Archives For July 2017

On page 291, of his 2013 book, Hollywood and Hitler, Thomas Doherty makes a small, but note worthy statement about the song “God Bless America.”  Written by Irving Berlin from an earlier tune called “Yip!, Yak!, Yaphank!” , “God Bless America”  was to become an unofficial second national anthem.

 ‘as the wave of antisemetic violence [during what was penned by journalists as Krystallnacht], in [Nazi Germany], was subsiding, the singer Kate Smith had long planned to dedicate her variety show program to the 20th anniversary of Armistice Day, a solemn look back at the last war as the world stood on the brink of another. Smith asked Irving for a patriotic theme suitable for the occasion’[i]

Whilst it is right to describe “God Bless America” as a patriotic song, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that it also fits well within the rubric of protest songs.

Cast in the light of his original intent, Berlin’s song is an anthem for peace. It rallies people of all races, around the banner of peace.

God Bless America” is perhaps also the most significant musical push-back against the onslaught of mid-20th century Nazism, to come out of America during that pre-WW2 era.

Post-1939, into, America’s 1942 involvement in the war; first in the Pacific, then in the North African, and European theatres, this prayer for peace, while still holding its integrity, extended its meaning towards a prayer for freedom.To call on God’s blessing is to call on His grace and victory.

And if prayer is, as Karl Barth asserted:

 ‘…the beginning of an uprising, [a revolt] against the disorder of the world’[ii]

Then “God Bless America” is a protest against one thing, that is effective in drawing people’s attention towards another. Towards the God, who, in His Covenant with Israel, and it’s fulfilment in Jesus Christ, sets out to present Himself as the revolution against the disorder, that is set in play by false lords, false claims to authority, and all human versions of “ordering” the world, which takes place under those false claims, in total allegiance to those false lords*.

Irving’s lyrics join up with the voice of the Confessing Churches, who, in the 1934, Barmen declaration, led by Karl Barth, declared that any proposition that suggests, or asserts that salvation could come through Hitler, or any human, outside of or abstracted from God’s revelation in Jesus Christ, is false, and is therefore is to be utterly rejected. This is because:

‘Jesus is the one Word of God and the proper hearing of this Word takes place in trusting and obeying […] The one Word is the way upon which, and the door through which, God comes to us in his truth and in his life, comes as the light that overcomes the lie and as the resurrection that disempowers death’[iii]

There are no ways to God, there is only one way from God to us. Founded and expressed entirely through, and in Jesus the Christ. No man, woman, leader, idea or natural organism can lay claim to this revelation that lays claim to all of humanity, without usurping God. It’s not something that can be moulded, crafted and raised in the name of human triumphalism.

Irving Berlin’s song declares that before nations and governments, there is no other Lord, but God.

As problematic as ambiguity and nationalism[iv] that is attached to the song, can be; at its inception, “God Bless America” was conceived as an anthem for peace. It was written at a time when the majority of Americans understood God as the one who makes Himself known in history, as testified to in the Judeo-Christian Bible.

What “God Bless America” became was both a prayer and protest. It focuses, unites, humbles, and in combined song, rouses a challenge against all those who actively seek to do the opposite.

God Bless America” is a song of defiance in the face of an adverse and overwhelming enemy. As a prayer, it becomes the anthem for revolt. Not just against an oppressor from without, but also from within; against the sinful nature of the flesh that exists within each of us, to which God has answered, not by the way of man’s religion, and feeble attempts to save himself, by way of the Cross of Jesus Christ.

In “God Bless America” both the Sh’ma Yisrael and The Lord’s Prayer are heard. If we lean in close enough, we’ll hear Irving, Kate, Barth, Roosevelt and the many others, who, in fox holes, camps and gas chambers, ‘prayed both'[v], we may hear them “whisper their legacy”[vi] to American and non-American alike. I should point out that I’m not an American, but that doesn’t mean I’m exempt from joining in and singing the same kind of prayer and following the same kind of protest. For:

‘Even the “devils believe and tremble,” and I really believe they are more afraid of the Americans’ prayers than of their swords’
(Abigail Adams, 1775, Letters #55)


References:

[i]  Doherty, T. 2013 Hollywood & Hitler: 1933-1939, Columbia University Press, p.291

