Monday, 26 May 2008

Uncommon Sense

"Serious magical and scientific endeavor are twins:
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

From the depths...

"It is not religious acts that make the Christian,
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.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Walking through Fire

"Not to us, Lord, but to your name, give glory,
for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness". Psalm 115:1.

Some days seem harder than others to get through.
In a month where there have been another series of world disasters, where troubling choices about the nature of life are being made closer to home, and where things often seem to just about judder on, it would be easy to fall into deep lament for the pain and folly of our world.
Sometimes, of course, we need to truly weep with those who weep, but there is a need to also see the other side of the coin...

With the milder days arriving, creation literally bursts into song and glory, and I find my thoughts naturally turning to the majesty of the display of goodness and abundance such evidence conveys.
However scarred our time here, the reality is that such moments require us to pause, to stop and oh so quietly yet clearly notice the "whisper" of a love and faithfulness that sustains us in all our moments of pain and joy.

"The biblical view of things is resurrection. Not just a consolation for the life we never had, but a restoration of that life...Jesus insisted that His return will be with such power that the very material world will be purged of all decay and brokeness" (Timothy Keller - The Reason for God).

Amidst these turbulent days, that is certainly worth thinking about - the earth without the wounds inflicted by our folly and wickedness. That really does sound like the Spring worth waiting for!

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

The Polarization

"It came, burning hot, to my mind, that whatever he said and however he flattered,
when he got me home to his abode, he would sell me for a slave"
John Bunyan - Pilgrim's Progress.

Remember the old saying, 'the operation was a success, but the patient is dead'?
It's something that rings so true when we begin to ponder the redundancy of the secular approach to life, especially the ideology which under girds this.

To state it simply, there's a dire price to be paid when humanity becomes content to merely soothe it's bruised ego rather than dragging it into the light. Harbouring such a criminal can only lead to a murdering of ourselves and our place amidst the 'vocal' message of creation. Such murder is evident everywhere, but the noise and fury of contemporary "Scientism" has granted it a new appeal....

"We are here because one odd group of creatures had a peculiar anatomy allowing transformation, because comets randomly struck the earth, extinguishing the dinosaurs, granting us mammals opportunity....We may yearn for a 'higher' answer, but none exists.
This explanation, troubling, if not terrifying, is truly exhilarating.
We cannot read the meaning of life into the facts of nature. We must construct answers for ourselves".
Stephen Jay Gould - Life and the Meaning of Life).

If the Universe we observe truly leads us to conclude that our existence is merely a result of thousands of 'by chance' events, building one upon another to today, then the best we could hope for is a manufacturing of some purpose from within our own aims or goals, but is that really where all of our looking has reached? Are we merely the construction of an enormous series of cosmic flukes as many currently suggest?

The analysis we so commonly hear of the human condition is tragically poor, simply because it mis-construes the manner in which we 'look' at (define) the physical universe...

"You cannot go on 'explaining away', for you will only find you have explained explanation itself away. You cannot go on 'seeing through' things forever. The whole point of 'seeing through' something is to see something through it. It is good that the window should be transparent, because the street or garden can be seen, because they are opaque. How would it be if you saw through the garden as well?
A wholly transparent world is actually an invisible world.
To 'see through' all things is not the same as to see".
C S Lewis - The Abolition of Man).

The 'answers' currently being sought in certain fields of research, primarily constructed upon the theoretical assumptions of how the universe 'should be', are leading to a point of 'invisibility'; where all things are essentially divorced from a context of meaning or value beyond the merely functional, thus to equate significance to the universe or ourselves becomes pointless. The solution therefore becomes to 'find' value in the moment, the relative good or bad of what 'feels' right to the individual right now.

Is that all there is?

Humanity has been here many times before.

In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon looks upon us busy in such existence, and concluded that such life was entirely futile. Without a deeper meaning, the universe simply has no value.

The 'window' in us, looking out upon creation, looking in to the turbulence of our disquieted existence, sees something more substantial than the moment, more vital than merely fulfilling our immediate wants and needs. The philosophy of Scientism would tell us that such a perception of meaning is itself an illusion - that there is nothing more...but could this philosophy itself prove to me the ultimate version of delusion - a language that de-nudes of our true value as easily as the thieves flattered the fabled emperor's ego whilst actively stealing his wealth and status?

The 'garden' of a deeper reality still beckons us to look, to catch a glimpse of something far deeper than ourselves, which, when comprehended, makes every moment count.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Flowers and Waterfalls?

"And he spoke to me and said, 'come, I will show you the bride' " Revelation 21:9

I came across a very interesting entry this week on the Obscene Beauty blog page.
Entitled 'The Wright attitude to Imagination, Art and Beauty' (22/02/08), it sought to examine certain issues in a recent book, which included an examination of a Christian use of Imagination and engagement in the realms of art
(Link here:

After quoting at length from the book, Alister Roberts (the blog author) then made the following notes:

A further important point which bears repeating is that we don't live in Eden. Although most Christians would agree with this, many would perhaps suggest that paradise is the day, we'll all go back there...Yet to believe this is to fail to grasp a key theme in scripture. The story begins in a garden and ends in a city. God embraces culture, and brings paradise into its midst. Thus as we celebrate beauty and Hope in God, we must remember that this goes beyond images of flowers and waterfalls.

The author correctly notes that there lots more to say on this, and there are certainly a few further things we need to consider.
If we look at the passages in Romans and Revelation, for example, which speak about the new creation, we have to appreciate something equally as key - the paradise that is coming is not a segregation, but a fusion of all that God has made beautiful in its time - the glories of the natural order and the marvels of what has been made for us to fashion and enjoy, not a dualistic 'either/or'. This is inherent in the fact that on the 7th day, God blessed and hallowed creation itself, for the good work He had made was indeed something which pleases Him, so 'flowers and waterfalls' resonate with a theme which we ignore at our peril - they convey the fact that all things 'speak' of His glory (the significance of His presence, we touched on in my last blog).

When we speak of creation itself culminating in a 'city', it is a city of God, where rivers of water flow from the centre welling beneath the tree of life. The very 'walls' of this city are living, the whole structure profoundly and no doubt mysteriously tied to the work of Prophets and Apostles, Angels and Saints, and totally dependent upon the life which flows from the Lamb to the temple of 'living stones' (the community of the bride) at the heart of all of its commerce and growth - never has such a place been seen!

Whilst there is indeed a 'culture' at the heart of the New Jerusalem it is not one which will be alternative to the realities begun in Eden - it will, in fact, be the flowering of that glory.

All creation is waiting for it...