Archives For Theological Reflection

Define Your Illusions_RL2015_GVLWe the broken are far too easily ignored. We the abused are far too easily used. We are sold hope and guided by hands quick to speak of solidarity. We fall for blurred distinctions and ignore the price.

We are sold an empty comfort from mouths  that speak words of sympathy, but are absent of any real connectivity. They may promise salvation and deliverance from the deep sadness and pain we want so much to rip or be ripped out of us, but they cannot deliver what they promise. Sadly, some choose to keep us dwelling on that pain and sadness, in order to squeeze a dollar or two out of it.

In a way that pain and sadness become commodities.

In the church and world, if among the broken we are picked out as ‘charismatic, gifted, beautiful or anointed’ we are seized upon and raised up by the collective and individual alike.

Either to promote a cause or financial gain. Paraded on stage, our testimony is “validated”, our pain and healing seemingly put to good use. However, when the doors close and the next ‘big’ thing is promoted we realise that our pain and healing was paraded  in order to hype up the masses or sell politics, an opinion, idea or distorted theology. Here the veil falls and we see that interest in the One who saves, saved and will save was pushed to the background as we were adorned with adoration, idolised and syphoned for hope.

The essence of our contact with world, relationship and institution is easily manipulated. We the broken, guarded and sensitive to those things which have hurt us so successfully, are ironically attracted by those things that will hurt us. Buying into the false promises that control us as they promise remedy.

Sometimes, therefore, the broken become the prey of the fortunate. Then, sometimes the affected are thrown away like chaff by the disaffected.

This could be because the voices of the experienced are disruptive. Disputing certainty, and intellectual anxiety about meaning and purpose. Disrupting those firmly held inside a web of ideological conformity.

Our continuing survival discomforts their faith in empirical impassabilities. It challenges the surety of presuppositions that imprison the impossible to ignorance and the absurd. It challenges their claim to power. Examples here include the historical, Martin Luther and The Reformation, or the fictitious Katniss Everdeen and her role in ‘The Hunger Games.’

Those with higher opinions based solely on higher education or their association with certain institutions may comment, but it is clear that most are selective and set only on pursuing a particular narrative – often the one that will keep them popular.

Faith uninformed by reason ends in delusion; superstition. Worse still is reason detached completely from the necessary dualism of faith and reason – scientism. As proven by the 20th Century, is the grounding of gross inhumanity.

An evolutionary ethic demands the strong must resource their strength from the weak until the weak are no longer useful. The “elite” have no problem assuming, then, that the broken are ruined beyond repair. That we cannot think for ourselves or see through the shattered lens that pales in comparison to their presumed-to-be superior, unscarred monocles.

So, we are sold illusions and sadly, we buy into them. We are even convinced enough to vote for them.

Niceties and platitudes of human tolerance end in hypocrisy. Resulting in acts of kindness being abandoned and the real importance being place solely on the appearance of giving it.

Additionally, the beauty of an orthodox theological understanding of Christian love is deconstructed, then subsumed into an “absolute ethic of niceness.[i]” God’s mercy is, thus, distorted without any acknowledgement let alone recognition of His right and freedom to act in just judgement. [ii]

With all the brokenness and abandonment around me at the time. Growing up as a teen in the 1990’s. I found it easy to fall into the trap of self-medication. Weekends spent young, drunk (and/or stoned); finding my identity in the closest people or things that I thought were identifying with me.

Looking back on that time, it wasn’t  because I was being drawn to those people or things because they identified with me, but because I leaned towards whatever I could identify, understand or nullify my pain with.

We hear packaged in phrases that ‘such and such, really identifies with their audience‘. Terms of endorsement often found in movie and music reviews alike.

The important distinction not to be missed here, though, is that artists don’t generally identify with their audience. Rather their audience (the customer) identifies with them. It’s not reciprocal, even if the understanding is mutual.

The truth is that those people and things only identified with my money and my blind, happy applause.

Case in point is the band Guns n’ Roses.

I remember reaching for everything I could find or learn about them, to be them. Even up to the point of copying almost every riff and niche Marshal Amp sound I could squeeze out of my $150 second-hand electric guitar, which had a cracked head and the embarrassing habit of going out of tune after each strum, pick or bend.

I was more than a fan. I was a disciple flirting with a generalised, but similar inner darkness that they seemed to be wrestling with. Questing for the transcendent; looking to ascend the hole of despair that my existence had boxed me into.

This was poetry with guts.

Emotion and truth screaming through mic, five string, bass and drum. In short: a form of worship. Throwing up; ’emotional vomit’ (as Lacey Sturm from ‘Flyleaf’ brilliantly described it); a numbness screaming out for feeling. This was a reach for rescue-through-revolt. A desire to be heard and acknowledged; a potential revolution powered by real-anger, angst, amp and an “appetite” for definition.

