Yesterday, reacting to the maiden speech by Katter’s Australia Party senator, Fraser Anning, who broadly (and in some areas of his speech, recklessly) called for a review of Australia’s immigration policies, Australian senator, Lucy Gichuhi, (who was born in Kenya) asked the question: “At what point do you become an Australian?”

Lucy’s answer was, “…when I get a citizenship paper! Full stop! Period! Finished!”

I follow Senator Gichuhi’s political posts. I supported Senator Bob Day, of the Family First party, passing his position over to her after his election win was declared invalid because of a candidacy conflict with the Constitution. I was encouraged when Senator Gichuhi was duly found by the High Court to have a legitimate election win. In addition to this I was thankful Senator Gichuhi had taken a  brave stand for healthy traditional family values in Australia, and I’m often interested in hearing her opinion on other subjects. However, the Senator’s answer to her own question yesterday was off the mark.

The answer to Senator Gichuhi’s question,  “At what point do you become an Australian?” isn’t as simple as obtaining a piece of paper that grants the right of citizenship. What comes with that right is also the responsibilities and commitments which are attached to citizenship. It’s discouraging to here a Senator in the Australian parliament claim that what makes a person an Australian is “…when they get a citizenship paper! Full stop! Period! Finished!”

Australian citizen doesn’t stop with a piece of paper. Citizenship papers signify not only the right to be recognised as a citizen, but also that the person who has chosen to become an Australian citizen, is willing to live out the responsibilities associated with the recognition of citizenship. For anyone not born in Australia, to both be and become an Australian goes hand in hand. The adoption has been made official, but it takes time to own membership in that family. Membership in that family is learned. Membership in that family cannot truly become membership if the adoption is rejected by the person being adopted.

Civics 101 talks about the reciprocal, mutually beneficial relationship between citizen, neighbour and state. Rights do not get to trump responsibility. Both collective and personal responsibility are vital elements of successful cohesion within a diverse society, and the oversight of small, good government.

The question “At what point do you become an Australian?” is easily answered as:

1.) A person who signs on to become a citizen or is born in Australia.

2.) A citizen who chooses to abide by English common law as set down in Australian law

3.) A citizen who has a respect for and knowledge of Australian history and civics – including a clear understanding of the importance of Judeo-Christian, and classical liberal values.

4.) Speaks English reasonably well, or is willing to learn it (for their own benefit as much as everyone else’s).

5.) Has a love, or at the very least a deep appreciation for all these things and what they’ve delivered.

6.) Is willing to defend (a) through (d) and respect our national holidays.

All these points line up with The Australian Citizenship Act of 2007:

‘The Parliament recognises that Australian citizenship represents full and formal membership of the community of the Commonwealth of Australia, and Australian citizenship is a common bond, involving reciprocal rights and obligations, uniting all Australians, while respecting their diversity.

                   The Parliament recognises that persons conferred Australian citizenship enjoy these rights and undertake to accept these obligations:

                     (a)  by pledging loyalty to Australia and its people; and

                     (b)  by sharing their democratic beliefs; and

                     (c)  by respecting their rights and liberties; and

                     (d)  by upholding and obeying the laws of Australia.’ (Source)

Citizenship is reciprocal and involves a daily commitment to the nation and its people as agreed to in the Pledge of Commitment:

“From this time forward, under God,
I pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people,
whose democratic beliefs I share,
whose rights and liberties I respect,
and whose laws I will uphold and obey.”  (Source)

The imperatives of citizenship are participation and contribution. These entail the right to be recognised and the responsibility to dignify that recognition, by honouring the agreed upon commitment made between both the nation and the individual.

Even though multi-ethnic communities form part of what it means to be Australian. Australian culture is not multiculturalism. Just as Australian citizenship is not defined by the colour of a person’s skin; Australian citizenship is not defined by a person’s ethnicity.

However, immigrants to Australia should be sensitive to what it means to be an Australian. This means knowing, adopting and respecting the fact that the mother tongue of Australian culture is English. That Australian culture, its civics, its theology and politics are built on a Judeo-Christian, classical liberal European and Indigenous Australian heritage.

As Senator Fraser Anning so clumsily tried to communicate, there are immigrants who have come to Australia, are granted citizenship, have accepted that citizenship, but have refused to become what it means to be Australian. Immigrants who do this, are not living up to their end of the citizenship agreement.

Unfortunately, if anyone raises concerns about this issue they’re immediately frowned upon with suspicion immediate accusations of racism or ethnocentricity. They’re branded as a white supremacist, or at the very least, a white nationalist sympathiser. In favour of logical fallacies,the argument, concerns and ideas put forward are pushed to the side, and the individual who sought to defend Australian culture, with the aim of preserving its diversity, and rich heritage, is demonised into silence.

Senator Fraser Anning wasn’t the only Australian senator to speak recklessly. Senator Gichuhi’s assertion was disappointing because it was too simple; suggesting either a lack of understanding about Australian civics and citizenship, or a deliberate denial of the obligations that are part of citizenship. Being an Australian citizen goes beyond just being given an official piece of paper and the rights that pertain to citizenship. It also means responsibility.

Rights and responsibilities are not separate from one another. Citizenship does not have a full stop after “…when I get a citizenship paper!” Citizenship is lived out. It grabs freedom, warms to adoption (through sensitivity to the culture) and responds with gratitude to those who make, and have made, that citizenship possible.


References are hyperlinked.

Photo credit: Joey Csunyo on Unsplash

©Rod Lampard, 2018

An article entitled Will the bombing bring peace?’ authored by Johann Christoph Arnold, appeared on the Plough publishing blog feed on the 11th of September 2014.

Not long after that, Tim Costello, Uniting Church minister and CEO of World Vision Australia, authored a piece headlined: ‘Going to war no time for joy

The general flow of both articles advocates a caveat that falls just short of a protest in favour of non-involvement in military action against the self-proclaimed and militaristic ‘Islamic State movement’.

I appreciated the authors caution and respect the underlying pacifism expressed by their concerns.

However, I found both articles disappointing to read.

Whilst written well, they seem reactionary, unnecessary and  out of touch with what the majority really think about this subject.

No healthy individual or civilised community wants war. At the same time, Christians don’t have to walk around blindly ignoring the true nature of a clear and determined enemy, all in the name of peace. Particularly an enemy, such as I.S (Islamic State) who has already proven their hostile intentions towards Christians, Jews and the West in general.

Costello and Arnold’s historical comparisons are fair. However, I’m yet to see the same euphoria that was exhibited prior to World War one, in responses to the West’s involvement in this war against I.S.

What is of immediate concern is the shock and disillusionment at the continued allegiance of the pulpit with what can only be called a resurgence of ‘positive Christianity’. (Seen in the alignment of the pulpit with excessive political correctness, supported by a Gospel that has been emptied of its true content.)[i] Where Costello is wrong is not only in his assumptions about people celebrating war, but also his inability to see the compromise and surrender of theology into the service of ideology.

People aren’t celebrating the West going to War against I.S. In fact the biggest enemy at the moment is complacency and indifference in the face of a determined enemy. An enemy determined to make an enemy of the West and destroy all who show any form of dissent or opposition.

Warnings against complacency and indifference come at us from different historical voices. One of the strongest comes from pacifist and evolutionary biologist, Vernon Kellogg. His observations of the Germans and their adherence to ideology during World War One, demonstrates the need to take action in the face of a socio-political ideology determined to make itself lord of all:

‘For their point of view does not permit of a live-and-let-live kind of carrying on. It is a point of view that justifies itself by a whole-hearted acceptance of the worst of Neo-Darwinism [social Darwinism], the Allmacht of natural selection applied rigorously to human life and society and Kultur…I was never convinced. That is, never convinced that for the good of the world the Germans should win this war, completely and terribly.And this conviction, thus gained, meant the conversion of a pacifist to an ardent supporter, not of War, but of this war; of fighting this war to a definitive end.’
(Headquarters Nights (1917:23).

When conflict is imposed on us, a good percentage of the time it will mean being drawn into a position where most just “push backs” are twisted. They are then used by aggressors, and spectators alike, as evidence of a ‘disproportionate’, ‘inappropriate’ and unethical response.

Enablers, enable abuse. They do so by their silence and discounting of the severity of evidence before their eyes. Enablers don’t want to get involved, because they either have something to gain or something to lose. Fear of retribution or loss of something personally profitable, trumps standing up for the truth.

Instances include Israel’s recent response to ideological belligerents in Gaza and the West. Israel had two fronts, Gaza and the internet. The Israeli defence force had to fight off a constant stream of misleading information that was circulating on social media.

In the case of Australia, our involvement, as the Prime Minister has made clear, is to assist in the defence and provision of humanitarian aid to innocent civilians. Australian involvement is not to make war for the sake of war.

In answer to Tim Costello and Johann Christoph Arnold: nobody wants a war outside those bringing war to us (and perhaps some extremist fringe dwellers that see this as an opportunity to further their own self interests).

An abysmal situation cannot be held back by passivity, apathy, a will-to-power, appeasement or a poorly informed soft diplomacy. 

Responsible action requires the restraint of faith in Christ, open communication, purpose, a unified team and the courage to dedicate a wide variety of resources to neutralise blatant threats to the innocent.

The old challenges of socialist-fascist imperialism, with its deification of men, society and sin, and the new masks it wears, must be answered. The end and actions must not be driven by an apathy, that thrives on the selective protests and permissions of the lords of neo-tolerance.

With regards to the crisis in Iraq and Syria, “just war” advocates do not have to dig very deep to make their case. The basics of which are expressed, in the often quoted statement made by Kennedy who said: Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.

The atmosphere which surrounds us, illustrates the need for a firm, restrained response. I don’t think that it’s a stretch to say that the world is seeing the resurgence of fascism. When we witness mass rallies and violence under flags with White script on Black fabric in the East, and rainbow flags that are paraded, in the name of pride down main streets in the West, what we are witnessing is the rise of fascism proper.

Under one there is war, gaol for dissidents and beheadings. Under the other, there is indoctrination, re-education classes, and law suits against anyone who dare to stand by valid opposing view.  

If, as Costello implies, there is any joy being taken in belligerency, we would do well to start our investigation there.

There is no doubt that the path ahead is treacherous. There is no room for belligerency from the pulpit, whether that be in support of Left or Right ideological platforms, but what cannot be forgotten is:

‘…personal safety should not excuse[s] timidity in the pulpit’ [or podium]. 
“It is not that I and all the rest of us have said too much in our sermons, but rather that we have said far too little.”
(Paul Schneider) [ii]

If we completely follow along in agreement with Costello and Arnold, or with those who demand allegiance to their views without question, we, the Church may get to the point where laments like Schieder’s are common place once again.

It’s not at all that surprising to see parallels between the past and present.

The Abyss is opposed to love. Yet the Abyss and it’s agents frame themselves as being the very epitome of love.

So we stand in agreement with Ezekiel, Clement of Rome and Ambrose of Milan:

‘As I live, says the Lord, I take not pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather [his correction]; that he should turn from his way and live’
(Ez.18:21-24)

But in doing so we also hear and act on the clear challenge of Clement:

‘Let us cleave, to those who cultivate peace with godliness, and not to those who hypocritically profess to desire it.’
(Clement, First Letter to the Corinthians, Chapter XV)

References (not otherwise linked):

[i] I am paraphrasing a statement made by Dean Stroud in ‘Preaching in the Shadow of Hitler’ (2013, p.8).

[ii]Paul Schneider, the 1st Pastor to die in a Concentration camp, in a letter to his wife from his jail cell on Nov. 14, 1937 on Preaching in Nazi Germany’ – Stroud, D. 2013 Preaching in Hitler’s Shadow: Sermons of Resistance, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, p.47

Photo credit: ‘Early 1960s. Before the construction of the Berlin Wall West German soldiers stare down the East after a young woman makes it across the line to the West.’ – Drive Thru History.

