Archives For May 2018

The film, ‘Reign Over Me’ (2007), written and directed by Mike Binder, is, without a doubt Adam Sandler’s best movie to date. I’ve seen most of his films, the most recent being ‘Sandy Wexler’ (2017) and ‘The Week Of…‘ (2018). By comparison the only other films that might come close are, ‘The Wedding Singer‘ (1998), his remake of ‘Mr. Deeds‘ (2002), ‘Bedtime Stories‘ (2008) and ‘Pixels‘ (2015); but even those don’t achieve what ‘Reign Over Me’ does, or go where it goes.

Sandler’s character, Charlie Fineman, is a widower who looks a lot like Bob Dylan in his early days. Fineman is a dentist by trade, and an apartment dwelling hermit, living in isolation within New York City, who suffers from post-traumatic stress and depression. Sandler’s signature, unpredictable outbursts, are reminiscent of  ‘Happy Gilmore‘ and ‘Anger Management’, though this behavioural similarity exists, it fits perfectly with the circumstances, making Sandler’s portrayal of the grief-stricken Fineman, not only believable, but in my opinion, Oscar worthy.

At the centre of the story-line line are events that took place during September 11, 2001.The film approaches this subject with sensitivity. Avoiding the politics the screenwriters look past conspiracy theories, however, what is glaringly absent is any discussion about Islamism or Islamic terrorism. In a lot of ways this is assumed.

On balance, the film does dedicate a scene to some news articles, albeit ones that are discussing America’s response. I have no real issue with this, for the following reason: The screenwriters are respecting their audience by not spelling out the obvious. I have huge respect for directors and writers who do this. Within the context of ‘Reign Over Me‘, the strategy is understandable. It keeps the focus of the audience on Charlie Fineman’s journey.

In addition to Sandler’s brilliant portrayal of a forgotten victim of September 11, both Don Cheadle (of Hotel Rwanda fame) and Liv Tyler, add their own style and bring to the film a warmth, juxtaposed with contrasts. Cheadle is Sandler’s college room-mate; also a dentist and extremely successful in his own right. Cheadle’s character (Alan Johnson) is aware of Fineman’s tragic past, but had lost contact with him over the years. Johnson has his own issues, which all start to come to bare, after randomly crossing paths with Fineman in the street. Johnson seeks to reconnect with Fineman.

Not completely aware of Fineman’s suffering, Johnson quickly recognises the pain his friend is suffering with. He begins to try to help Fineman. This creates tension between Johnson and his wife, and a series of misunderstandings with an ever suspicious Fineman.

Fineman wants no help, only later choosing to see Johnson’s long-term friend and pyschologist, Angela Oakhurst (played by Liv Tyler). Oakhurst works to bring Fineman to a place where he can address the past and his own brokenness, in his own time. Cheadle’s performance keeps the film moving along, perfectly complementing Sandler’s. Liv Tyler compliments Cheadle. The perfect casting circle is made complete when Donald Sutherland turns up in the role of Judge Rains.

The film comes to a close with Fineman’s in-laws trying to speak with him. Fineman breaks downs, becomes violent, and as a result is held in custody for psychological evaluation. As Rains becomes aware of Fineman’s emotional and psychological state, he sees straight through the opportunistic lawyer representing Fineman’s in-laws. With Solomon-esk wisdom Rains outmanoeuvres the lawyer, making it clear that what he has in Fineman is a forgotten victim of September 11, 2001, who deserves a chance to be heard, helped and respected.

Reign Over Me‘, does have some unnecessary language and some interesting sub plots. Those side plots wind up coming together in the end. Though they seem to detract from the film at first, as the story progress, the genius of their inclusion in the film  becomes clear. The sub plots are used to fortify the audiences cheering in the end, through their desire to see Fineman heal and overcome the obstacles forced upon him.

The film isn’t complete without the impressive soundtrack, of which the stand out song is Eddie Vedder’s cover of The Who’s, ‘Love, Reign O’er Me‘ and The Fray’s, ‘How to Save a Life’.  The live and studio versions included; Vedder’s performance, as far as I have heard, is his best vocal work in a song.

