Wednesday, 27 December 2017

The trouble is...

"This world, I think, has maybe something wrong with it, something underneath. Either that or there's something wrong with me". Delores - Westworld: Dissonance Theory.

One of my Christmas Gifts this year was an exposition of Luke chapter 15, particularly, Jesus' famous parable told to the pious and the lost concerning the mercy of a loving Father towards two very different children. It's been fascinating reading the tome alongside watching the first season of HBO's startling examination of ourselves in the show, Westworld, particularly because I quickly realized that the theological item in question had pretty much entirely 'missed a beat' in its analysis of both ourselves and the wonder of the story from Jesus.

The book commences by seeking to say that Jesus' words were clearly addressed as much to the 'elder brother' (those who didn't see themselves as "sinners") as to the ones who recognized their need for grace, which is true, but the telling point for me in what Jesus says is how the story ends - the Father is entreating the pious son to cease his judgementalism and partake of the goodness of the moment, but there is no response to his request. In like fashion, of course, the scribes and 'teachers' of the law in the gospels principally deny Christ's call and continue to hound and trouble Jesus as He brings the decree of liberty to the lost, pressing their rejection until they gain, apparently, their goal of silencing Him in a cursed extinction at the hands of the Romans. The "wrongness" of the world and the evil beneath it are thus made plain here, and love and mercy are hated and spurned, even when it hangs explicitly before them upon a tree, requesting forgiveness for their violence.

My reason for giving this outline is because the book I've been reading commences by viewing the church today as, principally, a company of those who identify in measure not with the lost son, but with the one who views himself as certainly 'right' in his worth and deeds, hence we cannot reach out to the lost because of being lost in our own piety.

A couple of considerations here.

Luke tells us that there were two particular groups who Jesus addressed with this story. He also gives us this narrative as story 'three of three' in a group that all have a common theme - that which is lost, so the aim and intent in what's told is, no doubt, to convey a single message - to  borrow Delores' analysis in Westworld, there's certainly something wrong with us, that has made us wayward, so we are all indeed lost. The "righteous" son in story three is the story of someone who couldn't see his poverty because he was far too busy measuring up his virtue against that of his wayward brother, so no change was possible here. The wayward son had learned because of his sin that nothing he could do could ever make him worthy to be loved by His Father, but what mattered is that he discovers His Father's 'prodigal' (extravagant to the point of spending all) love in spite of his folly.

Church-goers who think that they are endowed with personal virtue that will keep them in Gods good graces without assistance are indeed inches from the flames, but is that the real problem the church is facing right now?

Jesus also told another parable we need to consider, which is found in Matthew chapter 13, verses 24 to 30, and explained in verses 36 to 43. In a nutshell, where the good news is proclaimed, there will always be 'good seed and bad' - those who truly trust in God's Son for their aid from start to finish and those who are merely treacherous mimics of such, whose intent, as Jesus would have put it, is to make others "twice as fit for hell" as they are themselves. Jesus plainly says this state of affairs will continue "until the end", so we can clearly expect to see both in our churches, but I don't think that is the reason Christians currently have such a difficult time seeking to bring the message of God's love to our world.

Westworld is the creation of one Dr Robert Ford, brilliantly portrayed in the show by Anthony Hopkins. In the first episode, Ford spells out for us the world-view behind his work - we are the result of millions of mistakes, nothing more or less, hence it is these causes that have concluded in us, so the behavior of the 'guests' in his world - to generally be as base as they desire - is predictable and therefore anticipated. What makes the scenario startling is the actions of both the guests and androids that isn't expected, pointing to more going on.

The world-view which so often informs our secular culture is that expressed by this inventor. It's very common now in the West to find the view that we're all just the results of our genes via a process of natural selection, so any notion of God or meaning is looked upon as ridiculous, even when the real state of affairs tells a much bigger story. Most people have accepted an entirely secular view purely because they were 'taught it at school' or by the latest BBC natural history show. The reality is that this one-dimensional perception of the world is fine for fictional shows, but it doesn't deserve to be the touchstone of our understanding of who and what we are.

So, to come back to the church, yes, there clearly can be issues when a "righteousness by pulling your self up by your own boot-straps" becomes the trend (Paul's letter to the Galatians shows us how this can happen and how to rectify this), but the reasons why the message of God's love are widely rejected today are somewhat more involved in respects to how they need to be understood, unpacked and countered. Self-righteousness is, no doubt, ultimately behind all philosophical and religious notions that think we can do it all ourselves, but the first road-block that needs to be removed in modern thinking is people's denial of the very God in whom they live and have life - then we can begin to address the matter of how they are reconciled to that through God's astonishing love.