The reality is that the men of Gn’R didn’t identify with me. They couldn’t. They didn’t know me. Yet, there is no blame that I can justly attach to them. What I was being sold hung on a blurred distinction.*

I identified with them, their craft, skills and lyrical aptitude. I related to what people were selling through them and bought-into it every time. It wasn’t and couldn’t ever be reciprocated.

Any healthy personal connection where I felt cared for or understood was an illusion; an estrangement caused by a blurred distinction.

Although tempted, I wouldn’t simply relegate this as ‘idol worship‘ hoping to avoid over-analysing things, but as something more complex propagated by the absence of key relationships in my life.

What I have learnt through all of this is that my identity must rest in and under Jesus Christ, not any man, woman or ideology. He is the one in whom God chooses not only to identify with us, but to free us, in order to be for us and with us. So that we can be free for Him; free from, in order to be for, each other**:

‘…when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons [and daughters]. And because you are sons [and daughters], God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but sons [and daughters], and if so, then an heir through God.’
– (Galatians, 4:3-7; see also Romans 8:15)


References:

[i] Elshtain, J. 1993 Just War Against Terror

[ii] (see Karl Barth C.D II:1 ‘Dues non est in genere’: God is not a species that can be categorised by us, outside that which and who He has chosen to reveal Himself to us).

*So that I am not misinterpreted, “Gunners” as-they-were, still are, in my opinion, musical giants. Lyrically, rhythmically and melodically they hit on truths with criticisms of society that no one else dared to speak in and from that kind of arena.

** Karl Barth, paraphrased. 

 

 

We’re walking through Nathaniel & Hans’ Bluedorn‘s 2009 book, ‘The Fallacy Detective‘ for Homeschool at the moment. The Bluedorns do an excellent job of distinguishing  between the various logical fallacies, discussing how they work on and off the page. I’ve even learnt a few things I didn’t know, and gained clarity on a few of the more nuanced fallacies like ad hominem, straw man and equivocation.

The Bluedorns provide an easy to read text. Placing at the end of each chapter well written quizzes with some humour mixed in, they effectively teach a complex subject to their reader.

‘The Fallacy Detective’ was a recommendation from one of our American homeschooling friends and I can see why they were so excited about using it as a resource for lessons in logic and communication. I haven’t finished using this text, but once I am we will be revisiting it and beginning a walk-through of Nathaniel and Hans’ next book, ‘The Thinking Toolbox‘.

In the final chapter of ‘The Fallacy Detective’ the authors hone in on propaganda. The introduction to this section differentiates between propaganda and manipulative propaganda.

Some key points are made, such as,

‘Propaganda is any strategy for spreading our beliefs or ideas…Propaganda is not always bad. There isn’t anything wrong with spreading our ideas and encouraging people to buy our product – as long as we do it honestly’ (p.188).

The definition given for manipulative propaganda is,

‘when someone plays with our emotions in a way designed to make us agree with them without thinking through the matter carefully’ (p.189)

I had a problem with these definitions because they didn’t go deep enough. For instance, someone could easily use this to (falsely) justify the accusation that preaching is propaganda, or worse manipulative propaganda. So when teaching through this part, I added a qualifier. Throwing in the fact that there is a distinction between propaganda and preaching.  Granted the two are sometimes blurred by questionable sermons, poor theology, and stale dogma.

This is sometimes seen in the Charismatic movement, where the emphasis can be more on transaction and performance. By that I mean “naming and claiming something”, “having the [quote] right anointing [unquote], “feeling God’s presence in the band if it played well, and if it didn’t play to standard? Well, God somehow didn’t show up”.

Thus giving the congregation and spectator the guilty feeling that they somehow failed to impress God and are abandoned for not having done so. Jesus had a stinging rebuke for those in the temple, who confused preaching with manipulating others. Knowing the difference between preaching and propaganda, especially manipulative propaganda falls in line with that rebuke.

‘And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons.’ (Matthew 21:1, ESV)

There’s a big difference between preaching and manipulating someone in order to get something. Preaching is about proclamation, invitation, empower faith seeking understanding and learning together in humility.

I take my own understanding of preaching, from Jesus and Paul, who together, teach us that preaching, in sum, is about saying “I give this to you, in order to benefit you” (paraphrased). It’s far removed from the sales room floor of crony capitalism, the soap box of Marxists, the auctioneer’s gavel and the manipulative propagandist who, hiding behind all of these platforms, has his and her ultimate aim as being, “what can I take from you to benefit me”. At the heart of this we hear caveat emptor – let the buyer beware; Jesus and Paul telling us to be careful about what is being sold to us, who is doing the selling, and why they are selling it.

Even without the distinction between preaching and propaganda, the final chapter of ‘The Fallacy Detective’ holds itself together. The differentiation between propaganda and manipulative propaganda is followed by a clear description of, why, how, when and where propaganda is used. This includes, among others, car salesmen, lawyers right up to celebrities, artists and politicians.

