DayOne in the British Museum

There’s not many places in the world that I’d return to day after day to explore more, but the British Museum is one of those.  A feast for people of all ages, backgrounds and tastes, the museum moves far beyond what virtually every other London sight does.  For me, as active as I am, I’ve always struggled to endure museums on holidays, but the British Museum has me captivated, albeit if quite a bit of it was compiled through British colonialism gone wild.

Today I returned with some friends for an official guide by DayOne tours.  They’re a conservative evangelical publishing company with added extras (they do holidays too) who, if I’m being honest, I don’t read a lot of for various reasons (quality of book, focus on particular secondary issues and target audience, being just three of those).  However the tour I got today was an exception and worth every second of the five hours we were there.  In fact, from a nine-year-old, to myself who’s read a fair bit of Old Testament studies material, and to a granny who wasn’t tertiary educated,  this tour scintillated us all.  (Although I must confess to vaguely knowing the tour guide, I was not swayed at all in writing this review, and as he/they benefit nothing from a good review.)  There’s so much with tour guides that I hadn’t seen on my own, and the example in my post tomorrow shares one of those things.

As many tours from many perspectives go round the museum, I often ask myself a few questions:

  • Everyone is biased (no-one is neutral), so what story is this tour guide trying to persuade me of?
  • Is the guide willing to admit what they don’t know?
  • Is the guide willing to admit the weaknesses in the theories they suggest and allow alternative opinion to be expressed?
  • Is the guide focussing on the main things, or trying to build their case on random small things?
  • Does the guide empower me to find things out myself from other sources?

And much as the guide I was with was trying to persuade us about the potential veracity of the Hebrew scriptures, I must admit I was delighted to admit he scored highly on everything and now I can go away and do some more homework!  In fact, now that I think about it, those are questions that are worth asking about far more than museum tours, and may save you from falling into the hands of a cult (of which several do tour the museum under names such as “Bible tours”).

And in case you want a sneak peak, Google do a self-guided tour themselves online here.  Or book yourself a DayOne tour using the link above.  You won’t regret it!

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Thinking on the road

“Don’t trust a thought discovered while sitting in your chair”

Or so said Friedrich Nietzsche.  And like much of what Nietzsche writes, it appeals to my heart to agree.  For what can we learn while we sit unchallenged by other cultures, languages, gender, classes, centuries and much more?  Even in reading some of the classic texts of all time we are confronted by these and rest our whole thinking on their shoulders.  Not to say this justifies constant flights away to far flung places by necessity.  We could perceivably fulfil these very words in our modern day world by simply mixing with those different to us – something that doesn’t come naturally to many of us.

It’s one of the main reasons I ended up reading Nietzsche and others like him (and loving him).  To challenge me in my bubble of Christianity that can so easily rise up in life.  I think quite a few are shocked when I say he’s one of my favourite philosophers.  But he’s someone who tried to take his philosophical thoughts to their logical outworkings in life, and for that I respect him a lot.  His nihilistic leanings make sense to me and were I not to think logic and life points more towards Biblical Christianity, Nietzsche grabs my heart in a depressing hold as the next most reasonable option.  Whether I’d ever be able to live it out, is another question.

For those wanting a starting place, his “Beyond Good and Evil” was where I started, and didn’t regret.

Glimpses of glory

8,100 people all singing acapella underneath an atmospheric, floodlit Edinburgh Castle.  The singing continued as it echoed down the Royal Mile as we all slowly proceeded out of the castle, with barely another word said.

“There must be a place under the sun, where hearts of old in glory grow young”

Yes, yes, there must be.

What’s your story?

An atmospheric Edinburgh Castle on a summer evening has always been a place I’d love to be at a gig or at the Edinburgh Tattoo.  And this year I’m actually getting a chance for the former this Saturday as I head off for a week in the UK (Isle of Skye, Stirling, Edinburgh and London).

This, the last ever Runrig album, has some poignant tracks to evoke happy memories.  It speaks of their story and the story of every life.  A reminder of Corkonians who often open conversation with “what’s the story, boy?!”  What a beautiful question to ask.  What’s your story?

A common Irish understanding…

divine mercy sunday sign

This hilarious sign is on the Cork-Dublin motorway to the side.  I’m assuming the Roman Catholic church must genuinely have some day called this, but sadly the old sign could be interpreted as exactly what people think of God.  A stingy power in sky who occasionally might be merciful enough to forgive.  It reminds me of the Islamic “night of power” a little that has also just happened in Ramadan, where many of my friends said that if they prayed hard enough they’d be rewarded extra that night.

I’m not sure such a god appeals to either my notion of justice or to my heart!  But perhaps the ignorance is mine.

