Monday, 24 December 2007

The magic of 'Little Town'

Gems of inspiration can be found in the most unlikely places. Unless you're of a certain gender and generation, Cliff Richard's Christmas back catalogue mightn't be the first place you'd look to find musical material to turn the world upside down; to stir the imagination, send a tingle down the spine and even bring a tear to the eye (not for the right reasons at any rate). Especially not one based on a 19th century carol. But such, I submit, can be the effect if given the chance to work its magic, of the 1982 offering that heralded Cliff's Christmas single career: 'Little Town'. In my view, a shining example of a new tune (well it was at the time) that releases the power of familiar lyrics in a fresh and uplifting way.
Cliff aside, it's a gem of a carol; hard to think of a better encapsulation of the wonder of the Incarnation. 'O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie...', personifying the birthplace of the Christ-child as itself like a sleeping baby, utterly unaware of the miracle about to be visited upon it. 'Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by'..., no hint in nature either that its fabric is about to be ruptured. 'The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight', brilliantly capturing how the whole human drama, stretching across time and eternity, finds its focal point in what is about to unfold in this humble Roman-occupied backwater. 'How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given...'; utterly without show or ostentation, the God of the universe slips unnoticed into the world of flesh and blood, and the latent spiritual implications are unveiled: 'so God imparts to human hearts, the blessings of his heaven'. With the exultant invitation 'O come to us, abide with us' to 'the Lord Emmanuel', an exuberant brass fanfare erupts... then falls away suddenly for the moment of magic to break open: an ethereal high solo male voice, as if from heaven, intimating Christ's coming...
'No ear may hear his coming' poignantly expresses the ease with which His presence is overlooked in all ages, never more so than in our own; 'but in this world of sin'... what a weight of meaning contained in those brief words; and then, as the voices merge in close harmony, the promise of the very indwelling presence of God, 'where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in'.
You need a decent audio version and a good sound system to get the most out of the Cliff version, but if you can get past the sound quality, schmaltz and 80s bouffant hair-do - I had to do a double take to check it wasn't Sheena Easton, and it looks like he's sitting in a snow nest - you can see it on youtube. That may be the most risky youtube recommendation I'll ever make. But still: bit of a classic.

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Faith: an inside view

A few reflections from recent discussions. It's struck me how crucial are humility and an effort to establish common ground for fruitful discussion. We all alike as human beings experience to a large degree the same physical, emotional and psychological realities in our path through life, and within this debate we share similar reasoning skills. We would all admit limitations to our knowledge and awareness: in short, none of us knows everything. Key question you might ask then: what keeps me resolutely pursuing a path of faith? So a spot of testimony. I'd approach the question from several angles. For starters, life gives me both a desire for and sense of meaning (M), not meaninglessness; and also a sense that personhood(P) and relationship(R) are foundational, critical dimensions of life. From the thinking and reading I've done, I've seen nothing that seriously philosophically undermines the idea that the M, P and R here are fundamental to reality (the Francis Schaeffer Trilogy of books is good on this, influential in the formation of my faith worldview). A heart-level sense of this, combined with intuition of eternity, moves me to seek personal relationship in ultimate reality, like a child's impetus to put hand into father's and trust. And I find a profound response: revelation in the bible that ultimate reality is personal and reaches to embrace humanity. So faith is kindled and the journey of faith embarked on. Not blind, not just a subjective notion like that fairies live at the bottom of the garden, because underpinned by testimony, history and a body of truth, handled in community, passed down the ages, with strong grounds to be considered divinely revelatory (in support of which plenty of good reading material can be highlighted and explored). And sustained by a sense that by stepping out on this journey, I'm allowing myself to be fully alive, not just in mind and body but in spirit. Like sap coursing through a tree nourishing life and growth, or being in a dance or romance. God is not a chemical or physical property that you can analyse with cold neutrality in a test tube. In that sense he is not testable. But when given the chance to be God, when the risk of faith is taken at the end of a path of honest truth-seeking at whatever intellectual level is required, then yes, in relationship I believe God and his goodness most certainly are 'testable' - can be found in experience to be real. Matt 7:8 ask, seek, knock, 'he who seeks finds', and Psalm 34:8 'Taste and see that the Lord is good', or Jesus' invitation to Thomas to touch his wounds as illustration of a personal response to doubt (but not a closed heart), John 20:24-29.
Finally, a word about what I see as barriers, real or potential, to having a condition of heart that could be open to God. I think intellectual debate, while it has its place, can be one: the mentality of excited 'win/lose' competition and camaderie it can generate is potentially inimical to the calmness, humility and receptivity of heart needed properly to consider God. And remember the fable of the man whose tightly wrapped coat the wind and sun competed to remove, and which of the two in the end succeeded. An insight which seems relevant here.
It's a viewpoint, anyway. Happy Christmas.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

A physicist on values

I'm finally posting, with permission, some thoughts on values written by a member of St Silas Church who teaches in the Physics Dept of Glasgow University. Should be of interest. Values - an analysis of the possibilities

Thursday, 13 December 2007

The Golden Compass: taking a bearing

Despite mediocre reviews, the invitation of friends and prospect of a wintry CGI spectacle lured me to go see The Golden Compass last night. Certainly watchable, though my impetus to read the books has been slightly dampened by a family member's first impressions of 'Northern Lights': 'kidult' lit. The Lord of the Rings books and films won't I guess be easily matched. Clear parallels in Compass with both the Rings trilogy and CS Lewis' Narnia chronicles: quest, power, good v evil, talking animals,... which reminds me of atheist author Philip Pullman's castigation of Lewis's creation in a review two years ago as 'racist' - White Witch?, 'misogynistic', and if I recall, moralising. (heard my first whiff of news today that the Narnia franchise is alive and kicking; a family acquaintance is in Prague working on props for sequel 'Prince Caspian'). Though I'm no expert, Pullman's anti-religion, anti-Church stance seems only thinly disguised behind the clerical robes of the 'Magisterium' henchmen and nun-like aspect of the captured children's sinister guardians in the north (I'll do my homework later). Against this dark backdrop - suffocating grip of authoritarianism, being told what to think and do - is pitted the wild spirit of 'free thinking' embodied in Lyra and her uncle, Lord Asriel. What intrigues me here is the transfer - less charitably I might say hijacking - of universally recognised values, both good and evil. In Narnia it's Aslan - Christ figure - who's both wild and good ('not a tame lion'), and the White Witch, symbolic of Satan, who proffers Turkish Delight but specialises in turning things to stone; in Compass it's the Magisterium and its cohorts who get the boos and hisses - they've even got the slavering wolves. A fuller dissection of this Pullmanesque-Enlightenment view would need to wait. Meanwhile, Compass is still worth seeing, if nothing else for the giant wrestling polar bears and daemons expiring in clouds of gold dust .

Monday, 10 December 2007

In the shadow of the moon

A few weeks ago I wound up with a friend at the GFT (Glasgow Film Theatre) to see 'In the shadow of the moon', a British-made documentary about the Apollo space missions, featuring interviews with surviving members (notable exception, the apparently very reclusive Neil Armstrong). The film captured the awesomeness and sheer riskiness of the whole space travel experience. I was struck by the levels of technology, human ingenuity and teamwork required to orchestrate and mobilise such an enterprise. Like the brilliance and risk of plane flight ramped up several orders of magnitude. Even with all those ruthlessly pain-staking safety measures, there was no negating the sheer vulnerability of those men strapped into a capsule on top of what was basically an enormous firework, its' balance as fine as a pencil as it was hurled upwards from the launchpad (they could feel the shimmying as it righted itself). In short, you might say: madness. Mike Collins, the Apollo 11 command module operator, described the sequence of what had to happen and be done during the trip as like a 'daisy chain' of risk; if any one link in that chain had been broken, it could have spelt disaster. Alongside dream-like footage of astronauts' weightless gambolling in the lunar desert, were some profound reflections from the interviewees on the effect the experience had had on them. A sense of the earths' beauty and fragility granted by seeing it suspended in space; of the smallness of earths' problems and preoccupations when its' orb could be hidden behind your thumb; and of transcendence - the overwhelming feeling from this vantage point of an embracing, over-arching power and purpose. When one of them mentioned having joined a bible study post-mission and becoming a Christian, there was an audible tutting from at least one person in the audience; which I felt reflected a broader public view: vague sense of transcendence and higher power, ok; specific religious commitment - or at least talking about it, not ok. But to conclude: peach of a film.

Monday, 3 December 2007

Sermon in a symphony?

