Archives For December 2014

Collage 1 Top Twenty

Long term readers of this blog will know that I’m not big on lists. I get that lists are draw-cards; that people have a limited amount of time and that the Biblical texts are full of them.

That said, neither am I following an absolute uncompromising imperative against using lists. So, here are the top twenty posts for 2014.

  1. C.S Lewis: Is Theology Poetry?
  2. Review: Who’s To Blame?
  3. Jesus Freak: Overdone; Far From Being Outdone
  4. On Preaching & Performance
  5. When A Man Loves A Woman: Barth’s Freedom In Fellowship
  6. Deum Verum I (Very God)
  7. A Broken Sermon For The Broken-Hearted
  8. Sin & The Rejection of Grace
  9. Sabotaging Christmas: Toys, Identity, Gender & Politics
  10. aRt & tHeOlOgY: ‘To Our Wounds Only God’s Wounds Can Speak’
  11. Epiphany 2014: He Will Reign
  12. Heartbreak Warfare: Refusing To Walk On Eggshells
  13. Steve Taylor’s Memorandum: ‘On The Future of The Music Industry’
  14. The Stamp Is Real
  15. Noise, The Joyful Kind
  16. We Can’t Create Peace With A #Hashtag
  17. Die Weiße Rose
  18. The Writings On The Wall
  19. Christ In Contemporary Culture: ‘Come Alive’
  20. Review: Crowder, Neon Steeple

Although the blog has been active for over a year, this is the first full year for complete stats.

I view stats like positive feedback. They show me areas of strength and limitation (For me, this generally means: writing ability vs. subtle unresolved insecurities complicating how I write).

All the best for 2015.

In Christ,

Rod

Gratia Veritas Lumen: Spurgeon FPG

Since reading these words I’ve wondered what Spurgeon would have thought of today’s musical milieu and the classics it is built on.

His 19th Century, British historical context aside. Were Spurgeon here today, the good Reverend may have been more likely to tune in to some of it. Rather than just churn out a blanket critique against all of it.

Outside hymns and a few modern worship songs. There are not a whole lot of lyrics which could be universally wrapped around the notion of existing solely as a battle cry for poets, pastors, philosophers and theologians.

This said, P.O.D’s song, ‘Sleeping Awake’ seems to be among the few that would fit well.


Source:

Spurgeon, C.S. 1883,  Flowers From a Puritans Garden

For a real take on Spurgeon ”Behind-the-scenes”, I highly recommend: The Forgotten Spurgeon by Iain Murray.

Merry Christmas

December 24, 2014 — Leave a comment

In darkened times there’s a lot more to a “Merry Christmas” or the celebration of it, than words and actions filled with empty sentiment. The origins of these words and the goodwill it proclaims, comes from a light not lit by human imagination. Nor are they the ignorant consolations of inappropriate and intoxicated merriment.

To say them is to act in true freedom; it is an act of gratitude, unity and prayer. An act that is transformed into a ‘revolt against the disorder of the world.’ (Karl Barth)

In deep grief and reflective desolation, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) wrote these words:

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
 The Wrong shall fail,
 The Right prevail,
 With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

This year and those to come, may we also continue to hear and recognise, what he heard and recognised.

Merry Christmas Greek Orthodox

 

Christmas Busch

December 23, 2014 — 2 Comments

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!”


Source:

[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

Author, Anglican and Chaplain of St George’s Anglican Church in Baghdad, Rev.Canon Andrew White, posted this picture to his timeline on Facebook, writing: ”The Christians in Northern Iraq have set up a refugee tent for Jesus in refugee camp for this year.”

If we’re looking for inspiration in broken times; a reminder that faith seeks understanding and inspires hope; that the living God is indeed alive. We as Westerners might first begin here.

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Jean Elshtain’s words, written in 2008, shine forth a vivid description about what it means to be the people of the Prince of Peace:

‘The progress of Christian pilgrims has been measured in their perseverance against sin and temptation and their commitment to living out their lives within the framework of a community that cares for its neighbors and lives in hope of eternal life.
The Christian community is not territorial, that is, it is not tied to a specific place and space. From the beginning, Christians have been a pilgrim people, living within historic time and moving across earthly space. As pilgrims, they are not defined by their territorial location or identity. God is not confined to a geographic place.’ [i]

Although Elshtain isn’t, she could be taking her example from a reflection on the journey of Mary, Joseph and Jesus; to Bethlehem and then from Bethlehem to Egypt and back again. Included in this historical narrative of movement and community is the arrival of Shepherds and the later arrival of Magi from the East.

