Friday, 29 November 2019

Then and Now

Two festive thoughts this week.

The first, in relation to the American holiday of thanksgiving, comes from a superb novel I'm currently reading by Uni Mc Cormack.

"Antok was yawning and doodling through yet another committee meeting, when her mind soon wandered back to the previous evening with her family. Her sketches were of candles, she realised, and she felt warmth - happiness - suffuse her whole body.
The coziness of their home and the beauty of the little ceremony and sharing the sweet cakes...
how blessed she was and how grateful.

How different life was these days. How much it promised for her children".

The story continues with a reflection on how things had been so much worse such a short time before, so thankfulness seemed so right, even though she lived in the midst of a culture that was predominantly secular (Enigma Tales).

Certainly something to mull over as we celebrate or give thanks over the next month.

What are we grateful for, and to whom?
Certainly, there's those who have loved us, but is that love itself not an expression or reflection of something greater?

Which brings me to my second offering, from The Chosen, their pilot episode entitled The Shepherd.

Enjoy as this magical time of year begins.

Saturday, 23 November 2019


So, this week, I have one place to point you, and three particular pieces that have something to say (actually, I have a few, but let's start with a favourite).

The place is the Mockingbird website, which is a constant source of joy, reflection and inspiration these days.

First up is a brilliantly astute piece on Dolly Parton (yes, the country singer known for her voice, songs and physique). This is a superb little insight into faith and celebrity by Sarah Condon that speaks to each of us.

Yesterday was the day that C S Lewis died. Every year, however, it seems that the legacy of this brilliant and insightful writer grows in popularity, and once you discover his works, it's not hard to see why. This article does a great job at whetting the appetite.

Finally, a superbly witty piece borrowed from the Onion, on a syndrome that is so often played out.  It makes you think about how easily we can fall, and keep on falling.

Two other contributions.
First, if you're tired of all those British Christmas ads already, here's something of a remedy that puts us back on track for doing the festive season justice.

And finally, if you really want to get your teeth into the meat and marrow behind the Christian message, can I point you this brilliant apologetics site. You can also find loads of free and brilliant videos on their you tube page, so dive in.

Lots to unwrap there!

Sunday, 17 November 2019

Reaching back to get beyond?

"For from the days of Joshua, the people had not done so".
Nehemiah 8:17.

What happens when a supposedly immovable object is exposed to an unstoppable force?
Well, according to the movie Twister, one of them has to give, but this scene shows just how human stubbornness can often prove to be a power which would drive us into harms way when we should be seeking to step back.

Back in the 13th century, the West, and particularly the Roman church, decided that the best way to break the tornado of change it was facing was by launching a new enterprise, termed Christendom (the kingdom of God on earth), and the instrument the papacy decided it was going to use for this new age was a device termed 'reformo' - yes, what you and I would term Reformation.

Nehemiah saw just how hard it was to really reform people in respect to what they really felt and wanted.
After years of wall and temple building, renewal of rites and ceremonies that hadn't seen the light of day since Joshua's time, he returned from a trip near the end of his life to find that the people had de-faulted back to their laxity and compromise (Nehemiah 13), causing him to become enraged and violent. History shows us that his outburst didn't stop the rot, and the people finally ended up displaced because of their unbelief and negligence (the root problem all along), Clearly, something better than just rules that couldn't be kept was required in that case, but what if you're dealing with a ruling power that is growing in its control over, well, everyone and everything? What if you have an 'office' that supposedly holds sway over men in respects to both mercy and justice?
What happens when such a power comes out of its corner into the ring, riled up for a fight?

The 13th century tells us.
The program commenced with an edict to see 'heretics' killed, and this was eagerly done during a very bloody crusade in Southern France (crusading, please note, isn't just seen or used by Rome as a means of fighting heathens, but of purifying the church). A few decades later, the next phase of purification commenced when a permanent religious office (still in existence today) of inquisition was established for capturing, interrogating (torturing), trying and burning those deemed impure. Over the next two centuries in the realm of Spain alone, this blight would result in some 114,000 victims, over 10,000 of whom would be burned for heresy, whilst in Rome, the papacy ruled itself to be above all earthly authorities.

Perhaps we shouldn't be that surprised, then, that in one of the early 'victories' of the crusaders of this period, many reported a vision from a whirlwind of a 'great leader in heaven on a white horse' (Revelation 6:2).

Now, why am I providing this particular history lesson?

A few months ago, historian Alec Ryrie published a new work  (reviewed here) entitled Unbelievers, in which he argues that the current tide of unbelief and atheism has little to do with the age of reason, but everything to do with anger and resentment at a church that seeks to impose authority upon culture in the most unreasonable fashion.

As noted in Mockingbird's review of the above in a quote from Giles Fraser: "For Ryrie, a scholar of the Protestant Reformation, the passion in question has its roots in the protest against the abuses of the church of Rome, of well-padded priests feathering their own nests, of the bullying authority of the Papacy…"

Ryrie (and Tom Holland also, in his new work, Dominion), show that Christianity broke down when it became a religion which sought to impose itself on the world by violence and intolerance, turning the entire realm of that period into a killing field.

The present intolerance, then, of Christianity, isn't just because people have stopped being 'religious' (it's pretty clear that when you talk to many, there's still a need for something beyond themselves), but because we lived through a lengthy period of time when what was supposed to have been offering the world goodness and mercy only offered them blood and fear - the totality that all dictatorships crave.

