Tag Archives: the gospel

The lost psalters interview (from August ’11, Kortrijk)


Last August the psalters, one of the most remarkable, unique and impressing band of the planet, were in Belgium to play their amazing music, and they did a show in Kortrijk. I was happy to be the opening act, with just a crappy guitar as a substitute backing band, but I actually hardly remember anything of that, since the psalters concert itself that came after my set was much, much more impressing. (one bootlegged song of my own set, called ‘Ellulian glasses’ can be found here)

As was their new CD ‘carry the bones’, which was for me the best CD of 2011! You can mail order it through their site now btw. Do it, you won’t regret it! The real CD has a very cool package and does sound lots and lots better than mp3′s of it at 128 bpm.

I also did a very interesting interview that night for a Flemish website with the mysterious ‘Captain Napkins’, as the CD booklets call him), one of the two leading forces behind the band. Browsing through my old files I found the English version again today, and I found it way too interesting to not share it with the world. Sharing is what makes us humans…

So here it is (drum roll on oil barrel), the psalters interview from Kortrijk, Belgium on 8/23/2011, done by myself (Bram), originally for cultuurshock.net (read the shorter Dutch version here!)

Bram: So this is your second time in Belgium. please tell us about the first time you were here:

Captain Napkins: Well, the fist time here in Belgium we got to play in Antwerp. We were invited by some cool folks to stay in a squat-house, that used to be a customs building on the bay. It was an amazing experience to stay in there, and then on top of that we played a show in a squat bar (the Scheld’apen) The interesting thing was that Antwerp had just kicked a lot of gypsies out of the city and given them some land right next to the bar to camp out, so when we were there was a couple of acres full of gypsies and then there was anarchists, punks and different folks all together. It just made for an amazing night.

There was a big tree-house right behind the bar, a huge tree-house even, like a real house in a tree, And there was lots of good beer. It was one of our favorite shows that we have ever done, very intense, The place was packed. Yes, we loved it! We absolutely loved Belgium!

Bram: What’s the difference between playing your music in Europe and playing it in america?

Captain Napkins: Sometimes it overlaps, you know: There are places in America that we’ve played that remind me a lot of some places that we’ve played in Europe. But I guess as a generalization, I would say more consistently people in Europe take what we’re doing much more seriously, like they think of us more a like we’re trying to be ourselves: as an organization, as a community, as a movement of combining worshop and justice, and ehm, fighting the empires that we humans create. In America, I think a lot of venues and places see all of that as just a gimmick, and at the end of the day we’re just a band…. So I think in Europe people have been taking us more seriously, which has been great. Plus the shows in Europe, it seems like people take music more seriously, not just us, but in general. The venues seem to take sound more seriously, like they’re very apologetic if they don’t have exactly what we need.

Bram: I heard the same from an interview with Dave Edwards (frontman of woven hand and 16 horsepower) once. Who said that Belgium was the most receptive country for just listening to the music, and taking it very seriously, even in the details.

Captain Napkins: Yeah, but I would say lot of the countries we’ve been to in Europe. The venues seem to take the music and the show a little more seriously, you know they put more work in it. but Belgium is one of our favorite places, for sure.

Bram: Okay, let’s switch to another subject: you guys are known to be both Christians and anarchists, how do you combine that?

Captain Napkins: It’s not at all a matter of combining, for me, for us… Well, anarchy… (pauses) We’re Christians, In a way I’m a Christian and I’m just a Christian, but I like to articulate ourselves as anarchists because the concept of anarchy helps people to understand better what we’re talking about: that there’s no system of man that works. All systems of man end up oppressing other people and elevating some people at the expense of others, and for us end up in the way of God, the One who created this world, so, yeah.

Bram: I understand that, but some people might not: I’ve just heard that there is a group of anarchists here in Kortrijk that refused to go come to your show tonight just because you’re Christians. How would you react to that?

Captain Napkins: I understand that. There’s a lot of Christians that have been very judgemental and hurtful to a lot of people. You know been jerks basically, so I totally understand that. There’s also been times for that we’ve been invited to play in a place and we found out that they were Christian and we didn’t want to play, you know.

Bram: Well, I heard that about Christians too, when hearing that you were anarchists, didn’t want to hear your music…

Captain Napkins: yeah, same thing

Bram: I remember when I let someone hear the song ‘come now and join the feast, right here in the belly of the beast’, they thought you were satanists. So how do the common Christians in America react to your music and your message?

Captain Napkins: yeah we’ve been shut down sometimes. We’ve played some shows.We’re very anti, we’re very unpatriotic, you know, like I love, I love the people of my country, I love the l…

Bram: (interrupting quite impulsively) Belgians are the most unpatriotic people of the world.

Captain Napkins: Okay

Bram: We actually just don’t care, we still don’t have a government now for I one year and a half and we don’t even care.

