Holding space

Me at my desk!

Sometimes things occur in such a sequence or a timing that I’m almost converted to hyper-Calvinism! ALMOST, but not quite!

One early morning recently I was flicking through my Facebook feed. I came across three posts from entirely different sources, in this sequence;

First, one of the many posts I have read from my friend Patrick. We were friends before Facebook, even though I’ve never met him. He lives in the US, and we were members of a Yahoo writing group, spread across the UK, Ireland, Norway, Brazil, Canada and the US. Now most of us have become Facebook friends and the group on Yahoo is hardly used. Many like to belittle ‘Facebook friendship’ and while I agree it is no substitute for ‘real friends’ whom we meet in person, I know that I have been able to experience empathic emotions of joy and sorrow for many through social media that I have not physically met. The people at the other keyboard thousands of miles away are still people!

Patrick shared a beautiful piece about love. I thought it was his own words since he is a great wordsmith, but he assured me the bulk of it was a well-known and oft-quoted piece. His addition were his words to his late husband, Thom. You see, they were together for about 13 years, but took up the chance to marry when it was legalised. Shortly after that, Thom died from a heart attack, in Patrick’s arms. His grief was tangible. I shed tears for him, real tears – they’re even returning right now; damn empathy! I know he loved Thom, and counted him as his soulmate. He is still grieving over him, after many months. Who knows how long his healing will take?

The second post I read was this truly beautiful blog. It’s short, give it a read:

PEOPLE WHO HOLD SPACE WILL HEAL THE CHURCH

The third one, which must have been posted by one of my atheist friends (yes, I do have friends of many persuasions!), was a humanist blog having a go at a Christian Facebook page (it’s short too):

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/progressivesecularhumanist/2017/06/christian-facebook-page-fights-rainbow-flag-emojis-loses/

Here was my original thought which I planned to posit as an answer to the ‘Warriors for Christ’:

Yeah, if you’re preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, you need to point out all the ramifications of it. That includes listing sins as Jesus himself warned us about, so start proclaiming warnings to the very rich; the millionaires who might wish to come and join the church. You might not be thinking about what I mean since it’s not something that is prevalent (or even counts as extant) in our peculiar wee subculture, but it was the clear warning that Jesus gave to his disciples after the ‘rich young man’ left him, unable to give up his wealth;

Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. (Matt. 19:23,24)

I’ve said this a lot in previous blogs, simply because I read it in scripture. Jesus said it. Greedy people are condemned right alongside the ‘sexually immoral’ and Paul even commands the Corinthian church to not have anything to do with them, and not even eat with them! (1Cor. 5:11). Yeah, I can hear all your excuses now before you even comment, so please don’t bother. If you’re adamant about following the Bible and doing what Jesus did, you’d simply want to warn rich people, because ‘in love’ you’d want to make sure they would know if they continue in their sin, Jesus has given them the sternest warning!

So before I posted this, I had to ask myself if I wanted ‘The Warriors’ to start shouting to the world about the sin of greed and excess wealth? Actually, no!

I’ve known people who have faced the gauntlet of the screaming faces as they approach an abortion clinic/ advice centre, all telling them they’re murderers. I’ve known people who have entered churches to be told by a red-faced preacher what awful sin their sexual orientation causes them to do. However, I do not know of anybody who has wealth to be challenged so openly by any church! I’m always calling for preachers to list all of the sins they can find in our holy book, cause I’m sure there are a few we all need to be told about ourselves; nobody’s perfect. In light of of all this, I have no desire for anyone, rich or poor, straight or gay, Christian, Jew, Muslim or atheist, to face a blanket condemnation as they visit any church, or encounter a Christian organisation on the internet. While I often place blame for the world’s woes on the super-rich, the real blame lies not in those people, but in the sin of greed that is prevalent in them.

So I decided not to reply to the Warriors.

One of our church leaders came across a homeless man outside the building, who was thrown out of his parents’ house when he ‘came out’ – I’ve often heard of ‘come out and get thrown out’ but here was a real example! He was gay before he came out, now he’s gay and homeless! Kudos to the parents and a high five!

Whatever problem there is in my life, Jesus is working on it, through his Spirit in me. He can do the same with every other follower who goes after him. I just want to be the one who heals the church from this abject hatred of certain people/ things (that is what it is, face it!), by holding space, as Kaitlin so succinctly blogged it.

Grace be with you.

