Friday, 23 October 2015

Conscience Keepers - part 2

So what about our conscience?

Is it old hat?  An anachronism of a by-gone age? A feeble gasp of an old man looking blankly out of a window at snow falling in quiet whiteness?

Well, there never was a nice old time.

Human history is red with blood.  The miracle is how any shred of goodness has survived.

The fact of the matter is that we do know when something is wrong.  We have a gut feeling, a gnawing back in our heads that this is not kosher, that this is not done.

And that very fact points to something well beyond us.

Consider this - no one teaches a small kid to lie.  But we take to it like ducks to water.  And to some lying is even considered cute:  most children in India are 'taught' and execrable 'nursery rhyme' that goes:  Johnny Johnny, yes Papa? eating sugar? no Papa, telling lies? no Papa, open your mouth! Ha, ha, ha!

But somewhere we know that there is something called the truth - and if we bend it, twist it, refashion it, replace it with something else, that this is a lie.   And though we may use this reinvention and pass it off as 'truth' for our convenience, there is that little twinge there.

Why should we have something like that if all we are is protoplasm that seeks to move our genetic material forward into the future?

That twinge is one of the soft voices that points us, if we choose to listen to it, towards God Himself.

What is also beyond doubt is the way that our consciences can be dulled - and ultimately shut off or put in such deep-freeze that we end up doing the unthinkable, the repulsive, the bestial... and then wonder how we could have ended up there.

Consider the case of Hansie Cronje.  You may not know the name, but to me he was a far-off hero.  A decent bloke who loved his cricket and his country and captained an attractive South African team that was reintroduced to the world after the miracle of Mandela.

Cronje was also the first big cricket star to admit to match-fixing... it was dragged out of him, but he did testify that he had participated with a betting syndicate or two (though he claimed he never swung a match).

Hansie Cronje was finally banned from cricket for life.  Here is a take on his fall from grace that a local newspaper had when he finally admitted to being involved. Tragically, Cronje died in a plane crash about 2 years later.

Enoch and I watched a biopic on Cronje's life a year or so ago - a film called Hansie.  It's frankly not the best movie in the world, and I found the depiction of Cronje to be mealy-mouthed and too much of a goodie-two-shoes innocent - you kept feeling that 'everyone else was bad' but not dear Hansie.  But then when it comes time to fess-up, he doesn't.  And then when he finally gets around to it, he (in the movie at least) just seems too trite...

What did hit home, and powerfully too, was the gradual slide into a trap.  We may disagree whether it actually happened to Cronje or not, but the way the film shows him 'groomed' towards match-fixing is dead-on.   The bookies are nice friendly Indian guys who are crazy about cricket.  They love to hang out with the best of the world - and have cash on them in generous amounts.

And so it goes.  A nice-guy just 'gives' a few thousand dollars to Cronje.  Hey.  No strings attached.  I know you can use the extra little bit of cash.  Cronje accepts it.  A little extra to buy something for his wife with.  A mobile phone is given too.  Wow!  Remember this is the early 1990s when mobiles were from outer space.

And then after a few gifts and nice dinners in good hotels, a simple question.  What is the pitch like.  Hey, nothing serious.  Just a little information.  And some cash as a small thank you.

And gradually the stakes rise.  More information.  How about 'fixing' a dead game.  Just for the heck of it.  Why not just tell it to your team-mates as a joke.  See what they say eh?

The genius of the film is the slow and slippery way that Cronje's conscience is put to sleep.  A little bit here, a little bit there and then he is trapped.    The film alleges that it was the bookies who turned Cronje in when after a certain point he decided not to play along with them.  This sounds a bit contrived - but what we did see was that oh-so-subtle way of self-deception which lands us in the place where we know is wrong, but where we are.

I was reminded to this in the latest set of sorry skeletons tumbling out of the box - testimony which is being given about a fearless New Zealand cricketer Chris Cairns who seems now to have been the centre of a match-fixing gang.  A fellow player testifies about having used women and money to try enlist his help to swing games.

The Bible says at one point that 'the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure, who can understand it?" (Jer. 17.9).

So lets look closer to home.  It's one thing to shake our fingers at bad boys who make lots of bucks and then make some pretty immoral choices.

What about myself?

I remember an earlier version of me, when I was in 9th grade, handing in a music notebook as a student at the Deutsche Schule Bombay (the German School in Mumbai).  We were a 'big' class of 7 students (the whole school had 75 pupils and most were in kindergarten).  My best friend at that time was a super studious chap who had re-written his whole music notebook so that it would look neater.  I had not kept my note-book upto date and asked him for his 'rough' version so that I could copy and update my notebook before the end of semester grading.

