Monday, May 25, 2009

No Holiday in Sri Lanka

Monday, May 18 was Victoria Day, a national holiday in Canada commemorating the British Queen who chose Ottawa as our capitol and was so influential she managed to have both a moral and architectural era named after her. But on this unofficial launch of summer the reality of the ongoing brokenness and complexity of the world hit disturbingly close to home.

Turns out Sri Lanka, once a British colony, chose Victoria Day to bring to a head its 26 year-old civil war and the ripples were felt by holiday drivers on one of Canada’s busiest roads, Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway. The history of the political mess in Sri Lanka is too complicated for this column, but the lies and abuses heaped on one another by the minority Tamil-speaking peoples (who ruled the country when it was a British colony and known as Ceylon) and Sinhalese-speaking majority (who now control the government) have a rather eerie Rwanda-like feel about them (see for example: here and here).

On the weekend, which was far from a holiday for the large number of innocents suffering in northern Sri Lanka, the leader of the Tamil Tigers, Velupillai Prabhakaran, was apparently killed defending (or perhaps escaping) the last bit of Tamil controlled land.

The news was a terrible blow to Tamils around the world and led, in Toronto at least, to six hours of holiday disruption as Tamil protestors of all ages blocked traffic in an attempt to awaken the world to their plight.

There is much for discussion here: First, how should foreign governments respond to situations they are virtually incapable of changing quickly (and maybe waited too long to pay attention to)? Second, what is the proper political response to human suffering when those on the losing side (in this case the Tamil Tigers) are considered a terrorist organization themselves (they are credited with inventing suicide bombing)? Third, what is acceptable means of civil disobedience when it seems no one is listening or caring about your plight?

I don’t remotely claim to have even the preamble to the answers to these questions, but they need to be asked, and not just by politicians. In fact, the church would do well to enter the discussion. Hearing the rhetoric in Canada one becomes aware of a number of important elements Christians have to offer:

First, our humanitarianism (can we call it incarnational love?) need not depend on who is in political office or even on who is mostly right (though we will need to be wise as serpents). We are in the unique position to love all sides because we know that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Second, what if non-Sri Lankan Christians and Sri Lankan Christians (about 6% – including Tamils - are Christian) conversed and presented a united front that communicated repentance, solidarity in Christ, and action that was for people and not just for power? Would not such a move get us beyond civil disobedience that ultimately seems to create more enemies than friends?

Third, though many in North America know little about Sri Lanka (and even the current front page blotter will soon fade into distant memory), ought not our praying as Christians include situations like this? Moving our praying beyond the confines and conundrums of home to a global scale is no longer an option in a world where what happens in Colombo stops traffic in Toronto.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

With My Body I Thee Worship

“With my body I thee worship.” Once upon a time those words were uttered by grooms in marriage vows. To today’s postmodern ears they must sound like utter nonsense. They have a preposterous, even blasphemous ring about them.

Does it not seem like something coined by an amorously tearful bride at the climax of the worst chick-flick of all time? Wrong. It was framed in the seventeenth century by that great English Church Reformer Thomas Cranmer; hopeless orthodox romantic that he was.

I’m now half way through the second decade of married life and still learning to worship with my body. Life, let alone marriage, is quite the sexual journey for a man. Visions of fireworks are quickly doused by the sudden realization that we have much to learn and unlearn. The wise one implored the testosterone-driven male to rejoice in the wife of his youth (Proverbs 5:18). Song of Songs swoons that her smooth, succulent, adventurous beauty is worthy of great joy and, if biblical wisdom and Cranmer are right, adoration. The Word of God frees us to celebrate that season of life when the tree is green and the fire stoked and very nearly out of control.

The gift of youth is virility and fertility. It is a wonder any man survives to tell of a more settled, supposedly contented land beyond Hormonedom. Does it really exist? Can you get there from here? And, what of us who are single and no less endowed?

Each man must wrestle with the gift and problem of sexuality. A few among us actually don’t survive that wretchedly glorious springtime of life when this challenge assaults at our most vulnerable moment. Some men find themselves consumed by that blazing fire in the lower realms. Having not given their bodies to worship, to give what is due both God and woman in on-fire fidelity, they become pitiful slaves to desires that are never satisfied; to a thirst no woman, try as she may, will adequately be able to quench.

