Saturday, 20 December 2008
Behold Christ lying in the lap of his young mother, still a virgin. What can be sweeter than the Babe, what more lovely than the mother! What fairer than her youth! What more gracious than her virginity! Look at the Child, knowing nothing. Yet all that is belongs to him, that your conscience should not fear but take comfort in him. Doubt nothing. Watch him springing in the lap of the maiden. Laugh with him. Look upon this Lord of Peace and your spirit will be at peace. See how God invites you in many ways. He places before you a Babe with whom you may take refuge. You cannot fear him, for nothing is more appealing to man than a babe. Are you affrighted? Then come to him, lying in the lap of the fairest and sweetest maid. You will see how great is the divine goodness, which seeks above all else that you should not despair. Trust him! Trust him! Here is the Child in whom is salvation. To me there is no grater consolation given to mankind than this, that Christ became man, a child, a babe, playing in the lap and at the breasts of his most gracious mother. Who is there whom this sight would not comfort? Now is overcome the power of sin, death, hell, conscience, and guilt, if you come to this gurgling Babe and believe that he is come, not to judge you, but to save". Martin Luther on the Nativity (Christmas Sermons).
Gift-wrap. It's used by the store-load this time of year, but have you ever thought about why we find it so important to use it?
What is it that requires us to take up our time and make so much effort to insure that all those goodies we buy for others is so nicely (in my case, not so much - I'm pretty dreadful with paper and tape) wrapped?
It's all about marking something as special.
When we hand over that little box of something in that brightly colored sheet, it says 'here's something to say you're special', and because of that we (usually) know a moment of delight: an affirmation that we are loved.
Christmas is a moment when we can look with amazement upon the most beautiful and total gift that has ever been given.
The one whom the Apostle John describes as 'The Word' - the one who makes all things and holds them together - is 'gift wrapped' to come amongst us.
Now it's important to reflect on this, because it says something wonderful about the handiwork of God.
The Lord does not come amongst us as some strange, extra-terrestrial like creature, or as an "Angel", just to proclaim a message and go. Christ is given to us flesh and blood - to live like us, to encounter first hand all the pain, frustration, fear and futility that define our lives in a fallen world.
The gift the world received at Christmas is truly miraculous.
What always astonishes me is how so much of the time, we want to 'wrap' God up in some other way - we want to make Him remote or distant, strange and aloof; a being far, far away in some remote spot we tag 'heaven' - certainly not a naked child feeding at a bare human breast!
The truth that Christianity conveys is that human redemption is that real.
It was a real child that came to rescue us, a real man that walked and lived amongst us, attending our weddings and feasts, our funerals and days of illness. It was this man who was to be crucified upon a Roman Cross, buried and then - raised from death, truly alive!
Amidst all the usual things that happen this Christmas, take a moment to reflect on the greatest gift that God wants us to unwrap -
that we can have life through the love and salvation provided to us in His only Son.
God is with us, and that makes life here hallowed indeed!
Thursday, 11 December 2008
“No material thing is strong enough to bear the burden of the world. But the everlasting Word [logos] of the eternal God is the firmest and surest support of the whole. He stretches to reach from the middle to the edges and from the heights to the middle, uniting and binding all the parts with nature's unfailing course. For the Father who begot Him made Him the unbreakable bond of all".
Philo of Alexandria.
So what's it really about then?
Spending too much. Eating too much. Totally forgotten nights at New Year's because of way to much drink?
It's all just a jumble of old traditions - mistletoe and mince pies, Santa and carols. The 'religious' bits are unnecessary - irrelevant really. Family and friends and "happy" moments - that's what it's actually all about.
The contemporary Christmas certainly wants to substantiate a new myth - that Christianity's 'idea' of us being visited by God Himself was some kind of much later invention - Jesus really wasn't important in that way - just a nice guy to think about now and then, a little like father Christmas!
It's a lie that is quickly (and rightly) binned in a few moments.
A century before the nativity, the Jewish scholar Philo wrote the above words, echoing something which had been recognized in Judaism from the days of Moses and earlier - the issue of the 'mystery' of the persons of Elohim (the Lord God), touched upon so clearly in the passages of the Old Testament (Isaiah 44:6).
Within the very first days of the church beginning to proclaim Jesus as Lord (supreme authority), it was clear that such statements and hymns spoke of such Lordship being expressed in Christ's life, death and resurrection (Philippians 2:5-11) and that this therefore became the source of our understanding of the nearness and purpose of God - to draw close to us that we might touch and see His goodness and intent; to rescue us from darkness by His love.
The very 'Word', which both Paul and Philo remind us holds all things together to do the Father's will, came amongst us - that is the intent of the season, to reflect upon how the one who perfectly reflects and conveys the astonishing fellowship and nature of God came to us, lost souls that we are, that we might touch, might see the reality of God's love.
History and revelation bear witness to this truly supernatural fact - a truth which should season our days here with a sense of what, thankfully, truly resides beyond the often pantomime-like 'festivities' that parade as Christmas.
"God of God, Light of Light, Lo He abhors not the Virgin's womb,
Very God, begotten not created,
Oh come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord".
Monday, 1 December 2008
let us lay aside every hindrance - the sins which like heavy garments, cling to us,
so we can run, free and well, on the course before us,
looking to Jesus, the originator and the finisher of our faith,
who, for the joy which was set before Him, endured the cross".
Hebrews 12:1 & 2.
Life - it's both amazing and terrifying.
In a few hours, you can read of some amazing discovery, and some dreadful deed, almost on a daily basis. Our reality is literally staggering.
Sometimes we can get pretty overwhelmed by the trail of such an existence. Life can certainly be hard when the trials become something that directly impact upon us, leaving us wondering if there is really any purpose or design in a world where you can literally be joyful one moment and in misery the next.
In the night before His death, Jesus sought to show and teach His disciples that even in the midst of such moments, life does have eternal significance; that beyond our few frail moments here and now, there is something far more substantial coming, and that sharing life together in the reality of that hope helps us to prepare for what is to come.
Like the runner engaged in preparing to get ready for the big event, there are going to be many moments when the pain and trails seem overwhelming, but the trails which engulf us are not the conclusion to this moment - there is one who stands with us, one who liberates us from the shackles of our own decay, who makes running this race to the end possible!
Jesus Christ went to the cross because He foresaw the prize which was ahead - and that 'seeing' had begun in the very first moments, when Father, Son and Spirit determined to fashion the heavens and the earth.
"Creation anticipates a telos...The God who freely, graciously and powerfully rules has a goal - the new creation, in His Son, Jesus Christ (Galatians 6:15). Even though we await the full revelation of the new, God assures us of His covenant care for all of creation in general and His children in particular" (Willem Van Gemeren - The Progress of Redemption).
There will be an terminus to the alienation we know, and that day will see something truly marvelous - the creation heavy with the glory of God, woven with the fragrance of His redemption.
We can run, like the unclad athletes of old, not because of our capacity, but because He runs with us, He has claimed the prize, and He will herald the day when it is shared with those that He has so graciously and mercifully set free.
What a day is coming!
Saturday, 29 November 2008
J R R Tolkein
In art and life, noted C S Lewis, we are always trying to glean from successive moments something beyond those moments. Children who relish the opportunity to hear a story over and over again understand this, that it is the 'quality' of something unexpected, not the fact of it, which truly delights us. Like Tom hearing the clock strike thirteen (Tom's midnight garden), we know that such a point opens a window to something astonishing, something which deeply resonates with our 'sense of wonder' and meaning with regards to existence.
This week saw the release of some research into our reality that takes us 'beyond the moment'.
Andrew Sibley at the Uncommon Descent blog reports:
Researchers from Oxford’s Centre for Anthropology and Mind have found evidence that children are predisposed to believe in God or a supreme being. This is because of a natural assumption that everything in the world exists for a purpose and was therefore created.
