All the King’s Horses …

... and all the king's men ...

… and all the king’s men …

Faith is a fragile thing: one minute it is as solid as a rock … the next it has evaporated into the ether … but once shattered it is difficult to reconstruct (rather like Humpty Dumpty) and I can vouch for this from personal experience.

About 10 years ago I was studying Applied Theology at our local university. I was there as an independent, self-funding student but many in my class were also members of the Northern Ordination Course who had extra help and support from outside the university. I went along to the initial sessions with firm ideas of what I believed and what God was all about – it was all standard stuff that I had been taught and adsorbed from others rather than thought about for myself – but during those first months everything that I had seemed to crumble into dust. We were taught to question; we were encouraged to look at biblical passages in context and from all angles and we were expected to think … sometimes this even extended outside the box (i.e. beyond the boundaries of formal Anglican doctrine.)

In the main this wasn’t such a problem for the guys (and gals) from NOC: okay they may have had a bit more of a problem with releasing themselves from the standard doctrine and formularies, images-18but when their faith was dented they were taken away and bionically rebuilt by their NOC tutors and supported by the other members their peer group … needless-to-say I had none  of that. When I found my own faith crumbling it was, in the main, up to me to pick up the pieces and put them back together again … and what developed was a very different animal from that with which I had started. Think about it, whilst the shell of faith may be reconstructed rather like a three-dimensional jig saw puzzle, the contents can never quite be the same.

But it’s not just new ways of thinking that can dent faith. There is an age old model that suggests that there are three pillars which support faith: Scripture, Tradition and Personal Experience – imagine them to be like a three legged stool, which we know has inherent stability, with our faith, represented by an egg placed on the top. If the whole thing remains in balance, the egg remains secure, but if the support becomes unstable or the length of one of the legs is longer than the others, the egg may well roll off and shatter on the ground. This sad fact not only affects an individual’s faith but it can also cause conflict between the various denominations of the church.

Think about it: the Catholic Church majors on tradition, the Evangelical Churches hold fast to scripture and Liberals tend to place their personal experience on a higher plane than anything else … and then we are surprised when we have difficulty bringing the different factions of the Anglican Church together to agree on various matters such as the ministry of women.

I used to describe myself as a Liberal – in practise this probably meant that I was trying to force God into the pigeon holes that I had designed. I now prefer to describe myself as an Holistic Christian – Experience is still important but Scripture and Tradition cannot be ignored … Scripture interpreted in context and Tradition, which provides a sense of awe and wonder, in the church but also as is relevant to the communities in which we serve. Thus, the answers to questions of faith are not necessarily absolutes: they may well vary depending upon the context and community in which the questions are asked.

Holistic Christianity is not intended to be wishy washy and good for nothing but it is a way to keep the 3 pillars of faith in balance … otherwise none of it makes sense!

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The problem with Christians …

images-15Am I the only one to have noticed … ?

Are Christians actually capable of joined up thinking?

Okay, that question is based on a generality and I hate generalities but there seems to be a basis for this one. So, whilst I apologise to those who have received and use the gift of JUT, I do question the thought processes of those who have seem to be incapable of holding more than one thought in their head at any time. This deficit often enables and promotes a belief in mutually exclusive concepts:

  • God is infallible … but he sometimes gets it wrong;
  • he is omnipotent … but he has his limitations;
  • he is omnipresent … but there are places that he choses to ignore;
  • he  is the God of ALL people … but surely, not THEM!

How can this be??

How can a God of fear and vengeance in the Old Testament translate into a God of love in the New … did he change or is it perhaps … just maybe … is it US? Is it our perception of God and God’s will that has altered over time? Are we expecting God to be more like us than we like him?

Centre of all

… or is it me?

Several millennia ago, or so we are told, Moses received 10 commandments from God … 10 rules which were to act as guidance for human lives. But in the centuries that followed those 10 rules were added to such that they came to control the very minutia of life – read the book of Leviticus for yourself and you will see what I mean. 10 rules became 100’s of sub-rules and whilst some of the new ones actually helped (a number of the food rules strike me as a good way to live if you don’t have a fridge and there are also some good rules for avoiding degenerative genetic abnormalities) many went too far. But it wasn’t just the rules that went too far, their observance became obsessive. Ritual cleanliness held a greater virtue than helping someone in need: tithing (giving 10% of everything you had) became an absolute requirement of salvation and not a vision of an ideal. But make no mistake, these extra statutes were of man, not of God.

When Jesus began his ministry he also began to dismantle some of those extra rules: he questioned the food laws, he disregarded the cleanliness laws when he associated with the unclean and the sinners and he demonstrated that it is okay to do work on the Sabbath if that work has a godly purpose. In fact, he went further than that … he said, “If 10 rules are to complicated for you, let me cut the number down to just 2: ‘love God and love your fellow beings’.”

