Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Amidst the lovers and the mourners

"Are you alive ?"
Caprica 6 - Battlestar Galactica

Almost a decade ago, my wife and I ended our twenty years of living in the South Eastern counties of England with a trip to the movies to see the splendid Bicentennial Man. The film is filled with memorable moments, but what makes this tale resonate so deeply is the desire, the journey, of the central character, Andrew, from being an oddity as a robot, to fulfilling his actual potential by becoming fully human.
Through the traumas of the Martin family that originally purchases, then adopts, and finally marries this person, we gain an insight into the 'natural' human condition - one marked by pain, suffering and death, interwoven with the precious richness of love, communion and intimacy.
It is as Andrew begins to imbibe both the beauties and tragedies of our kind for himself, that his goal becomes singular - to be one of us, fully human, even to the point of death.

I left the cinema that evening deeply moved, reminded not only of the wonder of our lives, but also reflecting upon the one who came as a man and truly tasted death for us all.

I had no idea at that time, as life changed from what it had been for the two principal decades of my adult life, that Kay and I were about to be taken by currents which would change everything - that I would loose her to cancer within a few short years, but I often think about how that film, and other events that followed, sought to impress the theological weave of creation, fall and redemption I had become aware of in the 90's, into the very fabric of everyday life - Christ, like Andrew in the film, would be there to not simply witness but profoundly accompany us through those days so pierced with joy and pain.

There is a certain excitement to sharing the truths that underlie our faith when unwrapping them properly for the first time - a little like children at Christmas - but that is very different to the moments when God truly becomes the Paraclete upon the threshing floor of experience.
The realities with which we have to do impinge upon our breath, our bones, as well as our thoughts and deeds.

Christianity teaches us well; much of life now must necessarily remain unfinished - sin and death prevent completion, but the love He sheds abroad within our failing hearts is a sure and certain investment of what will come to be.
The dreams, the joys, the ardent promises that mark our times, that define our intent, are now broken pieces amidst a pavement cracked by the woes that wound, and the fury of doubt and fear which assault and assail us with the taunt of physical death. The darkness, indeed, is often palpable, and within ourselves, there is no aid, but there is more to be said, even before the of very claim of death.

Amidst the inspired words of Solomon. we find a mercy which will bind the broken heart -
Such waters cannot quench your love. These floods cannot drown it.
There is a love which is stronger than death.

Andrew's story ends in death, as, naturally, all ours would as well, but the true man, the 'proper' man who came from heaven has conquered death itself in His own death, and His life truly allows us to become the people of a renewed, restored creation.

The future not only of this world, but of the Godhead itself, will be expressed in a love that has redeemed heaven and earth. There, then, is something that ultimately empties of all woe, and qualifies in fact, all our present trials, making them truly of value, and opening the door to becoming fully ourselves, through His love.
There is a better day, a better ending, and it is found in the God who reconciles by love.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Seeing True

"That's the day I realized that there's this entire life behind things...this incredibly benevolent force... Sometimes there's so much beauty in the world I feel like I can't take it".

Ricky Fitts - American Beauty.

I was very interested to learn this week that some of those who had seen the stunning movie Avatar, had been feeling greatly troubled, and in some cases, suicidal, as a result, seeking to equate such wonder with the pain of our own world.

One viewer wrote: "I woke up this morning after watching Avatar for the first time yesterday, the world seemed ... gray. It was like my whole life, everything I've done and worked for, lost its meaning...(we) live in a dying world".

This rings true to something I have been reflecting about for sometime.

In 1 Kings chapter 10, we read of the royal visit of a Queen to the court of the great King, Solomon. This state visit occurred because news about the wonder of Solomon's great city had traveled across the ancient world, and people wanted to see such a spectacle first hand.
The impact of not only the buildings and wealth, but the wisdom this man had gained was palpable. Not unlike those so deeply struck by the film, the Queen herself was overwhelmed by the unique and distinct splendor of this place, which created genuine happiness in all of those who lived within its scope.

I've often wondered if the reaction of the Queen was in some sense a seed of inspiration for one of Solomon's own marvelous works - the poetry of devotion found in his Song of Songs, but one thing is for certain, the encounter with such beauty is both overwhelming and life-changing.

Perhaps it is one of the great sorrows of our times - that we very often cannot 'see' beauty in the fashion that many, like the astute Queen of Sheba, have done in times past. The encouraging gem gleaned from the Avatar example is that beauty can still overwhelm us, and thereby open our lives to a far richer and deeper reality woven into the fabric of our currently broken world.

