It’s been a while since I’ve read any Eugene Peterson. In those years I’ve experienced a lot. Moving country, starting up Innovista in Ireland, losing my mum suddenly to cancer, getting married, and most recently meeting my dad for the first meaningful time I can remember. I’ve come to a deeper recognition of the pain and complexity of life, how essential hope (in the NT Wright sense) is and a faith that feels different, deeply rooted, freer and more comfortable holding things in tension. All this to say that I’ve come to appreciate Peterson’s writing in a new way and found profundity and inspiration afresh from his deep thoughtfulness and graciousness. A few quotes that have inspired me so far from Practise Resurrection: A Conversation in Growing Up in Christ (based on Ephesians):
The air we breathe and the atmosphere we inhabit as believers and followers of Jesus is grace. If we don’t know wat grace is, the last place to go looking for help is the dictionary. Grace is everywhere to be experienced but nowhere to be explained…
And on peace:
Jesus respects us as persons. He does not force himself upon us. He does not impose peace. He does not coerce. Jesus treats us with dignity. Peace is never external to us. It is not the absence of war or famine or anxiety that makes it possible to live in peace. It is not accomplished by getting rid of mosquitos, rebellious teenagers and contentious neighbours, or burning heretics at the stake.
All of us are participants in peace. Jesus is at work bringing us, all that is us into a life of connectedness, of intimacy, of love. There is a lot going on, a lot involved. We are all involved whether we want to be or not. It takes a long time, because Jesus doesn’t push us around and make us shape up, doesn’t shut us up so that we don’t disturb the peace. Peace is always in process, never a finished product.
And finally (for now) the church as a place where this peace is worked out:
The church comprises a vast company of men and women in all stages of maturity: crawling infants and squalling babies, awkward and impulsive adolescents, harassed and fatigued parents, and occasional holy men and holy women who have it all together. All of us who understand and practise peace in the company of Jesus, who is our peace, have a lot of maturing to do… …Humankind does not mature all at once. And so peace is constantly in the making, and also constantly at risk. Church is where Jesus is proclaimed as ‘our peace’.
This give me hope. Hope for myself, hope for those who have to live with me (and endure my occasional rants!) and grace in my heart for those who I look down on because they ‘just don’t get it’ the way I do!
Does an emphasis on doctrinal purity rule out grace being the most obvious smell we give off?
I’ve been mulling this over a little over the past weeks. Is it possible for the two to live in tension? I know it must but I have rarely seen it happen..
It seems than when our focus is on making sure people think/know/believe the ‘right’ things we become arbiters of what is ‘right’ and set ourselves up in judging and defining ourselves over and against others. It can be seen in lots of ways – both in those who are nervous about the gospel being diluted and those who wish people could see the bigger picture. In fact even when we want others to espouse a more gracious and liberating way of living we can become so focused on whether they are doing it right that we lose the gracious way of life we are trying to see more of.
I wonder if our focus is on doctrinal purity (of whichever sort that may be) if we can really live, breathe and smell grace?
I have long advocated that the most significant conversations i’ve had about theology tend to take places in the pub. Transfarmer, smallcorner and a few others help keep this theory alive in a long conversation about lots of things, partly how we read the Bible and think about it. On that topic I’ve just started Scot McKnight’s Blue Parakeet which is proving interesting reading.
So right and wrong. Are we missing the point by constantly being so worried about what is right and what is wrong? Or maybe its a pharisaic obsession with how we can judge others as right or wrong and in so doing justify ourselves? I’m not talking about obvious things like killing people, perhaps I mean theological nuances. So often we are obsessed with the right way of thinking, of sound doctrine, of having the right theology. Obviously I’m not saying its not important to think and wrestle with this stuff as that’s what I’m doing. But should we be more concerned with following the trajectory of the way of Jesus, obeying all the stuff he taught than looking at others and seeing if they have the right theology and trying to correct them all the time?
Help me out here, as i’m not quite sure wht i’m even trying to articulate.
In the garden Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, wanting to be like God, wanting to define good and evil for themselves. Is this simply our problem, that we are infected with our own desire to define what is right and what is wrong? So much so that we forget, or get distracted from walking the path of Jesus? Is it the case that there is no ‘other’ with God and so are we foolishly trying to define ourselves over and against others all the time instead of living the inclusive life and love of Jesus?
Does anyone know what i’m talking about?
The good folks at summer madness have in a fit of craziness allowed the soapbox to escape from his usual tasks of walking around the Kings Hall site with a hi-viz vest, radio and clipboard looking busy and purposeful, and actually given me something to do. They have in effect given me a soapbox from which to rant. Potentially foolish. However I have been given some guidelines. I’m taking a seminar entitled
5 ways to lose your faith before you’re 25….
