Faith comes by herring, and herring by the word of cod

Why fish are confused

ShoalI don’t think the average fish can get its head around the idea of dry land.

Perhaps a really creative fish could picture it, but it would face all kinds of scepticism from other fish. How do you swim without water? Wouldn’t the world be two-dimensional, spread on the sea-bed? How can there be room for everything? It’s a wreck.

Nor can science help. How can you do experiments to confirm or deny the presence of a world beyond the sea? Even if fish go there (a big if), they never come back.

The best schools of fish might conclude the whole ‘dry-land delusion’ is a theory, of no practical use, and best ignored. They would, in short, fillet the argument.

Send in the marine (biologist)s

Since the fish can’t figure out dry land for themselves, the only way they can be educated is if we land mammals take the initiative and send someone to tell them. Without revelation from outside, the fish are like the proverbial sailors of the ship carrying red paint that collided with the ship carrying blue paint: marooned.

So, you say, send a marine biologist to tell the fish about the world outside the sea. But would they believe her? Maybe not. Because to get to talk to the fish you have to become so like a fish that they think you are a fish. And who would believe what a raving fish told them?

Not only that, but I have it on good authority that the sea is full of all kinds of voluble fish who speculate widely about a life beyond the sea. Many of them are unreliable witnesses—fishy, in fact—and they contradict each other all the time.

The conclusion of reasonable people? Stick with what you can see, feel and measure. Truth can’t come from anywhere else.

Comments welcome, as are fish jokes.

 

Two very big ideas

About what this Universe is for

street people
RomKa GG@flickr

One is from philosophy, one from theology. Each is an antidote to the popular idea that we humans are just annoying and insignificant growths on a small and remote rock.

Look at the people on the bus around you. Tattooed? Blue-rinsed? Unsavoury politics? Also precious. Cosmically significant. No, really.

Then look at your church if you attend one. Comically insignificant or cosmically significant? Or both? Read on.

Philosphy and science

The Mind of God: The Scientific Basis for a Rational World
The existence of mind in some organism on the planet is surely a fact of fundamental significance. Through conscious beings the universe has generated self-awareness … This can be no byproduct of mindless, purposeless forces. We are truly meant to be here. Paul Davies 1

 

This says: through the people on the bus around (and others) the soulless, material Universe has developed, or been given, a soul. Quite cool.

Theology and mission

The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission
[History] has its action in the eternal being of the Triune God before the creation; it has its goal in the final unity of  the whole creation in Christ; and meanwhile the secret of this cosmic plan, the foretaste of its completion, has been entrusted to these little communities of marginal people scattered through the towns and cities of Asia Minor. Lesslie Newbigin 2

And this says: The little Christian communities of the world, a couple of million of them, a speckling in the human species, are somehow the link between Creation and re-Creation. We carry in us the first streaks of eternity’s dawn. In the midst of all our poverty.

 

The five reasons we hurt ourselves (and others)

The Better Angels of Our Nature: A History of Violence and Humanity
Five habits of the heart cause untold destruction and self-destruction.

Stephen Pinker’s wonderfully stimulating book The better angels of our nature calls them our ‘inner demons’:

‘A small number of quirks in our cognitive and emotional makeup give rise to a substantial proportion of avoidable human misery.’ 1. Humanists see them as products of evolution; Christians, as aspects of fallenness.

Below I have compared these Five Deadly Quirks with the Beatitudes, as taught by Christ. It’s interesting how directly Jesus addresses them; how prevalent they are; and how vital to fight them.

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‘A colourful life is an act of worship’

A colourful life is an act of worship. Discuss.

Frosty autumn leavesI found myself wondering the other day why God made a colourful Universe rather than making do with black-and-white one, which would be much cheaper and more functional.

For example, making new humans out of pre-existing humans could be vastly streamlined. All you really need do is zip together together two zygotes. How hard is that? A bit of gene-splicing in a test-tube. You could dispense with massive inefficiencies: coyness, vulnerability, dating, conversations, misunderstandings, flowers, meals, presents, inflated wedding costs, awkward honeymoons and much else. Yet God seems stubbornly set in his massively inefficient ways.

He has, it seems, chosen a slow and colourful (to say the least) option for human reproduction, despite a simple fix being available given a decent lab and the political will.

Then I thought of how many criticisms of the Christian faith, and especially of us evangelicals, really boil down to aesthetics. Think of Christians in literature: sour-faced, pleasure-hating, ugly, dull, unimaginative, hard and humourless.

There are reasons. A self-indulgent pursuit of ornateness and fussiness can be a form of greed, a worship of idols. We don’t want that.

But colour can also be a sign of love and joy, even a mark of the Holy Spirit. And God is the prime culprit when it comes to littering creation with needless beauty.

Next time I tread on a leaf which has been bronzed by a season in the sun, piped with frost, blown carelessly from a heap, ridiculously lovely, satisfyingly crunchy, yet which is is basically a unit for converting photons into fructose, I ought to remember.

 

On editing the bad writing of good people

In search of a word as good as ‘lunch’.

Word

I used to work as an editor on a Christian magazine and I remember writing this:

On my desk I have words cemented together in monster monologues like communist-era apartment blocks, flat and impenetrable, not for humans. I have ugly words (maximised) and phrases that should never have been born (first and foremost) crawling out of my piled-up papers like cockroaches.

It’s grim.

I never seem to meet the subtle, the pert, the playful, the resonant-with-life words. (Lunch. Hug. Wry. Fragrant. Squidgy.)  Instead, alarmingly, the banal presses in, all around. “To me,” writes one earnest contributor, “Life is a journey.” Perhaps this will be helpful to your readers.

Help.

