the post postmodern bond or ‘finally a bond movie that I didn’t have to check my brain at the door to enjoy’

James Bond, as we once knew him, is dead.

I’d always had my issues with James Bond. Bond, the sum of men’s fantasies? How disturbing. The violence, gambling, arrogance and womanising were one thing, but the racist stereotypes, the imperial attitudes, the objectification of so many women made it too much. I could only enjoy Bond if I checked my brain at the door. It’s better not to think.

But Bond’s been resurrected, it seems.

skyfall

The movie begins; a chase through an exotic marketplace, Bond has his beautiful female assistant by his side. Table tops overturning, non-Western dress, crowds screaming, motorbikes roaring through bazaars, stuff getting smashed up, world music playing. The whole thing. Romanticism, orientalism, sexism, imperialism. The old Bond.

Then he loses the chase and falls – presumed dead.

Skyfall’s Bond dies and is resurrected as a post-postmodern Bond attempting to re-establish himself in a new world.

This new Bond is painfully aware of the flaws of the old Bond. The movie exposes the his past arrogance and brings him down a peg. In the new world, things are not so certain, so clear-cut. The sky has fallen.

But the new Bond is not content to abandon everything from the past and settle for a world of relativity. He resists postmodernism. He wrestles to work out what might be worth redeeming and restoring from his old days, albeit without the misplaced confidence or naiveté of the past. He’s not postmodern, he’s post-postmodern.

Bond

Bond

At one stage they wander through an abandoned city. A giant statue has toppled. Rubbish flies around. The people had ‘left so quickly they didn’t know what to take with them and what to leave behind.’

Skyfall has left some things behind. Gone are some of the old racial and gender stereotypes. We go to Shanghai and instead of pointy hats, strange food and ‘chinese’ music, we see an ultra-modern city. There’s as many sexualised bondage scenes of Bond as there are of beautiful women (a kind of equal objectification?). While the old Bond was hyper-hetrosexual, the new Bond is comfortable with homosexuality. Gone are the sex scenes too. Instead we get the old-school suggestive ‘firework’ display (do kids these days even know that’s what those fireworks mean?).

But the new Bond is uncomfortable with the postmodern world. Q is now a nerdy computer hacker who doubts the need for agents in the field. Bond, instead, insists that the virtual world can’t replace the real world. Bond also wrestles with authority. At one stage the enemy hides among the police. M, Bond’s boss, lies to him. The film critiques our culture where everyone’s opinion is equally valid and everyone is answerable to everyone no matter their expertise. M is dragged before a parliamentary enquiry, answering to people who don’t understand what’s really going on. There’s a sense that we need authorities, but in our world of suspicion, we don’t know how do do authority anymore. Bond tries to believe in it again.

So there are some things the post postmodern Bond refuses to leave behind. Take the car. Bond drives the classic Aston Martin DB5. But M comments, ‘it’s not very comfortable is it?’ The sky has fallen a little bit, the glamour is faded. It’s not the perfect car. But this isn’t just pomo hipster ‘nostalgia’; the car is still actually useful for something. Bond’s special gadgets? This time he gets only a gun and a radio from Q. There’s a sense valuing the tried and true.

The final scene (the baddie did take too long to die, but we got there in the end) is in a church. The church is crumbling in disrepair. People stopped meeting there decades ago. But the characters still find some sort of meaning in the church, even if they can’t articulate it fully. ‘It had to be here,’ one says.

The villain, Silva, is a bit of a two dimensional character to me. The ex-agent who gets bitter and turns evil. We’ve seen that one before. But it didn’t bother me. Normally Bond is the two dimensional character paired with a (somewhat) complex villain. Here, for the first time, we see Bond as a real person.

Twice Bond plunges into deep water and left for dead. A baptism of sorts, where a new Bond emerges. We never actually see his coming up out of the water (his resurrection). We don’t exactly know how it happens. But it does.

