Archives For August 2017

Tell Me

August 29, 2017 — Leave a comment

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Ask me what I see, and I’ll show you battle scars.

Tell me what I’m not
and I’ll show you my old home, and its prison bars

Tell me how I’ve failed,
and I’ll show you my bible,
its well-worn corners, impressed with the mark of a child’s hopeful embrace,
and how, though, lost in a sea of loneliness
that child broke through the bitter dark.

Tell me to prove this
and I’ll show you healed marks,
of how they illustrate a trophy of grace;
the miracle that is this mended heart.

Tell me why I’m not enough
and I’ll tell you of teen intoxication,
of long midnight footsteps away from temptation,
and the gut wrenching sound of the devil’s bark.

Tell me how none of this ever happened,
and I’ll take you right back to the start,
then speak of father wounds,
and in minute detail, roll out the saga of abuse
and the many cruel people who joyfully played their part.

Scream at me that I’m wrong,
and I’ll have to walk away,
for I was there in that moment,
you abandoned your right to have a say.


(©RL2017)

Create in me a clean heart, O God,and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence     or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.”

– Psalm 51:17

Л. Н.Толстой рассказывает сказку внукам. 1909

The quote below, taken from Tolstoy’s ‘A Confession’, reads like a critique of the leviathan that is social media:

We were all then convinced that it was necessary for us to speak, write, and print as quickly as possible and as much as possible, and that it was all wanted for the good of humanity. And thousands of us, contradicting and abusing one another, all printed and wrote — teaching others. And without noticing that we knew nothing, and that to the simplest of life’s questions:
What is good and what is evil? We did not know how to reply, we all talked at the same time, not listening to one another, sometimes seconding and praising one another in order to be seconded and praised in turn, sometimes getting angry with one another — just as in a lunatic asylum.
Thousands of workmen laboured to the extreme limit of their strength day and night, setting the type and printing millions of words which the post carried all over Russia, and we still went on teaching and could in no way find time to teach enough, and were always angry that sufficient attention was not paid us. It was terribly strange, but is now quite comprehensible. Our real innermost concern was to get as much money and praise as possible. To gain that end we could do nothing except write books and papers. So we did that’[i].

Of course, it is anachronistic to suggest that Tolstoy was talking about social media as we know it. Tolstoy’s words are, however, a critique of 19th Century, Russian media, its medium and the noise therein. Therefore, they are an early critique of the content and form which makes up a large part of social media. As such, they are a relevant criticism for us to take seriously, particularly when applying them to a 21st Century context.

Today, Henry Ergas from ‘The Australian’, made an interesting observation. In writing about sensitive information, how it is monitored, distributed and delivered. He provided an historical insight, which although topically unrelated, helps us to contextually frame the sharp poignancy of Tolstoy’s reflection:

“19th century’s Pax Brittanica, was built on a solid technological foundation: Britain’s control of global telegraphy. As late as 1890, 80 per cent of the world’s submarine cables were British; Britain ruled the wires even more decisively than she ruled the waves… The sophistication of today’s communications networks is obviously many orders of magnitude that of Britain’s global telegraph system. In 2012, daily internet traffic was in the order of 1.1 exabytes, one billion times more every day than the 19th century system could carry in a year. And the growth rates remain breathtaking: wireless traffic alone is now eight times larger than the entire internet in 2000[ii]

If Ergas’ facts are correct, that is a lot of information being exchanged. For better or worse we engage, encode, disengage and decipher information at ‘breathtaking’ speeds. Matthew McKay suggests that ‘55% of all communication is mostly facial expressions’[v]. Thus, my conclusion is that because most of the information exchanged via social media is in written form, it seriously limits our ability to receive a message, in the same way it was intended to be received by the author. (there are many examples of how comments have been wrongly interpreted).

I consider Tolstoy’s reflection a full-stop. An important interruption that encourages us to take a breath and ask ourselves:

  • Is the information we are consuming authentic, well-informed, or is it just propaganda; distortion (noise)?

