on washing hands

March 30, 2013 at 8:31 pm (Things I'm thinking about) (, , , , , , )

There is a darkness, deep and insidious in the story of Christ’s last hours. It is the darkness of the human soul come unashamedly and self-justified to the fore: the betrayal of Judas wrapped up in a kiss of false friendship; the denial of Peter as he lurks in the shadows around that early morning fire; the vicious mocking, insulting and beating in the courtyard of the high priest – at the very hands of the most piously religious; the crowd riled up to a feverish pitch – driven by fear, jealousy, pride; the lying of the false-witnesses placed in the crowd; the deep and heart-wrenching mourning of the women, powerless and voiceless in the face of the religious and social and political spheres in which this all plays out; and then the soldiers, dividing up his clothes even as he hung dying.

I walked the stations last night, entering into the story of each of these players and identifying their humanity in my own. I remembered times I had betrayed or been betrayed and even how some of those moments were prefaced with a kiss. I thought of how I deny countless times a day when what I profess and how I act doesn’t match up. Or even the moments when I downplay or disguise or sugar-coat my faith so as not to offend or put myself in the firing line. I thought about the times when my own piety is pushed viciously to the side and I become “other” – mean-spirited, mocking, pouncing on the weaknesses in others to raise myself. I thought of the places my fear, jealousy, pride and conformity have driven me to – the things I have done or not done as I’ve looked to fit into the crowd. I’ve lied, I’ve stretched the truth, I’ve been played by others more devious than me. I’ve certainly mourned and felt powerless. But sometimes I’ve hushed and pushed others to the silent-fringe so I could have my oh-so-important say. I’ve taken and divided up the lot, generously and evenly, of the poor, the outcast, the dying and the innocent. Countless times. And somehow I’ve managed to justify it all.

washing hands

But there is one whose actions came home for me in a powerful way last night. Pontius Pilate. The one who asked Jesus, “what is truth?” and when the answer came resoundingly back to him, even without a word being said, was compelled to say, “I find no fault in him”. He looked in the face of innocence and through the roars of the crowd knew, without a doubt, that this was a greater moment of justice than any he had faced. He knew this was a dramatic moment of oppression and injustice. He knew the good, knew the right thing to do and, more significantly, had the power to act on that knowledge. Yet he turned away and chose not to act. And then he sealed his guilt with the very prophetic act he intended to assuage it with: he washes his hands in front of the crowd saying, “”I am innocent of this man’s blood. It is your responsibility.” In that moment the full weight of responsibility and blame falls upon his own shoulders even as he feebly tries to abdicate responsibility and acquit himself. His justification becomes his judgement.

Ah, how many times have we poured that same water over our hands which refused to act. How often have we had to cry afterward, “Out, out damn spot!” as our hands drip with the blood of the innocent, the abused, the oppressed, the downtrodden, the poor, the lonely, the outcast, the stranger, the widow, the orphan. How often have we kissed and betrayed, denied and mocked, lied and allowed ourselves to be driven by fear, jealousy and pride, kicked to the curb, silenced and dishonored – and justified our actions with the washing of our hands. Abdicated responsibility, acquitted ourselves of guilt and turned in the same breath to divide the clothes of those we have thus betrayed.

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on immoral wealth

December 27, 2010 at 6:27 pm (People I have known, Things I want to see changed, Things I'm thinking about) (, , , , , , , , )

It is months since I have last written and months since I had the privilege to attend the Lausanne Congress in Cape Town. The months since have been full and busy and I have not had the time to think or integrate or even remember all that happened at Lausanne. I think the time is now – to start at least.

I do remember one conversation. I was in a session in which Richard Stearns (The Hole in our Gospel) gave one of the first unequivocal positions and statements on immoral wealth, greed, capitalism, consumerism, the creation of desire, and entitlement I have ever heard. During the comment session, I got up and said so. As I left the building a man approached me and asked if we could meet to chat about something I had said in my comment. During supper, I went and sat down with him and he introduced himself as a German MP and asked me what I had meant by “the creation of desire”. I went blank for two reasons: first, he was an MP and I felt completely out of my depth even sitting down to dinner with him. This was excacerbated by the fact that as he asked the question I realised I had nothing more to say on the topic. I didn’t really know what I meant by it. But it was something that stirred me, something that had come up in the past week and somehow felt like one of the keys. And so I sit now with the sense still that all of this – poverty, immoral wealth, consumerism, the prosperity gospel, the creation of desire – is all vitally linked and must be spoken too. I guess I am trying to “understand the times, with knowledge of what [the Church] should do” as the men of Issachar did (1 Chronicles 12:32). Someone else at Lausanne spoke of the need for a prophetic critique of how we live – but what must be said?

