NATIONAL ATHEIST DAY – A CELEBRATION OF THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST

“The fool says in his heart, there is no God!”. Psalm 14:1

This year Easter Sunday falls on April 1st. The last time this happened was in 1956, when only 10% of those alive today were around to experience it. Most of us have therefore never known what it is to have the greatest event of the Christian calendar coincide with a day full of hoaxes.

April 1st has been known as April Fools Day in some places since the Medieval era with possible references in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and the work of the French poet Eloy D’Amerval. The first reference in the modern English-speaking world dates from 1686 when the poet John Aubrey referred to Fooles Holy Day. A few years later, on April 1st, 1698, several people were tricked into going to the Tower of London to see the Lions washed.

A practice of playing practical jokes on April 1st has grown in much of the western world during the modern era. Among the most famous hoaxes are the BBC Panorama news segment on April 1st, 1957, concerning the spaghetti trees of Ticino, Switzerland, and the 2008 CGI flying penguin story for the BBC I-Player. In 1977 Britain’s Guardian newspaper published a seven-page travel supplement for the islands of San Serriffe[i]. The islands were apparently situated in the Indian Ocean and consisted of a small archipelago; the largest two being in the shape of a semi-colon. Place names and many other references to the islands were terms from the printing industry, and the capital was named for the font Bodoni. Well known corporations such as Kodak and Texaco placed advertisements referencing their interests in San Serriffe in the article and construction company Costain stated that they were building a new harbor for the nation in an announcement rich with typographical illusions.

National Atheist Day, otherwise known as the Day of Reason was created in 2003 by the American Humanist Association and the Washington Area Secular Humanists, to take place on the first Thursday of May each year and coincide with the National Day of Prayer, an institution that these organizations reject as divisive. Their intent was to provide an opportunity to celebrate reason, a concept all Americans can support—and to raise public awareness about the persistent threat to religious liberty posed by government intrusion into the private sphere of worship.[ii]

However, the idea that National Atheist Day should really be celebrated on April 1st comes from a hoax article about a fictitious Florida court case that was also launched in 2003. An Atheist had decided to sue the government because unlike the major religions there was no recognized day for atheist celebrations. The fictitious judge dismissed the case on the basis that atheists could celebrate on April 1st because the fool says in his heart, there is no God.

The Christian community celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday each year. Christians believe that having been put to death upon a cross of crucifixion, Jesus body was placed in a tomb, from where he arose, three days later. The Apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthian believers speaks of this resurrection[iii]. He states that if there had been no resurrection, then the preaching of the gospel message would have been in vain, and so would faith. He goes on to state that the community of believers would be pitiable above all peoples, because of the folly of their belief.

Yet the resurrection is recorded as a true event. Many have sought to debunk the resurrection, lowering it to the level of a myth. However, in doing so, some have come to faith as they got to grips with the evidence.

Albert Ross was an advertising agent and freelance writer, when in 1930 he published Who Moved the Stone?[iv] Intent on proving that the resurrection was just a myth, Ross analyzed the sources and in writing up his notes concluded that the resurrection was a true event. He set out his reasoning in the book. The poet T. S. Eliot was a literary consultant who read the manuscript and recommended it for publication. Passing on complimentary copies to his friends, one reached the hands of the author G. K. Chesterton who wrote a review saying that the case for the resurrection was treated in such a logical and even legal manner.[v]

More recently the atheist Chicago journalist, Lee Strobel, set to applying his legal and investigative training to research the evidence of Christianity after his wife became a Christian. His conclusions led him to faith. He points to the many eyewitnesses of the resurrection, who then went on to endure incredible hardships on behalf of what they believed, as strong evidence for the veracity of their claims to have seen, touched and eaten with the resurrected Jesus. He cites nine ancient sources both inside and outside the New Testament that confirm and corroborate the conviction of the disciples that they encountered the resurrected Jesus, and seven ancient sources mostly outside the New Testament that confirm that the disciples lived lives of deprivation and suffering for the sake of the gospel[vi]. Why would they do this, he asks, if they simply heard a rumor that Jesus had been raised from the dead?

