Saturday, June 26, 2010

A Thought on Leadership Patterns

As I have been working on a new project on Mark's Gospel, I have noted something in the OT which rings true. Israel after entering the land functioned with a kind of limited democracy, without a king, with 12 Tribes sharing power, the ark moving from tribe to tribe. Yet, as we read Judges the whole thing disintergrated. Israel went into a cycle of sin - despair- deliverance - peace - sin again. Leaders rose up who would bring salvation, yet as the narrative flows they fall deeper and deeper into self destruction through idolatry and sin. The leadership system of the Judges failed completely.

They thus cried out for a king, a kind of leadership system with one ruler. He was meant to be compassionate and good as is YHWH while preserving Israel's purity and fidelity to the covenant. Yet over time the monarchy disintergrated, Israel split, went down the tubes, and was in complete despair. The monarchy too failed.

Then they returned from exile and leadership fell into the hands of the priests. However, Israel disintergrated into factionalism (Sadducee, Essene, Pharisee, Zealot etc), they became legalistic (although this is disputed). Anywho, it wasn't working. The critique of Jesus says it all.

None of these leadership structures worked, they all failed.

We see in the world today varying models. Westminster systems, federal systems, monarchies, dictatorships. We see capitalism, we see communism and variants there of. in the church we have episcopalianism, autocratic models, corporate models, presbyterianism, congregationalism, and a million variants. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't.

The point to me is that the system is not the point. It is the people, their hearts, and employing the principles of justice and compassion. For Christians, the system is not the point, it is leaders who reflect the heart of Christ and people who respond. I have a friend who believes the west needs to move to benevolent dictatorship models. I told him that a 'benevolent dictator' is an oxymoron. After all, how do you become a benevolent dictator? It requires a revolution which means blood and a lack of benevolence.

But what he is responding to is the failure of democracy in Britain. It is being corrupted by politicians who work the system for personal gain, and by greed among the wealthy who can work the system. People are now opting out and instead of voting are simply not bothering because they believe it does nothing. They have a point. Political parties have become attuned not to principle, but to popular politics to get reelected. The whole system is coming apart.

But the solution is not a new system in my view. It is a heart and values problem. Western culture is losing its Judea-Christian value base as it rejects the gospel and church. I can understand why they are rejecting Church and Christian faith, but it is the faith and Spirit that, like a nuclear reactor, warmed the hearts of westerners.

Having travelled through a series of nations which were once great, one can feel western civilisation coming apart. These civiliations functioned on a blend of religion and politics where they fed off each other. Greek civilisation came apart through philosophers who questioned the religious and political system, it weakened the Empire. Others are similar.

We are in a quandry in my view. Where we name Jesus as Lord, we need to model not a system, but heart relationships with leadership Jesus' way, and the establishment of a just, fair, merciful world. People are deeply suspicious of leadership. Take the Irish and the Catholics. We need a new era of leadership in church and society which is consistent, ethical, just and merciful. May it come to be.

Reflections on Travels Through Ireland - Wales - England

We leave England tomorrow. This has been the 'family' phase of the trip. We have stayed with family in Dublin, Cork, Wexford, Carmarthen, Cardiff and East Grinstead (south of London). We have been overwhelmed with hospitality; food, drink, sights, the works.

Ireland is in an interesting phase in its history economically and spiritually. They experienced a massive boom after entering the EU. however, the locals believe that they completely overcooked the whole thing. People investing wildly, banks backing any and every investment. What goes up, must come down! Once the economic boom ended, Ireland have crashed. There are few investments, businesses are under pressure, many have closed, unemployment is up, and they are very pessimistic. Whereas they delighted in being in the EU, they now are wondering. They are now expected to give assistance to poorer countries and they are not really able to. The problem for Ireland is that they don't really have any economic edge. Farmers are paid not to produce agriculturally as this would upset other producers in the EU, and so the Emerald Isle lies fallow. They have few industries. Their low tax rates mean people will invest, but this policy is under pressure from other EU countries. Whereas young people would leave uni and get work easily, now they are leaving for overseas. There are too many graduates and not enough jobs. There is a surfeit of university trained people and not enough tradespeople. So a brain drain will now develop. They are facing tough times.

