Archives For Theological Reflection

Since 2014 I’ve been committed to considering what different things God might have to say at the close of Christmas. Traditionally this is Epiphany, the 6th January, marking the end of the twelve days of Christmas.

Magi from the East (Persia), following the star (likely to be the well-timed rare alignment of three planets in our Sol system; a Nova or Super Nova) find confirmation of Micah 5:2:

‘but you, O Bethlehem who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from old, from ancient of days’.

The Magi, after arriving in Jerusalem, are sent by the malicious, King Herod, to Bethlehem. The order is: ‘diligently search for the child and report back’ (Matthew 2:9). The Magi are once again ‘guided by the star that they had seen when it rose before them’ (ibid). At this the Magi ‘rejoiced exceedingly with great joy’ (Matthew 2:10). Arriving at the house where Mary and Joseph now reside, the Magi gift their famous tribute of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

This sacrifice honours the One whom they have sought to honour. Their mission is complete. Their journey comes to an end, and they’re offering enters them into a history they never intended to be included in. The Magi aren’t Jewish, but they know the Old Testament; they know of the Jewish prophets. From the East the Magi arrived, perhaps with apprehension and anticipation, but by the time that they end up leaving, they leave having that apprehension and anticipation answered with great joy. The Magi are not disappointed.

With their own eyes they not only see, but joyfully participate in the confirmation of the prophet Micah’s significant foretelling of the birth of the one who comes from the Ancient of Days; the birth of The King of Israel, in insignificant Bethlehem.

This great joy emboldens the Magi. They take heed of a dream in which they are warned not return to King Herod. This is later justified by Herod’s command to kill all male infants aged two and under, in Bethlehem and the surrounding region.

Like the Magi’s visit and their presenting of gifts to the infant Christ (Matthew 2:11), Epiphany is a time of stepping back and gifting God with the attention of our hearts and minds.

Wise men still seek Him, and Epiphany (the traditional close of Christmas celebrations and contemplation) is a good place to end one year and begin another.

Instead of us making our own resolutions, it’s a good time to seek out the resolutions God has already made towards us. Understanding that we ‘worship by the Spirit of God, glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh’ (Philippians 3:3); and that we can rely on His strength to do so, not solely our own.

Looking to what God has already revealed about Himself, we ask, what can we draw from God’s self-revelation that will take us into the New Year with confidence?

What is it about God’s self-revelation that will help us build on God’s resolution towards us, one that outlasts vain and clichéd New Years Eve promises?

Epiphany is not without substance. The great joy of the Magi is not without justification.

They may leave empty-handed, but they don’t leave empty and disillusioned. The Magi leave well guarded; full of the joy of the Lord. This is a joy they’ve witnessed face to face with, and received from, the One who is the ‘fountain of all joy’ (Tony Reinke)[i].

As Karl Barth noted, this great joy is the radiance of God’s glory:

‘God’s love becomes an event and a person, God’s fellowship, powerful and a fact [.…]It is a glory that awakens joy […] God’s glory radiates it […] because it is God who Himself radiates joy […] His glory is radiant, and what it radiates is joy. It attracts and therefore it conquers.’ (Karl Barth, CD. II:1, pp.643, 655, 654, 661) (Nehemiah 8:10; Psalm 30:5; Isaiah 55:12; John 15:11)

May Epiphany remind us that ‘the presence of the Creator is not an idle or unfruitful presence. It is not the presence of cold confrontation. It is not a presence which leaves blind eyes blind or deaf ears deaf. It is a presence which opens them. God’s glory is the indwelling joy of His divine being which as such shines out from Him.’ (Barth, CD 2.1:647)

May Epiphany not be a cold confrontation with the great joy experienced by the Magi. May this great joy, be the joy of the Lord working in our lives. May we ‘not be grieved, knowing that the Joy of the Lord is our strength’ (Nehemiah 8:10), and that it is only in Him that great joy is to be found. That we too are guarded and that we too can march on as wise men, when kings, rulers, or the world (and sometimes those about us), are all too happy to deceive, mock, destroy, steal and tear down.

With the Magi, may we say that the great joy awakened in them by the glory of God is now also before us, for us and given resolutely to us. With the Magi, we can embrace the birth of the new and the continuing reminder of God’s faithfulness to His people, and the fact that His joy WILL BE our strength, and none other[ii].


References:

[i] Tony Reinke noted that ‘joy is fundamental to God’s triune nature. To find God is to find the fountain of all joy […] We participate in joy when we reach the essence of all joy: God Himself’. I disagree with how Reinke’s article conflates happiness with Joy, but I agree with the fact that ‘God is the fountain of joy’.