The Christian may sometimes be called a fool for Christ. Again, in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul speaks of the apostles being put on display like those condemned to die in the Roman arena, as he describes them as fools for Christ, who have become the scum of the world[vii]. In a 2015 episode of the TV program Witness, Stephen Colbert was interviewed by Fr. Thomas Rosica. Colbert, who replaced David Letterman as host of CBS’ Late Show[viii] in 2014, is a devout Catholic and not ashamed of his Christian beliefs. Asked what it means to be a fool for Christ, he responded that it is the willingness to be wrong in society, or wrong according to our time, but right according to our conscience, as guided by the Holy Spirit.[ix]

While the Christian may be called a fool, Christ encourages us not to be quick to call another a fool, going so far as to say that it puts us in danger of hell. There is a righteous anger, but there is also an anger that is unrighteous and addresses others inappropriately. I would rather the Christian community treat the atheist with the same love that we are commanded to treat our neighbors, not regarding him as an enemy, but as one on the same journey as ourselves – merely at a different place. We would thus not only demonstrate Christian love to the atheist but also the tolerance and respect we would appreciate from him for the beliefs of the Christian.

The word of God does however, have some strong words to say about those who do not believe. Paul, writing this time to the believers in Rome, speaks of those who suppress the truth even though what may be known about God is plain to them. He says: For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.[x]

The reality for Christians is that Jesus rose from the dead. The Bible records this event; we believe it. By faith we experience it, and we live in the expectation of the resurrection of the dead in Christ and of life everlasting. The atheist can believe what he wants … or not. But his belief, or lack thereof, does nothing to change the reality of what he does not believe in.

Whether or not the atheist is the fool, the Christian declares by his belief that he is no fool. Bible commentator Matthew Henry wrote a biography of his father, the seventeenth century English preacher, Philip Henry. Recalling his father’s acts of charity and kindness, Matthew attributes to him the words: He is no fool who parts with that which he cannot keep, when he is sure to be recompensed with that which he cannot lose[xi].

This thought was immortalized for the twentieth century church by missionary martyr Jim Elliot who wrote in his journal October 28, 1949: He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain that which he cannot lose[xii].

This April 1st Christians celebrate the Resurrection. Whatever deceives the fool, Christians will celebrate; whatever believes the atheist, Christians will celebrate – no joke, and no hoax!

[i] https://www.theguardian.com/gnmeducationcentre/archive-educational-resource-april-2012 (accessed March 29, 2018)
[ii] National Day of Prayer, National Day of Reason – Richard E. Wackrow – The Missoulian – May 7, 2015 (accessed March 29, 2018)
[iii] I Corinthians 15:12-19 – But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?  If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
[iv] Who Moved the Stone? – Frank Morison – pub. Faber & Faber Ltd. 1930
[v] G. K. Chesterton – Our Note Book – The Illustrated London News, April 5 1930
[vi] Lee Strobel – http://www.faithwire.com/2018/03/14/ex-atheist-lee-strobel-breaks-down-4-reasons-why-jesus-death-and-resurrection-are-absolute-fact/ (accessed March 30, 2018)
[vii] 1 Corinthians 4:9-13
[viii] A long-running, and very popular late night talk show
[ix] https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevin-wax/stephen-colbert-on-being-a-fool-for-christ/ and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lF5tudIqN7w (both accessed March 30, 2018)
[x] Romans 1:21-23
[xi] Matthew Henry – The Life of the Rev. Philip Henry A.M. – W. Ball, 1839 – p.35
[xii] Elisabeth Elliot – The Shadow of the Almighty – New York, Harpers, 1958 – p.108
Advertisements
Posted in Teaching and Meditations, The Church | Tagged | Leave a comment

THE OUTRAGED CHRIST

In 2016 I wrote a reflection on the Resurrection as a revelation of the Glory of God in ways that our human minds cannot fully grasp. I did this after I had viewed many images of the crucifixion from the work of the great European painters of the Renaissance era. Christ has been pictured on the cross as a suffering servant. He has been depicted with the great compassion that He has for all mankind. He has been represented in victory over sin and the grave.

Outraged Christ smallOn a recent visit to Liverpool, England, I came across another representation of Christ on the cross. This time, not of painted artwork, but of wood sculpture. The Outraged Christ is a work by Charles Lutyens that presently stands in one of the transepts of Liverpool Cathedral. It is made from slats of wood, dowelled and glued together, and then sculpted using a large chisel and a chain saw. At fifteen feet high, it is a much larger crucifix than we are used to seeing in churches. Looking up at it, it dominates far more than the actual crucifixion would have done.

