Easter: He is Risen

English: Icon of the Resurrection

English: Icon of the Resurrection (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dear Friends and Family,

Today we celebrate the risen Christ. Let us remember the victory we have in Jesus. Death is defeated. Not only are our sins forgiven, but we are being made new; not only  are we being made new, but Christ is saying to us, “I say you are gods.” Let us celebrate the new reality that Christus Victor brings.

Yours,
David

An Easter Prayer and Response

Death is swallowed up in victory.
Where, O death, is your sting?
Christ is risen from the dead,
the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
Death is swallowed up in victory.
The trumpet will sound
and the dead shall be raised.
Where, O death, is your sting?
We shall not all sleep,
but we shall be changed.
Death is swallowed up in victory.
Where, O death, is your sting?

John 20:1-18

English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)

20 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going towards the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went back to their homes.

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Having said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her,“Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.

Good Friday: “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?”

Dear Friends and Family,

Today is Good Friday, the day we remember that Christ died on the cross and was buried; the day the light went out of the world.

When Christ was on the cross he called out, ‘“Eloi,Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”’ This is often read as the pain of separation, the Son being ripped from the Father. I’m not so sure. It seems this is a call to remember who God is. Below is Psalm 22, the very Psalm Jesus began to call out when he died. Read it and meditate on it today.

Yours,
David

 

Psalm 22

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest.
Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our fathers trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried and were rescued;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
“He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him;
let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”
Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
10 On you was I cast from my birth,
and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
11 Be not far from me,
for trouble is near,
and there is none to help.
12 Many bulls encompass me;
strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
13 they open wide their mouths at me,
like a ravening and roaring lion.
14 I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.
16 For dogs encompass me;
a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet—
17 I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
18 they divide my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.
19 But you, O Lord, do not be far off!
O you my help, come quickly to my aid!
20 Deliver my soul from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dog!
21     Save me from the mouth of the lion!
You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!
22 I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
24 For he has not despised or abhorred
the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
but has heard, when he cried to him.
25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will perform before those who fear him.
26 The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the Lord!
May your hearts live for ever!
27 All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before you.
28 For kingship belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over the nations.
29 All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
even the one who could not keep himself alive.
30 Posterity shall serve him;
it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;
31 they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
that he has done it.

Lies Breathed through Silver or How God Creates History: Myths and Christianity

Dear Friends and Family,

I believe I’ve mentioned before both the fact that I have a profound appreciation for the writings of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, and that I have been sitting in on Alison Milbank’s Religion and Fantasy module here at the University of Nottingham. Well, a few weeks ago, Alison mentioned a YouTube video depicting a conversation had by Lewis and Tolkien (as well as Hugo Dyson who is left out of the video) from before Lewis was a Christian.

The topic of the conversation was the usefulness of myths. Lewis, having grown up loving Norse mythology and probably being quite familiar with Irish mythology as well, couldn’t reconcile the unhistorical nature of myths with his atheism. For Lewis, while myths were good stories, and even inspired something within him that, at the time, he could not understand, they were nonetheless lies, ‘breathed through silver.’

Tolkien counters this argument by noting that myths aren’t lies, their evidences of truth. For Tolkien all myths ultimately point to the one true myth, that of Christianity. When Tolkien says myth he means the exact opposite of lie, he means truth, or at least partial truth. What separates other myths from Christianity, for Tolkien, is that Christianity is the True myth. Tolkien describes myth making this way: when men create myths, they do so through stories; when God creates myth, he does through history. This doesn’t mean that there are no purely mythical (meaning unhistorical) aspects of Christianity, but that the heart and soul of the Christian myth (the Incarnation, God becoming man) is not only true, but a historical event.

Below I’ve included the video as well as the poem that Tolkien wrote after this conversation he had with Lewis. Please, enjoy both.

Yours,
David

To one [C.S. Lewis] who said that myths were lies and therefore worthless, even though ‘breathed through silver’.