Captain Napkins: That’s maybe similar… that’s how we feel. I’m sure Belgians love each other, and they love the land. That’s how I feel, you know, I love the land from where I come. I love the people, but I don’t care about the government, I don’t care about those people more than other people. so in all those ways I’m not patriotic at all. and that offends of some Christians, and so we’ve kinda shut down

Bram: In America?

Captain Napkins: some of them are very conservative people and we’re not….

Bram: So, conservatives in America are really patriotic?

Captain Napkins: yeah the conservatives in America are patriotic and they tend to be violent.

Bram: recognize this T-shirt? (show T-shirt of the ordinary radicals)

Captain Napkins: yeah

Bram: I guess you know the ‘litany of resistance’, where Shane Claiborne says something like ‘I pledge allegiance to the transnational church that transcends all borders’ or something like that. (losing my words) So, when you’re thinking of Christianity and being part of a country, part of a nation, whatever, Being a Christian and being part of a people, part of a nation, what’s the connection?

Captain Napkins: for me, I don’t consider myself a part of the nation. I just am a part of the

(We arrive at the bar, looking for a good Belgian Beer, and decide to get a Hopus, a rather strong one)

Bram (to bartender): He’s from America, he’ll really appreciate it, he’s the leader of the band who played.

Bartender: yeah, I know man, it was so nice.

Bram: He deserves a hopus, really!

Bartender: yeah man, of course, of course, of course!

Captain Napkins: yeah, we have a lot of Belgian beers in Philly, in Philadelphia, my city where I’m from they love Belgian beers.

Bartender: Belgian beers are the best.

Bram: So, let’s get back to the interview: one of the guy frsom the squat-house where you stayed last time couldn’t be here tonight but he really likes your sound. He said you were the most tight band heever heard. Like one voice playing together, like there’s no ego in the band. How do you do that?

Captain Napkins: Well it’s interesting. I haven’t really, eh

Bram: You’re just tight together without ego’s, like one band with one vision, musically.

Captain Napkins: (thoughtful) Well, if that’s true, well I mean I haven’t head that a lot, it’s a new thing to me actually. But if it’s true, then what makes it happen is that there is a theology to what we’re doing, there is a vision and a mission that.

Bram: A theology?

Captain Napkins: I mean it’s built on a whole thesis, you know.

Bram: I’ve read a short version of it on your website and I’m still waiting for the whole version to be released.

Captain Napkins: Yeah, I need to write it out… that’s what I want to do when I get back from Europe. some more writing. I wrote it long time ago when I was in college. it’s for college, so it’s not, you know, there is a lot that needs to be changed.

Bram: What would you change?

Captain Napkins: Well, not even so much change as I would just add a lot, there is a lot that needs to be added and kinda updated maybe. I still agree with pretty much everything that’s in there, just a lot of things need to be updated…

Bram: Okay, on to something else, and maybe very strange question: what’s the gospel for you as a Christian anarchist? That’s the most important question for a Christian: What exactly is the good news?

Captain Napkins: Well, for me it’s about… (pauses) Eh… This might sound a little bit vague, but it’s important to me. When you ask that question I think of how God is love and loved us all into existence. He loves creation into existence and because of that our faith is about being in relationship with God, with each other and with creation. And that’s where anarchy comes in, and that’s where radical justice comes in: because the world fights against creation, the world fights against the Creator, the world fights against relationships. But for me it starts with the idea that God is love, God loved us into existence and God wants us to be in a a relationship with Him, with each other, and with his creation.

Bram: Makes a lot of sense to me. When I hear this I’m reminded of the controversy of Rob Bell’s ‘love wins’ book, so maybe let’s just ask one of the hardest questions of our faith: what do you think about hell?

Captain Napkins: (pauses) Wow, about hell? I actually was just talking to somebody last night about that and, eh, I do think that there is a hell. I don’t really know, but Jesus talks about it a lot, and our scriptures talk about it a lot, and eh… I’m uncomfortable, but at the same time I think that, eh, you know, I don’t know what it is and I don’t know who goes there, but I think that God is all-powerful (pauses) There is this woman, Julian of Norwich, who’s the first woman ever published in English. She is way back in the 12th century and she wrote something like she had a vision of hell, and she wrote something about like “and all is well and all will be well and all matter of things shall be well”. And it was just this, like it sounds redundant, but it was just her saying that God is kinda makes it work. And God makes it right, and God bring the healing but it’s tough how, I don’t know man, I mean it’s too tough.

I’m not one of those people that thinks that people who don’t confess Jesus automatically go there and stuff. I mean, I don’t know who goes there. I’m not one to decide who goes to hell and who doesn’t, you know, I do believe. I don’t even want to say that people definitely go to hell for eternity and all I think maybe that’s something that’s out of our understanding I’m also one to not say that hell does not exist, I think that hell does exist. And I think there is this suffering. there’s this horrible mess that’s out there and I think that there is such a thing as justice. I think that when injustice happens there is a need for retribution.

