27 February 2007

Mission is a two-way street... or is it?

Mission is a two-way street.

So they've been telling us for the last 50 years or more, so much so that it's almost become a cliche. It's become one of the unquestioned axioms of Western missiology. Mission, we were told, is giving and receiving. We need to be partners in mission. As the Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Dublin once put it, "If we once acted as though there were only givers who had nothing to receive and receivers who had nothing to give, the oneness of the missionary task must now make us all both givers and receivers."

The phrase "Partners in Mission" is also used very widely in Western mission; it is used by Anglicans, Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists, Roman Catholics and the Salvation Army, to name but a few. Among Anglicans, at least, it replaced a much more verbose and cumbersome phrase that meant something similar: Mutual responsibility and interdependence in the Body of Christ.

Nearly 50 years ago a friend of mine, John Davies, wrote, in a paper entitled Religion versus God
Missionary work is essentially two-way; Christ said, `Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them' (Matthew 7:12). If we took this seriously, we should probably have to pack in half the missionary work of the Church that we are used to, if it meant that blacks would start teaching whites , and doing good to them, and expecting them to be grateful. Our mission is not, in a one-way traffic, to extol the greatness of our religion: it is to hear and know the living God - and just as between God and man, so also between Christian and non-Christian, all real living is meeting. If this is not our way, we misrepresent the God who has sent us out, whose very nature as trinity is one of reciprocal relations.

And now that is beginning to happen, at least in the Anglican Communion. Blacks have begun teaching whites, and the whites don't like it. I've noticed a growing number of Anglican bloggers in the West writing about "the African problem".

But why is it "the African problem"? Why not "the American problem"?

Why do so many people in the West think it's OK for Americans to spread their values, culture, fast food and cluster bombs all over the world, but when Iranians or North Koreans or Africans do any of these things they scream blue murder?

And doesn't this talk of "the African problem" show that noble phrases like "partnership in mission" and mission being a two-way street are just empty rhetoric, and have been all along? Only a few benighted Africans were foolish enough to take it seriously.

26 February 2007

No end to war?

I recently joined the Christian Peace Bloggers web ring (see links at bottom of page), which involves promising to blog about peace once a week, but I have to confess that I rarely blog about peace, at best my posts are anti-war.

Over the last few months there have been predictions of war between the US and Iran. At first I thought they were conspiracy theories emanating from the left rather than the right (where such theories seem to be more prolific). I'm still in two minds about it. I mean, George Bush may be crazy, but he's not that crazy... surely not?

But the Orthodox Peace Fellowship took the war predictions seriously enough and published an appeal, Step back from the brink of war.

And yesterday there was a piece on the BBC from Abu Dhabi, a discussion of people in the Middle East talking quite seriously the possibility of such a war. They didn't look like raving conspiracy theorists.

And now Sam PF in Bristol reflects on a Stop the War demo in London remarking on the futility of it all, as if it is being done just for form's sake, with no real hope of preventing yet more war.

Sometimes wars happen, and people get drawn into wars reluctantly. But now we have elected politicians deliberately and even eagerly seeking to start new wars when they already know that their old ones have been disasters. Tony Blair has been involved in three -- in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq, and in none of the three have the wars solved the problems that they were ostensibly started to solve. They have simply exacerbated existing problems and created new ones. Can they really be wanting to start yet another war?

And this is not done by dictators, who are answerable to no one but God. It is done by the elected leaders of ostensibly democtratic countries. For God's sake, can't someone impeach George Bush? Can't the British Labour Party muster together the scraps of its tattered integrity and remove Tony Blair from the leadership before he does any more damage?

25 February 2007

Christian responses to witchcraft and Wicca

About 10 years ago I wrote an article on Christian responses to witchcraft and sorcery, prompted mainly be the prevalence and frequency of witchhunts in what is now the Limpopo province of South Africa.

I recently found an article on Wikipedia, Christian views on witchcraft, which quoted my article at one point, and was rather confused and patchy, and would probably be confusing to most readers. One reader complained that, since many students used Wikipedia as a tertiary source, the article was frustrating, as it did not really give any references to secondary sources, and so was practically useless.

I tried to do a quick patch -- wrote a historical introduction, and tossed in a couple of bibliographical references, but such a thing really needs to be a collaborative effort, and so this is a call for discussion and help in trying to improve the article.

I'm not sure how much of the rest of the article is usable, though, and it may need to be completely rewritten.

One problem, which I touched on only briefly in my original article, is the confusion between witchcraft and Wicca. Russell (1980:12). defines "witch" as follows:
What really is a witch? One answer lies in the roots and development of words. 'Witch' derives from the Old English wicca (pronounced 'witcha' and meaning male witch) and wicce ('female witch', pronounced 'witcheh') and from the word wiccian, meaning 'to cast a spell'. Contrary to common belief among modern witches, it is not Celtic in derivation, and it has nothing to do with the Old English witan, 'to know', or any other word relating to wisdom. The explanation that witchcraft means 'craft of the wise' is false...