I clearly am a model example of how not to be a christian, either that or it is intended to be a somewhat ironic title. Now i’m no expert so I would like your help. I did grow up in this subversive jewish sect as some would say, although when growing up it didn’t seem too subversive but more about the rules, from which i eventually had enough and wandered off for a bit to check out some other options. I couldn’t escape though and figured that it was perhaps a bit of an imitation of the real thing i’d been shown, and this subversive, loving your enemies, upside down Jesus was worth following. I’m still here.
So if you’ve been a wanderer and wandered back to the way of Jesus – what are the things that keep you in this way? If you are a Jesus follower what are the things that help you keep the faith? Or if you’re not so up for all this God-bothering – why not? what turns you off Christianity?
I have an hour to fill so need some substance here…
I have a confession to make. I am the great pretender. In the north of Ireland we live in a culture where pretense is often the norm. When we ask ‘how are you?’ we expect to hear ‘fine’ or ‘good’. We don’t want to hear an honest answer because it’s messy and we get involved in the messiness of someone else’s life. We pretend everything is fine even when actually the only phrase to describe how we are feeling or doing is ‘pretty shit’. If God knows our hearts how do you think He feels when we have the gall (as I do) to even try to pretend to him that we are fine, to not admit how much we need him. It’s bad enough lying to everyone else around about how we really are. But. What happens when if you are honest it means you have to say why? And what if that why is not appropriate or helpful to disclose because there are issues to be resolved and worked through? There are attitudes to be repented of, people to be challenged, grace to be sought, lived and spoken. What are the limits of honesty? I’m done and sick of pretending, but in many ways feel I can’t be totally honest. Others are involved. What is an appropriate level of honesty? Is lying/pretending for the sake of situation yet to be resolved justifiable?
I eschewed church tonight for a night with my feet up hoping to enjoy some Top Gear, and was intrigued to see ‘Liverpool Nativity‘ on BBC3 – described as ‘the Christmas story live in Liverpool as you’ve never seen it before’. It was a powerful performance – imagining the nativity – so sanitised and well known in modern Liverpool. The Salvation Army band marching past playing Christmas carols as Mary and Joseph are abused, issues of asylum, national security, state control reminding us not of the lovely nativity, but of a couple who were outcasts, sleeping rough, baby in a shopping trolley. They did a great job of breathing life back into the nativity, reminding me of the shock and scandal of the coming of Jesus into the world. With the lovely nativity scenes (and even nativity snow globes on offer), we forget about the genocide, the killing of the innocents perpetuated by the ruler of the state, the scandal of a pregnant unmarried couple, their welcome by the outcast unreliable shepherds, by the foreign wise men, and the smell and shit in the animal pen. Into this God came.
Tonight reminded me how the nativity story speaks powerfully into today, how it challenges us on how we treat the outsider, the immigrant, the asylum seeker, the people society despise (the ones God chose to announce then coming of hope and light and life to). The ending was powerful with the city invited to hide the holy family from Herodias and welcome Jesus into their embrace...
[Wasn’t so sure about the use of Imagine by John Lennon that the ‘shepherds’ were singing before the angels came. Although maybe a depressing hopeless song interrupted by the coming of hope makes sense…]
Tonight a holy moment took root again.
I was also reminded again of this great poem from Stocki.
The Eternal focused on a moment
The Voice becomes a listener
The Word becoming flesh and bone
Close enough to whisper
The beyond the world’s comprehension
Moves right into the midst of her
Heaven stoops to touch the earth
Close enough to whisper
Close enough to touch her
Close enough to kiss her
Close enough to be broken
Close enough to whisper
For God so loved the world
He emptied Himself to visit her
Came down to walk beside her
Close enough to whisper
The Eternal focused on a moment
The Voice becomes a listener
The Word becoming flesh and bone
Close enough to whisper.
Who am I?
A couple of things have been going on recently. The first seemingly innocuous. I met up with Vox to start sorting out a pension. As I’m about to hit the third decade (although technically i’m already in it) its time to think wisely about the future. Part of me did think, im getting a pension, that’s me sorted, the future is secure. In my mind my security was being placed more in finance than God, it was my attitude and the placing of my security there that is the issue, not the fact i’m being sensible.