Bram: Would you say that there is retribution in justice, or just only putting things right and cleaning up evil without taking revenge?

Captain Napkins: yeah, I don’t necessarily believe in revenge, but I think when something evil happens I think that something needs to be made right, and it isn’t simply forgiven. It’s not a matter of like this horrible thing happens and well, it’s just okay now. No, I believe that like, when people, when a whole village is slaughtered by another group of people, that evil isn’t simply forgiven by God, there is a payment for it, there is a suffering that makes it right again.

Bram: And Jesus took that on him to give us forgiveness. (looks at watch) Looks like it’s getting late, so it’s time to end the interview. So I’ll have one last question: If I’d ask what you’d say to Christian people in Belgium, just regular Christian people, what would you say? What would you challenge them to?

Captain Napkins: Well, eh… People respect authority too much. People respect the Powers that Be too much. Because maybe the governments here are better than our government and so it’s easy…

Bram: Well, we kinda do have healthcare…

Captain Napkins: Yeah, yeah so there’s a lot of good things, and, ehm, it’s easy to not respect the American government but maybe it’s harder for Europeans to not respect theirs. But still I think that any government,and any system still falls short to the Kingdom of God. I think we always have to question them, and that we first have to be citizens of the Kingdom of God, and not citizens of a human government or a King. Maybe I’d say something like that…

Bram: Thank you very much! One more beer?

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

biblical manhood or the fruits of the Spirit?


There’s a certain kind of rhetoric in some corners of contemporary Christianity (mostly in the US I think) about how the church is effeminate and men need to save the church by taking the lead again and being more manly and violent and dangerous and all that jazz…

The story, which has been sold in many books and preached by good solid manly preachers, goes a bit like this: Men are created to be men and should therefore be,-unlike women who want safety and security-, wild and dangerous and violent and take risks and wrestle and strangle adult dragons with their bare hands and other everyday stuff like that… And it also seems like the biggest enemy here is men becoming like women. And oh, sometimes it’s also very important that God is a man. (Really?)

If you don’t know what I’m speaking about, just ignore me and consider yourself lucky… You’re not missing anything and reading me getting defensive about something that isn’t a problem in your world might be counterproductive, so you better read something else then. I recommend this NT Wright interview done by Frank Viola for example, or this transcript of an interview with a man who learnt a lot from Mother Theresa

I’m an alien?
So what’s the problem? The problem for me is when people tell me what a man is, and they paint a picture that excludes me. Like those books about Mars and Venus, where I felt like I was from Jupiter, or maybe Nibiru. But it’s even more irritating when it’s Christians who use the bible, through the lens of their own culture and with a lot of conclusions that I’d never find in the verses they quote, to say that a man is created to be something that might be some (sub)cultural idea of manhood, but that will never be remotely me.

I’m sorry, I might be a straight white married male, I don’t care about fancy cars, or about machines that make noise, I don’t care about competitive sports, I don’t even care about porn, or things all men should struggle with (I have other struggles though) and I think killing things or people is just a sign of evil, not of manhood. I like beer, but not to get drunk, and we just have good tasty beers brewed by monks in Belgium… I like wine and self-made elderflower lemonade too anyway, or gunpowder tea… Playing brave-heart (like a famous evangelical writer wrote about in a book about manliness that I won’t name but which I’ve written about earlier) doesn’t look manly to me, just childish and immature….

I’m sorry, I’m 100% man, and I suppose the puppy-smashing, binge-drinking, porn-watching machos are men too, just as the book reading, coffee-slurping intellectuals… There are different kinds of people, different kinds of personalities, who all have their strong and weak sides, and their struggles and gifts. But to elevate one certain type of man above the others (mostly by people who either are or otherwise want to be that kind of man) is not constructive. And in this case it can be quite misandric in a bullying kind of way, excluding all who don’t reach your holy standard of manliness. And if this kind of thing happens with bible-verses to back it up harm may be done to the body of Christ. (Others have said enough about how the roles that are pushed unto women, or even the word effeminate itself are quite misogynist, so I won’t go into that now)

