Things to do when you’ve missed your train at Kings Cross (part 1)

The British Library1.No, don’t go to platform 9 3/4 and watch the tourists photographing each other. Come out of the station, skip past St Pancras, and walk into the British Library.

2.Breathe deeply. Relax. It may look like a Young Offenders’ Institution, but this is an holy place.

3. Climb the broad stairs to the dimly-lit room where they keep their treasures.

4. Try not to get too excited.

5. Find the folio in which Handel hand-wrote the Hallelujah Chorus. It is open at the last page, the final, endless A-le-lu-ia, and you can see Handel’s spidery lines, his scribblings-out, his squashed semibreves, his desperate haste. This is not the forensically typeset version of the printed score. It is Handel’s own untidy and spontaneous penmanship.

(This is a photo of a facsimile, not the original, just in case you thought I’d done a bad thing.)Handel - in his own hand!

6. Reflect. Here’s what the all-knowing Internet says about Messiah:

In 1741, Handel composed Messiah and what we know now as the Hallelujah Chorus. While designing and composing Messiah, Handel was in debt and deeply depressed; however, the masterpiece was completed in a mere 24 days.

Despite his mental and financial state, the Hallelujah Chorus’s birth story is a glorious one. After Handel’s assistant called for him for a few moments, the assistant went to Handel’s work area because he received no response from Handel. Upon entering the room, the assistant saw tears emerge from Handel’s eyes. When the assistant asked why Handel was crying, Handel proclaimed, “I have seen the face of God.” 1

In front of Handel would have been the manuscript that’s now in front of you.

Here’s the internet again“Considering the immensity of the work and the short time involved, it will remain, perhaps forever, the greatest feat in the whole history of music composition.”

7. Reflect some more. Life wasn’t going well. But a gifted person, in the place God meant him to be, doing the thing God gifted him to do, met God, created something beautiful, and 275 years later, the world is still reverberating.

On not being sucked into the vortex of someone else’s urgency

Evangelists, and apostolic, entrepreneurial Christian types generally, seem to be the unsettling opposite of ‘slow mission.’ They dash about. The apostle Paul seemed always to be in a hurry.

Rush Hour at Guwahati Club, Guwahati

This can make the rest of us feel uneasy. These people are out evangelizing the world while we are digging allotments, playing games, visiting Aunts or watching cricket. Do they show up us slow mission types as wicked, lazy servants?

Here’s why that isn’t—or at least might not be—the case.

  1. Much of what is achieved in haste seems either to evaporate altogether or need re-doing more slowly.
  2. In my experience, some evangelists cut corners. They might be slapdash with relationships, or with money, or with the speed limits. Their evangelistic zeal is a kind of coverall to hide their character defects.
  3. God in any case has his ways of slowing evangelists down. Paul kept being put in jail, and arguably did his best work there, writing half the New Testament.
  4. Slow mission is not about laziness. When you follow your love and your passion, you work harder and for longer than when you work at anything else. Duty can take you a long way, but devotion will take you further. 
  5. Evangelists’ love and passion is in winning people. That’s their thing and their devotion. Wonderful.  But it shouldn’t–should it?– be foisted on the rest of us as if it were the final word in discipleship or obedience.

On why Atheists and Christians should be friends

And how mismatched are?)Here are some reasons:

1. We all have to share the planet and be good neighbours.

2. We all agree (I think) that humans are both wonderful and ‘born to trouble as surely as the sparks fly upward.’ We disagree why. Is it because we are created good and fell from God (as the Christian account has it) or because our intelligence and reasoning skills sit atop a brain still programmed by (some) unhelpful routines that evolved millions of years ago? Is that even different? Either way, we have a shared space to explore celebrations and remedies.

3. We can enrich each other. I have to admit that Christians (with some notable exceptions like the Quakers and the Salvation Army) have not historically been the leading proponents of fighting for some things that are now commonly held as precious, such as gender equality. Christians tend to put up with things rather than upset them. Sometimes, radical, pioneering atheists force me to go back and ask fresh questions of the Bible. They challenge sloppy thinking. Which can only be good. Perhaps we Christians can return the favour, because I have to report that sometimes in my observation the champions of pure reason do trip on their own shoelaces, especially in the face of Christ.

4. I’d like to hear the best things that atheism has to offer; and like to offer the best things I know of Christ in return. So our debate is about our comparing our good points, more than dredging up our bad.

5. In all this, it is quite fun winding each other up. At least atheists are interested in God, which is more than I can say for most people in the West.

6. We can convert each other, which is a lot more possible in  a place of peaceful dialogue than trench warfare, lobbing chosen texts at each other. And this is a good thing, a free-market in ideas.

 

A book wot I wrote for atheists and Christians to enjoy.

Faith in the workplace: four pointers

Our worklife is another area that we can think of as something to do with Kingdom of God. (As I blogged here.) So:

  1. It’s about devotion to Christ. Work, like the rest of life, is something in the end that we do in front of an audience of One. That leads to the extra-mile contributions.
  2. It’s now and not yet. Some stuff at work will never be put right until the end of everything. But we can make a difference today.
  3. It’s internal and external. Our heart has to be right, not just our conduct. (The heart always spills over anyway.) It was said of the great reforming MP William Wilberforce that he kept on friendly terms even with his political enemies.  The Christian faith calls us to love our neighbours, enemies, brothers, even, therefore, the awkward so-and-sos at work. We can’t just politely hate them. That’s awkward, but ultimately productive.
  4. We come in weakness. Which implies patience, willingness to admit being wrong, persistence, gentleness. Not a doormat, but not a door-slammer either.

