Monthly Archives: February 2012

Some interesting things elsewhere


Travelling missiologist Andrew Jones, the blogger also known as Tallskinnykiwi, wants to write a book (that I want to read!!!) and needs some help with money to be able to do the stuff he’s doing, which is travelling around with his family to meet with all of gods children on planet Terra, and helping all kinds of Christians and Christian communities around the world.  There’s only one Andrew Jones on the whole planet Terra who does what he does, so consider helping him! Or at least read what he’s up to on the blogpost I’ve linked to…

Matt stone on glocal Christianity has started a very interesting series, which starts with six different Christian approaches to war and peace, something we need in times when it seems like a false dichotomy between ‘just war’ and ‘pacifism’ (which sometimes is explained really poorly) is dominating the discussion, while there are much forms of Christian pacifism on one hand, and ‘just war theory’ isn’t really followed by much people on the other hand actually.  His position is ‘apocalyptic pacifism’, and the other posts are OT bible verses that he sees as pacifist prophecies (part 1, part 2, part 3) to back his position up.

Apocalyptic pacifism starts from an ‘already and not yet’ framework, in which the ‘coming age’ (the Kingdom of God)  is breaking in into this age, and in which we as Christians are already living in the reality of that new age. Living as radical peacemakers is one dimension of the Kingdom, but if we read the gospels there is another one that can’t be denied: the supernatural signs of the kingdom are as clear and confronting in the gospels as the radical love for our fellow humans that includes enemy-love… And Ray Hollenbach has a very interesting meditation on this aspect of the Kingdom of God on Students of Jesus. The anabaptist peace tradition and vineyard Kingdom charismatics can learn a  lot from each other and make the Kingdom vision more complete together!

He gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.” (Luke 9: 1 – 2)

[The perfect soundtrack here would be this gungor song, that we've sung last sunday in Vineyard Antwerpen. I love me some bluesfunk from time to time, and Michael is a very good musician!!]

And then for something else: Laura Ziesel has an interesting series on Christianity, intersex people and eunuchs in the bible. Thanks to Sarah Moon for  making me aware of them and posting an orderly list of them! We should stop seeing this kind of things as ‘issues’ and start looking at it as people who are loved by Christ and should be loved by us all the same!

shalom

Bram

Sodom, its abominable sin and its restoration


The destruction of Sodom as depicted in the Nuremberg Chronicles

The destruction of Sodom as depicted in the Nuremberg Cronicles

One of the strange stories in the bible is the story of Sodom and Gommora. It is a weird and scary story of God destroying some cities because all the inhabitants being quite evil. which they do prove in the story by attempting to gang-rape 2 angels. This is after a story where God (in human form) is being debated by Abraham who asks for mercy on the city, in which God says that if there are 50 innocent people, that He will forgive the whole city. (This alone could incite heavy discussions about forgiveness and salvation!) God then sends two angels to Sodom, to see if the sin is indeed that big, and the inhabitants want to gang-rape those two… But they get out unharmed with Lots family, who get out safe (except for the wife who turns into a pilar of salt, which is another story)

Some have concluded because of this that the abominable sin of Sodom was homosexuality, hence the English word ‘sodomy’ as derogatory term for all things homosexual. But the bible itself gives another explanation, which is mostly supported by extrabiblical Jewish sources:

Ezekiel 16:49-50:
See here – this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters had majesty, abundance of food, and enjoyed carefree ease, but they did not help the poor and needy.  They were haughty and practiced abominable deeds before me. Therefore when I saw it I removed them.

If these are the sins of Sodom, Western countries are getting more like Sodom with the moment currently… Which is not a very happy thought… The abomination of Sodom is getting increasingly institutionalised in our late-capitalist systems… And it has been part of our political systems for ages!

Many commentators also speak about their violations of hospitality, something very important in the Ancient Near East. Not being hospitable could mean death to someone in a desert climate anyway… And gang rape is a very serious way to violate hospitality, but the sins of Sodom were a reason to destroy it long before the story… Jesus himself is most likely alluding to inhospitality when he compares the fate of those who reject the disciples when he sends them:

Matthew 10:14-15:
If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

My conclusion is thus that the sin of Sodom can not be seen as ‘homosexuality’ as we know it. And that means that the English word ‘sodomy’ is misguided… But my interest in the story in this post is not to enter in the discussion here about homosexuality in the bible, but about judgment and restoration.

