A New Genre: Reality from fantasy


pretendI was sitting in the James Cook University library each morning before class reading the newspapers, waiting for it to happen.  I unfortunately remember having that feeling of ‘Ooo, I can’t wait.’

Each day it got closer and closer.

It was inevitable.  It was a no-brainer.  They had them and they were a threat to not only their regional neighbours but also to every country in the world.

The photos were presented to convince me.  They did.  They were as clear as day.  It was all true.  Well, that was how it read anyway.

History has shown us that Saddam did not have the dreaded weapons of mass destruction or WMD’s, which in hindsight sounds more like a gaming acronym rather that a real life military threat.  In truth, the whole premise for the war has been shown to be as fanciful as the most realistic World of Warcraft scenario!

Eyes closed.

From the fanciful beginnings emerged a reality.  Shock and Awe was the descriptor given to the initial pounding of Bagdad, and it would be fair to say that ten years on the world is in shock and awe at what happened back in March of 2003.

It was the most tremendous ride, but it had an all too familiar ending.  We all know that feeling when you wake up baffled after the gritty realness of the dream.  It’s thrilling, until you wake up and realise it was, yep, just a dream.  It wasn’t true.  The reality is that this dreamtime ‘reality’ is composed of images, chemical surges and the odd bit of life-half-truth that takes on the form of real life.

A lie?  No, it is real.  It is a real dream

But how stupid is the person who wakes up and continues on as though their dream was reality and that real life was impacted by the make-believe?

Eyes opened.

Duped.

And like any sick practical joke the pranksters swagger off and the poor ol’ fool is left to clean themselves up – the humiliation of defeat, the grotty slimed face, lying on the floor wondering why those guys joined in and why everyone else just sat around and watched it happen.

Now the fantasy turned reality is starting to be retold.

Last night I was watching the RT News channel and I watched a small documentary on the dramatic rise in incidences in birth defects in Fallujah, Iraq.  The pictures were horrendous!  The hospital administrator who was documenting the incidences linked the defects to the phosphorous bombs that were dropped by the US.

Then today, I saw a letter written by a US servicemen who posted a scathing online letter regarding the fanciful dream.  He states:

“You may evade justice but in our eyes you are each guilty of egregious war crimes, of plunder and, finally, of murder, including the murder of thousands of young Americans – my fellow veterans – whose future you stole.”

The ‘you’ in the letter is referring to the then president of the United States, George W Bush.

So what do you do with the most powerful man in the world who at best made a mistake, or at worst lied in order to begin a war that ended up killing up to 190 000 people, 70% of who were civilians?

No fantasy of mine every had that costly a reality, but then again, I was never a Prime Minister or President.

Today we see the roles reversing.  We read about the fantasies of the North Koreans and how they are targeting the US nation on the basis of these realities.  Would we agree that the basis for their war waging is preposterous?  Of course, but we should slow a little to also acknowledge that their idea is no more preposterous than the one that we were all sold some ten years ago.

And so we return to the poor ol’ Iraqis.

A fitting end would be to finish where we started – pretending.  Let’s pretend that it is over and nothing ever happened.

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Damned Suicide


suicide-pictureRecently in Bulgaria a man died.

His death is interesting because it was a political statement.  His death has achieved what the man set out to do when he set himself on fire.  He wanted to draw attention primarily to the plight of the Bulgarian masses that are suffering under corrupt and incompetent governance.

This act of self-immolation was an anti-government protest.

Interestingly, the government and the Orthodox church (though I cannot confirm this) have paid tribute to this man.  The state has even sanctioned a national day of mourning for the man.

He is a hero!

This event has led to a number of interesting discussions around the traps, some of which have demonstrated a lack of clarity on the issues by confusing the denunciation of such political maneuvers with the topic of suicide and its consequences. As communicators of biblical truth, pastors need to be careful with their influence.

Hell-maze-mapRegarding the topic of suicide, a number of pastors here in Bulgaria have told me that suicide is a sin that condemns one to hell.  I find this interesting for a number of reasons, not least because the Bible is obviously the source for their perspective.

However, when we look at the Bible regarding suicide we find that the Bible is conspicuously quiet on the subject.  Where then does this thinking come from?

It seems to me to be a response to dealing with murder, more specifically, self-murder.  But this does not explain how one can conclude that suicide is a sin that warrants eternal damnation.

