Monday, 21 December 2009

Emperical Limits?

"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed". Albert Einstein.

"When the evening arrives, you say ' it will be fair weather' based upon the colour of the sky, and in the morning, 'it will be stormy today', based upon what you observe. You know how to interpret these things, but not the deeper signs" Jesus (Matthew 16:2&3).

We spend a fair amount of time in England talking about the weather - it's certainly a feature that throws up constant variations, even regarding just what kind of rain we'll have today - I understand that someone has even sought to provide a dictionary of words just to define that one aspect of our climate!
One consequence of this is the interesting relationship we have to our weather forecasts - not only because this gives us lots to complain about (MORE rain!), but for those occasions when the weathermen makes absolute howlers in terms of miss-judgments or mistakes, especially with regards to 'freak' incidents on a local level. It reminds me, somewhat of the variation in the 'themes' of a realm like physics, where Einstein's general image may apply for the 'big' view of the universe, but Quantum mechanics are a must when we seek to scrutinize the 'micro verse' that makes that much larger picture possible. Weather forecasting may give me a general idea of whether its OK to hang the washing out today, but it's often not that good at telling me how much frost or ice to expect on my drive this morning.

The reality is, however good our research, our data, our scrutiny of the information at hand, our understanding of what we even deem as basic reality is pretty limited, and it's even more stifling, as Einstein noted, if it doesn't lead us to a sense of wonder about what we are involved in. There needs to be something deeper going on here, and science itself is beginning to express some of the reasons as to why wonder lies at the heart of it.

In the last twenty years, the 'message' encoded within the language of DNA (and therefore, in every cell of our bodies) has begun to 'speak' plainly, showing that there is, in effect, a 'non-material aspect to all living systems' (Andy Mc Intosh - information & thermodynamics), and this discovery, as William Dembski, Stephen Meyer and others argue, places an intelligent origin of information at the very core of the existence of life.

We can view the world, be it through telescope or microscope, umbrella or sun shade, as merely something 'there', something we inter-act with from the cradle to the grave, and that's it,
or, we can begin to recognize the fact that there's something bigger going on here.

Don't merely read the natural 'signs', says Jesus - that makes us terribly limited.
Look deeper, look harder, look with fascination at the wonder of what we are, of where we are, and you will begin to realize that all of this is but a slight reflection of a far greater, deeper reality, a truth that can truly free us to appreciate the wonder not only of ourselves, but of the God who is there.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

The Vital Realization

Watching history documentaries, this time on the second world war, certainly gets you thinking...

When engaged in a conflict, you quickly become aware of the fact that your defenses are only as good as their weakest point - a reality, for example, all to painfully realized by the French and the British when facing the Nazi onslaught in 1940.
The same reality is evident when it comes to measuring the health of of our understanding of the Christian faith. There are clear reasons why we need to be those clothed in the armour of God. The Apostles identify many high minded schemes abroad in our world which are, in effect, strongholds against the truth of the Gospel, and only those fully equipped in the totality of truth can hope to stand against such bastions and engines of fatal deceit.

The imperative of being so adorned and trained to fight raises a question that many theologians and teachers of our day avoid, hence showing their resignation to alien concepts, adopted from outside of the faith.
What would Christianity have become if Paul and company had not contended against the supposed insights and imperatives of the philosophical and religious arguments of their day, but had merely responded to these with a welcoming accommodation of such views? What would have become of the uniqueness of the revelation of God working through creation, especially the Incarnation, to redeem the world?

The pain of falsehood, evidenced even amongst that first generation of Christians who departed from the Apostles doctrine, would have overwhelmed the faith, and would have left the modern world with nothing but the slightest echo of the marvel of God saving our wretched race from its own blindness and poverty.

Falsehood, of course, has made itself keenly felt over the centuries within Christendom - the blanket of error and deceit which descended, especially from the early third century onwards, as dualism became the source of so many 'christian' beliefs and practices, leaves no doubt where such murderous accommodation leads. It drains the essential Christian message regarding our creation, our fall and our redemption through God's love and reconciliation of this world of it's strength, and leaves us aspiring to some vague hope of a saving of the soul, not the actual handiwork of God, made very good for His refreshment and purpose.

It is with these considerations in mind that we would do well to take account of the inroads of theistic evolution into the contemporary Christian fold.
As several theologians have recently affirmed in the work, Should Christians Accept Evolution, the real poison here is not the acceptance of some 'new' understanding, supplied by science, of our nature and purpose, but the accommodation of a very old lie concerning life and humanity - that we are merely 'natural' creatures, entirely defined and constrained by the 'natural' realms of death and suffering, and that the Biblical message concerning a good Creation by a good God has no viable bearing on such realities - salvation, if real at all, merely equates, as it did for the Greeks, to an escape from such an inherently dark and consistently cruel world.

There can be little doubt that modern science raises questions that may indeed be hard to answer regarding the nature of our planet, but faith answers first and foremost with a clear and certain response - that a Good God framed and formed the heavens and the earth at the beginning,
that He made us, placed us in the midst of the good work, and it was then that we marred this realm by our deeds, bringing death upon it and ourselves. This is the malady that the one true remedy of Christ's redeeming work resolves, and to empty the faith of this reality is to leave us bare, clutching the merest leaves of religion in an entirely bleak and barren world.

The Gospel is unchanging, and our faith, our living and contending, must always derive from this unchanging reality.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Immeasurable Grace

"Creation is the highest act of giving" William Dembski.

It's been a pretty intense month. Amidst extra early morning work shifts, fighting off viruses, and networking through a new local arts group, I've have spent the last fortnight working my way through William Dembski's new work, "The End of Christianity - Finding a Good God in an Evil World", a Theodicy in response to several recent atheist attacks on the relevance of Christianity in the 21st century.

There's plenty here that will trouble Christians - it certainly raised questions for me - as he seeks to reconcile the origins of natural evil through the fall with the "if" of an old creation, seeing the effects of Adam's transgression being applied to the world in the same fashion as Christ's work of redemption - both forward and backward in human history.

Whilst I'm certainly not sold on this approach (though fascinated to study more regarding the distinctions between chronological and kardiological time), it would be entirely wrong to dismiss this work purely on that basis. Mr Dembski entirely embraces the critically central foundation of God as Creator, of a historical fall and of a redemption of the created order through the work and righteousness of Jesus Christ (the first four chapters of the book), and this means that amidst the outworking of his arguments, this work is laden with a rich understanding of the nature of the Godhead and the work of the trinity within our world.

The third section of the work really focuses upon this, looking at how the 'knowledge' of God has invested creation with the Creator's life, hence, our ability to see so much wonder, wisdom and beauty, even in our broken world. Dembski then argues how our own desire to create - to give deeply of ourselves to the benefit of others - stems from that same source. It is because God is at work here and now, that Christ is reconciling the creation to Himself, that Creation "speaks" so deeply to us of Him as His handiwork, granting us that glimpse that beyond the horror of what we now are, there is a sure and certain hope - a world remedied and healed, yet also enhanced by the harvest gleaned through the pain and the sorrow.

As someone seeking to work artistically in this environ, I found much of this aspect of the book deeply true and compelling, allowing insights into the wonder of both God's character and His mercies to us.

"The ultimate expression", writes the author in the final chapter, "of our divine image is to allow ourselves to be moved (by the love of God conveyed in Redemption) to the point of sacrifice, with the motive of moving others to a point of union with... that love".

May our lives indeed share the richness of that 'sweet savor'.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Tumbling Down

Some walls are built on pride
Some keep the child inside
Some walls are made in fear
That love let go will disappear

How will we ever know what might be found
Until we let the walls come tumbling down

Walls by Cara Dillon

The world is filled with them - barriers, gates, fences - a plethora of means designed for one single purpose: to keep things out, and yet, in most cases, such barriers fail. We remain completely naked before a barrage of all manner of possible troubles, within and without,
but we still keep building our walls, outside and in, with stone and cement, and philosophy and vain invention.
What was it the song said:
I've built walls, A fortress deep and mighty,
That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.
It's laughter and it's loving I disdain.
I am a rock, I am an island.

It's no wonder the next verse begins 'don't talk of love'. Love is the only 'house' where we can truly find a refuge from this pain, and that is because love defines the eternal relationship and actions of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit - love they wish to convey and share with this broken, fenced-up world.

The gospel informs us that in the moment of His death in the crucifixion, the thick, heavy veil in the temple was torn from top to bottom, meaning that the ultimate wall of division between God and Man, the huge chasm made by our rebellion in Eden, had been healed. Because of this, Paul informs us that the wall of division between people, whatever their creed, culture or colour has been removed, and humanity will be made anew in the new man, Jesus Christ.

