Saturday, December 22, 2012

Where's Jesus?

Christians don't have a monopoly on the view that Christmas has become too commercialised. Nor do they have a monopoly on a yearning for traditional values or the sentiments of joy, goodwill and peace that are central to the Christian, Christmas message. Many of us, lemming like, run headlong over the cliff of common sense to over indulge, overspend and generally mortgage the oncoming January in the pursuit of short lived and sometimes dubious pleasures of the Christmas season. The Queen's Speech invariably turns to the central message of Christ's incarnation just over 2000 years ago but I doubt that message has a major impact on her audience beyond the possible warm glow which may owe some to the imbibing of alcoholic beverages before, during and after dinner.

So when Christians wish to put Christ back into Christmas what are they envisioning? I suspect that if Christmas were a largely religious event its appeal would be somewhat limited to the general public. If you want a young child to eat all his Christmas dinner you probably wouldn't give him sprouts, as they tend to be an acquired taste. Similarly putting Christ back in the centre of Christmas is probably more of an exercise in people having a taste for what Christ is offering than simply offering Christ. For me this begs another question: what Christmas are we attempting to put Christ back into?

I suspect that once Christ is removed it's a little like taking the heart out. Once the heart is removed the beast dies and no longer has a need for the heart. Nor can the heart bring the beast back to life. This leads me to a further question: if Christ is all and in all can he truly be taken out? And can he truly be 'in' anything? It raises questions like: is Jesus really in my heart? To be fair, we have a problem with language being inadequate to describe something, which is a mystery, in a way that is meaningful to us. But I would suggest that we are guilty of trying to put Christ in a box into which he doesn't fit. Let me explain by use of a jigsaw analogy.

Picture a jigsaw of the nativity scene. You have one piece missing and there is no baby Jesus. This is a nice message of having everything there apart from the most important thing: the one person around whom the whole scene centres. Now lets picture the jigsaw, still with one piece missing but this time its one of the shepherds. This is no more complete than the first because it was for this shepherd that Jesus came. I would suggest that the problem we have is not a missing Jesus but a missing shepherd.

The real Christmas always has Jesus in it because in him all things move and have their being. It's always us that are missing. For years I've felt a vacuum when it comes to Christmas, as if Jesus was incidental. Its not for us to fit Jesus into our lives, we need to fit into the life he has for us. Jesus told his disciples that the kingdom of God was among them - it was there, they only had to see it, live it and breathe it. We don't need to put Christ back into Christmas - we need to place ourselves into His Christmas. Paradoxically, when we are fully into Christ he works fully in us so that when you walk into Xmas you are the X factor - Christ working in you in order to make that Christmas complete.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Rocks and Hard Places

I didn't get a Father's day card last year. I was fairly pragmatic. After all, its just a made up day and mostly geared to selling cards, gifts and generally sustaining our consumerist economy. If you're not hung over, bloated or broke after a big day then it can't have been that good, can it? I'm not heartless though. It did hurt a little. It must have, because I can remember how I felt. But piling misery on misery really doesn't have any beneficial effects so it's not good to dwell on these things.

I got one this year and it feels worse. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, which is true if you're on a promise. But when nearness is painful, distance is a mercy. When you're separated from your family by distance you can count the miles but when you're separated by regret the counting never stops. I'm on my own with a lovely Father's Day card in the window. It says "Thank you for everything." So I did something right but it feels like cold comfort. My own father used to endorse the line, "It's better to have loved and lost than to never to have loved at all." How is that? It's a hell of a lot more painful. They say things are better 'felt than telt'. Failure can be a foundation for success but whereas a lost football match is a learning experience, a failed marriage is a disaster.

Merriam-Webster defines dissonance as 'a clashing or unresolved musical interval or chord.' When you convince yourself that love was worth it but your heart screams, "No," that's cognitive dissonance. I don't feel like a father and I don't want convincing that I should - that would not resolve the dissonance. Everyone has a picture of how life should look and when the picture on the wall is different to the one in your head you invariably want to change the picture on the wall. You can pretend they are the same or close your eyes and ignore the reality but at some point you have to negotiate.

I've been arguing with a guy concerning consequences. It's common for Christians to believe that they simply have to ask God's forgiveness and he makes everything right. But nothing could be further from the truth. Cause and effect is a fundamental principle and (fatalism aside) if you separate the two, the universe ceases to make sense. Put your bare finger in the fire and it will be burnt. If we deny reality we are likely to make poor decisions. However, it's as much a mistake to take the painting at face value, as it is to refuse to believe it exists. Neither should you dismiss your dreams just because reality won't budge.

