The story of Dull Knife and the Cheyenne

dull_knifeDull Knife was a leader of the Cheyenne, this is the sad story of the last years of his leadership, and a reminder of what followed. It’s one of the many tragedies that go to make up the history of the USA, worth remembering as we head in to Thanksgiving, and Native American Heritage day.

As told in a series of eleven tweets.

On 25/11/1876 The US Army exacted terrible vengeance for their defeat at Little Big Horn, swooping on an unprepared Cheyenne encampment.

Some Cheyenne managed to escape as the soldiers swooped, but the attackers destroyed their food and winter clothing. Many starved or froze.

After an 11 day walk to the Lakota at Tongue River many of the half naked Cheyenne were dead. Next spring Dull Knife decided to surrender.

The defeated Cheyenne were sent south, and before too long the final Plains tribes were sent to join them. Many died of diseases there.

“There we found a Cheyenne cannot live. So we came home. Better it was, we thought, to die fighting than to perish of sickness.” Dull Knife

Dull Knife later led his people in a bloody and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to return North, many more Cheyenne were killed.

Dull Knife himself died in in 1883, in Southern Montana, bitter and grieving the loss of his wife, three sons and two daughters.

And the killing hadn’t ended: in 1890, after the reservation lands were denuded of bison many Lakota were massacred at Wounded Knee.

“When I look back… I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch…”

“Something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people’s dream died there. It was a beautiful dream…”

“the nation’s hoop is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead.” Black Elk of the Lakota.

How did we get here?

A brief history of events which led up to the killings in Paris last weekend, and beyond.

There was an old woman who swallowed a fly, I don’t know why she swallowed a fly, perhaps she’ll die.

In 1914 the First World War started. Historians agree that the causes of the war are complex, as large alliances battled for global supremacy, the diplomatic battles turned into physical ones. Millions died as the Allied nations fought against the so called ‘Central powers’.

In 1917 the Russian empire collapsed, and following the revolution which saw Russia become a Socialist republic, the Russians came to terms with the Central powers.

In 1918 the Allies overcame the Central powers, nullifying the treaty they had agreed with Russia, and peace treaties were negotiated with the various countries involved.

The Treaty of Versailles saw Germany agree to a raft of measures which included vast sums in reparation and the occupation of parts of it territory by Allied armies.

As the 1920s began, in Italy the politics headed to the right wing and a fascist party built power. In Japan a growing culture of militarism began to take hold.

With their national pride destroyed and their economy in tatters, some Germans began to follow a new leader, an Austrian born painter turned politician known as Adolf Hitler, he took power in 1933 promising to rebuild.

There was an old woman who swallowed a spider, that wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her, she swallowed the spider to catch the fly,  I don’t know why she swallowed the fly, perhaps she’ll die

In 1939 a new war began, as Allied powers took on Germany and its allies after it’s invasion of Poland. Japan and Italy too became involved.

This war was bloodier than the last one, and lasted longer too. When it finally came to an end in 1945, economies were in tatters, and millions of people were dead, huge amounts of them were Russians.

Although they had been allies in the war, relations between Russia and America, which had dramatically different political outlooks, cooled dramatically. Shortly after WW2 ended, the Cold War began.

There was an old woman who swallowed a bird. How absurd to swallow a bird!
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider, that wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her, she swallowed the spider to catch the fly, I don’t know why she swallowed the fly, perhaps she’ll die.

The Cold War continued for decades, fought hot in proxies here and there as economies were slowly rebuilt. America fought a doomed campaign in Vietnam, and some years later, in 1979, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. The Afghans, like other countries in the same region had been pawns in the Great Game for a long time, now as the Cold War ground on they were once again in the thick of things.

Immediately following the invasion, the British and others began to work out how they could send covert military aid to Islamic insurgents who were battling against the Russians. The Mujahedeen became our proxies in the on going struggle for global supremacy.

Shortly after the invasion a radical Islamist cleric called Abdullah Azzam travelled to Peshawar to assist the Mujahedeen in their struggle. With him went a 21-year-old disciple from Saudi Arabia, an engineer called Osama Bin Laden.

There was an old woman who swallowed a cat.  Imagine that, to swallow a cat!  She swallowed the cat to catch the bird, she swallowed the bird to catch the spider, that wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her, she swallowed the spider to catch the fly, I don’t know why she swallowed the fly, perhaps she’ll die.

In 1989 the Russians withdrew from Afghanistan, but not until another million and half people were dead, and further millions had fled the country, leaving it battle scarred, stunted and deprived.

In 1988, Bin Laden who had supported the Mujahideen, decided to start his own movement, called ‘The Base’ or in Arabic ‘Al Quaeda’ which would focus on terrorism rather than ‘traditional’ military tactics. He left Afghanistan around the same time as the Russians, to raise funds for his new organisation.

