Tag Archives: Belief

Life on the road

It feels strange that after almost 5 weeks in Peru, a few days in the Mournes and a week in Berlin I’m not going anywhere in the next few weeks. Life on the road isn’t all bad. Berlin is a fascinating city. We (some of my colleagues and I) were there for a conference on missional leadership by the excellent Innovista. Charlie Hadjiev – a Bulgarian Pastor, recently finished a PhD on Amos led some great sessions thinking through what mission and the gospel actually is, pushing us not to settle for a narrow inadequate and simplistic understanding:

“Often when we think about mission, we make a fundamental mistake. We think our mission is to save people from ‘the fires of hell’. This is all good and true, but inadequate. The gospel is not about avoiding death only. It is about new life.”

Having been in Berlin last year, I enjoyed a bit more time sitting in cafes. My boss now agrees with my last year’s assertion that the coffee in the Starbucks at the Brandenburg Gate is among the worst I’ve had in a coffee establishment. Dunkin Donuts offering wasn’t too hot either, but the local places were pretty good. Being in Starbucks – for usage of their fine toilet facilities, listening to English music was unsettling. It reminded me how bland and dull globalised franchises are – totally lacking in character. Looking forward to my return to common grounds.

If you’re ever in Berlin – do the walking tours. We did a Third Reich one – 4 hrs walking around with an excellent guide who knew his stuff and was pretty funny – and had the best walking backwards technique I’ve ever seen. 90% of the city was destroyed in the war so a lot of the tour is “this car park was the site of Hitler’s bunker”, it was disturbingly fascinating to see the remains of cells in the basement of the SS and Gestapo HQ – now site of a Typography of Terror Museum, and to hear how Berliners call the Soviet Memorial to the Unknown Soldier (commemorating some of their 20 million war dead) – ‘the memorial to the unknown rapist’ due to the 90,000 Berliners raped by conquering troops. War isn’t a pleasant business, and our guide was at pains to point out that the Nazis weren’t superhuman monsters but humans like each of us capable of acts of extraordinary evil. Sobering stuff. The national guilt in Germany over the war and the Holocaust is incredible, and their process of coming to terms and living with that. Having seen what the Spanish did to Peru and Bolivia, and aware of the mess the British Empire made of much of the globe, I wonder how much remorse Spaniards or British people have for the actions of previous generations. And where do you begin to draw a line? For those of us living on Northern Ireland, that’s the question – how do we deal appropriately with the events of the past, what does it mean to move forward?
Hope becomes an important concept – despite growing up in a ‘hell and brimstone’ culture – seeing and being reminded of stuff like this, the thought that one day those who perpetrate horrendous acts will be held to account gives me hope, while i tremble and throw myself on God’s mercy and grace because (to paraphrase Gary Haugen) I know that the same attitudes and thoughts that existed in the hearts of Hilter and Stalin are in mine…

Halfway musings

Well my system is well and thoroughly detoxed and i may even be a little slimmer thus allowing my brain to begin musing on some of what we´ve been experiencing here in Peru. One thing that´s been very noticeable in churches is how often people say ´gracias´ when praying. After listening to a Tim Keller sermon on the bus on the way home today (that´s the sort of christian geek i am) i was pondering is the thankfulness and generosity shown by christians here as compared to how we live at home related to how much we actually believe the gospel. In wealthy countries we have everything we need and do we really acknowledge how much we need God or do we just do religion – good stuff? More to follow….

Its been interesting how easy it has been to go without things, like the two days without our luggage, and even for a coffee snob like myself who has 3 cups a day, i’ve only had 3 my whole time here. Peru produces some really good coffee – the cafedirect beans from macchu picchu are pretty good yet people here don’t seem to get to enjpy some of the really good stuff they produce because its all exported. One of the women in Caraballyo, when asked if she uses vegetables (given there are fields of vegetables around the community) replied tellingly ‘no, the good ones all go to you’ meaning overseas. The world is so small and connected, frightening to think our demand for vegetables and coffee actually deprives the people in the countries that produce them from enjoying the good fruits of their land…

After some more painting the last couple of days we’re off for an English camp this week and we are actually camping. A few English lessons and some Irish culture are being hastily prepared. For those of you who have been to Slovakia – sound familiar?