We have seen already that Jesus calls the judgment of Sodom more bearable than that of the Jewish town which rejects the disciples of Jesus proclaiming the Kingdom of God. I have no idea what this means, actually, but it seems that the Sodomites (the real ones!) are in some way more lucky than the Jews of those mentioned cities…

What I find very strange, but encouraging, is this part from Ezekiel. It is from a strange chapter of a strange prophetic book, in which God compares Jerusalem and Samaria to 2 wives that are unfaithful, and later in the story their sister Sodom also comes into the picture. But after all the judgments on the unfaithful wives there are promises of restoration. Which is a very common theme in the prophets. Even if it seems God says everything is gonna be destroyed forever and ever, even then in the end there seems to de restoration and renewal!

And the interesting part is that the restoration is not just for Jerusalem and Samaria, but also for the most wicked of cities, Sodom:

Ezekiel 16:53-55:
I will restore their fortunes, the fortunes of Sodom and her daughters, and the fortunes of Samaria and her daughters (along with your fortunes among them), so that you may bear your disgrace and be ashamed of all you have done in consoling them. As for your sisters, Sodom and her daughters will be restored to their former status, Samaria and her daughters will be restored to their former status, and you and your daughters will be restored to your former status.

I have no idea what exactly this means, but I would say that there is hope. Even if we Westerners behave like Sodomites (in our treatment of the poor) there might be hope for us!

But seriously now. I don’t know what to do with all the pictures of judgment in the bible, and I think they speak about things we cannot picture at all with our human minds, but we look forward to a renewed Heaven and Earth in which no evil will even be able to exist anymore. And it seems to me from these verses that even Sodom, the symbol of evil, shares in this restoration.

The good news is probably bigger than we can understand!

What do you think?

Shalom

Bram

My beheaded martyr Valentine…


Happy day of St. Valentine to ya all!

Let’s not forget why the church calendar has this day. We do not know much about this Valentine guy, but if the vague legends are true he has been tortured to death and beheaded on februari 14 for his faith in Jesus Christ.

Let’s reflect on that!

In all the stuff about lovers, Chocolate and fluffy cupid angels, and weird sexy stuff we are celebrating the nameday of a martyr who was tortured and killed for his Christian fait:

He was a Roman priest martyred during the reign of Claudius II, known as Claudius Gothicus. He was arrested and imprisoned upon being caught marrying Christian couples and otherwise aiding Christians who were at the time being persecuted by Claudius in Rome. Helping Christians at this time was considered a crime. Claudius took a liking to this prisoner – until Valentinus tried to convert the Emperor – whereupon this priest was condemned to death. He was beaten with clubs and stoned; when that failed to kill him, he was beheaded outside the Flaminian Gate. (wikipedia, paraphrasing the Nurenberg Chronicle)

Sure there is a lot to say about a day to celebrate love, if done in the right way (what’s up with all that weird eroticism and over-commercialised nonsense on this day?) But as a follower of Christ every day should be a day to celebrate love.

So let’s not be fooled by the worship of money, stuff and postmodern sexiness. It is not worth our time and effort…

So let’s love.Let’s be love. And let’s not forget those who died out of love for Christ, like Valentine whom is celebrated today! Let’s not forget all who die under an oppressive system that doesn’t want deviants to have their opinion. These things happen today as well as in the days of Cladius the Goth. And not just Christians, all sorts of peope are being killed because they don’t agree with the ruling system…

shalom

Bram

(othrodox icon of Saint Valentine via Micha Jazz on facebook)

An apophatic video interlude with Peter Rollins…


I’ve been talking about apophatic theology, and the limits of language earlier, and the idea will come back in some future posts. Apophatic or negative theology is a very important way of doing theology in the Eastern Orthodox church and some church fathers. The basic idea is that God the Creator does not exist like we do, and is not bound to words and ideas that are derived from what we know as created beings in Creation, so the only way to speak of God is to say what God is not…

Another tradition that is very suspicious of the preciseness of language, when speaking about anything actually, not just God, would be postmodernist continental philosophy, which is quite popular in certain parts of the emerging church. So here is for you the guy with the coolest accent and the weirdest background music in postmodern christianity, Peter Rollins himself.

And no, whatever the description on youtube says, he could actually not be further away from classical christian liberalism, and fits more between old orthodox mystic apophatic negative theology and postmodern linguistic deconstructionism… Both thought systems that couldn’t be removed further from the rationalist roots of the original Christian liberalism… And yes, some of his stuff here is just semantic wordplay probably… Some atheists would object to his definition of atheism probably, but I see where he’s coming from.