[ii] Dietrich Bonhoeffer: ‘One should, in such times of confusion, go back to the beginning, to our wellsprings, to the true Bible, to the true Luther. One should keep on, ever more undaunted and joyfully, becoming a theologian who speaks truth in love (ἀληθεύοντες ἐν ἀγάπῃ). (DBW 12)

Photo by Nghia Le on Unsplash

© Rod Lampard, 2019

Also published @ The Caldron Pool, January 13, 2019 under the same title.

christmas-buschWilhelm Busch, reflecting on Christmas past as a young German soldier in World War One, noted that the overwhelming sense of desolation and homesickness which had dominated the atmosphere, hindered all attempts to celebrate it.

After a large quantity of alcohol had been delivered and consumed, things went from sombre to surreal. Though Christmas celebrations were arranged, “everything went wrong”.

That dugout and this Christmas, any glimmer of consolation gained from communal conversations about gathering to mark the day had been lost.

No longer did this Christmas feel or even look as it could have.

Busch hints at a deep disconnect between the alcohol induced light-heartedness of his comrades and the heavy heart he felt for the clear absence of community marking the real value in Christmas.

Sorrow, loneliness and self-pity were being drowned in a sea of self-medication. With it, the beauty and healing that can come from a Christmas acknowledged and shared was abandoned.

Busch writes that he quietly left the noise behind him and walked outside to sit alone in the darkness.

Looking beyond the dugout towards what was left of an old village, he asked himself,

‘two years ago joyful people had celebrated Christmas there. Where were they now that their homes had disappeared?’[i]

According to Busch, this pondering laced with lament was interrupted by a Lieutenant who emerged from the smoke-filled, buoyant hole.

Not seeing Busch nearby the Lieutenant stopped stared out into the evening sky and then:

‘…pulled out from under his cape a glistening horn and put it to his lips.
The music sounded soft and strange as it carried over the devastated valley the tones of the carol:
‘Oh you joyful, Oh you blessed, grace bringing Christmas time…’
His blowing practically forced me to speak the words quietly along with him. And everything rose up in rebellion within me. ‘No! No!’ cried my heart. ‘It is not true! There is a village that’s destroyed. Every ruined house is a reminder of deep sorrow.
And here are the drunk, homesick men, back home the weeping women, children calling for their fathers.
Blood, death, misery … How can you play like that: “Oh you joyful…”?’ But he blew on unperturbed.
And it sounded accusingly: ‘The world was lost…’ ‘Yes,’ I thought, ‘now that is altogether true.’ I had never perceived and seen it like that.
‘Christ is born…’ he blew into my thoughts. So bright, so jubilant that I had to listen:
‘Christ is born! Rejoice, rejoice O Christendom!’
Then it was as if scales fell from my eyes: this is Christmas, this and nothing else:
‘The world was lost; Christ is born! Rejoice, O Christendom!’[ii]

I see in this account a message deeper than that of the tragic complexities of war. Here we see the burden of expectations we place on ourselves by what we think Christmas should be, look and feel like.

The challenge issued to us from Busch is to stop seeking our perfect idea of Christmas, to at least refine what we expect Christmas to be. Instead, reflect on how Christmas finds us and on what it actually brings to us.

Christmas can be a confusing mix of wonder and dread. It can sweep us off our feet or remind us about the gloomy agony of isolation, ostracization.  At the same time Christmas can answer our despair with inspiration, overwhelming generosity, and breathe new life into each dark and exhausting step.

It is an act of joyful remembrance; a time of acknowledgement that the knowledge of who God is, and what God is about, is confirmed in His free act to be free for, with, and near us.

To act on Advent and Christmas is to acknowledge with humility and gratitude, in prayer, a season set apart for new life.

It is a moment beyond moments, one that transcends money, presents, deifying and impressing our neighbours or family. Such a time as this must be grasped as we are grasped and held.

Christmas is a season unlike any other that consists of one of two days in the year where we get to stop and acknowledge that in Jesus Christ we are truly reached for.

This is a moment in time that is not centred on our ego, although it is for us it is not about us. As Karl Barth would term it, Christmas is an event carved by God’s good pleasure into a calendar otherwise dominated by awkward celebration, loss and lament. Here, on this day, we recall that God’s Word of freedom is decisively spoken.

To act on Advent and Christmas is to acknowledge the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.

