Friday, June 29, 2007

Christians Behaving Badly

There is nothing more central to the Christian life than the practice of discipleship. Without discipleship there is no Christ and without Christ there is no Christianity. This Sunday at Space for God ( we'll be reading through Luke 9:51-62 in which Jesus says a little bit about what it means to be his disciple. We'll also look at an example of discipleship gone wrong, in which the desire to follow Jesus was present, but the discernment was lacking. With that in mind, here are a few questions you might like to think about for Sunday night:

(1) What presently stands in between myself and being an effective disciple of Jesus?
(2) When and how have I previously been misguided in my discipleship endeavours?
(3) How can Space For God pursue discipleship as a community?

Everyone is welcome to come, so if you read my blog and want to know more, call myself on 0406 744 069 or Steph on 0422 818 059.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

I Refused to Give Money to a Beggar Tonight ... Twice

'Twas a strange night in Old Sydney Town tonight - and particularly ironic considering the uncompromising post I wrote yesterday.

When I got back to my home tonight at about half-past six I was told that there had break and enter in the building. Not exactly the kind of thing you want to hear when you've been living in a place for less than two weeks. The guy who was talking to me suggested that I should have a careful look inside my room, just to check that nothing had been stolen. My response? I basically said: "Oh well, there's not really anything of value to steal in my room". Upon reflection this isn't true, strictly speaking. For instance, the computer and modem set me back $150 - that would be truly devastating to lose. Perhaps the microwave I have could fetch up to $50 on the black market. I also have some books in my bookcase - what any thief would wish to do with a set of College of Law textbooks is beyond me, although on reflection the particular volume on Criminal Law might come in handy sometime. Finally, there's the single most financially valuable item in my room - my suit. If however the thief wanted to take that for a job interview and make an honest living for himself, then I guess I wouldn't be too unhappy.

Anyway, I got hungry later in the evening and went to World Square to pick up some food for the next few nights. When I got back there was a homeless man sitting in front of the door to my building who looked like he was under the influence of something or another. He asked me if I had any money I could give him. Since I had just been to the shops and had some loose change, I reached for my pocket, but as I engaged him in conversation and asked him what he had been doing with himself that evening he replied: "I've been smacking some bitches around". Anyone who knows me reasonably well will know that I absolutely abhor violence in all of its forms, so I instinctly took my hand out of my pocket and proceeded to walk into the building. He asked me again whether I had "any dosh", to which I replied "Not tonight, mate" and walked into the building.

After I got back into the room I felt guilty about the way that I had acted. Sure he had said what he said, but he was so far out of it that I suspected on second thought that was simply talking rubbish. And even if he wasn't, this didn't change the fact that he still needed help. So I decided to make up one of the macaroni and cheese snacks that I had bought, go back downstairs and offer it to him. I did that and he gratefully accepted my offer. However, he again asked me for money, this time telling me that he needed it for beer or wine. While I appreciated his honesty, I had felt like I had done enough and decided not to give him any money. I then returned back upstairs to my simple, although unmistakably middle-class existence.

I must admit, I'm not entirely sure whether I did the right thing throughout - it's sometimes hard to know these things. And truth be known, I probably could have done more than offer him a miserable cup of macaroni and cheese. But I guess at least my conscience propelled me to do something and that can't be entirely bad. I tend to think that it won't be the last time I have to think about this issue. I guess I need to pray that God will give me wisdom in such situations.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Are Money and Possessions Morally Neutral?

For those of you who have been anywhere near a church over the last few years, it's more than likely that you've heard of the "Prosperity Gospel". For those of you who haven't, the Prosperity Gospel is basically the teaching that God wishes to bless us with all the good things in this life - health, wealth and happiness. All of these things and more are guaranteed to be ours if only we exercise enough faith. Consequently, sickness, poverty and depression in our lives are all signs that we lack faith. Not surprisingly, this teaching has polarised opinion in the broader Christian community. While some have heralded the Prosperity Gospel as a great scriptural truth and an important corrective to a prevailing "poverty mentality" in Christianity, others have regarded the teaching as a scandalous aberration that manipulates people from prosperity teaching churches into giving money to them.

