Monday, March 30, 2009

motivation for mission

I pretty much imbibed the Great Commission with my mother's milk. I cannot remember a time when I didn't know about Jesus' command to 'go into all the world' - and that he expressed it on five different occasions in the New Testament.

But here I am at 49 with a global mission role beckoning later this week and if I am honest I'd have to say that the Great Commission has not really figured in my overt motivation. Oh - it is still there and it is still important, yes it is - but it is just that these other bits of the Bible have captivated me and finally snookered me.

the origins of humanity
I have been aching about a passing phrase in Paul's speech at Athens. It has been decisive. "From one person God created all peoples." (Acts 17:26) All of humanity descends from the same person. God looks down from heaven and sees past our racial and national boundaries to the common equality and dignity and value which we share. Racism is repulsive. Patriotism is not far behind. Categories like colour and culture and continent and cash are irrelevant. Thinking about this as I stood yesterday with my kids at the Auckland InterCultural Festival watching Ethiopia play Somalia in the soccer final was special. I want my life to reflect this motivation.

the oneness of the church
This one started when I began messing around with 1 Corinthians 12 and the sicknesses afflicting that local church. 'Let's imagine this to be the global church, not a local church'. Now what?! Those parts of the global body that seem to be weaker become indispensable. Those parts that we think are less honourable, we treat with special honour. And "if one part suffers, every part suffers with it." Come on - we love going on and on about globalisation and how the globe has shrunk into a village - blah, blah, blah ... Listen - globalisation has massive implications for Christians. The global church becomes like a local church. "We share our mutual woes, our mutual burdens bear; and often for each other flows the sympathizing tear." I want my life to reflect this motivation.

the genius of incarnation
The Bible tells us that "the Word - Jesus - became a human being and moved into the neighbourhood" (John 1:14). God is so committed to humanity that he became one of us. What's more, God delights in the diversity of languages and cultures that come with being human. As Lamin Sanneh expresses it, "The God to whom the Scriptures witness is available in the common language of marginalised peoples all over the world. There is nothing God wants to say to any of them that cannot be communicated through their simple everyday language." I want my life to reflect this motivation.

the reality of injustice
To read the prophets of the Old Testament is to read about a God who hates injustice. The God who judges is every bit as important as the God who loves. If you don't think so, try conveying that to the peoples of the world mired in injustice - and then go back and read Psalm 96. One of the most vibrant of all the songs of praise and worship - yes, one of those ones where the heavens, the sea, the fields and the trees are singing - and what is the attribute of God about which they sing? "He comes to judge the earth. (v13)" If all you want to do is sing about God's grace and that's it - that says something! You know when you are caught within the iniquities and inequities of this world - because you'll want to sing about his judgement. I want my life to reflect this motivation.

the prospect of heaven
A place of "no more death or mourning or crying or pain?" (Rev 21:4) A place where every 'tribe and language and people and nation' hang out together? A place where all evil is judged and all good is vindicated – and that for all time? Bring it on! Christians love to talk about the Kingdom of God today. That's good - so they should. But let’s not forget about heaven. Let's not try and dump so much of Kingdom future into Kingdom present that we lose our appetite and anticipation of all that is to come. Recognising this certain future is what energises present service. We work hard to see any hint of this heaven now, knowing that it is a foretaste of what is to come. I want my life to reflect this motivation.

Sure motivation for mission might begin and end with the Great Commission of Jesus. But it ain't such a bad idea to fill in the stuff in between. It has been a decisive part of my story.

nice chatting

Paul

Thursday, March 19, 2009

indian cricket then and now

While it will not be everyone's cup of chai I did enjoy reading Ramachandra Guha's A Corner of a Foreign Field (Picador, 2002) on a recent return flight to the UK. As seems always to be the case, the sub-title says it all: "The Indian History of a British Sport".

The book tells the story of cricket in India as it relates to four issues: race, caste, religion, nation.

With Race, Guha traces how the sport of the coloniser became domesticated in the sub-continent in the nineteenth century. I was fascinated by the intriguing battle between polo and cricket for physical space in Bombay. And how "the Asian game (polo) played by Europeans became the emblem of patrician power and the English sport (cricket) indulged in by natives the mark of plebeian resistance." (28)

And then I come home to this photo of my son Joseph with Mahendra Singh Dhoni, captain of India.

With Caste, Guha tells the story of how both 'untouchables' and princes played the game and ended up on the same field together. The outstanding cricketer of the early years was Palwankar Baloo. As an 'untouchable' he used to sweep the cricket ground for his English master - until he started bowling to him in the nets for hour after hour. He and his three brothers dominated the early years of Indian cricket, although denied the captaincy for years because of their caste. On the field they were more than equal to team mates and opponents, while off the field they were less than equal as they ate and sat at a separate table. Gradually their achievements subverted "the divinely sanctioned hierarchy of caste" (147) as Guha puts their story alongside Jackie Robinson and Jesse Owens. Then there were the princes like Ranjitsinhji (after whom India's provincial tournament is named, the Ranji Trophy) and his nephew Duleepsinhji who strutted their way onto the cricket stage.

And then I come home to this photo of Joseph with Sachin Tendulkar, arguably the second greatest player of all time.

With Religion, Guha reveals how for the first hundred years of cricket in India the dominant tournament was known as the Quadrangular and played annually by teams divided according to religion: the Parsis, the Hindus, the Muslims, and the Europeans. In 1937 there was an agreement reached to include a fifth team comprising Christians, Buddhists, and Jews to create a Pentangular! As the years went by the debate intensified about whether this "communal" approach to cricket helped or hindered the relationship between the religions. When it reached fever pitch the opinion of Mahatma Gandhi was requested. His advice? "I would like the public of Bombay to revise their sporting code and erase from it communal matches." (271) But still this annual tournament persisted.

