Monthly Archives: March 2011

Christian Atheists


Look at Paul’s words to the Church in Galatia.  There is a lot of language here that Paul uses around the idea of being adopted, and looking forward to receiving an inheritance.


Reading from Galatians 3: 27ff


The clearest place in the Bible, Paul talks about the doctrine of Adoption – God adopts us to be his son, his daughter.


Paul’s adoption was quite different in Paul’s day from the way that we think about it.


What does it mean in Paul’s world?


To be adopted means to be given a future.


The single most important aspect of adoption in Paul’s day, was the connection between adoption a inheritance.  Adoption was not about providing a home to an orphan.


In Judaism an orphan would often be cared for by other relatives.


Adoption was done in the Graeco-Roman mostly by the wealthy and powerful.  It was about passing on the family estate and line to the next generation.  This was done to ensure the family’s survival.


The head of the family was called the Paterfamilias.  And he wanted to ensure that this influence would go on into the future.  The pater would select a male heir through the process of adoption.  Very often you would not change home.


If orphan’s did get taken in, to be a slave.


He would look for someone who would carry on his family’s way and work.


This was a tremendous opportunity.  It meant that the paterfamilias believed in you and wanted you to carry on his name, and extend his influence throughout the world.  You have  glorious future (Galatians 4:7)


Whatever has gone on in your past, you have a future.


To be adopted meant forgiveness from all debts


Often in those days families would get into financial problems.  Fathers would sometimes sell their children into slavery.  Also when father died, son would pay debts.  When a man was adopted, he was free from the creditors who went after his own family.


It means that right now you are free from your moral debt.


You don’t have to carry the debt around if you are a child of God.  If you ever feel ashamed or guilty, you just point to your father.


Adoption means a new security for insecure people


If a biological father was going to give up his son for adoption, he would emancipate his son to a mediator.  This would happen three times, and after that point the new adoptive father would make this new son.


The reason is that the father would often sell and resell their child.  This was a way of reassuring the adopted son that you would never be sold again.  This is an irrevocable promise.  No matter what you will always be my son.


Adopted sons were actually more secure than biological sons.  They would never be given up.


Anyone here know any insecure people.  You can have the security that other people try to engineer security through.


Adoption means you get a new identity.


The pater would give you a new name.  You would have a different way of regarding yourself.  This ritual of receiving your new name was quite important.  Talks about a ritual for doing this in Athens.  Then he would introduce his new son to other members of his household, and others would accept this, and his name would be entered into the official register of his family.


You have been adopted into Christ Jesus, all you who have been baptised in Christ.


You are somebody.


In this world, people are obsessed with showing that they are somebody.


Adoption means that you have identity.


Adoption means that you could look forward to a new freedom.


The pater would have to think, what would happen if I die before my child comes of age.  A tuteller (gives us the word tutor) would look after this child, as long as the tutella had this power.  Girls came of age when they were 12 years old; boys were 14-18 years of age.


If you were an adopted son and your pater died, this would be grim because tutella’s were difficult.  But you looked forward to the day that you were set free by your tutella, and you would come into your inheritance.


As long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave (this is the practice he is referring).  He is under guardians and trustees until the time set by his father.  But when the time had fully come – this is what Paul is talking about.


If you know Jesus then you have been adopted.


You are all sons of God – in Christ there is neither male or female.  Why does he say sons instead of children.  In the ancient world, how many girls got adopted?  Not many at all.  Girls could not become a Pater.  Now Paul is saying that the earthly father is saying that the pater is giving to males and females, slaves and frees; in a way that does not happen in the culture.


Who would adopt a slave?  Nobody does.  God does.


Who would adopt a girl?  Nobody does.  God does.


He talks about being under bondage – under here.  He talks about lots of ways in which we are control of others, ways in which we are like children under tutella.


The mediator who would pay the price for his adoption – God sent his son because we were under the power of sin and of death and of guilt.  The father sent his own son, he gave his own life.  No mediator ever gave his own life.  There is one God, and one mediator between God and people – Jesus Christ who gave himself a ransom for all. – 1 Timothy.


You have now been adopted, and the pater believes in you, and he wants to bless you with all that he has, so that he can spread the influence of his family throughout the whole wide world.


Now the question is – do I actually live like this is true, or do I just say it.


Very often we live under, beneath, our privilege – Dwight Moody.

Four wealthy brothers decided to give gifts to their mother who lived far away.


One built her a 4 million dollar house

One put a 100,000 theatre into that house

One had his Mercedes dealer deliver SL 600

You know how Mum loves the Bible, she can’ read it any more, I met a preacher who told me about a parrot that can recite the entire Bible.  It took 100 preachers 20 years to train him.  I had to pledge 100,000 dollars a year to the Church to get this but it was worth it.  Mum just has to name the chapter and verse and the parrot will recite it.  The other brothers were impressed.  The Mum wrote thank you notes to all the brothers to thank them.


