[un]conscious-stream[ing]

Psalm 144:4 Man is like a breath; his days are like a fleeting shadow.

Category Archives: challenge

#YouAintNoMuslimBruv

youaintnomuslimbruv
London witnessed a spectacular show of non-fear and Britishness on Saturday. After a man was restrained following his knife attack on a number of tube travellers on the tube around about 7pm Saturday, a passer by shouted “You ain’t no Muslim, bruv”. See the full story.

Whilst this statement is undoubtedly true and all we need to do is to look around the web, social media etc. to discover the many Muslim people sharing the non-violent stance of the Muslim community and the verses from the Qur’an to back it up (The image above for example – https://twitter.com/CaptainWotsit/status/673453507903676417), there is another side to this.

I would say that any “christian” in support of the air strikes at all, or indeed war in general, be that France, Germany, US, UK, Russia, anyone should have the same label #YouAintNoChristianBruv.

I don’t want to pen too many words but the term Christian used in the bible seems to be used very few times and as a derogatory term. Early followers of Jesus called themselves followers of “the way” or disciples and it was non-followers that called them “Christians” – I believe to mean “mini Christ(s)” – spoken as a slur.

Jesus whole life was about the way of non-violence.

Jesus didn’t kill or attack people, he healed people and taught us to “turn the other cheek”.

Jesus lived a simple life and died as a martyr, he didn’t conquer the globe and return to a hero’s welcome.

Jesus didn’t raise an army, he died on a cross like a criminal.

Jesus won looking like he was losing.

Jesus teaches us the way of non-violence, even as he rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey – no less a kingly animal than a Stallion but one that represented a king coming in peace, not a display of military might.

If you aren’t walking in the footsteps of the Christ; #YouAintNoChristianBruv.

If you can’t display in the way you live and your idealism the same things that “the exact representation of the Father’s Glory” displayed; #YouAintNoChristianBruv.

I don’t pretend to have the answers to stopping IS. I don’t pretend to know the non-violent way to solve global conflict and the crisis in the Middle-East, but it’s time that ‘christians’ became ‘Christians’ and demonstrated the life, values and the way of Jesus in thought, attitude, approach and action or #YouAintNoChristianBruv.

I believe in Hell

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I believe in hell!

I have seen hell and it exists.

It isn’t at all where it has traditionally been portrayed and it isn’t what those old paintings or new television shows make it out to be.

It is happening for people right here and right now and we have seen it this last week.

Hell is when gunmen break into restaurants, concert halls, music and sports venues and methodically murder hundreds of people.
Hell is where someone deluded and radicalised blows themselves up killing scores of others.
Hell is when your home is swept away by a mud-slide or a tornado or an earthquake leaving you without clean water or sanitation.
Hell is when you believe your best hope of survival is fleeing.
Hell is when you believe that it is safer in an inflatable dingy trying to cross the sea than on the land where you live.
Hell is where you watch boats filled with expensive consumer electronics sailing past the beaches of your country, the very country who’s land has been pillaged and exploited for the raw materials that make up those devices with no benefit to the people who live there.
Hell is where a child breaks into his own school and guns down 15 other kids in his classroom before turning the weapon on himself.
Hell is where your life caves in on you, your world crumbles and leaves you emotionally burned out, physically drained and spiritually empty.

I believe in hell.

To explore one example: the atrocities we saw in Paris, Beirut and Baghdad last week, there is a relevant parable that Jesus told, recorded in Matthew 12 and Luke 11.

“When a demon goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it swept and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other demons more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first.”
Luke 11 v 24-26

It is a fairly accurate picture of the problem we have in this world today.

The armies of the west have gone blundering into the middle east, clearing out one ‘demon’ after another: Sadam has been ousted, The Taliban ‘defeated’, Colonel Gaddafi has been deposed…
It would be generous to say that the middle east was left “swept and put in order”, but the next sentence is definitely true: –“Then he goes and takes with him seven other demons more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first”

The middle east has never been as unstable or dangerous and the problem with the ‘demon’ “returning” with “seven other demons more wicked than himself” is that the fallout is now spreading beyond the borders of those first ‘houses’.

The problem is, nothing was put in to fill the vacuum.

So IS came and made the situation seven times worse.

Almost always, after something like this, the question that comes at me as someone who is a follower of Jesus is “where is God”?

Where is God in the famine? Where is God in the flood? Where is God in the oppression and the exploitation, the violence, war and broken lives?

I believe that mostly, when God works in the world he works through people, so the only answer I can ever give to the question “where is God?” is actually a question: “Where am I?”

