Reflections of a Broken Man

On The Unlovely by StephenMac
August 30, 2009, 11:12 pm
Filed under: Reflections

**Currently listening to: Breaking – Anberlin… concert was awesome on Friday night, but a bit loud… first four songs were indistinguishable :S **

I work in a church in the south west. It is in a housing commission area, which means that the people who leave around the area are often there for a reason. Some of them are there because they can’t work, and the reasons for not working sometimes involve disabilities, mental or physical. Let me make it quite clear that I am not saying that everyone who lives in housing commission is disabled, nor do I want to even hint that I am giving that impression. However, the few people who come to our church from the area sometimes have interesting peculiarities.

I spoke today with a man who suffers distressingly from post-traumatic stress and depression (we had a long conversation about the UFO that he saw). Another regular has a very quirky nature that many people find difficult to get along with, though whether that’s just his personality or something else I’m not sure. These two gentlemen in particular have very saddening and lonely lives. They have few friends, usually no family at home with them, and immediate family are not close by. They are restricted by transport and inability to travel themselves. They are socially awkward, difficult to connect with, and usually emotionally draining.

These are the people Jesus chose to hang out with quite a bit.

It got me thinking today. Church should be filled with the unlovely. Or if not filled, then at least have a significant number. Jesus chose to hang out with the social outcast, the difficult to love, the high maintenance, the emotionally draining. Why isn’t my church filled with these people?!? I’m not saying that I’m a social caste above anyone else, I’m the first to admit that to others, I’m probably just as socially awkward, etc, just as unlovely as these guys that I’m describing. But my last church was the same, filled with mainly well-to-do people, people who were easy to love, easy to get along with. If God chose the weak and the foolish to shame the strong and the wise, then my church should reflect that. Yes, I am weak, and yes, I am foolish: my point is that church should be filled with these people. A friend of mine described them as the poor in spirit. We need to reach out to these people.

Another thought that struck me today was how to connect with them. On a personal note, they are sometimes emotionally draining: I spend much of my time sitting and chatting with them, and by the end of it, I feel exhausted. This may have something to do with the fact that I’m an introvert, and any social contact is draining, but anyway… How do you connect with them? Sharing your life with them is possibly the most important, knowing that they are no more or less a brother or sister in the Lord. Spending time with them is important, and not simply brushing them off because they are difficult. But what happens when this means that other people are neglected? I am also the youth minister at my church, and I love spending time with my group – they’re an awesome group. Sometimes, it’s not easy, nor wise, to mix the two groups for various reasons. And in these situations, how do I balance time with the two groups?

We are all unlovely. Whatever else, we need to make sure that our churches are welcoming for everyone, loving everyone (loving the unlovely), not showing favouritism for anyone, or we are nothing different from the rest of the world.


On Grace, Gratitude, Guilt and Grey Areas by StephenMac
August 27, 2009, 9:29 am
Filed under: Reflections

**Currently listening to Rust (The Short Story Of Mary Agnosia) – anchor&braille… Why isn’t it released in Aus yet?!? And why can’t I buy from the US iTunes store?!?**

I’m new to ministry. I’m actually quite easily swayed by the opinions of those around me who have been in ministry longer than I. And so I am quite confused at the moment by the role of guilt and emotions in ministry and particularly youth ministry. How can we be affective (relating to emotions) without being manipulative? Here are some lines which can’t be crossed.

a) Emotional manipulation is wrong. Always.
b) Rational manipulation can be a form of emotional manipulation and is likewise wrong (You would be stupid to ignore the evidence…).

I think I’m convinced by the approach to pastoral theology that was raised recently in our annual lectures:

Grace –> Gratitude –> Love of God –> Repentance –> Moral Change (Good Works)

I think I’m also convinced that guilt can have a limited role in this theology, i.e. guilt leads us to recognise the grace shown to us, but does not replace the grace –> gratitude step. I think that I would hold that the “big stick” approach to motivate people to repent (you are guilty of sin, you’re a failure, you need to repent) is less effective than the “carrot” approach (God has shown you grace even when you were a sinner, we repent because we want to serve the God we love). The latter approach will involve guilt, in that it is the result of understand why we need grace in the first place, but it does not drive the need to repent. That is driven by love of and gratitude to God.

