27 May 2007

Anglican introversion

Retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu told the BBC that the Anglican communion was spending too much of its time and energy on debating differences over gay priests and same sex marriages - a subject, he said, that had now become "an extraordinary obsession". The crises in Zimbabwe and Darfur, corruption and HIV/Aids were not getting enough attention, said Tutu. To which one might add, for American and British Christians, such things as the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo.

In his blog Journeys in between, Matt Stone remarks that "Consumerism, pluralism, spirituality, collapse of Christian credibility and moral authority in the media and public discourse ... don't these issues deserve some attention? I don't recall Jesus being that sex obsessed."

The Anglican obsession with sex has led to some disturbing changes in the attitudes of the West. As one columnist put it
But the largest adjustments are coming on the religious left. For decades it has preached multiculturalism, but now, on further acquaintance, it doesn't seem to like other cultures very much. Episcopal leaders complain of the threat of "foreign prelates,'' echoing anti-Catholic rhetoric of the 19th century. An activist at one Episcopal meeting urged the African bishops to "go back to the jungle where you came from.'' Not since Victorians hunted tigers on elephants has the condescension been this raw.

Perhaps these are not changes in attitude, though, but rather the multicultural mask being stripped off, and revealing the paternalism and imperialism that was there all along, and had been covered up, as I noted in an earlier posting in this blog: Mission is a two-way street... or is it?.

One of the Anglican blogs that appears quite frequently on blogrolls and is recommended as a good one is Father Jake stops the world. Yet when I read it recently it seemed to be almost entirely concerned with the internal politics of the Anglican Communion. There were older post on other issues, but now sexual politics within the Anglican Communion seem to be the dominant theme. The same seems to be true of other Anglican blogs, and I've seen it in other forums such as Usenet newsgroups. The sexual obsession seems to have rendered many Anglicans incapable of seeing anything else, and to have almost paralysed the Anglican Communion.

25 May 2007

Score two for the peacemakers -- blessed are they

A very interesting verdict in a court case in Britain:
Toby Olditch and Philip Pritchard, who broke into the US Airbase at RAF Fairford on the eve of the Iraq war, intending to sabotage B52 bombers bound for the war, were acquitted of all charges on Tuesday. The judge evidently allowed them to present the defence of "lawful excuse" to the jury, that they were acting to prevent a greater crime. The prosecution accepted that even delaying the bombers could potentially save civilian lives, as they would have more time to flee.
But I wonder if Americans will get into a tizz about it, because it might perhaps also be seen as a precedent to justify the bombing of abortion clinics.

But read the whole thing - it gets better.

23 May 2007

Left behind

When Patricia de Lille broke from the old fuddy-duddies in the PAC I admired her. I even voted for her party in the last election. The PAC seemed to be stuck in a time warp, doomed to relive the politics of 1959-1961 in an endless loop.

So when Patricia de Lille broke from the PAC and founded the Independent Democrats, it seemed like a Great Leap Forward.

It now transpires, however, that the great leap forward fell short of the 21st century. It was a leap from 1960 to 1980. Patricia de Lille does not know much about the blogosphere, and has been complaining about some anonymous blogger saying nasty things about one of her colleagues, and is demanding that blogs be censored.

Americans might say to Patricia, "Get a life".

I say to Patricia: get a blog
She will need to do that if she wants to communicate with voters, since her greatest political asset, Tony Leon, has ridden off into the sunset.

19 May 2007

The wind and the rain

I've been gradually cataloguing my books on the computer and while going though them came across one called The wind and the rain, described as an Easter book for 1962. My mother had bought it back then, and after her death it had sat on the shelf and I only looked at it quite recently.

It is an anthology of literary essays, fiction, poetry, drawings etc. About half of them were about Teilhard de Chardin, the Jesuit palaeontologist, whose books were much in vogue at the time (probably due for a comeback; they might inject some variety into the sterile "creation versus evolution" debates on Usenet and elsewhere). There was a poem about Corfe Castle, written by John Cooper Powys at the age of 12, a hitherto unpublished essay by Walter Bagehot on Tennyson's Idylls of the king, and more.