Again, not all propaganda is bad, but propaganda shouldn’t be accepted without question; my take on this is that caveat emptor becomes: beware the auctioneers.

This differentiation between propaganda and manipulative propaganda gives the authors the opportunity to prepare the reader for the discussion ahead. Every time they use the word propaganda, they mean manipulative propaganda. By only using the word propaganda, the authors ingeniously force the reader to make their own differentiation between the two.

The information video I’m posting below on Marxist manipulative propaganda, circa 1957 illustrates this differentiation and the definitions presented by Nathaniel & Hans’ Bluedorn. There’s some real insight into manipulative propaganda. For instance the video explains how most Marxists/Communists play the information warfare game. Adding to this, is the small presence of American manipulative propaganda, which pops up from time to time, clearly designed to push the Communists back by using their own strategies against them.

For most hardcore Marxists there is no truth, but that which is filtered through the lens of Karl Marx. As the script writers for the video accurately describe:

“America is the major obstacle that stands between the grave-digger [Communist] and its intended victim. Here is target number one for the Reds and who’s in the bulls-eye. You are being in the bulls-eye. It’s important to know something about the enemy’s weapons and how to spoil their aim. That aim is nothing less than world conquest, and subversion by every possible means, is the cheap method used.The keyword is conflict.
Outside of the red countries themselves conflict must be promoted everywhere. Every dissatisfaction must grow into a resentment. Every resentment must become an argument. Every argument must grow into a fight. Every fight must blossom into a riot. Every riot must expand into a war. Every war must end in devastation.Where, there, in the ruins, communism finds its chance. For the Communists there must never be a compromise. Never a settlement of disputes, only conflict.”

If, as the video concludes, the only ‘effective defence against [manipulative] propaganda is the truth’, then the way forward for the aggressor, in any information war, is to attack the truth. The truth is watered down in order to get people to second guess it; smothering the truth in lies, half-truths, and the displacement of absolute truth. On this level truth means that at any stop light, red can be made to mean “go” by any individual who so desires, and no one is liable for the consequences.

This is why one of Roger Scruton’s more tongue in cheek comments in his 1994 work Modern Philosophy carries so much weight:

‘A writer who says that there are no truths, or that all truth is ‘merely relative’, is asking you not to believe him. So don’t.’  (pp.5-6)

Worth noting is the date this video was made. With the benefit of hindsight, the information presented shows that those who came before us, were not as ignorant as we are about the dangers posed by Communism and all forms of manipulative propaganda.


References:

Bluedorn, N. & H., 2009 The Fallacy Detective Christian Logic

Scruton, R. 1994 Modern Philosophy Bloomsbury Publishing

Image design: Rod Lampard Photo: Riccardo Annandale on Unsplash

Unexpected Rescue

January 31, 2018 — 4 Comments

There are days when no matter how hard we try to realign our attitude, the overwhelming feelings we might encounter in our situation, become a flood that sinks us further into a feeling of pointlessness. We’re in too deep.

Days come and days go. We watch them pass by from sunrise to sunset. The pace of life smothers us. The things that we felt so qualified to do, no longer make us feel all that qualified.  Instead, we’re overcome by despondency, disillusionment and then despair. Almost breathless, all attempts to make sense of the place we find ourselves in fail.

Though people surround us, there is no one really near us. We hear the noise of those around us, but struggle to process the fact that when we speak, we only find ourselves contributing to that noise. From here we come to the point where we realise that no one can hear us because everyone is listening to the sound of their own voice, answering the applause or condemnation of the world that follows it.

Most are dealing with something, wrestling with their own fears, failures, excesses and successes.  Some give in and slip into a slow motion view of the world.  Faces and facts are distorted. The noise around them drops in pitch. Their world is turned from the sounds of bustling activity into a slow monotonous drone.  Some go faster, live harder, decide to medicate themselves and give their lives over to the consequences.

Surrendering their lives on the altar of human wisdom, both slide into oblivion. Trapped by the cave of their own existence, they refuse to hear any word spoken from beyond it. Creatures of habit, they lean on their own understanding and conclude that any such word is a lie. At best a figment of their imagination, at worst, a tool designed by others to control and deceive them. The word that penetrates the noise of the world around them is too strange, too much of a contradiction, too foreign for them to be comfortable in acknowledging it.

This word in its contradiction speaks of hope, of water in desolate places, of dry bones coming to life, of possibilities within impossibilities. This word contradicts their entire world. It is a word that challenges all human presuppositions about their situation. It is spoken and it speaks to the despondency, disillusionment, despair, and breathless uneasiness.

This word speaks and stands in the way of our own words, answering the applause and condemnation of the world that follows it. It is spoken and it speaks of liberation from both the world’s applause and its condemnation. It is spoken and it speaks of liberation for both the one living in slow motion and the one given over to the self-destructive consequences of their defeatist, live fast, die hard philosophy. This word is a contradiction to their sacrificial slide into oblivion.