As far as art and theology goes, ‘Reign Over Me’ is rich in metaphor. What I see in ‘Reign Over Me‘ is God’s redemptive love – displayed in the film by Cheadle, Tyler and Sutherland’s characters. They fight for Fineman, yet still place an emphasis on him taking responsibility for his own actions. Fineman was empowered, but he still had to decide to respond to the love and help (salvation – grace) he was given.

Since the theme of God’s redemptive love is part of a lot of current discussion, the metaphors are worth noting. The freedom we find in God’s redemptive love is not a “freedom” that is said to be found in human love. For Fineman, human love was not to be trusted. Such love is at best optimism, at worst morbid existential navel gazing and/or veiled self-centred ambition. God’s love draws us out of ourselves in the form of His gracious Word spoken to humanity, which is both invitation and command (Jesus Christ and Covenant). We are drawn out of ourselves to be free for God and our neighbour. Such freedom comes with limitations.

I seem to be on a roll with recommending and reviewing art that, to me, is written, for the broken, from the broken, to the broken. ‘Reign Over Me‘, in my opinion, fits this category like no other film I’ve seen.  It hits at our grief, the lies we tell ourselves and the traps we fall into because we fall under the radar of complacent and dismissive family members, who, in overlooking the complexities of our brokenness, can seem to demand more than we are ready to give; simply because we don’t know how, or don’t yet have the strength to give it. ‘Reign Over Me‘ is an honest prayer-filled, heart-wrenching scream that meets with what Lacey Strum wrote, when summing up her reasons for screaming in songs:

‘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.’ – (Lacey Sturm, 2014 The Reason, pp.77-82)

Let there be light. Inhaled grace ignites.

 


Disclaimer:

I did not receive any remuneration for this review, in any form.

In the recent Royal Wedding, the sermon Bishop Michael Curry preached, walked a fine line. Although his message was hampered by it, the message he delivered wasn’t riddled with the social gospel, nor did it replace Jesus as the Gospel.[i]

While I make note of the fact that Michael Curry has no problem with Same-Sex marriage, and I stand in difference of opinion with him on this matter, I take no issue with him here because of it. What I will aim to take issue with is the ideological reasoning that hampers the interpretation of what was espoused by Curry in his sermon.

Other than witnessing his obvious joy in being there, the highlight for me was his emphasis on God’s redemptive love – which is the essential framework of the Gospel. Curry preached that God’s redemptive love is what saves and transforms. Curry was right to centre his message on this.

Curry could have, however, made a clearer distinction between God’s love and human love, thereby avoiding any blurring of the qualitative distinction between God and humanity.

Hence there are caveats to how we should receive, and why we should test the message Michael Curry delivered.

The first caveat is to keep in mind that God’s love cannot be confused with human definitions of love. God communicates to us about love. It is received and up to us to respond to that Word spoken in both God’s command and deed. Second, love cannot define itself whether from the ground up or horizontally between two people, and, third, we must not deify our neighbour by confusing our love for God, with our love for others. A relationship exists between the two, but ‘they are not identical’ (Karl Barth)[ii].

The side point to this is that we must and should maintain a distance between human triumphalism (a display of self-centred – self-sustaining human pride), and God’s free and decisive triumph on our behalf (display of His love which included His humiliation), in Jesus Christ[iii].

In Jesus Christ, God made a way for man and woman, together[iv], to be with Him[v]. This is God’s redemptive love; that He should become one of us to do for us, what we were unable to do for ourselves. Usurping this only entertains the great primal evil that set primitive humanity on its path to total self-annihilation in the first place. As Curry pointed out, God paid the price for our sins.

Tyranny enters the door where man and woman look to themselves, or nature for a redeeming love – a revelation of love – outside God’s redeeming love – His loving act on behalf of creation, as activated and active, in both Covenant and His revelation in Jesus Christ. Love cannot transform anything without the Holiness of God’s grace.

Looking for redeeming love outside God was the great crime of the majority of Christians in Germany, who, in the 1930s, led astray by natural theology, looked to Hitler as a second revelation of God. An heretical toxicity epitomised in the 1935 film ,’Triumph of the Will’ by Nazi sympathizer, Leni Riefenstahl.

The triumph of God is counter to any and all human triumphalism, because the latter seeks to place man on God’s throne and take His power for ourselves. This is a futile attempt to take the Kingdom and boot God out of it. While we can reject God, we cannot reverse what God has already done – atonement for sin; reconciliation with God, salvation. Nor can we reject God without facing the consequences of rejecting His grace towards us. God triumphant means that human triumph exists only in and through God’s triumph[vi].The Moon cannot produce life, the way that the Sun can.

