Tag: news

A Monday prayer for stupid butts

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Lord, as we wake up to a week fresh with disaster and rife with -isms of every kind, among so many people and it seems in all corners of the world, we take a moment, tune it out, have a sit down, take a deep breath and (hopefully) have a hot beverage. Lord knows we need this moment to remember that You indeed are in every moment to come this day, this week, this month, this year, and all others; that You’ve been with us thus far and that Your presence continues and persists, a light, a fountain of living water, a vine; that You have never abandoned us and never will.

We acknowledge that in this coming week there’ll be moments this moment of remembrance won’t feel enough. We’ll feel overwhelmed, frustrated, maybe even angry, probably even useless. We’ll forget what at the moment we’re thinking of it feels so unforgettable: You. Oh, Lord, have mercy! Have mercy on our stupid butts where they’re parked in our stupid chairs. Give us the mercy of remembering Your mercy, and grant us the ability to share this mercy with butts stupid like ourselves.

We thank You for another week in the history of our lives. By worldly standards this week may not amount to much, but we pray that every moment would be sufficient for Your work, Your will, and Your grace and that when all these moments have come and gone and we’re facing yet another week, we’ll have another moment like this one: a moment of remembering, and a memorial for the times we didn’t, and hope that we’ll do better this time round.

That you’d save our butts from the hot water of sin and temptation, self-interest and rage tweeting, from honking the horns of our motorcars abusively or saying bad things about our peers’ Facebook pages we pray, Lord, in Your holy name.

Amen.

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Book review: The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin by Masha Gessen, and Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia by Peter Pomerantsev

Until recently (say, the second half of 2016) Russia was a faraway blip on my day-to-day map: the country version of a mole you registered as possibly malicious but never really pay any attention to. Then Donald Trump happened. It felt like the mole tripled in size overnight but of course, it had been growing steadily over the years, ever since Putin came to power in the late nineties.

Wanting to cure my complete ignorance of Putin’s Russia, I turned to Google. A Guardian rec list put me onto Masha Gessen’s The Man Without A Face and Peter Pomerantsev’s Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible. Gessen and Pomerantsev are both journalists, and their books read like news blitzes to overseas audiences: absorbing and explanatory, like slightly harangued teachers who hope to convey a lot of information in a limited amount of lessons. Gessen explores the man Putin and is the more formal of the two, while Pomerantsev’s focus is on the Russia that’s sprung up beneath Putin’s floorboards.

So, what’s the verdict?

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Title: The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin
Author: Masha Gessen
Publisher: Riverhead Books (2012)
Rating: 4/5 (Goodreads rating, for comparison: 3.79/5)
The best feature of the book: I’m pretty sure it pisses Putin off. It’s well-researched and well written.
The worst feature of the book: It’s quite dense, especially if your level of knowledge re: Russia is zero.
Trigger warnings: Mentions of things like war and torture.
You’ll like this if… You want to know more about the Russian government behind the American presidency.

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Title: Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia
Author: Peter Pomerantsev
Publisher: PublicAffairs (2014)
Rating: 4/5 (Goodreads rating, for comparison: 3.95/5)
The best feature of the book: It’s street smart and entertaining.
The worst feature of the book: It’s a more subjective read than Gessen’s.
Trigger warnings: Mentions of things like war and torture.
You’ll like this if… You want to know how Russians have responded to Putin’s Russia.

Weeding the garden: Gretha Wiid under fire

 

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Gretha Wiid. Facebook.

 

Popular Afrikaans lay speaker and self-appointed “relationship expert” Gretha Wiid has been in the news a lot lately. She’s come under fire for the controversial anti-LGBTI views she espouses in books aimed at ten- to thirteen-year-olds. In her Lyfslim (“Body Smart”)  books she writes that same-sex attraction is a choice and typically the result of, among other things, sexual abuse at a young age.

Wiid is in the same camp as Angus Buchan – a position she set up with his approval, hosting “Worthy Women” conferences to complement his “Mighty Men” ones – and espouses the same supposedly theologically indisputable “men are the heads of their households” and anti-gay nonsense that he does. That she’s so popular with women baffles me; as Lilly Nortje-Meyer points out in this illuminating article, Wiid and her staunchest followers are formeninists; essentially believing that a Christian woman’s core value revolves around her relationship to men. This – and the whole belief that men are the “prophets, priests and kings” of their homes – is unbiblical. I’d even go so far as to call it idolatry. But I digress.

I wanted to write about Wiid’s response to her criticism, which has been telling in the extreme. It’s not uncommon for people like Wiid to defend their actions by claiming sovereignty from criticism, which they usually do by saying that any opposition they experience is Satanic in origin. Wiid has done that; a few days after the debacle started, she posted to Facebook that no plans formed against her family would prosper. She skirted around the issue – her bizarre, and might I say entirely unscientific views on same-sex attraction – by saying that she loved gay people because her brother is gay*. Anyway, the non-apology didn’t work, and the South African Human Right’s Commission has confirmed that it’s investigating complaints of hate speech against her.

