Archives For May 2016

 

Header 30th May 2016

Hear the world’s excited march towards oblivion.

At times joyful,

sometimes mournful.

Nearly always neglectful.

Twisting the beat for a buck.

Losing the verse.

The chorus rips away from its moorings.

Sound bitten wounds.

Context bleeds out into unconsciousness.

The repetitive cycle,

… of continuing coverage.

Against this,

the smouldering embers of the Nazarene flicker.

Rising to announce the fast approaching end to the night.

The resistance of the hopeful,

burned into forever,

crossing out the mind-numbing persistence;

in revolt against the thieves of existence.

Wresting control

from the restless repeat of Sisyphus and his

modern disciples of defeat.


(RL2016)

R NiebuhrAfter working my way through Reinhold Niebuhr’s ‘Signs of the times,’ and being encouraged by what I’d found there, I decided to invest time in reading ‘An interpretation of Christian Ethics.’

Upon finishing it, I was left with the feeling that the work was incomplete. Niebuhr seemed to become paralyzed by paradox.

Halted by an ‘impossible possibility’ [his reworking of an early 20th century dialectical term where that which is true as an “impossibility actually becomes a true possibility”] of humanity ever being able live what he calls the “Jesus ethic” or “law of love.”

Through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Niebuhr concludes that humanity cannot entirely live out the instructions of Jesus to “love our enemies and not resist evil.’’ As Niebuhr reads it, resistance to evil is a forbidden act. Any resistance to evil, whether it be through an orthodox restraint of evil via the limitations of just-war, or through a modern liberal lens of non-violent resistance to evil, is a breach of the “law of love;” a breach of Christ’s command to “love our enemies and not resist evil.”

For Niebuhr there is no better example than the impossible possibility of Christian forgiveness. Reducing things, he states that if we were to apply forgiveness in an absolute sense we would have to eliminate prisons.

If it sounds a bit reductio ad absurdum, it might be because it comes real close. What stops it crossing that line is the qualifier in the form of a question that Niebuhr raises: How can we live out justice and ‘preserve the indictment upon all human life of the impossible possibility, the law of love [?]’ [i]  Any action that seeks to restrain or limit our neighbour is resistance and a breach of the ‘law of love.’

‘As a matter of practical necessity and social responsibility, even the Christian is compelled to leave that ethic behind in grappling with the exigencies of a fallen world.’ [ii]

On this, Niebuhr stands alone. Both the pacifist and just-war positions disagreed:

‘Niebuhr’s claim that the ethics of Jesus commands absolute nonresistance to evil has been challenged, at least implicitly, both by Christian just war theorists and by Christian proponents of nonviolence.’[iii]

It might be a big call, but it seems to me that Niebuhr’s gloom smothers His exegetical work. What little there is of it is let down by a restless existential pessimism which seeps into every part of the later chapters.

There is no mention of a loving “no”, loving correction, or even of Jesus’ own blunt words to the Pharisees. Niebuhr frequently speaks of ‘the human spirit’, yet, there is little to no mention of the role of the Holy Spirit. The absence of which only deepens the dark, hopeless tone.

‘An interpretation of Christian Ethics’ was a disappointing read. In trying to contemporise a contextual relevance of a ‘Jesus Ethic,’ Niebuhr may have built a bridge no one can cross. The intention is there. The thoughts are good, they unfortunately don’t appear to move beyond Niebuhr’s pessimism.

In an attempt to redeem the text and restore my quickly fading new-found appreciation for Niebuhr, I went back to the start. After all, this was written in 1935. Perhaps the gloom reflected the impending doom at the time. So, I re-read through my notes, hoping to perhaps see where I might have misunderstood or missed a deeper poignancy. I sat on my response, gave it more thought and concluded that the echo of pessimism in the text was inescapable. Once I’d acknowledged this I was able to see the real value of the text.

‘An interpretation of Christian Ethics’ presents the view that no principle driven ethical position wins. All human attempts fail. No human on a human throne can claim absolute moral superiority. That belongs to Jesus Christ. Whilst Christian forgiveness may be an impossible possibility, in Christ, it is attainable.

The strength of ‘An interpretation of Christian Ethics’ is in how Niebuhr uses the incapacity of humanity to bolster God’s ultimate sovereignty and divinity – His merciful omnipotence and gracious Holiness. The incapability of humanity being able to put Jesus’ words into action doesn’t give humanity the right to dismiss the “Jesus ethic’’.

The ‘’law of love’’ will always remain a critique of the direction of human progress and regress. These commands from within humanity from outside humanity, Jesus commands, therefore, stand as an invaluable reminder of where humanity stands: God is God, we are not.

There is no escape from the responsibility that “Jesus Ethics’’ places on humanity. From Adam, to Jesus Christ, human responsibility is, as it has always been, held to account by its Creator.

