Tuesday, 30 October 2007

The D A Y

"It was expected to set off a round of discussions -
In reality, it was so explosive that it was to change Europe forever"

Michael Horton.

Tomorrow (October 31st) is one of my favourite days of the year.
On this day, around mid-day, in the year 1517, a man nailed a document to a door in a German town to encourage, what he thought, would be a scholarly debate concerning abusive religious ideas and practices that demeaned the message of Christianity and sorely burdened the common people. What happened was his points for debate (95 theses) ignited a fire that caused the first seismic change in Christianity for over a thousand years.

The man was Martin Luther. The result was the Reformation.

It's easy for us today to forget just how major and how vital this event is. Luther brought the Apostolic message concerning the nature of faith back to the very centre of what Christianity was about - something which had been tragically lost for so long. His writings and his preaching called the church to re-establish its life and faith around the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as so clearly declared and defined in the New Testament. It was a moment when the world was called afresh to take note of a truth that had not changed, however much it had been muted or ignored.

This day reminds us that history is filled with moments which leave us aghast, as in them we see a God who works amidst human actions to allow us a glimpse of His Kingdom.

Enjoy the day, and the freedom that comes by God's redeeming grace.

Friday, 26 October 2007

Putting it together

"For many, Jesus was presented to them as the solution to a problem...
It's not that it is
wrong; it's just that Jesus is so much more.
(The common approach, essentially is that)God comes up with a way to fix our problem (sin) by

sending Jesus, who came to the world to give us a way out of the mess we find we are in...
But the first Christians didn't see Jesus this way - as if God were somewhere else.
They believed that Jesus was
Lord (of creation), that He was present as the Son before creation and had been a part of the story all along." Rob Bell - Velvet Elvis.

I'd forgotten how much goes into sorting out a holiday, especially when there's a few of you going away. It's not just the accommodation and the flights, there's the insurance, the travel connections and pick-ups and making sure it all ties together - no wonder some people feel they need a break after the holiday! The reason we do all of this, of course, is because of the goal - the destination. A week of stunning views and engaging places, new people, a cascade of enriching new experiences. How demoralizing, then, when something goes wrong, especially if it's because of something we've forgotten to do or remember. It can ruin the best laid plans.

The same is true regarding what could be defined as the 'truth that is in Jesus Christ'. Christianity really is not just about some kind of 'above and beyond' belief that saves our souls.
Yes, when we genuinely encounter Christ, it will be something that changes us in a manner that is total and astonishing, just as it did so many times in the Gospels, but that in many ways is but the first page in a revelation that will grow as we unpack what the message of scripture is really seeking to express.

In the opening of the book of Colossians, for example, we read how Jesus Christ is the creator and sustainer of the physical order of all things, and if we go on to glean the gems that derive in this and the following chapters regarding both the nature of God, revealed through Him, and the real value of that creation, then we begin to understand just how comprehensive the message of Christianity really is.

Let's make sure, then, that as well as our 'passport', we have everything else to make such a journey as full and as rich as it was intended to be; that we may, as Paul puts it, be 'thoroughly furnished" in the faith.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

The Engaging Vision

"Beauty reaches far beyond art, music and literature, for it is characteristic of the natural world – creation. For beauty, like truth and like goodness, has its origin in God. So we mustn’t think of beauty as merely belonging to objects in the world, as if beauty were a quality like size or yellowness: beauty is in the relationship between the object and the person who comes into contact with it. The world is 'haunted' by the presence of God and we are the ones who register that presence. In John Ruskin’s expression, we are touched by the sublime, and our reaction is to be moved and thrilled by it". Peter Mullen on beauty.

In his extensive study of the subject of beauty, Umberto Eco noted that 'something beautiful is something that would make us happy, but it inherently remains beautiful even if it continues to belong to someone else'. I value that truth every time I find myself engaging with one of life's rich marvels (there's a great deal to unpack in that thought).

Yesterday, a friend invited me to accompany them on a trip to visit a superb local example of a cultivated country garden. The autumn colours were at their very best, and I found myself feasting on the dazzling visual array that nature exudes in this season, which kept my camera very busy.

