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Is #illridewithyou true?

Is I'll Ride With You true?

Hundreds of thousands of people joined the viral #illridewithyou expressing solidarity with peaceful people different (looking) from themselves. It even became a song of support at Martin Place, Sydney.

Of course there were the naysayers, using the hashtag to promote prejudice.

And then began the debates about whether the story that set the hashtag in motion actually happened. That debate seemed to focus not on the actual first tweet by @sirtessa that started the hashtag #illridewithyou. She tweeted: “If you reg take the bus b/w Coogee/Martin PL, wear religious attire, &don’t feel safe alone: I’ll ride withyou. @me for schedule.”

The debate centred on the story preceding that – the facebook post by Rachael Jacobs to her friends. Riding on a train, she said she noticed a Muslim woman quietly take off her head covering. She posted: “I ran after her at the train station. I said ‘put it back on. I’ll walk with u.”

The comment I received, “The news tonight is that it’s a fake”, was a very common reaction. I saw debates whether the hug had lasted a full minute, whether any words were exchanged at all…

Rachel Jacobs has now explained:

Confession time. In my Facebook status, I editorialised. She wasn’t sitting next to me. She was a bit away, towards the other end of the carriage. Like most people she had been looking at her phone, then slowly started to unpin her scarf.

Tears sprang to my eyes and I was struck by feelings of anger, sadness and bitterness. It was in this mindset that I punched the first status update into my phone, hoping my friends would take a moment to think about the victims of the siege who were not in the cafe….

By sheer fluke, we got off at the same station, and some part of me decided saying something would be a good thing. Rather than quiz her about her choice of clothing, I thought if I simply offered to walk her to her destination, it might help.

It’s hard to describe the moment when humans, and complete strangers, have a conversation with no words. I wanted to tell her I was sorry for so many things – for overstepping the mark, for making assumptions about a complete stranger and for belonging to a culture where racism was part of her everyday experience.

But none of those words came out, and our near silent encounter was over in a moment.

My second status was written as a heartbreaking postscript to my first. While the woman appeared to appreciate my gesture, we had both left defeated and deflated. What good is one small action against an avalanche of ignorance?

Hours later, social media showed me good people can create their own avalanche of kindness…. [Read the full story here]

I'll ride with youI also had interesting reaction to the Coexist image I used for my blog post: “the photo is a completely a set-up. The Arab boy is wearing headgear appropriate to a middle aged man.”

In my blog post I made the connection with Christmas and the incarnation – that this is God’s “I’ll ride with you”. Some people don’t accept everything in the Christmas stories as 100% historical – shepherds, wise men, stopping-and-starting star, slaughter of the innocents, … Let alone the interpretations (is κατάλυμα in Luke 2:7 an upper room or an inn? Were the wise men giving gifts, or giving up elements of pagan priestcraft?) Many walk away from such discussions, abandoning the message because of the medium, “it’s a fake!” Certainly for the crib scenes in homes and churches one could rightly scorn them as “it’s a fake!” Not to mention the stained glass crucifixions: “it’s a fake!”

For me #illridewithyou is true. It is only false, “a fake”, if there is nothing more than thousands of people’s words – and no one ever, in real life, showed any real solidarity with a peaceful person wearing a headscarf.

For me the Christmas story is true (whether the details actually happened as recorded, or whether the historical event was nothing at all like the cribs, the stained glass windows, Christmas cards, and my imagination). It is only false if God was not present in Jesus, and if God actually shows no solidarity with our human condition.

Literal historical 100% photographic accuracy is only one type of truth.

Christmas, the incarnation is God’s “I’ll ride with you”, and anyone who puts #illridewithyou into practice shares in this heart, the truth of Reality (1 John 4:16).

I'll ride with you

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22 Responses to Is #illridewithyou true?

  1. Thanks Fr. Bosco for this wonderful post. Hopefully it will go some way to disabuse many from the slavish insistent literalism and fact fundamentalism of modernity, confusing positivist facts with deeper truth and wisdom.

  2. I respect her for her confession.

    The sentiments may be valid but the story is a lie. That immediately reduces the effect of an otherwise noble ideal. It becomes the fraud of someone seeking something for them self, even if fleeting. It looks like pride.

