Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The Hammer on the Horizon

No your eyes do not deceive you, yes I really am writing a post after so long. Where have I been for so long? A question for another time I think.

The reason I am writing this latest post is with regard to the coming election. When I consider all the probabilities and potential outcomes, and the current fractious and fragmented state of the electorate... I have deep concerns. Who do I think will win? Well, in some ways I don't think it will matter.

"What?" You cry. "How can you say something as important as this won't matter?"

Let me try and put some flesh on the bones I am dangling in front of you with that odd statement.  There are two instances in the Old Testament that have been on my heart of late.  The first is from the prophet Jeremiah.  Jeremiah's calling was a hard one.  He was born into a time when the people of Judah were spiritually and morally going astray... and yet, the same people buoyed by recent blessings received under a prior godly king, believed they were on the cusp of a revival. Those appointed as prophets engaged in backslapping and proclaimed how in the dreams that they had experienced, everything was going to be rosy.

But God - the only person who mattered, saw things *very* differently. And into the midst of this mutual appreciation society, he sent Jeremiah... to stand against them and say that far from a revival, a hammer was coming to the nation of Judah...a hammer that when it fell, would bring ruin and exile.

In the final analysis, it was Jeremiah who was proved right and his opponents who were revealed for who and what they are.

The second instance in the Bible that came to mind, was an incident in the reign of King David. David - the man after God's own heart, had an uncustomary blip in his confidence and decided to tot up the number of fighting men in the land -he took his trust away from God and placed it in mortal strength.  Pretty soon after this, his conscience nagged at him and he sought to make amends... in doing so, he received God's discipline:

Before David got up the next morning, the word of the Lord had come to Gad the prophet, David’s seer. ‘Go and tell David, “This is what the Lord says: I am giving you three options. Choose one of them for me to carry out against you.”’
So Gad went to David and said to him, ‘Shall there come on you three years of famine in your land? Or three months of fleeing from your enemies while they pursue you? Or three days of plague in your land? Now then, think it over and decide how I should answer the one who sent me.’
2 Samuel 24:11-13 (NIVUK)
The reason these two moments resonate so deeply with me at the moment is because I feel that Britain is in a similar position. We have false prophets on the hard left and hard right, who promise great things if we but follow and endorse them... and yet they remain wilfully oblivious to the great harm their respective trajectories hold in store for us. Yet we have vast swathes of the country who are ready to sign up wholesale to them... just because of vague unrealistic empty promises and falsehoods.

And this is why I feel it "doesn't matter". Of course what happens to the country matters... but if something is rotten at the core of our society, then that has to be dealt with first. We became proud and arrogant as a whole... but a hammer came and broke the whole... yet the arrogance and pride remain - in opposing factions. They still need dealing with... and that requires humility.

Fortunately for David, he was equipped with that quality. His response was as follows:

David said to Gad, ‘I am in deep distress. Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but do not let me fall into human hands.’
2 Samuel 24:14 (NIVUK)
Though he feared for his own well-being, he decided to let God determine his fate. God subjects David to the briefest of the punishments, but many people die. God even relents when plague reaches the borders of Jerusalem. Shortly after this, David finally accepts the need to make amends falls solely with him, because the burden of his mistake is his alone.

And are we not in a similar situation. The three outcomes - Tory majority, hung Parliament and Labour majority. Each have a heavy price to pay if they come to pass.

Yet we as a nation don't have the humility to prostrate ourselves before God and admit how our pride has harmed us internally, and now that we are at loggerheads... cuts us openly too.

There is a crumb of comfort in this though.  Should we accept what we have done to ourselves, our nation and one another and seek God's help... the seeds of true renewal and revival can be sown.

God instructed David to buy some land in Jerusalem, build an altar there and make a sacrifice of repentance. It ended the crisis... but more than this, that altar became a deposit for something greater.

It was on that very spot that the great Temple that represented God's presence among his people, was eventually built.

My hope and prayer is that if we turn our eyes away from our own arrogant ambitions for the country, and acknowledge our collective need for God again, that when the mess that is coming our way subsides, something unimaginably far greater will grow and stand in its place.

