Hearing wrongly from God

Just set your mind on it

Here’s another commissioned piece written for newish Christians in a Singapore-based magazine, an which is now a chapter in my new collection ‘The Sandwich‘ (yet to be published).

Thanks to Luckylife11 at Pixabay

(2007)

Hearing wrongly from God is easy and you hardly need any advice on it at all. Never mind that he is the Almighty and you are a half-pint. Never mind that he is bright-eyed with revelation, holding together the universe with his understanding, eager to breathe gentle words into your heart. You can hide from him, really you can.

Most people can be up and running, misunderstanding God consistently, in a matter of a few minutes. It’s harder for children, of course. But anyone from teenage years upwards can master one of the few simple techniques that I’m going to tell you about. With regular practice, these become as easy as breathing. Don’t believe the sceptics: you — yes, you — can insulate yourself totally against the Burning One, freeing yourself to worship what you truly love: your Blessed Self.

Here’s how you do it.

Thanks to Sponchia at Pixabay

1 Never surrender

This is the key to the whole thing. Remember Churchill’s advice to the boys of his old school during the Second World War: ‘Gentlemen! Never give up! Never give up! Never, never, never give up!’ Don’t yield an inch. Resist God and he will, eventually, shuffle off and go bothering someone else. He won’t strive with you for ever. There is an end to it.

Of course, God is quite a subtle foe in these matters. He will try to sneak in. We live with yearnings and aches: to love; to share our lives with others; to know the mysterious Essence beyond ourselves. A sunset, a face, a smile, they can seem like windows to heaven. They are not. Get a grip. Don’t yearn. Don’t be thankful. Don’t seek God (have some sense!). Don’t think. Take yourself in hand. Fulfil some pressing bodily need, put the TV on, gorge on some chocolate, go shopping, do something earthly to shake off these heavenly yearnings. You’ll soon be fine again.

Or sometimes God tries to speak when you’re going through a hard time. Really, he has no scruples. In tough times — he knows and you know — that you are inclined to panic. Grown men have been known to pray in toilets. Our advice remains the same. Remember Churchill, and never give up. In times of trouble say to yourself, ‘at least I’m not tempted to try religion! I’m not a weakling! I can handle this!’ You can fend God off pretty well with this sort of routine.

It is a basic rule: those who humble themselves, who strip themselves of vain arguments, who wait in silence for him, who surrender themselves absolutely and finally to his will: it’s those he goes for. The rest of us are pretty safe. Keep fighting and there’s always hope for you.

2 Be holistic

Of course, even if he can’t get at your heart right away, God will still try to influence you. He does it by subverting your ideas of goodness. But don’t worry, it’s easily prevented.

You want to be a good person, of course. God wants you to be a good person too  — there’s the danger.

The way to avoid any possible trap here is to maintain a steady focus. You don’t want to be just any sort of good person. You want to be a good person on your own terms. You want to mix and match God’s ideas about goodness with your own. Ours is a consumer society and so this a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

For example, keep an eye on trends. You want to be good, but not poor, austere, sacrificial, wholehearted. You want to be holistically good: admired by all, certainly, breaking hearts with the sheer wonderfulness of your nature, having girls sighing in their rooms at the thought of your intrinsic nobility, but you also want to be sexy, stylish, funny, rich and fulfilled. James Bond good. A rough diamond. Hot, not cold. Buttoned down, not buttoned-up. So mix up all your desires indiscriminately with whatever you fancy you may be hearing from God and you’ll be just fine. He won’t get a word in at all.

3 Accept no feedback

A patient, humble, teachable spirit is a dangerous thing.

Our minds are neural networks. They get things right only after much feedback and reinforcement: that’s as true for hearing from God as it is in learning how to write your name neatly. You try, you show it to an adult, they praise you and correct you gently, and finally, after hundreds of iterations, you get it right.

So it is with Hearing From God. People who hear consistently from God mull things over. Impressions waft into their minds, they pray over them, compare them with scripture, think them through, ask trusted advisers, wait on God for more revelation. They keep bringing a thing to God until it somehow holds together, the neural network is programmed with the right pattern, and a quiet peace settles on their hearts.

