Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Gospel According to the Blues Brothers : A Film Review

Jake and Elwood Blues, brothers and questionable musicians believe they have been chosen, that they have been given a mission from God. In order to save the orphanage they grew up in from closing down they have to raise five thousand dollars. The only honest path is by doing one last concert. Unfortunately their band has parted ways and through often questionable means they gather their once potent rhythm and blues band. However, Jake and Elwood's contempt for authority and moral deficiencies cause them to be noticed by the authorities and other malcontents. Including a mystery woman with an arsenal of automatic weapons.

Great Music, Flawed Direction, Million Dollar Budget
The Blues Brothers is an ode to the great rhythm and blues music of the pervious century. James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Cab Calloway and John Lee Hooker are all in this movie and the movie respects and honours them. At the core this is a musical and it uses songs such as “The Peter Gunn theme”, “Hold on I'm Comming”, “Soothe Me” and “She caught the Katy” in the place of a written score. Apart from sound effects there is little incidental music that is not part of a song with the possible exception of the Hallelujah moment at the Triple Rock. Most scenes have a song or songs chosen to highlight the emotion, the pacing, or the guest stars former hit song. The songs performed on the screen are framed in such a way that they appear like music video clips. “Old Landmark”, “Think”, “Shake a Tail-feather”and “Everybody needs somebody to love” all come out of the story but they are not like the literally sung dialogue of a musical. The songs are used more like playlist that sits within the movie deliberately chosen. Like Moulin Rouge uses songs, but not in the literal way Baz Luhrmann applies them.

There is an episodic structure to this movie and the scenes flow quickly form one to the other. Jake and Elwood were created when Ackroyd and Belushi were regular members on the comedy show Saturday Night Live. This was also Ackroyd's first screen play and the first draft was 324 page script, it was presented to John Landis bound in a telephone directory. (Kenny, 1998 : np.). Ackroyd's tome was cut down by Landis so that the only backstory involves Jake and Elwood's childhood in the orphanage, it being the catalyst which causes all the mayhem that follows. The shortness of scenes could also be due to the acting ability of the band members and special guests. The scenes with the band members are often not as crisp as other actors, though great musicians, they are not the best when delivering lines. Each episode brings the band together, introduces a guest performer, reveals another stumbling block or enemy, as it builds to the great and disastrous and comical finale. Followed by the punishment of Jake and Elwood by the state for the abuses civil and criminal made in completing this mission from God.

The Blues Brothers looks as if it was shot on a shoe string budget with all the money having been spent on stunts and car crashes. There are rough transitions between spoken lines and recorded songs like Aretha Franklin's final “THINK!” which is not part of the recorded song. The reason it is different is because Aretha never sings songs the same way twice (Kenny, 1998 : np.). Janet Maslin's review describes the scene with Aretha as “ill-directed”(Maslin, 1980 : np) due to the poor editing and the questionable direction of having Blue Lou stand on the counter, so you only see his legs (Maslin, 1980 : np). Continuity flaws such as Elwood's increased back lighting in the initial introduction of the two brothers at the start have never been corrected. In the church scene you can clearly see Jake and Elwood arms crossed at the back of the church, when, in the scene before they were dancing. Maslin is in shock that such a sloppy movie that cost thirty million dollars to make (Maslin, 1980 : np). Landis in the making of documentary is unapologetic for all of these flaws, it appears that the cult status has affirmed his flawed cinematic and directorial direction (Kenny, 1998 : np.).

Cult Status : Glorious Incoherence
The scathing reviews did not stop this movie from becoming a cult favourite. Fans gleefully appear at regular screenings dressed up as Jake and Elwood, singing the songs and dancing along. Like the Rocky Horror Show there has been an added dimension as a community develops around the movie encouraged by the public involvement creating a “carnival of fan participation” (Fiske, 1992 : 41). A movie that was initially a flop can become cult because of the “self-consciousness of film cultism” the collaboration between the movie and the audience goes above the limitations and flaws of the film (Mathijs & Sexton, 2011 :224). Umberto Eco's classification of cult pretty much defines The Blues Brothers and the reason why it has so many fans.
“To become cult, a movie should not display a central idea but many. It should not exhibit a coherent philosophy of composition. It must live on in and because of its glorious incoherence.” (Eco, 1985 : 4)
The Blues Brothers has not been re-edited with CGI like the original Star Wars movies and to do so would stain the “glorious incoherence”(Eco, 1985 : 4) in which this movie was made. It would also go against the spirit of Joliet Jake Blues to gussy up this movie with re-edits and CGI corrections. Like the scratchy sound of a vinyl record the Blues Brothers is embellished and accepted because of its flaws. The ethos of the blues as a music for the poor that is honest and raw is communicated boldly. A clean sound and high definition digital cameras with CGI blue screens would only make a movie like this sterile and devoid of the honesty and humour that is shared between the film and its fans. This is probably why “Blues Brothers 2000” was such a flop because it had all of the technology and little of the warmth. But if we accept Umberto Eco's definition “Blues Brothers 2000” could still become a cult classic. In time of course.

The Spirit of the Blues : A glimpse of what is to come
For Jake and Elwood home is the basement of the orphanage with Curtis, the Soul Food Cafe is more their style than the Chez Paul where Mister Fabulous is the maître d'. Apart from the police those who Jake and Elwood rub up the wrong way are often snobs and racists. The unfamiliar in this movie are the clean and decent places where 'good society' exist. In contrast the blues is sung joyfully in the face of poverty and struggle. Stephen J. Nichols in “Getting the Blues: What Blues Music Teaches Us about Suffering and Salvation” gives us an insight of the blues as a sneak peak of the future eschaton.
The blues is an eschatology precisely in this sense of an everyday apocalypse. The blues is the struggle for the new world to come of age, the struggle to catch a glimpse of that new world to come.” (Nichols, 2008 : 167)
Whether it the Soul Food Cafe, Ray's Music Exchange or the Triple Rock where Reverend Cleophus James sings of Heaven and Hell music is the balm that soothes the hard life. Even in gaol there is song as Jake, Elwood and the band play to their fellow inmates as the screws watch on and smile as the whole cell block dances. And where there is the blues there is hope and in some of these places are the pictures of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Robert Kennedy hanging proudly.

Theology of the Blues Brothers : God is for the weak
There are many obvious references to theology and religion within the Blues Brothers. There is the opening scene of the second coming of Jake Blues emerging from the tomb of Joliet Prison. The main gates open as the dawning sun streams through silhouetting the small black suited figure of Jake. Emerging from the tomb Jake's release evokes Lazarus being resurrected returning from death to the embrace of his family. Jake is free of the bonds that held him, well the bonds that the state of Illinois placed on him. As is clearly shown Jake is still bound to other chains that give God many opportunities to work miraculously.
Deuteronomy 10:18 speaks of the importance of care for orphans, widows and strangers. Christopher Wright in “Old Testament Ethics for the People of God” expands on the use and failure of Israel in following out this command of YHWH. It was the abuse of the weak and poor that the prophets protested about in the time of the kings. The care of the weak was supposed to be carried out by those in leadership (Wright, 2004 : 303). The mission that Jake and Elwood are called to is the outworking of Deuteronomy 10:18. Saint Helen of the Blessed Shroud Orphanage is a place of refuge for not just the children. Sister Mary Stigmata's place is in jeopardy, but, being sent to the missions is light when compared to Otis. “What's one old nigger to the board of education”(Landis, 1980 : np.) laments Otis as the orphanage is his only refuge. The Church as Elwood points out is supposed to pay for the Orphanage but is selling the building to the board of education.

Injustice, oppression, monarchical rule, centralised power, wealth and land ownership these were the hallmarks of those who followed the Baal's (Jeyaraj,147:2008). If God is truly worshiped and obeyed the society will show it. It will be one the defends the poor, the weak, that welcomes the stranger, that fights against injustice and oppression. (Wright, 2004: 59). This difference between the life lived in diversity and harmony and the deadness of 'good society' is shown in contrasts. The comparison between the wooden and static office of Sister Mary Stigmata to the Triple Rock is stark. Life is found where people are living together, vibrant and alive unlike the dead plants, icons, statues and figurines of Jesus, Mary and the saints. The arrogant snobbery of the customers at the Chez Paul and hollow chants of the Nazi's are nothing but clanging gongs and crashing cymbals. They pale against the soul filled 'boom boom boom boom' of John Lee Hooker and the mixed community dancing around Ray's Music Exchange. An IOU is accepted reluctantly by Ray of Ray's Music Exchange where one hundred dollars owed after a nights entertainment is hunted down with guns and a posse by Bob of Bob's Country Bunker.

