Tuesday, 27 January 2009

The Mocking of Christ

Apologies for going on and on about my favourite pictures at the moment... but here's another one.

My previous blog reminded me of this picture. It is a Christian comment on Judaism quite different to the one presented in the film.

It was drawn in Austria during WW2. The picture is unmistakenly a picture of Jesus being mocked, with his scarlet robe, crown of thorns, beaten with sticks and the Roman ensignia on the sleeves of the soldier's clothes.

Yet, Jesus has the Jewish symbol as a clasp around his neck and the soldiers are dressed in Nazi uniform. Jesus is here on the side of the persecuted Jew. Jesus' Jewishness is right to the fore and the scapegoating of the Jews is made comparable to the scapegoating of Jesus.

Of course, this picture does not represent the only Christian voice against the mistreatment of Jews. Bonhoffer made a quite remarkable stand. I am not trying to diminish the culpability of Christianity in anti-semitism, but just want to balance this with another perspective that those of faith should find inspiring.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Jesus & anti-semitism

I was in school last week and asked what I thought of the first episode of "Christianity: a history". I had to confess that I hadn't seen it, but they were keen to give me a synopsis anyway. I gave my initial responses, which seemed to go down well, but I've watched it now online and here is my more considered reaction:

Its a programme about the role of Christianity on anti-semitism: the Jews, we are told were persecuted and murdered throughout the middle ages and beyond because they killed Jesus. The programme explores the responsibility of Christianity for the ill-treatment of Jews.

Of course, the fact that Jews could be persecuted or killed in the name of Jesus is very disturbing for anyone with any kind of sensitivity. It really is a shame that Christianity could not have more universally deplored the treatment of Jews as another example of scapegoating, on a par with the scapegoating of Jesus.

On the other hand, I have long been convinced that ideology (whether Christian or not) simply doesn't have that much power to control people's behaviour. I'm not saying that we are not influenced by our faith position - of course we are, but we also shape that faith position. I'm pretty confident that the persecution of any group occurs primarily for social, political and economic reasons, and ideologies are shaped to support what people want to do, rather than the other way around.

Anyway, on to the programme. It has, of course, all the typical hype of religious broadcasting - pretty conventional ideas (like Jesus was a Jew or baptism was originally a Jewish rite) are heralded as though they were groundbreaking new discoveries! I like its desire to restore Jesus to his original Jewishness. The programme asks:

"How does it harm a Christian's faith to restore Jesus to the jewish world in which he lived? Jesus never once expressed the intention of starting a new religion. His ambition was to renew Judaism, to reawaken it to its own grandeur, not to abolish it."

It was pretty poor, though, in its presentation of Paul. It presented now discredited scholarship as though it were accepted fact. Paul we are told was anti-Jewish. No quotes or evidence were given and I presume the TV makers weren't thinking about "There is no difference between Jew and Gentile we are all one in Christ Jesus". It is now commonly accepted that Paul wasn't critical of Jew per se (in Romans, for example), but Judaizers (Jewish Christians who claimed Gentile Christians should be circumcised etc). Paul was as thoroughly Jewish as Jesus was, and like Jesus, was not trying to start a new religion, but seeing the true expansion of Judaism to the whole world. Christianity wasn't a religion at all until some time after Paul's death.

Hints at animosity to some Jews is evident in the New Testament - I don't deny that. Post 70AD texts were written just as Judaism was throwing Christians out of the synagogue. But anti-semitism itself is a creation of the Middle Ages and served the political and social agenda of the middle ages.

Will Christianity, I wonder, ever recover its tarnished image or forever be seen as the tool of oppression? I wonder if Channel 4 will show the other side of Christianity - the way it has been a tool for liberation and equality as much as oppression. What can Christians do today to present an alternative vision of what Christianity is all about?

The programme can still be watched here.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Who is my neighbour?

I read Mark Powell's comments on the Good Samaritan some time ago - but its one of those comments that sticks with you. I came back to it again recently and thought it was worth a post. Here it is:

"I have heard, read, preached and taught this tale for decades - mostly in mainline, middle-class Protestant churches... the general consensus has always been that the 'moral of the story' is that we ought to be willing to help anyone in need. Our commitment to relieving human suffering ought to transcend political, ethnic and other sorts of rivalries... So I was a little surprised when I went to live in Tanzania and discovered that many people there understand the story differently. The 'moral of the story', these Tanzanians told me, is that people who have been beaten, robbed and left for dead cannot afford the luxury of prejudice. They will (and should) accept help from whoever offers it. When grain is brought to a famished village, parents of starving children do not much care whether the Muslims, Roman Catholics or the Jehovah's Witnesses bring it... In short, the story was understood to answer the question, 'Who is my neighbour?' not with 'whoever needs my help', but with 'whoever helps me'.

