Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Religulous – Why do you believe?

I recently read a short review on the controversial movie, Religulous. While knowing what the intention of Bill Maher was in making the movie, I nevertheless decided, on a friend’s recommendation, to have a look at it. In my opinion the movie failed both as a comedy and as a documentary critique of religion in general and specifically Christianity. Perhaps it is just that I believe that my interpretation of humour is more sophisticated, but I cannot find anything humourous in humiliating people, be they fundamentalist Christian, Creationist, Jews, Mormons or Muslims. And from the onset it was Bill’s intention to humiliate people. One of the ways he does this is by mainly choosing people with radical viewpoints to interview and shooting holes in their argumens. Not only that: He chooses people who believe something but who are incapable of defending their beliefs with rational arguments. Obviously the movie was edited so we will never know how many people were able to answer Bill with logical arguments on why they believe. Something else he does, which I found extremely irritating, is to interrupt the people he interviews. He asks them a question which they start to answer and before they have finished their sentences, he interrupts by making some kind of humiliating remark about what they had just said and thereby causing them, either to become angry (through which they lose the argument) or to become so flustered that, for the viewer, it seems that they have no argument at all. The only person shown in the movie that is able to withstand this onslaught is a Rabbi who keeps on telling Bill that he must keep quiet while he finishes what he started saying, up to the point when Bill stands up and says: “I’m outta here!”
As a documentary it also fails, merely because Bill is totally biassed. Furthermore, he uses arguments trying to prove how ridiculous the Christians are but which is based on myth. One exmple is that he says that the story of Jesus is based on the Horus myth. In all honesty, this is the first time that I have every heard of this claim and had I been a new believer and someone said to me that a book had been written in 1280 BC, called the Egyptian Book of the Dead in which a god with the name of Horus is described who is the son of the god Osiris, born to a virgin mother, baptised in a river by Anup the baptiser (who was later beheaded), that Horus was later tempted while alone in the desert, that he healed the sick and the blind, cast out demons, walked on water, raises Asar from the dead (which supposedly translates to Lazarus), had twelve disciples, was crucified, and after three days two women announced that Horus, the saviour of mankind, had been resurrected from the dead, then I would probably also have wondered whether my pastor had been telling me the truth about Jesus.
The point is that, not only is the story of Horus an Egyptian myth, but the way in which Bill Maher tells the story of Horus is also a myth. It’s easy enough to find the text of this myth on the internet. In the real Horus myth, he is not born of a virgin. Horus was never baptised. Horus had four followers. Although he did perform miracles in the myth, he never cast out demons nor raised El-Azarus (which refers to his father, Osiris) from the dead. There is no account that he walked on water. He was not crucified. Why, I asked myself, would Bill Maher make up these stories if he felt so strongly that the story of Jesus was false?
The movie, however, had one positive effect on me: If an open-minded unbeliever should ask me today why I believe, what would I answer that person? And I realised that the answer is not so simple. Perhaps I should refer back to an analogy that I used in a previous post: Why do I love my wife and why did I marry her? Not because I had sat down one day and analysed all my needs until I eventually decided that this woman would make the perfect wife! We decided to get married because a loving relationship had started between us and developed to such a point that we decided that we want to spend the rest of our lives together. How do you explain that to someone who has never been in love?
I can testify today about what my relationship with Jesus had done in my life. I can tell numerous stories of miracles that had happened that I can ascribe to the fact that we had prayed (or sometimes not even prayed) about matters and that we know for a fact that God had intervened in some miraculous way. But can I prove this? Probably not. Coming to faith is exactly what it says. To entrust your life to God through Jesus Christ is a step of faith. But as the relationship develops one realises increasingly what one had missed out on before.
What would I have done if Bill Maher had approached me for an interview about why I believe? Probably I would have started by asking him why he would like to know (to better understand his intentions and to force him to be honest about his intentions). Then I would have attempted to explain to him what it is that I as Christian believe (which he, of course, has the right to reject if he pleases but which makes no difference to the fact that I believe this). And I would have kindly asked him not to interrupt me while I’m speaking. Lastly I would have tried to give some indication of what difference my faith makes in my daily life.
But by that time, I think, he would have said: “I’m outta here!