There were no “Ifs” “Whys” or “Buts” there were no “Exclusions” just  … ‘love God and love your fellow beings’ … what could be simpler? And yet … over the last 2000 years what have we done? Well, we have changed those 2 new laws into another myriad of minor rules and sub-clauses and suddenly … we perceive the ministry of women to be inferior to that of men and Gays and Lesbians have been placed in a lower class than oversexed, hedonistic heterosexuals … and the church is surprised when it is increasingly seen to be irrelevant by the masses who have accepted women as equals and understand that sexuality is a continuum and not a bi-polar state that can be controlled by a switch – the controlled experiment on celibacy undertaken by  the Catholic Church since the C17th seems to have proven the latter quite conclusively.

Joined up thinking

Joined up thinking

So, if God IS infallible, why can’t we trust that he has got things right and actively try to discern his ways? If God IS omnipotent, why don’t we just believe that he can do it? And if God is omnipresent, isn’t it about time that we accepted that he IS there with ALL people and in ALL places – even those whom or which we shun?

Why don’t we stop trying to overcomplicate things and accept that we should be loving God and ALL those whom he has created on an equal basis regardless of gender, colour, race, sexuality, disability, malformity, mental capability … and even those who cannot string their thoughts together cohesively? Christianity is fundamentally simple in its concept … why do we continually seek to overcomplicate things? Is it because we see ourselves as the centre of the universe??

Never underestimate the gift of Joined up Thinking!

No, I am not a Jedi …

Jedi

… I am a Christian and I am male which apparently places me in a relatively small minority in the UK but my Christian journey isn’t anything to write home about. I had no blinding, Damascan revelation like St Paul. Mine was more of an Emmaan journey where faith quietly developed within me and I had seemingly little to do with it. Indeed, I would be the first to admit that I am who I am through sheer coincidence of birth. If I had been born elsewhere I may have been a Muslim, a Buddhist or a Hindu: if I had not had the experiences in my life that I have had I may even have been an atheist or an agnostic … but I wasn’t and I have … so this is me and that also means that I am willing  to listen to those of other faiths or those of none!

I was born in the 1950’s and I attended a church school: I joined the church choir at the age of 8 (for no other reason than I was allowed time out of school to sing at funerals … how sad is that!) and I was bundled off to Sunday School by my parents on Sunday afternoons so that they could have a couple of hours peace and quiet (or so they said … I never did ask and I am an only child so make of that what you will) so there must have been a bit of Christian learning there, even if it was only by osmosis, but at best, at that time I would describe my faith as latent – I hadn’t put much effort in and I wasn’t really getting much out of it – but, for some reason (and excluding a couple of periods in the wilderness that I may tell you about one day), I kept in touch with the church.

I had stagnated! I wasn’t going anywhere! I was just one of those people who turned up each week to take a seat in a pew without particularly asking why! But then, in the 1980’s, I became personal friends with a young vicar and within 6 months he had asked me to become his churchwarden – obviously he knew something that I didn’t!

During our time together, and for the first time in my Christian story, we began to debate. When I started in these discussions I was shooting from the hip – expressing opinions with little real knowledge with which to formulate a case – so I went away to read and learn and to find out more simply so that I could defend my views. Needless-to-say, before long he left the area but my journey had been reinvigorated – the spark in my spiritual life had been rekindled and I had begun to grow – and so I moved on to the next chapter.

Our next vicar provided the space in which that growth could continue. I remained as a churchwarden for a total of 10 years but, during that time, I started to train as a Lay Reader  and this provided a focus and purpose for my studies. I have been a reader now for 17 years but my growth hasn’t stopped. I still question, I still have doubts, I still have theological hypotheses for which I am seeking evidence. I am not a creationist – as a scientist and engineer I have little time for the concept of Intelligent Design and delight in the Theory of Evolution. I am not a literalist – I believe that the scriptural texts need to be interpreted within the context in which they were written and I have come to the conclusion that it is okay to claim to be a Christian whilst still questioning faith and accepting others as they are.

Are there any more out there like me?

In Memoriam …

The 6' Slide Rule

The Six Foot Slide Rule …

… well not really! When closed the overall length is probably no more than 8″ but the scale around the cylinder would be about 6′ long if it were to be unwound and that is what gave it it’s accuracy. Needless-to-say, I always wanted one but never had one … and thereby hangs a tale. But before that, let me digress.

When I was young and the testosterone kicked in, like many adolescent males, I thought that I was invincible and never shied away from taking risks. I still carry one or two of the scars from that time although nothing really serious happened to me and the scars are small. I didn’t take life really seriously until the birth of my own children …

When my first daughter was born I suddenly realised how precious life was and I became aware of the fragility of the thread by which we are all suspended … that essence, which is life itself, is so delicate and so easily lost. My own life was changed dramatically by this realisation and I grew up overnight but, hopefully, I never lost my sense of fun and adventure … I just did things more safely and my time working in the chemical industry reinforced this attitude.

However, yesterday I heard that one of my school pals had died: we had spent many happy hours together in our youth. Many will have lost friends at much earlier ages than this, and I feel for you but this is my first close friend to pass that way and I am saddened by that thought.

