apocalypse (s)now

12 01 2010

fight for survival

When was the last time you killed someone? Today? Yesterday? We’ve had snow of such apocalyptic proportions, cutting off communities, blocking food supplies, stirring such rage that surely has forced us into some difficult decisions. Like, where do you get guns from. And who to kill first. After all, we can’t all survive. Tesco’s ain’t full enough for all of us.

You haven’t resorted to this? Why not? I guess I’m relieved. But still. How have you managed to repress the self-protecting pack-hunter hiding in all of us, the predator, who lives in a dog-eat-dog, survival of the fittest – or at least, the one with the biggest gun – world?

Maybe I’ve watched too much TV. Last year’s Survivors, which begins a new series tonight; Day of the Triffids; 28 Day Later, and so many others, all tell the story of a major catastrophe that leaves humans struggling to survive, mostly because without warm living rooms, mobile phones and an open petrol station we all go native, turn feral and kill each other. Why? Because at their root, humans are selfish.

It used to be preachers who had the monopoly on this story. Humans are evil! Humans are depraved! Humans are full of sin! You will be judged! Now, we don’t need to say anything. Survivors: humans are bad. TV news: humans are bad. Avatar: humans are bad. EastEnders: humans are bad. It really is everywhere. I don’t know many humans who need to be told they are crap. Most of us are fully aware that we feel like that already.Who needs Augustine’s doctrine of original sin when you’ve got the Daily Mail.

grim smiles in the fight for survival

If it was Christian preachers who set us on this path, maybe it needs to be Christians preachers who re-set the balance, who address the balance of a world out of kilter with its creator. Maybe we need to apologise for getting something so horribly wrong. Because if we begin at the beginning, to use Rob Bell’s phrase, we discover that humans are not inherently bad and evil; humans were not created depraved and in need of redemption. God saw what he had made, and it was good. It was good. Not perfect, as in a finished product out of a machine; but good, like fresh apples on a tree. This is Genesis 1 and 2. Things were good. So, the original state of humans: good. The default setting: good.

Yes, things changed in a way that Genesis 3 and the rest of the redemption story tries to explain. And then, at the end in Revelation 21-22, things are fully restored. Good. Good! So perhaps there is a different story of human life that we can tell. Stories that are not all about how humans make things go horribly wrong, but how humans are created to make things go right; that by nature we do not all revert to type and kill to survive, but that our nature is to over-rule the survival-of-the-fittest  instinct and look out for those weaker than ourselves. That has happened countless times in the snow over the last few weeks. People putting themselves out in order to help others; people meeting their neighbours for the first time on order to help them with their shopping or get the car out of the drive.

Stories of hope, stories of human goodness. I know it is not always easy. When in an almost empty-shelved (compared with normal!) Tesco’s on Saturday I was tempted to take more milk than I needed in case it we couldn’t get any more; but that would mean there was none left for anyone else. So I only took one. Big deal! But it’s little things that give us hope.

I know that without Jesus I would be more selfish, more opinionated, more impatient. So maybe Survivors is right. maybe I would kill to survive.  Maybe we all would. Maybe the new secular gospel preachers of sin, hell-fire and death have got a point. Maybe all I have said is wrong.

I hope not. Certainly not throwing Jesus into the snowy mix as well. Its times like this he’s especially relevant, especially challenging. In the midst of the bleak midwinter, in the midst of the thawing apocalypse snow. Anyone want to watch The Day After Tomorrow?

another cold-hearted human

by the power of greyskull: magic, muscle and morality

23 11 2009

magic, muscle and morality

“By the power of greyskull!” Ah, the famous refrain of one of my childhood heroes. He-man. What a guy. I recently re-watched some of the good old innocent fun that, as a child of the 80’s I readily absorbed, and was admittedly a little taken aback by the tight pants, over-muscley torso and lack of an interesting storyline, but I was only 8 at the time…

He-man is a good example of stories we tell each other about power – especially male power. Problems in the world are caused by baddies; problems in the world are solved by the goodies, with right combination of magic, muscle and morality. From He-man to the A-Team (don’t tell me BA Baracus didn’t use magic to make tanks in a cave out of an empty box and some sticky-backed plastic), from James Bond to Spiderman, to we reassure ourselves that magic, muscle and black-and-white morality are enough.

magic, muscle and morality

Last Sunday we celebrated the day called Christ the King. Just before we begin the year again at Advent (it’s not Christmas yet!), we remember that at all times and in all places, whether it seems like it or not, Christ is King. King is a kind of out-dated term, it doesn’t mean much to many of us. But in previous eras it has carried a similar meaning to He-man –  a bit of magic (with God on our side and a quick Mass before battle…), a lot of muscle (yours or your soldiers), and a healthy dose of morality (we are the good guys…) will win us the war/the Empire/some oil.