Double-standards and hypocrisy are inconsistent with love. True love walks hand-in-hand with self-limitation; grace with self-denial. Ergo, pride is the enemy of grace.

Take, for example, the many who in 2016 were quick to make a sordid equivalence between American Evangelical support for Donald Trump, and the support of German Christians for Hitler. They failed to show patience (love) and grace, and in turn failed (and still fail) to see the “German Christian” equivalence of their own support for altars draped in rainbow flags; the misuse of Scripture employed to fortify an ideology, the imposition of new cultural laws, the banning of books with the same fierce fanaticism as when ‘student groups at universities across Germany carried out a series of book burnings of works that the students and leading Nazi party members associated with an “un-German spirit.”[vii]; both professional and public punishment for anyone who doesn’t fall in agreement with the party-line.

If we’re to follow the example of Martin Luther King Jnr, as quoted by Michael Curry, those who unreasonably hate on Donald Trump,  should be asking themselves, do these words apply to my treatment of the President of the United States? Yet, how many instead thought to themselves “gee, all these rich people – especially Trump, SOOOO need to hear this!! #resist“? Even if Trump has, how many asking this latter question have failed to practice love for God and love for neighbour?

It’s only through God’s love that we come to see ourselves as equals; equally a sinner in the hands of a loving God, who seeks not the death of the sinner, but his and her correction, through both His firm “yes” and gracious “no” to them.

These caveats apply to both those who are criticising and praising Michael Curry. Removing love from the context of God’s redemptive love removes the context of love from its rightful place. To leave out God; thus ejecting the theology of his talk about love, rips the heart out of the message. Akin to the same poor decision of screenwriters, who decided that their silver-screen adaptation of P.D James’, ‘Children of Men, didn’t need the theological backbone, which held her brilliant dystopian novel together. What is left is an empty shell, with the same lame laughable substance as is found in ‘Idiocracy’.

In sum, God is at the centre of love because God is love.  Curry could have been more careful with his words, so as to avoid God’s redemptive love being misinterpreted as man’s redemptive love; so as to avoid sound bites being used to fortify an ideology that theology doesn’t fortify, but in fact confronts.

That, God is at the centre of salvation, means that God is the centre of redemptive love. Love alone doesn’t save us, the Creator acting in love towards his creature does. Man is ultimately not capable of redemption by his own means – love therefore does not save us unless it is anchored in God’s love (loving act) for us; we can’t save ourselves. Just as much as we cannot undo what God has done for us, even though his decisive act (for us) can be and is rejected by man and woman.

If I were to give an imediate response to Michael Curry’s choice of sermon, preached at the wedding of Prince Harry and Megan Markle, I would be tempted to view it as heretical. Cultural Marxist LGBT activism preached from the pulpit and not the Gospel. I won’t say that because what Curry preached wasn’t a ”love is love” sermon.

I liked Michael Curry’s sermon because of the emphasis on God’s redemptive love. Curry did what he does, and preached from the ideological stronghold that frames his theology, no one should be surprised by it. To his credit, Curry didn’t abuse his platform, when so many others who are chained by the prevailing ideology might have. The sermon certainly had all the buzzwords that the Left love to talk about[vii]. Ideas that they cannot properly define or impose, without either devouring each other, or inhumanely and unjustly breaking with God’s redemptive love, in order to achieve their own version of it.  Thus, Michael Curry’s sermon comes with necessary caveats.

In the end this event wasn’t about Michael Curry, or his sermon. It was about the joining together of the (now) Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Harry and Meghan Windsor. It was a celebration of freedom in fellowship between man and woman; where man and woman become husband and wife. In an age where that is being regularly attacked, we shouldn’t lose sight of the forest for the trees.

Congratulations to the Royal newly weds.

Addendum:

I left out addressing Michael Curry’s “we need to discover love, like we did fire”, because it’s an whole other post: a) that’s nuts – Love already exists b) if anything Love needs to be rediscovered, and reasserted, not redefined c) the hidden presupposition behind his fire rant, is that “LGBT love” is the only real love that exists – e.g.: the false notion that prior to SSM, love didn’t really exist (which is complete nonsense) d) this is snare because love is love is essentially a lie.


