Salafist sin

On any given week day a person can innocently go to the news to find out what’s going on the in the world and be confronted by the sordid particulars of the latest terrorist atrocity somewhere in the world. There are many human beings who perpetrate acts of terror however in the years since 9/11 we automatically think of the usual Salafist suspects as being behind religiously motivated violence.

 

To my mind it seems to come out of nowhere. Certainly to the people of Brussels, Paris, London, New York or Lahore the terror seems to strike in a random pattern and time which is why it is so terrifying and visceral.

 

Of course it doesn’t come out of nowhere and in truth the spectre of a terror attack is more immediate than many choose to realise. It reminds me of sin. Striking when I least expect it at my most vulnerable point and doing the most damage possible. The aftermath is shocking and messy.

Looks like a bomb's hit it
Looks like a bomb’s hit it

In the 7th chapter of Romans, Paul describes his own sinful nature as leading him to do the things that he hates.

 

For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

Saved by grace
Saved by grace

According the site www.thereligionofpeace.com, Islamic terrorists have carried out more than 28 000.00 deadly terror attacks since 9/11. Since becoming aware of my sinful nature, my personal campaign of sin has a tally that far exceeds 28 000.00. I suck.

 

Paul continues:

 

Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

 

Jesus is my rescuer, and wins the war on sin before even the last battle has been fought:

 

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1, NIV)

 

What does that mean practically? It means acquittal on judgement day however for now it also means that I don’t have to be a slave to sin; when it threatens to overwhelm me and strike, I can do what is right and appeal to Christ. Being forgiven we are then free to approach God the Father not as He who will execute vengeance and condemn, but he who has already forgiven and will restore.

The magic bean

Strangely enough, Thursday last week was the low point of my week at work. You might be forgiven for thinking that Monday is the most hectic, as by now you will have come across that song by ‘The Bangles’ dealing with the subject and recognised that there is a big difference between Sunday and Monday…

 

…so, back to the low point of my week, for some reason in this particular week, Thursday was the worst. I got to thinking whether work was a tenable endeavour without coffee. Aside from the familiarity of the coffee drinking ritual that punctuates our working hours, there is the caffeine that always works.

 

The question occurred to me: what makes the working world go around? Is it a Protestant work ethic? The impulse to be creative and productive? Greed? Coffee? Or a combination of all of these elements?

 

I suppose coffee is part of what makes people at work more resilient but of course it’s not the main factor. A report just this month in the press (www.independent.co.uk) suggested that for over 40’s, the optimum work week should be three days. I imagine that this takes coffee’s powers of inspiration into account.

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For the under 40’s I imagine it’s a combination of idealism, youth and ambition. Or in the case of Wall Street and bullish investment houses, cocaine, greed and the thrill of the deal, at least according to Jordan Belfort, the author of ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’.

 

In a city like New York, remove coffee from the equation and ‘the city that never sleeps’ may a lot more somnolent. Back in the 1600’s coffee was far too expensive for consumption by the common man and the beverage of choice for breakfast was in fact beer as it was cheap. Beer could be brewed locally whereas coffee could not, making it an import and therefore a luxury. Most cities in America preferred a cup of tea as they were established by the English, however New York was founded by the Dutch who love coffee, and as the city grew as a place where coffee was processed, the beverage also became cheaper and grew to become the beverage of choice for New Yorkers. The people of New York consume more coffee per capita than any other population in the country with the exception perhaps of the Navy or Coast Guard.

 

In South Africa, fine and gourmet coffees are slowly but surely catching on. For the longest time instant coffees were the drink of choice and Saffas were content with the arrangement. Now instant coffees are considered quite a bit less refined. Barista coffee goes hand in hand with shopping malls and beautiful indoor spaces. We’re becoming more sophisticated and South Africa is now a growing market. Starbucks has just opened their first branch in the country and now there’s no looking back.

 

Coffee is what keeps me going at work. That and music. For other people it’s the opportunity to nail a colleague, or making a deal (in Wall Street they call it hunting elephants), or hang out with colleagues. Too much politics, so I’ll simply stick with my good old cup of Joe and hang in there till Friday afternoon.

