Archives For January 2015

Lacey Sturm _ The Reason GVL Review 2015Often a book will land in your lap. Then, sometimes you run into it. Unable to avoid the undertow that draws you towards it.

I’d have to say, for me at least, that the latter experience applies to ‘The Reason’.

Lacey Sturm’s story revisits darkened avenues.

‘The Reason’ might look like a standard ‘’rock-star’’ reading. It isn’t.

Sturm’s famous vocal-scream and its raw transition from heart to ear, directs attention to the depth of her pain, prayer and subsequent gratitude. What you hear in her music is what you get in this book; it’s the figurative heart, scarred, but bursting with new life.

Lacey writes:

‘It is brave to trust that the God who gave you life in the first place has a good plan in mind, even when everything around you looks like hell. It is brave to live.[i]

One might rightly say its contents reflect something akin to Cohen’s vision in ‘Anthem’ of how light pierces through the cracks.

Illuminated by an underprivileged and abusive past Sturm pins down connectivity with the broken-hearted, reaching well beyond the realm of safe pulpits and the sanitized pews of the middle class Christian West mindset.

This is theological poetry for the self-styled “damned.”

Much like the autobiographies from Johnny Cash and Brian‘Head’ Welch, Sturm delineates cause, effect and the overarching struggle to simply breathe beyond sin towards forgiveness, through a brokenness unfairly thrust upon them, delivering hope to those of us who can relate.

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….I prayed God would use my voice to scream justice over every lie seeking to destroy the very people he made for great things.[ii]

Sturm, accompanied by beautiful hand drawn bespoke illustrations, unpacks the darkness in order to reveal the light. It’s clear that her words are carefully chosen, a well-considered pre-emptive attempt to prepare most readers for what is ahead.

‘The Reason’ deals with a series of issues including: bullying, parental abandonment, violence, identity issues, depression, poverty, fatherlessness and abuse.

Something that exists as an overarching theme is Lacey’s search for identity, acceptance and freedom. A big part of this is her wrestling with sexual identity, atheism, mistrust of men, confusion, love, and hate for injustice; a quest that fills these pages with more authenticity than some autobiographies twice as long exhaust themselves trying to achieve.

If anything, Lacey’s vulnerability makes her too vulnerable. Yet, what this all suggests is that Sturm is not out to just sell a book or artificially pad her already well supplied fan base.

‘The Reason’ is absent of hype and pretence. It denies any temptation to rely on these staple ingredients so often used in modern appeals to the masses.  It is ‘unassuming in its significance’.

This is evident in one of the most impressive highlights (and there are many), the theological distinction Sturm makes between “awe” and “emotionalism”.

‘There’s a definite sense of awe in the presence of God, and I experienced this most in the worship setting in church. I fell madly in love with experiencing awe. This experience was more than emotion. Something within us resonates when we encounter the sublime in life. C. S. Lewis talks about this feeling of awe in his book The Problem of Pain. In it he describes the word numinous. The numinous is that “thing” we sense or feel that is outside of ourselves.[iii]

Her discourse shifts away from a false euphoric emotionalism in worship towards ‘awe’, adding that there is a ‘difference between relationship with God and the experience of God.’ Lacey is aware of potential unseen dangers with regards to music, further stating:

‘The power of music, with its effect on the soul, is one of the most tangible ways to touch someone’s heart or spirit. I began to be very selective about the music I let into my soul and spirit because of how powerful I knew music could be. Emotions aren’t wrong, but letting them control your life and sway all your decisions can be deceptive and very destructive. I felt myself slip easily back into depression and condescension whenever I listened to certain music.[iv]

As easy as it would have been to slip into this trap, by providing advice like this Lacey evades feeding a narcissistic subculture,  “Christian” or otherwise. Instead her story and reflections that run concomitant with it, present a well thought out chronological narrative of displacement, warning, encouragement and realignment.

In conclusion, ‘The Reason’ is in-part exactly what a fan would expect; commentary complete with  a list of who and what helped that person steer into a musical career, fame and noticeable accomplishments.

However, Sturm’s book is not a chronological drift of what and how to become a rock-star. It is not an all-purpose list, to-be-generally read and followed formula for success.

Lacey points to God as the author of her success with a fierce reminder that God, in Jesus Christ, through His Spirit reaches for us.  That He hears us. Especially our deepest gasps, loneliest sighs and anguish filled groans. Although we may not see it, His gracious grasp is firm, authentic and unmistakable.

As Tolstoy and Barth rendered it, so Lacey Sturm profoundly reminds us of it:

No matter how bad it is, we are, still indeed ‘held firmly above the abyss.[v]


Sources:

[i] Sturm, L. 2014, The Reason: How I Discovered a Life Worth Living Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. (p. 62).

