Saturday, 22 February 2020

Breaking through

The arm is beginning to heal, so another brief entry this week.
Take a look at this fascinating piece on a current popular tv show, and what it tells us about the marred image we carry not just of ourselves, but of something much deeper.

Zoe Trimple ends the article with a very telling question -'who these days has time for personhood?'

It's imperative that we think long and hard on this.

Saturday, 15 February 2020

Just a word...

As I'm currently impaired with a shoulder/arm injury, today's entry will be brief, but hopefully will point you to something worth its weight in gold.

Have a watch of this.

Saturday, 8 February 2020

Take Five

"As it is written... behold" Mark 1:2.

A few years ago, an artist I like decided to put out some 'stripped down' versions of her songs from one of her albums - vocals, acoustic guitars, a little percussion and some piano with her voice. The results knocked it out of the park for me, and I found myself playing those 'bared' tracks constantly on my fave collection for months and months. There was something so powerful about something so musically honest. It was truly refreshing.

The same is so often the case when it comes to truth.

This week, I spent time just looking at the plain words of the first five chapters of Mark's electric gospel once again, and I found myself totally staggered once more at the sheer raw power of what he wrote and the person he introduces in such a dynamic and immediate way.
If you have the time, I'd really recommend you read those chapters for yourself, but I just wanted to take a couple of minutes to touch on what I saw, so here goes...

Can you imagine what it would be like today to have someone around that was naturally so good to listen to that he had to actually leave being in towns and even cities and setting up in the open because so many people wanted to see and hear him?
Mark makes it clear that very quickly, Jesus was saying and doing things that made the people throng in droves to Him, but what's even more telling is how the writer 'stops' amongst all the hum and rattle of the masses to show how this Jesus made time for the individual  - the men He calls to travel with Him, the man broken by an unclean spirit and the leper (deemed unclean) that Jesus touched to heal - that's how the story opens.

What comes next made me shudder. Jesus heals a paralytic in the context of forgiving His sins. Mark tells us why -the "religious" present were perplexed at what He's doing, but He shows His "authority" by doing so.

Think about that... there's a great deal to ponder right there, and the ramifications will ripple throughout the rest of the text.

It's almost certainly as hard for us now to accept what happened as those that witnessed it... more on that in a moment, but He goes on pressing their concepts of what is good and righteous. He calls a tax collector. He dines with those who are viewed as morally as untouchable as lepers, and he supports his disciples when the religious seek to shun them for doing something "irreligious" on a holy day. This, I realised, was Mark's way of leading us up to the pivotal moment of conflict between what God is like, and how we really cannot handle that.

So that's how we begin chapter three. A man with a diseased hand is present in the religious place on the religious day of the week, and the pious find Jesus amongst them.
The one who was turning their world upside down in giving without measure to those in need was present - and Jesus wasn't going to ignore someone who truly needed Him.
The man is healed, and the religious call a counsel of war... to kill the one who has healed Him.

Did you see that?

Let that sink in.

You're present, witnessing a very genuine miracle, and all you can think about is how you can rub out the one performing that deed, because He simply doesn't fit in your framework of what's proper.

Start to see what religion is now?

The crowds love it. His family deem Him mad, but Jesus warns those followers who are closest to Him that there's an error that cannot be erased - when we repudiate such a work of pure love as evil and only have a framework of hatred which continually renounces such good.

It's entirely possible, He's saying, for people to be that blind.

If we allow this account to begin to bear upon us, we're not going to be able to walk away untouched, but that impression can be for good or for ill, and that's where Jesus goes next - in teaching about seeds, soils and what is grown when what's  needed (life-changing truth) is encountered by indifference, overcrowding distraction, or with a genuine desire for what's good.

Where are we on that scale?
And how would we have reacted when this Jesus stilled gale force winds, pounding waves, and broke the will of a legion of demons (restoring a man to his right mind) before He brings a little girl back from death?

Awe. Amazement. Wonder. Joy.
Or anger and hatred?

It's understandable why the people thronged Him at this point - this man clearly had something remarkable.