We return on Sunday night and get a 6am flight to Cusco for our team holiday – a few days at one of the new 7 wonders of the world – Macchu Picchu which should be stunning – as long as no-one gets altitude sickness. We’ve done pretty well on the sickness front and hope it stays that way…

Who let the dogs out? – Peru part three

To quote another song, dogs are everywhere here in Peru, well especially in Caraballyo, although most are pretty inactive and docile. However we have learned that Peruvian dogs seem to enjoy the Peruvian way of life which tends not to be too fast paced. Powerwalking in a European way to get back to the petrol station from which we get the bus back to Lima seems not such a good idea, as the hole in my t-shirt from an overexcited dog now demonstrates. No skin broken so no fear of getting rabies. We’ve been working in San Martin in Caraballyo for two weeks now. The roof on the community house is now complete, there’s a 3m hole dug for a latrine, and there’s now a fence running along the back of the kids playpark and the path shielding the sight of the rubbish dump in the background. We’ve discovered some of the genius of HSBC’s local knowledge ad from the local handyman and community leader Crescento who with a chain and piece of wood took out a pole concreted in the ground in two minutes which took us a couple of hours with our rocking back and forth method. We´ve loved working with Luis the carpenter putting up the roof, one of those people with a constantly smiling face who we managed to have great chats with in spanglish. The universal language of football is a great starter. Paul and I and a few of the girls have been getting into playing football with some of the kids and the guys who drive the mototaxis. We’ve seen the sun and blue skies in Caraballyo for the last week which has meant lots of sweating, even when just doing nets. The Paul and Sam combo is becoming a pretty fearsome attacking force. For those who are aware of my footballing prowess, the stony bumpy pitch and the dust seem to help. It’s exciting to see how AEGUP (thePeruvian IFES movement) are committed long term to community development in partnership with the community. The last couple of days we’ve been able to do a bit of mini kids club with arts, crafts, songs and bible stories. The kids seem to get it all, which is great. This weekend is independence weekend so there’s flags everywhere and we’re getting the chance to see some of the big parades in Lima. We’ve settled in really well, helped immensely by Rob [Rob Clay Rivers – to give him his full title], an american doing a year here with LatinLink. Sorry a North American, as we’ve realised that american refers to any native of the two continents of the americas. Watching the Copa america final at his house was pretty good too. One of Rob’s other contributions has been giving us another team member. His friend Jo came to stay with him for a week and get involved in the stuff he was doing and has ended up joining us for the whole time. Its been funny thinking back to this team almost not happening but we’ve got a great bunch of people with Emma and Cara staying from the Jordanstown team, and now Jo. Its added a great dynamic, perspective and banter. As a team we’ve been digging into Colossians which has been great, and I’ve been rereading Colossians Remixed – which is one of the best books I’ve read in the last couple of years, both for the context of the Roman Empire and for translating Paul’s subversive message into a global consumer culture. Lima is no different with McDonalds, Dunkin Donuts, Pizza Hut et al in evidence – although Paul and I’s sneaky Pizza last night from a local joint was pretty heard to beat… the girls weren´t so impressed but it was his birthday…

Soapbox – currently enjoying a free (involuntary) weight loss and detox regime

Pets and Poverty – Peru part two

The strangest sight so far has been the woman on the bus with two snails in a plastic bag with a little lettuce – not lunch but merely pets it seemed. Saturday 14th saw our first day working in the community of San Martin at Caraballyo. The green fields of vegetables were a welcome relief from the greyness of Lima – the city of 11 million were the sun never seems to break through the smog. The sight of this little community on the edge of a rubbish dump was however a different sight. After the dustiness and rubbish came the smell of the rubbish and the pigs that feed on the rubbish. As we stepped out of the mototaxis, the first thing to my shame that i noticed about the kids [apart from them being pretty cute] were that they looked pretty dirty and the last thing i wanted to do was touch them. I had to remind myself what Jesus would have done and make a concious effort to get stuck in, but after my self-centred concerns the kids were so affectionate and really glad to see us, and to play. Football not being my strong point, the only people I can beat are kids so its all good! We will be putting a roof on the community house built by AEGUP – the Peruvian IFES movement, who after consultation, are working in partnership with the community leaders. They’ve also built an amazing little playground that provides a splash of colour in the midst of some of the drabness. Its going to be a real learning experience and privilege to work alongside AEGUP as they demonstrate integral mission and get to know some of the locals with my pidgeon Spanish. Lima has been in the grips of strikes for the last few weeks although we haven’t seen much apart from riot police around the centre. all is quiet, but Independance Day on 28 July should be fun.