Knowing this, you can quickly see how you can mishear God almost 100% of the time. Be impulsive. Follow your gut. Then, be stubborn. Snatch at things. Cultivate prejudices. Don’t ask advice. Only allow your Bible study to reinforce what you already know. Think the same way you always have. Follow your tribe. Be unteachable: after all, you already know all you need to know. Don’t give houseroom to uncertainty, perplexity, ambiguity, hesitancy, diffidence. Tell yourself, ‘tentative’ or ‘provisional’ or ‘subject to revision’ is just another way of saying ‘weak’.

I hope that’s all clear. To sum up: if you want to keep your life clear of God’s kindly revelation:

Be proud!

Strain after all the good things in life!

Be wise in your own eyes!

And you’ll be just fine.

About the tangle of free will and love, and the weakness of God

One of the nice things about writing to commission is that you have try to think about things that you don’t know much about. Below is another article I wrote for the Singaporean Christian magazine Impact, which probably demonstrates clearly why I don’t get paid as a philosopher. It’s extracted from my forthcoming book The Sandwich.

Luckylife11 on Pixabay

(2020)

Many of the world’s problems are blamed on God giving us ‘free will’. I’m not sure that God would be as heartless as that.

Does God force us to do things? If so, does he bypass us, or squash us to get his way? Does that show a lack of respect? Does it contravene ‘free will’?

Before we go any further, let’s not talk any more about ‘free will’, as if we were all independent actors with plenty of access to information, not influenced by our peers, able to make good choices on our own with our own resources.

I don’t believe it. I’ve yet to meet anyone like that. We peer at life through a soup of prejudice that distorts what we see. We are influenced by the networks of people around us, the tribes we belong to. Once we’ve made up our minds on something, we tend to defend our turf, accepting facts that bolster our view and rejecting the facts that don’t. Arguably our tendency to rebel against the light of God and choose our own dark corner makes us still more half-witted. We humans are dim. We don’t get it. Free choice would be spoilt on us. 

All sorts of things can make us a bit less slow of mind and thick of head. We could listen to others; admit we might be mistaken; test our ideas against evidence or logic. Perhaps when we are younger, and know less, and the world is open to us, our brains are more plastic and we are more open to learning. But still.

Then imagine you are God. OK, it’s probably unimaginable but imagine yourself with perfect knowledge, in perfect light, looking down on these bumbling toilers on earth, blundering, grumbling, bumping into one another. Their bodies are extensively wired to feel pain and you watch their neural systems light up as they injure themselves and each other, and then go back and do it again. To God, it seems, we look ‘harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd’, and he has compassion on us (see Matthew 9:36).

I don’t think God’s biggest problem looking down on this scene, if we can so speak, is a lofty analysis of freedom of choice or free will or the rights of humans. It is about how to get stuff done, among these creatures whom you cannot not love and whom you want the best for.

So for example if God arranges for you to meet that girl at that event at that time and she gives you that shy smile and he knows you are that sort of person and she is that sort of person and you then fall in love and create a happy life together, did he force you? Or was he just smart and kind?

Or if he quickens your torpid soul with life, unblocks your ears, restores your spiritual sight, and you see Jesus for the first time not as some historical artefact but as the Living One and a friend and redeemer; if God unwraps your graveclothes and you stand before him blinking in the sunlight, where in all that was your freedom and choice? Something greater than freedom and choice was here.

I was in a coma for a month once and it took my family and the doctors two weeks to wake me up – two weeks of my family talking to me, reading my books to me, of doctors changing the meds. I had no choice in the matter: I was hallucinating about a three-country trip to Africa (which honestly still lingers in the memory though it never happened). In a sense, the love and care of those around me superseded any issues of freedom of choice. They knew I wanted to live again and love again and they fought for me when I couldn’t fight for myself. I wonder if that principle ever crosses God’s mind and ever governs his behaviour?

The Biblical data is fascinating. Jesus, God’s selfie on earth, showed respect and restraint to those around him, often at cost to himself. He wasn’t coercive or controlling. He gave instructions that were disobeyed but he didn’t sulk. ‘See that you don’t tell this to anyone,’ he said to the healed leper, ‘but go, show yourself to the priests…’ Get the medical and judicial proof that you are not infectious so you can rejoin your community. ‘Instead [the man] went about freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places’ (Mark 1:45-46). The ex-patient’s folly caused Jesus problems, which Jesus had to manage. At no point did he fell the man with a fiery dart. (‘I told you – go see the priest! Bam!’) Fevers, illnesses, demons, wind and waves all obeyed Christ’s words but people didn’t — and at a certain level the Lord seemed OK with that.

