One Quote Review: The Original Revolution by John Howard Yoder

A supremely influential text on Christian non-violence that sits behind much of the best theological thinking of our age, this book also seemed eerily relevant reading it as Thessaloniki rioted and America continued its decline.

For example, it is not true in an unqualified sense that the person on top of the social pile is powerful. Such a person is very often the prisoner of the intrigues and “deals” whereby he has reached that position, and of the consensus he is attempting to maintain. Often the bargains he needed to make to get into the office are the very reasons why, once firmly established there, he is not in the position anymore to help those truly in need – for whose sake he first sought to achieve power.

That quote will more than suffice for my take on the great James Fallows article in this month’s Atlantic:

Obama, Explained

Your Correspondent, Can’t start the day without that fresh from the circus feeling

The Five Top Tips For Masculinity

Somewhere in America some preacher has said sometime that Christianity is masculine. I wrote about this on Friday and my friend Debo disagreed with my basic claim that whenever celebrity is involved, theologically we’re stuck in a powers and principalities situation and we’re better off patiently waiting for the nonsense to die down.

So in the interest of listening to the good in that which I disagree with and in keeping Debo on my side, here’s my positive engagement with the stupid waste of time that is the “masculine Christianity” furore. If Christianity is masculine, then you should be masculine. I, as a paragon of masculinity, will show you how, in five easy steps.

Kevin, masculine

Masculinity is usually taken to mean the cultural norms attached to biological maleness. Fancy pants pretend-thinkers will contrast this against a hypothetical exaggeration they call machismo and a hypothetical under-statement they’ll define as effeminacy. Of course, all masculinity theologies will express themselves as machismo driven by a fear of the effiminate but let’s not get caught up in the silly argument. Let’s make a list!

1. Shower often but only use shower gel. Shampoo is for girls who worry about shiny hair. Conditioner is for girls who want their hair to bounce. You want your hair to rock. So buy the cheapest show shower gel possible, redirect money saved to buying cigars and keep showering because let’s be honest, you produce such prodigious amounts of sweat doing manly things that you have to keep up a tight regime.

2. Learn everything you can about doing sex. Sometimes people call it “doin’ it”. Other times they say “gettin’ it on”. The key things are to never call it “making love” and to always drop hanging g’s at the end of words. Also, of course, read books and webpages about being effective at it. Cos nothing makes a lady go weak at the knees quite like a man with a studied knowledge of how to kiss their neck (but algebra runs it close). That kind of secret knowledge is priceless.

3. Grow muscles. This should be taken for granted. If you are going to demand, like a good heterosexual man that your lady should have no fat, you should have many muscles. That is the way to achieve balance in your relationship. That and having her to submit to all the important decisions you make. I have a doctor friend who says that muscles exist on all human bodies, but I never trust science unless I hear it from a German accent and so when I say muscles I mean big prominent veiny muscles. What is more masculine than that?

4. Know the Bible. God is a man, right? God knows the Bible cos he wrote it. So you should know it too. The best way to do this is probably to use down time in your week, like Sunday mornings, to listen to mp3s of brilliant male Bible teachers. Their churches usually give them away for free. Listen, take notes and defend these teachings at every opportunity.

5. Be sure of yourself. If someone challenges something you’ve done, or questions your opinion, or doesn’t immediately like you and everything you do, I recommend that you act like the lion you are and face that sonofabitch down. That is what being sure of yourself means. You can learn alot about this certainty from reading self help books.

Re-LitYou might say, “Self help? Isn’t that only for girly weak-wristed book-readers?” That is true in a way, but shut up and listen to me! When you think about it, what can be more manly than helping yourself, without any assistance? The self help books I mean are written by Christian pastors who give you easy ways to navigate through your life. If they have this logo on the books then they are solid gold. Take everything in them seriously. And anyone who doesn’t, well ruin them. Cos that is what it means to be a man and be sure of yourself.

Your Correspondent, Can’t tell the difference between masculinity and stupidity

Poppies Are The Opiate Of The People

The English Football Association is angry at FIFA again. This time it isn’t because FIFA is a laughable den of corruption but because they won’t let the English soccer team wear poppies on their shirts when they play a meaningless friendly against Spain this weekend.

This reminds me of a time David Cameron, the humanoid robot who co-ordinates the economic cutting machine that is the British government, angrily refused to take off his commemorative poppy while on an official tour to China. He was not going to let some godless Commies tell him what to wear.