What I found so telling in this opening section was how it was what seemed reasonable to those passionate about a dogma that was constantly challenged and shaken by what Jesus was - that's why they were so troubled, and why some of them only grew in hatred of what He was.

The real gem we should take away from this record - the real insight that Mark wants us to glean - is what Jesus is showing us about God.

Across these five chapters, we see Him expressing and giving unconditional mercy to anyone who comes to Him and cries for help. There isn't anyone turned away, but there are those who turn away.

God in Christ is entirely about giving unceasingly, willingly, to those who are prepared to receive, but Mark also shows us the awful truth that when some encounter this marvel, they only desire such beauty to be killed.

Engage with that astounding message afresh and soberly ask yourself, can I come with my need and see Jesus?

Friday, 31 January 2020

Worthy of Consideration...

This week's posting comes from the pen of the brilliant Chad Bird. Read, ponder and be encouraged...

Hidden Hebrew Word Play in Psalm 130:  “God doesn’t exercise great care over our sins” There’s a Hebrew play on words on Psalm 130 that is invisible in English translations. Verse 3 reads, “If You, O Lord, should _______ iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” (Psalm 130:3). 

What goes in the blank? The versions usually have either “keep a record” or “mark.” The Hebrew verb used here is shamar, which occurs hundreds of times in the OT. In fact, it’s the verb used in the commandment to “keep [shamar] the Sabbath day” (Deut 5:12). To shamar is “to exercise great care over.” It usually means to keep, guard, or observe. But here’s where it gets interesting: the same verbal root is used in vs. 6, “My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning.” The root of “watchmen” is also shamar. Those who guard the city from intruders, who keep watch over it by night, who wait expectantly for the sun to rise so their duty is over, they shamar. They “exercise great care over” guarding the city. 

The implication? We wait for the Lord as guards wait for the morning precisely because God doesn’t guard sins. It’s as if he is a lousy night guard, who falls asleep while he’s supposed to be watching over iniquities. They’re stolen away, disappear, and he slumbers on. He doesn’t guard our sins. He doesn’t exercise great care over them.  

Our Father is not some persnickety, diligent, cross your T’s and dot your I’s kind of watchman with eyes glued on our precious iniquities. Because if he were, we couldn’t stand. We’d fall into despair and death. Instead, he lets them all be stolen away by his Son who ends up crucified between two thieves. Because he is an un-iniquity-watching (shamar) kind of God, we watch (shamar) for him. His love draws us. The kind of love which doesn’t exercise great care over our iniquities, but forgives (vs. 4), exercises lovingkindness (vs. 7), had abundant redemption (vs. 7), and will redeem Israel (his people) from all their iniquities.

Friday, 24 January 2020

Beauty in the dark

"The things which are seen are temporary -  they are passing away. The things which are unseen are eternal".
2 Corinthians 4:18.

You know the saying - the more things change, the more they stay the same. Thermodynamics in a couple of words, because as we get older, we come to understand that however much we 'wriggle' (try to get somewhere) in our skins, the forces that really change things are always way more powerful than us, and that what we want to change so much only seems to move in one direction -  usually that's from bad to worse!
Think honestly for a few moments about all the things that are true about you, about your situation, about your life, and then reflect on just how many of those things you had any real say in, or how much impact you have on the outcome of what happens in the events of most days.

Sobering, isn't it?

One of the artists I work with recently posted a brilliant image on her facebook page:

It's so true.
To make a noticeable (if small) dent in the general entropy (or just plain bloody-mindedness) of things takes a lot of effort, and often, the rewards for what's been put in come no where close to the real cost, so it's a good thing we gain some personal satisfaction out of such actions, and that there are some things (good food and drink, good company, good music and sunny days, and of course, chocolate!) that make life worth living.

One of those plusses is often the joy of each other, which often gives us some real treasures.

This week, for example, I found myself in a conversation with my barber about the recent airing of a 'mockumentary' on the wait for it... existence of mermaids!
What fascinated me was the scenario which made it "possible" in this fiction for such creatures to develop.
(Notice how the underlying theme in this TV show echos what I was just saying above)...

