A Reflection during Lockdown on Good Friday, 10 April 2020:
It’s the hope that nearly killed me…
That’s a line from the amazing documentary, “Touching the Void”. Joe Simpson and his mountaineering partner Simon Yates were caught in a snowstorm on the Siula Grande in Peru. Joe broke his leg and in a failed attempt at a self rescue, was then left for dead on the mountain. He managed to get himself down the mountain, only to discover he was far away from any civilisation and had to drag himself across glaciers and rocks for a few days becoming dehydrated and frost bitten, before finally being rescued.
Having managed to get himself to the bottom of the mountain, he says that it was the dashing of his hopes of rescue at that point that was the lowest moment of the experience for him. Dashed hopes can kill you.
Continue reading Lockdown Reflections: It’s the hope that nearly killed me
Here’s something you should hear in church this week, but probably won’t: gaslighting is real, and too many Christians are part of perpetuating it.
The Patheos blog posted an excellent article on gaslighting and how to deal with it. “Gaslighting” is a particular strategy of liars, who try and get you to question yourself and the truth. This article references Donald Trump, but I am also experiencing a lot of this in South Africa, with apartheid revisionists. These are people trying to get us to change our view of apartheid and say it wasn’t so bad – they’re doing this so as to not deal with racism’s legacy or acknowledge white guilt.
The full article is available here, or an excerpt below:
Gaslighting in the Age of Trump: 6 Tips for Survival
by Leah D. Schade, on July 30, 2018.
When the president’s lies destroy the very concept of truth and reality for a nation, we must resist the gaslighting and practice radical integrity.
It’s been 556 days since Donald Trump put his hand on a Bible and promised that he would “faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, [to] preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Since then, that oath has been broken and the 8th Commandment violated. From the beginning, he asserted outright lies as truth, along with his press secretary and surrogates. For example, when the world could see in real-time the size of the crowd gathered for the inauguration and contrast that to pictures of a much larger crowd for Obama’s inauguration, we could obviously tell the difference. Yet they disputed reality right in front of our eyes, asserting “alternative facts.”
Since then, the Washington Post has counted over 3000 false or misleading claims made by the president as of May 2018, averaging 6 – 9 per day.
COMMENT FROM GRAEME: For the first time since taking office, the Washington Post fact checker has called one of Trump’s “falsehoods” a lie. They have not wanted to do this before because they define a lie as requiring “intent to deceive”. But now that Michael Cohen has said that he paid off porn stars to keep quiet at Trump’s request, The Washington Post can definitely say that Trump’s denials of this are lies. Read more here.
Most recently, Trump’s tactics seemed to come straight from George Orwell’s 1984 when he stated in a speech on July 24, 2018: “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.” Esquire’s Jack Holmes explains the dangerous turn with this pernicious statement: “Lies that are not merely lies, but instead serve to destroy the very concept of truth, are a cornerstone of any authoritarian playbook.”
What is going on here?
In a word: gaslighting.
Gaslighting is the attempt of one person to overwrite another person’s reality. It is a tactic used for gaining power and control. The term gets its name from a 1938 play and 1944 film Gaslight starring Ingrid Bergman in which her husband would secretly dim the gaslight, but when she commented on it, he insisted she must be crazy. And he convinced others she was insane as well. Thus, gaslighting is a form of manipulation through persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying in an attempt to destabilize and delegitimize a person or group of people.
Here’s something we should hear more of at church: white people are privileged.
The Invisible Character of White Privilege
by Fr. Richard Rohr, 17 Nov 2017
If we are going to talk about God as me, we must also talk about God as thee too! For a long time, I naively hoped that racism was a thing of the past. Those of us who are white have a very hard time seeing that we constantly receive special treatment just because of the color of our skin. This “white privilege” makes it harder for us to recognize the experiences of people of color as valid and real when they speak of racial profiling, police brutality, discrimination in the workplace, continued segregation in schools, lack of access to housing, and on and on. This is not the experience of most white people, so how can it be true?
Here’s something you should be told at church: prayer is not enough.
On 22 April, on a dusty farm outside the central city of Bloemfontein in South Africa, hundreds of thousands of Christians gathered for a prayer service led by Angus Buchan. Concerned about the state of the country, this group gathered together in response to the promise in Scripture found in 2 Chronicles 7:14, “…if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
I won’t go into the many ways this passage has been abused in the past, including pointing out that it is the second half of a sentence, and that it comes in the middle of a consecration of a Temple with many other instructions attached to it. Let’s just focus on what these words themselves say. We are not just called to prayer. We called to sort our lives out, to humble ourselves, to seek God and to turn from wickedness.
