Understanding a Mystery

Israel or Palestine – where is it heading?

A sermon by Richard Matcham based on Romans 11:25-36

“Lord I pray that the raw nerves and thin shells this topic will likely touch upon, will enlarge the capacity of us all to engage truthfully with the text and the world, and challenge us to be contentedly discontent with mystery, that we may be more loving to one another, and truly worship you in all your unsearchable and inscrutable ways.  Amen”

Have you ever been in a discussion with someone, on a topic that really interests you, and at the crucial point of insight, understanding and genuine learning, you hear the comment, “Ah, we can’t ever know that, it’s a mystery!”

We often deploy the “mystery card” because it seems to be a way of protecting our own limited understanding on a subject.

Take for example, the Trinity (you know what I mean)!

I’ve faced this situation quite a few times over the years, especially as a young Christian man in my mid-20’s, hungry to learn and know God.

“The Trinity,” we shout, “it’s a mystery.”  And with that mystical phrase, the conversation is closed, and genuine biblical understanding is shoved into the cul-de-sac of frustrated, genuine enquirers, where they stay until they learn to stop asking awkward questions!

Continue reading “Understanding a Mystery”

Heretical Eschatology

“The Anglo-American Protestant tradition of Judeo-centric prophecy interpretation was from its inception a political theology.

The tradition openly constructed friends (Jews) as well as enemies (Muslims and Roman Catholics), while cultivating occidentocentric discources that discounted Eastern Christians.  rahebcover

These constructions are manifested in contemporary discourses surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which cast Jews within eschatological dramas while demonizing Muslims and casting aspersions on Christians who are Palestinian or sympathetic to the Palestinian national cause.

The tradition’s most visible and direct impulses are manifested in Anglo-American Christian Zionism, which I define as political action, informed by specifically Christian commitments, to promote or preserve Jewish control over the geographic area now containing Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories.”

Robert O. Smith, Interpreting the Bible, Interpreting the World: Anglo-American Christian Zionism and Palestinian Christian Concerns, in The Biblical Text in the Context of Occupation – Towards a New Hermeneutic of Liberation,(Ed. Mitri Raheb), p.156

So writes Robert Smith, pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, in his brilliant chapter of the book.  Constructions are just what they are, politcal, religious and ideological constructions of the latest (19th century) theological system that has basically become the Western paradigm.  How can this be? Continue reading “Heretical Eschatology”

Zionism Unsettled

Zionism UnsettledZionism Unsettled produced by Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (USA) (website here), released one year ago in January 2014, is a great resource for Churches working towards a more healthy and hopeful  understanding of the terrible situation between Israelis and Palestinians.  PDF flyer here.

One blogger, a Rabbi no less, Brant Rosen, calls this production an “exciting guide…..smart, gutsy and important.”

James M. Wall, over at Wallwritings defends the publication in the face of an inevitable outcry of antisemitism, poor history, a guide that is “neither false nor misguided.”

The video production links are given below, and in the space given to each video, approximately twenty minutes each, they really are a succint and helpful introduction, something I would commend to followers of Jesus in the Churches everywhere.

In many ways, the criticism, whilst treading a very tired and frankly, predictable path, is a cheap shot given the people who have commended the work.  Of note is the great Old Testament Scholar Walter Breuggemann, Professor Emeritus, Columbia Theological Seminary,

“The urgency of the Palestinian plight in the face of Israeli intransigence indicates that intentional, concrete, and sustained public action is necessary to respond credibly to the crisis. Zionism Unsettled…will prove an effective vehicle for helping to mobilize public opinion so that both attitudes and policies can be transformed in the face of an imperious and exploitative ideology.”

Similarly, Ilan Pappe, Israeli Professor of History at Exeter University, England, is a contributor on one of the productions.  Pappe has contributed to a critique of the Zionist ideology through many articles and books over many years, and has paid a high price for his convictions.

And conviction is the reason I am posting this.  In a paper unconnected to Zionism Unsettled, in a critique of Christian Zionism inTruth Speaking the Truth – Zionism, Israel and Occupation (ed. Michael Prior), Peter J. Miano, Executive Director of the Society for Biblical Studies, writes in his chapter ‘Mainstream Christian Zionism’ that in

“Reconsidering Christian Zionism in its mainstream form leads inevitably to vexing moral conflicts.  It requires re-examination of widely held assumptions about ethnic identity and nationhood and the moral implications of these.”

