Intentionality, spontaneity and living in the moment!

Alain de Botton’s book, outlining the secular way to travel, is fascinating, partly because he tries to free us from long-term intentionality in some ways (we’re born to die, so get on with it), yet suggests we should take great interest in learning and intentionally progressing ourselves in other ways.

This video, seemed to say letting go and seeking pleasure, was the only intentional thing worth doing.   As comedian David Mitchell outlines, living in the moment is not as easy as it would sound or seem:

 

It can be easy to think that being intentional about everything in life would be exhausting.  But if you love something, there’s only a certain amount that it feels like effort.  Most things flow from what our heart’s love (our worldview), and the rest takes hard work to cultivate a love in our hearts.  And so even living in the moment will be hard, if you do not love it.

So people ask me, is always having a secondary (or primary) purpose in your travelling not exhausting and robbing you of the very fact you’re enjoying travelling?  And quite honestly for the most part, the answer is “no”.  If it’s my love (loving God, loving others), then it will come increasingly naturally to me as I journey on in my Christian faith.

And for the moments that it doesn’t?  Well as David says, it’s “chores now for jam tomorrow”!  And don’t think for a moment that hedonistic, secular travel is any less chore-some or rewarding!  The glossy travel brochure paints you a false reality.  The 3min youtube video doesn’t show you the hours of bookings, cancellations, mishaps, tensions in relationships, sickness, rainy days and mishaps, not to mention the hours perfecting video footage to make it all seem amazing.

Intentionality can be exhausting, but being intentional for Jesus, is being intentional for a master whose “yoke is light and burden is easy” and who desires us to enjoy the “rest” of a home-coming.  Imagine the feeling of safety; comfort; the buzz as your wifi connects to your home network and messages from friends and family come in; the smell of coffee; and the warm embrace of a housemate.  It’s what coming home is.

But this coming home, can be a finding of yourself, and who you were created to be.  And it can be done on the road, far away from physical home, while you’re living for the moment!  Or it can be done in regular hum-drum rhythms of normal working life, getting up in the same bed as you always do, going downstairs to the same situation that always greets you.  It’s a coming home to your maker, and a realising that it is only living with Him, that will make life fully free-ing.

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An Islamic theology of travel

Silence.

 

That was what greeted my question “Could you write for me what you think Islam says about travel?”

I try to hang out with the Islamic community when I can, in my spare time in Ireland.  It’s not always the easiest in Irish life, given most of Irish life happens in the pub (and not just in negative ways).  But I try.  I do it, partly because I feel every city needs those who broaden their horizons and don’t just guess what different people think.  But those who live among them.  I hope legislation in this land will reflect not hostility or naivety, but will reflect the thoughts of those of us who live our daily lives in the midst of such beautiful communities.  And the other reason I partly do this, is because I feel that if the Christian message is true, these are some people from some of the most unreached places in our world with the good news.

Now some of you may feel my categorisation of people as “them and us” is already a horrible one.  But largely it’s realistic in first generation immigration, in a quite racist society (to many extents).  Integration is not a reality widely embraced.  Vocal protests at the mosque application (in Cork), and general attitudes towards the international community who announce their long-term intentions may not be frosty, but they’re certainly not welcomed with open arms, contrary to what the Irish reputation is for short-term visitors.  In NUIG (Galway’s main university) yesterday, I once again took up my mantra, of helping people to see things in term’s other than “them vs us” but as “human, alongside human”.

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NUIG Quadrangle

So it’s not without knowing Muslim friends and theologically aware ones, that I got my answer, or indeed, a lack of answer.

Yes, they were quick to tell me about Muhammad and his travels.  And how pilgrimage forms part of the central tenets of Islam.  But unless we are to mimic Muhammad’s travelling warfare, it’s hard to see where pleasure travelling fits in to Islamic theology.

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Hajj – the pilgrimage prescribed in the 5 pillars of Islam, for those who can manage it.  Thanks to Allahsword.net for the image.

And that presumably is because the world is a bad thing in Islamic thought.  Following on from the dualism that so haunts much of religion (Buddhism, Islam, Mormonism and much of even Arminian Christianity), Islam frequently proclaims from the minarets:

“Prayer is better than sleep” (As-salatu Khayrun Minan-nawm)

The spiritual is better than the physical.  There is a dichotomy.  A dualism oft found in Greek thought, that haunts some of Christendom too.