[ii] Ibid, pp.77-82

[iii] Ibid, p.134

[iv] Ibid, p. 132

[v] Tolstoy’s A Confession & Karl Barth: ‘It is given an answer from the cross of Christ. The serious and terrible nature of human corruption, the depth of the abyss into which man is about to fall as the author of it, can be measured by the fact that the love of God could react and reply to this event only by His giving, His giving up, of Jesus Christ Himself to overcome and remove it and in that way to redeem man, fulfilling the judgment upon it in such a way that the judge allowed Himself to be judged and caused the man of sin to be put to death in His own person.’

(Church Dogmatics: A Selection With Introduction by Helmut Gollwitzer, Kindle Ed.)

(Disclosure: Unpaid review)

© Rod Lampard, 2015


Related reading:

Unassuming Significance: The Reason {An Introduction}

Industrious {…Or, Just Running After One’s Hat}

forgiveness is empowerment


Related Reading:

Confronting Disagreement Responsibly: The Real Content & Value of Forgiveness

Breathing Forgiveness

The Blast Radius Of Forgiveness

Grasping Existence As We Are Grasped By Forgiveness

Breathing Grace


‘So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.’ (John 8:31-36, ESV)

Hashtags an all … Elshtain’s right.Elshtain quote 1

 


Source:

Elshtain, J.B, 2008 Just War Against Terror: The Burden of American Power In a Violent World Basic Books, Kindle Ed. (p.110)

David_Low_(cartoonist)_1947Reading C.S Lewis’ essay, ‘Blimpophobia, 1944’, resulted in me sifting through the 1956 autobiography of satirist David Low.

Low was born in New Zealand, later moving to Britain, where he became an influential newspaper cartoonist.

The following quote is a reflection he gives on a cartoon which he drew that featured Mohammed, among others.

Based on the reference to Cricketer, Jack Hobbs, in the text, the date these events took place is 1925.

It’s worth pointing out, then, that this is 90 years old. Given the recent events, I consider its sharp relevance to be poignant and of significant importance to current debates.

With such primary information it is harder for ‘strategies of evasion’[i] to be employed by an esoteric anti-Americanism hell-bent on pushing denial in a blame game that seeks to disempower opposition and further advance the lordship of an overbearing ideological agenda. This point is identified by Jean Bethke Elshtain’s analysis of responses to her attempts to reasonably engage with Muslims and the Western-Left about the harder questions, such as: whether or not there is an embedded relationship between Islamic terrorism and genuine Islam.

Low’s generalisations aside (since not all Muslims would have been in an outrage about it at the time), his experience almost perfectly parallels recent events. It is not something easily overlooked.

Although I get that Low is lamenting a poor decision, I’m not completely sympathetic with him at the end. This is because there are negative ramifications against freedom of speech brought about by these arbitrary responses.

‘Jack Hobbs, the famous cricketer, had touched a high point in his career in equalling Grace’s batting record. I celebrated the event in a cartoon entitled Relative Importance’ depicting Hobbs as one of a row of statues of mixed celebrities, in which his towering figure overshadowed Adam, Julius Caesar, Charlie Chaplin, Mohammed, Columbus and Lloyd George.
It was a piece of mere facetiousness, meaning nothing, but since the public interest in Hobbs was strong the Star gave it an importance it did not deserve by printing it twice the usual size.
It brought a large number of letters, eulogizing and applauding, which surprised me, and an indignantly worded protest which surprised me even more from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Mission, which deeply resented Mohammed being represented as competing with Hobbs, even of his being represented at all.
The editor expressed his regrets at the unintentional offence and regarded the whole thing as settled.
Two weeks later cables from India described a movement in Calcutta ‘exhorting Muslims to press for resolutions of protest against the Hobbs cartoon which shows a prophet among lesser celebrities. Meetings will be held in mosques.’
An additional complication arose. Not only one prophet but two had been profaned because Muslims reverence Adam also.
Bitterness and fury were redoubled.
To quote a Calcutta correspondent of the Morning Post:
“The cartoon has committed a serious offence, which had it taken place in this country, would almost have led to bloodshed. What was obviously intended as a harmless joke has convulsed many Muslims to speechless rage…An Urdu poster has been widely circulated throughout the city, calling upon Muslims to give unmistakable proof of their love of Islam by asking the Government of India to compel the British Government to submit the editor of the newspaper in question to such an ear-twisting that it may be an object-lesson to other newspapers. The posters have resulted in meetings, resolutions and prayers.”
The British Government was unresponsive, for we heard no more.
It is not without a twinge of regret that I reflect upon the loss to history of a picturesque scene on Tower Hill, with plenty of troops, policemen and drums, on the occasion of my unfortunate editor having his ears twisted on my behalf.
When I was talking with Mahatma Gandhi some years later, he deplored the insufficient number of cartoonists in his country and suggested that the well-known appreciation of satire possessed by Indians might make it a congenial place for me to spend some time professionally.
I refrained from comment.
The whole incident showed me how easily a thoughtless cartoonist can get into trouble. I had never thought seriously about Mohammed. How foolish of me. I was ashamed – not of drawing Mohammed in a cartoon, but of drawing him in a silly cartoon.’[ii]

Lewis used Low’s cartoon of the infamous Colonel Blimp as a critique of both over-enthusiastic nationalism and hyper-moralist pacifism.

