the blue fish project

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

When worlds collide

Four words for dealing with difference.

Subversive Fulfillment. 
This comes from J.H.Bavinck via Daniel Strange's  For their rock is not as our rock.

Fulfilment is all very C.S.Lewis. It's the observation that for all of us there are desires that point to a reality beyond where we seek them. You want the right thing but you're looking in the wrong place. It's affirmative and offers Christ. To not do this is to miss a thousand opportunities for common ground in our shared humanity. The only way to life is through death to the old destination.

Subversion comes from a different direction. It says, what you're desiring is wrong. It's Christ the confrontationalist. This feels harder to do. Emotional intelligence tells us to win people, to get onside. But Christ is not only an arm around the shoulder but the one whose arm stands against us in places. The only way to life is through death to our old desire.

Christ is always both of these. Either one without the other fails to connect. Mere fulfilment is lovely but lacks traction and urgency while championing humanity. Mere subversion lacks identification and attraction whilst championing urgency.

Subversion and Fulfilment is a case of both/and. Christ comes as the one crucified to invite us to life by putting us to death in his death. He confronts and comforts. Can I handle both?

Spin & Take.
From Charles Taylor via James K.A. Smith's How (not) to be secular.

Spin is over confident belief. This tends to shut down conversation. Spin is bold and confident but unengaged. Taylor suggests that whether held from a immanent or transcendant view of the world spin is flawed. Spin is overstated and reverts to violence and coercion.

Take is more open handed. Take will discuss and see things from different angles. Take asks questions. Take says - we all still have questions to engage with in ideas and experience. Take invites conversation and journey. Take is prepared to be understated trusting that persuasion is possible.

Spin or Take, it's either/or. Which approach do we take to the world?

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Be still, my soul: the Lord is on your side

Be still, my soul: the Lord is on your side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to your God to order and provide;
In every change, He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: your best, your heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end

Be still, my soul: your God does undertake
To guide the future, as He has the past.
Your hope, your confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be brought at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.

Be still, my soul: He anguished in the Garden
Beneath your burden, now become His own
With bloodied brow He toiled for your pardon
That you might never face your sin alone
Be still, my soul: your Jesus wept that night
That at His dawn, your tears might be dried

Be still, my soul: now death is just a slumber
Only three days it fought to keep Him down
Out of the tomb, He rose up unencumbered
Returning home to claim the Victor's crown
Be still, my soul: while death attempts to sting
Its winter now must ever cede to Spring

Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord
When disappointment, grief and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love's purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

Katharina von Schlegel (v1,2, 5) 1752. Matt Giles (v3,4) 2015,
Tune: Finlandia (Sibelius) - freshly arranged.
Image: Creative Commons

Sunday, April 05, 2015

'What kind of day has it been?'

Mary got up early that morning. Her world at fallen apart at the best she could do was to walk out of the city to anoint his body. Her world had caved in. Light would come but if you'd seen her along the path you'd have met a broken woman. Perhaps, if British, she'd have said she was fine but platitudes cover a multitude of pain.

The story would be different later that day, because sometimes things change like that - and the change she faced would be the dawn centuries of dark nights of unchanging circumstances and chronic illness would long for in agonising anticipating trust.

I sat in church just over two years ago having spent most of the week in hospital with one of our sons. I've told that story before here so I wont rehearse its details.

I felt God spoke to me in two ways that morning.

First to give me a glimpse of what he might do in this painful and dark time. I wouldn't 'process' anything else of that experience for a good month or so after that but that word has been a comfort and help.

The second was the dawning realisation that only a few in the room knew what kind of week I'd had. That was fine but the thought after was: how many more people have had (more or less) horrendous weeks, experienced heartbreak and anguish, failure and betrayal this week.

I was in pieces. And on those days: church has to be a great place to be.

Despite my theology I realise I'd assumed that church is doing better than it is. Its a baptistic flaw to think highly of ourselves - to build firm boundaries, to have a pure church, to think ourselves and others more mature than we really are. A charismatic flaw to assume victory and healing. I'm freshly embracing the messiness of a more Anglican mindset. Where my tradition looks down on those 'muddled nominal believers' who may not be able to articulate their faith or appear not to live in consistently. Y'know, perhaps that's better than we imagine! Don't we all really and only come in weakness and emptiness and failure and confusion to receive from the riches of Christ. Isn't that more real?

