The security obsession

I have every reason to be obsessed – strike that – concerned with security. A few weeks ago burglars broke the glass panel on our front door with a large stone, stole the keys which were in the door, and then stole both our cars using the keys. The whole thing happened at 3am, while we were asleep. Before we knew what happened, our cars were being driven away by the thieves. Not a pleasant experience, especially after we just moved into our new home.

Then we went through quite a scare with one of our insurance companies (Allianz), who sent a letter suggesting that they may not pay out, because it looked like we were in breach of one of the terms – not taking reasonable steps to protect the property. I was warned this was a standard letter (?!?!), but the anxiety in me didn’t want to listen to that. The police officer laughed when he heard what they suggested, but we were not amused. It took something like two weeks until we heard that Allianz would pay out.

All in all, this experience would make anyone concerned with security. I bought another car, and now I have a GPS tracker installed. Both our cars will have this. I’m looking into CCTV, upgrading the alarm on the house, possibly some trap doors, pressure sensitive guillotine, barbed wire fence, and a crocodile invested moat around the house.

I was also looking into installing a paralysing gas or electric shocks system in the cars which can be triggered if the driver doesn’t key in the security code within 10 seconds of starting the engine. Not the kind of thing you find at Asda on a ‘2 for 1’ deal for £3.99, sadly. Even though, perhaps a gas that suddenly awakened the morality centre in the burglar’s brain would be better than a sleep inducing gas that could cause a crash or drooling on my leather steering wheel. Yuk! The problem with that system is that gas leaks would make me accidentally make embarrassing confessions to people out of the blue… Not good.

All these security fantasies are just that: fantasies. Security is a fantasy. It does not exist. The truth is, that if someone wants to steal your car, they will probably succeed with enough determination. You think your website is secure? It’s not! You think your email is secure? It’s not. You think nobody listens in on your phone calls? If you talk about anything worth listening to, your phone line is NOT secure. That’s because security does not exist. We like to indulge in this fantasy, because it soothes our rampant anxieties.

There’s a reason Jesus talks about ‘treasures on earth’ which can be stolen by thieves. You want security and not have stuff stolen? Store different kinds of treasures; you know, the internal kind. Gather and store treasures of wisdom, depth and knowledge, not stuff. You don’t need CCTV and alarms to protect those: only God has access there!

I was watching a material on “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” where he talks about how indigenous translators in Afghanistan and Iraq – who risked their lives and their families lives by working with the US Army – find it almost impossible to immigrate to the US. The red tape is monstrous. You can watch the clip by clicking here!

What struck me in this material was how a country can go to all lengths to protect its interests and its security at any cost, including any human cost that someone else pays. The amount of money spent on the military in the US is immoral. I just don’t understand how people who claim to be Christians support such outrageous practices in the name of security, when Jesus NEVER promised security on those terms.

On the contrary, Jesus said that if we follow him, we’ll be persecuted. He didn’t follow that up with “And if you’re persecuted, you can totally bomb the daylights out of foreign countries and risk killing innocent women and children. You can totally use people for your own interests and then leave them to pay for their service with their lives and their families lives. Totally. I got your back! Because I obviously can ONLY bless America.”

No, sorry, Jesus never said that! Sorry to break it to you, but if that’s the Jesus you keep singing about being in love with, you’re singing to the wrong Jesus. That’s probably some Mexican superhero of the America Dream. Jesus taught us to be awake and vigilant, not to believe in indulgent dreams that make others pay for our prosperity and security.

And that brings us back to the fantasy of security, and how dangerous that is. We think we’re so entitled to security, that we’re willing to sacrifice others so that we may feel safe. I’m not talking about taking reasonable steps to protect your possessions, and being responsible. But where do we draw the line between reasonable steps and pathological steps? The truth is that with all the reasonable steps in the world – or whatever we think it’s reasonable – we are never going to be 100% secure in this world. Never!

And that’s something we need to learn to live with. Because if we continue to spend increasing amounts of money and energy on security systems, we will discover that the effect is not increased security, but rather increased crime. What you resist persists. The more we feed our fear of loss – which is manifested in increased security spending – the more our fear will grow. The more sophisticated we get in protecting our stuff, the more thieves learn to bypass our security systems.

What if we could take loss as a part of a larger picture that we are too limited to see? What if we can simply accept reality as it is, and instead of ignoring what Jesus said about possessions, we would actually focus on growing our souls instead?

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to order my second GPS tracker. Because that’s a reasonable step.

New design

After almost 4 years, I decided to change the design of my blog. So, there. This is the new design. I will change the photo regularly. And by that I mean that I will TRY to change the photo regularly. I’m not making any promises. So far, I love the bumblebee. I think I’m going to keep that for awhile. I took this photo last year during a photo workshop with Stuart Duffy. What a day that was!

Insomniac reflection – I’m not that big a deal

Isn’t it annoying when you get into bed, and instead of sleeping you get all kinds of thoughts rattling through your brain? For instance, last night I thought about how insignificant we are as individuals in the grand scheme of things, and how important we think we are by contrast.

This is not an exercise in humility, but rather in realism. If I heard a story about some guy who lived 300 years ago, who did this and that, how would I react? Would it matter to me? I would first be amazed that I can know what some person did 300 years ago, and then I may wonder if that actually happened, or if someone made it up to prove some point. Both are possible, and the outcome is actually exactly the same, it occurred to me.