It’s probably not all that detached from relevance to conclude with his indictment against having a permanent home-guard and the invitation to disaster that total disarmament would bring:

‘My present purpose is not to settle a question of justice, but to draw attention to a danger.
We know from the experience of the last twenty years {1924-1944} that a terrified and angry pacifism is one of the roads that lead to war.
I am pointing out that hatred of those to whom war gives power over us is one of the roads to terrified and angry pacifism…
A nation convulsed with Blimpophobia will refuse to take necessary precautions and will therefore encourage her enemies to attack her’[iii]
5_%20gallery%20-%20Evans%20-%20David%20Low%20-%20Beaverbrook

Sources:

[i] Elshtain, J.B. 2008 Just War Against Terror, Basic Books, Kindle Ed.

[ii] Low, D. 1956, Low’s Autobiography, Simon & Schuster, Inc. pp.123-124

[iii] Lewis, C.S. 1944 Blimpophobia in Walmsley, L. (Ed.) 2000, C.S.Lewis Essay Collection Harper Collins Publishers

Image: David Low (Wikipedia)

The Lure Of Love

January 19, 2015 — Leave a comment

Low 1


Source:

David Low, satirical cartoonist, discussing his wife Madeline in Low, D. 1956 Low’s Autobiography,  Simon & Schuster, NY.

Related reading: David Low

Joy & Provision.

Epiphany

Protection & Hope.

Caught

Peace.

Weeping

Wisdom & Reverence.

Wisdom

Jesus Is Victor.

Jesus is Victor


 

Images:

Photographer: Ian Adams 

Source: Beloved Life

 

 

JBEAlthough Jean Elshtain didn’t consider herself a theologian, there’s a good chance that anyone willing to exhaust any enquiry into her eligibility for the title would conclude that she, in fact, was.

Theology permeates her work. Forming the backbone of the majority of it.

Elshtain’s broad and consistent conversation partners include St. Augustine, Albert Camus, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther, Hannah Arendt, Vaclav Havel, and Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II). This also includes some small contact with theologians Karl Barth, Paul Tillich and Reinhold Niebuhr.

Elshtain considered herself a layperson when it came to theological matters.  Having added theologian to her list of accomplishments may have meant weighing in on an area where her insight and much-needed centrist voice may not have been as keenly heard.

For example: other than walking through some legitimate claims against Christians being hypocrites there is, also, the very real issue of being recklessly labelled as ‘unchristian”, “unloving”, “bigoted” or “unChristlike”, when debating sociopolitical issues or the strengths and limitations of something like just-war theory and practice.

It’s likely, then,  that Elshtain benefited from not having been assigned the title of a theologian. Resulting in her successfully navigating institutional prejudice, reductionist reversals, aversions and distractions. Such as underhanded rhetorical tactics like name calling, selective outrage, cross-examination, inferring ignorance by association, negative preempting and agenda driven ridicule. {to name a few}

Elshtain follows the example of Hannah Arendt, Albert Camus and Karl Barth who are credited, among others, as being careful and critical, when it came to allowing themselves to profiled in political terms; and/or  placed into rigid theological, philosophical or sociological cult-like categories. They weren’t looking for disciples.

It’s long, but one example is her assessment of the government and God distinction, which followed her critique of some Western theologians and philosophers, such as Mark Taylor [i] and Noam Chomsky [ii] post-September 11, 2001:

