Stephen Hayes's Blog
July 23, 2015
Recently the profile pictures of a lot of people on Facebook appeared overlaid with rainbow-type stripes.
This was made possible by the people at Facebook, who offered it on a page called Let’s celebrate pride. “From all of us at Facebook, Happy Pride!”.
There didn’t seem to be a corresponding one for celebrating humility.
Anyway, it made me think of how Bishop Desmond Tutu’s description of South Africa as “the Rainbow Nation” went viral in the days when we were celebrating “many cultures, one nation”. So I added it to my profile picture on Facebook too.
It soon became apparent that South Africa, as always, was out of step with the rest of the world. When the rest of the world was denouncing apartheid as an unmitigated evil, the South African government stuck rigidly to it.
But when we finally abandoned apartheid and too up the “many cultures, one nation” idea, people in the rest of the world started denouncing multiculturalism as the worst thing since sliced bread (oh, wait, wrong metaphor, but still you see what I mean).
South Africa was uniting all the bogus “homelands” into one nation, while other countries, like Yugoslavia, were determinedly trying to drive people into their own “homelands”, and in the process gave us the term that so perfectly described effects of the former South African policy of apartheid, namely, “ethnic cleansing”.
But I digress.
The other thought sparked off by the Facebook “Let’s celebrate pride” thing was the Proudly South African campaign. So if Facebook isn’t going to offer humility, let’s make the most of pride.
That probably isn’t the kind of “pride” that Facebook had in mind, but since they didn’t specify it, I suppose everyone is free to interpret it in their own way, though it does raise the question of who owns signs and symbols, and who gets to interpret what they mean.
So what does the rainbow symbolise?
The rainbow nation? Pride?
Back in 1971 a friend and I ran a kind of alternative news agency in Namibia, which we called Rainbow Press Services. We sent stories to South African newspapers, which didn’t have offices in Namibia, but as South Africa ruled Namibia at the time, they occasionally wanted to report things. We worked intitially for the Argus Africa News Service, and later for the South African Morning Group of Newspapaers. When I was sacked by the Windhoek Advertiser it became my sole source of income. When, a few months later, we were deported from Namibia, Rainbow Press Services came to an end.
But the name Rainbow Press Services arose by accident.
In 1969, at the instigation of Beyers Naude, I started some youth groups for the Christian Institute in Durban. I sent out a newsletter informing the members of the various groups of activities. The newsletters were produced by a stencil duplicator (remember those?), and I printed them on yellow paper because I had read somewhere that black printing on yellow paper was easiest to read. A journalist friend, Dick Usher, nicknamed it the Yellow Press, and took over producing it when I went to Namibia. There we produced a similar newsletter, the Pink Press, printed on pink paper to distingish it from the Yellow Press in Durban.
Of course we were aware of the symbolism of rainbows. In the words of one song,
God gave Noah the rainbow sign
No more water, but the fire next time.
And The fire next time was also the title of a book on race relations in the USA, presumably derived from the same song.
Paul and Silas bound in jail
Had no money for to go their bail.
The very moment I thought I was lost
The duncgeon shook and the chains fell off.
The only thing that we did wrong
was staying in the wilderness too long
The only thing that we did right
Was the day we began to fight.
God gave Noah the rainbow sign
No more water but the fire next time.
But there were other books that promulgated the idea that the rainbow sign was extremely dangerous. One such was The hidden dangers of the rainbow, by Constance Cumbey. Real conspiracy theory stuff, that.
So as a symbol, the rainbow seems to mean anything that anyone wants it to mean, good or bad.
My own take on it is somewhat different.
God gave Noah the rainbow sign, but didn’t say anything about “the fire next time”.
For a brief period of 20 years, from 1969 to 1989, the Anglican Church in Southern Africa had an experimental lectionary in which each Sunday had a particular theme, and the Bible readings were chosen to reflect that theme. The cycle began on the 9th Sunday before Christmas, and from then until Christmas the Old Testament reading was the “contolling lesson”, on which the theme was based.
The first three themes were Creation, Fall and, on the 7th Sunday before Christmas, The Covenant of Preservation: Noah.
This scheme brought out the Christian significance of the rainbow sign.
Perhaps I was influenced in thinking this because, as a child of the 1960s, I was familiar with the Beatles’ song We all live in a yellow submarine.
It was also fashionable in the 1960s to speak of “Spaceship Earth” — here we are hurtling through a hostile environment, space, on a planet with limited resources, and we’d better look after it, or we’re doomed.
The Bible, at least in the story of Noah, prefers the image of the submarine.
