Thursday, December 29, 2011

Cricket and Luck an Existential mirror

In watching the Indian Cricket players on the fourth day of the Boxing Day Test Match there was a difference between the Indian players and the Australian players, specifically two of them. Opening the second innings for the Indian team was the mercurial batsman Virender Sehwag whose head was facing the sky in what looked like prayer before the innings began. At the other end was the new Australian fast bowler James Pattinson waiting primed and eager to begin. The thought I had was “Does Pattinson acknowledge any deity to aid him in his pursuit for success?”

Long ago back in the 1970's and even in the 1980's the image of the Australian fast bowler with chains gold around their necks proudly displayed over their hirsute chests would usually have one chain with a crucifix on it. Who can forget the proud display when Brazil last won the world cup with players falling to their knees thanking God after winning the final game. One had a shirt under his strip declaring his faith. In the South African team Hashim Amla proudly bats on hottest of days with his long beard a statement of his islamic faith. Even in the Pacific nations with their traditional tattoos proudly display a heritage and tradition that is copied by many Australian males in the current test team. Cricketers are often an incredibly superstitious lot to the point where many have rituals that have to be carried out in a religious exactitude that if disturbed will ruin the entire day for them. Yet seeing the religious fervour of the Indian fans it often makes us uncomfortable and I wonder why?

Listening to the ABC coverage of the fourth day of the Boxing Day test I overheard Harsha Bhogle the indian commentator say “In India people say that Sachin is God and I don't like that”. Harsha's reason for this is that he knows and speaks regularly with Tendulkar. Earlier in the coverage Harsha conveyed Tendulkar's reticence in being away from his family. For Harsha, Tendulakr is a man like himself (though unlike Tendulkar Harsha is not on 99 centuries in test match cricket) and I would like to ask Harsha why he considers the deification of Tendulkar unfavourable. The effect of such worship was not a favourable gain for the Australian Rules player Garry Ablett who was nicknamed “God” for his talents. Though Ablett did try to lower the title by insisting for a lower case “g” the effect of his descent was clearly evident. Even though his son's and nephews play at the elite level he is involved in the sport as a supporter and fan, rarely giving interviews.

Worshiping a person just for their talents and abilities is dangerous for the person being worshipped and the people worshiping them. But, bringing God into the sporting arena is not a problem for other countries, why not ours? The old line trundled out by the victors throughout the ages has been that the won because God was on their side. The opposite, that God was not for them, has of course been used for the losers as well. Bringing God into the sporting equation for Americans is of no problem it has been the stereotype of many a sporting film (sans Disney of course) for the team to pray for the big win. Still, Australians are these days reluctant to rely on a higher power to aid their arms in battle. Or do they?

Over the last few cricket seasons in Australia the momentum has swung in the favour of the tourists. Momentum and that elusive gift of good luck is often mentioned. Sayings like “The luck swung our way.” or “It was just bad luck.”. Often I wonder if it devalues the players skill who won the game while minimising the mistakes of those who played poorly. Of course its the common way of expressing that despite their best efforts a team or individual has not performed to expectations. Surely this is not dissimilar to the old line “God was with/against us.”. Luck is an enigmatic and often cruel mistress. At once friend and foe, the reason for failure and the extra help in success. This was the ancient pagan understanding of God or gods they helped when it suited them, they were capricious and often deceitful. But to cross them was worse,to do so would put you in their bad books forever. So why have a God or gods at all when they just get in the way and merely take the praise due to the hard work and effort or are the excuse when failure was up to poor execution or foolish preparation. Why not accept the failure for what it was and praise the victors for a well played game. I wonder if it is because we see people do the right thing and work hard and still fail, while others seem to do very little and succeed. Is the need for a reason for success and failure in the sporting arena a mirror to the existential angst that we find in our own lives? Though unlike the sporting arena not everyone is watching us on television in an arena where we cannot hide what is happening behind closed doors. When success eludes us or others and we ask why, can we simply say it was poor preparation or poor execution, or that despite our efforts we just fell into some bad luck. Or was it the work of a capricious deity who puts obstacles in our way and we need to placate him/her/it so that they will fight on our side next time? Which do you think? I wonder now that the indians have lost the test match what do Virender Sehwag and the indian supporters think.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Went to the Orchestra and wrote a story

On Saturday I went to see The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra play Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony at the Melbourne Town Hall. I am not a regular attendee for classical music and was rather daunted by the weight of history and culture that accompanies going to the orchestra. So, I made sure I did not walk in unprepared. Before the day I listened to the entire symphony on youtube and did the research on the history of Shostakovich's writing of his fifth symphony. The history tells us Shostakovich's Fifth is a reaction to the Stalinist regime and the loss of friends to the purges that happened around him. The Communist party wanted a symphony that fitted their heroic leanings and all through the symphony is this darkness that looms in the background along with a bombastic and cynical rejoicing enforced by a military beat from a snare drum.

What I began doing was searching the symphony for the emotions and themes within the four movements and while I did this I could see a story emerge. My excuse for this is that my experience of classical music comes from movies and animation. As I hear classical music I expect the themes to tell a story. When that does not happen I find myself lost and unable to appreciate the music as it has nothing for me to grasp onto.

This inability to grasp the music happened earlier when a new piece The Lost Art of Letter Writing by Dean Brett was played. It was technically brilliant but it was very difficult for me as a novice to comprehend and receive it, let alone enjoy it. Compared to Shostakovich's Fifth this new piece was as if I was hearing another language that was communicated with sounds that I had heard before but put together in an unrecognisable form. Surely this is how people approach the unfamiliar searching for something that they are used to hearing.

A good example was put on youtube recently of Grandpa Al listening to dubstep for the first time. Al is clearly a big Beatles fan as the wall behind him is proudly arrayed with Beatles paraphernalia. Have a look and see how Al searches for something that he can understand and does find it despite his early dismissal.

