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

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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.

Facilitating Connections

“technology must always work toward facilitating greater connection and communication between human beings.” [from the post cited below]

I find my friend Shane a very interesting guy: he likes the arts, spiritual disciplines and remembering the practical jokes of his youth leader days, amongst other things. I like chatting with him. So, it’s not suprising that I found his blogpost on Risen Magazine interesting. Check it out here if you are interested in thinking about technology, the mission of God on earth, hurrying and other things that you might not connect together. Or if that turns you off, have a read and be reminded how dependent we are on technology.

(Also, see my comment on his post!).

Facilitating connections,

JcJ

Thoughts on God compared to my mind or maybe my brain

A big part of the RELAY Programme is a self-study module on theology – what Christian’s believe about God and everything, based on what the Bible says. A big part of The Doctrine of God – what we believe about God – is the belief in the Trinity. Now, if you like moulding your brain into different shapes by giving it hard things to think about then you might like this. If you don’t like doing that, then maybe you should – you might discover something worth discovering or see things from a different angle or even decide that you are someone who likes moulding your brain into different shapes by giving it hard things to think about!

Anyway, back to the “this” of about 3 lines up! I was thinking about the Trinity and well, trying to get my head around it. (Sorry.) Firstly, here is a typical statement of the Doctrine of the Trinity:

God eternally exists as three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and each person is fully God, and there is one God. Ref 1

So, Christians are saying that, somehow, God is a single entity but it is a plurality of persons. I know – the instinct is to reject it because it doesn’t make sense. But then if God is God, then it would be a bit disappointing if we weren’t at a bit of a loss as to understand entirely who He is. Here are a few thoughts that struck me on the Trinity, when I was thinking about it a while back.

When my mind wanders, it creates its own soap opera or re-runs scenes from previous experiences: a film from last night, a conversation which never happened with that pretty girl, a whole scene as Batman, ahem, whatever, you get the gist. Wherever those thoughts, that stream of babbling consciousness, comes from – that’s another discussion – some observations can be made on the mind itself. The first observation has been mentioned – part of the mind is “running” or “showing” this exclusive soap. Secondly, another part, perhaps our mind’s eye, is watching the show. Maybe a third part is making next week’s show. The point is that I have one mind, yet within it, there are different parts with different roles, which relate to each other and which interplay. There is unity – one mind – and diversity – different parts with different roles.

Perhaps, this is a good analogy for the Trinity. The Father is the Head; He plans and speaks; the Son, the “Word”, creates and the Father observes. The Holy Spirit is there making it all happen, providing the power that runs the show. This is not a perfect analogy, for there is none and anyway, we are trying to describe the largely indescribable, here. Each part of the mind is different from the other parts – it is not one of the other parts. And each of the parts is not fully the whole mind. However, these descriptions of the mind relate more easily and understandably to the brain. We can understand that one part of the brain deals with sight, another with balance, etc., etc. The existence of the mind as something existing within or by the existence and workings of the brain, means that it is harder to separate the mind into parts than the brain. Hence, this blurring of lines, blurring of our understanding of the mind, gives it a higher merit as an analogy for the Trinity than I second thought.

In delving into the un-understood, we open up possibilities for understanding God and understanding that we cannot fully understand God. And it is no small-minded thing to acknowledge that He is beyond our comprehension.

Yet, there are things that we can understand about Him, and we can know Him. The Bible tells us about Him: He is loving (in fact He “is love”); He is just; He is powerful; He is omni-[all things good and worthwhile]. The created universe also tells us things about Him – if God made everything, then He’s more than a little creative.

So, we must seek God but not expect to find all of Him. But here is another “but”: because of the fact that Jesus, who was a man, was also God, we can expect to find some of Him, to get to know Him, we can relate to Him as a person.

Now, how Jesus could be a man and be God – that is a whole other days mind-wandering.

Wandering with an aim,

JcJ.


Ref 1: Grudem, W., Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, pp226, IVP, Nottingham, 2007.

3 L’s or 4 L’s?

One of the best things about doing RELAY with IFES Ireland is the people! In Munster, I am privileged to work alongside my co-RELAY Worker, who I’ll call “Ledge” and our supervisor, who I’ll call “Shure”. Together, we are Team Munster! As well as working alongside each other from day-to-day, we meet regularly to coordinate our work and build up our spiritual muscle. We have started to explore a book called the Historical Reliability of the Gospels. It sounds heavy and it is! So, why are we stretching our brains with this book?

The Historical Reliability of the Gospels.

In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis put forward his famous “trilemma”: based on the claims that Jesus Christ made about himself, he could only have been one of three things: liar, lunatic or Lord. Either his claims were untrue and he knew it or his claims were untrue and he didn’t know it or his claims were true and he knew it. Based on the evidence put forward in the Bible, particularly in the New Testament, I believe that he indeed was who he said he was, the Lord God of the Universe. But wait a minute….

Some have asked whether there should be a fourth ‘L’ added to the list: “Legend”. The above trilemma rests on the premise that what Jesus said about himself he actually said about himself and that the other things that have been recorded (which corroborate his claims) actually happened. Hence, we must ask the question could Jesus have been a legend or at least could the traits that Christians say make him unique in all history be the stuff of legend rather than the stuff of concrete truth? This is an important question. It is to this end that TM are stretching our brains; we are exploring the origin of the Gospels, which together describe this Jesus and the claims he is said to have made. We are looking at how the facts have been handed down – at first, orally and since the middle of the first century, in writing.

While challenging, it is also rewarding, as we consider how the Gospel writers composed their works and reexamine how the startling claims of Jesus Christ arrived in the Bible which so many of us know and cherish today.

I’ll let you know how we get on.

Being stretched in some of the right places,

JcJ