worldview that is no longer seen as mainstream. And my response was equally concerning. Disappointment with a secular culture because it doesn’t observe Christian faith traditions is like getting upset with the cricket club for not kicking enough goals.

The times are still changing and as missionaries to this culture we have to be able to look back at ourselves and consider what we do and how we perceive the world because sometimes reality has shifted and we haven’t noticed.

A Different Kind of King

Last week I watched the story of Private Desmond Doss, a soldier in the second world war whose story is told in the movie Hacksaw Ridge.

Doss grew up as a Christian and a devout pacificist – he was a conscientious objector to war. But he chose to sign up and do his bit as a medic. He wanted to serve his country, do his part and help the cause.

He just didn’t want to kill anyone in the process.

He confused his fellow soldiers because he didn’t play by the rules. He refused to pick up a weapon or to get involved in anything that would hurt another person.

Doss was taunted and abused by his fellow soldiers who considered him a coward. They saw someone who lacked courage and who just didn’t get it. So they beat him up and tried to get rid of him.

They tried to make army life so unbearable that he would quit and go home.

The truth was, he didn’t lack courage at all – he was more than prepared to put his body on the line – in fact he had the courage of 10 men. He roamed the battle field without a gun of any kind, running out to attend to those who had been hurt and to pick up injured soldiers and literally carry them on his back to safety where they could be cared for.

Often those injured soldiers were the same ones who had abused him and accused him of weakness. His presence to save them – at risk of his own life – must have been confusing to say the least.

Doss was a man of great courage and conviction and he was the first conscientious objector to be awarded the congressional medal of honour for bravery.

He saw the world different to those around him and he was misunderstood and abused because of it.

He was a soldier – but a different kind of soldier.

That was the battle of Okinawa in 1945.

Today we remember the battle of Golgotha in C 33 AD where two other kingdoms collided. And we see another man who saw the world differently and who suffered for it.

He was a king – but a different kind of king. He was misunderstood, abused and maligned for his un-kingly ways. And yet that was the very point.

He came as a different kind of king to establish a different kind of kingdom – to lead people into a new way of living – but in doing so he confused his followers who were counting on him to win a military victory and establish a kingdom of power and might.

The only way people could see victory was by force and might, but Jesus wasn’t going to win anything by that means.

If you live by the sword you die by the sword.

But if you die by the cross then you can call people to live by the cross. You can call people to a way of life that is not about being the boss, but rather is about being a servant.

In Mark 10 Jesus was speaking with his disciples about this new kingdom he was going to establish and an argument broke out about who was going to be 2IC – who’s going to get the prestige jobs in the new administration!

And Jesus just says ‘ no you guys don’t get it do you?’

42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

He came to serve – and to give his life. In fact when Peter objected to having his feet washed by Jesus replied, ‘If i don’t wash your feet then you have nothing to do with me’

He was a different kind of king

Instead of smashing his way to the top Jesus came and served and people didn’t get it. We still don’t. On this planet the man with the biggest guns still rules and gets his way

They misunderstood him at one level and understood him perfectly on another – which is why he was executed. Instead of playing the game, working the system and colluding with those in power he critiqued them. He saw thru their self centredness and ego and he saw the mess that that approach had made of God’s creation.

So they plotted to get rid of him

In fact they feared him. His ways and ideas and his life was at odds with theirs and eventually it came to a head.

Someone had to win. Someone always has to win.

So what does a ‘win’ look like when you don’t want to play the game like those who are abusing you?

What does it mean to stay true?

For Jesus it meant death. It meant allowing himself to be killed by those who didn’t get him and who felt threatened by him. He gave his life literally.

For him it meant not fighting back. Not playing the same game, but drawing a line in the sand and saying ‘from now on new rules apply’.

Jesus willing ness to die set the tone for the kingdom he came to establish so today we reflect on a different kind of king and the darkest day in history when we rejected his rule and killed him.

 

We come to Easter Friday now with the knowledge of imminent resurrection, but that first Easter there was no recognition of that possibility – just despair and utter grief that it had all come to nothing. The plan had failed and Jesus was another disappointment.

I guess it all depends on how you see the world…

 

 

The Default to Activism

Its like a nervous tic that kicks in when life feels too calm and sane… ‘I should be doing something BIG – starting something – firing something up – kicking big goals – setting BHAGs (do people still do that?) and it feels like a default setting that so easily gets tripped if I don’t consciously resist.

Its not that I’m against doing worthwhile things, but I am very much disturbed by my tendency to see these as ways of validating ministry work.

Think – ‘The more I do the better a pastor I am’ or ‘the bigger a project I take on the better a leader I must be’. We all know that’s a nonsense but its very much a part of our way of being as western Christian leaders.

As I read Petersen’s memoir I came across the story of his church in ‘building mode’, energised, focused and passionate, but then he went on to write about the malaise that followed this – the lethargy and lack of energy that seemed to pervade once the tangible tasks had been fulfilled.

In his struggle with this he sought advice from a mentor. The advice was to start another building project – because people need something tangible to keep them motivated. This advice floored him and he had a ‘lights on’ moment as he considered the type of disciples we are producing if we need to have a tangible project constantly on the go to cause them to feel alive and engaged in the work of God.

He describes it as the ingress of American culture into the life of the church – a not so subtle syncretism that earned the applause of many, but it also became a turning point for him in his understanding of ministry. He wrestled with the need to be busy for several years before realising that his best work was done when he had space to think, pray and listen. He could pastor better when he wasn’t busy – even if he still felt the urge to prove his worth by activity.

Its a tough line to walk because the choice to not be busy can devolve into ‘one more episode on Netflix’ rather than intentional space to pray and listen. Over the last 15 years I have managed to let go of busyness fairly well, but I haven’t always managed to live well in the new space. And at times I feel like it’d be easier just to ‘get cracking’ and start some things up – that way I can see what I’m doing and feel productive again.

However when I use the ‘space’ well and genuinely tune in to the voice of the spirit I find myself doing things that are useful