A (maybe) relevant post

This article might not be of relevance to anyone other than myself, and given that I end it with ‘the relevance of the article is that this article might just not be relevant’ I am not sure who I expect to read it, but here goes…

Been a challenging year to say the least; maybe the most personally insulting of any of our now (almost) 11 years in Spain. I don’t expect anyone likes to face failure, and truth is failure is very hard to define. In the important areas of life, that of personal relationships and for those of us who are married, those familiar relationships are not easy to assess. I consider I get an ‘average’ in those set. Anyway the areas of husbanding and parenting are not two areas where a ‘failure/ success’ category seems appropriate, and my mantra has been , ‘just muddle along’. Indeed a lot of life I seem to have approached in that way! It is more when we get into the areas of doing something that we should be able to do but come up short that the ‘failure’ category seems to kick in. And that is where the sentence of this paragraph has relevance – been a tough year.

We had some simple tasks, and not just some simple tasks, but revelation with them to enable the tasks to be fulfilled. The signs that we had done something close to fulfilling what we were to do would be visible in the public arena. On both fronts the signs have either not manifested or even the opposite has become visible. That makes for a tough year. Maybe even the ‘failure’ label is justified.

There are some riders which I hope I do not make into excuses:

  • The apostolic vision is marked by ‘patience’. A long term vision is required in which there will be setbacks and advances.
  • No kingdom activity is wasted. Harvests are reaped after seed has been sown. Seed ‘dies’ when it enters the ground. Jesus (Jn. 4) informed the disciples that they would reap where they had not sown, but it is not possible to reap where no-one has sown.
  • Sometimes aspects we want to shift get visibly stronger before they shift. There is a final manifestation (or series of final manifestations) before the change.
  • We see in part, no-one has the whole picture.

In life we all fail but two key things seem to be important. To fail does not make us a failure. Thank God for that! And secondly, we can only make tentative responses as our assessment is warped.

Might have been a tough year. In some ways that is almost irrelevant. So the relevance of the article is that this article might just not be relevant.

Simply profound

Ever find something hard to understand – or is it only me? I was once told that truth is both simple and yet profound. Sometimes though getting hold of what someone is saying / writing is not always so easy. Words used, and wait for it, the ‘presuppositional pool’ might mean we don’t quite get it. In this post I am going to recommend a video and a post from two important contributors in the realm of theology and its application.

I am grateful for Roger Mitchell’s work and also for having the privilege to dialogue with him so (I think) I have some grasp on his important writings. In his introduction to the video that appears below he writes:

If you find me hard to read as some do, although by no means all, then this talk will help hugely!! As an activist I find it s much easier to make sense at a popular level when I’m in context hands on. Here I am!

There is so much meat in the talk and his explanation of why he pursued his PhD is very clear. He came at it with three questions:

  • why do the rich and powerful always end up at the top?
  • why is it the same way in the church?
  • and why has the church actively supported / endorsed and strengthened that scenario?

Let the ‘ouch’ of those three questions sink in and then here is the link to the video:

The second post I suggest that is more than worth a read is one by Andrew Perriman. The opening paragraph reads:

Here I want to try and answer some questions sent to me by someone who grew up in the “reformed, fundamental, SBC” tradition but has spent the best part of the last year deconstructing his faith “down to nothing.” He has been reading the work of historically-minded interpreters like Pete Enns and NTWright, but has been having a hard time finding a way forward. His faith is sinking. “I currently don’t see any reason to be a Christian or to continue in the Christian way.”

Sinking faith feeling

I do not find and agreement with the perspective that Christendom is the fulfilment of the hope that God is acknowledged as Lord of the nations, so on that I do not go along with Andrew, but his writings and his insistence on the narrative shaping theology is invaluable. This post I reference above will help enormously in understanding this.

Without languages the world languishes

Sub-title: Would Jesus get a PhD?

Reason for this post: writing helps me think and also Steve Lowton and I have just had an hour or in conversation, so he is partly to blame.

There are so many languages spoken, so many combinations of words and sounds used to communicate.

