After 12/7/2011, this blog will no longer be updated, although content will remain. Please visit my new blog at Hidden Latitudes.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Bono on Jesus

If only we could be a bit more like Him, the world would be transformed. When I look at the Cross of Christ, what I see up there is all my shit and everybody else's. So I ask myself a question a lot of people have asked: Who is this man? And was He who He said He was, or was He just a religious nut? And there it is, and that's the question. And no one can talk you into it or out of it. 
— Bono, excerpted from Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The shorter water fountain

    When I was a young boy growing up in Rome, Georgia, "downtown" was the shopping district. The first mall in Georgia, Atlanta's Lenox Square had just been opened, in 1959. It would be another twenty years before Rome would open a mall. So although Rome's downtown was only five blocks long, it was our Fifth Avenue, with a plethora of delightful and busy stores and eateries.
    I would often go shopping with my grandmother. There was one department store on Broad Street, the main thoroughfare in town. It was called Miller Brothers, and it was always a special treat because it had an elevator to the second floor. The only other elevator I knew of in town was in a hospital.
    So it was always a treat to go to Miller Brothers with my grandmother, and I was respectful when we lingered in the Women's section, because I knew an elevator ride awaited my good behavior.
    Parking was sometimes scarce on Broad Street proper, so we would often park on East First Street, the street behind Miller Brothers. Then we would enter via the back door, not as impressive as the Broad Street entrance, which had two large brass and glass doors. The back door, singular, was a less pretentious door, which opened into a narrow hallway with offices on one side, and bathrooms on the other.
    I remember one visit vividly, around 1960, when I was about six. We entered the rear door, and I stopped briefly to get a quick swig of water from the water fountain. There was a tall refrigerated water fountain, but it came to the top of my head, so I opted for the smaller ceramic fountain beside it, even though it was uncooled, like the drinking fountains at schools and sports arenas. It was just the right height. I was a few sips into the delightful refreshment when I was grabbed by the collar and rudely jerked back. I turned to find my grandmother looking at me with a stricken face.
    "That fountain is for the colored people," she loudly whispered, and pointed to a sign, which simply said, "Colored."
     I knew what she meant by "colored people," although they were pretty much one color in Rome. And I knew, at six, that these same people were called "nigras" by both my grandparents and my parents. I grew up in the segregated South and, yes, it was a racist society. I would see it change, and change dramitically, over the next fifty years. But then, I only knew the what of race relations, not the flimsy reasons why.
     I am pretty sure that my grandmother was concerned that I might get some ailment from using that fountain. But I didn't know that day what my transgression was. It was never explained, and I remember spending the rest of the visit wondering if I was rebuked for taking something that wasn't mine. Looking back from fifty years, I think that may be true. I think perhaps I stole a little of the quiet dignity of the black men and women who stooped to drink from the short, uncooled fountain, while lesser people stood and drank beside them.
     All this came to mind when I saw this video by Herman Cain, a black, conservative from Georgia who is considering a presidential run. Herman's story mirrors mine. Herman is nine years older than me, so his story probably took place earlier than mine. But although they weren't in the same year, it was certainly the same time. 
—Wayne S.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Lewis on Liberalism

Liberal Christianity can only supply an ineffectual echo to the massive chorus of agreed and admitted unbelief. Don’t be deceived by the fact that this echo so often “hits the headlines.” That is because attacks on Christian doctrine which would pass unnoticed if they were launched (as they are daily launched) by anyone else, become News when the attacker is a clergyman; just as a very commonplace protest against make-up would be News if it came from a film star.
By the way, did you ever meet, or hear of, anyone who was converted from scepticism to a “liberal” or “demythologised” Christianity? I think that when unbelievers come in at all, they come in a good deal further.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Sorrow of God


Thanks in no small measure to the publication of Rob Bell's book, Love Wins, there is a renewed conversation about God's love. To many "spiritual but not religious" people (including, I think, Bell), the love is God is the primary thing about Him. And I am not about to disagree. But it is not the only thing that makes God desirable or trustworthy. To me, He loves us because He loves justice, truth and righteousness, and hates sin. There are many scriptural testimonies to that end, but for a concise overview, I recommend the New Testament letter of First John.