Sunday can wait.

So the sabbathing stuff is coming, I’m enjoying this time of year as things quieten down (well apart from the wedding I’m best man at on Saturday) and the CU planning for next year I’ll be at this week. It usually means my mind starts to waken up. I’ve been reading Eugene Peterson’s ‘Eat this Book – The Art of Spiritual Reading’ with the title based on John’s experience in the book of Revelation.

I’m pretty passionate about the bible – God’s revelation of himself that invites us into life with him and into his story. I hate it when people misuse the bible – giving many people ammunition for all the negative claims often made against the bible. Its pretty unique and incredible if you give it a chance, it you give it time. For people trying to follow Jesus often there can be nothing more damaging than ‘bible’lite’, than not taking it seriously, not engaging, and just dipping in for bible horoscopes to make you feel good about yourself for the day. Now hear what I’m saying – God speaks and uses lots of things but we can’t build a healthy engagement with God this way. That may do for a few weeks, or months but not for a lifetime of journey. We need to really engage – I often think it ironic that ‘bible studies’ (a term that fills most people with dread, because of boring, dry, comprehension-like question and answer sessions) don’t really involve studying or the bible, but reading a passage once (which we pretty much instantly forget) then sharing opinions without actually getting into the text – more licking and forgetting than eating and chewing. That means coming humbly – not arrogantly thinking we have it all sorted or explained and entering into the story, sitting humbly under its authority.

We’ve been having lots of conversations in work about how we approach the bible, as it is one of our core values. There had been a phrase ‘good use of the bible’ banded about which we were aware did sound a bit like we thought we had it nailed and sorted. More profoundly one of our board stated a theological objection reminding us we don’t use the bible – if anything it ‘uses’ us. As we engage with God’s word, his Spirit changes and transforms us. its not just go and do this but we almost enter into the story, begin a conversation. And so ‘dynamic engagement with the bible’ was born.

I thought the following from Eugene was telling – as we enter into God’s story yes there is joy and promise and fulfilment but also deeply unsettling experiences…

“The bible is a most comforting book; it is also a most discomfiting book. Eat this book; it will be as sweet as honey in your mouth; it will also be bitter to your stomach. You can’t reduce this book to what you can handle; you can’t domesticate this book to what you are comfortable with. You can’t make it your toy poodle, trained to respond to your commands.

This book makes us participants in the world of God’s being and action; but we don’t participate on our terms. We don’t get to make up the plot or decide what character we’ll be. This book has generative power; things happen to us as we let the text call forth, stimulate, rebuke, prune us. We don’t end up the same.

Eat this book but keep a well stocked cupboard of Settlers and Alka-seltzer.”

I’m excited about continuing my journey of understanding, experiencing and being involved in what God is doing in history, to do that its vitally important we engage properly and meaningfully with his word. I leave you with a question posed by a friend…

“How can I read the Bible to enter into its story so that its story becomes my story and the story of this community I have come to love?”

small, black and beautiful

Yes I have crossed to the dark side. Zoomie please don’t kill me. I have entered ipod land. It just looks so nice. What did disturb me was that of its 30GB, well actually 27, I have already filled 14GB with music and a podcast frenzy. That’s over 9 days solid of audio. Being a bit of a geek I was listening to some interesting stuff from Harvard Business Review – stay with me, and stop snoring, about the need for rest and healthy balance to life which stirred up some memories of one of my colleagues frightening me during the week by quoting something I said back at me (from something I did on sabbathing) which nicely tied in to my first ever visit to a book launch from the Shep on rediscovering Sabbath (no free books though). One of those dirty words that makes me think of people with placards and all the things I wasn’t allowed to do on Sundays. So I’ve been thinking about sabbathing as a concept of something good and beautiful – even more so than the little black ipod. More soon…

How sound are you?