'Wizard', unlike 'witch', really does derive from Middle English wis, 'wise'. The word first appears about 1440, meaning a 'wise man or woman'; in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries it designated a high magician, and only after 1825 was it used as the equivalent of 'witch'.

Anthropologists like Evans-Pritchard have made a distinction between witchcraft and sorcery, regarding the former as an innate capacity to cause harm, sometimes even unintentionally (as in the evil eye), while sorcery is the conscious and intentional use of spells or substances. I doubt that the distinction holds good in all societies, and some use the same word for both, In Zulu a witch is umthakathi and witchcraft ubuthakathi, and the same word applies to both witchcraft and sorcery in Evans-Pritchard's sense.

As I note in my article, however, there is a modern religion called Wicca, which, though its name is derived from the old English word for "witch", is really something different. Though Wicca is a religion, witchcraft is no more a religion than carpentry is. In Africa there are religious specialists who are concerned with witchcraft, but their concern is mainly with countering its harmful effects. Early English-speaking visitors to Africa who encountered these specialists in African society described them, quite accurately, as "witchdoctors" -- that is, doctors whose job it was to heal those who had been harmed by witchcraft, and to counter the spells of witches.

"Witchdoctor" is a fairly broad term, and because of this anthropologists have tended not to like it. It is too imprecise, and fails to take into account differences in societies and cultures. Some detect witches, some detect and remove harmful substances, some provide protective medicine to counter harmful substances, and so it goes. Sometimes the job of witchdoctor is combined with that of a diviner (smelling out witches is, after all, a form of divining) but a diviner often has a much wider task. Not every misfortune or sickness is caused by witchcraft. It could be caused by an annoyed ancestor, for example. The diviner's job is to determine the cause (which may be witchcraft or something else) and recommend appropriate countermeasures.

One problem that arises, therefore, is that Christians also confuse witchcraft and Wicca, and treat them as interchangeable things. One web site where this can be seen is A Christian response to Wicca. where Wicca is identified with witrchcraft without even an attempt at definition, and both together are subsumed under "the occult" which in turn is lumped together with "humanist" and "new age" beliefs, which include just about anything, so vague is the generalising.

The primary Christian response to witchcraft is that Christians don't do such things. Killimg people is wrong, in the Christian understanding, whether you do it with knives, guns, napalm or spells. It is the intention, rather than the effectiveness of the weapon, that is the criterion.

Christian responses to Wicca are different. Wicca is a religion, and many Wiccans are ex-Christians. Where that is the case, they are apostates from Christianity, and therefore to be treated as heathens and publicans. But if we recognise this, we should study the gospels to see how Jesus treated heathens and publicans, and take note of his implicit and explicit criticism of those who treated them harshly.

These are some of the problems I see with trying to revise the Wikipedia article. Any comments or suggestions?

24 February 2007

Blog software: still playing with Wordpress

Like a number of others who have got fed up with the "new" Blogger's lack of functionality, I've been trying Wordpress, and so far I don't see any advantage.

In fact the old Blogger seemed to be a lot better than Wordpress, and what has happened is that since Google took over Blogger, they have just removed all the features that used to make Blogger better than Wordpress, so that they are now much the same, though Blogger retains a bit of flexibility in being able to arrange stuff in the sidebar more easily.

Wordpress does seem to handle comments slightly better -- you don't have to type in a series of letters a bazillion times to get the comment to "take" -- and in Blogger, if it doesn't take, there's no warning. It tells you if your comment has been saved, but it doesn't tell you it hasn't, so I suspect a lot of comments are lost because people think the comment has been saved and close the comment window without scrolling down to check.

But both are way ahead of Typepad, which nine times out of ten responds to attempts to post a comment with a "Server error" message.

But the things that drew me to Blogger in the first place, that made me think "this is cool", are still gone:

  1. Blog this
  2. Being able to click on interests, or favourite books or music, and see who else has similar tastes
  3. The "Search all blogs" feature
  4. Being able to get back to the dashboard directly from the blog

There are problably other things, but those are the main ones. But in most of them, WordPress doesn't seem to have any significant advantages.

But my WordPress blog, Khanya, is still there, and I'll carry on playing with it and use it for blogging miscellaneous stuff that doesn't seem to fit in elsewhere.

23 February 2007

Sex, soccer and celebs

Last Sunday I wrote in my South African blog:
Most Sundays the placards advertising the tabloid newspapers provide some amusement. They are mostly about sex, soccer and celebs, though since Brenda Fassie died, they seem to have struggled a bit.

Today I listened to the media programme on SAFM, and they were talking about the tabloids, and one of the studio guests was Deon someone or other, the big cheese of the Sun, and a few other journalistic types, who accused the tabloids of being sexist and xenophobic, encouraging feeling against Somali shopkeepers in Port Elizabeth for example. This Deon bloke replies that he's just a fish in the water, selling the fish what they want.

