Thursday, 30 September 2010

friendship across boundaries (cont'd)

I appreciate the feedback from both Billy and Lisa, helps bring some of the questions and issues into relief. For starters, belief is not (just) a head thing. Billy you’re tending to view it as ‘mental propositions you assent to’, when of course to a christian it’s so much more. Trust, faith - which are larger, richer words than belief - in God shapes and colours and transforms my entire being and the way I live my life. It also gives my personal sense of purpose and direction. It’s not hard to see how in a close relationship where you are seeking to walk and flourish together, there is potential for conflict and limitation of intimacy if you are at odds at such a profound level.
Also billy it’s you who are using this word struggle. I don’t feel I’m struggling with this, but exploring with a light heart and curiosity.
Actually I feel it’s partly the boldness and sense of adventure I have developed through the life of faith that has propelled me to seek out new friendships in the first place. I think I was in the past sometimes too timid and restricted in my views of how to relate to ‘non-believers’. Jesus himself is my inspiration in this, his mould and barrier breaking approach to relationships.
You are right about treating people as people, not to be pigeon-holed. I feel the faith and love growing in me as a christian - not that Christians monopolise either! - motivate me to truly listen, get to know and respond to the ’hidden country’ of each person’s heart I meet. That’s the goal anyway!

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

friendship outside the flock 3

Thanks for the comments. To expand a little further my thinking here… I still need to clarify, but I’m also partly working it out as I go along. I DO believe that ultimately in a close relationship that’s going to last, there needs to be a bonding in heart mind and spirit, there’s no compromise in my mind about this. Really what’s in question for me is wisdom in how - as a christian who enjoys meeting people, including, yes women(!) - I relate to those who don’t share my faith. In the context of seeking new friends as a foundation – I emphasise this - is it wise and appropriate for a christian who is also on the look out long term for a relationship, to include in their forays those who don’t share faith? It’s a question for me as I said before partly due to my interest in ‘localness’ and the limited range of local christian women currently on my radar. I’m being quite candid about this cos I think it opens up interesting perspectives. Dating sites are not the only way to meet people by any means, but yes they are one. They obviously open up a pool of people who it could be interesting and who knows possibly fruitful to meet. It strikes me that if as a Christian your thrust (emphasis) is to meet people and make friends, it’s ok to connect with people on a secular as well as Christian website ie the whole ‘who do you yoke with’ thing only becomes an issue when you get a fair way along in a friendship. Which I’m currently nowhere near!

Sunday, 26 September 2010

friendship outside the flock 2

Aha, thank you people for comments on last post, interesting. And ryan I can’t deny a chuckle at your image of the atheist woman luring me back to her eveil lair, ha ha!
To clarify a little. (have to say I’m assuming not too many people who know me will read this..!) Ok, what prompted me to contact women who are not at least overtly Christians? Two factors combined. A certain sense of a lack of obvious opportunities to meet christian women locally, partly through my current church circumstances (not to say I couldn’t meet more with a spot of effort). And a desire to socialise more locally - cos I’m quite socially adventurous and love to meet new people. So actually contacting a few people on secular sites is a way of widening the pool. But contrary to what’s being perceived I think, it’s not out of an urgent desire to be in ‘a relationship‘. it is simply to expand opportunities for the pleasure of engaging in person with attractive people. It’s also, granted, a bit of an exploration, an experiment (w/o that word’s cold connotations). yes I AM interested to see more how people without God necessarily explicitly in their lives find meaning and deep fulfilment. What are their answers, how deeply do they satisfy? and also what they’d make of someone with religious faith. Might one or both our outlooks be challenged, changed? but none of this means I’ve closed the door to meeting and engaging with christian women too..!
BTW I like do discipline myself to blog for a v limited time each day, that’s why this kind of thread is quite episodic.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

friendship outside the flock (cont'd)