Where am I in the famine, flood exploitation and violence, the war and the broken lives? If I claim to be a follower of Jesus, I must believe what he tells me. I must believe the promise he makes to live in me.

If I believe Jesus lives in me, and I do… Then it is the face of Jesus that I need to display. And it is the behaviour of Jesus that I need to display. And in behaving like Jesus, I am the one that needs to reach out to lift up the broken and oppressed of this world. I am the one who shows God in the famine and the flood, in the violence and the war. It is in my example and my actions that people see God in these circumstances.
You and I are the people that can show that we have, by the grace of God and his life within us as Jesus people, the power to make this planet a better place.
The response to hell today is not to retaliate. Retaliation only leads to escalation and further hurt.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
Martin Luther King

Care workers on the fringes of disaster

If you look at the periphery of the disasters we have just witnessed, you will see God at work. The people who are caring medically, putting other bodies and lives back together. Those that are trying to protect others and keep the streets calm. Friends and family supporting the injured and those with broken hearts.
That’s where you will see God at work, that is where we must be to lift the broken and hurting, to demonstrate the love of God and to show that the world is not a cold dead place hurtling head-long into destruction and oblivion.

We can only start with ourselves to make a difference to our families and communities, but we must start, because that is the way God will use Love to overcome the hatred in the world.

Averting the Apocalypse

Image used without permission but Attributes to http://www.silverpetticoatreview.com/I am a staunch Dr Who fan.

Episode 13 in season 1 of the ‘re-boot’ with Christopher Ecclestone and Billie Piper contains a scene in which, Rose Tyler (Piper) breaks open the heart of the TARDIS in an attempt to save The Doctor (Ecclestone). Rose looks into the heart of the TARDIS and it changes her. There’s a pretty low-resolution 4 minute version of it here.

When she arrives and saves The Doctor, he asks: “What did you do?” and Rose replies: (watch it here)

“I looked into the TARDIS and the TARDIS looked into me”.

It transpires after that point that Rose has special abilities, she destroys the daleks, she is able to bring back to life Captain Jack Harkness who has just been exterminated.

Once Rose looked into the heart of the TARDIS, she was completely changed by what she saw. She could not un-see, she couldn’t let go of what she had seen and could not be unchanged from how it had changed her.

I would argue that this works as a lovely illustration of when we truly see the heart of God. When we look into God’s heart and see the depths of his love and the extent he has gone to display that love to us, we can’t help but be changed. And if we truly connect and really see the heart of God, we cannot unsee, we cannot be changed back, we can’t ever return to what we were before.

In an address to students at Harvard university in 2008, JK Rowling said:

“we do not need magic to transform our world; we carry all the power we need inside of ourselves.”

And in many ways, she is right because of the promise of Jesus in John 14:11-21

Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realise that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

The root of this concept is stated in 1 John 4:9

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.

This is the message of God through Jesus: Just as Rose was changed by viewing the heart of the TARDIS, we are changed when we see the heart of God and it changes us to be more like Him. He promises to live in us.

We can’t sit around inert, expecting God to step in and save us all from either our current situation or the problems we find ourselves surrounded by in this world.

Make no mistake: He Will.

One day, God Will complete the process of redeeming and restoring this planet, creating a place where everything is, once again, returned to a condition where all the earth continually sings His praises.

But while we wait for that inevitability, it is the job of believers to be the hands and the feet of God in this world.

It starts within our homes and our church family.

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

John 13:35

It’s not radical, it’s not new, its not easy but it is vital and mandatory.

No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

1 John 4:12

When we look ‘into the heart of the TARDIS’, when we gaze into the heart of God and God gazes into our hearts, we become changed, we become the agents of Gods’ love, the vehicles of his power at work in the world and that love is good news to the people around us. It is a life that displays “the gospel”.

Think of the tangible benefit to us personally and our communities if we were to take on Jesus’ example and embrace the counter-cultural world of Matthew 25 – a life lived as if God is not coming to mend all our brokenness and it is our job to put in the leg-work.

I am a great fan of Mother Teresa of Calcutta who’s words speak into this approach to faith and life.

“You can do no great things in this life, only small things with great love”

Mother Teresa of Calcutta

I believe that when God works in the world, he works through people. You and I are the people of God and we are the ones to push through the expectation of some supernatural intervention and demonstrate the ‘love beyond magic‘ that Kester Brewin talks about in his book.

It is only through love that we can achieve godliness. It is only through love that we can slowly, carefully redeem and restore this world. It is that same sacrificial love that we see demonstrated on the cross that gives us the example to do likewise.

Whoever loves God is known by God.

1 Corinthians 8:3

1 John 4:8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

1 John 4:8

If anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever says that he lives in God must live as Jesus lived.

