Monday, 31 August 2009

Song - The Gift of God to the Soul of Man

Someone happened to mention to me recently, that angels don't sing. My "that sounds dodgy" antenna went up immediately. I wasn't too sure about that. After all, every Christmas, for as long as I can remember, I gustily sing out the traditional "Sing Choirs of Angels..." from O Come All Ye Faithful and Hark the Herald... You know the rest. But if you look in the bible, that person was right. In fact according to the Bible, the rest of creation doesn't sing either! Declares? Yes. Calls? Yes. But doesn't sing.

Singing is God's gift exclusively to those made in his image. Every time you put on your MP3 player, whether you're listening to Christian or secular songs, classical or modern, you are hearing an echo of the image of God from the depths of those who are made in their image. Whether they acknowledge it or not. Every time you open your mouth in song, whether you sound like a French horn or a foghorn, you are displaying something unique to the rest of creation.

When we sing, we are displaying/experiencing something of the divine life. And surely it can only be that way, for only humans can experience what it is to be forgiven and saved. Angels don't. Creation doesn't. Greater depths of emotion and experience require greater depths of expression to do them justice. Song is just that - a beautiful union of words and music. The intelligible, united to the ineffable.

So much singing all down history and all over the world has hijacked God's intent for this gift and forced it into the service of sinful and even diabolical ends, but this post isn't a knee jerk call for Christians to burn all of their non-Christian CDs, (although discernment is clearly needed in choosing what you feed your soul with). Rather to ask us all to stop a while and listen with renewed ears. Singing is sacred a gift of God to the souls of men and women, a gift that we can either squander or gratefully use every day to nourish our souls with truth and to have fellowship with the living and true God. A gift that the mighty angels have only ever been able to wonder at, and all the more will they do so, on that great and final day when they hush themselves to listen whilst those who have been redeemed by the living God, sing a new song to Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb: face to face...



So what to sing this Christmas? Hark the herald angels say... doesn't quite have the same ring to it... :-S

Saturday, 29 August 2009

The Image of God


This is probably my best attempt to sum up these posts (1, 2 & 3) in easily digestible form. The image of God is reflected in marriage in the created order. It ties with what Augustine said when he described the Trinity as Lover, Beloved and Love.

Before you shoot me for heresy and say that I demean the person of the Holy Spirit, by making Him an arrow, not a circle, think carefully where you would get your texts to shoot me from. I fully believe that the Spirit is a person, but that personhood is expressed in a different way in the divine life to the other two. I have only ever seen divine dialogue in the bible, never divine trialogue. Father talks to Son and Son to Father, but you never catch the Son having a chin wag with the Spirit, (at least I haven't come across one yet) or the Father doing the same. The Spirit speaks to and through the believers, but not as a defined stand apart entity within the Godhead to the Godhead.

Friday, 28 August 2009

The Holy Spirit - Consummator not Clone

The Son of God reveals who the Father is by being his complement not his clone. Just as you know the bear by the imprint of his feet on the ground, so too you know the Father by the one who is the imprint of his nature.

The Son completes the community of the Godhead by being different (that's what being a complement means. A good wine complements a good meal - completes it, dare I say, it makes up for what is lacking. It doesn't mean that wine = better or that wine = more chips). The one is more sweetly enjoyed when accompanied by the difference of the other.

So we are left with the question who is the Spirit?

The Spirit is different again and completes the community of the Godhead by consummating or unifying the complementary personalities of the Father and the Son as one. He flows eternally in love between the Father and the Son. He is the overflow of their delight in one another. To put it another way: Father and Son are one in the unity of the Spirit.

That sounds really abstract and weird so let's ground it. Remember, our guide is the Bible, and our interpreting principle is not western philosophical logic but the revelation of symmetry. (It's got to be really simple, otherwise we, along with some Indonesian tribes from the 14th century, will have an excuse for unbelief on the day of judgment.)

So here is my question: Where in the Bible, outside the trinity, is the only place where you see two united as one? Where do you see two complimentary persons united in loving, faithful, life-giving union? Where is this image, this metaphor of the divine nature, the divine life, clearly on display?

Marriage.

Which is exactly what you see in the creation of Adam and Eve. Two complementary persons unified as one in the bond of marriage.

I am personally absolutely convinced that this, more than anything else, is what it means to be made in the image of God, (other interpretations e.g. "the attributes" tangent off into abstraction and speculation and encourage us to be self-obsessed and antisocial rather than generously outward-looking and sociable). This is simple biblical symmetry, that the simple-minded like you and me can understand. Wherever, you have biblical marriage, you have a simple, but profound picture of the divine life where beautiful diversity is found in perfect, faithful, life-giving unity. This is why Paul cites sexual misconduct/dysfunction as the ultimate supression of the truth, because it stops us from seeing in real life, in concrete metaphor, (in glorious technicolour and surround sound - but don't let your mind wander too much there ;-) the divine life of God.