Al finds the beat and then he can deal with the unfamiliar because he has something that he knows. Grandma however cannot get over the alien nature of the sounds and cannot even accept the beat that her husband tries to get her to dance to. Al's situation was similar situation I had with the new piece performed by the MSO. It wasn't until the fourth movement of the new piece which used the familiar large sound that an orchestra has at its disposal that I was able to hear something familiar.

Of course being thischristianguy I feel the need to use what I just wrote as a mirror on how we present the gospel. Are we making it easy for people to grasp the gospel are we making it possible for many to come and find the familiar in the gospel that resonates within them? Can we do this in a way that presents the gospel without the Christian-ese and other baggage that weighs down how we traditionally communicate message. The information is out there and people can read the basics much like how I did, they can also take friends they trust to help them understand what is going on. But if there is nothing that people can find familiar then the words just mean nothing.

What this means for those who are in church like Grandpa Al is that there will be the familiar beat of Jesus as the only way to God, salvation, grace and forgiveness that we can dance too but the sounds and sights are going to very different at times. The technique will change but it will still be based on the same foundation of Christ the Lord of the Dance who can dance the waltz, shake a tail feather, do the twist, the macarena, rock out, shake his groove thing and jump around. To paraphrase The Rolling Stones It's only Jesus Christ but we might not like it, to begin with.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Gay marriage in Australia......meh!

As of very recently (I think it was yesterday....I don't remember I was watching the cricket) the governing party in Australia, the Labor party made the decision to support Gay Marriage. This has been a hot topic for conservative and religious minded people all over the world and I have thought about it for some time.
What I have come up with is......who says that the state cannot say what it thinks marriage is? Its the state, the government is elected to govern for the times it lives in. The political breeze is blowing rainbows and thats the way they will roll. Do I think lobbying is going to change anything, yes but not for the conservatives. Politics is about fighting the battles you can win and looking good in the eyes of the majority and lets face it Christians are no longer the majority in Australia. So what do we do in this situation riot? rebel? leave the country?

I believe Paul talks of praying for the state officials and only going against the state when it stops or make illegal the practice of christian worship and the declaration of Christ as Lord. Nothing in this possible future legislation (because it is has yet to be tabled and who says the fickle winds of politics wont blow another way by the time Parliament sits again) that restricts anyone from being married, in fact it makes it possible for anyone to get married. It probably wont be tabled in such a way as to FORCE celebrants to marry those they do not want (the only point I would get mad about) so who cares. Its not like the "gays" are going to do marriage better than the straight people, or will they?

Marriage is not the greatest of instituions these days. Long gone are the days when the song "Love and Marriage" was known for its true advice on matrimony and not the sarcastic title song to "Married with Children". Then there is the divorce rate which is also highlighted by the wonderful Kanye West song "Gold digger" add to this the celebrated position of Hong Kong as the divorce capital of the world, and the wonderful proliferation of the "Game over" t-shirt and what is marriage but a deed end street which results in financial ruin and unhappiness.

Marriage needs to be the example that God intended it to be, as it has been cheapened and dumbed down since the time of Moses. I know this is a bit rich coming from a single almost 40 year old virgin, but, if the Church holds true to the sacrament of marriage as a holy rite how does a state law opening the boundaries of civil union do anything but pale into comparison. There is more in the biblical image of marriage than just safe sex, children and the family unit. There is something so much bigger than that. We talk of the future wedding supper of the Lamb where Jesus and his bride the Church will celebrate their union together forever. This is the happy ever after echoed in the the disney tales that ruin people with a way too high expectations of what marriage will be. Marriage as a sacrament looks forward to something greater than just two people who think they love each other, its about the future union of God and humanity. Which I think is often forgotten on many a wedding day.

As for the situation with the legal postion maybe we need to look back to the age in which Paul and the first church lived and how they had to be different from the authorities in word and deed. This is not a Christian country anymore and all I can say is get used to it. The boundary lines between those who believe this doctrine and that doctrine are not going to mean much when the real problems come. Seriously this is not the worst that a government can do to us. There are no atheists in fox holes and there is not much difference between a catholic and a protestant when persecution begins. We need to realise that this is more to do with us not acting and presenting the truth so that they will know we are Christian and not just merely speaking and shouting. If marriage is precious and sacred we need to show it and live it in all its hardships and sacrifice as well as in its joys and passions. And doing this in such a way that points to the future wedding celebration when Jesus comes and it really is that desired happy ever after.

All protests, flames and pleads for me to change my thoughts on this subject begin now. This is not a troll but me thinking out loud. My opinons can and may change but remember I am stubborn and prone to oppositional defiance.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Dark Night of the Soul - Google Image Search

Dark Night of the Soul

I have had a fascination with the mystical part of christianity for some time. Healing, tongues, prophecy, all that stuff did attract me, however, it didn't seem enough. People often use the word more to describe a desire for that extra something that the feel they are lacking in their life. The answer for some is power and enabling, the call of ministry, mission and leadership. For others it can mean service (not that service is distinct from ministry, mission or leadership but that there are some who as Jesus showed us to lead by serving others). For me I find none of these pursuits alluring and I often wondered where my vocation was within the body of Christ. Then in the desire for more knowledge, finding myself in a place to grow and learn I came across people that spoke of a more that was not what my parents found.
My parents taught me that more means service, putting yourself in a position to help others even if it means that these people will ultimately end up hating you. That is Jesus example to the fullest. As I gained more knowledge about the traditions of my own faith, the theology and the history of Christianity I found that there was something deeper drawing me on. I saw Barth and Aquinas and even Augustine as men who saw God, knew God, loved God but there was something missing in their words. Then I found Hans Urs von Balthassar a contemporary of Barth's a catholic preist with the pen of a lyricist. von Balthassar's vision of Christ dead in the place of the dead was overwhelming for me. Here was that more, yet, even now I struggle to read von Balthassar. There was much lacking in my learning and in myself.