The first thing to recognise is that the Prosperity Gospel offers commentary on the nature of money. Advocates of this teaching are quick to insist that it is not money itself that is the root of all evil, but that it is the love of money that is the root of all evil, as 1 Timothy 6:10 expresses. Implicit in this assumption is the idea that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with money itself, but rather it is the selfishness of the individual that should be regarded as sinful. Indeed, it is suggested that neither is money morally neutral, because to assert this would be to deny that money is part of God's good creation. Money is instead seen as an intrinsically good entity that can be used to further the Kingdom of God and partake in the blessings that God wishes for us to enjoy. According to this view, money only becomes bad when its inherently good nature is corrupted through sin.

Even if the abovementioned view was considerable to be legitimate, I'd still have to ask the question: "How do you know that you don't love your money?" I must admit that I'm astounded by the confidence of people who tell that while they may be financially secure, they nonetheless have no attachment to their money. When I have bring up the story of the rich young ruler asked by Jesus to sell all of his possessions and give the money to the poor in Luke:18:18-27, they point out to me that this request applied only to this specific individual. They tell me that if Jesus told to give up all of their worldly possession then they would gladly do so. Conveniently though, he hasn't. I wonder how they are able to speak with such confidence since they apparently haven't crossed this bridge yet? And is it even remotely possible that Jesus has indeed asked them to part with all of their worldly possession but they have found a way to rationalise this direction out of existence to alleviate their consciences?

I believe that Thomas à Kempis expresses a view on money and possessions that really challenges Western Christianity. He suggests that it is absurd to talk about owning possessions without also being attached to them. His is a very radical asceticism, in which he actually suggests that we should seek to "free [ourselves] altogether from worldly desires". Failure of a person to do so indicates that they are "spiritually weak and to some extent still subject to the flesh". I would suggest that I don't know of a single Christian who is not in this state.

If you still believe that you no longer have any love for your worldly possessions, then I have a challenge for you. Invite me over to your house and watch me drag mud over your carpet and start writing my next blog entry in crayon on your walls. I might also start appropriating a few things for myself. If this provokes no reaction, then my blessings will be upon your house. But if you complain that I am ruining your beautiful house and am taking stuff which belongs to you, then I will know that your declaration not to love and desire the things of this world is a mere pretence - a dishonest display of smoke and mirrors.

Reflecting upon this challenge begs the question: "Why do we respond to the theft and damage of our property with such indignation?" I would suggest that just as we are we what eat, what are what we own. Our purchasing decisions say volumes about the type of people we are and what we value most. Furthermore, I would suggest that to the extent that we consider ourselves owners of something, that thing becomes part of us. We become unmistakably bound to that object until such time as we give it up. I vaguely remember the joy in receiving a shiny new toy as a young child and the profound distress I felt when I slightly damaged the toy. Notwithstanding the fact that the toy was still very much usable, it would never be in its original, perfect condition. In a way when that toy became damaged, a part of me became damaged too. This isn't simply childish behaviour - I think that on a deep level we feel personally aggrieved when someone damages or steals something we own because we feel that in a way they have struck out against us and our identity.

Far from being morally neutral, I believe that money and possessions are inherently destructive entities that prevent us from realising spiritual realities. To the extent that we own something, we are also owned by this thing. Indeed, as Christian anarchist Jacques Ellul argues, money is not neutral by very definition because it is a ranking tool that the powers of this world use to determine the worth and value of a person. This reminds me of the scene in "Pretty Woman" where a salesman refuses to serve Julia Roberts' character because she comes into the store dressed as a prostitute, thinking that she must be poor. His attitude changes markedly when he learns that she has money to burn. Money truly does talk - our bank balance determines our status in society. To the extent that we pursue money for whatever reason, we are buying into this discriminatory system. The only way to subvert and destroy the equilibrium of this system, Ellul argues, is to do what was never intended to be done with money - give it away.

I write to you today as a self-confessed hypocrite - I certainly haven't given away all of my worldly possessions at this stage. This said, I'd like to think that I am taking steps to live a more simple existence in which I rely less and less upon the luxuries of this life. I invite you to join me on this journey.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A Little Bit of Culture

I've been studying for a "Professional Responsibility" exam at the College of Law, so I've been unable to blog regularly over the last week. I'm planning on writing something tonight after the exam and even have a topic in mind. To tide you over until then, I thought I'd just share something that I've stumbled upon in the vast expanses of YouTube. It's a version of Nessun Dorma by Jussi Bjorling, a Swedish tenor widely regarded to have had the greatest voice in recorded history.

