Archives For Johnny Cash

grace and law_Barth

Here is Bruggemann[i] discussing the significance of Yahweh’s Kingship in ‘Zion: The Jerusalem Offer of Presence’:

‘The Kingship of Yahweh resolved the enduring battle between the life-giving creation order and the restless, surging destructiveness of chaos. Jon Levenson has shown that surging chaos is known in Israel to be still on the loose and as yet un-tamed by Yahweh.

Israel’s dominant metaphor for this threat of chaos, which is both cosmic and intensely existential, is “the mighty waters” that surge out of control so that the life of Israel and the life of the world are under threat. In the liturgy of Yahweh’s kingship, worship is the drama wherein the waters are driven back, defeated, and contained’     (2005, p.655-656)

This seems to contain a certain percentage of relevance to our contemporary condition (or it stands as a contradiction to our current conditioning).

The biblical text explains that God established himself as King, establishes himself as King and will establish Himself as King. (E.g.: The covenant formula: I will be their God and they will be my people)

Bruggemann points out, that psalm 48 in its entirety asserts the claim that this God-king is not the king Israel expects. Building on this it might be fair to say that this remains pertinent to humanity today.

He is the King who adopts[ii]; invites and exists for us. In a loving and just stand against our self-destructive ways he extends possibilities for correction, because ‘he wills not the death of the sinner, but their correction’ (Ambrose of Milan, ‘On Repentance’).

He is the King who acts in mercy and justice towards his people. Even in our rejection of him, we still find his acceptance of us calling for a response.

Even though God has revealed himself as the living embodiment of the King we long for, in our fascination with the righteous king of stories such as King Arthur and Robin Hood, attempts are made to make this God-King redundant.

History dictates that men and women who burn for total power are the napalm that burns everyone under them, or anyone who stands in the way of their quest for total power.

Take for example, some of Machiavelli’s more interesting comments which provide an insight into the socio-political condition of his day. Bare in mind these comments were made in 1513 (four years before the reformation):

People are so thoughtless they’ll opt for a diet that tastes good without realising there’s  hidden poison in it…if a man or woman cannot spot a problem in the making, he or she can’t really be a wise leader’[iii]

‘For the ruler already in power generosity is dangerous; for the man seeking power it is essential’[iv]

‘So these rulers of ours, who were well-established kings and dukes yet still lost their states, should spare us their bad-luck stories; they have only themselves to blame. In peacetime they never imagined anything could change – it’s a common short coming not to prepare for the storm while the weather is fair.’[v]

These alone should tell us that humanity without this God-King cannot be trusted to rule a kingdom that bears the marks of His authority, but has jettisoned all acknowledgement of God’s current and future rule. (Man over Lord equals man overboard.)

Further back from Machiavelli, we hear the Old Testament prophets reminding us that the world must not fall to ignorance and complacency. When we hear this, we do well to listen because the pain and suffering of history is broadcasting warnings into the present; warnings about the ensuing calamity of ideological crusades when they are served by men and women, under the promise of establishing ‘God’s kingdom without God in it’[vi].

In this case Barth’s words ring true:

‘where there is no genuine authority, so there is no genuine freedom. There is only action and reaction between despotic arrogance and an equally despotic despair.’
(Barth, K.1938 CD I/II Hendrickson Publishers p.668)

Christus Invictus!


References:

[i] Walter Brueggemann, 2005 TOT: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy Augsburg Press

[ii] Ephesians 1:5 ‘In love God predestined us for adoption as sons and daughters’ through Jesus Christ’

[iii] Machiavelli, N. 1513 ‘The Prince’ Penguin Classics, p.69

[iv] Ibid, p.63

[v] Ibid, p.97

[vi] Johnny Cash & U.2, ‘The Wanderer’

 

©RL2014; reposted 6th July 2017

 

In the previous post, I introduced my topic and briefly outlined the context from which I write. Part two will conclude with a format that follows along IMG_20130506_165144similar lines.

‘The Naked Christian’ presents itself as a critical incident report that follows the protocols of theological reflection. What could be rightly termed as ”Borlase’s lament”, presents a convincing case for dropping self-serving prefixes such as ‘on-fire, post-evangelical, born-again and instead be content to simply be a Christian’ (pp.26-27). Therefore, ‘The Naked Christian’ is NOT a rant about the church. Alternatively, Borlase takes to task those expressions of church which are dangerously close to being, ‘too heavenly minded to do any earthly good’ (p.166). He cautiously walks between the polarising extremes of ‘the small-minded paranoia associated with the selfishly negative, and the free flowing DIY spirituality connected with the mindlessly positive’ (pp.137, 166 & 173).

