Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"the cross is the most universal symbol of christianity. but often we forget that the symbol of our salvation was originally a tree growing somewhere, probably among other trees. those who cut it down had not the slightest idea that it would one day become the most universal symbol of millions of christians. they thought nothing about the fact that on that tree God would be crucified in order to reconcile the world to himself; that on that tree redemption was to flow from God to mankind in a once-for-all act of self sacrifice.

this is the tree which causes discomfort to the world, which has turned the world upside-down. it is the tree which the world cannot erase, cannot get rid of, and cannot forget.

the tree of the cross has built bridges across rivers and valleys; it has brought people of different backgrounds together; it has torn down barriers and pierced through walls of separation; it has crossed oceans and travelled afar to tell people the good news which it heard one friday morning two thousand years ago. indeed, this tree has been persecuted, whacked with axes, shot at with bullets, hanged, beaten, given to wild beasts, torn to pieces, chopped up, ostracised, burned, laughed at, condemned, and made to suffer many other things. this tree bears upon itself thousands of scars and wounds. yet in spite of them all, it has continued to heal the sick, to bring hope to the desperate, to comfort the oppressed, to guide the lost, to feed the hungry, to shelter the poor, to inspire the anxious, to illumine the intellectual, to challenge the fearless, to save the condemned and to meet the needs of every generation and every situation. what a tree!"

-john mbiti

Monday, March 22, 2010

"suffering often takes the most personally humiliating and opaque character. it incapacitates a man from the very good which was the cause of his greatness in the first place. he can no longer act with that spontaneity and clarity which has so won others.

he is now thrown upon the mercy of others, a burden to them; more, he is bewildered and unable to give an account of himself. he cannot explain why or how he suffers; even though once he could reveal winningly and joyfully, why life took the shape it did, why it was right and fitting that it did so. the scandal of such suffering, suffering that plucks the tongue from the head and the voice from the heart! even to the point that others are scandalised and bewildered. they had concluded over the years that whatever came to pass this man would never cease to be their oracle; the years would only confer on him a clearer, more communicable wisdom. but to be reduced to a deaf mute?...

cui bono? man does not suffer that a world may be one; he does not suffer, even, that the will of God may be accomplished. he is, in fact, in the deepest suffering, evacuated of all real purpose at all. he is not suffering 'in order that'. his anguish does not allow him to be carried beyond the fact of suffering.

and this is true so that the truth of suffering, its value as a sign, may shine forth. but only for the few who are ready to read such a sign. achievements, great moments, visible accomplishments always have about them so much danger of distraction, egoism, ambiguity. but the sufferer who believes and takes his stand, not precisely on his suffering, nor on the quality of his faith, nor on the 'good' he is doing, nor on the response of his friends, but on christ alone; which is to say, on the living truth of things - this man, perhaps for the first time, has become a true sign. he is the sign of the cross. there is quite possibly no other in the world today"

-daniel berrigan

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

we rationalise behaviour.
the problem comes, when the rationalisation of the behaviour, is very consistent with the behaviour, but not correct.

when we stand accused of something wrong, we may deflect blame by saying "i was only trying to do X". and if someone points out, "if that was the case, then why did you do Y as well?" and our rationalisation of our behaviour is exposed.

but sometimes, the rational explanation is very good, and we get away with it.

it's the same with ourselves. we can believe we do X, for reason Y, but actually lurking beneath the surface is reason Z. circumstances (thank God) often arise that show the small errors in our behaviour, that are a signpost to what lurks beneath, but often these are very subtle.

and it isn't like we only do it for the wrong reason, there is usually a mix of good and bad.

the behaviour doesn't necessarily start from these "alternative motives", we may start out with the correct motive and the incorrect one can latch onto it, and begin to express itself.
or the need can drive the behaviour from the start.

these are some that i've found in my life :