I want to think a bit more about this matter of engaging with people - yes, ok, in particular, women, who aren’t Christians. If I’m not honest and straight about my (evolving) thought about ‘controversial’ issues, as far as I can see what I write will lose interest. By exploring it, I reflect myself and may prompt someone else to.
I’ve got chatting with a woman who lives locally. An atheist. Let’s just think about the standard(?) christian response (it used to be mine). You can’t get too close to her, cos you’re going in different directions. Now hold on, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Why did I get in touch with her in the first place? I want to connect with people locally. I feel it’d be a positive move to gain at least one or two more friends I can just meet up with for a drink. It’s a simple desire for friendship. And yes, being a straight bloke, there is an additional desire for female companionship.
Yes there is a tension here. The key change in my thinking is, why shut off a potential interesting friendship ‘cos she’s an atheist or not a christian’? another key thing is, in any early stages it’s JUST friendship. Heck it may not even get to that stage! It doesn’t mean I’m going to end up with her - I did say before I seek to submit all my relationships to my sense of God and his leading. There’s already though been just a hint of the positive potential of this kind of interaction. Her seeing I’m a thoughtful kind of person has, it wd seem, already softened her likely previous view that belief in God is just for nutters. Who knows what the positive impact on the other person’s life could be - or on mine?
As I say, this thread of thought is evolving so I hope anyone who reads it wd not misread or over-read or jump to conclusions about me! I’m just interested in exploring this kind of stuff and I think it's an interesting one to blog about.

Monday, 20 September 2010

irony at heart of papal parade

Yesterday watched the beatification service… incredibly ornate clothes, and metal ware for mass… and this is the successor of a guy who got crucified upside down. And the leader of a church who worship someone who was exposed to messy brutal violence. Think of it. We’ve got from a young guy 2000 years ago, first on a donkey, then dragged bloodied and naked though city streets to a execution on a cross… to a frail old man in crisp clean white clothes sitting regal and barricaded in a funny looking white motor behind bullet proof windows, surrounded by a dozen men in dark suits. Quite an irony.
This is not a bare attack on Catholicism, other parts of the church have some similar as well of course as all kinds of other strange features.
I’ll get back to earlier comments later.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

paradoxes of papal mass

Watched the papal mass from Westminster this morning. Intriguing business.
Took some notes so just gonna pretty much reproduce them in somewhat unrefined form here just now. Pope on throne, white hair red robe, reminded me, no disrespect, slightly of santa claus. Opulent cathedral, marble pillars. Red and black robes, white diamond hats (what do you call them?) Paradox: one man, servant of the church but also revered, tight security. Highlights undemocratic church structure? Muslim Glasgow uni professor mona sadiki found this aspect, one man locus of such moral authority intriguing too. A little old man getting such attention, getting out of tinted glass windowed car.
Bible reader sings response - what if he couldn’t sing? (comedy value)
R Dawkins said in newspaper he shd get back to his tin pot castle. 'Trials of the pope' on bbc2 tues, Ratzinger's personal painful history, the lack of empathy - which involves getting to know about someone properly to get a balanced view - deeply unattractive in RD. ‘Catholic voices’ featured on that prog, 2 young girls trained to be on message with media, I learned how they do natural fertility… Shouldn’t the church give its wealth to the poor? Mark Dowd the presenter asked, she wasn’t prepared for that one!
Sung liturgy in latin - why rome, why latin? - in England? Anachronism, indecipherable to an outsider.
Cardinals in black with pink waist bands, magisterial church power.
Appearance of whole show, this locus of wealth and beauty in a world full of poverty ugliness suffering, how justify?
Commentator attitude of neutrality, interest and tolerance. Incense waving, high mass altar. Holy father, putting on his specs - camera homes in, the youth, treating him like a pop star, but he lingered with them, more than protocol required…
Fascinating, much for further reflection.

