Saturday, 20 July 2019

The 'better', or the best?

"And I will show you a more excellent way".
1 Corinthians 12:31.

How often do you settle for second best?
I suspect most of us would want to say when faced with most situations, where we perceive we make the choice, never, but is that really the case?

I was following a major news item this past week and what was fascinating was what people were missing, purely because they were so focused on where the people generating the story were pointing you, and this meant they entirely missed another major event from the same source, purely because they were being distracted from doing so, until the process was over, and then everyone could go "oh, where did that come from?" (I wasn't any smarter than anyone else, but I picked-up on the diversion because of other smart people pointing it out).

In truth, we settle for something less all of the time. Often, it may not matter very much, but what about when it does?

Back in the mid-1990's, my life took a major theological turn when I came across the excellence of a radio show called The White Horse Inn. The impact was huge, and allowed me to really 'breathe' and develop once more in my faith.

In this fascinating little piece, Lutheran Minister Bryan Wolfmueller thinks out loud about what ideas and beliefs primarily motivate our world, and why that is so often settling for less than we should.

Enjoy!

Sunday, 14 July 2019

Yes... but (Chandelier's and Mistletoe)

"I'm gonna swing from the chandelier, from the chandelier,
I'm gonna live like tomorrow doesn't exist, doesn't exist,
like it doesn't exist".

Sia - Chandelier.

"They are capable, you see, of real repentance. They are conscious of real guilt...
After you have played with them for 70 years, the enemy may thereby snatch them from your claws in the seventy first!"

 C S Lewis - Screwtape proposes a toast.

Life can often be like mistletoe, tenaciously preying on something other to live, whilst perceived as a chandelier - something deemed as pretty, with no practical use.

That's the kind of thinking that's been underlying several of the assumptions I've encountered this past week as I've found myself embroiled in discussions with atheists concerning the purpose of life.

What always surprises me these days is the adamant nature of their convictions - they are atheists, not agnostics... no room for doubt, and yet, as you pry open their resolve, you begin to find there are quibbles... dangerous live fire regions where love and friendship and creativity occur. These are not to be examined too deeply without setting off a tirade of vehement expressions as to why your theism is fanciful and absurd.

Therein lies the rub.
"Religion" is often just below the surface, though it can never be entertained - it's the 'parasite' we cannot allow (because a genuine, beguiling usurper is already jailing us), hence back to the chandelier swinging...
Life is a brief go on the carousel, nothing more.

So why so easily troubled?

If only, in those brief exchanges, people would pause, would think a little deeper about what's going on.

Thankfully, as the arch beguiler notes, they often do.

Saturday, 6 July 2019

Beyond the obvious

We sometimes become so familiar with something, that seeing beyond what we know (or think we know) is really hard, at least until someone comes along and allows us to see things in a way that revives our relationship to what had grown 'comfortable' and therefore without the power to provoke.

One of the most familiar pool of stories to Christians are those found in the gospels - fisherman, tax collectors, beggars, soldiers, broken women and priests. We think we know them because of what's recorded, but that can sometimes leave us uncoupled from what it was really like to live in their world and, therefore, what it really meant when they encountered a man named Jesus.

The Chosen is a new look into that world. It brings these people alive in a way you won't have encountered in any other drama, and slowly, but powerfully, unveils what it would have been like to be amongst those who were first to hear the good news and to see the coming of the Kingdom amongst them.

It will certainly get you pondering!

Saturday, 29 June 2019

Deconstructed

"Meaning relates strongly to our sense of place - as someone who is known and valued".
Martin Robinson.



What truly defines you?
What marries you to the life you have, the world you live in?

In a time when we have so many ways to express so much, what breaks through the grey and makes each morning worth something?

When it's someone else - being a parent, a creator, a facilitator - we know a deep pull to do so much, but what happens when our world cuts us from these roles to leave us no more than something living purely to feed our greed or vanity?

It matters because we're living in a time when what we think matters, particularly about ourselves, appears to top everything else - in other words, even our connection to what's outside is determined by our inner voice of what is, firstly, what we want. Everything else has to be negotiated and received (or sternly rejected) on that basis. What, in effect, this means is that we are not changed by others, by considering the broader picture, but all has to be submissive to us.

So what happens when something comes along that can really make a difference - open us to a far better world - and we entirely miss it because we are so wrapped in ourselves?

There's a superb short story movie that illustrates this really well.

Jesus spoke of how in order to save ourselves, we have to loose ourselves. We have to let go of what we believe we're all about to find something of infinitely more value in what we are.

Moving beyond the superficial today isn't easy - it's often so deeply embedded that it is like giving up what we really are - but it is vital if we're to see and understand what really counts.

Look beyond what's popular, what merely suits ourselves, and we begin to open a door to a much larger world.





Saturday, 22 June 2019

Adjustments

"I scrutinize this turbulent soul".
Tara Blaize - Unbearable Lightness.

Where is your ideal holiday location?
Some go back to the same place, time and time again, because it 'clicks' with them.

For me, it appears to be more of a realm than a particular spot, though I do have a few favorites.
Like my late wife, I love the marvel of being on a beach - that place where earth and sea fuse in a special way to create a place where you can enjoy both together.

I'd find it hard to calculate just how many hours or even how many visits I've made in my life, but I know that my passion really found a new level in the mid-eighties. Before that, the sea was a place I sought to avoid because I couldn't swim, but once my beloved encouraged me, gave me confidence, and took me into the water, everything changed.
I still know the sea is much bigger than me, and I am in awe of its power, but when the days are warm and the water is welcoming, I participate in a wonderful, invigorating connection to it.

Something similar has happened recently regarding my relationship to food.