Philomythus to Misomythus

You look at trees and label them just so,
(for trees are ‘trees’, and growing is ‘to grow’);
you walk the earth and tread with solemn pace
one of the many minor globes of Space:
a star’s a star, some matter in a ball
compelled to courses mathematical
amid the regimented, cold, inane,
where destined atoms are each moment slain.

At bidding of a Will, to which we bend
(and must), but only dimly apprehend,
great processes march on, as Time unrolls
from dark beginnings to uncertain goals;
and as on page o’er-written without clue,
with script and limning packed of various hue,
an endless multitude of forms appear,
some grim, some frail, some beautiful, some queer,
each alien, except as kin from one
remote Origo, gnat, man, stone, and sun.
God made the petreous rocks, the arboreal trees,
tellurian earth, and stellar stars, and these
homuncular men, who walk upon the ground
with nerves that tingle touched by light and sound.
The movements of the sea, the wind in boughs,
green grass, the large slow oddity of cows,
thunder and lightning, birds that wheel and cry,
slime crawling up from mud to live and die,
these each are duly registered and print
the brain’s contortions with a separate dint.
Yet trees are not ‘trees’, until so named and seen
and never were so named, tifi those had been
who speech’s involuted breath unfurled,
faint echo and dim picture of the world,
but neither record nor a photograph,
being divination, judgement, and a laugh
response of those that felt astir within
by deep monition movements that were kin
to life and death of trees, of beasts, of stars:
free captives undermining shadowy bars,
digging the foreknown from experience
and panning the vein of spirit out of sense.
Great powers they slowly brought out of themselves
and looking backward they beheld the elves
that wrought on cunning forges in the mind,
and light and dark on secret looms entwined.

He sees no stars who does not see them first
of living silver made that sudden burst
to flame like flowers bencath an ancient song,
whose very echo after-music long
has since pursued. There is no firmament,
only a void, unless a jewelled tent
myth-woven and elf-pattemed; and no earth,
unless the mother’s womb whence all have birth.
The heart of Man is not compound of lies,
but draws some wisdom from the only Wise,
and still recalls him. Though now long estranged,
Man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed.
Dis-graced he may be, yet is not dethroned,
and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned,
his world-dominion by creative act:
not his to worship the great Artefact,
Man, Sub-creator, the refracted light
through whom is splintered from a single White
to many hues, and endlessly combined
in living shapes that move from mind to mind.
Though all the crannies of the world we filled
with Elves and Goblins, though we dared to build
Gods and their houses out of dark and light,
and sowed the seed of dragons, ’twas our right
(used or misused). The right has not decayed.
We make still by the law in which we’re made.

Yes! ‘wish-fulfilment dreams’ we spin to cheat
our timid hearts and ugly Fact defeat!
Whence came the wish, and whence the power to dream,
or some things fair and others ugly deem?
All wishes are not idle, nor in vain
fulfilment we devise — for pain is pain,
not for itself to be desired, but ill;
or else to strive or to subdue the will
alike were graceless; and of Evil this
alone is deadly certain: Evil is.

Blessed are the timid hearts that evil hate
that quail in its shadow, and yet shut the gate;
that seek no parley, and in guarded room,
though small and bate, upon a clumsy loom
weave tissues gilded by the far-off day
hoped and believed in under Shadow’s sway.

Blessed are the men of Noah’s race that build
their little arks, though frail and poorly filled,
and steer through winds contrary towards a wraith,
a rumour of a harbour guessed by faith.

Blessed are the legend-makers with their rhyme
of things not found within recorded time.
It is not they that have forgot the Night,
or bid us flee to organized delight,
in lotus-isles of economic bliss
forswearing souls to gain a Circe-kiss
(and counterfeit at that, machine-produced,
bogus seduction of the twice-seduced).
Such isles they saw afar, and ones more fair,
and those that hear them yet may yet beware.
They have seen Death and ultimate defeat,
and yet they would not in despair retreat,
but oft to victory have tuned the lyre
and kindled hearts with legendary fire,
illuminating Now and dark Hath-been
with light of suns as yet by no man seen.

