Monday, January 25, 2010

David Livingstone--Missionary to Africa

Perhaps the greatest missionary of the last 500 years--undoubtedly the best known--is a man who has been known as the "apostle of Africa," David Livingstone. What was the secret of his strength and perseverance amidst unbearable trials? Let's look at his life. He had just returned to Great Britain for the first time after sixteen years in Africa. No white man had ever penetrated the interior of Africa before.

He was invited to speak at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, his native land. Livingstone walked out onto the platform with the tread of a man who had already walked 11,000 miles. His left arm hung almost uselessly at his side as the result of his shoulder having been crushed by a huge lion. His body was emaciated. His skin was a dark brown from sixteen years in the African sun. His face bore innumerable wrinkles from the ravages of African fevers that had racked his body. He was half deaf from rheumatic fever. He was half blind from a branch that had slapped him in the eye. He was, as he described himself, a "ruckle of bones."

The students stared. They were stunned. They knew that here was a life that was being literally burned out for God and fellow man. They listened in rapt attention while Livingstone told them about his incredible adventures into the center of that continent which had never been seen by a white man before. He told them about the unbelievable needs of the natives of Africa.

He said to them, "Shall I tell you what sustained me in the midst of all of those toils hardships and incredible loneliness? It was the promise of a Gentleman of the most sacred honor--'Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world'" (Matthew 28:20). That was the promise, that was his text, that was the secret of Livingstone's commitment. It was the presence of Jesus Christ with him everywhere, all of the time. That promise grasped the heart and mind of Livingstone and transformed his life.

As a young man he wrote an incredible prayer in his diary:

"Lord, send me anywhere, only go with me. Lay any burden on me, only sustain me. Sever any ties but the tie that binds me to Thy service and to Thy heart."

Let's consider his threefold prayer. First "Send me anywhere, only go with me." Secret of commitment? You see it here so clearly in the life of this young Scotsman who was born in 1813 in Blantyre, Scotland, to godly parents, into a very poor home. His father, a Sunday school teacher, loved missionaries and mission stories. Every week he would sit young David down on a large hassock in front of his easy chair in the living room and tell him wonderful stories about pioneer missionaries who had gone to exotic places to share the Gospel.

David loved those stories. His favorite was about Dr. Charles Gutzlaff, a missionary to China who became David's boyhood hero. As he grew older, he discovered that Gutzlaff, himself, had a hero and that hero was the Son of God, the divine Redeemer. So Livingstone trusted the Saviour for himself and his life was changed. He felt the Lord's call to the mission field.

The family was so poor that when Livingstone was ten years old, he went to work in a cotton mill where he worked from six o'clock in the morning until eight o'clock at night, six days a week. He learned how to study and worked arduously to gain an education. He determined he would learn medicine so that he might be able to help people physically, as well as spiritually. He graduated from Glasgow University with a degree in medicine.

He started to set sail for the mission field but the door slammed closed in his face. "Lord, what has happened? You said You would be with me." The field was closed. The Opium War had broken out and Livingstone couldn't go. God seemed to be saying, "David, I have not sent you to China," which is where Livingstone was planning to go. God, in His great providence used even the wrath and rage of men to accomplish His own purpose and send David Livingstone to Africa.

How did that come about? No white man had yet entered the interior of Africa, but some were ministering on the coast. One of those was Robert Moffat, who came to Blantyre, Scotland on furlough and told about his experiences in Africa. He said one sentence that grasped the heart of Livingstone and never let him go for the rest of his life. Moffat said "Often, as I have looked to the vast plains of the north [of the southern tip of Africa] I have sometimes in the morning sun seen the smoke of a thousand villages where no missionary has ever been."

"A thousand villages!" thought Livingstone. "No missionary! No Gospel! No Christ! No salvation! No life! No light! Nothing but sin and death and darkness! I will go to Africa."

"Lay any burden on me," he had said, "only sustain me." Livingstone was to face many burdens , but he was also to discover the sustaining power of Christ. After a huge lion leaped upon him and clamped his teeth into his shoulder and crushed it, Livingstone was taken back to the coast to Robert Moffat's mission station to be nursed back to health. Moffat's young daughter, Mary, was there, and for David and Mary, it was love at first sight. Soon they married. She shared his zeal to take the gospel to Africa. So they set out. Years passed and children were born.

In crossing one of the vast plains of Africa, one of the children died. The others were now old enough, and had to be taken back to England. The most difficult decision of his life, he says was to send his wife and his children back to Scotland to be educated. For five years Livingstone saw not the face of his wife or his children. The burden of loneliness weighed upon him. But Livingstone continued on, deeper and deeper into Africa, all alone.

Thirdly, he had prayed, "Sever any ties but the tie that binds me to Thy service and to Thy heart." The day finally come that Livingstone was going home. How he rejoiced in anticipation. He would see his beloved wife Mary and his children and his mother and his father. At length he burst into his old home in Blantyre, Scotland, and found it empty. They had just buried his father. "Sever any ties...." He fell on his knees and wept.

While home, his dreams were haunted by the specter of a thousand villages in the morning sun. At length, he told his wife he had to return. So, they parted again, and Livingstone sailed back to Africa. More years passed, and finally he received a letter that caused his heart to leap. Mary was coming to Africa! The children were old enough now that she could leave them. She was coming to join him, to spend the rest of her life in reaching the lost natives of that dark continent.

For months she traveled across the oceans and up steamy African streams and rivers, until finally she was in the arms of her husband. But hardly had she gotten there than she was struck down by one of the savage African fevers. Dr. David Livingstone set everything aside and day and night poured every ounce of his medical skill into her care, but finally, she breathed her last. "Sever any ties..." And through it all, those incredibly sustaining words, "Lo, I am with you alway."

Deeper into the jungle he went until natives stole all of his food, his goats, but most of all, his chest of medicines used to fight off the terrible African fevers. For Livingstone, this was nothing less than a death sentence and he fell to his knees and said, "O God, I can't go on without the medicine."

Livingstone hadn't seen a white man in five years, but now in the middle of Africa he lifted up his eyes and looked into the face of a white man walking down the trail toward him. An instant answer to his prayers! Behind this white man was a huge caravan, and above them all was an American flag flying in the breeze. The man approached Livingstone and uttered those unforgettable words, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume."

It was, of course, Henry M. Stanley, a reporter for the New York Herald, whose publisher had said to him, "Stanley, they say that Livingstone is dead. I don't believe it. I believe he is there in the midst of Africa. Go find him. Bring him back to civilization."

The reporter went and searched until he found him. Stanley described himself as the biggest swaggering atheist that ever lived. After living in the same little hut with Livingstone for four months, he said that he could find no fault in his life. His compassion, his earnestness, the quietness with which he went about his work, the sympathy he showed to all about him, spoke to his own heart and he said, "Finally, after these months, Livingstone converted even me to Christ."

But, Livingstone would not return to civilization with Stanley, but rather he plunged deeper into Africa. He came to the place, at last, where he had taken up his belt three notches to ease the pangs of hunger when he had nothing to eat for months but maize-- dried corn. Gradually all his teeth fell out as he tried to chew it. He had boils and lacerations all over his feet. He could no longer even walk. Was he through? Not David Livingstone. His followers, and there were only three left now, made a stretcher and carried him onward. He had them prop him up in front of a tree in the villages and he preached the Gospel to all.