It's becoming apparent to me that my focus should be on that painting that causes me so much distress in that I must either concur with reality or at least come to some arrangement. You don't negotiate a rock by insisting that it shouldn't be there. Neither do you allow it to dictate your actions. Your options will depend on the tools at hand, the size of the rock and your knowledge of what lies beyond and you must consider all three. That card in the window challenges my mind's eye. I have something physical in front of me so what will be my response? To think, "What if?" or to first receive the message in the spirit in which it was given, then negotiate that rock.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Out of Plum

I've recently read the book of Esther. Its remarkable in that it is the only book of the Bible that mentions neither God, worship or prayer. It's an encouragement for those of us who acknowledge the Great Commission but feel uncomfortable bringing God into every conversation. I cringe at some of the words and phrases Christians dream up to claim ground for God. "Godincidence" is one of them. This is supposed to counter the idea that things happen by chance. Rather, God orchestrates our circumstances to bring about his plans for good.

Far from bringing a fresh perspective it merely presents a narrow Christian world-view that is ill conceived and poorly constructed. I am fond of the idea of Jesus being the unseen guest. After all, Jesus said that where two or three of us are gathered together, there is he in the midst. On the other hand, it can sound a little spooky to think that an invisible person is constantly watching you.

Nearly every book in the Bible brings a different perspective about God, his people and what he is trying to teach us. Some talk of the inconsistencies in the Bible but most of these can be explained by contrasting the contexts in which the stories or lessons appear and that they are directed at different audiences with different perceptions. Finding the Bible difficult to understand is not, of itself, a bad thing. Life lessons that are difficult to master often bring the greatest rewards.

Through the book of Esther we are challenged to find God in the schemes and devices of a Persian king, a Jewish queen and an anti-Semitic nobleman. It doesn't even directly relate to any other book of the Bible, nor is it mentioned in the New Testament. It doesn't easily fit Christian morality (Esther is encouraged to be a concubine). Many of us, when we were introduced to the Christian faith, were encouraged to measure everything against the Word of God. Unfortunately the plum line we were measuring against was not tightened by a free hanging weight but by a flexible but fixed end.

For the plum to be true it must be free to find its own line. Too often we allow the line to rest, only to fix it in position because we are afraid it will swing. We then take that position to be true. With all the checks and balances we still need God's Word to find its own plum. We can then check our experiences and information against the truth. It may give us different answers from time to time but if we trust that its God's Word we need not be perturbed. Like the book of Esther we don't need to bring God into everything we do. Jesus said, "If you know the truth, the truth will set you free." If we allow God to be what he is then we can be free to be what we are.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Welcome Home

In a previous post I asked, "Who is Jesus?" I'm not sure that I really answered the question, rather that I questioned our answers. Young children disregard those around them as they play or interact with their friends or immediate family. They have no thought about how they appear or relate to strangers. When asked a question they often simply hide, stare or offer an answer that doesn't relate to the question at all. They first must establish a context in which the conversation is taking place. If the question doesn't relate to the child then its irrelevant and meaningless and who the person is, is also irrelevant until the child can build a framework in which that person has meaning.

One of the greatest challenges for a Christian (or any person of faith) is prayer. Formal prayer is easy because it's very much like sending a letter to Santa. You simply need to know that your god has the position of 'God' then your letter will arrive at the right place. You only need to know who God is in a formal sense rather his relationship to you. Many of us could pray to a concept of God but if he appeared before us we would be struck dumb, not because of his awesomeness but because we would now have to relate to him as a person. We are as children in our prayer pen; unaware that God is in the room because we don't really know who he is.

Children don't ask who their parents or siblings are. It wouldn't even occur to them to ask. But as the child grows relationships change. Strangers become friends and friends become strangers. This is true of our relationship with God too and it's a challenge we must face if we are to maintain any sort of meaningful prayer life (if we have one in the first place).

In order to be safe, Jesus tells us that we need to believe in him, not in an abstract sense but that he is who he says he is. In John's gospel Jesus holds a conversation with the Jewish leaders repeating over and over that he is the Christ but they won't recognise him. Eventually he spells out that he is the "I AM", forcing them to make a decision. We read of him 'crying out' and speaking in a 'loud voice'. In his dialogue with those leaders you get a sense of his frustration - that he wants everyone to know who it is they are going to crucify.

