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Jeremiah’s Underpants and a Link Too Far: CCJ, Stephen Sizer and The Ugly Truth March 16, 2012

Posted by Phil Groom in Christianity, Current Affairs.
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56 comments
Jeremiah' s Underwear ... possibly

Jeremiah’ s Underwear … possibly.

JEREMIAH’S UNDERPANTS: it’s one of those wonderful Bible stories that for one reason or another doesn’t tend to make the Sunday School lessons, or even the sermon slots; but it did pop up earlier this week, at Evensong. I sat there chuckling at the absurdity of it whilst the rest of the congregation either didn’t get it or were too busy being solemn, as per Anglican tradition.

“Go buy yourself some new underpants,” said the Lord to Jeremiah. “Put them on but don’t wash them.” So off he went and bought some new undies and put them on. A while later — Jeremiah doesn’t tell us how long — the Lord spoke to him again: “Take off your new underpants and go, hide them under a rock down by the River Euphrates.” So off Jeremiah duly toddled and did as he was told: he was a good lad like that; and a while later — again, Jeremiah doesn’t tell us how long — the Lord spoke to him again: “Go back, get your underpants from under the rock.” So off he went and after a bit of scrabbling around, he found the spot, dug them up and — shock, horror! — they were ruined! Yes, ruined.

The story doesn’t tell us how bad the smell got, what Jeremiah wore whilst his underwear were rotting down by the riverside, or whether he put them back on again, and I suspect that without all those details he’d have been hard pressed to find a publisher today; but Jeremiah was no fool: it was self-publishing all the way for him, and no copyright restrictions — he just wanted his story out there.

And the story was wroth: God’s wrath against Israel, who, God declared, were just like Jeremiah’s filthy underpants, rotten, smelly and useless. Oh, for a Euphrates youtube: I leave it to your imagination and any budding film producers out there…

IN TODAY’S WORLD, methinks, Jeremiah would have been declared anti-semitic and reported to the police: how dare he, how dare anyone, liken Israel to a pair of filthy underpants? And in truth, that’s the way ancient Israel all too often treated its prophets, ostracising them, abusing them, and, in Jeremiah’s case, throwing him into a well and leaving him to die.

So who dares speak up about Israel’s misdemeanours today? One such person is Stephen Sizer, an Anglican cleric and writer who blogs at stephensizer.blogspot.com and speaks out freely against Israel’s contemporary apartheid against the Palestinians. I’m happy to say that I know nothing about Stephen’s underpants, but I do know that he tends to use facebook rather like Jeremiah used the Euphrates: somewhere to deposit things that come to his attention, especially links pertaining to Israeli-Palestinian relations.

Stephen is not alone in using facebook like that, of course: I do it all the time with links and snippets about the Christian book trade; but the fact that I post a link does not imply that I endorse everything that you might find at the other end of that link; indeed, if linking carried that implication, none of us would link to anything and the internet would implode, no longer a net at all, just gazillions of navel-gazing orphaned pages. Some people play it safe anyway with disclaimers: those are not my underwear out there, or words to that effect.

CCJ Statement About Antisemitic Website, 13/03/2012

CCJ Statement About Antisemitic Website, 13/03/2012

Other people, unfortunately, just don’t get it: like the congregation at Evensong listening to what has to be one of the Bible’s most hilarious stories and failing to laugh, all they seem able to do is make like the end of the world is nigh. This week Stephen has fallen foul of one such group, the otherwise excellent CCJ, the Council of Christians and Jews, specialists in Christian-Jewish relations — of which I happen to be a member — and it’s no joke: they’ve lodged a complaint with his bishop and with the police, accusing him of promoting racial hatred: CCJ Statement About Antisemitic Website.

Their problem: Stephen posted a link to an article about Israeli threats to Iran on a website called ‘The Ugly Truth’, a site which some members of CCJ have described “obscenely anti-semitic”, and Stephen, apparently, did not remove his link to the article fast enough for them:

We have paid particular attention to a link posted by Mr Sizer on his Facebook page to ‘The Ugly Truth’, an antisemitic website. We consider this to be wholly unacceptable. We cannot accept it was an accident, because Mr Sizer was alerted to the antisemitic nature of the website in November and again in December, but only removed the link in January when contacted by the Jewish Chronicle.

Stephen’s response to that, via facebook, of course:

The reality is I add many Facebook links daily and get criticised weekly. I did not look at the website till January and only then appreciated its anti-semitic content. I removed the link as soon as I found it. Its [sic] not easy to find a link from months ago on FB. The article itself that I linked to was about Israeli threats to Iran. No one has actually criticised the article itself.

… which to me, as another heavy facebook user, makes perfect sense; and I wonder if that is part of CCJ’s problem: they simply don’t get social media? Be that as it may, however, as a member of CCJ, I find the way they have elected to handle this situation extremely disappointing on two particular fronts:

First of all, the announcement itself seems disingenuous at best: entitled “CCJ Statement About Antisemitic Website” it is, in fact, nothing of the sort: it is rather a direct, personal attack on Stephen Sizer. Far better, I suggest, to thank Stephen for drawing attention to the site and then go, with even greater determination, after the people who run The Ugly Truth website.

