biology

The Burren/

The more I think about The Burren the more fascinated I become with it.
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In  1651-52, Edmund Ludlow wrote that The Burren

“…is a country where there is not enough water to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury him…… and yet their cattle are very fat; for the grass growing in turfs of earth, of two or three foot square, that lie between the rocks, which are of limestone, is very sweet and nourishing.

And that is the amazing thing. Despite it being a rocky place there is an incredible diversity of plant life and wildlife living between the rocks in  crevices and cracks and all over the place.
Species that would normally not  grow together grow together. Plants that are more at home in the Arctic , Alpine regions or Mediterranean call The Burren home.  Crevices provide shelter, retain moisture and the rocks act like  a giant storage heater (according to knowledge picked up from watching a little bit of Coast),

I’ll have to explore it more sometime.

Meanwhile I was thinking this morning in church  that it felt a bit like The Burren. Over on the other side of Galway Bay Arctic plants grow alongside Mediterranean plants and Alpine  plants while over here we have Malaysian, South Korean, Hungarian, Cameroonian, Zimbabwean, Tongan, Nigerian, Irish, British, American,Madagascan, Indian, Ghanian, Swiss, Congolese Brazilian, Turkish, Spanish, German, Dutch, French exotics passing through for a day and others for a few months or others living and rooted.

I was thinking that church is a bit like a crack in the rocky ground, a place of shelter, warmth and moisture where the Kingdom of God can grow even if we can’t really explain or know what is going on half the time, or most of the time.
When I stood on The Burren the other day maybe something  in me was reminded of the prophecy in Isaiah when the lion lies down with the lamb and nature is in harmony, things that don’t normally grow together in health and peace do.
And I felt the same this morning in church. People who don’t normally grow together trying to grow together despite our failings.  This week The Burren and our church seemed to be hints of the way things should really be.

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Christian / Bale

Part of me feels deeply uncomfortable about supporting and watching football.
I’ve especially been feeling it this summer when the team I’ve supported all my life (apart from a brief flirtation with Everton), Tottenham Hotspur stand to make a lot of money from selling Gareth Bale to Real Madrid.
I started reading a book this morning and the mention of Real Madrid in the opening pages made my ears stand up.

‘Despite all the liberal rhetoric about “equality,” who in the world of the media or the academy really believes that the life of a Nepali peasant, say, is as valuable as that of a Hollywood actress or a football star? Hurricane Katrina, which struck the Gulf Coast in August 2005, killing about 1,300 people, generated forty times more Western print coverage than Hurricane Stan that killed more than 1,600 people in Guatemala a month later. On the same day that the second earthquake struck El Salvador, a soccer game was played between Real Madrid and Lazio. The combined market value of the players on the field was $650 million, slightly less than half of what it took to rebuild the entire physical infrastructure after the earthquake. The press reported the value of the soccer players with enthusiasm bordering on veneration.’

Subverting Global Myths, VInoth Ramachandra

According to this table the combined value of the men who kick a ball around for our entertainment and pleasure in the English Premier League is well over £3,000,000,000. This is not for life or death stuff remember, it is only a game.

Just one of those players, Gareth Bale could be worth over £80,000,000.

Players have this value as well because people like me all over the world watch football and talk about it all the time. Individuals like me do Fantasy Football League or buy football shirts.
So I think that I have a part to play in the valuation of Gareth Bale for a world record fee and I’m not sure how that sits with me as a Christian.

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marriage, marriage,marriage, marriage, marriage

As far as we know Jesus, who Christians believe was perfect love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control was not a married man.

I’ve been thinking about this the past couple of days as I’ve  been reading a bit  about the National Day of Prayer for Marriage that Christians are planning for next Sunday. Some evangelicals seem to be quite obsessed with marriage at the moment, to the point that if David Cameron actually does allow a gay couple to get married then we are living in the darkest days of history and might as well just give up.

Strangely though considering that Jesus was celibate there seems to be no obsession with the equally God pleasing celibacy option, which seemed to have been the preference Paul as well. Would we ever hear of a National Day of Prayer for Celibacy? If not, why not? Can someone who is celibate not live as fulfilled a life as someone who is married or do the married have access to extra happiness?