This is the reason you and I exist. It wasn't cos some single billy no mates god in the sky was bored one day and decided he would make a universe to trivially amuse himself. God is not a sycophant desperate for human worship. When a husband and wife, express the greatest joy and delight in each other a delight that is exclusive, faithful, physical, mental and spiritual - in short all-consumming (or consummating) - the overflow of that delight is life in the form of a child. In this way, they echo the Father and Son, who in the power, joy and faithful union of the Spirit overflowed in creative pleasure and made the whole cosmos, both seen and unseen. The marriage bed, is a theatre of the intimate, invisible life of God and should be respected by all. Oh how I need help to feel the weight and beauty of this and fight my tendency to reduce sex to a merely mechanistic/selfish act of gratification.

Only the triune - diverse, yet unified - God of the Bible can truly be love: self-giving, life-creating love.

The reason we call God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit and not Man, Woman and Holy Matrimony is because the story doesn't finish at creation, (in fact, it doesn't begin there either) but at salvation and re-creation. The symmetry of marriage is not just a means of understanding the Trinity, but also the relationship Christ has with the church. But that is for another post. We haven't reached the bottom of the rabbit hole just yet!

tbc...

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Ruminating on the Daily Little Resonances of Eternity

Two things have happened this week in this visible and temporary life that made me pause and rejoice in the reality of the invisible and eternal one.

1.
I finally got off my backside and went to get my replacement tax-disc from the DVLA at Theale. I had been dumb enough to lose the original after it arrived in the post back in May and to my shame, I have been driving illegally for the last three months! (Two if you count the fact that I was in East Africa for a month, but yes you're right, that doesn't make it any better and yes, I'm squirming! The photo makes a good job of hiding it though.) So whilst the dues for my car had been paid, I nevertheless had failed to display the evidence of that transaction appropriately.

A good metaphor, I feel. For whilst the ransom on my life has been paid, how often it is that I fail to display that evidence appropriately! I thank God for mercy!

(Still squirming... :-S)

2.
The GCSE results were published today. A friend of mine said that she was proud her son's achievements, then wondered on Facebook, in good humour, if that kind of pride was allowed.

I found myself pondering (as I often do) that off the cuff remark and thought it wholly appropriate!! Parental pride in the wholesome achievements of their children is good. Necessary even. Moreover, (and this is when I found myself all of a sudden punching the air and cheering) it's an appropriate, if small, echo of the pride the Father must have felt as Jesus rocked up in Heaven after the resurrection!

I doubt the Celestial Philharmonic played this when he did, but as a piece written for coronation, it's another echo of the installation of the king...

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Jesus the Son - Complement not Clone

Following on from this post, here is my current thinking on the issue of unity and diversity in the Trinity. Comments/questions welcome.

My starting point here is that the divine nature (God as trinity) is simple to understand for if it wasn't we would have an excuse for unbelief before the judgment seat of Christ. It has to be simple so that the only reason for not getting it is choosing not to. The Bible clearly reveals God as a community of persons who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit not by logical argument, but by symmetry. The danger comes when we are tempted to fall into metaphysical speculation and are so busy reading between the lines for the logic that we fail to read the lines themselves and ask the Holy Spirit for the revelation of symmetry.

With that in mind, what's wrong with saying, that the Son is as different from the Father as you are from your earthly father? Whilst you are not your father, you are nevertheless 100% human and (in the perfect scenario) remain 100% relationally united to him, (until you leave and cleave). So then, the Son can be totally distinct from the Father and remain 100% divine and relationally united to the Father.

When Paul states in 1 Corinthians 11 that the woman is the glory of man, he is not saying that she is a clone of the man, that would be ridiculous and the human race would be doomed to extinction before it had even got going! The Woman displays the glory of the Man by being his complement. I think this is the paradigm we need in our heads when we read the writer of Hebrews saying that the Son is the radiance of the Father's glory. The Son declares the Father's glory by being his complement, not his clone. The Son completes the Father in the same way that the Woman completes the Man. Father and Son are both fully divine, but without each other, their existence is meaningless.

This is important, because if we think trinity = 1 + 2 clones we will fall into the trap of thinking that the Father doesn't need the Son or the Spirit and could act unilaterally if he wanted to (we would then say he simply chooses not to). That is impossible. It's not just that the Father chooses not to do what the Son can do; the Father cannot do what the Son or the Spirit does, and the same applies to the other two. (For example, the Father cannot be mediator but the son can.) All three persons are absolutely necessary to the community otherwise the whole thing collapses.

Glen Scrivener fills this point out beautifully, go read.

The next question is then, who does that make the Spirit?

tbc...

