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.

Unity, post-election.

There’s nothing like making a few Donald Trump jokes.  That was the mood my house were in this morning.  A friend, staying over last night was quick to google search “Trump jokes” probably to lighten a fairly gloomy mood on a rainy, cold, winter’s morning in Ireland, when you’ve just learnt the news of the US elections.  But sadly googling that is exactly why I think most of us Europeans are no better than the mud-pie slinging Americans who are sitting in their polemical political camps, throwing things at each other from a distance.

This is a book review of “The Righteous Mind” by Jonthe-righteous-mindathan Haidt (Penguin books) which has been one of my top-reads in the last year (and for those of you who know how avidly I read, that says something!).  Jonathan is an academic social psychologist, but also an American Democrat.  But if that would put you off, please don’t let it – he writes purposely to describe how he thinks we can sit down side by side and talk constructively in the political and religious realm, instead of just talking past each other, and mis-understanding the “other” as just something from our nightmares.

He follows on from other recent works in social psychology (and perhaps goes back to agreeing with Aristotle and many before) to persuade us that we’re not so rational as humans as we’d like to think.  As an intuitionist about moral values, Haidt thinks that “the emotional dog wags the rational tail”.  His thoughts have been previously well drawn on in other works such as “Switch” (another must-read in my opinion, for those wanting to learn to bring about change in this world), but makes a convincing case, even if you haven’t read them.  (A video here to explain.)

Once he has convinced us of this, he then spends some time trying to look beyond our blind spots to see how conservative and liberal minds think morally.  Summed up in these two diagrams, this powerful analysis would help people at opposite ends of the political spectrum to not just throw mud-pies at each other, but to understand that there may be strong rationale why  people vote certain ways on certain issues, and how we can appeal to other voters and talk in terms that are meaningful to them.

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Once we understand these frameworks (for which he gives evidence in the book), and seem (intuitively!!) to me to be correct, we can start to talk.

Thirdly, Haidt goes on to argue for evolutionary group selection.  Given how much common populace reading (think Dawkins’ Selfish Gene and others) has derailed such concepts, it was eye-opening to me to see him advocating for such and suggesting that others will/do.  Perhaps I’m just behind on the academic thinking at the moment.  Through this, he tries to argue that anything that binds us together in social groupings could be for the advancement of society.  This would help an atheist to see the good of religion, as well as democrats to see and start to understand why having republican groupings might be good (and vice versa for both).

Finally he applies it concretely to life.  There are not those who are “good” and those who are “evil” as we so often like to pretend (we, or anyone who agrees with us, of course, are the good).  There is good and evil in everyone, and we must sit together and learn from each other.  Admittedly he says, it will be hard.  And if this election is anything to go by, the elephant has chosen the easy path, which is sitting in our camps yelling loudly.

Perhaps it’s the one fault of this book.  By it’s own theory (part 1), it will be virtually impossible to enact.  We are too emotionally driven to see its sense.  But for those who wish to see unity, I suggest this book is remarkable and well worth the read, particularly if you are a leader wanting to bring about change, or someone so frustrated with an “other” side of a political or religious grouping that you can’t fathom the attraction of it or how to bring about change.

(NB: for those concerned or persuaded that his group evolutionary thought may mean Christianity is a mere social construct, I can point you elsewhere.)

International Student Cafe Cork: radically different

Yesterday I discussed how lonely it can feel in life at times, even in the midst of many people.  Today, let me describe the difference using an accelerated example: an international student.

You’re far away from home, foreign language and foreign culture.  You’ve just realised us Irish aren’t as friendly as Lonely Planet and the travel guides make us out to be, especially when you’ve announced your intentions to stay here.  And so you think about hanging out with other international students, because they’ll understand.  “They’re people like me”.

You head down to the local Language Exchange night at a local pub.  There’s a great buzz.  You meet a few more internationals, socialise as much as you can in that environment with poor english and loud music, and call it a night when most people seem to be paying more attention to you as a female to flirt with, than as a human being.  The morning after you’ve not many more genuine friendships, but you’ve had a whale of an evening that’s given you a relational high, enough to go back next time.  And good news, next time you recognise a couple of people, though conversation seems harder with them now you know the basics – where do you go from here?

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Alternatively you go to the far smaller, far quieter, weekly International Student Cafe in a rented hall nearby.  You’re greeted by a mixture of local people (team members) of various ages, and other students from far more varied cultures than were in the pub (Muslims, mainly the difference).  By uni standards it’s a tame night.  But a fun activity/theme, took away the pressure just to make brilliant conversation and allowed personalities and diversities to shine through without too much stress.  A chance to chill over tea, coffee and an international snack soon had us in stitches with our mis-communications to each other.  This certainly was a socially less extroverted group, but nice none-the-less.  Going home, it was nice to have had a different night but nothing incredible.  Would I go back?  Perhaps if there wasn’t a better, cooler option.  Until…

Well, then I got a text the next day asking me whether I’d go for a run and a coffee at the weekend.  I hadn’t realised the guy at the cafe did running like me.  Actually, I hadn’t realised much about him as he’d always been asking me good questions about what I liked, come to think of it.  And so we did.  And I came back the next week to cafe as a result, though I stayed a bit longer to help clear up afterwards.  After all, they seemed a very nice bunch, random as they were.

And then the next week I went on a trip with them to some stunning coastline (they don’t make profit, interestingly) nearby.  And before I knew it I was organising one of the week’s themes in my own culture.

What seemed like quite an ordinary cafe started to grip me.  This wasn’t just one person who was like me, who took interest in me.  This was everyone there.  And I could see it was starting to change me and the others there for the better.  I was thinking mid-week about how I could show interest in their lives too.  I mean, was this friendship?  But it was so random, so….different!

So what makes this difference?  This very real community?

Well, I’ll save my thoughts for next time and in the mean time, thoughts on the back of a postcard to me please!

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PS: I hope I haven’t been too harsh in characterising other language exchanges and international groups in this city.  Some of what they do is fantastic and will have helped develop leadership/entrepreneurial flair in those leading, helped other make friends, find love and much more.  And most of what we do relies on them to take away most people from us (it wouldn’t work with more students currently).  So thank you!  I’ve always pointed people towards you and what you do and spoken highly of you, and still will.  And find any of us on an off-night and we’ll be just as self-centred as anyone!