Last night I had a dream. I was going to have a meeting at the offices of a well-known Evangelical Christian pressure group. However, when I arrived in reception, no-one was there to greet me and the reception area was deserted. I waited a little while and still no-one arrived. Then I decided to take matters into my own hands and in the absence of knowledge, walk in and go in search of the person I was meant to be seeing. I didn’t think this would be a problem as I had been there a number of times before, but as I passed desks I could tell from the black looks and disgruntled mumbling that this was not going down well. When I reached the woman with whom I had the appointment, she started berating me for my rudeness and lack of sensitivity for waltzing in unannounced and making my own way around the building. I felt really hurt and upset that I was being so roundly abused when I imagined I was coming to a place where I was trusted and welcome. I had brought flat bread to share and as I walked across a courtyard, making a hasty exit, I tore off pieces and threw it into the air to feed the birds. As I did this, I was shouting ‘you hate the world, you hate the world’.
I awoke with those words still ringing in my ears. I then began to reflect on whether this was indeed the problem with the church and potentially the cause for the lack of urgency in sharing the life-enhancing and relationship-healing power that can be experienced in Christ. Aren’t we constantly reminded that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son to die to save it, in the words of the most well-known and oft-quoted verse of the Bible, John 3:16?
But John says elsewhere not to love the world (1 John 2:15), but I think this is about not being seduced by worldly priorities. Love doesn’t ever mean we accept and collude with what is destructive and harmful in the object of our affection. Rather, it should be the motivating force which causes us to challenge and inspire our love to more faithfully reflect the beauty it was made to display. God’s response to every new aspect and development of Creation was to declare it good. So what would it mean to live as if we truly loved the world in the way God demonstrated through Jesus?
Well, becoming more intentional about minimising environmental damage, while investing in sustainable energy and bio-degradable waste products is a good place to start. But what about safeguarding and affirming the intangibles of our culture as well as the physical resources afforded by our planet? Let’s take one small, albeit controversial example, Hallowe’en. Every year I struggle with what to do when my children want to go out trick or treating like their friends. Being a Christian parent I feel I have to say no when potentially it is the one night of the year when we could meet and have a positive interaction with our neighbours! So in previous years we have sought to redeem Hallowe’en and done ‘treat or treat’. This has involved baking cakes and giving them away as a blessing rather than threatening others with something horrible if they don’t hand over sufficient candy loot!
However, in Scotland they have a tradition of ‘guising’ on Hallowe’en. Again children knock on the doors of people in their street, but they do this to sing them a song or recite a poem for which they receive a reward of some small goody. Done right this could be a way of reframing how children mark this ancient festival in a way that is consistent with our heritage, while at the same time acknowledging the influences American films and TV have on contemporary British culture. It could, in a small way, have the affect of challenging and unmasking what I think are the real evils in our midst – rampant individualism that keeps us isolated in our homes and chokes any hope of community and consumerist greed which promises fulfillment but always leaves us empty and dissatisfied. Then we would indeed be facilitating life-enhancing creativity and making possible healing-relationship by revealing a love that celebrates what is good but is not afraid to confront the demons that diminish and subvert the blessings God meant for us to share and enjoy.