Monday, 19 March 2018

Perilous Perspective!

"last thing I remember, I was running for the door,
 I had to find the passage back to the place I was before,
'relax', said the watchman, 'we are programmed to receive,
you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave'".

The Eagles - Hotel California.

I live close to some nationally preserved moorland, and we have just had a weekend where one of those rare phenomena - snowfall - has occurred. The view today has been quite stunning in some gorgeous sunlight, but when I went to work today, even though I was a good thirty minutes closer to the moor after my walk, I had entirely lost the view.

Science lost Stephen Hawking this past week, a man whose work has and will continue to cause much discussion and debate about the nature of existence. In an interview for ABC news, he once stated his well-known opinion concerning where his studies had lead him:
“One can’t prove that God doesn’t exist. But science makes God unnecessary. … The laws of physics can explain the universe without the need for a creator.”

It's a strange statement, especially in the light of what had happened on his 70th birthday, in 2012.
Here's what unfolded.

A fellow scientist, Alexander Valinkin and his associates, who had been discovering some fascinating data since 2003, proved that an expanding universe is not previously eternal. In other words, this work offered a proof that the universe we exist within had a beginning.

Philosophically, it provides support and weight to cosmological arguments regarding our being here is with intent.

Scientifically, it means we do not live in a universe of infinite regress, but one which came into existence at a fixed point.

Theologically, it lends credence to the biblical account regarding not only the work of creation itself, but regarding the nature and intent of the one behind this.

It means that Hawkins was wrong.

Professor Hawkins once argued that his understanding of physics and cosmology lead him to conclude there was no higher purpose beyond the material universe itself. it's regretful, at least publicly, that Professor Hawkins never expressed the manner of conclusion provided by one of his famous predecessors:

"I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me".

Sir Issac Newton.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Holding the image

"There is one thing the photograph must contain, the humanity of the moment"
- Robert Frank

"And we, with unveiled faces, are being transformed, by beholding the glory of the Lord, which is transforming us, from one degree to another".
- Paul. 2 Corinthians  3:18.

One of the great splendors of life I have begun to appreciate as I've grown older is composition. As a Photographer, there's something truly satisfying bringing the right elements together to compose a moment that, hopefully, will resonate with those who see it. As a writer, there's something vital about writing words which may help someone to locate something that can, on occasion, help bring about some good.

Creation is a work of composition,
not just on the small scale that you and I can produce,
but in it's entirety.

Creation is seeking to fashion us into those marked by telling realizations regarding ourselves, and the true nature of the world we inhabit.

It's a journey marked by joy and pain, honesty and hope, and, because of the one behind this fashioning, love and mercy above all else.

This last few days has brought me into contact with a new on-line community of fellow believers, and we've already shared some fun moments together, but some of that engagement has not been easy, as it's meant seeking to address ourselves with genuine candor before the light of scripture. As with coming to church on Sunday (if it's a worthwhile church), and beginning with confession and absolution, drawing closer to each other means a level of honesty that can be cutting, but what is wonderful is how, in those very moments, the 'oil and the wine' of God's vital love given in Christ holds you and allows you to continue to share, bruised yet not discarded, and allow for a deeper conversation/connection in that splendor.

One of the things that was shared this week really speaks deeply about just how crippled sin makes us, but equally how immediate and ample the love of God in Christ is to us amidst our demolished lives (by the way, this is a website that is really worth several visits).
We sometimes, perhaps often, look at all the pieces of what is, and we find it hard to understand how they can ever fit together -
how can things which are so dark, and we all know them, ever be gone?
The answer, the completion of the composition, is when all things become defined and established in a light that is behind the present composing - a love that will bring all things to a place where that wonder is the how and the why that defines.

What's key here is that none of this is about a losing of our humanity, but a work that re-establishes and crucially establishes what is good about that.

It's not easy, moving forward, but it is something that transforms the moments into a life in which true, genuine change can take place.

Saturday, 10 March 2018


I went to see my sister
She was staying with a friend 
Who had turned into a preacher 
To save the world from sin. 