At a time when so many of our barriers, our troubles, seem insurmountable, be it the crisis of the world, our own family, or just our own hearts, here is our one true hope - a haven in the storm.

The walls are going to fall, soon enough. Embrace that reality, and that day will truly come with joy.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

The 'inventions' of reductionism

Away, then, with all those prophets who say to the people "Peace, peace," and there is no peace! Luther's 95 theses.

In 1543, Nicolaus Copernicus published his work on the movement of the celestial spheres, and thus was born the modern understanding of our universe and the contemporary approach to astrophysics. Copernicus, like Kepler and Newton, believed that his discoveries and observations allowed insight into a wisdom and knowledge inherent within the very design of the physical universe, so it's certainly strange that in our own times, the view known as the 'Copernican Principal' actually asserts that there is nothing special regarding the position/location of the earth within the universe.

This is a fascinating example of endeavor (in this case, to study the wonders of creation, and gain insight into their source) where the original intent is lost or entirely over-written for another purpose, and it happens all the time.

This week, for example, I learned about the new literary movement entitled "mundane" science fiction. Rather than applying the 'grand' themes and ideas of prior (golden) eras of the genre - space travel, bold adventure, and the like, the aim here is to confine writers to works which are possible to known science. It sounded of interest, but when I began to listen to those talking up the new aim, I quickly became aware of flaws and worryingly demeaning blind spots in the philosophy of such a venture - errors which effectively blight an understanding of what inspires and produces not only good material in this genre, but painfully obvious mistakes about the links between "pulp" and "pop" sci-fi, and fields such as technological advance - just look, for example, at the 'predictions' regarding future technology on the original series of Star Trek, and our present generation to see how many have become everyday items.

This week, a respected report was issued here in the UK which strongly advocated that human beings end eating meat to aid in halting - you've guessed it - climate change. Apparently, our use of livestock in this fashion is simply placing too much strain on the environment in producing certain greenhouse gases, so the responsible answer is a scheme to remove the problem entirely.

Now let me say I love science - the sense of wonder gained from learning new things about this world is often truly marvelous - and I love science fiction (I'm very much a 'golden era' man) and I'm happy to apply common sense to how I use things - food, energy and the like, but all of the above ventures strike me as having a common flaw.

In the 1500's, Rome decided to set upon a great scheme to build a new basilica, and to use the ecclesiastical machinery at its disposal to literally indulge upon the population of Europe to finance such an enterprise. Mercifully, there was a young monk who was troubled and able enough to raise concerns about the whole matter, and the results, as they say, are history.

There's been much written to say that what troubled Luther is old news, that whilst 'minor' matters may need attention, what happened then is pretty over and done with, but that is effectively looking at the matter, like the others I've touched on, from a very narrow and therefore dangerous perspective.
The major question of those times was what truly makes a person right before God, and Luther's answer stems directly from the Gospel - unmerited grace, imputed to us through the gift of faith.

It may not be popular to hold to certain views right now - in some cases, it's actually becoming quite dangerous! - but they need to be expressed none the less.

Luther stood against the power and authority structures of his time, and thereby allowed a renewing of faith in the undiluted riches of Gods justifying work which aided in generating a flowering of rich spirituality in the contemporary world. It is imperative that such standing to be counted regarding the inherent nature of the gospel be evidenced today, so with that in mind,
I'm delighted to be writing this on Reformation day.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Table Talk

"Sounds just like old times"
Aunt Meg - Twister

I love this scene from this wonderful movie. In the midst of all the chaos and mayhem of a world invaded and torn by tornadoes, equally mirrored by the trails and joys of the relationship between Bill and Jo, this eclectic and bold band of brilliant yet flawed people take time to break off from their venture to sit, eat, and enjoy the richness of their friendship, their bond, and the goals which unite them.

Over the last decade and a half, I've had the joy of spending time like this a few times a year with friends from all over the UK as we gather to engage in our fondness for Science Fiction (yes, especially classic Star Trek). There's lots of fun moments, lots of debate, lots of watching of new shows and discussion of new books, but what really has grown from a common interest is enduring friendship.
Last year, one of my longest standing friends in the group got married, and we all attended and certainly gave a particular wrinkle to the day. The wedding, and the groom's stag day (where the highlights were Laser quest and Bowling) a few weeks before were moments that were drenched in the richness of friendship - surely, one of the greatest gifts of life.

Towards the end of their three years together, Jesus spoke of how the men and women He had spent so much time with on the road, in strange and adverse situations, were not just disciples, but His friends. That's a remarkable truth, but it's a wonder that God has wanted to share with us ever since those first days, when He would walk with Adam in the garden.
There is something just so genuinely good, earthy and so deeply enriching about genuine friendship, and God, in spite of our fall, our distance from His marvelous goodness, is gracious to us, and seeks to restore all that is good through the one who has truly become the friend of sinners through His death and resurrection.

It means that there really is a deep significance to our lives, our inter-connection here, and that just makes these marvelous moments even more special...

Anyone for steak and eggs?

Saturday, 3 October 2009

In Small Corners

"I just want her back"
Agent Tom Greer

Whilst Director Johnathan Mostow's latest Sci-Fi release gained only mediocre reviews from the critics, Surrogates raises some major issues in relation to human identity.
Set around a decade from now, we are presented with a society where people appear cushioned from pain and harm by living much of their lives via the safety of being wired to a substitute alter ego - a robot which engages with the world, allowing dreams and fantasies to be fulfilled without danger or, apparently, remorse or guilt. Into this paradise, however, comes death, a murderer which destroys both ghola and user in an instant, exposing the terrifying frailty of the 'system' that everyone considers 'safe' and strengthening in our principal characters the fact that this virtual existence has merely distracted from but in no way dealt with the true wounds and trails of being human.

Key to the story is the manner in which two leading characters deal with the agony of loss.
Detective Tom Greer, played by Bruce Willis, and Inventor of the Virtual life, Dr Lionel Canter, come to epitomize two very different reactions to our reality, and in Greer's final choice in the film, we find ourselves facing a hard question - 'how real about ourselves do we really want to be'?

The issues raised in Surrogates will become pressing to all of us during our lives. Amidst the bobbing and weaving to solve the crime, Willis' character seeks to look beyond the immediate and the superficial (both in the case, and in his experience) to reach for deeper answers to the void of his society and his life.

As someone who knows well the manner of personal trails conveyed here, I've found myself several times this week pondering several of the issues the movie raised. How many of us are reduced, even imprisoned, through the tragedies that real grief and loss bring upon us? How often can life become little more than a nightmare to be avoided as much and as often as possible?

Tom Greer, like us, whilst having moments of brilliance, is a deeply flawed and wounded man, but that realization motivates him to ask the right questions and to seek a better answer.

At its very heart, Christianity is about facing the real world. It's not about fanciful illusions, where we just accept ourselves as a slightly evolved species, essentially just here for a good time, but a faith which drags us before the deepest longings and understanding in our souls - that the beauty we know in love, the majesty we view in creation, the passion we encounter in life, resonates with the fact that there is much, much more going on than the oft vaunted facile/popular escapism (philosophically and practically) often tagged 'life'.

Jesus Christ came to not only return significance to His handiwork, but to define that 'weight' in our lives - intimacy, profoundly genuine, with God, with each other, and with creation. That is the objective of divine redemption.

Facing the pain of who and what we are is not easy, but as in the movie, it is as this is done, in the light of Christ's teaching regarding our true wonder (made by God) and our catastrophic fall (rebellion from Him), that reality will once more fall into place, and freedom can be found in God's healing grace and mercy.
Life now is stained by the horror of our enslavement to lies and their consequences, but the day is approaching when that will be over, and humanity will start afresh, healed from these times.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

No One

"I'm gonna find someone, someday, who might actually treat me well".

Taylor Swift - White Horse.

This week, a mother killed herself and her disabled child in a car fire after enduring almost ten years of continuous bullying and intimidation by a local gang of youths.
Fiona Pilkington had called the police to intervene in this matter many times, but nothing was ever done.

Anyone who has been on the receiving end of this kind of cruelty (and I have) knows how soul destroying just a few incidents, never mind a decades worth can be, but why, why, was the only way out for this poor woman to take her own life? Why do we continue to live in a world so scarred by the vile cruelty that one person can inflict upon another?