Then came Thomas Merton, God bless the great monastic writer of the 20th century. Merton a trappist monk from America a man who had plunged headlong into the abyss that is God and returned refined and enabled to shine a light on the plight of his nation, his order, and the world. Through Merton I learned that intimacy with God was what I desired, that through meditation leading into contemplation I too will be refined by the dark fire of God's love.
This dark fire of God's love is mentioned many times by St. John of the Cross in his epic "The Dark Night of the Soul". This refining fire of love that burns the soul, purifying it so it can accept the love of God becoming more like God in a movement towards ultimate perfection. I have been slowly reading this epic and it has been no picnic. An old fear has over taken me once, I have not been able to receive the same meditation results as before, there is a dryness in my prayer life. Yet, my art is vibrant and colourful, I have put aside meditation for a contemplation that is less dramatic yet more precise. St. John talks of growing from a baby to a child, that once we received the milk and love of a mother. Now God is weening me of this milk of meditation and the glorious result of it. I am being taught to stand and walk in this contemplation of God which as Merton tells us is Life with God. You know the old song "You are always on my mind." Well despite the marijuana Willie Nelson has given us a wonderful example of contemplation. God always on my mind.
I am not sure where any of this is leading. What I am sure of is that it is worth it.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The lamp post in Narnia - What God uses for us

When the Pevensie children enter into Narnia from the wardrobe they encounter the lamp post. A piece of their world in the world of Narnia, out of place and out of context. What is this? What is Clive Staples Lewis hinting at?

If there is one thing I know about Lewis' analogical tale, everything has a meaning and often more than one. Aslan is Jesus, the stone table the Cross.... I could go on but that would be getting off the topic at hand, the lamp post. The origin of the lamp post comes from "The Magician's Nephew" (which being the second book makes it a prequel meaning George Lucas has been pipped at that) where the white Queen herself takes a broken lamp post with her to Narnia where amazingly it grows into a new one. By the time the Pevensie children arrive it has been there forever and quite normal for Narnian's to see. Normal but not in the same context as the Pevensie children or ourselves and this is the point I will endeavour to make. Why? Because there are people, places, times and maybe even objects and animals that God uses for his purpose. God brings the familiar of our world of our senses to explain a part of His. Now we could split hairs here about the duality of mortal and immortal divine and human sacred and profane, but I often wonder if that's not something that is as far separated as we think. And I believe that Lewis saw this to be true.

The lamp post sits in the wood in Narnia alight in the dark and the cold of the White Witches winter. A sentry to the divide between the worlds. Mr. Tumnus tells us this is boundary of Narnia the threshold. For Tumnus the lamp post is the end of Narnia for the Pevensies it is the beginning. This is the point where I tell you to think about the people and places God has used to invite us further into His world. Your memory should be able to tell you these things more than I can. What I am going to tell you is that God has done this since the beginning of creation. Creation was an invitation for humanity, Moses and the pillar of cloud and fire, the Prophets, Angels, Chariots of Fire and Jesus too.

Jesus is the lamp post familiar and out of context at the same time. Human with flesh and blood able to die and also divine and risen Lord of all. The archetype is one that God uses and continues to use, bringing people and places, organisations and even memories to use. So when you read this and remember these lamp posts, these things that are used by God familiar yet out of context to where you think it should lead. We should not glorify the lamp posts but God who put them there. Don't look for them because like the lamp post they will come when you least expect them, even in a wardrobe.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Images To Inspire You

Almost at the end of this semester at college and the final essay is unearthing many things that might make it here. But till then here's some images to inspire you all.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Trinity - more than one way of holding onto it

Being a student of Theology under the bearded and wise Dr. K I have had to rethink many of my ideas of how God is. The big word is ontology which is the study of being. When we study the ideas of God's ontology we try to perceive through the mirror dimly using the information at hand to grasp an understanding of God. What usually occurs is that people look at what they don't like about God and try and change it. Often they begin from creation trying to understand that God must be like us because we are made in God's image. Now that's kind of okay as long as God remains God in the nature of God-self. Once God looses immortality, immanence, wisdom and becomes anthropomorphised with too many human attributes then God is no longer God.
One big stumbling block is the triune nature of God. God is one and three or God is three and then one. How can God be both? This is not normal to our understanding of the nature of being. Which is why the ontology of God is such a contentious issue. Many have their points which claim that God is unity before diversity or diversity then unity. Of course then there are those who cannot get beyond their created nature and call it all impossible. And, illogical gets mentioned somewhere along the line.
Historically the Western and Eastern Churches have differing views ontologically. The simple way to get this is that Western begins with One God and three persons and the Eastern is Three persons of the same substance unified by communion. There are three basic terms that despite having different words within reason mean the same. Substance and essence are considered interchangeable. It is considered essential to the Trinity that all three share the same essence/substance, otherwise they are not God. Person is often exchanged for hypostasis. This is because Person has shifted in its meaning over time. At first it was a theatrical term for the mask that Greek actors would wear. The Capadocian's took it and gave it a dynamic and relational meaning. The persons/hypostases within God-self share the same essence/substance with each other in a non-individual way that is in the opinion of John Zizioulas that this participation between the members of God-self is God's existence.

Think about it for a bit. Chew on this in your heart and your mind. God is not like us in his nature. God's essence is shared in a way that is dynamic and relational which is beyond any being we can see with our eyes. The word used to describe this unity in diversity is Perichoresis, it means a circle dance with three people. God is a dance. Fluid motion, never ending intwined in each other in the only perfect loving relationship. Now if thats an image of God that we can take and implement in our lives. If we use it where will we end up in our relationships with others?