Yet at other times, God appears rather more forceful. Jonah is ordered to Nineveh to preach repentance. Nineveh was Israel’s enemy and God wanted to bring them light. Jonah buys a ticket for the opposite direction. God interrupts the journey with a storm. Jonah is then conveyed by various transport modes back to the shores around Nineveh: first, a short flight (he is thrown into the sea), then a longer trip by sea-creature (carried in the hold). He does not like this, but he does repent. When he finally walks into Nineveh, the repentant preacher preaches repentance and to his great disgust his preaching stops Nineveh being destroyed by God’s wrath. God gets his way. Nineveh turns to the light. But even then (according to the Book of Jonah at least) God is still concerned with Jonah and his continuing grumbles.

God was also quite forceful when he manoeuvred things so that the gospel burst from its Jewish flowerhead and seeded around the world. The book of Acts, chapter 10, tells how the apostle Peter fell into a trance, lost an argument with God, had a timely meeting, made a journey to some pre-prepared Gentiles, preached a short and perhaps tactless sermon, but it was enough for the Gentiles to have their own Pentecost at Cornelius’ place. Along with plenty of other actions God made the light go global – which was a win. Along the way, Peter and others changed their minds about whether non-Jews should get grace: another win. Letting Peter argue had helped.

Consider these various examples. They share a common thread. God appears to have largely got his way. But there is a weakness in God’s strength. Or to put it another way, God’s strength is made perfect through God’s ‘weakness’. What did the storm achieve in Jonah? Repentance. What did the trance and the events at Cornelius’ house achieve in Peter? Repentance, a fresh turning to God and a willingness to believe God for new and greater things. What did Jesus seek from giving people on earth a liberty to obey him or not – a liberty he didn’t give demons, fevers or storms? He provided space for repentance and often people took the offer up.

From our limited perspective, then, it seems that many of God’s actions, and many of what seem like his lack of actions, focus on winning the person as well as winning the day, rather than either philosophical high-mindedness or the need to control. We aren’t told what happened to the healed leper. We don’t know if sometime afterward, perhaps years later, he reflected on Jesus’ treatment of him, the power and the meekness, and turned to the Risen Christ in love and wonder. Perhaps he did; perhaps he didn’t; but he wasn’t short of data, or insight, or opportunity.

What shall we say then? God’s foolishness is wiser than our wisdom and his weakness is stronger than our strength. His patient tread is faster than our hurry. One day, says Ephesians, everything will be brought to complete unity in Christ: the whole created order will be renewed, humanity along with it. When we read that along with the rest of the Bible we are brought to conclude that many, many individual humans will repent and unite their ways with God’s ways, become fully human and (as other passages teach) others will not repent and will finally lose all their footholds in life and love.  Meanwhile we are in the hands of One whose patience achieves more than human impatience; whose grace promotes deeper obedience than human laws. God is not like the government, passing laws and issuing fines. His kindness unclenches our fists and is an ointment to our sore eyes. God’s action among us is still a mystery. But the glimpses tell us he is extraordinary in his character and that shows in the way he uses his power.

‘God’s not fair’

About riding forth for justice on a very small horse. From my forthcoming book which might be called ‘The Sandwich’.

Sandwiches
Luckylife11 on Pixabay

Here’s another article that I wrote for the Singaporean magazine Impact, aimed at the many thousands in that island nation–where we used to live–who were joining the churches for the first time. I’ve collected my favourites into a forthcoming book that may well be called ‘The Sandwich‘, because it is for those of us squeezed by the sublime one side and by the whole world on the other.

(2016)

Ask anyone with a younger brother. Life is not fair.

We know that no two people are born equally favoured. We aren’t given equal chances along the way. Here’s the tip of the iceberg:

  • Younger brothers don’t get told off; we do.
  • Some people blab on their phone all the time while driving and are never caught. Someone else uses the phone once, with the car stationary, in a family emergency, and has to pay a fine.
  • Babies born in Singapore can expect to live 83 years; others choose parents from Sierra Leone and may only average 50 years.