Dr Justin Barrett was reported in the UKs Daily Telegraph as saying that young children appear to have an inherent faith even when it has not been taught to them by family or school. Even children raised on a desert island without any external influence would start out with a belief in God.
Commenting on the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he said“The preponderance of scientific evidence for the past 10 years or so has shown that a lot more seems to be built into the natural development of children’s minds than we once thought, including a predisposition to see the natural world as designed and purposeful and that some kind of intelligent being is behind that purpose…if we threw a handful on an island and they raised themselves I think they would believe in God.”
We have lived through a time when there has indeed been much "surprise" - where the developing image of our universe is not of a place which chaos and chance have thrown together to remain remote and transient, where life is a mere spark that will simply die. Life, in all it's balance and complexity, is here by design - and it is the quality of this truth which urges us to return to the true source of life and wisdom, the one Paul describes as 'made plain' by what we know and understand (Romans 1).
Christmas is a time which invites us, like the children in a nativity play, to learn still more about the 'quality' of such a surprise - that the very wisdom and nature of God is not merely something remotely observed in our studies via microscope or telescope, or even something we all deeply recognize for our earliest days - it is a reality that was 'made flesh' amongst us in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The great 'story' that we are all a part of, is imbued with a marvelous reality - there is a conclusion to this saga that brings eternal purpose, if we but open our eyes and like a child, step into a deeper world.
Sunday, 23 November 2008
We don't just have a body - we are bodily....
The good news is that, in spite of death, the body will be re-united in all its goodness and splendor one day...
Sexual organs, which God created and clearly included in His pronouncement "Good", we now refer to as 'naughty' (or worse)".
Sometimes, you read something, like the above, which makes you want to shout "YES!" with your whole being, and sometimes, you read something which hits you right between the eyes, and makes you realize just how impoverished we can make ourselves when we miss 'joining the dots' to unpack the true ramifications of our redemption. Today was certainly a latter encounter.
For several years, I've been receiving and on occasion writing for the excellent Fig Leaf Forum - a regular newsletter for Christian Naturist's. Now I know that the practice itself raises eyebrows amongst many (those who want to know more as to why it shouldn't , please get in touch), but the inherent and underlying supposition of the practice regarding the nature of the body is something ALL Christians need to understand, which brings me back to today.
This month's forum contained an article on the issue of the nature of shame, especially body shame, and how we as believers can so easily miss the necessary understanding of this and end up in a cul-de-sac of mistaken identity - where we have ill-defined what modesty and piety are and thereby totally missed the inherent nature of godliness.
The piece makes you look forward - to the bodily life that is coming - so that we can properly evaluate where we are right now, and what actually occurred in the fall. It's when we make this study that we are so pointedly reminded that shame (something we've all known) is a consequence of sin (severance from the genuine reality of Creation, both in the Beginning and in the coming renewal).
Now, it's imperative we understand this, because it's so easy to confuse shame with modesty, and then become a casualty of a mis-placed 'holiness' - outward dos and don'ts we believe are correct, but are seriously flawed.
When we look at the Biblical perspective, we see that humanity, male and female, naked and unashamed, is the definition of what is 'very good', but, we continue, those days are gone, so we reason, fallen beings that we are, clothing has become a kind of moral duty - a 'protection' against giving way to evil.
Whilst a considered reading of Genesis 3 itself should give us serious doubts about that understanding (and raise other questions - what 'nakedness' is in focus here?), this really doesn't sit too well with how the body is understood in the New Testament itself, or the nature of the resurrection hope which Paul unpacks in Romans and Corinthians (another great area to study).
What this really shows is that the Fall has entirely broken what was meant (and will be) our natural relationship to the created order, to one another and to the physical body, but that this is what has been redeemed and will be made evident in the approaching 'glorifying' (re-instating of proper significance) of God's handiwork. It also shows us that we can allow badly informed piety to become our schoolmaster with regards to our bodies, fueling a distaste for God's gifts which mars and demeans what we should truly honor.
What struck me was just how crucial such insights have to be when we begin to look at the practical aspects of Christian living. Paul speaks of us giving our bodies as a 'living sacrifice to God' - you actually cannot do that if you hate the physical, the sexual, the natural part of what you are. God is calling for us to show Christ through these very means - in the manner in which we share God's life and love to the world around us. "Denying ourselves" in the sense of cutting ourselves off from the life we are rooted in removes the very means whereby God wants this current world to be 'savored' with the richness of Christ and His redeeming work.
There's a great deal to unpack here, and all I've done so far on this is really get my toes wet.
What comes to mind when you begin to consider how we may have mis-placed godliness?
Sunday, 16 November 2008
The disciplined search for truth which we call science, therefore, is not the natural foe of such faith, and to see it as such is to commit a serious injury to those historical forces which have produced Western civilization". Dr Allan Chapman.
Something is finally dawning in some quarters of our culture regarding the bareness of atheistic secularism, particularly with regard to its caricature of the significance of Christianity.
Today, a review was published in a popular paper here of a new television drama, some seven years in the making, to be aired this week, which seeks to challenge our incorrect assumptions on the Purtian period in England, which actually marked the beginnings of enriching society in ways we would all value as good.
"The Puritan conviction", writes Lucy Powell, "was that beauty was God-given, not man made. This meant that women could loosen the punishing pinch of fashionable, tight-wasted bodices, ditch the cumbersome hoops and bustles in their skirts, and forgo the established practice of dropping arsenic into their eyes to make them wide. They also stopped dousing their faces with acid to make them white and wrinkle-free... the period saw a radical shift in the idea of what the role of a woman would be".
The first real 'sexual revolution' occurred at this time. Puritan Men and women were able to 'socialize' in a manner which shocked at the time, and within marriage, the Puritans also encouraged sexual pleasure and satisfaction for both men and women as an inherent part of love making. Far from being the dismal characters we think them to be, they merely sought to show that all of life is best within its proper context, and key to this was an understanding of the relationship of the created order to its Creator.
Modern history is replete with examples of this 'savoring' of our world by Christianity. From the abolition of slavery, to the beginning of trade unions and social welfare, from the rich development of our language, to the origins of the first modern schools of learning for science and the arts, all stems from this same weaving of life and faith.
Is it then, perhaps any wonder, that in a time when there has been very active attempts to dis-engage such association and dismiss these connections that our culture has become more fractured and dis-membered and life has become more demeaned?
Jesus told His disciples that they would become 'salt and light' in this world, and history shows us the reality of what transpires when His body enriches the days and times around them.
Rather than becoming removed from these days, let's seek to do our best to value and season the lives of people and the opportunities we are given with the meaning of all those good things which come down to us from our Father, through His redemption, made ours in Christ.
Saturday, 8 November 2008
Historian John Roberts.
"And I will bring division between you - between your offspring and hers". Genesis 3:15
I was fascinated to read these remarks this week by Dave Scott on the Uncommon Descent website:
"Environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice for (the modern world). Why do I say it’s a religion? Well, just look at the beliefs. If you look carefully, you see that environmentalism is in fact a perfect 21st century remapping of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and myths.
There’s an initial Eden, a paradise, a state of grace and unity with nature, there’s a fall from grace into a state of pollution as a result of eating from the tree of knowledge, and as a result of our actions there is a judgment day coming for us all. We are all energy sinners, doomed to die, unless we seek salvation, which is now called sustainability. Sustainability is salvation in the church of the environment. Just as organic food is its communion, that pesticide-free wafer that the right people with the right beliefs, imbibe.Eden, the fall of man, the loss of grace, the coming doomsday—these are deeply held (mythic) structures. They are profoundly conservative belief".
