Saturday, 21 October 2017

In spite of ourselves

"If we were to truly look inside ourselves, we would all condemn ourselves".
Noelle's dairy entry - from the film, Limbo.

"Jesus, the son of Joseph.... the son of Adam". Luke 3:25 & 38.

It's one of life great pretenses.

"How are you?"
"Oh, fine".

It doesn't actually take much to peel away that paper-thin veneer, but of course, we don't,
because we're expecting the usual to happen in such "conversations" -

"How are you?"
"Oh, I'm OK to".

(Phew - that's out of the way).

Then it's on to lighter issues.

Getting close to someone always costs, because once you peel away the outer "calm", you will find the storm inside - the raging push and pull between what they would like to be and what they actually are.

That's why the gospels (Matthew and Luke) quickly give us genealogies.

We often think that true purity or holiness is light years away from us or our shaky little worlds, but amidst what we might consider the dusty tomes of 'this one begat that one' - not what we might usually consider a page-turner - resides the answer to all our fears and troubles regarding ever being anywhere near good enough to matter.

The Christian message is that everyone counts, and that's not in some weird philosophical sense. God has literally married himself to us -  to this strange, turbulent mess of a race called humanity. That's what the passage in Luke is telling us - he became a man of the same stream, but without sin, as the rest of us.

The good news that keeps me afloat is not about measuring some increasing amount of virtue or piety in myself - if anything, I so often find the very opposite to be the case - it's all about the fact that "True holiness - the holier it is, the closer it will draw to sinners" (Luther).

We shouldn't be surprised about the fact that our greatest need is met by someone else.
Everything that really matters about us comes from beyond the shores of "me", but how we receive these gifts, how we use them, that's often where we find ourselves stranded. We know they count - we know we should be thankful and reciprocate with generosity and care, but there's this dreadful selfishness in the way that usually causes us to spoil or squander even what's good.

Some years ago, I started attending a church where most services commence with a moment of confession and absolution. It's a moment that resonates deeply, because it tells me that what really counts isn't my inner turmoil over the last week, but the fact that God has already intervened to change what matters - He has killed the power of Sin and Death in coming to us, living with us and for us and dying and rising to brake the cycle of going nowhere. That moment in church often allows me to recognize that splendor once again... and that allows me to get through another week.

That 'allowance' - assurance that what someone else has entirely done is what truly counts - breaks into our benighted, often dreadful days here, and beckons us to a surety and certainty that mediates a comfort beyond ourselves.

Sanctity is because God makes it so. That's why we're deemed to be saints as well as sinners - the bare creature, so marred and crippled by their folly, is covered by a beauty and a purity that could never be obtained by the wretch beneath it. That's why Christians are constantly talking about Jesus - He alone is the righteousness, the holiness, we so clearly need to heal this innate poverty of soul.

There's a great deal more that could be said about how we so readily "miss" each other because we know to do otherwise would cost our island-like selves deeply (the film, Limbo, is a splendid study in how this happens continually, often until it's too late) - but the remedy is here, and we can know a beginning of something far better in the life God brings us in His beloved Son.

I don't have any problem being the "hello... and goodbye" kind of person life so readily makes us, but every once and a while, you get to have an actual conversation with someone, and that can truly be life-changing. When we lift the lid, we begin to realize we're all the same, and we all need that precious moment when we're reminded that something, someone has made it right... in spite of us.

So, when today gets disjointed and you're in a rut once again, consider Him who went to the cross to bring you something so much better - that's the only way we can escape the trouble that is ourselves.






Tuesday, 10 October 2017

The Outsider

"Sometimes, to love someone you gotta be a stranger."
Dekkard - Blade Runner 2049

It's been a busy few weeks, running a series of studies up to the 500th anniversary of the day when a concerned monk in a university town posted some considered admonitions and astute observations that changed everything, but I did manage a trip to the cinema to see the new movie quoted from above to good effect.

As to the anniversary, there's already been a great deal published and expounded this year about this, but what fascinates me is just how far (and how quickly) we can move ourselves away from the strangeness - the complete 'otherness' of God's (rightly defined) "alien" work in the world to a philosophy that is far more comfortable to our own home-made religious requirements. Redemption doesn't ever  truly calmly arise naturally from our inner contemplations that instill an intent to serenely behave with placid equilibrium to all (due, presumably, to some inner virtue and well-being).