Secondly and perhaps more importantly I changed job over the summer, well changed role within the same organisation (or movement to change the world as i like to think of it). As the newness wore off after a couple of months, I’ve been experiencing a sense of loss. The loss of some of the things I’ve been doing over the last seven years, a quarter of my life so far. The relationships I had built. The feeling of being needed by the students I was working with. Many of the parts of that role fitted with who I am and gave me expression of those gifts, skills and abilities. The time was right for a change but I loved what I was involved in. Perhaps my identity became wrapped up in my role, so as I changed role, as a new season in life comes, I have begun to question who I am. Had I become what I was doing – was my identity defined by what I was doing as opposed to who I was? As I explore new avenues I am feeling that sense of loss but it has also made me question whether my identity had become based on my doing as opposed to being? Maybe this time is a time for a rebuilding of proper foundations, of being as opposed to being defined by doing…How much of our doing is an expression of our being and where does the balance lie?
The line of an old prayer I have used often, and seemed particularly relevant came back to me:
O Jesus, meek and humble of heart, hear me.
Deliver me Jesus….
…from the desire of being of being consulted….
Much like whynotsmile I must issue an apology regarding my previous post. The helpful people at my bank have now sorted out my problems. It now seems there were in fact no bandits thieving from my account. Some company has a sort code and account number only one digit different from mine and someone got a number wrong, thus the money left my account and not theirs. I am now able to breathe a sigh of relief regarding my banking security. I then did begin to (obviously as a result of living in a litigious blame culture) think “flip someone’s incompetence could have cost me a huge sum of money, what about my phone calls to the bank (a grand total of 3) and distress caused to me (here I was beginning to take on the vocabulary of the said blame culture and exaggerate something that gave me something to talk about but certainly didn’t lose me any sleep). When I took a step back and got some perspective – I realised that someone made a mistake, and here was me getting up on my high horse talking about incompetence and wanting to see what I could get out of the bank. I got my money back, which should have made me thankful enough that I had money to be taken out of my account. I make mistakes every day, and when I do its just a mistake, but when its other people its a flaw in their character, its a trait, its incompetence. I really can be an arrogant git. Much like my encounter with the police here I am again looking to make myself feel superior to someone else – who got one number wrong – big deal. I’ve been reading through the gsopels and realise that Jesus must have been so good to be around. Instead of shooting others down to make himself look important (well he certainly did remind some of the more arrogant of a few home truths) he saw where they were at, he saw things from their perspective and gave people dignity and lifted them up. It must have be so liberating. That’s what I want to be like, instead of someone so insecure at times I need to prove my worth by showing how superior I am to others when in reality i’m no different, constantly making mistake, and needing grace, the grace I maybe need to start demonstrating to others…
” We are being asked to believe that, less than a week after the great upheaval, players who regarded Mourhino as their mentor have thrown their lot in with someone who they ahve reason to suspect may have hastened their beloved manager’s exit. T’s like saying Larry, Adam and The Edge would barely look up from their royalty checks if Bono were dumped in favour of James Blunt…”
Read the rest here
I’ve been doing a fair bit of training over the last couple of weeks – for new staff of our ever growing plot to change the world through students. I’ve been ranting a lot about the Bible as I have done here too. Jaybercrow and Zoomtard also have a lot of good stuff to say on the subject. One of the things i keep coming back to and trying to live as well as hammer into people [constantly emphasise is maybe a better phrase in this context as has been pointed out!], is a sense of humility. A wise lecturer commented a couple of days ago that their is a significant difference between arguing about the ‘authority of the bible’ and our ‘interpretation of the bible’. Often we confuse the two. If someone doesn’t agree with your interpretation, its easy to claim they don’t respect the authority of the bible. and again its a classic example of trying to make ourselves feel better by making someone else feel small and claiming superiority. Which is not humility. Which is not the way of Jesus. Humility is not about winning and losing. Humility respects that other people’s opinions are not snatched out of the air. Humility realises that we don’t know it all, that other people have much to contribute to helping us understand God, the world, each other. In fact I think that’s part of what is behind Paul’s teaching on the church as a body. God does not make us self sufficient. We do not have all we need by ourselves. We need others for their gifts, skills, wisdom and experience. I think this is also what Paul is getting at in Ephesians 3 – ” that you may have power, together with all the Lord’s people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge”.
Time to stop and begin living humbly – realising others have much to teach us, that we need others. As someone working with students I see it all the time – sometimes at 19 or 20 people think they know it all and don’t need anyone else. It’s something I, as someone who always knows the right way to do things – my way, has had to learn the hard way and come to appreciate much more over the years. We need other people. a large part of humility is realising that.
the soapbox – coming after your money
Check out Whynotsmile’s take on the recently arrived Dawkins Foundation.
She says it all better than I could, and makes her encounters with a certain DIY chain hilarious and compelling reading.
I may get around to some posting of my own sometime soon when I emerge from the depression of Ireland’s world cup campaign…