They’re in too deep, but this word throws to them a lifeline. Supported in the midst of their impending drift down into the abyss, they are confronted by its strange rescue. This word and its rescue exist despite what they were told and in contradiction to what they were sold. It makes no sense to them. It doesn’t look the way human wisdom says it should. It is an unexpected rescue.

The world’s eloquent words that denied the simplicity of this word cannot save them. Their rescue by this word comes to them out of the act of the One who spoke it, not by the eloquence of the world’s wisdom spoken to them. They are summoned to grasp its grasp of them.  They are summoned to believe, not because human wisdom sold it to them at the “right” price, out of protest, through manipulation or well-crafted words and sugar coated rhetoric. They are summoned by this word to believe because this word is acted upon by the One who speaks it.

‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men.’  (John 1:1-4, ESV)

This Word became flesh and dwelt among us[i].  He now becomes the contradiction to all of our impossibilities and the foundation[ii] for all our possibilities. The Word of the cross is the testimony of God, Jesus Christ and Him crucified. This is a word testified to, as God testifies about Himself through it.

‘but neither human resources, nor imperial munificence, nor appeasement of the gods, eliminated sinister suspicions that the fire [of Rome] had been instigated. To suppress this rumour, Nero fabricated scapegoats – and punished with every refinement the notoriously depraved Christians (as they were popularly called). Their originator , Christ, had been put to death in Tiberius’ reign by the governor of Judea, Pontius Pilatus. But despite this setback the deadly superstition had broken out afresh, not only in Judea (where the mischief started) but even in Rome.’ (Tacitus, Annals circa 116 A.D)

Committed to His Word, God dived in deep to throw us a lifeline. Days may come and days may go. We may watch them pass by from sunrise to sunset. The pace of life may smother us, but the Word of God stands forever.  The possibilities that come with this Word stand as a living, breathing, defiant contradiction to the threat of oblivion and any despair the threat of irrelevance might throw at us.

In light of this Word, we can stand firm against all that ‘assumes to itself authority, and does not allow itself to be regulated by the word of God, reckoning as nothing all the applause[iii]’, and condemnation of the world. This is because it’s ‘light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ (John 1:5, ESV)


References:

[i] John 1:14, ESV

[ii] 1 Cor. 3:10-15, ESV

[iii] Calvin, J. Commentary on 1 Corinthians 3

Photo by Luke Besley on Unsplash

Come Alive‘ by the Foo Fighters is over ten years old, yet it remains an example of Christ alive in contemporary culture.

“…Nothing more to give I can finally live
Come alive
Your life into me I can finally breathe
Come alive
I lay there in the dark
Open my eyes

You saved me the day that you came alive.”

(Foo Fighters, 2007)

‘Come Alive’ was part of the 2007, Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace album.

Viewed through the eyes of a child, teenager, husband or wife the words could easily reflect the sentiment of gratitude for an abusive/self-abusive person who has changed and is in the process of recovery.

The repetitive  “come alive” is about the solemn gratitude that comes from an awakening. Within it is the mixture of a cautious relief, recognition and acknowledgement that when “good turns to bad”, “good can come from bad”. Accompanying this theme of thankfulness is the apparent rescue, and the author’s proclamation that rescue from the abyss is possible.

This isn’t an optimist speaking about a positivism detached from reality. ‘Come Alive’ is a proclamation and an invitation. Sentences like, “you saved me the day you came alive” could be taken to be a reference to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. His death and resurrection as the point of our conversion – our being saved;the reconciliation with God made possible by the free decision of God to dwell among us, showing us our freedom to reject or accept that state of reconciliation.

The message speaks of promise for the broken, from the broken, to the broken.The message speaks to the recovering and those still stuck in a cycle of abuse, reminding them that Inhaled Grace Ignites.

The song starts with clear lines of remorse, empathy and remembrance.

“Seems like only yesterday
Life belonged to runaways
Nothing here to see,
No looking back

Every sound monotone
Every color monocrome
Life begin to fade into the black
Such a simple animal
Steralized with alcohol I could hardly feel me anymore

Desperate, meaningless
All filled up with emptiness
Felt like everything was said and done I lay there in the dark,
I close my eyes…”

From a theological  perspective, the voice of proclamation and victory (one I would confidently say is empowered by the Holy Spirit) is to be heard moving out from behind the pain, and the silent groans which rest in what the author is reflecting on.

This is Jesus Christ alive in contemporary culture.

Within the song there is an active, raw acknowledgement of grace, and the gratitude given within it is a recognition of an awakening, a personal apocalypse, now very real, and very present to the author.