Further questions might be:

  • Are we consuming information without really processing and retaining what it is being said?
  • Who is saying this, and why are they saying it?
  • Is the source trustworthy?
  • Will my time be well spent reading this or not?

There is a further word worthy of consideration here. Augustine, in his day, had this to say about grace and human nature:

…’many sins are committed through pride; but not all happen proudly. They happen so often by ignorance, by human weakness, and many are committed by people, weeping and groaning in their distress[iii]

Perhaps there is a timeless clarity by which these words help us to reflect on the interpersonal conduct, and content of the information exchanged on most prominent social media sites today?

Diary of Leo Tolstoy

Diary of Leo Tolstoy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Even with all its pitfalls, the strength of social media is in its ability to connect people and strengthen relationships. I remain a cautious participant of social media, aware of its limited ability to ‘properly allow a healthy and fair exchange of ideas’ (Elshtain, 2007). Therefore, I find here in Augustine and Tolstoy’s words, a reminder about the limits and the responsibility which coincides with the right to use such mediums. Augustine’s insight here could be bridged to Tolstoy’s reflection, and therefore buttress our proposition. Their words present us with a useful framework for a theological critique of social media.

Finally, if we look at Proverbs 4:20-5:6, we can see a parallel logic that could exonerate this train of thought.

Be attentive to God’s word

Keeping them close.

Guard your heart with vigilance,

Avoiding spin and smear.

(“Refusing to be conned by the rhetoric of either the new right or the new left’’)[iv]

Looking forward, ponder the path of our feet.

Be attentive to wisdom.

Use words that guard knowledge,

And ponder the path of life.


Related articles

Tolstoy’s Faith – GVL

The Who, What And When Of Social Media – RVD, The Christian Pundit

Sources:


[i] Tolstoy, L. 1879 A Confession (Kindle for PC ed. Loc. 92-100).
[ii] Ergas, H. 2013 Wrong for Abbott to follow Obama and add lying to spying, The Australian, Sourced 25th November 2013
[iii] Augustine, ON NATURE AND GRACE (With Active Table of Contents) Kindle Ed. Loc. 704-706
[iv] Wright, N.T. 2013 Creation, Power and Truth: The gospel in a world of cultural confusion, SPCK & Proverbs 4:27
[v] McKay, M., Martha, D. & Fanning, P. 2009 Messages: The communications skill book p.59, New Harbinger publications

©RL2013

johnabigailPart of the beauty of the ‘Letters of John and Abigail Adams’ is that every sentence suggests careful consideration.

There are sentences for example, where John cautions Abigail against openly sharing his letters for fear of sensitive information falling into the wrong hands. They reveal a husband and wife, both loving parents who are also very much the exemplary, one for the other, each for God.

‘Their mutual respect and adoration served as evidence that even in an age when women were unable to vote, there were nonetheless marriages in which wives and husbands were true intellectual and emotional equals.’ (History.com)

I picked this book up out of curiosity about its historical and theological significance. As I continue to casually read through them, I am more and more convinced about the gravity of their contents, context and the important message they carry to the world, not just Americans.

Part of a letter written to John in May, 1775, from Abigail, further clarifies my point :

‘The Lord will not cast off his people; neither will He forsake his inheritance. Great events are most certainly in the womb of futurity; and, if the present chastisements which we experience have a proper influence upon our conduct, the event will certainly be in our favour’[i].

The Adams family epistles have contemporary relevance. The most pertinent of which is that they challenge Christians to steer clear of anti-intellectualism. They encourage Christians to engage; to understand current events in light of the biblical texts, and move away from disengaging in informed debate, dismissing it as uninteresting, convoluted and/or unnecessary.

Here are a people on the cusp of necessary conflict; a people not yet prepared for what they hope to avoid; a people who understand the danger of the mob; a people who acknowledge that they bear the burden of responsibilityand are God’s participants in necessary decisions that will require courage, faith, hope, prudence, calm justice and fierce mercy.

The same people who, under God, will stare down the supposed divine right of a king, and challenge his exercise of freedom without restraint.

The same people who will instead assert that under God all are created equal, and that authentic freedom can only come with the caveat of authentic responsibility.

