Monday, 27 July 2015

Robert Fisk: The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East

After nearly a year and a half, I've finally finished reading this 1,286 page tome (not counting endnotes, a bibliography and index. It is an interesting and must read for those interested in Middle Eastern affairs. Fisk writes from decades of experience as a foreign correspondent for the British newspaper, The Independent. Written in 2005, this book is a retrospective on his work and tries to makes sense of the many conflicts that he has witnessed. His frustration and disgust regarding the many injustices he perceives is palpable. Depending on one's perspective, his judgements can seem understandable or harsh. After reading the last page, and reflecting on the whole book, it seems to me that Fisk's anger stems from a naivety born from a set of flawed beliefs: 1 A western view that all the responsibilities one bears in life are individual in nature that the "sins" of a nation or the leaders of a nation, should not be carried on the shoulders of its citizens. Thus he does little to hold despots such as the Ottomans, Saddam Hussein, the Taleban and Arafat responsible for the suffering of their peoples. 2 The international competition for the world's resources is in some way distasteful and should be avoided. Thus foreign investment in Middle Eastern lands is an illegal capture of an indigenous people's resources. He pays no attention to the fact that that they might have willingly sold those rights to foreigners in return for benefits they would not otherwise have enjoyed. Often these benefits were siphoned off into personal bank accounts rather than distributed for the good of their societies. He does not sufficiently lay the blame for indigenous poverty on indigenous corruption and graft. 3 In war, "civilians" should never die. Any death of a civilian is an injustice. This is a corollary of Belief 1. The belief ignores the reality of war. To Fisk, the fact that Western manufactured arms should result in the deaths of civilians is a grave injustice. He urges that Western arms manufacturers should somehow prevent their clients from using them in a way that results in civilian deaths. His focus is on the West and only the West in this regard. He doesn't try to lobby Chinese, Eastern European, North Korean or Russian manufacturers. 4 In peace, justice should be perfect. Therefore ideas such as modus vivendi have no place in Fisk's world. For him, the creation of Israel itself is an injustice. He cannot see the linkage between the method being, albeit flawed, continuation of the more successful Greek-Turkish and Muslim-Hindu conflicts. In the latter two cases, significant displacement of peoples was accepted as a necessary step toward a lasting peace. He accepts these instances of peace making without question, even though generations of familial history must be broken in order to bring it to pass. The creation of Israel is an attempt to create a safe homeland for an ethnic group that had suffered from considerable prejudice that spanned many nations. Its creation meant the displacement of people so that millions more could live. The current Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a direct result of a flawed nation state creation process that resulted in the creation of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia from the remnants of the Ottoman Empire. For Fisk, the fact that Israel's security fence has clearly curtailed the suicide bomber campaign of the early 2000's matters not. He just sees a tool for entrenching Israel's encroachment on Arab lands. 5 World Peace would be achieved if the West would stop interfering in the Middle East and somehow let them get on with their own lives: a form of Apartheid. At a religious level: The Muslim doctrine of Dawah means they will never leave the West alone. Furthermore, the West's liberal lifestyle, means that Muslim adherents will always see the West as a source of moral decay which must be expunged as an affront to Allah. The Christian doctrine of Mission carries the same mandate to actively promulgate the Gospel in Middle Eastern societies. To me: 1. The injustices of the Middle East should be laid at the feet of Arab and Persian leadership. It is their corruption and thirst for power that has led to their own enrichment, the emergence of an elite and the impoverishment and subjugation of their own peoples. Fisk's criticism is heavily biased against the West. 2. The West's desire to trade and to purchase resources for economic development is fair. It is only unjust when the West steps outside the normal bounds of international law. Examples of unjust behaviour should include using armed force to secure resources or to bend the will of an indigenous people to trade or obtain advantageous trading terms. 3. The roots of the Iraqi War of 2003 stem from Hussein's use of biological and chemical weapons on his own people, and his attempts to establish a viable nuclear weapons program. Hussein underestimated the amount of hysteria this could generate in the West. It may be that the Shia and Sunni portions of Iraqi society might be required in order to create a sustainable peace. There is no doubt that there are many tragedies that have resulted from the geo-political games that have been played in the Middle East. Fisk has seen many tragic events first hand. In this, I totally agree with Fisk that these tragic events are due to many injustices. However we differ on our analysis of what these injustices are and the events and motives that led to these events.

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Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Gordon Fee argues against Torah Observance

"...the ultimate contrast in Galatians is not between "works" and "faith", but between life under Torah and life by the Spirit. Life under Torah means to come under the very curse from which Christ has set us free; moreover life under Torah does not lead to righteousness, either in terms of relationship with God or in terms of godly behaviour. Only the Spirit, who appropriates the righteousness secured through Christ's death and resurrection, can bring life and effect righteousness of the real kind. So having begun by the Spirit, the Galatians are urged to finish by the Spirit. And this, not only because here alone is the way of life in Christ, but also because here alone is God's own antidote to the life of the flesh. Christ's death provided both freedom from Torah observance and crucifixion with regard to the former way of life; the Spirit appropriates this freedom in such a way that the believer neither lives under the slavery of the law nor makes provision for the indulgence of the flesh. But to "finish" by ten Spirit means to walk by the Spirit; it means, in the final words of the argument, to sow to the Spirit by doing (lit. "working"!) what is good to all people, especially those of one's own family in Christ."

