Crystal ball gazing

“If it is hard to make predictions about what the year ahead holds for society,
it is doubly difficult to predict what will happen to the Church.
It’s not just that we suffer the vagaries of all human sinners and societies,
but the Holy Spirit will not be restricted to our timetables and limited visions.
Imagine being a disciple of Jesus after the crucifixion and before the
day of Pentecost – who could have foreseen what would happen?”

David Robertson


(Wizard of Oz / 1939)

Oh hear the wistful sighs…..

Ode that we could somehow take a peak, a gander or even predict….the future…
Ours, others, the world’s….
All whilst gazing into our very own all seeing and all knowing crystal balls.

We humans, particularly as we have advanced in areas of all things scientific,
communication and technological, have grown, over the past couple of centuries,
increasingly frustrated when we can’t see how it’s all going to go, going to be,
or going to end…

And despite saying we aren’t ones to sneak a peak at how the book or the
story will end, deep down, we all really want to know…

Perhaps it is the odd peace in knowing… or perhaps more aptly,
it is a peace in accepting, that which is to be….
For the lack of not knowing eats away at us more than the actual knowing.

We want that total knowledge and peace that everyone is going to
live happily ever after…
And if that’s not to be the case..then by George, we will do something about it…
because that who we are and how we operate, we do something about it, or we
get those who can do, to do…..

We prefer to leave nothing to chance because if we ‘know’ we can therefore control;
and if we can control, we can therefore orchestrate; if we can orchestrate,
we can therefore be in charge…

Becoming the masters of our own ships, our own destinies and our own souls!
In essence becoming our our demigod.

In the mid 19th century in Victorian England there was a huge rise in public
interest in occultism and spiritualism…
but not exactly for that of Christian spiritualism.

In his article The Victorian Supernatural, Roger Luckhurst notes that
the 19th century is routinely thought about as the era of secularisation,
a period when the disciplines and institutions of modern science were founded
and cultural authority shifted from traditional authority of religion to
explanation through the scientific exposition of natural laws.
The sociologist Max Weber spoke about this process as the disenchantment
of the world.

Yet he goes on to note that “while we might still accept the broad brush strokes of this story, the Victorian period is also of course a period of deep
and sustained religious revival.
There was an evangelical revival in the Christian church but also a host
of dissenting, heterodox and millenarian cults.
It was a golden age of belief in supernatural forces and energies,
ghost stories, weird transmissions and spooky phenomena.
For a long time historians ignored these beliefs as embarrassing errors or
eccentricities, signs of the perturbations produced by the speed of cultural change.

Roger Luckhurst who is Professor of Modern Literature at Birkbeck College,
University of London goes on to note, that in the turbulent,
revolutionary year of 1848, a new religious movement emerged from the melting pot
of upstate New York.
The young Fox sisters had claimed to have come into contact with the
unquiet spirit of a murdered man in their house,
who communicated with them by loud knocks on wood.
This very local sensation (later shown to be a fraud)
was the origin point for the Spiritualist movement,
which elaborated a method of communicating with the dead in séances through mediums. Mediums were often women because they were deemed to have more delicate,
sensitive nervous systems than men.

Men who were mediums – such as the famous D D Home who so enraged Robert Browning
that he was the source for his poem ‘Mr Sludge’ –
were often abjected and despised.

Although communication with spirits was strictly forbidden in the Bible,
this became a popular form of dissenting belief, a ‘proof’ of the survival
of bodily death in an era that demanded empirical testing and experiment.
The spirits would exchange banal but comforting messages with loved ones;
some would elaborate extensively on the social and political institutions
of the afterlife, called Summerland by some.

So as we consider the thoughts of one historian’s observation,
or better yet his little explanation into this lasting fascination of humankind
with its endless quest of being able to reach the other side, see beyond today,
desiring to know how the ending will be…there remains that single notion—
the “demanded of empirical testing and experiment….
i.e.the knowledge of the truth.

But what truth is that?

As we are reminded of a similar resigned and rhetorical
question, uttered nearly two millennium ago by a weary Pontius Pilate
“What is truth”
….as man is still hounded by that very query, despite having been offered
the most sound statement of Truth itself that very day….