Dear Milton, thank you for the house.  You built it so large that I live in only one room but I to clean the whole thing, thanks anyways

Dear Marven I am too old to venture out, I get groceries delivered, the car stays in the garage, but the thought was nice, thanks anyways.

Dear Richard, the expensive dolby surround sound theatre holds 50 people but all my friends are dead, and I can’t see well enough to use it, thanks anyways.

Dearest Melvin,  you are the only son to have a little thought to think about your gift.  The chicken was delicious, thank you.


Living beneath your privilege, this fabulous gift that you are given, and you just throw it away.


Paul says – if you are a son then you are an heir.  It is a gift beyond your wildest imagination.


The promise, the inheritance is not just going to come after your die, but the time has fully come now when we are not under the tutellar.  We have been set free now. We have been set free for life in the Spirit, and the Spirit is now available.


That life is available through the Spirit of life.  What we really want is love and joy and peace, and this comes through the Spirit, if you have been adopted by God then the Spirit is available to you in Jesus.


Am I living that?  Or am I living beneath the priviledge.  Nothing to do all day, just walk in the Spirit, just keep in step with the Spirit


From the writer Francis Fenlon

“What God asks of us is a will which is no longer divided

Between him and any creature.

It is a will pliant in his hands.”


Make surrender your chief aim this week.  Do not take a single step without God.


Live with a surrendered will.


So the next day I went in determined to live in a posture of surrender.  My posture of surrender last less than a minute, and I talk too much, and I get argumentative.  I don’t stop to pray, I get self absorbed, I get stubborn, finally at the end of my work day.  I am pontificating, and finally Rick Langlow yelled at me – do you know how carnal you have to get for Rick Langlow to yell at you.


How often do I live beneath my privilege.  I had a bad day but I am still God’s child.  In any moment I can surrender to the Spirit, that is the promise, that is the inheritance, that is love and joy and peace, that is God at work in you.


Because you are sons, God sent the spirit of his Son into your hearts, God is at work in you right now, even if you don’t know it.


Think of the first cry of a child’s heart, and that is the Spirit, as the child reaches out to the Father. Paul doesn’t say “I cry out,” or “you cry out” but the Spirit cries out, the longing to love, is the echo of God longing to love you.


Guy in a grocery store, it’s okay Billy, it’s okay Billy with his three year old son in a grocery store as his son gets crankier and crankier

It’s okay Bill, it’s okay Billy, we’ll be done soon Billy.


A woman comes up him, you are so patient with your son Billy

Oh no, my son’s name is Justin, I’m Billy.


And he starts to sing a song, “I’m so glad that you’re my son,

I am so grateful that I get to be your Dad

I love seeing your face

It makes me happy when you smile

I love to go an look at your little body when you are sound asleep

Whatever happens I will always be your Dad


And Justin gets real quiet, and his eyes get real wide, and his heart gets real calm

And he listens all the way out to the car

And Justin says, “Sing it to me again Daddy, because you never get to old for that song, because that is the song you were born to here.


The little boy is no more a son than he was before,

It is just that now he knows.


He knows that that father is his father

That’s what God wants to do.


This is not about what we do,


“Sing it again.”



It is also about the struggle to be opened, to be heard and to hear, not to be stopped but somehow to be able to be free, to have breath, to speak as God speaks.  It shows up in the struggle of Iman al-Obeidi to be heard as she rushes into a hotel full of foreign journalists, she knows she will be in trouble with the serious looking men in plain clothes, but she wants to be heard.  It shows up in the grieving mother who knows what is going on, but cannot say what she thinks; it shows up in the protesters desperate to say to department stores and multinationals – what is happening her is wrong, it is in the desperation of those same protesters as they are duped into being arrested.

It is in the poverty truth commission about to come to an end at the end of the month.

All these things – the struggle to be opened, the struggle to hear; to speak and to hear, another part of us that is birthed in our being a little like God.


From 27th March

Sadhu Sundar Singh, an early twentieth century Indian missionary, wrote

“A silkworm was struggling out of the cocoon and an ignorant man saw it battling as if in pain, so he went and helped it to get free, but very soon after it fluttered and died.  The other silkworms that struggled out without help suffered, but they came out into full life and beauty, with wings made strong for flight by their battle for fresh existence.”

Faith In Public

Richard Rorty argues that taking faith out the public space is a necessary pragmatic move.  Any recourse to a faith position becomes a “conversation stopper” with no dialogue permitted.  Instead we should simply concentrate on what is the greatest good for the greatest number.

