Sunday, April 29, 2007

Red and Green

A Game
Divide class into four or five equal teams.
Distribute ten lollies* to each team.
Each round, each team gives a scrap of paper to the teacher with either 'red' or 'green' written on it, without showing the other teams what is written.
If all teams select green, every team gets another lolly from the teacher.
If one team selects red, all the green teams give a lolly to the red team.
If more than one team selects red, every team gives the teacher a lolly.
*Lolly = Australian/NZ English for confectionary/sweets/candy.

I played this game with my secondary school classes during the final days of the school year and then used it to begin a discussion on selfish versus co-operative behaviour. I would begin the game by displaying a large jar filled with lollies and say that it was quite possible for them to empty it if they were smart. Without fail, in every class I would win back all the lollies, often so quickly that I would give them a second chance with another ten.

Why do we all select red so often?

I would love to try playing this game with adults, replacing lollies with coins - or notes.
Ten points for naming the two players in the picture. Another ten for explaining their 'game'. Ten more for the artist. And a final ten for the location of the picture. No more than one correct answer per person.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Thanksgiving service

Give thanks to the LORD for he is good;
His steadfast love endures forever!

- Psalm 136.1

Personal update and an invitation
We've now had a week or so for the good news of the latest scan to sink in. After initially finding ourselves exhausted and relieved, we're now starting to look ahead to a life of new and renewed possibilities. Before we get there, however, it is appropriate to mark this point in our journey with gratitude for God's goodness to us through so many people. And so we would like to invite you to a special service of thanksgiving.

Saturday May 19th, 10am
All Souls Anglican Church, Leichhardt
(cnr Norton & Marion Streets)
Morning tea will be provided following the service.
RSVP would be appreciated. All welcome.

From here, I will continue to have scans every few months for at least two years. I will post any further updates on my health blog. Thank you for your support, prayers, love and generosity. God has blessed us so much through you all.

We've been reminded that life is so much more than the abundance of possessions, as Jesus says - indeed, it is more than the abundance of health. Our society often seems obsessed with health; could this be an expression of a deep fear of death? Our hope is not simply to avoid dying for a little longer (as good as that is!), but for death itself to be overthrown in resurrection.

May God fill you with hope and joy because Jesus is risen, and so the end of death has begun.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The problem of evil: CASE course

For the last couple of years I have been involved in various ways with an organisation called CASE (Centre for Apologetic Education and Scholarship) at New College, UNSW. During May, I will be teaching a new four week course with the inestimable Dr Matheson Russell on the problem of evil.

The Problem of Evil: a tour of Christian responses
A CASE short course taught by Dr Matheson Russell and Mr Byron Smith.
Why does God allow evil and suffering? In this course, we survey the main responses offered by Christian thinkers throughout the ages. Do they stand up to philosophical and theological scrutiny? And how useful are they when it comes to answering the tough questions?

Venue: New College Meeting Room, University of New South Wales
Dates: Thursdays 7-9pm. 10, 17, 24, 31 May (UNSW Wks10-13)
Cost: $88 (full-time students: $44) includes supper and materials.

Week 1 (10/5): After an introduction to the problem of evil and overview of the course, we consider the most popular response to the so-called 'logical' problem of evil amongst Christian philosophers: The free will defence (Leibniz, Plantinga, Swinburne).

Week 2 (17/5): Continuing our discussion of the philosophically-oriented responses to the problem of evil, in the first half of this session we look at two more significant responses to the 'logical' problem of evil: Process theodicy and the Soul-making theodicy (Hick). In the second half we consider the so-called 'evidential' problem of evil.

Week 3 (24/5): The philosophically-oriented literature has its critics, and in this session we consider the arguments of those who consider the whole project of theodicy to be misguided. These criticisms shall lead us into a discussion of the so-called 'practical theodicies' of the theologians such as Soelle and Moltmann.

