"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

Archive for November 2016

White privilege: reflection on a post-Christian concept

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In a recent sermon, I made a direct comment about the idea of “white privilege” and stated categorically that it was a post-Christian concept which had no place in the life of a believer.  While I heard many affirming comments from several of the >three hundred (mostly white) people who listened across three services, I did get a very small bit of push back.  That push back challenged my stance on the question of “white privilege”, and some suggested that given my indigenous history I should really understand the question of ‘white privilege’ differently.  I’ve spent a few weeks researching and reflecting and praying on the question, and this is the result of that reflection.

First, I want to make it clear that no where did I imply that it was not important for privileged groups of any colour or race to acknowledge their privilege and status, and their complicity in ongoing cycle of oppression and violence.  That is a read-in of a meaning that was not spoken or intended…and contrary to the usual post-modern mechanisms of interpretation, I mean what I say, and I don’t say what I don’t mean.

The bit of what I said in my sermon about remembrance, and the outcome of the USA election which saw Trump win over Clinton (I dislike quoting myself as it’s one of the hallmarks of this highly narcissistic age, but provide this for convenience).  If you’re going to engage this idea, you need to read this paragraph very carefully, for the argument I was crafting is subtle.  Please note, no where in that text do I discount the idea that there are privileged cohorts in the world, and that those cohorts have destructive power over others without realizing it.  Please also note that what I clearly say is that Christians do not have the ability to engage concepts such as ‘white privilege’ because it is inconsistent with our faith.  More on that in a bit.

This is a particular facet of our post-modern discourse, manifested specifically through the medium of social media.  There is a line of reasoning around the idea of ‘white privilege’ which automatically means that the voice of any white person is discounted because of their privilege and power within the culture.  They are literally non-people before they type a word, merely because of the race into which they were born.  I will rebuke this gently, but very firmly, as not being a safe place for a Christian to dwell.  If you are one who follows that line of reasoning, it is a good time to get back into Scripture and look for God’s perspective on any thought which marginalizes any group of people, white, black, yellow or red.

At this point I’m usually rebuked as speaking from a place of white privilege which, aside from being frankly racist, is incorrect.  Listen when I tell you that as an indigenous Christian whose family heritage was stripped away because of the racism of mostly white, protestant settlers, if someone had a right to point a finger of condemnation at white men and women, it is someone in my shoes.  Why don’t I?  Because I repented of that line of thought and Christ washed me clean with His blood.  It is not about blame, but all about reconciliation.  My call is as an agent of peace and truth, not anger and hatred.

It is a truly perplexing time in this post-modern era.  Post-modernity at once proclaims that words only have the meaning that we assign, and any attempt to define truth is really just an effort to hold power over another.  So in an era where there is supposedly no absolute truth, we find that people are even more highly polarized than before, a polarization that is paradoxically the result of even more strongly held absolute beliefs.  This is a hallmark of the irrationality of this age, something made plain through the election campaign.

A Word on the Sermon Writing Process

The ‘white privilege’ comment in the sermon was really a footnote, or as you would call it in a legal decision from the bench, an obiter comment.  That is, something not crucial to the overall thrust of the message.  I added it in because I had just been involved in a very disturbing exchange on Facebook.  It started with a comment about Trump being a misogynist assaulter of women (which I’ve no problem with, and indeed directly mention later in the sermon).  It devolved into a discussion about ‘white privilege’ and a bit of a guilt fest about how essential it was to recognize and embrace ‘white privilege’.

Now, the reason I included a direct rebuke for Christians in the sermon is because that is where I was led when writing.  My sermon writing process involves the traditional exegesis, original language study, reading an array of commentaries and scholarly articles, and finally reading other people’s sermons on the same text (www.textweek.com is a great research resource, even while it trends to the liberal end of the theology spectrum).  Throughout that time I meditate and pray on the text – and usually carry a copy around in my work bag so that I can review and reflect on it in quiet moments and annotate it.  That process spans two or more weeks (since as an honorary assistant I have the ability to space out preaching in 6-week spans around my secular full-time day job).  When it comes to the actual writing of words, there is a bit different process at work.

Sermon writing is, for me, a primarily prophetic undertaking.  I do not mean that in the modern use of the word ‘prophetic’ where it is understood to mean any activity that reflects on the Word.  I mean it quite literally.  This is probably the subject of a book at some point, but it is tightly tied into my spiritual gifts and my particular calls in ministry.  It is true to the extent that I hesitated for years to even mark my sermons under copywrite, because I still don’t consider that the words are mine.  That certainly draws on the research and prayer that preceded the writing but it is not an exercise of my intellect alone.  It is the same as any person who God may call into a particular task, and equips with the gifts to fulfill that task, to His greater glory.

What that means in really practical terms is that there are bits of the sermon which come forth unexpectedly as I’m writing.  When I first encountered that I attributed it to the creative function of my mind alone, in the same way that sometimes the solutions for unsolvable problems seems to come with a good nights sleep.  Later, once I had been preaching for several years, I noted a pattern arising.  That pattern invariably had those unexpected bits as being the pivot points upon which the entire message turned, and also the parts which people consistently picked out as ‘speaking directly to them’.  I’ve lost count of the number of times someone will call up one of those obiter comments and say, ‘I was just praying about that last week.’  That, to me, is a clear hallmark of an intervention by God as I can’t trace the message back to my intellect.

I can expand that statement to include the bulk of the sermon.  Sometimes I think my only real role is to write the connecting sentences so the ideas cohere.

The other aspect of the process is where inspiration will come in.  In the weeks before a sermon I will have bits of poetry or essays drop into my lap unasked, that invariably have a dramatic impact on what is written.  That’s one of the reason I include an added page of notes now, so readers can see where some of the genesis of ideas had come from.

This is a long introduction to say that the ‘white privilege’ rebuke was something that came out of that same source of inspiration.  This does not mean that I’m claiming special revelation and inerrant word, just that when things pop up like that I no longer just discount them as my mental fluff.  So, when there was a bit of push back, I thought it appropriate to dig rationally and prayerfully into the concept to see if my rebuke had divine overtones, or if it was just my personal dismay at feeling so exposed and discounted in a social media discussion.

“White Privilege”

I will tell you in advance that my rational inquiry has done nothing to change my perspective on the idea of ‘white privilege’.  It is a post-Christian concept.  What I did discover in that investigation is that rejection is a minority position among North America (and particularly American) Christians.  Taking a strong minority position means I am either being really prophetic, or really idiotic.

One final comment on the role of the preacher in community.  My vocation as a priest is to be a truth-teller, which means that if I am doing my job properly (meaning following God’s leading as best as my sinful mind will allow), my sermons should always have the effect of making people uncomfortable and uneasy in their present dispensations – including me.  That is the goal of all biblical preaching, as the preacher calls us out of our complacency and comfort to again confront the cross, our role in that event, and how we are a redeemed race the other side of the cross.  Sermons intended to make people feel content and pleased are more psychology than faith, and the church has lost much of it’s way around the role of preaching through the introduction of homeletic psychology.

What this all means is that what I preach is not my opinion, or rather should not be my opinion.  These are not simply thoughts to be batted about in the public square like a cat bats about a ball of twine.  There is a gravitas to the production and delivery of a sermon beyond anything else I do, and it is normal for me to experience spiritual warfare before, during and after the delivery of a sermon…usually directly in proportion to the criticality of the message (to the extent that during delivery to a particular community, I can say, ‘whoa, that was a powerful one’).   What it also means is that if I misuse the pulpit to preach opinion, that rebounds as a burden on my soul.  That is equally true for a person who dismisses a sermon by saying, “I disagree”, or “He’s a conservative/liberal/white/indigenous/male/veteran, what else would you expect him to say?”  The dismissal of God’s word rebounds on to that person’s soul. Prophetic utterance is fraught with peril for both prophet and hearer.

All this to say I take the role of preacher as one which is of epic importance, and presents a real risk to my salvation if I do not enter into the process in fear, trembling and in submission to the Lord.  (Matthew 18:6 if you want a scriptural reference)

So, I’ll attack the idea of ‘white privilege’ from a number of perspectives: logical, theological and practical.  It’s important first to begin with a word about the fundamental irrationality of this age, because that context (post-modernism) is at the root of this discussion.

Post-Modern Discourse or “How I Came to Love Irrationality as the Cornerstone of All of My Thought”

Who is the Christ?

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

And the irrationality of the age is nicely highlighted by Pilate’s question to Jesus: What is truth?

An interesting exercise is to search through the New Testament and to find out how many times Jesus self-refers using the word truth, or others refer to him as truth.  This is a pretty unambiguous image, unless you re-contextualize truth into a post-modern concept.  That, unfortunately, is what much of the mainline church has done because it is the only path which allows the church to free itself from outdated concepts like loving God and loving neighbour.  (93 times in the NT, not all Jesus)

Why do I say that?  In the Anglican context in particular, the presenting issue has been same-sex marriage.  I say ‘presenting’ because it is a symptom of a greater underlying issue, which is a disregard for the two great commandments: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength; love your neighbour as yourself.  How on earth, you might ask, can making the church more inclusive reflect a lack of love for neighbour?

This way: when the decision was made to pass resolutions which made same-sex marriage more permissive there were a number of people who left the church for other denominations.  You can’t call a particular step inclusive, when the effect was to exclude another group (in this case, those who hold to an orthodox view of biblical interpretation).  What you are actually doing is selecting a different group of people to wilfully exclude.  I would call that a violation of the second great commandment, since you cannot argue that you are loving your neighbour when the result of your actions is to have people leave.

The usual counter to this is that these people chose to leave, and it has nothing to do with the church.  I would suggest that this misses the point entirely.  Those who are supposed to now be included are also making a choice to join, at the same time others are making the choice to leave.  A truly inclusive community, one that manifests the love of Christ, has no such boundaries or requirement to make decisions to stay or go, except in response to a calling from God.  Look at Vanier’s L’Arche communities as examples of this.

A truly inclusive community is one that welcomes all who come, including people like Paul Bernardo.  I used Bernardo as an example in a talk to my seminary colleagues, who were predominantly from the inclusive end of the church.  What had been frustrating me was all this discussion about being welcoming to those of other sexual orientation and how the church needed to change.  My reply was that I had no issue with sexual orientation, but I wondered if those who were so vocal about welcoming other people into our church would feel the same way about having Paul Bernardo over for dinner?  A number said to me afterwards how challenged they felt because they realized that their call to love all had some very real limits.  Hallelujah – fiat lux!  Another lie is revealed…that we are quite happy choosing those we wish to love, but are still unwilling to embrace the true radical love of Christ.