Dave Grohl confirms as much, stating that ‘Come Alive’ is ‘about reawakening after becoming a father. Anyone who’s a father understands how the world becomes a different place when your child is born. I just feel and see everything differently now.’ (Fooarchive)

Although the song is in the end about fatherhood.The overall weight, tone and presence of the song, even with its lack of a clear object, is worship.

It’s the intensity of these kinds of songs, which are created outside the ”Contemporary Christian Music Machine”, that make statements like the made by Kevin Davis, all the more intriguing:

“art and artists are vital for teaching us how to live. And, therefore, art is part of the gospel, whether or not the artist is fully aware.”  (Kevin Davis, ‘The Grace of Holly Williams‘) 

Jesus is Victor.

‘How precious is your steadfast love O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light. Oh continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your righteousness to the upright of heart! Let not the foot of arrogance come upon me, nor the hand of the wicked drive me away.’  (Psalm 36:7-11, ESV)

 

 


(Updated from a post originally published on 5th May 2014)

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was a man of faith. Who like the rest of us, struggled from time to time. His poetry, some of which is tainted by “prescription” laudanum (the liquid variety of opium), can seem to us to be untouchable. Coleridge’s original meaning almost unattainable.

Kubla Khan being a quintessential example, followed closely by his ‘Aids to reflection: confessions of an inquiring spirit’ written in latter part of his life. The work starts out strong, but veers off in strange statements that appear unrelated to the whole.

Throughout his life Coleridge moved from Christian orthodoxy towards Unitarianism and back again. Ever since my first encounter with Kubla Khan, Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner and Frost at Midnight, I’ve had an interest in this wild–at-heart eclectic 18th Century Christian.

Reading Coleridge is an adventure. Over the years I find myself finding new depth in the way Coleridge expressed his theology through poetry. It’s his theology that interests me. Especially where it becomes obvious in certain portions of his work.

One of the less obvious poems where Coleridge expresses his theology through poetry is ‘Ode to the departing year’, written near the end of 1796. The poem is nine stanzas long and reads like a political sigh.

Coleridge’s tone is sombre, firm; paralleling the same, very human gasps for breath, found in the imprecatory Psalms, which call on the name of Yahweh for guidance and deliverance.

Reflecting on this piece R.A Foakes wrote:

‘in such poems Coleridge frequently falls into a sort of quasi-Miltonic heroics that morph into gothic melodramatics…but Coleridge was a man deeply engaged with the political problems of the time’.[ii]

It’s easy to agree because “Ode to the departing year’ was written during the late 18th Century, a ‘time of great political turbulence’ (Foakes, 2009:2).

The ‘French Revolution’ and its reign of terror, general turbulence in Europe, and war. A spiral of conflict triggered  by the beheading of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette in 1793.

‘Ode to the departing year’ is rich in imagery. It could be mined for days, by anyone with a keen theological eye who has the gusto to read, reread and discover the many new ways the passages could be understood.

For example, in its closing refrain Coleridge ends with an almost introspective note to himself:

‘Away, my soul, away!
I unpartaking of the evil thing,
With daily prayer and daily toil
Soliciting for food my scanty soil,
Have wailed my country with a loud lament.
Now I recentre my immortal mind
In deep Sabbath of meek self-content;
Cleansed from the vaporous passions that bedim
God’s image, sister of the Seraphim’.[iii] 

Understanding what Coleridge means by ‘sister of the Seraphim’, and how it is used in this context is difficult to determine.

I presume he means that nations stand alongside Angels in close proximity to God. Like the Seraphim, humans can also stand before God [v]. Since in Christ, we are permitted to approach as freely as He has chosen to approach us.

The reference to Seraphim is strange. Does Coleridge mean the Seraphim of the Bible? If so, the image takes on a whole new picture when the historical context is applied.

‘The “fiery serpents” for which the Israelites feared the desert (Num 21:6–8; Deut 8:15) become further embellished as “flying serpents” (Is 14:29; 30:6). The serpents, designated by the same Hebrew word as seraphim, are distinguishable from them only by context (Is 6:2, 6). This pairing suggests that the image of a seraph may have had more in common with our idea of dragon than of angel’.[vi]

The reference to the ‘Lampad seven’ indicates light, candle or torch. Perhaps even Light bearer. Lampad is a term found in Greek mythology, a connection that Coleridge exploits in order to paint an image of blinding light.

‘‘Throughout the blissful throng,
Hushed were harp and song:
Till wheeling round the throne the Lampads seven,
(the mystic Words of Heaven)
Permissive signal make:
The fervent Spirit bowed, then spread his wings and spake!
”Thou in stormy blackness throning
Love and uncreated Light,
By the Earth’s unsolaced groaning,
… Seize thy terrors. Arm of might!…
The Past to thee, to thee the Future cries!
Hark! how wide Nature joins her groans below!
Rise, God of Nature! rise”

Coleridge may have borrowed from the significance of the imagery surrounding God’s heavenly throne in Rev.4:5:

From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal. (Rev. 4:5, ESV)
From the throne came flashes of lightning and the rumble of thunder. And in front of the throne were seven torches with burning flames. This is the sevenfold Spirit of God. (Rev. 4:5, NLT)

There are ‘torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God‘ gathered before His throne, along with the unique creatures (Seraphim) assigned to the task of protecting God’s Holiness.