Over thirty years in the creation, The Outraged Christ began as a head alone. Lutyens laid this spontaneous work aside for many years while he contemplated what it might become. With the intent of having an encounter with this ‘Man’ and with the reality of the event taking place, the sculpture was driven by such questions as “Who was this Man?”, “What did He look like?” and “Why was this crucifixion remembered for 2,000 years over and above the countless other crucifixions that have taken place?” [i] Lutyens found himself thinking: “If the resurrection happened, then was it not already inherent in the crucifixion?” Thus, The Outraged Christ looks as if he is about to leap from the cross. As I looked at the right foot, nailed far up the cross with knee raised and bent, I contemplated a Christ who looked ready to spring forward and destroy His enemies. Meanwhile the other foot, stretched out at the length of the leg, with toes flexed outward, looked as though it were cramping in great pain.

In an article in the Church Times, Lord Harries wrote: The first Christians liked to show Christ victorious on the cross. The medieval period focused on his suffering for the sins of the world. The 20th century, too, emphasised almost exclusively the suffering of Christ — but, more often than not, as a suffering of a terrible century. The depiction of an outraged Christ is, so far as I know, a fresh addition to Christian iconography.[ii]

A panel beside the statue includes the words: Being who He was and having been outraged in the temple, how could he not be outraged at the appalling treatment of human to human, as He was experiencing it.

Our commemoration of the crucifixion often emphasizes the humility of Christ. We are told: he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth[iii] and: being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross![iv]. Our presentation of the gospel often emphasizes the sacrifice for sin, with victory over sin and death inherent in Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. We preach: And by (God’s) will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all [v] and: The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ[vi]. We are reminded that: He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; The punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. [vii]

We are also reminded that in the compassion of Christ as he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it. [viii] The gospel writers were aware of the fulfilment of prophecy affirming that He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases[ix]. As He suffered the punishment for our sin, he also suffered with the sufferings of mankind. As much as His sacrifice was a payment for sin, it was also an identification with the consequence of sin.

Christ, whose righteous indignation drove the money changers from the temple, telling them they were making the house of prayer into a den of robbers, went willingly to the cross. The Christ who spoke woe unto the lawyers and the Pharisees, describing them as hypocrites and likening them to whitewashed tombs did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing[x] or, as the New American Standard, translates: emptied himself.

The Christ who went to the cross left everything behind. His few earthly possessions were taken from him, His friends abandoned him, and the adulation of the previous week’s crowd was only a memory. His parables, His teaching, His words of wisdom, even His prayers were left behind. As He cried out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” he also lost sight of all things being under His power, which he had declared so recently when He washed His disciples’ feet. These all had to be stripped away to fully assume all the sin of the world.

Christ made it clear that He came to do His Father’s will. He said to the Jewish leaders: the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing.[xi] In the garden, again, so recently, He declared to His Father, “not my will, but yours be done!”. The writer to the Hebrews, reflecting on a Psalm of David, ascribes his words to Christ: Here I am … I have come to do your will, my God.[xii] In doing the will of His father, and emptying himself to go to the cross, he could leave anger behind trusting in the knowledge, as Paul writes, that while, in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed … The wrath of God (The Father) is (also) being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of mankind[xiii]

Somewhere, maybe not in the man, whose broken body hung upon the cross, but in the powerful, prophetic and creative word that spoke stars and seas into being, remained an echo of the Psalmist’s expression: The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, “I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.” [xiv]

In this victory, the outrage and the indignation of Christ find their rightful place.

[i] Marianna Lutyens – http://www.lutyenstrust.org.uk/portfolio-item/charles-lutyenss-crucifixion-recently-installed-at-liverpools-anglican-cathedral/ (accessed March 26, 2018)
[ii] A New Way of Looking – The Rt. Revd. Lord Harries of Pentregarth – The Church Times – August 19, 2011
[iii] Isaiah 53:7
[iv] Philippians 2:8
[v] Hebrews 10:10
[vi] 1 Corinthians 15:56,57
[vii] Isaiah 53:5
[viii] Luke 9:41
[ix] Matthew 8:17 quoting Isaiah 52:4
[x] Philippians 2:6,7
[xi] John 5:19
[xii] Hebrews 10:7
[xiii] Romans 1:17,18
[xiv] Psalm 2:4-6

All quotes are from the New International Version of the Bible

Posted in Teaching and Meditations, The Church | Tagged | Leave a comment

BLEEDING HANDS AND BLISTERED FEET

– A Christmas Meditation –

Through a series of recent mishaps my fingers got cut. First, I cleared out the sink and did the dishes. I wiped a glass, not realizing it had fallen into the sink and the rim was chipped. I cut across one of my fingers. I’ve healed up nicely but should probably have had stitches. I have several other scars testifying to similar experiences over the years.