[ii]  Barth, K. CD Fragments IV:4

[iii]  Busch, E. 2010 The Barmen theses then and now: the 2004 Warfield lectures at Princeton Theological Seminary, Wm.B Eerdmans Publishing Company Grand Rapids Michigan, U.S.A. pp.23 & 37

[iv] For more on this see Sheryl Kaskowitz’s article ‘How “God Bless America” became a conservative anthem’

[v] Victor Frankl: we watched and witnessed some of our comrades behave like swine while others behaved like saints. Man has both potentialities within himself; which one is actualized depends on decisions but not on conditions. Our generation is realistic, for we have come to know man as he really is. After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord’s Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips.’ Man’s Search for Meaning, Beacon Press. p. 134.

[vi] Robin Williams, 1989. The Dead Poets Society.

*According to an unverified source, the Klu Klux Klan, only with Pro-American Nazi’s are said to have boycotted the song. The only source I could find, so far, which mentions this, is parade.com:  6 Things You Didn’t Know About the Song ‘God Bless America’ 

Original image credit: Photo by Jake Ingle on Unsplash

Barmen these then and now

For some time now I have been seriously captivated by the Barmen Declaration and the Confessing Church. I recently had the privilege of recounting how applicable this particular part of modern Church History is to our current, “post-modern” context.

The principle author of the declaration was Karl Barth, who wrote it during a synod in the May of 1934 Barmen, Germany. The Barmen Declaration was agreed upon and signed by members of the ‘Lutheran, reformed and united churches’ (2010:12).

In his 2010 book ‘the Barmen theses then and now’, Eberhard Busch convincingly argues for its continuing relevance, by brilliantly illustrating the significance of the ‘Theological Declaration of Barmen’.

The socio-political context was pre-world war two, Nazi Germany. The Confessing Church was formed in ‘protest against’ (Busch 2010:8) the Nazis and their Nationalist church movement (Nazi sympathisers), who rallied under the nationalist banner ‘German Christians’.

According to Busch, the ‘German Christians’, as an organised majority, did this because the German church in the early 1930s were a community ‘struggling for its identity’ (2010:2).

Consequently a large portion of Christians were easily manipulated by nationalist-socialist ideology (Nazism).

Busch asserts that ‘Hitler’s hidden agenda was that the church should make itself superfluous, so that the state could become absolute ruler’ (2010:1).An example of this was the influence and practice of anti-Semitism, which manifested itself in November 1933, when nationalist-Christian’s decided ‘to purify the gospel ‘’from all Oriental distortion’. The result of this was that ‘they distorted the gospel message’ (2010:24).

The Barmen declaration was a product of protest; it was and still is both a theological and political polemic for these reasons.

Firstly, the Barmen Declaration was a protest against the ‘German Christians’ and their acceptance of the ideology of the State, University and State coercion forcing people into allegiance to it. Secondly, it was a protest against the aggressive policy that had merged the church with the state, by subordinating the church to the state.

Thirdly, the ‘Barmen Declaration’ instructs the church through its confessional language and its contemporary relevance, to deal graciously with people who merge theology with ideology. Busch notes that ‘even when we say ‘’no’’ to their activities, we are still basically saying ‘’yes’’ to them thus loving them’, and all the while doing so firmly without obtrusion (2010:45).

For example:

Barmen thesis one: salvation is through Christ alone.
In context this means that any view which suggests that salvation could come through Hitler is false and therefore is to be rejected. This is because ‘Jesus is the one Word of God and the proper hearing of this Word takes place in trusting and obeying’ (2010:37)…‘The one word is the way upon which, and the door through which, God comes to us in his truth and in his life, comes as the light that overcomes the lie and as the resurrection that disempowers death’ (Busch 2010:23). There are no ways to God, there is only one way and it is from God to us founded and expressed entirely through, and in Jesus the Christ.

Barmen thesis two: is about evangelical ethics. This is to be understood as ‘the one Word having two forms, gospel and law; God’s gift and command’ (2010:37). The ‘basis of evangelical ethics is not a program, not a principle, not a categorical imperative, but rather a person, Jesus Christ’ (Busch 2010:42). God does not ‘require of us the begrudging fulfilment of obligation but rather he expects of us our gratitude for the beneficence we have received’ (2010:44). In context this meant ‘obeying God rather than’ (citing Acts 5:29, p.42) an ideology or the consensus of the mob.

