Month: September 2013

why I’m giving up on Q&A

I have a confession to make.

I’m giving up on Q&A.

Yes – I know it’s the ABC’s flagship talk show. I know it’s all about giving different views a hearing. About that all-Australian virtue of giving each other ‘a fair go’.

But it never fails to make me angry. And sick.

Q&A has this aura of respectability and seriousness. As its
About page
states, Q&A is hosted by one the ABC’s most respected journalists – Tony Jones.

But every time I watch it, I can’t get over how deliberately it’s been set up to amplify conflict. And ultimately how it plays to the worst elements in contemporary media culture.

All of which has got me thinking about the deep connections between our modern Western notions of fairness — the distinctively Australian “egalitarian and larrikin spirit” boasted of on Q&A’s About page — and the way we’re increasingly held hostage to the sound bit and the scandal.

The aspirations of ‘serious journalism’ are well-known — and easy enough to sympathise with: present both sides of the story, give everyone a hearing, don’t jump to conclusions.

And such aspirations have traditionally been opposed to the stomach-churning stuff that typically dominates the tabloids — manufactured drama and conflict, rumour and innuendo, or playing up anything that might give a hook for a story (‘Wow – does Celebrity X’s choice of loose-fitting clothes conceal a baby bump?’).

But Q&A manages to bring them both together.

In doing so, I wonder if it’s the perfect apotheosis of our media culture?

Does Q&A expose the inner unity of the journalistic drive towards ‘fairness’ and the tabloid impulse towards ratings?

And hold up a mirror to the ugliness in our hearts in the process?

Or maybe that’s too dramatic…

information vs inclination

I’ve been chewing on Luke 16.19-31 — you know, the passage where Jesus tells the story of the rich man and Lazarus. And it’s really stimulating me as I think about the dynamics of spiritual growth.

I’m particularly stirred up by the response Jesus tells us Abraham makes to the rich man when asked if he can dispatch Lazarus to warn his family:

‘Father,’ he said, ‘then I beg you to send him to my father’s house — because I have five brothers — to warn them, so they won’t also come to this place of torment.’

But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’

‘No, father Abraham,’ he said. ‘But if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

But he told him, ‘If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.’ (Luke 16:27-31 HCSB)

Talk about a shut down!

It’s possible to understand Abraham’s dramatic final shut down in terms of information.

Understood this way, Abraham’s response would travel along the lines of: “Unless they understand the Old Testament background and promise that would give significance to a person rising from death, they won’t be convinced to repent”.

However, I’m thinking that what Abraham’s saying is not so much about information as inclination.

That is to say, understanding ‘Moses and the prophets’ — ie. the Old Testament context — is barely even half the job. Far more important is believing what they say.

For the rich man, it’s not so much an issue of ignorance or misunderstanding as of hardness of heart. (Of course, ignorance and misunderstanding may be wrapped up with this hard-heartedness. But it’s ultimately a matter of trust.)

This lines up with the verdict the writer of Hebrew’s passes on the generation of Israelites who were rescued from Egypt but never entered the promised land — “they were unable to enter because of unbelief” (Hebrews 3.19).

And this is so often still the case when we sin or fail to grow and mature.

It’s our unbelief that lurks behind it — even our unwillingness to believe.

It’s rooted in the fact that we don’t trust Jesus to provide those things we’re accustomed to getting some other way: our sense of completeness, worth, security, or acceptance.

We’re afraid that he won’t deliver. Or that he can’t. At least, not on schedule.

Because, ultimately, we’re not inclined to trust him. Which is why even a spectacular demonstration of his reliability — or his provision and attention to our needs — can fail to win our allegiance.

If we don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, we will not be persuaded — even if someone rises from the dead!

A Thorn In Our Collective Flesh?

A Disappointing Choice

Maybe it’s unnecessarily dark and dramatic. But I’m starting to think of tomorrow’s federal election a bit like this:

“So that I would not exalt myself, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to torment me so I would not exalt myself.” (2 Corinthians 12:7 HCSB)

You may have seen the Cathy Wilcox political cartoon doing the rounds of social media — the one with voters marking their ballot papers from ‘least disappointing’ through to ‘most disappointing’.

It captures how many of my friends are feeling about tomorrow’s federal election.

Tomorrow Australia chooses.

But by almost any measure, it’s a pretty disappointing choice.

A Thorn In The Flesh?

Which brings me to Paul’s thorn — and how this election and its aftermath might be the thorn in our collective flesh.

