St Athanasius said…

I have recently discovered a real treat from Athanasius (of Alexandria), from the Troparion of the Feast of the Annunciation within the Orthodox Liturgy.  There are more ‘daily devotions’ here enough for a lifetime. Enjoy…

“Today is the beginning of our salvation,

And the revelation of the eternal mystery!

The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin

As Gabriel announces the coming of Grace.

Together with him let us cry to the Theotokos:

Rejoice, O Full of Grace, the Lord is with you!”

Meadow

 

 

Gaza: A UK Jewish Perspective

Robert Cohen has written are very helpful and personal account of what this current Gazan crisis means for him, as a Jew in the UK.  Below is the full copy of the article he wrote on Tikkun Daily.

Robert himself blogs at Micah’s Paradigm Shift and I recommend a look.

Like me, Robert went to Israel/Palestine with Amos Trust in 2011, though we went on separate trips as I don’t know him personally.  Here’s what he writes….

 

“For the last three years I’ve been writing monthly posts about Israel-Palestine from a UK Jewish perspective. At times like this, with the news from Gaza dominating world headlines, I feel an even greater responsibility to champion a Judaism that stands for more than a narrow nationalist ideology.

It took me about 25 years from the point of first engaging seriously with the subject as student in the 1980s to feeling confident enough to start saying anything in a public sphere. Like many other Jews, for years I felt increasingly uncomfortable with what was going on in Israel in the unchallengeable name of defense and security. I was the classic liberal Zionist, brought up on a diet of Jewish ethics and Western democratic values. It was an upbringing that left me in an ever increasing state of ‘angst’ over the actions of the Jewish State, a country that claimed to act in my name and in my interests. But whatever I was feeling, I avoided family discussions let alone public debate.

It was operation Cast Lead and the ground invasion of the Gaza Strip in 2008/9 that began my journey from an Israeli supporting peacenik to a marginalized Diaspora Jew, questioning the entire Zionist project. After watching children dying from Israeli missiles and bombs, my silent Jewish angst felt like so much useless self-indulgence. It was a feeling I wanted to avoid next time things kicked off in Gaza. And I suspected there would be a next time.

A visit in 2011 to Israel (my third) and to the West Bank (my first) finally completed the emotional and intellectual journey. Talking to Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line taught me that something had gone very wrong with the Jewish dream of self-determination. Whatever the questions raised by two thousand years of ‘exile’, this could not be the answer. A Sparta state, increasingly racist in its culture of Jewish ethnic privilege, had not resolved any of the issues Herzl and the early Zionists had set out to address. Instead it had created a truck-load of new problems and left another people homeless and oppressed.

But with support for Israel now fundamental to Jewish identity in the diaspora, and anti-Zionism considered a more serious communal offense than marrying-out, where could an individual still committed to their Jewish values, but at odds with Israel, find a place to stand and speak?

Well not in the synagogue nor at family simchas. Too many prayers for the IDF and too much singing of Hatikva to allow dissent. The blogosphere and the internet, with its ability to create virtual communities of interest, has become the only place big enough and open enough to allow me in. In cyberspace everyone can hear you scream…or choose to click you into silence.

And now, in 2014, the people of Gaza are being pummeled again. And with the sound of sirens still ringing in Israeli ears, who is willing to listen to a lecture on Jewish values when Jewish lives have been at stake?

I am reminded by members of my family that ‘our side’ drop leaflets and make phone calls before firing missiles. And, unlike ‘them’, we care about the safety of our children and put them in air raid shelters. So that makes our missiles moral and their dead children their own fault not ours. You should at least show some balance in your views, they say.

But I stopped seeing any ‘balance’ a long time ago. I don’t credit the phone calls or the leaflets or the ‘knock on the roof’ ballistic warnings. All I can see is the same old colossal lack of imagination, dressed up in clothes of self-righteousness and victim hood, that has driven both Israeli and Jewish communal politics into an ethical brick wall.

I pray that a ceasefire can be successfully negotiated (to the satisfaction of both sides) so that Palestinians will stop being killed and Israelis can stop living in fear….at least for a while. But it is at times like this, that ‘rescuing the Hebrew covenant’ becomes paramount.

Since I began, three years ago, I have attempted to remain true to the blog strap line I first adopted: Act justly, love kindness, walk humbly. Rescuing the Hebrew Covenant one blog post at a time.

The scripturally minded will recognize the abbreviated quote from the Hebrew Prophet Micah.

Justice. Kindness. Humility.

For me, this is what the Hebrew Covenant boils down to after 5,000 years of Jewish history. This, to answer the test question set by the prophet in the 8th century BCE, is what God requires of us.