I often scour the internet looking for images of Perichoresis and the Trinity, most are disappointing. This one comes from and is wonderful in its movement. There is something about abstract expressionism that grasps the Trinity in way more representative art cannot. This has to do with the fact that Abstract art does not attempt to capture a representation of the scene, person or landscape, but, to merely depict it. God is beyond us. In the nature of God-self there is a dynamic relational existence that we can only depict in word images, metaphor and analogy. Theologians try and represent Gods ontology but often end up grasping at words like person, essence, and perichoresis because God can only be depicted by us at this time.
Augustine talks of seeing God. Seeing for Augustine is knowledge imparted to us by scripture and the creeds (in Augustine's case the Nicene Creed). For him the pure in heart will see God (Matt 5:8) now because their faith has believed and they now 'see" God. But God is invisible and Augustine asserts this to be true but that one day when all is under the rule of Christ it will be given to the Father (Phil 2:5-7). It is then that the pure in heart who believe by faith will see God-self. I am looking forward to that day where I will see with my eyes something that I can only grasp at now.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The God puddle

There is a vision I get regularly about how I hold the world and God together. Maybe you like to keep things in boxes or categories so you know whats happening in which situation? Perhaps you just let it all out and can exist in the milieu that is life. I struggle with situations where there is little context or multiple contexts which you have to discern. Social situations are often uncomfortable because I struggle to work out where people sit. This also includes God as God is a hard concept, unless you let God out of the Box. In my situation in studying Theology God broke out of the box. Here is an understanding of what happened and what is happening.

I hold all the world in a series of boxes. I hold them all nicely God is one of the boxes. All the boxes are filled with water and they fit nicely.

Well they do until the God box starts to fill to overflowing stopping me from being able to hold all the boxes neatly.

They fall to the floor as the God box bursts freeing itself from the confines I place God in. The water flows all over the place splashing on me. The other boxes fall into the puddle as well.

At first they float, but, they begin to melt into the God puddle that is still growing steadily.
There are no boundaries only colours that shift and flow as the boxes and their contents become one with God.

Finally there is just water and more water. It rises further and further till I am consumed as well.

It is not a drowning, nor is it a baptism. It is an immersion into a new environment, the true environment or at least as true as it can be before the renewal to come.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Train out Impulsiveness?

Impulsiveness is a trait of the natural life, and our Lord always ignores it, because it hinders the development of the life of a disciple. Watch how the Spirit of God gives a sense of restraint to impulsiveness, suddenly bringing us a feeling of self-conscious foolishness, which makes us instantly want to vindicate ourselves. Impulsiveness is all right in a child, but is disastrous in a man or woman—an impulsive adult is always a spoiled person. Impulsiveness needs to be trained into intuition through discipline.
Oswald Chambers
Just thought I'd put this up. I wonder how we can go about training impulsiveness out of ourselves? By we I mean me of course, but, you can all join in too.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Craving Miracles

A very good friend bought me Bjork's latest album Biophilia. Warning, I love Bjork and the layers of sound she creates in her music. If you find it disturbing and a bit weird, then I understand. Please do not judge the musician if you cannot go where they travel. We all have our limits. What I would like to focus on are the lyrics of the song, the chorus mainly.
May I, can I, or have I too often?
Craving miracles…
May I, can I, or have I too often now?
Craving miracles…
Craving miracles…
I would like to ask the question do you Crave Miracles? Can you with all honesty say that in your life you have too often been Craving Miracles?

Its about at this point that the discussion about petitioning God or claiming healing in Jesus name comes up. Some people are adamant that God will heal them. They are desperate that only by an amazing miracle they will be healed. Others detest that position and claim it as foolishness depending only on modern medicine. My experience has been one that has seen both happen together.

I have a few physical abnormalities the most threatening one was Scoliosis. My spine had a curvature above 40 degrees and surgery was required. Around this time my parents searched the bible and other churches to find healing for me. Instead they found Baptism of Holy Spirit which changed them forever. Many prayed for me, many hands were laid on me - no miracle. The operation was scheduled and I was going to be in plaster for 6 months and have limited movement forever.

Then God set in motion things that changed everything. In my parents search they believed God was calling them to leave our home and family to a distant city in the tropics. We went leaving in a bus with my Grandmother crying believing we were headed for disaster. In this city there was no surgeon for my operation and to do this we had to go to another city. In this city I had a different operation. Within 4 weeks of this operation I was playing at the beach.

I believe God moves the world for us sometimes and he begins by moving our hearts. You do not know what God can do for you and you cannot just restrict him to one form of miracle. Crave them - yes you should. But never expect it just one way because this is God we are talking about the impossible is nothing for him.


Stirring at water's edge,
Cold froth on my twig,
My mind in whirls
Wanders around desire.

May I, can I, or have I too often?
Craving miracles…
May I, can I, or have I too often now?
Craving miracles…
Craving miracles…

No one imagines the light shock I need,
And I'll never know
From who's hands, deeply humble,
Dangerous gifts as such to mine come.

May I, should I, or have I too often?
Craving miracles…
May I, can I, or have I too often?
Craving miracles…
Craving miracles..

My romantic gene is dominant
And it hungers for union,
Universal intimacy,
All embracing.

May I, should I or have I too often
Craved miracles?
May I, can I or have I too often
Craved miracles?

Waves irregularly striking,
Wind stern in my face.
Thunderstorm, come,
Scrape those barnacles of me!

May I, may I or should I too often
Crave miracles?
May I or should I or have I too often

All my body parts are one
As lightning hits my spine,
Prime runs through me,
Revive my wish

May I, can I, or have I too often?
Craving miracles…
May I, can I, should I, or have I too often?
Craving miracles…

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Picasso's Girl on a Ball 1905

This is Picasso's Girl on a Ball from 1905 at this time Picasso was highlighting the nature of the outcast using the Saltimbanques or Circus Performers. This is a bleak landscape with a horse, woman, child and a dog in the background in a bare bronze field. In the foreground we are drawn to the titular girl and what is presumably the Strong man. They are differentiated by their proportions as well as what they stand and sit on. Supple and lean, balancing on the ball is the young girl whose delight is topped by the red bow in her hair. The Strong man is seated in a classic pose his strength at rest, yet watchful of the girl. It is not clear whether this is a lesson or merely practise, whether this is a father daughter relationship or that the Strong man's protective concern is merely that of a member troupe.
It is Picasso's social conscience that pokes you as you realise that these people were the refugees, the gypsy's of the era. Here Picasso is humanising them in the form of the girl yet also suggesting that this is an insular group isolated by the community at large through the protective imposing figure of the Strong man.
For me personally this piece is astounding because this is not what comes to mind when you think of Picasso. I know that if I could pain the human form like this I would never have ended where Picasso did. Perhaps I do not understand why Picasso developed the way he did because it seems like a backward step for him. Where as Matisse developed a joyous colour and form, Picasso descended from this to something that is in my opinion less than his true potential.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

