holy week thoughts

Christian’s believe this is the week that changed, is changing,will change the world, the universe, the cosmos.
Jesus comes into Jerusalem riding a donkey and by the end of the week he has been executed. He has been executed even though he has done nothing wrong. He has been executed even though he has done everything right.

It’s a strange week to reflect on because it really doesn’t compute with the ways of the world. Or at least that’s the way it seems to me. Just look at those pictures of people like David Cameron or Ed Milliband on the election campaign.
How Jesus does his business is the polar opposite to how the world does it business. Sometimes it seems to be the opposite to how the church does its business as well. (I’m almost expecting The Christian Institute to make an appearance in the narrative this week as Jesus is questioned by those in authority, Pilate etc.)

How does this week, Holy Week bring good news to the unemployed, the addicted, the poor, the person who seems to have it all together?  How does Jesus on the cross bring good news to people struggling with loneliness, despair, depression?

How does it all fit in with life in 21st century Ireland? If you’re convinced that Jesus changed the world by laying aside his rights and self sacrificial giving, by acting humbly and non violently how do survive in society?
The prayer that Jesus prayed this week that his disciples should be one has been bothering me as well because it seems like Jesus’ prayers aren’t being answered. I don’t feel at one with lots of his disciples. How can I be at one with churches I don’t like? Can I be at one with the Catholic church? Or can I be at one with the branch of the family I’m most familiar with? If evangelicals are seen by the world (unfairly) as a certain way or hold on to beliefs that I don’t agree with how do I be at one with them? If people from Evangelical Alliance seem to be saying that we should stand behind a bakery that doesn’t ice a cake and you don’t feel you should does that mean you’re not an evangelical?

There are lots of things that cause me distress in the world and wonder if Christianity is true.
But sometimes wondering how Christians are so fragmented is the thing that makes me wonder most. How can we all claim to follow Jesus, to be brothers and sisters and yet act like strangers for most of the time?
And of course I’m part of the problem because I don’t necessarily want to associate with certain churches. If they’re fundamentalist protesting football on a Sunday no thanks. If they’re going on about how Christianity is cool I’m not there either. How does this stuff work?

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a superhuman decision?

I had one of those moments on the bus earlier on reading these words from Aleksandr Solzhenistyn which are taken from one of his books ‘The Oak and the Calf’.
(I wasn’t reading them in that though. I was reading them in a study book by Os Guinness which I had grabbed quickly of a shelf in one of those moments when you feel that you you should buy something to show support for the small shop that you had wandered into)

‘From dawn to dusk the correction and copying of Gulag went forward; I could scarcely keep the pages moving fast enough. Then the typewriter started breaking down every day, and I had either to solder it myself or take it to be repaired. This was the most frightening moment of all: we had the only original manuscript and all the typed copies of Gulag there with us. If the KGB suddenly descended, the many throated groan, the dying whisper of millions, the unspoken testament of those who had perished, would all be in their hands, and I would never be able to reconstruct it all, my brain would never be capable of it again.
     I could have enjoyed myself so much, breathing the fresh air, resting, stretching my cramped limbs, but my duty to the dead permitted no such self indulgence,They are dead. You are alive. Do your duty. The world must know all about it.
    They could take my children hostage – posing as “gangsters,” of course. (They did not know that we had thought of this and made a superhuman decision: our children were no dearer to us than the memory of the millions done to death, and nothing could make us stop that book.)’

It was those last lines about making a ‘superhuman decision’. One of the questions Os Guinness asks is:-

‘ What was Solzhenitsyn’s decision about his children? How does this compare with the common modern maxim that “work” never comes above “family”? Which of the two is closer to the teachings of Jesus?’

 

Dresden – 14th February, 1945

Dresden - 14th February, 1945

I’d read Eagle and Victor comics in bed.
Sometimes I’d curl under the blanket and pretend that I was snug in the gun turret of a Lancaster bomber somewhere over the German countryside.
I was ace on that gun. I took out Messerschmitt’s.

I wonder if any boys fought or died in Iraq, Afghanistan after being stirred into action from reading comics and dreaming in blanket gun turrets?

‘Should inhospitable people be allowed to minister in the PCI? The Bible says No’

Often when I blog it’s because I am trying to work out things in my head.
It seems useful to me because it is out in public rather than just rattling around in your head and there is the opportunity for other people to chip in if they disagree or to offer another side of the story which might help you form a more rounded opinion.
But sometimes you might come across like you are preaching to people or full of yourself. You might sound like you think you are know-it-all or  want the world to know how wonderful your point of  view is.
That is just my way of saying that I’m not really trying to make a point but that I’m just not sure why some issues like gay marriage or abortion are so passionately debated and fought about from a Christian point of view while others are put down the list of things to worry about.

