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.

Pope Benedict XVI: Not a bad sort


popWe’ve just learned that the Pope has given his notice.

How is a protestant supposed to react to such news?  With sensitivity, I hope.

While we might struggle to come to grips with the theology that the Pope symbolises, we can reminisce on Pope Benedict XVI’s contributions.

Let’s start with the negatives.

I think that it is fair to say that most people expected the Pope to tackle the sex abuse scandals in North America and Europe with a little more vigor than has been demonstrated.  The issues to this day are still floating because no decisive action has been taken by the papacy to deal with them.  Bags not being the next pope that has to clean it up.

colnelAnd who could forget the 2012 incident regarding the butler, in the library with the secret letters.  I don’t know what to make of it, but surely it’s not a good look to have a Cluedo-like scenario unfolding in the Vatican.

Then there was the 2006 speech (or should we call it a blunder?) when he claimed that Mohammad brought the world only ‘evil and inhumane’ things.  Ok, so even if you believe it, as the Pope you can’t say that.

The final blunder of note, in my books, came in 2009 when he decried the use of condoms with reference to stemming the spread of HIV.  Interestingly, in a stroke of human biological oversight (let’s be generous) he claimed that the use of condoms would make the problem worse.  Now, the Pope can argue all he likes about the merits of birth control, but to say that using condoms would increas the HIV problem is a little naive.

Why don’t we move on the positives.

Pope Benedict XVI was a warrior in the face of a growing tide of secularism, especially on the continent.  He pushed for Christianity to persevere in the marketplace of ideas.  The ‘New Evangelisation’ was a message he took not only to the Church, but also to the most powerful leaders in the world.  Indeed, Michael Cameron has stated that the Pope’s visit to England in 2010 with this message had a bearing on his political position on the matter.

human-and-robot-handHow could we overlook the Pope’s re-humanisation of the human.  Benedict was a conservative and this is reflected in his view on life.  I liked this.

I also liked his hands on style.  Remember back to 2012 when he wrote a letter to Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to let him know that he didn’t appreciate the way that Christians were being treated in Iran.  That’s what I’m talking about.

Finally, and on this note I will finish the post, he demonstrates wisdom in stepping from the office of the Bishop of Rome before he could not carry out his duties anymore.

This takes humility, wisdom and love for the church.

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.

 

Clothes don’t matter!


clothesThe news room is a window into the heart of society on two fronts.  Firstly, it tells about what humanity is up to, and secondly, it tells us what humanity wants to hear.

Well, Christianity Today has released its stats for the year.  Included in this is a list that informs us of the top 15 most read articles for 2012.  There are a few noble inclusions, most notably at number 15 is the report on the death of Chuck Colson.   Coming after this is a smattering of Christian soap opera stories.  These include the lawsuits and counter lawsuits regarding the finances and smear campaigns at the Trinity Broadcasting Network (whatever that is).  Then there was James MacDonald’s resignation from the Gospel Coalition.  That was big news.

Of course politics was well represented.  Coming in at number 13 was a discussion between John Piper and a representative from Jews for Jesus.  I haven’t read the article, but I’m sure we could guess how it might go.  Then there was the Obama vs Romney playoff which was always going to get a mention.  Stoking this story was the fact that Romney was after all a Mormon.

Sex sells.  The Driscoll family Q&A came in at 11.

The top 5 gets serious.  One article is about the suicide of a prominent man following molestation accusations.  Number 3 is about how Christianity (I think they actually mean Sunday church!) has come to be characterised by juvenility (Is that a word? Is that the right word?).

Number 2 – it was always going to happen.  A pastor steps out of line on the issue of homosexuality.  I bet he regrets that!

patheticAnd the big kahuna… the one you’ve all been waiting for… drumroll please…

Hurry up and tell me… quickly… what are you doing?  WHAT IS IT?

The most read article for 2012 was – Clothing Matters: What We Wear to Church.  

*Cough

Let’s get a little bit real about this.  The simple fact of the matter is that on a theological, social, ethical, and any other spectrum, clothing really doesn’t matter.  That this article is number one reveals much about the modern church.  There is so much Christian news that is newsworthy, but instead we are given this.

Pathetic  (Adjective)
  1. Arousing pity, esp. through vulnerability or sadness.
  2. Miserably inadequate.

The only time this title and accompanying article should have had any traction was on the 9th (?) day of the world when Adam and Eve were reeling with their never-before-seen threads provided by God.

Now that would have been something to write home about!

Adoption: It’s a lucky dip


It seems that not a week goes by without some kind of religious hullabaloo.

What is it this week?  A topic that is close to my heart.  Adoption.

I am thankful daily for the blessing of growing up in a loving family.  In my work as a teacher, youth worker and young adult pastor and now in my work in Bulgaria I know that this is not the norm for the world over.  I assure you that as I have my 33rd birthday today my family experience is not taken for granted!

I find it interesting that we Christians are often seen to be clamouring for influence.  For what reason?  Often it is couched in terms of saving those who don’t believe.  At other times the reason given is for social transformation –  a desire to limit pagan influence and un-Christian political manoeuvring.  At other times it is used to achieve change by lobbing the political process in order to impose(?) a Christian social ethos.   I would not say that this is necessarily a bad thing, but I will say that Christians who have grappled for such influence and now have it are giving the press way too many opportunities to tar Christianity with a certain brush, whether that be the dumb brush, angry brush, hateful brush, ignorant brush or clueless brush.  What we have seen in the last few days is certainly grounds for painting Christianity with the stupid and heartless brush.