What do you think? Is Pete making sense here? Or is he just talking heresy or plain nonsense to you?

shalom

Bram

Bram Cools Classic song: Father I’m tired


And now for something completely different, one of my own songs. Someone told me today that she likes the song, and it’s been stuck in my head ever since. Like most of my songs it’s weird, and this one could be described as a lo-fi psalm with noise orchestra and a choir of clones of myself (long live multitrack!)…

Yes I know it’s not a ‘real’ video, and I also know I’ll never get rich and popular making this kind of music, but I do like it myself, and I play it for the few people who so like it… And this is one of the songs that some people find really good (which surprises me), while others hate it (which doesn’t. Those people of the second category can just listen to something else [no, you won't be rickrolled by clicking, but it might be worse] and skip this post and everything about my music, or just read teh lyrics and pray them or sing them to gregorian melodies or the tune of the latest Matt Redman hit…

Father I’m tired (Bram Cools)

Father I am tired (Father I am tired)
Father l feel empty (Father I feel empty)
Father I feel lost (Father I feel lost)
help me to focus on you (help me to focus)
help me to focus on you (help me to focus)
help me to focus on you (help me to focus)

I’ve been distracted
the emptiness calls to me
I’ve fallen asleep
in the centre of Babylon

fill me up with your spirit
fill me up with your love
fill me up with your life

unconditional love
compared to this love
this whole world is so small
i t could dissolve in a cup of coffee
how can l be distracted
how can I be distracted
how can I be distracted

(This song is on the ‘I am the Belgian Christian lo-fi scene‘ best of compilation, which can be downloaded @ Bandcamp, for free if you like!)

shalom

Bram

fallible language II: How (not) to speak of God, Orthodox style


“He [God] cannot be numbered among ‘beings,’ not because hè does not exist, but because He transcends all beings and even being itself.” – St. John the Damascene

People who have been following this blog for a while will have noticed earlier that I’m flirting sometimes with Orthodox theology and the ideas of the Church fathers. It’s very interesting sometimes to look at Christianity from a perspective that’s really different from yours I guess… And I must say, sometimes it even feels more natural and logical what those old saints (literally!) say than some of the stuff I’ve grown up with or that I’ve encountered online from more protestant traditions. I have noticed that I especially have nothing at all with Calvinism, dispensationalism and modern-pragmatic evangelicalism (think purpose driven stuff)… The more people try to convince me they are the real Christian faith, the less I am interested in Christianity I’m afraid.

So this week I was rereading some chapters  of a book about Orthodoxy (Light from the Christian East, by James R. Payton Jr., which I recommend!) written about the differences between Eastern and Western Christianity, and something reminded me of the words of Chesterton that I quoted last weekend:

Whenever a man says to another, “Prove your case; defend your faith,” he is assuming the infallibility of language: that is to say, he is assuming that a man has a word for every reality in earth, or heaven, or hell.

One of things where this becomes a real problem is in our speaking about the Ultimate Reality, which we call God. God is by definition a difficult subject to speak of as a human, because He is the whole Other, the Creator of All we know, and what words derived from what we know in creation can be used to describe the Eternal Creator? But still some people seem to be able to explain and map out everything there is to say about God… What a small and impotent God it is, that can exist completely in someone’s theology!

So I’ve always tried to had a more humble approach in speaking and thinking about God, something which I appreciate enormous in some parts of the emergent conversation, but it’s not at all like the postmoderns have invented this. It is probably as old as Christianity itself, and I actually quite liked the Orthodox perspective, as described here by James Payton:

These Orthodox distinctives invite us to deepen our recognition of the chasm that separates all of creation—even human beings—from God. Too often in Western Christian thinking, God has be-come another member in some category of thought—although the most exalted member, to be sure. Whether it is in a chain of being or as one bound by some laws (of logic, morality or whatever), we too often subsume God into a category with creatures. He is not bound by what binds us. Were we to keep that constantly in mind, we would unquestionably speak more humbly about him and avoid many problems provoked by our own careless thought. This would not result in an unpredictable tyrant being unleashed in the realm of our discussions: Orthodoxy re-minds us that the one who is absolutely distinct from us is ever near us in an immanence we cannot begin to fathom. We live and move and have our being in him—the one who sustains us in every moment because of his love for his creation. Rather than another member to include in sophisticated discussion and subject to our theodicies, God is our Creator who loves us and calls us unto himself.

