Monthly Archives: March 2013

Faith and Doubt in Dance

Of course, what is faith if there isn’t some doubt right there in the middle of the mix? They are, after all, dance partners.”

As for the second part, do you think it is possible to feel reverence and a sense of awe about the universe without a belief in a deity?

“Sure-lots of people do.”

Are you open to the possibility that God might not exist?

“I write about that in the book-about that gnawing sense that we may really be alone in the universe, at least in terms of God. I tell in the book about driving to church one Easter Sunday realizing that I didn’t believe in God. The only problem was that I was giving the sermon that day to 10,000 people. Which was a problem, to say the least! Haha. I decided to keep searching, and if my conclusions meant I had to leave my work and church, so be it. At least I’d have my integrity. As I kept going, I realized that I’d seen too much wonder and awe-in science, literature, music, serious drug addicts getting clean, marriages reviving, people with cancer having more joy than I’d ever seen a person have. I’ve seen, tasted, and experienced too much to deny that there’s anything more and close my mind like that. For me, the only intellectually honest and reasonable perspective is to remain open and believe. We all have faith-the only compelling question is: in what? or who? What I find compelling is becoming. What faith or perspective or world view makes you become a better person? More loving, kind, courageous, honest, generous? When I believe in the God Jesus talked about, it makes me less judgmental and more compassionate and more generous…that’s the mark of any belief system to me-how does it shape you? We’ve seen a lot ofreligion do a lot of bad shaping, haven’t we? So enough with that. But compassion and generosity and intellectual honesty and less judgment-we need more of that than ever, right?”

Tough Questions

 

The Bible: Why should we trust the Bible, and why should non-Christians do that?

 

The important thing in talking to people who are sceptical, to ask them to prayerfully read the word, with the witness of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit guides us in these things.  Approach the Bible in a mood of receptivity.  The power of the Spirit.

 

Really nice thing about the cross being true because of a fundamental sense of indebtedness which it addresses.

 

Talks about his own journey from thinking of Jesus as saviour (when younger), then Lord (and thought about Christian worldview) and then King (ruler over all things.  Not just a bunch of intellectual answers, but it is that.  Simone Weil, if facing the choice between Jesus and truth, choose truth, and it will not be long before you fall into the arms of Jesus.

 

Sexuality:  How do we teach about human sexuality to folks outside the Church?  Humbly.

 

To the Gay and Lesbian community – We’re all involved in false advertising…most of the time, you folks aren’t very gay, you’re miserable a lot of the time; and we folks in the straight community, we’re crooked a lot of the time.  Ask God to come to the cross of Calvary, ask God to unburden us from sin, and then getting up from that, we need to talk about what we need to be.

 

Convicted civility – uncommon decency.  These things are so often lacking, and often people with deep passions and convictions are not very civil, and the people who are civil often do not have passions and convictions.  How do we do this?

 

We have had a difficult time putting together the belief that Jesus is the only saviour, and the need to be in dialogue with people who don’t believe that; and we are in dialogue with the people in a way that we might actually learn from that experience.  1 Peter – “Always be ready to give to anyone a reason for the hope that lies within you, and do with gentleness and reverence” – Psalm 139 “Inescapable presence of God, Lord I hate your enemies with a perfect hatred,” and then he goes “oops” and then says “Lord, search me and examine me.”

 

Also talks about hell – of those who profit from child prostitution “I hope they get it”

 

And finishes by telling stories of encouragement from China and North Korea.

Being lost in a good way

Peterson concludes his meditation on the Lost older brother by thinking about how the action has focussed on him, and how Jesus has slipped in a fourth last thing, but this time we do not know if it is found, and it does not know that it is lost.  How do we avoid the sin of catching self-righteousness, in the process of being made godly?

“Everywhere and at all times we learn to submit to the conditions of Jesus’ story and the counsel of wise guides in the Christian way who tell us that we cannot create righteousness by our activities or our moralisms but must continuously re-enter what Kierkegaard called “the preparing power of chaos”, what John of the Cross called “the dark night of the soul,” and what an anonymous English writer named “the cloud of unknowing”. (page 98)

Merton’s Palace of Nowhere – Part 7 – God is our all

Once this is realised, everything becomes a potential symbol making communion with God possible.  A single sentence read in silence, a single word, a lone bird soaring aimlessly through a cloudless sky, a child stirring the water with a stick – anything, anything at all can bring us to the insight of the true self that says, “for me to live is Christ.” (page 127)

You are only who you are, yet you are “carried away by the same wind that blows all these people down the street, like pieces of paper and dead leaves in all directions.”  We are only who we are, yet who we are is God being God.  God loving and knowing himself in us not as vessels of his knowledge and love but as his very love and knowledge, his very self, created in us as persons.

