Archives For July 2014

Prayer Jul 25 Moravian

Freedom and Responsibility_BarthAs promised. So delivered.

This makes up part one of three, five point summaries. Each highlighting quotes from my recent reading of Barth’s closing chapters in Church Dogmatics I.II

A few things to note before I begin.

Firstly, I have edited this more than a few times in order to maintain the integrity of Barth’s meaning.

Secondly, I’m really only posting these as a resource for my own future reference.

However, having said that, if you, the reader, find them interesting, I’d welcome your thoughts and comments about anything that should stand out to you as relevant.

Barth’s C.D.I.II is largely a call to read the Word of God ‘as it stands’[i]. This call moves Christians beyond the inerrancy debate because the bible does not have to be one hundred precent empirically correct in order for it to be true.

1. The Bible is ‘movement fulfilled in obedience, it exists as witness to revelation’[ii]. He adds, that ‘verbal inspiration does not mean the infallibility of the Biblical Word in its linguistic, historical and theological character as a human word’.

  • It means that the fallible and faulty human word is used by God and has to be received in spite of its human fallibility[iii]…the work of God is done through this text. The miracle of God takes place in the text formed of human words[iv]
  • ‘It is a matter of the event/s of the actual presence of the Word of God…the free presence of God, defining our recollection as thankfulness and our expectation as hope[v]
  • ‘Certainly it is not our faith which makes the Bible the Word of God…although it does demand our faith, underlie our faith, and that it is the substance and life of our faith…We have to understand the inspiration of the Bible as a divine decision continually made in the life of the Church and in the life of its members[vi]

2. According to Barth

  • ‘We, (the Church) share in the movement in which scripture was born and in virtue of which even today Scripture is not mere writing but in its written character is Spirit and Life[vii]
  • We ‘live in light of the Word of God’s decision about us[viii]
  • Consequently, ‘the Church for its part must allow itself to be set in movement through Scripture.[ix]
  • We stand in Church history, therefore Church history is lived’[x]

3. Having anchored his defence, Barth embarks on an offense, directing our attention to the freedom and authority of God which gives life to the freedom and responsibility of both man and woman[xi].  For Barth

  • What is at stake, or so it seems, is God’s authority and freedom.  This leads into a discussion about the ‘infinite qualitative distinction (Kierkegaard)’ which holds that God is heaven and man on earth, that God rules and men and women must obey, that the Word of God makes a total claim upon humanity.[xii]
  • We have had to learn anew to accustom ourselves again to these simple truths, in contradiction to a theological liberalism which would have nothing to do with them…[xiii]

4.They (theological liberals) can attempt to jettison authority in a fight for freedom, but ‘neither the origin nor the essence of the Church is to be found in the blind alley where man would like to be his own lord and law.[xiv]

5. At this point Barth brings up the issue of the Church and the Freedom of the Word of God.

  • ‘The Christian is not a stone that is pushed, or a ball that is made to roll. The Christian is a person who through the Word and love of God has been made alive, the real man or the real woman, able to love God in return standing erect just because they have been humbled, humbling themselves because they have been raised up[xv]
  • Barth asserts that when we are ‘confronted by grace…. our pride annihilated and our sin covered. We are, therefore, addressed by the name we received in our baptism and not by the title which might be given to us by others as an indication of who we are as individuals (personality) [xvi]

With all due respect to lists on blogs, this is definitely not an average one. It is a culmination of important statements made by Barth in or just before 1938. Inside the details, or rather woven into them, is a firm grasp on the reality of the socio-political context of Europe and in particular the Church, as its people gazed upwards towards the darkening sky trying to find light in the vicious ideological storm, that was to rapidly move across Europe a year later.

Behind Barth’s words rests the knowledge that

‘the struggle against the authority of the Bible is really the struggle against the freedom of grace.[xvii]

Along with an awareness of the fact that:

‘Where there is no genuine authority, so there is no genuine freedom. There is only action and reaction between a despotic arrogance and an equally despotic despair.[xviii]

Source:

[i] Barth, K. 1938 Church Dogmatics 1.2: The Doctrine of the Word of God, Scripture as the Word of God Hendrickson Publishers, p.533

[ii] Ibid, p.671‘Freedom in the Church/The Freedom of the Word’

[iii] Ibid, p.533 (cont.)

[iv] Ibid, p.532 ‘Holy Scripture is also, in fact a human historical record’ (p.541); ‘God’s word comes to man and woman as a human word’ (p.699)

[v] Ibid, p.533

[vi] Ibid, pp.534-535

[vii] Ibid p.671 (cont.)

