The Jesus – Jerusalem / Prada – Paris dilemma

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I want to offer you an image, a tableaux, a freeze frame image if you like from The Devil Wears Prada.  Andrea is standing in the road with Nate her boyfriend, or I should say, just about to be ex-boyfriend.  She has to make a choice.  She has been offered a chance to go to Paris fashion week as assistant to her Boss Miranda.  Does she turn her back on her friends and boyfriend and go off to Paris fashion week with the boss from hell, a trip which could be the making of her career?  She has finally found favour with her boss, she’s doing it right – at the expense of her relationships and friends.  She has what she always craved, the approval of her boss and the magazine gliterati.  Or does she turn away from the job and return to the company of her friends.  She is torn.  The job, the career, Paris could mean a great opportunity, it is a promotion.  Nate, her boyfriend, is also in line for a new job, she could begin again with those she loves in a new city.  Or she could choose to leave it all behind for the bright lights of Paris and whatever comes afterwards.  Whichever way she goes their will be a confrontation.  She is too far in to escape without it.
Jesus too at this point in our journey through Lent is uncertain and emotional in the events that unfold in his story.  It is relatively uncharacteristic of John’s Gospel as he is prone to theologising about what is going on, however in this discourse the action is placed centre stage and the theology takes a back seat (which is refreshing).  It portrays a beautiful image of family life and of the humanity of Jesus together with his spiritual awareness of what was going on.  We are now well into the second half of Lent and moving quickly towards Holy Week and Easter.  It is a pivotal reading as Jesus turns back from his travelling and it seems almost  uncertain of what to do.  Eventually he returns to Bethany.

Jesus, waiting before returning to Bethany.  Andrea, deciding which way to turn.  It is a freeze frame image, a point at which a decision has to be made.  Which way would we turn?  Would we run from confrontation because it is too difficult?  Or give in to those who hold power over us and others?  Or would we accept what others are saying and go along with it because we would not wish to cause trouble?  Or Perhaps, would we stand up for ourselves and confront the powers and dominions of our day with the powerful love and compassion that Jesus showed?
Andrea turns towards the job, the trip to Paris, the lights, glamour and glitz that apparently everyone wants.  She is unaware that this will lead her into even greater confrontation with her ‘boss from hell’ but perhaps even eventually to her epiphany, to salvation.

Similarly Jesus turns towards Jerusalem.  So begins the walk to Jerusalem, gathering friends along the way.  Jesus has deliberated and thought out this move.  It is a deliberate attempt to show that the path to the cross which Jesus took was one which was premeditated.  He deliberately put himself in harms way.  Now was not the time to disappear up into the hills or off over a lake.

He sets out towards confrontation knowing that the path he is treading will likely end in his death, but ultimately will result in the overthrowing of the systems of power of his day which held people captive.  Similarly, we must wait for Easter, or more correctly for Good Friday as the story builds towards Jesus overthrowing the powers that be.  We don’t need to wait for a specific date or time, but we do need to recognise what it is that is dominating us.  This, Jesus was certain of.  Andrea in the Devil Wears Prada is unaware and she goes to her confrontation without knowing what to expect.  But in order to get there, we must wait until Easter.