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The Chilcot Report and the separation of church and state

Tony-BlairHere I go finding links again! What has Chilcot got to do with disestablishmentarianism, I hear you ask? You weren’t asking that specifically? Well, here goes…

Amidst all the conclusions, recriminations and finger-pointing going on right now, what stood out to me was a comment by Claire Short, who was a member of Blair’s cabinet and was opposed to the Iraq invasion. She said that Tony Blair was determined to stand with George W. Bush on the matter and was convinced that going to Iraq was the right thing to do, thus leading to a preference for the intelligence reports that favoured that decision and a dismissal of other voices.

Something I bang on about quite a bit is ‘confirmation bias’ since it affects a lot of things we say, do and believe. We have certain convictions within ourselves that we hold to firmly. These are the sort of things we hold ‘sacred’ and would need to undergo a huge change in ourselves to abandon, or even question. When these things are challenged, we immediately become defensive, and try our best to seek validation for our beliefs, to the point that we choose to ignore glaring truths that we are faced with, just because they undermine these sacred things we treasure. While I describe myself as a definite ‘questioning Thomas’ who is always posing the questions others dislike or avoid (the childlike ‘WHY?’), I too have a degree of confirmation bias. It exists in us all. Acquiescing to such unpalatable truths is never comfortable.

So I can see how Blair fell into his own bias trap by making a gut decision before all the information was in and digested. Maybe he had Thatcher’s advice still ringing in his ears: “Great leaders lead by conviction, not consent!” That’s only true if you consider dictators and tyrants to be ‘great’! True democratic leaders recognise that they are not perfect, and are capable of making fallible decisions, so submit themselves to the rigours of democratic consent, and the voices of the dissenters. Only the bad ones surround themselves with ‘yes men’ (like George W. Bush). Admission of our fallibility is the starting point of the Christian journey, is it not? Blair counts himself as a religious man, so why did he ignore that basic belief at that crucial time of decision?

I see the results of this bias almost every day. My fellow evangelicals have a set of beliefs that spring from their faith, which they count as vital core parts of their faith. They believe a, b, and c, so then it follows that d, e, f,… right up to x, y and z must be true too. They post on social media about all these various things. I reply that they’ve latched onto a hoax or an exaggeration. 9 times out of 10, they react badly, and reject my claim, no matter how factual it is. Saddens me, since we all follow Jesus, who is The Truth. I cannot comprehend how holding on to something false has any positive effect for the holder, the hearer/ reader, or our faith (or society in general!)

And so this is why I maintain my core belief in the separation of church and state, as has been maintained in manywestminster-abbey branches of Christianity, not least the Baptist school of thought. If we allow any ‘church’ or any part of the Christian church in the world, to have political power, then certain convictions they hold will be subject to become state policy, and who is to say which convictions are right, and which are wrong? In a plural society, under the overarching belief… no! strike that… the overarching fact that not one of us is infallible (except The One), we all need to find common agreement on things.

My convictions of faith are mine, and I do seek to convince others that my faith is true, and convert them to following Jesus, but any decision I make in regards to politics or the society I share must recognise that many things I hold true are not so for others, and may even be unfounded! I know which things are certain in my heart, but even those are simply personal and not universal. Just surrounding myself with ‘yes men’ who concur with all my convictions will not change that fact.

Tony Blair failed as our PM right at the most important time we needed him to make a decision, simply because he had convinced himself of his motives. What does our scripture say about that?

Fools find no pleasure in understanding
    but delight in airing their own opinions. (Prov. 18:2)

Do not get me wrong; my values will always shape what I say, do, act, vote, lobby, campaign or petition for. However, I exist as one individual in a society of voices, and we will never agree on everything, so listening to those voices, and understanding them, is vital for righteous living, in my humble opinion.

Grace be with you.

It’s an offence!

not-religiousOne of the most influential books I read as a young Christian trying to find the path that Jesus asked us to follow was “How to be a Christian without being Religious” by Fritz Ridenour. It was a fairly simple book that expounded Paul’s epistle to the Romans. Well, it was as simple as any exposition of that letter can be! Needless to say, the main point the author was trying to get across was that religion is not what following Jesus is about, and that, in essence, is one of the main themes Paul stresses in his epistles, which was exactly why the book had that title. So it has shaped me ever since, to be someone who wishes to express my love for Jesus and my desire to follow him without falling into the same trap that all other religion (including ‘Christian religion’) falls into. That is the trap of sameness, ritual and blind devotion to a code and to a way that others have followed without much thought.