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Splendid Sundays in the Son

This afternoon, a bunch of us went for a stroll on the Bramshill Plantation. It's a gem of a place to go for a walk, (15mins by car south out of Reading!) and I'm stunned that so few local people I meet seem to know it's there! (Perhaps I should keep it that way and not blog this. The last thing I want is human traffic jams on a Sunday afternoon!) Highlights include:

The Lake
Today we didn't see any fish or swans, but we did see dragonflies gadding about as well as some amazing shapes massaged by the wind into the surface of the water.


The Wildlife
Almost trod on this little fella...


The camera on my mobile phone is rubbish. In the distance on the photo below, (you can't make them out) we saw some fawns.

We also saw a stag at 20m, but he was gone before I had time to fumble my camera out of my pocket.

The People
More great conversations about life as we know it thus far, as well as the hopes and perplexities that lie ahead.

Great place... Go there.

NB Not a "smart-shoe" or buggy friendly place, unless you have one of those buggies that looks like a decommissioned lunar explorer!

Thank you Jesus... again!

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Is This What Comes To Mind When You Think of Trinity?

Have a look at this video clip from the film Multiplicity:



Is this what you think of when you think of the Trinity? Essentially an original master (Father) with two carbon copies of himself, (Son and Spirit) that are just subordinate in authority and different in function to him? Is there anything deficient in this view?

Ponder a while, maybe even leave a comment. I'm still thinking about it, but will log my thoughts at a later date.

Super Saturdays in Summer

Today, I went up the Sugarloaf (see below) with my housemate Richard (see right). He is my brother in every way, (except biological).

Eighteen months ago, I wrote off his car, which would have been fine, if he had asked me to... but he didn't. He was very gracious to me through the whole saga, despite all the inconvenience etc it caused him. Moreover, since then, he has offered me his new car to drive on a number of different occasions, which I have refused. The shame of the original crash and the fear of repeating the experience have meant that I have, thus far, avoided taking him up on the offer.

However this morning, due to him waking up with a sore neck, and my not wanting to look like a coward, I shared the drive to Wales with him in his ("30-times-nicer-than-my-jalopy") car. I didn't crash it and in fact, somewhat to my surprise, I very much enjoyed creating and feeling a level of torque that my Micra could only dream about.

We had a great day, sharing as men our reflections on life thus far as we know it, our hopes and fears, our joys and frustrations, as well as some appalling jokes (none of which would be funny to you if I tried to retell them. But then I guess that's one of the things that makes friendships special.)

Thank you Jesus for a great friend and a great day!

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Don't Let the Busyness of Life, Give You Amnesia of Soul.

After yesterday's attention span endurance training, here's an attention span equivalent of a gentle stroll, (with pictures to make it even easier! :-)

I constantly need videos like this to remind me what we're really here for. The message is not difficult to understand, but keeping it at the forefront of the mind is really hard:



The words you heard were taken from here.

Sponsoring a native missionary is cheaper than sending a Western one. Something you might want to think about.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

A Shadow of Hell: Western Style

If your attention span, like mine, could do with a little endurance training, read on. If not, (or your time is short) then come back another time. ;-)

---

Democracy as a political system, summed up in the slogan: "All people must be treated fairly" is something that can be actively promoted and encouraged. The danger comes when that political system is hijacked and forced into the service of philosophy, morality and aesthetics, summed up in the slogans "All people are equal." and "All ideas must be treated equally."

Reflecting on this, I wonder whether, what (the movement known as) "evangelical Christianity" assumes for its doctrine of human dignity, rests more on clich├ęs of humanist nostalgia than it likes to think. Its critics have certainly claimed that impression!

Fair treatment of persons under the law is to be pursued at all costs, but that is not the same as philosophical and moral democracy, which is a different monster altogether and is to be opposed at all costs, because it will, in the end, lead to the abolition of the personality and worse, the destruction of the human soul.

To elucidate further on this, I leave the floor to C. S. Lewis' character Screwtape; a senior demon addressing a bunch of graduating demons as they embark on their careers of casting as many souls into perdition as possible (emphases mine, full text here although you'll have to scroll a long way down...):

Democracy is the word with which you must lead them by the nose. The good work which our philological experts have already done in the corruption of human language makes it unnecessary to warn you that they should never be allowed to give this word a clear and definable meaning. They won't. It will never occur to them that Democracy is properly the name of a political system, even a system of voting, and that this has only the most remote and tenuous connection with what you are trying to sell them. Nor of course must they ever be allowed to raise Aristotle's question: whether ''democratic behaviour" means the behaviour that democracies like or the behaviour that will preserve a democracy. For if they did, it could hardly fail to occur to them that these need not be the same. You are to use the word purely as an incantation; if you like, purely for its selling power. It is a name they venerate. And of course it is connected with the political ideal that men should be equally treated. You then make a stealthy transition in their minds from this political ideal to a factual belief that all men are equal. Especially the man you are working on. As a result you can use the word Democracy to sanction in his thought the most degrading (and also the least enjoyable) of all human feelings. You can get him to practise, not only without shame but with a positive glow of self-approval, conduct which, if undefended by the magic word, would be universally derided.

