Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Revolution? What Revolution?

Today human relationships are frail, easily fall apart and are as easy to break as they are to tie together. Electronic communication allows us to have relationships with a safety device; the possibility of instant connection and disconnection. 

We live in a consumerist world whereby we are encouraged to constantly upgrade what we have, to get the next new thing and to replace the old. The nostalgia marketing movement that is being used right now is an example of how effective and ingrained this view of the world is. 

Nostalgia marketing causes us to remember how things used to be, the toys we used to play with, the clothes we used to have, the way things were in our relationships with each other. So we long for the good old days. The advertisers then tell us we can have the good old days today by buying something new but making us believe we are simply going back to what we used to have. All we are really doing is upgrading and casting away what we already have. It causes us to be dissatisfied with what we already have and long for something else. Electronic communication along with consumerist culture directly impacts how we relate to one another and it means that getting rid of the unwanted, much more than the act of getting hold of the desired, is the meaning of individual freedom.

Our detachment in our relationships is but a symptom of how we are encouraged to become ‘someone else’ through this constant ‘upgrading’. Rather than seeking salvation or redemption which call us to life-long discipleship, we seek instantaneous results of transformation. Polish writer Andrzej Stasiuk puts it like this,

‘Applying various techniques, we can change our bodies and reshape them according to a different pattern…When browsing through glossy magazines, one gets the impression that they mostly tell one story – about the ways in which one can remake one’s personality, starting from diets, surroundings, homes, and up to a rebuilding of its psychological structure, often code names the proposition to ‘be yourself.’[2]

Another Polish writer, Slawomir Mrozek says that the world we live in is like,

‘a market-stall filled with fancy dresses and surrounded by crowds seeking their ‘selves’…One can change dresses without end, so what a wondrous liberty the seekers enjoy…Let’s go on searching for our real selves, it’s smashing fun – on condition that the real self will be never found.  Because if it were, the fun would end…’[3]

The hard work of depth in our relationships, of commitment to love unconditionally seems to be something we will continually struggle with if we allow ourselves to be shaped in these ways. Time and again we are fed the concept of new beginnings, yet the harsh truth of our time is that of successive endings; we are nihilists, never stopping long enough to value people or situations, simply moving on to the next, letting go for fear of stagnation. So ‘relationship’ is understood in terms of satisfaction, success and results. So we want some kind of relationship yet struggle with the burden they may bring and the limit of freedom they may impose.

We live in a complex paradox of connectedness and disconnectedness. On one hand we live in a culture that despairs at the ease at which relationships are so disposable, especially when looking for help in times of trouble, and live in fear that they may one day be on the receiving end of such endings, yet on the other hand that fear causes us to be wary of in-depth relating.  We often say that people are looking for friendships, bonds, to belong and be in community, yet I suspect that our desire is more for relationships to be light and loose. Our language has changed from relating and relationships to connecting/partnership/networking/being in touch.

To view culture through the lens of biblical faith does not distort reality but offers a high-definition worldview. So speaking to our culture calls us to view the world according to the ‘theodrama’; God’s love and action in all of human history.  It is to see the world as it is, fallen, corrupted, broken and groaning to be renewed, yet created good by a good God.  This world is not be escaped like some sinking ship, but for us to pray for God’s Kingdom to come here and to see transformation within the communities we live and in the relationships we have.

Our calling is to the greatest commandments, and this is the most revolutionary, groundbreaking and sin shattering way we can speak into our culture. 

The Christian revolution of the first five Centuries after Christ’s birth was based upon a notion of love that saw each human as a child of God, that valued every relationship as gift of the divine and revolutionised the entire way we saw one another. 