We live an in a day which seeks to define itself as inherently pluralistic, where 'spirituality' is either deemed as inherently viewed as an evolutionary miss-demeanor, or essentially practiced as nothing beyond a dualistic 'merging', amidst the illusion of the material, into the ultimate state of non-existence. Within such a context, it is fascinating to see what Mr Scott has touched upon, that the almost gravity-like pull of the Biblical message of Creation, Fall and Redemption cannot actually be exorcised from our lives - it has to be re-defined, made manageable and, of greatest import, achievable by the 'natural' human community - able, it is said, to achieve this goal through its own common will.
In the 15th century, prior to any contact with the West, the Incan king, Pachacuti, builder of the famous city of Machu Picchu, renounced his culture's worship of the sun god, Inti, and for good reason. He understood that the sun was merely part of the physical order, which like himself, was bound to the realities of that realm. In a hymn composed by the king, he renews the almost extinct memory of Viracocha, the omnipotent creator of all things. "He is ancient, remote, supreme and uncreated", noted the king, "He manifests Himself as a trinity when He so wishes. He created all the peoples of the world by His word. He alone is our origin, ordaining our years and causing us to be sustained and grow through the gifts of His creation.He has pity upon our wretchedness and alone judges and absolves us. He should be revered with awe and humility".
We recognize our need for the very 'pattern' which scripture conveys, but like the fallen of Eden, we quickly seek to re-define such matters via the fig-leaves of our terms, our misguided understanding. Only those, like Pachacuti, who stand before the naked truth of our reality can hope to gain true wealth and wisdom - we are either made by one who has marked us with destiny, or we and all we inhabit are inherently irrelevant. These are essentially the only two players in the room. The age-long truth, so mirrored in the aspiration of eternity in our hearts, is that there is indeed one in whom we live and move and have our being, and though He is far above and beyond our most determined means to ignorantly define, He has made Himself known through the coming of the Word.
Friday, 31 October 2008
“For nearly half a century, the church was split into two or three obediences that ex-communicated one another, so that every catholic lived under ex-communication by one pope or another and in the last analysis, no one could say with certainty which one had right on his side. The church no longer offered certainty of salvation. She had become questionable in her whole objective form. The true church, the true pledge of salvation HAD TO BE SOUGHT OUTSIDE the institution.
It is against this back-drop of a profoundly shaken ecclesiastical consciousness that we are to understand that Luther, in the conflict between his search for salvation and the tradition of the church ultimately came to experience the church not as the guarantor but as the adversary of salvation”.
Historical assessment of the reason for the reformation by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger
(now Pope Benedict XVI).
It's something the media age has made us live with - national and international convulsions of crisis and upheaval which seem immediate, if mostly conveyed in a detached, almost remote fashion, where we can sit and watch but feel disconnected. It can even occur regarding things that are literally happening under our noses.
Yesterday, I watched with disbelief as a small town around an hour's drive from my home was bombarded with a month's rain in under two hours, a foot of hail and ice, and lightning that sheeted the night sky so long that people there thought the end of the world had arrived... Meanwhile, most of us in the same county slept quietly in our beds, unaware of what had occurred in our backyard until the news reports the next morning.
It is the strangest thing to visit a place where some great event has occurred. In the last decade, I recall walking through a forest the morning after a great storm - the strongest of its kind, they believe, in over a thousand years. Great old trees had been uprooted and tossed around like kindling, famous landscape markers had vanished overnight and the whole place smelt of the sap of a broken, torn place.
There are moments when such a conflagration is not only necessary, but demanded amongst the Christian church; a 'breaking' of bones in order that they may be re-set and bound to heal and grow well. The events in medieval Europe, from the preaching and ministry of John Wycliffe and the Lollards, through the sacrifice of Jon Hus, to the protest against indulgences by the Augustinian, Martin Luther, were the birth bangs of the long and hard work of seeking to bruise in order to mend, that those of us living may genuinely be exposed to the radiance of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and be made free by this alone.
The struggle has not changed. The church still creaks and teeters, as it so often seems overloaded by those who teach another Jesus, another 'gospel', but some 500 years on from that morning in Wittenburg, when Luther took the bold step of expressing concerns due to his conviction that Apostolic truth was at stake, there are still voices who wish to affirm the message of the New Testament - the just shall live by faith alone - that we may truly do each other good.
On this day, when our world dallies with fear, superstition and the eve of another year, let us look towards a greater truth, a greater day, when the healing of Christ through the good news heralds the renewal of the Lord's good handiwork....
From earth's wide bounds,
from oceans farthest coast, through gates of pearl stream in the countless host,
singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost, Alleluia, Alleluia.
Hymn: For All the Saints by Vaughn Williams.
Monday, 20 October 2008
in this way, in short, He formed all things that were made by His Word that never wearies".
I've carried it around for most of my adult life - a little green card that says I'm disabled. Most of the time, I forget about it, and most of the people I meet everyday probably never see me that way, but in my case it's something that's been true since birth, and there are mornings where I really know it's true.
It's like that in all kinds of ways in life - we suddenly find ourselves facing a trail or a circumstance which leaves us way out of our depth, but what do we do in that moment?
Sometimes, we can see things coming. I can recall my visit to America in 2005, and the friend I was staying with telling me in no uncertain terms that the growing 'sub prime fiasco' was going to wreak havoc on the global economy.
Occasionally, perhaps because of hindsight from another event, we correctly read part of what's shaping up and can thereby anticipate what's required next. A good sailor, I'm told, can tell in many cases what the wind is probably going to do, and what that means for the day at sea.
It's useful to be a good judge of such things, but however good a prospector we may be, life will always have something up ahead that catches us out - because of who and what we are.
The tendency of human nature is to put everything into a box - a scheme entitled 'modernism' or 'secularism' or a plethora of others; whatever 'suit' we think will fit the moment, but at the end of the day, our Politically Correct 'dress codes' will leave us bare before the harsh realities we all face, for they contain no remedy.
Nearly 2,000 years ago, as Christianity wrangled with the belief that the physical was irrelevant, Irenaeus sought to guide our view beyond such trends to a touchstone that will leave us awe-struck when truly realized.
Beyond the meager limitations of our defining, our scheming, our oh so real frustrations, there is the revelation of the Word (John 1:1).
It's really worth doing sometime - sit down with your study guides and begin unpack what this definition of the character and nature of God is seeking to express to us - it's astonishing.
Of course the amazement does not end there - this Word was made flesh, and because of this, the 'stuff' we inhabit and are made of will not be forever bound to futility and frustration, but will be liberated from such misery and decay.
It certainly gets harder to do things as we get older (except have a good moan, perhaps!), but the truly good news is that there is genuine hope for our poor race and this maligned world we inhabit.
It may be hard to start tomorrow, but it may help to see each day as a moment heralding that great redemption - an opportunity for us to truly see, to taste, to know, the glory of the one revealed as the Word.
Saturday, 11 October 2008
"Be on your guard against the ferment, the teaching, of these men".
Last month, new evidence was released that a certain chemical used in common plastic items, including water bottles, can under certain conditions leach into the contents of the plastic container and end up within our bodies, causing a much higher likelihood of heart problems or cancer.
The very items we use everyday to help us keep healthy could in fact be responsible for major health problems and deaths, all because there is a fault with the container the 'healthy' product is provided in.
The same is so abundantly true regarding the very nature of the Christian church.
Why is it that the essential message of fundamental freedom (the redemption in Christ that once again allows us to love God and each other) is so buried beneath an unbearable weight of provisos and conditions which are strenuously advocated amongst the various 'traditions' (ancient or modern) in the majority of variations in Christendom? Why would an Apostle like Paul once again find himself standing almost alone if here today because of his bold and clear affirmation not only of the Gospel itself, but of the ramifications regarding Christian liberty, now so rigorously deemed 'outside' the remit of 'piety' assumed and shored-up within the niche of most churches?