With these things in mind, here is my question: When does preaching to the emotions or ministering to the emotions to affect someone start becoming emotional manipulation?

question mark

Emotional manipulation, after a conversation yesterday, could possibly be the point where the effect of the preaching is beyond what could be defined by rationality. If we are on board with Jonathan Edwards and his perspective on religious affectation, then our emotional response must be in line with our rational response. In other words, if the emotional response is beyond what we would expect from, say the text we were preaching from, this we would call emotional manipulation… maybe…

Secondly, while emotional manipulation is more associated with guilt (and possibly easier to do), I wonder whether the same can be said for gratitude/thanksgiving…

Thirdly, is our theology of emotions influenced by our theology of God’s sovereignty? In other words, do we feel a drive to be affective to the point of manipulation because we don’t trust God’s sovereignty to save people?


I’m not exactly sure where I want to go with this, as I’m not exactly sure what I’m asking.

I think, though, that our ministry should involve the emotions, particularly guilt and gratitude, but must remain limited. Gratitude is the emotion to cultivate, however, as guilt I feel is less effective in producing a godly response.

Some thoughts for further elaboration…


On the Foot of the Cross by StephenMac
August 21, 2009, 12:53 am
Filed under: Reflections

**Currently listening to Like Steps in a Dance – anchor&braille @… Thinking I’ll get this album**

I left immediately after class today. First one out while everyone was in shock I think. I went up to my room, closed the door and prayed. I mumbled sorry, I cried why, I said about a hundred thank you’s. It’s one think to think you’re a failure; it’s something else to know that you’re worse than that, you’re a mocking, hateful, spiteful worm who is loved so much that even while you’re nailing a man to a cross, he’s praying to God for you, giving you the breath that you are taking, giving you the strength to hammer the nails into his wrists.
crown of thorns
I’m not sure exactly where I would have stood 2000 years ago. It is more than possible that I would have been there calling for his blood. I probably would have been driving in the nails that I couldn’t even look at today. But if not, then I probably would be at the foot of the cross, but unable to look. As I averted my eyes this afternoon, my thoughts returned to this poem. Donne wants to be at home, but is travelling this Good Friday. He reflects on the cross, and where he would stand should he be in Israel that day 1600 years earlier. He too could not look, aware of his own sinfulness.

Jesus died voluntarily, out of love, for me while I was at best indifferent, at worst, driving the nails into his wrists. Jesus died because I put him there.

I understood this today. I found a cure to my thanklessness. Thank you, my Lord Jesus.


John Donne. Good Friday, 1613: Riding Westward

Let mans Soule be a Spheare, and then, in this,
The intelligence that moves, devotion is,
And as the other Spheares, by being growne
Subject to forraigne motion, lose their owne,
And being by others hurried every day,
Scarce in a yeare their naturall forme obey:
Pleasure or businesse, so, our Soules admit
For their first mover, and are whirld by it.
Hence is’t, that I am carryed towards the West
This day, when my Soules forme bends toward the East.
There I should see a Sunne, by rising set,
And by that setting endlesse day beget;
But that Christ on this Crosse, did rise and fall,
Sinne had eternally benighted all.
Yet dare I’almost be glad, I do not see
That spectacle of too much weight for mee.
Who sees Gods face, that is selfe life, must dye;
What a death were it then to see God dye?
It made his owne Lieutenant Nature shrinke,
It made his footstoole crack, and the Sunne winke.
Could I behold those hands which span the Poles,
And tune all spheares at once peirc’d with those holes?
Could I behold that endlesse height which is
Zenith to us, and our Antipodes,
Humbled below us? or that blood which is
The seat of all our Soules, if not of his,
Made durt of dust, or that flesh which was worne
By God, for his apparell, rag’d, and torne?
If on these things I durst not looke, durst I
Upon his miserable mother cast mine eye,
Who was Gods partner here, and furnish’d thus
Halfe of that Sacrifice, which ransom’d us?
Though these things, as I ride, be from mine eye,
They’are present yet unto my memory,
For that looks towards them; and thou look’st towards mee,
O Saviour, as thou hang’st upon the tree;
I turne my backe to thee, but to receive
Corrections, till thy mercies bid thee leave.
O thinke mee worth thine anger, punish mee,
Burne off my rusts, and my deformity,
Restore thine Image, so much, by thy grace,
That thou may’st know mee, and I’ll turne my face.

