Home

A Personal Note about my Spiritual and Personal Growth from my First Year of Ministry (Warning: LONG READ)

3 Comments

      Since leaving Scotland after finishing my Masters of Theology, I had always wondered if I made the right vocational move, switching from the dead, sterile, impersonal, competitive, and isolating field of academia- which nevertheless I was relatively successful in- to the alive, potent, personal, cooperative, and immersive field of ministry- which by my own measures and seemingly the measures of others, I’m not the best suited. In academia, I knew what questions to ask, I knew how to research, compile, making a compelling argument, be direct, and frankly kick some serious behind of others who did not put as much work into their thought as I had mine. when-the-churchgreeters-memesfonjesus-try-being-normal-3859167.pngIn ministry, I have answers to questions no one is asking, am not even sure what are the things I should be looking at, learn how to ‘discern’ (whatever the heck that means), draw people into the ‘presence of God’ (again, whatever the heck that means), be an indirect and gentle guide, and frankly get my ass kicked over and over again by all the messages of what I’m doing wrong, what I don’t have, and what I need to work on to improve it- which for someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder, is a personal nightmare and sometimes even a harmful situation. So, why the hell would I make this switch? At the end of the day, I know Jesus personally in my own life, and I struggled to figure out how to follow Jesus any further in academia when I saw him in the streets, in the hospitals, and in the pews. It is Jesus I’m compelled to follow and emulate, not the western stereotype of the white intellectual straight male whose logic and rationality are impervious to the harms of emotions and humanity.

      But I want to begin this piece about lessons I’ve learned during the course of this year of ministry, with a confession- I have grown up in Evangelical Protestant Churches all of my life, and I still feel like either they or I am missing something because I often feel estranged from this tradition that I was raised in, not only because of their politics but their entire approach to things of late. My estrangement became only all the more clear during this first year of ministry with an Evangelical organization- InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF). While I intend to write some things about this estrangement soon, I wanted to highlight all the important places of growth because of the Evangelicalism of IVCF, not in spite of it- to make everyone aware that my estrangement is not a dismissal of its importance or goodness. The following are some brief antidotes and lessons I’ve learn about ministry during this year with IVCF:

“Purposeful Patience”

      At the beginning of our internship, the importance of waiting and patience was continually stressed, drawing upon Jesus’s instruction to the Apostles to “…not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised…” (Acts 1:4). Now, as someone who waited for two years to do ministry- I HATED this emphasis. I was way more with the angels who asked the disciples, “Why do you stand here looking into the sky?” (Acts 1:11)- exactly, why the hell were we standing around worshipping Jesus when their was work to do?! I hate apathy, waiting for no reason, and relaxation at the expense of purpose. Frankly, I still feel this way sometimes when I see the urgency of the moment when it comes to our political climate, but it was not the end of the internship when I heard two words that made all the difference- “Purposeful patience.” See, when I normally think of patience and waiting, I think of anticipation for something, and if the Kingdom of God is at hand, then why are we anticipating? Its here! But what I often fail to see is that patience and waiting can be done with the intention of preparation. I wanted to jump into this ministry so fast, without all the ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ because I only saw the anticipation, not the preparation. It is also undeniably true that my second semester of ministry was WAY more fruitful than the first, because I knew what was happening and I was prepared by the waiting, in a way that I wasn’t with the first semester. If its a simple thesis it is: We can wait not only in anticipation of what is coming but with the purposeful intent of preparation for what is coming. It is this purposeful intent of preparation in waiting that prevents the waiting from becoming anxious or apathetic.

“Sit Down…Be Humble…”

      Before this internship, to put it lightly, I overestimated by ministry/emotional/people skills. I knew that ministry was not like academia, in that it was people work and not book work. I knew that my skills in research, administration, teaching etc…, which are also important in ministry, were far above my skills in counselling, facilitating, social dynamics and emotional intelligence. But until this internship I really did not know just how far above they were. Before this internship I sought a position at a church, being convinced that because I had done a lot of the hard academic stuff, any and all people skills I needed could be picked up through experience- not another degree (MDiv- cough, cough). God tremendously humbled me through my interactions with students and others by showing me I did not have the people skills needed for ministry- or at least not effective ministry. For instance, indirect leadership- not my preference but often needed. CB-01When it comes to leadership styles, lets make a comparison to dancing. Leadership to me is either the person that choreographs the entire room in a dance, or is the lead dance partner- very direct, very organized, lots of control, and can do a lot if the person is willing. But often what ministry requires is a more indirect style of leadership or a DJ of the dance party, someone who is willing to organize and play a set list, but does not immediately dictate how the crowd will dance, when the crowd will dance, and cannot not just jump in the middle of the dance floor and change things. The DJ sets the tone and wants certain things to happen but has released some control in order to allow the dance partners to have a portion of control themselves and thus create some really magical moments. Many other people skills such as inter-cultural codes, personality tests, mental health, reading emotional faces etc… were all things I came to learn about and be humbled by. If its a simple thesis it is: God can humble us either by jumping on the dance floor directly or us being open to his music, but either way, the humbling is to make us become better dancers. God’s humbling of me, while painful, was what would ultimately make me a better party thrower in ministry life, I can be choreographer when I need to be, but now I’m beginning to have the skills of a DJ too.

“God uses our EROS for other purposes”

      For most of my adult life the assumption that I held about the erotic element in life was that it was for one purpose- to find sexual partners. To be fair to myself, this is what churches and culture teach about this subject. Now, when I began this internship there was a clause about not being allowed to have a romantic relationship during the course of the internship- yes, you read that right, not just a romantic relationship with a student or co-worker which would make sense because of power-dynamics, but not at all. So many of my friends laughed about this because they’ve known about my struggles in this area, while others (I think reasonably too) thought that IVCF was being a bit controlling with their sexual hang-ups (more on that in a later piece). Nevertheless, I’m a good faithful person to a contract that I agreed to but I also know me- a romantic by nature.  I knew that I would be prone to seeking a romance, so I was on the look out.

Students- nothing- check.

Housemates- nothing- check.

Coworkers- nothing- check.

Church people- nothing- check.

As far as I could tell, I was safe! Boy, was I naive. I had intentionally this year made sure I would have one group of non-Christian friends, in this case I made friends with the Fightback Socialist Group at Concordia. I attended one of their events and at the end of the event a woman gets up and announces another event that sounded interesting. Now, I thought she was cute but I was assuming that at a Socialist meeting they would all be atheists, so I thought it unwise to pursue her. Anyways this woman, myself and another guy getting to talking and they ask me what I’m doing in Montreal, and I tell them about doing Christian ministry. Of course, the socialist guy is surprised that a devout Christian would be at their meeting, but then she’s says “I’m a Christian too.” Now, if you could imagine it for a second, my head shook in astonishment very Scooby-Doo like.giphy I found out that she had previous experience with IVCF, had a masters degree and worked at a museum. Holy crap! Cute, Intelligent, Christian, and even Socialist- I wasn’t sure another one of us even existed! We then did a couple of bar trips and casual dinners with good conversation but it didn’t end up becoming anything romantic (she was seeing someone, of course!). But I am still convinced that God wanted me to pursue her because even though I was hoping for a sexual relationship, God was using my erotic drive to draw me into a deeper understanding of what I am attracted to, and what demographic of people I have placed on my heart to minister to- Christians who are intelligent, politically active, leftist and no longer have a spiritual community. If its a simple thesis it is: Sometimes following our erotic desires can lead us into a closer communion with God and can be used for things other than what we expected.  

“God Gives Good Gifts to his Kids, even if we don’t know what they will be” 

      Of all my passions and talents the one I did not expect to be put to any use during this internship was rapping. Hip-Hop is one of those things that is so close and dear to my heart, but its not ever been something I’ve had as a front foot forward. Its a semi-private professional hobby, that always without fail takes people by surprise, especially when I tear it up! In addition to this, I did not expect that my old childhood love of trading card games would emerge either. Now, I knew this internship was gonna be a difficult time of learning, but it turned out to be a lot of fun as well especially in ways I did not expect! For instance I got to perform Ejection, which I have come to see as prophecy about white backlash with the Trump presidency at a worship night for Dawson, as well as two other performances in the first semester. The next semester was crazy too, I got to perform for Jack.org at Concordia’s student bar about mental health awareness, along with three other performances. Seven performances in 8 months is not a pace I am use to, but God rained it down on me for maybe no other purpose than he knew I would enjoy it. I was also introduced to the trading card game, Magic the Gathering, which is of the kind of entertainment that is hours of pointless fun that I use to judge my peers about before but which I am now subsumed in myself. I often speculated about what good things might come out of the internship but the little opportunities of fun joy in rapping and trading card games were not any that I anticipated. If its a simple thesis it is: God loves to give good gifts to his kids, even just when they’re for our pleasure and fun- God wants to see us play! 