I want to address a common theme of atheistic thinking about God as shown in recent comments, that only measurable experimental evidence would persuade of His existence. It's my conviction that such a demand is a feature of a western scientific materialist mindset, and that as an approach to the question of God it is fundamentally flawed. Coming from an arts not science background, I find image, metaphor and analogy helpful ways to think, opening up fresh perspectives. Picking up on the tail end of comments from the 'All channels engaged?' post below, I'm pondering the metaphor of a symphony or other great work of art. Listening to great music, one is intuitively aware of intelligent, inspired creative activity underlying the experience, and the work itself. It's a big picture kind of response, a response of the whole person. But it's not the only way of contemplating music; changing the focus, you could study in detail the quantity, range and patterns of notes, and their effect at various levels: on the ear drum, on the brain, on the emotions. In other words, the musical experience can be broken down, reduced and explained in many ways. But most reasonable folk would accept that no amount of such analysis alters the experienced reality of a great work of art, stimulating the senses, stirring the emotions - and plainly the product of genius. And note, that power and mystique is not something 'extra' to the analysable musical notes and effects; it's right there in it. It's a case of different ways of appreciating the phenomena. I see a parallel with nature and God. The biblical perspective is clear, that nature manifests the presence and glory of God, Romans 1:19,20. In the western scientific community in particular, this perspective has in large part been lost. And it strikes me that looking for 'the difference God makes' as an additional factor in the processes, through measurable controlled experiment, is like a musical analyst searching for 'evidence of genius' by analysing the notes of a symphony. It doesn't work like that. You need to widen the camera angle and open up the avenues of appreciation. Problem is, prevailing scientific ideology can make that difficult to do. Which takes us to the heart of the problem: the problem of the heart. Jesus said spiritual 'new birth' is needed to enable us to see spiritual realities - like a chrysalis opening its wings to absorb and enjoy the light and warmth of the sun. A beautiful process - for which faith is a vital ingredient.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

St Silas men's weekend: way to go

Taking a break from discussion with atheist friends, a little reflection on a recent event of note: the St Silas Church men's weekend away, 23-25 November. Seventeen of us descended on a hostel in the picturesque village of Comrie in Perthshire. Now I've been to all four of these weekends since the indomitable Will initiated them in 2004. With Will and family's departure 3 months ago to France for a posting in his career as a particle physicist (a job title I reckon's always worth mentioning), the jovial Greg DM coordinated the occasion. Numbers were a bit down on previous years, but this helped create an unthreatening, family kind of atmosphere. Quite a contrast with the more macho, competitive, image-conscious feel - perhaps tinged with slight mutual suspicion - that can sometimes pervade get-togethers of men who don't know each other well. It was recognised that the very concept of a 'men's weekend' is dubious in the eyes of a lot of guys, and raises questions in the minds of our womenfolk too (eg. 'What do you actually do?'). It's a given - and a generalisation - that blokes are often more comfortable in a situation where they're actually doing something together, be it watching football or building a hut. So what did we do? Well, we took our pick of playing pool, ping pong and cards (of which at least one game was rather chaotic and not a little fraught). On the Saturday afternoon a bunch of us tramped with Scott-like fortitude round a reservoir - ask Michael which one - in deteriorating conditions (driving wind and rain) and with unfortunately patchy levels of waterproofing; and counted ourselves pretty lucky to get back to Comrie with no suspected cases of pneumonia. Ian Hopkins, a minister from Edinburgh, led thought-provoking studies from 1 Thessalonians. We sparked some ideas about how men in the church can better fellowship and engage in useful ministry. And perhaps most importantly, we had the chance to spend enough time together - as one of the group memorably put it - 'to get past the grunting'. A good start.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Meditation on the beautiful game

In an effort to be a bit topical, I'm thinking today about that lightning rod of national and international fervour: football. From a Scottish point of view I am of course four days late - the Scotland Italy game has already slipped into the annals of Scottish history; sadly not in the file marked 'Bannockburn'. Now I didn't actually see the game as I was visiting a friend, and didn't even find out the score till next morning. It's true, I'm not the world's biggest football fan (another shocking statistic, never actually been to a stadium game), though have occasionally graced the sidelines of a St Silas team match and do think it's the best sport to watch on telly. Still, mingling briefly with the mayhem in Glasgow city centre on Saturday afternoon a couple of hours before kick-off, I was struck afresh by the talismanic power of the game on the Scottish psyche - a phenomenon replicated of course from Blackburn to Brazil. The supreme sense of 'event', the euphoric feeling of unity with one's countrymen, the gladiatorial spectacle of the game - who could , who would want to, bottle the power of this genie? It's a potent demonstration of the human attraction to a unifying cause - something to really get excited about. And then I think about the national indifference, if not to God, then at least to the Church with a capital C; what's easily labelled 'organised religion'. But also that in parts of the world where the church's centre of gravity has shifted - Asia, Africa, Latin America - the church and the Christ worshipped there are loci of comparable public devotion. And I ponder: what might it take for God to ignite such a flame of passion here in Scotland, in Britain? For God to become as popular as football?

Saturday, 17 November 2007

All channels engaged?

I and one or two other Christians have been engaged in blog discussion with a few atheists of late - see also Jonathan's 'Musings...' blog linked on the right - and it prompts me to reflect on the deeper dynamics and issues in considering human response to the universal question of God. One of our atheist friends has a pretty hefty arsenal of biological and bible data which he readily deploys in constructing his arguments. The amount of 'knowledge' on display can look impressive. How much of it is accurate, comprehensive and reasonably deployed is sometimes debatable, but that is not to dismiss it; I recognise it needs to be engaged with. What I'm mulling just now though is what limits the impact of this kind of 'information' in undermining faith - in a person of faith. And my basic response would be that there is a dimension, the spirit, through which a human being, if willing - a point I recognise as controversial for the atheist - is enabled to appreciate something of the reality and presence of God in a way that the intellectual information/misinformation doesn't threaten. I'm not at all dismissing the place and role of the intellectual stuff; but I'm trying partly here to convey to atheists a sense of its limitations to a person of faith. I believe this realm of spirit is fundamental to our make-up as human beings - part of the fullness of my humanity. At the root of the power of the bible's communication - like much literature, art and music - is its frequent appeal to this side of me, appealing to emotion and intuition (though not at the expense of mind) - often through potent imagery eg Psalm 23 'The Lord is my shepherd...' A criticism sometimes levelled at the religious is 'you're blinkered, trapped in dogma, open your mind!'; one of my questions to atheists is, are you truly open to the variety of 'channels of our humanity' through which truth, and perhaps even God, might communicate to you?

Monday, 12 November 2007

An inside job

As someone interested in the communication business, I often think about the problem of how, if at its heart Christianity contains timeless, universal truth, it can be communicated to a world that's lost interest - largely, in the west at least - in a way that re-engages the imagination, makes people sit up and take notice. I think one of the keys for a Christian communicator is to take the time and effort to immerse his/her spirit and imagination in the truths and stories of the faith. I find that the more I imaginatively get 'inside' and 'under the skin' of the resources of the faith eg perhaps simply a single verse or passage from the bible, the more creative and original my communication... Take the Christmas story for example. The basic narratives in the gospels are so (relatively) simple and familiar, that they can easily lose their power to enthrall. But get inside the story eg get inside Herod's head in his position as king of the Jews and puppet ruler of Rome, and imagine how the news from the magi of a 'new king' would have threatened him, and you can begin to create powerful drama. This is of course what creative artisits do, from Shakespeare transforming an obscure Italian novella into Romeo and Juliet, to Rice and Lloyd-Webber creating Joseph. Nice.

Friday, 2 November 2007

Why does the devil have all the good music?

Picking up from the end of that last post, and that paean to a Madonna song... want to explore my broader point about music - and indeed other creative endeavours - a little more. My broad observation is that creative material produced by Christians can often appear bland and lacking in emotional punch, innovation or experimentation, in comparison with secular material (take that 'Hives' youtube video on Gadgetvicar's blog as an example of innovation). And I'm interested in why that is. My disclaimer at the outset is that of course I'm generalising here, and recognise there is some great material on the Christian side and some lousy stuff on the secular side, and also that taste is to a degree subjective... That said, here's my current take on it: for starters, I guess a lot of religious/worship music is produced in a 'Christian music' type context , where the composers and musicians are influenced by what is current and what has gone before in what may be a relatively closed community. And in a lot of Christian music, this means, for example, extensive use of a particular keyboard setting - you know, the one that just sounds so 'Christian'! It strikes me the secular music industry, being generally I think more open and competitive, is an environment often more likely to foster pioneering creativity in the actual art of making music. There's another issue that I wonder about. Take a song like Madonna's 'Live to tell'; or 'Somewhere only we know' by Keane to pick just two on my mind; I guess a big reason for the emotional power of the music is that the song expresses a deep but accessible dimension of human experience - human relationships, love, betrayal - the kind that inspires artists' passion. I think with secular artists this passion to express deep feeling, ask deep questions - the whole quest aspect - is what drives such powerful music.
Worship music is of course doing a different thing, and comes in many varieties, eg meditative, proclamatory, exuberant... and then there's other kinds of Christian music... I guess one of my key questions is, in view of the fact that some of the big questions and emotions that secular artists tackle find peace-giving 'responses' in the Christian faith... how can artists (in broad sense) with faith go about accessing passion and allowing it to generate powerful and creative music/art? The Christian conviction is surely that the journey of faith opens up even deeper, greater passions. What then might be holding back Christian artists from producing even more powerful music, writing, art, than their secular counterparts?
Answers on a postcard please(!) Some overlapping issues here, and got a feeling I'm just scratching the surface...

