In the Bog or out of the Bog

I was in Dublin yesterday at the National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology. As well as the splendid Tara Brooch and Ardagh Chalice, were the “bog bodies”. These brown remains of men preserved in Ireland’s peatlands are in stark contrast to the shimmering gold of our iconic national treasures. They are brown, leathery, hollow shadows of their former owners. Only one of them had most of its limbs intact. All of them were twisted and flattened. And yet, in archaeological terms, they are outstandingly preserved with skin and hair still present. They are celebrated for their preserved condition and what they tell us of Ireland in the Iron Age. In contrast, there is very little left of all those who perished in their time who did not end up in the bog. I couldn’t help but reflect on my own mortality. 2500 years from now, is the best I can hope for to be found in a bog, leathery and hollow?
In a sense, yes – I am only here for a short while. But in another sense, no. Well, I believe not – as a Christian, I have a hope in something greater, in a heaven without rot or illness or decay or violence (all these men were murdered). I even have a hope in a new body, as crazy as it sounds. Yet, sitting on the ground floor of the National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology, looking into a glass case, at the flat remains of some poor guy in his twenties who was stabbed in the head and turfed into a bog – and he was one of the wealthy people – I couldn’t feel anything but… small. Like a flower of the field, here today and gone tomorrow, as the Hebrew Scriptures observe. It was certainly a grounding experience.

So, I cling to the hope I have. Hope, in someone who walked the Earth not long after these bog men, actually. Hope in God through Christ, who defeated death and is “preparing a place” for us, if we would follow Him here and then there.

I feel glib, saying these things. It is not that I believe these things blindly or simply out of fear. Yes, I do want to believe that the claims of Christ are true, that He was and is who he said He was but I do question and I do have my doubts. I have written before about Lewis’ trilemma – Jesus was either mad, bad or God – lunatic, liar or Lord – to say the things he said about himself. Or he didn’t say them at all – if we question the Gospel accounts of his life. My position is that not only am I inspired and awed by the character of God as revealed in the person of Christ but from what I have read and what I have thought through and what I have experienced, I believe that Jesus was who he said he was. The Gospel accounts are more reliable than any other ancient texts and more reliable than many give them credit for. His character and his story are compelling.  He is my hope now and 2500 years from now, whether in the bog or out of the bog.

Currently out of the bog,

JcJ

Long time no blog

Having completed a masters and been on the job hunt for a while, I have at last put aside a little time for the blog – after 7 months!
I am also getting around to reading some of the books waiting patiently on my bookshelf. I’ve just started The Secret Life of Trees by Colin Tudge (Penguin, 2005). I like his style and his approach: accurate and erudite but not dry or cold; Tudge has a warm, informed reverence for his subject. On the question “what is a tree?”, he writes:

An oak is a noble tree in a forest or a park but an acorn that falls in a fissure in some Scottish crag may spend a couple of centuries in bonsai’d mode, never more than a twisted stick. Yet it may turn out acorns which, if they should be carried to some fertile field, could again produce magnificence. Is the twisted stick less of an oak because it fell on stony ground? And if it remains an oak, is it not still a tree?

Possibilities and potential are locked up in every acorn, wherever it lands. A parallel with us humans comes to mind. Just as a tree is a tree, regardless of its surroundings, so our inner humanity remains, regardless of upbringing or surroundings. Even if our appearance – physical or behavioural – is far from admirable, we, each of us, has the potential for “magnificence”. Beauty, fruitfulness and creativity can arise from any situation – it just takes a little faith and the right encouragement. That’s not so say that beauty and virtue cannot be seen in the most “hopeless case”. Of course they can but there is always potential for dramatic change, for a real turning-around. Whatever about our physical self – a product of nature and nurture – our heart and soul can change and be changed dramatically. Perhaps, in trees, we see a picture of forgiveness and redemption.

The acorn is “carried to some fertile field”, however. If we are made in God’s image – as the Hebrew Scriptures tell us, if there is a watermark of God’s character on each one of us, some echo of His magnificence, some yearning for a better us, then certainly we are involved in the transport.  It’s just that we tend to take the wrong route. And even if we took the right route, I don’t believe we’d get there on our own. Just as the acorn needs a bird or a stream to get to a better place, don’t we need a Carrier?