“I’m so extroverted! No wonder I was depressed being single in isolation!”

      As much as I believe that God wanted to teach me a lot about himself, about others, and about ministry, I learned equally as much about myself along the way. Just before the internship I took the famous Myers-Briggs personality test and learned that I am apparently an ENTJ. For those of you not in-the-know, the first of the four letters mean stands for ‘E’xtroverted and when it first told me I was an extrovert I was very skeptical. I’m an only child, I’ve always had my own room, and living in a big city like Toronto you often feel isolated from all your closest friends. But what also had me convinced I was introvert was that I was shy and quite as child, and as I became an adolescent I found that I enjoyed reading and writing- two very solitary activities. I thought I was going to hate living in a crowded 6 person household, whom I knew were not going to live up to my standards of cleanliness. But, surprise I actually LOVED IT! All the joy in sharing a table around a meal, spending time in deep conversation, playing board games, praying for each other, laughing, and never feeling like you were alone even when you got space to yourself. The support network was immediate and constant, and it only invited more to join in. So good was this community for me, that I even ended up coming off my anti-depressant medication because I didn’t need it, I wasn’t walking around depressed. What this taught me about my desire for intimacy and a romantic relationship was invaluable. I learned that the loneliness I felt in Toronto fed deeply into my want for a romantic relationship, but when I was surrounded with a close-knit immediate community I may still have wanted a romantic relationship but it didn’t have the same force because I received intimacy and closeness in other ways. I didn’t feel like I needed a romantic relationship the way that I feel I ‘need’ it in Toronto. If its a simple thesis it is: The solution to the problem that “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen 2:18) does not need to be a sexual partner.

“Learn to live with your thorns, they don’t go away when serving Jesus”

      Now, an immediate preface, suffering is not good. Christianity often has a sadistic element present throughout its tradition and what I am going to say should never be construed as “All suffering is permanent and good and embrace it…blah, blah, blah.” But while suffering is never good, it can often be necessary and is not as easy to tackle as utopians and technocrats would like us to believe it is. During the course of my ministry this year because of a number of factors I had a relapse of my OCD, I thank God however that it was not accompanied by depression, that would have really taken me out of commission. Now, there is so much with regards to my OCD t that I have had the wisdom not to talk or write about and I do ask that you respect my privacy with regards to it. 92087ce9bff56566ae1d8850e7feccddHowever despite some of my wishes for privacy, I don’t try to pretend that its not a major part of my life, and for years now I thought it was all over with- until it reemerged. But in many ways, while it was not good for me to suffer this way, it may have been necessary if only for the things I have received from this recovery that I did not received during my previous experience over five years ago. Five years ago I never received therapy, the medications after a year seemed to do the trick, and I always had the sneaky suspicion that I would need proper therapy one day- I had just not anticipated it being when I was away doing ministry in Montreal! In addition to receiving the therapy that I needed and more awareness of how to deal with OCD aside from ‘take your pills’, I also received an assurance that wherever I was and however I was, God was going to rescue me because I still had a place in his Kingdom and ministry despite my state and capabilities. To have this kind of reassurance is immeasurable when suffering greatly. If its a simple thesis it is: Serving Jesus will still involve suffering, even undeserved suffering, but how one deals with one’s thorns is not simply trying to relieve the pain- though you should- but to have faith in your imminent rescue. 

_______________________

      Now, congratulations are in order if you made it this far! But I am so happy that you did, and I hope your own faith in the goodness of God is reaffirmed by my testimony during this year of ministry!

Blessings, and until next time,

Caleb David Upton

Advertisements

The Necessity of Charity in Criticism: A Review of Michael Coren’s “Hatred: Islam’s War on Christianity” (McClelland & Stewart: 2014)

1 Comment

Authorial Note: My father and Michael Coren have been friends for a number of years, and with such being the case, my father, whom I love and respect, invited Coren to speak on his most recent book, Hatred: Islam’s War on Christianity” (McClelland & Stewart: 2014). 51A86Et6KwL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ My father and myself came to varying opinions on the work after having both read it. Having myself grown up in a largely Muslim immigrant community, having a number of good friends and acquaintances who are Muslims, having studied the Qur’an for a semester at the University of Toronto, and being extremely concerned with the relationship between Muslims and Christians in Canada and throughout the world- I felt a strong conviction to write a review of this work. While critical of the work in the most important matters, my review will nevertheless attempt to be more charitable concerning the argument in the work than Coren was toward Islam within it to illustrate a much larger lesson concerning public dialogue and criticism, that, as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote in The Sorrow’s of Young Werther (1774), “…misunderstandings and neglect create more confusion in this world than trickery and malice. At any rate, the last two are certainly much less frequent.” [daß Mißverständnisse und Trägheit vielleicht mehr Irrungen in der Welt machen als List und Bosheit. Wenigstens sind die beiden letzteren gewiß seltener.] It is in that spirit that I will approach Mr. Coren’s work, its criticism, and perhaps try to illumine both sides of this discussion, as someone who is an intellectual Christian much like Mr. Coren himself, but will argue that i) because Mr. Coren’s work misunderstands, social location in determining ‘religion’, the nature of violence, and Islamic, as well as Christian, theology Mr. Coren’s work is deeply flawed and in some respects, even if unintentionally, dangerous, and that ii) his misunderstandings should not be attributed to any deep racism, but rather just to that- misunderstandings, that were most likely the result of legitimate outrage over the suffering of those around the world, whom we call brothers and sisters. Lastly, much reference will also be made to the panel discussion concerning this work- ‘Who Speak for Islam?’ on The Agenda with Steve Paikin on Nov. 5th, 2014, because in many respects Coren is more concise in this discussion and the criticism of his work poignant. 

        “Some radical Muslims do see a place for ancient Christian communities…” is half a sentence one would not expect to see in a book titled Hatred: Islam’s War on Christianity (McClelland & Stewart: 2014) while the second half of the same sentence, “but few if any will allow and tolerate Muslims leaving their faith for another” (80), most certainly is. It is this confused, and half-answered questioning nature of Michael Coren’s work that leaves the reader either angry at the argument presented in it, or sympathetic to the general outlook of the work because it does seem well moderated.  The only entirely clear aspect of the work perhaps is that it is not a scholarly work, nor simple objective journalism- it is a work of advocacy on behalf of persecuted Christians around the world- an issue which most can agree does not get enough coverage in the media for reasons of either outright anti-Christian bigotry or simply because, as well expressed by Ron Csillag in the Toronto Star,* “Persecution of Christians just doesn’t compute. After all, it’s the faith of record in the world’s richest and most powerful countries, where Christians have been ensconced for centuries.” However, when advocating for a cause there must be three things entirely clear and reasonable/desirable, none of which, unfortunately, are in Coren’s work: (1) on whose account one is advocating, (2) for what cause is one advocating or what problem one is trying to address, and (3) what are the proposed solutions to the problem. To give a simple illustration as to why it is vitally important to get these three aspects correct: imagine if you will someone wanted to advocate (1) on behalf of the minority Muslim community in Myanmar, (2) to address the violence and genocidal-like policies implement against them by the largely Theravada Buddhist population and government,** and (3) to eradicate Buddhism from the region through counter-terrorism operations and forced conversion to Hinduism. Now immediately we can see the problematic nature of having not defined and made reasonable/desirable any one of the three aspects here. In this example, defining the group for whom one is advocating solely on the basis of religious affiliation misses entire strands of ethnic conflict and makes it appear as if the Islamic identity of this group is the sole sufficient factor to explain this phenomenon.*** If the second aspect of the problem is not made clarified by reference to the nationalist pride many have against this population, then the problem will be construed as a problem of ‘religious’ ideology and not one also based in problematic state power and governance. Lastly, the solution was construed as a response to the problem of ‘Buddhism’, and it would be a terrible solution because it would create more problems than it solved in trying to eradicate it. We can see then that it is vitally important that in a work of journalistic advocacy such as Coren’s book, that the three aspects of who one is advocating for, what problem is being addressed, and what solutions to the problem are being proposed, are clearly defined and reasonable/desirable.