I don't buy tabloids very often, but today I bought the Sunday World just to see what all the fuss was about. And it was boring, borning, boring. I quite enjoy some of the stories, the more improbable ones, like "Tokoloshe ate my lover's knickers". But there wasn't even stuff like that today. Just some singer who lost a contract because her lover was in the loo.

I agree with the fundis -- the tabloids are going downhill. Come back Brenda, we need you!

Actually my son said his all-time favourite tabloid headline was "Zombie ate my soap".

But the tabloid formula of sex, soccer and celebs is probably the one way to sell newspapers today, for those who can't afford the Internet, where, if you look at any week's Technorati tags, you can see much the same kind of thing. And of course sex is only interesting if it is done by celebs. If it's ordinary people, then there has to be a tokoloshe or at least a zombie involved if people are going to but the paper. And soccer, well, what are soccer players other than celebs if they're any good. And being good on the soccer field is not enough. Being good in bed is better.

So what is a celeb? Well, Tony Grist meditates on this in Eroticdream battle:celebrity.

I think he comes to some quite interesting conclusions. And, as Marshal McLuhan didn't quite say, the media is the massage (parlour).

20 February 2007

Christian martyrs of the 20th century

There were probably more Christian martyrs during the 20th century than in all the previous centuries in which there were Christians in the world. In terms of the numbers killed, the persecutions of Decius and Diocletian were minor and shortlived.

Some years ago I visited the St Tikhon's Institute in Moscow and saw how they were collecting in a database information about all those who had been killed because of their Christian faith during the Bolshevik period. The process is quite a lot further advanced than it was then, and the database has been used to add martyrs to the calendar of the church.

The article The blood of martyrs is the life-giving seed of Christianity! gives information about the progress of the project. So far 1596 new martyrs have been canonised, but there are many more whose details are being recorded. Professor Nikolai Evgenievich Emelianov gives details of the project:
the database of Saint Tikhon’s Theological University collects information about ALL sufferers for Christ, including the ones who are not proposed for canonization. In short, one can say that it is a database or repressions against the Russian Orthodox Church in the 20th century. A monograph with more than 4000 biographical entries has been published on the basis of the database. As of January 1st 2007, there are 29 000 biographies on the University website.
One of the strange things I have noticed, in the light of this, is that I frequently see statements to the effect that "religion is the greatest cause of human suffering". If that were true, then one expect there to be far less of such suffering when the irreligious are in power. But instead, the record shows that when the irreligious are in power there is, if anything, more such suffering, and certainly not less. Atheists seem to be just as capable of cruelty as anyone else, and so the rather smug assertion that "religion is the greatest cause of human suffering" is not only untrue, but a dangerous delusion. I mention this because this delusion seems to be gaining ground in our day.

This is not to say that religious people are not also capable of great cruelty; events like the genocide in Rwanda show this clearly. But the notion that atheists are somehow exempt from this kind of behaviour needs to be shown to be false.

18 February 2007

"As we forgive those..."

Sunday 18th February 2007
* The Expulsion of Adam from the Paradise of Bliss
* Sunday of Forgiveness

Today is Forgiveness Sunday, also known as Cheesefare Sunday, the last day before the Great Fast of Lent. In the Orthodox Church Lent begans at Vespers, around sunset. During the service, the colours are changed from gold to purple, the music changes to a minor key, and the first act, to begin the fast, is when the members of the congregation prostrate themselves before one another, and ask forgiveness of each other, and as they rise, say, "I forgive you". So the first day of Lent is known as Clean Monday.

The Scrivener: "As we forgive those..." has posted a very suitable article for the day, and one that is worth reading in preparation for Vespers.

And so I ask any readers of this blog whom I may have offended, knowingly or in ignorance, please forgive me.

It is also the Sunday of Cheesefare -- the last day we eat cheese, butter and other dairy products, and eggs before Pascha, fifty days hence. We said goodbye to meat last week. You can have little idea of what Easter eggs mean if you have not abstained from eating them during the fast.

17 February 2007

War and the Enlightenment

In Notes from a commonplace book: war and the Enlightenment there is an interesting comment on how the Enlightenment changed Western attitudes to war.

I've not really looked into that before, but have been interested in how the Enlightenment changed European attitudes to witchcraft, and made it difficult for Europeans to understand African attitudes to witchcraft, because it disturbingly reminded them of their premodern past (see Christian responses to witchcraft and sorcery).

This piece, however, sparks off a new train of thought. Even today white apologists for Western colonialism use the argument that European rule in Africa brought about peace and ended the endless wars that devastated the continent. But if we look at the precolonial wars in Africa, they were generally much milder than the wars brought about after colonialism, which are often driven by neocolonialism (eg the history of Congo for the last 50 years). This modern warfare was far more devastating than the precolonial kind, with the possible exception of the Mfecane.

