Friday, 19 November 2010

Lost in translation

I've been thinking about communication recently. How I can say something which makes perfect sense, only for it to be utterly misunderstood. After the event it can be completely obvious why. It seems the problem has many roots. Cultural variation on word meanings. Contextual elements that I am aware of that others are not. Preconceived ideas about my opinion or position. A poor choice of words on my part. And so on. It happens with my closest family and friends. If those who know me best do not understand; what chance a stranger?

This problem seems all the more important in matters of faith. Words I intend to comfort or reassure can unsettle or disturb. Words I read in Bible translations have changed in meaning since the time of the translator. W H Vanstone reveals in The Statue of Waiting the word used of Judas almost exclusively in all the gospel accounts should be rendered "handed over" not "betrayed".  A subtle change - but a profound shift in emotional energy in the accounts of Jesus' last days.

When all we have of our saviour's message are translations of words written 2000 years ago in a language he himself wasn't speaking, how can we be assured that we truly grasp his meaning? Perhaps not at all. NT Wright's assessment of Paul sees him at the pinnacle of first century theology, in a sudden realisation that the Old Testament was fulfilled in the person of Jesus, but not at all in the way his theology would have predicted.

In such a context, I have no choice but to find ways of letting the Bible surprise me. Keeping my mind open to reinterpreting the message of the kingdom as my understanding of the context broadens, or my appreciation of the character of God grows.

Thursday, 11 November 2010


"I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength" Philippians 4: 12-13 (NIV)

A few weeks back I was privileged to hear Lord Carey speak on this passage. On the Christian calling to be content. It is not a promise that we will perpetually be blessed so that there is nothing that could make us discontent, but rather that we will be provided the strength to remain content in whatever circumstance we find ourselves.

As I reflected on this I realised with surprise that was becoming my experience. I have visited my mother many times since the onset of her Alzheimer's. Whilst I still struggle often with what has happened to her I look forward to these visits. More than that. I enjoy these visits. Spending time with her is tinged with sadness, yes, at all she has lost. But it is still a joy.

In thinking this I wonder how many other joys I miss out on because I am not able to persevere through pain to that place of contentment.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

The big silence

This inner peace of mind occurs on three levels of understanding. Physical quietness seems the easiest to achieve, although there are levels and levels of this too....Mental quietness, in which one has no wandering thoughts at all, seems more difficult, but can be achieved. But value quietness, in which one has no wandering desires at all but simply performs the acts of his life without desire, that seems the hardest."
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance(Robert Pirsig)

I'm currently fascinated by The Big Silence - BBC2's antidote to reality TV, as five ordinary people take on the challenge of an eight-day silent retreat. The starting point of their faith seems to make almost no difference to the outcome of their experience, with the self-confessed lady of 'no faith' finding the experience as deeply spiritual and enriching as the Christian who's aim was to deepen her faith.

It seems if we can convince ourselves to slow down, any one of us can encounter the living God. So why is it, when I know this that I continually allow the world to spin me up to it restless pace? Thank you once again, Christoper Jamison for making me not just stop and think, but simply stop.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Faith versus failure

"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death." Romans 8:1-2 (NIV)

Failure is something that happens to all of us. We fall short of our own goals and expectations, let alone God's. The danger is that failure leads to self-condemnation. We descend into the spiral of "How can God possibly love me?". In the last week I have failed rather a lot. It left me questioning if I am still worthy of my calling. Yet Paul says that there is no condemnation. True he also says "What then shall we say? Shall we go on sinning that grace may abound? By no means!". So the lack of condemnation is not a license to fail. But it is an encouragement to repent, to get up and get on in the knowledge of God's acceptance.

Today I was very struck by God's words to Gideon. "Go in the strength you have". God knows our weakness. He knows our predilection for failure. But he still wants to work with and through us.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

The echoes of silence

"Breathe through the heats of our desire
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm!"
Dear Lord and Father of Mankind (John G. Whit­ti­er)

Recently I have been thinking a lot about Sabbath and about rest. I am slowly coming to a realisation that I am approaching it the wrong way. Or rather that I am expecting the wrong thing. I find myself going into a period of retreat by offering it to God and asking him to meet me in it. I usually enjoy the time immensely but emerge the other end feeling faintly disappointed that God has not met me. It is as if I expect some blinding new revelation or a magical transformation of my circumstances. When this does not materialise I feel as if God failed to show up - or perhaps I failed to notice him.

What I do find, however, is that in subsequent days I am more aware of God's presence. Of his grace in my daily life. Of empowering and equipping to do the things I need to do. I have always faintly objected to the last line of the hymn 'Dear Lord and Father', because in Elijah's case it was not until the earthquake, wind and fire had abated that God spoke. In the stillness after. But perhaps the hymn writer is right after all. Because it was in the power of the silent voice that Elijah went on to do the difficult things God asked of him. As if in some way the silence was woven into the fabric of his soul, so he could carry it with him into the turmoil of daily living.

Saturday, 31 July 2010

The hallmark of the kingdom

"Ooh, your love is a symphony, all around me, running through me.
Ooh, your love is a melody, underneath me, running to me.
Oh your love is a song..."
Your love is a song (Switchfoot)

If you were to ask anyone on the street what is the first word that comes into mind when they think of Christianity, I wonder what they would say? Somehow I doubt for many that the word woul be love. Yet in John's Gospel Jesus says love is the mark by which we will be known as his disciples. Our love for one another. It comes right after Jesus demonstrates his love for his disciples by washing their feet. It come not long before Jesus demonstrates his love for the whole world by sacrificing his life.

Practical love means not judging. Not excluding. Not obsessing over doctrine or theology. Practical love means getting our hands dirty and engaging with people where they are. Mind you, I'm not saying it is something I'm good at - but it is definately something to aspire to!

"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing."

1 Corinthians 13: 1-4

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Righteous not ritual

"I can see a swath of sinners settin' yonder
And they're actin' like a pack of fools.
Gazin' into space lettin' their minds wander,
'Stead of studyin' the good Lord's rules.
You better pay attention,
Build your comprehension,
There's gonna be a quiz at your ascension.
Not to mention any threat of hell,
But if you're smart you'll learn your lessons well!"
Godspell (Stephen Schwartz & John-Michael Tebelak)

I'm currently reading A Generous Orthodoxy by Brian McLaren. It's an intriguing book. McLaren looks at many strands of Christianity and concludes - by emphasizing the best of them, and ignoring or redefining the worst of them - that he is all of them. My own approach has often been to conclude that I am none of them, but my method is much the same. Take the best. Ignore or adapt the best. Admit that you are unlikely to be right. Refuse to judge others or feel 'superior' about their theological errors.

One important thing strikes me from his book though. Jesus ministry was a practical expression of God's love. Yet all too often we can treat it as if we are cramming for a theory test.

...many orthodoxies have always and everywhere assumed that orthodox (right-thinking and opinion about the gospel) and orthopraxy (right practice of the gospel) could and should be separated. In that traditional setting orthodoxy could be articulated and debated by scholars who had little responsibility to actually live by or live out the orthodoxy they defended.

A generous orthodoxy (Brian McClaren)