Monday, 31 December 2007

Denying the Delusional

"We have accepted the heretical idea that the body will pass permanently away after death,
and that we will only re-appear as some disembodied wraith - but scripture will have none
of this".
Paul Marshall - Heaven is not my Home.

It's one of the most annoying aspects of life - you can spend hours looking for your keys, credit cards, passport (usually at the airport at the moment of check-in). When something is mis-placed, it's a nightmare.
Maybe that's why so many of us have problems with this time of year. Beneath the tinsel and the excess, we sense we're being dis-enfranchised from realities that we all have to address - genuine joy in life is always mixed with the truths concerning suffering, injustice and loss; a world that is scarred and constantly marked by our contrivance.

In the 40th Psalm, the poet speaks of something truly miraculous. He is lifted from the mire of his despair and desolation, from the crash of this broken world by God's unmerited mercy.
The rescue makes the writer realize something of great import - how foolish it would have been to place any confidence in those who seek to mis-place the realities of life (verse 4).
We can lie about ourselves (apt on the day defined by resolutions), our lives, our 'happiness' - we can most certainly act to mis-place the greater truths should they prove too inconvenient,
but we cannot really 'change our spots' or escape our skin. The moment when each of us finds ourselves in the desolation derived from our being fallen is surely ahead. The question is where do we go from there?

In a recent moment of ill-health, I was keenly reminded of the moment in the Gospels when Lazarus had died. Naturally, the end of the line had been reached and passed, but the entire event was changed because Jesus was present after this man was dead and buried. What transpired as a result entirely overturns our mis-placed understanding of sickness, death, mortality and the role of the body.

This same Jesus, risen Himself from death, stands at the beginning of this year and challenges us to reject illusion and meet with the living God, here amidst the pain and the joys.

Monday, 24 December 2007

As deep as bone and blood

I, Who erewhile the happy Garden sung,
By one man's disobedience lost, now sing
Recovered Paradise to all mankind,
By one man's firm obedience fully tried
Through all temptation, and the Tempter foiled
In all his wiles, defeated and repulsed,
And Eden raised in the waste Wilderness.

John Milton - Paradise Regained

So this is Christmas,
when peoples pagan and religious celebrate an array of things and even secularists take the time off the routine to focus upon their partner or family or possibly some community event. It may not be the actual 'day' of the Christian nativity, but it is most certainly a 'holy'day in the truest sense - a moment when we can actually reflect on the richness of human life and ponder amidst family and friends what really underpins our brief days here.

During the second century of Christianity, when the misnomer of Gnostic spirituality was beginning to become popular, Irenaeus used both his gifts and his pen to clarify what matters about the Christian faith to his age. Like so many words of sage counsel, what he wrote then still enunciates to our time why what happened on this world of ours some 2000 years ago is still of major import to every one of us today:

"the things which had perished possessed flesh and blood. For the Lord, taking dust from the earth, moulded man; and it was upon his behalf that all the days of the Lord's Incarnation took place. He had himself, therefore, flesh and blood, recapitulating (re-instating) in himself not a certain other, but that original handiwork of the Father, seeking out that thing which had perished."

I know it's hard for us mere mortals to get inside what's going on here, but imagine a child - your child, becoming your greatest enemy, hating and despising you for the greater part of their life, and then you learn that this child is in mortal danger, and the only way to rescue this person is for you to take their place, to undergo their death, so that they may be acquitted and set free.
That's essentially what Christianity is telling us has happened, except the 'parent' in the human story is God Himself, and the 'child' that is rescued is not only human beings, but every particle of creation that was marred by our hate and rebellion. The love of our Creator, our real Father, is that deep, that rich, that all the darkness, pain, misery and evil we have marked into ourselves is canceled out by the work of Jesus Christ.

How do you respond to a love as deep as this?
We can, at the very least, begin to consider on this day the one who loves us so -
a God who has given so much so that we would not perish in rebellion and corruption,
but be rescued to truly find the purpose of life.

Have a good Christmas
and here's to a memorable New Year.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Give Short Shrift to being Short Changed!

"The 'religious' goods available via the pluralism of the ideology supermarket are not deemed as being equally true - they are all viewed as equally untrue and of no real value".

Martin Robinson (paraphrase from the book - the Faith of the Unbeliever)

How often in life are we short changed (over charged for something which is often second rate)?
Modern culture and media simply do not view it is their remit to tell us more than we need to know, so it's rare we catch a glimpse behind the facade into the true nature, either of our times or of the true nature of the universe in which we are constantly bedazzled by the kitsch.

I was reading a note on the Uncommon Descent blog the other day, and the author noted something that made may pause and deeply reflect. He quoted the passage from Hebrews chapter 11: 'By Faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the Word of God, so what is seen was not made out of that which is visible" (verse 3).
There's much to unpack here, but what rooted me to the spot was that the very nature of the created order is such that it reveals something vital to us:
that what exists is an 'information rich' domain which conveys a fact of great import - the origin of the material is not in the physical order itself, but that physical order, if examined well, affirms something about the source of it's origin - a designer.

In my lifetime, Science has reached a point where it has confirmed both that the universe had a beginning and that the source of what derived from that moment is not found in the 'stuff' that makes this order itself.
In his work, Intelligent Design - the Bridge between Science and Theology, William Dembski examines the nature of how information is communicated. When we take an ontological approach that is informed from the perspective of the passage in Hebrews, then "creation and everything in it proceeds through a divine spoken word...(thus) the entities created do not become silent at the moment of creation - they continue to 'speak' today".

Have we been so informed in our understanding of the very fabric of our reality, or have we been defrauded by a naturalism that essentially mutes the very purpose of creation - to teach us something of the nature of the one who framed us and the farthest stars?

It was this very same 'Word' that became flesh to furnish the other need we all share - to undo the lie of life without this God. Something certainly worth considering over Christmas...

Friday, 14 December 2007

The Hideous Strength

"The thing was near enough to the true to deceive you and go on teasing your mind
even after the deception had been unmasked". C S Lewis

Whilst attending a media studies course today, I found myself conversing with the tutor about the state of our world (fitting, as we were seeking to produce material for films on modern slavery).
After a few moments reflecting on the human condition, she readily admitted to me something we all recognize - that she did not like to dwell for very long or in depth on such issues; it was just too depressing.
I recall a similar conversation a few years ago at a Hospice with a care worker, except there was a person that didn't even want to see the problem - they believed that the world was a pretty good place and people were generally OK.

Isn't it amazing how we smudge and blur reality?
Again, today, someone was trying to tell me that we'd certainly progressed from the days when slavery was practiced in the World (I had to quickly interject that on a planet where there are currently around 27 million people enslaved - far more than in the entire period we term the time of 'the slave trade' - that speaking of 'progress' didn't seem right).
Why do we so easily blind ourselves by such delusion?

We so often fail to see what is more plain than the words on our mouth. There is in us a propensity to scuttle away from what our words can betray derives from our hearts - that the core of our problems is the condition of us - we are an inherently wicked species with a well nigh insatiable propensity to be wicked.

The human condition when alienated from our Creator is one of darkened minds; a bent that prevents an imperative in motivation and desire from truth. Immediacy - in terms of comfort and fulfilment of tactile desire is what then becomes paramount, and that can proceed to encourage all manner of poison within ourselves and in our world at large. Such a degradation of true design can only leave us blatantly, comprehensively tarnished and far from our real purpose.

We need to leave this hall of mirrors - escape from fantasy - and begin to understand the real state of ourselves, our race, in the world today.

