Thursday, June 26, 2008


Forty million Frenchman can't be wrong!

That's one of the cries of encouragement to go along with the crowd. In fact, when they followed Napoleon they were completely wrong. The millions of Germans who followed Hitler were similarly mistaken, and so it is repeated time and again all over the world. The majority is often wrong.

Of course the minority can be wrong too. I remember as an eight-years old at school standing up before the headmaster explaining why I was right and the rest of the class was wrong over a a simple mental arithmetic problem he had given the class. As I reworked the sum I realized that I had made an error. It taught me that I needed to be more careful at mental arithmetic, but I remembered to this day how good it felt to be standing up for what I believed was right no matter what the crowd believed.

Yesterday, I listened to a radio program on sociology. A learned professor was explaining his observations on violence. Violence occurs because of the local situation. When two fairly equally matched belligerents get into a quarrel, they may prance around making threatening gestures and rude remarks, but blows are seldom struck. The disorder quells. But where one is confronted by many, particularly if he stumbles or backs away, he is likely to be set upon by a crowd. It is the reason we see football hooligans. The presence of the crowd breeds violence.

It is very hard to stand for what you believe in the face of a crowd of unbelievers.

The Rechabites were a group of itinerant metalworkers who lived in tents, moving from place to place mending and repairing chariots and swords – a bit like tinkers. They traced their ancestry to Jonadab ben Rechab who lived in Israel at the time of King Jehu. Their lifestyle was dictated by a vow they had made 250 years previously. This is the way they put it:
“We have obeyed everything our forefather Jonadab son of Rechab commanded us. Neither we nor our wives nor our sons and daughters have ever drunk wine or built houses to live in or had vineyards, fields or crops. We have lived in tents and have fully obeyed everything our forefather Jonadab commanded us.”

At the time of the prophet Jeremiah, they had moved into the city of Jerusalem because of the danger of the Babylonians who were ranging through the countryside.

Performance art, as the term is usually understood according to Wikipedia , began to be identified in the 1960s with the work of artists such as Yves Klein, Vito Acconci, Hermann Nitsch, Chris Burden, Carolee Schneemann, Yoko Ono, Joseph Beuys, Wolf Vostell and Allan Kaprow, who coined the term happenings. In 1970 the British-based pair, Gilbert and George, created the first of their "living sculpture" performances when they painted themselves gold and sang "Underneath The Arches" for extended periods. Alongside pioneering work in video art by Jud Yalkut and others, some performance artists began combining video with other media to create experimental works like those of Chicago's Sandra Binion, who elevated mundane activities like ironing clothes, scrubbing steps, dining and doing laundry into living art. Binion has performed all over the world and is highly regarded as an artist in Europe.

Of course, as with so many other things the Old Testament prophets got there first. What Jeremiah did next was performance art. He hired an hall that was open to scrutiny by all and invited the Rechabites to dinner. He put before them flagons of wine. There was some pressure upon them. They were guests. They were on public display, There was a war going on and they were looking to their hosts to protect them. They did not wish to be discourteous. But as Jeremiah knew they would, the Rechabites refused the wine. They replied, "We do not drink wine, because our forefather Jonadab son of Rechab gave us this command: 'Neither you nor your descendants must ever drink wine.’”

This wasn’t the first time Jeremiah had staged a ‘happening’ In Jeremiah Ch 27 we read of him staggering through the streets of Jerusalem with an ox yoke on his shoulders. This was to tell the people that they were going to suffer just such oppression under the yoke of the Babylonians. In Jeremiah Ch 13 he made a show of going to the bazaar to buy a fine linen garment of the sort people wore for a wedding. With everybody anticipating that a special event was coming he buried it in a crevice of a rock. When he went back to retrieve it as if that special occasion had come, it was rotten and in tatters. It was a sign that God had purchased Israel at great expense, but the nation had become rotten and unfit for purpose.

So what was the meaning of this happening? Jeremiah was setting up the Rechabites as examples of obedience. Over 250 years they had kept their vow; they had remained faithful despite the demands of hospitality, gratitude and conformity. And pointing to the leaders of Israel he pronounces a verdict “But this nation has not obeyed me.”

Note that he doesn’t suggest that the Israelites should abandon their houses and live in tents or that they should dig up their vineyards and avoid wine. These were the promises of the Rechabites which they should obey. The promises of the Israelites were to have one God only whom they should love with all their hearts and minds and strength, and that they should love their neighbor as themselves.

We were once Christian nations. Whether we are British, American, French, Dutch, Belgian, Italian, Spanish or German, our civilization was built on the Christian principles of loving God and loving our neighbor. How have we done? Have we been faithful? Or have we followed the crowd?


Dissenter said...

One doesn't often hear much about my old mate Jeremiah, let alone the moving story of the Rechabites. Mind you, I am quite fond of glass of wine myself, as is my esteemed father.

I can't remember if we have met Terry, but as a Southampton 1970s medical graduate it's quite possible I have heard you speak. I found this blog via Cranmer and if you have no objection I will link to it.

Kindest Christian regards

Terry Hamblin said...

I'm a Darwin dissenter too. Please to have your link. I used to lecture on leulaemia and lymphoma and on autoimmunity and immunodeficiency at the medical School in Southampton.