References, not otherwise linked:

[i]  I’ve written about the problem with the asinine “love is love” slogan, here; and I’ve painstakingly pointed out the tyranny of ideology once it muzzles theological critique, here. So I see no need to restate myself outside reaffirming my commitment to what I’d publicly addressed on the subject since 2014.

[ii] Barth, K. 1960 Jesus, Man for Other Men, C.D. 3:2 p.216 (see also C.D. 1:2 pp, 388-454)

[iii] Barth: ‘Where humanity stands only to gain, God stands only to lose. And because the eternal divine decision (predestination) is identified with the election of Jesus Christ, its twofold content is that God wills to lose in order that man and woman may gain. There is a sure and certain salvation for humanity, and a sure and certain risk for God.’ (The election of Jesus Christ, ,CD II/II:162)

[iv] Barth: ‘In introducing the creation of woman, [God] did not put woman on the same level as the animals. He ascribed to her in advance the highest humanity…from the very outset solitary man is denied every other possibility of an appropriate helpmeet (partner). With the creation of woman, God expected man to confirm and maintain his true humanity by the exclusion of every other possibility. [True humanity is lived out, man for woman, woman for man]’  (Karl Barth, Creation & Covenant C.D 3:1:294)

[v] Barth: ‘With the creation of woman God expected man to confirm and maintain his true humanity by the exclusion of every other possibility [of a partner].’ (CD. 3:1 p.294)

[vi] John Calvin: ‘Any man or woman [in the Church or any who claim to be in/of the Church] who enthusiastically praises themselves is a fool and an idiot. The true foundation of Christian modesty is not to be self-complacent. [As Cyprian said, we have because God gives. We must not glory in anything, because God is the source of everything.]’ (On 1 Corinthians 4. The words in parenthesis are my paraphrased version).

[vii] 1933 Book Burnings, United States Holocaust Museum sourced, May 21, 2018 from https://www.ushmm.org/collections/bibliography/1933-book-burnings

[viii] liberation, “love” and power.

Photo credit: Andrew Seaman on Unsplash

No doubt you’ve seen this ”share ten albums that had a big impact on you” going around social media. I received a nomination on Facebook from an old friend. Rather than spam my social media walls, I decided to post, and share the list here. This list isn’t definitive, but if I was to give a quick answer as to what were my top ten albums, these would feature heavy in that kind of a discussion.

So, here goes:

“Ten of my all time favourite albums. What really made an impact, and is still on my rotation list, even if only now and then. Post the cover, no need to explain, and nominate a person each day to do the same.” I nominate, guitarist, and talented illustrator extraordinaire, Mr. Frank Grau.

1. Guardian – ‘Miracle Mile’, 1993

2. Guns N’ Roses – ‘Use Your Illusion I & II‘, 1991

3. Metallica – ‘Metallica (Black Album)‘, 1991

4. John Denver – ‘An Evening With John Denver (Live), 1975

5. Aerosmith – ‘Get A Grip‘, 1993

6. Led Zepplin – ‘Led Zepplin IV‘, 1971

7. DC Talk, ‘Jesus Freak‘, 1995

8. Barry McGuire, ‘Lighten’ Up‘, 1975

9. Simon & Garfunkel – ‘The Definitive Simon & Garfunkel‘, 1992

10. Third Day – ‘Conspiracy No.5‘, 1997.

*Close winners for tenth place:

* Jon Bon Jovi – ‘Blaze of Glory (Young Guns II)‘, 1990

** Top Gun  – ‘Soundtrack‘, 1985 

*** Steve Joblansky – ‘Transformers’: The Score, 2007

**** Need to Breath – ‘Hard Love‘, 2016

***** Forrest Gump – ‘Forrest Gump Soundtrack’, (especially “Forrest Gump Suite” composed and conducted by Alan Silvestri)

Special mentions:

P.O.D – ‘Satellite‘, 2001

Paul Wilbur – ‘Jerusalem Arise!‘, 1999

Chuck Berry – ‘The Blues Collection’, 1993.


Thanks for the nomination.

It was fun thinking it through.

Encore edition. Originally posted April 30th, 2014

From Timothy Keller:

‘Idolatry distorts our feelings. Just as idols are good things turned into ultimate things, so the desires they generate become paralysing and overwhelming’[i].