Many ask for proof that God exists but who of us would not be insulted if asked that question of us. God has no need to prove that he exists. James tells us that demons know God exists - much good it does them. What God wants us to know is that he is a person we can relate to - a father and brother, friend and comforter. Even if God exists we are still alone in the universe unless we have a relationship with him - unless his personhood is meaningful. Is this not the true meaning of salvation - to know God in spirit and truth?

Does it sound so strange now, that in order to be saved God asks only that we believe in him? No child deserves to have a mother and father in that no one earns the right to be a son or daughter. Salvation is not a right that can be earned it is a relationship that can only be experienced. Salvation is a hug, a kiss, a smile, a 'welcome home'. To be saved is to know that you belong - to know that you are no longer alone.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Who is Jesus?

There is no question that Jesus was born a Jew but did he live as a Jew? Jesus came to fulfil the Law so he had to be the perfect Jew, better than the Pharisees or any Jew before him. The question we then need to ask is, did he dispense with his Jewishness once he had completed his ministry and, in a sense, he did because he broke down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile. Paul says, in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile. The important thing is that He made peace between the two.

Crucially, Paul says that the Jews own the legacy and only when they are brought into the fold will the Gentiles have the full measure of the truth. Rediscovering the Jewish Jesus clearly gives us a fuller picture of who the historical Jesus was and what he meant by what he taught.

It seems to me that Paul translated the Gospel into 'Christian' beautifully as did the other letter writers but Jesus, in the Gospels, was speaking to Jews as a rabbi, not to Christians as a pastor.

Much of Christian theology that we consider orthodox is modern and taught in the light of Christian tradition. Not only do we need to read the Gospels in the light of the Old Testament but also with reference to the post-exilic culture into which Jesus was born and in which he was taught, lived and breathed.

So is Jesus a Jew? The word 'Jew' means, 'from the land of Judea', so historically Jesus is a Jew, born of the tribe of Judah. He is also the Christ, the Jew's Messiah. But we are told that Jesus is the author of creation and, in him, everything is held together. The Jews are sons of Jacob and while Jesus was, as a man, descended from Jacob he is also the second Adam, the new man of which every tribe and nation is descended, including Jacob.

When the signatory of a covenant dies the covenant dies with him. Jesus as a perfect Jew fulfilled the covenant established by Moses and upon Jesus' death the covenant was nullified. By his blood he established a new covenant, not dispensing with the old but superseding it. All the requirements of the Law were met in Jesus so that none of them are now binding upon us. A new covenant has been established and our only commitment is to renounce the covenant of sin and death and accept Jesus as our righteousness.

To the Jew Jesus is a Jew, to the Gentile Jesus is a Gentile. But he is not a Christian. We do not worship a Christian God. We are the 'Christ ones' but to understand Jesus fully the emphasis must be on the 'Christ' and not the 'ones'. What we are 'in Christ' is not important but that we are in Christ.

We see Jesus in Creation, in the Bible, in Christian tradition, in Jewish tradition, in each other, in humanity, through experience. God reveals himself in so many ways and the temptation is always to worship the god of revelation. But however we see Jesus, that's not what he is. We believe that God has given us his Holy Spirit through whom we can connect with a God who is beyond all understanding. Its only in his Spirit that we can truly know God and because our puny minds cannot contain that knowledge we have to admit our cognitive ignorance.

Its with this tension that we live as fools for Christ. We understand who Jesus is in part and with that working knowledge we seek to do his will and know him better. Its not in our temporal understanding of truth that we worship God in spirit but by his Spirit we can worship him in truth.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Love and Pray

For Daniel

Softly comes the evening chill
When sun's warm glow is gone
The day is done, its hours are spent
Yet time still trundles on

The day that was gives way to night
But had it not been born
The evening would be colder still
We never would get warm

And though sun's heat and light are quenched
The moment it retires
The trees have been both warmed and fed
To build and fuel our fires

The moon can but reflect the sun
The night yearns for the day
But when dusk calls and all is done
We can but love and pray

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Too Much Rubble

In the 4th chapter of Nehemiah the Jews are mocked as they attempt to rebuild the wall of their devastated city. If being faced with a home city in tatters is not enough their neighbours mock their efforts to rebuild then, to add injury to insult, they threaten physical violence. And it doesn't end there. While their strength is giving out they are faced, not only with rebuilding an entire city wall, but clearing masses of rubble. "There is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall", they say. How do you motivate yourself to face a task that you don't believe you can accomplish when everyone is betting on you failing anyway?