I'm not sure whether this is simply another postmodern reaction to the worldview and values of modernity, but I think it needs further study.

15 February 2007

The rumours are coming!

Is there no limit to the nonsense that loony American kooks can cook up?

Cyberspace is rife with rumours about an imminent US attack on Iran. I can't believe the US govt would be THAT stupid, though I admit that previous behaviour is not very reassuring.

But now there is this article on an American web site called WorldNetDaily, emanating from some nutter called Joseph Farah.
While former South African President Nelson Mandela, 85, scoffs at rumors of ill health, plans are being made by the nation's Communist Party to slaughter all whites in the country upon his death, G2B sources say.

Has anyone heard of this Joseph Farah and these "G2B sources" who concocted this nonsense?

Which lunatic asylum is Farah writing from?

PLEASE tell me that no one takes him seriously!

I am reminded of similar urban legends floated around in the 1980s. My wife was working at a church school in Pretoria, and there were stories like that going around at the time of the Primrose by-election, when the Conservative Party (remember them?) hoped to make a killing, and some of the crazy white parents demanded that the school hire security guards because all blacks were going to attack white schools and kill a white child on that day.

One of the Grade 1s saw a couple of the (black) security guards and ran excitedly into the office shouting "The rumours are coming! The rumours are coming! I've seen one in the school grounds."

Of course that particular rumour was probably started by the Conservative Party in order to improve their chances in the by-election, but for sheer raving looniness, this new American offering takes the cake.

14 February 2007

Trying out WordPress

It seems like ages since I switched to the "fully-featured" new Blogger, only to discover that half the features don't work, including a lot that worked quite well in the old Blogger, like "Blog this", which was one of the things that persuaded me to start this blog on blogger in the first place.

So like a lot of other people, I've got tired of waiting for the bugs to be fixed, and have been toying with WordPress, and have started a new experimental blog over there. Of course nothing's perfect, and WordPress doesn't have, and never had a "Blog this" feature. And the "text widgets" for the sidebar are a bit of a pain, and it seems much harder to get them right than putting stuff in the sidebar in Blogger (though I haven't switched to the new templates yet, and I'm dead scared to do that).

But I think leaving comments is easier in WordPress. I suspect that Blogger loses half the comments that people enter, because they enter the comments, enter the funny letters, and then close the comment window thinking their comment has been saved, when all the time Blogger is asking for another set of letters to be typed, even if the first lot were typed correctly. But Blogger doesn't tell you that it's waiting for this, so I think many would-be commenters are not aware of it.

But in that respect even Blogger is better than Typepad, which swills the comments round in its mouth for 10 minutes like a wine taster, and then spits them out as says "Server error".

Anglicans: Time for a divorce?

Over the last few days I've been reading in the blogs of Anglicans, some friends, and some unknown to me, or known only in the blogosphere, appeals for prayer for the Anglican Primates meeting taking place in Dar es Salaam this week.

Many are speaking of trying to preserve an increasingly fragile unity, but I think that Ruth Gledhill, the religion correspondent of The Times, gets it exactly right when she says that it's time for Anglicans to divorce.

Since I ceased to be an Anglican more than 20 years ago, it's no longer a matter of direct personal concern to me. I'm just relieved that I got out when I did, because I've missed 20 years of paralysing bickering. It's not that I haven't experienced disagreements and squabbles over the last 20 years. There have been many. But they haven't been over the fundamentals of the Christian faith.

It is interesting to see that just as the Anglicans are tearing themselves apart, the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia have been preparing to reunite after a split that has lasted more than two generations. But the reason that they can reunite is that they acknowledge the same fundamental faith. They are agreed on the essentials.
The essentials, however, are precisely what the Anglicans disagree on. When each side in the disputes sees what it regards as morality denounced by the other as immorality, there is no tent big enough to hold them all. So I believe Ruth Gledhill hits the nail on the head when she says
No Communion is big enough for these three Luthers, all equally sincere in their faith and convictions, all nailing opposing theses to their church doors. These are people who see so far from eye to eye that it is right and proper that they should go their separate ways. And there is no shame in that. There is an historical continuity in schism, reflected in the recent pasts of our political parties, in particular the Labour Party. Historically there are always critical moments and for the Anglican Communion, this is just such a moment.

What a divorce may do is free many Anglicans who are almost entirely wrapped up in their own internal problems that they cannot face the more serious problems of the world. I've seen many appeals for payer for the meeting of the Anglican primates in Dar-es-Salaam, but very few for a meeting that could have more important and more far-reaching consequences -- for the first time in 7 years there is a possibility of a meeting between Israeli and Palestinian leaders to discuss the possibility of peace. If an Anglican divorce freed those of all parties to pray for that, it might have more significant effects on the world.

13 February 2007

MoreheadsMusings: Andrew Walls: Don't Know Him? You Should!