Next, one thing that I’ve always admired about CCJ, one of the things that makes me proud to be a member, is its commitment to dialogue: making dialogue make a difference is one of CCJ’s straplines, used on almost every poster we produce at CCJ Hillingdon, where I’m the webmaster. What, I wonder, has happened to the dialogue process in this instance? Stephen removed the link as requested; and at CCJ CEO David Gifford’s invitation he met with some Jewish leaders where, in Stephen’s words, “we had a heart to heart about what had happened, but nothing materialised except this press release.” Why, I ask, some two months on, have CCJ now chosen to pursue the matter in this way rather than engage in further dialogue with Stephen, or indeed with CCJ’s wider membership?

I have written to David Gifford to this effect, cc’d to the Bishop of Guildford and Surrey police, and now await their response. In the meantime, beloved readers, let’s talk it through…

UPDATE 15/3/2012

A brief response from CCJ on twitter, over a series of 4 tweets:

All CCJ has done, in its founding role to combat antiSemitism, is, on receipt of complaints about Mr Sizer’s actions… … to have expressed grave concern to his bishop and drawn the attention of the police to the matter. ….It is not within our remit or competence to decide whether or not the accusation of incitement to race hatred is sustainable or not… … – which is why we have referred it.

UPDATE 23/3/2012

A brief response from David Gifford, received today:

Dear Phil

Many tx for this. I appreciate you taking the time and trouble to write and have noted your comments, which I fully understand

Kind regards

David

ELSEWHERE… (most recent first)

DISCLAIMER

Those are not my underpants out there, OK? The fact that I’m expressing solidarity with Stephen Sizer over this matter does not imply that I agree with everything he says, my links to facebook do not imply that I approve of everything on facebook, and my use of WordPress does not imply that I universally applaud everything that’s posted on WordPress hosted blogs. So don’t get your knickers in a twist, and if you do, try a hot iron — but take them off first. Thank you.

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I saw camels dancing on Satan’s grave March 8, 2012

Posted by Phil Groom in Lent & Easter, Life, Theological Reflection.
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7 comments

And lo, I looked, and I saw camels dancing on Satan’s grave. And I spoke to the angel standing beside me, and I asked, “Who are these camels and why are they dancing?” And he replied, “When camels dance, the universe roars with laughter: for behold, these camels, they’ve got soul, and Satan, he’s got no soul, therefore these camels dance and the universe rejoices. Blessed shall be the ox who gets the yoke.”

— Recently discovered fragment of an early MSS of the Book of Revelation

Have you ever seen camels dancing? No? Then believe me, my friend, you haven’t lived: dancing camels are an absolute must-see phenomenon — and as this ancient writer discovered, they rock the universe with laughter. Total hilarity. Especially when they’re dancing on Satan’s grave.

Yes, that Satan: the ancient enemy of humanity, the betrayer, the deceiver, the usurper, the Father of Lies, the Whisperer of Dark Thoughts, and any other unpleasant and nefarious title that you can think of. The one who wants you, above all else, to believe that he does not exist — because once he’s won that little battle, he can get away with anything, from murder to rape to theft, even to the point of you taking your own life without you realising that yours wasn’t the hand that took it. Satan sucks, and given his way, he’ll suck you dry, drink your soul and leave you feeling like an empty husk wandering the empty pathways of despair.

Why? Because he exists; because you exist; and because God doesn’t. He hates that, because he wants to be all in all and he can’t be. Oh, there was a time when he was nearly there: top dog amongst the angels; but top dog wasn’t good enough for him: he wanted to be top god. But God — and how I love those two words, But God — put a stop to those satanic ambitions, simply by creating you. Yes, you: the you reading this and wondering what on earth that nutjob Phil Groom is on about this time.

Prepare to be amazed: he’s on about you. Because you, like the dancing camels, have got soul. Which means you can dance too, with or without the camels, and all that damned Satan can do is rot in his grave and fade away. True, he’s a pain in the butt right now: lop off a chicken’s head and it’ll run around flapping and spurting blood and making a right mess for a minute or two before it drops; and Satan’s one big headless chicken who’s gonna be running around for a while yet. But up there in the future, the camels are dancing on his grave: it’s just a question of laughing in the meantime, along with more than a bit of weeping, sure; but God’s promise is that damned devil is done for, finito, for ever.

How? One word: Jesus. In Jesus, God steps out of the realm of the Almighty into what might be and makes all things possible. The non-existent God steps into human space-time and takes on existence: the author writes himself into the story, the artist paints himself into the picture, in a way that Satan simply cannot copy. Oh, Satan and his pathetic bunch of minions can possess, certainly; and as we all know, possession is nine tenths of the law. But as anyone who has ever faced a Compulsory Purchase Order knows only too well, that final tenth has more power than all the other nine put together — and that’s all God needs, all God has ever asked for and all Jesus needs to send Satan packing into that empty no man’s land where the camels dance on his grave.

