Friday, 31 October 2008

The Necessity

“For nearly half a century, the church was split into two or three obediences that ex-communicated one another, so that every catholic lived under ex-communication by one pope or another and in the last analysis, no one could say with certainty which one had right on his side. The church no longer offered certainty of salvation. She had become questionable in her whole objective form. The true church, the true pledge of salvation HAD TO BE SOUGHT OUTSIDE the institution.

It is against this back-drop of a profoundly shaken ecclesiastical consciousness that we are to understand that Luther, in the conflict between his search for salvation and the tradition of the church ultimately came to experience the church not as the guarantor but as the adversary of salvation”.

Historical assessment of the reason for the reformation by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger
(now Pope Benedict XVI).

It's something the media age has made us live with - national and international convulsions of crisis and upheaval which seem immediate, if mostly conveyed in a detached, almost remote fashion, where we can sit and watch but feel disconnected. It can even occur regarding things that are literally happening under our noses.

Yesterday, I watched with disbelief as a small town around an hour's drive from my home was bombarded with a month's rain in under two hours, a foot of hail and ice, and lightning that sheeted the night sky so long that people there thought the end of the world had arrived... Meanwhile, most of us in the same county slept quietly in our beds, unaware of what had occurred in our backyard until the news reports the next morning.

It is the strangest thing to visit a place where some great event has occurred. In the last decade, I recall walking through a forest the morning after a great storm - the strongest of its kind, they believe, in over a thousand years. Great old trees had been uprooted and tossed around like kindling, famous landscape markers had vanished overnight and the whole place smelt of the sap of a broken, torn place.

There are moments when such a conflagration is not only necessary, but demanded amongst the Christian church; a 'breaking' of bones in order that they may be re-set and bound to heal and grow well. The events in medieval Europe, from the preaching and ministry of John Wycliffe and the Lollards, through the sacrifice of Jon Hus, to the protest against indulgences by the Augustinian, Martin Luther, were the birth bangs of the long and hard work of seeking to bruise in order to mend, that those of us living may genuinely be exposed to the radiance of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and be made free by this alone.

The struggle has not changed. The church still creaks and teeters, as it so often seems overloaded by those who teach another Jesus, another 'gospel', but some 500 years on from that morning in Wittenburg, when Luther took the bold step of expressing concerns due to his conviction that Apostolic truth was at stake, there are still voices who wish to affirm the message of the New Testament - the just shall live by faith alone - that we may truly do each other good.

On this day, when our world dallies with fear, superstition and the eve of another year, let us look towards a greater truth, a greater day, when the healing of Christ through the good news heralds the renewal of the Lord's good handiwork....

From earth's wide bounds,

from oceans farthest coast, through gates of pearl stream in the countless host,

singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost, Alleluia, Alleluia.

Hymn: For All the Saints by Vaughn Williams.

Monday, 20 October 2008

"Herein is wisdom..."

"But He, in Himself, after a fashion which we can neither describe nor conceive, predestinating all things, formed them as He pleased, bestowing harmony on all things...
in this way, in short, He formed all things that were made by His Word that never wearies".


I've carried it around for most of my adult life - a little green card that says I'm disabled. Most of the time, I forget about it, and most of the people I meet everyday probably never see me that way, but in my case it's something that's been true since birth, and there are mornings where I really know it's true.

It's like that in all kinds of ways in life - we suddenly find ourselves facing a trail or a circumstance which leaves us way out of our depth, but what do we do in that moment?

Sometimes, we can see things coming. I can recall my visit to America in 2005, and the friend I was staying with telling me in no uncertain terms that the growing 'sub prime fiasco' was going to wreak havoc on the global economy.
Occasionally, perhaps because of hindsight from another event, we correctly read part of what's shaping up and can thereby anticipate what's required next. A good sailor, I'm told, can tell in many cases what the wind is probably going to do, and what that means for the day at sea.
It's useful to be a good judge of such things, but however good a prospector we may be, life will always have something up ahead that catches us out - because of who and what we are.

The tendency of human nature is to put everything into a box - a scheme entitled 'modernism' or 'secularism' or a plethora of others; whatever 'suit' we think will fit the moment, but at the end of the day, our Politically Correct 'dress codes' will leave us bare before the harsh realities we all face, for they contain no remedy.

Nearly 2,000 years ago, as Christianity wrangled with the belief that the physical was irrelevant, Irenaeus sought to guide our view beyond such trends to a touchstone that will leave us awe-struck when truly realized.
Beyond the meager limitations of our defining, our scheming, our oh so real frustrations, there is the revelation of the Word (John 1:1).
It's really worth doing sometime - sit down with your study guides and begin unpack what this definition of the character and nature of God is seeking to express to us - it's astonishing.
Of course the amazement does not end there - this Word was made flesh, and because of this, the 'stuff' we inhabit and are made of will not be forever bound to futility and frustration, but will be liberated from such misery and decay.

It certainly gets harder to do things as we get older (except have a good moan, perhaps!), but the truly good news is that there is genuine hope for our poor race and this maligned world we inhabit.

