Archives For June 2016

Barth quote 3In the footnotes of his segment on Karl Barth, Dean Stroud comments that the first part of the quote pictured to the left, is ‘one of Barth’s great sentences – to be read slowly and enjoyed greatly’[i].

I agree with this, although it is not complete without the second part – which I’ve added from the text.

There Barth is talking about what it means to understand that God’s permission to pray is also an invitation to exercise our new freedom in Christ. That is as responsive sinners called to pray, we are called to take part in what Eberhard Busch rightly calls the ‘first act of Christian ethics’[ii].

The theme of prayer as an expression of freedom in Christ, comes alive in light of the context.

The sermon Stroud is referring to is called ‘A Sermon about Jesus as a Jew’. It was written and delivered by Barth in Bonn on December 10, 1933. According to Stroud, ‘copies were made the following day, and Barth even sent a copy to Hitler.’[iii]

What grabbed me, reading this for the first time today, is the connection Barth identifies between prayer, praise, discernment and confession.

Barth writes that ‘we discern the word we hear, in order to confess it to one another.’ However, we don’t achieve this alone; ‘not through the power of our minds but through the power of the Holy Spirit’[iv] – {in my opinion another one of Barth’s ‘great sentences’}

He strongly asserts that:

 ‘Our text tells us simply to pray for the church that it become a church of discernment and confession. If only we then would once again pray for this unanimously!
What does it mean then to pray? To scream, to call, to reach out so that what is true once and for all time might be true for us: Christ has accepted us.
Ecclesiastical discernment and ecclesiastical confession would indeed follow such a prayer, if earnestly offered, as thunder follows lightning.
In the mutual accepting of each other as Christ has accepted us, it must follow that in the church of Jesus Christ all joylessness is on the way to becoming joy, all discord is at least on its way to becoming peace, all distress of the present moment would somehow finally be engulfed by the hope for the Lord’s presence.
…The thoughts of many people are occupied in this particular time more seriously than before with what it is that the church misses and what we miss in the church.
Let us note that our text does not speak about this, but rather where it could speak of such things, simply prays and tells us to pray to this God of patience, of comfort, and of hope, who is the Lord of the church.
…Perhaps this time has come upon us in the church so that we might learn to pray differently and better than ever before and thereby to keep what we have.’[v]

Its form and content, as far as sermons go are standard Barth. In addition, considering its close proximity to the Barmen Declaration (May, 1934) of which Barth was a primary contributor, it is fair to say that the events are connected to some degree.

Unfortunately, other than some well placed footnotes, Stroud doesn’t provide a lot of commentary on Barth’s thought and context. What Stroud does provide though, is an excellent introduction outlining the historical setting and the role Barth took on as a ‘chief advocate for a non-compromising response to the heresies’ [vi] such as the ”German Christian” movement, Nazi ideology, anti-Semitism and “positive Christianity.”


Sources:

[i] Stroud, D. (Ed.) Preaching in the Shadows of Hitler: Sermons of Resistance Wm.B Eerdmans Publishing p.73

[ii] Busch, E. 2010 The Barmen theses then and now: the 2004 Warfield lectures at Princeton Theological Seminary, Wm.B Eerdmans Publishing p.47

[iii] Barth, K. December 10, 1933 A Sermon about Jesus as a Jew, in Stroud, D. (Ed.) Preaching in the Shadows of Hitler: Sermons of Resistance Wm.B Eerdmans Publishing p.64

[iv] Ibid, p.73 & p.74

[v] Ibid, pp.73-74

[vi] Ibid, p.63

Cracked soil 2Two weeks ago I came across two speeches. The first was from Catholic Theologian Jean Vanier, and the second was from Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks.

I’ve had an interest in the praxis, theology and political philosophy of the former since my encounter with his work during my undergraduate study. His co-authored work, ‘Living Gently in a Violent World, (2008)‘ written with Stanley Hauerwas still stands out in my mind.

Each speech was given as part of an acceptance ceremony whereby Vanier (2015) and Sacks (2016) were awarded the Templeton Prize. Both speeches are not entirely worlds apart, however in the end I was drawn to the speech given by Sacks, more than I was Vanier.

For context, the Templeton Prize is an award that ‘honours a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works […]The Prize seeks and encourages breadth of vision, and new insights that human beings take their spiritual bearings from a range of experiences.’ [i]

The Sacks speech hits on the dangers and problems caused by the outsourcing of [personal] responsibility (for example abuses, neglect, mechanisms of denial, anxiety avoidance, crisis, oppression, self-justification and how at times  social justice can mask even greater evils).