    The Christmas story as we read it will have cultural components that flavour the records we have but as a Christian I must accept the story is a fundamental truth that forms one of the anchors of the faith. Without the virgin birth Jesus’s whole divinity is called into question. Likewise the crucifiction, ressurection and ascension. God won’t lie to me to make a point but He may let me, in my foolishness, lie to myself.

    • I respect your position, Brown, but do not agree with it.

      Jesus’ divinity is not dependent on his virginal conception. God is perfectly capable of creating a human who is not divine by a virginal conception. And God is perfectly capable of creating a human who is fully divine without the conception being virginal.

      I am fascinated, in this context, by your spelling of “crucifiction” 🙂

      Of course “as a Christian I must accept the [Christmas] story is a fundamental truth that forms one of the anchors of the faith” – that does not mean that I need to hold every detail of those stories as being historical. [Similarly with the ascension, which you mention].

      That is the point of my post.

      Advent blessings.

  3. ‘slavish insistent literalism and fact fundamentalism of modernity, confusing positivist facts with deeper truth and wisdom.’

    Thanks Brian, we have often discussed this here which you describe eloquently…Bosco called it ‘flattening of the narrative, and I believe it will be the undoing of organised religion.

  4. “Jesus’ divinity is not dependent on his virginal conception.”

    That’s not what Luke 1.35 says: ‘therefore the child to be born will be called holy – the Son of God.’
    It is futile to speculate about what God could or could not do; theology is only concerned here with what He HAS done – not with idle speculation about what He didn’t do.
    We know that theological liberals don’t believe in the virginal conception of Christ, although this doctrine has been explicitly affirmed in all the Creeds of the Church from the earliest days. It is dishonest to torture words to make them say things the original authors never meant – just like people who deny that the Resurrection of Christ was an event concerning His crucified flesh. ‘You keep using that word ‘resurrection’. I do not think it means what you think it means.’
    I’m not a fan of everything that Karl Barth wrote, but I think he was on the mark in his discussion of the Virginal Conception.

    • Your logic professor, Kieran, must have taught you differently to mine.
      A therefore B
      does not in my books mean
      B requires A.
      Can we now return to the point of my post, please, which was not a debate about doctrine, but a claim that stories need not be historical in every detail in order to communicate deep truth.
      Advent blessings.

  5. The syllogistic logic I studied at university, with simple truth tables, went: If p, then q. p, therefore q. And variations of this. Of course, I went far beyond that in subsequent years, going deeply into Aristotle’s Three Laws, and the multitude of logical fallacies that the mind of man produces. Many of these surface in liberal theology, with its contradictions and confusions, asserting truth-claims but denying a historical basis to them. That was my point about the Resurrection.

    Luke 1.35 actually states what you appear to be trying to dismiss or deny (forgive me if I am mistaken in this impression): that the deity of Christ is actually posited on his virginal conception. Liberals may not like this (or any other miracle for that matter) but it’s there in the text.

    Please note also that I have said the *deity* of Christ: ‘very God of very God’. ‘divinity’ is too weak a word in today’s climate; you might say well say that every person is ‘divine’, being made in the image of God.

    Of course I know there are other kinds of truth besides historical truth (which means real events in space-time). The other kinds of truth include ‘gnomic’ or ‘timeless truths’ such as mathematics, or indeed the axioms of logic itself. Plato and Aristotle already understood this.
    But the Incarnation doesn’t claim to be one of these truths. It is asserted as an actual event in space-time, through an act of the Holy Spirit (‘overshadowing’) on the Virgin Mary.
    If you think Jesus had a human father, you should say so. But then there is nothing miraculous about his conception. And this would contradict the words of Gabriel to the Virgin Mary.

    • Yes, Luke 1.35 does not state that “the deity of Christ is actually posited on his virginal conception”. Neither exegetically, nor logically as I have already pointed out. To be clear I hold Jesus is fully God, and I have not denied the historicity of the virginal conception, but making Jesus’ divinity dependent on the historicity of the virginal conception is inaccurate.

      This thread is about the ability of statements, which are not 100% historically accurate, to convey truth. The Bible uses this approach regularly. To pick a verse or two from the Bible to argue against my point is circular and leads nowhere.

      Kieran, I have already asked you to return to the thread of this post. I spent a year on a series on this site working our way through the Creed – my preference is that you have this discussion there where it belongs.

