Monday, 4 November 2013

Do we need a Spiritual Revolution?

As Neitzsche correctly proclaimed the death of Christianity in the 19th Century are we experiencing the death of atheism in the 21st Century? With the likes of David B Hart and Radical Orthodoxy saying that atheism has failed our politics, social theory and environmental policies in a 20th Century that has seen form of death and destruction of all forms of life like no other. What lies ahead? Is Brand right in saying we need a spiritual revolution before a political one?

Is a new spiritual revolution the cure for the chronic apathy of us and young people? Did Fight Club get it right when Tyler Durden said "we have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War's a spiritual war... our Great Depression is our lives."?

Nietzsche's talk of Christianity dying was that of the cultural and ruling power’s foundational belief system, what society and the government confess and has influence their values. Obviously Christianities as a religion(s) hasn’t died, but it’s life in the public, and the majority private domain, has.

I don’t think that our ethical/moral standards are somehow more raised or enlightened in this era for us to judge the previous dark events of the 20th century as ‘catastrophic’. There were many who were aware of the suffering under the fascist and communist governing of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, etc. who were painfully aware of the catastrophic events that were taking place. We are not ‘more sensitive’, maybe more objective.

However it is more ignorant of me to entirely blame atheism for these events or governmental failings, when greater amounts of suffering have been inflicted in the name of religion. But what it does show is that a society based on atheism is just as guilty for not preventing violence, as one based on religion is.

So anyway I’ll get myself back on the topic - do we need a spiritual revolution?...

The political and societal maladies of our western world arguably stem from our cultural atheism, which as Vladimir put earlier, has led us to become our own Gods where we get rich/famous/beautiful/whatever or die trying. It has (again arguably) led us down a completely narcissistic road with a deep care about our own perception and pleasure and little else. Leading to everything from our Economic and Environmental crisis through greed to chronic loneliness and apathy.

It’s this last point which haunts me. The apathy that I experience in my generation is unbearably heavy - to converse, let alone inspire, anyone else about anything else (other than funny cat videos on youtube) is so to become a social kamikaze. I still feel like the legacy of the affluent coma of the 90s is being lived on, despite the rumours of wars and the economic downturn. This anti-intellectualism, instant-gratification, culture of ‘why bother it’s not my issue (even if it is)’ is so bad and permeates so much of society from education to entertainment that I think a political revolution will be almost impossible. Why? Because without an anti-narcissistic perspective (lets call this a ‘spiritual revolution’) no-one will be willing to suffer or work for any revolution which really cares about your - let alone the suffering of the other! Not when society and powers offer the amount of pleasurable sedatives that it does. Spiritually is not a Great Distraction - the narcissistic, capitalistic, hedonism of our atheistic western culture is our Great Distraction!

The question then is how do we have a spiritual revolution outside of institutional a/theism?...

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Ad orientem

An exert from an email I recently sent:

The (re)orienation of the priest in a western liturgical context has a very dramatic message to say to our culture in so many ways. I know, because it was probably the one thing that hit my spirit hardest in attending Eastern liturgies. I'm not advocating that this become a standard way to do Mass, but just to let you know how this ritual act has had a big affect on my theology. I have separated some of these points out below, but in truth there is so much crossover between them. Sorry that these points are quite note-like.

1. A Consumeristic perspective - we are orientated out of.

Our culture is one of Capitalism. In the Mass our place is not found in us being won by the priest. Ad orientem gives us a place where we are not being served, but God is being served. We are not being chased, sought or appealed to. There is no show for us to consume, our satisfied response is not being sought, we are released from being the focus. What we have is not being sought in the liturgy, but we come with what we bring.

2. A Communal perspective - we are orientated together

Our culture is one of Individualism. In the Mass our place is outside ourselves and in a context. Ad orientem gives us a place where our persons matter but because we are communal not central, we are gathered but are not the focus, we join with the priest and are led by him, rather than coming under him. And this focus of gathering together to the leading of the priest reminds us that all the Saints gather with us in celebrating the Eucharist. We come not to consume, but to be present in the worship of God.