It may be hard to start tomorrow, but it may help to see each day as a moment heralding that great redemption - an opportunity for us to truly see, to taste, to know, the glory of the one revealed as the Word.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

In proper context

"From the fourth century onwards, there took place what some have termed the paganizing of the church. It adopted beliefs and practices that were wholly alien to the Gospel".

Jacques Ellul

"Be on your guard against the ferment, the teaching, of these men".


Last month, new evidence was released that a certain chemical used in common plastic items, including water bottles, can under certain conditions leach into the contents of the plastic container and end up within our bodies, causing a much higher likelihood of heart problems or cancer.
The very items we use everyday to help us keep healthy could in fact be responsible for major health problems and deaths, all because there is a fault with the container the 'healthy' product is provided in.

The same is so abundantly true regarding the very nature of the Christian church.

Why is it that the essential message of fundamental freedom (the redemption in Christ that once again allows us to love God and each other) is so buried beneath an unbearable weight of provisos and conditions which are strenuously advocated amongst the various 'traditions' (ancient or modern) in the majority of variations in Christendom? Why would an Apostle like Paul once again find himself standing almost alone if here today because of his bold and clear affirmation not only of the Gospel itself, but of the ramifications regarding Christian liberty, now so rigorously deemed 'outside' the remit of 'piety' assumed and shored-up within the niche of most churches?

The answer is because we have so often been told to avoid the plain statements of Christ and His Apostles and to place confidence in the leaching of folly into the instruction of leaders and institutions - poison which makes us numbed and dulled to the real power and nature of the vital Christian life.

Dualistic and Gnostic 'purity' has murdered our faith for centuries, and it must be denounced as the dark mesmerism which defrauds so many into swallowing whole a mime, a hideous and hollow imitation of a faith which wishes to drive deep into our flesh, our deeds, in a fashion that reveals mere external 'display' as a toxic, malevolent mantle.

The requirement of our generation, as we fast approach another anniversary of Luther's issuing of a thesis toward liberty, is to recognize the true responsibility of Christian discipleship, to stand sure in the freedom we have, and to teach and live from within that freedom, never again giving ourselves to the horror of dead religion.

Monday, 6 October 2008


'The Photographer's Eye is perpetually evaluating (and because of this), can bring coincidence of line simply by moving his perspective by a fraction of a millimetre' Henri Cartier-Bresson.

"Prove all things and hold fast to those things which are good'. The Apostle Paul.

Isn't interesting how easily we can simplify and thereby totally empty things of their actual value?

I received the framework for my third year of studies in Photography today, and was quickly plunged in to considering the likes of Colour Formalism, New Realism, Gestalt Laws and their bearing on photographic composition, intent and balance. It was pretty heady stuff to start the day, so after lunch, I thought I'd do a search under 'Christian Photography' and see if I could find a few on-line spots where others of like faith may be seeking to engage in the realm and looking for mutual support....

Now, I have no particular liking for beer, but those who do would tell you just how plain dreadful it is when someone seeks to give you something other than the genuine article.
The point? Well, just what is the point of having 'christian' sites for 'nice' (inoffensive) photographic images (which appeared by the page load on my search)?
Well, some might say, our faith shouldn't contain anything 'unclean' - no violence, no profanity and absolutely no nudity, so that's the guidelines for 'Christian' things - art, photography, whatever.

In the early 16th century,
German artist Matthias Grünewald brought comfort to those dying of leprosy with the production of his altarpiece depicting the crucifixion of Christ. The art is stark and uncompromising - an acute, furious expression of the agony of death, the debasing of a man by such cruel execution, the plain exposition of the naked death of the Son of God. The work achieves it's goal - to show the one who has so totally identified with our pain, our reality, and it is because of this that the image on the other side of the panel - that of a Jesus, bodily whole and resurrected- resonates so deeply with regards as to the essential nature of our faith in God's sure and certain promise - though this body is destroyed, yet in my flesh, I shall see God.

In the early 1990's, I found myself staggered when many local Christians I knew were vocally informing myself and others that we should not watch or encourage others to see the masterful Stephen Spielberg film, Schindler's List. What staggered me was that the reason for this boycott had nothing to do with the entirely legitimate theme of the movie - of redemption amidst a world gone mad - but simply because the work contained 'nudity'.

There is nothing more terrible than when we deny what we have been called to express.
Christianity is not against exposing the horror and darkness of what is here and why it exists. It is equally not anti the marvels and glories of natural human life - these are, in fact, the very aspects that are so inherent to God's work of redemption. What we hate is the lie that things are right and good without the life and breath of God. That is the murder which transpired in Eden.
Sin is that rotten, wasteful thing 'which prostitutes and wrecks that which should be fresh and full of life, generating a God-ignoring barrenness' (Calvin Seerveld).

There is, of course, nothing wrong with Christians sharing normal life together - that should be encouraged, and we certainly need to avoid union to any evil which undermines the truth of the Gospel, but that life should be in the world, in the arts, in the very fibre of society and culture, not so 'soft-centered' and besieged that the life we know is 'pure' to the point of dualistic detachment.

I did finally find a page where something more edifying was going on:

But it took a while....

I wonder if others on this course, especially those without faith, would have been as persistent, or able to understand....