Saturday, 17 December 2011

Missing the mark

"The Gospel never tells us something to do - it tells us of something that has been done".
Michael Horton.

In a week when our prime minister has stated we live in a 'Christian' country that must affirm 'Christian' morality and 'Christian' tolerance (what?), here's a refreshing reminder, as we approach Christmas, of what Christianity really is and really is all about...

Monday, 21 November 2011

The Psalm 2 Scenario

"The rulers take counsel together against the Lord, saying 'let us break His bonds, and throw off His cords from us". Psalm 2:2.

I sometimes wonder why, especially in times of crisis, some passages of scripture go almost entirely overlooked. This is particularly true of the second Psalm. It's a passage which makes me realise the significance of Jesus informing His disciples of days when 'the children of this world will be shrewder with their generation than the sons of light' (Luke 16:8). Why? Because when we live in a day when some clearly see the application of David's understanding in our age, and many of its ramifications - would that more who have the scriptures do, not in some contrived, futurist millennial fashion, but in the concrete world of our times and our generation.

The passage in the second verse couldn't be plainer. "Rulers" in the world will seek to revolt against God in the manner that they rule - in the very culture they seek to permeate within our society. Like a cult which seeks to imprison the very thoughts and actions of its members, such an elite seeks to bend the will of the world to the goal of self-determinism.

We might suggest there have always been 'some' who have given credence to such ends, but the 'real world' is too big, too diverse to be so driven isn't it?
Think for a moment about what Paul teaches us in Romans 1-3 (especially 1:18-25). The reality is that we all share a propensity to that very dark goal, and, apart from God's grace, will all lean towards that miserable end and it's dire consequences. That is the sad tale told so many times in Biblical and more recent history, and it is most certainly the story of our own age.

The 'rulers' of our day are not simply Kings or Dictators bent upon megalomania, though we have our fair share of those - our rulers are the technocrats...the often faceless or obscured who play with the world's power for their own selfish ends, to the agony and suffering of millions of others. The reality of our times is that such conclaves have become masters of our broken realms, puppet masters of the nightmares of our reality.

There is, in all of these troubles, a place of surety and resolve. The Lord whom they scorn still reigns above them, His Son being the one they must surely encounter. He laughs at their frantic programmes to breathe without the air, to live without the one who grants their very breath, and He calls for sober reflection....
Come, recognize His true nature, His true gifting of creation, that genuine freedom can begin. That is where true shrewdness, true wisdom, will always lead.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

It all amouts to this...

"For as, by a man, came death, by another man has come resurrection from death. As in Adam all die, so in Christ all shall be made alive" 1 Corinthians 15:21, 22.

I was recently on a beach in Cornwall, where I couldn't help but notice the multiple layers of strata in the cliffs, many of which were bent and twisted by, clearly, mammoth forces. It 'speaks' of a time of momentous change in our past, which is commonly defined today as part of the 'natural' ages of convulsion which have shaped and made our world since the beginning. The problem, of course, is if this is the whole picture, as naturalism claims, then Christianity really doesn't have anything to say. If such forces (entropy and decay especially) are what truly, comprehensively, define the nature of reality, then speaking about an answer to death - in fact, speaking about life of any kind having a real value - is truly a non-starter. Life becomes truly meaningless in the face of such comprehensive forces, so why should we even contemplate something other than something which is so overwhelming?
The answer is actually equally all around us - it's just takes a little more thought to unpack. Numerous thinkers have noted that there's enough going on in just the material universe to tell us that as devastating as these forces are, they do not amount to the sum total of reality... something more is really going on.

In the passage referred to above, Paul is arguing for something far more extraordinary than the popular approaches to our current estate. Death, he argues, is not a natural condition - it is a 'futility' that we experience because humanity has broken it's true connection with God. There was a time, right at the start of our history, when there was more than pain and suffering, cruelty and death, and because of what one person in the midst of our history, Jesus Christ, has done, there is another real moment approaching when all that we now deem 'natural' or 'normal' under the realm of death and decay will end.

