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September 9: Jesus Beyond Dogma VII. Hope and System

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Every aspect of life is monitored and controlled by systems and their norms which we know and try to observe. System is effective in how we think, act and comport ourselves. Hope emerges from within all this not as an escape from dead-end living, nor as the natural completion of what we are already doing but as an unexpected breakthrough, an open door where there seemed to be no way out – because it is not where we tend to look.

The common understanding of hell is the violent separation of the good from the bad – where we have lost the Good News. This is system – a story already told, and when based on the final redemption of all – through God’s mercy: a drama with a beginning and a happy ending. There is no need for hope! If the story is already known – there is no place for it. The Good News is that system is not essential, we can leave it and discover what hope really means.

Revelation shows us how hope was born for the women at the tomb – out of what made them run away in fear [how often do we hear Jesus say don’t be afraid?] Nothing could ever be the same again after Easter Day. There is no system that can show us how to experience life that survives death and actually includes death. Jesus did not die and then come back to life, he is at one and the same time dead and alive – which is why there is such emphasis on the five wounds. Death has been emptied of its power by love at its very best. This is how the women’s fear was transformed [not ignored] into hope. When Revelation concludes with Maranatha [come Lord Jesus] we are asking that the forgiving victim be present with us – do not be afraid, it’s only me and I love you.

Is not our deepest desire to be desired by another for who we are, just as we are? This may be true but there is much more. We grow into desiring in imitation of what he have seen in others. They have a nice car, I’d like something like that. We are recreated, not by someone desiring us, but by what that desiring brings about in us – the Resurrection urges us to love as we are being loved. It means having the freedom to accept God’s love. Love creates only lovely things, love created me so I can rejoice that I am lovely, lovable and able to love.

For this to happen I need to let go of all concerns about worthiness. How awkward this can be comes out when we reflect: if you give a friend a present and then you say thank-you, how much do I owe you? We would be taken aback – so why do we do it with God? He has given us to ourselves as gift – why do we ask what do we owe – keep the rules – go to Church? We need to become less concerned about our reputation to make room for being loved and wanting to love. This love will know nothing of revenge or needing to blame, and so embraces the persecutor as well as the persecuted [with God it is always all] no matter how late we turn up for work. No mortgage.

When we stand free of concern for reputation, and from the need to settle old scores through our minds now fixed on things above – then we are beginning to love our neighbour without discrimination [which is what things above means].

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The central theme of Easter is that Jesus was present to them as forgiveness – and more, it is resurrection in the flesh not just a purely spiritual happening. Jesus walked with them entirely imbued by the ever present love between Abba and the Son – the Spirit. Such living is totally removed from any shadow of death – death has no place in this way of life [as is the case with the life we know now].

The only reason there is Christianity is Easter. The Resurrection was not a miracle happening within our understanding of God, but the way God makes it possible for us to respond to the presence of God. This is the Resurrection, Jesus enjoying this way of living including his death. This is why he told the Sadducees: You are very much mistaken. Every reality from within the death culture cannot speak adequately of God. God’s love is totally unaffected by death, also death was not a necessary separation – love carries on being mutual and complete even through death.

With the Resurrection we receive the grace [gift] to experience the presence of God, not just know about it. Access to God’s way of revealing is not ours by nature but by grace. This is revealed through the Resurrection, not because it never existed before, but we cannot understand with minds clouded by death. This man who is dead is alive. It is the total immanence of God – God totally involved with us – that is God’s transcendence.

This has something to say about sin. The Resurrection reveals there is no divine necessity for death; death is present as something that is – but now we see it does not have to be. Not only is our understanding of God very much mistaken, but contrary to the understanding God desires us to have. Death is a human reality; and as such is sinful. Putting Jesus to death shows how we are actively involved in death-dealing. The necessity of human death is a necessity born of sin. For us death is not just passive to be endured, but also what we actively deal out.

God did not raise Jesus simply to show his immunity from death, or to rescue him. Jesus is raised for us. The victim of our death-dealing ways is raised up as forgiveness:  For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him – John.3.16-17. Death is seen as a human reality infected with sin, but it is a human reality capable of being forgiven by exposure to love – greater love there is not than you die for another.