What I liked best, however, was the opening paragraph of the introduction.
Editors must be born lucky. In 1940 The Wind and the rain was founded by a group of schoolboys whose ambition was to produce a quarterly that would 'interpret the Christian Order in the light of current affairs, philosophy, literature and the arts'. Three attempts were made to print it on a hand press; all were abysmal failures, and eventually it was sent to some printers in Gloucestershire. The title proved lucky. A number of bookshops ordered copies in the belief that it was a reprint of a successful thirties farce about medical strudents. The copies sold out and they reordered more.
I rather liked the aim, and I could say that that is also the aim of this blog: to interpret the Christian Order in the light of current affairs, philosophy, literature and the arts -- to which I would add, "and vice versa".

I think I'll steal it for the description.

16 May 2007

The image of Christianity in films - synchroblog

I'm approaching this topic from a personal point of view, commenting on the influence that some films have had on me, bearing some relation to the Christian faith.

Perhaps I should begin by saying that until the age of 11 I was a heathen. My parents were atheist/agnostic and we never went to church as a family. The first time I went to church was with a friend who took me to the local Anglican church on Christmas day. The next year I went to a Methodist school, but the maths teacher, who was also responsible for teaching us "scripture" did not believe much either, and fulfilled his responsibility by getting us to read the Bible aloud in turns, starting with Genesis 1:1.

By the end of the year I'd developed a taste for it, and surprised my mother by asking for a Bible for my birthday, and read it through in about 16 months, and started again with a new edition that had the Apocrypha. We also got some new teachers, ardent evangelicals, who organised voluntary Bible study groups and placed what I'd read in an evangelical framework, and convinced me of the need to make a conscious personal commitment to Christ as Lord and Saviour, which I did at the age of 13.

A couple of years later I went with my mother to see a film called Lease of life. She wanted to see it because Robert Donat was in it. I had never heard of Robert Donat, but went along anyway because I had nothing better to do. It was about a school chaplain, and when it began I prepared to be bored. I was at a school that had a chaplain, and didn't find any of them inspiring or interesting. I've forgotten most of the film now, but this chaplain bloke had some kind of incurable disease, and knowing that his time was short inspired him to preach more interesting sermons to the kids. That bit stuck with me, and I could say influenced my choice of career, a choice that horrified me every time I thought of it, and then images from the film would pop up in my mind, and I'd calm down.

The next one that made an impression was Dracula. This was a straightforward horror flick, and I'd read the book first, and enjoyed it. I've seen the film a couple of times since then, and read the book 4-5 times. One scene from the film and the book always returns to me whenever a certain theological point comes up. As C.S. Lewis points out, when considering the devil, there are two opposite errors to be avoided. One is to believe that he does not exist, and the other is to be excessively concerned about and afraid of demons and the devil. The devil has power over us only if we let him. Since the death and resurrection of Christ the final result of the conflict between good and evil has not been in doubt. The devil is an oxymoron, a powerless force. And whenever I discuss this point the image of Lucy Westenra in the house at Whitby comes to mind. Dracula is powerless to enter the house unless one of the inmates invites him, and Lucy Westenra does, partly because of the overprotectiveness of her friends and family.

I'll now jump ahead, from my teenage years to middle age, when I was teaching missiology (the study of Christian mission) at the University of South Africa. There were two films that I recommended by students to see, both about Christian mission in South America. One was The mission, about Jesuit missions in the 17th century. The second was At play in the fields of the Lord, about Protestant missions in the 20th century. Between them these two films raised about half the issues that students were expected to deal with in the course, and write assignments on -- mission and colonialism, mission and culture, inculturation. Ideally I would like to have had the students at a camp in the bush for a weekend (in South Africa we call that a "bosberaad" -- bush council), show them both films and then get them to discuss them, then watch the films again and discuss them some more.

The Jesuit method, shown in The mission, was to create utopian Christian communities for their converts, where they were protected from the wicked world of both their pagan compatriots and those of the missionaries, the colonial capitalist exploiters. It was in some ways a magnificent vision, but also a misguided one. The new Christians lived a communal (and communist) life in an environment in which Christian virtues could be nourished -- until the outside world, in the form of the colonialist exploiters, intruded. The power of secular businessmen got the Jesuits suppressed, and it was the Jesuits who resisted the genocide of the local people. But when the Jesuits were suppressed, the flower of Christianity they nurtured wilted and died. And the reason is not far to seek. They failed absolutely to raise up local leadership. Everything was under the absolute control of the Jesuit missionaries. When the missionaries left, the vision could not be sustained. They had failed to pass on the vision. They had failed to do what St Paul recommends in II Timothy 2:2 - find reliable men they could teach who could in turn teach others.

