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.