In the course of the movie the issues of colour and race are highlighted. Tucker McElroy lead singer of the Good Ole' Boys spits out the name Stine in intimidation and quite possible thinking 'kyke'. Nigger is used by Otis lamenting that the powers are little concerned about one old black man. The entire colour at the Chez Paul is affluent and white (despite the fact that the Mr Rizzoli on the phone could be mafia). In contrast even Hassidic Diamond Merchants are fed at the Soul Food Cafe. Of course racism is taken to the extreme with the Illinois Nazi Party. They, like the Good Ole Boys and the Chez Paul customers are taken to task by Jake and Elwood as they become God's instruments of justice that humiliate the proud and the rich. This is the result of the mission from God as those who live life practicing oppression, hate and abuse are ridiculed. The police and state troopers are merely doing their jobs and are involved because God uses the foolish things of this world. The earthen jars in which his Spirit lives are not perfect but in the process of being transformed. And for Jake and Elwood there is much transformation to come.

Jesus and Paul Elements
While there is Jesus as an icon he is static and unmoving where what is dynamic is the spirit of the blues. The fire in the belly and the light that like Paul on the Road to Damascus reveals the mission that God has to save the Orphanage. The Spirit 'falls' on Jake and he does see the light to solve the problems of his childhood home. Enthused by the mission and given purpose Jake and Elwood set off to bring the band back together. But there are old foes lurking in the distance. Mystery Woman (Carrie Fischer) and Burton Mercer the Parole Officer (John Candy) are there to bring trouble. In this movie the deus ex machina regularly conspires so that the plans of one foe ruin the actions of both. For Paul the Jews and pagan groups worked together to have Paul arrested. Jesus also had plots against him, and like Jesus and Paul, Jake and Elwood continue on their way as the plans of others are used by God to further his mission.

For Jake and Elwood their sermon on the mount takes place at the Palace Hotel Ballroom on Lake Wazzapamani. The sermon is mostly sung but the opening address by Elwood sums up the sentiment clearly.
We're so glad to see so many of you lovely people here tonight, and we would especially like to welcome all the representatives of Illinois' law enforcement community who have chosen to join us
in the palace hotel ballroom at this time. We do sincerely hope you'll all enjoy the show, and please remember people, that no matter who you are, and what you do to live, thrive and survive, there're still some things that make us all the same. You, me them, everybody, everybody.”
(Landis, 1980 : np.)
Now this is not the great commandment to love the Lord your God and love your neighbour as yourself, but, it does call to the common need of all human beings for love. In the case of “Everybody needs somebody to love” this love is eros and not agape and does fall short of any divine message of love. Yet for those who are able to see the revelation of love required for all as a gift from God. Then this is a good message.

In the concert at the Palace Hotel Ballroom we see the band and the brothers playing in front of all who have come to hear them. And like Jesus at the temple there are those who have come to capture, arrest and kill them. The Good Ole' Boys and Bob are there along with the troopers who have been trying to get them from the start, but, it is Burton Mercer who sticks out. Mercer is quite the fan of Jake and Elwood and has an appreciation despite being part of the legal system. There is something of Herod in Mercer as played by John Candy. There is a playful tone, but one that is a mask for the power that he wields. Similar to the Herod in Jesus Christ Superstar, Mercer wants to see Jake and Elwood perform before he does anything. Herod did not get anything out of Jesus and Mercer does not catch Jake or Elwood, he ends up in a truck before the brothers make it to Chicago.

As they begin to set off on the last trip the 'Blues Mobile' will ever make Elwood sums up the situation.
It's 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark... and we're wearing sunglasses.” (Landis, 1980 : np.) 
In Luke 9:51-40 Jesus turns toward Jerusalem knowing what is to come. That the plans of the Pharisees will come to fruition and He will be arrested and crucified to bring the salvation required (Schreiner, 2008 : 270). Knowing full well that a great number of representatives of Illinois law enforcement community are waiting for them Jake and Elwood set off for the Cook County Assessors Office. Even as they begin their journey before they have reached their destination arrest seems inevitable. Comparing the road of sorrow and grief that Jesus walked to his crucifixion to the high speed chase through the streets of Chicago could be considered a bit low brow but the comparisons are there. Like Jesus there is no other result than capture. The final scene and closing credits show Jake, Elwood and the Band in prison singing to their fellow inmates. As the creed states Jesus descends to hell, like Jake and Elwood, Jesus is among the captives the Son of God in solidarity with his fellow human beings (von Balthasar, 2005 : 149). In solidarity Jake, Elwood and the Band play the obvious “Jail House Rock” and in solidarity of the apocalypse that the blues glimpses, everybody dances.

The Blues Brothers is a self-indulgent shout out to the beloved musical genre of men with enough money and influence to make it happen. Janet Maslin's scathing critique is just and true, if all we are looking for is a movie that ticks all the boxes. It became a cult movie because of the shambolic mismatch of humour, nostalgia, love and spirit it contains. The foundation of this movie is more than an art form but an expression of hope and joy in face of struggle, looking forward to a future to come. This future is leaked out in the miracles enabling Jake and Elwood to save those that no one cares for but God. They leave Sister Mary Stigmata's office thieves with bad attitudes and filthy mouths and they are the same at the end. Restoration is a promise glimpsed in the music, transformation is possible, but, one day it will all be redeemed and restored.


Eco, U. (1985). "Casablanca": Cult Movies and Intertextual Collage. SubStance, (47)14, 3-12.

Fiske, J.(1992). The Cultural Economy of Fandom. In L. A. Lewis (ed.). The Adoring Audience: Fan Culture and Popular Media.(pp 37-42). NY : Routledge.

Jeyaraj, J.B. (2008). Religion and Politics in Ancient Israel and Modern India - Issues and Inter-Actions. Evangelical Review of Theology. (32)2: 136-155.

Maslin, J. (1980).The Blues Brothers (1980). 'BLUES BROTHERS'--BELUSHI AND AYKROYD
In NewYork Times (1980/06/20) Available Internet: ( (25th October 2012).

Mathijs, E. and Sexton, J. (2011). Cult Cinema. Chichester, West Sussex, UK : Wiley-Blackwell

Nichols, S.J. (2008). Getting the Blues: What Blues Music Teaches Us about Suffering and Salvation. Grand Rapids, MI : Brazos Press

Schreiner, T. R. (2008). New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ. Baker Academic, Grand Rapids : MI
von Balthasar, H. U. (2005) Mysterium Paschale : The Mystery of Easter (2nd ed.) USA: Ignatius Press

Weiss, R.K. (Producer), & Landis, J. (Director & Writer). (1980). The Blues Brothers[DVD]. Los Angeles, California, USA : Universal Pictures.

Wright, C.J.H. (2004). Old Testament Ethics for the People of God. Inter-Varsity Press. Leicester: England.

Kenny, J.M. (Producer, Director & Writer). (1998). The Stories Behind the making of 'The Blues Brothers' [DVD]. Los Angeles, California, USA : Universal Pictures.

Endoscope and Telescope, Firmament and Foundation : An Exploration and Response to “The Theological Origins of Modernity”


A child has a mother and a father and she loves them both. They are divorced and she lives her life between them, constantly ferried from one house and back again. The parents are amicable and polite to each other, but, it is a politeness just for their daughter. The girl has tried to deal with the tension of the situation and has even used it to her advantage playing one parent against the other to gain a few toys and a succession of trips to the Zoo. However, the situation will never be as comfortable as before. Well, the before that she thinks she remembers. It has been so very long that this dual life lived out in different houses with different parents is all she knows. What came before is a distant memory. Merely a desire that echoes in her when she stops long enough to let it haunt her. The parents live out their lives trying their best for their daughter but they cannot go back to what was before. There is too much hurt and trying to build from the ruins of the past would be even more disastrous. Better to live in this way as there is less of an issue. Less of an issue for the parents as they only see each other in passing where the daughter lives in the constant tension of life in two houses. Each house is different, the spoons go on the left in Mum's house where they go on the right at Dad's. The daughter lives in a duality where to notice the tension too much or to let the echo of desire for uniformity and structure where it could all rest in peace, reveals the fact that the world is in pieces.

The child of divorce lives in a world where the universals of love, joy and truth are divided much as the division between the parents. The divorce that is being alluded here is the one between Man and God that was created in the battle between Realism and Nominalism that birthed Modernity which in turn becomes Post-Modern that is (possibly) changing into the supposed Post-Everything world to come. In “The Theological Origins of Modernity” Michael Allen Gillespie describes this battle in the hope that a survey of the battle may bring understanding by knowing the origin of the world we live in today. The issue is that like the child modernity rarely remembers the origins of its current situation, let alone what came before. Because of these forgotten origins there is little understanding of the metaphysics that lie at the core. A core where man replaces God as the centre of the universe. More cynically this could be described as the you-niverse as it appears that modernity looks at the universe through an Endoscope and not a Telescope.