The story of our true recovery is far too earthy, too insistent for that. It begins in the nightmare of our becoming far less than truly human (Genesis 3), and, many generations on, reaches its zenith when a young maiden finds herself visited by an angelic being declaring that, although she had never laid with a man, she would soon be with child (Luke 1:26-35).

Our broken world has to be invaded by a stranger (a God who had become very foreign to us, though He is always so close) to become whole again.

 It's only when we begin to unpack afresh the stark and often blunt realities of the Gospel Luther and company returned to centre stage that we become keenly aware of just how foreign biblical Christianity can be.

It's like the way photographs are used in the Blade Runner movies. They are supposedly precious because they unlock memories - moments that are considered crucial to identity - but the enigma in these stories is that the events depicted in these images are not our memories - they belong to another, and yet, at our core, we are still part of them, needing to appropriate these moments to us to make us whole.

These divine moments that are captured - seeded into our world - end us but heal us. Godliness doesn't come to energize our virtue or piety, but to bury it, cold and lifeless - to entirely end such devices and replace it with another nature, another 'personhood', that is not us. This all happens, not in some picturesque temple or a mentally obtained celestial realm so relished by Gnostics, but at a filthy, blood-stained cross surrounded by the cruel and the wicked, in the body of man killing our sin.

Christ takes our vile, vain "goodness" and shows us the true cost of all we are, alienated from the garden, in His broken, despised, rejected flesh - the bread we must eat to be healed. Stricken for us, He offers the world a new humanity that, embodied in this single death and resurrection, severs us from our vile religion so our flesh might be indeed raised whole.

As in the beginning, when creation is brought about by nothing but God's word, so in redemption, we who are ungodly are made whole only by the complete and entire saving "offering up" of the Son, so it is His 'rightness', not ours, that rescues and renews us, nothing else.

Replicants, in both Blade Runner movies, come to see there is something far greater to become than themselves, even if it kills them. They may have been defined as 'more human than human', even as 'angels', but what truly matters is, as Jesus spoke of it, to find that pearl so unique, so precious, that everything else will be eagerly sold to obtain such a prize.

God has paid that manner of price for us - to renew and regain all that we were meant to be in our reflection of His astonishing goodness.

The God who we often miss-shape and deride is so much closer than we often care to say - He so speaks in those deep, intimate moments of existence which move us and enthrall. He calls us to discard our folly, our derived pretense of self-sufficiency, to be made whole at the Cross. Only then will life and death become more than a burden - for there we find the one wounded for us, bringing healing by His wounds, that we might be restored.

Beyond us is a ground where justice and mercy met, where all may come and meet the stranger that loves us most.

"I want to drink out of that fountain, on a hill called double cure".
(Vigilantes of Love).


Considering the lilies...

Fascinating:

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Cultural Myopia (The stars are still there, in spite of the philosophical light pollution).

“Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western spiral arm of the galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this, at a distance of roughly ninety million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet, whose ape descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea. This planet has, or had, a problem, which was this. Most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small, green pieces of paper, which is odd, because on the whole, it wasn't the small, green pieces of paper which were unhappy. And so the problem remained, and lots of the people were mean, and most of them were miserable, even the ones with digital watches. Many were increasingly of the opinion that they'd all made a big mistake coming down from the trees in the first place, and some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no-one should ever have left the oceans".

Douglas Adams - Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy.

And there we have it.
We live a miniscule life, wrapped in petty insignificance.
The big bang - a fluke event - is just the prelude to the big crunch, when the universe either checks-out with a whimper or somehow finds enough oomph to re-cycle the entire futile process all over again. All the pain, all the hardship, all the striving takes us absolutely no where.

That's what secularism gives us.
You can marvel at the spectacle of the vastness of space, or be astonished at the remarkable complexity of the countless machines at work in a human cell. You can boggle at the fact that the laws of our universe are infinitesimally (some might say perfectly) balanced to allow life to exist on our tiny world, but you cannot commit the cardinal sin of saying any of that actually, truly matters - it's all just one huge intergalactic piece of bad luck, and we're just stuck with it.

So what are we to do?

Perhaps the only answer is to raise a question.

Is secularism right? 
Are we nothing more that cosmic flotsam, some of whom own credit cards?

Humanity doesn't need "verified" science to take the road to nowhere. The Enlightenment shows that give our reason free reign, and it will always bend us back in upon ourselves, making existence little more than an extension of our impositions, there to cater for us.

