In 2004 Victor Yushchenko stood for the presidency of the Ukraine. Vehemently opposed by the ruling party Yushchenko’s face was disfigured and he almost lost his life when he was mysteriously poisoned. This was not enough to deter him from standing for the presidency.
On the day of the election Yushchenko was comfortably in the lead. The ruling party, not to be denied, tampered with the results. The state-run television station reported “ladies and gentlemen, we announce that the challenger Victor Yushchenko has been decisively defeated.”
In the lower right-hand corner of the screen a woman by the name of Natalia Dmitruk was providing a translation service for the deaf community. As the news presenter regurgitated the lies of the regime, Natalia Dmitruk refused to translate them. “I’m addressing all the deaf citizens of Ukraine” she signed. “They are lying and I’m ashamed to translate those lies. Yushchenko is our president.”
The deaf community sprang into gear. They text messaged their friends about the fraudulent result and as news spread of Dmitruk’s act of defiance increasing numbers of journalists were inspired to likewise tell the truth. Over the coming weeks the “Orange Revolution” occurred as a million people wearing orange made their way to the capital city of Kiev demanding a new election. The government was forced to meet their demands, a new election was held and Victor Yushchenko became president.
Philip Yancey writes
“When I heard the story behind the orange revolution, the image of a small screen of truth in the corner of the big screen became for me an ideal picture of the church. You see we as a church do not control the big screen. (When we do, we usually mess it up.) Go to any magazine rack or turn on the television and you see a consistent message. What matters is how beautiful you are, how much money or power you have. Similarly, though the world includes many poor people, they rarely make the magazine covers or the news shows. Instead we focus on the superrich, names like Bill Gates or Oprah Winfrey.… Our society is hardly unique. Throughout history nations have always glorified winners, not losers. Then, like the sign language translator in the lower right-hand corner of the screen, along comes a person named Jesus who says in effect, Don’t believe the big screen – they’re lying. It’s the poor who are blessed, not the rich. Mourners are blessed too, as well as those who hunger and thirst, and the persecuted. Those who go through life thinking they’re on top end up on the bottom. And those who go through life feeling they’re on the bottom end up on the top. After all, what does it profit a person to gain the whole world and lose his soul?”
Source: Philip Yancey, What Good Is God, pages 184-186
We’re accustomed to thinking of the strength as opposite to gentleness, softness and tenderness. Yet this is not always true. During World War 1 British fighter pilots made an amazing discovery, that thick layers of silk stopped low velocity shrapnel better than steel. So they wound the silk around their heads and then wore leather horse riding helmets on top of the silk.
Scientists still aren’t sure just what it is that gives silk its strength, but it’s true, that in certain situations soft, gentle, tender silk can prove far stronger than cold, hard steel.
Jesus showed us the same holds true for human character. Some people try to make themselves impenetrable to the people around them. Jesus showed us that gentleness, a heart that’s soft toward others, and tenderness are in fact qualities of great strength!
Source: Scientific info from Dr Karl Kruszelnicki’s New Moments in Science #1
History has preserved for us two magnificent silver cups from the boggy marshes of Ireland. The first is known as the Gundestrup Cauldron and comes from a century or two before Christ, a the time when the Irish worshiped violent pagan gods. It is adorned with pictures of gods and warriors. One panel shows a gigantic cook-god holding squirming humans and dropping them into a vat of oil. These gods demand human sacrifice to appease their appetite.
The second cup is called the Ardagh Chalice and comes from the seventh or eighth centuries after Christ, a time when the Irish had turned to Christianity. Like the first it is a work of magnificent craftsmanship, but the God it depicts is radically different. It has a simple but intricate patterning. But this is a cup of peace, designed to be used in communion. As the worshiper lifts it to her lips she is reminded that this God does not demand human sacrifice, but instead sacrifices himself for us.
Source: reported in T Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilisation (Hodder, 1995)
Dad was sitting watching television, when his little boy came running over. “Daddy, can you play with me?”
Dad enjoys playing with his son, and plans to give him plenty of time, but not just yet. “Soon, son, soon” says Dad. “When this program finishes.”
Five minutes later the little boy returns. “Daddy, can we play now?”
“Soon, son, soon. When this program finishes.”
Two minutes later the little boy returns again. “Daddy, is it time to play yet?”
Dad realises he’s not going to get any peace, so he decides to set his son a task that will take some time. He notices a picture of the world on the front page of the newspaper lying in front of him. He tears the picture out then rips it into small pieces. “Now son, I’ve got a game for you. Take the pieces of this picture of the world and put them back together again and then we’ll play together.”
