Dawn

This entry is part 6 of 6 in the series Dark Night

This is going to be the last post in the Dark Night series, because last week, my Dark Night came to an end.

I have come out of this time with a new appreciation for God’s love for the NPCs (Non-Player Characters) – the people I refer to as the ‘Grey people’.

So, I’d got involved in yet another battle with a Grey person* (one of the ongoing things I am learning in this regard is that of knowing when to engage and when not to!) In this instance, there was yet another awkward, aggressive and hostile person on the Disqus discussion for a particular Patheos post, and this NPC was true to form in his programming and his nasty attitude. And so I blocked him; this is something I do for self-preservation when it is obvious that there is nothing at all positive to be gained by continued engagement.

Relating this adventure to like-minded people in one of my Facebook groups, the discussion went something like this:

Me: “I find that talking with these people (either ftf or online) leaves me with a weird feeling. It’s like hurt mixed with sadness…I wonder how anyone can still consider themselves sane when they talk like they do, and I feel really sorry for them too. I think God is changing me, though; up until only a couple of days ago, I wanted to stuff all their heads in a meat grinder…”

[FB Friend]: “Up until a couple of days ago?!”

Me: “Yes; I remember reading this bloke’s comments just before I blocked him…for some reason I couldn’t get him out of my mind, not just the disturbing stuff he’d written, but also I began to feel a deep sadness for his situation, being so, so tied up and having that deep, sharp-edged hardness of heart. That was how it felt. I felt a really deep compassion for the guy and actually had to pray for him, which isn’t something I do all that often at all. I really have to feel it’s something Father is doing to do that. I have no idea what happened after that because, as I said, I blocked him for my own mental protection. But yes, this bloke I actually didn’t want to put in the meat grinder. It’s something I have been asking God about in this latest Dark Night of the Soul I am going through. I am wanting Him to give me a compassion for these jerks (see I’m not there yet! 😀) because they are so missing the mark and missing out on all that God has for them.”

Since that exchange, I have had a very frank discussion with another guy who was acting like a jerk, and I found that I could show compassion and actually have a civil conversation with him. That was no doubt to his credit as much as mine, and I’m sure not all such people would be that receptive to my Grace-full attitude, but still it was encouraging. If nothing else, I feel that God has given me a deep compassion for the Grey people.

I think that our transformation happens when we deal with the real issues. Wm. Paul Young, author of ‘The Shack‘, expresses it by saying that we each have to go through our own ‘Shack’; the place where all the hurt and damage is. In a way, we have to confront our inner ‘Shack’ in order to come through. I’m not sure that’s the case for every human being – I have never been a proponent of any kind of ‘one size fits all’ approach – but it may be the case for some of my readers. My online friend David expresses this individuality like this:

Everybody is different and should be considered (loved) as the unique individual that they are. Also each person has their own unique understanding of who God is, that is fine and to be welcomed, we can all learn from each other.

“Just as each child in a family will have a slightly different view of their father, we can each have a different view of God; ideally whilst all believing that He is a good and loving Father.

“People feel unloved when they are not respected for the unique individual that they are and for the unique beliefs that they hold. I believe God desires that everyone should feel loved, loved by Him and loved by those around them”

Anyway, my real issue, at that time, was the Grey people. Then, as I said above, one day God gave me that real compassion for that one particular person. His Grace was indeed sufficient for me when dealing with the fallout from that person, even though he was a ‘thorn in the flesh’ to me (2Cor 12:7-9) in a very real sense.

I wonder if more of my future dealings with Grey people will be more gracious. Let’s see what happens when this new compassion is tested again! Not that the Grey people are my primary reasons for posting the things I do; my main aim is to encourage those broken and damaged by the Grey people, which explains why my writing stirs up their ire! But so often the Grey people are ‘damaged’ too and also need encouragement – but in Christ, not in their own systems. Once they let Jesus in, He can sort out their doctrines; that’s neither my field nor my responsibility! So, at the very least, I hope that this new compassion helps me to stay gracious with the Grey people. And I also hope that the new attitude helps prevent me from getting damaged, which I think is at least half the point.

Also, I need to remember that many, many more people read what we write than I can possibly imagine. This writing is for them; to show them that there is Grace in the midst of horror, and that there are people who believe that God is not angry, and they don’t depict an angry god either by coming across as such themselves.

I don’t think this post would be complete without giving you at least some idea of the kind of vitriol that the Grey people can generate. If you feel you haven’t the stomach for this, then by all means miss it out; it is there solely for the purposes of illustration.

I have just read some criticisms of The Shack in the comments on this particular YouTube video, and the vitriol of the Grey people who react so violently against one commenter in particular (chap called Loren) is just incredible. Here is the link to some of their stuff. The people who criticise The Shack here have not even read the book – with the notable and creditable exception of Pastor Quintana who is preaching in the video itself. Not that I agree with him, but at least he’s read the book. Most critics of ‘The Shack‘ haven’t even done that…

But despite all this, I do feel that I have a new compassion for the Grey people. Interestingly, I still have no interest in attending church services, which for me has always been a marker for a Dark Night. Maybe this one is different; I would not be surprised, since God does things differently each time. It makes it far more interesting 😉

But I do now have a renewed sense of the presence of God, with me all the time, feeling close to Him once again and able to hear His voice. The worst part of any Dark Night of the Soul is the absence of the formerly permanent sense of the presence of God. The return of that sense of Presence is, for me, the main sign of the end of this particular Night.

Although I have enjoyed watching how it all works, I can’t say I’m sorry it’s finished.

Until the next one, of course! 😀


*I use the phrase ‘Grey people’ because I need a term by which to refer to them, but saying something like ‘these people’ makes it sound as if it’s an ‘us and them’ dynamic. It’s not. And it’s intended to be descriptive rather than derogatory, although I appreciate that some might see it as an insult. For a full explanation of the term, please see my earlier post Dark Night – The NPCs

10

Picking Sides

Recently, I have read quite a few things about the involvement of Christians in politics, and indeed the involvement of politics in Christianity. The current British Prime Minister, Mrs. Theresa May, has recently expressed how her Christian faith guides her politics; climate change protesters demonstrating on the streets of London have claimed Jesus’s allegiance in their cause; and as for the current President of the United States, Donald Trump, it is of course well known that the Evangelical Christian conservative right are completely behind him, and that, they claim, in a ‘Biblical’ sense too. There’s no point in me linking to references on these matters; these things are well-known and can be Googled if required.

Politics is a necessary fact of life, and indeed people have fought and died to make my country a democracy, and I will always be grateful for that. I really cherish my right, and my privilege, to have an influence – however small that might be – on the decision-making processes in my country. I value my ability to write to my Member of Parliament (MP) and express my views, in the hope that they will incorporate my ideas or whatever into their discussions and possibly in some small way influence the way things turn out. I do think it is extremely important to honour that privilege and to appreciate it. I don’t like how some groups, like, for example, the Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs), declare themselves to be not a part of the world system and therefore do not take part in the democratic process. While I understand their position – as you will see below, and then some! – I do believe that we are a part of this world and we still need to live in it until our time is up. Therefore, it would be extremely silly to not take part in the influencing of Government policy, not least because if we good people don’t do it, then there are plenty of nasty people out there who are ready and willing to usurp the democratic process for their own ends. And that wouldn’t be pretty. Jesus came to bring abundant life, and our modern civilisation is an expression of that in that the standard of living nowadays is higher than it has ever been at any point in history, and what we call the ‘poverty line’ is much higher than it used to be. Granted, there will always be poor people (Mt 26:11) but still today’s standard of living is much better and it continues to improve.

All that having been said, Christians are still actually not ‘of the world’ (Jn 17:14). Whereas , as we have seen, some groups like the JWs would say that they remain neutral (and do not take part) in political systems at all, because they see their citizenship as being first and foremost in God’s Kingdom, I do believe that Christians* can indeed take part in ‘worldly’ politics in order to improve society. However, they can do this with their status as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven firmly in mind.

And that can mean a number of things. The first thing that springs to most people’s minds on this subject is that of course their Christian faith, morals and principles, which will of course differ from one Christian to another, will be used to inform and direct the political choices made by each individual. This is, I think, axiomatic, and forms the basis of all choices made at the ballot box.