Without this, our celebration is an empty ritual filled with cheap decorations, avarice and religion. The weight of faulty products from a fallen people working too hard to please each other and ourselves.

To act on Advent and Christmas is to be moved politically and relationally beyond religion. It is the encroachment of God’s Kingdom come.

With Christ and in Christ, our celebration moves us beyond ourselves, our wallet and our pain. We are moved towards a light that was not lit by human imagination, but was and is an historical event in space and time. Responded to, reasoned about, joyfully acknowledged and reverently proclaimed.

“The world was lost;

Christ is born!

Rejoice, O Christendom!”


References:

[i] Busch W. (1897-1966) Stories from my life and times, in Puritz, C. 2013, Ed. Christ or Hitler? Evangelical Press. Kindle Ed. Loc. 637-638

[ii] Ibid, loc. 642-652

Originally published 24th December 2014

©Rod Lampard, 2018

Respected theologian, Pastor and author, Will Willimon, recently wrote an article citing a bishop who  changed his mind about homosexuality.
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Here is the brief response I posted in the comments section:
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Unlike so many who will no doubt applaud this, I won’t. As was pointed out above [in another comment], a lot of the reasoning appears emotionally based. Surrendering to the man-made god of love, is not surrender to the God who is love. The LGBT church can hardly be called a Christian church, any more than the German Christians, who watered down theology and surrendered themselves and their theology to the ideological overlords of their day.
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As Karl Barth noted, we must not confuse love for God, with love for neighbour, for if we do, we end up deifying our neighbour. It neither helps them, loves them, or is an example of walking in the footsteps of Christ. I admit, this is a complex issue, but if beloved family cannot respect, tolerant and be inclusive of a loving “no”, built on convictions drawn from biblical truth, tried and true healthy tradition, and biological science. Then I would question whether appeasement of them; and a happy ignorance of the consequences such as the fatherless and motherless children who will come after them (among other things), was only self-serving, and not truly loving.
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I fear this appeasement is a surrender to Natural Theology, and as such, I am reluctant to applaud those well-respected and esteemed theologians who, not only sign onto it, but take its oath in servitude to it.

By no means is this a conclusive run down on what I see as the need to find, and advocate for, a fair use of the vehicles we choose to communicate, and receive information through.  By pointing out inconsistencies, and connecting them to a possible cause, my purpose here is primarily an attempt to suggest, that when it comes to social media, we practice the proverb of looking before we leap.

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

Surely, this is far from what media outlets mean by the term integrity and investigative journalism? To his credit, Bennett pushes back against the leading questions made by the anchor-man, quickly realising, not without some frustration, that the interview had ended before it had really begun.

Remarking:

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

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

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

The same applies to social media. It’s easy to make criticisms when sitting behind a keyboard.

We need make room for each other. We need to look before we leap. We need to make room for giving consideration to context, details, and careful comment. Patience is the imperative (if not the virtue), mainly because we’re all still trying to figure out live in a technological society, and how to use this technological freedom responsibly.

In spite of the evidence, or any quest for the truth, and balance. Like some aspects of the main stream media, social media can become a misinformation behemoth.

In the hands of resourceful and ambitious communicators, it has the disturbing potential to become the ultimate propaganda machine.

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

The march of memes takes to the virtual street, utilising the same mass marketing concepts of Edward Bernays (1891-1995) that was so fundamental to fascism and its control of images.

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

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

The ivory colossus of cyber communities end up inadvertently propagating totalitarianism. Inviting a repugnant irony through the vitriolic intolerance, exhibited by irresponsible and repressive armchair activists, who live in glass houses.

With small amounts of fact, and information, these glass houses become the launching pad for mobile projectiles of shame and exclusion. The term “hate speech”, for example, is utilised as a toxic and ambiguous whip statement, and is thus thrown around flippantly and without qualification. This fuels an irate frenzy of boycotts, accusation and intolerance.

A restrained, and civilised exchange of ideas is set adrift, by an unrestrained tribalism. It’s members march alongside images, marked by oversimplification. At its core is a subjectivism,  full of dismissive ridicule and cynical discounting. Consequently, social media can tend to magnify that which is dysfunctional and shocking, over against,

‘…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable,  excellent, or worthy of praise…’ (Philippians 4:8, ESV)

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

The questions then are:

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

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

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

Adams’ caution here cries out for a fair hearing. We should not politicise the pain of others.

We can do this by removing any hint of benefit to our social standing, and unmasking the transactions that hide self-interest behind indifference, or behind a facade of good intentions. We can do this by looking before we leap; giving real consideration to context, details, and careful comment.