John Morehead has posted some interesting things about Andrew Walls, the Scottish missiologist: MoreheadsMusings: Andrew Walls: Don't Know Him? You Should!

I'd like to add a couple of anecdotes told by Andrew Walls. They are from a conference on church history, called Rescuing the memories of our people. It had 40 people from all over the world, church historians, missiologists, archivists and librarians. The following is an extract from my diary of 4 October 2002, and perhaps can rescue some memories of the would-be rescuers, including Andrew Walls himself:
Over coffee I talked to Alan Po of Myanmar, and he told me about the many different languages in the country, where the government was trying to use Buddhism as a political tool to drum up and maintain support, so it was rather hostile to Christianity.

Herbert Swanson joined us, and said that the Karen people of Myanmar were the oldest Protestant church in that part of Asia. He said that they had lots of stories of older brothers and younger brothers that were used by some missionaries as a toe in for the gospel.

There was also one where God was fed up with humanity, and went away, and a spirit called water buffalo wanted to go away with God, and God said he could do that, but must first return to give a message to humanity that they must eat one meal a day and comb their hair three times a day, but water buffalo got the message confused, and said that they must eat three meals a day and comb their hair once a day. So God turned water buffalo into a physical water buffalo, which is why water buffalos are dirty and wallow in the mud.

Andrew Walls joined us, and said that there were many such stories from Africa as well. He told us of the Church of the Transfigured Face, where a French Catholic order evangelised in West Africa, and were devoted to an image of the face of Christ (I assume Veronica's napkin of the one for the King of Edessa, but he did not make that clear). Later they were replaced by an Irish order that did not have this devotion, so they broke away and became an AIC of the Aladura type, just like most of the others, but retained the distinctive devotion to the Transfigured Face.

Andrew Walls also told a story of the Isle of Skye, where his daughter spent some time as a speech therapist travelling from school to school. Because they were bilingual in English and Gaelic, speech impediments were quite common. At one school the teacher said that there was a child who could not speak at all, but just babbled incomprehensibly. His daughter had examined the child, and found that he spoke with a Birmingham accent, but not only had the teacher failed to recognise it as English, she had failed to recognise it as speech at all.

12 February 2007

What is this thing called Love?

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingThe Tarot card originally called "Love", later "The Lovers" originally showed a man and a woman with Cupid aiming an arrow at them. Later a third figure was added, so that there were two women, one beautiful, the other ugly. Some saw them as allegorised into vice and virtue.

In a recent post on this blog (Fr Alexander Schmemann in Russia), I mentioned Father Alexander Schmemann's theological writings. One of the things he wrote about was marriage as the sacrament of love. Human love is the reflection of God's love, and it is through the experience of human love that we can relate to God's love. Schemann notes that many people sentimentalise marriage, and make the mistake of thinking that the "content" of the sacrament is "family", and so miss the main point; that it is love. One of the problems in the world today is that some people have idolised the family.

Nevertheless, family is important. A book that illustrates this is John Bowlby's Child care and the growth of love, which demonstrates that children who do not experience loving relationships with parents, especially their mothers, in the first six months of life, find it far more difficult to form loving relations with other people in later life.

By our own behaviour, we often create this problem. Though wars, we make children orphans. Through systems like migrant labour coupled with influx control, which prevailed in South Africa for many years, children are effrectively deprived of parental love. They are more likely to become juvenile delinquents, child soldiers, adult criminals and abusive spouses and parents. In such a way the sins of the fathers are visited on the children, even to the third and fourth generation.

Schmemann points out that in Christian marriage, husband and wife become king and queen to each other. There is a small kingdom, a reflection of the heavenly kingdom. The possibility may be lost, perhaps in a single night, but it is nevertheless there. And he gives a moving description of a couple of old people sitting holding hands on a park bench, all battles past, all passion spent, but still an image of love.

St John summed this up when he said, "herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he first loved us." In order to be able to give love, we first have to receive it, and even if we have received no human love, we can still receive the love of God, though of course it is much more difficult. But having received the love of God, we need to give love, in order to enable others to love. "Freely ye have received, freely give." Too often human love dies when people say that they no longer "feel" anything for each other. But love is more than an emotion or a feeling. We do not show love or give love by having loving "feelings" about other people. We show love and give love by loving actions, even contrary to our feelings.

To return to the Tarot card: Cupid's arrow may strike, and we may have overpowering feelings of love towards another person. If we are lucky, they will be reciprocated. But that is not enough to lead to the couple Father Alexander Schemann saw sitting on the park bench in the evening of the day, in the evening of their lives. That takes more than just those first feelings.

In a beat generation novel by John Clellon Holmes, Go one of the characters, Stofsky, has a dream of meeting God, and God tells him "Go, and love without the help of anything on earth". And that is surely the only thing that can turn back the tide of hatred that threatens to engulf the world.

List of synchronised blogs on the topic of Love -- visit them!

