Great Expectations

jesus-christ-triumphal-entry-949744-wallpaperIt just dawned on me what it was that led to the people who called for Jesus to be crucified only a week after hailing him as the Messiah… their expectations!

We are often told from pulpits that the Pharisees and the religious ‘establishment’ in Jerusalem ‘turned the crowd against Jesus’. That has an element of truth in it, but it wasn’t in just one week that it was achieved. The people had been fed a diet of expectation all their lives. It was the received wisdom, from specific interpretations of their scriptures, that the Messiah was about to come, but he would be a warrior king who would supernaturally eject the Romans from Judaea and ‘restore the kingdom’ i.e. just as it was in King David’s time.

That was why they cried ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’ (Matt. 21:9). They were expecting this revolution, this spiritual freeing of their nation from oppression. They had heard many things, and many rumours about this prophet from a far-off part.

Imagine their disappointment when he actually did not challenge the Romans, nor be drawn on any questions about how they should ‘deal’ with the Imperialists. Instead he continued in his teaching he had always maintained… that he wants his followers to be servants, to everyone, and to love all, even enemies! It wasn’t a battle cry, or a call to arms, or anything remotely like that. No, it was the opposite! This man they had been told was coming even arrived on a donkey! The donkey and colt were ready for him to use for his ‘triumphal’ entry, just as Zechariah had prophesied, so these people were not properly informed on scripture after all. The first thing Jesus did on arrival? He went to the Temple and drove out those who had commercialised his religion! His attacks were not on their conquerors, but their own religious leaders. He just could not have been their glorious Messiah! So when the call came for his death, they were only too eager to join in.

What are our expectations of Jesus? Do we decide in advance what we think he will do for us, or who or what he will be to us?

Or do we just accept who he iswhat he is, and most importantly, what he asks us to be, and to do? It’s all there in our gospel records, so why the false expectations?

Grace be with you.

Poor Reactions

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“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.

All truth is God’s truth!

1280582410I came across a little video shared on Facebook by a couple of friends. It was about ‘supporting Israel’. I watched it, and behind the nice bright-eyed and bushy-tailed teenage ‘Merican youth presenters enthusiastically saying twee soundbites like “Gaad always keeps his promises!” [wondering now if that is how one pronounces ‘G-d’! (see last post)], I found little substance of biblical note: smiling white teeth doth not a doctrinal argument make, methinks.

So, being the thought-challenger/ mythbuster/ dissenting voice/ argumentative git [delete according to your worldview] that I am, I posted a comment, which was not lengthy (not by my usual standards!) outlining a biblical argument against their point of view and dual-covenant theology, quoting Paul from Romans and pointing out what Jesus said in John 8. I mentioned to a friend who had, like me, posted something on the same site but had no response, leaving us thinking that they had deleted our comments. This has been a common practice on some Christian sites, sorry to say. He then read my comment, ‘liked’ it and replied ‘Good points!’

48 hours later, I had received nothing else in response. I looked up the post, and right there at the top, was my comment. The post had over 600,000 views, more than 5000 ‘likes’ and over 400 comments, yet absolutely nobody else had reacted to mine! I was even expecting a flame like “you must just hate the Jews!” (typical reaction to a ‘dissenter’) but I was nonplussed – this was social media, and there were no reactions at all? I asked a friend who works in IT if it was possible that it was only me who could see what I wrote, and the reply was that it would certainly be possible for them to alter a comment’s status. I looked again via a friend’s page – it was there! Cogs whirred in my brain… then I created a false identity on a new Facebook account, looked again; it was nowhere to be seen! The site had changed my comment so that only my ‘friends’ could see it!

I thought it was bad enough when we had Christian sites deleting comments and blocking commenters (had that done to me!) since they were blatantly silencing someone with a differing theological view, but at least that was clear. This tactic is worse as far as I’m concerned, since one would be unaware that they had in effect been ‘silenced’ since all of their own friends would verify that their comment was active. It’s indicative of ‘thought control’ and an inability to deal with a simple theological debate; if you set yourself up to post articles and videos on social media promoting any religious point of view, you are making yourself a ‘teacher’ to the wider church, and if you will not take criticism head-on and be able to reply with a decent counter-argument, you are unworthy of that ministry. In my book of definitions, you’re a deceiver!

