Blessed be the Name, the Name be Blessed

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I watched a film on TV the other week and I regretted it long before it was finished. I enjoy watching films and it’s something I hadn’t done for a while. I felt in the mood but sad to say this was a total let-down. It was described as in the “West Wing mode” and starred Clooney et al but I hated it. It had a pretty thin storyline and I couldn’t find any character who was remotely likeable. It was all about ambition and cheating and cutting each other’s throats, but what wearied me was the tone of the whole thing. It was not violent and there was no gratuitous sex but the language throughout turned my stomach. It caused me to think again about why bad language, or what goes under the title of strong language, is a serious issue and perhaps symptomatic of our condition. The crux came late on when the president, on discovering he had been exposed, cursed under his breath “Jesus  f……..    Christ” I felt shiver run through me. It was the casual way that a blasphemy could be uttered with no thought of the one whose name was so casually covered in excrement and dumped in the gutter.  And I wondered why people swear and what they get out of it.

What we used to call foul or profane language, has been reclassified as  “strong” or “colourful” language and its use can be justified, if you feel strongly enough about something. It shows that you have some feeling and some passion about an issue. It is justified by the emotional relief it brings the user, as in “lalochezia”.  It gives you street cred and shows that you have the common touch. Even the Prime Minister slips some into a speech when he wants to make a point. But you just have to think about the categories of words that are used to see what this is really all about.  On the one hand they are words for sexual organs, sexual intercourse, for urinating and defecating, and they are used often with aggressive, sexist and racist overtones with more than a passing hint at rape and sexual violence. On the other, they are names for God for Jesus Christ for the Holy Spirit and sometimes combined with words from the gutter as in the film quote. Why?

Now I know some will immediately respond  “Oh come on, you are a wee bit sensitive here, these are just words… words.. words …you are making such a fuss… your reaction to them is totally out of proportion… you are so concerned with the obscenity of language  rather than the real obscenities that exist in the world”,   Others would go as far as to suggest that if you are concerned about “bad language” it is a sign that you are quite relaxed about all the other evils. But nothing could be further from the truth.  You wouldn’t employ that logic in any other context. Language when it is abusive, inciteful, or discriminatory is taken very seriously, even criminal in some instances. The names you might call people of a different race, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, disability or anything that is different from you do matter and it reveals your attitude to them. It tells what is in your mind and that is one step away from doing. It is not a flippant thing. The words that come out of our mouths in a moment of untamed anger or frustration or passion can betray deep feelings inside us. It is deadly serious. It is not significant that the Psalm writer prays “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your  sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer” because if the thoughts and words are acceptable to God, then the actions that follow will be too.

So my appeal to all wordsmiths out there (including myself) is, before we launch out, before we pit into our speech, before we let it rip, think about the words and why we have chosen to use them. Think about why we would take the name of the Holy God, the creator of the world, the Saviour and Lord and the one that we will all stand before at the end, think about why we would stain his name with words from the gutter and drag it through the cesspit. Think about what we are saying.

Crawford Mackenzie

I am not ashamed

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Sin is a troublesome word. Like so many words in our vocabulary its meaning changes over time it mutates and takes on other baggage and selective nuances so that it can mean quite different things to different people.  Preachers and communicators of the bible often struggle with this and try hard to find a new word or words that would resonant better with the original meaning. Rebellion is one, missing the mark and being messed up, are others. The problem, of course, is the word itself and the idea it imparts. It is offensive. It is the implicit suggestion that there is something wrong with us – whoever we are. That cuts to the core of our self.  It is a blasphemy against the ego.  It is strange that there is such a revulsion against this approach when we are very relaxed about using the same approach with other more acceptable wrongs.  The first step on the recovery from drug addiction, alcoholism, sexual offending, or any socially recognised disorder, is to admit it.  No one has any problem with that. Yet we have enormous difficulty in owning up to this core problem.  Preachers, who have tried to avoid the issue for fear of coming over too censorious or self-righteous, or worried that it presents too bleak and pessimistic a view of humanity, have not helped either.  The focusing on nice things like the celebration of love and positive affirmative strokes, to the ignoring of this essential truth in the Christian faith, has been disastrous.  Because acknowledging the reality of sin is one of the most liberating and essential parts of the good news.  Now we understand that there is a reason for the way things are. And that must be good to know. Pretending that there isn’t a problem or that it is one that with enough willpower and the right conditions we can overcome is pure fantasy. The Gospel, on the other hand, exposes the problem and reveals the solution. But of course it is not the small slightly naughty unimportant thing that it is so often made out to be. It is not just about making bad decisions or errors of judgement it is deadly serious, more than deadly serious. Sin at its core is a vile, corrupting and corrosive thing. It is not good. It is destructive and left to its own will continue to degenerate and destroy all and everything in its path, everything that is good. It contaminates everything and seeps through the personal, the social and the institutional. It is that bad. It is that serious.

This, of course, begs the question, if it is that bad why has it not destroyed good already after all it has had plenty of time to do that and yet good still seems to survive.   Many, I suspect, would believe that it is because humanity is essentially good, that evil with all its manifestations is a temporary blip and that in time this unfortunate character trait will be resigned to history.  But, to hold on to this view must take extraordinary faith and a remarkably optimistic view of human nature without any real evidence to support it.   The reason, I believe, good continues to survive, is because ultimately it is to do with God. He is good and merciful  and he has put in place at certain times restrictions so that we do not yet destroy ourselves -The angels with the flaming swords at the garden, the confusing of the languages and scattering of the people on Shinar’s plane, the flood and other events throughout history. He also chose a man and a family and a people to be witness of him and tell the world. He gave them the law in the Ten Commandments and other regulations to help them in their approach to him and in how they relate to each other. Finally he promised and sent his son, who would be the one who would reconcile people to himself and once and for all deal with the problem of sin.

