Lessons of the death camps

What does the existence of death camps like Auschwitz teach us? Why must we never forget the horror and baseness of these places?

In a time when learning, science, art, music, education, etc was at its peak we still managed to build death camps and treated people worse than we treat cattle.

We already had the likes of Beethoven and Rembrant. We had already committed ourselves to the ideals of evolution and physics. Our science was applied to master races and weapons of destruction on a vast scale.

The horrors of that time are summed up in the words of Bertrand Russel (arguably the worlds greatest atheist philosopher):

“The science to which I pinned my faith is bankrupt. Its counsels, which should have established the millennium, led, instead, directly to the suicide of Europe. I believed them once. In their name I helped to destroy the faith of millions of worshippers in the temples of a thousand creeds. And now they look at me and witness the great tragedy of an atheist who has lost his faith.”

We can look at all this and shake our heads and marvel at how so many intelligent people could be so stupid. We can believe it is down to mistaken philosophies and following a corrupted leader but the truth is it is the darkness that lives in each one of us that caused this and that darkness still remains.

I quote a holocaust survivor Victor Frankl

“If we present a man with a concept of man which is not true, we may well corrupt him. When we present man as an automaton (someone who behaves like a machine and shows no feelings) of reflexes, as a mind-machine, as a bundle of instincts, as a pawn of drives and reactions, as a mere produce of instinct, heredity, and environment, we feed the nihilism (the belief that nothing in life has any importance or value) to which modern man is, in any case, prone.

I became acquainted with the last stage of that corruption in my second concentration camp, Auschwitz. The gas chambers of Auschwitz were the ultimate consequence of the theory that man is nothing but the product of heredity and environment–or, as the Nazi liked to say, ‘of Blood and Soil.’ I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some Ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and in the lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers.” -Viktor Frankl, Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor

The truth is that this nihilism lives with greater force today than in any other time in history, even greater than the time that spawned the second world war. We study Hitler (and rightly so) looking for the flaw in him that caused all that suffering and yet at the same time deny that his flaw still lives in each one of us. We are more concerned about our selves and our own rights than we have ever been. We are more convinced there is nothing more than the physical world and we are nothing more than bags of chemicals driven by circumstances and environment. We are nothing more than selfish genes. We have given up on life meaning and purpose and substituted happiness, desires and selfishness. Do you not understand where all this will lead us?

Is there a solution?

There was a man who had answers to all this. He talked about things beyond the physical world and about a God who loves us and wants to help. He told us to think of others before ourselves. He taught us that love must not come with conditions but is built on sacrifice. He told us to turn the other cheek and go the extra mile. He even gave up himself in love for us so we might know what it means to be in a relationship with God. He declared he was equal with God, God himself in human form. He came back from the dead to prove it.

In our own strength we will fail. We cannot science or educate or psychology ourselves into a great new world. We tried to do that and we failed, death camps ought to remind us of this failure though we also seem to have failed in learning the lessons. We cannot overcome the darkness ourself and if we choose to ignore that darkness, that is in the heart of us all, it will continue to fester and grow.

There is only one way out of the darkness and that is to follow the light.

There is one way forward and that is in following Jesus, so that is what I am trying to do.


Why there should be a naughty list

Tesco seem to have taken it upon themselves to declare that morality is no longer a thing – there is no naughty list. This is either very naïve or incredibly irresponsible – in my opinion.

I agree with the sentiment that we need to be kinder to ourselves and others. However.

Here is a list of why we should probably all be on the naughty list (feel free to include others):

  • Refugees living in tents while I take my house for granted.
  • Being upset I can’t see my family when some have no family to see any time of the year.
  • Children starving while I worry my turkey isn’t big enough.
  • Spending money on stuff I don’t need when others do not have what they need.
  • Getting annoyed at my family.
  • Racism
  • Abuse
  • Laziness
  • Arrogance
  • Ignorance
  • Want

I am reminded of G.K Chesterton who wrote the following in response to a letter request from the Editor of the times on the subject of “What is wrong with the world?”

I am.

Perhaps today the response ought to include Tesco.

Pretending there is no naughty list when there is indeed so much that is wrong with the world and with me is not good for anyone. It suggests it is OK to ignore the suffering of others (caused in no small part by us) so we can overindulge (and Tesco are prepared to help you by selling you all that stuff you didn’t need so you can overindulge – how nice to have such a friend). Oh and by the way a chip manufacturer is not family and banks are most certainly not on your side.

I’m not against Christmas or treats but come on – this is just plain immoral.