So far so good.  Conscience asking a small question about whether I should copy his book, but quickly quietened down with the idea that it would anyway take lots of work for me to do so.

Well, I took his notebook, but kept procrastinating without actually updating my own exercise book. And so finally, when D-day came for grading, I actually took his rough book, put a new cover on it, and gave it to our teacher as 'my book.'

Remember we had only 7 people in our class.  And my handwriting was (and sadly still is) a barely legible scrawl, while my friend's writing - even in his 'rough' book was highly structured.

How could I ever even think I could get away with this?  My conscience had been silenced long before, and the blindness of evil had clouded whatever was left of my understanding.

On the day she returned the notebooks, I got 'my book' back from the music teacher.  I don't remember any more whether I got the 'F' I deserved or not.  But I do remember this.  She did not shame me in front of the class.  But she just looked me in the eyes and said "Andi."

30 plus years later, I still hear her voice.  And the voice I hear behind her words is that of Him who pricked the consciences of a mob of men intent on stoning a woman caught in adultery.  This was 2 millenia ago, but the question about why they were not dragging the man who was party to the affair sadly not too surprising given the violence towards women across the centuries.   Jesus started writing something on the ground, and the men began leaving, starting from the eldest.  Finally, Jesus asks the woman where her accusers are, asking her whether any one was there to condemn her.  She replies that there is no-one and Jesus replies: "Neither then do I condemn you, go now and leave your life of sin." (John 8.11b NIV).

How much our nation needs conscience keepers at this time.

Yeats said it well in his poem The Second Coming
 Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

We have people lynched for the 'crime' of allegedly storing cow-meat in their fridge - and 'investigative agencies' that actually 'test' the meat to see if it was beef after all (it was mutton - but the man is dead anyway).

We have children who are sexually assaulted - and Dalit kids being burned.  The list of horrors that our dear morning papers serves us up is stomache-churning.

We have wave after wave of folks who will throw ink on people ('non-violently mind you), while others will block roads, beat people up, burn cars and busses in order to be heard and seen and get their sound-bites on the evening TV news.

So are these our 'conscience keepers'?  They may use some of the words of morality, but their deeds show how hollow they are.  Bitterly sad to say, however, their raw power looks to be gaining the day.

2K years ago, a crowd of people thronged the streets of the 'City of Peace' and bayed for the blood of an innocent man.  How many of these would have been healed earlier by him, or had eaten some of the bread and fish he multiplied?  We really don't know, but we do know that many a conscience was beaten down in the murderous mob that cried out for the slow, painful, shameful and accursed death of being nailed naked to a stake.

Thank God.  Literally, that death was not the end of Jesus.  A third day resurrection set the world in a spin and gives hope for people with seared consciences like me.  My wickedness, my beating down of that which tells me what is right, my easy slip into things-that-are-wrong-but-feel-oh-so-good, is healable, restorable, because of the living Jesus.

Here's the catch - He knows how hard it is to stay true, to stay pure.  He has suffered under temptation - but did not slip like I do.  And instead of being proud of His achievement and scornful of my falls - He is the opposite: compassionate to me because He knows how much it hurts - and because He is the embodiment and source of love itself.

I pin my hopes on Jesus as the conscience-keeper, conscience-restorer and life-changer No. 1.

I still have a long road to travel in some areas, but I am so grateful for real victories in other parts of my life - thanks to my loving Lord.   And I don't only want my conscience clear and tender.  I want to keep seeing real

Feeling remorse is not enough (though most males think that if you feel sad about it that you are genuinely repentant).  I need to see genuine repentance.  And restitution and reconciliation.  And real change.  I can't do this on my own - even with the clearest and cleanest conscience in the world.  I need my Lord shape me on this journey.

And what I want for myself, Sheba and I want for our family and our country... and our world of course.   It seems absurd to think about a place and time where everything is right - but that's what the Bible talks about taking place sometime in the (near?) future.

Our consciences are antennas for a coming age of righteousness.  Which is why so many have over the eons tried to tune them out - and today's crop of assorted nuts seems oh-so-close to succeeding.

But they too will pass.  A new day is dawning.  And our pricked consciences are signs of the coming storm.  We need our consciences as much as ever - and real conscience keepers as opposed to ink-throwing (and worse) lumpen senas.

Lord have mercy.

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