Monthly Archives: September 2010

Contra Negativa

  • We have to be humble.  We have to admit that everything to some extent is provisional.  But is this the same as the demand for perpetual doubt?
  • Doubt occupies a critical place in the gospel narrative, but it would wrong to characterise this as Jesus’ mode of being.  Doubt is a place we go during creative crisis.  It is not our day job.
  • How is a devotional life, a relational experience of God possible when our starting point is determined doubt?
  • To propose the centrality of doubt elides into proposing the absence of God.  The problem, as Hauerwas says, is not “not enough God” but “too much God.”
  • Doubt can become its own creed – sniffily disdaining anything too confessional as naive, uncritical, self-deluded, gauche, embarassingly unintellectual and pitiable for its lack of angst.  It sees itself too easily as NME and the rest of the Church as a cross between Smash Hits and the X-Factor.
  • Doubt can become an excuse for inaction – a luxury for the comfortable.
  • No doubt, doubt is a critical part of faith.  Undoubtedly, it is badly neglected in our hymnody and in our public conversation.  Doubtlessly, we are too squeamish around doubt.  Doubt is important, but it is possible for it to become too important.

    The parable of the businessman who lost his faith

    For me it points at few pious businessmen I could think of (demanding that they come to terms with the totality of their existence), but it also points at the phenomenon of Christians who behave abominably.  There is something in us that says “this thing I do cannot be morally suspect because I am a Christian”, our default position is to assume that what we do is good (because we do indeed do a few good things).

    Our tendency is to presume ourselves righteous, to hold-off excessive self-examination (what would be the point, there would be little to find) and to accuse anyone who disagrees with us to be in cahoots with the legions of darkness.

    I can think of many who score high on piety and low on self-awareness.

    And there is another related phenomena – previously related here – the best famous Christians are the ones who don’t go on about it (U2, Mayo, Kermode, TS Eliot, Frank Skinner).  The ones who make a play of their faith (Jonathan Edwards, Glen Hoddle) are the ones most likely to let us down.

    Its a great parable, because it creates a necessary disruption and forces us to see in new ways.  It is a pleasure ithat I have not been afforded for thirty years – to hear a parable for the first time.

    Whoever Lives Beside The Lord

    Four Moves

    This ancient song, on of the psalms,  has always been one of my favourites.

    It has around it four moves:

    1. The Questions
    2. The Shadow
    3. The Names
    4. The Endorsement

    The Questions

    The first move is before the psalm happens.

    It is a series of intense questions that have been given to God in the previous two psalms.

    In recent weeks I have spoken to you about a period of intense questioning that I have experienced in my faith.  The most recent a few months ago. And yet even when I was getting into that time of questions, part of my was anxious, but another part of me, was excited.

    Because it is always in questions that we encounter deep faith.

    If you have ever meet anyone who has great depth in their faith, there will inevitably be a period of deep questioning going on there.

    Marvin Jacobs who was with us a couple of weeks ago

    And who read for us in that most magnificent way, and who was just such a joy to have with us

    Was back with us in later in the afternoon, and he spoke to us of the his life and of his youngest son Daniel, who has the most profound autism.

    And he said to us that a moment of revelation came when Daniel was four year old, he said, that is when we said “He is a blessing for us.”  “He is blessing”

    Perhaps when Daniel was a small baby, “He is blessing to us”

    Perhaps when Daniel was one and there were no obvious symptoms

    Perhaps through some strained thoughts when Daniel was two, and a few niggling questions, the statement is harder to say

    Perhaps when Daniel is three and it is so difficult to live and to plan and to communicate with this boy, the questions “Why us?  What is happening here?  Is this our fault here?  Is this always going to be like this?”

    But one day, when Daniel is four, after many many questions

    The realisation, not new, but said with new strength, “Daniel is a blessing to us.”

    After the questions.

    The first move are the questions.  Listen to these words from Psalm 89”

    “How long O Lord?  Will you hide yourself forever?

    How long will your wrath burn like fire?”

    “Lord, where is your steadfast love of old,

    Which by your faithfulness you swore to David?”

    Psalm 90

    “Turn O Lord, How long?

