Living the Story: Western Culture 11
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched–this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.1 Jn 1:1
We were staying in Lake Louise village and decided to go on a walk through the forest when we heard a low-pitched growl from an animal that we could not identify but assumed was a bear. We knew little about bears or the sounds they made and did not take any of the precautions that locals would. It was like our mindset was still in Australia when we were in Canada. In a sense we were living in the wrong story, not being able to correctly interpret the events we encountered and not being equipped to respond appropriately. (more…)
Meditation: Western Culture 10
Some of my strongest childhood memories come from the times I spent on my uncle’s dairy farm. The heat of summer, the cooling of the milk refrigeration room, the sound and smell of the cows. I would seeing them constantly chewing and later learnt they had 4 stomachs and were often “chewing the cud”. In my early days as a Christian this was used as an illustration of meditation. (more…)
The Road to Freedom: Western Culture 9
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery… You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Gal 5:1, 13,14
There is a commercial by an outdoor adventure company where a boy asks his father “What are we doing this weekend?”. The scene then moves to a four-wheel drive vehicle in the great outdoors and depicts boats, water sports and trekking. The scene then moves back to the father who answers his son’s question with “Just the usual”. (more…)
The Good Life: Western Culture 8
Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Cor 12:8-10
“The Good Life” was a British sitcom of the mid 1970’s about a couple who quit the business world to become self-sufficient on their suburban block much to the anguish of their more traditional neighbours. Some have suggested this first flagged a growing movement that is about living with less, rejecting consumerism, being “off the grid”, and having a sea or tree change. This movement begs the question about what constitutes a good life, a life of prosperity and happiness. (more…)
Expressive Individualism: Western Culture 7
An epic song in the movie “The Greatest Showman” called “This Is Me” has received almost universal praise in declaring the worth of all people. The movie, set within circus life, shows various “misfits” who have been rejected by society, made fun of, called unlovable and assaulted verbally. The song says they feel like strangers in this world, they are made to feel ashamed of their broken parts, and they are bruised. Like James 3:3-12, people’s words were deeply hurting them. The song is a rallying call to fight against this abuse and to recognise their true worth – “we are glorious”. (more…)
Expressive Individualism: Western Culture 6
For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. Rom 12:4,5
I was recently learning to play the song “You are Beautiful” by James Blunt. I had only heard the song in the background but attracted by the feel of the chorus. In starting to learn the song I considered the words more deeply and was a little shocked. It is an obsessive imagining of the song writer towards someone he has no personal connection with but just briefly observes. While on the surface it looks like a compliment to this unknown person, it is really about the song-writers feelings. Apparently over the last 60 years songs have changed from singing about mutual feeling to singing primarily about the feelings of the singer giving a strong sense of alienation from the other. This observation is evidence of the more recent cultural change we have experienced. Beginning in about 1960 our Western Culture entered the Age of Authenticity or Expressive Individualism. This is the view that each one of us has their own way of realising our humanity and that we must express it rather than conform to models imposed by others (especially institutions). (more…)
Beyond the Age of Reason: Western Culture 5
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts”.
Western culture has made a sharp distinction between “facts”, which are believed to be universally held and openly discussed in public, and “values”, which are personal choices and to be kept private. Building on the classical Greek elements that resurfaced in the Renaissance and re-enforced by modern science, beliefs were subject to critical and sceptical analysis. The rise of this humanist tradition meant we looked to nature using reason and conscience to determine truth. (more…)
Viewing Human Achievement: Western Culture 4
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
Each day we are surrounded by people’s incredible achievements. We can purchase almost any food at any time of the year, we have social welfare systems that assist in times of need, medical advances previously inconceivable are now everyday practices, technology surrounds us bringing new and compelling aspects to life, magnificent buildings and engineering feats are a testimony to our ingenuity and bring a sense of awe, magnificent works of art display incredible skills, scientific advances predicting and warning of potentially catastrophic events have saved lives. The list of human achievements are too numerous to mention and this is transforming our view of the world. Many of the advances that lead to prosperity and health are improving the lives of billions. Christians have played important roles in initiating and furthering these aspects of life as they were convinced of the importance that God places on people and their well-being. They recognised they were God’s agents in improving the lives of people created in God’s image and worthy of care. (more…)
Spiritual Decline: Western Culture 3
As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?
The prophet Isaiah had a vision of heavenly creatures declaring:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isaiah 6:3)
These creatures could perceive the presence and glory of God when they view any part of the earth. This perspective of the filling of the earth with the glory of God is likely to be much more difficult for us today compared to people living before us. Over the last 500 years of Western culture there has been a profound shift in how we perceive the world. Charles Taylor posed the following question:
“Why was it virtually impossible not to believe in God in, say, 1500 in our Western society, while in 2000 many of us find this not only easy, but even inescapable?”
Conformity and Challenge: Western Culture 2
I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. Jn 17:14-18
As a young Christian I was a typical Sydneysider loving the outdoors and sport. The passage in 1Cor 9:19-23 about becoming all things to all people was frequently discussed and I think it may have been a reaction to the Christian enclaves that we sometimes form. But then we also had the Rom 12:2 and 1John 2:15,16 passages about not conforming to the patterns of this world. The resolution of this tension was seen to be largely around ensuring moral protection while maintaining relationships. It was primarily up to the individual to determine what was appropriate and what they could participate in without moral compromise. There was an assumption that these moral boundaries were well known and largely held in the community. Today we recognise this assumption is not valid while still believing that, as carriers of the image of God, all people have inbuilt values. However, it is now more obvious that the saturating secular influence needs uncovering so we can identify our secular based views (where we conform to the patterns of this world). It is also the case that not conforming to the world means adopting and practising Scriptural values which is in addition to not partaking in certain immoral actions. (more…)