Stephen L. Carter of Yale counters

Efforts to craft a public square from religious conversation is absent, no matter how thoughtfully worked out, will always in the end say to those of organised religion that they alone, unlike everybody else, must enter public dialogue only after leaving behind that part of themselves that they may consider most vital.

Even pragmatists who argue that we try to find what works, must think about what people are for.  Any picture of human life that “works” must necessarily be informed by what human life is for.  Even the most secular pragmatists come to the table with deep commitments and narrative accounts of what it means to be human.

Keller concludes by arguing that Christians have an unusually good resource for engagement in the culture around them, the knowledge that they are amongst the worst of people, they are the people with the least in moral achievements, they are the people who have failed.  This informed humility removes any thought of superiority from the Christian, and allied to the worship of a saviour who gave himself in sacrifice and for reconciliation, calls us to a radically different way of living in the world.

This was the way of the early Christians who, though surrounded by a Graeco-Roman culture which aspired to openness and tolerance, was cruel and brutal.  Where the poor, women, children were despised, Christians loved; where community life was highly stratified, Christian communities were scandalously diverse.  During the terrible urban plagues of the first two centuries, it was the Christians who remained in the city to care for the sick and the dying.

Keep Calm and Carry On


The human condition is such that pain and effort are not just symptoms which can be removed without changing life itself; they are rather the modes in which life itself, together with the necessity to which it is bound, makes itself felt.  For mortals, the ‘easy life of the gods’ would be a lifeless life.  Hannah Arendt, German political philosopher

Never stop because you are afraid – you are never more likely to be wrong – Fridtjof Nansen, Norwegian Explorer

A man’s life is interesting primarily when he has failed – I well know.  For it’s a sign that he tried to surpass himself – George Clemenceau, French Statesman

The laurels of mere willing are dry leaves which have never been green – G.W.F. Hegel, German Philosopher

I accept the universe! – Margaret Fuller, 19th Century American writer and activist

A Piece of Cake


It is remarkable the role that faith plays in Cupcake’s story – if anyone had good reason to be an atheist it would be Cupcake Brown.  Indeed she describes the time she is raped for the first time at the age of 11, as the moment when she lost her faith in the goodness of God “First, I wondered why they didn’t make little girl’s panties stronger.  Then I begin to recall my hatred for God.  I didn’t know Him but one thing told me that GOd must have known that if He took my mother all of these f*****-up things would happen to me.  Besides, not only was it f*****-up for God to take my mother, I felt like it was extremely f*****-up for Him to allow me to find her dead body.  So, I figured, He couldn’t like me very much.  I resolved again, right there and then on that bathroom floor, that I hated God because he hated me.  I decided again, once and for all, that I would not be bothered with Him.” (page 41).

But it is through her faith in God that Cupcake Brown eventually comes to recovery.  One of the staging posts on the way is the behaviour of a Christian policeman who wore a small gold cross next to his badge and was known on the street as the “preacher”.  “Personally, I’d never met him before, but knew a few users who had dealt with him.  He had a reputation as being nice – the type who said ‘watch your head’ as he put you into the back of the squad car (most cops were known to bang your head on purpose), or he would loosen handcuffs if someone complained that they were too tight (other cops were known to make them even tighter if you complained).

I am struck by that policeman, who made small gestures as well as his motivational speeches, the mark of his kindness, who knew that he would have to be different from other policemen if he was to be true to himself, and who made sure he stuck to standards of kindness and love with people who had done bad things.

“But you, you really don’t belong here,” he said to Cupcake, “There’s something special about you.  I can’t put my finger on it, but I know that God’s got a job for you.” (page 357)

Despite her horrendous past, Cupcake reappraised her life and sees protection rather than abandonment.

“When I first began writing, I didn’t see anything ‘positive’ about God – that is until I really began to take stock of my past.  It didn’t take long to acknowledge that there was no way that, as an eleven-, twelve- or thirteen year old girl, I could have hitchhiked every day up and down Californian Highways at all hours of the day and night, getting into anyone’s car with nothing but a butter knife in my sock, and never have gotten raped, beaten, or even killed.  Looking back on it, I realised that someone or something had to be watching over me.  I thought about the numerous gang fights I’d been in; yet I’d never suffered any serious injuries.  I thought about the many homies I’d lost to gang violence and drive-by shootings.  I thought about the night I’d gotten shot.  I should have been dead, or at least paralysed, yet I’d walked out of the hospital, despite the doctor’s doubts.

“Over the next several days, I thoroughly catalogued every horrendous event of my life.  When I finished, tears fell as I admitted to myself that something had to have been protecting me.” (page 468-469).

