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Everything Must Change

January 18th, 2008 · Posted by Hugo · 13 Comments

I attended Stellenbosch Gemeente again on 6 January. The topic was “Breek uit…Passiwiteit”, or “breaking out of passivity”. Let me keep my words to a minimum, the video clip of Brian McLaren, Everything Must Change, says it all:

This clip was shown at the beginning of the sermon to set the stage. For interested parties that understand Afrikaans, the sermon’s page on Stellenbosch Gemeente’s website contains an mp3 of the sermon as well as a new creed that was recited towards the end of the sermon.

A key idea emphasized in the sermon was that “passivity versus traditional activism” is a false dichotomy, with a third option typically being the best course of action. This was illustrated by re-examining the examples of turning the other cheek and walking the extra mile, from the context of slavery and Roman rule during Jesus’ time. Read on for my explanation of passivity, activism, and the third “thinking outside the box” option…

Passivity

All too often “turning the other cheek” is interpreted as “be passive, do nothing”. This is all too often leads to someone becoming a doormat Christian — a Christian that lets other people walk all over them, to everyone’s detriment. Passivity is as evil as apathy.

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” (Edmund Burke)

Passivity while education is undermined by people that hate science, passivity while the anti-vaccination crowd gets us all killed from diseases we have beaten decades ago (smallpox anyone?), passivity as genocide is committed, as people starve, minority groups are oppressed and marginalised, passivity as The Third Reich runs rampant through Europe, how is that even an option?!

Activism

The Old Testament had the suggestion of an eye for an eye. This is standard activism, with a limit to forbid tenfold retaliation. If some guy pokes out your eye, you are not allowed to retaliate by burning his fields, stealing his cattle, killing his children, raping his wives and poking out his eye. Extrapolated to global politics, that would lead to destruction, possibly mutual destruction. Hence, the suggested limit: equal response.

The problem with responding in kind is the differences in perception. Did any of you play “‘n hou vir ‘n hou” when you were younger? (Translates literally and ickily to a-hit-for-a-hit.) That is a game some boys play, at least in South Africa, where you take turns in hitting one another until someone loses interest in hitting back, or is possibly unable to do so. This kind of game typically escalates, even if both try to return “in kind”. I’m afraid I lost the link to an article explaining how the harms committed to you always seem worse than the exact same harm you dish out. Even in an attempt to keep things “equal”, it escalates. Again we have destruction.

The Third Option

In the case of turning the other cheek, there is a little detail found in the text that should be given some thought:

If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Why the right cheek? Why not simply “on the cheek”?

The explanation suggested in the sermon was this: Most people are right-handed. Striking someone on his or her right cheek with your right hand will therefore be a back-handed strike. Apparently this was the strike used on e.g. slaves. In this context, turning the other cheek is a defiant challenge to the striker to treat/hit you as an equal, rather than as a slave.

In the case of walking the extra mile, the context is the laws of the Roman army. Apparently Roman soldiers could ask citizens of the empire to carry their packs for them, but only for one mile. Refuse to carry their packs, and you’d be breaking the law. So how do you protest? You insist on walking a second mile. This returns the embarrassment to the soldier, placing him in the uncomfortable position of being the one to break the law.

I see many similarities between this approach and eastern philosophies, found in the game of Go, my potentially incorrect understanding of yin/yang, the principles and fundamentals of many Chinese martial arts, and probably most Japanese arts too, e.g. Aikido (many clips on YouTube, e.g. Aikido vs Kickboxing) — use the aggressor’s aggression against them, rather than trying to meet it directly with force.

Discuss!

Categories: Stellenbosch Gemeente
Tags: · · · ·

13 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Pieter // Jan 18, 2008 at 6:09 pm

    Mclaren looks like a nice guy.

    “a lot of people are deciding that the most moral thing that they can do is opt out of religion all together and just become an atheist”

    Oh noes!! Not…that!

  • 2 Ben // Jan 18, 2008 at 6:17 pm

    I can’t view the video but statements like that make me feel like my fellow humans are an alien species.

    “a lot of people are deciding that the most moral thing that they can do is opt out of religion all together and just become an atheist”

    Decide to become an atheist? That’s absurd.

