Monday, August 31, 2015

Empathy for the voiceless

Not being able to communicate with others can be a frustrating and humiliating experience. This is particularly so if you are a "successful" individual who is normally "in control" of your circumstances.

I recommend the movie English Vinglish. It nicely captures the practical and emotional struggle of an  Indian mother and house wife from an upper middle class family who does not know English. When she travels to the USA for the wedding of her niece she has several humiliating experiences. These were so realistic and moving that I found watching that part of the movie painful. But it does create empathy.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

You cannot love God and money

At the theology reading group on monday we will discuss The Economy of Desire: Christianity and Capitalism in a Postmodern World by Daniel Bell.

Paul Tyson [who is in the group] has a brief and helpful summary of the book here. Another summary is here.

Overall, I enjoyed the book and would recommend it. Bell begins by discussing how capitalism is not just an economic system but has come to be totalising force controlling all of life and society. Furthermore, he draws on the highly influential French postmodern [also Marxist and atheist] philosophers Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze to develop the idea that the real defining feature of capitalism is desire: creating it, developing it, marketing it, ...
Although I thought these chapters were original and stimulating I thought they were too long and drawn out and I am not convinced that one really need to go to high-profile French postmodern philosophers to get this insight.

There is a detailed critique of positive theology of capitalism promoted by Michael Novak and others: they have the strange idea that somehow the Kingdom of God is to equated with doing business and making money. The hermeneutical gymnastics and distorted theology are a bit like that associated with American exceptionalism. I felt this was a bit of a "straw man" to knock down.

Possibly the best part of the book is the exposition of Kingdom values that go against the grain of a culture saturated by capitalism: generosity, service, mercy, community over individualism, ...
The church is to be “an economy of desire—an ensemble of disciplines and practices that (re)shapes desire to flow in particular ways.” The church is to embody  “the divine gift economy,” flowing from  “God’s ceaseless generosity, of God’s graceful prodigality.”

The conclusion is particularly strong and challenging engaging with the parable of the dishonest manager in Luke 16. The punchline is "you cannot serve God and money."

Thursday, August 20, 2015

What is so amazing about science? What is so amazing about Jesus?

Here are the slides for the talk I am giving tomorrow at Jesus Week, organised by a student Christian group.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

I will not apologise!

"I was wrong. I am sorry."
These are six words that are very hard to say.
I struggle to say them. Individuals struggle to say them. Institutions struggle to say them. Countries struggle to say them.
Yet newspapers are full of articles about people asking for apologies and others refusing to give them.

Recently at the Oxford Union there was a debate about whether Britain does owe reparations for colonial rule.
The video below is a powerful speech by Shashi Tharoor in support of an apology.

It is interesting to contrast this reluctance to apologise to the amazing actions of Zacchaeus, inspired by Jesus, who offered four-fold reparations.

Monday, August 17, 2015

The disappointments of post-colonialism

My wife and I enjoyed watching the movie Midnight's Children, which is an adaptation of the novel of the same name written by Salman Rushdie. The story centres around two boys, both born at midnight, exactly when India obtains its independence from British colonial rule. One is rich and one poor and they are swapped at birth in the hospital, leading to very different lives. They grow to adulthood against the backdrop of major historical events: partition of India and Pakistan, military rule in Pakistan, the Pakistani civil war leading to formation of Bangladesh, the "emergency" of Indira Gandhi, and the clearing of a slum.

I think the movie is difficult to follow, particularly if you don't know much Indian history or you don't see the deep parallels being alluded to between the individual lives and the post-colonial political history. Both show lost potential, confused identities, conflicts, and geographic movements.

Seeing the movie does motivate me to read the book.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

An amazing story about Jesus

Next week I am giving a talk, "What is so amazing about science? What is so amazing about Jesus?", as part of Jesus Week organised by a student Christian group at the University of Queensland.
In the first half of the talk I will cover some of the material in a talk, "Why is science so awesome?" that I gave earlier this year at Theology on Tap. It highlights how the success of science raises questions that science cannot answer. We have to look elsewhere for answers for questions about meaning and purpose. I find that Jesus answers those questions.

I will then look at just one story about Jesus that I think is amazing: his encounter with a rich man, recounted in Luke 19.

[Jesus] entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner. And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham.10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

What is so amazing?

Jesus seeks everyone and can save anyone. It does not matter what your background and personal history. race, gender, wealth, education, social status, .....
Zacchaeus would have been despised as a collaborator of the Roman rulers and an exploiter of people, extracting as much money as he could. The crowd was right. He was a sinner. Yet that did not matter to Jesus.
On the other hand, Zacchaeus humbled himself in order to seek out Jesus. Today you rarely see rich and powerful people running through the streets, climbing trees, making public apologies seeking restitution, and giving away half their money. This reflects Jesus charisma. He inspires people to totally change and do radical things. Jesus still does that today.

The story can be contrasted to that in Luke 18:18-30 concerning the rich young ruler who would not give up his wealth to follow Jesus. Jesus said,
“How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 

Here we see it can happen.

Who am I in the story? Zacchaeus or a member of the crowd? or both?

Jesus seeks, saves, and sanctifies (transforms).