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: