Thursday, March 27, 2014

Ukraine: Back to the "Good ol' Days" -- Not

Currently I am working on a book project in which I discuss the ancient patterns of power based on military might and then explore Mark’s Gospel from that perspective. The ancient world was premised on warrior rulers who dominated by the spear and sword, a world of swirling empires. Israel was a part of this with its expectations of a military intervention of God directly or his agent (e.g. Messiah, Prophet, Son of Man, Elect One, etc). They dreamed that God would come and establish his global “Empire” in Jerusalem and the world would be subjugated to him. They had no notion of this without force even though their Scriptures, albeit cryptically and hidden amidst visions of carnage, foretold one who would come as a Servant who would die on behalf of the world (Ps 22; Isa 53). Israel’s actual experience was one of being buffeted by a series of contending powerful dynastic empires whether Egypt, the Philistines, Assyria, Babylon, the Medo-Persians, the Greeks, and at the time of Christ, the Romans. Aside from a brief respite in the Maccabean era, which eventually included their own quickly corrupted Hasmonean dynasty, they were subjected to such forces.

Now we have the Ukrainian situation going on. In one corner we have the Europeans supported by the circling eagle (a key symbol of Rome), the USA, and others like the Aussies and little old NZ. I can’t help laughing as I see our own John Key working the room and pressing the flesh with the big guns and making public proclamations against the Russians. Seriously John, you crack me up. At best we are a pimple on the rump of the western plutocracy! In the other corner, there the Russians, led by Vlad Putin, desperate to demonstrate his power and for Russia to regain former “glories.” In the middle is the Ukraine.

For the west the situation is simple, Putin is a despot. He has broken international law invading a sovereign state. He is a criminal. They can’t do anything much about it though, cause Vlad is armed to the hilt and a war with Russia could mean nuclear holocaust. He also has some powerful friends or potential friends who will give him a hand if it gets dicey, like the Chinese, the North Vietnamese, and the Iranians. Further, his rich Oligarch mates, are important to western economies so we can’t do more than a limp slap on the hand or they will pull their money. And then our empire will start to fall!
For the Russians, what has happened is great. After all, Crimea is mainly Russian (thanks to Stahlin etc), and should be part of Russia. As with Georgia, he is merely taking back what was “always” Russia. And he did it almost without bloodshed, simply sending in troops, a non-violent take over! And doesn’t the west supposedly like non-violent take overs (woops, forgot about Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Libya, the list goes on). His coup de grĂ¢ce is getting the parliament and then the population of Crimea to “democratically” choose to go with Russia. Go Vlad they might say. Russia is rising again, praise God (!). And all the while messing with pan-western notions of non-violent democracy. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

In reality the whole thing is a political mess and not at all black and white. For years Ukraine, like Palestine/Israel past and present, has been swept up in political tug o’ war in WWII, its aftermath, the Cold War, and now. Since it became a “democratic” sovereign state in 1990 its internal politics have been heavily influenced by both the west and Russians with rigged elections, presidents deposed, and “sides” vying for Ukrainian support.  

Whatever the rights and lefts of the situation, we have here a classic example of a world of colliding empires. This continues the human story since time immemorial. After all, last century we saw two World Wars, the rise and “fall” of Communism, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Mugabe, and more. This century, it goes on. I am baffled by those who, still living in our own “pax-Augusta” the after-glow of Colonialism (“pax-Colonia”), are surprised that this is happening “in the 21st century.” Really? This has happened since humans arrived on the scene, or before in our evolutionary past. We only live like in our nice sweet societies cause we plundered a whole lot of indigenous peoples leading to such lovely societies. It goes on. It is the quest for power. Ironically, the only thing seemingly holding back devastation is the fear of WMDs. Or is it God? Mmmm. Anyway, it is only a matter of time before someone pushes the boundaries and we see carnage as we have never seen it before.

Jesus came to end all this futility. Expected to storm Jerusalem, he entered as a king and died as a slave humiliated on a cross. He died at the hands of despotic violence. He did it to end violence. He did it to show what true humanity and true divinity looks like. It looks like service and love. It is possible when we yield to him. Without him, it is just a matter of time. Sadly, we are forgetting this story in the west. Where we remember this story, we often corrupt it with false notions of power and dominion. That’s why we should be wary at looking to the church as it stands to “get it.” Look to Jesus. Look to the story. We all, Christian or otherwise, need to get back to basics, re-read the story and grasp it at its deepest point. The “deep magic” of the universe is non-violent service, humble love, mercy and compassion, finding the other way. That magic is released when we yield to the One who showed us that way, humble Jesus of Nazareth who is really Israel’s king, the Christ, and the World’s King, Lord Almighty, God the Son. And we need to live that yielded life every moment of every day and seeking the path of peace in our marriages, families, communities, governments, nations, and even if we encounter extra-terrestrials. Can we do it? Mmmmm...

A Nun Who Can Sing! Why are we Surprised?

I am very interested in the global interest in the new singing sensation from Italy’s version of The Voice. For those who haven’t seen it, she turned up on stage, all dressed in her nun’s outfit, and turned out to be brilliant, cool, and hip. In the Voice, the judges all hear the singers “blind” and all turned wanting her in their teams. They were all shocked to see it was a nun with this “voice of an angel.” You can see for yourself here ( The thing is, why are we surprised? Just because a person is a Nun, doesn’t mean they can’t sing. The same reaction came with Susan Boyle when she turned up on “Britain’s Got Talent” and sang the house down. Susan doesn’t fit the image bill at all either.  

What gets me is why people are surprised. There seems to be an underlying presupposition in our society’s mythical sub-structure that it is the young, hot, and “cool” who can sing and act. So, when someone comes along who breaks the mould, like Susan Boyle, or a Nun, people get shocked and it goes viral. As I see it, the world of media and arts, funded by the moguls who know that hot people help them make more money, have created this myth by making Hollywood and the music industry a place where image dominates. In fact, a lot of those who “make it” are not that good, but they look good and that is what matters. And unsurprisingly, but sadly, most people like looking at people who look good. We become so shaped by this as we grow up, we are unaware of it. So, when someone like Sister Cristina Scuccia turns up, we get shocked. Because we are inadvertently shaped by an underlying narrative that young, hot, and cool is where it is at. We also don’t expect that a person dressed like a nun can really sing – despite Julie Andrews and Sister Act.

I would imagine, in a world with 1.2 billion Catholics, there are plenty of Nuns who could sing the house down. They just have better and more important things to do. There are a myriad of Susan Boyles out there too. There are lots of older people who can sing, but they don’t fit the story.

What I do like about shows like the Voice and the “…Got Talent” is that they break the underlying narrative that so-called beauty is important and allow some to break through. As someone like this wonderful singer turns up, the narrative is broken as it goes global. May it come to pass that we live in a visual media that is not dominated by the young, hip, and hot. For that to happen, a lot of people in the industry have to be prepared to break the narrative. Some will take a financial hit to do so I suppose. But may more and more do it. And may we as consumers become a lot more thoughtful about what we allow to shape us. We can turn our back on that part of our modern story by being aware of when we are being played by young, hot, and cool, and turning it off in favour of things that have some depth and reality.

I hope this Nun wins, but doesn’t kick the Habit, continues to care for those in need, and helps chip away at the narrative.