Friday, 31 December 2010

Walls of my heart

I was in Jerusalem and visited Bethlehem during the years when the wall was being built. The town where Christians believe Messiah was born and from where Jews still believe he will come, is now enclosed by this 30 foot barrier. Of course, it's intended for far more than physical security - it's a symbol. It says keep out, or keep in. It says we are in control. It speaks of prison, of sentence having been passed, of judgment being handed down. You are guilty, you cannot come in. It speaks of separation, of those who are in and those who are out, those who aree acceptable and those who are not. The irony of Israel trusting in concrete for 'peace' rather than their God is tragic.

Easy to condemn such a wall - and despite the provocation, I unequivocally do, but it made me ask myself 'what walls have I erected? Who am I excluding, who would not feel welcome?' At the same time, we were planning a New Year's Eve party, then Catherine sent me this poem.

New Year Party
Who's coming to the party?
the family with the car,
the people without screaming kids,
The Vicar and his wife?

The respectable family across the road,
the one with fame and friends...
are they coming to your party?
Would you let me in?

or am I just an outsider
with walls that can't be bridged,
am I in a different world
parallel to this?

For parallel lines don't cross
the worlds fail to meet,
the walls become stronger
so other worlds we won't see

The truth is that God has opened His home to us. Not at the point when we were cleaned up and acceptable, but whilst we were at our most messed up, when we were most likely to cause problems. In the light of such love, as the beneficiary of such grace, how could I do less? 

Let's make 2011 a year in which we tear down walls...

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Reality Check

I got lots of books for Christmas - several with a science / religion twist. Started with the latest Stephen Hawking one (Grand Design). Inspired me to write this blog...

Reality, Hawking (and others) suggest, is subjective and essentially a set of assumptions we make about the world. No 'reality' is 'better' or more 'true' than any other, except as defined by the assumptions of that reality. However, if the purpose of these assumptions is to help us thrive, then some versions of 'reality' are clearly more successful than others. That is not an indicator of truth, simply of greater utility. Is the 'Big Bang' theory of creation more true than a literal '6 Day Creation' one? The question simply makes no sense. The only meaningful question is 'Which view is more useful?' because we have no objective means of deciding between worldviews. I can argue from my theological view that the 'Big Bang' theory is inadequate. I can argue from my scientific worldview that 'Creationism' is just plain wrong. But there is no common ground between the two worldviews that would allow us to all agree which was true.

The question they both raise then is simple: 'Are there some worldviews, true or not (we can't tell) which are so unhelpful regarding the main purpose - to help us thrive, that actually, they should be discouraged?'

The logic is very compelling. Science explains so much and enables us to predict and therefore have the hope of control. Just look around you, the science that provides the 'Big Bang' theory gives mobile phones, the internet, medical care, food, warmth and cheap travel.Technology, the cousin of science, promises so much and has already delivered extraordinary achievement: we can control our temperature, our location. We can fix ourselves when we go wrong, as we discover new things, they enable more control.  Those aspects of life that we refer to as spiritual are simply illusory or due to complex interactions of known phenomenon that we simply haven't got round to describing scientifically yet. Love is a hormonal, chemical response to enable the population to continue. Free will does not exist, we simply respond to complex stimuli in ways that appear to be free. There is no spiritual dimension - it is neither necessary nor testable. There is nothing beyond this physical life - the fact that such a view makes our existence seem fragile and futile is not a good reason for introducing religion into the equation.

So, whilst the conclusion of Hawking and Dawkins thinking is that we have no way of knowing the truth about God, they see great danger in unecessarily invoking such belief, after all, what has that worldview delivered?

War, division, myth, dogma... 

Increasingly, this view is going to pervade. Let's start a debate - what answers are out there?

Sunday, 19 December 2010

A Fawlty Christmas

Here's a newly discovered Fawlty Towers episode just in time for Christmas. Hope you enjoy it.