The feeling I mean is of course that which prompts a man to say "I'm as good as you."

The first and most obvious advantage is that you thus induce him to enthrone at the centre of his life a good, solid resounding lie. I don't mean merely that his statement is false in fact, that he is no more equal to everyone he meets in kindness, honesty, and good sense than in height or waist-measurement. I mean that he does not believe it himself. No man who says "I'm as good as you" believes it. He would not say it if he did. The St. Bernard never says it to the toy dog, nor the scholar to the dunce, nor the employable to the bum, nor the pretty woman to the plain. The claim to equality, outside the strictly political field, is made only by those who feel themselves to be in some way inferior. What it expresses is precisely the itching, smarting, writhing awareness of an inferiority, which the patient refuses to accept. And therefore resents. Yes, and therefore resents every kind of superiority in others; denigrates it; wishes its annihilation. Presently he suspects every mere difference of being a claim to superiority. No one must be different from himself in voice, clothes, manners, recreations, choice of food. "Here is someone who speaks English rather more clearly and euphoniously than I it must be a vile, upstage, lah-di-dah affectation. Here's a fellow who says he doesn't like hot dogs thinks himself too good for them no doubt. Here's a man who hasn't turned on the jukebox he's one of those highbrows and is doing it to show off. If they were the right sort of chaps, they'd be like me. They've no business to be different. It's undemocratic."

Now this useful phenomenon is in itself by no means new. Under the name of Envy it has been known to the humans for thousands of years. But hitherto they always regarded it as the most odious, and also the most comical, of vices. Those who were aware of feeling it felt it with shame; those who were not gave it no quarter in others. The delightful novelty of the present situation is that you can sanction it make it respectable and even laudable by the incantatory use of the word democratic.

Under the influence of this incantation those who are in any or every way inferior can labour more whole-heartedly and successfully than ever before to pull down everyone else to their own level. But that is not all. Under the same influence, those who come, or could come, nearer to a full humanity, actually draw back from it for fear of being undemocratic. I am credibly informed that young humans now sometimes suppress an incipient taste for classical music or good literature because it might prevent their being "Like Folks"; that people who would really wish to be and are offered the Grace which would enable them to be honest, chaste, or temperate, refuse it. To accept might make them Different, might offend against the Way of Life, take them out of Togetherness, impair their Integration with the Group. They might (horror of horrors!) become individuals.

All is summed up in the prayer, which a young female human is said to have uttered recently: "Oh God, make me a normal twentieth-century girl!" Thanks to our labours, this will mean increasingly, "Make me a minx, a moron, and a parasite."

Meanwhile, as a delightful by-product, the few (fewer every day) who will not be made Normal and Regular and Like Folks and Integrated, increasingly tend to become in reality the prigs and cranks which the rabble would in any case have believed them to be. For suspicion often creates what it suspects. ("Since, whatever I do, the neighbours are going to think me a witch, or a Communist agent, I might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb and become one in reality.") As a result we now have an intelligentsia, which, though very small, is very useful to the cause of Hell.

But that is a mere by-product. What I want to fix your attention on is the vast, over-all movement towards the discrediting, and finally the elimination, of every kind of human excellence moral, cultural, social, or intellectual. And is it not pretty to notice how Democracy (in the incantatory sense) is now doing for us the work that was once done by the most ancient Dictatorships, and by the same methods? You remember how one of the Greek Dictators (they called them "tyrants' then) sent an envoy to another Dictator to ask his advice about the principles of government. The second Dictator led the envoy into a field of grain, and there he snicked off with his cane the top of every stalk that rose an inch or so above the general level. The moral was plain. Allow no pre-eminence among your subjects. Let no man live who is wiser, or better, or more famous, or even handsomer than the mass. Cut them all down to a level; all slaves, all ciphers, all nobodies. All equals. Thus Tyrants could practise, in a sense, "democracy."



But now "democracy" can do the same work without any other tyranny than her own. No one need now go through the field with a cane. The little stalks will now of themselves bite the tops off the big ones. The big ones are beginning to bite off their own in their desire to Be Like Stalks.

I have said that to secure the damnation of these little souls, these creatures that have almost ceased to be individual, is a laborious and tricky work. But if proper pains and skill are expended, you can be fairly confident of the result. The great sinners seem easier to catch. But then they are incalculable. After you have played them for seventy years, the Enemy may snatch them from your claws in the seventy-first. They are capable, you see, of real repentance. They are conscious of real guilt. They are, if things take the wrong turn, as ready to defy the social pressures around them for the Enemy’s sake, as they were to defy them for ours. It is in some ways more troublesome to track and swat an evasive wasp than to shoot, at close range, a wild elephant. But the elephant is more troublesome if you miss.