Other minor accidents with a broken window, a plumbing repair and a string whipped through my fingers meant that for a few days my right hand was a mess of Bandaids (Plasters for the British reader). The cuts are mostly healed now, but for a moment I was reminded of the inconvenience of wounds. Mobility is affected. Water causes the Bandaids to come off. Simply dealing with everyday life causes the dressings to deteriorate.

Throughout history, men and women seem destined to bruise and bloody their hands in work. Lamech, named his son, the Biblical Noah, saying: He will comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the Lord has cursed.[i] Thousands of years later a baby was born, destined to reverse that curse. But before that could happen, his hands also had to suffer.

As I think about the coming of the Son of Heaven, the baby born to be Lord of all, I have been contemplating the ways in which His hands suffered. Those which were pure, sinless, and unaffected by the cares of this world, chose to become servants of all. Hands, trained at the carpenter’s bench, became victims of cuts and bruises, splinters and sprains. Hands, offered in healing, were muddied by an earthy salve for a blind man’s eyes, and risked the infection of leprosy and other skin diseases. The hands of heaven engaged with the world, breaking bread and fish to feed a crowd, raising up a little girl from death, washing the dirty feet of disciples, and breaking Passover bread to bless them all. These same hands were then broken and crushed, nailed cruelly upon the crucifier’s cross. In the words of worship leader Graham Kendrick: Hands that flung stars into space, to cruel nails surrendered.[ii]

We all know how painful a blister on the heel can be after a long walk. A friend of mine must take care when walking. His diabetes means that blisters on his feet do not heal easily. Jesus and his disciples walked everywhere. I am sure there were times when their feet were rubbed raw. Jesus’ feet took him all over Judaea, Samaria and Galilee so that he could preach the good news. They were feet that were protected only by leather sandals as he walked the rudimentary roads of his day, covered with dirt, dung and the general detritus of life. As those earthy feet neared the end of his earthly life, he chose to wash, not his own, but the feet of all his disciples; feet covered with grimy, hard calluses. And then, at last, His feet also had to suffer, broken and crushed upon the cross.

We all know how essential hands and feet are to our daily lives. As Christ gave His hands and feet to the selfless work of the Kingdom so Christians throughout the ages have consecrated the members of their bodies to His service. In the 19th century words of the Welsh hymn writer, Frances Havergal: Take my hands and let them move, at the impulse of Thy love. Take my feet and let them be swift and beautiful for Thee[iii] and those of Mary James, a leader in the Wesleyan Holiness movement in the United States: Let my hands perform His bidding; Let my feet run in His ways.[iv]

As we celebrate the coming of the Christ, many of us in the Christian community are reminded that there are still many who have never heard of His coming. Christians also look forward to the second coming of the Christ, often oblivious that free access to Good News in many of our worlds, is absent in the worlds of others.

Around the globe, Christmas worship includes versions of an old negro spiritual with the injunction to Go tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born. Yet many mountains are the most inaccessible places for the gospel. Thousands of communities of people, unreached by the gospel, live in mountainous, desert and forested regions. They have never heard the good news of Jesus’ first coming. Other communities where there is no church are found in our cities, among migrant communities and refugees.

In 1941 Robert Jaffray reflected upon the words of Isaiah[v] when, from a life-time of gospel service among hill tribes of Borneo, he wrote: One day it will all be finished and the weary feet, all scarred, bleeding and sore, will cross the last mountain and tread the last trail, reach the last tribe and win the last soul. Then He Himself will exclaim, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! How beautiful the feet that have brought good tidings and proclaimed salvation to perishing souls.’ Then indeed it will be true that our Christ reigns over all the world, over every nation. Every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess Him.[vi]

As Christ came into the world, willing to suffer, so we all are called to lay aside comfort and be bent to His Will so that the world may know the Good News. In the words of Amy Carmichael, another missionary: No wound? No scar? Yet, as the Master shall the servant be, and pierced are the feet that follow Me. But thine are whole; can he have followed far Who has no wound nor scar?[vii]

As we remember Bethlehem and receive the Christ again this Christmas-time, let us be renewed in our commitment that every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess Him Lord indeed. Let us be renewed in our commitment that among every unreached people the dear Christ shall enter in.