I would that I might with the minstrels sing
and stir the unseen with a throbbing string.
I would be with the mariners of the deep
that cut their slender planks on mountains steep
and voyage upon a vague and wandering quest,
for some have passed beyond the fabled West.
I would with the beleaguered fools be told,
that keep an inner fastness where their gold,
impure and scanty, yet they loyally bring
to mint in image blurred of distant king,
or in fantastic banners weave the sheen
heraldic emblems of a lord unseen.

I will not walk with your progressive apes,
erect and sapient. Before them gapes
the dark abyss to which their progress tends
if by God’s mercy progress ever ends,
and does not ceaselessly revolve the same
unfruitful course with changing of a name.
I will not treat your dusty path and flat,
denoting this and that by this and that,
your world immutable wherein no part
the little maker has with maker’s art.
I bow not yet before the Iron Crown,
nor cast my own small golden sceptre down.

In Paradise perchance the eye may stray
from gazing upon everlasting Day
to see the day illumined, and renew
from mirrored truth the likeness of the True.
Then looking on the Blessed Land ’twill see
that all is as it is, and yet made free:
Salvation changes not, nor yet destroys,
garden nor gardener, children nor their toys.
Evil it will not see, for evil lies
not in God’s picture but in crooked eyes,
not in the source but in malicious choice,
and not in sound but in the tuneless voice.
In Paradise they look no more awry;
and though they make anew, they make no lie.
Be sure they still will make, not being dead,
and poets shall have flames upon their head,
and harps whereon their faultless fingers fall:
there each shall choose for ever from the All.

A Day in the Life of PhD in Theology

Dear Friends and Family,

It had been on my mind for a while to do a post on what a day usually looks like for me and then just yesterday a gentleman named Nic told me he would be interested in hearing about my daily schedule. Well, here it is:

05:00

My alarm goes off, I role out of bed, wash my face and hair, shave, wax my moustache, and get dressed.

I always lay out my clothes the night before.

I always lay out my clothes the night before.

Beard and Moustache Station

Beard and Moustache Station

Getting Dressed Part 1

Getting Dressed Part 1

05:30

I then head into the Study to do my morning reading. I begin by reading Scripture and Praying (using the Church of England’s Website to help guide my prayers). After I’ve read and prayed, I move from my desk to my armchair and do the rest of my morning reading and journaling. Sometimes, I start with a selection from a spiritual master. Right now, I’m reading through Augustine’s Sermons for Liturgical Seasons. Then I write in my journal, usually a prayer or just some thoughts I have. After journaling, I pull out one of my research books and my research journal and read a chapter or so out of it. Then, if there’s time, I read a little something for fun. Lately that has been a Father Brown Story from G. K. Chesterton and a chapter or two from the Lord of the Rings.

Books and Journals from Last Friday

Books and Journals from Last Friday

07:00

Once I’ve finished my reading, Lauren usually gets up and starts making breakfast while I finish getting dressed. Then we sit down, eat, and usually watch part of a show together.

Getting Dressed Part 2

Getting Dressed Part 2

Breakfast

Breakfast

07:30-07:45

After breakfast, I finish packing up my things and head out to the office.

Heading to the Office

Heading to the Office

08:00

Once I get to the office I set up my desk and begin working. Usually, I read and take notes for a few hours until lunchtime. My reading during this time is more of what I was reading in the morning and then, sometimes, chapters out of books I’m not going to read in full or journal articles.

Work Station

Work Station

Reading
Reading

Writing

Writing

12:00

Then I eat lunch and usually watch a video from the department’s Why Study Series: (which usually ends up leading to a post on here).