It stems from not loosing, but clinging to our own religion - the one we garbed ourselves with once we'd rebelled. The immediate consequence of our fall was that we were entirely and totally naked, not just outwardly, but at our very core, and so, because of that horror, we are inherently crooked and divorced when it comes to any form of true intercourse with our world, our neighbor, and especially our Creator, as well as ourselves. In every way, the beauty of the intimacy that was to mark us as being made in God's image has become torn and lacerated, so the natural reaction is to react selfishly, cruelly, towards anyone or anything we deem 'dangerous'... an image of the better creatures we are meant to be.

The flip side of this pain is the need to be what we should be, to know genuine warmth, love and care - to move towards a genuine intimacy in life, and that can often seem so beyond us; an empty dream in a broken world.

Within all the ugly mess, there is hope, for there is a healer, and that person is Jesus Christ.
His broken body, His cruel and ugly death, His giving of Himself, was God bringing genuine,
redeeming love back into our darkness and despair,
to lift eyes, given new sight, to see a day when this broken thing is healed,
and the connection, the beauty, we so deeply crave, will be the reality of heaven and earth.

Beyond all the pain, there's a new day coming.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Gone for Good?

"For the things we see are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal"

Have you ever tried living in a home that is undergoing major renovation? Perhaps you have been spared the total mayhem, frustration and sheer 'scream-ability' that can ensue from such a venture, but it can also give us an image of the spiritual realities of the present - life going on 'between' the two realms of the fallen and the redeemed. It can also give us a better way of approaching the apparent contradictions we face in the tension of this existence.

Some things seem pretty 'solid' within such a project - the foundations of the house, the ground floor, those things which are tenable and immediate that we readily depend upon to give us reference and an amount of definition in our everyday lives. Grace is most certainly found here. The God who placed the seal of His promise in the sky equally hallows every day with the provision of sun and rain, seed-time and harvest, and uses the fruits of that order, bread and wine, to speak to us of the marvel of His redeeming work. Such mercies cannot help but to raise our eyes, and make us wonder about other "levels" of the 'house' we have been promised;
surely, we now have no abiding place here, so should we not climb the stairs....

The Apostle who spoke, guardedly, of the wonders to come, also spoke of how, by experience, he came to learn that God's grace in the here and now, is entirely sufficient, for the present, and there is a key reason for this...

After His feeding of a great crowd, Jesus commanded the disciples to collect all that was left from the feast. Whilst all the Gospels record the event, John tells us that the reason for doing so was so that 'nothing may be lost' (John 6:12).
When Jesus spoke about Hell, He often used the image of Gehenna, the local rubbish tip outside of Jerusalem, which was filled with things which had become spoiled and wasted.
The focus of Christ's great work amongst us is to truly SAVE that which was lost, corrupted by sin and death. There is, then, a 'gathering', a 'reconciling' aspect to our current engagement with this present temporal realm, a life which can savor and fragrance what would otherwise be fit only for the fire, because it can bring heaven down to earth, and grant us to glimpse how God, in Christ, has made the way open to the 'many realms' that are coming.

In His good work, nothing shall be lost.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Art and Grace

"Look at the world around you. It supplies all your bodily needs. It feasts your eyes with beauty. It's glory reflects the glory of God, and so it feasts your soul".

John Chrysostom.

Last week brought a time of trail and challenge leading to unforeseen assistance and rich creativity in my seeking to run an arts workshop, (which I've written about further here).
It reminded me, once again, just how important it is to recognize the deeper, the spiritual, within all that we do, especially our creative activities, which it's easy to mis-construe due to certain forms of spirituality as alien and excluded from the Christian life.

With those considerations in mind, I've placed below a paper on the subject that you might find of interest, and I'd be happy to hear your feedback, thoughts and comments. I hope it proves useful to anyone thinking about or engaged in this field:

Seeing the Rainbow
Redemptive Insights for the Arts.
By Howard Nowlan

Although we live in the present, we do not contend according to the current trends or views. The instruments we employ in our struggle are empowered before God to demoralise and confuse those theories and world-views that suppositionally work against a true knowledge of God. Our testimony seeks to bring everything to the Lordship of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).

Regarding life in general, whatever is true, worthy of reverence, honorable, lovely and lovable, whatever is pure, whatever is kind, winsome or gracious, wherever there is virtue or excellence, if there is something worthy of praise, consider and weigh up such things and fix your thoughts upon these”. (Philippians 4:8).


Some years ago, I had an experience that has always remained with me when I consider my engagement with art. I was on a visit to the British museum, and had spent a few hours exploring the ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian galleries – countless stele, inscriptions, sarcophagi and the like. I then came to a point of transformation. I entered a small, circular room, which contained a single sculpture – an almost life-like white marble representation of Diana bathing. This simple but striking moment informed me that I had moved into the realm of the Greeks.

My immediate impression in that room was that I had crossed a threshold; from the dark, somewhat primitive ancient past into the era of modern civilisation. Here was clearly something that looked more human, more natural, than all those strange galleries that had preceded this vision. I was transfixed – the very response, no doubt, that the artist had hoped for. It was only later that I reflected on the problems with the startling image in that room.

Genuine divinity or humanity, of course, have to be something deeper than that marble vision, and whilst I still revel at such beauty in art, this image serves us well in this session, and I will explain why.

I often recall that very experience when I think of the day when Paul found himself troubled amidst the numerous supposedly ‘divine’ figures in the city of Athens (Acts 17:16). Outwardly, no doubt, many of them were as beautiful as the sculpture of the naked Diana I viewed in the British Museum, but like that image, they spoke of something far deeper to the Apostle, an inherent (often willful) ignorance within that particular culture when it came to the issue of very nature of reality.

In unpacking the reasons behind Paul’s grief and anger on that day, we can really begin to gain an insight into some of the problems we face with some of the attitudes and intentions in a diverse array of artistic endeavors in our own age, and equally, I think, begin to glean something of a understanding of the way we can productively engage with and involve ourselves in art – in terms of either examination or participation. So let’s look at the Athens incident a little deeper.

The Broken Fiber
Inherent in our tasting and testing of all things will be a discernment regarding both the structure (the composition and nature) and the direction (the objective) of the item or supposition that is before us. That may sound a little complex, so think of this in terms of applying a ‘salt and light’ test of the kind that Jesus Himself provides (Matthew 5:13) to Paul’s day and encounter at Athens.

Calvin Seerveld notes that when it comes to Greek art, there was an inherent fracture that essentially tainted their entire world view.

Plato, for example, viewed poets and the like as mad, and sculptors and artisans were generally tolerated as menials, hired labour; indulged because of their product.
The West today tends to admire the Greeks for their achievements, but in this quite common aristocratic attitude of their day, which actually abhorred direct labor within the physical world, we can identify a key problem in Greek living and gain our first foothold into Christianity’s aversion of this philosophy.

The artists of that time were not seeking to fashion a genuine expression of either their own world or the divine; they were conforming their work to an ideology where, as Paul would write to the Romans, the genuine glory of both God and His creation is exchanged for forms and images that conform to our present demeaned notions of spirituality (Romans 1:23).

The Christian’s concern regarding the images that surround us today, equally cannot be merely at the immediate level – the ‘who, why and where’ are going to be key in how we view and weigh these things.

Paul was angered not because what he saw had no artistic form or skill, but because these very gifts were being employed to propagate a lie concerning the nature of God and Mankind.

How is it really possible for a culture to adore and venerate a female persona as divine, for example, when its most inspired teachers declared women to be ‘mutilated males, without souls’ (Aristotle – De Generatione Animalium)? Amongst the Greeks, the female actually represented the realm of “matter and the body, of imperfection” (Phillip Samson – The Body), only enlightened men were close to truth.
How different to the Biblical understanding, where, for example, in Ephesians we are informed that in the physical union of man and woman as one flesh, brings us the closest image possible of the spiritual bond that has occurred between Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:31,32).

The inherent lie within so much ‘beautiful’ art and philosophy is that the material world does not really matter; we can spurn its claims either by Platonic or Epicurean belief and thereby dissect the body and the soul. The world denies the God in whom we now ‘live and move and have our being’, and that is bad enough, but the pain for the Christian seeking to be true to their faith in understanding and action does not end there.

Hollywood film producer Ralph Winter notes that the place where there is least understanding of His work and vocation is amongst those that he encounters at church. How can a Christian, they ask, be involved in making science fiction or supernatural comedy? How can someone like Rene Russo, they ask, claim to be a Christian and appear unclothed on screen?
The assumption, of course, is that true righteousness views such activity as unclean, but as we hinted at the beginning, could it be that this ‘do not’ approach has actually swallowed the same poison as the Greeks? It is time to face the full force Paul’s message to the philosopher’s head on!