There are waters above the firmament, and waters below the firmament (the firmament, of course, being the hull of the submarine). It is still a hostile environment, though it is pictured as water rather than empty space.
And the people in the submarine are fighting, so that the whole earth was filled with violence (Genesis 6:13). And when you fight in a submarine, you are likely to make holes in the hull, and let the water in, which is what happened. And God told Noah (the only one who would listen) how to build an escape capsule, which, according to the story, he did.
Those three Sundays emphasised s sequence: creation, fall, preservation. God made the world and saw that it was good. Evil enters the world through human beings, and it is human addiction to violence that threatens to destroy it and all life in it. But the Covenant of Preservation is just that: evil may seem overwhelming, but it will never completely overwhelm the goodness of God’s creation. Evil may be powerful, but there are limits to its power, and God’s promise, God’s covenant of preservation, is that evil will never completely overcome the good. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not, and will not, overcome it.
And that’s why, also back in the 1960s, we used to sing We shall overcome.
July 11, 2015
Today we buried Christina Mothapo, at 89 the oldest member of our Mamelodi mission congregation. She had been, like most of the other members, a member of the African Orthodox Episcopal Church, whose leader, then Archbishop Simon Thamaga asked in 1997 to join the Patriarchate of Alexandria. Christina was not only the oldest, but also one of the most faithful members.
Christina Mothapo (in blue dress) with members of her family on her 87th birthday, 1 Jan 2013
We first used to meet in a school classroom, and Christina walked up there for services on Sunday mornings. When the school raised the rent for the classroom beyond what the congregation could affor (from R30.00 a month to R200.00) we met in Christina’s house. That made it easier for her, because she was beginning to find the walk difficult. But it had some drawbacks — in a church building, the church is visible when it meets. In a classroom, it is less visible, and in a house, it’s almost invisible.
Val remarked that it was rather sad that an old lady should have so many beautiful flowers when she was no longer around to enjoy them.
For the last couple of months, Christina had been ill in bed, and we had the service in the next room, where she could hear it, but not see it.
July 9, 2015
In the last week or so the news media have been dominated by the story of the Greek anti-austerity referendum.
At first it seemed that the “mainstream” media were saying one thing, and “social” media another.
Before the referendum I would see things liike “Don’t blink, Greece” on Facebook, while the “mainstream” media (including the Greek media) were presenting it as Greeks voting for or against the Euro, or the Eurozone, or the EU.
Celebrating the “No” vote in the anti-austerity referendum, Syntagma Square, Athens (photo: Julia Bridget Hayes)
But that doesn’t seem to be the way most Greeks saw it. It seems that most of those who voted “No” were voting against austerity without end, and ever-increasing debt. They were being asked to vote on whether they should jump into a bottomless pit. Should anyone be surprised that a majority voted “No” to that?
Well, according to this article, no one was more surprised than the present Greek government, which called the referendum in the first place. Europe is blowing itself apart over Greece – and nobody seems able to stop it – Telegraph:
Greek premier Alexis Tsipras never expected to win Sunday’s referendum on EMU bail-out terms, let alone to preside over a blazing national revolt against foreign control.
He called the snap vote with the expectation – and intention – of losing it. The plan was to put up a good fight, accept honourable defeat, and hand over the keys of the Maximos Mansion, leaving it to others to implement the June 25 “ultimatum” and suffer the opprobrium.
That one reads a bit like a conspiracy theory.
But since the referendum the media consensus seems to have fallen apart, and we have seen a lot of wildly contradictory stories about what happened, what is happening, and what will happen in future.
It didn’t take long for the “Putin is the bad guy” meme to surface in the Western media: Is Putin Playing Puppetmaster in Greece? – The Daily Beast:
The weekend’s stunning repudiation of further European bailouts by a strong majority of Greeks shocked Brussels and beyond. That 61 percent of Greek voters want nothing to do with European Union “fixes” to their country’s grave fiscal crisis, which has preoccupied the EU for five years, represents a shocking development to Eurocrats.
What happens next is on everyone’s mind. Unless Athens comes up with a revised—and more plausible—finance plan very soon, expulsion from the Eurozone appears imminent. While that could cause financial instability for Europe, and may bring bad tidings far beyond, there’s one country that seems to be savoring this crisis.
That’s Russia. To the surprise of no one who pays attention to Vladimir Putin’s persistent efforts to undermine the EU and NATO, Moscow is poised to reap political benefits from Greece’s financial collapse.