Time travel economy seat

With the release last year of the latest movie in the Star Wars franchise, some economists decided to analyse the cost of the Death Star and the impact of its destruction on the Galactic Imperial economy.* Suffice it to say that the Great Depression of 1929 was child’s play by comparison.chea

 

It seems like all the best things in life are really expensive. In the 1985 movie ‘Back to the future’ Doc Brown tells Marty that he spent most of his family fortune on developing his time machine. Being able to go back in time is an intriguing prospect, revisiting the good, the precious, the things we hold close to our heart. And being as I don’t have the Brown family fortune but am a person of more limited means, I thought of a way to go back in time more cheaply: music.

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Music from my youth, from the times in my past where a song provided the soundtrack for a piece of once-in-a-lifetime history. The cost? The price of a writeable CD. Here follows a random sample of some music tracks of my life so far:

 

‘House of the rising sun’ (1964) by The Animals

The first song I remember from when I was young.

 

‘Cherie Cherie Lady’ (1985) by Modern Talking

The song from when I went to a disco at the 58th Air Scout hall in Durban and me and my cousin danced with some pretty girls.

 

‘I think we’re alone now’ (1987) by Tiffany

I remember carrying my ‘boom box’ and bright pink shirt to visit a young lady, playing this song and thinking I was impressing her.

 

‘U can’t touch this’ (1990) by MC Hammer

When I thought I knew what cool was. It hasn’t really translated very well to 2016. I actually bought the LP.

 

‘Tell me what you want’ (1996) by The Spice Girls

I remember being in London going to His People and Pastor Wolfie Eckleben preached a sermon about this.

 

‘Knowing you’ (1993) by Graham Kendrick

I remember attending a Promise Keepers meeting at Atlantic Christian Assembly in Sea Point and being floored by the Presence while singing this song. I’ve always loved the song ever since.

 

‘Here I am’ (2002) by Bryan Adams

This is the song playing as me and my wife entered the reception after we got married.

 

‘Blessed be your name’ (2002) by Matt Redman

The song I was meditating on in June 2011, and when Tracy died we played this at her memorial. It reminds me of my sister.

 

‘Dancing Queen’ (1976) by ABBA

Dancing in our lounge with my wife and two kids.

 

Time travel CD? Works every time.

 

*http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/35008095/star-wars-experts-calculate-cost-of-death-star-and-its-destruction

Reginae subditus Regis

Looking at the house of Windsor in the United Kingdom, I think we can all agree that the Royals are dysfunctional in the same way that any family is. Imagine being in the public eye all of the time though where your missteps and foul ups are on display for all to see. Unlike the Kardashians, the royal family are born to the public eye and had no option to seek it out.

I admire William and Harry and the balance and wisdom that they bring to their public lives (mostly). Of the entire royal house though it is the Queen who rules presently and with faithfulness since 1953 that I admire. Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth turned 90 years old on Thursday 21 April 2016 and that surely has brought with it a certain wisdom.

Her Majesty is a Christian and though she is Queen recognises that she herself is subject to the King of Kings. In her forward to The Servant Queen and the King She Serves, the book marking her 90th birthday, Elizabeth wrote: “I have been — and remain — very grateful to you for your prayers and to God for his steadfast love.” She added: “I have indeed seen His faithfulness.”

In 2011, she remarked: “Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves – from our recklessness or our greed. God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general (important though they are) – but a Saviour, with the power to forgive.”

In her Christmas broadcast in 2014 she said: “For me, the life of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, whose birth we celebrate today, is an inspiration and an anchor in my life.”

Glancing through the order of service for her coronation in 1953 (http://www.oremus.org/liturgy/coronation/cor1953b.html) the oaths, affirmations, promises and liturgy are filled with the Gospel and reference to Scripture:

Archbishop: Will you solemnly promise and swear to govern the Peoples of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, Pakistan and Ceylon, and of your Possessions and other Territories to any of them belonging or pertaining, according to their respective laws and customs?

Queen: I solemnly promise so to do.

Archbishop: Will you to your power cause Law and Justice, in Mercy, to be executed in all your judgements?

Queen: I will.

Archbishop: Will you to the utmost of your power maintain the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel?

Will you to the utmost of your power maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law?

Will you maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government thereof, as by law established in England?

And will you preserve unto the Bishops and Clergy of England, and to the Churches there committed to their charge, all such rights and privileges, as by law do or shall appertain to them or any of them?

Queen: All this I promise to do.