Moore and Parker's “Critical Thinking” is a modern introduction to logic and thinking. Logic is mentioned and even wished for, but, they seem to acquiesce to the lamented status quo and package logic as critical thinking. This they describe as “the careful application of reason in the determination of whether a claim is true or not” (Moore & Parker, 2009 : 3). Their main concern about argument and persuasion is on how to avoid the snares of those who argue in emotional claims that have little or no proof at all. It is about how not to get duped and not ending up doing something based on no argument at all (Moore & Parker, 2009 : 5-16). They spend a single paragraph on truth and two on knowledge but there are three pages on value judgements. In this explanation the analogy of beating a donkey and the response people give is used to explain a moral value, however, they also appear to give religious belief the category of taste and not a value. If this is so where did the moral value gain its weight from? The starting point appears to be the individual or the society where critical thinking allows the person or society to avoid harm. The centre of this you-niverse is the individual, the critique is of words and their meanings. The value is the safety of the individual from the arguments that could bring harm.

In comparison to More and Parker is Plato's Timaeus where the cosmos and creation is explained in a detail that seems to echo the future discoveries of biology, physics and medicine. It is an intricate fashioned chronicle of the cosmos, an awe-filled account of the order and beauty that is the the work of a creator god (Plato's Timaeus, 2012 : np). There is little focus on values as they are part of the common knowledge of the day. Timaeus is a grand vision of a saviour god who crafts the whole of the cosmos in an harmonious and awe-filled artistry. There is a place for all things in the Timaeus, there is order and harmony as the shapes of the elements which reflect the created beings as the beings reflect the creator. Even the internal angst is explained in the creation of the person where the soul (made in moving pieces divided on the fibonacci number) struggles within the body and its sensory information. This telescopic view begins with harmony and order of the creator god and ends with the human being able to see the intelligence in the movement of the stars and planets which move in musical rhythm. Order and beauty and intelligence exist within all of the created cosmos (Plato, 2008 : 20-38). With this knowledge, there is no need for personal safety when the created world is such a joy and delight to be a part of.

What happened? Was Plato merely naive and/or a rich person who never had to struggle in a life of opulence and pleasure? Well that could be true as Plato is not a slave and the categories of the city did suggest an elite class with others below them. Gillespie's explanation is that since the time of Plato the divine attributes have travelled from god to man and nature (McClure, 2010 :700). Plato sits at the beginning of this voyage while today, the western world is possibly at the end. Possibly, because where else can the divine attributes move to other than back to god? What is being dealt with is ontology (the study of being) and metaphysics where being and becoming signify the difference between the creator and the created. For Plato god is being while the rest of creation is always becoming. This creation is good and beautiful and therefore its creator is as well (Plato, 2008 : 19). Divine attributes existed within the realm of theology, the attributes of man within an anthropology and nature within cosmology. They leant logic and ontology their foundation in exploration and identity. In the analogy of the daughter of divorce this is the time before that has been forgotten. It is the same for modernity points out Gillespie that without an understanding of the theological and its importance leads us into the struggle that occurs as modernity struggles, like the daughter of divorce, to find equilibrium. Plato looks above to the divine and down to the earth he lives in. Life is defined not in forward or back historically within time, ontology is defined by society, geography or god. Modernity defines itself by looking forward pressing onwards striving for the new (Gillespie, 2008 : xii).

Gillespie's analogy of choice is Oedipus who does not know where he comes from and because of this disaster results (Gillespie, 2010 : 705) . Our daughter of divorce is less naïve than Oedipus and knows that something is wrong but because of the dual life she lives in she cannot decipher the issue that is foundational to her calamity. Yes her parents are no longer together but why? Gillespie asserts that the world today was the result of the conflict between nominalism and scholastic realism. In this struggle the ontology of being has changed, this ontological alteration did not happen all at once but gradually. Like a stone creating ripples in a pond the difference in the way God and the divine was conceived flowed out into the way man and nature is conceived. To understand this ripple effect requires an explanation of Heigeger's ontic realms.(Gillespie, 2010 : 705-706)

As explained before Plato's Timaeus has a telescopic view that includes god, man and nature all are connected by the hand of the artisan deity in whose divine reason all are made. For Plato the ontic realms of Theology, Anthropology and Cosmology (the metaphysica specialis) are obviously apparent and do not need any pointing out. Plato's logic and ontology (metaphysica generalis) flow from the foundation of these three realms. The understanding that the divine being creates the mortal and human which is always becoming, the ontological is informed by the theological and anthropological arrangement. This foundational theology that informs ontology is the pond in which a stone was thrown, a stone called Nominalism. Nominalism brought not a change of nature, or of man but of God in the exchange of divine reason for divine will. The effect of this exchange altered the informed ontology of man, the cosmos and logic. The alteration developed into the ontology of the individual that we see today (Gillespie, 2010 :706). God changes, and, because of the structure that was in place modernity came to be. Much like the “deeper magic” that Aslan knows because he was there when Narnia was made, modernity is like the White Witch who came after the foundations were made (Lewis, 1980 : 148). The difference between Moore and Parker's Endoscope and Plato's Telescope is their ontology. Plato exists in a world of identity and difference, a quandary where there is no exclusive focus on identity or difference. If focus is solely on the personal identity, the individual, the one how do you live with the different, the other, the many? If you only live for the many then the one is squashed and subjugated. What was once divine reason that made man reasonable is exchanged for divine will that leads to individual units and the confusion between this and the needs of community, love and procreation. The contradictions that arise create confusion and the unknown theological origins merely obfuscate especially when the origin is believed to be a turning away from religion to a secular world (Gillespie, 2010 : 706-708).

The winter that we exist in today brought by the effects of the divorce between God and Man hide in the snow an origin that is in Gillespie's opinion theological. What response should be given because the responses available appear to sit between two extremes. At the end of “The Theological Origins of Modernity” Gillespie explains one of these responses, mysticism. In this the one is absorbed into the other, the human abandons itself into the divine to becoming a feather in the wind (Gillespie, 2008 : 290-292). Luther calls for a fanatical response with his scriptural revelation. However, as history has shown the reformation was not the golden age for Christianity and Europe, but a time of war. Religion, especially revelation and those following it brought nothing but pain and sorrow. Enlightenment theories of the self and the purity of human thought was offerd but that was brought to naught by more war. Before you can say secularism and übermensch, God is declared dead and is replaced by man and nature. The divine attributes have to go somewhere and they merge with nature and man. Appearing the divine sanctity of the individual and the uncontrollable wild ferocious nature that has to be tamed by man (Gillespie, 2010 :709).

Today the contradictions are still there in the snowdrifts and the responses can be seen in literature and song. In “We didn't start the fire.” Billy Joel offers up the conclusion that the fire has always been there “always burning since the world's been turning.” that the baby boomers “didn't light it but we tried to fight it.” (Joel, 1989 :np.). How it was fought was an ontology of the individual. In response to this post-modernism attempts to fight and find the answer within diversity. To say that this has not been an unqualified success can be read in the songs of today. The ontology of emptiness from Billy Corigan and the Smashing Pumpkins is an example of the ennui that waits in the snow drifts for those willing to search “Emptiness is loneliness, and loneliness is cleanliness, and cleanliness is godliness, and god is empty just like me.” (Corrigan, 1996 : np.).

Plan B's “Lost my way” describes the position that western society has found itself, fallen down a hole of its own creation with no way out. In the second verse the lyric retells the Genesis creation story, but with a twist turning to the modern emptiness of greed and commercialism.
“God said: "Let there be light"
Created Adam and Eve
Then he gave them eyes and told them both to both believe
In something they'd never actually physically see
But then the devil came along and planted a seed
And doubt started growing from the ground like trees
Right up to the sky so profoundly seen
To be the only thing in this life that wasn't a dream
Made from stone, steel and iron beams
The council blocks they defined the mean
And bullied the sky so that everybody can see
Some birds are caged and will never be free
And gradually people began to change their beliefs
Until god was nothing more than just a fictional being
The worship and money merged all colours and creed
Into one true religion that was driven by greed
Corporate machines trying to sell you shit you don't need
On television and the ad breaks in between
Until people only cared about material things
Not lives with other fellow human beings
And I'm guilty of it too, or so it seems...” (Drew & Shuckburgh, 2011 :np)

Where do go when you find yourself in the hole? What responses are there? If there is no way for the daughter of divorce to reunite her parents what is she left with but a hole?