It's embarrassing to acknowledge this, but I only discovered this gem after getting myself wrapped up in the hysteria surrounding Paul Potts of Britain's Got Talent fame. As shameful as it is to admit succumbing to the snares of pop culture, I'm grateful that it is through such channels that I have been led to this truly sublime voice.

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Relentless March of Time

A little more than a week ago I was told that Marjorie, my stepfather's mother had passed away at the age of 89. I wouldn't say that we were extremely close, but she was nonetheless part of the tapestry of my life, having lived in a unit next to my parent's house for the last twelve years of her life. This was especially true during my teenage years when I lived in the house. And so, when I received the news last Friday morning, something had irrevocably changed. Marjorie, who I say to my shame I often took for granted was no longer with us. As is my wont, I began to think.
As I travelled down the stairs from Clarence Street to Wynyard Station, I looked at the people I was passing in a completely different manner. I passed men and women around my age, some slightly older, some slightly younger. Many of them exuded beauty and youth and I thought about what it meant that I knew this would change. All of them would grow grey or lose their hair, gain weight and gain wrinkles, lose their strength and their vitality. This too would happen to me. Time is a mistress that stops for no-one.
Perhaps more significant than the change in our bodies is the way we change as people. If somebody had told me about the type of person that I would become five years ago, I would scarcely have believed them. And in five years time, I will quite likely be a different person again. Sometimes I wonder what kind of relationship the person I am today has to the person I was five, ten or fifteen years ago. I'm sure there's some kind of connection there, but there are times when I struggle to work out exactly what that connection might be. As I sit here thinking, I recognise that the only thing that is timeless is time and the only thing that doesn't change is that things change. Perhaps it is futile trying to grasp onto past, present or future because none of it is permanent. It is as T.S. Eliot wrote:

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.

Perhaps that's what made going to Marje's funeral so strange for me. First of all, the funeral was held at Green Point Baptist Church - the Church where in many ways, my spiritual journey began. It was quite surreal bumping into people who knew me as a ten year-old, because as they spoke to me there was a clear fracture between time present and time past. Many of these people knew the person I was back then, but not the person I am today. This was so clearly demonstrated when they made mention of the fact that I had grown so much. They didn't know the half of it. Meeting with these people after all these years was like meeting them for the first time.

I wonder, am I who I am, or am I what people make of me? At the funeral, each of Marje's four living sons gave a eulogy about their mother. Each of them remembered and treasured different things about her. Perhaps in a way Marje was four different people to four different people and yet at the same time one and the same? Simultaneously she was a mother and a daughter, a wife and a friend. How do we transcend these different understandings except to say that Marje was ultimately who she understood herself to be and who she was held to be by God, which in some way means that there is an element about her which remains elusive to others and even to herself? And this is true of all of us - our true persona remains an enigma and there is this perpetual fracture between who we really are and who we believe ourselves to be. Indeed, as soon as we believe that we know ourselves, we change and thus we return to darkness.

After the funeral we travelled down to Rookwood cemetary to bury her at her final resting place, alongside her husband of 57 years and one of her sons who had passed away more than fifty years ago, aged just seventeen months. As we said our goodbyes and lowered her into the depths of the earth, the sun appeared from the clouds and above the small tree behind her burial site. In a way, it was a sign that this was a new beginning. But this beginning would be timeless and changeless. Marje is now in a place where she will not grow old, nor weary, nor decay. She is finally in a place where she may perfectly know and be known.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A Tribute to Udit

About seven months ago, Udit, a friend from High School rang me up and asked me if I'd like to share a unit with him. Sure, we hadn't really been in contact for six years, apart from the odd 21st of a mutual friend, but hey, what's the worst that could happen? He still seemed to have been the responsible guy I knew in High School and I could pretend to be responsible for the purposes of making a tenancy application, so we decided to give it a shot.

Over the following few Saturdays we travelled around the city and surrounding suburbs looking for a place to call home over the next six months. We looked at everything from the sublime to the ridiculous. We went to have a look at an apartment in Kings Cross, only to discover that it was situated between two strip clubs - we didn't even bother asking for a tenancy application. We also looked at a place that looked like it was full of asbestos and another that was missing a window. We almost decided on a place in Glebe before finally settilng upon a place in Surry Hills. Within five days of looking at the place, we had paid the deposit, signed the lease and moved in.