But there is another angle beyond this one. As I have briefly described in a former article, I do feel that the citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven also have a position that is above and beyond the considerations of mere worldly politics.

While the voting system is a granular, often binary choice – that is, you get to vote for one person or group out of a choice of two or more, and usually no more than about six or seven people or groups – everyone knows that the world’s problems are not normally simple binary, black-and-white issues. There are many shades of grey involved in most issues, if we are honest, and the asking of questions which allow only a simple binary (yes/no) answer is not really an honest way of looking at the issue. Especially when that question is intentionally polarising or designed to place the responder on one side of the fence or another. I find this to be disingenuous because the questioner is setting up his victim to be polemicised by the questioner and other readers. For instance, this one came up on one thread recently, seemingly one of these ‘innocent’ questions that is actually nothing of the sort because it’s designed to categorise the victim for either subsequent public grilling or subsequent full approval, depending on the answer (if that answer is presented as binary, as the question sets it up to be). Here it is:

“Can I ask, are you in favour of reducing our emissions to carbon neutral by 2025?”

You could answer ‘Yes’, and on the face of it that appears to be the easy option, but firstly, that implies that group approval of any further replies on the subject is dependent on your getting the first answer ‘right’ with that ‘yes’, and secondly, in order to gain said approval, if the victim actually believes ‘no’ (for whatever reason), then they would have to lie with a ‘Yes’ in order to be ‘allowed’ to participate further in the discussion, which would of course be further questions along the original line. In other words, leading questions. As always, these questioners take advantage of the general propensity of Christians to tell the truth, and sometimes, because of this, these a-holes deserve to be lied to, in my opinion.

Answering with a ‘no’ of course, is firstly against the general opinion that a) carbon emissions cause global warming, and b) global warming is bad. But in this case it was also against the general group agreement on those two points above. It’s like the question that sales people pose, “What, you mean you don’t want to save money?”, to which the obvious answer is also a leading answer because then the salesman has his foot in the door as it were. The correct answer to sales people like that is to crush the so-and-so’s foot in the door, because it shouldn’t be there anyway. Especially as my door has a ‘No Cold Callers’ sign on it 😉

To return to my original point, though, real life issues do not usually have a simple binary answer, or at least those answers would not be of much value. The case in the above example, about global warming, is that yes it’s a good idea to reduce global warming, but the issues are not quite simple enough to be expressed with simple binary answers. Now, while some people might relish the simplicity of binary answers, most of the time it’s far, far more straightforward, instead of being tied up in all this nonsense, to be free of all that and simply take Jesus’s example and to do what you see Father doing (Jn 5:19).

Some might think of this as a cop-out.

Well, firstly, I really don’t care if people think this; my thinking and decision-making processes are my own and I’ll run them how I like.

But, secondly, it’s not a cop-out because if Father asks me to perform a particular action in response to a particular need, then it’s action all the way. That’s how it works for me, anyway. I think that’s part of what Jesus meant when He said that apart from [Him] you can do nothing. If Father isn’t the main cause of my actions, then those actions are not worth doing because it’s not what He is calling. And that’s hardly a cop-out; instead it is divinely-inspired action which consumes you until the job is done. This is what it means to have Jesus as my King.

People accusing others of copping-out are simply annoyed because they haven’t been able to force their victims into the course of action that they wanted them to take.  Well, tough on them, I say. My freedom of action is my own, too, and it’s part of my freedom as a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven to be free to take whatever action Father wants me to do, or to not do anything at all, and that all irrespective of others’ opinions and/or expectations. This is what it means to rest in Him; to be free to do or not to do as requested by Father. Falling in line with others’ expectations is not freedom; it is slavery to their opinions and their approval (Gal 1:10, Jn 12:43). So, exercise your right to be above the question, the situation, and the answers. But don’t tell them; just stay silent on the matter. There is no requirement for you to explain yourself to anyone else.

My thoughts on this, and indeed a decent summary of our position as believers with respect to being ‘above’ worldly politics, can be illustrated and indeed expanded with a real-life example. In this example, I explain the core of what I believe with regard to the privilege of the believer to be ‘above’ the mere black-and-white, binary thinking involved in many worldly affairs:

Last year, there was some kerfuffle over in the USA about some bloke being accused of yet another sexual assault on a woman. I have no opinion on the matter; I consider US news reporting – especially TV news reporting – to be some of the worst journalism in, well, the ‘free world’, at least. Because of that, I feel that I have insufficient data of any assured accuracy to form an opinion, which to be fair I wouldn’t express anyway because it’s nobody else’s business. I think that most other people had that same lack of reliable information too, but that didn’t stop me and a friend being blasted by people who thought our opinions should be identical to their own. My friend, an American man whom I have never met face-to-face, is a man who is far on in the faith and has an incredible spiritual maturity. He was accused of ‘taking sides’ on that matter, mainly because he can see both sides, just like Jesus can. His response, which I have mentioned in my blog before, went like this:

“I’m afraid my “middle of the road” stance is gonna get blasted by BOTH sides. You have to either believe everything that a potential victim says and demonize the alleged offender, making him unfit to serve our country in any capacity, or try and minimize what could be a serious crime and call their accusations “fake news”. And I’m not good with EITHER of those positions. I want to know the truth, but I don’t know if the truth can be ascertained in these circumstances. I want justice for [the person in question], but don’t know if justice means destroying a man’s career and possibly life over what COULD have been a stupid macho mistake or terrible misunderstanding. Can I trust a man to handle the law that has potentially hurt someone? Yes, under the right circumstances. But I’m not even clear on what those would be, but I want it to revolve around the truth, admission of any guilt, apologies, forgiveness and restitution. I really just want compassion and justice for all”

I wrote this to him:

“[My friend], I don’t see you as being ‘middle of the road’ at all. I see you as being above the road; being able to see what is going on – but not only not taking sides, but just being Jesus. Remember the theophany in Joshua 5? [Josh 5:13b-14 (KJV)] ‘Are you on our side, or the enemy?’ “No” was the answer. Not ‘Neither’, although that’s not far off, but ‘No’. ‘Neither’ involves the choice of taking neither side. ‘No’ indicates that the question is not germane. There is a detachment from sinking to the level of the human conflict and its ‘choosing sides’, or even choosing the middle road, and seeing it from God’s point of view instead. Any and every Christian has the right to sit in that position of ‘No’; it’s far above a simple refusal to take sides, it’s part of being who you are in Christ. There is neither requirement nor compulsion to declare or assume sides; you are not answerable to anyone because you are a spiritual man. And you don’t have to explain yourself to anyone either.”

His reply:

“Wow, thanks Anthony. I don’t know that that’s EXACTLY what I’m doing, but it sure is something I would aspire to. I am trying to see everyone’s point of view, to put myself in their shoes and think about what they would need and want. And, yeah, that’s why I can’t just pick a side. Argue for one side, and I’ll just end up telling you why the other side can’t be ignored or belittled. When it comes to perpetrators (or even alleged perpetrators) that becomes VERY difficult in this country [USA – Ed], even among the Christian population. Everyone seems to call out for their pound of flesh. I’m trying to see from the point of view of that flesh”

I finished off the exchange with this:

“And that was exactly what was in my mind when I wrote the comment. But as a man of peace, you naturally, well, maybe not always see both ‘sides’, but you at least are aware that both ‘sides’ exist and having that ability to put yourself in both sides’ shoes and try to see things from their point of view is about as Christlike as it gets. Unfortunately, those who cannot understand this see it as picking sides, merely because you express the fact that both sides have a point of view – but without making a value judgement on those points of view. So, you haven’t picked sides, but because you express attempted understanding of both sides, this makes you apparently complicit with both. But you and I both know that this is not the case at all, and this is why the spiritual man cannot be judged by anyone – because we see things from the spiritual point of view, not the worldly. Not that we are superior on anything, but we simply have a perspective that not everyone has”

This is the kind of wisdom that we learn from being close to Jesus and listening closely to His heart. It’s also the kind of freedom that we get when we are liberated from the slavery of others’ opinions and approval. In fact I would say that we cannot be free to do God’s will if we are still bound up with concerns about human approval. If we have to hesitate for any amount of time as we consider whether someone else will like what we are doing/not doing, then I would say that we are not free to make our own decisions about following Jesus’s voice. And the other thing is that this is a position that is arrived at through spiritual growth. Don’t expect others to understand it, because they may not have grown to that point yet themselves.**

And we must always be free to do what we see Father doing. This is my sole mantra in life: to do what I see Father doing. Anything else is superfluous.