Tearing Down and Building Up

Sharing the Christian message, notes John Frame, is all about meaningfully expressing the reason that we have the hope that we do, so, what kind of argument is Paul making for our faith against the reasoning of his day?
It’s actually quite familiar. Here’s a snippet – a slightly amended rendition - of a recent popular version entitled The Unquiet Dead:

Charles Dickens: We must be under some mesmeric influence
The Doctor: No we’re not, this is really happening
Dickens: Poppycock! – I saw nothing but an illusion
Doctor: If you’re going to deny what really happened, don’t waste my time
Dickens: There must be some mechanism behind all this
Doctor: Oh come on Charles, you can see what’s happening
Dickens: Can it be that I have the world entirely wrong?
Doctor: Not entirely – there’s just much more to learn

The shock of Christianity is that it brings us to realise that the forces we often take for granted – the power of sin and death – are not natural or good; they are alien to the life God created and is seeking to renew through His redemptive work in Jesus Christ. This world will be a place where landscapes and life exist unbent by the forces of entropy and decay. What will it be like to inhabit such a universe?

The conclusion of all human understanding of the present is that it is fleeting, leaving us like the teacher in ecclesiaties, with nothing of value; so we must merely enjoy the moment or transcend to a higher realm, but that is not the case. Paul tells the wise of his day that God has concluded the entire value and meaning of history in an event in the life of one man – the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ (Acts 17:32).
No more disembodied realms beyond, no more about it being over at the grave – this man defines the future – and the future will be as real as our being here now.
The entire realm of creation, writes Paul, is currently groaning for the day when this same Jesus will bring about the resurrection of God’s children, that this order may become the delight that it is truly meant to be. God is revealed in Jesus Christ for a specific purpose – to reconcile this world, and all creation with it, to Him.

Perhaps now we can also begin to see why the Christian who seeks to totally rubbish those involved in the arts is actually on very thin ice. The attitude toward life and the body imported from the Greeks into Christianity by Augustine and others does not sit well with the actual kind of life that is supposed to be seen amongst us.

Don’t allow your faith to become spoiled, notes Paul, by deceitful ideas that miss-understand the nature of the spiritual. Do not accept the notion that by abiding to countless rules with regards to diet, clothing, religious duties and the like, you will become a more ‘spiritual’ person; these things are like specters before the substance found in Jesus Christ. You have escaped this nonsense, so do not give ground to the ‘do not touch, do not taste’ fraud again, because there is no value in it (Colossians 2).

It is only when we see God’s work impacting upon our lives in this direct and relevant way that we can take up our vocation – whether that be dancing, writing, painting or preaching – and use it well, invest it with value. If we ignore or spurn the Apostle’s guidance, then we will effectively bury the very resources that God has granted each of us to express the richness of His life within the world.

What is needed, then, amongst Christians is a creational approach to life, what some have called the ‘Reformation of the Natural’ (Wittmer) because God’s work in creation is established, underpinned and finally brought to full expression through the Redemptive work of our Lord and Saviour.
Christ, the one who made all things, came as the peacemaker that all things in heaven and earth may be reconciled to Him (Paul to the Colossians).

“Picture a diver”, writes C S Lewis, “stripping off his clothes until naked, then hanging for a moment as he jumps high into the air, before going down into the deep pitch black – cold, freezing as he descends to the bottom, to the very mud and slime, and then up, back towards the light, his lungs aching, as he bursts out upon the surface, holding in his hand the thing he went so deep to gain. This thing is our redemption, but not only ours – all things: a renewed universe”. (The Grand Miracle)

A Few Pointers

When we look at Christianity, we see that this revelation is at the heart, not only of God’s general revelation of Himself (Genesis 1&2), but equally in the acceptance of the revelation of Jesus Christ. The Word, notes John, is the one who made all things, so we have to forsake any secular or dualistic attitude to vocation that inherently detaches itself from Him.

Through Christ, we will reject a deformed or negating understanding of what has truly occurred on earth in the events of creation, fall and redemption. Our lives will seek to express and address these things, and art can be a very striking and viable means of doing so. The Christian true to their calling will live in interactive correspondence with the passages we read at the beginning, and that flavour will prove to be something savouring and telling to those we encounter.

If we really are those who trust in the one who has made everything beautiful in its time and placed eternity in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11), then our engagement with life will provide some insight to others that will aid against, as one scientist puts it, “the key human illness of fragmentation” – the inability to genuinely “assimilate the experience of the depth of beauty and meaning” around us (Bohm – Creativity). “If we understand that all matter is God-breathed, we will not merely view it as a vehicle for an idea, or an inconvenient veil to be penetrated and then abandoned. We will discover ‘the fascinating, the mysterious, oft times frustrating and occasionally exhilarating experience of being lead along ‘in conversation’ with the material realm, so that our engagement works best as one dancer put it, when the dance has danced you” (Brand and Chaplin – Art and Soul). This will undoubtedly involve risk-taking and learning from what people state that will bring about constructive, valid changes to our work. Because of where our certainty lies, our engagement with the arts, whether it is in the form of writing or performing, painting or merely understanding, can be true and honest, because our conviction and confidence rests within a certain reality concerning the nature and future of all things.

Let me summarize through the words of a favorite artist:
"An artist explores enlightenment through the material world. Unfortunately, the nature – the material of us is often dismissed as ungodly. It's an old concept in our culture that the material world is the work of the devil and to be seeking after God, you have to dismiss this. I think the opposite is really true. The material world is really something both sacred and spiritual, and the artist, if he neglects that, is being driven by cultural forces that are making a mistake. We explore our spirituality through the material". (Roger Dean: Views DVD Biography)

God, in Christ Incarnate, is reconciling the material world to Himself.
May our lives and our enjoyment and engagement with art reflect this.

Reference Material:

Calvin Seerveld – Bearing Fresh Olive Leaves – Piquant 2000
Philip J Sampson – Six Modern Myths – IVP 2000
John M Frame – Apologetics to the Glory of God – P&R 1994
BBC Television – Dr Who: The Unquiet Dead – Aired April 2005
Michael E Wittmer – Heaven is a Place on Earth – Zondervan 2004
C S Lewis – God in the Dock – Harper-Collins 1971
David Bohm – Creativity – Routledge Press 1998
Hilary Brand & Adrienne Chaplin – Art & Soul – Solway 1999
Roger Dean: Views: The Authorised Biography (DVD) – Classic Rock 2002

Friday, 4 September 2009

The Powers at Work

This song has been playing on my thoughts a great deal of late. I first heard it in the 1970's, when studying some of the horrors of the modern world, but it could have been written this week.
As someone wisely commented on You Tube, it's not about politics, but the inherent human condition which motivates us to so butcher our world and each other.
As another famous sixties song put it, 'there has to be a way out of here', and it has to be changing the human condition, and there's only one person who has ever lived who can truly do that.

"From the heart of man", noted Jesus, comes all this darkness. Christ alone is the light that will herald a day beyond such pain and blind folly.

Until that day, the words of this song will continue to tell it as it really is -
a race on the brink....

The eastern world, it is exploding
Violence flarin’, bullets loadin’
You’re old enough to kill, but not for votin’
You don’t believe in war, but what’s that gun you’re totin’
And even the Jordan River has bodies floatin’

But you tell me
Over and over and over again, my friend
Ah, you don’t believe
We’re on the eve
of destruction.

Don’t you understand what I’m tryin’ to say
Can’t you feel the fears I’m feelin’ today?
If the button is pushed, there’s no runnin’ away
There’ll be no one to save, with the world in a grave
[Take a look around ya boy, it's bound to scare ya boy]

And you tell me
Over and over and over again, my friend
Ah, you don’t believe
We’re on the eve
of destruction.

Yeah, my blood’s so mad feels like coagulatin’
I’m sitting here just contemplatin’
I can’t twist the truth, it knows no regulation.
Handful of senators don’t pass legislation
And marches alone can’t bring integration
When human respect is disintegratin’
This whole crazy world is just too frustratin’

And you tell me
Over and over and over again, my friend
Ah, you don’t believe
We’re on the eve
of destruction.

Think of all the hate there is in Red China
Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama
You may leave here for 4 days in space
But when you return, it’s the same old place
The poundin’ of the drums, the pride and disgrace
You can bury your dead, but don’t leave a trace
Hate your next-door neighbor, but don’t forget to say grace
And… tell me over and over and over and over again, my friend
You don’t believe
We’re on the eve
Of destruction
Mm, no no, you don’t believe
We’re on the eve
of destruction.

(There was a video here, but the powers that be have removed it's use on You Tube, etc... I wonder why).