I think symptoms like these illuminate the underlying irrationality which exists even within the church, the one place where we should model truth, regardless of how painful it might be.

What allows this sort of discourse to exist is the post-modern reality that mutually contradictory thoughts are considered to be a normal part of life.  The classic example I keep coming back to is this article, Samantha Shrugged.  Don’t get hung up over abortion being the topic in the article, as it’s really not the point.  Look at how the discussion unfolds to the point where the assertion is made that truth doesn’t matter, because anyone can choose what to believe or disbelieve, whether it’s objectively true or not.

The irrationality of the age shows clearly when people refuse to follow their beliefs through to the logical extension, for example, arguing that what science says doesn’t matter because the individual is the ultimate arbiter of what is ‘truth’.  Try that with gravity, or requiring oxygen to be able to breathe, or the size of an I-beam required to support a particular cantilevered load.  As physicist Richard Feynman said (during the Challenger investigation), “For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.”

I think this is one reason why you don’t find many scientists or engineers jumping into post-modernity…the stress that makes a tie-bar bend exists fully independent of my thoughts about what it should be or why the bar might bend.  If I want my designs to serve humankind, rather than killing them, I need to pay close attention to the absolute truths of nature.

The Illogic of ‘White Privilege”

What strikes me as fundamentally irrational about the idea of ‘white privilege’ is that it is a self-contradictory concept.  What do I mean by that?

Well, one of the powers that a dominant cultural group holds is an unlimited ability to self-name.  Their power permits them to define who and what they are.  This is not a power shared by the oppressed.

Those living on a First Nations reserve on bad land, under a multi-year boil water order, do not have the ability to name themselves.  This is one of the fundamental issues that indigenous people have with legal terms like ‘indian’ or ‘aboriginal’.  Most are rejecting those terms as identifiers because they are titles assigned by the oppressor.  (one from the Indian Act, the other from the Constitution Act of 1982).

So the ultimate display of power than an oppressor group can undertake is to self-label.  That is explicitly clear in the white person’s response to ‘white privilege’.  The primary argument I have heard and read comes back to something like…’how dare you suggest my white privilege is not real…can’t you see how guilty I am about all my privilege?’

Which I find to be the ultimate irony.  A white person, telling an indigenous person, that they are wrong in not accepting their self-imposed title of ‘white privilege’.  If I was not called as a priest to proclaim truth, I would laugh and walk away because it is such a silly thing to argue.

So here is the oppressor class, arguing that they have the right to self-identify as oppressors.  That is not a power shared by the people over whom they are feeling guilty so it is, in the end, one more demonstration of the power that they are feeling guilty about.  This is the inverse of the original power imbalance, which is now somehow supposed to be redeemed because they’re feeling bad instead of powerful?  A power imbalance is not conducive to equality regardless of how or why the power imbalance exists.

The Implicit Racism of ‘White Privilege’

Calling out a group defined by racial terms is a racist act.  (I think there is another irrational falsehood at work here, which is that only whites can be racist which is also nonsense)

That is not moderated by intent: that is, there is no such thing as good racism.  A group who are traditional oppressors don’t suddenly become loving because they have used their power to self-label in a derogatory and racist fashion.  The arguments I see against this are all around stating that ‘white privilege’ is not racist because it has a good end goal of eliminating racism by making oppressors more aware of their power.

I cannot get my head around the question of implicit racism – and how you cannot redeem a racist assertion by saying that it is achieving a really good end product.  That is utilitarianism at it’s worst.

If you look at an example like the situation in the townships in South Africa before and after apartheid I think this is clear.  Apartheid was awful, a crime against humanity and horrifically racist. When apartheid falls, the white farmers are robbed, raped, murdered and forced from their land.  Is that justified because they were coming from a position of ‘white privilege?’  And were things any holier when that was supplanted by ‘black privilege?’  Asked another way, why did we not hear about ‘Tutsi privilege‘ or ‘Hutu privilege‘ out of the Rwanda genocide?

Those terms should sound a bit shocking, because to a white person, using a term like ‘black privilege’ would almost always be seen as a red card activity.  Likewise, attempting to explain the Rwandan genocide as a problem of ‘Hutu privilege’ reacting against ‘Tutsi privilege’ sounds horribly racist.  I’ll suggest this is because the act of assigning such a term along racial lines is always a racial act and therefore an example of racism.

I see some of that manifested in Canada.  When my daughter and I came out as Metis, there were some comments received from friends like this, “It will be nice that your daughter won’t have to pay tuition.” and “It will be nice that you no longer have to pay taxes.”

In response to that, take a short dose of Wab Kinew.   “I even once had to pay a land transfer tax, ironic”  Wab is status, meaning he is legally registered as an indian under the Indian Act…which is a class of aboriginal who has access to a set of benefits that the Metis do not receive.  For us, no free tuition, no pass on taxes.

On that rabbit trail for a bit…the only benefit I’ve received from declaring that I’m Metis is a lot of very polite racism and strained looks.  In the elevator the other day, one of my co-workers asked about the pin I was wearing, an aboriginal veteran’s pin.  I replied that it was an aboriginal veteran’s pin a friend had given me.  The silence that followed was deafening.  I think there were two things going on, the first was I don’t look classically aboriginal, so the asker is left wondering why I’m wearing the pin, but is fearful of asking the follow-on question because of the silencing culture that exists because of things like ‘white privilege’.  He can’t ask the question because to do so would be open to attack as an oppressor.  The other possibility is he was confused why this obviously white guy is wearing a veteran’s pin and wasn’t willing to call me on it.  Both of those responses are a bar to any form of relationship or reconciliation.

An easy question to ask: “Are you an aboriginal veteran?”  Which is not asked because of the chilling atmosphere created because of ideas like ‘white privilege’.  I’m even not offended by the comment, ‘You don’t look aboriginal’, even though such a thing is another example of racism. What does an aboriginal person look like?  There are full-blood Mohawks from New York State who are mistaken (by other First Nations) as white…I heard this story from a Winnipeg Indigenous chaplain who was a Mohawk and had to constantly explain to aboriginal families when they said, ‘We asked for an aboriginal chaplain’ that he was in fact indigenous.  We would never say, “Hey, you don’t look black” or “Hey, you don’t look Chinese”, so why is acceptable in other racial contexts?

[by the way, in response to the ‘you don’t look aboriginal’ I tell the story about my teeth…which have hooked roots, a typically indigenous genetic trait; or about my daughter’s receipt of a Metis scholarship…and how all the award winners on the stage went from a swarthy, glossy black-haired electrician to a number of very fair red heads…that is the reality of the Metis nation!]

All this to say that the labelling of any group, for whatever reason, whenever that term is racially identified, is an overtly racist act.

“You whites are so predictable!”  Doesn’t feel very nice does it?

Now this is different from recognizing the need to acknowledge history and to understand how settler relations with the indigenous involved forced starvation and genocide.  And why every time I fly into Ottawa I’m struck to my core at the pain that a statue of John A MacDonald causes me while I wait to collect my bags.  [beyond scope here but if you want a shift in view about MacDonald read James Daschuk’s brilliant book, “Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life“.  This is not light bedtime reading.]

But, as I heard Wab Kinew say in response to a question about ‘decolonizing’ settlers, what is needed is not recognition or decolonizing, what is needed is people who are willing to step out and meet indigenous in a new way of interacting.  That involves acknowledging the other as a sovereign nation in it’s own right, and using that as the starting point of the rebuilding of relationship.

That will never officially happen in this era, because our government insists on using the tools of power and privilege to guide it’s deliberations in what to do to fix the ‘indian problem’.  Sure, that’s surrounded by benevolent language and gestures, but it is still the same old power dynamic just with more politeness.  Now, notice I did use the word privilege, but not in the context of ‘white privilege’.  If you had noticed, our Minister of National Defence is not white, and there are numbers of not-white MPs…this is not a white problem, it is a power problem, and ultimately a problem of falleness that impacts all of the Creation.

‘White privilege’ as a Post-Christian Construct

This is the aspect which troubles me greatly, for to hear Christians proclaim their right to self-label as privileged white people is directly contrary to Christ’s teaching about the fundamental self-worth of each person.  The text which pops to mind is this one:

For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. (Romans 10:12)

or this one: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

or this one: Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. (Colossians 3:11)

In a text about ‘white privilege’ the author started by quoting the Galatians text and then immediately stated that instead of removing racial distinctions, this text emphasized how important they were to God because He made mention of all those races.  That’s a completely contrary interpretation to what the passage plainly says.

If St Paul is so explicit in his assertion that there are no more racial distinctions in Christ (and note no more gender distinctions either), how is it acceptable for a white Christian to label themselves as ‘white privileged’?  Similar to my comments about how this is perpetuating racism, it is contrary to the removal of racial boundaries which we see clearly manifest throughout the Gospels and Epistles.  Christ speaks to the Samaritan woman.  Who was a neighbour to the beaten Samaritan?  All races hear the Gospel proclaimed in the Acts account of Pentecost, in their language and dialect.  This is not the image of a God that sorts by race, or by oppressor/oppressed status.  (See the bit about Mirislav Volf below)

Illustrative of our proper stance in this question of oppression was the model of Christ in responding to abuse from oppressors in the 1st century context.  No Greek or Jew, slave or free, but Christ is all, and in all.  (Col 3:11 again).  No cursed Romans, no blessed Jews, but all in need of God’s salvation.  So if Christ is in all, and I label myself as oppressor, what does that mean to Christ?

The act of marginalizing any group, including a self-marginalizing statement, is incompatible with a God who values all individuals equally regardless of their state of sin or grace.  For a saviour who was so concerned about those who had no voice, the act of targeting one racial group so as to remove their voice is not coherent with those teachings.

Jesus consistently gives voice to those who have no voice.  Think of the adulterous woman, about to be stoned to death.  Jesus intervenes, disperses her accusers (and soon to be murderers) with a ‘let him without sin cast the first stone’, and then releases her with ‘go forth and sin no more’.  He did this over and over again in the Gospels to all those who had no particular voice (a healed leper – go and tell the priests what has happened to you…and so on).  So what do we do with a thought, ‘white privilege’, which has the specific outcome of silencing a whole population distinguished by nothing but their skin colour?  This is in no way consistent with the teachings of the Christ.