I'll be interested to see what the rest of my Christmas present has to say about this story - it might even generate another blog post! I'll also be fascinated to see where Westworld seeks to take the question of our identity in its second season.

That 'ol devil called...

Desire, especially sexual desire, often, as Rachel Gilson notes in this great article, takes us on a white-knuckle nightmare between sin and temptation that can leave us in a limbo or paralysis that really doesn't seem like any kind of victory, so is that where we have to stay?

This superb and deeply personal examination says there's more to say, and know, on the subject, and the conclusion she reaches concerning dependence and weakness is one we all need to come to truly comprehend.

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Never mind the Skywalker's...

"Luke, we're gonna have company!"
Han Solo - A New Hope.

There's an absolutely silly but deliciously fun moment at the start of the new Star Wars movie, the Last Jedi. It's doesn't involve magic, light sabers, knights or anything beyond straightforward, died in the wall, gall.

The entire rebel alliance is standing on a knife-edge of survival... the latest rendition of the Empire is about to expunge them from existence, and all that stands in their way is a rough, volatile cowboy of a pilot. I won't say what he does, but it's both ridiculous and highly amusing.

It was Poe Dameron's "destiny" to not only jump into Han Solo's shoes in this episode, but to do so with lashings of gusto (hence, Leia's approval), and it underscored the fact that what makes worthwhile 'moments' in any movie is not having beings who can wield all kinds of powers (because you're quickly left thinking why don't they just do "X" and resolve whatever) but those who are truly most like us, who are boldly doing something great one minute, and making a total hash of it the next. That's Poe, whose 'presence' echos through another entire strand of the movie even when he's not on screen, via the deeds of his wacky side-kick, BB8. Poe is also the one who delivers, what for me is the defining line of the entire movie. Paraphrasing  C S Lewis in a row with acting commander Admiral Holdo, Poe states, "if you only believe in the sun in the light, it's no use in the darkness". Lewis, of course, said something similar in respect to Christianity - you believe in it not because you see the Sun, but because by its light you see everything else.

This walking one man triumph and tragedy of a character was the redeeming aspect of this 'christmas' movie. I wasn't made anxious or excited about what Luke or Rey or Kylo or any of the others were going to do (Let's face it, they've already 'got the t-shirt' for much of it); I was amused and "oh-boy"-ing about what Poe was up to, because he was me and you - no hero; just someone embroiled in all this, racing along on a hope that he'd make it back into the sunlight.

Destiny really isn't about us trying to control whatever 'forces' we think are in play, it's far more about facing the mirth and horror as we are, and looking for a helping hand to break in that isn't us. That's why what we celebrate over the next week or so really counts. If we focus on the Gospel accounts of that extraordinary night, when our world, our mess, was visited by the salvation of heaven, then we can come to relax amidst the mess, because the light has truly pierced our darkness. "This is a true and faithful saying", notes Paul, "Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners" (1 Timothy 1;15).

So, keep on flying, for there is a Sun of Righteousness, and allow some time this Christmas to marvel in the precious delight of the radiance of that gift.

A joyous Christmas!

Friday, 8 December 2017

Reaching beyond the memories

"Memories... you're talking about memories".
Dekkard - Blade Runner.

"When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature 
of all flesh that is on the earth".
Genesis 9:6.

Isn't it strange - particularly as we get older - how the past can have such a hold on us. We recall moments, places and especially loved ones with deep affection and often a longing for 'such times' once more. Strange, perhaps, because we know those moments are gone, and yet, something about them still holds us, even defines something of who and what we are.

Recently, I began to realize that they matter because they're actually part of the miracle that is life.

Some of you might recall my recent posting which touched on, what was for me the unequalled cinematic masterpiece this year - Blade Runner 2049. The original Blade Runner movie raised questions about what makes us human, seeking to explore our relationship to how memories often shape us, comfort us, but the new film goes much deeper - a scene in the film's opening section leading to a very different resolution for this story's detective, revolving around the fact that what truly makes "us" distinct and human is no less than a miracle. 

Underpinning all our moments here, we are, on occasion, truly aware that there is more going on. We know, deep inside ourselves, that what we experience and encounter resonates with the truth that we have meaning and value, and when we recall moments which enriched us, we often "hear" and know something of that truth afresh - that's why certain memories are so palpable and so defining.