Now, before you begin to think that I am recruiting you for membership in the Craig Borlase fan club, allow me to delicately lay out before you two significant limitations to his conclusions.

Firstly, although Borlase rightly identifies the churches’ problems with overreaction and indifference, some of the relevant-at-the-time material within ‘The Naked Christian’ is now not as relevant.  Take for example, the positive impact social media has had on the churches ability to connect with people both publically and privately, in their homes and work et.al. This answers part of the problems identified by Borlase, surrounding the churches tendency to place ritual-over-relationship. (The caveat here is of course that there is also a case, for how this makes ‘The Naked Christian’ even more relevant. I just think that in this particular area the positive, by far, out-ways the negative).

Another limitation related to this is that Borlase highlights what he calls, Jesus’ ‘radical acceptance’ (p.118) and ‘inclusion of all’ (p.151). Borlase gives only small consideration to the fact that, quite often the events were accompanied by people motivated to reverse their lifestyle. The New Testament records that the people who came into contact with Jesus were literally, never the same again. For example: Peter, Mary Magdalene, Zacchaeus and Paul.

The problem this highlights for the church today is that Jesus confronted sin on a relational level. This lead to the admonishment ‘go and sin no more’. He provided and communicated an alternative way out. How can the Church do this effectively, when a large portion of Western society today views disagreement as disrespect? Which is closely associated with the tendency to ridicule the church into submission and silence it, through accusations of bigotry and hate speech. How does the church engage as Borlase describes, when it is deliberately being forced (now sometimes legally) to disengage?

Secondly, ‘The Naked Christian’ tends to downplay the importance of solitude and periods of isolation that are useful for nurturing faith. Ergo spiritual disciplines are not addressed. Having said this, it is important to note that Borlase does acknowledge the importance of order. For instance: ‘with no structure in place there would be a real threat of directionless wandering’ (p.164).However, he does not elaborate on how spiritual disciplines, such as solitude, fit within his critique of the church.Sometimes distancing ourselves from a particular context or relationship is necessary and beneficial.

The strength of Borlase’s work is that it is a theological quest ‘for balance’ (p.167). The definition of a ‘Naked Christian’ is an ‘authentic’ (p.64) Christ-follower who advocates a thinking faith, over against an ‘airhead Christianity…that preferences emotion over understanding’ (pp.154 & 159). Speaking from his own experience, Borlase seeks to raise awareness about the ‘good vs. bad logic that wrongfully underpins our ideas of Church vs. world’ (p.137, emphasis mine); or in other words the false dichotomy between secular and sacred (p.110).

Borlase is right to do this because it counters the dehumanizing, results-over-relationship culture that hinges on the buy and sell transactional nature of relationship. This is something which should rightly be an anathema to the church. For example: the church should ‘treat people as loved by God instead of targets (numbers) for Christian mission’ (p.85). In order to do this Borlase encourages the Church to bring ‘the world into focus’ (p.109)…stating that

Christianity is about relationship not ritual’ (pp.137 & 166)…‘If we run away at the first sign of bad feelings, if we have failed to equip ourselves with a knowledge of God and if we only value the big spiritual event, then we run the risk of missing out on some absolutely vital parts of our relationship with God’ (pp.163-165).

This is reflected in what Karl Barth means when he speaks of the ‘bourgeois’. What he meant was (predominantly white) middle class Christianity (Gorringe 1999, p.8)[2]. This works for a valid explanation of my own broad experience of the Australian Church. IMG_20130505_223258I attended a Catholic primary school, was baptised in a Pentecostal church, attended an ecumenical Christian secondary school and was married in the same Anglican Church I was christened in. As a teenager I was forced by my, loving but, recently divorced mother to attend every Sunday service, shifting between two wealthy charismatic Churches. I was a volunteer announcer at a Christian radio station that prided itself on only playing ‘Christian music’, along with managing a Christian bookstore, and now I’m studying a double degree at an ecumenical tertiary college.

All these paradigms of ecclesia have shown me that every ‘metaphor’ (Jensen & Wilhite 2010, Loc.276) of church has strengths and limitations[3]. Therefore I am sympathetic to the statement that ‘the church is yet to be defined’ (Jenson & Wilhite 2010, Loc.322) beyond being an ‘invisible (mystical) and visible reality (institutional, sacramental, herald and servant’ (2010, loc.722).