The case for beguiling

Some of us need waking gently

A November 2015 survey asked British people for their response to being at the receiving end of a conversation about Jesus from a practising Christian.

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As well as leading us to a grudging admiration for the independence of thought and scepticism of the average Brit, what else can this teach us?

Perhaps the need to be beguiling, not direct, to give people a sniff, not a verse, to bide our time. Some of us take a long time to be woken in the mornings. 

wakeup

When the door is shut to truth, try a story

A Closed Door‘Once upon a time, Truth went about the streets as naked as the day he was born. As a result, no-one would let him into their homes. Whenever people caught sight of him, they turned away and fled. One day when Truth was sadly wandering about, he came upon Parable. Now, Parable was dressed in splendid clothes of beautiful colors. And Parable, seeing Truth, said, “Tell me, neighbor, what makes you look so sad?” Truth replied bitterly, “Ah, brother, things are bad. Very bad. I’m old, very old, and no-one wants to acknowledge me. No-one wants anything to do with me.”

Hearing that, Parable said, “People don’t run away from you because you’re old. I too am old. Very old. But the older I get, the better people like me. I’ll tell you a secret: Everyone likes things disguised and prettied up a bit. Let me lend you some splendid clothes like mine, and you’ll see that the very people who pushed you aside will invite you into their homes and be glad of your company.”

Truth took Parable’s advice and put on the borrowed clothes. And from that time on, Truth and Parable have gone hand in hand together and everyone loves them. They make a happy pair.’

(Yiddish Folktales, Pantheon Books, New York, edited by Beatrice Silverinan Weinreich, ISBN: 080521090)

As we read the four gospels, we see that Jesus never used scripture as a starting point except in the synagogue. He always used stories about everyday things. Perhaps surprisingly, it is never recorded that He even used a short narrative story from what we now call the Old Testament.

Jesus was not a theologian; he was God who told stories (Madeleine L’Engle)

Both quotes from: http://www.InternetEvangelismDay.com/parable.php#ixzz1NM1YaFCO
at Internet Evangelism Day
Under Creative Commons License: Attribution

Vocation: what to do when you have no time or are in a job you hate

UphillVocation is about ‘where your deep joy and the world’s deep hunger meet.’1

It can seem like a luxury if you don’t have a minute to spare in the day. If you’re tired all the time. Or if you’re holding down job(s) just to pay the bills.

Vocation isn’t a luxury.

Especially if you’re tired, stressed, or overworked, it’s an essential. It’s daily bread for  your soul.

What is vocation for you? What satisfies your heart? Painting? Hospitality? Intercessory prayer? Helping others? Seeing kids grow? Reading? Dance?

Find some time just for this. It might be only half an hour an month. It might mean going to bed late or setting the alarm early. You can manage that once a month.

I am in the happy position of having nearly died (three times). I have had my heart restarted after it stopped. I have spent a month in a coma. I’ve actually forgotten how many times I’ve been carried in an ambulance with the blue lights flashing.

One thing I learnt was this. Don’t die with your music still inside you. Do something about it, however small.

If you’re coming at this article from the background of a Christian faith, understand that your vocation is the best thing you can do for the Kingdom of God. It’s the best way of serving God and neighbour. Vocation, in these terms, has an audience of just One: the lover of your soul. Do it for him.

If that isn’t your background, pursue your deepest love anyway. Do it this month. Start somewhere. You will find you are not so stressed, not so overworked in the rest of your time. And you know that seasons change, kids grow up, the mortgage gets paid, space opens. Don’t miss the moments you can  prise out, like diamonds, from a barren-feeling life.

A slight problem with science

What science is good at. And what science isn’t good at. According to @rabbisacks

“Science, technology, the free market and the liberal democratic state have enabled us to reach unprecedented achievements in knowledge, freedom, life expectancy and affluence. They are among the greatest achievements of human civilization….But they do not and cannot answer the three questions every(one) should ask at some time in his or her life: “Who am I? Why am I here? How then should I live?”.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks Not in God’s Name.

 

(Actually this is not a problem with science; just a necessary limitation worth recognizing)

Three annoying habits of Christians (and how to cultivate them)

annoyedThe Christian faith triggers a number of  reactions among which are:

‘Not really sure’

‘Not for me’

‘Not today’

Or

‘I’d rather put my head in a food mixer.’

Some of this might be blamed, rightly or wrongly, on genuinely irritating habits of Christians such as:

  • Reactionary politics
  • Believing conspiracy theories
  • The Crusades, The Spanish Inquisition and the Salem Witch Trials
  • Over-prolonged eye-contact
  • Invading my personal space
  • Excessive empathy
  • Puppyish enthusiasm

and

  • Always wanting me to go on courses

I do believe, however, that some irritating habits I see in some of my fellow Christians are worth nurturing. Here are three. If only I could:

Grace. Refusing to speak ill of people. Introducing a positive note in the office just when morale is at its most deliciously dismal. Not bearing grudges or engaging in satisfying acts of minor malice or revenge. Doing the coffee cups. Not assassinating people behind their backs. Buying the biscuits.

Certainty. ‘I have become one of those annoying people who is sure God loves him. Goodness and mercy will follow me all my days. God will not stop doing good to me. My death will see my longings fulfilled, my tears wiped away and possibly my nose blown. I know I deserve none of this and I agree you are as good a person as me. Sorry if you find that irritating in some way.’

A light touch. Aw, I wish I had this. And I wish the millions of people banging away on keyboards in their bedrooms had this. God save us from point-by-point refutations.

Satire should, like a polished razor keen

Wound with a touch that’s scarcely felt or seen

(Mary Wortley Montague, quoted in Stephen Pinker p 766.)