Here's the pitch... an "island" (so, think something like this) which broke away from the African coast then became waterlogged, forcing the indigenous population of primates to adapt to a far more aquatic lifestyle to stay alive. This of course is a spin on the 'ol Darwin's finches observation, but what goes without saying in the tale is that 1. You have to have the highly developed apes in the first place for the process to get started and 2. You have to blindly presume that the indigenous chemical and biological material you have to hand will allow such a transition from one form to another without any hitches, otherwise all you get is extinction.

The reality, of course, is somewhat different (taking us back to where we started this entry). Whilst small changes to the beak of a finch can occur because the genetic information already available allows for this, that's altogether different from going from, say, a Whale to an Elephant - it simply doesn't happen, Darwin's hope of different kinds of creatures coming one from another has never been shown.
Notice, though, the 'high hope' optimism in the face of the ugly crush of the real world.

"Power creation" of the kind imagined in Star Trek II with the "Genesis device" (yes, they really called it that) is simply fictional conjecture at best as far as we're concerned, and that marks the chasm between our need as we dream our dreams, and the real state of play - the nihilistic, narcissistic 'rat trap' of our times. That's why we need a truth that allows our deepest longings for something really good to come true.

Truth starts with the mess, but also shows us the hope. When we look at what's outlined in Genesis 1:1, there really isn't a great deal to work with at the start. All that's present is darkness, emptiness and water -lifelessness- (sounds like a usual 5am workday on a January morning!) in terms of what is seen, but look at what comes into that void. God acts upon these rudimentary things and begins to breathe and shape something extraordinary, leading, slowly and surely, to a realm abundant with light and life, over-flowing with beauty and goodness.
Like our island of swimming apes, we needed a miracle, and Genesis is telling us that these came in spades.

We have often sought to undercut the wonder here by seeking to imagine/set-up our own rockumentary. We so often wallow in the crude and cruel in what we accept (about life, the universe and everything), and it then becomes easy for the weight and pain of misery to prey deeper and tighter on our lives, but the Genesis story is saying that we're right to say what we need is a miracle. There is a better way - a deeper truth.

When we envisage something far less than ourselves - random forces and changes hammering what we are, magically, somehow bringing about our complexity, we know it's a cop-out. We look in the mirror, or devise our mockumentaries, because we must have beauty in our lives, and the truth is the beauty is there.The reason we are as we are - that we have complexity, intelligence, and a whole bunch of other amazing traits and characteristics, is because these gifts were miraculously built-in to our world. The garden came with fruit on the trees and gold in the rivers, and we still echo with that goodness - that's what we crave.

So, as we sigh when we stub our toes, sit in traffic, start another round of dental treatment, and so on, and on, let's focus on all that's best, because in that expression, that reflection, we hear eternity in our hearts, and that's certainly the call we need to answer.

Friday, 17 January 2020

Questions bigger than your dreams

"Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored".
Aldus Huxley.

As I mentioned in my last posting, this week saw a very engaging debate drop on You Tube. It's been interesting to see how the discussion has developed following this, especially in respect to some very pertinent points that Glen Scriviner raised in this follow up piece.

You always know when something good along these lines is furnishing fresh considerations, because it easily raises more thoughts and new questions in your own mind.

As you'll see from the above links, Matt Dillahunty doesn't know if the manner of humanism he is seeking to advocate can provide in any enduring sense, a better world for everyone, so that raises a key point - should it, then, really be a competing, valid world-view? Why, if it cannot give hard and beneficial results, should it be given a precedent role in a society?

Glen showed in the debate that numerous studies have already shown religion to be quantitively beneficial for people. Jordan Peterson, in a similar discussion, touched on how, even amidst atheists, religion is a 'de-fault' form of behaviour, not just morally, but in respects of seeking to give meaning to their existence in what they are doing, so on these evidential grounds alone, shouldn't religion by deeply valued, not rejected?

This, of course, is just touching the threshold of the richer value of what religion is seeking to open concerning the true meaning of being human and how we all stand on the cusp of something so much greater than the material, but our own all too human limitations so often hold us back from stepping into the truth (even when there are so many 'fingerprints' to indicate that we should).

