Thursday, 23 September 2010

Social Isolation

by Peter Lockhart

I grew up in country towns where you walked down the street and for the most part got a nod and smile from people as you walked past. People you knew stopped to chat. Even driving on the roads people gave an acknowledgement lifting a hand or even simply a few fingers from the wheel as they drove past. Even if you didn't know people there was a basic acknowledgement of our shared existence.

Living in Brisbane I marvel at the notion that we are socially isolated beings in the city. Walking through a shopping centre which has 100s even 1000s of people you can feel totally alone. No one looks you in the eye and if you try to acknowledge another passing consumer more often than not their eyes dart away to some point of oblivion off in the distance. Even interactions with people on the check out in some stores is being taken away from us in the ever greater quest for expedience.

Yet God made us for community and relationships. God invites us to get to know the stranger and to help each other be all that we can be. God sends us out to share good news with others, but if we are not allowed to communicate apart from via electronic means like facebook how do we really grow in a relationship well enough to say what difference Jesus has made to my life.

As I look at my own interactions I wonder how well I am doing. How well are you doing? Do you know your neighbours names? Do you talk to strangers you see regularly and build a relationship? Or do you live in relationship ghettos which keep the curtains firmly closed and the security code on the door? What is an appropriate Christian response to this manufactured social isolation?

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Love your enemies

"But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6: 27-31)

This weekend sees the anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Centre and there has been some controversy emerging from the US as to how these events might be remembered. One evangelical Pastor has even suggested burning copies of the Koran.

The portrayal of all Muslims as evil is on one level naive bigotry but even if Christians chose to view Muslims as an enemy then responding with hatred is a denial of our Jesus words. A point made by an Imam who went to meet with the American Pastor who had been threatening to burn the Koran.

"We came to have a peaceful conversation with the pastor, to hear his grievance, to ask him to follow his own Scripture about his enemies. His Scripture teaches him to love his enemies." - Imam Muhammad Musri, president of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, after meeting with preacher Terry Jones, whose church is planning to burn copies of the Quran on Saturday. (Source: USA Today)

Christianity began as a religion oppressed and persecuted, hundreds of martyrs gave their life in the Colosseum. The response of the early Christian community was not hatred and violence but to continue to proclaim the love and peace of God.

Jesus injunction to love our enemies is one of the most difficult and demanding teachings for us to live out. Jesus doesn’t encourage us to tolerate or put up with our enemies but to love them and to love them without forsaking the core of our faith – God’s love for us expressed in Jesus sacrifice in that while we were yet sinners (enemies of God) Christ died for us (see Romans 5).

In this sense any Christian who propagates hate is turning their back on Jesus’ teaching to love your enemies, for God has loved us even while we were still his enemies.

In an environment that is becoming increasingly hostile to Christianity and religion in general it is more than possible the words of Jesus will take on a greater meaning and challenge for us all: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.