My Birthday, Art Nouveau and the Hope required in Art

Its my birthday and I am sitting researching Art Nouveau. I love researching art and design, well, I love research. The whole exploration of a topic or person from history or today is just very exciting as you uncover more information, you get a better understanding. What draws me continually to Art Nouveau (though this time I am beginning an Essay on Guimard and Art Nouveau) is their ornamentation. However in Art Nouveau ornamentation is the essence of the objects design. The organic flowing curves and lines of Horta's Tassel house and Guimard's Metropolitan Entrance are the application of art on an object. The utility of the object is not restricted by the art it is enhanced and gains more value as a whole. These bespoke creations are about not bringing nature into the house but of make the house closer to nature.

Plants, insects, water were all used in the creation of Houses, furniture, wallpaper, posters, cutlery and carpet. They all used nature as their influence and inspiration. Now most people will begin to use Guimard's Metropolitan Entrance or maybe Gaudi and they would have a wonderful example for Art Nouveau. For me none compare to the completeness of Victor Horta's Tassel House in Brussels. Its a national treasure, you can visit. The place seems like Horta took a forrest and turned it into marble, wood and steel to make a house. To quote from James Grady's Nature and Art Nouveau "A Horta room seems to grow and blossom, to be composed of live forms controlled by a sensitive designer." Now if that's not a wonderful image that we can take to see ourselves as the creation made by the creator, I think I should give up theology and art.

Its my birthday as I said before, and, a few years ago I would never have admitted that I was fearfully and wonderfully made. In fact there was a time when I considered myself a weed with thorns. Other than a flower that grows and blossoms by the grace of the sensitive creator God. God calls us to acknowledge that despite what we see in the world there is more beauty in it than evil. That when God made all things and called them VERY GOOD, God meant it and still means it today. We are very good creations with the ability like Horta to create beauty either with our hands, voices, minds, bodies or just with who we are. My prayer is that you and I are able to grow and blossom in time with the sensitive creator who knows that you are VERY GOOD.

Art was always made with the hope that it could change the world. We need to make art with the Hope that God made us to be VERY GOOD and base that hope in our art. Not as kitsch but with the reality that good works of art get mentioned because they are good works of art. If Horta's Tassel House can lead me thinking about myself this way then what would art made with God's promise of resurrection and renewal in the form of Jesus' resurrection bring about? I believe the correct internet response here is - Challenge Accepted.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Mark Rothko : Number 10 1950

This is Mark Rothko's Number 10.
Is it not just lovely.
Bright shining and peaceful at the same time
If you click on it you can see it in a larger size
Look at the softness of the edges
Rothko believed that his paintings conveyed emotions
They all do
Colours placed on the canvass
Not juxtaposed or ordered
Rothko places them there because that is where they should be
I suppose I am just a bit tired and emotional
This reminds me of the sun and the beach as a child
Of good and glorious blessings
That I am not as I was

Thanks Mark - I hope you're there to paint in the renewed world.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Love never dies - The cloud of witnesses

The sequel for The Phantom of the Opera is called Love Never Dies, which, despite the fact that I would never go see this show the title is very true. Love never dies and there's a few things I'd like to touch on when it come to God, Love and about those who are no longer with us.

Love is very important because it is considered a major (if not the major) attribute of God. How often have you heard people sing, say, write God is Love. How is God Love? Well, if you ask the theologians about this you will get an explanation that involves the interpenetration of God-self within the trinity. The Father loves the Son and the Spirit and the Son loves the Father and Spirit and the Spirit the spirit loves everyone too. It is a perfect loving community, sharing and loving in perfect intimacy. God has love before we came along then Love existed before creation before you and me. He has no need for us to have love, don't think that God has love because of you. God loved first, he always loves first in fact that's a good thing for us.

Jesus in the beatitudes says that we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute you. When you love you can love and not have it given back to you. Like God who gives and receives love within God-self when we give love it is expected to be returned back to you. In fact when it is not given back and you continue to give love its quite exhausting. Most people cannot sustain love in this situation when it is not returned if you do I think its called an abusive relationship. In the face of this Jesus says Love your enemies, but they really wont return this love, will they? Edward Schillebeeckx gives an example that the love that God gives us can take the place of the love we give to those who will not return it. So does that mean we rely on God to love us in the place of those who will not, not always. There is a limit because abuse is always wrong. What it does do is point to God as the major source of love for us. God's love available for us always and forever. We should live knowing that God's love is always there for us. It is continuos it is that same love always given to those who accept it, all of those throughout all of history.

Love never dies. So what happens to those who are not here anymore? Jesus while being crucified says to the guy on his right “Today you'll be with me in paradise.”. Jesus also tells us that there are many mansions prepared for us. This is when those reading who follow the escapist doctrine of rapture and those who take heaven as the bodiless spiritual destination are going to not agree with me. The situation of the paradise and the mansions is the place for those who believe go to after death before the new bodies they and we will get when Christ come again. Revelation makes mention of the dead in Christ who call out from under the throne for Jesus to set all things right, judge the world and renew and heal all of creation. Paul uses the term cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 21:1 that are cheering us on. I mention them not in passing but because I'd like you all to get into your heads that if love never dies then the love of those who are no longer with us is still there. These people who we love still love us they are part of the cloud of witnesses who cheer us on. Think of the biggest stadium you have seen full with players on the field. We who are alive are still on the field and those not on this earth are in the stands cheering you and I on. Their love is not gone and lost neither is yours for them. We cannot speak to them nor they to us, who can hear a single person from the stands in the middle of a football match. What we do receive is their love by God through Holy Spirit in us.