    Have compassion on your servants

    Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love

    So that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.”

    Make us glad as many days as you have afflicted us.”

    Do you hear the agony

    The agony of the parent with the autistic child, wondering what future can be enjoyed here

    The agony of the person recovering in hospital from the operation that hasn’t gone according to plan

    The man who discovers within himself that she is gay, and must wonder how she must reveal that most intimate of things about herself, and what kind of life she is called to live?

    The child who watches their mother come in drunk again, and desperately wants them to stop

    The child who has been abused by a leader in the Church

    The child who prays desperately for their Mum and Dad to stay together, and then one day Dad is packing the car, and he holds on to him “Don’t leave, don’t go, I’ll do anything, please just stay”.  And after Dad has cast him off, drives off.

    Its those questions, those sorts of questions that are your lead in to Psalm 91.

    The Shadow

    The next move is a one liner.

    “Whoever lives in the shelter of Elyon, in the shadow of Shaddai he will stay.”

    Now some translations miss this, but the tense at the start is different from the tense at the beginning here.

    The one who lives in the shelter of Elyon, in the shadow of the Shaddai, he will stay.

    There is a sense that one move, living in the shelter of Elyon

    Will cause the second thing to happen

    In the shadow of Shaddai he will stay.”

    This is the move.

    There is a move to dwell in the shelter of Elyon

    And this makes things different

    Because the shadow of Shaddai will hover over that one.

    You who have come to dwell in the shelter of the Elyon

    There is a kind of checking in going on here,

    And then there is a kind of deal,

    Okay, you have checked in.

    Then there will be a shadow over you.

    And this is such a key move.

    Everything is different because of this move.  He will stay in the shadow.

    It is not that the person who checks into the hotel Elyon will have an easy life

    Everybody knows this

    But it will be different from the one who does not check into the hotel

    No shadow for them.

    You are wondering about Elyon, and Shaddai

    They are ancient words for God

    Elyon is the very highest that can be imagined

    Shaddai means the all powerful one.

    Life is different now.

    It is somehow guarded



    Gripped onto

    Will have some kind of meaning

    Will be allowed to count

    Not that the life will avoid suffering, but that nothing will be wasted

    There is something fundamentally different about the kind of life where that checking in has occurred.

    This week I was with someone who had been in an operation, in a lot of pain, a drip being held all the time.  And she held my hand, and said, God is with me.

    She checked in.  Still the drip.  Still the uncertain future, but something different

    The shadow of Shaddai.

    Third Move – The Names

    The third move is this

    It is a kind of naming of God, of all that God is

    The names for God are in verse 2



    My God

    In whom I trust

    A shield and a buckler

    God is our buckler

    He does our buckles for us

    I don’t know what that means.

    And then this ability to name the calamities

    This is a dangerous world that the people live in here.

    The snare of the fowler

    Deadly pestilence

    The terror of night

    The arrows of day time

    Or the pestilence that stalks in darkness

    Or the destruction that wastes at noonday.

    You know that thing that you get in Harry Potter, when in the first book no one can say the name of Voldermort

    But her the psalmist just names them

    Yes there is an arrow that flies during the day time

    Yes there is a pestilence that stalks at night time

    –        I was reading this week of the great plague that hit London in 1665, and what they used to do, the people, if there was plague found in the house, then the house would be boarded up, they would not be allowed out. What kind of fear must that be, and yet the psalmist says

    –        Do this accounting – refuge, fortress, the one under whose wings you are

    –        And you will learn not to fear this stuff – the pestilence at night, the destruction of noonday.

    I realise that too often I live with the second reality, the arrow at noonday, the plague at night, the pestilence at noonday.  And you move from one to another

    You have just left the snare of the fowler, the terror of night

    You have just escaped the terror of night-time, and then oh, no the arrow of daytime

    You have just the arrow of daytime, oh not the pestilence that stalks in darkness

    Oh I have just escaped that stalks in darkness, Oh no the destruction of noon-day

    But other words, – refuge, fortress, my God, in whom I trust.

    Now that does not make things easy.