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Faith - does it stifle or stretch?

I'm still thinking today about that programme The Beckoning Silence. A comment Billy made on the last post makes me think, where he says, 'Putting my faith in myself stopped me from being complacent. It made me more aware of my own abilities - something that I think Christians all too often fail to credit themselves for.' He has a point. One of the things that was so striking about these guys' assault on the Eiger was the portrayal of human beings pushing themselves to their physical and mental limits. It's a human drive, to see how far we can go, how much we can achieve, or conquer. And as a Christian I would admit that one of the things that sometimes bothers me is when people - myself included sometimes - allow their 'faith' (I put it in commas because I don't think this is a quality of true faith) to just keep them safe and not stretch them to their limits. I agree with Beat's comment that the true Christian vision is actually to live in fellowship with the Spirit of God who as far as I allow Him will stretch me to my human limits and beyond, 'according to his power that is at work within us' Ephesians 3:20. But this doesn't always happen. Off mountaineering for a moment, another key area I'm particularly aware of this applying to is music. Recently I was struck by the power of Madonna's song 'Live to tell' - the music especially, and found it hard to think of a piece of modern Christian or worship music that approached it. That's a whole topic in itself though...
Actually, just watching the Youtube video to the end there, I'm reminded of the influence of religion on Madge's own art...

Monday, 29 October 2007

Big questions on the north face

I'm returning to my original intention with blogging, to express my own thoughts, explore my own questions... though will probably revisit some recent threads.
Was gripped and moved by The Beckoning Silence (TBS) on C4 last week, a docudrama narrating the doomed attempt of four German climbers to scale the north face of the Eiger in 1936. It featured Joe Simpson, climber of Touching the Void (TTV) fame, attempting a parallel climb, and also offering his reflections on the original ascent. JS is an atheist, made clear in TTV, but has also been quite deeply affected by the whole climbing business, and has some profound reflections on it. He says that the knife edge balance you negotiate on a serious climb, between success and failure, life and death, gives you a radically different perspective on life (I'm sure it does!). That climbing a dangerous mountain is really a completely irrational thing to do (also quite obsessional), but that that's a big part of its draw; and that he will never understand why, in his own TTV Peruvian adventure, where he was hanging from a rope like Kurz in TBS, he survived - but Kurz did not. Quite existential stuff, grappling with issues and qs very relevant to faith. I can't help but admire the passion of these guys to push the envelope and probe the boundaries of life and existence. Will need to come back to this.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007


I'm not abandoning the last thread, but it's obviously quite intense so by way of light relief, thought I'd open a new post - and to restore a slightly friendlier face to this blog. So if anyone has anything fun to share come here. Or serious if you prefer.
I re-watched the film Naked Gun recently. A line has stuck in my head:
Frank Drebban (police officer) to distraught lady: 'Lady, let me assure you that not one man in this force is going to rest one minute until the man who did this to your husband is behind bars.
(to colleague) Now let's get a bite to eat.'
You probably have to see it.
I see Emu is back - or at least a cuter version. With a felt instead of raffia coat apparently. 'The anarchic emu'. What a fabulous bird.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

I'm getting out of the box

Yes, I'm having a change of tack on this blog. It's been interesting discussing faith with you Billy and Jonathan and I'm not closing the conversation, but as it's been going it's become a bit futile. Why is that? From my point of view, it's because you're trying to debate 'surface' stuff when root issues haven't been tackled. Basically, it seems to me you're trying to attack and rubbish Christianity from a position of hostility rather than genuine enquiry - for whatever reasons. When all's said and done the heart really does matter here, and there's no escaping the need for faith in dealing with God. There's excellent thought and writing out there tackling in depth the key areas we've been discussing like the relationship between science, reason and faith. I don't feel it's my calling to regurgitate it to you. Some of it intellectually underpins my own faith, so that while I may not have time to answer all your qs and complaints, they don't threaten it. Once you've had a chance to read something I've suggested and come back to me with a response, I'd have more respect and be more prepared to chat further. As it is, for all the clever arguments and dancing circles, it's always going to look to me like you're dancing in a box. You've raised some good qs that I'm interested to look at further at my own pace eg about OT morality and homosexuality. But it's futile tackling these sub issues without the root issues also being addressed - and for that I've no better suggestion than to read some good material and get back to me.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

The moral question 2

Can I first draw attention again to the 'Mistakes' sections from yesterday? I will try and pay particular attention to point 2 for Christians, not to ignore atheists qs. I haven't meant to seem to be doing this; first, I have been trying to track down some decent reading material on them so we can discuss that so I avoid just saying what others have said; second, Billy you fire a lot of qs at once and it takes time to address them - hence my frequent suggestion to seek out other reading material to engage with. Can I ask you B and J to pay particular attention to points 1 and 4 for atheists? A large part of my frustration has been caused by the sense that there are a lot of straw men about. Just one example from one of your comments yesterday B: you ask Beat if he buys the 'argument from morality'. The underlying assumption seems to be that this argument is posing as a knock-down proof, which it's not - or at least good assessments of it are not; from the conclusion of the final link from yesterday,
'The moral arguments for the existence of God try to infer the existence of God from the nature of morality. After working through Lewis's argument and a contemporary version using the issues in contemporary metaethics, I believe that this counts as good evidence for the existence. Perhaps, this argument by itself is not sufficient to secure its conclusion, but certainly this will have some explanatory power in a cumulative case for the existence of God.'
What strike me as other examples of straw men are polarised thinking eg that faith and reason are opposed not complementary, morals are either totally fixed or totally relative (I'd say, to clarify, that they are objectively rooted/anchored but with built in flexibilty - principles stand and have an 'absolute' foundation but there application may vary.)
So, to begin finally to address the q about moral problems in the Bible esp OT, first a link from the 'CARM' site from yesterday, on one of many passages - follow links there to view others: 'Stone a woman for not being a virgin?'. See what you think. Beat - I agree we shd try to understand more before judging the Bible.
One last quote I can't source right now but I think is from the CARM site: 'Anyone can take verses out of context and compare them to other verses out of context and get a "contradiction." But, context is sacrificed in this manner and along with it, truth is lost.'
Finally, google 'bible difficulties encyclopedia' and you'll see a few books to seek out.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

The moral question

Ok, I'm back, and will hopefully manage to refrain from slipping into angry rantings this week. Following up my suggestion we read something and discuss, to avoid spending all my writing time covering ground that's been covered elsewhere - and recognising you won't necessarily want to just go out and buy a book I recommend - I propose using some material from the web. I flag up a Christian apologetics site, and wd first direct to two very useful ground-clearing sections, Mistakes Christians make when dialoguing with atheists, and Mistakes Atheists make when dialoguing with Christians . Picking up on one of the recent hot topics, I then suggest Arguments from morality for the existence of God. I've just read the first section, There is a universal moral law.
I have 2 initial qs: Billy, you expressed wariness of philosophy as dealing in theory and not evidence. Expanding the evidence notion to include 'what we actually think and do in practice': is it not true that in practice you recognise moral absolutes or 'universal moral law' eg if someone tripped you up maliciously, wd you not think they actually did something 'wrong'? I disagree with your opinion that Cns exaggerate the 'universal moral law'. Of course there are differences across time and culture, but wd you deny that basic practices such as murder and theft have pretty universally been regarded as wrong? Lastly, if there are no moral absolutes, on what grounds do you continually appeal, in no uncertain terms, that certain practices in the Bible are 'wrong'? (let's stick for the moment with this q - the q about why such practices are there is a separate one). On this point you seem to want to have your cake and eat it.

Friday, 5 October 2007

Houston we have a problem

Had a coffee with Billy yesterday and recommended an excellent little book, Philosophy of Religion, one of a series called Contours of Christian Philosophy - and I'd recommend it to you too Jonathan. Don't be put off by the 'Christian' bit. The book gives a very clear, full and unbiased overview of the key issues and qs behind this discussion. It's also just 190 pages. I'll explain why I mention it now. I've been reflecting a little, and I have to say the q remains inescapable: what do we all want most here, the challenge of a debate, or to find more of the truth? This has of course come up before, when I said if you were really curious you'd go out, find and read the best material out there from the view you oppose. J, you said that you cd do that if you wanted to debate with them, but you want to debate with me. While I appreciate the compliment, it still begs the q, what do you really want, to seek understanding, or a good debate? I originally started a blog to explore my own thoughts and qs. You guys have raised some, eg about OT morality, that I am interested to explore. But, blogging as I do just a few min a day, it's an uphill task. We have hugely different starting convictions and presuppositions, and I believe if you read and reflected on a book like this, you wd be obliged to more deeply question some of yours. I've been reading TGD, so I'd suggest it's fair to ask. Billy, I can lend you my copy when I'm done. There's also A McGrath's The Dawkins Delusion?