In the same way there’s a sense that we’re not sure how the new Bond is going to work himself out. How can a character like Bond, such a product of its time, survive postmodernity? But post postmodern Bond seems to work. Of course there’s also the beautiful cinematography and the awesome gothic ending. This is a great film. I’ll see the next one.

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Happy Friday readers!

On the Church of England and women Bishops (or the lack thereof)

Sarah Coakley Has the Church of England Finally Lost its Reason?

John Milbank Unrepresentative laity: the Women Bishops Debacle

And, like a breath of fresh air, there was Tom Wright Women Bishops: It’s about the Bible not Fake ideas of Progress.

Michael Bird, John Dickson and Katherine Keller are releasing ebooks on women and ministry on Christmas Day – Merry Christmas readers!

On the news of 2012

Joshua Keating Stories you missed in 2012

On Apologetics

Brian Le Port Educating the Local Church Part VI – Avoiding Quick and Easy Apologetics. It’s worth checking out his whole series on educating the local church.

On church in Australia

The National Church Life Survey results are out. ABC Radio National did this story on the results.

  • 60% of church attenders are women (no surprises there)
  • the average church attender is a baby boomer (unless you’re pentecostal, they’re heaps younger)
  • 34% of church attenders have higher education (much higher than the national average)

On thunderstorms and Coldplay

I was given a free ticket to see Coldplay last week, but the electrical storm passing by was the most stunning part for me.

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I know God loves me…but does he actually like me?

I’ve always known that God loves me – ‘God demonstrates his own love for us in this, that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.’

But I used to worry, does he actually like me?

I’ve offended God… but he still loved me in Jesus

I’ve saddened God… but he still loved me in Jesus

I’ve angered God… but he still loved me in Jesus

I’ve ignored God… but he still loved me in Jesus

Sounds like God’s pretty loving and like I’m pretty annoying.

I wondered, does he just ‘put up’ with me because he’s so loving. If he’s seeking to be ‘most glorified’ by demonstrating his love and saving me, does he actually care about me as a person? Does God just patiently bare with me – like a charity case – but would he actually be friends with me? Did he just save me by default, because he’d made a promise, but not actually care about me, Laura?

I know he loves me, but does he actually like me in an emotional, personal sense?

Then I’d worry I was being narcissistic again and annoying God even more. You really can’t win at this game.

What would it mean if God didn’t merely ‘show love’ to us, but if he actually liked us too?

It would mean that we’re not simply objects of his love or wrath – mechanisms for him to display his glory in some cosmic scheme. It would mean that we’re intrinsically valuable to him, instead of only functionally valuable for our capacity to glorify him.

So are we intrinsically valuable to God and does he like us?

Instrumental ‘love’ – loving people for functional reasons only – is not the love of the Bible. Paul talks in 1 Corinthians 13 of a person who ‘gives everything they possess to the poor’ but lacks love; sacrificing for someone does not constitute love. The older brother worked for the father for years, but when the prodigal younger son comes home it’s clear the older son never loved his father. Love doesn’t use people.

In Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (a must read for all evangelical feminists – here’s a free legal audiobook), orphaned Jane is cared for by her cold Aunt, Mrs Reed. Mrs Reed provided for Jane, made sacrifices for Jane, but deep down she disliked Jane. Mrs Reed loved to reminded Jane how indebted Jane was to her, how she should be more grateful for her ‘love’. All the while Mrs Reed grew in her self-righteousness.

But God does not love us like some self-righteous charity worker. He actually loves us, he likes us, he’s emotionally involved. He calls himself a mother, a father, a husband to us. ‘He cares for you’ says Peter (1 Peter 5:7).

If God really loves us and actually likes us too, what would this mean?

Firstly, we need to be careful when we talk about grace.

I know a kid’s song with the line:

I don’t deserve his mercy, I don’t deserve his love and yet he died to save me, died upon the cross!’