Christmas is a time when we can choose to participate in what we could think of as a 'collective' memory of a piece of human history that truly defines the term 'miracle'.  Most of us know what the festival is supposed to be about, but we can perhaps forget how it ties in to a much bigger picture of God's relationship to us.

The verse I've quoted above is part of what happens after the flood. Noah has re-committed life to the Lord who has rescued them, and God responds by stating that from now on, there's going to be an ongoing reminder - the rainbow - of this key moment when heaven and earth are re-united by confidence in the mercy and goodness of God.

Notice how God uses this moment as a marker, not only to us, but to Himself, that a moment has been reached where God and humanity will commence life in a new relationship - the bow of heaven reminds us, and God, of this.

Advent is that moment writ large forever.

One of the most gorgeous moments in the new Blade Runner movie is set in the midst of the arrival of snow. It's a moment filled with pain and difficulty, but it's also the dawning of a day of assurance, joy and affection, because everything has changed.

Memories tell us that amongst the trauma, there is something precious to be known. Miracles tell us what is profoundly true about this life, and that is what makes it worthwhile.

God, in Christ, is the promise-keeper, changing this realm by the miracle of His being with us.

Let's recall that goodness in this special season.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Seasonal seasoning (to engage some useful thoughts).

The festive season, when hopefully many children will know the joy I treasured in  those long off days, of entering the realm of Narnia, will soon be upon us, but for those of us a little further on in years, here's a superb piece on how those kind of rich truths can still be a source of wonder and joy this Christmas.  Enjoy!

Thursday, 23 November 2017

"Dark Sands"*

"Try and catch the deluge in a paper cup".
- Don't dream it's over.

"You ask and do not receive because you ask according to your selfish passions"
James 4:3.

During the last part of the engagement for the liberation of Europe, just prior to the battle of the Bulge, the German Wehrmacht activated one of its most insidious weapons. Special units of German troops, principally those who had lived in America, infiltrated behind enemy lines dressed as American soldiers, and proceeded to cause chaos amongst allied forces by miss-direction through bogus communications, changing road signs to deploy forces to the wrong locations, and even direct killing when and where that was viable or expedient.

The tactic has been known since warfare began, but has taken on a new and often devastating impact in modern engagement in the form of 'false flag' activity - actually inciting a particular conflict by the pretense of being another country or militia, thereby making someone else responsible for the consequences that follow.

It is most certainly the case that scientism is now employing both tactics, as has been evidenced so clearly in the past months.

Earlier this year, popular writer and Astrophysicist Neil De Grasse Tyson made an impassioned plea to Americans that they needed to grow up and become far more "scientific" about the way they saw the world.
What is fascinating about this appeal is how it not only views "science", but how Tyson and many others in the naturalistic camp desire the current generation to view this subject.

Here's a few false flags and fifth-column deceits the video makes:

When seeking to answer the question how did America become so great, the answer provided is, essentially, science. Now why it is most certainly true that invention, technology and development of ideas had a huge part to play in progress, wasn't there something even more fundamental to America's beginning and success than this? Wasn't the ideals laid down in the very origins of the United States, particularly with regards to freedom of expression and to follow new ideas what facilitated this manner of growth?
This isn't a minor point. Without that cultural identity, American history would be very different, so why doesn't this video begin with that premise?
Because that would allow for the very divergence in thought and lifestyle which, though allowed in the American constitution, is contrary to the manner of scientism that this video advocates.

This is seen in the second, and for me the most telling section of the production -
Tyson seeks to define what is "true and what is not" in regards to science; he advocates those he sees as defining the right science (what you should believe) of our times. He sees those who 'deny' this manner of defined rightness as dangerous (powers that will dismantle "our informed democracy"), so join up or stay silent is, in essence, what's advocated here.

First on his hit list - anyone who advocates doubt about Darwinism.

To stand against this, he growls, is to stand 'in denial' of science, period.
No if, or buts or maybes here (though Darwin himself expressed many, and things have become a lot, lot worse for his theory since then) - it's science, so just get used to it.

His reason for being so adamant comes in the next point - science is purely an exercise in finding what is true, and so, we are presented with the standard scientific method, but hold on a moment... where is that empirical method applied to Darwinism? If it is, doesn't the data we have discovered (like the fossil record) validate what the late Stephen J Gould stated about this - that all the various basic types appeared suddenly and (in geological terms) very quickly, without any period for transitions? Isn't that a major argument against what the current naturalistic scientists deem as irrefutable?