Week 4 (31/5): In this last session we consider some recent writings by respected theologians Hauerwas, Hart and N.T. Wright. Finally, we bring the course full circle and consider how what we have learned might help us answer tough questions about evil and suffering.

Optional reader: William L. Rowe (ed.), God and the Problem of Evil (Blackwell, 2001). Preferred registration is online here.

---Here ends the ad---

The psychology of loss

Which would you choose?

(a) You will surely suffer a loss of $890 OR
(b) You have a 90% chance of suffering a loss of $1,000 and a 10% chance of suffering no loss.
Ross Gittins has written a fascinating article in the SMH reporting on some psychological research suggesting reasons why the advice of hawks is given more weight than that of doves.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

ANZAC Day and Armenia

The 25th of April is ANZAC Day, a public holiday observed in Australia and New Zealand (and a few Pacific island nations: Niue, Tonga, Samoa, Cook Islands). ANZAC is an acronym of Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, and the holiday commemorates the disasterous landing of ANZAC forces (amongst many others) at the Gallipoli penninsula in Turkey on 25th April 1915. It is also a day to remember all those who have served in the armed forces.

I was going to write a post about Australian identity or militarism (common reflections on this day), but having just stumbled across this post by Christopher, I have started doing some reading on the Armenian genocide instead (see also here).

Starting the day before the Gallipoli landing (24th April 1915) and continuing until 1923 (with a break between 1918 and 1920), the predominately Christian Armenians were killed or relocated in their hundreds of thousands. The total death toll may have been around a million, though figures vary widely. The Turkish government continues to deny that the violence was systematic and centrally organised. The terms 'crimes against humanity' and 'holocaust' were coined to describe these events, which were widely reported in the West.

I feel ashamed at my ignorance of the whole affair. As Christopher says: Lest we forget.

Wright on Penal Substitution

N. T. Wright, the sometimes controversial evangelical Anglican bishop of Durham, has recently published an article on the Fulcrum website reviewing a book about the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement. As always, it is probably better to read the original if this is a debate that floats your boat. Here is a taste:

To throw away the reality because you don’t like the caricature is like cutting out the patient’s heart to stop a nosebleed. Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and all because of the unstoppable love of the one creator God. There is ‘no condemnation’ for those who are in Christ, because on the cross God condemned sin in the flesh of the Son who, as the expression of his own self-giving love, had been sent for that very purpose. ‘He did not spare his very own Son, but gave him up for us all.’ That’s what Good Friday was, and is, all about.


Water shortages have again hit the news in Australia, with the announcement that without significant rains in the next six to eight weeks, irrigators on the crucial Murray-Darling system will not receive any water allocations, threatening millions of dollars of agricultural production. Around 40% of our food comes from this region, an enormous catchment covering most of the eastern states west of the Great Dividing Range. But rainfall is very erratic, and most of the region is presently in the worst drought in a hundred years. This may or may not have something to do with climate change.

Closer to home, Warragamba dam (Sydney's major water source) is still below 40% - despite heavy rain yesterday and more today, most of which missed the catchment area (spare a thought - and prayer - for Brisbane, of course, with dam levels below 20% last time I heard).

The need for water crosses cultural boundaries and underscores our shared humanity. Clean drinking water remains one of the major global divides between rich and poor. Over a billion people lack access to safe water and according to some estimates up to 80% of human sickness is the result of drinking poor water.
Twelve points if you can name the country containing this aqueduct. Photo by HCS.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

"The peace of Christ is our only true security"

Nice post on building walls and seeking peace over at Disruptive Grace. Here's a taste:

In order for there to be true reconciliation and lasting peace, parties must see each other face to face. One's picture of the other must remain open and dynamic. Those enemies who do not see one another have the wildest imagination for seeing evil in the other.

