On Israel and Hamas, partisan Christianity and the misrepresentation of God

This will be my final post for a week or two. I’ll be away on holiday and will have more important things to think about — things like sunbathing, reading, relaxing and having fun with my family.

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As no reader can fail to be aware, military violence between Israel and Palestine (specifically Hamas) has escalated in recent days. Hamas has been tossing rockets into Israel, while Israel has been sending guided missiles into Gaza.

As soon as these kinds of events begin to unfold, it’s generally only a matter of a few hours at most before related posts begin to pop up in my Facebook newsfeed. These are invariably posted by Christians, and are always urging support for Israel. I can’t tell you how many posts I’ve seen in the past three or four days with slogans like “I stand with Israel, and so should you!”

Such posts trouble me greatly, and I’d like spend just a few moments unpacking why. I don’t have long, so I’ll try to be brief. (Ha ha, I hear you say.)

First, apart from any theological considerations, such posts espouse and propagate a simplistic worldview in which there is always a hero and a villain, a clear-cut case of right and wrong. Anyone who honestly thinks there isn’t a lot more to this situation than meets the eye — or rather, than our extremely biased media, which use fear and drama to sell stories, would have us believe — is seriously living in La La Land and needs to wake up and smell the coffee.

There is always, always, always more going on than the media-fuelled propaganda would have you believe. The back-story to any news item is always far more complex and messy than the headlines suggest. To get more of a feel for just some of the complexities that lie behind the current morass in Israel and Gaza, just read this article in the New York Times. Sadly, Christians often seem to swallow the simplistic headlines more quickly than anyone else — especially when doing so fits their judgemental, God-will-slay-the-infidels paradigm. Continue reading

Hope to hold onto

CryingWe live in a world filled with pain.

Yesterday evening, as I sat browsing through my Facebook feed and pondering the events of the day, I was suddenly and without warning overwhelmed by a deep sense of sadness, to the point of tears. I’d been thinking about the escalating military action in Israel, about the plight of cross-border refugees, and about a private disagreement that I had seen spill over onto Facebook in public fashion. Here are some words I shared on Facebook to try to capture what I was feeling:

There are times when my heart hurts. For the forgotten, starving child; for the rejected immigrant who seems to be little more than a political pawn; for the mothers, fathers and kids trying to peacefully get on with their lives who suddenly become collateral damage in an age-old territorial dispute; for the never-ending cycle of one-upmanship and rivalry that puts being right above being together. And, most of all, for my own selfishness, judgmentalism and lack of love.

This deep feeling of sadness really took me by surprise. I guess we’re so used to living in this world of pain and injustice that we become very practised at ignoring and burying all the sorrow and suffering that surrounds us and putting on a brave face so we can continue to live as good little citizens and consumers. Not to mention good little Christians. I mean, “the joy of the Lord”, right?

Once in a while, for whatever reason, we find ourselves in a place where events, thoughts and feelings coalesce in such a way that some of this buried pain breaks through the surface of our practiced indifference and we find ourselves deeply moved. This, I think, is what I felt yesterday evening. Continue reading

Finding out who we are

Who we areI do not know who I am.

As part of my morning devotions, I’m currently reading through late Irish poet, author and priest John O’Donohue’s wonderful book Divine Beauty: The Invisible Embrace. This morning, the following lines stopped me in my tracks:

If we were to live everything, we would be too much for ourselves. Yet the life within us calls out for expression. This is what creativity serves. It endeavours to bring some of our hidden life to expression in order that we might come to see who we are.

What really arrested me was those final few words: “… that we might come to see who we are”. I would say we’re typically so keyed in to the notion that we’re each in control of our own existence and destiny that the idea of coming to see who we are — as though this were a journey whose destination we do not know — appears peculiar.