He adds,

“It raises issues that are considered taboo in the Church and takes us into perilous academic ‘no-fly zones’.  But intellectual honesty requires no less” (emphasis mine) p.145.

I myself have firsthand experience of this taboo in the Church, from people I do not know and people I do.  It is always a heart-sinking moment when the letter you’ve just opened is not so much a robust converstaion but a ‘no-fly zone’ hidden behind language masquerading as informed whilst reinforcing the unspoken taboo – “Don’t criticise Israel – anything but that!”

Well, I love Jewish people, secular or religious.  I love the ancient biblical land of Israel/Palestine.  I love Palestinians, Muslim or Christian.  I do not love or like Zionism, an experimental ideology that has been weighed and found wanting, and in the process, ruined generations of lives.  It is not just intellectual honesty that requires this terrible system of oppression and de-humanising be confronted, but it is moral courage in the face of occupation and conquest that must also drive forward this conflict to peaceful conclusions.

 

Click here to go to the Vimeo video production links…

 

 

…or individually below:

http://vimeo.com/channels/zuepisodes

Israel-Palestine in Perspective

Three really excellent sermons by Rev. Dr. Alasdair Black of Stirling Baptist Church, relating to the Israel-Palestine problem, given during the recent bombing campaign of Israel on Gaza.  They are entitled, ‘Putting the Israeli-Palestine Conflict in Perspective.’

Click here to go to the church web site or go straight to the sermon below

 27 July What kind of nation? Rev Dr. Alasdair Black  https://sites.google.com/site/sbc100428/ser/other-sermons-2014/download-now1jpeg.jpg
  3 August A Christian response to the Palestinian conflict  Rev Dr. Alasdair Black
https://sites.google.com/site/sbc100428/ser/other-sermons-2014/download-now1jpeg.jpg
 10 August The holocaust narrative in the Old Testament Rev Dr. Alasdair Black
https://sites.google.com/site/sbc100428/ser/putting-the-israeli-palestine-conflict-in-perspective/download-now1jpeg.jpg

Demanding Baal Stewards

British_Museum_from_NE_2After taking a group of budding Bible enthusiasts around the British Museum to look at the Assyrian and Babylonian displays, it becomes apparent that what one is faced with at every turn, is the prevalence, nay, dominance of gods. Dominance in the sense of world-view, and their necessity at every level of society, social, civic, legal and religious.

Ancient Israel never completely purged the idolatry of Egypt from her heart! In this regard she was not uniquely idolatrous in the world, just typical of all. Even during the Exodus, in the wilderness, the intoxication with idolatry is told plainly, “…the people…yoked themselves to Baal of Peor” (Numbers 25:1-3). Baal is a truly demanding god, a god of which the nations seemed to be in an insane love-affair with.

BaalBaal, whose name means ‘master’ was one of the major gods of the Canaanite religions. Often he will be anthropomorphised as a small, thin man, slightly larger than a figure made of pipe cleaners; one hand raised in a gesture of victory (as figure above at the British Museum shows). The bull is also a symbol of Baal, and there have been discoveries of this on a hilltop in what was Samaria, dating to the period of the Judges. It must be said, that there is very strong archaeological evidence to suggest that Baal worship was syncretised with YHWH worship, and any cursory reading of Judges will leave the reader unsurprised by this! This syncretism never really left the Southern Kingdom of Judah, and was totally dominant in the Northern Kingdom.

Worshiping_the_golden_calfThe bull as a symbol is fairly significant in the Biblical text. From the Golden Calf during the Exodus, as Israel were encamped at the foot of Sinai, with Moses actually receiving the Ten Commandments, the Israelites forged an idol because Moses was taking too long. The pathetic and familiar story is found in Exodus 32.