None of this happens for the benefit of God – it is all for us, when forgiveness enters into human death. Forgiveness, the fruit of the Resurrection is not about what we have done or failed to do, but what up until now we had believed what was natural for us. If death is something that can be forgiven, we are wrong, not just about God but also about ourselves.

If God can raise someone from the dead in human history what we thought as being inevitable [death austinas the end] is clearly not so. It is not just a biological reality but a cultural one – and so is capable of change. Sin as related to death need not be. God created us mortal – mortality means experiencing death – we need to ponder on how death would have been experienced if there had been no sin. This has implications for understanding Original Sin – what we are as human beings moving towards death – now seen as capable of forgiveness.

 AMcC

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August 22: I is for Ironbridge.

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Ironbridge: the name says it. All those glorious structures like the Forth Bridge, Sydney Harbour, the Howrah, the Golden Gate and the bridge at Victoria Falls, owe their ancestry to this iron bridge over the Severn in Shropshire.

A bold venture to build a bridge of cast iron so high above the river in 1779. The beams were cast on site since transporting them would have been difficult. But would it work? Abraham Darby must have been an excellent mathematician, blessed with patience to check each step of his calculations and each stage of the casting, the building of foundations and assembly of the bridge. Here it stands today, carefully maintained, like the Forth Bridge and all those others. My grandfather, a Shropshire lad, took me to see it aged about five; it impresses me more now than it did then, unlike so many things.

Crossing the river here safely was a dream made real by Darby and the men who dug his coal, smelted, transported and cast his iron; masons, surveyors, painters. He and they had to trust in the laws of physics as they understood them. The people who keep the bridge alive –  it is still open to pedestrians – apply the physics and chemistry they understand to prevent rust, metal fatigue and erosion.

The dirt and hard labour of the Industrial Revolution have gone, leaving the Severn Gorge free from dark Satanic Mills. But if we are to build Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land we need an understanding of what we are about, and how to ensure dirt, fatigue, rust and erosion do not stop us working together.

God, come to our aid, Lord, make haste to help us!

Laudaato Si’!

MMB.

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August 3, Francis Thompson II: THE HOUND OF HEAVEN I.

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The story of  Francis Thompson’s struggle with his demons which led to drug addiction and homelessness after leaving Ushaw College is perhaps better known than his poetry. Some of it needs much work on the part of a reader not versed in the Classics of Greece and Rome, but not The Hound of Heaven. We invite you to read the whole poem in short extracts.

THE HOUND OF HEAVEN:

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes, I sped;
And shot, precipitated
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbéd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat—and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet—
“All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.”

I pleaded, outlaw-wise,
By many a hearted casement, curtained red,
Trellised with intertwining charities;
(For, though I knew His love Who followéd,
Yet was I sore adread
Lest, having Him, I must have naught beside)
But, if one little casement parted wide,
The gust of His approach would clash it to
Fear wist not to evade, as Love wist to pursue.
Across the margent of the world I fled,
And troubled the gold gateways of the stars,
Smiting for shelter on their changèd bars;
Fretted to dulcet jars
And silvern chatter the pale ports o’ the moon.
I said to dawn: Be sudden—to eve: Be soon;
With thy young skiey blossoms heap me over
From this tremendous Lover!
Float thy vague veil about me, lest He see!

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July 28: Odyssey of Love and love

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Gate to Jesus Hospital, Canterbury

 

Love entered love and became love,

because Love has always been in love.

love can never find self outside of Love;

And to remain Love,

love must go, go out to become Love,

Whilst all the time remaining in Love;

And for Love alone,

yet for everyone, because of Love.

VE

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Inter-galactic Explorations XXVI: The Black Dog.

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‘You heard that?’ said Alfie, as the dogs, T, Abel and Will walked back to the railway station. ‘Abel said bye bye, black dog.’

‘His language is coming on,’ remarked T, ‘but did you see him scream and kick? He is so pleased when he says something new, but he gets frustrated when he cannot make Will understand.’

‘Even though we can read his thoughts without words,’ flashed Ajax. ‘Why can’t humans just do that?’