But at last there came the day when he could not walk, stand, or even be moved. A hut was hastily prepared for him in a little village in the midst of Africa. It was pouring rain. Livingstone went to sleep on his cot. One of his African boys, Chumah, lay across the doorway to keep out wild beasts. In the middle of the night Chumah was awakened by a sound. Livingstone, with great agony, had moved himself and rolled off of his cot onto his knees, as was his custom and folded his hands in prayer. At length, Chumah became disturbed and he went to the door of the hut and said, "Bwana. " No response. He crept closer and said, " Bwana . " No response. Then he reached out his hand and touched an icy cheek. David Livingstone was dead.

It has been said that nothing so became him in his life as the leaving of it. He is the only man I know who died on his knees in prayer. He left his life as he had lived his life--in the presence of Christ, who had said, "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end."

Livingstone tramped across Africa for thirty-three years--the same length of time that Jesus Christ lived. He traveled twenty-nine thousand miles-- the equivalent to walking across America almost ten times. Two million people heard the Gospel, and the light of Christ came into that dark continent. In the midst of all of those incredible hardships and toils, there was not only the word, but there was the realty and the strength of that divine promise: "Lo, I am with you alway."

Condensed from "Secret of Commitment" by D. James Kennedy, Ph.D. Used by permission.

How did Jesus change the world?

For alike in the Roman world and in Palestine, the time had fully come; not, indeed, in the sense of any special expectancy, but of absolute need. The reign of Augustus marked, not only the climax, but the crisis, of Roman history. Whatever of good or evil the ancient world contained had become fully ripe. As regarded politics, philosophy, religion and society, the utmost limits had been reached. Beyond them lay, as only alternatives, ruin or regeneration. It was felt that the boundaries of the empire could be no further extended, and that henceforth the highest aim must be to preserve what had been conquered. The destinies of Rome were in the hands of one man, who was at the same time general-in-chief of a standing army of about three hundred and forty thousand men, head of a Senate (now sunk into a mere court for registering the commands of Caesar), and High-Priest of a religion, of which the highest expression was the apotheosis of the State in the person of the Emperor. Thus, all power within, without, and above lay in his hands. Within the city, which in one short reign was transformed from brick into marble, were, side by side, the most abject misery and almost boundless luxury. Of a population of about two millions, well-nigh one half were slaves; and of the rest, the greater part either freedmen and their descendants, or foreigners. Each class contributed its share to the common decay. Slavery was not even what we know it, but a seething mass of cruelty and oppression on the one side, and of cunning and corruption on the other. More than anything else it contributed to the ruin of Roman society. The freedmen, who had very often acquired their liberty by the most disreputable courses, and had prospered in them, combined in shameless manner the vices of the free with the vileness of the slave. The foreigners who crowded the city, poisoned the springs of its life by the corruption which they brought. The free citizens were idle, dissipated, sunken; their chief thoughts of the theatre and the arena; and they were mostly supported at the public cost. While, even in the time of Augustus, more than two hundred thousand persons were thus maintained by the State, what of the old Roman stock remained was rapidly decaying, partly from corruption, but chiefly from the increasing cessation of marriage, and the nameless abominations of what remained of family life. The state of the provinces was in every respect more favourable. But it was the settled policy of the Empire, which only too surely succeeded, to destroy all separate nationalities, or rather to absorb and Grecianise all. The only real resistance came from the Jews. Their tenacity was religious, and, even in its extreme of intolerant exclusiveness, served a most important Providential purpose. And so Rome became to all the centre of attraction, but also of fast-spreading corruption...

...So did in another direction, the conscious despair of any possible internal reformation. This, indeed seemed the last word of all the institutions of the Roman world: It is not in me! Religion, philosophy, and society had passed through every stage, to that of despair. Without tracing the various phases of ancient thought, it may generally be said that, in Rome at least, the issue lay between Stoicism and Epicureanism. The one flattered its pride the other gratified its sensuality; the one was in accordance with the original national character, the other with its later decay and corruption. Both ultimately led to atheism and despair - the one by turning all higher aspirations selfward, the other by quenching them in the enjoyment of the moment; the one, by making the extinction of all feeling and self-deification, the other, indulgence of every passion and the worship of matter, its ideal. That, under such conditions all real belief in a personal continuance after death must have ceased among the educated classes, needs not demonstration. If the older Stoics held that, after death, the soul would continue for some time a separate existence - in the case of sages until the general destruction of the world by fire, it was the doctrine of most of their successors that, immediately after death the soul returned into the 'world soul' of which it was part. But even this hope was beset by so many doubts and misgivings, as to make it practically without influence or comfort. Cicero was the only one who, following Plato, defended the immortality of the soul, while the Peripatetics denied the existence of a soul and the leading Stoics at least its continuance after death. But even Cicero writes as one overwhelmed by doubts. With his contemporaries this doubt deepened into absolute despair, the only comfort lying in present indulgence of the passions. Even among the Greeks, who were most tenacious of belief in the non-extinction of the individual, the practical upshot was the same...

...In such circumstances anything like real religion was manifestly impossible. Rome tolerated, and, indeed incorporated all national rites. But among the populace religion had degenerated into abject superstition. In the East, much of it consisted of the vilest rites; while, among philosophers, all religions were considered equally false, or equally true - the outcome of ignorance or else the unconscious modifications of some one fundamental thought. The only religion on which the State insisted was the deification and worship of the Emperor. These apotheoses attained almost incredible development. Soon not only the Emperors, but their wives, paramours, children, and the creatures of their vilest lusts, were deified; nay, any private person might attain that distinction if the survivors possessed sufficient means. Mingled with all of this was an increasing amount of superstition - by which term some understood the worship of foreign gods, the most part the existence of fear in religion. The ancient Roman religion had long given place to foreign rites, the more mysterious and unintelligible the more enticing...

...It would be unsavoury to describe how far the worship of indecency was carried; how public morals were corrupted by the mimic representations of everything that was vile, and even by the pandering of a corrupt art. The personation of gods, oracles, divination, dreams, astrology, magic, necromancy, theurgy, all contributed to the general decay. It has been rightly said, that the idea of conscience as we understand it was unknown to heathenism. Absolute right did not exist. Might was right. The social relations exhibited, if possible, even deeper corruption. The sanctity of marriage had ceased. Female dissipation and the general dissoluteness led at last to an almost entire cessation of marriage. Abortion, and the exposure and murder of newly-born children, were common and tolerated; unnatural vices, which even the greatest of philosophers practised, if not advocated, attained proportions which defy description...