The 1990s saw the start of AQ’s terror campaign, which climaxed in 2001 with an attack on the twin towers.

It had suited various powers over a number of years to prop up totalitarian regimes in various Middle Eastern and African countries, political support meant access to resources vital for the rebuilding of post war economies. In 1972 the progressive political leader Saddam Hussein had won support from Russia, the Baathist coup of 1968 had seen the US supported regime thrown out. A few turbulent decades led eventually to the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

As the Middle East grew yet more unstable, in 2010 the Arab spring saw violent and non violent uprisings across the region, which was widely (if nervously) welcomed by the democracy loving West. In Syria, former ophthalmologist turned politician Bashar al-Assad had won international support from a variety of right wing figures including the founder of the KKK, and the BNP’s Nick Griffin held power, and it was widely agreed that he should be toppled.

There was an old woman who swallowed a dog. What a hog, to swallow a dog! She swallowed the dog to catch the cat, she swallowed the cat to catch the bird, she swallowed the bird to catch the spider, that wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her, she swallowed the spider to catch the fly, I don’t know why she swallowed the fly, perhaps she’ll die.    

While some regimes fell relatively easily, Assad proved difficult to unseat, another bloody civil war ensued, governments were wary of becoming involved too directly, but military advisors and weapons found their way to those opposing Assad in Syria. As they did so, a new group began to emerge.

Now known more generally as IS (Islamic State) this group was founded by Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi an Iraqi who claims direct descent from the Prophet. His first recorded message was a eulogy to Osama Bin Laden who was killed by US forces in 2011. As they fought Assad, Al Baghdadi and his forces seized large swathes of land in Iraq and Syria and declared a Caliphate.

There was an old woman who swallowed a goat. Just opened her throat, to swallow a goat! She swallowed the goat to catch the dog, she swallowed the dog to catch the cat, she swallowed the cat to catch the bird, she swallowed the bird to catch the spider, that wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her, she swallowed the spider to catch the fly, I don’t know why she swallowed the fly, perhaps she’ll die.

The situation in Syria had become polarised, on the one hand America and others wanted Assad out, but nobody wanted IS to prevail. There appeared to be a catch 22, support the loathed Assad in his fight against IS, or attack Assad and thereby indirectly support IS. Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of refugees streamed out of the region, heading for the safe haven of Europe.

After the debacle in Iraq in the 2000s, Europeans and particularly the UK were reluctant to commit military support to action in Syria, all the same, British forces were fighting IS in Iraq, and British planes as part of a UN force were flying sorties in to Syria. Other countries were more strongly committed in Syria, in particular France who were strong in their demand for Assad to step down, but had also committed considerable resources in air strikes against IS positions in the country.

There was an old woman who swallowed a cow, I don’t know how she swallowed a cow! She swallowed the cow to catch the goat, she swallowed the goat to catch the dog, she swallowed the dog to catch the cat, she swallowed the cat to catch the bird, she swallowed the bird to catch the spider, that wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her.
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly, I don’t know why she swallowed the fly, perhaps she’ll die.

In November 2015 a Russian aircraft was brought down over Egypt, IS claimed responsibility. They also claimed responsibility for attacks in Beirut, and then for the extraordinary series of coordinated attacks in Paris which saw the best part of 500 people killed or injured in a series of paramilitary attacks in the heart of the city.

The French response was understandably full of grief and bitterness, and they vowed to redouble their efforts in Syria, immediately launching more air strikes against IS targets. Other countries considered their positions.

There was an old woman who swallowed a horse, she’s dead—of course!

This is a grossly over simplified timeline of events over the last hundred years, which, among other omissions, doesn’t mention colonialism, hardly mentions expansionism, and takes no account of growing religious fundamentalism and its impact on politics. However, it makes, in a very general way, a point.

Wearing the White Poppy

un-gunIt’s been quite a few years since I last wore a red poppy.

Instead, because I think that remembrance is important, I wear a white one, which I buy from the Peace Pledge Union.

It’s not an act of betrayal, nor is it a denial of the genuine human sacrifice made by human beings who were motivated to offer up their bodies because of love or duty.

Both of my grandfathers fought in WW2, they did what they thought they should do, what they believed was right. They were brave men, they emerged alive from that dreadful conflict, but not unscathed.

I do not wear a white poppy as some kind of denial of the sacrifice that millions made.

I wear a white poppy because I believe in remembering all who died.

I wear a white poppy because I don’t want to see any more wars.

I wear a white poppy because death doesn’t win.

I respect the right of everyone to wear a poppy, or not, according to their conscience. I don’t think you should wear one just because that’s the ‘done thing’. I choose not to wear a red poppy, and I do so for the same basic reasons as I choose to wear a white one.