09 February 2007

Images of creation

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingSally's Journey: Ecology, responsibility and mission, has some images relating to creation. One showed a leaf, with a face that reminded me of a praying mantis. The other, from Matt Stone, Lord of the Fertile Earth, shows Jesus as the Green Man, crucified.

Sally asked for comments, and I said that neither of those images really spoke to me. But at the same time I do believe that we need some images that can speak to the theme of Ecology, responsibility and mission. These images of creation speak to me of one aspect of it.

I don't think the first picture was intended to look like a praying mantis. That was just something it reminded me of. But it is sometimes said that |kaggen, the creator God of the San, the earliest human inhabitants of South Africa, sometimes took the form of a mantis.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingThe San, who were called Bushmen by white settlers, lived as hunter-gatherers, and painted numerous pictures on the rocks and caves of South Africa, but for the most part the meaning of the pictures was not preserved when the San were driven out by the white and black pastoralists.

Trevor Verryn, in his book Symbols and scriptures gives an acount of some preserved explanations that were written down from San informants from the |Xam people of the Drakensberg, whose totem was the eland, and told the story of some of the paintings. The story of creation and fall according to at least some of the San was thus preserved.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting|kaggen (God) gave orders and caused all things to appear - sun, moonm stars, wind mountains and animals. |kaggen reprimanded his wife who spoilt his knife by using it to sharpen her digging stick, and as a result she brought forth an eland calf. One day |kaggen's son shot the eland, and |kaggen mourned for it. So |kaggen mourned for the evil that had befallen his creation.

This is a very abbeviated account, but it shows God mourning for his spoiled creation. But the mantis too is a creature. If it is a symbol of God, it is yet not God. I'm not sure that a mantis is an appropriate image for a wounded creation.

I found Matt Stone's image of the crucified Green Man also didn't really speak to me. It seems to mix two incompatible concepts, though I can't really put a finger on it. Maybe some others have some ideas on how they relate or don't relate.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingI suppose one of the reasons that it doesn't speak to me is that the symbolism is obscure. Until the 1930s the name "The Green Man" was used for pubs, and it was only in the 20th century that it began to be applied to the foliate heads found on medieval churches. Of course that is one of the advantages of postmodernity -- one can make up traditions and symbolisms to mean anything one wants. But to me, at least, a crucified green man just doesn't seem to fit.

But when it comes to ecology, the image of Adam naming the animals seems to fit better. Perhaps he was the original green man!

08 February 2007


Nilkola writes on Kosovo
The EU has just sent a high level delegation to Serbia to 'press' the Serbian government to take part 'positively' regarding UN talks on the future of Kosovo. I dont take kindly to the United Nations meddling into the internal affairs of my country, but I take even less kindly to the EU poking its nose in. We're not even part of the EU. Who do these arrogant bastards think they are. Does Serbia send special envoys to tell Spain to allow the Basques to have independance. Do we threaten them with withdrawal of an assortment of economic goodies if they dont play ball.

At a time when all kinds of people, including the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, are trying to dissuade the US government from invading Iran, it is as well to remember that the other US political party was in power when Kosovo was invaded, and the problem is no nearer to solution than it was before the invasion. All that NATO (the North Atlantic Terrorist Organisation) succeeded in doing was exacerbating hatred, and making peace unattainable.

When the Butcher of Belgrade left the White House, the Butcher of Baghdad moved in. I'm not sure that he's crazy enough to want to invade Iran as well, but perhaps he wants to add the Terror of Tehran to his epithets.

But none of these invasions has solved anything.

But perhaps Serbia should bomb Madrid until the Basques are given their freedom. After all, everyone else is doing it.

Fr Alexander Schmemann in Russia

Father Alexander Schmemann (1921-1983) was probably the most influential Orthodox theologian in the English-speaking world, at least in the 20th century. His writings certainly changed my life, and probably many others.

What is less known, in the English-speaking world, is how influential his writings were in Russia, and Bishop Seraphim Sigrist has shared in his LiveJournal a review of Father Schmemann's journals by Gregory Yavlinsky.
Father Alexander Schmemann has never been to Russia but his presence was felt during the most important moments of our life. By the end of the Eighties many people, among whom were my friends, began to seek a way to faith. Temples were opened, thousands were baptized. There was enthusiastic talk about Russia’s religious revival. This quest was perhaps, truly strong and pure, in many respects an intuitive internal movement toward truth by people which felt it impossible after so many years to remain under a bushel of lies. This thirst for the truth spilled over into the country’s political life briefly perhaps, with a powerful moral momentum.

Today it is difficult to imagine how scarce such books were and how difficult they were to come by and with what passion they were read! For many, Christianity had its beginning with the words of Father Alexander. His books were passed from hand to hand, they were discussed, and when priests saw a serious interest towards faith they advised: “read Father Alexander Schmemann’s books.”

