“Burn them! Burn them all!” – A Pentecost Reflection

“Burn them! Burn them all!” –King Aerys II Targaryen, (aka, “the Mad King”). From George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice saga.

I’ve been writing a lot recently, trying to birth the next book from grey-matter into ink on page.

There’s one particular New Testament story that has been in focus over the past two-three weeks of this process. A story which features prayer, discipleship and, of course, Jesus.

But it’s not a nice story.

Far from it.

It’s a story which takes place in Luke’s gospel (Chapter 9: 46-56), whilst Jesus is on his final journey towards Jerusalem.

For the sake of brevity, and to avoid repeating what I’m writing elsewhere, I’ll skip to the most sinister aspect of the scene.

Jesus has just been refused hospitality by a Samaritan village, and two of the disciples–The brothers James and John (aka, The Sons of Thunder)–bring a horrible, disturbing and genocidal prayer request to Jesus.

They ask permission to call down fire from heaven with the purpose to engulf the entire village–including it’s residents of women, men and children–in a death bringing furnace of divine retribution and vengeance.

Shocking! And that’s from two of Jesus’ followers. Which should surprise us, but these ideas have a nasty way of repeating themselves.

This, John and James believe, is what God is about and how God’s Kingdom comes; through destroying those who stand in their way.

Thankfully, Jesus rebukes them both. (Btw, this a great example of unanswered prayer).

Jesus turns to them and says (to paraphrase), ‘You have no idea of how malignant and dark the desires of your hearts are! God isn’t about dealing out death, but about curating life!’

These guys had missed it. By a long way. Their theology is skewed. Their picture of God’s power, God’s Spirit, God’s authority is perverted and tainted by their nationalism, xenophobia and twisted idea of how power is exercised.

That said, they are not alone. Their request has found its way on to many lips over the rolling centuries; as our intercession and prayers (as well as our open conversations, Facebook posts etc.) about those we see as threats to us and ours, testify.

Especially in recent days.

The idea of a God who heals a fractured and broken world by smiting all those who seek to break it through their terrorising methods, is really appealing. And in my own anger, shock and despair, I find James and John’s sentiments wishing to climb out of my mouth.

But death is incapable of bearing life. Violence will never breed peace. Hate, to quote the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr, can never drive out hate.

Now fast-forward a couple of months after this event. And we find James and John getting their request; although, it’s in a very remixed fashion (thankfully).

It’s the feast of Pentecost, and the Sons of Thunder find themselves with the other disciples praying and waiting upon God. When all of a sudden, to use the words of Acts 2 (Acts being the continuation of Luke’s first letter, his Gospel);

‘ …there came a sound from the sky like the roar of a violent wind, which filled the entire house. Then [the disciples] saw what looked like tongues of fire, which separated and came to rest on each of them’

But this *Fire from Heaven* doesn’t reduce them to charred ashes, nor does it brandish them with the power to maim their enemies. This fire falls in order to empower them to preach and to practice the Good News; a message of forgiveness, reconciliation, peace, grace and love.

God’s fire falls, but it doesn’t come to destroy life, but to ignite divine life within humanity. The disciples are like tapers–enflamed to touch the world with love and light. All the world; not just the bits they like.

It’s this commissioning experience that would lead John to later write, ‘Let us love one another; because love is from God; and everyone who lives has God as his father and knows God’ (1 John 4:7, CJB).

The same John who once prayed for the horrifying death of others, now encourages us to be led by the Spirit towards love for others. This same John would also write the most loving of all the Gospels; a gospel which continually presents us with a God of love. A love which at its pinnacle is displayed through laying itself down for others.

It’s apparent that the heat of the Holy Spirit had melted the hard places of John’s violent nature.

You see, this is the thing with the Holy Spirit; it consumes our hatred, our bitterness, our desire for vengeance. The Spirit falls, and I find that it is my prejudices, preferences, stereotypes, and my twisted sense of justice which God seeks to annihilate.

I need this right now. I need a baptism in God’s agenda. I need empowerment from above to practice God’s Kingdom ethic, because it’s certainly not going to come from within me.

So to God I pray, ‘Burn them! Burn them all!’

Burn up my hate, my blood lust, my paranoia, my ability to demonise and scapegoat. Burn up anything that leads me away from love; any impulse that leads me to seek to destroy other instead of loving other.

As Spirit-filled people, we are called to unite what is broken and heal what is hurting. We’re to cultivate sacred gardens in barren wastelands; to bring life, and stem the flow of death.

So as we celebrate Pentecost, especially at such times, let us remember that Pentecost has a this-world agenda, not an escapist one. It’s focus is not on sensationalism, but on generating authentic, loving human community; A Spirit-soaked, earthy Humanity which bears the hallmarks of the self-emptying, benevolent God.

Holy Spirit, come.

—Tristan Sherwin, author of *Love: Expressed*.

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O Death, Where Is Your Sting

It’s Resurrection Sunday! As such, here’s some beautiful ancient prose to read on this day; An excerpt of John Chryostom’s Paschal Homily;

“He has destroyed death by undergoing death.

He has despoiled hell by descending into hell.

He vexed it even as it tasted of His flesh.

Isaiah foretold this when he cried:

Hell was filled with bitterness when it met Thee face to face below;

​filled with bitterness, for it was brought to nothing;

​filled with bitterness; for it was mocked;

​filled with bitterness, for it was overthrown;

​filled with bitterness, for it was put in chains.

Hell received a body, and encountered God. It received earth, and confronted heaven.

O death, where is your sting?

O hell, where is you victory?

Christ is risen! And you, o death, are annihilated!

Christ is risen! And the evil ones are cast down!

Christ is risen! And the angels rejoice!

Christ is risen! And life is liberated!

Christ is risen! And the tomb is emptied of its dead;

for Christ having risen from the dead,

is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power, now and forerver, and from all ages to all ages. Amen!”
He has risen! 

—————

Header image is entitled ‘Resurrection‘, by Melissia Elisa

Good Friday Reflection; Of Dice And Men

I know, it’s been a very long time since my last blog post. But, in my defence, I’ve been very busy writing the next book. Therefore, as a reflection for Good Friday, and a teaser of what’s to come, what follows is an unedited extract;

——
Of all the scenes in the bible, there’s one that strikes me as the most poignant and telling.

Jesus has just been stripped naked and nailed to a cross, condemned to die under the torturous process of Roman crucifixion. His beaten and scourged body now finds itself under tremendous pressure as it hangs suspended by its upper limbs, making each and every breath agonising and difficult.

It’s an excruciating way to die—a word which derives its meaning from crucifixion—and it can’t have been at all pleasant to watch. And yet, Jesus’ crucifixion has gathered a crowd of spectators. There’s a mixed assembly of friend and foe, mourners and trolls, gathering about the suffering saviour of Golgotha. The execution’s atmosphere is saturated by a cacophony of tears and jeers, as the sound of genuine lament finds itself discordantly enmeshed with the scoffing and insulting voices of those who wish to get in a last word whilst the Teacher struggles to grab what little breath he can.

However, it’s not just the activities of human weeping and cheering that find themselves being expressed at the cross. Even here, at the place of torture and death, profiteering (mining) flourishes.

The gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, all mention the story of the soldiers who crucified Jesus casting lots for his clothes. Jesus’ garments find themselves being distributed equally between the four of them in some silent, mutual compromise until they finally come to his robe. The robe presents them with a problem. The mantle of Jesus somehow disturbs this faux equality; an equality which is reliant on a scapegoat. You see, this is a robe of quality, woven in one seamless piece; far too good to be torn in pieces and shared, or so the accounts tell us.