The little boy eagerly takes the pieces away with him and sets to work. Dad’s relieved he’ll get to see the last half hour of his TV program. But to his amazement his little boy is back in less than five minutes. “I’ve finished daddy. Can we play now?”
The father is stunned when he turns around to see his son holding up the picture of the world, each piece sticky taped into the right position. Dad begins wondering whether he has a child prodigy on his hands. “How did you get it done so quickly?” he asks. “That would’ve taken me a good 20 minutes and I’m an adult.”
“Oh, it was easy daddy. On the back of the world was a picture of a person, so I put the person together and that’s when the world came together.”
How do you put the world together? How do you make sense of your world and find your way through it? Christians find that Jesus is the face on the other side of the puzzle. He enables us to make sens eof life and our world and to find a path through it.
The Manchester City Art Gallery houses a painting of Christ by Holman Hunt. It shows Jesus standing inside his father’s carpenter shop in Nazareth. He has momentarily put his saw down and is stripped down to a cloth around his waist. A weary Jesus stretches his arms above his head, casting a shadow onto the wall, a shadow in the shape of a person crucified. A long narrow tool rack hanging on the wall intersects perfectly with his shadow to give the impression of the crossbeam of the cross.
There is a woman in the foreground on the left hand side. She kneels among the woodchips, with her hands resting upon a chest that houses the gifts of the magi. It is Mary, startled by the cross like shadow cast by her son.
Hunt shows us in artform what the Gospels show us with words. The shadow of the cross was cast over Christ’s life from the beginning. His death lies at the heart of his story, and ours.
Once upon a time there was a kingdom of monkeys. They were ruled by a very large and very wise monkey king. The monkeys lived near a stand of mango trees which ran alongside a river and enjoyed a constant supply of these delicious fruits. One day the king noticed a castle being built downstream from the mango trees. He ordered the monkeys to gather all the mangoes from the trees. They dutifully responded, and collected all the mangoes bar one which was hidden behind a bird’s nest.
One day this mango fell from the tree into the river. The human king who inhabited the recently built castle was taking a swim when the mango floated by. He picked it up, and after learning from his Prime Minister that it was a delicious fruit, he ate it. So impressed was he that the human king determined to gain more mangoes, and set out with his guards in search of the mango trees.
When the human king found the mangoes he also found the monkeys. Though the monkeys were willing to share the mangoes with him, the human king wasn’t. Deciding he would have all the mangoes for himself he order his soldiers to pursue and slay the monkeys.
When news of this reached the wise monkey king he sadly knew that the day he feared had arrived. The soldiers chased the monkeys through the forest until they came to the edge of a tall cliff. The monkey king knew that if he could get his subjects across the other side they would be safe. But how to do it?
The monkey king took his huge body and used it to form a bridge between the cliffs. One by one his subjects climbed over him to safety. The king grew increasingly wearied and bruised, but knew he must hold on. As the monkey’s scrambled across their king grew ever weaker, yet still he held on. Finally, when the last monkey had cross the bridge, the monkey king collapsed.
The human king had witnessed the whole scene from high on the hill. He was so moved by the monkey king’s sacrifice that he ordered his guards to find a way down the rocky cliff and rescue the monkey king. The guards found him, barely alive, and brought him back to the king. The human king ordered his best doctors to care for the monkey king and waited from him to regain consciousness. When he did so the human king asked “You are their king, why did you bother to die for them?”
The monkey king replied, “Because I am their King”. And with that, he died.
Source: Adapted from a story from the Jataka found at “What Do You Think My Friend?” (www.serve.com/cmtan/buddhism/Stories)
Map making goes by the name of cartography. It may not sound terribly interesting, but in 1815 a cartographer by the name of William Smith produced a map that changed the world. William Smith was an English orphan who grew up in poverty. He became a surveyor and during his time surveying the countryside he came to realise something very important about the earth beneath his feet. First he discovered that rocks could be dated by the fossils found in them. Find the same type of fossils in two rocks separated by distance and it’s probably they come from the same era. Second, he learned that the rock layers tend to be arranged in a consistent pattern. Armed with that knowledge Smith produced a geological map of England, Scotland and Wales. And that map changed the world.
How you might ask? Well for the first time Smith’s map allowed people to predict what lay beneath the ground. Prior to Smith’s map if you wanted to find gold or coal or gas or any other natural resource you had to scout the surface for some sign of them – a glint of gold or an outcropping of coal. But with Smith’s map you could look for particular rock types and know what likely lay beneath them and within them. His map allowed us to see below the surface and to uncover the depths. And so the electricity we gain from coal, the gas that fires our stoves, the gold we wear on chains around our necks, and much much more are possible because William Smith mad a map in 1815.