Crude Impact

This Tuesday at 8.30 pm SBS will be screening a documentary called "Crude Impact" about oil dependency/addiction and Peak Oil. The trailer is here. Apologies to non-Australian readers. H/T Dave Lankshear.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

O'Donovan on revising tradition

No element formed by tradition can claim absolute allegiance. But the right to revise traditions is not everybody's right; it has to be won by learning their moral truths as deeply as they can be learned. Those who have difficult vocations to explore need the tradition to help the exploration. The tradition may not have the final word; but it is certain they will never find the final word if they have failed to profit from the words the tradition offers. And if it should really be the case that they are summoned to witness on some terra incognita of "new" experience, it will be all the more important that their new discernments should have been reached on the basis of a deep appropriation of old ones, searching for and exploiting the analogies they offer. No one who has not learned to be traditional can dare to innovate.

- Oliver O'Donovan, Good News for Gay Christians: Sermons on the Subjects of the Day (7), §7.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Hart on provisional cosmic dualism

      '[T]here are those who suffer from a palpably acute anxiety regarding the honour due the divine sovereignty. Certainly many Christians over the centuries have hastened to resituate the New Testament imagery of spiritual warfare securely within the one all-determining will of God, fearing that to deny that evil and death are the "left hand" of God's goodness in creation or the necessary "shadow" of his righteousness would be to deny divine omnipotence as well.
      Nevertheless, and disturbing as it may be, it is clearly the case that there is a kind of "provisional" cosmic dualism within the New Testament: not an ultimate dualism, of course, between two equal principles; but certainly a conflict between a sphere of created autonomy that strives against God on the one hand and the saving love of God in time on the other.'

- David Bentley Hart, The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami?
(Eerdmans: 2005), 62-63.

This, once again, raises the question: is evil primarily the instrument or enemy of God? Hart's own answer is unambiguous:
[I]f it is from Christ that we are to learn how God relates himself to sin, suffering, evil and death, it would seem that he provides us little evidence of anything other than a regal, relentless, and miraculous enmity: sin he forgives, suffering he heals, evil he casts out, and death he conquers. And absolutely nowhere does Christ act as if any of these things are part of the eternal work or purposes of God. (86-87)

Around the web

Do you suffer from Bono fatigue? H/T Drew.

Review of the first Mac back in 1984. Amazing how many of the innovations are now standard across the board. H/T CraigS.

An intriguing stunt by the Washington Post: Pearls before breakfast. What would happen if "one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made" were to try busking in a busy Washington D.C. train station? The article is long, but well written. H/T Benjamin Ady.

Popular evangelical liturgy as recorded by Chrisendom.

How to get from NYC to London. Don't skip step #24. H/T Daniel Kirk.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

In praise of... God!

There are many things, great and small, worth praising God for. I was given one more yesterday. For those who have been following the dramas in my life over the last few months, you might be interested to read this.

Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.

- 2 Corinthians 1.9-11

Thanks Naomi for this pasage.Series so far: I; II; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; X.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Dan on making a difference

There was a time when I thought [...] that we could truly contribute and leave a mark on the world. But [...] I have only found that the world has marked me. Instead of bringing wholeness to others, I have found that the brokenness of others has become a part of me. Instead of bringing help, I have received helplessness. Instead of bringing comfort, I have received sorrow. Instead of being a light and a guide, I have found myself plunged into darkness. Instead of being an agent of salvation, I have found myself a member of the damned.

This is the hopelessness that I want my Christian brothers and sisters to be confronted with. Indeed, it is only after we have been confronted with the reality of this hopelessness that we can begin to understand the true nature of Christian hope. This hope speaks of a peasant who died abandoned and hopeless, marked by the world's whips, and thorns, and nails. And this hope continues to lead me into places where the world will, inevitably, mark me.
Dan (On Jounreying with those in Exile): always provocative, insightful, well-read and earnest. Check it out.

Family Values

Which side of US politics supports family values?