My own experience, as I have said, was mainly on the English sector, and I still get more news from it than from any other. It may be that what I am now going to say will not apply so fully to the sectors in which some of you may be operating. But you can make the necessary adjustments when you get there. Some application it will almost certainly have. If it has too little, you must labour to make the country you are dealing with more like what England already is.

In that promising land the spirit of "I'm as good as you" has already become something more than a generally social influence. It begins to work itself into their educational system. How far its operations there have gone at the present moment, I would not like to say with certainty. Nor does it matter. Once you have grasped the tendency, you can easily predict its future developments; especially as we ourselves will play our part in the developing. The basic principle of the new education is to be that dunces and idlers must not be made to feel inferior to intelligent and industrious pupils. That would be "undemocratic.' These differences between the pupils, for they are obviously and nakedly individual differences, must be disguised. This can be done on various levels. At universities, examinations must be framed so that nearly all the students get good marks. Entrance examinations must be framed so that all, or nearly all, citizens can go to universities, whether they have any power (or wish) to profit by higher education or not. At schools, the children who are too stupid or lazy to learn languages and mathematics and elementary science can be set to doing the things that children used to do in their spare time. Let them, for example, make mud-pies and call it modelling. But all the time there must be no faintest hint that they are inferior to the children who are at work. Whatever nonsense they are engaged in must have I believe the English already use the phrase "parity of esteem.' An even more drastic scheme is not impossible. Children who are fit to proceed to a higher class may be artificially kept back, because the others would get a trauma Beelzebub, what a useful word! by being left behind. The bright pupil thus remains democratically fettered to his own age-group throughout his school career, and a boy who would be capable of tackling Aeschylus or Dante sits listening to his coeval’s attempts to spell out A CAT SAT ON A MAT.

In a word, we may reasonably hope for the virtual abolition of education when "I'm as good as you" has fully had its way. All incentives to learn and all penalties for not learning will vanish. The few who might want to learn will be prevented; who are they to overtop their fellows? And anyway the teachers or should I say, nurses? will be far too busy reassuring the dunces and patting them on the back to waste any time on real teaching. We shall no longer have to plan and toil to spread imperturbable conceit and incurable ignorance among men. The little vermin themselves will do it for us.

Of course this would not follow unless all education became state education. But it will. That is part of the same movement. Penal taxes, designed for that purpose, are liquidating the Middle Class, the class who were prepared to save and spend and make sacrifices in order to have their children privately educated. The removal of this class, besides linking up with the abolition of education, is, fortunately, an inevitable effect of the spirit that says "I'm as good as you." This was, after all, the social group which gave to the humans the overwhelming majority of their scientists, physicians, philosophers, theologians, poets, artists, composers, architects, jurists, and administrators. If ever there was a bunch of tall stalks that needed their tops knocked off, it was surely they. As an English politician remarked not long ago, "A democracy does not want great men."

It would be idle to ask of such a creature whether by want it meant "need" or "like." But you had better be clear. For here Aristotle's question comes up again.

We, in Hell, would welcome the disappearance of Democracy in the strict sense of that word; the political arrangement so called. Like all forms of government it often works to our advantage; but on the whole less often than other forms. And what we must realize is that "democracy" in the diabolical sense ("I'm as good as you", Being like Folks, Togetherness) is the finest instrument we could possibly have for extirpating political Democracies from the face of the earth.

For "democracy" or the "democratic spirit" (diabolical sense) leads to a nation without great men, a nation mainly of subliterates, full of the cocksureness which flattery breeds on ignorance, and quick to snarl or whimper at the first hint of criticism. And that is what Hell wishes every democratic people to be. For when such a nation meets in conflict a nation where children have been made to work at school, where talent is placed in high posts, and where the ignorant mass are allowed no say at all in public affairs, only one result is possible.

The Democracies were surprised lately when they found that Russia had got ahead of them in science. What a delicious specimen of human blindness! If the whole tendency of their society is opposed to every sort of excellence, why did they expect their scientists to excel?

It is our function to encourage the behaviour, the manners, the whole attitude of mind, which democracies naturally like and enjoy, because these are the very things which, if unchecked, will destroy democracy. You would almost wonder that even humans don't see it themselves. Even if they don't read Aristotle (that would be undemocratic) you would have thought the French Revolution would have taught them that the behaviour aristocrats naturally like is not the behaviour that preserves aristocracy. They might then have applied the same principle to all forms of government.