That I had to resort to underhand ‘lurking’ with a false name to uncover this is, quite frankly, ridiculous! And the fact that this particular issue is an important political one, betrays more about what motives may be behind such artful gagging practices!

My fellow believers need to be aware of such tactics. Keep listening to the same old stuff and you will never be aware that what you are being taught may be only one flawed interpretation, or that what is presented to you as ‘what all true Christians believe and accept’ is actually only held by a small number, and is based more on a cultural or traditional stance than on actual biblical study!

How on earth can we who state that we believe in the One, who is ‘the Truth’ (John 14:6) ever hope to convince anyone to follow Jesus, if what we say and do is lies, or tainted by deception, or by attempts to silence any dissent to our view without an ability to explain ourselves? A very good statement by a famous pastor that I was very glad to read recently has now been undermined by a revelation that he may be covering his tracks and has not been honest about what he knew or when he knew it! Any ‘good work’ you do can be undone by a moment’s false witness in any shape or form, so why do it?

And if someone, or some church, or come Christian organisation or website, continues to do this, wilfully and deliberately, what does that say about them?

Grace be with you.

Spirituality v. Salvation

SP-043-Prabhupada-on-Vyasana-folded-handsI had a Saturday job briefly when I was at school. I was a vegetarian and had started buying from a wholefood shop in our town centre; I responded to their window ad for a worker. We had a fair number of Krishna devotees who shopped with us, but one was particularly evangelical in his fervour to spread the message of Krishna and hung around outside to accost customers and passers-by with his literature. One poor man had been cornered up against our window and could not escape, so my boss felt sorry for him and went outside, shouting “Hey Jim, someone on the phone for you!” The man, whose name we never knew, looked up in bewilderment before realising what was happening, then said “Oh, thanks!” and said to the proselytiser before him “sorry, I have to go and take this!”

Once inside, my boss reassured him that the offending man would go away in a minute and he could escape. He then thanked us for rescuing him and went on his way.

I myself was approached by this religious fanatic once as I left the shop, and it was then that I realised why he chose to stand there. He asked me if I was a vegetarian. Customers exiting a wholefood shop – what are the odds? When I said that I was, he then said “Oooohhhh! That means you must recognise one of the four spiritual laws!” When I told him that my reasons for my vegetarianism were to do with modern farming and land utilisation, etc. and that I ate fish, he lost interest. Even when I tried to bring Jesus into the conversation, he wasn’t having it. He never wanted a discussion with me, just to persuade me to ‘join his religion’! Sadly, too many Christian proselytisers have the same attitude.

He was trying to find something ‘spiritual’ within me that would maybe witness to him that I was on the same hymn sheet as him (or chant sheet!), and he could use this to springboard into drawing me further along the spiritual path (his one). However, ‘spirituality’ is another topic that is subjective: some think that doing no harm to any animal is spiritual and so meat-eating is very unspiritual, yet some find some ‘spirituality’ in hunting animals for sport!

Where we can find common ground with people of other faiths or of no faith on principles like ‘live and let live’ or ‘treat others how you’d like them to treat you’ may serve us well for sharing this Earth and for living in a pluralistic and mixed society, but many Christian denominations seem to wish to find this as grounds for ‘coming together’ and believing that we all share the same spiritual ‘path’ to salvation and eternal life. The opposite of this are denominations that find no value whatsoever in the thoughts and philosophies of anyone outside their narrow definition of what is ‘true religion’!

Both beliefs are wrong! Our path to eternal life is not found on any path of ‘spirituality’ or even law-keeping; it is found in a person. The true scandal of this is the basis for the rejection of the Christian gospel by many; both atheistic people, who cannot accept that salvation is not achieved by doing good, and religious people, like Mohammad, who created a whole new religion to counter the easiness of Jesus’ yoke (Matt. 11:30).

When I watch films like ‘Gandhi’ and see how great (though flawed) a man he was, I am brought to a sense of humility, that this man who actually does not share my faith in Jesus, is an example of selfless non-violent action that cost mahatma-gandhi-quote-nations-greatness-measured-by-how-it-treats-weakest-membershim freedom and prestige in this world. That does not convince me that he has found eternal life – that is only through Jesus – but it does show me that I am not such a great example of what a Jesus follower should be like. I should be better!