Warren Ellis in “Supergod” uses the argument the man makes his own gods, creatures that will save the world. Ellis's characters tell us that the divine is the result of a neurochemical reaction, a high that has been denied and lied about. Humanity is merely a bunch of well dressed monkeys that get their fix on the transcendent. God is our stash concludes Ellis something used to get off on. The story ends with the super-beings created by man destroying the world. The main characters response is to give up and join the created super-being abandoning himself to the destruction and death brought by the omnipotent (Ellis, 8 :2010). This is a mystical response to the fall of the world of science and technology that has emerged from nominalism. It can also be an addiction to not just the divine but merely to the transcendence of emotion and feeling. Australian hip-hop artist Illy's description of life being one where the reality that we exist in is transcended by happiness of parties that momentarily pauses reality. A happiness that is owned by the individual experiencing it, a happiness that is a moment that requires continual pursuit to get back to (Murray, 2010 : np).

Where else does one run too? Beauty is certainly possible, however, beauty can run to the sensual being a physical element. Gillespie's mystical foil Abu Hamid al-Ghazali was jaded by the political skirmishes of his time. Deluded, he traveled about his world searching for answers in philosophy finding solace only the sight of an omnipotent God (Gillespie, 2008 :290). Around the same time Omar Khayyam left his studies and education to focus on sensual pleasures and speculations of the divine.
“The grape that can logic absolute
The two and seventy jarring sects confute:
the sovereign alchemist that in a trice
Life's leaden metal in gold transmute;” (Khayyam,1974 : 77). There is not much of a distance between Khayyam's poetry and the lyrics of Illy's “It can wait”
“Happiness is fine but its momentary a momentary lapse of reality
reality is fine,
for the moment it can wait
I'm addicted to the chase of my happiness”(Murray 2010, : np.).

Perhaps beauty and God do not have to be so separate? John Mark Capper's “Joy in the Church Dogmatics? A Neglected Theme” illuminates Barth's theology of joy and how this has been missed. In Capper's opinion Hans Urs von Balthasar's linking of the concepts of beauty and glory is an aesthetic that does not deal with Barth's attention on divine Joy. Unlike Barth, Balthasar's understanding of the divine glory was relied on the aesthetic of beauty instead on joy. For Barth God is Beautiful because of his love for his creation and is deserving of love being that he is God. Even though Barth is able to describe God as beautiful he avoids in making it a leading element. Beauty is too close to the created world of being and not the divine world of becoming. But Joy is not so attached with earthly aesthetics as beauty is. Joy comes from dwelling and thinking about the divine. That Joy spills put continuously in the life and communication of God to us (Capper, 2001 : 102-116).

What is unfortunate is that this view of Joy requires a cosmological balance where Anthropology and Cosmology are rejoined with Theology. To be able to find this divine joy that flows from God there are some elements of our view of God that need to be altered. This is not a call to return to the Platonic understanding and a denial of the efforts that many have made in scientific discovery. Neither is it a mystical denial of the individual or a need to enhance the difference that each person/culture/faith brings. Yes there is a deeper magic that is lost in the winter of modernity a theological origin that does not have to be dominant and restrictive. Perhaps the need to worship something, that to experience the transcendent is neurochemical because the creator made us that way. The ennui and angst that declares God dead or empty, that drives some to despair or distraction is something obscured that needs to be brought into focus and engaged with. The hole that we fell down we do not need to stay in, it was a hole of our own making. To be able to find a path out requires not just emotions and feeling but balance. The foundation that we can see touch and feel requires a firmament above to give us, not a boundary requiring a promethean efforts to defy the deity, but a balance to the bottom heavy view that exists. A firmament where the divine can be and known. Joy is not the solution it may just be a light to find the way, but which ever path is chosen if joy of the divine is there then maybe it will melt the snow of winter.


She remembers back when she younger and so full of pain and worry. The life that she lived between the houses of her mother and father were not so bad. She knew they both loved her despite that they could not get along with each other. But today they both are in the same room, laughing. When she was a girl they would greet the other with curt and polite sentences that disguised the anger that lay beneath the surface. The joy that fills the room is so far away from back then.
“He's got your nose.” Says her mother to her father.
“Thanks goodness that's all he's got.” laughs her father.
In the small cot sleeping lies her new born son as his two grandparents continue delight in the child's presence. It was not the restoration that she dreamed of when she was younger. No, that is not possible now. But if this joy could be bottled and remembered in the hard times and not forgotten then maybe it will not happen to her own child.


Capper, J.M. (2001). Joy in the Church Dogmatics? A Neglected Theme. In G.Thompson and C. Mostert (Eds.). Karl Barth: A Future for Postmodern Theology?. Adelaide, Australia : Australian Theological Forum, 98-121.

Corrigan, B. (1996). Zero. On Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. [CD]. Chicago, Illinois : Virgin Records.

Drew, B and Shuckburgh, Al. (2011). Lost My Way. On Ill Manors. [CD]. London : Atlantic.

Ellis, W.(2010). Supergod. (3)(March, 2010). Rantoul, Illinois, USA : Avatar Press

Gillespie, M.A. (2008). The Theological Origins of Modernity. Chicago, Illinois, USA : The University of Chicago Press

Gillespie, M.A. (2010). Response to My Critics. The Review of Politics. (72)1 : 705-710.

Joel, B. (1989). We didn't start the fire. On Stormfront. [CD]. New York : Columbia

Khayyam, O.(1974).Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. (E.Fitzgerald, Trans.). New York : Galahad Books

Lewis, C.S. (1980). The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. London : Fontana Lion

McClure, K. M. (2010). Reflections on Michael Gillespie's Theological Origins of Modernity.The Review of Politics. (72)4 : 697-704.

Moore, B.N. and Parker, R. (2009). Critical Thinking. (9th Ed.). New York : McGraw-Hill.

Murray, A.(2010). It can wait. On The Chase. [CD]. Melbourne, Australia : Obesse.
Plato (2008). Timaeus and Critias.(D.Lee and T.K. Johnson, Trans.) London : Penguin Classics

Plato's Timaeus. (2012). Available Internet( October 2012).  

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Reflection On A Year of Drawing

There is a moment when you think the process is solid, the work sophisticated and then you realise the huge white elephant that has been standing right in front of you. That, in the rush to produce something bigger, something honest, relevant to yourself, you have overlooked an essential element of art. The floor opens out from under you and swallows you whole. What makes it worse is that the only option to solve this issue is to render the work asunder so the white elephant can finally leave and bother the pink elephant. This is where I find myself at this moment, as Marian, like Solomon stands with sword in hand telling me that I have to cut my children in half. I think to myself these drawings are like man to God to me. They are made in my image, they are self portraits open and honest expressions of myself. However, Marian is right and the issue is the one I thought I had a handle on, composition.
"have you heard this one before" with its fault dividing the image in half 

Building the Technique
"Pink face" dead centre as well.
What happened to the law of thirds Phill?
Line? Tone? Shape? I have an understanding of them that has developed over the year. I look back at where I started and can see how I have learned how to use them. Beginning with line I sketched the world around me on A5 paper with charcoal, pen, and fine markers. Tone has also been cultured though I do love distinct contrast and negative space. Within the “pink face” there are varied versions of cross hatch to develop shading. On the library cards the process grew, a continual addition of layer after layer of black, white and colour It enabled something similar to the sculpting effects of a putty eraser on charcoal. The tones led to shape and being able to extract the shapes that the process of layering brought into view. Layer on layer on layer as more was added the image came into focus through the use of line, tone and shape. This was repeated in the two larger pieces which, perhaps because of their size I was not able to grasp the compositional fault that needs to be dealt with so drastically.