What will people remember about me after 300 years, if any will even know I existed? Will I be judged according to whatever view of morality humanity would be operating with in 300 years? (Remember that slavery was only abolished less than 150 years ago, so a lot can change in humanity in 300 years.) Would anyone know I even existed? And if they did, so what?

I may think that what I do or say, or rather what I fail to do or say has some kind of cosmic implications, and that may fill me with a sense of self-importance. But last night I felt a sense of relief at the possibility that in 300 years nobody will even know I existed. That’s comforting. I’m not that big a deal. That made me smile.

The Burial of Jesus

This is the title of the newest book I read by Dr. James McGrath, Clarence L. Goodwin Chair in New Testament Language and Literature at Butler University, Indianapolis. The full title of the book is “The Burial of Jesus: What Does History Have to Do with Faith?“.

I was motivated to read the book not only because the author was my New Testament professor during my BA theological studies, but also because of the latest ‘resurrected’ story about the Talpiot tombs where an archeologist claims to have found an ossuary with the inscription ‘Jesus Son of Mary and Joseph’ on it.

Could these be the bones of Jesus? This question seems to be emphatically asked especially now as we approach Easter. What if they were the bones of Jesus? Should I raise my arms in resignation and go find a real job? Is Christianity now in peril because somebody may have found the bones of the Jesus we believe to have been resurrected?

The author approaches the issue of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection from both a historical and a theological perspective, very helpfully indicating the limits of historical enquiry. The clarity of his thinking in regards to historical enquiry in the death and burial of Jesus makes the book very easy and captivating to read. The same clarity is evident in his exploration of what is generally understood by ‘resurrection’ and how this relates to ‘resuscitation’.

If Christian faith is so dependant on resurrection, we need to understand what ‘resurrection’ means. And we also need to understand what ‘faith’ means. Does faith require us to ignore historical evidence and blindly hold on to doctrinal statements? And how do we handle this evidence, especially when it threatens our assumptions? McGrath writes: “Faith may go beyond the available evidence, but if it contradicts it, it is at best wishful thinking and at worst a delusion or a lie.”

It seems to me that a lot of what we understand by ‘faith’ is about believing stuff (usually written or declared), rather than putting our trust in a living God. Whenever evidence comes to light that threatens to challenge our beliefs we tend to clench our teeth, close our eyes and refuse to engage, other than to say: ‘That’s clearly wrong. My faith says otherwise, and I’m certain I’m right.’

I found it refreshing to discover in this book both an enlightening historical perspective around the death and burial of Jesus, and an inspirational theological perspective on what resurrection means for us today and how it relates to what faith is about.

I leave you with this quote and encourage you to read the whole book: “Affirming the resurrection ought not to be an expression of absolute certainty, as though anyone alive today could claim either to have touched the resurrection body of Jesus, or to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that someone else had done so. It is more appropriate, not only in the light of historical inquiry but also in light of the core emphases in the Bible, to speak of resurrection faith, which does not mean believing without evidence in the resurrection as something that has happened and will happen, but rather means trusting in the God who is capable of rescuing even from death. This should be the heart of resurrection faith: trust and hope in God rather than arrogant self-assuredness.”

Riots and youths

While watching this whole riots mess in London and other places in England, it’s struck me how often ‘youths’ are mentioned. The UK already had a problem with young people, which I am seriously afraid has become even worse now. When I lived in the East End of Glasgow I could see that wherever young people got together in the local park, a police patrol was sure to turn up and search them. Now, that could be seen as preventive action designed to keep us safe, but has anyone considered what it means to be young and constantly under police supervision? I know the feeling as I grew up under communism, and regarded the police as abusers. That is a serious problem which is getting worse in the UK.

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Coming back…

I’ve been away from blogging and posting for almost the entire summer. I’m not dead, or at least I don’t think so. (If I am, please someone tell me. I may disagree with you, but at least I’m told.) I don’t know about you, but during the summer I find it a little difficult to think theologically, or simply to think. I find it useful sometimes to take a break from all that stuff from time to time. I also didn’t video-tape any of my summer sermons, not because I’m ashamed of them, but because of the reasons pointed out above (and also because I’ve been highly critical of a particular government and didn’t want that on record :-).

But I promise to be back! I didn’t say ‘I’ll be back’ in the beginning of summer, a slip-up which I deeply regret. Better luck next year!

Coming up this Sunday – the Syrophoenician woman in Matthew 15. Why is Jesus so distant and harsh with her? Hm…

Sermon – Called to follow

Matthew 4:12-23

Sermon preached in Bishopton Parish Church, on 23rd January 2011, Third Sunday after Epiphany

Many of you have kindly asked me if I enjoyed my holiday. Well, probably the best thing about taking a holiday, besides the rest and relaxation bit, is that you have the chance to put a complete stop to all the ‘doing’ and focus much more intensely on the ‘being’. I make a point on my holidays of doing absolutely nothing significant. That’s why we say ‘I am on holiday’, not ‘I am doing a holiday’. Also, I usually stay away from Facebook during my holidays, because I just can’t bring myself to make trivial status updates. If you have no idea what I just said, you are probably a much happier person than most of us!

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