  • 3 Hugo // Jan 18, 2008 at 6:37 pm

    Hehehe… In “Finding Faith”, McLaren suggested “no faith” is an improvement on “bad faith”, but that “good faith” might be an improvement on “no faith”.

    Maybe I should still make that “New Year’s at SG” post, which would talk about hope and faith. Faith, such a confusing word, that.

    On deciding to become an atheist: I suppose we’d have to talk about two different kinds of atheists again, right? There are those that start labelling themselves “atheists” due to the evils committed in the name of religion. They then decide “there must be no God”, and choose to rather leave religion.

    Anyway, I saw another of the “Everything Must Change” or “deepshift” video clips on YouTube where McLaren agrees he is an atheist in some senses… hehehehe… Brian and I are possibly playing the same game, no? Let me go look for that video clip, and see if I can give that statement here.

    Either way, I’m sorry you cannot see the clip, Ben. I’d love to hear your feedback. Taking just Pieter’s transcription paints it in the wrong light.

  • 4 Hugo // Jan 18, 2008 at 6:55 pm

    Some more clips…

    This one is one of those “text with music” clips. Some would say “waste of bandwidth”. I’d say those underestimate the importance of music:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o0s3z_KNG5c

    Still haven’t found the bit I referred to, but here’s another:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SznXSH2N3Ng&NR=1

    Note this: while I won’t necessarily agree with McLaren on everything (he definitely encourages differences of opinion), I am quite a fan. If you dislike his world-view, you’ll probably dislike mine. And vice versa, I think.

    Not a fight I can fight right now though, nor one I even want to fight. In my opinion, this kinda stuff is the future of Christianity. Check it out if you want to know where Christianity is headed.

  • 5 Ben // Jan 18, 2008 at 8:04 pm

    Hehehe… In “Finding Faith”, McLaren suggested “no faith” is an improvement on “bad faith”, but that “good faith” might be an improvement on “no faith”.

    Mike Clawson tried to quote him and make that argument over at FriendlyAtheist. Actually, I believe that’s how I met you (is that the right verb? language isn’t keeping up with the internet.) I think that was the thread. It got heated.

    I’ll probably be able to watch the clips from home. I’ll also probably be calling McLaren names.

    You ever read the ‘Conversations at the Edge’ blog? Jim Henderson had a similar idea over there:
    http://conversationattheedge.com/2008/01/06/free-jesus-2/

    He said “…Where could you take Jesus to church and not feel like you had to explain it to him?

    In Transforming Mission, David Bosch writes “Jesus had no intention of founding a new religion”

    Somewhere along the line the Jesus Movement got into the religion business…”

    My comment 7 (out of 54) got no response, as predicted:

    “This is an easily solved problem if you actually want to solve it. If Jesus’ ideas have merit, defend them on their merits and drop the whole fixation on Jesus. Voila! You are free of the Christian religious baggage.

    Something tells me you’re not interested, though.”

    Man, I’m such a cynical asshole. Oh, well. I was right.

    In my opinion, this kinda stuff is the future of Christianity. Check it out if you want to know where Christianity is headed.

    I think there are limits to how much Christianity can change without changing the Bible. Hold an ecumenical council (is that right?) and drop the Bible down to the NT – revelation or even just the 4 gospels and I’ll start thinking you’re right.

  • 6 Hugo // Jan 19, 2008 at 1:34 am

    is that the right verb? language isn’t keeping up with the internet

    You know by now I prefer thinking in terms of the meaning, not caring much about the right verb… ;)

    I’d like to hear what names you call McLaren. In Finding Faith, he actually suggested the best present we could give Jesus would be to stop talking about him and instead focus on the teachings. I’d love to lend you McLaren’s “Secret Message of Jesus” and hear what you have to say about it. But, yea, difficult. That, and Marcus Borg. We’re talking “defending the teachings on their merit”.

    Why not drop the name? Well, many people live by that name. If you can actually get the *censored, I’m in a foul mood* to learn wtf it is that their messiah actually taught, the world would be a better place. Dropping the name doesn’t get you anywhere. Unless you’re trying to convert the atheists, which is not what they’re trying to do. While I could try to explain McLaren’s language to you, that’s really pointless, isn’t it? He’s talking to the majority of people that do subscribe to theistic language.