Spiritually it is even more interesting. The Priest abuse crisis has caused a huge reaction. The once-full churches are now empty. People are second guessing Catholicism. There is an almost universal distaste for the power of the church. This has caused some of Emma's relatives to question their faith, something that would have been unthinkable 10 years ago. Others are responding by discovering a personal faith. Rather than a church/tradition invoked 'faith', they are finding God in the mess. Interesting. The problem in Ireland is that there are no alternatives that have great strength aside from the Catholics. If Protestantism was stronger, perhaps some would find a home there. While people are rejecting the church, they are deeply disturbed about the values of the young which are, like all western countries, in  crisis. Alcohol, drugs, and a general lack of respect are problems. They want the Christian values but not the church.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Come to Wales and we find that they too are in the economic mire, but not as bad as Ireland. Spiritually, their churches lie empty in the main. In Cardiff, the biggest church I am told is around 500, one of which my cousin Philip goes to. The revival is a thing of the past and people just don't really go anymore. There is a vacuum.

I haven't really got a handle on England. We are staying in East Grinstead in Sussex with relatives of Emma. It is a lovely home. Nearby is one of Tom Cruises homes and Peter Andre! Religion here seems to hold a positive place for tradition and values. Many attend religious schools.

Next is France for a couple of days and then Cambridge.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Patmos

What a first full day in Patmos. We set out to see the cave of apokylipsis (revelation) where John and his disciple Prochorus (traditionally one of the 70 in Luke 10 and 7 deacons in Acts 6) lived for about 5 years after being exiled by Domitian from Ephesus. Certainly is feasible. Domitian was big in Ephesus with a temple dedicated to him and the Imperial Cult big there at the time. The cave clearly has legendary elements like a nook in the wall where he supposely laid his head and another where he supposedly put his hand to lever himself up. There is also a three fold crack in the roof from where God traditionally spoke. All this aside, it is not out of the question that John was there. For me it is far more likely than the house we visited in Ephesus was Mary's house. The house is about 7km up a hill from the site. Mary would have been about 80-100 at the time and so it is very unlikely she would have lived there.

We visited the Monastery of St John the theologian. Wonderful place. Up on top of the highest hill overlooking the harbour of Patmos. Very spiritual place. Has a number of original pictures painted not long after its building in 1100. It's building was inspired and overseen by Christodoulos. That is the best name I have ever heard meaning 'slave of Christ.' Might rename myself. But then again, Mark John is cool considering that John Mark wrote the first Gospel and Mars was the Roman god of war. Still, perhaps I will take it as a nickname. Philippians is all about this (1:1; 2:8 etc).

We had a glorious moment in the evening. We had discussed our desire to meet an Eastern Orthodox priest. They are everywhere, with their cool hats, beards, big bodies, black robes. We wondered how they viewed the world. Well we saw a visitors centre where the Orthodox faith was explained to tourists around 8pm last night. We popped in. A nice lady there said we might like to watch the video showing. As we watched in came a priest. We immediately recognised him from the video. He is the Bishop of the Island, the Abbott. He oversees the 400 churches on the island, the seminary, and the monastery. They train Priests for all over the world, the NZ Greek Orthodox priest trained there (I plan to meet him in Wellington when I get back).

Anywho, we thought, let's go and talk to him. We went over and one thing led to another and before you knew it we were sitting with him. He is Archimandrite Antipas, named after the Antipas of Revelation in Pergamum who was boiled alive, the first martyr of Asia. He was lovely. The woman in the centre translated for him. Her name was Anistasis (resurrection) and her daughter's name was 'Jesus saviour' with the second name eirene (peace)! We talked about our faith, his faith, his role. Turns out he is not married. Bishops and Abbots (archbishops) can't marry. However, one can still become a priest if married. Anistasis' husband is a priest and they have a daughter. He can't become one of the hotshots. An improvement on complete celibacy.

He talked about faith as a heart thing. He spoke of the Spirit. He was every bit as passionate as we are. He spoke of his passion for ecology, justice, peace and more. He has overseen the planting of 500 trees on the island. He is evangelical, wanting the gospel to go out. The visitor's centre is set up to help people find faith. This place is full of people searching, coming to holy places. It is a great vision.

We are going to church on Sunday and he is taking us out for lunch. What a blessing.