There was a moment in the life of Jesus where His disciples were allowed to see Him transfigured, expressing something of His true glory and majesty to them. The result was immediate - they wanted to stay in that spot, in that moment, for the rest of their lives. I've often found when I'm confronted with the real Jesus of the Gospels, there is a two-fold response: a drawing that resonates in the deepest part of my soul, and a realization that I am not worthy of the wonder of the pure character of this Man - God's beloved Son. When we truly confront Jesus Christ, we encounter something which leaves that ancient Queen's encounter plain in comparison, for as Paul declares, all the marvel and beauty of creation is made and sustained by Him.

This world, even amidst all it's trouble, often furnishes us with moments of striking clarity, where we glance upon that deeper realm, which this earth, this tent of flesh we inhabit, is meant to know, meant to share, meant to make us truly whole.

If inspired by the beauty which surrounds us, rest a while beneath the shade of the Gospels, and learn of this one that the whole world has been talking about for some 2,000 years. Truly, there is a beauty here to make us all what we were intended to be.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

And that's because...

"Sin is primarily our spiritual pretensions and ambitions. It is our god-like aspirations which destroy our life here and seduce us to make life miserable for our fellow man". Gerhard Forde - Where God Meets Man.

It's always good when this time of year unwraps something to get you thinking.
It happened twice for me this season.

The second occasion was watching James Cameron's new epic, Avatar, which I'll come to shortly,
but the first was watching a TV documentary entitled 'Tsunami - where was God?'
Visiting that still wrecked part of the world where this nightmare disaster struck, the presenter sought to look at the horror through Muslim, Hindu, Catholic and Buddhist eyes and answer the question if there is a God, why does He allow such dreadful events.
It's a question that my Father used to ask me in my teens when I was called by Christ all the time - he was never happy with my answers! - but this program at least tried to go further, asking about the nature of evil itself and why evil exists in our world.

The responses, in general, were pretty passive and deterministic - life is the way it is, it's just God's will, or things are the best they can be, so until something better comes along (paradise, nirvana, or the like), we just have to knuckle down, carry the pain, and get on with it.
Human ideology in general has little choice here, whether that's expressed religiously or not, but when 'Christians' turn around and say that's essentially all they have to say as well, that's a serious cause for concern!

The Biblical view is that there is a very key reason why our world is in this state, and it's wholly related to human rebellion. That reason is actually so key, in fact, that Paul informs us that the whole of creation, the very fabric of nature, has been subject to futility, to decay, as a consequence, so this is most certainly NOT how the world was made, or how things should be.
Our evil as a race lies behind the problem - nothing more, nothing less.
It simply won't do for 'Christian' theologians or scientists to stand up and say to look at the book of Genesis as history is folly - The writers of the New Testament would then be fools, and the entire structure of historical Christianity would be scuttled beyond salvage.
We may face a time when the Biblical understanding is certainly being challenged in a comprehensive fashion, but it remarkable how quickly our so-called 'wisdom' about who and what we are can be changed.

Back in the 1990's, Egyptologist Dr David Rohl presented a new case for much of Biblical history which challenged the classical understanding of ancient history and introduced an stunning new chronology for our past. Over a decade later, whilst still controversial, his approach had now been expanded not only to include the history of the Old Testament, but of the ancient world as a whole in a very comprehensive fashion - all because one man started asking very pertinent questions about the 'established thinking' (His second book, Legend, also gives a key pointer as to why our 'reading' of earth's past itself may be in trouble).
The scriptures leave no doubt that when we're talking about such matters, we are dealing with history.

There's probably another reason that the concept of human rebellion being behind our current state is not popular.
In the movie, Avatar, we're presented with a world which, whilst it has it dangers, is actually viewed as whole by the natives - a symbiosis of consciousness in all living things which equates to the divine - a harmony broken by the arrival (surprise, surprise) of humanity.
What is interesting here is that there are parallels to some of the "Gaia" type thinking that underlies some of the approaches to the issue of climate change - it's our world, we are breaking it, and we can and will fix it. Of course, it's never as easy as we think, and in the movie, there has to be a redemptive work to heal the broken world of Pandora, just as for our earth, the answer to our evil, our detachment, our blindness, must come from outside of ourselves.
"Grace", notes Forde, "saves nature not by adding to it, or by raising it to some higher level, but by allowing it to be, once again, what it was intended to be - the good creation of His handiwork".

The aim and intention is not some human utopia, where we tame and master the world to our liking, but the splendor of all things truly expressed in a manner that reveals the profound 'weight' and majesty of His nature.

As I watched the movie, I marveled at the wonder of the realm created before my eyes, and pondered on the work that is to come - when all will be made new.
In this world where evil and its results are so apparent, we need to recognize the God at work through such trial - the depths of the cross - to herald the wonder that approaches.