She begins her book by thanking God who “never turned His back on me, even when I turned my back on Him.” and a quote from one of the two remarkable men in her life who stuck by her through everything

“Where there is life, there is hope

Where there is hope, there is trust,

Where there is trust, there is love

Where there is love, there is faith

Where there is faith, there is success

Where there is success, there is God.”

Only God Forgives


Response number one is lower my doctrine of inspiration for a few days.   Tempting, but the coward’s way out.  That said there will be something on arguing with God, alla Abrahm in Genesis 18.

But another thing might be that the Old Testament is a world where transgression can’t go anywhere.  It can be temporarily dealt with in sacrifices (taking Romans 3 and Hebrews) but it can’t actually go anywhere, can’t be reversed, can’t be nullified, can’t be reduced or minimised.  Sin is there, and the agents of detoxification are nowhere.

Part of the Old Testament I think is about tempering human urges to over-reaction (“an eye for an eye” instead of “death for an eye”), but part of it is holding up to us the bleakness of a world where no one can forgive, where sin cannot be done away with in grace (being careful not to over-reach into Marcionism here).

I have just done a word search on forgiveness, and just made the remarkable discovery that nowhere in the Old Testament do humans forgive.  There are two occasions when it is asked for – of Joseph from his brothers in Genesis 50; and Abigail of David in 1 Samuel 25:28.

Thus it is utterly remarkable when Jesus forgives the sin of the disabled man in Mark 2, and utterly new when in the Lord’s prayer and the Sermon on the Mount Jesus urges us to forgive one another.  We enter a radically new world where somehow hurt done to us can done away without recourse to further hurt, that evil words visited upon us can somehow be removed by something we do, there is something remarkably new in the call to genuinely forgive.  Something that was not possible, it seems, when the father was dealing with his errant son.

Who am I?



Am I then really all that which other men tell of

Or am I only what I know of myself?


Restless and longing and sick

Like a bird in a cave struggling for breath

As though hands were compressing my throat.

Yearning for colours, for flowers, for birds

Thirsting for words of neighbourliness

Trembling with anger at evils and petty humiliations

Tossing in expectation of great events

Powerless trembling for friends at an infinite distance

Weary, empty a praying, at thinking

Feint and ready to say farewell to it all


Who am I?

This or the other

Am I one person today and tomorrow another

Am I both at once

A hypocrite before others

And before myself a contemptible woebegone weakling

There is something within me still like a beaten army fleeing in disorder

With victory already achieved


Who am I?

They mock me these lonely questions of mine

Whoever I am

Thou knowest Oh God

I am thine

Do not worry


I lift up my eyes from the hills, from where does my help come


The idea here is of consciously choosing where to place our minds.  This is a thing that others cannot control.  The idea of lifting up the eyes is present in the story of Isaac and Rachel, when I think she lifts up her eyes and sees him.


My help comes from the Lord

The maker of heaven and earth

He will not let your foot be moved.

Talked about how in countries without medical care, the idea of a footslip could be very serious indeed.


Also talks that the idea of foot slipping really refers to a moral dimension, of slipping from the path of righteousness.  That in everything, our souls will be kept safe.


Behold he who keeps Israel will neither slumber or sleep

The Lord is your keeper

The Lord is your shade at your right hand

The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night


Talks about the effect of the moon, and the links with ideas of lunacy.


The Lord will keep you from all evil

He will keep your life

The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in

From this time forth and forevermore.

Wonderful poem from Bonhoeffer at the end, exploring the contradictions in our life, the apparent saintliness without, and the anxieties and worries that we wrestle with within.  As he left his cell to be hung on the gallows, a cellmate reported that he said “For me, this is not the end, this is the beginning”, and yet also within there were great turmoils in this great saint of the 20th century Church.


Who am I

They often tell me I will step from cell calmly, cheerfully, firmly, like a squire from his country house,


Who am I

They often tell me I would talk to my warden freely and friendlily as though it were mine to command


Who am I?

They often tell me I would bear the days of misfortune calmly, smilingly, proudly, as one accustomed to win


Am I then really all that which other men tell of

Or am I only what I know of myself?


Restless and longing and sick

Like a bird in a cave struggling for breath

As though hands were compressing my throat.

Yearning for colours, for flowers, for birds

Thirsting for words of neighbourliness

Trembling with anger at evils and petty humiliations

Tossing in expectation of great events

Powerless trembling for friends at an infinite distance

Weary, empty a praying, at thinking

Feint and ready to say farewell to it all


Who am I?

This or the other

Am I one person today and tomorrow another

Am I both at once

A hypocrite before others

And before myself a contemptible woebegone weakling

There is something within me still like a beaten army fleeing in disorder

With victory already achieved


Who am I?

They mock me these lonely questions of mine

Whoever I am

Thou knowest Oh God

I am thine


Whoever I am?  I don’t even know me God, all I know is that I am yours.