The answer is because we have so often been told to avoid the plain statements of Christ and His Apostles and to place confidence in the leaching of folly into the instruction of leaders and institutions - poison which makes us numbed and dulled to the real power and nature of the vital Christian life.
Dualistic and Gnostic 'purity' has murdered our faith for centuries, and it must be denounced as the dark mesmerism which defrauds so many into swallowing whole a mime, a hideous and hollow imitation of a faith which wishes to drive deep into our flesh, our deeds, in a fashion that reveals mere external 'display' as a toxic, malevolent mantle.
The requirement of our generation, as we fast approach another anniversary of Luther's issuing of a thesis toward liberty, is to recognize the true responsibility of Christian discipleship, to stand sure in the freedom we have, and to teach and live from within that freedom, never again giving ourselves to the horror of dead religion.
Monday, 6 October 2008
"Prove all things and hold fast to those things which are good'. The Apostle Paul.
Isn't interesting how easily we can simplify and thereby totally empty things of their actual value?
I received the framework for my third year of studies in Photography today, and was quickly plunged in to considering the likes of Colour Formalism, New Realism, Gestalt Laws and their bearing on photographic composition, intent and balance. It was pretty heady stuff to start the day, so after lunch, I thought I'd do a search under 'Christian Photography' and see if I could find a few on-line spots where others of like faith may be seeking to engage in the realm and looking for mutual support....
Now, I have no particular liking for beer, but those who do would tell you just how plain dreadful it is when someone seeks to give you something other than the genuine article.
The point? Well, just what is the point of having 'christian' sites for 'nice' (inoffensive) photographic images (which appeared by the page load on my search)?
Well, some might say, our faith shouldn't contain anything 'unclean' - no violence, no profanity and absolutely no nudity, so that's the guidelines for 'Christian' things - art, photography, whatever.
In the early 16th century, German artist Matthias Grünewald brought comfort to those dying of leprosy with the production of his altarpiece depicting the crucifixion of Christ. The art is stark and uncompromising - an acute, furious expression of the agony of death, the debasing of a man by such cruel execution, the plain exposition of the naked death of the Son of God. The work achieves it's goal - to show the one who has so totally identified with our pain, our reality, and it is because of this that the image on the other side of the panel - that of a Jesus, bodily whole and resurrected- resonates so deeply with regards as to the essential nature of our faith in God's sure and certain promise - though this body is destroyed, yet in my flesh, I shall see God.
In the early 1990's, I found myself staggered when many local Christians I knew were vocally informing myself and others that we should not watch or encourage others to see the masterful Stephen Spielberg film, Schindler's List. What staggered me was that the reason for this boycott had nothing to do with the entirely legitimate theme of the movie - of redemption amidst a world gone mad - but simply because the work contained 'nudity'.
There is nothing more terrible than when we deny what we have been called to express.
Christianity is not against exposing the horror and darkness of what is here and why it exists. It is equally not anti the marvels and glories of natural human life - these are, in fact, the very aspects that are so inherent to God's work of redemption. What we hate is the lie that things are right and good without the life and breath of God. That is the murder which transpired in Eden.
Sin is that rotten, wasteful thing 'which prostitutes and wrecks that which should be fresh and full of life, generating a God-ignoring barrenness' (Calvin Seerveld).
There is, of course, nothing wrong with Christians sharing normal life together - that should be encouraged, and we certainly need to avoid union to any evil which undermines the truth of the Gospel, but that life should be in the world, in the arts, in the very fibre of society and culture, not so 'soft-centered' and besieged that the life we know is 'pure' to the point of dualistic detachment.
I did finally find a page where something more edifying was going on:
But it took a while....
I wonder if others on this course, especially those without faith, would have been as persistent, or able to understand....
Tuesday, 30 September 2008
Monday, 29 September 2008
I'm pulled down by the undertow, I never thought I could feel so low,
In all the darkness, I feel like letting go". Sarah Mc Lachlan
We can have it all. Money, property, health, great vacations, everything the good life can provide,
and yet, we can be as empty inside as a vast, bare cathedral, where the only interruption is the noise of our own frantic thoughts as we rush to 'keep up' in the hollow thing we have foolishly tagged as 'life'.
It's no doubt unusual in this busy world - to stop and look upon this reality, but I often feel these days that this is a truth which haunts us just beneath the surface of our creaking planet.
So many live so frantically, because just below that veneer, where you can almost taste fear, they live so totally and entirely....alone.
In the days prior to our fall into this misery, something of the tragedy of this estate was, no doubt intentionally, touched upon in those earliest moments in Eden.
There, as the creative deeds of the Lord come to a crescendo, when all the 'furnishings' are in place and man is brought forth to focus the new order upon its maker- the universe, finely prepared to allow an expression of God's majesty and care, it is then found to be short of what is crucially needed to make it truly good.
Man simply cannot live alone amidst such a realm. To be truly whole and fulfilled, there must be another which is truly part of him, part of the world and also uniquely themselves as well.
The making of Eve brings about not only a physical completion to the life of the created order, it teaches us that our lives can only truly be 'complete' when they are part of something more than just ourselves.
Our actions, cares, passions and desires only become inherently enriched and vital when we see how they 'clothe' the life of those we care about, granting them the ability to flourish and know a measure of some degree of mending in parts of their time here.
Having lost many who are close to me, I still find that this 'work', this giving to bring a deeper beauty or joy, is one of the richest things we can do with our days here, and this is indeed the 'pattern' to which we have been called - to give that there may indeed be something deeper and truly enduring.
The poison of the fall from the garden means we all know the cold of loneliness. In a world where we have become so deeply severed from all that we were meant to be, where death and pain mark and shadow every waking moment, it could not be otherwise,
but as a song I once heard stated, 'He has hallowed this path of sorrow' - Christ has taken the very horror of our existence and made it the means of His victory, His giving of the life of God back to His fallen children. As we can know love, can share love, life and death can now become defined by something far deeper than our oh so real pain and sorrow.
The call though the 'valley' we walk is one to a table, richly furnished by grace, where our heads are anointed as welcomed children, where a sure and certain promise hurries us into His eternal goodness, His redeeming work towards us forever, and there is the refuge, the true haven, for all who are alone.
Jesus Christ, the one who brakes the power of our alienation, will be with us forever,
and in Him, all things are made new.
Friday, 12 September 2008
If this is so, then all our thought processes are no more than the by product of the accidental movements of atoms...but if our thoughts are truly no more than this, why should believe them to be true? I see no reason why that one accident should be able to lead to a correct and understandable account of all further events". C S Lewis - God in the Dock.
Every once and a while, a chink appears in the 'hideous strength' that presents itself so pervasively as the incontrovertible philosophical edifice that is naturalistic scientism, the assumption that is vital to the manner of atheism strenuously confessed by certain Darwinists at present.
Just such a crack was expressed on The Humanist web page this week by Agnostic and Sociologist Steve Fuller, as a response to a pathetic review of his book, Dissent over Descent, which examines the validity of the challenge of Intelligent Design to the status quo.
You can read Mr Fuller's response for yourself here:
It really points to the fact that the issues and questions raised by our very existence are still far from being answered, and that the nature of Christianity's answer - that life here is far from an accident - cannot be ignored and must not be suppressed.
Tuesday, 9 September 2008
We will understand that genius lies in seeing 'the general in the particular' and learn 'to see the world in a grain of sand and heaven in the wild flower' . Brand & Chaplin - Art & Soul.
It's something you seem to do more as you get older (or, at least become more aware of yourself doing it..!): musing on the nature, the value and the interplay of things which surround us and which so perfectly weave into the fabric of our lives.
During the almost unceasing gray that proved to be our summer this year, there was a single day where I found myself having the opportunity to facilitate a shoot for another photographer on a beach where my late wife and I shared many rich times.