This is fascinating to me because recently, I was watching Mr Tyson on an american TV show saying that the reason he wasn't sure about God was because there really wasn't any evidence for God's existence. I quickly found myself wondering why he was of such an opposite opinion to others who had fairly recently made such ground-breaking and vital discoveries in his own realm - astronomy - like Arno Penzias (nobel prize winner... one of those who discovered the back-ground radiation of the big bang) who, to quote Robert Jastrow, understood that "the essential elements in the astronomical and Biblical accounts of Genesis are the same: the chain of events leading to man commenced suddenly and sharply at a definite moment in time, in a flash of light and energy". 
Again, this matters, because the Hebrew used in the first verses of the book of Genesis shows how God used a first cause to bring about creation - the word. 
The astronomy of the 1930's and 40's verified that the universe had the manner of "beginning" Genesis affirms, but it cannot provide us with a material, sufficient, first cause. Theology shows us why that cannot be provided (the cause wasn't material!), so given this is the true state of play, why does Tyson and others want to silence such perspectives as "dangerous", especially when naturalism cannot provide us with a solution?

The problem in this plea's line of thinking is that we are moving into a time of a "new emergent truth", fostered by science, contrary to those 'dangerous' (uninformed) modes of thinking that have held sway in darker times, but this isn't so. As quickly touched upon above, there is far more to unpack here than the very narrow (essentially cave-like) path that Tyson is asking us to walk - he simply isn't looking hard enough, or deep enough, at what the very realm of science can say to us.

The false-flag thinking presented here is there is no other way to look at things - science has given something that is "irrefutable".  The road sign points this way, because "scientists" say it does, so there you go. The problem is how many voices in the very same field are not being heard when he makes this statement.

The video then goes on make the argument that the science regarding the warming the planet should inform political action, and that certainly needs to be taken in earnest, so long as that isn't the chain of events that should be followed on the issue that really concerns me - that we define "us" the way Mr Tyson has here - the quirky result of a chance process, not the handiwork of the divine.

And this isn't just me firing off another "anti" salvo - science provides us with some really astonishing data about the nature of where we are and how stunning it is that we're here, but that doesn't give the "scientist" the right that this plea is claiming - it isn't the case that what we've discovered has silenced theology. When considered soberly, the hard data makes the case that when it comes to why we're here, it most certainly appears that we are dealing with the miraculous.

That is why Genesis begins with an absolute and sufficient first cause; with the Spirit of God animating what was formless and void.

To leave us seeking to value our planet or ourselves on the basis of we're just a cosmic (evolutionary) fluke, with no true future beyond a brief spell as futile creatures going no where before the universe burns up, doesn't seem to get us very far.
Why stop us from going extinct... isn't that natural?

Without a higher purpose, without the inference of intent... of design... we really are lost, and Mr Tyson's "science" cannot help.
Christianity wants us to know that there is more than just these 'scientific passions'.

*Title taken from the report this week that NASA has come to the conclusion that the areas believed to show signs of water on the Martian surface are in fact merely areas of darker surface materials - probably sand.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Blessed are those... who are washed up

So many people simply have no time for Christianity.
Here's one of the major reasons why.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Here's what counts...

Came across this new item on Mockingbird this evening. Pure truth. Enjoy.

Friday, 10 November 2017


Eric Metaxas on life and faith Well worth a watch.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Crying in the wilderness

As they go through the Valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools.
Psalm 84:6

Most of my life has been lived within the realm of evangelical Christianity - The Jesus Generation of the 70's, The Charismatic "renewal" of the 80's, attending a Reformed then Evangelical churches in the early 90's, until I finally reached home through Reformational (not "reformed = Calvinistic") truth over the last twenty years. What made all of this possible was the fact that in my late childhood, I understood that God was certainly there, and by "hearing" about Him (particularly in the marvelous works of C S Lewis), recognizing that He was most certainly there for us.

I mention this because making this journey was far from easy. Most of the manifestations of church I journeyed through here in the UK were principally about what I needed to do, and as a result, it repeatedly become obvious that I wasn't cutting it - I could talk the talk, but behind that routine was the real me - the me that still sinned, still failed, still had plenty of fears and doubts and wasn't anywhere near making the "spiritual" grade so often being set up in countless sermons, ministry times and studies.

It all came to a head in the early 90's. Church history had taught me enough to know there was a better way, but where was that being talked about, offered to the modern church?

The weary state of affairs changed when I discovered an American radio broadcast - The White Horse Inn - which sought to place the Gospel (1 Corinthians 15)  front and centre and apply this to the present church. Within months, the dislocated parts of my spiritual life came back into place and as I started to read afresh the works of Luther in particular, I began to understand who I truly was as a Christian and what church was really meant to be all about.