I’m embarrassed and ashamed to be associated with the words that Pat Robinson (that’s a Wiki link for your convenience:)) communicated on live television last week regarding adoption. On the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) show called the 700 Club (Check out the discussion here) they did a special segment on adoption.  They checked out few families that had adopted and then zipped back to the studio for a discussion on the issues.  Robinson’s comments lacked logic, were insensitive and did not reflect the Bible’s treatment of a believer’s responsibility to orphans and the poor.

Lacked logic.

He begins with a caution and finishes on the same caution.  Once one adopts they can’t simply be dropped off at the pound like a dog if it doesn’t work out.  It’s a serious decision.  Who would disagree?  Well, probably you when you find out why he thinks it is a big decision!

He argues that they could have been influenced prior by demons and this of course means that you don’t know what behaviour will come out in time.  He also tells us that they could be brain damaged.  Later in the discussion he remarks or perhaps rambles: ‘[Adoption] can be a blessing if  you get the right child.  It becomes a part of the family and that child you love like your own.  But! But!… the child can be badly damaged mentally and emotionally… not enough food, love… [The Romanian orphans] are so emotionally scarred… [Orphans] never adjust to adulthood.’

His point: it’s a lucky dip.  You don’t know what you’re going to get.

Let me trace his logic through.  If you don’t know what you are going to get you should refrain from adopting – this was the pervading sense that he communicated.  If that is the reasoning for not adopting then you also shouldn’t choose to have your own baby through natural means, because the baby could similarly come out brain damaged, and or be socially or physically impaired in time.   You never know how they will turn out, right?  So don’t risk it – don’t have babies!  Hmmm…

But this is foolishness. A couple does not have a child by natural means in order to create a perfect child.  Of course they know that when the baby comes into the world there are many events that are out of the parents’ control that can impact how the child will grow up.  Let’s be realistic, even before the baby comes into the world there are many forms of complications that can affect the subsequent life of the baby and the parents.  That there might be possible future complications is no reason to refrain from having your own biological kids, nor from adopting children.

Insensitive.

There is also a subtle, yet very hidden comment here, that those children with any sort of impairment are not desirable or wanted.  What a horrible thought!  That these children have no parents and are potentially damaged is precisely the grounds for which both believers and non-beleivers should consider adoption.  It is not something that one turns away from, but embraces with a sense of responsibility.

Further, Robinson’s discussion partner tries to pick up the pieces and basically admits that the children are sometimes, if not often, damaged: socially, emotionally, physically and/or spiritually.  But she does not shy away from her belief that it is a believer’s responsibility to look after these children.  Robinson offers a patronising comment (and it was patronising!), ‘Well it’s all real lovely…’ before the lady cuts him off to rightly put him right.  She said, ‘Well, it’s not lovely…’  And she is right.  Adoption might be construed in the media as a fad, but let us not paint adoptive parents in some flippant light.  The task that adoptive parents take on is not one that should be put in the New Year’s resolution basket along with losing 20kg and taking up water colour painting, as though adopting a child is something that you just do on a whim!  Adoption isn’t something that you just do, and of the adoptive parents that I know the idea, plan and actual adoption is something that is taken just as seriously as having their own baby by natural means.

And the Bible?

He calls on the Bible to caution his viewers – count the cost he says, three times.  WOW!  Count the cost!  I’m pretty sure that when Jesus is talking about counting the cost in Luke 14 he is not talking about adoption.  Well, I suppose if adoption is a synonym for being a disciple of Jesus then he has a point, but that is far from plausible, perhaps even comical (in the sad sense).

And what does he do with this famous text:  Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you (James 1:27)?  Clearly nothing!

And what does he do with the very prominent usage of adoption in the Bible to understand salvation.  Like this one for example: He predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will… (Ephesians 1:5)?  Again, clearly he doesn’t do anything about this text.  He has not been able to see that he was a damaged person and that because of this God adopted him into his family through Jesus Christ.  That he/we have been adopted by God through Jesus is truly a beautiful thing that we should never lose sight of.

Granted, Robinson did release this statement on his personal website:

Today, on live television, I misstated my heartfelt dedication and commitment to helping orphans. For decades, I have supported adoption, and have helped tens of thousands of children worldwide.

I wanted to say, but it didn’t come out the way I intended, that adoption is not for everyone.

The mother of three adopted children, who wrote in about her boyfriend’s issue with her children, did a wonderful, unselfish act to adopt and I respect her immensely. Yet, adoption might not be a fit for her boyfriend. If that is the case, she needs to find someone who better shares her passion for adoption.

Adoptive parents are taking on enormous responsibility, both emotionally and financially. Quite frankly, they need as much disclosure as possible about the child’s background and health to assure the best fit and be prepared.

In answering the letter writer, this is what I meant to say. If any doubt remains, I ask you to please look at what I’ve done over the years to help orphans.

Pat Robertson

I accept his apology, but unfortunately the damage is done.  Few will read the apology, but millions will hear his ‘misstated comments’.

We should be careful with influence.  If is a dangerously powerful thing.