      Advent blessings.

  6. Mary’s ‘Yes’ to God, is an important supposition in my understanding of the Incarnation of Jesus. For me, this is a vital link in the purpose of the Creator, allowing for the operation of human free will – eliciting Mary’s positive reaction to God’s call upon her life. The understanding that this was God’s primary initiative, accompanied by a willing human response is key to my own understanding of what God was up to in the conception and birth of God’s ‘Only-Begotten’ Son. To undercut the mystical element is to entirely discount what otherwise might only be a parallel to the Father Christmas myth.

    “The Almighty word leapt down” is a powerful image! and – “Nothing is impossible for God”.

  7. “To be clear I hold Jesus is fully God, and I have not denied the historicity of the virginal conception, but making Jesus’ divinity dependent on the historicity of the virginal conception is inaccurate.”

    But you haven’t affirmed it either when you have had every opportunity to do so, if you do believe it. As an Anglican Christian I affirm the historicity of the Virginal Conception every week in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds:
    ‘who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary’;
    ‘who was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary’;
    and it is just sophistry to deny the plain historical sense in which the Church has always understood these words, viz. that the conception of Jesus was miraculous and that Jesus did not have a human father. If you think Jesus had a human father, as the people at St Matthew’s-in-the-City seem to think, then you should make this clear. But I am sure you know such an idea has never been part of the Catholic faith.
    As for Luke 1.35, the words ‘(The) Holy Spirit will come upon you and (the) power of (the) Most High will overshadow you; *wherefore* (dio kai) what is born shall be called holy – Son of God’ (my literal translation of the Greek) do in fact directly connect the deity or divine identity of Christ to his virginal conception – a point famously exegeted by Karl Barth in his Church Dogmatics on the ‘Sign of the Virgin Birth’, and reinforced by John Nolland in his Word commentary (p. 55). And of course the virginal conception is independently taught by Matt. 1.18.

    As for the question of ‘the ability of statements that are not 100% historically accurate to convey truth’, this is really a matter of genre and historical investigation. After all, many statements in the Bible don’t profess to be historical events (i.e. events that happened in space-time). Thus my reference to ‘eternal’ truths, such as those about the nature of God.
    But IF the Bible asserts that something *did* happen in space-time (such as miraculous conception in Mary’s womb or the revivification – and more – of the dead body of Jesus) which a modern-day person fails to affirm or even seriously doubts or denies, then the idea of ‘truth’ has been stretched to breaking point.
    If Christ is not risen, our faith is in vain.
    If Jesus had a human father, then the Creeds are fallacious as they stand.

    • Kieran, I think your categories and generalisations of “theological liberals” and now “the people at St Matthew’s-in-the-City” very unhelpful.

      The majority Christian position is that Mary was a virgin before, during, and after Jesus’ birth. Anglicans formally seem to fit with this approach in continuing to call Mary, “the Blessed Virgin Mary” after Jesus’ birth. I would hold that a person can be an orthodox Christian if they do not accept this, are uncertain about this, or do not lie awake at night worrying about this. Just as I would hold that a person can be an orthodox Christian if they do not hold, have not thought about, or are not sure about whether the Father actually has a physical “right hand” – another statement you affirm weekly in the Creed.

      If you want to hold to the historicity of everything the Bible asserts, from Adam and Eve through Cain and Abel to Noah onwards, you are in the company of many. That is not my approach. My approach, I repeat again, is that of this post – not needing to be concerned about the 100% historicity of everything the Bible presents, and being able to affirm God’s riding with us in the incarnation in Jesus and our sharing in that life given us in Jesus as we ride with others – including and especially those who differ from us.

      Advent blessings.

