Archives For June 2014

Sometime back I pointed to a statement, found in Amanda Porterfield’s ‘Modern Christianity’.

‘African American spirituals are “chants of collective exorcism” that delivered souls of black folk from total despair during the pre-civil war era in the United States’(2010:317)

The phrase is situated right at the beginning of Cheryl Kirk-Duggan’s essay entitled ‘Spirituals and the quest for freedom’. It’s been a while since I read the essay, but the impact it had on me has lived on.

Along with the socio-political context of Kirk-Duggan’s statement, it might also suit as a framework for the positive theological impact on music, architecture, proto-science and general intellectual activity of the Church (read: Commonwealth of Christ) in the middle-ages.

For example: among other things aspects of life in the Middle Ages reflected pain, suffering and oppression. in light of a transcendent point, that drove a reverential hope in God’s covenantal promise of deliverance. They were collective actions towards the Lord who alone is God, as He chooses to do and be for us[i].

Communal “exorcism” then, looks for a penetrative breakthrough, a freedom already granted under the interactivity of the one who ‘is not far from us’[ii].

We need to move beyond a socially engineered version (misconception?) of it and back to an appreciation of its relevance to the Church universal.

Our ideas of “exorcism” need to change, because this act is an exercise of our true freedom. We are essentially reaching for the God, who in Jesus the Christ reaches for us. It is a detachment, a protest and petition against whatever appearances, identity politics, labels and tolerance induced qualifiers might tell us about the nature of freedom. To borrow the theological language of Karl Barth, collective exorcism is related to God’s (“No”) reorientation  of us towards a commanded orientation that is for us (God’s “Yes”).

Prayer is a collective “exorcize”.

This “exorcize” is activated by a liberating ‘encounter between nature and grace – the encounter between both men and women, and the Word of God’[iii]

An act where we are told that when, in, and under Christ, ‘two should agree’ we are to expect God’s own decisive ‘amen’[iv].

“Chants of collective exorcism”, therefore, becomes an important phrase for understanding how God, in Jesus-the-Victor works through us. Radical is the invitation to pray. Not in order to conjure up God, Barth would say, but so that we may call upon Him, in freedom for our neighbours, and our neighbours in freedom for us.

Consequently, “exorcize” (active prayer) becomes understood as an exercise of genuine freedom.

Distinguishing God’s triumph from that of human triumphalism. Finding a thankful paradox in the midst of pain, where we can rejoice in his triumph. Responding to an invitation with prayer and gratitude, for his triumph to become ours.

“Heyr, himna smiður” was written by Kolbeinn Tumason[i] in 1208. The music was composed in the 1970s by Þorkell Sigurbjörnsson (1938-2013), one of Iceland’s foremost contemporary composers.” (Arstidir music)

Literal translation.

Hear, smith of the heavens, what the poet asks. May softly come unto me thy mercy.
So I call on thee, for thou hast created me. I am thy slave, thou art my Lord.
God, I call on thee to heal me. Remember me, mild one, Most we need thee.
Drive out, O king of suns, generous and great, human every sorrow from the city of the heart.
Watch over me, mild one, Most we need thee, truly every moment in the world of men.
send us, son of the virgin, good causes, all aid is from thee, in my heart.


[i] Deuteronomy 4:32-40
[ii] Paul, Acts 17:28
[iii] Barth, K. 1938 C.D Dogmatics as Ethics, 1.2:791
[iv] Jesus, Matthew 18:19

Truth Has Being

June 26, 2014 — 4 Comments

Like a lot of people I haven’t always been a Christian. There certainly was no religious ”silver-spoon” in my upbringing. To my own chagrin, as a teenager I remember telling  a teacher that his bible study on James had pushed me further away from God.

I was wrong to say that. It wasn’tRevelation 3_8 his problem, it was mine. Although I would never have admitted it at the time, I was grateful for those lessons.

As a teenager I experienced difficulty reconciling the actions of Christians with the Bible. I was taught but not always shown.  This disconnect left me a wanderer. Never an ardent atheist. I cannot fully explain this, other than to suggest that deep down I  witnessed my sighs being turned into prayers. The presence of grace in ‘revolt against the darkness‘ (Barth paraphrased, CD Fragments IV:4).

Any alignment on my part is and can only be the result of an act of alignment initiated first by God. Who, in my case, stepped in to become a father where the one assigned to me, walked away.

It’s always a work in progress, but through reflecting on those experiences I can see clearer how, in Jesus Christ, God reaches to grasp us, even when we are struggling to grasp Him.