Whichever way you vote on Thursday, do keep in mind the need to tend this nation's deeper wounds... the ones that can only be healed by God.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

CROSSover: Jesus & Darmok

I've recently started binge re-watching Star Trek: The Next Generation on Netflix.  For some reason I decided to rewatch the other Star Trek spin-offs first... so like Eric Morecambe, I'm playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order.

That last sentence is actually a useful metaphor for what I want to talk about today.  It's all about people behaving in a completely alien fashion, and how it bemuses us, possibly angers us and how we need to overcome that hurdle if we are to move beyond that.

So, in the TNG episode "Darmok", the Enterprise crew encounter a species known as the Tamarians/Children of Tama, who are desperate to open a dialogue with the Federation.  Great, no problem... except there's a catch; while the universal computer can translate all the relevant words into English... it can't make sense of how those words are utilised by the Tamarians in dialogue. All prior attempts at communication with the species have failed and no working relationship has ever been achieved.
Picard struggles to understand the Tamarians in the TNG epsiode, Darmok.

It turns out that the Tamarians speak in metaphors and use short statements from their mythology to convey the literal idea they wish to express. In the episode, the Captain of the vessel - Dathon, takes the radically unusual initiative of beaming himself and Captain Picard (the latter against his will), onto the planet surface to fight a creature in circumstances akin to those from Tamarian mythology.  The idea eventually works... but does so at the cost of his own life and all the while, as Picard is struggling to understand and establish a dialogue... the situation in space between the two starships, deteriorates and culminates in a brief firefight.  When the Enterprise is finally able to retrieve Picard, he hurries to the bridge and finally manages to speak to the Tamarians using what he learned from the encounter on the planet.  The possibility of friendship finally exists between the Federation and the Tamarians... as they finally have a way to communicate.

This got me thinking about today's epistle reading, particularly the last verse:
"The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross."
Colossians 1:15-20
 Scripture tells us that God's ways - like the Tamarians with the Federation, are completely foreign to us:
""For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.""
Isaiah 55:8-9
If you read the Bible it becomes very clear that humanity has struggled over the millennia to have a proper dialogue with God.  There are a few touched individuals through the ages who are blessed with the ability to convey or interpret God's messages in prophetic manner but the struggle to grasp what God's agenda is, is often a very real one as from a temporal perspective, his motives don't always seem consistent... because of our wrongdoing, our sin... we look at the world through a limited perspective that is tainted by our selfishness. In order to overcome this language barrier, God - like Dathon, took the extraordinary step of allowing his fullness to dwell within the confines of the full human experience.  However even then, in the Gospels... it becomes painfully apparent that the people he lived among struggled to understand the message he brought. You can clearly see Jesus acknowledgement, acceptance and even frustration with this at various times in the Gospel narratives.

Something even more radical needed to happen for God to be able to get through to us.

And that brings us once again to the cross.

There are many ways to look at Christ's sacrifice on the cross and I think some people (foolishly) fall into the trap of stating it means only one of those things... at the expense of the others; to do so, I think, means we miss out on the fullness of the message. To apply human psychology to God's reasoning for acting as he did... is to make the early mistakes of the Federation in dealing with the Tamarians - it is to foolishly use our own mindset to try and understand what somebody else (in God's case, infinitely higher and deeper), is saying.  Some theologians have argued that the idea of God punishing Jesus for our sin is "cosmic child abuse"... but that is to entirely miss the point of Jesus's nature. If the fullness of God is within Christ... then it is not about God projecting His anger onto a wholly separate child, it is about Him taking responsibility for what angers Him, upon Himself. It is also to deny the gravity of our situation... God has to take extraordinary harsh means to deal with a situation we are utterly incapable of dealing with in our own strength.

But I want to look at one thing Jesus' sacrifice does, that is echoed in that Star Trek episode... and that is that it provides a "Eureka" moment. Regardless of any physical functionality behind Jesus' death, when we step back at look at the simple facts - that God, believing us to be unable to save ourselves from a very real danger that he perceived... decided to send himself in the form of his Son, to alert us to our circumstance and confront us with the fullness of divine love, set against the heart of human darkness; we are presented with an opportunity to recognise and respond to that love.