[I’ll also note that this net also catches all the fair-skinned First Nations and Metis by default, since we have to self-identify to pull ourselves out of ‘white privilege’.  It is a dull blade by any measure, something else contrary to Christ’s sharp and incisive truth-telling.]

A further test is the intended outcome of the ‘white privilege’ label.  From what I’ve read this is all about shaming, and self-shaming.  It is the ultimate power claim, “Look at how privileged I am. Isn’t it awful?  Aren’t I a bad person?  Can’t you see how guilty I feel?”  Remorse is a spiritually toxic place for the Christian (thanks D for that idea) because it plunges you into a place of feeling really bad, without presenting any path to repentance.

The real issue is the fallen state of humanity, which is why singling out any racial group is so fundamentally contrary to God’s Word.  The problem in Rwanda was not privilege, but a willingness to discriminate against people based on tribal affiliation which went both ways.  The problem in Canada with our indigenous peoples is not privilege, but a desire to preserve old power structures independent of race. The problem in Canada with disabled veterans is not racial, but a failure on behalf of our society to care for those in need.  This is all about sin, a constant across all humans, independent of race or status.  Associating particular sins with a racial group, aside from being racist, removes the general onus on all of us to recognize our sinful nature and our need for Christ.

History does not support that Canada has a ‘white privilege’ problem.  What history tells me is we have a problem with treating people with the love that God demands we display.  In Canada that happened to be the genocidal policies of mostly Protestant white settlers, something which hit indigenous, Japanese and Chinese immigrants in particularly different ways.  Today it continues as official disregard for people in need: indigenous or veteran.  That sad story has been, and will be, played out around the globe in many different faith, race and religion contexts, many of which don’t involve white people.  (Read A Bear, A Backpack, and Eight Cases of Vodka for a perspective into 1980’s anti semitism in Soviet Russia)

In Africa that continues to be manifest by inter-tribal warfare, and a slave trade that is alive and well and involves few whites.  In the Middle East it is manifest by Muslim killing Muslim because they don’t belong to the right sect or historic belief group.  We, as broken humans, have infinite capacity for evil against our fellow humans…and ‘white privilege’ discounts all of the other racial groups enacting evil by focusing in on one racial group in particular.  It also ignores the reality that discrimination exists across almost every racial boundary in the world, by pointing the finger at only whites.

Finally, the label ‘white privilege’ is an inescapable sin.  Like Pilate, it doesn’t matter how many times you wash your hands because the blood of the innocent man simply will not come off.  Assigning the term as a racially-oriented one paints all whites as privileged, which can never be escaped.  This is contrary to God’s will for his people which is abundant life, joy and peace that passes all understanding and ultimately total redemption of all their sins.

‘White privilege’ is in no way a Christian concept, and Christians need to stop promoting it as something consistent with God’s teaching.

As a final point, someone has to explain to me how the creation of another, exclusive, binary category is something which forwards God’s kingdom.

The Real Goal of ‘White privilege’

What is really at work in the ‘white privilege’ movement is an attempt to make people feel good about how bad they are feeling about themselves.  This is because in the post-modern era, feeling really bad about yourself is a technique intended to confirm that you are a really, really good person.  This is another overt power grab: “Look at how bad I feel about being white!  Pity me!”

The movement is really about gaining pity for oneself, because pity requires no relationship or reconciliation.  Worse still, it breeds an expectation that others feeling pity for you is a right.  Pity is a uniquely post-modern response to the question of injustice.

This is an old friend, the sin of pride, manifesting itself in a subtle way.  Your level of approval is measured by how shamed you feel, and so the discourse turns not to reconciliation or (gasp) restorative justice, or even to repentance but to a long list of justifications as to why you have the right to claim ‘white privilege’.  I will tell you, as an indigenous man, that this refrain is the exact same one I’ve heard throughout Canadian history because at it’s core it is just another white assertion of power over others.

This is something I’ve been hearing ever since the Battle of Seven Oaks and the First and Second Red River Rebellions.  It is another case of someone dictating to me how I am supposed to view you, and how I am supposed to refer to you.

At a class I attended prior to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s visit to Edmonton, after a particularly direct presentation on indigenous history in Canada, the presenter (a status Cree man) noticed several (white) woman in the front row who were crying.  He pointed them out (how insensitive) and then said, “I don’t want your tears.  Tears do not help solve any of the things which brought us to this point. What I want is your willingness to enter into a new form of relationship with me, so that we can learn to share the land.”  My point exactly and I could re-write that line by inserting ‘white privilege’ in place of tears, feeling really bad does not change anything.

‘White privilege’ is a social media idea that does not involve revision of life.  I don’t see hordes of white people travelling to North Dakota to stand against pipelines, chained to trees in Clayoquot Sound to stop clear cutting, or marching right here in Edmonton with Idle no More. What I do see is hordes of white folk on social media arguing about who is the most depraved, and shaming other white people who don’t display the requisite level of guilt.  If ‘white privilege’ is working, where is the uprising of settler folk to demand, say, that the Indian Act be destroyed and a new relationship put in place?

It is not happening because shame in the post-modern context serves to convince us that we are good, because we feel so bad.  It achieves none of the transformative good that biblical shame is intended to bring into being.

A Classic Example of a Christian Claim of ‘White Privilege’

 

As I was researching this, I came across an article from Moody Bible College in Chicago affirming that the church cannot give up use of the term ‘white privilege’.  The article was in response to a Facebook post by a professor at that school about why ‘white privilege’ is not a Christian idea.  I’m not that compelled by his argument, so I’m not referencing the original post.  The response article I take a number of exceptions with, and posted those in a comment.  I just noticed looking for the link that my comment (which was there last week) is not yet displayed on the site.  I’ll include it here just for the record.  The original article is here.

 

One of the reasons I took issue with the article was very bold misuse of two favourites of mine, Walter Bruggemann and Miroslav Volf.

Quoting the original article: “The cross is the assurance that effective prophetic criticism is done, not by an outsider but always by one who must embrace the grief, enter into the death, and know the pain of the criticized one. Prophetic criticism aims to create an alternative consciousness with its own rhetoric and field of perception.” (99)

If you take away a person’s right to name things, to make meaning through language, you ultimately take away their access to justice and reconciliation. Why do you think the writers, philosophers, and educators are always the first to be silenced and imprisoned when a dictator is rising to power? Because words have power.

My concern with this assertion is that it suggests that whites are somehow dis-empowered by the statement that ‘white privilege’ isn’t a Christian concept. If ‘white privilege’ is real, than they are the one racial group which had, by definition, the power to self-name. That is a power not shared by the oppressed. How does the self-assertion of ‘white privilege’, as a powerful and privileged activity itself, counter the privilege it seeks to highlight?

Second issue is the use of Bruggemann in this manner. Assigning guilt to one’s self by self-naming does not ‘enter into the death’ of the oppressed. It is a self-directed action only, and has to be taken an extra step to turn into action. Convincing myself my race is particularly sinful is different than actually stepping into relationship with the oppressed, where I can then attempt to enter into the death they experience.  [If the implication is that whites ‘enter into the death’ of those oppressed, this just reinforces again that this is an overt act of power by the oppressors…I feel your pain as the oppressed because I feel so guilty about being an oppressor.  Stop.  Please.]

So, how do those with a voice calling themselves out on white privilege give the voiceless a different standing before God? It is a penny short of the actual call on the Christian. It also implies some degree of inescapable sin. Sin can be repented of, but ‘white privilege’ as sin, because it is racially designated, can never be washed clean.

As a person who has been on the receiving end of that white racism, I’m not interested in having you tell me how aware you are of your culpability under the ‘white privilege’ label. What I want is relationship where we stand reconciled before God, both of us redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, and convicted of our fundamental value because of Christ. I can not see any coherent way that ‘white privilege’ gets you to that point because it does not, ultimately, point to the cross.

I also find it interesting that the original challenger at Moody, Brian Litfin, is a professor of theology, while the article I was responding to is from a professor of communications.

Litfin in his apology for his original snarky article raises a couple of good points about why ‘white privilege’ is a post-Christian concept (the rest of his argument I still have trouble with):

Before I list my reasons, let me acknowledge that the term “white privilege” is intended to address an important topic. The problem is, the term itself is inflammatory, so the real topic goes unheard because of the offense. Here are five ways the term “white privilege” is objectionable to many in our community:

The term can imply corporate responsibility for others’ sin. Collective sin was operative in the covenant community of Israel, such as with Achan (Joshua 7). However, with the arrival of the New Covenant, individuals now stand or fall before God for their own actions (Jeremiah 31:29-30). According to scripture, “we will all stand before God’s judgment seat … each of us will give an account of ourselves to God” (Romans 14:10, 12). Therefore, an entire race should not be held accountable for the sins of individuals. It doesn’t work like that anymore.  [yup, and an inescapable sin, since there is no way you can escape culpability if you’re white]

The term can be an unloving use of the power of naming. In scripture, the act of naming something claims authority over its identity and destiny. Jesus did this when he gave Simon a new name: Peter (Matthew 16:18). However, it is one thing to name a friend or one’s own community for the sake of encouragement, and another to name someone for the purpose of criticism or shame. In so doing, we aggressively define others, stigmatize them, lump them together. But can billions of people really be described with the catch-all term “white” and then uniformly be assigned certain privileges? No. Such behavior is unloving because it forces simplistic categories on others that they themselves do not embrace. [and this is soecifically the reason there is no Jew or Greek in the eschatological community God calls us to join]

[…] The term can display a critical spirit that misconstrues reality by highlighting only the negative. We must not buy into a Hunger Games mythology of vapid suburban elites entertaining themselves at the expense of others. In reality, the doors are not entirely shut to minorities today, nor are white people universally trying to close them. In fact, I often see a lot of “white love” as the American church reaches out to the needy. Why must we criticize our Caucasian brothers and sisters? The secular world does this, but it is unworthy of Christians. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 tells us to “encourage one another and build each other up.” Where sin does exist, the answer is not the ungodly modern practice of “calling it out.” Instead we are to offer gentle critique (Galatians 6:1; 2 Timothy 2:25) and cover the offense in love (Proverbs 10:12; 1 Pet. 4:8).

[…] I suggest we should rip the term “white privilege” out of our discourse at Moody. The underlying issues that need to be addressed should be described with more wholesome, less divisive terminology. Though I grant my fellow Christians the right to disagree, I know I stand with many in our community who find this language repugnant. Why employ terms that divide the body of Christ? As students of God’s Word, let us draw our terminology from the Bible, not the wisdom of man.