Clearly with an exam tomorrow I should be considering Charles Gerkin’s approach to pastoral care but nothing recharges the old grey matter more than thinking about something completely different. Following on from a previous post about the tension between what is I guess Paul’s advice to Timothy to “watch your life and doctrine closely”. Note not just watch your doctrine but life – how it is lived out. Orthodoxy without orthopraxis – or faith without works is dead, as James would say. I forgot to mention that I was asked “are you a young earth creationist or a heretic?”. Now I have a strong stubborn/rebellious streak so even if I was a young earth creationist I would probably still have answered “I guess i’m a heretic then”. It was ridiculous that my views one one matter should define whether someone respected/listened to me or wrote me off.

Anyway, my colleague has just written a blog entry on similar grounds – around the theme of how we measure our unity – by actions and/or belief. Check it out here.

Finally a couple of cartoons stolen from Dan Kimball on a similar note:

Which is more accurate? or sadly true?

Revision always allows you to find out bizarre things like your theological worldview:

You scored as Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan. You are an evangelical in the Wesleyan tradition. You believe that God’s grace enables you to choose to believe in him, even though you yourself are totally depraved. The gift of the Holy Spirit gives you assurance of your salvation, and he also enables you to live the life of obedience to which God has called us. You are influenced heavly by John Wesley and the Methodists.

Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan
Neo orthodox
Classical Liberal
Roman Catholic
Reformed Evangelical
Modern Liberal

What’s your theological worldview?
created with QuizFarm.com

Thoughts from a lonely prophet part two

A belated return to Walter Rauschenbusch.

“Christian morality finds its highest dignity and its constant corrective in making the aims of the kingdom of God the supreme aim to which all minor aims must contribute and from which they gain their moral quality. The church substituted itself for the kingdom of god and thereby put the advancement of a tangible and very human organisation in the place of the moral uplifting of humanity.”

“churchly correctness took precedence over Christlike goodness.”

His comments on church and kingdom and the subsequent discussions we had in class provoked some musing on my part, coupled with some stuff I was listening to from Tim Keller and Mark Driscoll. Those words resonate today as often the church/churches seem more interested in building their little empires and running their programmes than building the kingdom. Thinking in terms of kingdom is challenging as it broadens our horizons. For me in a Christian student organisation it raises lots of questions. How does the extension of the kingdom sit/clash/merge with our values and partnering with others seeking to build the kingdom but who have different approaches?

God’s plan in history is to build his kingdom, and the church is the means to do that – not the end in itself it seems if you read Revelation 22 which sees the leaves of the tree of life being for the healing of the nations. It makes you wonder if CS Lewis in the Last Battle is getting this when it comes to some ‘outside Christianity’ – without getting all universalist of course.

Something else in this smogashboard of things floating around my head is a frustration with people who equate the life of following Jesus being about going to heaven. Reading the biblical texts doesn’t necessarily suggest this – God is establishing his kingdom, creating/recreating a new heavens and new earth and the bible ends with the ‘new Jerusalem’ descending, reiterating that the physical earth is a crucial part of God reconciling to himself all things. Its also interesting as we look at the big picture flow of the bible that it starts in a garden and ends in a city of people from every nationality and people group. For God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, and for his kingdom to come surely means that we need to work hard at building inclusive church communities of all nationalities, young, old, rich and poor – youth congregations or monocultural congregations may be easier in the short term but are they really expressions of God’s kingdom if there isn’t longer term integration?

Some muddled musings grasping at the wonder of the most incredible reconstruction project in history, especially given the fragility of the raw materials…

Science and Faith

Just back from a great weekend in the smoke-free air of the republic, hanging out with friends in Maynooth. Saturday was the Christians in Science Ireland day conference with a couple of heavyweight scientists/theologians in the guise of Alistair McGrath and Denis Alexander. It was an incredibly stimulating day thinking through Dawkins challenge to faith, and theistic evolution.
The talks are online here.

Now I think its vital that Christians be committed to rigorous thinking about how faith interacts with every area of life, and a comment from an Oxford professor lingers in my mind – “we have to be very careful in these areas that we don’t damage the integrity of our witness”.

