Sunday, 12 August 2018

Thoughts

Peace isn't so much an external property but an internal one. I can have a calm and tranquil surrounding but a busy mind or a busy and frantic environment and a calm mind. Peace of mind then is what people need most of all. This can either come from a vacancy of thought or a positive mood of thought that is focused on the present and is most likely grateful as opposed to needy. Peace as obtained via vacant contentment is hard to hold onto for long and is less preferable to thoughtful peace since it involves the abdication of responsibility and an escape from duty.

2.

Sometimes it seems that one of the worst things that can happen to a man is that he is told in no uncertain terms that he is special. To believe of course that one matters isn't a bad thing but to be led to believe that one is a necessary man is tragic. Believed it can tend a man toward privilege refusing to work hard or join the herd but instead waiting for their own discovery by others. Destiny is not a guarantee but is an invitation and offer of what could be. But even this can tend a person toward self-reliance especially a person raised in the post-modern west. 

3.

Reverence for God doesn't always need to look like fear and awe, careful speech and morals. Reverence for God is also unceasing gratitude and deep humility before God. To receive everything in life as the gift that it is and to enjoy everything in life without any sense of personal entitlement or pride at one's own accomplishments but instead in humility inspired by awe is reverent. It is flippancy that is the opposite of reverence not joyful carelessness. 

4.

A people's ability to control its weather has a direct bearing on that same people's attitude toward God. Those who live in societies where the weather is kept at bay or under control, its people can decide to do without God, believing that he is tame and temperate. On the other hand for those who experience the catastrophic and unctrollable force of the weather there is, forced upon them, a humility and vulnerability that prevents them from disregarding the Almighty. 

5.

Grace both propels and refreshes. It is the wind on our back that moves us onward into service of others, using our gifts for God's glory. But when tiredness prevails we turn into that same propelling wind and it becomes a cool and refreshing breeze. It is the reminder of God's love, of our adoption and acceptance that is all the rest and refreshment we need. Grace both propels and refreshes.

6.

The world feels silent of God because I don't credit the natural world to God but instead see God only in the miraculous, supernatural and providential encounters. But noticing God only in moments where he appears to bend or break the laws of physics is problematic on several levels. First it narrows my vision to the point of being almost blind. Second it is often the case that a miracle is only a miracle until scepticism has tugged at it and reduced it something explainable. Not even Christians find it easy to live in a world of miracles. The joy over hearing of some miracle is counteracted by the presence of godly people who suffer silence in their prayers for healing and I become confused by or offended at God. Or else what happens is that my hopes of experiencing my own miracle are deferred long enough that I become sick and despise the testimonies of a few. I can tolerate only a world where miracles don't happen where nothing 'supernatural' happens at all but since I am not used to seeing God in the natural world I am left only with silence.

7.

The experiences of faith and the Christian are not unique to Christians. The subtle and still small whisper of God I know is called by others the 'deep subconscious', providential moments are experienced by believers and non-believers alike, ecstatic experiences of spiritual experience are found in the cults and mystical religions around the world, the mental health benefits of prayer are enjoyed under the label of mindfulness, the peace of God can be found in a worship service and rock concert all the same, inspirational sermons that move people to action are given by politicians, scientists, lecturers and preachers alike. Remarkable acts of generosity and kindness aren't confined to believers only, decency and good morals aren't the reserve of the saints either. There is very little 'unique' about the life of the Christian. What ought to be seen more and celebrated is the purity of the source all the Christian expressions and experiences come from.

8.

Why do archetypes exist at all? There is a true and better form of everything because there is an ultimate source of everything as well. The wellspring it all springs from is the memory harboured deep in our sub-consciences. Answering 'why' this exists there requires us to call on a worldview. For one person the answer 'because it is part of how our species learnt to survive' seems to settle the score. For others that stops a few stages too short of the source. For all things with a shadow we consider them to have a substance. Why not also with our archetypes.

9.

Communication initiated between people often take the form of praise/wonder, complaint/concern, fact/observation. Some people, being predominantly external processes, express more ideas than others but what interests me is the percentage amount of expressions that are uttered within each category. I would imagine that 80% of verbal communication that happens between two people takes place within the benign world of fact or observation. Exchanges related to the events of the day that are neutral. What I'm thinking about is the final 20%. Of that 20% how much is given to the expression of positive wonders and how much to negative complaints? In part it depends on the amount of positive or negative experiences a person has, although these aren't easy to categories since they're open to interpretation. My observation is that one person may marvel more at the wetness of water and the joy of a sunrise and feel a great need to, in general, fulfil their joy by expressing and sharing it whereas another person may keep much of their joy to themselves, or perhaps wouldn't notice those things as wonderful. What is intriguing however is that those same peoples may behave differently toward negative experiences. The joy fulfiller may not feel the need to share every inconvenience they suffer whereas the more reserved person might. What's going on there? I wonder if it is linked in part to the ego states. Enthusiasm and praise is a primary child ego state expression. Does that mean that neutral observations are adult and that negative expressions 'parent'? Do people with a higher parent ego state than child express more negative experiences and viceversa?

