Why I want to be an extremist and a fundamentalist

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Extremist = bad

Fundamentalist = bad

Moderate = good

These three things are held true by most people when it comes to religion. The extremist kills, the fundamentalist hates and the moderate is nice and warm and fluffy.

So, why do I want to be an extremist? Why do I want to be a fundamentalist? Why do I want to be anything other than moderate?

Look at the definitions at the top. Look at what extreme and fundamental actually mean. Think about how that would apply to Christianity, based on its central message.

Does rejecting people because of their lifestyle sound like something which forms the central core of Jesus’ teachings? Or does calling them to follow him, dining with them, talking with them and loving them sound more like it?

Does taking the lives of people for their sins sound like Jesus? Or does telling them to “go and sin no more” strike you as more fundamental to his way?

Does the pursuit of wealth for the few come across as an extreme example of Christian teaching? Or does selling everything and giving the money to the poor fit the bill?

Does a love of Queen and country seem like the central tenet for us to hold onto? Or does the seeking of God’s Kingdom over all earthly kingdoms sound like our main aim?

Does a rejection of people based on race, colour or creed sound like a divine calling? Or do you think that welcoming strangers and making disciples of all nations is the thing we are called to do instead?

Extreme love.

Extreme grace.

Extreme forgiveness.

Extreme acceptance.

Extreme devotion to God.

Extreme sacrifice.

Extreme peace.

Extreme generosity.

Extreme service of others.

Extreme life.

These, as the result of Jesus’ teachings and his sacrifice, allowing the Kingdom of God to break into this world, are the fundamentals of Christianity.

This is what true Christian extremism and fundamentalism looks like, not the false gods of the religious right in America or similar noisy factions throughout the world.

They are extreme, but not extremes of Jesus’ way.

They aren’t fundamental, but are quite the opposite as they twist and distort the truth.

And what of the “moderates”? What of the Christians who are “average in amount, intensity or degree”? Who actually wants to be one of those?

Is feeding the poor ‘average’?

Is worshipping a God that most people in the West don’t believe in ‘average’?

Is visiting the prisoner, or the sick, or the grieving, or the lonely, even though you don’t know the person ‘average’?

Is worshipping and praying with and for refugees who nobody seems to want ‘average’?

Is proclaiming your faith in the face of oppression, as many around the world have done, ‘average’?

Is speaking words of forgiveness, then singing songs of worship before being decapitated by masked men on a beach ‘average’ or ‘moderate’?

No. This is extremism and fundamentalism at its purest and most beautiful.

A quote has been posted on social media a lot recently. It says ‘If your fundamentalists are bad, there’s something wrong with your fundamentals’. I believe the fundamentals of Jesus were everything which is good. I believe that when you look at Jesus you see what an extremist, what a fundamentalist should look like.

It’s time we looked like that as well and took back those two terms to show what they can and do really mean.

 

 

It’s Friday…

 

I work in pensions…

No, don’t go yet! Please!

Thanks. Now, as I was saying, I work in pensions. Specifically, I work in the new business department of a wealth management company which processes new pension applications. In the UK it is currently the end of the tax year and, as a result, my place of work is currently busier than the person changing the list of candidates on the UKIP website. People are desperately trying to put as much by as they can for their old age without being hit for a big tax bill, something especially this year as the amount you can put in over one tax year is about to reduce. It’s amazing how many people leave these things to the last minute and, as a result, we have an immense amount of applications in which we need to process before 6th April. The whole thing is pressure and stress; the stress of not having enough put by for retirement, the stress of getting in before the deadline, the stress of keeping on top of the work, the stress of worrying what happens if things aren’t done on time…

Stress is a fact of modern life. I guess it was probably a part of life for many in days gone by as well. Some stree about work, some are stressed because they have no work. Some stress that they don’t have enough money, some stress that they have none. Some stress about friends and family, some are stressed because they are alone. Some stress about their home while others are stressed about not having a bed for the night. Some are stressed about their weight whilst others are stressed because they don’t know where their next meal is coming from. It can consume you, leave you feeling isolated and hopeless, as if there is no escape from your circumstances.