I don’t remember ever being at a wedding  where celibacy was affirmed as an equally God honouring option. Instead the whole day is geared towards the celebration of bride and groom and the God given gift of marriage. Everybody is beaming in happiness at this special happy occasion. Nothing is said about the gift of celibacy and does that mean the single people are excluded from church worship? Is it right for people to feel excluded in church worship or is there good news for everyone?

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‘Should inhospitable people be allowed to minister in the PCI? The Bible says No’

Often when I blog it’s because I am trying to work out things in my head.
It seems useful to me because it is out in public rather than just rattling around in your head and there is the opportunity for other people to chip in if they disagree or to offer another side of the story which might help you form a more rounded opinion.
But sometimes you might come across like you are preaching to people or full of yourself. You might sound like you think you are know-it-all or  want the world to know how wonderful your point of  view is.
That is just my way of saying that I’m not really trying to make a point but that I’m just not sure why some issues like gay marriage or abortion are so passionately debated and fought about from a Christian point of view while others are put down the list of things to worry about.

To pick a current example.
There is so much debate over whether a Christian can be an elder/minister. The Church of Scotland has voted on whether to allow actively gay men and women to become ministers.

But is it fair to wonder if allowing an inhospitable man to become a minister is just as wrong?
Or if allowing a man who can’t control his eating habits or who breaks the law speeding in his car doing the rounds is just as wrong according to  Biblical teaching as two men living in a manse? Yet these sorts of men have been tolerated as ministers in PCI for years and no one has kicked up a fuss. You would never see a protesters outside the General Assembly with placards saying
‘Should inhospitable people be allowed to minister in the PCI? The Bible says No’

That it not to say that it’s not a serious issue, but why are some issues far, far more serious than others in the Christian realm?
I can only think that we have a league table of sins with some things very, very serious while other things not so serious and hey, what can you do? We are far more likely to tolerant of the greedy man and allow his behaviour to be unchallenged than a gay woman in the pews.

I would consider myself pro-life but I don’t understand  why we sometimes seem to limit the belief that only God can take life to the womb. From a Christian point of view protesting at the army barracks in Lisburn seems to make as much sense to me as protesting outside an abortion clinic. That will probably annoy people because ‘What would you do if Hitler came for your gran?’ but if life is sacred in the womb why is it not outside the womb? If God made and loves everyone, if there is always the chance for redemption how can we kill our neighbour?

Or protesting outside a firm that is using tax havens to minimize the amount of tax it pays in a poor country. The reason for that is because the firm (which we use)  is cheating the government out of money which could be used to improve the lives of thousands in that country.
Or trying to use public transport when possible. Lots of people don’t seem to want to take climate change seriously, it is an optional extra and not really an issue for society. I guess that I struggle when same sex marriage is seen by Christians as a threat to the good of society while subjects like climate change get a shrug of the shoulders.

I was reading earlier on that the most mentioned commandment in the bible isn’t anything about sex or going to church, but the commandment to not be afraid.  How many of us are afraid and scared? Is a fearful Christian just as wrong as someone who is doing some of the traditionally very naughty things?

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Why, indeed.

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The €3 I spent in Galway on an old Penguin copy of ‘How Green was My Valley‘ a few weeks back was probably the best bargain of the year so far. I normally find it hard to get through longer novels but eventually got through this one, and thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s got themes I feel I can relate to (unlike The Great Gatsby to pick a current example).

One of the themes that crops up throughout the book is the theme of religion, especially in relation to the local chapel, deacons and minister Mr Gruffydd.  Although my experience of church going  in Co Tyrone was much less severe, I could relate to certain exchanges in the book such as this one between the narrator of the story, Huw Morgan and Mr Gruffydd. Still to this day I find it hard to shake the  image of people wearing suits or the smell of fear and Hell.