Moving in was a much more traumatic experience than either of us had anticipated. Despite being told the day before that the lift was fully operational, it was broken on the day of the move. Accordingly, this meant that we had to carry all of our belongings up three flights of stairs. This was particularly enjoyable when carrying my fridge and my two lounges, one of which hardly fit around the narrow staircase. Luckily, my parents and a friend or two were there to help share our pain.

With all of the abovementioned trials and tribulations out of the way, it was time for us to settle down and enjoy the place and the company of each other. This proved to be very easy, albeit that each of us had our own idiosyncracies - I would sing in the shower in the morning (which Udit told me was a very effective alarm clock) while Udit would be up until all hours of the night on his computer. Over the next six months, I was blessed with many fond memories which I shall carry with me. Allow me indulge for a moment while I think about the good times I will cherish:

I will remember walking into the city together to chat over coffee, although I don't really remember the content of any of the conversations.

I will remember learning about Hindu theology from him while talking to him about my Christian faith.

I will remember marvelling at the fact that notwithstanding the differences between the two faiths, there was so many similarities.

I will remember lugging two slabs home from World Square under the impression that we would share the beer equally, only to discover that Udit would have a beer twice as often as I did.

I will remember building "The Great Wall of Beer" - empty beer bottles placed in a row along the window sill in the living room and the need to console each other about the tragedy of having to remove it for an inspection.

I will remember trash-talking each other about upcoming table tennis matches.

I will remember Udit's infinite patience at my almost daily question in the morning: "Ready for a big one?" and after Udit replying that he was, my response of either "That's the spirit" or "That's what I like to hear".

But all good things must come to an end. About a month ago we found out that someone had bought the unit and wanted to live in the place. Shortly thereafter, Udit was offered a job in Canberra with Medicare. And so, like that it was over. There would be no more Great Wall of Beer or no more inane and cliched conversations at my instigation. It is these little things that I will miss most - it almost chokes me up thinking about it.

Just before you liken this story to a Greek tragedy, there is a small twist in the ending. Before we left the house, Udit sold me an old computer to me for a cheap price. Yesterday and today, he helped me set it up and get the internet running. So while I may no longer live with the man they call "The Big U", he is in a way partly responsible for the blog entries I make from my new place.

Godspeed, my brother. Your legacy will live on.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Blessed are the Middle-Class

Today's reading is from Matthias 5:3-11:

"Blessed are the middle-class,
For theirs is the kingdom of Christendom.
Blessed are those who mourn about the evils of this world while driving their youth group to McDonalds in their 4WD,
For they will be oblivious to their hypocrisy while they are cocooned in their Christian sub-culture.
Blessed are those who strive for positions of leadership,
For they will inherit the devotion of their followers.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for theological knowledge,
For they will be full of it (in more ways than one).
Blessed are the legalists,
For by judging others, they will avoid scrutiny themselves.
Blessed are the pure in doctrine,
For they will see the idols they have created and be convinced they see God.
Blessed are the sectarian,
For they will call themselves children of God while denying this title to others.
Blessed are those who persecute homosexuals and egalitarians for "righteousness sake",
For they will never cease to find a scapegoat.
Blessed are you when people criticise you and suggest that you have completely missed the message of Jesus.
Rejoice and be glad, for you will believe that you are really being persecuted, just like the prophets before you.

For those who are interested in reading the "parallel version", its Matthew 5:3-11

With a Little Help From My Friends

Moving house is often a fairly traumatic experience, even when it is only across the city. This is especially true for me, since I'm probably not the most organised person in the world. Nonetheless, it was made immeasurably easier by the help that I received by my family and friends. First of all, I'd like to thank my mother and my stepfather, who came out of their way to help me in trying circumstances. It goes without saying that I truly couldn't have done it without them.

Next, I'd like to thank my ex-flatmate Udit, who apart from being a wonderful guy to share a unit with, helped in the cleaning and stayed around for the final inspection while I was moving stuff into my new place. He did a good job too, since the only money to be taken out of our bond was the steam cleaning fee, which we were expecting anyway. Sometime later, I think I might post a tribute to the "Big U" in order to reminisce over the good times and the great music we shared over the last six months.

I'd also like to thank Andrew "Birdy" Bird, Gareth "Lucky Gareth" Charles and Brian "Casanova" Kirkman for giving up their Saturday morning (and more importantly, their sleep) to help with the move. They were under no obligation to do so, but did so anyway because they wanted to help. I am truly blessed t0 have these people as friends.

