Monday, 30 June 2008

Twisted Feet and Broken Shoes

I, I live among the creatures of the night
I haven't got the will to try and fight
Against a new tomorrow, so I guess I'll just believe it
That tomorrow never knows

A safe night, I'm living in the forest of a dream
I know the night is not as it would seem

Self Control by Laura Brannigan.

It's hard to dance when the music is just torture -
a vicious, raping noise that won't allow you to cease from twisting in
contorted angst to its unceasing execution of the soul.

She sat beside the lakeside, her pale face
already flushed with the red of tears,
expressing the anguish of her generation -

a people broken by the poison of 'modern' life
- always frantic, always blurred, always bleeding.

The diary entry of many years ago is fresh in the mind...
'If I can love you, why can't I touch you?'

Her friend is close by, and speaks of her own current pain
- of men seeking to abuse her
- men she should be able to respect and trust.

It is the murder of our world - the killing of what God wishes us to be.
Children defined and oh so refined by grace,
by the care which would never extinguish the smallest glimmer of light.

God give us the grace, the compassion,
to seek to bind such wounds,
to begin to speak to sever the strings of such tyranny.

Love is not easy.
It calls us to to turn from the lie of insignificance
- to recognize the astonishing,precious value of another,
to encounter such a compassion

that it will mean a death to selfish aims and ambitions,
a tussle with reality that burns and breaks us,
dislocated from independence, needing to love more.

The world, as Larry Norman noted,
'continues to play in the only way it knows how'.

It needs to see something deeper, richer
- something which threatens, which speaks so deep,
that the whole of life can be
made whole.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

And the Winner is...

Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack'd anything.

from the Poem, Love, by George Herbert.

Summer is here once more, and along with it comes, for me at least, several visits to the cinema.
I, like many of my friends, enjoy the whole experience of going out to view the latest blockbuster or thought-provoking movie.
This summer promises to be a bumper season, with the new Batman movie (The Dark Knight) and the return of the X Files just around the corner, as well as The Happening (now on release) and Quantum of Solace (007) to keep us happy, but the season commenced with the return of an old favourite in the guise of Harrison Ford once more donning the famous hat to reprise his role as Indiana Jones in the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls.

Now the critics have written at length on how you have to 'suspend belief' for this one, but what's the headline there? Indy films have always been about good fantasy romp, and this one certainly follows suit, but like the others, this one does actually seek to say something a little deeper beneath the wrapping (actually, the wrapping in this one is fun - watch out for the fridge scene in particular).
The story really is asking what makes us wealthy. 'Mac' (Ray Winstone) - Indy's duplicitous cockney side-kick, spends most of the film seeking to wheel and deal himself into gaining riches, and meets a fairly predictable end as a result. Irina Spalko, a Russian agent played by Cate Blanchett, seeks power from the extra-dimensional element of the story through knowledge, and suffers an Icarus-like consequence. Indy, our hero, re-discovers that real wealth lies in reunion with Marion Ravenwood (played once again by Karen Allen) and all the 'bumps and blessings' that brings to life. The film then, at least in that sense, is asking us what do we think matters the most?

I often find myself wondering these days how much 'value' there is in the things I do or say - how can you really decide if this or that is truly meaningful?

When we love someone, we seek to act toward them for the best, even if that means sacrifice or suffering (often for ourselves) to achieve that end. Christianity truly seeks to unveil and express the underlying reason why we find this so important to life - it is a reflection of the relationship of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

A real clue here is when we stop and think for a moment about beauty.
Umberto Eco noted that something which is beautiful is something 'which would make us happy if it were ours but remains beautiful even if belonging to someone else'. Something beautiful, then, is something which can be enjoyed purely for what it is; the balm of the last few hours of a summer's day, the calming sound of a stream, the form and grace in the line of the human frame. The mere fact we can encounter these things is its own reward.
In a similar fashion, when we invest worth into another, we do so because we see the beauty of doing something which is valuable beyond a merely transitory or superficial value - we give of ourselves because we understand that doing so will enrich another and thereby confirm, even enforce a beauty that we understand is meant to endure, even past the darkness of death.
To 'glorify' life in such a fashion resonates with the truth that such an exchange is a currency of eternal value.

