All that glitters…

Well!

This whole year to date has been a tale of epic proportions. But oddly enough, with my next sermon burning a hole in my head and having made what was a pretty drastic decision, I’ve recently seen a news report that has sparked the blogger in me into life.

Some years ago,  I began an academic project in theology – a doctorate, to be precise. There is a tale if ever there was one – but despite the absolutely incredible academic, personal and spiritual journey that this doctoral project has been, there have been several roadblocks at crucial times. This is the challenge: only God could have allowed the door to open in the first place. Why would God open a door, and then close it?

I’ll come back to that very question, but for now – let me tell you something else about me. I grew up on a university campus – my father was a senior university lecturer and department chair etc. All my life, I wanted to be like my father in one way – I too wanted to become ‘Dr.’ I didn’t want a cheap and shabby PhD either – I wanted to earn it properly. As time passed and I realised how much of a snare the ‘worship of letters’ has become for many (black) people – and especially in the church – I became less attached to the desire to become ‘Dr.’ The SDA church has, proportionally speaking, some incredibly well-educated people – but many are only educated. Some are hard-working as opposed to actually seriously intelligent and capable of genuinely independent thought. They can acquire information, but they are not necessarily good at ‘problem-solving’ and thinking laterally. Some are incredibly good at ‘blagging.’ If you don’t know this colloquialism, you could still hazard a guess at its meaning. And so on.

I was on course for a PhD in academic music, but the door closed. That is a LONG story. But then the door opened quite spectacularly for a doctorate in theology – but as I said, the journey has been far from straightforward.

So, with the background in place, if I now say that God is calling me to put down that doctoral project and prepare for pastoral ministry BEFORE I become a ‘theologian proper’ – you can see that this would have been an especially big decision. But as my certainty has continued to grow that this really is God’s will, this is the only decision possible. There is so much I had been hoping to do for the church with this doctorate in hand – but God has another plan! So I will have to wait to see if it is God’s will that I do get to follow my father into becoming an academic ‘doctor.’ As such, I have now placed that desire on the altar of sacrifice.

I have no idea if you readers of this blog have heard of Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg….? Well – he WAS a very high-ranking German politician and cabinet minister who has had to resign due to a scandal that has irreparably besmirched his reputation. What did they get him on, I hear some of you wondering…sex? drugs? money? corruption? combinations?

None of the above.

This guy has fallen because – would you believe it – he has been accused of plagiarism – a terrible offense in the academic world – and the charge has been verified. In one fell swoop, he lost both his position in the German cabinet AND in the Bundestag (German parliament). There is absolutely no reason to believe that his moral failures extended in any other ways that would have disqualified him from public office. And indeed, I have no doubt that some very intelligent liberals will soon be arguing forcefully that his academic indiscretions do not change the fact that he was a good and honest politician – the stuff that REALLY matters.

They will be quite right to argue that. But the reality is that this is a serious moral failure. Many people don’t seem to know that an academic doctorate is only supposed to be conferred when the candidate has in fact made some kind of genuinely original contribution to knowledge. It used to be much harder to get one back in the old days. Now you can buy one – and if no-one finds out, you could pose for a long time as what you are not! However, even if you didn’t know that, we all know that a person has absolutely no right to take another person’s work and pass it off as theirs!

In the UK, there has recently been a major furore about the issue of certain rich and famous persons who have successfully applied for High Court super-injunctions to ensure that certain bits of information regarding their private lives cannot be published in professional media channels. With the wheels coming off the bandwagon recently due to the existence of Twitter,  the situation has spiralled to the place where one politiciain decided to use something called ‘parliamentary privilege’ in order to actually name one of the most famous footballers in the world as one of those who allegedly had been granted a super-injunction in order to protect his ‘privacy’ – the privacy being some form (or forms) of extra-marital affair.

This footballer has had a glittering career by any standards, but the biggest part of hus aura is that he has been regarded as quite possibly the best example of a model professional we have in the English game. Now, sadly, that image is somewhat besmirched.

All that glitters…is not gold.

But we are used to this – after an even more famous golfer was found to have been less faithful to his marital vows than would have been ideal, no one can be too shocked any more at this sort of thing.

So when a second high-ranking German politician was also found to have plagiarised her PhD – leading to her own resignation and job reshuffle – it barely rippled the air.

However, none of these things shocked me as much as the alleged example of plagiarism that really made me think about the way in which certain people literally worship academic lettering – but also about how persons are venerated and even worshipped during life and death – and in some cases, more after death.

I was shocked to discover that one of the historical figures whom I have most admired – Dr. Martin Luther King – has also fallen into the mire regarding academic propriety. There is more than enough information available online – so I won’t give you the details here. Let us simply say that for years I admired that man’s academic record – but the means by which the doctorate was attained was not as squeaky-clean as one would have imagined. The doctorate has not been revoked by Boston University – but it could easily have been. And what would that have done to his legacy? Can you see the world media headlines? “Martin Luther King, Jr, Nobel Peace Prize-winner and civil rights hero posthumously stripped of his doctorate due to plagiarism!”

Without question, all that glitters is not gold.

Moral failure – be it something very small – or something very great – is moral failure. And more than anything else, the enemy of souls desires to catch everyone with their guard down. Satan DOES NOT CARE if no-one on this earth EVER fnds out about your wrong moral choices. He knows that what Christians call ‘sin’ is enough to keep you from being closer to Jesus. Check out this Bible text for size:

Isaiah 59:1-2 (Contemporary English Version)

1The LORD hasn’t lost

his powerful strength;

he can still hear

and answer prayers.

2Your sins are the roadblock

between you and your God.

That’s why he doesn’t answer

your prayers

or let you see his face.

Alas, some Christians seem to have forgotten that this text does not only apply to non-Christians who may not have confessed that God is God. It applies to us just as much. I know when I got up this morning that my moral failures of yesterday were what many would regard as extremely minor. But they were enough to ensure that I did not feel the presence of God as closely this morning as would have been ideal. And that did not feel good at all. This is one of the reasons why this blog post has been written. It is a a reminder to those of you kind enough to read it AND to myself that morality matters. If and when God calls us to the grave, what will the historians who excavate our lives, our bank accounts, our email inboxes, our private files, our internet search histories, our academic essays, our other correspondence, our music collections, our mobile phone text message histories – if there was a way in which human beings could do all of this for all of us, what would your legacy be?

Because one day, that is exactly what will happen. But it won’t be humans judging humans on this earth – it will be a transcendental courtroom where Jesus Christ Himself will preside over the proceedings. Make no mistake, the time is coming where each one of us will have to give an account of what we have done.

This is why the good Apostle Paul exhorts us thus:

2 Corinthians 4 (New King James Version)

1 Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them. 5 For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

I encourage us all today to clear out all of the stuff in our hearts that is stopping the light of God from penetrating our hearts – so that that same light can shine OUT of our hearts and be a true influence to others who also desperate need God.

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