And then I come home to this photo of Joseph having his Indian cricket shirt signed by the talented young bowler "Ishu" Sharma.

With Nation, Guha reaches the difficult days leading into what is known as 'partition' with the formation of two nations, Pakistan (East & West, primarily Muslim) and India (primarily Hindu). Now "communal cricket" becomes too difficult to sustain, "moulded as much by Hindu class prejudice as by Parsi social snobbery, by Muslim cultural insularity and by British racial superiority." (307) Cricket proceeded to capture the hearts of millions upon millions of people in both nations as a "sibling rivalry" emerges which is severed from time to time by war between the two countries (and now by acts of terrorism) and intensified when the two teams meet on the cricket pitch.

And then I come home to this photo of Joseph and a friend with that other great batsmen Rahul Dravid

Yes, so while I am absorbed in mastering the finer details of Indian social history as told through the story of the indigenisation of cricket my son is living a life with the contemporary celebrities of that same story. Some guys get all the breaks.

nice chatting

Paul

Saturday, March 14, 2009

rain

Have you ever wondered about what the James Bond film, Quantum of Solace, and Madagascar 2 have in common?

Probably not - so let me enlighten you...

On flights to UK this week I discovered a more limited choice of movies and so these two received a re-run. And in both films the 'baddie' is doing the same thing: keeping control of the water supply so that others are deprived of it. [NB - studying what the bad guys are doing in Bond films over 40 years provides an insightful social commentary on the good vs evil power struggles in our world over that period!].

The point being that water is becoming precious. Over the next generation wars will be fought over the rights to water supplies (you could argue that those wars have started). And here am I sitting in Wales where I haven't seen the sun all week. And I come from New Zealand where complaints about the rain and escaping from the rain are habitual human activities.

What do we make of this?

I am repenting. In light of the fact that water is so precious around the world my view of rain is changing. I am now deliberately training myself to be thankful when it rains. I bring to mind those who would be dancing in that rain and I pray that it might be so for them - and by doing so I put the inconvenience of rain into perspective. To moan about the rain says something about the lives we live and their relative comfort and luxury. I am going to try not to moan anymore (even when it interrupts a cricket game that NZ might win!).

Last month I drove with my son from Melbourne to Sydney. Just as we were enjoying the death-place of Ned Kelly and then the birth-place of Don Bradman, the Hume Highway was closing behind us as Victoria got hit by Australia's worst ever peace-time natural disaster ... basically because of the lack of rain. And then some of the most serious areas of global poverty are directly related to a lack of moisture.

When all is said and done the Welsh and the Kiwi should be grateful that they live in a green and verdant land. Sure - floods are not much fun either, but the plusses of living in a country with a plentiful water supply far outweigh the minuses.

We should be more content.


nice chatting


Paul

Sunday, March 01, 2009

amazing slumdog

After twice standing in queues watching 'sold-out' signs go up in front of me, I finally was able to see Slumdog Millionaire last night. I loved it. The last time I soaked like this in a movie experience was probably Amazing Grace.

I soaked in the realism in its depiction of India.
From Amitabh-fever (which has there 30 years ago when I went to see Sholay with my friends) to the poverty and the crowds ... From hearing the Hindi (I reckon I understood every word, even the swearing) to the criminality of petty thieves and brutal big men ... From the putt-putts and the trains (although I don't remember mountains on the way from Mumbai to Agra) to the chai-wallah at the call centre ... From the passion for cricket (with Tendulkar being run-out for 99 in the background adding to the pathos) to the dhobis washing/drying clothes beside the Ganges ... From the Taj Mahal (can there be a more beautiful building in the world?) to those stupid tourists. It just goes on and on. I am amazed that so much of authentic India could fit into 2 hours without leaving the film in fragments. All so real and often so raw. I value every reminder of this lest I become too insulated from the serious suffering that so many in our world endure.

I soaked in the artfulness of the film.
Stitching the plot around the questions in the Who Wants to be a Millionaire? game show (which Amitabh hosted for many years) appealed to me. It pulled me through the story. I found myself wanting to 'turn the page'. It did mean that the plot became a little predictable. As soon as the cellphone was handed over you could see how the film was going to end! When so many plot-lines wallow in deception I liked the way a thoughtful truthfulness in the lead character was honoured. The way the story played my emotions was also masterful. One moment I would be seething with anger and then I would be having a chuckle about something.
But yes - as realistic as the images of India may have been, the plot-line was unrealistic at so many points. When all is said and done, it was impossibly hopeful. It is a movie afterall! I do not find this disconcerting. In fact I find the public's enduring appetite for an uplifting plot to be revealing. It speaks to me of the way God has planted eternity in the heart of every human being. There is this longing for something beautiful to be made out of our messy lives.

I soaked in the insights into contrasting worldviews.
I confess that I am no fan of the fatalism in the Hindu worldview. I find it gives no great incentive to change things. There can be this inertia that is accepting of the way things are. Throw into the mix talk of destiny and chance and the "it is written" by-line in this movie, suggesting that life's plot-line cannot be changed, and it is all so unsatisfying. Is the only hope for slumdogs a matter of mere chance? I find my mission heart being stirred. I much prefer the compassionate activism that provokes the Mother Theresas, the Paul and Margaret Brands, the host of missionaries-past (including my parents and my wife's parents and grandparents), and then those missionaries-present - particularly those thousands and thousands of Indians crossing cultures and learning languages, without leaving India, in an effort to make a difference where a difference is needed most because of their devotion to Jesus.I hope some of their stories will be told one day too.

Yep, I'll soak in Slumdog a few more times, but it will be soaking in Amazing Grace that inspires me with hope that the world can be changed and that I can play a small part in that change.

nice chatting

Paul