Friday, 7 December 2007

The Naked God

nough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

from 'In the bleak mid winter' by Rossetti

It's a common enough site in the West this time of year - the impulse to wrap up from all the 'global warming' (!). We even view the compulsion to 'wrap' houses in dazzling banks of coloured lights.
It's understandable enough - the cold and the dark prompt us to look for warmth, the brilliance of something slightly encountered in a mild, long summers day, in enjoying the company of others, in our breath escaping before some wonder or work of art. The problem is that it's all too easy for us to 'dress up' such a genuine desire in all the wrong clothes - to 'gift wrap' our spirituality and our understanding (or ignorance) of God in a garb as worthwhile as all the paper that's dumped from presents on Christmas day.

When we spend but a single moment considering the real nativity of Christ, we are exposed to a scene where God strips away all our notions of some seasonal spirit inviting children to wish for the latest 'must have' item.
Here, instead, we find a child, naked and hungry, nursing upon his mother's breast...
veiled only in the rudest of realms, amidst the fallen world of Adam's issue,
behold, the naked God!

"Nobody notices or understands what God performs in this stable.
Here he proves that man knows nothing at all about who God is, where He is or what He does...
Here, Christ puts to shame all our wisdom and learning, and makes us look to where we would not normally see" (Martin Luther).
The so-called 'Christmas' story has become so familiar that we treat it like the latest Hollywood adventure, to season the season, and so we miss its astonishing, stark reality.

Perhaps, this season, we can for a moment, de-nude ourselves of the usual trappings and face the truth that the narratives of the New Testament are seeking to unwrap.

Here's a little package that can illuminate us so:

Wednesday, 28 November 2007


"We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered to us. Like an ignorant child who wants to go on playing in the mud of a slum because it cannot imagine what is gained in a holiday by the ocean... we are too easily pleased.

C S Lewis.

Isn't it totally wonderful the way life can 'speak', and, remarkably, cause us to hear - not the noise or the fury, the loud and the senseless, but, like Elijah, that still, small voice that presses into the real us and allows us to take note of what's really going on. That's when we can begin to genuinely appreciate the real value of a field like science or art.

Back in the late 1940's in a nation emerging from the bleakness of war, 'Jack' Lewis wrote a gem that makes us ponder some sixty years on.

In The Weight of Glory, he invites us to consider a truth that any honest observer of life needs to recognize:
"We do not merely want to see beauty (though, God knows, even that is bounty enough). We want something else which can hardly be put into words - to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to truly become part of it...
We discern the freshness and purity of the morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see, but all the 'leaves' of the New Testament are rustling before us with the rumour that it will not always be so".

Lewis goes on to define our present experience of the natural (in sense, emotion and imagination) as being like a line drawing on paper compared to the living reality itself, because of the need we share of fulfillment - the completion of our humanity (not a transformation into the angelic or an absorption into the divine). The marvels of creation, inspiration, imagination enthrall us in measure because of what is conveyed to us through them - the scent, savor and touch of a far more substantial reality that these gifts flow from, enticing us to taste, to engage with the God who is there.

That is the joy in truly learning and coming to understand, of 'fellowshipping' and caring for each other. We see the reflection of a truth that underlies our days and whets our inner desire for what lies ahead.

Christ came to open our eyes to the hand extended in the beauty that we see.
Will we become intoxicated by such truth?

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Blinded by Art?

"It is astonishing that while Greco-Roman historians have been growing in confidence, the twentieth-century study of the Gospel narratives, starting from no less promising material, has taken so gloomy a turn... that the historical Christ is unknowable and the history of his mission cannot be written. This seems very curious".
Historian Sherwin-White.

How far does art inform us about ourselves and the realities of the world in which we live?

Last night saw the UK broadcasting of part 1 of Matthew Collings 'This is Civilisation' , in which he sought to examine our rationality and religious aspirations through our creation and use of art. The Greeks were clearly favoured in this perspective because of their 'humanizing' of the divine(1), whilst Christianity was viewed as an interloper on true cultural development - a philosophy that essentially arrested and held back rational development for over a thousand years.

Collings makes valid points about the imperialization of aspects of a neo-Christian hierarchy in the Roman and Byzantine empires, but this follows a woefully inadequate and skewed definition of early Christianity itself. The highlights included:

A) Jesus probably never existed historically.
B) Paul invented much of Christianity around 25 years after Jesus' supposed death.
C) Early Christian teaching was so 'other worldly' it had no place for things like the body or art or culture in general.

There is certainly enough serious scholarship around, particularly on the New Testament itself, to well-nigh trash the first point (2). It's also pretty clear that a Christian community - even amongst Gentiles, had begun to emerge prior to Paul's conversion to Christianity, so if the key events recorded in the book of Acts are historical (and there's very little reason to refute this), then Paul essentially built upon, not away from, the cardinal tenants of the Apostolic creed. It's the third point I really want to touch upon.

The programme briskly defines Paul as some kind of mystical ascetic, calling on Hellenists to abandon the Roman world for the salvation of the soul, but this is the myth that so many modern rationalists have to adopt to salvage their beloved Greeks. The reality, of course, is that it was the Greeks themselves who deplored the physical, treated artists as little better than dung, generally viewed women in a similar fashion, and placed 'godliness' far above and beyond the reach of most humans(3). Christianity, unlike most religions, holds as a key doctrine that all of creation, including the human body, is to be redeemed and glorified, and much of Paul's teaching on a range of ethical issues derives from this.

Collings waxes lyrical about how only 'imperialized' Christianity could give us depictions of a Crucified Jesus, whilst entirely ignoring the focal thrust of the text of the New Testament itself - the Gospels give more room to the Crucifixion than any other single event, and I believe it was Paul who so passionately wrote of 'placarding' the message of 'Jesus Christ, and Him Crucified' ~ what he termed the 'folly' of the 'preaching of the cross' before his time.

The views put across in productions like this are so skewed, and it only takes anyone who has read a little to realize you could go to the very same places showed, touch upon the same works of art, and express something very different.

Propaganda is dangerous because it does not allow a more critical voice to be heard.

Tragedy grips us when we contrive darkness to be light.

1. Dr Nigel Spivey's BBC series, 'How Art Changed the World' provides a far more thorough examination of this matter in the programme, 'More Human than Human'.
Web link:

2. A study of Professor Gary Habermas' on line article, 'Why I believe the New Testament is Historically Reliable' goes a long way, from biblical and ancient secular sources, to confirming the historical reality of the person of Jesus Christ.
Web link:

3.Dr Phillip J Sampson's excellent study - 'The Human Body - A Study of Repression' in his IVP Publication, "Six Modern Myths' is a very useful introduction to this subject. The Book is Available through Amazon.

Friday, 23 November 2007

The Mark of God

Such truth, comprehended, brings forth both hurt and health,
for this mirror declares the very nature of the soul. Anon.

Young and full of life, she sits in front of the artist.
She is genuinely attractive, her soft skin reflecting the finery of a frame which reveals poise and grace in both form and manner. Her eyes dance with life and her smile warms the world, but these are not merely fleeting, trivial glances for the portrait.

The model is a friend,
and the 'glory' of her physical beauty is but another expression of the person before me - someone who is kind and generous, who has been there for others in times of trial and pain.
Though young, she has already shouldered trauma and, far from becoming harsh or bitter, she has sought to give strength and inspiration to encourage others.

The beauty of her form, then, calmly speaks if we listen, of something so vivid and searching, that much of human history has either sought to vaunt it so high or drag it so low that it could not be encountered, could not be received, on its own terms.
And yet, here she is -
a young woman that clearly speaks of the significance, of the rightness of all that is feminine.

Here is evidenced something that so many philosophers, teachers and theologians have either miss-understood or sought to ignore altogether, and yet, as Eve was to Adam and the 'bride' (Church) is to Christ, so this person 'speaks' of the majesty of the work of God.

If we can put aside the common follies, the popular misunderstandings, the crass and lurid errors of men and many societies, and pause beyond the impoverished beliefs of those who denigrate such glory, then we can truly view a beauty that can so raise the mind that we become humbled before its strength; privileged indeed to use light or pigment to express something of its goodness to another.

