holy week thoughts

Christian’s believe this is the week that changed, is changing,will change the world, the universe, the cosmos.
Jesus comes into Jerusalem riding a donkey and by the end of the week he has been executed. He has been executed even though he has done nothing wrong. He has been executed even though he has done everything right.

It’s a strange week to reflect on because it really doesn’t compute with the ways of the world. Or at least that’s the way it seems to me. Just look at those pictures of people like David Cameron or Ed Milliband on the election campaign.
How Jesus does his business is the polar opposite to how the world does it business. Sometimes it seems to be the opposite to how the church does its business as well. (I’m almost expecting The Christian Institute to make an appearance in the narrative this week as Jesus is questioned by those in authority, Pilate etc.)

How does this week, Holy Week bring good news to the unemployed, the addicted, the poor, the person who seems to have it all together?  How does Jesus on the cross bring good news to people struggling with loneliness, despair, depression?

How does it all fit in with life in 21st century Ireland? If you’re convinced that Jesus changed the world by laying aside his rights and self sacrificial giving, by acting humbly and non violently how do survive in society?
The prayer that Jesus prayed this week that his disciples should be one has been bothering me as well because it seems like Jesus’ prayers aren’t being answered. I don’t feel at one with lots of his disciples. How can I be at one with churches I don’t like? Can I be at one with the Catholic church? Or can I be at one with the branch of the family I’m most familiar with? If evangelicals are seen by the world (unfairly) as a certain way or hold on to beliefs that I don’t agree with how do I be at one with them? If people from Evangelical Alliance seem to be saying that we should stand behind a bakery that doesn’t ice a cake and you don’t feel you should does that mean you’re not an evangelical?

There are lots of things that cause me distress in the world and wonder if Christianity is true.
But sometimes wondering how Christians are so fragmented is the thing that makes me wonder most. How can we all claim to follow Jesus, to be brothers and sisters and yet act like strangers for most of the time?
And of course I’m part of the problem because I don’t necessarily want to associate with certain churches. If they’re fundamentalist protesting football on a Sunday no thanks. If they’re going on about how Christianity is cool I’m not there either. How does this stuff work?

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why this man struggles to go to church sometimes

That article in Reach Out magazine about men not coming to church anymore got me wondering why men aren’t coming to church anymore.Then I thought:-
‘I haven’t a clue, I’m not even sure that men aren’t coming to church anymore….but as a man who sometimes struggles to come along on Sunday mornings so why is it hard for you?’

1 I am a bit of a day dreamer, my mind tends to wander and wonder. It did during school, university lectures, any talks that go beyond 5mins. I find it hard going to the cinema to watch a film the whole way through (unless I have an intense interest in it for whatever the reason).
So the reality of sitting down on a seat or pew voluntarily for at least an hour every Sunday morning is a challenge because I just have to sit still and just listen (apart from the singing).
My favourite recurring vision in any large church building is a football being crossed in from somewhere near the pulpit and me catching it with a perfectly timed right footed scissor kick volley which bounces of the wall. It often happens half way through a sermon. That is typically what is going on in my head during a sermon, any sermon.Back in my teens I imagined the building upside down and what it would be like to walk on the roof.

Interestingly I’m reading a book at the moment (Thinking Slow, Thinking Fast by Daniel Kahneman) that was making me wonder if there is something about a typical Presbyterian church service that demands we use parts of our brain that we don’t use that often during the week? Or in other words what ever happens on a Sunday morning worship doesn’t seem to engage all parts of your humanity but rather seems rational and about using your mind.

2 Hymns and praise songs are hard sometimes. I never  really sing during the week. Does anyone sing during the week?
Perhaps I’ll hum along to a song under my breath. But I’ll rarely if ever ‘mean it’ and it won’t be coming from deep in my lungs. Then you walk into this strange building on a Sunday morning where you are expected to sing out and with enthusiasm to God you can’t see. Singing is a foreign activity to me (and this is coming from an erstwhile singer-song writer who tried to write songs at one stage and sing them…).
That is before we even begin to think about things like words or tunes, how the actual music sounds. So I struggle with the amount of singing we do at church.

