Radiant smiles, and forgiveness in the face of cruelty: the Charleston church is showing the world the face of True Christianity

When I heard of the Charleston shooting story broke, I was asked to write a background piece on the State Senator who was killed, Clementa Pinckney. I was touched by the photos of this man, which suggested a loving and humble character. I was touched by the tributes, that he was kind, without cynicism and served others. I was touched by his words about service to the community.

Why would God allow such an outrage in a church? My answer to this is not about whether God ‘allowed’ it, but more what the people of that church are demonstrating – the real face of Jesus Christ.

Clementa was clearly a man of faith. When I saw the faces of the other victims, all I could see was that radiant joy that you see when people are really close to Christ. They are beautiful:

_83744417_charleston-victims-composite

All the more in contrast with the angry, confused and hateful expression on the killer’s face. He is reported to have said that he nearly didn’t kill them because they were so nice to him.

The legacy and fruit of that Bible study group is next displayed in one of the most extraordinary expressions of Christ I’ve ever seen. One by one, the family members of the victims spoke at the killer’s bond hearing, and told the killer, whose impassive face is seen in this video, some extraordinary words:

I forgive you. You took something really precious away from me. I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. God have mercy on your soul. You’ve hurt me, you’ve hurt a lot of people. But God forgive you, and I forgive you.

I would like you to know that… I forgive you and my family forgive you. we would like to take this opportunity to repent. And give your life to the One who matters the most, Christ, so he can change you. He can change your ways no matter what happen to you. And you’ll be OK. Do that. You’ll be better off than you are right now.

We welcome you Wednesday night in our Bible study, with open arms. You have killed some of the most beautifulest people that I know. Every fibre in my body hurts. I’ll never be the same. [My son] was my hero. We enjoyed you [in the Bible study]. May God have mercy on you.

Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate. But everyone’s plea for your soul is proof that they lived in love, and their legacies live in love. And, hate won’t win.

I’m a work in progress, and I acknowledge that I am very angry… we are the family that love built. We have no room for hate… may God bless you.

If you don’t think that Christianity is true, and Jesus is real – I don’t know how you can deny the reality of Christ living in these people. The ability to forgive while in such pain and grief is the power of God, the fruit of the Holy Spirit. What an amazing community.

Advertisements

Darkness and light: the crucifixion and ISIS

candle-386607_640

Today I was given a clear picture of the scene of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion, as I was reading Matthew 27. I saw how much hatred there was in the crowd, and in the religious leaders, and in the soldiers. The crowd was shouting for Jesus to be viciously tortured and killed – full of murderous rage and evil. The leaders were desperate to find something wrong in Jesus and to condemn him for blasphemy – and so have him killed and tortured. The soldiers were mocking and taunting him and drove nails into him. There was no compassion, no mercy – just hate and evil.

And yet Jesus did not fight back, he did not try to defend himself. He did not try to justify himself. He remained pure, and good, and holy. Even when he was in agony on the Cross, he still said to his Father: ‘Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’. The darkness was raging around him, throwing its worst at him, hating him, hurting him and cruelly mistreating him. Yet Jesus remained the same – pure and loving – and full of mercy.

It struck me very clearly and forcefully how the evil of the crowd was darkness, but how brightly Jesus was the light. As it says in John 1:5:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.

It also struck me how similar kinds of darkness have expressed themselves throughout history. The crusades, the gas chambers, and the modern-day atrocities committed by ISIS are all examples of the darkness expressing itself. All too often, it prompts evil and hate in return. But to have the mind of Christ is to stay pure, stay loving, stay forgiving in that situation. That is completely impossible for a human being, but it is possible for Christ living in us. That light cannot go out – we must let it shine within us, and keep the darkness out of our souls – even when the darkness rages outside.

The Godfather films: love, family and Christianity

I’ve just finished re-watching The Godfather, part I and II. The last time I watched them was before I’d become a Christian (I’ve got the first film on VHS – lol!). This time round, I saw some interesting themes in the films that I wouldn’t have picked up before I was religiously aware.

‘Godfather’ is obviously a religious term. In the first film, becoming a Godfather and the act of baptism is seen as a very important thing, especially to the Corleone family. Godchildren are looked after. They become part of the family. Being part of the family is sacred, vital. It becomes what the Bible calls an ‘idol’ – something that’s made more important than God. So in some senses, the act of baptism (into the family) is actually more important than God in the film: it’s lost the original meaning of the ritual.

However I see the main theme in both movies to be that ‘love’ for your family can lead to evil. Vito Corleone’s concern for his family – which is profound and touching (“a man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man”) – is actually what leads him into organised crime. He wants to provide for his family and protect them. Yet you see that the deeper you’re in, the more violence you’ve got to enact in order to keep control and keep on top – and the more at risk your family becomes from the violence.

Why do they want to be in the mafia? For Vito, and initially for Michael, it seems to be because they want to protect the family. Michael initially rejects the Mafia, but gets involved after the attempted assassination of his father. Yet, their families are decimated by the violence of their profession – they see their sons and brothers killed, one by one.

So is a lesson from the film, that attempting to protect people or do good through evil, will not ultimately protect them or do good?

Another aspect of this theme is revenge. Vito wants to avenge deaths of his mother and father, and ultimately does so. Michael wants to avenge his father’s assassination attempt, and does so brutally.

Ultimately this desire for vengeance takes over, and trumps the love for family, in Michael’s life. His wife is banished for aborting his child, and his brother is killed for betrayal. The end of the second film sees him all alone – betrayed, and deserted.

Forgiveness is intrinsic to Christianity, it’s essential and for a Christian, it must be stronger than family love. I think this is the message of The Godfather films. Without it, vengeance and hatred will ultimately ruin your family. Evil cannot conquer, using it cannot protect the love you have. Only love and forgiveness can.

Hence the powerful baptism scene in the first film, where Michael’s profession of faith, where he claims to believe in Christ and to renounce the works of the devil, are contrasted with his brutal acts of revenge following his father’s death. The motive for the killings is to protect and avenge his family – yet he agrees to be godfather to his nephew. The brutality of his vengeance is for the motive of family – but is clearly the opposite of the faith he is professing, as the director makes clear. These contradictions make for the compelling storyline, but there’s a lot to learn from it too.

I think it’s saying, that you cannot love, and you cannot love your family, without forgiveness in your heart, for all people. If you treat your family as a god – as an idol – it will collapse, and be destroyed.

The jellyfish man: an encounter with ‘liquid love’

What happens when we die? Some people have very vivid Near Death Experiences, which could provide an answer. This guy, Ian McCormack, felt that God was guiding him as he was on the brink of death after being stung by box jellyfish. When he asked for forgiveness, he found himself in the presence of Jesus.

There is a short version of his testimony, but I’d really recommend listening to the full version below. What really struck me is his description of being in the presence of God: ‘liquid love’.