12:30 or 13:00

After lunch I do a bit more reading. Right now, I’ve been reading some poetry from Pope John Paul II before getting back into my research. I try to read as broadly as I can, I find that it really helps when I write that I’ve read such a diversity of genre. Also, sometimes, after lunch I go for a walk around the lake.

Contemplation and Pipe Smoking Go Well Together

Contemplation and Pipe Smoking Go Well Together

After my walk, I come back, do more reading, and sometimes some heavy writing. I try to write something most days. Sometimes, like today, it’s a blog post, other times it’s a couple hundred words on the chapter I’m writing.

15:00

By the late afternoon, if I don’t have a seminar to attend or a class I’m sitting in on, I pack up my things and head home. Once I get home, I usually change into some workout clothes and do my afternoon exercises. (Sorry, I’ve not got any pictures of me in workout clothes, you’ll just have to imagine it.) After I work out, I grab and shower and then go back into the study to read some more fiction before dinner.

18:00

Once dinner’s ready Lauren and I either sit down at the dinner table and eat and chat or we sit down at the coffee table and eat, chat, and watch a show/movie. Lately, we’ve been watching the Vampire Diaries, an interesting, albeit girl-oriented, show about vampires (we were both suckers for Buffy and Angel back in the day).

20:30-21:00

As we wind down our day, Lauren and I get ready for bed. Since Lauren’s never read the Chronicles of Narnia before, we’re currently reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe together. After we’ve read a chapter or two of it, Lauren roles over and goes to sleep. If I have any energy left, I usually grab whatever fiction book I’m reading (The Two Towers at the moment) and read until I’m too tired to carry on.

22:00

By no later to ten, it’s lights out for me and to sleep before another day of reading and writing.

Well, that’s a pretty general day in my life. Perhaps not overly exciting, but it suits me well enough. Hopefully, in the near future, things like gardening and more walks will make their way into my routine. For now, we’re still stuck with snow and ice.

I hope you’re all well.

Yours,
David

Seeking Guidance and Imaging God in Prayer: Icons and Their Use

icon

Dear Friends and Family,

One of my favourite Christmas presents from this last Christmas was a reproduction of an icon given to me by my Mother-in-law. Icons are another one of those things that tend to confuse Western Christians, particularly we lower-Protestants. They can seem like idols. They can be treated like idols. There are even passages in Scripture that tell us not to make graven images of our God. So why on earth do I have a reproduction of an icon of the Trinity?

The answer is less than simple and I certainly don’t claim to have all the answers. At root, however, the logic behind icons is that Jesus, who is the Image of the invisible God did precisely what graven images in Exodus were intended to do, he gave us a picture, a physical object in himself, to show us what God is like. This became the main argumentation in the early Church for creating (or writing as it is now called) icons. Since Christ gave us an image of God to guide us to God, it is not inappropriate for us to create images of God to help guide us to God.

The purpose of an icon is a guide. When you pray using an icon, you are not praying to the icon, instead you allowing the image depicted in the icon lead you to deeper truths about God. This can help you focus your prayer when you don’t know what to pray. While many icons depict Jesus (or God as the icon of the Trinity above, which is actually a depiction of the three visitors who come to Abraham before destroying Sodom and Gomorrah), there are also some that depict holy people. I don’t want to get in to this, since this leads us to the veneration of saints, but the idea behind these icons is still one of guidance and seeking for personal transformation. We pray to God (not the icon) that we may be made more like the person depicted (These icons are also used to invoke the saints themselves and ask them to pray for us, just as we would ask our friends. I realise that many may still have issues with this, but I wish only to focus on these icons as guides).

Below I’ve embedded a video from one of my supervisors, Dr Mary Cunningham, on why theologians ought to study icons. Give it a watch.

At the end of the day we are called to pray without ceasing. Sometimes, however, we need help, we need guides because we do not know how to pray. While the Holy Spirit will groan within us and for us when we don’t know what to pray, we can still use other guides. This is the usefulness of icons in prayer.