Geoffrey Anketell Studdert Kennedy was an Anglican priest and poet, who volunteered for chaplain duty in World War I. During that time, he wrote a powerful poem about an oft-ignored characteristic of God: His sorrow over sin. When we think of God's love, do we think of His sorrow in seeing His only son "lyin' there all uv a 'eap, Wi' the blood soaken over 'is 'ead"?

It is neither narrow-minded nor hard-hearted to say that all must come to God through Jesus Christ. It is just. It is true. It is righteous. In His sorrow is His love.


YES, I used to believe i' Jesus Christ, 
      And I used to go to Church, 
But sin' I left 'ome and came to France, 
      I've been clean knocked off my perch. 
For it seemed orlright at 'ome, it did, 
      To believe in a God above 
And in Jesus Christ 'Is only Son, 
      What died on the Cross through Love. 
When I went for a walk o' a Sunday morn 
      On a nice fine day in the spring, 
I could see the proof o' the living God 
      In every living thing. 
For 'ow could the grass and the trees grow up 
      All along o' their bloomin' selves? 
Ye might as well believe i' the fairy tales, 
      And think they was made by elves. 
So I thought as that long-'aired atheist 
      Were nubbat a silly sod, 
For 'ow did 'e 'count for my Brussels sprouts 
      If 'e didn't believe i' God? 
But it ain't the same out 'ere, ye know. 
      It's as different as chalk fro' cheese, 
For 'arf on it's blood and t'other 'arf's mud, 
      And I'm damned if I really sees 
'Ow the God, who 'as made such a cruel world, 
      Can 'ave Love in 'Is 'eart for men, 
And be deaf to the cries of the men as dies 
      And never comes 'ome again.
- 132 -
Just look at that little boy corporal there, 
      Such a fine upstanding lad, 
Wi' a will uv 'is own, and a way uv 'is own, 
      And a smile uv 'is own, 'e 'ad. 
An hour ago 'e were bustin' wi' life, 
      Wi' 'is actin' and foolin' and fun; 
'E were simply the life on us all, 'e were, 
      Now look what the blighters 'a done. 
Look at 'im lyin' there all uv a 'eap, 
      Wi' the blood soaken over 'is 'ead, 
Like a beautiful picture spoiled by a fool, 
      A bundle o' nothin'--dead. 
And it ain't only 'im--there's a mother at 'ome, 
      And 'e were the pride of 'er life. 
For it's women as pays in a thousand ways 
      For the madness o' this 'ere strife. 
And the lovin' God 'E looks down on it all, 
      On the blood and the mud and the smell. 
O God, if it's true, 'ow I pities you, 
      For ye must be livin' i' 'ell. 
You must be livin' i' 'ell all day, 
      And livin' i' 'ell all night. 
I'd rather be dead, wiv a 'ole through my 'ead, 
      I would, by a damn long sight, 
Than be livin' wi' you on your 'eavenly throne, 
      Lookin' down on yon bloody 'cap 
That were once a boy full o' life and joy, 
      And 'earin' 'is mother weep. 
The sorrows o' God must be 'ard to bear 
      If 'E really 'as Love in 'Is 'eart, 
And the 'ardest part i' the world to play 
      Must surely be God's part. 
And I wonder if that's what it really means, 
      That Figure what 'angs on the Cross. 
I remember I seed one t'other day 
      As I stood wi' the captain's 'oss.
- 133 -
I remember, I thinks, thinks I to mysel', 
      It's a long time since 'E died, 
Yet the world don't seem much better to-day 
      Then when 'E were crucified. 
It's allus the same, as it seems to me, 
      The weakest must go to the wall, 
And whether e's right, or whether e's wrong, 
      It don't seem to matter at all. 
The better ye are and the 'arder it is, 
      The 'arder ye 'ave to fight, 
It's a cruel 'ard world for any bloke 
      What does the thing as is right. 
And that's 'ow 'E came to be crucified, 
      For that's what 'E tried to do. 
'E were allus a-tryin' to do 'Is best 
      For the likes o' me and you. 
Well, what if 'E came to the earth to-day, 
      Came walkin' about this trench, 