Today such a source as Father Alexander is simply indispensable. Father Alexander’s “Diaries”, published by “Russkiy Put’”, are his most timely words for today. These words are not addressed to servants but to friends (Jn 15:15). Today people who, ten or fifteen years ago, felt that they were coming to Christ find themselves inside a complicated structure of Church life. Many things there are not customary for them nor are they understandable. They may be confusing and lead them to a search for answers and they, more than anyone else, are in need of pastoral counsel to explain what is what, to clarify doubts, strengthen their faith, establish a line between the search for Christ and those manifestations of Church life which can not only disturb but even destroy the beginnings of faith.

I first read Father Alexander Schmemann's The world as sacament at a time when Western theology was split into warring factions of pietists and secularists (today often called "conservatives" and "liberals"), neither of which appealed to me very much. But if one did not fully support one side, one was immediately taken by its champions to be a supporter of the other, and therefore the Enemy. There was no middle ground. Reading Fr Alexander's book was like a breath of fresh air: this is what I've been trying to say!

I've continued to read that book, and to recommend it to friends. It is now published as For the life of the world, with two extra chapters. And his Journals, too, make very good reading.

But it was something of a surprise to find that he had been equally influential in Russia, where very different conditions prevailed. That makes his writing more universal, and more universally significant.

06 February 2007

Mission and civilisation

This is a third-hand reference to a blog that summarises a paper read by missiologist Father Michael Oleksa on the differences between Eastern and Western missionaries in their approach to "civilisation".

Briefly, it is that Eastern mission arose in a part of the world where imperial conquests were by Alexander the Great, and were of cultures that were equal to, or greater than the one from which he had come. So there was an element of respect.

In the West, however, the Latin empire conquered "barbarians", and so tried to impose their idea of the "civis", and thought they were taking "civilisation" to those they conquered.

That's enough of my distorted third-hand summary of a summary. Read the rest on Glory to God for all things

03 February 2007

Religious symbols as aid to developing local theology

Joey Dela Paz writes (Missions and Theology: Religious symbols as aid to developing local theology)
I’m reading illiam Dyrness’ book entitle Invitation to Cross-Cultural Theology. Here, Dyrness did five case studies of the way ordinary Christians, in a variety of settings, think about and live out their Christian faith. He points out that Academic theology have a lot to learn about theologies of the people that are done outside the bounds of Western academic setting and from written sources.

That is one of the reasons why I find the African Independent Churches (AICs) so interesting, especially the Zionists. One of the things that I have been thinking about recently, because of a book I am working on, is the use of holy water in healing.

Martin West, in his book Bishops and prophets in a black city (Cape Town, David Philip, 1975), writes:
The administering of holy water appears to be fairly uniform. Sufficient water (either from tap water or a spring) is put in a large container and then prayed for by a prophet, or by all the prophets and other senior officials of the church. In some cases the blessing of water may include stirring with a holy stick. The water is then given to the congregation members to drink, usually in small glasses, at a particular time in the service. In the Full Gospel church, for example, drinking of holy water often takes place at the same time as members are treated at the Holy Place. During the dancing they may come to the table which has the holy water on it, be given a glass to drink, and then receive a blessing and laying on of hands by a prophet. This is a rather informal approach, but in other churches the drinking of holy water may be much more formal.

What strikes me about this is that the description is almost identical with the celebration of the Great Blessing of the Waters that takes place in Orthodox Churches at Theophany (Epiphany). When the water has been blessed, members of the congregation come forward, and are sprinkled with holy water (the priest dips a sprig of basil into the vessel containing it, and uses that to sprinkle it) while drinking the water from glasses. At the end of the service members of the congregation bring bottles and other containers to take the holy water to their homes (usually the plastic bottles in which one buys bottled water in shops). They drink this when they feel ill, or use it for sprinkling it on objects they want to bless, or if somethuing bad has happened.

I very much doubt that the Zionists learned to do this from the Orthodox Church (which has done it for centuries), and yet the fact that the ceremonies are almost identical seems to point to something in human nature that needs to worship in this way, or the Zionists rediscovering something that their Protestant predecessors had dropped -- premodern religion emerging from the veneer of modernity, perhaps?

The AICs usually have very little "systematic theology", and missiologists have referred to the "enacted theology" of the AICs. Actually something similar happens when Western theologians write about Orthodox theology. They usually base what they write on written works by Orthodox Christians, but Orthodoxy does not have a systematic theology, but rather a holistic theology. Written theology must be read in conjunction with the enacted theology, and cannot be understood apart from the Divine Liturgy and the other services of the church. Orthodoxy cannot be understood apart from orthopraxy.

I referred to something similar in relation to holy water in an article Sundkler deconstructed: Bethesda AICs and syncretism, which I also cited in the December synchoblog on syncretism.

02 February 2007

Christianity and horror

Thanks to Elizaphanian: a Christian perspective on horror for pointing to this very interesting interview: FilmChat: Scott Derrickson -- the interview.