        On whose account Coren is advocating for, one would think that it is a fairly straightforward answer: Christian populations persecuted by Muslims throughout the world. To Coren’s credit he is quite critical even of US foreign policy with regards to the Middle East, writing in relation to the 2003 Iraq war that it was, “A war fought ostensibly to keep Christians safe in Ohio and Alabama” but “has made the lives of Christians living in Baghdad and Mosul completely unbearable” (56). However, even with regards to this first aspect, it is not entirely clear. Towards the end of this work Coren tries to argue that Islamic persecution of Christians occurs even throughout North America and Europe in the form of recent attacks such as The Fort Hood massacre in 2009, the Boston Marathon bombings, and much more. Coren puts these attacks in essentially the same category as all the other attacks mentioned throughout the work because they “All evince a total contempt for Christian values…the perpetrators refer to the need for Islam to dominate and conquer Christianity” (160). It is here where Coren’s problem lies because his work is not merely a work of advocacy in defence of persecuted Christian populations, it is a work in defence of the Christian tradition and ‘Western Civilization’ in general. Despite being critical of US foreign policy, Coren’s work begins with a minimizing of the cruelty and importance of the medieval Crusades (27-41). The discussion of this history should not be at all necessary in a work that desires to stand on behalf of persecuted Christians of the present time- it would however be necessary in a work that sought to portray Christians as inherently peaceful and Muslims as inherently violent- something which, despite Coren’s constant protesting on Steve Paikin’s The Agenda, is something which this work constantly engages in. The question Coren consistently asks throughout this work is,

“…whether the persecution of Christians by Muslims is a modern aberration, an abuse of the Koran, a misunderstanding of the teachings of Mohammad, or something intrinsic and integral to the Muslim faith. In other words, are moderate Muslims the true believers or is it the fundamentalists who have properly understood the message correctly?” (80)

While this is an interesting question, it is a dangerous question for someone who is not an adherent of the Islamic faith to answer in a work concerning advocacy. It is dangerous precisely because it should not be left up to an English Catholic to decide what is orthodox Islam and what is heretical, for this is a properly theo-ethical question that should be left to those of the Islamic faith to decide for themselves concerning their tradition, not a question that can be answered by an appeal to the ‘essence’ of Islam, as discerned by someone who does not privilege the truth value of Islam in the first place. Coren himself would immediately recognize the inappropriateness of someone who is not a Catholic to tell a Catholic, such as Coren, what he should believe and what he should not believe according to Catholic teaching- the question of what is orthodox and what is heretical according to a faith tradition is a essential theo-ethical question that should be left to the adherents, not to an outside tribunal.+

        To Coren’s credit he quotes a number of different people who all give various answers to the question posed, but it is the very fact that he feels its a question that could be decided by everyone is a form of cultural imposition that engages in a colonial discourse of the worst kind. american_sniperNot only does Coren highly suggest that Islam is inherently violent, but according to his reading of Christian theology and Christian history, one would think that the Christian faith has seldom ever been used to justify violence. Coren has a seeming complete lack of awareness (or admittance) to the fact that Christian Dominionism is currently one strong component in the ideological justification for US militarism. The recent film American Sniper (Warner Bros, 2015)depicts but one example of how the Cross of Christian theology was turned into an emblem of war for the justification of violence in our most recent military conflicts. Now while any Christian is free to rejoice in Coren’s estimation that “…Christians behave violently in spite and not because of the teachings of Jesus Christ” (20), it does take a special form of historical privilege to ignore and underplay, as much as Mr. Coren has, the role that some forms of Christian theology have played in justifying militarism and violence.++

        As for the second aspect of advocacy, that of what problem one is trying to address, again, one would think that the answer would be quite clear: the persecution of Christian populations by Muslims around the world. With regards to this, it must be clearly said that Coren is to be commended for drawing more attention to this reality- any attention that is given to any persecuted and discriminated minority around the world is a step-forward. Despite Shabir Ally’s protestations on Paikin’s panel and his improper invocation of Candida Moss’s work The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom (Harperone: 2014), the reality of Christians being persecuted throughout the world is not a paranoid dream of the Christian right in the United States- the paranoid dream of the Christian Right in the United States is that they themselves are being persecuted. In addition, what we cannot do in this instance is protest that Coren should have addressed in full manner other instances of Christians being persecuted by non-Muslims such as in China or North Korea- books of a popular nature need to be limited in scope. What then is the confusion with regard to this second aspect? It simply comes down to what is the nature of the ‘persecution’ of which Coren writes about? Coren gives an impressive litany of instances of Christians being discriminated against, injured, raped, and killed throughout the world in a panorama of violence only differentiated significantly by geography. He has one simple purpose in presenting it in this manner, in order to show that “…the notion that Islamic hatred toward Christianity is purely a geographical or politically local phenomenon is simply untrue” (13). Framing it in this manner then signifies the problem as Islam itself- the problem then Coren is addressing is not simply Christians being persecuted by Muslims, but the fact that in Coren’s estimation there appears to be something inherent in Islam, which when fully imbibed by the adherent, would compel them to commit violence against Christians, and that therefore, its not simply that some Muslims use Islamic theology and rhetoric as part of their ideological defence for their violence, its that Islam itself creates and not merely supports the very violence that these people commit. Coren’s perspective is not only problematic in terms of its strong idealism (in the philosophical sense) but also in terms of Christian theology. In terms of the strong idealism, as Mohammad Fadel, the associate Professor and Canada Research Chair for the Law and Economics of Islamic Law at the University of Toronto on Paikin’s panel rightfully points out, its doubtful how much Islamic theology really has to do with this issue because most people frankly are rather ignorant concerning theology, and furthermore, in addition to Fadel’s point, it is doubtful how much a person’s study of theology would impact their behaviour at all- just because one reads the Qur’an daily does not mean one will more likely persecute Christians then does one reading the Sermon on the Mount everyday mean that one will more likely ‘turn the other cheek’.

        From the perspective of Christian theology, there are two extremely odd aspects in Coren’s work, the first of which is related to this second aspect of advocacy. One would think that Coren is advocating for these persecuted Christians as a Christian himself, but while Coren is a Christian it does not appear as if Coren is arguing within a Christian theological framework at all. For Coren to centralize the problem of the persecution of Christians by the hand of Muslims at the feet of Islam  betrays a profound ignorance, whether intentional or unintentional, of the nature of evil as well expounded by in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, with strong resonance in Christian theology, that ““If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” (The Gulag Archipelago, Part 1, “The Bluecaps”). What Solzhenitsyn saw was the same truth articulated by the Apostle Paul that “…there is no distinction; since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Romans 3:22-23, RSV). For Coren to effectively argue that Islam is the problem is actually not only necessarily ‘off the mark’ according to ‘secular’ reasoning but even dangerously confines of the problem of the manifestation of this evil to Islamic ideology rather than to human sin and rebellion against God, which much of Christian theology would teach and suggest.

        Lastly, concerning the third aspect of advocacy, that of what are the proposed solutions to the problem, it is here where Coren is most obscure, and once again where Coren does not seem to argue within a Christian theological framework though he is a Christian advocating on behalf of persecuted Christians. Near the very end of the work Coren writes, “Christian forgiveness is vital in all this but the new equation has to begin with the cessation by Muslims throughout the world of their hateful campaign against innocent Christians.” (176) One cannot help but wonder what the ‘new equation’ is. For the sake of being charitable we shall refrain from speculating as to what Coren might mean by the ‘new equation’ and why it, as opposed to the older equations, requires more than just forgiveness, but all the same it seems as if part of the solution in Coren’s view is not only do Muslims need to speak out more, but for North American and European governments to overcome their guilt-complex of their Christian past and in some manner intervene on the behalf of the Christian minorities throughout the world whether through boycott or sanctions (quoting approvingly Farzana Hassan, 166-167). If Coren thought that Muslims throughout the world were falsely accusing the ‘West’ of conducting crusades in the Middle East before, it can be said with absolute certainty that if North American and European governments were to begin to explicitly advocate and intervene on behalf of Christian minorities in the Middle East that not a single soul would be mistaken in labelling the campaign a crusade. In Fulcher of Chartres’ account of Pope Urban II’s speech at the council of Clermont in advocating for the first of the crusade campaign in 1095, the Pope argues that,

“…you must apply the strength of your righteousness to another matter which concerns you as well as God. For your brethren who live in the east are in urgent need of your help, and you must hasten to give them the aid which has often been promised them. For, as the most of you have heard, the Turks and Arabs have attacked them and have conquered the territory of Romania [the Greek empire] as far west as the shore of the Mediterranean and the Hellespont, which is called the Arm of St. George. They have occupied more and more of the lands of those Christians, and have overcome them in seven battles. They have killed and captured many, and have destroyed the churches and devastated the empire.”+++

It is not too much of a stretch to say that much of the discourse in which Coren and others engage in replicates a similar call for action with little difference other than the use of less explicit ‘religious’ language and without an explicit call to military action- though, in the only moment of speculation of Coren’s views we shall engage in here, that call cannot be too far from the surface.