 

[i] Gen 5:29

[ii] The Servant King – Graham Kendrick, © 1983

[iii] Take My Life and Let it Be – Frances Ridley Havergal, 1874

[iv] All for Jesus, All for Jesus – Mary Dagworthy James, 1871

[v] How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news. Isaiah 52:7

[vi] Report to the New York office of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, 1941 – Dr. Robert Jaffray – Quoted in Cannibal Valley, Russell Hitt, 1962 Christian Publications, Harrisburg, PA, p.49

[vii] Scars – Quoted from “Mountain Breezes: The Collected Poems of Amy Carmichael” – 1999, CLC

 

Posted in Missions, Teaching and Meditations, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Giving Thanks

The American festival of Thanksgiving is one of my favorite times of the year. The fall of the year is fully with us, the historical harvest has been collected, and it is time to give thanks. A time of thanks-giving is, at the same time, a religious and a secular festival. Although increasingly encroached upon by the commercial, it is not distorted by the material in the way Christmas has become. It is unique as an opportunity for everyone, whether religious or not, to give thanks; Give thanks to God almighty; Give thanks to your personal version of the creator; or simply give thanks to those around you.

Our family has read the story of the first Massachusetts Colony Thanksgiving. Rooted in the English tradition of Harvest Festival, that first event at Plymouth was prompted by a good harvest. Giving thanks to God, giving thanks for the help of native Americans, and giving thanks to one another for the survival of the colony, inspired a tradition.

We have also visited Berkeley Plantation on Virginia’s James River, to join the commemoration of the first Thanksgiving celebrated in North America, preceding the Plymouth celebration by a couple of years. That occasion includes a re-enactment of the arrival of the first colonists and their encounter with the native population. Today the small native American tribes of the area are blessed by a strong Christian tradition, and their dance performance often includes a prayer or a psalm.

Regardless of one’s personal faith, Thanksgiving presents an opportunity to Christian, Jew, Muslim alike; a secular holiday and an opportunity to choose how, and to whom, to give thanks.

A friend recently reminded me of the importance for the Christian to give thanks. Paul tells us through his first letter to the Thessalonian church to: give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thess 5:18). Giving thanks once a year on Thanksgiving, is manageable for many; but giving thanks in all circumstance, and on every day, is a totally different experience.

I’m sometimes inclined to moan and complain. When I am feeling sorry for myself, or when I am annoyed with someone or something, I’m quick to offer a word of complaint to those around me, or a prayer of complaint to the Lord. According to the scripture, that is not God’s will for me. Sometimes as an antidote to my complaints, and sometimes as a practical expression of praise, I have developed a practice of giving thanks for my family, for my colleagues, and for the provision of the Lord.

This practice, in the form of personal liturgy, is valuable for several reasons. Firstly, it reminds me of how blessed I am, even when I have forgotten, or chosen not to remember. Secondly it reminds me to pray a blessing upon others; upon my family, upon my colleagues, and upon the work that they do. And thirdly, but by no means the last reason, it reminds me of my human condition. Without God, I am nothing. Without His spirit in me, I am lost. Without the blessing of his presence and provision, my life is meaningless.

And so, I am led to a deeper level of gratitude. I am reminded that He who holds the depths of the earth in His hands (Ps. 95:4), and He who has marked off the heavens with the breadth of His hand (Isa. 40:12), has also searched me and known me (Ps. 139:1). He has made me for a purpose, has life for me to live and work for me to do.

Posted in Family News, Teaching and Meditations | 1 Comment

EYES CLOSED AND EARS WIDE OPEN

(A Reflection on the Divisions in Our Society)

 We have become used to reports of Jihadists driving vehicles into crowds of people. It’s happened prominently in France, Germany and Britain with tragic consequences. However, we were not prepared for a domestic event in Charlottesville, VA on Saturday. A disturbed young man chose to drive his car at high speed into a crowd protesting an officially permitted demonstration by a group of white supremacists.

Charlottesville is an historic city. It was home to Thomas Jefferson and is the site of his University of Virginia. Earlier this year the city council voted to rename a city park from Lee Park to Emancipation Park and to remove a statue of Confederate General, Robert E. Lee [i]. For several years a debate has ebbed and flowed in the American south about the place of Confederate Statues and Symbols in the Public Square. There are those who criticize them as ongoing symbols of white supremacy and historical injustice; while others claim them as part of their heritage and history.

