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I go through a tattoo phase every now and then. So far I’ve been lucky enough not to have allowed a temporary feeling to become a permanent regret because these phases never last long enough. This is probably a good thing, as I am the kind of guy who once adamently informed his girlfriend (and thankfully now, lovely wife) that I would name our firstborn girl ‘East’ and our firstborn boy ‘North’. Agonizing.

So anyway… my current urge is to have a sort of Mt. Rushmore done on my shoulder and back with the faces of four thinkers who have influenced me the most. I might work a quote or two into the art as well… It has probably been done before, but I’ve never seen it.

My question for you is this:

If you had to have the words and faces of four great thinkers permanently engraved on your body, who and what would you choose, and why?


“O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy is he who repays you
for what you have done to us-
he who seizes your infants
and dashes them against the rocks.”
– Psalm 137:8,9

The author of this poetic verse didn’t hold anything back. There are many imprecations in Scripture. The ancient Israelites held a sense of entitlement when they prayed. The Abrahamic covenant’s, “I will curse those who curse you” was always in view in “us-them” relationships. Combine this “God is my big brother” mentality with the lex talionis (“an eye for an eye”) as the backbone for Hebrew law and you get a background which makes this desire for baby-bashing of the people who had sacked Jerusalem completely authentic emotion. The fact that it was included in the Hebrew canon supports this picture. Most scholars agree that the book of Psalms was used in the second temple cult (worship). Which I suppose means that the people we encouraged to sing these words… as worship. I wonder if this authentic expression of emotion was authentic worship from God’s viewpoint?

But that’s old testament. Read the last few chapters of Judges and you will find yourself shaking your head in wonder that “In those days Israel had no king”:

” 1 Now a man named Micah from the hill country of Ephraim
2 said to his mother, “The eleven hundred shekels of silver that were taken from you and about which I heard you utter a curseā€”I have that silver with me; I took it.”
Then his mother said, “The LORD bless you, my son!”
3 When he returned the eleven hundred shekels of silver to his mother, she said, “I solemnly consecrate my silver to the LORD for my son to make a carved image and a cast idol. I will give it back to you.”
4 So he returned the silver to his mother, and she took two hundred shekels of silver and gave them to a silversmith, who made them into the image and the idol. And they were put in Micah’s house.
5 Now this man Micah had a shrine, and he made an ephod and some idols and installed one of his sons as his priest.
6 In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.”
– Judges 17:1-6

People of the Old Covenant often made a complete mess in trying to discern God’s will. I wonder if we aren’t arrogant in assuming in our post-modern mentality that we are immune to misrepresenting God’s will ourselves.

We want to be authentic in our worship, but how will we protect ourselves from just doing (and singing) as we see fit? There is a strong drive in emerging worship trends towards ‘recovering authentic emotion’ (this is a desire that I hold dear myself). Earlier this year, I heard Brian Doerkson speak on this subject. He said that worship leaders “need to make room for people’s pain in worship”. Many people equate authentic emotion with authentic worship, but authentic worship is more than honest. Authentic worship fears God. Authentic worship doesn’t laugh when it’s asked “Isn’t this ‘strange fire’?” (Leviticus 10:1).

No matter how real and honest it feels.

I’m becoming more and more aware how valuable blogging (especially theology discourse blogging) is. Maybe it’s sad that in my little life, although quite open-minded and well-read, I have had such limited contact with people with different philosophical and theological points of view… and I think I’m not the only one.

Case in point:

I read a fantastic blog called “Sarcastic Lutheran” (link under “Udderbloggers”). Although she’s quite “emergent” in her thinking, she also comes across as very liturgical. Very different to me. In her latest entry, she made a mind-blowing statement:

“We need to break through the isolation of sin and remorse to stand as Christ for one another. I think this is actually why we at ‘House for All Sinners and Saints’ say that we are religious but not spiritual. Spiritual feels individual and escapist. But to be religious is to do this thing of being human, not in isolation but in the midst of other sinners as equally messed up and obnoxious and forgiven as ourselves”.

Wow. What do “being religious” and “being spiritual” mean to you? Of course, this is not a debate, but simply an investigation into how our denominational heritage has coloured our understanding of these words. It may come down to nothing more than semantics. But hey! I’ll start. Up until now:

“Being religious” meant being in bondage to a system in which we make promises to God to prove our devotion (sometimes formally and sometimes informally – like through the songs we sing), and in which we believe that when we fail we invoke God’s wrath, and when we overcome, we invoke his blessings / favour.

“Being spiritual” meant being “in step with the Spirit”. Or being constantly aware of the fellowship of Christ through His Spirit in our day to day lives.”

Interesting that James (1:27) talks about “pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God”. So maybe I’ve given “religion” an unfair negative connotation. Me and many others…

“The revelation of God is the abolition of religion” – Karl Barth
“Religion is the archrival of intimate spirituality… Religion, a tiresome system of manmade dos and don’ts, woulds and shoulds – impotent to change human lives but tragically capable of devestating them – is what is left after a true love for God has drained away. Religion is the shell that is left after the real thing has disappeared” – Doug Banister.

There are lots more… but I wonder what YOU think?

About Me

Ecstatically married to Leane. Studying Theology and Teaching. Working as a worship leader, teacher, coach, guitar teacher. Living in the Mighty City of Mkondo in the sunny province of Mpumalanga, in the blessed country of South Africa.

Favourite Thoughts – Outbox

Religion is to be defended - not by putting to death - but by dying. Not by cruelty, but by patient endurance. - Lactantius (c.304-313).
What is essential Christianity? From first to last it is scandal, the divine scandal. Every time someone risks scandal of high order there is joy in heaven. - Soren Keirkegaard.
Where there are two Christians, there are three opinions... [Actually a Jewish saying, but at least as true for Christians]


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