[viii] Ibid, p.704

[ix] Ibid, p.672

[x]  Ibid, p.595

[xi] This is not an ‘arbitrary freedom’, but a costly and decisive freedom ‘conferred by the Holy Spirit’ (p.667) and ‘worked out in obedience’ (p.661-662). Therefore the ‘Bible confronts us with the realisation our freedom’ (p.652)

[xii] Ibid, p.633 ‘Authority in the Church/Authority under the Word’

[xiii] Ibid, p.663 (cont.)

[xiv]  Ibid, p.668

[xv]  Ibid, p.662

[xvi] Ibid, p.704

[xvii] Ibid, p.559

[xviii]  Ibid, p.668 ‘The great defeats of the Church have been and are when it has wanted to honour its confession in theory but not in practice, when the living form becomes a mummy, and the mummy unnecessary lumber, and the gift of God is frustrated…the great danger in the inevitable conflicts against a confession of the Church is that it may be taken away from t if it yields to temptation and surrenders.’ (p.646)

 

(©RL2014)

Five links_Jpeg

Gathered here, are some of the best bits and pieces I’ve encountered online over the past few weeks. Some reflective, some serious, some just plain hilarious.

1. Everyday Heroes [Video]: Water bombing, aircraft, inferno extinguishers. Along with the song, something about this just shouts awesome.

2. Chesterton’s uniqueness appears to know no bounds.

G.K Chesterton from Alarms and discursions‘Science & Art without morality are not dangerous in the sense commonly supposed. They are not dangerous like a fire, but dangerous like a fog. A fire is dangerous in its brightness; a fog in its dullness; and thought without morals is merely dull, like a fog.

The fog seems to be creeping up the street; putting out lamp after lamp. But this cockney lamp-post… is still crowned with its flame; and when the fathers have forgotten ethics, their babies will turn and teach them’

(The Essential Chesterton Collection, 2009. Kindle Ed. 7612-7615 – This version is real cheap via Amazon at the moment)

3. There are a few versions of this old story on YouTube, this one is the most dramatic and amusing. Instead of an Irish accent  on the other end of the comms, it’d be funnier with an Aussie one. (“Just sayin’…” 🙂 )

 

4. We’ve just about finished watching through the T.V series Duck Dynasty. This meme epitomises the gutsy edge to this Cajun delight. Even though it’s structured up unto a point (what reality TV show isn’t?), that doesn’t hinder the serious message being promoted through all the bells and whistles (or in this case duck calls, camo, camaraderie and comedy).

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5. Lastly, if you have ever wondered what would have happened should the remaining members of Led Zeppelin become a “worship band”. Here Tim Hawkins pulls off a pretty close interpretation of how it might have turned out:

Images: G.K Chesterton, Alarms and Discursions 1910; Jase Robertson, (Pinterest)

By no means is this a conclusive run down on what I see as the need to find, and advocate for, a fair use of the vehicles we choose to communicate and receive information through.  By pointing out inconsistencies and connecting them to a possible cause, my purpose here is primarily an attempt just to reflect upon it.

Recently an incident showed, to me, the contrast between hard reality and cheap comment. Comments from people, who in the comfort of relative security, only seem to be far more concerned with the side of the story that sells best, than with finding balance.

To his credit, Bennett pushes back against the leading questions made by the anchor-man, quickly realising and not without some frustration that the interview had ended before it really had begun.

Remarking:

“…You’re invited to a situation like this..it’s just great sitting on the sidelines, just telling us how to react” {2:39} – (Naftali Bennett, Isreal’s Economic Minister)

Australian journalist and political commentator Andrew Bolt, in support of Bennett, rightly noted:

It’s easy to say “disproportionate” when you’re sitting in London

The same applies to social media.

Yes, we need make room for each other. Patience is the imperative (if not the virtue), mainly because we are all still trying to figure out how to use this technological freedom responsibly.

Social media, however, like some aspects of it’s macro counterpart can become a misinformation behemoth. In spite of the evidence or any quest for the truth and balance. At its core is subjective suspicion, dismissive ridicule and cynical discounting. Surely, this is far from what media outlets mean by the term integrity and investigative journalism.

In the hands of resourceful and ambitious communicators, its potential as the ultimate propaganda machine is disturbing.

