Category Archives: General
Have you met Hollywood Jesus?
I have a confession to make…
Although I am a bible believing, openly professing Christian, I have not watched Mel Gibson’s, “The Passion of the Christ” (2004).
There, I said it! Right now I can see Christian mothers covering their baby’s ears, Amish communities turning their backs, and stalwart fundamentalists writing my excommunication letter. Of course I write all this in jest. But I do remember at the time of Gibson’s movie rendition of Christ’s life, death and resurrection being released how driven Christians were to see it. I have a vivid memory of one pastor presenting communion after he had seen the movie. He openly stated that people who had witnessed Gibson’s rendering of Christ’s crucifixion would now have a deeper understanding of how Jesus suffered for us. Apparently, the rest of us simply had to work with a watered down comprehension of the atonement. Perhaps it was this experience that caused me to ‘dig my heels in’ and choose not to watch the film. Please hear me correctly…I don’t think the film is bad or unwarranted (I can’t pass judgement on something I haven’t seen)…I just think the manner in which the Christian community consumes pop culture has much to be desired. Which brings me to my most recent observation of Christians meeting Hollywood Jesus…
In Australia we have a new miniseries showing on TV. “The Bible” is a ten part presentation of select bible stories and while it’s directors and writers openly state that it is not a complete transcription of the bible text (how could it be in ten shows) they readily state that they are doing their best to present the ‘spirit’ of the text. I have no problem with this. Indeed, I welcome it (and not only because some of the cool special CGI effects are really well done). My problem lies with our response to such programs. Simply, how is it that we can find ourselves, as a Christian community, consuming these programs in a non-reflective manner? Just because something is titled ‘The Bible’ or has the name of Christ as its moniker does not automatically quarantine it from assessment or debate. We must grow as a Christian community beyond our modernist ideals which are founded on ‘black and white’ judgements (i.e. “If you’re not for us, you’re against us!”) and engage in the postmodern world which exists in the variability of grey-scale. The Christian faith should not shy away from discussion and debate! Might I be so bold as to suggest that it’s only Christ that can add colour, shade and texture to an otherwise two-dimensional grey-scale world?
Furthermore, Jesus challenged his disciples (specifically Peter) to personally comprehend who he was; aside from that which others presented him as. In Matthew 16: 13b–17 Jesus asks,
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.
Again, I’m keen to ensure you understand I am not decrying Hollywood depictions of Christ outright – though there have been some truly appalling attempts! Moreover, I am seeking to remind us that any representation of Jesus will always fall short of a personal encounter with the living Christ. It is only when we allow the real Jesus to directly ask us, “but who do you say I that I am?” that we can truly make a declaration of faith. Meeting Hollywood Jesus simply doesn’t (and never will) cut it!
So does Hollywood (by this I mean pop culture at large) have a place in presenting Christ. Yes! But let’s be mature in how we consume and disseminate our rough and crude likeness of his image and nature. Let’s remember that now, in the 21st century, as it has been for two millennia that our best presentation of the gospel is in how we live our lives surrounded by a culture that does not know Him. “The Bible” (the miniseries) has a place…and who knows…I might even watch Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” one day. Regardless, I hope that the manner in which I live my life does not introduce friends and family to the Hollywood Jesus; but the Christ, the Son of the living God.
Make us a King!
Tabloid media have succeeded again.
Their success is observed in the ability to stir up controversy; making commentary about niche groups in a manner that is designed to be inflammatory.
This week an Australian current affairs TV show aired a story targeted at one of Australia’s mega churches; Hillsong. This is not the first time Hillsong has received scrutiny from Australia’s tabloid media…and mark my words, it won’t be the last. It seems Hillsong is grouped in with the revolving stories of fuel prices, the duopoly of the Australian grocery market and the latest miracle skin creams (to name but a few!). Why does Hillsong register such interest? Simple. Any good story needs two sides to the debate; two sides that are eager to passionately defend their view of the stated argument. The ‘Hillsong Story’ ticks all the boxes.