Gayle and I are very interested in how movements grow and develop. In Spain there is a political movement that pushes back strongly against the status quo. We do not expect any movement to be perfect, but some of the aspects of this movement have impacted us. At the core, and at the roots of its birth, are a set of relationships that were involved together at the University and academic world. Iron has sharpened iron in that environment. So often movements for change have a strong philosophy at their roots, a philosophy worked out in the academic world.

Maybe this is how it is meant to be… Maybe the academic world is the place that initiates change. However, there is a difficulty for many of us in this. If we are not versed in the literature, and do not have the intellectual ability to access it, we will find it hard to critique what is being presented. Let me give a simple example. I have been hugely influenced by N.T. Wright. Why? Is it because I have judged what he presents as being on the ball? Or is it (and much more likely) I do not have the means to see where he is missing it and therefore he must be right? If I had been exposed to someone else maybe they would have convinced me.

Remember the days of debate on women in leadership? (Thank God so many, many years ago.) A pro-women in leadership could present the biblical material one week, the ‘male is leadership’ person the next. Then the rest of us could be convinced one way on week 1 and the other on week 2. Or the current debate on same-sex unions. Read author 1… and I am so convinced; read author 2… I have changed my mind. Truth is on many issues we do not simply have the ability to work it out intellectually.

Back to N.T. Wright and other such genuinely bright (and humble) people. There are many aspects of N.T. Wright’s writings that I like, and I respect enormously that he can write at an academic level and a popular one. If I can (just about) access the popular level it does not make me his equal!

I am sure the academic world is important. The world of analysing and dissecting, thesis, counter-thesis etc. But is it the only voice we need to hear?

A movement I am very keen on is that of Liberation Theology. Birthed in the favellas of South America, allowing for interpretation of Scripture that was not academically based but a ‘how do you read this from your oppressed situation?’ That kind of question is so important. I am sure not the only question that needs to be asked, nor the only people who need to have a voice, but people and voice that is seldom heard.

Much is often made of the uneducated nature of many of the disciples of Jesus – a number pulled from the world of the norhtern fisheries, not from those who had completed first and second degrees. Maybe because of that some of their writings are not as theologically dense as we might think… Maybe even in the case of Paul, someone who was probably pretty intellectual, we might find him pulling a face if he could see all the theologies written that explain what he was really saying. What if he was unable to access the theologies on his writings because what was written was just simply beyond him?

And back to the sub-title. Did Jesus have the intellectual ability to obtain a PhD? I don’t think we should automatically assume he did. He certainly had wisdom beyond any other wisdom, but that does not mean he had the intellectual ability to access the academic world at that level.

OK, coming in to land after such a waffle. There are many voices. Most are very small. Most of us have learnt so little, but the voice has value, and it is in the multiplicity and diversity of voice that the voice of God is heard: the sound of many running waters.

God bless the academics, but if I have a say on it at any level, let’s have a strong breath from heaven to amplify the voice on the street.

Faith, hope… and love

‘Faith is the substance of what we are hoping for’ (Priscilla’s words in Heb. 11) presents one of the relationships between faith and hope. Hope is like the mould that faith can then fill. Ultimate hope is of re-creation, the renewal of all things – that outcome is secure. What I term ‘interim’ hope is that bright outlook on the future, that expectation that something will change. That kind of hope, if it is to contribute to the future, cannot be simply (naive) optimism but has to be based on some solid foundations. If that hope is genuine faith becomes the bridge across which heaven’s values travel to our realm. From the initial hope then as faith increases so there is a shift. (Faith increasing was Paul’s prayer for the Corinthian church. They practically lacked at so many levels in their call to fill their region with heavens’ presence, but Paul narrowed down the lack to ‘faith’.)

There remains faith and hope, Paul says – and love. I have written a few times that losing hope is understandable. The issues that need changing are enormous, but we need to look to where God is at work and put our hope there. As the body of Christ recovers her destiny to be the agent of change for the world hope can develop. This does not mean that God only works through the church, but that the church’s responsibility is to change the environment so that the good (and God-given) gifts of human servanthood and enterprise can be expressed.