Finally, I'd like to thank Steph Gesling, who came into the city that even to help me put all of my worldly possession into some kind of order. If and when you come to my house, you should know that she is largely responsible for the interior decoration and especially the candles sitting in the fireplace. After that, we went to World Square and she helped me select an appropriate Port (2003 Seppelt Tokay from Rutherglen, from memory) and some wine glasses. She also helped me taste test the Port, while I introduced her to The Smiths. Good times.

I guess there are times when I doubt God's provision. Yet it is at these times when I realise just how good God has been to me. Friends are infinitely more important to me than anything else in this world and I am truly grateful that I have met such wonderful people whom I am honoured to regard as friends. My only hope is that when the time comes, I may be able to be as good a friend to them as they have been to me.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Christianity at the Margins

A few weeks ago, a Christian friend expressed concern that I seemed to be on the margins of the Christian community. While I could sense his genuine sense of compassion and his desire to draw me towards the centre, I explained to him that the margins of the Christian community was precisely the place I needed to be in order to live my faith with any kind of integrity. I explained to him that it was the margins to which I believe I was called by God and thus to gravitate towards the centre would be quite unthinkable.

Let me explain that it was never my intention to live my faith on the margins of the Christian community. Indeed, starting out well and truly in the centre, I was pulled towards the circumference by a number of gravitational forces. I certainly don't blame anyone for where I currently find myself - it is as much through my own actions as it through the actions of others. But perhaps the dominating influence is my own intrinsic personality. I have what is called Aspergers' Syndrome. For the unacquainted, Aspergers' Syndrome is a mild form on the Autistic Spectrum. The common perception is that Aspergers' is a curse, but I truly see it as a blessing. By this I mean that Aspergers' gives me an opportunity to see and understand things in a completely different way to rest of the world. And so, because of my unique perspective, it might even be apt to suggest that I was born to be on the margins.

Having found myself on the margins, I have discovered that it is a vibrant place where I can truly grow in my faith. Unfortunately, this perspective isn't shared by everyone who finds themselves on the margins. In my conversations with other Christians, I have found many people who find themselves on the margins for no crime other than having the audacity to be themselves. It may be that they have asked one too many questions, or it could be that they mistakenly believed that the Church was a place where they could be different and still feel accepted. Some of these people have been scarred by years of church abuse and wonder if there is a place for them in the Christian faith. My heart really goes out to them.

In contrast to the vibrancy of the Christianity at the margins, I have found Christianity at the centre to be rather stale and lifeless in comparison. Because Christianity at the centre demands homogeneity, I find that it gravitates towards mediocrity. Not only this, but because Christianity at the centre claims the vast majority of those who call themselves Christian as their own, there tends to be an unswerving conviction that Christianity at the centre holds the keys to the kingdom, which tends to breed comfort and complacency. And so, from these experiences, being able to speak fluent Christianese but residing on the margins I have discovered my mission. My role is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. I see no viable way to shirk this responsibility.

Though I am resolutely committed to a faith on the margins, the vision has recently been clarified for me by our current Bible Study at Space For God as we study the gospel of Mark. I am reminded by the fact that many of the Jews in first century Palestine expected to find a Messiah at the centre overthrowing the Roman Empire and liberating them from imperialistic rule - indeed there were entire zealot movements dedicated towards the anticipation of this Messiah and his presumed mission. It comes as somewhat of an anti-climax therefore, that the Messiah is announced by an obscure desert prophet wearing clothes made from camel's hair who dines on locusts. When the Messiah finally comes, his curriculum vitae is rather unimpressive. For the last thirty years he has been working as a carpenter in his old man's business. He comes from the sticks - a town called Nazareth, which might be likened to the outer Sydney suburb of Rooty Hill. And just for good measure, he is baptised by this desert prophet. Indeed, as we read through the gospel, we see that Jesus continues to live on the margins and finally dies on the margins in the most ignominious way possible in the ancient world - being crucified as a common criminal. His heritage as a devout Jew only makes his death more disgraceful.

It is not only in the life of Jesus that we see God at the margins, but throughout the history of Christianity. The early Christian Church was originally viewed as an aberrant sect on the margins of Judaism and for this reason it was persecuted by the Jewish authorities. But rather than stifle the growing religion, we read in Acts 8:1 that this persecution was just the impetus that the early Church needed to expand into Judea and Samaria. I also look back to 380AD, when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire under Emperor Theodosius and became Christendom. Seated at the centre of the Roman Empire, Christianity became complacent and corrupt, plunging into what we know as the Dark Ages within a century. Finally, I think about the early Anabaptists (whom I am starting to see as my spiritual forefathers) who tried to regain the message of Christ and their faithfulness in the face of persecution from Catholics, Calvinists and Lutherans alike.