Sunday, 30 August 2009

The Glory of it All

"What God esteems beautiful is that which presents in its perfection all the fitness of art, and that which tends to the usefulness of its end.
He, then, who proposed to Himself a manifest design in His works, approved each one of them, as fulfilling its end in accordance with His creative purpose".

Basil - The Hexameron.

"Life", said Marvin (in Hitchhikers guide to the Galaxy) - "don't talk to me about it".

It certainly can be a struggle at the best of times. Whatever we do, or try to do, we live
in the knowledge that everything is surely running in a particular direction - and if we think about it, it's very disquieting. You could actually define the future as when everything now living will be dead, and what natural order remains, due to entropy, will be truly and entirely diminished.
No wonder Marvin felt so constantly depressed regarding the general futility of it all -
global warming and climate change are peanuts before such forces.

It all seems a very, very long way from the 'very good' final day of that original creation week,
when everything was marked by a very different state of play - a creation that could have known an existence marked by the absence of the death and corruption that now so scars our times.

It's almost impossible for us, beyond teasing 'glints' through imagination, to conceive of such a world - where death and decay as the dominant forces of existence would simply have been unknown - but we most certainly long for such a splendor. Our deepest joys and aspirations resonate with the possibility of once more tasting and knowing such a reality - a harking after a moment encountered by our race, so long ago in the garden.

It would be easy for us to just seek to ignore that call - to just live within the tunnel of the here and now, but most of us know that simply just won't do - to become so narrow in our aims leaves us like Marvin, totally depressed. We know there is more, even here, amongst the wastelands of a realm gone bad. The rain may make most days gray and miserable (we can tell you all about that here in England!), but when the dawn breaks upon a fresh, bright day, we are reminded that there's something more.

There's a verse in one of Paul's letters to the Corinthians that is truly amazing.
Referring back to the original moments of the creation work itself, the Apostle states:
"God, who commanded the light to shine out of the darkness, has shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Right back at the start, Genesis says, the earth was created 'without form, and void'.
Right now, we have a universe scorched by chaos, corruption and decay.
It would be the easiest thing to look at such desolation and conclude it was valueless - naturally, there's nothing to be done with it, but the same miracle, notes the scriptures, that brought light and thereby order into the original wasteland is now at work once more in this fallen order, and so there's a way which will allow us to look and to take the first step once more beyond the corruption.

The futility of this present life can often leave us so wanting, needing, a release from the bondage that the consequences of our fall has placed upon us, but even the fragile moments of beauty we occasionally encounter now profoundly affirm that 'the old field' of time, space, matter and the natural senses can be 'weeded, dug and sown for a new crop.... We may be tired of this old field, but God is not' (C S Lewis: The New Creation).

Beneath the 'natural' state of play - the cycle of mortality - there is another power at work in our benighted realm. The goal is renewal and redemption of all that was intended and purposed for good, and the guarantee of that end is the person and work of Jesus Christ.

As I face yet another 'summer' week of bleak skies, heavy with yet more rain (Marvin would approve), I reflect on the fact that the dawn is approaching where that marvelous light, which clothed creation before the sun and moon, will once more adorn this realm - the light which rises in us when we understand that through Christ, God breaks the slavery of our bondage to this present terrible decay.

Christ's life, death, resurrection and ascension marks the fact that this present realm is not the conclusion of existence - we were not simply made to be bent low beneath the tyranny of the temporal, but to live, boldly and brightly, as whole creatures within a glorious creation, infused with the marvel and the splendor of its creator and sustainer. That is what is on the way.

Till the day truly dawns, we have a hope that keeps us from being very depressed -
something to ponder amidst the gray.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Piercing the depths...

"In this - the initial work of Creation - as elsewhere, we see the familiar pattern -
descent by God to the formless earth and re-ascent from the formless to the finished.
In this sense, a certain degree of 'development' is inherent within the Christian faith".

C S Lewis - The Grand Miracle

"Christ took the bread from Creation and said of it, "This is My Body".
In like manner, he took of the wine, made by the earth and said, "This is my Blood".

Gustaf Wingren - Man and the Incarnation

The deepest riches of our lives here are not determined by our 'possessing' a particular amount of things (because, in reality, we only borrow such things for a time, and that even includes the very time and frame we currently inhabit) -
but those precious moments when we so powerfully and honestly taste through giving of the true marvel and affection of another.

During my years as a married man before losing my wife to cancer, I came to understand how extraordinary it was to truly share yourself with another person - to truly love. The bonds which grows through such a fusion truly infuse life with a beauty and a wealth which, even in the case of loss, continue to motivate and drive a person. This has certainly been the case for me, not only in my continuing after losing Kay, but in both my creative work as a photographer and in my forging new relationships with new friends.

Marriage, genuine relationships, and, hopefully, our communion with each other in the faith, allows us to form ties with each other that carry the potential for something astonishing - our continuing to be 'clay jars', but earthen things which actually house a 'taste' of something truly profound - the weight of the gift of God's love, shed abroad within us.

The Creation account in Genesis tells us something stunning in this regard.
The Almighty God does not merely conceptualize and then just 'speak' the realms into existence in an instant. Those opening verses speak of the initial work becoming an act -
the Spirit brooding over the formless and the crude,
the Word, present from the beginning, being the very means to bring order to that initial mass.

Here we see how the very act of God in this work is one of Sovereign yet intimate care, of a giving to bring about a 'glory' that, through ages we have yet to comprehend, will truly express and honor the character of the love shared within the community of the Trinity.

The deep works of God are often a mystery -
Creation, Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection.
They all resonate with the truth we witness even in nature, that the yielding to something greater than ourselves, even to death, brings the miracle of something more significant.

There are moments, when working with a camera, where I can glimpse the intended significance of another human being, made to carry the image of their Creator. It is both overwhelmingly attractive and shockingly alarming at the same time, for those moments so poignantly connect to the reflections of the Psalmist - 'what is man, that you are mindful of him?'

The book of Hebrews tells us that we have yet to see the fulfillment of work of God that will herald the day when humanity become the creature that the psalmist snap-shots: truly 'crowned' with its true significance, but Hebrews confirms our expectations by telling us that we now see Jesus - the one humbled to death for our redemption, now risen and glorified - the first, and equally the finisher of that deepest of works within all that He has made.

The world is twisted in the futility and the frustration of being still so distant from its true estate, but within the deep things of God, worked within the very midst of creation from the very moment of the initial beginning, we can find aid and comfort, direction and assurance, in this, our time of need, for the aim of 'all things' is to allow us to see Jesus, the Lord of Heaven and Earth, who has come to make, by means of redemption, creation all that it was intended to be -
a realm suffused with the affection and character of its maker and savior.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Beyond immediate pretense...

"The hunger, and the longing, everyone of us knows inside,
Could be the bridge between us".
Amy Grant - Turn this world around.

As a photographer, the tools of my trade are often those elements which might be deemed 'beautiful' - light and shade, texture and tone, form and posture, but just having certain elements around you does not equate to actually making a good image - they certainly help, but you have to break some eggs to make a good omelet!

I recall listening to the photographer Jock Sturges recently, and how he was commissioned to work with a very famous model on a fashion shoot, which he dutifully covered, but there was no 'connection' between himself and the person in the images, and because of that, he would never use the work himself and viewed the event as meaningless.

We often work at a pretty superficial level in secular society. The goal much of the time is to fulfill immediate wants and needs without delving deeper into why or what such attitudes (living for now) really say about us - what are we actually running away from, and why this addiction to the immediate instead of deeper pursuits?

There is clearly a difference in our relationship to others and to life in general when we  do not only interact with them in a merely transitory fashion, but begin to appreciate, to value them, for who or what they really are - that the beauty of a personality, of the world around us, is an astonishing, intricate and complex reality, that can consume our own selves in the wonder of a more richer and satisfying contemplation, making us truly wealthier people.

The art of photography has really brought home to me the fact that the person before me is not just an object - a 'body' to photograph and then ignore. The joy of this craft is to discover the treasure of the person which embodies the physical 'frame', and to seek to bring out the far weightier beauty of who they are in what is captured in the images.
It is what is within that animates and 'clothes' the outward grace of our bodies, and if there is no one at home, then you will only capture dull photos, no matter how long you photo shop them!

In the early chapters of Genesis, there is a clear illustration of the difference between the genuinely enriching and the grotesquely, inherently contrived.