This clearly left an impression because after the division of the United Monarchy following the death of Solomon (931 BC), Jeroboam, a self-proclaimed King, a self-proclaimed appointer of priests and a self-locator of worship, installed two Golden Calves – in the south at Bethel, and in the north, at Dan (1 Kings 12:1-33). This set a monstrous pattern of idolatry, one that the Northern Kings never shook off; with the Southern Kings barely much better!

 

So as one reads through Scripture, it is clear that idolatry is the plague upon the human heart, and one that Yahweh insists must be healed, by Exile (722 & 587 BC) if necessary (2 Kings 17 and 25). This is what drives the prophets. It is seen clearly that idolatry is the outcome of covenantal unfaithfulness, and the call to repent and turn back to a patient and forgiving YHWH becomes ever urgent. It is noteworthy that Amos refers to the “Cows of Bashan” (4:1), the wealthy woman of Samaria, feeding and gorging themselves at the expense of the poor and needy.

This is what idolatry does, it is a self-feeding at the expense of everyone else, and everything else. It is the exact opposite of the Temptations of Jesus , who refuses to be a self-feeder, and a self-glorifier, and a self-promoter (Luke 4:113). He is the only One in history who has resisted the very things that everyone else has failed to resist.

Baal was a demanding monster and a liar. He consumed nations with a lust for wealth and fertility and war. He is the arch-enemy of mankind, and the destroyer of all that is good. He truly is demanding of those who look to him, of those who are stewards of him in any and every capacity.

In another post we will see how Baal as consort to Asherah and/or Astarte, is linked through the fertility rituals that would in Jeremiah’s time (if not before), promote enforced ritual temple prostitution of men and women, boys and girls, including homosexuality and bestiality – and this just the covenantal people of God!! At the British Museum, you can see this in the figures of large breasted women, holding them out as though tempting desire. The Apostle Paul faced the almost comical if it weren’t so sad scenario of this when he faced a mob at Ephesus, mad with religious fury and patriotism for their multi-breasted goddess, Artemis of the Ephesians (Acts 19:28-41). Artemis

This link to sexualised idolatry is, I think, seen in the present day obsession with sexuality being used as a perversion of relationships seen in the breakdown of marriage, the sexualisation of culture, meaning everything we see is often brought down to two lowest common denominators: If not money (a subject for another time), then sexuality, seen most obviously in pornography and paedophilia, not to mention advertising and film – nothing but locust like consumption, grabbing and taking, self-feeding and self-satisfying. It is this very thing, the self-feeding and self-satisfying, that the Israelites became good at when they hoarded the daily provision of manna (Exodus 16) – revealing a twisted view of their Redeeming and Providing God. They were rightly judged for this and their ‘additional Manna’ was fast-tracked to grow mouldy. Baal’s demands are as insatiable as death itself, even if, in the end, as Isaiah says, he is but wind.

By contrast, it is the One True God who is good, and he alone saves. Martin Luther called the human heart a factory of idols, and this is precisely why we need saving by a faithful Saviour, the true God, not some fictitious invention from our idolatrous heart! Freud said that God is a mere projection of our own desires. That may well be in part a truth, but God as He is God revealed in Trinity is no projection of any human heart. What is a projection of the human heart, is the vile thing that can often find a home in the heart – Baal. And we not only house him, we steward him.

If Christ is not our Saviour, the only One who can purge the human heart, remake it in fact, then we truly will become Baal-stewards, every last one of us. But, as Isaiah says,

“I the LORD speak truth, I declare what is right. Assemble yourselves and come; draw near together, you survivors of the nations! They have no knowledge who carry about their wooden idols, and keep praying to a god that cannot save….there is no god beside me, a righteous God and a Saviour; there is none beside me. Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God and there is no other!”

John-1717-Bible-300x224

The god of war

Ares, the god of war, lives!

And his children Fear and Terror have made Zeus a grandfather!

He rides the earth on his war chariot with his lover, Discord!

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He is a foul impostor on the earth, a god of unimaginable suffering and pain.

Men flock to his side.  They cheer him and throw flowers at his feet.  He is the Victor.

Economies are driven by the desire to satisfy his blood lust.

 

In his name, generations of children are sacrificed.

Baal and Molech are his ancient biblical blue-prints.

Each desiring the bodies of babies thrown to the flames.