The Good News of  the Gospel (Romans 3:21-26) had furnished a way in the wilderness.

Notice I said that this is still a wilderness journey, and its often filled with groaning and weeping of soul, because whilst discovering the riches of God's grace is liberating, it also allows you to see and feel the poverty of the world around you, and puts what often passes as "christianity" into sharp relief.

Amidst the celebrations of Luther's titanic work these past few months, I have often found found myself keenly aware of the emptiness of other beliefs (road to no where ideology that amounts to 'have a good time now - it's all you've got') and the total folly of church which thinks the Gospel is something we 'trip' over to start with, and then get on with the "deeper" stuff of being spiritual. It all amounts to "let's make our own gods", because as exiles from the garden, that's what we believe we're good at.

There was a very telling quote made recently:

“During his time at Union Seminary, Dietrich Bonehoeffer famously remarked that American Protestantism has never gone through the Reformation, so, the dominant theme in American Christianity is pietism. This continues to be the case – both evangelicalism in general and Protestantism in particular perform the Gospel, preach law in ways that manifest either as  moralism on the one hand or legalism on the other, neither of which bring Christ into focus or close the abyss between God and us.

What most hear week after week is some flavor or variety of this – it’s time to become a better you or to invest in a better world. We’re entirely engaged in exhausting people on the treadmill of the law, with expectations that, by the very nature of their content and intent, grate against the good news of the Gospel that they are justified by grace entirely and only, ever, reckoned righteous in Christ alone, forever”.

(Jason Micheli)

There really is only one thing necessary to continue to 'pass through' the desert valley and see these arid places refreshed and transformed into a place of delight. It isn't all the tug and tussle of our pietistic spirituality, or our grand notions of being wise in our own estimation - it's Jesus Christ, crucified for our sins and raised for our justification - it all begins and ends there.

Church and life are about orbiting this star of righteousness, this sole splendor of our world - if we break away from here, we become abandoned in the void of the abyss of burning up and fading away.

Let's look away from anything and everything that distracts from what God has given to our broken world.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

For Reformation Day...

The brilliance of Martin Luther on the Excellence of Jesus Christ:

When Christ holds fast to us 
 By Martin Luther 

“And some brought to Him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man “Take heart, my son, your sins are forgiven”.  Matthew 9:2. 

 These words show us quickly what the kingdom of Christ is – the caring voice that pierces our poverty with those words, “Your sins are forgiven”. 

We cannot view Christ’s great work amongst us in any other way, for only this word allows us to be alive before God. As you, my friends, understand, the great demand we know is to be right before God and our neighbor, so we must indeed hold fast to these precious words and find our refuge here and hear their sweet message to one like us – ‘Son, be assured, your sins are forgiven’. 

Can you here the rich treasure of the good news? 
We see, then, that the true work of Christ’s kingdom is only done when nothing but this comfort and forgiveness is evidenced not only in the words that proclaim it, but also in deed. Christ not only spoke to this sick man, but in truth, forgave his sins and comforted him. 

Words are quickly heard and then easily forgotten, and the world, the devil and false religion certainly wish to quickly remove us from this understanding. Therefore, dear ones, be careful to learn and truly know what is being given to us in these words, and thereby escape the snares that so easily seek to reason away the mercy we find here. 

Here there are no good works, no piety on the part of this poor man, no keeping of laws in order to show goodness or merit – here we find nothing but the comfort and mercy of Christ alone – it is the bare comfort of His grace and mercy that meets this man in need. So often, because our dullness, we receive such goodness only with our ears, far beyond our hearts, for this man’s problem – the weight of sin – still hangs upon us, so we run to those who they speak for God when they encourage us to try harder, climb further, by our own works, thinking this will bring us remedy. 

This, dear friends, is madness. 
Here, in this one verse, we find the true work of God’s Holy Spirit – not to leave us wallowing in our vanity and folly, but to bring us to the astonishing mercy of God in Christ. 

First, then, He insists must come this bestowing of God’s goodness – only then can we truly be of good cheer and of any true value to each other. There will always be those who seek to tell us that seek to torment us with numerous requirements and regulations in regards to our being right with God, but they so entirely overlook the work of Christ Himself here amongst us – for Christ first takes possession of us by love and then we are right before God by such mercy alone, enables us to aid our neighbor.  

We must likewise hold up this wondrous truth to ourselves and one another, and by doing so, hold each one close to God by His mercy and righteousness to us, and not by any other means. Christ alone shows us the gracious love of our God, bringing that mercy fully to us in Himself. Let us keep quiet about all other things, but only boast and marvel in this amazing care – Christ has indeed forgiven us of our sins!