And what does a life that lives that out fully look like?  Well a consistent one would presumably have to dump pleasure travelling and the delighting of the things of this world.  I’m not sure there can be any other take on such strong statements.  Even travelling to stir our hearts to worship the creator would still be lesser than praying, according to this.  And applied to the rest of life, you’re left praying or perhaps doing Da’wah (telling other people of Allah).

But in case you think I jump to conclusions too quickly, and I do not know my Hadiths very well, take it one step further back.  What is the god of Islam like?  Because we become what we worship.  Muslims will want to be like their god.

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Not only are the 99 names interesting, but the proportion to which the Qu’ranic text emphasizes certain ones, is telling.  Thanks to Allahsword.net for this.

And there we find a distant and sovereign god.  One set apart from creation who rarely interacts with it clearly and who is not known in any meaningful way by his followers.  One who drops a book down to a single person, about a period in history where we have little to verify the contents of that book.  And one whose followers live in that pattern; not particularly concerned with the book or knowing the historicity of Muhammad; not engaging with much of this world.  Waiting.  Waiting for the moment paradise will come – the “real world”.

And yes, I’m sure there’s exceptions.  There are many Muslims who have shaped this world in beautiful ways and take their inspiration from Islam.  But my point is, that if you have a consistent systematic theology of Islam, one must abandon pleasure travelling.

And perhaps that’s where, if you’re going to poke holes in my argument, you would need to say that I misunderstand Islam in looking for a systematic theology.  Perhaps Islam holds tensions that are less dominated by western logical systems.  Perhaps the call to prayer and distance of god from this world can be reconciled by other truths I’m not yet aware of, within the heartbeat of the Qu’ranic text, Hadiths and life of the Prophet.

And so I leave this open for any of my friends to enlighten us and help us flee from dualism to an appreciation of this world – something that will help is yearn to explore it, plumb the depths of it, look after it and enjoy it for what it is…a beautiful creation!

It’s over to you…

Travel and Environment

I have a problem.ireland

Ireland.  Ireland is an island.

I mean, it’s not so much my problem as it’s a fact.  Something that isn’t likely to change soon.  But it effects my moral decisions no end.  It’s part of the reason that one set of ethical applications just can’t be forced on everyone in set ways worldwide.  Because some of you reading this, won’t be on an island.

Why does this affect me morally?  Well it means all sorts of things but I’ll start with two.

  • Nearly everything I buy has travelled more miles than I have in the last year (and that’s saying something).  From my tomatoes (from Morocco) to my laptop (from America) and my car (from Japan), not to mention most of my worldly goods that have “made in China” stamped on them.  And miles mean shipping, or more often than not with perishable food, flying.  Every week I pay for some perishable food to be flown for me to my house (well, my local shop).  And that affects the environment.
  • To visit uni friends, I must fly.  To visit family, I must fly.  To better work at my job, I must fly.  Being on an island involves airports.  And that affects the environment.

So for every shop purchase, and every flight, I am affecting the environment and must how-bad-are-bananasdecide whether my convenience is worth that cost.  And it’s hard, because the cost is unknown to some degree.  It doesn’t wave at me in the face.  And when it does (in the form of rising sea levels, melting ice caps, shifts in weather patterns etc), it is so easily challenged or justified.  “I’m only me.  What about the big corporations?  What about the countries ignoring the environment?  What about those who fly every day?”

It’s so easy to see corporate responsibility, point fingers, and never look at my own life.  Which is where I find this book, brilliant.  It challenges without overwhelming.  It inspires and amuses, whilst still making a point.  It has helped shape my life in recent years, alongside other things.  I urge you traveller, take this world and its environment seriously!  At the very least, look into carbon off-setting and sign up to someone like Tearfund’s updates to keep you  thinking.  And for your church, find something to keep you accountable like Eco Congregation Ireland.

But as the book rightly points out, we’re working on this one together, so please don’t get on your high horse about every minor thing you think you’re doing that others aren’t.  Some of the most environmentally friendly people I know in Cork (nearly zero waste, their own well etc), I’ve never heard them mention it.  Beautiful living.