This even more that her weak-as-tea theology is what bugs me the most: her arrogance. She claims her Scripture-derived inspiration supersedes the inherent value of other people (nonbiblical. Seriously, has she met Jesus?), and she acts as though her interpretation of the Bible is supreme, despite the fact that it is hermeneutically unsound. To Wiid, any opposition must be the work of Satan. If she’s so eager to find Satan’s hand in her circumstances, she need look no farther than her pride and her ego.

I doubt any of what’s happening to Wiid will work to soften her heart; Christians of her persuasion are usually only a step away from a persecution complex, and I suspect that’s what we’ll see unfold in the next few weeks: how South Africa, and the “liberal gay agenda” is causing Bible-believing Christians to renounce their convictions or face punishment. I strongly suspect that she’ll fail to see that freedom of speech and belief does not cover the freedom to espouse absolute bullcrap that devalues the full personhood of others, and to impressionable children no less.

The bigger issue, of course, is how these books of her – published back in 2009 – were seen fit to publish in the first place. Wiid is published by Carpe Diem Media, who also have “perennial shelvers” like Isak Burger and Andries Enslin in their stable. Unsurprisingly Carpe Diem Media are responsible for the women’s magazine Finesse, a publication that centres its content around “modern Christian women” of the soft complementarian persuasion, mixing fashion with diet tips to “keep him interested” with soft-lit covers of local celebrities.

Yet for Wiid to be as popular as she is – more than 120 000 people like her Facebook page, after all – she has to be selling well. Her market is a niche one: white, Afrikaans-speaking conservative Christian women. Proportionately she probably has a big share of this market, so clearly she’s appealing to some people. And that’s most worrisome of all: that in 2017 Wiid easily drums up support for damaging, ludicrous and unscientific claims, all under the flag of “Christianity”, with the consent and even approval of so many people.


*Her brother has spoken out in support of her; interestingly, and probably in no way related to anything, he is also her manager. 

Authority in the Christian blogosphere

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Christian women find their voice and live out their callings online

Two weeks ago Tish Harrison Warren wrote a piece for Christianity Today titled “Who’s in charge of the Christian blogosphere?” In it, she wonders whether the kind of platforms people – especially women – gain through blogging should be accountable to some kind of ecclesial structure, much like pastors are theoretically accountable to their denominations.

Warren posed the piece as a rumination on responsibility: how can we make sure these bloggers – many of them laypersons, their “only” virtue being their popularity – “do” theology responsibly? She cited Jen Hatmaker as an example. Hatmaker – who has been in ministry for two decades and is a published author and popular speaker – recently announced that she is supportive of the full inclusion of LGBTI people in the church, a decision that proved unpopular in the evangelical world. (Read her response to the immediate flare-up of criticism here.)

Warren’s article wasn’t well-received, at least by my Twitter timeline’s standards. Warren was criticised for singling out Jen Hatmaker in a way that came across as chastising: how dare Hatmaker, “only” a blogger, deviate from the evangelical bottom line? The article read and felt like a gendered attack, Hatmaker acting as the negative example of what happens when those outside formal structures don’t toe the line.

Warren has since issued an apology to Hatmaker, but the article is still up on Christianity Today – the first part of a series called #AmplifyWomen. It’s ironic and telling that the first article in this series wasn’t about amplification at all, but about control.

Warren wouldn’t be the first woman delegated to keep her fellow women in check. One comes across it often; if you need an example, just skim any article relating to women on The Gospel Coalition blogs (alas, a favourite teacher of mine, Jen Wilkin, has participated in something similar). Warren has come across as sincere in her Twitter replies to criticism and praise, but I doubt she realises that a lot of her article’s backbone is internalised misogyny.

Make no mistake, the issue at play in Warren’s piece isn’t responsibility or accountability. As quite a few influential bloggers have pointed out, they are accountable: to their personal relationship with Jesus Christ, to the church or spiritual communities they form a part of, and to their friends, families, and peers. In fact, one could argue that the response to Warren’s piece is an indication of how much accountability there is in the popular Christian blogosphere: her article didn’t remain unchallenged, and the criticism was mostly fair and well thought out.

No, the issue Warren’s article skirts around is control. Unfortunately, there are still many church traditions where women aren’t allowed to preach, speak or teach (or if they are, it’s only to other women or to children). In these denominations, women aren’t allowed to have authority. So when these women, who are forced into silence by their churches, turn to the Internet to share their voice and listen to the voices of others like themselves, this presents a conundrum to the men and women in church denominations who delineate the function and authority of women. How do you control women speaking outside the traditional sphere of the church?