Who committed suicide in the Bible.  There are a few, but let’s mention only 4:

1.  The most famous is probably Judas, who, after betraying Jesus for some silver coins went and hung himself.  Matthew 27:5 states:  ‘So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.’

2.  We might mention Sampson.  In judges 16:30 ‘Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” Then he pushed with all his might, and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it.’

999-2543. Then there was Saul and his armour-bearer.  1 Samuel 31:3-5 is pretty clear:  ‘Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword and run me through, or these uncircumcised fellows will come and run me through and abuse me.”   But his armor-bearer was terrified and would not do it; so Saul took his own sword and fell on it. When the armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he too fell on his sword and died with him.’

4.  Have you heard of Abimelech.  In Judges 9:54 we read: ‘Immediately he called to the young man who carried his armor and said to him, “Draw your sword and kill me, so people will not say about me, ‘A woman killed him.’” So the young man thrust him through, and he died.’

So there certainly is suicide in the Bible, but the question is this: how does the Bible view suicide?

quWell, we don’t know to be frank.  However, in each of these instances the suicide reflects the disgrace and defeat that they find themselves in, except Sampson’s, which might be construed as martyrdom rather than suicide (there is room for debate here!).

We can say that suicide is deemed as a sin and unfavourable because life is not for humanity to take (even if it is our own).  One pastor was keen to point out the clear commandment not to kill in Exodus 20:13.

With this pastor we must agree that suicide is sin.  But this is hardly ever the point of contention.

The question on everyone’s lips is, ‘Will they go to heaven?’

And to this question we respond as the Bible does.  Quietly!

There are no grounds to claim that suicide leads to eternal separation from God, unless ones believes that one is saved not by God’s mercy and grace but by virtue of one’s deeds.

The reasoning goes something like this.  If I commit suicide then my last act was rebellion against God; a total abandonment of God as saviour and healer; and a demonstration of my poverty of faith.  Suicide shows that I have no faith.

loveFor the protestant evangelical Christian this thinking is incongruous with our tradition (and the Bible of course).  One is saved not by virtue of one’s own deeds, whether good or bad, but by virtue of God’s love demonstrated in Christ’s deed – his obedient death.

To say that one is condemned on the basis of one’s final deed relegates salvation to a work of the flesh.  God help us all if this were the case.

No, we contend that we are saved by grace through faith, which is a gift from God, so that we have nothing to boast about.  Suicide as a sin does not fall beyond the scope of God’s love and mercy.

His death is enough.  This is the good news that gives us all hope.

X/Y-GENS & colour theory


red1Well, it’s election time again in Australia.

The PM has called an election for the 14th of September.  Yep, don’t even bother thinking about it until we start talking about the Eagles and the last weekend in September.  It’s ages away!

Despite the small aeon between now and then we are presented with a dilemma that’s not going away nor becoming simpler to resolve.

Who do you vote for?

As a Christian who do you vote for?

Should being a Christian make a difference?

blueI have a theory.

I have an increasing feeling that my generation (and the one below me) is not so set on where their political allegiances lie when compared with our parents.  Perhaps, 10/15 years ago when we started to vote we followed in line with our parents – this was the norm, but how things have changed.

You’re not a farmer, so you don’t vote National.  You don’t have dreadlocks so you don’t vote Green.  You’re not a sparky, so you don’t vote Labor.  And you’re not a businessman, so you don’t vote Liberal.

BUT…

greenYou care about the environment, you care about dealing with the asylum seeker situation carefully, humanly and lovingly, you care that the needy are provided for, you care that Australia’s future is secured with wise financial management, you care about the continuous development of our great nation’s infrastructure, you care about maintaining your own ethical prerogatives, and you care about how much tax you pay, you care about the situation in the Middle East, and you probably care about some other quirky thing too.

Ok, so which colour do you choose – Blue, Red or Green?

Now I hear the voices telling me of the other colours: mauve, teal, oh, and don’t forget spew, but the bottom line here is that these primary colours (and the secondary ones for that matter) don’t capture our concerns, not even a small portion of them.

greyWhat we are after is achromatic – that middle point on the colour wheel where all the colours converge to create a neutral grey.  A political party that doesn’t focus on one colour or the other, but every colour, shade, and hue in between.

That’s what we want!

I’ve got no answers, just colour theory.

Trumbo, wallpaper and a bad musician


trumboLast night I watched a documentary about Dalton Trumbo (1905 – 1976).

