Last month I received some money for my birthday (thanks M and D) and with it I bought a kauri kaleidoscope - a seemingly infinite collection of beautiful stained glass windows right there in my hand. A fraction of a turn: a new image. Over and over again, pattern after pattern, until your eye gets tired of squinting through the tiny window. What joy!
A few days after my purchase I was indulging myself, drinking in all this glory, when what should come swimming into view but a tiny winged insect multiplied umpteen times right plonk in the middle of a particularly gorgeous pattern. And I found myself thinking: Isn't that just like life? All that beauty, and a dead fly in the middle of it.
As I write this I can feel some of you shuddering at such a negative image. There is a sense that to speak negatively about the world is to somehow dishonour God who made it. And we in New Zealand are so particularly aware of what a wonderful job God has done. Surrounded by astounding natural beauty which, courtesy of Peter Jackson's Fellowship of the Ring the rest of the world is currently applauding loudly we live a largely idyllic existence.
Yet even here in our beautiful country life is marred by the fall. We come face to face with that fact every time someone gets cancer, or someone is raped, or murdered. When things like this happen those who prefer to avoid the negative are faced with a decision: whether to acknowledge what is happening and grieve with those who are grieving; or whether to pretend that nothing untoward is happening at all.
I have been surprised to see how many times people choose the latter option. But denial is not a healthy attitude to foster, either in ourselves, or in the people who are in pain. American songwriter Charlie Peacock wrote about the need for Christians to learn to 'enter in' to one another's pain:
Where did this idea come from that to recognise pain in others, or to admit our own pain, is somehow wrong? Why are we uncomfortable engaging with the fallenness of the world?
Perhaps we are afraid that if we acknowledge the presence of evil in the world we are denying Christ's victory over it. Maybe we fear that our faith will be damaged when we encounter the negative.
Or do we feel that if we pick up something from the gutter (so to speak) we will ourselves become contaminated? Yet isn't that precisely what
Jesus did when he chose to 'put on' humanness?
About ten years before his untimely death, Mark Heard wrote "These Plastic Halos",2 a song which captures brilliantly the sense of desolation in those who try so hard to 'hold up their end' and be positive, but in the process drift further and further away from the abundant life Christ offers: 3
When we choose to live in a false world where only the positive is allowed, we are choosing not only to become desensitised to our own pain, but to the pain of those all around us, to the pain of Creation itself and to God's pain.
And what of my kaleidoscope?
The people who made it are very proud of their products, referring to them as their 'babies'. On hearing my story they immediately offered to take the kaleidoscope apart, remove the offending fly and reassemble it for me.
If the makers of my kaleidoscope cared enough about their product to want to put it right, how much more is God yearning to restore this beautiful world - and its people - made with such love? Surely as God's children, God's 'representatives on earth', it is our responsibility to bring the sad, evil, broken, negative things of this world before God - who alone can put them right - rather than to turn a blind eye to them.4
Yes, the world is a marvellous place and New Zealand particularly beautiful. Yet in spite of that beauty, all Creation groans. By choosing to hear those groans and to grieve with God, we make ourselves available to intercede for the suffering of the world. Being prepared to engage with the negative thus becomes a truly positive experience.