And so our friend the Scottish Pastor and Wee Flea blogger gives his own
take of what 2018 might just be holding in store for those who are curious
or perhaps even worried about such.

Yet we must note that Pastor Robertson’s “predictions” are not those based on
Mediums and Occultism nor of séances, Ouija boards or even crystal balls….
but rather his thinking is based of keen observation, historical observations,
insight into the human psyche as well as a heavy dose of Biblical study
and of course always prayer…..

For an article in Christian Today, the good Pastor offered his
“10 prophesies for the Church in 2018

(see link: https://theweeflea.com/2018/01/02/10-prophecies-for-the-church-in-2018/)

And it is with keen interest that I pay particular attention to number three
as it addresses life on this side of the pond….

3.The American church will continue to fracture and decline as the word
‘evangelical’ becomes even more meaningless.

The American church is rich and powerful and has need of everything.
Whilst J I Packers’ quip that the US church is
‘3,000 miles wide and one inch deep’ may have been unfair,
it is nonetheless the case that whilst there are vast resources in the US church
(people, money, gifts) there is a danger it could implode.

This is especially true in the evangelical church where the word
evangelical has become increasingly meaningless.

‘White evangelicals’ who don’t go to church and don’t believe
(according to one survey) 60% of the basic Christian doctrines can hardly be called evangelical. And yet everyone wants to be called an evangelical
(or ‘post evangelical’ if you want to be cool).

On the other hand the heirs of 19th Century Protestant liberalism are 21st
Century liberals like Brian McLaren, Rob Bell and Steve Chalke,
who use the language of evangelicalism but give it a completely different meaning.
Such a church cannot survive. And does not deserve to survive.

As this thought reminds me of the words by Bishop Gavin Ashenden,
“our secular culture is attracting many believers…..”

And whereas none of us actually have a true working crystal ball,
allowing us to see into let alone accurately predict what may come…
And whether we agree or not or even like to consider such ominous words
of a murky future…there does remain,
as the good Wee Flea reminds the Faithful, always hope.

Because that is but one thing that remains forever unchanged…..
the Truth of God and His Word.

He was, He is and He will always be—

And it is in that simple fact, that we may rest—

For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God,
mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes.

Deuteronomy 10:17

Turning point

What most of all hinders heavenly consolation is that you are too slow in turning yourself to prayer.
Thomas a Kempis

DSCN8758
(detail of a pinecone / Julie Cook / 2014)

As a tale-end Baby Boomer and child of the Cold War, the Soviet Union, the USSR, The Federation of the Russian Republic or simply Mother Russia, has always been an uncomfortable shadow over my shoulder, just as it has for most everyone my age and older. The enigma known as Russia, who most graciously hosted the world last February for the Winter Olympics only to turn around and shock us all a few months following with the “invasion” of Ukraine, has remained a conundrum for the free world since the Russian Revolution of 1917 which gave way to birth of Communism.

When I was in high school, which seems to be many lifetimes ago, I had the good fortune of taking a Russian History course—with the most memorable experience being of my introduction to the writings of Alexander Solzhenitsyn. I had the good fortune of reading several of his books. . . One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, The Gulag Archipelago and Cancer Ward.

Now all these many years later I find myself drawn back to the writings and words of Solzhenitsyn, of which I find more prophetic than I had ever imagined.

For those of you unfamiliar with Solzhenitsyn, in a nutshell, he was a Russian soldier (WWII), Gulag prisoner (for nearly 10 years), writer and novelist, historian, Soviet dissident, Nobel Prize recipient and finally, again, Russian citizen.

As a life long member of the Russian Orthodox Church, Solzhenitsyn was guided by a deeply spiritual moral compass. He was a very loud and vocal opponent of Totalitarianism, of which expedited his forced exile from the Soviet Union, yet he could also be equally critical of the West and its obsession with Capitalism, Consumerism and Materialism. All of which reminds me of the chastisement the West often received from Pope John Paul II, as well as Mother Teresa—as perhaps those who have suffered more grievously under the Socialist and ultra Nationalistic Regime of the Nazis and then that of the Communist Soviets, have perhaps a clearer perspective of our often blind view of what we consider to be “the good life”

I am poignantly reminded of Solzhenitsyn, his words and wisdom as well wise counsel and rebukes of those who have witnessed first hand the sinister wiles and atrocities of Evil, particularly during this time of year as it seems the world always appears to crescendo to a heightened sense of madness–just as the holidays come into focus. I don’t know why that is except that as the world seems to not only witness an abundance of joy and goodwill, there seems to be an equal measure of evil and chaos. Perhaps it is because Christians are drawn to the birth of the Savior and Jews begin the celebration of the miracle of light and the rededication to the Second Temple– a time of a tremendous pull of people toward God—as it seems Evil must have its share of the pie by unleashing its part of unimaginable pain and suffering in order to create some sort of sadistic counter balance.