Misunderstandings of Christian teachings are rife. Christianity is not an exalted or mystical form of utilitarianism. Jesus preached no doctrine of universal benevolence. He showed anger and issued condemnations. These dimensions of Christ’s life and words tend to be overlooked nowadays as Christians concentrate on God’s love rather than God’s justice. That love is sometimes reduced to a diffuse benignity that is then enjoined on believers.
This kind of faith descends into sentimentalism fast. But how do believers translate the message of the Christian Savior into an ethic of worldly engagement if an ethic of universal niceness misses the point? Because Christianity is far and away the dominant faith of Americans, these are exigent matters of concern to all citizens, believer or no.
For a minority of believers, worldly engagement already marks a capitulation. But the vast majority of Christians, both now and in the past, have sorted things out in more nuanced and complicated ways.
Richard Niebuhr delineates five “Christs,” by which he means five characteristic models of how Christians have engaged the world: the Christ against culture; the Christ of culture; the Christ above culture; Christ and culture in paradox; and Christ as transformer of culture. Believers have occupied each of these positions historically, sometimes more than one at a time.
An example would be the great Thomas Aquinas, who was faithful as a monk to his vows “against” the culture—poverty, celibacy, and obedience—even as he belonged to a church that had “achieved or accepted full social responsibility for all great institutions” and that had “become the guardian of culture, the fosterer of learning, the judge of nations, the protector of the family, the governor of social religion.”
For Aquinas, Christianity is, among other things, a structure of practical wisdom “planted among the streets and marketplaces, the houses, palaces, and universities that represent human culture.” This kind of believer neither despises the world nor retreats from it.
Rather, this believer engages the world, sustains it, and seeks to transform it—all at the same time. Ordinary vocations are the responsibility of believers. They should not shirk their vocations, including political vocations like soldiering or judging. Such vocations are necessary to sustain a common life. This Christian believer undertakes the tasks of vocation as an act of service and performs them in humility and with a strong commitment to their often tragic, sometimes joyful nature.
Tension, even paradox, emerges in situations when “what is required of man in his service of others is the use of instruments of wrath for the sake of protecting them against the wrathful.” This point is made most vividly by Luther, with his insistence that there is a “time of the sword,” but it has been widely, if not universally, shared in the historic Church.
For Christians living in historic time and before the end of time, the pervasiveness of conflict must be faced.
One may aspire to perfection, but living perfectly is not possible. To believe one is without sin is to commit the sin of pride and to become ever more boastful in the conviction that a human being can sustain a perfectionist ethic. For St. Augustine, for Martin Luther, and for the anti-Nazi martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the harsh demands of necessity as well as the command of love require that one may have to commit oneself to the use of force under certain limited conditions, and with certain intentions.[ii]

This analysis is Elshtain at her absolute best. It’s passionate, clear and thorough. It might not win her admission into the theologians hall of fame, but written in 2002, her words stand today as a pertinent warning. Calling us to question what it is that we are being sold and why.

Here Elshtain is pushing beyond the ”Just-War Against Terror” topic, assessing the real reasons for it in the first place; at the same time not willing to join the call to arms by right-wing fanatical patriots, or accepting at face value the manipulation of facts, oversight and simplifying of arguments by the Left, which tends to blame the West for Islamic terrorism and animosity towards the West in the Middle East.

If we don’t listen carefully, look past the careless labels, false appearances, hypocritical accusations of prejudice and fear mongering about fear mongering; double standards and confusion (sadly, the list can go on). It is possible, that once this fog clears we will only discover the brutal cost of inaction caused by self-doubt; the paralysing fear of prejudice and an anachronistic contempt that uses an exhausted mistrust of “The West” from unhappy cynics who live freely and prosperously in it.

History speaks.

Labelled a warmonger, ridiculed and considered too old to be relevant, Churchill critically questioned the Nazi movement long before it became a bloody necessity to reject it. Blind acquiescence and something that C.S Lewis called ‘the tyranny of good intentions’, resulted in the catastrophic ambivalence and indifference of the West in the 1930’s.

Positive optimism (or any ethic of universal niceness that is falsely attributed to Jesus Christ) doesn’t resolve conflict, it ignores conflict and allows tyrants to thrive. In the 1930’s such optimism ended in Prime Minister Chamberlain’s, now haunting words “Peace For Our Time’….which was shattered by the sound of falling shells, screeching stukas and the blitzkrieg that hit the World not long after it.

Reagan rightly said:  ‘the greater lessons of history tell us that the greater risk lies in appeasement.’

An even greater risk, is a ‘house divided against itself.’ (Jesus Christ, Matthew, 12:25)

It stands to reason. If even some of our Muslim neighbours, are as outspoken as Elshtain, like Tarek Fatah (43min – 46min) who is making similar observations of the response so far, Elshtain’s words are not to be ignored.

 


Source:

[i] Mark Taylor, “The Way of the Cross as Theatric of Counter-Terror,” paper presented at a conference on justice and mercy, University of Chicago (Spring 2002), cited by Elshtain in Just War Against Terror: The Burden Of American Power In A Violent World Basic Books Kindle Ed (p.82)

[ii] Chomsky, N. 9-11 cited by Elshtain, (ibid, p. 226)

[iii] Elshtain, J. 2008, Just War Against Terror: The Burden Of American Power In A Violent World Basic Books Kindle Ed. (p. 100-101).