Christianity is focused and fueled by the eternal relationship between Father, Son and Spirit, each divine person adoring, delighting and deferring to the others. It is this union and communion, this exquisite fellowship of true significance, that God desires through grace to become the hallmark woven into all of creation. That is the purpose behind His giving and our receiving of Jesus Christ - the breaking out of a peace infused with all the wealth of such an amazing imperative.

As we seek to look upon, point to and share the beauty, let us pray that the Father, Son and Spirit may cause many to taste of this, and thereby know the reality of the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Leaving the Highway

'Neither the language of medicine nor law is an adequate substitute for the language of sin....
Contrary to the legal view, the essence of sin is not primarily the violation of laws, but a wrecked relationship with God, one another and the whole created order'. B B Taylor.

Ever stop and wonder about what defines you as, well, you?
There's a verse in a Mary Chapin-Carpenter song, Almost Home, that I've often affirmed:
"Saw my life this morning, lying in the bottom of a drawer,
All this stuff I'm saving, God knows what this junk is for"

'Whatever I've believed in' , the verse continues, 'this is all I have to show,
what the hell were all the reasons, for holding on with such dear life?'
However we define 'us' - by work, by passions, by health, by what we own, we know, as Dorthy Sayers noted, there is a 'deep interior dislocation at the very centre of human personality' from all such definition, for our very nature speaks loud of our inherent imperfection but equally of our need to find a 'unity of substance both within and beyond ourselves...with that eternal perfection that would define us less hopeless and less irrational in our existence'.
It simply does not matter how charitable, how idealistic we become, we know that even our best and our highest will leave us unfulfilled if the 'gravitational pull' of self pulls us back to an orbit marked with the dislocation and futility we know so well.

The world in general offers no hope to this crisis. Ancient religion and modern science are uncommonly one in their description of a universe birthed in violence and chaos - only in Genesis do we see a different understanding; a God who literally 'earthen's' Himself to fashion and then animate the naked flesh of creatures adorned to bear His image amidst the Universe. In a realm defined by a maturity and wholesomeness we can barely imagine, we were free to delight in all the creational pleasures of an order untainted by our now dislocated attempts to own or hoard it - an earth in which all could be used well.

It is only when we begin to see the no doubt pale reflection of what we were, of what we have lost, that we can begin to understand why this present life, however high our status, will ultimately be unfulfilling. There is a necessity within us, notes C S Lewis, to 'burn' a particular 'fuel' - the life from God, and nothing else can replace that gift.

The 'giant thing' we are actually striving for is significance, not just in a moment or a for a few years, but in the longing that He has placed so deep it can never be denied - in the eternity that is coming. All our gifts, from the beauty of our physical form to our ability to fashion through science or music or architecture, point to a transcendence, a grace that over-arches and over rules the patterns of pain and misery which mar our present fleeting days here. The true focal point of the ages is the One, returned from death, who stands and declares that 'all authority in heaven and earth has been given to me'. To truly save our lives, to make them more than a fleeting moment, we have to loose them in the mercy and significance of the one who makes all things new.

Jesus spoke of the prodigal son, coming to his senses, realizing the folly of seeking to live in poverty so far away from his father's care and love. Repentance is just that.

Why not sit down and take stock of what you are, and consider what we are intended to be.
To be truly human, is to live life fully. That is the intention of the Lord who made us, and who has become a servant to redeem us.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Are We Sitting Comfortably?

"The Kingdom of God is like"....

What is it that makes a good movie or novel?
No doubt we could all identify several key aspects or ingredients that we look for, but there are a couple of things that are probably essential.
The first, I would say, is where the story takes us. When we get to that final scene or chapter, we want to reach a point of genuine satisfaction with the resolution. It no doubt is part of the reason why we will recall the story, perhaps read it again or recommend it to others - we feel it got somewhere. The other, which is equally important, is our journey with one or more of the characters in the tale. We often connect with their thoughts, insights and desires. We recognize and even identify with their growth and perhaps triumph through hardship and we revel in their moments of joy. It's all (to re-work a phrase from a popular movie) ' a pleasant fiction', but the really good stories, of course, are much more - they often reflect and can even teach or confirm to us the realities of life.

This week I've been thinking that the 'story' of Creation may well be just like that.
Becoming thirsty allows us to truly appreciate the value of a cool refreshing drink. The bleakness of winter brings into sharp relief the majesty and joy of the arrival of Spring. Could it be that all the present travail of our present world is actually the pain of purpose - the 'birth pangs' that are necessary for a creation not merely complete in the glory of its physical splendour, but crowned with a life which resonates with the knowledge of the healing goodness and mercy of God?