One example is that both John and Abigail looked unfavourably on slavery, made clear by Abigail’s rebuke: ‘I wish most sincerely there was not a slave in the province. It always appeared a most iniquitous scheme to me— to fight ourselves for what we are daily robbing and plundering from those who have as good a right to freedom as we have. You know my mind upon this subject.[ii]

Both husband and wife lived out their faith – not in a cloister, reserved pew or in pious appearances.

A constant in the letters are references to biblical texts. Used comfortably, they form an important part of the extraordinary exchange. It might not be so wrong to suggest that these letters read like small sermons, shared between a loving, overburdened husband, and his equally loving and overburdened bride.

Unfortunately, the letters are not without theological issues.

Gaps exist. Such as Abigail’s allusion to a form, of what Shirley Guthrie called, the ‘common heresy’ of Pelagianism (Christian Doctrine, 1994:127) – an ancient misinterpretation of God’s salvation, grace and the role of the responsive sinner.

‘God helps them that help themselves, as King Richard says; and if we can obtain the Divine aid by our own virtue, fortitude, and perseverance, we may be sure of relief.[iii]

In addition, I’m uncertain as to whether or not the countless references to ‘Providence’ are in fact veiled 18th Century Congregationalist references to the Holy Spirit. The context implies they are.

‘I pray for you all, and hope to be prayed for. Certainly there is a Providence; certainly we must depend upon Providence, or we fail; certainly the sincere prayers of good men avail much. But resignation is our duty in all events.[iv]

Nevertheless, reformed theology appears to dominate the politics, parenting philosophy, orthodoxy and sociology. Prayer and references to God’s care, wisdom, provision and guidance are ever-present.

This is not something that is the result of a cultural Christian appendage. To begin with Abigail Adams is openly critical of appearance only faith.

‘General John Burgoyne practices deceit on God himself, by assuming the appearance of great attention to religious worship, when every action of his life is totally abhorrent to all ideas of true religion, virtue, or common honesty.[v]

John affirms this in a similar way stating that:

 ‘The man who violates [destroys] private faith, cancels solemn obligations, whom neither honor nor conscience holds, shall never be knowingly trusted by me. Had I known, when I first voted for a Director of a Hospital, what I heard afterwards, when I was down, I would not have voted as I did. Open, barefaced immorality ought not to be so countenanced.[vi]

The Adams family epistles are unique in that they present an organic living relationship between husband and wife, grounded in God’s freedom. What has caught me by surprise is that God is not reduced to second place. Alongside great concerns, God is still in the forefront of their thoughts, and as a result a good deal of theology permeates the wisdom that informs their actions, wit and dialogue .

One thing grasps me as I read through these letters. That is the relevance they hand out to a contemporary audience still concerned with the matters of God, love, liberty and the caveat of responsibility.

Braintree, 19 August, 1774:

Did ever any kingdom or state regain its liberty, when once it was invaded, without bloodshed? I cannot think of it without horror.
Yet we are told that all the misfortunes of Sparta were occasioned by their too great solicitude for present tranquillity, and, from an excessive love of peace, they neglected the means of making it sure and lasting.[vii]
– Abigail Adams.

History forgotten is history repeated.


References: (Not otherwise linked)

[i] Adams, J & Adams, A. 2012. The Letters of John and Abigail Adams (Kindle Ed). Start Publishing LLC, 7th May , 1775

[ii] Ibid, 24th September , 1774

[iii] Ibid, 16th September , 1775 & John Adam’s agrees with this. See letter 62. 1st October, 1775

[iv] Ibid, John Adams, 8th May , 1775

[v] Ibid, Letter 55. 25th July, 1775

[vi] Ibid, Letter 72. 23rd October, 1775

[vii] Ibid, Letter 13. 19th August, 1774

Image: Abigail and John Adams (Source)

Homeschool Dad 1A homeschooling dad finds himself on a journey of challenges and contradictions.

His first thought is to mingle, learn and explore the various ways one does this delicate, surreal task.