(Encore post. Originally posted Sep 21, 2014)

My daughter, who has been homeschooled for the majority of her education, is doing her higher school certificate this year and she’s starting to feel the pressure. In fact, we all are. In passing one day, I randomly encouraged her to “be like Maverick and engage.” Understanding the context of the reference, she smiled back.

As I am known to do from time to time, I started to think a bit deeper about the meaning of those words.

At the end of Top Gun (1986), Maverick sits waiting as back-up. He’s in an F-14, waiting as “ready-five” or ”ready-alert“, things don’t go well for the team and he’s then called into the fight. Once he gets there, he wavers. At this point in time he has a choice whether to engage or disengage. He chooses to engage.

Another example from 1986 comes from the film ‘Iron Eagle‘. When retired Air Force Colonel, Chappy Sinclair chooses to engage with the rescue of a friend, who is being held as a P.O.W. Sinclair chooses to help his friend’s son pilot an F-16 into a war zone. His most memorable words were:

“God doesn’t give people talents that he doesn’t want people to use. And he gave you The Touch. It’s a power inside of you, down there where you keep your guts boy! It’s all you need to blast your way in and get back what they took from you.” (I.E, 1986)

Although Maverick (Pete Mitchell – Tom Cruise) and Chappy (Louis Gossett Jr.) are fictional characters, there are sound examples throughout history of men and women, who were called into the fight.

One of those was Winston Churchill. At the age of 65, after many years of being dismissed for his warnings about the state of the world, he was called into the fight. He had the same choice as Maverick and Chappy. Engage or disengage. He chose to engage.

If you’re feeling the pressure today, and no doubt you will, because all of us do, remember these examples. Remember that God did not waver when He created you. He freely and decisively chose to engage in life with you, that you may freely and decisively engage in life with him.[i]

You have a God-given, grace enabled freedom, and you are called upon by God to live that out. Engage in life with Him through Jesus Christ, and engage in life with others. This freedom comes with responsibility; His grace confronts us with a choice. We choose daily, whether to invite God into our decisions, and be for others or for ourselves. That choice can be tough. Faith can be tough.

But we don’t put our faith in our circumstances. We don’t put our faith in faith. We put our faith in God, learning from that which He has given and anticipating where He will guide us, based on what He’s given and already done in the past for us. We have a history with God, even if we don’t want to acknowledge it. We are summoned to ‘trust in the Lord with all our heart, [to] lean not on our own understanding, [to] submit all things to Him, and he will make our paths straight.’ (Proverbs 3:5-6).

One of the other great historical examples comes from theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He reminds us of the choice to engage, while when in a Nazi prison, he wrote:

‘In me it is dark, but with you there is light.
I am lonely, but you do not abandon me.
I am faint-hearted, but from you comes my help.
I am restless, but with you is peace.
In me is bitterness, but with you is patience.
I do not understand your ways, but you know the right way for me.’ [ii]

 

So whatever we might meet in the coming day, be like Maverick and engage. Be like Churchill and engage. Be like Bonhoeffer and engage. Ultimately, be like Christ and engage. Stand with Christ and engage. They could have chosen differently, refused the fight, and disengaged entirely, but they chose not to. As a result, we are confronted by their example.

de Vivre Selon Dieu


References:

[i] In this statement, I’m drawing from Karl Barth.

[ii] Bonhoeffer, D. BDW:8, Letters & Papers From Prison, Fortress Press (p.195)

Image: Iron Eagle,  Sidney J. Furie, Tri-Star Pictures, 1986 (Use of this image is considered to be within the boundaries of fair use, given that the image is applied here, for the use of teaching, and comment in a not-for-profit context, and it contains clear credit and promotion of the film as a whole.)

Guest post by John Moore.

Critics of the Bible like to engage in skeptical games, one of them I like to call ‘nullification of history,’ that is, if one example of bad conduct is shown, then just about everything can be rendered uncertain.

There is no doubt that certain ancient historians, like Thucydides (circa 460-400 B.C.), have often been accused of personal bias. But does that automatically cast doubt about all transcribed accounts of personages in the past?”[1]

Unfortunately, higher criticism too has obfuscated the real problem. ‘At issue are, not doctrines, myths, or speculations, but the facts which took place in the clear light of history at a specific time and place, facts which can be established and on which one can rely’[2].

Note that there is no basis for any arguments about subjective experiences concerning events during the earthly and post resurrection ministry of Jesus, or after His ascension[3]. Nor is ‘witness’ a subjective category, as in Aristotle’s book, Rhetoric[4].

So what is the solution to this problem?

The New Testament was written in the common language (Koine) of ordinary people: it too is dependent upon earlier linguistic usage[5], that it might be easily understood by its audience. That is important because the courtroom model of an objective proof [6] is also clearly intended to convince the readers of the Gospels [7].

The Apostles clearly understood that they would have to confront the unbelieving world with truth. They took the message of Jesus to the world (Mt. 28:16-20) without any fear of being contradicted by detractors.

The case for objectivity has been defended by a scholar thusly: “The Christian faith is an historical faith based on God’s revelation in history; it is based on facts[8].”

Even in a postmodern age, the concept of evidentiary proof is still valid.

The Gospels are not mere opinions about the past; they are a ‘witness’ in a specialized sense; presented in a literary/judicial format, genre de style; still worth upholding as an apologetic method.


Notes & References:

[1] Note the vernacular of testimony The common Greek noun martus and the verb marturein are used by orators (Antiphon, Demosthenes, Lysias, Andocides) and historians (Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Dion of Halicarnassus). For examples see Henry Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek English Lexicon, (1883), pages 922-923.

[2] Suzanne de Dietrich, ‘You are My Witnesses.’ A Study of the Church’s Witness, Interpretation, Volume 8, Issue 3, July 1954, page 278.

[3] This point is especially seen in the post Resurrection appearance of Jesus in Luke 24:44-48 where the disciples are to be witnesses to the historical events of the death and resurrection of the Messiah. “As such they were to proclaim the facts (vs. 48), and the repentance and remission based upon them (vs. 47); and thus be the fufillers of the prophecies summed up in vss. 45-46.” Matthew B. Riddle & Phillip Schaff, A Popular Commentary on the New Testament, (1879)

[4] For a discussion, see Hermann Strathmann, Martus, TDNT, (1967), vol. 4, pp. 474-478.

[5] For an overview, see H. Strathmann, op. cit., pp. 474-515.

[6] See the Greek examples in Liddell and Scott, loc. cit. “The elemental meaning of martus is a legal one, where someone who has observed an event, or heard words spoken, or seen the signing of s deed, appears in court to authenticate such. To witness, therefore, is to rehearse what one has seen or heard, to verify the factuality of something.” Donald G. Miller, Some Observations on the New Testament Concept of ‘Witness,’ The Ashbury Theological Journal, vol.1, (1988), p. 57. Deuteronomy 19 :15 is the set rule of confirmation used in both Testaments. “According to the Old Testament idea of justice a statement is considered valid in law only if it is confirmed by two or three witnesses,” Robert Koch, Witness, Sacramentum Verbi, vol. 3, p.984.

[7] “Here clearly the idea of witness is used in a twofold sense, just as in secular Greek literature and the Old Testament lawsuit. The apostles are both witness to facts and advocates who try and convince their opponents of the truth of the Christian position. Consequently, their testimony concerns not only the reality of historical events which they have seen and heard, but also a conviction as to what these events signify, namely, the saving activity of God in history,” Allison A Trites, The Concept of Witness in the Synoptic Gospels: Some Juridical Considerations, Themelios, 5, (1968), p.25

[8] Suzanne de Dietrich, op. cit., p.278.

Photo credit: Giammarco Boscaro on Unsplash


John lives in America. He is passionate about all things Søren Kierkegaard, and has a deep understanding of the theology of Karl Barth. He currently runs the Facebook page, Theological Scholarship and contributes a welcome scholarly passion to other academic platforms.

Jacques Ellul’s books have moved up on my ladder of reading priorities with an ever increasing pace. My acquaintance with his work began last year when, after reading Roger Scruton’s, ‘The West & The Rest’, I was prompted to dig further into the relationship between Islam and Judeo-Christianity. From there, I’ve continued to casually seek out Ellul’s work and study it. Since I voluntarily publish a lot of discoveries, and discuss their impact on my own theological study here, I thought it appropriate to introduce Jacques Ellul and explain my interest in his work.

Ellul was a student of Karl Barth[1]. This discovery was a bonus and it’s padded the desire to explore Ellul’s work. Out of particular interest is finding the point of contact between Ellul and Barth. (Political theology is ground zero, but the topic is large and best left for an essay solely dedicated to the subject.)

Ellul was a French theologian. He majored in philosophy and made a career out of lecturing on Marxism.

He was once involved in the French resistance, but unlike the equally fantastic breakaways from the Left, such as Simone Weil and Albert Camus, Ellul never appears to have been granted the same status (read: given the same time of day) by the predominantly Leftist French and Western academy.

I gather that the reasons for this dismissal come down to the fact that Ellul was a critic of Islam and wasn’t a Marxist[i]. In addition to this, he took orthodox Christian theology seriously.  Ellul wasn’t without his own criticisms of the institutional church or Christendom, but he never abandoned Jesus Christ for Karl Marx. The content and response to his works ‘Islam and Judeo-Christianity: A Critique of their Commonality’ and ‘Jesus & Marx: from theology to ideology’, present evidence of this.

Ellul worked with the understanding that every human, even if that man or woman wasn’t aware of it, has a theological viewpoint. Whether a person is agnostic or atheist, both hold to theological conclusions about the world around us, within us and beyond us.

For many, those conclusions are usually arrived at via loose information and deliberate misinformation. They have some basic knowledge of Christian theology, but this knowledge is limited, and often built on fragments, gossip or whatever ideological lens they’ve been taught is superior to all the rest.

Elluls work, so far as I’ve deciphered, sought to engage that inherent theological knowledge in conversation with relevant topics. So much so, that under the microscope placed over contemporary Western politics, it’s tempting to look at a good portion of his subject matter and consider it prophetic.  However, like Karl Barth, Ellul, was no prophet and so it’s a temptation that proves to be an unhelpful trivial speculative distraction.

Whilst Ellul took orthodox Christianity seriously, he wasn’t someone who was absorbed by any particular Protestant denomination. He wasn’t a puppet of the Left, nor a product of conservatives or sectarian dogma. He lived out his faith, and applied the science of dogmatics to his own theological viewpoints. Living out what he termed, Christian anarchism[ii], Ellul came to his own conclusions based on the bible and a working dogmatics.

As David W. Gill’s, (President of the I.J.E.S[2]), recent lecture pointed out,

‘Ellul was of the view that “we must come to Scripture asking “what does God wish to say to us through these texts? He insisted [as did Karl Barth] that the Bible should be read with Jesus [the revelation of God] at the Center. Any separation of a text from the totality of God’s revelation will inevitably cause us to distort the Bible.” (Gill, 2018. Words parenthesis are mine)

According to Gill,

‘the grounding of Ellul’s conversion was in reading Scripture. One day at the age of twenty-two, Ellul was reading the Bible, and “it happened-with a certain brutality.” Not a sermon in a church, not a celebration of the sacraments, not a mystical vision, bu the private reading of the Bible was decisive in Ellul’s decision to become a Christian.’ (Ibid, 2018)

Ellul wasn’t a blind follower of high-minded Biblical Criticism. Gill reports that Ellul ‘took biblical scholarship including historical criticism seriously, but was feisty in challenging its excesses’[3]:

  “I fail to see the justification for accepting as legitimate all the questions about the revelation while at the same time refusing to question those systems, methods, and conclusions from the point of view of Revelation.” (Jacques Ellul, Hope in the Time of Abandonment).

