Christ’s Antidote

From time to time I like to comment on items in the news in this article and think about what Scripture might have to say about these situations. Two items have dominated the news this week, the first is the horrible roller coaster crash at Alton Towers, and the other is the emerging collapse of the leadership of world football’s organising body FIFA.

Alton Towers first. As most of you know our family are thrill-seeking roller coaster junkies and have regularly screamed our way around various tracks. The other summer we stayed near Alton Towers and rode on Smiler a number of times and totally loved it. It is a ridiculous, zany, full-on, bonkers ride. I’ll be honest and say I would hesitate before climbing onto it again though, and my prayers and thoughts go out to those who have received serious injuries in the crash.

FIFA? Who am I to comment on this story? It is so hard to know what is really going on here beyond the reporting from Western media outlets. It would seem that the organisation’s top hierarchy is corrupt to greater or lesser degree, something that the Bible has a lot to say about with its practical messages about justice and fairness in trade and general life. It is interesting, however, that beyond our media, other parts of the world are reporting it quite differently and have a contrasting impression of Sepp Blatter and his colleagues. Hopefully the investigations will be themselves fair and unbiased and the truth be revealed and responded to appropriately.

There is a link between these stories. In both cases much of the reporting has been over-dramatic (The Sun’s headline about the Smiler crash, I’m looking at you) and the commentary over the top. Blatter has become a hate figure and demonised by so many who don’t know him and don’t know the truth about what’s going on and are simply feeding on the general hype around the case. There’s a form of ‘political correctness’ these days that calls us to feel the need to express moral outrage at such events in a way that simply feeds others in escalating the scorn or hatred or ridicule.

In the New Statesman this week Amanda Palmer, herself a recipient of such vitriol reflects on its cure. Courting controversy in her choice of words, deliberately so I’m sure, she writes her thoughts about how to respond to figures who by their deeds or words stir up such hatred in us. ‘I am, perhaps, an extremist in this regard,’ she says. ‘But I am starting to think that the only true antidote to extreme hate may be extreme love, a radical empathy. Jihads of compassion. Crusades of kindness. A movement in which we attempt to love our enemy . . . Oh, hold on. Jesus already said all that. Wait – did it work?

A provocative final sentence which she leaves hanging unanswered. Did it work? Does it work? Will it work? In many ways the answer is no, we still have hatred and violence and retribution. On the Cross Jesus was killed trying to overcome with love and his followers still haven’t brought an end to scorn and slander and worse. But I have faith, faith in Jesus and his Father that as the Bible says and the resurrection supports, eventually love wins. That is why I’m willing to give Palmer’s exhortation a go and try out what Jesus preached and demanded of his followers. One day love wins.

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Love Changes Everything

According to Andrew Lloyd-Webber in Aspect’s of Love, love changes everything. But although we still enjoy such sentiments in our rom-coms and Christmas film schedules, in our hardened and somewhat cynical age I suspect we don’t really believe it. I read a true-story recently that challenged my disbelief – and before you think I’m about to go all soppy on you, I’m not talking about soppy dreamy eyed love, but the active decision to put others first even if it costs yourself to do so.

In this story a beggar living on the streets of a large city was caught by surprise when he checked the contents of his begging cup. Not only was there the odd assortment of coins that he’d usually expect to find there, but also a beautiful ring. His gut instinct was that such a ring could change everything for him, it was clearly of value. In fact when he took it to be valued, he found it was worth about $4,000. Now maybe you’d see this as your lucky break, but he decided that he’d keep it; this was clearly a valued object and someone, somewhere, would be missing it. Later that week a woman came up to him as he sat cup in hand in his usual place and said that she may have accidentally dropped something valuable into it. When she confirmed that it was in fact that ring he returned it. Naturally she was thrilled and gave him all the money she had on her as a thank you; about $60.

The story didn’t end there. People heard of his act of kindness and began to ask if they could donate a couple of dollars to him. The woman’s husband set up a website for people to do this with the hope of raising $1000. When I read about this, the total was apparently $185,000 and still rising! Not surprisingly the story hit the national and international headlines, leading to another wonderful twist when a reader realised that the man she was reading about was her long lost brother…

The decision not to make a quick buck to put someone else had dramatic effects, loved changed everything. Not every act of love has such a dramatic outcome, but each act is a laying of another stone in the building of God’s kingdom. Of course the supreme example is seen in Christ’s life and death. Through the sacrifice of the Cross, nothing will ever be the same again. Paul talks about the joy of knowing Christ, the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings (Phil. 3:10). True love is always marked by these two aspects, the cost of putting another first and its transformational outcome. Such love changes everything.

Church newsletter, 19th May 2013

The Best Offence Is…

I shall never forget the time Kate came back from school one day with a story regarding one of the ‘bullies’ in her class. She had found him in tears, and when she asked why, he answered most indignantly,

“He hit me back!”

It’s amazing how early that we learn this response to someone doing something to hurt us, or something that we perceive to be wrong. It is easy to do this, and may even be satisfying (am I wrong to smile smugly when people recklessly speed past me in their cars, only to see them a minute latter at the roadside having been hauled over by the police?

Trouble is, seeking retribution or revenge in this way only breeds further hatred and strife, it doesn’t really solve the problem. I loved a story I discovered on the BBC News website this week which promoted a radically different response. Stickers have started appearing around the Tower Hamlets (London) with an aggressively homophobic message, with messages along the lines of “Arise and warn. Gay free zone. Verily Allah is severe in punishment.” How have the local inhabitants responded to this? One group has said that they have had enough, they pride what has been an ‘all accepted’ attitude of their area, regardless of culture, class or sexuality. Rather than retaliating with anger – as would be all too easy to do – they have decided to respond in a subversively loving way. Meeting together at Shoreditch Town Hall, they walk around the nearby area, and whenever they discover a ‘gay free zone’ sticker they deface it, either by replacing ‘gay free zone’ with the word ‘love’ or by covering it with a poster saying ‘help yourself to love’, including tear-off quotes expressing messages of love and tolerance by various poets and authors.
One of the group, Wendy Richardson, explained their rationale,

“Rather than get angry with the people who did it, we decided to counter it with some love,” she said. “We’re a cross section of people; of all races and sexualities – gay, straight and bisexual – saying it’s just not appropriate. But we thought- you know what? We’re not going to hate you back. It sounds a bit wet, but takes a lot of courage. With all this bad news and negativity in the press, we thought it would be nice to see a sticker on the street that makes you smile.”

This group share a similar philosophy to that of Martin Luther King Jr. the anti racism campaigner, who once wrote,

‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. ’

Of course these words echo the subversive words of Jesus himself,

‘But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.’ Luke 6:26-27

Church newsletter article for Sunday 27th February 2011