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Back to the fray

I need to seriously sort out my career/calling so as ever I can't wade in too deep each day. But hopefully something to chew on. J, your q about morality in the Bible. Something Dawkins devotes a lot of space to. Just to clarify a bit first where I'm coming from. While I identify myself as a Christian, I still have plenty of qs myself about my faith and the bible. Faith has always been an ongoing exploration for me. Obviously to continue calling myself a Cn, I must have a basic sense that it's true and reasons for believing, but my faith is more of a dynamic than static thing. There sre always qs to explore. From my perspective, there is a constant danger in this type of discussion of degeneration into mere intellectual argument, so to redress the balance I wd remind that I engage in it out from a sense of being in a relationship with God. Of course you don't have to share that for meaningful discussion to happen, but it affects how we're approaching it. It isn't just an intellectual debate for me.
Back to the morality q. A couple of points. From your qs and comments, B and J, I'd say that along with RD there's a fundamental problem of understanding the nature of the bible, how it developed and was put together. You seem to regard it as if it purports to be a complete moral guidebook for contemporary living, and as if it shd be that. It's not; it's a library of books, written and compiled over centuries through changing cultural contexts. But yes, Cns do believe that it reveals, perhaps in an evolving, progressive way - wd need to discuss further - timeless principles of ethics and morality. But you have to read it intelligently; you can't just say Billy that it says stone homosexuals so it's stupid. Further, as a friend pointed out, a fundamental problem of RD's treatment is the complete lack of contextualisation. One example: eye for eye, tooth for tooth. Failure to acknowledge that in the context of the vengeance ethic of the surrounding cultures in the OT, this expressed radical restraint and was therefore ethically a big improvement.
Enough for today.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Off to La France

To visit my sister and her partner - in the Pyrenees. Back 26th/27th. May blog a bit there. Have fun.

Saturday, 15 September 2007

Pushing the 'good and evil' question

Help. The comments and questions are many and complex, although there are plainly some common themes. I prefer just now to focus on one that I take issue with and try and explore it with a degree of thoroughness. Hopefully doing this will shed light on some of the surrounding comments - and no doubt spawn other qs and comments. B and J, I'll say now I did ask a few other guys from church if they wd like to have a look and contribute; so far just Paul has come forward (I hope Jimmy will return - his take is refreshing). One other was up for the challenge, but he has other commitments like small kids which have no doubt prevented him.
Here's one of the most striking recent comments, from B: 'I don’t believe in evil as such, and in a society of Nazis, Hitler was not “evil”. His actions do disgust me, but would they if I had been brought up in the Hitler youth?' Interesting. I wonder if closer examination of the Hitler case will shed any light here. 'In a society of Nazis, Hitler was not evil'. Now I don't know much about the Third Reich, but for starters, wasn't Hitler more of a leader than follower in the rise of Nazism? Was it not his perversely thought-out application of the philosophy of Nietzche (to name the one I'm aware of) in particular what led to the holocaust? Was not the combination of his own distorted thinking, charisma and political power at the root of the madness? Of course he himself was subject to an upbringing and influences. The core of the question, for him and us, is, external influences notwithstanding, did he make personal independent choices, with at least some degree of clear-sightedness, that led to that momentous evil? And in following him, did the Hitler youth too? Particularly in light of subsequent German shame over the H, is it not plausible that they - and us - have an innate moral sense that in Hitler's followers was to some extent suppressed or even crushed?
And on what basis, B, do you feel 'disgust' at what he did - an emotive word - if not on that of a perceived real standard?
Other big qs have been raised, esp both B and J's on morality in the bible on which there's plenty to be said (and I won't foget the parallel universe one either J), but I want to push this root one about an ulimate moral sense a bit further. It's also crossed my mind how relatively easy it is to discuss this from our cosy perspective. I wonder how dispassionate you could be discussing the non-existence of real evil, or the moral sense being merely an evolutionary feature, if it had been someone you love, or you yourself, in the gas chamber?
Lastly just now, I like to give credit where credit's due: TGD is quite gripping - for various reasons. It's written with clarity and wit (and not a little sarcasm: 'Who cares?' 'Yeah right' and 'Dream on' stand out so far). I'm tempted to say, it's bonkers, but well-written bonkers. But no - I do think it requires serious engagement. So don't think I'm dismissive.

Friday, 14 September 2007

How seriously do you take evil?

B, you say: 'Can you demonstrate (moral)absolutes exist? (no proof given that they do). to a nazi or a satanist, what you hold to be moral is not so to them. Do you not then think it is your cultural context or upbringing that gives you your moral sense?' Sounds like complete moral relativism. Are you seriously saying you think there is no ultimate standard by which we can say that gassing the Jews was not merely culturally conditioned behaviour but actually 'wrong'? If you do say that, you need to explore the implications. If not, the question of where an ultimate sense of right and wrong comes from has to be addressed. I don't think the moral relativism implicit in the evolutionary model accounts at all seriously enough for the profundity of the human sense of outrage in the face of evil eg a dictator who massacres thousands and then dies peacefully himself. Do you?
Addressing the insistent demand to prove things: God's existence, moral absolutes. I'd admit it's not easy to argue in this 'prove' way, and it seems strangely tortuous and pointless... I'll want to return to a phrase I recall from my past apologetics reading: the 'explanatory power' of a theory. Whatever area we're discussing, God's existence, the resurrection etc, which view best fits the evidence as a whole?
To further address: B's negative view of biblical morality.
J, will come back. All comments remain of course so I can return to them.
Anonymous, thanks for joining. Jimmy, where are you? Welcome to drop in. Have begun 'The God delusion'. First impressions, readable and entertaining eg OT God a 'psychotic delinquent'(!) and says some interesting things. With B and J around, can't add 'fundamentally flawed' without being asked to back that up. Afraid I've got a raft of your comments to get through first.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Does science have limits?

I agree with you Billy that it's not ideal to state strong opinion - eg in my post yesterday - and not immediately back it up. Two things. One, I'm human, and it's quite normal to want to express an inner reaction before going on to catalogue in detail why one thinks/feels that. Two, I've no shame in admitting at present I feel a bit like the tortoise in the hare and tortoise fable with you and Jonathan. I'm ok with that - hope you are. So I'll try and back up what I say, as you keep demanding; it's just going to take a bit longer, a series of posts.
Today I'm just going to consider one of Jonathan's comment:
From Mullen: "St Augustine and The Athanasian Creed did not use the phrase absolute presuppositions. They used the word faith. But they meant the same thing"
J: "Erm, no, they didn't. The "faith" of scientists and mathematicians is backed up by thousands upon thousands of experiments, backed up by day to day observation of the world around us.
What is scientists' faith in? In the scientific method, enabling experiment and progress in knowledge of the observable world. Science tells us increasingly more about physical processes, how things work, the 'how' qs; Billy you know a lot of the detail, as indicated by the plethora of long words on Tuesday. My question: is the scientific method adequately equipped to tackle issues and questions in the arenas of meaning, purpose, morals - the 'why' qs? Or is a different kind of faith needed to shed light on these?
Jonathan, I'll come back to your q about creatures in a parallel universe. Just now I feel like one of them.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Oh boy

I'd be very interested in a thoughtful - not knee jerk as you yourself warn against Billy - response to the Mullen article I posted. One of the things it helps articulate is my sense in both your thinking of a strong case of not seeing the wood for the trees. Particularly with you Billy - on the science front you have a lot of knowledge and big words. But I'm afraid my view of your handling of theology and the Bible from what I've seen is similar to Mullen's view of Dawkins in this regard - frankly ignorant and infantile - astoundingly so in one so clever. Especially in your last comment's mishmash thinking about 1 Cor 13 and God - which I'd have to come back to. Especially look at what Mullen says about faith and presuppositions near the end. You can't escape the need for faith with God, it's a gift you have to be open to, and you're closed. But you have a lot of faith in science as an absolute.
'No god is required' - you both buy into this god of the gaps thinking, and Billy you recently pointed this out as a weakness in a recent comment! - I refuse to tag along, although can come back to and discuss. In response to your low opinion of evidence for the resurrection, I challenge both of you to read McDowell 'Evidence' pp 203 to 285 (of a 760pp book) - a detailed and thorough 'wood not just trees' catalogue of evidence - and respond.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Roots of reality