Slow mission: How to be complete and incomplete at the same time

Seed Blog

They are familiar words, ringing across at funeral services:

The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power;  it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. (1 Corinthians 15:42-44)

The seed is the perfect picture for the now-but-not-yet, complete-but-incomplete, slow-mission Kingdom in which we live.

Some seeds look wizened. Y0u bury them in the soil. They are inconsequential. But a plant has spent a whole summer and all its strength manufacturing them. And they are packed with life: as the old saying has it, you can count the seeds in the apple, but you can’t  begin to count the apples in the seed.

Seeds are complete but incomplete, fulfilled and unfulfilled, finished yet hardly started, old in one age, new in the next.

In Christian-world and Christian-speak I think that’s what we aspire to be. Wizened, inconsequential, easily forgotten; and at the same time, seasoned and refined by grace, fulfilled, and ready to carry all the good we’ve known into an unfolding future. We aren’t there yet, and we don’t get there except through death,  but even through death we don’t lose anything of importance; we carry it all. Everything sown here–every hope, every partial work, every tear–find a harvest there.

Nice thought.

[Jesus] also said, ‘This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground.  Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces corn – first the stalk, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.  As soon as the corn is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.’ (Mark 4:26-29)

 

Slow mission: January

January,  the month of hope: the hope being that the rest of the year isn’t January. But perhaps we can add meaning to our trudging through the cold and snow.

Slow mission starts with where we’re going – that in the fullness of time (lovely phrase) everything will be headed up or summed up or brought together in Christ.

When time has filled its cup to the rim, as it were, Christ will be in and over everything.

We can’t actually make that happen. But in the interim we do what can, where we can, with whatever we have. We try to subject ourselves to the Lordship of Jesus, and try to extend his influence into whatever we touch. So all of life matters. This puts meaning into every day.

Finding our place: ‘Going’ v ‘Staying’

(From My Place in God’s World)

Jesus lived good news as much as he preached it.

Though Jesus gave teaching a very high priority, it wasn’t all he did. Among other things, he healed, he averted a natural disaster or two, he enforced justice and he cooked fish for a men’s breakfast.

Nor was his time on earth an action-packed frenzy of spiritual activity, praying, healing and teaching.  He first lived a good life, thirty years in a single village.

He set the pattern. That leads to two forces pulling on us: the urge to slip our moorings and head to do great things on some wide horizon; or the urge to stay where we are and live well. For each of us, the blend will be original.

Home and hearth; or follow your dream. I think for those of us lucky enough, life has enough seasons to do both. Happy Christmas.

Slow Mission and the Old Testament

(From Your place in God’s world)

‘The time has come.’

These were Jesus’ first recorded words–as we have seen–as he started work on his Messiah start-up project.

He was capping the well of history: everything before was now ‘Old’ testament; from now on it was new.

How to summarize what he so neatly ended? Old Testament history can be read as picking out shapes in a stormy landscape.

The storms are the squalls of judgement and mercy, of alienation and return that sweep across history. The shapes underneath are the outlines of God’s coming kingdom: a King, a Shepherd, a healing of waywardness, a heart transplant, the flow of ‘living water’, peace being made,  a people flourishing, a spreading multitude of followers.

Then the storm clears, and Christ, the Kingdom embodied, steps into the waiting sunshine.

 

 

The world is getting less violent (and why it matters)

‘Of the increase of his government and peace, there will be no end’. And so it proves….

Having got my eyesight back after two years of drug-induced cataracts, I am enjoying some heavy-duty reading again. Steven Pinker’s book is getting me very excited. His thesis is that violence in the human species is continuing a dramatic fall, stretching over millenia, dating indeed from the agricultural revolution. Because this is so counter-cultural, he needs the book’s 900 pages to prove it and hypothesise about it.  Bill Gates’ cover blurb (‘one of the most important books I’ve read — not just this year, but ever’) is for once more than the polite puffing of friends.

The book is so counter-cultural because those  of us who read the news in the 60s, 70s and 80s saw a world going to pot1; Pinker shows this was just a counter-cultural eddy against a much longer flow, and the fall in crime in the 1990s and beyond is merely a resumption of that old norm. Totally fascinating.

So much to think about! (This is me speculating, not Steven Pinker)

1. So history has a direction after all and ‘human progress’ means something? The twentieth century rather left that 19th-century view bleeding in the street.

2.  Here is evidence-for me–though certainly not for the convinced non-Christian Steven Pinker–that Christ is King and ‘of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.’ It is not the case that the world was going bad until Jesus came and fixed it. But it can surely be argued that here we have the ‘left hand of God’ and the ‘right hand of God’ working together. God guides human history generally into a more fruitful and less violent place; and at the epicentre, accelerating this trend and filling it out with revelation, is the life, death and resurrection of Christ and the peace-making activity of his people. I don’t think Prof Pinker would enjoy this conclusion (I would like to write another blog about his so-called humanism and measured disapproval of the Christian faith) but I find it a bit stunning– a large body of unsuspected social-science evidence that beautifully complements natural theology, not completely unlike the body of physical evidence that leads physicists to conclude the Universe began in a moment of creation at the Big Bang.

You gotta read the book.

 

 

 

Slow mission: ‘The time has come’

(From My Place in God’s World)

Jesus began his ministry on a beach.

Four words that changed everything: ‘the time has come.’

No moment was like that moment. It was like a plane at the beginning of the runway, or two armies gathered for battle, or a bride stepping into the aisle. It was the moment of silence; the indrawn breath; the kiss for luck before stepping onto the stage.

The long preparations are all done, Jesus was saying. Creation of the universe. Creation of the Earth. The shaping of homo sapiens after many earlier drafts. Abraham and his descendants meeting with God over two thousand years, a stormy relationship, wave after wave of revelation, judgement, return, of questions and answers and more questions.

Now the fulfilment has come, on the beach.

History is happening: feel it.