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Men cast into war, in the name of freedom.

And sometimes, brazenly, in the name of tyranny.

Sent anywhere and everywhere that his bastard children can spread their fame.

 

Yet when they return, if they return;

Bodies and minds broken; hearts frozen; eyes glazed,

Even then he will not relent.  His lust for chaos is unrelenting.

 

He unleashes his bride, his lover, some say his sister.

Even incest is within his remit.

Discord: you heartless bitch!  Leave mankind alone.

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Shameless, you all press on, within and without the heart of man.

Children driven into the bloodied dust.

Bombs, rockets, bullets and mines.

 

Dictators who do your bidding.

Economies that do your spending.

Governments that do your defending.

 

The game is up!

The time is short.

Your ways are the ways of man.

 

And the ways of man are done.

Nothing new under the sun.

Tyranny is our middle name.

 

You are a false god,

And you have been called, judged, sentenced.

Your doom is certain.

Children-killed-by-Israel-on-beach

For there is One who has come.

A man from heaven,

Light from light

 

God from God.

Word become flesh.

His Cross has sentenced you to death.

Sideways Cross

The Hell of Hells is where you belong.

You shall go down, and unlike this Word made flesh,

You shall not rise.

 

But the sons and daughters of man,

They shall rise.

They shall rise and rejoice.

 

For fear and terror have given way to faith and love.

Discord must yield to Peace.

And this false god of thunder;

 

Must give way before the whisper,

the still small voice,

the sheer silence of the true and living God who is!

 

qol d’mamah daqqah.

God’s breath.

God’s Spirit.

 

Will silence the false gods of war and chaos.

Ares the false god is judged.

Yahweh Lives!

Praise him in London and New York.

Praise Him in Gaza; the guns will be silenced for Ares will be sentenced.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus says…. V’s Christian Zionism says….

Rainbow

Christian Zionism says “This is my land, we’re staying put!”

Jesus says, “Go in all the world and make disciples.”

Christian Zionism says “Abraham is our father!”

Jesus says “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did.”

Christian Zionism says “We must help rebuild the Temple.”

Jesus says, “My body is the Temple.”

Christian Zionism says “Palestinian ethnic cleansing doesn’t really matter – it’s all part of the Plan.”

Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”

Christian Zionism says, “This land is ours by divine right.”

Jesus says “But I say to you, love your enemies.”

Christian Zionism says “To criticise the Jews/Israelis is anti-semitic.”

Jesus says “Take the plank out of your own eye first.”

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Continue reading “Jesus says…. V’s Christian Zionism says….”

A Room Called Gaza

We are a big family and we owned this beautiful house with stunning land all around.

We’ve had many neighbours from all over the world down the centuries, not all of them have been good to us, but most have.  Suddenly, one day, one violent day almost 70 years ago now, when I was a boy, we were having a wonderful family meal out in the garden when there appeared men and women from nowhere.  We’d never seen them before but they insisted the house was theirs.

They stopped us eating the food and they ate it themselves.  They even took food out of my baby brother’s mouth.  They insulted us and hurt us.  “This house belongs to us now!” they shouted.  My family were in shock and many were crying.  One or two tried to fight back, but the intruders were too strong.

They moved us all into the basement of the house.  I say all, but only 13 made it, we lost three of our family, my own father, his brother and my older cousin.  We never saw them again.

The basement room was small and dingy, it was dark and we only had one small window that let in sunlight, but even that was sometimes covered by those who took over our house.

They shut the basement door and locked it.  We couldn’t go anywhere and were told to be quiet lest we disturb the party that was going on above our heads, in our house!

The conditions were filthy and we heard them calling us dirty dogs.  We had little water, we ate scraps and we had no hope.  Over the years our family grew, there were by now over 300 of us, in the same space as the original 13.  Occasionally, the occupiers of my house would open the door, they said as a gesture of peace and good-will to let some fresh air come in.  The whole world congratulated them for doing this.  An “outstanding act of generosity” as one pompous Western government commented.

We were left filled with pain and confusion.  And in time this made us angry.  Very angry.  Some of our own growing family had never known it otherwise.  Born under occupation.  Living under occupation.  Dying in occupation.  Yes, we were very angry.