    About fifteen years ago I was in a group called the Wild Goose Worship Group, one of our number had just written that hymn that we learned at the start and are going to sing at the end, “Whoever lives beside the Lord” – a setting of Psalm 91.

    And we came to the verse that says “A thousand may fall at your side, thousands more fall close at hand”

    And one of our number said, “I cannot sing this”.  “I think particularly of all that my Mum is going through at the moment, and she is a woman of faith, and there are certainly not a thousand falling at her side, whilst she is left standing.”  She might have added, it feels the other way, a thousand still standing, but its me that keeps getting it here.

    So I wrote to her this week, and said, “What do you think?  Do you still think this?”

    I hoped she say something reassuring like, “Well things turned out well for my Mum in the end, its about taking a long view”.  But she didn’t.  Instead she said, a few things:

    “I really wonder if these are triumphal words of assurance, or humble words to each other in the middle of the rubbish – she didn’t use the word “rubbish”- The words of the South African song “Bambalela” which means never give up, or more literally “hold on” come to mind, sung in the battle against apartheid or in the battle against AIDS.

    On reading the news it sometimes feels the powerful are more protected than the poor… the floods in Pakistan, folk having lost family in massacres in Eastern Europe a decade or so ago.  I wonder what these words would feel like for them?

    She says of these words

    I’d be worried not to make them feel trite or empty or make them feel like a quick fix, unreal or irrelevant.– I am reminded that in the New Testament, the devil quotes Psalm 91, and it is in this kind of way.

    Personally I often feel battered about by life and this definitely affects one sense of identity, self and personhood, Especially when there is emotional turmoil (Damned hormones) maybe it is only when you look back in hindsight that you can know if you have remained “whole” or emerged relatively unscathed from the big battles of life.  If you ever stop fighting them that is, This stuff bends your mind does it not???”

    The Fourth Move – The Endorsement

    The fourth move is the move of God

    It is the one of God owning us

    It is so important to catch a whisper of God saying this.

    When Jesus is baptised, he hears the voice “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased”

    You have to get used to the idea that God loves

    If you God had a wallet, someone once said, he would keep a photo of you in it.

    This is the voice of God for us:

    “Those who love me, I will deliver I will protect them, those who know my name

    “When they call to me I will answer them

    I will be with them in trouble

    I will rescue them and honour them

    With long life I will satisfy them

    And show them my salvation.

    The challenge of all of life is in a sense to learn to live that truth

    It is not to learn the explanations for everything that is

    It is to learn to live from that truth ““Those who love me, I will deliver.”

    So this morning:

    1. The questions
    2. The Shadow
    3. The Names Elyon, Shaddai, Fortress, Refuge
    4. The Endorsement

    Two Stories

    There are many stories of triumphant martyrs in the Church, there is even a fancy word for such a story, it is called a hagiography. But I am always struck by a story that Ian Fraser tells, a professor of theology who was a minister in Fife after the war, and then after travelled the world in different parts of the world Church.

    Ian Fraser once travelled to the Philippines, during the reign of Ferdinand Marcos.  And he wrote of the regime, critical of its human rights records, something especially important since his regime was at that time being feted by Ronald Reagan.

    Then in 1982, upon his retirement, he went back.  He arrived at the airport in the Philippines.  Extra care was being taken to vet those entering the Philippines at that time.  There was a queue at security.  When it was Ian’s turn, he handed over his passport.  As the guard was checking Ian Fraser slipped round the side, to see what was going on.  The guard reached for a black book, names of undesirables, looked up the letter F, and there was Ian Fraser’s name in all its glory.

    Ian Fraser, slipped round to the front of the guard, the guard handed him the passport, his face cleared, and waved him and his wife Margaret, back through.

    It was only on return to Britain that Ian told Margaret what had happened.  In the black book, under the letter F, it said “Rev. Dr. Ian M Fraser, MA, BD, PhD, Dean and Head of the Department of Mission, Selley Oak Colleges, Birmingham.”  On his passport it said Ian M Fraser, Educationalist, Gargunnock.”

    And that is a story of God’s protection, the type that we might tell often, and those are great stories, and they are true.  But there is another kind of true story that must be told alongside the story of Passport control, and it is a story that happened to Ian Fraser, later on in that trip to the Philippines.

