Sunday, 4 July 2010

What do homosexuals really want?

Just about a week ago my hometown saw the third ever gay march take place in Bulgaria. Also, visiting several Central and Eastern European countries in the past month or so, I have been able to observe and read reactions to gay marches taking place in these countries as well. In light of that, the title above is not a rhetorical question at all. I've been truly wondering about what it is that gay and lesbian people hope to achieve through their marches...

These last two days I've been reading P. D. James' "The Private Patient" (Faber and Faber, 2008) and noticed the following two interesting passages regarding the topic at hand.

I don't see the point of it. If I were heterosexual you wouldn't expect me to go marching down the high street to proclaim that I was straight. Why do we need to do it? Isn't the whole point that we have a perfect right to be what we are? We don't need to justify it, or advertise it, or proclaim it to the world. I don't see why my sexuality should be of interest to antone except you. (Marcus Westhall, a homosexual responding to his gay partner's entreaties to join him in a gay march.)

It must seem perverse in us to tie a legal knot when you heteros are scrambling in thousands to divorce, or living together without benefit of marriage. We were perfectly happy as we were but we needed to ensure that each is the other's recognized next of kin. If Annie is ever in hospital, I need to be there. And then there's the property. If I die first, it must go untaxed to Annie. I expect she'll spend most of it on lame ducks but that's up to her. It won't be wasted. Annie is very wise. People think that our partnership lasts because I'm the stronger and Annie needs me. Actually the reverse is true, and you're one of the rare people who've seen that from the start. Thank you for being with us today. (Clara, a lesbian and friend of his wife-to-be Emma, adressing Commander Adam Dalgliesh.)

In fact, I've encountered quite a number of homosexual characters in the novels that I read (Ruth Rendell's "End in Tears", Patricia Cornwell's "Book of the Dead" and "Scarpetta", and John Grisham's collection of short-stories "Ford County" are just a few that come to mind). It's made me realize how far behind our Bulgarian society really is. (A fact about which I'm not altogether sorry.) The issue of homosexuals and their civil rights remains to be decided in my country and the time is ripe for questions.

One can read more about the latest "gay pride" march at the following links:
- Sofia Pride (article in Wikipedia)

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Is it wrong to be ambitious? John Stott on ambition

Below is an excerpt from John R. W. Stott's popular commentary on Jesus' "Sermon on the Mount" (The Message of the Sermon on the Mount: Christian Counter-Culture (The Bible Speaks Today series), Inter-Varsity Press, 1978). I first started studying Jesus' "hill discourse" back in 1999 or 2000 and it literally shaped my views of life and Christianity. John Stott's was the first commentary I read in the course of my studies. I still highly recommend it!

     Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.
     Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day's own trouble be sufficient for the day. (Matthew 6:25-34, RSV)

     It is pity that this passage is often read on its own in church, isolated from what has gone before. Then the significance of the introductory Therefore I tell you is missed. So we must begin by relating this ‘therefore’, this conclusion of Jesus, to the teaching which has led up to it. He calls us to thought before he calls us to action. He invites us to look clearly and coolly at the alternatives before us and to weigh them up carefully. We want to accumulate treasure? Then which of the two possibilities is the more durable? We wish to be free and purposive in our movements? Then what must our eyes be like to facilitate this? We wish to serve the best master? Then we must consider which is more worthy of our devotion. Only when we have grasped with our minds the comparative durability of the two treasures (corruptible and incorruptible), the comparative usefulness of the two eye conditions (light or darkness) and the comparative worth of the two masters (God or mammon), are we ready to make our choice. And only when we have made our choice - for heavenly treasure, for light, for God - therefore I tell you this is how you must go on to behave: do not be anxious about your life . . . nor about your body . . . But seek first his kingdom  and his righteousness (25, 33). In other words, our basic choice of which of two masters we intend to serve will radically affect our attitude to both. We shall not be anxious about the one (for we have rejected it), but concentrate our mind and energy on the other (for we have chosen him); we shall refuse to become engrossed in our own concerns, but instead seek first the concerns of God.
     Christ’s language of search (contrasting what the Gentiles seek with what his followers are to seek first, 32, 33) introduces us to the subject of ambition. Jesus took it for granted that all human beings are ‘seekers’. It is not natural for people to drift aimlessly through life like plankton. We need something to live for, something to give meaning to our existence, something to ‘seek’, something on which to set our ‘hearts’ (JBP) and our ‘minds’ (JB). Although few people today would use the language of ancient Greek philosophers, yet what we are seeking is, in fact, what they called ‘the Supreme Good’ to which to dedicate our lives. Probably ‘ambition’ is the best modern equivalent. True, in dictionary terms it means ‘a strong desire to achieve success’ and therefore often has a bad image, a selfish flavour. It is in this sense that Shakespeare in his King Henry VIII brings this appeal to Thomas Cromwell: ‘Cromwell, I charge thee, fling away Ambition. By that sin fell the angels ...’ But ‘ambition’ can equally refer to other strong desires - unselfish rather than selfish, godly rather than worldly. In a word, it is possible to be ‘ambitious for God’. Ambition concerns our goals in life and our incentives for pursuing them. A person’s ambition is what makes him ‘tick’: it uncovers the mainspring of his actions, his secret inner motivation. This, then, is what Jesus was talking about when he defined what in the Christian counter-culture we are to ‘seek first’.
     Once again our Lord simplifies the issue for us by reducing the alternatives possible life-goals to only two. He puts them over against each other in this section, urging his followers not to be preoccupied with their own security (food, drink, and clothing), for that is the obsession of ‘the Gentiles’ who do not know him, but rather with God’s rule and God’s righteousness, and with their spread and triumph in the world.