With all of this in mind, I offer hope and encouragement to those who find themselves struggling on the margins of Christianity. We worship a God who came to Earth on the margins, who lived on the margins and died on the margins. It was with people on the margins that he primarily associated himself. Ever since, he has done likewise. He was with the early Church as they endured the persecution of the Jewish authorities and the Roman Empire. He was with the Anabaptists as they were persecuted by the Catholics, the Calvinists and the Lutherans. And today, if you so desire, he is with you.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

New Profile Details

I had some spare time this evening, so I thought I may as well add some of my favourite music and some of my favourite movies to my profile. Take a look and see if you can find a common theme throughout my selections. I mean, age notwithstanding, could I be more "Emo" if I tried?

Another College of Law Assessment Bites the Dust

Another College of Law assessment.

Another panic attack leading up to said assessment.

Another anti-climax.

No matter how often I do assessments, the very notion fills me with dread. The idea that your performance will be watched, scrutinised and marked by the watchful eyes of a lecturer is almost too much to bear at times. And then I do the assessment and wonder what I was getting so worked up about. In actual fact, I thought that tonight I performed with considerable grace under fire. Let's hope that I can actually do that when I finally practice as a solicitor in real life!

I guess it's just like the chess player Aron Nimzovitsch said: "The threat is greater than the execution".

Monday, June 11, 2007

Anticipation Now

I recognise that it's been a little slow on here lately, but that's because I've been pretending to study for a Property Practice assessment I have coming up tomorrow night. I appreciate your patience and as penance I will offer you all something very special over the next few days.

Stay tuned ...

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Blogs Are Dangerous

Yesterday was a really pathetic day for my blog - only 10 hits. If I were employed to blog, I think I'd be receiving my first official warning by now.

Anyway, I was looking up Stat Counter which gives me information about my clientele and discovered something really interesting - someone actually stumbled onto my site by typing the search term "how to slow down in ministry" into Google. More specifically, they were lead to one of my reflections entitled "Slow Down - You're Moving Too Fast".

My (completely uneducated) guess is that the searcher was some poor young minister at the end of his or her rope because of the demands and stresses that Christian ministry place on one's time and energy. If so, I really do feel for the guy (or girl). While I'm not a minister myself, I do have a little bit of knowledge about the burnout rates that Christian ministers experience. I don't know if that person will come back, but I wish him or her all the very best for their future endeavours in Christian ministry.

All of the above said, the scary thing is the consideration that this person may actually take my advice seriously, thinking that I am at all qualified to give advice on such matters ...

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Trinity and Christian Anarchism

The way in which we understand God has profound ramifications for the way in which we seek to live our lives. People naturally seek to emulate their role models and because God is the definitive role model, one's understanding of God ultimately determines the type of person that they will strive to be. This consideration should make think carefully about the way we think about God. Indeed, as Thomas Paine once remarked: "Belief in a cruel God makes a cruel man".

I believe that Christendom has created a cruel God. In Christendom, God has predominantly been depicted as the archetypal alpha male and the quintessential individualist. He is the Dominator and the Enforcer. Is it any wonder then that almost every sect in Christendom has blood on its hands because it has taken the attitude that imposing one's beliefs through force is right and good if those beliefs are perceived to be correct?

I should make it clear that I'm certainly not adverse to the idea of a God with a bit of mongrel in Him - it would certainly be even more mistaken to domesticate God in own our image. I'm simply questioning whether power and dominance (classically, we might call this "sovereignty") are the most important attributes of God, or whether God wishes for us to understand Him first and foremost through a different set of paradigms. I believe the Trinity proves to be particularly instructive in this investigation.

The Trinity is primarily a doctrine about God's existence as a community of persons. From this central mystery of the Christian faith we learn that God is an intrinsically personal and relational being. From this understanding we may infer that God wishes to relate to us on a personal level. Indeed, a heavy focus in Jesus' teaching was the idea that we can and should relate to God as "Abba", meaning "Father", or even "Daddy". To a Jewish culture that understood God as being almost unapproachably transcendent, this was a truly revolutionary notion.