...The heartlessness towards the poor who crowded the city is another well-known feature of ancient Roman society. Of course, there was neither hospitals, nor provision for the poor; charity and brotherly love in their every manifestation are purely Old and New Testament ideas. But even the bestowal of the smallest alms on the needy was regarded as very questionable; best not to afford them the means of protracting a useless existence. Lastly the account which Seneca has to give of what occupied and amused the idle multitude - for all manual labor, except agriculture, was looked upon with utmost contempt - horrified even himself. And so the only escape which remained for the philosopher, the satiated, or the miserable, seemed the power of self-destruction! What is worse, the noblest spirits of the time felt that the state of things was utterly hopeless. Society could not reform itself; philosophy and religion had nothing to offer they had been tried and found wanting. Seneca longed for some hand from without to lift up from the mire of despair; Cicero pictured the enthusiasm which would greet the embodiment of true virtue should it ever appear on earth; Tacitus declared human life one great farce and expressed his conviction that the Roman world lay under some terrible curse. All around, despair, conscious need, and unconscious longing. Can greater contrast be imagined, than the proclamation of a coming Kingdom of God amid such a world;

Extracted from Alfred Edersheim "The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah".

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Thank you, Lord, thank you.

Thank you, Lord, thank you.
Thank you for all the gifts you have given me today,
Thank you for all I have seen, heard, received.
Thank you for the water that woke me up, the soap that smells good, the toothpaste that refreshes.
Thank you for the clothes that protect me, for their color and their cut.
Thank you for the newspaper so faithfully there, for the comics (my morning smile), for the report of useful meetings, for justice done and big games won.
Thank you for the street-cleaning truck and the men who run it, for their morning shouts and all the early noises.
Thank you for my work, my tools, my efforts.
Thank you for the metal in my hands, for the whine of the steel biting into it, for the satisfied look of the supervisor and the load of finished pieces.
Thank you for Jim who lent me his file, for Danny who shared his lunch with me, for Charlie who held the door for me.
Thank you for the welcoming street that led me there, for the shop windows, for the cars, for the passers-by, for all the life that flowed swiftly between the windowed walls of the houses.

Thank you for the food that sustained me, for the glass of water that refreshed me.
Thank you for the car that meekly took me where I wanted to be, for the gas that made it go, for the wind that caressed my face and for the trees that nodded to me on the way.

Thank you for the boy I watched playing on the sidewalk opposite,
Thank you for his roller-skates and for his comical face when he fell.

Thank you for the morning greetings I received, and for all the smiles.
Thank you for the mother who welcomes me at home, for her tactful affection, for her silent presence.
Thank you for the roof that shelters me, for the lamp that lights me, for the radio that plays, for the news, for music and singing.
Thank you for the bunch of flowers, so pretty on my table.

Thank you for the tranquil night.
Thank you for the stars.
Thank you for the silence.

Thank you for the time you have given me.
Thank you for life.
Thank you for grace.

Thank you for being there, Lord.
Thank you for listening to me, for taking me seriously, for gathering my gifts in your hands to offer them to your Father.
Thank you, Lord,
Thank you.

Thank you by Michael Quoist

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Powerful definitions

On Worship

Both for perplexity and for dulled conscience
the remedy is the same.
Worship is the submission of all of our nature to God.
It is the quickening of conscience by His holiness,
Nourishment of mind by His truth,
Purifying of imagination by His beauty,
Opening of the heart to His love,
And submission of will to his purpose.
And all this gathered up in adoration is
the greatest of human expressions of which we are capable.
and therefore the chief remedy for that self-centredness which is
our original sin and the source of all actual sin.
Yes- worship in spirit and truth is the way to the solution
of perplexity and to the liberation from sin

- William Temple, on what worship is for, from a 1944 BBC broadcast, later transcribed in *Anglican Digest*

On Sin

Take this rule: whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes off your relish of spiritual things; in short, whatever increases the strength and authority of your body over your mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may be in itself. - Susanna Wesley (Letter, June 8, 1725)

On Intercessor

An intercessor is one who is in such vital contact with God and with his fellow men that he is like a live wire closing the gap between the saving power of God and the sinful men who have been cut off from that power. - Hannah Hurnard

A "new" Definition of Man?

He was the hipster, who knew from the atom bombs to Nazi concentration camps that societies and states were murderers, and that under the shadow of mass annihilation one should learn ... to give up "the sophisticated inhibitions of to live in the moment, to follow the body and not the mind, ”to divorce oneself from society," and "to follow the imperative of the self," to forget "the single mate, the solid family and the respectable love life," to choose a life of “Saturday night kicks," especially orgasm and marijuana. For 1957, this was prophetic. It contained in a nutshell much of the set­ of the cultural program of the sixties.

Norman Mailer, “The White Negro,” 1957. quoted by Myron Magnet in The Dream and the Nightmare: The sixties’ Legacy to the Underclass (New York: William Morrow, 1993), 35

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Koppel on Television & Morality

Nearly two years ago ABC Nightline anchor Ted Koppel gave the commencement address at Duke University. For reasons unknown, Koppel declined Readers Digest's request to print a condensed version. MediaWatch has come across a copy of this extraordinary and refreshing calling for a return of a moral standards. Here are the highlights.

America has been Vannatized as in Vanna White -- Wheel of Fortune's vestal virgin. Through the mysterious alchemy of popular television Ms. White is roundly, indeed all but universally adored. She turns blocks on which a letter is displayed. She does this very well; very fluidly and with what appears to be genuine enjoyment. She also does it mutely. Vanna says nothing. She speaks only body language; and she seems to like everything she sees. No, "like" is too tepid. Vanna thrills, rejoice, adores everything she sees. And therein lies her magic.

We have no idea what or even if Vanna thinks. Is she a feminist or every male chauvinist's dream? She is whatever you want her to be. Sister, lover, daughter, friend. The viewer can and apparently does project a thousand different personalities onto the charming neutral television image and she accommodates them all.

Even Vanna White's autobiography, (an oxymoron if ever there was one) reveals only that her greatest nightmare is running out of cat food; and that one of the complexities of her job entails making proper allowance for the greater weight of the letter "M" or "W" over the letter "I," for example. Once, we learn, during her earlier, less experienced days, she failed to take that "heavy-letter-factor" into proper account and broke a fingernail. I tremble to think what judgment a future anthropologist, finding that book, will render on our society. I tremble not out of fear that they will misjudge us; that they will judge us only too accurately.

I am increasingly driven to the conclusion that, on television, neutrality or objectivity are simply perceived, or at least treated, as a form of intellectual vacuum, into which the viewer's own opinion is drawn. I find myself being regarded not as an objective journalist, but as someone who shares most views; even those that are incompatible with one another. As in the case of Vanna White (although mercifully to a lesser degree) many viewers project onto me opinions they would like me to hold.

We have been hired, Vanna and I, to project neutrality. The problem is that the "Vanna factor," has evolved more and more into a political, an economic, even a religious necessity. On television ambiguity is a virtue; and television these days in our most active marketplace of ideas.

Let's take inventory for a moment. Sixty percent or more of the American public, roughly 140 million people, get most or all of their news from television. What then should we or must we conclude? Whatever your merchandise, if you want to move it in bulk, you flog it on TV. Merchants trying to sell their goods, politicians trying to sell their ideas, preachers trying to sell their gospel or their morality -- all of these items are most efficiently sold on TV. If that doesn't scare the living daylight out of you, then you're not paying attention.

Never mind the dry good. Television and toilet paper were made for one another.