So, we rush around, hurrying about to try to get as much done in the shortest time possible because we worry what’ll happen if we don’t. We cram our lives so full of stuff that we don’t give ourselves time to stop, take stock and think. Being busy, doing things, making money, these are things we are expected to do, things we expect of ourselves, so doing nothing except thinking and reflecting are somehow seen as lazy and counter productive.

However, stopping and being still is exactly what we need to do much of the time, just to a low us to cope with what we have to do.

This is Holy Week, the time when Christians remember the sacrifice of Jesus’ death and resurrection. That death is something Jesus knew was going to happen. He knew how he would die and the suffering and shame that it would entail.

Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you will not fall into temptation.’ He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’ An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. (‭Luke‬ ‭22‬:‭39-44‬ NIVUK)

Now, over the last week I have felt like putting my head through a computer screen, snapping at people who don’t deserve it and throwing all the paper on my desk up into the air in despair. I haven’t at any stage, though, prayed that the work be taken from me and sweated blood! It really is one of those events which makes you take a step back and realise that Jesus went willingly into this situation, but he was utterly terrified of it at the same time.

It’s not death that scared him. He knew that, ultimately, he would be reunited with the father. However, the sheer pain, anguish and humiliation he was about to endure was mind blowing. David Instone-Brewer wrote this insight into crucifixion for Premier Christianity Magazine. It tells of the pain and humiliation from a physical and psychological perspective. It would have been unbearable, and Jesus knew this. This came through in the fear of this prayer; to take the burden from him if there was another way. He knew, though, that there was no other way, and he said that he still submitted to his father’s will.

This is the first point of hope in a semmingly hopeless situation. Luke tells us that an angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. I don’t know how that looked or how Jesus was strengthened by this, except for one thing. Jesus was still in anguish, but he kept on praying. Sometimes the times we most need prayer are the times we least feel able to do so. Jesus found the strength in the depths of despair to keep his eyes fixed firmly on his father in heaven, praying for strength and, as we read in John’s Gospel, praying for hid disciples and all believers, knowing what they will go through after his death.

Suddenly, I feel utterly self centred and ridiculous. I have felt under, what I perceive to be, immense pressure at work, then I see Jesus praying for others as he knowingly and willingly approaches the hardest thing any human being has ever had to face. This is astonishing, more so because he is doing this for each and every one of us.

The reason he is able to do this is the reason he is doing it. His arrest, his beatings, his flogging, his mocking, his walk to Golgotha, his hands and feet being nailed to a cross, his shame, his pain and his death were not the end. He cried out that “it is finished”, but it was only his sacrifice for our sins which was finished. There was still one more unbelievable act.

The fact is that hoplessness is temporary. In the case of Jesus’ followers it wAs only a couple of days long. Hopelessness was replaced by hope. The hope that only a miracle can give. Hope that only victory over death can give. Hope that is only there in the risen Jesus, talking to the women by an empty tomb.

Therein lies the whole point. Sometimes things feel hopeless, or just difficult to bear or too stressful to take. They aren’t, they never can be, because Jesus lives.

It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming!

http://youtu.be/sB2en_C4KGk 

Advent 7: Exodus 25

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Sometimes, if you’re a customer of a large multinational company, you feel totally unimportant. It just seems that they are so large that you are just a number, a tiny part of a gigantic profit margin. Of course, this is the case. These companies really have very little loyalty towards individual customers as there are always loads more where you came from.

It’s not like going to a local business where the staff and owners know your name, what you like to buy and genuinely feel that you are an important part of their ongoing success. And it’s not just because they need you, but they actually care about you as a person, about the little details and not just the bottom line.

It’s tempting to see God in the same way as one of those large multinationals; a being so vast, capable of creating the whole universe, that he can’t possibly be interested in us as individuals and the tiny details of our lives.

However, the opposite is true. Just look at the instructions for the Ark of the covenant in this chapter. It is so detailed, right down to the tiniest part. These instructions go on for five chapters, taking in everything from the pattern on the cloth to the clothes worn by the priests.

God is in the detail.

And it’s why he came to Earth himself on that first Christmas. He is God, if he wanted to save us all he could have done it in any one of many ways from his seat in Heaven. However, he wanted to be involved, hands on, intimately engaged with the lives of people. And he still does today. He really cares about each one of us and each detail of our lives. He wants to know us, to be involved in our day to day lives, to help and guide us. He just needs us to let him.