The day arrived, and whilst the shoot progressed further down the shore, I took the opportunity to relish a day of bright skies in oh so familiar and friendly surroundings. It genuinely felt, as I clambered, swam and played, that I had come home, that friends I had taken there, and Kay herself, would appear at any moment and we'd have a picnic on the beach.
That, in essence, is what inherently defines our creation - a richness of life that delights God and thereby saturates a moment with significance.
That is why all the alternative definitions of who and what we are cannot satisfy.
They are essentially devoid of what really counts - an everlasting reality where life is infused with a deep and satisfying richness and significance that never fades, never falters, never ends.
Everything which surrounds us contains within it a reality, however currently tainted by human folly, that 'hints' and glints, like some flash into something astonishing in a fairy tale, that life here is good - very good, and that if we listen hard enough, we can catch a few notes of the song which tells us the day is not far off when that truth will pervade all of creation...
"We want", noted Lewis, "something else which can hardly put into words - to truly be united to the beauty we can see... to bathe in it...Someday, we will put on that glory of which nature as now seen is but the first sketch".
That, as echoed in that first day of refreshment at the end of the creation week, is exactly what will be elemental to a realm which will glorify God forever - the hope now ours, in Jesus Christ.
Sunday, 31 August 2008
It's a truly marvelous situation - to be using creativity and skill to create something (in my case, images) that causes some people to pause, and it's even better when it provides an opportunity to discuss who and what we are.
Last weekend, I spent about four hours having a deep conversation with one of my muses and her boyfriend about the significance of Christianity. It always fascinates me how the same ol' excuses are arranged front and centre to seek to mitigate (dodge the bullet) of the message of the gospel...
'we're all 'divine' (part of god) and are more spirit than body'
'we all have a will to determine where we go'
'we're all capable of being good if we so choose'.
It's at moments like this you realize just how essential Jesus' teaching about what we really are is - how the Law needs to break such hard soil and convict us and then how the sole authority of Jesus needs to be recognized as THE Lord and Saviour.
It was a truly meaningful discussion, with my muse confessing, 'to really be different and to know the truth, we need a miracle'.
The miracle is that the same power which sustains every particle of this universe everyday, that gives us sunlight and rainfall, that can bring life to those who are dead - the same power that spoke creation into being, can speak into our lives and make them new.
Please pray that such a miracle comes to those we have the privilege of breaking and sharing the word of life with, and that we as children of grace can expel the canker of duality from our lives so that rather than impoverish this world, we can richly define God's true glory amidst the world He loves, that many may come, may taste and see.
Wednesday, 20 August 2008
my understanding is sometimes sharp, my will, at the same moment, perverted.
There, I shall be all light, no shadow,
my soul invested in the light of true Joy,
and my body, in the light of glory".
How often in life the deepest treasures emerge from pain or darkness.
I was reading a novel which made reference to an astonishing fact. In recent times, it has been discovered that babies which have been born prematurely can be encouraged to begin to suckle - so they can feed - by listening to the melody of music. Apparently, it has been discovered that the human brain is more 'hot wired' to appreciate such sounds than even to engage something as essential as using our mouths to keep us alive: the necessity to enjoy beauty runs that deep.
John Donne was once a womanizer and writer of some of the most sexual verse of his age, but everything changed for him on the day he fell in love with a young woman so bright and sharp that she reminded him of sunlight. His life would become a record of trial and despair, and yet, as the great plague demolished London, he himself survived a fever to become a beacon concerning the realities of death and the weight of glory found in the sure promises of God.
Amidst a people crying in pain, he was able to express in sermon and verse a truth that richly fed the deepest need.
In an age most certainly poxed with all manner of 'certainties' which offer no actual satisfaction of our deepest need - to identify where we come from and where life leads - the music that can allow us to be nurtured by grace is certainly what we need to hear.
Tuesday, 5 August 2008
The first Epistle of John.
How has the summer been where you are?
Have you had plenty of days where you have got out and about, enjoying the blues, the greens, the sounds and the 'vibe' that is meant to characterize this time of year?
Well, those of us here in the UK can tell you that this year - like last year - we can count the number of such days in 2008 on one hand. Every day, the forecast has been virtually the same for months -
gray, cloudy, windy and very wet, with very little sign of change. The results are pretty miserable.
I was doing a review of my recent work over the weekend, and realized that nearly 90% of my photography this year has had to be done indoors, all due to the weather.
When you have lived under such a blanket of gray for that long, it's amazing to see what occurs when the sun finally does come out...people quite literally change!
Faces are filled with smiles, beaches and parks become filled with joyful sounds, everyone feels so much better. We are born to be children of the light.
This reality is most certainly a reflection of our spiritual need.
There is a 'light' of truth, which, when it radiates our souls, means that we escape the misery of a world without warmth and vitality. The light we all need is this:
"Now, the righteousness of God is revealed, apart from the slavery of the law,
although the law and the prophets testify of this truth...
that the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ is come to all who believe.
We have all sinned and fallen short of God's meaning and significance,
but we can be declared not guilty because of this gift, because Jesus Christ has redeemed us.
God gave Him to bring about this reconciliation through the shedding of His blood - thus, this gift can be received by faith". (Romans 3:21-25).
Today,we can walk out from the gray and the misery into this unbroken sunlight - peace with God, joy in life and fellowship with each other.
That should make us genuinely healthy people...
Sunday, 3 August 2008
The resurrection is the event which renews the whole of life, here, amidst creation.
It means we are called as people to give up ourselves fully to the whole of life without any reservation". Jurgen Moltmann: The Coming of God.
It's as old as humanity -
whenever we speak of grace, sensuality, fertility, symmetry, elegance and natural beauty, whether it's in terms on the natural world, or several man-made creations, we almost always quite naturally speak of these things as 'she'. The testimony of scripture is no different. Wisdom is depicted by Solomon as the virtuous woman who feeds us well as opposed to the seductress who entices us into an alien and demeaning life (Proverbs 9) and the communities of Israel and the church are also equally described so. In the book of Ezekiel, for example, the people of God are defined as a woman, who from birth, is nurtured and loved by God, the naturalness of her form adorned and lavished, her every need being met (16:6-14).
This inherent connection between natural elegance and the feminine in terms of Biblical revelation clearly stems from the creation of Eve in Eden, the 'mother of all living' (Genesis 3:20).
It is only when we step away from this 'inherently good' design to 'life' defined by the present, fallen world, that we see that purpose demeaned and destroyed.
Whilst the pagan world of the Greeks and other ancient cultures seemed to venerate the feminine into divinity, it was at a dreadful cost. Women, as Plato viewed it, were 'mutilated males' who did not possess souls - the epitome of imperfection. This, of course, has to be the case amidst a culture where the very nature of humanity - engendered, sexual creatures, which are bound to a physical existence - was seen as no more than prison to escape through 'Gnosis' (mystical wisdom) and death.
We can, no doubt, make some measure of excuse for people who had yet to hear the richness and fullness of the message of redemption found in the 'grace and truth' made evident by God in the Incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ, but what excuse do we have in the
church of the 21st century? Why, so often, do we so quickly and easily lean much more towards the de-personalising approach and dictates of the 'wisdom' which so troubled the early church of the Colossians than the natural delight and veneration of our creational humanity alluded to so richly in places like the Song of Songs?
The Greeks and others 'religious-ized' the natural to try and escape its immediacy - it's potent 'shout' of the fact that all of human life - male and female, 'naked and unashamed', speaks of the image of God, not the severed version they could conveniently display in their temples. The grace bestowed upon us should allow us to express a reality which weaves the life and gifts which spring 'from every tribe and people, and every nation under heaven', but the creative richness which God wishes us to use well is often muted and directed to be monotone when it comes to our 'religious' activities and relationships.