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Throwing it all away?

"I am amazed that you are so readily deserting the one who called you in the grace of His Son and turning to another message". Galatians 1:6.

So, the big day of the 500th anniversary is almost upon us, and all manner of exuberant and clarifying materials have clamored for our attention as we approach the moment, but I find myself asking one question.

If the good doctor Martin were sat with a brew at table with us right now, what would he want us to take away regarding all of this?

Back in the mid 90's, I was suddenly struck by, more than anything else, what was paramount about Luther's perpetual work from that October day in 1517 until the day he died.

It was made plain to me again yesterday whilst reading an item on the 1517 legacy page.

We can spend so much of our times wittering on about all manner of supposed 'truths', but at the end of the day, it really all comes down to Christ coming to us, both in His Incarnation, and then, in the various ways He has left with us that His spirit uses to bring Him to us.

When we worship, is it around the cross, and the astonishing reconciliation that God has brought through the atoning, justifying work of His Son, expressed in our confession and absolution?

When we face doubts and trails, are we able to find surety in that we have been baptized into Christ and are therefore dead to what was and alive to the magnitude of His marvelous redemption?

When we sit in church in our need, are we fed by His body and blood, given for us and to us in the bread and the wine, showing how we truly become His by the total giving of Him?

When we pause for a moment, we realize that everything that sustains our bodies comes in a similar fashion - we have to take in what is good to be healthy. Why, then, if God has made this so clear in the natural realm, do we think it's any different when it comes to what will feed us in regards to being born again? Why do we think that we have the inner resources to better ourselves and change the world for good? It's like a drowning man believing he'll be OK without a life-line.

Theology goes bad when we start to put anything in the spot that should only, ever, be filled by Jesus Christ and the good news of His saving work.

It wasn't long, some five centuries ago, before Wittenburg and then Europe would witness a plethora of "teachers" who would seek to put all kinds of provisos, footnotes and inserts into the plain and true message Luther had sought to recover for the church (see the amusing video below as an example of how this happened), and thereby began the fracturing of Protestantism into hundreds of different denominations, but this was never the intention, and this isn't the concord that is fostered when we return to that same essential message brother Martin sought to continually declare.

So, the good Doctor's answer would be simple - bring Christ to each and every one, that they, by faith in that good news, may find true joy and comfort with God.

Let's hope that this anniversary allows us to camp there, so the 1,000th anniversary can revel in the same light.

Peace with God comes through Jesus Christ.
Sola Fide, Sola Gracia, Sola Christos!

Oh - Happy Reformation day (31st).

Saturday, 21 October 2017

In spite of ourselves

"If we were to truly look inside ourselves, we would all condemn ourselves".
Noelle's dairy entry - from the film, Limbo.

"Jesus, the son of Joseph.... the son of Adam". Luke 3:25 & 38.

It's one of life great pretenses.

"How are you?"
"Oh, fine".

It doesn't actually take much to peel away that paper-thin veneer, but of course, we don't,
because we're expecting the usual to happen in such "conversations" -

"How are you?"
"Oh, I'm OK to".

(Phew - that's out of the way).

Then it's on to lighter issues.

Getting close to someone always costs, because once you peel away the outer "calm", you will find the storm inside - the raging push and pull between what they would like to be and what they actually are.

That's why the gospels (Matthew and Luke) quickly give us genealogies.

We often think that true purity or holiness is light years away from us or our shaky little worlds, but amidst what we might consider the dusty tomes of 'this one begat that one' - not what we might usually consider a page-turner - resides the answer to all our fears and troubles regarding ever being anywhere near good enough to matter.

The Christian message is that everyone counts, and that's not in some weird philosophical sense. God has literally married himself to us -  to this strange, turbulent mess of a race called humanity. That's what the passage in Luke is telling us - he became a man of the same stream, but without sin, as the rest of us.

The good news that keeps me afloat is not about measuring some increasing amount of virtue or piety in myself - if anything, I so often find the very opposite to be the case - it's all about the fact that "True holiness - the holier it is, the closer it will draw to sinners" (Luther).

We shouldn't be surprised about the fact that our greatest need is met by someone else.
Everything that really matters about us comes from beyond the shores of "me", but how we receive these gifts, how we use them, that's often where we find ourselves stranded. We know they count - we know we should be thankful and reciprocate with generosity and care, but there's this dreadful selfishness in the way that usually causes us to spoil or squander even what's good.