1 John 2:5-6

This is our call to arms as believers. We can revert the apocalypse, we provide the hope to the hopeless, we demonstrate the love of God and provide the care of God’s hands, we can be the support for others in the way we have been taught by God.

I realise that I am suggesting we live with the paradox of living as if God will not fully and finally step in whilst knowing full well that he will because that’s what he has promised us he will do. Sometimes we have to hold this tension.

Are you, like me, feeling sand, angry, disgusted, enraged, compassionate about the situation in Syria?

Now is your chance to step in. And don’t leave it at that, live your ability to demonstrate God’s love into every single apocalyptic moment or situation that you see.

But what hope is there if you are feeling hopeless? Are you someone who’s life is fractured and broken? Do you wake up and see an endless black hole of depression? Are you at the bottom of the pit without a ladder, struggling to make ends meet, desperate to find some way to put food on the table or clothes on the children.

Are you feeling like you are unable to pick up the weight of the responsibility that comes with being a follower of Jesus?

Firstly, rely on your church family. That’s really kind of the point: We connect to each other and to God through our shared brokenness, not through our personal victories, strengths and accomplishments or some supernatural magic. Our church family will be the arms that God will wrap around you. They will make sure that God’s promise to provide is not an empty one. They will be the people that will carry you close to their hearts until you can soar like an eagle again.

If you aren’t a believer, but feel like you want the world to stop so you can get off or facing any or all of the hopelessness and pain that I outlined above; go and search for a community of people that will provide the love and support that I’ve just suggested should be present in a church family.

Hopefully you will find it in a group of Jesus followers. You may find that it is displayed better in a smaller group / church, a house group or you may find that one of these new fangled ‘worship centres’ or ‘life churches’ can provide the love, care and support that shows the life of Jesus and the love of God.

Secondly, I have seen what happens after Revelation 20. After the metaphor that describes every struggle, every challenge, every war, conflict, oppression, famine and disaster, man-made or natural that has torn at our hearts and bodies in recorded history…

There is still hope.

God does step in to make all things new. So hold on to that hope, the hope for the hopeless, the salvation for the un-saveable, the great love for the unloved.

I heard a great voice, coming from the throne.

See, the home of God is with His people.
    He will live among them;
    They will be His people,
    And God Himself will be with them.

    He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
    Death will be no more;
    Mourning no more, crying no more, pain no more,
    For the first things have gone away.

Revelation 21 v 3-4

Read the rest of Revelation 21

Apocalypse Now

Apocalypse Now image courtesy of www.filmdetail.com

There is, I think, an interesting and possibly myopic traditional view of both the biblical text of Revelation and of the Christian understanding of the ‘return of Christ’ or the ‘second coming’ and the “Kingdom of God”.

Let me explain:

I’ve been brought up in a community that, broadly speaking, believes and preaches that at a finite, fixed point in time, Jesus Christ will appear on planet earth in physical form once more. At this point, (and there’s plenty of debate about when, how, where…) a series of events will ensue, culminating in the complete restoration and renewal of the earth to the original potential that God intended. The people who haven’t rejected God and his vision will then live eternally in paradise – “The Kingdom of God”.

That’s all well and good and I think that to a greater or lesser extent, I do believe that the physical presence of Christ will once again walk the dust and dirt and soil and tarmac of Gods good earth.

However when you say a definite concrete “yes” to one thing, you inevitably have to say “no” to another and there are some things that I’m not willing to say “no” to quite so quickly when grasping at some future ‘nirvana’.

Return of Christ

Firstly, there’s the words of Jesus himself from Luke 21.

“Some Pharisees asked Jesus when the Kingdom of God would come. His answer was, “The Kingdom of God does not come in such a way as to be seen. No one will say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’; because the Kingdom of God is within you.””

Luke 17:20-21

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This probably raises more questions than it answers, but in my mind, Jesus is suggesting that the “kingdom of God” is not only a specific future for the world but also something that requires current, present participation. It is not just an event but a state of existence. It is something that we can actively be involved with now, not only a thing to be looked forward to.

Here’s where I’m going to suggest something probably not new, but it came to me as I was listening to my dad present some ideas at a study day, so it’s new to me.

There’s a passage in John that on the face of it can be a bit confusing.

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”
John 14:15-18

In summary, Jesus is saying “I’m going but I’m not going because I’m coming back but someone else is coming but you already know them because they’re already lived with you and will be in you.”