What we can know about God has a direct influence on what we can say about God. In orthodoxy there is a distinction between positive theology (what we can say about God), also called cathophatic theology, and negative or apophatic theology. The second one is much more important in Orthodoxy, because what we can say about God is actually quite limited.

I think we as Western Christians can and should learn a lot about this humbleness… Even the enlightenment project will fail, and it might have given us mighty works of science and technology, it doesn’t give us much advantage in approaching God. Quite the opposite even: we though we could understand, describe and tame everything, and we’ve lost God in that. We went from realism/nominalism in scholasticism over the protestant form of scholasticism to liberal Christianity, which led to deism and finally atheism…

Now if we could get back to where we took the wrong turn, accept that God is bigger than what we can think of or explain in human terms derived from all things created (which is all we can know as humans) and develop a more humble way of doing theology.

Sometimes the only thing possible is be still, and know that He Is!

shalom

Bram

Prayer for today (E. Stanley Jones)


Michael Frost posted this prayer by .E Stanley Jones today on facebook. I think it fits well with my posts about language being fallible, especially with the ones that aren’t finished yet probably… E. Stanley Jones has done very interesting things in India in the 20th century, so if you have the chance to read anything by him, do it! (I think ‘Christ of the Indian road is a recommendation, even if I’ve only I’ve read it in weird old-fashioned Dutch…. The English version is probably much more interesting…)

“O Christ,

I know that Thou art greater than all our descriptions of Thee.

When we have said all, then we stand in mute adoration

before the wonder of Thee – the Inexpressible.

But I see enough of Thee to love Thee

and to give my heart to Thee fully.

I do so, and I do so now.

I thank Thee. Amen.”

E. Stanley Jones

shalom

Bram

the love of money vs. the way of Christ…


Thee ebible.com verse of the day, reminded me again how different the Way of Christ is compared to the assumed ways of life of this modern world:

5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you. ” 6 So we can confidently say,”The Lord is my helper;
I will not fear;
what can man do to me?”

Hebrews 13:5 – 6

In a world where our current economic systems are based on greed, ‘more more more’, and ‘I’m cooler than my neighbour coz I have X’, and where people think that greed is a good driving force behind an economy, the Way of Christ is actually quite subversive…

If  only all of us Christians would effectively live according to the last of the 10 commandments about not coveting what belongs to our neigbor, there would be a big problem for our contemporary Marketing and Advertisement industry, which tries to create new needs every day, and tries to sell us everything we don’t need… (And then I’m not even talking about the commandment before that one, about not bearing a false witness!) If one would try to set up a system that is opposed to the words of Jesus and the OT laws, our late modern consumer capitalism would be a pretty good candidate of what would emerge…

But instead of keeping our focus on what shouldn’t be but is, let’s look at what should be and how it’s meant to be, and let’s for a moment meditate on the following words of Paul in 1 Tim 6:

:6 Now godliness combined with contentment brings great profit. :7 For we have brought nothing into this world and so1 we cannot take a single thing out either. 6:8 But if we have food and shelter, we will be satisfied with that.6:9 Those who long to be rich, however, stumble into temptation and a trap and many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 6:10 For the love of money is the root of all evils. Some people in reaching for it have strayed from the faith and stabbed themselves with many pains. 6:11 But you, as a person dedicated to God, keep away from all that. Instead pursue righteousness, godliness, faithfulness, love, endurance, and gentleness.

The way of Christ is not to follow money, which becomes an idol called Mammon in the bible, but to use money or the unrighteous Mammon (if we have it) to make friends. Yes, people are put before money here.  And people who hoard riches, which are living out our neoliberal dreams in other words, are even used in the gospels as an example of human wickedness… Kingdoms are clashing here. Which one do we choose?

The way of Christ is to love, first and foremost. Mammon should desacralised and instead of turned into an idol that guides our lives, and riches and money are to be used to help other people, and not to build our own empire. Jesus even said to the rich young rules that he had to sell everything and give to the poor if he wanted eternal life, and before we are too quick to dismiss that, let’s remember the first church in the book of acts effectively lived like that, as did the first Christians in the first centuries, a lot of monastic orders throughout the ages and even New Monastic today…  So it’s not impossible…

Imagine how the world would be different if we really followed Jesus, settled for enough and shared the rest with all those in need. It has been done before. The Roman emperor Julian the apostate, who didn’t like the Christians very much, said that ‘the Christians fed their (Roman) poor in addition to their own. So why do we think of these things as so otherworldy?