A theology of travel: summary so far

So far in our theology of travel:

  • We’ve experienced the thrills and joys of travel being declared “good” by God
  • We’ve felt the fallen-ness of travel in the loneliness and fragility of it all
  • And we’ve now countered the claim that travel should help us restore our faith in the goodness of humanity
  • We’ve painted a picture that we’re made for more than just travel in this world and seen that the New Heavens and New earth that we’re made for is an even sweeter song to our ears than the current one
  • And we’ve just gone out and got some top practical tips for travel, as the Bible is not a travel handbook!  Photos can be found largely under the “Cork” category on the sidebar or by searching for “Ireland”.

But in every theology of travel, it should not only be guided by God’s revelation of Himself (primarily in the Scriptures), but it should be cross-shaped and cross-centred, for that is exactly what the Christian message revolves around.

I was sent Francis and Lisa Chan’s book on marriage by a friend recently (recommended for people even like me, who don’t have marriage on the horizon any time soon).  I came across this:

“’Christians’ have come up with clever ways to explain why the followers of a suffering servant should live like Kings.”

What does a travelling suffering servant look like?

Well, as we attempt to submit not only our answers/experiences to the scriptures, but also to let the scriptures shape our questions, over the coming months we may take a look at some of this:

All a grand auld plan, if it weren’t for the fact that I’m back on the road for most of my working term.  In the meantime, if you know of anything good to read on the topic, do get in touch.  And if you really don’t think it matters, check out this!

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Lichfield, England 04/01/17

Unusual travel: The Battle of the Birds

Ornithology wouldn’t be my usual way to spend holidays, but with a couple of family members interested in birds, it was a fascinating lesson for me and surprisingly enjoyable in the end (despite my urge to always be on the move).  Partly helped by the fact that our best photos of some birds of prey (like the nesting osprey below) came from kayaks!

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Arriving back in Cork, I visited Fota House and Gardens and was reminded of one of the highlights of the trip by seeing this great work “The Battle of the Birds” (17th century) by Frans Snyder.  At Loch Inch Marshes, we saw several birds of prey fighting and battling it out in the air in a stunning display.  A hen harrier chasing a heron, ravens mobbing buzzards and much more!  Just a pity I didn’t have a camera with me.  But I’d recommend taking holiday to do something different and mix with people you don’t normally share interests with – I learnt a lot!

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Christian Unity: a hesitant conclusion

[EDIT: For those not expecting this on my blog, please do excuse my brief foray into Christian theology and unity, as I’m preparing for a meeting tonight.  Normal service resumed soon!]

Previously (here) I’ve set-up the problem of evangelical unity on mission teams and suggested that there are 3 ways potentially to solve it.  I use examples of female speaking, power evangelism (healing alongside verbal proclamation) and holding events in pubs.  For models 1 and 2 and 3 see here and here and here.

What model would I use?  I think in the ideal world for Cork city-wide events of 2017, we’d use the third model and seek to love each other generously as below.  But sadly given the battle is still raging within each of our hearts to be other-person-centred, sometimes it must fall back to other models, or whoever is leading the team.

On that note, to conclude, I largely steal from Dave Bish (formerly New Frontiers church planter and about to be pastor at my old church) over at Blue Fish.  He says:

Unity vs. Mission isn’t a choice Jesus gives us.

“Father… I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20-21 ESV)

Jesus prayed for a unity that is: • Doctrinal • Relational • Missional

It’s doctrinal – its a unity “just as” the Father and Son are united. Everything we do flows from our personal knowledge of God, as revealed in the Scriptures and experienced by the Spirit’s indwelling.
It’s for relationship – “be one” – not just formal or functional but friendship.
It’s for mission – observation of it makes the gospel believable.

The story of the UCCF is part of a story of the revival of evangelicalism around a renewed confidence in the authority of Scripture and the centrality of the cross sparked by a move of the Holy Spirit at Cambridge University in 1919.

The basis of the UCCF is intended as an inclusive basis – deliberately non-specific about many important issues. I wont pretend it’s always used well – but the intention is to gather not to exclude. We speak of it as The Doctrinal Basis of The Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship of Christian Unions. A basis of fellowship, rooted in doctrine. The personal knowledge of God as the basisof relationships for the sake of mission together. This is churches united, family together.

With some variation in phrasing its the same basis as most evangelical churches and the Evangelical Alliance use. Its standard mainstream Protestantism. The goal being to unite as many as possible to give as many as possible the opportunity to respond to the good news of Jesus Christ.