So, if you feel that Father is doing in your life right now a work that involves some sort of political action, then that’s what you should go for, and go for it with all your heart. But don’t expect others to just leap in and join you – that’s their choice, and in the end, if they don’t see Father doing that in their lives, then it’s not something they should be doing either. And it’s not your job to persuade them otherwise, nor indeed to judge them. For as spiritual people, they are above your judgement – not in any ‘superior’ sense or in any way ‘better’ than you, but simply because your judgement – and that from anyone else for that matter – is irrelevant (1Cor2:15). Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master a man stands or falls, and he will stand. (Rom 14:4). And that passage in 1Cor2:15 especially applies when it is an unbeliever who is doing the judging, because they have no experience of the things of the Spirit and so also have no right to judge. They cannot understand the dimension of being in Christ, not yet at least.

And if you feel that what Father is doing with you at the moment is something else – whatever else! – then grab that with both hands and do that.

I appreciate this is a long essay, but let’s also take a look at what Jesus did in terms of compliance with people’s political demands. Basically He told them to go take a hike. Sometimes He explained Himself; sometimes He didn’t.

I mean, people around Jesus attempted several times to get Him to take a political stance. They wanted to make Him king by force (Jn 6:15); they tried to catch Him out by getting Him to stand either for or against Rome or the people when they asked Him about paying taxes (Mt 22:15-22; Mk 12:13-17; Lk 20:19-26). Even his own mind, or the Devil, take it how you will, tried to get Him to take the political kingship directly by supernatural means, rather than walking the road to the Cross, during His ‘temptation’ in the desert (Mt 4:1-11, Lk 4:1-13).

But Jesus said that His Kingdom is not of this world (Jn 18:36). Sure, Jesus carried out His ministry during a time of huge political, religious and Imperial turmoil, and the principles He taught and demonstrated were largely about how to treat one’s fellow man. And I have read many things by various authors which strongly suggest that Jesus was a revolutionary, a radical, and all kinds of things like Him being a sort of first-century Che Guevara. But I’m afraid I don’t agree that Jesus’s mission was political in nature. Instead, His mission was primarily about demonstrating the love of God to people, and how much God values people. Inseparably from that, and indeed as a natural progression from that, He also demonstrated that love for God could, and should, also go hand-in-hand with loving others. And yes, that will lead to political change, as we shall see below, but that wasn’t the main thrust of His ministry at all.

But He steadfastly refused to take up any political position or power, or indeed to get directly involved in political matters at all, because from a very early point in His life, He was about His Father’s business (Lk 2:49). And since He did not feel that His Father was telling Him to get involved in politics, He didn’t. In fact, He was actually so non-political that although He was accused (amongst other things) of sedition – a political offence – before Pilate, Pilate did not believe Him guilty in that matter (Lk 23:4; Jn 19:4). And you can be sure that if Pilate had thought Jesus any kind of threat in this regard, he would have found Him guilty without batting an eyelid. Politically, at least for the Romans, Jesus was no threat at all, at least that they could discern. Sure, He also sowed seeds in His followers which, it could be argued, led to the eventual downfall of the Roman Empire, but this was not for another 300 years or so, and if anything it was caused indirectly and not as a direct effect of His teachings in first-century Palestine. The Kingdom of God as inaugurated by Jesus did produce political change, but only really as a result of the changes in individuals’ lives as they came to appreciate the wider ramifications of the Kingdom of God.

No, Jesus’s method for navigating the minefields of other people’s politics, approval/disapproval, attempted influence and social and political pressure, was to seek only the approval of God. More specifically, in fact, He took this a stage further in that in addition to seeking the approval of God, He also sought the will of God. He specifically chose to do only what He saw the Father doing (Jn 5:19). In this way, He kept His focus on what He was supposed to be doing instead of being side-tracked into other things which, although they might well have been important, were not what God had got planned for Him at that time.

So, then, as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, we are free. We partake of the ‘glorious freedom of the children of God’ (Rom 8:21). Like the Angel of the Lord in Joshua 5:13-14 (KJV), we too are free to say ‘No’ (or its equivalent) in response to polarising questions. We are also free to not answer at all; something Jesus did frequently.

I want to reiterate clearly, also, that I am not saying that believers are in any way superior to other people. We are not above these things as if we are somehow exempt from, or immune to, worldly political things; far from it. But we are able to take the Heavenly viewpoint on any issue which, almost by definition, an unbeliever cannot do. And in fact many, if not most, believers also have not yet learned to use the Heavenly viewpoint when it comes to worldly issues; not just in politics, but in other fields as well. But it is your privilege to do so, and your right. You are a priest of the Most High God. You are called to imitate your Father in Heaven; to do the things you see Him doing.

Why burden yourself with anything less than that?


*Jehovah’s Witnesses do indeed call themselves Christians. It is not my place to judge whether or not they are ‘proper’ Christians – whatever a ‘proper’ Christian is! – but I make the distinction here between Jehovah’s Witnesses and other Christian denominations solely in order to differentiate for the purposes of my discussion.


**I do not confine this to Christian believers, either. Most people can grow to this level of spiritual wisdom and maturity if they let themselves; it does not need to be ‘faith-related’. Most people are far more ‘spiritual’ than either they, or others, give them credit for. This is as distinct from the Heavenly point of view, which is similar to the ‘spiritual’ point of view, but is of course influenced by the precepts of the Kingdom of Heaven as well. I hope that makes sense.

10

Restoring The Shack

I have been most fortunate in that someone has pointed me in the direction of a fantastic series about The Shack, on YouTube, featuring the author of The Shack, Wm. Paul Young.

It’s called ‘Restoring The Shack’.

At the time of writing, I have watched three episodes and I have found it to be uplifting, healing, moving, peace-bringing and loads of other great fruits, all at the same time. For those who would diss Paul Young and his theology, I would say that you can easily tell by its fruit what a good thing The Shack is, and the fruit of this stuff is beautiful. You can say all you like about how Paul’s theology doesn’t match with [your understanding of] the Bible, but Jesus said that you can tell a good tree by its fruit. And you can’t argue with that, so don’t even try.

I have embedded the YouTube videos in the series below. There are eighteen episodes in total, and each one is about 20-30 minutes long.

I think this is the path to healing for many of my readers. Tread the path with me; you won’t be disappointed.

11

What Are Fundamentalist Christians So Afraid Of?

This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series Dark Night

Well, I’ll tell you what they’re afraid of. At least in terms of the beliefs of Fundamentalist Evangelical Christians, one of which I used to be.

They are most afraid of believers and even unbelievers coming into a proper relationship with Jesus Christ, instead of into the relationship with the Bible in which they themselves find their own security.

And this is extremely ironic, because it is the avowed intention of Fundie Christians to introduce the whole world to Jesus, in line with the ‘Great Commission’ in Matthew 28:19-20. Sadly, though, what usually happens is that there’s a ‘bait-and-switch’ where they advertise Jesus (albeit not very well) and then once their unfortunate victims ‘buy into’ Jesus, they find out – once they have their feet under the table – that the package they have just opened does not contain Jesus after all, but instead that same dusty old Bible along with a list of rules, expectations, prohibitions and whatnot.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.” – Mt 23:15

And, of course, that package also contains the ‘dire warning’ that this group has all the correct answers, and, if the new adherent listens to anyone else, reads the wrong books, or breaks any number of unwritten, tacitly assumed Rules, then oh guess what, it’s the same old, same old, fear-based threat of the fiery pit for you. In short, they are afraid of anyone else demonstrating that there is Life outside their little bubble, because that would introduce fatal flaws into their closely held belief structure. They are the only ones who are right, after all. Which is about as much cultic behaviour as it gets. No wonder they are afraid of the real Jesus. No cult wants anyone else to be in charge except their leadership.

And so, most of the foul treatment of others, that Fundie Christians are so well-known for, flows from this exclusive and toxic belief structure, and the need to protect it.

Because, lets make no bones about it, they have a set interpretation of the Bible, and therefore they have a formula – that everything pertaining to life is in their Rulebook – and once you have a formula, you don’t need God. They would deny this, of course, but when you really dig deep, almost the entire reliance is placed on the Bible and not on Jesus. There is more irony there: the Bible does not itself claim such an elevated position. But when it boils down to it, the Bible is seen as being more reliable than our own Relationship with Jesus.

