The golden repair

The Japanese have a word for it: Kintsugi

I read recently about a Japanese way of mending broken pottery. Instead of getting out the invisible glue, dust your epoxy with gold leaf. Then repair the pot and show all the spidery, golden threads of the former break. Like this:

Resurrection, complete with scars. Image by SEBASTIEN MARTY from Pixabay

It’s called Kintsugi, apparently.(Apologies to you if you actually know about this stuff.) What does it say? This pot has history. It’s been broken. It’s been mended. A new beautiful thing has come out of the broken old. Beautiful before, it is beautiful again, but now with beautiful scars.

I read there are Buddhist roots to Kintsugi, the impermanence, the suffering. It has echoes for me though of something else: the resurrection of Christ, of people, of the cosmos. There was Jesus: ‘behold my hands and side’. Look at the scars. My new body, a glorious thing, bears the scars of its former suffering.

What will eternity be like? Will we be all sculpted bodies? Or wrinkled, scarred, golden-mended?

Healing prayer and the quick fix

If it were only so simple

Image by mathey from Pixabay

The quick fix is what I usually want with a health problem. I have a problem, the doctor fixes it, we all walk away happy, like taking the car to the garage. We can approach healing prayer the same way: I have this pain or limitation or sickness, please make it go away so that I can go back to normal life.

Doctors live with this stuff all the time and I am told that they also are aware of the psycho-social aspect to almost any healing: ‘who and what are you?’ is important alongside ‘what seems to be the problem?’ Doctors possibly get fed up of people who present with COPD or obesity, for example, and want a pill or a procedure rather than to make changes in their thinking, their lifestyle or their relationships.

Proper biblical Christian healing is about the whole person, their relationships, and eternity. It is also about the real problem, not just the symptoms. The New Testament (in the book of James) locates the proper place for healing as alongside pastoral care: is any of you sick? – Call the church leaders.

It means that seeking healing through prayer should really be about seeking God. We should expect such prayer to ‘work’, but on God’s terms rather than ours.

How atheists too should get used to a post-Christian world

One grump among atheists I sometimes read is that it isn’t fair that Christians still have access to political and cultural power. Bishops sit in the House of Lords, for example. This is, it would seem, a much greater scandal than all the other people who sit in the house of Lords who were:

  • Sent upstairs because they were just so annoying
  • Bankrollers of political parties
  • People who the electorate turned against but their political friends felt were too good to waste. People, in other words, about whom the People were wrong.

I even saw a complaint today that Christians are given high academic posts: former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, is, for example, the Master of a Cambridge College, handsomely paid and with privileged access to a rather good wine cellar.

We should hear this atheist keening for what it is, namely the complaint of one group against another group that the other group has unfair advantages. Christians do exactly the same, grumbling how their mighty secular enemies keep overturning laws and putting things on TV and probably will bring the wrath of God down on all our heads.

As I’ve often mused in this blog, and not with much originality, the era of Constantine, of state and church, is, if not exactly dead, deserving of other metaphors of decay: shot, derelict, over-mature, senescent, creaking, past it.

I think both Christians and (this is my point) atheists have to get to used this. This is handy for Christians actually. It is quite cool to belong to a subversive, radically good, cheerful, counter-cultural trickle, flowing into the global cultural sea.

It’s quite a thing to belong to a movement that teaches the right response to oppression is not protest but lending the oppressor a hand in his difficult life. Not for us, or at least not for us if we knew better, are the politics of grievance.

Meanwhile, atheists complaining of the Church having too much power is so Second Milliennium.

One more thing. Once you accept this, that the era of Constantine is over, that all good citizens aren’t Christians, that Christians are in the minority, it turns out we are quite a large minority. Like rats or cockroaches, we get everywhere.

Think of what we’ve done in my favourite field, science. Among other prominent Christians were: untangler of the human genome (Francis Collins); crusading leader of the UN Committee on Climate Change (John Houghton, a scientist who won the Nobel Peace Prize). Discoverer of pulsars (the Quaker Jocelyn Bell Burnell). These are just the examples roaming my brain at the moment. Or go back: Wernher Heisenberg had a faith (though presumably also held with a bit of uncertainty). Leonhard Euler used to lead Bible studies for his household. Johannes Kepler was a radical Protestant. Faraday’s faith was one of the most prominent things about him. The person who gave Faraday’s discoveries the complete mathematical treatment, a treatment so complete it will last to the end of time, was also a person of faith, James Clerk Maxwell.

This is just me shaking my brain to see what falls out. Turning to Wikipedia’s (admittedly slightly dodgy) list of Christians in Science, Alessandro Volta and Andre Ampere were both people of faith. (The correct response is ‘Watt?’) And Heinrich Hertz. (Who by the way, made his name in oscillations, not in car rental.)