Their ideal Christian communities were ruled by an authoritarian paternalism. And the name of these communities has come down to us in the 21st century with more ominous connotations. The name reducciones has been translated as "protected villages", but another name for them is "concentration camps". They were used by the British in the Anglo-Boer War. They were used by the Portuguese in the Mocambique liberation war, and have been used by various 20th-century dictators to control their opposition.

At play in the fields of the Lord is based on a novel by Peter Matthiesen, but I only managed to find a copy of the novel to read long after I had seen the film. Two American Protestant missionaries are trying to evangelise indigenous people of the Equatorial jungle. One is more culturally sensitive than the other, which leads to tensions between them. Civilisation, in the form of the government, is encroaching, and wants to dispossess the indigenous people so they can exploit the land, and the missionaries, who understand a great deal less than the Jesuits, are torn between having to please the government officials, whom they depend on for permission to stay there, and loyalty to their home mission society and the people they are sent to, all of whom have conflicting interests. Into the equation comes a charter pilot, who had been involved in various activities of dubious legality. He is descended from North American Indians, and finds himself called to what he sees as his cultural roots by the South American Indians.

An interesting difference between these two films is the way Christianity is presented. The mission presents Christianity in a very positive light, as the protector of the indigenous people against the cruel capitalist exploiters. The negative aspects are played down.

At play in the fields of the Lord tends to accentuate the negative aspects, and the Christian missionaries are shown as largely ineffectual, unable to comprehend what is going on. They are a bit more savvy in the book than in the film, but that, if anything, makes it worse. But I must say I have met missionaries like that, and the ones shown in the film were quite true to life. The only thing is that they are not all like that.

So there you have it. Four different films, of different eras, each saying something about the Christian faith, yet quite different from each other in many ways.

See what the other synchrobloggers have to say on Christianity and film:
And a couple of late entry honorary synchrobloggers:

13 May 2007

How broad is "broadband"?

About 18 months ago we signed up for ADSL, which, while it cost about the same as our dial-up connection, seemed to offer certain advantages. The main one was that one could connect to the internet at any time without waiting for 7 pm, when the cheap phone rates kicked in.

At first it seemed marvellous -- if someone recommended a web site one could click on the URL and see what was there, without the need to wait for CallMore time (by which time one would usually have forgotten all about it).

The advantage of dial-up, though, was that if one needed to send an urgent e-mail, one could do so, even at the expensive times. Broadband is not nearly as flexible. Two weeks into the month, one hits the cap, and there is no internet access, no e-mail, nothing for the rest of the month.

After experiencing that for the last few months, the old system of 12 hours expensive, alternating with 12 hours very expensive doesn't seem to be such a bad idea after all.

Or does anyone know of South African ISPs who offer a better deal?

Anyway, from now until the end of the month I won't be looking at other people's blogs much, and will not click on links unless absolutely necessary. I never look at video clips anyway, so I don't know what uses all the bandwidth.

May Synchroblog: Christianity and film

The topic for the May is Christianity and film.

A synchroblog is when a number of people write in their blogs on the same broad topic on the same day, and each provides a link to the posts of the others in theirs, making it easy for people to see the topic from various points of view.

A couple of synchrobloggers have blogs that deal with the horror film genre, such as Theofantastique and Gospel of the living dead, but that's not everyone's cup of tea, so the topic has been broadened to Christianty and the movies generally, and perhaps TV series as well.

We rarely go out to the scopes any more, maybe once a year to see the next Harry Potter film (is anyone planning to do their synchroblog on those?), and usually watch them at home on the small screen. One that I might have gone to see, if it had been shown here in Tshwane, is Pan's Labyrinth, which several people have blogged about. But it has not been shown at all, so we'll have to wait until it's available on DVD or something.

If you're planning to join the May synchroblog, it will be on Wednesday 16th May. Please e-mail your topic and the name and URL of your blog to Phil Wyman at pastorphil@salemgathering.com by Monday 14th May.

There is also a mailing list for regular synchrobloggers, which you can join here, or send e-mail to: synchroblog-request@p2ptrust.org or to synchroblog-owner@p2ptrust.org.