Overwhelmed with information, he emerges from a blitz on ebooks and Pinterest perfect ideas into a continuous fog of do-it-yourself blogs.

He finds himself confronted. Not by this, the curriculum, organisational needs, kids, latency, scheduling, or the plethora of home education options, but rather by the simple fact that he is a dad in a world of mums.

His second thought is to run. Run far, run fast and hope no one noticed the awkwardness of his presence.

Awkward, fumbling and trying to avoid the “creepy” tag his blubbering momentum might reflect, our homeschooling dad defiantly storms ‘once more unto the breach.’ {Such is the enormity of the task – it requires citing a Shakespearian King} [i]

This is the road he must take; a road lined on one side by homeschooling professionals. The other, picketed by suspicion, criticism and at times disapproving silence.

Fighting off the temptation to label this an emasculation of his manhood, he is wise enough not to be drawn into the broad and bloodless conflict; the scramble for ground in the battle between traditional gender roles, and those fixated on gender politics, who parade an aggressive overemphasis on egalitarianism.

Recalling the burden of responsibility in the embrace of the extraordinary, he reaches a resolve and chooses to press on.

It is at this particular junction that the homeschooling dad finds a pioneering collaborator in the words of L’Arche co-founder, Jean Vanier:

‘Constancy of place seems to me imperative if we are to be Christians who don’t abandon one another in the name of greater goods’ [ii]

That is the reason for this season.

As far as ministry goes homeschooling wasn’t my first choice. That said it’s also not the only choice available. By doing this I get to empower and encourage my wife. As she sets out to achieve her own educational goals. The added bonus is that after 17 years of my own hard work and study, I get to participate and be present for the journey my kids take in their own education.

I call that a win, win.


Sources:

[i] Shakespeare, Henry V Act III.I

[ii] Hauerwas, S. & Vanier, J. 2008, ‘Living gently in a violent world: The Prophetic Witness of Weakness’ Intervarsity Press, p.47

(Originally posted 14th November, 2014)

.

The appearances of tended wounds and mended hearts,
offer little room for understanding how tender they still are.

The former dances with the latter.
Perception is distorted by this intoxicated waltz.

Complimented by self-medication
and a patient’s self-prescribed dose.
Complicated by
Its dark promise, its false solace, its temporary pulse.

But by all means salute;
stand in wonder.

Give up your “like”, your “share”, your applause
Gather the wounds, see the marks.

Be sucked in to the pit;
watch the walls fall apart,
as the veil lifts and reveals the devil behind the self-righteous mask.

Time gasps in horror.
Suspense grips the scene from right to left.
From clock to clock,
beat to beat.
From silence to infuriating,

Tick.

Tock.

Don’t be fooled.
Leap beyond the crevices created by human haste;
Cut through the noise of a fool’s embrace

For encased within both God’s command and claim,
is seared into human history and human hearts,
through living Word, and touchable scars.

The witness, not written by any movement of stars,
His “remember me!, whispered,
carried, through epochs and delivered thus far.

God breathed humanity into His name
And from the breath of angels,
their baritone awe is the same,

of wonder,
at grace,
of hooded silhouettes
and impossible handshakes.


(©RL2017)

‘Nothing is worse in times of danger than to live in a dream world. To warn a [democratic] political system of the menace hanging over it does not imply an attack against it, but is the greatest service one can render that system.’

(Jaques Ellul, Propaganda, xvi:1965)

In March I announced my idea (Author’s Note: As Things Stand) for a side project for the year. The plan was to piece together a book of poetry/prose inspired by theology. Most of which is available under the poetry tag in the menu at the top of this blog.

I’ll be working on indexing that poetry as time permits, in order to make accessing them easier. I plan to do this with my other articles as well. I’ve been piecing this blog together for just over four years now and I’m thankful that it’s been more than just a benefit to me. I don’t claim to know everything, but I aim to know what I can, and then share from that base. This approach is what I hope the build my two hundred page book of poem, prose and hand drawn surrealist art from. For now, the plan is to publish an e-format book and see how it goes from there.