Barmen thesis three: is about the ‘church struggle’ (2010:50) with ‘false doctrine’ (2010:52).This corresponds with the issue of placing ideology over against theology by separating the secular from the sacred. Busch understands this to be primarily about compromise. It means that ‘the church puts itself in jeopardy – whether in its retreat from the world into an interior space to attend to a sacral activity, or in its conforming to the world around it, to which it surrenders’ (2010:52).

Barmen thesis four: concerns the priesthood of all believers. It proposes that the Church is not ‘reduced to its office bearers’ (2010:67) and therefore identified in isolation from the laity. This means that ‘the church cannot rule, and there shall be no ruling within it…to serve others does not mean to wait on them, but rather it means to be free for them, free to stand in support next to them’ (2010:66).

Barmen thesis five: outlines the importance of maintaining the separation between Church and State. This pertains to the importance of the churches commission and mission. It must not be confused with the false division between sacred and secular. For example: ‘the more the church endeavours to be proper church, the better it can invite and encourage the state to be proper state’ (2010:84).

Barmen theses six: the final thesis deals with ‘ecclesial arrogance’ (2010:94). To unpack this Busch differentiates between those who do not reject the word and those who seek to silence it. He rightly accuses those who seek to silence the word of ‘making the gospel an opiate of the people’ (2010:95)…‘sometimes demanding, sometimes smiling, they demand that the Word of God should bless and not disturb the arbitrary acts of humans’ (2010:95). This, Busch writes places the gospel ‘into the service of human interests’ (2010:93).

Finally, one of Busch’s key observations is that the “German Christian movement”:

‘demonstrated just where the church ends up when it begins to conform its own order to the state’s wishes – the outcome is that not only the church’s order but also its message is conformed to those wishes’ (2010:74).

English: German stamp, showing Karl Barth. Deu...

With this in mind, the contemporary relevance of Barmen should be clear. Through Barth and many others, God has provided a reliable platform for today’s Church to frame a firm but gracious no, to a growing number of people, who seek to subordinate the Word of God and the church to an ideology.

These include: Nationalism, ecclesial elitism, Islamic fascism, homosexual activism, militant atheism, environmentalism, nihilism and extreme feminism.

It is perhaps fitting to finish with the thunder that sounds out from one of Barth’s rallying cries: ‘let us respond to the world when it wants to make us fearful:

Your lords are leaving, but our Lord is coming’ (cited by Busch 2010:72).

Source:

Busch, E. 2010 the Barmen theses then and now: the 2004 Warfield lectures at Princeton Theological Seminary, Wm.B Eerdmans Publishing Company Grand Rapids Michigan, U.S.A

(Originally published 2nd May, 2013)

Way back in 2013, I followed the idea of a friend on Facebook, who had out of interest, explored the Google automatic search suggestions (G.A.S.S). My search range included Bloggers, Christians, Schools, cats, dogs, gamers, Christianity, Google, diets, faith and TV Dinners. That post can be found here: Answers According To…

I figured it would be interesting to compare the 2013 search results with 2017. So yesterday, following the same procedure I chased down the same subjects, following the same search parameters.

The 2017 outcomes were as interesting as the 2013 outcomes. The only surprise difference being the results for “Christians are.” This time around either the Google mechanic blocked that search or the search just didn’t register. The suggested search outcome was blank. By contrast, when I typed in, ”Muslims are”, the phrase “true feminists” was highlighted.

According to G.A.S.S, Bloggers are:

2013:


Bloggers according to Google

2017:

There’s a noticeable difference here. Bloggers, according to G.A.S.S, are now different to journalists and are now just annoying, not stupid. So, what did G.A.S.S think about Google:

2013:

Google according to google2017:

So, Google is no longer evil, is still your friend,is no longer god, is still skynet (Terminator 2 reference), but Google is now the best and is apparently gay.

TV dinners remain pretty much the same. Clearly, Google is no friend to TV Dinners:

2013


TV Dinners are according to google

2017

Like Google, cats are no longer listed as evil, and are instead ”the best”. Cats are still better than dogs, remain jerks, and continue to be bizarrely listed as liquid (hmmm?).