If you'd like to know where the idea of synchroblogging started, see Square No More: Synchronizing a Blog on Syncretism

10 May 2007

Waiting for Blogot

How much longer do we have to wait for the bugs in Blogger Beta to be fixed, and for all the features of this "fully-featured" version to work?

Are they hoping the exodus to WordPress will speed up? About one in three of the Blogger blogs I read have announced that they have moved to WordPress, and the exodus continues.

It was months ago that they announced that the feature where you could click on people's interests or favourite books and moves in their profile and find others with similar interest was broken but would be fixed. It still is not working.

"Blog this" still does not work.

The "Search all blogs" feature still is not working.

When you type all those letters in a comment, they tell you when your post has been saved, but they don't tell you when your post hasn't been saved, and you have to type yet another set of letters. And that often happens, whether you type the letters correctly or not.

If you aren't going to fix the new Blogger, please can we have the old one back, at least until you get the new one right?

08 May 2007

Research: charismatic renewal movement in South Africa

After reading Charles Villa-Vicencio's book Trapped in apartheid (see Notes from underground: Trapped in apartheid - South African churches) I became aware that very little has been written on the charismatic renewal movement in South Africa, and its effects on church and society. There are occasional references in passing, which very often assume that the reader knows all about it. I discussed this with a few other people, and began to look at the possibility of writing a book on the subject.

The "charismatic renewal movement" was a rediscovery of the gifts of the Holy Spirit among non-Pentecostal Christian bodies. Pentecostal groups had flourished since the late 19th century, and they emphasised the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which became one of their distinctive doctrines. In the second half of the 20th century pentecostal experiences appeared with increasing frequency in non-Pentecostal Christian denominations. Some of those affected adopted the classical Pentecostal pneumatology, while others began to re-examine, and sometimes reinterpret, the pneumatology of their own tradition.

The focus of such a study would be on the charismatic renewal in non-Pentecostal bodies in South Africa the period 1960-1995. It could not be contained strictly within those limits, however, because there were similar renewal movements in other countries, both in southern Africa and overseas. There was also considerable interaction with Pentecostal groups, but others have written about those. The dating is bounded by secular events; 1960 was the year in which many secular political groups, such as the ANC and PAC were banned, a republican referendum held, and the implementation of the apartheid policy and civil repression intensified. Apartheid ended in 1994, with the first democratic elections. This was also the period in which the charismatic renewal movement flourished.

The story is complicated by the fact that the charismatic renewal seemed to spring up in many different places independently. It began differently in different denominations and spread in the 1960s. In the 1970s it drew people together, across denominational, racial and class boundaries, somewhat to the consternation of the National Party government. In the 1980s, however, it began to disintegrate, and the new-found unity proved short lived, and several new denominations took root, sometimes emphasising distinctive doctrines. People began to speak of "charismatic burnout".

It would be impossible for one person to write a detailed history of such a variegated movement, and it is probably too soon even to make a preliminary evaluation. But something needs to be done to at least provide a full picture. No one did much to record the history of the movement as it was happening; they were too busy making history to record it. There were lots of ephemeral publications, newsletters and magazines, but most of them were concerned with teaching and doctrine rather than events. Where they did record events, they were often like the gospel pericopes -- testimonies of healing and the like where the details of time and place got worn away, recounted for spiritual edification.

Indeed, trying to write the story now is in some ways a challenge similar to that faced by the gospel writers, trying to collect and recall memories of events that had taken place 30-50 years previously. Perhaps they were concerned, as I am, to interview living witness of those events before they have all died. And how, after such an interval, does one find such witnesses, and persuade them to tell their stories?

One way, which was not available to the gospel writers, is to post an appeal in a blog, as I am doing now, and that someone who knows something about it may read it. Or even that someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows may read it.

So I've drawn up a preliminary survey, to try to get some of the people who might be able to provide information. If you were in South Africa at any time in the period 1960-1995, and had any encounter with the charismatic renewal movement, and are willing to share information about it, please

Click here to take survey

It won't take long, though since it is a historical survey rather than a sociological one, it isn't anonymous, it does ask for your name and contact information, so that I can ask you for more detailed information if necessary.

If you are willing to provide information, or can suggest people or publications who could provide more, please write them in a comment here, or get in touch with me by e-mail.

