New Zealand and “the wild beast”

George MacDonald, writing in 1868, observed that when there is contempt for the truth:

” . . . then, as we see in the French Revolution, the wild beast in man breaks from its den, and chaos returns.” 1

I have no idea whether MacDonald had ever read Dostoevsky, but he too lamented the human capacity for bestiality.

“Indeed, people sometimes speak of man’s bestial cruelty, but that is very unfair and insulting to the beasts: a beast can never be so cruel as a man, so ingeniously, so artistically cruel.”2

We are witnessing, increasingly, the violence of this ‘wild beast’. In the ‘light’ of the events in New Zealand, Muslims are right to point the finger at mendacious hypocrites such as Trump who spout xenophobic rhetoric, manufacture ‘invasions’, build walls, and deny both the toxic reality and the extent of white supremacy. Speaking directly to the President, Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), says:

“The terrorist has quoted the most powerful person in the world, President Trump… We hold you responsible for this growing anti-Muslim sentiment.”

Trump disagrees. Speaking on NBC news on Friday 15 March, he remarked that white supremacists are only ‘a small group of people’, choosing to ignore the fact that one-third of his countrymen are of the opinion that ‘America must protect and preserve its White European heritage’ (Reuters/Ipsos/UVA Center for Politics Race Poll, 2017) and 71% self-identify as those mandated (many say by God) to dominate the earth as God’s chosen nation (Gallup, 2017).3

But chosen for what? Theology understands that when God chooses people or nations it is not for salvation (leading to a sense of supremacy) but for demonstration—the demonstration of an alternative kingdom of peace; an ideology that rejects ‘the beast’. In short, those who shed blood—and promote the shedding of blood—are in no way ‘supreme’ but deluded.

As the horror of the events in new Zealand became apparent, Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, reminded us of a fundamental Christian truth which seems to have been forgotten by so many:

“Jesus calls us to welcome strangers and love our neighbour however different.”

May those of us who claim faith, of whatever affiliation, have the courage to live in this ‘beastly’ world as champions of truth and agents of peace.

Your Name – a meditation on the moral perfection of Christ

I am reflecting this morning on the name of Christ, that is, ‘the Messiah’.

Some years ago—I think it was ten years ago—I wrote a song called ‘Your Name’, a meditation on the name of Jesus. I was reflecting at the time on how biblical names often summed up the character of a person. We find, for example, that Jacob bore a name which, according to some scholars, means ‘deceiver’ or ‘supplanter’ (and was known for being a bit of a swindler). In the New Testament, perhaps the most famous example is Jesus’s affirmation of Peter’s name as ‘The Rock’. Peter, according to the NT narrative, was for much of his early life anything but a rock: somewhat unstable, he was prone to impetuous outbursts and famously (as predicted by Jesus) denied knowing Jesus three times just before the latter’s death. Continue reading “Your Name – a meditation on the moral perfection of Christ”

Is the light of Christ being excluded from the church?

Holman Hunt , ‘Light of the World’ (1853) Keble College Oxford

In this post, I explore the role of Christ as light-bearer – one who shines in order to dispel darkness. We consider the need for the church to be more self-critical in response.

Holman Hunt’s famous image, Light of the World, is often interpreted as Christ knocking at the door of an unresponsive human heart — a wooden door overgrown with weeds and with no visible external handle. The metaphor is clear. The image, however, raises pertinent questions regarding both subject and object.

Regarding the subject, Hunt’s portrayal of Christ (as a Westerner) dressed in rich, flowing, almost middle-Eastern kingly robes hints at his divine role as the King of Kings. His messianic role and divine nature are reinforced by a jewelled circlet hinting at a crown of thorns and a head haloed by a rising moon. The dark garden scene is reminiscent of an unoccupied Eden. Instead of tending the garden of the world, the soul is barricaded within its own alternative, self-preoccupied reality. A kind of garden shed. Continue reading “Is the light of Christ being excluded from the church?”

