What Signs Do You See?

We were driving in country Victoria on our way between regional towns in the midst of a holiday.  The car was packed and there was an infant and toddler in the backseat.  As I drove, listening to a music cassette (it was 20 years ago), chatting with Susan and watching for the next turn off, the signs began.  First the cassette slowed down and became a drawly low song.  We turned it off.  The air conditioner began to splutter so we turned it off and left the fan on until it too began to splutter.  We turned all the accessories off and with anxious and intense uncertainty drove on.  Lights on the dashboard came on and I knew we had trouble but the car kept going – for a bit.  Gradually we lost power and the car began to slow down and we coasted to a stop.

I had no idea what was wrong or what to do.  It was the era before mobile phones were generally available and we were in the middle of nowhere.  I went looking but there were no houses nearby.  Fortunately a driver came by and stopped.  He was a businessman with a car phone and called the NRMA who eventually came and towed us to the next town for a replacement alternator.  I had not really known much about the alternator at that time.  It was a quick lesson and one which was absolute. When the alternator was replaced (a few hours) we were on our way again and all was good.

The thing I remember vividly were the signs.  The slowing of the cassette player.  The spluttering of the air conditioner and fan.  The dashboard lights and then the failing engine.  These signs came and I didn’t know what they meant, where they pointed.  I couldn’t read the signs that were very real.  Now I know.

I am reminded of the signs that are very present within life and the world.  There are many signs that warn or point the way.  There are signs that advertise and highlight.  There are signs that promote and advertise.  There are signs that demand attention and those we can ignore.  There are signs are the warnings that something is wrong in my body – such as the neck and shoulder pain I have been experiencing and for which I have been receiving treatment.  There are the warning signs in blood tests or the bathroom scales.  Around the home there are many signs to remind me of work that needs to be done or maintenance required.  There are signs in my life that things are too busy and getting out of control or I am stressed and need to take time out or a different approach.  I turned up to a shop the other day and the sign said ‘Closed’ even though it was still early.  Today I will look to the Southern skies for signs of the Southerly change that is anticipated – I will wait with eagerness.

There are signs in our world, signs of angst, anger, struggle, pain, hatred and it results in conflict and violence.  The violence in Beirut, Paris, Mali, Syria, Turkey… points to something deeper and more profoundly wrong than most of us realise.  There are many different signs that revolve around these issues, alerting us to deeper issues and pain.  For the most part we are ignorant of the signs and keep doing what we do and have done.  The cycles of violence and hatred go unchecked and spiral downwards into more and more chaos.  Our reading this week on the first week of Advent is Luke 21:25-36.  It speaks of signs in the skies above, the sun and the moon… These are apocalyptic signs warning of events and changes all around us.  They point to things that are big and difficult, world-shattering events that challenge us, perhaps threaten us.  The issues in world affairs, of wars and conflict are big and significant.  There are other signs in the world, especially in the environment.  There is heating of the planet that is creating profound environmental effects across the globe.  Changes in weather patterns are indeed becoming more extreme and difficult.  Floods, blizzards, severe heat and droughts are increasing in intensity across the earth.  The thawing of polar ice caps indicates the warming we are experiencing and points to significant problems.  Our near neighbours in the South Pacific are concerned about their future.  They are reading the signs.  Gradually the developed nations of earth are beginning to read the signs and take them more seriously.

This is what Jesus’ words point to.  There are signs in the earth and sky, within our cultures and nations.  There are signs within our own beings as we feel the anxiety and intensity of change in the world around.  But how do we react and respond to these signs in the world and in our lives?

Jesus warns of being distracted such that we miss the signs.  Have you ever been driving along looking for a road sign to point the way but are momentarily distracted and miss the sign?  Distraction is a major problem especially in a society where distraction through addictive lifestyle is rampant.  We are distracted by the issues that surround us, big and small.  We are distracted by TV and the more superficial issues presented through that entertainment medium.  We are distracted by our rampant desire to won more and accumulate stuff and then protect it at all costs.  We tend to be distracted by many things that aren’t necessarily important and miss the big signs in the world around.  Eat, drink and party, party, party is another form of distraction that allows us to avoid the truth contained in the signs – for us and the world.