Perspective was strongly practiced sitting in church, at the cafes, in shopping centres and just looking out at the world around me. Drawing in so many different places with the A5 pads brought many differing landscapes, textures and shapes to draw early on, which has helped a great deal. The still life and the life drawing have both been effected by the practice developing my “Big Day Out” piece for the first semester. Foreshortening was an instinctive leap in the life drawing classes, where, because of the experience earlier I drew what I see and not what I thought I saw. Ways of seeing the world around me that are problematic in some places are able to be used to aid my focus. I do this by taking off my glasses and putting the model or object out of focus to get the whole shape not confusing the particulars with the whole. In this way proportion is gained by the place of the objects and shapes together within the landscape no matter whether the landscape is a face or a field. For me this is a way of removing the layer of particulars which can distract from what is being drawn. After the basic form is related to the page then the particulars fit within and in reference to the form . Learning to listen to instinct, using the leaps and experimenting has been a great freedom, but, what has made using instinct better has been learning to acknowledge where it has lead and where the improvements can be made.
Foreshortening in the legs

Composition. I really thought I had this down. Perhaps this has to do with the change up from the small cards that I have been doing? In the small scale it is so easy to see the lines creating, tone and bringing shape into focus. You can move the card around and change the angle that you see. In this way I can see how I have not transferred the entirety of the small scale process into the large scale. I now have one piece that is dominated by this the dark line in the centre dividing it two and the other has a the face slapped in the centre. Perspective may have been understood when drawing from surrounds with relational cues from the surrounding area wether inside or outside giving reference points. Though when it comes to a large scale layering process the canvass, board or paper needs to be looked at with a new kind of perspective. Like the small cards the viewed perspective comes from the line, tone and shape that merge to create the image that you see coming into focus. I was too close to each individual mark that was being used, so focused that I lost control of the overall composition. So to aid in working through the compositional issue with the two large pieces all I have to do is decide how I wish to go about cutting them up to make a larger whole.

Art is what we all bring to the symbols and forms that are displayed.
What does this mean?
“Art is interpretation” was the understanding of the first semester. Before the second semester had begun this understanding was already being superseded. In drawing life around me I could see how I had interpreted reality. However, how did the viewer interpret my interpretation? This has altered how I see art and what is brought not just by the artist but the viewer. One of the highlights of this has been watching how the others in the class see their own work. Often they have succeeded in creating a piece that is honest and at times amazing. Yet some have turned their noses up at what they have made and have refused to show what seems to them an error or failure. In the progress of the year we all have in our own ways realised, developed and worked around and through our personal understandings of what art is supposed to be. Our experience has grown and how we conceive what we are drawing has changed which has in turn changed how we see not just our art but other pieces.
We all go through that stage where what is produced is not to the level that we believe “ART” is supposed to be. Because of this people can look at Duchamp and see a trickster who is passing off plumbing supplies as art. Or how a pastel painting of Jesus with blonde hair and blue eyes can speak to someone of who Christ truly is, to them. The artist creating and the viewer seeing comes together creating the experience of the art work. This can be seen most evenings outside a movie theatre when couples and groups discuss how the movie was either good or not. Yes this is a post-modernist view of art, however, this also describes art as an open collaboration between the shared or separate symbology between artist and viewer. Does this exclude a definite interpretation of all art? Maybe it does for some. But for those who desire a correct interpretation can ask the artist, if he or she knows one.

Here is where the process on the small cards developed as I allowed the lines to build with lines, curves, words, cross hatching, white, black, colour, collage to have what comes into focus for me the artist to draw out of it. This process was taken to the large scale where it still has not finished because I can see that the form is not there yet and I have to draw more out of it by cutting it up and reconstructing it. This too is part of the learning that involves searching for the interpretation of not the world around me or the model/object in front of me, but myself.

Imaging the Self when you are not sure what self to image.
Chest X-Ray
I had already begun exploring parts of myself through my x-rays. I have a fair few from when I was in and out of hospital due to scoliosis. These x-rays were an initial exploration into the physical condition and the support that my spine requires to keep me vertical. The structure motif of the metal that gives support has been noticed by Marian and along that line the small library cards have been presented on a steel rod like vertebrae. I found the cards in the library and I saw something to be used. In talking about the structure motif and the x-rays the idea came to write down how I have seen myself on the cards. First came the negative words and emotions which was too easy, as were the memories of those emotions and words. Because of this I limited this only doing them in the company of others. To use the cards the idea of structure was revisited which gave rise to the use of a steel rod to mimic the structure that holds me as much as the experiences hold me and support the image I have of myself.

Painting from Art and Soul
The image I have of myself is not the same as the one I had at the start of this semester. Personal exploration of myself has lead to something much brighter than I have had before. What helped was that I attended a ten week class which focused on dealing with depression through painting called Art and Soul. Focusing on the pain and negative emotions of my time in hospital, the uniqueness of the body I have along with the structure that enables me to stand straight was an inner exploration of  myself. I began doing contour drawings of the x-rays to then create a larger work out of them. I photocopied the x-rays and smaller pictures I had made of to transfer with thinners later. I also had an idea about picturing the morning I discovered david Bowie at the age of 12, but this was not used.

Being bent, twisted is merely a new/different
place to see the world
As the painting course developed I changed from negative aspects on the library cards to positive. The self portrait ideas changed focus from internal and physical abnormalities to just getting a representation of myself on something. MDF boards were sourced and prepared glueing paper to it or by using the photocopies and thinners to transfer multiple images on the board. Coffee, crayon, ink, markers, pens, sanding back, cutting into the board. Slapped, glued, splattered, brushed, written, melted all to build up the layers again and again. The image of myself in these two large pieces are full of the questions, hesitations, statements and ideas that I have. There is me in there just like there is the image of God in me. As I am less than God the works are less than I am. Yet they are not quite to convention, quite like me, a little too loud in the wrong places. Perhaps in that way it is an honest self representation? The flaw of composition (if it can be called flaw in such a way without negative connotations) should be seen as a further step to engage in the development of self beyond where I am right now to where I want to be. Now that is a progress that is totally new a hope and desire beyond tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

God is not a genie : God is not obligated to perform

Is healing dependent on the faith of the receiver, or is it purely a sovereign act of God? What, if any, are the pre-requisites for receiving healing?

Faith Healing is a controversial subject not just in the church but in the world. When discussed, it touches on painful stories of children dying as their parents gather prayer groups, and, of miraculous acts where people walk out of wheelchairs. There seems to be a great gulf between the miraculous and the negligent as the pre-requisites set forward within scripture are taken to the extremes of hyper-christianity or atheism. Is there more to healing than the miraculous and the tragic? Are the common views of healing, faith and of God's sovereignty unable to lend a perspective that allow us to accept both situations and still not blame someone when the supernatural fails to materialise?

Three Case Studies
To begin, there are three cases of bodily illness and the actions of the people involved to consider.

Joni Eareckson Tada is a well known name in christian circles and her struggles with the health of her body is well documented. Her battle with quadriplegia, chronic pain and recently breast cancer have her described as a modern Job. Today she is still in a wheelchair and is receiving chemotherapy (Bailey, 30-33 : 2010).

George (real name withheld) was diagnosed with Leukaemia. His Oncologist gave little chance for him to survive it at all. George's Psychologist, Pastor and Oncologist worked together with his family and did the best they could. People eagerly prayed for healing of his body, yet, this did not happen. George died at home in the arms of his wife and with his children around him. His Psychologist, David Aldridge author of “Spirituality, Healing and Medicine: Return to the Silence” declares that George was healed in his life, in his relationships with his family and in himself. Healing occurred, just not the bodily healing that people prayed for (Aldridge 11-12 : 2000).

Dean Michael Heilman died of complications due to undiagnosed haemophilia after cutting his foot in his back yard. He was twenty two months old, his parents we part of a church that emphasised faith healing as set out in James 5. Dean Michael died while his family prayed for him in the church building (Peters, 1-5 : 2008).

After the emotional stirrings and the accusations have died down and after each of us has decided where we stand on this issue, only then is it possible to look at faith healing and the sovereignty of God.

James 5 and the How to of Healing
Scripture talks of healing and the miracles of Jesus and the Apostles. The blind saw, the lame walked and many were healed of other ailments. James 5 sets out a “how to” when it comes healing ecclesiastically. After taking into account James 5 and the acts of healing in the scriptures, the process of healing can be broken down in to the following. Identification, Petition and Action. Identification is realisation of the absence of order. This can be sickness, illness, malady of an individual, a community, a nation, or all of creation. Petitioning of the deity for remedy, to bring order to the malady that has been noticed and seen for the injustice that it is. Action is the miraculous part when God in his divine wisdom moves, intervenes, restores order to bring about healing. James 5 speaks of the identification (“is there anyone sick?”), and the petition as actions for the community to do, in faith (the elders to pray and the oil to anoint). The action is to be expected and we are to wait for it. The Old Testament gives insight that God approves of the desire to be healed. King Asa did not look to God for his healing like King Hezekiah did and Asa was condemned for it. The situation is that healing can come, even when faith is scarce, but, that there are those who are healed and those who are not (Schwab & Monroe, 126 : 2009). People prayed for Joni, George and Dean Michael, yet their bodies were not been restored to perfect health. In fact all three suffered and God did not do what was asked of Him. This leads us to question either God or the supplicant.