On Just War: Part II – Alternatives by StephenMac

** Currently listening to So Long, So Long – DBC**

Why a moral just war theory? Why not? What are the alternatives?

1. Alternative approaches to war

As mentioned last post, just war theory in one sense sits between two moral extremes – realism and pacifism. Realism is a political science term that has at it’s centre the idea of realpolitik or political prudence. In layman’s terms, whatever gets the job done goes. Realism’s central aim is the preservation and survival of the state, and it will do whatever it needs to to maintain that survival: in a word, prudence. In contrast to just war theory, realism holds that the political and the moral are completely different spheres of thought, and therefore should not overlap. While realism is aware of the “moral significance of political action”, it does not believe that morality should limit action, especially when the state’s survival is at stake. As such, realism will advocate a dual morality: a morality of the individual, and a morality of the state. The individual can say that murder is wrong at a personal level, but this should not filter into the state level, or at least in the same way.

At the other extreme is pacifism. Pacifism argues that all war is inherently immoral, and therefore cannot and should not be fought. Realistically, a majority of pacifist thought comes from a Christian standpoint, based most usually on Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek. There are two main types: deontological and consequential. Deontological pacifism argues “that there are no situations, real or imaginary, in which resort to war would be the lesser evil” (Bellamy, Just Wars: 279-280). In other words, war involves killing, and killing is inherently wrong, therefore war is inherently wrong. As such, they advocate “passive non-resistance” and alternatives to war. It is important to note that modern Christian deontological pacifists have become somewhat more consequentialist. Rather than war is “inherently wrong”, they argue that there are situations which could theoretically exist in which war may be permissible, yet “the moral constraints on war are interpreted in such a way as to make it highly unlikely that any war would meet the criteria” (Bellamy, Just Wars: 294). More recently, the Christian perspective has moved in this direction, with the US Catholic Bishops (The Challenge of Peace), and the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams (The Just War Revisited) both advocating a “presumption against war” or a “presumption against violence”, which argues that the Christian scriptures argue first for a peaceful settlement of disputes, and in “exceptional cases” some use of force is permitted (determined by the principles of just war theory).

Consequential pacifists would argue that it’s not war per se that’s wrong, but rather it’s modern form. They would argue that war is theoretically possible, but modern warfare involves the killing of innocents, and the killing of innocents is wrong, therefore modern warfare is wrong. In difference to deontological pacifists, it’s not that killing is wrong, but the killing of innocents is wrong, and modern warfare inherently involves these innocents. If the nature of warfare were to change, then war would be morally possible, whereas the deontological pacifist would say that war itself is wrong, and can never meet the criteria of being moral.


On Seeking Approval by StephenMac
August 18, 2009, 6:31 pm
Filed under: Reflections | Tags: , , , ,

**Currently listening to Don’t Wait – Dusk and Summer, Dashboard Confessional… on an incidental note, this morning’s chapel song had a very DBC feel to it…**

At college, I am surrounded by super-intelligent people… Most times, I don’t notice it, but last night at dinner, I really did. I was having a conversation with a very distinguished scholar, and I couldn’t help but feel completely humbled by the simple fact that I got very lost in the conversation… I genuinely had no idea what was going on. I returned to my room, procrastinated by opening up the blogs that I subscribe to, and finding a discussion on “who did Christ die for?” – a simple question – but had nothing more than a superficial appreciation for the answers provided in the debate. This past day, I have felt out of my league for the first time in a very long time…

But that’s not my worry… so I’m mediocre… this I’ve understood for a while… Some men are born to mediocracy, others have mediocracy thrust upon them, and I’m both… But what really stunned me was my reaction this morning in class… This scholar visited our class, and I found myself trying to answer every question, trying to prove the fact that I had listened, that I had understood. I found myself seeking the approval of the lecturer…

There’s a certain shame that comes with realising that you’re a try-hard… And there’s something hypocritical about preaching against this a mere two days before. Physician, heal thyself.

