Monthly Archives: April 2014

Today would be a good day to be at Gallipoli

It seems appropriate to follow up Friday’s post about what Anzac Day might say about Aussie culture and the gospel with my own reflections from visiting Gallipoli a couple of years ago.

Lone Pine
Looking out from Lone Pine
What did I love about visiting Gallipoli?
Crossing the Dardanelles
Crossing the Dardanelles

We stayed the night before at Çanakkle and watching the sunset over the Daranelles looking toward the Gallipoli peninsula was quite moving.

Sunset from Canakelle

Visiting a place which you have heard of so frequently but never really known much detail about is an engrossing experience. For starters, I found Anzac Cove much smaller than I expected.

Anzac Cove landing site

The whole peninsula is fairly barren and undeveloped, and just seems like such a desolate and strange place for our national myth to be centred on.

Looking up the hill from the cove

I’m not generally the most nationalistic person, but it was powerful to reflect on the heartbreak suffered by so many so far away back home whose sons never returned from this place.

Ari Burnu Cemetery
Ari Burnu Cemetery

I was also impressed by the hospitality of the Turkish people in welcoming us to remember and commemorate our story in the midst of their own.

The words of Atatürk, Turkish Commander at Gallipoli and later President of Turkey
The words of Atatürk, Turkish Commander at Gallipoli and later President of Turkey
 What did I learn from Gallipoli?
Lone Pine Memorial 2
Lone Pine

The number of graves alone tells the story of the futility of war. This is not a place for celebration, but for sombre contemplation on the darkness of human history.

Ari Burnu Cemetery 2
Ari Burnu

I knew we had a distant family connection to Gallipoli, but was not expecting to find a family name on the memorial to those who have no known grave. Certainly that gave me a deeper sense of connection to this place.

Close up memorial

And yet I struggled as I stood there to reconcile all the stories, the legends, that I have heard over the years, with the stark reality of this place. I’m not convinced that every individual Australian who faced death in this place was “staunch to the end” or “steady and aglow.” I wonder how many of them were afraid, humbled, and confused.

Lone Pine Memorial

I couldn’t help wondering how often Australians erroneously glorify this place and what happened here.

Anzac Cove, Gallipoli, Turkey
Anzac Cove, Gallipoli, Turkey

I had an intriguing conversation with my Turkish guide, when I asked him what he thought about all these Australians coming here to remember. At first he brushed me off with a smile, “We love it! We love you!” but when I pushed deeper, he admitted that he really didn’t understand it. That from his perspective it was a little strange, and that perhaps at times he found the way we spoke and acted while in his country a little offensive.

Across the Dardanelles
The Dur Yolcu memorial reads in Turkish: “Stop passerby!

 The ground you tread on, unawares, once witnessed the end of a generation.

 Listen, in this quiet earth beats the heart of a nation.”

It can be so hard to see things from another perspective, to put ourselves in the shoes of the “other side.” But perhaps that is the most important lesson of a place like this. How can we move beyond our own side of the story to embrace the truth, which surely includes fault and failing on both sides, as well as inspiration and courage, again on both sides?

The Mehmetcçik Memorial, showing a Turkish soldier carrying an injured Australian back to his trenches
The Mehmetcçik Memorial, showing a Turkish soldier carrying an injured Australian back to his trenches

This was really brought home to me a few days later in Ankara, where I saw this painting inside Ataturk’s museum. It looked so familiar … and yet the ones I am used to seeing come from the perspective of the other side. People who place ourselves on opposite “sides” and yet we are all so very similar, so very human, so very caught up in seeing things our own way that perhaps we don’t even notice that those who seem so different are actually very much the same?

Painting

In the end, at the going down of the sun, I hope we do remember them, all of them, from all sides, and learn from them all.

Sunset over the Dardanelles

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Is Jesus the true Anzac? Contextualisation and Aussie culture on our most “sacred” day

Anzac Cove, Gallipoli, Turkey
Anzac Cove, Gallipoli, Turkey

Today, the 25th of April, is for many Australians one of the most significant dates on the calendar. All week I’ve heard the media talk about it as a sacred day. This morning many Australians arose before dawn to participate in services of remembrance. Veterans and their families will march in parades, and it’s a public holiday to commemorate the date.

Many would say that the story of the Anzacs has become foundational to Australian culture. It has become what sociologists call our national myth. Every nation has its own stories, its own celebrations and its own myths. The United States chooses to celebrate events like Independence and Victory. The Swiss celebrate their neutrality and their humanitarianism. The Jews commemorate their endurance despite overwhelming persecution. The Japanese esteem the honour and nobility of the samurai.

As Australians (and New Zealanders), we choose to mark a day on which we suffered a terrible defeat. When thousands of lives were lost in a faraway place where many would say they never should have been in the first place. To many outsiders it seems like a very strange national holiday.

Lone Pine Cemetery, Galllipoli, Turkey
Lone Pine Cemetery, Galllipoli, Turkey

But it is more than the events of that day at Gallipoli 99 years ago that this day is about. For many Australians, the Anzac story or legend has become a story about the kind of people we want to be known as. The values of the Anzacs are tied up in concepts like mateship and loyalty, with hints of larrikinism and good humour, and ultimately the willingness to give one’s life for others. This is our national story. And I think it provides a fascinating window into our culture.

The thing about national myths or stories is that they are both inspirational and aspirational.

They tell us what we value, and they tell us how we would like to see ourselves. This is who we as Australians would like to be. We know that on the world stage we are not the most powerful, or the most efficient. But we do want to be the ones who will always play fair, have a go, stand up for one another, and give all we have to give. These are human qualities to be admired by everyone, but there is something quite unique in our Australian culture that prizes them in a way that not all other nations do.