Nehemiah first establishes a plan of action. He positions people at the weakest points with bows, spears and swords. Then he gives them a reason to fight. "Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes," he tells them. I've seen nature programmes where a female will fight another animal far superior in size and strength to protect her young and her home. In some cases the aggressor will give up out of shear bewilderment, totally unprepared for such an encounter.

History is full of examples of armies and individuals who have fought against unassailable odds and won through conviction and self-belief. Being convinced of success can actually work against you because once that conviction is questioned you are vulnerable to doubt. But Nehemiah's brilliance shows in the double-edged sword that he presents to his people. "When you fight for everything you hold dear", he says, "Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome."

Great tacticians will tell you to always ensure you fight the right battles. God does not fight our battles but instead he calls us to fight with him. We fight for what we hold dear but in his name. Jesus tells us to take his yoke. "Put your burdens on my cart," he tells us, "And we'll pull it together." There is so much rubble in our lives, so much baggage, so many unanswered questions, so much heartache; we cannot rebuild. Like Pilgrim from Pilgrims Progress, all we can do is leave it at the foot of the cross and remember our Lord.

It's tempting to skip ahead and see the Jews completing the wall but hindsight is no help in the heat of the battle. So long as we know why we fight and who is our patron we can find the strength to press on with the hope that tells us we are not fighting in vain.

Fear grips us and we are discouraged.
Indignation follows as we realize our adversary has no justification for his accusations.
Game plan is the order of the day.
Hope rises now that we have an objective.
Tenacity is what we need to maintain impetus.

Under Nehemiah the Jews fight or flight response is to F.I.G.H.T.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

God Doesn't Care

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I hear people say, "God won't let you down." But we know from experience that he does. He will stand you up at the street corner. He will ignore your prayer, allow you to screw up and to completely embarrass yourself. Jesus explicitly said that we would experience trouble in the world, that we would be ill treated and killed for being his friend. 11 of the 12 Apostles were murdered for honouring Jesus - counting Paul as an Apostle that makes 12 out of 12. If you're counting on life going smoothly, don't look to God.

If you watch bank adverts with a critical eye you will realize that they all offer you the same thing, precisely nothing, wrapped up with fancy ribbons. They have no vested interest in your happiness. They only need to lure you into the net so they can use and abuse you and spit you out when you're no more use to them. You will find individuals and branches more or less helpful but its not they who are making the real money.

A documentary was recently aired on the BBC about a recent report by the Catholic Church concerning paedophile priests in Donegal. The upshot of it is that the church, despite their confession of wrongdoing and failure and a commitment to ensuring it doesn't happen again, will not fully admit their responsibility or dereliction of duty. You cannot trust an established institution to do the right thing because of its survival instinct. In the same way we have a well founded mistrust of politicians. How, they say, can you tell if a politician is lying? Answer: his lips move. Its the nature of things.

There is a general air of disillusion around at the moment. The people who apparently knew what they were doing with our money have turned out to be well groomed gamblers and pickpockets. The success of Labour in the recent council elections is generally regarded as a backlash against the coalition rather than an endorsement of Ed Moribund. But we shouldn't be surprised. What has been dissed is an illusion after all. Why would we suppose that the government has our best interests at heart or that our money is safe with men in dark grey suits or that the institutional church is a bastion of honesty and integrity?

Read the Bible and you will see that God upholds his glory jealously. He demands that no one will share it with him and woe betide anyone who presumes to do so. He asks that we worship him with everything we have to the exclusion of all others. His will be done, his name honoured, his purposes fulfilled and for this we are to lay down our lives. God declares his love for us but he doesn't have the vested interest of the young lover who will do anything to win the woman he desires. God is God and he will be no less so if we reject him. He has no superior and so cannot be judged. If God says black is white, it is.

Its not difficult to see that a God who will defend himself so vigorously would create a universe in which its creatures and human societies would have the same instinct. Indeed, we are told that we are made in God's image. We are all demigods and don't we know it. Even babies demand their parent's full attention and, "don't think you will have a life while I need you to care for me." But its because God has no vested interest that he will leave you crying, soiled and hungry until he deems it the right time to intervene. The bottom line: God will let you down if it makes sense to him. We could possibly conclude that there is suffering in this world because God doesn't care.