I think the simplest explanation is often the best and to me, the simplest view of this is that Jesus was physically leaving the disciples. He was also leaving the physical so he could become part of the spiritual domain. In becoming spirit as opposed to physical flesh, Jesus becomes able to be more effective. He can be with all believers simultaneously, he can “live in” all believers. This was something that had not yet been encountered in quite this way before, thus the verse about the world not being able to “accept him because it neither sees him or knows him.”

This opens up the possibility of the return of Christ being progressive and gradual in part, before a full-blown ‘big event’ return. If we accept that Jesus returned as spirit to enable believers to do great miracles and works as it says in John 14:12;

…”whoever believes in me will do the same things that I do. Those who believe will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father”.

then in some ways, Jesus has already returned and his life is in those who believe in him and they are the ones that act out the love and grace of God.

I suppose I’m saying that in a way, there could be a first part of the second coming that has already happened and there’s a second phase that will happen some time in the future. I might be wrong and it probably isn’t new but it gives us another possibility to think about, something that refocusses us on the present and the continuing work of God in this world today. Hopefully, with that grounding, we aren’t constantly avoiding our responsibilities, just waiting for some unknown day in the future.

Revelation

Secondly, there is the vast array of angles on Revelation.
In my experience, my community has, in the past, put forward an interpretation of revelation that is known as “continuous historical”, where the book provides a narrative of Church history from the first century to the return of Christ. Historical continuity is the focus and the numerous judgment stories have been aligned with a pantheon of historic wars, revolutions, socio-political and religious movements. This approach has often caused much consternation and debate and not a little re-calculation of numbers, dates and inconvenient changes in interpretation as world events pass without quite the same results as the careful predictions.

I firmly believe that Revelation had to be relevant and meaningful to the people that first read it in the first century. If it was just about some future time 2000 or more years on from their position, that’s not going to be something useful or comforting to them.

With that in mind, I believe that Revelation is a huge apocalyptic metaphor designed to be relevant to every generation, designed to wake up the people of God who have become comfortable and somnolent within the ’empire’ of their age. It is a book aimed at encouraging God’s people to become like a refreshing, icy cold drink on a hot day or a superheated coal from a fire ready to ignite passion and fervour for God. It is a call to be distinctive and contrasting from the bland monotone offerings of assimilation into empire.

Why so I particularly think that?

Because I see apocalypse for many people today. There are the big, obvious ones like the situation in Syria where people have had lives, family, homes, communities, food, water, shelter towns, cities, communications torn from their every-day and they are destitute, wounded, homeless, starving and cold.
And Syria isn’t the only one, one day viewing the news on television or in the newspapers will highlight many, many more big apocalypses going on right now on planet Earth.

Just because it isn’t happening in my own cushy neighbourhood, just because it isn’t affecting me directly doesn’t mean that the ‘four horsemen of the apocalypse’ – Conquest, War, Famine, and Death aren’t currently riding, unchecked somewhere else on this planet. Indeed they are.

And there are the less obvious apocalypses happening in individual people’s lives daily. The marriage blown apart by an affair. The family decimated by terminal cancer. A car crash. A fire or flood.

And also the mini ones; exam results not being what were wanted, a falling out with a friend etc.

The book of Revelation covers them all if you have open eyes to see it. It’s my story and your story as well as the story of the fall of Jerusalem and the Vietnam War and possibly the story of the end of the world in it’s present condition. It is the story of human suffering and loss throughout all the generations and it is written in such graphic language to make people see the world around them for what it is and do something different.

What’s that then?

Well… I’ve run out of space here, so that will have to wait for part 2.

Image rights filmdetail.com used without permission but credit attributed!

Drifting

  

 

“Nobody drifts towards holiness.”

I think it was John Piper who said it and it came to me again this morning.

In the last seven months, I have been less and less engaged with church and all that goes with it.

While we’ve been building and renovating a house ready to move into, while we’ve been concentrating on getting the job done, I’ve been skipping the time at church and with church family to work on the house.

I’m not losing my faith or my love for God and Jesus but my mind has been elsewhere. You could say I have ‘checked out’ of church, or that I have drifted.

Today it was driven home but over a few months, I realised that unless I consciously choose to pursue the things of God, I will end up drifting away from Him.

I realise this is currently a season that will pass, we will finish our building project and I won’t have so much to be distracted by. However, I also realise that I need to make deliberate decisions to make sure that checking out and drifting doesn’t become a habit.

The challenge and encouragement to me comes from Colossians 3:1-4 (though I admit, technically, it is a bit out of context.)

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Do you think you are drifting? What or who can help you to refocus and make conscious choices to pursue God and His plans for your life?

Late to the ‘party’

The other book I had with me on holiday was Rob Bell’s (in some circles – controversial) book “Love Wins”.