But I would not end on that note. I would not Hell forbid! Encourage in your own minds that delusion which you must carefully foster in the minds of your human victims. I mean the delusion that the fate of nations is in itself more important than that of individual souls. The overthrow of free peoples and the multiplication of slave-states are for us a means (besides, of course, being fun); but the real end is the destruction of individuals. For only individuals can be saved or damned, can become sons of the Enemy or food for us. The ultimate value, for us, of any revolution, war, or famine lies in the individual anguish, treachery, hatred, rage, and despair, which it may produce. "I'm as good as you" is a useful means for the destruction of democratic societies. But it has a far deeper value as an end in itself, as a state of mind which, necessarily excluding humility, charity, contentment, and all the pleasures of gratitude or admiration, turns a human being away from almost every road which might
finally lead him to Heaven.

Borrow the full text from me or better still, buy the audio book here, or the paper version here. Worth every penny.

The irony of reality is that in losing your life (that is - submitting yourself) like Jesus, to the will of the Father of all, you find it again as you get raised up with Jesus, into the divine life of God. Jesus was was fully human because he was/is/always has been caught up into the divine life with the Father and the Spirit. Anything less, is counterfeit humanity - not worth the body it lives in.


:-)

Sunday, 16 August 2009

PXR East Africa 2009: The Books

Below are the books I read whilst away in East Africa.

My Bible reading took me through Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel during the week and Acts at the weekends. Walking among the maize fields as day was breaking, joining in with creation in praise of our creator and having fellowship with the God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit will remain one of my abiding and favourite memories of the trip.

I guess what amuses me is that I took out a whole load of books, that I thought were a random hodge-podge and had no connection with each other and yet by the end of them, I came away with one message: the importance of relationships and Christ-centered reality. Each book showed me a different facet of those diamonds in their own special way. Although, that is probably not what some of the authors intended! :-)

How the News Makes Us Dumb - The Death of Wisdom in an Information Society.
The title tells you exactly what the book is about - nothing cryptic there! Sommerville argues that we are addicted to news. The problem is that most of what passes as news is probably not significant in any real sense, it certainly doesn't alter our behaviour, it merely entertains us. He argues that we should read good books instead, something with less sensation, more rigour and more historical perspective on it. I'm not going to stop listening to Radio 4, but I feel like I am listening with a smidgen more discernment than before.

The Hour.
A very amusing read. Michael Hutchinson recounts his attempt to break the record for the furthest distance travelled in one hour on a bike, with many anecdotes from the world and history of Cyclesport on the way. The tales he tells of the rivalry between Graham Obree and Chris Boardman had me in stitches. Whilst great fun to read, it reminded me that there is so much more to life than turning my legs into the best possible set of pistons I can.

Perfecting Ourselves to Death
I took this book with me to see if I am a perfectionist or not. In general, I don't think so, I don't think I exhibit the kinds of controlling behaviours that the book outlines. However, in one or two areas, I have very high expectations of myself. Fear of failure in those areas then leads to procrastination, apathy and emotional paralysis. A reality check with Jesus and a little more honesty, humility and humour would go a long way to helping me get better at avoiding the more compulsive and negative elements of perfectionism.

Africa
Probably my favourite book of all five. If our Western media are to be believed, the only things that ever go on in Africa are wars, dictatorship, coups, pillaging, corruption, disease and starvation. So with a breath of fresh air, Dowden, who has been an Africa journalist and correspondent for the last 30 years or so, aims at a dose of realism, giving us snapshots of a continent that exhibits shadows of both Heaven and Hell which, I must add, stand in sharp contrast to the shadows of Heaven and Hell we have gullibly cast in the West. He devotes a chapter each to about 15 different countries, (makes for clunking gear changes between each chapter), but also has some Pan-African chapters on AIDS, the legacy of Colonialism, The Rising Influence of China and the Impact of Mobile Phones.

As far as I can tell, he has no particular religious convictions, but he did say the missionaries, despite their failures, have done more for Africa than the UN and all the NGOs combined. Something with which the great Matthew Parris would also seem agree!

The R Factor
Schluter and Lee, explore as many have tried to do, a way forward out of the negative aspects of the global capitalist system in which we find ourselves - where the philosophy of choice reigns supreme (that choice - independent of any moderating factor - in and of itself is a good thing) - and do so without lurching into Communism or returning to the Dark Ages. They look at issues like - monopoly and how to break our obsession with size, political apathy/engagement, collective responsibility, civility and familial ties, by suggesting that we spend more of our time encountering real people in real space/time rather than people as mediated by a technological interface of some kind. V provocative and interesting read.

They are available to borrow, you only need ask.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Trinity in the Old Testament 1.

Before I start, the picture (right) is for me as much as anyone else! I am no expert :-)

One simple way in which trinity is obfuscated in the Old Testament is due to translation. Anyone who has studied a foreign language to a significant level, will know that it's impossible to transport the whole meaning of a text, with all its allusions and nuances from one language into another. Something is always lost on the way. How much is lost, depends on the quality of the translation process.

Take the word elohim. Literally, this word means gods. (Before anyone shoots me for being irreverent, there are no such things as capital letters in Hebrew ;-) The -im ending in Hebrew is the same as adding -s in English.