He said, "First deny your body, 
And then learn to submit. 
Pray to be made worthy, 
And tithe your ten percent." 

I said, "Is this all there is, Just the letter of the law?" 
Something's wrong. 

What about the Love by Amy Grant.

TED talks. Probably an acquired taste, but every once and a while, one of them proves worthy enough of a proper listen.

Dawn Smith's sadly familiar story of what happens when Christianity (so called) goes wrong fits the worth hearing category, not because you haven't heard a story like this before, but because it's a chilling reminder to us of what happens when Law becomes the Gospel.

Naturally, we'd all prefer to be 'religious' like this - deeming ourselves worthy because of some notion that we have merit or some gift that allows us to see ourselves better than others (isn't that why we're the ones in charge?). Religion based upon what we determine to do, what we determine is right and wrong, readily facilitates our whims and leaves plenty of space for our untouched vices. Such 'righteousness' can be worn as our merit, as our underlying adherence to a killing piety is whimsically sung in the chambers of our poisoned hearts.

Jesus will have none of it (Matthew 23).
Paul vehemently denounces it (Romans 2, The book of Galatians).
Peter defines it as sheer evil (2 Peter 2).

Christianity ends such religion because it brings us, often dragging and screaming, to our true nature before the requisites of love (Matthew 5, verses 21-48) and leaves us unclothed and unmasked. It leaves us totally devoid of any hope or confidence in ourselves, critically needing another to rescue us from ourselves.

That is why Jesus Christ is good news. He comes to a miserable people and by His life, death and resurrection, does what none of us can - he divorces us from the poison of our wretched sin, our fallen estate (Romans 3:21-26). 

We cease to be the church when we sabotage the message of God's saving us by His righteousness in favor of what we can do or be - there's religion a plenty that amounts to that and nothing more.
The truth is we're running on empty, and God needs to change us to make us people who depend on another to know love and to share love.

Our broken world is filled with empty wells where people are drinking dust because they're needing so much more.
We can offer waters so infinitely more satisfying, because they flow not from us, but from the mercy throne of God's astonishing love, evidenced at the cross.

Let's move close to Him this easter.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

J O Y !

"Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world". Martin Luther.

I think it must be a universal truth.
There are moments, when you've had a bad week, or are in the midst of trials, when suddenly, your entire nature lifts because you hear a particular song or melody which carries you out of the gloom and into a truly better place.

That's why, at least in part, I suspect, that certain pieces become favourites to us - they're tied to moments or times that are significant or special in our lives, and they're often bursting with words or themes that lift us, touching us at our deepest point.

I recall, for example, a moment in 2004 when life was truly falling apart - my wife was in a hospice, my future looked truly empty, and I was totally uncertain about where to go. I believe I was in a car with a friend when I heard Natasha Bedingfield's song, "Unwritten" for the first time. It was like an arrow to my heart. I was staring at a blank page, a dark window - I needed the Sun (the Son) to illuminate the broken thing that was my life.
As I sought to pick up the pieces in the year that followed loosing Kay, that song would motivate me to move forward.

It's so often the way that songs and other joys that matter arrive as gifts into our lives.

Yesterday, I was searching around for some music for an art video I was completing, when suddenly, boom, a whole set of videos came up of a favourite group, but from an album that was entirely new to me... what revels were mine for the next hour as I sat and listened to each track, delighting in songs which dripped with beauty and grace.

Just look at these lyrics to see what I mean...

You're a treasure no one opened, you're that diamond no one found,
There's no casual liaison when your heart is in the clouds,
Could have been your bit of style, could have been your bit of grace,
Could have been the way the starlight played upon your face,
Starlight played upon your face.

Moonlight, be a friend tonight,
We're all wrecked up on these dreams, holding on a bit too tight,
Well, I've got splinters from these moonbeams,
If it seems I'm falling down,
If it seems we're falling through,
Darling, you know that is nothing,
You know that is nothing new.

Look at me with longing eyes and I will always know the score,
Say the words I long to hear and I won't need them anymore,
If this moment seems forever, there are some things you don't waste,
If it's a little bit of God, then come in here and have a... come in here and have a taste.

