Wednesday, 22 April 2015

What Defines Your Life Narrative?

The American blogger Steve Cornell once asked his readers the question: what narrative do you follow for life?  His definition of a narrative for life is loose.....a combination of the things we base our lives on; visions we might follow and the things which motivate, define and matter to us. Cornell argues that a narrative is always supported by a way of thinking about life – about yourself, others, possessions, purposes, priorities, goals and, especially, how you view God. What are the narratives that define human beings today?

Firstly, ideas and philosophies like socialism, communism, nationalism,  fascism, and different forms of religious extremism can powerfully underpin the narratives of both individuals and large groups of people. History teaches us that extreme ideology and political power are a toxic combination for individuals, groups and even entire nations. 
Secondly, life experiences often shape the narratives people follow. When we experience significant loss, hurt, betrayal or injury — it can lead to narratives of despair, resentment, self-pity, anger, revenge and even violence. So a negative life-narrative rooted in different forms of abuse can leave the victim stuck, unable to escape from the negative effects of the abuse. Counselling, particularly when rooted in bogus so-called ‘psychotherapy’ like neuro-linguistic programming and imago therapy frequently brings no relief or hope for people who have been conned out of thousands of pounds by so called ‘Christian counsellors and psychotherapists’.
However, many people can and do escape from a life defining negative narrative onto a much more positive and fulfilling pathway. A powerful example of dramatic change of narrative is found in the Bible in the life of the Apostle Paul. His story is told in the New Testament book of Philippians. Paul followed the expected path to social recognition in the community of his day. He took a path to gain status and esteem among the people who mattered most.  Paul was zealous as his description below bears out:
 “Indeed, if others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more! I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault” (Philippians 3:4-6).
Paul was so zealous that he was party to the murder of Stephen, but when he met Jesus on the road to Damascus his life narrative was dramatically changed. Here’s how Paul reflects on his change of narrative: “I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ.”
The third definer of life narratives in the twenty first century is the quest for celebrity/fame and importance.  Fuelled by social networking and the media, this quest for power and importance is not new. It can even be a powerful but destructive force within evangelical and non-evangelical churches today and is clearly visible in the cadres of worship leaders, pseudo-apostles and prophets who have grabbed the reins in our more 'hip' churches. In Luke’s Gospel 22:24-27, Jesus directly confronted this narrative: “A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.”
When people today encounter Jesus as Saviour and Lord, He radically disrupts and reorients their  life narrative. Paul in his second letter to the church in the city of Corinth gives an excellent short summary of this truth when he writes:  “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but (live) for him who died for them and was raised again.”

What or who is defining your life narrative today?

Sunday, 12 April 2015

When is enough....enough??

Today there is justifiable outrage in the media from our academic and 'cultural classes' at the wanton destruction of archaeological treasures by ISIS in Iraq. Recent slickly produced, documentary-style online high definition video posts by ISIS have shown the complete obliteration of a number of areas deemed to be world heritage sites.

From the warped puritanical ISIS world-view, these priceless archaeological windows into the past are no more than blasphemous idols which must be destroyed.

While there is talk in the media of categorising such actions as 'crimes against humanity', the UN is already describing the destruction of Nimrud and other sites in Iraq as a war crimes.

Meanwhile, in Kenya, al-Shabab the Somali terror group stormed Garissa University College in Kenya's north-east on April 2 and murdered 142 students (148 in total died including terrorists and security forces). This was no random attack on a soft target. It was well planned and organised by individuals with local knowledge.

Most chilling of all, the terrorists separated students by religion. Muslims were allowed to leave, Christians were executed on the spot. Some of the victims had been holding a prayer meeting when murdered.

Our UK media outlets such as the BBC, SKY, ITN and the national press spent a couple of days reporting on the massacre. A very small number of leading church leaders in the UK condemned the atrocity and called for prayerful support for the victims and their families. They also made the usual general pleas for peace.

Overall however, the church once again closed its eyes to the undeclared war which is currently being waged against Christians by a minority of zealots who follow a barbaric medieval version of the Islamic faith. This is the reality of the 21st century.

Sadly most of Scotland's Christians choose to go along with this blinkered and short sighted outlook. They do so out of their own self-absorption with lives lived within the 'Christian bubble', and lacking any kind of direction from their church leaders from grass-roots upwards, they baulk at putting their head above the parapet fearing they 'might cause offence'.

Again and again, when asked the question 'how should we be supporting our brothers and sisters under threat of martyrdom', most Christian leaders at all levels usually respond with weary resignation.....'well, all we can do is pray'.

Writing in his blog David Robertson, Moderator Designate of the Free Church of Scotland, recently posted an article entitled, 'Islamophobia Phobia.....Why Church, Media and Politicians are Afraid and Spineless'.

Not unexpectedly, he received a good deal of flak from 'PC' Christians, non-Christians, secularists, humanists and politicians.

Robertson issued this challenge to the church: “Are you prophets and proclaimers of the Gospel of Christ or just compromisers with the spirit of this world?”

As a born again believer, I refuse to be part of the self absorbed, hand-wringing, 'what can we do?' brigade.

I agree we should pray fervently for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are in the front lines in this 'war for civilisation'. However we must do much more, as sitting on our hands is no longer an option. Below are three possible actions. Creative believers can surely come up with more:

  • Prayer works. Let's organise weekly/monthly half nights of prayer devoted to pleading for the safety of Christians in countries which are in the front lines. This would be real 'spiritual warfare', and if organised in every locality could have far reaching positive consequences.
  • Politicians could be lobbied to review and reconfigure the UK foreign aid budget, so that states such as Pakistan which persecutes Christians, receives less aid, and states like Kenya receives more money to help protect its Christians.
  • Christians, particularly evangelicals rarely protest on the streets of Scotland. The public square as a forum for promoting the Gospel has long since been abandoned. As a result the church has little credibility. It's time for Christians to return to the streets and the public square and raise their voices.

Momentary outrage whispered from behind the safety and anonymity of the church walls is no longer an option. When will our church leaders develop some backbone, and what will it take for Scotland's believers to cry....'enough is enough!!'