As I shared this illustration in the United States, I found that many American Christians smile at the Tanzanians' reading of the familiar tale, regarding it as a quaint misunderstanding. But who is to say which understanding is correct? The variant interpretations are obtained through empathy choice: Americans tend to identify with the men walking down the road... Tanzanians, however, tend to identify with the person in the ditch and consider the question from his perspective. Obviously, one can do either, but I think it is interesting to note the exact wording of the question that is posed in Luke's Gospel... "Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" He does not ask, "Which of these three regarded the injured man as his neighbour?"...

...The main point of the story was that religious leaders... need to evaluate their faith and life from the perspective of the marginalised people of the earth."

I find this quote by Powell striking as an example of what we can learn by reading the text from the perspective of the oppressed, and how much we can bring our priviliged position to the reading of a text. It has often made me read other texts differently by making me ask: who am I empathising with here?

Maybe in the light of some of our recent blogs about who is good - the answer always needs to asked from the perspective of the oppressed - those who do good to the poor, the suffering and the needy, regardless of their faith profession!
(once again I have taken the opportunity to choose one of my favourite images of the good samaritan).

Monday, 19 January 2009

The cross is enough?

I went for a run with Schof on Saturday and he took me on a wild goose chase around the peak district (i.e. got me lost and sent me on a one and an hour run). "It's just over the next hill", he said about 5 times! Anyway, I'm not bitter, just can't stand up!

Anyway, a run with Schof, though painful in some ways, is a delight in others. We were chatting about repentence in the Christian circles we had been in. I recalled a prayer meeting where everyone decided to pray long prayers of confession to God. Of course, I'm all up for a bit of confession, but I came out of this prayer meeting saying, "What was that?!"

People were praying about sins that clearly haunted them, but wouldn't say what they were. I found it such a pity that they felt so guilty that they couldn't say what they were and that they couldn't just be honest about their failings. I had my suspicion about what they felt guilty about, and I suspect it wasn't murder or rape!

I just wish Christianity could be for them a place where they do not need to pretend to be 'good people', but can be honest about the fact that they are failed people. The 'being a Christian makes you good' myth just makes people feel they need to pretend they are good and feel utterly ashamed that they are not. I just wish people could be happy with themselves. Schof's comment was that evangelicals are suprisingly not very good at repentence, particularly for people who believe that the cross finally and completly dealt with their sins!

I am personally enjoying my newly acquired contentment with my sin! I have included the picture above, because I've always loved this image of the warm embrace of the Prodigal Son - wrapped in his father's arms, he is forgiven.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Give us this day... kentucky fried chicken

So, I was in the staff room and someone says, "I've got this religious joke I've been saving up for you and keep forgetting to tell you it", and off he went:

The head of Kentucky Fried Chicken managed to get an audience with the pope on one of his trips to America.

'Can you please change a line of the Lord's Prayer", he asked, "to 'Give us this day kentucky fried chicken?'
'O no, I can't do that' said the Pope.
'If I give you $10 million would you do it?'
'No, I couldn't change the Lord's Prayer'
'Ok, if I give you $50 million would you change it?'
'No, I'm really sorry, I couldn't change the Lord's Prayer for anything.'
'What about for $100 million?'
This time the pope was tempted, 'OK', he says, 'for $100 million I'll change the Lord's Prayer.'
So, the Pope goes back home to the Vatican and tells his Cardinals, 'I have good news and bad news. The good news is I've brought back $100 million from America. The bad news is ... we've lost the deal with Hovis!"

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Are Christians better people?

On Monday evening we were treated to a fantastic three-course meal, cooked up by Schof and a great discussion with friends around the question, "Are Christians better people?"

Many thanks to Schof for his great cooking and leading of the discussion!

This is what I can remember from the discussion - maybe other people can fill in the blanks:

          • There was a brief discussion about what 'good' actually means. eg. a person hasn't been divorced? A person does their quiet time every day? I think we were in agreement that many of the definitions of 'good' presented in traditional Christianity were unhelpful.