When serious thinkers like Karl Barth speak of a ‘bourgeois’ Christianity the subtext conceals a witty caveat. It is a warning against becoming a ‘narcissistic subculture…or so culturally relevant that we no longer have anything to say to the culture. Instead of having a transforming influence on it, we run the risk of fusing with it’ (Morgenthaler 1995, p.137).

This has largely been my experience of the church. For the most part it has been a negative one and resembles the song ‘I’ve been everywhere man’. For example: I was a Protestant in the Catholic paradigm, come from a welfare dependant family who were Anglican, yet were attending a wealthy charismatic Pentecostal Church. I was a deeply troubled teen constantly wrestling with trying to reconcile the Christianity I was seeing with the Christianity I was hearing about from within my ecumenical, secondary Christian school milieu.

In sum, I was an accidental prodigal who didn’t fit the criteria, and was part of the ‘odd and vulnerable, showing their scars and wounds to a watching church’ (Borlase 2001, p.131), who seemed unwilling to invite participation without demanding doctrinal assimilation. My fumbling attempts to live out of my confession that Jesus Christ is Lord of my life made me unwanted. This led to those Christians I was in contact with not taking my salvation seriously, simply because I wasn’t at the latest conference, wearing the latest slogan or showing off a ‘spiritual six-pack’ (p.132). Borlase is right to ask: what would happen if ‘the life of the church gathered, was brought into contact with the life of the church scattered’ (p.49 emphasis mine)?

4186EWCSV9L__BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX240_SY320_CR,0,0,240,320_SH20_OU01_

Available @ Amazon

Throughout 2002, God used this book to turn my anger and frustration with His church, into understanding and compassion. Throughout the many years since this has transformed my negative experiences into a love for authentic church as being, not just doing. We are called into the church by Jesus the Christ as being and doing. We are not called to play the role of church by seeming to be doing.

My intention here has been to share how this book has impacted my faith. It has done so by encouraging me to see that the church is much bigger than we can be trapped into think it is. What makes this book special is that Borlase challenged my embedded theology. It encouraged me to not only ‘test everything…but to hold fast to what is good’ (1 Thess.5:21).

In a similar way, Borlase’s message motivates the church by encouraging us to move beyond  ‘smug complacency’ (p.89 – the ”meh” culture), disappointment, offense and despair. He points us towards responsible action, devoid of Christianese and its dangerously decontextualized cousin, who appears briefly from behind closed doors[4] in order to safely evangelise, solely in the form of slogans, bumper stickers and memes. The good news is that Jesus is not bound by doors closed for fear of retribution, rejection and ridicule (Jn.20). Neither should we be.

The church cannot hide from the world and its temptations because ‘the Church…is the world conscious of its need’  (Karl Barth cited by Gorringe,1999 Karl Barth: Against Hegemony p.63)[5].

Bibliography

Borlase, C. 2001 The Naked Christian, Hodder and Stoughton London
Cash, J, No earthly good Johnny Cash: Personal Files Available @ iTunes and Amazon
Gorringe, T.J. 1999 Karl Barth: Against Hegemony Oxford University Press Inc. New York NY, USA
Jenson, M & Wilhite, D 2010 the Church: A guide for the perplexed T & T Clark International London
Morganthaler, S. 1995 Worship Evangelism: inviting unbelievers into the presence of God, Zondervan Publishing house Grand Rapids, MI, USA

If you are interested in reading some other works from Craig Borlase, I  recommend ‘God’s gravity’ and highly recommend ‘William Seymour’.


[1] Quote is attributed to Brene Brown, 2010,  ‘the gifts of imperfection’ Hazelden
[2] Bourgeois is defined as self-reliance, religion for example: ‘Humanity itself is comfortably established, life was based upon a firm foundation, economically and politically solid and secured by reliable moral principles. This bourgeois character and its piety is strongly orientated ethically and hence is determined by human conduct. Humanity knows what is good and righteous and can achieve it by his own unaided efforts’ (Keller, 1933).
[3] Keller is right to say that ‘Barthianism is a picture of our religious situation inasmuch as it portrays the dissatisfaction of the church with itself, the self-contradiction which results as soon as it orientates itself by its God-given commission and not by its cultural requirements’ (Keller 1933, pp.37-38)
[4] Terry Crist, ‘Learning the language of Babylon’
[5] Jensen and Wilhite make the statement that ‘separation is foreign to the church’ (2010, loc.2433)… ‘It seems the acme of enmity to distinguish the church from the world…To call ourselves the church, then call everyone else the world suggests that `we’ are better than `they’. It is a subtle form of self-justification’ (2010, loc.2241)…’The church exists for the world’ (2010, loc.2253)…the world is not only `them’; it is also (and first) `us’. Nor can the church’s word of antagonism be a final one. The church is finally for the world not against it, because its King under whose reign it lives is finally for the world (2010, Loc.2268).(Rom.5:8)