Christian teaching from the very beginning placed love at the centre of the spiritual life in a way that the world had never seen before and raised the care of widows, orphans, the sick, those in prison, and the poor to the highest levels of what it meant to be a follower of Jesus. The radical nature of their teachings and practise of the church caused the Roman Emperor Julian (A.D. 331-363) to declare, ‘It is [the Christians] philanthropy towards strangers, the care they take of the graves of the dead, and the affected sanctity with which they conduct their lives that have done most to spread their atheism.’[4]  Julian “the Apostate” despised the Christian faith. He regarded the ‘Galilaeans’ with contempt and sought to bring back the old paganism of Rome to eclipse and eradicate the Church.  Yet the revolution was now so ingrained within Roman culture that nothing could now stop it. What was ingrained was not a set of doctrines and beliefs, although without doubt these mattered a lot, nor was it gimmicks and fads or ‘new’ ways to reach the pagan world with the Gospel of Jesus.  What had happened was a movement of love of God and neighbour that literally turned the world upside down. Dionysus, Bishop of Alexandria writing in around 250 A.D. says, ‘Certainly very many of our brethren…in their exceeding love…did not spare themselves, but…visited the sick without thought for their own peril…cured others of their sicknesses, and restored them to strength, [but] died themselves.’[5]

To speak to our culture is to live as agents of Gospel love.  This is not some sentimental notion of love but a love so defined by the Trinitarian life, a love defined by Philippians 2 life, by Beatitude discipleship, by the Cross of Jesus.  It is a calling to battle through the clichés and barriers that stop us from truly relating to one another and to pursue unconditional love.  It means that we have to put the hard work of relating in to each relationship and to view each person we encounter as a child of the living God.  It is to be counter-cultural in the way we relate and love, to see the preciousness of each moment with each person and to see in one another and neighbour the Divine spark, a person created in the image of the living God.  To speak to culture is to declare the Gospel of hope, redemption, forgiveness and peace. It is to tell and show that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.

Depth of love calls us beyond ourselves. It is a calling to follow Jesus, the One who first loved us (1 John 4:19) and gave His life for us. ‘But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.’ Romans 5:8

From his birth in a cattle-shed to his death on the cross, Jesus fully identifies with the humanity that he created taking upon himself the limitations, conditions, temptations and struggles of humankind. The Incarnation reveals to us a God who enters our existence, becomes human and dwells in the reality of our humanness, experiencing the pain and suffering, joy and laughter, hope and despair.  In no way does He pretend at being human, but fully and wholly takes upon Himself humanity.  He walks with us, laughs with us, Weeps and wails at death with us. Is tempted and tried with us.  Eats and drinks at the Table with us.  He is not the detached God who has no role or purpose in our lives but the God who is with us, present in our every moment, loving us with an eternal love.  Yet if we are detached in our relationships with others, if we are not willing to incarnate ourselves in the midst of our communities, eating and drinking at the tables of our neighbours, weeping and waling with them, laughing and hoping alongside them, then they will assume that God is indeed detached and vacant and unapproachable. You are a living witness of the risen Jesus. You are a walking Gospel, good news.  If you are detached in relationship then people will assume a detached God. Jesus said that people will know that we are his disciples by the way that we love one another.  Equally people will have no idea that we are Jesus’ disciples by the way we don’t love them.  They will believe we believe in something but it won’t be in the God who has revealed Himself in Christ.

We are called to ‘dwell among’ our communities, to love boldly and unconditionally, to exude grace, mercy forgiveness and compassion. This is a living language that will speak revolution into our culture. This goal therefore, is for all of creation to participate in the communion of the triune God,[6] to share in the relatedness of the Son to the Father, to ‘participate in the divine nature’[7] and be healed of the consequences of sin.  The Incarnation reveals to us a God who identifies himself with us and a God who desires us to become something more than we are at this moment and truly incarnational mission must ‘in-flesh’ this concept of future fulfillment, of people and communities becoming something more than they are now, something they have never been before; something better.

[1] Terry Eagleton, The Idea of Culture, p. 28, 131
[2] Andrzej Stasiuk, The Cardboard Aeroplane, 2000, p. 59
[3] Slawomir Mrozek, Small Letters, 2002, p. 123
[4] Julian, Epistle 22, written to Arsacius, the pagan high priest of Galatia quoted in David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions, p. 154
[5] Dionysius, Epsitle XIL, p. 108-109
[6] See Volf, M., After Our Likeness, p 129
[7] 2 Peter 1:4 NIV