Of course, in the eyes of the Chinese, a British man wearing a poppy didn’t make them think of Flanders’ fields but the Opium War. As long practitioners of the peaceful activity that is free market global capitalism, Britain resorted to military action when China tried to block their efforts to flood their nation with opium made from poppies grown in India. It was of course illegal in Britain. But like almost all globalised capitalist scenarios, the commodity existed so a market had to be created. Britain offloaded 900 tons of the narcotic in 1820, 1,400 by 1838. The Chinese had to settle at the end of three years of conflict in 1842 with the humiliating Treaty of Nanjing. Britain took Hong Kong and subjugated China to its imperial trading agenda. Other western powers rushed in and a period that the Chinese call the Century of Humiliation began.

That is a useful chapter of history to keep in mind when we consider the growing British tendency to wear a poppy in November to remember the war dead.

Symbols are rarely universal. While their adaptation over time cannot be predicted, that doesn’t for a moment suggest that their development is mere coincidence. The poppy is not just a way to remember those who should be remembered. It is a very intentional attempt to solidly situate certain values at the centre of British discourse and exclude others.

Now why am I writing about poppies. I am an Irish man living in Dublin. What right have I to share an opinion? Well first of all, 50,000 Irish volunteers died in World War I. Secondly, I work for the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and it seems my employer is dedicated to supporting this peculiar little red symbol. In the recent edition of our church magazine, notable for a frankly brilliant letter by Prof. Stephen Williams and a superb article on the experience of members of the LGBT community in Northern Irish churches by my friend Pádraig O’Tuama, you can find two articles about “rememberance” and on the front cover you can see the poppy placed prominently.

Herald Poppy

The poppy became a symbol of remembrance of those who died in the war called “Great” in the 1920’s. It is a long tradition. It seems to stem from a poem written by a soldier named John McCrea in 1915 called In Flander’s Fields. The poem begins:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

One is upset by the sentimental attribution of bravery to larks but the imagery is powerful nonetheless. We can understand why this poem would capture the imagination and lead to this mode of commemoration. But this poem is actually a piece of militaristic propaganda. No Dulce Et Decorum Est here. Read the opening lines of the final stanza:

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.

It is appropriate that we remember the men who died in World War I. But let us remember them rightly. In the case of the dead of World War I that requires nuanced sensitivity and an unflinching examination of the truth. The 50,000 men who were raised in Ireland and died on the fields of that war were wasted. The remembering that honours their lives is not one that brushes the futility of their deaths to the side. The way to esteem their contribution to Europe is to recognise and clearly declare that they were abandoned by Europe in an insane and uncomprehensibly disgusting sacrifice to the gods of war.

Let us not murder the mankind of their going with a symbol that costs us nothing and that accrues only capital in the accounts of those groups that want us to continue to resort to military “solutions” when problems arise between nations. The television hosts and the bus drivers and the politicians and the clergy who proudly display the poppy may intend only to respect the courage of the men who went to fight. My fight is not with them. It is with the way in which their honest intentions are ill served by a charity run by the British army that encourages this mass display of a military mythology that dishonours the reality of the waste that was 1914-1918 and occludes the waste that continues in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This issue of remembering rightly is especially critical for those of us who follow Jesus, a man we claim is God and was never more clearly so as when he was violently nailed to a tree and hung there to die. He who had cause and capability to use violence chose a different path. So too must we. Even without accepting that the Gospel compels non-violence, the Gospel compels remembering rightly.

Another poppy poem that had a huge influence was written by an American woman called Moina Michael. In We Shall Keep the Faith she tells us:

Oh! you who sleep in Flanders Fields,
Sleep sweet – to rise anew!
We caught the torch you threw
And holding high, we keep the Faith
With All who died.

There can be no doubt but that she is continuing the violent imagery of McCrea’s poem. Take up the cause against the foe and (this is instructive) keep the faith! The gods of war are jealous. They know that allegiance to that Jesus-God is incompatible with the sacrifices that keep them sated. They demand your faith. To win it, Michael will remind you that “That blood of heroes never dies”. Those who died in Flanders are heroes and if we honour them in faith they need never die. We can undo the carnage with this liturgy of remembrance. In the final paragraph she tells us:

And now the Torch and Poppy Red
We wear in honor of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for naught;
We’ll teach the lesson that ye wrought
In Flanders Fields.

They have not died for naught. That at least is true. They died for the nation state, the cause of capital and the delusion of race hatred. There were reasons they lived in those hellish trenches and died among those mine-strewn fields and when we wear the poppy we satisfy ourselves with easy answers that amount to a refusal to mourn. We blaspheme down the stations of the breath with further elegies of innocence and youth. We famish our imaginations, leaving them unable to conceive of God’s Kingdom. We dine out on the ghoulish satisfactions of patriotism, sentimentality and havoc.