Thankfully, the story doesn't end there.
There was another, real, reformation, which focused on each one coming to know a God revealed through Christ, Calvary and the empty tomb, which genuinely revolutionised Europe and the world for the better, but the seismic events of the days that caused that benefit to come are still impacting today.

I find Nehemiah a hard book because its so much about people doing things, apparently for the right reasons, but without something deep in their affections mirroring all their labour, and faith has to be about something deep because if it isn't having that kind of an impact on us, we, and plenty of others, are going to end up in a deeply damaged state.

How we lead, and why, should always point us back to one person -
Jesus Christ.

Saturday, 9 November 2019

Beyond the dream

"Has God not made foolish the wisdom of this world?"
1 Corinthians 1:20.

It's been a week of contrasts.
Poor health, shaky job prospects (again), and unexpected pain have run alongside being presented with an award at work, enduring various hardships, and being both staggered by and able to express something of the amazing historical validity of Christianity (not to mention the sheer joy of now having a computer that's allowed me to re-engage with my photography afresh).

As I lye seeking to resolve some unexpected trouble yesterday from eating something which seriously disagreed with me, I was keenly reminded of my own mortality for the third time in a week.

Times like this are so necessary, because it's so easy for us to think we're self reliant, and that can easily slip into us becoming entirely self referential. Being stopped by poor health or difficult circumstances is often good for us, because it allows us to re-focus on what counts - to re-gain our bearings and look beyond the immediate.

My experience yesterday took me straight back to the cross and the empty tomb. Those are the moments that define what counts, because it's there that God deals with the whole problem of fallen people, and tells us that there is indeed something beyond now, and it's a something worth having, because it is entirely focused upon and accomplished by unmerited love and mercy.

People often want to argue with Paul's words about the wisdom of the cross being something which towers above the  wisdom of our world, but once you see Jesus' death and resurrection for what it is, then you come to understand that when you boil it all down to what counts, all we really have is that wisdom - everything else, including me and you, are going to be gone. Only God's renewing work makes the difference.

I'll face another week, no doubt tripping over myself in all manner of ways, and knowing that my tiny life is pretty short, but I'll also know that His great love and care lasts forever, so whatever my condition or circumstances, I can know rest in the trials of life.

Sunday, 3 November 2019


"(Previously) it was believed that what was inferred from our senses, through the apparatus of measurement, would allow us to 'know' the proper definition of the physical, so in the same way maps or guide books let us 'know' about a place, we would create a virtual replica of what makes up reality. The problem, of course, is that whilst maths may allow you to count a bunch of apples, it doesn't really allow you to engage with their taste, texture, smell - it isn't giving you the reality of what you're counting. The virtual may look convincing, but what we're really needing is a real coming to know something".  C S Lewis. The Discarded Image.

The past month or so has provided some wonderful opportunities, especially as I've finally been able to obtain a new computer to replace my very old machine.
What's fascinating is seeing just how the software for such a system has moved on in a decade - the key functions remaining essentially the same, but the small adjustments adding those nuances which can either be pleasantly surprising or perhaps somewhat annoying as you engage with your new machine for the first couple of sessions.

What always takes the longest time when beginning to use such a new system is the uploading of all of your previous data in such a fashion that it is both accessible and useable once again on your new platform. I spent most of this weekend uploading the basic 'stuff' I need to provide Internet, Image, and Music, discovering various strengths and weaknesses along the way, and taking a couple of breaks to get out in the fresh air between the heavy rain and strong winds. 

It's because, underneath or away from all the 'programs', that I feel so connected to something much deeper and greater, that I often find a richness and a purpose in the world, both real and virtual, that provides the impetus for my activities in work, rest and play. Essentially understanding that beyond the 'maps and diagrams' that we make for ourselves to seek to navigate through today there is a higher truth, a more substantial reality, makes all of this worthwhile, because it's just the introduction to something far more weighty.

I started the weekend talking with a friend regarding the current state of world affairs, and was quickly sobered by just how impoverished our times have become, not just because there are many in material need (and there are) or because of the growing of regimes that thrive upon injustice, but because there is so little left in our own culture that people have to depend upon. Usually, it may be their own abilities to cope, perhaps with the help of a loved one or a friend, but all of it could so easily be dissolved so quickly.

2019 has proved to be a better year for me because of a change of employment circumstances which have allowed me to leave eleven prior years of precarious living, for the moment, behind, but last year was filled with great anxiety and fear that things would be very different. What we appear to be so negligent of so much of the time is just how close our world is right now to falling over that cliff in its entirety. What will hold us if that happens?
Where do we go from here?

In the late 1700's, our culture was revolutionised - saved from the despotism it had become soaked in - by the work of the Clapham reformers. This ended slavery and child labour, brought about the first free trade unions, reformed prisons and paved the way for our own welfare state.
This had all been possible because for the generation before this, the country had been exposed to a genuine spiritual awakening that allowed people to see there was a deeper value and reality to their lives - that we really were more than a jumble of random data.

The world is sinking fast, my friends, and without our turning from our inwardness and the poison of all-encompassing materialism, we are in very real trouble.

What does it really profit us, asked Jesus, if we gain all that's available materially, but loose our own souls as a result?

It's time to heal the world.