Celebrating the “No” vote in the anti-austerity referendum in Athens (photo: Julia Bridget Hayes)
Both that and the Daily Telegraph‘s story seem to be in the classic conspiracy theorist mode. They are different conspiracies, that’s all. The first suggests a conspiracy between the Greek government and the Eurocrats, the second a conspiracy between the Greek government and Putin.
I think this one comes closer to the truth in economic terms, though it could also be seen as a conspiracy theory, positing a conspiracy between the the governments of countries like Germany and France and the banks: Mark Blyth | Why Greece Isn’t to Blame for the Crisis:
the Greek deficit was a rounding error, not a reason to panic. Unless, of course, the folks holding Greek debts, those big banks in the eurozone core, had, over the prior decade, grown to twice the size (in terms of assets) of—and with operational leverage ratios (assets divided by liabilities) twice as high as—their “too big to fail” American counterparts, which they had done. In such an over-levered world, if Greece defaulted, those banks would need to sell other similar sovereign assets to cover the losses. But all those sell contracts hitting the market at once would trigger a bank run throughout the bond markets of the eurozone that could wipe out core European banks.
I’m no economist, but that article seems to jibe with what professional economists I know have been saying, and I see no reason to disbelieve them. And it seems that other economists have been saying similar things:
… the financial demands made by Europe have crushed the Greek economy, led to mass unemployment, a collapse of the banking system, made the external debt crisis far worse, with the debt problem escalating to an unpayable 175 percent of GDP. The economy now lies broken with tax receipts nose-diving, output and employment depressed, and businesses starved of capital.
But they persist, like medieval quack physicians, in believing that if bleeding the patient does not result in improvement, bleed them some more.
And then there is this article, which points to an important and often-overlooked truth behind all this: Greece just taught cap[italists a lesson about what capitalism really means – Business Insider:
Debt is not a guarantee of future payments in full. Rather, it is a risk that creditors take, in hopes of maybe being paid tomorrow.
The key word there is “risk.”
If you’re willing to take the risk, you’ll get a premium — in the form of interest.
But the downside of that risk is that you lose your money. And Greece just called Germany’s bluff.
The IMF loaned Greece 1.5 billion euros, due back in June, and Greece isn’t paying it back. Greece has another 3.5 billion due to the ECB in July, and that looks really doubtful right now.
This is how capitalism works. The fact that it took a democratically elected government whose own offices are adorned with posters of Lenin, Engels, and Guevara to teach this lesson to Germany is astonishing.
Over the last few decades we have seen a growth in the popularity of the ideology of neoliberalism, with its proponents saying that socialism is outdated and discredited. They stress the importance of “free markets”, and proclaim the merits of privatisation.
But here, as elsewhere, we see the essential flaw in this. What the exponents of privatisation want is privatisatiion of the rewards, but not privatisation of the risks. Thus they can be reckless with other people’s money and pay themselves enormou7s bonuses, but when things go belly-up, they can always apply to the public purse for bail outs.
The Daily Beast describes Greece’s “No” to endless austerity is “stunning” and “shocking”. and many of the other Western news media said similar things. Some speculated about whether the Greeks were too stupid to know the consequences of what they were voting for, and some implied that they were stupid because they voted “no”.
But if the Greeks were stupid, they nevertheless remembered more of Grade 3 arithmetic than the Western media who criticised them.
If you have a tank that is being filled at ten litres a minute, and at the bottom the tap is open and draining 17,5 litres a minute, the tank is soon going to be empty.
That is what the Eurozone troika wanted the Greeks to vote “Yes” to, while themselves standing on the hose filling the tank to reduce the inflow still further.
The Greeks aren’t that stupid, but the Western media who expected and urged them to vote “Yes” apparently are.
Back at the end of the last century the United Nations set several “Millennium Goals” to be achived by 2015, among which was the go0al of reducing povery. But in 2015 the Eurozone troike was not satisfied that, as a consequence of their austerity policies, 60% of Greek pensioners were living in poverty. They wanted it to be increased to 70%, or even 80%.
Would anyone in their right mind actually vote for that?
Yet the Western media and a lot of Western politicians seemed to expect them to.
The consequences of this imbroglio will not be confined to Greece, or even to Europe. They are likely to affect all of us. And nether the politicians nor the media pandits seem to be able to see any way out of it, and all offer widely differeing solutions.
Here are a few more interesting articles on the topic:
Five Reasons Why The Greeks Were Right – Forbes
In Case You Missed It: The Memory Hole Devouring Greece
What was good for Germany in 1953 is good for Greece in 2015 | Business | The Guardian
Celebratiing the “No” vote in the anti-austerity referendum, Syntagma Square, Athens (photo by Julia Bridget Hayes)
And, concerning the last, it might be well to remember this:
Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants.