2013

Cats are

2017

Dogs are no longer listed as being “the best people”. However, they are still talking, and are better than cats. Dogs are also now, “great”, “loyal” and “family”.

2013

Dogsare

2017

The automated search suggestions didn’t vary much, when it came to looking up “Faith is”. The difference now being the absence of the biblical quote, and “like a muscle”. The additions included “breaking out” and ”the confidence.”

2013

Faith is according to google

2017

From a theologian’s point of view, Google’s automated search suggestions are still on a winning track.  Even the inquiry for “Christianity is”, took a more balanced leap forward:

2013

Christianity is according to Google

2017

The search for “Christians are”, was the most surprising. As I noted at the start of this article, the section for 2017 yielded no response.

2013

google search

2017

For the most part, the 2017 “gamers are” search stayed very close to the 2013 inquiry. The only real change was that gamers are no longer “annoying”, they’re “awesome”.

2013


Gamers are

2017

Of all the G.A.S.S. subjects, my Schools inquiry was the most intriguing. Schools are still considered to be “prisons”, and “killers of creativity” and most appear to be “closed”. From which I take “closed” to mean closed-minded etc.

2013

Schools are according to google

2017

The final comparison had the most significant changes. As it turns out, “Diets are” no longer “bad”, “fattening”, “stupid” or “useless”. Every dietitian and their program is, by Google’s automated suggested search results, exonerated.

2013

Diets are according to google

2017

The technology still rocks. It’s also encouraging to see that the changes between 2013 and 2017 are mostly positive. This could be due to a better developed and dedication to having up to date accuracy from within the algorithms used to measure ranking.

The lesson still is “Caveat Emptor” (buyer beware). Philosophically, relying on Google’s search engine, or any silicon based search platform for all the answers doesn’t replace the role of good, hard research work.

We can take some facts and ideas of consensus from the internet, however, it’s important to remember the large number of people who do not have an online presence or an online voice. Nor do they wish to. Whilst one group may dominate online, that doesn’t mean that their dominance is reflected in reality.

The internet often magnifies – and quite regularly distorts – support for something, when it barely even registers on the radar of 9-5, or around “workplace water cooler conversations.”

As Paul & Marguerite Shuster wrote:

‘Test everything….’ (1. Thess.5:21, ESV)
 ‘those who Jesus confronted most directly were as likely to want to kill him as to follow him. He seemed to not have the slightest inclination to make hearing and following him pleasant and easy…Truthfulness, in other words, is not determined by customer satisfaction surveys’
(‘The truth and truthfulness’, 2008)

 


Sources:

Shuster, M. 2008 Truth and truthfulness in Performance in preaching Childers & Schmidt, Baker Academic

Sullivan, D. 2011 How Google Instant’s Autocomplete Suggestions Work, sourced 28th October 2013 from http://searchengineland.com/how-google-instant-autocomplete-suggestions-work-62592

 

Marcus Garvey was a Jamaican poet and civil rights campaigner. He had a level of popularity in America during the early post-war years, from 1919-1922, wasn’t an academic, but had a keen eye for studiousness.

He was intelligent, talented and charismatic, but appears to have lacked consistent success because he lacked staying power.

Garvey clashed with intellectuals like W.E.B De Bois.

He had a flair for the flamboyant and not being an American, at times found himself outside the very communities he was seeking to raise up.

Because of this he is credited by some, as having a significant role in laying the early foundation for what would become the African American Civil Rights movement.

The decline in his popularity coincided with Garvey’s radical views on Africa, and the way forward for Americans, such as his support for Black Nationalism and pro-segregation.

His five year imprisonment in 1922, for mail fraud, sealed his, now inevitable, ultimate removal from public life. He served two years before being released and sent back to Jamaica.

Garvey was schooled and later self-taught. His radical racial views aside, Garvey’s short treatise called ‘Educate Yourself’ is a back to basics organic approach to education. The kind of stuff homeschoolers do daily.

It’s clear that some of the ideas on education presented by Garvey are not unique to Garvey. What is unique is the fact that Garvey saw these ideas as worth reflecting on from within his own experience.