I believe the Queen takes her responsibilities seriously acknowledging Romans 13: 1 which confirms that “Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God.”

It is also very comforting to realise that without all the trappings of royalty and the power that she wields that Queen Elizabeth is a Christian who attends church, is a faithful wife,  mother and grandmother that is also fond of dogs and horses.

O that so many others in authority would recognize their responsibility to the King of Heaven and be as humble. The world would almost surely be a better place.

Long live the Queen!

Being Thankful

Confession time: I read too much news and when I’m not doing that I’m catching glimpses of my depraved sinful nature. This can leave a fella pretty down in the dumps.

Recently my daughter has taken an interest in songs from old musicals and the other day we watched all the songs from ‘The Sound of Music’ on YouTube.

Singing is a very natural way to respond to grace, God’s favour in our lives. One day soon, I shall gush about grace and all that it means, however in short, Grace is the Greek word ‘Charis’ (and it encompasses all of God’s awesome things he does for us), and our correct response is the Greek word ‘Eucharisteo’ (being grateful, giving thanks). You may recognise that the sacrament of Eucharist is the same word.

So, to tune out SeanTV and focus on things I’m thankful for, try to ‘hear’ the following lyrics as set to the tune of ‘A few of my favourite things’ as sung by Julie Andrews. (Thanks to Rodgers and Hammersteins for the inspiration!):

“Warm toast with butter on cool autumn mornings

Coffee and cotton, jeans fresh from the ironing

Watching the Sharks play and seeing them win

These are a few of my favourite things

Birthdays and weekends and weddings and beer

Evenings with family and holding them dear

Eight hours of sleep on a June winter’s night

These are a few of my favourite things

When the car breaks

When the dog dies

When I’m 42

I simply remember the grace of the Lord

And then I don’t feel so sad”

1 Thessalonians 5:

16 Always be joyful. 17 Never stop praying. 18 Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

The crux of history

How is history defined? What does it all mean at the end of the day? We may not consciously think of history throughout the average day, but think about it for a moment: behind most news stories on the radio, television, newspapers or internet in this country the history of racial segregation is implicit and often referred to regularly. Without an understanding of the racial politics in the country – ‘apartheid’ and ‘liberation’ – it won’t make much sense.

In many news stories coming out of Europe and Latin America, behind much of the way of thinking is the idea of class struggle and its history. According to ‘The Communist Manifesto’, history is literally the account of the struggle for the ‘means of production’ (stuff) between the bourgeois (rich) and the proletariat (poor). Socialism applied to a society would literally be the end of history because it would mean the end of class struggle.

If our lives are like paintings then our history is like the frame that gives shape and definition to the borders of our philosophy.

In North America history is understood as the struggle for self-determination, including the rights of self-expression in words and by way of suffrage.

History is dependent on who is doing the ‘looking’. Many countries and nationalities define history as the struggle for their culture to emerge as superior to others, like China in the last several decades or Nazi Germany in WW2.

All of these views of history are temporal, or geographical, or cultural or to other points of view, comical.

History is literally and actually based on 1 thing: the cross. The cross and all that it means defines history and divides mankind in two. The cross is the load-bearing pillar of human history and human life. I believe our most vulnerable adult moment is when we lose a loved one to death. In that moment, does racial politics, the class struggle, self-determination or cultural superiority matter? I don’t understand how anyone would honestly be able to say ‘yes’. Those alternative histories may refer to valuable and valid things however they are mere side shows to the question: ‘Who do you say the Son of Man is?’

Picture this:  a graveyard and a tombstone to memorialise our loved ones. Are there quotes from Karl Marx? Benjamin Franklin? Confucius? Adolf Hitler? No, none of these historical frameworks has an answer for eternity.

Only God’s perspective is valid and true. The cross is the load-bearing pillar of human history and human life.

The Lambie calculus and other theories

I love theories because they express our desire to make sense of things. Along with describing a theory a person can devise a way to test it, or if it’s a really far out theory there is no way to confirm or refute it. There is practically no limit to theorising and historically, people have theorised some really crazy explanations, like the moon being made of cheese, or the human being made up of four humours, thus explaining behaviour.

 

More recently it has been theorised that there was more than one gunman at the JFK assassination, or that life emerged on Earth after having been left here by Aliens (panspermia) or that mankind evolved from apes by way of amoeba.

