Archives For November 2013

So as it turns out, one anniversary of thanksgiving meets another. I am not completely sure why the matching dates didn’t connect for us before. I guess since  ‘thanksgiving’ is primarily a North American gig, we hadn’t made the connection. This year, however, that great summons of ‘thanksgiving’ to which all Americans are called to respond, grasped this Australian.

That summons reminded me of the best pre-marital advice I have ever received.

Fifteen years ago, a few weeks prior to our wedding day, a Christian widow who had befriended us, stopped me, and in her heavy Scottish accent said:

IMG_20131129_101701

We have never forgotten her fellowship, her kindness, her friendship, or those words.

..”Sometime later, the Moravian founders added the best known and most enduring symbol of their order: a gold ring decorated in enamel and inscribed with the Greek words that translate “none of us lives for himself” (Anderson, ‘The Lord of the Ring’ 2004:32).

..’whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him’. (Colossians 3:17, ESV)

300px-Edith_Stein‘…One night in 1930, the French occupation forces left the city of Speyer, and the German army took over. Teachers and students went to celebrate the event that took place at midnight. Everybody was excited about the regained freedom, symbolized in the parade of the German soldiers to the light of the torches’ flames. Edith Stein, however, was very quiet. Uta von Bodman asked her why she did not share the enthusiasm of the crowd, of all the spectators.
Edith answered:
“They are going to persecute first the Jews, then afterwards the Catholic Church.” Her friend could not believe it. “Wait, and you will remember my words,” Edith said.
It is not the self-conscious certainty of a man who stands on his two feet by his own power, but the sweet and blessed certainty of a child that is being carried by a strong arm.
She did not live in anxiety, but in hope, even when she had to die in the gas chambers of Auschwitz on August 9, 1942′.
– Ex-Atheist & Camelite Nun , Edith Stein. Introduction to Her Life and Thought
(Carmelite Studies) Kindle Ed. 959-961 Christus Publishing, LLC. (image: Wikipedia)

Grace Over the Abyss

Continuing to pray and mine my way back through Tolstoy’s 1879-80 work, ‘A Confession’. The background image comes from a summer storm we had in the afternoon yesterday. The clouds just seemed to intensify the concepts of grace, awareness and anticipation that Tolstoy was wrestling with. Don’t give up. Push across the stream!!

Tolstoy_Faith_Theology

Л. Н.Толстой рассказывает сказку внукам. 1909

Л. Н.Толстой рассказывает сказку внукам. 1909 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further questions might be:

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

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

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

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

Diary of Leo Tolstoy

Diary of Leo Tolstoy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

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

Be attentive to God’s word

Keeping them close.

Guard your heart with vigilance,

Avoiding spin and smear.

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

Looking forward, ponder the path of our feet.

Be attentive to wisdom.

Use words that guard knowledge,

And ponder the path of life.


Related articles

Tolstoy’s Faith – GVL

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

Sources:


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

©RL2013

Today, I took a picture looking from the south part of a river across towards the north.

At first I had accidentally inverted the image and then in an almost automatic way corrected it; thinking more about the achievement of capturing the contrast between the dark green foreground, and the light green trees on the other side of the riverbank. I made the correction and continued on.

I was drawn back to the details of the inverted image. I was captivated by the similarities and slight differences that exist between it and the upright image. Differences that are evident and yet not so evident. Such as: what looks like the watery reflection of  trees in the inverted  image (A) is in fact sky. Upside down it looks like a painting. The small green palm tree which looks as though it is hanging down from a tree branch is actually the ground. This picture upside down is, for lack of a better word, stunning.

(A): Inverted version

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In its inverted position, this mistake makes a simple statement. I like how the light bouncing of the water resembles the colour of the sky, and if the bluish-tint at the bottom was not there, this picture might convince anyone looking at it that it is a representation of what I saw. That conclusion would be true, but it would not be completely accurate.

These pictures tell us that there are trees, water, sky, branches, dirt, grass and a person who, at that particular point in time, was available to capture the image with a camera. There really is little difference between perspectives A and B. The significance is that B happens to be focused; it is clearer because it is right-side up. Although the inverted image (A) can be considered inaccurate scientifically, it still holistically represents the details captured in (B), and is therefore as true as perspective (B).

(B): Upright version

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The principles on display here apply to our understanding and receptivity of the Biblical texts. The authors of the Bible had no video precision. There were no photo finishes and they used the means that were available to record events. These include the strict traditions of oratory narrative, scribes and the observance of feasts to mark significant events.

Truth is not accuracy, although it is synonymous with it. The word true is defined as, ‘in accordance with fact, genuine and not false, exact, in good tune, balanced, accurately placed, loyal and faithful’ (Oxford). Accurate is defined as being ‘free from error, conforming exactly to a standard of truth, careful, exact and showing precision’ (Oxford).