Humans respond to love - when somebody (known or unknown) does something moving for us as an act of love in any form, we are burdened to respond. We might find it inappropriate or incompatible with how we feel, and choose to reject it... or we might change our behaviour or circumstances to acknowledge or even embrace it... but love always by its very nature, demands a response.

When Jesus died on the cross and revealed his reasons for doing so, we were confronted with the depth of God's love.

If we choose to embrace that love... the door is opened. We begin to speak God's language - the Holy Spirit is available to us, in a way that before Jesus death... just wasn't possible.

But it all starts with a single, audacious and extraordinary event instigated by someone who seems alien to us.

Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra.

God and humanity at the foot of the cross.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Doctoring the Doctor

As anyone who has been reading my blog over the years has probably realised, it would appear as I have not written anything for some time... that I had apparently gone on some kind of hiatus.  It would therefore be a little ridiculous for me to begin this post by saying something like "I have been strangely silent on the topic of recent developments in the world of  Doctor Who", when silence has pretty much been my modus operandi.

Nevertheless, my silence has largely extended beyond the realms of blogging... I've not said much on Twitter or Facebook.  Instead, I've sat on my mountain watching the shenanigans. I think now is as good a time as any for me to re-enter the fray on both the micro and macro level.

I suppose I should start by giving you some context.  I have been something of a traditionalist in terms of  casting the Doctor.  In the past I have maintained that the Doctor should be male, largely  for two reasons - firstly  because of in-universe consistency and secondly in terms of supporting a feminist counterargument about the fact that in terms of progressive non-violent fictional male role models, the Doctor is pretty much alone... and that taking that away is arguably killing the golden goose (this argument is similar to the one put forward by Peter Davison). I also do not find it a healthy way of breaking the "glass ceiling". To truly do that, a female character has to be positive and strong in their own right... without borrowing a male legacy.

I would say that in the case of the first argument, that it seems highly odd that a member of a species for which we now are to accept treats gender as physically flexible between incarnations, would take over a millennium to decide that he'd have a go on the other side of the fence.  Incidentally and purely for the record, I never treated the issue of race in that argument.  So does this mean that I would never be accepting of a female Doctor on this front alone?

No, not at all.

There are several ways on that sole argument that I would be happy to find a workaround.  In my own head, before Peter Capaldi inherited the role, I would have been content for the Doctor to have an entire set of female regenerations in the new cycle gifted to him (although I think the way he *received* those regenerations was written terribly).  I would have also have been content for him to die permanently and bequeath his title to say -  Jenny, Susan or Romana... after a reunion with any of them. Aside from this, there's also the notion that actually, the only reason the Doctor has never been a woman over the show's run until now, may have more to do with British societal attitudes restricting producers choice. It would seem the original producer never felt that the role would always be male... and fourth Doctor - Tom Baker, also provocatively put the idea of a female Doctor forward when discussing his departure.

It was my second argument, which whilst slightly more simplistic... provided more of a block.  Whilst I still maintain there is a valid point to be made in the argument... it is a wider problem that transcends Doctor Who and I think all progressively minded individuals could find common ground if we accepted that actually there's a need to deal with such things on the macrocosmic rather than microcosmic plain. Both arguments are actually correct. Girls need more positive role models and boys need more progressive ones.  If we wrote more characters that covered both these bases, this would be a non issue... nobody would need to demand any character be one thing in terms of representation... because representation itself would no longer be an issue.

For me it's not so much that there is a glass ceiling and more that both male and female characteristics have grown too big for the floor of the building they now occupy and the divider needs to be removed for both their benefit - the ceiling may be too low downstairs, but the floor is also too high upstairs.

However... all that musing is now by the by..  We find ourselves in a different world.  We all must face things as we find them... and not as we wish them to be. No doubt some, having read my contextual arguments... will assume that when the announcement of Jodie Whittaker's appointment came through, that I went all Chicken Licken and lost my mind in a red mist of vitriol.