One of the ways we see this expressed is when an offence is caused against a religion. The murders at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris is an extreme example; that magazine made the offence of religions across the world its mission, and they did create a long string of articles and cartoons that enraged religious adherents of many faiths. However, they did not deserve to die for such transgressions. When I do see and hear fellow believers become almost1489207_10205194809768149_7591136757420390852_n as ‘offended’ at such publications as those Muslim extremists, I fear that it might be possible they could descend into the same madness (some Christians have been so offended by abortions being performed that they have resorted to murder!). On a more standard level, though, short of taking someone’s life, I do wonder if we are only having the same attitude as those jihadists, and becoming ‘religious’ about it. Should we be any different in our demeanour? Can we?

When questions like this arise in my head, I turn to other things I know I can apply. Linguistically, an ‘offence’ (in English at least) can be taken, but never given! I cannot give you offence, but I can cause you offence. ‘Cause’ is one of those words that carries specific semantic properties – in layman’s terms, it means it is fairly easy to grasp what it means. Were you to hit someone with your car while driving and they died, you would have caused their death. You would not be performing the active verb ‘to kill’, unless you drove at them with the intention of killing them. So ’cause’ has a limited usage: it is indicative of an action that created a situation not intended or beyond the control of the performer. Note that you can use the active verb form: “You offended me!”, whether the person who offended you intended to or not; it can be used in both cases.

So if you have a case where someone says or does something with the intent to offend you, that is very deliberate. However, for someone to cause you offence, you have to take it. If I were to attempt to give you a gift, but you did not take it, then I did not give it, I only intended to. The transaction did not take place. Similarly, in order for an offence to occur, it has to be taken by the intended recipient. Otherwise, no offence passed from intender to intendee! Put it another way; if the offender has the intention, and wishes to offend you, they will be thwarted if you don’t take it. Yes? Their fiery dart will have missed its intended target. If, however, they had no intention of causing offence, and did so in ignorance or innocence, then why should you take the offence anyway? In both cases, choosing not to take offence is the best option! No?

So while this might all sound fine and dandy as my own philosophising, does it ‘square up with scripture’?

But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.

Matt. 5:39

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’[Deut. 32:35] says the Lord. On the contrary:

‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’[Prov. 25:21,22]

Rom. 12: 18-20

In other words, the person who intends to cause offence against us as believers must be offered ‘the other cheek’ i.e. we show that they did not smite us or knock us down, but we are willing to let them continue to try to insult us. The person who intends to offend God is in God’s hands, and it is not for us to jump to his defence. As I have quoted the lyrics of Bono before: “Stop helping God across the road like a little old lady!” We are to stand up for the little guy who needs defending, but not the creator of the universe! We not only insult him in his majesty, we also disobey his direct commands!

Also, imagine having burning coals heaped on your head! Would you not be dancing in pain, howling and swiping your head to get the coals off? Pretty funny for others to watch who had that sort of sense of humour, but almost certainly you’d be looking like a fool. So in order to disarm these intentional offenders, our reaction should be not to react! If we take no offence, they will be seen as base, boorish or just plain annoying. The unintentional offenders who might do so just for the sake of comedy would not fulfil this maxim if they had no intent i.e. they are not our enemy. We might just be able to laugh along with them, if they were really being funny.

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for whoever is not against us is for us.

Mark 9:40

Yeah, maybe I’ve taken that verse well out of context, but let us not make more enemies for ourselves! Just because Jesus told us “Everyone will hate you because of me” (Mark 13:13 – which could also be said to be out of context since Jesus was talking about the persecution by the first-century Jews) does not mean we must go around giving people reason to hate us! Such attitude and/or behaviour flies in the face of all the commands to love and do good to others!

Grace be with you.

Who is my neighbour?

good_samaritan

It would appear that the commandment ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ which goes right back to Leviticus (19:18) has always drawn the question “who is my neighbour?” as if we all want to be sure that we can include those we want to love and exclude the rest. Many commentators often try to whittle down the possibilities to produce a smaller category. Isn’t that what we all want? There are plenty of people around that I just have no desire to show love to! I do not like being told to extend my loving embrace beyond my own circle! It’s only human nature. Meeting that question head on, Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan (which has come to be lost on us to some extent since we no longer view Samaritans with the same contempt that first century Jews had). Though if you wish to take a deeper thought from the parable that I never realised myself, take a look at the ‘grammatical tweak‘ Jesus performs.