Taking into consideration the racism of the era and the muddied struggle for equal educational opportunities, Garvey’s words here carry inspirational gravitas.

 ‘’Never stop learning. Never stop reading […] Make pencil or pen notes of the striking sentences and paragraphs that you should like to remember”
“You should also read the best poetry for inspiration. From a good line of poetry, you may get the inspiration for the career of a life time.”
“Read history incessantly until you master it. You can only make the best out of life by knowing and understanding it. To know, you must fall back on the intelligence of others who came before you and have left.’
“Never write or speak on a subject you know nothing about, for there is always somebody who knows that particular subject to laugh at you or to ask you embarrassing questions that may make others laugh at you. You can know about any subject under the sun by reading about it.”
“By reading good books you keep the company of the authors of the book or the subjects of the book when otherwise you could not meet them in the social contact of life.”
“You should learn the two sides to every story, so as to be able to properly debate a question and hold your grounds with the side that you support.”
“Always have a well equipped shelf of books.”
“In reading it is not necessary or compulsory that you agree with everything you read. You must always use or apply your own reasoning […]Pass judgement on what you read based upon these facts. When I say facts I mean things that cannot be disputed.”
“Don’t waste time. Any time you think you have to waste put it in reading something.”
 “Never pass over a word without knowing its meaning.”
“Read a chapter from the Bible everyday, Old and New Testaments. The greatest wisdom of the age is to be found in the Scriptures.” [i]
“God gives you intelligence to do things intelligently for yourself. You will get no more out of life than you put in.” [ii]


References:

[i] Garvey, M. The Ultimate Collection of Speeches and Poems.

[ii] Garvey, M. 1937, Speech (source) Hill, R.A. (Ed.)

[iii] Sandbrook, D. 2008 The Rise And Fall of Marcus Garvey, The Telegraph (source)

.

.

Weightless effigies collide in a disembodied world.
Time and space melt through pixelated moulds.
Ambulating artefacts plugged into wire, fiction,
and the illusion of communal hold.

Minds are plunged into formlessness.
There is no such thing as peace.
Life plugged into lifelessness,
.      where reason and faith cease.

Human blood runs through silicon veins,
.   false achievement becomes a commodity,
.            buying and selling souls chained to the game;
.   false lords, colluding with extremes,
Masters to slaves,
.            forcing the fight for existence between gambit and guillotine.

Every written opposition,
.         each noun,
.         each verb;
.         each electrified word,
.         even if eloquently sung,
.         via comments, is from the gallows, hung.

The society of strangers lined up in drab, conforming rows.
Thought, faith and true freedom, filtered out from within the flow.

But, lightening moves knighted apparitions,
.      there one second, then gone the next.
Holy attendants, heads covered in hoods.
Concealed by the night, as if concealed by soot.

Their presence whispers,
.            of what is to come,
.       as their voices hymn in the Gregorian, baritone, tongue:

“For God still lives, and so, God speaks.
The arrogance of human revolution is breached
Know, He comes,
.          the new exodus, claimed via Crucis.
The once and forever,
Prince of Peace, God’s only begotten Son.”


(©RL2017)

‘…the poor man that loveth Christ is richer than the greatest man in the world that hates Him.’

(John Bunyan, Pilgrims Progress, Faithful talking to Christian)

Tomorrow we embark on Term 3. The past year has been full of privilege and anticipation. We’ve made some new friends, been encouraged and branched out into new areas of learning. One of the biggest being our commitment to Driver’s Education.

In my particular State, each learner driver has to complete 120 hours of supervised driving before sitting for a practical drivers test. If they pass that, they can go on to drive unsupervised, working their way up through two different levels, over three years, before being able to attain their full licence.

One of the challenges of drivers education is monotony. Discipline requires repetition. Practice requires discipline. Overcoming a dreary routine requires creativity.

So, from the beginning I laid this journey before the Lord, and then come up with a road map. Each lesson will be a road trip. They won’t be the same every time and each lesson will have a deliberate goal and destination.

In addition, once we nailed down the basics, and worked up confidence to a satisfactory level, we’ve just come into the stage where we can safely add “mix tapes”. Music and driving go hand in hand. Since our young drivers are at this more confident level, adding music, takes the lessons to a new level.

