Today I'm heading off to St Andrews for the annual ministers' conference. I am looking forward to catching up with colleagues and friends in lovely surroundings and hoping for a good few days.
One thing troubles me, even before I go, which is the title of the event, "A Mighty Fortress". I am sure it's been chosen because it's the title of Martin Luther's hymn, 'Ein Feste Burg' and because there's a lot of stuff around at the moment relating to the 500th anniversary of Luther's 39 theses nailed to the door of the Wittenberg church that history tells us began the protestant Reformation. I get all that.
The focus is on Psalm 27 which, in English translation doesn't use the word 'fortress' at all:
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (KJV)
The Lord is my light and my salvation; I will fear no one. The Lord protects me from all danger; I will never be afraid. (GNB)
The Lord is my light and my salvation — whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life — of whom shall I be afraid? (NIV)
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold/refuge of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (NRSV)
God as refuge, shelter, strength, even stronghold - this is a very different image from a fortress, at least in contemporary English usage.
In a world where there is so much violence and suffering, use of militaristic imagery isn't helpful. God as fortress - as a military power to quash enemies, however they are defined, doesn't seem a good idea to me. And I don't think it's what Psalm 27 says anyway.
I am fearful that such langauge encourages a form of Christian defensiveness and aggression that troubles me deeply. The world is not our enemy, we are not to flee from it, rather we are to be salt and light, sacrificially entering ther world to transform it.
I'm hoping to be very pleasantly surprised...
I hope, I genuinely hope, that this will be an opportunity to encounter something fresh of God. So I'm going with an open mind and an open heart.