 

Sometimes it beggars belief what adults believe. You don’t find 6 year olds postulating that Elvis Presley is still alive and well and travels the lower 48 states in a rig, or suggesting that a cabal of powerful super-rich former frat-boys are controlling the world’s markets and pushing society towards a world war.

 

I have my own set of theories; some of them are in fun, and some of them are more serious. Theories that contradict Scripture however will not find an audience with my thinking though as I believe Scripture should be the ultimate frame of reference.

 

Perhaps it might be useful to point out that God has no theories, He simply knows everything. We on the other hand have huge gaps in knowledge (and intellect!) and so have to rely on theories, which – if there is any eternal use to knowing the answer to the question – we will know the answer to one day.

 

The Lambie calculus:

I postulate that since Patrick Lambie made an appearance in the 2010 Currie Cup, the Sharks have looked like the more finished article. In 2011 the Sharks finished second in the South African conference and 6th overall and lost a quarter final. The next year the Sharks finished third in the South African conference and 6th overall and progressed to the finals which they unfortunately lost. In each of the next three years (2013 – 2015), Lambie was injured early in the season and the Sharks failed to reach their potential, especially compared with 2011 and 2012. My theory is that the year Patrick Lambie plays through the season without getting injured the Sharks will win the competition.

 

Warp speed:

A lecturer once explained his theory to a class I was in, so it’s not my theory but just thinking about how awesome it sounds gets my inner geek excited. Consider it therefore an adopted theory…when you watch ‘Star Trek’ and observe the Enterprise enter warp speed, it seems like the space craft stretches. Warp speed is the barrier at which an object can travel faster than light. If an object could travel faster than light, it could be in more than one place at the same time which is what that stretching spacecraft illustrates.

 

Imagine that God is moving so quickly and is therefore in more than one place at the same time. I suppose that might work except that God is not an object that is limited by matter, energy, space and time. However what about the theory that God’s perspective is outside of our concept of linear time at light speed. In order to enter, to condescend, He may have to slow down considerably.

 

The ice-cream stomach:

No matter how full you feel after a big meal, there is always space for ice-cream. This is because of an ‘ice-cream stomach’ that is only available for your favourite frozen dessert, no matter how full you feel. This is an easy hypothesis to test.

 

Junk DNA is not junk:

Scientists have discovered from research that only around 15% of human DNA is coding DNA; in other words it provides the basis for instructions to enzymes to operate in a given and designed way; these segments of DNA split the original cells to form a person with fully functioning systems that determines sex, eye colour, shade of hair, pigmentation of melanin and all the other things that make you physically who you are.

 

The other 85% of DNA does not seem to have a purpose; hence scientists call it junk-DNA. It is information and may have a pattern. My theory is that non-coding DNA relates to our soul. Our soul is as much a part of who we are as our body is. What if it is a soul language that only He can read?

 

Truth serum:

If we gave all the atheists, agnostics and God-haters truth serum and asked them questions, my theory is that we will find that they admit that deep down, they know there is a God and that their philosophical framework is a device to keep from knowing Him, much like a child sticking their fingers in their ears and making a noise to keep from hearing the truth.

Of Shakespeare and Sharks

Shakespeare is regarded as one of the foremost writers in the English language since Elizabethan times. The era that saw Shakespeare write his classics also saw the publication of the King James Version of the Bible in 1611.

Now, I’m a bit of a literature fundi and enjoy Shakespeare. One of my favourites is Sonnet 130, My Mistresses Eyes:

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;

Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;

If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;

If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.

I have seen roses damasked, red and white,

But no such roses see I in her cheeks;

And in some perfumes is there more delight

Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.

I love to hear her speak, yet well I know

That music hath a far more pleasing sound;

I grant I never saw a goddess go;

My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.

And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare

As any she belied with false compare.

 

So, if we take Shakespeare’s description of his mistress she would look something like a dull-eyed, pale woman whose breasts do not make a stir, and whose hair is a little out of control and resembles wire. He also describes her breath as reeking which brings to mind mussels, garlic and onion.  Her manner of speaking seems to be discordant and she does not tread like a model when she walks, but she makes a bit of a boom boom going down the street. If we take it to a level of hyperbole, might she not make ripples in water glasses like the approach of the T-Rex in ‘Jurassic Park’?