10.

Sin. Simply put sin is missing a mark, a term from archery I'm told, different from transgression which requires a law/rule to be broken, sin exists even when there isn't a rule since it has to do with relationships and principles as well as rules. The apostle Paul makes this distinction when he says that sin existed before the law existed, and he points to the presence of human death in the world which is the consequence or payment for sin. We die because we sin, acknowledging that every person dies therefore every person sins, regardless of what laws they do or don't have. Laws do not prevent sin they merely expose its presence. Sin therefore includes transgression (as one of its 'types'). Missing the mark is both accidental and wilful and there are sins of commission and omission. That is, there is sin we commit by doing what we know we shouldn't and by not doing what we should have done.

A family tree of terms could look like:

                                Sin

Missing the mark                 Violating universal principles

                                                 Transgression

                                    Commission           Omission 

Transgressions can be decided by a society can vary across societies. Cooking dinner for your familiar in a pair of dirty trousers may not be considered a transgression in the west but in many cultures it would be. Sin however remains the same even if doesn't break any societies transgression. Cannibalism is a sin even if a group of people don't have laws against it and in fact practise it.

My suggestion is that religion did not invent sin it but merely named it. What we call 'falling short' or 'breaking a law' the monotheistic religions call 'sin'. Where does this falling short occur?

Relationally: Between persons. across families, tribes/nations.
Principally: Against the laws of nature or a society or against our own principles
Mathematically: Breaking the laws of logic

Given that sin is a junk draw term, a catchall for falling short or missing the mark we must consider in what forms sin appears within our shared morality.

Jonathan Heidt's work on morality makes the case for morality being like taste sensors on our tongue. Universally there are five different categories of morality that people experience:

- Care/harm
- Purity
- Fair/unfair
- Freedom/oppression
- Loyalty
- Authority

Some people recognise the value of all six aspects of morality whereas others stress only a few. For a lot of modern westerners it would appear that the only question to be considered is ‘does it hurt anyone?’ (An example of the care/harm moral sense). His results from various studies showed that left-leaning liberal types are generally 'less moral' than right-leaning conservatives in that they only seem able to recognise categories of: care, fairness and freedom as moral terms whereas conservatives are generally able to appreciate the value of all six.

An example of why morality may be construed within the purity paradigm is that, since it is an extension of our disgust sensors, without it we can put ourselves in danger. In the days of closer community living we can perhaps understand how the decision to not adhere to standards and ceremonies of purity is an immoral decision on the basis that it endangers the whole.

Whether we are discussing our moral sense or the discovery of virtues in the ancient classical sense, sin is what we do when we fail to live up to a or our shared standards.

Timothy Keller defines sin as ‘anything that does not lead to human flourishing’ which moves on in its definition from ‘missing the mark’ which is amoral and could refer to anything, onto utility and value.

The question then follows ‘who decides what amounts to human flourishing?’ And rather than making a case empirically all human societies actually base their decisions on what sin is from shared values. All of these moral codes have always come from within a religious worldview (since the more fact based empirically assessed world is a late arriver on the human scene). 

The Bible writers describe a world and society that has a clearly moral way of viewing the world. There is both an original blueprint (telos if you like), a problem and boundary markers to live within. Sin is not the ravings of a Being infatuated by ceremony and sacrifice but is the working against the Creators instructions.

The OT presents humanities original state in an archetypal story of our conception. In it we see the Creator’s commission to embody his activity in the world through work and creation and the proper functioning of the humans with one another and with God. Following the exile from our genesis instructions then come later (many hundreds of years later) in the form of the Mosaic law, an attempt to codify the life of the Israelites into laws concerning their corporate life and worship life. The laws are summarised into the famous Ten Commandments. 

To work against or miss the mark of either our archetypal state in Genesis 1 or the 10 commandments is to sin.