Yours,
David

A Guide to Knowing Your Saints: St Patrick

st_patrick

Dear Friends and Family,

Today many people will be putting on massive amounts of green, buying Guinness, or some other beer that is or has been made to look green, will put on some Flogging Molly, the Dubliners, the Irish Rovers, or the Dropkick Murpheys and will get completely hammered celebrating what they’ve come to call St Paddy’s Day, the day for celebrating all things “Irish”. There are so many problems with this.

I could give you a detailed (or perhaps rather vague) history of who St Patrick was (below you’ll see a video giving you some background on our understanding of Patrick today). Instead I just want to focus on a two key aspects.

Patrick was not Irish

We forget this all the time, but Patrick was born and raised in Britain some time in the fifth century. He may have been part Roman and part Briton, but he was certainly not at all Irish. I’m not saying that St Patrick’s day should not include a celebration of positive aspects of Irish culture, but it isn’t an occasion to wear so much green (or orange if you’re supporting the Northern Irish) it’s offensive and to dwell purely on Irish stereotypes. It ought to be a day of reflection on how one man, even if only in myth, could have such an impact on an island as to have his death remembered.

Patrick was a Christian

Somewhere along the line this has been forgotten. Patrick was a monk who, earlier in life, had been taken as a slave to Ireland and later in life returned as a priest and monk to spread the news of Jesus Christ. He potentially combatted heretical Christians and antagonistic pagans to show them that the God of Jesus Christ is the true God and that Christ is his Son and the Spirit is his Spirit; that each is a person and yet is still one God. Today ought to be a celebration of a life of devotion to Jesus Christ. Yes, let’s celebrate (this should be no solemn affair), but remember what it is we are celebrating: the spreading of the good news of Jesus Christ.

I recommend you check out my friend Peter’s post from last year: St. Patrick’s Day.

Let me leave with a video on St Patrick from Thomas O’Loughlin and a passage from Patrick’s Confession.

From his Confession Part II, 16 on his learning to pray:

But after I had come to Ireland,
it was then that I was made to shepherd the flocks day after day,
and, as I did so, I would pray all the time, right through the day.
More and more the love of God and fear of him grew strong within me,
and as my faith grew, so the Spirit became more and more active,
so that in a single day I would say as many as a hundred prayers,
and at night only slightly less.
Although I might be staying in a forest or out on a mountainside,
it would be the same;
even before dawn broke, I would be aroused to pray.
In snow, in frost, in rain,
I would hardly notice any discomfort,
and I was never slack but always full of energy.
It is clear to me now, that this was due to the fervor of the Spirit within me.

May we all find ourselves so filled with the fervor of the Spirit.

Yours,
David

The New Pope and Why Protestants Should Care

francesco1

Dear Friends and Family,

The other day, when I posted on evolution and Christianity, I mentioned that I would be doing a post on the selection of a new pope. I also recommend reading my good friend, Peter Stevens’s post: Thoughts on the new Pope and Christian Leadership.

I am not a Roman Catholic. Neither am I Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, or a member of a high (that is liturgical) Protestant church. I am, as I’ve said before, part of tradition called the Restoration Movement. Technically we describe ourselves as neither Protestant nor Catholic, but practically we are low-church Protestants. You may wonder, then why I care at all about the papacy. Allow me, briefly, to try and describe why I think all Christians should be concerned about the papacy.

Whether we like it or not, the papacy exists. Every so often, the Roman Catholic church selects a new man to help lead them. It is his job to promote orthodoxy, to be the voice of the people of God, and to tell political leaders when what they do is not consonant with the position they hold. While we in the lower churches may not subscribe to the same understandings of leadership that Roman Catholics do, we must remember that the pope in Rome is there and that he stands for many of the same things we stand for. Pope Francis stands against abortion, against homosexuality as a practice (both things most evangelical Protestants stand against), and he stands for the spreading of the good news of Jesus Christ and caring for the poor and the oppressed. How can we rail against a man who seeks to be the kingdom of God in the world?