The insight arises as an obscure yet deep realisation in fait that our ultimate identity is hidden in the secret of God’s identity.  Though no longer contained in the confining perimeters of questions and answers, we find ourselves to be a kind of question, a question which only God can answer:

The Father is a Holy Spirit, but He is named Father.  The Son is a Holy Spirit, but He is named Son.  The Holy Spirit has a Name which is known only to the Father and the Son.  But can it be that when He takes us to Himself, and unites us to the Father through the Son, He takes upon Himself, in us, our own secret name?  Is it possible that we come to know, for ourselves, the name of the Holy Spirit when we receive from Him?  I can ask these questions, but not answer them. (page 130)

We will never have this insight into the true self as long as we try to “have” an insight and then cling to what we think we have.  Trying to have the insight is like trying to swallow the sky.  The insight is that we are the insight.  The insight is that there is nothing to acquire, for there is no one to acquire it.  There is not insight other than the self we always have been, yet did not recognise.  We suddenly realise that we had it all along. (page 130)

We hear it in our next breath [the true self].  We touch it in our reaching out to our brother and sister.  And we see, hear and touch the true self not by mystifying everything but by simply letting each thing be.  Each thing is only what it is, and in that alone each thing is a manifestation of the ALL from whom all came, in whom all is sustained, and to whom all returns. (page 131)

Our silent prayer is poor, yet its poverty is its wealth, if we offer our prayer to God.  Our silent prayer is empty, yet its emptiness makes it full if we open ourselves to God who, upon the cross, showed us that fullness is emptiness – and upon the emptiness all things depend. (page 132)

Grumbling

Apparently we don’t go looking for a lost son (or person) in the same way that we look for an animal or a coin.  Something other than aggressive energy is required.  Something no less energetic, yet passive – passive energy.  There are situations in which our passivities take precedence over our activities. (page 94)

The restraint of passivity allows for the quiet, mostly invisible complexities and intricacies that are characteristic of the Holy Spirit as he does his work in us, in the Church, and in this world for whom Christ died.  “Renunciation – the piercing virtue” is Emily Dickinson’s phrase for it. (Important discernments are the “divinisation of our activities” and the “divinisation of our passivities” – as given by Teilhard de Chardin.) (page 95)

Misreadings Of The Right

  • Undifferentiated reading of Old and New Testaments; which of course exist in symbiosis with
  • Unacknowledged and arbitrary pick and mix selection of an implicit canon-within-the-canon (few Christians have offered animal sacrifice, or rejected pork, shellfish etc. but few know why; some churches are tough on sexual offences but not on anger and violence, and others are the other way around; few today even notice the regular biblical prohibitions of usury);
  • The application of various ‘new Israel’ ideas (e.g. a reading of Deuteronomy) to various Enlightenment projects (the United States is the obvious example, but interestingly the same ideology can be found, transposed into a French Roman Catholic key, in Quebec);
  • Support of the death penalty (opposed by many of the early Fathers);
  • Discovery of ‘religious’ meanings and exclusion of ‘political’ ones, thus often tacitly supporting the social status quo; this happily co-exists in some cultures with (a) above;
  • Readings of Paul in general and Romans in particular which screen out the entire Jewish dimension through which alone that letter makes sense; this often exists in symbiosis with
  • Attempted ‘biblical’ support for the modern state of Israel as the fulfilment of all scriptural prophecy;
  • An overall failure to pay attention to context and hermeneutics.
  • Misreadings Of The Left