As hashtags and memes trend towards the ridiculous. The misuse of the mechanism allows an industrial grade hysteria to push a smoke screen of emotions over the facts, extinguishing balance and respectful dialogue.

A restrained and civilised exchange of ideas is set adrift by an unrestrained tribalism that marches alongside images signed by oversimplification.

The march of memes takes to the virtual street as the intellectual stamp of approval shows the same characteristics as that of Edward Bernays (1891-1995) and the mass marketing concepts borrowed chiefly from fundamental fascism and its control of images.

By calling upon those willing to mindlessly wave around clichés and slogans, a mob-in-revolt is created.Its cause gathers momentum, often damning as “hate” anything that stands to speak freely in reasoned disagreement.

The mob-in-revolt lowers protest to the quantity of “likes, shares or follows”. Sometimes asserting itself under a mechanic of anonymity which denies their target of protest any right of reply.

As a result careless words fuel an irate frenzy of boycotts, accusation and intolerance.

The ivory colossus’s of cyber communities end up inadvertently propagating totalitarianism. Inviting a repugnant irony through the vitriolic intolerance exhibited by some irresponsible and repressive armchair activists.

With small amounts of fact and information these glass houses become the launching pad for mobile projectiles of shame and exclusion.

An ‘activism’ like this measures efficiency by likes, shares and/or followers. This is because ‘thoughtless approval’ can be translated into hard currency. In this case, why not mindlessly wave flags and howl with the wolves? The assumption being that if the price is right, so the comment should be also.

The questions then are:

Does self-interest, in a quest for approval, play a role in commenting, liking or sharing? If so do such considerations hinder an authentic, responsible but also vulnerable contribution? Does it drive out self-respect the same way that the mindless-mob-in-revolt drives out  decency and the respect for others?

American President John Adams, citing the prophet Jeremiah, wrote:

‘Let me conclude, by advising all men to look into their own hearts, which they will find to be deceitful above all things and desperately wicked (Jer.17:9). Let them consider how extremely addicted they are to magnify and exaggerate the injuries that are offered to themselves, and to diminish and extenuate the wrongs that they offer to others. They ought, therefore, to be too modest and diffident of their own judgment, when their own passions and prejudices and interests are concerned…’[i]

The caution here cries out for a fair hearing.

We should not politicise the pain of others.

We can do this by removing any hint of benefit to our social standing, and unmasking the transactions that hide self-interest behind indifference or behind a facade of good intentions.

As Australian scholar, John Dickson, in a comment about a recent debate on Facebook suggested, perhaps it’s time to ‘redeem the medium’[ii].

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem


References:

{Dedicated to the memory of Jean Bethke Elshtain (1941-2013), a list of her works can be found here.}

[i] Adams, J. 1851 On Private Revenge http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/2101 #Adams_1431-03_2153 Sourced: 23/07/2014
[ii] Dickson wrote this in response to the suggestion that he move a discussion to another site, because of the communication limitations of social media.

This has the sharp edge of poignant relevance painted all over it:

“….Now let’s set the record straight. There’s no argument over the choice between peace and war, but there’s only one guaranteed way you can have peace—and you can have it in the next second—surrender. Admittedly, there’s a risk in any course we follow other than this, but every lesson of history tells us that the greater risk lies in appeasement, and this is the specter our well-meaning liberal friends refuse to face—that their policy of accommodation is appeasement, and it gives no choice between peace and war, only between fight or surrender. If we continue to accommodate, continue to back and retreat, eventually we have to face the final demand—the ultimatum. Camus 1951 quote
And what then—when Nikita Khrushchev has told his people he knows what our answer will be? He has told them that we’re retreating under the pressure of the Cold War, and someday when the time comes to deliver the final ultimatum, our surrender will be voluntary, because by that time we will have been weakened from within spiritually, morally, and economically. He believes this because from our side he’s heard voices pleading for “peace at any price” or “better Red than dead,” or as one commentator put it, he’d rather “live on his knees than die on his feet.”
And therein lies the road to war, because those voices don’t speak for the rest of us. You and I know and do not believe that life is so dear and peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery. If nothing in life is worth dying for, when did this begin—just in the face of this enemy? Or should Moses have told the children of Israel to live in slavery under the pharaohs? Should Christ have refused the cross? Should the patriots at Concord Bridge have thrown down their guns and refused to fire the shot heard ’round the world?
The martyrs of history were not fools, and our honored dead who gave their lives to stop the advance of the Nazis didn’t die in vain. Where, then, is the road to peace? Well it’s a simple answer after all. You and I have the courage to say to our enemies, “There is a price we will not pay.” “There is a point beyond which they must not advance.” And this—this is the meaning in the phrase of Barry Goldwater’s “peace through strength.” Winston Churchill said, “The destiny of man is not measured by material computations. When great forces are on the move in the world, we learn we’re spirits—not animals.” And he said, “There’s something going on in time and space, and beyond time and space, which, whether we like it or not, spells duty.”
You and I have a rendezvous with destiny.
We’ll preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we’ll sentence them to take the last step into a thousand years of darkness.”[i]