Proof? You want proof? Simple: God farts and Satan flees. It’s right there in the Bible: Jesus went into the wilderness, where he farted for forty days and nights; and when the forty days were over, Satan fled. Ask Martin Luther: fart and the devil flees. The Christian God is a God who farts, and this — one of the most profound parts of the Christian message — terrifies Satan, because it’s something he can never do: he’s full of wind, but he can never fart. Try to imagine what that must be like: for ever flatulent but unable to fart. The best he can do is fart by proxy when he or one of his minions manage to possess a human being that they’ve sucker-punched into submission; but he can never fart himself. But God can: because God didn’t simply take over someone else’s human body, he grew his own and suffered all the indignities that went with it — alongside all the joys and pleasures. Seriously, you don’t think Jesus turning water not merely into wine but into the best possible wine was a one-off, do you? Practice makes perfect: Jesus knew his wine because he enjoyed the stuff, and if it had been a wedding today you can be sure that at least one of those water jars would have become Guinness, as well as maybe a flagon of champagne. Go ask his mum: she understood.

Our God farts. He also sings, dances, drinks, laughs, weeps, bleeds, parties, loves camels, tells stories, tells the bigots to bog off and makes friends with prostitutes. This is life in all its fullness. This is Jesus, God with us, one of us and loved and hated in equal measure by those who meet him.

He also dies and — the ultimate coup — suckers Satan into doing the dirty work of killing him: God’s biggest ever fart, right in Satan’s face, and Satan doesn’t even realise until it’s just too damned late. Once again, God does what Satan can’t: he dies, and he dies horribly with all the wrath, agony and hatred of humanity poured into his soul, into his very self. Satan, the one who hates humanity, delivers the death blow that finally nails God into the human story with no way out — and nails the lid onto his own coffin, for ever. The deceiver, deceived; the usurper, usurped; and whilst Satan throws a party in his fantasy world where he thinks God is no more, Jesus throws a party in the underworld, kicks down the gates of hell, breaks the chains, heals the wounds and sets every captive free — then returns, reboots his wreck of a body with a brand new Resurrection-OS, and throws a beach party for his confused disciples.

This is Christianity at its best, at its most basic and its most glorious: completely down to earth with the God who undermines every rule of religious propriety, turns every dogma and social norm on its head, tears down the walls and raises the dead. God with us, God incarnate, God one of us; and it doesn’t stop there: once God has written himself into the story, the story itself is rewritten with the promise of the same Resurrection-OS reboot for the entire universe. Quantum theology: time and space explode, ripping the old order apart as the Jesus Event reverberates backwards, forwards and every which way in time, rewriting history and writing an even better future. New creation, new beginning, new everything. The old dividing line between spiritual and physical, between heaven and earth, becomes nothing but a line in the sand, washed away by the tide: everything becomes sacred, gender distinctions are wiped away, the first become last, the last become first and in God’s new creation there is neither slave nor free, rich nor poor. Jesus becomes the point at which creation begins and the anchor holding it in place.

Following Jesus is not about some airy fairy pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die afterlife where we’ll all be floating around on clouds playing harps or cellos or whatever musical instrument takes your fancy with occasional breaks to laugh at the torments of the damned. Following Jesus is about life on earth now, in a world where Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Your Kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Christianity is firmly rooted in reality and reality is rooted in Jesus who makes all things possible; and the future hope Jesus holds out to his disciples is reality rebooted.

Earlier I said you’ve got soul; I was wrong: you are soul. Be careful how you say that, but don’t be fooled by anyone who tries to tell you you’ve got an immortal soul that’s going to heaven or hell or some place in between; you haven’t. You are soul, body/spirit/mind synched together in imperfect harmony, but in God’s reboot the imperfections get the boot, your hard drive gets defragged and you get the upgrade that Apple, Microsoft and all the other computer geeks out there can’t even dream of, even in their wildest flights of imagination. Doesn’t matter if the original hardware’s rotted away, been incinerated or recycled because Jesus saves and he backs up too. Which means there will be cats and dogs in heaven because heaven will be here on earth; and for those with eyes to see, it’s already arrived.

God farts, Satan flees, camels dance, heaven, earth and humanity are rebooted and in the words of the hymn writer, Jesus sets our souls ablaze: be careful how you sing that; and I don’t know what was in those mushrooms I ate last night, but the shop assistant told me they were a special purchase from Patmos: blessed shall be the ox who gets the yoke.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

‘See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.’

Revelation 21:1-4


Acknowledgements: Post inspired by my good friend @narky, who apparently believes there won’t be cats and dogs in heaven; and I owe the ox who gets the yoke gag to Kruppe, a character in Steven Erikson’s ‘Tales of the Malazan Book of the Fallen’ … everything else, apart from the bits I made up, is true.
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