Those of you who love the comedian Eddie Izzard will already be smiling. His ‘cake or death’ sketch is one of his funniest and most memorable – take a minute to watch it here (then click the back arrow to return to the post) – and “thank you for flying Church of England”!
Eddie is a very funny man. He is also a transvestite and a man of the world – so probably not your average Christian’s cup of tea, with his strange Biblical interpretations, near-to-the-bone humour and routines peppered with the swear words endemic to our culture. But… I really don’t know: surely if we don’t learn to speak ‘the language of the Chaldeans’, as Daniel did (Daniel 1v4&20) we will never be able to be relevant to the people around us in our post-Christendom exile? I am not suggesting we get into the habit of using bad language – but I suppose its about not judging others by our standards and showing tolerance and love, grace and understanding of where they are coming from, while continuing to be different, clean and holy.
Eddie is an honest and heart-warming success story and a good man: he ran 34 back-to-back marathons around the UK for Sport Relief last year. He has a sharp eye and intellect, basing his shows on big picture narratives of history and an overview of the world. His parody of the Church of England in this sketch is perhaps too close for comfort, a bit like ‘Father Ted’s portrayal of Irish Catholicism 🙂 Adrian Plass excelled at poking fun at the more eccentric aspects of church culture, but because he was ‘one of us’ he did it in a more gentle way. I wonder what Jesus thinks of it all… At least the C of E comes off better than the Spanish Inquisition! Here is another link to make you laugh or despair.
This man seems to have been on a spiritual journey for some years, questioning and searching for truth: he certainly sees right through religious hypocrisy. So we were saddened to hear him pronounce last year from the stage in Nottingham Arena that he is now definitely an atheist as he sees no evidence of God’s intervention in the world around him (“Where are You then? Come on, show Yourself!”). We could do much worse than pray for Eddie Izzard.
The idea of cake or death is hilarious because it is stupid. Of course it is obvious that no-one wants to choose death! Yet on Saturday afternoon as I took my seminar on ‘Keeping Faith in Difficult Times’ it felt as if that was my theme… “Choose death that you may live”, to misquote Moses! No wonder it was an ‘optional seminar’ swiftly followed by tea and Swanwick cakes. Who wants to listen to the provocation to die to our appetites, embrace testing and let ‘death work in us that life may work in others’ (2 Corinthians 4v12)? In that case, perhaps ‘cake or death?’ is a valid question! If we use ‘cake’ to mean luxuries, indulgence, all of life’s delightful extras, materialism perhaps… We don’t like or want to suffer loss, denial or pain or see others do so – yet it is a part of life and more for most of the world than for us.
As human beings it is only natural to want comfort and the good things money can buy – but when the Lord calls us into the wilderness, or into a time of fasting and weeping, or we find ourselves sick or mourning – the ‘flesh’ has to die. To choose the discipline of frugality and to identify with the poor is to give up the extras in life. Metaphorically, ‘cake’ is an extra and Jesus often asks us to strip off the extras for His sake, to lose our life that we might find it, to throw off hindrances that stop us running the race and following Him.
So my talk was about following the suffering Servant, knowing when the Spirit is calling us to submit and walk with Him through the valleys of shadow, when He is using life’s trials to discipline us. To keep faith in such times we need to know the reality of Jesus; as we have found in recent months, any pretense or sham will not do – we can only be honest, genuine, authentic. In addition its more than helpful to have an understanding of the ways of the Lord. Scripture is clear that God uses suffering to make us ‘mature and complete, lacking nothing’ as we persevere through it – and He even wants us to be happy about that! (James 1v2). You cannot get away from this aspect of the gospel: all through the New Testament we are encouraged to share in His sufferings that we may share His glory, lay down our lives and seek the Father’s will and not our own. Plus the Old Testament has the painful narrative of Job and the example of desert testing as the Lord examines the hearts and motives of His people before He allows them to come into their inheritance. (Deuteronomy 8v2-5). It is God’s way of doing things – the sign of Jonah, the paschal mystery, the seed falling into the ground – no resurrection without death first, no escape clause.
I won’t give my whole talk now! Suffice it to say, that it is my strong contention that until we in the western church let go of our rights, recognise the call to count the cost (which is ‘everything we have’ (Luke 14v33) and embrace the ‘spirit of martyrdom’ that the early church knew so well, we will not see the supernatural outbreak of the kingdom that we long to see.
THEN it will be time for cake! Then it will be a day of celebration as the poor and needy, not the fat and greedy, come to the feast! Cake is good, cake is a blessing – but it is not a right. We cannot ‘have our cake and eat it too’ – there is a price to be paid.