They see us and are proud of us in our endeavours they can see the field of play and they cheer us on. I say this because we need to know that their love is always there and they know we love them. Because Love never dies it always returns. God's love is so big so amazing that all of this is possible because of his love. There are those who see God as a shining light a bright wondrous thats just one way of seeing God. Thomas Merton says God is an abyss that in God there are depths that are unfathomable. This is how deep and long and wide God's love is, an abyss of love. Love that will never end, that always gives, love will always be there. How does the children's song go? Wide wide as the ocean, high as the heavens above, deep deep as the deepest sea is my saviours love. I though so unworthy, still I'm a child of his care. For his love teaches me that his love reaches me EVERYWHERE. This is just it love reaches everywhere. Love never dies because God is Love and love has ALWAYS been. Before creation there was love and after this world is reborn there will still be love. This love is available to you always and forever why hide from it?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Jesus Superman and Batman

Can you represent the two natures of Jesus by using Batman and Superman. Should you try to explain this dualism of how two things that seem so opposing like divinity and humanity are together joined in Jesus Christ?

Jesus is the Son of God, you know virgin birth, immaculate conception, miracle worker, speaker of a subversive way of life that no one has ever truly lived up to. He's a Superman whose origin is not of this world, raised by earthly parents, to bring truth, justice and Kingdom Way. Personally I have always had a hard time realting to Superman. How can an alien who though he lived alongside us could never be like us, could never suffer like us. He might feel pain emotionally but he is unable to relate to us and our situation as he is not one of us no matter how much he looks like us. There is no relationship just condescension.

Jesus is also human, unlike Superman Jesus' mother is human. Mary conceives Jesus by the Holy Spirit and gives birth to him in Bethlehem. Jesus came into this world not by a spaceship but through the birth canal like one of us. Jesus grew up, fell over, cried (I do not accept the christmas carol at all, babies cry), had friends, a business. Jesus also came to make the world a better place, to bring justice, forgiveness and a new way to live. He fought against the world order to bring about this new kingdom of God. He fought hard against those who were abusing the poor, the orphan and the widow.

Batman is not a brilliant Jesus analogy but he is human and is followed by tragedy by violence and suffering to bring about the order required. Batman's quest is a band aid, a war fought by one man against the filth, and violence of those who would live by abuse, crime, oppression and death. Batman would sacrifice his own life for another's and do what every it would take to save his city. Batman is mortal, he can die, he has no powers all he has is the mission to avenge his parents death at the hands of crime generated by poverty, cruelty and injustice.

Jesus is divine and human he does give his life to avenge the death of all our parents (Adam and Eve) a death that should not have happened the way it did. Jesus waged a one man war against sin and death telling the world he had come to free those chained to the strong man he had come to defeat. In giving his life on the cross Jesus frees us from the clutches of sin and death doing something no normal man can do. The proof of this is that Jesus rises back to life, but, his body still bears the scars of his very human suffering. A body that now exists in the dimension of Heaven that lives alongside us as Lord of this universe waiting till he appears again to come and judge the living and the dead.

People find it hard to communicate these two natures, we rarely do have anything in our world to compare to the best of humanity and a gracious and noble divinity. What we do have are constructs that depict these two natures of Jesus in the very well known and knowable characters Superman and Batman. The world's finest super-heroes joined together to make an analogy of a concept that is a stumbling block those who say they believe Jesus is the son of God. It is not a perfect analogy and no analogy ever is. It is just a momentary light of understanding that you can use to grab hold of something of Jesus nature. Jesus has to be divine otherwise he cannot save us from sin and death, he has to be human otherwise there is nothing for us to relate to. The achievement of Jesus has to be something we can attain, not through trying hard and being moral or fighting evil but by faith in what Jesus has done for all of us. Jesus is Superman from another place with powers beyond mortal men. Jesus is also Batman whose parents were stolen from him, who fights the evil powers to save us with suffering and death. We cannot separate these natures so that is the reason for me not separating Superman and Jesus.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

thought this should be up

sought not searching
finding not found
discovering not discovered

Have been thinking about how we get to know those we deem special. You know, mothers, fathers, siblings, cousins and those other special people who may become very special. Often the words used to describe the special person are as a "catch" like a possession, or at the worst "scoring". We have a child, a father, a niece, a wife, a partner there seems to be a finality to the relationship once the label has been set. Saying that there is finality in the possession status of another person is presumptuous however the assumption of finality is suggested. I have found this is false.

I have had an interesting time of the last few months getting to know a few special people. My niece's and nephew and some new friends oh, and the triune God revealed in Jesus Christ. Like the other special people God is hard to get to know just by believing that I can find God and that is all. There seems to be no end to how much more depth people have and the adventure (with very special people it is a great adventure) in this exploration is difficult, dangerous and worth it.

This fumbling dance that is getting to know another person can be very quick, very slow, when you think you understand the situation you discover more. This was a real revelation when practicing silence and finding out that what was on offer from God was intimacy. That this intimacy was what I actually wanted was a bit of a shock. I never thought about God like that, in fact I am quite sure I never thought about anyone like that. Which kind of makes any relationship quite difficult. My early attempts at trying to get to know more of God were very fumbling and I required the assistance of the community to be introduced properly. Since then there have been a few fumbles but there is a depth I find in God that leads me onward. Such depths I have seen in others. It is in acknowledging depth that has brought this new understanding.

There is a trail, a path that continues onward when you open up any person by relationship. As God has depth that is unfathomable and if we are made in his image then we too have a depth that is unfathomable. God wants intimacy with us and we also need intimacy as well. We do not just search for it, it is desired and sought for. When we find it, the depth that people have (yes I see God as a person) cannot be found in its totality. You are always in the state of finding within the depths. In those depths we are always discovering more and more about the other and our self. It is a constantly changing trail that will never really lead to a final door because, as the depths of the two merge and mix they change and shimmer in reflection and response to the other. This creates more to discover together, never reaching an end but always sought, finding and discovering.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Christology Essay

Last year I did an essay on "Holy Saturday" which is when Jesus is dead in the place of the dead. I know I wrote something earlier about this here but I have had a few people ask about it. So because of the demand here's what is one of the worst structured essays that ever passed with a 58%. I should post a version with the corrections by THE bearded benevolent one Dr. John Capper cause they show the great grace given to a disturbed student.

