More from the east…

I’ve already mentioned how little I know about eastern worldview and culture.  And so I’ve been seeking to learn from the experiences of those who hail from there, and those who have travelled there.  Here’s one blog from a colleague of mine who spent a year travelling in the east before coming back to Ireland to work.  Some of their insights are fantastic and I may reblog them over the days ahead:

Two Happy Tramps

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Journey to Life: having the craic!

“Oh I don’t know exactly what I want in a date.  Just someone I can have the craic with”

(Person on “First Dates Ireland”)

And so it slowly became the mantra of the show we are all addicted to on RTE.  Because in all honesty, very few people could put their finger on specific characteristics that they wanted in someone.  And even those who could, would want “the craic” to be had.  A connection that can’t be described and can’t be summed up in a succinct way.  You have to have had the craic, to know what “having the craic” is.

It’s not just “having fun” or laughing alot.  It’s not just getting on well with someone or the old English word meaning “loud conversation or bragging”.  In fact, the very act of trying to prescribe a definite meaning to it, is an act defying the very nature of what the craic is to be.

Craic.

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Having the Craic in Norway on hol with some spontaneous friends

Our trouble is that craic isn’t chaseable.  I mean, of course in some ways it is.  Surround yourself with great friends, travel to the world’s most inspiring places and do a job that you love, and the craic may come flowing from banter-barrels in vast amount.

But ultimately life isn’t like that perpetually.  And just when you think you’ve cracked the code to get unlimited craic, something happens.  A friend moves away, a relationship splits, a holiday turns sour, the magical moments of travel can’t always be shared, or what was once special, now becomes ordinary.

The only responses to it, that I’ve come across are broadly speaking, these (though do add your two cents, should you know another – most however, are very closely associated to one of them):

  • Realise the craic isn’t what you should be chasing after and instead obey God (this is the Islamic response) and have all the pleasure in eternity (should he be willing to let you in, if he so wishes)
  • Realise the craic isn’t what you should be chasing after, deny all your feelings, and seek a state outside of that.  The more you do this, the more you will be free, as the world is bad, and only the spiritual is good (this, with variations, is a Buddhist response)
  • Realise the craic is all there is to have, and maximise it for yourself and everyone else (or indeed minimise harm, as it’s more often put).  Navigate it well, by putting your identity in so many smalls things, that the craic can never be removed from you, if one of them falls apart.  And hope that it all doesn’t fall apart.  Why you ought to maximise if for others, may not immediately be obvious, but do it anyway.  (This is largely the secular or stoic response)

For most of us in Ireland, we’ve largely seen a variation on the Islamic response, from the Roman Catholic Church (with no disrespect meant by that to either).  From the land where the craic has flowed more abundantly than most others (isn’t this why the Irish are loved all round the world?), the institutional religion has generally told us to be careful.  To have the craic is nearly an act of cheeky teenage rebellion, that we didn’t know why the church was complaining, but we thought they probably were.

FatherTedCarefulNowAnd all that made all the more hilarious by our harm caused by “having craic”, paling into insignificance compared to the harm caused by human rules imposed by the Church (rules on singleness for priests etc) that have been a correlating factor (if not a causing one) in the abuse scandals.

When confronted with only those options, I would want to flee quickly to the beauty of the secular response, and stomach any mental health difficulties in having an unstable identity (founded on lots of small things) or the problems in finding something bigger than ourselves in life (which even atheist thinkers have suggested we need).

But is there another way?

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Having the craic with work colleagues – doing a job I love!

Several thousand years ago, when eyewitness historical accounts recorded Jesus to say that he was here “so that they may have life, and have it to the full”, people scoffed.

The religious Jews of the day interpreted fullness of life in obedience to their laws and understanding of god.  Many of the Greeks went to eastern dualism (material bad, spiritual good) and would find such a claim absurd.  And many stoics would laugh heartily at such exclusivity and narrow-mindedness, given how short life was.  You’ll see that views really haven’t changed today, apart from in the finer detail.

But Jesus’ claim to give life Himself, rarely seemed to trample on “having the craic”.  He wasn’t a dualist out to tell everyone to be serious and stop those parties.  In fact, one of the few times we’re told what the “Son of Man” (another name used for Jesus and God in the Scriptures) was here to do, and it was “eating and drinking”.  And so he lived it out.

Yet at the same time, he pointed to the emptiness of only having that.  And how so often the craic was misused for other purposes that caused much harm to each other and to God.  A night out gone wrong.  He suggested that the very fact that craic exists in this world and yet we struggle to pin-point what it is, should point to us to a greater world with fuller abundance of life that is to be enjoyed.  To a life-giver.