A random blog reader wd probably take one look here, think 'Ooh my word' and go looking for something a bit lighter. Oh well... it's a tight market, but an engaged one at least - cheers guys.
To pick up one of Jonathan's Friday points:'survival of the most adequate': a basic question remains: what drives life and, if you believe in it, evolution? What is at the root and foundation of it? Without getting tied up worrying just now about details of the Bible's vision of God, which I know Billy at least has serious issues with, let's think for a moment about a possible basic definition of 'God', first used by a theologian called Paul Tilloch, as 'the ground of being'. I'll tell you one of the basic reasons I believe in God as a purposeful, personal being. It's this. We humans have a sense of purpose, and personality with all its qualities such as capacity to love (as well of course as hate), appreciate beauty and all the rest. And it's difficult to see how such attributes and qualities could have arisen in creatures in this universe unless they, or qualities greater than them, are not present in the ground of being, in the foundations of reality. Now that sounds all very abstract, but from the perspective of reason I guess that thought has always been at the root of my belief in God. How could a blind meaningless process give rise to all this? I'm opening up a question here which I'm interested to hear the atheist response to. Christianity would then go on to talk about 'revelation' of the divine, in the Bible, in Christ etc...
Just a taster on the resurrection: Billy started to pick holes in the gospel accounts which I'd need to go back to, but just off the top of my head, the kind of 'large areas of evidence' you need to get to grips with are: multiple documentation of eye witness testimony in the New Testament, and the phenomenon of the rise of the early church - rooted, in the face of fierce persecution, in the firm conviction Jesus had risen...

Monday, 10 September 2007

Have I said this all before?

On the issue of authority: we all rely on it; we all take things by faith. I'm not just appealing to authority; I've clearly and repeatedly said that the 'evidence' behind authoritative quotes like Darling's is out there in quality writings to be investigated. While respecting your wishes to hear what I think, there is behind some of your questions a demand for me to systematically set out the evidence which I simply can't fulfil just now, and don't think I'll ever be able to, certainly for as long as any of our patience lasts. I've got trains to book, a life to organise (and try and live!) And it would frankly be a waste of all our time; it's all been set out far more comprehensively and articulately by others who've been able to devote time to it than I could manage. Hence my consistent urge to invest your considerable curiosity and debating energies in reading it. We all arrive at our faith positions in different ways; you guys want to explore evidence in a very rational, logical way; but that is a limited domain of human knowledge and experience; lots of people, perhaps being more attuned to the emotional, intuitive dimensions of our lives, wd just not be able to identify with your concentration on the former approach, and as a way of considering the mystery of God, would find it very one-sided.
I probably will come back to some of your questions though, because they do interest me. Oh dear. You'll probably think I haven't said much today. Sorry. Got to go book a train. We'll keep talking.

Friday, 7 September 2007

Signs from nature

Jonathan, you've been patient, so I'm responding to your question about what I consider the best physical evidence that encourages me to believe in God. It's funny, I feel a weariness even before beginning, anticipating Billy's attack: 'that's not evidence!' So I have to address this issue first, if briefly: the nature and role of 'physical evidence' in belief. Jonathan, I don't know what you think, but I know Billy that your/Dawkins' view and understanding of evidence is a particular one, different from mine, a Christian view, or indeed I'd say a range of other non-scientific reductionist ones. To try and articulate briefly, when a person - not just me - considers nature to any depth or extent, the qualities of order, complexity and beauty produce a sense of awe and wonder which direct the mind and imagination to ponder the ultimate source of such qualities. For me the very fact the human mind is capable of so fully appreciating the awesome beauty of nature is itself compelling. What purpose does that serve in a blind mechanical chance system? There's no point cataloguing all the marvels of nature, but I suppose ones that particularly impact my imagination are complexity at the minute level, eg in cells, the seasons, especially the co-ordination of the movements of the heavenly bodies with the impact of the beauty of their changing observable effects on the human mind; and the apparent 'fine-tuning' of the universe to enable the kind of planet and life we see on earth. But, to try and at least dampen the force of B's anticipated attack, I'd make no simple 'therefore God' deduction; these things merely impact the mind in a way making it more amenable to the possibilty of God.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

A question of evidence

Billy, about McDowell's book 'Evidence...', which I'm currently reading: first off, it's not a book about science, we both know; its focuses are the Bible, Jesus, and in the new part 4, responses to various branches of modern and postmodern thought. A lot of it catalogues quotations from eminent qualified thinkers showing their high regard for the evidence on offer; therefore, to judge the evidence more thoroughly for yourself - though quite a lot of this is itself on show - you might need to do further research, eg read works by the academics quoted. From what I've read so far of 'Evidence', I'm impressed by the esteem that people of real learning and experience - scholars, academics and the like - have for the evidence on offer. Particularly concerning the resurrection, the section I'm reading now. I'll quote just one, Lord Darling, a former Chief Justice of England: 'On that greatest point (the resurrection) we are not merely asked to have faith. In it's favour as living truth there exists such overwhelming evidence, positive and negative, factual and circumstantial, that no intelligent jury in the world could fail to bring in a verdict that the resurrection story is true' p219.
Against this I'll just quote from the Dawkins website, not to make any point other than to show what a battle of ideas we have on our hands: "But insofar as theology studies the nature of the divine, it will earn the right to be taken seriously when it provides the slightest, smallest smidgen of a reason for believing in the existence of the divine. Meanwhile, we should devote as much time to studying serious theology as we devote to studying serious fairies and serious unicorns. "
Jonathan, sorry, I will come back to the 'physical evidence' question.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

If you're really curious, the knowledge is out there

Billy, Jonathan, thanks for your replies. I'm going to say straight off a thought that's been running through my mind since yesterday. I'm aware of the value of personal interaction in discussing these topics, but it's also struck me that if you're serious about wanting to get to grips with why Christians believe what they believe, just as if I wanted to more fully understand why atheists or those of other persuasions hold their beliefs, the best way is to get out there and read what's been written! I say this not remotely as a cop-out, but rather in the face of basic life realities: we all have limited time each day, and I, while having thought things through a fair bit, am one mere limited person; out there, meanwhile, there's a vast range of resources from Christian history right up to the present day of carefully thought out, reasonable, rational discussion of why Christians believe. I offer this as a serious challenge. Billy, I know you've read quite a lot. I'd be interestd to know what you make of what you've read. I recommend for starters 'Evidence that demands a verdict' (new and revised) by Josh McDowell, which I know you know Billy. I can almost anticipate you saying, 'It's rubbish'. But I really would want to know how deeply and thoroughly you've explored what is said in this book, the writings it quotes from, and the vast library of books of similar or greater learning out there. One more, 'The Dawkins delusion' (Alistair McGrath? - haven't yet read this myself) If particular others come to mind I'll let you know, but seriously, if you guys are geuninely curious you'll be able to dig them out - main libraries, bible college libraries, internet...
See my comment for brief responses to points raised in the time I have left:

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Can God be contained in a 'prove/disprove' box?

I'm gradually responding to comments on this current strand thinking about God and faith. Thanks Billy, Jonathan and Jimmy. Billy, I'm aware how easy it is to offend or annoy when relating this topic to personal experience, and am sorry to the extent I did that. I was trying to make a very objective point though that applies to everyone, as Jonathan - thank you - recognises: that experience does shape and affect the formation of belief. You do, Billy, further on acknowledge this, saying how it lead you to question your faith and personally conclude it didn't stack up - a process which I respect even if I disagree with your conclusions.
A few starter responses that need expanding.
I, doubtless along with many people of faith, am uneasy about the apparent limitedness of your approach in addressing the topic of God. This relates to my above point about experience. It is a widely held Christian conviction that a prime arena for God's interaction with human beings is through the heart, and experience. That's not to deny there's a very important role for thought and intellect, and it's perfectly okay to discuss the very existence of God in this manner. But no believer would claim you can prove God in a solely rational, scientific evidence-based manner, as you want them to do. That discussion is one part of a jigsaw.
I've jotted down my other initial reactions below. At present they look like tabloid headlines - they need a lot of unpacking. I stick with my intention to discuss this bit by bit.
You're not accounting for the mystery and poetry of existence. Heart and emotion important - powerful influence. Nothing wrong with questioning, I grant. Selective and sometimes distorted, silly assessment eg Jesus' death a 'suicide mission'? Impression at times of a demanding and combative stance and scatter gun of half-baked ideas; complex topic needs to be addressed carefully. The 'evidence', yet to be discussed, is like a jigsaw with many pieces: doesn't aim to 'prove' God but provides strong springboard for faith, stronger than for the alternatives when considered comprehensively from all angles. Centrality of heart - makes sense if God wants to know and be known by people of varying intelligence and education. I'm on a quest too.
Finally, check out John Humphreys 'In God we doubt':

Saturday, 1 September 2007

Impact of experience on shaping belief

Responding to Billy's comment below: Billy, as expected you have provided a forest of a response to tackle, and I am only going to try and hack my way through it a bit at a time. Where to begin? At present we're approaching the issue/question of the reality (or non-) of God from such different places. From your negative experience of faith and church, it strikes me you have decided for yourself God is not real, and have constructed a complex web of reasons to justify that position to yourself. Being a scientist, and I know having boned up a fair bit on biblical studies too, you are able to draw from a wide pool of knowledge and information to construct and defend your position. You cannot deny - and perhaps wouldn't try to - the strong impact your own experience had on the process which has lead you to think what you currrently do. Nothing wrong with our experience influencing us - it's common to us all. I'd just want to start by highlighting the subjective element - experience and emotion - that has shaped your own journey of thought and belief; it's been influential on you as it is on others. I hope you'd acknowledge that.
As I say, a bit at a time. And don't worry, I won't get personal. I'm blogging this partly cos it my be of wider interest and, being a Metro contributor, don't think you'll mind others reading.