To be fair, not all Fundie Christians are like that. But their underlying belief structures, about the depravity of humanity, ‘original sin’, hellfire and damnation, judgment, and policing others’ morals, are pretty similar across all the groups who would identify as Fundamentalist; it’s just they express it differently, either more or less overtly but still present. Like I said, I know whereof I speak, because I too used to think like that.

Anyhow, here’s Keith Giles, one of the presenters of the Heretic Happy Hour podcast, with some ideas on why Fundies try to keep Jesus bound up in their Rulebook and don’t want to let Him out. This passage is reproduced with Keith’s kind permission:


…’What if the Word of God is more than a book?’ and ‘What if I can hear the voice of God directly, without any help from my pastor, or the Bible?’

            These are challenging questions, I know. But, I believe the Scriptures themselves reveal the answers to these questions, and that what we find might surprise you.

            Honestly, I am becoming convinced that the Bible is intended to teach us that the Word of God became flesh, lived among us, revealed the Father to us and now lives within every single follower of Christ at this very moment.

            Not only do the Scriptures point us to Jesus, but they place Him alone at the center of everything. Jesus, and only Jesus, defines for us who God is, what God is like, and what our lives should look like as a result of that revelation.

            This, I believe with all of my heart, is what Christians today need most to understand about their faith.

            The ironic thing is that some of us have made the Bible an idol. We worship it. We attribute characteristics to it that should only be said of Christ.

            It’s as if the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us and we have very quickly put Him back into a book again. Why? Because if the Word of God is in a book, we can manipulate, and control, and distance ourselves from Him.

            Or, to put it another way: If the Word of God is alive within each and every one of us, then that means we don’t need Christian pastors and teachers to explain God to us.

            Quite frankly, Christians today are terrified of trusting the average person with the Spirit of the Living God. We don’t really believe that the Holy Spirit within every believer can actually lead us into all truth. We doubt that His sheep can really hear the voice of the Good Shepherd. We are nervous about unleashing the Divine among the common Christian community without guard rails.

            What are we so afraid of? Is it any different from when the Children of Israel drew back from the Pillar of Fire or the Cloud that spoke to them directly in the wilderness? Isn’t it exactly the same as when God’s people demanded a King like all the other nations and rejected God as their direct ruler? We are always seeking to put mediators and mouthpieces between ourselves and God. But God is always the One who seeks to draw near to us, to place His Spirit within us, to make His home with us and to speak directly to us as a Father speaks to His own child.

            My hope with this book [link below – Ed] is to provide a fresh revelation of Christ to you and to point out how we sometimes allow good things—even the Bible—to stand between us and Him. In short, I want a Christianity that looks a lot more like Jesus.

            Either our Christian faith is Christ-centered, or it is not worthy of being called “Christianity” and we should not be called “Christians.”

 

– Keith Giles. Jesus Unbound: Liberating the Word of God from the Bible (Kindle Locations 171-193). Quoir. Kindle Edition.


Superb. I suppose that anyone who has managed to read this far is not one of the people that Keith talks about. But if you are, and you have, then please have a good think about it.

This way lies Life!


P.S. Yes, I do believe that the bloke in the header picture is, actually, a real vampire. Yes indeed.


[Author’s Note – This piece is part of my ‘Dark Night’ series because it contains insights I have managed to crystallise only because I am currently going through a Dark Night of the Soul. For more information on this idea, please see my series on the Stages of Spiritual Growth, here.]

10

Tearing the Curtain

Occasionally, I find a real gem online, usually from one of my thoughtful online friends on Facebook or on a forum or somewhere.

These two short essays are good examples. Here, Wendy Francisco comments on the curtain in the Temple being torn in two (Mt 27:50-51), followed by another related piece on the word ‘saved’.

I feel this combination might just set someone free today:


There was a thick curtain in the Jewish temple that separated the holy of holies from the common people, and when Jesus died, this curtain was ripped in two from top to bottom.

When that happened there were no notes falling from heaven to interpret this. So interpretations abound.

I only know this… the curtain represented a perceived barrier between God and people, and God ripped it in two.

We’ve been trying to sew that curtain back up ever since.

It’s no wonder we do this … that curtain is religion’s golden egg. If you can fool people into believing that God is too disdainful to hang out with us, bingo, you have a profitable religion…where people in fancy costumes go into tented places to appease a god.

Is Jesus the new and better system? Is he now the “curtain” we pass through to gain acceptance by God? No dude …the point of tearing the curtain was that God couldn’t stand being made to stay in that stuffy room by himself. Scripture says repeatedly that God doesn’t desire sacrifice. When Adam fell, God did not sew up himself a tent and sit in it. He ran after Adam.

Jesus sacrificed Himself to tell us this… because we murder pretty much anyone who brings too high a dose of enlightenment.

The point isn’t a better system, it is no system. When relationships become systems, they are toxic. God didn’t put that curtain up, we did. Jesus came to show us that our bloody atonement religions are a hoax. He died telling us that because such religions kill us. He was our lamb, our Messenger, who came with compassion in spite of knowing it would cost everything. He found the pearl of great price – us – and he gave his all for it.

If you don’t get this, you don’t benefit from it… you wind up staying behind a curtain, a cog in a machine, with a false god, and a cultish religion. That is what Jesus was saving the planet from.

That curtain tore. It takes an army of frantic religious doctrinal sewing machines to keep that curtain sewed up, and that dead system going, but we manage to keep untold millions behind our imaginary veil.

There is a verse in scripture — 23 All did sin, and are come short of the glory of God — 24 being declared righteous freely by His grace through the redemption that [is] in Christ Jesus… [Rom 3:23-24 – Ed]

It’s one fluid sentence, but we erected our money-making curtain right in the middle of it ….chopping it into two verses, and sending the first half to the top of the flagpole.

GOOD NEWS… the veil was made by humans, not by God. He doesn’t need or want one. Being born again means having a religious do-over.


We try to make Christianity into a western religion but it is very eastern. Scripture says the kingdom is inside us, that we are already citizens of heaven.

The word that is translated “saved” gives the exact meaning some pause. Jesus taught about life going on after death, but it is this same life. We are already there. We are not trying to do what is necessary to please a disgusted god so we can get TO heaven. We’re trying to see and walk in it now. We’re bringing it here, by how we see. We are already there, but don’t see it.

The evil of religion is stating that we have all sinned fallen short of the grace of God — and failing to close the thought, which states that the SAME “all” is made alive in Christ. The point of the verse is not death but life. That verse is theft…. it is stealing the captives of religion. It is one fluid sentence, like life is one fluid life. Different forms, same life.

I am not making this up. This is scripture which we have been trained not to see. That place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth? That is this life too, when religion is standing in the door and keeping you from realizing who and where you are.

Jesus was talking to a deeply religious and sincerely seeking person [Jn 3:3 – Ed] when he described being born again — not to a lost person as we define it. Jesus was talking within a culture so religious even we can scarcely imagine it. He was talking about leaving religion and seeing God with completely different eyes. When he tells the rich man he will find the life of the ages by leaving his life and following him, he isn’t talking about earning heaven later, he’s talking about finding it now. It is here, all around us.

I don’t weep and gnash my teeth any more like I did in evangelicalism because I was redeemed, saved, pulled out of the ditch, redefined. Lemmings don’t like someone who is going against the flow, but I get that. I was one. I get how tricky it is.

“Blessed are those who mourn.” This is the problem with evangelicalism. We were taught that hell could exist for most of humanity and it would be okay not to mourn eternally in heaven because most of humanity really didn’t matter.


I’m not going to comment; with a bit of thought these two pieces speak for themselves.

Be blessed! 🙂

10

It Would Have Been So Easy…

Here’s a great piece by Richard Murray:


It would have been so easy.

So very easy.

If Jesus wanted to make it crystal clear for all Christian generations to come that His Father directly pulverizes men, women, and children in His holy wrath, ALL He had to do ……. was to prove it by demonstrating it during His incarnation.

After all, James 1:18, Colossians 1:15, and Hebrews 1:3, in tandem, say that Jesus came to explain the Father by personifying the full and complete representation of the Father’s nature, and that Jesus was the very image of the invisible God.