Such truth is the beauty of a woman - one we must value and extol if we would walk a little further in expressing the glories of both creation and redemption.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Are you watching carefully...

"I have found that I can tolerate being judged far better than
I can being of no consequence".

Spock (played by Jeffery Quinn) in ST: New Voyages 3.

I have been deeply involved in a local arts festival this past week.
Aside from displaying some of my own work, this entailed assisting another artist to document their work, and providing a record for the event itself of some of the highlights of the opening evening.

It's always interesting working in this realm, because amidst the buzz and the lights, you often glimpse aspects of our search for meaning and moments of valid, sobering observation into the human soul.

One moment will particularly remain with me. I had just finished working for around three and a half hours on a very reflective work entitled 'Define Me', photographing this for another performer. Allowing people to write single words on his naked form, the artist was really asking people to consider 'what am I?' - how do you define a person?
I had just emerged from a dark, silent room used for this into the noise of the theatre box office, when I found myself confronted by a young man who was very keen to tell me who he was ( a performer) and to discover why I hadn't seen his work that afternoon. When I explained that I too was an artist and that I had been working, he was clearly slighted, and quickly rushed off to introduce himself to someone else...

Times like these remind me why the arts are so important. They can provide another avenue in which the mask we usually wear is allowed to slip and the reality of the human condition appears.
Of course, the natural tendency is for people to rush from this quickly, but that is exactly why Christians need to be there - to highlight the deep significance of that reality.

I personally find it hard to touch at length on the darker aspects of truth without becoming overwhelmed by such, but I have discovered that placing people before a display of beauty works just as well in touching the deep chord. Looking upon something that profoundly resonates in the soul will often remind us there are deeper truths we so often ignore, which we so need to embrace.

I'm amazed to have such an opportunity to place such work before others.

The world is always in need of a richer savouring and redeeming light.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Beyond the Hollow World

"All men need something greater than themselves to look up to and worship -
they must be able to touch the divine".

Walsingham (played by Geoffery Rush) in Elizabeth:the Virgin Queen.

Truth may not always be popular, but it usually finds a way into public view.
Back in the mid 1980's, a BBC Horizon documentary entitled "Science Fiction?" * made a telling study of the present value and understanding of our world through the lens of science and concluded with a very telling statement:

'Science will remain powerful not because it is true, but true because it is powerful'.

Two decades on, we have come to realize just how costly that reality is. The shocking analysis provided in the TV event of the year - Adam Curtis' three part examination of the modern world, The Trap - reveals just how invalid an analysis of the human condition based purely upon mathematics and biology can be.

Looking at how Cold War Game Theory has been employed in almost every field of modern life - from Government performance targets for the public sector, to psychiatry to social policy, The Trap exposed how the prevailing 'scientific' view that we are mere machines - organisms to merely pass along genetic data - was a flawed, poor definition of the human being. Whilst 'self interest' certainly plays its part in the world's markets, humanity in general simply does not conform to the 'rationality' or aspirations such models have sought to impose upon Western (and through 'regime change', other) culture. There are deeper needs, deeper truths to be faced about us than those merely defined by so-called 'hard data'.

The reality is that there are 'far more things in heaven and earth' than those defined and sanctioned by such philosophy - the inherent 'twist' in our natures, the need to affirm the obscured but none the less real fingerprint of the one who framed us and calls to us implanted deep in our selves - we only create a darker 'light' when we ignore or rush from such truths.

The inner scream for reality must be met. We are called to journey beyond the hollow world.

*BBC Archive details here:

'The Trap' (all three documentaries) can now be viewed in sections on You Tube.
Here is a link to the first section of the first programme:

Friday, 2 November 2007

The Dance

"It is told that Beren came into Doriath grey and bowed by many years of woe,
but wandering into summer woods, he came upon Luthien,
at a time of evening under moon rise,
as she danced in the glade...
Then all the memory of pain departed from him".

JRR Tolkien - The Silmarillion.

I was recently watching a documentary on the special edition of The Return of the King, through which I discovered that much of the inspiration for what would become that very famous epic, The Lord of the Rings, sprang from the moment when Tolkien asked the lady who would become his wife to dance for him amidst the woods. The moment so touched him that he went on to produce a masterpiece.

In photography, I've often encountered such moments of astounding charm, and one of my favourite scenes of fictional beauty comes in C S Lewis' masterful tale, Perelandra, when Ransom, the hero, first encounters the queen of that world:
"Never had he seen a creature so calm, so unearthly, despite the humanity of every feature...
Now he realized that word human truly referred to something more than our bodily form or rational mind.."
The 'dance' which ensues in this tale is equally as fascinating as that which enchanted Tolkien.

These thoughts have come to the fore this evening after seeing a trailer for the adaptation of Bill Pullman's 'The Golden Compass', released for Christmas. Pullman makes no attempt to mask his rejection of the theo-centric suppositional story-telling of the likes of Lewis and Tolkien, and whilst some of his critique of institutionalized religion (defined in the books as 'the establishment') is certainly justified, one wonders what kind of dreams these tales, which evoke a 'death' of God, will create in children?

Hell, someone noted, is a realm locked from the inside by its residents.

There is a voice, a song, that calls to each of us, that we might glimpse what is truly human.

She is before you, in the street,
entreating you amidst all the rogue traders,
longing for your ears to quell the noise of nonsense,
and recognize her call...

'Can you really continue to reside in such stupidity?
How long will dwell in such parody, and turn from truth?
When wholeness is at your very door!'

Wisdom stands, with arms open wide.
Will you heed her call?

Based on Proverbs chapter 2.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

The D A Y

"It was expected to set off a round of discussions -
In reality, it was so explosive that it was to change Europe forever"

Michael Horton.

Tomorrow (October 31st) is one of my favourite days of the year.
On this day, around mid-day, in the year 1517, a man nailed a document to a door in a German town to encourage, what he thought, would be a scholarly debate concerning abusive religious ideas and practices that demeaned the message of Christianity and sorely burdened the common people. What happened was his points for debate (95 theses) ignited a fire that caused the first seismic change in Christianity for over a thousand years.

The man was Martin Luther. The result was the Reformation.

It's easy for us today to forget just how major and how vital this event is. Luther brought the Apostolic message concerning the nature of faith back to the very centre of what Christianity was about - something which had been tragically lost for so long. His writings and his preaching called the church to re-establish its life and faith around the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as so clearly declared and defined in the New Testament. It was a moment when the world was called afresh to take note of a truth that had not changed, however much it had been muted or ignored.

This day reminds us that history is filled with moments which leave us aghast, as in them we see a God who works amidst human actions to allow us a glimpse of His Kingdom.

Enjoy the day, and the freedom that comes by God's redeeming grace.

Friday, 26 October 2007

Putting it together

"For many, Jesus was presented to them as the solution to a problem...
It's not that it is
wrong; it's just that Jesus is so much more.
(The common approach, essentially is that)God comes up with a way to fix our problem (sin) by

sending Jesus, who came to the world to give us a way out of the mess we find we are in...
But the first Christians didn't see Jesus this way - as if God were somewhere else.
They believed that Jesus was
Lord (of creation), that He was present as the Son before creation and had been a part of the story all along." Rob Bell - Velvet Elvis.

I'd forgotten how much goes into sorting out a holiday, especially when there's a few of you going away. It's not just the accommodation and the flights, there's the insurance, the travel connections and pick-ups and making sure it all ties together - no wonder some people feel they need a break after the holiday! The reason we do all of this, of course, is because of the goal - the destination. A week of stunning views and engaging places, new people, a cascade of enriching new experiences. How demoralizing, then, when something goes wrong, especially if it's because of something we've forgotten to do or remember. It can ruin the best laid plans.