Friday, 31 August 2007

Response to a critic of faith

For today's blog I'm responding to a letter my friend Dr Billy sent to Metro, 29/8. Billy, you say the burden of proof lies with religious people to prove God exists, not with scientists to prove the reverse. You're setting up a strange debate here, which I know you lack no energy in thrashing out - in itself interesting, considering so many people don't give much thought about God one way or the other. Probably to most people of faith, the whole idea of this kind of proving match is, to put it in an abstract way, total category confusion. I'm not a scientist, but I know the scientific method commonly involves controlled tests/experiments to learn something new about physical reality - perhaps the existence of a new substance, or an effect. There is hypothesis, test, and theory - which is subject to being altered should new evidence come to light.
From our discussions, it is clear you want to frame the topic of God in physical scientific terms. You don't seem willing to acknowlege there may be other frameworks for thinking about God. As there are other frameworks for thinking about other dimensions of human experience and reality - a beautiful piece of music, for instance. Can I prove Mozart's a great composer? Probably not - but most folk wd acknowledge he was. Before you react that the analogy's inadequate, I'm not claiming it's exhaustive; music for starters impinges plainly on the senses, which I know God does not - not in the same direct way at least. The image does though contain other parallels which I reckon make it worth considering, eg music springs from experience and impacts the emotions in a mysterious way not able to be reduced to scientific data. And, like God I'd say, when you experience it you don't feel a need to 'prove' it to others, though you may well want to try and help them appreciate it's beauty if they don't already.
If you read this I'm sure you'll get back to me. I try to blog something daily, and want to discuss this a bit, so am combining the two. Sure you won't mind. One benefit of your questions and criticisms about faith is it can spur some of us to think more about why we believe.

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Addressing the gulf

The heaven and hell question. The broader issue that I'm thinking about here is the tension between the simplicity and starkness of Christian beliefs - or at least the way they are often communicated and perceived, and the complexity of people's lives. And the doctrine of salvation is a common example. The classic case of the neatly packaged gospel message is a tract like Journey into Life, where a simple bridge illustration and prayer at the end communicates our need to repent of our sin and return to God for forgiveness, and hey presto you're saved. I caricature; of course behind the simple format and picture lies a weight of theology. But still, what bothers me is a feeling of the apparent impossibility of stuffing a huge and unwieldy cushion into a small box, ie, vast swathes of the populace are living out their lives with very little apparent chance of going down this line, ticking this box... even as I write that I know there's danger of parodying and distorting the reality through my choice of words, because isn't the truth in Christ far bigger than the notion of a box? Isn't God's grace supposed to be immense, infinite? Still need to explore this one, though - that sense of vast gulf won't go away.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

How do you square heaven and hell with the complexity of people's lives?

Going though a provocative title spell. And a new look - something a bit brighter. Wish I could say it's my spring/summer collection, but no. Thanks guys for comments on the last post - all interesting. I agree there's no point actually getting too hung up on names and terms, that it's really your underlying attitude to others that matters. I agree Beat that there's clearly both a spectrum of belief out there and a spectrum of commitment to living out those beliefs. And Christianity is indeed, like all faiths, multi-faceted. However, there is surely some consensus - though that's not to deny the complexity - about the core of the faith: Christ's death to save us from sin, reconciliation with God, eternity in His presence etc. I still find resonance in CS Lewis's imaginative realisation of everybody being on a path leading ultimately either to heaven or hell. Says somewhere there are no ordinary people, because we're all ultimately immortal, each of us in the process of becoming - either a being you'd be tempted to worship (ie a citizen of heaven), or else something you wouldn't want to see in your worst nightmare (ie a denizen of hell). Sobering thought. But, Billy, I'd immediately stress this isn't meant to be scaremongering stuff - it's just Lewis being imaginatively frank about orthodox Christian belief in the ultimate polarity of direction and destination in people's lives. On that note I'd also be honest and say I have a fair bit of imaginative reflection of my own to do to reconcile this stark view with the complexity of real people's lives out there. But that's for another blog. Any thoughts welcome.

Saturday, 25 August 2007

What do you call yourself if you're not a Christian, atheist etc?

Now here's a question I often ask myself when taken out of my little private comfortable bubble and have sustained contact with people 'out there' (aarrghh!):frankly, what positive difference is my faith making in my life? What could I point to in my life, to someone who doesn't share my faith, and say, see this, and persuade them to look into it?
For starters, I'm even struggling to find a descriptive term I'm happy with just now to describe 'people who don't share my faith' that they'd be happy with too. Is there one? 'Non-Christian': who wants to be defined by a negative? 'Unbeliever': again, a negative... terms which I guess can be helpful in discussion amongst Christians but can't sound great outside the circle. Terms of exclusion. 'Heathen' could only be used humorously. Help! If I call myself a Christian, what could someone who's not call themselves? I'm identifying myself with a particular set of beliefs. Some can say they are atheists or agnostics or other things... What would most people say? I've run out of ideas. And got diverted from my original question. Come back to it.
Heard on radio: 'I just got my dog put down'. 'Was it mad?' 'Well, it wasn't pleased'. Radio 2. Can't take the blame.

Friday, 24 August 2007

Male Bridget Jones syndrome(!)

Singleness at weddings and family occasions. Interesting one. Funny how much during that week away I found myself drawn down a slightly melancholy path of musing over the past... But a kind of musing very much confined to that week and that kind of gathering. It's so much to do with environment and the people you're with. In normal life, you're sufficiently absorbed in activities you've chosen and enjoy, and relating to so many folk in a similar boat on this front ie past the flush of youth and still single, especially in the church, that it doesn't bother much. Sure it crosses the mind sometimes, but I'm pretty comfortable with life. On the IoM, though, there was that slight fish out of water feeling. Immediate family all in couples, lots of couples at the wedding... and I suppose the clinch point is that because the people you're with don't see the rest of your life, it's easy to feel you must look a bit odd - 'why are you still single?' you imagine folk thinking. And don't get me wrong; there's at least two things I immediately have to say to myself on this one: 1. you choose how you think in that kind of situation 2. in these social gatherings also there are of course plenty of folk in a similar boat, and plenty to talk and relate about if you make the effort. So get a grip Bruce! Still, worth acknowledging the issue.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Wedding escapades

Brian and Liz's wedding yesterday, was at the evening reception. Dalmeny Park Country House Hotel - nice one guys. A very round cosy dance floor - I think the most confined space I've ever attempted to ceilidh jig on. Huge hanging fabric round the central chandelier. What's that for? Did it hold balloons? Didn't stay quite long enough to find out.
Back to Man memories. Ruth's wedding was at the chapel of the King Williams School Castletown. The only wet day of the week, which was a pity. Peter's a marine so some snart naval regalia on show, and a sword archway as we processed out after the ceremony - scary. Iona happily oblivious to the solemnity of the occasion. 'I don't like whisper' and, in response to a Gail frown, 'Are you happy?', which it transpired, coming at the end of the couple's vows, sounded like 'Are they happy?'
A local ceilidh band at the reception introduced some jigs I wasn't familiar with, quite simple communal ones. I felt the after disco needed livening up a touch so put in a request for Michael Jackson followed up by the Jackson Five to indulge a few body-popping and moonwalk moves.

Monday, 20 August 2007

A bit more on Man

Occasions like weddings and general family get-togethers can't half throw up some issues, can't they, or bring issues into sharper relief...
Carl, Gail and Iona arrived late on the Weds night, 8th. Iona was handed to me and she sat contentedly on my lap, and talked about her 'sandy toes', at which point I realised her command of language had made significant strides since Christmas when we were last all together.
Isle of Man family weddings - of which this was the second - have acquired a venerable tradition of spanning several days in terms of associated social events. Which I think is great - more like a Middle Eastern or African type celebration, not just for the day.
I've been trying not to blog for more than 20min per day, to keep it bite-sized and readable (not that I'm imagining a global audience!) And of course memories - or at least the impression they leave - can fade fast, so need to catch them quick.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

No longer a castaway!