  8. I’m sorry, Bosco, you don’t follow through the logic of the very position you opened up in your post, which is to do with the relation of supposed or asserted historical events to biblical truth. These are the difficulties I see in your position and reply:
    1. Whether you find an approach ‘helpful’ or not depends on what you’re trying to do. A knife is not very ‘helpful’ for breaking stones but very useful for cutting meat. It is a generalisation but a true one that theological liberals *do* deny the historicity of the virginal conception and claim that Jesus had a human father. Since the virginal conception is the historic belief of the Church and the meaning of the Creeds (as you agree), I simply asked if this was a view you held or not, but you have declined to answer. So be it.
    2. You said ‘I would hold’ or ‘my approach’ five times above. But Christian doctrine is not a matter of individual judgment – unless one is an extreme Baptist or Quaker, claiming illumination from the Holy Spirit; in which case the Holy Spirit seems to be constantly contradicting Himself. ‘I did it my way’ is a favourite for funerals but is not the best way for doing catholic theology.
    3. If anyone thinks that God has a ‘physical right hand’, he must be young, badly taught or a Mormon, or all three. A 10 year old’s faith is fine for a 10 year old, but one day he must grow up. Those who framed the Creeds knew exactly what they were doing when they used this language from the New Testament; similarly when they wrote: ‘he came down from heaven.’ Anybody who has studied ancient philosophy and rhetoric (as I’ve continued to do for years) is struck by the sheer sophistication of the ancients, and the Church Fathers, especially the Cappadocians and Augustine, were heirs to this intellectual tradition. And when the church councils wrote ‘he was conceived by the Holy Spirit’, they meant that quite literally and historically: that the conception of Jesus was a special divine act or miracle that did not involve a human father. Was Mary ‘ever a virgin’, the matter you raised in the first paragraph? Popular belief has held this (and for reasons I can’t recall, so did Calvin), but nothing in the Bible leads me to think that the brothers and sisters of Jesus were not also the birth-children of Mary.
    4. I don’t hold to ‘the historicity of everything the Bible asserts’ because the Bible doesn’t either; I try to read it with sensitivity to genre (as an intelligent reader should) and above all through the lens of Christ.
    5. As for “illfibaboutyou’, I’m reminded of a holiday I had in Turkey where the shops were full of what they openly called ‘Genuine Fakes’! – Gucci, Prada etc. I don’t think I’d find that ‘helpful’ approach to any message I would preach or hear this Christmas.
    Advent blessings to you as well, from Immanuel.

    • So, Kieran, you would not accept the Anglican title of Mary as literally “The Blessed Virgin Mary” as per our Anglican formularies? You appear not to accept that Jesus literally came down from heaven? But you brought up the ascension as something you believed literally – so you do accept that he went up to heaven bodily? So his body is where now exactly, since you do not accept that God has a right hand as the creed (and Bible) says? And you haven’t let us know your position on Adam – do you understand he is a historical person? Fruit, tree, garden, and all? Your point 4 merely sidesteps that question.

      I must say I find your point 5 derogatory, both of those who are genuinely trying to find a way forward through religious and other prejudice and violence, and demeaning of an incarnational approach as pointed to in my referencing 1 John 4:16. I repeat, yet once again, that the truth of those who want to “ride with” those who differ from them is not dependent on the historicity of the details of the Rachael Jacobs story. I find it objectionable that you compare people who offer solidarity to other human beings to “genuine fakes”.

      Blessings.

  9. Thanks for this, Bosco. The focus on literalism is a distraction from the point of both stories. We read that Jesus frequently had to take such literalists to task for focussing on the letter rather than the spirit of the law (healing on the Sabbath etc). It was a positive gesture that was taken further by others of good will. The spirit and intent were thankfully appreciated by most.

