Thinking Faith blogs

Marriage and Consumerism

Vickie Lynn Marshall (1967 – 2007) was better known under the stage name of Anna Nicole Smith. She was an American model, actress and television celebrity. She first gained fame by appearing in the magazine Playboy when she became the 1993 Playmate of the Year. In 1994 she became notorious when, at the age of 26, she married the 89 year old billionaire J. Howard Marshall. This union led to numerous allegations that she was a cynical and opportunistic gold digger. In 1995, Marshall died and Smith began a lengthy legal battle over a share of his huge estate. She died at the age of 39, apparently as a result of an overdose of prescription drugs.

Smith stated that she was a Christian in a television interview, saying: "Jesus Christ is my lord and savior, and will always be, and I pray every day."

Some people believe that marriage is merely a contract. They enter marriage in order to increase their bank balance or enhance their status. For some marriage is all about personal profit and gain. On this view marriage is a means to an end. If the spouse doesn't deliver the goods – you leave the marriage. We could say that this is a consumerist approach to marriage. We consume a marriage in much the same way that we consume popcorn or chocolate. It's there, it gives pleasure and then suddenly it's gone. An original feature of the consumerist worldview is its uncanny ability to transform every relationship into a business proposition.

Tragically there are many stories of consumerists who believe they are Christians!

Christmas Prayer

Our good friend from Australia Bruce Wearne has sent us this prayer from 'down under'.

A Christmas Prayer

Father in Heaven, As we celebrate the birth of Jesus,

Grant us a happy celebration that refreshes us and brings us together in glad thankfulness for the birth of Your Son, for the new start for the human race, for the life you have given us, here and now, of what is now past and what we now enjoy.

On this day as our feasting celebrates the coming of the Redeemer, help us to remember that soon after the shepherds gave their devotion and the foreign visitors gave their exotic gifts, the young family had to flee and become asylum seekers in a foreign land. So in being grateful for the coming of Jesus, give us also a taste for the bitter lives so many face who do not have enough bread, whose peace is shattered by war and violence, whose lives are ruined by flood or famine, who wait in detention seeking a new home.

When we sip soups prepared for our celebration, remind us again of who we are, and grant we may find good ways to serve the dispossessed and the lonely, the shut-in and the immobile.

When we taste sweat sauces, on our salad, meat and sweets, give us thankful hearts that can humbly resolve to keep on working for good, for justice and peace wherever you place us.

And when we clear away this table and stack the dishes, make us joyful in the soapsuds, knowing that our life of service, nourished by a firm hope in your promises in Christ Jesus, may blossom and flourish in a nurture that loves our neighbours as ourselves,

Amen

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Impossible?

A guest post from David Hanson, with some wonderful thoughts about God's kingdom and the creation.

"Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible" avowed the learned Christian physicist Lord Kelvin in 1895. It seems he was mistaken. What, though, did God think about this faith-founded proclamation? May we surmise that there was amusement in the heavenly courts that day?

Then, when Kelvin was proved wrong eight years later, was Screwtape pleased or provoked? Did he gloat over vast new opportunities for destruction, terror, waste and self-indulgence lying before Adam's race? The benefits were surely not beyond even his imagination. Did he congratulate himself on holding back this earthling achievement for so many millenia? The 'Enemy' (his language, of course) had, for goodness' sake, provided all the wherewithal from before the foundation of the earth. Already then, the aeroplane was scheduled. It sat in the inventory of treasure that the nations would some day bring to the new Jerusalem, where its beauty and usefulness would be carried forward.

Imagination! Humour! Invention! God's gifts all! But this true story includes God, humans, the aeroplane and the parasite, Satan. Don't forget the land of Havilah (Genesis 2) and its gold (good gold!) or the "promised land" which didn't only offer milk and honey, wine and oil, but whose "…rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills" (Deuteronomy 8 ). Our generations aren't called merely to survive or to be whisked off to heaven, but to add value to what God entrusted us with in creation's story. Yes, the story is tortuous. Sin cannot be wished away: neither can our everlasting calling to exercise dominion in stewardly (imaginative, technically exciting) ways. New things come (watch grandma with your iPhone). Others go (who's turned the handle of a mangle?). They are intrinsic to creation's on-going story. We didn't create them. At most we fashioned them (just like hybrid roses, race-horses and livestock) under God's forgiving delight.

Out of it all, sin included (remember Rahab?), God perfects the inheritance he has promised the meek. God isn't bored with this work. Why should he be? And why should we? At the head of the meek walks his Son in his titles: "Heir of All Things" and "Second Adam".