When Adam looks upon Eve for the first time, he comprehends a person who is totally unique and yet entirely compatible with his own existence. The response is one of immediate worship, for he recognizes the profound richness and significance of this woman, and the desire within him is to truly know her, in a profoundly deep and rich fashion.
Contrast this to the image not much further along, where these two same people are seeking to run from such a reality, to hide and cover themselves from each other, to act in an entirely pretentious and superficial fashion in response to the nature of their crime - the demeaning of all which God had so graciously given them.

We do a great violence to ourselves, to our existence, when we exist at the level of the trite and the supposedly irrelevant. It stains our broken souls with a stupor to dull our deeper needs - a malady that will drown a much deeper need if unchecked.

There have been countless times in the last few years when I have seen people sit in front of a camera and gain a fresh awareness or confidence regarding some aspect of themselves.
Sadly, there have also been occasions when the person has been 'dead' - they have no desire, no hunger to do anything beyond what is immediate.

Jesus Christ holds a similar mirror before us. He wants us to see the pain of our crippled lives, to really understand our condition, but to also see the wonder of our lives when they are set free by God's care, mercy and grace, to escape the superficial and really to become human.

The 'joy ride' of the noisy rush to ignore our reality can only last so long.
Like the best image, it will fade into dust,
but life can be about a richness, a reality, that will last forever.

Earnestly desire, says Jesus, those things,
and life will certainly take on a value beyond the immediate.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Strange Days

"The State of affairs in which ordinary people can discover the supernatural only by abstruse reasoning is recent and, by historical standards, abnormal.
In the conditions produced by the last century or so, plain men are expected to bear the burden - we must get to the truth or go without it....

If we are ready to climb and struggle, as a society, to this height, all can be well, but a state where we neither gain wisdom nor venture to find it for ourselves is fatal.
On or back we must go; to stay here is death"

C S Lewis - Miracles.

I finally had the opportunity this week to view the Ben Stein investigation into the field of Intelligent Design and contemporary science. I watched Expelled with a friend who is open to exploring such issues, and he and I then discussed at length the issues - theological, scientific, philosophical and social - raised by the material the documentary covered.
In a week where two new books on the matter have been published - Atheist Bradley Norton's 'Seeking God in Science', which argues I D does have something to say that needs to be heard, and Stephen Meyer's 'Signature in the Cell' - I was strongly reminded of C S Lewis piece on how the 'myth' of Darwinism (that we are 'naturally' improving, heading for a better world) is keenly in need of a death and burial. The tyranny of that line of thought has often been used to empower the most darkest of chapters in our times.

What was equally fascinating from the viewing was to reflect on just how philosophically empty the Darwinian approach to existence really is. It does not actually tell us how or why we are here,
it makes life inherently one-dimensional and ultimately purposeless, and it clearly is merely a caretaker in situ until a far more robust and comprehensive understanding can take up residence.

The good side of the present situation is that, in spite of various trip-wires, the debate is beginning to filter into the public realm, allowing people, like my friend and I, to begin to weigh up the present situation. The concern, as Lewis described it so well, is that the majority of people in our times are still outside of such inquiry and debate, and that cannot be good either for them or our times.

The window allows us to view a splendor beyond - a marvel that will certainly cause many to be astonished at what discoveries are currently being made. The trail of our times is the drone of dicta, popularized in so many ways, which tells our generation that the window does not exist.

May the one who fearfully and wonderfully made all things, allow the light to topple such darkness.

Book Links:
Bradley Norton:
Stephen Meyer:

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Weathering the Storm?

Why do I feel like a ship on the Ocean, controlled by winds that I cannot see, bound by chains, lashed to a yard-arm, all I want is to be free

From a poem by me.

Ever feel overwhelmed by life?
Recall that moment towards the end of the movie, Deep Impact, when Jenny Lerner and her father await certain death as an enormous tidal wave rushes ashore - there are aspects of life that can almost certainly assail us in that fashion. Fear and uncertainty have certainly encroached in new and unexpected ways as I've grown older, causing me to often be troubled about issues that seemed much more straightforward in youth. As a result, it can often feel that I'm standing on a similar beach before an inescapable wave - the floods of uncertainty and death - held fast in a quicksand of anxiety.

There appears no relief in the natural. When much of contemporary theology encourages me to accommodate a theistic evolutionary approach to our origins, or to re-define my understanding of human sexuality to see the biblical material is entirely cultural and therefore dead in the modern context, what am I to make of the claims, the authority of scripture, on such matters? Are they merely empty sets to our lives, to the issues of our age, or are they in fact living words that we must approach and consider with care?

If the entire goal of the drama we term history is to marry those two key themes of essential truth - Creation and Redemption - then can we really dislocate the Biblical material on such issues from the story of mankind or the condition of ourselves? Do we gain anything by doing so, and equally important, what do we loose?

I ask these questions because it seems to me that unless we are indeed 'held' by the God who reveals Himself in these revelatory works, we are indeed horribly adrift and without any true hope of refuge.

Where does the church go from here?

Saturday, 4 July 2009

The Deadly Years

"Now the Spirit instructs us that in the later times some will depart from faith,
devoting themselves to deceits - the very teaching of darkness.
Liars will inspire such to seek to determine who can marry whom,
forbidding not only such union, but also the eating of foods which have been clearly
given by God to be received with joy.
Remember that every good thing is created and given by God to be received in this fashion,
and should not be renounced or rejected". Paul to Timothy.

Genuine faith, Luther once noted, can be a pretty unsettling thing.

Try and imagine what it must have been like for Peter, for example, that morning before he met
Cornelius, when he was presented with a requirement to partake of food to eat which, to his manner of thinking was 'unclean'. It must of shaken him deeply, when God not only required this of Him, but sought to teach him three times that what God makes clean can no longer be excluded.

Peter, like so many of us, could operate quite safely in a sphere where piety and devotion, duty and dedication, are all neatly defined by a 'belief' which compartmentalizes the sacred and the secular, but God is far, far too near for such 'neatness'. He is the Lord who rescues the miserably lost, the entirely ungodly. He comes amongst us, into the very dirt of this sin-sick place, and redeems and restores all that we have muddied by our externalizing of sanctity - our 'fig leaf' pretensions of religion. He takes the life of our world, so sickened by sin, and by giving Himself, changes the very common into the framework of eternity, the theater of His Kingdom.

Paul's warning, then, to Timothy, is so pertinent.
Ungodly religion is marked by an ethos which radically denies the sovereignty of God in what He has redeemed. By talking up our piety, our rules, our impetuous attempts at self-righteousness, it lacerates and murders the banqueting table of grace, furnished by our Great God and Saviour.

Redemption takes us beyond the fallen practices which has marked our race since our death in Eden - it calls us to return to life in the giver of all that is good.
Secularism and Legalism simply cannot hold or contain the depth or richness of the gift He gives to each of us - no apparatus of our invention can come close to supplying true confidence in His great and precious promises - it can only continue to deform us into creatures which spurn the beauty of grace.

Peter, (no doubt like us), spent a lifetime learning just how amazing God's work is, both with him and in the world. Are we learning those lessons, or are we buried in pretensions that effectively blind us to that good work, burying our lives beneath a lie of 'godliness'?

Leaving the comfort of our own 'gods' to journey to new lands...
it's a disturbing call.

Sunday, 28 June 2009


"Like an endless dream,
life suspended - left undone.
To hold the sands of time, but never more to see the sun...

We are broken, without feeling,
left to walk the night, in endless centuries".


I watched the young women, covered in black like some funeral shroud, speak of how she dressed this way for the benefit of others - for women should not show themselves, so no desire is aroused.
So why should men not also be covered, asked the interviewer.
The response was a telling silence.

I read the blog which sought to inform me that our eternal annihilation, following the resurrection, was a mercy - better that than some form of just (note that word) punishment which continued forever. Why would we wish such a destiny to be true?

I listened to the rock group, talking about our alienation, searching for an answer.
The woven tapestry of words and sounds pushes deep, and reminds me of what we are really about....

We are indeed a broken people. We long for the 'wings' we lost so long ago, to be whole, safe, cared for, but equally free to play, to dance, to look deep into each others eyes without fear or danger.

The beauty which we taste, perhaps bitter-sweet amidst our pain, entices us to a greater reality.
When we view reality, however flawed or partial our perception of the whole, brief hints or pointers to the truth - we register a deeper truth. The 'text' seeks to express the presence of the author - a Creator we can treat as background noise if we so wish, but whose wisdom and nearness is expressed in so very many ways.

The reality is that we can behave in a manner (religious or secular) which amounts to attempting to detach ourselves from creation, but creation itself - in the eyes of the veiled woman, in the very pulse of the one who believes it ends in non-existence - "sings" with a greater reality.
We live in One who made us, who gave of Himself to deliver us from futility, and His return will herald a day when all things will be exposed to that unshakable reality.