‘You have done much,’ I said, with a loud voice, to try and make up for wants of words just before. ‘Chapel, and sick, and everything, sir.’
‘And everything,’ he said, and laughed. ‘Thank you, Huw. Eh, dear. I thought when I was a young man that I would conquer the world with truth. I thought I would lead an army greater than Alexander ever dreamed of, not to conquer nations, but to liberate mankind. With truth. With the golden sound of the Word. But only a few of them heard the trumpet. Only a few understood. The rest of them put on black and sat in Chapel.’
‘Is it wrong to do that, then, Mr Gruffydd?’ I asked him, and surprised out of voice.
‘Why do you go to Chapel, Huw?’ he asked me, still going on with his work.
‘Because,’ I said, and then I stopped. Why, indeed.
‘Yes,’ he said, and smiling. ‘Because you want to come? Because you like coming? Because your mother and father come? Because your friends are there? Because it is proper to do on a Sunday? Because there is nothing else to do? Because you like the singing? To hear me preach? Or because you would fear a visitation of fire during the week if you stayed away? Are you brought by fear or love?’
‘I am a but surprised, sir,’ I said, and indeed I was dry with it.
‘The questioning of habit is fruitful of surprise, ‘Mr Gruffydd said. Would you fear a bolt of fire on your head, or some  other dire punishment if you stayed away from Chapel without permission?
‘I would a bit, sir, I think,’ I said.
‘So would most of them,’ Mr Gruffydd said. ‘So they are brought to dress in black and flock to Chapel through fear. Horrible, superstitious fear. The vengeance of the Lord. The justice of God. They forget the love of Jesus Christ. They disregard his sacrifice. Death, fear, flames, horror, and black clothes’

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freedom of conscience / Paolo di Canio

A status update from former Alliance Party leader John Alderdice magically appeared in my Facebook feed last night saying that he was ‘appalled’ by the way Justice Minister and Presbyterian Church elder David Ford had been treated over his support of gay marriage. It was one of those public Facebook statuses that hang up in the air for all to see so I think it was for public consumption.

He also added:-

‘While elders and ministers who did not accept the clear, firm and historic position of the PCI on the ordination of women were accommodated, to the point where one has now been appointed Principal of Union Theological College, David has been hounded out of active eldership.’

I suppose that resonated with me more because  of who I’m married to than anything else.

I know that many elders and ministers in PCI, maybe some of you reading this don’t really agree with the official position of the PCI with regard to ordaining women, or if you don’t agree you might not be overly pushed about it and it certainly isn’t an issue of faith. There is freedom of conscience for those people to disagree and they most definitely won’t have their points of view investigated by the church authorities.

There is also room in the PCI for ministry students who disagree  ( whether strongly or mildly) with the PCI’s official line that women can be ordained as ministers or elders.  It is seen as a minor issue and people are free to be ordained even though they disagree with the official postion of the PCI.

Perhaps it’s a little like the recent Paolo di Canio appointment when objections where raised due to his alledged Fascist beliefs. Do those possibly Fascists beliefs matter when you are running a football club? The last couple of Sunderland victories have seemed to suggest that they don’t and lets face it, we all have our contradictions. 

Maybe it’s because David Ford (who is leader of the Alliance Party) has made his view publically known whereas if he had just held his views privately that would be OK. 

Yet I can think of examples of PCI ministers  in organizations like the Orange Order on TV over the years saying things  publically over and over again far removed from the teachings of Jesus. Where/are these men investigated by their Presbytery for their public position?

And if there has been a kerfuffle in the past  when a minister has said “I have difficulties of conscience with the ordination of women” and that has been reported widely in the local media you have to wonder if this minister will be the best choice for principle of the college that will be ordaining male and female PCI ministers?
If you are a woman thinking of applying for the PCI ministry but hear rumours that the principle of the college  might not personally agree with sharing the pulpit would that encourage you to apply? How would you feel?

The issue of gay marriage seems to have become a bit of battle ground that is being used to test if you’re out or if you are in, if you take God’s Word seriously or if you are really just a wolf in lambs clothing that needs to be routed out.
If I was to say that I think that a gay couple should have the right to get married would that meant that I am a bit dodgey and a 2nd rate Christian? The answer at the moment seems to be yes, you are a wishy washy liberal who probably believes all kind of dodginess. Maybe some people reading this think that now.