To pick a current example.
There is so much debate over whether a Christian can be an elder/minister. The Church of Scotland has voted on whether to allow actively gay men and women to become ministers.

But is it fair to wonder if allowing an inhospitable man to become a minister is just as wrong?
Or if allowing a man who can’t control his eating habits or who breaks the law speeding in his car doing the rounds is just as wrong according to  Biblical teaching as two men living in a manse? Yet these sorts of men have been tolerated as ministers in PCI for years and no one has kicked up a fuss. You would never see a protesters outside the General Assembly with placards saying
‘Should inhospitable people be allowed to minister in the PCI? The Bible says No’

That it not to say that it’s not a serious issue, but why are some issues far, far more serious than others in the Christian realm?
I can only think that we have a league table of sins with some things very, very serious while other things not so serious and hey, what can you do? We are far more likely to tolerant of the greedy man and allow his behaviour to be unchallenged than a gay woman in the pews.

I would consider myself pro-life but I don’t understand  why we sometimes seem to limit the belief that only God can take life to the womb. From a Christian point of view protesting at the army barracks in Lisburn seems to make as much sense to me as protesting outside an abortion clinic. That will probably annoy people because ‘What would you do if Hitler came for your gran?’ but if life is sacred in the womb why is it not outside the womb? If God made and loves everyone, if there is always the chance for redemption how can we kill our neighbour?

Or protesting outside a firm that is using tax havens to minimize the amount of tax it pays in a poor country. The reason for that is because the firm (which we use)  is cheating the government out of money which could be used to improve the lives of thousands in that country.
Or trying to use public transport when possible. Lots of people don’t seem to want to take climate change seriously, it is an optional extra and not really an issue for society. I guess that I struggle when same sex marriage is seen by Christians as a threat to the good of society while subjects like climate change get a shrug of the shoulders.

I was reading earlier on that the most mentioned commandment in the bible isn’t anything about sex or going to church, but the commandment to not be afraid.  How many of us are afraid and scared? Is a fearful Christian just as wrong as someone who is doing some of the traditionally very naughty things?

trying not to boil away

I was reading this book in Belfast today as PSNI choppers hovered above, riot police blocked roads with white landrovers and  ‘peaceful’ protesters went  protesting about east Belfast with a healthy slice of rioting and destruction.
I am trying to deal with contempt for these people, to understand their issues or show compassion but it’s hard as most of you will probably understand.
At one point I was imagining the police helicopter armed with Hellfire missiles to fire into the streets of east Belfast and unleashing something that would really encourage people to give up and go home.

Image

Still, violence isn’t going to halt violence.
This testimony from a medic serving in Syria during World War II reminded me of that, maybe also of my responsibilities if I claim somehow to be a Christian. If we can’t offer something radically different from an eye for an eye then what’s the point?

‘Once we heard of someone giving information about us to the Germans. We thought we knew who he was, so my gang went and captured him and brought him in front of me. He was very frightened. The boys said, ‘Let’s beat him up.‘ I had absolute power over this man and I felt the desire rising up inside me to smash him, to break him. It was really a terrifying feeling because it went against all my instincts, a violence erupting out of the very depths of myself. And I came to realise that this was the Hitler in me. That was a fundamental, mind-changing thing. I suddenly knew that the violence I was fighting against – the concentration camps, the sadism, the torture – was boiling up inside my guts. That has been a profoundly important insight for my life – that one should recognise the darkness. I sometimes feel that if you become a total pacifist, the danger is that you begin to think that you haven’t got these things in you. You become very gentle and smiling, but underneath you’re boiling away’

(Bishop) Stephen Verney, medic with HSU, Syria

Blessed are the Munitions Makers

A new year and new start so it was time bite the bullet and pay my library fine. (And it was fine… £4..90). The first book I’ve borrowed is a book about war protests in the 20th century. It is full of testimonies from people who objected to conflict for different reasons. 

‘At nineteen, I found my standards of conduct obsolete, my ideals shattered. I had lost faith in all institutionalised religion. My church had authorised me to break the sixth commandment in the name of patriotism. The ‘Love Thy Neighbour as Thyself’ part didn’t fit in; ‘Blessed are the Peacemakers’? No! Not in 1917. Blessed are the War Winners, Yes. Blessed are the Munition Makers, Yes. Twice blessed, for they lined their pockets and kept their skins intact at one and the same time. These are the thoughts that I couldn’t dismiss from my mind during those dreadful months. I wouldn’t have stuck a label on myself as belonging to any category – then. But I know what I had become now. It’s a word that is distasteful to many. Pacifist.’