This connects with a film I watched yesterday – “W” – looking at the life of George W Bush up to 2004. Magic, muscle and morality are still the ways we humans go about demonstrating authority, commanding allegiance, and wielding  power.

So how does Christ the King compare with these understandings of authority, allegiance and power? Reading the account leading up to and including the trial, not well. His authority was stripped by the Jewish leaders at his mock trial; allegiance to him was fading as the disciples confidence was shattered. And his power? He spoke of a kingdom from another place, but it didn’t save him.

The human mind, maybe especially the male human mind, doesn’t sit comfortably with power withheld. Authority should be wielded, allegiance commanded, power demonstrated. That is what society sees as ‘masculine’ (technically it is called hegemonic masculinity. So now you know.).  This image  of the The Arkville Minotaur on Dave’s District Blog (winner of Best Christian Blog) goes a long way to demonstrating this in a direct and uncompromising way.

by the powers of grey stone

There is another way. Jesus was challenged in the desert, before his ministry began, to go ‘in with a bang’ and shake things up with a bit of magic, muscle and dubious morality. Demonstrate authority by turning stones into bread; throw himself off a cliff to force the angels to show their allegiance to him; bow down to the devil in return for unlimited power. Instead he withheld. And in Luke, the first thing that happens when he triumphantly returns to his home town to begin his ministry? He is rejected. Great. Nice one Jesus.

Jesus repeated this throughout his ministry, carefully choosing when to exercise authority, to command allegiance and to use his power. At his trial he could have saved himself; on the cross he was taunted about that very thing. “If you are who you say you, save yourself!” It takes a strong man to resist that challenge. Yet he did. Jesus  showed the flip-side to our usual human (and male-dominated?) understanding of authority, allegiance and power.

  • His authority is not that of master and servant, ruler and slave, priest and lay, but as friend (I no longer call you servants but friends…).
  • Allegiance to him comes not through fear, as Pilate’s did, but love (as the Father loves me, so I love you…).
  • His power is not demonstrated from ‘up there’, but is given to us, ‘in here’, as the Holy Spirit lives in us (you will do even greater things than me…).

That is a challenge to us. Especially us men. Meanwhile, let’s be grateful that Christ is King, and not one of us.

bras rubbing in a cathedral of cynicism

14 09 2009

How would you respond to the idea of a cathedral running sessions for rubbing bras? It would, even to the most open-minded, seem a little odd. Where do the bras come from for a start? Do you bring your own? Then the simple misunderstanding is realised, the ‘s’ is restored, and wholly more innocent past-time of brass rubbing is revealed.

Simple emphasis can make a huge difference. Wherever you are, say “bras rubbing” and then “brass rubbing”, and you will see what I mean. Obviously the context makes a difference to the understanding.

When the story broke about the government introducing more checks for parents who drive children to sports clubs, the press reaction was interesting.  The checks are being considered in light of the Soham murders, in which someone with previous convictions was able to slip through the net and continue to work with children. Seen from the perspective of protecting children, these checks are a good thing. And the news-breakers, so critical of social services, government, and anyone who can be blamed when something goes wrong, surely would support it. A positive emphasis expected, though obviously not uncritically.

But intriguingly, the checks were immediately branded as ‘paedophile checks‘, surely too much of a tabloid phrase even for the BBC. And all the problems were pointed out, with all the cynicism we come to expect from our news media. A negative emphasis. This makes any who think uncritically and accept what they are told that these checks will be an invasion of privacy, a hassle, unnecessary. Complain, complain, complain.

For me, this isn’t really about whether these particular checks are right or wrong. It is about emphasis. When we are told things, are we told within a cathedral of cynicism – of politicians, of establishments; are we fed comment and opinion in the guise of news; are we aware of the need to filter all that we hear.

If so, what filter should we use? For followers of Jesus, the same old filter of love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, self-control. It applies to all things. To stories from the BBC, the Daily Mail, the bloke down the pub. It does not mean we cannot be vocal in our support or opposition. It does not mean we should not stand our ground. It does give us a responsibility to listen well, to hear the emphasis, to discern whether it is a worrying case of bras rubbing or a simple case of brass rubbing. I hope that is worth our (under-wired) support.

rants in your pants

23 08 2009
X Factor

X Factor

There was a bloke on the X Factor yesterday who suggested that despite the name of the band being Triple Trouble (or something like that), he wasn’t the kind of’ ‘hoodie’ who caused trouble, but just liked singing and making music. I wasn’t sure I believed him (call me a cynic), and then when it turned out his primary talent is about as far from singing as Simon Cowell is to a counsellor, and chose to tell him, he reacted angrily, demonstrating that perhaps “Triple Trouble” was the correct name after all (and I had a self-righteous moment).

