Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Christians, do your duty

Is Britain a conservative or liberal nation? According to the latest British Social Attitudes survey published last week the answer is ‘both’. We have become financially more conservative, with fewer people favouring a tax-based redistribution of wealth:
Only two in five of those questioned said they now support higher taxes, a significant shift from 1997 when 62 per cent of voters were prepared to dig into their pockets to fund an increase public spending.

On the moral scale we have become more liberal:
Only 36 per cent of people now believe that homosexual sex is wrong, compared with 62 per cent who thought the same in 1983. Similarly, the number of people who strongly believe that couples with children should get married has dropped from 25 per cent in 1989 to just 14 per cent now (The Independent 26th January).

So where does that leave the teaching of the bible? Is it simply a record of an outdated culture, or a spiritual self-help manual, or does it still speak with the life-changing authority of God’s word to a world that he made and loves? What are we to make of the frequent exhortations to follow justice and mercy in our dealings with others, and the importance of a holy lifestyle that reflects our Maker?

In a year that will see a general election we have already seen our political leaders jumping on the marriage and family life bandwagon: which party will protect family life more effectively; which party will heal a ‘broken Britain’ more deeply? I hope our political leaders will actually give a lead and won’t just follow the trends reported in the social survey in order to win popular votes. It is important for Christians to support the political life of this country, and to take an interest in democracy. As Edmund Burke the English philosopher famously said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

In 1st century Roman-occupied Palestine people couldn’t vote for their government; all they could do was to pay their taxes, so Jesus said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” That is about as far as an ordinary person could be engaged with government then, but it shows that Jesus was concerned that people take their civic duties seriously. Democratic government won’t bring heaven on earth by any means, but it is probably the best thing we have got in the meantime. It is worth supporting by our carefully considered votes when the time comes.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Cadbury and the limitations of government

A good supply of Cadbury's 'Dairy Milk' would keep me happy if I were cast away on a desert island. The news that Cadbury is to be bought by Kraft has caused much weeping and gnashing of teeth as we see yet another British company bought by one overseas. Kraft makes me think: 'processed cheese', and I shudder to imagine what Cadbury might become in the hands of that American giant. Not only that, but American chocolate is, by and large, terrible: tastless and gritty. I hope the recipe for Cadbury's chocolate stays unchanged.

There is a bigger issue here, though. People say, "Can't the government do something?" But what can the government do? This is, for better or worse, a perfect example of world capitalism at work, and it shows that in the face of multinational big business governments have very little power if they continue to accept a free trade economy.

Political parties that advocate nationalism or independence are kidding themselves if they think they will change anything. The real power, it seems to me rather worryingly, is with boards of directors elected by shareholders. The only way to change that is to adopt a totalitarian communist form of government which has been tried and has failed. Personally, I would rather live in a liberal free trade economy and put up with the regret of Cadbury owned by Kraft.

Governments' power is limited, as we have experienced, in the face of adverse weather and earthquakes. Much as I may regret an American company buying Cadbury, I hope American forces quickly establish order in Haiti and open the way for aid to reach those who need it. Thank God that there are still enough US troops at home to be sent to Haiti to help. They, and others, will be needed for a long time to come.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Follow the Star

I was reflecting on the readings for Epiphany yesterday as I prepared for our midweek communion service, to which only one hardy person came (usually it's between 15 and 20).

It was a star, or more likely a conjunction of planets, that led the wise men to find Jesus after he had been born. (NB: the wise men arrived in Bethlehem some time after Jesus was born - they would not have been seen with the shepherds as most school nativity plays suggest). The purpose of that star was simply to direct the Magi to Jesus.

In his letter to the church in Ephesus St Paul says that God's intent was that 'through the church the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms...' In a culture that is increasingly negative about the church it's good to remember that the church has an amazing and significant purpose: revealing God not just on earth, but, in some way that I don't fully understand, in the heavens as well.

It seems to me, then, that the church is called to be a 'star' today, helping people to find Jesus, just as that astronomical phenonemom did for the wise men. That's why our motto at St John's is 'Helping people to meet Jesus.' The wise men didn't worship the star, as many pagan people might have done, but they used it to find Jesus. I hope and pray that people will use our church to find Jesus.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

The End of the Tenth Doctor

With the passing on of the 10th Doctor we have lost probably the best actor - David Tennant - who has played the role so far, and the best script writer - Russell T Davies. I think it has been Davies's plots and scripts that have made the recent series so majestic. The number of interweaving story lines that leave their motifs dotted through the series is comparable to Wagner's 'Ring' cycle of operas. They have brought a unity to the individual episodes that is quite biblical in proportion.

I watched the last episode with my children and was moved by the Doctor's last words before his regeneration: "I don't want to go." That phrase tore at the heart strings because it contains the thought that we all probably have as we face our mortality and have to come to terms with leaving behind the people we love and the experiences we have enjoyed.

I believe that Russell T Davies is an atheist, but he has brought many fundamental values that Christians hold into his stories, particularly that of self-sacrifice. When The Doctor confronted the Master in the previous encounter, he was willing to give his life so that The Master could be redeemed. Even in this last episode he was willing to give his life to save The Master, and when The Master refused, then The Doctor was prepared to die to safe Wilf, the old soldier he had met on earth - a 'nobody' in one sense, but 'everyman' in another sense and worth saving.

You don't have to look very far to see echoes of Jesus' great sacrifice here. Even The Doctor's appearances to his previous companions seemed to owe something to the accounts in John's Gospel of Jesus' resurrection appearances to his disciples. Although The Doctor had not yet regenerated before these appearances I suppose you could say that he had been through a death experience in the radiation chamber when he was saving Wilf.

Russell T Davies and David Tennant both leave very large shoes to fill. I hope those that come after them will do just as well. I'm sure in years to come people will ask, "Where were you when the Tenth Doctor died?"