Which makes me think, if the robe was too good to be torn does that mean the other garments of Jesus were shared by tearing, slashing or ripping them apart into equal portions of scrap material? If so, this division wasn’t about acquiring some new additions to the centurion wardrobe, it was just about depriving someone else of clothing; ‘better we have rags to clean our weapons with, or to wipe ourselves with, then someone else have clothes’.

However, the robe of Christ adds a prophetic tension into the corruption-steeped, amicable division of the spoils of war and colonialism. The robe’s worth keeping, such quality shouldn’t be subjected to violence. So, as a means of keeping the peace—ironically, in the blood-stained shadow of Rome’s symbol of peace—the soldiers decide to cast lots, to throw dice.

To us, this seems to be nice, nonviolent solution to the problem; a fair means of selection. Just like us tossing a coin, or drawing the short-straw? But not everything is what it appears to be on the surface. There’s something subtle being suggested in this act.

When we throw dice today, we understand that it’s a game of statistics; the outcome is strictly chance. If you role a pair of dice one hundred times, eventually percentages should play out and you’ll role a double six. Or maybe not. It’s likely, but never certain. For us, dice is a game of probability. No one controls the outcome, ergo, it’s fair (unless someone plays with loaded dice).

But not in the ancient mindset of the first century citizen. To them, casting lots or throwing dice aren’t just the means of making a decision, but the means of invoking a god’s decision. Superstition highly nuances this game. What results isn’t chance or luck, but divine ordination. God controls the outcome, ergo, what transpires is more than fair, it’s decreed.

Apparently, in this ancient game—which carries ideas which are still prevalent today—it’s God who decides who rises and falls, who succeeds and fails. God is seen on the side of the winner, not the loser. In a roundabout way, it’s God who draws the lines between “us” and “them”; it’s God who blesses and sponsors the competitive instinctive for material progress. God, in this thinking, personally elects the world’s champions; they’re the ones who’ll receive the material award. The divine intervenes and, in this scenario, the victor will walk away with a seamless robe.

What a contrast.

As four roman militia roll dice, invoking the divine to act on their behalf and choose who should be the worthy owner of a fine robe, God hangs bleeding and choking for breath on a cross mere feet away from them. In the shadow of the cross, all this so-called “divine ordination” is exposed for what it really is, and what it has always been; men using god as a scapegoat to their schemes and dreams.

The cross unveils the truth. God is not the one blessing and legitimizing the human activity of tearing and ripping and gambling over his garment. God is not the one advocating a “winner takes all” philosphy, or defining “us” from “them”, or prospering his favourites by giving them what they desire. God is not the one deciding who has, and who has not. God’s hands are pierced, and he hangs naked, unclothed before the world, giving himself for the healing of the nations.

At the cross, the tree of life for all humanity, mankind is revealed to be grasping for the power to coerce and control, and invoking the heavenly powers to perform to their will.

At the cross, four individuals, undeterred by the surrounding sound of lamenting and grieving, raucous and jeering voices, toss dice over divine property using a twisted concept of divine privilege.

And yet over this act, through what must have been a weakening and spluttering voice, piercing the atmosphere of dissonance, Jesus cries out with what little breath he has remaining, ‘Father, forgive these people, because they don’t know what they are doing’.

Just like the creation story, God speaks his loving and liberating oration into a world caught in the oppressive grip of chaos and darkness.

But I wonder, how many in the swarm about him gave any credence to these words?

It’s a powerful scene. A moment of history which highlights the difference between God and men.

It’s sobering to consider this contrast between human and divine acts; this distinction between what we think God wants and does, and what God actually wants and does.

———

The above is an extract of Living The Dream? (Writing in progress).

Tristan Sherwin is the author of Love: Expressed (available now)


My Top Seven Books of 2016

Well, another year has passed by. Some of it slipped through my fingers, but I think I may have caught most of it in some way or another.

At least I’ve read some great books this year, and so below is a list of my top seven of the year.

“Why Seven?”, you ask?

Why Ten, or Five or Three?

Whatever the quantity, these are books I’d love you to check out.

I’ve not reviewed every book I’ve read this year. But where I have, I’ve provided a link to my blog review. And where I haven’t, I’ve just added a sample of my thoughts.

Enjoy!


1. Scars Across Humanity, by Elaine Storkey.


Blog review – click here

2. Out Of Sorts, by Sarah Bessey


Blog review – click here

3. A More Christlike God, by Brad Jersak


Blog review – click here

4. Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande


Blog review – click here

5. The Son of Laughter, by Frederick Buechner


Frederick Buechner has done a beautiful job of grafting flesh onto the biblical story of Jacob.

As a master storyteller, Buechner’s prose provides an immersive experience into the sights, sounds, and smells of ancient nomadic culture. It’s raw, gritty, sweaty and brimming with the harsh realities and beauties of life.

Buechner’s biographical portrayal cuts no corners. His words capture both the dark and the light of the human and divine dance; giving voice to ancient perspective and passion. Yes, sometimes the language is explicit (this is no children’s tale, afterall), but this narrative perfectly captures the emotion, the fatigue, and the grain of the long and winding road that the family of Jacob find themselves travelling.

This is the story of one who wrestles with both God and men — a reality we all share. So read this story expecting to meet our very human selves, as we too find ourselves trying to make sense of this journey we’re on.

The Son of Laughter is one story you shouldn’t miss.
6. Silence, by Shusaku Endo


Set in 17th Century Japan, Silence traces the journey of Fr Sebastian Rodrigues as he seeks for his mentor who has apparently apostatised in the face of the intense persecution of the Christian faith. Not believing his devoted mentor would have done such a thing, Rodrigues goes in search of the truth, not knowing that his own faith will be tested in the process — especially his understanding of apostasy.

This is a very powerful novel. I didn’t want to put it down. It’s profound, captivating and beautiful.

Also, it’s coming to the cinemas in the new year, under the direction of Martin Scorsese (who writes the introduction to this Picador Classic edition), and starring Liam Neesan, Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver. Let’s hope he does a good job, but I’d still strongly recommend reading the book.

7. The People of Paper, by Salvador  Plascenia.


I can’t begin to describe this novel. But it’s certainly got to be the most bizarre novel I have ever read. And yet, it’s intriguing, beautiful and extremely well crafted. It is a work of art; a Paper-maché masterpiece formed of soul, soil and sweat which baptises the imagination.

The way it’s laid out, the way it’s written – all of it is the not the “usual” way of telling a story. But out of everything I’ve read this year, this story consistently comes back to my mind.


So that’s it; my top seven.

However, for those who like round numbers and multiples of five, here’s another three I’d highly recommend;

How To Survive A Shipwreck, by Jonathan Martin.

War in the Hebrew Bible, by Susan Niditch.

What We Cannot Know, by Marcus du Sautoy.


Merry Christmas, and I hope you have a great new year.

T.


Tristan Sherwin is author of Love: Expressed

Love Expressed Book Board3

Was Mary A Whore?

Before I begin, I need you to know that the above title is not some clever PR stunt or an attempt at being controversial and derogatory.

I am writing this “advent reflection” of sorts, probably my last/penultimate blog of 2016, because I’m aware that it’s that time of year again.

That time of glitz, over indulgence and throw-away remarks about the integrity of Mary, mother of Jesus.