Coleridge’s words are a lament. Carried with this is a solemn prayer. ‘Departing Year! ’twas on no earthly shore My soul beheld thy vision!’ War and calamity appear to be what the closing year has brought upon his world.

It’s not just the year, but the era that Coleridge now sees as being brought to a close. For Coleridge this is the apocalypse. Hence Foalke’s comment about Gothic melodramatics that I mentioned earlier.

The only source of solace is in the one who commands Heaven and earth. Fixing eyes to heaven, even when ‘human ruin chokes the streams’; when ‘Ambition is marked in his war-array!’ and when nations take ‘mad avarice [as their] guide. [And] At cowardly distance, kindle with pride‘. 

Coleridge isn’t alone. Minus the Gothic melodramatics, Peter wrote with a similar grasp of the times:

‘The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.’ (1 Peter 4:7-11, ESV)

For the Christian, the New Year is also about an ending. It is a new beginning to the beginning of the end of all things!! With the New Year we are reminded that God owns time and space, just as He owns everything He created; and with that we are reminded that God entered time and space in Jesus Christ, and we have His promise that He will do so again for the final time.

The New Year also a good time to be reminded that faith is not a feeling. Faith is lived out through prayer and gratitude. Faith impacts emotions and as such it walks alongside reason. As such we should take a moment to reconsider all that we can be grateful for in the passing year. Laying down before God, like Coleridge does in Ode To the Departing Year, all that we may struggle with, giving over to God, also those things that have perhaps weighed us down or look to weigh us down.

With the New Year, we may not be able to see beyond the days ahead, but we are called by God to rest, recognise and acknowledge that He is the one who does. As the clock moves past 12 on the evening of 31st, may we too, sing with those gathered around His throne,

“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
  who was and is and is to come!” (Rev 4:8)

 


References: 

[i] Foakes, R.A 2009, Shadowy nobodies and other Minutiae: Coleridge’s originality in The Coleridge Bulletin,  The journal of the friends of Coleridge Summer new series 33 (NS) 2009

[ii] “beings who stand before God” (see Isa. 6:1–2), McGee, J. V. Thru the Bible

[iii] Coleridge, S.T 1796 Ode to a departing year in The complete poems, 1997 Penguin Classics, Penguin Group (p.126)

[iv] Ryken, L., Wilhoit, J., Longman, T., Duriez, C., Penney, D., & Reid, D. G. 2000  Dictionary of biblical imagery. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

In criticising Marx’s Utopian communist dream, Simone Weil also provided an exemplary commentary on the final part of the movie Wall-E. The crux of which is found here:

“We have only to bear in mind the weakness of human nature to understand that an existence from which the very notion of work had pretty well disappeared would be delivered over to the play of the passions and perhaps to madness; there is no self-mastery without discipline, and there is no other source of discipline for man than the effort demanded in overcoming external obstacles.
A nation of idlers might well amuse itself by giving itself obstacles to overcome, exercise itself in the sciences, in the arts, in games; but the efforts that are the result of pure whim do not form for a man a means of controlling his own whims. It is the obstacles we encounter and that have to be overcome which give us the opportunity for self-conquest.”
(The Causes of Liberty & Social Oppression, 1934:80) [i]

Weil is critiquing Karl Marx’s ideal society. Oppression and exploitation, as understood by Marx, can only be eliminated when we have eliminated the curse of work. This is an either-or fallacy and Weil rightly takes it to task. Even if the worker owns the means of production, instead of being the means by which production happens, the worker is left with having to overcome his or her own vices, such as sloth.

Creativity requires work. Tending to gardens in order to enjoy them requires work. Adam, for example, was given the task of tending and keeping the garden before the fall (Genesis 2:15). This was one of God’s first commands to humans. Work becomes cursed once Adam and Eve fall out with God by eating fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:19, 23). Something that were explicitly told not to do.

Despite this, God graciously works to clothe them, and in what could be described as discipline, moves to protect humanity from further destruction, by closing the Garden off to humanity. Eden’s gates are shut and guarded by angel and flaming sword (Genesis 3:24).

The result is that work is redefined by sin. It’s no longer something done in partnership with God. Work becomes what it was never intended to be, cursed, because humanity took it upon themselves to become the source of morality, good and evil.

Every dictator this side of Eden’s gates stands as the master, determining right and wrong, good and evil, to be whatever he or she dictates. The transcendent word of God, made imminent to us by His revelation, is replaced by the word of man and the word of woman.