In the UK the red poppy has come to be almost totally synonymous with the remembrance of dead service personnel, specifically dead British soldiers, sailors and airmen and women. I have no problem with remembering dead servicemen and women, of any sort. But I want to go further, I believe we should remember all who die in war. The innocent victims, the enemy combatants, the conscripts, the deserters, the shell shocked, the courageous and the cowards. The children, the women, the young, the old, the pregnant, the unborn, the confused, the disturbed, the traumatised and the tricked. Those who did what they were told, and those who did what they believed in, those who weren’t sure, and those who were overconfident.

The red poppy has come to be synonymous with the aftermath of international conflicts, it’s as if those conflicts are an inevitability. They aren’t. The more we consider war and its causes, the more we see that there are other ways of dealing with conflict. War is not inevitable, and shouldn’t be seen as such. We should be working together to bring an end to war.

“Last years British Legion Young Professionals’ Poppy Rocks was sponsored by Lockheed Martin, the world’s biggest arms company. Lockheed Martin also manufactures the Trident missile. Each of Britain’s missile submarines is capable of carrying 16 missiles. Each of these missiles can kill far in excess of the 888,000 dead represented by the red poppies at the Tower of London.” PPU.

The red poppy, with its blood stain shape and colour is a reminder of the bitter truth that in war, blood is shed, real, hot, red, human blood. That is the horrific reality of war. The myth of war is that if enough blood is shed, we can triumph. The myth is that good can overcome evil, if only there is enough death. It’s not true. Perhaps the only real inevitability is that wars lead to more wars.

The white poppy with its simple, central, bold message of ‘peace’ calls us to reconsider, to stand back from our allegiance to death and the myth of redemptive violence and remember the dead.

What is called the utopian dream of pacifism is in fact a practical policy
– indeed the only practical, the only realistic policy that there is
Aldous Huxley

Charisma Magazine article – a riposte

I recently had the misfortune to read an article from Charisma Magazine, a mistake I shall not repeat any time soon. It was written by a young woman who had taken on the task of dealing with what she perceives as the evil lure of ‘progressive’ Christianity.

I’m not going to link to the article here, nor name the author, as I don’t really want either to get a google hit here. I called the article ‘horse sh*t’ on facebook, and was asked why – here is my (rushed) paragraph by paragraph response to it. The original paragraphs are in quotes, I promise I haven’t doctored them.

I havent bothered to include the picture from the head of the article, which shows two tatooed and pierced youngsters, the fact that this is a stock photo and has no bearing on the article at all, only goes to increase my annoyance frankly – its part of the agenda to make ‘progressive’ evangelicals out to be fashion crazed hipsters. In truth most of the truly progressive people I know wear cardigans and corduroy.

Anyway – what follows is the article and my responses.

“Peek behind the curtain of some “progressive” or “hip” evangelical churches, past the savvy technology and secular music, and you will find more than just a contemporary worship service. You’ll find faith leaders encouraging young evangelicals to trade in their Christian convictions for a gospel filled with compromise. They’re slowly attempting to give evangelicalism an “update”—and the change is not for the good.”

I object to this for a start – on a number of points. In the first place ‘savvy technology’ & ‘secular music’? Really? Most conservative evangelical churches are pretty hot on ‘savvy technology’ these days – much more so than many progressive places I know of. And as for ‘secular’ music – well what even is that? Any music made by a non Christian? Any music other than sanctioned ‘praise and worship’? Music made by Vicky Beeching? What is it? Essentially this opener is an attempt to set up ‘progressive’ Christians as different, more worldly some how. My experience is that this is just not true, all Christians from a variety of traditions use different media in their gatherings, there is nothing intrinsically right or wrong about any of it.

“It’s painful for me to admit, but we can no longer rest carefree in our evangelical identity—because it is changing. No doubt you have seen the headlines declaring that evangelicalism is doomed because evangelical kids are leaving the faith. It is no secret that there is an expanding gulf between traditional Christian teachings and contemporary moral values. But the sad truth is that the ideological gulf between America’s evangelical grown-ups and their kids, aka the “millennials,” seems to be widening too.”

‘Rest carefree in our evangelical identity?’ Again, this is meaningless, or perhaps subtly meaningful, its making out that evangelicalism is somehow an ancient and established way that Christians have sat in since time immemorial – when it’s a new/modern movement that has evolved and keeps evolving. I also object to the idea of ‘traditional Christian teachings’ not because I don’t think there are any, but because they arent defined here – if we trace the history of the church from 0 to now, there are some teachings which have remained more or less constant, but not all that many, and most don’t relate to morality as we would define it. The last sentence too, it makes out that the ‘evangelical grown ups’ they who have presided over a variety of evils in their lifetimes are in the right, and their kids are the wrong uns. Way too simplistic.