Jesus invites us to keep watch and be alert, to be open to the signs around us.  These signs aren’t all negative or overwhelmingly difficult.  Some of the signs point us to deeper experiences of life.  All around us are signs of God’s Presence that are filled with wonder and joy.  I go for walks around the local creek and see the trees, flowers, birds and the creek over mini rapids.  The buzz of insects and the occasional water dragon or blue tongue lizard are wondrous.  Sometimes I stop and just look because it is wondrous, a sign of goodness, love and life.  I am reminded through these signs that God is love and despite the mess we sometimes make of the world, there is beauty and wonder and life in the embrace of God’s love is rich and deep.

There are signs that remind us life is to be lived in community because that is how we are made.  Moving beyond our petty jealousies and conflicts to value other people for who they are and to value the common experience of sharing life together is vital.  I am reminded in our pets that humans are not the only species, nor the most important – we all share this world together and other species enrich my life!  More than that, I am dependent upon other creatures and the rest of creation for my own well-being.

There are signs in our lives and we are reminded to open our eyes, ears and being to behold the signs, the warnings, the pointers, the wonder and the life in God’s world. As we make our journey to Christmas may we live with these signs, behold their promise or warning and live wisely with each other before God who is love.

By geoffstevenson

What is Truth?

Social media, along with conventional media have been flooded with a variety of responses to the terror experienced by Parisians last weekend.  Those who are in touch with broader realities and world events also highlighted the much neglected terror in Beirut the week earlier.  Others called to mind the incomprehensible horror of the Nigerian massacre that barely received attention early this year.  Of course, the Kenya massacre comes to mind but it is hard to register these events because they do not threaten Western sensibilities.

Let me be clear:  The events in Paris are an hideous evil that confronts every sense of justice, life and hope that we want to hold dear.  The perpetrators committed acts of evil that deserve justice.  There can be no justification for cold murder and the terrorising of innocent people! Anywhere!  The trouble is that we have elevated Paris events to an extreme level.  Why are there prayer services for Parisians but not Lebanese?  I have been encouraged to don the colours of La Tricolore on facebook in solidarity with the French people.  Nothing wrong with solidarity but why am I not implored to be in solidarity with the Lebanese people, or Nigerians or Kenyans or even Syrians?

Another harsh reality in this whole situation is that despite the loss of over 100 lives (an awful number) this pales before the suffering and death in so many countries of   Middle East (and elsewhere) where equally innocent people have been killed through terror – whether through terrorist organisations or state-sponsored military attacks.  It is really hard for us to understand the reality of what is happening in other parts of the world.  We do not experience the fractured power struggles within our nation that result in armed conflict.  We don’t live under oppressive regimes (although some Aboriginal activists might beg to differ).  We simply do not live where the implications of foreign policies of the world’s powers have catastrophic impact on ordinary people.

When the Twin Towers were brought down in that obscenely horrific terrorist attack on New York, an enormous number of people died – 3000+ is enormous by our understanding.  The Western sense of the world changed immediately.  The most powerful nation on earth was brought to its knees by a very small terrorist group.  After a brief period of grief and reflection, the US led the way in vengeance and revenge.  They called it justice but it was a state-sponsored invasion that terrorised largely innocent people.  Reports indicate that in Iraq alone the casualties are between 100,000 and 500,000 people.  Millions have been impacted and for what?  This piece of foreign policy has destabilised the Middle East.  Afghanistan is a mess through the vacuum of power created through our invasion.  The truth that we don’t want to recognise is that our nation has been part of terrorising innocent people.  The story of Dr Munjed Al Muderis, a world renowned orthopaedic specialist working in Sydney, is shockingly revealing of the suffering he and his people experienced in the years of war in Iraq.

ISIS and other terrorist organisations are truly evil in what they do and they perpetuate this evil as the cycle of action and reaction escalates throughout the Middle East and there is a vacuum of alternative options.  Somewhere in the distant past I learned quickly that if I retaliate unwisely, someone will come back at me more powerfully and I will either need to run or gather a stronger group.  This is what is happening but we don’t see it.  There are vested interests in fighting; bringing out bigger artillery, more guns or using guerrilla tactics.  Too many commentators are telling us that the strategies of the West are ignorant.  We are not learning the lessons that are before our eyes.  We are inadvertently creating the environment for young men who are filled with extreme rage because they feel an intense injustice of the suffering they and their people have experienced.  We can see elements of this in a local high school where poverty or social disadvantage abound and disenfranchised young people (predominantly male) rage.  They feel everyone is against them and rage against authority and symbols of persecution as they understand it.  Anti-social groups attract them.