Kinda like a tree,

JcJ

For Trekkies and Everybody Else

I saw the new Star Trek movie today. It was engaging. It struck me that regardless of the level of technological advancement that human beings achieve, our stories ultimately distill down to the same simple things: we are still human beings. Simple things: bravery, sacrifice, honesty, compassion, kindness, hard work, patience, love. Simple as in fundamental, not simple as in trivial or easy. Whatever about the physically impossible necessities of the plot and associated special effects, it was the reconciliation of relationships and people getting their priorities straight that brought about resolution and success, of sorts. Moral truths come to the surface.
Of course, it was a Hollywood blockbuster, so the good guys would have to win in the end and that having suffered great loss but still, I think there’s a moral to the story.

Trying to figure it out,

JcJ

Life = Compromise

Recently, I had a big deadline, which I nearly missed, even after some long nights. They say a job will expand to fill the time allowed to it. I fall prey to this kind of thing all the time: getting caught up in the detail and missing the big picture – the thing’s got to get done!  In theory, if you set a task to a perfectionist, they will never complete it; it will take them forever. Since we humans are far from perfect, whatever we do will never be quite right. We’ll always miss the mark, even if it’s only by a whisker. So, to get anything done, we have to compromise:  take what we have been given, do with it what we can, in the time that we have available. And be done with it.

Spending too long editing this,

JcJ

PS. That doesn’t mean that compromise is good enough; it just means that we offer something, where might offer nothing.

So am I

Many years ago, UK newspaper, The Times asked readers what was wrong with the world. The great G. K. Chesterton wrote the shortest letter to them ever:

” Dear Sir, I am, yours sincerely, G. K. Chesterton.”

That is genius. That is humility. That is realism. That is thought-provoking.

Thoughtfully provoked,

JcJ

To those who have been a blessing

Albert Schweitzer, a brilliant musician, philosopher, theologian and medical doctor had these words to say on those who had influenced him greatly:
“One thing stirs me when I look back to my younger days, the fact that so many people gave me something or were something to me without knowing it. Such people entered into my life and became powers within me. Our spiritual life comes by what others have given us in the significant times of our journey. Much of what is seen as gentleness, modesty, kindness, forgiveness, loyalty, resignation in suffering, we owe to people when we have seen these qualities evidenced in their lives. If we had before us those who have been a blessing to us and tell them how it came about, they would be amazed to learn what had passed over from their life into ours.”

Thankful to those people – you don’t know who you are.

JcJ

Are You in the Zone?

So, it was November; I turn my head and when I look back, it’s January. Sorry.

Today, I listened to a sermon and I was struck between the difference between being right and being heard. I agreed with the thrust of it, with what the speaker was trying to communicate but something was lost in the communication. Mostly, it was too long: too much bread around the filling.

It is so easy to undermine what we say by the way we say it: not looking at someone while chatting with them; talking about things that should make us smile but not smiling; too much theory, too few examples; too little theory, too many examples; speaking too loud for too long or too quiet for too short. There is this zone of necessity where you have to satisfy a basketful of things all at the same time, in order to communicate effectively. There is so much that affects whether your listener buys into what you are saying:  the comfort of the surroundings; their attention span; the time of the day; the tone of your voice; the speed of your words… It is a wonder we can talk to each other at all! Of course, two people having a chat is a different thing to listening to a talk. In the former, you can ask questions and frown and respond and either party can be in the spotlight for a time – there’s a kind of balance to a conversation. Whereas when you’re listening to a talk, it ‘s all one-sided.

I guess that means that we need to go easy on someone when they are giving a talk and the speaker needs to go easy on us. An awareness of this pretentiously-named zone of necessity is important: it is more than just trying to get something worthwhile across, it is also THE trying to get it across that is important.

But wait a minute, maybe distinguishing between a chat between two people and a talk with speaker and listeners is over-complicating it. They are made of the same stuff really (speaking and listening) but with a different spread of time between the parties. So, maybe the root lesson from all of this centres on how individuals treat each other. The listener must be gracious and understanding – the speaker is trying to get something across, it takes some effort and I might misinterpret them. The speaker must be humble and understanding – the listener is giving me their attention, it’s not always easy to listen to another and I might not come across as I intend.

So, after starting up on my high horse (even if he was only a few hands high), I’ve had to step back down on the ground. This happens: our pride highlights the failings of another and skims over our failings. Jesus put it this way:

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (1)

Again, the Word appears through the fog of my thoughts and shows me how things really are.

It’s ironic that the sermon was on making a habit of reading the Bible.

Hoping he’s in the zone,

JcJ.

1. Matthew Chapter 7: verse 3, NIV translation of the Bible. That’s not to say that other people’s failings are not real and that we can’t help them to overcome them but that we need to do it with great care and humility.

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