A Particularly American Concept

One other reason that I believe ‘white privilege’ has no place in a Canadian Christian context, is that it was born of a thoroughly America secular thought process.

The first mentions of the idea of ‘white privilege’ come out of the American liberal secular social justice movement in the 1990’s. Anytime the church looks at importing secular social justice thought it needs to be very cautious, because many times those secular thoughts contain the seed of the spirit of this age.  The USA is still wrestling with a large degree of blood guilt over it’s involvement in the slave trade, and so race issues in the USA have a particular extreme polarity that is not present in Canada.  The church is not to look to the culture for understanding of how we are to love, as we already have that written out for us in clear terms.  [I preached this topic this past week – see link]

The whole ‘white privilege’ discussion is generated by a particular American exceptionalism which is the root cause of ‘white privilege’ (thanks M for that idea).  There are aspects of Litfin’s response which reflect some facets of that attitude, like the belief that hard work should be rewarded with material benefits – something plainly foreign to the Gospel.  The whole idea of ‘white privilege’ is a distinctly North American discussion, and in other parts of the world it would not occur to people to form the argument in this way.

The idea of ‘white privilege’ is also a particularly post-modern term, because the idea of self-loathing is something central to the discourse around the spirit of this age.  This is way beyond my scope, but this is the same concept leveraged by advertising in order to sell products, the idea that we are somehow incomplete, weak and inadequate unless we buy something, and buy that something often.  ‘White privilege’ is an extension of the cult of inadequacy mostly thrust upon us through the relentless process of advertising.

It also nicely plays into the cultural context that places offending someone as the most severe sin we can commit against another human being.  That is also a post-Christian concept because the Gospel should be highly offensive to the ears of this world.  We are, as Christians, by our nature called to be offensive to the spirit of this age.

So Where do We go From Here? – A Practical Question

Now, the question of people being aware of how they are part of the systemic violence in the world (like all of us with smart phones who support blood cobalt mining in the Congo) is an important goal.  I don’t think framing it as a question of ‘white privilege’ helps achieve that end.

For example, the fact that we in the first world without many exceptions live a standard of life that the rest of the world envies makes us all privileged on a global scale.  The fact that we have First Nations communities that live in third-world squalor does not alter that privilege, it just highlights our inability to equitably distribute the bounty of this nation internally, which mirrors the same reality internationally. Conclusion, every citizen of Canada is a sinful human.  We confirm that every time we use a smart phone enabled by the inhumane mining practices in other parts of the world.

 

We, as members of the first world, participate in that global cycle of violence against others merely by our consumption.  That is true regardless of our race or gender.  To ascribe particular blame to one group in particular is fundamentally contrary to the word of the Gospel – all have fallen short, all continue to fall short, but all have a path to repentance and salvation.


 Footnote 1:

Another point is the danger of ‘white privilege’ drawing non-whites into sin.  This is where Miroslav Volf would have some particularly harsh words for us.  There are large parts of the indigenous community who will buy into ‘white privilege’ because it fits well with their brokeness. By proclaiming ‘white privilege’ you potentially allow those still caught in the cycle of despair to once again become victims to oppressors. Are we not past that sort of relationship yet?

[Even while recognizing the injustice and evil that lies at the feet of the white race]  This is a form of prideful self-identification.  It is again a claim of privilege over others!  “Look at us whites.  We are so bad!  Look at all of my power!  I’m way more powerful than anyone else!  Look at how I’ve abused that power!” (thanks M)

Which reminds me of a bible parable – Luke 18:9-14:

9 [Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed[a] thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

As I made clear in the sermon, the call on the Christian is not retribution, and particularly not self-retribution, but reconciliation and peace.  It is also not about puffing ourselves up by telling everyone how bad we are, for that itself is a sin. (see Volf, below)


Footnote 2:

In a paper about white privilege in missionary contexts, the author offered this reference list to support the concept.  I noted these are all secular references, again a warning flag:

For helpful introductions to the issue, see Paula Rothenberg, ed.: White Privi- lege: Essential Readings from the Other Side of Racism (New York: Worth, 2002); and Frances Kendall, Understanding White Privilege: Creating Pathways to Authen- tic Relationships across Race (New York: Routledge, 2006). For an overview and discussion of whiteness, see Melanie E. Bush, Breaking the Code of Good Intentions: Everyday Forms of Whiteness (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004) 15–18. For a more personal reflection see Robert Jensen, The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism, and White Privilege (San Francisco: City Lights, 2005). For a discussion of the difference between white power and white privilege, see Joseph R. Barndt, Understanding and Dismantling Racism: The Twenty-First Cen- tury Challenge to White America (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007) 85–110.

Performing safe cross-secular importation requires a high degree of discernment and skill that is not present in the article I snipped this from.  The thing that distinguishes Christian missionaries is their willingness to accept personal discomfort and risk in order to live in community with others…like moving to the Congo with the MCC, like living among tribespeople in Tibet.  ‘White privilege’ does not necessarily help that relationship.


Footnote 3:

This is a review of Miroslav Volf’s astounding book, Exclusion and Embrace.  Anyone who is interested in engaging race relations where repentance and restoration are required should read Volf.  I wrote a post on the why behind why I think the book astounding here.  Let me say that Volf is the first theologian I have read who actually gets the depth of difficulty associated with forgiving someone, and why most of the church doesn’t understand soldiers.  You can’t really speak into that reality until you have seen the brutality humanity is capable of first hand, and Volf did and struggled with what a proper response for a Christian might be to the ‘other’ who has just slaughtered and raped a village of your countrymen.  [This is the fundamental reason I can’t take Hauerwas’ absolute pacifism seriously…I can’t buy even an exceptionally well-reasoned opinion from a theologian who has never had to either 1) make the decision to kill someone 2) make the decision to forgive someone who has killed someone close to you.  Volf has been there, done that, got the T-shirt in a way I’ve not encountered before outside the military.]

 

Why this is relevant at the end of my ‘white privilege’ post…because Volf points out clearly that Christ’s answer to oppression was not to condemn the oppressors, but to tell the oppressed to repent.  This reversal is one of the aspects that makes Volf’s work so mind-blowing, and counter-cultural to the established Christian understanding of oppression.  We still don’t get this in the organized church!  The answer to oppression is not to encourage the oppressors to self-label themselves with ‘Roman privilege’ but to tell the oppressed to repent.  Think about that in the context of the ‘white privilege’ debate.  Volf, I believe, would laugh at the ‘white privilege’ concept…and would instead call both oppressor and oppressed to join together at the foot of Christ’s cross, there to seek mutual forgiveness for their sins.

 

As to why we still don’t get it in the organized church.  The Anglican Church of Canada just released a study package on money.  I’ve gone through it once, and won’t be using it as a teaching resource.  Why not?  Because it perpetuates the same falsehood wrapped around ‘white privilege’.  The document focuses on those who perpetuate the cycles of financial oppression…but doesn’t strongly point the finger back at the reader.  Every person who spends money in a first world country, unless they are exceptionally cautious, is perpetuating cycles of financial oppression.  Each time we select an off-shore manufactured item, we are perpetuating that cycle…including Apple products.  But, it is still trendy to point the finger at ‘them’ who are the evil ones perpetuating violence on others.  That’s not a Christian perspective because ‘them’ is ‘us’!

In fact, as soon as you think you’re holy, you’ve lost it. (I’ve added all the bolding)

 

In Exclusion and Embrace (1996), Miroslav Volf points out that Jesus didn’t tell the rich and powerful Romans to repent of oppressing the Jews. Instead, he turned to the victims of the Roman Empire and said: “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near.” At first glance, this doesn’t make much sense. Volf writes, “should Jesus not have demasked the ideological construals of ‘the poor’ as sinners and challenged the oppressive practices these construals served to legitimate?” Of course, Jesus did this as well, but by calling on the victims to repent He prevents them perpetuating the cycle of hatred. “Victims need to repent of the fact that all too often they mimic the behavior of the oppressors,” Volf says, “let themselves be shaped in the mirror image of the enemy. They need to repent also of the desire to excuse their own reactive behavior either by claiming that they are not responsible for it or that such reactions are a necessary condition of liberation.” Repentance and forgiveness are divine acts, and Volf recommends that we bring our rage before God just as the Psalmists did. He observes, “by placing unattended rage before God we place both our unjust enemy and our own vengeful self face to face with a God who loves and does justice. Hidden in the dark chambers of our hearts and nourished by the system of darkness, hate grows and seeks to infest everything with its hellish will to exclusion. … But no one can be in the presence of the God of the crucified Messiah for long without overcoming this double exclusion – without transposing the enemy from the sphere of monstrous inhumanity into the sphere of shared humanity and herself from the sphere of proud innocence into the sphere of common sinfulness.”

People who expect that a stubborn commitment to nonviolence will end violence are naive, Volf writes. He says that when he preached non-retaliation in his native Croatia at the end of the Srebrenica Yugoslav wars, his sermon fell flat. He was preaching to “people whose cities and villages have been first plundered, then burned and leveled to the ground, whose daughters and sisters have been raped, whose fathers and brothers have had their throats slit.” The idea that “we should not retaliate since God is perfect noncoercive love” just doesn’t work in the face of such evil. And so Volf turns to the Rider on the White Horse in the Apocalypse, who is also the crucified Lamb. We are not God, Volf reminds us, so it is not our place to take revenge on our enemies. God alone will judge “those who insist on remaining beasts and false prophets,” and He will do so violently. These are people, the Bible assures us, who, “ensnared by the chaos of violence which generates its own legitimizing “reason” and “goodness,” … have become untouchable for the lure of God’s truth and goodness.” We can rest assured that evil will be dealt with completely, and that on the cross Christ died “for an unjust and deceitful world.” Christ’s death and resurrection is the basis on which we can forgive. Volf writes that “since the new world has become reality in the crucified and resurrected Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17) it is possible to live the new world in the midst of the old in an act of gratuitous forgiveness without giving up the struggle for truth and justice. One can embrace perpetrators in forgiveness because God has embraced them through atonement.”