When people prepare to serve in other cultures, they learn about ‘contextualisation,’ which is basically trying to find ways to share God’s love that are particularly relevant and connected to the culture in which they find themselves. So I find it interesting on this day to think about how we might find ways to express and share God’s love that are contextualised to our Australian culture. How might the good news of Jesus resonate with people who value ideals like mateship, loyalty, egalitarianism and sacrifice?

The truth is that there is always a gap between how we would like to see ourselves & how we actually are.

We do not live up to our own ideals. We want to value mateship, but there are times when life gets busy and we lose touch with our friends. We want to value loyalty, but there are times when we are pushed by our own needs to put ourselves first. We want to value equality and egalitarianism, but deep down we often treat those who are like us better than we treat those who are different. And we’d all like to think that in extreme circumstances we’d be willing to lay down our lives for our family & friends, but in our everyday mundane circumstances we sometimes find it difficult to lay down just a bit of our time or money for their benefit.

But still we remember and celebrate and aspire. We esteem and honour the ideal of what we hope we could be. And what many Australians respect and revere as the ideals and values of the Anzacs, are actually what Christians believe are ideals and values ultimately found in Jesus Christ alone.

We believe there is a man who values mateship, who is the best friend anyone in this world will ever know. There is a man who values loyalty, who has promised to stick by us through thick and thin & will never renege on that promise. There is a man who values equality, who treats each one of as valuable & worthwhile regardless of where we come from or what we have achieved.

And there is a man who was willing to lay down His life in our place.

The gospel declares that Jesus is the One who fulfils all of our aspirations. That what we are looking for in others, what we would like to think we can find in ourselves, ultimately we will only find in Him.

It seems to me that the Anzac story provides a window into our own culture, a culture that still longs to find meaning and hope and values, but which is unaware of the true source of all that it is looking for. For those who know Jesus Christ, this puts us in the same situation that the apostle Paul found himself in when he visited Athens. Paul commended the Athenians for their worship of an unknown God. He recognised that they were seeking, hoping, aspiring to something greater than themselves. But he also wanted to tell them the truth: that what they were looking for could be found in Jesus.

So too, we can commend and affirm the desire in Australian culture to remember and to celebrate the values that the “Anzac spirit” seeks to encapsulate. But the challenge for followers of Jesus is to find ways to proclaim the truth that these values and aspirations point us to the need for someone who can fulfil them in a way that no one else ever has or ever can. That Jesus, dare I say it, is the true Anzac, the one we should be remembering and worshipping. Perhaps that’s a risky image to use, but the Bible uses risky pictures and metaphors for God all the time as it seeks to find ways for people to understand who God is and how He wants to relate to them.

Perhaps I’ll be accused of hijacking a secular event and trying to bring religion into it. If so, I make no apologies for that. Because as a follower of Jesus, as a Christian first and foremost, I believe that Jesus is the only hope for the whole world. And He calls me to bring His good news into the lives and worlds of my friends, and my neighbours, and my nation.

Today would be a good day to be at the Garden Tomb

Resurrection Sunday. Easter. The weekend we celebrate the turning point of history, the fact that everything from then on is different, because Jesus was raised to new life. Although I’m sure actually being at the Garden Tomb just outside the current Old City of Jerusalem would be crazy busy at this time of year, today is a great day to reflect on visiting that beautiful place.

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The Garden Tomb is a peaceful oasis in the midst of the bustling city; a good place to sit and reflect on what happened, whether here or somewhere nearby.

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The traditional site of Jesus’ tomb and thus resurrection is inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, inside the walls of the Old City. But many have noted that it doesn’t totally fit the historical story, and looked for an alternative site.

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The Garden Tomb was discovered in the 1860s, and has many features which meet the description of the kind of tomb in which Jesus’ body was laid. It is hewn out of the rock, and has a channel in front for a stone to be rolled to close it.

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Inside there is a burial chamber as well as a weeping chamber for mourners.

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A large cistern and a wine press nearby indicate that this tomb was likely located within a garden in the first century.

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So, could this be the actual tomb belonging to Joseph of Arimathea in which Jesus was buried for three days? It’s possible. But unlikely.

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But it doesn’t matter.

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My favourite thing about this place has always been this sign on the door to the tomb. Jesus is not in this tomb, or any tomb. There is no need to locate a tomb for Him.

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Sure, it’s lovely to have a place to visualise what it may have been like, and to sit and reflect and remember. But the resurrection of Jesus isn’t about a place and time in history. It is about a reality that changes our very understanding of history.

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For many years, Christian apologetics focused primarily on the historical evidence for the resurrection. This is helpful and interesting, but if that is as far as we go, then we have missed the central point of what we are celebrating this weekend. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is the breaking into our world of God’s kingdom and a whole new way of life. Because of Easter Sunday, everything is different.

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To say, “I believe in the resurrection” is to say so much more than that I believe that Jesus rising to new life was a historical event that actually happened two thousand years ago. I believe it was and it did; but to believe in the resurrection, to put my trust in it, is to choose to enter into the new life that it makes possible. It is to believe that that kind of life is available to everyone here and now, despite all appearances to the contrary.

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N. T. Wright says, “Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of God’s new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven, but to colonise earth with the life of heaven.” Resurrection life is life where miracles are possible, where justice is proclaimed, where renewal is experienced, where righteousness is lived out. It is the breaking in of heaven here on earth, and because of Jesus, it is available to us right here and now.