Truth dares us to step into a much larger world than we often see at the mundane level we allow ourselves to inhabit most of the time.

This last few weeks has prompted and prodded me to re-engage with the arts and nature - to take notice of the beauty that requires our full attention. One of the realms I've been thinking over is wild swimming - how city people are rediscovering their links to a very different world by literally immersing themselves in an environment that jolts a response and genuinely benefits those involved from doing so.

Encountering and engaging with the wealth of the real world, as Roger Scruton would have put it, prompts a desire in us for something deeper - a longing for connection, for...home.

Humanism, in its better voices, is seeking that same journey, but as this debate shows, the road signs are being miss-read.

Jesus Christ shows us those points (our failure, His sufficiency) that return us to the necessary "map references" to take us where we need to go. That's the true wealth we need to inherit, here and forever.

Saturday, 11 January 2020

Beautiful Barbs

“Knowing without loving is frankly dangerous for the soul and for society. You'll critique most everything you encounter and even have the hubris to call this mode of reflexive cynicism "thinking" (whereas it's really your ego's narcissistic reaction to the moment). You'll position things to quickly as inferior or superior, "with me" or "against me," and most of the time you'll be wrong.

Richard Rohr, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation.

It's been a pretty astonishing first few days of a new decade, and I have spent much of it reflecting deeply on the weighty issue of what happens when we get wrong what it means to be human.
A good example of this was provided yesterday in this fascinating debate between Glen Scrivener and Matt Dillahunty, which sought to explore the question of the morality of atheism via humanistic secularism. What becomes clear as you read 'between the lines' is that there is a fundamental and systemic problem here, in respect to how we see the 'us' of what is viably human (and therefore, of value) as Glen seeks to show.

Secularism drains the pool of what vitally matters about us, but fails to see (to borrow from Tom Holland's Dominion) the graveyard of tortured and crucified hosts that it erected its new regime upon to begin with, leaving us stripped of something vital.

This is, no doubt, why our culture is already loosing its ability to reference and see things which would have been 'there' a few decades ago.
This was suitably pin-pointed this week by Rod Dreher, who, instead of writing a review of Terrence Malick's new masterpiece, A Hidden Life, decided instead to examine the response of the critics, and what became immediately clear, was that they couldn't see what was truly being said in the movie, because they had no frame of reference to the scope of what Malick was seeking to say.

Another example of this also came along this week, which both surprised and delighted me.
This year marks the anniversary of the Mayflower's journey to the new world, and this is generating new interest in the men and women who made that journey, commonly known as the Puritans.

One of my favourite characters from that stable is the enigmatic and often-caricatured Oliver Cromwell, In this fascinating piece, Paul Lay touches on a number of unexpected truths about him, and particularly his love for the arts.

Jesus spoke of how when a we believe we have 'gained' our lives, by our own reckoning, we have actually lost it, because it is only when we 'lose' (invest) ourselves in the right way that we genuinely gain what is worthwhile - that's why we so need to correctly evaluate and understand what is going on and why it matters.

Let's hope this can be a year when we escape the foolishness that so often deems itself to be wise and gain the real pearl of truth.

Saturday, 4 January 2020

Long Overdue

What's the best way to start a new year?

Amidst the rush to re-shuffle all manner of personal goals, let's take a moment or two to do something far more worthwhile - bury a common lie.

It's assumed today that we've got smart enough to live without what is usually said to be 'myth' now, with 'religion' being top of the list (not stopping people from being 'religious' in all sorts of new ways, of course), but what if the reality is that the reverse is true - what if what is commonly accepted as 'science' and therefore correct is a lie?
What happens when we discover that what we build our everyday life upon is totally mistaken?

The facts you're about to face aren't new - this brilliant piece, written by the one-time atheist, C S Lewis, was penned decades ago, but what it says about the myth believed by our secular times is just as correct now as then, so I warn you,
if you watch this material, prepare to be shaken!

2020 could be about to take a very different direction, so listen carefully, and discover why we often follow what we think is best rather than the truth.