Trumbo was a movie director that won a number of Academy Awards, however, he was not able to accept them because he had been blacklisted for being associated with the commies in an era when red was definitely not in vogue.

His name was sullied for the next 10 years when in 1947 he refused to testify in front of the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) about how communism was impacting Hollywood.  Trumbo’s refusal to testify earned him 11 months in prison for contempt – a charge he never denied, even after his release.

Is this modus operandi a relic?

If one does not live a life that is the result of conscious decision-making that is based upon core values, what steers the course of one’s life?

Trumbo’s actions and other similarly principled lives have become a bit like wallpaper to us, in two ways.

paperFirstly, like wallpaper, they are a bit eccentric.  Like the passionate violinist who bothers us at the restaurant table for some coinage on a Friday night – quirky, but a bit odd, cute, but a little on the pongy side – they stand out from the crowd.  We go on eating our penne polo and drinking our Belgian pilsner hoping the next mouthful will be minus the accompaniment.  But this vain attempt to rid them from our dinner existence is futile. They do exist and they will impact our meal and our evening whether we succumb and dish out the spare change or not.

Never mind, it will soon be over.  The eccentric violinist who was wrecking our meal vanishes to table 34.

Out of sight and out of conscience.

People like Trumbo confront our conscience.  They stand up and stand out because they stand on principles.  We are forced to deal with them whether we like it or not.  I find ignoring them or placating them is easiest.

Secondly, people like Trumbo are like wallpaper because in the end they do disappear into the banality of our own principled-less lives.  At first they shock (good or bad) and then they becomes like the off-white paint.  You don’t see them.  They blend in and become a part of life’s clutter.  You walk in and you don’t notice the lively colour and difference anymore.

But wallpaper is wallpaper.

Blindfolded1Trumboesques make the principled-less life not only seem banal but prove that it is banal. Through a sleight of mind trick one might move the inconvenience out of sight and out of conscience, but this bares little on the real contrast between their lives and our own.

No, Trumbo’s actions against the un-American, House of Un-American Activities Committee were not something that someone just does.  People rarely stand for the sake of standing.  Most often they have worked through the issues and have decided on which hill they will die.

And so we arrive at one pertinent monologue that stood out to me in the documentary.  I forget now his exact words, but Trumbo pinpointed what he thought was the modern curse, or perhaps more accurately put, the Western modern curse.

Choice.

One can decide to go with the pastels and off-whites, or one can decide to go with the bright colour.  The problem, which Trumbo highlighted, is that the sheer quantity of choice is blinding.

Rather ironic.

Missions Musings 16: The controlling legacy


bulsagaWe’ve inherited a legacy.

My mum always said, ‘If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it at all.’   I try to operate by that principle with my blog posting.  Ok, I revise it a little.  It goes more like this: ‘If you don’t have something to be appropriately critical, insightful or encouraging to say, then don’t say it at all.’

Hence my lack of Missions Musings in the past 6 months.  Yes, life has been that ordinary.  But here I am for number 16 to break a few missiology rules, be a little politically incorrect and probably succumb to some form of colonial indiscretion.

Here it goes:

If I was to summarise my time in Bulgaria with one word I would choose the word ‘control’.

When I reflect on my time growing up in Australia I was blessed with the freedom to do what I want, when I want and how I want.  I’m sure that I annoyed my parents, teachers, Bible college professors and the like no end.  I could choose what I would study at university.  I could choose if I wanted to get a job or not.  I had complete control – or so I felt.

I sound like a spoiled brat!

Whatever I may have been I rarely felt as though I was fighting the system to be able to live my life.

Since arriving in Bulgaria we have felt as though we have been doing nothing but fighting the system.  We have felt like a piece of property, or a possession.  We were a resource to be used as the owner felt.  We were not our own.  Whether is was government, church denominations, individual churches, other organizational bodies, and sometimes even friends, we were at their mercy and under their control… well, so they thought.

Why was this, and was this necessarily a bad thing?

I’ve thought a fair bit about this issue because of the pervading reach of it.  My conclusions are not conclusions per se, but thoughts about how this cultural phenomena might be comprehended by a foreigner trying to make it long-term in this country.

brotherFirstly, communism is the elephant in the room.  Control was how the communist rulers perpetuated ideology, and perhaps more importantly its own rule.  If you wanted to head to Sofia for the weekend you would have to report to the police when you left your village and report to the police when you arrived in Sofia.  You could not pack up and move villages or cities easily for work, etc.   If you were a teacher you would holiday with the other teachers.  The engineers with the engineers, and so on, and so on.  The family was dismembered and subjected to the control of the state.

