Peter's Blog

Popeye, Bluto and Marduk

Written by Peter Johnston on .

The first ever episode of Popeye from 1933. Watch it and then read Walter Wink's superb article on The Myth of Redemptive Violence from which he says:

Few cartoons have run longer or been more influential than Popeye and Bluto. In a typical segment, Bluto abducts a screaming and kicking Olive Oyl, Popeye’s girlfriend. When Popeye attempts to rescue her, the massive Bluto beats his diminutive opponent to a pulp, while Olive Oyl helplessly wrings her hands. At the last moment, as our hero oozes to the floor, and Bluto is trying, in effect, to rape Olive Oyl, a can of spinach pops from Popeye’s pocket and spills into his mouth. ...

At the end of the article Wink summarises:

Redemptive violence gives way to violence as an end in itself. It is no longer a religion that uses violence in the pursuit of order and salvation, but one in which violence has become an aphrodisiac, sheer titillation, an addictive high, a substitute for relationships. Violence is no longer the means to a higher good, namely order; violence becomes the end.

My own take here.

Jesus and Violence

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Jesus in the Ring

Tonight in our discussion group Living the Questions we will be thinking about "The Myth of Redemptive Violence". I'm intrigued to see where the discussion takes us tonight as this issue is one that is of particular interest to me.

Last year as part of a long journey through Matthew's gospel I preached a sermon on exactly this theme that stirred a lot of conversation among members in the congregation - for the positive - as we looked more deeply at what it means when we say that God sent his Son to die for us.

After that sermon, I wrote a letter to the Minister's Forum (a newsletter for Ministers) on the same theme which you will find reproduced below. It was printed around Easter 2007. It too caused something of a stir, this time not all positive, it has to be said! However, I stand by what I wrote and think it is very important. 

Easter is coming and what to preach? Christ crucified, or Christ risen? I remember as a student being overcome by the despair in a colleague’s Easter prayer, effused as it was with what I felt to be grotesque imagery of the crucifixion. I prayed in response with thanks for the glory of the third day.

There is a curious difference for me between those whose natural empathy lies in the crucifixion and those who relate more to the resurrection. Just a curiosity? The more I reflect on it, the more I wonder if in this difference of emphasis there may be unintended consequences.

The widespread acceptance today of a penal substitutionary theory of atonement, with its dependence on the death of Christ, certainly has implications for our witness as followers of Christ. I am well aware that this model of atonement has a deep resonance with many, although I admit it is not a resonance I have ever felt myself. But it inevitably raises questions: In its reliance on a retributive system of justice, what room is left for the grace of God? In its dependence on violence to satisfy God’s wrath, what space for forgiveness? In its focus on the cross of Christ, why did God bother with resurrection? The work was done on the cross, not three days later.

The model is so well-known to us that we perhaps forget it is a later addition to our theological panoply shaped into its current form by Anselm in the eleventh century and based on his understanding of feudal law and the system of honour that existed at that time. It was in contrast to the view of Christ’s death and resurrection that existed prior to Christendom when Jesus’ followers were a persecuted and threatened community. Then, his life, death and resurrection were an affirmation that God would overcome all that oppresses: the evil structures and tyrants that threatened faith and discipleship.

Why might this be important today? It does not take long listening to George W Bush or our own leader speaking about terror, often with overtly religious language, to realise that the same retributive justice is the dominant theme. In Bob Woodward’s latest book on life in the White House, we read that Bush always wanted to know the numbers after a battle in Iraq… how many did we kill? Justice is served by spilling blood.

When our whole understanding of our Lord’s death is wrapped up in a system of retributive justice – in honour having to be regained by innocent death or in economic debts of sin being repaid to balance a heavenly chitty – then how do we take seriously Jesus’ life itself?

How do we reconcile Jesus’ teaching about pacifism, about forgiveness, about loving our enemies? Personally, I don’t believe we can. Hence Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ spent almost no time reflecting on Jesus’ life. In Gibson’s film we have no idea why Jesus had to suffer so.

Why did he? Because he was a threat to the powers that be, just as Martin Luther King Jr was murdered because he was a threat to the segregationists in 60s America, and just as Archbishop Oscar Romero was gunned down because he was a threat to the government of El Salvador.