And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents.
But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.
The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.
Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.
But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest.
And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.
And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.
So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done.
Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me:
Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?
And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him (Matt 18:23-34).
July 3, 2015
A recent decision of the US Supreme Court that same-sex marriage was a constitutional right has caused a flurry of activity in social media, with many jubilantly proclaiming it as a notable victory for human rights, and others denouncing it as the greaterst evil of our time. The extremists in both camps seem to manifest the kind of bigotry I have previously discussed here: Are you homophobic? | Notes from underground.
I don’t want to discuss the merits of same-sex marriage here. Suffice it to say that I find myself in disagreement with the extremists on both sides of the issue, and that I am both for it and against it. I’ve already said most of what I want to say about that here The State should get out of the marriage business | Notes from underground and here The theology of Christian marriage | Khanya. If you want to comment on whether you think same-sex marriage is a good thing or an evil thing, please read one or both posts and post your comments there. The issue here is not whether same-sex marriage is a good thing or an evil thing, but rather what the debate on it (and on other issues) reveals about the relationship between societal norms and Christian values.
There is an interesting blog post here Why the gay marriage debate was over in 1950 | Joel J. Miller that suggested that, in the USA at least, the values changed after the Second World War with the advent of the Permissive Society, and that it has just taken until now for the norms to catch up. I don’t agree with everything in that article, but it is an interesting thesis, and it is worth reading.
I don’t know who Robert Reich is or why his opinion should matter more than anyone else’s, but at least some people on Facebook seem to think it does, so it can be taken as a partial representation of at least one segment of society.
There are three issues there that are covered by three of the ten commandments:
Thou shalt not commit adultery
Thou shalt not kill
Thou shalt not steal
And, according to Robert Reich, at least, sex and human life are trivial. The big issues are economic.
And there I would have to agree. There is still some debate about economic issues, and the Greek debt crisis was making far bigger headlines this week than the same-sex marriage issue, or any of the killing that is going on around the world. So that is a big deal, for the media at least. But on Facebook, many people seemed to be covering their profile pictures with rainbow stripes, none with blue and white stripes. On the other hand, in the media our president is associated far more with “Pay back the money”, with his sexual behaviour being relegated to a single cartoonist depicting him with a shower on his head, the significance of which is probably lost on many (for those who don’t know, he was charged with rape, and said in court that the precatution he took against Aids infection was to have a shower afterwards).
Actually I would also disagree with Joel Miller, when he said that the sexual question started in 1950s. In many countries (though not all) heterosexual adultery was decriminalised long before homosexual adultery and fornication were, though this did not happen everywhere — see here, for example: Decriminalisation of adultery sends condom stocks soaring | Irish Examiner.
But, whichever way you look at it, the idea that the state should enforce Christian sexual morality is long past its sell-by date, and it was never a particularly Christian idea to start with. Even Christians can ‘t seem to agree about it — see here Attitudes on Same-sex Marriage by Religious Affiliation and Denominational Family. As one Orthodox bishop put it 1990-00-00-1-E-R-I-EM05-133ChurchMustBeAsPowerlessAsGod:
It seems to me — and I am firmly convinced of this — that the Church must never speak from a position of strength. It should not be one of the powers that be acting for the State. It should be, let us say, as helpless as God, as helpless as Him who does not force His will on us, who only calls us and reveals the beauty and truth of things, but who does not force them upon us and, like our conscience, prompts us with the truth but leaves us free either to listen to the truth and the beauty or to deny them. It seems to me that the Church must be just like that. If the Church represents some organisation which has power, which can coerce and control events, there always remains the risk that it will want to exert power, and as soon as a Church begins to exert power it loses its deepest essence — God’s love, and the ability to understand those whom it must save, rather than break or reconstruct them.
And, concerning the specific issue of same-sex marriage, I think one of the best comments on the US Supreme Court decision came from the bishops of the Orthodox Church of America.
Concerning killing and economics, Christians are just as inconsistent.
US President Obama publicly deplores killing with guns, but goes on killing with drones. Some Christians who oppose one are in favour of the other. Some of those who oppose aborti0n are in favour of capital punishm,ent and vice versa. All this seems to suggest that that here too, the battle has been lost. For most Christians, values are determi9ned by society’s norms. And some of those who have despaired of making society’s norms conform to Christian values have suggested the Benedict option, a semi-withdrawal from the world into a kind of Christian ghetto, though they seem to be pretty selective about which Christian values they are despairing of imposing.
