thoughts on faith, justice, politics and philosophy

Month: December 2013

Jesus is King

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As seems customary at this time of year, I’m going for a bit of a ‘Christmas’ theme with this entry. I’ve been really struck this year by how distant I feel from the whole affair – there’s so little left of the Christian festival now. Not that I’m complaining; I happen to think it a rather dull affair in comparison with Easter, any way.

That’s not to say it isn’t important. Christmas reminds us that God wants to redeem us from all of the evils in this world. He wants us to follow a way which leads to life, not death. Freedom, not slavery. God as sovereign, not Caesar.

It can feel at times like God isn’t sovereign, can’t it. It can feel like we are ruled over by the political classes. It can feel like we are ruled over by mobile phone providers, banks, supermarkets, Amazon, our emotions, our family life, our sins, our troubles, our job.

Yet, at Christmas, we remember that God is sovereign, not the powers of this world. We don’t have to recognise the powers of the world as the final authority. Jesus is King, not consumerism, not materialism, not the Prime Minister, not the President of the USA.

Jesus comes in amongst the powers of the world – not by force or might; not by politics or power – but as a simple boy born to a simple woman in the long line of cock ups, failures and embarrassments used by God to demonstrate that sometimes, He does things through the people you’d least expect.

It’s those people I want us to remember this Christmas. You might expect God to move in your charismatic service, or be touched by the sermon your outgoing, charismatic preacher gives. Or you might expect to find God in the quiet liturgy of the Sacrament.

So when you come across the stranger, the foreigner, the immigrant, the homeless man, the annoying old lady in the queue, the irritating relative – remember that Jesus uses the most unexpected people to do the most amazing things. And remember that whatever you do unto the ‘least of these’ (and some of these people may be by no means least in the eyes of the world), you do unto Jesus himself.

This Christmas, acknowledge Jesus Christ as King. And treat him like royalty when you find him.

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Loving our Neighbour

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I’ve been searching for some inspiration lately on what to write on. I came across my Facebook profile’s ‘quotes’ section (who reads the about bit these days anyway?) and thoroughly enjoyed re-reading each one that I had written down. I thought it might be fun to unpack them a little bit – why they mean as much to me as they do. First up, Shane Claiborne:

“When we truly learn to love our neighbours as ourselves, capitalism as we know it won’t be possible, and communism won’t be necessary”

What I love about this is that it confounds the usual arguments of left and right. It rids us of the un-necessary, unhelpful divides that we find ourselves taking part in. Who needs politics when you’ve got Jesus, right?

Free People, not Free Markets

Don’t worry, I’m not about to claim that Jesus was some sort of Neo-Marxist and that all capitalism is clearly evil. At the risk of igniting a heated, emotive debate; I do think Jesus / God had a political ideology.

But before we get to what that ideology is, first I ask that you afford me the time to convince you that Jesus would even have such thoughts. Many Christians like to keep a nice, neat dividing ling between religion and politics. Either because they enjoy their comfortable right-wing agenda or because they’re so far left wing they see politics as a polluted, worldly pursuit not worthy of divine opinion, intervention or plan.

The way I see it, God made the universe, and everything in it. To quote the tradition of Genesis, God saw it and declared it was “good”. Rob Bell helpfully uses the phrase “taking part in the ongoing creation of the world” to describe our role in this “good” world. God gave us raw materials, so we make things.

We make good things, and we make bad things.

We make crops, tools and temples.

We make towers stretching up to the sky, to try to become gods ourselves.

We make systems to help us understand the world we live in.

God recognises all of this; and so God gives us guidance. He proclaims that one day we shall convert our swords to farm machinery. He also proclaims in the book of Leviticus that there should be no poor among you because of his blessing – and in accepting that we aren’t perfect (wow, that’s accommodating!) he even gives us a route out – Jubilee. The idea that even if (IF!) we insist on disruptive, abusive, advantage-taking capitalism; there should be a fair chance for each generation to get on in life and an equal distribution of the means of production (land).

The Old Testament God sounds an awful lot like Karl Marx.

Ok, that was a bit of poetic license. But He’s not exactly advocating regulation-free neo-liberal free-market Capitalism, is He?