As Australian scholar, Dr. John Dickson, in a comment about a recent debate on Facebook, once said, “redeem the medium”[ii].

 


References:

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

[i] Adams, J. 1851 On Private Revenge http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/2101 #Adams_1431-03_2153 Sourced: 23/07/2014

[ii] Dickson wrote this in response to the suggestion that he move a discussion to another site, because of the communication limitations of social media.

Originally published 23rd July, 2014, under the heading Truth & Balance Vs. The side of the Story that Sells Best. Also published on The Caldron Pool, 9th November, 2018 under the headline: Hate speech is a myth: It’s a shaming control technique used by those who can’t debate the issue.

78 year old, actorvist, James Cromwell, has predicted that “if we don’t stop Trump now, there will be blood in the streets.”

The actor and activist, most famous for his role as farmer, Arthur Hoggett in the 1995 movie ‘Babe’ (et.al), inferred that Trump was a fascist dictator, and that America was dangerously close to losing its democracy.

Variety reported that Cromwell made the “candid comments” during a quick Q & A, while walking up the red carpet. He was attending an award ceremony where he was also “honored for his work as a character actor.

According to Variety, Cromwell said,

“This is nascent fascism. We always had a turnkey, totalitarian state — all we needed was an excuse, and all the institutions were in place to turn this into pure fascism […] If we don’t stop [President Trump] now, then we will have a revolution for real. Then there will be blood in the streets.”
“We’re living in very curious times, and something is coming up which is desperately important to this country and to this planet, and that is an election, in which hopefully in some measure we are going to take back our democracy.
We will have a government that represents us and not the donor class. We will cut through the corruption, [and] we won’t have to do what comes next, which is either a non-violent revolution or a violent one, because this has got to end.”

If Cromwell is right, and America is heading for totalitarian rule, it’s difficult to see how Cromwell was able to freely speak his mind in public. Let alone be free to give a speech. All while moving without hindrance into an award ceremony where he was honoured for his work. This was all achieved without a special security detail to ward off any potential harassment from the alleged fascist dictator and his totalitarian minions.

Cromwell gave his speech in relative safety, was celebrated by his peers, and spoke his mind in public without fear of harassment; inferring that a bloody revolution needs to take place, in order to restore America to democracy.

It’s a pity that the same cannot be said for Conservatives like Ben Shapiro, who, when giving a speech at UC Berkley in 2017, saw the “Campus pay an approximate $600,000 for security, in order to anticipate violent protests” from the allegedly anti-Fascist, Leftist movement, Antifa.

If we add onto this, examples of people being assaulted for wearing MAGA hats, public personalities advocating for the assassination of Donald Trump, or the calls for people to harass Trump supporters and Trump administration officials, perhaps Cromwell is looking in the wrong direction.

If the fires of fascism are being stocked, Trump isn’t stoking the fire.

Exhibit A): 15 Stars Who Imagined Violence Against Donald Trump.

Exhibit B): 12,000 Assasination tweets: Trump’s Social Media Presence is a new challenge for the Secret Service

Exhibit C): Two Years of Democrats Calling for Assassinations & Hate

And who can forget the September 13, 2016, Washington Post article by Shalom Auslander, headlined:

‘Don’t Compare Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler. It belittles Hitler.’

Or more recently, Democrat, Maxine Waters calling for the public harassment of men and women in the Trump administration:

“Tell them they’re not welcome.”

If James Cromwell is right, the “nascent fascism” isn’t coming from opponents of the Left, it’s coming from those on the Left.


Originally published, 1st November, 2018 on The Caldron Pool, under ‘Hollywood actor-vist warns: “There will be blood on the streets” if Democrats lose.’ 

©Rod Lampard, 2018

Photo by Hasan Almasi on Unsplash

Poignant.

Arendt, citing Georges Clemenceau in The Origins of Totalitarianism. (1968, p.114)

Judgement based on raw emotion is the reason for why we have due process and habeas corpus. This system is not without flaws, but erasing due process is equal to denying the right of habeas corpus. If that happens then everyone is bound; subjected to the whim of the mob or the mood of the ruler.

Due process is as important as habeas corpus. Habeas corpus being ‘the removal of illegal restraint on individual liberty.’ (Burke) [i]  Any removal, or denial of due process, would easily lead to the same thing happening to habeas corpus. Conclusions based on raw emotions about accusations, without any regard for evidence is regressive.