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problems with some of the problems

There is an article in this month’s Reach Out that caused me to go all dissenting Presbyterian,  get the old pen out and underline certain bits in disagreement and wondering if that was all quite true.
It was taken from a book called ‘Will You Be my Facebook Friend?’  by Tim Chester and explores the problem with Facebook from a Christian point of view.

This is what I reckon, which may or may not be true, just throwing it out there.

1

‘One reason Facebook is popular is because it appears to allow me to create my image using my words. I type in a version of the person I want to be.’

Is this true?
Is this not just me as I am typing?
This isn’t a ‘false’ me typing, it’s really me as I presently am. When someone puts something up on Facebook they are they projecting an image of themselves as they really are or of who they hope to be?

2

‘On Facebook you do not have a conversation, you have an audience. Your life takes place on a stage and you are your own playwright, creating or recreating yourself through your word’

Maybe you can have more of a ‘conversation’  with someone on Facebook, Twitter or a blog than you can have in a magazine article such as the one I read,  or in your book?  You have more of a captive audience with a book  as people have to sit and take it in with no easy way to engage in conversation with the author. In the old days people used to write letters to famous authors and they might have replied. Now I can do  this sort of thing

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‘The genius of Facebook is that all your friends come to you and all their friend come to them. So we all, simultaneously, inhabit our own little worlds, each with me at the centre…’

But is that not just human nature?
I used to be told that ‘sin is a small word with ‘I’ at the centre. Humans have always been selfish have they not? Have we not always believed that the world spins around us?

‘..These people are by definition my ‘chosen people’. In the Bible the ‘chosen people’ are God’s people, graciously chose by Him.  When we come to faith we find ourselves part of a concrete expression of God’ s chosen people in our local church’

I am not really sure about the connection between chosen people and having Facebook friends.
And I’m not really sure about the connection between Facebook friends and church.
Some of the people who are my Facebook friends actually chose me. Is there any difference between sending some you like or a feel a bond with a letter or postcard or sending a friend request over Facebook?

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But social media allows us to play God and create our own chosen people. And we are at the centre of this chosen circle’

You don’t need social media to allow you to play God or create your own chosen people or those you would prefer to hang out with,  that is our fallen nature and broken heart. Go to any church and you’ll see that most old elderly people  hang around other elderly people or teenagers around teenagers.

5

‘One pastor told me ‘The people I know who use Facebook most are those who are most self-obsessed’

I’m not sure how a pastor could measure such a thing. It might appear they are the most self-obsessed but that is only because they are more openly self obsessed and letting it all hang out there. In a way it is more honest as they aren’t hiding or burying their self-obsession. And maybe those people who are self-obsessed are equally insecure or frightened that they aren’t accepted?

6

‘Notice, too, from who I am seeking approval….Our overriding concern should be what God thinks of me. But instead my concern is what other users of social media think of me.’

Not necessarily true.
Many bloggers see themselves as publishing something for the general public to read but not necessarily enjoy or approve of .
If someone can publish a Christian magazine article or book to challenge faulty thinking (even if that is unpopular) I see no reason why a blogger, someone on Twitter or Facebook couldn’t do the same.

7

‘People can ‘Like’ something you have written. But there is no option to ‘Dislike’. So to get a response you have to phrase things in positive terms. No one is going to click ‘Like’ to ‘Had a miserable day at work’

There is no option to ‘dislike’ but people can leave a comment such as ‘I’m sorry to hear that, you should go home and put your feet up’. Or they could send a private message if they don’t want others to read.

8

‘So everyone’s Facebook face wears a smile – whatever the reality behind the mask. We are all spin doctors, presenting upbeat, propaganda, versions of our lives’

But you don’t especially need Facebook to wear masks or present upbeat, propaganda versions of your life. I remember we used to talk a lot about this in Queen’s about people being false and wearing masks, especially with regards to church. That was long before the age of social media.  It a funny sort of way because it’s more out there perhaps it’s easier to challenge?

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hiding in the garden

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What is wrong? I’m naturally scared.
I’m naturally faint hearted.
I’m a natural hider.