        The second of the odd aspects of Coren’s work in relation to Christian theology aforementioned in relation to this third aspect of advocacy, is the complete absence of any thought that Muslims could be converted out of Islam by missionary activity  or that Islamic theology could be reformed. The call to proselytize or evangelize the Islamic world is exactly what Coren does not advocate for, and that is extremely interesting because in spite of his defence of the Christian faith he does not argue for the most easily associable Christian proposition that Muslims need to be converted to Christianity through preaching and persuasion. Instead, it would seem, that Coren, in desiring to cater to the values of ‘Western civilization’, appeals to human rights and other such values of the ‘Enlightenment’  while at the same time despising the ‘liberalism’ to which he is appealing to! The call to missionary activity and conversion, it could be argue, would be actually more controversial than proposed military action or sanctions, as it would be called a form of cultural imperialism by those who despise ethnocentrism and a denigrating of Islamic culture, and yet Coren does not appeal to this despite his own distain for aspects of Islamic culture. If the common rallying cry in relation to ‘terrorism’- that the ideology of Islamism must be fought with an ideology be true, as Coren does seem to agree to some extent- then the Christian tradition, which as Coren acknowledges has produced a strong pacifist stream of thought and adherents (18-19), can be but one of many bases to be appeal to in order to counter-act the ideology of Islamism- instead Coren appeals to and wants to employ secular state power in the service of the Christian tradition rather than appeal to the God and the call of the great commission, which the Christian tradition by-and-large argues one should appeal to. Even in a secular ideological framework, there should be no argument against the right of people from various ‘religious’ traditions to evangelize and share their faith through speech and persuasion, rather than coercion and state-power, in order to convert people from one tradition to another- no matter how much you yourself may disagree with that tradition.

        More than this however, Coren seems to display an utter willingly ignorance of Islamic history and theology, if he truly believes that, in quoting approvingly of the Roman Catholic priest Fr. Samir Khalil Samir, that “The absolute nature of the Qu’ran makes dialogue all the more difficult, because there is very little room for interpretation, if at all.” (174) In the spirit of charity one cannot fault Coren for not knowing Arabic, for not giving an exhaustive history of Islam, for not quoting every passage in the Qu’ran or the Hadith and much else in such a brief and limited-in-scope work- however, one can fault Coren for not looking to basic authorities on Islam and its history of interpretation in those instances in which Coren does wish to make authoritative and argumentative statements concerning those topics. To appeal to a Roman Catholic priest to make an authoritative statement concerning Islamic theology is as grave an insult and stupidity as ‘new atheists’ who appeal to the historical myths propagated by Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code as authoritative in discussion of Church history.  Jane Dammen McAuliffe’s (Ed.) The Cambride Companion to the Qur’an (Cambridge University press: 2006), an introductory scholarly text often given to undergraduate students, would more than suffice to show that Islamic history and interpretation is much more complex than many in the ‘mainstream’ media, including Coren himself, appear to think. For instance, it may come as a great surprise to Coren and others that one of the most influential works of Islamic exegesis of the past century, namely In the Shadow of the Qur’an of the Egyptian Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966), which influenced the Iranian revolution (1979), the Shi’i Hezbollah (hizb Allah, ‘party of God’) in Lebanon, and the Hamas in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, explicitly appeals to western concepts such as ‘revolution’, ‘social justice’, and ‘democracy’.^ It is Coren’s nihilism about the potential for future Islamic theological reform, ignorance about current Islamic theological reform, and ignorance about past Islamic theological reform that lead to views such as Coren’s which see Islam and its adherents as irredeemably violent and in need of quelling and control by Western intervention.

        We have striven to critique Coren’s work in the most charitable and fair manner possible, treating it as a work of journalistic advocacy, not as a scholarly tome- and it is in this vein that we very carefully discerned and found wanting all three aspects of advocacy in Coren’s work, namely: (1) on whose account one is advocating, (2) for what cause is one advocating or what problem one is trying to address, and (3) what are the proposed solutions to the problem. However rather than delving into much more that could have been discussed concerning this work, it is proposed here that the principle of charity, especially as expressed in the Sermon on the Mount of “…whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them…” (Matt. 7:12, RSV), is a necessity in criticism. Coren’s work, if it had been conducted in this manner would have treated Islam with the same fairness, respect, and knowledgeableness that Coren would expect critics of Catholicism to have when they speak on Catholicism- it obviously did not. Advocacy is difficult to navigate not because there is not enough to be angry about, but because our own anger is inevitably entangled in the process of perpetuating the very problems we seek to resolve. Coren is extremely sincere in his advocacy for those whom we consider brothers and sisters. Christians around the world are being discriminated against, persecuted, and killed because of their ‘religious’ affiliation, and it is something which much of our media simply ignores out of cowardice or simple disbelief. In advocating for the relief of their suffering however it is extremely important that we do not become merely those who advocate for the ‘other side’ of the struggle, but that we become the type of people who see the struggle entirely differently- that we do not become merely those who advocate that we need to be more assertive in the imposition of our values, but instead seek ourselves to be more faithful to our values- and finally, that we do not merely become those who will implement the cross as a weapon, but those who would be willing to die upon it.

_______________________________________________________

Csillag, Ron. “Christianity arguably the most persecuted religion in the world.” The Toronto Star, December 4, 2010, sec. News/ Insight. http://www.thestar.com/news/insight/2010/12/04/christianity_arguably_the_most_persecuted_religion_in_the_world.html#.

** For more on this see: Ellick, Adam B., and Nicholas Kristof. “Myanmar’s Persecuted Minority.” The New York Times. June 16, 2014, sec. Opinion. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/06/16/opinion/nicholas-kristof-myanmar-documentary.html.

*** Not to say that it is not ‘a’ important part of the account. In Kristof’s reporting we can see how these genocidal-like policies of the Myanmar government are in part ‘justified’ by appeal to the fear that this Muslim minority will become violent because Islam is inherently violent. An important appeal and set of policies to look out for when we survey our own North American context, and something which we can only pray will not be advocated for or occur here. 

+ The principle equally applies to those politicians who are not Muslims that nevertheless designate ISIS as ‘monsters’ not Muslims. The fact is that as to whether or not ISIS and groups like them are Muslims or not is an issue that the Muslim community should decide for itself. The Muslim community does not need the guidance of western Christians to determine who is a ‘true’ follower of THEIR faith. We can only go off the basis of their own self-proclaimation, and ISIS claims to be Muslim, and therefore we should take them at their word- it is up to the rest of the Muslims community to judge ISIS’s claim. 

++ For more on Christian Dominionism in the United States and Canada see: Hedges, Chris. American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. (Free Press: 2007); McDonald, Marci. The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada (Vintage Canada: 2011); Phillips, Kevin. American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century. (Penguin Books: 2007).

+++ Halsall, Paul, ed. “Medieval Sourcebook:  Urban II (1088-1099):  Speech at Council of Clermont, 1095,  Five versions of the Speech.” Fordham University Press, December 1997. Internet Medieval Source Book. http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/urban2-5vers.html.

^ Wild, Stefan. “Political interpretation of the Qur’an.” in The Cambridge Companion to the Qur’an edited by Jane Dammen McAuliffe (Cambridge University Press: 2006), 282-283.; For more on ISIS’s modern influences in particular see: McDonald, Kevin. “Isis jihadis aren’t medieval – they are shaped by modern western philosophy.” the Guardian, September 9, 2014, sec. Comment is Free. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/09/isis-jihadi-shaped-by-modern-western-philosophy.

