A holy day

OK I wrote a few days ago that I had posted my last one before Christmas. That truly was my intention, until our day yesterday. In the morning I had replied to a few comments and had been very struck by the different worlds that we inhabit as people. The world of those who have everything and want more; the world of those fleeing war and having a hard job being welcomed to a new land… and everything in between. We had just come through a storm on the east coast, the day before the street was running with rain water and then yesterday afternoon it was soaked with sea water as the waves were pounding the front – only one other time in 30 years a resident told us he had seen it like that. During the storm other than rain coming in through one window we were pretty dry and warm, and in the midst of this Gayle prayed for anyone caught in the storm nearby who had no home… So the scene is set.

The weather yesterday turned and having been house-bound for a few days we went running. Along a route we have never run, in the light of the storm on a path as close to the water as we could run. About a mile we see someone sitting on a bench with two plastic bags. We stop, ask him if he needs anything. He looks blank then after three questions he replies with,

‘Do you speak English?’

‘What do you need?’

‘Food and to get to Barcelona.’

So we spend the rest of the day with Momodou. As I walk him back to our apartment I ask him,

‘Do you have faith?’

‘Without faith I would not survive’, he replies.

Born in the Gambia to a Muslim family he went to a Catholic school, knows the Scriptures, reads them and knows Jesus. Highly intelligent, well travelled (he has been to 38 of the US states, Canada, many places in Europe, lived in London and before coming to Spain in Ireland). He is one of those people who had fallen down the cracks through circumstances. Coming to Spain, he explained, was a major mistake. Without the language he had few opportunities for work, then he either lost or had stolen his British passport. Never did he think he would sink this low. So with some food inside him, a few fresh clothes (he did not want many as he had many miles ahead of him to walk), he left a message on facebook for his brother, we prayed with him.

We were overwhelmed with meeting Momodou. We will probably never see him again. A different world to the one we inhabit. A man of faith saying he trusts God to get him back to the UK, and that his part was to come up with a plan… to walk. We got him on the bus in Oliva with a ticket to Valencia, some money for the next ticket to Barcelona. If all went well he would have arrived there last night. From Barcelona he said the next part – walking to France – would be a ‘piece of cake’. There he planned to get work (he has a good command of French) and wanted then to get back to the UK with money so that he could get back to renting property and find work.

Once he was safely on the bus and we were back at home. We sat, having lived through a deeply spiritual encounter. An encounter where in the midst of it we had met Jesus. He was for real, he was not an angel. For him maybe we seemed like angels, but we were for real. In the meeting of the two worlds we all met Jesus.

It was as holy a day as we have experienced. Hugely humbling.

Somehow the small help we were able to provide is vital to our journey. We are trying to learn what it means to do our part. This year we sensed that God is not looking for the new big but for the multiplicity of small things. We cannot change the world. What is God looking for? To make the small acts. We were privileged to being part of Momodou’s journey yesterday. He had worked out that he was 40-50 days walk away from Barcelona. Last night, having verbalised he needed to get to Barcelona, he should have arrived there. He has a long way to travel yet. He needs other small acts of grace along the way.

For the past years we have been engaged with the understanding that God wants to give us leverage points, where we touch not the big reality, but the microcosm of the big (a sign) that points to the bigger reality. We are convinced that all we do is what we can do. Together we do the small… that is the leverage point for the big changes. It is in this way that no cup of cold water can ever be nullified by the raging fire of consumerism.

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Jesus’ family line

This will be my last post pre-Christmas… So to one and all who read and follow these rather random posts a thank you and trust that you will have some great reflections over this period. Maybe a time to re-centre.

Matthew’s Gospel is one that has the oft-repeated phrase or concept of fulfilment of Scripture. The opening words that introduce us to the ‘genesis’ of Jesus Christ resonates with the first book of the Hebrew scriptures and so it goes on right to the final words of Jesus in the Great Commission and the echo of Cyrus’ words at the close of the Hebrew Scriptures and the normal last book of the Writings (2 Chronicles).

His account of the family line for Jesus is interesting with his setting of it as being in 3 sections of 14 generations, positioning the entry of Jesus as at the end of the Exile. Then in the genealogy we have the mention of four women. The inclusion of women in this way is highly unusual for biblical or ancient non-biblical records. Maybe Matthew does not appear as radically non-patriarchial as Luke, but he outdoes Luke at this point. Then consider who he includes.

Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba. Tamar subjected to incest, Rahab described as a prostitute (and non-Jewish), Ruth a Moabite and perhaps a seducer, and Bathsheba a married woman caught up in David’s adultery.

A pure line? Not so, neither pure racially nor sexually.

Of course one could argue none of that means anything as we go on to read of the virgin birth, but given the unusual element of including women in these ancient records their inclusion surely must be communicating something significant. Maybe well-beyond the three simple points I make here.

  • Jesus has enough crap attached to his genealogy to screw up his identity, but finds his identity in his heavenly alignment. (He also has the stigma of his own questionable legitimacy; the identity of a refugee; the probable loss of his father at an early age to contend with.)
  • Given that none of the women are described in any way as relating to any wrongdoing indicates something huge. (Even Bathsheba is referred to that she ‘had been the wife of Uriah’.) Identity flows from our direction rather than our origins.
  • Pure qualifications do not seem to be the channel that heaven needs to enter the world.