 

For all of those flaws he loves her. Were Shakespeare’s mistress to pen a sonnet about him, who knows what she might have written about his flaws.

 

This is precisely like my relationship to the Sharks.

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I came to appreciate rugby at a late age and it happens that owing to the place of my birth I came to support the Sharks by default, a team that had its heyday in the 1990s. Known as the Banana Boys in those days the team re-branded to ‘The Sharks’, this around the time they managed to win promotion from the lower Currie Cup league and compete for the final of the Currie Cup, then the gold standard in South African rugby, when it meant something.

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Through the inaugural years of the Super Rugby competition between sides from South Africa, Australia and New Zealand the Sharks were always the bridesmaids, but never the bride. The title proved elusive and in 2007 when they played that year’s final at home in Durban a refereeing error handed the title to the Bulls in the last moments of the game. The years 2015 through to the present have represented the low water mark for the team and they present the appearance of Shakespeare’s mistress: pretty ordinary looks when compared to other teams.

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And yet I love them, though of course not in the same way as my family. The team is made up of young men and their families, older coaches to mentor them, all the backroom staff that keep things ticking over, and all of their families. And then of course the fans. I feel comfortable around fellow Sharkies.

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The history and present of the team reflects highs and lows, successes and failures and generally resembles the serialised and dramatic features of a soap opera…that men watch.

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Through supporting the Sharks I have come to learn humility. And the lesson that it is only really a game after all and that the Kingdom is more important. It sure doesn’t make life boring though.

The gift of language

Many years ago now I was part of a year-of-your life missions program and truth be told I loved the classroom bit the best. Studying Theology was a dream come true for the 23 year old student that I was then. The lecturer took us through a course called ‘Apples of gold’. Many years later and I don’t remember the content of the course however I remember the verse that the course was named for – Proverbs 25: 11: “The right word at the right time is like apples of gold in settings of silver”.

 

It is said that comedy is really about timing when delivering the punchline. There’s nothing that says that a punchline always has to be funny. A word correctly spoken at the right time is like apples of gold in settings of silver.

 

It should come as no surprise that God’s timing is always perfect and His words are always full of meaning, purpose and power. Right in the beginning Scripture says that God created the heavens and the earth merely by speaking (Genesis 1). Not being a theologian I’m not acquainted with all that that means but I do know power and awesomeness when I see it, and that’s impressive.

 

The best I can do is give instructions to my kids and requests to my wife. It very seldom has the desired effect. However nothing of what God has ever said has ever failed to perform precisely what He has intended. I like that, because that means when He makes a promise, its better than money in the bank. Its solid.

 

 

From the point of view of the New Testament, Jesus is the Word in the beginning who was active in creation:

 

In the beginning the Word already existed.

The Word was with God,

and the Word was God.

He existed in the beginning with God.

God created everything through him,

and nothing was created except through him.

The Word gave life to everything that was created,*

and his life brought light to everyone.

The light shines in the darkness,

and the darkness can never extinguish it.*

 

John 1: 1 – 5

 

At the beginning, God gave instructions to Adam and Adam categorised and named all the animals (as an aside, did you ever wonder what language God, Adam and Eve spoke with each other? Something which we may perhaps learn in eternity where all things are known). It is clear from a basic reading of Scripture that God communicates all the time and this holds true for the people He has created. Language and communication is a gift and life would in fact be incomprehensible without it. God is communicating all the time.

 

In the days of Peleg, Scripture records that people were united in rebellion against God and were building the Tower of Babel. Language can unite but it can also divide and be an impediment, and on purpose God caused the people on the plain of Shinar to have different languages. The lesson there I think is that language as an organising principle for sinful endeavour is bad. And it was appropriate for sinful people to be confused and scattered.

 

People are always trying to explain the mechanics and purpose of language, like Marshall McLuhan, a contemporary Canadian who theorised that ‘the medium is the message’ which is a little silly. Lots of people try to be edgy and unique, like McLuhan who suggested among other things that Western society emerged from chaos because the medium of the written word arranged in lines from left to right caused society to seek a similar order in their world. With respect, my personal belief from years of observance is that ‘the message is the message’, not the medium.

 

An idiom doesn’t mean idiom because it is an idiom. See what I mean?