I’m on board with the gist of Niebuhr’s arguments for as long as they exist as a critique of the spiraling self-absorbed existential crisis, in theology specifically, and in the West generally; the weakening of thought; the weakening of resolve; the numbing of the masses, seduced by self-congratulation, caressed by false achievement and lured by false security.

‘An Interpretation of Christian Ethics’ challenges this. It challenges any theology that supports selective labels. Arguing against anyone who might unfairly denigrate their neighbor as the oppressor. Where being offended or disagreed with ends with that neighbor being permanently labeled an oppressor, with a complete disregard for the history, situation, or reality of their own fallen humanity.

‘Ideally men seek to subject their arbitrary and contingent existence under the dominion of absolute reality. But practically they always mix the finite with the eternal and claim for themselves, their nation, their culture, or their class the center of existence. This is the root of all imperialism in man […] devotion to every transcendent value is corrupted by the effort to insert the interests of the self into that value.’[iv]

Although only implied, that “God is God and we are not” is Niebuhr’s unavoidable and most poignant take home point. This is what saves ‘An Interpretation of Christian Ethics’. Niebuhr brings forth the scriptural reminder that ‘no one is righteous, not one […] 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, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.’ (Paul, Romans 3, ESV)

Niebuhr’s work is a challenge to the Cult of Self. It is a reality check for activism, such as Liberation theology. As such it adds to our understanding of Christian ethics because it recognizes the dangers and limits of non-violence, pacifist and just-war theories.

Which if applied generally as a critique of Western civilization in-it’s-current-state, might perhaps be summed up as:

On future’s battlefield, the Left will not fall because a positive optimism, but because of self-righteous naiveté; the Right won’t fall because they speak the truth, but because of the arrogant way in which they handle it.

 ‘He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.’
(Paul, Romans 2:6, ESV)

 


Sources:

[i] Niebuhr, R. 1935; Santurri, E. N. 2013 An Interpretation of Christian Ethics Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition. (p.59)

[ii] Santurri,  E N. 2013 An Interpretation of Christian Ethics Niebuhr, R. 1935 Westminster John Knox Press. (introductory essay)

[iii] ibid.

[iv] Niebuhr, R. 1935; Santurri, E.N. 2013 An Interpretation of Christian Ethics Westminster John Knox Press (p. 85).

Image: R. Niebuhr

 

Blog Post 23rd May 2016

 

There’s a whole lotta smoke n’ mirrors commentary and appearances out there.

Most of which contains very little substance or decisive action. May we be set free from the cult of self. May our words, deeds and attitudes speak more about Jesus Christ; about the way to fullness of life, than the appearances or people pleasing that fuels likes, shares and comments; all things that ultimately only serve to excessively pad wallets and entertain egos.

As James puts it:

‘…the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.’ (James 1:25,ESV)

Allow no double talk.

                   Be real.

          Entertain no vain glory.

                   Buy real.

                  Confront all imitations.

                   Live real.

                           Apply gratitude and prayer.

                   Live well.


Image is my own.

The melody for this was written about two weeks ago. I’ve been casually working it and reworking it to find the right mix, right accompaniment and correct context for a video.

As for the creative process:

I started with sequencing drums, bass and then created multiple semitone bass lines until I had a beefier background. I came up with the melody using the ‘garage band’ piano. The sound wasn’t full enough so I decided to add more keys and liked it for what it was; a fun little tune that offered a welcome distraction to our hardworking homeschoolers.

When I sat down with my guitar to really lay this out, I struggled to find the right tone. Every creative angle I tried didn’t work. Because of this, I made the decision to mute the keys, cutting the riff down to just bass, drums and piano.

Once I’d done this the song started to come together.  I worked the guitar in and then went back to the piano to add a bridge and intro; hence the high F semibreve in the introduction and finish.

After I’d mixed the instruments, I noticed a serious hole in the sound. If you listen closely you’ll hear a wave of air, another layer of bass, and a slight melodic echo. This was created by morphing three separate drum, keys and a guitar tracks.

What I’m happy with is how the piano and guitar ended up sounding together. For now, I’m content with the sound-bed, lead and bass.

What I could improve on is not having the main riff appear as often as it does. I’m conscious of it repeating too much to the point where it starts to sound, as my youngest son pointed out with another tune I was doing the other day, “like a broken record”. I don’t think this song does that.

Thus I present to you, this.

(Side note: due to lack of availability of models, I made an executive decision, and filled in for my own “photo-shoot”. I advance to you an apology for it – on the bright side, it doesn’t take away from the music too much. For the best sound experience, headphones or good speakers are recommended.)

Happy Friday, folks.

 


Source:

Video, images & music are my own.

20th May 2016 093

 

Faith is a lot more than this, but Snoop’s got the scoop.

In the hard times it can be difficult to remember the faithfulness of God that radiated so brightly in all the good times.