It is clear that this method of operation is still a major part of the DNA of the government structures and voices within it, the non-govenment structures, and also the church.

I’ve observed that the release of control to others in nearly non-existent.  It is closely guarded.  Micro-managing is the natural tendency.  Dissenting voices are not welcome and quickly shut down.  There is next to no leadership development and handover.

As you could therefore imagine, our feeling of being controlled is a fairly normal thing.  A day in the life of 7.2 million Bulgarians.  Our experience is not an exception.  We are just another stat in the fat part of the bell curb experiencing the same thing as everybody else.  It is culture clash.  We are resources to be controlled.  We are a resource that is available for the leaders to use when they see fit.  If you don’t fit then you get thrown out.  It’s really that simple.

Secondly, the culture of control, especially within churches, was in part set up and perpetuated by the workers that have gone ahead of us.  That is, we’ve inherited a legacy of missions that was characterised by control.

Let me explain.  I believe that all cultures should be viewed through the lens of the Bible and critiqued appropriately.  After the changes (late 80’s), it was imperative that the church was lensgiven the skills to evaluate how they have been impacted by communism.  They needed to be able to evaluate themselves in light of the gospel.  They needed to become something from the start that was characterised by biblical principles rather than something that was characterised by assumed communist ones.  Once the changes had happen and the tsunami of ‘missionaries’ flooded in, it was their duty to set up proper working relationships with whatever existing churches there were and the ones that subsequently sprung up.  It appears that these missionaries set up autocratic church structures and relationships, and served within them as such.

Our experience has been that there is a general tendency for churches to treat ‘missionaries’ (forgive the use of the horrible term!) as a commodity.  When I look at the recent past this is not an uncommon story for most workers.  They’ve been subjected to church/denomination control in no uncertain terms.  If they haven’t performed as they ‘should have’ then they were given the royal boot.  This treatment seems to me to be the mere out working of a certain mission legacy that was implemented by the post-fall workers, perpetuated by certain missiological practices since, that is now turning around and biting us newbies on the behind!

Question: Why have we been subject to such a culture of control?

Answer: Bulgaria’s communist past and mission legacy.

I’m not so sure that I’ve nailed this, but I think that I am getting close.  I’d really appreciate my Bulgarian friends to give some input into this.  Being on the inside you would have a much different perspective than me, which I am really interested to hear.

 

Emotional or Forgetful?


Emotional?I found this map the other day that was put together by Mr Gallop here.

Basically, this represents the percentage of people who have answered ‘Yes’ to these questions:

  1. Did you feel well rested yesterday?
  2. Were you treated with respect all day yesterday?
  3. Did you smile or laugh a lot yesterday?
  4. Did you do or learn something interesting yesterday?
  5. Did you experience the following feelings yesterday – enjoyment, physical pain, worry, sadness, stress and anger?

It does make a bit of sense.  The former Soviet Blok leads the way in being considered least emotional, whereas the South Americans are saturated in the purple haze of emotion.

I must say the Democratic Republic of Congo is a bit of an outlier.  In a world of pain they come in flush with emotion.  And is that Oman out there?  What’s in the water out there that makes them so different to any other Arab state?

I did find it interesting that the Balkan states are normally considered as very emotional, but they fared very badly.

And what are we to make of Greenland, Papua New Guinea, Finland(?) and one of the Stans?  They all seem a little grey for no reason at all.

This survey could tell us something very profound about history, politics, religion, family environments, cost of living, etc, but if we look very carefully at the questions they are all asking about yesterday.

It could well be that some countries are just more forgetful than the others.

Missions Musings 15: Sneaky sneaky


Colonialism is a swearword.

Why?

Well, look what Mr Dictionary.com has to say…

co·lo·ni·al·ism

   [kuh-loh-nee-uh-liz-uhm]  

Noun

1.  the control or governing influence of a nation over a dependent country, territory, or people.
2.  the system or policy by which a nation maintains or advocates such control or influence.
3.  the state or condition of being colonial.
4.  an idea, custom, or practice peculiar to a colony.