3. A Creational perspective - we are orientated within

Our Culture is one of Human dominance. In the Mass our place is in Creation. Ad orientem gives us our place in relation to the rising sun, it aligns us with the church building, with creation, with nature and the universe. We join with creation rather than dominating and abusing it. Moreover we do not celebrate just the salvation of man, but of all created things being reconciled to God.

4. A Christological perspective - orienated towards

Our culture is one with a secular focus. In the Mass our place is in relation to the architectural Icon of Christ, the Eschatological rising Sun, and the presence of Christ in the host. Ad orientem lifts heads and focus to beyond ourselves and the priest to the Crucifix/Rood, beyond the hanging Icon to the orientation of the building to that of the rising Sun as an Icon of the second coming, but especially to that of priest's focus - the worship at the altar and Christ there.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Cultural Trauma

Paul's universalism is impossible without us having a traumatic break with culture. The decision to leave behind the Mosaic law was not anti-Semitic, but against any cultural system (both secular and religious) which would seek to define personal identity, theological truth, salvific righteousness, or ethical standardisation... The Apophaticism of life in Christ.

Monday, 14 October 2013

The Locality of Being:

In a globalised and technologically-connected world where we are stimulated with the weight of all the anatural sensual escapism available to modernity... I'm finding that there is nothing more Celtic than the holistic awareness of the place that you are being in.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Solitude of the heart:.

Loneliness is not a feeling, it is an orientation - one that we are always in, but mostly able to avoid.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Essence – God’s Absent, Absence.

Apophatic Theology is an unpopular and poorly grasped theology in the West, whenever the term is used it's nearly always wheeled out as negative Cataphatic Theology, which is nothing like Apophatic theology at all!

Understanding this absent absence notion in theology frees us from many modern western illusions and propositions of God, whilst resonating with many atheistic philosophical concepts, particularly Nietzsche’s statement that 'god is dead'.

To really understand Apophatic Theology we must understand Palamism. St. Gregory Palamas created a heresy for the Western Church, which by contrast was adopted as doctrine for the East. He said that to understand who God is, we must make the REAL distinction between God as he exists in his Essence (God as God is), and God as he exists in his Energies (God as Man is). This is not a FORMAL distinction that we must make because of the limits of our human intelligence, but is an actual distinction in his being. The West considered this Polytheistic and against their concept of Actus Purus, while the East grasped how it helped explain the Mystical nature and manifestations of God.

God, in his Essence, in his nature, God as God is - is not something. He is unknowable, incomprehensible, undefinable. Vladimir Lossky puts it as 'the divine darkness' where we cannot shine any light of understanding by which we may know God. There is no means of context by which man can know God in his nature, in his essence. He is completely unknowable and ungraspable. He is literally NOT anything, His Essence is NO thing to us, he is NOTHING.

We are Athesists!

This is crushing for traditional concepts of God. How do you comfort yourself with a God who in his Essence, you cannot know? Or impose on others a God whose nature, you cannot define?!

This is true Apophacy, and is not the theological gimmick that the West makes of it, but the essential nature of God by which we much approach him by.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Don't disprove my friendship.

If Jesus is a matter of proof, you have no God.
If God is a matter of friendship, you have no Jesus.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Who do you say I am? - The Person not the Belief.

Matt 16:
13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’ 14 They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ 15 ‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’ 16 Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’... 20 Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

From our perspective we often read this passage as the disciples finally getting who Jesus was, finally becoming Christians, finally changing their theology fall in line with ours today, and Jesus finally getting the recognition he deserves.

But I think this piece is less about the definition of Jesus as the Messiah and more about the trauma of the personality of Christ.

