Saving Paradise

I’ve been gradually ploughing my way through a thought provoking tome entitled ‘Saving Paradise’ by Brock and Parker. Having done a survey of Christian art through history, they argue that the Cross wasn’t always the key Christian symbol as it is now, Paradise was. They’re not denying the vital significance and importance of Jesus’ death and resurrection but are claiming that Christians originally understood this as being not about suffering, sin and death as tends to be the case now but with restoring Paradise to this earth. They argue that when Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire a shift took place and the symbol the Cross was brought to the fore and emphasised in order to justify war and the exercise of power through brute force; God brought peace through violence against his Son, and so we can bring peace through violence against our enemies. This theology was explicitly used later to justify the Crusades.

A disturbing chapter is devoted to the relationship between the Puritan settlers who sailed to America to colonize it and build there a new kingdom for God, and the Native Americans. I’m sure the story is more complex than one chapter allows it to be told, but reading it leaves the impression that the colonizers were met with offers of peace and co-existence from the ‘Indians’, but greeted them with either suspicion, or acceptance but only on their terms rather than equal footing. Such was their missionary desire to build a kingdom for God and usher in Christ’s return that they sought to convert the ‘Indians’ to their way of life as well as faith, or to remove them so that a proper fresh start could be had there. And this is exactly what they achieved. Many were wiped out by diseases they brought over with them, but more were killed, and those that were left were shipped out into reserves. A sickening story of dreadful deeds done in the name of Christ.

The irony of this sad story is that they were so fixated in looking for a future Paradise, that they overlooked elements of Paradise present right there in front of them; the chance for peaceful relationships with those that were different from them, the openness of the ‘Indians’ to seeing the divine or spiritual in life all around them, and the wonder of the American forests and countryside which the Indians lived in harmony with but they ravaged as they cleared the land. I wonder, how would Jesus have responded to the welcome they might have given him?

As so often, reading this left me questioning if there are ways in which I am blinded by my theology to seeing what God is doing around me in our world today? Are there expressions of Paradise outside the church in contemporary culture which we can and should value and applaud? Where are God’s fingerprints on evidence today?

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We Will Remember Them…

Church newsletter article, 13.11.11

These are words that will have been or will be spoken many times either on Friday or today as the country remembers those killed or wounded in military service for Britain over the years. It is good and right that we don’t forget – a central pattern in the Old Testament is remembering what has gone before, celebrating that which is good and learning from that which was wrong. Of course, the stories of the Bible make it clear that despite the fact that they sought to remember and learn from past mistakes, they so often failed to do so, wandering time and time again from God and his ways. We, of course, are no different. After the ‘Great’ War, the ‘War to end all Wars’, came the ‘Second World War’, and even after the horrors of that we find ourselves still today involved in numerous conflicts around the world. The tragedy of fallen humanity is that we are quick to forget and slow to learn.

The tradition of poppy wearing as a sign of respect and remembrance has been in the news this week with the clash between the governing body of world football, FIFA, and the English governing body, the FA. The FA wanted the English squad to wear a strip this weekend with a poppy embroidered on it. FIFA declared that this was not permitted due to their general ruling against emblems outside the standard strip ones being permitted. This disagreement rapidly escalated with the English Defence League, the Prime Minister and the Duke of Cambridge weighing in to join the sense of public indignation that poppy wearing could be denied like this. In the end a compromise was reached, and poppies were permitted on the teams black armbands.

I have often remarked in the past about how I struggle with Remembrance Day as a Christian, and I think the events of this week demonstrate why. As I have already said, I have no problem with remembering; in fact I would encourage it, and I am pleased that the England Squad wore blank armbands as a sign of mourning, mourning for the violence and death faced by so many in conflict. I have no problem with them wanting to wear poppies either, although I actually appreciate FIFA’s stance, if perhaps a little inflexible to start with. It’s the way that remembrance has almost become a religion, a celebration, that disturbs me, with talk of heroes and what sometimes feels like a glorification of war as seen in some of the language and emotion reflected in the response to the ban. Although there are acts of heroism and bravery, examples of self-sacrifice for the sake of comrades in arms, for the most part it’s violence, anger, pain and sorrow. The ritual of poppy wearing is not the heart of the matter. The real heart of the matter is the question of what we’re doing to promote peace. How do we seek to reflect the attitude of Jesus who refused to take up arms and conquered not as the Lion of Judah, but as the Lamb that was slain? (Rev. 5:5-6)

Review: The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical

The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical
The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical by Shane Claiborne
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve had this book on my shelves for a while now – picked it up at the Greenbelt festival a few years back but it got put away with the rest of the stuff I’d picked up whilst there and then forgotten about. Really wish I’d read it earlier.

This is a book for all who’ve dared to think that there might be more to life than the daily grind, or have felt that somehow the church has lost sight of the radical life of Jesus. In it Shane pours out his beliefs about what Christian life should look like, that it is possible to live in a different way, and dares us to give it a go. Alongside this he describes examples from his own life and that of the various communities he’s belonged to. On the way he addresses our attitudes to relationships, peace and possessions. At its heart is the simple message of relating to those around us as people and being brave enough to step out of systems that don’t do this.

The next thing I’m going to do with this book? Give it away. Don’t normally do that, but I think it would be good to let it challenge others the way it has challenged me.

*****

I wrote about this book in our church newsletter. Here is what I said in case anyone is interested:

Living As We See It
I’ve been reading ‘The Irresistible Revolution: living as an ordinary radical’ by Shane Claiborne recently; you may have heard me mention him a few times recently in our services. I’ve found it an inspiring read. There are times when his enthusiasm for his point of view about how we should live out the Christian life leads him to sound judgmental when talking about those who see it a different way, and there are times when maybe his use of Scripture is a little fast and loose, but when I finished his book on Thursday night and put it down, I knew that it had changed me in some small way. At its heart is the challenge not just to believe in Jesus, but to actually live out a life like him – to not see the Sermon on the Mount especially as just idealistic writing, but a call to live differently; something to be done.

Here’s a quote of his from near the end of the book,

“Maybe we are a little crazy. After all, we believe in things we don’t see. The Scriptures say that faith is “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1). We believe poverty can end even though it is all around us. We believe in peace even though we hear only rumours of wars. And since we are people of expectation, we are so convinced that another world is coming that we start living as if it were already here.”

This is a totally Scriptural point of view. This is at the heart of Paul’s writing in the New Testament and at the core of Romans. As we see what the world will be, as we know God’s judgement over us already as we are in Christ, then why continue living out the old life, instead lets live out the new. Revelation paints the picture of Heaven coming to Earth, of God living in the midst of humanity as in Eden at the start. A life where pain has gone, tears have ceased, peace reigns and we are reconciled to God, each other and the world we live in. If this is how it’s meant to be, then surely we should be striving to live that way today.

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