3 I’ll cut to the chase and say that I often just wonder if it is actually all true. At the end of the day we’re worshipping a man (who was fully God) who we’re saying rose from the dead and is God and created the Universe and who is King of the Universe. We make such mind blowing claims on a typical Sunday morning yet the whole church thing just trundles along as if it was the most natural thing in the world. The doubts about whether it is true are especially bad on weeks when I’m looking around at the state of the world and wondering how a loving God could allow this or that to happen. Perhaps this has intensified with the online revolution or live TV in which bad news can be on  a 24hr cycle. Perhaps I’m more depressed by hopelessness or something and then you go into some weird building to close your eyes and pray to God you can’t see. Which is apparently the best solution to the untold suffering from war or natural disasters.

4 This is probably related to No1 but when you go to church you are putting yourself in a position in which you aren’t in control, and you are doing this voluntarily. For example I might spend a lot of mental energy trying to block out the noise of a baby screaming, on trying to be graceful to the mother who is letting the baby scream because you know that she is tired and struggling in life. You voluntarily go to something on a Sunday morning in which there are people who might rub you up the wrong way or who are a bit boring (in your opinion). If you feel like you’re not in control of your life with regards to work or family and then you have a Sunday off are you going to be willing to go to something voluntarily to sit and not be in control in some strange looking building? Maybe you might prefer to go fishing or read the Sunday paper and have croissant. There are so many things in life where people don’t feel in control are they going to voluntarily submit to another thing that might make demands on them? Like you might be tired from your normal 9-5 job and then you find that your church are saying that you have to do more and get more involved in visiting or volunteering and that sort of thing.

5 Sometimes our talk in Christian circles often seems to be abstract and not based in the real world. Or it ignore vast areas of life that you might consider really important.  How do you apply scripture passage from 2000yrs ago to computers and smart phones? Does Jesus have to say about economics? What about climate change?

6 You don’t feel like you can be yourself. You feel like other people aren’t being themselves either.
At the same time you might be scared if people are themselves because you’re not sure what that might mean in terms of what you should do as a Christian. What if they tell you they are struggling financially or with some addiction?Would you be willing to support them and that sort of thing? If you’re tired and all over the place, or feel you ready know lots of other people like that or have neglected friends you already have the prospect of more and more people coming into your life with more and more needs seems daunting.

Those are 6 struggles I  have with coming to church. Do you have any?

distances have been shortened at an astonishing rate…

‘Fast and cheap transportation has been one of the main products of the Industrial Revolution. Distances have been shortened at an astonishing pace. Day by day the world seems smaller and smaller and societies that for millennia practically ignored each other are suddenly put in contact – or in conflict. In our dealings, in politics as in economics, in health organization as in military strategy, a new point of view is forced upon us. Somewhere in the past people had to move from an urban or regional point of view to a national one. Today we have to adjust ourselves and our way of thinking to a global point of view.’

Carlo Cipolla, The Economic History of World Population.

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That paragraph is lifted from a book first published in 1962, over 50 years ago.

It struck me as  I feel like I’m constantly having a new point of view ‘forced’ upon me through the ‘fast and cheap transportation’ of people in our church. Not that travel is cheap. But it used to be that once people left Ireland the likelihood was that they wouldn’t return. Now people routinely fly back and forth from places like Australia or the USA. We hop on Ryanair flights with little thought.

It allows tourists from places like China to appear here on Sunday mornings (as they did this morning).
It brings students from South America or Europe to the university or to study English. It brings doctors or nurses from Asia to work in the hospital, it brings people who just want a new start in life and choose  the west of Ireland.
It allows some to flee their countries as they are in grave danger and they end up living in direct provision accommodation. Their travel isn’t cheap or choice taken lightly but in less than a day they can leave somewhere in Africa and be thrust into life here in Ireland. That movement of thousands of miles in a day is a relatively new phenomena in terms of world history.

Sometimes I like having a new point of view forced upon me because it adds angles on life and brings a better understanding of the planet we live on  but other times it leaves me exhausted. How am I supposed to understand culture when there are so many cultures to understand? In our church there are so many differentcountries and tourists passing through that I find it hard not feel like I’m being overwhelmed.

As I’ve probably mentioned before world events that used to seem so far away now seem close and sometimes that makes me wonder how to say sane.
A ferry sinks in Korea, suddenly you are aware of the Korean in the church.
A Malaysian plane goes missing, suddenly you are aware of the Malaysian in church.
Boko Haram attrocities make you wonder about the Nigerians in church.
And so on.