Worse, in a sense: God, we believe, is fair. Nor does he think justice is merely an aspiration, a campaign promise, something to be put in place when he has sorted out a few other things first. God loves justice (as Isaiah 61:1 says). He does justice: ‘the Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed’ (Psalm 103:6). He commands his people to do justice: ‘You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality … Justice, and only justice, you shall follow’ (Dt 16: 19-20).

God is just; life isn’t. Yet God is all-powerful. So why isn’t life fair? Below are a few thoughts. 

We inhabit a wrinkle in eternity

We inhabit a wrinkle in eternity. It helps to realize this.

Eternity is forever–and it is filled with God and his kindness and fairness.  Evil and suffering are temporary and are perhaps the equivalent of an attack of hiccups in this great grand goodness. In the big picture, all is thriving and bright. So far, so true. But let’s zoom in on the wrinkle.

God is at work in history

God is working in the wrinkle. This is a central Christian teaching, and it is comforting but it doesn’t make our question any easier. A God who set things up and then headed off for the evening, leaving us to it, would at least mean we could understand injustice. But that isn’t an alternative the Bible offers. Instead, the Bible portrays God, like a master chef with hands in the baking bowl, up to his elbows in justice work every day. Here are some things he does:

God brings things to an end in his own time. This current world has mortality built in. People, cultures, empires grow, ripen, rot. Everything passes. This is part of his architecture of history: extremely sad for those we love but rather helpful in the case of evil people and empires. If they lived forever, it would be a nightmare, Genghis Khan or someone would still be in charge. But in an evil world, universal mortality is almost a kind of mercy, certainly a way of capping off evil. ‘In just a little while, the wicked will be no more; though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there. But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace’ (Psalm 37: 10-11).

God works on behalf of the needy. I once sat in the recovery area of an eye-surgery ward. People recovering from cataract operations were saying things like ‘I’ll be able to drive again!’ ‘I can read this now! I couldn’t read it before!’

It was just an ordinary day for this ward, but I felt like I’d fallen into a page of the New Testament. The blind see! God works for the needy. Every little thing that is done to relieve human suffering has its first impulse in the heart of God. On average, today, by the measures of extreme poverty, the world is getting better, God’s justice is spreading. Through humans—many of them, his own people—he is putting right what is wrong for the poor.

God works on his own timescale. Here is a very humbling thought. His forbearance is meant to bring us to repentance (Romans 2:4). He is patient with us, not wanting any to perish (2 Peter 3:9) Imagine this! The all-powerful God of love and justice at times lets great suffering happen. He hears the cries of the oppressed and he sits on his hands. Why? Sometimes he judges it good to wait.

I always find it remarkable that the only things that didn’t obey Jesus on earth were humans. At the Master’s command, waves collapsed, demons fled, limbs grew, bread multiplied. But humans? He told them what to do and they did something else. There is something incredible about what God will put up with from humans, what disobedience he will face, what injustice he will sit out, in order to win them finally. God waits, and often gets in hot water for it.

Other times God seems even to let things move too quickly; the person looking for a happy retirement is struck down too soon. We cannot do anything about this beyond seeking God and trusting him. He is good, he loves mercy and hates injustice, but he lingers around or presses forward according to his own internal clock, not ours. There is a saying in the court system: ‘justice delayed is justice denied.’ But that is not true in God. He is an eternal being, and so are we.  Mortality is delayed in some and hastened in others; it’s not fair; but it will be; and beyond understanding God we are called to walk with him: protesting perhaps, but also surrendering, trusting, praising.

There is a day coming. Years ago I drove past a horse and carriage on our roads, a rare sight. The horse was being whipped to trot faster. Its eyes were wide, it was foaming at the mouth, and it was shiny with sweat.  Every time I drive on that road I think of that horse. But that was many years ago, and whatever cruelties it suffered are over now. In the same way, we believe there is a day coming when injustice will end for good. The wrinkle has a limit. Peace and justice will be universal. A day is coming.