I think a far better approach is to admit our failings – own up to them, both to ourselves and others, ask for forgiveness and change our ways.

Sounds like what Jesus said.

Christmas is a time for forgiveness and God offers forgiveness through his one and only Son Jesus Christ. Own your naughty list and pray for forgiveness and then enjoy that you get it.


Re-Imagine Worship?

I found this article on Premier interesting and thought I’d share it here. The question maybe ought to be what is God telling us in all this?


Where has the light gone?

We seem to have reached the part of the year where the days seem very short (it is a shame that all the stuff we have to do doesn’t also get shorter – but that is the subject for another time). It is a good time to pull the curtains, put your feet up and enjoy a hot chocolate drink. However, it can seem like the darkness is winning and we are stuck in the gloom with the prospect of relief too far off to give us much hope. It is, perhaps, a time to reflect on those last few days of Jesus’ life before his crucifixion. Abandoned and alone he faced having to endure a terrible end. What must he have thought about in that time? Well we do know one thing that was on his mind – us. We know that the darkness will not win but sometimes it is hard to remember. I encourage you to remember that these things do have an end and soon the light will return.


Texting, Email or Telephone?

Which of these is better?

I’m not sure that is the right question. Each has its own benefits and disadvantages. Are they not just different forms of communication and we should welcome them all.

For instance who would deny that a telephone call is more personal – you get to hear the person’s voice. However, if it is a stranger that calls then that benefit is greatly reduced. If the call comes at an inconvenient time then it may even start to associate a person’s voice with the inconvenience and have the reverse effect to that desired “it’s better to pick up the phone and call” claim that is so often made.

In a world where everything happens to us at a breakneck speed these days and where nearly everyone I know is on a different schedule to me there is great benefit in email and text. I find it increasingly rare that a telephone call comes at a convenient time and with my mind on something else it is often difficult to give a good answer to anyone who calls with questions.

Perhaps this is why the statistics tell us that more recent generations favour texting and email over the phone call – by quite a margin. Is there something old-fashioned in the insistence that a phone call is best? Is it disrespectful to younger generations to make that claim?

Now perhaps you can get something from a phone call you can’t get from someone’s writing. There is the subtle inflections in a voice that can help but I have to admit that I sometimes misunderstand those clues in a persons voice and I’ve found myself misunderstanding phone calls at times. It is also true that sometimes writing is better for helping understanding. The claim that writing is more obscure does not always stand up – although there are some folk who find it really hard to express anything in writing. You get the chance to think about your answers in a text or email – on a phone call you don’t.

Email might be preferred because we can write longer sentences but then again we usually expect email and texts to perform different tasks. There are those who insist on writing long texts – even though they are more awkward to use. There is also a difference, of course, regarding whether you are on a computer or a phone as to which is easiest to use. Email is usually better for sending attachments or for finding later (in my experience).

I think in the end we have to accept that these are just different ways of communicating and it is a mistake to claim one is better than another. It is perfectly possible to have a relationship by text and email. It is also good to hear a person you love voice from time to time but not essential to a relationship.

I’ve avoided ZOOM and Skype talk but they are also ways we can communicate – usually pre-arranged and so avoiding the awkwardness of a ill-timed phone call.

However, meeting with people in person has to rank at the top for being in a relationship. These other forms of communication work but there is no real substitute to meeting with someone face to face and in person.


Love that will not let me go

I was reminded the other day of a hymn that we don’t ever seem to sing these days. It was sung at funerals a great deal a while ago and so maybe was one of those that became associated with death and so we thought it best not to sing it. It is also an old hymn and, as everyone seems to know, everyone except me, if it is old it is no good. I’m always surprised by how people get so upset when a hymn has thee or wilt in it – come on grow up for goodness sake. Actually, I’m not the only one who thinks this – even some young people think it too!!!!

Anyway, as I’m feeling a rant coming on (it is a good job no one ever reads this stuff) I think I will just let you have the words for you to enjoy.

O Love, that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in Thee;
I give Thee back the life I owe,
That in Thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O Light, that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to Thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in Thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy, that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to Thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain
That morn shall tearless be.

O Cross, that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from Thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.


What if God threw stuff away like we do?