The idea of embrace is central to Volf’s theology of reconciliation. “Reconciliation with the other will succeed only if the self, guided by the narrative of the triune God, is ready to receive the other into itself and undertake a readjustment of its identity in light of the other’s alterity,” Volf says. This requires a sort of “double vision,” where instead of trying to see things from nowhere, which is clearly impossible, we approach truth both from our perspective and, stepping out of ourselves, from the perspective of our enemies. This involves crossing a social boundary in order to enter into the world of the other, and also that we take the other into our own world. Volf is remarkably pragmatic about how successful this sort of double vision will probably be, but it is certainly a good start. “Nothing can guarantee in advance that the perspectives will ultimately merge and agreement be reached,” he writes. “We may find that we must reject the perspective of the other. Yet we should seek to see things from their perspective in the hope that competing justices may become converging justices and eventually issue in agreement.”

The motivation for peace-making must be that we see the other in terms of relationships instead of thinking only about right and wrong. Volf recommends “redeeming the past … not by willing but by thinking, by an interpretative act of inscribing the tragedy of the past in the pre-condition of a nontragic future.” His ideal is the father of the prodigal son, who remembered his son as son rather than as someone who had sinned against him. When the father welcomed back his long lost son, Volf writes, “no confession was necessary for the embrace did not rest on moral performance and therefore could not be destroyed by immoral acts.” When seeking reconciliation, we need to look at what unites us as humans, sisters, brothers, and children of God, instead of focusing on what has and has not happened in the past. This is much more of a challenge for people of color than for whites, for whites have been much more sinners than sinned against, but it requires all of us to repent and to move forward. [exactly, the degree of sin is not the important discriminator, nor skin colour, but that all, victim and oppressor, have fallen short of the grace of God]

As a manifesto of this new way of living, Volf offers this ecumenical confession based loosely on the Barmen Declaration of 1934:

“You were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; or all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galations 3:28).

One in Christ.  All of churches of Jesus Christ, scattered in diverse cultures, have been redeemed for God by the blood of the Lamb to form one multicultural community of faith. The “blood” that binds them as brothers and sisters is more precious than the “blood,” the language, the customs, political allegiances, or economic interests that may separate them.

We reject the false doctrine, as though a church should place allegiance to the culture it inhabits and the nation to which it belongs above the commitment to brothers and sisters from other cultures and nations, servants of the one Jesus Christ, their common Lord, and members of God’s new community.”

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Written by sameo416

November 29, 2016 at 12:40 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

In whom do I place my hope (Trump, Clinton, Jesus or close air support)? Version Final

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Remembrance Sunday 13 November 2016, SJE Edmonton ©2016

Ecclesiastes 3:1-13, Ps 144, Matthew 10:16-19

There is a long tradition in reformed denominations that the goal of preaching requires engagement with the world, so a preacher should always have the bible in one hand, and a newspaper in the other.  So here is the intersection between the faith of a soldier and the newspaper.

Two momentous things to engage: our international day of remembering of those who served and suffered because of war, and a day to reflect on the US election.  Those topics may seem disparate, but I’ve found some surprising common ground – you will know I’m usually preaching this day, and that I use my 20 years as a soldier to speak about faith in the context of service and sacrifice.  One of the facets of the soldier is little tolerance for weasel words and deception…there is something about the interaction of bullet and bone and blood which leaves the soldier impatient for those who are unwilling to mediate truth.  So here is some prophetic truth.

I have seen people who profess faith in Jesus Christ now moving into the space where they consider that either the apocalypse has begun, or that God has richly blessed them.  It may very well have begun, and God always richly blesses us, but this is a problematic place for the believer.  We could easily add another line to Ecclesiastes, “For everything there is a season, a time to elect a deceitful liberal, and a time to elect a misogynist.”  My point throughout this first bit is not to address the election outcome because that is not the issue, but rather to talk about how people of faith have become politicized to the extent that they no longer discern against the cross of Christ, but rather discern against the world.

This is not the proper dwelling place for the Christian. In spite of the huge influence which secular political systems have over our daily lives, we are not actually citizens of this nation, but a nation of believers subject to a different king.  That king commands us to love as the Father loves.  So it is clear we no longer have the option to demonize people whose political or personal lives are offensive to us.  As soon as we make an attempt to claim the moral high ground, we open ourselves to the dynamic of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector…I thank you God that I am not like that sinner over there, that tax collector…And which one was righteous in God’s eyes?

This is a particular facet of our post-modern discourse, manifested specifically through the medium of social media.  There is a line of reasoning around the idea of ‘white privilege’ which automatically means that the voice of any white person is discounted because of their privilege and power within the culture.  They are literally non-people before they type a word, merely because of the race into which they were born.  I will rebuke this gently, but very firmly, as not being a safe place for a Christian to dwell.  If you are one who follows that line of reasoning, it is a good time to get back into Scripture and look for God’s perspective on any thought which marginalizes any group of people, white, black, yellow or red.  At this point I’m usually rebuked as speaking from a place of white privilege which, aside from being frankly racist, is incorrect.  Listen when I tell you that as an indigenous Christian whose family heritage was stripped away because of the racism of mostly white, protestant settlers, if someone had a right to point a finger of condemnation at white men and women, it is someone in my shoes.  Why don’t I?  Because I repented of that line of thought and Christ washed me clean with His blood.  It is not about blame, but all about reconciliation.  My call is as an agent of peace and truth, not anger and hatred.

It is a truly perplexing time in this post-modern era.  Post-modernity at once proclaims that words only have the meaning that we assign, and any attempt to define truth is really just an effort to hold power over another.  So in an era where there is supposedly no absolute truth, we find that people are even more highly polarized than before, a polarization that is paradoxically the result of even more strongly held absolute beliefs.  This is a hallmark of the irrationality of this age, something made plain through the election campaign.

This leads into a second aspect of equal concern, the number of American evangelicals who endorsed Trump and demonized Clinton.  The evangelical movement in the US has long since moved into a place of seeking secular power through the political system, but this has been nowhere clearer than in this recent election.  This is an exceptionally dangerous place for a person of faith to rest, and it leads to outcomes like we have just seen.  If we are to understand the evangelical leaders who endorsed Trump, apparently the Godly choice was an unrepentant man who openly celebrated the sexual assault of woman.

Christianity Today identified that there is a new sort of prosperity gospel going on, one that focuses on maintaining certain political systems at any cost. In a related article, Jason Foster described it this way: “It’s the one that worships America, the one that worships freedom, the one that worships “rights.” It’s a gospel premised on the idea that Christians should have an easy existence, and it’s as false a gospel as has ever existed.”[1]  And so it is less distasteful to endorse a candidate like Trump, who is expected to fill the Supreme Court with conservative judges and to repeal some laws and bring in others which will reassert order and prosperity particularly for the Christian.  This new prosperity gospel says that we must do everything we can to protect the Christian worldview, even if that includes voting for a distasteful candidate. Theologian Robert Fossett notes that Trump is a pornographic version of Hillary Clinton who will do anything to get what he wants.  “At least it isn’t Hillary,” they will say. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were quite familiar with this dichotomy. It’s a choice between your moral beliefs and a short–sighted pragmatism.”[2] This is the “Patriotic Gospel, the American Civic Gospel or maybe even the “Duck Dynasty” Gospel”.[3]  This should be a caution to all of us.

This is the extension of a pattern of thought that has been growing in the Western world from the Enlightenment. It states that unless we work to bring about God’s New Jerusalem on earth, it will never happen.  So we shift the onus for the reconciliation of all creation from its proper place with the Lord into our hands.  And we do so within a framework that sounds Christian enough that we believe we occupy the high moral ground.  We believe that we are righteous, when what we are really is idolatrous.  This is manifest in a number of ways:

* The war on terror, described by George Bush Jr as a time to ‘take off the gloves’ and to wage unlimited war on those who seek your destruction.  This is a thought pattern which was continued unchecked through subsequent US administrations.[4]  Taking off the gloves also meant the moral limits on warfare were removed, which is why we can now carry out drone strikes on enemies of the state even if it involves killing their entire extended family.  This also led to  torture was legitimized.  This is not the way of Christ.

* A misunderstanding of the nature of sin.  We are all sinful people through and through, and that will not be changed by trying really hard, or finding the right social legislation, or electing the right leader.  It will only come through our submission and surrender to Jesus Christ, which only happens once we admit we are dead to the world so that we can live in Christ.

* Jesus himself has been transformed from a God of power and might into a mascot for our belief that we are the ultimate force in creation, supporting our desires for the maintenance of a particular social-political, cultural or racial identity.

* Finally, instead of a leader who washes the feet of his followers, what we are seeking is a leader who manifests the best attributes of the culture …narcissism, greed and deceit in the unrestrained pursuit or power.  If only we could get the right things done we could remake the world into the New Jerusalem…and so we strive to find the right political system or leader which will bring about this utopia.[5]

Now, I will stop for a moment to make it clear that this is not a condemnation of Trump or an endorsement of Clinton for there are huge issues with either of them, Clinton’s are just a bit better concealed.  What this presents to us is a lens through which we see illuminated the results of a centuries-long process of drift away from God.  American philosopher of history Russell Kirk, in his work the “Roots of American Order” set out that America as a nation was created in the image of four historic city-states: Jerusalem provided morality, Athens provided philosophy, Rome gave law, and London, culture.  Of those four cities, the west has been most successful at removing any linkage to Jerusalem.  Combined with the violent absolutist relativism of post-modernism, it leaves no anchoring framework for moral thought.  The realm of the moral has been cut lose from its anchor, and allowed to drift across the sea of post-modernism.  Our anchor in that sea is in the person of Jesus Christ, and not by placing our hope in secular rulers and systems.  So, when our political leanings try to move us into a place where we desire a government which reflects our beliefs, we need to be reminded that this is not the natural place for a Christian to dwell.  As Christ tells us in the Gospel, the expected relationship between a follower of Christ and the secular authorities is one marked by being dragged into the streets and flogged in the synagogues.  Lest we fall into the trap of post-modern triumphalism about our own nation of Canada, recognize that our values are not so distant from those I’ve been speaking about.  The major difference today is that much of our polarization is cloaked in gentile Canadian politeness.  I would argue we are as polarized, we’re just better at hiding it.  Turning to the topic of remembrance, the place I see this clearly is in the treatment of our soldiers.