Aeroplanes, iPhones, gold, copper, oil and wine are and remain creatures, susceptible of change. Using them we marvel at the "works of the Lord". Conforming them to God's will is our task; they are among the "all things… on earth" that Christ has reconciled to the Father. That's how we preach the gospel to every creature.

Human Trafficking and Consumerism

In Bosnia, Victor Malarek, the Canadian journalist met a 15-year-old girl who had been trafficked to Bosnia. "She was the 21st birthday present for a soldier in a United Nations platoon and was raped in turn by men with American, Canadian, British, Russian and French accents – so many she stopped counting," he writes. Malarek describes the traffickers' recruitment methods. An orphanage in Romania might receive a visit from "social workers" offering "apprentice programmes" for adolescent girls. The girls are taken away and forced into prostitution. Trafficking in human beings is now the third-largest moneymaking venture in the world after illegal weapons and drugs. In fact the United Nations estimates that the trade nets organized crime more than £12 billion a year.

For some western people today everything is up for sale. This includes normal birthday presents like watches and mobile phones. It can also include young girls and boys who have become objects of consumption. Hardened consumerists obey a simple commandment. Love things and use people.

This is the gospel of consumerism. The good news of secularism.

First Genocide of the 20th century and Image of God

One of the most striking and disturbing consequences of rejecting the biblical teaching of the Image of God is provided by the chilling story of General Lothar von Trotha (1848-1920). In 1904 he ordered the total extermination of the Herero tribe in South-West Africa. This was the first genocide of the 20th century.

Writing in 1904, he stated:

I know enough tribes in Africa. They all have the same mentality insofar as they yield only to force. It was and remains my policy to apply this force by absolute terrorism and even cruelty. I shall destroy the rebellious tribes by shedding rivers of blood and money.

In his diary von Trotha described the Herero as Unmenschen – non-humans! Von Trotha's tactics were in marked distinction to that of the Herero leaders, who were, in the main, committed Christians and very careful to ensure that only soldiers were attacked.

German soldiers burned Herero women and children to death whereas the Herero troops protected German women and children during the war! We could say that the Herero troops waged warfare in a way that honoured the biblical teaching that all human beings are created in the image and likeness of God. The German soldiers radically rejected this teaching and referred to the Herero people as 'cattle', 'monkeys' and 'stock'.

Von Trotha's methods caused a public outcry which led the German government to relieve von Trotha of his command. This, however, was too late to help the Herero, as the few survivors had been herded into camps and used as labour for German businesses, where many died of overwork, malnutrition or disease. Prior to the uprisings, there were estimated to be 80,000 Herero. The 1911 census records 15,000.

There is something very liberating about the Image of God teaching we find in the Bible. Nobody is an Unmensch, a nobody or sub-human.

Katie Price and Idolatry

A few months ago I was speaking to a group of teachers on a retreat. One of the women present got very cross with me when I dared to suggest that Katie Price (aka Jordan) wasn't a very good role model.

Indeed I would go further than this. Jordan is the living embodiment of a pagan consumerist religion. Listen to what she said recently in an interview with the Daily Telegraph:

No one can live without money. Money and religion are the big things, and that's it, and I stay away from religion. We love to earn money, who doesn't? It gets you things and it's security.

It's vital that we realise that Jordan is deeply mistaken about herself. She is profoundly into religion – the religion of the powerful money god. Jordan is quite literally willing to do anything to make a coin. She is now worth more than 40 million pounds sterling and she has commodified everything about herself – her chest, her marriages, her memories etc.

We should also notice that Jordan disciples many people into her 'religion'. Consider this story about Shell Short a young woman who is blinded by the celebrity circus.

My obsession with looking like Jordan has left me £30,000 in debt but I won't stop having surgery! I break down in tears worrying about my debts, but when I look in the mirror and can almost see Jordan staring back, I know its worth it.

For more on this tragic story, read the story on Closer Magazine.

Many women are being renewed in the image of Katie and her ilk (See Colossians 3:10). Becoming more and more like the false gods they follow. Many will sacrifice everything to become like their 'idols'. (Look at Psalm 115). Tragically few have the resources of Katie and her friends.

Cannibals eat Jesus and not each other

James Chalmers was born in Scotland in 1841. He spent his life telling cannibals the good news about Jesus. In 1877 he went to Papua New Guinea, located across from the northern tip of Australia.