Finally, while there are various issues that keep me from becoming Catholic, John 17 is ever in my mind, that we may be one as the Father and Son are one. If we wish to be one then we must work with one another and not against one another. Unity is a big deal to the movement to which I belong. It is one of our two core pillars. If that is the case, then we must seek union with Rome as well as with Constantinope, Canterbury, Wittenburg, Geneva, etc.

I want to leave you with four things, two videos, an article, and a Scripture:
Simon Oliver on issues surrounding there being two living popes:

Thomas O’Loughlin on the proper understanding of papal power:

An article from Simon Oliver and Sam Kimbriel: Analysis: What is the role of a modern pope?

And John 17:

17 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

6 “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. 8 For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. 11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.

20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

I pray that you, as I will, will pray for Pope Francis and that his time of service may see a deeper union between all Christians. As the Western World continues to reject Christianity, we must band together under the reign of Jesus Christ.

Yours,

David

Is Evolution Anti-Christian? Conor Cunningham, Charles Darwin, and the God who Creates

9780802848383Dear Friends and Family, While there is even bigger news I would like to discuss at some point, namely a new Pope and what that should mean for non-Catholic Christians (see, for the time being, Peter Steven’s excellent post on this subject), for the today I want to do a short post on evolution. Particularly in “conservative”, lower Protestant churches (meaning churches that focus on the authority of the Bible and don’t have an official liturgy), evolution as a scientific theory is seen as anti-Christian. It tells us that God had nothing to do with creation, that we are just an accident and are descended immediately from apes and distantly from protozoan slime. Well, according to Dr Conor Cunningham this is not the case. Conor is a professor here at the University of Nottingham (though he is currently at Princeton as a kind of visiting research fellow) and is often seen as something of a rock star. If John Milbank is the brains, and often words, of Radical Orthodoxy (something I’ll blog about later), then Conor is the face and voice of Radical Orthodoxy here at Nottingham. While I’m getting ready to write my next chapter on Deification and Creation, I’ve been reading Conor’s book, Darwin’s Pious Idea. I’m not done with it yet, but it has been an excellent and challenging read. Ultimately what Conor is trying to say is that science in general and evolution in specific are not anti-Christian. In fact, Conor sees fundamentalist Creationists (people who not only believe in a literal six-day creation, i.e. the world was created exactly as described in Genesis 1, but also think you must believe this) and Ultra-Darwinists (people like Richard Dawkins who think that Darwinian evolution explains just about everything we need to know about life) are anti-Christian and anti-evolutionary. Below I’ll embed some videos of Conor talking about evolution and Nature and Grace (a topic I may introduce at a later date). I know that for many this notion that Christianity and evolution can coexist might seem rather odd and maybe even heretical. If that’s you, I definitely recommend you check out these videos as well as Conor’s book. If anything, I hope these help you see that Christianity and science don’t have to be at odds and that there is more than one way to read the Bible. What do you think, especially after watching these videos, are evolution and Christianity at odds or does the notion that all nature is graced and upheld by God help us make sense of how creation and evolution can work together? For more videos from the University of Nottingham go here. Yours, David

Lent: The Light Has Gone out of the World

Dear Friends and Family,

We’re just over half-way through Lent and I’ve realised I didn’t do a post about it. There is a lot I could tell you about the history of Lent; how it started as a forty-hour fast before Easter to symbolise the time Christ spent in the tomb and then evolved into forty days of limited fasting to connect better with the Israelites in the desert and Christ in the wilderness. Instead, however, I just want to write a brief apology for Lent.

For many Christians Christmas and Easter are easy to understand. Even Pentecost and Ascension Day make sense since they’re days in the life of Christ. Lent is just a different bird. Lent is in place to remind us that Christ died, that the light of the world was snuffed out. We commiserate with the disciples who, still misunderstanding Christ, thought he had come to restore the Davidic Kingdom. We recognise our sinfulness during this time and dedicate ourselves anew to repentance. We fast to remember that the true source of our being is God, not food, not the comforts of this life, but God.