Yes, I’m pretty late reading it and passing comment and I’m sure that all possible comments have already been aired on the book, but I wanted to share some thoughts on what ended up being another fairly rapid read.

Interestingly, going back to read Rob’s earlier book ‘Sex God’ since I’ve been back from holiday and remembering a fair amount of ‘Velvet Elvis’, ‘Love Wins’ is really just further development of a thread that runs through a lot of Rob’s work.

Rob came in for a lot of criticism having written this and was called all sorts of things even before its release, even by people that hadn’t actually read the book (a dangerous policy if you ask me).
The first label levelled at Rob was that he is a ‘Universalist’. I didn’t get that impression from reading the book. Rob is definitely not saying “everybody gets saved in the end regardless”, he does however ask the question “what kind of God do we believe in?” Do we believe in an all powerful God that can find a way to redeem everything and everybody in His own way, or do we believe in a God that isn’t powerful enough to find a way to restore all things to himself?”

That’s quite a different thing and its quite a fundamental and important question.

There’s some very good explorations if what we understand by Heaven and Hell also. For example, in summing up the chapter on Hell:

“To summarize, then, we need a loaded, volatile, adequately violent, dramatic, serious word to describe the very real consequences we experience when we reject the good and true and beautiful life that God
has for us.
We need a word that refers to the big, wide, terrible evil that comes from the secrets hidden deep within our hearts all the way to the massive, society-wide collapse and chaos that comes when we fail to live in God’s world God’s way.
And for that,
the word “hell” works quite well.”

Rob writes very gently and graciously and even if you don’t agree with his position, you would need to work hard to take offence, the book is more about asking the questions than specifically finding the ‘right’ answers.

Rob likes the parable of the prodigal sons and he uses it in this book because it highlights both extremes of ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’, coexisting in the same place: it’s purely our response to God’s love and grace that defines which place we chose to exist in. Rob rounds up the story by saying:

“Neither son understands that the father’s love was never about any of that (being good enough to deserve the father’s love or bad enough for it to disappear). The father’s love cannot be earned,

and it cannot be taken away.

It just is.

It’s a party.

The final chapter closes with a great passage that encapsulates both the continual restoration of all things into God’s “shalom” and our response to God, His love, forgiveness and grace.

“I believe that the indestructible love of God is an unfolding, dynamic reality and that every single one of us is endlessly being invited to trust, accept, believe, embrace, and experience it. Whatever words you find helpful for describing this act of trust, Jesus invites us to say yes to this love of God,
again and again and again.”

The book is definitely worth a read, I have barely scratched the surface in reviewing it here, it is also the perfect companion to ‘After Magic‘ by Kester Brewin if you want to read two books together!

After Magic

I don’t get very many of them but having a holiday is good for me in many ways. One of them is that I can make some time to read. On holiday I read more of my bible, and I get to try and read some of the books stacking up on my reading list.

Perhaps not surprisingly, this year I have brought (and finished by day 2 of the holiday) the most recent Kester Brewin book “After Magic” a fairly slim volume but compelling and a cracking good read.

It could actually work as a final section to Kester’s previous book “Mutiny” – my all time favourite book of 2012, but it has rightly been written separately, as, though there are certainly some overlapping themes, shared material and concepts, to combine both into one volume might have clouded the ideas in ‘Mutiny‘ and been too much to absorb in one sitting.

Firstly, it is not for people that aren’t able to read with an open mind.
Secondly,it is a mature work of depth and whilst it deals with some complex theological and philosophical ideas, it is still clear and concise.
Thirdly, it is a profoundly challenging piece, sometimes paradoxical and regularly counter-intuitive, yet I found it difficult to outright disagree with anything in it.
Fourthly, I would encourage you to read it, whoever you are, whatever your belief system or background, I believe Kester has captured something radical, in as much as a radish is radical; something that returns to the roots of the Jesus movement, something that, if adopted by Christianity in general, could return people’s view of Jesus and his message to their compelling and beautiful origins.

I’ll begin with the basic premise of the book and then discuss a few points that came to me as I was reading it.

‘After Magic’, drawing on many contemporary and historic sources of literature and cinema, refers to a number of ideas revolving around the structure of a magic trick: “the pledge”, “the turn” and “the prestige”.

  • ‘The Pledge’ – showing the audience something ordinary and ‘unchanged’.
  • ‘The Turn’ – making that ‘ordinary’ object ‘extra-ordinary’ (making it disappear or something similar).
  • ‘The Prestige’ – bringing that ordinary object back again.