So, to confirm that His Heavenly Father WAS capable of:

—killing
—oppressing
—afflicting
—smiting
—plaguing
—disastering

…all Jesus had to do was:

—stone (or endorse the stoning of) one person caught in adultery
—afflict one evil sinner with a plague
—strike one hypocritical Pharisee dead
—oppress one double minded person with an evil spirit in order to punish them
—smite one person with a crippling accident causing them paraplegia so that they would thereafter learn humility and how to give God all the glory for their misfortune
—send one lightning storm, tornado, mudslide, or tsunami to wipe out particularly hard hearted villages or cites.

Had Jesus done ANY of these things, even just one time, then anybody who dared claim otherwise would be forever proven wrong.

But He didn’t.

Jesus’ life was described in this way:

— by the Apostle Peter, “You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.” Acts 10:38.

—by the Apostle John, “This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” 1 John 1:5.

—by the Apostle James, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” James 1:13-17.

Since Jesus NEVER once did (or endorsed) any of these destructive things listed above, we can only conclude that He refused to misrepresent the divine nature as anything other as curative, protective, rehabilitative, and restorative.

We should likewise steadfastly refuse to malign God’s pristine nature. It’s the key to everything— “the renewing of our mind, to the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God.” Romans 12:2.

Richard Murray, used with his kind permission.

20

A Thoroughly Biblical Argument Against Penal Substitutionary Atonement

Here’s a great article by Christian musician, blogger and thinker Emma Higgs, where she demonstrates that there is strong Biblical support for the proposal that Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA) – the idea that Jesus was punished ‘for our sins’ when actually it should have been us that were punished  – is in fact incorrect.

This is a well-thought-out piece which goes into considerable detail and addresses many points. It’s well worth a read, even if only to show that there are other tenable viewpoints out there other than PSA (which I personally do not consider all that tenable anyway!)


A common criticism of people like me who openly oppose Penal Substitutionary Atonement theory is that we are picking and choosing the bits of the Bible we like, whilst ignoring some of the trickier bits.

I intend now to try and make it super clear that this is not what we are doing.

Invisible Goggles

The thing is, we all read things into the Bible that may or may not be there, based on our own understanding, cultural background and personal opinions.

It’s really, really difficult to read the Bible objectively (impossible, actually) – we all emphasise some bits over others, reject some bits as irrelevant and project our own frameworks of understanding onto the text to help us make sense of it. This is not a bad thing – it just helps to be aware that we’re doing it.

Most Christians who believe in Penal Substitutionary Atonement claim that the Bible clearly supports it, and that there is no other way of interpreting certain texts. What they don’t realise is that they are reading the Bible through invisible lenses. Let’s call them PSA goggles.

PSA goggles have been the height of fashion in the protestant, particularly evangelical church for a good many centuries now. Long enough that they’ve become so much a part of our identity, we don’t even realise we are wearing them. They provide a logical explanation of the core meaning of Christianity based on a handful of verses, through which we then view the rest of the Bible.

PSA goggles also seem to have the unfortunate effect of obscuring the wearer’s view, so that many parts of the Bible which don’t fit with PSA theory are overlooked or ignored.

Before we jump right into dealing with the specific passages that appear to support PSA, we need to look at six broader Biblical themes that will help to put them into context.

1. Sin and Salvation

In the Bible, sin is about more than just our own personal wrongdoings. It is the whole devastating human condition which separates us from our Source and will eventually lead to our destruction. The salvation that God offers is not just forgiveness from our transgressions, although that is a major part of it. It’s also not just about an afterlife. Where salvation is mentioned in the Old Testament it refers to liberation from bondage (Exodus 14:30, 15:2, Psalm 106:21), return from exile (Isaiah 45:17) and rescue from danger (Psalms 27:1, 51:12, 65:5, 69:2). The Gospels are full of Jesus offering salvation from illness, death, blindness, fear, violence…if it is all about God forgiving our personal wrongdoings so that we can avoid hell, then life and teachings of Jesus don’t make a lot of sense.

(I wrote this article on this very topic a few months back.)

2. God’s Wrath

I think there has been some confusion here. I’m not saying that God is never angry and just lets everything slide. I think he is very angry at ‘sin’ – at that which separates his children from him and threatens to destroy them. I think the full extent of his fury will be unleashed upon the powers of darkness that oppress people and bring destruction to God’s good creation.

Penal substitution claims that God actively punishes his children for disobeying him; that in contrast to his holiness, every single human being is so filthy that we deserve not just to die, but to be tortured for all eternity. That although God loves us, he must balance out the cosmic weighing scales by unleashing his wrath and punishment on anyone who has not accepted Jesus as their Personal Saviour.

So a young boy is born into a war zone, experiences a life full of fear and pain, and drowns at three years old when the boat carrying him to safety sinks. Death for him doesn’t bring relief, but eternal conscious torment in a lake of fire. Or even “an eternity separate from God” (a phrase people like to use to make hell sound more palatable).

And we are supposed to love this God.

Seriously, WTF?

This twisted interpretation continues to repulse and offend me.

God is angry at sin because it threatens to destroy his beloved children. He unleashes his wrath at that which causes us harm, because he loves us more than we can know. (John 3:16)

Like a mother fiercely protecting her young, willing to sacrifice her own life to save her children. (Matthew 23:37).

Of course our own destructive habits are a major part of sin, but on the cross we were set free from the power of sin, so we are no longer slaves to it (Romans 6:6-7). We have been separated from sin, so it no longer has to control us and be part of our identity. But we still have to choose to turn away from our lives of sin.

Do you see what a difference this slight shift in understanding makes?

(Read more of my musings on hell here).

3. Transformation

The meaning of the cross is not a transaction – a legal deal where Jesus gets us off the hook by standing in front of us and taking our punishment. This widespread understanding implies that ultimately, what we do in this life doesn’t matter as long as we’ve completed the transaction and secured our insurance policy against hell.

The meaning of the cross is transformation. When we choose to follow Jesus, we metaphorically die with him and rise to a new life. We are changed from the inside out. Sin is still a part of our lives but we are no longer defined by it, but by grace and love (Romans 6). We become agents of God’s Kingdom, which starts now and one day will come in full (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Choosing to ‘believe in Jesus’ doesn’t mean simply intellectually asserting that certain historical events took place and have eternal implications.

‘Believing in Jesus’ means choosing to follow in the Way he showed us, choosing to love him, putting our trust in him as we would a close friend.

4. Justice

We usually think of justice today as meaning criminals getting the punishment they deserve. Punitive or retributive justice. So we read the Bible with this in mind, and deduce that the ‘justice of God’ is about God punishing wrongdoers.

A better understanding is distributive justice. God wants everyone to be treated fairly, to have enough food and equal rights to a full life. Throughout the Bible God favours those who are oppressed and challenges those who abuse power. This is a major theme – from God liberating the Israelites from slavery in Egypt right through to Jesus befriending prostitutes and challenging those religious leaders who sought to control people…

God always backs the underdog.

God is passionate about the poor, the weak, the outcasts from society, and he desires justice, equality, freedom and fair treatment for everyone.

5. Crucifixion

The fact that Jesus died on a Roman cross was hugely significant. Rome was the ultimate symbol of worldly power – they maintained their control by any means necessary, crushing anyone who stood in their way. Crucifixion was the slowest, most painful form of torture and execution, reserved for people who challenged authority. To the New Testament writers, this would have been central.

Penal substitution tends to completely ignore the political significance of how Jesus died. If God killed Jesus, then the Romans were simply pawns in God’s greater plan of violently punishing sin and venting his wrath.

No, men killed Jesus. “Father, forgive them…” (Luke 23:34). The powers of this world and the dark spiritual forces behind them did their absolute worst to him, and thought they had won.

The resurrection was God declaring once and for all that the dark and oppressive powers of this world, represented by Rome but echoing to the ends of the earth, will not have the last word.

7. Sacrifice

Sacrifice is everywhere in the Old Testament. People sacrificed animals (usually) as a means of communicating with the gods/God, to ask for something or to show gratitude. The sacrificed animal was ‘made sacred’, and it would then be eaten (often by a Priest – see Leviticus 2) to symbolise communion with God. The animal would not have been seen as a substitute, taking the punishment that humans deserved.