Emerging from a week drenched in the Ford vs. Kavanaugh debate, you’d be right to feel a little more cynical about American Democrats and the mainstream media.

It doesn’t really matter whether you or I, think Ford or Kavanaugh was lying. The fact is that there are hard fought for and won judicial principles, which are grounded in liberty and equity, that came under attack for the purpose of trying to win some political gain.

It’s right to be angry about the chorus beaten out violently from those seeking to side-step due process and subjugate it to serve their own self-interests. When, in 2016, we were all told that “Trump was Hitler”, we saw this attempt at side-stepping. It was applied during the 2016 election and has been applied to Donald Trump ever since.

We’ve witnessed the slander of American Evangelical and African-American voters who supported Trump, dubious claims about Brexit, the blanket tar and feathering of Tommy Robinson in the U.K, and the dehumanizing of anyone who stands in disagreement with where many in the progressive Left, currently stand. In addition to all of this, we’ve heard of celebrities calling for an economic crash in the United States, so as to take down Trump. They didn’t seem to give any thought to how their imprecatory wish for an economic disaster by which they could impeach Trump, might impact the rest of the world, especially the poor.

The actions of many during the Ford vs. Kavanaugh debate, shouldn’t be all that much of a surprise. Many of those who voted “yes”, or support same-sex marriage, do so based on raw emotion. They didn’t want to hear the evidence or consider the opposing viewpoints. LGBT agitprop successfully manipulates voters into falsely believing that all opposing viewpoints are unloving, fear-based and therefore irrelevant. Thought is suspended in favour of whatever feels right.

Given the success of the S.S.M campaign in the West, it’s no surprise that those same malicious tactics are now applied en masse to other areas, in an attempt to suppress, maim, destroy and control.

Edmund Burke was right:

‘…Parties are but too apt to forget their own future safety in their desire of sacrificing their enemies. People without much difficulty admit entrance of that injustice of which they are not to be the immediate victims.’ [ii]

Although anger about these attempts to side-step due process, is justified, this anger shouldn’t drive those opposed to it, to fight back in kind. Raw emotion may inform, it should never govern. It should drive us towards prayer, sympathy, concern and action.

First, prayer and sorrow for the people placed at the centre of this tug-o-war.

Second, deep concern for what could have been the undermining of a system, which legitimately requires evidence from the prosecution in order to back up an accusation, and allows the accused to have the benefit of the doubt. (Innocent until proven guilty is an imperfect gift, handed down to us by those who knew no such protections. The system isn’t perfect, but it’s a system that emerged to protect innocent victims from the mindlessness of the mob and the malevolence of the tyrannical ruler.)

Third, this anger should empower action. Vote accordingly. It’s time to start to read more carefully, reflect and look at the reality of where the West currently is. This reflection should prompt us to ask, why is speech being stifled, why is responsible discussion in some cases forced into silence, by angry mobs threatening individuals and businesses, and how will this inevitably affect each and every individual who lives, and benefits from living in the West?

The heart should inform the head, but the head should never become a slave to the heart. C.S. Lewis identified this necessary tension, when he wrote:

‘the heart [should] never take the place of the head. But it can, and should obey it.’
(The Abolition of Man, 1944) [iii]

Judgement based on raw emotion is why I don’t see white nationalism or cultural Christianity as a refuge or safe harbour. As I’ve stated quite a few times without apology, pride is the enemy of grace. That pride is an enemy of grace is also why I wrote and argued that ‘Social Justices Warriors Are The Brethren of Iscariot, not Christ‘. For those who currently stand in disagreement with most on the Left and their tactics, the struggle is real, but the response has to include discernment, wisdom, tact, consistency, and reflection.

Judgement based on raw emotion is the reason for why we have due process and habeas corpus.Suspending one, will lead to the suspension of the other. Due process and habeas corpus anticipate the whim of the mob or the mood of the ruler; it acknowledges original sin and the corrupt condition of the human heart. Due process and habeas corpus are imperfect gifts handed down to us by those who knew no such protections. The protections inherent within both are worth holding onto and fiercely defending.


References:

[i] Burke, E. Letter To The Sheriffs of Bristol, (Sourced 10th October 2018 from https://archive.org/stream/sheriffsbristol00burkrich#page/42/mode/2up/search/liberty )

[ii] Burke, ibid.

[iii] Lewis, C.S, 1944. The Abolition of Man, HarperCollins Publishers

©Rod Lampard, 2018.

Photo by Anthony Garand on Unsplash