He lived at the top of our street and he was the same age as me: we were in the same class at school, and suddenly … I am very aware of my own mortality. Death is not something that I fear but I know that life cannot go on for ever and it is definitely for the living … SO LIVE IT!  Don’t wait for those regrets to kick in when you are 80 – “if only I had […] when I still had the energy/capability/passion” – life your life as though today may be your last … one day it just may be!

So, what can I say about my old mate David? When we went off to university we went our own ways but whilst we were at school he was a serious Beatles fan and he usually had their latest singles or albums before we had realised that they had been released. He once bought a slot racing car kit by mail from the States which, once built, had a scale speed of around 600 mph: it was okay on the straights but impossible to steer around bends so we used to drag race it and catch it in a cushion at the end of the track – we didn’t have a parachute and there was no other way to stop it! He rode a Honda 50 motorbike which he once fell off when it backfired whilst he was kick-starting it. We had some great times and I have some wonderful memories and did I mention … he was brilliant at physics and he had a 6′ slide rule …

God bless you David and goodnight.

Creation of Wealth …

When will our politicians realise that our service and finance industries do not create wealth – they merely redistribute wealth that has already been created from one pocket to another (usually from mine to theirs).

In order to CREATE wealth we have to start with some sort of raw material that did not previously exist in either our manufacturing or our food chains. In other words, to enable wealth creation we have to start with something that is taken from the ground, from our seas and rivers, from the air or, taking this argument to its natural conclusion, captured from space.

On that basis agriculture creates wealth: crops are grown in the ground and harvested or animals graze. Our fishing industries create wealth because they harvest another natural resource which has in turn fed on naturally occurring organisms. Our energy companies create wealth because they use fuel that has been provided by nature be that fossil fuel, uranium, wind, solar or tidal (the sustainability or advisability of using fossil fuels is another matter). And our manufacturing industries create wealth by taking natural resources such as gas, coal, iron and silica and converting them into the products being demanded by our consumer society.

When you think about it, the true Wealth Creation Industries are the ones that we, as a nation, have been running down for years. The economic balance of our agriculture industry is sitting on a knife edge (thanks in the main to the power of the force field we call supermarkets), our fishing industry has been decimated because the seas around our shores have been over fished and Europe says it must be so, and much of our manufacturing industry has been moved overseas in order to “cash in” on lower labour costs and, in many cases, lower health and safety standards – no wonder we have a balance of payments problem!

When I was a lad in the Black Country during the 1950’s and 60’s, there were factories on every street corner with furnaces, forges and machine shops. We made steel and things of steel, we hewed coal and generated our own light and heat: we had manufacturing expertise and we were proud of it. But when I go back there now, the factories have either been replaced by coffee shops, burger bars and DIY stores selling spades that were made in and have been transported from China, or only their empty shells remain like modern, unloved Norman castles; window-less, roof-less with walls that are visibly crumbling. Not only that, the people are much poorer and dispirited … where is the sense in that? Don’t get me wrong: it wasn’t all good but, even so, somehow it did seem better.

So, Mr Prime Minister, if you are reading this, please take note. Never mind QE and bankers with their excessive bonuses … we need a sound manufacturing/agricultural base to move us out of our current financial difficulties and our growing benefit culture … there … solved with a single swish of the pen … Simples!  (If only it were!!!)

Taken Aback …

When I wrote my first blog yesterday I thought that was it … I had written it and sent it off to that place on the interwebcloud thing and I thought that that was an end to it. Whilst I realised that it was a public posting I never imagined for one moment that anyone would read it and even less take the trouble (or want) to actually “like” it!

Thank you! … I may even write again!!

More time for me … ?

When we first had our own children I always imagined that when they grew up and fledged from our nest my wife and I would find more time for ourselves – time to explore, time to garden, time to relax – but just as we got to that point we found that our own parents needed more love, care and attention and we continued to do what we needed to do. Sadly, we don’t have our parents for ever so surely there must be a time when life assumes a gentler pace … mustn’t there?

One by one our parents left this mortal coil, God bless them all, and I retired … again we looked forward to the next chapter of our own lives – time for extended holidays, time for extended lunches over a glass of wine … and time to sit and appreciate the beautiful countryside in which we live – well that was the plan. But it never did happen; I don’t suppose it was ever intended to.

Just as we thought we had everything in control … the grandchildren started to arrive! First, the twins then, just two weeks later, another grandson appeared: another 18 months after that and our first granddaughter is now due in just 4 weeks time.

Image

The first three!

Our two daughters, with our 4¾ grandchildren, live at different ends of the country resulting in what appears, at first sight, to be very different demands. The one living close to us calls on us for baby sitting, emergency nursery pick-up and play days but we also make an effort to visit our daughter in London once a month in order to keep up with the development of the twins and our youngest grandson. Each visit lasts, on average, 3 or 4 days – days during which we are called on for baby sitting, emergency nursery pick-up and play days … but we wouldn’t have it any other way!

The spare time that we yearned for when we were young never has seemed to materialise but, with hind sight, we wouldn’t have it any other way. There will be plenty of time to sit still when our bodies begin to creak and crumble so for now, we are more than happy spending time creating the memories that will sustain us later!