I know some Christians who see all Christian celebrations and commemorations as inappropriate because we ought to be celebrating Christ’s life, death, and resurrection all the time. This is true. It does not, however, negate the usefulness of year in and year out living in the rhythm of Christ’s Birth, Death, Resurrection, Ascension, and sending of the Spirit to the Church. We ought to set aside specific times to think about and discuss these things. Otherwise our view could become myopic, we could become sidetracked by whatever aspects of salvation speak to us most. In the Church Calendar we abate that fear. In Lent, we remember why we needed a saviour and why we tend to myopia in the first place.

Spend these next few weeks reminding yourself why you needed a saviour and Easter will seem all the more felicitous for it.

A Lenten Prayer

Almighty and everlasting God,
you hate nothing that you have made
and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:
create and make in us new and contrite hearts
that we, worthily lamenting our sins
and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may receive from you, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Yours,

David

Relying on the Bleeding Charity instead of Our Rights: Lessons from Lewis’s Great Divorce

Dear Friends and Family,

This term, I have been sitting on a class taught by Alison Milbank called Religion and Fantasy. It has been an excellent class and an opportunity for me to re-read some of my old favourites and discuss their theological implications with others. One the texts we read for this course was C. S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce. This is a story about a man who finds himself in a bus queue in Hell and makes a journey to Heaven. In Heaven, the denizens of Hell find themselves thin and ghost-like, while everything in Heaven is more solid and real than anywhere else. While in Heaven, Lewis overhears several conversations between people who knew each other on Earth, but one has gone to Hell and the other Heaven. It is the Heavenly beings’ job to try and persuade the Hellions to remain in Heaven.

Below, I have cited in full one of the most interesting conversations. The conversation is between a former factory foreman and one of his workers who had committed murder in his life on Earth. The foreman’s mantra is ‘I’m just here to get my rights.’ He thinks he’s been hard done by and that his rights have been violated. Read the conversation below and see what the Heavenly Spirit has to say about rights and charity in Heaven. I hope you enjoy.

Yours,
David

‘“Don’t you know me?” he shouted to the Ghost: and I found it impossible not to turn and attend. The face of the solid spirit––he was one of those that wore a robe––made me want to dance, it was so jocund, so established in youthfulness.

“Well, I’m damned,” said the Ghost. “I wouldn’t have believed it. It’s a fair knock-out. It isn’t right, Len, you know. What about poor Jack, eh? You look pretty pleased with yourself, but what I say is, What about poor Jack?”

“He is here,” said the other. “You will meet him soon, if you stay.”

“But you murdered him.”

“Of course I did. It is all right now.”

“All right, is it? All right for you, you mean. But what about the poor chap himself, laying cold and dead?”

“But he isn’t. I have told you, you will meet him soon. He sent you his love.”

“What I’d like to understand,” said the Ghost, “is what you’re here for, as pleased as Punch, you, a bloody murderer, while I’ve been walking the streets down there and living in a place like a pigstye all these years.”

“That is a little hard to understand at first. But it is over now. You will be pleased about it presently. Till then there is no need to bother about it.”

“No need to bother about it? Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?”

“No. Not as you mean. I do not look at myself. I have given up myself, I had to, you know, after the murder. That was what did it for me. And that was how everything began.”

“Personally,” said the Big Ghost with an emphasis which contradicted the ordinary meaning of the word, “Personally, I’d have thought you and I ought to be the other way round. That’s my personal opinion.”

“Very likely we soon shall be,” said the other. “If you’ll stop thinking about it.”

“Look at me, now,” said the Ghost, slapping its chest (but the slap made no noise). “I gone straight all my life. I don’t say I was a religious man and I don’t say I had no faults, far from it. But I done my best all my life, see? I done my best by everyone, that’s the sort of chap I was. I never asked for anything that wasn’t mine by rights. If I wanted a drink I paid for it and if I took my wages I done my job, see? That’s the sort I was and I don’t care who knows it.”