I understand that it’s trying to get unmerited grace across to small children, but I could not think of anything more devastating. ‘I don’t deserve God’s love’. I’m of no intrinsic value to God. He feels no obligation to care for me. He probably doesn’t particularly like me.

If my dad told me ‘you don’t deserve my love, I only love you because I’m a good person’ I’d be devastated. ‘Does our relationship mean nothing?’ I’d ask.

This is because the whole paradigm of deserving or underserving is out of place in a loving relationship. It’s contrived to speak of deserving or not deserving love from my parents. It makes it sound like our relationship is a transaction or contract.

But the love is part of a right relationship between parents and children. It’s how it’s meant to be. When the prodigal son comes home claiming he is ‘no longer worthy’ to be loved as a son, the good father will have none of it. Nor will God.

Christian or non-Christian, we’re all related to God because we are made in his image. We love and are loved; that’s how he made us. He made us intrinsically valuable. He called us ‘very good.’ He even likes us! James argues that being made in God’s likeness as reason to show love to all people (James 3:9) – our relatedness to God gives us intrinsic value and likeability.

God’s mercy is unmerited, that is, it’s not earned by our good deeds or mad skills. But I’m not sure that ‘deserving’ is a helpful paradigm in a relationship.

So instead of telling kids they don’t deserve love, tell them they’re special, they’re valuable to God – not because they’ve impressed him – but because he made them in his likeness.

Secondly, I’d say beware of sermons which preach guilt and doom and only skate over God’s love in the last thirty seconds: ‘and luckily God sent Jesus to deal with us,’ as if he got so grumpy he had to send in Jesus. Or those sermons which preach the cross as part of a grand plan (which it is) but omit that it had something to do with God’s genuine heartfelt love for us; it’s ‘for god so loved the world he sent his son.’

I won’t get too sentimental, but will just remind you that God actually likes you! You’re not just a means to an end for him. He likes the sound of your voice; the way you smile; your sense of humour. His love for you is because of how he made you – to love him and be loved by him – and he wants to be closer to you. He cares about you in particular. He likes you.

Have you ever worried that God doesn’t particularly like you?

How do you think we can talk about sin and unmerited grace without implying we’re worthless or unlikeable to God?

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runaway metaphors

I’m fluent in Christianese. That means I know to pepper my speech with holy metaphors. You know – vines, growing, planting, salt & light, fruitfulness.

Holy as they sound, I think we need to watch our metaphors in case they run away.

(speaking of Christianese, please don’t use fellowship as a verb – ‘we fellowshipped together’ – unless you also enjoy ‘friendshipping’ and ‘membershipping’. Sorry. rant.)

turtlesOf course it’s metaphors all the way down. All language – text or sound – is a representation or symbol for something else. The word ‘dog’ actually has nothing to do with those four-legged friends apart from our consensus to use it as a symbol. It’s only by the power of the Holy Spirit that we can understand anything of God through human language. Communication really is a miracle.

I’m talking about metaphors in the more naive sense – just a figure of speech or word or phrase which is not literally applicable: ‘love is a rose’, ‘I am an island’, ‘my heart will go on.’

There are Biblical ones that we know are obviously metaphors – ‘stiff-necked’, ‘circumcised hearts’. They haven’t made it into Christianese and we know they’re metaphors.

But some have become so entrenched that they’ve lost their status as metaphors and become our only word for the concept; we forget they ever were metaphors (words such as ‘pastor’, ‘hypocrite’, ‘hell/gehenna’). This means the words can escape and take on whole new meanings other than what they had in their Biblical context. We lose the explanatory power which the metaphor was supposed to bring in the first place and get left with a fuzzy idea.