The sheer force of energy in the young was a wonder to behold.  For sure some were hot heads who just wanted to charge the enemy and keep charging until all are dead.  I understand the anger that can lead to these feelings.  Others would bang on the door relentlessly, crying out for freedom, for rights, for a return to our house.  Sometimes those in our house would retaliate by beating and killing some of us, other times they would come in to the basement room and really hurt us with a vast array of power and force.  We lived in fear.  Fear of the unexpected and fear of the expected and this made the younger men even more angry.

We heard those in the house telling visitors that the reason we were locked in the basement room was because we were angry and violent, that we wanted their destruction, that we were anti-Semitic.  But we are Semitic ourselves.  We are angry now because they took our house then.  But we don’t want their destruction, even though some of the hotheads say as much, it’s just our Arab way of exaggerating to make a point, we just want our house back!

We want to join the human race again.  We want to feel the sun on our face as free-men and women.  We want our children to grow up loving life not despising it.  We want to live.  We want our house back.

My house is called Palestine and the basement room we have called Gaza.

Help us.

Gaza: A UK Jewish Perspective

Robert Cohen has written are very helpful and personal account of what this current Gazan crisis means for him, as a Jew in the UK.  Below is the full copy of the article he wrote on Tikkun Daily.

Robert himself blogs at Micah’s Paradigm Shift and I recommend a look.

Like me, Robert went to Israel/Palestine with Amos Trust in 2011, though we went on separate trips as I don’t know him personally.  Here’s what he writes….

 

“For the last three years I’ve been writing monthly posts about Israel-Palestine from a UK Jewish perspective. At times like this, with the news from Gaza dominating world headlines, I feel an even greater responsibility to champion a Judaism that stands for more than a narrow nationalist ideology.

It took me about 25 years from the point of first engaging seriously with the subject as student in the 1980s to feeling confident enough to start saying anything in a public sphere. Like many other Jews, for years I felt increasingly uncomfortable with what was going on in Israel in the unchallengeable name of defense and security. I was the classic liberal Zionist, brought up on a diet of Jewish ethics and Western democratic values. It was an upbringing that left me in an ever increasing state of ‘angst’ over the actions of the Jewish State, a country that claimed to act in my name and in my interests. But whatever I was feeling, I avoided family discussions let alone public debate.

It was operation Cast Lead and the ground invasion of the Gaza Strip in 2008/9 that began my journey from an Israeli supporting peacenik to a marginalized Diaspora Jew, questioning the entire Zionist project. After watching children dying from Israeli missiles and bombs, my silent Jewish angst felt like so much useless self-indulgence. It was a feeling I wanted to avoid next time things kicked off in Gaza. And I suspected there would be a next time.

A visit in 2011 to Israel (my third) and to the West Bank (my first) finally completed the emotional and intellectual journey. Talking to Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line taught me that something had gone very wrong with the Jewish dream of self-determination. Whatever the questions raised by two thousand years of ‘exile’, this could not be the answer. A Sparta state, increasingly racist in its culture of Jewish ethnic privilege, had not resolved any of the issues Herzl and the early Zionists had set out to address. Instead it had created a truck-load of new problems and left another people homeless and oppressed.

But with support for Israel now fundamental to Jewish identity in the diaspora, and anti-Zionism considered a more serious communal offense than marrying-out, where could an individual still committed to their Jewish values, but at odds with Israel, find a place to stand and speak?

Well not in the synagogue nor at family simchas. Too many prayers for the IDF and too much singing of Hatikva to allow dissent. The blogosphere and the internet, with its ability to create virtual communities of interest, has become the only place big enough and open enough to allow me in. In cyberspace everyone can hear you scream…or choose to click you into silence.

And now, in 2014, the people of Gaza are being pummeled again. And with the sound of sirens still ringing in Israeli ears, who is willing to listen to a lecture on Jewish values when Jewish lives have been at stake?

I am reminded by members of my family that ‘our side’ drop leaflets and make phone calls before firing missiles. And, unlike ‘them’, we care about the safety of our children and put them in air raid shelters. So that makes our missiles moral and their dead children their own fault not ours. You should at least show some balance in your views, they say.