These are truly staggering claims, and they revolutionise the very nature of our existence. The ramifications of what the Apostle and others seek to declare about three particular moments in time and space are profound. All that we think we know, we presently encounter and understand is but a prelude, an overture, to a far more substantial physical reality. The aim of life now, then, is to see the mystery, to ponder the miracle of what is coming about, and to love the one who is here to rescue us from the darkness and, once again, make us free to live.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Unwrapping the mystery

"Great is the mystery"
1 Timothy 3:16

At its heart, Christianity is all about matters, which, even when they are plain before our eyes, remain so profound, they actually remain, at least to us, unexplained. Such realities seek to tell us that however hard we look, there are secrets at the heart of existence which we barely comprehend - marvels that are meant to lead us to a place of awe. As creatures intended to truly acknowledge and revel in such splendour, once perceived, we can then use our gifts and lives to magnify the profound nature of such truths.

The Apostle Paul certainly knew the height and depth of this in his own life. In his writings, he speaks of several of the deepest mysteries which surround and encompass all things. To mention a few -

The mystery of God's work of Redemption (Romans)
The mystery of Life (Resurrection) after death (Corinthians)
The mystery of God's goodness triumphing in a realm scarred by evil (Ephesians)
The mystery of Christ's incarnation (1 Timothy)

Underpinning all of these, is the mystery of the nature of God Himself (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) and the manner this is expressed to creation in love, especially in Jesus Christ.
When we begin to reflect on the nature of such mystery in the manner Paul encourages us to do, we quickly move from our lack of comprehension to a position of sheer wonder, which no doubt will become the essential character of all actions and culture in the renewed creation.

To some people, talking about 'mystery' as an ultimate reality seems nonsensical... Life is all about 'sensible' things that we can define and measure and predict, but is it? How much of what you and I will do today which we consider 'natural' is actually predictable - do you really know what will occur in the next few minutes? - and how much larger does that ignorance become when we seek to open the essential nature of reality itself and peek inside? Looking hard at such things can be very sobering indeed!

What Christianity teaches is that through the days of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and on to the nativity itself, God has been at work amongst the nations of humanity to express and convey the profound 'weight' of the mystery we are engaged with, and when we stand in silence and contemplate it's greatness, we can no longer escape its pull or the richness of its embrace. Like one consumed, body and soul, in the passion of a lover, the tide of this everlasting ocean will have us, ravish us, in life, death, and resurrection. It is a truth, a love, that envelopes everyone and everything, which never ceases to call, to desire, to overwhelm, so may our twisted, broken lives not fear or hate such a calling, but become consumed by the deepest beauty.

God points us to the 'fixed point' of Jesus Christ to evidence the revelation of the wonder at the heart of all things. If we truly comprehend the mystery that He unlocks, all of life will be rich indeed.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

The Overwhelming

"It's not on it's way.... it's already here".

London last night.

Back on October 15th, 1987, around 10.30 at night, the United Kingdom was struck by the most powerful storm the country had witnessed in over three hundred years. With winds averaging 110 mph, a force four times greater than that of a hurricane, the country found itself ravaged and its landscape totally changed, a billion pounds worth of damage in just a few hours.
The extraordinary thing about this entire event is no one saw it coming - the weathermen were clueless - the event only became real as it rushed upon the country - total, uncontrollable power.

I recall the next morning. We had escaped lightly at home with a few broken windows and lost roof tiles, but there was carnage everywhere, and when I visited the local woods the next day, I could not believe my eyes. Entire areas of ancient woodland had been uprooted from its place within the earth and thrown around like kindling. The air was heavy with the smell of sap from hundreds of acres of broken trees. I recently visited those same woods again - the old pleasant open broad leaf glades are gone, never to be replaced. Fifteen million trees were lost across Southern England that night (90% of forests), and London was shrouded in black as major power facilities were wrenched from the national grid, and every major road was blocked.

The storm, I felt, was a warning, an omen of change.
I recall a vivid nightmare I had in the weeks following that event - standing on a beach before a rising wave, hundreds of feet high, rushing forward.

London was ablaze last night, not because of a natural occurrence, but due to rioting, violence and looting on her streets. Politicians speak, like the weathermen of 87, as if it was unexpected, but the storm is truly upon us. The economies of the Western world are in disarray, and the consequences are evident - for the very first time in my life, I see a wave of uncontrollable power rising, and our leaders have no possible means to avoid or control the changes which are coming. Like that night of the great storm, we are close to truly being overwhelmed.

