Archive for the ‘pacifism’ Tag

Thursday 1 December 2011 – “Firm Foundations”   Leave a comment

[I have got up extra early to undertake today’s Advent reflections and write this blog post because the rest of my day is full. Many are the stories of deeply spiritual people habitually valuing the stillness of the day before the rest of the world awakes. I am a “morning person” but have found stillness hard to find this morning; my mind is jumping.]

When I read today’s title “Firm Foundations” before reading anything else, the thing I thought of was how grateful I am for the firm foundation I received for my own spiritual journey from my family and the church I was brought up in from the ages of 6 to 18. When telling a personal narrative that moves from one tradition or type of church to another it is too easy to sound critical of the previous stages. I value highly my firm foundations. Thanks Mum and Dad!

The Bible passages set for today were Isaiah 26: 1-6 and Matthew 7: 21, 24-27.

Thou dost keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee, because he trusts in thee.
Trust in the LORD for ever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.
[Isaiah 26: 3-4 RSV]

I certainly knew those verses when my foundations were being laid and I have quoted them in the version I possibly first met them in, it was certainly the rendering that rang most familiar to me. I think those verses speak for themselves. They are my hope and my experience through both calm and troubled waters.

I was very tempted just to leave today’s blog post there. The above was the theme that stood out for me in my “meditation” (I use the word very lightly here) on the set passages and short commentary. However as indicated in my introduction my mind was jumping between other themes which I will briefly note.

The context for the above quoted verses was the threat posed to a nation (Judah) from the other nations that surround it. However of course it can be applied poetically, metaphorically, as I have done above and countless millions before me. However the historical context triggers thoughts around my pacifism. “Why do the nations so furiously rage together?” as the libretto to Handle’s Messiah has it in its setting of Psalm 2.

Beyond that the image created of the interaction between God and world politics (in this passage and throughout the Bible) is not one that sits easily with my own images of God.

He humbles those who dwell on high, he lays the lofty city low; he levels it to the ground and casts it down to the dust.

Feet trample it down— the feet of the oppressed, the footsteps of the poor.
[Isaiah 26: 5-6 NIV]

[I fear discussion of my thoughts here is going to take more time than I have so will just note the key points and questions.]

  • My own images of God are dominated by the God of love over and above the God of justice.
  • How does God interact with “the affairs of men”? I strongly believe in free will, because I can’t see how love from man to God is possible without it. I believe in a God of possibilities not a puppeteer. I do not have a GrecoRoman view of God (gods to their view) nudging events at odd times.
  • My framework and my thinking is incomplete but, it is that from mankind’s perspective, I can see how accounts imagining God’s destruction of the wicked city, or nation arise. However I think it is much more subtle and positive theologically speaking than that. I think that the destruction arises from man’s (I won’t use inclusive language here because it usually is the men!) folly, pride, greed, (sin). But at all points God is longing to save.
  • I can not believe in a God that is partial. He loves all, every individual every nation. It is a very primitive view of God that effectively every tribe has its own god and the one with the most powerful god wins when there is conflict. (As an aside I think the account of Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel mocks that concept wonderfully [1 Kings 18 16-46] ); provided you see the God of Israel as the universal God of the universe.)
  • I do believe in a God who, in whatever mystical way he does interact with the affairs of men, uses Nations as well as people. The classic example here being Israel appears historically, as well as specifically Biblically, to be the means of revealing the image of a monotheistic universal God to humanity.

The gospel passage from Matthew imagines people at the last judgement (again a concept that challenges my own images of God). This then leads into the famous parable of the wise man building on the rock and the foolish one on the sand. I am left with the children’s song, setting this parable, in my head (complete with actions) and will doubtless be now singing it all day. I end by quoting the parable in full:

The Wise and Foolish Builders

24 Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.

25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.

26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.

27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.

[Matthew 7: 24-27]


Monday 28 November 2011 – “Under my Roof”   Leave a comment

Two bible passages were set for today’s Advent reflection: Isaiah 2:1-5 and Matthew 8:5-11.

The title for the day comes for the story in Matthew of the Centurion who had a sick servant and asked Jesus to heal him in and when Jesus said he would come the Centurion says:  “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof” [Matthew 8:8 NIV], the King James version renders it: “Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof”.

That sense of having to be worthy, or not being worthy, is not very prevalent in the C21st UK culture in which I live, we don’t pay deference to Kings, Priests or Teachers (I am not saying we should).  We assert equality of rights (I do say we should). In fact I think the most prevalent cultural use of the term worthy is in the mocking deference borrowed from the 1992 film “Wayne’s World“.

What do I mean when I think of (un)worthiness before God?  Most churches have some statement or reflection on unworthiness in the lead up to the  Communion, Eucharist, Mass [delete as suits your sensibilities].  The Anglican church uses one of several forms of The Prayer of Humble Access. The version I am most familiar with includes these sentences:

We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under your table.
But you are the same Lord whose nature is always to have mercy.
[“Common Worship”, Church Publishing House, 2000 p.181]

That prayer in the service has always been important to me.  Even when I was worshipping in a non-conformist tradition if I happened to go to an Anglican communion it stood out.  Now it is part of what I value in a set liturgy.  Familiar words that I don’t have to dissect, that don’t trigger long semantic or theological debate inside my heard.  They just trigger very simple honestly held feelings:

  • I am not worthy
  • You God accept me.

Two other themes came up in this mornings brief reflection but I just park them here for now and might expand them later; I must get on with my paid work.

Firstly, that our images of God are often based on (sometimes distorted by) our images of man/woman.

  • The Centurion could command his troops and slaves so expected Jesus to be able to remotely command whatever was making his servant sick.
  • Isaiah talks of God judging between the Nations.  I feel sure that emerged from his experiences close to the politics of his day.

Then secondly, I am a life long pacifist.  That is a position that frequently has to be wrestled with.  My father volunteered as a medic during his National Service because of his beliefs and my Grandfather similarly was a Conscientious Objector in World War 2.  So this dream/ hope/prophecy in Isaiah of course has resonance for me:

He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.

[Isaiah 2:4 NIV]

Posted November 28, 2011 by Martyn Cooper in Advent 2011 Reflections

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