Back from a week on the Isle of Man with family yesterday, crossing the sea back on the Steam Packet 'Superseacat' ferry. Straight after the reassuringly thorough video safety briefing was finished, but slightly recklessly before bothering to read the actual safety card with critical details of exit locations etc, I went on deck to watch the fabled isle receding. Thanks to the Seacat's velocity - it spews up a broad white arch of foam in its wake - we were already a good (non-nautical) mile or so from Douglas. I semi-resolved to watch the island until it faded completely from view, which I can almost say I did - just a faint outline remaining.
Stayed the week in a cosy holiday cottage called 'Pargy's' in the village of Fistard just uphill from Port St Mary, southwest end of the island. With parents, brother Carl , sister-in-law Gail, and lovely two-year old niece Iona. Sister Lisa and her boyfriend Jon stayed with cousin Ian in Douglas. Hello if you're reading!
Special reason for being on the IoM for this week was the wedding of cousin Ruth on the Saturday. I hope some more will follow on the week's high jinx.

Saturday, 4 August 2007


Been a bit woeful at blog updating of late, mainly due to being away. Soon after Clan, went to Arran where was group leading at Kings Cross SU camp 25 July to 2 August. On Monday I have an interview day with WEC mission to consider joining their radio ministry. Then off to Isle of Man 8 to 15 August with family, including cousin's wedding on the Sat.
Hopefully some point soon I might be able to fill out these adventures a bit more. It's all been fun so far!

Saturday, 14 July 2007

Clan Gathering

Hmm, that didn't appear to publish, try again... I'm away till 21st helping with the kids' programme at Clan Gathering, near St Andrews. If you're that way minded, please pray for us all!

Clan Gathering

Out of town till 21st, helping with the kids programme Clan Kidz, at Clan Gathering near St Andrews. If you're that way minded, please pray for us all!

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Dynamics of debate

An intriguing discussion has been evolving on David's website through the comment thread spawned by an atheist's question about prayer. See 5 July, under A Question of Prayer. (I know I can make a link for this, and tried yesterday, but didn't quite get it, so I'll need to try again later. Not so much a technophobe, more a technonumpty.) Picking up the baton and leading the charge on the atheists' side has been the redoubtable 'Kendo Nagasaki', 1970s wrestler turned blog warrior. Since the discussion began I've been trying to keep track of the dynamics of the debate, as much as its content. Seeking to discern the Spirit in the midst of it, seek strategies, paths and words of wisdom. Not, I hope, in a 'What would Jesus do?' simplistic kind of way - and neither at the expense of a good dose of humour and occasional silliness(!) But seeking to be aware of the 'background' of the discussion: participants' experience, underlying worldview, motivations, emotions, assumptions, prejudices... Because without staying sensitive to and responding in the light of these dynamics, the value of any discussion of points is limited.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Seeing things in other things

Yesterday had lunch at Morton's cafe with friend Gill, Isla and their visiting ex-flatmate Francesca, from Italy. A fun time, the conversation took a wacky turn discussing the 'high-heeled boot kicking a stone' shape of Italy. Italy's the only country I can think of that's shaped like something else. Except, I reflected, Britian when it's turned back to front, mirror image. When I've done this in the past using a transparency or whatever, I've easily been able to see in it an upright dog - or someone with a very big nose - hurrying along with a bag of shopping (admittedly it helps when you draw in a few lines). Tell me you see this too! I wonder if anyone else sees strange shapes in countries, right way round or back to front? Or in anything else for that matter (clouds being the obvious one)? I sometimes do. I think it's related to another tendency: when I miss-hear something or am not quite sure what's been said, spontaneously to 'hear' something else it could be. Hmm - the brain's amazing 'creative reconfiguring' capacity. Can generate endless hours of fun.
Or maybe I just need to get out more.

Monday, 9 July 2007

A point of tension

Reflecting on my last entry about the Rally against terror, I was challenged by something David said in his sermon last night on Romans 10, about the need to seek genuinely to engage with those who don't share Christian faith, partly by embracing common ground. I see now the positive, inclusive dimension of the Muslims' call to people of all faiths and none to take a stand against terror. As a Christian, after all, I am called to go out of my way to reach out to others; when they reach out to me in a common cause, shouldn't I be eager to respond in friendship and solidarity? I believe there's a point from Friday's entry though that still stands. The 'us and them' mentality which the politicians' and media's line can encourage, holds the danger of making people complacent. There is still a striking contrast between this idea of the 'vast majority of decent people' and Jesus' challenge, 'broad is the road that leads to destruction, narrow is the way that leads to life'. Just because I don't commit a spectacular moral atrocity doesn't spare me from the challenge of finding and pursuing that narrow way of grace, intimacy with God, and holiness.

Friday, 6 July 2007

A question of boundaries

Question Time on BBC1 last night was more entertaining than usual, and quite good. Last of series, audience all under 22, and an 18-year old on the panel. A pantomime atmosphere at times. Douglas Murray, director of a unit of social cohesion or something - sounded good - was at points doing all he could to subvert social cohesion by his vehement manner of making points. A real pantomime baddie in the audience's eyes with plenty of appropriate booing! And Davina defending her position on one point 'because I'm right'! Great fun - meanwhile, one or two frighteningly bright students periodically helping raise the debate above Jerry Springer level.
A church friend has publicised a 'Rally against terror' in George Sq tomorrow pm. The blurb refers to the issue being about the terrorists on one side v. everyone else on the other, people of faith or no faith, from all walks of life. This echoes a sentiment often heard in politics and the media: a 'tiny violent minority' versus 'the vast majority of decent law-abiding citizens', or Blair/Brown refering to those 'who threaten our way of life'. What interests me is the contrast between this kind of thinking and the gospel challenge. The first looks at the surface of things: terrorist violence is plainly an atrocity. The second, God's perspective, is concerned with the heart. And here every one of us faces choice and challenge. How well does my life measure up to God's standard? CS Lewis's insight is pertinent here, when he said there are no 'ordinary' people, because each of us is ultimately immortal and on a path of inner choice leading progressively either to heaven or hell. Stark, no question, and challenges the underlying assumption of the above notion that most of us are basically okay: where are the boundary lines really drawn?

Thursday, 5 July 2007

'Blessed are the poor' challenge

Alan Johnston's release: was inspiring to see how his spirits had been buoyed simply by knowing through radio/TV that the world had not forgotten about him. Hearing him speak I was reminded of Peter Gabriel's 'Wallflower', a message of hope to a political prisoner, one of those great songs where the music expresses the power and poignancy of the lyrics: 'Hold on... you have gambled with your own life, and you face the night alone/while the builders of the cages, speak with bullets, bars and stone/they do not see your road to freedom, that you've built with flesh and bone...'
I'm reading Philip Yancey's 'The Jesus I never knew'. Good section on the Beattitudes, this morning focussing on 'Blessed are the poor...' under heading The Great reversal'. The insight he draws out about how God's values completely turn the tables on conventional, worldly values is both deeply challlenging and encouraging - especially in my present circumstances of applying to join a Christian faith mission, WEC. It's ministry 'Radio Worldwide' in Leeds, specifically. I've had contact with the team in the past so have a certain feeling of connection. Still, several aspects of the ministry go completely against the grain of a conventional view of what's a good lifestyle for someone at my stage of life. Semi-communal living, no salary, trusting God to provide for the work and personal needs - even a policy of no appeal for funds! From a worldly perspective appears to narrow down options severely. But the more I consider the spirit of the Beattitudes, the more I find the prospect of this path, or one like it, exciting. The opportunity hopefully to see more of the 'kingdom of heaven' draw near.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Doorway to another world

After the karting, it was off to Stravaigin for a slap-up meal (now where does that expression come from?). A great night rounded off with cocktails - tried a nice minty one, the 'Detroit Martini'. By the time back home and light off, the sky was noticeably beginning to lighten. Been a while since that last happened.
However it happened again last night, as couldn't drop off (I'm a bit of an insomniac at times.) Got up for a spot of ice cream and watched some of 'Narnia' DVD. There are a couple of scenes from that film that particularly stand out for me - both in the trailer, which is a great one: 'This Christmas... four children... will find a door... into another world...' (or something similar). One is where Lucy approaches the wardrobe for the first time, which is covered in a silky veil (not mentioned in the book mind you). Palpable sense of mystery - what lies behind? And then a brilliant aerial shot of her sweeping this veil aside with a big arcing movement. Touching that it's just a little girl 'chosen' to be the first to enter the mysterious world beyond. And from the spiritual point of view from which CS Lewis wrote the book, it's a magical evocation of the wonder and marvel of crossing from the ordinary, earthbound, tangible world to the unseen but excitingly real 'virgin territory' of the spiritual world'. That second scene will have to wait.