I strongly support the desire Christians had to pray for our country. And I strongly support any group of people gathering together to commit themselves to good and to God. But the big question, 48 hours later, is “now what?” What happens next.
I have four suggestions, all flowing from this verse in 2 Chron. 7:14:
1. Choose to humble ourselves
Humility involves thinking of others more highly than ourselves. Humility involves believing the best about others. Humility means I accept that my views, my approaches, my worldview and my way of life are not definitive for others – that other people may have equally valid, but different views, approaches, worldviews and ways of living. Humility means not imposing my beliefs on others. Humility means asking more questions. Humility means seeing the world through other people’s eyes.
How can we truly demonstrate a spirit of humility in South Africa and the world right now?
This is your invitation to a vitally important seminar. Download a PDF brochure here, and share with your friends.
The world is changing. More Christians from developing nations are becoming interested in mission. We need more people on the mission field, coming from more diverse backgrounds and finding new methods of funding their work.
Come and join a seminar hosted by OMF International that will investigate some new models of missional business.
- NEW WAYS of doing and funding mission
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- GOD AT WORK in various parts of the world through Missional Business
Here’s something you’re unlikely to hear at your church this Sunday: I really do like the current Pope. He seems to be a wonderful representative of Christ on earth – as we all should be. And he certainly has done much to raise the profile of the church. Catholic or not, all Christians should see the value in that.
TIME magazine’s profile and the reasoning behind their choice is well worth reading. Do so online here – with all the graphics and videos, or a text extract below:
Pope Francis, The People’s Pope
He took the name of a humble saint and then called for a church of healing. The first non-European pope in 1,200 years is poised to transform a place that measures change by the century
On the edge of Buenos Aires is a nothing little street called Pasaje C, a shot of dried mud leading into a slum from what passes for a main road, the garbage-strewn Mariano Acosta. There is a church, the Immaculate Virgin, toward the end of the pasaje—Spanish for passage—where, on one occasion, the local priest and a number of frightened residents took refuge deep in the sanctuary when rival drug gangs opened fire. Beyond the church, Pasaje C branches into the rest of the parish: more rutted mud and cracked concrete form Pasajes A to K. Brick chips from the hasty construction of squatter housing coagulate along what ought to be sidewalks. The word asesino—murderer—is scrawled in spray-paint on the sooty wall of a burned-out house, which was torched just days before in retaliation for yet another shooting. Packs of dogs sprawl beneath wrecked cars. Children wander heedless of traffic, because nothing can gather speed on these jagged roads. But even Pasaje C can lead to Rome.
I used to think that women should not lead in the church. My (faulty) understanding of Scripture was to take Paul’s restrictions literally, without understanding cultural context, interpretation or the adaptations of our theological positions that the Holy Spirit leads us to over time. We should make these adaptations slowly and with due consultation and attention. The danger is that we can stray from God’s will, and that would be a tragedy.
But over the past century, more and more people have come to understand the Bible in different ways from our historical interpretations about the role of women. I now completely and fully support the role of women in church, across all levels of leadership and involvement, with no restrictions (at least, none related to their gender).
It breaks my heart to watch women who are called by God to lead and serve, having to spend most of their energy fighting for their right/privilege to do this, rather than just doing their ministry calling.
Earlier this month, I came across this letter, clearly written out of this space of concern and pain. It was written by Esther Emery, a freelance blogger. It is beautifully written, heartfelt, and rings of truth. Please pass it onto all women you know who are feeling called by God to ministry.
Letter to a Woman Called to Leadership
I don’t know exactly who you are. Maybe a young woman, just now stepping out into your life. Maybe a mother or a crone, entering a new phase of your authority. Maybe just my beautiful dominant four-year-old, who is ready right now to start setting the world to rights.
But I know something. I know this. You are called.
You are called to stand up, speak up, use your voice. You are called to the front of the room. You are named. And you are called.
The darkness does not want you to use your voice. You are so full of light. The darkness will tell you that you are too much.
Sometimes you will believe this. Sometimes you will try to make yourself small, and quiet. Sometimes you will hurt yourself trying to be small and quiet.
Do this with me. Walk outside and look up to the sky. Reach your hands up to the wide, expansive sky, far above the crowdedness and the jostling. There is room for you up there. There is room for every bit of you up there.
That place is yours.
Here’s something we should hear more of in church: stop exploiting the poor. I don’t mean that the church should tell other people to stop exploiting the poor; I mean the church itself should stop exploiting poor people.