And yet, they'd be wrong.

Jodie Whittaker is the new Doctor

Admittedly it did help that I wasn't watching the dedicated TV show (I was playing D and D at the time and caught the announcement via BBC News apps headline announcement), so I was removed from all the high emotion. However, I have to say that when the announcement came through I had a genuine peace about things. I think I'd compare my emotional journey as having been akin to an aircraft breaking the sound barrier.  As a vehicle approaches supersonic speeds, compressibility and drag generate flight instability, but once the craft has passed beyond supersonic, flight becomes smooth again.

There's a minor character in Babylon 5 who goes on a similar journey. Early in the third season, he is sounded out about the possibility of rebelling against Earth... and he seems against it (much to the disappointment of the command staff); however when everything hits the fan in the middle of the season and a fleet of Earth ships rocks up, he's given the choice to walk away... but stays loyal.

You can't always tell what way a person will jump based purely on their prior convictions.  It's also equally dangerous to make assumptions about a person's motives or about where they stand on a topic, purely on the basis of their arguments. One of my recurring fears at the moment is the polarisation of modern society.  Suddenly it seems, everything has become about "us versus them".  There is no middle ground.  At first I noticed this with the ultraconservatives and ultraliberals.... but it is a malignancy that has spread much further - Brexit, generation conflict, gender, nationalism... the fallout over all these is rooted in the same disease. It damages friendships and destroys dialogue. It takes no prisoners and causes collateral damage in the middle ground that gets denied.  This is a much larger topic which I hope to return to at a later date.

Returning to the topic of Doctor Who through the lens of this disquiet, I would encourage all fans of the show to be patient and bear with others who have different feelings about the change of direction/format. It seemed to me no sooner had the announcement been made, that a number of exaggerated responses came out from people with strong feelings on both sides:
  • People saying the show is dead and refusing point blank to watch it any more.
  • People making misogynistic remarks.
  • People pre-empting negative responses and making vitriolic statements that those who held different views were never fans of the show.
  • People "Virgin shaming" others who were against the idea.
That last one is something that particularly annoys me.  I find it ridiculous and unacceptable.  We live in a society that quite rightly frowns on and calls out against those who abuse/persecute select sexual minorities and yet turns a blind eye when people use another as a badge of shame. There is no shame... celibacy is a perfectly valid choice.  And for those who don't necessarily make that choice, but find themselves living under the banner... I think getting hung up on that one aspect of life leaves you a bit lopsided and sets you up for more trouble.

But really all these reactions are over the top. We absolutely need to respect that in many cases, people are needing to make a journey along the change curve.  Though I personally accept the change in direction, I do still harbour a few reservations... and having sympathy with some of those who now find themselves ostracised for the position they maintain, because I once trod their path... I find personal attacks and aggression towards them, unacceptable.

Capaldi's Doctor openly defies regeneration.

In conclusion though, having thought long and hard about the way The Doctor Falls ended, I'm actually starting to think that the show itself is going to do something very meta to the audience.  The Doctor's stubborn and this time physical refusal to regenerate, mirrors the emotions and thoughts of many people who are not sold on the idea of Jodie Whittaker taking over. The fact he runs into the First Doctor who seems to be at the point in his journey when he has to make the same decision only amplifies this. Could it be that this year's Christmas special will serve as group therapy for those who feel this way and are stuck on the change curve in the 5 stages of grief?

I think it just might.

All that remains to be said really is "good luck, Jodie".
  • How do you feel about the change in direction/format of Doctor Who
  • What are your hopes and fears going forward?

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Bridges Across The Great Divide: A Christian Response to #Brexit

In light of recent events, I feel it would be remiss of me not to make some form of comment on Britain's decision to #Brexit - that is, to leave the European Union.

First of all, for the record I am one of the 48% who voted to remain within the European Union and I spent a lot of time researching my decision and campaigning with its merits, having weighed them against the perceived costs.  I won't bore you with all that detail here, because as things stand what's done is done and whether you voted one way or the other... we have to face the future together.  Suffice it to say I felt both shock and deep grievance over Britain's decision to come out and have my own deeply held concerns about where this road may lead us.

