Drowning in the Barth? | Luke Larner [ANVIL vol 36 issue 1]

Listen to Luke performing his spoken word piece Drowning in the Barth?

Advisory: contains some strong language

Can’t see the audio player? Listen on Soundcloud

While we’re on the subject of white-working-class-man’s rage…
I’ll share a little bit of mine with you… But where do we start…
Good stories take people on a journey,
A beginning, middle, and end, maybe a good lesson for learning,
But this story isn’t for you, it’s for me,
So I humbly propose that we,
Plan the journey differently,
And start with the Krisis.

Us students were hanging on every word,
Until something unexpected occurred,
In a manner really quite absurd,
Excuse the turn of phrase – but it was like my brain filled its pants with t… – well you get the idea…
Our master for the day, a former monk,
Told the story of his time cloistered in existential funk,
Until he met the old man of Basel, and here’s the twist –
That according to Uncle Karl – God bursts out of religious life like a boxer’s clenched fist.

He said everything we offer on the altar, every act of service, every attempt at religion be it a primitive appeasement of the demigods, or the delicate ruminations of Kierkegaard and Dostoyevsky – is absolutely useless unless, like a grand vaulted staircase, it leads out of itself into the fresh, clean air….


Our self-denial, doing “hard things for Jesus”, our imaginary self-martyrdom, as the Apostle said, is all bull****.

This realisation came rushing in my mind,
Some explanation, some framework, scrambling desperately to find
A life boat, an oar or even some driftwood in the sea,
Someone help me, I’m drowning in Cartesian anxiety!

I started to think about this G-D who’d had 18 years of me,
When I pray what does he look like, sound like, wait – why am I even saying “he”?
Is God a man? Why does his voice sound so similar to my disappointed father when I read the Bible?
Barth says, “We press ourselves into proximity with Him: and so, all unthinking, we make him nigh unto ourselves” – holy s*** I’ve been worshipping an Idol!

But if we twist our pencil and rewind the tape a little…
Is this really news to me, or have I been wrestling for a while with a great theodicy riddle…

You see for a long time I’ve had this little itch in the back of my soul,
“I love God” I used to say, but his fan club leave me cold…
My soul music is Guthrie, Dylan, Zappa, or a Cockburn guitar lick,
That megabucks corporate worship™ just makes me feel sick.

And I realise why –
It’s all that annoying certainty –
It never ends on a minor note,
You know what – sometimes there is no hope,
God’s answer is always “yes and amen”? What about all the times I got silence or a big fat “nope”?
God gave you a parking space while kids are dying in Syria? Your theology’s a joke!
I prefer some of the darker stuff, that the psalmists wrote…

You let Aidan, Rowena, Joe, Dog, and so many others die?
Has the right hand of the Lord lost its strength?
Please tell me why?
Or maybe it doesn’t work like that; here’s a thought:
Maybe the theological musings of a proud monkey will always fall short.

You see – for Barth any claim to direct relationship or knowledge of God is at best dubious,
If we bring God to earth God ends up looking suspiciously like us,
What about the Bible? Infallibility?
It just feels absurd!
Is this collection of books a self-evident basis of truth –
Or is the person of Jesus – the true word?

People write him off you know, old Uncle Karl – they say his God is too transcendent – too far off – if you read his books you stop seeing the point of praying – one of our priests is always trying to convince me that the old man changed his mind in the end, like Darwin and Bob Marley – I don’t know cos I haven’t got round to finishing Church Dogmatics yet. Some letters came out that are starting to make some of Barth’s personal ethics look a bit questionable, and the use of gender-specific pronouns in the translations of his work is a bit old hat.

But like that cantankerous old relative at Christmas time,
Who drops some uncomfortable truths after too much wine,
I often drop in on old Uncle Karl when I’m feeling a bit lost.
And yeah, you’re right – thinking this way about things does come at a cost…
But as old Karl put it:
“To be pilgrims means that men [sorry ladies] must perpetually return to the starting-point of that naked humanity which is absolute poverty and utter insecurity. God must not be sought as though He sat enthroned on upon the summit of religious attainment. He is to be found on the plain where men suffer and sin. The veritable pinnacle of religious achievement is attained when men are thrust down into the company of those who lie in the depths.”
(End quote)

Peregratio pro Christo (as the monks used to say)
– Just because some of us wander for Christ, it doesn’t mean we’ve lost our way.

Luke Larner is a pioneer ordinand in the Diocese of St Albans, training at CMS and Cuddesdon and based in Luton. His main mission contexts have meant spending time among marginalised groups such as the homeless and addicted, sex workers, and the outlaw biker fraternity; as well as engaging with young people around the issue of violence involving knives. As a tertiary Franciscan he has also taken a keen interest in environmental issues, alongside poverty, marginalisation, and violence. Recent forays into spoken-word poetry and sculpture have awoken an interest in how the arts can be used in mission. As a former bricklayer, a key academic interest has been how the issue of social class intersects with other theological and political “hot potatoes”. Due to be ordained in June 2020, Luke and his family will move to Bedford where he will serve his curacy.

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