I don’t care if you are a man and like to lead, but don’t make it a rule. I don’t care if your wife likes you to lead, fine, but not every woman is like that. Me and my wife both are mutualist/democratic people, who get irritated by both having to serve as a slave or to lead alone… Hierarchy is impossible in our marriage. And I’m not a person who likes to be leading everything, the responsibility gets heavy when I contemplate it, and I like to share it with other people…  I hate to be counted on to be ‘in control’ in most situations and I want to be together with people when things are hard… All people are different, but there are other lines to be drawn than between men and women…

not just men, but people are alienated
But, some say, the church is effeminate, and we need to man up. We need to be dangerous and violent and whatever otherwise we are not like God created man, look at **insert person from the bible killing bears or insulting kings or doing whatever kind of crazy things** Look, I don’t care what kind of examples you find in the bible. If they inspire you and you want to be like them. Fine, except when they lead you astray from the teachings of Christ and the fruits of the Spirit (we’ll get to that later) but there are also examples of men who liked to stay at home with their mother in the kitchen, like Jacob… And there are strong women, like Deborah who lead whole nations. Gender does not say much, in both genders there are a lot of different people, and 2 men can be more different in character than a man and a woman sometimes. (I’m much more like my wife in character than I am like people like Mark Driscoll… It’s just a difference, not a judgement of value…)

The rhetoric would say that we men have been tamed, and need to be wild again and take risks and stop being safe and blah blah blah. Now, I completely agree that we are alienated of our nature in this modern safe society in which we are like canaries in a golden cage. We are trapped in jobs that make no sense at all to make sure we can provide for our families. We have to follow a lot of petty rules and conform to a lot of nonsense.

But there’s no need at all to make this a gendered thing. All human beings in our current societies are alienated and cut off from their roots, and robbed of their connection with their selves, with nature, and with people in a community. And playing brave-heart, of having fantasies about being a biblical man who kills a lot of philistines, insults a dangerous king or slays wild animals with his bare hands is not at all helpful. Nor is it manly… It’s more immature, and the whole ‘be a biblical caveman’ approach is just an adventure in missing the point, a distraction. We see that there is a problem, but we come with a solution that isn’t relevant at all. Being more violent, making more noise, and watching fight club with a cheap beer will not bring you closer to God, nor will it make you more man…

The problem runs deeper, and is connected to the core problem of humanity, which is not at all gendered, even though different personalities (and men and women often have different personalities) might experience it differently. We are separated from God, from ourselves, from each other. And modern society has even alienated us even more from creation, which is part of the problem. We are all tamed by our own systems, which are in the end leading to suicide (as Jacques Ellul writes somewhere) and out of which we are called to live a new life, a new story… This is what the gospel is all about, and the gospel should not be watered-down with self-help ‘be a good American male’ therapy’!

Jesus said ‘follow me’, and gave us an example. He, who was God incarnate, followed the path of love until its final consequence at the cross, where the powers of the world killed Him. But those powers could not hold Him, and He defeated death, sin, bondage, evil and Satan in the resurrection! And we can share in that new life, the Way, which shatters the suicidal powers of the world, which brings life and renewal, and is a foreshadowing of the New earth and Heaven, when all evil will be erased, and we will be exactly what we were created to be, in everlasting union with the tri-une God and each other without any trace of darkness… This is what we men and women who feel caged are yearning for. And trying to fill that void with playing William Wallace the killer is just irrelevant as best, and harmful to the gospel at worst…

the spirit of the flesh…
I once almost threw a book across the room (if it would’ve been mine I would’ve really done it!) by the guy whom I already paraphrased who seemed to thing William Wallace from the brave-heart movie the best example of biblical manhood. The reason was that (after writing a lot of stuff about ‘biblical’ manhood according to him, which to me looked liked baptised American machismo and which quite bored me) he made a condescending remark about men who had learned to be nice and take mother Theresa as an example. And then it was enough… You can do what you want, but some things are going to far, like being so ignorant about Mother Theresa….

I don’t see why men, and women could not learn a lot from Mommy T (like Shane Claiborne calls her) She is one of the best examples there is of an untamed soul. She was an example of a person changed by the Way of Christ, and someone who exhibits the fruits of the Spirit. No, she wasn’t noisy, and not even drawing attention to herself, but that’s the whole point… Giving up yourself in love for others is more manly in the Kingdom than all warriors with shiny swords of all the videogames and movies together…

Let’s go to Galations 5, where the fruits of the Spirit are summed up:

5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 5:23 gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 5:24 Now those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 5:25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also behave in accordance with the Spirit.

This is the character of a Christian, and living in these characteristics as the Spirit enables them to grow in us will make us do things that go against the grain, things that are wild and untamed. But in a very different way than the ‘men are violent’ proponent preach. Violence and being rude and cultivating our ego aren’t fruits of the Spirit, but fruits of the flesh, and thinking that they’ll solve anything in our problems as Christians is misguided. As misguided as some other stereotypes that are pushed upon women too… If we live in the Spirit, the fruits will grow, and where the Spirit is, there is freedom, or liberation as Kurt just tweeted might be a better translation. Freedom from worldly expectations, cultural standards of manhood and womanhood, and liberation from the suicidal tendencies of the World and the Flesh…

Let’s not push ourselves and each other under a new slave-yoke

Let’s change our ways, for the Kingdom is here.