  • caricaturing biblical teaching on some topics in order to be able to set aside its teaching on other topics: despite repeated assertions, the New Testament does allow divorce in certain circumstances; it does envisage women as apostles and deacons, and as leading in worship it does (see above) do its best to humanise, and then to challenge slavery;
  • discovery of ‘political’ meanings to the exclusion of ‘religious’ ones, often without noticing that, unless there is some power unleashed in these readings, this results merely in sloganeering which provides false comfort to the faithful through a sense of their own moral insight and superiority (‘I thank thee Lord that I am not like those non-political pietists), but without effecting actual change in the world;
  • the proposal that the New Testament use the Old Testament in a fairly arbitrary or unwarranted fashion; sometimes as we saw, the conclusion is drawn that we can and should use the New Testament in the same way. Standard examples include Matthew’s use of Hosea (2:15) and Paul’s use of the ‘seed’ motif (Galatians 3:16).  Both, in fact, depend on the nexus between Jesus and Israel which remained opaque to many Protestant scholars in the modernist period, but which is now fairly common coin within the scholarship that has paid attention to the New Testament’s use of the Old Testament themes and narratives;
  • the claim that the New Testament writers did not think that they were writing ‘scripture’ so that our appeal to them as such already does them violence;
  • pointing out that the Church took a while to settle on the precise canon (and that the relevant debates included some non-theological factors, e.g. political ones) and using this as an argument for discrediting the canon and privileging other books (e.g. ‘Thomas’) which articulate a different worldview, sometimes ironically projecting this preference back into a neo-positivistic claim for an early date for the non-canonical material;
  • a skin-deep-only appeal to ‘contextual readings’; as though by murmuring the magic word ‘context’ the meaning and relevance of the text can be held at arm’s length;
  • the attempt to reduce ‘truth’ to ‘scientific’ statements on the one hand, or to deconstruct it altogether on the other.
  • Palm Sunday and Susan Boyle

     

     

    Now, you know that I love this moment, I love it too much, the Susan Boyle first audition, and perhaps, but just indulge me.

     

    To allow this moment which has inspired artists:

    Here, and here and here

     

    We might think about this moment, here

    Jesus and Zechariah

    You see what is going on with this moment here,

    Jesus on the back of the donkey,

    Is that there some words, some ancient, prophetic words, behind the back of this scene.  The scriptures tell us this.

     

    Zechariah, the old prophet is speaking to a broken, despondent people and he has these words about a better future.

    “Rejoice, Rejoice, people of Zion!

    Shout for joy, you people of Jerusalem

    Look, your king is coming to you!

    He comes triumphant and victorious

    But humble and riding on a donkey.”

     

    And Luke never makes the link explicit with Zechariah, but Matthew in his gospel reminds us of this verse:

    “This happened in order make what the prophet had said come true:

    ‘Tell the city of Zion, Look your king is coming to you! He is humble and rides on a donkey’” (Matthew 21:5)

     

    And it’s not just this verse of Zechariah that is happening here.

     

    You see Zechariah is a man who dreamed a dream – you see where I might be going with this – dreamed a dream.

     

    He dreamed a dream about the city of Jerusalem, this broken defeated city, this city that felt that God had left, that it had nothing going for it any more, this city had hope, because of the presence and care of God.

     

    So he understood that God still loved the city

    “I have longed to help Jerusalem because of my deep love for her people, a love which has made me angry with her enemies” (Zechariah 8:2)

     

    And this dream of a better future

    “Once again old men and women, so old that they use a stick when they walk will be sitting in the city squares, and the streets will again be full of boys and girls playing.”

     

    And it is a picture of life, and of all people, every gender, every age, being together, in this city that works, that God loves.

     

    And Zechariah knows that many people have been carried off, taken by brutal kings, and so he says, God knows where those far off people are:

    “I will rescue my people from the lands where they have been taken, and will bring them back from east and west to live in Jerusalem.  They will be my people and I will be their God, ruling over them faithfully and justly.”

     

    “Because of my covenant with you – my promise with you that was sealed by blood, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.”

     

    And can you see the dream that Zechariah has, of a restoration,

    “At that time, the Lord will protect those who live in Jerusalem, and even the weakest among them will become as strong as David was.” Zechariah 12:8

     

    And this is the dream, the hope, the prophet articulates.

    It is like the greatest hero, that we can think of, the very best we had, everyone will be like him.

     

    Like the way that the Herald this week selected Kenny as the greatest Scottish football player ever, he was a bit happier during his playing days than his management

     

    In the dream, the dream that Zechariah has, everyone is going to be like Kenny, even the weakest.