Here’s a list:

pastor/shepherd, deacon/servant, flock, body, head (of the wife or the ‘body’), lamb, hell, the prize, the crown, the good fight, salt and light, double edged sword, God’s hands, God’s heart, hypocrite/actor, living sacrifice, spot or blemish, filthy rags, dead works, weaker brother, tongues, rock, (sinking) sand, God’s instrument, God’s vessel,

to spur on, wash in the blood, finish the race, fall away, stumble, open one’s heart, soften one’s heart, harden one’s heart, backslide, be on fire, pay the price, pay the debt, count the cost, draw near, enter the throne room, abide, sow a seed, plant a church, grow disciples, feed on the Word, live in harmony, come to Christ, turn back, come home, put out a fleece, carry a cross, bear one another’s burdens

redeemed, born again, anointed, called, fruitful, lost, found, knit together, lukewarm…

Most of these I’m pretty comfortable with. But for many, I’m not exactly sure what they mean. And I’m not  sure that when we use them in our Bible-speak Christianese (make that NIV 1984-speak? Newspeak anyone?) that we use them in the same way they’re used in the Bible. Do we fill them with our own meanings?

Here’s some holy-sounding mixed metaphors for you to ponder:

Merciful Lord we come here to your table…Even though we are not worthy to eat the crumbs from under your table…

Was the Canaanite woman really saying she was too sinful to share the Lord’s Supper in Matt 15? Does it matter if we’ve taken the metaphor out of context?

When we were still far off, you met us in your Son and brought us home…

Far from what or who? Here the prodigal son meets the Jew/Gentile unity of Ephesians 2. It kind of works, but it’s out of context. Is that ok? Is it clear what it’s about?

It’s so easy to sound Biblical, but actually to be unclear on our meaning when we use metaphors out of context. Not to mention when non-Christians share with us they’ve got no way of understanding an out-of-context metaphor (‘will they not say that you are out of your minds?’). Or am I being pedantic? Perhaps a metaphor is best if we want to imply multiple valid meanings.

vine

There were others phrases I wasn’t sure whether to put on the list of metaphors or not.

Living and active. Jesus (the Word of God) really is literally living and active. But the Bible isn’t literally living. Do you think it’s a metaphor or not?

Dying to sin and being alive in Christ. Jesus did literally die and was made alive. Are we literally dead to sin and now alive, or is that a metaphor?

There were a few which I thought were metaphors at first, but then on greater reflection, I decided that they’re the reality and previous experience has been a metaphor.

Bride of Christ. When Paul says that ‘one flesh’ is actually about Christ and the Church, perhaps he’s saying that marriage is a metaphor, a symbol and the Church’s union with Christ is the real deal.

Children of God. When we call Christians ‘brother’ or ‘sister’ and God our ‘Father’ are we using metaphors? I don’t think so. Instead, the earthly family is the metaphor which points to the reality of our heavenly family.

Jesus’ death as a sacrifice of atonement. Jesus wasn’t literally sacrificed on an altar. But perhaps it’s better to think of the sacrificial system as a metaphor pointing to the real sacrifice

What do you think? Any metaphors I missed? Do you think any metaphors on my list are actually literal? Got any good examples of mixed Biblical metaphors or Christianese?

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bloody good drinkers – the northern territory and alcohol

“Oh, they’ve got some bloody good drinkers in the Northern Territory,” sang Ted Egan, a folk musician whom the governor-general appointed in 2003 to be the Territory’s administrator. His lyrics – as many Australians have known for a long time, and studies are beginning to affirm – are spot on. For nearly 30 years, the money spent per capita on alcohol in the Territory has been between 50% and 100% higher than in the rest of Australia. Similarly, while the national annual cost of alcohol-related harm is about $15 billion (which works out to be a little less than $1000 per adult), the figure for the Territory is more than $4000 per adult. The National Alcohol Beverage Industries Council counters these statistics. This body of alcohol manufacturers and sellers claims its own commissioned study shows more costs are borne by the individual, with national public costs at $3.8 billion. But whatever the overall cost, the Territory government figures are brutal. Alcohol-related crime and illness costs the region’s public purse $642 million per year. Booze Territory – The Monthly

Alcohol related deaths are 31 times higher in the Northern Territory than in the rest of Australia. It’s a crisis.