I saw this again recently looking around the room at church. I'm aware of a handful of the stories unfolding in peoples lives. Varying levels of trauma and pain. Stories in which it is amazing that they're even in the room. I see one praying for another, another listening, another carrying a load (or a child) another just sitting, being.

It's a young parents win on better days to successfully get out of the house and into the room and home again - add in even a little of the fractureness of this fallen world and just being there is an immense victory in taking another breath.

We sit on our chairs, trophies of grace.

Some in better seasons in which we rejoice, and who are able to aide others. Some in harder seasons in which we weep together, who are learning tentatively to receive help from those who approach to lend a hand.

Sometimes church is the last place I want to be, but true too: no place I'd rather be.

When everything is breaking, there is one who finds us in the garden - in person unseen, through his people seen - to speaks our name and walk and stumble the three legged race of life with us.

Image: creative commons.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

"Everything’s s’pposed to be different than what it is here"

Sin is one of the hardest subjects to speak about well today. As Francis Spufford observes in his book Unapologetic we think of sin as trivial naughtiness, prompting him to try the term HPTFTU as an alternative phrase. It's easily misheard or is a term that quickly offends in a way that prevents further dialogue.

Careful thought is needed. I loved reading Neal Plantinga's book Not the way its supposed to be, last year. It's a thoughtful and careful discussion of how to think about this subject. He draws together the varied biblical language and category so that we might take this subject more seriously.

The biblical approach to sin isn't monochrome. Different audiences are addressed differently. Jesus was accused of being sin-lite by the Pharisees who blindly missed his confrontation of their parading and privilege and pomp whilst grunting and grumbling about his acceptance of 'tax collectors and sinners'.

The outsiders were deeply aware of having broken God's world and presumed their own exclusion from his people - they needed his welcome. The insiders presumed their place at the table and missed the light shining in plain sight.

The self-religious think that God should talk about sin more but miss when he does, and then take offence at the welcome he gives to those who self-exclude from his family because they're far more sensitive to their sin.

We become dull in our hearts and blame others for not forcing us to be more 'godly' as if that were possible. 'If you'd done your job I'd be less sinful...' The corruption is deep, deeper than we dare admit or know.

For all references to 'we' here, read I.

The night is dark, but the morning far brighter.

Sin is a slippery subject, simultaneously a terrible and delicious experience, and a devilish reality.  "The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being" (Solzhenitsyn) and Plantinga offers to be our guide as we try to get clarity as we stumble in the shadows, cast in contrast to the bright light of Jesus.

TGC has this essay version as a pdf which condenses it significantly and gives an excellent overview.

Image, creative commons.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

All is gift (reflecting on the sacraments)

I had the opportunity to travel to London on Monday for a day with Peter Leithart, a pastor, author and scholar from the US who spoke on the place of the Sacraments in the life of the church.

I was struck by the high value he placed on unity in the church, on his practical application of the generous welcome of God to the weak, and his passion for these oft neglected gifts of Christ to his church. It was great to learn from one in another tradition alongside Lutherans and Anglicans, Baptists and Presbyterians and others from Newfrontiers and more.

I'd have plenty of questions around his theology - not least that he baptises babies, but Leithart's pastoral heart for his people, his love of the church, his conviction that church has something to say to our world moved me deeply.

I appreciated his attention to the Rites (rituals) of the church and the way that these both engage and challenge our culture and our world. He noted that we all have rites, however formal or informal. The question is what they are, and even more so: what story they tell.

And I loved his passing comment that its not so much that Baptism or The Lord's Supper are means of grace, they are simply grace, gift. Food isn't so much a means of nourishment. Food is nourishment. Bread and wine aren't just a means to get grace - they are grace, they are gift. And in baptism we get God himself, he claims us and names us for himself.
Reminded me of Evan Koons 'All is gift'