I was dismayed when France declared that they would launch immediate war against terror and then launched air strikes on Syria.  Who are they actually targeting?  What will more bloodshed achieve?  Why can’t we see that this only ratchets up the cycle of hatred and terror.  Surely we need another way!

This week we read a strange passage (John 18:33-37).  It is where Jesus comes before Pilate to be tried and sentenced to death.  Only Pilate can do this because he represents the power of Rome and the Emperor.  He seems to understand that this is politically motivated and that Jesus is not deserving of death.  He questions Jesus about being a king, as his enemies insist he has claimed.  The accusation of kingship brings Jesus into a confrontation with the powers of Rome.  Jesus is mysterious in his reply and we have this strange interaction:

‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’ Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’

Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?’

Jesus Reign is different to the powers and principalities of this world.  If it were the same his followers would use violence to liberate him.  He also comes to testify to the truth but Pilate wants to know what truth is.  The truth of Jesus is that there is another way, a way that is grounded within our being as love.  It is a way we know when we stop and go deep within our being to the deepest places where our yearning and hopes emerge.  We yearn for liberation and peace for ourselves and for those we love.  We don’t seek harm or strife upon others but would simply like to live peacefully with all people.  We want to know the deepest peace within our being and we want it more than we realise! We don’t find joy in the pain inflicted on other people and hide from the harsh realities of innocent victims who are like us.  We don’t understand people who are different and we are afraid and seek to lay blame.  This is what happened to Jesus when the religious leaders feared what might happen if Jesus’ way became real for everyone.  The status quo of their world would change and it was a fearful thing.

Jesus’ way is love.  Yes it is naïve and simplistic and all those things that people say.  Yes it is also dangerous because some who show such love have been killed.  But I truly wonder what other option we have as a human race.  The status quo is not working!

By geoffstevenson

Creative Chaos vs the Tenacious Status Quo…

A casino will always survive and flourish as long as there are players who have money to lose and prepared to lose it.  There will always be a net flow of money from the body of players to the casino, even though individual players may leave on any one occasion with a net win.  I suppose that this seems obvious but a young scientist in the mid-19th century explained the universe in such terms.  Rudolf Clausius studied thermodynamics, the movement of heat from a hot object to a colder one.  Heat only ever travelled in that direction unless a specific machine imposed itself on the process.  A refrigerator, for example, reversed this process by using heat to create cold in a small part of the universe.  Never-the-less, the overall state of the universe was towards cooling and it requires the input of heat from the atomic reactions in the sun to keep the earth warm.  All of this is called entropy.  It is part of what is called the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, an important law that explains much about life.

Young Clausius realised that everything is moving towards an end goal.  The universe is always cooling down and there will be a time when there is no more heat generated and a peaceful, gentle balance will be found and the universe will cease to be.  He recognised that is the process in all life that we know.  Humans need the various chemical reactions within our bodies to generate heat and fuel life.  When they are no longer viable for whatever reason, life will cease to exist within our body and death ensues.  We can extrapolate this into a variety of experiences of our lives.  For example, one of the articles that stimulated my thinking around this was an article on Entropy and Football.  It speaks about football (soccer, although I imagine it may apply to other codes and sports) and how Entropy, which is also a measure of disorder, and chaos, is always part of any game.  A highly ordered game between 2 teams is impossible and would be exceedingly boring.  It is the introduction of creative or unpredictable chaos and disorder that provides moments of life and possibility.  When a player does the unexpected or the ball takes an unpredictable, unexpected bounce new possibilities are introduced and the game takes on new life.  Clausius might suggest that the game needs heat to be generated within the team to create life in the game or death proceeds.

Likewise in organisations, people groups, communities and even families.  We mostly seek some sentimental ‘peacefulness’ and most people would prefer the cages not to be rattled.  It is precisely when chaos and disorder is introduced, when someone leads others in reacting against the predictable status quo that new possibilities emerge and life is lived.  For individuals, the unpredictable is often painful and confronting but it introduces ‘heat’ into the system of our being.  The possibility of growth and new life emerges within the chaos.  The processes of change in species through natural selection are predicated on mutations introduced into the DNA of an organism.  These changes in DNA throw up all sorts of new possibilities for good or bad.  It is this unpredictability that provides the chaotic spark of possibility for new characteristics in an organism. Such chaos and disorder within organisations such as the church is also the impetus for transformation and new life.