“It would be much better not to go on about that now.”

“Who’s going on? I’m not arguing. I’m just telling you the sort of chap I was, see? I’m asking for nothing but my rights. You may think you can put me down because you’re dressed up like that (which you weren’t when you worked under me) and I’m only a poor man. But I got to have my rights same as you, see?”

“Oh no. It’s not so bad as that. I haven’t got my rights, or I should not be here. You will not get yours either. You’ll get something far better. Never fear.”

“That’s just what I say. I haven’t got my rights. I always done my best and I never done nothing wrong. And what I don’t see is why I should be put below a bloody murder like you.”

“Who knows whether you will be? Only be happy and come with me.”

“What do you keep arguing for? I’m only telling you the sort of chap I am. I only want my rights. I’m not asking for anybody’s bleeding charity.”

“Then do. At once. Ask for the Bleeding Charity. Everything is here for the asking and nothing can be bought.”

“That may do very well for you, I daresay. If they choose to let in a bloody murderer all because he makes a poor mouth at the last moment, that’s their look out. But I don’t see myself going in the same boat as you, see? Why should I? I don’t want charity. I’m a decent man and if I had my rights I’d have been here long ago and you can tell them I said so.”

The other shook his head. “You can never do it like that,” he said. “Your feet will never grow hard enough to walk on our grass that way. You’d be tired out before we got to the mountains. And it isn’t exactly true, you know.” Mirth danced in his eyes as he said it.

“What isn’t true?” asked the Ghost sulkily.

“You weren’t a decent man and you didn’t do your best. We none of us were and none of us did. Lord bless you, it doesn’t matter. There is no need to go into it all now.”

“You!” gasped the Ghost. “You have the face to tell me I wasn’t a decent chap?”

“Of course. Must I go into all that? I will tell you one thing to begin with. Murdering old Jack wasn’t the worst thing I did. That was the work of a moment and I was half mad when I did it. But I murdered you in my heart, deliberately, for years. I used to lie awake at nights thinking what I’d do to you if I ever got the chance. That is why I have been sent to you now: to ask your forgiveness and to be your servant as long as you need one, and longer if it pleases you. I was the worst. But all the men who worked under you felt the same. You made it hard for us, you know. And you made it hard for your wife too and for your children.”

“You mind your own business, young man,” said the Ghost. “None of your lip, see? Because I’m not taking any impudence from you about my private affairs.”

“There are no private affairs,” said the other.

“And I’ll tell you another thing,” said the Ghost. “You can clear off, see? You’re not wanted. I may be only a poor man but I’m not making pals with a murderer, let alone taking lessons from him. Made it hard for you and your like, did I? If I had you back there I’d show you what work is.”

“Come and show me now,” said the other with laughter in his voice, “It will be joy going to the mountains, but there will be plenty of work.”

“You don’t suppose I’d go with you?”

“Don’t refuse. You will never get there alone. And I am the one who was sent to you.”

“So that’s the trick, is it?” shouted the Ghost, outwardly bitter, and yet I thought there was a kind of triumph in its voice. It had been entreated: it could make a refusal: and this seemed to it a kind of advantage. “I thought there’d be some damned nonsense. It’s all a clique, all a bloody clique. Tell them I’m not coming, see? I’d rather be damned than go along with you. I cam here to get my rights, see? Not to go snivelling along on charity tied to your apron-strings. If they’re too fine to have me without you, I’ll go home.” It was almost happy now that it could, in a sense, threaten. “That’s what I’ll do,” it repeated, “I’ll go home. I didn’t come to be treated like a dog. I’ll go home. That’s what I’ll do. Damn and blast the whole pack of you …” In the end, still grumbling, but whimpering also a little as it picked its way over the sharp grasses, it made off.”’