The debate boiled over in Charlottesville on the weekend as people rallied in support of Confederate history encountered those who want to remove its symbols. Tragically a young civil rights lawyer died and other people were seriously injured. These events occurred not only against the backdrop of a debate about the place of the Confederacy, but also amidst the anguish surrounding recent police shootings of unarmed African-Americans. CNN predicts a looming fight in southern cities still struggling with the legacy of slavery and what to do with Civil War monuments and symbols that represent heritage to some and hate to others.[ii]

Our American society is divided over many issues. Our society is also increasingly pluralistic. Richmond society was once defined by divisions between black and white. It is now a melting pot of the nations. According to Global Frontiers[iii] staff in Richmond people born in over 120 nations can be found in Richmond. As both the general media and social media make issues that once were local into national issues, more and more divisions in our society become apparent. I believe that a factor in the election of Donald Trump as president was a failure of the Washington political establishment to listen to the concerns of middle America over at least the last twenty-five years. Factory and mine-workers across states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia saw jobs lost to imports and environmental policy. Free trade agreements that were touted as paths to greater prosperity failed to replace the manufacturing jobs that were lost. At the same time Wall Street greed, asset-stripped, rather than invested in, grass-roots American factories that had provided stable livelihoods[iv]. Those who are not listened to may sometimes feel abandoned.

Similarly, I believe that the shock Brexit vote in the United Kingdom last year resulted in part from a failure of Westminster to listen to the concerns of Middle England about immigration and the lack of integration in city communities.

As I reflected on the Charlottesville events of last weekend just sixty miles up the road from Richmond I thought about all of those involved who might feel un-listened to.

Jesus challenged those who have ears to hear, to listen, on multiple occasions[v] but he also spoke about the eyes.

When Jesus spoke the words: If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell [vi], He had been speaking about the sin of lust. But what if our eyes cause us to stumble for other reasons. Jesus may have been talking about sexual lust and its consequence played out in the thought lives and actions of men and women. He might also have talked of the lust of gluttony or greed and their consequence in our eating or material habits. But what if he was also talking about our eyes as the gateways to the judgments of the heart? Elsewhere in what has become known as his Sermon on the Mount Jesus speaks about the importance of not passing judgment. The words: Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you [vii] are immediately followed by an injunction to remove that which affects our sight before endeavoring to remove obstacles for another.

My recent introspection has reminded me how quickly I pass judgments with my eyes. The homeless person begging at the traffic intersection; the veiled woman in the store; and the person who simply looks different from me, all become subjects that I assess, for right or wrong, for good or bad. I venture to suggest that we all do this. A media image of crowds chanting Death to America, becomes an indictment of all in that faraway city. A photo of anger expressed by white or black, brown or yellow, long-haired or skinhead, tattooed or pierced, can stir resentment toward all of a particular class or color. Yet Jesus’ eyes stirred compassion. When He saw the crowds, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.[viii]

As I think about the judgments and the resulting exclusion that flow from sight’s first impression I wonder how much I have really listened. A young man, for reasons not yet fully public, drove his car into a crowd. According to the BBC his father died before he was born and he had a broken relationship with his paraplegic mother.[ix] If someone had really listened to the pain in his life would he have chosen to do what he did? Similarly, how many of us really listen to the pain of impoverished inner-city African-American youth?… or for that matter to the frustrations of the young growing up in Middle Eastern cities destroyed by sectarianism? And how many have listened to the underlying thoughts of the white nationalist who feels abandoned by a world around him that constantly talks about injustice toward minorities, and an open door to immigrants of other ethnic backgrounds without considering the perceived damage done to his heritage. In one way or another all these voices express a feeling of exclusion from broader society. As theologian Miroslav Volf writes: Exclusion takes place when the violence of expulsion, assimilation or subjugation and the indifference of abandonment replace the dynamics of taking in and keeping out as well as the mutuality of giving and receiving. [x]

As our eyes have become gateways for discrimination and exclusion, our ears should become tools for listening to the deep hurts of the world and a welcoming means to include. As we are reminded of Jesus’ injunction to those who have ears to listen, let us listen between and behind the lines to what the Spirit is saying to us about the brokenness in front of us, and the shattered feelings of a wider world. May my eyes be closed to the judgments of first impression and my ears be wide open to listen to all who are ‘other’ than myelf!

 

[i] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/13/us/charlottesville-rally-protest-statue.html (Accessed August 15, 2017)

[ii] http://www.cnn.com/2017/08/15/us/charlottesville-lee-park-confrontation/index.html (Accessed August 15, 2017)

[iii] http://globalfrontiermissions.org/

[iv] See for example the story of Lancaster, Ohio, and the American glass industry as related in: Glass House: The 1% Economy and the Shattering of the All-American Town – Brian Alexander – pub. St. Martin’s Press, 2017

[v] See for example: Luke 8:8, Luke 14:35

[vi] Matthew 5:29

[vii] Matthew 7:1-2

[viii] Matthew 9:36

[ix] Who is suspect James Allen Fields Jr? – http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-40923489 (Accessed August 15, 2017)

[x] Exclusion and Embrace – A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation – Miroslav Volf – Abingdon Press 1996 – p.67

Posted in Culture and Politics, Richmond, Teaching and Meditations, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

A Short History of Recent British Voting

UK flag WORDS

Explanation

Following the 1707 Act of Union, Scotland and England & Wales united to become the Kingdom of Great Britain. The 1800 Act of Union united the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland to form the Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The nation subsequently gained its present title as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in 1927 following the departure of much of Ireland upon independence as the Irish Free State in 1922.