How can I preach “You’re a failure, but Christ is your success, and you’re in him” when I can’t even appreciate that myself?!? To preach Christ-esteem is one thing, to still have low-self-esteem is another…

To seek the approval of men is nothing short of shameful and futile, and to ignore the self that Christ gives me is foolishness and leads to despair, disappointment, and pointlessness.


On Just War: Part I – Starting Points by StephenMac

**Currently listening to: This is a Low – Blur… I so love the Glastonbury version of this…**

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything, so I thought I might return to my roots… I overheard a 4th year convo on Just War, and remembered that this is what brought me to college in the first place. Two years on, we’ll see if anything has changed much.

What is Just War Theory?

Just War Theory in short is a normative (what should be) and prescriptive (what should be done) approach to the study of conflict. It is a moral approach (not legalistic, as will be argued later) that makes judgements on what should be and what should be done on the basis of what is right and what is wrong. Quite simply, it is a framework for the moral fighting of war. It is not really a theory in the literal sense, rather, it is a practical framework: a set of principles that provide governments and individual soldiers alike a moral and ethical structure for the waging and limitation of war (O’Donovan** – Just War Revisited, p. 6).

Why is it needed?

This moral framework seeks to limit war. It begins with a pessimistic view of human nature, and therefore assumes that war will happen. As such, just war theory as Jean Bethke Elshtain describes it, is a “tragic necessity“. The state of affairs of Micah 4:3 is eschatological, and so we need to find a way to limit war.

There are two approaches to war in political science: Realism argues that if war is the natural state of affairs, then war should be fought without any restraint to ensure victory (prudence). Pacifism argues that war is inherently immoral, and therefore should not be fought at all. There is a problem: realism’s ‘amorality’ fails to allow for restraint, while pacifism’s extreme morality fails to provide any way forward for the moral conduct of war. Realism therefore descends into immorality, while pacifism risks “inadvertently conceding a free hand to those who support the war to execute it free of moral restraints” (BellamyIs the War on Terror Just?, p. 281). Just War Theory attempts to straddle the two, realising the need to conduct war, while demanding that there be moral limits.

A Moral Framework?

There are a couple of principles that are necessary to provide a foundation for a moral Just War Theory (as opposed to a legalistic one):

The first principle is the importance and worth of the individual. Just War insists on the limiting of violence and suffering. Why? Because the individual has worth, and that their suffering is undesirable if not completely wrong. In this regard, accounts of war in terms of prudence (realism) do not sufficiently explain why there is such an emphasis on limiting war’s effects. Where does the individual gain his worth from, and why is life respected? The Christian worldview provides such a perspective: individuals, men and women, are created in the image of God. It is a description of the way that God made humanity, in the likeness of his character. Anything that harms that creation, like suffering and death, therefore tarnishes the image of God, and is therefore inherently evil (wrong).

Similarly, the importance of the individual means that any account of political science must portray, even in part, the agency of individuals in the international realm. In this way, accounts of war that focus purely on the state neglect the role of the individual. From the outset, just war theory has placed the individual in a position of responsibility, be it the leaders (the prince or the prime minister) or the soldier. The responsibility and accountability of the individual is an assumption that remains at the heart of just war theory, and underpins many of the principles that it espouses. Why is this so? Amongst other things, theologian John Stott explains that God created humanity with the ability to be rational and moral (Stott – Issues Facing Christians Today, p. 62). How else would they be able to both understand and respond to God’s commands? The implication is that if humanity is both rational and moral, then it is also responsible and accountable. Humans are free to make decisions as they will, and as such, are subject to moral praise and blame. While “the Fall” (the break in the perfect relationship with God and the corruption of sin upon the world) may diminish humanity’s capacity to be perfectly moral or rational, this does not mean that it is not responsible or accountable. Responsibility and accountability may be diminished, but not completely denied. Rather, it is in the context of the Fall that Elshtain makes the comment that war is “tragically necessary” – in a world that is corrupted by sin, the oft-quoted idea of ‘beating swords into plowshares’ is eschatological and not of this age, and conflict is something that will continue to be.