The Micah based Covenant is the sacred understanding that we are created for the sake of others. And with so much emphasis in the Hebrew bible on the ‘stranger’ and ‘neighbour’ there is little doubt in my mind that the justice/kindness/humility ethical imperative must embrace all of humanity. Which, despite the remarks of some Knesset members in the last two weeks, must include Palestinians living in Gaza City and Khan Younis too.

If my reading of scripture is correct then Jewish territorial sovereignty didn’t work out so well the first two times. See Isaiah and Jeremiah for further reading. Third time around and we are making another ethical hash of things.

If the mainstream Jewish leadership in the UK, North America and the rest of the Diaspora, does not recognize such a description then I can only assume that they don’t have a problem with ethnic dispossession or military occupation or collective punishment, or institutional discrimination. All of which could be the case if they are still seriously wedded to the Land/Chosenness/Election reading of the Covenant. To me that’s an Iron Age religious understanding that is now well past its sell-buy date.

Our actions, both historical and contemporary, towards the Palestinians are the greatest challenge facing Judaism and the Jewish people today. We have to find a way through this that means more than defending a narrow nationalist ideology. In the long run, rescuing the Hebrew Covenant is the only sane, ethical and Jewish way forward.”

With thanks to Robert Cohen.

gaza-11

 

Picture Source Independent UK 

What We Need

“It is not a new theology we need so much as a renovated theology, in which orthodoxy is deepened against itself, and not pared away.

It is a new touch with our mind and, conscience on the moral nerve of the old faith.  We have had many new theologies in the last hundred years.  Theological enterprise has been turning them out freely.  But the vein of liberalism, which thus followed on the old Orthodoxy, has been worked out for the preacher’s purpose.

It is now exhausted of religious ore.  The spring has given out (to change the image), and the stream runs thin, and whispers softly among little pebbles, though once it roared among great boulders now left behind in the hills.

It is not sermons we need, but a Gospel, which sermons are killing.

forsyth-preaching-redeemed

We need to go behind and beneath all our common thought and talk.  What we require is not a race of more powerful preachers, but that which makes their capital – a new Gospel which is yet the old, the old moralised, and replaced in the conscience, and in the public conscience, from which it has been removed.

We need that the Gospel we offer be moralised at the centre from the Cross, and not rationalised at the surface by thin science.

We need that more people should be asking, “What must I do to be saved?” rather than “What should I rationally believe?”

We need power more than truth.

We need a new sense of the living God as the God whose eternal Redemption is as relevant and needful to this age’s conscience as to the first.

It is not a ministry we need, but a Gospel, which makes both ministry and Church.  The Church will not furnish the ministers the age requires unless it provides them with a Gospel which they will never get from the age, but only from the Bible for the age.

But it is from a Bible searched by regenerates for a Gospel, and not exploited for sermons by preachers anxious to succeed with the public.  It may be best to preach to the sinners and to the saints and never mind at present the public, who feel neither.

If we do that well the public will respect us.  If we think of the world, let us think chiefly of the world as the arena of an eternal Redemption, and not of a professional success, or of a social revolution.”

P. T. Forsyth, The Church and the Sacramentsp.20-21 (Lectures delivered in 1917)

Flower

Open Letter to the BBC

Dear BBC

Once again Gaza is under massive aerial bombardment from Israeli warplanes and drones, and, once again, the BBC’s reporting of these assaults is entirely devoid of context or background.

We would like to remind the BBC that Gaza is under Israeli occupation and siege.

We would like to remind you that Israel is bombing a refugee population – Palestinians who were made refugees when they were forced from their land in1948 in order to create Israel.

We would like to remind you that Gaza has no army, air force, or navy, while Israel possess one of the strongest militaries in the world.

When you portray Israel’s shelling of a civilian population as a ‘response’ or ‘retaliation’ to rocket strikes from Gaza, we would like to remind you that these events flow from the displacement of the overwhelming majority of the Palestinian people from their homes and communities, with millions now corralled as refugees in the Gaza Strip. That initial injustice was compounded and continues with the ongoing occupation and siege.

When you portray the occupier as the victim, and the occupied as the aggressor, we would like to remind you that resistance to occupation is a right under international law. And we would like you to remember that Israel’s occupation, siege and collective punishment of Gaza is not.

And, finally, we would like to remind BBC journalists, when interviewing Israel’s spokespeople over the coming days, to ask the one question they have all failed to ask: “If Israel ends its occupation of Palestinian land, and allows the people of Palestine to live in freedom from Israeli domination, would that bring peace?”

