Saturday, 29 November 2008

The Calling

"It is the mark of a good story, of the higher or more complete kind, that however . .. terrible the adventures, it can give to child or man that hears it, when the 'turn' comes, a catch of the breath, a beat and lifting of the heart, near to (or indeed accompanied by) tears".

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


"The body was created as an inseparable part of what makes us human...
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)".

Michael Horton.

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

Savoring the world

"Medieval Europe not only created the experimental science of optics and initiated surprisingly modern-sounding discussions about cosmology, but began the systematic teaching of astronomy to university undergraduates.... All this was done with the full encouragement of Christianity - for without that, there would never have been the physical resources nor the intellectual initiative to follow this path...
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

The continuing collision

"Western Civilisation had an innate dynamic drive whose deepest source was its sense of direction and purpose - a confidence in its destiny. This came from Christianity".

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.