A colleague recently helped me understand another law: ‘The Elegant Tenacity of the Status Quo.’  He explained it by saying that the ‘powers that be’ hold tenaciously to the way things are because it suits those powers.  All the forces of an organisation or society will hold onto that which is because it is in their interests.  Changing this status quo is indeed very difficult.  When we hold these ideas of Entropy and the tenacious hold of the status quo together we may realise that whilst ever the status quo generates enough energy to keep things as they are, it will stay the same.  BUT that supply of energy will eventually decline and the status quo will cease to be – as will any organisation dependent upon it.

In short I realised that the harder we work to resist change, the more we will lock ourselves into the processes of dying.  The more we hold onto that which is, or was, the more we will feed the entropic processes drawing heat from the system and we will eventually die.  It is the way of the world.  Animals and species that cannot adapt quickly enough die off.  Organisations that cling to what was/is die off.

This is also the essence of what Mark is saying to us through Jesus’ words this week (Mark 13:1-18).  Mark is writing in the midst (or possibly just after) the Roman-Jewish war between 66-70AD.  It was the concluding war that escalated through the 1st century in various uprisings between common Jewish people and the Roman occupiers of their land.  Rebels led the people against the Temple and its leaders whom they saw as collaborators with Rome.  One of the first actions was to burn the Temple records which contained all the records of personal debt.  Common people were being forced into extreme debt and foreclosure on their properties by the wealthy was frequent, leaving them further impoverished and helpless.  The Temple collected the Roman tax, which was up to 50% and caused deep pain and struggle.  Therefore fighting ensued until the final battle of AD 70 when Titus, the son of the newly installed Emperor, Vespasian, returned to Jerusalem with 60,000 Roman troupes and led a bloody conflict in which thousands and thousands of lives were lost.  In the process the Temple caught alight and burned.  In the midst of these bloody and terrifying years of war there was a rise in religious fanaticism and people claiming to be messianic leaders.

Mark recalls the words of Jesus who spoke to his disciples before the magnificent structure of the Temple.  It was an ancient wonder, a massive and beautiful structure of the ancient world.  Jesus prophetically declared that it would fall and not one stone would remain.  In the ensuing chaos of conflict people would rise up and claim authority and power.  He warned not to believe them but to hold dear to the truth of God in the midst of confusion, change, death and chaos.   It feels as though Jesus understood that the elegant tenacity of the status quo in the Temple. This status quo was unjust and collaborated with the oppressors; it would fuel its own demise.  Entropy, the forces of chaos and disorder, would break it open and suck the last of the energy from its life, leaving it dead.

In Mark’s time these words were realised and the followers of Jesus were called back into the place of love for God and neighbour.  They were invited to embrace the weak and vulnerable and to embrace the forces of change through the creative chaos that love and community brings.  Will we risk the way of love and stand against the tenacity of status quo with courage and faith?

By geoffstevenson

Seeing the Invisible in Our Midst…

It’s a strange thing that in our modern society where there is constant jousting for the places and moments of recognition there are so many people who remain anonymous and invisible.  I suppose I first really noticed this when I worked at Parramatta Mission and discovered a range of people who were always around but rarely noticed – certainly not as equal human beings.  There were the homeless men who were typical of the time, alcoholic men who had seriously lost their way and ended up in laneways, under bridges and often turned up in our hostel for homeless men.  They were always around, lurking in the background but mostly unseen.  I discovered that many had mental health problems, beyond their alcoholism (and in later years it was drug addiction).  They were men who few noticed and fewer really cared for.  There were also women who were victims of violence or homelessness and often had children to care for but few resources and ended up in our refuge.  Who knew these women?  Who understood their situation, their reality and the harshness of their lives?   Many of these men and women became more obvious when we began the Kitchen (a soup kitchen that provided good quality free meals each day).  Many people came and walked through the streets of Parramatta to get there.  The less visible became more obvious and not everyone was happy about that!  It isn’t easy to be confronted with the darker sides of our society, of the vulnerable and powerless who confront and challenge us regarding what is fair, egalitarian and the like.

Later I discovered an even more invisible group of people – those living with various forms of mental illness.  Many of these people remained hidden behind closed doors, unable to rouse themselves because of the lethargy due to their medications.  Others lived with paranoia and fear about the wider society and avoided public spaces as much as possible.  Their lives and reality remained (and remain) largely invisible.  I discovered this when engaging with ‘ordinary’ people who were surprised to hear that such people, homeless, mentally ill, victims of violence and so on, lived in our communities.  They are invisible and relatively powerless.  Their very hiddenness and lack of voice further works against them, with various legislators, as these are the very people who lose access to resources they need when budgets are tight.  It is the few who know and care for such people and who speak out but these voices pale before the frighteningly loud voice of lobbyists who work for the more powerful vested interests in our society.