Perhaps Jesus’ death was inevitable, as were the deaths of King and Romero, but for me it is not because of divine retributive justice “tantamount to child abuse”, as Steve Chalke puts it. It is because Jesus brought good news to the poor, to the imprisoned and oppressed – and those in power were threatened by the thought of local insurrection.

Did Jesus have to die? I do not believe so. Yet I do believe his death was the inevitable result of my sin, of our collective sin, of the fear of people, I shudder to say “like me”, who one moment shout “hosanna” and next moment “crucify”.

In a wonderful book, Love’s Endeavour, Love’s Expense, W.H. Vanstone says, “The Word of God dwelt among us (full of grace and truth). In Him the truth of God is disclosed with graciousness. He discloses to us, on Good Friday and Easter Day, both the tragic and the triumphant possibilities of the love of God. But the disclosure is made graciously; Easter comes after Good Friday: tragedy is (swallowed up) in triumph: and [humanity], having seen the tragic possibility, is called away to devote [its] faith, hope and service to the possibility of love’s triumph.”

As we discuss replacing one set of weapons of mass destruction, Trident, with newer more potent weapons, as the results of political folly continue to fill our TV screens with bloodshed, perhaps this Easter we can have the courage to trust in love’s triumph. As our Statement of Faith, 1992, puts it, “By his death on the cross and by his resurrection, he has triumphed over evil.”

Too true

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Duty Calls

I think for both Carolyn and me this cartoon is rather too close to the bone. There are just so many people out there on the internet with strange views who need to be challenged... Wink

Solving the economic crisis

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Natalie Portman and Rashida Jones solve the economic crisis. Enjoy!


Do crystals grow on trees?

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Crystal Tree

Last Christmas the kids got a crystal growing set that we finally got round to using this evening. I think they are going to be very excited in the morning when they see that their crystal tree has grown overnight! 


Taxing times

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Tax return time

Are you rushing to complete your tax return for the end of October? Unlike the poor chap above I feel pretty virtuous having completed mine and submitted it online back in the summer!

I've read quite a lot of chatter back and forth in other blogs and journals both here in the UK and in the USA about taxation recently: whether it is fair, whether we should be able to keep our money and spend it the way we want, whether it is right to redistribute wealth amongst the population and so on.

With many connections in the USA, we hear quite a few voices giving a hard line on taxation: that it should be reduced to an absolute minimum and that a flat rate should apply. When questioned about what then would happen to the social programmes that help people with little income, the usual response is that churches would step in to fulfil this need. 

Riffing on Rights

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On 10 December 2008 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights will be sixty years old.

With supposedly civilised nations such as our own complicit iin the use of torture, of the removal of rights of privacy and the erosion of centuries old rights such as habeas corpus and the right to a fair trial, maybe we need to be reminded of what the United Nations agreed on that historic day in 1948 after the tumult of a World War.

Enjoy the very cool animation.

When the new is definitely better than the old

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I was at another training day today for the Ministries Council. It was the second part of training on the enquiry process for accompanying people who feel a call to the ministry. I have to say that the current system is far, far better than it was when I went to "selection school", after all they let me through!

Rather than a concentrated two days, the process is now spread over many months and includes practical experience, plenty of time for reflection and observation, feedback and also journalling. This latter is interesting to me as a budding blogger.

Enquirers must keep a private journal of their experiences week by week, and reflect back on it at regular intervals both to think about what they have achieved and to see where they have come spiritually on their journey. It seems to be a very helpful tool.

As we talked about journalling today the similarities to writing a blog were clear, though inevitably when you are writing for an online readership you are a little more circumspect about what to include than you would be if writing just for yourself! Nonetheless, it is an interesting development and one which I am glad the Ministries Council have adopted.

[Note the image above is borrowed... I like it but wish the point of focus was on the nib - that's what I would have done!]


A voice of reason

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A grieving mother

Today in a powerful interview and subsequent press conference, Colin Powell, an incredibly well-respected former soldier and Secretary of State in the USA and life-long Republican announced his endorsement for the Democrat, Barack Obama. In part his decision was because of the anti-muslim hatred being fuelled by his party, something he rightly abhors.