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The Life-giver and the life-giving community, from which overflows many beautiful things (on the arrows).  Artwork by Heather Irwin.  Although this is a bit abstract if you’ve never considered it before.

And so I’ve found it to be true.  And not only true, but oh so satisfying!  And I invite you to experience the life-giver too.  To journey with me into life.  A journey that I embarked on as a young kid, and one I’m still delving into greater depths even now, and forever will be.  Eternal life won’t be a dull affair with all the life to be had, exploring to be done and craic overflowing.

Finding out what true life is, will be a roller-coaster, with bumps, jolts, moments of regret and moments you didn’t anticipate.  And it’ll be a demanding one, that’ll cost you everything but leave you richer than you’ve ever been.  You see the life Jesus offers is a bit like trying to define what the “craic” is.

John by Andy McC

How one eyewitness account of Jesus’ life describes the life to offer.  Copyright Andy McClintock.

Like any travel, that journey is best experienced by being on it, not by reading travel brochures.  But to make sure you’re not being duped by a false brochure, do find someone you can trust to journey with.  I can introduce you to some great travellers near you who’ll ultimately point you to the Life-giver, as He wants to make Himself known.  It’s what I’ve been doing in Cork with Uncover Cork.  And it’s what Jesus encourages us to do ourselves when he beckons to us to explore.  I’d happily post you an eye-witness account of his life so you can find out more yourself.

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.

Urgency in Irish life

I’m not sure how much I realised culture impacts things until I’d lived in a few cultures.  Northern Irish culture; English culture; Irish culture; there’s nuanced differences between all of them.  But nuanced differences magnified by living out assumptions that there’ll all the same, sometimes make surprisingly large differences between all of them!  It’s what irks me most about comments from those who’ve travelled in eastern Europe (or anywhere for that matter) and declare all the cultures to be the same!  And sadly in my first few years of settling in Cork (and probably still) I’d a lot to grasp about those differences.  One of them is urgency.

How do we as Irish people display urgency?

I remember living with a couple of doctors once (yes, you guessed it, one of the ones who got married).  Coming down in to the kitchen one morning, already late for work, he stopped and put on the kettle and sat down to chat.  Looking at him slightly puzzled, he saw my face, said “haven’t seen you in a while bud, you want a cup of tea?”, and proceeded to chat away for another ten minutes.  Much as the British like their tea, I wonder whether they would not have scolded him and shoved him out of the door before the kettle boiled.

Equally I came from having lived in England nearly five years, where task-orientated life dominates.  You send someone an email, and if you don’t get a reply in a few days, it’s a fault on their part.  Landing in Cork, I started sending many, many emails.  I saw one recipient on the street a few weeks later who casually wandered over to me and said “ah Peter, how’s it going?  I see you sent me an email a few weeks ago.  Do you want to go for coffee now?”

Relational life is beautiful.

It took me a while to get round to seeing it as that, but it is.  At times frustrating, but still none-the-less beautiful.

A friend in Limerick similarly noted that when Limerick flooded a year or two ago, the process by which the local councillors and groups got together to work out a solution and an urgent action plan, was not a British task-orientated, exact plan.  In fact, to the on-looking British it may have even been considered lackadaisical.

Some would say to me that Irish people don’t do urgency.  But I’m not so sure that’s true, as I see plenty of situations we react to urgently, although it’s true that we seem to love some sense of spontaneity too.  I just wonder whether Irish urgency is indeed very different.  Which makes me wonder about those who believe they have an urgent message to proclaim.  Muslims, Mormons, Evangelical Christians, others.

I have sat down with Mormons who seem to have such urgency that they quite often struggle to engage with me as a human.  Perhaps their dualistic theology also leads to this (see here for more).  Interestingly many of my Muslim friends seem to get relational culture far better, as they come from even more relational backgrounds than I do (perhaps works-based/semi-pelagian religions tend towards a slower, relational lifestyle, given the impossibility of immediate, certain salvation??).  That is, until religion is mentioned, and then many that I know seem to change!

sense-of-urgency-for-change2

Similarly I’ve sat next to British or some northern evangelicals who with tears in their eyes for the lost, wonder whether anyone else really cares, because no-one else is displaying such passion in the ways they are.  Equally, the lack of effort by us to culturally engage the more African-orientated “Redeemed Christian Churches of God” (the largest protestant denomination in Ireland, I believe), has meant that much frustration and division in CUs comes through cultural misunderstanding of some of these things.  “You’re just not passionate about the good news!” will often be the accusation.