Unspun: Top Theology Blogs

Go and vote for your favourite theology blogs over at Unspun.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Hart (again) on suffering and providence

"[Many Christians] clearly seem to wish to believe there is a divine plan in all the seeming randomness of nature's violence that accounts for every instance of suffering, privation, and loss in a sort of total sum. This is an understandable impulse. That there is a transcendent providence that will bring God's good ends out of the darkness of history - in spite of every evil - no Christian can fail to affirm. But providence (as even Voltaire seems to have understood) is not simply a 'total sum' or 'infinite equation' that leaves nothing behind."
"Yes, certainly, there is nothing, not even suffering or death, that cannot be providentially turned toward God's good ends. But the New Testament also teaches us that, in another and ultimate sense, suffering and death - considered in themselves - have no true meaning or purpose at all; and this is in a very real sense the most liberating and joyous wisdom that the gospel imparts."

- David Bentley Hart, The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami?
(Eerdmans: 2005), 29, 35.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Moltmann vs Augustine on loving God

What do I love when I love God?

Augustine writes: ‘But what do I love when I love you? Not the beauty of any body or the rhythm of time in its movement; not the radiance of light, so dear to our eyes; not the sweet melodies in the world of manifold sounds; not the perfume of flowers, ointments and spices; not manna and not honey; not the limbs so delightful to the body’s embrace: it is none of these things that I love when I love my God. And yet when I love my God I do indeed love a light and a sound and a perfume and a food and an embrace – a light and sound and perfume and food and embrace in my inward self. There my soul is flooded with a radiance which no space can contain; there a music sounds which time never bears away; there I smell a perfume which no wind disperses; there I taste a food that no surfeit embitters; there is an embrace which no satiety severs. It is this that I love when I love my God.’ (Confessions X.6.8)

Answer: When I love God I love the beauty of bodies, the rhythm of movements, the shining of eyes, the embraces, the feelings, the scents, the sounds of all this protean creation. When I love you, my God, I want to embrace it all, for I love you with all my sense in the creation of your love. In all the things that encounter me, you are waiting for me.
      For a long time I looked for you within myself, and crept into the shell of my soul, protecting myself with an armour of unapproachability. But you were outside – outside myself – and enticed me out of the narrowness of my heart into the broad place of love for life. So I came out of myself and found my soul in my senses, and my own self in others.
      The experience of God deepens the experiences of life. It does not reduce them, for it awakens the unconditional Yes to life. The more I love God the more gladly I exist. The more immediately and wholly I exist, the more I sense the living God, the inexhaustible well of life, and life’s eternity.

-Jürgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation
(trans. Margaret Kohl, Fortress: 2001), 98.

What do you love when you love God? Do you side with Augustine or Moltmann? Why?

And where does Jesus fit in?

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Hart on learning from atheists

"[S]ometimes atheism seems to retain elements of 'Christianity' within itself that Christians have all too frequently forgotten."

- David Bentley Hart, The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami? (Eerdmans: 2005), 25.

Have you noticed this? Can you think of any examples?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Compulsory reading

Copyright Gospel Communications International, Inc -

Hart on moral outrage and God's existence

Writing after the 2004 tsunami about journalistic responses that declared God decisively disproven, David Bentley Hart argues that Christians ought to experience genuine kindred feeling with those who then rage against the God they don't believe in.

After all, at the heart of of all such unbelief lies an undoubtedly authentic moral horror before the sheer extravagance of worldly misery, a kind of rage for justice, a refusal of easy comfort, and an unwillingness to be reconciled to evil that no one who believes this to be a fallen world should want to disparage. For the secret irony pervading these arguments is that they would never have occurred to consciences thuat had not in some profound way been shaped by the moral universe of a Christian culture.