‘Sometimes they can. Will knows when Abel is tired and needs picking up. But this afternoon Abel wanted to play on the lift at the gallery, and the gallery is closed. Abel likes the world to be predictable. When he comes to Margate he likes to eat fish and chips with Will, to play in the lift, and to splash in the pool on the beach. He’ll be working the lift at the station right now.’

T realised he was talking to himself. The chihuahuas had put a safe distance between themselves and the pool, and were no longer listening.

‘That was predictable,’ mused T. ‘I guess there’s predictable and predictable. We came to bring peace, but I’m not sure we knew what peace on earth would mean. Some Earthlings would go along with pod life, safely fed and entertained, no quarrels because there’s nothing to quarrel about.

‘Even though he likes working the lift, I don’t think Abel would enjoy being cared for by sensitive robots. But then we’ve not bred for centuries, which has stopped quarrels about mates; so what do we know about children?  It’s there in the libraries, how to love a child and share life with it. That would rock a few of our citizens.

‘Mind you, sharing among ourselves is changing those two, and maybe me as well.
‘Hey, who’s that Alfie’s talking to? I can’t pick up his vibes at all!’

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19 July: G is for Valley Gardens

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Since I was small, I had always loved gardening, so when the chance came of a holiday job at the parks in Castleford, I seized it. The town council took a pride in their parks, lung-savers in an industrial landscape. As well as the mines there were glassworks, a  factory producing chemicals such as wood preservers, a coke oven and a maltings: the least offensive smell. In a heat wave the fumes gathered in the valley where the town was built on the ford. The rivers ran black. Breathing was a challenge.

Valley Gardens was our nearest park: a good park with a crown bowling green, playground for the children, lawns and lots of traditional bedding, the plants grown in the council’s own nursery. There was also raised bedding with scented plants for blind people to enjoy. And so they did.

I’m ever grateful for the skills learnt at Valley Gardens but also for the attitude to work imbibed from the older guys I worked alongside. Many had been miners and knew how to pace themselves to be productive over the whole day. They were also humble enough to put themselves through the City and Guilds Certificate training: men who knew how to handle tools, being ‘taught’ how to dig or prune before taking on specialised skills such as caring for the greens.

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Recently I read that Valley Gardens, for many years the responsibility of Wakefield City council, is run-down and the play area no longer safe. A committee has been formed to revive this park. When I was there, people knew the decision makers in town. Now they are in Wakefield and need never go near Valley Gardens.

I hope the committee is supported by the community and Wakefield council so that the gardens return to their former glory.

There are parallels in church life. We need to trust people, even  those who shun responsibilities, with a mission they may fail at. Apart from Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, who were members of the Sanhedrin, Jesus chose women and misfits for his first generation of leaders. I don’t recall his disciples sitting exams.

Since writing this post I read an article describing how the people who use the parks the most are poorer people, people without gardens of their own. So it is poor people who take the brunt of government spending cuts in this area of life, as in so many others.

Our beds were every bit as lovely – and more so – than this semiformal planting in Berlin’s Charlottenberg Park. The Roses were a feature of Valley Gardens: the older gardeners taught me how to prune them. This is ‘Mermaid’, who needs very careful handling with her vicious thorns. But she’s lovely!

 

 

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July 3, Readings from Mary Webb, II: Unless latent loves are developed …

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We listen, hearing a faint call from afar. It is this sense of mystery – unfading, because the veil is never lifted – that gives glory to the countryside, tenderness to atmosphere. It is this that sends one man to the wilds, another to dig a garden; that sings in a musician’s brain; that inspires the pagan to build an altar and the child to make a cowslip-ball. For in each of us is implanted the triune capacity for loving his fellow and nature and the Creator of them.

These loves may be latent, but they are there; and unless they are all developed we cannot reach perfect manhood or womanhood. For the complete character is that which is in communion with most sides of life – which sees, hears, and feels most – which has for its fellows the sympathy of understanding, for nature the love that is without entire comprehension, and for the mystery beyond them the inexhaustible desire which surely prophesies fulfilment somewhere.

We would not encourage a child to make a cowslip ball today, though there seemed to be an abundance along the motorways this Spring, but that’s not a place to set a child gathering flowers!

Interesting how Mary Webb sees a complete human as having a triune nature, being ‘in communion with most sides of life’, not denying illness, frailty or failing. Let us not exclude the unfading sense of mystery, but be open to our sisters and brothers, our fellow creatures and the One who created all.