Where sacrifice is mentioned in reference to Jesus’ death, through our PSA goggles we have traditionally seen this as implying substitution – Jesus took the punishment we deserved.

But sacrifice doesn’t mean substitution. Think about it.

If someone sacrifices their life to save someone – a father dies in saving his child or a soldier takes a bullet to save a friend, their deaths are not in any way settling a debt owed by that person.

Equally someone can sacrifice their life for a cause – there is no implication that they were a substitute.

So, time to get down to the nitty gritty.

Here are the main Bible passages that are used to support Penal Substitutionary Atonement, and why I am convinced that is not what they mean.

Genesis 22: God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son

Abraham doesn’t bat an eyelid when God tells him to provide Isaac as a burnt offering. In the ancient world, that’s what the pagan gods did. People believed they had to do this to keep the gods happy and ensure the survival of their tribe.

So the point here is that this God doesn’t do that. They are entering a new understanding of their relationship with the divine, and learning that He doesn’t demand child sacrifice.

Thank goodness for that.

Exodus 12: The Passover, referenced in John 1:29, 1 Peter 1:19, Revelation 5 – ‘the Lamb of God’

It’s pretty clear that the New Testament writers saw a parallel between the story of the Passover, and Jesus’ death.

Passover is a Jewish celebration of the Israelites’ liberation from Egypt. The story goes that God told them to sacrifice a lamb and mark their door frames with its blood, so that when God came to strike down all the firstborn sons in Egypt, He would pass over the houses marked with blood and their sons would be spared.

The Passover lamb wasn’t in any way a substitute for sin. The blood wasn’t payment, it was a sign of faith, an indication of loyalty and identity. They were instructed to eat the lamb after it was slain – if it symbolically represented their sin, eating it would not make sense.

So when John the Baptist declares “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29), he is referencing the sacrificial lamb which brought the Israelites liberation from Egypt.

No sign of substitution.

Leviticus 4-7: Sin offerings

This is a detailed and pretty gory set of instructions regarding making animal sacrifices to atone for sin. These sacrifices were intended to be a peace offering, to restore the people’s broken relationship with God. There is no sense of the animal dying in place of the person, or of sin being placed upon the animal. It is a gift to make up for wrongdoing.

Leviticus 16:10: Scapegoat

But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the Lord to be used for making atonement by sending it into the wilderness as a scapegoat.”

So the one time sins are symbolically placed onto an animal, that animal is not killed.

Interesting.

Isaiah 53:4-5 (NIV)

This is the most commonly quoted Old Testament passage used to defend Penal Substitution. I’ll write my little commentary in italics

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering,
(the suffering that is the result of sin)
yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.
(WE considered him – I suspect when Jesus hung on the cross it looked a lot like he was being punished by God. Doesn’t mean he literally was…)
But 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.”
(Yes! He took the full force of sin upon himself and broke its power – sin punished him, not God!)

Matthew 27:46 (NIV)

“About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lemasabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)”

I don’t even know how this has become a “proof text” for penal substitution.

God allowed Jesus to be killed? Yes. He sacrificed his Son to save us.
Jesus felt abandoned by his Father? Whilst suffering the most painful form of execution known to man? I reckon so. 

So God killed Jesus? NO! WHAT?? Why would you even say such a thing??

Mark 10:45 (NIV)

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Yes, a ransom paid to the powers of darkness and death…they demanded blood, not God!

Romans 3:23-26, 8:32 (The Voice translation)

“You see, all have sinned, and all their futile attempts to reach God in His glory fail. Yet they are now saved and set right by His free gift of grace through the redemption available only in Jesus the Anointed. When God set Him up to be the sacrifice—the seat of mercy where sins are atoned through faith—His blood became the demonstration of God’s own restorative justice. All of this confirms His faithfulness to the promise, for over the course of human history God patiently held back as He dealt with the sins being committed. This expression of God’s restorative justice displays in the present that He is just and righteous and that He makes right those who trust and commit themselves to Jesus.”

“If He did not spare His own Son, but handed Him over on our account, then don’t you think that He will graciously give us all things with Him?”

Speaks for itself! Not even a flicker of God pouring out wrath on Jesus.

Gave him up as a sacrifice? Definitely.

Punished him in our place? What?? No!

2 Corinthians 5:21, Galatians 3:13 (NIV)

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.””

So Jesus took the full force of sin upon himself, was cursed by sin… doesn’t mean God was punishing him.

1 Peter 3:18, 2:24 (NIV)

“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.”

“He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed”.

Yes indeed. Still no mention of God punishing Jesus.

1 John 4:10 (NIV)

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

Yep. Atonement, at-one-ment, making things right between us.

Sacrifice – still doesn’t mean substitution.

I’ve probably missed some out but hopefully by now you get the picture.


What a wonderful piece.

And here’s the link to the original article.

Interestingly, there is a classic example of a ‘nasty Christian‘ in the comments section for the original article as presented on Emma’s blog – look out for one ‘Chuck’ and bring a sick bag with you. His hectoring, dogmatic, humourless, rigid and unbending tone and arrogant attitude is exactly what I mean when I write of Christians putting others off God. He’s one of the NPCs: grey, dusty and dry. No idea who he is, but he’s not the sort of bloke I’d go out for a pint with. I did that once with one bloke, on a ‘get to know you’ basis, and he took his Bible with him, hidden in a little satchel, and proceeded to ambush me and bop me over the head with it. And wouldn’t listen when I took exception to it. Such are these people, and God is currently teaching me how to love the NPCs.

But, as you can tell, I’m not quite there yet 😉

And I fully understand that people at certain Stages in their spiritual growth find it very hard to see any alternative points of view to their own, and in my opinion only God can actually move them out of their place and into fresh revelation. And unless and until that happens, they will fight tooth and nail to defend their position.

Still, I hope you found the article interesting. At the very least, for those with an open mind, it shows that the idea of a non-PSA Gospel is certainly a Biblical one. Those who would choose to deny that are doing just that: choosing to hold on to their own interpretation – which is fine; that’s their prerogative – but we can see that PSA is not the only realistic and indeed Biblical point of view out there. And to be honest, religion is the slowest system in the entire world when it comes to changing its views!

Peace and Grace to you.

 

00

Battle in the Air

This entry is part 21 of 21 in the series Beautiful Destroyers

Back in 1969, when I was seven years old, the classic war film ‘Battle of Britain‘ was in the cinemas, and in this instalment of ‘Beautiful Destroyers’ I am going to showcase a superb piece of music from that film, which is an excellent example of musical storytelling.

But first, some background.

During the decades immediately following World War II, many films were made about the War. These movies told stories about the whole spectrum of the War, and depicted history – or near-history – from all theaters of the War. Films like ‘Bridge on the River Kwai‘ (1957), based on a true story of Japanese use of slave labour to build the Burma Railway. 633 Squadron (1964), from the book by Frederick E. Smith, its story loosely based on real-life exploits of crews of the incredible DeHavilland Mosquito fighter-bomber, and by which George Lucas was inspired to create his Death Star Trench attack from the final act of the movie Star Wars: A New Hope. And, of course, The Dam Busters (1955), telling the true story of the legendary 617 Squadron* and their attack on the Ruhr dams on the night of 16/17 May, 1943, using the ‘Upkeep’ mine, also known as the ‘bouncing bomb’.

This is the raid that I often simulate in my personal light aircraft flying adventures, albeit in daylight and a lot higher up than the 100ft height that 617 Sqn flew the attack at. Because they flew at 100ft in the dark. Amazing flying. And the ‘bouncing bomb’ alone weighed like five times the total weight of my Tomahawk aeroplane 😉 And of course there’s the unforgettable and iconic film The Great Escape (1963), depicting, reasonably accurately, the true story of the escape of 70 prisoners of war from the German prison camp Stalag Luft III at Zagan in Poland. Even today, the main theme tune from that film – composed by Elmer Bernstein – is sung by football crowds all across the UK during matches, and has been essentially immortalised. Such is the power of film music.

Anyway, as a young boy I was absolutely fascinated by Battle of Britain, and indeed all the war films of the time. Since my Dad is ex-RAF, and I have a deep interest in military history, and a passion for aviation in general, this is no doubt largely why I have had a lifelong interest in military aviation in all its forms. We always looked forward to Christmas because there would always be some decent war films on the telly.