Easter break is over and term 2 of home-schooling is well into its first week.

I graduate in May and along with taking on the majority of the home-schooling, my goal this year has been to carefully read Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics.

The aim of this was to stretch my undergraduate introduction to Karl Barth, with the hope of doing some post-grad study looking into political theology and the indispensable role of Christian theology in its critique of ideology.http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/

So far I’ve read two, plus ‘Evangelical Theology’, a good portion of his commentary on ‘Romans’, some sermons and a range of material I needed to read in order to complete my degree.

I’m coming close to finishing the mammoth 884 pages of Barth’s Vol.1.2 of his Church Dogmatics. By far his biggest in the series, so I am thankful to be near its end and for having some time out recently to help me make progress towards finishing it.

There are many things to note in this volume.

Particularly Barth’s discussion about ‘The life of the children of God’, which involves a discourse on the command to love God and the command to love our neighbour (pp.388-454).

He points out that ‘scriptures such as John 4:24 & 1 John 4:8-16do not teach the god of love, but the love of God. The fact that God is love means not only that we ought to love but can and must love[ii]

Barth is quick to distinguish between love to God, love for neighbour and God’s love for us. For example: Love for neighbour can only be understood in light of our praise to God[iii].

‘The commandment of love to the neighbour is enclosed by that of love to God. It is contained in it. To that extent it is inferior to it.’[iv]

Barth’s distinction between loving God and loving our neighbour, asserts that, in loving our neighbour we must be careful not to deify our neighbour. I.e.: confuse the command to love our neighbour with our love for God and therefore fall into the mistake of making our neighbour god[v].

At this point in the reading, I began to wonder how idolatry (εἴδωλον/Eidalon: phantoms of the mind), false doctrine, and even poor exegesis are easily linked to “people pleasing”.

If, hypothetically speaking, I read the text of the Bible in the shadow of the arbitrary and hostile opinions of someone like Richard Dawkins, I am tempted to read the text with a blindfold rather than without one. Because I become a slave to his hostile opinion of it and an accessory to his false claim of lordship over it. However, if I let the text ‘speak as it is’[vi], I am more than likely going to be confronted by the text, and in Barth’s words, ‘have the text read me.’

This is because people-pleasing or any demand that others, or even God please me, stands to be challenged by the love and Lordship of God. Who in the Bible summons our response to His offer of relationship. Given freely in Jesus Christ, who is actual, present and active in the work of the Holy Spirit.

Truly loving people, will mean we place God first in any act of responsible love towards them. In other words in showing Christian love towards others, we are called to love God in a love towards them, that is empowered by the fact that He first loved us.

Barth writes:

‘We should love our neighbour only as the people we are; “as ourselves”. We cannot meet our neighbour in a self-invented mask of love. We can only venture, as the man or woman we are, to do what we are commanded in word, deed and attitude, relying entirely on the fact that the one who commands that we – we are without love-should love, will to it that what we do will be real loving’
To love God means to become what we already are, those who are loved by Him. To love means to choose God as the Lord, the One who is our Lord because He is our advocate and representative’[vii]

This echoes what Paul means when he wrote to the Ephesian church:

‘Obey…not by the way of eye service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man…’ (6:5-7)

If people pleasing is a form of idolatry then to practice it is to

‘be a slave…it is motivated by something you feel you must have (or do?) to be happy, something that is more important to your heart than God himself…It is not just a failure to obey God, it is a setting of the whole heart on something other than God’[viii] (Timothy Keller, italics mine)

References:

[i] Keller, T. 2009 Counterfeit Gods: when the empty promises of love, money and power let you down, Hodder and Stoughton p.148

[ii] Barth, K. 1938 Church Dogmatics Hendrickson Publishers p.374

[iii] Ibid, p.406 ‘it is the praise of God which breaks out in love to the neighbour’

[iv] Ibid, p.411

[v] Ibid, p.405

[vi] Ibid, p.533 ‘let the texts speak to us as it stands’

[vii] Ibid, pp.389, 452 & 453

[viii] Keller, T. 2009 Counterfeit Gods: when the empty promises of love, money and power let you down, Hodder and Stoughton pp.24,166, 171