BBC News

BBC News

More reflections on the X-Factor to come, especially with the new format adding, I think, to the confrontational and ‘freak show’ element…  however, this time it was the reaction I was interested in. It is amazing what a sense of injustice can make us do, how quickly it can change our mood. From being cut up in the car, or someone stealing ‘our place’ in the check-out queue (‘our place’ – hehe we humans are so possessive!), to bigger things, like the banks making new money whilst others lose thier livelihoods or  this situation about the release of  Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, (dodgily convicted) suspect of the Lockerbie bombing. When things go wrong, how we rant, how we get angry – sometimes, sometimes, with justification.

Where do we rant? Anywhere. The US Government is ranting in an unprecedented way at Scotland (see Nick’s blog for reflection on that); the X-Factor blogs are full of rants about the justices and injustices or judges decisions and the format of the show. Tabloids are full of rants, blogs are full of rants ( am I ranting?), the Psalms are full of rants. The what? The Psalms? In the Bible?  I thought that was all safe and harmless, religious stuff? And I thought you were going to tell me ranting was wrong?

No, no. God is constantly on the end of rants from men and women unhappy at the injustices going on in the world, unhappy at his perceived inaction in the face of it; he is not a God we are afraid to face with our anger. Do not be afraid to face him with your anger.

He is not, though, happy with the kind of rant we might blog, under a pseudonym, venting our frustration in words we wouldn’t use if people knew who we were or could answer back; he is interested and yearns for us to express our anger passionately and vehemently, and (just about!) controllably. A man called Bill Hybels once said that if you discover what makes you angry, you discover your passion. What makes you angry? Is it injustice, inequality, unfairness, gossip, bitterness, poverty? Is it words, is it music, is it the very meaning of life itself? Turn that anger into holy passion and, as Hybels said in Courageous Leadership, the local church is the hope of the world.

Sometimes though prayer can seem so very diluted, weakened (especially, I should know, in churches), when it should be passionate, colourful, angry. Instead of beginning “Dear Lord…”, maybe we should begin “For crying out loud! Aaaaaaaaaaarghhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

I wrote this about prayer once.

a gentle clearing of the throat

prayer is like a gentle clearing of the throat
a careful excuse me
ignoring the ‘do not disturb’ sign
but only to slip a note
or a gentle clearing of the throat
to draw attention
without causing tension

but prayer feels like it ought to involve
more shouting
some shoving and
some flouting of the rules
some yelling because we should be telling it like it is
not quietly murmuring
but loudly stirring
earnestly yearning for God to hear
to act
to reach from his pedestal
to change all that is cruel and heartless and human

because his name means God with us
because prayers mean God help us
our cry us say something to us

yet in this moment of tension
and pleading
we pause…

and in faith are conceding, of course,
to hear
we must listen.

© Kevin Lewis 2007

how to look good naked

19 08 2009

Sometimes there is something going on more profound than I first realise. I get grumbly about television sometimes, and How to Look Good Naked has been grumbled about from my lips. And yet… Gok Wan is an interesting character, both irritating and intriguing, and seems to be truly likeable. Yes, he is a walking cliché, which is annoying, but then  as I am probably something of a walking cliché myself, I probably shouldn’t grumble.

Gok Wan

Gok Wan

And actually, I realise when i come down from my high horse, the aim of How to Look Good Naked, unlike a lot of other fashion shows, is actually (just about) admirable. To take ordinary, lumpy bumpy skinny knobbly low self-esteem people like you and I and help them to be free from their negative self-image.

And that got me thinking. What if there was a power greater even than Gok wanting to do the same thing, only bigger. And that got me writing.

how to look good naked

exposure may be the greatest fear so we cover up with layers
fearful of  standing naked exposed
so discomforting it is a form of torture
to degrade and to shame privacy placed in public view
yet still we are obsessed
addicted  to the private worlds of strangers
claimed as our right to see
to know
to photograph
and then to laugh
our own discomfort plain to see
our pain at our own imperfections
leading and driving us to laugh and so destroy ourselves

come before me says the Ancient
naked as you came
naked as you were born
so you will stand again
my eyes will see straight through to your soul in turmoil
cut through the crap to the unknowing you cover with confidence

yet still says the Re-Creator
I will renew your souls,  your hearts
I will shower you with rain that your dry cracked hearts be fresh
I will clothe you in goodness
array you in a robe of purity
I will make you white as snow
so when you stand before me at the Final Day of Love
you will stand Naked and Beautiful
bare to the soul
yet Unafraid
Unashamed in the garden of your Maker
the Source of Life

allow this
desire this
love this
that you may truly know
how to look good naked

© 2008 Kevin Lewis

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