  10. No, I am not sidestepping anything and will answer all your questions as openly as I can – while noting that you continue to refuse to say whether you believe in the virginal conception of Christ.
    1. Was Adam a historical person? To the best of my understanding – very probably. I know C.S. Lewis offered a tentative ‘collective’ understanding of ‘Adam’ but I think the argument of Romans 5 and the Adam-Christ typology in Scripture requires this understanding.
    Symbolic language about gardens and trees elsewhere in Scripture (esp. Ezekiel and Revelation) suggests there may be symbolic elements in Gen 2-3, and Gordon Wenham in his Word commentary draws out further symbolic parallels with the Solomonic Temple. So it comes down to genre again.
    2. Mary is rightly called (by church tradition, not the Bible) ‘the Blessed Virgin Mary’ because she conceived the Savior as a virgin (something you haven’t affirmed). Whether she remained a virgin throughout her life is not stated in the Bible. But the title is fine, just as in America they speak of ‘President Clinton’ and ‘President Bush’ after they have left office. You wouldn’t take me to task, would you, if I spoke of ‘Queen Victoria’ on the grounds that ‘she isn’t Queen any more!’
    3. The Creed says Jesus ‘came down from heaven’ because Jesus said this (John 3.13). Obviously this did not mean a physical or bodily “descent” because the pre-incarnate Christ *became flesh (‘sarx egeneto’). Ancient people were well aware of what they were doing when they used ‘physical’ or ‘material’ language to describe non-physical acts or entities. Plato does this all the time in ‘The Republic’ and ‘Timaeus’, and lots of other places.
    3. The Ascension of Christ as described in Acts speaks of him rising physically, then being concealed by a cloud. What happened after that, I don’t really know, except that many other parts of the NT say he ‘entered heaven’. C. S. Lewis suggests somewhere that Jesus ‘passed through a curtain in space, like an actor disappearing on stage’ and I’ve used this imagery before. All I can say is that 20th century physics has revealed a world – at the sub-atomic level – far stranger and more mysterious than the leaden ideas of the 18th and 19th century anti-supernaturalists who gave us theological liberalism as the prelude to atheism (J.H. Newman was very prescient on this in his ‘Biglietto’ address!).
    4. As for hashtag activism, I will have to differ from you on this one. Sending a tweet and then doing nothing about it may make the sender feel good about herself, but I recall that not one girl kidnapped by Boko Haram got released that way.

    • I note, Kieran, you also will not affirm the historicity of Adam, a historicity you state that the Bible’s viewpoint requires. As for your point 4 of this comment – that does not “differ” from what I wrote; what you say is actually explicitly identical with what I wrote. This reinforces a point I made to you more than once – you appear not to be reading and responding to the actual post I wrote [remember also, Rachel Jacobs did not send a tweet], but using the comments space here for your own agenda. I have been hospitable to you in that regard, but now, Kieran, I think your discussion here has run its course on Christmas Eve.

      So, Christmas Eve blessings.

  11. No, Bosco, you have significantly misread me. Using the careful language of a modern historian, I did in fact affirm the historical existence of Adam – not that this question is as central to me as the doctrines about Christ are. The Creeds are first about Christ, not Adam. If it turned out that C. S. Lewis’s collectivist understanding of ‘Adam’ was correct, I do not think it would significantly affect my faith. If Jesus was not born of a virgin, this would, however, change things immensely.
    You have repeatedly refused to affirm whether you believe in the virginal conception of Christ, despite the fact that this is in the Creeds and is repeated regularly in Anglican worship. Why can’t you answer as openly as I have? Is it because you don’t really believe the virginal conception happened? Do you think Jesus had a human father – even ‘very probably’? If so, you should say so.
    And you have misunderstood the point I have been making all along, that you can’t teach true doctrine from false facts. Christianity is rooted in the events of history, not ‘timeless truths’ as Buddhism claims. We remember that fact very strongly this Christmas Eve. Siddhartha (and Muhammad, Guru Nanak etc etc) had an entirely natural birth – Jesus Christ did not. His origins are supernatural. That is one of the immense differences between the two.
    I don’t expect you to publish this as you seem impatient with people who disagree with you and answer with straw men, but as an Anglican believer and preacher of many years, I hope you will reconsider the problems you appear to have with the Virginal Conception of Christ.

    • Kieran, just as you confused the logic of διὸ καὶ by reversing the dependency in Luke 1:35, you have misunderstood the whole point of the ἑνὸς in Διὰ τοῦτο ὥσπερ δι᾽ ἑνὸς ἀνθρώπου in Romans 5:12. You see straw men where there are none because that is your own debating approach. You claim “Christian doctrine is not a matter of individual judgment” but allow yourself to decide what is and what is not “central to [you]” – even though your misinterpretation of ἑνὸς (not central to you) destroys the uniqueness of Christ in your own methodology. Christmas blessings.

  12. Julianne writes: “We read that Jesus frequently had to take such literalists to task for focussing on the letter rather than the spirit of the law (healing on the Sabbath etc).”
    That isn’t correct. Jesus didn’t condemn ‘literalists’ but those who disobeyed what the Law actually taught and surrounded it with a ‘hedge’ of traditions, defining ‘work’ to exclude mercy on the Sabbath and so forth. ‘Have you not read?’ is not a rejection of the letter but of the Pharisees’ traditions (paradoseis).

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