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Thursday, April 9, 2009 Posted by | Building relations, Church, Evangelicals, Evangelism, Humour, Mission, Movie Review, Theology | 9 Comments

Beating MCPs to beat HIV

I’m a computer fanatic, but there is no way that I can remember all the acronyms used in the computer world. The same applies for AIDS. It’s HIV, AIDS, VCT, PMTCT and MCP, to name just a few. This morning’s plenary session of the 4th South African AIDS Conference focussed, amongst others, on the problem of MCP. This is an acronym for Multiple Concurrent Partners. The debate in HIV and AIDS still revolves around methods to bring the number of infected people down. By the way, one of the top professors in micro-biology stated it clearly today that, in the fifteen years that he has been involved in research in finding a cure for AIDS, they haven’t really made much progress and he doesn’t think that any real progress will be made in the near future..
Coming back to MCP: The rationale behind this paper was that people in countries with a high prevalence rate of HIV infections, which include all the sub-Saharan countries, are not necessarily having more sex, but are having more sex with more than one sexual partner in the same time period, hence the term Multiple Concurrent Partners. (I don’t fully agree that this is the only important reason for the high HIV prevalence rate in Africa, because I’m not convinced that people in the USA, Europe and Australia, where the prevalence rate is low, are really living much differently). But the point is, and with this I do agree, if the number of sexual partners could be tuned down, the statistical possibility of someone who is HIV-negative to get the virus, is also lower. How much lower, is anybody’s guess.
One of the key note speakers at the discussion, Ms Lebogang Ramafoko, is a Black South African woman who also spoke about the role of culture. I myself have found that many people in Swaziland have an almost fatalistic attitude towards AIDS, saying that it is part of their culture to have a high number of sexual partners. Even many women seem to accept the fact that their husbands are unfaithful to them and shrug their shoulders when one tries to discuss the issue. “This is our culture,” they say. However, this viewpoint was challenged today by the speaker. She challenged a culture which fails to adapt to circumstances which causes the death of thousands of people every day. In South Africa, about 1000 people are dying daily directly as a result of HIV infection. She was loudly applauded when she demanded that we re-think our attitude towards culture, as if this was some kind of unchangeable monster.
A few other things which came out in some of the other papers today and which I found interesting: When speaking about AIDS in Africa, one of the topics which regularly come up is the problem of child-headed households. I wrote about this, about eighteen months ago, when I reviewed the documentary, Dear Francis. If you are interested in my viewpoint on child-headed households, I suggest that you read this. The point is that I have become convinced that people, working for NGOs, are often using the argument of child-headed households in an attempt to get money. Obviously, one’s heart has to be very hard if you don’t give money to assist children, especially if they are living on their own. But amongst the almost 1600 clients that we are serving in one of the poorest regions in Swaziland through our home-based caring project, we still have not found a child-headed household. Obviously the orphans are facing tough times, but all of them that we know of, are living with other people, mostly family members. Therefore, I’ve been questioning the truth of the alleged large number of child-headed households for a long time and definitely the claim that one out of ten households in the Mbabane area of Swaziland are run by a child is not the truth, as claimed in the documentary.
This was confirmed today when it was said that research has shown that, of the 4.1 million orphans in South Africa (out of a total population of around 44 million!), only approximately 60,000 are living in child-headed households. In no way do I want to suggest that this is acceptable. On the contrary, one child-headed household is one too many. But the point is that we need to be careful not to exaggerate statistics to draw an even bleaker picture, in order to obtain the sympathy (or funds) from others. The picture is dark enough. By being honest we will hopefully still get enough sympathy and assistance to be able to do something to help those in need and people will also accept our integrity.

Thursday, April 2, 2009 Posted by | Africa, AIDS, Cross-cultural experiences, Culture, Death, Giving, Health, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Hope, Mission, Movie Review, Poverty, Social issues, Swaziland | 1 Comment