Perhaps our senses are on hyper drive this time of year as we keenly feel the highs of Joy and Wonder along with the bottomless pit of despair and suffering as they each roll in to one. These thoughts reverberate in my mind just as Sydney, Australia was held hostage Monday by a radical Islamist madman leaving 3 individuals, including the gunman, dead. Then on Tuesday, Pakistan witnessed an unimaginable attack on a school leaving 132 children and 9 adult staff members dead all at the hands of the Taliban.

We currently have a menacing cyber attack taking place at Sony as North Korea is suspected to be retaliating to the release of a tongue and cheek movie which sadly mocks an attempted assassination of an, albeit, unhinged world leader. Sometimes I think we, those of us in the West with our often sophomoric entertainment industry, have lost our sense of what is considered off limits or morally wrong when it comes to the exploitation of movie making and entertainment—but I suppose a moral compass would be needed in the first place in order to be reminded of such. . .

We have just marked the tragic anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre as we continue reading headline after headline of local, national and global tragedies. Just as the world tries to come together in some sort of unity marking two very sacred holy times of the year as well as the secular merry making of Santa, Papa Noel and Kris Kringle’s arrival.

In reading Solzhenitsyn’s book Warning to the West, which is actually a brief composite and compendium of the texts to three separate addresses made in the US in the late 1970’s, it is startlingly frightening noting the parallels of then verses now. I am keenly reminded of the relevance of Solzhenitsyn’s words which were uttered almost 40 years ago as they could very well be spoken on the world stage today regarding today’s global state. I will leave you with a few pieces of his excerpted texts in order to ponder and ruminate the relevance and warnings which echo across our prosaic landscape as we wrestle to make sense of the tragic events which continue to unfold before our very eyes this holiday season. . .

“Is it possible or impossible to transmit the experience of those who have suffered to those who have yet to suffer? Can one part of humanity learn from the bitter experience of another or can it not? Is it possible or impossible to warn someone of danger?
How many witnesses have been sent to the West in the last sixty years? How may waves of immigrants? How many millions of persons? They are all here. You meet them every day. You know who they are: if not by their spiritual disorientation, their grief, their melancholy, then you can distinguish them by their accents or their external appearance. Coming from different countries, without consulting with one another, they have brought out exactly the same experience; They tell you exactly the same thing: they warn you of what is now taking place and of what has taken place in the past. But the proud skyscrapers stand on, jut into the sky, and say: It will never happen here. This will never come to us. It is not possible here.”

“In addition to the grave political situation in the world today, we are also witnessing the emergence of a crisis of unknown nature, one completely new, and entirely non-political. We are approaching a major turning point in world history, the the history of civilization. It has already been noted by specialists in various areas. I could compare it only with the turning from the Middle Ages to the modern era, a shift in our civilization. It is a juncture at which settled concepts suddenly become hazy, lose their precise contours, at which our familiar and commonly used words lose their meaning, become empty shells, and methods which have been reliable for many centuries no longer work. It’s the sort of turning point where the hierarchy of values which we have generated, and which we use to determine what is important to us and what causes our hearts to beat is starting to rock and may collapse.
These two crises, the political crisis of today’s world and the oncoming spiritual crisis, are occurring at the same time. It is our generation that will have to confront them. The leadership of your country, which is entering the third century of existence as a nation will perhaps have to bear a burden greater than ever before in American history. Your leaders will need profound intuition, spiritual foresight, high qualities of mind and soul. May God granted that in those times you will have at the helm personalities as great as those who rested your country . . .”

(excepts taken from a speech delivered in New York July 9, 1975, at a luncheon given by the AFL-CIO)