Elohim appears 2247 times in the Old Testament. When it refers to the false gods of the surrounding nations, (e.g. Judges 2:3) it's translated as it should be: gods. However, when, as in the majority of cases, it refers to the triune God of the Bible, (e.g. Genesis 1:1) it is rendered God.

The justification for this is something called the majestic plural hypothesis. Now if the word elohim was the only clue in the OT that God is triune, the M.P. hypothesis could be convincing, and you would be forgiven for thinking that God is a singular entity, but given the overwhelming number of other evidences (which I will cover here in subsequent blogs) the argument doesn't hold weight.

Of course, it's fine to translate elohim as "God." The problem comes when off the back of that we then jump to the conclusion that God is a singular entity and not a collective tri-unity.

The word elohim functions like any collective noun, that is, many parts acting as one. For example:

Today the nation votes in a new government.

Nation refers to many persons united under the identity of a common nationality. A singular form of the verb vote is used because the many people of the nation are uniting together in a common purpose to bring in a new government. (Other biblical examples here.)

Back to the Hebrew in Genesis 1:1 "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth."

So also, elohim, when referring to the God of the Bible, refers to three persons united under the identity of a common deity. A singular form of the verb created is used because the three persons who are God (perhaps Godhead is a better way to translate elohim in this case, given the unitarian baggage that has sprung up with the term God, but I won't press that :-) are uniting together in a common purpose to bring about the creation of the universe.

And so it is all through the Bible, and through history. The God who is a Godhead, a collective unity, a trinity of persons, accomplishes all his [their?] purpose.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

PXR East Africa 2009: Some Visual Highlights

The view of Sipi Falls from our campsite at the end of the main trek.




If you look hard, you can see three different waterfalls! Views like that would cost you £100s in the UK. We got it for $4 each.

Psalm 130:5-6

Remove the rain and place an african woman wearing a traditional head covering and dancing with hands raised to Jesus in front of the window and you get something of the abiding image etched on my brain when I walked into a church meeting in a hut at 6am one Sunday morning. It was small and simple, yet awesome!

The rock that looks like a dinosaur head!

Taken during our trek in the Mt Elgon National Park, Uganda.



Baboon viewpoint, Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya:


Without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most, if not the most, amazing panorama I have ever seen. The image above, (found on Google, as I didn't take a camera.) CANNOT convey anything but a minuscule fraction of the wonder I felt standing there. It was like looking over Eden as a myriad of different animals serenely went about their business below in the warm sunshine. (I felt like Adam, waiting for Jesus to turn up and invite me to name some of them, I also had this music (from 3:54 onwards) playing in my head as I looked on, although not entirely sure why...) A truly exquisite experience, for which I'm very grateful.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Photo competition


The church I am part of is running a photo competition in conjunction with a local paper to find the best photo of our local area. If you are local and would like to enter then click here for more info.

No copying and pasting from Google images now...

;-)

Latest Preach

Audio from a sermon I preached this Sunday at my church:



Here are the notes to accompany it:

Colossians 1:24-2:5

During the open worship time in our Sunday meeting, Kat brought Isaiah 61 to our attention. It prophesies about the life work of Jesus, a work which would be continued by his people after he had returned to heaven, but continued by you and me at what cost? What level of inconvenience or suffering are we prepared to tolerate as we walk with Jesus?

Paul gives us a window into the lengths he is prepared to go to see this prophecy fulfilled in the lives of his Gentile hearers in Colossians 1:24-2:5. In short, nothing will stop him, even incredible suffering and persecution. But there is more to it than Paul just being a “well-’ard” missionary. The unjust suffering he is living is a modern day presentation of the sufferings of Jesus. His life, as well as his words, embodied the message of the gospel. He is not talking about the suffering that comes from being punished for breaking the law, nor the suffering that is part and parcel of this fallen universe like disease, disability or death. He is talking about unjust suffering that come purely from the fact that he is a Christian. A suffering that, if he would only shut up and stop talking about Jesus, would stop immediately.

Jesus said that we would suffer for being his people, just like he did. (Matt 5:10-12, John 15:18-25.) If he, the Lord of all things, wasn’t above suffering, then who are we to say that we should be exempt from this? But the suffering is not meaningless, it is like the labour pains of a mother, (Gal. 4:19). Pain will soon give way to overwhelming joy, and the hope of that joy sustained Paul as it did Jesus, (Heb 12:1-12) and as it can us (1 Peter 4:12-16).

And what is that joy which sustains Paul, even through intense suffering? It is the anticipation of meeting Jesus AND presenting ALL the people he has shared the gospel with and pastored after their conversion mature and complete to Christ on the Day of Judgement. This hope points to his confidence in the gospel (N.B. The word mystery in this passage can be substituted with the word gospel.) that there is power in it, whoever you are, wherever you are from, whatever your background and allegiances, to save you from sin and present you faultless and radiant before Jesus.