    However later on that trip he met a woman called Mrs Trining Herrera, President of the Tondo community of shanty town dwellers on the foreshore of Manila, who was reduced by torture to a state which different witnesses described as “vegetable”, or “animal”.

    She showed Ian the palms of her hands, where the electrodes had been attached, they were like nail marks.  It was not only to her hands that the electrode had been attached.  Her nervous system had been severely assaulted.

    A friend of Ian, Ed De La Torre, had managed to find her in a jail, and visit her.  She was in this unresponsive state.  He suspected that she had named colleagues under torture, or was worried that she had unwittingly in the nightmare world into which she had been thrown.  So he spent the whole time speaking about God’s forgiveness with her, that comes first he kept insisting, a bit like that endorsement at the end of the psalm.  If you have something to repent of, you can do that later, but God’s love and forgiveness come out to meet and hold you where you are now.  He had to go away, without any sign that those words had penetrated her subconscious.

    Ian Fraser later went to see Trining Herrera, she was not telling her story again to people, so her deputy told her story instead.  But she got impatient with the way it was being told, so she started to talk to Ian.  He asked her “Had God remained real to you in it all?”

    “Nothing remained real in that nightmare world.”  No relationships of any kind mattered.  She completely lost her grip on God.  But just once or twice there came a break in the clouds.  Then she knew God was reaching down and holding her.  Even though that realisation was again lost in the world of unreality, which engulfed her, she came through convinced of this saving thing, God kept a grip on her.

    There are the questions

    There is the shadow

    There are the names

    And there is the endorsement.

    We are followers of Jesus, and this calls us to lose much, as he lose everything.  Lose everything.

    We may lose our credit rating

    We may lose our jobs

    We may lose our physical health

    We may lose our mental health

    We may lose our pep, our vim, our bounce, our zest, our va-va-voom, our je ne sais quoi,

    We may our fondest hopes

    We may lose our families

    We may even lose, as Jesus did when he cried “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

    What we think is our faith.

    But our hope as the Easter people, the baptism people of God’s good news,

    Is that in it all

    God does, God does still keep us

    And show us our salvation.


    To believe is human, to doubt is divine

    Looking at doubt.

    It is the easiest thing in the world to believe.  You can fill stadiums with people who want to believe.

    When Jesus died on the cross, Jesus became an atheist, God became an atheist, as Chesterton put it.

    Not an intellectual doubt, but a deep existential doubt.  But when we doubt it is not just a test, not just a challenge to overcome, but when we doubt, we gaze on the face of Christ.

    When I think I am the person I think I am, I have a confused sense of identity.

    Facebook is an idealised reflection of ourself.  All the photographs that we want others to see, the films that we want to – my false self is the idealised construction of who I am, and then I kid myself, I think that I am the person that I project.

    The way that we project to our children, that we let them think that they are good – the kid is rubbish at running.  From when we are very young, we are given a false sense of who you are.

    We have to acknowledge who we really are – we have to leave the false story that tell about ourselves.  We have to take the false narrative and fit it with the reality of material existence.

    The point of Colombo is the best program ever made – you find it out who did and how they did from the very beginning.  The pleasure of Colombo is seeing him take the false story, and getting it to fit with the material reality.

    Counselling is about getting the true story, and fitting it with the person that we truly are.

    There is a story of a guy with a wheelbarrow, and every day he goes across the border, and the border guards learn that he is smuggling something.  Every morning that goes across, and they can never find anything.

    Years later, one of the guys sees him in the pub, and asks him “What were you stealing?”


    The truth of who you are is in your mind, is in your fantasy life – that is what pastors are like.- the worst kind of gutter journalists.

    The truth of who you are is in the outer reality- the truth is not in the what of who we believe, but in the reality of who you are.  Christianity is a materialistic religion.

    A man comes to a pastor and tells the story of a family down the road (17 mins) –it’s the middle of winter, the landlord is going to kick them out onto the street.  The minster says lets get them some money, now how do you know the family – Oh I’m the landlord.  What’s the interesting thing about the story, is that he does not feel the difference between the intellectual reality and the actual reality.