But let's focus on our national policies; let's look at our principles -- our ethical and moral standards. How do they fare on television? We've learned, for example, that your attention span is brief. We should know; we helped make it that way. Watch Miami Vice some Friday night. You will find that no scene lasts more than ten to fifteen seconds.

Look at MTV or Good Morning America and watch the images and ideas flash past in a blur of impressionistic appetizers. No, there is not much room on TV for complexity. You can partake of our daily banquet without drawing on any intellectual resources; without either physical or moral discipline. We require nothing of you; only that you watch; or say that you were watching if Mr. Nielsen's representative should call. And gradually, it must be said, we are beginning to make our mark on the American psyche. We have actually convinced ourselves that slogans will save us. "Shoot up if you must; but use a clean needle." "Enjoy sex whenever with whomever you wish; but wear a condom."

No. The answer is no. Not no because it isn't cool or smart or because you might end up in jail or dying in an AIDS ward -- but no, because it's wrong. Because we have spent 5,000 years as a race of rational human being trying to drag ourselves out of the primeval slime by searching for truth and moral absolutes. In the place of Truth we have discovered facts; for moral absolutes we have substituted moral ambiguity. We now communicate with everyone and say absolutely nothing. We have reconstructed the Tower of Babel and it is a television antenna. A thousand voices producing a daily parody of democracy; in which everyone's opinion is afforded equal weight, regardless of substance or merit. Indeed, it can even be argued that opinions of real weight tend to sink with barely a trace of television's ocean banalities.

Our society finds Truth too strong a medicine to digest undiluted. In its purest form Truth is not a polite tap on the shoulder; it is a hallowing reproach.

What Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai were not the Ten Suggestions, they are Commandments. Are, not were.

The sheer brilliance of the Ten Commandments is that they codify, in a handful of words, acceptable human behavior. Not just for then or now but for all time. Language evolves, power shifts from nation to nation, messages are transmitted with the speed of light, man erases one frontier after another; and yet we and our behavior, and the Commandments which govern that behavior, remain the same. The tension between those Commandments and our baser instincts provide the grist for journalism's daily mill. What a huge, gaping void there would be in our informational flow and in our entertainment without routine violation of the Sixth Commandment. Thou shalt not murder.

On what did the Hart campaign flounder? On accusations that he violated the Seventh Commandment. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Relevant? Of course the Commandments are relevant. Simply because we use different term and tools, the Eighth Commandment is still relevant to the insider trading scandal. Thou shalt not steal. Watch the Iran/Contra hearings and keep the Ninth Commandment in mind: Thou shalt not bear false witness. And the Tenth Commandment, which seems to have been crafted for the 80's and the Me Generation. The Commandment against covetous desires; against longing for anything we cannot get in an honest and legal fashion.

When you think about it, it's curious, isn't it. We've changed in almost all things -- where we live, how we eat, communicate, travel; and yet, in our moral and immoral behavior we are fundamentally unchanged.

Jesus summed it up: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. So much for our obligations towards our fellow man. That's what the last five Commandments are all about.

The first five are more complex in that they deal with figures of moral authority. The Fifth Commandment requires us to honor our father and mother. Religious scholars through the years have concluded that it was inscribed on the first tablet among the laws and piety toward God because, as far as their children are concerned, parents stand in the place of God. What a strange conclusion! Us in the place of God. We, who set such flawed examples for you. And yet, in our efforts to love you, to provide for you, in our efforts to forgive you when you make mistakes, we do our feeble best to personify that perfect image of love and forgiveness and Providence which some of us find in God.

Which brings me to the First and, in this day and age probably the most controversial of the Commandments, since it requires that we believe in the existence of a single and supreme God. And then, in the Second, Third, and Fourth Commandments, prohibits the worship of any other gods, forbids that his name be taken in vain, requires that we set aside one day in seven to rest and worship Him. What a bizarre journey; from a sweet, undemanding Vanna White to that all-demanding jealous Old Testament God.

There have always been imperfect role models; false gods of material success and shallow fame; but now their influence is magnified by television. I caution you, as one who performs daily on that flickering altar, to set your sights beyond what you can see. There is true majesty in the concept of an unseen power which can neither be measured nor weighed. There is harmony and inner peace to be found in following a moral compass that points in the same direction, regardless of fashion or trend.

Extracted from

The True Crisis of Our Time

By Malcolm Muggeridge

(Transcribed from a speech given in 1985, A. D.)

The subject I'm speaking to you about today is the “True Crisis of Our Time.”

It would be difficult for anyone looking around the world today to resist the conclusion that something has gone very badly indeed with what we continue to call “Western Civilization.” This awareness tends to be distorted and muffled – if not obliterated – by the media, which manage to induce us to take for granted the continuingly explosive situations that confront us on every hand, and to see as an enlargement of our freedom and an enhancement of the quality of our living the steady and ominous erosion of the moral standards on which our traditional way of life has been based.

Regarding the reversal of moral standards, so that, as the horrid sisters chant in Macbeth, “Fair is foul and foul is fair,” there are some apt words by Simone Weil . I don't know whether you are familiar with her: a French Jewess who is also a lady of great mystical insight, who actually died in this country in the recent War. Simone Weil, whose luminous intelligence and insights are among the most penetrating of our time and bear very clearly on this not just confusion between the concepts of good and evil, but the actual replacement of one by the other. “Nothing is so beautiful,” she writes, “nothing is so continually fresh and surprising, so full of sweet and perpetual ecstasy, as the good; no desert is so dreary, monotonous, and boring as evil. But with fantasy, it is the other way around. Fictional good is boring and flat, while fictional evil is varied, intriguing, attractive, and full of charm.”

Let me turn also to a similar theme to Pascal, who in his Pensees says this: “It is in vain, O Men, that you seek within yourselves the cure of all your miseries. All your insight only leads you to the knowledge that it is not in yourselves that you will discover the true and the good. The philosophers promised them to you, and have not been able to keep their promise. Your principal maladies are pride, which cuts you off from God, and sensuality, which binds you to the earth; and they have done nothing but foster at least one of these maladies. If they have given you God for your object, it has only been to pander to your pride; they have made you think that you were like him, and resembled him by your nature. And those who have grasped the vanity of such a pretension have cast you down into the other abyss by making you believe that your nature was like that of the beasts of the field, and have led you to seek your good in lust, which is the lot of animals.” In other words: egomania and erotomania, the two ills of our time – the raised fist, and the raised phallus.

Let us also turn in our imagination to Carthage, in the year 410. When St. Augustine received the news that Rome, the great Rome, has been sacked, and the barbarians have taken over, his first thought is to reassure his flock. “If this catastrophe is indeed true,” he tells them, “it must be God's will. Men build cities and men destroy cities, but the City of God they didn't build and cannot destroy. The Heavenly City,” he goes on, “outshines Rome beyond comparison. There, instead of victory, is truth; instead of high rank, holiness; instead of peace, felicity; instead of life, eternity. There, take Aristotle, put him near to the Rock of Christ and he fades away into nothingness. Who is Aristotle? When he hears the words, 'Christ said,' then he shakes in Hell. 'Pythagoras said this.’; 'Plato said that.' Put them near the Rock and compare these arrogant people with Him who was crucified. Thus we come to see that in our fallen state, our imperfection, we can conceive perfection. Through the Incarnation, the presence of God among us in the lineaments of Man, we have a window in the walls of time, which looks out onto this Heavenly City.”