{Image sourced from:http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/}

See also, ‘Jesus is man for His fellows [neighbour/others], and therefore the image of God, in a way others cannot even approach, just as they cannot be for God in the [same] sense that He is [for God]…We are the victims of idealistic illusions if we deck out the humanity of man generally with features exclusive to that of the man Jesus. Man generally may mean and give a great deal to His fellows [neighbour/others], but he cannot be their Deliverer or Saviour, not even in a single instance.’ (Karl Barth, ‘Christology is not Anthropology, CD. 3:2:222). [Added, 20th May, 2018]

John M. Perkins is an American civil rights campaigner. His 2017 book, ‘Dream with Me’, is a brave step forward in seeking to create better dialogue between both black and white communities. Overall, ‘Dream With Me’ is a call for both black and white Americans to unite, in their diversity, under God. This review will focus on two primary strengths of Perkins’ work.

The first strength is the presence of a Theology of Christian Liberation. Perkins refuses to take the easy path of perpetual anger, condescension and resentment – both traits found in Black liberation theology (which is largely tainted by Marxism). Instead, Perkins leans towards the rules of solidarity[i] and subsidiarity[ii]. In doing so, he proclaims a social doctrine, not the social gospel[iii].

The significance of this distinction is, in the former, Jesus Christ remains at the core of the gospel and isn’t replaced by attempts (found in the latter) to synchronise Karl Marx with Jesus Christ[iv]. In addition, a social doctrine allows the freedom to affirm and critique the issues impartially. The social doctrine, in this context, is greater than the social gospel, because the Gospel remains free of any ideological lens (particularly atheist and theistic Marxism).  The Gospel (read Jesus Christ) is allowed to speak for Himself without being muffled by Marx.

Unlike the social gospel, which tends to ‘stray from Scripture’ (D. Bonhoeffer[v]), Perkins’ social doctrine doesn’t respond to injustice through a lens of victimisation, double-standards, excessive-unbridled egalitarianism (dismissive tolerance and irrational equality), dependency on the state, or entitlement. He, instead, advocates for a ‘new alternative’[vi], building on what he calls the ‘three R’s’: ‘relocation, reconciliation and redistribution.’(p.88)  Here, Perkins upholds the uniqueness of Christian liberation, which holds to God’s liberation of humanity from slavery to sin[vii].

‘White people need to take responsibility for centuries of imperialism and failing to repent, but black people  also need to take some responsibility for the breakdown of our families (p.70) […] Things only get fixed – truly fixed – when they are mended by God through faith. Often we have it backwards trying to fix things for God rather than letting God fix things through us (p.81).

The secondary strength of ‘Dream With Me’ is that Perkins doesn’t sugar coat reality. He’s up front about racism, the impoverishment of some Americans (in general[viii]), and is outspoken in his call for the renewal of efforts that move America towards justice[ix]; towards lived reconciliation. Such a lived reconciliation will require jettisoning the shackles of identity politics.

For Perkins, progress towards this goal involves reclaiming the word reconciliation. Perkins believes that

‘‘Issues related to ethnicity and tribalism may divide us, but we are one race – the human race (p.54) […] we have taken God’s definition of reconciliation and made room for bigotry by inserting race into the concept. Racial reconciliation is not a biblical term. People use race as a slave master.’ (p.84)

What he calls for instead is a reconciliation firmly grounded in God’s reconciliation of the sinner to Himself.

‘I will call for – what I believe the gospel calls for – unity across ethnic and cultural barriers’ (ibid)

Perkins’ quest is to attain genuine equality (as opposed to any false utopian idea of supremacy[x] or the fool’s quest of seeking perpetual payback, in order to make things equal). He is adamant that Americans should build on the faith, approach and doctrine of the early civil rights campaigners. This road is difficult, but it should, and must be travelled.

Perkins offers no instant-fix formulas. What he does offer is a roadmap for how this can be achieved.  At the heart of ‘Dream With Me’ are ‘the three R’s: these are relocation where the old informs the new; reconciliation, free of victimization and identity politics; redistribution, not of wealth, but of opportunity’ (pp.74-89). What Perkins means by relocation is a readiness to be available; a readiness to be where, and to do, what God has called the individual to. Redistribution is about ‘stewardship[xi]’ (p.85) and reconciliation ‘is a way of life that displays God’s redemptive power’ (p.84).