But isn’t this the truth? If I had asked you, dear reader, five years ago to predict who you would be today — by which I mean not just what experiences would have shaped your self-perception, but also how you would have changed in your beliefs, your attitudes, your worldview, and so forth — I’m reasonably confident that any answer you might have given would have been wide of the mark by at least some margin. In spite of ourselves, we are evolving creatures; moreover, our evolution, both physical and spiritual, is largely beyond our control. Continue reading

God is

God is doodleThe other day, for a bit of fun, I posted an A to Z list of words describing what I have come to believe God is not like. The purpose was to illustrate the journey of theological deconstruction upon which many of us are fellow travellers. There is much to unlearn.

But after deconstruction, if we are not to be left with a vacuum, there must come reconstruction. Having unlearned all (or, at least, many) of our false and damaging beliefs about God, we must replace them with good, healthy, properly informed beliefs about him. And so, to complete the exercise, I offer you my A to Z of what God is like. Continue reading

God is not

Greek godIn recent months and years, I’ve been on a journey of theological deconstruction and reconstruction (a journey that is very much continuing, I might add).

Theological deconstruction involves identifying and eradicating faulty and damaging beliefs about God. Theological reconstruction involves replacing them with healthy, life-giving beliefs about God.

So, as a fun exercise but with serious undertones, I thought I would list an A to Z in two parts: first, words that describe what God is not like, but which he is commonly assumed to be like, either explicitly or implicitly; and second (in a day or two), words that describe what God is like.

You can read these lists as being autobiographical for me: they describe how my own understanding of God has evolved in recent times. But I would challenge you to also stop and ask yourself what you believe about God and why. And remember, as I said to someone only yesterday, the only reason not to ask questions about God is fear of the answers. Continue reading

God is not in control

God is in controlI thought that title might get your attention. Stay with me here, folks, while I unpack a thought that came to me earlier today.

When asked to describe the attributes of God, we modern westerners typically gravitate towards adjectives like omnipotent, almighty, all-knowing, sovereign, and so on. While I won’t deny that such descriptors can properly be applied to God, I think they really owe more to Greek philosophy than to what Jesus shows and tells us about the character of God.

Specifically, we tend to think of God’s omnipotence and sovereignty as meaning that he controls everything in the universe. While it might give us a sense of satisfaction to believe that God is ultimately pulling all the strings, I’d like to suggest that this belief is, in reality, quite problematic.

Let me come at this from a couple of different angles.

First, if we consider what we know about God from the witness of Jesus and the whole of the New Testament, what we can say with confidence is this: God is love. But what is love? It certainly isn’t the romanticised sentiment that is often portrayed in pop songs and feel-good movies. Love, as it is described and portrayed in the New Testament, is the willingness to lay down all of one’s rights and prerogatives, and ultimately even one’s very life, for the sake and benefit of another, irrespective of how deserving that other may or may not be.

So if God is love, it follows that God must lay down some or all of his “divine rights” as God. Specifically, I would say that he lays down his right to control his children. Continue reading

Misfit

Odd one out jigsawYesterday I had a bit of an epiphany, so I thought I’d share it with you.

This epiphany was triggered by a couple of things. First, I became aware of a recent gathering to which a large proportion of my friends had been invited, but to which I had not been invited.

For some reason, hearing about this event brought back the pang of painful childhood memories. Now, I don’t want to give you the wrong idea – I think I had a mostly fairly happy childhood. I was loved and cared for, I had friends, and I did not go without. But… I lived fairly consistently with the feeling that I did not “fit in”.

You see, where other boys were into football (soccer, for my American friends), when it came to sports I had two left feet. Whenever sides were picked for a lunchtime football match on the school playground, I would always be one of the last ones chosen. Where other boys were into cars, tanks, fights and other typically boy-like pursuits, I was into music and science. Where other boys were into girls, I mostly lacked the confidence to feel I had any realistic chance of picking up a girlfriend.

Again, these are not things that obviously devastated me at the time; even in our tender years, we are remarkably resilient creatures. However, looking back, I do think they are things that left their mark. They made me feel excluded, like I did not measure up, like I wasn’t good enough, cool enough or smart enough to ever be one of the popular kids. Or even to hope to be remotely acquainted with any of the popular kids. Continue reading