This is all to say that:

The Bible does not have to be accurate in every detail to be true. God’s word is in a sense infallible; it is a TRUE saga. There are three popular rubrics of information that present evidence of infallibility in Western society. These are firstly, approximation, secondly, journalism and thirdly, metaphor. Although journalism has taken a hit in recent years, Western society affirms all three rubrics as proficient in providing accurate information regarding empirically verifiable data – even if complete accuracy is presumed; based on trust and contextual. As historian and theologian John Dickson said recently, we “lean on authority in every aspect of our lives. Whether that be the newsreader, the speed zones, ingredients, diet, et.al” (paraphrased).

Even though accuracy can corroborate what is true; accuracy is limited in being able to completely define truth. Accuracy is perceived through empirical investigation and the results are often based on estimates of probability.Evidence of this is clearly seen in Western society’s dependence on, and belief in, the accuracy of statistics. Even though statistics are numerical estimates, these ‘facts and figures’ are believed to be a reliable reflection of truth[1].  Statistics are a ‘vital source of evidence’ (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2010) because approximation is considered to be the results of a ‘scientific approach’ (ABS, 2010).

Similarly, the use of metaphor efficiently delineates experience, inviting participation through allegory and anecdotes. Metaphor
helps ‘dramatise a psychological experience so as to make it more vivid and more comprehensible’ (Sayers 2004:205). This is evident in phrases such as,‘time is money’ and ‘you disagree? Okay, shoot’ (Knowles & Moon 2006:31
& 35,).

Employing the distinctions are important. An example of this is the terminology used to describe sunsets and sunrise:

(An un-empirically accurate statement) ‘I am looking at the sea and I saw the sunrise’.

(An empirically accurate statement)  ‘I optically observed the large, natural voluminous liquid of sodium-chloride-filled hydrogen-oxide, commonly known as the Pacific Ocean. Optically observing the vacillation of the earth’s axis past the sun’

Not everyone talks like the character Sheldon Cooper on TV’s ‘The Big Bang Theory’, even those who befriend him tend to find his obsessive quest for a totalistic empirical accuracy in every interpersonal communication unhealthy, rude and annoying.

These points of view show that viewing the bible as infallible as opposed to inerrant, is a reasonble approach. First, it retains a healthy scientific respect for the biblical texts and its genres. Second, it calls for a ‘focus on what the Bible is rather than on what it is not’ (Nicole, 1980: 54). Donald Bloesch writes that:

we must never say that the Bible teaches theological or historical error, but we need to recognise that not everything reported in the bible maybe in exact correspondence with the historical and scientific fact as we know it today…’ (1994:37 & 197).

Despite the ‘alleged errors’ (Jensen 2000:200) the Biblical narrative demonstrates that ‘its writers were not concerned with the modern pre-occupation with precision of detail[2]’ (Grenz 1994:401). The authors ‘were recording the facts‘(Yancey 1995:212) as they[3] saw them.

Jonathon Alter[4], a writer for Newsweek, stated in 2003 that

the only thing worse than believing everything we read in the news, is people believing in none of it’ (‘An erosion of trust’, Newsweek, May 26)

This ”could” loosely be said of the Biblical narratives. Still, God chooses to reveal himself to His people through story, and ultimately reveals himself in Jesus the Christ. Thankfully through the activity of the Spirit, Biblical content continues to penetrate truth, both empirical and un-empirical, into the daily aspects of modern life. Challenging us to move towards a fuller humanity, under a commanding, gracious and loving God.

Sources:

Australian Bureau of Statistics 2010, The Guide for using statistics for evidence based policy, ABS Canberra, retrieved October 24th 2010
Author Unknown, cites John Merill and Jonathon Alter, IowaUniversity, Truth and the Journalist, retrieved 19th October 2010 from http://www.uiowa.edu/~c019168/168s6online9.html
Bloesch, Donald. G, 1994, Holy Scripture: revelation, inspiration and interpretation, Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois
Grenz, Stanley. J, 1994, Theology and the community of God, Broadman and Holman Publishers, 2000 edition, Wm.B Eerdmans Publishing Co. Grand Rapids, Michigan, Cambridge U.K
Knowles. M & Moon. R, 2006, Introducing Metaphor retrieved 24th October 2010
Sayers, Dorothy, 2004, Letters to a Diminished Church, W Publishing Group, a division of Thomas Nelson, Inc.
Yancey, Phillip, 1995, The Jesus I never knew, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan

____________________________________________

[1] A census is taken seriously and accepted as a true reflection that provides ‘accurate and meaningful information’ (2010, ABS.gov.au).
[2] Higher criticism (historical criticism) should be directed against modern art, literature, science and film as aggressively as it is towards the Bible.
[3]  Although, Jensen aptly states that, ‘the biblical writers were not modern scientists, and God did not provide them with the language or insight of science as we understand it’ (198, The Revelation of God).
[4] http://www.jonathanalter.com/

RL2013

For background ‘atmos’ in the schoolroom today, we gave the vinyl of Bing’s “White Christmas” a spin. As per the dust on display in the imperfect picture? In retrospect I probably should have dusted off the record player before jumping right in.  I’ll put such a failure to act down to being an x-gen, who knows more about the right care of tape recorders and CD’s than that of record players.