But I stopped seeing any ‘balance’ a long time ago. I don’t credit the phone calls or the leaflets or the ‘knock on the roof’ ballistic warnings. All I can see is the same old colossal lack of imagination, dressed up in clothes of self-righteousness and victim hood, that has driven both Israeli and Jewish communal politics into an ethical brick wall.

I pray that a ceasefire can be successfully negotiated (to the satisfaction of both sides) so that Palestinians will stop being killed and Israelis can stop living in fear….at least for a while. But it is at times like this, that ‘rescuing the Hebrew covenant’ becomes paramount.

Since I began, three years ago, I have attempted to remain true to the blog strap line I first adopted: Act justly, love kindness, walk humbly. Rescuing the Hebrew Covenant one blog post at a time.

The scripturally minded will recognize the abbreviated quote from the Hebrew Prophet Micah.

Justice. Kindness. Humility.

For me, this is what the Hebrew Covenant boils down to after 5,000 years of Jewish history. This, to answer the test question set by the prophet in the 8th century BCE, is what God requires of us.

The Micah based Covenant is the sacred understanding that we are created for the sake of others. And with so much emphasis in the Hebrew bible on the ‘stranger’ and ‘neighbour’ there is little doubt in my mind that the justice/kindness/humility ethical imperative must embrace all of humanity. Which, despite the remarks of some Knesset members in the last two weeks, must include Palestinians living in Gaza City and Khan Younis too.

If my reading of scripture is correct then Jewish territorial sovereignty didn’t work out so well the first two times. See Isaiah and Jeremiah for further reading. Third time around and we are making another ethical hash of things.

If the mainstream Jewish leadership in the UK, North America and the rest of the Diaspora, does not recognize such a description then I can only assume that they don’t have a problem with ethnic dispossession or military occupation or collective punishment, or institutional discrimination. All of which could be the case if they are still seriously wedded to the Land/Chosenness/Election reading of the Covenant. To me that’s an Iron Age religious understanding that is now well past its sell-buy date.

Our actions, both historical and contemporary, towards the Palestinians are the greatest challenge facing Judaism and the Jewish people today. We have to find a way through this that means more than defending a narrow nationalist ideology. In the long run, rescuing the Hebrew Covenant is the only sane, ethical and Jewish way forward.”

With thanks to Robert Cohen.

gaza-11

 

Picture Source Independent UK 

Open Letter to the BBC

Dear BBC

Once again Gaza is under massive aerial bombardment from Israeli warplanes and drones, and, once again, the BBC’s reporting of these assaults is entirely devoid of context or background.

We would like to remind the BBC that Gaza is under Israeli occupation and siege.

We would like to remind you that Israel is bombing a refugee population – Palestinians who were made refugees when they were forced from their land in1948 in order to create Israel.

We would like to remind you that Gaza has no army, air force, or navy, while Israel possess one of the strongest militaries in the world.

When you portray Israel’s shelling of a civilian population as a ‘response’ or ‘retaliation’ to rocket strikes from Gaza, we would like to remind you that these events flow from the displacement of the overwhelming majority of the Palestinian people from their homes and communities, with millions now corralled as refugees in the Gaza Strip. That initial injustice was compounded and continues with the ongoing occupation and siege.

When you portray the occupier as the victim, and the occupied as the aggressor, we would like to remind you that resistance to occupation is a right under international law. And we would like you to remember that Israel’s occupation, siege and collective punishment of Gaza is not.

And, finally, we would like to remind BBC journalists, when interviewing Israel’s spokespeople over the coming days, to ask the one question they have all failed to ask: “If Israel ends its occupation of Palestinian land, and allows the people of Palestine to live in freedom from Israeli domination, would that bring peace?”

Yours sincerely

Gralefrit

 

NOTE:  This letter can be found here:  http://www.palestinecampaign.org/sign-open-letter-bbc/

Please sign your name and raise awareness of this escalating madness.

The picture below was taken by me recently.  It is a blade of grass growing out of concrete.  If grass can grow out of concrete, peace can be found between Israeli and Palestinian.

grassinconcrete

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