     

     

    The Dream means death

    So Zechariah has a dream of a world reshaped,

    But he also understands that the way that God gets to the dream is not the way that you might imagine.

     

    The dreams happens through brokenness.  And it happens through surprising means.

     

    Zechariah seems to understand that the dream happens through pain, desperation, faith being stretched to the limit, even death.

     

    Because it’s not just the verse about the donkey that Jesus is carrying here

    And it is not just the verse about the dream that Jesus is carrying here.

     

    Have a look at these other verses:

     

    “Every cooking pot in Jerusalem and in all Judah will be set apart for use in the worship of the Lord Almighty.  The people who offer sacrifices will use them for boiling the meat of the sacrifices.  When the time comes, there will no longer be any merchant in the Temple of the Lord Almighty” (Zechariah 14:21)

     

    And Jesus goes into the temple and clears out the money changers there.

     

    “Because of the my covenant with you that was sealed by blood, I will set your people free” – on the night that he was betrayed, Jesus said, this is the new covenant sealed by my blood (Zechariah 9:11)

     

    “So they paid me thirty pieces of silver as my wages” (Zechariah 9:12)

    And we remember that Jesus was betrayed for thirty pieces of silver.

     

    “Wake up, sword, and attack the shepherd who works for me!  Kill him, and the sheep will be scattered” (Zechariah 13:7)

     

    “I will fill the descendants of David and the other people of Jerusalem with the spirit of mercy and the spirit of prayer.  They will look at the one whom they pierced.”  (Zechariah 12:10).  And when Jesus sword is split by a sword, this verse is remembered.

     

    So there is something very profound about Jesus going into Jerusalem, on the donkey, with the dream, there is something here about death.

     

    Going into death

    Going into death is a terrible place.

     

    It happens in the waiting room at the doctors, it happens at the moment when you hear the terrible news.  It is the place of violence.  Jim Davidson once told me as a service man in the 1950s visiting Belsen and talking about the sense of death about the place.  Or I remember a couple of times being caught up in violence.  One was at a march in India which was political and a sense that at any point, something dangerous could happen.  Or in Northern Ireland, in what was called Drum-three, the third Drumcree in 1997, and the smoke rising up from the markets and from the Short Strand, and being stranded in Belfast Central in the middle of them.

     

    Christ goes into that place on the donkey, in order to dream the dream,

     

    There is another version of I dreamed a dream,

    It’s the Ann Hathaway version in Les Miserables, it is desperate, broken, struggling, the note of the triumph in the Susan Boyle version is a wailing, scream of pain,

    And it is to this place that Jesus goes, to bring the dream into being,

     

    When he is on the donkey, it is a about the dream of Zechariah, and the death of Zechariah.

     

    Surprise of God

    I think this is a story is about the surprises of God.

     

    Nobody expects a king to be on a donkey.

     

    We do not expect God to operate in the ways that he does.  It could never be predicted, it takes twists and turns on the journey.

     

    I always appreciate this prayer of a confederate soldier in the American Civil War

    I asked God for strength, that I might achieve.

    I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.

    I asked for health, that I might do greater things.

    I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.

    I asked for riches, that I might be happy.

    I was given poverty, that I might be wise.

    I asked for power that I might have the praise of men.

    I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.

    I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life.

    I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.

    I got nothing that I asked for but got everything I had hoped for.

    Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.

    I am, among all people, most richly blessed.

     

    The Death

    It seems that in order for any true dream to happen, it happens to die along the way.

     

    I say this is a word for those of you who are in the death part of the dream.  Where it seems that God has abandoned you, and the dream.

     

    The story of Zechariah is that God does not let go of the dream, in the miry pit.

     

    I was thinking about the story of David Livingstone,

    The man’s life in many ways was a disaster,

    He was a poor leader, there was a great estrangement between him and his family,

    He was someone who was determined to sail ships up the Zambezi as a way of bringing trade to Africa,

    He was forced to resign from his mission society because of his lack of evangelising, having made only one convert,

    He hated the slave trade, and then hated the fact that in the last parts of his he was reliant on slave traders for transport,

    He became desperately poor, at one time forced to sit in an open cage and beg for food for amusement,

    He lost contact with the outside world for 6 years, and in his one surviving letter from that period wrote “I am terribly knocked up, but this is for your eye only, doubtful if I live to see you again.”