Empty symbolism — dark suits and bow ties
Some Christians seem to think that homosexual marriage will destroy the institution of marriage, and the more conspiratorially minded among them have even suggested that it is a deliberate plot to destroy marriage. I think it is rather the other way round: homosexual marriage has become possible because heterosexual marriage has already been thoroughly devalued, so that fewer and fewer heterosexual couples bother to get formally married at all, and even those that do get married often regard it as a meaningless ceremony. In South Africa, marriage was largely destroyed by apartheid, and in many other societies it was also destroyed by easy divorce, or rather, easy divorce was an even earlier sympton of the devaluation of marriage in society.
So I find it hard to share either the heights of jublilation or the depths of despair and dismay that have been manifested by some over same-sex marriage. It looks like regarding the ability to pick up discarded rubbish as a great victory or a great setback for human rights.
Beside the huge injustice of not being able to dress up in dark suits and bow ties and have some legal formulas pronounced things like the murderous wars promoted and financed by powerful elites in some countries which have created millions more refugees, pale into insignificace.
A few days ago I posted a link to this article on Facebook. It got 2 likes and 1 share. Blame the Rich World for the Global Refugee Crisis – Bloomberg Business:
The United Nations reported last week that the number of refugees worldwide is at its highest level in more than a decade. From around 10 million in 2004, the number climbed to move than 14 million last year. That’s putting a considerable burden on a few—overwhelmingly poor—host countries, one that may last decades. The report suggests more than half of the world’s refugees are under the age of 18, which means many will be well into middle age before they exit refugee status. War and political upheaval may create refugees, but it’s time to acknowledge that the global system for dealing with the problem is broken—and that’s in no small part because the industrialized world does so little to help fix it.
Never mind the minor invonveniences suffered by people whose homes have been bombed to rubble and kids who must grow up and spend the rest of their lives in concentration camps, spurned by the rich nations as “suspected asylum seekers”. It is overshadowed by the great victory for human rights when bourgeois westerners can dress in fancy suits and bow ties and have some kind of ceremony.
Refugees — many created by the same country congratulating itself on its commitment to human rights by legalising same-sex marriage
I may be weird about this, but to me it seems to lack a sense of proportion. The extremists on both sides of the same-sex marriage issue seem far more concerned about that than they do about the plight of the refugees. Of course I’m not in a position to do much about either. Sharing and “liking” things on Facebook is not going to be of much help to refugees. But it does serve as an indication of societal norms and values.
Maybe I’m just prejudiced about this. The only time I ever wore a bow tie was when I was forced to do so as part of a fresher initiation programme at university. It was intended as a symbol of humiliation, to remind one, as the seniors kept saying, that freshers were “lower than shark shit”. So I find it difficult to empathise enough with people whose greatest desire is to dress up in bow ties.
But I find it even more difficult to empathise with people who are desperately seeking pretexts to bomb people’s homes into rubble and force them to live in refugee camps, compared to which legalising same sex marriage seems quite irrelevant.
And then there are the bankers. As The Byrds used to sing in my youth:
As through this life you travel
You meet some funny men
Some rob you with a six gun
And some with a fountain pen.
And so we come back to the economics.
And that is where society’s norms and Christian values both seem to be all over the place. And very few people seem to be talking about the theology of that. They’re too busy trying to work out where to invest their money, if they have any.
People talk about “culture wars”, and I predict that the most significant culture war of the next couple of decades will not be about sexual ethics, but about economics. The UN set Millennium Development Goals to reduce poverty by 2015, but it is now 2015 and the Eurozone Troika are not satisfied that 60% of Greek pensioners live in poverty. They want it to be increased to 70% or even 80%. Austerity for all, except the bankers, of course.
This is a blog post.
It is almost the paradigm case of a blog — a web log — with links to some of the web sites I have visited in the last week, and notes of some of my reactions to some of them.
That is something a blog does particularly well. It can’t be done on sites like Facebook or Twitter, which allow you to link to, and possibly comment on one web site at a time.
Blogs also allow you to comment on some of the sites, or all of them, but they are really limited to discussing the particular view expressed in the blog post.
I think this theme of Christian values and society’s norms needs more discussion, and I think a good place to do that is in an exising forum for discussion of Christianity and society.
If you would like to know more about joining that forum (if you are not already a member), or if you would like to say something about this post to me privately and not in a public comment, please use the form below. Anything you type in it will be seen by me only, and not by the public, like things you type in the comment form.