    I recently attended a talk where they mentioned people had this idea. Drop the Bible down to “this bit is OK” and you lose a lot of what the Bible is. If only people could just learn how to read the friggen thing correctly…

    Urgh.

    I’m seldom in such a foul mood as I am right now, I’m frustrated with isolation and madness… maybe I should go see a shrink again. Or maybe I should go and write that rant exposing my pain and anguish. Maybe, just maybe, a miracle happens and I actually discover someone I can actually talk to plainly. Urgh.

    Thanks for your patience. I hope I’ve not said too many mad things lately.

  • 7 Hugo // Jan 19, 2008 at 1:42 am

    McLaren et al, including e.g. Stellenbosch Gemeente, is taking Christianity back to what it was in the early years. Pre-400AD… Pre “Christian” Christianity. Some of the churches (let me not mention names) actually don’t even refer to “Christianity”… it having become what it was not supposed to be.

    The uphill battle is trying to get the atheists to understand. Which is why we typically just ignore them and let them do their own thing. At this point, the arguments I’m having on this blog is draining my energy… I’m not sure how good it is for me.

    Maybe I should return to my creationism series. Maybe that’s something all my readers will enjoy, with less conflict. I’m tired of conflict. Tired.

    Maybe I should write my post about the context of the doctrine of atonement of sins, how Peter came to the realisation that you don’t have to convert people to Judaism before teaching them “the way” (early Christian church label, possibly mistranslated, I’ve translated it back from Afrikaans), and how the evangelicals seem to be doing just that by starting out with “you’re all sinners and will burn in hell unless some sacrifice is made in your place. Jesus can be your sacrifice.” This is converting them to Judaism first…

    I need to get out for a while. I dunno, take a holiday?

  • 8 Ben // Jan 19, 2008 at 4:15 am

    I’d love to lend you McLaren’s “Secret Message of Jesus” and hear what you have to say about it. But, yea, difficult. That, and Marcus Borg. We’re talking “defending the teachings on their merit”.

    Now we’re talking.

  • 9 Hugo // Jan 19, 2008 at 1:07 pm

    I’d recommend Marcus Borg’s “Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time”. (Another friend of mine likes “Jesus for the Non-Religious” by John Shelby Spong, but I’ve not looked at that yet.) My other Borg favourite is “Reading the Bible Again for the First Time”. I bet there’d be very little you’d dislike. I can think of only one specific thing that I think you’d disagree with, and it’s minor. (Well, that’s the one thing I disagreed with, anyway.)

  • 10 Ben // Jan 20, 2008 at 10:17 pm

    I doubt I’d read them for myself – if I want to read a book about ethics I’ll pick up a book about ethics. Unlike McLaren, Henderson, etc., I don’t care about force-fitting Jesus to any particular set of ethics.

  • 11 Hugo // Jan 21, 2008 at 2:28 am

    Yea, I realise that. And often the books I read, I read while thinking “Who can I give this to? Who will appreciate this or who needs to read this? How will so-and-so see this? What will the atheistic critique of this be?” It drives me mad. Who knows why I do it.

    Some of the more scholarly books, e.g. Marcus Borg’s, is loaded with enough info that I find it a much more valuable experience. (I actually read those for myself, I learn enough that my mind doesn’t get “bored” and start thinking from everyone else’s perspectives.)

    The thing that bothers me is just this: people critiquing McLaren et al without having read them, without knowing what they’re up to. At least I know there are many atheists that celebrate their contribution.

    Do I critique Dawkins without knowing what he’s up to? Hmm… I know pretty well. And I know what his fan-club is up to. McLaren’s fan club on the other hand?

  • 12 Ben // Jan 21, 2008 at 4:01 am

    The thing that bothers me is just this: people critiquing McLaren et al without having read them, without knowing what they’re up to.

    Until Mike Clawson pointed me toward a McLaren post, I never heard of the guy. I criticized him some based on what I read. (shrug). In practice, of course, the liberal Christians and I would probably agree on most political issues.

  • 13 Hugo // Jan 21, 2008 at 10:36 am

    Cool. I’m wondering if I should read the Borg books I have again, and share some of the most interesting bits here.

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