     

    Yet despite being a broken man,

    His way of travelling, of winning the trust and respect of local people, was hugely admired, and led to others inspired by his example to set up schools for local people, which were later influential in the freedom movements in Africa in the 21st Century.

     

    His words and writings were hugely influential for those fighting against the slave trade, and part of that legacy.  He once wrote to the New York Herald “If my disclosures regarding the terrible Ujijian slave trade should lead to the suppression of the East Coast slave trade, I shall regard that as a greater matter by far than the discovery of all the Nile sources together”

     

    He never did discover the sources of the Nile, but he did help with many others (an irony for someone who was such a lone operator) to help abolish slavery.

     

    Despite everything going wrong, through him the prisoners were set free.

     

    Susan Boyle

    And this leads me at last, from someone from Blantyre, to someone from Blackburn West Lothian.

     

    She is asked, “What is the dream?”

     

    And she says “I am trying to be a successful singer.”

     

    The dream is still there.

     

    Don’t settle for second rate dreams,

    The dream is this,

    The dream that Desmond Tutu, someone who attended one of those mission schools inspired by the legacy of David Livingstone, wrote that God has a dream,

    It is the dream that Jesus has on the back of the donkey.

     

    A dream of a world reborn

    A dream of a rediscovered dignity

    It is a dream of people, old and young, men and women, sharing space, conversation, love, being with each other

    A dream of reaching the other side of death

     

    He once spoke of God’s dream, of togetherness, of human’s reborn

    Of a rainbow coloured nation

    Of the things between us, and within us broken

    All of that dream is born on the back of the donkey

    And it is now shared by us, so like Jesus, live for, and give yourselves to the dream

     

    AMEN

    Iatrogenesis

     

    The Christian Church is a Holy Spirit-formed community where salvation is proclaimed and sins forgiven; men and women are redefined by baptism in the company of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; a life in Christ is formed; a eucharistic-shaped worship of God is enacted; and a holy life is practiced in a world of suffering, injustice, war, despair, addictions, and sin, both blatant and covert – a world at odds with both neighbour and God.  It seems like quite a wonderful thing.  It is a wonderful thing – all these people getting a taste of new life.  Real Life, “ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven,” and finding themselves participating in the holy operations of the Trinity.

    But it doesn’t take long for those of us who are in on this to realise that this new life isn’t finished life but a life in process.  Many of us are slow learners.  Many of us hang on to selfish immaturities for as long as we can, unwilling to grow up.  Others of us slip back into old habits of disobedience as we look for shortcuts to holiness.  Still others experiment with ways in which we attempt to stay in control of our lives and manipulate God to do for us what we can’t do for ourselves.  Not a few of us keep trying to find a way to deal with God without having to pay attention to our neighbours. When we take a good, long look at any congregation we see that most of the spiritual sins, moral and emotional, and the social disorders rampant in the general population continue to make their way, sometimes even flourish, among the elect.  (page 87)

    “Miserable offenders” is subjected to a great deal of creative editing by our contemporaries, but if anything it is an understatement.  (page 87)

    But there is one form of sin that flourishes in religious communities in ways hardly possible outside of them – it begins in places of worship.  Religious communities provide the conditions for this spiritual disorder, this sin, far in excess to what is provided in the secularised world.  The common name for the sin is self-righteousness.

    Unlike the sins that are commonly noticed and repented of by a worshipping congregation, self-righteousness is almost never recognised in the mirror.  Occasionally in someone else, never in me. (page 88)

    The best protection against eusebeigenic [the word Peterson uses for sin contracted in the process of being made godly, reverent, devout] is an acute awareness of our lost condition in which we so desperately and at all times need a Saviour.  But that is a difficult awareness to maintain when we walk into our workplace in a fresh cotton dress, or a coat and tie and are greeted with “Good morning pastor” or “Nice to see you, doctor,” or “I just read your latest book, professor – you sure got it all together in that one.”  How do we cultivate a sharply imagined realisation of “nothing in my hand I bring, only to the cross I cling” while in the other hand we are carrying our university diploma or Sunday school lesson plan or latest job assignment to lead a mission trip to Zimbabwe?  After all, we are Christians, with credentials as Christ’s chosen witnesses! (page 89)