Option 1 : Blame the Supplicant
Despite similar faith in the healing power of God Joni, Gorge and Dean were not healed physically. The deaths of George and Dean were not what the honest petitions were asking for, but asking is only the second step and it needs to be done in faith. What is required is the belief that God has the ability to bring healing. Not an ultimatum or a surety that God will heal all sickness now! The example of the leper in Matthew 8 who asks if Jesus is willing is the state of faith required. The weight is not to be placed on the supplicant's faith, but, should be a confidence that God in his compassion and goodness can do. With the understanding that God may not (Deere 125-127).

Placing the fault at the grieving family members and the deceased over a lack of faith is only adding insult and shame on top of their grief. Joni offers hope that suffering is not connected to sin. Her discovery is that there is no shame in being not healed. Suffering may be part of peoples lives, but, to not have suffering denies the fact that this world is difficult and not just a soft ride (Bailey, 31 : 2012). Monroe and Schwab in “God as Healer : A Closer Look at Biblical Images of Inner Healing with Guiding Questions for Counselors” point at the western concept of healing which denies suffering, where the modern motto of a healthy body is everything. Their view is that this motto has influenced peoples understanding in thinking that God wants all of us to be well. This is not a biblical concept, as there are times when God denies healing (John 9, 2 Cor 12:7). God's reason is that suffering will benefit the individual (Schwab & Monroe, 126 : 2009). Joni agrees with this quoting 1 Peter 2:21 that God calls us to suffering, that, in her own suffering she has learned much about God's character. Her belief is that it is an issue of perception that on this side of eternity we do not clearly see God's design (Bailey, 30 -31 : 2010).

Option 2 : Blaming God
If the supplicant's faith is not the culprit, then surely God must be. If God chooses who gets healed God is merely capricious, if God is using suffering then perhaps God is malicious. Conclusions such as these play into the hands of the cynical who paint God as either not powerful enough or not good because there is suffering. The unfortunate reality is that this is what is thought and said. Thinking about such suffering and the lack of God's intervention has lead to Bart Ehrman's de-conversion. Ehrman went from believing that God acts in the world to not being able to conceive that God could exist because of suffering. He cannot see good in God when so many people suffer while so few get healed at all (Ehrman, 126 : 2009). Ehrman's argument is similar to those who attest that God heals all the time. The expectation of total healing and the absence of suffering is not consistent with our world. Both extremes expect an absence of suffering and that God is obligated because of his power and goodness to make this happen. There is a reciprocal expectation that because the steps of healing in James 5 were performed exactly then God will act. An occult rite is seen in this fashion, where the right actions performed compel the entity to act. Barry Chant writes about the James 5 order explaining that the three steps of Identification, Petition and Action should be done as part of regular church life. Chant also adds that healing is not just a bodily healing, but, an holistic healing of the entire person. That healing deals with the emotional and spiritual scars not just bodily illness (Chant ,72 : 1993). Aldridge agrees pointing out that George whose body failed because of Leukaemia was healed in his family relationships and in himself. That despite his body failing, George was healed (Aldridge, 12 : 2000). There is more to this than blaming the faith of the supplicant or calling God weak or malicious because of suffering.

Just What is Healing?
“The Concise Dictionary of Christian Theology” describes healing as the “restoration of health, whether physical, metal and spiritual.” (Erickson, 86 : 2001), this is followed by Healing, the gift of. Erickson makes a distinction between the two and he is not the only one. Chant points to a difference between the gift and the petitions that should be a normal part of church life (Chant, 72-73 : 1993). Boa tells us that the miraculous gift of healing is given by God as he uses his people as the instrument to bring healing.They are conduits not specialists who decide who is healed or not (Boa, 2001 : 308). How do we compare this to the sad situation of Dean Micheal? Why did God not bring about healing for this child? How can we look at miracles and suffering declaring that faith and the sovereignty of God is required?

Healing is a gift given by God as a sign to what will come. Healing is there to point those who require a demonstration of power to God. Kraybill, in “The Upsidedown Kingdom” explains the healing ministry of Christ was a sign that the favourable year of the Lord had come (Kraybill 212 : 2011). Glasser in “Announcing the Kingdom” writes that healing is there to point to the glory of God and to the future fulfilment of the Kingdom of God where all sin, sickness and even death will be done away with (Glasser, 206 : 2003). That the mission of Christ and the church involves these signs and wonders to amplify the words and actions of ministry in power (Glasser, 341 : 2003). To this Glasser warns that healing and the other gifts should not be sullied by thinking it is God magic. God cannot be bound to our will, it is us who must submit to his (Glasser, 342 : 2003). As Mr. Beaver says to the Pevensies in “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” “He's not a tame Lion.”(Lewis, 166 : 1968). Or, as God asks Job “Where you there when the foundations of the world were made.?” (Job 38:4). To blame God, or, to treat Him as an entity that can be manipulated by performing a rite is to not understand what healing is. Healing points to a time when even death is dead. Where, if we believe the promise of scripture Joni, George and Dean Michael will enter into the fulfilment of the Kingdom of God and suffer no more.

Two ways to see God, not just one.
How did the understanding of healing as a sign change into a form of God magic? One way of looking at the problem of how to see healing, involves how we attempt to understand God. Shawn Wamsley points to the difference between the “mystical and the intellectual” or the Apophatic and Katapahtic (Wamsley np, 2009). The modern kataphatic way of thinking and reasoning downplays the mystical or apophatic. Our faith becomes what we know about God and these gifts of God are closer to faith than knowledge. The experience of healing is a mystical one, where what is seen and known logically is surpassed by the gift God bestows. When you try and take away the apophatic of God he becomes something less than the amazing God who made all things, he becomes a tame lion you can order around. This is not to cast off the known and defined, to ignore scholastic endeavours for a mystical faith. We require both the known and the unknown together to gain an understanding of God that is tangible and intangible, mysterious and defined.

The Importance of an Eschatological Hope
The modern hero of eschatology, N.T. Wright has his own view on the issue which explains healing as part of the future then, that is brought into the now. Wright's argument in “The Road to New Creation” is that the belief that “IT”, is all about the individual draws us away from the fact that “IT”, is about God. We are not the centre of the universe, this is the rightful place of God. By taking our eyes off God as the centre we loose the great promise of the future he has prepared for us. Heaven is transformed into an escape from the material into the spiritual. The material world we exist in now is of no consequence. Revelation talks of the great joy coming when creation will be fully restored (Wright, 1-3 : 2006). Jesus was the first fruits of this promised day that is waiting for all of us. It is this promise that the sign of healing points to, “it is a little bit of new creation, coming forwards to meet us in the present.” (Wright, 3 : 2006).

To give an answer to the question of whether healing is dependant on the faith of the receiver or depends on the sovereignty of God, it would be yes. Healing is dependant on the faith of the receiver, the believers are to identify the malady and to petition God for the healing to bring restoration. Healing comes from God because God is sovereign and in control, able to act in his creation anyway he deems necessary. This is not because God is capricious but because God's plans are beyond our expectations. God's plan is complete and involves the restoration of ALL of his creation not just the healing of those who ask by following the correct pre-requisites. God uses suffering to his purpose in our lives. The death of Dean Michael cannot be seen as anything but tragic, but, there is hope in God's complete plan. Healing is a gift, a sign, it comes from the future where illness and suffering are no more. A material future where Dean Michael runs and plays without fear. It heralds the power and love of God giving notice that there is more than the world in which we live now. What we know and teach is only part of the amazingly deep and mysterious God that we worship and praise. He is no tame lion and to restrict our understanding to a reciprocal deity who complies to the performed rite is not a God but a genie.

Aldridge, D. (2000). Spirituality, Healing and Medicine: Return to the Silence. London : Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Bailey, S.P. (2010). Something Greater Than Healing. Christianity Today. (54)10 : 30-33.

Boa. K.D. (2001). Conformed to his image: Biblical and practical approaches to spiritual formation. Grand Rapids, MI : Zondervan.

Chant, B. (1993). Spiritual Gifts : A Reappraisal A Biblical and practical handbook. Sydney, Australia : Tabor Publications.

Ehrman, B.D.(2009). God's Problem : How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question – Why We Suffer. NY: Harper Collins.

Erickson, M.J (2001). Concise dictionary of Christian theology. Wheaton, IL : Good News.

Glasser, A.F. (2003). Announcing the Kingdom: The Story of God's Mission in the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI : Baker Academic.

Kraybill, D. B. (2011). The Upside-Down Kingdom.. Harrisonburg, Virginia, USA : Herald Press

Lewis, C.S. (1968). The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Middlesex, England : Penguin Books.
Peters, S.F.(2008). When Prayer Fails: Faith Healing, Children, and the Law. NY : Oxford University Press.