Weil’s criticism doesn’t specifically mention Genesis like this, but the sentiment is shared. Work cannot be eradicated, it can only be reformed. It can only be redeemed. Work that begins in God’s work on our behalf. Just like the clothes made for Adam and Eve to replace their own meagre work (Genesis 3:7).

This is because the absence of work, which is said to set the worker free, only ends up enslaving the worker. Likewise the absence in our own work is flawed, if the God who lovingly summons us through His own work is ejected or forgotten. The worker is subjected to an ‘unconditional surrender to caprice’ [ii].

According to Weil, there is no way to avoid work, no way of eliminating it without also eliminating ourselves. Therefore, work, in the quest to fight oppression and exploitation of the worker, has to be redefined, reformed, then validated, it cannot be eradicated.

True liberty, writes Weil, is not ‘defined by a relationship between desire & its satisfaction, but by a relationship between thought & action.’ [iii]. Life requires work. Progress requires effort and a reliable foundation, not a mechanised overlord, or a machine that replaces human thought. I see a lot of room in Weil’s thought here for Dallas Willard’s mighty theme, ‘grace is opposed to earning, but not to effort’ (The Great Omission, 2006).

Weil writes:

“Bureaucratic machines almost reach the point of taking the place of leaders. Thus, in all spheres, thought, the prerogative of the individual, is subordinated to vast mechanisms which crystallize collective life, and that is so to such an extent that we have almost lost the notion of what real thought is.”
(1934. p.104) [iv]

My translation:

“If we have machines to tell us what to think, who needs to learn how to think? ‘Ah, just google it’ or ‘I don’t need to be interested in government, if I leave them be, they’ll leave me be. Each to their own.”

Weil’s words match perfectly with the story-line of Wall-E. When the time comes for humanity to return to earth after a long period of waiting, the machines designed to keep humanity safe, become humanity’s prison wardens. They know what’s best. When evidence is presented that earth is now liveable again, the machine seeks to destroy it. The only thing in its way is a lowly earth robot called Wall-E, who, while still a machine, has human-like consciousness. Unwittingly he finds himself in a struggle for human freedom.

Wall-E is a good illustration for the soulless mechanisation that Simone Weil was criticising. On board the ship, humans have gradually become obese, having nothing to do, but be served by their machines. All work has been eradicated. The worker is free, only to find themselves held captive under the dominion of their own creation. Even the Captain is moved around in a chair. All he really does is fill a role to assuage appearances that says to everybody on board that a human is still in charge.

Another example comes from the band Styx. ‘Mr. Roboto’,  lifts Weil’s concerns straight up from the page they were written on:

“The problem’s plain to see, too much technology.
Machines to save our lives, machines dehumanize”
(Dennis DeYoung, 1983)

Simone Weil isn’t advocating a troglodyte existence. Her criticism is about our dependence on technology; a dangerously indifferent and slothful dependence which ultimately works against humanity.  As Weil wrote, ‘the picture of a completely oppressive social life is where every individual is subject to the operation of a blind mechanism.’ (p.94) [v] This is already happening when it comes to who we rely on for information, morality, ethics, and how we approach education.

To be so convinced that true reality (or freedom) is existence without the One who birthed that existence, is to give in to an arrogance which rejects God’s grace, and chains humanity to the Dark agenda of total extinction.


 References:

[i] Weil, S. 1934 The Causes of Liberty & Social Oppression in Oppression & Liberty, Routledge & Kegan Paul 1958.

[ii] ibid, p.80

[iii] ibid, p.81

[iv] ibid, p.104

[v] ibid, p.94

Image: Simone Weil, date unknown sourced 9th December 2017, from brainpickings.org

Not including those who spewed out vitriol, abuse, intimidation and violence, congratulations to the Yes supporters. Australia has voted. 7.81 million (61.6%) said Yes to SSM – 4.87 million (38.4%) said No, and another 3.28 million Australians were like, “meh; I don’t really care.”

If Australia’s Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnball, is serious about fairness, he’ll preserve the right to a conscientious objection to SSM; the right for people to hold the view, and teach their kids that marriage is between a man and a woman; and that those children have a right to equal access to their biological father and mother.

As I have hopefully made clear in the written contributions I’ve made to this national debate, I see the issues as a matter of social justice. The “no” vote has been about defending truth, liberty, fraternity, science, and even equality, from unbalanced ideological servitude.

The State wants the church to stay out of politics, but the Church is being encroached on by the State. The people want the church to stay out of politics, but it paints their political slogans on church walls, violently interferes with gatherings and misuses the Bible to manipulate or bash Christians into submission. The people want the church to stay out of politics, but they bring politics into the church, demanding a pledge of allegiance to systems that perpetuate hatred and inequality, behind a veil of tolerance, love and equality.