Already this year I’ve lost count of the amount side-comments and “banter” that has involved the idea of Mary being a woman of sexual promiscuity, or, to express it in the terms I’ve heard, “Mary was a whore”. And we’re only seven days into advent!

I totally get that the Virgin Birth is a tough idea to swallow (even some Christians wrestle with it). But my major beef with comments such as this has nothing to do with theology, per se. (At least not in this blog post, anyway.)

I’ll get to what I detest most about this comment very soon, but before I do, and for those who believe the message of Christianity rises or falls on an  Virgin Birth, it’s worth noting the following;

(For those who don’t wish to read these points, and who want to get to the juice of this post, you may skip ahead to the section entitled, “Mary was not a Whore“)

1. Only Matthew and Luke’s accounts of Jesus mention the virgin birth within their nativity stories, and only due to its significance/emphasis to their respective themes. The gospel accounts of Mark and John don’t, and neither do any of the other writings contained within the New Testament (NT). In other words, the vast majority of the NT makes no specific statements with regards to a virgin birth, or anything special about Jesus’ conception. Yes, there are references to the deity/incarnation and the sinless state of Christ, but this God-head status and sinless lamb status are never defended via reference to the means of Jesus’ conception. Nowhere within the New Testament writings (the letters of Paul being and containing the earliest Christian records) is anything of the theological, political, sociological thrust of the Christian faith “hung” (I.e. dependent upon) a virgin birth. This should strike us as odd if the Gospel is reliant upon on it. There’s lots of theological emphasis on Jesus’ Life (Incarnation), his death, and his Resurrection, but zero on the way in which Jesus was conceived.

Later, from the times of the Church Fathers and into the Reformation, theological statements regarding the nature of Jesus’ flesh (i.e. whether his body was made of the old/existing “fallen” creation, or of a different, new creation/none fallen substance) and its implications to the atonement were developed; these issues have been consistently revisited/debated ever since. But the NT as whole doesn’t make much of a big theological deal at all about the Virgin Birth in connection to the atoning work of Christ. If Matthew and Luke’s nativity stories weren’t part of the NT, the message of who Jesus was and what his life, death and resurrection achieved and enacted, wouldn’t be compromised.

Ergo, it’s possible to be Christian and not accept the historical reality of the virgin birth.

2. Some Christian bible scholars do refute the idea of the virgin birth stories as being historically accurate,  seeing them instead as literary devices, reflecting Old Testament themes and employing political rhetoric, used by the gospel authors to reflect the significance of what God was doing in and through the ministry of Jesus.

For example: Luke’s nativity, involving both Elizabeth and Mary, closely parallels the birth stories of the Old Testament judges of Samson and Samuel, recorded in Judges 13:1-24, and 1 Samuel 1-2:11; both of whom were miraculously conceived by “barren” women (though not immaculately) and went on to deliver Israel from some kind of oppression.

For those who have studied Mary’s hymn of praise–also known as the Magnificat (see Luke 1: 46-55)–it’s hard not to notice how closely Mary’s words follow the rhythm and heartbeat of Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2: 1-11. Whilst the words of Gabriel to Zechariah, in Luke 1: 11-15, are reminiscent of an angel’s words to Samson’s mother in Judges 13. Even Luke’s use of the angel Gabriel, in being the messenger to both Zechariah and Mary, finds its referent in the Old Testament story of Daniel and his messianic visions, which is the only other  reference to the angel Gabriel within the entire corpus of scripture.

By modern standards, Luke could be charged with plagiarism. However, that’s not the case. Luke, and Matthew, purposely echo Old Testament themes to stir up cultural memory. To use a modern term, Luke is “riffing” on the Old Testament promises and purposes of Israel’s God and distilling them into the Jesus story. Luke’s purpose in doing this is not solely about the historicity of the events he is describing, but about grounding the historical story of Jesus and the implications of his actions in human history into the grander narrative and themes of the Jewish Story.

As an aside, with regard to the implications of Mary’s story in Luke, I think Brian McClaren’s remarks on the significance of the virgin birth are poignant when thinking about the patriarchal dominated culture of her day:

“In Luke’s telling of the birth of Jesus, God aligns with the creative feminine power of womanhood rather than the violent masculine power of statehood. The doctrine of the virgin birth, it turns out, isn’t about bypassing sex but about subverting violence. The violent power of top-down patriarchy is subverted not by counterviolence but by the creative power of pregnancy. It is through what proud men have considered ‘the weaker sex’ that God’s true power enters and changes the world. That, it turns out, is exactly what Mary understood the messenger to be saying:

 ‘God has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant . . .  scattered the proud . . . brought down the powerful . . . lifted up the lowly . . . filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. (Luke 1: 48, 51, 52, 53)[i]

Even the scholars who do accept the historical credibility of the virgin birth, still concede the importance of the Old Testament allusions and Political punch of the nativity stories as the primary motivation for their writing.

 3. With regards to any “untoward” involvement from Joseph. Some people are surprised Joseph wasn’t suspicious, but Matthew says otherwise. Matthew clearly states that Joseph was not happy with the story he had received from Mary with regards to how she became pregnant, and sought to divorce her because of this. It took divine intervention to persuade him otherwise (see Matt 1:18-24). On the other hand, if Joseph did happen to be the biological father of Jesus, there would have been no need to invent a “cover story which scapegoats God” for fear of being frowned upon for having “pre-marital” sex. This is an example of us, in a western modern age, reading back modern, western, conservative Christian views into a middle-eastern, first century culture. Joseph was betrothed to Mary (legally married in his day). They would have been seen as Husband and Wife (hence why Matthew states that Joseph thought of divorcing her in secret). If Joseph and Mary had decided to be sexually active prior to an official ceremony, no one would have made a fuss of it.

4. Yes, there is that old story of a Roman centurion, or another Jewish man called Joseph Pandera floating about. Around the ninth century this story emerged, stating that Mary had had an amorous and willing premarital or extramarital affair. But this story is such a late development that it can hardly be used to refute the earlier stories, or be taken as a serious historical contender for Jesus’ parentage.[ii]

 5. Added to the above, there’s also the other annoying modern telling of the “Angel” being some bloke pretending to be sent from God just to take advantage of Mary. Not only do I suspect that such a story finds its origins in the mental faculties of a particular gender (as will be clear below), I also highly doubt that anybody would be daft enough to believe the validity of such a claim and therefore be willing to have sex.

6. Finally, what’s the motivation behind associating some scandal to Jesus’ conception? From what I can tell, the thinking seems to be, “If Jesus was conceived in some dubious, illegitimate, tabloid manner then the whole of his ministry can be seen as illegitimate”. In other words, if Jesus’ conception was of some immoral means then this casts a shadow on Jesus’ own character, integrity, potential and apparent goodness, therefore “he’s not the kind of person to be emulated, honored or listened too”.

It should be obvious that such ideas are also ridiculous; whether or not someone was conceived in a “moral” manner does not define, nor determine that person’s potential as a good, moral person. Imagine saying this to someone who was born as a result of rape, or conceived by “accident”, or born out of marriage? Regardless of how  “culturally moral” or “unlawful” or “unplanned” we came to be conceived, we would never classify ourselves (and others) as being bad people, or sub-human, or lacking in potential for human goodness based on anything to do with our parentage. Would we? How someone comes to be conceived does not allocate them to being treated as less-human, evil or valueless, and it would perverse and prejudice of us to do say it would.