Just because I have been given the gift of salvation freely does not mean I am exempt from any efforts to follow in the steps of the greatest and most humble of all: God the Creator, the Word, who left his place to become a baby, a simple carpenter, then a bloody sacrifice on a shameful cross. In fact, if I make no such effort, I betray that I’m not a true Jesus follower (Luke 9:23). I just have this compulsion that I have to prove him in me, not my own ‘spirituality’. When I do find others who display knowledge of some ‘spiritual law’ then I’ll try to show them who is the most perfect example of spirituality, that they might see where salvation truly lies. There is a difference.

Grace be with you.

Zuckerberg must be a Nazi

I’m writing this blog in the very early hours of a summer’s morning, by the dawn’s early light. Post-op complications awoke me in the middle of the night (I’ll spare you the details), and unable to get back to sleep, I had these thoughts still running around my mind from before I hit the pillow:

A Facebook friend had shared a post that stated  the U.N. had ‘declared Israel the #1 violator of women’s rights’ and yet again, I was reading it, thinking it just didn’t ring true to me. The article author was incredulous that the U.N. could do such a thing when we all know that it’s the Muslims who mistreat their women the most. I come across much information on social media that is true misinformation, and while it can usually be debunked with a minute’s googling, it also usually comes from some rabid right-wing ‘news’ source. Very often it is Fox: I do not say ‘Fox News’ since that is an oxymoron.BoldomaticPost_The-case-against-Fox-status-re

This time a google did not throw up an instant debunk. I found maybe about two dozen citations of the same headline or similar. I looked through these for a reliable source. There was Fox right at the top, but the rest I did not recognise; a few were clearly Israeli news/ comments/ sites/ blogs, then there was Rush Limbaugh (now he’s not known for rash unfounded statements, is he?). I sought some of my favourites: the Independent, the Guardian, the BBC, the NY Times… nothing. Tried ABC, MSN… no! Hmmm, I thought, could it be true that such things are not reported by ‘the liberal media’? Was I onto something here, which all my conservative friends try to tell me? That ‘the truth is not told by these pinkos!’? So I then searched some reputable conservative sources – The Washington Post, The Times, The Telegraph… still nothing! Nobody could accuse these sources of being liberal; the Telegraph has the nickname ‘the Torygraph’ here! These are newspapers that may have slants I would not concur with, but they are generally factual in their reporting i.e. they’re proper journalists.

Further digging and I found a cnsnews report that stated there was a U.N. Human Rights report which included Iranian abuses of women but was instantly incredulous that a separate earlier report cited Israel, as if it was understandable against Iran but ridiculous against Israel. Yes, cns is conservative, but that article was three years old! The best I then got was on Yahoo – there was a recent report by a U.N. committee, but it was a specific report into conditions in Gaza and the effects of the Israeli occupation on women. One may agree or disagree with its findings, but it was not a general report that looked at women over the whole world and then found Israel to be the worst misogynists, so the original headline was, yet again, made up, blown out of all proportion, sensationalist… oh, I get so tired!

Why is it that my Facebook feed is so full of this crap? Is it the friends I have? Or is Mark Zuckerberg just one of these nut jobs that has to feed the world any old nonsense just as long as they’ll all be dragged along the highway by the [fill in your relevant extreme right-wing party according to your location]? A thought entered my mind that I should start my own news blogging site and just call it ‘The Truth’, maybe with a bold majestic animal masthead, like a fully-maned lion, or even a white unicorn! Why did I think of those? They’re very ‘British’, aren’t they? My new ‘magazine’ might get millions of followers, and I shall establish my status of ‘mythbuster’ with a huge official badge and award. Maybe the Nobel Committee will inaugurate a new prize…

But no! Such ‘Truth’ is boring, mundane, matter-of-fact. Nobody really wants that. They all want the sensationalist stuff, the sort of thing that they can look up from and say to their long-suffering spouse “you’ll never believe what they’ve gone and done now, dear!!!!”

Grace be with you.