For much of the last century most British elections have been clear choices between the Conservative (officially the Conservative and Unionist) and the Labour parties. During those years nationalist agendas in Scotland and Wales have ebbed and flowed, while Unionists and Nationalists have competed for influence over the peoples of Northern Ireland.

Thus in 2014 (September 18th – Scottish referendum on the question: Should Scotland be an independent country?) 44.7% of Scots voted to dissolve the Union, while 55.3% of Scots voted to preserve the Union.

Then in 2015 (May 7th – British General Election) more Scots voted to promote a nationalist agenda (Scottish Nationalist Party vote share 50%) so the Scottish Unionists (in this case a mixture of Conservative, Liberal and Labour candidates) were voted out of their seats in Parliament (The Scottish Nationalists had 6 seats out of 59 in the 2010 Parliament – as a result of the 2015 poll they took 56 seats, leaving the Conservatives with 1, the Labour party with 1 and the Liberals with 1, compared to 1, 41 and 11 respectively in the 2010 Parliament). Meanwhile south of the border, the Conservative Unionists increased their vote share slightly but gained seats at the expense of the Labour and Liberal parties, who have been generally favorable to the European Union, as the Nationalist and anti-European Union agenda of the United Kingdom Independence Party who won a 14% share of the vote and one seat in the 2015 Parliament.

In 2016 (United Kingdom European Union Membership Referendum) many English and Welsh who are passionate about the Union of the United Kingdom voted to dissolve the union with the European Union (53.3% to 46.7%), while many in Scotland voted to preserve union with the European Union (62% to 38%). Incidentally Northern Ireland also voted in favor of staying in the European Union (55.8% to 44.2%). As a result, the Conservative leader, David Cameron who favored remaining in Europe resigned and was replaced by Theresa May who also favored remain but agreed to lead the country out of Europe.

And now in 2017 many former Conservative voters, scared about leaving the Union on unfavorable terms have voted for a Labour party that they believe is more concerned about by the realities of dissolving the Union. Yet north of the border many have voted for the Scottish Conservative party and therefore for an agenda that plans to leave the European Union (the Conservative party gained 12 seats and painted large rural areas of the map blue, that were formerly yellow) at the expense of a Nationalist party that wants to remain in Europe while getting out of Britain. A consequence of the realignment of the vote means that the Conservative Party have lost their majority in Parliament and have turned for support to the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland, who represent both a strongly Unionist (with the United Kingdom) and Nationalist anti-European agenda. At the same time the Sinn Fein Irish Nationalists who also represent both a strongly Unionist (with the Republic of Ireland) and Nationalist, Out-of-the United Kingdom agenda, and who elected seven Members of Parliament last week, always refuse to take their seats in Westminster, ensuring that Theresa May may not have to look over her shoulder quite so often.

1776 was so much easier!

And with apologies to: Cricket Explained to a Foreigner

https://www.futilitycloset.com/2009/12/27/cricket-explained-to-a-foreigner/

Posted in Culture and Politics, Nations, Politics | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

A COCKTAIL, A COMFY CHAIR AND A CROWN OF THORNS

crown-of-thorns-lgYesterday’s events in Manchester, England, reminded me of the following article which I wrote ten years ago in March 2007. They are a reflection on the futility of the suicide bomber, compared to the death of Him who knew exactly what He was doing in offering His life as a sacrifice for the cause of His Kingdom.

 

A survivor who saw the driver of the truck said that he was smiling as he drove to his destruction. On October 23rd, 1983, a truck laden with explosives was crashed into the American marine compound in Beirut killing 241 American servicemen and several Lebanese. A similar incident at the same moment in the neighboring French compound killed 58. Two suicide bombers took more than 300 people with them into eternity. The Middle East has been filled with these incidents over recent years; Lebanon, Israel, Gaza and Iraq. The latter is presently the site of daily occurrences of this kind taking dozens, if not hundreds of lives.