Book review: The Art of Travel (De Botton, Penguin, 2002)

  1. What worldview gives unfettered freedom to travel and enjoy the world (in the present)?

  2. What worldview frees you from being controlled by such desires and travels?

These are the two questions in which I would sum up Alain de Botton’s riveting book.  He’d probably shoot me for saying it.  But let me explain.art-of-travel-botton

This book is a treat.  With art and culture scattered throughout the book, Alain finds some obscure tour guides of past culture and history to introduce us to aspects of travel.  When he’s not doing this, he’s inserting tales of his own, but never in a way that leaves you feeling like that awkward person at the party who has to listen to everyone never shutting up about their travels to far flung lands.  His use of the English language, his way of portraying even bland scenes, and his command of imagery is stunning, and is worth the read even for that.

But like all post-modern writers, they strike a grave difficulty as they attempt to lead you on a joyful, purposeless wander through (in this case) travel.  Because at some point, free-ing as it seems to be offered unfettered, chaotic travel, a big, bad “BUT” comes in.

In this case with Alain, his BUT is an understanding that we can live in chaos.  He gets to a third of the way through a book with random tales, but then he insists on preaching his ordered, secular message to us through the words of another, that “any attempts to create order imply a censorious and prudish denial of our condition” (p. 783 Kindle).  In other words, “if you try to tell me how to travel and insert some order into travel, you can get lost, because that’s not how we are” [or how I want to be].  I mean it’s a nuanced attempt (and far more nuanced than some art that derides a word-centred worldview and then has to describe what the art means, in words) to tell us that we don’t live in an ordered world…..with ordered words, in a book that doubtless has order and intentionality.

And with this, he fails to convince me on the first question, that the secular worldview can give us unfettered freedom to travel with no order or law to how you go about it.  Apart from his secular law which he’ll now proclaim.

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Found here, some common Stoic thought

However to the second question, he gives a far more interesting answer that no matter what worldview you adhere to, you would do well to listen.  He never says it outright, but he insinuates that we’ll never be able to remain chasing big travel moments and be happy.  The reality lies beyond the travel brochure pictures which painted for us the idyllic, and set our expectations so high that we couldn’t help but be disappointed.

And in realising things like this, De Botton concludes that happiness is primarily psychological, not material (p. 273 Kindle).  Happiness cannot be decided by how many places we visit, or the state of the places we find (for we would always fall short or be disappointed).  So happiness must involve expectations and imagination and being content like the Stoics.  The traveller is not merely chasing the present experience, but potentially also the memory and the dream, and being content in the present (where we are, what we have deemed ourselves to be).  In his documentary, he goes nearly further into Eastern thought, and suggests that we should try to lose ourselves and our feelings, in order to gain happiness.

But another sad thing for the stoic, is that he deems that he’s unable to change messy reality, and therefore, he must create a new one (p. 926 Kindle).  He thinks that this is free-ing because it doesn’t nail his colours to one thing, and leave him standing against others.  For example, in creating his identity as a Chinese-Arab person, he doesn’t force himself to forever be either one, and against the other (p. 941 Kindle).  But surely this is a false dichotomy?  What if the Christian traveller could be fully Chinese (what he truly was born), yet delight in all nations, and have a passion for all peoples?  He could learn from all cultures, all genders, all occupations, all languages, and yet realise he is a limited creature, and cannot delude himself into thinking he will be all things to all men perfectly.  Surely in realising his limitations, it would free him to enjoy adventuring to expand his horizons?

In several brief and borrowed moments of sanity, the author (through Nietzsche) borrows from Christian belief, in seeing that what you believe changes how you act, and therefore changes stuff (p. 1059 Kindle).  Or so it should.  It shouldn’t remain a dry construct on a page.  Other things follow on, that the majesty of nature brings out good in us (p. 1447) and that it makes us feel small (p. 1552).  The the sublime is really sublime in the world, because we feel weak (p. 1562).  Turning Pascal around (p.1904 Kindle), he instead says that in painting an image, we point to something we can create, more beautiful than the original, perhaps.  But Pascal’s point was that we point to a creator, in the things we paint.  They are mere shadows, not because we could imagine better, but because there is better, in another place – a new Heavens and a new Earth.  And so it’s on those dispersed notes that I finish.

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Can the secular worldview give unfettered freedom to travel the world?  

Well, not while it continues to be a preached, wordy message, telling us exclusively what to think about reality.  That’s no more freeing than the Christian exclusive message.

Can such a secular worldview free us from being controlled by such desires from travel, to enjoy the small things in life?  