Dream With Me’ is a careful discussion about the issues that face African-Americans. Perkins acknowledges (with great care) the historical wrongs suffered by African-Americans at hands of racial hatred. He acknowledges historical abuses by returning to his own experiences. Referring to his own suffering, Perkins sets the example:

‘On February 7, 1970, while I lay on the floor of the Simpson County Jail in Brandon, I made the decision to preach a gospel stronger than my racial identity and bigger than the segregation around me.’ (p.56)

Dream With Me’ brings the civil rights movement out of the museum, and it takes reconciliation out of the hands of race baiters, who seek to keep African-Americans down purely for political advantage.  ‘Dream With Me’ challenges the status quo of racial divisions by inviting change through humility and understanding.

Perkins doesn’t play the blame game. He seeks to end the cycle of abuse by encouraging others to not engage in reciprocating stale responses veiled by resentment and forced tolerance, all of which are underpinned by unrepentant hearts, pride and a fraudulent reconciliation, grounded in toxic identity politics.

In sum, ‘Dream With Me’ brings the practice of reconciliation to life. Perkins provides a viable way forward. This is a brave book written by an elder in the Civil Rights movement. Whether Americans can move beyond stale cultural slogans and tribal segregation; beyond blame and shame[xii], is an open question. It’s one that can only be answered when and where people are freed from the prison of ‘isms’ – racism, sexism, ageism, classism, and so many other divisive systems’ (p.50)

This book is for anyone who has been dealt blows by the hands of injustice, ostracism, abuse and uncalled for hostility. It’s for those who want to move beyond the logical fallacies which manipulatively assume that because someone has a certain type of skin colour, their melanin predetermines their heart, character and how they view the world around them; for those who want to keep Jesus Christ at the centre of justice, reconciliation and stewardship toward our neighbour.

Dream With Me’ is a call to prayer-filled action, which falls in line with Paul the apostle’s command and prayer for the Church in Corinth: ‘aim for restoration.’ (2 Cor. 13:9 & 11, ESV)


References:

[i] Defined as proactive empathy, as opposed to the spectator-sympathy.

[ii] Community and government groups play an auxiliary role in supporting initiatives; helping, not controlling or taking away individual responsibility; ergo offering a hand-up, not a hand out.

[iii] Teachers about Jesus’ teaching, not about Jesus Christ; turning Christianity into a list of ethical principles. In effect, Christless Christianity e.g.: “Who needs Christ? If I follow his example by being a good person, then I’ll be able to save myself, make God happy and get into heaven.”

[iv] See Jacques Ellul’s brilliant criticism in Jesus & Marx, 1988.

[v] ‘The contempt for theology is outrageous. Rauschenbusch’s own “theology for the social gospel” clearly shows, like its successors, that a lack of obedience to Scripture is characteristic for the teaching of the social gospel.’
(Bonhoeffer, DBW 12, Memorandum: The Social Gospel, p.242)

[vi] Perkins, J.M 2017 Dream With Me: Race, Love, and the Struggle We Must Win, Baker Publishing Group, (p.85)

[vii] Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, 1984, Instruction  on Certain aspects of the Theology of Liberation, (Source)

[viii] ‘To be honest, I had never given a second thought to poor whites. I still regarded them negatively – as redneck, trailer park white trash. The wealthy white people could help me, but what good were the poor whites to me? But then this poor white couple showed up at my doorstep. My automatic response was to treat them the way whites had treated poor blacks – to patronize them. But these people were teaching me, John Perkins, the guy who was supposed to be leading the church in reconciliation; a lesson in what it really means to be reconciled to one another.’ (pp.56-57)

[ix] ‘Justice is an act of reconciliation that restores any part of God’s creation its original intent, purpose, or image’ (p.207)

[x] ‘Wealthy whites also used the poor whites as tools of oppression — having blacks beneath [poor white folks] made those [folks] feel superior.’ (p.60)

[xi] ‘We’ve gotten away from the understanding that all of resources belong to God, and that we are stewards of whatever portion of those resources He has entrusted us with.’ (p.85)

[xii] ‘…we need to start getting beyond this stuff. Issues related to ethnicity and tribalism may divide us, but we have to start recognizing that we are one race – the human race’ (p.54)

Disclaimer: I did not receive any remuneration for this review, in any form.

