The Span of My Life

The Span of My Life

415poJLcTBL“When I consider the span of my life absorbed into the eternity which comes before and after – as the remembrance of a guest that tarrieth but a day – the small space I occupy and which I see swallowed up in the infinite immensity of spaces of which I know nothing and which knows nothing of me, I take fright and am amazed to see myself here rather than there; there is no reason for me to be here rather than there, now rather than then.  Who put me here?  By whose command and act were this time and place allotted to me?”

 

 

Blaise Pascal, Pensees, Section one: Papers Classified by Pascal:  III Wretchedness 68, pg. 19 (Penguin Classics, 1995)

Outsmarting my Smartphone

I am conducting a self-experiment.  I am going to “boldly go” where a small but increasing number of people are going:  to take a break from a “thing” that makes this life both connected and detached; I’m attempting to outsmart my smartphone.

One of my favourite singers, Paulo Nutini, in his great song Coming Up Easy has these words which, although he is talking about the love of his lady (or drugs, according to some), they nevertheless capture my dilemma with the smartphone phenomenon:

“I’m afraid it looks like we’re
Gonna have to go our separate ways.
You see the thing is I love you, I love you
But you see I resent you all the time.”

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A Magnificent Flaw

“It is not the gift- and skill-sets – the intelligence and imagination, the range of reading, the elegance and wit – that separate the great theologian from the good one. The difference lies not in the brilliance but the defects. It takes a magnificent flaw to make a great theologian.”

Kim Fabricius 

 

Commending ‘The Ghost of Perfection – The Search for Humanity’

ghost2My friend Joe Haward published his first book last year called ‘The Ghost of Perfection – Searching for Humanity’.  His chapters tackle many issues that are prominent in our Western societies, though certainly not limited to them.  The topics covered are, Mission, Triumphalism, Relationships, Violence, Consumerism, Beauty, Prayer, Trauma and Sex, with a Conclusion entitled Waking Up!  It’s certainly not likely you will fall asleep reading this book!

I particularly enjoyed how he drew on the Catholic tradition in his chapter Beauty, not only referencing the Roman Catholic Pope a couple of times, but having the present day Eastern Orthodox hero and genius David Bentley Hart critique ye olde Catholic hero and genius that is Thomas Aquinas (1224-74) – I suppose that’s a theo-nerdy thing to get excited about, but that’s the kinda thing that puts rum in my ovaltine.

So below is my Amazon review. But don’t get it from them lot, get it from your local Christian bookshop, even though they’ll probably have to order it in.  For some reason, most theology books worth buying don’t seem to be on the shelf!  It won’t cost you too much of your pocket money, thus it is still worth quoting the Reformer Erasmus, a value both Joe and myself hold to, “When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.”

Buy The Ghost of Perfection.

“In these times of uncertainty, polarisation and violence, the need to discover what it means to be human has never been more pressing. In The Ghost of Perfection, Joseph Haward tackles those issues that affect us all, from the fragility of relationships in an increasingly digital world and the pervasiveness of consumerism to the violence that has become the normative language of our society. He reveals how these are linked and how self-preservation has become synonymous with security on so many levels.

The chapter on mission makes for often uncomfortable reading – the obsession with numbers and how, all too easily, church programmes become goal-oriented and objectify people by turning them into ‘targets’. The following chapter is just as challenging in revealing the prevalence of triumphalistic ideology and how, by denying the reality of suffering, it can destroy faith and dehumanise us.

I like the way Joseph Haward draws on a diverse range of sources, including the early Church Fathers, Bonhoeffer, Brueggemann and Wink, as well as drawing examples from popular culture, from Black Swan to Hannibal. His writing style is engaging and accessible, and his explanation of Girard’s scapegoat theory, not the easiest concept to grasp, is nothing short of masterful.

He doesn’t shy away from asking difficult questions, and neither does he give us easy answers. What he does do is invite us to hear afresh the call of the God of history who, unthinkably and outrageously, became one of us – not to be a self-help guru or a ticket to a better place, but to show us how to become truly human, for only in so doing can we ever hope to transform our broken and divided communities.”

ghost

“The same frantic steeplechase toward nothing”

I found these Thomas Merton excerpts on a tatty piece of paper the other day, and thought they belonged here:

“The problem is to learn how to renounce resentment without selling out to the organization people who want everyone to accept absurdity and moral anarchy in a spirit of uplift and willing complicity.”

“We live in a society whose whole policy is to excite every nerve in the human body and keep it at the highest pitch of artificial tension, to strain every human desire to the limit and to create as many new desires and synthetic passions as possible, in order to cater to them with the products of our factories and printing presses and movie studios.”