Secondly, on this point, if something scandalous had surrounded Jesus birth, biblically speaking, he wouldn’t have been on his own. Both Matthew and Luke would have had a wealth of biblical narrative at their disposal to allude to; their genealogies alone contain a multitude of “scandalous” stories, stories that the sovereignty and grace of God redeems and works through. How someone came to be never, within scripture, stopped God from taking holding of their lives, loving them and using them for extraordinary things.

In summary, I’d suggest that our motivation for making such claims says more about how we perceive, and define people’s goodness/humanity and worth, then it does about Jesus.

Which nicely brings me to my major gripe of this irritating and, for reasons that will become evident, highly degrading and insulting comment.

MARY WAS NOT A WHORE

Why do I hate this comment so much?

Not so much for the historical or theological ignorance it displays.

But because it perfectly crystallises the patriarchal oppression, derogatory objectification and scapegoating of women.

Let’s pretend, for a moment, that there was some basis to some illegitimate, pre-marriage infidelity involved in Jesus’ conception, whether that is at the hands of a roman centurion or someone under angelic-delusions.

If so, notice what this kind of side-comment does; it lays the blame for such infidelity on the woman in typical patriarchal fashion.

If there was some historical basis for such an idea–and there isn’t–it would be more likely that Mary would have been a victim of this episode and not the instigator. I.e. if such a story has any grounds at all, Mary should be seen as a victim of rape and not as a willing participant.

But following a very disgusting, dehumanising, modern (and yet ancient) patriarchal trend, the victim is labelled as a whore.

In a modern analogy, such thinking is reflected in the horrible trend of blaming the crime of rape on what the victim is wearing. It’s encapsulated in the horrendous statement, “She was asking for it“. I hate this. I really, really hate this! Instead of naming the horrible and perverse principles at work in the mind of the rapist, we negate the rapist’s culpability by scandalously scapegoating the woman. The abuse victim, in turn, is painted as some malicious siren, whilst the male perpetrator gets cast as an innocent victim to his senses.

There is no defence for this. Such excusing of an horrendous act is both shameful and evil. To project the reasons for rape onto the victim is, I believe, to purposely collude with the intentions of the rapist.

That may sound harsh. But trust me, I could put it across in a worse way. So consider that as me being polite.

If there is anything that a comment like, “Mary was a Whore” reveals, it isn’t the illegitimacy of Jesus’ birth. It is more revealing of our objectifying and degrading view of women, and willingness to conspire with a male-dominated system which scapegoats the opposite sex for the inexcusable actions of men.

If you’re going to say “Mary was a whore”–and it’s mostly men I’ve heard it from–it says more about you than it does about Mary.

So to be clear, this post isn’t a defence of a biblical story. There are books and articles galore exploring and debating this. Rather it’s to sound an alarm, and to state an obvious truth that still seems to escape some of us men in the twenty-first century;

Women are not trophies, objects, or toys.

Women do not exist for male entertainment, or to be subservient to men, or to be ranked, or graded, or scored by our twisted brains.

Again, Brian McClaren’s understanding of the virgin birth, above, speaks volumes into this male-masticating-milieu.

However, I’ll leave the final words for an absolute hero of mine, Elaine Storkey, with regards rape culture;

“Rape culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, the glamorization of sexual violence and the entitlement given to men. Gender definitions themselves play a part in it. When ‘manhood’ is defined in terms of dominance and sexual aggression, then it is hardly a man’s fault if he expresses the aggression towards a woman…Defining ‘womanhood’ produces more ambiguous results. Women can be perceived as submissive, innocent and sexually passive, or as whores just waiting to be raped (‘she was asking for it’). Either way, [women] are at risk.

Other facets of rape culture are easily recognised: trivializing sexual assault, showing tolerance towards sexual harassment, inflating false rape report statistics, publicly scrutinizing a victims dress, mental state, motives and history. One of the more alarming recent developments in many Western societies is the proliferation of ‘jokes’ about sexual violence.”[iii]

I know that the theme of such a blog post might seem out-of-sync with the whole Christmas season, but I assure you, it’s not.

If the incarnation–God dwelling among us–is about redeeming a fallen humanity, then that also involves the renewal of our thoughts towards each other.

Chow for now,

T.

Ps. If you want to read my Advent reflection for last year, click here.

[i] Brian D. McClaren, We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 15, p85, Hodder & Stoughton, 2014

[ii] See Jesus Outside the New Testament, Section The Toledot Yeshu, p122. Robert E. Van Voorst, Eerdmans Publishing Co. 2000.

[iii] Elaine Storkey, Scars Across Humanity: Understanding and Overcoming the Violence Against Women, p127-128, SPCK, 2015.


Tristan Sherwin is the author of Love: Expressed

Love Expressed Book Board2

Beneath

Sometimes life feels like breathing;

You inhale, you exhale,

You take in, you give out.

Equilibrium surrounds;

the assurance of removal and replacement,

That you contribute to, and are provided for.

 

But then there are other days,

when life feels like drowning.

When everything pushes in,

and nothing is allowed to escape.

Not even the scream.

Times when walls surround, voices dominate, confusion reigns.

The world capsizes and the climate goes grey.

 

When beneath, you do anything to simulate the surface,

anything to plateau.

Whatever brings release;

whatever stimulates the faux sensation of life prior to the submersion.

The addiction calls.

Like a siren it persuades,

promising life, but anchoring us down into to the fathoms below.

 

I must kick.

Fight against the oceans pull,

And resist the lies the siren promises.

There is no breath here,

regardless of the momentary sensation in my lungs.

Life only awaits above,

the surface tension can be broken.

This will not be my abode or grave.

I must kick.

 

And on those days when my legs are too tired,

when my strength is gone,

I surrender my hands skyward and await for heaven’s pull.


 

Book Review – On The Incarnation, By Athanasius of Alexandria

Also known as the “Father of Orthodoxy”, Athanasius (295-373 AD) was bishop of the Egyptian city Alexandria between 328–373 AD. He was involved in a number of controversies during his lifetime, due to his defence of the Nicene faith and his warnings against Arian errors, and was even banished to Trier by Constantine I because of intrigues against him from other parties (Arian and parties involved in the Miletian schism). After a successful appeal to Julius I, Athanasius returned to his see, but was forced from it a further 4 times during 335-366.

This book is a translation of his most famous work De Incarnatione (On the Incarnation). In which Athanasius writes to his friend Macarius (possibly Macarius of Alexandria, died c. 394?)—continuing from his previous writing on heathen idolatry— on the reasons for God becoming incarnate in Christ; citing the theological motivations for God revealing himself in such a unique way and exploring the proofs of this appearing which should be obvious to both the Jewish and Greek objectors.

It’s important to note that what Athanasius cites as “proofs” and “facts” within his writing would hardly be enough to convince today. However, it is important to remember the context in which he writes and the arguments he is addressing. His writing clearly engages with the opposition’s questions and rebuttals of his time, and his apologetic discourse flows with a clear enthusiasm. Also his reasons for God’s appearing in flesh are still good considerations and important contributors to theology two millennia on.

Overall, this short text makes for an interesting read and is an important text from the Church Father era.

Some of my favourite lines from this work:

“By man, death has gained its power over men; by the Word made Man, death has been destroyed and life raised up anew.”

“Like seeds cast into the earth, we do not perish in our dissolution, but like them shall rise again, death having been brought to nought by the grace of the Saviour.”

“A marvellous and mighty paradox has thus occurred, for the death which they thought to inflict on Him as dishonour and disgrace has become the glorious monument to death’s defeat.”

This edition (printed by Fig; fig-books.com), also comes with an excellent introduction from C. S. Lewis, where he states the importance of reading early texts (old books) directly and not just reading modern ones. We need both the old and the new. Which is great advice.