Last year at this time I referenced a Globe and Mail investigation where they had found 54 suicides of Afghanistan veterans, updated this week to 70 suicides.  The Globe and Mail investigation searched national obituaries for deaths of retired and serving military members, and then contacted the families directly to find out the actual cause of death.  This is the hallmark of a broken system, a system more concerned with riding itself of distractions than actually dealing compassionately with wounded warriors.  The Globe and Mail collected the stories of 31 military families whose loved ones took their lives after military service, describing the outcome, “Together their stories paint a disturbing picture of delayed care, ineffective medical treatment and insufficient mental-health support.  The 31 accounts are the most comprehensive public record of Canada’s Afghanistan war veterans lost to suicide – unwitting monuments to a system that is failing too many vulnerable soldiers and veterans.” Corporal Tony Reed, who died by suicide in December 2012 told his mother, “I cannot go to sleep, Mom, because as soon as I close my eyes that’s what I see, okay?  People being blown up.  Little kids with grenades.  The blood.  You can’t imagine the blood that I’ve seen over there.”  While our new government has started addressing this, a plan won’t be ready until the fall of 2017.  Until then, unrecognized suicides from military service will continue.

Romeo Dallaire has just published a new book, where he recounts his struggles with PTSD, Waiting for First Light: My Ongoing Battle with PTSD. First light is a significant image for a soldier.  First light brings the hope of dawn, and a confirmation that you survived the night.  First light also brings the likely time of attack.  MacLean’s wrote a powerful article on Dallaire’s new book where he asserts that the covenant between soldiers and the state is broken.  Before you feel smug about the state of Canada versus the USA, listen to this:

There needs to be a new covenant between the military and the nation, Dallaire argues, in part because of his belief that PTSD is not just a physical or psychological injury, but a moral wound.

He tells a story in his memoir. After hearing of a massacre in a village, Dallaire sends a patrol, Canadian soldiers as it turns out. They find a rape site, a ditch full of dozens of mutilated women and girls, most but not all dead. Later, Dallaire sums up the situation with his 26 international contingent commanders: there are no medical supplies; the dying are too injured to be moved and there is no means of transport anyway; the risk of HIV infection is very high. What orders would they issue: do what you can, or move on? Only three countries—Ghana, Holland and Canada—say to intervene. But the Canadian patrol leader never gives that order, because he never has time. His soldiers—“young men, just 19, 20, 21”—have already broken ranks, and are in the ditch trying to provide what comfort is possible.

That is the kind of army Canada has, says Dallaire, because that’s the kind of nation Canada has evolved into. We have an army that, precisely because it “carries our moral norms into immoral situations,” will be sensitive to the shock and trauma presented by those sorts of conflicts. “There’s been a breaking of the bond between the nation and its military,” he says. In recent years, “we have practically had to beg for the help we need.” If Canada is going to send its armed forces to help the world’s vulnerable, and Dallaire fervently believes it should, “we need a new cradle-to-grave agreement” that Canada will take care of these soldiers, who have suffered injuries on Canadians’ behalf, right up to veterans’ retirement homes. And suicides should be numbered among the war dead.[6]

So how did we and the Americans end up here, in spite of the commandment to love God and to love our neighbours as we do ourselves?  I think the German philosopher Fredrick Nietzsche summed it up perfectly in his parable titled ‘Madman’.  What the madman actually proclaims is that our lack of belief has killed God, and so released ourselves from moral moorings:

The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Whither is God?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him—you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.[7]

When we proclaim in our homes, our businesses and our institutions of learning that there is no truth except that which we make ourselves, and when we believe that salvation rests in the hands of humankind, and when we spend our time trying to find who is best to blame for the confusion and strife, and when we believe that words have no meaning except that which we wish then to have, we should not be surprised that the result of all this empowerment is the death of God.  Without that anchor for our souls, we instead are tossed on the waves and billows of cultural relativity.[8]  We are called to be about different things.

An appropriate place to end this reflection is with the story of a soldier, and a Christian, who died after an attack in Afghanistan.  The narrative places us back in right relationship with the Almighty, because regardless of what might happen to our physical bodies (death, torture, persecution, disease) we are members of a transcendent yet imminent kingdom into which we will be welcomed.

He returned from a February 2008 transportation security mission to hear that another convoy mission in Afghanistan had been hit with an IED, a convoy that included his good friend Jonathan.  He also learns that his friend was badly injured in that attack, and was near to death.  He obtains permission to leave his unit to visit his friend (mbo: because of course the first freedom surrendered when you put on the uniform is freedom of movement).

He enters the hospital to find his friend, missing both legs, lying on a hospital bed covered with bandages.  Tubes coming out of other tubes leading to God knows where.  I walked over to him biting my lip to hold the tears back, Johnathan looked up at him and smiled and said, “You should see the other guy.” (mbo: because humour is one of the ties that binds people together in combat).

As he was coughing and having trouble breathing, I stayed with him for about 10 or 15 minutes.  It was clear that he was near death from blood loss and fatigue, so I asked that God would receive his humble servant, and that Jonathan might spend an eternity in God’s presence.  Jonathan was a part of the kingdom of God, long before I was.  As I prayed Jonathan suddenly stopped, looked up towards the ceiling, as if shocked into life whilst observing the heavens.  Jonathan’s greatest gift to me was his last words of life which have become a cornerstone for the love of Jesus Christ that has enveloped my heart.  He looked up and said, “Wow…wow, it just looks exactly the way they always told me it would.”  A smile stretched across Jonathan’s face and he was gone.[9]  Amen.


THE MADMAN—-Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly: “I seek God! I seek God!”—As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. Has he got lost? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? emigrated?—Thus they yelled and laughed

The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Whither is God?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him—you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.

“How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us—for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto.”

Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke into pieces and went out. “I have come too early,” he said then; “my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars—and yet they have done it themselves.

It has been related further that on the same day the madman forced his way into several churches and there struck up his requiem aeternam deo. Led out and called to account, he is said always to have replied nothing but: “What after all are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?” God is dead, we have killed him.


Christianity Today article: Michael Horton, “The Theology of Donald Trump”, March 16, 2016.

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/march-web-only/theology-of-donald-trump.html

Huffington Post article on why God and Country is just another prosperity gospel:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/why-god-and-country-christianity-is-just-another_us_57e0324ee4b0d5920b5b32db

“In many churches, the good news has subtly changed into good advice: Here’s how to live, they say. Here’s how to pray. Here are techniques for helping you become a better Christian, a better person, a better wife or husband. And in particular, here’s how to make sure you’re on the right track for what happens after death. Take this advice: say this prayer and you’ll be saved. You won’t go to hell; you’ll go to heaven. Here’s how to do it.  This is advice, not news.”

~N.T. Wright, Simply Good News

Other texts that cover the believer’s obligation to the secular authority: 1 Peter 2; Romans 13:1-13; 1 Timothy 2:1-2

Ravi Zacharias: “We now learn to listen with our eyes and think with our feelings. . . . We are meant to see through the eye, with the conscience; when we start seeing with the eye devoid of the conscience, all kinds of belief can invade your imagination.”

As has happened numerous times since I started listening to Ravi’s daily podcasts, I owe a debt of thanks to him for providing direction to the starting of some of the thought paths I’ve followed in this sermon. In this case it was a three-part series titled, “The loss of truth” (for the reflection on moral frameworks) and a four-part series titled “A deliverer is born” (for the story of Jonathan the US soldier).

A deliverer is born: http://ca.rzim.org/just-thinking-broadcasts/a-deliverer-is-born-part-4-of-4-2/

The loss of truth: http://ca.rzim.org/just-thinking-broadcasts/the-loss-of-truth-part-1-of-4-2/

William Blake:

This life’s dim windows of the soul
Distorts the heavens from pole to pole
And leads you to believe a lie
When you see with, not through, the eye.

American philosopher of history, Russell Kirk in “The Roots of American Order”.

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (1882, 1887) Parable of the Madman

http://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/mod/nietzsche-madman.asp

Robert Lewis Fossett’s commentary, “The Madman’s Time has Come”

http://www.rlfossett.com/entries/2016/10/11/the-madmans-time-has-come

On the new suicide numbers for the Canadian Forces (Globe and Mail investigation):

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/investigations/number-of-soldiers-vets-who-died-by-suicide-after-afghanistan-on-rise/article32673192/

A review of Dr Antoon Leednaar’s 2013 book, “Suicide Among the Armed Forces”, https://www.suicideinfo.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Military-Suicide-Book-Review.pdf

Review of Romeo Dallaire’s new book, “Waiting for First Light: My Ongoing Battle with PTSD”:

http://www.macleans.ca/culture/books/inside-romeo-dallaires-brutally-revealing-new-memoir/

Donald Trump on asking God for forgiveness:

http://www.businessinsider.com/trump-on-god-i-dont-like-to-have-to-ask-for-forgiveness-2016-1

http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/18/politics/trump-has-never-sought-forgiveness/


Fire, Malcolm Guite

He cannot stop these memories of fire

Crackling and flashing in his head.

Not just in fevered dreams; the fires break

Into the light of day. He burns with shame,

But still he screams and shakes, because the dead,

Are burning too and screaming out his name.

 

They told him his condition had a name,

But words can’t quench the memory of fire,

Nor can they ever resurrect the dead.

They told him it was ‘all inside his head’,

That post-traumatic stress need cause no shame.

The army gave him time for a short break.

 

But that’s what he’s afraid of. He will break

And break forever; lose his life and name,

Shake like a child who’s sickening with shame,

He who had been ‘courageous under fire’

Who always stemmed the panic, kept his head.

And now all night he wishes he were dead

 

And cannot die. Instead he sees the dead

In all their last contortions. Bodies break

Under his wheels, a child’s severed head

Amidst the rubble seems to call his name

Over the clattering of rifle fire,

Stuttering guns that shake with him in shame.

 

He’s left his family. ‘Oh its a shame’,

The neighbours said, ‘That marriage was long dead-

-You cant live with a man whose shouting ‘Fire!’

All night like that.- His kids needed a break

And in the end she had to change her Name.’

‘They’ll never fix what’s wrong inside his Head.’

 

‘Some people seem to cope and get ahead,

The army makes them better men, a shame

He couldn’t cope.’ Now he has lost his name

And his address. He only knows the dead.

He sleeps on benches but they come and break

His sleep. They keep him under constant fire.

 

And come November, when they name the dead,

He waits in silence for his heart to break

And every poppy burns with hopeless fire.


Daniel 2:20-21 English Standard Version (ESV)

20 Daniel answered and said:

“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
to whom belong wisdom and might.
21 He changes times and seasons;
he removes kings and sets up kings;
he gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to those who have understanding;

 

[1] Huffington Post, “Why ‘God And Country’ Christianity Is Just Another Phony Prosperity Gospel”, 19 Sep 2016

[2] Robert Lewis Fossett’s commentary, “The Madman’s Time has Come”

[3] Huffington Post.

