Friday, July 25, 2014

CP255 The value of life...

CP 255 The value of life…
Friends, the article below is from today’s SMH. The author is grappling with precisely the same question I have struggled with for years… Why do I have less interest in the deaths of 1000 people through a typhoon in the Philippines than over 10 in a bus accident in Australia? The article is not “Christian” in any way but it sure raises questions like ‘Who is my neighbour?’ and ‘Are some neighbours are more valuable than others?’ Read it for yourself and don’t forget to ask the Father what his heart is saying!
The value of life by Waheed Aly
“I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the value of human life. About the lives so cheaply lost on MH17. About the anger and grief this tragedy has unleashed. About the sense of sacredness and solemn ceremony that followed it. There’s something cathartic about all this. That we mark this with ritual public grieving tells us that these lives – and therefore our own lives – are sanctified; that their termination is an almost blasphemous violation. On some level this reassures us, which is probably why we pore over news coverage of such events, seizing on small harrowing details and the personal stories of the victims.
But I’ve also been thinking a lot about why it is these lives particularly that have earned such a response. The more I heard journalists and politicians talk about how 37 Australians were no longer with us, the stranger it began to sound. Something of that magnitude happens just about every week on our roads, for instance. In the last week for which we have official data, 29 people were killed this way. The youngest was two. We held no ceremonies, and we had no public mourning of the fact that they, too, were no longer with us.
Why? I don’t ask critically, because I’m as unmoved by the road toll as anyone. But it’s surely worth understanding how it is we decide which deaths matter, and which don't; which ones are galling and tragic, and which ones are mere statistics. We tell ourselves we care about the loss of innocent life as though it’s a cardinal, unwavering principle, but the truth is we rationalise the overwhelming majority of it. What does that tell us about ourselves?
Here, the most obvious counterpoint is the nightmare unfolding in Gaza. As I write this, nearly 600 people – overwhelmingly civilians a third of whom are children – have been killed. By the time this goes to print, that number will be redundant. There’s grief, there’s anger and there’s some international hand-wringing, but nothing that compares with the urgency and rage surrounding MH17, even if there is twice the human cost.
If you take your cues from social media, on which this comparison is being relentlessly drawn, the reason is simple: Palestinians are not rich Westerners, and so their lives simply don’t matter. No doubt there’s some truth to this: humans are tribal animals, and we’re as tribal in death as we are in life. But it’s not an entirely satisfactory explanation because it comes from people who would likely exempt themselves from this rule. And yet those same people have almost certainly grieved comparatively little over the thousands of South Sudanese killed in the past six months, or the 1.5 million to have been displaced. Should we conclude they value African lives less than Palestinian ones?
It’s not merely a matter of cultural affinity. Consider the Egyptian press, which has wholeheartedly embraced the Israeli offensive. “Sorry Gazans, I cannot support you until you rid yourselves of Hamas,” wrote Adel Nehaman in Al-Watan. He was comprehensively outdone by Al-Ahram’s Azza Sami who tweeted “Thank you Netanyahu, and God give us more men like you to destroy Hamas”. Then she prayed for the deaths of all “Hamas members, and everyone who loves Hamas”. Meanwhile, television presenter Tawfik Okasha urged Egyptians to “forget Gaza”, adding for colour that “Gazans are not men” because they don’t “revolt against Hamas”. That, presumably includes the hospital patients or the kids playing football on the beach who have been bombed in the past week or so.
This is about as thorough a dehumanisation of Gazans as you’ll find anywhere in the world. Israel’s media doesn’t even come close. And this in a country where the Palestinian cause has been a kind of social glue for decades. But that’s what happens when the sanctity of life meets the power of politics. For the Egyptian media – now effectively a propaganda arm of the government – Gaza merely represents a chance to attack the Muslim Brotherhood, from which Hamas emerged. It doesn’t matter who dies. It doesn’t matter how many. What matters is that their lives – and especially their deaths – can be used in the service of the story they are so desperate to tell.
And that, I fear, is a universal principle. It is not merely the death of innocents that moves us, even in very large numbers. It is the circumstances of it that matter. We decide which deaths to mourn, which to ignore, which to celebrate, and which to rationalise on the basis of what story we want them to tell. Palestinian deaths matter more than Sudanese ones if you want to tell a story of Israeli aggression. Israeli deaths matter more than Palestinian ones if you want to tell a story of Hamas terrorism. Asylum seeker deaths at sea matter more than those on land if you want tell a story about people smuggling. But a death in detention trumps all if your story is about government brutality. And a death from starvation matters if you want to tell a story about global inequality – which so few people do. Everyone will insist they’re merely giving innocent human lives their due. And that’s true but only in the most partial sense. These are political stories driven by political commitments.
MH17 allowed us to mourn and to rage because it delivered a story we were well prepared to tell. It’s easy to rage when the plot is one of Russian complicity, roguishness and cover-up. And frankly, Russia deserves the whack it’s getting for its handling of the aftermath. But in my most naive moments I hope for a world where the value of human life is universal enough that we can outrage ourselves; where we can tell the stories we don’t particularly want to; the stories in which we are neither the heroes nor the victims, but the guilty. That’s what we’re asking of Russia. One day someone mourning no less than we are will ask it of us.”
Waleed Aly is a Fairfax columnist. He hosts Drive on ABC Radio National and is a lecturer in politics at Monash University.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