Within the recollection that the diorama in the photo reveals, rests a solemn, but still joyful act of defiance and devotion. An acknowledgement that ‘God is not confined to a geographic place’.

This is, as Barth might perhaps term it: a statement of gratitude, recollection and anticipation not just for the emancipation already received in Christ, but for the hope of emancipation which is to come.

When we read Barth’s apophatic warning, the connection isn’t as clear on the surface. The connection does, however, exist in the point that this is a call to recall hope as event:

‘Revelation is not the manifestation of an idea…In Jesus, the living God has spoken to both men and women in accents we cannot fail to hear’ [ii]

Barth’s warning is only made sharper in it’s relevance to Westerners when viewed in the light of Dietrich Bonheoffer’s indictment on the spirit of his time:

‘We have learnt the art of equivocation and pretence; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical.
Are we of any use?
What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but plain, honest straightforward men. Will our inward power of resistance be strong enough, and our honesty with ourselves remorseless enough, for us to find our way back to simplicity and straightforwardness?’

(Letters and Papers from Prison, Expanded ed.) 

As hearts realign towards God’s revelation this Christmas. We as the people of the Prince of Peace recall hope as an event that was and will be;at once and for all time glad tidings, good news; reconciliation, relationship; grace and just judgement. It is here that we are also challenged once again to stand against the shadow and threat of fascist totalitarianism, and proclaim along with the Confessing Church:

“Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death.
We reject the false doctrine, as though the church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God’s revelation.” [iii]

 


 

[i] Elshtain, J. 2008 Just War Against Terror: The Burden Of American Power In A Violent World Basic Books. Kindle Ed. p. 30.

[ii] Barth, K. 1938 CD. I/II The Miracle of Christmas, Hendrickson Publishers, p.179 & 183

[iii] Barth, K. 1940 CD.II/I The Knowability of God, Hendrickson Publishers p.172 // Theological Confession of Barmen, First Article, May 31, 1934

Image credit: Stivan Shany

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s reach for Augustinian theology is interesting. It is not quite a theological treatise encased in a poem but it does present itself as more than just a rhyme.

A lot of this is figurative language and given more time for research I could/would like to unpack it further. There is a sense of tension. As if Longfellow is stretching to bring Augustine into mid 1800’s America. Longfellow either likes or dislikes Him. Sometimes appearing to be caught between both awe at Augustine’s insights on grace, and distaste for Augustine’s ‘bleak anthropology’ {B.J Gundlach, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, p.123}.

Longfellow’s popularity as a poet waned after the turn of the century in the late 1800’s. By all accounts he was more than just a man who inherited his faith from a stagnating Christian culture. This is evidenced by his interest in Unitarianism, a post-enlightenment theory which rested on empiricism and held that because the Trinity is not directly mentioned in the Bible, Father, Son and Spirit is not Triune.

As an accompaniment, not many songs could beat ‘Devonshire Carol’ from War Horse, by John Tams and Barry Coope .

The Ladder of St. Augustine.

‘Saint Augustine!

Well have you said, that of our vices we can frame a ladder, if we will but tread

Beneath our feet each deed of shame!

All common things, each day’s events, that with the hour begin and end.
Our pleasures and our discontents, are rounds by which we may ascend.

The low desire, the base design that makes another’s virtues less.
The revel of the treacherous wine, and all occasions of excess.

The longing for ignoble things; the strife for triumph more than truth;
The hardening of the heart, that brings irreverence for the dreams of youth;

All thoughts of ill, all evil deeds, that have their root in thoughts of ill;
Whatever hinders or impedes. The action of the nobler will.

All these must first be trampled down, beneath our feet, if we would gain
In the bright fields of fair renown the right of eminent domain.

We have not wings, we cannot soar; but we have feet to scale and climb
By slow degrees, by more and more, the cloudy summits of our time.

The mighty pyramids of stone that wedge-like cleave the desert airs,
When nearer seen, and better known are but gigantic flights of stairs.

The distant mountains, that uprear, their solid bastions to the skies,
Are crossed by pathways, that appear, as we to higher levels rise.

