Photo by Nick Karvounis on Unsplash
The garden centre and the shopping centre are back!
The sometimes-orderly queues signal what people have been dreaming about in three months of lockdown: yes, potted plants, inexpensive T-shirts and costly trainers.
As some ancient philosopher might say, Tesco ergo sum: I shop therefore I am.
Douglas Murray has written a bracing piece in this week’s Spectator magazine entitled: Worship anywhere — apart from in church. In it he sounds off about the fact that everywhere else seems to be opening up apart from the church. Leaving aside for a moment the fact that church is more than a building, and that the church has done well to respectfully maintain a sense of being together apart, Douglas Murray does have a point.
Life is about worship. We are all worshippers. If we do not connect to the one who made us and alone can satisfy us, we will look for another route.
“The main business of the Bible is to challenge our ordinary conceptions of how things “really” are — to call into question the necessity and even the reality of the limits we impose upon ourselves and others, and to show us that the cramped conditions of human existence are most often the result of misplaced fear or desire.” (Ellen F Davis, Opening Israel’s Scriptures (p. 7). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.)
We see misplaced fear and desire at work at the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. The people build a tower to reach the heavens, in an attempt to make a name for themselves. Their building project is an attempt to “stay safe” and “come together”.
It is an attempt to establish their identity, security and community outside of God. The result is that they confuse their identity, increase the threat and get scattered throughout the earth. The confusion of language has been a bane ever since.
So many conversations in life suffer from things being lost in translation. Brexit negotiations, woman talking to man, children talking to parents, black talking to white. It is important to use words carefully, as tools rather than weapons.
“Black Lives Matter” is the powerful slogan.
I remember Tim Keller once speaking about the Hebrew word for glory: kavod. Kavod has the sense of weighty and significant. Keller suggested that if we wanted an English word to convey its meaning, we could do worse than choose the word matter. We use the word to describe the very stuff of life; the matter that is the raw material of the universe and every living creature. Yet the word matter is also used to describe what is significant.
Maybe such an insight would help our thinking around the subject of racism?
A young American black who, rebelling against the inferiority feelings inculcated in him by whites, put up this banner in his room:
‘I’m me and I’m good, ’cause God don’t make junk.’
It may have been bad grammar, but it was good theology.
The biblical story that comes immediately after the story of the Tower of Babel is that of the call of Abram. That call contains words that should give us some hope:
“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:2–3)
What a hope this offers. A nation’s greatness is not primarily for its own benefit, does not seek diminish another nation, but instead seeks to bring it blessing.
Perhaps that is what it means to make a nation great again. Greatness does not mean being alone on top of the pile, but reaching out to bless someone who might be at the bottom.
It’s being like Jesus who was willing to descend into greatness.