In entering in to any relationship we expose ourselves to the potential of trauma as well as the beauty. The trauma of rejection, abuse, betrayal, cheating, loss and so on. THIS is what Jesus was looking for in asking the question of 'who do you say I am?'.
Jesus didn't care so much about the theological definition of what sort of prophet they thought he was, he wanted to know whether they had engaged with the person of Christ to the point of exposing themselves to the complete trauma of allowing the personality of Christ to entirely redefine their cultural definition of the Messiah. In calling Jesus the Messiah they were completely abandoning themselves to the mercy of this Person and Event.

This is why Jesus then instructs them not to tell anyone who he was theologically. Because those seeking the definition would miss the person, moreover those who would deny the person but would claim the definition, then render the definition meaningless.

We are not called to a theological definition of the Theanthropos, but to a complete traumatic personal engagement with the Christ Event, where we are willing to sacrifice all we culturally and theologically hold as knowing, for the authenticity and vulnerability of the traumatic relationship of God – this is true ‘knowing’.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Incessant Change.

The world it turns
Time it changes
Life it moves,

This cannot be stopped.

Monday, 21 January 2013

God is bigger than Christianity

I remember being asked quite a few years ago in a small group setting what we hoped we would achieve in our Christian walks with God.

My answer was that I hoped I could show that God was bigger than Christianity. I remembering writing that and feeling so comforted by the vision of God it gave me. It made so much sense that the richness and depth of our God couldn't even been expressed or realised in the vast variety of Humanity, let alone closing definitions of Christianity.

Now I'm finding that those closing definitions of my Protestant upbringing more and more are slowly falling off, whether that's defining in God by what he isn't, or learning that the sacraments are mysteries and not rituals, or that Heaven and Hell are in the same realm.

Many Christians may struggle with the idea that God is bigger than Christianity and believe that His Truth is only found in our definitions. But what I'm struggling with more now, is the idea that God might not be bigger than myself. I'm finding the limitations I put on God are more dangerous than Christianity's limitations on him. Now I pray I can live a life that shows that God is bigger than me - this doesn't comfort me nearly as much!

Right now it feels like I'm looking into water and seeing myself rather than the lake - maybe I need to lift my head...

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Connect the dots

A way of thinking that has helped me a lot, is an idea of connecting things even if they seem to be polar opposites.

(Modern) Protestant  thinking (though Catholics and Orthodox can be just as much to blame) would always  try to divide. "I think white, you think black sorry but we're different".  By connecting the dots or tying things together you might say "well what if one side of the coin is black and the other is white?" What is not helpful when using this method (most of the time) is to say "lets find a grey".

Christianity is full of these sort of Paradoxes (Trinity, Nature of Christ, Marriage) You have to hold that the trinity is three Persons but one God - you can't split it. Bringing things together means you create space for  unity, understanding, and love - I mean this conceptually and in reality.

What's great is that you can apply this to so many concepts and theologies and it has helped me makes sense of so many arguments that seem to tear stuff apart.

Another benefit is that it also balances you out. When a group decide specifically "this is our side of the coin" then it shades the rest of your theology in an unhealthy way. For example if you take a Calvinistic view of salvation in that God has chosen you, then you end up believing the God hasn't chosen others, which then leads you to believe that Christians are better than others. Likewise if you just believe that you chose God, the you can end up resting in your decision about God rather than actually in him, and you are in a danger of 'un-choosing' him if it doesn't work out. Connect the dots and you would say that it is more like a dance or a relationship where you embrace each other and respond and move with each other, and neither is dominated.

This all encompassing view of things has broadened my view of God, Truth is not found whether something is black or white, it's how these shades apply to the painting.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

The Story Of Our Giants Family

The great scientist Isaac Newton famously said “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”.

It’s a humbling place to wake up, and find yourself sitting on the shoulders of giants, looking out, and realising that the story of life you live, actually stretches from before time and to beyond it, and that your story is not your years existing as a person, but actually God’s story; the story of your family and how they found their Abba Father.