[4] This comes from BGen Dr. Stephen Xenakis, Omar Khadr’s military psychiatrist, when asked at a public talk about what it was that allowed the US to fall into so much immoral activity (Abu Ghraib prison, waterboarding, Gitmo).

[5] Derived from the Christianity Today article.

[6] http://www.macleans.ca/culture/books/inside-romeo-dallaires-brutally-revealing-new-memoir/

[7] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (1882, 1887) Parable of the Madman

http://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/mod/nietzsche-madman.asp

[8] https://www.hymnal.net/en/hymn/h/331

[9] The story of US Army soldier Jonathan (as told by Ravi Zacharias).

Written by sameo416

November 12, 2016 at 1:42 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

In whom do I place my hope (Trump, Clinton, Jesus or close air support)?

with 4 comments

First draft, very long, but many threads of complicated thoughts interacting.  I’ll leave this as the published version, even while I will have to cut about 2 pages from the delivered version.

Remembrance Sunday 13 November 2016, SJE Edmonton ©2016

Ecclesiastes 3:1-13, Ps 144, Matthew 10:16-19

Pray.  Two momentous things to engage today, our international day of remembering all those who served and suffered because of warfare, and a day to reflect on the US election.  Those topics may seem disparate, but I’ve found some surprising common ground – you will know I’m usually preaching this day, and that I use my 20 years as a soldier to speak about faith in the context of service and sacrifice.  One of the facets of the soldier is little tolerance for weasel words and deception…there is something about the interaction of bullet and bone and blood which leaves the soldier impatient for those who are unwilling to mediate the truth.  That aspect of my military formation carries forward logically into my prophetic ministry in this community, for the role of the prophets has always been as God’s truth teller.  I’m also well aware of the long tradition in reformed denominations of preaching with the bible in one hand, and the newspaper in the other.  So here is the intersection between the faith of a soldier, and the newspaper.

One of the aspects of the entire election experience that has left me somewhat dismayed is how many people who profess faith in Jesus Christ have moved into the space where they consider the apocalypse has begun.  It may very well have begun, but that is not the proper place for the focus of a believer.  I’ll loop back to the reading from Ecclesiastes several times today, but one could easily add another line to the preacher’s words, “For everything there is a season, a time to elect a progressive, and a time to elect a misogynist.”

In spite of there being a time under the sun for everything, including for war and peace, this is not the proper dwelling place for the Christian.  Why?  Well, in spite of the huge influence which secular political systems have over our daily lives, we are not actually citizens of this nation, but a nation of believers.  When you read 1 Peter 2 concerning submission to the lawful authority it is clear why we are called into that role: “13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution,[b] whether it be to the emperor[c] as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people… Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.”  What is particularly fascinating about that passage is the reason why Peter directs submission to the secular authority is because this will serve as an illustration of God’s kingdom – by honouring everyone we silence the ignorance of foolish people.  When that is added with the command to love as the Father loves, it is pretty clear that we no longer have as an option the demonization of people whose political or personal lives are offensive to us.  As soon as we make an attempt to claim the moral high ground, we open ourselves to the risk of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector…I thank you God that I am not like that sinner over there, that tax collector…I tithe 10% of everything and keep the feasts.  And which one was righteous in God’s eyes?

This is a particular facet of our post-modern discourse, manifested specifically through the medium of social media.  There is a line of reasoning around the idea of ‘white privilege’ which automatically means that the voice of any white person is discounted because of their privilege and power within the culture.  They are literally discounted even before they type a word, merely because of the race into which they were born.  I will rebuke this gently, but very firmly, as not being a safe place for a Christian to dwell.  I’m not going to pull this apart because there are larger things to look at today, but if you are one who follows that line of reasoning, it is a good time to get back into Scripture and look for God’s perspective on any thought which marginalizes any group of people, white, black, yellow or red.  At this point I’m usually rebuked as speaking from a place of white privilege.  I may look white, but I’m not.  So listen when I say that as an indigenous Christian whose family heritage was stripped away because of the racism of mostly white, protestant settlers…if there is anyone who has reasonable cause to point a finger of condemnation at white men and women, it is someone in my shoes…and yet I don’t.  Why not?  Because I repented of that line of thought years ago, and Christ washed me clean with His blood, so it is no longer about blame, but all about reconciliation.

We are called by Christ to be about different things, and this does not include demonizing people who have different opinions than those we hold dearly.  It is a truly perplexing time in this post-modern era.  Post-modernity at once proclaims that words only have the meaning that we assign, and any attempt to define truth is really just an effort to hold power over another person.  So in an era where there is supposed to be no absolute truth, we find that people are even more highly polarized than in past history – a polarization that is paradoxically the result of even more strongly held absolute beliefs in an era when there is supposed to be no absolute left.  I will return to this thought in a moment, for it is a hallmark of the irrationality of this age, something made plain through the election campaign.

This leads into a second aspect that is even more concerning, and that is the number of evangelical supporters in the US who endorsed Trump for election.  Quite apart from racial lines, the one thing that marked a majority of supporters was their declaration of evangelical beliefs.  This included the support of a number of evangelical leaders including Franklin Graham.  The evangelical movement in the US has long since moved into a place of seeking secular power through the political system, but this has been nowhere clearer than in this recent election. Consider this quotation from an interview earlier this year where Trump was asked if he had ever asked God for forgiveness, “I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t.…I like to be good. I don’t like to have to ask for forgiveness. And I am good. I don’t do a lot of things that are bad. I try to do nothing that is bad.”

I’m not going to single out Trump for that attitude, because there are lots of notional Christians in our communities who follow a similar ethic.  That is, I am basically a good person who sometimes makes mistakes, but I can fix those mistakes through my own wisdom, and have no need of asking for God’s forgiveness.  Without pulling a punch, that’s nothing short of heretical.  I don’t have to strike an argument why, as I can just quote Paul, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1)  So how is it that a religious movement that should know better ends up endorsing someone like Trump?

Christianity Today published an article recently on the election, and identified that there is a new sort of prosperity gospel going on, one that focuses on maintaining certain political systems at any cost. And so it is less distasteful to endorse a candidate like Trump, who is expected to fill the Supreme Court with conservative judges, to bring in laws that will reassert order and prosperity, particularly for the Christian.  This new prosperity gospel says that we must do everything we can to protect the Christian worldview, even if that includes voting for a distasteful candidate who at least is on the right side of the political spectrum. Baptist pastor Robert Jeffress illuminated this thinking by saying, “We need a strong leader and a problem-solver, hence many Christians are open to a more secular candidate.”[1] What the election has particularly highlighted in the evangelical movement is how secular it has become in its quest for relevance and continued power within the political establishment.

This is in many ways just the extension of a pattern of thought that has been growing in the Western world ever since the Enlightenment. It is a thought which tells us that unless we work to bring about God’s new Jerusalem on earth, it will never happen.  So we shift the onus for the reconciliation of all creation from it’s proper place with the Lord, onto our laps.  And we do so within a framework that sounds Christian enough that we can do so believing we occupy the high moral ground.  We believe that we are righteous, when what we are in reality is idolatrous.  This is manifest in a number of ways:

  • The war on terror, described by George Bush Jr as a time to ‘take off the gloves’ and to wage unlimited war on those who seek your destruction. This is a thought pattern which was continued unchecked through subsequent US administrations.[2]  Taking off the gloves also meant the moral limits on warfare were removed, which is why we can now carry out drone strikes on enemies of the state even if it involves killing their entire extended family.  This also meant torture was legitimized along with the end of due process in justice.
  • A misunderstanding of the nature of sin. We are all sinful people through and through, and that will not be changed by trying really hard, or finding the right social legislation, or electing the right leader.  It will only come through our submission and surrender to Jesus Christ, which only happens once we admit we are dead to the world so that we can live in Christ.
  • Jesus himself has been transformed from a God of power and might into a mascot for our belief that we are the ultimate force in creation, supporting our desires for the maintenance of a particular social-political, cultural or racial identity.
  • Finally, instead of a leader who washes the feet of his followers, what we are seeking is a leader who manifests the best attributes of the culture…narcissism, greed and deceit in the unrestrained pursuit or power. If only we could get the right things done we could remake the world into the New Jerusalem…and so we strive to find the right political system or leader or law that will bring about this utopia.[3]

Now, I will stop for a moment to make it clear that this is not a condemnation of Trump or an endorsement of Clinton.  What this presents to us is a lens through which we see illuminated the results of a centuries-long process of drift away from God.  American philosopher of history Russell Kirk, in his work the “Roots of American Order” set out that America as a nation was created in the tension between four historic city-states: from Jerusalem came it’s moral categories, from Athens came its philosophical categories, from Rome came it’s law, from London came its culture.  What has happened with the removal of the idea of morality, tied to some absolute framework of values, is the realm of the moral has been cut lose from its anchor, and allowed to drift across the sea of post-modernism.  If we are placing our hope in the secular rulers and systems, we have lost the central focus of the follower of Christ who told us repeatedly that when we live as Christians we will not be welcomed by the world, but rather reviled.  So, when our political leanings try to move us into a place where the government reflects our beliefs, we need to be reminded that this is not the natural place for a Christian to dwell.  “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Now, lest we fall into the trap of post-modern triumphalism about our own nation of Canada, recognize that our values are not so distant from those I’ve been speaking about.  The major difference today is that much of our polarization is cloaked in Canadian gentile politeness.  I would argue we are as polarized, we’re just better at hiding it.  Turning to the topic of remembrance, the place I see this clearly is in the treatment of our soldiers.