I would like to suggest that Christianity is not about following a set of rules. Rather, it is about a relationship with an infinitely imminent God and the pursuit of becoming increasingly more bonded to Him. Indeed, the rules are now that rules have become a barrier to truly communing with with the God in whom we live and move and have our being. If you're worried that I'm advocating some kind of antinomialism - I am. Rules are passe - we have moved beyond all rules except for the rule of love.

The community of the Trinity also give us profound insight into the way we should live as a community of believers and more broadly in our relationships with the wider world. In the Trinity there is a real sense of interdependence and self-sacrifice. No person of the Trinity imposes his will upon the others and all persons walk together in perfect unity. But this is no co-dependent relationship. The persons of the Trinity do not give out of need, but out of surplus and abundance. There is a sense of submission in the Trinity, but there is no idea of heirarchy or subordination. The persons in the Trinity do not submit to each other out of a sense of obligation and subjugation, but rather out of the love that they freely share. It is this point to which I shall now turn.

It has always been the teaching of the Church that there is perfect equality between the persons of the Trinity. There is no heirarchy. And while there is submission, there is no subordination or subjugation, but rather a freely chosen form of submission in which each person of the Trinity submit to one another out of a sense of love, rather than obligation or necessity. This has profound implications for relationships within the Church. The dividing wall has been abolished and the stratification of the spiritual order has become obsolete. An elite class of priests and ministers has become no more, for we are all part of the royal priesthood. Furthermore, there are no longer any defined gender roles. Women may be ministers and women are no longer subordinate to the headship of men, but all are to submit to each other.

So, there you have it - my primer of Christian Anarchism. There are no roles, no rules and no rulers. As St. Paul tells us: "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). It is God alone to whom we are accountable. Now excuse me while I await the firing squad of Christendom's Enforcers ...

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Jesus Loves Me, This I Know

There is a well known story in which the eminent theologian Karl Barth was asked to briefly summarise what he believed to be his theological legacy. Arguably one of the greatest theological thinkers in the modern era, Barth thought for a few moments and then answered: "Jesus loves me, this I know - for the Bible tells me so." Only recently has the force of this response truly hit me. Barth's response refers to a song that is often taught to children at Sunday School, yet it is at the same time a great truth that can never be appreciated enough.

Christianity is a strange beast. It is said that Christianity both contains the shallows in which an infant may bathe and the depths in which an elephant may drown. And so, as I prepare for our second Space For God bible study, I really find myself asking the question: "Where should I be swimming?" I mean, does the fact that I can swim in the deep end obligate me to do so? And more to the point, do I think that wading in the shallows is somehow beneath me?

While I freely acknowledge that there are many people who know much more than me in the area of theology, I think it would be accurate to suggest that I have accumulated a fairly significant amount of theological knowledge over the years. Not only have I read deeply, but I have also read broadly. And yet, after all of this theological study I find myself needing to ask the question: "To what end have I done this?" What have I achieved? How has this knowledge helped me to love God more deeply and my neighbour more fully? I must confess that I struggle for an answer.

Continuing his series of devotions on living the Christian life, Thomas à Kempis writes:
"In the Holy Scriptures we must look for truth, not eloquence. All Scripture must be read in the spirit in which it is written, and in the Scriptures we should look for what will help us, and not for subtle points."

I have to say that I find this to be a rather stinging and humbling rebuke. It makes me think about how much time and energy I have wasted posturing over the finer points of theological discourse. Considering that I have been exposed and continue to be exposed to an environment in what theological knowledge is cherished, this preoccupation is not at all surprising. All too often, debating theology has become the main game at the expense of actually living the Christian life with integrity and faithfulness. I feel that there are times when both myself and the people with whom I engage are far more interested in appearing intelligent before others than edifying the other person. This is a cause for great sorrow.

With all of the above in mind, I ask myself as well as my readers whether we need to focus less upon the abstract areas of theology and more upon the simple truths that should be driving our faith. Before we seek an ever increasing understanding of abstract articles of faith, should we not to seek to more fully understand what it means to love God with all of our being and what it means to love our neighbour as ourselves? More importantly, instead of debating the finer points of eschatology, shouldn't we be concentrating on seeking to build each other up in our respective spiritual journies in the here and now?

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

1,000 Hits!!!

And only 800 of those are from me. Let the good times roll ...

A Hard Day's Knight

It's mandatory that chess stories have a cheesy pun for a heading, isn't it? Anyway, here's mine. Yes, I know it's fairly unoriginal.