Whilst people enjoy a good magic show, they don’t really believe what they see is actually magic, nor do they want the ‘trick’ completely explained because then it will loose it’s mystery and excitement. What people do is temporarily suspend their disbelief to participate and fully enjoy the spectacle.

The central theme to Kester’s book is that all superheroes need to renounce their super powers to actually reveal their true humanity. Kester argues that this is true in the dance with the divine also, the unrealistic and infinite demands of the gods that are worshipped, on route to them offering us meaning and power, purpose and wealth.

Kester makes a good case for the structure of a magic trick being adopted in the gospel story, with a slight twist on the traditional angle:

  • The Pledge: Revealing Immanuel – God with us
  • The Turn: Christ crucified
  • The Prestige: The resurrection of Jesus and his subsequent charge to his disciples to be his body acting as him in this physical world

Kester posits That only in renouncing his divinity and revealing himself through the medium of his human son can God truly divest himself of these infinite demands that we believe he has of us and only by moving through and beyond the super-natural, the belief that God is going to step in and magic things better for us in our tricky situation, and embracing real love in the way we live on his planet, can we truly be released to live out the life outlined by Jesus in Matthew 25 (and incidentally that of Mathew 5 also).

I feel like the underlying message of ‘After Magic’ is about living as if God did not exist, so that we use the abilities and power God has invested within us to work through all the challenges we face with real love, and not wait around for some supernatural intervention to make things right again.

I think that works as an argument. I don’t deny that there are times when God does step in and act in supernatural ways, I’ve met too many people, heard too many true stories and observed and experienced this on too many occasions to say that, but if we live in a way that is always waiting for the supernatural to happen to correct things, if we only worship out of some desire to appease or win favour, then we deny the power of God to work through people.

To get a genuine clear grasp of the depth of Kester’s ideas, you do really need to read the book, my summary skips a lot of important stuff and is rather a skim through. It’s a great read, well worth both your time and money.

A couple of ideas that came to me on reading the book:

I wondered whether some of the references to some of the writers (film and book) were drawing on an approach that they are essentially attempting to portray that “humans do really have all the answers to the problems of this world, future, etc. if only we look deep enough inside ourselves.” I’m not sure whether I do fully subscribe to this view and I’m not sure if Kester is actually supporting it. There is a reference in the book to an approach to Christianity that relies on people attempting to earn salvation and do the work of saving humanity themselves. I would echo Rob Bell’s words from “Love Wins” which say in reference to Philippians 3 “Let us live up to what we have already attained.”

“The Father has taken care of everything.
It’s already there,
ready,
waiting.
It’s always been there,
ready,
waiting…

…Jesus forgives them all,
without their asking for it.

Done. Taken care of.”

All that is left to do is to carry on displaying this God and this Christ in the way we live, in love as humans.

Which takes me to the next point which Kester looks at in his last chapter which is a fitting conclusion to the book.

On ‘living as though God doesn’t exist’, Kester suggests this naturally leads to the outworking of Matthew 1:21, in that we live from, through and out of that love, that we are saved from our selfishness and other destructive behaviours.
That really resonates with me and in a very real way, it will manifest ‘Immanuel’ – God with us, because God is love and this fits neatly with Kester’s interpretation of the phrase “where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20)

So. Go and buy the book, you won’t regret it. http://www.kesterbrewin.com/aftermagic/

Letting Go

I don’t know if you have ever had the experience of doing something for a long time and then stopping and stepping back and deliberately not doing it.

I’m not talking about breaking a bad habit, but about the things that you do, through choice or occasionally by default that often while you are doing it, you look around you and wonder if anyone else could do it or if you are actually the best person to continue it in that situation.

I stepped away from most of my church duties at the beginning of December 2012, partly because of the birth of our third child and partly because I needed some distance and a bit of a rest from all the many different things I was doing.

I wanted to have space to think, space to write (I committed to writing at least one blog post per month) and space for things that had been going round my head, thoughts to emerge and be able to expand things without time constraints. My idea was hopefully to be able to have a few developed things under my belt for when I decided was the right time to pick up some of the things that I had previously been doing.

One of the responsibilities I had previously held was of preparing all flyers, posters, promotional material etc. for all the different church activities. This included a certain amount of design, a heavy weight of time, lashings of patience and developing a diplomatic streak that I had previously not been aware I possessed. Over the last several (I can’t remember well enough to count) years, I had tried, by use of layouts, fonts and styles to develop a recognisable ‘branding’ or ‘identity’ that would make it clear and apparent to people looking at some invitation or information from The Bethel, that it was from the same place, that a thread ran through, that we were unified in our approach, not just a disparate random selection of activities with no collective or binding core. I’m not sure how well I did, but I think that by the time I stopped, the church ‘literature’ (hate that word) had some level of common, recognisable identity. In fact most of the good stuff was developed in creative partnership with real, genuine artist Sarah Gillingham (not available on the web).