Smith’s story reminds us of the need to be cartographers of life. Before Smith we barely scratched the surface of the earth, but after Smith we could plumb the depths. Similarly, we could all do with a life map, a mental map that enables us to do more than scratch the surface of life, but to experience the depths of human possibility. For Christians Jesus is the Cartographer of Life, the one who provides us with a map of realities that we can barely see – of God, truth and love.
Alternate Application: The Scriptures are a life-map God has provided for us. They point us to realities about God and life that we would otherwise not be able to see, and enable us to live life to its fullest.
Source: William Smith’s story is reported in Simon Wichester, The Map That Changed the World (HarperCollins, 2001)
In his book Written In Blood, Robert Coleman tells the story of a little boy whose sister needed a blood transfusion. She had a rare blood type which she shared with her little brother. The fact that he had recovered from the same disease two years earlier made the chances of success even greater. The doctor carefully explained all this to the little boy, pointing out that without the transfusion his sister would die.
“Would you be brave and give your blood to your sister?” the doctor asked. Johnny hesitated. His lower lip began to tremble. Then he smiled and said, “Sure, for my sister.” The two children were wheeled into the hospital room – Mary, pale and thin; Johnny, robust and healthy. He smiled at his sister, the watched as the blood travelled out of his body, down the clear plastic tube. Johnny’s smile faded, and as he lay there feeling weak he looked up at the doctor and said, “Doctor, when do I die?’
Johnny thought that giving his blood to his sister meant giving up his life. Yet because of his great love for her he was prepared to pay the price.
Source: quote excerpted from Robert Coleman, Written in Blood.
High in the Andes mountains is an enormous statue of Christ known as El Cristo de los Andes (The Christ of the Andes). It sits right on the border dividing Argentina from Chile, and was built to commemorate the resolution of boundary questions that had more than once threatened peaceful relationships between the nations. As long as the statue stands the nations have pledged there will be peace between Argentina and Chile. And so “Christ of the Andes” stands 14,000 feet above sea level, with one hand holding a cross and the other hand held up as though providing a blessing.
Ironically, shortly after the statue was erected as a symbol of mutual peace, controversy and bitterness broke out, as the statue of Christ faced Argentina, and so had its back turned towards Chile. The tension was defused by a Chilean journalist who humorously concluded it was only right that the statue face this way, for “the people of Argentina need more watching over than the Chileans.”
The Christ of the Andes statue reminds us that Christ offers peace and reconciliation to those who are at war with God and to those at war with each other, and that in effect, we are all like the Argentinians, we all need Christ watching over us.
Sources: reported in The Catholic Encyclopaedia and Bits & Pieces, June 25, 1992.
At the end of time, billions of people were scattered on a great plain before God’s throne.
Most shrank back from the brilliant light before them. But some groups near the front talked heatedly – not with cringing shame, but with belligerence.
‘Can God judge us? How can he know about suffering?’ snapped a young Albanian. He removes his shirt to reveal a bullet scarred back. ‘ In Kosovo we endured terror… shootings… torture!’
In another group an aged aboriginal woman pulls a crumpled, tear stained photograph from her pocket. ‘What about this?’ she demanded, ‘This is my precious child. I have not seen her since the day she was stolen away for no crime but being black!’
In another crowd, a pregnant schoolgirl with sullen eyes. ‘Why should I suffer’ she murmured, ‘It wasn’t my fault.’
Far out across the plain there were hundreds of such groups. Each had a complaint against God for the evil and suffering he permitted in this world. How lucky God was to live in heaven where all was sweetness and light, where there was no weeping or fear, no hunger or hatred. What did God know of all that people had been forced to endure in this world? For God leads a pretty sheltered life, they said.
So each of these groups sent forth their leader, chosen because he had suffered the most. A Jew, a person from Hiroshima, a horribly deformed arthritic, a thalidomide child. In the center of the plain they consulted with each other. At last they were ready to present their case. It was rather clever.
Before God could be qualified to be their judge, he must endure what they had endured. Their decision was that God should be sentenced to live on earth – as a man!
‘Let him be born into a hated race. Let the legitimacy of his birth be doubted. Give him a work so difficult that even his family will think him out of his mind when he tries to do it. Let him be betrayed by his closest friends. Let him face false charges, be tried by a prejudiced jury and convicted by a cowardly judge. Let him be tortured.
‘At the last, let him see what it means to be terribly alone. Then let him die. Let him die so that there can be no doubt that he died. Let there be a great host of witnesses to verify it.’
As each leader announced his portion of the sentence, loud murmurs of approval went up from the throng of people assembled.
And when the last had finished pronouncing sentence, there was a long silence. No-one uttered another word. No-one moved. For suddenly all knew that God had already served his sentence.