Schwab, P.G. and Monroe, G. (2009). God as Healer- A Closer Look at Biblical Images of Inner Healing with Guiding Questions for Counselors. Journal of Psychology & Christianity. (28)2 : 121-129.

Wright, N.T. (2006). The Road to New Creation. Available Internet ( (20th May 2012)

Wamsley, S. (2009). Toward a Pentecostalism We Can All Practice:

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Critique of Chavda's "The Hidden Power of Speaking in Tongues"

Chavda, M. (2003). The Hidden Power of Speaking in Tongues. Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Publishing.

Chavda is adamant in the use and application of Glossolalia (tongues) in christian life. In his opinion tongues are God's gift that is not used enough or valued enough. Glossolalia for the individual, in its devotional aspect provides power bringing transformation for service. Chavda describes it as a Bridal language where the bride is taught about the groom as Rebekah is taught about Isaac by Abraham's steward. Key to this insight is Paul's exhortation in the light of Paul's history. Paul turns his back on his people, his heritage and his racial purity (Chavda being a high caste Indian convert would understand how essential such concepts were to Paul's identity) because of the revelation of God in Christ through the Spirit. From this place of intimacy by the Spirit believers are able to plumb the depths of God. For this reason Paul (and Chavda) implore that we accept the challenge to spend more time in tongues than he (1 Cor 14:18).

Chavda links Glossolalia with sighs too deep for words and the deep things of God that are revealed during such devotional practice. It sounds that he is talking about is contemplation. Using Glossolalia as a way to as Brother Lawrence says enter the presence of God enabling us to cross the threshold into a sacred space where we can commune with God (Lawrence, 24). Lawrence is merely one in a long line of contemplative in church history that a Pentecostal would advocate such a practice is rare. The difference as Veli-Matti Karkkainen points out is with in the Pentecostal emphasis on action and individual change whereas Lawrence's Catholic emphasis is more about passive communal development (91, Karkkainen). That Chavda does not mention contemplation could be that often Pentecostalism sees past history after the Pentecost even as tainted (Rybarczyk, 83). Recent Catholic-Pentecostal dialogue has loosely defined Glossolalia as a sacrament, a remembering and participation of Jesus' working in the world, an empowering for service and expressing for those sighs too deep for words (92, Karkkainen). Apophaticism (common to Eastern Orthodox) claims God is known by what God is not, from Apophaticism comes the Jesus prayer simple and repetitive to quiet the mind as the voice is active as in their hearts they seek God (Rybarczyk, 95). God is beyond all understanding because the mystery is unfathomable and cannot be expressed by words whereby language is left completely behind (Rybarczyk, 86). The goal of contemplation is the same as Chavda's, intimacy with God that changes us and transforms us as we look upon in awe and wonder.

What Chavda advocates is merely one way to practice the presence of God in your life through devotional Glossolalia. The challenge is to make such a practice the habit that it was for Paul to learn intimacy with God. There is something beyond the rational happening here in this “interplay between divine and human” (Rybarczyk, 94). It is intimacy with the divine that brings about the transformational change in our life and those around us. If this is awkward, confusing or dangerous in the eyes of the believer then there are other practices which can enable the same edification from the same God by the the same Holy Spirit. God is not restrictive in how we apply ourselves to enter into intimacy with him. He knows that each of us is different and has given us a cornucopia of methods each one a key to enter into God's presence and experience the heights and depths of the divine three in one.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Importance of the Gentiles. Who are the Gentiles today?

God as Christ Jesus enters into history and comes to the children of Abraham. Jesus' message disturbed and challenged the Jewish people religiously, socially and politically. His confronting image of the Kingdom of God was not what the Jewish people expected. Messiah was to be a king and champion of the religion. Jesus spent his time not just with the righteous of the faith but with those who were outside of what was considered pure and holy. Jesus talked not of war and rebellion against the Romans but of forgiveness and jubilee. His Apostles went further offering this gospel to those outside the nation of Israel, to the Gentiles, the other nations in the world. What was being focused on by Jesus inclusion of those considered unclean and not a part of the community of faith? Who are the Gentiles and what is their importance to Jesus and the missio dei that began so long ago?

A parable of three cups

There is a father of three children and to each of them he gives a drink of water. To one he gives a blue cup, to the second he gives a red cup and to the third he gives a green cup. Each of the children know which cup is theirs and they treasure and guard their cups from each other making sure that they only drink out of their cup and no one else. One day the father brings out the cups to the children all filled with water and he trips on a toy left behind. The cups fall to the floor together where the water becomes one big puddle. The children each pick up their now empty cups, the water they would have drunk is now on the floor and not separated anymore. In fact, before it was in the cups you could never have segregated the water, it was always one water. Only the cups and the children who treasured their individual cups ever defined which water was theirs.

Election of Israel : My cup is not yours

In the New Testament Jesus comes to the children of Israel, the people of the promise, the children of Abraham, the Holy Nation who followed the one true God YHWH. These people were in a state of oppression under another in a long line of foreign powers and under this yoke they chaffed and strained. By YHWH they were set apart from the rest of the world to be a holy nation before God. Lev 20:24-26 (Wright, 298-299 : 2004). It was they who had been elected by God and the fate of the all the world was dependant on the relationship between Israel and God (Fohrer, 184-185 : 1972). This heritage was sustained and kept in place by the religious elite and its strict application in the life of the Jewish people. They were Israel and the rest of the world was outside, Gentiles an Samaritans. This black and white understanding of national or tribal identity is the classical image of a persons identity (Johnson-Hodge, 274 : 2005).

YHWH was holy and his people Israel were called to be holy as well. Cleanliness was not just next to Godliness it was an essential trait of the faith, whether a person was clean or not was decided by the law. This was not just Torah as was given to Moses by YHWH it also included the oral tradition. A succession of commentaries which defined the right way to live to be clean, holy and pure before YHWH. The Pharisees had taken the law and amplified it to lead the people to becoming a Holy nation, but, they left out the core. Jesus pointed to this core that true worship honours God and serves others. The amplified traditions had to be superseded for God's law of love (Kraybill, 143-149 : 2011).

Jesus breaks boundaries : There is no difference between the cups

The Jews were a stubborn people and Jesus' parables struck right at this hardness and the boundaries they had placed on those around them. In the “Good Samaritan” Jesus lampoons not just the religious elite but the common people as well by making the hero a Samaritan! Kraybill's description of the situation is deliciously subversive as he compares the shock of combining “good” and “Samaritan” like combining “good” and “terrorist” (Kraybil, 172-175 : 2011). Jesus defined the Jewish attitude towards the Samaritans for what it was, racist. To elaborate for his disciples Jesus strikes up a conversation with a Samaritan woman (Arbuckle, 158-159 : 1990). More shocking Jesus openly admits that he is the Messiah is to a Samaritan woman who is working on husband number six. The level of uncleanliness of this woman was immense! Yet, here we have Jesus revealing the great mystery of his identity to this unclean Samaritan woman. Jesus reminded the Jews of God's love for the Gentiles and they tried to throw him of a cliff (Lk 4:28-29). Jesus openly declared that a Roman Centurion had more faith that any in Israel, he healed the Syro-Phonecian woman's child (Mark 7:24-29), his second feeding was on the Gentile side of the lake of Galilee. This pattern of breaking boundaries was passed onto Jesus followers, but, it did take a while for them to understand just how far reaching the Gospel message was to be.

Peter and Cornelius.

To Peter is given the keys to the kingdom its is his speech that is given prominence at Pentecost where three thousand are added in one day. These people are not gentiles though they of the Jewish faith. Their native tongues may be different but they are not Gentiles in any sense (Henson, 4 : 2012). In its incipient stage afterPentecost the followers of the way are still just a Jewish splinter group calling to those of the same religious context. It is possible that even the global reference of the missio dei at this time could mean the Jewish diaspora spread across the Mediterranean and the Middle East. This “left hand of God” (Glasser, 137 : 2003) was definitely a part of the future for Peter and his fellow Apostles but the missio dei was for more than the lost sheep of Israel.

The image of the unclean animals that is given to Peter on the roof of Simon the Tanner's house in Acts 10:9-16 is curious to us today, yet, to a Jew this was horrifying! As mentioned previously cleanliness was essential to relationship with God. To be unclean meant one could not be in right relationship with God. Peter's revulsion is true to the culture he was raised, it was essential to the make up of his identity. As noted before Jesus broke boundaries of social convention ignoring the rules that did not fit with the first and greatest laws concerning the love of God and your neighbours. But, there is not indication that Jesus spent time in the dwellings of Gentiles (Glasser, 217 : 2003). As he tells the Syro-Phoenician woman, Jesus came first for the lost sheep of Israel. For Peter to enter into the house of a Gentile was to become unclean.