This must not be so!
The early church was plagued by all manner of issues and troubles, but it was a living community of the saints, and we are called to be the same - a body which makes the world spin as it views the astonishing and marvelous triumph of grace abounding amidst those once in darkness, now dancing in the light.
Friday, 1 August 2008
It takes a few moments to get started, but when people ask me to summarize the 'joy in believing' which by Grace was conveyed in the Gospel to me some 30 plus years ago, here's a simple yet profound way to express this wonderful gift...
Saturday, 26 July 2008
Amidst a pleasant amble through the woods today, I sat and had lunch by a group of small drops in a stream, where the waters cascaded almost musically in the sunlight. It's a favourite spot -somewhere I've visited numerous times the last few years in both walks and as a back-drop for some of my photography.
As I sat there, chewing on my pastie, I noticed how the sunlight clearly showed a contrast between the parts of the stones above the water and those beneath the flowing current.
The area of the stones not affected by the water were, well, filthy - covered in earth and moss, clearly being overgrown by all their environment literally 'threw' upon them, but the area of the same stones below the water was a different story entirely. The brilliant light showed that these areas had not only been cleaned of all such debris, but 'polished' to expose a lush red colour - the natural state of the stone, glistening in the water. The difference was so striking, it reminded me of something a friend had once told me - of some large rocks on a beach that were infused with iron. When water had been applied to these rocks in bad weather, the iron leached out, changing the colour of the gray stone itself and the pools of water beneath it.
Both of these spoke to me of the essence of Christian spirituality.
We are gray stones, either washed up or covered in the mire of the present life, but the 'alien' nature of Christ's imparted life, working within us and around us, changes all of this, making us become those who realize that it's only the presence of such a life that can make us more than plain stones - it is that life that makes us 'natural' - human once again, and thereby able to genuinely show care for others and even for ourselves.
A little later in my walk, as I sat, a little like Jonah, under a shady tree, I pondered how we might live in a manner that truly worships God. It is so easy to be religious, and thereby to completely miss what is really necessary. It is only when we recognize that God is present amidst it all, our best and worse, when we think we achieve and when we know we fail - in everything, Christ can be shown to be what defines reality, and that is imperative if those we love, those God grants us to know, are to see a reality that is entirely meaningful in life.
A 'living stone' certainly does not gather moss, but radiates a life that makes it more than it ever could be if it merely remained...gray.
Tuesday, 15 July 2008
Faith and Reason - Barry Arrington.
Last weekend, my Star Trek friends and I had a weekend together to celebrate the forthcoming wedding of one of our company (congratulations, Steve). Rather than the usual, best-forgotten events that usually occurs at such times, we decided to fill the weekend with fun but not OTT ventures and events, the highlights being:
Laser Quest (the five of us in an arena with 40 6-11 year olds!)
and a whole array of tasks for our friend to fulfill or gain forfeits if not completed to our satisfaction. It all proved to be great fun, and the merriment was recorded for posterity on video, so that selected moments could be edited and used by the best man at the forthcoming 'big day'.
I spent yesterday working my way through an hour's footage to create a two and a half minute 'taster' of the day, and I then found myself pondering our understanding of reality, as there are similarities.
When we read of the act of Creation in those six days of Genesis, we should find ourselves astonished. God brings His works into being in a manner that inherently contains maturity -
stars which immediately 'give light' to the earth, plants and trees which are fruit-bearing, and of course, man and woman, ready to truly become a reflection of 'Elohim' in their union.
As with the modern cosmologist or biologist, we are totally stumped to understand how this is possible. Like Job, we stand with our small frame of reference, our lack of understanding, and if we listen carefully, we hear the voice which says, 'were you there when I did these things?'
Genesis is actually our 'snapshot' of that profound moment, wrought in a depth and mystery that eternity alone will begin to unfold.
In like fashion, we can barely comprehend the enormity of those hours which follow the last supper to the resurrection morning. The Gospel writers provide us with insight into the unfolding events and the words of the Lord in this crucible, but it takes 'another angle', provided especially through Paul to really allow us to open up the astonishing treasures of this marvel of redemption.
In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul speaks of how Moses had to hide his face when he returned from speaking to God, but we come 'unveiled' before the glory (the significance) of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 3:12, 18). The 'rough guide' to Creation and Redemption provided by Scripture allows us to eagerly await the 'great day' which is coming, when the full ramifications of what has transpired will become as real - in truth, more real, than the joys and bonds of friendship we know and share in this present time.
Our delights now are but a glimpse of a joy beyond words, a significance which will resonate through every particle and every moment of a redeemed creation...
Friday, 11 July 2008
Gustav Wingren - Man & the Incarnation.
It was just like coming home.
The mellow, boisterous breeze played across my bared flesh as I listened to the gentle shifting of the sand grains beneath my toes. The sky, a painted blue streaked with strands of thin white of cirrus, presents itself like a bride before the expanding light and warmth of the sun. The lax wash of a mellow tide completes the rhapsody as my wife and I sit amidst it all to eat and drink, to ponder, to play - to enjoy the sheer sweetness of being alive in this astounding place.
If you have spent such a day amidst creation, (or perhaps watched the superb film, Shadowlands), then you'll no doubt know something of the marvel I'm describing. What we can so often neglect and even totally ignore is that this wonder is actually a crucial and inherent part of our spirituality.
In the record of Creation, we come to see two very important things:
1. The very nature of God's revelation of Himself, woven into the record of Genesis 1&2, is open and unconditional - He is the Sovereign and yet He is also amidst the forming of it all, taking of the very earth and investing this with His breath.
2. That we are made 'between' God and the world - invested with that breath but made of the soil, to express the significance of Father, Son and Spirit to all that is made.
This reveals something truly overwhelming. God's intention is for this revelation to be at the very heart of all that is natural - all of life.
Spirituality, therefore, is not something we 'do' only in devotions, or pious acts - it is inherent in our entire existence, and should be as natural as eating or breathing.
"As soon as we make the distinction between natural and supernatural the basis of our thinking", notes Wingren, "human and divine will sharply be divided".
The divide which now marks human life, caused by the fall, is inherently alien to creation.
The necessity is the manner of fellowship evident in God walking amidst our world, finding pleasure in all of it.
The wonder of Christianity is that this fellowship is now renewed in Christ. Through Him, this 'wells up' amidst His living body so that we might drink afresh by grace of that life.
That life, as Irenaeus noted, will one day wholly permeate the renewed creation, entirely penetrating the flesh, exorcising sin and death, to make us once more human.
In the sweetness of a breeze, the lapping of the sea and air, the brightness of a sky, we see a promise as sure as it was to Abraham and Noah, secured in Jesus Christ.
The day is coming when this place will once again, be home.
Monday, 30 June 2008
I, I live among the creatures of the night
I haven't got the will to try and fight
Against a new tomorrow, so I guess I'll just believe it
That tomorrow never knows
A safe night, I'm living in the forest of a dream
I know the night is not as it would seem
Self Control by Laura Brannigan.
It's hard to dance when the music is just torture -
a vicious, raping noise that won't allow you to cease from twisting in
contorted angst to its unceasing execution of the soul.
She sat beside the lakeside, her pale face
already flushed with the red of tears,
expressing the anguish of her generation -
a people broken by the poison of 'modern' life
- always frantic, always blurred, always bleeding.
The diary entry of many years ago is fresh in the mind...
'If I can love you, why can't I touch you?'
Her friend is close by, and speaks of her own current pain
- of men seeking to abuse her
- men she should be able to respect and trust.
It is the murder of our world - the killing of what God wishes us to be.
Children defined and oh so refined by grace,
by the care which would never extinguish the smallest glimmer of light.
God give us the grace, the compassion,
to seek to bind such wounds,
to begin to speak to sever the strings of such tyranny.
