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I have watched A Fiddler on the Roof at least 30 times. If you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favour and buy or borrow a copy. It’s a story about how a simple, poor, and profoundly spiritual Jewish man must struggle to choose between his daughters’ happiness and his religious traditions. It’s sometimes halarious and sometimes heartbreaking. Like life.

Right at the start of the story, the lead character (played by the man known in the credits, rather mysteriously, only as ‘Topol’ in the days before Madonna, Cher, Prince and Puff Daddy/Puffy/PDiddy) somes up the meaning of the story beautifully:

“Because of our traditions, everyone here knows exactly who he is, and what God expects him to do”. And later, “Without our traditions, our lives would be as shakey as a fiddler on the roof”.

The rest of the movie involves Tevya (Topol) deconstructing this previously unshakable conviction as he attempts to hold onto his faith in God and his love for his daughters (who each fall in love with and marry increasingly scandelous men).

It’s a film that speaks strongly towards a conversation that is gaining momentum in the Church (and religion in general). People want to move away from traditions/religion and towards relationship (both vertical and horizontal). People scoff at conservatives who speak against gay marriage for having a religion based on propositional truths instead of relational truth (the jury is still out regarding how one can have any kind of religion without propositional doctrines). Most of the people I know fit neatly into one of two camps: those who desperately want to hold onto our traditions because they fear the effects of letting it slide. They talk about ‘the erosion of family values’ and ‘the humanistic trend in evangelical theology’. The other camp want desperately to be more than society’s moral watchdogs. They want to abandon dogma and unhelpful arguments and move into the communities where a difference can be made. They talk about ‘the irrelevance of another meeting’ and ‘the need for dialogue; not evangelism’.

Every one of us lives in tension between these two camps, and like Tevye, we must struggle with God and ourselves as we attempt to scratch out our simple, pleasant tune without falling off the roof and breaking our necks. We are all fiddlers on the roof. Topol argues back and forth with himself between numerous ‘on the other hands’, allowing his religion and tradition to be eroded as far as his conscience will allow him to because of his love for his daughters and his very personal relationship with God. Finally though, when his third daughter announces that she is running away with a Russian peasant, he has to admit ‘there is no other hand’. We all have our limits. To have any kind of authenticity, the Church must have limits too… but where are they?

What are the essentials of your faith? Can you write them down in five simple statements? Better yet, can you write down five things that Church practice or policy portrays as an essential, but that you don’t believe is an essential at all? (Comments anyone 🙂 )

My favourite moment in the movie is when, at his eldest daughter’s wedding, Tevye is accused of allowing scandal to enter his house because a young Communist from Kiev whom he is housing crosses the barrier and dances with a girl. Tevye asks the Rabbi if it is a sin, and the Rabbi has to admit that ‘it’s not exactly a sin, but…’ before he is cut off. Tevye dances with his wife! Soon everyone is dancing. The freedom is beautiful.

This past week I spent some time with a group of teenagers on outreach in Hawane in Swaziland.

We always used to spend a week during the December holidays at camp. We had lectures. We cried in worship. We went home. We forgot. But then last year, Sheldon (our youth pastor) asked the leaders to think about a change. Instead of camp, we’d go on outreach. I loved the idea and we went ahead last year with our first outreach. This year, we went from friendship evangelism to community service.

Hawane is a community of homes for orphans. It also functions as a base for life-skills training for graduates from Emafeni (a program for people with life-controlling problems). It’s also in a community with one of the highest HIV infection rates in a country with the highest HIV infection rate in the world. So we had no lack of service opportunities. In the mornings, we prayed with the life-skills students and visited the hospital. In the afternoons we worked in the gardens (we made a prayer garden in a quiet corner of the community for the staff, and we made a vegetable garden for a very sick single mom in the neighboring community), and we ran a soccer clinic for the older boys. In the evenings we spent time in the homes of the orphans, playing games with them and praying with their foster parents.

We debriefed and had short devotions and worship three times in total. Sheldon, Paige and I said very little to the youth the whole week other than to encourage their efforts. The teenagers had a fantastic time and although few tears were shed, no grandiose promises of lasting faithfulness were made, and nobody said ‘amen brother!’ even once, we all learned more in this week than we could have in a year of youth camps.

So cancel your youth camp and take your youth into the community to make a difference.

Less is more:
Less words. Less costs. More fruit.

About Me

Ecstatically married to Leane. Studying Theology and Teaching. Working as a worship leader, teacher, coach, guitar teacher. Living in the Mighty City of Mkondo in the sunny province of Mpumalanga, in the blessed country of South Africa.

Favourite Thoughts – Outbox

Religion is to be defended - not by putting to death - but by dying. Not by cruelty, but by patient endurance. - Lactantius (c.304-313).
What is essential Christianity? From first to last it is scandal, the divine scandal. Every time someone risks scandal of high order there is joy in heaven. - Soren Keirkegaard.
Where there are two Christians, there are three opinions... [Actually a Jewish saying, but at least as true for Christians]

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