None of this is new, it’s the very same thing that was perpetuated by Nazis and Communists, as French theologian and Marxist scholar, Jacques Ellul noted:

‘But I’ve heard such talk a thousand times, from fascists as well as Stalinists: “You have no right to judge from the outside; first you must join up, sympathize totally with our aims, and then you can talk.” BUT that is just when one can no longer say anything! The experience of those who looked horrified, in hindsight, on Hitler’s or Stalin’s time confirms this: “How could we have taken part in that?” they ask.’
(Ellul, Jesus & Marx 1988:146)[i]

It’s a clear double standard when the LGBTQ and their supporters can freely criticise and push others to refuse service to those who disagree, then turn around and deny those in disagreement, the right to the same free speech and freedom of conscience. That’s not equality.

The line is blurring. Christians who support SSM have confused love of God with love of neighbour, and as such have compromised their neighbour, through a false [Marxist/materialist] claim that says we should place love for neighbour over and above God.

This is what is called horizontal theology. It is grounded in the errors and perversity of natural theology; the implicit claim that by blindly loving  our neighbour we can reach God through our neighbor. This encourages me to treat my neighbor as though that neighbor was a second revelation of God. The kind of ideas that lead to the false worship of Kings, rulers, prophets and objects throughout history. In short, the creature is worshipped in place of the Creator, because the Creator has been confused with His creature.

We are to be Christlike in our treatment of our neighour; have Christ in mind when we go to serve our neighbour, but we are grossly mistaken if we think that Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:40 “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me”, means that our neighbor replaces Christ.

This misunderstanding leads is to works-righteousness. It leads us away from the righteousness of God that is graciously placed on us by the dynamic love of God. Grace that is active, free and sufficient, in the work carried out by the obedience of Jesus Christ.

We reject grace, when we reject Christ and put our neigbour in His place. This is because we reject God’s invitation to relationship. It denies God’s revelation in Jesus Christ, “who is the way, the truth and the life”[ii] it denies the fact that life with God, begins with, God with us. Christless Christianity is an oxymoron.

Love is not love, God is love. That “they will know us by our love”[iii] is true, but that love involves the freedom to give both a reasoned “yes” and “no”. The alternative view confuses love with niceness, sloth and indifference.

What this does is turn Christianity into a numb universal ethic of niceness – a lukewarm empty shell; a stoic idol built to reflect and cater to the feelings of men and women.

The ethic of universal niceness is false and incompatible with a thinking faith that commands us to have no god before God; to “test all things, and hold fast to the good[iv]”; to discern and ultimately lean not “on our own understanding, but on God.’’ (Proverbs 3:5-7). To lean not on an abstract or vague idea of God, nor on a god created by human imagination, but on the tangible gracious grip of God, as the One who grasps us and testifies to us about Himself, in space and time, through covenant and in Jesus the Christ.

Faith seeks understanding.

Our response to this is found in prayer and gratitude. Actions; grounded in word, deed and attitude that reciprocates God’s selfless movement towards us, in covenant, manger, cross, empty tomb and beyond.

Being super nice has the veneer of Christian love, but it’s moral therapeutic deism at best, practical atheism (Christian in name only) at worst. This is the kind of thing that fed the blood and soil ideology of Nazism, and the Marxist ‘deification of the poor, over against THE POOR One’ (Ellul, 1988), through the dictatorship of the proletariat. Not that we should ignore the poor, but that we shouldn’t deify them to further the self-interests of those who take it upon themselves to designate who the oppressed and the oppressors are. For all have fallen short of the glory of God and are justified by his grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:23).

For the “no” voters there will be a need to take time to grieve.

Then there will be a need to catch our breath, rise and once again say to the world that we refuse to surrender or kneel before anyone but God, and His revelation in Jesus Christ.

To once again say to the world that love of neighbour is not love of God, nor should we confuse the two. For to do so is to make a god of our neighbour, and make love for neighbour, the means of salvation. Love of neighbour is grounded on and in our love of God, without the latter we are not free and therefore, we cannot truly do the former. We will be doomed to serving our own selfish interests.

Jesus is the way, tolerance isn’t. Jesus is the way, love is love isn’t. Jesus is the way, means that no man or woman, good work or intention, super niceness, or feeling is or can be. The true path to freedom, the only path to salvation is the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. This cannot be reversed. It is decisive. The path is set.  #bewaretheauctioneers

In light of the changes to come, Christians are to do what they are called to do, centre everything in Jesus Christ. To lay every issue before the cross, following Paul’s words in Romans 12, clinging especially to those which encourage us to ‘…rejoice in hope, be patient in trial, be constant in prayer.’

Kyrie Eleison.


References:

[i] Ellul, J. 1988 Jesus & Marx: From Gospel to Ideology Wipf and Stock Publishers

[ii] John 14:6, ESV

[iii] John 13:35 & Matthew 7:16 ESV

[iv] 1 Thess. 5:21, 1 Corinthians 14:29, 1 John 4:1 ESV