Speaking of film, Derrickson says that the horror genre "distinguishes and articulates the essence of good and evil better than any other genre" and when asked about the fantasy genre, Derrickson said:
The evil within the fantasy genre tends to be threatening to the heroes within the story, but not to the reader -- or not to the viewer, in the case of cinema -- and that's why I think it's more palatable, and something that is more easily embraced for a lot of people. Because it does deal directly with good and evil, but it doesn't serve to actually render feelings of fear and terror within the reader, in the case of literature, or within the viewer, in the case of cinema.

I've enjoyed horror films and horror literature since my youth, a taste perhaps fostered by two English teachers I had when I was about 9-10 years old, Murray Bissett and Wilfred Noriskin, both of whom encouraged creative writing and imagination. Murray Bissett, in particular, read us ghost stories, and the boundary between ghost stories and horror stories is often hard to determine. One of the first stories he read us was The ash tree which sounded considerably more horrific to our ears than the author intended, since we pictured a ghostly undead revenant tree, which had resurrected itself from the ashes in the grate, or a forest fire, and planted itself, grey and ghostly with blackened branches, outside a house to haunt the inhabitants. It was only much later that I learnt that there were living, green and growing trees called "ash".

When I was in high school I discovered a two-volume collection of short stories in a book case at home, edited by Dorothy Sayers, called Detection, mystery, horror. The detection section went unread, the mystery section I read once, but the horror section I read again and again. Two stories in the collection stood out, The Wendigo and Couching at the door..

Not long after that I discovered Dracula, and The devil rides out, by Dennis Wheatley, both classic horror stories of their time. But after leaving school I read very few horror stories, mainly because they were so difficult to come by. There was a film, The innocents based on Henry James's ghost story The turn of the screw.

The genre has various names, or perhaps there are overlapping genres -- horror, supernatural fiction, ghost stories. "Supernatural fiction" seems to cover most of them. And in that category most of Charles Williams's novels seem to fall, with All Hallows Eve and Descent into hell being ghost stories, and Many dimensions having elements of classic horror.

But as I got older, perhaps my taste got jaded, and most of the "horror" stories ceased to horrify. There was a sort of "I've heard it all before" feel. Horror films were even less effective, with too much reliance on special effects and distracting one from the plot with "I wonder how they did that" thoughts.

Of these authors, Charles Williams was Christian, and so was Sayers, though she was an editor rather than an author when it came to horror, and did not write much herself.

Among more recent authors associated with the horror genre is Stephen King, but many of his books are thinly disguised science fiction, where the source of the horror seems to be something that came from outer space (Desperation, It, The tommyknockers). His Pet sematary, Needful things and Salem's lot are closer to classic horror in the sense of supernatural stories. But even these seem to be nihilist rather than Christian, as far as the examination of evil is concerned. The supernatural evil is just there, as in H.P. Lovecraft's Chthulu mythos. The actual struggle between good and evil takes place at a much more mundane and human level, in the lives of the characters. And when one sees it in that way, it can actually throw some light on the Christian understanding of , as discussed in the recent . So, for example, in Pet sematary the family of the protagonist is visited hy evil revenants, but the battle is not fought primarily between the protagonist and these, but within the heart of the protagonist himself. It is the devices and desires of our own hearts that lead us astray.

This can also be seen in Bram Stoker's Dracula. The vampire, for all his evil powers, cannot enter the house and harm the inhabitants unless one of the inmates invites him in. Or, as St Peter puts it, "Resist the devil and he will flee from you."

But for all its value in showing the battle between good and evil, horror is limited, because one becomes sated. Myth and fantasy go deeper, despite Derrickson's reservations. But I would like to issue a challenge to Derrickson: make a film of a novel. That would be a real achievement.



This is the kind of thing I usually post in my LiveJournal, but since I haven't been able to think of much to say here recently, I thought I'd post it here as well.


You are 40% experimental, 31% feral, 54% spiritual, and 10% square!

Well done! You're a faerie-child. You always stand out from the crowd by the way you dress, but unlike the Feral, not by the way you smell (unless it's the smell of sandalwood, jasmine, and ylang ylang). You're not particularly into free love and mind-expanding substances, but you are a free spirit, who believes that there really are magick and miracles in the world.

The hippie world needs you because you bring a little magic into their lives.

If you believe that opposites attract, you probably find yourself around Ferals. If you are more inclined to enjoy the company of those with similar attitudes, then other Faerie-children, as well as the Alternate, Neopagan, and Mystic are for you.

The other categories are Raver, Treehugger, Ful-blown Hippie and of course, the Non-hippie

My test tracked 4 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 99% on experimental
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 99% on feral
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 99% on spiritual
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 99% on non-hippie

Link: The what kind of hippie are you Test written by pragmaticdreams on OkCupid Free Online Dating, home of the The Dating Persona Test


Related Posts with Thumbnails