Friday, 17 September 2010

friendship across the boundaries

Change of subject. Getting a bit more personal and risky here. But it’s an interesting topic so here goes. Dating. I have quite a ‘local’ approach to friendship and dating, ie not greatly inclined to try and develop a relationship at a distance. I like to be able to meet up with someone for a drink or whatever, fairly easily. Some might call it a green approach too!
But there’s a problem. It’s not been easy to find a suitable match in the immediate locality ie Leeds/Bradford/west Yorkshire. My ‘base’ church is a small local parish one with as far as I’m aware currently not a single eligible female present! And while getting to know a few folk who are a little further afield via christian websites and networks, my sociability and love of meeting new attractive interesting people, has led me to seek out ways of meeting people locally who may not have a christian or indeed any other faith.
There is something liberating about this. For a long time I feel, in retrospect, I often closed doors to potentially good friendships at the very least because I was seeking a relationship with someone who explicitly shared my faith. An at times it felt limiting. On the other hand, I don’t envisage pursuing a friendship/relationship with someone beyond what is comfortable with the simultaneous pursuit of the absorbing quest of relating to God.
We’ll see what happens.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

pope ponderings

Watched ‘the trouble with the pope’ dispatches last night on C4 last night. Gay rights activist Peter Tatchell lambasting the pontiff for rigidly adhering to traditional catholic teaching in ways perceived to harm people round the world. At the heart of this kind of controversy are opposing perceptions of the same doctrine. Faithful and strong, or rigid? Moving with the times or being swayed by the crowd? Timeless truth or backward anachronism?
The bible contains the seeds of some revolutionary values that have bloomed and worked themselves out down history. Jesus’ and indeed Paul’s treatment of women for instance are recognised as being radical and pioneering in their day, setting a course that, dare I say it, ultimately helped fuel some of the modern movements towards equality of the sexes(?)

The LGBT issue is a little more thorny. I remember a talk in St Silas church in Glasgow years ago, from a man with a homosexual background, arguing for the deep theological underpinning of complementarity of the sexes, and their fusion in marriage. Adam and Eve’s union Jesus himself alluded to significantly – and Paul picturing marriage as a symbol of Christ and the church.

This may provoke some disagreement.

Monday, 13 September 2010

the pope and the panel show

Sunday Live programme 10am bbc1 yesterday. ‘Is the catholic church obsessed with sex?’ was the question poll put out to viewers to vote on during the programme. How simplistic can you get? Is this the level of intelligent response the bbc expects from its audience at this time on a Sunday morning?
You could also make some comedy from the way the cameras were angled to show the reactions of the panellists (three of them) when someone else was speaking, to show agreement or otherwise. Jack Valero of Opus Dei says women shouldn’t be ordained cos Jesus chose 12 men, ensure angled shot to show feminist shaking her head. And of course they’re all savvy to it, make sure they shake or nod head exaggeratedly at appropriate moment to make sure audience sees clearly what they think. Mad.

Saturday, hiked up on Ilkley moor with a friendly group of fellow hikers.
We went to Betty’s, a famous Yorkshire tea shop. Had to join a queue to get seated. I thought, it’s going to have to be really good to make it worth my while standing here so long – in my hiking boots. It was good – but THAT good?

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Hawking on God

This morning on radio 4, Jonathan Sachs the chief rabbi referred to Stephen Hawking’s recent pronouncement that the universe requires no creator. He pointed out a key difference between science and religion, that the first is about explanation, the second, meaning. A pertinent point. I’ve read so often, including from one of my most loyal readers, that such and such shows ‘no god is required’ - aware that somehow the point is being missed. The human heart does yearn for meaning, on a cosmic scale – eternity is ‘written in our hearts’. And is this not where God meets us, through the gift of faith and spiritual practice (understood not as na├»ve credulity as the atheists insist, but as a route to a kind of knowledge, spiritual knowledge, inaccessible in other ways.

And just to balance things with a question of my own about Christianity… I spotted in third way magazine an ad for a book called something like ‘Did Paul get Jesus right?’ Paul evidently did have a dramatic experience out of which flowered his whole theology about Jesus. But the question does arise, why was so much entrusted to one man? It contrasts with one of the bible’s ‘selling points’, its diversity of authorship. It is quite easy to see how some view Paul’s writings as the ideas of ‘a religious genius’ rather than the thoughts of God. That’s not to say I suddenly think it’s all not true. But it’s one to explore.