Well, you can’t, not without making it exceedingly obvious that the issue is really control rather than authority. If you’ve followed any of these popular female bloggers, authors, speakers and preachers (Jen Hatmaker, Rachel Held Evans and Sarah Bessey to name the bare minimum), you realise that their passion and gifts are Spirit-derived, unlike the man-made ecclesial structures that would insist they aren’t allowed to write Spirit-filled words or share Spirit-filled truth or preach prophetic, Spirit-filled prophecies. If it becomes clear that so many women have the gift of teaching, preaching, and disciple-making outside official church structures, you have to ask yourself: are these women and their ministries the problem, or the fact that so many churches continue to deny them?

It’s interesting to me that, around the same time this piece was published, an editor over at The Gospel Coalition went on a Twitter and comment rant against what he calls “discernment bloggers”. He had had a run-in with the women who run Spiritual Sounding Board and The Wartburg Watch, both websites dedicated to blogging about spiritual abuse in the American church. This editor, Joe Carter, called blogs like these divisive and the women who run them “broken wolves in sheep’s clothing”.

Call me crazy, but I spot a pattern here: women who won’t adhere to the “it’s all fine, it’s alright” party line of patriarchal, male-dominated church and spiritual traditions are called out by the benefactors of those traditions when their unsanctioned, Spirit-filled commentary hits too close to home. These churches, like Warren’s article, claim it’s about God-ordained authority; but it’s really about male-centric control. If God gives women authority to witness outside the church, then their authority isn’t in question.

As someone who had once lost her voice to an oppressive, male-dominated church situation and rediscovered it through blogging, I cannot overstress how important the voice of female Christian bloggers are. Even when those voices are more conservative than I am or have a theology that differs from mine, I’ve been enriched by the writing and teaching of Christian women who blog, both those with large followings and those with a smaller audience. Sometimes simply the reminder that there are powerful, Spirit-led women using their gifts is more of a comfort than I can say.

Christianity is a much bigger place than any one church, any one denomination, or any one pastor would have you believe. Faith, discipleship and following Jesus don’t heed the lines humanity draws around them. More often than not, the Holy Spirit uses those lines as starting places rather than as borders. These lines are porous, made to break through, much like sheep pens are meant to be left if the flock are to find places to graze, explore, grow and mature.

When an article like Warren’s appears, I see it as an indication that things are right rather than that things are wrong. It means that somewhere, someone is toddling from their sheep pen, following their Shepherd out into the world. It means that someone has chosen to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit rather than the strictures of men.

Looking Lectionary: Lent 1A

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Wilderness? A street in Aleppo. Source.

Matthew 4:1-11 (NIV)

Jesus Is Tested in the Wilderness

1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

It’s been raining in my town for the last few days, a rare phenomenon in the highveld where our rain is usually loosed in abrupt, fierce storms. From a mist to a persistent drizzle to a sagging downpour, the rainy weather has me longing to hibernate the grey skies away with books and warm socks and lots of coffee, responsibilities be damned.

I must admit, this particular season of Lent is having a similarly soporific effect on me: I want to hibernate through this season of waiting and busyness and preparation, and get to Easter Sunday. That’s the biggest temptation I’m facing this Lent: to let it wash over me rather than consciously submerge myself in it. You see, I’m hungry for the cross – for its power, its redemption and ultimately its victory. But the hard work of getting there? The hard work of waiting, trusting, hoping?

The international political meltdown has revealed an underbelly of ugliness in the world. Headlines are fresh with widespread anger, hatred, frustration, intolerance and ignorance. The political right is finding and building support in nations that were once beacons of tolerance and democracy. Globally we’re hardly facing a rosy future this Lent. In moments like these, who wants to do the work of waiting, trusting and hoping? Not me! I want the cross, stat. The world needs the cross, stat.

But if it’s true today it was as true back when Jesus followed the Spirit into the wilderness.

One wonders if he was impatient. Did the wilderness feel like a waste of time, time that could be better spent healing, teaching, reaching out to people? Jesus waited thirty years to start his ministry – yet still he had to spend more than a month away from the people he’d come for! Did he question the wisdom of the experience at the time? Or was he grateful for the opportunity to face down temptation, to obey God where humanity had failed to do so and gotten itself into a whole mess of trouble?

Well, knowing Jesus…

Are we grateful for the opportunity to face temptation, waiting, preparation, anxiety and longing this Lent? Are we grateful for an opportunity to be obedient, or do we resent it, resent having to wait for the cross? (Hooboy!) Are we grateful that we get to live in a time of danger, confusion and fear – a world in which the presence of the cross is needed all the more acutely?

Lent presents us with an incredible opportunity: to wait for the cross in the full assurance that it will come. Let’s be encouraged, and encourage the people around us, to wait with a longing and expectant heart for Easter morning in a world that seems darkest before dawn.

Blessings,

L