My last post was about discovering a simplicity on the other side of complexity in my journey of faith. In the next two posts I explore two significant incidents in my life that illustrate the principle
When I went to work in Nepal in my twenties I went believing that faith gave answers to questions. The ultimate answer to all questions was, of course, Jesus (see my previous post).
Living in one of the poorest countries in the world introduced an element of complexity my simplistic faith. Getting to know people who faced real poverty posed new questions. Read more
I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity (Oliver Wendell Holmes Jnr)
When I lived in Nepal we used to say that after a few months in the country you felt like you wanted to write a book about all you were seeing and experiencing. There were so many fascinating sights, sounds and customs to describe.
After being there for a year or so, however, you felt like you could only write an article about the culture. Some of the things that seemed exotic were now normal, yet at the same time you were beginning to realise that the differences were more than skin deep. There were different assumptions and values operating in ways that you couldn’t fully understand. This strange combination of things becoming more familiar while at the same time realising how little you really understood meant that you could actually write less than before about the culture.
After a few more years in the country, while in many ways feeling more and more at home, you were increasingly aware of the complexities of the culture. At this stage you began to feel that you might only be able to sensibly write a few paragraphs about it.
I am finding a similar process at work in my faith journey. When faith was first kindled within me during my teenage years it seemed so fresh, exciting and hopeful. It was wonderful good news and I had great enthusiasm for sharing it with others. It was also quite simple; all clearly laid out in the Bible.
Since then I have lived and worked in Nepal, studied some theology, been minister of two congregations and had a couple of other jobs. And while I have settled more and more into the life of faith I have also found levels of complexity that I could not have imagined. Read more
I like diversity. I am in an international marriage and have lived in several cultures. Not only is cultural diversity interesting, but exposure to it has broadened my own experience and at times shown me the weaknesses and blind-spots in my own worldview. Thus, I like the concept of multi-culturalism: that different cultural communities should be allowed to exist together with tolerance, respect and sharing.
But it seems that this ideal is under threat because absolutist worldviews are on the increase, the obvious example being radical Islam. This is a way of understanding the world that is obviously proving attractive to many people.
It is also a perfect example of the dangers of worldviews highlighted by postmodernism. As postmodern thinkers have often pointed out, worldviews come at a price. Because they are comprehensive in scope and because they depend on a particular narrative of the world they have a tendency to become absolutist ideologies. In order to maintain themselves such worldviews must negate all other visions, describing them as deviant or disruptive.Read more
And now let the weak say, “I am strong”,
Let the poor say, “I am rich”,
Because of what the Lord has done for us…
We sang these words during a worship session at a retreat in Nepal. Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world and most of us had been working there for a few years. The person leading the retreat had come into the country on a visit and was perhaps experiencing a bit of culture shock. His first words after the worship session were, “What do those words mean? How can you sing ‘Let the poor say I am rich’ when surrounded by such poverty?”
Someone with a different perspective effectively debunked our superficial spiritualising of sentiments expressed in the Psalms. With one comment he used the words of the text to undermine our casual acceptance of what we thought it meant. It was a particularly effective example of ‘deconstruction’, which is such a feature of postmodernism. Read more
A friend of mine was asked if he was having a crisis of faith. He replied,
No, I’m having a crisis of church.
He seems to sum up what I am hearing from many people who have faith and want to take it seriously, or who are seriously exploring faith. Many are telling me that the church does not help them on their spiritual journey. In fact church has often been a hindrance.
And, I must say, this resonates with my own experience over the past ten years or so. It was initially hard to be honest and to admit that church no longer ‘fit’, it no longer felt right – especially since I was the minister!
Obviously I did not always feel this way. I had been comfortable in church and my faith was nurtured within it. So what is going on that I and many others are now finding church a problem?
I think that a large part of it has to do with culture. Read more
Liminality is ‘is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage’ of a process of a ritual or of a process of change (Wikipedia). It is an in between state when all the certainties of what has gone before are gone, but what is going to replace them has not yet become clear. Liminal time is the time when you occupy a position at both sides of a boundary or threshold.
Liminal times are uncomfortable, uncertain and frightening. Read more
“There is no alternative” was a favourite phrase of Margaret Thatcher’s in the 1980s. No alternative to free markets, free trade and capitalist globalisation. No matter what the cost to communities or to individuals, she argued, there was no alternative to free market economics.
In my last post I began to explore the question posed by the Northumbria Community, “how then shall we live?” In particular, how shall we live a faithful life when we are living in thrall to a system of global free-market capitalism that is tantamount to living under the control of an empire? This empire, as all empires do, maintains its control by the constant assertion ‘there is no alternative’ and by the suppression of all attempts to propose alternatives.
The problem for those living under an empire is that in some ways there is no alternative. No matter what we think about global capitalism, each of us is part of the system. The simple fact of having a pension or a mortgage and of being a consumer of products and brands means that we are enmeshed in the system and in some ways dependent upon it. And let’s be honest, no matter how we feel about it, those of us living in the west benefit from this system at the expense of most of the world’s population. Read more
O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
In a previous post I began to write about the Northumbria Community’s concept of ‘living the questions’, in particular how the question ‘Who is it that you seek?’ leads to a worldview built on taking Christ as the clue to understanding the world.
This advent I have been thinking of the Northumbria Community’s second question, ‘how then shall we live?’ It is a question that applies to my personal life, but also to bigger issues, such as the response to current events like the attacks in Paris. Read more
I wrote the following article for Contemporary Christianity’s monthly PS forum. The post can be found here. Contemporary Christianity (formerly ECONI) addresses issues of faith in the public square and hosts many significant discussions.
The phrase ‘talks about talks’ has come to encapsulate our frustration at the inability of politicians to actually address and deal with real issues. Yet, sometimes it is right to spend time agreeing how a conversation is going to be held, before actually having the conversation.
The big issue of the day for the churches is sexuality, obviously reflecting the prominence of the issue in society. In my experience it is an issue on which many people have very firm opinions on both sides of the argument. One of my biggest concerns is about how the conversation is being conducted. Read more