We simply cannot take the 'heat' of what is actually being displayed and conveyed by the masterpiece of creation, and the fact that we 'naturally' (philosophically) move in a nihilistic direction says far more about the true condition of our race than the nature of the universe.

It also amply explains why another manner of definition - theism - is so maligned.

Science tells us the hard facts of material reality, but it cannot tell us why these facts are so. There's no scientific answer to what goes on before or after the material universe (or our material existence), but the facts it has in its hands clearly infers that the manner of this 'accident' we are part of requires mind and intelligence to be involved - there simply isn't a good answer regarding why what is is or why life is viable without it.

So that's why secularism turns in and leaves us with total despair. The alternative is awesome and, to the secular mind, terrifying, for it affirms we are not merely freaks of a chance process, but intended and designed for something more.

Some 3,000 years ago, Solomon observed and unpacked the results of secularism.
It's a dark, foul estate that when faced, drowns us in absolute futility.

Most of us never look that deep. We skim across the surface of life until the skimming stops, and then we sink. Secularism says that's OK - just enjoy the moment - but that's because it's afraid to look beyond itself.

The world is crooked because of us, but we can be bent back to a point where we see further once again. Misery, wickedness, evil and death are not the be all and end all, because right there, in the little pages of our little world and smaller lives, some 2000 years ago, one comes to us who shows there's so much more.

His deeds, His call, was because of a far older event that changed us and made us secularists...

"Adam was doubtless a most miserable and plagued man. He had a wife and sons, which brought joy, but great trouble and misery followed, when one brother slew the other - a murder which caused almost as much grief as his own fall. How lamentable - for during the 900 years of his life he was to see God's anger in the death of every human creature. Our sufferings are marginal in comparison to his - children's toys before the true depths of woe. His one comfort was the promise that all would be changed, not by him or us, but by the promised seed".

Martin Luther (500 years ago).

Christianity doesn't ignore the horror - it simply knows that we're not the remedy to it. That has to come from beyond us - from the mercy of the one who truly knows what all of this is about.

So, here today, where will you go?
Stay on the road to nowhere, or give some thought to what truly counts.

The truth, said Jesus, will truly make you free.


Saturday, 9 September 2017

Beyond D i s r e p a i r (that Wylie Coyote Moment).

"The sentimental denial of the tendency to sin is Pelagian. It denies the felt, hard reality of original sin, and thus, insists on the fundamental goodness of human nature.
Our present 'enlightenment' projects are a new version of such Pelagianism, which seeks to explain and control the human predicament only through reference to science and technology".

The idea of a fake society by Digby Anderson and Peter Mullen.

It was so often the case in Looney Tunes.
As Coyote, for the hundredth time, finds himself suspended in mid-air, once again outwitted by the sheer capability of his opponent, the question must have dawned - why do I keep on making the same mistake of chasing something I can never have (because the illusion is just that - illusion!)?

There's nothing so telling about our times as the illusion that what is true has nothing to do with us.

A good example of this is the fallen walls of the ancient city of Jericho. Back in the middle of the last century, archaeologists argued that these couldn't be the fortifications talked about in the early books of the bible - they were in the wrong part (era) of history. Well, times moved on, and a far more cohesive picture of the past has emerged which shows that, indeed, these are the walls that the people of Israel marched around until they fell. 

Think about that. Let the penny drop.
Joshua's conquest of the promised land actually happened.
That means that we also have data that points to the events preceding this (the life of Joseph, the plagues of Egypt, the Exodus) being factual.

Now, consider the ramifications of such, for you, particularly in the light of what I've been seeking to show here of late concerning the supposed 'scientific' notions regarding the nonsense about Darwinian evolution. There's a huge shift needing to be made in our thinking.

Refusing to believe in something that is factual doesn't make it less true if it is true.
We may be told today that what counts is empirical truth (i.e. the discoveries of science), but it's usually the case that confidence is actually being placed in a process of thinking (philosophical consideration) about a subject rather than what the empirical data itself is really saying.

The problem, of course, is that we often prefer the illusion to the authentic, the dream of our own contrived notions to the telling facts of real events.

That's how we are so religious.
People think religion just amounts to some form of belief about a deity or going to a place of worship, but we so often define ourselves in the very same religious fashion (veneration of self and devotion to this). 
Just like Cain, we think our notions about what counts are best, never mind what else is going on around us, and we'll actually set out to destroy (or at least discredit and undermine) anything (or anyone) that says different.