When I stepped away from this, I didn’t know what would happen, I wasn’t sure whether some things would be done at all. I was anxious that it would fall back to the previous state of things not being obviously linked or coming from the same group of people.

Sometimes when you let something go, it’s hard and there is a sense of mourning in some ways, and it creates a void that looks like it might not be adequately filled.

And more often than not, stepping away from something that you are proficient enough at, to have a rest and let someone else do it becomes the best thing that you could ever have done…

…because the person who comes in to replace you is so much better than you could ever have been and they create things of genuine beauty and creative genius and if you hadn’t let go of it, they would never have had the chance.

And that’s what happened.  Thank you Tim Stock, a truly sparkling, creative mind, bulging with fresh, stunning design, with a fierce passion for fonts to match my own and rather too much interest in creating the perfect height for a parenthesis or exclamation mark.  More to the point, Tim’s natural flair and proper training in graphic design truly dwarfs my inherited / genetic and mostly cobbled together ‘design’ credentials.

life-love-hope-cutout

You might not believe how much I feel relieved, enthused, excited, like a weight has been lifted, like I know that I can pass everything over into some really good hands. The first genius stroke was the design for the ‘life love hope‘ Easter programme we put on. The web page doesn’t really give the design the credit it’s due, the print media was just brilliant.

Maybe you can learn from my experience. Maybe there’s something you need to let go of to allow someone else to take on and fulfil their potential. And maybe the results will be more incredible than you could ever imagine.

Deserving vs Entitled

I know this person.

They are, for want of a better phrase, quite incredible. They have an oxbridge degree, probably a Masters unless I’m much mistaken. They do that triathlon thing (shudders at the thought). They are intelligent, thoughtful, humble to the point of self-effacing, even self-critical, they are well spoken, kind, present themselves well and are thoroughly in the ‘good looking’ camp. The sun shines out of their smile and they write. I don’t mean just they write stuff, but they craft words in an incisive, creative, original, thought-provoking, non-selfimportant or self-indulgent or obsequious, quite excellent really, kind of way.

In fact, I know two of them. Both have that wordsmith quality, the ‘let me read the next bit because I want to imbibe more of those carefully sculpted sentences’.

Both of these lovely people, despite their delightful way with language, have struggled to land decent jobs or indeed hold on to jobs they have had (for various and disparate reasons). Now this second person, probably due to a more ‘devil-may-care’ attitude to the whole situation and scenario might have gone about things slightly differently if they were really serious about getting a job, but the end result is that they applied for over 400 jobs with no positive outcome. (see http://curriculumvitiate.wordpress.com [you will have to excuse the expletives if you are offended by them, just ignore them, it’s not your place to judge just because of a few f-bombs or other profanity]). Now you have hopefully calmed down and wiped the tears of laughter from your eyes; I know this chap, he is absolutely diamond to the core, borderline complete genius, unconventional but brilliant and great fun to be with. It might be clear to you why a job was not forthcoming but he is now gainfully employed in something that is satisfying, enjoyable and fulfilling to him (I think).

But back to my other dear friend. They have put considerable effort not just into their education, but also into job hunting, attending interviews, submitting their written material to agents etc. but to no avail. Their approach was more conventional, less confrontational you might say than the fellow you have (hopefully) just read from. Indeed, you might think and I have on many occasions… “Why on earth has nobody snapped up this gem of a person to employ them?”
It seems odd and has, I know, been disheartening, that, not content to collect Jobseekers Allowance (JSA), they have sought work and sought it pretty hard.

If you ask me, if anyone deserves a job, this person does. In fact, if you have a job going, let me know and I will request a CV to be sent to you!

It all seems a little unfair.

I also met someone else recently.

This person seems to have a different approach to their situation. They seem to be completely content without employment. They claim their JSA and numerous other benefits and every two weeks look forward to what they call ‘pay-day’. (I believe that in some sections of society, this is the term used for dole / benefit payments.) But seriously… ‘pay-day’, makes me want to ask “what are you being ‘paid’ for when you do no work?”
I’m not judging [ok, maybe I am a bit but I am trying not to], don’t get me wrong, but there doesn’t seem to be any desire to look for a job, even less actively go out to secure one. The posture is one of entitlement; “I am owed” by someone or something I’m not sure, I don’t want to elaborate and give specific examples but there are plenty.

And so we observe the awkward paradox.