Reading a daily devotional from my own church the other morning, I was struck by a thought. The devotional highlighted a legal statement made under tort law (which seeks to define cases eligible for civil lawsuits). It came from Lord Atkins in a 1932 case, where he answered that perennial question ‘who is my neighbour?’ in a very concise and helpful way:

“The answer seems to be persons who are so closely and directly affected by my act that I ought reasonably to have them in contemplation as being so affected when I am directing my mind to the acts or omissions which are called in question.”

If we accept this very concise and very apt description, then practically everybody we coilovemankindme into contact with is our neighbour, whom we are to love. This could be anybody that any ‘act or omission‘ on my part would affect, so not even offering a smile to someone could be an omission by me that otherwise would have affected that person: Even that person who cut into my lane last week and nearly swiped the entire wing off my car. I can assure you I did not give her a smile!

If you think this only applies to acts you do, not ‘omission’ of acts you did not do, think again:

If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

James 4:17

Though I’ve long known that the above is the true definition of my neighbour (and I have grave reservations about anyone trying to narrow it), I now realise that in the 21st century, this must go even further! Social media has turned the ‘global village’ into a thriving metropolis. Those who used to be people we sent emails to in order to be faster than traditional ‘snail mail’ can now be easily messaged or tweeted instantly, at any time or place in the world (with internet connection). I can raise someone up or put them down with my all-powerful words, and that someone could be a total stranger to me thousands of miles away. Only now they are no longer a stranger, they are my neighbour! I have forged relationships with new people on Facebook, friended friends of friends, and entered into lengthy debates over faith and politics with other commenters on various blogs, articles or Facebook posts. I have maintained relationships with people I no longer meet in person, and rekindled old ones. This new world of communication makes our need to be salt and light all the more potent, dynamic, consuming and precarious! Especially when you consider the pitfalls of the absence on social media of non-verbal communication!!

May we consider carefully every word we type and ‘send button’ we hit!

connect-social-media-blue

Grace be with you.

Poor Reactions

Screenshot 2015-11-17 00.17.46

 

“All reactionaries are paper tigers.” – Mao Zedong

Despite my well-known political left-leanings, I am certainly not a fan of Chairman Mao, the founder and despotic leader of Communist China. However, he was capable of some philosophical insights. His ‘Little Red Book’ was a bestseller, but then again, when almost a billion people had it forced into their hands, I have to rethink my efforts to get my own book published!

The quote above was one that intrigued me from an early age; I wondered what he meant by it. What is a reactionary, and what is a paper tiger? As I matured I began to grasp it. A paper tiger is exactly what it says;  a tiger constructed from paper, which may look ferocious but has no substance. The dancing creations we see at Chinese festivals (which are usually lions, but sometimes represent tigers) come from a practical application of the craft of constructing the colourful costumes. When a lion or tiger threatened the people or livestock of a village, they would make one of these large dummies to parade around (with accompanying noise from drums and cymbals) for the creature to see, to fool it into thinking that there was a much bigger and fiercer rival in that area and force it to move elsewhere.

But what exactly is a reactionary? Someone who is only reacting to something they are presented with that they inherently do not wish to agree with nor accede to. I have come to realise that this exists in all of us, and it surfaces especially when one engages in political or theological debate. We always like to decamp to opposing sides of arguments, and generalise everything into liberal v. conservative,Screenshot 2015-11-17 15.33.36
socialist v. capitalist, left v. right, when those of us who try to analyse arguments realise that things are seldom simply two-sided. It would seem to be human nature – it is the foundation of sport, and the most popular forms of spectator sports would appear to be head-to-head battles between two individuals or two teams. This may well be the reason we cannot deal so easily with the crisis in Syria since there are WAY more than two sides involved – here’s a good video that tries to simplify it.

andy-vladimir-gorsky-loganfineartsdotcomReactionaries have become far more common in the modern world with social media! Even Andy Warhol, with his famous quip that “one day everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes” could not have envisaged the 21st century where every single one of us with an account on twitter, Facebook, disqus, tumblr, instagram, etc., etc. could claim the stage, grab the mike and express to the world our sudden opinion. Gone are the grand old days of news coverage when the BBC would seek out a university professor who had been given the time to examine an event and offer his expert analysis of what had been going on in some corner of the world. No, now it has to be as instant as the coffee granules in your cup. As soon as the hot water is poured, an aroma of news must reach our nostrils, and so everyone has to weigh in with their own favourite coffee bean blend or brand name.