For those who don't know, the church is made up of three great blocks: Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant. I am a Protestant through and through, and this trip has reminded me why. The church was one up until around 1050 when it split into Catholic Orthodox. One of the main reasons was the source of the Spirit: God the Father, or God and Jesus. The Orthodox claim the former, the Catholics the latter. I am with the Catholics, but it is quibbling over minors. I was thrilled that Antipas agreed that we are one. He called us brothers and sisters. His dream is a world without war. Amen to that; that is exactly what Jesus came for. For me I struggle with the elevation of Mary and the Saints; however, I feel the Orthodox faith does not cross into heresy here. They recognise that all are Saints, but that some are to be recognised for great service. They do not pray to the saints, but believe that the eternal living saints who form part of the church (in heaven), can intercede for others. Interesting idea. For me, I don't see a need to pray to a deceased Christian. I will pray to the High Priest; that is the point of Christ coming, free and open access through faith to God because of the work of Jesus our intercessor and High Priest.

Anyhow. It was a sensational experience. I can't wait for Sunday to have lunch with him; share hospitality, break bread. For me it will be an act of healing and unity as Protestant and Orthodox come together as one. They did not seem fazed by Emma being a reverend which was great. As you can see by the photo, I was decidedly underdressed! Still he was not concerned. What a glorious moment. Emma and I went back to our hotel giggling like a couple of kids; we felt blessed... we are.

Pray for the peace of the world and the unity of the church... Amen.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Reflections on Turkey

My experience of Turkey had some positives. We met many nice people, the hotels were very good in the main, and people were very helpful and friendly in getting around by bus, train or other means. The public transport is great and very very cheap.

However, it is over-priced which surprised us. We expected cheaper food etc, it was cheaper than NZ or Greece, but a meal out was still expensive. A Turkish lira is about the same as and Kiwi dollar and things were similarly priced in the main.

We did not enjoy the cities aside from the sites. Istanbul was chaos. Izmir was described by a travel agent in NZ as a toxic waste dump and they were not wrong. We saw one ‘river’ which was green polluted goo. Disgusting. You can see the photo on my facebook page. The men were appalling in both Izmir and Istanbul, eyeing Emma up continually. She had a terrible experience of a guy offering to show her the way back to the hotel but he had a plan B in mind. Emma got away but was shaken up. Clearly many men in these cities think western women are up for it. We have found it different in the more touristy places away from these main centres where the men were more friendly and less in your face. Izmir I would describe as the low point of the trip. The site was a small agora area. We left a day early. We were going to head to Thyatira, Sardis and Philadelphia but on more research decided against it as petrol is ridiculous here ($3/litre) and so we headed to Pamakkule (Hierapolis and Laodicea).

Gallipoli was sensational. Assos was brilliant. Set against the sea with a fantastic site for exploring. Magnificent sea location. Heirapolis (Pamakkule) was also fantastic. The hotel the River Lycus was unbelievable. Cheap and a full resort with the works. The site was amazing with the white terraces caused by the Sodium Carbonate flowing in the streams. Amazing natural phenomenon. A kiwi feels a real connection to the place because supposedly the pink and white terraces of Tarawera before the eruption in the late 1800’s were similar. The site too was sensational. Laodicea is also a great site with hippodrome, theatres, a great road, temples etc.

Ephesus was fantastic. The Celsus library is amazing. There is a lot related to Domitian, Trajan and Hadrian which shows how big the Roman thing was at the time of Revelation and into the second century. We were stunned that the sea came up to the city and is now more than 5k away due to the silting from rivers. Amazing. It must have been an amazing place.

I had a weird experience in Istanbul. Was walking down the street lost looking for the Hagia Sophia. A guy came up beside me in crowds and said ‘Hagia Sofia?’ He was a local who spoke almost no English. I am still wondering how on earth he knew I was looking for the Hagia Sofia! He guided me to it and went on his way. An angel?

The hawking in Turkey really gets on your nerves over time. I will never forget the walk to the acropolis of Assos. There were shops lining the streets selling absolute rubbish. Badly made kids clothes and the most obscure trinkets etc. They all called out to you. Across Turkey they call out to you as you go by, ‘yes please.’ A taxi always toots when it passes you. They have an uncanny knack of picking out the westerner. When you walk near the shop they come after you, ‘yes please’, ‘t-shirts sir.’ They are in your face having little idea what makes westerners tick when it comes to shopping. The idea of looking at a menu to consider it is almost an impossibility as they are all over you asking, probing. They ask where you are from and then tell you how they think NZ is the greatest place on earth and the Kiwis are the greatest. To be honest, I am glad to be away from it. I overheard an American woman come out of a shop and say to her friends that if only they would just have let her have a look uncluttered she might have bought something. Still, they are all trying to make a living I suppose.