I guess I am tired of a “Gospel that protects the injustice of the status quo” (Richard Stearns). I am tired of wealth that perpetuates and sustains itself at the expense of the majority. I am tired of greed that justifies itself by itself . I am tired of a christian culture that buys into consumerism and the creation of desire. I am tired of the problem continually being defined as “poverty” without any consideration of the counterpoints of wealth and greed. I am tired of a prosperity doctrine which is insiduous in “western” conceptualisations and responses to wealth – “I am entitled to all the wealth I have because my wealth is a sign of God’s blessing. I deserve what I have”. I am tired of all the justifications that absolve our consciences – that say that conviction is condemnatory and therefore can be ignored. I am tired of not knowing how this all fits together and what is right and how much is too much and how this plays out in my life. I am tired because I think this is another one of the myriad things that is “too big for a divided church”.

And after all I am left thinking about two things:

“Use honest scales, honest weights, and honest measures. I am the LORD your God, and I brought you out of Egypt.” (Leviticus 19v36)  In other words, “don’t you dare oppress people when I’ve just gone to all this effort to save you from being oppressed.”  (Peter Houston – http://conversation.lausanne.org/en/resources/detail/10767#article_page_1)

And this:

“I was hungry; while you had all you needed. I was thirsty; but you drank bottled water. I was a stranger; and you wanted me deported. I needed clothes; but you needed more clothes. I was sick; but you pointed out the behaviours that led to my sickness. I was in prison; you said I was getting what I deserved.” (Richard Stearns; paraphrase Matthew 25:42)

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creativity

April 26, 2010 at 1:13 pm (Things I want to see changed) (, , , , , , , )

“The bottom line is that to turn information into strategic action, we need people/groups who are ready to take responsibility for what happens at teh intergroup level of mission, a level at which we can talk beyond reacting to needs and focus on teh factors that create and maintain those needs. It takes a system to intentionally transform a system, and I beleive that is what the church is for 🙂 ”

I have been grappling with the micro/macro split in the church’s approach to social problems and social justice. On the one hand we tend towards taking the moral highground on many issues and become known more for what we are against than for what we are for. So we vehemently oppose prostitution and abortion and gays etc. But we very rarely have viable solutions to the ’problems’ we so readily identify. As a result, the church often ends up taking the back-seat to international aid organisations, government and ’secular’ civil society groups.

On the other hand, where we do attempt reconciliation and to rectify social issues, we often limit our effectiveness by haphazard (albeit well-meaning) and often naive responses. As noted above, we often fail to do our research and find out what is really going on and what the issues at stake are. We go in with small-scale micro-level programmes attacking the symptoms, but very rarely having any effect on the causes and the macro-level systems which are causing, for example, gross human rights violations (human trafficking), HIV/AIDS, poverty, and gender inequality. We are very effective at changing individuals, but less skilled at transforming peoples, groups, societies and culture.We do need to start talking beyond “reacting to needs and focus on the factors that create and maintain those needs…that is what the church is for .”

As an example, South Africa is currently caught in a national debate around the decriminalisation of prostitution. For the most part (and I stand to be corrected), Christian response to this issue has been in the form of well-intentioned letters to the editor or the Commission, or to government, lobbying for prostitution to remain illegal. I too, vehemently oppose the legalisation of prostitution. But in our vociferous responses, and through a severe lack of information and understanding, the church in South Africa has come across as callous and unconcerned. In reality, prostitution in South Africa is very often a series of gross human rights violations (and again, situations do vary so this is a generalisation but highlights some of the issues at stake). Women, often struggling to support families in a context of severe poverty, are raped by clients, picked up by police and raped, locked up in jail overnight and raped, and in the morning released for the process to start again. They have no recourse to the law or any protection. Instead of providing alternative and creative solutions and ’strategies’ to impact this state of affairs, the church has often taken the moral highground in condemning the symptom rather than addressing the system.

I passionately desire to see us step into the FULL CREATIVITY of our Creator God! I desire for strategies that blow the world away. I desire to see the church at the forefront of creative strategy and engagement with the concerns of society. We have a God who is more than able to provide solutions that fly in the face of conventional wisdom, and which transform society, people groups and culture. How to tap into that creativity and those strategies is the question…

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