“Somehow the blame for this chasm is being heaped on traditional churches. They are accused of having too many rules as well as being homophobic and bigoted. Yes, we’ve heard those false claims from popular culture in its desperate attempt to keep Christianity imprisoned within the sanctuary walls. But now popular culture is being aided by Christ-professing bedfellows whose message to “coexist,” “tolerate” and “keep out of it” is more marketable to the rising generation of evangelicals.”

Ok lets get one or two things straight here – many Christians are indeed homophobic and bigoted. Sorry but it’s a fact. If the popular culture calls us out on it, then that’s for us to respond to, not a cue for us to raise the drawbridge. The last sentence about the Christ-professing bedfellows, just doesn’t make any sense to me. Keep out of what? If the writer is saying that some people are advocating for the inclusion of gay people for instance then she should say so, instead she makes sweeping generalisations that can be misconstrued.

“The seasoned Christian soldiers are noticing these distortions of the gospel. But for young evangelicals, the spiritual haze is harder to wade through. Desperate for acceptance in a fallen world, many young evangelicals (and some older ones) choose not to take Christ out of the chapel, and so they are unwittingly killing the church’s public witness. In this uphill cultural battle, mired by scare tactics and fear, three types of evangelical Christians are emerging:

• Couch-potato Christians: These Christians adapt to the culture by staying silent on the tough culture-and-faith discussions. Typically this group will downplay God’s absolute truths by promoting the illusion that neutrality was Jesus’ preferred method of evangelism.

• Cafeteria-style Christians: This group picks and chooses which Scripture passages to live by, opting for the ones that best seem to jive with culture. Typically they focus solely on the “nice” parts of the gospel while simultaneously and intentionally minimizing sin, hell, repentance and transformation.

• Convictional Christians: In the face of the culture’s harsh admonitions, these evangelicals refuse to be silent. Mimicking Jesus, they compassionately talk about love and grace while also sharing with their neighbors the need to recognize and turn from sin.

Point one on this – what is the gospel according to this writer? She clearly has an idea in mind, but doesn’t spell it out. I’ll tell you what I think the gospel is, the gospel is Jesus, plain and simple. So ‘seasoned’ Christians are noticing the ‘distortions’ (again what they are exactly is unclear) but the message is obvious, old people know stuff, young people don’t. ‘Desperate for acceptance in a fallen world’? Really? That doesn’t sound true to me at all. None of the progressive Christians I know are ‘desperate for acceptance in a fallen world’ – far from it. It’s a gross mischaracterization of the facts. On the couch potato Christians, there is some truth in this, but its an unhelpful idea – the writer seems to be working outside of an understanding of the way in which people develop spiritually, probably coming to terms with that would help. On the cafeteria-style Christians: ‘pick and choose’? ‘Pick and choose’? I know of very very few Christians who don’t do this, the ones that don’t are often considered weirdos because they live in a way that most of us consider extreme, they don’t consider possessions to be their own, they renounce violence, etc etc. I hear this kind of crap from conservative evangelicals all the time, and I am highly tempted to challenge them on how many coats they have, and why they don’t share all they have with those who have nothing. And as for focusing ‘solely on the nice parts of the gospel’ – well again what exactly are these nice bits? The stuff about love and acceptance? I suspect the writer hasn’t come to terms with what it means to repent or transform – obviously I don’t know her, so I cant say for sure but that’s how it reads to me. Hell is another conversation entirely, and yes I am one of those Christians who don’t believe in Hell as such, but that’s not because I don’t like the idea, its because it doesn’t make sense. Hell is not a Jewish idea, its an idea that we have developed ourselves, and as a concept it doesn’t work. On the convictional Christians – again this is a false dichotomy, I know many convicted people from a wide variety of traditions, protestant, catholic, conservative, progressive, liberal… it’s nothing to do with the creed, its all to do with the person.

“I know about these three types of Christians because at one time or another I have fallen into each of these three categories. My parents will tell you that even though I was raised in church, I morphed into a full-fledged feminist, told my parents they were ignorant for not endorsing homosexuality and bought into the distorted social justice rhetoric that confuses caring for the poor with advancing socialist or big government systems and demonizing the United States for its free market system.”

A few red flags here – the writer thinks that feminism is intrinsically wrong, which is sad – she has bought in to the patriarchy of her conservative upbringing. She is someone who has reverted to an earlier stage of faith development, my suspicion is that this will change as she develops further. At least that’s my hope. She may then see that patriarchy is not intrinsic to Jesus Christianity, it’s part of a flawed Church culture. Sadly she has also bought into the right wing politics typical of conservative America, and confuses that with being Christian. Not her fault, she has just swallowed the propaganda.

