Saturday, 14 November 2015

Just the Birth Pains

As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” 
When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs. (Mark 13:1-8)
The people of Paris - the ones indirectly affected, not those who are grieving or injured or worrying for loved ones - the vast majority of the people of Paris, I guess, feel much like I did 10 years ago. 10 years ago when a bunch of fantasist losers killed dozens of people in London. That numbness, the anger because - whether we like it or not - we kind of hanker after revenge and there's none to be had when the emotionally-stunted adolescents who committed the crimes have always intended to die in the act.

And now it's happened again, like in Mumbai, like in Westgate in Nairobi, Kenya. Like in Beirut, or Baghdad, where it was Muslims killed not Christians or Hindus atheists or death-metal fans. Like in Oregon last month where the narcissistic loser looked for eternal life on the Internet, not with a bunch of alleged virgins.

I don't blame Islam - don't blame "Muslims" - for what's happened in Paris. Like I don't blame Christianity for the endless series of massacres in American schools and workplaces. Like I don't blame atheism for the purges of Stalin, Lenin and Mao. I do wonder about the selection criteria used by Islamists middle-management for people on suicide missions - they must have a particular combination of moderate ability, expendability and gullibility. You wouldn't, if you were a murderous co-ordinator of an evil cell, want to throw away your good people, or your genuinely intelligent ones. Islamism - as revealed by the vile organisation of losers and murderers and liars called Da'esh - that's nothing in common with the talented, peaceful Muslims I know. You might as well say I am in alignment with an American "prepper" or Anders Breivik.

In the reading, Jesus is in the area round the Temple. Remember what happened just before? Everyone's been putting their cash in the collection boxes. The loadsamoney collaborators with the Romans have been waving their wads about, and dropping them in - conspicuous contribution. The widow has put her two penn'orth in the box. Jesus has been indefinitely angry about the situation.

And when the disciples tell Jesus - "look at this lovely building" - this building which is still being built, on the boasts of fat-cats and the last hopes of widows - look how it's going up - what a beauty!

And Jesus tells them - not one stone will be left on another. You; the rich kids; the widow with her mite - they're all investing in a failed venture. The widow should have spent her mite on a decent bagel. The rich kids could have thrown their cash out  the window to the poor, or chucked it down the drain, for all the difference it makes. This temple will be gone in a generation.

Reminds me of Ford Prefect, in the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, when he realises the thing that nobody else stranded on Earth, two million BC, knows. As they try to work out what colour the wheel should be, and how people might relate to fire, and they burn down the forests to stop their currency (the leaf) depreciating, Ford loses his temper, and delivers the following speech:
"I have got news for you. It doesn’t matter a pair fetid dingo’s kidneys what you all choose to do from now on. Burn down the forests, anything. It won’t make a scrap of difference. Two-million years you’ve got, and that’s it. At the end of that, your race will be dead, gone, and good-riddance to you. Remember that. Two. Million. Years."
To which the captain, who's spent the entire trip to Earth and the time since they landed, in the bath, responds: 
"Just time for another bath. Pass me the sponge somebody will you? 
Actually, the captain's not so wrong. If you know you've only got a limited time, might as well make the most of it... Jesus is telling them that temple has a limited shelf-life. No point investing time, money or awe in it.

And every violation of peace in this world is a reminder that the things we are tempted to put our faith in, have limited shelf-lives. The Twin Towers - those symbols of capitalist confidence. The temples of Palmyra - smashed up by the same satanic narcissists who apparently sent those stupid narcissists to Paris this week. The statues of Stalin that were smashed up as people celebrated the end of the Iron Curtain. The Temple of Jerusalem went because a bunch of bunch of Zealots - Jewish revolutionaries - became convinced they could throw off the oppression of Rome. They couldn't. The Romans took terrible revenge. Not one stone left on another? Not quite - the Western Wall still remains, a place of sadness and remembrance. A reminder that things that look like they might last forever - don't. Sometimes peace is good, sometimes it's oppressive. But always those who say "peace, peace" discover there's no peace.

And for 2,000 years we've known there is no peace. Thomas Hardy was satirical and spiky in his poem "Christmas: 1924" - reflecting on the war that had recently been fought. A few lines so appropriate today:

"Peace upon earth!' was said. We sing it,
And pay a million priests to bring it.
After two thousand years of mass
We've got as far as mustard gas".
We don't stop fighting, we just come up with new ways to do it.

Jesus effectively said - this is the way it's gonna be to the end. The wars and rumours of war will come. Nations will fight. The earth will shake. But none of these mean the end is here. Fools who think they're going to kill their way to heaven, and fools who want ten minutes' fame on Facebook, will murder innocent people. Politicians who think they're doing the right thing - or just want their moment of glory - look to foreign fields. And they always have. People who think that their latest system will last forever will be sadly disappointed.

130 deaths in Paris seem pointless - a murderous interruption of a Friday night out. 8 fools who never grew up, taking out their adolescent angst, their loser mentality, on better-balanced, more successful, all-round nicer people. How's that fair? A cyclist out for a ride on a country road is wiped out by a driver who's not looking where he's going - how's that fair? The American-led coalition tries to hit Taliban soldiers and instead wipe out an MSF hospital. How on earth is that fair?

These are just the birth pains.

Love is cast like a thread of gold through the blood and dirt. The Parisians last night had a hashtag - "Porte Ouverte" - offering a place to stay to those who couldn't get home. Those of us who love freedom mourned for the dead of another country. The ones who have Muslim friends love them no less today than we did yesterday. I remember the man who tried to kill Pope John Paul II - whom the Pope forgave. I remember endless stories of German and British soldiers who, after the war - sometimes long after - came together in friendship.

The Kingdom doesn't come in violence and hatred. It comes in love. It comes in those who mourn. It comes in knowing that, though this world is a bloody, bitter, unreliable place - though men (nearly always men) do evil things - the world is conceived in love and held in love and has love shot through it. It comes in believing that a coherent story is woven into the chaos of the threads of pain and war.

The Kingdom comes when an innocent man, who preached peace and loved foreigners and women - against all the local social rules - is nailed to a cross and dies in front of a baying mob. How was that fair? Our religion is centered on a meaningless, unfair tragedy. And in the middle of that tragedy, he says the words, "Father forgive them - for they don't know what they are doing." And he turns our self-justification and our claims of revenge and our victim mentalities upside down.

These birth pangs may last a very long time. We don't currently know whether they're proper contractions or just Braxton Hicks'. We can't predict when the Kingdom will finally arrive in its full glory. But we can live on its borderlands and be true to our King. Love our enemies, give to those who have nothing, offer shelter to the alien and forgive.

The Temple didn't last. Our Western civilisation won't last. ISIS - that evil, vicious combination of victim mentality and teenage narcissism - won't last, either. Our structures, our companies, our political systems, our world for that matter - won't last. Love and hope remain. The things we cling onto, against all sense. The things that stop us hating others, if we only stop and think and reflect. The things that make us get up in the morning regardless - that get the sun up in the morning. God is eternal, and his eternal love is woven through all things.  Through revenge, through senseless tragedy, through pain and hate and despair. Through to when the birth pangs are over and the new world is born. Love still remains. Love still remains.


  1. Amen to that. Pax et bonum.

  2. We have been here before. "Watchman, what of the night?....The watchman saith, The morning cometh."


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