I’d argue not as well as the Christian message could, that has our identity firmly in other places (in Christ) and frees us to enjoy the world under His Lordship without being controlled by it.  For His yoke is a light one, and His New Creation a million more times stunning than the beautiful ruin we stand in front of now.  And in the meantime, He enables us to engage the messiness straight on, and not have to re-create ourselves to try and avoid it.

Will you buy the secular vision of travel?  It promises so much.  But will it live up to its calling?  Or will it be vanity – mere soapy bubbles.  All talk but no substance.

Christian traveller, this is what you miss: glory

(NB: as with all my thinking, it tends to be flowing from the seminars I attend, the books I read and the minds of others.  Ultimately it’s “thinking God’s thoughts after Him” (Kepler).  So in this I acknowledge Mark Stirling of The Chalmers Institute and my homegroup, who put up with my studies on Ephesians, despite them having far better ones in years past)

Glory.

What does glory look like if you were to draw it?  Or for folk more like myself, what would the Biblical definition of it be? (please don’t look up the dictionary – I’m not sure we’re on a wavelength)  Perhaps a movie soundtrack would be easier to put to it.

It’s the question that comes into my mind when I read three or four times in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (chapter 1) that everything that happens in the Godhead and flowing from the Godhead (Father, Son, Spirit) through all eternity is “to the praise of His glory” or some equivalent phrases in other English versions.

What on earth is “to the praise of His glory”.  Can glory be praised?

Well, in brief, the reason I think such phrases could be better summed up in a movie soundtrack is because in the Bible they aren’t really defined that much.  But instances throughout the Bible tell us all what it’s about.

God’s glory is manifested quite often in the Holy of Holies in the temple: the part of the temple where no-one could enter, apart from a High priest, once a year.  Even then when he entered, he did so in fear and trembling, recognising his unworthiness, and need to make sacrifices for sin, for himself and for the people.

So often when God’s glory came down, nobody could go near.  It was often manifested by fire, by cloud (and mystery) and great power.  It rendered false gods powerless, priests speechless, and left people dead who tried to falsely come near.  You could hear the dramatic and climatic, thundering music.

GLORY!

But what has this to do with anything?

Well, Paul goes on to describe the church community in Ephesus using various pictures (chapter 2).  Pictures of what they once were (dead, aliens, strangers, uncircumcised, haters of God etc) and now what they are (alive, family, brought near, circumcised, lovers of God).  And in those images Paul brings in the fact that we’re a temple.  Not as individuals, but as a people together, with Christ as our cornerstone.  And all very well.  Until we remember what the temple was really like.

The temple was where this “glory” stuff happened.  Or not stuff at all.  Where God manifested himself in the fullest we way the people at the time could manage.  BOOM!

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Crashing waves of the Atlantic are often something that reminds me of the magnitude of God and His glory as I glimpse the power of even a fraction of His being.  This one, Ardmore this weekend.  But so often I don’t connect glory to humans, or His Church.

And so the fact we’re called the temple is baffling.  We are the place where God will manifest his “glory”.  So presumably it’s not too far of a jump to say that when people meet His Church (with Christ at the centre), they will be hit by His full “oomph”.  It renders people speechless.  Everything else in the world will seem small compared to approaching this beautiful community.

I’m still trying to work out how much continuity there is between old temple and new temple, and what exactly we can say about this.  But it’s got me excited.  Excited because I’m freshly convicted that when people meet and mingle with God’s new temple/community, they’ll be struck by something powerful.

And so I want to meet with this community and draw others into this community.  “Oh but we’re not a very [insert adjective] community here.  We’d need to change first, before inviting people in”.  Um, no, I think we need to invite people in and let them see us as we are, and continually strive for change through that, in that, with others, and for His glory.  And primarily before being a loving/forgiving/gracious/hope-filled/[insert adjective] community, we must be a community.

And quite frankly, that’s where most of us fall down.  We don’t see each other past a Sunday, or maybe a midweek smallgroup or meeting.  And if we do, it’s just as Christians together.  For the rest of the time, we’re expected to be lone wolf evangelists, doing personal evangelism to the max.  And we wonder why it doesn’t work?

In prescribing ourselves to this model, we heap pressure on ourselves.  We are our only contact with our friends.  It’s us or nothing.  And to be honest, there’s not much difference between my typing away at my desk all day and theirs.  In fact, many of them show far more positivity all day than I manage.  So much for being asked “to give a reason for the hope that’s within you”.  Few ask questions, because few see any difference, and rightly so – what difference can there really be in how we type, offer someone a coffee, or treat each other in the workplace?  Of course, some, but let’s stop our hyper individualism.