 

The political context:

Reagan was a Democrat turned Republican. Barry Goldwater was a Republican nominee, and Reagan is speaking in support of that nomination. Kennedy lost his life in 1963. Leaving Lyndon Johnson, a Democrat, as U.S President. Frontline combat involving the American, Australian and New Zealand military, in The Vietnam War began in 1964. The direct result of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution’. This is a simple chronology featuring key historical figures from the West. I use it here as a guide. The broader international context of the Vietnam War is the Cold War. It is important to view one in the light of the other.

Whether you stand on the left, the right, up or down, it is difficult, if not impossible to argue against the historical lesson. Appeasement only benefits those who are being appeased. This is a lesson learnt the hard way and one that still, eerily, echoes out from Neville Chamberlain’s ”peace in our time”. Something which, at the time, stood out as a so-called justification for the decade long charge of ”warmongering” howled out loud against Winston Churchill in the 1930’s (Gilbert,1992).

Source:

[i] Reagan, R. 1964 ‘A time for Choosing’, PDF transcript

ID-100221200 (1)I’ve been working on the planned posts which form a trilogy-in-sum brief on the closing part of Barth’s C.D I.II.

The problem is that finding the time to do it well has been more of a challenge than I anticipated – given that, and the serious issues in the news at the moment, I’m kind of avoiding finishing it.

So instead, today I’m posting some weekend G.K Chesterton lite.

For an academic, he appears free of the quest to be liked, shared or even celebrated.  Not being one to take himself too seriously, Chesterton is a reminder that serious reflection in life involves laughter, not just clinical-objective observation. More than this, he understood that the space and time we allow for laughter in our relationships is often way too small. Often, it is something temporary, lost to the impact of distraction; a casualty of circumstance.

He wasn’t fond of what he calls ’intellectual fog’[i]. (A term of his that I’m fond of, and one that pretty much describes the dangers of academic arrogance[ii]. This means anything that sucks the beauty and benefit out of reading, involving the form, content and unreasonable criticisms/suspicions applied to a text – e.g.: ad hominem, reductio ad absurdum et.al).

Most of us would agree on this point: that copious amounts of data (images) being fed through our technologically intertwined lives can weigh us down.

When this happens we should be careful to not let the intellectual fog ‘creep up the street; and put out lamp after lamp.’[iii]

In order to do this, when the time comes, we might aim at being more generous with our laughter. With the full understanding that just as the tears and sighs of broken hearts can move grief up through our lungs right towards the ears of God. Tears can also be the result of our hearts being reoriented towards joy.

In the light of Chesterton’s ability to see past his own ego and that of his peers and by employing such things as humour to do so, he, in my view, avoids being neatly packaged into any box of anti-intellectualism.

Perhaps when critics of Chesterton talk about him in this context, they might actually be missing the dry humour in some of Chesterton’s criticism of unnecessary over-sophistication.

For example:

‘I was sharply reminded that I had entered Babylon, and left England behind. The waiter brought me cheese, indeed, but cheese cut up into contemptibly small pieces; and it is the awful fact that, instead of Christian bread, he brought me biscuits.
Biscuits–to one who had eaten the cheese of four great countrysides! Biscuits–to one who had proved anew for himself the sanctity of the ancient wedding between cheese and bread! I addressed the waiter in warm and moving terms.
I asked him who he was that he should put asunder those whom Humanity had joined. I asked him if he did not feel, as an artist, that a solid but yielding substance like cheese went naturally with a solid, yielding substance like bread; to eat it off biscuits is like eating it off slates.
I asked him if, when he said his prayers, he was so supercilious as to pray for his daily biscuits. He gave me generally to understand that he was only obeying a custom of Modern Society. I have therefore resolved to raise my voice, not against the waiter, but against Modern Society, for this huge and unparalleled modern wrong.[iv]