The only downside with regards to this edition is this; it would have been nice to have a small introduction into who St Athanasius was and a quick glance at his era.

Product links on Amazon: Amazon UK; Amazon.com


Tristan Sherwin is the author of Love: Expressed

Love Expressed Book Board3

Magpies & Vomit

There was something I saw a number of weeks ago that is still lingering in my memory.

I was driving along one early Sunday morning, with my two sons in the back of the car—I think they were playing (aka, arguing) about Pokémon, or something—when I came to stop at a red-light.

Whilst stopped, some movement at the corner of my left eye drew my attention to the curb-side. And there in their monochrome tones, pecking away at some yellow, dried-up vomit, where two Magpies.

I need you to visualise that in your mind’s eye.

It’s not a pleasant image. But it sticks. Or at least it did for me. It’s there, imprinted on the back of my eye lids.

I keep contemplating this scene, like there’s some hidden meaning, or even layers of meanings, buried within it.

Maybe the whole episode was some kind of acted parable?

Or better yet, think of it like some living Banksy portrait. If the famous, thought-provoking, protest painting, street-artist had embellished this on the side of a bus-shelter, it would draw crowds, find itself all over social-media and have us all interrogating it for its message.

I know a feast of vomit isn’t as pleasing to think about in comparison with Banksy’s famous rioter throwing a bunch of flowers. But art is art, right? Regardless of whether its medium is that of black spray-paint on rendered brickwork, or black and white feathers aside splattered part-digested matter.

Here it was in the flesh; Living art, trying to say something, calling me to think.

Two Magpies, scavenging the chunks from the dried remains of humanities regurgitated self-indulgence.

Of course, there are clear ideas that could flow from this about our relationship with the surrounding ecology. And those things are important things to think about. But something else has struck me recently. Something which is more connected to our treatment of each other.

TWEET

I’ve been a Twitter user for five years now. But there are days when I just want to flush the whole concept away.

Especially those days when it feels like people are just feasting on each other; gorging themselves on an individual’s shame, devouring reputations because of opinions shared, gobbling down on the perceived succulence that is someone else’s tabloid mess.

Sometimes, this feels justified. After all, people can say and do things which are extremely offensive, irrational, and dehumanising. So there will always be the need to speak out against injustice and to become a voice for those who have been silenced or abused or oppressed or objectified. There will always be a time for exposing bias, evil, supremacist and destructive thinking and behaviour.

But there are times, when reading through Twitter (and other social sites) that the motive for our speaking seems to be less than a concern for the real issues.

There are moments when, instead of trying to destroy an insidious idea, we’re actually just seeking to destroy someone. Not to mention the times when we also voice our delight in seeing their destruction at the hands of others.

The thing is, most of the people I follow on Twitter are Christians. And it scares me to see how quick we are to feast upon one another; and how much some of us appear to enjoy it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not above this compulsion. I recognise within myself that latent desire which sometimes flashes forth; a desire to see someone fall flat on their face; a desire that then produces within me some perverse delight at seeing someone else become a target of ridicule.

But this isn’t right.

We can’t make the world beautiful through ugly means.

I’m not saying we should be silent regards such issues as inequality, racism, poverty, patriarchy, war etc.

But it feels, with the language that some people employ, that we’re just out to scapegoat and crucify somebody.

And it’s not limited to the right side of the debate or the wrong side. The Scapegoat tactic is employed by those who find themselves on the “conservative right” and the “liberal left” (btw, I dislike both these terms, but they are terms people use). Even those of us who dwell in the “muddled middle” find ourselves sometimes taking the easy poke at someone else.

There’s an obvious irony in all this; it appears we Christians seem to relish in the spectacle of a public execution. Not all of us, I know. But still far too many.

We seem to be very apt at actively seeking for someone to sacrifice, and deficient in seeking to be a martyr.

I’m not sure of the motive for this is. When I read between the lines, the only motive I can pin it to—a motive that might be subversively working within us and that isn’t easily acknowledged or admitted—is that we are trying to fatten ourselves—increase our own public platform—by feasting on the rejection of another.

The opportunistic Magpie in each of us, spies the chance for an easy meal.

We all have issues that we are passionately advocating for/against. But should we ever be passionate about seeing the destruction of another?

I’m not asking for silence, but for considered speech. Before you tweet, ask yourself who you are tweeting for. After all church, the rest of the world is watching, and how we treat our “enemies” (real or imaginary) catches there attention.

I am, by no means, perfect. I find myself in my own spiral of inner conflict. I’m an amalgamation of contradictory opinions, ideals, philosophy, scientific thought and theology. I am a project; a pilgrimage in progress. I can, all too easily, look back on myself and see some of the ridiculous/dehumanising/uninformed views that I once held, which, by the grace-work of God and the wisdom of others, have been slowly worn down and transformed. God knows how much I would slap the person I was seven years ago if I ever had the chance to come face-to-face with myself.

I was once an enemy of many things that I now support. And I suspect that my views will continue to fluctuate. So maybe I need to extend the past me some grace? Wouldn’t I be in need of the same grace from my future self?

But when I look at the way discussions take place today on social media, I often see no mercy for the person in the wrong. The old me would have been too scared to speak into this fray with fear of being torched instead of being taught. The present me suspects the same reception. I sense that I would easily become the sacrifice on the altar of someone’s idea of making progress or of sparking a “revival”. However, this kind of sacrificial act doesn’t persuade or convert the enemy, it just burns them up. It reduces the opposition to ashes, leaving no means for transformation and grace.

The truth is that it is impossible to make friends of enemies whilst continuing to treat them like targets.

Contrary to popular belief, we’re not all phoenixes; we don’t all rise in a new form from the ashes of our defeat. The fall, the defeat, the humiliation isn’t 100% guaranteed to make us realise the errors in our thinking and lead us to agreement. Sometimes the fall burns, and scars, or causes our hearts to callous and our stupid ideas to become entrenched.

My own mind has changed on a lot of things over the years, and I now question a lot of thinking that I once held sacred. And yet this change in me has only taken place because of those who have invited me to peaceful conversation. It has never happened where I have been thrown under the wheels of their vehicle for progress or revival.

Maybe the real sacrifice required of us, is us and not them? It’s a harder offering to give. Maybe what we require is the ability to listen and understand, and the patience to reply in a loving way that seeks to turn those who obstruct us into the champions of our cause and not into the trophies from a day’s hunt.

I’ve still some way to go in this. And I’m certainly not claiming to be innocent.

But I wonder what it would be like to see a spiritual revival, or a change in the justice system, or a transition to a more economically fair world, that didn’t have someone else’s proverbial head on a plaque?

I don’t want to be a Magpie. I don’t want a carrion nature. I don’t want to be part of the spread of hatred, demonic accusations or scapegoating.

What about you?

My prayer is that our stomachs would swell with the real food of working at peaceful living and reconciliation, and that we would not grow fat on the rejection of others.

Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for each other will prove to the world that you are my disciples

–Jesus, John 13:34-35 (NLT)

Header image is entitled “To Fly or Not to Fly”, by BozenaFatygaArt


Tristan Sherwin is the author of Love: Expressed

Love Expressed Book Board2

Tithing: A Critique of Modern Practise and Pressure.

Last Sunday morning I was encouragingly reminded of a sermon I gave in February last year with regards to tithing, by a member of our community at Metro Christian Centre, Bury. As a conclusion to our brief conversation, it was suggested that I maybe try and write the message up as a blog post, so here it is.