CP 254 Well, that made me stop and think...

CP 254 Well, that made me stop and think…
This week’s CrossPurposes is a jumbled collection of things I’ve heard people say that just stopped me and made me think. There’s nothing particularly spiritual about them, and yet in some way they truly are. I’m just recording, not lessonizing! I’ll start with an explanatory tale from almost 30 years ago. (I’m going to highlight all the unexpected responses in bold italics.)
Occasion 1. A member of the Immanuel Church named Maria was experiencing declining health and facing the loss of one of her feet due to poor circulation. We prayed for her at worship but nothing seemed to change. She was miserable. Once, when I called on her, that frustration was raw. I said to her something like, ‘Maria, I wish I had a magic wand and could wave it over your leg and fix it. I just feel helpless.’ She replied something like, ‘You’re helping me just by being here.’
Occasion 2. A couple of weeks ago I was having a conversation with my friend Nan who lives in Queanbeyan, near Canberra. She has had her share of suffering and misery in the last 15 months. Nan’s husband Jack had a severe stroke in July 2014. He was hospitalised for months, did rehab for months, and was in respite while she had an urgently needed knee replacement. Now he is home, but is unable to be the ‘I’ll-take-care-of-it-man’ he used to be. And he has not recovered speech. During that phone call we talked about their situation. Then we switched to reflecting on a recent CrossPurposes blog. We talked for about half an hour. As we closed the call she said to me, ‘Thanks for the intelligent conversation.’
Occasion 3. Recently, while driving, I heard an interview conducted by the ABC’s Richard Fiedler with a-now-Australia based, Pakistani comedian named Sami Shah. Their talk turned to him being held up at gunpoint in Karachi. He mentioned that everybody in Karachi can expect to be held up sometime. The local joke apparently is that if you haven’t been held up you must be the person with the gun! Anyway, the armed thief demanded his wallet and phone. With the gun still at his head, this is what he said: ‘You’ve got my wallet and phone. Now at least leave me with my anger!’ As he said it he thought, ‘What an idiotic thing to say.’ The thief began to laugh, then Sami himself began to laugh. They belly-laughed together. Then the thief handed back both his wallet and phone!.
Occasion 4. Wonderful Joe, a member of our Campbelltown church brought his trailer to a working-bee to help pick up turf for a lawn. Afterwards, Mick thanked him. Joe’s response? ‘Thanks for asking.’
Occasion 5. Again this week in a morning radio interview… A young poet/author, (didn’t catch his name), who grew up in Queanbeyan, was talking about his latest book about the darker side of his home town. ‘Part of art is extending sympathy where it has not yet been extended.’
Occasion six. From an article by Sarah Malik entitled, ‘When tragedy strikes, even onlookers can suffer.’ It’s about being visually overwhelmed by graphic images from disasters and horribleness like Ukraine and Gaza. It includes a quote from Melbourne psychologist Monique Toohey: ‘What you see cannot be unseen. I use this statement with my clients who find themselves replaying horrific images and videos in their mind, hours and days after they were exposed to them in their Facebook or Twitter feeds.’ (I, Fred, want to tell you something arising from that thought in a future CrossPurposes.)
My only comment on these things? Sometimes it’s the from-left-field comments which reveal deep and unthought needs…
Be blessed this week.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

CP 253 O Deer! Bambi's perpetual captivity...