Twenty years ago Michael W. Smith released (what I regard to be) his best album. Before the release of Live the Life, if I’d have been asked about MWS, I would have fired back with mockery. I didn’t give him the credit that he deserved.

I never liked ‘Friends[i]’, and outside the song ’Breakdown[ii]’ I couldn’t have told you (off by heart) a whole lot about any of his albums prior to 1995.For me, his music was dated, far too “early 90’s Christian”, and too in line with mainstream C.C.M (Christian Contemporary Music).

In 1998 this all changed. ‘Live the Life’ entered the MWS discography. While retaining Smith’s reliance on keyboards, keys don’t feature in every song. Each song on ‘Live the life’ is unique.

The set list is carefully ordered. The artwork design is free from cliché colours and formatting. It’s sober, fresh, somewhat steam-punk inspired and is absent of the 1980’s pop gloss.

As a work of art and theology, ‘Live the Life’, gave MWS a seat at the table of the mid to late ‘90s Jesus music revival. Easily putting him in the same line-up as (post-Jesus Freak) D.C Talk, Third Day, Newsboys, and Jars of Clay.

Dealing with loss and tragedy permeates ‘Live the Life’. ‘Hello, Goodbye’ (T12) was written for friends who lost their new born child, Noah. The‘Song for Rich’ (T11) was an instrumental written in response to the tragic passing of Rich Mullins; and ‘In My Arms Again’ (T10) was written for the movie Titanic.

The remaining songs encourage faith in the midst of doubt, despair and brokenness. ‘Missing Person’ (T 1) and ‘Don’t Give Up’ (T6), speaks to the emptiness of routine; numbness in the face of the mundane. ‘Love me Good’ (T2), ‘Never Been Unloved’ (T4) and ‘I Know Your Name’ (T8) speak about fear, rejection and the danger of basing the truth of Christianity on feelings or achievements, instead of God’s love. ‘Matter of time’ (T9) celebrates the hope of reunion. ‘Let me Show you the Way’ (T7) and ‘Live the Life’ (T3) speak of inviting God into our decisions; that the Christian faith is to be lived, not left on a shelf – reminiscent of Swiss theologian, Karl Barth’s statement that ‘grace must be lived out, or it is not grace’[iii].

Live the Life’ was not a creative safe space, it was a sigh offered up as both prayer and witness. The album illustrates what it means to pray through existential cracks that appear in the armour of human pretence.

Breaking the chains of super-spiritual and superficial, positive-optimism, Smith carried us along as he broke free from his CCM roots, reached through the fog of conformity, doubt and loss; past Christian culture, and entered into the gutsy, joy drenched glory of the redemptive light of Christ.

Few could legitimately argue that ‘Live the Life’ was not a watershed moment for Michael W. Smith. Most albums since 1998, share a similar gravitas, they show a breakaway artist, who, by the grace of God had his faith and art reinvent him. Smith hasn’t had to fade from the limelight quietly, lean on gimmicks or acquire cheap tunes to prove that he is what he’s always been: a talented musician with an authentic heart for Jesus Christ.

Without ‘Live the Life’, the same depth of presence, which is found in all the albums which descend from it, wouldn’t exist. ‘Live the Life’ testifies not just to Smith’s renewed commitment to Christ in the midst of darkness, but to the instructive love of God, free from the constrictive routine of empty ritual.

Live the Life’ is written for the broken, from the broken, to the broken. Twenty years on, I still cannot walk away from this album, without being challenged, or moved by it.

‘It is asked, whether anyone can be a servant of Christ, that has not been tried with so many evils, perils, and vexations? I answer, that all these things are not indispensably required, but where these things are seen, there is, undoubtedly, a greater and more illustrious testimony afforded. That man, therefore, who is signalised by so many marks of distinction, will not despise those who are less illustrious, and less thoroughly tried, nor will he on that account be elated with pride; but still, whenever there is occasion for it, will be prepared, after Paul’s example, to exult with a holy triumph, in opposition to pretenders, provided he has an eye to Christ, not to himself. For the main thing is – that we serve Christ with a pure conscience. All others things are, as it were, additional.’
(John Calvin)[iv]

de Vivre Selon Dieu.


References:

[i] I still don’t.

[ii] From his 1995 album, ‘I’ll Lead You Home’.

[iii] CD. 2/2 p.695

[iv] Commentary on 2 Corinthians 11:25