As the Bible’s story unfolds it is shown time and again through story, history and prophetic injunction that the people of Israel (who are meant to be for us typical and representative of humanity in general) are unable to avoid sinning. This leads to reflections on the nature of sin and our nature. Human beings, it is concluded, are unable to avoid sin. We are sinners, those who are unable to keep the law of God and restore the blueprint of Genesis 1. We are inconsistent, short-sighted, stubborn and unsubmissive creatures who can see that the ideals of Christian virtue and the Ten Commandments are good and even beautiful and yet we are unable to live up to them on a consistent level. 

Further reflections in scripture show that the issue is one of worship. It is taken for granted that we are creatures prone to devotion and worship but it is also acknowledged that the things we worship have a huge influence on us and the lesser the object of our worship is the more destructive it can be for us. To be devoted to addictive substances destroys us (that much is obvious), but to be devoted to the accumulation of wealth or to social standing can also have a destructive influence on us. A person devoted to their own beauty (who worships Aphrodite) is vulnerable to abusing their body and becoming distorted.

11.

Safety but for what. Safe spaces, health and safety, dieting and healthy living. Safety belts, better glasses to keep one safe. Safety safety everywhere, but for what I ask? For fruitful development and full flowering as children. But the world does not know this and indeed is not a safe place, nature will not play by those rules and does not know what is expected of it. In fact one cannot mature until accepting and mastering the world as it is risks and dangers and all. Safety to choose the risks we want, but we won't will we? Why step outside the warm and into the cold?

Our emphasis on safety and health and safety is, ultimately, safety from death. Our drive to create healthy and safe lives is born out of our drive to live forever; but aware as we are that God isn't to us as he once was we cannot count on a welcome reception. And so we stress safety to prolong our lives. But then what our our lives for? Riches and comfort? Are the richer and more affluent more significant than the rest, or are they not just cashing in on the hard work of previous generations? Knowing that our lives are short we can expend effort trying to preserve our lives, but at the risk of never really living; or we can peruse a riskier path of exploration to tame the unknown and discover the reason God made us for.

12.

Standing on the shoulder's of giants. All of us are, but only those faithful to the spirit of the giants before us stand on tiptoes. It is one thing to recognise the enormous debt that we owe to those who came before us, but it is another thing entirely to try and continue their work by pressing further on.

And what is that further on? Is it only procreation and greater taming of nature still? But when at last we tame nature fully we will have tamed ourselves since we are part of nature and so we will once again be trapped. There is a line that the human soul crosses that marks it out from the animals and puts it in a different category, that of salient being, conscious and fully alive - representative of the divine life on the earth.

13.

On a Christian doctrine that doesn't close down and narrow the world but allows an exploration within the worldview Christ opens up. For many people are tuned out to Christianity of their religion and tradition but stray into dangerous fields because they refused to think Christianly about the world.

14.

We all end daily pills to pop.

15.

When we're young we pop pills to escape life's monotony. When we're old we pop them to restore and preserve it.

16.

On theophanies.

Questions. Could it be that many of our struggles with life's pain stems from the fact that we don't ask enough questions? We ask a few; the 'whys' and the 'what fors' but we stop at the point we ought to press forward and ask many more: why should I expect life to be anything other than hard? Why have I enjoyed ease and comfort until now? Why do I presume to know life's purpose and my outcome? Why am I so confident that this pain is for no purpose? What makes me think I am entitled to anything other or better than this chaos?

17.

On self and theophany.

All ages and all people have fought life's apparent contradictions. It seems peculiar that Jesus said so little on the subject of pain. He doesn't address in much detail at all what is surely one of the oldest and most heartfelt questions: why does God permit such brutality and where is he when it hurts?

Could it be that his day was different from ours in respect to their own assessment of human nature and therefore the expectations they placed upon life?

"If you, though you are evil know how to give good gifts..." he says and no one bats an eyelid.
"But Jesus didn't entrust himself to them for he knew what was in a man." John 2:24

Jesus and the people of his day were familiar with human depravity. Kings massacred infants, enemies pulled the skins off their victims backs and criminals were often dismembered. The human race was a race of savages that occasionally displayed moments of exalted goodness. They were fallen but carried a latent divinity, an origin and a destiny in God.

In their day to day living they lived in fear; of starvation, of being attacked by bandits, of being assaulted by soldiers of having their property robbed and the exaction of their wealth. No one bat an eyelid when Jesus casually called them evil because everyone knew they were. They knew that every one of us is capable of wickedness without much persuasion, that we'd betray our family members for personal safety or a loaf of bread.

Could it be then that he didn't address it in the way we would have thought he would because he didn't have the same problem we do?