The same is true regarding what could be defined as the 'truth that is in Jesus Christ'. Christianity really is not just about some kind of 'above and beyond' belief that saves our souls.
Yes, when we genuinely encounter Christ, it will be something that changes us in a manner that is total and astonishing, just as it did so many times in the Gospels, but that in many ways is but the first page in a revelation that will grow as we unpack what the message of scripture is really seeking to express.

In the opening of the book of Colossians, for example, we read how Jesus Christ is the creator and sustainer of the physical order of all things, and if we go on to glean the gems that derive in this and the following chapters regarding both the nature of God, revealed through Him, and the real value of that creation, then we begin to understand just how comprehensive the message of Christianity really is.

Let's make sure, then, that as well as our 'passport', we have everything else to make such a journey as full and as rich as it was intended to be; that we may, as Paul puts it, be 'thoroughly furnished" in the faith.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

The Engaging Vision

"Beauty reaches far beyond art, music and literature, for it is characteristic of the natural world – creation. For beauty, like truth and like goodness, has its origin in God. So we mustn’t think of beauty as merely belonging to objects in the world, as if beauty were a quality like size or yellowness: beauty is in the relationship between the object and the person who comes into contact with it. The world is 'haunted' by the presence of God and we are the ones who register that presence. In John Ruskin’s expression, we are touched by the sublime, and our reaction is to be moved and thrilled by it". Peter Mullen on beauty.

In his extensive study of the subject of beauty, Umberto Eco noted that 'something beautiful is something that would make us happy, but it inherently remains beautiful even if it continues to belong to someone else'. I value that truth every time I find myself engaging with one of life's rich marvels (there's a great deal to unpack in that thought).

Yesterday, a friend invited me to accompany them on a trip to visit a superb local example of a cultivated country garden. The autumn colours were at their very best, and I found myself feasting on the dazzling visual array that nature exudes in this season, which kept my camera very busy.

Today, I had the opportunity to create some new work with a local model, and I found myself again amazed at how light and form merged in such a serene manner that I encountered moments where I was physically shaking from the sheer grace, joy and elegance of what was unfolding before me. At such times, it becomes the most natural thing in the world to allow such a 'breath' to inhabit, to guide your artistry, to encounter and touch a reality higher than us which makes us so truly wealthy.

In His teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us to look at the creation and to learn much about how God cares for us, furnishing us not just with the requirements of our physical existence, but with an understanding that allows us to satiate a much deeper and crucial need - an encounter and a union to the one who gives all of life vital place and significance.

Beauty is ultimately about recognising the image of the one who is found in every moment that grants us such a taste of that wonder.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

eternally untethered?

"To our bodies turn we then, that so
Weak men on love revealed may look ;
Love's mysteries in souls do grow,
But yet the body is his book". John Donne - The Ecstasy.

There is a common theme in most of the world's beliefs - afterlife of any kind is something not of this world. You can enjoy all sorts of pleasures, become all sorts of forms of energy or 'life force' or nothing whatsoever if you prefer - even come back as some other creature, but one thing these views all pretty well share is that the body is over and done with - it's dead and gone.

I wonder how it must have been on that day when the one known as Jesus of Nazareth, presumed rightly, by all natural standards, to have been executed by the horror of crucifixion and then buried for so long that there was no doubt concerning his death, stood again amidst His friends alive in the very body that had been dead - how can you deal with something like that?

The Apostle Paul tells us that the resurrection of Jesus is just the 'first fruits' of what is to come - a day when every person will once more stand alive clothed in the bodies they had lost in death, but now bodies that are tempered with immortality. I wonder at the shock this will cause to all those who have expected eternity to be some dis-embodied 'spirit' realm.

Because of what we can term the 'time and space' (historical) reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are urged to place our confidence in the work and promises of God, that we might find that astonishing day ahead a day of joy and not an everlasting anguish.

The poison of this 'intermediate' sphere - creation tainted by sin and death - has been drawn at the cross and the tomb. Both our present life and coming physical death, then, are just an introduction to a far greater reality.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

All we really need

"I want you to get swept away out there; I want you to levitate,
I want you to sing with rapture and dance like a dervish...
Love is passion...obsession. Something you can't live without.
There's no sense in making the journey without this".

Bill Parrish (played by Anthony Hopkins) in the movie, 'Meet Joe Black'.

I attended a family wedding on Friday, and had the privilege of taking the photographs of the occasion. It was an event which, in the small spaces between my busying myself with the camera, took me back to my own special day over 25 years ago - a day when I publicly affirmed the love that had drawn Kay and I to the point of wanting to so deeply become husband and wife.

The years which followed were often difficult, marked by a whole array of problems that most of us will face in life, but the love which had called for that union between us never wained or diminished, and was still present in the very last days of her life a few years ago.
I am still deeply part of her, and I still know the strength of those words in the song of songs -
'Many waters cannot quench love, neither the floods drown it. For your love is stronger than death'.

As Jesus faced trail, betrayal and a cruel death, He spent a short time with those who He had come to know so well - those who were His friends. He had desired to share that evening and a special meal with them, and in that context, He shared the true reasons behind His giving of His life - that we might know a fellowship with God and each other so strong that eternity is barely large enough to express this.

Stronger than our failures, stronger than our fears, stronger than death. There is a love that can enfold us amidst the darkest places, and lift us out to a living, enduring hope that will, without question, one day allow us to place our own feet once more upon a green earth, and look upon human faces transformed by that same love.

Sorting the wedding photos today and looking upon the joy of the newly weds, I know that the greatest wedding - the marriage of heaven and earth - is yet to come.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Healing the Deep Wound

"One thing, and one thing only is necessary for life, rightness with God and genuine freedom.
This one thing is the Good news of Jesus Christ, the resurrection and the life, who sets us free". Martin Luther - Freedom.

I know it's pretty silly and somewhat stereotypical, but I must admit I have something of a soft spot for the movie, City Slickers, not least because of Billy Crystal's funny but poignant portrayal of a middle-aged man still looking to find himself.

One of the best aspects of the tale is this character's inter-action with Curly (Jack Palance) - a genuine, seemingly hard as iron Cowboy that is the last of his kind. When the two men work together to save the life of a calf at birth, Curly relates how the secret of life 'is just one thing' - only when you find that can you truly be yourself.

During the days of the Reformation when Luther was incarcerated in the Wartburg, he received a letter from his friend, Phillip Melanchthon. This brilliant young scholar was filled with doubts about his own standing, whether he was truly a man of faith, and what he could do about his concerns. Luther wrote back a historic note that echoes down the ages:

"Melanchthon, go and sin bravely - then go to the cross and bravely confess it -
the whole gospel is outside of us". Here, Luther nails that 'one thing' that makes us complete.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul tells us that Abraham was made right before God by just one thing - he trusted in the character of God and the promises that God made, and as a result, was deemed righteous. The need we all share is a life that encounters this God - a creator who extends grace and mercy to us in our day of need - to place our trust in Him.
We can then truly discover that God justifies - even when we are sinful or deem ourselves unworthy.

To borrow another famous TV phrase, The Truth is out there...

Friday, 5 October 2007

Light the touchpaper, and stand well back...

"To a woman, it's self-evident. Life is what it is...but guys think there has to be something more. That's why all the leading religious figures are men - they claim that it doesn't make sense for the world to move on without them. Guys never really want to leave the table".

Gregory Mac Allister in Jack Mc Devitt's novel, 'Odyssey'.

It's great when you hear or see something that gets you thinking, like the quote above. A moment of reflection on the realities of my own faith, for example (especially the events of the morning of the resurrection) made me realize how short of every one's needs this particular assessment falls, but it did remind me how often our evaluation of some aspect of life can be simply because we have never settled somewhere long enough to really survey some new territory.