One of the favourite parts of the trip was seeing what I described as ‘funky Muslims.’ There are some photos of manikins dressed in this way on FB. These are young Muslim women who dress in trendy gear, cool shoes, long expensive coats, and colourful bright cool headscarves. They look great. It is a great look and we saw them everywhere in the cities. The fashion industry is big across the world.

The Turks in the city drive like madpeople. I saw a discussion on the NZ Herald about NZ drivers being idiots but they are angels beside the Turks (and the Greeks). They cut in, cut you off, don’t let you in. You have to force your way in. If you hesitate for a second you get blasted. The country roads of Turkey were better with people driving slower. But with a speed limit of 120km/hour, one has to have ones wits about you.

The Turks are so nationalistic. There are flags everywhere. Ataturk is huge here. He led the Turks to victory over the ANZACS and others at Gallipoli. He also led them after WW1 to reform their nation driving out the Greeks and secularizing Turkey forming a new republic. His picture is everywhere. The recent Israel disaster with the aid ship may tip the balance back to Turkey going with the Muslim states and opting away from the US. NZers are so non-nationalistic compared to Greeks and Turks. In the cities there is an uneasy feeling of an undercurrent of a desire to rise up against the west.

Having said that, Kiwis are held in esteem and honour here. We are well liked despite WW1 there is a feeling that both sides made a meal of it and young men died for little reason on both sides.

The country is dirty and the architecture boring as. There is less tagging, but there is no imagination at all in the cities. They are crowded and apartment block after apartment block. The geography is also uninspiring with scrubbed hills, dry flat land, dust, and little change of scene. NZ is an amazing place comparatively.

Interestingly, the call to worship from the minaret speakers is constant, often waking us up at crazy times like 4.30 or 5.30am. Yet, there is little movement to the mosque. We saw few black burka women but many with ‘normal’ Muslim gear. There seems the full range of Islamic perspectives from fundamentalist to liberal.

Their TV is different to Greece where there are many English programs with sub-titles and English channels in the hotels. Here, there are few and a lot of Turkish programs.

Unlike Greece, you can’t drink the water in Turkey from a tap, it is not safe. I had one bad evening when I forgot.

The men are not as fat as in Greece. They are short, dark, olive skinned with a different look. There are not as many beer guts. However, you never see a local in shorts, they always have long trousers. It seems the one part of the body you can’t show is the leg.

One thing that stands out as different to NZ is the quality of the beaches. There is nothing like our lovely white sandy east coast beaches. They are shelly or rocky. The water is nice and warm though and we have had some lovely times of swimming.

The sites we visited were sometimes well maintained but they could do better on sign posting, labeling etc. It seems they are just waking up to what they have got.

The beer of choice is Efes, very nice. Few people drink wine here say compared to Italy or Greece. Beer is in.

Compared to Greece, there were way fewer cops. They carried guns but were not seen everywhere.

The older women in Greece wore black. The Turkish older women wore head scarves, dresses and were similarly overweight. It seems putting on weight is still not a cultural issue. Smoking is huge here. Often hotel rooms and bathrooms smelt. Everywhere you sat people would light up. They would throw their butts almost anywhere. I will not miss this.

Whereas in Greece, because of our knowledge of Koine, we could work out what was written often, in Turkey the language was completely different. The people tended to have far less English too. This made communication and finding what you are looking for a lot more difficult.

One thing you note in travelling is the absence of animals aside from dogs and cats. In the fields there is the odd goat and cow, but that is it. The nation does not have a dairy or beef industry but imports it all as far as we can see.

One of the things that stands out for a NT specialist is the distances. The first Christians travelled miles. In Acts 19:10 it says that the whole of Asia Minor was evangelized in 2 years. This would include the areas of the 7 churches of Revelation and perhaps up to the area around the Black Sea. If so, this is no small feat. It took over 2 hours to drive from Ephesus to the Lycus Valley. It took 3 from Smyrna to the same point. The weather is hot. The movement of the gospel is an astonishing feat. Paul’s mission from Antioch west across Turkey through Greece was utterly phenomenal. I would imagine they used sea travel as much as possible. Paul was a legend!

