Inconvenient data

It just really gets in the way of sloppy thinking.

Fulbe herders, W Africa, 1984, taken from just outside my front door — a missionary memory of my own.

Our new vicar showed us a film of his early life as a child of missionaries in West Papua (the other half of Papua New Guinea).

A compilation of home movies, and from the 1970s, it was almost a splicing together of Victorian missionary cliches: small dark-skinned people carry suitcases on their heads through the jungle. White missionary in shorts and pith helmet preaches to seated crowds who are clad in shells and penis-gourds. Female white missionary gives injections while dark-skinned people wait patiently for their turn; local children run to greet the aeroplane.

I’ve spent a lot of my career writing positively about missions in a world where ‘everybody knows’ the whole endeavour is an exercise in cultural imperialism and thinly-veiled racism. These images confirm everything ‘everyone knows’ and they don’t help.

Except they did help. As the film unfolded, we saw the happiness on the people’s faces when they destroyed their weapons in a fire. We saw the road that two villages built to connect them because they wanted to give up war forever.  Primitive peoples? They were advanced enough to disarm and to build bridges with their neighbours and rivals. Conspicuously more advanced, then, than my country; and the gospel did that. The gospel the pith-helmeted missionaries in their t00-short 1970s shorts brought.

How often is the truth more complicated, and more unfashionable, than the lazy assumption? I think probably always.

Healing and technology

Slow healing — part 6

Injured Teddy Bear
Half of all the blindness in the world is caused by cataracts 1

This means presumably that half of the all the blindness Jesus cured was due to cataracts. Some of the rest was due to extreme short or long-sightedness.

These things can now be fixed by technology. Every person who is blind through cataracts or lensing issues can see again: only poverty or waiting lists stand in their way.

Do you have the feeling that having cataracts healed by surgery is somehow not as good as having them healed by direct divine intervention? I do. But I think my feelings are wrong.

The accumulated good deeds of previous generations (in this case, researchers and technologists) ripen the Kingdom of God in the earth. Thanks to those efforts, every leprous person can now be healed by antibiotics, every person blind through cataracts or myopia or presbyopia can be healed by surgery or opticians. I remember sitting in the post-surgery place in our local hospital, after my own cataract op, hearing people around me saying ‘I couldn’t drive– now  I  can!’ ‘I can’t believe how good this is!’

I was seeing the Kingdom come, in the slow, wide way rather than than the instant, limited-issue, demonstration-version way.

I worship the God who stirs the techies to build solutions to improve our lives. Is the gospel foolishness to the geeks? It shouldn’t be.

Do you agree? Is it so simple? What am I missing?

Keep a pencil handy

Because eternity’s at your shoulder

lined paper

Today someone, armed just with a pencil and paper could make something that will last forever.

It might be a pencil sketch, or a melody, or a novel, or a theorem.

As long as there are people, that picture or song or story or insight will live on. Even if humans are out-evolved by (let us say) intelligent machines, they may be wise enough still to treasure these divine relics.

And our art may add to the furniture in an eternal age to come. The Bible’s Book of Revelation says ‘The glory and honour of the nations’ will be carried into City of God (Rev 21:26).

Once there was a time when Picasso had not sketched a dove, when Handel had not written the Hallelujah chorus, when no-one knew the magical relation between e, i, pi, 1 and zero, when no-one had ever written a gospel or a sonnet.

Today or tomorrow some art will be created that will loved for a thousand or ten thousand years.

Two thoughts

Two obvious thoughts flow:

  1. How can anyone believe we are not made in the image of God? That we are not his sketches, melodies, novels, theorems? That he didn’t create us to create this stuff to celebrate his glory of which he contained too much to keep to himself?
  2. Buy a pencil-sharpener.

 

How to pray for healing. And how not to. A few suggestions

‘Slow’ healing – part 5

Injured Teddy Bear
The scene:
ill, disabled, or chronically sick person surrounded by well-meaning Christians who are praying.

Here’s how not to do it:

‘God, we pray that this person will get completely well’ (actually this isn’t a bad start)

‘Oh God, please touch this person’ (I’ve just peeped out of my closed eyes and nothing’s happening and I’m getting a bit desperate).

‘Oh God, please touch this person now’ (And I need to get home to watch Game of Thrones).

‘Oh God, we don’t understand your purposes.’ (Look God, I’m having to cover for you here).

‘Oh God, if there’s anything that’s blocking your healing, please deal with it.’ (We could all get out of this mess if this sick person got his act together.)

Here’s how I’d like you to do it to me:

‘Thank you God that you never stop doing good to us.’

‘Thank you that you set a table for us in the midst of our enemies.’

‘Thank you that carry us all day long and rejoice over us with singing.’

‘Thank you that you wept sometimes and you understand.’

‘Thank you that neither life nor death, neither height nor depth, nor any other thing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.’

‘You know, Lord, thank you that you know.’