All men wander along a raging, potentially consuming libido current and are tempted to unreservedly dive into that river-of-no-return. I have yet to meet a man who is not somehow sexually broken. Admit it. Something has wrecked us. Some of us were never exposed rightly to this part of our identity; others were over-exposed. Some were abused; others abused. Some were baited by airbrush and caught by fishnet; others were hoodwinked by a doctrine of male superiority. We are broken and risk serving our sexuality rather than offering it.

Our bodily functions are not to be served slavishly, but offered in free worship. The fertility cults of the ancients and contemporary Hollywood are disastrously misguided and blinded in this regard when they glorify unbridled smorgasbords of pleasure. Our bodies and all their various hungers and desires were not intended to be fed endlessly like some buffoon at a buffet but, as the Apostle Paul said, to be offered as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1-2). It is our reluctance to offer such worship that keeps us bound in deceptive slavery to that which was to be given, not horded.

We may argue that any joy in sex is equally fitting, like when as a teen I argued I was celebrating creation by watching Revenge of the Nerds. Stupid me, I wasn’t even celebrating good film-making. Such rationale is of course pathetically faulty, for it argues from and for self-worship. If with my body I worship – give to another what they are worthy of – then I must willingly set aside the self; I must die to me. I give what God, my Creator and Redeemer, and woman, my compliment in the image of God, is worthy of. God deserves my obedience; woman my fidelity and gentle awe. I horde no more. I take up my cross and follow Jesus. I surrender to the self-controlling Spirit of God. My manhood becomes beautifully corralled by the divine, not the diva. And then I am free to give woman what she is worthy of: honour, faithfulness, single-mindedness, and my strength. I am free to rejoice, to wait, to give, to offer, to vow, to serve, and to love. It is true: with my body I do worship.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

What’s right for me?

Recently, the world was introduced to a woman so smitten by the Eiffel Tower that she changed her last name to Eiffel. This is not her first fling of monumental proportions either, nor is she alone. A new sexual orientation is now being studied called “objectum sexuality.” Its website claims, “We love objects . . . in an intimate way and this feeling is innate.” The rightness of this architectural affection is justified upon the authority of one’s own experience. If you feel it, it can’t be wrong, so long as you’re not hurting any, uh, building. What a perfect project for postmodern media and psychiatry to drool over.

I have decided that relativism is wrong! I hope you notice the irony in that statement. The chief belief of our postmodern age is that truth and morality are decided at least by personal preference and at most by popular opinion. Yet the populace is not truly free, but is bound to cheer and legitimize what any individual finds fulfilling—no matter how absurd after the absolute voices of science and celebrity reach their definitive decisions.

Can we reason together? If morality and truth are determined by personal preference, why can’t I decide that it’s wrong? Oh, argues the moral relativist, such mean-spiritedness flies in the face of relativism’s cheery companion: tolerance. There are, however, two problems with tolerance when it is based on relativism.

First, and most shockingly, tolerance actually requires absolutes to exist. As Francis Beckwith points out, “I can only be tolerant of that which I believe is wrong or mistaken.” If I claim to value tolerance, but hold that morality is relative, then I am not really tolerant; I’m either in agreement with the moral choice in question (at which point I have ceased tolerating and begun approving), or I’m indifferent about the moral choice (which is not a truly moral position at all).

This leads to the second problem with relativistic tolerance: it is indifferent. It doesn’t care. It can’t care. It turns away. It leaves us too alone, determined to hear only people who affirm us, and perhaps only with inanimate buildings to cling to. A society built on this foundation may well become the most intolerant and disastrously indifferent of all.

So how do those who believe God has spoken absolutely respond? Well, we must abandon the foolish idea that relative truth and morality make sense and can be merged with the gospel. Relativism may produce “warm fuzzies” and cool movie endings, but it is not logical or practical. To say truth is relative, is an absolute statement imposed on others. To say morality is relative, defies how we know how to function. (Try telling a jilted woman that her husband’s adultery was “right” for him.)

Biblically, relativism is nothing new; it is the default of sinners seeking to justify life without God. We’ve all tried it. But there is a firm foundation offered to a confused and increasingly selfishly indifferent culture: Jesus—the way, the truth and the life. God the Son is the fulfillment of the law none of us can keep and gives us power to break free of random natural forces. And there is the far-from-perfect church that is not free to be indifferent, but is given an even higher call than tolerance: to love as God loves so absolutely (including Mrs. Eiffel), and love what he has spoken just as absolutely. That, after all, is something he has decided.