Just last week was the first ‘Grog in the Territory’ Summit, convened by Land Councils and various Aboriginal organisations. The ‘rivers of grog’ are becoming ‘road trains of beer‘, said one community leader.

Read about the summit here.

VBThe summit was sparked by the newly elected Country Liberals government’s decision to axe the banned drinkers register in the NT. The register had around 2,500 names on it. People with drinking problems or repeat drink divers were banned from purchasing alcohol. It meant that everyone needed to get their ID scanned on buying alcohol to check if their name was on the list. The Country Liberals’ election promise was to scrap the banned drinkers register and instead build giant prison farms for problem drinkers.

It’s unclear how successful the register was. Obviously it’s possible for someone to simply ask a friend to buy their grog for them, obviously some people would be pressured into buying alcohol. But for a few, it would help them manage their drinking problem.

There are various stats. Some say that alcohol related assaults in Alice Springs by 16% (banned drinkers register successful in reducing assault) while a banned drinker register was in operation. Another source said 15% (banned drinkers laws cut assaults) across the Territory, while another said a 6% (drop in assaults) drop in alcohol related assaults (if domestic violence is excluded). The Alice Springs Mayor has reported increased glass rubbish in parks since the register was axed. (on the other hand – crime figures which came out today indicated that violence in the NT increased in the last year – leading the Country Liberals to say the register wasn’t working)

Whatever the stats, its seems it was a simple programme which meant fewer people were being harmed. Then there’s the things they didn’t measure – medical impact, cases of fetal alcohol syndrome, effect on children’s eduction, crime, suicides etc. Of course the register wasn’t the whole answer, but it was a start.

Nonetheless, the banned register was unpopular enough for promises of its eradication to help a new government to victory.

It seems to me that only a society without a vision of the common good could oppose such a programme. Yes, it’s inconvenient for those of us who don’t have a drinking problem to scan our ID at the counter. ‘Why should I worry about someone else’s problem?’ we ask.

But it’s not ‘someone else’s problem.’ We’re not ‘all individuals.’ Alcoholism affects not only the individual, but their family, their friends, their communities, all of us.

I wish we could be a little more prepared to make small sacrifices for each other – for more communities (even mining towns!) to dry for the sake of others, for retailers to forgo the extra profit, for people to be willing to put up with the hassle of a simple register. In a functioning society, other people’s problems are everyone’s problems. That would be a society which believes in the common good.

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Finally Friday. I’ve been visiting Sydney this week, which means I’ve spent most of my time sitting in traffic or on the train, not blogging. How was your week?

broken_mirror

(thanks xkcd)

On the Catholic Church

Waleed Aly It’s Essential we Think Outside the Confessional Box

Mark Coleridge Humility and Faith: How the Church should respond to the Royal Commission

Simon Smart Whatever it Takes; Sexual Abuse and the Church

Michael Mullins The Church should Accept its Humiliation

On technology

Ben Collins Aboriginal Language Decline; the Digital Intervention.

I’ve been visiting an Aboriginal community for my fieldwork. When surveyed on what they want their linguistic centre to offer there was an overwhelming consensus – language on ipads! Fair enough, I want an ipad too. This technology could be great for Bible translation and the gospel. AuSIL , of course, is on to it already – they’ve got a whole lot of dictionary phone apps.

The Hoopla The Day that Einstein Feared

I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.

On the psychology of evil

Alex Haslam Rethinking long held beliefs on the psychology of evil. Rather than the ‘banality of evil’ theory, he looks to the power of charismatic leaders to convince people that the ends justifies the means. What do you think? Is it something for Christians to look out for (it perhaps explains things like the cover-up of sexual abuse)?

On how to read the Bible

Imonk Magic Books, Grocery Lists and Silent Messiahs: How Rightly Approaching the Bible Shapes the Entire Christian Life

On disability

Here’s Helen Keller teaching Charlie Chaplin the manual alphabet.

helen keller

On important days

This week we had World Toilet Day and International Men’s Day. Here’s an article on toilets as a feminist issue. And this is What Men Want.