But before this gets too long, I’ll leave you with two things I’m increasingly convinced of, and questions for you, of which I’d be grateful of your thoughts.

  • I’m increasingly convinced that the gospel demands urgency, and that this is part of the offence of the gospel because it shapes our means of bringing the gospel. As a philosopher I love “other possible world” hypothesis, but as a theologian (which we all are too), I’m not sure the Bible spends much time on them.  So when a Cork church leader recently said “I think if we had infinite time, God could bring everyone to Himself because we’d have all the time in the world to show them the warmth, beauty and truth of Christ and Christian community”, I’m not so sure I can agree or disagree (though I lean towards the latter).  Infinite time this side of eternity would so bend the Bible’s message that everything else would look distorted too (election, predestination, His means of bringing Himself glory etc).
  • I’m increasingly convinced that cultural displays of urgency are very different, and that we end up judging others for the way they display it. Street preaching; four spiritual laws; very direct conversations; endlessly posting things on facebook; I’m trying to figure out how an Irish person would do these or if they would at all.  Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an excuse for not being urgent, just a large question of whether some British, American or Nigerian ways of displaying urgency are really superior.

And so to my questions for you: what does urgency look like in your culture?  Where is it displayed?  What factors go into making a culture’s view on urgency?  Where do Irish values stop and borrowed values start in terms of urgency?  Does Biblical urgency ever call us to trump Irish ways of displaying that?  And where does our humanity fit into all this urgency?

Over to you!

Girlfriends, travel, housing and winks across the dancefloor

So since moving to Cork I’ve had about 13 housemates.  Unlucky?  Having lived with me, I think they all probably thought they were, yes.  Moving in to the house, I remember being asked whether I wanted to move in to the spare room, or switch to the big ensuite room.  For a little extra cost, I fancied a room longterm that I could make my own, so opted for the big one.  So far, so good.

  1. The chap who left the small room, went off to get married.
  2. The following chap to step into that small room was a graduate entry medic.  At the end of our year together, he left, to get married (he wasn’t engaged before being in that room).
  3. The guy who replaced him was another graduate entry medic (yes, I’ve had free health service, even in Ireland), who, you guessed it, left after six months to live with his newly married wife.
  4. For one year after that, an Iranian researcher who, during his time living here, found the love of his life and then left to marry her and live elsewhere.
  5. After that came a Brazilian friend who had nervously started going out with a girl.  I went to his wedding a few months ago.
  6. And finally??  An Irishman now living in that room, has indeed completed the current tally and is about to get married this summer.

Assuming I would want to get married, it could be that this is a divine rebuke for my selfish and materialistic grab for the large room, when I could have given others it.  And in a highly superstitious Irish culture, perhaps many may chuckle and read into it exactly that.

I chuckle but don’t.  Coincidence, I reckon.

But then one night I’m travelling from Waterford to Limerick around dusk.  Three quarters of the way there I stop to pull over a hitchhiker by a farm in a rural village.  Flowing ginger beard and a waft of ginger hair, he looks like a proper Irish stereotype, around studenty age.  His first question determines where I’m going and his second is:

“What is a Christian?”

Slightly stunned at such a question, given there is nothing in my car to suggest I would know, and given that everyone in Ireland reckons they’re Christian so doesn’t ask, I stumbled to ask him why he asked that.  “You’ve a northern accent.  You must know.  I mean protestant and catholic and all that.  Y’know?”

But as I was sure he’d met many a northerner before, I persisted.  “But what raises the question?”

Turns out he’d been travelling round the world a year and had ended up in Hawaii.  So beautiful was the experience with the community they’d met there, he decided to stay on and get to know them.  Time was running out but he wanted what they had!  So they said to him “look, we run this summer volunteer thing in Haiti this year – you should go and find us there.  Go home and raise funds and we’ll see you out there!”

And so he had done.  His family thought he’d met a cult.  “I know they said they were Christians, but that can mean anything from those born-agains to cults” they said.  “Stay clear of it”.  And so it got him thinking, “what is a Christian?”.  And so he asked the next person who he met, who happened to be me driving along.  4 minutes later and we’d reached his brother’s house and he jumped out.  All that we’d established was that the group were Youth With A Mission, that he should trust them and go, and that in the meantime he should read his Bible to see what produces this genuine faith, unlike all he’d met before.  With that, he walked off into the dark, slamming the car door behind, after briefly asking my name.

Coincidence?

To stereotype:

  • The atheist would presumably say yes, that anyone could have driven along that road.
  • The agnostic may want to remain curious but ask us to treat both cases the same.
  • The conservative (perhaps cessationist) would declare it to be the providence of God using promised means (humans).
  • And the more charismatically inclined may lean towards declaring it something more spiritual.