    That is what irony is, it is doing an activity at the very moment that you disavow it.

    That is what I want us to do, to own the material reality of who we are?

    There was an interview with a politician in “Homes and Gardens” in 1932.  It talked about him, that he was a dry raconteur.  He gave cupcakes to kids (19:33).  He loved animals – and the question is he was Hitler.  Hitler was a nice guy.  If you were round at his house you would have liked the guy – the truth of Hitler was his material reality.  Everybody is nice when you get to know the person one-to-one.  The truth of Hitler is in the wholeness of who he is.

    The truth of who we are is in the totality of our being.

    Bell – Christianity must be a disruption.  It must break us the reality, who we pretend to be.

    As soon as you walk away from the sermon, you act differently.

    There is a story that (23 mins -Kierkegaard) about a guy who thinks that he is seed on the ground.  Then he has a realisation “I am seed no longer.”  Then he gets upset that the chickens will have a go at him – but the chickens might have a go at him.  But the problem is that he has to convince the chickens.

    How have we reduced Christianity to a set of beliefs.  You are a Christian because you have come to this other place.

    27 mins – on parables.  They are intended to rupture.  You can write about love, or you can write as an act of love.

    Two Rabbis arguing for 20 years – that is why Israel means those who fight, that is why the Irish are so close to God.

    The story of the boys coming down a chimney, and washing their face, and there are three different answers – and if you are saying “What’s the right answer”, then you are kind of missing the point.

    Pete Rollins – the pastor who can pray and make someone lose their faith.

    Batman – Bruce Wayne would be better if he gave up Wayne Industries, and stopped beating up Criminals on a Friday night.  Batman hasn’t made the connection.  What he thinks is the sight of resistance is actually the problem.

    Let people feel that there is a moment of resistance, then the system can function with all its oppression.

    The falseness of token gestures.

    The story of the FBI, CIA and RUC guys going into the forest to shoot the rabbit.  The Bear that says it is a rabbit out of fear.  It is the same reason that we sometimes say that “We are a Christian” because we are afraid.

    The problems of trying to love someone out of a need within ourselves.

    The tardis is a beautiful image of human subjectivity, anytime you meet someone they are a universe yet to know.

    The story of the woman tries to find anyone who can resuscitate a child, who encounters all of human suffering and in that is able to bury her child – a parable of love.

    All you who are God’s servants

    Praise the Lord

    Psalm 113

    Wayne’s World

    There was a film out in my youth called Wayne’s World

    The biggest connection many of  you will have with it is that it starred a half-Scottish Comedian (okay his Mother was Scottish) called Mike Myers, who went on to be the voice of Shrek.

    Anyway, Mike Myers and his friend Garth had some phrases “Not” at the end of a sentence

    “Eh squeeze Baking powder” instead of this “Excuse me, beg your pardon”

    this thing that whenever they met someone they thought was wonderful, in the film it is Alice Cooper, they would say “We are not worthy, we are not worthy, we’re scum”

    And there was something not just in the chemistry between them and Alice Cooper, but the fact that this was a joint discovery, a bond between them, that they had summoned themselves to a discovery of how wonderful Alice Cooper was.

    Eric Cantona

    There was this thing that happened in the 1996 double winning season for Manchester United, Eric Cantona scored the winning goal, and what was in the Manchester fans called him “Dieu” the French word from God.

    Thousands of fan say “What we have seen here is unique and wonderful”

    Grand Canyon

    There is this walkway over the canyon, this improbable thing that ought not to be able to stand, and you look out over the canyon, a mile below, vastness.

    And no one says that the canyon is being egotistical with selfish demands to be acknowledged with walkways and helicopter rides.

    For Wayne and Garth bowing down to Alice Cooper, there was not a sense that Alice had to be bought with this display, rather it was a celebration of Alice Cooper’s music was to the two of them.

    Even Eric himself, when he used to stand proudly having scored, in some senses didn’t have an ego in the way of other followers.  He used to live in a very modest house.  What was being celebrated was the goal, what it meant, its beauty and its grace.