This was Augustine's profoundest conclusion, and in his great work he enshrined it imperishably to be a comfort and a light in the dark days that lay ahead. In the year 430 the triumphant Vandals would come into Africa, reaching the walls of Hippo itself, as its bishop, Augustine, lay dying there. Today the Earthly city looks ever larger, to the point where it may be said to have taken over the Heavenly one. Turning away from God, blown up with the arrogance generated by their fabulous success in exploring and harnessing the mechanism of life, men believe themselves at last in charge of their own destiny. As we survey the disastrous consequences of such an attitude, the chaos and destruction it has brought, as Augustine did the fall of Rome and its aftermath, his word on that other occasion still stands applicable to all circumstances and conditions of men.

In the past too, of course, other efforts have been made to demolish Christianity in the name of superior knowledge and political wisdom. Blake, in his inimitable way, deals faithfully with such efforts. He writes, “Mock on, mock on, Voltaire, Rousseau! Mock on, Mock on – 'Tis all in vain! You throw the sand against the wind, and the wind blows it back again.”

Of course, Simone Weil wrote the words that I cited well before television had been developed – in due course to attract huge audiences all over the world, becoming incomparably the greatest fabricator and purveyor of fantasy that has ever existed, and occupying the attention of the average adult in the western world for some 35 hours a week, or 12 years of the 3 score years and 10 of a normal lifespan. It's an amazing thought, especially when one considers what appears on the TV screen, that so large a proportion of a lifespan should be devoted to staring into it. Its only merit, in my opinion, is that is has a splendidly soporific effect. It is not uncommon to see a whole family sleeping quietly around their television set. My own particular nightmare is falling asleep in front a TV set in the days when I used to appear on television, and then coming to suddenly, and noticing on the screen a figure, seemingly familiar, which turns out to be myself. It's a macabre experience that only an Edgar Allen Poe could have done justice to, and gave me a tremendous sense of the appalling danger of trafficking in images, which is what television is about. Shortly after this experience I decided to give up watching television and had my aerials removed – a painless operation, but one that makes you feel much better afterwards. The offerings of television bear out Simone Weil's proposition to a quite remarkable degree. For in them, it is almost invariably eros, rather than agape – translated as “charity” in that wonderful thirteenth chapter of St. Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians – that provides all the excitement, success, and celebrity, that is made to seem desirable; and Jesus Christ Superstar, rather than Jesus Christ on the Cross, who gets a folk hero's billing.

Television, I should say – in the light of what I know about it; my memories of working with it – is the ultimate in fantasy: a sort of Caliban's Island; full of sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not, so that when we wake, if we ever do, we cry to sleep again. And it is precisely the transposition of good and evil in this world of fantasy that, in my opinion, lies at the root of our present malaise. Such was also Solzhenitsyn's first impression when he arrived in the West. “Our troubles,” he said, “were due precisely to our loss of any awareness of good and evil.” It is good and evil after all that provides the theme of the drama of our mortal existence. In this sense, you might capture them with the positive and negative points that generate an electric current; transpose the points, and the current fails, the lights go out, darkness falls, and all is confusion.

What I wish to put to you here is that the darkness falling on our civilization is likewise due to a transposition of good and evil. In other words, we are suffering not from an energy crisis, or an overpopulation crisis, or an unemployment crisis – from none of these ills that are commonly specified. The root cause of our trouble is that we've lost our sense of a moral order in the universe, without which no order whatsoever – economic, social, political – is attainable. For Christians, of course, this moral order is derived from that terrific moment when, as is so splendidly put in the Wisdom of Solomon, “…while all things were in quiet silence, and that night was in the midst of her swift course, Thine Almighty Word leaped down from heaven out of thy Royal Throne.” Leaped down, to dwell among us full of grace and truth. It was thus that our Western Civilization came into existence; deriving not from Darwin's Origin of Species, not from the Communist Manifesto, or even the American Declaration of Independence, but from the great drama of the Incarnation, as conveyed in the New Testament. To abandon or repudiate finally this almighty Word would assuredly be to wind up inexorably 2000 years of history and ourselves with it.

It is true, of course, that my own sense of a world hopelessly lost in fantasy to the point of being quite cut off from life, from its origins, from the true fount of its life and creativity, whether spiritual, moral, or even maternal – has been heightened by the practice of the profession of journalism – what St. Augustine called being a “vendor of words.” It's a phrase I like very much. In Augustine's case it applied to his professorship of rhetoric. Or, as he called it, his “chair of lies.” But it is equally applicable to editorial chairs and ancillary posts. I look back on more than half a century of knock-about journalism, comprising pretty well everything in the business – for instance, ultra-solemn leading articles, tapped out on a typewriter: “The people of this country will never for a moment countenance...” something or other that they're shortly going to countenance with the greatest of ease, if not indifference. On The Guardian, where I began my vendorship of words, we were supposed to finish up our editorials on a hopeful note, so we usually concluded our theme with some bromide like “it is greatly to be hoped that wiser counsels may yet prevail, and moderate men of all shades of opinion draw together.” Alas, as I soon discovered, wiser councils were notably not prevailing, and it was immoderate men who were drawing together. Then there were the pontifical dispatches hurriedly put together from our special correspondent – here, there, and everywhere, and tabloid features on why eating yogurt makes men live forever.

The fact is, there is built into life a strong ironical theme for which we should be duly grateful to our Creator, since it helps us to find our way through the fantasy which dulls us to the reality of our existence – what Blake called a “fearful symmetry.” God has mercifully made diversions whereby we seek to evade this reality: I mean the pursuit of power, of sensual delight, of money, of learning, of celebrity, of happiness – so manifestly preposterous that we are forced to turn to Him for help and for mercy. We seek wealth, and find we've accumulated only worthless pieces of paper. We seek security, and find we have the means in our hands to blow ourselves and our little Earth to smithereens. Looking for carnal satisfaction, we find ourselves involved in sterility rites. As looking for freedom, we infallibly fall into the servitude of self-gratification.

We look back on history, and what do we see? Empires rising and falling; revolutions and counter-revolutions succeeding one another; wealth accumulating and wealth dispersed; one nation dominant and then another. As Shakespeare's King Lear puts it, “the rise and fall of great ones that ebb and flow with the moon.” In one lifetime I've seen my fellow countrymen ruling over a quarter of the world, and the great majority of them convinced – in the words of what is still a favorite song – that God has made them mighty and will make them mightier yet. I've heard a crazed Austrian announce the establishment of a German Reich that was to last for a thousand years; an Italian clown report that the calendar will begin again with his assumption of power; a murderous Georgian brigand in the Kremlin acclaimed by the intellectual elite as wiser than Solomon, more enlightened than Ashoka, more humane than Marcus Aurelius. I've seen America wealthier than all the rest of the world put together; and with the superiority of weaponry that would have enabled Americans, had they so wished, to outdo an Alexander or a Julius Caesar in the range and scale of conquest.