Today, I had the opportunity to create some new work with a local model, and I found myself again amazed at how light and form merged in such a serene manner that I encountered moments where I was physically shaking from the sheer grace, joy and elegance of what was unfolding before me. At such times, it becomes the most natural thing in the world to allow such a 'breath' to inhabit, to guide your artistry, to encounter and touch a reality higher than us which makes us so truly wealthy.

In His teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us to look at the creation and to learn much about how God cares for us, furnishing us not just with the requirements of our physical existence, but with an understanding that allows us to satiate a much deeper and crucial need - an encounter and a union to the one who gives all of life vital place and significance.

Beauty is ultimately about recognising the image of the one who is found in every moment that grants us such a taste of that wonder.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

eternally untethered?

"To our bodies turn we then, that so
Weak men on love revealed may look ;
Love's mysteries in souls do grow,
But yet the body is his book". John Donne - The Ecstasy.

There is a common theme in most of the world's beliefs - afterlife of any kind is something not of this world. You can enjoy all sorts of pleasures, become all sorts of forms of energy or 'life force' or nothing whatsoever if you prefer - even come back as some other creature, but one thing these views all pretty well share is that the body is over and done with - it's dead and gone.

I wonder how it must have been on that day when the one known as Jesus of Nazareth, presumed rightly, by all natural standards, to have been executed by the horror of crucifixion and then buried for so long that there was no doubt concerning his death, stood again amidst His friends alive in the very body that had been dead - how can you deal with something like that?

The Apostle Paul tells us that the resurrection of Jesus is just the 'first fruits' of what is to come - a day when every person will once more stand alive clothed in the bodies they had lost in death, but now bodies that are tempered with immortality. I wonder at the shock this will cause to all those who have expected eternity to be some dis-embodied 'spirit' realm.

Because of what we can term the 'time and space' (historical) reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are urged to place our confidence in the work and promises of God, that we might find that astonishing day ahead a day of joy and not an everlasting anguish.

The poison of this 'intermediate' sphere - creation tainted by sin and death - has been drawn at the cross and the tomb. Both our present life and coming physical death, then, are just an introduction to a far greater reality.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

All we really need

"I want you to get swept away out there; I want you to levitate,
I want you to sing with rapture and dance like a dervish...
Love is passion...obsession. Something you can't live without.
There's no sense in making the journey without this".

Bill Parrish (played by Anthony Hopkins) in the movie, 'Meet Joe Black'.

I attended a family wedding on Friday, and had the privilege of taking the photographs of the occasion. It was an event which, in the small spaces between my busying myself with the camera, took me back to my own special day over 25 years ago - a day when I publicly affirmed the love that had drawn Kay and I to the point of wanting to so deeply become husband and wife.

The years which followed were often difficult, marked by a whole array of problems that most of us will face in life, but the love which had called for that union between us never wained or diminished, and was still present in the very last days of her life a few years ago.
I am still deeply part of her, and I still know the strength of those words in the song of songs -
'Many waters cannot quench love, neither the floods drown it. For your love is stronger than death'.

As Jesus faced trail, betrayal and a cruel death, He spent a short time with those who He had come to know so well - those who were His friends. He had desired to share that evening and a special meal with them, and in that context, He shared the true reasons behind His giving of His life - that we might know a fellowship with God and each other so strong that eternity is barely large enough to express this.

Stronger than our failures, stronger than our fears, stronger than death. There is a love that can enfold us amidst the darkest places, and lift us out to a living, enduring hope that will, without question, one day allow us to place our own feet once more upon a green earth, and look upon human faces transformed by that same love.

Sorting the wedding photos today and looking upon the joy of the newly weds, I know that the greatest wedding - the marriage of heaven and earth - is yet to come.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Healing the Deep Wound

"One thing, and one thing only is necessary for life, rightness with God and genuine freedom.
This one thing is the Good news of Jesus Christ, the resurrection and the life, who sets us free". Martin Luther - Freedom.

I know it's pretty silly and somewhat stereotypical, but I must admit I have something of a soft spot for the movie, City Slickers, not least because of Billy Crystal's funny but poignant portrayal of a middle-aged man still looking to find himself.

