Will you be a tree or chaff in 2016?

The wind in the Perth hills this (southern hemisphere) summer has been terrible.  Hot and continual.  The whole of the city suffers, but for those of us on the eastern edge of the city (next stop: desert), the overnight gales gusting to 80kmh plus that blow all night, before settling down to a crisp – and crisping – steady wail all day, are insufferable.

Grass green one day, gone the next.  Bin night – or at least the morning after – is always interesting in this wind, which is too strong for all but the heaviest of wheelie bins. You know, the ones packed with all sorts of illegal stuff.  Batteries. Bricks. Bodies.

windy-trees

My back fence has collected all sorts of useful information- receipts, packaging, letters, someone’s list of 2015 goals (might add them to my collection for 2016, possibly skipping the one about writing to grandma more often (true), and the odd 100 dollar note (not true, but I keep looking).

It’s a swirling wind.  I know this because the verandah on the westerly side of our house, facing away from the wind and down the hill towards the city, is a leafy and sandy mess in the mornings.  Yesterday I swept up a large pile of leaves on that side of the house, went inside to get a bag to put them in, came out, and the pile was gone.  Not decimated, not moved, but gone.  Not a leave, not a twig, not even the dusty aftermath.  Just like that. Swirled away with nary a trace. As if it had never been there.

There is a certain confidence among the secular cultural elites/overlords that in 2016 the winds of change sweeping the developed Western nations will continue to blow and sweep away the remaining vestiges of the traditional Christian framework upon which Western culture has been founded. Swept away in such a way that it will seem like it had, just like  the leaves on my verandah, never been there.

And that confidence may be well placed. There is certainly an emboldened push by the culture shapers and shakers to demonstrate that this wind is the wind we needed if we are to progress beyond the old ways of thinking, of speaking, of acting, of identifying, of viewing sex and sexuality, of spirituality, of institution.  There’s nothing a self-proclaimed progressive likes better than progress, or at least the illusion of progress.

If 2015 was any indicator, what can we expect in 2016 from these winds of change? Well what DID 2015 indicate? I think that there are two matters in particular that will, in a more obvious way that in the past, feel the gathering gale-force winds of cultural change in 2016, not just in Australia, but in most developing nations.

1: Freedom of Speech

Freedom of speech in the public square is set to be defined, redefined, and eventually, defined away. Or blown away, more likely.  And, as if it was not already clear, the issue that will define it, redefine it, before eventually  defining it away, is the sexuality, sexual identity and marriage debates in our culture.  I kinda hate harping on about this one, as I don’t expect the culture to hold to the same values and practices as the church when it comes to sex.

 However I must because the two issues are tethered.  The reason they are tethered is that the new sexuality is simply not intellectually, psychologically, morally, physiologically, culturally, or sociologically, robust enough to stand on its own two feet in the public square.  In a great irony, SSM is the viewpoint that needs to be cloistered in order to survive, not the traditional view of marriage.  Unlike its traditional counterpart, and due in no small part to natural law, it is the practice and perspective that cannot sustain the winds of true critique.

It needs the shelter of a micro-climate sustaining it from the push and pull of strong easterlies, cold southerlies, sea-breeze westerlies and searing northerlies, the same cross winds that have battered traditional marriage down the centuries, but under which it has not only survived, but against all odds, thrived.  The new sexuality, however, will need continual cosseting in order to survive, so, a bit like a temporary tax introduced to pay for a one-off financial crisis, strictures on free speech, once introduced, will never be lifted.

This will never be admitted. The argument will be that once the new sexuality in all of its manifold guises (new ones arrive almost daily by the way) gets a head of steam it will flourish, gain strength and grow. It will stand on its own feet, capable of fruitfulness outside the confines of a pop-cultural, legal and political greenhouse. Then, and only then, perhaps we can relax the strictures on what one is able or unable to say publicly about marriage.

But not until then.

Once the plant has taken root, everyone will see how sensible it is and off it will go.  Hurl what you will against the new sexuality, by the time we sing Auld Lang Syne on the eve of 2026, it can stand on its own two feet despite protests to the contrary.

That is a lie. The new sexuality will never be able to do this.  It will need ropes, ties, pulleys, micro-climates, legislation and above all else, nothing exotic in the greenhouse alongside it,  that might threaten its existence as it grows.

The pro-sides of these debates realise that this shut down of free speech is a huge challenge to its argument, hence they have – belatedly in 2015 – been keen to speak of their commitment to free speech. However at the same time they are pushing for strong and uncrossable boundaries about what is and what is not acceptable to say about sexual identity in the public square.

The result will be akin to the famous Clayton’s no-alcohol beer advertising campaign of the 80s – the free speech you can have without having free speech.   In other words, light on fizz, and nothing in it that would make you want to sit down and drink it in the first place.