The concept of colonialism is often coupled (rightly or wrongly) with the historical Christian ideas of mission or being a missionary.  I think it is fair to say that colonialism is an unwanted and unhelpful concept in the realm of christian missions.

The other week I watched a Facebook discussion unfold on the concept of mission and those who carry out Christian mission.  At one point in the discussion one person made the comment that a person who works a secular job has greater possibilities for evangelism than missionaries because they were surrounded by non-believers in the workplace.  In fact he used the analogy that a worker in a secular environment could be a light in a dark place – as opposed to, I assume, a missionary who cannot or has a limited capacity to be a light in a dark place because of their lack of contact with non-believers.

It was also interesting to me that the emphasis of the observation and subsequent inference was based on a missionary’s capacity to evangelise.

Fascinating!

What might we make of this comment?

Perhaps, his experience has been that missionaries work in churches doing church stuff.

Or… in his experience, missionaries do humanitarian stuff and so are not involved with either believers or non-believers at any length which inhibits the development of any real relationships and therefore any capacity for evangelism.

Or…he doesn’t have a clue what missionaries do.

Or…missionaries are working more with believers than non-believers because they are living up to the modern missiological trend of training nationals to do the work.  If they are not seen to be in the secular market place it is because they have trained or are training nationals to be there instead – to do the work for themselves.

I’m not going to speculate as to what he actually meant by his comments about missionaries and their work, but there is a curious departure that I want look at.

While thinking about these possibilities, which I’m sure are not exhausted here, I started to delve a little deeper into the last one.  Could it be true that many missionaries cannot be seen engaging with non-believers because they are busy training locals to go out and do it alone?  In many ways this idea appears to be a keeper.  It is culturally appropriate.  With this missiological trend the missionary is not imposing foreign ideas and methods on any given culture.  It’s all about empowering locals.  It’s all about raising up leaders.  It’s all about developing a national heart for evangelism.  Hard to disagree with, really.

But I could not avoid observing the sneaky sneaky covert operation at work –  a modern sneaky version of colonialism is alive and well in many ways.

Some might argue that Christianity is a western construct that has been used to establish a power base to control the masses.  We could, for example, begin with Constantine and trace the abuse of Christianity as a power tool through to the present.  So, any idea that someone today would go to any context to perpetuate Christian ideology could fall into the colonial basket as they seek to extend the literal rule of Christianity.  Well, if this is how one views Christianity then a ‘missionary’ is a colonialist.

But let’s be honest.   If one were to dig a little deeper into a context where this missiological trend is effectively being put to work, that is, the training of leaders, helping nationals to engage with the content of Christianity, etc, then how can we say that this is not in some sense colonial.  The same is being perpetuated but by different people – nationals!   What is happening is this: nationals are being trained to not only take on certain ideas, concepts, structures, and methods, but also being trained to perpetuate them.  To put it crudely, the nationals are doing what those with colonial motives cannot do without being colonial.  They are developing the colonial rule for the colonialists.  The Gospel and the methods of perpetuating it are going with the intent that others will take it on too.

It reminds me of documentaries that I’ve seen when the CIA, for example, goes into a given country to effect change through training and equipping according to the US  agenda.  It is sneaky sneaky.  Governments support national leaders in foreign countries to get them into power so that they will serve their own political interests.  We call these countries puppet states.  The puppeteer manages to extend their own reign without taking them over.

It is high time that cross-cultural mission had a discussion about the ethical merits of such a method.

But let’s be really honest and this is where it really hits the road.  The Gospel is unapologetically colonial.  The Gospel is about a kingdom that is in the business of extending its own rule throughout the world.  It does not care about national boundaries, language or culture.  The implications of the Gospel not only look colonial but are colonial.  It expects lifestyle change where it does not align appropriately.  Furthermore, it expects that those who submit to this rule will go on to proclaim the Gospel.

In what sense is the Gospel of Jesus not colonial?

I’m gonna say that we haven’t answered this question well enough.  In an attempt to rub out our colonial past modern mission efforts have tried to de-colonialise by opting for a covert CIA style operation, but this, as I showed very briefly, is at best dubious and at worst deceptive.  An honest portrayal of the Gospel proclaims the reign of Jesus over every part of everyone’s life including every aspect of any given culture that one finds themself in.

Why is it that we are happy to run this line of argument in our own cultures but when it comes to others we hesitate and create elaborate schemes to infiltrate them so as to propagate that same message?

More discussion and honesty is needed.