The heat is strange. It is June here and sure it is hot, but it doesn’t burn and feel as hot as a humid Auckland day. You can sit for 5 hours in the sun and be mildly burnt. You don’t sweat as you do in Auckland. I like this heat.

Western influence is less in Turkey although the big names are there in the cities i.e. McDonalds, Shell, BP, Starbucks and coke is huge. There are less of them and they don’t feature outside the city (coke does!). Cell phones are everywhere though. They are westernized but not as much as Greece. The mall is not in here, the market is. The Bazaar’s are cool, but the hawking puts you off.

The sites of Turkey are great, but we did not enjoy it as much as some parts of Greece. Still, to get a feel for the NT this is sensational.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Turkey and Israel

It has been fascinating being in Turkey as the event with the humanitarian aid ship has played out. Here in Dikili the hotel has no English channels so every now and then we flick on the TV and have a look at what is going on. It is wall to wall 24/7 Israel. There are crowds on the streets especially in Istanbul and Ankara going off screaming, throwing stuff at defence forces, wanting to attack the Israelite embassies etc, trashing pictures of Israeli leaders and more. I said in an earlier blog that there is a veneer of secularism here; this has unlocked the Islamic and national pride. These people are really upset!

What this will do is tip the balance in the middle east. Turkey have allied with the USA and have been Israel's friends in the region. This is coming to an end I think. One local suggested Turkey will get a new govt and that govt will ally with Iran and Iraq. The price of petrol here is ridiculously high too, and this will then drop as they get the benefit. There is a real anti-US thing emerging. This will tip the balance.

It was astonishing to see clips on the news of Jews among the Turks protesting with them. Israel have really made a meal of this one.

NZers lack national pride. We get a little fired up for rugby. But we are nothing on this. In recent times I have become concerned about Laidlaw College in this regard. When we changed name we shifted from Bible College of New Zealand to a rather generic name. At the time there was discussion over losing the Bible. I am thinking we need to rethink the NZ part of our name. I do not feel comfortable with strong nationalism, it is scary and xenophobic or even militaristic at times. Yet, one senses that a nation must have a strong sense of unity and identity to make progress. I would like to see us Kiwis come to gether with a little more pride, while remaining open to the world. Another thing I am learning is that we live in a glorious land. These places are run down and struggling. We have everything except perhaps good public transport, especially in Auckland and we need to do better with youth problems. But on the whole, we live in a glorious place. We should have far more pride and a sense of joy in being Kiwi.

Enough, off to Izmir. Keown, out.

Gallipoli

Gallipoli was a learning curve for me. I have never really been that interested in it up until now - to my shame! It was great to be there and get a lesson on what it was all about. As I understand it, the Allies tried to land on the Agean side of the peninsula so that they could overthrow the Turkish (Ottoman) forces, clear the Peninsula, and allow the English fleet to sail unopposed up the Dardanelle Straight and into Istanbul. From there forces could go through the Bospherous into the Black Sea and work with the Russians to create another front for the war. It was expected that the Turks would lie down easily being greatly weakened and having just experienced defeat in the Balkans and Africa. However, they did not do so. The ANZACS landed in the wrong place, they made some progress initially, but effectively got shut down for 9 months by the Turks who dug in on the hills. I hadn't realised how the French were involved as well.

10,000 French died, 2,700 Kiwis, 8,700 Aussies, 21,000 or so English. What a tragedy. Overall 500,000 fought on both sides, with both sides having 250,000 casualties with 70,000 or so killed on each side all up. It was a small area for a million people to run around shooting each other. We heard of amazing stories of allies throwing chocolate to the Turks and the Turks returning cigarettes. We heard of a Turk putting a pair of undies on a rifle as a kind of flag, climbing out of the trench, and going to the aid of an injured member of the Allied Forces. We heard of a Turk singing in the trenches on night. Then the Allies returned a song. The next night after heavy fighting there was no song. So they Allies resolved not to sing again out of honour for the lost Turk. There was a strange humanity in the war.