All in one little lifetime – gone with the wind: England now part of an island off the coast of Europe, threatened with further dismemberment; Hitler and Mussolini seen as buffoons; Stalin a sinister name in the regime he helped to found and dominated totally for three decades; Americans haunted by fears of running out of the precious fluid that keeps their motorways roaring and the smog settling, by memories of a disastrous military campaign in Vietnam, and the windmills of Watergate. Can this really be what life is about – this worldwide soap opera going on from century to century, from era to era, as old discarded sets and props litter the earth? Surely not. Was it to provide a location for so repetitive and ribald a production as this that the universe was created and man, or homo sapiens as he likes to call himself – heaven knows why – came into existence? I can't believe it. If this were all, then the cynics, the hedonists, and the suicides are right: the most we can hope for from life is amusement, gratification of our senses, and death. But it is not all.

Thanks to the great mercy and marvel of the Incarnation, the cosmic scene is resolved into a human drama. God reaches down to become a Man and Man reaches up to relate himself to God. Time looks into eternity and eternity into time, making now always, and always now. Everything is transformed by the sublime dream of the Incarnation – God's special parable for fallen man and a fallen world. The way opens before us that was charted in the birth, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The way that successive generations of believers have striven to follow, deriving themselves the moral, spiritual, and intellectual creativity out of which have come everything truly great in our art, our literature, our music, the splendor of the great Cathedrals, and the illumination of the saints and mystics, as well as countless lives of men and women serving their God and loving their Savior in humility and Faith. It's a glorious record – not just of the past, but continuing now. The books are open, not closed.

The Incarnation was not a mere historical event like the Battle of Waterloo, or the American Declaration of Independence – something that's happened, and then was over. It goes on happening all the time. God did not retreat back into Heaven when the fateful words “It is finished” were uttered on Golgotha. The Word that became flesh has continued and continues to dwell among us, full of grace and truth. There are examples on every hand; we have but to look for them. For instance, the man in Solzhenitsyn's labor camp who scribbled sentences from the Gospels that he pulled out of his pocket in the evening to keep himself serene and brotherly in that terrible place. Then, Solzhenitsyn himself – a product of this world's first overtly atheistic materialist society who yet can tell us in shining words that “it was only when I lay there, on rotting prison straw, that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either; but right through every human heart and through all human hearts. So, bless you, prison for having been in my life.” What insight, what wisdom, acquired in a Soviet prison, after a Marxist upbringing!

Again, there's Mother Teresa and her ever-growing Missionaries of Charity going about their work of love with their own special geography of compassion moving into country after country. Sisters, now of many nationalities, arriving in twos and threes at the troubled places in this troubled world with nothing to offer except Christ, no other purpose than to see in every suffering man and woman the person of their Savior, and to heed His words, “Insofar as ye did it to the least of these, my brethren, ye did it unto me.”

If the Christian Revelation is true, then it must be true for all times and in all circumstances. Whatever may happen, however seemingly inimical to it may be the way the world is going and those who preside over its affairs, its truth remains intact and inviolate. “Heaven and Earth shall pass way,” Our Lord said, “but my words shall not pass away.” Our Western Civilization, like others before it, is subject to decay, and must sometime or other decompose and disappear. The world's way of responding to intimations of decay is to engage equally in idiot hopes and idiot despair. On the one hand, some new policy or discovery is confidently expected to put everything to rights: a new fuel, a new drug, d├ętente, world government, North Sea oil, revolution, or counter-revolution. On the other, some disaster is confidently expected to prove our undoing: capitalism will break down; communism won't work; fuel will run out; plutonium will lay us low; atomic waste will kill us off; overpopulation will suffocate us all or alternatively a declining birth rate will put us at the mercy of our enemies. In Christian terms such hopes and fears are equally beside the point. As Christians, we know that here we have no continuing city. The crowns roll in the dust and every earthly kingdom must sometime flounder.

Whereas we acknowledge a King men did not crown and cannot dethrone, as we are citizens of a City men did not build and cannot destroy. Thus, the Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome – living, remember, in a society as depraved and dissolute as ours, with its “TV” of “the Games” which specialized, as television does, in spectacles of violence and eroticism – exhorting them to be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in God's Word, to concern themselves with the things that are not seen, for the things which are seen are temporal but the things that are not seen are eternal. It was in the breakdown of Rome that Christendom was born. And now, in the breakdown of Christendom, there are the same requirements and the same possibilities to eschew the fantasy of a disintegrating world and seek the reality of what is not seen and is eternal – the reality of Christ. In this reality of Christ we may see our only hope, our only prospect, in a darkening world.

After all, even if one or other of the twentieth century nightmare utopias will come to pass; if men prove capable of constructing their Kingdom of Heaven on Earth, with abundance ever broadening down from one Gross National Product to another; and the motorways reaching from here to eternity; and eros released to beget a regulation two offspring, like a well-behaved child at a party taking just two cakes, otherwise frolicking in contraceptive bliss, all our genes counted and selected to produce only beauty queens and Mensa IQ's – the divergencies all thrown away with other waste products; and the media providing Muzak and music around the clock to delight and inform all and sundry; and the appropriate medicaments available to cure all actual and potential ills -- it may well be the case that Western Man has wearied of his freedom and is now consciously or unconsciously engrossed in shedding the burden it imposes on him, thereby, if he but knew it, headed inexorably for servitude. Yet in Christ, whoever cares to can find freedom, the glorious freedom of the children of God, the only lasting freedom there is. To quote once more St. Paul: “Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” Again, it may well be that Western man has turned away from the Cross in favor of an illusory pursuit of happiness. Yet, if the preaching of the Cross is indeed “to them that perish foolishness,” to those who believe it continues to be the power of God whereby affliction is seen as part of His love; and out of a public execution burgeons the most perfect hopes and joys the human heart has ever attained. What then, is there to fear or dread?

Jean-Pierre De Crousaz speaks of the 'Sacrament of the Present Moment': to surrender ourselves to God's will, not with reference to yesterday or tomorrow, but now, fully, truly, whatever may or may not happen in the world, irrespective of the buffooneries of power, under whatever demagogue or dictators may be thrown up. Fortified with this Sacrament of the Present, we may laugh at the confusion of our present civilization; as Rabelais in the person of Panurge laughed at the antics of carnal Man; as Cervantes, in the person of Don Quixote, laughed at the antics of crusading Man; as Shakespeare, in the person of Sir John Falstaff, laughed at the antics of mortal Man. It is in the breakdown of power that we may discern its true nature; and when power seems strong and firm, then we are most liable to be taken in and suppose that it can really be used to enhance human freedom and well being – forgetful that Jesus is the product of the losers', not the victors', camp, and to proclaim the first will be last, that the weak are the strong, and the fools are the wise.