My hope is for a recovery of that call in the body of Christ, to understand again the political (small ‘p’ please, not NOT NOT party politics, right, left, but certainly shaking all things about political passion) nature of the Gospel. My hope is for the partnership of the body of Christ both with heaven and with the world. Yes we have a long way to go and this signals a big shift from where we have been, but that is my hope.

Hope and faith grows… And not all things are resolved as we want. Maybe we did not really have faith, maybe we did not see the whole picture. Maybe we are not as smart as we thought. Maybe we just simply failed.

Faith and hope. And love. Those three remain, but the greatest of these is love. When all else fails, when our passions do not produce what we thought, when we have prayed and stood and just plain got knocked over… there is love.

There are losses. There are times when the good of the past disappears, but if there was love in there it is stored up in heaven. It cannot be lost:

He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you… in all of this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you mayhave had to suffer grief and in all kinds of trials. (1 Peter 1:3-6).

Stored in heaven, kept safe where rust nor moth can destroy. Stored there so that it can be revealed here in the eschaton. Everything good is stored… Setbacks are for real, our hopes might have been misplaced, our faith might not have been genuine… but the greatest of these is love. When all else fails we can love, and love opens the clearest channel to heaven to deposit all the good things that will be manifest on that great day.

Time for hope, time to believe, and if for whatever reason we do not see what we hoped for… provided in and through it all love remains, somehow everything that we hoped for but never saw, had hold of but lost… will come through the fire intact.

BTW: Priscilla is as likely as it being Paul who wrote Hebrews and as she is the best known female person with ‘P’ what more evidence do I need?

Breathing hope

I have been writing a little about ‘hope’, both as the secure ultimate hope that there is another age that will swallow up this age, there will be a culmination to this age, there will be resolution to the issues we wrestle with here… and of holding on to hope within this age, while not looking for a utopia, to see visible signs that point to heaven’s greater realities.

It is very challenging to hold on to ‘temporal’ hope when there are so many issues unresolved. Stay within the four walls and of course it is easier… but read about those seeking safety not being allowed entry to a European port.

https://openarms.es/en

Open Arms… brave, courageous, risk-takers, lovers of people… working tirelessly to save people from danger with the wonderful statement on their home page:

All those lives we save in the Mediterranean aren’t numbers, they are people with a story and a voice.

So a comment on the big picture (as I with limited vision see it). We have moved from the hope raised by global relationships – end of the Cold War, Berlin Wall collapse, China becoming open to the market and capitalism, EU expansion etc… And of course all the downside of that with globalisation and global companies becoming more powerful than many states – witnessed to by who decides how much and where taxes are paid. The result has been one of the extremes of wealth and poverty, exploitation etc. However, there is a shift taking place with a pull back from the globalisation (as if this is possible!) to nationalism. ‘Make **** great again’ (insert whatever country you wish); close borders, claim sovereignty, new threat of cold war etc.

My big picture analysis could well be so suspect that a whole fleet of buses might just drive through it, but the other day as I was disturbed by this I saw it as being a breath in and a breath out. Not necessarily in this order, but a breath in for nationalism, breath out for globalisation. The breathing keeps the beast alive.

The conflict of interests is huge at this time… which way to pull, but it is in this season that we have to be ahead of the game. The current pull back will lead to re-alignments to push again for a global hegemony, probably we will see this becoming very visible in 15-20 years time.

And for ‘me in my small corner’ it has to be an embrace of an alien status, a refusal to let love for the land ever become nationalism, a use of any gifts to open doors of opportunities for others (come on we can push beyond Proverbs!).

This is such a creative time, and I suspect that the body of Christ has to move more toward the global in this season, and in a non-colonial way. Not global in that we are here to help you with all we know, but global in what can we learn so that we can partner with you? And this includes coming to serve the world – it is a time to learn. Certainly any pull back in this season will simply feed the beast – best not do that!

What hope do you have?

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil (1 Peter 3:15-17).

Hope, ultimate (new heavens and new earth, resurrected humanity) and immediate. What can possibly go wrong with the world now that increasingly we have those shaping things who are ever so competent – and of course in the main claiming to be defending Christian values? OK, hold back that seemingly endless list!