The gift of language
The gift of language

Scripture is replete with meaning because whatever is going on, whether judgement or creation or revelation, motivation, prophecy or praise there is communication. God is relational. With God there is no tech in between. Picture a group of millennials out at a social event, sitting on a couch but not in real conversion with each other, all on smart phones, staring down at screens and messaging each other like they’ve forgotten how to converse. You know, with their mouths. Well, God isn’t like that; there is no technological barrier between us and God. In fact God’s communion with us involves the totality of language but even goes beyond it. When praying and we don’t know what to pray for, Scripture says the following:

 

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.

 

Romans 8: 26

 

That kind of understanding is beyond language because sometimes we do not even know to express longings to Him.

 

Language is a gift but can also be a tool for corruption, unfortunately. The shadow of the tower of Bable thus casts it’s influence in the areas of religion, commerce, national discourse and entertainment.

 

In the Middle East and generally in the world today, Islam has claims against Christianity and its spread. The Muslim is obliged to read the Qur’an in Arabic instead of the vernacular, rendering it extremely difficult to access unless of course you speak Arabic. Would God insist on Arabic and reveal a text like the following random excerpt from the Qur’an?:

 

He is the One who created you from mud, then predetermined your life span, a life span that is known only to Him. Yet, you continue to doubt. He is the one GOD in the heavens and the earth. He knows your secrets and your declarations, and He knows everything you earn.

No matter what kind of proof comes to them from their Lord, they turn away from it, in aversion. Since they rejected the truth when it came to them, they have incurred the consequences of their heedlessness. Have they not seen how many generations before them we have annihilated? We established them on earth more than we did for you, and we showered them with blessings, generously, and we provided them with flowing streams. We then annihilated them because of their sins, and we substituted another generation in their place.

Even if we sent down to them a physical book, written on paper, and they touched it with their hands, those who disbelieved would have said, “This is no more than clever magic.” They also said, “If only an angel could come down with him!” Had we sent an angel, the whole matter would have been terminated, and they would no longer be respited.”

That’s a random sample from the sixth chapter of the Qur’an. I know you may think I’m being a little unkind and I certainly haven’t gone out of my way to find the most poetic passage from the book, however from the excerpts I have seen the prose is basically like that all the way through. Not exactly a page-turner for someone who has grown up with the Bible with it’s poetry, theology soaring like buttresses in cathedrals, figures of speech and salty, flawed characters who speak in idioms or rowdy market-place Greek.

 

Trying to figure out pronoun-heavy text in the Qur’an and its applicability seems to me like doing an Afrikaans comprehension exam. Whilst on my second glass of merlot. With my brain tied behind my back.  What I’m basically saying is that coming from revelation in the Bible I find it difficult to appreciate the holy book of Muslims.

 

Many of the chapters and verses of the Qur’an are difficult to understand and apart from it’s claim to be a divine revelation, many people might never make an effort to read it. Because of it’s claims of divine origin some do read it. It may not surprise you to learn that many Muslims do not read it regularly.

 

When I consider the beauty of Isaiah 40, one of my favourite passages of Scripture and compare with other sacred books the world over, (I know it’s subjective but) the cadences and turns of phrase are familiar and uplifting:

 

He gives power to the weak

and strength to the powerless.

30         Even youths will become weak and tired,

and young men will fall in exhaustion.

31         But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.

They will soar high on wings like eagles.

They will run and not grow weary.

They will walk and not faint.

 

Couldn’t the Holy Spirit communicate the truth and see to it that the human writer rocks the artistry of it as well? It’s a rhetorical question. Of course He could and did.

 

As recorded in Acts chapter 2 when the Holy Spirit fell on the church that was gathered, the Christians spoke to the crowd in many tongues. God’s idea for man was to have many languages and He speaks to them thus. It’s not merely as if God does not mind communicating with people in a way they can understand. He seems to go out of His way to do so. There’s nothing quite like hearing the warmth of the gospel in the language closest to your heart and heritage. And crucially, the church maintains a brotherhood where language is not that much of a barrier. I have been to Mozambique and fellowshipped with Christians who only speak Portuguese or a local dialect. In Revelations 21 which refers to people gathered in heaven before God, verse 24 speaks of the nations (ethnos – everyone in their distinctive people groupings, encompassing different languages) who walk in His light.