Could it be that the reason we struggle to reconcile suffering so much is because we think too highly of ourselves? This is true on the level that we are surprised by another persons poor behaviour and supremely confident in our ability to understand the world. Suffering hurts us so much and the questions of pain are so acute since we cannot entertain a world where we are not good and where we are not capable of solving the problems presented to us.

Jesus instead did teach that God is good and willing to forgive and that by his Spirit would give us the strength to bear up under the weight of our own existence. This was the answer to the theophanies of his day and if we're able to handle its premise (that we are evil and fallen and deserve only death) it is enough to comfort us as well.

18.

When an intellectual says that since there is no objective moral truth, that disasters such as the holocaust are not morally wrong they prove that intellect alone will not lead us to truth.

19.

Asking 'why then and not before?' leads me to ponder the development of ideas and social movements in the last 150 years.

Consequences for various aspects of society based on the Industrial Revolution:

Invention: Factories
Consequence: Mass migration from country to city
Social consequence: Individuals become 'cut off' from extended families.

Invention: Motor car
Consequence: Greater mobility resulting in much greater relocation
Social consequence: Individuals become less accountable and more powerful, more able to choose who they see and where they live and go.

Development: Factory becomes centre of production
Consequence: The home and household loses some of its social significance

Development: The home becomes a place of rest and leisure
Consequence: Those who work in the home become providers of leisure and entertainment.

Development: Men left the home to work in the factory
Consequence: Women remain in a new household stripped of much of its social and community significance.

Consequence: Women's demand equal voting rights and access to education.

Consequences for various aspects of society due to rise of expressive Individualism:

Event: Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection
Consequence: Human beings, put under the scientific microscope, are uncoupled from beliefs about their being sacred or semi-divine.

Event: Emergence of modern psychology & Freud's writings
Consequence: The animal instincts of the human are exposed more fully
Social consequence: Reduced degree of accountability for actions and decreased expectations for moral or civilised behaviour.

Event: WWI
Consequence: Emergence of the industry of PR, developed by Edward Bernais (nephew of Freud)
Social consequence: People are manipulated into buying certain products and aspiring to certain ways of living and become much more consumer oriented.

20.

Observation. Due to the radical reorientation of the home caused by, among others things, the Industrial Revolution it now feels and seems strange to 'work from home'. Indeed even for myself as a pastor I feel an 'office' is more official and makes me feel more official and professional, less amateur. Two hundred years ago of course, the home was the place of work, the centre of a family's work life. The home of the pastor was always on display to the church and the community, the church could watch how the children were raised and how the Christian life was lived out in the home. Now, since the home is a place of leisure and pleasure, to visit the pastor in his home is to learn about his private hobbies, his golf handicap or favourite box sets.

And yet, given the prominence of church-as-household in the NT ought we not as pastors but much more content to see our home as our office? The strangeness we feel about 'working from home' is a culturally conditioned one, and yet for the church to visit us at home rather than the office reinforces the central value that as a church we are a household and a family. To quote John Piper's popular book: Brothers, we are not professionals - so avoid offices more and embrace the fireside chat or the kitchen table coffee more.

Just a thought.

21.

Suffering and pain are self-evident. Living at any other place and at any other time in history 'comfortable' would not be a word a child would use to describe their expectations for life.

Our day and our age prepare us so poorly for suffering. We don't have the emotional or spiritual resources to deal with it. Even within the church with our sentimentalising of the Father's love for us we overlook the self-evident reality that pain is ever-present. The longer we live the more we will suffer until we eventually die. Why does it rock our confidence so much and cause us to question God as deeply as we do? Is it because atheism is so instantly accessible to us and a constant temptation? Is it because we expect too much of the kingdom now and aren't prepared to wait for the 'yet to come' aspects of it?

From the perspective of any of the writers of scripture we are living in much more of the fullness of the kingdom now than they ever dreamt possible, and yet we want more. We want more life, more health, more comfort, more peace. We shall never rest until we live in paradise.

But the paradise of the kingdom, the life of the kingdom and the peace of the kingdom cannot be entered without first submitting to the king of the kingdom. To submit to the king of the kingdom requires a willingness to accept the world the king has created for us; the world we have made following the fall.

22.

Safety, but for what? Safety, safety, safety I hear talk of safety and non-offence everywhere. But safety is a terrible goal to live for. Risks and the rewards attached to them is a much more satisfying and full life to live, but risks require a lack of safety.

If we are not careful we will be so safe that we never truly live before we die.