IMG_20131120_133029_long

If you happened to read my post about the ”Quintessential 12” – a compendium of what I consider the best Christmas tunes, covered, improvised and created; you’re probably aware of my penchant for Crowder’s cover of ‘Carol of the Bells’ and the Casting Crowns version of Longfellow’s ‘I heard the bells on Christmas Day’. If not, and you’d like to read it, the link for that is here – (aRt and tHeOlOgY: Christmas Musica Compendium).

The reason for mentioning that post is:

I may have to add one song to the list. After watching the new Veggie vid, this fun Christmas groove appears to be reaching orbit on my youngen’s “Dad,-please-buy-it-when-you-can” list:

(Just for the ”record”: I wasn’t paid to promote this new DVD – Veggie Tales simply just rock).

VeggieTales “Light of Christmas” Official: Owl City featuring Toby Mac – Lyric Video from:

Merry Larry and the True Light of Christmas

Stumbling through some images yesterday, I came across an ‘old’ e-formatted copy of Leo Tolstoy’s 1879 work – ‘A Confession’. I had originally been looking for humorous pictures about coffee, power etc. Instead, I found myself navigating my way through this book instead.

As I made my advance into Tolstoy’s world,  I found it difficult to put down.

There are free versions of this available from Christian Classics (Link: A Confession CCEL).

In short, Tolstoy’s documented struggle with theology, science, life, faith, the Greek Orthodox church, severe depression and mental illness, is ripe for contemporary reflection. Which is saying a lot for a 134 year old academically astute work of art.

Karl Barth was aware of Tolstoy’s work. However based on the indexing in his Church Dogmatics I could only find a loose connection to the imagery of being ”held over the abyss by the infinite” (CD, IV:I:411), which Tolstoy uses in the abridged quote below. Considering that Barth was born in 1886, there is a strong possibility here that Tolstoy had a big influence on Barth’s thought and theology. I am keen to confirm this link, so if anyone can point me in the right direction with this, I would appreciate it.

For me, among the highlights of this journey was this postscript (Some of which I hope to write and post about this week. After I pray and mine it some more):

I had a dream.
Leo Tolstoy
Leo Tolstoy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The dream was this:
I saw that I was lying on a bed. I was neither comfortable nor uncomfortable: I was lying on my back.
I looked down and did not believe my eyes. I was not only at a height comparable to the height of the highest towers or mountains, but at a height such as I could never have imagined. I could not even make out whether I saw anything there below, in that bottomless abyss over which I was hanging and which I was being drawn.
My heart contracted, and I experienced horror. To look thither was terrible. If I looked thither I felt that I should at once slip from the last support and perish. And I did not look. But not to look was still worse, for I thought of what would happen to me directly I fell from the last support. And I felt that from fear I was losing my last supports, and that my back was slowly slipping lower and lower.
Another moment and I should drop off. And then it occurred to me that this cannot be real. It is a dream. Wake up!
I try to arouse myself but cannot do so. What am I to do? What am I to do? I ask myself, and look upwards.
Above, there is also an infinite space. I look into the immensity of sky and try to forget about the immensity below, and I really do forget it. The immensity below repels and frightens me; the immensity above attracts and strengthens me.
I am still supported above the abyss by the last supports that have not yet slipped from under me; I know that I am hanging, but I look only upwards and my fear passes. As happens in dreams, a voice says: “Notice this, this is it!” And I look more and more into the infinite above me and feel that I am becoming calm.
I remember all that has happened, and remember how it all happened; how I moved my legs, how I hung down, how frightened I was, and how I was saved from fear by looking upwards.
I ask myself how am I held: I feel about, look round, and see that under me, under the middle of my body, there is one support, and that when I look upwards I lie on it in the position of secured balance, and that it alone gave me support before. And then, as happens in dreams, I imagined the mechanism by means of which I was held; a very natural intelligible, and sure means, though to one awake that mechanism has no sense. I was even surprised in my dream that I had not understood it sooner.
It appeared that at my head there was a pillar, and the security of that slender pillar was undoubted though there was nothing to support it. From the pillar a loop hung very ingeniously and yet simply, and if one lay with the middle of one’s body in that loop and looked up, there could be no question of falling. This was all clear to me, and I was glad and tranquil. And it seemed as if someone said to me:
“See that you remember.”
And I awoke.

Source:

Leo Tolstoy 1879 A Confession  Kindle for PC. (Loc. 962).