Some of the key highlights:

1. ‘A free society is a moral achievement. Without self-restraint, without the capacity to defer the gratification of instinct, and without the habits of heart  and deed that we call virtues, we will eventually lose our freedom.’
2. ‘The 1960’s is marked by the outsourcing of morality; an abandonment of the Moral Sciences. Morality had been outsourced to the market. The market gives choices, and morality itself is just a set of choices in which right or wrong have no meaning beyond the satisfaction or frustration of desire […] Ethics was reduced to economics. As for the consequences of our choices, these were outsourced to the state […] Welfare was outsourced to the state. As for conscience, that once played so large a part in a the moral life, that could be outsourced to regulatory bodies. So having reduced moral choices to economics, we transformed the consequences of choices to politics.’
3. ‘You can’t outsource conscience. You can’t delegate moral responsibility away. When you do, you raise expectations that cannot be met. […] as a result people start to take refuge in magical thinking, which today takes one of four forms: the far right, the far left, religious extremism and aggressive secularism. The far right seeks a return to a golden past that never was. The far left seeks a Utopian future that will never be. Religious extremists believe you can bring salvation by terror. Aggressive secularists believe that if you get rid of religion there will be peace. These are all fantasies, and pursuing them will endanger the very foundations of freedom […] We’ve already seen on university campuses in Britain and America [& Australia] the abandonment of academic freedom in the name of the right not to be offended by being confronted by views with which I disagree.’
4.  ‘What emerged in Judaism and post-reformation Christianity was the rarest of character-types: the inner-directed personality. Most societies, for most of history, have been either tradition-directed or other-directed.  Inner directed types are different. They become pioneers, the innovators and the survivors. They try to have secure marriages, hand on their values to their children, belong to strong communities, and take daring but carefully calculated risks. When they fail, they have rapid recovery times, have discipline and are more interested in sustainability than quick profits.’
5. ‘Civilisations begin to die when they lose the moral passion that brought them into being in the first place. It happened to Greece and Rome, and it can happen to the West.’

His conclusion:

‘There is an alternative: become inner-directed again […] which means learning that there are some things we cannot or should not outsource, some responsibilities we cannot or should not delegate away.
We owe it to our children and grandchildren not to throw away what once made the West great, and not for the sake of some idealized past, but for the sake of a demanding and deeply challenging future.
If we do simply let it go, if we continue to forget that a free society is a moral achievement that depends on habits of responsibility and restraint, then what will come next – be it Russia, China, ISIS or Iran – will be neither liberal nor democratic, and it will certainly not be free. We need to restate the moral and spiritual dimensions in the language of the twenty-first century, using the media of the twenty-first century, and in ways that are uniting rather than divisive.’ [ii]

All Sacks’ points and his sharp conclusion speak of a society telling itself that it’s on the verge of an upgrade. When in fact it’s face to face with the abyss, far closer to an irreversible downgrade. Glimmers of hope, such as Brexit, where free citizens vote not to comfortably slide into the role of indentured subject, may not be enough to encourage unity against such.

On another front, for me, Sacks’ use of the phrase ”inner-directed” is too ambiguous. Other than referring to it as being human conscience, it’s left open to interpretation. If the definition rests solely on human conscience then it raises significant problems for theologians, who hold human conscience as not being the centre or source of morality, ethics – the distinction between good and evil; right and wrong.

Humanity is not the source of this. It can only be a Word spoken to humanity from outside humanity. It cannot speak right and wrong to itself abstracted from the source of this differentiation. As witnessed throughout the 20th century in the West, when right and wrong are detached from Judeo-Christian ethics, human suffering isn’t answered, it’s increased.

It’s exactly what Bonhoeffer digs into when he states:

Humankind, which has fallen away from God in a precipitous plunge, now still flees from God. For humankind the fall is not enough; its flight cannot be fast enough. This flight, Adam’s hiding away from God, we call conscience. Before the fall there was no conscience.
Only since humankind has become divided from the Creator are human beings divided within themselves. Indeed it is the function of conscience to make human beings flee from God and so admit against their own will that God is in the right; yet, conscience also lets human beings, in fleeing from God, feel secure in their hiding place […]
Conscience is not the voice of God within sinful human beings; instead it is precisely their defence against this voice. Yet precisely as a defence against this voice, conscience still points to it, in spite of all that human beings know and want.’ [iii]

‘Inner-directed” therefore can only mean the inner-direction of the Holy Spirit. Any other source of ”inner-direction” is bound to lead us into inner-misdirection. Inner-direction is directed by a transcendent direction, at once hidden, yet revealed.

