Friday, March 25, 2011

Tamper Proof Seals

Have you noticed how ridiculously hard it can be these days to get what you want out of a bottle, a jar or a box? Whether it's food, medicine or simply a new toy, the glues, plastic and wires of packaging, or the wickedly engineered variety of tamper proof seals and caps; the everyday act of opening these vessels has been rendered a challenge of biblical proportions.

The manufacturers of these various products design their containers and packages to be difficult to open because they want to ensure that the only person who gets what's inside, is the person for whom the product is intended. Sometimes packaging is intensely intricate to protect the contents during travel. Fair enough, but sometimes it's so hard to get into what you want that you wonder if it's going to be truly worth the effort.

In the case of food and medicine, tamper proof seals are used to protect the contents from contamination. To ensure it's purity. When you buy a drink for example, and break the seal as you unscrew the cap, you can be reasonably sure that the liquid inside the bottle is exactly what the producer intended you to consume. No hidden nasties.

Because God is holy, nothing impure or sinful can enter his presence and so, in a sense, Heaven is sealed against contamination, and entering it requires much more than any mere human attempt to break the seal. You cannot force your way into heaven either by sheer volume of good deeds or by an extreme effort of will power or wishful thinking. Your "goodness" will never be sufficient.

The only way in is through faith; faith in the redeeming power of Christ whose body was broken and blood shed that we might be able to have a relationship with God. It was our Maker's plan that the tamper proof seal of Heaven could only be broken by a violent and sacrificial act. Jesus broke the seal by his death and resurrection. He made a way for us to enter the perfectly pure peace of Heaven.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Headbanging with Wolves

The story of a Norwegian boy who frightened off a pack of wolves who were surrounding him by blasting them with a heavy metal track, made me think about the significant times in my life when music in general, or a particular song, has been inextricably linked.

Every time I hear 'I See Red' by Splitz Enz, I recall sitting next to my mum in the car when another car rear ended her as she waited to turn into the driveway of my uncle's house. Hearing Tears for Fears always makes me think of an old girlfriend. Songs by my boyhood bands, Australian legends, like Midnight Oil and The Angels, transport me back in time. I associate Stryper with my early years as a Christian when I abandoned all my heavy metal music, including giving away my 15 album strong KISS collection. It was time when I needed to hear 'To Hell with the Devil', by Stryper rather than 'we worship you Satan' by Possessed.

At different times and in different situations, the lyrics of particular songs can be remarkably poignant. "Wherever you Go" by Richard Marx is our song. The words were so appropriate as my wife and I spent most of our courtship separated by thousands of kilometres. In this song we heard our own voices, our emotions, our thoughts expressed better than we could have done ourselves.

This is the real power of music: to connect to the heart of the listener. Regardless of the style of music, (everyone knows metal rules anyway), the songs I love, speak to me. They provide words when I cannot find them. Have you ever listened to the lyric of a song and thought it was written for you, or to you, or about you?

Sometimes these kinds of high impact songs can be helpful, they provide happiness, empathy and even comfort, but sometimes they can be harmful. How many times can you listen to a song before you know the lyric, and at what point do you believe it? When does it become a part of you forever? When does it transform your mind? When does it convince you? When does it drag you into dark places and lock you up? When does it seditiously plant lies in your mind?

When wolves surround you, how will you scare them away? Are the songs in your head powerful enough to defeat your enemies, or are they eroding your will, weakening your resolve, leaving your vulnerable. Hugely popular heavy metal band, Disturbed, have called their current tour, Music as a Weapon. I rest my case.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Abstract Distractions

A man and a woman, finding their way into love, meet each other at an art gallery, and they spend the afternoon wandering around gazing at paintings on walls.The art they see generates discussion, and evokes some mirth, as they learn more about each other, in a very indirect and non threatening way.This is a cliche which belongs in the middle of a romantic comedy but there is something profoundly true about how people react to art, and both find and reveal themselves through it.

Yesterday I was at the Art Gallery of New South Wales with my daughter. We came upon a wall size portrait which took my breath away. I stood and stared at it for a long time, fascinated by the way the family in the painting seemed so lifelike yet very ethereal at the same time. The artist, Zhang Xiaogang, had captured the watery sheen of the human eye yet there was a strong unreality about the faces. Maybe it was the size of the portrait. Maybe it was the haunting shades of grey Xiaogang used to depict the husband, wife and child. Whatever it was, it was magical. Kiwi artist Godfrey Miller, used straight lines and colour to amazing effect in his Nude and the Moon. I was entranced as I imagined the passionate dedication required to bring his vision to life on canvas. If I could afford such masterpieces, I would love to hang them in my home.

On the other hand, there were paintings which left us shaking our heads and suppressing laughter at why they should be considered worthy of a place on the wall of our state gallery. I was very disappointed with Brett Whitely's half hearted attempt to paint a shower rose in one of his works, and Tony Tuckson, needs to explain to an art heathen like myself, what he had in mind when he brushed five vertical strokes on a canvas and called it Five White Lines.

I appreciated the hours and hours of labour that must have gone in to the production of these works of art. I admired the dedication to craft, and I could feel the intensity with which the artists had painted. Some of the works were eye catching, clever, and thought provoking. I was taken on a journey as a strolled the polished floor of the gallery. It was beautiful and I was awestruck at the creation of such sublime artistry.

Then I thought of God who spoke this magnificent earth, and the mind numbingly massive diversity of life upon it, into existence, and I was humbled.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Illegal. Immoral or Both?

Apparently generous Commonwealth bank ATMs were dispensing more money than requested by customers earlier this week. The bank said people were deliberately overdrawing their accounts, and that this was possible because the ATM's were offline, and therefore not connected to the bank's database.For those collecting the bonus cash, it must have seemed like a miracle but banks don't give money away. It's not like Monopoly where a bank error in your favour can net you a cool $200. The beneficiaries of the surprise cash have been told to return the money. Fraud squad is involved, and advising people that keeping money which does not belong to them is a crime which may result in prosecution and a 10 year jail term. That seems a bit over the top, doesn't it? These people aren't criminals...or are they?

You can be fined for littering, but is it immoral? It's against the law to use a handheld mobile phone while you're driving, but it's okay to eat, drink, smoke, have a conversation, or listen to the radio - or even do all five things at once. Is talking on the phone while driving immoral? Is it even criminal?

The possession and/or use of heroin is a crime even though it is less harmful to the body than tobacco which is a legal product. Slander is illegal but it's not a crime to assassinate someone's character in a secret whisper. You can be fined for staying ten minutes too long in a parking space. It's illegal to exceed the speed limit but you can't be fined for overstepping the boundaries of truth in order to manipulate somebody, or their opinion of you. Telling lies is, in many instances, perfectly legal. It's not against the law to be greedy or selfish or to fornicate or to commit adultery, but it is illegal to cut down a tree on your own property without permission.

Consider these many examples and ask yourself the question: Is every illegal act also an immoral act? Or try this one: Should all immoral acts be illegal?