It was through brooding on the strange phenomena of our time that I came to see that in the liberal-minded self intimations of a death wish, and to realize that its dominance in the Western world – especially since the emergence of the United States as the preponderant influence, and the development of the all-powerful media for whose fraudulent processes and procedures the liberal mind has a singular aptitude – was responsible for the Gadarene bias apparent in all of our policies and projects. In other words, there we were confronted not with a whole series of crises and problems, but with one crisis, amounting to a death wish – an urge to self-destruction – seeping into every aspect of our way of life, especially our values, our beliefs, our aspirations, how we see the past and our hopes for the future, the qualities we cherish, and those we hold up to obloquy. A touch of irony is added by virtue of the fact that this Gadarene course is associated with ostensibly optimistic views -- with the notion of a perfect society or Kingdom of Heaven on Earth, attained by human effort; in Marxist terms, by the final triumph of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie – whereupon the State may be expected to whither away and mankind to live happily ever after.

I can imagine it being all very puzzling to future historians (assuming, of course, that there are any) and amuse myself by supposing, for instance, that somehow or other a lot of contemporary pabulum – videos of television programs with accompanying advertisements, news footage, copies of newspapers and magazines, stereo tapes of pop groups and other cacophonies, best-selling novels, films, and other such material – all of this gets preserved, like the Dead Sea Scrolls, in some remote salt cave. Then, some centuries or maybe millennia later, when our civilization will long since have joined all the others who once were and now can only be patiently reconstructed out of dusty ruins, incomprehensible hieroglyphics and other residuary relics, archaeologists discover the cave and set about sorting out its contents and trying to deduce from them what we were like and how we lived.

What would they make of us, I wonder? Materially so rich and so powerful; despairingly impoverished and fear-ridden -- having made such remarkable inroads into the secrets of nature, beginning to explore and perhaps to colonize the universe itself; developing the means to produce in more or less unlimited quantities everything we could possibly need or desire, and to transmit swifter-than-light every thought, smile or word that could possibly delight, entertain, or instruct us; disposing of treasure beyond calculation, opening up possibilities beyond conception – yet haunted and obsessed by the fear that we're too numerous, that soon, as our numbers go on increasing, there will be no room or food for us. On the one hand a neurotic passion to increase consumption sustained by every sort of imbecile persuasion; on the other, ever increasing hunger and penury among the so-called backward or undeveloped peoples. Never, our archaeologists will surely conclude, was any generation of men intent upon the pursuit of happiness and plenty more advantageously placed to obtain their objective, who yet – with amazing deliberation – took the opposite course towards chaos, not order; towards breakdown, not stability; towards despair, not hope; towards death, destruction, and darkness; not life, creativity, and light: an ascent that ran downhill; plenty that turned into a wasteland; a cornucopia whose abundance made hungry.

Searching about in their minds for some explanation of this pursuit of happiness that became a death wish, the archaeologists, it seems to me, would be bound to hit upon the doctrine of “Progress”: probably the most deleterious fancy to ever take possession of the human heart. The liberal mind's basic dogma – the notion that human beings as individuals must necessarily get better and better – is even now considered by most people to be untenable in the light of their indubitably outrageous behavior towards one another. But the equivalent collective concept – that their social circumstances and conduct must necessarily improve – has come to seem almost axiomatic. On this basis, all change represents Progress, and is therefore good. To change anything is per se to improve or reform it. The archaeologists will also note how, with the abandonment of Christianity, the whole edifice of ethics, law, culture, and human relationships based upon it was likewise demolished; how sex and associated erotica and sterility rites provided the mysticism of the new religion of Progress; and education – a moral equivalent of conversion, whereby the old Adam of ignorance, superstition, and the blind acceptance of tradition was put aside, and the new Liberal Man born: enlightened, erudite, cultivated. So the bustling campuses multiplied and expanded, as did the facilities and buildings: more and more professors instructing more and more students in more and more subjects. As the astronauts soared into the vast eternity of space, on earth the garbage piled higher. As the groves of academe extended their domain, their alumni's arms reached lower. As the phallic cult spread, so did impotence. In great wealth, great poverty. In health, sickness. In numbers, deception. Gorging, left hungry. Sedated, left restless. Telling all, hiding all. In flesh united, but forever separate. So we pressed on, through the valley of abundance, that leads to the wasteland of satiety. Passing through the gardens of fantasy, seeking happiness ever more ardently, and finding boundless despair ever more surely.

So the final conclusion would surely be that whereas other civilizations have been brought down by attacks of barbarians from without, ours had the unique distinction of training its own destroyers at its own educational institutions, and then providing them with facilities for propagating their destructive ideology far and wide, all at the public expense. Thus did Western Man decide to abolish himself, creating his own boredom out of his own affluence, his own vulnerability out of his own strength, his own impotence out of his own erotomania, himself blowing the trumpet that brought the walls of his own city tumbling down, and having convinced himself that he was too numerous, labored with pill and scalpel and syringe to make himself fewer. Until at last, having educated himself into imbecility, and polluted and drugged himself into stupefaction, he heeled over – a weary, battered old brontosaurus – and became extinct.

I wanted to conclude in this way: Christianity, I want to say, is indeed essentially a religion of hope. A new, stupendous hope, born of the Incarnation, and creating a tidal wave of creativity and joy to revivify a world as tired, bored, and decadent as ours. If now its impetus seems momentarily to be spent, we need not despair; history – a continuing parable whereby God's purposes are revealed for those with eyes to see – will continue to surprise us. Who would ever have ventured to suppose that it would be from the Marxist East, not the ostensibly Christian West, that would be heard the voice most clearly and eloquently stating once more the great propositions on which our Christian religion is founded: that through love, not power; in humility, not arrogance; we may best understand our Creator's purposes for us here on earth? And that voice, Alexander Solzhenitsyn – one among many – and speaking on behalf of many of his fellow countrymen, thereby demonstrating irrefutably that the whole stupendous effort made at such a fantastic cost in blood and tears to condition man to a purely terrestrial existence – the whole monstrous exercise in what is called, in the jargon of Marxism, “social engineering” – has been a gigantic failure; a total fiasco, as such efforts must always be. Including, I might add, crazed projects in our part of the world to sort out our genes in some more appropriate manner; to dispose of lives we consider worthless and decide ourselves who should be born and who exterminated before leaving the womb; even to achieve some sort of immortality by replacing our spare parts – liver, kidneys, heart, brain boxes even – as they wear out, and so keeping us on the road indefinitely, like vintage cars.

Should we not then rejoice that once more it's been revealed unmistakably that God never abandons us? That however somber the darkness, His light still shines? And however full the air may be of the drooling of Muzak and the crackling of music, truth will make itself heard? That in all conceivable and inconceivable human circumstances, what the apostle Paul called, “the glorious liberty of the children of God,” – the only enduring liberty there is -- is always available to us? What then is this Christian hope, valid when first propounded and expounded some 2000 years ago; buoying up Western man through all vicissitudes and uncertainties of Christendom's 20 centuries; and available today – when it's more needed perhaps than ever before – as it will be available tomorrow and forever, whatever the circumstances, whoever the individual or individuals in question, and however inimical to it may be the shape of human society and the manner of the exercise of authority by those who rule over it? The hope is simply that by identifying ourselves with the Incarnate God, by absorbing ourselves in His teaching, by living out the drama of His life with Him – including especially the Passion, that powerhouse of love and creativity – by living with and in Him we are suddenly caught up in the glory of God's love flooding the universe: every color brighter, every meaning clearer, every shape more shapely, every note more musical, every true word written and spoken more explicit; above all, every human face, all human companionship, each and every human encounter a family affair of brothers and sisters with all the categories – beautiful or plain, clever or slow-witted, sophisticated or simple – utterly irrelevant; and any who might be hobbling along with limbs or minds awry; any who might be afflicted particularly dear and cherished; the animals too, flying, prowling, burrowing, and all their diverse cries and grunts and bellowings; and the majestic hilltops and the gaunt rocks giving their blessed shade; and the rivers making their way to the lakes and the sea – all, all irradiated with this same new glory.