Yours sincerely

Gralefrit

 

NOTE:  This letter can be found here:  http://www.palestinecampaign.org/sign-open-letter-bbc/

Please sign your name and raise awareness of this escalating madness.

The picture below was taken by me recently.  It is a blade of grass growing out of concrete.  If grass can grow out of concrete, peace can be found between Israeli and Palestinian.

grassinconcrete

Contributing to Society?

A few years ago I was sat around a dinner table enjoying a very good meal with a group of men, half of which I’d never met before.

Out of the blue, someone I did know made an observation that at first stunned me.  Pointing to the man on my left, he said, “Looking around this table, he’s the only one that contributes to society!”

Come again?

My ‘social etiquette awareness training’ kicked in and I laughed before I realised what he’d said, then I turned and munched my poppadom, and inwardly fumed as I consciously put that comment on the back burner!

But actually, he’s right.

The man on my left has a full-time responsible job.  So do I.

He pays taxes.  So do I.

He has a pension plan.  So do I.

He has a wife and children.  So do I.

He provides a service to a particular community.  So do I.

So what’s the difference?

He sells goods in a free-market economy.  I don’t.

He has the bottom line and the board room to consider.  I don’t.

He is driven by the corporate need for profit.  I’m not.

 

He works in the business world.

I work in the pastoral world.

 

So.  Is he a contributor because of  product and profit?  Yes!

Am I, as a pastor, not a “contributor” because I neither produce nor make profit?  Yes.

The secularist mindset that can say the role of the pastor is a non-contributing function within society is right.  If I was entirely shaped by secular capitalist concerns, the pastor’s role is time and money well wasted.  But the man who said this is a Christian, and lurking behind the comment is the trumping of secular ‘usefulness’ over and against what God is doing in and through the ‘pointless’ role of the pastor.

So on one level, he’s doggone right, and I had to accept this:  The guy on my left was the only contributor to society - based on the secular capitalist terms of the person making that judgment!

But on the deeper, more profound, and I would argue, more biblical level, he’s wrong.  If the pastor is doing what a pastor should be doing – paying attention to God and praying for the people and swimming in the deep cool waters of Scripture in an unhurried, thoughtful way, then the pastor is the one who contributes most to the world.  Try imagining a world where there is no one, not one person who is vocationally discerning God with and on behalf of others.  Grim.

I hope my friend meant his comment on the deeper, more profound level.  I wonder….

 

Petulant Atheism

“The rather petulant subtitle that Christopher Hitchens has given his (rather petulantly titled) God is Not Great is How Religion Poisons Everything.  

Naturally one would not expect him to have squandered any greater labour of thought on the dust jacket of his book than on the disturbingly bewildered text that careens so drunkenly across its pages – reeling up against a missed logical connection here, steadying itself against a historical error there, stumbling everywhere over all those damned conceptual confusions littering the carpet – but one does still have to wonder how he expects any reflective reader to interpret such a phrase.

Does he really mean precisely everything?  Would that apply, then – confining ourselves to just things Christian – to ancient and medieval hospitals, leper asylums, orphanages, almshouses, and hostels?  To the golden rule, “Love thine enemies,” “Judge not lest ye be judged,” prophetic admonitions against oppressing the poor, and commands to feed and clothe and comfort those in need…

…To the abolitionist movement, the civil rights movement, and contemporary efforts to liberate Sudanese slaves?  And so on and so on?

Surely it cannot be the case that, if only purged of the toxin of faith, these things would be even better than they are; were it not for faith, it seems fairly obvious to me, most of them would have no existence at all.

And since none of these things would seem to fall outside the general category of “everything,” it must be that Hitchins means (assuming he means anything at all) that they fall outside the more specific category of “religion.”

This would, at any rate, be in keeping with one of the rhetorical strategies especially favoured in New Atheist circles:  one labels anything one dislikes – even if it is found in a purely secular setting – “religion” (thus, for example, all the twentieth century totalitarianisms are “political religions” for which secularists need take no responsibility), while simultaneously claiming that everything good, in the arts, morality, or any other sphere – even if it emerges within an entirely religious setting – has only an accidental association with religious belief and is really, in fact, common human property (so, for example, the impulse toward charity will doubtless spring up wherever an “enlightened” society takes root).

By the same token, every injustice that seems to follow from a secularist principle is obviously an abuse of that principle, while any evil that comes wrapped in a cassock is unquestionably an undiluted expression of religion’s very essence.”

David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions, p.219-220

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again to atheists, or the more accurately termed ‘Christian-haters’ (since ‘hate’ and not ‘logic’ or ‘science’ seems to drive the movement – and this will be proved true by the emails I get assuring me I’m the hater just by suggesting this), in the words of Slavoj Zizek,

“If you want to be a true atheist, you have to go through Christianity.”