Just a few quick pointers though, before you start reading.

Firstly, the context of this message was in a series we were doing at the time entitled “Generous”, which looked at the inclination of the entirety of our lives towards God and others. Ergo, it wasn’t a series specifically focused on finance. We seldom preach finance at MCC—and we’re proud of that! I am aware, and was aware whilst bringing the following message, of people’s suspicion of some sections of the church’s ability to fleece cash. We aren’t one of those churches, as the following hopefully makes clear, and we know many great churches, of differing denominations, which aren’t too. It’s sad that this suspicion exists, and more saddening that it has the grounds to exist because of actual practises. If those practices make you angry, please know that they make me just as angry, too.

Secondly, this is from last year, 2015. I’ve slept a lot since then–approximately 577 times, give and take the occasional (ok, regular) afternoon nap at the weekends. Because of that, things aren’t as clear in my head now as they were when I originally penned this. But my conviction remains the same. Even though I read from a number of sources and opinions at the time, things I have read since, re’ other topics, have pushed some of that former knowledge back (or out) to a hard-to-reach place for my recall. (As an aside, this “natural” forgetfulness is a good example of why it’s a good habit to keep studying). As such, I’ve simply tried to share here the heart of what I shared then, and kept my references to what they were in my original notes.

Finally, following on from the above, I’ve not attempted to re-write this message, but only endeavoured to tidy/edit my notes to make it readable as a blog. Keeping that in mind will be helpful to me.

With all that out of the way, here’s the message…

Enjoy (if that’s the correct salutation to give?)  😉


ICE BUCKET CHALLENGE

I’m sure that at some point during 2014 most of us had overheard about a craze known as The Ice Bucket challenge.

The idea’s not a difficult thing to grasp. In a nutshell, someone gets a bucket full of ice, cold water emptied over their accepting heads.

Its sound’s irrational–and probably is–but the original heart behind this seemingly crazy practice was a good one.

The motivation of those originally involved in this counter-intuitive practice was to raise awareness of  a debilitating condition called ‘Motor Neuron Disease’ (aka Lou Gehrig’s disease) and also, in the process, to raise funds that would go towards researching this condition, in the hope of discovering treatment and prevention.

So there was good heart intent behind this practise; those involved knew that there was a need to be met and so they gave their own money, and encouraged others to do so, through this challenge. It wasn’t just a case of dumping water over your head; you gave your own money to dump water on your head, and the people who nominated you to do so, would give theirs as well.

The Ice Bucket Challenge was a great success! It’s important for me to stress this now, just in case someone gets the wrong end of the stick with what I have to say in a moment. But to be clear, I’m not “anti” the Ice bucket Challenge, and all those involved in raising monies and awareness of MND deserve a huge WELL DONE! In one week alone, the M.N.D Association, which would normally receive £200,000 of donations per week, received a whooping £2.7m, as well as the awareness of MND being an international topic of conversation in living-rooms, work places and super markets.

Now that’s a great thing!

On top of that, other charities benefitted as well; as people partook in the challenge to raise awareness and funds for other great causes, such as MacMillan Cancer Support and Water Aid (ironic as that may seem).

Even more great news!

But, despite the good motives and the great success of many, some good things, in hands of other people, go “off-track” in a way that shifts the expression of the deed away from its original heart.

Soon, what was originally a loving, generous expression of concern and compassion by many, became a fad for others. Some people just started dumping buckets of water over their heads just because it was trendy, and you got a few ‘likes’ for it on social media sites. I know this, because I know people who took part in the challenge and didn’t give anything to a charity; I know people who challenged others to do it but weren’t willing to give their own money to see those people do it.

It’s a sad admission of our times, but some people’s only motive for doing it was flamboyance and showmanship. Others did it because they felt pressured into doing it; they were told they were ‘tight’, ‘no fun’ or that it was ‘required’ of them otherwise they would have some kind of curse fall upon you for breaking the ‘chain’.

If your memory can stretch far enough, you’ll most likely remember a similar thing happening with the ‘No Make-Up Selfie’ challenge a year earlier.

You see, in both cases there was an original heart-beat that created the things like the Ice Bucket Challenge, but in time people moved away from that heart-beat. They kept the behaviour of the practise and name of what heart-beat’s created, but threw away the actual concern and compassion behind it.

So it’s something that began, in a specific time, to meet a specific need that then got turned into a practice that it was never meant to be…

OLD TESTAMENT TITHING

If you followed that, and you know my fondness for analogies, then you might guess where we’re going within this [blog’s] content. But just in case you don’t, and to be clear from the start–a tithe, or more specifically, the practise of tithing–is an Old Testament requirement, to meet an Old Testament need. But we are a New Testament people!

Tithing, as an institutional practice, was a part of the Mosaic covenant. Yes there are mentions of giving a tithe (a tenth, which is what a tithe means) before this, but it isn’t the modus operandi that developed as part of the Sinai/Wilderness commandments. Neither are the reasons/motivations for these pre-Moses tithes the same as those espoused in some modern churches

For example, in Genesis 14 it mentions the patriarch Abraham giving a tithe (a tenth) to Melchizedek, the priest King of Salem. But this act wasn’t the same as the practise of tithing which is instructed in Leviticus, Deuteronomy or Numbers (which we’ll look at in a moment). It’s also important to note that what Abram tithed was 10%, not of his own property/produce or flocks, but the plunder that he’d just taken in war. It’s also important to note that he gave the remaining 90% of the plunder away, keeping nothing for himself.

Also, Genesis 28 makes mention of Abraham’s grandson Jacob refusing to give God a tenth (tithe), until God gave him something first. This, before we even get to the real motivation behind the Old Testament practise of tithing, is a total antithesis to those so-called “prosperity” teachers who say you must give in order to get, even when you have nothing!

In the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 12:6-19, 14:22-29, Leviticus 27:30-33, Numbers 18:24-31), tithes were given to the priests only and brought into the Tabernacle (the meeting place where sacrifices where offered and ritual ceremonies took place). According to the Mosaic law, no one else could receive the tithes but the Levites, who, and this is important, had no land to farm or produce food from. Tithe-able goods were always things like, grain, crops, wine and meat, i.e. food and drink. Incidentally; Carpenters, Stone Masons, basket weavers etc. (even fisherman!), were never required to tithe under Moses’ Law.

Ergo, if that wasn’t obvious, not everyone was required to tithe under the Old Testament system of tithing, and only a certain tribe within Israel could receive the tithes.

And get this, every third year a special tithe was collected; when the tithes were given to God, via the Levites, with the specific instruction to bring them into the nearest town’s stores, invite the FOREIGNER, the FATHERLESS, the WIDOW, SONS, DAUGHTERS, SERVANTS and LEVITES, basically those who risked being at the bottom rung of society, and they were to be eaten together in the presence of God, with the commandment that everyone should eat and be satisfied.

That’s a great command! So tithing wasn’t a burden, but a means of blessing others.

As an aside, but a very important one, Money was not a tithe-able commodity under Moses.

Soak that in for a moment.  Because I suspect that may come as surprise to some. If someone tells you that the Old Testament law required cash tithes it didn’t; it was grain, meat, beer and such like.

Money did exist in those times, although it probably wasn’t thought of as we do in today’s western culture. But with the tithing practise, the only time money is mentioned is in Deuteronomy 14; if you had a long way to travel to where the tithes were collected and ate, then the law permitted you to sell your tenth of grain/meat etc. to save you the transport problems. Once you reached your destination you could then exchange that money back for food and drink to allow you to partake in the festivities or sacrifices; ‘When you arrive, use the money to buy anything you desire – an ox, a sheep, some wine, or beer. Then feast there in the presence of the LORD your God and celebrate with your household[1].