I do despair at times when we look ahead. The lack of care for the planet has already terminated the life of many species and is on track to threaten human life as it has been expressed. I despair when I look at the rise of hate crimes. I despair at the widespread nature of poverty… Hope? There is space for an understandable lack of hope.

Peter’s verses speak into the realm of ultimate hope. We anticipate an intervention of heaven. We do not have some vague hope that things will just get better, nor do we subscribe to the Enlightenment myth of progress. We have hope not because we can simply get there from where we are, but we know that the future will be changed by the arrival of the already secured ultimate future.

Ultimate hope. Yet there is also some immediate hope that we can carry. Change comes when there is flux, when there is crisis. This is where we are in one situation after another. Nationalism and the almost-always-present follower of racism that does not look to promote stewardship but ownership can either be seen as a sign of our impoverished future that is hastening toward us (for the greater level of diversity the greater potential for heaven’s presence), or a sign that we are headed for a reset. That is my hope.

I am not sure if we will get an overwhelming vote from believers for a reset, and given that I see believers as having such a key to unlock perhaps I should not have too much hope. But…

I think there are enough who are lovers of Jesus at a level whereby they do not confuse Western culture as being synonymous with the kingdom of God and are willing to be inconvenienced. Those are the ones who, though embedded, live as aliens. I think there are enough who are willing to walk hand in hand with those who have not made the jump to receive Christ, but who have a God vision. They probably have no theology for that – and why should they have a theology if they do not believe in God, or only have a vague belief in a ‘god’. It might be a bit cheeky of me to give them a theology, but I will try. They see (all) others as having value, for theologically all are in the image of God. True lovers of Jesus might just have to join hands tightly to such people and slacken their grip to those who read the same Bible but cannot see the other. If a mark of being born again is of seeing, maybe we need to re-visit the context of Jesus’ discourse on the new birth?

I have hope that there is a growing disillusion with the status quo right across the board. That the rampant consumerism (the original sin) cannot be idolised but a new set of values have to be embraced. That growing movement gives me hope.

I pray there will be a great smattering of crazy Jesus believers in the mix of it all whose faith can help accelerate change. Those who are able to hold on to that ultimate hope for the future joined to the resisters. Those who are both not afraid to mix with those who do not carry faith in Jesus and who have not lost their faith in Jesus, ever hoping that everyone would also experience the freedom they have found.

What a privilege to be a believer. And a responsibility. So let’s find the hands to be joined to.

A ditty for August

August – some good birthdays this month. Maybe some birthdays of some good people? Also my birthday. I have always enjoyed getting older – always something more to look forward to, ever the hope of maturing… OK just a little. I wrote this today on the first day of the month. To be read fairly quickly I think.

There are many challenges facing the world, with ecology and poverty right at the top. When I write of changing the world we certainly have challenges ahead, so I am focused on an increase of conversion where Jesus is seen – even if ever so dimly. Anyway here goes…

I used to believe we could change the world
That was then in the
good young days
passion and clarity
only this or that
in and out
safe or lost.

Then but now
how many changes and shifts
in the years that have passed.
Assessments of what was said, what was done
reflections that re-position.

I used to believe but now
I see how the world
has a gift to bring about change in the likes of you and me.
No longer naive and oh so mature
or still naive and immature just
in a different way
I have felt the impact of the world
Of God’s world converting me, turning me to see
what was always there. A world
full of the image of God, a reflection of heaven,
distorted and twisted, yet perhaps
no more than I was those years ago.

Grateful for years that shift focus
still faith at the centre
for
I still believe we can change this world.

Converted to the world there are possibilities in every turn.
Dialogue with the high and mighty might be good
But to sit with a child and to truly see them would be better by far
I used to believe but did not really see
for when a who becomes a what
love is lost and belief becomes
a means to an end not the bridge from there to here and from tomorrow to now.

I believe we can change the world. We, together
those who truly see and give
those who dimly see Jesus.

If I can see I believe.

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