          • It was pointed out that statistics have shown that the behaviour of 'fundamentalist' Christians (by the criteria of the questionairre) were better than the ordinary population. This was put down to social conditioning by our group.

          • I think we were pretty much in agreement that the traditional Christian message that if you become a Christian you become a better person is just simply not true in our experience and creates unrealistic expectations.

          • We were challenged to think about some of the Bible passages (especially in the letters) which suggest that if you become a Christian you do change and become a better person. There were various responses to this. Some found it difficult to read some Bible verses without interpreting in the way they had been brought up to interpret them. I think I said a few (heretical) things about defining the 'good' / 'holy' / 'people of God' not by the contours of 'Christians', but by 'those who do good'. This could include people of faith or not, Christians or not. I tried to support this by reference to the Good Samaritan and the Parable of the Sheep and Goats. I'm not sure others were particularly convinced.

          • We ended with communion - a very fitting demonstration of the 'openness' of the table of God to everyone and our unity before him.

          It seems pretty self-evident to me that 'doing good' should define who 'the good' are and that if these happen to be those outside of our faith tradition, so be it. However, I want to rise to the challenge of Monday night and try to argue that point in the light of biblical texts that might be read to the contrary. So, please post the passages you would challenge me to respond to and I will see what I can do.

          Monday, 5 January 2009

          Are Christians Better People?

          So this is 2009 and the Cadburys Cream Eggs are in the shops already.

          Did you make any new years resolutions (bad idea according to the bbc)? I did/didn't. I made some 'decisions about how to create a pattern of life in 2009' :-)

          Why did I do that? Like any change there are push and pull factors:

          Push - I don't like myself much sometimes when i get snared in sin and there are bits of my life that are in a mess because of it. I need more discipline if I am vaguely serious about being an apprentice of Jesus.

          Pull - I am attracted to simplicity and making space for God, confession, celebration and service in everyday life as well as the big stuff. I want to be more Christlike (not just in personal piety but also because I want to play my own small unique part in continuing the Xmas story of peace coming) because that feels more like being alive than anything else.

          Having said that i am also:

          a) Cautious about being religious, trying to earn grace, doing it for the wrong reasons - I refer again to whose desire do i desire
          b) Confident in a God who lives in me and can do more than imaginable & i work in 'development' so I see people grow/change all the time
          c) Realistic - I might get new tools but can I actually change much, I mean really change? The stats and anecdotals aren't always as good as those 'I was a gangsta and now i am a minista' headlines - Naked Pastor comment1/comment2, Engage chat, Stats from USA1 Stats 2, Beliefnet article. (Though this piece by Matthew Parris (a famous (and humble) Atheist) is a welcome addition to the debate)
          d) Concerned that this discussion just descends into an ugly 'who is really in/out and therefore counts' debate or that the whole thing is based around the wrong definition of 'better' or more likely the wrong starting question.

          So....help me out here....

          The next engage F2F will be a meal (free) at 105 Murray Rd 8pm Mon 12th Jan. It will be an open chat about the question 'Are Christians Better People?' Come and talk to the person next to you, to the whole table or just listen or just eat or any of the above. There will be some readings to chew on between courses, and oh yeah, bring your mobile so you can twitter your own reflections if you want to. Look forward to seeing you there or getting your comments below - HNY

          Saturday, 3 January 2009

          The Pattern of Without

          Whilst trying to find a patch of pattern for myself for this coming year and I came across this quote (very Rollinsesque) that reminded me of my last year and it is something that I want to carry with me into this year. It is far from a denial of hope, love and faith; It is a refusal to claim 'possession' of them. A awful acknowledgement that they are events not charms for rubbing, that they are often experienced as absences. That they,in their real form, are not born of self but born of God. That they are often as counter intuitive as God. That they are not (just?) informative but transformative.

          I said to my soul,
          be still, and wait without hope
          For hope would be hope for the wrong thing;
          wait without love
          For love would be love of the wrong thing;
          there is yet faith
          But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
          Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
          So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
          T S. Eliot

          (If you are in a Rollinsish mood then this is a great post - 'whose desire do i desire')

          Thursday, 1 January 2009

          Tidbits II

          Bit of culture with this William Blake poem

          Bit of direct action (or lack there of) from the women of Naples

          Bit more progress re Guantanamo this time UK government pressure

          Bit steep but tempting 'The Gospel under Occupation' trip to Bethlehem with The Amos Trust