Sing that sweet, sweet song of Salvation!

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Thoughts and Conversations

"Though every thing's broken, your beauty remains"

Krystal Myers.

Whilst on a two-day photo project in Cornwall this week, I found myself seated near Padstow harbor amidst principally non-Christian friends, enjoying the warmth and the charm of the place as I tucked into a locally made pastie. As we ate and enjoyed the moment, one of my friends asked me a very deep question. He'd been considering the beauty of the almost idyllic scene before us, and asked me, as a believer, what I felt heaven had to offer beyond what we were encountering.
I sought to explain that surrounding us as keenly as the serenity we enjoyed was a universe in decay, a race in rebellion, a 'natural' condition in need of deep healing, and this is exactly what the Gospel promises - a realm in which all that is good and beautiful will be so without the current darkness, without the pain of corruption and evil.
The conversation then went on to familiar 'roundabout' questions with others who were present, but that initial question touched upon something I had been considering earlier in the week on the issue of beauty.

I'm currently reading Roger Scruton's study of the subject, and amidst many thought-provoking observations, he notes "We appreciate beautiful things not for their utility only, but also for what they are in themselves".
The thought immediately shunted my mind back to the seventh day of the first week of Creation.
Genesis informs us that God inhabits this day, as He is 'refreshed' by the goodness, the beauty of all He has made. This 'inhabiting' sanctifies the day, filling it with the weight and significance of holiness, that sublime, supreme aspect of the character of the persons of the Godhead.

We live in age where so much of what is defined as elegant and even beautiful is only done so in a detached, utilitarian manner - it is 'function' that counts, but on that day, it was the inherent goodness of all things that so delighted it's designer.
We all depend upon the 'use-ability' of the realm around us - our environment, our bodies, the functional aspects of life, but all these 'good gifts', sent from above, are not merely a device for our well-being; they were made to serve a higher purpose, to 'glorify' their maker - something currently hindered by our fall from that original goodness tasted in Eden.

The view at Padstow was splendid, and rightly caused my friend to ponder on the place of such beauty, but the true wonder has yet to be seen, soon to be made evident in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Friday, 12 June 2009


"When you believe in things that you don't understand, then you suffer,
Superstition ain't the way". Stevie Wonder.

The better weather has allowed for healthier outdoor pursuits, and that usually marries for me with some deeper thinking and reading.
I picked up Sci-Fi master Robert Heinlein's 'To Sail Towards the Sunset' this week, and was interested in pondering the key character's re-vamping of the Ten Commandments. What was especially intriguing was the thinking behind this, given by the character's father:
"The first five are solely for the benefit of the priests and the powers that be".
As someone who has spent many years of my Christian life facing "turbulence" with 'the powers that be' (church doctrines and leadership), there's certainly a truth here (with regards to mis-applying the Law), but I quickly realized that, especially in this moment, there is equally a wider application.

There are 'new' commandments, heard everyday on my local radio station, and woe betide the transgressor who questions or slights one of these rules...

1.You shall not doubt the doctrine of anthropocentric (man-originated) climate change.
The fact the CO 2 increases follow temperature changes shall not be spoken!

2.You shall advocate anthropocentric schemes to revert these changes, whoever, wherever and whatever their origin (and however hair-brained they may be - I'm staggered at just what is getting funding).

3.You shall always talk up 'sustainability' (even if the 'facts' to support what you've placed under that banner are flaky at best, and may be costing us a heck of a lot more, in both the short and the long term).

4.You will ensure ALL 'sensible' input on these subjects, be it social, scientific, political or artistic, speak with the same common voice (as per commandment 1). Dissent of any kind is mis-placed and 'primitive' (even when presented by experts in their fields!).

5. You will IGNORE all data to the contrary - and if it is raised, it will be ridiculed as mistaken.

These rules took a couple of minutes to assemble after listening to a week of local radio 'entertainment' on "Green" issues and the celebration of Naturalism here (the Darwin 200th anniversary dramatizations, arts festival, and discussions). There were moments when I wanted to switch off the radio for good, as I realized that any other view on such issues is already totally marginalized.

The call to stand fast in our liberty has never been so pertinent!
We're close to a time when almost everything you do will be under the scrutiny of the powers that be, and not for good reason - but because of a fiction that WE determine the nature of things, and can therefore control our world. History is replete with examples of moments when we have thought that way - it has always ended in horrible tragedy.

Watch the signs, listen to the 'thought' dictation occurring, and discern the darkness, so sweetly wrapped in the opium of common sense!

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

The Best Things...

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence

Paul Simon

It's there everyday as I walk into work -
a sign that boldly declares free entertainment, amenities and other enticements, all sure to draw folks in. I just wonder how many (if any) of those attracted by the 'free'(dom) offered here take any notice of the small print - 'subject to the terms and conditions of the establishment'.
That sums up our current 'freedoms' so well - you can 'externalize' liberty, making it about how you look, what you wear, what you chose to do (when you have 'free' time), but usually, this amounts to traveling the well-worn route of subjection to what is deemed 'free' - pursuits that are, apparently, expressions of freedom. The moment may be wild, a real high, but the 'terms and conditions' soon kick into play, and the reality is that we're far from free - our choices and our actions count.

It's stunning to reflect on what is often considered vital or important to our times -
theories of our origins, which, even if accepted, leave huge gaping questions about who and what we are,
it all gets pretty bizarre.

I was reflecting today on how Peter informs us how our age will be marked with a mindset which views it as 'freeing' to deride the notion of purpose ( - that we were designed to be here and that life amounts to much more than a instinctive, biological continuation of a species).
The neglect of our most inherent aspect of identity here, notes the teacher, is palpable.
The earth was created, and we are part of that work - a work which has been shaken when it has fallen and deviated from it's design - and the day of realization of that reality is fast approaching.

We can pursue the satiation of the 'hunger' we all have inside to be truly free, but (as Lewis notes), we were made to burn a particular fuel. Atheistic, Gnostic and Pantheistic notions all pander to quelling our deepest ache, but only Jesus Christ can stand before us and truly declare 'I am meaning'.

It's pretty clear to me that so many people who reject or leave Christianity behind do so not because of Christ himself, but because they have been burned or crushed by the weight of a 'terms and conditions' religiosity. Most of us have known the weight of that trial, but if we come back to the Gospels and the Epistles of the New Testament, we are soon shocked by something very different in nature - a call to a human reality that will mark us with a freedom defined by love, purchased and freely given through unwarranted, unmerited mercy.

Those are terms and conditions that make me truly smile.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

The Darkness

"A positive mind anticipates happiness, joy, health, and a successful outcome to every situation and action" Ramez Sasson.

"I was blinded by the devil, born already ruined,
stone cold dead as I stepped out of the womb". Bob Dylan.

Ever pondered what exactly gets you out of bed in the morning (assuming you are able to sleep at nights)?
The mind 'games' we usually have to play are pretty elaborate - presumptions that spin a fabric of social and personal 'norms' by which we can not only face but hopefully invest something into each fleeting moment called a day - granting the game some worth, so long as we do not probe or question too deeply.

The problems come, often, as we grow older. The mask of such illusion begins to slip as we become aware that the value of such a dance is flawed, and that so much of what is deemed 'the norm' is but a pretense - a device to keep us busy, distracted, from facing reality. The cracks are always there - the perpetual corruption in every aspect of life, whilst it may seek to change it's spots, continues apace, and the reality of decay and death encroaches, however we seek to project the 'I'm fine' persona to ourselves and to others.
In an honest analysis, we quickly find ourselves in agreement with the sobering analysis of Solomon - all of life amounts to no more than a painful futility.

The broken record of 'normal' life leaves us there, stranded and abandoned in a world which has us reaching for something to dull the pain - a darkness too terrible to comprehend - fueled by the misnomer that there is no true remedy. In the modernal mind, there is no actual escape - no aid or answer to this tragedy. Life becomes little more than 'dodging the bullet' for however long this can be achieved, until the moment when death slams us against the darkness from which there is no return.

Jesus Christ entered the arena of this dreadful malady and extinguished its rule.
He seeks to confront each of us with a greater reality - that our lives are not meant to be marked by such pathetic tragedy, but with life that has enduring value.
His death and resurrection reveal that the pain and misery of the present darkness have sought to usurp our true purpose and connection to what we are and are meant to be.

The choice is stark - a world enshrouded in a darkness which holds and devours all, or one marked by ultimate freedom from pain and sorrow, because of the one who has made us free, even in the midst of this present trial, to taste of eternal life.