Someone in church recently asked for prayer about the Ebola outbreak in Guinea as they are worried about friends and family. Years ago I would have watched something like that on the news and thought that it wasn’t my problem. Now things like that seem like they might be my problem because they are a problem for a brother or sister in our small church and we are to carry each others burdens.

Growing up a Presbyterian in Northern Ireland you were usually aware of  the hurt caused to certain people in your congregation  because of terrorists and ‘The Troubles’. Usually you are informed with  knowledge and understanding that allows you interact with the person as you know the culture and have lived through the bad times as well. You can read read body language or between the lines. It can help you deal sensitively with the person.

Yet I feel that I don’t have any of that basic cultural understanding of the vast majority of people in my church. If I was talking to someone from Lisburn over tea and coffee I think that I might be able to read between the lines if they say something. With someone from Nigeria I struggle.  Language can be hard sometimes. I mumble a lot and speak quickly. If you are an English student from Korea you will struggle to understand me.

That is without considering the cheap and instant transportation of virtual people and their tweets and causes, their issues and campaigns. And they’re not virtual people of course, they are real people with real concerns and passions. So as a Christian should I love my global neighbour and try to take it on board and try to become world Christ like in my response to how LGBT are treated in Uganda?  We should pray for the Turkish miners, the Crimea, Syria, South Sudan etc.

It has made me a bit world weary with some stuff.

The distances might have shortened at an astonishing rate but my brain and soul isn’t a computer. It needs time and space to reflect. In a small church like ours that seems to literally throw and churn up new people all the time from every corner of the world I don’t know how sometimes. I can’t save the world, yet in a small local church how do I love my family when they are so diverse and foreign to my understanding?

dry wells

I am  tired despite returning  from a holiday at the beginning of the week.
We have family that live near Almeria and I had never been out to see them and where they live. So this year (and thanks to a kind Christmas present) we flew over to the south of Spain on the new, improved, nice and caring Ryanair for a week. Which is how we ended up spending a few nights in a nice Spanish village

This time last week I was walking around the beautiful Spanish village of Mojacar on a holiday.
If that sounds lovely you should also know that a fight with your wife is still a fight with your wife no matter if it’s a lovely village and knowing that you’re spending money in something that you don’t do very often but having a fight instead of making the most of it can make you pretty miserable.

So although it was nice to be away I’m knackered and didn’t find the holiday relaxing. Heat tires me and my inner Presbyterian couldn’t get the hang of the resting in the afternoon business.  I never got the hang of when you are supposed to eat lunch and dinner. The language as well.

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That isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy Spain and seeing where my nephew and niece live because I like seeing new places. Some might think that the endless acres of plastic greenhouses that supply Europe with tomatoes and watermelons are an eyesore but I find them interesting:-
Where are the getting the water to grow watermelons in the driest part of Europe? Are they going to desalinate seawater and use it? How is climate change going to effect this area and how is that going to effect my sister and brother-in-law. my nephew and niece?

Then  it starts boiling over into the problems with the world:-
How do people work inside those greenhouses in what must be phenomenal heat? Are the migrant workers treated fairly? Do you realise that flying on your Ryanair flight on holidays is contributing to climate change here in Almeria? 

The one thing I really wanted to do over in Spain was to see new colours and draw new things, to feel a surge of inspiration surging and to be creative again. I feel like any wells of creativity that I had have dried up, a bit like the countryside and river beds around Almeria. But I felt uninspired and too awkward to create. No paints, no markers, no skill.

On the way home from the airport I was complaining to H about the way people act on Ryanair flights. ‘There are schoolgirls having to walk miles each day to get clean drinking water and then there are 50 yr old men who throw their dummies out of the pram when an air hostess moves their hand luggage a few metres away to section 29A’
 I said ‘People are so fortunate to be able to go on holidays, they should recognise this and stop acting like they….etc etc.’

Of course I was doing the exact same the whole holiday, moaning about the heat and my lack of ability to order a tapas without embarrassment. There a kids sleeping in refugee camps tonight and I’m having a meltdown because I have to sit under a sun shade and it’s making me sweat. Saying that out loud seems to make perfect sense. I need to get a grip.