Starbucks gingerbreadGBL_PR (2)

This week’s news from Paris has been a prime example of the circus that we all create when tragedy strikes and tempers flare. I myself might see (or perceive) a position someone is taking that I cannot sanction or silently ignore, so I add in a commentary or video that destroys their position, then somebody else offers a good argument that exposes flaws in the arguments or points in my own ‘statement’ – each one can be argued against with a smugness that ‘we’ are being smart about it and ‘they’ are unprincipled imbeciles! This is exactly what Mao meant! Extreme positions can be brought down by simple counter-arguments, when in fact, truth usually lies somewhere in the middle; in the very difficult ground (or the painful fence!) that requires information,  knowledge, thought, reason, consideration, debate, speculation, theory, analysis… conclusion? Why bother with all that when a good ‘up yours’ stance will do? When we simply assent to be reactionaries by continuing such behaviour, we have no substance, except to stand at the side of a pitch and just hope our team wins the match, and of course, argue that the referee was biased if we lose. Reactionaries are just spectators with no real influence on the outcome. Let us be the game players! Be those who are able to make careful analyses of the game we all play on this globe, devise a strategy that will win, and convince others of it’s ‘winning formula’. The rhetoric of the reactionary is just a paper exercise, and anyone with a match can turn it to ashes.

mao_zedong_largeOf course, Chairman Mao missed the irony in his own statement, seeing reactionaries as those who opposed his regime, but failing to recognise how his own politics were just the revolutionary reaction to the evils that went before, and he descended into his own evils, borne from his extreme stance. I always find myself calling for balance in all things. Does that mean I’m arguing for Centrist politics? No, I actually find Centrism just too wishy-washy, but I do believe that the most effective and lasting forms of government are ones where opposing points of view can fight from their own corner while being able to compromise on certain points – that leads to stronger positions for everyone. It does require a belief in something, though! A solid base from which to argue; a soap box on which one can say “this is what I believe”, not “I’m against this…” Our politicians in Northern Ireland are notorious for saying ‘no’ far more often than they say ‘yes’!christ-on-the-cross1

Me? I believe in Jesus!

That should affect everything else I say and do.

Grace be with you.

Why I weep for Kim Davis

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis listens to a customer following her office's refusal to issue marriage licenses at the Rowan County Courthouse in Morehead, Ky., Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015. Although her appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was denied, Davis still refuses to issue marriage licenses. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

Social media is alive with this, since it involves Christians and atheists, gay activists and anti-gay lobbyists, Socialists and Libertarians, and various political party groupings, all approaching from different angles. It is chiefly concerned with US law and government, but the issue also spreads across the Western world. As an evangelical Christian, I am expected to ‘side with’ the poor woman at the centre of the debacle, Kim Davis. However, I actually don’t support her right to refuse to do her job. I certainly do not believe she has a right to make her co-workers behave in the same way as she does; she has her own conscience, but she does not own theirs! In the hurry to condemn this, though, I judged the woman, and I overstepped a mark, for which I repent. I do not know her heart, nor have any idea what life she has lived. I am not God!

She does have a right to not do something against her own conscience, but if that makes her incapable of doing the job she has been employed to do, the ‘right thing’, as far as I’m concerned, is to resign and look for work elsewhere. She may well suffer through this, and find it difficult to get work, but did Jesus not tell us quite clearly that we would have to ‘take up our cross’ (Matt. 16:24), and that his followers would face trial and suffering in this world (e.g. 2Thess. 1:5), that we share in his sufferings (e.g. Rom. 8:17), for the purpose of producing perseverance and fruit in us (e.g. Rom. 5:3), but that also we may be able to share in the comfort when we rely on Jesus (e.g. 2Cor. 1:5)? Yet many are stating how she should ‘stand her ground!’ or ‘defend her faith!’ and intimate that her suffering is seen in her jail sentence.

My first problem with this is that I have always said that my God does not need defending; he’s far bigger than all of us put together! In the lyrics of Bono: “Stop helping God across the road like a little old lady!” Taking a ‘stand’ for God and his gospel just reeks to me of pride and arrogance on our part, as if God has been disempowered by the world and needs our help! Everything I have and cherish in my salvation has been done by him, and to even imply that I have to take action to defend him sounds ludicrous to my ears, and begins to actually undermine the gospel of grace! As John the Baptist said in heralding Christ; He must become greater; I must become less.  (John 3:30) I truly believe this focuses the issue on flawed individuals trying to express their beliefs (not very well in my opinion) and take it away from Christ, who is the one we should be showing and sharing with others.