Some years ago, I started attending a church where most services commence with a moment of confession and absolution. It's a moment that resonates deeply, because it tells me that what really counts isn't my inner turmoil over the last week, but the fact that God has already intervened to change what matters - He has killed the power of Sin and Death in coming to us, living with us and for us and dying and rising to brake the cycle of going nowhere. That moment in church often allows me to recognize that splendor once again... and that allows me to get through another week.

That 'allowance' - assurance that what someone else has entirely done is what truly counts - breaks into our benighted, often dreadful days here, and beckons us to a surety and certainty that mediates a comfort beyond ourselves.

Sanctity is because God makes it so. That's why we're deemed to be saints as well as sinners - the bare creature, so marred and crippled by their folly, is covered by a beauty and a purity that could never be obtained by the wretch beneath it. That's why Christians are constantly talking about Jesus - He alone is the righteousness, the holiness, we so clearly need to heal this innate poverty of soul.

There's a great deal more that could be said about how we so readily "miss" each other because we know to do otherwise would cost our island-like selves deeply (the film, Limbo, is a splendid study in how this happens continually, often until it's too late) - but the remedy is here, and we can know a beginning of something far better in the life God brings us in His beloved Son.

I don't have any problem being the "hello... and goodbye" kind of person life so readily makes us, but every once and a while, you get to have an actual conversation with someone, and that can truly be life-changing. When we lift the lid, we begin to realize we're all the same, and we all need that precious moment when we're reminded that something, someone has made it right... in spite of us.

So, when today gets disjointed and you're in a rut once again, consider Him who went to the cross to bring you something so much better - that's the only way we can escape the trouble that is ourselves.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

The Outsider

"Sometimes, to love someone you gotta be a stranger."
Dekkard - Blade Runner 2049

It's been a busy few weeks, running a series of studies up to the 500th anniversary of the day when a concerned monk in a university town posted some considered admonitions and astute observations that changed everything, but I did manage a trip to the cinema to see the new movie quoted from above to good effect.

As to the anniversary, there's already been a great deal published and expounded this year about this, but what fascinates me is just how far (and how quickly) we can move ourselves away from the strangeness - the complete 'otherness' of God's (rightly defined) "alien" work in the world to a philosophy that is far more comfortable to our own home-made religious requirements. Redemption doesn't ever  truly calmly arise naturally from our inner contemplations that instill an intent to serenely behave with placid equilibrium to all (due, presumably, to some inner virtue and well-being).

The story of our true recovery is far too earthy, too insistent for that. It begins in the nightmare of our becoming far less than truly human (Genesis 3), and, many generations on, reaches its zenith when a young maiden finds herself visited by an angelic being declaring that, although she had never laid with a man, she would soon be with child (Luke 1:26-35).

Our broken world has to be invaded by a stranger (a God who had become very foreign to us, though He is always so close) to become whole again.

 It's only when we begin to unpack afresh the stark and often blunt realities of the Gospel Luther and company returned to centre stage that we become keenly aware of just how foreign biblical Christianity can be.

It's like the way photographs are used in the Blade Runner movies. They are supposedly precious because they unlock memories - moments that are considered crucial to identity - but the enigma in these stories is that the events depicted in these images are not our memories - they belong to another, and yet, at our core, we are still part of them, needing to appropriate these moments to us to make us whole.

These divine moments that are captured - seeded into our world - end us but heal us. Godliness doesn't come to energize our virtue or piety, but to bury it, cold and lifeless - to entirely end such devices and replace it with another nature, another 'personhood', that is not us. This all happens, not in some picturesque temple or a mentally obtained celestial realm so relished by Gnostics, but at a filthy, blood-stained cross surrounded by the cruel and the wicked, in the body of man killing our sin.

Christ takes our vile, vain "goodness" and shows us the true cost of all we are, alienated from the garden, in His broken, despised, rejected flesh - the bread we must eat to be healed. Stricken for us, He offers the world a new humanity that, embodied in this single death and resurrection, severs us from our vile religion so our flesh might be indeed raised whole.

As in the beginning, when creation is brought about by nothing but God's word, so in redemption, we who are ungodly are made whole only by the complete and entire saving "offering up" of the Son, so it is His 'rightness', not ours, that rescues and renews us, nothing else.

Replicants, in both Blade Runner movies, come to see there is something far greater to become than themselves, even if it kills them. They may have been defined as 'more human than human', even as 'angels', but what truly matters is, as Jesus spoke of it, to find that pearl so unique, so precious, that everything else will be eagerly sold to obtain such a prize.