So: Let’s all agree the Constantinian Church/state thing is a bit musty and generally off and the Christians are duly demobbed as members of the establishment. This is a new day. They are free to be happy annoying disrupters of a world that is not exactly legendary for its grace. Friends and foes of the faith alike should get used to it.

Future shaping

It’s not necessarily bad

They can’t cancel the spring. Photo by Jill Wellington from Pexels

Not long ago I was rootling through some computer files and I noticed a list I’d made of prayer requests. There were about seven items in the list, and I think five had already been answered. Looking again, two years further down, and with this list long forgotten, I realized the two remaining items could also be checked off.

This is so fascinating. Where will we all be in five years’ time? What will the world be like? The year 2020 has been a tremor in the normal heartbeat of life. Who would have thought about crashing economies, two million deaths, face-masks everywhere, people afraid to go on the train or to shake hands?

How will history record the past year?

After 2020, the great rises in living standards and shared wealth that had marked that previous quarter century resumed their astonishing and compounding progress

or

2020 marked the start of serious upheavals that continued for the rest of that dreadful century called by some the world’s first true Dark Age.

I’ve sometimes wondered what it must have been to be born in my grandad’s generation (born 1899) and facing, but not yet knowing about, half a century of war, death, recession and a long tail of mourning and deprivation.

Or which year in our current century is most like 1913, that summer of the British at their mustachioed, imperialistic peak, a moment that looked like a new high plateau rather than (as it proved) a moment of teetering and fleeting poise, the sunlit dewy morning prior to the slaughter.

My rootling in my computer reminded me that whatever else the next five years will hold or the next 50, for that matter, they will be years of answered prayer. They will be years when our longings have been taken to God and years in which God, mysteriously, but from our perspective, and in response to our cries, spun a golden thread of kept promises and tender goodness into whatever wild tapestry is elsewhere being woven.

Toxic populism

and its cure

Toxic populism has muscled in on the news since 2016, filling our headlines in the way that radical Islam did for a few years before it. The roll-call of men (mostly men) who feel the need to take control, maintain order, and get on with repressing, is familiar across too many countries– just read the news.

It’s a (by now) familiar playbook

  1. Give out jobs on loyalty, not merit
  2. Erode all the things that stand in the way of an almighty state: laws, judges, newspapers, NGOs,anywhere where independent thought and criticism can thrive.

It isn’t, as we are seeing by now, a recipe for success. Cronies aren’t as good at running things as people who get jobs via merit and they pilfer the national good rather than fostering it. Some things, think Covid-19, can’t be insulted away or imprisoned. The flawed mental model of the autocrat cannot bear much reality, nor, for that matter, much wit.

How do you make societies resilient against this kind of thing? I struggle so much with this but I love the 37th Psalm, an extended meditation on the slow, resilient way:

Do not fret because of those who are evil
    or be envious of those who do wrong;
for like the grass they will soon wither,
    like green plants they will soon die away.

Trust in the Lord and do good;
    dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Take delight in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Be still before the Lord
    and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
    when they carry out their wicked schemes.

10 A little while, and the wicked will be no more;
    though you look for them, they will not be found.
11 But the meek will inherit the land
    and enjoy peace and prosperity.

35 I have seen a wicked and ruthless man
    flourishing like a luxuriant native tree,
36 but he soon passed away and was no more;
    though I looked for him, he could not be found.

Peace lily Image by Adriano Gadini from Pixabay

37 Consider the blameless, observe the upright;
    a future awaits those who seek peace.
[d]

Your sandwich is ready

Just a sneaky mid-week post to let you know that The Sandwich was published on February 19th and is available in all its formats. I hope it’s a fun, refreshing read. (My output elsewhere was once described as ‘good loo reading’.)

This means, sadly, the pre-publication free offer is ended. But it also means you can post a review on Amazon or Goodreads or elsewhere, or even, forsooth, buy a copy.

Here’s Amazon:

You can also try The Book Depository (free postage of the paperback anywhere), or the Apple iBookstore . Even more cunningly you could try this Universal Book Link which, if I understand rightly, allows you to download a copy from a convenient shop, wherever you happen to be in the universe.

I covet your reviews, good, bad or indifferent, which are part of the currency of the internet, and the honester the better.

The blog goes back to normal this Saturday.

PS: The before-you-leave subscription form that pops up when you try to leave this site claims we have 399 subscribers. That is, 398 subscribers, plus you. I’m not sure it’s true, actually, or all that meaningful, my work dropping into hundreds of unvisited folders. But somebody could be number 400.