The failure of the Dawkins-led rat-pack New Atheist movement and its undoing will be in it’s obvious failure to do just that.

By all means critique Christianity.  For heaven’s sake, I do that!  But critique what you know, not a childish cartoon of what you think you know that has obvious reverberations from some sort of early childhood church-based ‘trauma’- such as boredom or arrogance or musty smells or rebellion or revenge for strict parents or a workaholic minister father,  or [....add the grievance....].  And believe me, I really do sympathise with these grievances.  But please, man up!

More to follow.  In the meantime, here’s DBH speaking on the matter.  Some of the comments in the thread prove my point above, but my personal plea is simply to engage in a meaningful way with respect (this is where my “rat-pack” comment comes back to haunt me) – well, boo-hoo, at least I know my own inconsistencies.

A Poetic Bible Overview

I have recently found a long lost poem written by my friend and former fellow Bible student.   He wrote it after a year of intensive book-by-book study, so some of it is biographical.  I now post it for your enjoyment.

 

Genesis should have been paradise but instead it turned to shame,

Exodus began in slavery but redemption saved the day.

Leviticus sanctified and made us holy for the task,

Numbers was my preparation but my inheritance I failed to grasp.

Deuteronomy the great covenant, the foundation of what was to come,

In Joshua I fought for my inheritance and the battle was victoriously won.

But Judges was my downfall, I did whatever I wanted,

And yet Ruth shone like a burning star reminding me that soon,

A King would come in Samuel, who would be the greatest King of all,

But first we had the failure of the people’s favourite Saul.

Kings and Chronicles said it all and I listened to the Kings,

Make excuses for the evil ways and many other things.

 

At some stage I went all negative and didn’t think I’d cope,

So I sat around complaining with some other guy called Job.

Everything seemed meaningless like there was nothing new under the sun,

Until Ecclesiastes came with its reminder to fear The One.

The Song of Songs reminded me, ‘My gosh, I have a wife!’

So I sought the wisdom of Proverbs to try and save my life.

The Psalms called me to worship, to pray, to lament and sing,

But as I read I kept on asking, ‘Is this synthetic parallelism?’

 

The exile sure did take a while with the ranting of the prophets,

Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, who I never thought would stop it.

But they kept on coming in their droves, calling us to repent,

‘Judgment’s coming’ is what they cried, ‘But there’s always hope at the end.’

At last the exile came to an end, the babble of Babylon silence,

And God’s faithfulness could be seen in the person of King Cyrus.

Ezra renewed the covenant and Nehemiah rebuilt the walls,

And somewhere in the midst of this Esther had a ball.

 

‘Elijah’s coming soon,’ cried the prophet Malachi,

But hundreds of years later, I thought he must have lied.

Then in the Gospels I discovered the One about whom all this had been written,

The King, The Servant, The Perfect Human Being.

In Acts I was commissioned, which followed spiritual birth,

And was told to go through Jerusalem, Samaria, even to the ends of the earth.

In Romans I met theology and saw the detail of God’s salvation,

And wondered if Paul himself had heard of the doctrine of pre-destination.

Corinthians reminded me that not everything’s black and white,

Idols, headships, tongues and money, not to mention the internal church fights.

But at least Galatians brought me freedom,

And Epesians gave me strength.

Philippians taught me the source of joy and in everything to be content.

Colossians led me to Jesus and the supremacy of Christ,

Whilst Thessalonians reminded me that He’ll come like a thief in the night.

 

Then, I lost my way in Timothy, as I struggled with my beliefs,

What is the point of having these books if they cause me so much grief?

But time moved on and so did the books as I continued to re-think ideas,

The race was hard but Hebrews came and encouraged me to persevere.

So my faith grew strong but James came along and pointed out my deeds,

My hypocrisy will be the death of me and James brought me to my knees.

Then Peter came to encourage me but also give a waring,

That I must be aware of the enemy as I wait for the Second Coming.

 

Speaking of which -

The writings of John moved me on and reassured me of my faith,

Until we reached Revelation and theology came up to my waist.

The visions, the seals, the trumpets and bowls, such confusion led me to groan,

So I focused on Christ, the source of my life and discovered that the Lamb’s still on the Throne.

 

Revelation was full of mystery much like some of God’s Word,

But I’ve learned that even in mystery God’s Voice can still be heard.

I’ve learned that in Christ we are loved, unique, chosen by grace,

We may see through a glass darkly, but in time we’ll see face to face.