Gill concludes his lecture with two main areas of consideration for those being introduced to Ellul. First, not everyone will agree with Elull’s theology. Second, one area we will agree on is ‘one of Ellul’s most powerful points about the Bible: let it put us in question rather than for us to constantly put it in question.’ (Gill, 2018)

It’s here that Jacques Elull first finds some shared ground with Karl Barth. As a result, I’m keen to read more.

I think that Jacques Ellul picks up where Barth stopped (had to stop]). I wouldn’t go as far to say that Ellul finished what Barth started, only that, from what I’ve read so far, Ellul gives Thomas Torrance some serious competition for the top spot as Barth’s successor.


Notes & References:

[1] ‘After his conversion, Ellul was drawn to the Reformed Church and to the theology of Karl Barth.’ (David.W Gill, Scripture & Word In Ellul’s Writings, 2018)

[2] International Jacques Ellul Society

[3] Ibid, 2018

[i] This is a tentative conclusion I base squarely on Roger Scruton’s tenacious and meticulous research about the French and Western Academy in, ‘Fools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left, 2015’.

[ii] At this point, Christian Anarchism is where I depart from Ellul. I need to read more about what he thinks Christian Anarchism is. His chapter in ‘Jesus & Marx’, whilst it explains some of his ideas about Christian Anarchism, I’m yet to be convinced that it’s a good thing.

Gill, D.W. 2018 Scripture & Word in Ellul’s Writings, IJES Conference, Vancouver BC Canada (Sourced 3rd July 2018 from http://ellul.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Scripture-and-Word-in-Ellul%E2%80%99s-Writings.pdf)

My Silent Reminder

July 22, 2018 — Leave a comment

.

Midnight Wind, old friend!

Moving curtains once again?

My silent reminder.

Not a figment of my mind, or any mythical march,

It was the numbing of my face, as I walked against you in the dark.

I’ll never forget how the road looked,

And how mornings would find me wondering,

Who had carried me through the fight;

Who concealed this teenager from harmful strangers,

Until the night was banished by blurred street lights.

You were a welcome companion,

Even when your presence was as cold as ice.

Despite my drunken stupor, and my clumsy broken prayers,

You wrapped each word with insight;

Lifted sighs with tender care.

Old friend, you moved a still-small voice to meet those youthful ears;

Hinting at better days, beyond the haze of a child’s eyes once filled with tears.

Teaching me to listen, and pay attention from the start,

That empty bottles never healed any man’s broken heart.

I’ve not forgotten what might have been lost.

If it hadn’t been because of costly grace,

and ein feste burg ist unser Gott [i].


‘Stand in awe of God […] For He has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden His face from him, but has heard, when he cried to Him.’ (Psalm 22:23-24, ESV)

©RodLampard, 2018

Photo Credit: Alexandre Guimont on Unsplash

[i] A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.

 

Parents can tend to place their kids on a pedestal.

It’s not that children take the place of God nor that parents deify their children. The pedestal is more akin to that of an illusion; a fog of false security which assumes our children are perfect, and if not perfect, at least better than we are.

In sum: without sin.

Of course, parents know deep down that it’s naïve to think children are excluded from a sinful world.

We know by our own childhood and teenage years that they aren’t. Those years teach us that we shouldn’t be complacent in thinking that our children are not prone to the affects of sin, in the same way that we are, and once were.

The condition of the human heart, as described by Jeremiah 17:9, says that we can expect ‘the human heart [to be] deceitful above all things’. This goes right back to the retro-prophetic witness in Genesis, whereby the archetypal humans, together as male and female, through temptation, broke humanity and at the same time, broke fellowship with God.

In the beginning was God and relationship with God. This relationship was initiated by God and nurtured by boundaries. By breaching those boundaries, man and woman broke fellowship with God. Having already outlined the consequences, God brings humanity to account: “Where are you? Why are you hiding? What have you done?” (Gen.3:8-13).

In a great act of love, God punishes the serpent, makes clothes for the man and woman (Gen. 3:21), then removes them from the Garden. Where, if they were to remain and eat of the second tree (the fruit of the tree of life), as they had the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, death – this break with God; its lifeless godlessness; the nothingness of the abyss[i] – would be forever.

The cherubim and flaming sword (Gen.324) are set in place to save humanity from the condition they now find themselves in. God doesn’t cut and run. He sees the consequences and redefines the relationship. He removes them from the Garden, but not from His fellowship. For ‘God does not flee to man for refuge – man flees to God and lives by God’s grace’ (Barth, p.187).

By removing man and woman from the Garden, God removes them from their own destruction. That God does this proves His love for His creature. He doesn’t separate the man from the woman. Any separation of male from female; man from woman, at God’s command, or any others, would bring about the same thing that God is protecting humanity from – its own absolute and final self-annihilation.

By choosing to help them, in the midst of God’s judgement, we see His wisdom and mercy. This decision helped humanity, it was never about depriving or hurting humanity.

God never stops being graceful, merciful or just. This is who He is. No where greater is this seen than in the constant care God shows towards His people, through His people, and with decisive finality, in His son. In Jesus Christ, the entire world sees His glory. Jesus Christ is God revealed; God in revolt against the disorder of the world. God, the light of the world, pushing back against eternal darkness; against the potential forever of lifeless godlessness, and the nothingness of the abyss.[1]

By choosing to help us, we see wisdom and mercy, in the midst of God’s judgement.

‘sin means that man [and woman] is lost to themselves, but not to their Creator’. That ‘true freedom is in the act of responsibility before God […] it is never the freedom to sin’ (Barth, pp.196-197)

Contrary to God’s parenting style, parents can tend to place their kids on a pedestal. One indication that we might have put ourselves, or our children, on a pedestal is thinking that “our kids can do now wrong”. This is dangerous because the pedestal is high. The inevitable falling-off can lead to a serious falling-out between mum, dad and children. One way that we can remove ourselves and our children from that pedestal, is by acknowledging human limitations.

It stands as a well established fact, that parents are limited in being able to protect their child from the consequences of their child’s rejection of parental advice or poor decisions. We cannot wrap children in cotton wool, nor completely protect them from the affects of a sinful world.

As much as parents may want it to be different, Children are not excluded from a sinful world. As much as parents fight for their kids; teach or desire to walk with them. Just as the archetypal humans did, children may choose to walk away. They will choose not to listen to advice. They will choose to run too fast on a slippery floor, deceive from time to time, and be reckless with a knife, boiling water or worse. When these things happen, the pedestal shatters and the child comes crashing down.

Parenting then is not about pedestals, but about recovery, joy and improvisation! Being there to nurture, correct, create with, love and empower those entrusted by God into our care. Giving a firm “yes” and loving “no”, and allowing wisdom and mercy to inform when to give them.

God has no grandchildren; just as we are children, our children are God’s children. Therefore, parents are caretakers (Gen.2:15). We are given a great gift, and entrusted with the ‘training up a child in the way he should go; [so] even when he is old he will not depart from it’ (Proverbs 22:6). .

Parenting is a gift. There can be no pedestal for us or for them. There can only be protest and petition. Protest for them against the disorder of the world [ii]; prayer for them, as they walk with God against it and all that sets out to destroy them.

Ultimately, parenting is receiving what God has to teach us. Learning what God has done for us. Learning from what God does and will have us do, then doing our best to walk in that; to help pick up the pieces of our children’s poor decisions, when they make them; to pray like breathing [iii], to ‘love justice, love mercy, [and together], walk humbly with our God’ (Micah 6:8).


References & Notes:

Barth, K. 1960. Church Dogmatics III/2 Hendrickson Publishers

[1] ‘With the creation of woman God expected man to confirm and maintain his true humanity by the exclusion of every other possibility [of a partner].’ (Karl Barth CD. 3:1, 1958 p.294) ; ‘Every supposed humanity which is not radically and from the very first fellow-humanity is inhumanity’ (CD. 3:2, p.228)

[i] As are the terms given to this breach by Karl Barth & Dietrich Bonhoeffer

[ii] I’m adopting Karl Barth’s phrase: ‘Prayer is a revolt against the disorder of the world’ from CD Fragments IV:4 

[ii] because to pray is to act. Prayer is action. Prayer is not stoic detachment.

©Rod Lampard, 2018

Photo credit: Liane Metzler on Unsplash

Seventeen craters and counting,

Shells fall, there’s no moving a train running hard.

Sulfur, smoke and coal,

Whistle blows; splinters and wood

There’s no dodging this incendiary hail storm

The only way through, is through.

.

The crashing of oversized bullets fired from miles away

Vengeful gifts from an invisible enemy

Land unpredictably,

 One there, a few here,

*Sigh.*

A close call, I don’t know if I can take it all.

(Technology, war, me and these parallel tracks

This iron horse, heaving forward, as if jumping over cracks)

.

I thought my nerves could take the shock, but I’m worn in every muscle

It’s hard to stay awake.

My mind and heart is racing, the Doc says my nerves are shot.

.

The extremes of heat, cold and smell,

Vast empty wastelands; civilization all blown to hell

.

If the shrapnel stays away,

And the train keeps its tracks,

If the boiler temp. is kept at bay

We’re sure to remain attached.

.

Our biggest fear is derailment,

From that, there’s no coming back.

So, we do our best to work & pray,

To ask Jesus Christ for a miracle,

For Him to work alongside us, as we drip in sweat,

As we roll back and forth with each, and every tilt, of this beast’s rough sway.

The noise is growing quieter now,

It’s profane and peculiar,

Our train may have never left its tracks,

But hearts and minds have derailed,

Deranged metal has deranged men;

Lives gone off the rails;

All because a train cannot dodge the screaming descent of metal hail

.

Though those years are far from me,

I still jump when there’s nothing there,

When a train whistles, I hold my breath;

Look to the right, left,

and then up in the air.

Awaiting the inevitable fusion,

Of locomotives, war and their violent union

Of metal meteors; fear of not making it back,

Of bombs and broken men, who gave their all, riding iron horses over broken tracks.

.


Corporal Frederick William Petrie served in France with the A.I.F as an engineman (fireman) on locomotives, from 22nd Dec. 1916 to 7th Nov. 1918. He was 36 years old. On the 17th July 1917, Frederick was diagnosed with Neurasthenia (depression and emotional distress), which was commonly used as a diagnosis for “shell shock”. After meeting with British Commander of the Australian Imperial Forces in Europe, General William Birdwood, Frederick was placed on lighter duties.

According to reports, locomotive engineers during the war, were faced with rough conditions:

‘we were not fighting troops, but I may say that the whole of our sphere of operations was within range of the enemy’s artillery, and he paid particular attention to the railways, both with his heavy guns and aeroplane bombs. Even…the furthest back station of the 4th company was under fire from the 15in guns…With both planes and guns the enemy paid systematic attention to our main lines of rail, so you can realise that life in a railway unit was not altogether a picnic. The 5th Coy…had the worst of it…their section of line was continually exposed to bomb raids and gunfire, night and day, and their casualties were heavy…the amount of work behind a great army is tremendous. Despite the network of lines, I have seen 280 trains per day pass over a single section of line, and trains carry 1000-ton loads…the difficulties and odds against which they had to contend are seldom realised.’
(Lt. R.J Burchell 5th coy, The West Australian, June 1919)

Source:


(©RL2018)

Photo credit:  Samuel Zeller on Unsplash 

Creating fear about an apocalyptic event such as “global warming” gives those espousing it, the power to monopolise government initiatives, elections and national economies. In short: they coerce the people into surrendering something for absolutely nothing. In this case, the thing surrendered only benefits those demanding the surrendering. The real catastrophe is in the daylight robbery this allows.

Along with fossil fuels, fear powers their personal jets, pads their bank accounts and helps them position puppet politicians into places of power, where those politicians can be used to further “the crusade for the planet”.

Whilst I agree that humans can, and do, have a negative impact on the environment, and that we ALL are ordained by God to be good stewards of what He created – with the rise of electricity and water bills, also comes a rise in the power of those telling us that the “sky is falling”. With so much profit, celebrity and political power involved, something about the environmental scare mongering doesn’t quite add up.