The gospel is not moral philosophy. Society doesn’t need a dose of the 10 commandments to help it stay on the straight and narrow. It needs Jesus. People need Jesus. Life is not about what you know, but who you know. If you can answer a question about any moral choice, or the meaning of life the universe without quickly relating to the person of Jesus Christ, chances are you are barking up the wrong tree. However, fine the argument may sound, if Jesus is not nearby, it ain’t the right answer!

Questions
How have you suffered for being a Christian, if at all?
How is your life embodying the gospel, including suffering?
What’s your biggest fear when it comes to telling people about Jesus? What would Jesus say to us about overcoming fear?
What does praying for boldness look like for you?
How have you helped prepare the people in your life this week for meeting Jesus after death? What can you do in the week to come?
When was the last time a non-Christian asked you a question to which you gave the answer “Jesus?”

Monday, 10 August 2009

Trinity is not a New Testament U Turn

Most Christians I meet have an essentially unitarian view of the Old Testament (OT) and that it's only in the New Testament (NT) that we really get the trinitarian party started. Or to put it in simple terms, they would say we meet the Father (as creator) in the Old Testament and he then introduces us to the Son (as redeemer) and the Holy Spirit (as helper) in the New. This song I stumbled across recently, whether intentionally or not, exemplifies this perfectly.

Here are three starter-for-10 objections I have with this interpretation of the OT:

1. The Father doesn't rock up at the beginning of the Gospels and hold a press conference to apologise for misleading everyone and then announce that God is not actually one but ...err (cough) three in one. Moreover, the gospel writers seem to be at no pains to explain or elucidate this apparently new teaching to their hearers. The reason they aren't is because it is not new. They are simply continuing the NT on in the OT trinitarian vein in which it was started.

2. Paul himself, another NT writer, says that God's trinitarian nature has been on display for all to see since the dawn of creation. In fact, he goes further and says that if we don't see it in creation, we have no excuse! This is important, because if trinity is clearly on display in creation, then to say that it is obscured or not on display in the OT is to admit or even claim that creation is a better revelation of God than the bible is. What card-carrying, fish-sporting, WWJD-wearing Christian would seriously want to claim that?

3. John 1:18 states that no one has ever seen the Father. So the question has to be answered, who were they seeing when they saw the LORD in the Old Testament? Who did Isaiah see? (Answer here.)

The New Testament is neither U-turn nor new turn in the revelation of the nature and character of the God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Those Israelites who were true believers in the time of the OT consciously worshipped the God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

For those who have eyes to see, the Bible is a trinitarian revelation... from "the Beginning."

PXR: East Africa 2009 - The Linguistic Highlights

Well, I'm back from a wonderful time in East Africa. My stomach is still having a little difficulty readjusting to the gut-abusing unhealthy rich western meat heavy diet, but I'm sure I'll get over it! Moreover, I have quickly got back into the habit of staring through people when walking around town rather than greeting them/making friendly eye contact! Not sure I like that though - I feel like an alien in my own hometown.

Anyway... highlights by category! Starting with some Swahili phrases I found fun/useful:

Salama
Hello

Mimi ni mzungu chizi.
I am a crazy white man.

Kenyatta Avenue iko wapi?
How do I get to Kenyatta Avenue? (Every town seems to have one in Kenya!)

Hapana, si jawahi koopatana na Cece Fabregas.
No, I have never met Cece Fabregas.

Wakenya hoopata ngovu kwa kula ugali.
Kenyans are powered by ugali.

Si jui kufukuza kuku!
I'm not very good at catching chickens.

Una kula kitu ee-yo??!!
Do you really eat that bit??!!

Mzungu si mti ya mpesa.
White man is not a money tree. (Said with a smile to small children who would randomly - and boldly walk up to me and ask me for money)

Mimi ni nu africa mwenye eme yungwa kwa mwili ya mubeberu.
I am an African trapped inside a White man's body.

For those (like me) who are interested, here is the etymology of the word mzungu (taken from Wikipedia)

Mzungu stems from a contraction of words meaning "one who moves around,"(possibly zunguluka, zungusha-meaning to go round and round) and was coined to describe European traders who traveled through East African countries in the 18th century. The word became synonymous with "white person" because of the traders' complexion. Many rural villages in Tanzania and Kenya are rarely visited by "bazungus" , making Caucasian passers-through an odd sight for young people. Also the mzungu was probably preferred to words linked to color because in central and east Africa people do not link Europeans to white color as most Europeans were trying to translate the name of their race in African languages. They instead see them as reddish or pinkish. For instance in Kinyarwanda and Kirundi white people are also known as rutuku which means red. However it is not used formally because its prefix ru- makes it sounds a little bit derogative.

Mmmm... Pongezi Walker!!