My World AIDS Day Church Service

Today is (or was, depending on where you live on the time zone) World AIDS Day. Churches are encouraged to devote the Sunday before or after 1 December for this cause. I was preaching yesterday in a church in South Africa and made full use of the opportunity to devote the entire service to the AIDS issue.
I took my Scripture reading from James 1:19-27 with my main focus on the first part of verse 27: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress”
I then proceeded to show an AIDS Photo montage which can be downloaded, free of charge from http://www.willowcreek.com/grouplife/aids_day.asp
As introduction to my sermon I used a parable which was once told by the Danish theologian Søren Kierkegaard. There are a number of versions of the parable, but the one I used goes like this:
Imagine that geese could talk, Kierkegaard once said, and that they arranged things so that they too could have their Church services and their worship:
Every Sunday they would assemble together and a gander would preach. The essential content of the sermon was the exalted destiny of the geese, the exalted goal for which the creator had destined geese (and every time his name was named all the geese curtsied and the ganders bowed their heads). With the help of their wings they could fly away to far countries, blessed countries, where they really were at home; for here they were just like exiles. And so every Sunday. Then the gathering broke up, and every goose waddles home.
Then the next Sunday off they went to the service again, then home again. That was all. They throve and grew fat, they became plump and tender… that was all. For while the sermon sounded so exalted on Sundays, on Mondays they would tell one another of the fate of the goose who wanted to take his destiny seriously, with the help of the wings the creator had given it. And they spoke of the horrors it had to endure. But they prudently kept this knowledge among themselves. For, of course, to speak of it on Sundays was most unsuitable, for as they said, in that case it would be obvious that our service would be a mockery both of God and of ourselves.
There were also among the geese some that looked ill and thin. Of them the others said, “You see, that’s what comes from being serious about wanting to fly. It is because they are always thinking of flying that they get thin and do not thrive, and do not have God’s grace as we do. That is why we get plump and fat and tender, for it is by God’s grace that one gets plump and fat and tender.
(This also motivated the theme for my sermon: Do you want to waddle or do you want to fly?)
I then asked someone with whom I had arranged beforehand to give a short testimony of what she had seen and experienced in homes where people are living with AIDS.
In the second part of my sermon I spoke about the widows and the orphans, in Biblical times and then also in modern times. I ended this part of the sermon with something that I realised as I had been reading Jeremiah recently in my personal devotions, that God was angry with the prophets and the priests, some of whom were actively involved in exploiting the widows and orphans, but He was also angry with the “good” prophets and priests, because although they themselves did not exploit the widows and orphans, they refrained from speaking out against it!
I then showed a short clip from the excellent South African movie “Yesterday”. If you haven’t seen it, beg, steal, buy or borrow a copy! It is available on Amazon.com as well as Kalahari.net. I showed the part where Yesterday goes to a clinic to be tested for HIV. Then I asked a Swazi woman to tell the congregation how it feels to live with HIV.
In the next part of my sermon I spoke about the fact that the church in general still seems to live in denial of the enormity of the problem of AIDS and that the situation calls us to act. I also included the words of Helder Camara, a priest in Brazil who once said: “When I feed the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.” We need to address the reasons why AIDS is such a huge problem. Is it just by chance that the countries most affected by AIDS are the poorest countries, the countries in which the greatest discrimination takes place against women, the countries with the lowest education level?
My last video clip was The hidden face of AIDS, which can also be downloaded, free of charge, from Willowcreek’s website. There is a shorter and a longer version. I used the shorter version.
I then ended by asking those who had come to church whether they were going to waddle back home or whether they were going to fly home, because they had decided not only to listen to the Word of God, but to DO what He wants them to do.

Monday, December 1, 2008 Posted by | Africa, AIDS, Church, Cross-cultural experiences, Health, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Hope, Mission, Movie Review, Poverty, Social issues, Stigma, Swaziland, Theology, Worship | Leave a comment

Lars and the real girl

We watched an excellent DVD last night: Lars and the real girl. I’m not going to write much about the plot. It’s enough to say that, in the hands of a different director, this could have ended up as a filthy piece of junk. But Craig Gillespie, who was nominated for the 2007 Most Promising Filmmaker award by the Chicago Film Critics Association, succeeded in making a movie that has an extremely deep message and speaks to Christians in a remarkable way.
I’m more or less sick and tired (and have been for the past twenty or thirty years!) of movies where pastors and priests are nearly always shown to be corrupt, with a total inability to do anything right in their congregations. They either steal money, cheat on their spouses (except for the priests who are not married but who still get involved in extra-marital affairs), act absolutely loveless and do everything Hollywood likes to blame Christians of doing.
This movie was totally different, without being soppy. It shows how the church members first struggle to do the right thing and then, as the movie progresses, they become increasingly convinced that they are indeed right in what they are doing, until eventually the movie ends in a way that is not even considered when the movie starts – but it proves that the church members, under the leadership of their minister, did indeed make the right decision.
If what I’m writing doesn’t make much sense, it’s merely because I don’t want to give away the plot. So if you feel that you want to see something that is a quite few notches above the normal movies shown on big screen, I can wholeheartedly recommend this movie.
I’d like to hear how you experienced this movie.

Saturday, November 1, 2008 Posted by | Church, Grace, Hope, Movie Review | 6 Comments