Monday, 2 July 2007

Boy racer

Good friend from church's stag bash on Sat - and spilled into more of Sunday than I'd anticipated. Go-kart racing at Scotkart in the afternoon. Hadn't been in such a 'male' environment for some time - you could almost smell that testosterone! (even though there were a few gals there too - think they were enjoying it, outnumbered about ten to one). Got quite into the whole thing - I think some pent up anger got healthily channelled, almost imagined I was Jenson Button my second time round... Right, off to Men4curry. Think this stag do needs a spot more commentary tomorrow.

Saturday, 30 June 2007

Don't try that again

Lunch yesterday with ex-teaching colleagues who I'd last seen last June, same deal, last day of their term. Oko oriental restaurant Queen St Glasgow. Some chopstick battles over the shared starters - fun. Some of the dishes were Korean - eg. bulgogi beef in rich sauce, which took me back. Had a bottled Corona too, which a little later I rued. Went to give blood, thought, no problem, have just eaten well. Normally take anaesthetic, nurse persuaded me to try without. Some pins and needles in my hand, then felt a little light-headed... nurse realised maybe best stop, and promptly tilted me right back in the chair so my feet were in the air, like a shuttle astronaut or something. Not the most dignified but it did have the immediate desired effect of preventing what could have been my first faint. Avoid even touching the juice prior to giving blood the clear lesson learned. And don't let this put you off a much needed service - normally it's fine!

Thursday, 28 June 2007

A 'North Korea moment'

Reviewing an entry like yesterday's where I get lost in a meditative flight of fancy, I'm reminded of friends who have grafting jobs and small children to look after. Can feel like I'm on another planet - hmm, yup have heard that before. (I am applying for some stuff mind you). It's good to have a laugh at yourself and come back down to earth, so here goes. A friend called last night wanting a spot of light banter, and, feeling a bit downbeat myself, I somehow got onto talking about this deep reflective Christian article about relationships and attraction that another friend had sent. I soon sensed I was losing the friend on the line, because he said, 'this is another North Korea, man'. This referred to an incident last autumn when a few of us from church were in the pub, including some of the younger guys. Similarly feeling a tad downbeat, I'd opened up the subject of North Korea (I taught English in South Korea for two years). 'Do you know much about North Korea lads?' I'd asked, knowing deep down I was onto a loser. Pretty much on cue the guys all started putting on their jackets to leave. My pal finds it hilarious whenever he's reminded - 'legendary, will go down in the annals... a tumbleweed moment' (deserted saloon bar image apparently). Right time and place, of course, North Korea is a serious but fascinating topic - believe me.

Wednesday, 27 June 2007


I didn't address the summer solstice with the reverence it is due the other day, commenting what a nice day it was for it(!) I've always found the yearly rhythms of the planet awesome to ponder: the way this vast spinning ball, passing through its tilting-on-axis phases on the macro, astronomical level, produces on the micro, earthbound level the breath-taking evolving kaleidoscope of the seasons. A cycle from which all of nature benefits in its different ways: from the level of simple survival to our own aesthetic appreciation of autumn's sweeping hues. How it all 'hangs together' for both benefit and pleasure. I recall learning how the rate of the shortening and lengthening of the days accelerates towards the equinoxes and slows towards the solstices. Like being on a giant cyclical rollercoaster, without the sickening feeling. Whe-hey!
A friend has drawn my attention to an article today interviewing former triple jumper Jonathan Edwards about his loss of faith. My first reaction: JE's faith was clearly very tied up with his sporting achievements, and as he himself admits, he inhabited a very simple world at that time where he didn't question his faith. Exiting from that world has inevitably been an unsettling experience. What bothers me is that his testimony seems to buy into the commonly held idea that religious beliefs are fixed constructs in a person's head that, instead of having the potential to grow and develop, are brittle and vulnerable to being shattered by 'truth' as yet unexposed to. Whereas my experience is that faith is a journey where yes, doubts have to be confronted but fresh dimensions of spiritual truth are also constantly being discovered - if I persist in heeding the so far unvanquished sense that there really is something in it.

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Back to basics

House-sitting for friends in Glasgow and was away at weekend so has taken a few days to reconnect to internet and blog. Enjoying the space and privacy.
A group of eleven of us from church stayed at the Loch Ossian youth hostel Fri night to Sunday, travelling by train, the only way it is reachable other than, say, walking or helicopter. Beautiful location at western end of the loch. Very basic - no showers, toilets without flush or wash basins, electricity from small wind-powered turbine. This was spinning full tilt most times I looked, which made me wonder if the toilet lamps couldn't have been a little brighter - they produced a dim halflight. We wondered if the warden was storing power for some covert project to take over the world...! (not to exaggerate)
This is a late entry and I'm more of a lark than an owl, so can hopefully pick up tomorrow. Night.

Thursday, 21 June 2007

In a bind

Thank you to David for kind introduction on his site and for welcomes and comments from fellow bloggers! Summer solstice, and thankfully it's actually quite a nice day for it - presently at least.
Following on from yesterday's 'organised rain' - clouds with filofaxes etc, up for comment today, 'organised religion'. It's such a cliche, but quite a powerful language label that keeps people thinking of church (though I know it can apply to other faiths too) as something monolithic, cumbersome, and dare I say it, dead. New Testment metaphors for church are rather more organic and alive: the body of Christ, a tree - by extension from 'rooted and grounded in Him'. It's commonly heard, 'I'm a very spiritual person', 'my faith is a private thing' etc. So clearly spirituality is valued if people can connect with it in a personal, intimate way, and unfortunately that's not how many see church.
And 'religion'. Not a word viewed very positively either by the 'world' or the 'flock'. Interesting that there is at least one positive use of it in the Bible, 'religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless...' A couple of years ago I read a description of it's Latin meaning which cast it in a better light: 'religo' meaning to tie or bind'. Hmm, doesn't sound perhaps too promising, but the writer suggested that it is about realignment, getting a disjointed life back in line and in harmony with Reality, with the warp and woof of the universe. Woof? Well, you may think it's barking, but sounds pretty sensible to me.
It's not every day I'll be giving you this kind of word and phrase analysis, you may be happy to hear.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

First thoughts

Rain. I love it when a weather forecaster talks about 'more organised bands of rain' marching across the country or somesuch. Sounds slightly sinister, like the rain is plotting to assault the county and make people's life a misery. If you ask me, disorganised rain is bad enough.

Was walking back through Glasgow city centre after housegroup last night. I often find being out and about in the bright lights, or mingling with the general public in other ways like sitting on the bank in Kelvingrove park surrounded by the mellow crowds, provokes reflection. Basically, how does my faith, and the church, relate to all this, and to all these people? It can be quite an earthy thing. Wandering down the bottom end of Sauchiehall St, for instance, with its fast food outlets, fish and chip wrappers, clubs, people wandering down the street in weird and wacky attire and possibly in some state of inebriation... I wonder, maybe not so much how does my faith relate to this, but how is my faith, and God, relating to this? How on earth is the church and the gospel going to touch this culture, these people?
I think getting my mind round this kind of thing has been part of the journey for me, of integrating faith with the world out there. At times it's been quite unsettling. I recall the time 6 years ago mingling with the crowds at the Notting Hill Carnival in London, witnessing that fiesta of human energy and creativity, but thinking, only a tiny minority of these people will be Christians and go to church. I had the feeling, which at the time caused a mini crisis of faith, that the whole thing seemed just BIGGER than my little world, including my Christian world, of the time. But of course it didn't end there. More later.
I'll be writing about some lighter stuff too (phew!) But want to get cracking with some of the big stuff that exercises (and sometimes bugs) me.

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Hello world

So at last I take my first tentative steps in the brave new world of blog land. Who knows where the journey may lead? Last week for the first time I surfed the bloggers of St Silas Glasgow and decided, this is something I need to get in on. Having kept a diary pretty much since I was 17, I feel the time has come to branch out. If I've got something worth saying, let's tell the world! (or at least whoever wants to listen) If I don't, well they'll just stop reading. I think I'll give this a few days privately to get into the swing of it before launching myself on a cruelly unsuspecting audience.
So, what's the thought of the moment? One of the things I've been reflecting on a lot lately is how, in the journey of faith, you progressively move from the periphery to the centre, from the borderlands to the 'zone'. From the flesh to the spirit. 'Remain in me, and I will remain in you' - wow, I think Jesus said that. It's the place of peace, power and creativity. And one of the best bits is, you're on your way there as you get older. The world's response to getting older is so often negative and gloomy; but in Christ, I am being renewed day by day, in a sense - hopefully the right one - becoming more and more like a child as the years roll by, on my way to glory. Now why ever be miserable?