Easter is a topsy-turvey time. Everything is back-to-front. Suffering brings salvation, death brings life; the established order of things is turned on its head. Yet we spend so much of our time and energy trying to make things work in a world where we believe that death is stronger than life and that despair is greater than hope.
How much of our well-being do we invest in worry? How often does the thing that we fear never actually happen? What about the times when we worry about something we think has happened, only to find out that it didn’t happen after all. How tiring it is to live in a world where God is a footnote rather than the title.
In the last chapter of Luke we read about two of Jesus’ followers. They’re taking a long stroll, discussing the events of the past few days and the rumours of resurrection. Suddenly, they’re joined by a stranger. He’s not really a stranger, but they don’t recognise him because they hadn’t quite joined the topsy-turvey revolution yet. They tell this stranger their story of disappointment. “Jesus has been crucified,” they say, “but we had hoped that he would be one to redeem Israel.”
The two travellers were living under the burden of false disappointment. They thought that their hope was an illusion, when it turned out that it was reality – a reality that was standing right in front of them.
This is the way to live back-to-front in our world, the way to get some of the Easter thinking into our heads. Instead of worrying about things that might never happen, start thinking about all the things that you hope for, and ask yourself if maybe some of them have already happened.
It’s easy to hold the Church up as a good argument for atheism. Our shame is not that we have been exceptionally bad, but rather that we haven’t been exceptionally good. But you can’t shake off the Holy Spirit that easily. Even after two thousand years, the World still expects us to keep Jesus’ promises. After all, you can’t be disappointed with something unless you’d hoped that it would be better, right? The problem is not that Christianity is bad, but rather that we have made a bad job of Christianity. I believe that even the most die-hard atheist still expects the followers of Jesus to be different to the rest of society; to be good where others are not.
Dennis Prager, a Jewish-American conservative commentator, believes that, regardless of what people think of religion, there remains in our culture an expectation that faith should make a difference to behaviour. He tries to prove this by asking people to picture something particular.
Imagine that late one night you are walking down an alley in a major city. The dim street lights illuminate your car at the other end of the alleyway. Suddenly, a group of boisterous young men turn the corner and start walking down the alley towards you.
Once the listener has this scene in his mind, Prager asks this question: Would you feel safer if you knew that those young men had just come from a Bible study?
Prager says that he has never had anyone answer “No.”
So, that’s the good news. People are just waiting for you to prove them right. Even now they still assume that you will be different. The best thing to do is to live in such a way that our children, our children’s children and our children’s children’s children will benefit from the same expectation.
I like the build up to Christmas. I like the festive lights, nostalgic songs and the general atmosphere. I even enjoy the weather – the crisp, cold winter days. In Australia we had nine months of summer and three months of grim misery in a house that was designed to shed as much heat as possible. Plus, Christmas in the summer just felt wrong. Read more
Ruth and I have five children, which is about six more than four children. It wasn’t such a big deal in Australia, where immigration was the only thing that offset the negative growth rate, but in the UK a large family makes life complicated. People react to our situation in a variety of ways. There are those who display shock or pity, and those who respond as though we’re breaking some unspoken rule.
It’s possible to view children as a burden; a drain on the resources of the planet. The doctor who helped deliver our fourth took me to one side after the event and suggested that we had enough children now. He told me that our carbon footprint was big enough. He had a point, but the cynical part of me sometimes wonders if what people really mean to say is “If you don’t stop having children I might have to change my habits as a consumer.” There are those who view children as a resource, potential or otherwise. If you follow the news you may be aware that China is softening it’s one child policy as a result of studies predicting that the country will face a workforce shortage in the future. Children, for me, are neither a burden nor a resource. They are an expression of hope.
If Ruth and I do our job well then we’ll contribute five more people to this earth, who will take the best of us and run with it. Hopefully their character and deeds will more than offset their environmental impact. We are now the parents of a teenager and, if my maths is right, we’ll have at least one teenager in the house for about the next fifteen years. Teenagers are, generally speaking, hard work to have around, but some days I look at Calvin and feel fit to burst with pride as I see the man that he is becoming. Here’s to the next fifteen years.