It is at moments like this that my thoughts turn to Psalm 46, rightly known as the song of the Reformation. There is indeed only one help in such times of need, only one who, whether in life or in death, can truly be our refuge and our strength.
I listen to the radio now and hear the storm rising. Only He is able, once more, to say "Peace, be still". Let us hope that such a moment comes soon.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Outside of us...

"Consider the lilies of the field - they neither toil or spin, yet Solomon, in all of his glory, was not arrayed as these". Jesus.

I am not, in any way, shape, or form, a gardener, and yet, once every year, I get a very special pleasure from my property....
Along the front of my house are arranged five large pots, each one housing an azalea plant. I do very little for these residents - I've re-potted them once in the six years I've been here, and occasionally watered them if it's been especially dry - that's it, and yet, every Spring, these amazing plants burst into a splendid display of colour which equals anything coaxed and nurtured by many a patient gardener on my estate. For around the next six weeks, the locals can often be heard making comments on the beauty of the display, and then, for the next twelve months, the Azalea rests, looking a very plain and ordinary plant, and the front of my home goes back to being pretty much ignored.

I recently realised there's a real lesson here. God is a far better gardener - a furnisher of life - than I could ever be, and when He adorns something, it is truly beautiful. Now I'm not for one minute wanting to in any way put down those who truly enjoy gardening as a way of discovering that truth, any more than I would negate the joy for an artist who encounters true moments of inspiration, but creation is truly His work, not just when it comes to my pot plants, but even more when it comes to our redemption.

Much of the time, it probably appears to ourselves and others that not a great deal is going on - we go through our daily routines, seeking to move forward in the faith, but not really aware of much happening, because like with so many things, the real work goes on at a deep level, behind closed doors as it were, until the right time comes for something to be made evident. What really matters here is confidence in the work not of our hands, but of God's.

Jesus knew just how easy it was for us to concern ourselves with all manner of issues that can bury us beneath our anxiety. Imagine what results a gardener would achieve if he spent most of his time pulling plants out of the soil to check if there'd been any change! Worry, not only about earthly things, but often about spiritual matters as well, can amount to our doing something equally as foolish, because there is only one place of true comfort and surety, and that is within the grip of His amazing grace. Here, He grants us a rest, for the burden of being His is far easier than the strife and turmoil which any other "process' proscribes.

Take a look at the beauty that surrounds us, and consider these things...

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Light in the Shadowlands...

"It is perfectly easy to go on through all of your life giving 'explanations' to everything - religion, love, ethics, friendship - without ever having truly been inside any of them. You continue to define something without knowing what it actually is. That is why so much contemporary 'thought' amounts to nothing... you are busily constructing your conclusions in a place without any light".

C S Lewis.

Yesterday was the first true day of summer here - one of those long, bright, warm days, which I sadly had to spend in an office. The forecast was for more to come, so just after 5am this morning, I grabbed my camera to set off into the countryside of the nearby river valley.

After a brisk morning walk, I found I had arrived too early. The sun had yet to rise high enough to paint the area, so rather than being surrounded by the mornings radiance, I walked to my initial destination in conditions that felt somewhat sullen, like an overcast day. It made me keenly aware of what I had come to encounter, and just how impoverished the morning appeared without that morning light.

The return walk could not have been more different. The sun had risen through the trees, and the river and woodland were aglow with the splendor of warm, adorning gold, making everywhere become marked with the glory of a fresh morning. I quickly found myself revelling in the beauty, ambling along to soak in as much as I could with my eyes of this truly enriching moment that speaks so deeply of the goodness of what has been made.

How much of life is defined for us by those two conditions?
We can live in a world in which there is indeed much beauty and grace, but we really do not see it because the light is not defining, not penetrating our vision - the deep, darkest recesses of our minds and hearts. When that manner of light truly fills us, then nothing remains the same - our entire view and vision is totally transformed.