Moonlight, be a friend tonight,
We're all wrecked up on these dreams, holding on a bit too tight,
Well, I've got splinters from these moonbeams,
If it seems I'm falling down,
If it seems we're falling through,
Darling, you know that is nothing,
You know that is nothing new.

You and me could build a bridge over every place that hurts,
Time to tear the walls down hard, 'cause they never really worked,
And if the first words start to stumble and sound slightly out of tune,
It's the opening of hearts, it is the closing of... closing of the deepest wounds.

Moonlight, be a friend tonight,
We're all wrecked up on these dreams, holding on a bit too tight,
Well, I've got splinters from these moonbeams,
If it seems I'm falling down,
If it seems we're falling through,
Darling, you know that is nothing,
Darling, you know that is nothing,
Darling, you know that is nothing,
You know that is nothing new.

Darling, that is nothing new,
Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing,
That is nothing new,
Darling, darling,
That is nothing new.

From You Know That by the Vigilantes of Love.

It may be that today, life is hard, or circumstances ahead look so dark and troubling, you're not sure where to look or how to go on. Perhaps there's a song that can cause you to look further than the winter of our hearts and our often painful lives to remind you there is richer things, and there is a care beyond our current pain.

The days now so often seem to be about our being seeded into death (presumably because of our broken natures), but we can know that the warmth and ravishing love of a lasting life, a better wine, is breathing close upon the wind.

The Gospel brings us home, and music often softens the journey there.

Friday, 2 March 2018

The inoculation

"So Welcome to the Machine". Pink Floyd.

So, who hasn't yet watched "the" Jordan Peterson interview?
I guess there are a few, even though the Channel 4 full version on You Tube shows nearly 8 million views.

There's been loads of analysis since it appeared at the end of January, most discussing why Cathy Newman got it so wrong, and Peterson himself, on plenty of other videos, talking about what he is actually trying to say. It's all part of the present culture wars thrust and parry amidst the maelstrom of how we speak about, or speak to, our culture, but there's the rub... Can we really talk about "a" culture any longer?

I was bluntly reminded this morning that the liquefaction that is violently tearing us apart is much, much deeper than we think, and this is why the tussles between the likes of Peterson and Newman, when placed within the real context of today, are almost irrelevant.


The malady is that we can think that if we're engaging with these kinds of discussions, reading the latest 'advice to ("young" men/women/??? - fill in the appropriate blank)' best seller, looking to science for gifts akin to vibranium (aka Unobtainium), we think we're aware, but we are, in fact, just skating on thin ice.
The real problems, which, like weeds, have worked roots down into the very fabric of the world, are much, much deeper.

Here's an inkling of just how deep they are.

It all reminds me of a very telling (and quieter) moment in Ridley Scott's epic spectacular,

The barbarians have been quelled, so even though the old order, in the form of Marcus Aurelis, has passed, there really isn't anything to worry about - Commodus has brought bread and circuses back to Rome... a grand era of games, so all is well, notes his cunning ally, Gaius.

"He will give the people death", Gracchus astutely retorts, "and they will love him for it".

Poison in the form of refreshment and stability.

We touch it everyday in what is so often deemed to be 'recreational' - narcotics, sex and eating addictions, gladitorialism in virtual reality... these are the church windows of our temples of self indulgence.

It's the dying nightmare of a burning world tarnished by our unrelenting "triumph" - the telling neglect of the dreadful death that resides at the core of each of us, concluding in our own sorrowful physical demise as we finally cannot escape our long-standing exile from home any longer.

The hollowness of the days can be tracked right into the very heart of all our most revered professions and houses of power.
When his nation began to fall into the abyss of decimation, the Prophet Ezekiel looked deep into the sanctuaries of the land and found only evil of the darkest kinds (Ezekiel chapter 8). As with the warnings of Jeremiah, there were plenty who sought to downplay the significance of such exposure, but their very words re-affirmed the tragedy of the times.

The answer isn't in us.
As I've sought to say here before, we need the remedy of the saving grace that flows from God in Christ alone.