Last year at this time I referenced a Globe and Mail investigation where they had found 54, then 59 suicides of soldiers after serving in Afghanistan.  In the last few weeks they have updated their investigation to 70 suicides.  The reason this required an investigation is because the Canadian Forces is still not tracking the health outcomes of people after release, and quite frankly are continuing to mislabel the deaths of those still in uniform.  The Globe and Mail came up with that number by nationally searching obituaries for deaths of retired and serving military members, and then contacting the families directly to find out what was the actual cause of death.  This is the hallmark of a broken system, a system more concerned with riding itself of distractions than actually dealing with wounded warriors with compassion and care.  The Globe and Mail has collected the stories of 31 military families whose loved ones took their lives after military service.  The article describes the results this way, “Together their stories paint a disturbing picture of delayed care, ineffective medical treatment and insufficient mental-health support.  The 31 accounts are the most comprehensive public record of Canada’s Afghanistan war veterans lost to suicide – unwitting monuments to a system that is failing too many vulnerable soldiers and veterans.” Corporal Tony Reed, who died by suicide in December 2012 told his mother, “I cannot go to sleep, Mom, because as soon as I close my eyes that’s what I see, okay?  People being blown up.  Little kids with grenades.  The blood.  You can’t imagine the blood that I’ve seen over there.”  While our new government has started addressing this, a plan won’t be ready until the fall of 2017.  Until then, unrecognized suicides from military service will continue because there are inadequate supports and tracking of those soldiers after release.  As a personal footnote, I’m a client of Veterans Affairs because I am a disabled veteran – with 36% impairment resulting from chronic pain.  I last spoke to my case manager in person in 2009, and I’m not suffering from a serious psychological illness.  In fact, if I did want to speak to a case manager, I would have to call through the Veteran’s Affairs call centre, justify why I wanted to speak with him, and then wait for him to return my call.

Romeo Dallaire has just published a new book, where he recounts his struggles with PTSD that continue to this day, Waiting for First Light: My Ongoing Battle with PTSD. First light is a significant image for a soldier.  First light brings the hope of dawn, and a confirmation that you survived the night.  First light also brings the likely time of attack.  Macleans wrote a powerful article on Dallaire’s new book where he argues that the covenant between soldiers and the state is broken.  Before you feel smug about the state of our nation versus that of the Americans, listen to Dallaire’s words:

There needs to be a new covenant between the military and the nation, Dallaire argues, in part because of his belief that PTSD is not just a physical or psychological injury, but a moral wound.

He tells a story in his memoir. After hearing of a massacre in a village, Dallaire sends a patrol, Canadian soldiers as it turns out. They find a rape site, a ditch full of dozens of mutilated women and girls, most but not all dead. Later, Dallaire sums up the situation with his 26 international contingent commanders: there are no medical supplies; the dying are too injured to be moved and there is no means of transport anyway; the risk of HIV infection is very high. What orders would they issue: do what you can, or move on? Only three countries—Ghana, Holland and Canada—say to intervene. But the Canadian patrol leader never gives that order, because he never has time. His soldiers—“young men, just 19, 20, 21”—have already broken ranks, and are in the ditch trying to provide what comfort is possible.

That is the kind of army Canada has, says Dallaire, because that’s the kind of nation Canada has evolved into. We have an army that, precisely because it “carries our moral norms into immoral situations,” will be sensitive to the shock and trauma presented by those sorts of conflicts. “There’s been a breaking of the bond between the nation and its military,” he says. In recent years, “we have practically had to beg for the help we need.” If Canada is going to send its armed forces to help the world’s vulnerable, and Dallaire fervently believes it should, “we need a new cradle-to-grave agreement” that Canada will take care of these soldiers, who have suffered injuries on Canadians’ behalf, right up to veterans’ retirement homes. And suicides should be numbered among the war dead.[4]

So how did we end up here, in spite of the commandment to love God and to love our neighbours as we do ourselves?  I think the German philosopher Fredrick Nietzsche summed it up perfectly in his parable titled ‘Madman’.  This is the story usually misquoted by Christians and others from which comes the line, “God is dead”.  Rather than an assertion that God is dead, what the madman in the tale proclaims is that we have killed God, and so cut ourselves free from any moral moorings:

The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Whither is God?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him—you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.[5]

When we proclaim in our homes, our businesses and our institutions of learning that there is no truth except that which we make ourselves, and when we believe that salvation rests in the hands of humankind, and when we spend our time trying to find who is best to blame for the confusion and strife, and when we believe that words have no meaning except that which we wish then to have, we should not be surprised that the result of all this empowerment is the death of God.  Without that anchor for our souls, we instead are tossed on the waves and billows of cultural relativity.[6]

An appropriate place to end this reflection is with the story of a soldier, and a Christian, who died after an attack in Afghanistan.  The narrative places us back in right relationship with the Almighty, because regardless of what might happen to our physical bodies (death, torture, persecution, disease) we are members of a transcendent yet imminent kingdom into which we will be welcomed.

The story of US Army soldier Jonathan (as told by Ravi Zacharias):

His friend returned from a February 2008 transportation security mission to hear that another convoy mission in Afghanistan had been hit with an IED, a convoy that included his good friend Jonathan.  He also learns that his friend was badly injured in that attack, and was near to death.  He obtains permission to leave his unit to visit his friend (mbo: because of course the first freedom surrendered when you put on the uniform is freedom of movement).

He enters the hospital to find his friend, missing both legs, lying on a hospital bed covered with bandages.  Tubes coming out of other tubes leading to God knows where.  I walked over to him biting my lip to hold the tears back, Johnathan looked up at him and smiled and said, “You should see the other guy.” (mbo: because humour is one of the ties that binds people together in combat).

As he was coughing and having trouble breathing, I stayed with him for about 10 or 15 minutes.  It was clear that he was near death from blood loss and fatigue, so I asked that God would receive his humble servant, and that Jonathan might spend an eternity in God’s presence.  Jonathan was a part of the kingdom of God, long before I was.  As I prayed Jonathan suddenly stopped, looked up towards the ceiling, as if shocked into life while observing the heavens.  Jonathan’s greatest gift to me was his last words of life which have become a cornerstone for the love of Jesus Christ that has enveloped my heart.  He looked up and said, “Wow…wow, it just looks exactly the way they always told me it would.”  A smile stretched across Jonathan’s face and he was gone.

Amen



Sources and things that started the musing several weeks back:


 THE MADMAN—-Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly: “I seek God! I seek God!”—As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. Has he got lost? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? emigrated?—Thus they yelled and laughed

The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Whither is God?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him—you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.

“How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us—for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto.”

Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke into pieces and went out. “I have come too early,” he said then; “my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars—and yet they have done it themselves.

It has been related further that on the same day the madman forced his way into several churches and there struck up his requiem aeternam deo. Led out and called to account, he is said always to have replied nothing but: “What after all are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?” God is dead, we have killed him.


Ravi Zacharias: “We now learn to listen with our eyes and think with our feelings. . . . We are meant to see through the eye, with the conscience; when we start seeing with the eye devoid of the conscience, all kinds of belief can invade your imagination.”

As has happened numerous times since I started listening to Ravi’s daily podcasts, I owe a debt of thanks to him for providing direction to the starting of some of the thought paths I’ve followed in this sermon. In this case it was a three-part series titled, “The loss of truth” (for the reflection on moral frameworks) and a four-part series titled “A deliverer is born” (for the story of Jonathan the US soldier).

A deliverer is born: http://ca.rzim.org/just-thinking-broadcasts/a-deliverer-is-born-part-4-of-4-2/

The loss of truth: http://ca.rzim.org/just-thinking-broadcasts/the-loss-of-truth-part-1-of-4-2/

 

William Blake:

This life’s dim windows of the soul
Distorts the heavens from pole to pole
And leads you to believe a lie
When you see with, not through, the eye.

 

American philosopher of history, Russell Kirk in “The Roots of American Order”.

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (1882, 1887) Parable of the Madman

http://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/mod/nietzsche-madman.asp

Robert Lewis Fossett’s commentary, “The Madman’s Time has Come”

http://www.rlfossett.com/entries/2016/10/11/the-madmans-time-has-come

On the new suicide numbers for the Canadian Forces (Globe and Mail investigation):

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/investigations/number-of-soldiers-vets-who-died-by-suicide-after-afghanistan-on-rise/article32673192/

A review of Dr Antoon Leednaar’s 2013 book, “Suicide Among the Armed Forces”, https://www.suicideinfo.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Military-Suicide-Book-Review.pdf

Review of Romeo Dallaire’s new book, “Waiting for First Light: My Ongoing Battle with PTSD”:

http://www.macleans.ca/culture/books/inside-romeo-dallaires-brutally-revealing-new-memoir/

Donald Trump on asking God for forgiveness:

http://www.businessinsider.com/trump-on-god-i-dont-like-to-have-to-ask-for-forgiveness-2016-1

http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/18/politics/trump-has-never-sought-forgiveness/

 


Fire, Malcolm Guite

 

He cannot stop these memories of fire

Crackling and flashing in his head.

Not just in fevered dreams; the fires break

Into the light of day. He burns with shame,

But still he screams and shakes, because the dead,

Are burning too and screaming out his name.

 

They told him his condition had a name,

But words can’t quench the memory of fire,

Nor can they ever resurrect the dead.

They told him it was ‘all inside his head’,

That post-traumatic stress need cause no shame.

The army gave him time for a short break.

 

But that’s what he’s afraid of. He will break

And break forever; lose his life and name,

Shake like a child who’s sickening with shame,

He who had been ‘courageous under fire’

Who always stemmed the panic, kept his head.

And now all night he wishes he were dead

 

And cannot die. Instead he sees the dead

In all their last contortions. Bodies break

Under his wheels, a child’s severed head

Amidst the rubble seems to call his name

Over the clattering of rifle fire,

Stuttering guns that shake with him in shame.

 

He’s left his family. ‘Oh its a shame’,

The neighbours said, ‘That marriage was long dead-

-You cant live with a man whose shouting ‘Fire!’

All night like that.- His kids needed a break

And in the end she had to change her Name.’

‘They’ll never fix what’s wrong inside his Head.’

 

‘Some people seem to cope and get ahead,

The army makes them better men, a shame

He couldn’t cope.’ Now he has lost his name

And his address. He only knows the dead.

He sleeps on benches but they come and break

His sleep. They keep him under constant fire.

 

And come November, when they name the dead,

He waits in silence for his heart to break

And every poppy burns with hopeless fire.



[1] Michael Horton, “The Theology of Donald Trump”, Christianity Today, March 16, 2016.

[2] This comes from BGen Dr. Stephen Xenakis, Omar Khadr’s military psychiatrist, when asked at a public talk about what it was that allowed the US to fall into so much immoral activity (Abu Ghraib prison, waterboarding, Gitmo etc).

[3] Derived from the Christianity Today article.

[4] http://www.macleans.ca/culture/books/inside-romeo-dallaires-brutally-revealing-new-memoir/

[5] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (1882, 1887) Parable of the Madman

http://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/mod/nietzsche-madman.asp

[6] https://www.hymnal.net/en/hymn/h/331

Written by sameo416

November 11, 2016 at 4:54 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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