Love is not easy.
It calls us to to turn from the lie of insignificance
- to recognize the astonishing,precious value of another,
to encounter such a compassion
that it will mean a death to selfish aims and ambitions,
a tussle with reality that burns and breaks us,
dislocated from independence, needing to love more.
The world, as Larry Norman noted,
'continues to play in the only way it knows how'.
It needs to see something deeper, richer
- something which threatens, which speaks so deep,
that the whole of life can be made whole.
Wednesday, 25 June 2008
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack'd anything.
from the Poem, Love, by George Herbert.
Summer is here once more, and along with it comes, for me at least, several visits to the cinema.
I, like many of my friends, enjoy the whole experience of going out to view the latest blockbuster or thought-provoking movie.
This summer promises to be a bumper season, with the new Batman movie (The Dark Knight) and the return of the X Files just around the corner, as well as The Happening (now on release) and Quantum of Solace (007) to keep us happy, but the season commenced with the return of an old favourite in the guise of Harrison Ford once more donning the famous hat to reprise his role as Indiana Jones in the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls.
Now the critics have written at length on how you have to 'suspend belief' for this one, but what's the headline there? Indy films have always been about good fantasy romp, and this one certainly follows suit, but like the others, this one does actually seek to say something a little deeper beneath the wrapping (actually, the wrapping in this one is fun - watch out for the fridge scene in particular).
The story really is asking what makes us wealthy. 'Mac' (Ray Winstone) - Indy's duplicitous cockney side-kick, spends most of the film seeking to wheel and deal himself into gaining riches, and meets a fairly predictable end as a result. Irina Spalko, a Russian agent played by Cate Blanchett, seeks power from the extra-dimensional element of the story through knowledge, and suffers an Icarus-like consequence. Indy, our hero, re-discovers that real wealth lies in reunion with Marion Ravenwood (played once again by Karen Allen) and all the 'bumps and blessings' that brings to life. The film then, at least in that sense, is asking us what do we think matters the most?
I often find myself wondering these days how much 'value' there is in the things I do or say - how can you really decide if this or that is truly meaningful?
When we love someone, we seek to act toward them for the best, even if that means sacrifice or suffering (often for ourselves) to achieve that end. Christianity truly seeks to unveil and express the underlying reason why we find this so important to life - it is a reflection of the relationship of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
A real clue here is when we stop and think for a moment about beauty.
Umberto Eco noted that something which is beautiful is something 'which would make us happy if it were ours but remains beautiful even if belonging to someone else'. Something beautiful, then, is something which can be enjoyed purely for what it is; the balm of the last few hours of a summer's day, the calming sound of a stream, the form and grace in the line of the human frame. The mere fact we can encounter these things is its own reward.
In a similar fashion, when we invest worth into another, we do so because we see the beauty of doing something which is valuable beyond a merely transitory or superficial value - we give of ourselves because we understand that doing so will enrich another and thereby confirm, even enforce a beauty that we understand is meant to endure, even past the darkness of death.
To 'glorify' life in such a fashion resonates with the truth that such an exchange is a currency of eternal value.
Christianity is focused and fueled by the eternal relationship between Father, Son and Spirit, each divine person adoring, delighting and deferring to the others. It is this union and communion, this exquisite fellowship of true significance, that God desires through grace to become the hallmark woven into all of creation. That is the purpose behind His giving and our receiving of Jesus Christ - the breaking out of a peace infused with all the wealth of such an amazing imperative.
As we seek to look upon, point to and share the beauty, let us pray that the Father, Son and Spirit may cause many to taste of this, and thereby know the reality of the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.
Tuesday, 17 June 2008
Contrary to the legal view, the essence of sin is not primarily the violation of laws, but a wrecked relationship with God, one another and the whole created order'. B B Taylor.
Ever stop and wonder about what defines you as, well, you?
There's a verse in a Mary Chapin-Carpenter song, Almost Home, that I've often affirmed:
"Saw my life this morning, lying in the bottom of a drawer,
All this stuff I'm saving, God knows what this junk is for"
'Whatever I've believed in' , the verse continues, 'this is all I have to show,
what the hell were all the reasons, for holding on with such dear life?'
However we define 'us' - by work, by passions, by health, by what we own, we know, as Dorthy Sayers noted, there is a 'deep interior dislocation at the very centre of human personality' from all such definition, for our very nature speaks loud of our inherent imperfection but equally of our need to find a 'unity of substance both within and beyond ourselves...with that eternal perfection that would define us less hopeless and less irrational in our existence'.
It simply does not matter how charitable, how idealistic we become, we know that even our best and our highest will leave us unfulfilled if the 'gravitational pull' of self pulls us back to an orbit marked with the dislocation and futility we know so well.
The world in general offers no hope to this crisis. Ancient religion and modern science are uncommonly one in their description of a universe birthed in violence and chaos - only in Genesis do we see a different understanding; a God who literally 'earthen's' Himself to fashion and then animate the naked flesh of creatures adorned to bear His image amidst the Universe. In a realm defined by a maturity and wholesomeness we can barely imagine, we were free to delight in all the creational pleasures of an order untainted by our now dislocated attempts to own or hoard it - an earth in which all could be used well.
It is only when we begin to see the no doubt pale reflection of what we were, of what we have lost, that we can begin to understand why this present life, however high our status, will ultimately be unfulfilling. There is a necessity within us, notes C S Lewis, to 'burn' a particular 'fuel' - the life from God, and nothing else can replace that gift.
The 'giant thing' we are actually striving for is significance, not just in a moment or a for a few years, but in the longing that He has placed so deep it can never be denied - in the eternity that is coming. All our gifts, from the beauty of our physical form to our ability to fashion through science or music or architecture, point to a transcendence, a grace that over-arches and over rules the patterns of pain and misery which mar our present fleeting days here. The true focal point of the ages is the One, returned from death, who stands and declares that 'all authority in heaven and earth has been given to me'. To truly save our lives, to make them more than a fleeting moment, we have to loose them in the mercy and significance of the one who makes all things new.
Jesus spoke of the prodigal son, coming to his senses, realizing the folly of seeking to live in poverty so far away from his father's care and love. Repentance is just that.
Why not sit down and take stock of what you are, and consider what we are intended to be.
To be truly human, is to live life fully. That is the intention of the Lord who made us, and who has become a servant to redeem us.
Wednesday, 11 June 2008
What is it that makes a good movie or novel?
No doubt we could all identify several key aspects or ingredients that we look for, but there are a couple of things that are probably essential.
The first, I would say, is where the story takes us. When we get to that final scene or chapter, we want to reach a point of genuine satisfaction with the resolution. It no doubt is part of the reason why we will recall the story, perhaps read it again or recommend it to others - we feel it got somewhere. The other, which is equally important, is our journey with one or more of the characters in the tale. We often connect with their thoughts, insights and desires. We recognize and even identify with their growth and perhaps triumph through hardship and we revel in their moments of joy. It's all (to re-work a phrase from a popular movie) ' a pleasant fiction', but the really good stories, of course, are much more - they often reflect and can even teach or confirm to us the realities of life.
This week I've been thinking that the 'story' of Creation may well be just like that.
Becoming thirsty allows us to truly appreciate the value of a cool refreshing drink. The bleakness of winter brings into sharp relief the majesty and joy of the arrival of Spring. Could it be that all the present travail of our present world is actually the pain of purpose - the 'birth pangs' that are necessary for a creation not merely complete in the glory of its physical splendour, but crowned with a life which resonates with the knowledge of the healing goodness and mercy of God?