Often in the wake of this kind of story we, the Christian collective, respond to the seemingly unfair representation of our brothers and sisters in Christ with aggressive remark. Understandably, we cry foul; objecting to the incorrect and loaded information that these stories contain. For example the recent ‘A Current Affair’ (ACA, Channel Nine) story in review noted that approximately 30 Billion dollars are consumed by ‘Not for Profit’ organisations each year. The claim is made that these dollars are not taxed, thus rendering the Australian public at large ‘robbed’ of revenue (an argument not dissimilar to the ‘mining tax’). What is not considered in these tabloid reports is what these same organisations ‘save’ the Australian tax payer each year. There are few in government (either side of the political divide) that would argue a case for raising the tax status of groups such as Salvation Army, Wesley Mission and World Vision. Why? The reality is that these organisations SAVE the Australian tax payer billions each year. It’s an easy sum game. The government simply wouldn’t reap the tax benefit equivalent to the social benefit provided by these groups. Yes, groups such as Hillsong are clustered under the same tax system rules; but it must be recognised that these church groups are conducting themselves legally. I don’t know many individuals that don’t take advantage of government handouts when they are on offer – even if they are not in dire need of financial assistance.
I hope at this point you have gathered that I am not eager to continue the rants of ‘hate the Hillsongers’. This being said, I cannot finish my reflection without asking us, the Christian collective, to actively and critically reflect on our position. Why is it that Hillsong seems to constantly receive denigration from mass media? Now before you answer that question with the all-too-easy, “the world hates Christians”, ask yourself why don’t the Salvation Army, Wesley Mission and World Vision meet with the same level of disapproval? Could it be that the public perception of each organisation’s ‘core business’ is what invites social trial. In today’s ‘trial by social media’ environment perception is often mistaken for ‘fact’ and ‘truth’. ACA did note Hillsong’s charitable arms; but commentary seemed to suggest that they (the journalist and production team) were not convinced by the ratio of revenue when compared with charitable spend. And here is where I would like to offer our opportunity for active reflection…
There came a point in the Israelite’s history when the people were no longer content with God’s representative being a judge; namely Samuel. The people wanted to be like other nations. They wanted a king. Samuel warned them,
These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day. (1 Samuel 8:11–18)
But the Israelites did not listen. They insisted that God given them a king. So, “the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Obey their voice and make them a king.’” (1 Samuel 8:22). History goes on to record that the Israelites suffered greatly under the tyranny of their much desired kings (not all, but most); all in the name of ‘being like the other nations’.
I recall during the 1980’s and 90’s that a persuasive argument for relevance seeped into the church’s teaching. Like frogs in slowly heated water (first content and comfortable, but ultimately boiled to death) we gratified ourselves with increased numbers. People were responding to our change in music and overall presentation of the gospel story (we even thought that air-conditioned buildings were cool; excuse the pun). Good things in and of themselves; but had we unwittingly made ourselves a new king. Not one individual who could be held accountable for our slow social demise. No, this was far more insidious. Our king, our man-made king, was a machine. The machine might go by many different names. Whether you label it ‘relevance’, ‘seeker friendly’, or some other non-offensive descript, we had allowed the organism (known as the body of Christ) to become an organisation (a mechanism). Senior pastors became CEO’s and our target became numbers; and in some extreme examples, dollars. Our much desired king, now rules it over us like a tyrant.
I hear Samuel’s words as a clear warning to us. This modern king takes our young men and women; soliciting their youthful exuberance for the machine’s causes. It has been my observation that many (not all) young people are swept into the vortex of the machine’s sub-cultural acceptance; dedicating countless volunteer hours (not paid) to the machine’s forward movement. Secondly, this king calls for more than the tithe. Samuel’s prophetic warning to God’s people that the “best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards” (1 Samuel 8:14) would be required notes that the king would call for more than what was necessary (at that current time). This man-made machine is time-consuming and money-hungry.
Is our greatest war found on the battle-front of mass media? Do the constant snipes from tabloid media require a response? Perhaps. I would argue, however, that we should invest more time into considering how it is that we got into this predicament in the first place. Is this level of social scrutiny actually a result of our own doing? Is it actually our own misdirected need to be like the non-Christian community; relevant and non-offensive in every conceivable way? Is it because we have made ourselves a king; a king who rules over us like a disconnected dictator concerned only for his/her own well-being?
I’m certainly not suggesting we do away with modern church as we know it. I note that one of God’s greatest stories, a man declared to be ‘after God’s own heart’, was a king of Israel. King David, though far from perfect, served the people of Israel with a concern that went far beyond his own welfare. God can take an apparent mistake (in this case, demanding a king) and turn it into a strength. Currently, our chosen king (the machine) is far from perfect, but I do believe that with some keen prayer, self-reflection, and repentance, we can recognise the gross error of our ways; once again acknowledging the King of Kings as our sovereign ruler (not some machine). Collectively, we might also be able to redirect the machines purposes (not all bad) to align themselves more succinctly with the gospel directives to feed the poor, clothe the naked and house the homeless.
What are your thoughts on this matter…I’m keen to hear your views and reflections…
Exhausted? Me too…
Have you ever shot a flare into the night sky that burst into the bright lettering, “I’m Exhausted”? I’m guessing you probably have—and I’m also willing to wager that if you look out your bedroom window tonight you’ll see my flare burning brightly against the evening stars.
This year started in a most tumultuous way with floods, cyclones and earthquakes. Our family was not directly affected by these extraordinary run of events, however it did feel like our year commenced with the bass player and drummer not playing the same groove. Add to this the exertion of completing and submitting a doctoral thesis and the result is “I’m Exhausted!”
Relatively speaking I understand that I exist in a world of luxury compared to world standards. I don’t have to line up in queues to receive my single meal of the day or walk seven kilometers to obtain unclean water to drink. Nevertheless I currently feel like I have done ten rounds with a heavy-weight boxer who has seen no reason to be merciful on my bantamweight frame.
Actually I can really relate to the story of Elijah when he flees Jezebel (1 Kings 19:1-18). Elijah had just been a key player in revealing God’s awesome power to Ahab (1 Kings 18) and in doing so found that he was physically, mentally and spiritually exhausted. You’ll be happy to know that I have not slain any prophets of Baal in recent months, but the final stages of the doctoral submission process have left me seeking the quiet solitude and shade of a Coolabah tree:
But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And be hold, an angel touched him and said to him, “Arise and eat.” (1 Kings 19:4-5)
Exhausted, Elijah lays down and goes to sleep. In stark contrast to much of the modern ‘faith teachings’ that circulate today Elijah is at the end of himself and simply unable to administer any ‘up-and-at-em’ attitude to his current state; so much so he falls asleep. Notice that it is while he rests that God ministers to him by sending his angel. Mathews writes,
The angel of the Lord strengthened him with food, and he journeyed forty days and nights to a cave at Mount Horeb. It was upon the same Mount Horeb, another name for Mount Sinai, that the Lord had revealed Himself to Moses (see Exod. 3; 19). Elijah complained that the Israelites had abandoned God and that he was the last prophet of the Lord. But Elijah was mistaken. God brought in succession a great wind, an earthquake, and a fire to ravage the mountain. But the prophet did not hear God in these events. Instead, Elijah heard the Lord in a small whisper. By this the prophet learned that sometimes God works in quiet ways. (p. 143)
When we are at the end of ourselves we can lose perspective. Elijah had lost perspective, believing that he was the only prophet left; but God graciously corrected him. Not only did the Lord reveal the existence of seven thousand other prophets (physical assurance), He revealed Himself (spiritual assurance). God knows what we need and when we need it; even if we are incapable of seeking or requesting it for ourselves.
Exhausted? Find yourself a tree and allow the God of Elijah to minister to you…you’ll be in good company; I’ve already pulled up my tuft of grass and lay down.
Mathews, K. A. (1998). The Historical Books. In D. S. Dockery (Ed.), Holman concise Bible commentary: Simple, straightforward commentary on every book of the Bible (D. S. Dockery, Ed.) (143). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.