Perhaps I can answer some other time, but here are some questions it raises for me:

  • For those sceptical: what are the chances of these happening?  My suggestion is that the latter is far more unlikely (the former occurs as males of my age in conservative cultures tend to all pair off and get married), given how few evangelical Christians are in rural Ireland.  Maybe add into it, the fact that tens of these coincidences seem to happen regularly to me, it makes it harder to explain, but not impossible, perhaps!
  • For those keen to call it a God thing: if we are to call the latter an act of God (using human means), would we call the awful things that happen in this world also a carefully planned act of God, or is He not in control of those?  Perhaps on a basic level: this may help.  But I’m not convinced there’s any easy, neat answers, philosophically and theologically (though I may come back to this).

In the meantime for the Christian I found Kevin De Young’s book a bargain and worth reading.  And for those more sceptical still, why not ask (the-potentially-imaginary-being-in-the-sky) him to reveal himself to you?  Or start by looking where he promises to do so?  Right here: Uncover: see for yourself.  I don’t trust on any of those coincidence-like experiences to tell me about God primarily.  That’d be like depending on winks across a crowded dancefloor to tell you whether a girl actually likes you or not.  It sometimes thrills my heart and gives me butterflies.  But ultimately, I’d wanna know…like, for real.
Just do something

Spiritual good, material bad??

Often I meet folk on my travels who say: “Prayer, reading your Bible, going to church, telling others about Jesus and a few other things [my cheeky edit: not many] are great things to do.

However travelling for fun, taking time off, sleeping, having passions, playing sport, doing art, playing computer games and sex….well they’re not so good.”

Why?  Well, they’re, erm, not as spiritual!  Or so the thinking goes in most religions. 

The Islamic call to prayer reminds us that prayer is better than sleep.  I struggle to have a normal human conversation with Jehovah’s Witnesses who I meet!  And in forms of Buddhism, we must try to escape this world and the trappings of physical reality.  Even sadly some Christian preachers I’ve heard saying that the “real you” is just some soul part that will go to be with God forever in some airy fairy land in the sky.

Often called “dualism” in theology/philosophy, this ancient belief that makes you feel guilty about doing fairly normal things in life and does not look fondly on the fact that Christ is Lord over everything in life, always lurks round the corner in most Christian circles.  I would argue it stems more from Greek Platonic thought (Plato) than from the Bible but it profoundly shapes the way many of us think.

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Plato and some amphitheatre steps.  Probably annoyingly the cultural equivalent of having a picture of me next to a Leprechaun.

Here’s two ways it did for me at university:

I was raised with a passionate heart for Jesus and sharing Him with others.  With great Biblical teaching all my childhood, and wonderful practical training with United Beach Missions, the facts of eternity just seemed to spark an inevitable reaction with me as my convictions grew (oh so gradually!).  First year at university and I would sit and weep at my desk in Sherwood Hall, watching carefree people go past in their hundreds on the way to a lost eternity.  Thankfully the CU taught me amazing ways to share this with campus, but still, this heart for people debatably meant that I felt that doing my studies was not as God-honouring as evangelism.  Or at least the maths part certainly.  Philosophy mentions god the odd time…so that’s alright, no?  I’m thankful for those who quickly saw which way I was going and corrected my trajectory very gently, so that I could delight in serving God in mathematics lectures as much as in CU meetings!

Secondly, I guess I met dualism in my philosophy lectures.  It’s one of the most ridiculed concepts in all of philosophy (or at least Descartes was in my lectures!), and so in an aggressively secular department (all the god-dy type people went off to do their philosophy through the Nottingham Theology department with John Milbank et al.), I faced a challenge.  I think many Christians studying philosophy are stuck thinking they need to defend popular dualism.  We have a soul and a body, so we have to be philosophical dualists!  Whilst not all believers have agreed (bizarrely, if you ask me), I think some form of dualism is probably inevitable, but just not Cartesian or not necessarily even substance dualism either.  What does that leave you with?  A headache perhaps.  But I’ll have shot at answering it sometime else for those of you who are more philosophically minded.  I do think it’s more reasonable than it’s given credit for!  Or so I spent my dissertation trying to prove.

Not sure whether your travelling can really be as God-honouring as outreach?  Check out this on washing dishes, that may provoke some thoughts: A theology of mundane things, like washing up

Or try reading Julian Hardyman’s “Maximum Life” (previously “Glory
Days”).  I’ve a few second-hand copies if people want.
maximum life