The social situation in rural Africa is the closest we get today to the situation that existed in first century Palestine, when Jesus was teaching. And Jesus’ message – among other things – was that the religious leaders were exploiting the poor, and needed to stop. In fact, Jesus’ harshest words were reserved for the religious leaders of his day. He called them “white washed tombs” and “blind guides”. I wonder what he might say to many African church leaders who seem to be mimicking the message and methods of those first century religious leaders.
There’s a reason Jesus was so opposed to them. Religion – as Karl Marx most famously pointed out – can be a drug for the poor (“opium for the people”), sedating them and distracting them from their desperate lives. At one level, that could be a good thing. The problem is that this too quickly turns to exploitation. Fundamentalist religion does this by offering eternal security and certainty of a better life (either now or in the future); and then demanding sacrifice today in response. Its best form produces solid citizens who will work hard and contribute to society self-sacrificially. The worst form, though, produces crusaders and unloving – and unlovely – cultish disciples.
A more sinister religion, though, emerges out of a “wealth and health” based religion. It promises cures for diseases and riches on earth. This is the religion peddled in rich countries through the 24-hour Christian broadcasting networks that ask viewers to contribute financially in exchange for holy water, prayer mats, blessed items and other tat. Mostly harmless, but most certainly idolatry. It is almost always for the benefit of the leader.
It’s when this religion meets the poor that things get nasty. This past weekend in Ghana, a stampede for special anointing water blessed by Africa’s most high profile fundamentalist Christian leader, Prophet TB Joshua from (I am sure you guessed) Nigeria, resulted in at least four deaths and thirty serious injuries. TB Joshua has courted controversy many times, including recent incidents in Ghana where his security guards illegally detained journalists covering his “crusades” in Accra. His Facebook page continues to spout testimonies of the power of the anointing water (from an Indian student who passed his school exams to people finding employment and cures for all sorts of diseases) – but no mention of the disaster in Ghana, except that this coming weekend’s crusades have been cancelled.
There is a form of religion that really would be good for the poor. Sadly, much of what is happening in Africa right now is not that form. And the poor need to be protected from it. When people die, hopefully there is an opportunity for truth to shine through.
Right now a conference called Rezolution is taking place in Johannesburg. The keynote speaker is an American, CJ Mahaney. Just a few weeks ago, Mahaney stepped down from the leadership of his own denomination, Sovereign Grace Ministries on the back of a court case in which he is a named defendant. The case alleges that Mahaney and other SGM leaders knowingly covered up sexual abuse that took place within their churches. (Update on 18 May 2013: the indictment has now been updated and made public: read the court document here. Warning, it will make you sick to your soul).
This comes on the heels of a leave of absence Mahaney took in 2011, in which he admitted to “various expressions of pride, unentreatability, deceit, sinful judgment and hypocrisy” (see Christianity Today’s reporting of the situation back then).
In October last year, three female plaintiffs filed a lawsuit that alleges “a conspiracy spanning more than two decades [in the 1980s and 90s] to conceal sexual abuse committed by church members”. Mahaney and board president John Loftness, along with six other leaders, are named as defendants for allegedly failing to report incidents of abuse to law enforcement, encouraging parents to not report them, and “mislead[ing] law enforcement into believing the parents had ‘forgiven’ those who preyed on their children.”
Reformed Christians are flocking to this conference and extolling the teaching of Mahaney.
I have no doubt that God can use anyone to speak His message, and that all of us are sinners. But I am very concerned that in a country rocked by sexual abuse such as South Africa, the church would invite this man to speak. It sends a horrific message to a watching world. We need to be more sensitive to the world we wish to minister God’s love to. CJ Mahaney should have been removed from Rezolution conference as a speaker. And his public ministry should not be supported by Christian leaders in this country.
A good friend of mine who happens to be a recently cum laude graduated Masters student in psychology who has a passion for social justice and dealing with the effects of child abuse, has written an article on this issue that I think deserves to be read. You can read and download the PDF here. I encourage you to do so.
I am very disappointed that Antioch Bible Church, founded by Tim Cantrall out of a messy split with Honeyridge Baptist Church a few years ago, has chosen to keep CJ Mahaney on the bill of Rezolution. I am disappointed in my many conservative friends who have supported this conference and specifically Mahaney while knowing the fact that he has stepped down from ministry in the USA. By all means support him privately, but do not endorse his public ministry. I am disappointed that the Reformed churches in South Africa do not take the issue of sexual sin amongst one of their leaders seriously. I am disappointed in the message that a watching world has received from this Rezolution conference.
I distance myself from this brand of Christianity.