In all of this there is some hope. The Australian Human Rights Commissioner, Tim Wilson, is a clear and clever voice in the debate, having a strong view that both same sex marriage should be legalised, and that freedom of speech for all, including religious groups who have public objections to it, should be maintained. I think this is the only option left.  Sorry to those on the traditional side who think that you can fight the SSM debate and win it. You can’t. Wilson believes, and I think rightly, that too many traditionalists are fighting the wrong battle.  Convinced they can win both – they will come away empty handed.  In my view the legislation battle on marriage is over for all intents and purposes. The free speech one?  There’s still some way to go on this.   Tim Wilsons, however, are thin on the ground. He speaks brave words against an often at times howling banshee gale of rhetoric in which claims and counterclaims are thrown around.

2. Education

The winds of change are also sweeping the education system, and will continue to do so in 2016.  There is also an almost gleeful commitment to blowing away the idea that the Western values framework, which includes the Christian narrative, has any priority – or any worth – over and above any other perspective, especially in the public education system. Of course this idea is not new, it was the staple diet of my tertiary education in the mid-1980s, but it has, as we should have expected, slithered its way down the ladder to infect the primary and secondary systems.

To be honest, that doesn’t overtly worry me at one level. But the secularists won’t be content to leave it there.  Not at all.  There is already, and will continue to be a push to expose faith-based Christian educational systems to that same wind of change.

Anti-discrimination laws will, in my view, push faith-based schools one of two ways.  They will either end up mimicking many of the mainline church schools, which, let’s face it, apart from a noble few, are geared up to inoculate most students from any form of Christian faith at all, presenting it as a woolly, otherworldly, gelatinous, and most criminal of all – boring – take on the world. A take that makes for a nice museum piece, but doesn’t cut it in the world of finance, law, politics and the arts.

It’s either that or these schools will be forced to shut down.  Why? Because hard secularism brooks no rival and cannot countenance the existence of alternative moral communities, much less allow them to flourish by directing any state monies towards them.  There are strong voices calling for this already, although the fact that the state would go broke if it were to take back all primary and secondary education, is a mitigating factor.

The reason for this secular zeal is obvious when you understand that its protagonists view the secular viewpoint as the bedrock of thinking, the foundational understanding of how the world is put together. Or as Charles Taylor puts it in A Secular Age, “a subtraction narrative”.

Secularism, in this thinking, is what you get when modernity’s wind of change finally sweeps away the detritus and topsoil to reveal the cold, hard bedrock of foundational reality. Hard secularism lacks   the courage, the humility, and the insight, to name its perspective as simply that, a perspective.  Hard secularism is the true fundamentalism of our age, and with the wind in its sails in 2016 its putsch will gather apace.

So where does this leave us?  Does it leave us on my back verandah, heaped in a pile ready to be swept away at a moment’s notice, leaving reminder neither of our existence nor our passing?

I have much more confidence than that.  It’s a confidence borne from the Scriptures and their constant timeliness in the midst of every wind of change that has, like a dervish, screeched in our faces.  Indeed, the promise in 2016, is that the those holding to the Bible’s perspective are in fact the true trees, whilst those who reject it, are not even leaves but simply hollowed out chaff, mere husks despite their apparent weightiness, at the mercy of the wind.

Psalm 1 started the year for me yesterday. Here’s what verses 1-4 say:

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
2 but his delight is in the law[b] of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
3 He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
4 The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Now for all who read my blogs, you will know that I don’t equate the traditional Western perspective as the Christian perspective.  It’s come a  long way since those two things were inextricably tied.  But the overlap is massive.   Psalm 1 commends itself to God’s people at the start of 2016, precisely because it announces that the truly stable perspective is the one grounded in the life as revealed in Scripture. Not only a stable perspective, but stable people!

The weather cannot destroy the ones who delight in the LORD’s law. The harsh drought cannot shrivel the roots of those who are planted by the streams of God’s refreshing instructions, his loving and wise framework for life.  The truly stable community over the coming decades will be trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD to his glory, as Isaiah 60 so memorably puts it, in the face of another worrisome windstorm of cultural and political change.

Now nothing else in our culture will tell you that we are the trees – the ones who will hang on.  Nothing in our popular, legal or political culture will hold its hand up and admit to being chaff, to admit to being a mere breath away from oblivion, if not in this generation, then the next.  Only the Scriptures that gather us like a grove of trees in a vacant paddock will tell us that yes, indeed, we are the trees.

So as such, in 2016, we must have the eyes of faith.  The eyes of faith to see that even if this current ungodliness (and myriad other “ungodlinesses” such as injustice, poverty, violence, a refusal to acknowledge all human life as equally precious from conception to death), seem to be in the ascendency, seem to be piling up, they is piling up simply to one day be blown away by the breath of God, like so many leaves from my verandah.