Most division in CU’s is reckoned to concern the CU’s weekly Team Meeting… which represents about 1.5 hours of the 168 hours in the week! Anything that’s only about 1% of our time isn’t something to fall out over.

Today’s top issue is often whether women can preach, followed by the use of charismatic gifts (the latter was the hot issue when I was a student 15 years ago). Neither is unimportant but neither should be allowed to divide our witness. (For what its worth I think in most CUs you see a pro-women speaking pro-charismatic position today… but it comes and goes like the tide, driven by the local church scene in most cases.)

1. Do make much of the gospel. 
2. Don’t pretend these “non-gospel” issues aren’t important. They are. 
3. Do be ultimately generous on “non-gospel” issues. Rather be wronged for the sake of gospel-loving and gospel-mission. Don’t say – Unity only if we do the “secondary things” my way.
4. Do keep it in perspective. No one is obligated to be at everything the CU does – though learning to bear with others a little will do wonders for your Christian character. 
5. Don’t bind your conscience too tightly on “non-gospel” issues – recognise that thoughtful evangelicals come to a range of conclusions on the roles of women, on divine sovereignty, on charismatic gifts, on baptism, on church practice, while still holding firmly to the fundamentals of the Christian faith.
6. Do embrace diversity in team meetings and in mission. By all means possible let’s take the gospel to people.

Much as what happens at a weekly meeting matters I’d like to ask whether we’ve crossed the divides that The Cross bridges. A university is inherently elitist – but when you’re in church do you connect with non-students and non-gradautes? What about your non-student neighbours – have you considered how to love the young family or pensioner living on your street? And in and out of University what about those of different ethnicity. A Christian is a global person but are we?

Where the battle for unity really rages…

The real issue is us – as our new hearts battle with our old flesh. The only answer is to repent to the crucified Christ and see more of the Spirit’s fruit in our lives. Death to self and life in Christ is the only way to real unity. The big issues of unity are LOVE ONE ANOTHER… BEAR WITH ONE ANOTHER… PREFER OTHERS AHEAD OF YOURSELF… RATHER BE WRONGED… We might like to fight our corner on x,y,z doctrines of church practice – but love is a primary gospel issue.

I’m the big problem when it comes to unity, because I love things to be done my way. And I seem to find it so easy to say to someone else – “you’re not really welcome here” rather than letting myself feel uncomfortable.

In Christ, I’ll make the first move to relationship.
In Christ, I’ll only compare the worst of me with the best of someone else – rather than vice versa.
In Christ, I’ll go out of my way to be generous.
In Christ, I’ll show hospitality to those unlike me.
In Christ, I’ll be quick to repent, quick to forgive.
In Christ, I’ll be slow to assign bad motives.
In Christ, I’ll rejoice WHENEVER Christ is preached, even if the motives are bad.
In Christ, I’ll assume difference gives me an opportunity to learn before it gives me the opportunity to say I know better.
In Christ, I’ll defend those I disagree with because I’ll have befriended them.
In Christ, I’ll pursue unity so that the world might see the Triune God – the Father at one with his Son.

Christ himself was wronged for us in his death and when we share in his death we begin to get the kind of unity that makes no sense apart from Christ. A unity that exists as we collaborate in mission, standing shoulder to shoulder loving one another. A unity that is not necessarily doing everything together but pulling in the same direction, on the same team – no lone rangers. Christian Unity is participation in the divine life.

We sabotage our mission when we spend our time in-fighting. The answer isn’t divide, it’s learn to love and find our unity in the unity of the Father and the Son. Then the world will see…

Unity model 3: allowing all things in love

Previously (here) I’ve set-up the problem of Christian unity and suggested that there are 3 ways potentially to solve it.  I use examples of female speaking, power evangelism (healing alongside verbal proclamation) and holding events in pubs.  For models 1 and 2 see here and here.  Here I will examine a third approach:

Decide that no matter what the issue, those leading can practice what they want, as long as it is still keeping the main thing, the main thing and within evangelicalism’s bounds. Want a female speaker to give a prophetic utterance in a pub?  Be my guest!  It’s allowing all things in love

What are the advantages of this model?

  • It seems to allow for diversity with a unity.  Some would say the other-person-centred-ness of it is the very thing we find in the Godhead.
  • it helps people see what and why others believe what they believe

And the disadvantages?

  • again, it’s tricky to define evangelicalism in doctrine and emphasis and very easy to condemn others if some fractional thing is seen to be unbiblical in someone elses’ theology/practice
  • it is hard.  To be asked to positively support people who are doing things that you’ve consciously decided are not merited or are unbiblical, is hard.  In practice this often ends up with everyone doing their own thing separately and yet claiming unity.