Imagine that in a Sunday morning service?

You see, there was a heart-beat behind the tithe; it was an initiative that facilitated societal needs being met. Along with the Mosaic practises of Sabbath, Jubilee, and Gleaning laws, Tithing was a system where those that had and produced, provided for those who didn’t and couldn’t.

In a sense–not to demean God in anyway–The Tithing system, under the old Law, was a divine Ice Bucket Challenge; it kept the awareness of need in the forefront of people’s minds, and it gave a means to provide for that need. It taught people to honour God by expressing His provisional nature to the poor.

If we wanted to practise that sort of tithing today–the actual Mosaic practise–then that would be great.

And yet … tithing doesn’t look like that today.

TITHING TODAY

Tithing has seen something of a revival in recent church history. The practise is preached, it carries the same name, but it has moved a long way away from the heart-beat behind the original practise. And, as highlighted above, it doesn’t even resemble anything like the OT practise, even though those who preach it is a divine requirement invoke the OT to back up their viewpoints. Some have taught it innocently–passing on what they have received—but others have sadly done so to exhort funds.

This, from my own experience within a denominational strand that in main teaches tithing, is what I have seen and heard;

  • It’s taught as a command; that you must give 10% of your financial income. Even though the Mosaic Law isn’t about money at all, and forbids money being a tithe-able commodity.
  • It’s taught with a pressure behind it; that you’ll be under some curse if you don’t, or posited as the reason why financially struggles happen, “you don’t tithe, no wonder your finances are in a mess”. Which, again, is odd, as the OT law is only applicable to increase; Israel was never told to give what they didn’t have. For example, in the Leviticus stipulations, it was only the tenth cow under the rod that was tithed–if you only had nine, you couldn’t give the tenth. Tithing was post-script, not pre-script; it was a means of sharing God’s blessing, not a way to attract blessing. In this way, tithing didn’t impoverish those who didn’t have, it protected them and placed them on the receiving end of other people’s blessings.
  • It’s taught, or understood, as some kind ‘divine payment protection’ scheme, like it’s an ISA or something. But again, the OT law was nothing to do with a consumerist mantra about “giving in order to get”, instead you got in order to give. The kind of thinking that says “we must do, before God does”, makes God’s faithfulness sound rather precarious and dubious! [2]

For those placed under the pressure of all of this teaching, this just leads to being made to feel guilty, or burdened. Many simply cannot afford to give a tenth, and so are made to feel as if they are under some curse or that their salvation is at risk!

For many it’s seen as a fundamental practise of Christian life. Jumping ahead here—the under-lying heart of tithing, a means of doing justice and showing mercy towards others, especially those in need, is a fundamental, but tithing isn’t.

To share a brief story:

I remember one work colleague once telling me the story of his son. His son had just become a Christian at a mega-church whilst studying at university. My colleague wasn’t impressed; he’s not a fan of Christianity, especially modern charismatic forms. Most of his prejudices I disagree with, and I feel are unfair and based of caricatures, but I cringed with shame when he told me about his son tithing. His son had been told he must tithe, even though he was on a student loan! This, I agreed with him, was totally disgusting. Apparently, in this church, you couldn’t be passionate about Christ if you weren’t giving some financial pay-off.

Sadly, this isn’t the only story I could tell about this sort of abusive and exhorting teaching. But to quickly summarize some main objections (if the above analyse of what the Mosaic Law actually teaches wasn’t enough);

As Christians we are a New Testament People–tithing, like circumcision is not a requirement. Only Levites could collect tithes, and there is no Levitical Priesthood; we are, ALL OF US, part of a Royal Priesthood. There is no Tabernacle/Temple to bring the Tithes into; we are, together in Christ, the Temple of the Living God.

You are not required to Tithe, and neither are you under some curse if you don’t, neither is your salvation at risk. This isn’t some after-life mortgage scheme. You have already been paid for by something more valuable than silver and gold, and if God has already given us his most precious belonging–his son–why would he deal out curses? It’s Grace.

Tithing, in the modern “prosperity” sense, is just another manifestation of the consumeristic, materialistic and individualistic drives of our age–it certainly doesn’t represent what the Mosaic Law taught, and it doesn’t reflect the New Testament ideals either.

TITHING IN THE NEW TESTAMENT.

Jesus himself only mentions tithing once, and in the context of critiquing the Pharisee’s own practise of the Mosaic Law; they made sure they gave even a tenth of the mint in their gardens, but they missed the point of the tithe altogether. It wasn’t about keeping account with God, but pursuing and extending justice and mercy towards the widow and the orphan etc.

The NT Church didn’t Tithe, and they were never required to tithe by Paul or the early Church Leaders. Why, because they understood the Grace that they had received, and so they practised something far better than tithing. They understood the heart-beat behind the law, so they went beyond the law. They practised the kind of community that tithing pointed towards, a community where tithing wouldn’t be required because needs were met by each other.

In the book of Acts we read of a church that held everything in common; they met the needs within their community, and history tells us they even met the needs of those outside of their community. The early church was GENEROUS with each other. With TIME, with POSSESSIONS, with HOMES and their FINANCES.

Again, why? Because of one simple word: grace. Grace revolutionizes us from those who tithe and give charity, to people who pass the grace. ‘- Scott McKnight[3]

The NT does have a something to teach about giving, though. In particular, Paul gives some great advice to the church at Corinth with regards to a collection for the church in Jerusalem (see, 2 Corinthians 8 & 9). However, it’s interesting that Paul never appeals to any Old Testament sanction or allusion for this offering, he simply appeals to grace; the generosity of God. Paul’s advice on giving, broken down into bullet points, is as follows. Notice how this advice contrasts with what some “prosperity” preachers would say, and how it mirrors the under-lying heart-beat of the original tithing system;

  1. Give out of what you do have, not out of what you don’t. Don’t give so much that you suffer from having too little (8:12-13). So, if you’re struggling to pay your bills, but your tithing–if I can be bluntly honest–pay your bills.
  2. Give willingly, not under pressure (9:5). Ergo, it’s not a requirement. Don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure, give cheerfully out of a heart that wants to give (9:7).
  3. You must each make you own mind up about how much to give (9:7). There’s no prescriptive amount. This isn’t about quantity, but the heart in which it is given. For some of us 10% is just unattainable, two percent is more than generous, and that’s ok.

We are called to be generous; not consumeristic, or materialist, or individualistic. We are not called to look for means to make ‘profit’ but to seek ways in which to bless. After all God has not called us to 10% stewardship of life, but whole-life stewardship. God has called us to show justice, mercy, care and provision for those who need it.

In my home church, Metro Christian Centre, Bury, no one is required to give a tithe. But we do desire to be the counter-culture community that seeks to be generous. And generous in a way that isn’t ‘pressured’ or ‘prescriptive in quantity’, nor reluctant, but which joyfully flows according to what we have.

We are called to go beyond tithing; we are ‘post-tithing’, seeking to be the reciprocal expression of the grace we have been shown in Christ. We have freely received, so we freely give.

We are not called to tithe, but we are called to love one another; our neighbour and our enemy.

I love my church family. I know we are a generous church. And I don’t mean about the offerings. We hear stories all the time about people physically and financially meeting needs within our community. Keep doing it. And if you’re not doing so, but you can afford to do so, then why aren’t we?