But we can't blame God. Can the pot say to the potter, "I don't like how you made me." Can a selfish son place demands on the father, his own flesh? We are ungrateful children making unreasonable demands on our parent not seeing ourselves in him. But Jesus says, "If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" As a child I rarely had sweets while some of my friends had them all the time. My 'evil' parents denied my personal pleasures in order to save up for holidays and Christmas. How much more will my Father in heaven let me down when my heart is breaking in order to save me for heaven and eternity.

Its good that God doesn't care about some of the things I care about. Nor is he concerned about some of the things I'm concerned about. Jesus didn't say, "I won't let you down" he said, "I will never leave nor forsake you." The difference between God and all other beings and institutions is that he has absolute integrity. He is always right and true to his purpose. He isn't swayed by your emotions though he has compassion and cares for you more than a mother, her child. You are always on God's radar and you can always call him father. Don't have illusions about God and you will not be disillusioned.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Unwanted Gifts

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Let me relate an insignificant incident. Many years ago when I was living with mum and dad we had a new magazine rack. I asked my mum whom this was a gift from. She told me that she and dad had bought it for themselves. I had a good childhood and never went without. We had holidays every year and led a full family life. But money was tight and frivolous spending was out of the question.

Had my parents been more liberal with their spending we would not have had the treats that we always looked forward to but that meant we couldn't have something unless it was a gift, had been pre-planned or was a necessity. In my mind the magazine rack was an attractive accessory but not entirely necessary which placed it in the category of a gift. On the one hand this thinking has blighted my life because I've convinced myself I'm unworthy to gift myself just like I thought it strange that my parents would give themselves a gift (not that it stopped me buying stuff).

On the other hand I understand the value of a gift. If it were merely the intrinsic value of the gift itself it really wouldn't matter whether it was given or bought. The true value of a gift lies with the giver. How many living room shelves and mantelpieces are home to ugly, badly made objects whose only value lies in the relationship of the one who made it. Our lives are often home to ugly, ill fitting and apparently useless gifts that would not be thrown out so easily if we knew the relationship of the giver.

Everyone knows that pain is a gift, no more so than those who lack the pain receptors to tell them when harm is being done to their bodies. No one willingly submits to an experience that has no benefit to them or those they care about. Even under compulsion we are able to make the decision to face the consequences of non-compliance depending on which option is the more desirable. We choose to suffer in order to fulfil a higher purpose. Bereavement seems particularly pointless but it's a necessary part of the healing process following a critical loss. We receive the gift if begrudgingly.

The critical difference between a pessimist and an optimist is that the optimist sees everything as a gift - that which doesn't kill us makes us stronger. The pessimist sees everything as a threat. It's easy to be philosophical when you've been turned down for a promotion; its much more difficult when you've just been told you have a terminal illness. Death, in itself, is no gift but every one of us will die someday. No one likes having their fingers burned (in my experience) but we should all welcome the pain. We can't un-burn our fingers but we can avoid further damage or unnecessary suffering.

We can't afford the luxury of placing these unwanted gifts on our mantelpieces; life must be lived, not observed. Whether you believe in a generous universe or, in my case, a generous God, seeing life in all its ugly, misshapen, dysfunctional forms as unwanted gifts from a generous giver can make the difference between facing the future as un unfortunate victim or as a fortunate survivor.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

In Spirit and Truth

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This was written some time ago in response to a guest article and the blogger's response to that article. The point I'm trying to make is that worship is a gift of God and, like the gift horse, should not be examined clinically. What should be tested is not the attitude of worshippers but attitudes towards worship. At one extreme some worship is viewed as entertainment or merely emotional and at the other that worshipping in spirit and in truth necessitates informality or freedom from constraint.

We are in danger of being guests at the party arguing over who has given the best gift. The following is the main body of my response:


I feel sad that the author feels we "must be very careful how we worship". It was for freedom that Christ set us free, no longer to be tied to customs, obligations and ritual. I also find it pompous to suggest that it is all about God. In corporate worship we are to build up the body of Christ, his bride. It should be edifying and mutually encouraging. Even the Levites partook of meat that was sacrificed to God. If we are to offer ourselves as living sacrifices then we must give God everything including our pleasures, ambitions and shared enjoyment. A life lived according to the Spirit, (i.e. exhibiting joy, peace, patience, self-control etc.) is glorifying to God. The author seems very pleased with himself for being a true worshipper and discerner of wolves - verging on the smug. The parable of the publican and Pharisee springs to mind.