One evening, a few weeks back, I came into contact with the work of Canadian, theologian and preacher Jamie Howison. The impetus of this discovery was my quest to answer the controversial question ‘is preaching a performance?’ Howison had recently published a book entitled ‘God’s mind in that music: a theological exploration through the music of John Coltrane’[1]. Being an amateurish Jazz enthusiast and budding theologian, I was immediately intrigued by this link between music and theological expression.

For context, I rate among the many that view anything ‘polished as false and sloppy as genuine’ (Dixon, 2013). There is justification for thinking like this, although ultimately it is flawed. For example, I am conditioned to think this way because of my negative experiences with churches that valued appearance, wealth and status above people.  Therefore my immediate, natural reaction is to reject any notion that preaching is a performance.

As so often can be the case my embedded theological position here was challenged by the deliberative theology I found myself immersed in. As a result I was corrected, and redirected beyond my predisposed cynicism. As difficult as it has been to shift my thinking on this issue, I find myself stating in the affirmative, preaching does in fact involve performance.

In order to come to this new point of view I had to differentiate between ‘putting on a show’ and the importance of performing, as being an important element within the art of effective communication.

Thankfully, my collegial brethren were there to force this distinction to the surface. As this truth unraveled, not too much unlike an approaching storm, I began to see the relevance that Howison’s work had to my newly found appreciation for performance. He is right to state that ‘every time any of us goes to hear live music, we are at least potentially a part of its creation’ (2012, p.10). After all, “theology is worked out in community’’, right?

My research prompted me to dust off some significant examples that were right there in front of me. Such as: Johnny Cash who as an artist points to, and is one of the better examples of combining preaching with performance, or theology with art.

Cash himself stated that

‘I don’t cram anything down people’s throats, but neither do I make any apologies for it, and in a song introduction, I have to tell it like it is’ (‘Cash: the autobiography 1997, p.275).

Likewise Hollywood actor Stephen Baldwin makes the plea for the Church

‘to do whatever it takes to develop and distribute culturally relevant, artistically excellent materials that will make the world sit up and take notice’ (‘The unusual suspect 2006, p.248).

Whilst this could rightly be viewed as an overstatement, it is worth noting that Baldwin balances this by stating that

‘relevance does not mean adopting the culture’s methods to the degree that you lose the message’ (2006, p.245)

For Howison, ‘the very idea that the preacher (and the musician) has a significant role in the shaping of a shared intellectual life is important’ (2012, p.12). This is also reflected in Michael Quicke’s book ‘Preaching as Worship’. Quicke is an advocate for the use of social media. He ingeniously promotes the art of blogging in order to invite his faith community to participate in the sermon creation process.

The final words, at least for now, go to  lead-worshipper and teacher Kathryn Scott ,

‘’what we do spills out of the strong quiet knowledge of who we are’’ (2013).

In other words, when we are centered we don’t need to ‘put on a show’.  This is because our performance is found in ‘our vulnerability, the willingness to give of our best to others on a wholehearted level’ (Brené Brown). Out of this flows a natural performance because ‘our stories begin and end with God’ (McManus 2005, p.63). By it we take up the invitation to participate ‘with’ Father, Son and Spirit, and lay our self-righteous attempts to do anything ‘for’ Him at the foot of the cross. Here, right now, we are invited to serve directly from whose we are and who we are ‘becoming’ (Guthrie 2011, p.47).

Bibliography:

Baldwin, S. 2006 The Unusual Suspect, Faithwords Hachette Book Group New York, NY
Cash, J. 1997 Johnny Cash: the autobiography HarperCollins Publishers New York, NY
Guthrie, Steven R. (2011-05-01). Creator Spirit: The Holy Spirit and the Art of Becoming Human . Baker Book Group. Kindle Edition.
Howison, J. 2012 God’s mind in That Music: theological explorations through the Music of John Coltrane Cascade Books, Wipf and Stock publishers OR, USA.
McManus, E. 2005 the Barbarian way: Unleash the untamed faith within Nelson books Tenn, US.


[1] (the title is named after a Carlos Santana comment about John Coltrane).