Rather than pen out a large volume of work on theology right from the start, I figured a book of theo-poetry/prose was a good place to start.

The tentative title is: Inhaled Grace Ignites and the only real artwork of my own I’ve come close to being excited about, for the cover, is this one:

 

Karl Barth and Roger Scruton make unlikely conversation partners. Barth, was a Reformed Swiss theologian, who held up the distinction between theology and philosophy, and Scruton, is a British philosopher, who talks theology, but knows his limits on the subject.

The meeting between the two takes place in Barth’s On Religion and Scruton’s, The West and All the Rest. Together they provide a telescopic view of modern religio-politics and the socio-political landscape of the West.

One big theme for Scruton is the relationship between the ‘social contract’ and Creed communities[i] (or communities bound by religious law). One clear example of a Creedal Community is a community living under Shari’a law.

Shari’a is held up by the Muslim community as unchangeable divine law. ‘The gate of itijiahd is closed’, meaning that the divine law, the Shari’a, can no longer be adjusted or added to, but merely studied for meaning that it already contains.’ [ii]

Within Islam, salvation comes through the law. Routine obedience to both ritual and law ‘makes and unmakes a Muslim’s relationship with God.’ [iii] Islamic ‘communities are not formed by doctrine, but by obedience, established through ritual and law’. [iv] There is no objective political body such as is created, in the West, by the separation of the Church and State.

‘Like the Communist Party in its Leninist construction, Islam aims to control the state without being a subject of the state […] Islamic jurisprudence does not recognise secular, still less territorial, jurisdiction as a genuine source of law. [v]

Scruton asserts that Western foundations were laid by Judeo-Christian doctrine and Roman law, where ‘law is defined over territory [territorial jurisdiction]’. Jesus’, “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, to God what is God’s” (Mt.22:21). From the two, emerged the so-called “social contract”. This consists of the rights and responsibilities of free citizens, lived out, and governed within the boundaries of classical enlightenment liberalism and its ‘’culture of toleration’’.

Scruton explains that even though in the Western sphere, ‘religion is the concern of family and society, but not of the State’ [vi], the “social contract” has an undeniable foundation in the Judeo-Christian experience, which advocates love for God and love for neighbour, whether that neighbour be a Jew, Christian, Muslim or neither. Neighbour serves neighbour, just as that neighbour would serve himself (Leviticus 19:9-18, Deuteronomy 6 & Matthew 22:39, Mark 12:31).

This implies personal responsibility, which functions under the covering of this basic agreement. An agreement that works for social and political cohesion; a ‘common loyalty to a single [secular] political culture’ [vii], within in a diverse, vibrant and free society.

Rather than within a coercive society or politik grounded in allegiance to one overarching ruler, party or carefully structured narrative.

In other words, the “social contract” exists within a house where freedom is governed responsibly; it cannot exist in a house of slavery, where freedom is squashed by opposing extremes such as Islamism,  Nihilism, subjective relativism,  or communist/Marxist doctrine.

Barth’s major theme meets Scruton’s precisely where Barth asserts that religion, when it’s abstracted from God’s revelation in Jesus Christ, becomes idolatrous and toxic.*  E.g.: Works righteousness; where the focus is not on what God has done, but on what man and woman do, and how they can reach God, without God.

Scruton and Barth, present a tangible argument for the importance of recognising the dangers of severing the “social contract” from the Judeo-Christian experience.To do so, is to lose its unique critique and affirmation.

Responsible freedom and civics (the “social contract”)  facilitate true freedom, because it understands that true freedom only exists when just limitations, are applied to protect freedom from the challenges which threaten its existence.

Such as post-enlightenment nihilism (manifested as militant secular humanism), cultural Marxism, Islamism and radical feminism, all of which, through revisionism and deconstruction theory, seek to sever society from tried and true, Judeo-Christian doctrine and experience, without regard for the anchoring of freedom that it provides.

For Barth, men and women act against God’s grace (His unmerited salvation). In man and woman’s quest to reach God, on human terms, his and her ‘erecting of towers of babel’, are faithless acts, built on flawed and faithless human arrangements.