    Dynamic Of Praise

    It is a similar dynamic here in Psalm 113,

    People are urging each other – God never tells us in the Bible to praise himself, God never says “Praise me”

    The praise of God, is the praise of a realisation of the wonder of God.

    The bigness of God, which we have speculated on many times before

    But the kindness of God, in allowing himself to take the punishment of our sins

    The justice of God, that reaches out for fairness, for goodness.

    The wisdom of God which orders our lives in a way that is moving that profound

    The Psalm here, Psalm 113, the first of six psalms called the Hallel, the praise psalms said on Jewish holidays, are ones where the people say to each other,

    Let us just think about God for a moment

    How big must God be,

    How loving must God

    And then turn to God and say “We are not worthy”,

    God’s goodness leaks

    And this greatness of God, is not self contained,

    It leaks.

    It leaks according to the psalm where you do not expect.

    It is not that the greatness of God has guaranteed the power of those already in power

    It has not secured the happiness of those who are already happy

    It has not bought the possessions of those who already have much.

    God’s goodness leaks where it is least expected.

    And this is especially good news for two kinds of people

    The needy and the childless.

    Two people who are especially vulnerable

    Who are judged to have failed.

    Whose accent does not seem crisp enough

    Whose car is not big enough

    Whose sense of importance is not enough

    Who needs; who is utterly conscious of what they need, and that being more than that which they can find within themselves.

    Whose lives were all planned out, and then some unforeseen tragedy derailed in a way that they have never recovered from.

    And the celebration of the psalm is that the greatness of God is not contained

    It leaks

    It transforms, it makes more,

    It loves us.

    And the mother who can have no children

    Whose friends experience this thing called “motherhood” which she would love to be able to complain about the way that they do

    And there is a sense that her old age is vulnerable

    And her future is tough

    She might not get loved, the way that the mothering women are loved.

    And they say the greatness of God is for them.

    Now the greatness of God is not a fast thing, it moves almost invisibly

    Imperceptibly and always for our taste fare too slowly

    But the force of God is in life.

    It does not always act in people who say that they are Christian.

    It leaks everywhere

    On Thursday, Anna’s brother Matt and myself found ourselves in a service station on the M6,

    There had been a crash a few miles up the road

    And we were trapped in Motorway services.

    You know that Pope’s envoy who landed at Heathrow and said it was like a third world country.  I am only glad he avoided motorway services in the M6.

    The place was full of burly truckers, and impatient children

    Families coming back from holidays with holiday clothes

    Business men with sharp suits and schedules to stick to

    Burger kings and Kentucky Fried Chickens

    Folk looking wearied, folk not wanting to be here

    Queues of traffic.

    And I remember at one point Matt looked out the window and there was this reminder,

    That God is here, and the magnificence of God is leaking into this place,

    Making it more,

    Over this apparently cheerless edifice of fake tan, impersonal fast food, slow moving traffic

    Lies underneath God, whose goodness leaks,

    Ross, Jordan, David, Boyd and Chris

    What we celebrate is that something in you changed

    You did not wake up one morning and that morning you were president’s badge material

    You are grew into that

    Often as the result of prayers, your own and other peoples

    You were bathed in the greatness of the one who made stars

    Bits of God leaked into you

    Today I make a supernova but only once I have made Chris, David, Boyd, Ross, Jordan

    There is this thing about the leakiness of heaven.

    The infectiousness of God

    His greatness cannot be ignored.

    All you who are God’s servants

    Come let us bless and praise the Lord.

    Jesus And Divorce

    Rob Bell Mars Hill 20th July 2010

    How many people have been quoted this passage in a way that caused them pain?

    What is going on here?  Something below the surface.

    The Greek word here is not about a mutual thing, but about a sending away.  What this was like in the ancient world, this was a way of separating that caused great vulnerability to a “single, sent away woman, in a barbaric primitive world”  “You had no dignity, no rights, no family, no way to provide for yourself”

    So when women were sent away, what profession did women go into.

    Deuteronomy happens amid the reality of divorce, allows divorce, this mean the certificate of divorce was something of a protection.