'Ow 'Is 'eart would bleed for the sights 'E seed, 
      I' the mud and the blood and the stench. 
And I guess it would finish 'Im up for good 
      When 'E came to this old sap end, 
And 'E seed that bundle o' nothin' there, 
      For 'E wept at the grave uv 'Is friend. 
And they say 'E were just the image o' God. 
      I wonder if God sheds tears, 
I wonder if God can be sorrowin' still, 
      And 'as been all these years. 
I wonder if that's what it really means, 
      Not only that 'E once died, 
Not only that 'E came once to the earth 
      And wept and were crucified? 
Not just that 'E suffered once for all 
      To save us from our sins, 
And then went up to 'Is throne on 'igh 
      To wait till 'Is 'eaven begins.
- 134 -
But what if 'E came to the earth to show, 
      By the paths o' pain that 'E trod, 
The blistering flame of eternal shame 
      That burns in the heart o' God? 
O God, if that's 'ow it really is, 
      Why, bless ye, I understands, 
And I feels for you wi' your thorn-crowned 'ead 
      And your ever pierced 'ands. 
But why don't ye bust the show to bits, 
      And force us to do your will? 
Why ever should God be suffering so 
      And man be sinning still? 
Why don't ye make your voice ring out, 
      And drown these cursed guns? 
Why don't ye stand with an outstretched 'and, 
      Out there 'twixt us and the 'Uns? 
Why don't ye force us to end the war 
      And fix up a lasting peace? 
Why don't ye will that the world be still 
      And wars for ever cease? 
That's what I'd do, if I was you, 
      And I had a lot o' sons 
What squabbled and fought and spoilt their 'ome, 
      Same as us boys and the 'Uns. 
And yet, I remember, a lad o' mine, 
      'E's fightin' now on the sea, 
And 'e were a thorn in 'is mother's side, 
      And the plague o' my life to me. 
Lord, 'ow I used to swish that lad 
      Till 'e fairly yelped wi' pain, 
But fast as I thrashed one devil out 
      Another popped in again. 
And at last, when 'e grew up a strappin' lad, 
      'E ups and 'e says to me, 
"My will's my own and my life's my own, 
      And I'm goin', Dad, to sea."
- 135 -
And 'e went, for I 'adn't broke 'is will, 
      Though God knows 'ow I tried, 
And 'e never set eyes on my face again 
      Till the day as 'is mother died. 
Well, maybe that's 'ow it is wi' God, 
      'Is sons 'ave got to be free; 
Their wills are their own, and their lives their own, 
      And that's 'ow it 'as to be. 
So the Father God goes sorrowing still 
      For 'Is world what 'as gone to sea, 
But 'E runs up a light on Calvary's 'eight 
      That beckons to you and me. 
The beacon light of the sorrow of God 
      'As been shinin' down the years, 
A-flashin' its light through the darkest night 
      O' our 'uman blood and tears. 
There's a sight o' things what I thought was strange, 
      As I'm just beginnin' to see 
"Inasmuch as ye did it to one of these 
      Ye 'ave done it unto Me." 
So it isn't just only the crown o' thorns 
      What 'as pierced and torn God's 'ead; 
'E knows the feel uv a bullet, too, 
      And 'E's 'ad 'Is touch o' the lead. 
And 'E's standin' wi' me in this 'ere sap, 
      And the corporal stands wiv 'Im, 
And the eyes of the laddie is shinin' bright, 
      But the eyes of the Christ burn dim. 
O' laddie, I thought as ye'd done for me 
      And broke my 'eart wi' your pain. 
I thought as ye'd taught me that God were dead, 
      But ye've brought 'Im to life again. 
And ye've taught me more of what God is 
      Than I ever thought to know, 
For I never thought 'E could come so close 
      Or that I could love 'Im so.
- 136 -
For the voice of the Lord, as I 'ears it now, 
      Is the voice of my pals what bled, 
And the call of my country's God to me 
      Is the call of my country's dead.

 (For those who would prefer a less Cockney English version of the poem, go here. For more of Kennedy's poetry, go here.)