God has paid that manner of price for us - to renew and regain all that we were meant to be in our reflection of His astonishing goodness.

The God who we often miss-shape and deride is so much closer than we often care to say - He so speaks in those deep, intimate moments of existence which move us and enthrall. He calls us to discard our folly, our derived pretense of self-sufficiency, to be made whole at the Cross. Only then will life and death become more than a burden - for there we find the one wounded for us, bringing healing by His wounds, that we might be restored.

Beyond us is a ground where justice and mercy met, where all may come and meet the stranger that loves us most.

"I want to drink out of that fountain, on a hill called double cure".
(Vigilantes of Love).

Considering the lilies...

Fascinating video.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Cultural Myopia (The stars are still there, in spite of the philosophical light pollution).

“Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western spiral arm of the galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this, at a distance of roughly ninety million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet, whose ape descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea. This planet has, or had, a problem, which was this. Most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small, green pieces of paper, which is odd, because on the whole, it wasn't the small, green pieces of paper which were unhappy. And so the problem remained, and lots of the people were mean, and most of them were miserable, even the ones with digital watches. Many were increasingly of the opinion that they'd all made a big mistake coming down from the trees in the first place, and some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no-one should ever have left the oceans".

Douglas Adams - Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy.

And there we have it.
We live a miniscule life, wrapped in petty insignificance.
The big bang - a fluke event - is just the prelude to the big crunch, when the universe either checks-out with a whimper or somehow finds enough oomph to re-cycle the entire futile process all over again. All the pain, all the hardship, all the striving takes us absolutely no where.

That's what secularism gives us.
You can marvel at the spectacle of the vastness of space, or be astonished at the remarkable complexity of the countless machines at work in a human cell. You can boggle at the fact that the laws of our universe are infinitesimally (some might say perfectly) balanced to allow life to exist on our tiny world, but you cannot commit the cardinal sin of saying any of that actually, truly matters - it's all just one huge intergalactic piece of bad luck, and we're just stuck with it.

So what are we to do?

Perhaps the only answer is to raise a question.

Is secularism right? 
Are we nothing more that cosmic flotsam, some of whom own credit cards?

Humanity doesn't need "verified" science to take the road to nowhere. The Enlightenment shows that give our reason free reign, and it will always bend us back in upon ourselves, making existence little more than an extension of our impositions, there to cater for us.

We simply cannot take the 'heat' of what is actually being displayed and conveyed by the masterpiece of creation, and the fact that we 'naturally' (philosophically) move in a nihilistic direction says far more about the true condition of our race than the nature of the universe.

It also amply explains why another manner of definition - theism - is so maligned.

Science tells us the hard facts of material reality, but it cannot tell us why these facts are so. There's no scientific answer to what goes on before or after the material universe (or our material existence), but the facts it has in its hands clearly infers that the manner of this 'accident' we are part of requires mind and intelligence to be involved - there simply isn't a good answer regarding why what is is or why life is viable without it.

So that's why secularism turns in and leaves us with total despair. The alternative is awesome and, to the secular mind, terrifying, for it affirms we are not merely freaks of a chance process, but intended and designed for something more.

Some 3,000 years ago, Solomon observed and unpacked the results of secularism.
It's a dark, foul estate that when faced, drowns us in absolute futility.

Most of us never look that deep. We skim across the surface of life until the skimming stops, and then we sink. Secularism says that's OK - just enjoy the moment - but that's because it's afraid to look beyond itself.

The world is crooked because of us, but we can be bent back to a point where we see further once again. Misery, wickedness, evil and death are not the be all and end all, because right there, in the little pages of our little world and smaller lives, some 2000 years ago, one comes to us who shows there's so much more.

His deeds, His call, was because of a far older event that changed us and made us secularists...

"Adam was doubtless a most miserable and plagued man. He had a wife and sons, which brought joy, but great trouble and misery followed, when one brother slew the other - a murder which caused almost as much grief as his own fall. How lamentable - for during the 900 years of his life he was to see God's anger in the death of every human creature. Our sufferings are marginal in comparison to his - children's toys before the true depths of woe. His one comfort was the promise that all would be changed, not by him or us, but by the promised seed".

Martin Luther (500 years ago).

Christianity doesn't ignore the horror - it simply knows that we're not the remedy to it. That has to come from beyond us - from the mercy of the one who truly knows what all of this is about.

So, here today, where will you go?
Stay on the road to nowhere, or give some thought to what truly counts.

The truth, said Jesus, will truly make you free.