History and daily reality actually argues with our everyday experience. To go back to my opening quote, we all know we have a serious problem that we cannot resolve, and yet we act as though if we just try hard enough, we'll make it to that level of equity and bliss that equates to nirvana. In truth, we're just another coyote, chasing the myth, about to race over the cliff edge.

There is a better way.
Historians tell us the life and death of Jesus are very real and that same history shows us that the church was clearly born from an event that was nothing short of miraculous.

Stop running after illusions for a moment and think about that.

Paul tells us that Christianity is based on facts.
Jesus Christ, as so many have discovered, is who He said He was, the one who came to truly save us from our own delusions.

There's something to consider today.

 





Saturday, 2 September 2017

The Broken God

My version of God sat distantly in the sky UNTIL I sang a song and lifted my arms to coax Him down from heaven.

And when my version of God would decided to come down and let his presence visit me, he was 99.99% male and looked like Zeus—a white Zeus, too.
  
Nothing could separate me from the love of my distant-male-Zeus-God, EXCEPT when I was bingeing on food, masturbating over the years (the byproduct of early sexual trauma), or yelling at my husband—at which point He would abandon me until I got my act together. 

My distant-male-Zeus-God was good, but I really wasn't unless I was acting sinless.

My distant-male-Zeus-God was powerful, but not as powerful as sin, because he literally couldn't be around me if I was sinning.

My distant-male-Zeus-God would selectively pick His miracles based on how hard I prayed or believed, making me a hoop-jumping performance addict.

Christa Black Gifford - My journey into Atheism.

 I was struck again this last week by the deep hollowing-out of someone I know who had suddenly lost a parent. His raw response poignantly reminded me of my own response and feelings at loosing my own wife to cancer - the world becomes dreadful and there seems to be nowhere or no one to run to.

Christa Gifford's thoughts above were the result of such a time, and the entirely wrong response from Christians at the moment when her daughter died - 'god takes the best to himself.... it's his testing, and you have done well', and so on ad nauseam.

I was a little more fortunate. The dreadful positivity wasn't fed to me on the day of my wife's death by the church, but a counsellor who denied there was evil in the world (!), but I understand, only too well why there is no place at all for such drivel - Lewis' unvarnished cry in the first chapter of A Grief Observed should be compulsory reading for anyone who wants to begin to understand that moment.

Christa's honesty in the above quote is what really matters.
The God of  "churchianity" is so often indistinguishable to the 'Zeus' figure she describes - a figure who demands we do 'good' before we benefit, who orders moral perfection (because exterior morality really counts) and plenty of good works, constantly, if we're to earn our merits and count for something.

I've certainly attended churches where that's the line - do to live, or you're excluded (I ended up being excluded anyway, because I could never be good enough, thankfully, to be in the 'inner circle').

Christa reached the same conclusion as Luther in his monastery cell  - such a God can only be hated, because why would you worship a being so pathetic that he is entirely dependent upon requiring - demanding an absolute, unending servitude from such a broken, hollowed creature as you?

Is this the God we project to ourselves and to the world - a distant, cold and capricious creature, who obligates us to a life of cruel suffering and pain?

This is the broken god of religion, of no value to anyone who has discarded the worthless garb of self righteousness.

The God who holds us in our pain is broken in an entirely different fashion.

When Jesus faces the grave of his friend, he openly weeps. When Jesus faces the dreadful blindness of religious ignorance in Jerusalem, he breaks for those who will not draw close. When Jesus calls His people to be broken and poured out in this crushed world, He shares in their trial. The God who is there is a God equally marked by what we undergo in our pain and our sorrows.

In the new creation, the 'throne' at the very centre of life won't be something remote and at odds with the splendor of that new world - it will be the throne of the Lamb... defined forever by that very moment when God emptied Himself at the cross to take upon Himself all our dreadful severance from the life that comes freely from Him.

The joy of our present humanity, and our renewed existence is one and the same. God is with us, walking through all our trials along with us, never distant, never further than our wanting to speak to Him (and even closer than that in those times when we can't). God is here, and the cross forever defines the unimaginable depths of mercy and love - that is where we have to begin and end, and that's why I'm a Christian... Not because of what He wants of me, however good that is, but because He makes it all substantial, forever, purely by His unfailing love, which is far stronger  than my sin, or suffering or failure, or death. Christ is God's astonishing love made clear to us.