I believe that God is utterly holy and that he demands perfection. Therefore if we fall short even very slightly we will incur God's wrath. Anyone who claims to be without sin is a liar, therefore anyone claiming to worship God in the right way is also a liar and the truth is not in him. You are either under the Law, in which case the Law will condemn you, or you are under grace which means Jesus is your righteousness and he will cover your failings even when your attitude is not quite right. Its not mix and match.

"Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence."

Friday, March 30, 2012

Snow in April

A common understanding of inertia likens it to a snowball gaining speed and weight as it collects more and more snow on its way down a mountain. It would, in fact, be gaining inertia but not because it was rolling down a mountain but because it was gaining mass on its journey. As it gains inertia it becomes increasingly difficult to stop but, conversely, when it does stop it is equally as difficult to get moving again.

Inertia is the tendency to resist change, which applies to stopping something or someone doing what it, or they, are doing or getting them to do something they are not. And, in theory, they are both the same. We find this when attempting to stop bad habits or start good ones though they follow the snowball principle in that their inertia increases the further we let them roll.

This is an excellent principle for directing your life. For most of us there are new beginnings throughout our lives such as marriage, a new job, moving house, changing careers but the snowball principle holds throughout. Beginning from nothing can seem desirable but it's never a reality - if we are not carrying baggage from our past we're carrying genes from our ancestors. But starting from absolute zero would not be advantageous, as we would have no experience to draw on and no investment to build on.

As I write this I can think of people who have well paid jobs, a very nice house and substantial company pension, all built up over the years. They started out with a lump of snow at school or university and have steadily built their snowball. It seems like they can just cruise through the rest of their lives having built that inertia. My snowballs seem to have got no bigger than a large football before they fell apart or just melted in the sun. I've never built up enough inertia to keep me going under my own steam.

In all that I've done and experienced I've built up a wealth of knowledge and skills that, in some ways, are more substantial than bricks and mortar, bonds and company pensions. Snowballs build quickly once a substantial amount of snow has been gathered. It's not so much the size of your snowball that determines the inertia as the availability of snow. I don't have the luxury of massive inertia but with effort and determination I can rediscover my fields of snow even as we approach April.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Prohibition Notice

We are moving out. Its not that much of a wrench, nothing in the place was properly finished and we rattled about in a flat with much more space than we actually needed. In a way I feel robbed because I couldn't have afforded a comparable property in another location. It's like having two seats to ones self on the train and feeling a little peeved when it's legitimately occupied. Having what you need or deserve often feels like being short-changed.

It is kind of scary. Making a home is such a primitive instinct and giving it up unwillingly always has echoes of abandonment and loss regardless of the affection in which you hold it. I remember being made redundant in the full knowledge that another job was waiting for me. I knew it was the job, not me, that was being terminated yet I still felt a keen sense of loss. I think it's the feeling of not being in control - not being the master of your destiny.

Crises have either a purging or necrotising effect - they either force you to make life changing decisions or make the decisions for you, in which case you become a hostage to fate whose only destination is death. Isn't that what we ultimately fear? We have a saying, "it's not the end of the world you know," which supposes that this is a theoretical possibility. When God said to Adam that as soon as he ate from the tree of knowledge he would die, he didn't mean that Adam would drop dead at that moment but that he would be subject to death.

Once the prohibition order was placed on this building I became subject to the order. I am still here but my fate is sealed. The Greek word 'eon' (literally 'age') is sometimes translated as 'world' in the New Testament, so I could say my 'world' has come to an end. This is the end of a very short era. Once God had dealt with Adam and Eve they gave birth to two sons and that pretty well wraps them up apart from the having one more son. They must have had daughters too and, presumably, many more sons but from then on they cease to be part of the narrative.

Adam had the pleasure of tending to the Garden of Eden but his disobedience meant that everything around him was subject to death. He now had to deal with weeds, poor soil and disease. He was reduced from being God like to being a survivor and being the survivor of your own catastrophe is a bitter pill to swallow. God's very first words to Adam and Eve were a command to fill the earth with their offspring. Secondly, he said that they would dominate the earth, its flora and fauna. Interestingly it was Adam the survivor who fulfilled these instructions.