Jesus spoke of Himself as the light of the world, for when we truly comprehend who He is, then the 'darkness' of all smaller definitions of what is actually taking place cannot but vanish in such brightness. The problem is that religion (via, legalism, dualism and other follies) and the 'normal' (fallen) darkness of the human mind so often seeks to put a screen in the way so we cannot encounter the true brilliance of that light - the wonder and marvel of God's grace, astonishingly and totally giving love - in our world, but continue to live, like some stunted caricature of a person, in the darker realms, denying, we think, that such a full and beautiful thing could be there. Thankfully, all too often, the light finds a way through the cracks, and once a glint of the true is glanced, it becomes hard in the extreme (unless we want nothing else) to scurry back into the dark.

The beauty of the morning was a wonder to behold today, and certainly made rising so early totally worthwhile. The invitation to each of us is to step forward and truly encounter the light of God's work in Jesus Christ. If we can do that, then no morning, no day, no experience, no moment, can ever be the same, because the light found there will always vanquish the dark, and that, we know, is what really counts.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

You can run, but....

The t-shirt really said it all...
"live now, pay later".
I guess that's the trade-off some think makes sense, but it's never really that easy. Most of us find (and usually a lot sooner than we expect) that the 'live' part of that equation quickly becomes 'complicated' by all kinds of more immediate effects. It's often now the young rather than the old who are finding their bodies are shutting down because of the sheer amount of 'living' (abuse) they are indulging, and that tells you something major about the bitter sting at the core of what is seen as living without limits.
The reality is that 'going for it' is just a way to try and drown out the cry from within - the need for something truly satisfying. We can look at ourselves, at others, at the world around us, and all of it resonates - booms - at us that there's something truly amazing going on here. The fibres of our flesh, our breath, our soul, tell us we were made for more than just existing in the malady of brief moments of touching true beauty, surrounded by the squalor of pain and dislocation. Why are we this way - why are you and I such a paradox?

The 'pay later' statement gives us a cue to the answer. Death overshadows our current existence because this life is scarred by our divorce from eternity. We are a fallen race, a species broken and ruined by our rebellion and corruption - hence we wallow in the transient. The great need we all have is for rescue, for liberation from the perilous trading of instant gratification before eternal death.

There is a call to each of us to truly be made free - to know the chains of our current futility broken forever, but only if we truly know we're dead men walking - that the answer lies outside of ourselves.

God sent Jesus Christ into the world not to condemn us for our rejection of Him, but to save us from the eternal darkness of cutting ourselves off from His care. He came to truly give us life that will rescue us from the horror of our empty 'living'.

There is much, much more than the broken folly of our ways without God.

It's time to stop the so-called 'living', the mindless running, and come home.

Monday, 25 April 2011

A Second Look

"Here, the person looks at themselves belonging to part of a history, which, whilst narrowly defined by call, covenant and promise, spills out into the wider horizon of the world's marvelous creation and redemption. The 'true' person is always defined in relation to this all-encompassing whole".
Jurgen Moltmann.

It's one of the most satisfying moments for an artist,
when, in my case, a subject looks at an image you have taken of them, and they are genuinely changed in that moment by what they see. They look at themselves differently and, hopefully, they actually 'grow', gaining confidence or confirmation about some choice or quality of themselves (perhaps just the choice to get some photos taken) as a result. It can be a truly special moment to share - I've seen it totally impact upon how some people then chose to engage with and use their creativity and how they have gained so much by so doing.

It is often those 'narrow' moments of such definition that lead us into far larger places of totally fresh engagement. This is splendidly expressed in the recent film, The Warrior's Way, where a small, almost insignificant 'encounter' with a cherry blossom petal totally changes the central character's view of his purpose, and sets him on a course where he will truly learn about love and life in an entirely fresh way.

So often, it seems, that the real issue is our actually encountering such moments, especially when it comes to the more spiritual aspects of our existence.

Jesus spoke of how our inclination is to so often go with the flow, to allow life to almost wash over us as we revel in the apparent freedom of 'broad' living -
broad experience, broad opinion, broad satisfaction, but there's a price-tag attached we can all broadly choose to ignore - the destruction of ourselves.
I've come across cases where photography has been used to make people face up to a often harsh and sometimes brutal reality about themselves, because only when such bruising has transpired can true healing begin.

There is, sadly, an ugliness within us that has to be faced, from which we all have to be rescued, but it's by passing through the narrow place, that moment of our ending, as it were, that we come into the realm of truly living, of losing what we could not hope to hold (or actually profit from) so we gain what we can never loose - life by knowing the maker and sustainer of all that is good and will be renewed in the day of His true revealing.