What other hope is there which could possibly compare with such a hope as this? What victory or defeat, what revolution or counter-revolution, what putting down of the mighty from their seats and exalting the humble and meek who then of course become mighty in their turn and fit to be put down, what going to the moon or exploration of the universe? A hope that transcends all human hoping, and yet is open to all humans; based on the absolute of love, rather than on the relativities of justice; on the universality of brotherhood, rather than the peculiarity of equality; on the perfect freedom which is service, rather than the perfect service purporting to be freedom. It is precisely when every recourse this world offers has been explored and found wanting, when every possibility of help from earthly sources has been sought and is not forthcoming, when in the shivering cold the last fagot's been thrown on the fire, and in the gathering darkness every glimpse of light has finally flickered out – it is then that Christ's hand reaches out sure and firm, that His words bring their inexpressible comfort, that His light shines brightest abolishing the darkness forever. So, finding in everything only deception and nothingness, the soul is constrained to have recourse to God Himself and to rest content.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Jim Bakker Made Me Do It

This article originally appeared in the October 16, 1987 issue of Christianity Today.

I had hoped to make through 1987 without writing anything about this year's number one religious news event: the PTL scandal. What more could be said about all the bizarre events that have unfolded since March in Fort Mill, South Carolina?

But one evening, as news reports flashed back and forth between the Bakkers and Jerry Falwell, my thoughts drifted back to a seminal book I had read nearly two decades earlier: Christ and Culture, by H. Richard Niebuhr. It seemed to me the television news clips were revealing the stark contrast between two Christian approaches to culture that Niebuhr had delineated.

Some Christians embrace culture. Niebuhr included social-gospel types in this category. As they spend their energies reforming society, these folks tend to adopt the general characteristics of the culture around them. After a while the distinctives of their faith may disappear, absorbed by the outside culture.

Have Jim and Tammy introduced a whole new strain of culture embracing, one never envisioned by H. Richard Niebuhr? Whatever the world around them does, they can do better. Don't settle for a Chevrolet, Jim used to say—if you really want a Cadillac, pray for a Cadillac! Some people felt a sense of shock, even betrayal, over the disclosures of a Rolls Royce, million-dollar salaries, six luxury homes, and the infamous air-conditioned doghouse.

But why? You can read about similar American lifestyles in any issue of Fortune or Vanity Fair. The shock comes from our instinctive belief that Christians should somehow be different from the world around them. Joan Collins may indulge herself conspicuously, but a minister of the gospel? A television evangelist supported by charitable contributions?

The Bakkers evidently saw no such contradiction. Once, Tammy blurted out that she deals with stress by going on shopping binges. These people incarnate the American dream. Rising spectacularly from poverty, they have embraced in triumph a society that honors wealth and fame. It is no accident that a replica of Main Street USA anchored the center of their theme park.

Enter Jerry Falwell, who represents the true fundamentalist tradition of rejecting, not embracing, culture. Christians are to be "separate" from the culture around them. They should stand out. One of Falwell's first actions at Heritage USA was to regulate the wearing of bikinis. In press conferences, he clearly showed discomfiture with some of the trappings of the place (many of which he promptly sold off at auction). Can a giant water slide really be significant to a minister of "The Old-Time Gospel Hour"?

Niebuhr freely admits that members of both traditions, the culture embracers and the culture rejecters, can find biblical support for their approach. Abraham and Solomon (who, interestingly, set the pattern for moral slippage) embraced the culture of their day. Others, like John the Baptist and many Old Testament prophets, took a different tack, rejecting the wider culture. They wore camel's-hair garments, ate locusts, and called down judgment on society. As a result, many ended up in jail or in an early grave.

It happened that around the same time I was watching news clips of the Bakkers and Falwell, I was studying some of the stronger pronouncements of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. That particular prophet had a love/hate relationship with culture: he wrote magnificent poetry and served as an adviser to kings, and yet he never minced words when delivering the judgment of God.

"See, the Lord is going to lay waste the earth and devastate it; he will ruin its face and scatter its inhabitants," Isaiah 24 begins. "The earth will be completely laid waste and totally plundered. The Lord has spoken this word." I can't imagine the writer of that chapter investing much money in a luxury home in Jerusalem.

But, as is typical of Isaiah, the very next chapter turns from dark words of judgment to a shining vision of the future, when the Lord will wipe away every tear and spread a banquet feast for all people, rich or poor. In chapter 25, and elsewhere in Isaiah, the prophet seems to be presenting a third approach to culture entirely. God neither embraces it (read chapter 24) nor rejects it permanently. Rather, he plans (to use another of Niebuhr's categories) to transform culture, to restore it back to its original state before the Fall.

Throughout, Isaiah chooses images from the material world to convey the future-a banquet table, a rebuilt city, a place full of houses and vineyards and strangely tame animals.

In this light, the kingdom proclaimed by Christ takes shape as a model settlement on Earth, an advance announcement of what the new creation will be like. It is lived out in our material world, yes, but by a different set of rules. For example, we welcome rich and poor, and people of all races-because God welcomes them. We value the weak and the oppressed-because God values them.

In our years on Earth, we do not merely "mark time," waiting for God to step in and set right all that is wrong. Rather, we contribute to the process of transforming a fallen world. Through our examples, we awaken longings for a new heaven and a new Earth that God will someday bring to pass.

And here is what saddens me most about the whole PTL fiasco. This year evangelicals have received more hours of network air time and appeared on more magazine covers than ever before. But I doubt very seriously that the watching world has had longings for God awakened while listening to the endless news reports. I wonder whether anyone has seen a glimpse of the difference God can make in a people transformed by him. Tragically, the evangelicals who dominated the news in 1987 came across looking just like everybody else, only more so.

Copyright © 2006 Christianity Today.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Lead Us, Heavenly Father

Lead us heavenly Father, lead us
O'er the world's tempestuous sea;
Guard us, guide us, keep us, feed us,
For we have no help but Thee;
Yet possessing every blessing,
If our God our Father be.

Saviour, breathe forgiveness o'er us,
All our weakness Thou dost know;
Thou didst tread this earth before us,
Thou did feel its keenest woe;
Lone and dreary, faint and weary,
Through the desert Thou didst go.

Spirit of our God, descending,
Fill our hearts with heavenly joy,
Love with every passion blending,
Pleasure that can never cloy;
Thus provided, pardoned, guided,
Nothing can our peace destroy.

James Edmeston (1791-1867)