Is it possible that the end goal, of this holy war for the planet, is absolute servitude to an un-elected bureaucratic caste, and its ideological utopia? A utopia open only to those who are always in agreement with the dominating views. History lends to us the catastrophic example that follows blind allegiance to such movements. Man and woman, equated with God, makes the claim to have taken God’s place. As a result, the führer (or un-elected bureaucratic caste) is revered as knowing what’s best for the fatherland. Therefore the people must trust the führer as though he (or they) were God.

Thankfully, the West isn’t quite at this stage of total surrender to totalitarian agendas. By correcting any bias in their assumptions and opinions, or letting scientists, theologians, and politicians, who present an opposing hypothesis speak freely, the opportunity for false prophets to seize total control is removed.

Fact, freedom and reasoned compassion all stand in the way of selfish ambition and the lust for power. Fact and freedom are threats to the paranoia used through manipulative propaganda because it forces dialogue about the issues. In the example of “global warming” such an approach recognises that the science isn’t settled. It recognises the need to examine the issue from differing angles. In short: to observe and then observe some more in order to truly see what is there and what is not there.

As it is with all authentic science, conclusions that rest solely on hypothesis, circumstantial evidence, inference and opinion remain fluid. They are an open question and must remain so. At least until hard facts can be presented. Facts free from questionable models, subjectivism and speculation. Facts that are free from manipulative propaganda and its master, political indoctrination.

Jacques Ellul provides a helpful look into why we must be on our guard against all forms of manipulation. When it comes to any discussion about environmental issues, or activism in general, it’s helpful to filter the information by asking questions of its source and content.

This is important because we have to ask whether or not, what exists (as part of the flood of papers, news reports and organisations that surround us), is an

‘organised myth that is trying to take hold of us and invade every area of our consciousness, stimulating a feeling of exclusiveness [if we conform], and producing a biased attitude’ along with it. (Ellul, 1965:11)

Are we being duped by slippery sales techniques? Sold to us by slipperier salesmen and women?

Without question, what we see today is the mass use of propaganda for dubious causes. For example, manipulative propaganda is used to force total allegiance to LGBT activism, open borders and environmentalism.[1]  It would be difficult to find someone not affected by the psychological warfare and political indoctrination at work behind all three.

The reason being,

‘education methods play an immense role in political indoctrination (Lenin, Mao)…One must utilise the education of the young to condition them to what comes later. The schools and all methods of instruction are transformed under such conditions, with the child integrated into the conformist group in such a way that the individualist is tolerated not by the authorities but by his peers. Religion and the churches are constrained to hold on to their places in the orchestra [of totalitarianism and political indoctrination]’ (Ellul, 1965:13)

In the case of the environmentalism, whether or not “global warming” is the man-made demon many say it is, or whether it is part of a cycle not recorded by human hands, is beside the point.

The more immediate questions are: What is the average citizen being sold? Why are they being sold it? Who is selling it to them? Why are the scientists who present a different point of view, seemingly and immediately silenced with threats, boycotts, and abuse?[2]

It’s also important to understand that propaganda is a drug, once you’re hooked into the system, you’re hooked into the system.

Propaganda ‘is not a stimulus that disappears quickly; it consists in successive impulses…it is a continuous action…at no point does it fail to subject its recipient to its influence. As soon as one effect wears off, it is followed by a new shock.’ (Ellul, 1965:18)[3]

In order to keep people surrendering something for absolutely nothing, like a lab-rat those people need to be hit again with a ‘new shock’. Once this wears off, a ‘new shock’ has to be given. This is done so as to keep people surrendering something to those authorities and officials, who are free to demand it, but who give nothing back in exchange for it.

This helps to explain the dehumanising language used largely by the Left in the socio-political arena. Logical fallacies are easier to believe because they contain an element of truth within them. As long as it’s enough to hook someone into taking a side, the percentage of truth doesn’t matter.

The antidote to propaganda is dialogue, for ‘propaganda ceases where simple dialogue begins’ (Ellul, 1965:6). Through dialogue we can sift truth from untruth. By thinking for ourselves we can navigate lies and call them out. In seeking dialogue with the issues, and not believing every manufactured-for-effect sound-byte from the 6 o’clock news, or by trusting every meme shared to social media, we can sift fact from fiction; opinion and inference; and challenge what is sold to us.

We can move beyond the propaganda, understanding that not all that glitters is gold; and that unless people question what it is that the auctioneers are selling, we come to the subject with the head of a fool, only to find ourselves walking away with two.[4]


Notes & References:

[1] I acknowledge that this is also used by the opposing sides. I am reluctant to say that the opposing sides do this in the same dishonest way or to the same damaging degree.

[2] Quite a few examples of this exist. It’s universal knowledge and therefore I have no real reason to weigh down this point by padding it with example after example, in order to prove my point.

[3] See footnote 1

[4] Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venus.

Ellul, J. 1965. Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes Vintage Books

© Rod Lampard, 2018. Photo by Elijah O’Donell on Unsplash

Guest post by A. Lampard.

“The Man in the Iron Mask,” by Alexandre Dumas, is a continuation of Dumas’ classic, “The Three Musketeers.” The story takes place in France, where the three musketeers have retired, and d’Artagnon remains in his majesty’s service. Unknown to d’artagnon, his two friends, Aramis and Porthos, seek to remove the current king of France, Louis XIV, and put his twin brother, Philip, on the throne. While the plot is underway, d’Artagnon must decide where his loyalty lies: with his most trusted friends or his King. Dumas’ use of heartbreak, loyalty and conflict in “The Man in the Iron Mask” creates a narrative that fascinates the reader, but ultimately leaves them hanging.

The “The Man in the Iron Mask,” has gaps in its storyline. The first gap consists in Raoul’s (Monsieur de Bragelonne and son of Athos) heartbreak.[i] Raoul’s fiancée, Mademoiselle de La Valliere, appears to have fallen in love with Louis XIV, and him with her. Raoul’s lover seems to have then left him for the corrupt king, leaving the young man drowning in depression and heartache. The result of this action causes Raoul to long for death, however his overall role in the narrative is unclear and mostly unresolved.

The second gap, concerns the futures of Monsieur Fouquet and (particularly) the prisoner, Philip. Fouquet’s role is mentioned once in the epilogue long after his being captured. However, his role is not spoken of again. Philip is not mentioned or acknowledged in the book after his arrest. His future seems to imply that he will continue to be mistreated and left to rot in prison. Unfortunately, a drastic plot twist causes him to be arrested, which dulls down the intrigue of the story. The outcome of their fates is anything but complete, as information concerning their futures is left out, and the story ends.

Porthos’ death was the worst part of the book. One of the most painful experiences in “The Man in the Iron Mask” is his death. Porthos’ death removes a boisterous cheerfulness that brightened the story.  Good Porthos’ kind heart and humor banished the dark atmosphere of the book. After “the Death of a Titan”[ii] (as Dumas put it) the story seems overly burdened by its incessant despair and gloom.

“The Man in the Iron Mask” is not as much a swashbuckling narrative as “The Three Musketeers.”  The themes constantly present in the story are despair and sadness, which contrast deeply with its predecessor. “The Three Musketeers” is an incredible story full of danger, intrigue, and drama, leaving the reader enchanted. The same cannot be said of “The Man in the Iron Mask.” The plot of this story isn’t nearly as adventurous or mysterious as one would hope, leaving the reader to wonder about the ending.

The lack of swashbuckling heroism and adventure, which was constantly present throughout “The Three Musketeers,” was disappointing. Despite this, “The Man in the Iron Mask” did have some good parts. For example, when two hundred men heard they were fighting two of the legendary, four musketeers,  and were struck with both terror and enthusiasm. The dull story-line isn’t affected by this though, which still leaves the reader in confusion about how Dumas ends his story.

In conclusion, “The Man in the Iron Mask” is often tedious, dull, and leaves the reader hanging. Unnecessary changes throughout it slow down the story. There are frustrating gaps in the story-line, such as: Philip and Fouquet’s futures, and what Raoul’s overall role in the story was. In addition to these gaps, there is the death of Porthos, which causes all humour to disappear from the book. Dumas seems to have lost his flair for the adventure and boisterous, in “The Man in the Iron Mask” he isn’t at his best.

 


Notes:

[i]  Please note that I have only read ‘The Three Musketeers’ and ‘The Man in the Iron Mask.’

[ii] “The Man in the Iron Mask,” Chapter 50 (‘The Death of a Titan’) – Dumas calls Porthos a ‘Titan.’

(Disclaimer: no remuneration of any kind was received for this review.)

Windmills & Giants!

June 19, 2018 — 1 Comment

As a father, who happens to homeschool his five kids, I also have the distinct honour of managing the general household paradigm.  Here’s a retelling of an event involving one of those responsibilities.

 

 

Chores are not like a small kitten’s purr,

No. Chores are torture.

Run the linen up the flag poles,

Stoke the spinning bucket with garments,

And it’s still hungry.

Such is this monster, which I have,

    daily, gallantly met.

It makes me Don Quixote against

Windmills and giants!

With the same checklist,

 gusto and loyalty,

  as that of D’Artagnan’s servant, Planchet.

Into the chilling wind I stride,

Weighty basket in hand,

Like an explorer in wet clothes, traversing unexplored Antarctic land.

The south winds blow in from hills covered in Australian snow,

My uncovered hands are no match for the cold.

My destination is only ten steps from the back door,

but the wind is like a frozen invisible wall.

My climb against it has become a solitary fight

Like the one faced by an imprisoned, Edmond Dantès

stuck inside a cell with no light.

the minutes drag on, the seconds slow down.

Like the resuscitated Dantès, become Count,

fighting back against all that was unfair;

Where is my Prisoner Priest, like Abbe Faria?

Where is my Island of Cristo,

with its hidden treasure made ready for me to bare?

the wind chill hitting my hands,

it’s a solitary stand.

This, these darkened minutes are testing my resolve,

It’s a saga even Dumas would have, with bravado, retold.

All because I went out into the cold

To hang up on a line, a bunch of wet clothes.


©RL2018

Photo credit: Jessica Fadel on Unsplash

Alongside some of the recent words from Denzel Washington, the unapologetic resilience of Candace Cameron-Bure, Patricia Heaton, Kevin Sorbo, and even Mark Wahlberg, it’s comforting to know that not all of Hollywood is lost in a sea of ideological serfdom, sensuality, greed and opportunism.

Here’s a brief transcript of an excerpt from his speech given to The Fellowship of Catholic University Students (F.O.C.U.S), on Jan. 5th 2018.

Jim Caviezel ‘s speeches are usually deep. He’s well prepared and speaks with conviction. His talk here is no different, and it shows that Caviezel needs to step up and speak more often.