Let’s follow the Way, the Truth and the Light, into Life eternal,

Let’s shine a light so people might see who God is

let’s bring liberation in this dark world,

and let’s shine light where darkness reigns

Veni, Spiritus!

shalom

Bram

It may or may not be a religion, depending on your definition (pt I)


If you recognize the quote in the title you are a die-hard fan of my music. (If you don’t, it’s the opening lines from ‘NT Wright is a sound theologian‘ on my almost finished album ‘cyberluddism‘ that can still be listened and downloaded on bandcamp)

Now to the point, There is a a video that has been going round on facebook lately that is so viral that it seems everyone remotely Christian (from die-hard evangelicals to vaguely Jesus-inspired hippies) has been sharing it. It actually reminded me that the word ‘viral’ is derived from ‘virus’, like in a computer virus or a flu virus… It’s called “Why I hate religion, but love Jesus” by some Jeff Bethke guy who does some spoken word poetry with music behind it. And by now I’ve had it with everyone and even their goldfish sharing the bleeping video on facebook. Please, I’ve seen it pass like 20 times today… Have mercy…

Now there’s a lot of things that I like in the video, Jeff Bethke does makes some good points. (read the words of the poem here) And the production quality is great and the speaker is very articulate. That’s not my issue. But there are some things I find quite shallow, not to say cliché, and the ‘a relationship, not a religion’ rhetoric is getting a bit irritating sometimes….

Some interesting remarks about the problems with this video are written by the American Jesus, Sarah Moon, Elisabeth Esther, Jake Belder and Patrol Mag and by this girl on youtube. I’m not going to repeat everything those people say, so they might be interesting to read too…

So what’s my problem with this video and the ideas behind it? Actually there are several and maybe they indicate my theological disagreement with some articulations of popular evangelical theology. The first disagreement is a question of semantics. The definition of religion used is completely shallow, it seems like that word is used to describe all that those people don’t like. Which is kinda stupid, since everybody knows that Christianity IS a religion for most people.

Now I do know where the ‘it’s not a religion’ thing comes from… The simplest version I’ve heard is that religion in man’s way to get to God (or to get salvation), something which will never work, but that Christianity is God coming to man and we just need to accept that to be saved. That’s more or less the core of charismatic and post-evangelical idea behind ‘I am not religious’, like I’ve heard it for years and years…

But there is more to the word religion. Religion is something that innate in humans the way God created them, and the solution to wrong religion is not to abolish all religion, but to find good religion. Religion is something broad and is very hard to pin down, and the word has too much behind it to dismiss it all with an evangelical cliché… I find the seven dimensions of religion by Ninian Smart very interesting. (thanks to Matt Stone @glocal christianity)

Ninian Smart suggested that, whatever else a religion may be, it usually contains certain recognizable elements:

Ritual: Forms and orders of ceremonies (often regarded as revealed).

Narrative and Mythic: stories (often regarded as revealed) that work on several levels. Sometimes narratives fit together into a fairly complete and systematic interpretation of the universe and human’s place in it.

Experiential and emotional: dread, guilt, awe, mystery, devotion, liberation, ecstasy, inner peace, bliss.

Social and Institutional: belief system is shared and attitudes practiced by a group. Often rules for identifying community membership and participation.

Ethical and legal: Rules about human behaviour (often regarded as revealed).

Doctrinal and philosophical: systematic formulation of religious teachings in an intellectually coherent form.

Material: ordinary objects or places that symbolize or manifest the sacred or supernatural.

I think most of these are in one form or another present in almost every form of Christianity, (yes, the sacraments of bread and wine and baptism are clearly rituals!) except maybe the material aspect in protestantism. There might be discussion about this… And I do know there could be much more definitions of religion. But just re-defining religion so you can denounce it, like the evangelical tradition seems to do, is a bit weird. But they’re in good company. Bonhoeffer already did it. And people like Greg Boyd (a thinker I generally like and respect, like I do with Bonhoeffer) are doing the same.

But I would say let’s quit it please. It creates a sense of superiority in some christians who feel high above those poor ‘religious folks’. And it complicated conversation with a lot of people who just see religion as a word for believing in God or gods. Or have academic definitions like Ninian Smart.

Oh, and if we’re biblical christians, maybe we should look to the bible, where the book of James defines for us what good religion is supposed to be:

James 1:27 Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their misfortune and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

Or is that a liberal social gospel and being saved by works? Nah, it’s the bible!

Shalom

Bram

(stay tuned for pt II about the gospel like it’s presented in the video!)

Does the gospel require the doctrine of ‘the fall’?


And we’re back after a blogging hiatus with more thoughts that might disturb some people.