Referencing the above photo this is what he said: 

Putting the pieces together

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Goods on St Andrew's Traidcraft Stall

Last night I joined the Blantyre Rotary Club for dinner as their speaker. It was a small gathering but filled with good cheer and banter. The meal, courtesy of the Redstones Hotel, was both good in quality and amount!

I had been asked along to speak about fairtrade, and while we didn't talk about fairtrade during the meal I had a moment of clarity as we talked about the current financial crisis, the crazy mortgage terms that were being offered a year or two ago, and the bail outs of the banking system. 

Bumper stickers

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Bumper Sticker

Our family car got its first wash in about a year today... I love the colour of this car (metallic grey) as it hides the dirt brilliantly! Why the special treatment? See above. After I mentioned to Carolyn that a friend (thanks, Liz) had an Obama bumper sticker on her car, she wanted one too!

Another minister friend in Brechin received an Obama lawn sign in the post from the USA this week too. Perhaps there should be a "CofS Ministers for Obama" group?


Nothing new under the sun

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Screen image from Bob Roberts

Listening to a podcast last week I heard about a film I had never seen called Bob Roberts. It came up in the podcast in relation to the current American election and the ever more desperate moves of Senator John McCain and Governor Sarah Palin as they try to wrestle the lead in the polls away from Senator Barack Obama.

I found that Tesco DVD rental (which I am trialing at the moment) had a copy so I added it to our list. It arrived today and we watched it this evening. What a great film. In a mock-documentary style a British documentary team follows the election race for a Senate seat of the folk singer, Bob Roberts, whose songs have to be heard to be believed. 


Written by Peter Johnston on .

I couldn't resist this having seen it.

Hat-tip to Fiona Ogg for spotting the clip.

Are the wolves out tonight?

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Full Moon over Blantyre

A beautifully clear night tonight, though chilly with it. Here's a snap of our celestial companion taken from the front door of the manse.

Bye bye banks

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Royal Bank of Scotland headquarters, Edinburgh

Another Scottish bank teeters... and as my friend David Burt from Hillhouse said at our discussion evening last night "you thought a few months ago that the banks were rock solid" and now it seems they are more built on sand than rock. Of course, David also told us that he couldn't stop laughing at the news of Iceland's bank accounts being frozen...!

Like many, with the news about the Royal Bank of Scotland, HBOS and Lloyds TSB I am worried as it does impact our own savings. But what do you do? I was amused to read that sales of safes have gone through the roof as people give up on the banking system to adopt the "under the mattress" approach in their own homes.

A new arrival

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Olivia Claudia

After being in Perth all day today for a Ministries Council training day, I finally this evening was able to meet my new niece, Olivia Claudia, born in the small hours of the morning. Very sweet and very peaceful, at least while I was there...

Hope on a Tightrope?

Written by Peter Johnston on .

At the Magnify Praise Service on Sunday night we were thinking about "hope" as part of a series based on 1 Corinthians 13 and the Christian virtues of faith, hope and love. We watched an edited clip of an interview between Dr Cornel West and the satirist Stephen Colbert which was shown last week. The clip here is the full interview.

What a man! I recommend watching this a few times as on the first watch you don't pick everything up... just remember we need to "shift from the bling bling to the quest for wisdom, justice and hope." 

Girls just wanna have fun

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Oops... this is what happens when you give lipstick to a three-year old to play with in the car, while Dad is sitting oblivious in the front reading a book... for the observant among you note the new decoration on the car door.

Harthill update!

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Harthill Footbridge Installation

Following yesterday's blog entry, a wonderful image from a Flickr collection of the footbridge being lowered into place next to the old bridge last night. Quite a contrast in styles.

Crossing the divide

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Crane ready to lift new Harthill footbridge

On the way to Edinburgh today (another meeting at 121 George St) I noticed a huge crane towering over Harthill Services on the M8. Sitting in the car park on the North side of the M8 was a brand spanking new footbridge that was hooked to the crane ready for lifting.

The picture above was taken on the way home from Edinburgh as I approached the services. You can see the 40-year old and very decrepit looking footbridge that takes you from one side to the other for grub. Having been intrigued by this, I have found that the lift of the 230 tonne bridge happens tonight so the new bridge should be in place tomorrow.