“After shooting Monte Cristo I inexplicably get a call from Mel Gibson. My agent didn’t call. My manager didn’t call. I didn’t know Mel Gibson. I wasn’t politicking for the role because nobody knew it was happening. Gibson wanted me to play Jesus Christ. He wants the guy with the initials of JC, who just happens to be 33 years of age, to play Jesus Christ. Is that a coincidence? I don’t think so.
Is your life a coincidence or is it all just a chance? Some of you may be miserable right now, confused, uncertain of the future, hurting. This is not the time to back off; or to give in. When I was up there on the cross, I learned that in his suffering was our Redemption. Remember the servant is no greater than the master. Each of us must carry our own cross.
There is a price for our faith, for our freedoms. I have been literally scourged. Hit by the whips. Crucified, struck by lightning; yes, open-heart surgery – that’s what happens after five and a half months of hypothermia. One day, during this shoot, my arm was wedged under that heavy beam, when someone yanked it in the other direction. My muscles wrenched, my shoulder separated, I fell to the ground.
Dropped my head into the sand, this take now remains in the movie. In the later part of the film, Jesus experiences a shoulder separation, well I now know what that felt like. Every day I had to pick up that thing. It was like a penance. It ripped into my shoulder, tearing up my flesh, and with each passing hour, it got heavier. Had this been shot in a studio, you never would have seen that performance. The suffering made my performance; just as it makes our lives.
Some of us now (and you know them) embrace a fake Christianity, where it’s all happy talk. I call it happy Jesus and glory. Guys, there was a lot of pain and suffering before the resurrection. Your path will be no different, so embrace your cross and race toward your goal.
I want you to go out into this pagan world. I want you to have the courage to step into this pagan world, and shamelessly express your faith in public. The world needs proud warriors, animated by their faith. Warriors like Saint Paul and St. Luke, who risked their names, their reputations, to take their faith, their love for Jesus, into the world. God is calling each one of us; each one of you to do great things, but how often we failed to respond; dismissing it as some mental blurp.
It is time for our generation now, to accept that call. The call of God urging all of us to give ourselves entirely to him, to see that gentle hand, guiding your path, but you first make must make the commitment, to start praying, to fast, to meditate on the Holy Scriptures, and to take the holy sacraments seriously; for we are a culture now in decline; a people in danger of succumbing to our excesses.
Our whole world is entrenched in sin and they’re in the quiets our hearts, God is calling out to us, each one of us, to give ourselves entirely to him, and how often we ignore him; ignore that sweet call.
The great saint of Auschwitz St. Maximilian Kolbe said that, “indifference is the greatest sin of the 20th century”. Well, my brothers and sisters, it is the greatest sin of the 21st century as well.
We must shake off this indifference! This destructive tolerance of evil, only our faith in the wisdom of Christ can save us, but it requires warriors ready to risk their reputations, their names, even our very lives, to stand for the truth.
Set yourselves apart from this corrupt generation. Be saints. You weren’t made to fit in. You were born to stand out. For in our country now we are only too happy to go with the flow. We have a shrine to freedom now where all choices are equal, no matter what the consequences are. Do you honestly think this is true freedom?
Pope John Paul the great said, “Democracy cannot be sustained, without a shared commitment to certain moral truths about the human person in the human community”.
The basic question before a Democratic Society is this: how ought we to live together? Seeking an answer to this question: can society exclude moral truth and moral reasoning?
Every generation of Americans needs to know that freedom exists, not to do what you like, but having the right to do what you ought. That is the freedom that I wish for you. Freedom from sin, freedom from your weaknesses; freedom from this slavery that sin makes out of all of us, that is the freedom that is worth dying for.”
(Timestamp: 5:50 – 13:31)

 

 

Broken trails and winded sails.

Sold for a pittance;

Auditioning for your pity.

Hearts to open,

White paper to be wrote upon,

Black ink and three red soaked nails.

Dirt and dust.

Words covered in rust.

The us in trust.

Negotiate whimsical notions of melancholy;

Walk alongside this precipice.

Fasten all hope.

Anchor it.

Take hold, grab onto my wrists.

Don’t abandon the shattered heart,

Before grace rescues it completely from the abyss.

(RL2018)

As part of our home-school English curriculum this year, I decided to tackle Twain’s, ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn‘.

I’ve read a few of the, for and against arguments on the internet, by writers who either have an higher opinion of themselves (than they do of Twain), or they raise Twain to a higher level, just because he’s Twain.

My conclusion is this: forget all the, “I’m offended therefore ban ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’, because Mark Twain uses offensive language.” Then ditch the flip side which says, “I’m offended, because you’re offended, that Mark Twain didn’t consider your feelings, before he wrote the book”.

What should be deemed offensive is the fact that we’re told our children cannot be taught to discern for themselves; told that they cannot learn the difference between appropriate, and inappropriate language. Especially the term which Mark Twain contextually applies to Huck’s, African-American friend, Jim.

Such an ideological imposition goes against everything that my role as an educator involves. Such as teaching kids how to think for themselves and act responsibly with what they’ve been taught. I’m a facilitator, not a computer programmer; I facilitate the learning process, I don’t insert information into an object, in a certain way, in order to get a specific set of desired results on demand.

Although age and capability are factors for why filtering certain topics is essential to healthy nurturing, I don’t water down facts to appease feelings. With age and capability factors in mind, I present the how, and we discuss the what. Deep learning requires learning the hard stuff and how to digest the hard stuff. We read, learn and act, therefore does not equate to, “we install and stoically obey”.

Learning is a journey, a discipline from which we grow together. This is encapsulated in the whole meaning of reader beware (caveat lector) and it corresponds perfectly with buyer (consumer) beware (caveat emptor).

For example: my students know the difference between Niger (the Latin adjective for black, pronounced Nigh-jer), and the perversion of the adjective used to refer to African-Americans in a derogatory way. Our students understand that the name of the country Nigeria is not pronounced or used with that pejorative in mind.

They are capable of concluding that if a term has an historical significance and was used in such a way to control and abuse others, than that term is not to be used, but is to be left in the historical context where it once was applied. Whitewashing history in order to make it digestible isn’t conducive to education proper.

Take for instance the term ‘wandering jew’’. This is a common name of a pervasive weed in Australia. It pops up everywhere and is hard to get rid of.  But the term raises some important questions: a) is the name of the weed, “wandering jew”, a term of endearment, or is it a pejorative? b)  Can the term be understood differently?  Just because I think the phrase is potentially offensive, doesn’t mean that a Jewish person would agree. c) The plant is strong, hardy and persistent with okay flowers. Instead of disparaging Jewish people, does it stand as a compliment to them?

Instead of banning terms, we educate our children about them. We teach them that the term ‘wandering jew’ can be viewed as a slur on a people group, used in order to dehumanize them. We also take note of the possibility that ‘wandering jew’ could also be viewed as a term of endearment. As a result, while knowing that the phrase is common, we give them reason whether or not to insert weed, where jew once stood or keep it. The consensus has been to use ‘wandering weed’ instead of ‘wandering jew’. If, however, someone used the term ‘wandering jew’, our children would understand its reference, and if someone was offended by it, they would understand why.

We can teach this without demanding that all horticultural books or websites which use the term, “wandering jew” be banned. Just because some Jewish folks might be offended, or use the term, doesn’t mean we have to either ban it, or use it. Likewise, just because the African-American community might (and some do[i]) use the pejorative version of the word ‘Niger (Nigh-Jer)’, doesn’t justify our own use of it (no matter how hypocritical it may seem).

In the case of ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’, the student is taught to understand what the word means, how and why it was once used, and to whom it was once applied. Instead of having them repeat the word, the pejorative version of ‘niger (nigh-jer)’ is easily replaced by the reader with African-American. We acknowledge the complications, but chose to think for ourselves instead of having a censor do that job for us.

The genius of ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ is that, when allowed to speak for itself, Twain confronts us with the harsh reality of how words have been used to dehumanize others.

In order to holistically educate our students about the slave trade and the abuses carried out under the banner of racism, they have to be allowed to be confronted with the truth. The truth and the words associated with it. Thanks to Mark Twain, our students are no longer spectators. They get to participate in, and experience, hard truths through the eyes and ears of Twain’s characters.

There is no reason to ban ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’. Any ban would teach students to steer around being confronted with the horror and tragedy of that era (especially white folks[ii]). It denies them empathy and understanding, and as a consequence, fails to recognise that one of the essential building blocks of effective reconciliation and responsible freedom, is education free of emotional bias and ideological interference.

Banning a book because of a word that it uses, is asinine and ignorant – the very basis of Hannah Arendt’s ‘’banality of evil’’; a phenomenon that leads to the mass tolerance and participation in totalitarianism by people who are blinded by an uncritical trust in the blind bureaucrats who lead them[iii]. Not only would a blanket ban on ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ disallow children access to an experience of the past, but such a blanket ban would have to be applied to many African-American rappers, and movies where the pejorative use of ‘niger (nigh-ger)’ is applied regularly; the quintessential example being, N.W.A.

When reading the text, Twain’s consistent use of the pejorative derivation of the Latin word for black, “niger (nigh-ger)”, is easy enough to switch with African-American. Children can clearly see that black slaves are the category which such a pejorative has been applied.

Why all calls for a ban on ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ ultimately fail is that they are based on fear. If we give in to this, we let the past determine the future; repeating the past. Fear underlines racial hatred as much as excessive ethnic pride does. It restricts us from seeing our neighbor, and having our neighbor see, us.

In addition, we shouldn’t fear words, we should continue the age of old quest of learning how, when, why and where to apply and respond to them.

Parents and educators need to push back against any technological society which tries to program our kids as if they were computers. Conveyor belt education as part of an industrialised education complex has been an attempt to produce a certain type of human; if not a certain type of voter.  Androids are programmed, humans aren’t. Yes, humans can be influenced by conditions, but humans can also learn to overcome those conditions. We adapt because the gift of reason, empowered by God’s grace, hope, faith and love, allows us to overcome. We read, learn and act, therefore does not equate to, “we install and stoically obey”.

What is, and should be deemed offensive, are attempts, through the media, to tell us all what to think. The education industrial complex, for example, tells us that it needs to create “safe spaces”. Sinless spheres which are empty of any opportunity to develop reason, faith and resilience.

The subliminal message is that today’s men and women can’t be trusted to process or understand the power of the words that encounters humanity on a daily basis; words that come to us as either comfort, confrontation, conviction or a combination of the three. In a nutshell, “experts” take the false view that the humanity cannot be trusted with the God-given permission to speak freely, therefore thought, conscience and speech needs to be controlled. The fact that actions cannot be justified by their consequences is ignored.

Free speech is vital to our humanity. We need it in order to exist, first, in order to be free for God, second, to be free for others. We encode – decode – then reciprocate responsibly. Without that freedom we fail, as Karl Barth astutely put it, to see our neighbour, and having our neighbour see, us:

‘Humanity as encounter is looking each other in the eye […] Humanity as encounter must become the event of speech. And speech means comprehensively reciprocal expression and its reciprocal reception, and its reciprocal address and its reciprocal reception. All these four elements are vital.’
(Karl Barth, The Basic Form of Humanity, CD 3:2:251)

 

Banning ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn‘ denies humanity by exalting the inhumanity Twain’s adventure story ultimately, so brilliantly decries.


References:

[i] This is so pervasive; I don’t really see a need to highlight any specific examples. However, for the sake of thoroughness, see the movie, ‘New Jack City’, a good portion of Ice Tea’s albums and the rappers N.W.A. (the abbreviation goes without spelling it out).

[ii] If I was to unpack this further I would say that, should the concept of “white privilege” actually exist, banning Twain’s book would only be feeding “white privilege”, not answering it, or having white people repent of it. If anything calls to ban the book, proves that “white privilege” is a myth.

[iii] Karl Barth (CD.3:2:252) : “Bureaucracy is the encounter of the blind with those whom they treat as blind.”

[iv] Barth, K. 1960. CD. 3:2, The Doctrine of Creation, The Basic Form of Humanity. Hendrickson Publishers

The film, ‘Reign Over Me’ (2007), written and directed by Mike Binder, is, without a doubt Adam Sandler’s best movie to date. I’ve seen most of his films, the most recent being ‘Sandy Wexler’ (2017) and ‘The Week Of…‘ (2018). By comparison the only other films that might come close are, ‘The Wedding Singer‘ (1998), his remake of ‘Mr. Deeds‘ (2002), ‘Bedtime Stories‘ (2008) and ‘Pixels‘ (2015); but even those don’t achieve what ‘Reign Over Me’ does, or go where it goes.

Sandler’s character, Charlie Fineman, is a widower who looks a lot like Bob Dylan in his early days. Fineman is a dentist by trade, and an apartment dwelling hermit, living in isolation within New York City, who suffers from post-traumatic stress and depression. Sandler’s signature, unpredictable outbursts, are reminiscent of  ‘Happy Gilmore‘ and ‘Anger Management’, though this behavioural similarity exists, it fits perfectly with the circumstances, making Sandler’s portrayal of the grief-stricken Fineman, not only believable, but in my opinion, Oscar worthy.