And occasionally, this

(and only if prompted by faith and if you can it truthfully)

‘God we trust you to sort this out.’

(Though I wouldn’t mind either if you kept that thought to yourself, took it home, and prayed and trusted there without asking anything of me.)

 

My favourite slow mission habit of them all

Do stuff you love, with friends.

Group hugs

Nothing comes close to this, in my experience:

  1. Get a group together doing something you all love.
  2. Mix together people who have a faith with people who don’t.
  3. Er – that’s it.

I’ve seen this so many times.

  • My wife ran a youth group for 15 years. We did youthy things on Sunday nights, and on Mondays all had a meal together and a Bible study. We used to take them camping as well. We saw several generations of young people grow in faith (and some not) over the years.
  • Our church organizes a men’s walking weekend each year, coupled with a monthly breakfast meeting that involves bacon sandwiches. We do curries and film nights too. Quite a few guys have been scooped up by this over the years.
  • I go to a community choir in our village organized by the local Baptist church. Several people, thus exposed to Baptist threshing machinery, have also now joined the church.
  • I used to be part of a book club, a place for some fantastic discussions.
  • We have a board games evening every month, people of varying orientation and faith all geeking together and enjoying each other’s company.
  • Once I organized a bird-watching event at 5:00am one May morning. I put it in our parish magazine. In the more than 10 years I edited that magazine, it was the only thing we advertised where the resulting crowd actually blocked the road. At 5 am! (Actually this was a one-off and did not result in a group, but perhaps it should’ve.)

Slow mission in a nutshell.

Healing and chronic illness

Slow healing (part 4)

157/365 On the Mend 060609We’ve said that true healing is encountering Christ. That is about the now — peace instead of panic, contentment instead of fear.

Physical healing will follow: soon, or later, or gradually, or partially. Certainly it will not be complete until eternity, but it will be complete then. All healing always has a ‘now’ and a ‘not yet’.

This is really important when it comes to chronic illness. Many of us live with chronic illness. Are we healed? Obviously we are living with a ‘not yet’ and certainly at one level a ‘not until eternity.’

But we can also enjoy the ‘now’. Even in chronic illness. Especially in chronic illness. We can thrive now. We know Christ’s peace now. We can enjoy abundance now. We can heal other others now.

I believe there’s always a ‘now’. And living with chronic illness, and praying for the chronically ill, is about stringing together a necklace of ‘nows’ that will stretch all the way to eternity.

If you’re human, this is for you

Handle with care.

So what makes you different from an animal? And does it matter?

Theologians have the most interesting and radical answer. They tell us of course that we are stamped with ‘imageo dei‘, the image of God. Unlike the animals, humans do faith, hope and love.

Chimpanzees
Fail.

Are we the only ones? We can speculate that intelligent aliens may arise somewhere else in the Universe and also bear the imago dei, and perhaps in different ways. Maybe only together with all of them will the fulness of God be properly expressed.

Either way, if the theologians are right, a lot of us have to think differently. The standard model in most Western heads probably sees humans as bits of grit, epiphenomenal crumbs from creation’s picnic, odd growths on a damp rock. There’s a decent argument for that, when we think of how small we are and what common stuff we’ve been manufactured from.

But there’s also a good argument the other way. In zillions of attempts, evolution has repeatedly invented the eye or the wing, but we only know of one species who even think about bearing the imageo dei: wonderful us. 1

And if we are the Universe’s God-bearers, another good argument follows that we may be what the Universe itself is all about. Small? Doesn’t matter. Mostly water? Matters even less. Thanks to us, the Universe includes beings that are self-aware and can believe and doubt, and love and hate, and dream of eternity.

 

My book More than Bananas is available as a free Kindle and ebook download as well as in paid versions.

 

Healing as thriving

‘Slow’ healing — part 3

157/365 On the Mend 060609They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed. (Mark 6:56)

Can this happen today? It can, if we re-define ‘healing’ as ‘the start of healing’ or simply ‘enjoying the experience of thriving’.

I ought to say I believe what Mark is reporting: people reached out to Jesus with a  whole GP’s surgery of stuff (rashes, cataracts, cancers, anxieties, fears, depression, strokes, diabetes, whatever) and emerged, blinking, stretching, smiling and completely well. But I believe this is exceptional, perhaps because Jesus’ healings were doing double duty both as acts of mercy and as signs of the Kingdom.

In the context of what I am calling ‘slow healing’, though, I believe everyone can encounter Christ and begin to thrive. The thriving is healing’s germination. How much physical healing happens now and how much is deferred to eternity is of course rather important to us, but it is secondary in the grand scheme.

The grand scheme is:

  1. Encounter Christ
  2. Thrive in his goodness in this life and the next
  3. Receive downpayments of physical and relational wellness in this life
  4. Ultimately be completely whole, physically and relationally.

All who touched him were healed. Still true today?