J.R. Skirth, NCO, 239 Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery, Battle of Messines, June 1917, from his memoir

competition,Jesus and pacifism

Forgive me for what I am about to blog (I know not what I do) but I can’t sleep and the sky has brightened up in that gunmetal grey, Ulster way and here I am blogging at 4.37am ( which is guaranteed to lead to an mess of a post ) possibly with things I don’t really mean or sweeping statements that I may regret writing.
Anyway, I’ve thoughts on my mind.
Today I was thinking that if I loose my faith it’s probably going to be one of two things that push me over the edge.

Number One.
Suffering and pain, especially the silence of God in suffering and pain.But I expected that to be challenge.

Number two. What feels like the ‘unworkability’ of  Jesus’ commands in day- to-day life.

I had expected the first threat, the silence and feeling that God wasn’t there or was just a phantom.
But the idea that it might be the voice of God that pushes me over the edge is something that I’d never considered.

It may be the thing that wears me down because unbearable suffering and sorrow doesn’t happen every day,
but the day-to-day, (tomorrow morning when I wake up for example) does happen everyday, and it’s  in that day-to-day that I’m expected to live life,
and it is also in the day-to-day that a Christian is supposed to be living out commands such
‘..turn the other cheek
or ‘..give him your cloak as well
or ‘do to others what you would have them do to you‘. …everyday.

A Christian is called to follow Jesus.

How is a man supposed to mesh  this sort of crazy counter-cultural stuff in the dog eat world streets of Lisburn City?

How a Christian is supposed function in this panicking, worried and fearful atmosphere without compromising and keeping his holy bits for Sunday morning?

Every step seems to scream that life is a competition.
Well not every step, but large and very important segments of life seem based on competition such as the job market.

(Ah, another duel at dawn with my old arch-nemesis ‘the job market’.)

I’m looking for a job at the moment, or paid employment .

But the only way I can effectively obtain a job is by getting more competitive,  by sprucing up my cv and applying for jobs and hoping that I fill in my application form better than someone else,
or that I am more eloquent in an interview,
of competing and hoping that I am a stronger  ‘more suitable’ candidate that someone else.
My hope is to be more alert in spotting an opening or opportunity than someone else and force my way through the merest c rack, thereby proving my worthiness.

Or else what?
Just sit here and hope for a surprise phone call,
or for some kindly benefactor,
or to have a chance conversation with Ireland’s only urban farmer who offers me a chance to learn the trade on the spot,
or to try and risk it on some hair brained scheme?
No,that won’t work, life doesn’t work like that. You have to earn it and prove that you are worthy and better, a hard worker. Don’t sitting on your arse,  get out there and show the world what you are made off.

There might be a job in a very caring charity doing very caring work,
yet you have to compete for that position and prove that you would be a more caring person than someone else. You have to trample and gobble to serve.

Or to become a minister or pastor and tell people about God’s grace  and unmerited favour that you can’t  earn, (‘Only by grace can we enter etc.’)  you must  pass exams to prove that you can do it and earn your way in.
So  only by qualifications and high enough marks can you enter, only by academic gifts can you stand.

But is Christianity compatible with competition and competing?
Is it not something much closer to community and co-operation, with sharing and grace, with gift and service?

For example I might see a job opening and would like that job to earn some money and go on holiday, pay the rent, learn to drive.

But at the same time I also know that x other people would like that job as well so that they can go on holiday, buy the kids Christmas presents, get some dignity from paid employment etc. and that makes things difficult.

So what do I do if I am to  take that whole ‘do unto others what you would have them do to you‘ command literally, that whole bit about loving your neighbour as yourself seriously?

It almost suggests that I should go into the interview with a view to giving up my rights to the job. I might be equally well qualified, even more qualifed but if I am following a God who gave up his rights and majesty does that have implications for job hunting.

Or are there different levels of neighbour?
Like is it OK to compete and strive and fight and trample over your neighbour if you are doing it for the sake of your family?

To even voice that seems dodgy, the perceived wisdom is that of course you should do anything to protect and look after your loved ones, it’s your responsibility to provide. But who are our loved ones? Who is your brother, who is your mother?

I found this article earlier on  and it quotes from someone called Donald Hagner

“Love for one’s neighbour means acting towards others with their good, their well-being, their fulfillment, as the primary motivation and goal of our deeds”

I thought it might be the silence of God that would send me over the edge,but it might just as easily be the voice of God, the trying to build your house on the rock and not the sand.

Although he was writing about Gandhi and pacifism George Orwell expressed something of the practicality of Christianity in the real world.

‘In relation to the late war, one question that every pacifist had a clear obligation to answer was: ‘What about the Jews?Are you prepared to see them exterminated? If not, how do you propose to save them without resorting to war?’ I must say that I have never heard, from any Western pacifist, an honest answer to this question…’

It’s all very well having lofty ideals but how do you propose it working in real life?
Jesus, it’s all very well saying turn the other cheek or do unto others but how do you propose it working in real life?