In prescribing ourselves this model, we also rob ourselves of true fellowship.  When we don’t see our fellow brothers and sisters apart from sporadic occasions, we tend, if you’re anything like the churches I’ve been involved with, to resort back to polite chit chat.  And that’s natural.  Only when you’re in and out of others lives, will you be able to walk up on a Sunday morning and ask something more deep or personal.  Because you’ve seen them in the messy-ness of life.

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Our church home-group out this weekend with some of our friends.

So what does this look like?  Well, it puts major questions about geographical proximity to each other in everyday life, or at least to your smallgroup members.  It also puts questions about our individual choice of how we spend our time.  Is it ours to choose our passions, or do I fit them around serving others?  Does “Peter the hockey player” take second place to “Peter the temple brick”, if hockey doesn’t manage to fulfil temple-like functions?  (though in most cases, I don’t think there needs be dichotomies).  Perhaps for your church, it’s even simply starting small-groups.

In Cork, it’s led to us all deliberately inviting our friends who aren’t part of church, into social gatherings where there’s a mix of people, so that they see God’s glory in Christ.  And they are indeed noticing exactly that:

“You’re all so different, but love each other so much!”

“How do you ever hang out with him/her, they’re so weird/different?!  I’d like to be able to do that.”

“I wish I had a community like this that looked out for me in the city: it’s fab”

“I didn’t understand and completely disagree with what was said at your church this morning, but I’m glad we can chat about it this afternoon in a more private place together”

Now don’t get me wrong.  This is hard.  It’s costly.  Half of us haven’t braved sharing our friends yet with each other.  And there are moments I grimace inside and wish I hadn’t invited my friends along, after something has been said in convo that hasn’t been helpful.  But it’s worth every step of it.

The more I find myself committing to community, the more I feel free!  Free to be myself, free to not have to produce evangelistic results myself, free to be weak in front of others (they see everything), free to fail, free to ask for forgiveness, free to keep short accounts with people I see lots.  Free!

That’s what living for the praise of His glory does.  And that’s why being away travelling lots robs you of everything about it.  You’re unable to do this community.  For someone with a job like mine – I’m robbing myself of joy!

35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’

(John 13:35)

Why Jesus enables unity in the world more than any other.

Elsewhere, for another blog, I was writing on how unity can be brought about from great diversity, and what motivates me to put my life to this cause.  I wanted to respect exactly that: the diversity of ways this might be achieved, and so I didn’t explicitly state how I think the [evangelical] Christian worldview best equips people to do just that.  But for those who are interested, here are some quick thoughts:

  1. Only the Christian worldview has its foundation as a perfectly diverse community (Father, Son, Spirit), united as One (a Triune God). If this is the core of how a worldview works, you could expect this to be mirrored in society by Christians.
  2. Only the Christian worldview has a founder (Jesus) who lays down His life and His rights for a disunited people (his enemies), and says He’ll give them a power within themselves (individually and as a community) to live in light of that, seeking the needs of others first, as He did.
  3. Only the Christian worldview gives an identity in life (in Christ) that has no link to any earthly kingdom, but still gives great reason that we ought to attempt in His strength to transform communities until a new Heaven and earth appear
  4. Only the Christian worldview explains our longing for something better. Why ought the world be better?  Why ought we aim to cause good and not evil?  The Christian account of how the world came to be (regardless of how that looks scientifically, which I’m happy to discuss) has the world as a beautiful ruin.  Beautifully made, but ruined to its core.  And so we should expect to see both of those present in everything: beauty and ruin.  Or as Pascal said, glory and garbage.

If any other worldview does any of those things, I’ll be happy to stand corrected!  Sadly, this is not to say that all 4 of these have been lived out by local Christians.

We see Christians forgetting that we are all unique and different, and trying to force a theocracy on everyone.  Ultimately the “god” they force on everyone tends to look a little like themselves, and thinks that way too!

We see Christians wanting to fight for their rights first, even when that comes at the expense of others.  Perhaps some who take their privileged status in the west, and never seek to constantly be looking to bless others from it.

We see Christian DUP fanatics claiming that their identity is primarily in Christ, when all they speak of is politics and vilifying the “other” side.  Equally I see evangelical Sinn Fein supporters in Cork who would advocate taking up arms still against the British.