Hence in 2016, when another round of Christian leaders/bloggers/vloggers publicly repudiate the faith once for all delivered to the saints; when another round of Christian celebrities jacks it in because they’re losing Twitter followers at a faster rate than Jesus did on the way to Jerusalem; when another round of Christian pastors claim that they need a private jet to spend more time in prayer rather than taking a commercial flight to their conferences; when another round of Christian leaders belatedly rolls over on the new sexuality, accruing the plaudits of the culture in doing so, then know this:

… the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
6 for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

The LORD will sustain those he has planted. The Tree of Life himself – the Lord Jesus, will nourish and keep us by his Holy Spirit. He knows our hearts, he knows our struggles, and one day – the whole world will stand in his presence, and acknowledge that his leaves – and his leaves alone – are for the healing of the nations.

10 Comments

  1. I have long thought that the major flaw with SSM is that it is simply too easy. It is far more simple and plainly intuitive to combine like-with-like (rather than with a true “other” in gender complementarity). This is but a half-step from self-talk and auto-eroticism. The relational impedance that is built into marriage challenge is removed and what remains is a short-circuit. And to think that the original marriage design was to provide our race with the curriculum by which we might relate with a true Other! I suggest this over-ease, paradoxically, is the dynamic that creates the fragility of which you so eloquently wrote.

  2. That’s a great observation. There’s something about true marriage that pushes us beyond ourselves isn’t there. Yes, idolatry is now being sanctioned. Marriage was at least one place in the culture in which we were “forced” to serve the other.

  3. Thanks for more great stuff, Stephen. With respect to increasing hostility between government/society and subjects of the kingdom of God, I came across this little zinger from Paul Barnett in *Jesus and the Rise of Early Christianity*:

    Discussing the persecution of Christians under Nero, Barnett says, “Later, as governor of the province of Asia, Tacitus would write an account of the action that was taken against the Christians, whom he spurns for their “hatred of the human race,” that is, for their studied aloofness from Roman society.”

    Not joining in, not cheering on the depravity and destruction is “Hatred of the human race”.

  4. What a poignant read to kick-off another New Year! Thanks again for an incisive and nuanced critique of ‘our times’, Stephen. I thoroughly enjoy your blogging that grounds us in the true-hope of the Gospel, avoiding smug moral superiority and/or pious outrage towards the culture in which we live. This isn’t easy to do.
    May you and yours have a fruitful 2016 in all you do. Cheers.

  5. I always appreciate the depth of thought and conviction you pour into your writing Steve. No one could ever charge you with flippant, superficial rhetoric. But I also always come away perplexed.
    Perplexed because, while I see a similar outcome on the horizon, both in the sexuality and education arenas, I find much of it a cause for celebration to God; much of it the result of a long journey, which has been hampered and buffeted by a relentless “easterly wind” from traditionalists, both inside and outside of the church.

    I don’t mind many traditions, but to propose those traditions, such as “traditional marriage”, that we currently have, are the same as those we have always had is, a little selective on the historical/reality front. The only thing about the marriage debate that is long-lasting is the heterosexual focus of it. Beyond 100 years ago, traditional marriage would begin to look very different to what many now celebrate and seek to protect. Go back 500 years and it starts to get hard to recognise much that we would like to preserve.

    Interestingly, the things we start to find consistently offensive about historical (and many biblical) “marriages” is anchored to the way society viewed the male and female “role”. As these gender roles have evolved, people have been liberated from oppressive traditions and, yes, many of those traditions have suffered because of it.

    This is where I find myself on the opposite side to you re: SSM. I see it as a beautiful way that a cultural (and biblical) tradition/institution is able to continue to evolve so that the essence of it is able to be preserved. We would also differ here on what we believe the essence of marriage to be – I see it as the loving union between people that commit to a lifetime of moving towards one another as the Spirit continues to transform their relationship into one that reflects and experiences the communion of God – producing the fruit of the Spirit and the 1 Cor 13 qualities of Love.

    For many/most people this will be reflected inside a heterosexual Union, which will often bear the fruit of new physical life. For some others however, child birth won’t be a marker of their union. For some this will be through choice and others it will be the cause of much grief and despair. Either way, all of these people will be able to enjoy the marriage Union. The addition of SSA people to this tradition simply expands those that enjoy the blessing and burden of this tradition within our society. This is something I have prayed for, for many, many years, and something that I, and many other Christians, will give thanks for, when it comes to pass in our country in the near future. Contrary to seeing this as a battle we “cannot win”, I celebrate this as a victorious move towards a society that more closely reflects the Kingdom we pray and hope for.

    With regards to your metaphor, Im sure that locates me in the position of “chaff” and not “tree”, but this is where I would disagree with you once again.

    The education “issue”
    Is a whole ‘nother important conversation to be had.

    Thanks for your constant challenges.

  6. Wow, I’ve not heard such a beguiling temptation to ignore God’s prohibition of forbidden fruit since Gen. 3:1-5, nor such perplexity since: “Did God really say…” (3:1).

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