It changes your whole mind set to think that within this family we are the generations of sons & daughters that have inherited what was worked for by the Israelites, The Apostles, The Celtic Church, The Coptic Church, The Catholic Church, of Martyrs, Dreamers, Wrestlers, Thinkers, Game-Changers, of Jews, Arabs, Greeks, Africans, Europeans. All of whom were doing what we attain to, to find a way of living the story, that continues the work that Jesus began, in Glorifying the Father, through the Holy Spirit.

For many of these giants the process of growing in their story was painful. Isaiah spoke that ‘The bed is too short to stretch out on, the blanket too narrow to wrap around you.’ – These giants had to deal with real areas of struggle in progress, this came from their own self-doubt but also their contemporary’s objection. Particularly where no president had been set before - the Jewish ‘bed’ was too small for the uncircumcised Gentiles until Paul brought his message of circumcision of the heart. These paradigm shifts have continued throughout the history of our story, when our old wineskins cannot take the new fruit that God is bringing forth.

Over the past months in Turkey I’ve been brought closer to our family in two ways - time and place. In Selcuk you literally live among history, it loses its textbook and becomes part of your town. Our Paul and John also did life here, you look out at the same views, at the same clouds which rained on them, and feel the same sun that shone. It’s made it easier to value how the story went on from this place, touching a certain green & pleasant land that gave birth to our side of family. 

To call all these great saints family is a privilege and inspiring, to look back at what they achieved, the people they encouraged, and their legacies in the places they made home. We look at the way in which they made sense of God, the ways they did family, the cultures they were born into, the way they struggled in their story, the theological angles they wrestled with, the sacrifices they made, the new heights they took our perspective of God to, and the depths to which God restored and provided for them. 

Like Mr Newton we stand on the shoulders of these giants, who have walked in this story so far and we look to how we can keep telling and inspiring the story to our own kids. To see how God can be more fully revealed in our own chapter - in the time and place we live. To the people that can’t tell a story of a God who sought after them, who fought for them, who died for them and who brought them back to a place of belonging to a family whose rich story we are a part of.

Spirituality is dead

For some people it's not about what music you're playing - It's that they don't believe there IS music...

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Holistic Worship

In the 1970’s something old re-appeared on the medical scene. It was an idea that a person’s health may be a result of more than their physical condition and symptoms. Holistic health was a concept that dated back to at least 5000 years previous, which believed that all potential factors that contributed to a person’s life, might affect their wellbeing.

This approached a person’s health from an angle that was different to how western medicine had been providing health care. The Age of Enlightenment (when, roughly speaking, science replaced spirituality, reason replaced emotion and logic replaced mysticism) brought about a very scientific and biological way of viewing healthcare. Holistic health recognized that merely treating a person’s physical symptoms might not tackle the underlying cause of someone’s ailments. A person should be seen as a whole when considering their overall health.

For a while I’ve been thinking about how maybe the church has lost this ‘Holistic’ view of humans and how this has particularly affected our worship of God. At the centre of Jewish prayer is the Shema (Yisrael) the second line of which comes from Deuteronomy 6:5 “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” The Psalmist echoes this “My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God” Psalm 84:2 Finally Jesus recites this as the most important commandment “`Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’” Mark 12:29-30.

The Jews were well aware that in Worship and service to God their entire ‘Holistic’ lives were for him. Worship was partly a spiritual act but it was something that required and evoked the heart, mind and body also. With an holistic view point suddenly it makes sense why it’s difficult to feel proud when you are on your knees, why meditating on the glory of God stirs the spirit, and why outstretched hands are the outward expression of us being desperate for a glimpse of our God. 

I think this has further implications than just our corporate Worship on a Sunday; can we in our daily lives commit the entirety of ourselves to God? Whether showing love and hospitality, wrestling to unpack and understand scripture, or falling under a rhythm of prayer.

I think perhaps we have lost some of the depth to our Worship in treating ourselves a spiritually simple beings, the truth may be that we are a complex interrelation of mind, body and spirit, and that there comes a strength in aligning all three of these under God’s authority.