A friend of mine is a superb nutritionist. For several years, she mildly 'suggested' that I might like to think about taking on board some of her advice, but like the sea when I was a child, I've proven reluctant to get too close to what she was saying - to face the fact that my body, principally due to age, has reached a point where it wants me to makes some changes.

About two months ago, something happened.
I'd bought some fresh tomatoes, and rather than just keep them for a salad or a sandwich, I ate one of them without any additions... It was gorgeous. The taste was just exquisite.

The experience caused me to pause.
How often, I wondered, am I missing out on the real flavour of what I'm eating because I never taste it the way I did this tomato?

The thought, as is often the case, got filed for a time, but some upset stomachs sharply brought it back to the fore, so I thought I'd better do more than just toy with the idea.

Home cooking with decent ingredients, seeking to cultivate eating with a healthier edge began, and it's hard to put into words just how enjoyable it's been. The pleasure of really cooking well, or relishing the smells, the feeling of real food, as you prepare things you know are going to do you good... it's comparable with a great day enjoying life.

Entertainer Penn Jillette has a very candid You Tube video about the change eating well has made to him. What's interesting is though he is an atheist, he admits that making such a change physically has had a huge impact on his mental landscape as well, bringing about a new passion to be there for others, especially his children.

What such examples speak to is how we can all become so blinded by what we're told (or what we tell ourselves) is good, that we can not only miss the way it's hurting us, but more importantly, neglect to understand what we're really missing - the tastes, smells, flavours, qualities of life that are actually right there, but our habitual pursuit of what we deem as good means that we totally miss out on things substantially more than what we know.

Christianity is about that.
When Jesus meets people, He seeks to tell them that what they have become used to is so impoverished in comparison to what there is to know and to share.
Life isn't meant to be lived at the merely mundane level of just satisfying what we deem to be necessary right now.
What happens when we open our eyes, our souls, to look deeper, harder, than merely wanting or needing the superficial? What is possible, when we see that what we are encountering now is just a beginning, not an end in itself?

Life continues to be an opening voyage of real discovery for me, and I hope that you too will make such a journey.

I came to give life, said Jesus,
and to give it abundantly.

Friday, 14 June 2019

"Syntheotics"


"The wind is old and still at play While I must hurry upon my way, 
 For I am running to Paradise".

Y B Yeats 
 As Quoted in Oliver Stone's, 'Wild Palms'.

It's a day of strong delusions.
The 'fakery' of what people can now put on screen and make the well known say has reached a new level this year, and whilst some of the voices aren't quite there yet, they're getting close. We're not far away from the point where we'll be able to get someone to say anything and you won't know if they really said it or not.

Back in the 90's, Bruce Wagner wrote a series of near future stories in which a power-hungry senator merged television, holography and narcotics to begin a new religion which allowed people to engage with three dimensional environments to manufacture their own reality. Wild Palms was the televised rendition of the basic idea, and focused on a culture war between those who wanted to use the need of the masses to make themselves virtual gods (the fathers), and the resistance (friends) who struggle against massive odds to show people the truth.

The fascinating connection between these two forms of projection is the growth of our buying into illusion whilst deeper, harder truths are marginalized.

What's true of culture is also mirrored in trends in theology.

I recall, some years ago, talking to a friend who, after spending several years in learning, had turned from his faith to atheism. His argument to me was that Paul (the Apostle) simply couldn't be trusted - his assessment of the historical worth and pivotal role of Adam in the history of mankind was at best mistaken and at worse comprehensively misleading. My response, in respect to the anthropology was the jury is still out, but in regards to theology, without that (Paul's) 'gravitational pull' in respect to Adam, the entire weight of the Biblical view would indeed be little more than a string of untuned notions in collision with each other(1)

It's the significance of what scripture actually states to us on a spectrum of vital issues that makes their message imperative, but the prevalent thinking today is that there is no cohesive and clear 'word' given by the Bible - it's a far more nuanced procedure of picking out what is deemed relevant in respect to current pluralistic aspirations than seeking to understand what's stated in its own terms. To take scripture plainly, in other words, as Luther and others instructed in most cases, is deemed foolish and lacks any voice in our present climate.

One area where this has been particularly true of late is the theology of the atonement, and particularly with respect to Christ's substitution for us, which has been defined as a relatively 'modern' development in Christianity.

In his work, The Crucified King, after making an exhaustive analysis of the books of Isaiah and Mark to show how integral substitution is to the biblical message, Jeremy treat notes how contemporary "surveys of the doctrine of the atonement typically sweep through church history", assigning he notes particular theories to various ages in an almost hermetically sealed fashion, but the reality is very different. Anselm, for example, speaking of recapitulation, victory and substitution all in one brief statement concerning the magnitude of the work of Christ's death, and such statements are clearly present in various key theologians of different periods. That is because they are merely seeking to express something of the scope of the meaning provided by scripture.

 Do we see what is at stake here? If we truncate our approach to what the Bible is actually seeking to say to us to the supposedly wide (but in effect deaf) interpretations of our time, we will, in effect, miss the truth entirely and find ourselves, like the peddlers of syntheotics in Wild Palms, given over to the strength of our own delusion.

The scriptures speak very clearly on issues such as our fallen state and its ramifications, the redemptive work of God in Christ and the nature and message of the good news that comes to us through Jesus Christ. These truths cannot be marginalized without us loosing the very essence of the faith and our becoming muted in our message to the world.

God calls us in Christ to seek something deeper than the 'suitable', convenient and soothing to itching ears - to comprehend truths that are deep and mysterious because they address the full nature of what is real in respect to both our Creator and the estate we presently inhabit.

Time to see the illusions for what they are and return to the essential nature of our faith.

(1) A useful work on this whole subject is 'Adam, the Fall and Original Sin', edited by Hans Madueme and Michael Reeves.

Saturday, 8 June 2019