Describe, assess and critique the recent revival in Christian reflection on Holy Saturday.

Holy Saturday the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday is the day when as the Apostle's Creed declares “he descended into Hell”. Very recently, discussion on Holy Saturday has made a rather large revival in the form of Alyssa Pitstick's book Light in Darkness and her allegations of heresy of Hans Urs von Balthasar. The issue of Roman Catholic heresy when it comes to Balthasar's progressive theories is not my concern. My attempt here is to explore this mysterious part of the Apostles creed its relevance within Balthasar's imagery, its tangled historical origins and its misuse which can lead into a foolish hope for the departed.

The traditional understandings of the descent are defined by scratchings of scripture (canonical and non canonical) pieced together to understand an event that has no witnesses. Christ's Death and Resurrection are seen for all the world but the actions and events mentioned of the descent within the scriptures and creeds have no first hand witnesses at all. All that exists on the subject has its origins in Christ's preaching to the dead in 1Peter 3:18-20 and the action packed harrowing of Hell from the Gospel of Nicodemus which are victorious in their descent. Yet even these traditional views are often are considered suspect.

According to J.N.D Kelly the descent “involves exegetical difficulties of no mean order” (Kelly:378). In his work Early Christian Creeds Kelly delves through the history of the descent explaining that teaching on the descent was “commonplace of Christian teaching from the earliest times.” (Kelly :379). Apart from showing the number of references to the descent within times past he also explores why the descent was inserted in the first place. Kelly tries to find a meaning for the inclusion of the descent into the creeds, one being that it is possible to have been included to defend against Docetic heresy.

It is just possible that the details of the Lord's experiences were elaborated so as to underline the reality of His death...... that Christ's descent to the underworld proved His participation in the fullness of human experience.” (Kelly: 383).

Kelly also goes on to express that despite this being possible that the descent could also be taken as a further expression of Christ's death and burial. This view has been taken by Randall E. Otto who sees the descent as a “mysterious article” that to include “seems very unwise”. He concludes for the descent not to be used, that it has no “clear substantiation in Scripture” and that “there is no truly sensible or widely acceptable meaning for the clause”(Otto:150). In taking Kelly's opinion of the descent being simply restating of Christ's death and burial it is no wonder why Otto comes to his conclusion. The descent cannot just be a second affirmation that Christ was dead and buried. Otherwise the line makes no sense at all. Can you imagine reading a translation of the Apostles Creed which took Kelly's conclusion?

Crucified under Pontius Pilate, Died and was Buried, no really! He was dead and buried.” (Apostles Creed, addition by Phillip Hall in bold)

However, the possibility of the descent underlining the two natures of Christ his Humanity and Divinity, that in Christ's humanity and “participation in the fullness of Human experience” Christ goes to the inferos – the place of the dead. That makes more sense than a reiteration that Christ was dead and buried.

Some however find it hard to accept any place of the dead. How you see the human trajectory - the journey every person takes from birth, life and death and whether that trajectory includes any destination or place like Hades, Sheol, or Gehenna - will influence your opinion of the descent. Balthasar comments on the belief of a place of the dead or an after life is not merely a cultural myth but that we are...

...defending ourselves against a stronger conviction which tells us that death is not a partial event. It is a happening that affects the whole person, though not necessarily to the point of obliterating the human subject altogether.”(von Balthasar:148)

If we believe in a destination after death and that this is part of the human trajectory then Christ “in the fullness of his humanity” had to go there as well. In the end all of this is merely speculation that despite persistent thought on Christ's descent, it is just that Christ's. I believe that Barth says it better than I can.

Is there any one of us who has been condemned to a sleepless night by the knowledge : I shall one day be buried and then be “pure past”? This conception in the form in which we have fashioned it and tricked it out with our own ideas is poles away from what the Creed says in crucifixus, mortus, descendit ad inferos...We cannot know of it...But Jesus Christ did know of it.” (Barth 1962:89)

In Balthasar's image of Christ's “Going to the Dead” he takes from both scripture and from the dramatic interpretations. His central theme is one of solidarity.

In the same way that, upon earth, he was in solidarity with the living, so, in the tomb, he is solidarity with the dead.” (von Balthasar:148-149)

It is the solidarity of Christ there suffering in Hell with the dead that is writ large in Balthasar's picture of Christ's “Going to the Dead”. To Balthasar there is no three tiered universe with heaven above, earth in the middle and hell below, there is no victorious storming of Hell with Satan cowering under the invasion of divine light penetrating the dark domain. Christ is humanly dead, the traditional actions given to the descent are that of a living person even the action of descending is abandoned. Passively Christ goes to the place of the dead as a part of his death on the cross where He is really dead. There is no contact with God and with other human beings, Christ is silent and mute, dead with the dead. There is preaching but this taken as being “the outworking in the world beyond [the place of the dead] of what was accomplished in the temporality of history.” (von Balthasar:150)

The effects of the cross “the work of redemption” are “deployed and exercised in the realm of the dead”(von Balthasar:150). This is preaching can be taken as Christ's witness being dead with the dead.

The placing of Christ in Hell with the dead whether that is either victorious preaching or victorious opening the gates (doors) of hell can lead into radical thinking about the soteriological aspects of such a descent. Balthasar's theory of going to the dead is not seen as another work of salvation beyond the cross but as a natural progression of Christ's completion and redemption of the human trajectory. It is the extra-soteriological views that have been a part of the negative view of the descent and reasons for its exclusion. The full realisation of such thinking ends up in the salvation of all either through Christ's descent and resurrection or by His storming of Hell to take all back with him. It is suggested by Kelly that such universalist thinking was the true origin for the descent being added into the creed.