At the beginning of Jesus' ministry he was tempted to accept the dominion of the earth but it would have been obtained illegitimately. It was only through his death (subsequent to Adam's) that he could reclaim that dominion for humanity. Because of Adam's disobedience God placed a prohibition order (that we cannot overturn) on humanity so that we would no longer be entitled to eternal life. Yet Adam, by God's grace, still fulfilled the commands he was given before the fall. We are all survivors of a fallen world but by God's grace we can succeed, even in the shadow of failure.

Even in Adam's deathly winter God planted seeds of hope that would bud in the day of Jesus' resurrection and will bear fruit in the everlasting kingdom of God, which we can enjoy if we accept his gift of life.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Home Thoughts

For the last 10 months I've been living in Ignorance. The building in which I live has been declared unfit for human habitation on the grounds of fire risk, a risk that has been present since the day I moved in so I'm now living in Danger. The postcode is the same but this house is no longer a home (officially). In this situation the council are obliged to ensure I'm not left homeless but that could mean putting me in a hostel. Its ironic that I'm being asked to move from the place that feels most like home at the moment to somewhere that would feel more like a prison to ensure that I am not homeless.

We can define 'home' as the place where we live but very often it is merely the place where we are 'homed'. When you think of the refugee camps in Lebanon, people have been homed there for decades yet they are still referred to as refugee camps, full of refugees, camped. They are sojourners, in transit, hoping and praying that, some day, they will be not merely re-housed but be allowed home.

By the rivers of Babylon the Israelites sang laments for their homeland. They had been re-housed in a prosperous, thriving country yet they wept for the city of Jerusalem, which was now a home for jackals and peasants, a city in ruin to which none of them would return for another 50 years. The Negro slaves in America sang of the land of milk and honey on the other side of the Jordon. Canaan, for them, was not a location in the Middle East but heaven where their souls would be liberated from the bitter struggle of life.

For the human heart, home is not a physical location but a place of rest - not a rest from work but from strife and distress. One of our most primitive fears is that of abandonment; to be excluded, banished or just neglected. Children would rather be punished than ignored. Many people would rather live in dysfunctional relationships than be left on their own. Suburbia is full of homeless people, living in houses surrounded by hundreds of others yet spiritually exiled - refugees camped in their own front room.

I've been homeless for the last 3 years. I've not been walking the street or squatting but where I've laid my hat has not been my home. Like the exiled Israelites I've sung laments for my beloved Jerusalem (Jerusalem means 'city of peace'). It seems that when the heart cannot be where the home is it creates its own version of home in cherished memories, a picture, a poem or a song. This is no better illustrated than in Home Thoughts from Abroad by Robert Browning. And who better to present it than our own John Hurt (see link).

Friday, March 16, 2012

A Lib Dem in the Coalition for Marriage

I would like to point out that this is not party political and I'm comparing my position to that of the Lib Dems within the government coalition and not with respect to any policy.

It seems the coalition are committed to allowing gay couples to officially get married. While civil partnerships are recognised in this country they don't have the status of a married couple. This is considered by many to be unfair. After all, if we are not allowed to discriminate on the basis of sexual preference in the larger arena of public life then why should gay couples be treated any differently than heterosexual couples? This makes a good deal of sense and people of all persuasions can only presume that any resistance to gay marriage can only be a homophobic reaction born of ignorance or religious dogma.

The fact that the church is the main voice of opposition only strengthens this opinion with the danger that the established church is seen as increasingly out of touch with society and irrelevant. However much sense Dr Carey makes and however persuasive his arguments, his dog collar will speak louder than his rhetoric. Anticipating the media circus that will be the public face of this stand off I fear the church will not come out of this very well in victory or defeat.

When the Coalition for Marriage was presented to me I signed the petition immediately and posted my action of facebook. I am of the opinion that marriage is the union of a man and a woman - till death do they part - and that the union of two gay people, no matter how legitimate it might be in itself, is not a marriage. I'm not homophobic or against civil partnerships but let us call a spade a spade. A gay couple is two people of the same sex who cannot procreate or even have sex in the way a man and a woman can. If they adopted children of different sexes only one child would have a parent of the same sex.

I have deeper theological reasons that would take too long to go into (not the abomination thing), but the simple truth is that gay people cannot be married in the way that a man and a woman can. If gay marriage were recognised as such we would then have to discriminate between a traditional married couple and a new, gay couple. To even imply that gay marriage was not the norm would be to negatively discriminate and possibly land oneself in legal hot water. Life is complicated enough.