God has entered our pain. In Jesus, God moved himself from the realm of mere academic speculation about fairness and made the argument personal. He has tasted injustice from the inside out. He knows what it is to be sentenced to death by a baying mob, abandoned by a cowardly judge. He knows what it is to be flogged like an animal. God in Jesus is many things, Saviour above all of them, but he is also God’s eloquent way of telling us to ‘shut up already about injustice.’

What do we do about this?

So what do we do about this?

A stream flows through the Universe and we glimpse it in the Bible.

One picture of it is ‘the river of the water of life’ flowing from the temple in the closing chapters of the book of Revelation. The same stream appears in the book of Ezekiel, bubbling from the renewed temple, making the salty land sweet. An explanation of it comes from Jesus: ‘ Whoever believes in me … “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water”’ (John 7:38) and ‘the water that I will give [you] will become … a spring of water welling up to eternal life’ (John 4:4).

The stream is God’s mercy. It is intended to flow into us–the Church, the new temple–and then out from us into the world. From us it’s supposed to broaden into a river delta, so that the whole earth is irrigated. I think it is the main part of the answer to the protest, God isn’t fair.

The static question has a dynamic answer

While dry argument has its place, I suspect God isn’t at his happiest debating lesser beings about justice. He’d rather be out there doing it. That has to be our vision too. The words ‘righteousness’ and ‘justice’ are interchangeable in the Greek, I understand, so it’s OK to translate Christ’s sayings in the Beatitudes like this:

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied’ (Matthew 5:6)

and

Blessed are those who are persecuted for justice’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ (Matthew 5:10).

Is God fair? A stream of mercy pours through the heavens. Those who drench themselves in it themselves become sources of mercy and justice. They set the world back on its feet. The static question has a dynamic answer, one that can catch us up in it and occupy all our creativity and energies. Is God fair? ‘There is a river … come behold the works of the Lord’ (Psalm 46: 4,8).

Micro-liturgies for fun and profit

Not many people are writing about this

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

So you abbreviate a prayer, and use the acronym as a way of slipping out the prayer without all the normal formalities.

‘OMG’ is the most widely-used micro-liturgy I know, not commonly used in God-worshipping circumstances. But there are others.

KOPO is the acronym of Keep On Pressing On. Best used when breathless, for example walking to the top of a hill. I guess it’s a pep-talk mostly, but it includes an element of prayer since it includes the thought, ‘Oh God help me, I don’t have any breath left.’ Helpful for hikers, the disabled and the fearful.

OLGA (Oh Lord God Almighty!) is another helpful abbreviation if you haven’t time for the full expression. Handy to use repeatedly: ‘OLGA, OLGA, OLGA!’

JRMWYCIYK, pronounced ‘Germ-whichick’ is the shortened version of a last-gasp prayer: ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.

OGHMOMAS is a good one: O God Have Mercy On Me A Sinner. Useful in many contexts. Pronounce the OGH like you are clearing your throat or speaking Arabic and put the emphasis on the first syllable: Ogh- momas! It thus can be made to rhyme with ‘Oh mama!‘ or ‘Oh moma!‘ but is a bit more holy.

Ancient usage, or indeed God himself, may have originated the first micro-liturgy. The Name of God as appearing in the Old Testament is often printed in English Bibles in small caps. It was not pronounced apparently. It is nowadays usually rendered ‘Yahweh’ by the kind of people who regard themselves as experts in this stuff and often have beards.

Someone pointed out that it is what we say every time we breathe. The ‘Yah’ is the breathing in; the ‘Weh’ is the breathing out. Two thoughts flow from this:

  • All the animal creation is constantly breathing prayers to God. Every breath is worship.
  • If you are one of those people who worry you may stop breathing sometime, such as if you forget during the night, it may come as a comfort that with every breath you do take, you can think of yourself as reaching out to God.

I am interested if other people use micro-liturgies. Confess all! I doubt it is just me.

Dust

What we leave behind

bible-1679746_1920Here’s the Apostle Paul: brilliant, intense, battered. Gnarly. Well-travelled, and when imprisoned, sending letters instead of sending himself. Eventually executed.

What happened to the letters he left behind? Surely people kept them. And some copied them. Some enterprising people probably wrote to other churches and asked for the copies they’d also collected. Maybe some people took a set with them when they travelled, so they could share it with other churches they met. Slowly, by hand-copying, collections built up. It must have happened by word-of-mouth.  People knew spiritual treasure and kept it and shared it.