At the centre of the story-line line are events that took place during September 11, 2001.The film approaches this subject with sensitivity. Avoiding the politics the screenwriters look past conspiracy theories, however, what is glaringly absent is any discussion about Islamism or Islamic terrorism. In a lot of ways this is assumed.

On balance, the film does dedicate a scene to some news articles, albeit ones that are discussing America’s response. I have no real issue with this, for the following reason: The screenwriters are respecting their audience by not spelling out the obvious. I have huge respect for directors and writers who do this. Within the context of ‘Reign Over Me‘, the strategy is understandable. It keeps the focus of the audience on Charlie Fineman’s journey.

In addition to Sandler’s brilliant portrayal of a forgotten victim of September 11, both Don Cheadle (of Hotel Rwanda fame) and Liv Tyler, add their own style and bring to the film a warmth, juxtaposed with contrasts. Cheadle is Sandler’s college room-mate; also a dentist and extremely successful in his own right. Cheadle’s character (Alan Johnson) is aware of Fineman’s tragic past, but had lost contact with him over the years. Johnson has his own issues, which all start to come to bare, after randomly crossing paths with Fineman in the street. Johnson seeks to reconnect with Fineman.

Not completely aware of Fineman’s suffering, Johnson quickly recognises the pain his friend is suffering with. He begins to try to help Fineman. This creates tension between Johnson and his wife, and a series of misunderstandings with an ever suspicious Fineman.

Fineman wants no help, only later choosing to see Johnson’s long-term friend and pyschologist, Angela Oakhurst (played by Liv Tyler). Oakhurst works to bring Fineman to a place where he can address the past and his own brokenness, in his own time. Cheadle’s performance keeps the film moving along, perfectly complementing Sandler’s. Liv Tyler compliments Cheadle. The perfect casting circle is made complete when Donald Sutherland turns up in the role of Judge Rains.

The film comes to a close with Fineman’s in-laws trying to speak with him. Fineman breaks downs, becomes violent, and as a result is held in custody for psychological evaluation. As Rains becomes aware of Fineman’s emotional and psychological state, he sees straight through the opportunistic lawyer representing Fineman’s in-laws. With Solomon-esk wisdom Rains outmanoeuvres the lawyer, making it clear that what he has in Fineman is a forgotten victim of September 11, 2001, who deserves a chance to be heard, helped and respected.

Reign Over Me‘, does have some unnecessary language and some interesting sub plots. Those side plots wind up coming together in the end. Though they seem to detract from the film at first, as the story progress, the genius of their inclusion in the film  becomes clear. The sub plots are used to fortify the audiences cheering in the end, through their desire to see Fineman heal and overcome the obstacles forced upon him.

The film isn’t complete without the impressive soundtrack, of which the stand out song is Eddie Vedder’s cover of The Who’s, ‘Love, Reign O’er Me‘ and The Fray’s, ‘How to Save a Life’.  The live and studio versions included; Vedder’s performance, as far as I have heard, is his best vocal work in a song.

As far as art and theology goes, ‘Reign Over Me’ is rich in metaphor. What I see in ‘Reign Over Me‘ is God’s redemptive love – displayed in the film by Cheadle, Tyler and Sutherland’s characters. They fight for Fineman, yet still place an emphasis on him taking responsibility for his own actions. Fineman was empowered, but he still had to decide to respond to the love and help (salvation – grace) he was given.

Since the theme of God’s redemptive love is part of a lot of current discussion, the metaphors are worth noting. The freedom we find in God’s redemptive love is not a “freedom” that is said to be found in human love. For Fineman, human love was not to be trusted. Such love is at best optimism, at worst morbid existential navel gazing and/or veiled self-centred ambition. God’s love draws us out of ourselves in the form of His gracious Word spoken to humanity, which is both invitation and command (Jesus Christ and Covenant). We are drawn out of ourselves to be free for God and our neighbour. Such freedom comes with limitations.

I seem to be on a roll with recommending and reviewing art that, to me, is written, for the broken, from the broken, to the broken. ‘Reign Over Me‘, in my opinion, fits this category like no other film I’ve seen.  It hits at our grief, the lies we tell ourselves and the traps we fall into because we fall under the radar of complacent and dismissive family members, who, in overlooking the complexities of our brokenness, can seem to demand more than we are ready to give; simply because we don’t know how, or don’t yet have the strength to give it. ‘Reign Over Me‘ is an honest prayer-filled, heart-wrenching scream that meets with what Lacey Strum wrote, when summing up her reasons for screaming in songs:

‘Like ‘emotional vomit’, lyrics about ‘horrible abuse, if sung honestly, must be screamed…Screaming was my natural response to injustice… When I started writing music with screaming in it, the point was to hit someone back… After God rescued me, however, I found a purpose for my screaming: to speak truth over the lies in people’s hearts. Lies like the ones I believed about myself when I wanted to die.’ – (Lacey Sturm, 2014 The Reason, pp.77-82)

Let there be light. Inhaled grace ignites.

 


Disclaimer:

I did not receive any remuneration for this review, in any form.

In the recent Royal Wedding, the sermon Bishop Michael Curry preached, walked a fine line. Although his message was hampered by it, the message he delivered wasn’t riddled with the social gospel, nor did it replace Jesus as the Gospel.[i]

While I make note of the fact that Michael Curry has no problem with Same-Sex marriage, and I stand in difference of opinion with him on this matter, I take no issue with him here because of it. What I will aim to take issue with is the ideological reasoning that hampers the interpretation of what was espoused by Curry in his sermon.

Other than witnessing his obvious joy in being there, the highlight for me was his emphasis on God’s redemptive love – which is the essential framework of the Gospel. Curry preached that God’s redemptive love is what saves and transforms. Curry was right to centre his message on this.

Curry could have, however, made a clearer distinction between God’s love and human love, thereby avoiding any blurring of the qualitative distinction between God and humanity.

Hence there are caveats to how we should receive, and why we should test the message Michael Curry delivered.

The first caveat is to keep in mind that God’s love cannot be confused with human definitions of love. God communicates to us about love. It is received and up to us to respond to that Word spoken in both God’s command and deed. Second, love cannot define itself whether from the ground up or horizontally between two people, and, third, we must not deify our neighbour by confusing our love for God, with our love for others. A relationship exists between the two, but ‘they are not identical’ (Karl Barth)[ii].

The side point to this is that we must and should maintain a distance between human triumphalism (a display of self-centred – self-sustaining human pride), and God’s free and decisive triumph on our behalf (display of His love which included His humiliation), in Jesus Christ[iii].

In Jesus Christ, God made a way for man and woman, together[iv], to be with Him[v]. This is God’s redemptive love; that He should become one of us to do for us, what we were unable to do for ourselves. Usurping this only entertains the great primal evil that set primitive humanity on its path to total self-annihilation in the first place. As Curry pointed out, God paid the price for our sins.

Tyranny enters the door where man and woman look to themselves, or nature for a redeeming love – a revelation of love – outside God’s redeeming love – His loving act on behalf of creation, as activated and active, in both Covenant and His revelation in Jesus Christ. Love cannot transform anything without the Holiness of God’s grace.

Looking for redeeming love outside God was the great crime of the majority of Christians in Germany, who, in the 1930s, led astray by natural theology, looked to Hitler as a second revelation of God. An heretical toxicity epitomised in the 1935 film ,’Triumph of the Will’ by Nazi sympathizer, Leni Riefenstahl.

The triumph of God is counter to any and all human triumphalism, because the latter seeks to place man on God’s throne and take His power for ourselves. This is a futile attempt to take the Kingdom and boot God out of it. While we can reject God, we cannot reverse what God has already done – atonement for sin; reconciliation with God, salvation. Nor can we reject God without facing the consequences of rejecting His grace towards us. God triumphant means that human triumph exists only in and through God’s triumph[vi].The Moon cannot produce life, the way that the Sun can.

Double-standards and hypocrisy are inconsistent with love. True love walks hand-in-hand with self-limitation; grace with self-denial. Ergo, pride is the enemy of grace.

Take, for example, the many who in 2016 were quick to make a sordid equivalence between American Evangelical support for Donald Trump, and the support of German Christians for Hitler. They failed to show patience (love) and grace, and in turn failed (and still fail) to see the “German Christian” equivalence of their own support for altars draped in rainbow flags; the misuse of Scripture employed to fortify an ideology, the imposition of new cultural laws, the banning of books with the same fierce fanaticism as when ‘student groups at universities across Germany carried out a series of book burnings of works that the students and leading Nazi party members associated with an “un-German spirit.”[vii]; both professional and public punishment for anyone who doesn’t fall in agreement with the party-line.

If we’re to follow the example of Martin Luther King Jnr, as quoted by Michael Curry, those who unreasonably hate on Donald Trump,  should be asking themselves, do these words apply to my treatment of the President of the United States? Yet, how many instead thought to themselves “gee, all these rich people – especially Trump, SOOOO need to hear this!! #resist“? Even if Trump has, how many asking this latter question have failed to practice love for God and love for neighbour?

It’s only through God’s love that we come to see ourselves as equals; equally a sinner in the hands of a loving God, who seeks not the death of the sinner, but his and her correction, through both His firm “yes” and gracious “no” to them.

These caveats apply to both those who are criticising and praising Michael Curry. Removing love from the context of God’s redemptive love removes the context of love from its rightful place. To leave out God; thus ejecting the theology of his talk about love, rips the heart out of the message. Akin to the same poor decision of screenwriters, who decided that their silver-screen adaptation of P.D James’, ‘Children of Men, didn’t need the theological backbone, which held her brilliant dystopian novel together. What is left is an empty shell, with the same lame laughable substance as is found in ‘Idiocracy’.

In sum, God is at the centre of love because God is love.  Curry could have been more careful with his words, so as to avoid God’s redemptive love being misinterpreted as man’s redemptive love; so as to avoid sound bites being used to fortify an ideology that theology doesn’t fortify, but in fact confronts.

That, God is at the centre of salvation, means that God is the centre of redemptive love. Love alone doesn’t save us, the Creator acting in love towards his creature does. Man is ultimately not capable of redemption by his own means – love therefore does not save us unless it is anchored in God’s love (loving act) for us; we can’t save ourselves. Just as much as we cannot undo what God has done for us, even though his decisive act (for us) can be and is rejected by man and woman.

If I were to give an imediate response to Michael Curry’s choice of sermon, preached at the wedding of Prince Harry and Megan Markle, I would be tempted to view it as heretical. Cultural Marxist LGBT activism preached from the pulpit and not the Gospel. I won’t say that because what Curry preached wasn’t a ”love is love” sermon.

I liked Michael Curry’s sermon because of the emphasis on God’s redemptive love. Curry did what he does, and preached from the ideological stronghold that frames his theology, no one should be surprised by it. To his credit, Curry didn’t abuse his platform, when so many others who are chained by the prevailing ideology might have. The sermon certainly had all the buzzwords that the Left love to talk about[vii]. Ideas that they cannot properly define or impose, without either devouring each other, or inhumanely and unjustly breaking with God’s redemptive love, in order to achieve their own version of it.  Thus, Michael Curry’s sermon comes with necessary caveats.

In the end this event wasn’t about Michael Curry, or his sermon. It was about the joining together of the (now) Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Harry and Meghan Windsor. It was a celebration of freedom in fellowship between man and woman; where man and woman become husband and wife. In an age where that is being regularly attacked, we shouldn’t lose sight of the forest for the trees.

Congratulations to the Royal newly weds.