My second problem is the more important one: what would Jesus do? This is an often-asked question offered to Christians facing a dilemma, and it is very apt here. More specifically: what is Jesus telling us to do? In his Sermon on the Mount, he launches into a very peculiar section that I am sure shocked his listeners as much then (if not more) than it does now, where he goes through a series of you have heard that it was said… but I tell you… statements, each taking us beyond what is ‘acceptable’ righteous behaviour and ‘lawkeeping’ to a place where such ‘standards’ are just not good enough for him; he wants a deeper commitment to righteousness that springs from the regenerated heart. The relevant one for this is:

‘You have heard that it was said, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.” But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. (Matt. 5:38-42)

Do I like this command? Heavens no!! I’m human, I don’t want to give anything to an enemy of mine, I don’t want to ‘lose’ what I have and see the person who was trying to take from me walk away with even more!! This is a very hard command for anyone to follow, but it does not mean that we ignore it or excuse it away. If we are called to follow Jesus, that means we are called to obey him! Yet in all the calls I hear to be obedient to God, this is one of the most overlooked commands! It’s perfectly understandable, of course, since none of us like it, but hey, I never thought for one second when I answered the call to my spirit to follow this Son of God that it would be easy!!!

So it was that I saw a blog posted on Facebook by a friend, stating that Kim Davis was doing exactly the right thing. This fellow wordpress blogger would like a debate on this, I thought, and I posted a reply to him, calling him brother, but saying I was disagreeing with him. In my reply, I posited a question I have said to other believers; in the ‘gay cake’ rows (which we have had here in NI as well as in the US), what if, for the sake of argument, the baker who received the request from the ‘gay militant’ for a cake, simply decided to bypass their personal conscience, and say “yes, Lord, you want me to give to my enemy. You want me to go even further than their request. I may not understand this, but I rest in your will.” – the customer returns, and the baker gives him the cake as requested and charges him a fair price as agreed. What happens then? The ‘militant’ leaves with a cake and an attitude; of either: “****’S SAKE! WHAT HAPPENED THERE? THEY WERE MEANT TO REFUSE ME! I can’t make a court case out of this now!”

If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;
    if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head,
    and the Lord will reward you. (Prov. 25:21-22)

Or…. he might leave thinking that he received good service from them and think that they are nice sincere Christians and aren’t actually going out of their way to frustrate homosexuals, like he had always believed. He might be won over to listen the next time he hears a Christian share their faith with him! While I believe that forcing a baker, or any other private individual to do something against their conscience is wrong, my question is that were we to follow a simple command, to the letter, would this not be better?

His response to me? He deleted my comment within minutes!! Later on, someone else posted a comment saying that Davis should resign (though from a different angle than mine) – deleted too! If you find a social media post or page, or a blog, where all the comments are supportive, with no (coherent) dissenting voice, ask yourself: across the whole of the internet, why are there not any other opinions? I’ve had comments deleted many times, and been blocked, and even dirtier tricks played on me by Christian sites (blogged on before). Being one who loves debate, and often finding myself dissenting on (mainly minor) points, I have been blocked on a number of Christian sites, but the vast majority of them have been evangelical/ conservative. In fact, I can only recall one progressive/ liberal site doing it to me! Those who control the conservative agenda have a plan in mind to make it look like we all sing from the same hymn sheet (pun intended!). Anyone who does raise a hand and say ‘excuse me!’ is quickly silenced, and an implication is made (sometimes bluntly) that such a person is ‘doubting their faith’/ ‘a troublemaker’/ ‘not a real Christian!’ And this is all for political gain!

Just look at the tactics of the religious right; were you to agree with their theology but not their politics, they’ll delete and/or block you, but those who do not share their theology but agree on their politics are welcomed into the fold! I see it again and again. This is why Billy Graham went to see the Pope, to answer a question a friend asked me a while ago. Graham was one of the greatest evangelists of the 20th century, until he got involved with political stuff – the world tainted him. I went back to look at that blogger who deleted me, and then noticed he was more than ‘just’ a lowly blogger like me! No, he is a Christian preacher who has pictures of huge crowds listening to him! In the tags on his blog (which are designed to draw traffic) I saw ‘Benghazi coverup’!!! WHAT HAS THAT GOT TO DO WITH THIS ISSUE? In my explanation to him that the religious right are political, I didn’t realise he was one of them! This is someone who is incapable of responding to the words of our Lord that I posited towards him, yet many, many people will listen to him… as he spouts more politics than theology, but makes it sound ‘spiritual’!