“I’m not ashamed to share my story because my experiences and those of my fellow bold evangelicals are a testimony of God’s awesome, transforming power. Being countercultural for Christ isn’t easy. What does the Great Commission say? Jesus commanded us to go, “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:20).”

There’s some irony here, having just endorsed the entirely cultural idea of the free market, she claims to be counter cultural – if she doesn’t like Obamacare, she should just say so. That is true for many many Americans, for my money free or subsidized health care for the poorest elements of society doesn’t seem so bad – but I am obviously a commie for thinking so. ‘Gitcha gun maw!’

“I see so many parents scratching their heads trying to figure out where they went wrong with young evangelicals. Following the instructions of Proverbs 22:6—”Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it”—many evangelical parents took their children to church and prayed with them every night before bed. Yet the values those children now hold dear do not reflect the traditional teachings of Jesus.”

Well duh. So your kids haven’t become just like you despite going to Church every week and having prayers every night? No way! Unbelievable.

“To be perfectly clear, I want to let you know upfront that this isn’t a parenting how-to guide that, if followed, will lead your loved ones to salvation. Instead, what I can offer you is a glimpse into the world of a twenty-something who sees thousands of young evangelicals being spiritually and emotionally targeted on Christian university campuses, in college ministries and at churches nationwide by a growing liberal movement cloaked in Christianity.”

And there again is that dreaded idea: ‘a growing liberal movement cloaked in Christianity’ this stuff is all about politics for this writer.

“Research tells us that evangelicals are drifting further away from the orthodox truths their parents and grandparents held dear.”

‘Orthodox’ eh? Guess what, these evangelical ‘orthodoxies’ were developed in exactly the same way. No understanding of history shown here – none. In any case, there is no ‘one orthodoxy’ – there are many.

“Our churches have rarely—if ever—faced the exodus we are seeing today. This will have a direct effect on the spiritual and moral values that will shape the nation in the coming years. That is why it is urgent that concerned Christians start acting now before the situation gets worse.”

Crap. The end of the church has been prophesied for decades – I suppose that maybe this is something new in America, but guess what, the church thrives in poor parts of the world – how d’you like them apples?

“Faith and culture will continue to collide in America. The culture wars, the growth of family, the success of missions, the prosperity of our great nation—the future rests on millennial evangelicals’ worldview. And that is cause for concern, because something has gone wrong with young evangelicals’ theology.”

Aaargh – ‘the prosperity of our great nation’ – Lord help us. This is some horrible thinking.

“The millennial generation’s susceptibility to “feel-good” doctrine is playing a big part in America’s moral decline. Millennials’ religious practices depend largely on how the actions make us and others feel, whether the activities are biblical or not. For example, we only attend churches that leave us feeling good about our lifestyle choices, even if those choices conflict with God’s clear commandments. We dismiss old hymns that focus on God’s transforming salvation, love and mercy and opt for “Jesus is your boyfriend” songs. Or we contribute to nonprofits that exploit and misuse terms such as justice, oppressed and inequality because tweaking the language makes us feel more neutral, less confrontational.”

I for one have witnessed Americas moral decline at the hands of these evil progressive Christians – I mean, for goodness sakes, you cant even have slaves any more. Gitcha gun maw.’ We only attend churches that leave us feeling good about our lifestyle choices’ – what like free market capitalism or American military might you mean? Or is that just the natural order of things? I do dislike the Jesus is my boyfriend songs, but then there are some pretty dire hymns out there too. Hows about we just don’t sing at all? I’m fine with that by the way. As for contributing to non profits that ‘exploit’ terms like ‘justice oppressed and inequality’… She needs to be a bit clearer about what she means. I mean… what does she even mean there?

“Popular liberal evangelical writers and preachers tell young evangelicals that if they accept abortion and same-sex marriage, then the media, academia and Hollywood will finally accept Christians.

Oh right – do they? I cant say I’ve noticed.

“Out of fear of being falsely dubbed “intolerant” or “uncompassionate,” many young Christians are buying into theological falsehoods. Instead of standing up as a voice for the innocent unborn or marriage as God intended, millennials are forgoing the authority of Scripture and embracing a couch potato, cafeteria-style Christianity all in the name of tolerance.”

Another gross misrepresentation – mainly in a defence of evangelicalism – its understandable from her perspective, but if she cant come to terms with the idea that we’re not all evangelical, then she has a problem.

“This contemporary mindset is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian whose Christian convictions put him at odds with the Nazis and cost him his life, called “cheap grace.” In his book The Cost of Discipleship Bonhoeffer wrote: “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” “

One problem she has is with Bonhoeffer, who of course was not an evangelical – and who advocated a ‘religionless Christianity’ and of course a new monasticism. Again she is mixed up (IMO) about repentance.

“Right now cheap grace theology is proliferating around evangelical Bible colleges, seminaries and Christian ministries.”