    Jesus’ own context was the debate between Hilell and Shamai.  Hillel normally allowed more permissive interpretation of the text.  Shamai would have been called a “conservative”, Hillel a “liberal”.  Interestingly Shamai was known for being incredibly kind.

    The big debate was around the word “indecent” – literally the “nakedness of a thing”.

    Shamai focused on the “nakedness”, Hillel focused on the “thing”.  This is from Mishnah.  Hillel said that even “the burning of food” was grounds for divorce, because this was indecency in the thing.

    When Jesus uses the word “divorce”, he is entering into one of the most controversial debates of his debate.  He is a contexted Jew, a man of the first century.

    In every matter where Jesus has to choose between HIllel and Shamai, he picks Hillel, when Jesus sides with Shamai.  “He can send her away if she commits adultery, and he must give her a certificate of divorce.  He must honour and giver her dignity in the process, he must not treat her like a piece of property.”

    This is where Jesus lands on the matter.

    Some Larger Observations

    (20 mins)


    For thousands of years now, people have been wrestling with the complexities of divorce.  Divorce has never been simple.  We do people a dis-service when we talk about a simple divorce.

    When people are asking

    “How long do I hang in there?

    “When am I out of line and it is the only thing left to do?

    When the person apologises and says it never will happen again, and then how long.

    What happens if it happens again?

    What happens when trust has been broken through emotional or physical abuse?

    Is this staying together, is it terrible for the kids?

    I married him under this guise, under the understanding that the things he owned, the things he said he had, were actually his?  He actually owns extraordinary sums of money.  None of it he owns – I married an illusion of who he was.

    I have seen people in new marriage, filled with joy; these remarriages are healthy and thriving and they are with people they probably should have been with in the first place.

    There was one kid, saying “Divorce was the worst thing that ever happened to me.  There was another kid saying “I am so glad that my parents got divorced.”

    You just want to the right thing, but there are landmines everywhere.  You have good company.  This can be strangely comforting.


    In the scriptures you can find wrestling with this issue.  In 1 Corinthians 7 you find another reason for divorce, you can be divorced on the grounds that the one person who is not a Christian abandons the marriage, this brother or sister can let them go.

    He also adds an operative principle – God has called us to live in peace.  This binds the whole thing together – Shalom – health, wholeness, in everything in good order.

    The question then is “Is there hope for Shalom in this relationship?”


    We are always for fidelity, reconciliation, endurance, perseverance, peace wherever it is horrible.

    We live with hope, and with the reality that sometimes some things die, and you have to call it what it is.

    The story is rarely simple

    There are generally, I have found, two people in a marriage, there are two stories, and if there is a brother or sister-in-law or co-worker, then you have nine.

    You as the bystander always have to choose sides.

    We don’t always no what is going on.  She may have made a decision not to go public with his private sins.

    It is too easy to say “do this, do this and do this.”

    Divorce is painful enough without the critique and condemnation of others

    If you feel the profound need to speak into a situation, then you must ask the question “Do I have authority here?”
    ”Have I walked with these people long enough?

    Have I stood by them long enough?”

    Authority is earned and given.

    In the middle of a divorce, ask yourself “Have I heard only one side?”

    Jesus invites you to go there

    If you have been divorced, then that is like a primal tearing.

    If there has been a divorce then souls have been torn apart,

    Divorce is like a death, and needs to be grieved in the same way.

    Jesus invites you to go into the heart of that wound.

    To name it, to understand it, to see its components.

    You begin to name the different dynamics in the marriage.

    In a relationship with someone else, you then have insight, and you are able to avoid repeated destructive patterns that happened in your marriage.

    There is a sin bend in all of us, and it is handed down through families.

    The invitation of Jesus is to go there.  When you go there, you can trust that you will be met by grace, grace, grace.

    The world can be a dark dark place

    The idea behind a marriage, that in a dark world, there would be these two people who love each other with such passion and devotion and honesty and endurance, that in a dark world there would be a little light.

    This is why even you, football fan and plumber, you get a tear in your eye when she walks down the aisle.

    The idea is that their love would leak, and spill out onto the rest of us.  This is why divorce is so traumatic, because a place that was meant to be life and light, has become death and darkness.