 

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2 June: D is for Dover

Pharos -Roman lighthouse by Saxon Church

Pharos – Roman lighthouse by Saxon Church, Dover Castle

This picture suggests there may be more Roman remains above ground in Dover than in Canterbury, but is that a reason to talk about a place so close to home?

No, but the Pharos is significant. On the day I visited with a friend, the other side of the Channel was clearly visible, though I could not convincingly discern the column to Napoleon’s Grand Armée above the French cliffs. (I did once!) The Pharos has shown the way for nearly 2,000 years, though it’s a long while since the beacon fire was kindled there.

And who has come? The Romans, were they in peace or war? Both, over the years. And so on through two millennia. Napoleon certainly meant War.

Nowadays, thank God, those who come through Dover come in Peace; no more is it called Hell Fire Corner; the video displays in the Castle upset my friend who was seeing them for the first time.

My wife’s sewing machine was all that could be salvaged from a bombed house in Dover. It was made in Germany …

Let us pray for a continuation and a deepening of peace in Europe – and may the Pharos and Castle be a sign of welcome, not rejection, to travellers.

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26 May: The Builder’s Dog without the Ossyrians, II. Silence amid the Noise.

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From Will Turnstone’s personal blog.

Between 7.30 and 9.00 in the morning must be the noisiest time of day but most people have to filter out the noise, just to do what we have to. Young Abel often draws our attention to sirens, trains and loud machinery, but I did not need his advice this morning.

The Builder’s Dog is with us and needed his morning walk. Today he was sniffling round a shrub when I heard a woodpecker drumming somewhere nearby. Not that I saw him, but it’s a pleasure to hear him. Trying to place him – somewhere in the treetops – without binoculars was futile, but it made me aware of the din around me, even though I was some yards from the nearest road. The school playing field was being mown with a tractor and a mower; the main roads and inner ring road were still very busy, but a motorbike and ambulance stood out. There were trains and planes, and children winding down to go indoors for the morning.

But I could still hear the woodpecker. And the chaffinch and the blackcap … and the herring gulls and rooks overhead.

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Sometimes we must dive into whatever silence is around, even if no-one else can hear it, even if only for a moment. Oh, still small voice of calm.

But now it’s back to work! 1 Kings 19.12.

 

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17 May: The Renewing Grace of Stargazing.

 

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The Beehive Nebula

Reading for None:

Let your spirits be renewed so that you can put on the new self that has been created in God’s way, in the goodness and holiness of the truth. (Ephesians 4:23-24)

Renewal is a central truth in our fellowship with Christ. Daily we have the opportunity for renewal. In the text above the word ’Let’ is the first. We can choose to be renewed or not. How can we do this? How do we know we have been renewed?

When I am weary, I desire an early night. Before I venture upstairs I am in the habit of going into my garden to see if there is a clear night sky with a good sprinkling of stars and a few planets to gaze upon. If there are, I will get out my Makutsov telescope with the battered azimuth cog that makes it judder and begin my astronomical observations. What joy and happiness I feel at such times. I see my old friends, Jupiter and four of his moons: Callisto, Ganymede, Europa and Io; then there is bright Arcturus; the baleful red giant Betelgeuse and if the atmosphere is clear I can see the nebula in Orion’s sword. I pay especial attention to the Seven Sisters and once I have tracked down my other familiar friends I start looking in earnest for something I have not found before.

Most recently, I discerned the Beehive Nebula, so named because it looks like a hive of busy bees.

It is also called the Manger, as, with some imagination, it does seem like two donkeys munching from a manger. Once you know where to look it is easier to find the next time. It took me months to find the Andromeda galaxy. She had been hidden by an overgrown apple tree but I found her eventually. A blurry smudge in the blackness. So distant, yet now present in my humble back garden. What is far is so, so near!

My joy is made complete when looking at the stars in the sky. It has been a lifelong interest but only recently have I been able to indulge in a good telescope. After stargazing I am renewed, refreshed, not tired and filled with a lightness both spiritually and physically. The universe visits my humble garden, impinges on my consciousness and refreshes my soul. I am renewed with love for all creation.

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