Advent 6: Acts 20:35 & 1 John 4:10

We live in the ultimate age of greed and self. People don’t want their “hard earned taxes” going to scroungers or migrants. The idea of helping those in need is fine, as long as they’re the right type of people. We often hear,

“I don’t want my taxes spent on…”

They are destroying my way of life”

“We spend too much on welfare and international aid.”

And, at the same time, we live in the ultimate consumerist age. You must be seen with the right phone, telly, bag, shoes, car and, if Black Friday is anything to go by, are prepared to fight for them. Physically.

So, to hear about helping those in need from Jesus jars with the spirit of the age. To hear that it is better to give than receive sounds like the type of thing one of these “lefties” who are “destroying our once great country” would say.

But here’s the thing, he knows what he’s talking about. He carried out the ultimate act of giving. He sacrificed his life in an unimaginably violent and painful way for us. Because he loves us. And because to give this gift, this sacrifice, to save us from our own selfish desires, is the ultimate act of love and joy.

It really is better to give than receive. Take it from the one who knows better than anyone.

Advent 5: Matthew 4:12-17, Isaiah 9:1-3, Matthew 5:13-16

“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”

That’s what the song says. It’s what we’re meant to do. But…

I’m writing this in the lounge of a hotel in Stirling whilst, upstairs, my work Christmas party is in full swing. A few hundred people who I spend most of my waking hours with. Those I know well, I really like. I enjoy their company and often have a laugh with.

Tonight, though, is different. Hundreds of folk dancing and drinking as loud music blares. I can’t hear or see properly and have started to feel suffocated, uncomfortable and panicky. Things started well, but suddenly, well, I’m not even sure that “this little light of mine” is even there anymore.

But I know it is. When Jesus said “you are the light of the world” he was talking to me. I mean, he was talking to all of us, but at this point of time he was talking to me. That light is still there. It’s dimmer than normal and struggling to be seen in the glare of others, but it’s there all the same.

So I’m going back in. And I’m going to let is shine. Just a little, but it’ll still shine.

Advent 4: Mark 9:33-37

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X Factor, I’m A Celebrity, Strictly Come Dancing… all the big reality TV competitions end during the Christmas season. Who is the best amateur dancer who acts in a soap? Who is the best Z-lister at eating kangaroo testicles sautéed in camel urine? Who is the nation’s favourite wannabe pop star as chosen by a deified panel of moderate talent?

All this is added to the big question of who will win the TV ratings; pain and misery in the East End of London, posh woman falling over, 2000 year old shapeshifter or postwar birth pains?

Christmas has become trying to be the biggest and best in unimportant mediocrity. Our focus is shifted towards that which doesn’t matter in a way which makes it seem like the most important thing ever.

Christmas, though is about the total opposite. It’s about the most important, powerful being making himself normal, everyday thing imaginable. God became our servant as an example to all of us, to show that this constant rush to make ourselves the greatest and most important is not the way to be.

We lose sight of the joy of giving when we concentrate on the task of taking. We lose sight of the joy of others when we concentrate on the cult of self. But, when we look to Jesus, we see everything we were meant to be in all its fullness.

That’s what Christmas is about, what life is about. It’s about the last being first, the least being the greatest, becoming a servant of others because self-adoration is empty. And the baby whose birth we celebrate is the one who still shows us that today.

Advent 3: Luke 2:1-20

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It seems Jesus has a very particular effect on people. The first time they meet him they just want to go out and tell others about him. Some find it easy, I’ve heard loads of stories of people I know who became evangelists from day one, and some find it hard. Pretty much everyone has that same reaction, though.

That includes the shepherds. We think of them cowering in fear at the angels, running to the stable, presenting the baby with a lamb and looking at him in awe. What they actually did was to run out and tell anyone and everyone about him. They wanted to share, needed to share, the good news.

It’s a natural reaction, but it’s easy to fight amongst the cynical modern times. I need to just give in to it and I know that many others feel the same. Drop the inhibitions and worries and just talk about the best news ever.

I’ll try.