I am scared and don’t know how I can cope.
I am afraid that I am not going to be strong enough to cope.
I want to control things as I’m not sure how I will cope if I don’t control things.
But I can’t control things.

I want everything at my own pace and on my terms.
I am wary of trusting you.
How do you trust?

Yet I don’t know what else I have got.
I resent that I might only trust because of lack of better options.
I don’t want to be lukewarm in my faith.

I want to know that this isn’t just a tribal story amongst tribal stories.
I want to love you for the right reasons.
I don’t want religion or to pretend.

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cranky at the church

I know that I am often cranky at ‘the church’.

My local church wherever they have been or are, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the local church, the world wide church. I’m a very ecumenical man in my crankiness.

This crankiness seems to be in the family genes a bit from conversations I’ve had with family members, this frustration with the way things are and have been. Some of the crankiness is perhaps legitimate.

I know that holding on to anger is not a good place to be, that being cynical and frustrated with church is not a good place to be, but it’s hard to move on from it sometimes.
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There are probably lots of different reasons for the crankiness levels and all those reasons are playing off each other at different times but I reckon the main problem is that I take out my frustrations, my disappointments and anger with God in my own personal life out on the church. When I say personal life I also mean things like ‘Why hasn’t this worked out, I’ve tried so hard?’ or ‘Why does this keep on happening to this person?’ or ‘How could you allow this genocide to happen?

I can’t see God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit but if the church is somehow ‘the body of Christ’ something which I can see that with my own two eyes, and hear with my ears and experience in my ordinary week then maybe its not surprising that my complaints and frustrations with God are projected on to the next best thing, the church.

Perhaps specifically this might lead to extreme grumpiness with a minister, a priest or pastor because we assume that they’re the professional God people and if anyone should know what God is up to it should be them.

Everybody who knows me knows that I’ve a bit of miserable sod the past few years.
I’ve wanted things to be a bit easier than they’ve been,
to not feel like I’ve been in exile or what have you,
but things have just clunked along with feet of lead, or feet of clay, perhaps one foot lead, the other clay.
God has seemed silent or a figment of my imagination, a fairy tale sometimes because where is he in the ordinary day. It is my own fault as well of course, I haven’t done things that would have helped.

Yet I have no shame in saying that I’m weak. I needed help to do things I that I don’t find easy to do and God seemed silent. H____ quoted C.S. Lewis in her sermon a few weeks.

“When you are happy, so happy you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be — or so it feels— welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence.”

I’d feel embarrassed or ashamed to call my experience suffering compared to what I know others have had to go through and are going through. Yet it’s this feeling that God has somehow left the building that is wearing me down and making me cranky. Of course it’s not all about meeting Jesus in the rose garden but it all just seems to much weighted towards struggle and lacking in the miraculous.

I guess that I’ve been reflecting on this stuff a bit as we think about what is going to happen next. It worries me a bit having so much crankiness fuel stored up in the tank for the road ahead.

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the 15th of January

So in a sense we made it, we got to a milestone in that from today , the 15th of January H__ could have her own church, a church in which she is the minister and I am officially the ministers wife.
This could happen soon or it could be in another year, it may not happen at all but it theoretically could happen, she is someone ready to be called. What does that mean? What lies ahead?
I don’t think it’s been an understatement to say that I’ve been completely dislocated by this whole experience of moving to somewhere that was in some sense chosen by people I don’t know, it was something that I was prepared to do but I never really settled and if truth be told I liked living in Dublin. Belfast has been a struggle,perhaps I resented different things too much.

I never really liked Belfast even when I was a student in Queens, I know lots of people love it but we just haven’t gelled at all. And I’ve been a nightmare to live with, I’ve withdrawn from people and being unemployed (or strictly speaking self employed) means that I’ve been hermit like.

So part of me wonders what the next move will be like? What will happen now that we’ve more of a say in our options? Yet also we’ve also less options because there are some churches that disagree with women ministers and won’t be interested. The major fear is that our next move will be as hard as this move was. That freaks me out. I’d like home of sorts, not just a house. So 15th January, you’ve been marked, a little stone alter of blog words has been left. Exile was tough, I want a home.

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