In our mad world, that truth conveys a goodness and mercy which allows our troubled days here to be savored with a richer meaning than any broken dream.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

The M a l a d y

"There is, after all, nothing inherently reasonable in the conviction that all of reality is simply an accidental confluence of physical causes, without any transcendent source or end. Materialism is not a fact of experience or a deduction of logic; it is a metaphysical prejudice, nothing more, and one that is arguably more irrational than almost any other"

Atheist Delusions by David Bentley Hart.

Some years ago, a popular 'voice' in the UK for atheism bewailed the fact that TV shows like the X Files and Supernatural were becoming so popular amongst young people. Why is it, he posited, in an 'explained' universe that we have this irrational need for the unfounded notions of there being something 'above and beyond' the observed and the understood?

A few days ago, I fell quite badly whilst at home, stubbing my toes and bruising my arm. There were certainly consequences of this action - pain being the immediate one! - and I understood what had occurred, but in no manner would I ever be able to equate such "accidents" as being responsible for anything beyond the momentary trial and current physical bruising I encountered - such events do not give rise to my "becoming" more 'developed' in any way as a physical creature.
The quote above really strips bare the 'supernaturalism' of the naturalists argument - "accident" (or to be more precise, chance) is essentially all they have to explain who and what we are, why we are and it is an entirely empty premise. That is why they fail to understand the need to empower the world around us with a reality that is unseen - why we inherently 'know' there is more to our existence than what immediately meets the eye.

Whenever we truly begin to encounter the complexity which furnishes our world, we are left wondering why materialists want us to believe that any information within this which 'speaks' of the possibility of design, of intelligent intent, is mute - is 'accidental', that the reality we must accept is that we merely exist by fluke. The human condition, however bent or burnt it may have been by the reality of our corrupted universe, knows that this is not the real state of play. The answer to US does not lye in our merely knowing all the facts and figures about our world. It doesn't explain those moments when we encounter something deeper, and we find ourselves pondering a truth which, as Einstein would have put it, points to a far greater intelligence than our own.

Book, TV and Movie fantasy and science fiction allow us to 'open a window' to a larger universe - one which the skeptics may hate, but we all understand, in that deepest place, is really there...

Life IS inherently spiritual, and the need of our times is to marry that profound need to the greatest reality - the life which comes from God, revealed and made ours, here and now, through Jesus Christ.

"There's another force at work here...there always has been. It's undeniable, we've all experienced it, everyone...has witnessed events they can't fathom let alone explain away by rational means. Whether we want to call that God or some sublime inspiration, or a divine force that we can't understand, it doesn't matter. IT"S HERE. IT EXISTS. And our destinies are entwined in its force"

Gaius Baltar - the Finale of the recent TV series, Battlestar Galactica.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Amidst perilious waters

"It's not supposed to be this way" Frodo Baggins - The Two Towers.

I received a circular e-mail this week which, using images of the holocaust, sought to raise concern that this dark chapter of history had been removed from the UK's national education curriculum.
I proceeded to check these claims and whilst they proved incorrect, there are concerns that some schools are not teaching on such events as they may be deemed 'difficult' for students with certain cultural or religious views to deal with.
I'm not sure anyone with a conscience wouldn't find scenes from a film like 'Schindler's List' most troubling, but the reality of that event, of the Killing Fields in Cambodia, the atrocities in Bosnia and the extermination of the Armenians, and many others besides needs to be part of our understanding of the 'modern' world, where certain beliefs and ideologies have generated such horror.

The mailing brought to mind a scene from the aforementioned film, of the children from the factory being rescued literally from the jaws of death at the gates of Auschwitz. I wondered in the light of over a century in which these dark actions of genocide have pervaded humanity what is the real value of such a moment? If modernism is correct, and history is merely as Darwin and others have defined it - a survival of the fittest - then the actions of one man in seeking to rescue a few lives from extermination is pointless - the universe is merely a large scale story of cold and dreadful cruelty with no purpose, so why should we seek to fashion ourselves as something garbed in virtues of altruism - the only absolute reality is death for the individual and extinction for all life, now or in the future.

And what of contemporary Christianity? What of those known figures from this field who say they believe in Christ and salvation yet inherently advocate peace with the very notions of our existence that have essentially invigorated such evil - that 'god' uses pain and suffering and death over millions of years as the means of His work - that this amounts to His "good" creation? What does redemption from sin and death, from a FALLEN creation mean in such a context? What are you left with beyond a "god" of the extermination camp?

Such approaches are doomed to fail us, because they merely leave us where we already are, trapped in the vicious cycle of corruption that now taints creation.

Christianity points us away from such to a greater reality -
a first, mature creation, made good, which then became corrupted.
It points us to promise in the healing of that first order, through the 'seed of the woman' - the man, Christ Jesus.
It points us always to miracle - creation, promise, incarnation, resurrection, glorification - those things which lie beyond the futility of the now - only there can this reality be granted viability and meaning, only then does saving lives become truly meaningful.

Our times are in great need for a reality that invests true meaning and worth into existence, that allows us to truly enjoy the goodness of life and earth knowing that these things truly have a value which goes beyond the misery of death and the trials we all encounter.
If we seek to remain locked into an understanding of reality derived from the same notions as the ancient pagans - that the universe essentially perpetuates itself, and we are no more than a fleeting 'blip' on that scope - then no action, no value, truly has meaning.

Christ has come and revealed to the world the glorious surety of a greater truth.
We are here by design, and our lives therefore have purpose. The key requirement now is for us to recognize that greater truth.

Thursday, 23 April 2009


"When the light exposes who we really are, we may not like what we see - it may be threatening.
Such light is greater than our darkness - the smallest ray is able to pierce us deep...
it brings hope, for its true exposure opens the means to a greater reality"

Krystryna Sanderson.

Three thoughts that need to be shared.

From Larry (over at The Old Adam Lives) in a recent discussion on Creation:
"We might even by analogy picture the entire cosmos in our mind’s eye like this great shiny perfect fruit that was “very good”. Then one day the parasitic catastrophe occurred and we immediately, from our high vantage point begin to see the decay take place in all realms. Picture a time lapse movie real of a decaying fruit. Something catastrophic and very unnatural has occurred as we see it rot more and more. But it will be raised incorruptible and very very good for ever and ever, and it will have the very good earthy qualities".

I think that's a very useful analogy of the current futility which besets creation, and a good summation of the hope which Paul unpacks for us regarding the breaking of these bonds in Romans 8. It makes you ponder on what the 'natural' is really meant to be like.

I also received an interesting quote from a friend, David, on the nature of seeing creatively:
"As the eye is a sense faculty of the body, so is the healthy imagination a sense organ of the spiritual mind. It can receive spiritual truths from the material world. But purity of heart is required for such a healthy functioning of the imagination. Without this purity, the ever active mind and imagination construct disjointed thoughts and representations that bear little resemblance to reality. Such images debase rather than dignify; they vandalize rather than draw people closer to the spiritual logoi within creation". By Aiden.

Having our minds redeemed and renewed by Christ allows us to see, through the 'window' of creation, something of a foretaste of the glory that truly resides in the fellowship of the Godhead and the genuine 'embeddedness' of our (true) natures within creation. Whilst I'd argue that purity only resides (until the day of glory, when it will permeate all things) in and through Jesus Christ, salvation allows us to take our first steps in this larger world. Some of these steps are sublime...

From Anne, over at the 'Heart, Mind, Soul and Strength' Blog, on a favorite composer:
"He did understand the basics of liturgy: that Scripture is not just for analyzing, but for praying and for singing. A musician and a poet notices things that an analyst does not: that the Psalms were originally for singing and are still best appreciated when sung, that the prophesies were originally announcements and are still best understood when proclaimed, that the imagery and symbolism of Scripture is more similar to a fugue with deep, hidden themes than it is to a textbook...Handel knew that, rightly understood, Scripture does not cause only analysis but ultimately it causes celebration. Rightly preached, the Word of God does not cause people to dedicate themselves to analyzing the Scriptures, but to go out into the world celebrating the glory of God".

This is a fascinating insight, and made me reflect deeply. When we 'study' the scriptures well, they lead us to the person of Christ - to a relationship with one who is Creator and Redeemer, to the God who is living amongst us and wishes us to know this and rejoice in such life.

Like sitting in a quiet woodland glade in a mellow, sunlit afternoon, I trust these thoughts will allow you to ponder and delight in a beauty and a joy that truly furnishes the soul and allows us to see a little more of the glory and wonder of our Great God and Saviour.