In this strategy the definition of the ‘idolatry of beauty’ obviously applies to a wide range of situations from art galleries to opera to the actual person themselves. ‘Participating Responsibly’ might be sweet or it might be bitter: it’s a two-edged sword. On one hand it’s the theme song of our society and promoted by organisers of main stream music festivals where you can join in with the beautiful people and go get what you want without getting damaged. But in some ways this is the most dangerous option because it implies that what’s going on externally is all that counts.
I would imagine that the first time Jesus walked into a market place and sat down with the publicans and ladies of the night there may have been an awkward moment when they (and everyone else) wondered if he was about to throw away his beautiful and amazing potential to be the greatest teacher in Israel. After all the fuss was he just going to be another gifted young man who was looking for nothing more than a bit of dodgy fun? Hence the slander about being ‘a drunk and glutton and friend of publicans and sinners’.
Time itself told the truth that he was in fact participating responsibly, but not in the way that we mean when we talk of being ‘responsible’. Our safety-obsessed, ‘being-responsible’ world got this way, not because of it’s Christianity, but because of it’s conclusion that this life is all there is and so you’d better keep the volume on three and get as a good an insurance package for everything you have because ‘if you haven’t got your money and your health you’ve got nothing eh?’ Interestingly the Pharisees—who were mostly offended at Jesus—had the same kind of vision: ‘what’s on the outside is what counts’. You might say they were precursors of western, secular capitalism, or ‘Phawesecapees’.
In our world’s mind, Jesus walking in amongst the hard core people was not The One reaching out to them in love but a good responsible boy trying to make them live a bit better: kinda like us. And yes, he had friends and family telling him that he would be a hit if only he would go and get unearthed—as a popular guy, a revolutionary, or even in a seminary somewhere. That’s how he became the Christmas and Easter of billions right?
The word ‘responsible’ actually means ‘having an obligation to do something, or having control over or care for someone, as part of one’s job or role.’ It also means ‘being the primary cause of something and so able to be blamed or credited for it.’ In that sense you could say Jesus gets the blame for the fact that all (except possibly one) of his close followers were persecuted and died violent deaths. But he also gets the credit for a thousand beautiful facts. And here are some examples of Jesus-style responsibility as laid out by Indian philosopher Vishal Mangawadi.
‘Bible translators and missionaries did not merely give me my mother tongue, Hindi. Every living literary language in India is testimony to their labour. In 2005 a Malayalee scholar from Mumbai, Dr Babu Verghese, submitted a seven hundred page doctoral thesis to the University of Nagpur. It demonstrated that Bible translators, using the dialects of mostly illiterate Indians, created seventy three modern literary languages. These include the national languages of India (Hindi), Pakistan (Urdu), and Bangladesh (Bengali). Five Brahmin scholars examined Dr. Verghese’s thesis and awarded him a PhD in 2008. They also unanimously recommended that his thesis, when published as a book, should be required reading for students of Indian linguistics.’6
Mangawadi’s book, contrary to popularised missionary myths, makes it quite clear that—despite glaring mistakes by missionaries who adhered to the wrong kind of ‘responsibility’ and still do— there were droves of missionaries who were determined to do what Jesus did, what the colonial powers did not want them to do: to bring confidence, freedom, power, language and autonomy to the local indigenous population.
The fact is that bringers of ‘Jesus-style responsibility’ were also at work back home in the country of the colonisers: England. There, the ‘missionaries’ introducing the influence of Jesus were frequently artists and poets. William Blake (for example), bitterly criticised England for her ‘dark satanic mills,’ but it was the influence of Jesus that gave him somewhere to go with this and—instead of becoming just one more really cool poet—he was prompted to write his poem Jerusalem, which is still sung in English churches today. It’s last verse virtually coming straight out of the bible …
‘I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.’7
Yes, there will be many Phawesecapees who still sing that song, completely misunderstanding what William Blake was talking about, but that doesn’t change the beautiful facts of Jesus-style responsibility. So, next time you go to a concert, festival, or party you might want to ask yourself whether you are going there as a responsible Phawescapee or the way Jesus might go to it: is going to it.
‘Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s Spirit is in them—living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life. Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God. That person ignores who God is and what he is doing.’8
6 Quoted in Mangalwadi V. The Book That Made Your World p.169-170, Thomas Nelson 2011
7 Ibid p.174
8 Romans 8:6,7 The Message version