Everything Else is Rock and Roll image

Everything Else is Rock and Roll

It was such a joy and privilege to be part of the THINK Conference again this year. Several of my favourite writers, thinkers and people gathered together to engage deeply with the Bible’s truths, to wrestle with its conundrums and to praise its author and subject. What’s not to love?

The fact that more than 90% of the group was male was just an added bonus.

I’ve just offended a large number of the women reading this, I know – and probably a significant portion of the men. You think it’s a scandal that so few women showed up, and you wish we had ‘better representation’ in these gatherings. Yet I refuse to be outraged by it.

I love it because, in a culture in which men are often portrayed as either ineffective weaklings or unfeeling brutes it is a blessing to hear 200 good, thoughtful men sing out their humble worship and powerful praise. And I love it because the imbalance is a reminder of what a privileged position I, as a woman in the 21st century, hold.

Women weren’t excluded from what might traditionally have been considered a men-only forum. Those of us who attended weren’t belittled, sidelined or otherwise discriminated against. We went or didn’t go of our own free wills. And that, historically speaking, is a huge privilege. In much of the world for much of human history, women have not had the kind of free and open access to such male-dominated spaces. We should be thankful that we live in a period of history when so many doors stand so wide open to us.

We should feel joy in being welcomed in to a place from which we would once have been excluded, but I want to suggest that it goes far beyond the joy of being a woman invited into a ‘man’s world’ simply because this is the 21st century and our predecessors (foremothers?) won us that right. It is, as Andrew suggested in his recent post on feminism, the joy felt by all of us – male or female, gay or straight, brown-eyed or blue – who are gentiles and thus “people who would not expect to inherit God’s promises by birth, but are included by grace.”

The joy is not that I got to hang out in a church in south London with 200 men – fun though that was – but that I was ‘welcomed in to the courts of the King’. If the joy of being loved, accepted, treasured, honoured, respected and chosen – chosen – by the creator of heaven and earth doesn’t make the slights and difficulties of life on this fallen planet pale into utter insignificance, then I haven’t grasped what the gospel is all about.

One of the many passages Tom Wright touched on in his whistle-stop tour of the writings of Paul (and the Pentateuch, the Psalms and much of Isaiah) was Philippians 2:5-11. I have loved this passage ever since I stumbled on it ridiculously late in my Christian walk, and think it should be read, learned, studied and enjoyed far more than it is, as its message is so key to who we are and who, as Tom explained today, God is. I think if we got this, and truly lived it out, the world would be utterly rocked by the counter-intuitive, counter-cultural ways we behaved and related to each other. It is worth quoting in full:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
  did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
  taking the very nature of a servant,
  being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
  he humbled himself
  and became obedient to death—
      even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
  and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
  in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
  to the glory of God the Father.

Stunning, isn’t it? What a way to live.

Tom suggested that a better translation of the word rendered ‘grasped’ in verse 6 would be ‘exploited’, which makes much more sense and becomes an even bigger and clearer challenge for us. If Jesus, who was God, didn’t exploit his power, privilege and position or seek to assert his right to be treated as God’s equal, and if Jesus is our perfect example, and if, with Paul, we say “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings” (Phil 3:10), how can we complain about the few offices and privileges that remain closed to us? How can we – male or female – moan when we miss out on opportunities we feel we deserve? Jesus deserved everything, but willingly became nothing for the sake of glorifying God the Father, and because he did so, we have access to the Father and eternal life with him.

In the light of that, our earthly preoccupations fade into utter insignificance. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. In every sense and for every purpose that could possibly matter, those distinctions no longer exist.

Or as a taxi driver once put it to Tom,

“If God raised Jesus Christ from the dead, then everything else is rock and roll, innit?”

This reflection was prompted by Session 2 of the THINK conference, which you can download here.

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