CP 253 O Deer! Bambi’s perpetual captivity…
A few months ago there was a notable news item about herds of deer on the border of what used to be West Germany and Czechoslovakia. That border marked the line between the Warsaw Pact countries and the NATO alliance of the West. Not long after WW2 a fence was built by the Communists to stop ‘migration’ to the West. The ‘fence’ was actually three fences of high and vicious barbed wire, fully electrified. Armed guards constantly patrolled its entire length. Apparently more than 500 people died along that border as they sought freedom from that oppressive regime.
They were not the only casualties. For century upon century herds of deer had freely roamed the forests of Europe in that area. Once the death-dealing fence was in place the deer quickly learned to avoid it. Deer on the Czech side moved through the eastern forests up to the fence, along it on well worn tracks, and away again. On the German side the herds of deer learned to do the exact same thing. East was east, and west was west, and ne’er the herds did meet.
Now here’s the thing... The herds still don’t meet. It is now 25 years since the wall came down and the fence was removed. In the years since then observers were astonished to see that the deer adhered (!) to the tracks they had learned. Since scientists began micro-chipping the herds only two, both male, are known to have ‘crossed the line’, and one of those returned the same day and never ‘re-offended’. The herds are stuck in their learned patterns of behaviour in spite of the fact that not a single deer alive today was alive when the electric fence was doing its dirty work. As one report had it, ‘The wall is still in their heads!’ No other animals are limited in the same way.
I observed in a sermon recently that the deer were almost certainly Christians. A few hours later I mused that I could have added, ‘Probably Lutheran!’ I belong to a church which prides itself on its convictions about Gospel freedom. We love Galatians 5:1. ‘For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand fast then, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.’ (RSV) Most certainly the Gospel bestows the gift of freedom through forgiveness, for Christ’s sake, by grace, through faith. With it comes that delightful and cherished confidence that there is now, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Being placed ‘in Christ Jesus’ puts the children of the heavenly Father beyond any accusation that could ever be raised according to law. Nothing, repeat nothing… nothing in all creation, nothing… can ever separate us from the love of God the Father revealed in Jesus Messiah our Lord. Nothing!
More often than we know, the ‘walls’ remain in our heads. A few examples from scripture. First, Mary and Martha. When Lazarus died both ‘knew’ it was too late for Jesus to intervene. ‘Lord if (only) you had been here…’ The unsaid part of that encounter was that all ‘knew’ that once the stone was in place and the cemetery gate shut, well, that’s the end of it. Jesus had to destroy that wall in the mind.
Second, think of the two sons of the prodigal father. Junior ‘knows’ that having blotted his copybook disgracefully he has gone beyond the point of no return and his sonship is forfeit forever. That’s his wall in the heart which Jesus and his Father proceed to blow apart with a ring and a robe, sandals and a cloak, all climaxed with a feast. Senior, on the other hand, has lived with a wall all his life. ‘All these years I have slaved for you…’ How sad. And his was the harder wall to dismantle.
I reckon if I sat with you we could come up with a million examples of that ‘deerish’ behaviour. Just think about the teachings, assumptions and expectations we had as we entered life which were never going to be fulfilled or met because they simply weren’t true? Not long ago I came across a chap who struggled all his life with receiving and living in forgiveness because his mother had put it into his head that God was carefully recording, in His Book, every single thing he ever did wrong.
Walls can be theological… The Church has used a certain structure in its worship for centuries. Can worship be legitimate without a traditional liturgy? That’s a wall in some minds. Another is the notion that true worship can only happen if we are using only hymns! In Luther’s day there was a wall about translating the scriptures into German… after all, everybody knew they had been delivered to the church in Latin! Not true of course. The Latin was a translation of the Hebrew and Greek. Later on there were objections to English because ‘we knew’ they were originally written in German!
A friend of mine had a wall in his head about God… when he was young his father told him it was pointless looking to the heavens for help because, ‘there’s no one there.’
After all the ugly truths have emerged about abuse of children within and under the cover of churches, can you imagine how the angry comments of millions of parents have created walls against trusting God? Hypocrisy of any sort builds walls where there should not be walls.
For me, the miracle is that, again and again, humbly spoken Gospel words and gentle lives can open things up for somebody to identify that lies create an impression of walls which simply do not exist. The greater miracle is that Jesus the Christ got behind the real wall of the law, undermined it by his life of suffering glory, dismantled the accuser’s strongholds by delivering forgiveness through his own death, drove a stake through the dominating heart of the spirit of death by his resurrection, and proceeded to lead the redeemed through those shattered walls into the kingdom of his Father.
I have a feeling there’s much more to write about ‘them walls.’ Much, much more. Whatever, let your thought structures be challenged by what He did, and as he shows you the lies upon which your walls are built, rejoice as you see them evaporating before the laser truth of Him and the Gospel.
Bless you all.

Friday, July 11, 2014

CP 252 'Who's packing your parachute?' with a Christ twist.