As I told people yesterday, I was asked to come out of retirement last night to play for a team that was missing a player. Against my better judgment, I agreed to do so. I wasn't entirely sure how I would perform considering that this was the first time that I had played a game of competitive chess since I have started working full time. Concentrating at the board is a big enough ask in and of itself without me already being exhausted before I have even started.

Things started ominously when I arrived to the board fifteen minutes late, meaning that I had fifteen minutes less to make all of my moves. However, with that out of the way, I started playing, taking a bit more time than usual to ponder my moves to get me in the right frame of mind. Funny thing is, it wasn't long before it felt like I had never stopped playing - kind of like riding a bike, I guess. I was particularly happy with the way that I concentrated through the game and the sense of calm and composure I had, although perhaps I could be mistaking calm and composure for simple apathy.

To cut a long story short, the game followed a script common to the games I played before my retirement:

Act One: Slowly build up a position where I have made small, but nonetheless significant inroads into my opponent's position.

Act Two: Find a way to make an inaccurate move (or series of moves) that releases the pressure and allows my opponent some kind of hope.

Act Three: Wait for my opponent to self-destruct, then pounce on his or her mistakes.

All in all, vintage Castor. Step Two probably explains why I will never be a top player, but I guess becoming a top player is not really at the top of my priorities these days. Last night was a pleasant enough diversion from work and study, so I can say that all things considered, it was an enjoyable night out.

Monday, June 04, 2007

My Chess Comeback

I thought I had made it clear that I had retired from playing competitive chess - things were easier that way. Of course, that didn't stop someone from asking me if I wanted to play Grade Matches for them tonight. Did I want to play tonight? Well no, not really - my life as it stands is already busy enough. But did that stop me being conned into playing anyway? Well, what do you think?

So it looks like I am travelling down nostalgia lane tonight. To the best of my recollection, this is the first time I will have played a game since I started working full time. I'm coming up to the end of my work day and I'm not particularly alert. And let me tell you, that makes me rather alarmed - tiredness and competitive chess simply doesn't mix. Well, at the very least it should be interesting to see how I perform. I'll let you all know tomorrow ...

A Subversive Trinity?

Could it possibly be that the Trinity, the crowning achievement of Christendom, actually undermines some of the very values that the Empire itself holds dear? I wouldn't have thought so, but as I prepared over the weekend to talk about the Trinity at Space For God last night I realised just how wrong I was. On the contrary, I discovered that in stumbling upon the Trinity, Christendom would open up a Pandora's Box capable of shaking its very foundations.

I'm sure that many of you would be surprised to hear that I retain an avowedly Trinitarian faith. After all as some of you may argue, I've been tried and convicted of almost every heresy under the sun, so why would I bother to retain an article of faith so orthodox as the Trinity? Well, I can tell you that the Trinity now means simultaneously more and less than what it ever meant to me when I was an evangelical. I can't help but think that the Trinity is just manifestly absurd. It simply defies logic. And this is precisely the point. As someone who is naturally analytical and someone who craves intellectual discourse, the Trinity is a fairly humiliating article of faith in which to believe. However much I try to get my mind around the Trinity, I just can't - I am utterly defeated and brought down to the place where I need to be so that I may be ready to be taught by God. It is a mystery and it will always remain a mystery to me.

I believe that the Trinity is fundamentally subversive towards Christendom because it is a threat to all the elaborately constructed doctrinal frameworks that have been created through the years. These doctrines have served to empower the institution at the the expense of the believer. The believer is not encouraged to journey outside of parameters imposed by the Church, lest he or she wander too far and stumble upon a truth that may get him or her excommunicated. Indeed, this proved to be a significant barrier obstructing my own spiritual walk until such time as I came to realise that the God I worship does not dwell in a house made by human hands.

In contrast to the stifling and imprisoning environment of Christendom, the mystery of the Trinity helps us to draw closer to God with a sense of wonder and openness. We recognise that we worship a God who transcends all of our humanly constructed paradigms, a God who both precedes and supercedes Aristotelian logic. Our feeble propositions can only help us to see in the mirror dimly. We see only a shadow of God rather than His true essence. The true God is at the same time higher than our loftiest thoughts and closer than our most intimate experiences. To pursue the true God and not simply His shadow, we must follow deeper, further. We must travel beyond words, beyond logic, beyond symbols. Only then will we discover our true resting place.