But the thing about Battle of Britain that I wanted to write about is the way that the climactic battle is done almost entirely to music. In fact, the music tells the story, and it could in fact be thought of as ‘musical storytelling’. The genius of this music – a piece called ‘Battle in the Air‘ by Sir William Walton – is that it captures perfectly the desperate and fraught feel of aerial combat. The breathtaking fear, the extreme danger, the racing, speeding, swirling and chaotic nature of aerial combat; the rapidly manoeuvring fighters and the rattle of their machine guns and cannon. The menace of the German armed forces and the threat of the invasion they were planning. The triumphs, the terror and the tragedy.  It’s all there.

What I’m going to do is to let you hear the piece of music first, and then give you a clip from the film itself where the music is actually used. Get a feel for the music and the story it is telling, and then see if it matches up with what you see in the film clip.

This part of the film is narrated almost entirely by the music. Once the music starts, there is very little engine noise, gunfire or anything else, just the occasional bit of monologue from a couple of the actors, and that rarely. The visuals and the music tell the entire story, and it is sheer genius.

September 15th, 1940, the day depicted by the clip, was the height of the Battle of Britain. In the two months leading up to this day, and on the day itself, (which is nowadays celebrated as ‘Battle of Britain Day’), the course of the War in Europe was decided. The hitherto unstoppable Luftwaffe – the German air force – had been defeated for the first time. As a result of this, not long after this day, Hitler decided to ‘postpone indefinitely’ his planned invasion of Britain.

The evocative picture below shows condensation trails (contrails) generated by aircraft operating at extremely high altitudes, fighting over London during the Battle of Britain in the summer of 1940. Yes, that’s Elizabeth Tower, colloquially known as ‘Big Ben’, although that’s actually the name of the bell in the tower, not the tower itself.

“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed, by so many, to so few”. – Winston Churchill, 20th August 1940

As an additional observation, I’d say that classical music, played by a full orchestra, is generally neither liked nor understood by the general populace. It’s seen as old and stuffy. But in the world of cinema, just about all of cinema music is essentially classical, and is almost always full orchestra stuff. Back in the 70’s and 80’s, there were some forays into synthesiser music – for example Vangelis’s soundtrack to the film Chariots of Fire (1981), and the soundtracks to many science fiction films of the time, such as Dark Star  – but these nowadays come across as pretty cheesy, especially the science fiction soundtracks (Chariots of Fire wasn’t too bad in my opinion; for once the synth stuff actually worked). In short, there’s nothing like a full orchestra for a cinematic score.

And the work of the legendary composer John Williams is, in my opinion, some of the finest music ever written, not just in the field of film score music. His work on so many films – Star Wars, Superman, Harry Potter, E.T., – is unsurpassed, and so is his genius.

Yes, music tells the story, usually as part of the screenplay, and usually very well. But today I just wanted to showcases the sheer genius of Battle in the Air, and how it tells the story with very few words and no sound effects audible. I hope you have enjoyed it!


*I’d like to tell a funny and interesting, if somewhat politically-incorrect, story about that film. The RAF officer who led the Dams raid was WgCdr Guy Gibson, and he had a black Labrador dog called ‘Nigger’. It’s an historical fact; deal with it.

As part of the operational planning for the Dams raid, the code word for the destruction of the Möhne dam was the word ‘Nigger’, to be transmitted in Morse code by the wireless operators in the Lancaster bombers taking part in the raid once the dam had been breached. Controversially, because of the somewhat sensitive nature of the dog’s name, some modern TV versions of the film were censored/edited to either blank out Nigger’s name entirely, or replace it with a more ‘acceptable’ name. I hate political correctness, and although I would not go out of my way to offend people, that was the dog’s name, and I am one of those people who thinks that history should be left alone and unchanged, no matter how ‘unacceptable’ something may be deemed to be in these present times.

But what’s funny is this.

Let’s say the dog’s name was redacted to ‘Blackie’. When the Möhne dam is breached in the film, the wireless operators back at base hear the Morse transmission coming in and proclaim joyously, “Blackie! It’s Blackie, sir!” and there are handshakes all around because the job’s a good ‘un and the dam has been breached. Except it’s not ‘Blackie’. Those who can read Morse (and I can) can hear clearly that the Morse message is in fact the original ‘Nigger’, just as it should be. ( _.   ..   _ _.   _ _.   .   ._. )

These censors are incorrectly assuming that no-one these days knows Morse, a point that, should I be so inclined, I could also get as equally offended about as do those who don’t like the dog’s name. But I don’t get offended…I learned Morse as part of qualifying as a Radio Amateur in 1985 and, although Morse is no longer required as part of the Amateur licence, I still know it and can read and send it proficiently. I also find it very useful when flying at night, as the radio navigation aids I use are identified by a Morse callsign, albeit using a much slower Morse than I am used to reading.

But still, I think the story is funny. A story where politically-correct censors try to find an offence that doesn’t really exist, and thereby create other insults into the bargain. History is best left alone!

Tragically, Nigger was killed by a hit-and-run driver just outside the station gate at RAF Scampton, the Dambusters’ base, on the evening of the raid, not long before the Lancasters set off on their mission. WgCdr Gibson’s wish was that Nigger be buried at midnight that same evening, and this was done while Gibson’s and the other crews were actually carrying out the attacks on the Dams.

Here’s a picture of Nigger’s grave:

…and its position next to one of the hangars at RAF Scampton:

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Shifting Perspective

Here is an excellent piece, Shifting Perspective, by my friend Rob Grayson. It’s the transcript of a sermon he preached a few weeks ago in his church. In this insightful work, Rob expounds on one of the most important concepts of our time: the primacy of Jesus over everything else. And I share this piece here with Rob’s gracious permission.

Firstly, though, let’s look at the well-known Scripture that was Rob’s text for the day, Luke 9:28-36

…[Jesus] took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)

While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen.

Here’s Rob:


Introduction

As many of you know, my wife and I recently became grandparents for the first time. I know I’ve talked about this a lot lately, but it’s what you do when you become grandparents! It’s been fun reminiscing about what it was like to become parents ourselves, and watching our son and daughter-in-law make many of the same discoveries we did. One of the most striking things about having kids is how dramatically your perspective on life shifts when you become a parent. Typically, it’s not something you just take in your stride: when you have a baby, your whole world – by which I mean not only the practical arrangement of your life, but the whole way you see the world – changes. Becoming a parent is a change of circumstance that causes a dramatic shift in perspective.

Becoming a parent is an example of what’s sometimes called a paradigm shift. In this context, a paradigm means a set of assumptions that determine how we see the world. We all have a paradigm – we might also call it a worldview – and it’s usually something we’re not consciously aware of until we have an experience that challenges our previously unquestioned assumptions.

One characteristic of a paradigm shift is that it’s not simply a case of acquiring new information or knowledge. You can read about having a baby; you can even attend ante-natal classes to learn about what to expect when the baby arrives; but until you actually have a baby, you’ll never experience the huge change in perspective and worldview that results from becoming a parent.

To reiterate, then, a paradigm shift is not simply about acquiring new information: it’s a change of perspective, a shift to a whole new level of awareness or consciousness.

As you might have guessed, the reason I’ve been talking about paradigm shifts is that I believe this is what today’s Gospel reading is fundamentally about. Peter, James and John needed to have their perspective changed; and, of course, through the words of scripture, we are also invited to allow our perspective to be changed.

Recapping the story

Let’s briefly recap what we heard in the Gospel reading.

Jesus takes Peter, James and John up a mountain to pray. As Jesus is praying, his appearance changes (the King James Version says he’s “transfigured”), he becomes as bright as lightning, and Moses and Elijah appear alongside him and talk with him about his “departure”, which, the text tells us, he is “about to bring to fulfilment at Jerusalem”. Peter, James and John, in spite of being sleepy, witness this strange scene, and Peter wants to build three shrines for Jesus and his illustrious companions. Then a cloud descends on them, they’re frightened, and a voice from the cloud says, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him”. The cloud disappears, and with it Moses and Elijah: Jesus is once again alone on the mountain with his disciples.

A strange episode indeed. One of the challenges of preaching on a text like this is that there are so many angles to explore, so many different directions we could go in. For the sake of time, we’re just going to focus on the paradigm shift that Peter needed to undergo, and how what he experienced on the mountain encouraged just such a shift.

