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Longing for the Easter long weekend?

Rector's Blog

Longing for the Easter long weekend?

StNicholas Goulburn

One of my favourite authors in regard to the observation of Australian society and culture has been the Melbourne writer Ronald Conway. The Sydney Morning Herald obituary for Conway on March 29th 2009 said :

“RONALD CONWAY took it upon himself to diagnose what was wrong with the Australian psyche. He attacked the notion of mateship; he said feminism had gone in for overkill, with children the victims; he blasted materialism, fumed against the "hyperventilation of sexual scandals in Western societies" and said that "rampant promiscuity" was the "real ethical blight of our time".

His books, The Great Australian Stupor and The Land Of The Long Weekend became, at least for a time, part of the Australian vernacular.


Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/national/obituaries/scourge-of-our-national-psyche-20090325-9afh.html#ixzz1pTBXeat5

As much as I enjoyed Conway’s insights I wonder if they go far enough. It is clear that his analysis of the lazy Australian working culture is now dated with the long hours that we pursue damaging family life. His view of materialism clearly is not dated!

I gave away my copies of his works long ago and so I am cautious in my criticism. But it seems to me he fails to see it is impossible to understand a culture without discerning its idols[1]. The Christian contention is that human beings having been made in the image of God; were made for his glory; to be like him and to find their purpose in honouring him as the goal of all that they do. When the things we do become an end in themselves – our meaning for existence, then they have become a substitute God- an idol, and they never fully satisfy. Hence St Augustine of Hippo’s immortal words from his Confessions, now used in many prayer books:

Almighty God, you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you; so lead us by your Spirit that in this life we may live to your glory and in the world to come enjoy you forever. Amen.

There are stern warnings against idols in the Bible both Old and New Testaments. Perhaps the most startling is that at the end of 1 John 5:21 “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols”. Surprising? Yes considering it was probably written to people who had the Jewish understanding of  idolatry drummed into them from what we now call the Old Testament. The immediate context is that of deliberately rejecting Jesus. To reject Jesus is idolatry because we are desiring an object of worship other than that which God supplies: and what God supplies is Jesus is the walking talking “Icon of God’see Colossians 1:15. The reason we do not make statues and bow down to them, the reason we should not worship things made by our own hands whether a Ferrari or a Merchant bank, an industrial complex or a family dynasty is because they are inanimate things that cannot represent the person hood of a self aware omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God. It is also the case with other another human being whether Joseph Stain, Hitler or one of the ‘glamour people who live in Holy Wood and whose lives countless millions pore over each week in the gossip magazines and online chatter.

John is telling his readers not to follow the practise of the people amongst whom they live. There is no way to challenge idols without criticizing culture. We all have rival Gods to the true God. Conway realized that the very idea of a culture where everyone longed for the ‘long weekend’ was itself an unhealthy obsession. The ‘get away from it all’ mentality is not something wrong in itself. But if we are to recognize our idols we need to look at our imagination and why we want to get away from it all. A phrase apparently attributed to Archbishop William Temple says “Your religion is what you do with your solitude”[2]. In other words the true God of your heart is what your thoughts effortlessly go to when there is nothing else demanding your attention. What do you enjoy day dreaming about? What occupies your mind when you have nothing else to think about? Dream Homes, sea change, relationships with a particular person that would make you happier supposedly? Maybe a better church!? One or two daydreams do not make an idol. But the question should be asked “what do you habitually think about to get joy and comfort on the privacy of your heart?” The same thing goes for how we spend our money. “Where your heart is there will be your treasure also” Jesus says as recorded in Matthew 6:21. Our longings and our most uncontrollable emotions tell us where our emotional capital lies and hence what we think will give our anxious lives meaning.

In the end idolatry is just a failure to obey God. It is a setting of our hearts on something besides God our maker who gave us life in the first place and made us for a purpose: the purpose of finding our joy in living for him. We need to “Follow the Makers instructions”.

So this Easter long weekend don’t make the weekend sacred by longing for the beach. The beach is good and God made it beautiful for a purpose not as an end in itself. It is a thing of beauty so that we may praise our maker.  Best of all come to church and learn that only by supplanting our idols with God at our centre can we be truly free of siren voiced idols which promise much but do not deliver. Only God satisfies: This Good Friday and Easter come and see why Jesus was sent- because God loves us and wants us to repent and be saved from Hell- eternity without the goodness. Come and see why Jesus is enough. Come and see why he and he alone is the true image of God, crucified and risen for us that we may be people of eternal joy.

Ross Hathway.

[1] Timothy Keller Counterfeit Gods p 166 Hodder and Stoughton 2009

[2] Stated in Keller op cit p168.