We betray the dead and the living.

Your Correspondent, He ain’t no super genius, or are he?

Other Potential Holidays

At the moment Wife-unit is struggling with that illness that was featured in that Matt Damon documentary, Contagion. So last night, even though Hallowe’en is one of her favourite nights of the year, I was on door duty as about 80 local kids called around looking for e-numbers and sugar. My constant having to run to the door to hand out fistfuls of Haribo packets is not even the reason I ruined the dinner I was cooking. Let’s just say comforting mashed potato and sausages became some ketchup laden sausage sandwiches as I turned the mashed potato into a strange substance used by film effects supervisors to make people’s skin look zombified.

Wife-unit pointed out astutely that the cutest of all the visitors are the ones who feverishly pound the bottom of our front door because they can’t reach the bell. Of course I always fear that those little fellas aren’t children at all, but dwarves dressed as children who intend to use the trick or treat phenomenon as an excuse to break in, steal your money, ransack your belongings and desecrate your copy of the Church Dogmatics. But I suppose I get paranoid this time of year.

By the way, Christians are total midgets when it comes to enjoying themselves. Hallowe’en has been subject to a fresh onslaught from idiotic Christians who think that it is intrinsically pagan and therefore bad but who wholeheartedly enjoy Christmas, a festival that began as pagan and has now returned to paganism. Jesusween is the latest effort towards baptising the fun out of October 31st.

Instead of celebrating Hallowe’en (also when stroppy Christians discuss it they’ll wrap ironic inverted commas around “celebrate” to clarify that hey, they’re not against fun they just think dunking for apples is a gateway liturgy to gnosticism) some protestant Christians actually commemorate Reformation Day. They obviously haven’t gotten the whole point of being a Protestant. Being a Protestant is not a good thing in and of itself. We should mourn for the fact that we’re still Protestants. The Protestant church is a reform movement. It looks forward to the day when the particular issues that had to be raised by Calvin and Luther and Zwingli and those lads get resolved and we can all go back to being a happy family again. The day the Western church split in two is not a day to commemorate anymore than the day you storm out on a friend because you discover they are the kind of people who take illicit bites out of cookies in Marks and Spencers before putting the cookie back on the tray is a cause to remember.

The Reformation was necessary and remains necessary. That this is so is deeply unfortunate. I have written about this before.

So alongside Reformation Day let’s remember July 15, in honour of the day in 1099 that Western Christians sacked the city of Jerusalem, killing every human they could find regardless of the fact that many of them were Christian until rivers of blood ran through the streets.

After all, that is the day the Crusades won their glorious victory so let us remember it!

Or we could start a holiday on January 29th to remember the birth of Pope Sergius III. He had another Pope killed and fathered a child who he later arranged to have made Pope and became known as John XI.

After all, that is a day when we can remember family values. Blood is thicker than water. Remember that and remember Sergius III!

Finally, personally, I think Easter is becoming too commercialised and Easter eggs are pagan. So let’s dump it and replace it with a party day on April 17 to remember the massacre of anyone with any connection to Judaism that happened in Lisbon in 1506. Although being a Jew was illegal at the time, many good Christians surmised that the months long plague afflicting the region must have been caused by people secretly continuing to practice the faith of their Lord and Saviour. So they rounded up the Jews who had been forced to become Christian and killed them.

This would be an excellent holiday as we seek to teach fellow Christians about the dangers of secularisation. Scientists and media types have been hammering us with the propaganda that disease is caused by tiny little creatures that infect us- not by the worship of false gods (especially when the false worship is confusingly directed towards the one true God YHWH!). We could call it Lisboa Day and drink non-alcoholic port!

No need to thank me for these awesome ideas for how to avoid anti-Christian festival days. I’m just one more Christian doing my job of being an irrelevant evangelist fighting battles with foes that don’t exist!

Your Correspondent, Sadly feels a need to remind you his tongue is in his cheek

A Theme Tune For Hauerwas’ Theology

Stanley Hauerwas is a very important thinker round these parts. At Maynooth Community Church many of us are pretty convinced that the writings of this 70-something bricklayer from Texas have a direct relevance to what we’re trying to do. The moral theology of Hauerwas has tended towards spiralling back onto medical ethics again and again. Whether he is talking about people with disabilities, the care for the dying or the topic he is famous for, not using armies to kill people, he is a man who wants Christians to grapple with death.

So I only half in jest propose this uplifting number from William Shatner’s hugely under-rated album Has Been as our anthem for Hauerwas’ medical ethics.

Your Correspondent, Still intends to get out of this life alive.