Addendum:

I left out addressing Michael Curry’s “we need to discover love, like we did fire”, because it’s an whole other post: a) that’s nuts – Love already exists b) if anything Love needs to be rediscovered, and reasserted, not redefined c) the hidden presupposition behind his fire rant, is that “LGBT love” is the only real love that exists – e.g.: the false notion that prior to SSM, love didn’t really exist (which is complete nonsense) d) this is snare because love is love is essentially a lie.


References, not otherwise linked:

[i]  I’ve written about the problem with the asinine “love is love” slogan, here; and I’ve painstakingly pointed out the tyranny of ideology once it muzzles theological critique, here. So I see no need to restate myself outside reaffirming my commitment to what I’d publicly addressed on the subject since 2014.

[ii] Barth, K. 1960 Jesus, Man for Other Men, C.D. 3:2 p.216 (see also C.D. 1:2 pp, 388-454)

[iii] Barth: ‘Where humanity stands only to gain, God stands only to lose. And because the eternal divine decision (predestination) is identified with the election of Jesus Christ, its twofold content is that God wills to lose in order that man and woman may gain. There is a sure and certain salvation for humanity, and a sure and certain risk for God.’ (The election of Jesus Christ, ,CD II/II:162)

[iv] Barth: ‘In introducing the creation of woman, [God] did not put woman on the same level as the animals. He ascribed to her in advance the highest humanity…from the very outset solitary man is denied every other possibility of an appropriate helpmeet (partner). With the creation of woman, God expected man to confirm and maintain his true humanity by the exclusion of every other possibility. [True humanity is lived out, man for woman, woman for man]’  (Karl Barth, Creation & Covenant C.D 3:1:294)

[v] Barth: ‘With the creation of woman God expected man to confirm and maintain his true humanity by the exclusion of every other possibility [of a partner].’ (CD. 3:1 p.294)

[vi] John Calvin: ‘Any man or woman [in the Church or any who claim to be in/of the Church] who enthusiastically praises themselves is a fool and an idiot. The true foundation of Christian modesty is not to be self-complacent. [As Cyprian said, we have because God gives. We must not glory in anything, because God is the source of everything.]’ (On 1 Corinthians 4. The words in parenthesis are my paraphrased version).

[vii] 1933 Book Burnings, United States Holocaust Museum sourced, May 21, 2018 from https://www.ushmm.org/collections/bibliography/1933-book-burnings

[viii] liberation, “love” and power.

Photo credit: Andrew Seaman on Unsplash

No doubt you’ve seen this ”share ten albums that had a big impact on you” going around social media. I received a nomination on Facebook from an old friend. Rather than spam my social media walls, I decided to post, and share the list here. This list isn’t definitive, but if I was to give a quick answer as to what were my top ten albums, these would feature heavy in that kind of a discussion.

So, here goes:

“Ten of my all time favourite albums. What really made an impact, and is still on my rotation list, even if only now and then. Post the cover, no need to explain, and nominate a person each day to do the same.” I nominate, guitarist, and talented illustrator extraordinaire, Mr. Frank Grau.

1. Guardian – ‘Miracle Mile’, 1993

2. Guns N’ Roses – ‘Use Your Illusion I & II‘, 1991

3. Metallica – ‘Metallica (Black Album)‘, 1991

4. John Denver – ‘An Evening With John Denver (Live), 1975

5. Aerosmith – ‘Get A Grip‘, 1993

6. Led Zepplin – ‘Led Zepplin IV‘, 1971

7. DC Talk, ‘Jesus Freak‘, 1995

8. Barry McGuire, ‘Lighten’ Up‘, 1975

9. Simon & Garfunkel – ‘The Definitive Simon & Garfunkel‘, 1992

10. Third Day – ‘Conspiracy No.5‘, 1997.

*Close winners for tenth place:

* Jon Bon Jovi – ‘Blaze of Glory (Young Guns II)‘, 1990

** Top Gun  – ‘Soundtrack‘, 1985 

*** Steve Joblansky – ‘Transformers’: The Score, 2007

**** Need to Breath – ‘Hard Love‘, 2016

***** Forrest Gump – ‘Forrest Gump Soundtrack’, (especially “Forrest Gump Suite” composed and conducted by Alan Silvestri)

Special mentions:

P.O.D – ‘Satellite‘, 2001

Paul Wilbur – ‘Jerusalem Arise!‘, 1999

Chuck Berry – ‘The Blues Collection’, 1993.


Thanks for the nomination.

It was fun thinking it through.

Encore edition. Originally posted April 30th, 2014

From Timothy Keller:

‘Idolatry distorts our feelings. Just as idols are good things turned into ultimate things, so the desires they generate become paralysing and overwhelming’[i].

Easter break is over and term 2 of home-schooling is well into its first week.

I graduate in May and along with taking on the majority of the home-schooling, my goal this year has been to carefully read Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics.

The aim of this was to stretch my undergraduate introduction to Karl Barth, with the hope of doing some post-grad study looking into political theology and the indispensable role of Christian theology in its critique of ideology.http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/

So far I’ve read two, plus ‘Evangelical Theology’, a good portion of his commentary on ‘Romans’, some sermons and a range of material I needed to read in order to complete my degree.

I’m coming close to finishing the mammoth 884 pages of Barth’s Vol.1.2 of his Church Dogmatics. By far his biggest in the series, so I am thankful to be near its end and for having some time out recently to help me make progress towards finishing it.

There are many things to note in this volume.

Particularly Barth’s discussion about ‘The life of the children of God’, which involves a discourse on the command to love God and the command to love our neighbour (pp.388-454).

He points out that ‘scriptures such as John 4:24 & 1 John 4:8-16do not teach the god of love, but the love of God. The fact that God is love means not only that we ought to love but can and must love[ii]

Barth is quick to distinguish between love to God, love for neighbour and God’s love for us. For example: Love for neighbour can only be understood in light of our praise to God[iii].

‘The commandment of love to the neighbour is enclosed by that of love to God. It is contained in it. To that extent it is inferior to it.’[iv]

Barth’s distinction between loving God and loving our neighbour, asserts that, in loving our neighbour we must be careful not to deify our neighbour. I.e.: confuse the command to love our neighbour with our love for God and therefore fall into the mistake of making our neighbour god[v].

At this point in the reading, I began to wonder how idolatry (εἴδωλον/Eidalon: phantoms of the mind), false doctrine, and even poor exegesis are easily linked to “people pleasing”.

If, hypothetically speaking, I read the text of the Bible in the shadow of the arbitrary and hostile opinions of someone like Richard Dawkins, I am tempted to read the text with a blindfold rather than without one. Because I become a slave to his hostile opinion of it and an accessory to his false claim of lordship over it. However, if I let the text ‘speak as it is’[vi], I am more than likely going to be confronted by the text, and in Barth’s words, ‘have the text read me.’

This is because people-pleasing or any demand that others, or even God please me, stands to be challenged by the love and Lordship of God. Who in the Bible summons our response to His offer of relationship. Given freely in Jesus Christ, who is actual, present and active in the work of the Holy Spirit.

Truly loving people, will mean we place God first in any act of responsible love towards them. In other words in showing Christian love towards others, we are called to love God in a love towards them, that is empowered by the fact that He first loved us.

Barth writes:

‘We should love our neighbour only as the people we are; “as ourselves”. We cannot meet our neighbour in a self-invented mask of love. We can only venture, as the man or woman we are, to do what we are commanded in word, deed and attitude, relying entirely on the fact that the one who commands that we – we are without love-should love, will to it that what we do will be real loving’
To love God means to become what we already are, those who are loved by Him. To love means to choose God as the Lord, the One who is our Lord because He is our advocate and representative’[vii]

This echoes what Paul means when he wrote to the Ephesian church:

‘Obey…not by the way of eye service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man…’ (6:5-7)

If people pleasing is a form of idolatry then to practice it is to

‘be a slave…it is motivated by something you feel you must have (or do?) to be happy, something that is more important to your heart than God himself…It is not just a failure to obey God, it is a setting of the whole heart on something other than God’[viii] (Timothy Keller, italics mine)

References:

[i] Keller, T. 2009 Counterfeit Gods: when the empty promises of love, money and power let you down, Hodder and Stoughton p.148

[ii] Barth, K. 1938 Church Dogmatics Hendrickson Publishers p.374

[iii] Ibid, p.406 ‘it is the praise of God which breaks out in love to the neighbour’

[iv] Ibid, p.411

[v] Ibid, p.405

[vi] Ibid, p.533 ‘let the texts speak to us as it stands’

[vii] Ibid, pp.389, 452 & 453

[viii] Keller, T. 2009 Counterfeit Gods: when the empty promises of love, money and power let you down, Hodder and Stoughton pp.24,166, 171

{Image sourced from:http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/}

See also, ‘Jesus is man for His fellows [neighbour/others], and therefore the image of God, in a way others cannot even approach, just as they cannot be for God in the [same] sense that He is [for God]…We are the victims of idealistic illusions if we deck out the humanity of man generally with features exclusive to that of the man Jesus. Man generally may mean and give a great deal to His fellows [neighbour/others], but he cannot be their Deliverer or Saviour, not even in a single instance.’ (Karl Barth, ‘Christology is not Anthropology, CD. 3:2:222). [Added, 20th May, 2018]

John M. Perkins is an American civil rights campaigner. His 2017 book, ‘Dream with Me’, is a brave step forward in seeking to create better dialogue between both black and white communities. Overall, ‘Dream With Me’ is a call for both black and white Americans to unite, in their diversity, under God. This review will focus on two primary strengths of Perkins’ work.

The first strength is the presence of a Theology of Christian Liberation. Perkins refuses to take the easy path of perpetual anger, condescension and resentment – both traits found in Black liberation theology (which is largely tainted by Marxism). Instead, Perkins leans towards the rules of solidarity[i] and subsidiarity[ii]. In doing so, he proclaims a social doctrine, not the social gospel[iii].

The significance of this distinction is, in the former, Jesus Christ remains at the core of the gospel and isn’t replaced by attempts (found in the latter) to synchronise Karl Marx with Jesus Christ[iv]. In addition, a social doctrine allows the freedom to affirm and critique the issues impartially. The social doctrine, in this context, is greater than the social gospel, because the Gospel remains free of any ideological lens (particularly atheist and theistic Marxism).  The Gospel (read Jesus Christ) is allowed to speak for Himself without being muffled by Marx.

Unlike the social gospel, which tends to ‘stray from Scripture’ (D. Bonhoeffer[v]), Perkins’ social doctrine doesn’t respond to injustice through a lens of victimisation, double-standards, excessive-unbridled egalitarianism (dismissive tolerance and irrational equality), dependency on the state, or entitlement. He, instead, advocates for a ‘new alternative’[vi], building on what he calls the ‘three R’s’: ‘relocation, reconciliation and redistribution.’(p.88)  Here, Perkins upholds the uniqueness of Christian liberation, which holds to God’s liberation of humanity from slavery to sin[vii].

‘White people need to take responsibility for centuries of imperialism and failing to repent, but black people  also need to take some responsibility for the breakdown of our families (p.70) […] Things only get fixed – truly fixed – when they are mended by God through faith. Often we have it backwards trying to fix things for God rather than letting God fix things through us (p.81).

The secondary strength of ‘Dream With Me’ is that Perkins doesn’t sugar coat reality. He’s up front about racism, the impoverishment of some Americans (in general[viii]), and is outspoken in his call for the renewal of efforts that move America towards justice[ix]; towards lived reconciliation. Such a lived reconciliation will require jettisoning the shackles of identity politics.

For Perkins, progress towards this goal involves reclaiming the word reconciliation. Perkins believes that

‘‘Issues related to ethnicity and tribalism may divide us, but we are one race – the human race (p.54) […] we have taken God’s definition of reconciliation and made room for bigotry by inserting race into the concept. Racial reconciliation is not a biblical term. People use race as a slave master.’ (p.84)

What he calls for instead is a reconciliation firmly grounded in God’s reconciliation of the sinner to Himself.