-- Fee, Gordon (2007). Pentecostal Commentary on Galatians. Pages 242-243.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Grace is not an irresistible force

"Grace is not an irresistible force, it is God's unmerited favour and what you choose to do with it, is entirely your own choice."
David Pawson, Unlocking the Bible

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Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Clive Wearing: A Communion Message

In November, I was rostered for Communion duty for the first time.  This was the Homily I gave:

Welcome, this is now the time where we share communion, and if you are visiting our church, then please feel free to join in or to pass the elements on, whatever you feel most comfortable doing.  If you have your bibles with you let’s turn to 1 Corinthians 11:24-25.

Jesus says “Do this in remembrance of me.”   A few moments later he stresses the importance of this thought by repeating it: “Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

You may have had this passage brought to your attention many times. Today I’d like you to focus on these words in particular:   “In remembrance of me…”

Or to put it into less formal words, Jesus is saying “Remember me.”

I’d like to introduce you to Clive Wearing. Clive was an acclaimed musicologist, conductor, tenor and keyboardist.  By the time he was 47, he was at the height of his powers, an acknowledged expert in 14th Century to 18th Century European music and he was in charge of music for BBC Radio 3.   But in that year, his brain was attacked by a virus and now it cannot form new memories.  

He can only remember 30 seconds at a time. Every 30 seconds his brain reboots.  So every 30 seconds, he “wakes up” with no memory of the previous 30 seconds. As part of his therapy he was encouraged to keep a diary. You can see his entries next to his photograph. His entries repeatedly say, things like “I’m now awake,” or “I’m really awake”. But the previous entries are crossed out, because he has no memory of how they got there so he discounts them.

For Clive Wearing, with no memory, he is forever in the present, with no past and no way to plan a future.

And now we return to what Jesus said: “Remember me.” But in saying, “Remember me,” what memories is he referring to?

Let's read Jeremiah 29:11.

And unlike Brian Wearing, who without memories, can never make plans or have hope for the future, our memories of Jesus,  the sacrifice of his body for our sins, the shedding of His blood that cleanses us from sin, the memory of his interactions with him over the years, months, weeks, even in the last few hours or minutes, encourage us and give us hope for the future.  

But its possible that all this may seem very abstract and distant for you. Perhaps the idea of God talking to you or acting in your life and influencing your circumstances seems remote and far removed from your everyday experience,  then I encourage you to read on in this passage from Jeremiah: Jeremiah 29:12-14.

So you see, whether you are walking closely with God or if He seems remote and far away from you, Communion has something for us all.

And now we return to what Jesus said: “Remember me.”

May the servers come forward please

So let’s pray:

    “Blessed be you, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who gives us the fruit of the vine, bread from the earth, and Jesus to be the true vine,

When we read Jesus’ words, “Remember me,” and as we eat this bread and wine, we remember,

we remember, His sacrifice for us  that redeemed us from our sins,

we remember, the things you have said, done and continue to do in our own lives,

we remember, the hope for the future that these memories bring,

we remember your invitation to seek you with all that we are,

and we remember, your promise that you will be found by us.

Thanks to my dear friend Anne Askey for the inspiration for this message.


Friday, 14 November 2014

Challah Crumbs: Great resource for teaching Torah to preteens

Here is an outstanding site with excellent material for primary school children and pre-teens.   Includes colouring pages, craft projects and comprehension questions.

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Torah studies for teens

I stumbled upon a website with studies and outlines that follow the Parasha reading system.   An inspection of the studies reveals that they are more suitable for children with a reading ability of age 13 years and above.

Written by Christians.

Here is another.

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Did the First Christians Worship Jesus?

J D G Dunn
Respected theologian James Dunn set out to answer the controversial question, "Did the First Christians worship Jesus?" His answer may surprise you:
So our central question can indeed be answered negatively, and perhaps it should be. But not if the result is a far less adequate worship of God. For the worship that really constitutes Christianity and forms its distinctive contribution to the dialogue of the religions, is the worship of God as enabled by Jesus, the worship of God as revealed in and through Jesus. Christianity remains a monotheistic faith. The only one to be worshipped is the one God. But how can Christians fail to honour the one through whom it believes the only God has most fully revealed himself, the one through whom the only God has come closest to the condition of humankind? Jesus cannot fail to feature in their worship, their hymns of praise, their petitions to God. But such worship is always, should always be offered to the glory of God the Father. Such worship is always, should always be offered in the recognition that God is all in all, and that the majesty of the Lord Jesus in the end of the day expresses and affirms the majesty of the one God more clearly than anything else in the world.

Dunn, J. D. G. (2010). Did the First Christians Worship Jesus?: The New Testament Evidence (p. 151). London; Louisville, KY: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge; Westminster John Knox Press.

James D. G. "Jimmy" Dunn (born 1939) is a British New Testament scholar who was for many years the Lightfoot Professor of Divinity in the Department of Theology at the University of Durham, now Emeritus Lightfoot Professor.  Dunn has an MA and BD from the University of Glasgow and a PhD and DD from the University of Cambridge. For 2002, Dunn was the President of the Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas, an international body for New Testament study. Only three other British scholars had been made President of the body in the preceding 25 years. In 2006 he became a Fellow of the British Academy.  In 2005 a festschrift was published dedicated to Dunn, comprising articles by 27 New Testament scholars, examining early Christian communities and their beliefs about the Holy Spirit.