This weekend why not take a deep breath, exhale gently, and with me, consider the reasons why the world needs to constantly be reminded of Barth’s admonition that:

‘Those who cannot sigh with others and laugh a little about themselves are warmongers[v]

Sources:

[i] Chesterton, G.K 1910, Alarms and Discussions: ‘Cheese’ Kindle Ed.441-448(‘Alarms and Discursions’ 1910, Kindle Ed. 441-448)
[ii] Chesterton, G. K. The Essential G. K. Chesterton Collection (400+ works) (Illustrated) (Kindle Ed. 2009 Loc. 7613-7614)
[iii] Ibid, ‘Science and art without morality are not dangerous in the sense commonly supposed. They are not dangerous like a fire, but dangerous like a fog. A fire is dangerous in its brightness; a fog in its dullness’
[iv] Chesterton, G. K. What I saw in America. Prohibition in Fact and Fancy: The Essential G. K. Chesterton Collection (400+ works) (Illustrated) (Kindle Ed. 2009. Locations 68335-68336)
[v] Barth, K. 1961 der götze wackelt (The Idol Wobbles – exact translation T.B.C)  Insights, (Selected by Ebherhard Busch, 2009) Westminster John Knox Press p.12
(h/t to Ben @ Faith & Theology, where I first read about Chesterton’s ‘Alarms and Discursions’)

Image credit: ‘Lighting Decor’, Courtesy of FeelArt

Fankl_KindleEd_Meaning‘Where do we go when we don’t know […..]?’

There is a statement made by Augustine in Confessions that reads: ‘what I mean when I say I love my God, is that I am clinging to an embrace which is not severed by the fulfilment of desire’[i]

Centuries later, Leo Tolstoy made a similar statement, writing that ‘grace supported him over the abyss.’[ii]

On the surface it may seem an odd correlation, but Viktor Frankl’s book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ embodies the essential characteristics of these theological positions.

Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist and holocaust survivor, presents a perspective born from extreme adversity.

The connection of his thought and experience with that of Tolstoy’s and Augustine’s, is at first an ‘existential struggle for meaning”[iii]. What follows is break with existentialism with an acknowledgement that such a meaning is found outside ourselves.

For example, Frankl ambiguously states that ‘being human always points, and is directed, to something, or someone, other than oneself’[iv]. Augustine and Tolstoy would agree, but go further, by more directly stating that we are not just pointed, but are being pointed towards the God who encounters us in Jesus Christ.

Where Augustine states that clinging to grace is first brought about by God’s embrace, Tolstoy reminds us that ‘faith is the strength of life’. Frankl adds, so is hope.

His prevailing conclusion is that in the midst of difficult circumstances, we are never without the ‘free decision[v]’ to say yes to life.

“…the last of the human freedoms is found in the ability to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.[vi]

The pessimist resembles a man who observes with fear and sadness that his wall calendar, from which he daily tears a sheet, grows thinner with each passing day.

On the other hand, the person who attacks the problems of life actively is like a man who removes each successive leaf from his calendar and files it neatly and carefully away with its predecessors, after first having jotted down a few diary notes on the back.

He can reflect with pride and joy on all the richness set down in these notes, on all the life he has already lived to the fullest. What will it matter to him if he notices that he is growing old? Has he any reason to envy the young people whom he sees, or wax nostalgic over his own lost youth? What reasons has he to envy a young person?

For the possibilities that a young person has, the future which is in store for him? “No, thank you,” he will think. “Instead of possibilities, I have realities in my past, not only the reality of work done and of love loved, but of sufferings bravely suffered.’[vii]

God gives us permission to act. In our free decision we are encouraged to let God transform our hearts. (Romans 12:1-21)

We are not bound to the definitions of others, our culture/sub-culture or the opinions of our neighbour. Identity rests in the one who, while we were yet sinners, died for us (Romans 5:8). For God, in Jesus Christ chose to free us, so that we can be truly free to say “yes” to Him, and “yes” to life.

Sources:

[i] St. Augustine, Confessions Penguin Classics p.212
[ii] ‘I am supported above the abyss’ Tolstoy, L. 1869, A Confession
[iii] Frankl, V.E. 2006 Man’s Search for Meaning Beacon Press. Kindle Ed. Loc. 27-29 & 1268-1270
[iv]Ibid Loc.1387-1388
[v] Ibid, Loc. 922-924
[vi] Ibid, Loc. 877-878
[vii] Ibid, Loc. 1514-18-1521