June 29, 2015
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
A couple of months ago I read Youth by J.M. Coetzee about an aspiring South African writer who goes to London. I felt that there was something missing in the book (my review here). I couldn’t quite put a finger on the missing bit, so I thought I would read Tropic of Cancer, which is the story of an aspiring American writer living in Paris.
Since both are semi-autobiographical novels they invite comparison, though perhaps it isn’t doing justice to Miller to compare him with another writer, but it’s the theme that interests me, rather than the individual novels. They were written 30 years apart — Paris in the 1930s, London in the 1960s, and that in itself makes quite a big difference. It is hard to think that the 1960s are further away from us now than the 1930s were then. Perhaps it is because I was alive in the 1960s and thought that the 1930s were impossibly remote. Perhaps it is because WWII intervened, and we are living in a different world.
But with Henry Miller it doesn’t matter much that we are living in a different world, because his books in a sense are timeless. In reading Tropic of Cancer the main thing that seemed different and out of place was that males wore hats, and felt uncomfortable if they went out hatless.
The first book of Miller’s that I read was The Colossus of Maroussi, and it is still the one I like the best. One of the things I liked most about it was his descriptions of places, and there are some good descriptive passages in Tropic of Cancer too.
When it was first published Tropic of Cancer and its companion volume Tropic of Capricorn were banned in most English-speaking countries. Even when they were unbanned in the 1960s they were regarded by many as “dirty” books, because of the explicit sexual descriptions. In the 1980s, of course, no novel was complete without such things — what was forbidden in the 1930s became compulsory 50 years later, so Miller’s book no longer shocks.
People might find it distasteful for other reasons, though; it is sexist, and there is an undertone of racism as well. Some have said that the book is misogynist, but it is not so much mysoginist as sexist. Miller doesn’t hate women, he just doesn’t have much use for them, or rather he just has one use for them — as sexual objects, and that is how he describes them all the way through the book. They are not people, they are genitals with mouths and legs attached.
But most of his descriptions of males were also pretty dehumanising. Perhaps that’s why I like Miller best for his descriptions of places, rather than of people.
June 16, 2015
Here is an interesting essay on C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams, and their possible influence on each other. I agree with the author that Aslan in Lewis’s Narnia stories probably owes little to the lion in Charles Williams’s The Place of the Lion. Unlike the author of the essay linked below, I read The Place of the Lion before I read any of the Narnia stories, and my mother, who read it before me, said it reminded her of the nursery rhymne.
The lion and the unicorn were fighting for the crown
The lion beat the unicorn all around the town.
Some gave them white bread, and some gave them brown;
Some gave them plum cake and drummed them out of town.
It helps to see the nusery rhyme in its historical context, which is political. In a sense the beastly archetypes that get loose in Williams’s novel represent abstract powers in this world. For Williams the Lion represents strength, yet in another novel he wrote about the Tarot, and there the strength is not represented so much by the Lion, as by the human being controlling the Lion. And The Place of the Lion ends with Adam reasserting control over the beasts, and the powers they represent.
In the last few decades we have seen people enacting Williams’s novel in everyday life, wanting to release economic powers, for example, from human control, as advocated by the free market ideology.
That all goes beyond this essay, but I think the essay is a very good introduction to these books for those who haven’t read them, and food for thought for those who have
Originally posted on A Pilgrim in Narnia:
A couple of years ago, I had the pleasure of being a guest blogger for The Oddest Inkling in a series on Charles Williams’ The Place of the Lion. This was the first Williams book that C.S. Lewis had ever encountered, and it was transformational for him. My question in this blog is what role it played in Lewis’ own fiction writing.
The Place of the Lion in C.S. Lewis’ Fiction
I came to Charles Williams’ The Place of the Lion because of my work in C.S. Lewis. I know that Williams had a great influence upon Lewis, and I am determined to find out how deep that influence really is. Moreover, Lewis discovers the Lion at a key point in his life: his academic career is building with the release of The Allegory of Love (1936) and his continual work on The Personal Heresy (1939) . It is at…
View original 1,645 more words
June 6, 2015
The evening of the Saturday after Pentecost is the Orthodox Hallowe’en, following immediately upon the Leavetaking of Pentecost.
The Sunday following Pentecost is dedicated to All Saints, both those who are known to us, and those who are known only to God. There have been saints at all times, and they have come from every corner of the earth. They were Apostles, Martyrs, Prophets, Hierarchs, Monastics, and Righteous, yet all were perfected by the same Holy Spirit.