Yet I’m tired as well. And I also think that saying things like ‘We should get a grip because we have it pretty good compared to so many in the world’ is a bit arrogant (?) in a way or perhaps untrue. It sounds as if we’re not really that sick or needy and screwed up and under the thumb of oppressive systems which as a Christian I don’t believe. ‘The World’ or Kingdom of Death or however you want to phrase the way Satan works against us is an ever present reality. Just because I don’t live in a country that persecutes or oppresses Christians by throwing them in jail doesn’t meant that we’re not oppressed. Like the sense of hopelessness that I get from absorbing the ways of the world does a pretty good job of robbing me of vitality for life or for serving.

I was thinking about this sense of hopelessness  or why we complain in the face of so much privilege while reading Jacques Ellul.

‘One can prove to the members of our modern societies that our ancestors never enjoyed this much means, freedom, happiness, well-being, available opportunities, long life, culture, pleasure, leisure, communication, and dialogue, but one will never convince the person in our modern society that he is living in a little paradise’

Also:-

‘In the most pacified and guaranteed society which has ever existed, man is living in uncertainty and growing fear. In the most scientific of societies, man is living in the irrational. In the most liberal of societies, man is living ‘repression,’ and even hyper-repression. In a society in which the means of communication are the most highly developed, man is living a sort of phantasmagoria. In a society in which everything is done to establish relationships, man is living in solitude…’

 

 

seed sowing

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The weather lovely, the wind not too blowy, a morning for planting seeds in the garden.
So far I’ve planted chervil, land cress, leeks, stir fry greens, comfrey, courgettes and Chinese broccoli. I’ve got modules ready for some kale and lettuce and other seed packets/
I’ve been reading the instructions but now I’m ignoring the instructions and just planting seeds willy-nilly as it just feels right to be putting them in the soil today in any way.

I thought that planting my own vegetables and herbs might save money. But seeds, modules, cloches, wood for raised beds adds up and you wonder if it might not be cheaper to just buy them at the supermarket. Then there is the weeding (already!), and the snail holes and the watering. My soil seems so dry and now that I’ve actually started planting stuff it also seems poor.

Is it worth my while planting vegetables?

Putting kale seeds into modules quickly goes to thoughts about work and the economy and how bags of peas can only cost £1.19. How much fertiliser is being blitzed into the soil in fields in unknown locations to make the economics work?
The more I do stuff in the garden the more the economy doesn’t make sense. Machines might make farm productivity greater but how many men and women have they put out of work? Stuff doesn’t add up.
I could spend weeks planting vegetables and working hard but the price of cauliflowers or carrots tells me that my work isn’t worthwhile. That is if the value of our work is measured in euros or salaries. Which is a lie because the value of our work doesn’t lie in the valuation of Mammon. Or at least it shouldn’t.

And we pay too little for our food and too much for frivolities and trinkets.
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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?

‘we want some leadership from the church on this issue..’

sermonI am watching a clip on the BBC website with a priest being interviewed on  a program saying that people in his church have been approaching him and saying ‘We want some leadership from the church on this issue…
And what is the issue that church leaders are being asked for leadership on?
The issue that church goers are looking leadership on is the issue of same sex marriage and they are seemingly getting leadership on this issue. The Catholic Church and the Presbyterian Church are actually writing to each politician in Northern Ireland outlining their opposition to same sex marriage.

I can understand being theologically opposed to same sex marriage but what I don’t understand is why opposing this particular issue is given so much air time and being treated with  so much gravity when there are so many other issues out there.

For instance, in Northern Ireland churches may want to ask the question of whether the fact that two men may want to get married is a bigger threat to the health of society than the fact that we have Protestant and Catholic schools where a Presbyterian child may not meet a Roman Catholic kid until they are 18 yrs old. Is the fact that churches have seemed to approve of Roman Catholic and Protestant schools helped to promote peace in Northern Ireland or contributed to the good of society? Has letters been sent by my church (the PCI) to politicians outlining their concerns on this issue?

Or what about climate change? Is the possibility that millions of people face becoming environmental refugees because of our consumer choices and addiction to fossil fuels less of a threat to the good of society than gay people wanting the right to get married?
What about drones being operated from UK air bases to conduct remote wars?
Were concerns about the war in Afghanistan or Iraq outlined to politicians?
What about collapsing buildings in Bangladesh because we like our right to buy clothes cheaply?
Are these less important issues for the church than the government wanting to say that gay people can get married?