FF Bruce writes:

We know, for example, that about the year 95 the cupboard somewhere in Rome which was the Vatican library of that date contained not only Paul’s letter to the Romans (as we should expect in any case) but also copies of his first letter to the Corinthians and (possibly) one or two others. It also contained copies of the Epistle to the Hebrews, which had a close association with Rome, of the First Epistle of Peter, which was written from Rome, and of some Gospel writings, not to mention the Greek version of the Old Testament commonly called the Septuagint. 1

In the analysis by FF Bruce, the same happened with gospels: Mark’s in Rome, Matthew’s in Syria, John’s in Ephesus, Luke’s perhaps already designed for wide circulation. Eventually a four-fold gospel was circulating, as were collections of letters, and Luke-Acts could be split and Acts used to connect the four-fold gospel with the letters of Paul and others.

In this way, the New Testament was formed, a word-of-mouth collection that, sifted by all the Christians who were using both it and other documents, gained traction.

Later developments caused church leaders to codify what was already on the ground. And so the New Testament came into being in a similar way to an Amazon bestseller list. People left writings, the Christian community used them, or didn’t. Then add a dash of politics and you have a New Testament. And Paul’s letters, after his lonely execution, took hold, and now no hour passes in the world without multitudes reading and pondering Paul. By any measures of publishing success, Paul is the greatest and most successful writer ever to scratch ink on papyrus. ‘See what large letters I write with my own hand’.

This is so different from seeking to build a following through advertising, free offers, campaigns, special deals, commendations. Just pour your life out, be faithful to your heavenly vision, and let God and the future generations do the rest.

The eternal worth of what we do now

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

I’m intrigued by the question of how or if the things we do each day matter in the lights of the eternity that our Christian faith is embedded in.

As we know, the New Testament teaching is that everything has an end:

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.1

Even if you don’t believe in an apocalypse, you still believe it in a modified form: we’re all going to die eventually, as are the institutions we serve, our country, perhaps even our species. One way or another, the lights are going out.

So if the world is going to end, why work to improve it? If everything is going to be destroyed, why do politics? Why breed fruit trees? Why engineer beautiful buildings? Why even redecorate the house?

Here are some reasons:

  1. We have an intuition that we must.
  2. Even if we accept or partly accept an apocalyptic worldview, the best strategy is to build, love, work, beautify until the end. It is the same as for those with a terminal illness: keep living until you die.
  3. A couple of Bible metaphors come to our help. Think ‘seed’ or ‘bride’. Both get prepared over a long season. Both experience some dramatic, even apocalyptic change: the seed gets buried and dies. The bride gets married. Afterwards, it’s a new age. But it is also a continuation of everything that went before: there’s discontinuity and continuity.

Today we paint tiny pictures, miniatures. These little acts are a kind of anticipation or even a statement of faith in a better world. Somehow our work loads eternity up so that after death and resurrection, and in Christ, our horizons will unfurl like a flower in a new age. Nothing of beauty or worth or diligence will be destroyed; all will be caught up again and fulfilled in unguessed ways in eternity.

I think and hope.

Savouring

Lingering longer than you need to

Take a Creme Egg and pull off most of the foil. Keep some of the foil so you can still hold the egg without getting your fingers chocolatey. Using your front teeth, gently bite into the pointy end and roll the detached piece down your tongue. Keep the chocolate piece in your mouth . With your tongue, scoop up a little of the fondant cream. Mush and swirl the chocolate and fondant together in your mouth for a while, until they’re gone. Well done. You did some savouring. And you didn’t even need to buy a Creme Egg.

Savouring is part of Slow and it is also perhaps part of thanksgiving and worship. Perhaps it is also a proper response to the era of abundance that we find ourselves in: so much music to hear, so many books to read, so many box-sets to watch, so many choices in the shops, so many sights to see. How sad if in all this we gorge ourselves on one thing after another, without stopping to savour (and I guess then to thank). Perhaps savouring is an antidote to greed.

Perhaps it is also a good practice for the lean times. One horrible night once in hospital, with alarms going off, alarms that were attached to me, I listened to some classical music in my little earpiece, and I also walked in my mind around Buttermere in the English Lake District, a walk I knew then very well. Savouring was all I had then.