What did the locals look like? Many of them were committed cannibals. Some of the more depraved tribes would capture their enemies alive and would then proceed to hack off pieces of flesh while the prisoners were kept in giant larders.
Sometimes the unfortunate victims would be kept alive for six or seven days!

Many dwellings were built in the tops of trees and entire villages were often perched on stilts over the ocean water. There was a constant and unrelenting fear of enemy attack, butchery and frenzied guzzling of human flesh.

Chalmers was fearless as he told the cannibals about Jesus and the kingdom of God. His message boiled down to this – "Love your enemies! Don't eat them!" And many began to follow Jesus. They stopped eating each other and began 'eating' Jesus as they took communion together.

In 1901 while he was visiting a new region, Chalmers was surrounded by practising cannibals, clubbed, beheaded and finally eaten. His body was cooked with sago and served as the main course of a celebratory feast.

There are still cannibals living in remote parts of Papua New Guinea. Some of them assert that Japanese people are much tastier than Europeans. Apparently white people are too salty!

Cannibal stories are a great way to get people thinking about the Bible and Jesus. Most people find these stories fascinating. The detail is truly shocking. The reality of cannibalism should alert us to the biblical teaching about sin and idolatry. When people turn away from God they can do some truly appalling things. Instead of loving our neighbours, we exploit them and use them. Instead of loving our enemies, some people have them for lunch. Talk to your friends about cannibalism. Tell them the story of James Chalmers. Tell them that when we come to God in repentance and faith in Jesus Christ we can eat the Lord (communion) instead of eating/hurting/exploiting each other!

Christian bank in Tanzania is good news to the poor

On the southern slopes of Mt Kilimanjaro, a small bank owned by 330 000 members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania's Northern District is improving the lives of poor Christians, while still managing to make a profit!

"When we started, the projections were that we would make profits after three or five years", said Fahanaeli Andrew Kihunrwa, general manager of the Uchumi Commercial Bank Ltd in the town of Moshi. "But in one year and three months we started making profits. So people have been wondering how we did it."

Kihunrwa explains, "The simplest answer they find is that this is church-based. God is with them."

This is an inspiring story and it opens up the connection between faith and economic activity. 'Godly' banking only makes sense if there is a God who faithfully responds to prayer. We need stories like this when 'secular' people assert that 'religion is the source of all the world's evils' etc.

Rescuing children from sewers

In 1973 a wealthy businessman Jaime Jaramillo was walking along the streets of Bogota in Columbia when he saw a young girl climbing down through a manhole into the sewers below. Jaime went home, put on a wet suit and he then followed the girl into the sewers and to his amazement he discovered about 90 children who were living in the filthy, rat-infested sewers.

One girl was pregnant!

Tragically, hitmen were killing the children when they lived on the pavements above the sewers. One of them said – "Killing these kids is like killing lice. We call them 'the disposables'".

Another hit man left a calling card on the corpse of a young girl that stated: "I killed you because you are poor, worthless and have no future."

Jaime set about helping the children and he has now rescued 350 young people and he has used his money to build a special home for the kids in the mountains. Here they receive an education and live in a loving Christian community. One of the many girls that Jaime has rescued is now playing the violin for the Columbian National Orchestra.

This story is both inspiring and disturbing at the same time. We are confronted by both Jaramillo's deep desire to be good news to his neighbours and the tragic consequences of living in a secular story that ‘absolutises’ the economic aspect.

I'd be fascinated as to how Thomas Hobbes and Roy Keane would respond to the story. Would they laugh and sneer at Jaramillo? Wasting his life on 'losers'! Or would they shudder and give up this ridiculous belief that everybody has their price?

At the end of the day if the materialist is right and people are simply worth £4.99 – the cost of the minerals that make up our flabby bodies – then why not shoot poor kids?

Generous people and the lottery

I really love what I call 'heartwarming' stories. And here's a cracker.

A generous Canadian couple have given away £7million they won on the lottery! Pensioners Violet and Allen Large said the jackpot win earlier this year was a "big headache".

So they decided to help out family, friends and other good causes with cash gifts.

Their list of beneficiaries was more than two pages long and included organisations that fight cancer, Alzheimer's and diabetes. They also gave cash to their local fire department, churches, cemeteries, the Red Cross and the Salvation Army.

Violet, 78, who last week finished chemotherapy for cancer, has two brothers and a sister. She said giving the cash away "made us feel good". She added: "There's so much good being done with that money. We're the lucky ones. I have no complaints."

For my money Violet and Allen are living in a much better story than Roy Keane where everybody is greedy and everyone has his/her price.

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