When it comes to the fairer sex, I currently work 'in correspondence' as a photographer with a world where women can often be maligned and stereotyped, and where the human propensity to wickedness illegally mars and marks lives in a fashion which reveals tragedy behind the glamour. It would be easy to conclude that the entire field is 'evil', to seek to jolt the thing down the slipway into a sea of abandonment, but that would be a betrayal of something key to our humanity, and I'll explain why.

Over the last few years, I've encountered many young woman working as models not primarily because they are (or are at least seeking) to make huge amounts of money - that is not the key motivation. They are involved in the field because it has given them a new confidence in their lives, an ability to truly begin to 'be' themselves, and to use their gifts and form in a manner that is creative and artistic. The primary appeal, then, has been to a connection with identity and reality that allows some 'taste' of our true potential - to rise above the stereotypes and become more.

In John's Gospel, Nicodemus, a teacher of others, comes by night to meet with Jesus to ask what he thought was all the right questions. He would 'place' this new teacher in His rightful place and then get on with life, but he came away a very troubled man, for Jesus showed him that there was so much more to understand. As I approach the fifth decade of my life, I am beginning to realize the value of that lesson, and how valuable real discipleship can be.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

From the corner of your eye

"Every December sky, must loose it's faith in leaves,
and dream of the spring inside the trees
How heavy the empty heart, how light the heart that's full,
sometimes I have to trust what I can't know".

Beth Neilsen Chapman.

A journey across the English countryside almost always sparks the artist in me, even on grey and murky days like today. As I watched the mist hang amidst the dips in the hills and noticed jewel-like displays of raindrops upon saturated webs, I was reminded of how nature can 'breathe' hard into the weave of us and bring joy and connection to a realm which both astonishes and embraces.

One joy that I relish is a still morning when you find yourself walking a country lane and the fragrance of new honeysuckle bursts upon your senses for the first time that year. The moment fills you, making you almost giddy with the strength and beauty of what you encounter, but also brings an agony, for the moment is fleeting - the fragrance hard to keep, causing us to both seek to 'hold' that fragile enchantment and to equally yearn for it's speedy return.

As I looked upon the shapes, patterns, colours and contours today of what surrounded me, I realized afresh that our lives are meant to be as rich and enticing, as deep and as varied as the earth that surrounds us. The attraction of life is life! That is the yearning and desire of God, expressed in the revelation of Christ, to share life that full.

After a weekend shared with good friends and a journey holding such thoughts, perhaps you also can inhabit a similar moment of pause... to 'smell the roses'...

Friday, 21 September 2007

Engaging with Light and Shade

"As I get older, I've found that there is a spiritual language to being an artist.
You really have to open up to an inner voice, guiding and assisting in what you do.
One of the 'massages' is to ignore those people who are seeking to make you a copy of someone else.

When I journey in directions I have not explored, sometimes against the grain, that's when my art really begins to speak to me".

Steve Hanks.

It's just like one of those 'first thing in the morning' moments - you know, when you've just got up, and you either scare or depress yourself silly by the image that confronts you as you look in the bathroom mirror...
I used to have a big problem with the whole question of what it meant to be 'spiritual'.
I would read Bible passages like Romans 8:1-8 and think 'Boy, I really haven't begun to get myself together - I'm still deep in the bowels of Romans 7!'

There's been a whole industry of 'how to' pietism built on this one - schools of 'holiness' living that urge you into all sorts of 'christian' duties. The trouble is, such constant introspection can often lead to serious legalism or self-righteousness or at the very least, deeper anxiety that you're just not living up to the grade.

Well, the good news is that is exactly what we're told - none of us make this grade, but that does not mean we're not redeemed.

The personal change came when I finally realized that my spirituality was all to do with the physical. Yes, the poison of sin is that it destroys, demeans and divides, but the reality is that right now, amongst our frail, weak minds and bodies, Christ has come and is renewing even this sorry state in something glorious (Romans 8:9-11). This means that we are dealing with a whole new situation with regards to this present world, which is why Paul spends much of the rest of this letter discussing some pretty down to earth things.

There's a key theme which runs through the New Testament when we allow this truth to fall into place - we have been made free: free to love, free to live, free to engage, free to begin to recognize the work of reconciliation. When that becomes the truth, then life once more becomes worthwhile, and we can even smile (occasionally) at the face in the mirror!

Friday, 14 September 2007

Coming Home

"How much more appealing is the Bible’s final scene in which God moves house, bringing his dwelling to earth, where he lives with us there, wiping away our tears and seeing to it that everything that makes life bad is taken away. That is good news to hope for … It forces us to take this kind of life -bodily life in a physical world – seriously, because we will, apart from a possible brief interlude, experience nothing but this kind of life for ever and ever…"

Paul Blackham

When it comes to a good read, I absolutely love a well written 'classic' period Star Trek novel.
You can always tell when such a book has been crafted with care - in a few pages, I'm back amidst the decks of that famous TV star ship, hearing the voices of the characters that have become as much a part of my life as the people and places that I cherish.

A few years back - sad person that I am - I attended a Star Trek exhibition in London. There were some amazing exhibits, but the one that struck me the deepest was a full size re-production of the bridge of the original USS Enterprise. I have spent so many hours in that place - the novels allow me to entertain a very pleasant fiction that somewhere, right now, that beautiful ship is carrying the likes of Kirk, Spock and Mc Coy into another inspiring adventure....

Of course, many people ascribe to fictions that are far more distressing.
Somehow, Christianity for much of the last twenty centuries (yes, that long), has been plagued by the mis-understanding that any 'dream' or desire related to seeing life here and now lasting forever is misguided and incorrect - that 'heaven' is the final address for our souls, so get ready to become something other than a human being.
That always makes a huge question jump right up in front of my eyes - if God had just meant us to be ethereal, disembodied 'souls' all along, why did He bother with the whole business of making the physical world - why wasn't He just content to bring out a different 'brand' of angels?

When God viewed all that He had made in Genesis, He was very pleased with everything that constituted what can be defined as the physical universe, and there's a key reason why. In the last few pages of Revelation, we discover that this is where God intends to permanently 'house' heaven - to make Creation, redeemed and glorified through Jesus Christ, His eternal home.
Rather than seeing the universe around us as some temporary stop-over that we just 'pass through' to get to 'the other side', we need to realize that sin and death have introduced a foreign interruption into something which God intends to last forever.

I cannot begin to tell you, as an artist and a 'dreamer', how vital this truth has become to me. All the moments of wonder, joy, amazement, beauty and splendor that have coloured life here will find a depth and completion in tactile eternal life that we cannot yet even begin to fully comprehend...

Who knows - perhaps the day is coming when we will indeed travel through the stars and really begin to see the array of God's handiwork in a very direct way; but of one thing I'm sure - this is our home, and it always will be.

Monday, 10 September 2007

The Deepest View

'It's the hardest kind of need, that never knows a reason,
are we such a lonely breed, or just born in a lonely season,
Baby, it's all in the eyes, it's where the reckoning begins,
it's where we linger like a sigh, it's where we long to be pulled in,
it's where we learn to say goodbye, without saying anything,
just standing on the borderline, outside looking in".

Mary Chapin-Carpenter.

Stormy weather - one of those dry, unbearable nights where you just can't sleep because you can't get comfortable, and where it's just too still to allow your thoughts to rest...
That's what, I think, we often find in the soul of people, 'behind the eyes'.

Why, I wonder, are we often so lonely, so empty, even if we have so much?
What is it in us that yearns for a world where beauty is not just something we can admire, but
enshrine and 'breathe' into a realm free of frustration and futility? What wish or dream would be hallowed if all the best and good aspects of life were emancipated from the tarnish of corruption and brevity?

The shock of our existence is when we look that deep, we sense amidst the dark and the still that there is an answer, as sharp and breathtakingly close as our own reflection.

What am I, asked the singer, that I am both so small and so profound?
The answer lies where this writer, probably with bated breath, goes on to point...
A morning where a communion of persons stood upon the new earth and decreed:

"Let us make them like us" - to reflect our image.