Christmas: God with us, but not any god, the God revealed in Jesus. Not a religious judgmental God, but one desiring to be tarnished with humanity’s mess. Good news and true peace that resolves inner conflicts.

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Spain: arms deals

In a decade Spain’s arms sales increased ten-fold from 406m (2004) to 3.9bn (2013) and in the first quarter of 2015 an increase of 25% from the same quarter a year earlier to 1.7bn. (Figures in Euros.) An economic crisis in Spain? A crisis.

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Lowest rate since 1971

This report came out a short while back that the USA now has the lowest abortion rate since the historic date of 1971. Statistics such as this are a huge challenge to those who hold to the sanctity of human life, and how we work with how Christian legislation and redemptive legislation might not always coincide.

I am very glad that I do not have to make choices that politicians and lawmakers face. Is it possible to hold to a position personally but hold to a different position when wearing a hat within society? I think so. On the very tough issue of abortion the response to that from us believers I think is likely to differ enormously. I cannot buy into ‘it is my body and I have the right to choose’ – of course we all want to shout about the right of the unborn. But I think we also have to push far deeper. I consider that the way we can dehumanise others (war of course necessitates that) must have a direct bearing on how many can take it one step further and dehumanise the unborn.

I am not sure how I would respond with regard to having to vote on the abortion issue. An absolute ban (except in the obvious exception cases) is ‘right’ but I am not sure it is redemptive. I therefore have great sympathy with those who are against abortion when it comes to their personal decisions but have not imposed that on the wider community. Dirty hands, but I think in biblical imagery, better described as dirty feet – dirty because of the dust on the road we must travel.

Christian politicians – admiration for you as you wrestle with rights and wrongs in the context of seeking redemptive choices.

Christians in the medical field – another level all together. As a politician I might be able to come to terms with making a painful choice and taking a personally conflicting decision. So assuming for a moment I was able to make that choice. What about when I then took on a medical profession and had to sign papers for someone wanting an abortion. Could I simply refuse? Could I get round it by referring them to a colleague? If the latter does that resolve my issue?

Difficult choices, challenging pathways.

But for me today – from the luxury of blogging – I am thankful for the downturn shown by the statistics, and have to play my part in living redemptively. Seems the most major contribution I can make on that front is in humanising those I meet, and in seeing faces rather than statistics. That is an easier path than the one facing my politician or medic who is a believer. Their choices are more visible. Mine can be kept private – and for that I will have to be accountable one day.

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Standing Rock apology

Wes Clark Jr headed an apology to native Americans at standing rock. An agnostic he says that the abuse “brought back memories from my childhood where I was sitting in church and hearing the gospel, with Jesus saying, “What you do to my brothers, you do to me.” Suddenly it made sense. Now it’s like a spiritual fire has been lit inside me.”

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Predestined smoker ready for outreach?

Well a totally cheeky title, but as I have not posted for a while I am surely allowed to be a little left of field. Apparently in the Southern Baptist world there is some debate over the appropriateness of those from a Calvinist persuasion being among them or whether they should find a home among Presbyterians. (See: Scot McKnight’s post.) There are, so I read, a number of New Calvinists who have made their way in to the fraternity, prompting this response from an objector:

Some New Calvinists, even pastors, very openly smoke pipes and cigars, just as they drink beer, wine. They may even home brew the beer themselves, attempting to use it as an outreach to identify with other smokers and drinkers.
Sin is not a form of outreach.

I don’t think the comment was made humorously but it did provoke just a little laughter in our household. Now though a little more seriously…

We all try and make sense of Scripture, the traditions of the church, and maybe even the creeds, so (Old or New) Calvinists are in the same boat as I am in trying to do just that. Theirs is a tradition that I have never been able to settle in. I have always thought that regardless of how nuanced the theology is that we end up with the inevitable of only the elect can be saved. At least Spurgeon got round that one emotionally by saying he prayed ‘God save the elect then elect some more.’ If that were how it worked that would be OK, but don’t really think that is how the theology was set out to work, with everything set from ‘before the foundation of the world’.

A huge divide for me is over how we understand God. Is he defined as omnipotent, sovereign… or is s/he defined as love, with all the implications of that, and maybe even the belief that such love is uncontrolling (Thomas Oord) and indeed that God’s will could (at least in theory) remain unfulfilled. I have read, but as I do not have a copy cannot confirm with certainty, that Calvin in his commentary on 1 John on ‘God is love’ comments that love belongs not to God’s essence, but only to how the elect experience him. If this is what he writes then ‘God is not love’ at his core.

I am not writing to refute old or new C’s but am struck by the huge challenge the ‘God is love’ statement makes. It seems to me that we cannot elevate any other character element to such a level that his love is simply something that we (the elect) experience. He is love, hence we are called to love our enemy. Loads of implications… two crosses, two ways of responding to God. And too aware that I can respond to God according to my own selfishness regardless of what theology I theorise over.

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