All the Light We Cannot See is the latest Netflix binge-watch chez Macaulay. It’s a beautifully rendered series based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Anthony Doerr and my cultural recommendation of the week!
It tells the story of a blind French girl and a German boy mired in the dreadful darkness of the Second World War. Beyond the bullets and bombs, a battle for the hearts and minds of Europe rages. Nazism is totalitarian, seeking to colonise minds as well as nations and brooking no rival ideology or perspective. In this propaganda war, despite the enmity of their respective nations, the boy and the girl are conjoined in the conviction that a better and brighter world exists beyond the fighting as they tune in to radio broadcasts from the mysterious professor on “short wave thirteen ten”.
The story suggests that just as the radio spectrum extends beyond what we can naturally see, so there is more light and goodness in the world than can be detected in the shadows cast by war. The broadcast is a still, small voice in the encroaching darkness inviting its listeners to resist fear and hatred and to hold onto hope.
“All the light we cannot see” would be a brilliant title for a sermon series on Revelation. John sees heaven opened and views images of unspeakable evil in the light of the yet unseen glory of the lamb’s victory.
This week we plunge further into the darkness of the world as we are introduced to the character, we have all been waiting for! “Babylon, the great prostitute”.
Babylon is a timeless image representing the powerful and pernicious ideologies and beliefs which shape our world. Babylon is a trope for the subtle and seductive claims which invite our allegiance. It morphs and reformats in the spirit of each age. Today we might name it in the restless and relentless pursuit of expressive individualism, or the reduction of human progress into economic growth and technological development and many other things.
Babylon seeks to shape us into its worldly mould to such a degree that followers of Jesus become indistinct from and impotent against our culture. Sadly, in our headlong rush to be relevant and cool, we can jettison our Christian distinctiveness,
As Brian Zahnd in his book “Postcards from Babylon” says:
“if Christianity is not seen as countercultural and even subversive within a military-economic superpower, you can be sure it is a deeply compromised Christianity.”
Revelation calls us to break step with the anti-God values of our world and become dissident disciples, resisting the pressure to conform and learning to live in harmony with the truth God broadcasts.
Of course, it’s impossible to change what we are not aware of and hard to discern where Babylon exists in the cultural values, political viewpoints and social practises that we take for granted. That’s why listening to others, (especially from other social and cultural contexts) challenges our assumptions and scrutinises our opinions. It’s why we need to give one another permission to question, and dissent and not simply block our ears to those we differ from. It’s why we need to ingest and reflect upon scripture as God’s voice to us.
Stepping out of line with the collective values around us, whether they are personal or political is tough and costly.
Martin Luther King in a message from Montgomery jail wrote.
“Honesty impels me to admit that transformed nonconformity, which is always costly and never altogether comfortable, may mean walking through the valley of the shadow of suffering, losing a job or having a six-year-old daughter ask, “Daddy why do you have to go to jail so much.”
Christians are called to what Graham Cray calls “public discipleship”, to be involved in civil society whilst maintaining a distinctive voice, and to be proactive in demonstrating, praying for and making a Christ-centred kingdom-shaped, counter-cultural contribution at a public level.
So, here’s the kicker: How can you and I offer that distinctively Christian voice in the clamour of all the voices around us?
A Blessing for all who live in Babylon:
“May you wisely resist the pressures to remain silent or give up your prophetic role in your own familiar circles. May you grow in your authority over the unclean spirits of our dis-enchanted age and go outside your comfort zones and circles of sameness, empowered by the Holy Spirit.”