One of the best aspects of the tale is this character's inter-action with Curly (Jack Palance) - a genuine, seemingly hard as iron Cowboy that is the last of his kind. When the two men work together to save the life of a calf at birth, Curly relates how the secret of life 'is just one thing' - only when you find that can you truly be yourself.

During the days of the Reformation when Luther was incarcerated in the Wartburg, he received a letter from his friend, Phillip Melanchthon. This brilliant young scholar was filled with doubts about his own standing, whether he was truly a man of faith, and what he could do about his concerns. Luther wrote back a historic note that echoes down the ages:

"Melanchthon, go and sin bravely - then go to the cross and bravely confess it -
the whole gospel is outside of us". Here, Luther nails that 'one thing' that makes us complete.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul tells us that Abraham was made right before God by just one thing - he trusted in the character of God and the promises that God made, and as a result, was deemed righteous. The need we all share is a life that encounters this God - a creator who extends grace and mercy to us in our day of need - to place our trust in Him.
We can then truly discover that God justifies - even when we are sinful or deem ourselves unworthy.

To borrow another famous TV phrase, The Truth is out there...

Friday, 5 October 2007

Light the touchpaper, and stand well back...

"To a woman, it's self-evident. Life is what it is...but guys think there has to be something more. That's why all the leading religious figures are men - they claim that it doesn't make sense for the world to move on without them. Guys never really want to leave the table".

Gregory Mac Allister in Jack Mc Devitt's novel, 'Odyssey'.

It's great when you hear or see something that gets you thinking, like the quote above. A moment of reflection on the realities of my own faith, for example (especially the events of the morning of the resurrection) made me realize how short of every one's needs this particular assessment falls, but it did remind me how often our evaluation of some aspect of life can be simply because we have never settled somewhere long enough to really survey some new territory.

When it comes to the fairer sex, I currently work 'in correspondence' as a photographer with a world where women can often be maligned and stereotyped, and where the human propensity to wickedness illegally mars and marks lives in a fashion which reveals tragedy behind the glamour. It would be easy to conclude that the entire field is 'evil', to seek to jolt the thing down the slipway into a sea of abandonment, but that would be a betrayal of something key to our humanity, and I'll explain why.

Over the last few years, I've encountered many young woman working as models not primarily because they are (or are at least seeking) to make huge amounts of money - that is not the key motivation. They are involved in the field because it has given them a new confidence in their lives, an ability to truly begin to 'be' themselves, and to use their gifts and form in a manner that is creative and artistic. The primary appeal, then, has been to a connection with identity and reality that allows some 'taste' of our true potential - to rise above the stereotypes and become more.

In John's Gospel, Nicodemus, a teacher of others, comes by night to meet with Jesus to ask what he thought was all the right questions. He would 'place' this new teacher in His rightful place and then get on with life, but he came away a very troubled man, for Jesus showed him that there was so much more to understand. As I approach the fifth decade of my life, I am beginning to realize the value of that lesson, and how valuable real discipleship can be.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

From the corner of your eye

"Every December sky, must loose it's faith in leaves,
and dream of the spring inside the trees
How heavy the empty heart, how light the heart that's full,
sometimes I have to trust what I can't know".

Beth Neilsen Chapman.

A journey across the English countryside almost always sparks the artist in me, even on grey and murky days like today. As I watched the mist hang amidst the dips in the hills and noticed jewel-like displays of raindrops upon saturated webs, I was reminded of how nature can 'breathe' hard into the weave of us and bring joy and connection to a realm which both astonishes and embraces.

One joy that I relish is a still morning when you find yourself walking a country lane and the fragrance of new honeysuckle bursts upon your senses for the first time that year. The moment fills you, making you almost giddy with the strength and beauty of what you encounter, but also brings an agony, for the moment is fleeting - the fragrance hard to keep, causing us to both seek to 'hold' that fragile enchantment and to equally yearn for it's speedy return.

As I looked upon the shapes, patterns, colours and contours today of what surrounded me, I realized afresh that our lives are meant to be as rich and enticing, as deep and as varied as the earth that surrounds us. The attraction of life is life! That is the yearning and desire of God, expressed in the revelation of Christ, to share life that full.

After a weekend shared with good friends and a journey holding such thoughts, perhaps you also can inhabit a similar moment of pause... to 'smell the roses'...