Outside this theological framework Jonathan Sacks’ call to become inner-directed is mis-directed:

‘Conscience means feeling shame before God; at the same time one conceals one’s own wickedness in shame, humankind in shame justifies itself […] The grace of the Creator is not recognised. God calls Adam and does not let him flee. Instead Adam sees this grace only as hate, as wrath, a wrath that inflames his own hate, his rebellion, his desire to get away from God. Adam keeps on falling. The fall drops with increasing speed for an immeasurable distance.’ [iv]

With the understanding that ”inner-direction” is within the framework of humanity finding itself being Holy Spirit-directed, I’m on board with Sacks’ conclusions.

‘If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.’ (Galatians 5:16-26)


Source:

[i] Templeton Prize

[ii] Sacks, J. Rabbi, 2016 Templeton Speech PDF Sourced 19th June, 2016 from http://www.templetonprize.org/

[iii] Bonhoeffer, D. 2004, DBW3 Creation and Fall: A Theological Exposition of Genesis 1–3  (128). Minneapolis: Fortress Press. (p.128)

[iv] ibid, 2004:130

On World refugee day, four things stand out. Not one of them is the lack of Western compassion, ”Western racism/intolerance” or supposed problems caused by ”Christianity”:

1. The geographical locations from where refugees are coming
2. The ideological, cultural, social, theological and political reasons of those geographical locations.
3. Where they are seeking to go to for refuge – such as the ”Christian” West.
Number 4 on the list is a lot more complex:

It includes the refusal of Western leaders to acknowledge the real reasons for why refugees are being driven out of their homelands, even when the problems from those geographical locations begin to have a negative impact on the people in their own countries.

Surely that denial is primarily for diplomatic reasons. In other words they are not reasons based solely on the premise of tolerance, but reasons based on fear. For example: are they fears based on the fear of confrontation; the fear of “offending” those from which our oil dependent economies heavily rely upon?

This leads to questions we in the West should be asking ourselves:

Do refugees see something special about the West, that a good portion of those in the West continue to ignore, and some, even reject?
Do refugees see, what those in the West who attack the very foundations of Western society, refuse to see?
How can we best serve refugees if Western leaders refuse to acknowledge the real source of those problems? Are we not just importing the problems; doing nothing to solve the cause of those problems because the best policy is silence?
By not speaking out against the very thing that refugees are fleeing from, such as the loss of freedoms – inability to speak out (among other things) – are are we not doing a great disservice to refugees?

The answer is “yes” on all counts.

Let me be clear: refugees are not the problem, what is driving refugees from their homelands is. The West should have the courage to face this humanitarian disaster, and employ that same courage to honestly face and speak about the causes of it.

Ignoring the problem/s are bound to lead to the West importing the problem/s. All of which enters by way of naive compassion and political point scoring through an appearance of niceness, which disguises the real cause for the sake of an appalling strategy of appeasement.

Think about it. If the West fails to to be an assertive, but gracious, light in the darkness, following a costly discipleship based on the very foundations that has guided and challenged it’s moral compass for centuries, it will surely be consumed by a darkness very similar to the one that 63 million people are seeking to flee from.

Feel good hashtags fail.

Instead of posting a hashtag on social media, (which is only the equivalent of showing off to each other how anti-racist and not-phobic most of us are) on world refugee day, we should sit back, refuse to feed the feel-good hype and genuinely reflect on what’s really going on and why.

 

Refugees


Further reading:

Refugee crisis: Where are all these people coming from and why? 

Image: 2016 figures are suggested to be at 65 million people displaced. The origins haven’t shifted, although the number of refugees has increased.

 

#mypeople

June 18, 2016 — Leave a comment
Ambrose of Milan

 

 

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Surreabral Footnotes

June 10, 2016 — 2 Comments

Musical notes project_squareThis particular song took a few weeks to put together. I had a sound in mind and decided to take the time to flesh it out. Usually I’m able to put a three-minute song together in a day and polish it (as best I can, with the basic tech that I have) over a week. This one was tough.

I started with a constant rhythm running in the background with two layers of drums, both sequenced to correspond with the consistent rhyme of the rhythm guitar. The intro is a reworked piece of the drum line and the lead guitar. The bass line was played on using keys and guitar.

The latter is dipped in reverb to better introduce the tune.

The title reflects the surrealist art. The picture looks like a brain walking around with crotchets as legs. If you stand back from it you’ll notice the two double crotchets that the form their own framework around the piece.

I’m content with the overall sound. I’m very fond of how the drums turned out. The lead was a bit touch and go. I had trouble getting the right tone and finding a melody that complimented the mood. One other thing I’m not 100% thrilled with, is how I ended it. The fade out works, however, it’s too easy of a fix.