Visiting the site raised all sorts of questions. What were they thinking landing in ANZAC cove? It seems a very difficult place to launch an assault? Why did they underestimate the Turks? People are at the hardest to overcome on their home patch fighting for kith and kin. The whole thing was a tragedy. They should have got out early after realizing that it was not going to be easy. It had little impact on the war at all!

One wonders what might have transpired had they succeeded. Would this have led to the Russians taking Turkey? Or Greece? One thing we ran into in Greece is the historical enmity between Greece and Turkey due to Greeks invading Turkey aeons ago and the Ottoman dominance of Greek for 4 centuries until around the end of WW1. There is no love lost there.

The bigger question is whether war is ever justified. I suppose in a perfect world there would never be war. Sadly we don't live in a perfect world. Jesus came to end war. He stood against all that was expected of a military Messiah. He took death before taking up the sword, to save the world, and show us the path of true humanity. The problem is that evil people rise up and seek to take the world. This trip has been a lesson in this: the Lydians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Ottomans. In more recent times Napoleon, Kaiser Wilhelm, Hitler and so on. While the ideal of peace and non-violence must be our dream and goal, at times, as it says in Ecclesiastes, there is a time for war. Gallipoli shows what war does. It takes young men (and now women) in their 20's (one kid was only 14 who died!) and makes them vassals of powers vying for position and gain. The ages on the graves was shocking. Oh that war would end and that people could live out their days in peace.

The final thought is the place of Gallipoli in the hearts of the Turks. For them it was a defining day of victory. The Ottoman Empire was crumbling at the time. Mustafa Kemal is credited with being the key man for the Turks. He inspired their defence. He himself was almost killed by shrapnel, his chest watch saved him. He led the victory. After the war he brought Turkey together and inspired them to drive out the Greeks who had assumed parts of their land. He is Ataturk, the Father of Turkey. He led reforms including the end of the Harem, the Sultanship, secularised Turkey, they now use the Latin alphabet (thankfully as a traveler). For them, Gallipoli was a great victory in which they defended their land. When we were at the site we had a real experience. Without any introduction as we walked the graves at the Turkish memorial amongst thousands of Turks a group of school kids began singing what I learnt later was the Turkish national anthem. It was rousing. Then a young Turkish boy began to speak. He gave and impassioned speech full of power. It was a speech about the anthem. What struck me was a blend of being impressed and concern. It was powerful and I understood none of it. He was so passionate, like a Maori warrior. Yet the nationalism was fearful!

Lurking beneath the veneer of secularism is a powerful nationalism and Islamic passion. I saw this at Gallipoli. It was powerful.

All up the experience will stay with me forever and will redefine for me what it means to be Kiwi. I will go to the dawn parade next year. I hate war and resist it; but there is a time for war.


We met this guy in Kavala named Konstantino. What a guy. I gave him a book. His family had shifted from Turkey to Greece in the formation of the modern Turkish state when all the Greeks came home from Turkey as the Turks drove them out. It was an interesting point of connection with Gallipoli.



I was amazed at how moved I was thinking of NZ and Australian blood shed. Seeing the graves was powerful.

Istanbul Reflections

What a city! I thought Hong Kong, Athens and Rome would have prepared me for Istanbul. They hadn’t. The traffic is outrageous. The crowds are huge. The haggling and hawking is relentless. It made Rome and Athens seem like country towns. There is little evidence of effective public transport. It is a mega-city in relentless growth mode, where does such growth end?


One senses distaste for Europeans but the economy needs us. It is a symbiotic relationship – they need our money, we enjoy their country and history

The overall impression to me was that I was in another city where its golden days were based on all that opposes the gospel. Its history is intensely religious, political and military, Constantine established it as his centre and Christianity in Constantinople was from the first, irrevocably intertwined with politics and military might. It was a corrupted form of the faith which reigned until the Crusades and its fall. It was then dominated by the Ottomans and Islam. Mosques replaced churches and there are now literally thousands of them.