The Scriptures make it clear that the events which have unfolded since we exiled ourselves from Eden are not a mystery to our Creator. The pain and misery we have brought upon ourselves have been allowed to run their course, but not without purpose. Amidst the very ugliness of such trauma, God has woven a use to death, an engagement with our agony, a point where all that is broken and violated by sin meets with the rich depths of His unmerited mercy and become changed by such. The place is in the broken body, the shed blood, the resplendent forgiveness given in the death of Jesus Christ. This one moment is where all the pain and anguish of our existence in a 'far country' is drawn and salved, that we might taste of a far greater life, made possible by His bruising for our transgressions.

At the end of the movie, The Shawshank Redemption, Red and Andy meet for the first time in many years on the edge of a faraway ocean. They have been deeply changed by their lives, by their experiences and by their knowing of one another, and all of this has brought them to the point where they can now begin a new life - building a boat to explore a new vista.

All of history is moving to a point when the trails will end and such a new day can begin, but it will be a day where all that has been done of value, all that has been learned that holds meaning, will underpin that venture that is to come.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Behind the Bruising

"When I look inside, I feel the scars, the weight of life marked by pain,
but my eyes, though wet, open to gaze upon the grandeur and vista that surrounds me,
that resonates so deeply that my being here, my knowing the joy and agony,
is no mistake -
there is a weave to every touch, to every thought, that affirms a reality filled with meaning".


How do we feel when we see someone we love become ravaged by something or someone in a manner which lacerates their life with misery or cruel intent? Do we merely sit at a distance and benignly accept what transpires as a consequence of such malevolence, or do we become fixed in our souls to intervene - to act to end such a tyranny?
Love motivates us to be indignant of such wickedness.

Within our own feelings, then, in such instances, we can begin to find an answer as to why God's anger is by no means contrary to His love - it springs from His 'reaching' to His children, to release them from a cruelty far deeper than any human cruelty.
Anger at this comprehensive evil - which has made us all strangers in an alien land- derives from His righteous desire to see an end to all which prevents genuine peace and total integrity, in all that we are and all that we do.

When something dire comes upon us, we express our desolation, our need for aid, through our cries and our tears. We weep when we feel the 'wrongness' of loosing one we love, when we bring out something about ourselves hard to bare, when we are angry with some ugly truth. We cry because of the brokenness inside, and also, on occasion, to express a joy beyond words - to let out the deep things, that seem to come from another place, the spiritual part of us.

How does it, then, make sense, to deny that reality, to say that there is no real value, no meaning, behind this 'deeper place' within us all?

Nothing hurts us more than deceit and betrayal - both of ourselves and others - so why would we buy into a folly which denies such a truth isn't a profound reflection of the one who made us?
If we become hurt and damaged by such misery and corruption, why would we expect God to be any less effected by our betrayal when we deny ourselves by denying Him - by not understanding that He is rightly angry at such ugliness?

Violence is never undone by denying the crime.
It can also never be resolved by blind vengeance.

"The true opiate" wrote Milosz, "is the belief in nothing after death - the solace of thinking that all of our betrayals, greed, cowardice and violence are without resolve".
God's image in each of us, expressed behind our tears, tells us otherwise. Our deeds are imperishable.

Selfishness is a murder which twists and distorts our humanity - it invites us to wallow in an illusion of indulgence without value - to kill ourselves in a death of a thousand pretenses.
Hell is the realm where such illusions are forever replaced with the horror of realizing what has been lost - ourselves.
It is the place of people without faces, where all identity is void of its significance and meaning.
It is eternal enslavement to our own destructive, miserable choices to abandon a deeper reality.
Hell is when God gives us up to our own pathetic selfishness to be much less than we were created to be.

Life teaches us that all which is of value comes when we truly love another. This defines our reason for being here. The same is true eternally. We are designed to be defined by an infinite relationship of love with our Lord and Creator. We have walked away from this, but God has come after us to restore us, to make the relationship whole once more.

When we care to look, deep in our broken souls, amidst the pain of our grand delusions, we can know a resonance once more with the one who heals the broken hearted, who waits to visit us with His goodness and mercy, that one day, our every tear will be something long gone.

Draw near to such a redeemer, and He will set you free.