I don’t know. Government. Couldn’t organise a drinks party in a brewery. Coalition, demolition more like...
Are you alright Basil, muttering to yourself like that, you’ll frighten the guests.
Guests? I wouldn’t call them that. I mean, have you seen them? All these people here for this ridiculous census. And at Christmas time. I ask you. Where’s the sense in that? Whole country comes to a standstill at the merest hint of snow and the Government decides now is a good time to call a census. I mean...
Conscription. That’s what you need. Didn’t have problems with snow in my day. All these yobbo’s and foreigners. Soon clear the snow if we gave them all shovels.
What, Fawlty?
Well, quite Major. I’m not sure that’s exactly what...
Your wife.
Sorry, Major, my wife?
Yes, Fawlty your wife. Damn fine woman...
Oh, I wouldn’t say that....
Well, no, nor would I, but you could put her in charge of the conscripts. She’d sort them out alright.....
I wish she’d sort you out...
Sorry to interrupt your intellectual conversation, but you might have noticed that there is quite a queue forming – and I’m on the phone to Audrey. Her husband’s left her again, it always happens at Christmas. Typical man, no consideration at all, he hadn’t even put up the decorations....
Oh dear, poor Audrey – I know where I’d put the decorations up...
What did you say!!?
Nothing dear, just offering to go and help put the decorations up...
Mr Fawlty, Mr Fawlty... there’s this couple...
Yes, well, I am rather busy at the moment, can’t you see there’s a queue? We’re not good at much in this country any more, but at least we can do queues!
But Mr Fawlty, they’ve been travelling for days...
Well that’s the government for you isn’t it – pay all our taxes, income tax, VAT, fuel duty, death tax, inheritance tax. None of it gets spent on the roads does it. I mean, took me three days to get to the post office to pay my road tax last year. I mean, it’s not hard is it, it’s just a road. I’m not asking to get to the moon, just the local post office....
And she’s pregnant! She’s almost due!
Well, I can’t help that can I? What are they doing travelling all that way if she’s that pregnant?
Basil, at the rate you’re dealing with people, she probably wasn’t pregnant when they started queuing...
Alright, Alright. What’s your name?
Joseph Barjacob and this is Mary
Joseph & Mary Barjacob...
I’m sorry?
No. I’m not Mary Barjacob. We’re not married yet.
Oh, I see.  I see your game now. Well let me tell you something sonny. That sort of behaviour might be acceptable where you are from, but we’re a respectable British hotel. You think you can come here, take our jobs, flout our customs, use our NHS...
Give them a room Basil.
But they’re not married!
Give them a room
I’m dealing with it dear
Give them a room!!!
Oh, alright – ‘Manuel’
Take this couple to room 24
Room 24
But we no have room 24...
We do now, it’s what I’ve renamed the bike shed.
Off you go then, I do hope you enjoy your stay....
Have you given them a room yet?
Oh yes, all sorted dear. Who’s next?

Happy Christmas from Catherine & David

Saturday, 11 December 2010


I was spending time with my fellow blogger, his wife, family and friends a few weeks ago, somehow we got onto the topic of juggling, and attempting to do it. Thankfully it just so happened that I had taken a bag of satsumas round, so armed with oranges, the juggling lesson began. You had to be there to fully grasp the beauty of watching the lesson. It began with some very tentative throwing, and just 2 satsumas each, and ended with the smell of juiced oranges, and some people juggling 3 oranges! It was fun, I recommend it for all your family gatherings over Christmas!

I've had a set of juggling balls for years. Every now and then I have picked them up to have another go, for which read, miserable attempt! Got very frustrating, I consider myself intelligent and competent (you are allowed to comment)  yet no matter how hard I tried, no matter how many times the technique was explained, I couldn't do it. Then Catherine saw them one day, grabbed them and casually started to juggle... gggrrrr.

Turns out that the key to learning to juggle is not about technique or an inherent ability to throw and catch. What you first have to learn to do is drop stuff. You have to get the rhythm of throwing and if you're concentrating on trying to catch as well, most people will never make it. In order to succeed in juggling you have to be willing to deliberately choose to fail!

'Drop  them' she said. Mad woman, I'm supposed to be juggling, that involves catching, what do you mean 'drop them'. But regular readers will know that I've come to trust Catherine's seemingly odd advice! I had to stop thinking 'I need to catch everything, I need to do it all at once, to do it perfectly'. I had to learn not to hold onto things tightly! The first step was getting the oranges in the air in a rhythm which would mean they could be caught. But in order to get that right, I had to consciously allow them to splat on the ground the first few times! Fortunately small children a) think it's funny and b) don't mind eating them later! 

