Friday, 12 July 2019

A Subtle Shift

I don't know what I think.

I've sat down to write but don't know why, nor do I know exactly what it is I want to process in this writing. I could let loose a stream of consciousness on the screen and stand back afterward to see what unfolded (another blog sat in 'draft' stage forever perhaps?). Or I could try and say something. But sometimes 'saying something' feels contrived and my mind doesn't think as freely as it otherwise would. I can set out to write sometimes and appear as though I'm exploring and musing and 'fellow travelling' but when I do this, I know all along where I'm heading; and so the journey isn't as free and loose as I'd like it to be.

I've returned home from another evening's discussion in which a diverse group of people expressed a diverse range of beliefs on a (you guessed it) diverse range of themes. I've come home trying to filter through what I've heard and I'm now trying work out what I think about it all. Nothing I've heard unearthed any evidence that Jesus isn't alive and that the Christian gospel isn't the fullest version of truth we have, but a lot of what I've heard has unsettled me. Confident, strident naturalism that has a lot of emotional and moral force to it always creates a level of revision in me and often I stand at my fireplace and stare into the middle distance (long enough that Amy asks what on earth I'm doing - to which the answer is often 'wondering what I'm on earth to do!'). 

As I pulled out my laptop with a sense of 'I must write something' not knowing at all what I ought to write, the title of this blog came to me. It came to me because of some work I've recently done in the room I'm sat. I laid laminate flooring where there was previously carpet. Sat here, at the table on this laminate floor, I am still aware now (a week on) of the feeling I first had upon completing it; that of being 'higher up'. The room feels different to be in because I'm higher up than I was before. Things look different, I see them differently and that is very noticeable. In real terms I am higher than I was before, but since it's is less than a centimetre's difference I'm surprised by how long lasting the  feeling of height is.

Wrestling with what I am tonight after the night's discussion I've had, it's this thought that gripped me as I sat down to write: new ideas raise us up to see things differently, and that takes getting used to. The size of the impact on us is directly related to the challenge it forces upon the foundations of a particular way of seeing the world. Whether that's good or bad of course depends entirely on whether you like the new perspective on the world you've been given, on whether you think we're meant to live in the mountains or make our peace with the valleys.

I am also left with an awareness that the world needs (and the church does too), more saints who are able to grapple with the same ideas and things the world does and at the same level that many of the professionals and academics that the world does. The world needs to see a church that isn't happy in its stupidity but is instead able to show that Christianity is not incompatible or unable to engage thoughtfully with the issues it raises. It needs also to present to the world a group of rationally very rich but also spiritually and experientially and philanthropically very deep people as well.

That's all for now.

God, send us those men and women and enable us to release them to equip the saints and give an answer to the world. Amen. 

Friday, 5 July 2019

It's Personal


Ultimate reality is personal.

That idea if true, has huge implications for life. The works and lectures of Ellis Potter are having a big impact on me at the moment and this statement is from his book on knowledge. Ellis was a Zen-Buddhist monk for ten years (many years ago) and is now a Christian lecturer, thinker, pastor and writer.

Ultimate reality is not mechanical, it's personal.

It is perhaps, in our society, more natural to think of ultimate reality as being mechanistic. We have broken the world down into its smallest parts, convinced as we are that a thing is best understood by isolating and understanding its smallest details. Having uncoupled the world from its goal and purpose and having done away with 'big-picture' meaning and objective absolutes we examined the world from that starting point and found it follows mechanical processes.

Tick follows tock follows tick follows tock.

The natural laws in the universe appear to be constant (we're not sure why but that doesn't seem to matter much) and so the universe is predictable, mechanical, repeatable, empirical. Drilling this down and asking the question 'what's at the bottom?' the answer comes 'it's turtles, turtles all the way down' or more specifically 'it's entirely mechanical and predictable.' This is a 'bottom up' natural theology, a philosophy that extrapolates from the data we've preoccupied ourselves with. The implications of this of course is that life, relationships, art, love and beauty (and any other things belonging to the personal aspects of living) are by-products of the process. They are useful, and sometimes necessary by-products, but they are the tip of the iceberg, the point above the water's surface, the actual reality underneath is not personal or interested in anything it may produce, it is blind, unfeeling and mute. This idea (that the world can be fully known by examining its component parts) has moulded our economy, industry, education and (increasingly) our ideas and politics. Utility and usefulness for society are commonly the measure of a things value. Not useful enough? Then make way for something that is, and wait your turn until the universe respawns you into something more useful than you were before.

But what if the personal and artistic and beautiful and musical elements of life were the thing that is most real, and the mechanisms we examine were the surface-level reality? What if, underneath, it wasn't turtles but persons and love? Sound romantic doesn't it? But that doesn't make it wrong, in fact it may be just the opposite.

The more I observe about human life the more it becomes clear to me that what we need and enjoy most in life, what we value above all are the deep relationships in our lives that make us feel so significant; not accepting the egomaniacs and narcissists (who are the exceptions that prove the rule).  You see, the Bible also does a natural theology, but it takes as its starting point something else. Rather than examining the world bottom up the Bible takes a 'top down' approach. It opens our minds to consider that maybe, just maybe, the things we find most commendable about human life are the thing that is most real and most true and then sees everything else as an extension and distortion of that.

The Bible reveals a universe that celebrates love, sacrifice, heart, character, intention and beauty and dares to suggest that the reason for this is because the Origin of everything knows and appreciates and revels in, those things as well. We love Love because ultimate reality, God, is Love. The Being that gave birth to everything we see and feel is a personal, multi-personal Being who created the cosmos as an extension and overflow of his communion.

What that means is that everything we see around us, the mechanisms and processes is an extension of that Being. What that means is that the wonder-full sciences are much richer than we first thought they were. We may know how a thing operates, but it doesn't originate in those 'hows'; rather it originates in the 'whys' the thing is. And the 'why' a thing is, is found in the origin of everything, the God who is Love, the Being who is personal.

What this means is that fate isn't blind, chaos isn't ultimately chaotic, and a thing cannot be fully known until we understand the 'why' it does what it does, and not just the how it does it.

That's why we love, that's why we long for loved ones and that's ultimately why we miss people. Why we long for the father and mother we never knew and agonise over wanting to be liked and known comes from the grains of Reality we sense in the world. That's why we fear loneliness and exclusion and why we spend £100 on a pair of shoes we don't need. The reason, ultimately, is because it's personal - everything is.

Don't buy the fatalistic 'switch me off when I'm too old to be of use' and 'I can't help it I'm hardwired that way' sort of thinking. Don't swallow it, but instead spit it out and replace it with the truth that Personhood, relationships and love matters most. Spit it out because, ultimately, it's a poisonous pill and creates a very different community, society and world than the one we flourish best in.