The Sultan’s palace was a lesson in how such empires work. We have already worked our way through Rome and Greece and seen how these two great Empires functioned. The Ottomans were little different, nor Constantine’s Christendom prior. Military might is the first important thing – to rule by power and where need be, violent forceful oppression. Wealth is critical to maintain the power. Hence conquests must continue and tribute paid. They are dynastic, despots ensuring that their sons continue the tyranny. Sex is important, as these rulers gather huge harems for their personal pleasure. The Sultans had 4 wives, 7 favourite concubines, and around 300-400 others for their good pleasure. Women were sold into the employ of the Sultan from across the empire. Building projects: these emperors built monuments to the gods and to themselves. Romans built temples, palaces, fora, statues, arches etc. Ottomans built palaces and mosques. Christendom built churches. The temples are critical as centres giving spiritual vindication of their divine chosenness to reign. Religion endorses the monarchy. It is essential to remove all enemies either through death, exile or giving them a job on the other side of the empire. The most dangerous people were your brothers as they could knock you off and assume power. It is critical to ensure that the people are kept generally happy to reduce possibility of rebellion, joining forces with a brother or other leader and overthrowing the reigning monarch. This means that rulers had to know when to be benevolent and when to dish out the justice. Favour those who support you big time, come down hard on those who oppose you! And at the centre of course, a meglamaniac, despotic, self-absorbed, sometimes beneficient, sometime tyrannical egostistical twat.

The Ottomans are a great study after Athens and Rome where the same principles applied. Their monuments are still standing. While they no longer are an empire, their mosques and society still stands. Christendom was little different, the ideal of Jesus of a world free of all of this skubala violated by alliance to human hubris, greed and violence. No wonder God allowed the fall of Constantinople and subsequently the breaking up of Christendom.

The journey has reinforced a developing hermeneutic. Jesus came to bring a new world in which the patterns of such empires, imperial rule, dicktators, dominance through wealth, power, lust and hubris are put aside for love, humility, servanthood, grace, mercy, gentleness, equality, justice for all, peace and hope. It shows me that humans, whether Christian or otherwise, fail repeatedly falling into the trap of the ways of the world.

The ideal must drive us however! God is bent on restoration – he will not relent. Neither can we. It begins with us – ripping out of our hearts ever vestige of selfish ambition (eritheia), vain conceit (kenodoxia), hubris, pride, jealousy, greed, rivalry, deceit, lust, hatred, discord and more (cf. Gal 5:19-20; Phil 2:1-4 etc). These are at their most dangerous when done ‘in the name of Jesus.’ When we fuse our mission zeal and desire for a better world, great churches, the salvation of the lost and the things of God (noble though these things are), with the patterns of the world, the gospel is violated – no matter how good it seems on the outside. We must refuse to build our work on this. I believe this is what Paul was driving at in 1 Cor 3; our work will be tested, not to see how effective it has been, but how it was motivated!

Yet herein lies the rub. There are two competing principles at work. First is a refusal to compromise the gospel to the ways of the world. This is our imperative right. Yet second is the need to get in amongst it and not simply back off because it is too hard. This is the easy way out. We are to be ‘out there.’

The Laidlaw vision is a noble one but has many snares. As we seek to engage we become vulnerable to the seduction of using the ways of the world to win the world. This is a tension. Suffering will come at times as the world fights back and we do not yield to it. Sin will come at times as we fall prey to the world. We will err on the side of sin and false grace in the name of the progress of the gospel. So suffering and sin are certain consequences if we remain engaged. We will err at times falling into compromise and sin; at others we will experience suffering.

The toughest places to be will be the seats of sins power – politics, military, police, economics, business, corporate life etc. These places are as Jesus in Revelation describes it, thrones of Satan (as I write tomorrow we visit Pergamum which was the Asian centre of Imperial worship, the throne of Satan). These places are dangerous and lethal, but we must be engaged. The idols of pop culture are also danger points – sport, music, visual entertainment etc.

Aside from students knowing the gospel and being sold out for it, the key for Laidlaw in my view is character formation – building young men and women of character who know the gospel, can walk the tightropes that await them in every part of God’s great world, corrupted as it is by the things I have written of above. These are places we want people. The Church must support them big time, gather around them, equip them, pray, and ensure they are not isolated and picked off.

The church lies at the centre of all this for me despite its struggles. Gatherings of God’s people who spend their weeks engaged in family, society and work. They build one another up as they go, praying and strengthening them for cosmic transformation.

We must all reject the lure of the ways of the world that corrupted the faith in Christendom, which empowered the Greeks, Romans and Ottomans. God’s way is to change the world through a crucified and resurrected church.


Postscript:

Emma and I are very glad to be out of Istanbul at present after the Israeli attack. It must be even more frenetic.