Deliberately throwing them with no intent of catching them is the secret to getting the rhythm.  Guess we thought this was a bit of a life lesson. So often we seem to believe that God insists on immediate perfection. It limits risk taking, but more importantly it might just be like juggling. God knows that there are some things we will never get right unless we first let go, unless we step out, confident that some of it will go splat on the ground. By feeling the need to do it all perfectly, to get it all done in one step, people ended up being paralysed and not throwing some of the balls. They never risked dropping anything, but they never risked succeeding in juggling either.

Maybe the path to Kingdom building is strewn with splatted satsumas.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Tell the truth!

I'm fed up with lies. Not so much the ones people tell against or to you (though they can be pretty painful), no, the ones I'm really angry about are the one the enemy convinces people of.

Here's some we thought of earlier!

  • I am not significant
  • I am not loved
  • I have to acieve in order to have value
  • I am not valuable
  • This is just the way I am, nothing can change
  • I have to be really good so I am not rejected by God
  • I have to be perfect
  • I am too hard a case for God to work with
  • I don't really have any gifts
If we live out of these false beliefs, we are disempowered or paralysed and whilst we might be 'saved' we are neither free nor experiencing the abundant life that Jesus promised. So a word about belief...

Believing has nothing to do with being intellectually persuaded that something is true. Belief has everything to do with living your life as if it is true, irrespective of how persuaded your mind or heart are about it. It's called faith. Strangely, as we live our life directed by faith rather than by sight (what we see, what experience tells us, what our feelings say), what we find is that gradually our mind and feelings swing into alignment with what we have chosen to believe. It isn't enough to tick off statements on some creed, or to say 'the prayer'! Belief is not about a one off transaction, it's a lifelong process of choosing to act in a way that is consistent with believing that God is who He says He is. That's why James is so hot on hypocrisy and faith. Faith that doesn't outwork itself in a lifestyle that is lined up with the God in whom we have faith, is not faith at all! It's just an intellectual set of assertions. A lifestyle that is contrary to the character of God exposes the lie of our stated belief. Worse than that, people will either believe our actions and assume that the God whose name we bear behaves in the same way. Or they will believe our words only for them to be undermined by our actions.

Back to those lies. If we live out of them, we not only live a life less than God lovingly designed for us, but we risk making it more difficult for those around us to see that God as well! So how do we move away from the lies presented by the world, by our senses, by others who deliberately or inadvertantly speak lies? How do we live out of truth? Here's some remarkably simple steps for transforming our lives!

Step1. Confession. Old fashioned word that just means seeing it from God's point of view. What does he say about you - about everybody?

Step2. Declaration. Personalise and regularly speak out the truth you have now recognised

Step 3. Repentance. More old fashioned words - repentance just means to change your mind. Now you see it from God's perspective and you come to recognise that it is true for yourself. (This is a battle, so when the old thoughts sneak in we are encouraged to 'take every thought captive to Christ' - don't leave them in your brain to fester, give them to God to deal with!)

Step 4. Make choices based on the new perspective - even if it is still an act of faith rather than a felt or reasoned thing yet - heart and mind will swing in line over time!

Here's an example. Let's say you have been living your life as if the truth was that you are unloved. Confession would acknowledge that however you feel, whatever your past, God's view is that you are loved. In fact He would say that you are loved with an everlasting love, a love that knows no bounds. Declaration would turn that general statement into the personal. Something like 'I acknowledge that God loves me so much that he died for me'. And every time someone does or says something that seems to contradict that, or every time a contrary thought comes into our head, we repeat the declaration - no matter how we feel about it's truth. Finally, and crucially, we behave as if it is true - irrespective of whether we yet feel it is true or not. It's faith, we give it a chance to prove itself!

So when you feel intimidated by the room of strangers, you hold your head up high and have a renewed confidence - because after all, who are these people to be intimidated by, you are loved by the King of Kings! When someone says something hurtful and you are tempted to respond in kind or retreat into the pain, instead you choose to believe God's view and out of the security that comes from that, you are able to see past the hurt to the wounded heart of the person who offended you...

That's just one example. We know most of us struggle to some degree with the lies in our life. So why not gove these steps a go? Better still, tell us about it via the comments, or click here if you'd like some concrete help with the lie that affects you.