I was participating in a discussion about evolutionary creationism on the blog of Rachel Held Evans, (look out for the actual article when it’s ready, it will probably very interesting)  and one of the subjects that always comes up in such discussions is that of the fall. The line of reasoning is that without the litteral story of Adam, Eve and the apple there would be no gospel at all, but I’m affraid that I don’t get the problem here…

Let me sayfirst that I myself have no problem at all with 6-day creation, nor do I have any problem with the idea of evolutionary creation. I do think that the scientific evidence points towards the latter, but by no means does that mean that one of those options is right and the other wrong. Au contraire, I don’t believe that modern science is capable of telling us how the world was created at all, since the visible world comes from the invisible. Investigating the traces left in the material world will never give us a complete view, but if the traces lead us to an old earth and universe, and biological evolution, it’s okay to me. But it will never be the whole story, and the whole story is outside the scope of science, and bigger than we can comprehend…

So I’m inclined to see the first chapters of genesis as a symbolic story to tell us in a poetic way about something that cannot be said in straight and exact ways and modern scientific discours. I would say the same about the story of the fall. The whole forbidden fruit story kinda seems symbolic, but still it says something real: man has at some point rebelled against God, and now we live in the reality described.

That ‘fallen’ reality is clear to everyone: this world in in the hands of the powers of sin, death and distruction. We see it everywhere if we open our eyes, and experience it every day. The power of sin is working inside of us, and also from the outside against us. This is so clear that I don’t believe anyone can deny this. So I’m always surprised that people need to use genesis to explain why we need salvation, just point to anywhere and you’ll see why…

Now we could have a discussion about Augustinian original sin, or ancestral sin. The first says that the sin of Adam is in some way transferred to all his descendants, the second one says that Adam had in his sin polluted the world, which brings all people born into this world under the influence and power of sin. I tend to the second, which makes me probably a bad protestant, but I don’t even see a problem for Augustinian Christianity without the story of the apple being litteral history, let alone non-Augustinian theology which does not place such an emphasis on the idea of ‘the fall’. Wheter or not we know what happened, we see the state the world is in and it’s not a good one, and Jesus came to solve that, and did solve it. Do we really believe that?? Or do we think Jesus came to solve some abstract ideas and man-made theological problems?

Jesus did defeat death, evil, sin and Satan in his death and resurrection, so the problem solved is bigger than the one the apple story explains anyway!

Wait here!

Did I just say that the problem solved is bigger than the story of the apple and the fall?

Yes I did. The hope we have as Christians is the New Heavens and the New Earth, in which all evil will be eliminated. So no more sin, no more death, etc… The whole problem of evil being undone by the work of Jesus; like I said earlier. That is the whole story of Christian salvation. The source of evil here is in a way irrelevant, if we look to explain it in a historical analytical way like we Westerners like to do it; but what we can say is that it defenitely lies outside of God. The whole story of redemprion, culminating in the incarnation, life, teaching, example, sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus is about God doing something against evil, and in the end eradicating it.

So evil is NOT from God, but what God is fighting against. And this evil has something to do not only with the fall of men, and the whole apple story, but with evil powers of which the origin isn’t explained in genesis either (the ‘snake’ is just called a snake, not even identified with satan except by the writer of revelation, and why he is evil is explained nowhere)

There’s more going on about evil than the fall of man anyway, and we don’t know that much about it… There are speculations about the fall of Satan, but we don’t have anything really clear about it in the bible.

So what are my shocking conclusions? The first one is that we don’t need a litteral story about the fall of man to see that this world is burdened by sin and evil and in need of the salvation Jesus brought, but we just have to open our eyes, and the second one is that the problem solved by the salvation Jesus brings is a lot bigger than what the apple story explains… The apple story might explain how those forces of evil infiltrated mankind, but not where they came from.

Any additional ideas anyone?

Shalom

Bram

Is this the good news of the gospel?


why does this video give me the creeps? It’s just explaining the gospel…

Is it the matter-of-factly stating of strange statements like ‘holy just means perfect’, that are not very accurate nor make much sense theologically?

Is it beacuse God seems everything but loving and omnipotent in this presentation (He can’t even forgive the smallest sin) and just a puppet of something called ‘justice’ that does not seem very just nor consistent with the bible?

Is it the popular semi-gnostic dualism (‘your soul is the real you’ and goes to a disembodies ‘heaven’ after this life) combined with the gnostic idea of ‘only knowledge (of the cross in this case) will save you’?

Is it because framing the whole problem of sin and it’s solution as a legal problem is missing a lot of dimensions of the story? And how do paper that give you ‘a perfect record’ make you perfect enough to not spoil heaven with your imperfectness? sounds more like cheating with administrative paperwork to me.

why is the resurrection reduced to just a sign that ‘Jesus is God’? Is good friday the most important christian holiday or easter?

I do believe in a loving God, in justice that does set things right and does not just punish all of us by default. I believe in a God who’s able to forgive sins.  I believe  that God will one day erase all evil and will be ‘all in all’ and that “God can’t give us peace and happiness apart from Himself because there is no such thing.” (C.S. Lewis)

What do you people think of this video? Am I exaggerating?