“….the time when the Descent was beginning to appear in creeds, the ancient notion of Christ's mission to the patriarchs [the preaching to Adam Eve et all] was fading more and more into the background, and the doctrine was coming to be interpreted as symbolising His triumph over Satan and death, and, consequently, the salvation of mankind as a whole.” (Kelly: 383)

When taken to extremes such a view of salvation leads to the place that Jurgen Moltmann finds where “Since his [Christ's] resurrection from his hellish death on the cross there is no longer such thing as 'being damned for all eternity'.” (Moltmann:254). Moltmann continues in glorious tones of freedom for all through the salvation of Christ who gives pardon so “all will be liberated and saved”. This is the extreme view of universalism one where even “Satan, the Devil and fallen angels” are redeemed as “God's Judgement puts everything to rights”(Moltmann:255).

Yet there is a more subtle slip. The vision of Christ in Hell can lead to a foolish hope where in Hell Christ can preach the gospel to those already dead. The false image of Christ's solidarity with the dead “supports the belief that the dead have not failed in faith and that, the power of the Holy Spirit, God is one with the dead” may lead one to see the descent as a “narrative knitting humanity together....including those who while alive seemed to have no chances left.” (Connell:130). Such images attract the heart and the desire to see another chance for those dearly departed.

The descent into hell means that no place is cut off from the love of God. Even hell belongs to Christ...It means that nobody is God-forsaken, not even the person who chooses to reject God's love. It means that the last word is not suffering or death or desolation or lostness: the last word, the ever-present and undying word, is love.” (Hunt:58)

When you read Connell and Hunt in their description of the results of the descent emotions lead you to wish for this and hold onto such a foolish hope. Unlike universalism which is loud in its promise of all things being redeemed, false hope attracts using compassion and love proclaiming love conquers all boundaries and no one is ever truly lost. The unfortunate reality of this foolish hope is that it is a false view of the solidarity of Christ with the dead. It is not the dead in Hell who have solidarity with Christ but those who are dead IN Christ who have solidarity with the dead Christ.

We must not deny that Jesus gave himself up into the depths of hell not only with many others but on their behalf, in their place, in the place of all who believe in Him... In faith we shall never cease to leave wholly and utterly to Him the decision about us and all men. In faith in Jesus Christ we cannot consider any of those who are handed over by God ”as lost.” (Barth 2001: 496)

There exists the image of an “undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns [which] puzzles the will.” (Shakespere: 159) a place of the dead that is the end of the human trajectory. If to be fully human is to go to the place of the dead, then for Christ not to would be inexcusable. Christ going to the dead as correction against heresy supporting His dual natures becomes less of a possibility when you look at it this way. What has not been assumed cannot be redeemed, if there is a place of the dead that all humans go the believers position has been taken by Christ. Solidarity with Him is in his substitution for us in death and the subsequent going to the dead, a solidarity enacted out in baptism. Christ does this not for those with Christ in the place of the dead, but, for those who are dead IN Christ. Balthasar's imagery is vivid and confronting because he has stripped away the actions of a living active victorious Christ. These are actions which are impossible for a dead man which Christ has to be to stay within His human trajectory. It is hard to accept the death of God passively in torment detached from the Father but by the Spirit stretched to a sliver. It is hard to accept that loved ones who have not believed do not get a second chance but this too is true. Yet Christ's going to the dead on Holy Saturday is just the darkness before the glorious dawn of Easter Sunday. In the fulfilment of His human trajectory of Birth, Life, Death, and Going the Dead He adds Resurrection to those who believe. This is Holy Saturday it is sad and painful, it is difficult to accept because there is no way to see if it is true or not except by faith.


Barth, K (1962) Credo New York : Charles Scribner's Sons

Barth, K (2001) Church Dogmatics, Volume 2 Part 2 The Doctrine of God Edinburgh, Scotland: T&T Clark Ltd.

Connell, M. F. (2002) Attolite portas, "open up, you doors!" liturgical narrative and Christ's descent Worship 76 no 2 Mr 2002, 124-143.

Hunt, A (1998) What are they saying about the trinity? (1st ed.) Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press

Kelly, J.N.D (1967) Early Christian Creeds (2nd ed.) London: Longmans, Green and Co Ltd

Moltmann, J (1996) The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology London: SCM Press

Otto, R. E. (1990) Descendit in inferna : a Reformed review of a creedal conundrum. Westminster Theological Journal 52 no 1 Spr 1990, 143-150.

Shakespere, W (2003) Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (12th ed.) Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press

von Balthasar, H. U. (2005) Mysterium Paschale : The Mystery of Easter (2nd ed.) USA: Ignatius Press

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Faith and Doubt

I have been asked (well its actually an assignment, so, I haven't been asked. I've been told) to take part in a forum about Faith and Doubt. Everyone writes something about Faith and Doubt then reads others and tells them how wrong they are. Okay maybe not tell each other how wrong they are but maybe work out why others believe that Faith or Doubt is different from them.

So what did I say?

I had a piece about truth, faith, omnipotence, emotion, reason and other stuff. I found that there was something about faith and trust in the character of God that was amazingly pure and divine to the point that it overwhelms and hurts us.
Yet, despite all of this pushing away there is something in the aspect of the divine that draws us in as well which God also has because of his divine and infinite nature. Like when Jesus says all that hard stuff in John 6 about himself and everyone but the disciples leave. Jesus looks at the disciples and asks them why they wont leave. Peter pipes up with 'Lord, to whom shall we go?'. That is where I end up. Nothing else but God can satisfy me. None other than God has been so consistent in all things, none other than God loves me in such a way that it overwhelms me not the consume me but to sustain me.
Doubt makes me question 'Is all this true?' and when all is doubt and questions I find myself replying like Peter for there is nowhere else to go to. Nothing left but God. Nothing more true than God. Nothing more divine than God. Nothing more Love than God.

So just fall into Him.