I hate throwing anything away. This doesn’t mean you can’t get through the door of the Manse for the piles of stuff, but I just hate throwing things away that are broken and it turns out to be cheaper to buy a new one than repair the old one. In the ‘good old days’, whenever they were? Things would get repaired. There would be handy people you could go to (like the Repair Shop on TV), or you just bought the bit you needed and did it yourself. I remember taking a car repair course once and at the end the tutor told us that only older cars could be maintained by us really as the newer cars are all designed so a mechanic just takes out an old bit (after consulting a computer) and put in a new one (usually at great expense, of course). I repair whatever I can, it is amazing what you can get off the Internet, but sometimes there is no option but to throw stuff away.

Come on Chris, get to the point!

There are two.

What are we doing to the planet just throwing everything away? Sometimes stuff isn’t even broken its just out of date – what are we doing? It makes me mad – grrrrr.

The second point is that I’m glad God doesn’t take this view with us. They are broken – throw them away and make a new one. God tested Moses with this idea when he came down the mountain with the ten commandments and the people had already rebelled. “Why don’t I just wipe them out and start again?” Isn’t this what many Atheists think should be happening if God existed? What are they thinking? Why does God let criminals exist? Why not just wipe them out? Why bother with all those broken people? I’m thankful God’s love is so great that he would rather go through repairing us even though the cost to himself is great indeed. We are all broken in some way but thank God he has the patience and love to help us.


Where do we start with evangelism?

There is a great deal of confusion around about what evenagelism actually is, let alone how we can do it.

For me I think evangelism is simply about sharing your faith with another and how you do that is decided by the person you are talking to.

If someone has reached the point of wanting to become a Christian then a brief description of asking God for forgiveness for sin and an acknowledgement of who Jesus is might result in a prayer and a new life in Christ.

However, these births are not the whole story by any stretch. Most people are no where near making that commitment so using a sins forgiven – Jesus is Lord – prayer model isn’t going to work. Sadly it seems many evangelism courses focus on this approach and it could be why they so often fail.

The majority of the time we will be sowing seeds and gardening. Asking the right questions to encourage people to think about their own beliefs and to examine what Christian belief says. We tend to call this phase apologetics – a much neglected area of Christian discipleship. We are not saying we are sorry but instead explaining Christian belief to those who don’t know.

You could do this couldn’t you? Start just by gently asking a question like – what is it you believe about ….? Where do you get hope from? What troubles you most about the world? etc.

Then you could ask why questions. Why do you believe that? What evidence do you have for that? etc.

This is the biggest work that we are called on to do.

If you are gentle and kind (aka being like Jesus) eventually someone might want to know what you believe (you could probably tell most people even if they don’t ask – just because you have bothered to be interested in what they had to say).

After thousands of these kinds of conversations you might find someone who wants to make a commitment but that only comes after all the other things have been done.

Who do you know that you could ask about what they believe?


Remember where your tent is

A couple of times whilst wild camping with some young people on Dartmoor I’ve lost my tent in the dark. We arrive at a good place to camp (Dartmoor is open to camp anywhere – well almost anywhere) and in the sunshine we put up the tents. Then meals are cooked and we all gather to spend the evening talking. On some occasions where we gather is some distance from my tent (there is an art in picking the right spot so sometimes tents get spread out). Then night falls and as you can imagine without any lights and on a moonless night it gets very dark indeed. It is then that I realised I wasn’t entirely sure how to get back to my tent. Fortunately I have a good torch and my tent is very reflective in parts so it is fairly easy to find again. Sometimes when the darkness comes we must remember where where our heart, our centre if you like, is. Jesus is the centre of all there is – including all that really matters to us personally in life. When you feel lost in the dark return to Jesus and he will give you shelter. Oh, and always remember where you pitched your tent.


What is in your pack?

You can tell a lot about a person by seeing what is in their pack. What I mean is that when you go out on the hills you can learn about someone by taking a look at the contents of their pack and how they packed it. Someone inexperienced, for instance, may have all brand new stuff. If your mum packed your bag (you might be surprised how often this happens on DofE) then you might have lots of unnecessary food and a few extra comforts – this tells us about the person, of course, but I’m not spelling it out for you. I carry a lot of stuff when I walk – some of it is because I’ve been so well drilled in the problems that can occur on the hills that I find it necessary to be prepared (I was only ever a Scout for one evening) and it is not unusual that I solve someone else’s problem with what I have carried – this tells you I like to be prepared and ready for anything. Some people pack hardly anything – they are usually either over confident or foolish (or both). This is all very interesting (maybe) but what does it matter to me? Well wherever we go or whatever we face it is important what we carry in our heart, mind and soul. This would be a series of sermons in itself but Jesus did tell us the two most important things to carry in a pack. 1. Love for God and 2. love for others. No one should try to go through life without either of these two.