We need to have that shock of what is hit us full on - then we'll begin to see we cannot do anything except ask God for that lifeline.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

The nature of things.

"And a rock feels no pain, and an island never cries". Paul Simon - I am a rock.

"They became futile in their thinking". Romans 1:21.

So, there I was on you tube, re-visiting some material on science and faith to pass along to a friend, when I noted in the other videos column an item - sourly titled - that was seeking to demean the thinking of the person I was listening to.

I clicked on to this at the end of the video I was watching to see what kind of arguments were being made, and quickly discovered they were not actually attacking an argument by the person they were seeking to dismiss, but, initially at least, only his re-telling of an argument made by C S Lewis.

Here's the original version by Lewis himself:
“Supposing there was no intelligence behind the universe, no creative mind. In that case, nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. It is merely that when the atoms inside my skull happen, for physical or chemical reasons, to arrange themselves in a certain way, this gives me, as a by-product, the sensation I call thought. But, if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true? It's like upsetting a milk jug and hoping that the way it splashes itself will give you a map of London. But if I can't trust my own thinking, of course I can't trust the arguments leading to Atheism, and therefore have no reason to be an Atheist, or anything else. Unless I believe in God, I cannot believe in thought: so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God.” (The Defense of Reason).

Notice what He is stating here - if what we deem intelligence is merely a quirk of an a random process, what objective data (beyond our own senses) gives it the validity to be trusted as a means of genuinely defining and rightly understanding the nature of things, even in regards to the purely material sophistication of the world?

 The response to this argument on the dismissive video was pathetic. It stated that because we're made of the same stuff as what's around us (atoms and the like), these are therefore perfectly acceptable tools to employ to understand that manner of stuff, so Lewis and others who employ this manner of questioning are just plain wrong.

Another video I watched recently included a section in which Richard Dawkins and Neil De Grasse Tyson were discussing the nature and purpose of intelligence, and they raised a fascinating dilemma. If you look at the astonishing forms of life on this planet, very few (and they concluded, in a real sense, probably only one) has seen it beneficial to develop and employ the strange phenomena of intelligence. What makes this phenomena even more puzzling, they noted, is why, because from a naturalistic (survival and transmission of genes) perspective, it's clearly not required, so why is it there?

The truth is actually much stranger than fiction.

When Sir Fred Hoyle undertook his research into the proliferation of carbon in the universe, he realized that the hard data was telling him something he didn't expect, and didn't like - the very nature of the physical order had been toyed with in a manner that wasn't random. The numbers proved it. The atheist encountered the fingerprints of God.

Using our faculties is meant to cause us to stop and ponder what is really around us.

We all know that our senses give us information all of the time - a frame of reference that we implicitly trust because without that, the world would become entirely alien and life impossible, but honest evaluation of what we can see when we look hard enough, jolts us, because it tells us 1. There are clearly limits to what our faculties can comprehend and 2. Within those limits, there is information that points to deeper aspects of reality, beyond the purely utilitarian.

Naturalism wants to argue that such "aspects" are merely the result of ignorance, either due to our current lack of information, or, as in the case of the video I encountered, because the person making a case for more than the material is, in effect, ignorant, but what is often happening is the real argument isn't being heard by those seeking to dismiss it.

A classic example of this is how naturalism often "reads" what is deemed science and thereby believes it negates that need for theology.

Let me conclude by pointing to another of Lewis' superb arguments on this very subject.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

In this tussle...

"Looking for the right one, when will the right one come along?"  Art Garfunkel.

It's a familiar story - the push of life's obligations against the pull of our deepest desires.
It's a miss-match of epic proportions.

How do we handle it?

Mockingbird contributer Charlotte Getz has written one wonderful piece on this this week.

I love her candor. I love her no-holds barred honesty. I lover her conclusions.
It makes sense of what the day to day is about, but far more importantly, it tells us that our deep in the depths of us yearnings and longing aren't meant to go away - they're meant to steer us to richer shores than we can currently even fully comprehend.

I'd love to just let rip about what Charlotte says, but I'll just enjoy the warmth of it, and encourage you to have a read for yourself - it's excellent.