Leslie Newbigin in “The Open Secret” clearly explains the tension of breaking such a strong cultural and personal boundary that Peter is under, yet, he is somehow convinced to go and see Cornelius. When Peter tells Cornelius' household the gospel the Spirit takes the situation out of Peter's control completely. Again Peter is there at the beginning of a great opening and this time instead of having to answer to the Sanhedrin he has to answer to the other very Jewish believers. There was much to discuss and it is possible that the scene was calm at all. Newbigin explains that they all knew too well the price paid by the circumcised martyrs of the Jewish faith. Jesus was circumcised and he never called to stop this practice. It was the confirmation of the Spirit being received by Cornelius which was the key factor. If the Spirit of God saw no problem with the uncircumcised then why should they? (Newbigin, 59-60 : 1995) It was an issue that would plague the early Church an issue that Paul dealt with whereas Peter (always the fall guy) struggled.

Paul's shifting identity.

By Acts 15 Paul has been out pursuing the ends of the earth and has returned to tell the Jerusalem church what has been happening with the Gentiles. They, like the Disciples, like the Samaritans, like the household of Cornelius have received the Holy Spirit. God has shown that a way has been made for the rest of the world to see this light, that the gospel is for ALL of God's creation. This is not the work of human hands. The mission is governed by the Spirit and the church merely has to follow (Newbigin, 61 : 1995). But what of the difference of culture? How is Paul able to associate freely with Gentiles being able to eat with those outside the covenant. In Galatians 2 Paul chastises Peter, when at the arrival of James' delegation, Peter retreats from eating with those who are not circumcised. The classical understanding of identity mentioned above is far from being standard. People have more than one identity and Paul explains in his writings his many identities. Caroline Johnson-Hodge in “Apostle To The Gentiles: Constructions Of Paul’s Identity” explains that Paul's hierarchy of identities is not just isolated to Paul. Many peoples see themselves in different ways local, tribal, national and religious. For westerners to group national identity and religious affiliation is uncommon, for Paul this was not so. Paul's hierarchy of identity began with his circumcision, tribal affiliation, descent from Abraham, A Hebrew of Hebrews, a Pharisee of Pharisee's, blamelessness under the law (Phil 3:5-6). Paul's identity is set in stone as a Jew, but, he is able to put all of this aside because being “in Christ” has become the capstone of Paul's identities. If Paul is In Christ (Gal 1:11-16) therefore all those Gentiles who heard and by faith believe are In Christ too (Johnson-Hodge 274-276 : 2005).

False Identities

The opportunity is open for all to enter into the Kingdom of God. All by the Spirit are able to like Paul become “In Christ” realising the completeness of their humanity establishing the true zenith of their identity. However, this is not the reality as people fall back on tribal, economical and national identities because of oppression. The rich towards the poor, the leaders towards the people, the celebrities towards the public. There is a restriction as both hold the boundaries that stop them from truly becoming the people Paul describes where there is no Slave, no Free, no Greek, no Jew. All are not recognising their oneness In Christ. Each are dehumanised by the other through false identities created by the oppression (De La Torre, 67 : 2009). These false identities and the boundaries they create are the same that Jesus confronts. C.J.H Wright in Old Testament Ethics for the People of God asserts the salvation that is brought through Christ is for all of humanity. In Abraham's calling it is through the seed of Abraham that ALL the nations of the world will be blessed. There is no exclusion in God's story of salvation in the election of Abraham and the creation of Israel. The identity of Israel as God's chosen nation to be holy and set apart from all others was not so that Israel itself would be saved alone. All of humanity has been made in the image of God, all of humanity is to be renewed through the nation of Israel (Wright, 461-462 : 2004) . The destiny of Abraham and his seed was fulfilled in Christ so that ALL can now claim the new identity being In Christ.

Human Identity the Source

The source of all humanity is in the creator God who made human beings in his image. Just like the water in the cups the source is the exactly the same. Only the outside visage and the identity the children give the cups distinguishes them. The creators concern for all of humanity has been known and told through his prophets. Jonah's struggles against God's call to the people of Nineveh and Jonah grumbles because God loves the weak and the alien and not just Israel. The conclusion Wright gives is that this behaviour is to be imitated by his people because this is how YHWH acts and we should not wonder why we should not copy (Wright 460 : 2004). YHWH was given the image of a parent and Israel his child is expected to imitate their heavenly father (Wright, 36 : 2004). This family is not restricted to just Israel the creation narrative asserts the common origin of all humanity. There is no human being that can be considered outside the boundary of God's redemption plan. For this reason the missio dei radiates from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth, our heavenly father does not want to leave any of “the children of the divine family” (Mills, 73 : 1998) out.

“In Christ” is an eschatological identity existing in the dynamic already/not yet of the Kingdom of God. Just as the source of the water in the cups is the same, so is the destination. God's people are to live in this tension where the ethics and morals demonstrated buy Christ are enabled by the equipping of Holy Spirit (Fee, 52 : 1996 ). This same Holy Spirit confirmed the inclusion of gentiles much to the confusion of the Jewish Disciples. Paul's argument is that by faith Abraham believed in the promises of YHWH therefore by faith the Gentiles come into the line of Abraham into the promise of salvation (Fee, 60 : 1996). This identity available for all who come by faith is to be the key to unity in diversity where, by Holy Spirit, unity between disparate peoples of different nationalities and languages, like Pentecost, reverses Babel (Henson, 4 : 2012). Uniting what was once divided. Where one day, like the waters rejoined in the puddle on the floor, humanity will be restored and renewed in the future already/not yet Kingdom of God.


To paraphrase Paul there is no Greek or Jew, no Male or Female, no Red cup, Blue cup or Green cup. Humanity, like the water, is divided by the identities that we place on each other. The Israelite call to be a nation separate was not to be divisive. Jesus came and broke these oppressive boundaries displaying the love that God has to all of his divine family. Paul took this universal message of salvation and made it the first identity without equal. All other cultures and nationalities come under this divine identity not replacing them but renewing them bringing them under the banner of the Kingdom of God. The importance of the mission to the Gentiles is that God is not willing to leave any of his creation behind. There is no difference all have been made in the image of God. Oppression dehumanises the oppressor and the oppressed as they consider the other less and themselves better. If we only focus on the exterior and the boundaries between us all we will be left with is empty cups.

The Gentiles today are those who are not known by the identity of “In Christ” and these people are not just outside the community.
Jesus called to the lost sheep of Israel and there are lost sheep in and outside the community. Our view has to be both outward and inward looking, doing too much of either will create problems. The Pharisees were trying to bring about change in their community and nation to the exclusion of others who did not fit within their program. Jesus showed the futility of this exclusion and how it closed the door on those who were truly in need of the love of God. There are those who are caught up in the practice of religion and not in the freedom of identity In Christ, just going through the motions not knowing the true identity that is there waiting for them. To look outside without first offering this truth of identity is to miss the point. Gentiles are those who do no know who they truly are, that their origin and destiny lie in the same loving heavenly father who through Christ by the power of Holy Spirit made a new identity so that we may be forever with Him.


Arbuckle, G. A. (1990). Earthing the Gospel: An Inculturation Handbook for the Pastoral Worker. London : Geoffery Chapman,

Fee, G. D.(1996). Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God. Grand Rapids, MI : Baker Academic.

Fohrer, G. (1972). History of Israelite Religion. New York : Abingdon Press.

Glasser, A.F. (2003). Announcing the Kingdom: The Story of God's Mission in the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI : Baker Academic.

Henson, L. (2012, May 17 ). Lecture Notes Week 9. (Notes taken by Phillip Hall).

Johnson-Hodge, C. (2005). Apostle to the Gentiles: Constructions of Paul's Identity. Biblical Interpretation.(13)3: 270-288.

Kraybill, D. B. (2011). The Upside-Down Kingdom.. Harrisonburg, Virginia, USA : Herald Press

De La Torre, M.A. (2009). Pastoral care from the Latina/Latino margins. In Kujawa-Holbrook S.A & Montagno, K.B.(Eds.). Injustice and Care of Souls.(pp. 59-72). Minneapolis, Illinois : Augsburg Fortress.

Mills, M.E. (1998). Images of God : in the Old Testament. London : Cassell.

Newbign, L. (1995). The Open Secret : An Introduction to the Theology of Mission. Grand Rapids, MI : William B. Eerdmans.

Wright, C.J.H. (2004). Old Testament Ethics for the People of God. Leicester, England : Inter-Varsity Press.