(yes, I do agree that we have to turn from evil and surrender to Jesus by the way)

Bram

hiding the Resurrection life like a candle under a bucket?


(This post was written for the April Synchroblog. It’s one of the most important subjects possible by the way!! )

Like those who read some of my recent posts will know, I’m still struggling with the question ‘what is the good news of the gospel?’ I know there is more to the gospel than ‘we are all evil and deserve hell, but Jesus got killed in our place by God so we can avoid hell if we accept that and pray the sinners prayer. The good news is probably bigger and better news than any scheme I or some smarter guy could come up with anyway.

There is more to the gospel than forgiveness and substitution. (read those 2 posts by 2 guys who are able to explain it much better than I am.) The gospel Jesus preached was about the Kingdom come, Gods reign that’s breaking in into this broken world. And then I’m not even spreaking about the resurrection, something incredible: death has been reversed. Something bigger than we can understand. Jesus, God-who-became-man, died and shared in our suffering, and surrendered Himself to be taken by the powers that hold us humans captive: death, evil and sin. But even though they killed Him, they didn’t have the last word. Death, evil and sin got defeated by Christ. This is why I think the idea of Christus Victor is very important.

But what do we do with the resurrection? Do we believe Jesus died and came back from the death? Do we live like it’s real? Does it change something in the way we live? Should it change sometjing about what we are?

I am here reminded of emergent theolgian Peter Rollins, who famously denies the resurrection with the following reasoning:

Without equivocation or hesitation I fully and completely admit that I deny the resurrection of Christ. This is something that anyone who knows me could tell you, and I am not afraid to say it publicly, no matter what some people may think…

I deny the resurrection of Christ every time I do not serve at the feet of the oppressed, each day that I turn my back on the poor; I deny the resurrection of Christ when I close my ears to the cries of the downtrodden and lend my support to an unjust and corrupt system.

However there are moments when I affirm that resurrection, few and far between as they are. I affirm it when I stand up for those who are forced to live on their knees, when I speak for those who have had their tongues torn out, when I cry for those who have no more tears left to shed.

There’s a lot to say about Pete’s reasoning here. I am indeed affraid that I deny the resurrection most of the time if we take it the way he does in this piece, but I wouldn’t make a either/or of it anyway. We can proclaim the resurrection by just believing that Christ did indeed rise from the death, speaking historically. But what will it help us then? Why is it important to believe in the resurrection? I know that some supposed conservative evangelicals like something like a cross-only gospel, based on Jesus death for us as the most important thing in the universe, which makes good friday more important than good friday, and who find the cross mainly important as an impossibility to be believed in as fact, as if there is any magically saving power in just believing that something happened that goes against our common sense…

No, the resurrection is at least as important as the cross. It’s a new beginning, and without it our faith is worthless, as Paul says. Not because believing the impossible has any power of saving us, but because the resurrection has enormous power, and if we don’t have faith in it we won’t see that in our lives.

As a Charismatic I believe there’s more to believing and living out the resurrection than just the radical love for the poor and downtrodden, but neither the supernatural reality nor the radical love for the least should be minimised in favor of the other, and most of the time I don’t see neither in my own life. So I guess something is wrong with me. Not with the gospel or with the resurrection, but with me, and maybe the christianity I’m part of, but who am I to judge?

To quote Bono:

I believe in the kingdom come,
Then all the colors will bleed into one, Bleed into one
Well yes I’m still running

You broke the bonds and you Loosed the chains
Carried the cross, and all my shame, all my shame
You know I believe it

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for


The bonds are broken, the chains are gone, the powers of death, evil and sin are defeated and Love and Life will win and have the last word in the end, when heaven and earth meet and God will be all in all. But Christianity is more than looking forward to heaven.

It is also about the inbreaking of the Kingdom in the here and now, about the power of the resurrection becoming manifest in this groaning creation!

And still I’m like a singing bird who’s walking rounds in an open cage. Probably I’m just blinded by the gods of this world, distracted by the life of everyday, but I don’t proclaim the resurrection, I don’t bring it to the world around me who needs it. Maybe some splinters of it from time to time, but I don’t feel like this is it. There is more.

Why am I so distracted? Why is my faith so small. Why am I occupied by the irellevant wasting all my time on things that don’t matter? If time is an indicator of what’ s important to me, then I’m not at all giving much op for the ‘pearl of greath worth’ for which some sell all they have to obtain it. Following Christ is not just a hobby! No greater news can there be…

Then why am I just wasting most my time?