Sadly, we miss the beauty, wonder and insights that come from these invisible people when they are ignored or left hidden and lost to our society.  It is within the ranks of people who live with severe disabilities, mental illness, and the various social and developmental disorders that affect so many people – for example, autism spectrum disorder – that we find unique skills and gifts, rich love and loyalty, simple faith and dependent trust.  In their vulnerability we find our own defences are often drawn down and we are more able to be vulnerable and real before them.  Pretence and ego are set aside and we can ‘just be’.  Amongst these are many artists, writers and creative people.

I read a beautiful story about Billy, a 10 year old boy.  He was playing with his sister in a playground and came running around a tree and almost ran into a man and his wife.  Without looking up he said, ‘Dad, where’s Amy?’  Almost immediately he realised they weren’t his parents and apologised.

The man smiled and replied, ‘That’s okay, everybody makes mistakes.’

As he began to walk away they noticed that he had a limp and the features of a child with Downes Syndrome.  After a few paces, the boy turned back and said, ‘My name is Billy.  You’ve both been so nice to me, can I give you a hug?’  He gave each of them a hug and said, ‘I want you both to know that you are my friends and I will be praying for you.  I have to go now and find my sister, Amy.  Goodbye and God bless you’

As he walked away, the couple were deeply touched and with tears in their eyes, watched him play with his sister.  They felt that God had reached out and touched them through Billy – it was a precious gift from this boy whom society thought little about.  It is the case that so many invisible people give so very much in beautiful ways if only we are able to see and appreciate but alas, we are often too busy, too sophisticated or simply walk in the wrong circles or places to see and know.

This week our gospel reading (Mark 12:38-44) is a passage in which Jesus notes the disparity between the powerful ones who control laws and the communal treasury and those little ones who are largely invisible.  He points out a poor widow who goes into the Temple Treasury to make the expected offering.  He notes that she places 2 copper coins – a very small amount but it represents all she has.  This contrasts with those who offer from their wealth and could probably offer more without feeling any impact.  The woman is invisible.  In fact most people would only notice those who place the larger amounts of money into the treasury.  She is insignificant and poor, but she is also deeply faithful and trusting of God.  It is a beautiful, simple faith that gives everything freely to God and puts her whole life into God’s hands in a simple, profound manner.

Jesus noticed her.  He saw the invisible woman and understood her beautiful faith AND the injustice of the way she was treated. Jesus’ words make it clear that people like this woman are taken advantage of by the wealthy and powerful.  She should have been receiving support from the treasury – that was part of its purpose, to distribute resources to the poor and marginalised, those who had great need and no power or status.  Those who make decisions are often ignorant of the invisible and needy in our midst.  If they have any awareness it is of anonymous statistics and categories but not people.  That is why various support groups for such people are pleased when a politician has a friend or relative with such a condition – they will realise the reality and the struggle.  They will know that resources are more necessary amongst such people than with those who already have far too much.  They will also know the richness of an inclusive community that welcomes the invisible, silenced ones and shares resources with them.  Such a community receives the blessings that people like Billy bring.  Sometimes we wonder and question why people are born with such disabilities.  This is a difficult question and one that we all ponder.  Perhaps, though, we also ought to ponder how much these invisible ones have to offer us, teach us, and how they enrich our lives when we open our eyes, our ears and our hearts to embrace and be embraced by them.  It is challenging and important for us to think about how our lives and world might change if we were to see, include, support and love the invisible, hidden ones around us.  How different would our lives be?  How brighter and more compassionate would the world be?

By geoffstevenson

Love Your Neighbour As Yourself!!!???

I was wondering how to introduce and talk about the particular passage from the Gospels for this week.  It is a profound and simple passage that sets out the radically essential ethic and way of faith at the heart of the Jesus’ way  and the way of God in the world.  For me, it is the very heart of what it means to follow Jesus in the world and be a person of faith.