- David Bentley Hart, The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami? (Eerdmans: 2005), 15.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.         - Romans 6.9
Conservative views of the resurrection are often dismissed as 'mere resusitation', as though Jesus were simply restored to the same life he left off a few days earlier. However, Paul's comment here reveals that there is a 'something more'. Death no longer has dominion over him - implying that it once did. Jesus was not merely returned to life again; he was (to use a technical term) de-deathified. There is now a death-free zone in creation, a piece that has experienced liberation from the otherwise universal bondage to decay* (Romans 8.21). In this way, Jesus is the firstfruits of a universal restoration, the first taste of a world freed from death, the spearhead of a future ubiquitous de-deathification.
*Also known as the Second Law of Thermodynamics.
Eight points for each link to other pictures of graveyards on this blog.

Sunday, April 08, 2007


Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed!
Twelve points for the country in which this picture was taken. Photo by HCS.

Friday, April 06, 2007

The day hope died

Good Friday Sermon: John 19.38-42
I was taken by the idea, but was pretty unhappy with how I pulled it off (both in writing and delivery). It sounds too much like a history lesson and is too detached for the confusion and crushing disappointments of the day. Obviously, it also doesn't even attempt to bring out many other aspects of the occasion. If I'd started earlier, it also might have been better integrated into the rest of the service. As it was, it came after various readings (interspersed with music and prayers) covering John 18.1-19.37 and was followed by 19.38-42. Striking the right note(s) at a Good Friday service is very difficult. I don't think I've ever been to one that has felt right; it is a day of so many emotions. Apologies in advance for the length (about 10 minutes). Future posts will return to my regular length.
Today, our hopes died.

My name is Joseph. I was born not far away in the village of Arimathéa in Judea, but I’ve lived most of my life here in Jerusalem. My family were wealthy and of good standing. So you won’t be surprised to hear that before too long I became a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council here in Jerusalem. Sadly though, it’s the Romans who call the shots around here, particularly Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor. Though many of my compatriots on the council think it’s prudent to co-operate with our Roman ‘benefactors’, personally, I’m eagerly awaiting the time when our God Yahweh will drive them out and establish his kingdom. Yes, despite centuries of foreign occupation, I’m still convinced that the Lord Yahweh hasn’t forgotten us, but will one day send his handpicked, anointed king to lead a liberation army and establish his rule, like King David of old.

So I was more than a little excited about this man from Nazareth, this healer, preacher and miracle-worker called Joshua, (or Jesus for those of you who speak Greek). He had gathered quite a following, and had come, like everyone else, here to Jerusalem to celebrate Pesach (the Passover) this week. Would this be the point at which he would unveil his royal lineage and call upon us to take up arms against the pagans? What a perfect time – just as we were all remembering how Yahweh had liberated our ancestors from their Egyptian oppressors. Would he be another Moses to free us from our Roman captors? But could this man actually be trusted? I wondered: was he truly the servant of God or was he just another rabble-rousing egomaniac, a trickster with a messiah complex? I for one was keen to observe him closely. My good friend Nicodemus met him months ago in secret and, though he didn’t understand everything this young rabbi said, he was convinced that the Nazarean was no charlatan or naïve peasant.

Predictably, however, my brethren on the council were quite cynical from the start. They paid lip-service to the kingdom of Yahweh, but were generally quite content with the prestige and limited power-sharing they enjoyed under Roman rule. They were worried that if too many Jews started thinking this Joshua was Yahweh’s Messiah, then the Romans - fearing full-blown revolution - would come down on us like a ton of clay bricks.

He certainly arrived with a bang a week ago, surrounded by his cheering disciples, riding into the city on a donkey just as Zechariah had prophesied God’s king would do – and then, within a day, he started an unholy ruckus in the Temple that really got up the noses of the Sanhedrin conservatives. But they couldn’t do anything against him directly because this Galilean was too popular with the crowds. They tried to debate him, to trick him into a false step with either the crowds or the Romans, but he was even more cunning than those old foxes. He kept coming out on top, more popular than ever. I was secretly delighted at how thoroughly he wrong-footed them all. I was starting to get really excited. From a distance, this looked like a man to whom I might gladly bend my knee and swear allegiance.