With this in mind, here’s what’s on our current A-list:

1.  Lift Your Head Weary Sinner (Chains) [feat. Tedashii] [Live], Crowder

The lyrics and music already shine, but Tedashii makes this version. Heart felt, honest, raw.

2. Ghost Ship, Theocracy.

I started listening to Theocracy around the beginning of the year after having had the band pointed out to me in a Facebook post from an internet friend. The quality this band puts out meets the genre head on. It’s solid, lyrically intentional and well thought out.

3. Kyrie (Eleison), & Serve Somebody, Kevin Max.

Released this past week, Kevin Max’s cover album, ‘Serve Somebody‘, fills some gaps missing in the eclectic, electric musician’s anthology. His version of Mister Mr’s, 1985 Kyrie Elesion (Lord, Have Mercy) levels up against the original, at some points, even exceeding it. I had added this song without really thinking about the lyrics, but God has a sense of humour, so as He does from time to time, the humorous set-up couldn’t be more relevant. The album also contains a rock version of Bob Dylan’s, ‘Serve Somebody’. It’s the best cover of the Dylan original that I’ve heard; Johnny Q. Public’s version on their ’95 album, ‘Extra*Ordinary‘, coming in a close second.

4. Golgotha, W.A.S.P

I never really clung to this band. It wasn’t until last year when I read an article about front man, ‘Blackie Lawless’s’ conversion to faith in Jesus Christ, that my interest in the story of W.A.S.P. was peaked.

“Certainly, lyrically everything is written from the eyes of my faith, everything is through that filter. You’re also talking about a genre that, in general, is obsessed with the idea of God and/or the Devil. Jazz, pop, there is no other genre that is absolutely obsessed with it as this genre is.’ [i]

Golgotha is lyrically intense. It reaches straight into the void, the silence, its pain, the feeling of absence, abandonment and points the listener to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As a bonus the finale of this epic seven minute song, contains one of the best guitar solos I’ve heard. There’s no glam rock finger tapping, every string is hit, every note played, every beat felt.

5. Who’s The (Bat)man, Patrick Stump.

After watching the Batman Lego movie, our homeschoolers came to me and said, ”hey dad?”, ”check this song out, it’s you’re new anthem.” So, I log into Spotify and find it added to a few of my lists. It’s not a bad song. The guitar work, works. The lead solo is okay and the lyrics remind me of Weird Al, so win-win.

 

‘If there is one word, which describes learning, it is process. Hence, to teach is to enhance and facilitate that process. The teacher is the facilitator. The function of education is to do everything to promote the process.’
– ( Obed Onwuegbu, Teaching That Guarantees Learning).

References:

[i]  Sourced 16th July 2017W.A.S.P. Frontman Blackie Lawless Delves Deep Into His Faith + New Album ‘Golgotha’ 

.

Sanity pins the past out in patterns;
doors emerge between then and now.

.    Ghosts live here,
.    and they dress memories in dread.

Surrounded by four right-angled curves of abuse;
Weighed down by broken mirrors,
.    their cursed shards scream out in cycles of excuse.

As the fog of their image fades in and out,
.    painted words scratch blood lines onto my reflected face.

Attempting to lay old claims;
.    then from within them, as if in pain,
.    silent snarls and smirks, distort their pale images.

Drawn, like swords, their fingers point to my chest.

Some unseen presence has disturbed them, in their contorted place of rest.

Drawn, like swords, their fingers point to my right and then to my left.

Midnight Walkers, absent of wings,
.              uphold the bereft.

Transparent companions,
.                    their prayers always accompanied by command
.                    and gracious invitation.

Never demanding for themselves my attention.

These human-like strangers travel in pairs.

Acting with intention,
.          only ever seen in rare moments of intermission,
.          they serve God’s interventions.

Messengers, autographed in blood-red.

Echo the Living Word and what He has spoken:

“You’re never alone. For angels shadow the broken.”


 (©RL2017)

“it is the spirit of man, the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand; the Spirit of God. Has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life. For God is greater than man. He has redeemed my soul from going down to the pit, and my life shall look upon the light.”

(Job 32:8, 33:4, 28, ESV)