The Descent of the Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to rise above our fallen state and to attain sainthood, thereby fulfilling God’s directive to “be holy, for I am holy” (Lev. 11:44, 1 Peter 1:16, etc.). Therefore, it is fitting to commemorate All Saints on the first Sunday after Pentecost.
In the Western Church All Saints Day is always on the same calendar date, November 1st, so Hallowe’en is always the evening before, and it is followed by All Souls Day on November 2nd. In the Orthodox Church the calendar date varies, because Hallowe’en is always on the Saturday after Pentecost. And All Souls Day is always a week before, on the Saturday before Pentecost. Actually the Orthodox Church has more than one All Souls Day — there are several of them, spread through the year.
There are saints commemorated by name on every day throughout the year, but All Saints Day we remember all those, known and unknown, who have lived lives pleasing to God.
Troparion — Tone 4
As with fine porphyry and royal purple,
Your church has been adorned with Your martyrs’ blood shed throughout all the world.
She cries to You, O Christ God:
Send down Your bounties on Your people,
Grant peace to Your habitation, and great mercy to our souls!
Kontakion — Tone 8
The universe offers You the God-bearing martyrs,
As the first fruits of creation, O Lord and Creator.
Through the Theotokos, and their prayers establish Your Church in peace!
More hymns from the Orthodox Hallowe’en Vespers
Tone 6 (from the Pentecostarion) (Having placed all their hope)
The Saviour’s inspired Disciples
became instruments of the Spirit through faith.
They were scattered to the ends of the earth,
sowing the glad tidings of the true faith.
From their divine garden the army of martyrs blossomed in grace.
They became images of Christ’s saving Passion,
enduring every kind of torture, scourging, and fire.//
Now they boldly pray for our souls.
v. (3) For with the Lord there is mercy and with Him is plenteous redemption, and He will deliver Israel from all his iniquities.
The noble martyrs, burning with love of the Lord,
laughed at the fires and were consumed as burning coals.
Through Christ, they burned the withered arrogance of error.
They stilled the roaring of beasts with the voice of their prayers.
Beheaded, they decapitated the demonic hosts.
By the shedding of their own blood they watered the Church with faith.
v. (2) Praise the Lord, all nations! Praise Him, all peoples!
The heroic martyrs wrestled with beasts and were torn by their claws.
They were dismembered, slashed with swords, and shot with arrows;
they were consumed in the flames and pierced with lances.
All this they willingly endured,
for already they saw their unfading crowns, and the glory of Christ,
before Whom they boldly pray for our souls.
v. (1) For His mercy is abundant towards us; and the truth of the Lord endures for ever.
Come, let us praise the heroes of our faith:
Apostles, martyrs, holy priests, and noble women!
They fought for the faith in every part of the earth.
Though born of earth, they were united with the heavenly hosts.
Through their sufferings, they triumphed over evil by the grace of Christ.
As unfading lights, they illumine our hearts,
and with boldness they pray for our souls.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
O divine choir of martyrs,
ye are the pillars of the Church and the fulfillment of the Gospel.
By your deeds ye have fulfilled the Savior’s words.
Ye have closed the gates of hell and defended the Church.
The shedding of your blood has dried up the libations poured out to idols.
Your sacrifice has nourished the body of the faithful.
Standing crowned before God, ye amazed the Angels.
Pray unceasingly to Him that our souls may be saved!
Now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.
June 2, 2015
How did the Internet become a happy hunting ground for cranks and fanatics?
There is a saying that “bad money drives out good”, and the purveyors of crackpot theology are certainly better at marketing their ideas than those whose theology is Orthodox (even small o orthodox). They seem to be especially good at marketing on social media.
For example, I sometimes check this digest of articles mentioned on Twitter that have the #theology hashtag.
On any given day about 40-50% of the entries are from Herbert W. Armstrong and his offshoots — Plain Truth magazine, Ambassador College, and The World Tomorrow broadcasts, which claim to be today’s and tomorrow’s events as revealed in “Bible prophecy”.
The proportion is far higher than the the number of his actual followers would suggest, and what it means is that his ideas reach and take root in the minds of many people who are not actual followers.
Many people will have a good laugh at The Plain Truth, but they will often remember the ideas in it, perhaps because they had a good laugh.
But it is rare to find links to good Orthodox (or even orthodox) theology there. Why? Because people who write (or read) the good stuff often fail to post links to it on Twitter and similar social media sites, or if they do, they forget to add the #theology hashtag. There are good theological blogs like Glory to God for All Things, but they rarely appear in the #theology daily paper. In that case it is also more difficult because the blog posts don’t have a button making it easy to post links on Twitter, so one has to go to a bit of extra effort, but surely the effort is worth making? Just remember to add the hashtags #orthodox and #theology.
