Tuesday, 29 July 2014

So, where are we coming from?

"There was a saying on Minbar, anyone who wanted to get a straight answer out of Ranger One was to look at every reply in a mirror while hanging upside down from the ceiling". 

Marcus Cole - War Without End (Babylon 5).

What determines your view of the world and its existence?
For most of us, what would be generally termed the view of science with regards to this has certainly had a major part to play, and that is understandable. In our times, we've gone from technology  that once filled a warehouse to something you carry around in your pocket, and that revolution is still ongoing, so why shouldn't we sign up science's views, especially when it comes to what we are?

There's a great episode of Gerry Anderson's classic TV show, UFO, called Close Up.
A new piece of kit - a radio telescope - promises to bring data back to earth and answer big questions, but, there's a glitch. A key component in the device is faulty, and as a result, vital parts of the data which provide definition and context to the images transmitted are omitted. The entire mission fails as a result.

Because of the immediate popularity and usefulness of technology today, very few realize that we actually suffer from the same kind of gap when it comes to our relationship to science.

It's pretty popular now to think that our scientific approach to things derives from a rational, modernistic approach to reality, probably birthed from the period of the Enlightenment, but this itself is a cultural glitch, adjusting our perception, inherited and suitably coloured from the Victorians and their confidence in the inevitability of progress.

The reality of how and why modern science came about is very different:

The theological reasons why empiricism was developed and employed in scientific fields of research has been dropped by a world which wants a progressive imperative which, first and foremost, emerges from and entirely embraces constant change as the reason, the purpose behind us and everything.

The result is startling, but so commonplace, it is barely given a second thought today. The creed which inspired science to be done, and done well, is now missing from almost every sphere of how we look at ourselves and our world, principally not because of science itself, but the ideological intentions of men like Thomas Huxley in the 1800's, and many who followed him, to detach science and its discoveries from any other source than those deemed natural and therefore, the obvious result of things readily determined and defined.

The 'camera' of our modern approach to life, then, clicks away, and we barely notice, at least most of the time, what's missing - the small matter of the actual answer to "life, the universe and everything". However popular technology makes what we deem to be 'scientific', the key issues that those who used science in its earliest days deemed imperative still remain, so perhaps we need to return to thinking about the questions and beliefs our pre-naturalstic culture viewed as imperative to what counts.

It certainly should generate some pause for thought.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Another Land

"There's a place, at the edge of the sky, where there's a love, as deep as it is wide".
Amy Grant.

I can't recall the first time I fell in love with a place - it was probably our first garden in my childhood - but I do recall being somewhere that I truly wanted to 'own' me.

Back in the 1980's, when Kay and I could finally afford to go on holiday, we discovered Cornwall - we did a week touring and B&B'ing around its length and breadth, and we found a bond with its beauty and its pace that wasn't going to end. We actually found one particular location that we loved so much that we entirely re-scheduled our plans for the end of that first week so we could spend another day there, and that was just the start. Over the next 20 years, we would come back again and again, even in the heart of winter. Yes, we had other holidays in other locations, but Kay and I wanted to live in Cornwall - it had become part of us.

In the later 90's, as Kay approached retirement from teaching, we were on a weekend break, visiting towns there we'd not been to before, when we realized that re-locating to that part of the world was affordable. It took us some 18 months to make it happen, but suddenly, we were residents of that amazing place. The wonder of being there became overshadowed by Kay's illness, but in spite of that, those first four years became very special. We had a location some 25 minutes from home where we could spend many afternoons and evenings on the beach, Kay usually reading, whilst I swam and scrambled, often having our quieter times there as the sun set.

Kay's last few years left me with another legacy - engaging afresh with the place, the world and with people through photography, and this changed something deeply inside me. No longer was Cornwall somewhere I visited or even somewhere where I lived... it's barren grace got into my blood and whenever I return there, especially to certain spots, I hear it's voice saying 'welcome home'.

The loss of Kay necessitated re-location, and I thought I was going to loose that connection once again, but, by the care of a God rich in mercy, I live somewhere where, every morning, when I walk to the top of the road, I can look across the river and see Cornwall spread out before me, waiting for me to come back.