Like someone seeing themselves afresh for the first time, there is a much deeper, richer life for each of us, bought and paid for in the love of God, revealed in Jesus Christ. It begins with soberly facing some realities. It ends with those realities being made anew - forever.

Time to really see what is there.

Saturday, 26 March 2011


"I know. It's all wrong. By rights we shouldn't even be here. But we are. It's like in the great stories, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer".
Sam - The Two Towers.

I have a good friend who is, to put it mildly, an avid Star Wars fan. He even goes 'trooping' (full Storm-trooper gear) with like-minded folks to raise money for good causes, but none of that bothers me - it's all good fun, and it's all just part of his wider passion for good Science Fiction and meaningful stories in general.

I've watched (the original) Star Wars trilogy of movies several times, and I clearly recall the impact of the opening of 'A New Hope' when I saw this for the first time on the big screen in London in 1977. George Lucas clearly set out to make a mark (as well as a small fortune in franchising), and much of this is due to the employment of 'monomyth' with the classic hero/quest tales of the family of characters employed in the unfolding of the Skywalker story. Many engaging fictional adventures source from that particular stream, and certainly, there are things we can all both enjoy and reflect upon about the nature of existence by viewing such material.
My particular favorite movie was 'The Empire Strikes Back', which provides some truly chilling moments regarding the nature of evil and it's impact upon us.
All of this then, is reasonable, so long as we place such material within the realm of story-telling with the purpose of entertainment that certainly makes us think.

Back in 2001, just over 390,000 people in the UK stated 'Jedi' as their religious view on their census form. There is currently a campaign asking these people to state they have 'no religion' this time around to bolster the secular return for 2011, but something new has come to the fore - an actual religion of Jedism.
I guess I should have not been surprised to find that there is now a 'church', a 'temple', a religious society and a general organization for this idea. It is also not surprising to discover what lies at the heart of this phenomenon - a belief in the 'force' - an intelligent (?) form of energy responsible for life and the universe, which pervades all things and enlightens us to be good, kind, respectful, etc - pretty much the way you'd find in several Eastern and some Gnostic belief systems. Things, then, are just 'there', including evil, so we just have to do our best with it all and hopefully improve ourselves and life in general along the way.

If there is actually no better ultimate reality than Thermodynamics reducing the universe to a constant state of entropy and decay, why would what you, me, and humanity in its entirety matter a hill of beans before the great forces of futility and decay? Why, in fact, bother "believing" in anything - why not follow the philosophy of someone like Alister Crowley, who taught 'whatever you think to be good, you should do...that is the whole law"?

The frustration, collapse, pain, coldness of life and the universe we inhabit is all to real to adopt a 'just so' philosophy to it all. Like the force in Star Wars, it's something which not only surrounds and penetrates us, but so often originates from within us, however caring and noble our best intentions may be. Evil is real, and Christianity teaches that there are clear, historical reasons why such malignancy has corrupted the created order and benighted our brief time here before we succumb to the consequences of such darkness and die.

We have not actually been left in a world deafened and blinded to our true origins and purpose.
The Apostle Paul tells us that when we begin to see 'with better eyes', that creation argues with us regarding the presence and reality of our Creator, but we willfully bury that sermon and prefer to listen to beliefs of our own devising which allow us to furnish our own poverty in our self-assertion. What is even more shocking is that the God who is there has not merely spoken 'from a distance' regarding the truth of our origins and our rebellion, but has actually come amongst us and spoken to the world face to face in the person of Jesus Christ, and yet, like so many of the philosophers Paul addressed in Athens, we still hobble back to our philosophical hovels, to content ourselves with myths rather than substance of what really matters.

Yes, we can enjoy all the fun of good movies, social activities that express our delight in such fun, and both think and converse deeply about the ramifications that moments from such entertainments place before us, but faith must spring from the deepest source of all, and that - in its most healthy and genuine form - does not reside in some abstract force or our crippled souls, but in the one who truly loves us enough to come and deliver us in our time of greatest need. Not only is that the greatest story ever told, it's the most important, because it is true.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

In the thick of it...