This same God comes to the earth as Jesus and instructs people that their accumulation of wealth and status isn’t going to help them get eternal life. Not only is it going to not help them, but it’s going to make it harder for them to see it that way!

But Jesus is also anti-Imperialist. He makes a total mockery of the political system of the day. He doesn’t want any part in its corrupt ways. Yet he was a carpenter.

So it’s good to work, and good to earn money.

But bad to do it as a part of the corrupt system.

Bad to have the mark of the beast upon your forehead.

Wait a minute. The mark of the beast? Isn’t that to do with the end times?

The Greek word used for “mark” is charagma. It was the technical term for the Roman imperial stamp that appeared on various documents. The charagma was a seal stamped with the name and date of the emperor and attached to commercial documents. Apparently, it also stood for the emperor’s head stamped on coins. 

Those in economic allegiance with the powers of the day were considered so evil they had what we now know as the ‘mark of the beast’ upon them.

Not something you want, really.

Instead Jesus came to show us a way in which we put people above profit, lives above our livelihood. Jesus is inherently political – he uses overly political language all of the time. 

The alternative to the status quo? Love.

To go back to the quote – communism wouldn’t be necessary. We wouldn’t need to forcefully redistribute our resources, wealth, and so on. We wouldn’t need to have a system that robs us of creativity and competition.

But capitalism wouldn’t be possibleWe couldn’t do things the way we have been. We couldn’t continue down the same path any more. We couldn’t continue to exploit people if we truly loved and cared for them as God intended us to. Jesus came that we might be free, not that our corporations might be free.

That doesn’t mean we have to go too far the other way. It doesn’t mean some western social democracies have the balance right any more than the USA does (or doesn’t). What it means is that God is calling us to a better political reality. One in which we simply refuse to take part in the broken, corrupt ways of the world and forge a newer, better economy.

To quote Shane again, we need to create an “Economy of Love”.


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Good Grief

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I’ve been thinking about grieving and loss a lot this year. It was just over a year ago that my gran died; and close friends have lost friends or relatives. I’ve seen families I love be torn apart. We lost our beloved dog in the house; and my much loved VW camper decided to end its stint six weeks into my ownership.

Losing something, permanently, is really, really hard. Yes, it’s easier to stomach a camper burning up than it is to lose a pet, which is easier still than losing a grandparent. But in each of these there is a tangible loss which is felt beyond the moment of loss itself.

Loss, ultimately, is a painful experience.

Yet Jesus says to us, according to Matthew: “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it”.

Wait, Jesus – who loves us – is asking us to go through what is a painful process.

A brief bit of theology: Jesus isn’t saying that we must literally die for him (though that does happen) – otherwise how would the opposite (finding life) happen? Rather, Jesus is employing a common tactic of comparing extremities to make a point. He is asking us to give up the pursuit of our own self-fulfilment and instead find fulfilment in God and in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Whoever finds their life will lose it – similarly, if we store up treasure on earth then that is where our reward shall be. If we publicise our good deeds, we have had our reward in full. If we seek our own pleasure out, that is the pleasure we shall have.

But if we choose to leave that behind, we shall experience life in a whole new way. That’s what Jesus is really getting at, here – and it’s going to be painful.

But it’s worth it.

Recently I have been struggling with my singleness – it’s something I struggle with often. So I’ve been thinking about all the ways around that that I could find. There are many obvious answers the world provides – many of which are indeed only temporary and limited in their life-giving value. Instead, I must trust in God that if I follow him I will be happy – single or otherwise.

That’s what Jesus is asking us to do.

He’s asking us to surrender the idolatries that we pursue in his place, the things which only provide temporary leases of life to our otherwise dead selves. Instead, he beckons us to pursue a way of life which is abundant, full, and totally, absolutely good for us.

But it’s not always easy. Sometimes the things we are asked to give up are things very dear to our hearts. The rich young ruler knew all about this when he went away with a heavy heart upon hearing Jesus tell him he needed to sell his possessions. Worse still, he experienced the grief without following it up with finding life.

We must try not to be like the rich young ruler. When we hear the call of Jesus to give up that which distracts us from our true source of life, we must heed his words and remember, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”.

And then we can truly discover what it means to be alive.



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