  • we might make friends out of a love from God, or we might make friends out of a need to be loved in return.
  • we might share the gospel that others might know jesus, or we might share the gospel to give ourselves a sense of purpose.
  • we might present the gospel in a different way to make it more appealing, that people might see it in a different light; or we may present it in a watered down way, so that there's no way that people will turn around and reject it (and by extension us)
  • we may avoid talking about heaven and hell, because it's counterproductive, and not that relevant to people; or we may avoid it because we don't want people to label us a fundamentalist.
  • we may present ourselves as intelligent and thought through, that people's ideas that christians are unintelligent might be challenged; or we might just like people to think we're smart.
  • we may love someone, because we _just love them_, or we may love them so they love us in return.
  • you might pursue someone, because you believe that you and they should be together; or you might desperately need that person (or any person) to love you.
  • you might argue with someone, because you're hungry for the truth, or you might argue with someone because you need to always be proven right.
  • you might help a friend by doing X because you're a "good person", or it might just be enjoyable to help friends ("what credit is that to you? don't pagans do that?" i think this is why people in the west feel so little need for God. They think they're good enough, because look at all the good they do, not realising that actually there's not much sacrifice in what they do, or the sacrifices they do make serve to affirm their identity anyway)
  • you might serve God because you love him, or you might serve God because you're afraid you're not good enough, and must do everything to win his approval.
  • we might earn money to better serve the kingdom, or we might doubt the security God offers us, and be actually pursuing financial security. (i like helen keller on security: "Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than exposure.")
  • we might read books out of that God given delight and curiosity, or we might do it out of some vanity of being "well read"
  • we might do things because they represent the things that God has made us delight in, or we might do things to create an identity for ourselves that we like.
  • we might plan an event to the nth degree because we want it to be successful, we might plan it that much, because we fear failure.

and then, of course there's the old ones:

  • we might want to hear about how person X is going that we might love/pray for them; or we might like gossip.
  • we might do things because God wills it, or we might do it to be seen by men and honoured.

and finally

  • you might write a document, and send it to people because you think it will serve the kingdom; or you might do it so people will think that you're smart.

i'm sure there are hundreds more. they're just the examples i could think of from my own life in the last half hour. and they're so insidious, and they can go on for years unchecked.

and often they're multi-faceted, and you can have these chains of explanation that fit really pretty well.

i did mission because i wanted people to know jesus christ, i was disappointed when people forwent the opportunity to know the living God. when actually, i did mission because i was desperate for my life to be meaningful, and i was disappointed because i had not succeeded in making my life worthwhile.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

i arrived in san cristobal in mexico at about 2300 on the 26th of feb, and went to the apartment i'd arranged to rent. the landlord had assured me that he would be waiting for me, and i was looking forward to this, because whilst i'd flow out at 0800 that morning, with all the timezone changes 34 hours had elapsed from departure to arrival.

needless to say, the landlord wasn't waiting, so i had to spend the night in a hostel; which was ok, except that it didn't have any hot water.

i arrived at the apartment the next day, and got some rolled oats out that i'd brought. unfortunately, i had no milk, so it was something of a gruel. by this stage, i was very hungry, so eating the gruel was the only option.
and in the end, all i could be, was very thankful that i had breakfast at all. so i thanked God, and chowed down.

and then i got thinking, why is it that the more we have, the less thankful we are?

a friend of mine who has studied judaism extensively, describes their lifestyle as "a lifetime of restraint, with moments of indulgence"; and this is why when the jews party, they party hard (if you've ever been to a jewish wedding you'll know what i mean). my friend also reflects that in contrast, western culture is "a lifetime of indulgence with moments of restraint".

so now i've been wondering, can we develop a lifestyle of restraint, that, rather than diminishing our thankfulness, actually enhances it?

so i've been thinking of adopting this jewish modus operandi. maybe eating simply (vegetarian?!) most of the time, but once a fortnight, eating _really, really, well_. and perhaps being more thankful.