We see Christians who refuse to see good in other worldviews and political opinions.  Who make straw men arguments and vilify others.  They see everything as black and white, so their cause is easier to defend.  They forget we’re all beautiful humans with some good and some bad.  They forget we’re all ruined with some ruin in our own views/thinking.

What might this look like?

Well it looks diverse.  It could mean being a left-wing councillor of Sinn Fein in west Cork (who I’ve sat next to in church), being a right wing conservative (David Quin of the Iona Institute), or being a middle of the road, centre-ground person.  But whatever it looks like, it’ll mean first of all having our identity in something not of this world, but in someone who will come and re-create all things.

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death –
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

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Another remnant of British days in Ireland, visited this weekend.

A united DUP and Sinn Féin?! Thoughts on unity, diversity and elections, from Cork.

The thick arm slowly contracted around my neck, squeezing just a bit too much for my liking.  The hearty laugh of the large figure who was keeping me captive once again boomed out over the countryside of west Cork “you British planting parasite, I’ll kill you one day when I come with my army!”  I didn’t care to lift my Irish passport, nor scold him in Irish for his banter.  My crime?  Suspicion that my schooling in east Belfast, my sporting associations (playing hockey), and my mixed family backgrounds made me one of the “other” side.

That was Seamus*, my good friend, and my teacher of Irish history from a different perspective. Driving home from the heart of west Cork to my home in Cork city, I’m in a contemplative mood.  Putting Seamus’ jokes aside, there are still many deep divisions on this island.  We don’t need to point fingers at Trump’s sweeping generalisations about certain demographics of the world population, to see fingers pointing back to us, asking us what we’re doing about the division we’re part of.  The division that remains far longer that it should, because we consider our only political action is voting.  And then we sit in despair for four years and wait.  We mock those “other”s who we voted into power and pretend they’re very different to us.  Horrible people, those politicians out there!

But it doesn’t need to be politicians, or for that matter the paramilitaries who bombed my Dad’s shop twice, or the lads who held me up at knife point at the local pitches when asking me what Scottish team I supported (Aberdeen FC, for the record).  We’re quick to cause division regardless of the topic.

So how can we get on together as a society?

the-righteous-mindSome of it I suggest comes in understanding each other.  Perhaps sitting side by side in education and seeing each other as normal human beings might be a start.  But more than shared experiences, Jonathan Haidt, a democrat and social psychologist in the US, has written a book that has address this very topic.  In his book he makes the case that we first understand we’re not as rational as we’d like to think.  We often make gut instinct decisions and then rationalise them afterwards.  Like a tiny rider (our reason) on a lumbering elephant (our emotions) walking along a tricky path (circumstances of life), we often struggle to end up bringing about the change we desire and get where we want to go.

He also suggests that as those on the left and right of the political spectrum we have different values that mean we talk past each other a lot of the time, as if the “other side” are just stupid and morally deficient.  It’s easier to throw metaphorical (or in our case physical) bricks at the opposite side, than it is to sit beside them, put our arms around each other as humans, and help each other move towards a shared future of unity amidst diversity.

Grasp these two things, and a lot of what will be “successful” in election campaigning will make sense to you, and you’ll be better equipped to sit down and work out what would be persuasive to those of diverse opinions.

I help to lead a team of people, running various community spaces in universities and cities across Munster.  Each week, hundreds of people from various countries, counties, social backgrounds, races, political views and worldviews all pile in to events.  And when I say events, I mean more communities.  Communities that aim to break down walls and integrate everyone into a society that will help everyone stay in a learning posture.

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My one problem is that it’s hard.  Loving people who are different to me is difficult.  I’d rather find people of like mind, and enjoy a whale of a night out with them.  To find ourselves in a place where we’re naturally rubbing shoulders with every type of person regularly is a rare opportunity that I’ve been blessed with, that is not realistically achievable for everyone.

Why do I have this desire, and what ought to motivate us to get on and do this?

I’m sure there are various answers to this, and so I won’t bore you with mine (you can find it here, if you are interested).  But I’d challenge you to ask yourself whether your worldview that you hold to, will give you the motivation to spend an other-person-centred life, serving the needs of society in its full diversity (and not just forcing a uniformity of thought on them all)?  As the university I work in says:

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Travel “without God”

The very definition of “de-Godding God” (to quote DA Carson once more).  But doesn’t it sound stunning?  And isn’t there so much beauty and glimpses of truth mingled in with it?