But then, suddenly, last night everything came unstuck. It was one of his closest friends that gave them their chance, inside information so that they could grab him while he was away from the crowds. I couldn’t believe it when I was summoned in the middle of the night to a hasty Sanhedrin meeting. The trial was a sham from start to finish. I certainly didn’t join in the chorus of those baying for his blood. But I couldn’t stop them. And then, off to Pilate to beg permission to execute him. For what reason? Fear. Jealousy. Impatience. For all any of us knew, this Joshua might have been God’s Messiah. But none of them cared enough to seriously investigate that possibility. He was a threat to their stable, comfortable lives and so he had to be rubbed out.

You all saw how the rest of the story unfolded earlier today: Pilate caved in to the pressure from the rent-a-mob the priests put together; the brutal flogging; the senseless mockery; the unspeakable execution itself, I won’t even use the shameful c-word. The blood; the humiliation; the mysterious darkness; and then, the end, the end of… a good man?

Who was he? He can’t have been Messiah: Surely God wouldn’t let his chosen one die in such humiliation and defeat. Was he a prophet, rejected by the people like so many of those of old? Why would God allow such a tragedy? Could I have tried harder to stop it?

What could I have done? I was one man against seventy. Do you blame me for his death? What could I do? I didn’t have the numbers in the council; I didn’t have… to be honest, I didn’t have the courage to stand up for him.

After it was all over, I did what I could. At least I gave him a proper burial. I couldn’t let him rot, hung up on a tree like a common bandit. Indeed, our scriptures forbid us to treat even a criminal so shamefully. So I had to act quickly to get him down before start of the Sabbath at nightfall a few hours ago. Why Pilate gave me permission for the body of a ‘traitor against the Emperor’, I’ll never know. Maybe he was lenient because he too knew that this man was innocent. In any case, with the help of Nicodemus and my servants, we got his official permission, we bought a shroud, took down the body and I washed it according to our customs. The flogging, the crown of thorns, the nails – there was a lot of blood to wash off, even though it means I’m now ritually unclean since I’ve been handling a corpse. I wrapped him in the shroud we’d bought. I folded his hands, hands that had lifted cripples to their feet, hands that had raised a young girl from her death-bed. I closed his eyes, the eyes of him who’d given sight to the blind. I bound up the mouth that had made the mute laugh again. His disciples or family should have done it, but where were they? I’d sent Nicodemus off to get spices – in the Jerusalem heat, you need something for the smell – he came back with enough spices to bury a king.

We buried him in my own freshly cut family tomb. I rolled the stone into place myself, just as the sun was setting.

It is dangerous, I know, publicly associating myself with this condemned rebel. Maybe it’s stupid. Maybe I’m just trying to ease my guilt over not doing more last night, not acting sooner. Maybe this is my little rebellion against the brutal Romans, against the rest of the spineless self-serving Sanhedrin, against the fears that gnaw at my own heart.

But this was all I could do. We won’t see another like him, that’s for sure. What is God up to? When will his kingdom come? When will we see his heavenly power here on earth? When will he forgive our sins? When will he deliver us from evildoers? When will he save us from ourselves?

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Top Ten Films

That I've seen in the last few months, either in the cinema or on DVD.

10. Pan's Labrynth
9. Letters from Iwo Jima
8. The Prestige
7. Man on the Moon (1999)
6. The Queen
5. Trois Couleurs: Bleu (1993)
4. Millennium Actress (2001)
3. The Last King of Scotland
2. The Lives of Others
1. Casablanca (1942)

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The end of Powerpoint?

New research at UNSW suggests that receiving the same information in more than one format at a time reduces the amount that is remembered. Not only does this have implications for Powerpoint use, but (as the article itself suggests) for Bible reading in churches. I used to always read along (and even mouth the words as they were read) on the assumption that multiplying formats would aid memory, but more recently I often just listen and find myself better able to concentrate.
This post available as a podcast upon request.


I form the light and create darkness,
I bring prosperity and create disaster;
I, the LORD, do all these things.