All of this speaks, I think, to how we are meant to be - there is such a 'calling', an 'owning' by our Father and His creation meant for us all, a sense of purpose and being that truly, in our very marrow, smiles upon us and confirms we are where we should be. Often, we loose even a glimpse of that vista because of what we allow to get in the way (usually, our own short-sightedness), but if we've truly encountered such splendor - if we've smelt, felt, tasted and enjoyed such enchantment - then nothing else will truly satisfy us like the moments when we can stand in such a place, and just enjoy the moment, totally owned by it's enfolding embrace of us.

God is our Father, and our home. His love is that blissful warmth like the sunlight on a perfect summer's day, inviting us to relish in the ravishing of the moment, to know deep joy as we play in the precious scope of His boundless grace. The Father has given us Jesus, His Son, so that we can come home, and even on those days when we seem so very far away, in what He has done in His Son, we can still catch a view of what truly is, and what is to come - the wonder that will bring us home.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Getting there

Or you could be the one who takes the long way home
Roll down your window, turn off your phone
See your life as a gift from the great unknown
And your task is to receive it
Tell your kid a story, hold your lover tight
Make a joyful noise, swim naked at night
Read a poem a day, call in well sometimes and
Laugh when they believe it

The Long Way Home by Mary Chapin Carpenter

A friend posted a You Tube video this week that was supposed to pretty much show a 'history of everything' in just over a minute, which, he said, had made him think about the nature of things. After watching it, I immediately posted back another favorite video clip, saying whilst the piece he'd posted seemed to say a lot, it didn't really say anything about what truly matters about us - in terms of our capacity to destroy and to perceive things higher than that.

What's good about creative fiction (like the clip I chose) is that it can allow us to consider questions about who and what we are, and why that matters, from a perspective beyond the 'nuts and bolts' of the mere material (not that there aren't plenty of questions there to stop us in our tracks any way!).

This past few weeks, I've been enjoying watching the original 1960's episodes of The Outer Limits, a Science Fiction show which loved to raise 'what if?' questions about us, our existence and the nature of life itself. There's several episodes that, despite their age will still stop and make you wonder, but the one that really got the mind boggling this week was entitled 'Keeper of the Purple Twilight'.

It tells the tale of a Scientist, Eric Plummer, who is close to creating a disintegrating energy weapon. To complete his work, he enters into a faustian pact with a stranger named Ikar - an alien who is using Plummer's work as the first step in an alien invasion. Ikar will give him the missing equations if Plummer will rid himself of his emotions by allowing Ikar to absorb them. The Scientist readily agrees, and quickly nears completing the work, but there's a problem. Plummer had been romantically involved with Janet Lane, who realizes he has been warped in some fashion by Ikar. She takes Ikar out for a picnic lunch, and discovers the truth about him and his world - a realm where love and other emotions are unknown and where uniformity with regards to nature and purpose are essential - where there is no place for beauty or affection. The impact of this on all the characters is profound, and the conclusion of the story is dramatically effected by this truth. Needless to say, it is only when Janet's insistence that the whole truth about ourselves and Ikar's intentions are weighed in the balance that life is really defined.

What's great about this episode is that it reminds us that however long we spend working behind a microscope or telescope to further ourselves, it's not really going to tell us what lies behind the futility and frustration of the human condition, or why we perceive and aspire to things that are truly, deeply beautiful which surround and penetrate our lives. It is the 'alien-ness'  of such which should trouble us deeply, because beyond the size and scale of the universe, there is this telling quality within us which affirms there is much more going on here, and that when we truly love, truly venerate the majesty we can understand within the nature and expression of the life and world which surrounds us, then we are truly astonished by where we are, and the who and the what of this realm, which leads us to ponder what or who lies behind it.

Christianity answers these questions. It tells us why we are so messed up, but why we understand, why we know, there's more going on, and how the God who made us, like Janet in the story, has come amongst us to show us that what is so often 'alien' to our 'just so' attitude towards what we call 'natural' needs to be vigorously confronted and challenged - because there is indeed much more to say.

Needless to say, I'm looking forward to more Outer Limits soon!