    Therefore when we demean each other, that is not light.  When we talk to each other’s children about the deficiencies about the other, then that is not light.

    Start in the small things.

    Treat him as if he or she is everything that you long for him to be.

    The idea is that this bond should be like light, which would remind people what God is like.

    Darwin And Hitler

    “In this struggle the stronger, the more able, win while the less able, the weak, lose.  Struggle is the father of all things… It is not by the principles of humanity that man lives or is able to preserve himself above the animal world, but solely by means of the most brutal struggle.”

    Over dinner on 23rd September 1941, he said:

    “God does not act differently.  He suddenly hurls the masses of humanity onto the earth and he leaves to each one to work out his own salvation.  Men dispossess one another and one perceives that, at the end of it all, it is always the strongest who triumphs.  Is not that the most reasonable order of things?  If it were not otherwise, nothing good would ever have existed.  If we did not respect the laws of nature, imposing our will by the right of the stronger, a day would come when the wild animals would once again devour us – then the insects would eat the wild animals and finally nothing would exist on the earth but microbes.”

    This contrasts again with Tyronne Pitts, whom I met yesterday, who quoted Frederick Douglass, that progress never comes but with struggle.  Hitler and Douglas may have agreed on the need for struggle, but they would have seriously disagreed, to put it mildly, on what might we might define as progress.

    Last night at Glasgow Presbytery

    Bill’s finale was the tale of a British Colonel who had been shot by his servant.  This particular officer had been very unpopular with his officers and men, but nevertheless they had got together to raise some money upon his passing.  With the money they were able to erect a statue of the Colonel.  Underneath the statue, the inscription read, “This statue was erected in memory of Colonel Taylor of the British Army who was shot by his servant.  Well done thou good and faithful servant.”

    Other things from last night were

    • some enthusiastic support for a scheme where people voluntarily moved away from unrestricted tenure;
    • a lot of basic questions about the need to cut ministerial posts which shows that peopel like me in the planning group need to be better at communication
    • some discussion on whether we should be campaigning for the building of aircraft carriers on the Clyde (paradoxically being argued for by one of the most prominent peaceniks in the presbytery – an irony he was not unwise to).

    For me there was also personal satisfaction of making peace with the minister I fell out with last time I was there.  The source of the reconciliation was shared disquiet about aircraft carriers – years before they are built, they have made a little bit of peace.  May their post-launch careers be similarly Illustrious (or should that be Invincible)

    The Heretical Humanist

    It would be wrong of me to draw firm conclusions without having done some more research (not a phrase you read often enough on the internet, such equivocation does terrible things to one’s hit count).

    However, I can’t but wonder if its because many humanists actually don’t want there to be a God.

    Stephen Hawking was being interviewed in last Saturday’s Guardian.  He was asked what lesson from physics everyone should know.  His answer: “That physics has explained the universe without the need for a creator.”  Professor Brian Cox (he of the magnificent ‘wonders of the Solar System’) commented “That’s a beautiful answer.”

    How can that be a beautiful answer.  It’s a desperate answer.  That we are unplanned collections of quarks floating around in an indifferent universe – where’s the good news in that?.  Surely every atheist should be desperate to be wrong, otherwise no final victory for justice or goodness; no foundation for hope.

    The unexpected conclusion that one might draw from our much loved celebrant’s departure from non-religious orthodoxy is that many atheists don’t actually want God.  It’s not that they can’t find him.  They actually don’t want him there.  Here is how Thomas Nagel puts it (quoted on page 50 of Zacharias’s Jesus among other gods)

    In speaking of the fear of religion.  I don’t mean to refer to the entirely reasonable hostility towards certain established religions… in virtue of their objectionable moral doctrines… Nor am I referring to the association of many religious beliefs with superstition… I am talking about something much deeper – namely the fear of religion itself… I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed I know are religious believers.  It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and naturally hope there is not God!  I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.

    Is this a hatred so strong, that you would even say to grieving relatives “no hymns if I’m involved in this”, and even though your truth may be different from mine, at the very moment when you want and need it the most, I am not going to give the slightest hint that you might pray.