Mammon—dedicated to his worshippers

Detail from G. F. Watts, ‘Mammon’ (1885), Tate Britain.

Some people have been asking me about the picture in my last post. It is worth a closer look. Its message is, sadly, timeless, but particularly relevant to our troubled age. In the 1880s, the artist, G. F. Watts (1817–1904), was a senior figure in the London art world and known as ‘England’s Michelangelo’. He was an intellectual whose work pioneered symbolism; a deep thinker who painted ideas. Oscar Wilde called him ‘a great originative and imaginative genius’.1 Barak Obama was particularly drawn to Watt’s Hope which, I read somewhere, hung in the White House, and Watts was an inspiration to Martin Luther King. (This Guardian article is a good introduction to Watts.)

The full title of this work is Mammon—dedicated to his worshippers and the heavy, gilded, obscene demonic deity dominating this image is ‘massive’, that is, weighed down by gold whose gravitational pull binds him to the earth. His gouty leg (more visible in the artist’s line drawing of the subject) and unfeeling, swollen arm bear down on lifeless figures—fragile humanity, the imago Dei crushed by the weight of unfeeling avarice. Continue reading “Mammon—dedicated to his worshippers”

Faith in the White House

G. F. Watts, ‘Mammon’
(1885), Tate Britain.

Many years ago (I think it was 1983) I was invited to attend a conference in Blackpool, U.K. featuring as its guest speakers two Kenneths—Hagin and Copeland. I was young and naive and had no idea who these people were. I soon discovered. It hit me when I was driving home from the event in my beaten up old car (purchased for £120) when Mr Copeland barrelled past me in a fast-driven Rolls-Royce. 

Fast forward to 2018, and I discover that Kenneth Copeland is one of those praying for, and supporting, a certain President. Should we be surprised? Continue reading “Faith in the White House”

Draining the swamp of American Evangelicalism

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been troubled of late. It’s all down to the storm on the western horizon and what seems (from this distance) to be an alliance between Christians and radical evil. Someone sent me a link to a video showing a posse of what were described as ‘Evangelical faith leaders’ praying for a certain President in the White House and, to be honest, I found it profoundly disturbing. I wondered (not without a pang of guilt) how many times one could sell one’s soul to the devil before it became the latter’s property. Continue reading “Draining the swamp of American Evangelicalism”

Killing Christianity in the name of Christ

[Klikněte zde pro českou verzi/click here for Czech version]

On Saturday I was almost in tears as Miloš Zeman was re-elected the Czech president—and not tears of joy. I was surprised how much it affected me. Cold despair hit me. Politics is not an all-consuming passion of mine; kings and leaders come and go, and often, for the sake of sanity, it is better to think on better things closer to the ground—closer to the world in which we ordinary mortals live and move—than on the ‘strutting and fretting’ of those such as Zeman which, as Shakespeare sagely observed, is, ultimately, a ‘sound and fury, signifying nothing’.

Continue reading “Killing Christianity in the name of Christ”

Peace

At the end of a Christian service, the priest often pronounces a ‘benediction’, a blessing; words like Paul’s in Philippians 4: ‘Be anxious for nothing […] and the peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus’. Soothing words in an age of violence. But I am moving too fast. Is violence, war, the opposite of peace? Continue reading “Peace”

Becoming an Anglican

Like G. K. Chesterton (as I noted in my blog a few years ago), I feel a little like the intrepid explorer who, with a boat full of supplies and arms, sailed bravely into the unknown in order to discover new lands and riches for the Crown. After battling on the high seas for many a month, he espies land on the horizon. Dragging his boat onto the beach, and armed to the teeth, he intends to plant the British flag on this new territory, but soon discovers the natives already speak English. About an hour later—having realised he has landed on the south coast of England—he is sheepishly enjoying a pint of best bitter in the Ship Inn and, frankly, enjoying being back at home and having a good laugh.


Continue reading “Becoming an Anglican”