CP 252 ‘Who’s packing your Parachute?’ with a Christ twist.
Hello friends. This week I’ve been itching to share with you an insight that came after reading the story below about a man and his parachute. It arrived in my inbox and I did what I have taught myself to do, that is, check out whether the story is true. It is. You can find references to it on Google under “Who’s packing your parachute?” Anyway, here is the story:
“Charles Plumb, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate, was a jet fighter pilot in Vietnam. After 75 combat missions, his plane was destroyed by a surface-to-air missile. Plumb ejected & parachuted into enemy hands. He was captured & spent six years in a Communist prison.
He survived that ordeal & now lectures about lessons learned from that experience. One day, when Plumb & his wife were sitting in a restaurant, a man at another table came up & said, "You're Plumb! You flew jet fighters in Vietnam from the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk. You were shot down!"
"How in the world did you know that?" asked Plumb.
"I packed your parachute," the man replied. Plumb gasped in surprise & gratitude. The man pumped his hand & said, "I guess it worked!"
Plumb assured him, "It sure did - if your 'chute hadn't worked, I wouldn't be here today."
Plumb couldn't sleep that night, thinking about that man. Plumb says, 'I kept wondering what he might have looked like in a Navy uniform-a Dixie cup hat, a bib in the back, and bell bottom trousers. I wondered how many times I might have passed him on the Kitty Hawk. I wondered how many times I might have seen him and not even said ‘good morning’, or ‘how are you?’ or anything because, you see, I was a fighter pilot and he was just a sailor.
Plumb thought of the many hours the sailor had spent on a long wooden table in the bowels of the ship carefully weaving the shrouds & folding the silks of each chute, holding in his hands each time the fate of someone he didn't know. Now, Plumb asks his audience, 'Who's packing your parachute?' Everyone has someone who provides what they need to make it through the day. Plumb also points out that he needed many kinds of parachutes when his plane was shot down over enemy territory-he needed his physical parachute, his mental parachute, his emotional parachute, & his spiritual parachute.”
The story got me thinking in a number of different directions. One obvious one is that Australia provides a wonderful well-packed parachute for anybody who is sick, has an accident, loses a job, needs an education and so on. Regardless of all our grumbling, our transport systems, agricultural systems, distribution systems, health, service and education systems, welfare systems, financial systems, and political and legal systems, are as good as you get in the whole wide world. Relative to most others we are blessed with high quality infrastructure! All of this is what the Lord’s Prayer seeks as “Daily Bread”. What a parachute! (For the asylum seekers?)
It struck me too that the churches are called to be the providers of ‘parachute’ for the lost. Not that we are the parachute. Rather, we are the human channel through which the Spirit of God can activate the chute. The Lord gives his Word. It comes to us via someone’s preaching or teaching or witness or song. When it comes to us, the Spirit gives faith to a sin-burdened heart and we believe, and we have a parachute which sustains us in this life and conveys us into the eternal life of the kingdom of Heaven. Let me give you an example. Kate Koob was one of only two female American diplomats among the more than 50 taken prisoner when the USA Embassy was overrun in Iran in 1979. Did she fear for her life? Of course. Did she have a parachute? Yes indeed! She was sustained for those 444 days in captivity by her Lord who brought to her remembrance all the scripture she knew from home, Sunday School, Confirmation and Study. And day by day, in circumstance after circumstance, hymn verse upon hymn verse came to mind to sustain her in  heart, soul and spirit. She knew without a doubt that the Lord Jesus was with her every moment, and His Spirit lived within her heart. The parachute worked!
Then came clarity of revelation. It was tempting to think the pious thought that Jesus provides the parachute which carries us in the Father’s embrace but that is not correct. He does not provide a parachute… He is the parachute! Think of some of those wondrous texts… You were baptised into Christ… There is therefore, now, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus… If anyone is in Christ that person is a new creation… Nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God which is ours in Christ Jesus our Lord. There are dozens of such ‘in Christ Jesus’ texts. He is my parachute. I am endlessly grateful for that freedom… that grace-full gift.
The best moment for me came a little later. Here’s a truth… Jesus Christ could be my / our parachute because he chose, quite deliberately and out of love, not to activate his own parachute. Remember the taunts? ‘Ho. Ho. Ho. If you’re the Son of God, come down from that cross. Hahaha!’ He chose not to, not because he could not, but because, for our sake, he would not! In the garden he had already told his disciples that he could summon 12 legions of angels… You know, the song says ‘It was my sin that held him there.’ It wasn’t my sin… it was his love that held him there. Amazing is it not? Jesus Christ is my eternal parachute because he chose not to use his own. His death destroyed the power of Satan. His resurrection destroyed the power of death. Wow!
Be Blessed in Him… Fred