Getting back to the Coalition for Marriage. They asked the married folk to send pictures of their weddings as a symbol of our celebration of marriage but this raised some serious questions in my mind. Being separated I'm not really in the mood for celebration and with the divorce rate being what it is I wonder how positive a message this will be to the nation. Would it be like presenting Westminster as a symbol of honesty or the City of London as a symbol of generosity?

I've been campaigning against the privatisation of the NHS and I would be happy to stand up and be counted as a supporter of our national institution. No one can accuse me of having any hidden agenda or vested interest (apart from the obvious one). I wouldn't feel like I was forcing my beliefs on anyone and I wouldn't lose any sleep over being accused of bias against private enterprise. However I can't help feeling that with the Coalition for Marriage I'm defending myself and with the niggling doubt about my own insecurity. And how do I hold marriage up as a high ideal when I'm in the middle of a car crash?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Joining the Dots

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photo © anna for openphoto.net
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For some time I've been meaning to learn Classical Gas. For those of you who don't know, it's a guitar instrumental - you may have heard it but didn't know what it as called. Happily its based on a guitar technique I've been using for years so it's a bit like doing a dot-to dot where you just have to join a few dots and it begins to take shape. It seems like my whole life has been a dot-to-dot. I remember when I started school we were given wooden blocks as an aid to learning arithmetic, their lengths representing numbers. To me they were just nice coloured sticks. It was only many years later that I figured out what they were though I'm still not entirely sure.

I don't think I understood school until I was about 15. Up till then it had been an instrument of humiliation and mental cruelty. I read some of my school reports a while ago and was surprised how negative and critical many of the comments were. Learning is a matter of joining the dots but either no one had explained it to me adequately or I wasn't in the queue when they handed out the pencils. School didn't prepare me for adult life, it dismantled me and threw me out in pieces. Since then I've been putting the pieces back together without a manual. Like the dot-to-dot, life makes most sense when you've nearly finished it and you don't have the luxury of an eraser, you have to live with the mistakes.

I've been reading the book of Joshua and I've got to the part where the Israelites raze Ai to the ground. Moses got God's people to the threshold of the Promised Land but it was up to Joshua to take them in. God kindly stopped the Jordon upstream and allowed the whole nation to cross without as much as getting their feet wet and once they were in their first campaign was to take Jericho. That went well and next on the list was Ai, only this time they got routed. The problem was: they had been told that the plunder from Jericho belonged to God but one guy named Achan decided the goods were too desirable and took some for himself. Achan was found out and punished (to death) and it was time for a second stab at Ai. This time they were successful.

So the lesson is: obey God and you will have success; defy God and you will fail. Oh that it were that simple. Experience alone tells us there must be more to it than that. Lets start joining the dots.

The Law of Moses repeatedly told the Jews that God demanded the first fruits, which is why he demanded the spoils from the first campaign. I imagine Achan justified, in his own mind, why he should be allowed to take some desirables for himself. Why would God need robes, gold, silver and iron? Why be so mean? But God had no wish to impoverish Achan, he only wanted what was rightfully his. Achan had dared to rob God - not a good plan.

Joshua's scouts reckoned on Ai being an easy target so they only sent a few thousand troops. But they were sent packing and a few men were killed. On their second attempt an ambush was laid. The men of Ai assumed that this attack would be like the first so they chased them off again. Only this time more Israeli troops came from the opposite direction and set fire to the city. The men of Ai were now out in the open and between two lots of Israelites in much larger numbers.

Lesson 1: there are good reasons why you shouldn't have what you want. If you have to justify your actions you should probably not be doing what you are doing.

Lesson 2: God can use your mistakes for good even when they are the result of your wrongdoing or disobedience. Israel's first attack on Ai failed because of Achan's sin but if the men of Ai had not seen Israel run for their lives after the first attack they may not have fallen for the ambush on the second attempt. The casualties from the first attack were no less dead but victory was achieved.

Doing the right thing is not simply about following a set of rules or obeying a prescribed code it's about seeing the bigger picture and that sometimes means getting it wrong first time. The more I read the Bible it looks less like a bunch of random dots and more like the outline of a big picture. God doesn't erase my mistakes he uses them as lessons - not like those miserable reports but like hardcore, out of view but forming the foundation of a brighter future.