In 1993, in his first western television interview Sheikh Hassan Nasrullah, the leader of the Hezbollah, attempted to explain the attitude of mind of a Muslim martyr. He spoke of one who drives a truck with a smile on his face, knowing he is entering into true life. He likened this to a person being in a sauna for a long time. “He is very thirsty and tired and hot and he is suffering from the effects of the high temperature. Then he is told that if he opens the door, he can go into a quiet, comfortable room, drink a nice cocktail and hear classical music. Then he will open the door and go through without hesitation, knowing that what he leaves behind is not a high price to pay, and what awaits him is of much greater value”[i]

During the Iran/ Iraq war, teenage Iranians would fold Qu’ranic inscriptions inside black bandannas and bind them around their foreheads. They would then head off to the front. Some of them marched into minefields to clear them in their quest for eternity; others willingly sacrificed themselves in waves of no-man’s-land warfare. One young soldier stated: “..to be martyred while opposing God’s enemies brings us closer to God. There are two phases to martyrdom: we approach God and we also remove the obstacles that exist between God and the people. Those who create obstacles for God in this world are the enemies of God”[ii]  Another wrote, shortly before his death: “I’m not frightened of the day of resurrection…when the first drop of martyr’s blood is spilt, all his sins are cleansed”[iii]

According to a saying of Mohammed martyrdom equates to an atonement of blood sacrifice. Among six things the martyr receives from Allah, he is forgiven at the first shedding of his blood. [iv] In the Palestine of today there is little hope. The young man born in a refugee camp has no hope of returning to the land his ancestor’s farmed. His home may lie in ruins, victim of Israeli retribution. He has no hope of a worthwhile job and no hope of escape to another land where he can be treated as an equal and a citizen. The offer of the blessings of martyrdom is attractive by comparison.

Similarly, for the frustrated son of Muslim immigrants to the cities of Western Europe, there is an attraction. Growing up in the French HLM, or the English inner-city, color and cultural divide cause him to fall victim to derogatory racial epithets. Subtle profiling may hinder his opportunity for education and employment. He was born into the so-called developed world, but his roots are in the under-developed world his parents left decades before. Radical Islam offers him a hope and an identity.

We do not know what exactly was in the minds of Mohammed Atta and his brethren in the days preceding September 11, 2001, nor in the mind of Abdel-Basset Odeh on the morning of March 27, 2002 before he walked into a Netanya hotel and detonated his bomb amidst a crowd of Israeli Jews celebrating Passover. They are among the most well-known of multitudes down the ages who have pursued a suicidal course on behalf of the Lord of Death. Whether attracted by a quiet release from pain, the memorial of a blaze of glory or the carnal pleasure of perpetual virgins, the attraction of suicide in the cause of Islam is selfish. Crowned with the words of Allah, burdened by personal pain and clinging to a vain promise of atonement, the martyr enters an empty eternity in search of a comfy chair and a long cool drink.

But we do know what was in the mind of another who went willingly to his death. The Word of God tells of him: Who being very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing…humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross![v] He who knew no wrongdoing, who was pure and spotless, willingly gave his life, not for personal gain, but for the salvation of his brothers. As he went to his death he struggled under the weight, not of a bomb, but of a wooden cross whose explosive consequence has shattered the darkness and restored the lives of a multitude of broken people. As he allowed himself to be nailed to that cross, surrendering himself, he allowed not a headscarf filled with Arab script, but a crown of thorns to be pressed down upon his brow. And there upon the brow of the King of Kings spout a thousand bloody pinpricks, each one offering a cleansing atonement to the life of a would-be martyr; each one proclaiming love for the sons of Ishmael.

On a dark day, long ago He stumbled under the weight of His cross. Another was recruited to carry it for him. Nothing justifies the violent actions of the Shahid, the Muslim martyr, but our challenge today is to lay aside our own lives, lift the burden of his cross and share for him the power of the blood that can set all men free!

 

[i] Robert Fisk -The Great War for Civilization – 2005, Alfred A Knopf – p. 477

[ii] Ibid – p. 203

[iii] Ibid – p. 286

[iv] Al-Miqdam ibn madikarib Ma’dikarib MISHKAT AL-MASABIH “The martyr receives six good things from Allah: he is forgiven at the first shedding of his blood; he is shown his abode in Paradise; he is preserved from the punishment in the grave; he is kept safe from the greatest terror; he has placed on his head the crown of honour, a ruby of which is better than the world and what it contains; he is married to seventy-two wives of the maidens with large dark eyes; and is made intercessor for seventy of his relatives.” Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah transmitted it.

[v] Philippians 2:6 – 8

Posted in Islam, Teaching and Meditations | Tagged , , | 2 Comments