The Scriptures make it clear that the events which have unfolded since we exiled ourselves from Eden are not a mystery to our Creator. The pain and misery we have brought upon ourselves have been allowed to run their course, but not without purpose. Amidst the very ugliness of such trauma, God has woven a use to death, an engagement with our agony, a point where all that is broken and violated by sin meets with the rich depths of His unmerited mercy and become changed by such. The place is in the broken body, the shed blood, the resplendent forgiveness given in the death of Jesus Christ. This one moment is where all the pain and anguish of our existence in a 'far country' is drawn and salved, that we might taste of a far greater life, made possible by His bruising for our transgressions.
At the end of the movie, The Shawshank Redemption, Red and Andy meet for the first time in many years on the edge of a faraway ocean. They have been deeply changed by their lives, by their experiences and by their knowing of one another, and all of this has brought them to the point where they can now begin a new life - building a boat to explore a new vista.
All of history is moving to a point when the trails will end and such a new day can begin, but it will be a day where all that has been done of value, all that has been learned that holds meaning, will underpin that venture that is to come.
Monday, 2 June 2008
but my eyes, though wet, open to gaze upon the grandeur and vista that surrounds me,
that resonates so deeply that my being here, my knowing the joy and agony,
is no mistake -
there is a weave to every touch, to every thought, that affirms a reality filled with meaning".
How do we feel when we see someone we love become ravaged by something or someone in a manner which lacerates their life with misery or cruel intent? Do we merely sit at a distance and benignly accept what transpires as a consequence of such malevolence, or do we become fixed in our souls to intervene - to act to end such a tyranny?
Love motivates us to be indignant of such wickedness.
Within our own feelings, then, in such instances, we can begin to find an answer as to why God's anger is by no means contrary to His love - it springs from His 'reaching' to His children, to release them from a cruelty far deeper than any human cruelty.
Anger at this comprehensive evil - which has made us all strangers in an alien land- derives from His righteous desire to see an end to all which prevents genuine peace and total integrity, in all that we are and all that we do.
When something dire comes upon us, we express our desolation, our need for aid, through our cries and our tears. We weep when we feel the 'wrongness' of loosing one we love, when we bring out something about ourselves hard to bare, when we are angry with some ugly truth. We cry because of the brokenness inside, and also, on occasion, to express a joy beyond words - to let out the deep things, that seem to come from another place, the spiritual part of us.
How does it, then, make sense, to deny that reality, to say that there is no real value, no meaning, behind this 'deeper place' within us all?
Nothing hurts us more than deceit and betrayal - both of ourselves and others - so why would we buy into a folly which denies such a truth isn't a profound reflection of the one who made us?
If we become hurt and damaged by such misery and corruption, why would we expect God to be any less effected by our betrayal when we deny ourselves by denying Him - by not understanding that He is rightly angry at such ugliness?
Violence is never undone by denying the crime.
It can also never be resolved by blind vengeance.
"The true opiate" wrote Milosz, "is the belief in nothing after death - the solace of thinking that all of our betrayals, greed, cowardice and violence are without resolve".
God's image in each of us, expressed behind our tears, tells us otherwise. Our deeds are imperishable.
Selfishness is a murder which twists and distorts our humanity - it invites us to wallow in an illusion of indulgence without value - to kill ourselves in a death of a thousand pretenses.
Hell is the realm where such illusions are forever replaced with the horror of realizing what has been lost - ourselves.
It is the place of people without faces, where all identity is void of its significance and meaning.
It is eternal enslavement to our own destructive, miserable choices to abandon a deeper reality.
Hell is when God gives us up to our own pathetic selfishness to be much less than we were created to be.
Life teaches us that all which is of value comes when we truly love another. This defines our reason for being here. The same is true eternally. We are designed to be defined by an infinite relationship of love with our Lord and Creator. We have walked away from this, but God has come after us to restore us, to make the relationship whole once more.
When we care to look, deep in our broken souls, amidst the pain of our grand delusions, we can know a resonance once more with the one who heals the broken hearted, who waits to visit us with His goodness and mercy, that one day, our every tear will be something long gone.
Draw near to such a redeemer, and He will set you free.
Monday, 26 May 2008
One was sickly and died, the other still thrives - but they are twins.
They were born of the same impulse". C S Lewis.
How concepts change. Take a few once popular expressions:
Acting for the common good, promoting common decency, propagating common sense.
How would such values be defined today? And why have the core imperatives of such realms changed so much?
In the Abolition of Man, Lewis really touches the heart of this:
"For the wise men of old, the problem was how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution was knowledge (correspondence with the transcendent) and composure (change and virtue) as a result. For magic and applied science alike, the problem is how to subdue such reality to the wishes of men. The solution is method or technique, the application of which allows the practice of things regarded hitherto disgusting or impious".
The problem we currently face is not the employment of the techniques of Scientific inquiry - it is the suppositions - the 'dreams of power' - that so commonly accompany the use of these techniques, which have become as accepted as the desire of Midas.
The 'common confidence' abroad today is that via a world view uncluttered from the tethers of the past, we can control the physical world - that the mentors of technology and progress have freed us to become more than we were, but such liberty comes at a very heavy price to ourselves and the world around us - we must suppress the truth concerning ourselves and reality (as Paul notes in Romans chapter 1) to host such a culture.
It is popular in our age to dismiss the dreams and practices of those who have sought to use 'superstitious' means to gain enlightenment, but these same 'dark gods' have merely donned a more respectable guise in order to appeal to the present 'common good'.
The serpent is never far from the tree which promises a wisdom divorced from the higher reality of our existence.
Thursday, 22 May 2008
but participation in the sufferings of God in secular life - that is real repentance...
not thinking in the first place about one's own problems, sins, needs or fears,
but allowing oneself to be caught up into the life of Jesus Christ.
Then pain is a holy angel - the pain of longing, which needs to be overcome so that something
even holier may be expressed - joy in believing" (Dietrich Bonhoeffer -Letters from Prison).
Every now and then you read something which causes a large 'STOP' sign to appear in your thoughts - similar to how the word 'selah' was used in the Psalms - pause and consider this.
That was certainly the case when I read the above passage this week.
How often do we consider - in a right fashion - the thought, never mind the possibility, of 'suffering' for God in a manner which impacts upon the secular world around us?
The Apostle Paul once spoke words which make me shudder. In his letter to the Colossians, he speaks of how his suffering was 'filling up what was lacking' in Christ's afflictions (1:24) - stewardship which marked him and thereby marked this world.
Of course, in Paul's case, you don't have to probe too deeply to see just how this was so.
"We are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and lost", he could confess, "a fragrance of death and life" (2 Corinthians 2:15&16). Do people savor something of that in us in our moments here, or is our spirituality unapproachable, our 'light' in some small corner where it never seeps into the daily, the common and the special.
I was reminded today - in a science fiction novel - of the value of Jeremiah.
In the midst of a time of impending and overwhelming events, he did something that, naturally speaking, must have appeared to be the height of folly. Amidst the siege of the city by the might of the Babylonians, he buys real estate! (Jeremiah 32).
How many of us would even consider such an act rational, but there's a mandate here that so much so called 'spirituality' can totally miss.
It is said that when he was once asked what he would do if he knew for certain that the Lord would return this very day, Martin Luther replied that he would go and plant a tree.
Let me ask you something - just how deeply is your redemption, your living, your eternal hope, tied to the reality which surrounds you? Is our faith about jumping ship, going elsewhere, or investing in the moment when Christ returns and makes this place the throne of an eternal kingdom?
As I've talked to friends and neighbours this week, hearing them, through words, art, and other means, express their thoughts on life, as I've watched the world rushing by, I've begun to ponder Bonhoeffer's words afresh - living through faith which counts.
We need to learn about the fellowship of His sufferings, His joy within this hollowed domain, that we can taste something of the beauty which is drawing closer every day.
Let us yearn to partake in such fellowship, to enrich this world with something far beyond money or price...the strength, the exquisite depths, of the love of God in His Son.