And I am part of the problem here!

I know I’m preaching to myself now, and I still have a long way to go in this.God help me, Spirit lead me, Jesus teach me!

Any additions, examples, whatever?

shalom

Bram

cannot keep You, cannot contain You (Gungor)


I’ll let this beautiful gungor song speak for itself… A lot of Truth in there, and the music is quite beautiful too… He can use words better in this song than I could in a blogpost or even a book I’m affraid!

Gungor – Cannot Keep You

They tried to keep you in a tent
They could not keep you in a temple
Or any of their idols, to see and understand

We cannot keep you in a church
We cannot keep you in a Bible
Or it’s just another idol to box you in

They could not keep you in their walls
We cannot keep you in ours either
For you are so much greater

Who is like the Lord
The maker of the heavens
Who dwells with the poor
He lifts them from the ashes
And He seats them among princes
Who is like the Lord

We’ve tried to keep you in our tents
We’ve tried to keep you in our temples
We’ve worshiped all our idols
We want all that to end

So we will find you in the streets
And we will find you in the prisons
And even in our Bibles and churches

Who is like the Lord
The maker of the heavens
Who dwells with the poor
He lifts them from the ashes
And He seats them among princes
Who is like the Lord

We cannot contain, cannot contain
The glory of your name
We cannot contain, cannot contain
The glory of your name

We cannot contain, cannot contain
The glory of your name

Who is like the Lord
You took me from the ashes
And you healed me from my blindness
Who is like the Lord

(Their album ‘beautiful things’ can be bought here, do it and you won’t regret it. The new one ‘ghosts upon the earth’ is also very impressive!)

What do you think?

Shalom

Bram

Language is quite fallible (Chesterton)


What I see in a lot of discussions is how people are just not understanding each other because the same words do mean different things for other people.

Losing my faith in language, and realising I could never naively believe in language as a  trustworthy way to describe the world, and communicate my feelings and ideas to others was probably a big day in my postmodern evolution, but the sentiment of language being quite fallible to communicate sometimes even the most basic things, let alone important matters of Faith, Love and Life, is not new. The Orthodox tradition knows that the most important things that can be said about God are what God is not… More eastern traditions like certain streams of Buddhism and probably Taoism could teach us exactly the same, as could the continental postmodernists like Derrida.

But you don’t have to be Derrida to know this; I found this beautiful Chesterton quote that expresses it very well…

Every time one man says to another, “Tell us plainly what you mean?” he is assuming the infallibility of language: that is to say, he is assuming that there is a perfect scheme of verbal expression for all the internal moods and meanings of men. Whenever a man says to another, “Prove your case; defend your faith,” he is assuming the infallibility of language: that is to say, he is assuming that a man has a word for every reality in earth, or heaven, or hell. He knows that there are in the soul tints more bewildering, more numberless and more nameless than the colours of an autumn forest; he knows that there are abroad in the world and doing strange and terrible service in it crimes that have never been condemned and virtues that have never been christened. Yet he seriously believes that these things can every one of them, in all their tones and semi-tones, in all their blends and unions, be accurately represented by an arbitrary system of grunts and squeals.

G. K. Chesterton, Watt’s allegorical paintings

I know, we all need to trust language enough to use it, but it’ll fail us. A lot of discussions between Christians and atheists, or moderns and postmoderns, are bound to fail because of a paradigmatic and semantic disconnect that goes undetected, and even if detected it would take a lot of time to just make clear from which worldview one comes, and what he or she means with the terms used. And most of the time both sides don’t want to listen to that…

  (And I’m not even talking about linguistic relativity here, which words and concepts that exist in a certain language will shape the worldview and thinking patterns of the persons using it. Some things I can explain much simpler in dutch, and I need more words to explain them in English. Or there are misunderstandings that lead to weird doctrines like John Piper who builds a whole doctrine on Adam meaning ‘man‘, that helps maintaining an injust system. )

So, my question is, what do you people feel about the fallibility of language. What are the implications? Is there any way we can communicate that is misunderstandings-free and if not (which is very likely) what does that mean? And isn’t it true that most things that are Real and True can be described more in poetry, story, pictures and art than in technical and systematic lingo?

Or even be shown in deeds instead of spoken in words?

Shalom

Bram