Reclaiming the term ‘Theocracy’

1 Comment

            In the midst of the revival of certain controversies, in the UK and elsewhere, concerning the relationship between the Church(es) (or religious institutions in general) and the state, it may be helpful to consider what a ‘religious’ rule itself would even look like, consider whether it has been tried, and along the way look at the current controversies in light of the theo-political stance expounded on here in brief. David Cameron’s recent remarks concerning the role of faith in the UK’s national heritage and practice shall be our guiding map for this tour, though not our straight-jacket. Initially, leave it to former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, to tease out in a clarifying way our terminology when we argue about the ‘Christian’ status of a nation. Williams argues, that the UK is neither a ‘Christian’ nation, nor a non-Christian nation, but rather a ‘post-Christian’ nation. Williams means by this that while the assumption of Christian practice on the part of the population can no longer be assumed, that the memory of the UK’s obvious Christian heritage and practice still haunts our contemporary discourse. A further delineation is made between the concepts of a ‘Christian nation’ and a nation of Christians. Williams argues that while the UK is quite obviously not the later, that it is the former as can be seen in history, the constitution, and the state Church of England. Let’s however expand these categories by asking two distinct questions: (1) Would a nation full of Christians necessarily be a ‘Christian nation’? and (2) Is having God or the Bible mentioned in your constitution or whatnot sufficient for a nation to be a ‘Christian’ nation? The first question can be addressed rather quickly, with an affirmative ‘no’. Quite obviously the constitution and make-up of the state could be deeply contrary to the make-up of the population. It is the second question which is much more problematic for within it are the contours of an outworking of a Christian political theology. It will be argued here that a proper Christian theo-political stance can invigorate the revolutionary and transformational impulses felt throughout our current era. Chris Hedges, in his piece, “The Rhetoric of Violence”, while disavowing violence, recognizes our need for militancy, when he says,

“Our inability to formulate a coherent, militant revolutionary ideology, meanwhile, leaves us powerless in the face of mounting violence. We wander around in a daze. We lack the toughness and asceticism of the radicals who went before us—the Wobblies, the anarchists, the socialists and the communists. We preach a mishmash of tolerance and Oprah-like hope and exude a fuzzy faith in the power of the people. And because of this we are run over like frogs blindly hopping up and down on a road.”

It is suggested that only a strong theo-political definition of a ‘Christian’ state/polity can properly lead to some of the following conclusions, shared by many perceived to be on opposite ends of the spectrum of opinion: (1) The separation of church and state is not only good for the state, in terms of what it wishes to pursue, but also good for the church in its pursuits, and should be maintained. (2) No attempts at a Christian state in the past could be considered faithful to the Christian tradition, and in fact must be treated as heretical. (3) The best thing many of ‘radical’ traditions such as anarchists and socialists can do for their movement is in fact embrace the Christian tradition as a reclamation of an immense resource for thought and transformation from the very powers they oppose, who use the very same resource. The make-up of a ‘Christian’ nation/polity based upon widely held Christian doctrines is, it is suggested, the answer to these three conclusions.

            In Cameron’s remarks we can see the domestication and the abuse of the Christian tradition when he says, “…greater confidence in our [UK’s] Christianity can also inspire a stronger belief that we can get out there and actually change people’s lives, and improve the spiritual, physical and moral state of our country, and even the world.” Notice the role that the Christian faith has taken, it is that which can help us with our goals as a country. The Christian faith is the supplement to the goals of the state, it is a useful utility. But since when has the Christian faith needed a secular endorsement? Does God need a associate? Does God need help? Does God need a patron? The Christian faith answers these questions with a violent ‘no’. The goal of states by their very nature is self-preservation through coercion to maintain, spread, and keep its vision of the ‘good’ for society. The early Christian movement, as a thoroughly Jewish movement, saw itself as a counter-movement to the universal claims of the Caesar and the Roman empire, by loudly proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom of God (Mark 1:14-15), and that the vision of the ‘good’ of the state was against the vision for justice of the God of Israel. God and his people need no patronage. It is with this basic conviction of the Christian faith that the first conclusion of a thorough theo-political stance, that is the separation of church and state is made. Not only should the church stay outside of the state because the state itself would be corrupted by the interests of a party that has no concern necessarily for the state’s interests of self-preservation, but also because the state would corrupt the vision of the ‘good’ of the church in its proclamation of the Kingdom of God, by confusing and infusing such a vision with the vision of the ‘good’ as created by the state. The first aspect of a thorough theo-political stance then is the reign of the one God of Israel in the exclusive Kingdom of God over the world.

            The exclusivity of the reign of God, most centrally, is not a reign exercised through the reign of particular authorities, at least by the time of the arrival of the Kingdom of God. The rulers of the world could no longer claim, with the arrival of the Kingdom of God that they were the unquestioned agents of any particular gods for the execution of justice upon the world. The arrival of the Kingdom of God was not a revelation that while things may look bad one should trust that God is in control ‘behind the scenes’, but precisely as the confrontation of the powers of this world, “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4), with the arrival of the God of Israel to Zion in install his rule and power to the exclusion of our say so. In this sense, the Kingdom of God is not a democracy. While many historical examples could be drawn upon to illuminate the dangers of confusing the rule and authority of any human beings with the rule of God, a more humorous examples may be taken from College Humour, of all places.

This humorous cartoon is not meant to give an actual portrayal of God according to any theology, but what would happen if God had a boss, and what would happen if God’s power were abused for human ends. The utter ridiculousness of the proposals in this cartoon, it is argued for here, is how all attempts throughout history of people trying to get God to sponsor their version of the ‘good’ should be viewed. Tragic and ridiculous. Those on the underside of power especially can perceive this, as did the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem did in 2003. In 2003 both George W. Bush and Tony Blair began the infamous war in Iraq, with what they believed was theological sanction, but what was almost not reported at all was that the Church of the Nativity banned for life both of these men from their sanctuaries because in the eyes of the church while Bush and Blair were Christian in name and word, they were nevertheless heretics of the worst kind and war criminals.

            It is with this in mind that our second conclusion, that of the impossibility of the ascription of ‘Christian’ to any past attempts to create a ‘Christian state’, needs further explication. In academic discourse normally self-identification is the sole criteria for something or someone to be included into a category, e.g. Osama Bin Laden declared he was a Muslim, therefore he was a part of Islam. In academic discourse this is a perfectly fine way to proceed but for the adherents of any tradition or group of thought such as Islam, there is an attempt and a need to delineate between those who are faithful adherents to their self-proclaimed tradition and those who are unfaithful to it, thus excluding themselves from the tradition. Self-proclaimation is not enough for adherents to the tradition. The question then is who or what has the authority to make such delineations within the tradition. While the Christian tradition there are a few sources it is arguable whether there are any as influential and important as the standard Christian Bible. Drawing from this source then, Psalm 146 can be seen as an excellent articulation of what has been thus far called the theo-political stance,

“Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortals, in whom there is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
on that very day their plans perish.” (Psalm 146:3-4, NRSV)

The above quoted passage can be said to be a strong consistent strand within the standard Christian Bible. It is this exclusive rule of God and not the rule of God through any man who will perish, that could strengthen Christian theology to not only distance itself from atrocities done with the means of state power in the past, but also in the present. This distancing is not the distancing of responsibility, for the Christian tradition, even the faithful Christian tradition, can be and must be held responsible for its own perversions, but it is the distancing of the necessity to identify perverted Christian tradition as normative Christian tradition. Can we not see this perversion and even a laissez-faire approach to Christian theology in Cameron’s own statement of his adherence to the Church of England?

“I am a member of the Church of England and, I suspect, a rather classic one: not that regular in attendance and a bit vague on some of the more difficult parts of the faith. But that doesn’t mean the Church of England doesn’t matter to me or people like me; it really does. I like its openness, I deeply respect its national role, and I appreciate its liturgy and the architecture and cultural heritage of its churches.”

As if the Christian tradition, and being a faithful adherent to it, can be reduced to an aesthetic appreciation of church architecture! But of course for the ruler of a “Christian” nation, being a faithful adherent to the Christian tradition can be reduced to being a tourist. It is here then argued that all attempts at self-proclaimed Christian states with mortal human rulers both past and present are heretical if one takes a strong theo-political stance which includes the exclusive rule of God through no other meditator. The second aspect of a thorough theo-political stance then is the exclusive reign of the one God of Israel in the exclusive Kingdom of God over the world.