My field is missiology, but the daily digest of missiology tweets is often empty, because people forget to use the #missiology hashtag.
The result is that, even though there is a lot of good stuff out there, it is not as widely read as it could be, and the mediocre, crackpot or just plain bad theology gets far more exposure.
May 31, 2015
Today is the day of Pentecost, 50 days after Pascha, and the feast has a dual symbolism: the Descent of the Holy Spirit, and the revelation of the Holy Trinity.
Orthodox mission can be said to have begun on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem over nineteen centuries ago and the ikon of the Descent of the Holy Spirit is perhaps the best place to begin the study of Orthodox mission and missiology. It shows the apostles of Jesus gathered in the upper room, sitting in a semi-circle. There is an atmosphere of sober expectancy. “Stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49).
In the centre of the semicircle of the apostles is what looks like a window with a rounded top, vertical, though it also appears to be set in the middle of the floor, which one would normally expect to be horizontal. It seems as though the window is open onto a dark night, and in it, facing the viewer, is an old man, a king, holding a white cloth. He is looking into the upper room, but in such a position that he cannot see it, or anyone in it. He is looking directly at the viewer. This is Cosmos, the world (Ouspensky 1987:322, 323, 332).
So the ikon depicts the mission of the church, or rather the church preparing for its mission. It is to go into all the world. And the world is at the centre, the focal point, of the ikon.
Many images, verbal as well as graphic, depict the church surrounded by the world. The world is sometimes hostile, sometimes needy. But it is always “out there” and the church is “in here”. The church, we are told, must “reach out” to the poor, hungry, needy suffering world. But the ikon reverses the perspectives and shows the world inside the upper room. The church does not reach out to the world, because the world is in the middle.
A children’s novel by C.S. Lewis, The last battle, describes the last battle of the land of Narnia. The powers of evil have taken over the land, and claim to have the creator and ruler of the land, the lion Aslan, in a stable. Those who doubt their right to rule are invited to look in the stable, where they have tethered a donkey dressed in a moth-eaten lion skin. But soon it appears to the would-be rulers that something has gone wrong. Most of those sent into the stable do not come out. The only ones that do come out are the scoffers, who do not believe in Aslan, but when they emerge they are terrified out of their wits. Those who go in fearful, but not willing to betray the land to its oppressors, find that instead of the smelly stable in a forest at night, they are in a brightly lit open country.
“It seems then,” said Tirian, smiling himself, “that the Stable seen from within and the Stable seen from without are two different places.”
“Yes,” said the Lord Digory, “Its inside is bigger than its outside.”
“Yes,” said Queen Lucy, “In our world too, a Stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world” (Lewis 1964:128).
And so it is with the ikon of Pentecost. The inside of the upper room is bigger than the outside. The disciples of Jesus withdrew into the upper room, and discovered that inside it was bigger than the whole universe. And so the old man, Cosmos, can mean many things. An older and sadder Adam, perhaps, worn out with his dominion over the creation, which itself has become worn out and ravaged by time and man. Cosmos can represent the world in darkness.
And there is the mission of the Church — reaching out by reaching in. Bringing good news to an old and weary earth.
It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words, and to understand mission it would be better to look at the ikon of Pentecost, and pray before it, than to try to describe it.
Notes & References
 Adapted from my doctoral thesis on Orthodox mission methods, chapter 3.
May 30, 2015
Many Orthodox Christians end their morning prayers with the following “Morning Prayer of the Last Elders of Optina”.
O Lord, grant that I may meet all that this coming day brings to me with spiritual tranquillity. Grant that I may fully surrender myself to Thy holy will.
At every hour of this day, direct and support me in all things. Whatsoever news may reach me in the course of the day, teach me to accept it with a calm soul and the firm conviction that all is subject to Thy holy will.
Grant that I may deal straightforwardly and wisely with every member of my family, neither embarrassing nor saddening anyone.
O Lord, grant me the strength to endure the fatigue of the coming day and all the events that take place during it. Direct my will and teach me to pray, to believe, to hope, to be patient, to forgive and to love.
Optina Monastery (Оптина пустынь — Optina Pustyn) was a monastery in Russia famed for its spiritual elders (Russian: startsi). It was closed by the Bolsheviks, and the monks were scattered. Some were imprisoned, and some were killed. The “news that reached them in the course of the day” was often that some of their brethren had been arrested, tortured, or killed. The monastery has now been reopened and rebuilt.