Creation is imbued with a need, a longing, that matches our own perplexity, the futility of being caught between what we were made to be and what we shall be - the solution to the cycle of futility and death, and the day will come when that reality breaks upon the world like a summer day after the bleakest of winters.

Dare we look there? Dare we allow such a reckoning of ourselves, as we yield to that longing, to see both the true image, and grant the 'tug' to the God who is there to take us home?

The voice that has followed us all our days is still calling, if we can but hear.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Behind the Eyes

"Scientific positivists, pencil and paper in hand, peer through shatterproof, UV-protected glasses at a world of animals, vegetables, and minerals. But genuine scientists—true seekers of knowledge—are not afraid to let the sunlight dazzle them, not afraid to seek and imagine what our myopic reason calls absurd.

Impossible, irrational, delusionary, absurd, untrustworthy, fictitious, imaginary: It is always easier to approach—or rather, ignore—mysteries of math by dismissing them as false or unintelligible. And how much more for mysteries of faith. So is God like an imaginary number, waiting to be discovered and accepted in a renaissance of faith? The simile is ridiculous, on its face. But, in a curious way, the ramblings of scientific history remind those who strive for reason just how vast reality is. The realization is at once unsettling and exhilarating: Truth is far richer than our minds—always confined by the here and now—can prove or even imagine".

Amanda Shaw - First Things Journal.

It's strange being short-sighted. These days, without the lenses that commonly sit on the end of my nose, the world quickly becomes hazy beyond a few feet and I begin to think I'm heading into an impressionist painting! It's so important, especially as a photographer, to have clarity about what's around me, and the same is true concerning what we term 'reality'.

I recall watching a programme some years back in which a whole series of visual illusions were employed to trick the eye - some were pretty amusing and a few were downright disturbing, but the presenter said something that's always stayed with me - within a fixed image or object, the reason that the eye and mind is confused is because you have several realities at once - ways of seeing and defining the information that are all equally valid.

Science has long informed us that the world we take for granted is far more sophisticated and complex than we usually consider, but unlocking that depth has often taken bold steps in using imagination to try and 'see' what is really there. Leading Physicists like Einstein and Bohm talked about the 'theatre of the mind' - using our gifts and resources creatively to engage with and unwrap the truth of our world. When we begin to take such steps, we begin to realize that the truths which science and theology are seeking to disclose concerning who and what we are are not as distant as is often conveyed in the more popularist version of 'what science has discovered'.

Sunday, 2 September 2007


"As American civilization had fallen away from traditional religion, we are looking for powerful moral figures who are above us, who will come to rescue us when we need them. When Jimmy and Lois are saying "Where are you, Superman? We need your help!", are they not praying in the most essential sense of the word...?" John Woo.

The recent international success of Tim Kring's TV series has touched a deep chord in the human persona. Amidst all the futility and disappointments of everyday life, people are clearly aspiring to something more - wanting to see someone come along who can really act for the common good.

Like most kids, I was surrounded by comics (primarily of the DC variety until I was about 12), and whilst I enjoyed the fantastical stories and characters, I was always drawn back to the 'dark knight' commonly known as Batman. There was just something about this character's conviction that there was a need for real justice amidst the evils of the world (deliciously developed, I thought, in Christopher Nolan's 'Batman Begins').
In my teens and into my twenties, the 'hero' figure in my life was to take the form of one Captain James T Kirk, who certainly confirmed much of my passion to engage with the adventure of life, but to do so with integrity and determination.

Role models like this are important because they affirm certain truths about our reality, and the fact that we know that there is a great need for the values and qualities such characters emulate to increase and 'savour' the world.

In the sermon on the mount, the 'beatitudes' speaks of people who are blessed because they are looking beyond the futility to sow and foreshadow something more that will one day become the essential qualities of humanity. Real hero's are not people who leap tall buildings, but engage with life with the vision and purpose Jesus describes.

There's a great deal to ponder from the tales of hero's.
As written large at the end of Star Trek III:

"The Human Adventure is Just Beginning".

Saturday, 1 September 2007

For Art's Sake?

"The truth is that 'culture' - the cultivation of creation - is natural;
it is native to the nature of Adam & Eve in the garden...
The fact is that God's grace can enter into the very juices of our artistic performance".

Calvin Seerveld - Bearing Fresh Olive Leaves.

Seeking to be involved in the arts can be a pretty sobering, 'reigning in' experience. This week, for example, I visited a joint exhibition by two local artists I know and found myself astonished at the creativity and synchronicity expressed in the works of mixed mediums. I then viewed a selection of 'holiday snaps' by one of the artists recently taken in France, and was just stunned at the acute and fascinating observations she had made of very common objects, capturing them so well and making you realize just how much you miss in the very fabric of the world which surrounds us. It is so clearly all about focus - about teaching ourselves to 'see' deeper and clearer, and using that perception to inspire how we employ our bodies and skills to convey that elegance.

If I'm honest, I'd say that my own failing is that I become too entwined in beauty and thereby depreciate the techniques required to capture things well, but that seems a small price to pay when we can engage in this 'dance' with creation, and hopefully, the one behind this work.

One of my favourite sculptures stands at the front of broadcasting house in London. Created by Eric Gill, it is commonly referred to as a depiction of Shakespeare's Prospero and Ariel from the Tempest, but there is no doubt more going on here. The sculpture depicts two figures - an elderly but kind 'father' stands behind a naked male child, who clearly has 'marks' in his hands and feet.
Both of them are standing on a globe and hidden away from our eyes, behind the back of the elder man, is a depiction of a beautiful woman.
The whole scene for me is a sublime depiction of John 3:16 - it provides a visual reference that encapsulates the 'glory' of what Christ was seeking to convey in that familiar statement, and it makes me really stop every time I see it, reminding me of something profound.

Good art always gives us a moment of pause ('selah', as it says in the Psalms). It's enriching because it allows us to see that all of life is connected to a richer, deeper reality.

It's great to be involved in this world, and even if we never quite reach the place of creating something that may cause others that moment of pause, I know that my own activity here has often conveyed that 'deeper truth' to at least one person - me!

Monday, 27 August 2007

The Puzzling Imperative

"An artist explores enlightenment through the natural world.
Unfortunately, the nature, the material of us is often dismissed as ungodly. It's an old concept in our culture that the material world is the work of the devil and to be seeking after God, you have to dismiss this. I think the opposite is really true. The material world is really something both sacred and spiritual, and the artist, if he rejects that, is being driven by cultural forces that are making a mistake. We explore the spiritual through the material".

Artist Roger Dean.

I came across an intriguing entry on another blog* site yesterday.
A couple of friends were enjoying a bike ride and after stopping off for lunch in a diner, they visited an art gallery. One of them became fascinated by the craftsmanship of a large bronze on display (way beyond his budget!), and as the friends left the gallery, the visit began a discussion about what exactly caused us to create the kind of works they had admired.

Why is it that we share a universal 'impulse' to create art that expresses our thoughts and feelings, our relish and delight in the natural world? From a naturalistic (utilitarian) perspective, it is something of a puzzle, but perhaps there is an alternative approach. In the 1960's, Dr Josef Pieper noted in one of his works that "culture depends for its very existence on leisure, and leisure, in its turn, is not possible unless it has durable and consequently a living link with the 'cultus' - with divine worship" (Leisure - the Basis of Culture). That perspective has often caused me to stop and think , not just about recreation in general, but about the role of art - both in our creation and our enjoyment of it - because we are often making a basic statement - the material (the moment, the experience, the aesthetics) matters.