"There's a rugged road, on the prairie, stretching all across the last frontier...

Lyrics by Judee Sill.

"I was born in pain, squeezed out through torn and bloody tissue, and I offered up, as my first evidence of life, a wail. I will likely die in pain as well. Between those two moments, I live out my days limping from the one to the other".

Philip Yancey - Soul Survivor.

"I cried when I was born, and everyday shows why".

George Herbert.

I was talking to a friend recently, and we were pondering the marvel of being here - the wonder of all the profound and exquisite things we can experience and encounter, especially love, and how that furnishes not only our passion for life, but our entirely reasonable attitude of wanting to avoid or escape death. We have such capacity, such a potential to engage with and relish genuine grace, and yet, most of us spend much of our days confronting misery and anguish, either due to physical or inner ailments, and even if resources allow us to evade much of that suffering, there will be a time when that is no longer so.

I once began writing a Science Fiction work where the main causes of physical death (disease, hunger and degenerate aging) had been eliminated, so our external environs had radically changed, but we were, inherently, still as we are now, in terms of our character, skills, passions and desires. The question I was wanting to examine was would life really be any different if we were essentially the same, just potentially immortal? The answer, I concluded, was no - the real pain of our current humanity is not just that we all die and suffer, it is that our present humanity (our actual nature) is a great deal less than it should be.

In the conversation I referred to, my friend was very ready to declare that there was no God - there was no 'back story' behind what we experience as the here and now, but as we talked, I asked what, then, was the true purpose of all the pain, the bleak hardships, the splendor of the genuine affection and care often shown amidst these, if it's all just a mistake - a total accident? If that is so, why do we go on as a race just "living"- there is actually nothing beyond total futility. It is that consideration (and the fact, I would argue, that reality itself questions such a conclusion), when soberly faced, which makes us consider deeply the nature of what it's really all about, especially when life can still can so express the marvel of love, even amidst the pain.

When Jesus spoke to His friends of heaven, of the life that is coming, He didn't convey some conceptual floor plan of the great beyond - He spoke of eternity opening by our encountering the "heaven-ness" of life now engaged with and lived through Him... that is the essential essence of our true and eternal humanity. When direction and the true nature of meaning, of significance, is found in the person and work of Him, then all things become re-defined. That doesn't mean we exit from the present - though we'd often like to, want to, be very far from what we currently experience. It does mean that the pain, the loss, the hardship, the uncertainty, can all become bearable, not in our meager and desperate selves, but in the fact that behind the storm, there is not just a void, a blank, a total loss, but one who wants life to matter, now and forever.

It's easy to use belief in a fashion which is banal or cliche, but Jesus tells us there is a true and viable hope, and it can be found amidst all our dirt and pain - that is where He wishes to speak to us the most.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Just beneath the surface...

I'm not the only one.

Apparently, fewer and fewer men are attending Christian churches, especially in the UK today.
All manner of reasons are given... poor leadership, the 'feminisation' of services, lack of male definition or activities, even changes in millennial views have all been listed as pragmatic causes, and perhaps these all play some part, but for me it was something much deeper which finally ended my church attendance.

The loss of my wife.
It wasn't just the impact of facing her death head on. It was the way in which others (and by others, I'm sad to say I mean Christians) responded to that. It was as though I'd gained some stigma or become unclean... the responses (lack of them) has been all too palpable.

In the six years since Kay's death, virtually no 'saint' has crossed my door, called me, or sought to check on my well-being. It's almost as though we were both buried on that day.
I've not become an island - I've pursued all manner of connection and made sure I've kept in touch with what's what, in the church and the world, but why the cold shoulder?

I know I can be pretty difficult to love, but was I really meant to be left in such a void - one that would have been malignantly crippling for so many, and pretty staggering for me when I reflect upon the reality of not only having lost my wife, but, in practical terms, any 'normal' support structure (the community of Christians) during such a trial.

James tells us that true religion is marked by a care for the widow and the orphan, so what's really going on, when non-believing friends and family prove much, much closer to you than Christians? Why in these times of crisis do we find ourselves left so adrift?