God’s blessing never comes with a promise to keep us happy. Mary was blessed above all women, yet, at times suffered. Faith which goes beyond religious appearances produces fruit. It’s a thing of substance. An act that remembers God, and like Noah & Abraham, with gratitude and heartfelt, honest prayer, honours Him for His love and faithfulness. It honours and remembers that God can use any situation for His creative purposes. That even if we at any point in time find the trouble hard to comprehend, we can still hold firmly to God’s firm hold of us.

He wills to be present in our lives. He doesn’t run from us when the storms come. No storm can prevail over against God who, in Jesus Christ, has prevailed. Time and time again, we’re called not only to remember, but also to be a living reminder of what the living God has chosen to do for us, so that we could be with Him.

God has made Himself know to us as the Creator. He tells us that He creates, not to destroy or corrupt, but to build up, cherish and take joy in what He created. This doesn’t mean that He is beyond allowing something to be corrected or destroyed, He can. To say otherwise would deny Him his freedom; His holiness and sovereignty. It would deny Him, his parental right to speak a loving “no,” in order to protect us and instruct us.

What this faith means is that in the good times or in times of desolation, we’re to remember to stand firm in the fact that God is the Creator who says, “yes” to life and wills to raise us up to live it abundantly.

Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness! (Psalm 115:1, ESV)

In a nut shell: God will make a way.

Amen to that!


Image: Peanuts, A year’s worth of smiles & blessings, Peanuts worldwide, 2011, Dayspring)

Blogpost 18th May 2016Here’s my two cents, in response to some current events.

Human identity is not found in what the world, the oppressor, flag or economic status allows us to define ourselves as. Nor is it in the what that world, that oppressor, flag, or economic status defines for us.

If it is to be full human identity, it begins with Jesus Christ. That means that we are called to self-identify with [Yahweh] God who made humanity in His own image. The God who chose to create man as man, and woman as woman.

The one who chose to raise humanity up, then speak and walk with both, in a garden of His making. Providing for both, even when both chose to entertain the subtleties of evil and its sly use of God’s own words to incite human rejection of Him.

Defined by their Creator, man is to be fully man, woman is to be fully woman. Unique, different, reconciled, enabled to be together in a joy-filled, committed relationship with each other. Both free for each other and free for God.

New life begins here. This is real freedom. Real identity. All of which is based on the call to relationship within a new covenant. One called into being by the God who acts in freedom.

Choosing to decisively grasp humanity one final time, in His physical appearing and dwelling in history through His son, Jesus Christ. Choosing to once again to make Himself the painful reminder to humanity of its real identity; of its real home and ultimate place of rest.

Offering humanity a path to freedom from it’s oppressors, it’s soulless routines; freedom from the false security of its alliances, the injustice of empty promises and the smoke and mirrors used to buy and sell our hearts allegiances.

Our freedom was brought at a great price. We are instructed to be responsible with how we choose to invest it. May future generations look back with reverence, gratitude and humility towards those who stood against the currency of shares, likes and comments. Who stood firm against the tide of over indulgence, abdication of responsibility, blame and selfish self-fulfillment.


Related reading:

When a Man Loves a Woman: Barth’s Freedom in Fellowship

This week I reworked a tune I had put together a few weeks back, but didn’t post because I didn’t feel that was up to standard.

As the creative process goes, that song became this. Little resembling what I had originally started with.

Like a couple of the songs I’ve done recently, this one deliberately has no drums. Instead I worked out a progression on a synth in garage band and fine tuned that to reflect a beat.

The piano is noteworthy. I’m adding it more and more, examining where it might fit better than a lead riff on guitar does. In this song, I was unsure of keeping the lead because it seemed, to me anyway, to cloud the song, but I’ve kept it in to add colour; something it does well enough.

In mixing the tracks I decided to reduce the volume of the lead and add reverb to it in order to gain a sense of distance. The “whale sounds” are easy enough to do. On an electric guitar, just play a note with the volume turned down, hold the note, slowly increase and then decrease the volume.

If there is anything I could improve on this, it would be the rhythm and the bridge.

The end result is a multi-layered mix or notes that pull together to paint a picture worth reflecting on.

In ‘A Confession’, Leo Tolstoy, post-atheism, talks about a dream where he found himself slipping from ropes that were suspending him over an abyss. In time he began to look up & found comfort; freedom from his anxiety and the fear of falling. It was from here that he began to slowly realise that the ropes were gone and he was in fact being held firmly over the abyss. Not long after this he heard the words, “see that you remember.” Then woke up.

A nation and age apart, this is echoed by Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words:

‘Grace is that which holds humanity over the abyss of nothingness.’ (DBW3)[i]

This song seeks to reflect that.

 


Source:

[i] Bonhoeffer, D. Creation & Fall, DBW Vol.3

Further note: Karl Barth writes: ‘yet in spite [of the desire to escape the command of God, and thus give ourselves up to destruction] we are not allowed to fall, but are upheld and carried above the yawning abyss…’ (CD. The Purpose of Divine Judgment, 2/2 p.765 Hendrickson Pub.)

Tolstoy also speaks of this in his book ‘Confessions’.

Music and image are mine.