The heights by great men reached and kept, were not attained by sudden flight,
But they, while their companions slept, toiled upward in the night.

Standing on what too long we bore, with shoulders bent and downcast eyes,
We may discern – unseen before- a path to higher destinies.

Nor deem the irrevocable past, as wholly wasted, wholly vain,
If, rising on its wrecks, at last, to something nobler we attain.’

‘The Poetical Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’, 1868, p.185

 


Related posts: Longfellow’s Christmas

Aussie flag at half mast Getty ImagesToday, two innocent civilians lost their lives because of the actions of an Islamic terrorist on Australian soil. Others were wounded.

It begs belief then that a good portion of the focus in the past 48hrs has been on the social media hashtag “movement” #illridewithyou.

What should we expect though?

Seeming to be doing and doing what feels-good has become the measure of right response today.

Such armchair activism is a gloomy sign of the flimsy ethics and shallow sentiment that afflicts our post-Christian society.

“illridewithyou” is a nice gesture. But. Outside raising an often short lived awareness of issues, sentimental hashtag movements are historically noted for achieving very little.

Who remembers the ‘hashtag diplomacy’[i] of #bringbackourgirls, #kony2012 or has heard of any genuine change brought about by it?

Call me callous. Throw all the passive aggressive rants on Facebook and 140 bit tantrums on twitter that you like.

It doesn’t change the facts.

In this case it’s tantamount to having a few drunken mates tell you, over and over again, in words devoid of any real meaning how much you mean to them.

Do our Muslim neighbours (moderate or radical) want such attention or even need such protection?

Would, for example, a Muslim man consider it appropriate if his wife did actually end up riding with a non-Muslim for the sake of that non-Muslim proving that they are not anti-Muslim? … {insert a ton of other practical reasons}

One could draw on the argument that often comes from our well-meaning-left-leaning brothers and sisters, who sometimes point out, rather loudly, that it is racist and intolerant to impose anything on anyone.

Ergo, employing this logic #illridewithyou becomes yet another example of “Western (white) moralist superiority and imperialism”.(Granted this is overly simplified. It is so, for the sake of brevity)

The danger of hashtag movements should be clear to all of us.

It is the one that “illridewithyou” highlights well, evidenced by the overbearing suspicion that somehow you’re racist if you don’t agree or publically brandish such a hashtag via retweet, share, comment or post.

You would be right to wonder if any ‘chasm existed between perception, reality, right interpretation, intention and action.[ii]’ Here appearances override substance and perception distracts us from reality.

Engage, by all means! But we need to acknowledge that wisdom and sensitivity must dictate our approach. Acting on rash sentiment tends to only cause division and resentment, rather than create unity.

Critiquing the #illridewithyou hashtag raises questions about fear, ignorance and a lack of respect for Islamic history and culture that might actually lie hidden behind such sentimentalism. Even if the intentions are innocent enough. Ironically, #illridewithyou might actually be Islamophobic in and of itself.

Today, as in all terrorist attacks on civilian targets the innocent suffer.

We should mourn their loss deeply and then ask ourselves seriously, why was it that our first point of solidarity was with our Muslim neighbours and their perceived trauma, and not with the twelve victims, their families and the actual trauma?

Folks, we cannot make peace, or reach heaven through a hashtag. We cannot convince those ‘committed to violence without limits’[iii] to change.

As Jean Bethke Elshtain observed:

‘Whatever sins and shortcomings that exist in the West, Islamist fundamentalism requires none of these to turn people into ideological fundamentalists with whom dialogue is impossible—as a matter of principle, not merely prudence—and who are not content to “live and let live.[iv]

Certainly, a just war against terror isn’t simple, but it is real.

It is one we share with our moderate Muslim and Jewish neighbours who cherish the same rights as Christians and atheists do; friends who deserve our careful thought and responsible action, not just potentially empty sentiments; the bane of all mutually beneficial relationships and effective diplomacy.

 


Sources:

[i] Bauer, G. Hashtag diplomacy won’t save lives, 7th August 2014 sourced: 16th December 2014

[ii] Jennings, W.J. 2010 The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race (Loc. 426). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

[iii] Ibid, p. 23.

[iv] Elshtain, J. 2008 Just War Against Terror: The Burden Of American Power In A Violent World Basic Books. Kindle Ed. (p. 45).