Of course our church, like others, requires finances to operate. But we are not going to wrap that up in some out-of-date OT requirement, that makes people a) feel guilty b) feel threatened by potential curses, which actually just taps into some consumeristic tendency and not a generous one, and c) actually testifies against the blood of Jesus that has already, gracefully, purchased us. MCC Bury isn’t Ice Bucket Church, in the gone off track kind of sense, and we have no desire to be one of those churches. We are not going to ask people to tell us their salaries. We are not going do a special preach before every offering. We do not charge a subscription fee. We simple trust you.

We want to be a church that is motived by and reciprocates the grace we have already received. So I’d encourage you to give; give voluntarily, give cheerfully, give wisely, give generously.[4]

— Tristan Sherwin, author of *Love: Expressed*

Foot Notes:

[1]. As a further aside, this text in Deuteronomy 14 offers an important insight into correctly understanding Jesus’ actions within the Temple, when he overturns the tables of the money lenders. As with others, such as N. T. Wright, I do not believe Jesus was protesting the sale of goods in the Temple. Torah allowed for this. Instead, Jesus was carrying out a prophetic demonstration against the Temple system itself by temporally bringing the sacrificial practice to a stand-still.

[2]. On that note, after I preached this message at church, one of our church family came to me upset over what I said. They were adamant that through their practise of tithing, God had always met their needs and never let them go without. This thinking is extremely common is “prosperity” settings, and has been taught for decades. However, could it be that God is just, simply put, faithful? Even without our tithes? The basic premise of the gospel is grace, not bribery, or our own faithfulness to God. Also, I would answer in response to this thinking, what about those who have tithed and still gone without? It happens! More than some would admit. Maybe the modern tithing culture itself, which sees prosperity as blessing and poverty as curse, creates an environment where these people feel falsely guilty over their predicaments and unable to ask for help without risk of being shamed? Some people, under the pressure of such teaching, commit what they don’t even have, getting in more dire-straits–which is totally out of sync with the purposes of the tithe in the first place. Of course, those kinds of stories aren’t shared from the front of churches that wish to promote their own kind of tithing; only their version of what constitutes “good news” stories are shared.

[3]. Just in case the link doesn’t transfer from my notes, see:  http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2012/01/09/paul-was-post-tithing/

[4]. I know I have only briefly dealt with tithing in the Old Testament in this message, and an even briefer survey of it in the New Testament, and, as some would have noticed, I have completely skipped any dealing of the historical development of things such as Temple Taxes or Church Taxes. This reason for this is simple; most “prosperity” teaching on tithing does so with an appeal to Old Testament passages, and not to Second Temple period or European Medieval developments.


Header Image: “Feed The Poor Man’s Greed”, by Veeegeee, at deviantart.com


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Book Review – War in the Hebrew Bible: A Study in the Ethics of Violence, by Susan Niditch

Within the *War in the Hebrew Bible: A Study in the Ethics of Violence*, Susan Niditch, a scholar in Hebrew Biblical Studies, turns her attention to analysing the ethics of war which appear to be on display within the Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament).

What I have loved most from Niditch’s study is the way in which she highlights the multi-vocal dialogue of the Hebrew Canon. There isn’t just “a” view of war, but an overlapping of ideologies in some places and a conflict (pardon the pun) in others. Examples of which are the Deuteronomist editing of the “Ban” (Hebrew “hrm”), which attempted to recast killing in war as enacting the justice of God and away from being seen as a means of human sacrifice to God; as well as the pro-Davidic writers of Chronicles who, unlike the writers of Samuel, clearly display a discomfort with the blood-stained hands of Israel’s famous monarch, positing this as the reason why David wasn’t allowed to construct God a scared space on earth (the Temple).

Niditch extracts seven Israelite ideologies altogether within the main chapters of the book;

  • The Ban as God’s Portion
  • The Ban as God’s Justice
  • The Priestly Ideology of War
  • The Bardic Tradition of War
  • The Ideology of Tricksterism
  • The Ideology of Expediency and Biblical Critique
  • The Ideology of Nonparticipation

Each chapter meticulously unearths the thinking behind such ideologies and shows were they occur within the corpus of scripture. And the conclusion of the book neatly summarizes these differing views.

The scope of the work is magnificent. Mainly keeping within the Torah and History books of the Hebrew Canon (Genesis, Exodus, Number, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Esther, Chronicles et al.), Niditch explores how these ideologies are revealed in stories such as the infamous “Canaanite Extermination” and the tale of Jael’s famous “Tent Peg”. Looking through the lens of each ideology, Niditch also helps us to grasp the authors’ perceptions of the enemy; whether they are cast in an “us and them” relationship, or seen as a scapegoat, an equal, or even as a sacred vessel to be offered.

Although I would have liked to have heard more from the Prophetic writers, Wisdom texts and Psalms, doing so would have only made this volume much bigger. And in this case, I don’t believe bigger would have been better. For a slim volume (only 155 pages) I don’t think you could do much better than this. The dissection of ideas on display in Niditch’s writing is exceptional and illuminating, and a demonstration of her masterful knowledge of the construct of the Hebrew Canon.

For those looking to study Biblical Ethics, or War ideologies in particular, (or even those who are studying the Old Testament in general) I would say that this book is a must read!

If, like me, you are someone who believes in Non-violence, and also believes that this is God’s way–God’s ideal for humanity–but wonder what all the blood-shed is about in the scriptures, then this is also a great resource.

That doesn’t mean that this study is full of easy answers or comforters to make the war scenes of scripture more palatable. These questions are complex and broad, and we should never hope to get “comfortable” with some of these barbaric episodes. However, to understand an ethic of Non-violence we must also grapple with the ethics of war and the reasons people use to justify killing each other. As Niditch says, within her introduction:

“…most scholars of war agree that it is extremely difficult psychologically for a human to kill another and that killing and placing oneself in the position of being killed require considerable self-justification, rationalization, psychological and social sanction. And even so, rituals in primitive cultures marking the exit from war frequently emphasize not the jubilance of victory but guilt and ambivalence over those one has killed. It is even more difficult to kill those “of the group” than those outside the group (p.20-21)… Extremely relevant, however, to an understanding of some of the war ideologies of the Hebrew Bible are their emphases on the subconscious guilt that killing can induce and on the human need to sacralise or otherwise rationalize the killing (p.25)”

For those, like myself, who believe the redemptive trajectory of scripture is leading us towards an ethic of Non-violence, along with the corresponding theology of a God who condemns war, this work will prove extremely helpful. Niditch’s work doesn’t lead to an ideology of Non-violence–as it seeks to understand the ancient Israelite’s reasoning behind war–it does however, I feel, help to emphasize the evolution of ideas about acts of war and God’s opinion of it.

Again, *War in the Hebrew Bible: A Study in the Ethics of Violence* is a highly recommended study.

–Tristan Sherwin, author of Love: Expressed


From the Back cover of War in the Hebrew Bible:

“War texts pervade the Hebrew Bible, raising difficult questions about religious and political ethics. Niditch considers the spectrum of war ideologies in the Hebrew Bible, to answer why and how these ideologies made sense to biblical writers. Informed by anthropology, comparative literature, and feminist studies, Niditch re-examines the normative assumptions that shape our understanding of ancient Israel. More widely, while she concentrates on the tones, textures, meanings, and messages of the Hebrew Scriptures, Niditch explore how human being attempt to justify killing and violence.”

Product link: Amazon UK, Amazon US


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