Monday, 6 September 2010


On Saturday, scaled Kinder Scout in peak district with a group of walkers. Paragliders floated in the distance like gulls above a sea cliff. One walker with sore knees tried walking backwards downhill for a bit. Interesting 

I’m quite a fan of the Swedish version of Wallander. A rich, textured, absorbing drama, overtly a detective story but with personal interactions and relationships at its heart. Each episode addresses a contemporary issue in some way, and the story simply unfolds step by step. Beautifully composed shots of Swedish countryside. The central character, Kurt Wallander… naturally a good detective, is less sure-footed in his emotional life. He combines an evident underlying capacity to care, with a famous surface lack of empathy, especially towards his daughter. Also a certain awkwardness, shyness and naivety that afford a certain vulnerability and elicit sympathy – in this episode being left alone in a town square, by the woman he’s fallen for. In the nicest possible way.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

The LGBT question

Lesbian gay bisexual transsexual. Regarded with sympathy at greenbelt. Even just to write the phrase, it looks creative. Where do you draw the line between valid diversity/creativity, and wrong, against nature? Some things are still taboo, eg paedophilia. So it’s still viewed as ‘just wrong’ to abuse power, prey on the vulnerable. Why in the popular view is that not ok, while homosexuality, say, is? Sexuality has come to be viewed as a valid arena for the display and expression of diversity, in the same way race is. One to ponder.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

glastonbury and greenbelt

A little more on the Cheltenham racecourse. The scale and the power of the beast it’s designed for evokes awe, is humbling, makes you more aware how small we humans are, and of the vast creative force that brought such creatures into being. There could the makings of a poem there…

When I got back from greenbelt on Monday night, I watched the ’40 years of Glastonbury’ programme on bbc4. the Glastonbury phenomenon merits some thought, especially in contrast with gb. Glasto is a much bigger event, more than seven times as many people. I’m struck by the powerful visual display there of human diversity, celebration, creativity, exploration, energy, and a degree of anarchy. The pull to gather in such huge numbers to celebrate and enjoy music together - is there a taste of heaven there?

The most striking and beautiful sight, the crowd at a pyramid stage gig. The vision of beautiful youth, in big sunglasses, colourful and creative clothes, girls on guys’ shoulders, all swaying and smiling. And most of all, those great tall flags on poles, varied nationalities and designs, that sway and furl elegantly amidst the vast sea of people, like a variegated multitude of sails.

The main stage crowd at greenbelt looked nowhere near as glorious. It gets you thinking not least about the beauty that can emerge from unfettered human celebration. And how, and in what ways, and why, Christians can be inhibited, and how that might change.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

groovin at greenbelt

I’m back from greenbelt arts festival at Cheltenham racecourse. Broadly Christian event, but radical, exploratory, political and left wing/field. The racecourse itself is awesome to behold. A vast circuit, immense broad grass corridor, thick grass, its undulations and hilly backdrop enhancing its splendour. Its scale against a human athletics track accentuates what a magnificent beast is the horse, and indeed even more so, a field of them thundering round, tiny jockeys perched, hooves pounding, divets flying.

A musical highlight was undeniably Beverley Knight, R n B soul diva. A pulsating, high octane performance. Ok, and she’s a bit gorgeous to boot. This time round I was drawn to big expansive music and events, though there’s a thriving ecology of smaller scale happenings too.

Challenging thought: Richard Rohr, that the Christ, meaning the Word, the Spirit, can be found in people of many faiths and persuasions who seek goodness and truth. What place then for evangelism? I venture to suggest the explicit message of the Christian faith still brings into sharp focus the truth of who God is and what God is like, in a unique way, so that there is still an unveiling work to be done through word and deed – while learning and listening to the insights of others too.

And the hippy-est sounding event I noticed: ‘Foraging with the earth God’. Get out your trowels and wellies.