Why scary stories are good for you

We live in a world of wounds and partial wins

Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

I enjoyed a recent blog on Hallowe’en from the Bible society, which quoted C S Lewis as follows:

In a famous essay, C S Lewis spoke about how ‘fairy stories’ could educate children: we mustn’t keep out of a boy’s mind, he said, ‘the knowledge that he is born into a world of death, violence, wounds, and adventure, heroism and cowardice, good and evil’. He goes on, ‘I think it is possible that by confining your child to blameless stories of child life in which nothing at all alarming ever happens, you would fail to banish the terrors and would succeed in banishing all that can ennoble them or make them endurable. For in the fairy tales, side by side with the terrible figures, we find the immemorial comforters and protectors, the radiant ones …’ In other words, he says, it’s not that we shouldn’t think about terrible enemies at all: we should know they can be beaten. 1

My piece of the rainbow flag

Image by Carabo Spain from Pixabay

Yes, when you’re white, hetero, middle-aged, English-speaking, Anglican and look like a slab of gammon, as I do, the rainbow flag might be perceived as a challenge or even a threat.

I’ve decided it isn’t.

If we’re going to embrace diversity, and we should, because mongrels are healthier than pedigree pups and ecosystems are more resilient than single species, then I want my piece of it.

We Christians, like Jews, Muslims,vegans, carnivores and Liberal Democrats, each have our funny ways of doing things, each our odd beliefs, we’re each equally a part of a diverse society and we’re at liberty to work for the common good. So we can each celebrate the rainbow flag.

In praise of administrators

This is what they are really like. Image by alan9187 from Pixabay

It’s a bit uphill, admitting it at parties. Pulses probably don’t thrill when you whisper shyly, ‘I’m an administrator.’ Once I had to park at a small airport and my designated spot was next to the spot marked, ‘Chief Test Pilot’. I didn’t notice a parking space for ‘Chief Administrator’ and I probably wouldn’t have mentioned it anyway.

My project for 2021, and I’ve started early, is to read the Book of Acts in Greek, looking up all the interesting words as I go along. It’s a slow job (I don’t know Greek), which is good, because normally words fall on us like ticker tape in a parade, blizzards every day, and we are not good at processing them slowly.

The early Church was a kind of Ponzi scheme, it seems to me. New entrants were selling property and the proceeds were feeding a bunch of widows. I don’t wish to criticize, but it looks a bit unsustainable. Elsewhere in the New Testament we see Paul trying to regularize the Church benefits system, so perhaps he would agree.

Yet we Christians rave over the early church. Thousands were flocking in. Signs and wonders are done at the hand of the apostles. Even Peter’s shadow falling on people did the business. Many of the priests were becoming believers.

But because there were arguments over allocating funds between Hebrew-speaking (local?) widows and Greek-speaking (?diaspora) widows, the Twelve appointed seven (Greek-sounding to me) administrators. Middle-managers. In the midst of all the miracles and crowds. It was so cool for all these reasons:

  1. They let the people choose the administrators. The apostles picked the best for the job, rather than cronies.
  2. They didn’t say, ‘Bring the hard cases to us’ (like Moses did in a similar situation). They delegated completely to the administrators (or managers or in church usage, ‘deacons’). This is fascinating. Any accountant will tell you to follow the money if you want to see where the power is. And the apostles let someone else do the money.
  3. The apostles were gutsy enough to stick to teaching and prayer. Remember they served a Jesus who had said, ‘You should wash each other’s feet.’ But they quit serving at tables. Did they ignore what Jesus had said? I think not. They rather figured things out about roles and giftings and went with where that led.
  4. Admin was necessary even in the middle of miracles and rapid growth. There were so many miracles going on you would have thought that a couple of waves of Peter’s hand and you could’ve fed the lot, no admin problems and no Ponzi scheme. But that the wrong tree to be barking up, as they presumably quickly discovered. This new Kingdom, this thing to supplant the old arrangement, this taste of a new world, needed sound administration and proper management very soon after its start. The new church needed the power of the Holy Spirit and a pragmatic look at cashflow.

A free copy of my new book

Get it while you can

The regular readers of this blog, both of you, will know I’ve been exerpting chapters from my new book over the past weeks. Well, it’s finally finished and I’m really pleased with it. Here is the cover art:

It is, I hope, a fun refresher on some of the big themes of discipleship. A refreshing refresher, perhaps. If you click on this link here you can help yourself to a free copy that you can read on your phone, laptop, tablet, or Kindle.

(This is what publishers call an Advance Review Copy and it’s intended to generate reviews and whatnot, which are very welcome, but mostly it’s nice to have something to give away after what has been a stressful 12 months for many of us.)

It will be available for sale in all formats after publication day on Feb 19th 2021. Do share this free link in the meantime with anyone if you think they’d like it; it stops working on publication day. After that the title will be available in its various formats at Amazon, Eden and the like and orderable from any other bookshop worthy of the name.

{Smiles}