- Isaiah 45.7 (NIV)

As far as I have been able to discover, this is the only verse in which it is claimed that God created darkness. It speaks in hyperbolic terms about God's sovereign rule in a passage announcing that God will use the pagan emperor Cyrus to bring darkness and disaster upon Israel.

In Genesis, however, God doesn't create the darkness; it is there before the light. God made "light shine out of darkness" (2 Corinthians 4.6). The darkness is not part of the creation, like fish or trees or the internet. It is not simply the equal and opposite of light. It is, as Augustine argued, the absense of light. That is, darkness is not anything in itself; it is a lack, a privation, a nothing.
Twelve points for the country in which this picture was taken; fifteen if you can name the museum.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Williams on language

[B]eing a believer is manifest in how we talk, in what we think of language. What if you could recognize people of faith by how they spoke? By an absence of cliché or of dehumanising mockery or glib consolations? And what if conversation meant taking on not just a new vocabulary and new ideas but a new style of talking? The "world" is a place where it is barely possible to speak without making things more difficult and destructive. The commonwealth of God is a place where speech is restored, in praise, in patience, in attentive speaking.
The language of worship reminds us of one theological reason why language matters to Christians. In worship, we try to "put ourselves under the Word of God," as the saying is; we try to bring our minds and hearts into harmony with what God has said and is saying, in Jesus and in the words of Scripture. We remember that God made all things by an act of self-communication, and when we respond to his speaking, we are searching for some way of reflecting, echoing that self-communication.
It is not that talking is evil or that it necessarily cheapens the truth. After all, if God himself communicates and does so in human terms, in the life and speech of Jesus, in the witness of Scripture, there must be talking that is wonderful, revelatory, transfiguring, that takes us into the heart of things.

- Rowan Williams, Where God Happens (Boston: 2005), 80, 81-82, 86-87.

Williams' theology is so frequently apophatic, pointing away from saying false things about God and ourselves, that some readers sometimes despair of finding anything but criticism in his work. Yet here is one of the places where he affirms that God speaks, that language is redeemable, the Word can and did become flesh and dwell amongst us, even if it was a strange and unexpected Word that turned our conceptions and language about God on its head and must shock us into silence from time to time.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

My sweet Lord

So Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.

- John 6.53 (NRSV)

A sculpture which was to be exhibited in Manhatten over Easter has been cancelled due to protests from Christians (BBC story here). The artwork depicts a life-sized naked Jesus with arms extended as though crucified (though without a cross) made entirely from chocolate. Appropriately, it is entitled 'My sweet Lord'.*
*I would include an image, but I suspect that would infringe copyright. Just go to the BBC site.

A comment quoted from the lead protester called the piece "an assault on Christians" and went on to say, "They would never dare do something similar with a chocolate statue of the Prophet Mohammed naked with his genitals exposed during Ramadan."

Even if this were an assault on Christians, censorship is not the answer. We don't glorify God by forcefully silencing blasphemy. I have often received emails asking me to contribute to some protest (usually by adding my name to a worthless email petition) against some allegedly scandalous piece of art. I have always declined.

In fact, I think this attitude and approach demonstrates a shallow grasp of art, government and theology. Not only is a chocolate Jesus at Easter at least a mildly interesting comment on contemporary practices of Easter celebration, and not only are Christians not simply one more minority interest group amongst others (who need to stand up for our rights because no one else will), but the quote misses a crucial difference between Christianity and Islam.

Christians worship a Lord whose glory consists in his humble obedience. It was precisely because Jesus was obedient even to the point of a horrendous and shameful death that he received the name above every name, the divine name (Philippians 2.9-11). The pain and humiliation of the cross are therefore not to be hidden away, but consistute the crowning glory of Jesus' faithfulness. To display a naked and vulnerable Jesus, a frail, meltable, edible Jesus is to speak of Christ crucified - foolishness, yet God's wisdom.