 

In business there is a particularly heavy emphasis on obfuscatory language, which basically means writing or speaking in a way that actually makes it difficult to understand. Why would someone do that you ask? Great question. I suppose people in the corporate world enjoy playing word games. Maybe they’re compulsive crossword puzzlers too. In the corporate world today its all about branding and having hegemony over how the employee uses language. A good example is the use of the concept of the ‘Employee Value Proposition’, or EVP. Not content to merely pay staff a salary, the EVP is communication imperative by the company to do 2 things; (1) use the communication about their remuneration policy towards the employee as a branding opportunity, and (2) manage the experience of the employee. So the employee has no context to discuss what he thinks of the salary, he can only listen to the company’s view of what they pay him or her, and use their language to describe in what way he agrees with their philosophy. There are tons of things that companies do all the time like this that hinder communication because it’s oh so lovely to control your employees.

 

Countries use propaganda all the time to stifle debate and frame actions taken by the State as virtuous. It’s an example from fiction but the principle is the same: in the dystopian novel ‘1984’, the State bombards its population with messages through the ‘Ministry of Truth’ which is clearly no such thing.

 

WAR IS PEACE

FREEDOM IS SLAVERY

IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH

Such self-contradictory thoughts are quite common in the way governments function and particularly how politicians speak with the ‘common rabble’.

 

In the entertainment world typified by Hollywood there is no such thing as pure art for its own sake. The story is always used as a vehicle for communication. Sometimes it’s descriptive but most often the director or studio doesn’t only tell us a story, they also tell us what to think about it. I suppose they have the money and/or the artistic vision and they are entitled to do with the story what they want and the public is not obliged to buy into that but usually its just way too slick to resist.

 

The X-Men movies are a message about mutation, a romantic notion of evolution. The Marvel universe of movies is a message about modern myths. Disaster movies are a message that doom is inevitable on a vast scale but that the indomitable human spirit will see to it that some will always survive. The Twilight films and ’50 Shades of grey’ are about how the forbidden is exciting. There is a message, an agenda in everything produced by the entertainment industry.

 

Language and speech is a gift that can be used for good or selfish gain. I like very much the attitude expressed by the songwriter of the ‘Big Daddy Weave’ track, ‘My Story’: “If I should speak, then let it be…of the grace that is greater than all my sin…” (There’s more to the song but that is the idea in a nutshell). I recommend you look up the track on YouTube.

 

The highest subject of study is God, there’s nothing greater, but in the context of language the highest endeavour we can put our efforts towards is to praise God and to spread the message as far and effectively as we can.

Christine

I knew Christine from years ago when I first started formal work, which is going on a bit now. She sold me a policy and I never regretted it, unlike sometimes when I’ve had dealings with brokers.

I had the type of affinity for Christine that was there because she was a really nice lady. Merely a feeling that she was a real human being and didn’t treat me as a mark and was always polite and genuine in the handful of times I met with her. Perhaps that made her a very effective broker. I have remembered her with fondness in the intervening years. On anyone mentioning her name I could recall her friendly face, and hoped that life was treating her well.

It was a shock then when I heard that she had ended her own life in depression. So vibrant, doing a good job, with a family and then all of a sudden that’s it for those left behind.

It goes to show you that people sometimes hide their pain well and you never quite know what is going on with another person, be they friend or stranger. If we all had to lay bare our wretched fears and confess all our heinous acts, deepest insecurities, profound regrets and take stock of how badly we have messed things up, I reckon we would be scared spitless. As I remember Christine, I think about ‘for whom the bell tolls’, for us all but for me too.

There is no shame in admitting weakness, in fact it’s essential, although sometimes it’s best to keep that between ourselves and God. However, let’s admit that and not be afraid to show it.

I love the book of Isaiah. In it you will find an echo of the gospel in the passage of ‘the suffering servant’. You will also find some of my favourite verses:

He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40: 29 – 31

Notice that the description of the one who hopes in the LORD moves from soaring on wings to running without weariness to walking without faintness. It’s the opposite of what we might expect. Sometimes flying is not possible, and you have to run. Sometimes running is out of the question and all you can do is walk.

Today is one of those days where I’m walking, but at least I’m walking in the LORD.

Let us come to Him in our very great weakness and receive His very present strength.