To add to this, all the cries of “persecution is coming!… No, it’s here right now!” are just ridiculous: some are even trying to say that Davis “will be held in jail until she denies Jesus”! COME ON, GET REAL! Stop twisting truths – it’s deception!!!!… and while there are other believers facing torture and execution for their faith in the world, this sounds so utterly pathetic. Those people suffering under ISIS or fleeing across the ocean to escape would cut off their right arm for the warm cell and hot meals of a Western prison! And many of them are not even Christians!!! Thank God we don’t face that!

And so we now look at this poor woman, standing on her convictions, but while she languishes in jail, many of those leaders who encouraged her to ‘do the right thing’ return to their mansions to sleep soundly in their beds. Some suited men behind closed doors right now are plotting how they can milk this situation for their political ends, and if you don’t believe that, you are the one being deceived.

She is nought but a pawn on the chessboard of their bigger games, and that is why I weep and pray for her. I hope she can see through this sooner rather than later, for many of those ‘supporters’ will drop her as soon as she leaves the headlines, of that I am sure.

Grace be with you.

Then they came for the Muslims…

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Martin_Niemöller_(1952)
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

– Pastor Martin Niemöller

You may have heard or read a different version of this poem, because it exists in a number of forms. It certainly was given in speeches by Niemöller (1892-1984), who was a German Lutheran Pastor, contemporary and colleague of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (see last post). The version above is the one found on the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, but in various guises it can be discovered, with mention of Communists, the ‘incurable’, the Social Democrats, etc. The point being made is basically that by not standing up for those who are ‘not like us’ or ‘not of our race/ religion/ creed/ political allegiance’, we do ourselves a disservice and thus fail to serve all of humanity.

The problem that confronted Niemöller was that, unlike some contemporaries at the time of the rise of Nazism, he did not speak out against Hitler, at least not at first, and this poem that we read is testimony to the anguish he felt over his initial inaction. He was anti-Communist, so welcomed the new Chancellor who was going to deal with the problems caused by what he saw as the prevalent social evil of his time, and deal firmly with those who were stirring things up and were enemies of the church. It was only as time went on, and each successive group of scapegoats were ‘dealt with’ that he started to realise where things were going. The Jews would appear to have been the group that suffered the most under Hitler, but they shared the concentration camps with political dissidents like communists as well as gypsies, homosexuals and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

What Niemöller intended with his words was to convey how it started with those that ‘everyone disliked’ i.e. the political troublemakers, then it moved to a group marked by nothing except their religion or race (the Jews). It is often debated how a modern European ‘civilised’ nation like 20th century Germany could so easily have allowed these things to happen, but it was at the end of a centuries-long process of the dehumanisation of the Jews. Anti-Semitism may have complex roots but to simplify it as best as one can; the first step was when many Jews in Europe became bankers by trade. This was a niche for them to fill since the church, pre-reformation, banned the practice of usury (charging interest on loans), since this is actually forbidden in the laws of the Old Testament. Actually it was forbidden for Israelites to charge interest to fellow countrymen (brothers in the faith), but not those of other races or faiths, and so since Christians could not lend to each other professionally, Jews were able to exploit that market. Various Kings and Emperors across Europe employed their services to bankroll their armies as they tried to take more territory and defeat neighbours; because many of them resented paying the money back, they would concoct stories against Jews, like saying that they ate Christian babies – horrible stuff like that – or blame them on devilry and casting bad omens and spells when disasters occurred, and then allow mobs to ‘take matters into their own hands’ or just proclaim a law that all Jews be deported, and thus their debts went away with the exiles! Where Jews found they could stay, they tended to remain together for their own safety and so their ‘ghettoisation’ began; they often did not integrate well with Christians.

By the time of Nazism, even ‘scientific’ studies were used to offer proof that Jews were genetically inferior, or ‘subhuman’ to the ‘better races’ like the White European tribes. On top of this, laissez-faire capitalism, in its first recent outing, had collapsed the world markets in the Wall Street Crash of 1929 (just like it did again in 2008). People then realised, as many are realising this time around, that it was the fault of the banks and the unhindered greed of the bankers who could not stop the ‘boom’ of the 20s and went too far. For the reasons listed above, many of these bankers were Jewish! In finding who to blame for the woes of the First Great Depression, much was apportioned to the Jews, and so the rounding up of these people was easier to achieve. Problem was that not all bankers were Jews, and not all Jews were bankers, but who would be concerned with such petty truths when people have a good old-fashioned lynch mob ready to take the trash out to the bins!