Moments of clarity at the well of life

header_4Everyone I suspect has had at least one experience in their life which changes them.  A seminal moment if you like, or a moment of clarity.  I have had a number of them, and it’s not that i’ve been going looking, they don’t seem to happen if you intentionally go out to have one – more’s the pity.  But then again, if you actually wanted a change of direction in your life and worked at it, there is no reason why you couldn’t actually achieve it without the moment of clarity.  Of course, these special moments don’t change everything overnight, but they do change your perspective.  The first one I can remember in any detail was on Iona encountering the liturgy, prayers and work of the Iona Community in the wild and untamed inner Hebrides.  It wasn’t the Islands, the deserted beaches, the stories of ancient saints walking the earth as such, but just the space for a little clear thinking.  It could have happened anywhere, but it didn’t, it happened there.  The simplicity, the faith and the inclusivity of the Iona vision was so compelling in the light of the gospel, and in the light of the early morning sun creeping over the abbey at something approaching dawn that never again did I feel that the gospel was about conscription to a set of what might appear to be constraining regulations.  For the first time the gospel was actually about freedom and being released from the powers that others attempted to hold over us.  That’s a pretty amazing revelation.  I may be as fervent in my belief that Jesus offers us freedom as those who believe in the condemnation of pretty much everything which may seem to be an expression of their own anxieties and fears.  The counter argument to mine is of course: ‘if you allow unlimited freedom then where does it stop’? to which I would reply, it stops with the radical love shown by Jesus.  If we are all filled with that radical love for ourselves and our neighbour then no-one can go hungry, no-one is discriminated against and no-one holds power unduly over another.  This contrast is offered in the Gospel reading from John 4:5-42 and it remains one of the gospel stories that never fails to capture my interest and attention.  It is also reflected in the story of the Devil wears Prada.  If you’ve been following the story you’ll know that Andrea has a job she doesn’t understand in an industry she doesn’t much care about working for, quite literally, Miranda, the boss from hell!  However things have taken a little turn and Andrea has embraced the fashion industry in an attempt to win a little favour with the boss.  She is set about learning about this ‘stuff’ so much so that it has changed her whole outlook on life.  As she returns to her friends, they notice the great change in her from happy unconcerned Andrea to the uptight and work obsessed Andrea that is before them.  She has changed from someone who would openly discuss, question and expect justification for actions to one who jumps into immediate action without question at the sound of the phone ringing and without thought to the consequences, morality or legality of her actions.  You’ll notice of course that it is the opposite of what is going on in our story from John’s gospel.  The woman who meets Jesus at the well is released from the power that was held over her, whereas Andrea is slowly being made captive.  You’ll notice also that the woman at the well is almost instantly transformed, however Andrea is slowly indoctrinated, drugged with clothes, accessories and the want for the appreciation of her boss.  The woman at the well is released from her demons as Jesus gently spells out home truths to her.  Andrea, when confronted by her friends about her change of perspective and actions digs her Jimmy Choo heels in and defends the system to which she is becoming servant.  It’s going to take a lot more than a conversation beside a watering hole to help Andrea see the light.  But it takes no more than one woman’s  afternoon in the company of Jesus to change the life of a whole village.  Alastair McIntosh has summed up what I now ask of everything I do:  “Is what I’m doing now feeding the hungry?”, “Is it relevant to the poor or to the broken in nature?”, “Does it contribute to understanding and meaningfulness?” And the central spiritual question, “Does it give life?”

A Multicultural Christmas? – it’s nothing new!

It is said that this country is only nominally Christian and that there are places in the UK where Christianity is a minority religion.  Of course Christianity has been a minority religion in other countries since the time of Christ.  Neither is the recent persecution of Christians anything new, though the portrayal in news items is somewhat different.  For us, here in the UK, should we be concerned about our eastern neighbours and the so called rise of Islam?  Firstly I think we can say that any life taken in the name of religion is one too many.  Christianity has its share of bloody histories, ours are not clean hands.  We as Christians are not known for our good treatment of our neighbours.  As Gandhi said:  “An eye for an eye makes us both blind”  Gandhi – a Buddhist proclaimed himself as a follower of Jesus.

So what about our Christmas that seems to be so under threat in this country?  The question is of course, from where does our Christmas celebration arise?  The pagan midwinter festival on 21st coincides with the celebration of Christmas and coincidentally (or not) includes feasting.  The twelve days of Christmas which to Christians signify the journey of the Magi, happily coincides with the twelve day pagan festival.  Candles feature heavily in the Jewish midwinter festival of Hanukkah a festival celebrating renewal of faith and commemorating the rededication of the temple.  The Roman festival Saturnalia also featured many candles.  It was the Victorians who resurrected Christmas and kept the bits they liked, ditched the bits they didn’t.  We end up singing strange Christmas Carols which we don’t quite understand any more.  Christmas always was a multicultural festival.  Christians alone cannot make claim to it.  Not even to the celebration of the birth of Jesus.  Take the old Mhugal Mosque in Fatehpur Sikri.  On the gateway is inscribed the following:

Jesus, Son of Mary on whom be peace said:  “The world is a bridge.  Pass over it, but build no houses upon it.  He who hopes for a day may hope for eternity but the world endures but an hour.  Spend it in prayer, for the rest is unseen.

Why on the main Mosque should there be a quotation from Jesus – not perhaps one we are familiar with from our western scriptures – but attributed nonetheless to Jesus, Son of Mary.  Jesus is important to Muslims too.  There is a wealth of sayings about Jesus in Islamic writings which have been lost to western Christianity.  Indeed Mary is revered in Islamic scriptures.  Rather than fearing the idea of a multicultural Christmas, it is one time of the year that Muslims and Christians can truly come together and pray with each other celebrating the birth of Jesus and working towards a future which is built upon understanding and peace rather than hate and mistrust.  The gift of Christmas is the Christ Child, a gift we must share.