But I'm not writing to whine about that here and now - perhaps if people feel like responding in the comments, I may go into more detail there.  My principle aim in this blog entry is to look at where we are at now... and talk about how British Christians have a unique perspective, opportunity and sacred duty to help our fellow citizens in the coming days, years and months.

So let's look at the lay of the land at the moment - the state of the union.  Weeks of bitter campaigning have rocked families, friendships and relationships up and down the country.  I've even become embroiled in a few regretful tussles myself. The endless stream of charts show us that most of England and Wales are at odds with London, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and that divides are not just limited to the geographical but extend to rich versus poor, old versus young and left versus right.

The United Kingdom is very much shaken.... and that's where we need to come in.

During the Scottish referendum, I felt that God laid a scripture on my heart and as polling day loomed, the same passage came to me again... even clearer:

"Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe"
Hebrews 12:28
Paul's letter to the Philippians assures us that we are citizens of heaven and we therefore have an identity that is not founded on the temporal confines of an earthly nation. That's not to say that we are any less patriotic about our nation... but it is to say that our British identity is defined by our Christian identity - and not the other way around.

How can this help other people in the country who are not Christians? Well, whilst Britain may be shaking, we don't have to shake with it. As the psalmist wrote we should turn our eyes to the mountains and remind ourselves that our help comes from - the Lord God.  The book of Ecclesiastes reminds us that life "under the sun" is full of futility... all things come and go in cycles and have their beginning and end. However if we remember our creator we have a perspective that sees us through that futility - we live life "above the sun" or perhaps we should say "under the Son and not under the sun".

If we live in the unity of our belief we can be a shining example to people who are broken and grieving in the current political situation. As Christ's ambassadors we also need to open our spiritual doors to non Christians. Our hearts and homes must be places where we offer welcome and refuge and a friendly ear to people who have not come to terms with where the country is at (even if we have not ourselves). This may very well become more and more important as time goes on, if the country goes down a road we like even less.

Beyond prayer for our nation and its people, we have a part to play in God's service. So let's pick ourselves up, refresh our spirits with the common identity and  greater truths we find in Christ... and ready ourselves for the spiritual work ahead.

Thoughts for further (respectful) discussion:
  • How do you feel about Britain's exit from the European Union
  • How can Christian's serve God in its wake?
  • Would *you* like prayer with regard to anything that has come out of the result?

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Feeling "Lent" Upon

As you may or may not have noticed, we are now firmly in midst of yet another gripping season of Lent.

People often assume that Lent is about giving something up, but actually the act of abstinence in itself isn't at the heart of what those of us who are Christians, do.  Interestingly a poignant and relevant bible verse cropped up twice yesterday, in two different church services I attended. It was  from the psalms:
"You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise."
Psalm 51:16-17
The first service I attended, I was responsible for the morning's prayers and felt compelled to use the words in my petitions. In the second service of the morning, the rector of the church used the phrase in his sermon. In my mind it perfectly encapsulates what Christians should be aiming towards during Lent (and indeed in a macrocosm of this, throughout our entire lives on Earth as well). It isn't about taking a break from something naughty. It isn't about refraining from something we like. It's about taking part in a regular, committed activity that draws us nearer to God. It is the personal cost and commitment that are important, not the action. The former is the purpose is the driving force, the personal cost involved is the fuel... the actual act is merely the vehicle that transports us there.

Not being a creature of many traditional vices, I have often struggled to come up with something I felt able to commit to in terms of giving something up. This year, I opted to commit to spending at least an hour every night in a state of personal lockdown. Simply put, at as close to 6pm every night since Ash Wednesday (or as close as I can get to it, where practicable), I have shut my door, stuck some Christian music on and just put myself in God's presence for an hour. Sometimes I nod off; sometimes I prefer to choose silence over music; sometimes I try to finish a theology book I've been reading and I also try to read scripture and pray as I feel led. The format differs periodically, but whatever happens to me in that slot, is purposefully and intentionally pointing towards the presence of God.

Not that I'm boasting... far from it!