Lord Jesus Christ, Living son of God, have mercy!!

shalom

Bram

Here are the other contributions to the synchroblog:
Phil Wyman at Square No More –  Apocalyptic fervor spurs benevolent giving
Marta Layton at Marta’s Mathoms - Getting Out From Behind The Rock
Mike Victorino at  Simply A Night Owl - Crawling Out From Under A Rock
John Paul Todd at E4Unity - Still Asleep In the Light
Patrick Oden at Ravens - A Resurrection
Brambonius at Brambonius’ blog in english - hiding the Resurrection life like a candle under a bucket?
George Elerick at The Love Revolution - (for)getting the resurrection
Liz Dyer at Grace Rules - I Will Answer That Question In A Minute, But First, I Want To Talk About Jesus
Jeff Goins at Jeff Goins Writer - Resurrection
Tammy Carter at Blessing the Beloved - Rock and a Hard Place
Kathy Escobar at the carnival in my head - little miracles
Christen Hansel at Greener Grass - Resurrection Rhythm
Alan Knox at the assembling of the church - Living The Resurrected Life
Christine Sine at Godspace – Palm Sunday Is Coming But What Does It Mean
Matt Stone at Glocal Christianity – Living The Resurrection
Steve Hayes at Khanya – Descent into Hell and penal substitution
Bill Sahlman at Creative Reflections – Do We Live Under a Rock of Belief?

Copyrighting Truth is theft and a crime against humanity!


edit: since my post initially wasn’t that clear about what I meant, I expanded it heavily, the new part is put in [ ]-brackets…
edit2: thanks to Stefania for assisting me in the tracking down and removal of a whole truckload of typo’s…

The title already says it all, and I don’t mean to attack anyone, but it makes me wonder about our whole religious publishing and music industry:

Copyrighting Truth is theft and a crime against humanity!

Any Truth that gives life cannot be our own property, but should be shared with all of humanity! Every grain of truth we stumble upon is not our invention, but something the Almighty has given us. To not give it away freely is to steal from those who need it as much as we do!

Jesus tells his disciples to bring the Kingdom of God:

“As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.” (Mat 10:7-8)

What shall we think then of all our religious publishing?

So how can we as Christians put a copyright on anything that proclaims the Kingdom of God? How can we claim to own Truth about the Kingdom of God, and only give it to those who pay? Do we then follow Jesus more, or Mammon, the false God of the dire money?

Isn’t this blasphemy? All Truth belongs to God! Shouldn’t it be given freely?

Or don’t we believe in the importance of the religous messages that we sell? All those Christian books that promise new insight in the bible, new truths about God and how to live our life to the fullest, and yadda yadda yadda. If it’s true that we have this information, is it Christlike to charge money for it??

Or don’t we really believe in the importance and trancendence of what we have to tell, and treat it like any other information that can be told. Do we believe that God is more important than the things of this fallen human society, or do we believe that Mammon and the ways of this world which are imprisoned by that false God are more real than the gospel we write about, than the Truth we proclaim, than the Kingdom of God? I would say that

All Truth that matters belongs to God and is not ours to make money of, but ours to share in all possible ways to those who are spiritually starving in this postmodern world!

[So what do I mean? I did say 'Truth' should not be copyrighted. I don't say our books are the perfect incarnation of Truth. I may not be a big fan of copyrights the way they exist in this world, but when you write down your own story, it's evident that you are the owner of that story, and no-one else should be using it as a product to make money of behind your back, that's just fair.

One of the things I was thinking about when writing this post is a story I once read about Dan Brown, author of the Da Vinci Code, being sued by some guy who claimed that Dan Brown had stolen his theories about I think Jesus and Mary Magdalene living in France. Now, let's assume for a moment that this story is true... (it's not) Then the guy claims to be the owner of the truth about Jesus. We have a serious problem if the Truth would be owned by someone, and it would be even worse if that guy doesn't even care about truth, but sees it as a product to be bought and sold.

Like I said, if it is Truth, it is of God. It cannot be owned or controlled by us, and our motivation should be to share it with everybody.

So if you as a Christian have something that (you believe) has the power to bring people closer to God, you should make that available for all. That does not mean you can't make money for a living selling your books, but if you really believe in the power of what you have to give, and then make people buy your book, and workbook, and series of teaching DVD's, and put copyright notices on all of them with warnings that violators will be prosecuted by federal law and stuff, something does not at all fly well with me. If your stuff is that good and essential and life-transforming and yadda yadda, and you're only willing to give it to those who pay you, you're robbing people and ripping of God. And the result is more like some kind of scientology-light than the Kingdom of God...

So make your books, sell them, make it available, but if you really believe that you have something that's important for everybody, you will not only sell it, but also prompt people to share it. You will applaud it if someone else finds a new way of commnucating what you were sharing building on your work.

Because in the end; the Truth in there is not ours, it's God's! We, and our works, are just vessels, jars of clay in, and the treasure inside of us is much more than Mammon. ]

What say you?

shalom

Bram