It’s a start of a look at a secular view of travel.  And if we weren’t thinking twice (which we generally aren’t, when hit by a sensual feast like this one), we’d buy it hook, line and sinker.  More to come on why I think you’d be a fool to buy this message:

Moving East of Eden

I am always telling the students that when we read the Bible, it’s not the random thought that strikes them, that they should primarily take away (much as God sometimes does use random thoughts), but the main point that God (through the author) wants to convey.  And so often how we find out the main point is through the usual literary examination of the text, in dependency upon the Spirit to open our eyes to the intimacy of His words as they act in our lives.

So when repeated phrases come up, alarm bells should start ringing and we should take note.  So it is in Genesis 3-14 with the words “east” of Eden (3:24; 4:16; 11:2; 12:8; 13:11).  It’s not a major riff, but still it’s repeated often, and in particular seems to be something that symbolises a people moving away from God’s land – the place where God’s presence is.

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Coincidentally, as I moved east yesterday with work, it got wilder!

In Genesis 3, it appears Adam and Eve exit stage left, to the east, or at least that’s where the angels are guarding.  This banishment is an act of judgement, for sure, but also an act of grace, as no-one would want a place of God’s holy presence to be spoilt by sin.  And so long-term, this is a gracious act, to remove the horrors of evil from a paradise.

In Genesis 4, after a similarly horrific act of human independence, pretending to be the one who has authority to take life, Cain packs his bags and heads east to the land of wandering.  It’s judgement again, but it’s also grace, as Cain is allowed to live, even after murdering his bro.  His brother’s blood would temporarily cry out for judgement to follow (Heb 12:24) but would be silenced by the blood of another that would cry out to greater effect in grace.

In Genesis 11, we see the people moving eastward still, which gives us a flavour that what is to come in the story will not be wonderful news.  More judgement because the people want to de-God, God (thanks to DA Carson for this helpful phrase), by making a name for themselves.  Ironically whoever they are, their names aren’t recorded, and instead we get the list of names (“the account of Shem”, I’m told in Hebrew means “a name”) of a bunch of nobodies who God graciously builds His lineage through.  It’s judgement and grace intertwined again.  And I wonder whether his scattering of the people across the earth after Babel is another gracious act, as they’re no longer said to be moving east all the time.

Instead it’s the start of God setting the scene for the promises He’s about to make to Abram in chapter 12, that He’ll bless all nations and all peoples through Him.  Abram is recorded as not having gone as far east as Ai, and stops in verse 8 of chapter 12 to build an altar and call “on the name of the Lord” – quite a contrast to those who wanted to build themselves a name.

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The quieter western side of County Waterford yesterday (on the Cork border)

And the only other eastern mention in these chapters is sadly that of Lot, who chose foolishly to live in the east, and suffered the consequences of it.

These riffs of judgement moving east (away from God’s land, and His presence and perfect rule), and yet grace intertwined, bring a few things to mind:

  • if we are aware of our history, we cannot draw any comparisons to modern day east/west divisions.  Throughout history this has not been true.
  • how quickly we, even as Christians, love to build a name for ourselves, our denominations, our organisations.  I was reminded recently by someone that if we shape our lives by opening the scriptures with people, there is little place for them to see us as amazing, or to build our own Kingdom.  God’s words will do what He has purposed them to do – to act, despite our weakness.  It’s sad that most churches/individuals won’t touch with a bargepole anything that isn’t controlled by them and originated from them.  The celebrity pastor is an unknown quantity in the scriptures.  Sadly not in Cork today or in the Christian church at large.
  • how marvelously gracious God is, to always give us grace, even in the midst of judgement and rebellion
  • how foolish we are when we try to only bring grace, and not expect judgement to also be brought.  On every page of the scriptures the two go hand in hand.  The very speech acts breathed out by God in the scriptures are one’s which do this (Isa 55 – Words will never do nothing – instead they’ll accomplish all that He desires).  At the cross we see this, that the very judgement of God is grace to a needy world.  And in us holding out the Words of life to people we can expect this to be the case too.  We are bringing good news, but we will also be bringing judgement.

15 For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task?

(2 Corinthians 2:15-16, NIVUK)

(PS: I’m sure Pete Lowman’s book “A long way East of Eden” probably says far more and far better what I’ve said.  I haven’t read it [recently??], but could imagine it might!)