On Baptism

A friend once mentioned to me that she didn’t want to get baptised because she didn’t want people to think you need to be baptised to be saved. But then why are we commanded to be baptised? Josh Stahley Does the Bible Separate Salvation from Baptism – he argues it’s a sign of salvation.

On war

Pray for Palestine and Israel – thank God for the ceasefire. This man lost his son. It’s just awful.

gaza

Tracey Spicer The Futility of War.

Australian New Testament Scholar Most Likely to be Mistaken for Brad Pitt

Spot the difference:

oh Con. We’ll miss you.

For twenty-somethings on our fear of not achieving everything we hoped

Sarah Lebhar Hall The Key to a Purposeful Life (it’s in Christ).

On single parents and Newstart

Eva Cox Sole Parents are not a Workforce

And finally – on Santa

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goon, grog & plonk

We’re often perplexed about Americans and their love for guns. Another random shooting, and another and another. Wake up! Get some common sense!

But I reckon we’ve got an equivalent. Something that’s killing us, but is so intrinsic to our national identity and culture we can’t imagine giving it up: alcohol.alcohol

That’s hard for me to write. I love a drink. My grandfather sold alcohol for a living. I’m a descendant of Irish Catholics. It’s in the genes. I’ve played goon of fortune (how quintessentially Australian – a goon bag on a hills hoist) and enjoyed it (does that make me a bad Christian?).

It goes way back. NSW had a coin shortage in the early nineteenth century. No worries. They used rum for a currency. Now we use beer.

Later, we got around to giving women and Aboriginal people the vote. But then, we eventually let them have a drink at the same bar as white men. The pub, not the ballot box, was the marker of equality on a social level.

This is because drinking is our great social equaliser. It turns ‘a boss into a mate’. It’s how we communicate that we trust people, that we don’t think we’re any better than them, that we enjoy their company – we get drunk with them. You have to shout when it’s your turn – it shows you’re reliable. Even Prime Ministers are champion drinkers – Bob Hawke can skull a beer in about 10 seconds.

What does this mean for Christians? A Christian friend of mine organising a dry social event commented that it would show that ‘you don’t need to drink to have fun.’ Well yes, but generally in my experience, drinking makes most things more fun! That’s ok. Water into wine!

Sometimes when Christians don’t drink we end up coming off a bit up-tight and stand-offish, like we can’t really relax. It’s like we’re unwilling to share our true selves. It’s weird to socialise without drinking: in my experience only Christians seem to do that. It can make people joining us uncomfortable. Maybe being ‘all things to all people’ means we should drink a little more often.

But then again, Australia’s drinking culture has it’s flaws. An Aussie teenager dies every week from alcohol-related causes. According to the government:

Alcohol-related harm is a major cause of mortality and morbidity in Australia, causing around 3,000 deaths and 65,000 hospitalisations every year. In 2004-05, the annual cost to the Australian community of alcohol-related social problems was estimated at $15.3 billion.

(if we stopped drinking we could afford the National Disability Insurance Scheme no problem!)

The ‘mateship’ which drinking promises to deliver is still largely the domain of white men. What about people who for medical, cultural or religious reasons can’t drink? Will they ever be mates in the same way as the blokes you drink with? Check out XXXX island (a magical place without even a hint of femininity, homosexuality or anyone not anglo – I plan never to visit).

We also have an increasing muslim (non-drinking) population. I’m worried that if we depend on alcohol to turn a boss or a colleague into a ‘mate’, we’ll not include our muslim neighbours.

Maybe we need a new social lubricant. One that doesn’t kill us.

Cup of tea anyone?

What do you reckon – is alcohol to Australia what guns are to the USA? Should Christians drink more or less than we do now, or just differently? Does Australia’s drinking culture exclude people?