‘I will call for – what I believe the gospel calls for – unity across ethnic and cultural barriers’ (ibid)

Perkins’ quest is to attain genuine equality (as opposed to any false utopian idea of supremacy[x] or the fool’s quest of seeking perpetual payback, in order to make things equal). He is adamant that Americans should build on the faith, approach and doctrine of the early civil rights campaigners. This road is difficult, but it should, and must be travelled.

Perkins offers no instant-fix formulas. What he does offer is a roadmap for how this can be achieved.  At the heart of ‘Dream With Me’ are ‘the three R’s: these are relocation where the old informs the new; reconciliation, free of victimization and identity politics; redistribution, not of wealth, but of opportunity’ (pp.74-89). What Perkins means by relocation is a readiness to be available; a readiness to be where, and to do, what God has called the individual to. Redistribution is about ‘stewardship[xi]’ (p.85) and reconciliation ‘is a way of life that displays God’s redemptive power’ (p.84).

Dream With Me’ is a careful discussion about the issues that face African-Americans. Perkins acknowledges (with great care) the historical wrongs suffered by African-Americans at hands of racial hatred. He acknowledges historical abuses by returning to his own experiences. Referring to his own suffering, Perkins sets the example:

‘On February 7, 1970, while I lay on the floor of the Simpson County Jail in Brandon, I made the decision to preach a gospel stronger than my racial identity and bigger than the segregation around me.’ (p.56)

Dream With Me’ brings the civil rights movement out of the museum, and it takes reconciliation out of the hands of race baiters, who seek to keep African-Americans down purely for political advantage.  ‘Dream With Me’ challenges the status quo of racial divisions by inviting change through humility and understanding.

Perkins doesn’t play the blame game. He seeks to end the cycle of abuse by encouraging others to not engage in reciprocating stale responses veiled by resentment and forced tolerance, all of which are underpinned by unrepentant hearts, pride and a fraudulent reconciliation, grounded in toxic identity politics.

In sum, ‘Dream With Me’ brings the practice of reconciliation to life. Perkins provides a viable way forward. This is a brave book written by an elder in the Civil Rights movement. Whether Americans can move beyond stale cultural slogans and tribal segregation; beyond blame and shame[xii], is an open question. It’s one that can only be answered when and where people are freed from the prison of ‘isms’ – racism, sexism, ageism, classism, and so many other divisive systems’ (p.50)

This book is for anyone who has been dealt blows by the hands of injustice, ostracism, abuse and uncalled for hostility. It’s for those who want to move beyond the logical fallacies which manipulatively assume that because someone has a certain type of skin colour, their melanin predetermines their heart, character and how they view the world around them; for those who want to keep Jesus Christ at the centre of justice, reconciliation and stewardship toward our neighbour.

Dream With Me’ is a call to prayer-filled action, which falls in line with Paul the apostle’s command and prayer for the Church in Corinth: ‘aim for restoration.’ (2 Cor. 13:9 & 11, ESV)


References:

[i] Defined as proactive empathy, as opposed to the spectator-sympathy.

[ii] Community and government groups play an auxiliary role in supporting initiatives; helping, not controlling or taking away individual responsibility; ergo offering a hand-up, not a hand out.

[iii] Teachers about Jesus’ teaching, not about Jesus Christ; turning Christianity into a list of ethical principles. In effect, Christless Christianity e.g.: “Who needs Christ? If I follow his example by being a good person, then I’ll be able to save myself, make God happy and get into heaven.”

[iv] See Jacques Ellul’s brilliant criticism in Jesus & Marx, 1988.

[v] ‘The contempt for theology is outrageous. Rauschenbusch’s own “theology for the social gospel” clearly shows, like its successors, that a lack of obedience to Scripture is characteristic for the teaching of the social gospel.’
(Bonhoeffer, DBW 12, Memorandum: The Social Gospel, p.242)

[vi] Perkins, J.M 2017 Dream With Me: Race, Love, and the Struggle We Must Win, Baker Publishing Group, (p.85)

[vii] Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, 1984, Instruction  on Certain aspects of the Theology of Liberation, (Source)

[viii] ‘To be honest, I had never given a second thought to poor whites. I still regarded them negatively – as redneck, trailer park white trash. The wealthy white people could help me, but what good were the poor whites to me? But then this poor white couple showed up at my doorstep. My automatic response was to treat them the way whites had treated poor blacks – to patronize them. But these people were teaching me, John Perkins, the guy who was supposed to be leading the church in reconciliation; a lesson in what it really means to be reconciled to one another.’ (pp.56-57)

[ix] ‘Justice is an act of reconciliation that restores any part of God’s creation its original intent, purpose, or image’ (p.207)

[x] ‘Wealthy whites also used the poor whites as tools of oppression — having blacks beneath [poor white folks] made those [folks] feel superior.’ (p.60)

[xi] ‘We’ve gotten away from the understanding that all of resources belong to God, and that we are stewards of whatever portion of those resources He has entrusted us with.’ (p.85)

[xii] ‘…we need to start getting beyond this stuff. Issues related to ethnicity and tribalism may divide us, but we have to start recognizing that we are one race – the human race’ (p.54)

Disclaimer: I did not receive any remuneration for this review, in any form.

Twenty years ago Michael W. Smith released (what I regard to be) his best album. Before the release of Live the Life, if I’d have been asked about MWS, I would have fired back with mockery. I didn’t give him the credit that he deserved.

I never liked ‘Friends[i]’, and outside the song ’Breakdown[ii]’ I couldn’t have told you (off by heart) a whole lot about any of his albums prior to 1995.For me, his music was dated, far too “early 90’s Christian”, and too in line with mainstream C.C.M (Christian Contemporary Music).

In 1998 this all changed. ‘Live the Life’ entered the MWS discography. While retaining Smith’s reliance on keyboards, keys don’t feature in every song. Each song on ‘Live the life’ is unique.

The set list is carefully ordered. The artwork design is free from cliché colours and formatting. It’s sober, fresh, somewhat steam-punk inspired and is absent of the 1980’s pop gloss.

As a work of art and theology, ‘Live the Life’, gave MWS a seat at the table of the mid to late ‘90s Jesus music revival. Easily putting him in the same line-up as (post-Jesus Freak) D.C Talk, Third Day, Newsboys, and Jars of Clay.

Dealing with loss and tragedy permeates ‘Live the Life’. ‘Hello, Goodbye’ (T12) was written for friends who lost their new born child, Noah. The‘Song for Rich’ (T11) was an instrumental written in response to the tragic passing of Rich Mullins; and ‘In My Arms Again’ (T10) was written for the movie Titanic.

The remaining songs encourage faith in the midst of doubt, despair and brokenness. ‘Missing Person’ (T 1) and ‘Don’t Give Up’ (T6), speaks to the emptiness of routine; numbness in the face of the mundane. ‘Love me Good’ (T2), ‘Never Been Unloved’ (T4) and ‘I Know Your Name’ (T8) speak about fear, rejection and the danger of basing the truth of Christianity on feelings or achievements, instead of God’s love. ‘Matter of time’ (T9) celebrates the hope of reunion. ‘Let me Show you the Way’ (T7) and ‘Live the Life’ (T3) speak of inviting God into our decisions; that the Christian faith is to be lived, not left on a shelf – reminiscent of Swiss theologian, Karl Barth’s statement that ‘grace must be lived out, or it is not grace’[iii].

Live the Life’ was not a creative safe space, it was a sigh offered up as both prayer and witness. The album illustrates what it means to pray through existential cracks that appear in the armour of human pretence.

Breaking the chains of super-spiritual and superficial, positive-optimism, Smith carried us along as he broke free from his CCM roots, reached through the fog of conformity, doubt and loss; past Christian culture, and entered into the gutsy, joy drenched glory of the redemptive light of Christ.

Few could legitimately argue that ‘Live the Life’ was not a watershed moment for Michael W. Smith. Most albums since 1998, share a similar gravitas, they show a breakaway artist, who, by the grace of God had his faith and art reinvent him. Smith hasn’t had to fade from the limelight quietly, lean on gimmicks or acquire cheap tunes to prove that he is what he’s always been: a talented musician with an authentic heart for Jesus Christ.

Without ‘Live the Life’, the same depth of presence, which is found in all the albums which descend from it, wouldn’t exist. ‘Live the Life’ testifies not just to Smith’s renewed commitment to Christ in the midst of darkness, but to the instructive love of God, free from the constrictive routine of empty ritual.

Live the Life’ is written for the broken, from the broken, to the broken. Twenty years on, I still cannot walk away from this album, without being challenged, or moved by it.

‘It is asked, whether anyone can be a servant of Christ, that has not been tried with so many evils, perils, and vexations? I answer, that all these things are not indispensably required, but where these things are seen, there is, undoubtedly, a greater and more illustrious testimony afforded. That man, therefore, who is signalised by so many marks of distinction, will not despise those who are less illustrious, and less thoroughly tried, nor will he on that account be elated with pride; but still, whenever there is occasion for it, will be prepared, after Paul’s example, to exult with a holy triumph, in opposition to pretenders, provided he has an eye to Christ, not to himself. For the main thing is – that we serve Christ with a pure conscience. All others things are, as it were, additional.’
(John Calvin)[iv]

de Vivre Selon Dieu.


References:

[i] I still don’t.

[ii] From his 1995 album, ‘I’ll Lead You Home’.

[iii] CD. 2/2 p.695

[iv] Commentary on 2 Corinthians 11:25

There’s no real need to give you a one thousand word commentary on the following lectures because the content in each speaks for itself. I’ve watched all three; each of them reflect what I’ve written about or questioned here and on my other social media platforms.

When it comes to anything posted by or about Jordan Peterson, I am a cautious and curious listener. He has a grasp of the major issues that few, including most theologians and pastors, do. That’s a sad indictment, but the reality is most theologians and pastors show up as left-leaning and thus refuse to break with the modern liberal ideological radicalism perverting politics. My best guess is that this is due to the fear of public ridicule or a reluctance with having to deal with internal conflict caused by presenting an honest theological critique of the socio-political situation we are currently in.

My problem with Peterson is that he skirts around his own faith and steers clear of clarifying how his theology, or Christian theology in general, speaks into the political milieu of our age. This is amplified by his consistently ambiguous acknowledgement that the success of Western civilisation, especially after, through and despite so much human induced disaster, is due in large part to the Judeo-Christian faith and Western society’s Judeo-Christian foundations. However, given that Peterson is not a theologian, perhaps my problem with Peterson is too hasty; too harsh; too soon.

In regards to Alister McGrath, I’m a lot more receptive and less guarded. McGrath is a lot less political and a lot more consistent in his theological arguments, which are openly supported by his open confession of faith in Jesus Christ. This said, as a true blue student of Karl Barth, when it comes to McGrath overall, I’m drawn to hold some of McGrath’s thoughts on Natural Theology in question. Nevertheless, what Alister McGrath presents in the lecture below is outstanding and worth the effort spent absorbing.

Third and lastly, I’m not all that well acquainted with Peter Hitchens. I am less inclined to listen to him because his brother was a celebrity in the new atheist movement, and more inclined to listen to him because Peter Hitchens is a man of the radical Left, now a man-in-revolt against the radical Left.

Like Peterson, Hitchens is not a theologian, but speaks theological truths into a world happy to deny a Christian voice at the table unless it is a) supportive of the modern liberal ideological radicalism perverting politics or b) supportive of the unforgiving caricature of Christians in mainstream media.

Hitchens is careful with his words, considerate, relational and sober minded. Three qualities that Peterson and McGrath also possess; three qualities which make a great case for taking seriously what each individual has to say.

Peterson: ‘Postmodernism and Cultural Marxism‘ 

Alister McGrath: ‘Why God Won’t Go Away

Peter Hitchens: ‘The Abolition of Britain’ and other topics

 

 ‘Whoever has ears, let them hear.’ (Matthew 11:15)