            But whence the third conclusion proceeding from a thorough theo-political stance, that of, the reclamation of the Bible and the Christian tradition as resources for revolutionary thinking? G.K. Chesterton in his masterpiece Orthodoxy, made an extremely important observation concerning the doctrine of Jesus’ divinity, when he said,

“That a good man may have his back to the wall is no more than we knew already, but that God could have His back to the wall is a boast for all insurgents forever. Christianity is the only religion on earth that has felt that omnipotence made God incomplete. Christianity alone felt that God, to be wholly God, must have been a rebel as well as a king…now let the revolutionists choose a creed from all the creeds and a god from all the gods of the world, carefully weighing all the gods of inevitable recurrence and of unalterable power. They will not find another god who has himself been in revolt.”

Now why is this important? Well, it is clear that around the global there are recurring surges of rebellions, uprisings, revolutions, occupations etc… all expressing the deep discontentment much of us feel against the current global order of the world. The noticeable trouble to most observers however is the inability to create mass social movements or even protest effectively, as can be seen in the embarrassment of Anonymous or the performance art of Pyotr Pavlensky against the Russian government and many other examples. Furthermore, most of our markers of ‘social progress’ are incapsulated in the useless transformation of artistic images for the purposes of gaining a bigger audience for an exploitive market, such as G. Willow Wilson’s new Ms. Marvel. From which reservoir shall we draw from for our resources and inspiration for real transformation? Echoing Chesterton, a theo-political stance would draw upon the energy and leadership of Jesus Christ, who was the son of man not destined to perish, like the other princes and ideologies, according to Christian theology, and who stands beside us in our present groanings of our enslavement (Romans 8:22-27). If we need to use ‘secular’ language to describe the form of protest found in a theo-political stance in our era, it would be, in an inversion of Audre Lorde, that we should dismantle the master’s house using precisely the master’s tools: the Bible, and Christian tradition. It is precisely in this sense then that our exploration of a theo-political stance comes to the reclaiming of the term ‘theocracy’. Theocracy in ‘secular’ discourse refers to governments that are run by people who think they are gods, such as John Calvin’s Geneva or the present Iranian regime. As has hopefully been explored here, theocracy is not the rule of men who think they are gods but rather the exclusive reign of the one God of Israel in the exclusive Kingdom of God over the world, whose king is Jesus as our fellow revolutionary, our fellow partner in rebellion against the global order of social injustice and sin as now present.

Why Eminem’s ‘Rap God’ can open up Hip-Hop’s redemption….no….really….

Leave a comment

            When Eminem put out “Rap God” off his highly anticipated album MMLP2, I was the first to shake my head thinking…”Oh no, another rapper claiming they’re a god (e.g. Kanye, Jay-Z, Lil’ B, etc…….what else is new”. But I am quite glad that I took a listen to it for not only did it give me a chance to peer into my own moral conscience deeper but it gave me great hope that Hip-Hop can move in a new direction.

            From the start I’ll admit, I’m an Eminem ‘Stan’ and will be probably incurably so until the apocalypse, but this track exceeded even every expectation that I had. Just take a listen, if there was anyone who doubted still that Eminem is a lyrical genius and extremely talented they should wonder no more. In the span of 6 min. he uses an uncountable amount of flows, types of rhyme, cultural references, disses, and more (here are the Rap Genius annotations).

            Personally, my favourite line is, “You witnessing a massacre Like you watching a church gathering take place looking boy”, but this song when you take a second listen creates a plethora of problems for anyone with morals. Let a DJ friend of mine say it best,

            Hatred of women, arrogance, hatred of homosexuals, reusing his line about the Columbine shooting massacre, and more, should cause anyone to really question their morality if they enjoy the song. How does someone like myself, highly educated and a committed Christian, enjoy this song so much as to play it on repeat? Perhaps we should bring in two ancient voices to illuminate the tension we have arrived at between incredible aesthetics and vile content. St.Augustine, the ancient African Christian theologian, describe this exact tension in his work Confessions, in chapter 16 of Book 1, as he is discussing the teaching of ancient pagan poetry to young children says,

“Not one whit more easily are the words learnt for all this vileness; but by their means the vileness is committed with less shame. Not that I blame the words, being, as it were, choice and precious vessels; but that wine of error which is drunk to us in them by intoxicated teachers; and if we, too, drink not, we are beaten, and have no sober judge to whom we may appeal. Yet, O my God (in whose presence I now without hurt may remember this), all this unhappily I learnt willingly with great delight, and for this was pronounced a hopeful boy.”

            Is this not precisely our dilemma? The words, the rhythm, the composition is of the most precious vessels, yet all they contain is poison.  Philo, the ancient Jewish-philsopher, in his preface to his biography of Moses is much more harsh than St.Augustine in critique of the Pagan poets who have ignored the life of Moses,

“Most of these authors have abused the powers which education gave them, by composing in verse or prose comedies and pieces of voluptuous licence, to their widespread disgrace, when they should have used their natural gifts to the full on the lessons taught by good men and their lives. In this way they might have ensured that nothing of excellence, old or new, should be consigned to oblivion and to the extinction of the light which it could give, and also save themselves from seeming to neglect the better themes and prefer others unworthy of attention, in which all their efforts to express bad matter in good language served to confer distinction on shameful subjects.”

            Philo is lamenting at what a waste of talent the epics of the pagan poets represent. May we say the same of Eminem? Consider what his talent could do for enlightening our society about politics, history, morality etc…and instead we get to listen to a forty year-old man make gay jokes. I’ll take it as far to say that I don’t care if (by some amazing chance) he’ll read that last sentence then diss me, I could use a maxi-pad joke or two thrown at me. We’ve seen really only seen three example of ‘moral’ tracks from Eminem namely: (1) “Love the Way you Lie”, (2) “Mosh”, and (3) “Stan” (and may be some others if you stretch it).

            Now, before I’m mistaking for not liking Eminem anymore, let me explain how “Rap God” has the seeds of Hip-Hop’s redemption in its fabric. First, most obviously, Eminem has taken multi-syllabic rhyme scheme, flow, and the whole ‘underground’ package to its absolute PINNACLE, and because of this, we may perhaps say that this approach has finally been exhausted. I’ll go so far as to say that it no longer matters how lyrical you try to be, you will never surpass this level of technicality, and precisely because of that we might finally stop making being ‘lyrical’ the be-all and end-all of Hip-Hop. At this risk of self-promotion, I had made this point on my early Sharp Tongue EP (2011), on the track “My Choice”*,

“Leave you dead still/ in your tracks; I know it’s either
‘That’s real’/ or “That Man’s gotta Chill”/ I could be like
“I’m ripping/ immigrants/ ligaments/ leaving disfigurements/ clipping Limb from limb/ you little kids/ won’t figure/ the Original tint/ Of the skin’s pigment/
But with that script/ I didn’t spit/ shit/ so instead of being The illest/ lyricist MC with two lips/ the Planet’s ever seen!/
Now real talk you’ll understand what it means/”

           We will finally move past focusing on being the best rhymers and turn our attention to be the best Emcees. Now, there is a second and final way Em’s “Rap God” can redeem Hip-Hop and it is in Em’s own self admission of this, saying  “But it’s honestly futile if I don’t utilize what I do though/ For good at least once in a while, So I wanna make sure somewhere in this chicken scratch I scribble and doodle/ Enough rhymes to maybe to try and help get some people through tough times/”. While he’s recalling his past, he has grown up, and perhaps this will encourage other rappers to do as as well…we can only hope.

__________________________________________________________________

*Don’t worry I have improved a lot since then, check my album, The Audacity of DOPE (2013)

Journey Through Scotland, ep. 4

1 Comment

Hello Friends!!!

            First off I just want to say how much I miss you all in Canada. Shout out to my CityLights fam, Kingsway Baptist Church, my family, and my friends, I love you all so much. The time has come for me to make my last post, at least for this semester about my life in Scotland before I, to use the words of a good friend, go ‘whole-hog’ into the community and friends here. I would still love to keep in contact with all of you and will post my Skype and email at the end of this post.

            One thing that I haven’t talked very much about so far is how the academic side of this adventure has been…and that is precisely because there hasn’t been much to tell, or at least not yet. My classes this semester are: intermediate Hebrew, Ancient Texts on ‘Men who became Gods’, and a general methodology class. I’m finding the work load from these classes unusually light, which leads me to two conclusions, of which the latter I’m becoming more convinced: (1) I’m doing something wrong, I’m not doing all the required material, or (2) I have become much more efficient. I say I’m more convinced of the later not due to arrogance but through the observation that I have read four books, dozens of extra-curricular news articles and essays, half finished writing my new album, have done all my required reading, and gotten ahead start on an assignments by almost two months….all within the time I’ve been here, while taking naps, eating, going out, and doing day trips.  How I wish I can tell you I’ve been academically challenged, but that would be dishonest.