You see all that writing was just some preamble before I talk about what is really on my heart for this post... namely, the matter of when God himself seems to raise the ante.

Please excuse me for one moment if I talk somewhat vaguely on a personal matter:

I have been quite encouraged of late by some personal turns in circumstances and have been investing time, thought and energy on what may easily be a fools errand. Then, all of a sudden... just before Lent, any ideas I may have had were frustrated... that's not to say they were derailed... just that no opportunities have arisen for me to do *anything* in regard to them.

The thought has occurred to me that maybe this is not mere coincidence. I find myself asking, "What if God has decided that this is the thing *He* actually desired me to lay on the altar during Lent?" This thought is somewhat reinforced by the fact that praying over the way I felt about the matter and committing those feelings to God just prior to Lent, seems to have been the catalyst.

It's incredibly frustrating but it is very much in line with some of the things you see God doing in scripture with notable characters. Just when things seem to be turning around for a character, God throws a curve ball. Think of Abraham who after receiving a son, is seemingly called upon by God to sacrifice him... even though he is his true heir and a child of promise.  Or think of Josiah who after rejecting the ways of his fathers, embraces the worship of the one, true God... only to discover that the same God who called him to righteousness had now revealed just how far His people had fallen, just how hard the journey back into the light was going to be and that there were no shortcuts... and had then in the narrative basically challenged the new king along the lines of "Are you *really* still up for this? Your move."

Those are just two examples, but there are others. The amazing thing about these men of God, is that when God pulled the plank from under them... they didn't back down and they didn't turn away - Abraham solemnly obeyed but was delivered; Josiah tore his robes and pressed on with the reforms.

And of course these point to the greater, ultimate truth of the sacrifice Jesus Christ himself carried out in the Garden of Gethsemane.

When you are faced with such circumstances, you basically have only a few limited choices. You can stomp your feet about and yell until you get your own way (but you probably won't get anywhere, and you might not find what you wanted is all you hoped if you do - again look at Israel's demands for a king, and God's response). You can passively accept things as they have been and continue to swim against the tide and hope for a lucky break. You can lose faith in what you have already attained and walk away from all God's providence and promises.

I don't think any of these responses are correct. I don't believe God wants us to abandon hope or rob us of it any more than he wants us to try and impatiently snatch it out of his hands. I believe he wants us to surrender our hopes to Him and to entrust them to Him.

Abraham had to trust that God would somehow allow Isaac to walk away from Mount Moriah; Josiah had to trust that God would guide him and strengthen him as he reformed his nation. Jesus had to trust that in obeying his Father's will, and paying our ransom through his sacrifice, that he would be raised to new life.

In my case I have to trust that in surrendering my ideas and intentions to God, that he will give them back to me in a meaningful way that is pleasing to Him, when the relevant time is accomplished. I have resolved not to try and engineer any circumstances for opportunity myself in my personal situation until Lent ends. There may well be natural opportunities that arise, but I have committed to not explore them fully in my favour until that time, or unless God himself turns things around.

In all cases, this is hard. The flesh (the sinful aspect of our human nature), tells us there are no guarantees... that is the cost of the sacrifice and the journey. However, the Spirit  and scripture say:
"And we know [with great confidence] that God [who is deeply concerned about us] causes all things to work together [as a plan] for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His plan and purpose."
Romans 8:28 (AMP)
It is this knowledge... this belief, that sustains us through our sacrifices - this and the knowledge that we have One at the Father's side who endured the greatest sacrifice and is able to show sympathy and empathy to our situation through the Spirit.

It can be a hard thing to know and accept that God is sovereign... that He is the potter and we are the clay, but at the same time, that same knowledge is at least equally reassuring.

The question we have to ask ourselves when the time comes, is are we prepared to trust our faith in the One we serve, or let our feelings about our circumstance overwhelm and dominate our actions.

For further contemplation and response:

  • Have you felt leaned upon, this Lent? What are your experiences?
  • What do you think of personally when you consider the idea and theme of "sacrifice"?
  • How does the idea of God being "deeply concerned about us", help you when He asks you to make a personal sacrifice?
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