Sorry to hear that – I cant comment on it.

“It is not that millennial evangelicals were not taken to church by their parents. It is that their training has been hijacked by ineffective and sometimes intentionally distorted doctrine.”

It’s the devil – he done it. It wasn’t any problem with the church they grew up in.

“As constant and pervasive as the attacks on Christianity are at public universities, it is important to remember that millennials’ worldviews do not start taking shape after they move out of their parents’ houses. Their understanding of Jesus’ teachings and cultural convictions begin to form while they are still at home and under the influence of their local church.”

No sh*t.

“What I hope and pray evangelical parents and leaders come to realize is that the church has been too trusting. In our jampacked lifestyles, parents have treated Sunday school as they do softball or ballet class—drop off the kids for an hour then pick them up and hope they learned something.”


“Early on in my Sunday school teaching days, my co-teacher and I followed the curriculum pretty narrowly, the exception being that my co-teacher had an outstanding knowledge of biblical history that he imparted to the kids.”

But apparently no knowledge of church history that he imparted to the writer.

“We taught all about Jesus’ birth, resurrection and saving grace. Thinking the fluffy kids ministry curriculum covered all of the necessary bases, I felt confident these kids had a firm grasp on their Christian worldview. Boy, was I wrong!”

Oh maaaaan!

“One day my co-teacher and I decided to play “True or False.” We casually went down a list of worldview questions with our class, sure that our little evangelicals would nail every question correctly.

No. 1: Jesus is God. “True.” Great job.

No. 2: Jesus sinned. “False.” Bingo!

No. 3: Jesus is one of many ways to heaven. “True.”

What?! Shocked is the only way to describe how I felt. Hadn’t they been listening to us? When I asked who taught them that, one girl said, “Coexist.” Yes, these young evangelicals had been listening to their Sunday school teachers and their parents, but they had also been listening to their public school teachers, TV celebrities and rock stars.”

Gitcha gun maw! Other people’s bin influencin’ the lil’uns! Naive.

“Youth ministers, volunteer leaders and pastors also have to start preparing these kids to deal with the very real hostility that faces young evangelicals. “If we never talk about abortion in church, how can we expect the rising evangelical girl to calmly explain the option of adoption to her frightened best friend who just admitted she is pregnant?”

Oh for goodness sake. The frightened girl needs a hug, not a lecture on adoption.

“What will surprise you is how much young evangelicals actually crave honest discussions about abortion, sexuality, sexual exploitation, feminism and radical Islam. “

Why would that surprise me? It is literally one of the least surprising things I have ever heard.

“My friend and Evangelical Action adviser Richmond Trotter has two non-negotiable topics when addressing youth: creation and life. Having volunteered in church youth ministry since 1996, Richmond is not afraid to have serious discussions about what Scripture says about abortion, evolution and homosexuality.”

Oh my, I had forgotten about evolution – that pesky devilment. Ahem, false separation of faith and science. Ahem.

“Make no mistake: The trend away from biblical truth is not concentrated in the hipster city limits. It is unfolding in the crevices of America’s plains, hills, mountains and swamplands. All across this nation, “old-fashioned” conservative evangelicalism is being traded in for a bright and shiny, mediocre Christianity.”

Actually a laugh out loud moment. The great Christian nation which exploits, bullies and bombs the rest of the world.

“If America’s evangelicals disengage from the public square and fail to engage the rising generation of Christian leaders, then we risk losing our public voice, then our religious liberty, then liberty altogether.”

Scare ‘em up lady. That’s the way to fill your pews.

“What Happened to the Religious Right?”

It turned out that they were the Religious wrong.

“The last several decades witnessed tremendous evangelical influence in the United States. Leaders such as Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Tim and Beverly LaHaye, Paige and Dorothy Patterson, James Dobson, and James and Betty Robison made a bold impact on America’s families, churches and government. Now that those few leaders are aging or retiring, or have died, there are very few traditional evangelical leaders left holding the torch and even fewer candidates to whom they can pass it.”

Oh I can name a few that are cut from the same cloth, its just that most of us stopped listening to them, it might have been because Pat Robertson does seem to be a bigot, or because of those left behind books, or perhaps because Falwell said 9/11 was ‘God’s judgement’… I dunno, you pays your money and you picks your blessing.

“But religious convictions in America are not on the verge of disappearance just yet. There is still hope. In the book God Is Alive and Well: The Future of Religion in America, Gallup Inc. Editor-in-Chief Frank Newport ensures: “Christianity will prevail in the U.S. America will remain very much a Christian nation in the decades ahead, albeit less so than in the past because of an increase in Americans who don’t have a religious identity.” “

Phew… I think. (Thinking is probably not allowed either anymore).