Peter’s experience

So, let’s think about Peter. We’re told that, as Moses and Elijah are beginning to leave Jesus, Peter pipes up and suggests building shelters for the three of them. Rather amusingly, the text tells us, “He didn’t know what he was saying”: as we see elsewhere in the Gospels, Peter’s approach often seems to be, “If in doubt, say the first thing that comes into your head!”

In any event, Peter is clearly overwhelmed enough by the whole experience that he wants to prolong it and commemorate it. But, besides the visual spectacle of seeing Jesus shine like lightning, what is it that impresses him so much?

Remember that Peter, like the other disciples, is on a journey of trying to figure out just who Jesus is. He’s decided Jesus is important enough to leave his home and his business and become one of his followers, but beyond that, who is Jesus? A teacher? A healer? A prophet? Something more?

At this point, we need to recognise the importance of Moses and Elijah. To a first-century Jew, these were two of the most pivotal figures in the history not only of the Jewish faith, but of Israel as a people. They were monumental, towering figures – heroes of the faith and of history – representing the twin pillars of Judaism: the Law and the Prophets. Moses, of course, was the great lawgiver, the one to whom God had given the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. And Elijah was perhaps the greatest, certainly the most iconic, of Israel’s prophets. And here they are, chatting with Jesus. I wonder, is part of the reason Peter is so impressed by this appearance the fact that, in his eyes, it seems to confirm that Jesus, this itinerant rabbi on whom he’s taken a gamble, is turning out to be on an equal footing with Israel’s great heroes?

Notice again what happens after Peter tries to arrange to install Jesus, Moses and Elijah in permanent accommodation on the mountain. A cloud comes down; a voice – presumably God’s – says, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him!”; and the cloud departs, leaving Jesus alone with the disciples. Here’s Peter, wanting to celebrate and commemorate Jesus’ elevation to the same rank as Moses and Elijah – in other words, to the same level of importance as the Law and the Prophets – and it’s as though God says, “No! This is the one you need to listen to!”

Peter’s paradigm shift

Peter needed to have his perspective changed to see that Jesus was not just another Prophet, or another interpreter of the Law. He was not to be put on an equal footing with Moses and Elijah. Peter needed to be awakened to the truth that Jesus perfectly reveals God in a way that the Law and the Prophets never could. At best, the Law and the Prophets could only ever cast a pale shadow of what God was like; Jesus, on the other hand, was the perfect embodiment of God’s nature in human form.

This realisation of the supremacy of Jesus as the one true revealer of God’s nature would have huge implications for Peter, as it should for all of us. No longer would Peter be able to appeal to the Law as the ultimate arbiter of God’s will: for example, where the Law said a woman caught in adultery should be stoned to death, Jesus would say the one who was without sin should cast the first stone, demonstrating God’s heart of compassion and mercy and his absolute opposition to violence, even where the Law seemed to require it.

Notice, as well, that Peter’s impulse is to keep Jesus on the mountain rather than allow him to continue on to the final part of his mission – a mission that will take him first to Jerusalem, and then to the cross. This reminds me of the incident we read about in Mark 8 – shortly before Mark’s account of the Transfiguration – where Jesus begins to speak openly to the disciples about his coming suffering and death, Peter tells him off, and Peter is in turn sharply rebuked by Jesus with the famous words, “Get behind me, satan!” Is Peter harbouring hopes that Jesus will turn out to be the conquering Messiah who leads Israel to victory against the occupying Romans? Is that why he’s so reluctant to let Jesus self-sabotage (as Peter sees it), and why he’s so bemused by all this talk of suffering and death?

This is another vital aspect of the paradigm shift Peter needed to undergo. He needed to understand that in God’s kingdom, the way up is down; the way to gain your life is to lose it; the way to salvation for Israel was not to seek out a heroic messiah who would rise up against the Romans, but to embrace the way of peace – the way of the cross.

Ready, steady, shift

Of course, Peter didn’t “get the message” straight away. Like many of us, he was a slow learner. And these weren’t the only paradigm shifts he would need to undergo: there would be more to come. For example, I think denying Jesus in his most desperate hour, and then later receiving Jesus’ forgiveness on the lakeshore in Galilee, would have been an experience that triggered a massive and profound shift in Peter’s perspective on both Jesus and himself.

The question is, are we willing to have our own assumptions challenged and our own perspective changed? So often, particularly when it comes to our beliefs about God and how he relates to us and the world, we can easily think we’ve got it all worked out and we know all the right answers. That can be especially true for those of who’ve been followers of Jesus for a very long time. But when we set up camp on our beliefs and convictions by insisting that they’re absolutely, unarguably correct and must never be allowed to change, aren’t we, just like Peter, trying to build a structure to box Jesus in and keep him safely contained where he can’t do too much damage to our preconceptions?

Like Peter, we need to allow our vision and our understanding of what God is like to be shaped first and foremost by Jesus and not by anything else, even if it is in the Bible. And, just as importantly, we need to be ready and willing to have our perspectives challenged and our paradigms shifted. That can be uncomfortable and disorientating, but it’s vital if we’re serious about growing and maturing as followers of Jesus rather than just being people who keep Jesus in a shrine and only pay him any attention on Sundays and other special days.

May God give us the courage to hear the Holy Spirit’s voice and be willing to set aside our certainties for the sake of the kingdom.

Amen.


I also think that Peter was one of the Disciples who was most entrenched in his beliefs. Jesus didn’t call him a ‘rock’ for nothing; you get the idea that he was big, strong and immovable, not just in his physical stature but also in his convictions too. The episode in Acts 10, where it needs a vision from God to show Peter that actually the Gospel is not just for the Jews, but for all the world, is a case in point. Where Peter had assumed that only ‘God’s chosen people’ were to hear the Gospel, it took that vision and then the evidence of the presence of the gift of the Holy Spirit in the lives of a group of non-Jewish believers, to convince him.

But there is hope in this too. It shows me that even the most firmly entrenched and, lets face it, unhealthy and unhelpful of erroneous belief systems is capable of being changed by the patient intervention of the Holy Spirit. The thing that Peter had was the willingness to learn; to be taught. Jesus said in John 16:12 that ‘I have so much more to tell you, but you can’t cope with it right now’. He knows when best to reveal things to us. And it also means that even those whom we find most annoying – in my case, legalistic Pharisees – can also have their viewpoints – their paradigms – changed by the Spirit, when He’s good and ready. I think that is most encouraging. And it’s especially liberating for us to know that it is not our job to change them, even though the reciprocal of that view is not always shared by said Pharisees; they often want to change others! Surely the best thing we can do for these people is to allow our own paradigms to shift so that we can gently share our Grace experiences with them, so that they know that there are others they can turn to when they themselves have their Grace revelation that releases them from legalism.

I want to have that paradigm shift, don’t you?


Here’s the link to Rob’s original blog post

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Solid Food

Continuing my ‘morsels’ – themed titles for my ‘quotations’ posts…

If Jesus saves only Evangelicals who have said ‘The Prayer’, and likely also had to jump through many, many other hoops too (as prescribed by various leaders), then at best only 0.01% or so of humans will be ‘saved’. Given that we can assume that God is not a complete idiot, and that Jesus is not a failed Saviour, I would suggest that somewhere along the line we have gained a total misunderstanding of both the nature of salvation and what it takes to be ‘saved’. – Me

“The incarnation does not suggest that God became human so that we can escape our humanity, but rather that, since God has fully embraced the human experience, we can escape the trap of believing that we need to escape our humanity in order to become like God.” – Jeff Turner

“The authority of Scripture lies in the transformative process itself.” – Brad Jersak

“God’s love for you has never been and never will be based on anything you do or don’t do.
It’s based on who He is.” – Chris Martin

“I’ve just thought: if there is indeed a Judgement Day video where all our life is played back in Blu-Ray/IMAX quality, mine is going to be bloody hilarious… :D” – Me

“The only time you’ll find God in a box is because he wants to be where we are” – Wm. Paul Young

“Double negatives are a no-no for me” – Anon

“It took a real revelation – literally, a revelation – of Grace to bring me out of my pit. Once you have seen the true nature of Grace, you can’t unsee it. But the converse may also be true: until you have seen the true nature of Grace, you can’t see it at all.” – Me

“Your first love is not your love for God; it is God’s love for you.” – Paul Ellis

 

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