As I was struggling with how to introduce these words that are so well known, our former Prime Minister, Mr Abbott, provided the very platform I was struggling to find.  His speech is interesting; a fascinating journey into the mindset of a deposed Prime Minister.  It is a very political speech and demonstrates a person thoroughly lacking in decent compassion and the awareness of the basic human struggles attending so many people in our society and world.  It indeed revealed the thinking of the man behind so many unjust policies that favoured the privileged and well-off leaving the poor and vulnerable adrift in a sea of despair.  It was specifically in his comments on refugees from Syria and other parts in Europe that Mr Abbott introduced the words of Jesus.  He said that: Implicitly or explicitly, the imperative to “love your neighbour as you love yourself” is at the heart of every Western polity. It expresses itself in laws protecting workers, in strong social security safety nets, and in the readiness to take in refugees. It’s what makes us decent and humane countries as well as prosperous ones, but – right now – this wholesome instinct is leading much of Europe into catastrophic error.

I am amused that Mr Abbott is now overriding Jesus in providing wisdom and direction for the world.  It seems ludicrous that he can scoff at the compassion and humanity shown by nations of Europe amidst some of the most catastrophic human vulnerability and suffering.  It is an incredibly complex situation and simplistic responses and policies such as those guiding Australia’s complete disregard for human suffering with regard to refugees is unhelpful.  I confess that I also wondered whether Jesus indeed offered advice on prosperity, as Mr Abbott suggests?

So let me ask:  Is Jesus correct or are his words simplistic and needing to be set aside?  Do we believe Jesus or Tony?  Are Jesus’ words simply too hard and a simplistic non-response to really complex issues in the contemporary world?

Jesus’ actual words (at least according Mark’s version) are from Mark 12:28-34:

28 One of the religion scholars came up. Hearing the lively exchanges of question and answer and seeing how sharp Jesus was in his answers, he put in his question: “Which is most important of all the commandments?”

29-31 Jesus said, “The first in importance is, ‘Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.’ And here is the second: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ There is no other commandment that ranks with these.”

32-33 The religion scholar said, “A wonderful answer, Teacher! So lucid and accurate—that God is one and there is no other. And loving him with all passion and intelligence and energy, and loving others as well as you love yourself. Why, that’s better than all offerings and sacrifices put together!”

34 When Jesus realized how insightful he was, he said, “You’re almost there, right on the border of God’s kingdom.” 

After that, no one else dared ask a question.

These are quite radical words and invite us into a way of being that turns the natural progression of things on its head.  Jesus is either deeply profound and radically true or a raving lunatic!  He believes that the only way to engage in true and deep life is to recognise that we all live within the embrace of God who is love.  The heart of all reality is God who is love and the deepest, most natural response is to respond in love, to live within that love and allow it to transform us.

The possibilities for such loving God are quite broad – from worship and lives that are filled with praise, to following the rules and structures, to having correct beliefs and so on.  The second ‘commandment’ Jesus offers is the interpretive element that helps us to understand what loving God means – it is about practical love towards others.  It is to be a neighbour towards other people and loving them in a manner we love, care for and look after ourselves.  This runs in a contrary direction to that which Mr Abbott advocated in his speech (and many of  his policies in government for that matter).  When face with a tighter budget his government withdrew vital funds from the foreign aid budget suggesting we must look after ourselves (providing infrastructure such as roads…) before giving money to the world’s poorest.

So who is right?  Tony or Jesus?  Let’s not kid ourselves that both ways are equal or even equivalent alternatives.  Jesus’ way is obviously more difficult.  It is far more costly and difficult to love other people as ourselves than to ignore them and put ourselves first.  Mr Abbott also advocated providing forces to fight the ‘baddies’ as he referred to them, although his speech was confusing in what he was actually advocating and when.  Never-the-less he appeared to be suggesting a violent response to violence.  Fair enough, that’s how most of the world thinks but it is decidedly different from Jesus’ way who embraced a non-violent strategy against the worst the world had to offer.  Many have taken up this approach and there is sufficient evidence to suggest that the most effective form of transformation of national conflict and overcoming tyrannical leader, throughout the 20th century, was non-violent movements that grew from the grass roots and were organised.  This was the pattern in India, Poland, Russia and USSR, South Africa, USA (Civil Rights) and elsewhere.

So will the world and our own lives be better off or worse if we love others as ourselves?  What if we are the recipients of such love?  How might our neighbourhoods and communities change most effectively – through violent confrontation and self-centred ways?  Or, through compassion, love and building relationships that work for a common good using non-violence?

Mr Abbott, of course is entitled to his views and his reading of the world.  He has a strong academic background and has travelled more widely than Jesus.  He has led his country, something Jesus never did.  Jesus and his words, however, are still read, embraced and valued as wise and transformative 2000 years later.  The choice is yours – who do you believe?  Who will you follow?  What will you bring to our world?

By geoffstevenson