Last night I was sitting with the small group of internationals, who meet each week in our home. They come from countries in all parts of the world, with backgrounds in all types and shades of faith. It is a precious moment in the week.  After sharing a meal, we spend the time reading, studying and discussing the bible. We had just begun to read through Paul’s letter to the church in Rome and it is hard to describe the sense of joy and liberation as we touched base with the cosmic reality of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  The dawning of this truth is like a massive door being opened to let light flood into a stale and dingy room and we could understand why Paul was able to say “I am not ashamed of the Gospel for it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes”.

Crawford Mackenzie

Why I am not celebrating

When I started this weblog, this subject was one I didn’t want to be writing about. It was one controversy I was happy to avoid. If I had to, I would try and skirt round it as best I could and leave it to the reader to work out where I stood, but things have changed. I feel continually pressed, corned and nagged into coming out and making clear what I believe is the truth of it.

I never liked and still don’t like talking about sex. It is something so precious and intimate and delicate, too much talk crushes the flower and smudges the image. At school you knew that the boys who were always talking about it were not doing it. But with the relentless battering from the media, from self-appointed pundits, celebrity clerics and experts, in almost every minute of every day, from almost every angle, having the thing shoved into your face with virtually no escape, and possibility of respite, there comes a time when you have to say “Enough is enough”.  I can’t be silent any longer.  I have been bullied and intimidated for too long. I am wearied to distraction at the constant bleatings of those who claim to speak for others, for those who are hurting because they are not able to find sexual fulfilment in the way that they want. Yes I know and don’t doubt that people are hurting, that always will be, but when you think of the world of suffering people out there, the people who have to face the rest of their lives with crushing disability, with unbearable loss, with unbelievable deprivation, or simply the desperate human longing for a partner or soul mate or for a child, a longing that will never be fulfilled, it barely registers on the scale.

So where am I?

I believe in God, who created this world and who keeps it going. I believe he has communicated with us and speaks to us. I believe he has been doing that from the beginning of time in different ways but especially by coming and being one of us. I believe he speaks to us: to me, now, today. I believe that all we need to know of him can be found in the Bible, if we listen to his voice speaking through it and allow his Spirit to make it clear. I believe that it contains the only truly good news, the only truly accurate assessment of our condition and situation and the only real and genuine hope.

In it the pattern: the design, the beauty of the relationship between man and women is clearly shown. It is a picture of his love for us. It is something so holy that any variant, anything less, any spoiling of that picture, he abhors. That is why idolatry, adultery,  fornication, homosexual, bestial and incestual practices are condemned. It is the spoiling of the picture, like the misuse of his name, or the abuse of his children. That is the offence.

That is where I am, this is where I stand and that is why I will not be celebrating.

Crawford Mackenzie

Why do people hate Jesus?

I was coming back from the shops with my oldest grandson, down the steep cobbled lane with the early morning Saturday sun hitting our faces, past the tiny gospel hall and the Hindu temple next door, looking down towards the river with the railway bridge snaking its way round into Fife; when he stopped, retraced his steps, and said “Look”.  Pointing to the noticeboard on the wall he read “I am the way the truth and the life – Jesus“  Having recently discovered the new world that had opened up to him through the joy of reading, he read everything. “Good” I said and trundled on. “No!” he said pulling me back to the spot “Look” and pointed to a large “X” scratched across the glass. “Someone has done that – someone who doesn’t like Jesus” We walked on for a bit and then he asked “Why do people hate Jesus?”. At once two thoughts rushed into my mind;  “out of the mouths of babes and children… “ and  “Why do they always have to ask such difficult questions” and so I mumbled something like “I don’t know, but I think it is because Jesus is so good that people hate him”.  He was silent for a time and then, totally unconvinced, responded  with a “So that is it?”

As always happens, I thought about the question afterwards. I tried to come to a better answer but the more I did the more I became convinced that that was, in fact, it. People hate Jesus because he is good. Good people are often admired but seldom liked. It is as if  a good life points up how shallow, selfish and self-centred is our own and faced, with a pure one, we are so aware of our own hypocrisy, greed, lust, deceit  and pride. It is best to keep a good person at a distance. It might actually bring out hatred. At the root of most of the emotion is not so much over what Jesus said or who he was but what he did. What he did when he allowed himself to be led through the suffering and torture to his execution on a rubbish tip outside of Jerusalem 2000 or so years ago. I remember listening to a tirade from someone about the film “The passion of the Christ”. They hated it and went on and on about the violence. Somehow they could take Tarantino excesses in their stride but Mel Gibson’s portrayal of Jesus’ suffering was just too much to stomach. I am not a fan of Mel Gibson nor the film but was taken aback at the ferocity of the attack.  Violent the film certainly was, gratuitous perhaps, but the context and meaning of the film was clearly stated in the words from Isaiah, shown in the opening sequence -“by his stripes we are healed” and I think that was what caused the most offence. If the son of God should have justly suffered all of this, and if it was for me, then I must be totally messed up. My life a hopeless sham and the good that I thought I was, could be nothing more than pathetic childish pretences, what Paul calls “filthy rags”. That truth is hard to swallow and so much easier to ignore. But because it is true, then we hate every reminder of it and hate the person who, by their very presence and existence, reminds of it. That, I think, is why people hate Jesus.

Crawford Mackenzie