Some of these debates always stir up quite a lot of emotion, and I want to plead for humility and grace to be the guiding principles in these discussions. It would be ridiculous for me to tell a neurosurgeon they don’t know what they are talking about and have got it all wrong, and sometimes Christians blunder into these debates, without understanding science to tell scientists they are wrong. A great deal of patience, understanding ad humility is required. That humility was evident among the speakers on Saturday. One of the key themes that came through was that scientific theories does not tell us that there is or isn’t a God, and we often have to recognise that theories are often hijacked by ideological systems (people such as Dawkins) and used to say or mean things they don’t. Science and religion are not mutually exclusive.

Christians, although they may differ in their understanding of how, do all believe that God is the creator and sustainer of all things (despite what some may have you think), and we need to recognise that as a starting point. It worries me when people who take one position on this are quick to label those who don’t disagree with them heretics. Its not just in science, I encountered it in the area of the Holy Spirit with people at a training conference for my job in England. This is a serious charge and too often is done in an arrogant manner that says ‘I’m right and if you don’t agree with me you’re not a proper Christian’. Its an attitude that often seems more interested in writing people off than building others up, and engaging thoughtfully with humility recognising we all have much to learn. Grace and love I seem to remember are things Jesus modelled and the biblical writers appear to think are pretty important. Often it seems to ignore that people have thought deeply and wrestled with the issue in hand.

Our approach to the bible also needs considered in this area. The bible is God’s revelation to us – it is not supposed to be a piece of scientific literature (the genre of which is fairly recent). The early chapters of Genesis are not eyewitness narrative in the way Acts is. In the Hebrew they are tightly structured in ways our English translations don’t pick up. When we come to the bible we always need to recognise it is a collection of different sorts of literature, we don’t interpret some of the apocalyptic writings in Daniel or Revelation the way we interpret Mark. Interpretation can often be hard work, and if we are humble enough to recognise that some passages can be legitimately interpreted differently then we should be gracious enough to recognise that there are things we will disagree on, and be gracious in that. Always making sure that we’re not adding to the gospel, have a read at Galatians 1 to see what the apostle Paul thought about people who added on categories for believing in and following Jesus. Our purpose is to point people to the life that Jesus offers, not make them agree with us in all the secondary issues.

Chocolate Jesus?

There’s been quite the storm in the US over an artist’s chocolate depiction of Jesus being crucified. The outrage has caused the gallery to pull the plug. Without getting into the rights and wrongs of representations of Christ, it is an interesting reminder at this stage of the year as we ‘celebrate’ Easter. It’s Easter so that means eggs -right? is an attempt at an amusing look at what to do with leftover Easter egg in the Guardian’s special section on chocolate, which says more about living in post-Christendom than the meaning of Easter. Easter eggs are everywhere, I have been indulging in my weakness for creme eggs but Easter is about so much more than chocolate, than consuming. At Easter as we reflect on death and resurrection, maybe Chocolate Jesus (the sculpture or the Tom Waits song) has much to say to us as we consider what we have been replacing Jesus with and what must die in order for new life to rise. Those earth shattering (literally) few days in remote outpost of the mighty Roman Empire, including the ripping of a curtain symbolising the end of a series of rites and restricted access to God, and opening up access to the creator to all of us require reflection and celebration. Celebration of not just the death of Jesus (which evangelicals can obsess over) but also the resurrection – the new life on offer from God (although going on lots of Christians, especially the Phelps family/cult in Louis Theroux’s latest programme you wouldn’t know much about the life to the full), and about this wonder of God inviting mere mortals into the ‘dance of the trinity’. On this Easter Sunday we have so much more to enjoy than just chocolate, and much more than just the death of Jesus. Thanks to Zoomtard and Jaybercrow for some thought provoking comments on Easter, suffering, the Phelps and a magnificent quote from MLK.

I leave you (trembling with holy awe, and caffeine – which may explain the disjointedness of this post) with quotes from the two Anglican Archbishops in England:

“Give up the struggle to be innocent and the hope that God will proclaim that you were right and everyone else wrong. Simply ask for whatever healing it is that you need, whatever grace and hope you need to be free, then step towards your neighbour.

Easter reveals a God who is ready to give you that grace and to walk with you.”

There are those who might wish that we were a little quieter in our celebrations or were a little less public in our joy. The problem with such a request is that it ignores the fact that in the resurrection of Christ, God is speaking to the world, and when God speaks you can’t ignore Him.”
(Archbishop John Sentamu)