            However, I have made an important personal discovery in terms of my academic future while I have been here, and it is that I don’t have much a desire to continue in academic/secular Biblical studies as I do Political Theology. I have enjoyed Biblical studies a lot, but when I asked myself the question if I thought questions about hardcore philology, or Hebrew syntax, or the aetiology of New Testament stories in relation to Graeco-Roman mythology, were really important, my answer was….no…. or at least they matter only in so far as they contribute to the life of the church and contribute to genuine Kingdom of God work and mission. When I further asked myself personally what exactly it was about Biblical studies that I loved so much it was precisely in how it changed and shaped my political views. To discover that many of the early Church fathers (by some counts, most) were totally against Christians in the military; to discover that the author of the Book of Revelation was concerned with Jerusalem’s collusion with Roman power; to discover that so called ‘church hierarchy’ was entirely based on servanthood thus leading to the dismantling of societal hierarchy altogether; to discover that Mark 12:13-17 was not primarily about paying taxes but was about God’s claim on humanity; to discover that the early church was mocked by Celsus as a community for the poor, the stupid, women and children; and to discover that Christian theologians have had a long history in being part of revolutionary movements….this all spoke to my soul. More than ever, I am concerned with the life of the church, with Christian behaviour, and with transformational radical politics centred on the theo-political realm.

            Speaking of Church life, allow me to now take you on a tour of the beautifully bizarre conservative Christian church I have taken-up fellowship with here. Originally I was going to take the approach taken by most who are trying to find a new church, that of ‘church-hopping’. However the more I thought about it, the more I realized (again given my new theo-politics) that that approach is deeply embedded in a neo-liberalism mind-set that our different church communities are like a buffet of dishes from which we have our consumer-choice to pick what we please from them. Often its thought that we serve the church, and then the church gives our souls renewal of whatever…as if the gift of God were a exchange on the market. So instead of that approach I thought about how I would approach this if I thought about the Christian Church (very tricky to define, no?) as my family, and I came to the conclusion then that my family is my family and I don’t get to pick the members. If I am in the fold of Martin Luther King Jr. , I am also in the tradition of Pat Robertson, and I don’t get to make-up definitions of ‘whose in’ and ‘whose out’. If God is my father, then the Church is my mother no matter how crazy she be. So I decided I would go to the first church I saw, and attend it non-stop for the year and really participate in the community, no matter how I felt about what. If I saw or heard something I didn’t like, it was up to me to approach my family about it. If I felt I could bless them, then I should no matter what I receive because it isn’t about my spiritual life or whatever. Its about committing to a community. So I left my flat, walked a few blocks and enter the first church I saw, which was ironic in that it did not call itself a church nor did it look like much of one from the outside.

            Carrubbers Christian Centre, was the first church I attended and I have stuck to it. ‘Be Thou my Vision’ done with Bongo drums fed my soul, listening to their stories about their missionaries was inspiring, being blessed by a substantial Student population was wonderful,  me getting to be a Bible scholar among them has been a delight, and to serve at their breakfast program for the homeless reminded me about what the Kingdom of God was all about. Listening to how Jesus was literally an astronaut because of the ascension cringed my reason, listening to a sermon about the importance of Hell in Christian missionary work made me despair, listening to a story which when thought about more deeply was almost a perversion of the doctrine of atonement made me worry, and attending a Bible study in which almost two chapters of Romans were covered in an hour made my head pound against the wall. But…My family is my family, the minute I get to start picking and choosing is the minute I’ve lost a sense of commitment to those who claim to follow the same saviour I have met.

            Before I end on a note of personal relationships with people here, let me tell you about a few new habits of mine. I knew that coming here would allow me to re-invent my way of life, my habits, and culture. Nothing extraordinary but perhaps these are the petals of a beautiful flower as yet to grow.

  • Due to the haunting verse of Proverbs 21:13, which says “Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered” I have been deliberately making a habit of carrying change to give to those I see on the street corner. Now, is this solidarity with the worker-class on the brink of revolution? Is this ‘radical’ commitment to the poor? No, but its certainly a start.
  • I’ve started saving my white t-shirt to wear exclusively for Sunday, not to convey that I’m putting on my best clothes to impress God but I find that the colour white speaks of joy as much as it does purity, and I want to make Sunday a reminder of joy.
  • I’ve found it quite easy to eat as a vegetarian for days on end. I am more and more repulsed by meat. And the more you get a chance to really see animals the harder it is not to think about their suffering. Will a new 100% diet formation come about? quite possibly.
  • I LOVE taking photos, ever since I discovered how well my IPod can do this I’ve enjoyed taking pictures. More and more, I’m finding how art, architecture, photos, and images are capable of telling a story all their own. Being an academic you of course focus mainly on texts, so the shift to visuals is coming as a surprise, which I realize to most people it isn’t. :p
  • Lastly, I think I’m becoming more aware as to how easy it is and how often I tell ‘white’ lies (and don’t you hate how in this instance ‘white’ has become a code-word for ‘harmless’, ah racial prejudices embedded in language!). I formulate stories sometimes in certain ways as to make people see it in the angle in which I wish them to see it…the new habit is being aware of this pattern, and trying to develop a radical honesty in story telling.

            Let me end with a moving insight I found in G.K. Chesterton’s biography on St. Francis of Assisi . Of very recently I got to take two days trips around Scotland, one to Calton Hill and the other to the village of Comrie. The scenery was absolutely stunning. Have you ever seen such a beautiful sight as to fall to your knees in awe at the artistry and majesty of God? I have, and it seemed like I did at almost every corner I turned. (don’t worry will put a photo gallery at the end!) And this passage from Chesterton’s work resonated with me deeply as I thought about the most amazing woman I met this past summer (I’m terribly sorry for the long string of tease about who this woman could possibly be, but you have to understand that very much like God, she is someone who I shouldn’t be talking about in so human a manner but who I can not prevent myself from talking about). The passage from Chesterton is thus,

“The transition from the good man to the saint is a sort of revolution; by which one for whom all things illustrate and illuminate God becomes one for whom God illustrates and illuminates all things. It is rather like the reversal whereby a lover might say at first that lady looked a flower, and say afterwards that all flowers reminded him of his lady.”

So as I was looking upon all the gorgeous sights upon God’s earth, not merely the colours but the sense of awe, reminded me of the sense of awe at so wonderful a soul as the woman who I hope one day to call my Queen.
_______________________________

For contact:

Skype: caleb.upton.

Email: calebdupton@gmail.com
_______________________________

love, Caleb

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Journey Through Scotland, ep. 3

1 Comment

Dear beloved friends,

            I’m glad I waited to tell you about my trip to Rosslyn Chapel, because after having visited it a second time with my awesome flatmates I have learned so much more about it and have be enthralled to the point of wishing ‘symbology’ was a real field of study (sorry Da Vinci Code).  Rosslyn Chapel was the one site I knew I wanted to see for certain in Scotland before going, because it is a beautiful little esoteric Christian quasi-Pagan conspiratorially-attractive, chapel. In one sense, the conspiratorial theories surrounding the chapel such as that it houses the Ark of the Covenant or has the treasures of Freemasonry, are very sad, for they obscure the obvious truth that this chapel was built primarily for Christian worship…it’s a chapel. On the other hand, conspiratorial theories are a healthy sign that the corporate media does not have complete dominance (at least in some instances), and that such ‘controversial knowledge’ has the potential to subvert current conditions. As such being the case, one coming into the chapel is feels not only a sense of holiness, but also a sense of subversive knowledge by its very presence. Lastly,  one such as even I, as a recent amateur admirer of sculpture and architecture, can see in the immense detail of the carvings an a incredible work of love. Holiness, esoteric subversive knowledge, and love meet here in this tiny chapel.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

            Instead of deciphering the entire chapel for you, it will suffice to put these sample pics up, and let you investigate for yourselves its mysteries. It is the burial place of some of the Knights Templar, there is major influence from the Grand Lodge of Freemasonry in Scotland, and there are some depictions of plants, such as Indian Corn, that are only found in North America, decades before the Natives discovered Christopher Columbus Lost at sea (suggesting that others had visited the New World before Columbus). Those are some of the interesting established facts, the rest is interesting speculation. Despite all the esoteric mystery however, the most beautiful thing to me was how many images, stories, and lessons from the Bible it sought to depict so as to teach people about the story of Christ. Personally, I do not have a theology of sacred space, but if I did this chapel would most certainly be for me one of my spiritual for renewal.