I believe this is at the heart of what Augustine meant when he wrote:

‘Eternal Truth, true love, beloved Eternity.All this, my God, you are.
It is you that I sigh by night and day. When first I knew you, you raised me up so that I could see that there was something to be seen, but also that I was not yet able to see it.
I gazed on you with eyes to weak to resist the dazzle of your splendour. Your light shone upon me in its brilliance, and I thrilled with love and dread alike.I realized that I was far away from you. It was as though I were in a land where all is different from your own.
And far off I heard your voice saying ‘I am the God who IS.’ I heard your voice, as we hear voices that speak to our hearts, and at once I had no cause to doubt. I might more easily have doubted that I was alive than that Truth had being.’
(Augustine, Confessions, VII:10 Penguin Classics 1961:147)

May we be hearers, and doers of the word, not just speakers of it.

For just as the mind sees, the heart hears.


Pinterest Funny 101

June 22, 2014 — 2 Comments

Sharing some much appreciated weekend cheer:

tanks funny2


cat meme


Images: (via Pinterest – search ”pinterest funny” (Otherwise, authors unknown.).


I was reading Kevin Davis’ post today about PCUSA’s recent decisions, which allows room for homosexual marriage[i]. Not too long after this I arrived at page 777 of CD.1.2, landing on these words from Barth.

‘Even behind the most insignificant deviation or obscurity or irrelevance, behind the apparently most harmless whimsicality, which someone or some circumstance may wish to employ in matters of Church proclamation, there may lurk error and falsehood by which the promise is annulled and the Church destroyed. In every menace to pure doctrine the question arises whether the Church, at the point where it now speaks, has not perhaps rejected grace and is, therefore, itself rejected. In our prayer for the Holy Spirit we commit it to the grace of God, and in so doing we confess that it needs divine grace, and must be continually rescued from death if it is to live.’[ii]

Barth is discussing the science of dogmatics as having a middle role to that of explication and application (or exegesis and practical theology).

In light of these words I found myself asking:

What kind of ‘dogmatic attitude  that is critical, but not sceptically negative’[iii]  towards this proclamation by PCUSA would be considered a healthy response?

How much of God’s Word is reflected purely through the human word?

Does God even exists in these decisions?

I also wonder if, in some aspects, Barth’s idea of preaching as being a ‘selfless word’[iv] is an indictment against this kind of proclamation. In this respect could such decisions rightly be considered as being a ‘selfish word’ and therefore false proclamation?

As with a lot of discussions about homosexual “marriage”, there are more questions than answers.

That said, we’ll know sooner or later how this all pans out for the Church. Simply because consequences determine the wisdom of our actions (Jesus, Luke 7:35 paraphrased)


[i] link:
[ii] Barth, K. 1938 Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine of The Word of God I.II Hendrickson Publishers 2010
[iii] Ibid, p.775
[iv] Ibid, p.764

Native American performer, Bill Miller,  gives as close to a sermon as any I’ve heard. bill-miller-press-sm-photoAnecdote – scripture – reflection. Then performs Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’.

There are two major parts to this video. The first is Miller discussing context, including two days hanging out with the late Jeff Buckley, whose own version of the song is now infamous. The second is the performance.

Granted, the quality of the recording is not all that great, but from what the sound system and surrounding acoustics look like, they may not have been able to improve on it.

He definitely delivers, bringing his own style to the song.

Worth all ten minutes.

Image: Bill Miller, {Promo-pic} sourced from


Your tears can teach.

Don’t be ashamed of them.


Those feelings of failure do not compare with the reality of your success.

The reality of failure can never compare with the gift to overcome.


God has called you to this.

Reach beyond discouragement.


Towards the sacred, the creative, the hallowed.

Beyond the before, the hollow and the shallow.


{For my beautiful wife, who often reaches beyond the before, the hollow and the shallow.}


Here is a pretty cool primary source provided by via YouTube. This follows on from my post a few days back about the Confessing Church’s “Nein” & Natural Theology.

I may, in future, merge this post with that one.

Worth noting is this statement from Barth:

“[Hilter] understood how to put the German people, and with it also the German church, in a dreamy state. And in this dream, the German people and the German Christians of the Evangelical and the Catholic Church dreamt that something like a new revelation of God has taken place, in what this man thought, said, wanted and did.
And the so-called ‘Confessing Church,’ basically, was about a decisive “no”, to this dream. It was an appeal: ‘Germany, wake up from this dream!”
(Excerpt from the 1967 Documentary film “JA & Nein, Karl Barth zum Gedaechtnis”)

For those interested, also has a ‘Pinterest’ page with images and videos. {link}