It's not the first time by any means this has happened to me or my late wife, and it's pretty clear that many, many others find themselves in the same situation, especially when facing crises of this magnitude, so is it any wonder that the church finds itself diminished by the vital need not only to care for such people, but to learn from them in that work - how much richer a Christian community becomes when its faith and testimony includes the voices of those often broken by life, but remaining kept by God's faithfulness.

It's because of that mercy that I'm here, asking, and hopefully stirring someone to notice those in need in their own neighborhood.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

What Really Counts

"Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but you have prepared a body for me....

I have come to do your will, o God,
as is written of me,
in the volume of the book".

Hebrews 10:5-7.

"We know that if this present body is destroyed,
we have a permanent body from God,
eternal, and from heaven,
and for this new body, we yearn,
that we might be truly clothed,
when mortality is swallowed, not by death,
but by everlasting life".

2 Corinthians 5:1-4.

I finally managed to get to see the final episodes of the short-lived but so wonderfully crafted TV series, Caprica, this week, and was certainly not disappointed. With true finesse, Ronald D Moore and his team lead us towards a sadly all-too-fast conclusion that marries so well into the prior splendor of the tale of (the re-imagined) Battlestar Galactica. I can only hope that future plans for yet another show (entitled Blood and Chrome) in the genre, come to fruition this year, and that this proves to be as engaging as it's prior stellar renditions.

What was so engaging about Caprica, particularly towards the end, was the issue of life and death, and life beyond death. A holographic 'heaven' is devised and offered by one sect of the monotheists for her martyrs, but the heroine, Zoe, who listens to the angels, knows this is wrong, so as her parents struggle to free her from cyber-space by devising a way for her to become human - to have a body - once again, she confronts the leader of this 'bodiless' contrivance of heaven in V-world and judges her and her creation as wrong - godless, because it denies the realities we all must face, and the hopes beyond these.

I could not help but consider the manner in which such issues impact upon us all.
Everything we know, we experience, is communicated to us through the means of our bodies.
If, at some point in our near future, we encounter the manner of virtual realms available in this show, these also will be possible via a connection to our physical selves. All of life, and the agony of death, occurs this way. The eternal order, as C S Lewis once noted, is about things being far more 'real', far more substantial, than we can see or understand in a our present, impoverished physicality, but it would be foolhardy to conclude then, that the physical is somehow a merely provisional or temporary situation... a 'make do' until the 'better' of incorporeal immortality arrives... that, like the faith of the errant monotheists in Caprica, is a surrender to Gnosticism.

The Scriptures tell us that the physical is good - very good, and even more important, made Holy (sanctified) by God Himself on the 7th day. We were made bodily, and Christ (as the Hebrews reference above shows) became so to redeem the heavens and the earth. This is why Paul teaches us that our future hope is encapsulated in our gaining a new body in the resurrection, for like Zoe trapped in V-world, we indeed see, as Paul states, that creation itself currently yearns for release from corruption and decay into its proper (original/renewed) glory. Only then can the true and full significance of the physical begin to be really seen, considered and enjoyed.

Caprica ends looking at the ramifications of seeking to work out the results of actual resurrection in a fallen world (the overture of war), and that also echoes so much of our current reality.

As I've noted so many times here, we truly need to think well on these matters... they bear on the deepest realities for us all.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

The Nitty Gritty....

What we truly come to value in life often originates from those "what if" moments...
'What if I could do this.... What if he or she feels the same... What if this were true?"...

I've spent the last few weeks working my way through the bulk of Stephen Meyer's very well researched work, 'The Signature in the Cell', which is seeking to make a case that the evidence for the view of our existence known as Intelligent Design is actually all around us, and our cracking of DNA and the complexity of related biological processes has now furnished that data.
It's a book that certainly brings on one of those deep 'what if' moments, not least because Meyer carefully unpacks the current approaches and ideas concerning how we got here, and then seeks to show that not only do such attempts produce very few answers, but that their underlying assumptions actually substantiate that we cannot be here by chance.