            Now as I promised, here is the story of how I spent my birthday, which will involve me explaining the HipHop scene in Edinburgh, and some new personal developments in my life. The day before my birthday, after my parents and I had finished seeing Rosslyn Chapel (my first trip), we meet a nice young lady on the bus who was only too happy to talk to us. Well, I had found out where she was working and figured I see her the next day because I had to get something for my computer anyway. Now, I don’t know why I did what I did next (perhaps because I felt like I had to prove something), but I actually used this line:

“I’m new in the city, don’t know a lot of people, its my Birthday, would you like to come out to dinner with me tonight?”

            Now, how many times in your life do you get to say something THAT cool? Also, I want to make one thing perfectly clear: I’m not looking to date or start a relationship with someone while I’m here (reasons for which I’ll leave till my next and last post for this semester), and its precisely because of that that I feel more confident around women and have been spending more time with them. And, surprisingly (or at least to me) she said yes. So we had dinner at a place called the Conan Doyle. Great food, but sadly (and also gladly?) she turned out to be…well not as mature as me or looking for the same things. Now, given how I was before this past summer (again…till next post to explain), this fact would not have bothered me, but now, good looks, laughing at my jokes, and being interested in my intellect, don’t matter to me (in terms of what I would be looking for in a woman) as much as, “Does she bring me closer to Christ?” or “What kind of mission would we be doing in the world?” Ah birthday revelations!–Also, interesting side note: I had my first beer since I’ve been on my medication last summer and I was fine! So grateful for my once again being able to partake of the spirits and the vine!

           Revealing this about my new (and admittedly wiser) perspective on women and romance, bring me to talking about HipHop and Church in Edinburgh. Surprisingly…in both contexts…the ratio of women to men, is about 4:1. Right about here is where all my single Canadian guy friends can be jealous, and the weirdest part of it is, I don’t even care!!! Well, may be its kinda cool, but its not as like “Ah! more Fish in the Sea” as it would have been for me before this summer. Yes, the women are sexy, intelligent, and in the case of the church, godly, but none of them are my Queen. But now that I have talked enough about women (can there really be too much of that though?), on to the actual music. ITS ALL TOP FORTY GARBAGE HIPHOP! there’s an occasional good track, but honestly they know nothing of HipHop here, at least as far as I’ve seen so far! City Lights! Help me out here! I’m trying to get my foot in the door to perform, but so far no luck. But perhaps someone in Edinburgh will check out my album if I shamelessly plug it here: The Audacity of Dope.

           Last, but by no means least, my flatmates. I’m living with four awesome dudes. Ryan, who was the first I meet, is an American (hold your prejudice!, hahaha) studying International Relations. I’ve now gotten him into Communityso you know…basically saved his TV life. We’ve been talking theology and watching the Munk Debates. After he had heard about my birthday adventures, he remarked: “You’re like the worst Biblical Studies student ever?” And now I’m jokingly known as ‘the player’…go figure. Then there’s Leo, he’s a happy Japanese dude who’s got a super humble spirit, and who seems to know his way around the city better than any of us. He’s doing marketing, so he loves to ask me about Canada (may be for audience targeting information?…I’m on to you Leo!!! haha). Then there’s Steven (as he goes by in English, because he thinks his Chinese name would be too difficult for me to pronounce), who’s doing Asian studies, and whom we’ve had a fun time teaching some English too!!! (dirty jokes abound). He also reverently refers to me as “Scholar”…Canadian friends, take notes.

Sida's Chinese Feast

And the last of these awesome four guys is Sida, who’s doing TESL. Now Sida is being affectionately known around our residence area (not just our flat) as the ‘handsome Chinese man’. But just in case this doesn’t sound like a dating profile for him yet, he also plays basketball (which I’ve been getting back into thanks to him!), plays Jazz music, and is an awesome cook!!! For the Chinese Full Moon festival, which was our first bonding night as flatmates really, Sida made us an awesome feast of REAL Chinese food, check the pic below, as a mouth-watering tease to end this episode on!

Peace and Love,

Caleb

Next and last Episode for this Semester: My classes, My new Church, new personal habits, my possible dissertation, and praise for my Queen

Journey Through Scotland, ep. 2

Leave a comment

            Dear Friends,

            As promised, here is the second episode of my journey so far. Just to let you know, I plan on writing these every several weeks after the events have happened, so as to give myself time to enjoy the writing and process my experience as I go along.

            While we were spending time at Sheenagh’s we got the chance to take a day to tour Glasgow. One of the more interesting things we got to see was the Necropolis/ St.Mungo’s Cathedral.St.Mungo's Cathedral 2 There were many interesting things about this site but one of the ways it affect both me and my father’s outlook on history was, that we had never thought of the Protestant Reformation as something to be ‘survived’. When we were given a tour of St.Mungo’s Cathedral we had learned its fascinating history. It was first described as the one Catholic Cathedral that survived the Protestant Reformation. In North America, because we inherited the fruits of the Protestant Reformation but we in no ways involved or were first-hand witnesses, we tend to think of the battles between the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestants, as essentially a battle of ideas, that what it really was about was whether the bread REALLY turned into the body of Christ or not. Having now heard the Protestant Reformation as something to be ‘survived’ (or as something still to be survived in some parts of Ireland), you begin to understand why Atheists or Agnostics or critics of ‘Religion’ are so anger. No doubt, much of it has to do with being angry at God for personal suffering but guess what, ‘religion’ is an extremely powerful force that has immense consequences for history. While as a theologian and a believer in the benefits of the Protestant Reformation, let it not be said that theology is only for the heavenly minded…it has real world consequences too.Necropolis in Glasgow

            Continuing on this note, I had noticed that at the top of the Necropolis, which was set along the enormous hillside behind the cathedral, you can see one of the many statues of John Knox, the semi-well-known founder of the Presbyterian Church. Along with the proclamation that the Protestant Reformation was the greatest religious revolution since the birth of Christianity (it is certainly a candidate for the spot) inscribed in stone, it’s also not hard to notice that the direction John Knox is looking, is down upon the (formally) Catholic Cathedral.  John Knox’s spirit frowns upon the remaining Catholic Cathedral as a testimony to Protestant detest at Catholic institutions. The architecture captured the theology perfectly.

            The architecture in Glasgow however has so far only been rivalled by the architecture in the city of our main destination point, Edinburgh!!! Now, due to camera complications we don’t have a ton of photos from Edinburgh but I assure you I’ll be taking some as we go along. Edinburgh, like much of Scotland, is filled with beautiful hills, architecture and a castle to boot. However, what is really cool about Edinburgh is how it was in many ways the ‘ground-zero’ of our modern disaster capitalism, being the home of Adam Smith, the famous author of The Wealth of Nations and David Hume, the famous philosopher whose most famous argument argues against the possibility of miracles; in addition, Charles Darwin, the famous popularizer of the theory of Evolution, studied at the University of Edinburgh. It is almost as if I’m a sheep dressed in Wolf’s clothing to have enter into such corporate elite intellectual institutions like the University of Toronto and the University of Edinburgh. And in such a vain, I want to share with you the first HipHop verse I have written while being in Scotland. It was inspired by these observations about Edinburgh (and the ‘Finding Forever’ instrumental off Common’s album Finding Forever), and as such, may be ‘philosophical poem’ is a better description. Enjoy.

Sorry Chapters, the Earth don’t belong to the geek/
Who write the footnotes, but not the notes for the feet/
Writing in a city that has two tall statues/
One of Adam Smith, the other of David Hume/
So can I presume/ that you don’t believe in magic or that you do? /
Let me resume/ try to prove/
Miracles in our everyday space, just exude/
But you say they don’t happen because they don’t happen to you? /
Pretty euro-centric, but you ain’t the centre/
Of attention for all our weather/ Mr. Hume/
But some how when the market’s unfettered/
And it works in your endeavours/ it was the invisible hand that moved? /
Hmm, funny religion, capitalism/
Where you pray to you, other’s pain is your system/
My God loves all, but justice is not yet present/
So I wait for the day when the king is the peasant/

Next time: Rosslyn Chapel, My birthday story, my roommates, and HipHop here

Older Entries

sacred imperfections

the cracks are how the light gets in

ORTHODOXY IN DIALOGUE

Published and Edited by Doctoral Students in the Faculty of Divinity, Trinity College, University of Toronto

Dating God

Franciscan Spirituality for the 21st Century