Whether it was a physical illness or a ‘spiritual’ condition (a besetting sin Paul was struggling with perhaps), it’s clear that Paul regarded this thorn as an unpleasant imposition. He calls it “a messenger of Satan”. And pleads for God to remove it. Repeatedly.

In short, it doesn’t exactly make Paul’s list of Awesome Stuff I Hoped Would Happen To Me.

And yet Paul could also see that God was using his thorn.

He could see God’s hand in it. See how God was humbling him. And teaching him about the sufficiency of his grace, and about his all-surpassing strength in the midst of Paul’s weakness.

Learning From The Thorn

I hope it’s not too much of a stretch to say that tomorrow’s election — and whatever government it delivers us — doesn’t exactly make my list of Awesome Stuff I Hope Would Happen To Me.

I may not be quite ready to assign it a satanic origin. But it sure feels like a thorn in our collective flesh.

Which leads me to think that maybe we need to start asking the kind of ‘What could God be teaching us?’ questions that Paul asks.

So here’s my list (for what it’s worth). Maybe you could add to it?

1. It could remind us of the ‘imperfectability’ of human leadership

We need to smash the idol of human leadership that grips the hearts of Australians.

Don’t believe me that we idolise our leaders? Think we’re too cynical for that?

Actually, our cynicism just proves it. We’re cynical because we’ve set our hopes unrealistically high.

Our crushing disappointment reveals that most of us want our leaders to do far more for us than simply administer justice. Instead, we want them to fill our lives. Give us peace. Security. Hope. Salvation even.

Maybe this election will be a good thing because it will sear the lesson into us that human leadership is not only imperfect but imperfectable!

2. It could help us rediscover the breadth of public life

Maybe the results of this election will force us not just to nod our heads to but to actively embrace the fact that, as
Michael Allison and Richard Glover
put it, “politics is about more than voting, governments and governors. Politics is primarily about citizenship – how you conduct yourself in the community.”

Wouldn’t it be awesome if we went back to advocating for stuff we cared about the old fashioned way?

Not by ‘outsourcing our values’ — e.g., by voting in a candidate or party we want to perfectly represent our concerns. But by pitching in together. Using our different gifts. And making our legislators listen to us.

Are you any good at research? Good! Use your abilities to do some research about the things that matter to you — say … the economic value of resettling asylum seekers.

Any good at communications? Great! Turn the research your sisters and brothers produce into something compelling that wins hearts — and a hearing in Canberra.

At the very least, start talking to your local member not just whinging about whichever party they represent!

3. It could drive us to prayerful witness — maybe even martyrdom

Ultimately, Paul’s thorn to teach him that God’s grace was sufficient, God’s strength made perfect in our weakness.

It forced him to look away from himself and to the Lord — drawing others’ eyes there in the process.

And maybe the outcome of Saturday’s election could do something like that for us.

What if having some of our key concerns marginalised drove Christians in our nation to prayer?

To call upon the Lord instead of looking to ourselves — our influence, insight and strategy — to make things right.

To cry “Come, Lord Jesus” instead of plotting the second coming of Christendom in Australia.

Even to risk social (if not literal) death in order to testify to the perfect, just and compassionate rule of our Risen Lord instead of desperately trying to bend the instrumentality of our society’s organisation towards our ideas of justice and compassion.

Marginalisation won’t be fun. Neither was Paul’s thorn.

But a thorn in our collective flesh might be exactly what we need to rediscover that God’s grace is sufficient for us, and his strength is made perfect in weakness…

they always told me that practice makes perfect

I’m continuing to wrestle with the dynamics of spiritual growth. Namely, how do we get on board with the Spirit’s work in ‘perfecting’ (or maturing) God’s people in Christ?

So I really enjoyed this article by Michael R. Emlet
from the Journal Of Biblical Counseling that Matt flicked me.

Emlet is a Christian counsellor who has been stimulated by engaging with James K. A. Smith’s book Desiring The Kingdom.

I love where he lands in this article. I think it’s roughly where I’m up to with Smith’s stuff (just substitute ‘preachers’ or ‘ministers’ for ‘counselors’ in the following paragraph):

So, how do we grow in Christ? How does change happen? Do our desires shape our practices or do our practices shape our desires? Does what we love drive our actions or do our actions drive what we love? Do we grow by examining the direction of our desires and why they lead to certain practices, or by engaging in certain practices that aim the direction of our desires toward God? The answer is, yes and yes! We biblical counselors are more accustomed to travel in one direction on these questions -— i.e., certain thoughts and desires drive certain actions—but James Smith reminds us that spiritual transformation is a two-way street.

They always told me that practice makes perfect. And maybe they were right!