“If we are fools enough to remain at the mercy of the people who want to sell us happiness, it will be impossible for us ever to be content with anything. How would they profit if we became content? We would no longer need their new product.”

“The basic inner moral contradiction of our age is that, though we talk and dream about freedom…though we fight wars over it, our civilization is strictly servile. I do not use this term contemptuously, but in its original sense of ‘pragmatic,’ oriented exclusively to the useful, making use of means for material ends. The progress of technological culture has in fact been a progress in servility, that is in techniques of using material resources, mechanical inventions, etc., in order to get things done. This has, however, two grave disadvantages. First, the notion of the gratuitous and the liberal (the end in itself) has been lost. Hence we have made ourselves incapable of that happiness which transcends servility and simply rejoices in being for its own sake. Such ’liberality’ is in fact completely foreign to the technological mentality as we have it now (though not necessarily foreign to it in essence). Second, and inseparable from this, we have in practice developed a completely servile concept of man. Our professed ideals may still pay lip service to the dignity of the person, but without a sense of being and a respect for being, there can be no real appreciation of the person. We are so obsessed with doing that we have no time and no imagination left for being.”

“The monastic life is in a certain sense scandalous. The monk is precisely a man who has no specific task. He is liberated from the routines and servitudes of organized human activity in order to be free. Free for what? Free to see, free to praise, free to understand, free to love. This ideal is easy to describe, much more difficult to realize…The monk is not defined by his task, his usefulness. In a certain sense he is supposed to be ‘useless’ because his mission is not to do this or that job but to be a man of God. He does not live in order to exercise a specific function: his business is life itself. This means that monasticism aims at the cultivation of a certain quality of life, a level of awareness, a depth of consciousness, an area of transcendence and of adoration which are not usually possible in an active secular existence…The monk seeks to be free from what William Faulkner called ‘the same frantic steeplechase toward nothing’ which is the essence of ‘worldliness’ everywhere.”

The Pocket Thomas Merton, ed. Robert Inchausti (Boston & London: New Seeds, 2015).

Rainbow

The mirth of believers

The mirth of believers

We live in a broken world, with astonishing levels of violence, rivalry and scapegoating.  And only a fraction of it makes the news.

But one of the most counter-intuitive resistances human beings can do, and should do, is to laugh.  Laughter is what makes us human, and since we are all made in God’s image, as Sydney Harris says, “God cannot be solemn, or he would not have blessed us with the incalculable gift of laughter.”

The New Testament does not have one single account of Jesus laughing.  But it would be a mistake to think he never did.  Jesus was most gloriously free and always unashamedly himself.  He wore no religious masks.  Laughter is not less than holy, but an actual fact of it.

I can’t read the story  of the seemingly rude encounter with the Syro-Phoenician woman in which Jesus refers to her as a dog – as anything but Jesus humourously teasing out of her a response that is a product of true faith, faith that sees.  I suspect he even had a wry smile on his face as he did so, and so did the spiritually astute woman (Mark 7:24).

Sometimes our churches can be communities that are reduced.  Places of simmered down spiritualities.  Dour, serious, pious!

Maybe we’ve thought that to permit laughter is to allow victory to the devil.  Some people get very serious when they get religion.  That’s a shame.  Maybe they think laughter represents weakness, corruption and foolishness of the flesh.

I think one of the holiest sounds in our churches, or anywhere, is laughter.

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Clown Europe

Sea

Call them what you want,

Asylum seeker, migrant, refugee;

But see, a face that looks like me.

*

Watch them flee from land and sea,

Shining out from our latest HD TV.

Packed in boats and rafts;

Longing for half a chance.

*

Despising even the rank air they breathe.

No room to move or sit,

No food to eat no drink to drink;

While Europe waits and chats and thinks.

*

They want to live and work and play,

To see a new day, as the sun goes higher;

Just trying to live that’s all, beyond the dire,

But is this necessary, brand-new razor-sharp wire?

*

And they’re the lucky one’s,

For too many drown,

In the not too funny sea,

While Europe looks on, like a clown.

*

We all know this world is unequal,

Too few have had too much for too long.

“Fortresses of wealth in many seas of mass misery,”

No act of God, but acts of man,

A kind of perverse and sinful symmetry.

*

It is time to wake up, look up and see,

These are not asylum seekers, migrants or refugees;

But a stunning and worthy humanity. . . . seeking dignity.

Look closely:  they are all just like you, and just like me.