Anti-Semitism is on the rise again, and some are using the recent crash and New Depression in their finger-pointing efforts, but in the complexities of world politics, we have a situation where nobody really wants a return to persecuting the Jews like ’twas done a generation ago (fortunately), and Israel has become a powerful world nation with ties and links to major political powers. These days you only have to say that you’re not a fan of Woody Allen’s films to have the Anti-Defamation League accuse you of being anti-Semitic!

Enter the new scapegoats! The ‘Jews of the 21st century’! The Muslims!! Sure we all see the barbarity of those extremists who post their own videos online to boast to the world just how barbaric they can be as they do it all in the name of Allah, to cries of ‘Allahu Akbar!’ – sure we can see with our own eyes on our TV screens just how murderous and utterly detestable these people are! I’ll make no argument against that. I have already stated how the likes of ISIS are immoral human beings. However, just as not all Jews were or are bankers, and I believe we should apportion blame on those bankers who messed up (in 1929 and 2008) for our financial problems, so I also see that not all Muslims are extremists, and we should apportion the blame for the genocidal activities we are seeing on the extremists, and the extremists alone!

The dehumanising process has begun already. A large proportion of immigrants coming here are Muslims (actually escaping persecution by the extremists!); how often do we read in our media of ‘the death of an immigrant’ under a truck or of ‘a boatload of immigrants’ in the Mediterranean instead of the death of a boatload of people? They are fleeing the same groups that are our enemies, they are victims too. In the huge complexities that we need to wade through to find any sort of answer to this crisis (which I believe could be reduced from the megacrisis it is portrayed to be by parties interested in scapegoating again), we will have many questions difficult to answer. Let us relish the challenge instead of jerking our knees to the goose-step of hatred!

You don’t think they’re being dehumanised? Nobody is calling for their extermination, like the Nazis with the Jews? Think again! Almost a year ago, Charisma magazine online published an article from the website of the CADC (Christian Anti-Defamation Commission) that called for the extermination of all Muslims in the Western world! Actually it called for Muslims to ‘convert, leave, or die!’ – how and where does that sound familiar? While the CADC may be a fringe group, Charisma is a magazine of some note and a reasonable readership – its founder, Stephen Strang, was listed by TIME in 2005 in the ’25 most influential evangelicals in America’. I am very pleased to say that due to a flood of protests, Charisma removed the article and link, but never offered a reason for retraction nor an apology! To  think that they would even consider printing such an article is beyond my comprehension! I do not pass judgment on the salvation of other believers, but this attitude has zero to do with my faith, or my Jesus!!! The original article is still available here at defendchristians.org.

muslim-family-cropped-shutterstock_185552456-400x400Unlike Niemöller, who waited too long to be effective, I will start speaking out now, to halt the process that turns humans into cattle for slaughter, before we reach the day when we add a new line to that poem: “Then they came for the Muslims…”. I shall leave you with the very words of Pastor Niemöller [apologies for the imperfect translation], so you can sense his regret and angst:

When Pastor Niemöller was put in a concentration camp we wrote the year 1937; when the concentration camp was opened we wrote the year 1933, and the people who were put in the camps then were Communists. Who cared about them? We knew it, it was printed in the newspapers.
Who raised their voice, maybe the Confessing Church? We thought: Communists, those opponents of religion, those enemies of Christians – “should I be my brother’s keeper?”
Then they got rid of the sick, the so-called incurables. – I remember a conversation I had with a person who claimed to be a Christian. He said: Perhaps it’s right, these incurably sick people just cost the state money, they are just a burden to themselves and to others. Isn’t it best for all concerned if they are taken out of the middle [of society]? — Only then did the church as such take note. Then we started talking, until our voices were again silenced in public. Can we say, we aren’t guilty/responsible? The persecution of the Jews, the way we treated the occupied countries, or the things in Greece, in Poland, in Czechoslovakia or in Holland, that were written in the newspapers
I believe, we Confessing-Church-Christians have every reason to say: mea culpa, mea culpa! We can talk ourselves out of it with the excuse that it would have cost me my head if I had spoken out…. We preferred to keep silent. We are certainly not without guilt/fault, and I ask myself again and again, what would have happened, if in the year 1933 or 1934 – there must have been a possibility – 14,000 Protestant pastors and all Protestant communities in Germany had defended the truth until their deaths? If we had said back then, it is not right when Hermann Göring simply puts 100,000 Communists in the concentration camps, in order to let them die. I can imagine that perhaps 30,000 to 40,000 Protestant Christians would have had their heads cut off, but I can also imagine that we would have rescued 30-40,000 million [sic] people, because that is what it is costing us now.

Grace be with you.