Two incredibly gifted people, highly intelligent, university graduates struggle to get work, though they desperately want to be working.
One other person slipping into the trap of thinking that they are owed or entitled to the rest of society (via government hand-outs) supporting them not working.

Deserving people finding it impossible to land jobs.
Passive, inactive person content, maybe even feeling justified or having a right to ‘free money’.

It seems a little unbalanced and perhaps to our mind, unfair.

On the one hand, our ‘entitled’ example falling foul of the concept in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” Yet perhaps ending up in the situation highlighted in a famous Russian political joke, “the authorities pretend they are paying wages, workers pretend they are working.” Motivation is diminished where benefits are so easily claimed.

Yet on the other hand, the two, eager to be employed, diligently putting in the leg work seem to have the experience that flies in the face of Proverbs 6:10-12 “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.” They worked hard for no reward or recompense!

You were expecting a neat answer, a solution, a tidy ending with all loose ends tied up.

I’m sorry to disappoint, sometimes we have to hold things with open hands to allow the paradoxes and inconsistencies of life to exist without resolving everything to our ordered way.

Maybe someone has an answer. Until they share it with me, I’m just going to be praying for my friends, that the hard work will pay off and they will be rewarded with the right job, and my acquaintances, that they might learn the value of earning a living as opposed to accepting an existence.

Lance Armstrong

This is being written on the eve of the airing of the Oprah show where it is suspected that Lance Armstrong, once seven-times Tour de France winner (stripped of his titles by USADA) will confess to doping throughout large portions of his career.

As I was listening to BBC Radio 5Live tonight, I heard two presenters discussing whether it would be better for Lance to be interviewed by a “terrier like Paxman” or by someone who is more like a friend or confidant. They came to the conclusion that someone gentle who could talk with Mr Armstrong as one friend talks to another, encouraging him
to open up and be more candid would make it more likely that we would “see the real Armstrong”.

That immediately got me thinking.

And my mind jumped to Peter Rollins and a talk he did at Mars Hill Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The core of what Peter was saying was that the ‘real us’ is not the ‘us’ we see behind closed doors or on the couch with a friend, it is not the stylised and sanitised self projection of who we want people to thing we are that we out up on Facebook, but the ‘real us’ is the sum of the ‘totality of our existence’.

Meaning that to look at the whole picture of a person is to see the truth about their material reality. Peter used the idea that behind closed doors, Hitler may well have been a ‘really nice guy’, when he was playing the piano and people were drinking tea and having dinner with the polite house painter. But the material reality of Hitler – the totality of his existence, the big, whole picture was that he sanctioned and ordered the ethnic and elitist ‘cleansing’ of Germany and the killing of over six million Jews.

Which led me to the thought that, if Lance does admit to the doping allegations, then no matter who interviews him, we have already seen the ‘real Armstrong’. The ‘real Armstrong’ is in the totality of his material reality, not in the soft, contrite and repentant man that we might see on a tv screen attempting to win back the favour of the public.

If the allegations are true, the ‘real Armstrong’ has already revealed his hand and shown his true colours: someone who is ruthless, prepared to systematically cheat his way to the top of a sport, push others out, lie repeatedly about it, bully his way through to rule the peloton and bully a number of journalists on the way as he churned out untruth after obfuscated distraction over and over again (I’ve heard many of the interviews over the years). Someone who has to be in control and on top and will stop at nothing to get there.

I’m afraid that no amount of tears or contrition can change the ‘real Armstrong’ that we have already seen.

That doesn’t mean there is no room for forgiveness, redemption, healing and change, and yes, the Livestrong foundation has done some great things, but we are going to need to see a whole, long, complete change of Armstrong’s material reality to be convinced that he is someone different to who he has already shown himself to be, should the allegations be true.

Which brings us back to me and to you! What material reality do we live in? Do we constantly live the ironic gesture

  • saying we are against child labour but still buying products made in sweatshops
  • bemoaning global warming whilst cruising along the motorway at 80mph in our gas guzzling SUV
  • ranting about evil multinationals while we sip our Starbucks cappuccino or shop in Tesco because it’s convenient
  • whatever other example you want to choose

I accept most of us live in a certain amount of paradox and hypocrisy, it’s hard to live any other way in our culture, but, especially for those of us who are claiming to follow Jesus, does the totality of our material reality genuinely reflect that claim as a way of life or are we fooling ourselves and just going through the motions and saying we believe something without actually putting it into practice?

Nobody can answer that question for me but me and nobody but you can answer it for you. Maybe observing what has happened to someone who was once a hero to many might just be the mirror we needed to look in to help ‘clean up’ our own act?

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.
James 1:22-25

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