The Genesis account of creation tells us that on the seventh day, God actually took 'time out' to make that same statement; to look at the created order and be 'refreshed' by His own work. The moment was so good that God 'hallowed' it - literally made it 'holy' (set apart to Him), and the day itself actually became a 'type' of something that was to come. That pleasure in the visual and tactile beauty of the world is given to our parents. Adam is called on to 'name' (understand) the animal world and to tend a garden in Eden. The role of Man and Woman was woven with immediate and enduring artistry - a 'hands on' relationship to spirituality. The 'ache' that this imperative creates (as touched on by Solomon - Ecclesiastes 3:11), amplified by all that is naturally enchanting around us, often finds a moment of clarity when we view the beauty of the human form, or a sunset, or a work of art - it points us to worship.

Beyond days scarred by pain and death, that first 'sabbath' still whispers something vital -
the physical order does not find its resolve in the primal moments of origin, or in a paradise that was lost, or in the world as we now see it, or our current mortality. There is a new 'day' to dawn, when we will see a perfection, a fusion between desire, expression and divinity that will truly refresh and renew existence at the deepest level. The artist who fashioned us has deemed it, that all our truest longings may find an extraordinary realization.

Something to think about, next time you admire a work of art....

(*Reference to Barry A's entry, 'Musings on the Creative Impulse' on the Uncommon Descent blog page = ).

Sunday, 26 August 2007

What the world needs now...

"I sat alone in the dark one night, tuning in by remote,
I found a preacher who spoke of the light, but there was sawdust in his throat,
He'd show me the way, according to him, in return for my personal cheque,
I flipped the channel back to CNN and lit another cigarette.

I take my chances - forgiveness doesn't come with a debt".

Mary Chapin-Carpenter.

Life can so often seem to be about people and circumstances short-changing us. Like the unfortunate couple played by Tom Hanks & Shelley Long in Spielberg's brilliant movie, The Money Pit, we can often find all manner of disappointments and trials because we were promised a golden egg and ended up with a sour lemon! The same, of course, is true when it comes to religion. Everywhere we turn these days, there is a plethora of self-help mentors evoking some alternative 'wisdom' or higher 'understanding' for our predicament - all you need to do is sign up, dig deep (into yourself and... usually your wallet) and a remedy will come...sometime (reminds me of the line in the Money Pit - 'how long till you'll be finished?...'two weeks').

God never leaves us to our own devices. As the one who made us, He knows both the limitations and the pitfalls of schemes by which we are seeking to make our own way out of the hole (including those which like to deny that the 'hole' exists in the first place!). Whilst religion in general is essentially 'self-help', Jesus Christ is the one who comes and says that no self rescue is possible. Looking at the people of His own day who were so burdened under an overwhelming array of rules, Jesus tells them to come to Him, to abandon their self-help, and find true rest in the mercy and care of God.

There is a great deal of 'ego-soothing' religion around, much of it under the guise of Christianity, but God wants us to die to such foolhardy aspirations so we can find real life in Him.

It's time to trade up the tatters of our own self righteousness, which blinds us to our true poverty, so that we might gain a treasure of true freedom we could never purchase ourselves.
Suddenly, the 'two weeks' will be up, and life, whatever our circumstances, will be marked by the richest gift - peace with God.

Friday, 24 August 2007

Forging Eternity

"If I have not established my covenant with the day and the night, with the fixed order of heaven and earth, then I will reject the offspring of Jacob and David, my servant,
and I will not choose one of his offspring to rule over the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
I will indeed restore their fortunes and have mercy upon them". Jeremiah 33:25 & 26.

I have always been astounded by the majesty of the world around us. It has never been difficult, on a clear moonlit night, to stand beneath the canopy of the billions of stars and affirm that the heavens indeed declare the glory of God and reveal His handiwork (Psalm 19). Is it any wonder that a man like Albert Einstein could say concerning nature: "The human mind is not capable of grasping the Universe. We are like a little child entering a huge library...The child knows that someone must have written these books... and notes a definite plan in the arrangement of those books--a mysterious order which it does not fully comprehend, but dimly suspects".

The Apostle Paul, touching on David's confession, informs us that this 'voice', which has gone out to the whole earth, is cardinal to our hearing and our trusting in the message of Christ (Romans 10:17,18). The handiwork of God, evidenced both in creation and redemption, 'speaks' in a comprehensive fashion of the action of God in time and space. This fusion, whilst explicitly unveiled in the Incarnation and the era since this, is implicitly woven into God's message to us through the ages (shown, for example, in God's promise to Jeremiah). Whilst we may not understand the full extent of these great deeds (life at present can only furnish a foretaste of what is coming), we can, perhaps, glimpse into the activity and intention of Father, Son and Spirit.

When a forge is seeking to produce a viable tool - a sword, perhaps - the elements resourced for this purpose are fused together through a process of pressure and purification that allows the desired end to become real. Metal is heated so that it can become 'plastic' to be folded, many times over, to produce a blade of strength and precision, and the same is no doubt true amidst God's redemptive work amidst creation. The wonder which shall emerge - heaven and earth that has known the love of God not only in its formation, but in its rescue from death - will no doubt permeate and season every aspect of eternal life - it will mark all that will be with a love, like the universe itself, which is astonishing and profound.

When we begin to grasp the height, the depth, of this marvel, it will certainly lead us to express the manner of adoration evidenced in the Psalms - the Lord has indeed conveyed both wonder and mercy.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

What We're Looking For?

"What if I stake everything I am on a dream, and it's counterfeit?"
Natasha Bedingfield - from the song, Pirate Bones.

What would it be like to live in a world where everyone you ever met was a friend, where you could enjoy all the astonishing wonders of the natural world without any fear of pain or suffering, and where that world was adorned with a symmetry and entirely gratifying fellowship that would never tarnish or age? I think that's part of the reason behind why Jesus began His three years with the disciples by taking them to a feast (John 2). It's so easy for us to forget that the very first miracle that Jesus performed was not a physical healing or a stilling of the storm - it was to provide the best wine at a wedding.

I often wonder how much of our prescribed spirituality would have stood up to the 'test' of the wedding of Cana? A celebration of this nature powerfully affirms the fact that true godliness is in fact essentially bound up with the goodness of creation itself, not cut off from it.

That is the true tragedy of the world we now inhabit. The legacy of the Eden exodus is an order lacerated by alienation - torn from God, from ourselves, from each other, and from a genuine relationship to creation, but the Cana feast crushes that division. God is with us, there, in the very midst of our joys and pains, allowing us to taste of a vintage that makes us thirsty for the wonder that is to come.

When we speak of God being in Christ, reconciling this world to Himself, we need to understand that that is something we can know now, in all of our living. Creation itself is yearning for that resurrection morning when that truth will be fully expressed through the body of Christ, so begin to see, as is often the case in the Psalms, the weave of Creation and Redemption in all that is here. When we taste of that wine, we will escape the mirage of life without God.

Monday, 20 August 2007

Living in the Real World

"I am not someone with amazing faith or a praiseworthy character,
but I share a confidence with every regenerate Christian that has received from heaven 'every spiritual blessing in Christ'.
I am simultaneously at peace with God because of Christ's imputed righteousness,
and at war with myself because of His imparted righteousness.
I am not a successful runner, but by God's grace, I am looking to Jesus,
the author of this work, and the one who will bring it to completion".

Slightly paraphrased from 'Christ the Lord' by Michael Horton.

I often think that the most dangerous thing about Christianity is the person it wants to make us see - the real Jesus Christ.
"Religion" (and that terms covers a lot of ground) can leave us feeling pretty comfortable with ourselves - our credo (beliefs), our praxis (pious deeds), can easily create the illusion that all is well with our souls - that's pretty much the result of our exodus in the garden..if we have 'covered' ourselves appropriately, we think, everything is OK, but try that charade before someone who really knows you - who came from heaven to earth to not only expose the fallacy of such religion, but to bring humanity life as it was meant to be.