“Evangelicals and culture warriors in the U.S. do not have to look far to discover what happens when Christian denominations give up on their traditional convictions and teachings. All we have to do is look at the dwindling memberships of mainline Protestant denominations.”

Solution: become more conservative? Cos that works…

“In order to safeguard the trajectory of young evangelicals, we must uphold the authoritative Word of God. It is imperative that those in a position to influence millennials have transparent and honest discussions about the culture wars evangelical youth are already engaging. Otherwise they will be silent and accepting in the face of persecution and false doctrine.”

If only I could assume the ‘Word of God’ here was Jesus, but no, it’s going to be the bible, the fourth member of the trinity.

“The importance of arming the next generation of evangelicals cannot be overstated. If we continue to follow the example of mainline Protestants, evangelicalism will have a gloomy future. We must offer sorely needed leadership, but before we can do that, we need to know exactly whom and what we are up against.”

Brief overall review: The same old horse sh*t. More to the point I think its highly politicised, uber conservative naivety. No cogent analysis, no inward reflection, no apparent self awareness. There is a major problem in America with people conflating conservative politics with Christianity, but this is a kind of Christendom mindset which doesn’t come from the radical politics of Jesus.

Zen Christianity – Zazen & Centering prayer

For the first in this series of posts which will begin to explain what I mean by ‘Zen Christianity’ – I want to start by looking at the practice of Zazen which sits at the heart of Zen. It is this practice which gives Zen its very identity, and sets it apart from other sects or schools of Buddhism.

It is this practice which means that Zen is not actually a religion, nor even a way confined to a particular religious group.Zazen literally means ‘seated meditation’ and refers to the core of the Zen way, the primacy of stillness meditation. Of course different Zen schools vary in their ways of teaching Zazen, but at its most basic, most fundamental, the practice is of sitting still and disengaging with conscious thought.

Meditation is a discipline common to a variety of religious traditions, and you will find practitioners of various kinds of meditation in all of the Abrahamic traditions, as well as the various streams running out of Hinduism and many others besides.

Fr Thomas Keating

In relatively recent years the Zazen practice has been well incorporated in to Christianity by means of the Centering Prayer movement, developed by the Trappist monk Thomas Keating and others.

But while the popularity of Zazen may have spurred on the Centering Prayer movement, the practice itself is developed out of Medieval Christian practice as outlined in the spiritual classic ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’. Indeed it is apparently true that Centering prayer was originally called ‘Contemplative Prayer according to the Cloud of Unknowing’ – not quite as catchy.

Put simply and in practical terms, Centering Prayer is a form of meditation which uses a ‘sacred word’ to still the mind. The word is repeated partly in order to simply help the mind keep from engaging in thought. If it is not needed, the word is put aside, but when thoughts begin to encroach again, the word is repeated again until it is no longer needed. I am not aware of many people who have no need of a word.

The difference then, between this and other forms of meditation is simple, a mantra or other form of concentrating meditation seeks to fill the mind, to exclude thoughts by focusing on one particular idea. A similar practice is used for those beginning or learning Zazen.

Centering Prayer is Zen like in its aim of stilling the mind, of disengaging with thoughts altogether, the focus is simply upon gently repeating the word.

When thoughts come, as they continue to do, you simply do not engage. No matter how worthy the thought, your meditation time is not the time for that thought, it is time for meditation.

There are a number of ways that we engage with thoughts, and they basically fall into three categories. You can retain thoughts. Alternatively you can resist thoughts. And very often you can resent thoughts. All of these happen very naturally – but with Centering Prayer the idea is to do none of them.

Retain no thought – so don’t enter in to it. Resist no thought, do not try and rid your mind of anything which enters it, and resent no thought, don’t bother wasting your time getting cross about a thought which has entered your head unbidden.

By simply repeating a sacred word, you have the opportunity to do none of these things.

So much for the fundamental practice, but what is the point of this kind of meditation?

With Zazen one is essentially aiming to achieve a realisation of a greater reality, which exists beyond thought. With Centering Prayer the same is basically true – the difference is primarily how as individual practitioners we understand that reality.

For my own practice, I take as a starting point the idea that there is an ultimate ‘divine reality’ underlying all things, which is most essentially Love. I appreciate this is not a given, but it is an element of faith on my part. I believe it wholeheartedly (and sometimes doubt it almost as sincerely) and it is that which  serves as a foundation for my understanding of the universe and the human condition. I further believe or understand that this divine reality, this ultimate love, which we may know as God, is there to be engaged with. It is there to be loved, and to love. But I acknowledge that as soon as I begin to use words, images or concepts,then my expression of love, and my understanding of God is immediately limited. That is not to say a limited engagement is not to be wished for, but I would rather see it as a way marker than a destination.