(John R. W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount: Christian Counter-Culture (The Bible Speaks Today series), Inter-Varsity Press, 1978), pp. 159-161.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

What do we do about poverty and affluence?

In the aftermath of the “global financial crisis” many Christians in the so called “West” have began to pay careful attention to the way they handle their finances. Many Christian organizations have made available teaching resources and tools to help people get out of debt. (Of course, the organization that I work for has been doing this for more than 30 years now.) Overall, I am happy with this development. It has the potential to make us all think harder about our responsibility as stewards. (And according to the Bible it seems very clear that whatever else our purpose in life is, we will always remain stewards – bearing the responsibility to take care of all that God has given us – time, talents, resources and the earth.)

Nevertheless, I am concerned that a lot of this newly-revived attention to money-management remains very selfish. Indeed, it is my observation that most people are now interested to become better stewards of money not because of a desire to grow ever more generous, but because of facing the reality of decreasing wealth. Our understanding of stewardship needs to be much more broader than just managing a budget or “tithing”. Therefore, I have made it my personal goal to study as in depth as possible the biblical “theology of stewardship”. This blog may likely serve as my notebook.

Yesterday, I stumbled onto a lecture Marvin Olasky gave as part of the Cedarville University Critical Concern Series. The lecture is titled “A critical evaluation of Christian responses to poverty and affluence”. Olasky’s lecture is his initial contribution to the moderated discussion between him and Jim Wallis that took place on 11th March 2010. (Click on the links below to download the two parts.)

Marvin Olasky – A critical evaluation of Christian responses to poverty and affluence (part one)
Marvin Olasky – A critical evaluation of Christian responses to poverty and affluence (part two)

In the first part of the recording, Olasky argues for the biblical emphasis on righteousness and justice in contrast to the liberals’ emphasis on equality. In the second part he highlights the contrast between compassion and equality, arguing that historically North American church groups have been more effective in battling poverty through compassionate care (that treats the individual in need as someone who could contribute to their own betterment) rather than an ideal of equality. Please find more information on the aforementioned discussion in the links section below. Unfortunately, so far I haven’t been able to find the recording of Jim Wallis’ contribution freely available online.

LINKS: - Marvin Olasky’s podcasts – information about the discussion between Wallis and Olasky at Cedarville University – resources related to the discussion – schedule of the event (PDF) - purchase the recording of the whole event

Friday, 5 March 2010

Tell me who owns you, baby…

The following paragraph is an excerpt from Ben Witherington’s most recent book that I am now reading. I would be posting my review once I have finished it but suffice to say it is an important addition to the multitude of Christian and - more specifically - Evangelical books on the Biblical teachings on money. While most other books with similar intentions are based on a superficial interpretation of the Bible and scant knowledge of systematic (or biblical) theology, and are often more indebted to their authors’ cultural background, here Ben Witherington III applies his expertise in New testament studies and biblical theology and attempts to read the relevant texts with a view of their original cultural setting and the way they were possibly understood by the original intended audience. I highly recommend this short but important book!

“In modern Western culture we place a high value on work, which is fine, but one of the philosophical assumptions that can come with such values is that we assume that we own what we earn or buy. From a biblical point of view this is extremely problematic. There isn't any necessary correlation between hard work and ownership. Think, for example, of all the hard work that went into building the pyramids in Egypt. Most of the workers were slaves, and they had no delusions that because they built the pyramids they owned the pyramids. No, they believed that both the pyramids and they themselves belonged to Pharaoh! In this sense (excepting of course that Pharaoh is not God), they had a more biblical worldview of work than most of us do. Our hard work may be well rewarded or not. It may produce prosperity or not. But until we see all that we receive, whether by earning it or receiving it without work, as a gift from God, a gift we should use knowing who the true owner of the gift is, we will not be thinking biblically about such matters.”

From Ben Witherington III, “Jesus and Money: A Guide for Times of Financial Crisis” (Brazos Press, 2010), p. 19

* The title comes from a song (“Who Owns You”) by the American rock group White Heart.