Of course, the perfectionist in me would have liked to have had the time to tighten it all up a lot more, but it’s time to just post it and leave it for now.

There isn’t a lot of depth to the meaning of this. If I was to put a description to it, I’d go with “faith seeks understanding.”

On the spot, I’d say that ‘’Surrea-bral footnotes’’ are what we are left with when we are encountered by God, His Word, His promise, His presence. We wrestle with the cognitive challenges of our day; the abrasive questions about the realism of it all. Similar to those, who after Jesus encountered them, faced a hostile interrogation from those around them.

Karl Barth pointed out that joy is the radiance of God’s glory. That joy encapsulates the point: we march on, even when the world (sometimes those about us) are all to happy to mock and tear down.

it is a glory that awakens joy […] God’s glory radiates it […] because it is God who Himself radiates joy […] His glory is radiant, and what it radiates is joy. It attracts and therefore it conquers.’ (CD. II:1, pp.655, 654, 661) (Nehemiah 8:10; Psalm 30:5; Isaiah 55:12; John 15:11)

May the radiance of God’s glory warm you, comfort you, counsel you and be more real to you than just a surrea-bral footnote.

 

 


(RL2016)

7th June 2016 018 3What better way is there than to mark ones own birthday with a short story. One that was written in fifteen minutes, in order to set up a creative writing exercise for your own kids?

The idea for this is not mine. It comes from Christina Grau; homeschool-mum-extraordinaire, who’d posted the idea sometime back on her blog. {I’ve since lost the link to her outstanding original article, and my time-limited search hasn’t been able to pinpoint it.}

Nevertheless. Christina’s idea stuck. The basic premise is this: Come up with a title. Set aside a small amount of time and write. Start by sharing my own pre-written story, inspiring our homeschoolers to create their own unique narrative using the same title. All inside a sixty minute window.

This works well for older kids. However, as we’ve found, younger ones need some guidance. To facilitate this, I gave them a realistic target of five sentences, drew three lines on our white board and then gave each column the heading: adjective, noun and verb. We then came up with words to fill each column. The only catch was that each word had to be relevant to the title.

For example, our  chosen title yesterday, was The Elephant & The Storm. Since the words elephant and storm are nouns, we already had a small head start. This set the younger ones up for success and in addition covered some handwriting practice.

In the end five short stories were written (including my own posted below).

All had a unique take on:

The Elephant and The Storm.

Elephants are strange creatures. Big trunk. Big feet. Small tail.

The particular elephant of our tale, however, was larger than most.

He was raised in the grasslands of Africa. A slow turn to the left of Arabia, then south of Egypt should put you right there.

It was here that our larger than normal elephant’s story began.

Thuds could be heard for miles. KAA-thump. KAA-thump. KAA-thump.

Each loud boom rustled trees and rippled ponds. Each thud was often accompanied in the distance by the words:

“Watch, out!”

‘’Coming through”

“Out of the waaaay!”

You see, Jack was so big, that the other elephants felt like ants when they were ever anywhere near him.

This caused a lot of problems for Jack. He could never go to parties, and so never got invited to them.

He even had to have his own watering hole, so that there’d be water for left for everyone else.

Bath time for Jack was even more alarming. He’d have to walk an extra 3 kilometers down river, to avoid the colossal tidal wave, which legend has it, once threw even the hippos out of the water.

Yes. Our Jack was big. It was because of all this that one day, he’d decided to leave. He no longer felt welcome and or useful, like the other animals around him.

It was a lonely life for poor Jack. Then one day, not but a few hours before Jack had settled on his journey, an unexpected storm arose.

This storm was like nothing the animals of the grasslands had ever seen.

It swished and blew. Howled and brought down dark blue clouds, which darkened the sun.

All the animals scattered to the trees for shelter, but each tree they came too was violently tumbled over by the force of this strange wind.

Everyone was trying to hold on. Except for Jack. Jack’s stature was so firmly footed to the ground that the wind was barely tickling his ears.

“I’m not really going to go far in this darkness and rain” He thought to himself. So Jack sat down.

Once Jack has sat down, all the animals noticed, and one by one quickly decided to flee towards him, taking shelter next to him.

Jack, the larger than normal elephant had found his usefulness after all.

‘God rules the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, He stills them.’ – (Psalm. 89:9, ESV)

 


(RL2015)

Darth Metal

June 7, 2016 — 1 Comment

My daughter drew my attention to this display of awesomeness. First words out of my mouth were: “That’s what you call, Darth Metal.” That the stormtroopers are actually hitting the notes makes me suspicious of its authenticity. 😛