These human arrangements are absent of any involvement or acknowledgement of or faith in the Divine. Barth points out that, as history proves, when one religion fades or is usurped, another inevitably takes its place.

Scruton appears to agree, stating that both Marxism and Feminism, share the ‘ambitions of a monotheistic faith [religion]’

‘It seeks to replace or rearrange the core experience of social membership and therefore has the ambitions of a monotheistic faith, [like Marxism] offering a feminist answer to every moral and social question…a feminist [and Marxist] [account of history], theory of the universe, and even a feminist goddess. It drives the heretics and half-believers from its ranks with a zeal that is the other side of the warmth with which it welcomes the submissive and orthodox.’  [viii]
‘…we should acknowledge that the worst forms of nationalism and socialism arise when their adherents look to them to provide the equivalent of a religious faith. –  an absolute submission that will sweep away all doubt, demand total sacrifice and offer redemption in exchange. This is what the latter-day Marxists are demanding.’ [xix]

This goal is also evidenced in the remarks of, György Lukács, one of the founders of “Western Marxism”, in Record of a Life:

“You cannot just sample Marxism […] you must be converted to it.” [x]

Scruton and Barth share a common protest. Connected to Barth’s discussion on religion without revelation, Scruton helps build a strong theological critique of Islamism, Marxism and Feminism. All exist as religions without the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.

Just as religion without the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, is bound for destruction, so is Western political philosophy that jettisons its Judeo-Christian foundations; foundations that hold up a moral and faith basis for Classical Liberal enlightenment principles, such as the largely successful independent working relationship between Church and State.

In Islam there is no equivalent to a separation between Church and State. Like Marxism, the State is the Church (or Mosque). All moral opposition is treated as treason. (Exemplified by ex-Muslim & secular humanist, Ayaan Hirsi Ali in her book, ‘Infidel’ and Alexander Solzhenitsyn, in his 1971, Harvard address).

As neighbour betrays neighbour, family member betrays family member, all politically incorrect discussion or dissent [talk not approved by the State] is reported to organisations like the Morality Police (Gasht-e Ershad) or the Soviet Cheka, The Soviet Union’s equivalent to the Gestapo[xi].

Scruton makes it clear that, what is at work behind the scenes, in the West, is not a denial of religion, but a quest to replace it. Barth makes it clear that any religion completely absent or synthetically veiled with lip service to God’s revelation in Jesus Christ, is one to be resisted.

Like Barth’s admonishment of natural theology during the rise of Hitlerism and the Third Reich. Like his warnings of how faithlessness leads humanity towards inhumanity. Like Barth’s meticulous warnings of any religion which exists without the sublimating [raising to a higher status] of religion through the revelation of Jesus Christ [God’s unmerited salvation – grace], Scruton points a telescope towards a storm that’s been darkening the horizon, but has been dangerously dismissed, by far too many for far too long.


References:

 

[i] This term is attributed to Oswald Spengler, The Decline of The West.

[ii] Scruton, R. 2002 The West & All The Rest: Globalization & The Terrorist Threat ISI Books

[iii] ibid, p.21

[iv] ibid, p.103

[v] ibid, pp.6 & 66

[vi] ibid, p.63

[vii] ibid, p.63

[viii] ibid, p.72

[xix] Scuton, R. 2014 How to Be a Conservative: The Truth in Socialism, Bloomsbury Publishing (p.64)

[x] Scruton, R. 2015. Fools, Frauds and Firebrands, New Thinkers of The Left. Bloomsbury Publishing

[xi] Another example comes from Alain Besancon, who wrote: ‘Muslim states, according to strict adherence to law, cannot authorize the reciprocal tolerance asked of them by Christian states. In calling for this, Christians show their ignorance of Islam.’ (Forward to Jacques Ellul’s, Islam and Judeo-Christianity).

*(Such as: any religion [claim to the way of salvation] that holds a veneer of revelation, but ultimately rejects both covenant and Jesus Christ as the promise and fulfillment of God’s revelation; God’s free choosing and acting in and through the covenant of grace.)