One of my favorite passages in the Gospels is after the resurrection, when some of the disciples are once more on the sea of Galilee fishing (John 21). Jesus walks onto the beach and invites them to join Him for breakfast. As they ate together, Jesus begins to share with them about what's important - our love for Him and for each other. What is so key about this passage is that the Lord comes into the most common things of life, and when we meet Him there, it is the most striking, life-changing thing, for we realize that He is indeed Lord of all.

So often 'religious' activity and duty is marked by something so clear - there is a focus upon us (what we could/should/would do) and Jesus becomes a footnote to that.
Paul teaches us that all of our life, our meaning, our value here and now, is concluded in the one who was the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form - our partaking of and our sharing of Him is what matters. Like the disciples who sat at His feet at breakfast, let all of our lives be seasoned with that same beautiful glory - the person of Jesus Christ.

Friday, 17 August 2007

The Order of the Universe

"It's marvelous, though, to see many of you here tonight...absolutely marvelous...
I know that many of you come here again and again to watch this final end of everything,
and then return home to your own raise families, strive for better societies,
fight terrible really gives one hope for the future of all life-kind...
Except, of course, we know it hasn't got one!"

Max Quadrapleen - The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.

There are some things in life that bring a great deal of joy, and reading Douglas Adams' "The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy" was certainly one of these. I still recall the literal 'pain' of trying to read this on a packed commuter train in London for the first time and 'muffling' myself from laughing out - it was, and still is, that funny.

Adam's writes from an atheistic perspective, and the quote above beautifully defines the logical conclusion of that view - the universe is meaningless. Every moment in time from the 'big bang' onwards - every thought or deed or wonder...they are all essentially pointless. Naturally speaking, there's a lot going for that view. Entropy towers above everything - decay appears to be the over-riding constant that marks all, so is Adam's right? Is the universe, our very existence, just a cosmic 'blip' with no meaning beyond the here and now?
The good news is that, even from a scientific perspective, the answer appears to be no.

Discoveries in the realms of physics - generally defined as the 'Anthropic Principal' and in Micro Biology - examined through the theory of Irreducible Complexity - are clearly hinting that nothing is here by chance. To quote from another apt Science Fiction writer's character, Jubal Cain, "The universe was often a silly place at best but the least likely explanation for it was the 'non-explanation' of random chance; the conceit that some things which 'just happened' to be atoms 'just happened' to get together in certain ways which 'just happened' to look like consistent laws and that some configurations 'just happened' to posses self awareness...
No, he couldn't swallow the 'just happened' theory, popular though it was amongst those who called themselves scientists. Random chance was not a sufficient cause for the universe - random chance was not sufficient to explain random chance! The pot could not hold itself.
Religion may well be right". (Robert Heinlein - "Stranger in a Strange Land").

In his message to the Philosophers of his day at Mars Hill in Athens, Paul tells us that the true basis of our lives is the One in whom we live and have our being, the maker and sustainer of all things. That One is revealed in Jesus Christ. If that is truly the case, then our current journey makes everything we do and come to know of very great value.
The universe has a purpose, and we can know something of that through a very real, historical revelation...

Thursday, 16 August 2007

The Hounds of Love

"That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me.
In the Trinity term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God,
and knelt and prayed....
The words 'compel them to come in' have been so abused by wicked men
that we shudder at them, but properly understood, they touch the depths of divine mercy.

The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men,
and His compulsion is our liberation".
C S Lewis - Surprised by Joy.

We all have them - those days when we have to face some truth, however strange, surprising or painful, that we know is going to change our lives forever.

As you get older, there seem to be more of them (or at least, they hit closer to home) - people and places change, and the face you used to look at happily every morning has certainly gained a few more 'character features' the last few years (!), but perhaps the biggest impact of these things is what occurs inwardly - how our view of life and the world 'shifts' accordingly.

The Genesis record tells us that the general framework of life as we now know it changed on a particular day, when Creation became marked by a human rebellion, and, as a result tainted by death, futility and decay. That is bad enough, but the 'shift' that occurred in the human condition was total.

Instead of reveling in the glory of their natural form and grace, humanity had now rushed headlong into a culture of shameful hiding and denial. Denuded of their true life, man and woman would quickly seek to mask their evil - the blame should be placed elsewhere!

We could spend time looking at this in depth (perhaps we will - in a later blog), but what marks this event is something far more vital - the pursuit of God.

Rather than leave us to our own impoverished devices, God seeks and finds us, and requires us to face up to the realities of our choices and actions, and for very good reason. Only when you have properly diagnosed the disease can you treat it with the cure.

The process of change that occurred in the life of C S Lewis was slow and gradual - a thought here, a phrase there - but "a conviction was growing in him that the spirit exists and that we come into contact with this through our inner sense - aesthetics, astonishment, marvel in beauty - those 'glimpses' which call us to deeply look beyond the moment to something behind the moment" (Finding the Landlord by Kathryn Lindskoog). Finally, through the accumulation of such moments of awareness, the 'hound of heaven', as Lewis wrote himself, tracked him down.

The message of faith is that there is a need to discover the God who once walked the garden with men (who is still looking for us!) - that every aspect of life is woven with something deeper: a God who is speaking to us - and what a message!

The aim and intent of all that we are and that surrounds us is not temporal, but eternal! It is this world that God is reconciling to Himself through Christ - this is the place where 'eternity' - at least for us - begins, and will continue...How much of our spirituality stems from there?

Perhaps, when we look in the mirror tomorrow, we could spend a moment reflecting on those truths. That might put a smile on that 'seasoned' face...!

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Faith's Feast Table

"Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters,
You who have no money, buy and eat,
Come, buy milk and wine, without money and without cost...
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourself in abundance". Isaiah 55:1 & 2.

It's real interesting trying to do this for the first time...sitting in front of a blank page and pondering what would be good to say, where you about that line from that song, or a scene from a show. There's a great deal to say in this world of ours, but I think I need to start as I mean to go on - finding ways and means by which I can share something of the wonder of the life that is ours because of something amazing - the goodness of God.

Every time you encounter friendship, or gaze upon beauty, or deeply sense awe, or glow through intimacy, you glimpse something of that gift, but it's a joy that is fully brought into focus through the marvel of faith.

Faith is not some slick, TV preachers gimmick or 'inner' new age fabrication. Real faith is a trust that recognizes the security of God's promises and deeds, made evident in Jesus Christ, which does not seek to add to or curtail that gift in any way, but confidently builds upon this literally life-changing reality.
Faith then, is all about God making right a race of people who have messed up big time - giving them new life through nothing but His mercy, reaching out to this world by His love.

Does that all sound straightforward enough - something you've heard a few times, no doubt, in books or sermons? So why start here?

We live at a time when faith has become stigmatized. Rationalists tell us it's unnecessary in our modernal age - a 'god' who made us and who determines life is as viable as the tooth fairy; and then there all kinds of 'believers' who want us to manufacture 'faith' from ourselves for ourselves - to make us (and sometimes them) healthier and wealthier, but genuine faith is a much deeper, disturbing thing.

The faith from God leads us to the edge of what we are - to know the pain, the anguish, the horror of being a rebel - and there it causes us to look beyond ourselves, beyond any thought of self-confidence, into the character and astounding works of God - our Creator, our Saviour. It allows us to step into the abyss of mystery and encounter that reality which is so deep, so real, that all of life becomes lived and understood from a view nurtured before the first star was born that insures all existence will encounter a glory that faith allows us to begin to understand.

Faith brings us to a point of intimacy with the One - Father, Son and Spirit, who once stood amidst the new order of creation and jointly made a creature to reflect His image. In that profound moment is the blueprint of the ages to come - God, working through His image-bearer in creation, to eternally express the wonder and glory of the relationship that exists within the Godhead.

That sounds like a pretty amazing place to start (and finish!), so let's pull up a chair, open a bottle of good wine and pass around the snacks, and let's share about that.

To end with a quote from a song - it really makes me wonder...