Image by Obsidain Photography from Pixabay

My wife emailed me this, saying I’d probably like it. I did. I’m very sorry that I don’t have the source:

Go far, go slow

Reasons not to panic

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Hillary Clinton is fond of quoting an African proverb: ‘If you want to go fast, travel alone. If you want to go far, travel together.’

I read an example today of the human species collectively going far. ‘Between 1968 and 2017, the world’s population increased by 113 percent from 3.55 billion to 7.55 billion. Over the same time period, the average global food supply per person per day rose from 2,334 calories to 2,962 – a 27 percent increase.’ 1.

So the population doubled, but the food supply more than matched it. Back in 1968 educated voices were looking at likely population increases and saying things like ‘The battle to feed all of humanity is over … hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.’2 Today obesity is a bigger cause of death than the diseases of hunger.

Somewhere in all of this, perhaps, is a lesson that when we have far to go as a species, or a community — think global warming for example– it is OK to have prophetic types warning us of dire consquences, perhaps, but we have to travel together.

At the heart of art

The impulse to create beauty

I’ve just returned from four days of investigations at a hospital, trying to see if I’m a candidate for a heart transplant. I also talked to other patients on my hospital corridor, who have walked farther down the trail of suffering and patience than I have ever ventured. This is the second time I’ve gone through this exercise and I have come home with my head rather full, and the introvert’s need to sit at home for a long time and think about it all.

Somewhere in all that, I asked the question, What am I for?

Trying to answer that doesn’t involve me attempting to respond objectively and rigorously, even if I had the equipment or the courage, which I don’t. Instead, that question is a prompt to motivations and perhaps to temperament or psychological health. Another way of framing the same question is something like how do I feel about going on living? Or how much do I want to continue to exist and contribute?

There’s an answer to this around the idea of knowing and glorifying Christ, and that is my answer too, there is no meaning outside of him, but within that general answer there must be specific route-maps for each person. The tug of love, pulling us to go on living for someone else’s sake or some others’ sake is certainly a huge component of the vector.

I find another part though. I want to make beautiful things. In my world, this has to mean writing, and it has to mean writing something that someone reads, five minutes from now, or five weeks, or even five centuries, and that person’s thoughts and mine connect over all that distance, and the thing that has lit me up lights them up too.

I wonder if this isn’t the impulse behind all art, both the tawdry and the epic, and perhaps lots else too. Make something beautiful. Add to the stock of our herd’s insights, creativity, beauty and overall wealth. I’ve often envied a musician’s ability to dream up a melody that previously didn’t exist but that the whole world comes to know and indeed may even continue to know until the end of time. Think Hey Jude or Beethoven’s setting of Schiller’s poem in his Ninth Symphony. Using words to combine thoughts in attractive forms is a micro-scale enterprise compared with that, and I do not say I am good at it, but it is what I have.

The Christian hope for history is the fulfilment of all things and one of the pictures is the New Jerusalem, the city of God, the fulfilled human community, lit up by the light of God’s face. A feature of the New Jerusalem is that its gates are always open. Nothing evil or mean or superficial is allowed in but what does flow in is the wealth of the nations, the baking and the architecture and the engineering and the melodies and the elegant theories and the eloquent art. The patiently and lovingly constructed treasures, dusted as they are – as they must be- with sprinkles of divine pleasure. What am I for? A piece of that.

Image by Siggy Nowak from Pixabay

Make it your ambition to

Try not to panic

Am enjoying reading the NT transliterated (Greek and English together) on a phone app. My ignorance of Greek is a great help because any dim grasp of a thing feels like a discovery, even if it would be steamrollered flat by a proper scholar.

Here’s one. There is a Greek word which means ‘aspire to’ or ‘make it your ambition to.’ Paul uses it of himself when he says he was ‘making it his ambition’ to spread the gospel. (Romans 15:20).

Then he writes to the Thessalonians, ‘Make it your ambition to…’ (1 Thessalonians 4:11) and we might expect him to write the same thing. This is what we evangelicals tend to sign up to in our faith, at least notionally, and in our songs, and are certainly urged to do from pulpits.

But what he actually says is ‘Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life’.

Which I have to say I honestly prefer.

Image by Johannes Plenio from Pixabay