(next post – alcohol in the Northern Territory)

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singing with Mary

I know I’ve got issues with Christian music. I whinge. But it’s not all bad.

My husband and I were familiarising ourselves with Rob Smith’s new song Great Things to play at church on Sunday. Honestly, it’s not my favourite type of music, I wouldn’t normally listen to this. But the song’s power isn’t in the guitars or the melody (or else it might have lost me!). It’s powerful because it’s Mary’s song.

It’s not actually a new song at all. It’s a re-singing of a song Christians have been singing, in various languages, in various styles, for centuries. It’s Mary’s song.

“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”

When we sing this song, we’re not singing alone, we sing it with generations who have tasted God’s mercy and know his concern for the humble. We sing with them. And people will continue to sing this song for centuries to come, with instruments that haven’t even been created yet. We sing with people who are yet to be born, with people across the world, through the ages, with Mary.

The most beautiful singing of Mary’s song is Arvo Pärt (sorry Bach. better luck next time with BWV423). He wrote it in 1989 (musically, can anything good come of of the 80s? apparently yes) but it doesn’t sounds like it’s out of the 80s. It sounds ageless, fitting for a song thousands of years old.

Magnificat anima mea et exultavit quia respexit ecce enim. Quia fecit qui potens est et sanctum et misericordia. Fecit potentiam dispersit superbos deposuit et exaltavit esurientes et divites. Suscepit Israel puerum suum recordatus sicut locutus Abraham et semini. Magnificat anima mea Dominum.

Thank you Google Translate, good enough for me:

Because he hath regarded: for behold, my soul doth magnify the glad and hath rejoiced. For he who is mighty and holy and mercy. He has shown strength hath scattered the proud and the rich he took down the hungry, and hath exalted. He hath received Israel his servant, being mindful of, as he promised to the seed of Abraham, and the. My soul magnifies the Lord.

What I recommend is that you don’t watch the video. Instead, lie on the floor (do it!), close your eyes, listen to the music. As the choir sings, meditate on God’s faithfulness, his compassion and his love for the poor and humble from generation to generation.

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Welcome to Friday! Highlights from this week:

On poverty and homelessness

A couple of years ago, a certain politician had be throwing things at the TV and stomping around the house. He had implied that Jesus’ statement that ‘the poor will always be with us‘ was reason to give up on reducing homelessness.

(by the way, the ABS has just told us that Australia’s homeless population has grown by 17% since 2006 – we need to do something about affordable housing)

Since then I’ve been a little (hyper)sensitive to the misuse of this saying, taking care to point out that in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus quickly follows ‘the poor you will always have with you’ with ‘and you can help them any time you want, but you will not always have me.’ He’s saying Christians will always be near the poor. Like Jesus, we’ll be hanging out with the poor for a long time, but Jesus’ own time on earth was short.

But thank you Con Campbell – he has explained it far better than I could: The poor are always with you

My only concern with Campbell’s piece is that he contrasts caring for the poor with ‘proclaiming Jesus’. I’m not sure this is a helpful dichotomy (I know many disagree with me here).  As I understand it, we proclaim Jesus both with our mouths and our bodies, our speech and our actions. We can’t neglect either because our whole selves are his. I would hate for a Christian to worry she was spending too much time loving and not enough time evangelising, like these are discrete tasks. Jesus himself proclaimed his messiahship through speech and action.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

On war, peace and remembrance day

Stanley Hauerwas Sacrificed on the altar of the nation

On disability

Ellen Painter Dollar When Parents Hope for their Children to be cured, are we really wishing that they “cease to be?”

Do you say ‘people with disabilities’, ‘the disabled’, or what? – Stella Young Reporting it Right: How the Government Got it Wrong

On cultures

Alix Spiegel  Struggle for Smarts? How Eastern and Western Cultures Tackle Learning. Apparently, in Japan kids learn that you succeed if you work hard whereas, in America, they learn that you succeed if you’re smart. All I know is from my Suzuki violin days; the first song I learned went ‘Dr Suzuki says never be lazy but practice and practice until you go crazy.’