07 May 2007

Orthodox Christian blogs

Matt Stone in Australia asked about Orthodox Christian blogs, and asked for people to compile a list. Sally Coleman in England took it up (I was going to say "The UK", but after the Scottish elections I'm not sure how much longer it will last).

Here's the meme:
Can anyone recommend some good Orthodox Christian blogs? I have been searching around and come up with a couple, but I'm looking for more to broaden my horizons.

What I thought might be a cool idea, in the interests of ecumenism, is to create a meme to help aggregate some of the best Orthodox blogs together.

To participate, simply copy the list you'll find below into a post on your own blog, add 3-5 blogs to the bottom of the list and note the country of origin. Preference should be given to Orthodox bloggers that demonstrate an ecumenical spirit, that is, who engage with folk beyond their own immediate tradition. Encourage others to do the same. Oh, and the aim is get as a wide cross section as possible, so I am looking for a variety of traditions - Coptic, Greek, Russian - from a variety of countries and not just your own.

The list could get long but that's basically the point of the exercise. When you’ve done all the above, leave a trackback or comment below, or link to this post, so I can keep track of who ends up being recommended.
Matt & Sally's list is:
Notes from Underground
Orthodox Monk
Ancient Faith Radio
Glory to God for All Things

Though two of them don't really seem to be blogs.

I'll repeat my comment to Matt: My nominations would the the same as 4 out of 5 of my nominations for the "Thinking Blogger Award" at Notes from underground: Thinking blogger award, and I see you already have one of them.

But here they are again:
  • The Scrivener - Sympathy for the befuddled, the bookish & the believing
  • Glory to God for all things - Life, journey of faith, Orthodox Christianity and religion in culture.
  • Notes from a commonplace book - Common-place Book: n. a book in which common-places, or notable or striking passages are noted; a book in which things especially to be remembered or referred to are recorded.
  • +Seraphim's Journal - an amazing collections of thoughts and jottings inspired by literature, art, places and friends, by an Orthodox bishop
Matt asks for a trackback, but I've found it difficult to get trackbacks to Typepad blogs to work, but I'll try to link to it here and here. But if those don't work, this should.

Anyway, if you know of any good Orthodox Christian blogs not listed above, please let Matt know.

03 May 2007

Brian McLaren: a generous Orthodoxy

A few weeks ago I wrote Notes from underground: Brian McLaren to speak in Pretoria and asked people who knew about him and his writings to tell me whether it would be worth paying to go an hear him speak.

There were various answers, some positive, some negative.

Now I've just got back from hearing him speak, and I can say unequivocally that yes, it was worth hearing him, and my wife and I are both glad that we went. It was very interesting, and it clarified a lot of things for me about the "emerging church" movement. Yes, I know he is just one bloke, and others are saying different things, but it resolved a lot of confusion for me.

In many ways there was nothing very special or startling about what he said. At one level it was New Testament 101: Introduction to the gospels. It was very Orthodox, and at some points he used Orthodox ikons to illustrate it. It was the basics of the gospel, the good news of the kingdom of God. When Jesus came proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, what did it mean in the contemporary setting, and what does it mean today? For me it was familiar ground, biblically, theologically and culturally. There was nothing new, nothing I hadn't heard before.

So what was it worth going to hear him?

I think it was his presentation, the way he drew things together, the way he got the message across.

Someone asked at one point how one does evangelism with this view of the gospel, but I think in many ways it was evangelism; he presented the basics of the gospel in a clear, succinct and ordered way, and that is evangelism.

So it answered some questions for me. Over the past few months I have got the feeling that a lot of what "emerging church" people are looking for is to be found in Orthodox Christianity, and has been in the Orthodox Church all along. Many of these things disappeared in Western Christianity with the onset of modernity, and in a sense Western Christianity and modernity are almost synonymous. And Brian McLaren's lecture tended to confirm this. I was unable to get hold of his book A generous orthodoxy to read beforehand, and I wondered how "orthodox" he was, and what I can say now that what I heard him say tonight was very Orthodox, many Orthodox speakers I have heard have said similar things. Any differences were mostly in style, not substance.

There is more I could say, but now I'm tired and want to go to bed. Maybe I'll pick up some particular themes from what he said in later posts.


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