Facing that love honestly frees us from a false notion of God's nature and allows to truly begin to heal, to move towards the one who holds us and all things by the joy of the unity of Father, Son and Spirit.

It is this manner of love - a God who gives Himself wholly to heal - which alone can end our fear, our misery and finally, end our tears.

I live in expectation of the sure hope of that great day, and I can do so, confidently, because of what has been revealed at the cross and in the life of the one who gave Himself there.

What really counts, here and now, is not us putting on some pretense about what we are or what's happening to us - it's about seeing that we are held by a love that is in all of this, even when we are just too hurt to do more than shut ourselves away. Love so great, so unconditional, is the one precious thing that will, beyond this moment, slashed and torn, make the difference.




Sunday, 20 August 2017

Life, and health and peace (Panentheism)

"In this Spirit (the Spirit of Life), it is not just one part of life that is already immortal here and now; it is the whole of life, because that life is interpenetrated by eternal life, as by the spring that is its source".
Jurgen Moltmann - the Coming of God.

Many, many years ago, a friend bought me the book God in Creation by the above author. Although I couldn't get my head around everything he wrote and certainly disagreed with some of it, something rang deep and true in what he was driving at - how we can find hope for today and the future because of the life God gives to the world in His beloved Son.

"Anyone who understands nature as God's creation sees in nature not merely God's 'works', but also traces of God - tokens of His presence. God's signature is upon all of this".
(God in Creation).

In the years that followed, I came to recognize that same vital theme in, first, the work of Irenaeus and also of Martin Luther. Moltmann had indeed tapped the glorious spring that flows from the tree of life - that what truly enriches and completes creation is the life which becomes ours from God (take a look at the parable of the merchant and the field - Matthew 13:44,45 - to glean an over-view of the relationship between God and creation).

We can, of course, entirely choose to miss the markers, but that is tellingly hard, especially today, when the only way to do so is to bury ourselves in neo-darwinian myth to escape the very prevalent data about the essential nature of the universe.

The truth that is there if we care to see that we live in a universe beautifully balanced and so lavishly adorned to provide for all our material requirements, and to constantly push each of us further into seeking and looking for fulfillment of a far deeper need... genuine conversation and thereby communion with our Creator. Truly, then, the reality of our existence is a realm which urges us to look beyond ourselves, to find purpose and definition, and it is in those moments when we do so (i.e. giving ourselves for others, contemplating the numinous behind the stability we enjoy), that we find the real depths of what surrounds us - not a cold, detached realm, but the touch and whisper of purpose and meaning.

That's the case with Christian Panentheism - it's not pantheism (god is merely the material) or deism (god is totally removed from the material), but seeks to show how God is truly part of our world, yet distinct from it.

Here's an explanation:


The reason this matters is because of what Moltmann (and other theologians) note about the essential nature of the created order -
"The crown of creation is not the human being; it is the sabbath*. (This) gives the human being with his special position with the cosmos the opportunity to understand himself as a member of the community of creation".

(*take a look at Hebrews chapter 2:5-16 concerning humanity (it's proper estate), and then chapter 4:9 regarding the rest (sabbath) that is still to come).

The intention of God in making all things was that what He had made would become a domain filled with His radiance - in other words, replete with the splendor of the joy of the communion shared in the community of Father, Son and Spirit. The Seventh day in creation is an image of that completion, just as Christ's resurrection is the foretaste of the manner of the life that is to define that amazing realm - they both speak of a day to come when God is truly with us forever.


What we may term the 'inner secret' of creation, then, is where all of history, all of time and space, is leading - to that 'day' when the Father, Son and Spirit will truly inhabit and 'rest' (be refreshed and delight) in creation. Here will indeed be a new realm  - a heaven and earth defined by the Son's giving of Himself to make us children redeemed by love - where everything we are and do will be defined by love and will facilitate a full and free manner of life in all of our being, body and soul.

When we truly love someone, we get a modicum of the manner of that eternal life. We know a joy and a wonder that overwhelms us and leads us to begin to live and to work for a whole new purpose. The same is true when the love of God is shed abroad within our hearts, and the truth of the life given for us informs and inspires our thinking and actions in this present age - we become people longing to be more enveloped in the splendor of the one who so loves us.

The intention of our Heavenly Father is to see His beloved Son fill all things with that amazing nature that gives all to make us free to live (Ephesians 1:23). He will not be content with anything less....

So why should we?