On gambling, ‘high rollers’ and addiction

Lawrence Bull Meet Packer’s High Rollers. Many of the so called ‘high rollers’ also suffer addiction and depression.

On the new Archbishop of Canterbury

Who would have thought. He’s an ex oil executive and Etonian, but Justin Welby actually sounds pretty good.

On the Bible

Peter Enns Inerrancy: I think someone forgot to tell the Bible

On evangelicalism

Michael Pahl Radically Evangelical – we need to be more evangelical, he argues.

On politics

brownie badgesOf the 20 women in the USA Senate, 70% were girl scouts (compared to 8% of American women). I’d like to see the stats for Australia. Julie Bishop and Louise Pratt were brownies, there’s got to be others.

Some people joked that Romney was the perfect candidate, if it were 1950. Seems like he’s an actually the ideal candidate for 1868 – given this map of the result of the election if only white men could vote. If it was just up to white men, Romney would have won 501 electoral votes to Obama’s 37.You can also see the result if it were only white people voting or people over 24.

So I also have some vintage anti-suffragette postcards. More postcards here and cats and suffrage.

Suffrage

Finally, the anniversary of the possessed toaster was this week.

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flags, church, war & hauerwas

I was a little uncomfortable at church on Sunday.

Partly, because it was 34 degrees and humid. We have no air-conditioning.

Partly, it was the two Australian flags hung prominently on the wall at the front of the church, framing our normal banner of the dove, cross and orb – representing the Trinity. It was Remembrance Day. Were we honouring the flag? Showing our respect? Why was it there? And why next to God?

There’s been a lot of good done in the name of the Australian flag and the Union Jack it bares. But also a lot of evil. Cronulla, Nauru, Dresden, Gallipoli… Yes, there has also been a lot of evil done in God’s name. But Jesus preached ‘turn the other cheek’, ‘love your enemies’ and then actually did it – he died for his enemies. The Australian flag, on the other hand, I’m not even really sure what it stands for.

We prayed on Sunday, thanking God for the ‘sacrifices’ people made so that we could enjoy the ‘freedom’ and ‘lifestyle’ we have today.

The historian in me cringed. I thought of those who were sent to war unwillingly, who we ‘sacrificed’ in Vietnam or Papua New Guinea; the 16 million including thousands of young Australians who died in the first World War, and for what?; the Aboriginal soldiers who on returning from the Second World War found they couldn’t vote or even join the RSL with their mates – what sort of ‘freedom’ or ‘lifestyle’ was that?

But the theologian in me also cringed. Whose sacrifice brought peace and freedom?

Stanley Hauerwas has written a brilliant piece, Sacrificed on the Altar of the Nation, on the the Church and war. He argues that the Church is the alternative to the reality of the world, the Church is the alternative to war.

[Pacifists] do not trust those who would have us make sacrifices in the name of preserving a world at war. We believe that a sacrifice has already been made that has brought an end to the sacrifice of war…

If the Civil War teaches us anything, it makes clear what happens when Christians no longer believe that Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient for the salvation of the world. As a result, Christians confuse the sacrifice of war with the sacrifice of Christ.

If a people do not exist that continually make Christ present in the world, war will always threaten to become a sacrificial system. War is a counter-church. War is the most determinative moral experience many people have. That is why Christian realism requires the disavowal of war. Christians do not disavow war because it is often so horrible, but because war, in spite of its horror – or perhaps because it is so horrible – can be so morally compelling. That is why the church does not have an alternative to war. The church is the alternative to war.

poppyWar is the world’s sacrificial system, he argues, it’s an alternative saviour. Peace is in the church.

Ephesians 2 – For [Jesus] himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.

Remember the wars and the people who suffered, but I think we can put away the flags. Thank God for the peace he has given us, not through wars, but in Jesus.

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