Chapter three of The Cloud of Unknowing begins like this: “This is what you are to do. Lift your heart up to the Lord with a gentle stirring of love, desiring him for his own sake and not for his gifts.” It goes on to explain the method of using one word, or one syllable to express this love. This explains the basis of Centering prayer: to express love for, and live in the love of, God without limiting that by imposing words upon it.

Meister Eckhart taught that ‘God is a word, a word unspoken’. By this he meant that while God is ultimately or eventually knowable – God cannot be known fully by any word or concept which we can yet humanly articulate.

By engaging in a Centering Prayer type meditation, we draw closer to the point where we can engage with the unspoken nature of the word that is God. We set aside for a time our human understanding with all of its inadequacy, and go towards the light of love.

Zen Christianity

For some time I’ve been exploring an approach to Christianity which I have come to think of as Zen Christianity.

There are no particular teachers of ‘Zen Christianity’, at least none that I know to be using that term. But the ancient exponents of Kenotic or ‘self emptying’ Christianity are very influential, as are a number of contemporary writers and teachers.

So what do I mean by ‘Zen Christianity’?

Realistically I suppose I’m using the idea of Zen in its most basic sense, in terms of placing a particularly high value on meditation, and of stillness, in this case in the presence of the divine (immanent/ here and transcendent/ out there).

I’m using the term ‘Christianity’ here to mean two things, firstly an approach to the divine which is centered upon understanding Jesus as the incarnation of God, and secondly a commitment to following the Jesus way/teachings.

I appreciate that in either case this is not a good enough definition for many people. Zen is a more subtle system of thought than this would make it appear, and Christianity has as many permutations as any other system of religious belief, and that is a vast number after all. But in the first place I want to keep it simple, after all, life is complicated enough.

So what does it practically mean to be a Zen Christian? That, among other things is what I will be blogging about through 2015.

Why Christians should celebrate the summer solstice

stones07-solsticeThis week the summer solstice rolls around – on June 21st we will have the longest day and shortest night of the year. On June 22nd we begin the countdown to winter once again.

As part of Oasis Church Grimsby we’ll be celebrating the summer solstice with a forest church gathering. Very informal, as all of our gatherings are, and marked no doubt by the familiar sound of children tearing around and having fun, we’ll get together in a small piece of woodland and share some life and friendship together. If the weather is kind to us, we will bake some bread on a barbeque or open fire.

Fire has been part of solstice celebrations for many many years, since before the development of Christianity in fact, the primal force of the flame reflecting something of the power of the sun – offerings made into the fire whisked upwards towards the heavens on a thermal draft. Back in those times, clever people built stone structures which were perfectly aligned to the light of the sun on these special occasions, and the day itself was believed to have a propitious magic.

The solstice was also seen as a new year, and celebrated as such. As a time of transition, offerings were made to thank or appease relevant spirits who might be able to affect harvests, water supplies and the welfare of animals. In our more ‘rational’ age such spirits have largely been forgotten, with solstice celebrations being left to those perceived as oddballs and refuseniks.

But I think that more of us should celebrate the solstice. In particular I think that Christians should celebrate the summer, and winter solstices.

One reason for that is that I think its a very good thing to reconnect ourselves with the ancient patterns of the world, it’s healthy for us to find ways of making a connection with the earth.

Everything we do and interact with these days is alienated from the earth, we buy bread that comes neatly wrapped in a plastic bag, we buy clean vegetables and packaged meat from supermarkets. We clean our teeth with a mysterious paste that comes out of a tube, our clothes although often made from plant fibres, bear no resemblance to the raw materials they contain.

Our alienation is almost complete, were it not for walks in the country, gardening, and so on, the only way we would experience the natural world would be through our televisions. I generalise of course, lots of us are much more connected to nature than this, but you get my drift.

The word ‘solstice’ is a compound of two Latin words, ‘sol’ meaning ‘sun’ and ‘sistere’ meaning to ‘stand’ or ‘halt’. It’s a time when the sun seems to stand still, to hang in the heavens for an unusual amount of time. And its a time when we humans can be still too – when we take time out of our alienated lives to be thankful for the  world we live in. To be thankful for the fruitfulness of the earth, and the life that comes from the sun. Some say all life comes from the sun, and that’s more or less true – plants have life because of photosynthesis, creatures have life because they consume plants, or consume creatures that consume plants. More or less all life is viable only because of the sun.

So yes, I believe it’s a good thing to celebrate the solstice. Christians in particular should celebrate the summer solstice and give thanks to the great spirit who they understand as the maker of all things, including the massive ball of incandescent gas which we know as ‘the sun’.

But lets not make it exclusive, non Christians should celebrate the summer solstice too, indeed we should all do it. The mid point of summer has arrived, it’s a special time. Give thanks to God, the universe or whatever you believe in, or if you prefer, just think happy thoughts. The sun gives us life, and this is it’s high point, we should celebrate it.