I have watched how the ID arguments have shaped-up over the last twenty years. Yes, there are plenty that would like us to out rightly ignore or dismiss them, but that tends to be because time isn't being spent considering the actual state of play now reached in the thorough manner Meyer does in this work. It's pretty heavy going in places, especially when the author delves deep into micro biology (I understand why... it just makes my head spin).
All of this allows him to reach a startling point about two-thirds of the way through this study-

Having shown why ID makes the best sense (even from research generated to show the complete opposite) he concludes:
"The specified information in the cell establishes the existence and past action of intelligent activity in the origin of life. Experience shows that large amounts of specified complexity or information (especially in codes and languages) invariably originate from an intelligent source".
Now that is a major consideration, because as so many working in this and other fields have noted, this is exactly the nature of the fundamental information found in all of life.

Philosophers, Scientists, Thinkers of all kinds, have for centuries looked upon the order and structure of the universe and pondered if this "speaks" of a mind at work - the masterpiece of the greatest artist. It could well be that in our very lifetime, the true 'fingerprint' of our maker has been seen for the first time, and that signature is encoded into every cell in our body...

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Strange Cures

"In this place lay a multitude of the blind, lame and paralyzed, waiting for the waters to be troubled". The pool at Bethesda in John's Gospel.

There's often debate about certain things being of any real value. Homeopathy is one such practice that immediately springs to mind, but it's fascinating how certain other 'beliefs' (of equally if not more dubious suppositions) are peddled publicly without anyone so much as batting an eyelid.

This morning, for example, I was listening to a local radio station which had a guest who works with prisoners, getting them to record bedtime stories to send home to their children. Also on the show was a chap who runs a local zoo, whose biography is about to be made into a Hollywood movie. He kindly offered to bring a 3D audio/visual venture by the zoo into the local prison for the inmates to enjoy - fine - but his reason for doing so? Well, because we've evolved from tree-dwelling primates, so we enjoy viewing other animals... it reaches us at some primal level and refreshes us there! I guess you have to resort to such 'therapy' if you believe we're just animals.

A few minutes later, I flipped channels to see what the local 'Christian' radio station was up to...
any chance they would be giving something like the Gospel of Christ a mention? They were busy on another endeavor... advocating local church unity by looking at common ways that 'all Christians' in the town can be brought together under a common goal to love God and neighbor...that's what Jesus shows us it's really all about. I felt myself groan inwardly. Yes, we apparently can skip over lots of things (as with evolutionary therapy) in our haste to find common the need for the actual Gospel (we're saved by God's merciful work of Grace, and nothing more). It's the same old merry go-round... the same old message of we can, of course, all help ourselves, but the result is at best a few cracks hidden to our eye.

Jesus approached one man at the pool in the story referred to above. So many, apparently, wanted a cure, but only one of these would actually look and listen to the true remedy to all our ills. It would seem that reality is still very much the case today.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Reaching the Horizon

"Can you imagine what is to cross an ocean...
for weeks, you see nothing but the ocean,
you live in the grip of fear...
fear... of the immensity,
so you must drive that fear down... study your charts, watch your compass,
pray for a fair wind...

and hope - pure, naked hope,

At first, it's no more than a haze upon the horizon...
So you watch...

Then it's a smudge,
a shadow on the far water,
for a day,
for another day,
the stain slowly spreads along the horizon, taking form,

until, on the third day,
you dare to whisper the word...


Coming out of the vast unknown...
Out of the immensity.

That is the new world.

Raleigh to the Queen in Elizabeth:The Golden Age.

Back in 2005, I had the joy of traveling West, to find myself encountering some amazing places in Colorado and Oregon. One of the magical moments I recall is removing my shoes and socks on Canon Beach (pictured here - photo by me) to dip my feet in the ocean there, and trying to explain to the daughter of a friend that when I normally paddle in my home country, it's in an entirely different ocean.

Life's journey teaches us that there is so much more we are going to have to encounter, have to understand, and as we grow in that awareness, we begin to realize just how vital it is to have a fixed point, a focus, that allows us to navigate well through what we encounter - a sound chart and compass that not only allows us to engage with both the wonder and pain which becomes part of us, but brings us safely home so we can tell our tale and share the value of that journey.

In the person, the life and the work of Jesus Christ, we find the true fixed point amongst the vast ocean of our journey and life - the means to unravel the experiences, the confusion, the triumphs and the trials that are upon and around us. He is the one master and commander that makes this voyage of lasting value.

There is a moment coming when making the journey will truly be defined by reaching another shore...