thoughts on faith, justice, politics and philosophy

Month: September 2012

‘God’ is a title, not a name

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When we call something “God” we are not bestowing upon that thing just an identification, a name, but more than that. Much more than that.

To call this divinity “God” is to apply a relational understanding to it. To not simply say, “You are YHWH” or “You are Allah” (though these may indeed be true. No, instead, when we say “God” we bestow upon this thing our recognition that it is above, it is beyond, it is something more.

To call it “God” is to say it is the recipient of our praise, the source of Glory. That is something much more than a name. To call it God is to say it is that to which we look when we desire guidance, when we are happy, when we are sad.

Recently I have found that when I stop and choose to be still, I find a peace and quiet stillness within myself that feels good, feels wholesome. The instinct seems to have some sort of moral bearing – that gut instinct that something is right or is wrong. It’s that sense that I am not alone. I am inclined to call this inner feeling “God”.

I can know this God without hype, without emotion, without music, without lights and smoke machines. That is not to say that one cannot experience God in these manners. But for me, now – it is important to know that it is n0t necessary to experience God in this way.

Indeed how can I be truly certain that this is the same God as the one experienced by others in other ways? I cannot – but, then again, I cannot be sure of that – expression to expression, idea to idea, divine name to divine name. I have no way of truly knowing.

I wonder then, how we are able to know anything. I wonder if it is perhaps one of two things, in general. We can share a familiar understanding of another person, with another, by two means: descriptions based on a shared understanding (he’s that guy with the big glasses who goes to that coffee shop) or based on interaction at the same time.

The latter is not something I could imagine between myself, another and God. But the former? That makes more sense. So when I hear of people having similar experiences to me – knowing the inner peace, the gentle spirit, the ability to stop, be still and just be; then I can know the presence of the divine in that person.

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I Lift My Eyes Up

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I look around the shops,
The bookstores with self help books,
The daytime TV shows,
The benefit centre,
The job centre,
Where does my help come from?

My help comes from God,
The one who built the earth,
The whole universe.
And the things we can’t see
Beyond it

It is God who comes to rescue me,
Not those in charge,
Nor those who think they are in charge,
Not myself.

I choose to rely on God
I know he wants the best for me.

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Atheist Prayer Experiment

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i haven’t really been following the Atheist Prayer Experiment ran by Premier Christian Radio. If I am honest I dismissed it out of hand as a bit silly and potentially shooting ourselves in the foot (as believers). Anyway, this morning I watched this:

Why did I think this was a bad idea?

Well, ‘thou shalt not test the LORD thy God’ and all that. It seems gratuitous to me for us as human beings to set the bounds for an experiment around prayer. It really just doesn’t sit right with me. How can we tell atheists how to pray and then expect God to speak to them? How can we expect them to have genuinely open ears, hearts, minds and souls? How do we know that even if they do experience ‘something’ then they won’t just ignore it out of sheer pride?

I’ve changed my mind watching this video, though. For two reasons:

1) The woman who found faith – let’s face it, she was probably looking. There will be 2 kinds of Atheists doing this experiment: those who are aware of a search for something, deep down, somewhere in their soul. And those out to prove it is just plain fallacy. The latter ‘won’t hear anything’ and the former probably will. You find meaning where you give meaning. That said, I advocate faith, and to see someone discover the otherness of spirituality from this experiment is a wonderful thing and I cannot help but applaud it.

2) That many of these Atheists are former Christians. This initially irritated me and I felt backed up my view that it was a flawed experiment drawing in 2 kinds of people. Maybe it is, but equally to point (1), should I not be glad that they are still, deep down, pursuing something? Of course I am! It gives me hope above all else that the wrestling in my own life will reach a settled state eventually. The thought of atheism as reality grieves my soul to depths I cannot express. Any chance that it is not the case is welcome news to me.

I’m also a big fan of the honesty of this presenter. He reads out the letters without glossing over them or giving them undue attention. He’s prepared to put his faith’s neck on the line, he’s prepared to ask and answer difficult questions.

That’s the kind of faith I think I could believe in.


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B-, Could Do Better (the difference between cynicism and controversy)

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I had lunch recently with my good friend Pete. He’s often been an encouragement to me, and regularly gives me positive feedback especially about my writing on here. So this time we met up, when he asked me if he could be honest with me, I wasn’t sure what was coming…

“I think you could do better” was what he said. He was referring to my cynical nature. And as much as it hurts my pride to admit it, I think he’s right.

The trouble is that the last few years for a variety of reasons, I have become a cynic. I won’t bear too much of my personal life on here, but it boils down to: struggling with the attitude of conservative Christians towards the world and towards myself, struggling with bad memories associated with the church I attend, a relationship-gone-bad, struggling with the attitudes of apathetic Christianity, family death, family illness, family break up and a long standing battle with depression.

That’s a whole lot of negative stuff. Now for the positive: I scraped through my degree, and, well, I’m still around. I run a business which is going reasonably well and I have some sort of faith still.

I guess you’ve probably noticed that’s quite an unbalanced list. Perhaps I am being unappreciative. Mostly I think I have become jaded by two things: God and Church. I have been angry at God for the situations I have faced, and dealing with that anger is a journey I am going on.

Church on the other hand has been more difficult. Since the summer of 2010 I’ve had huge problems with church. I don’t mean personal (though that hasn’t been the easiest ride), I mean intellectual and theological. And I started off passionate for God, hoping that I would work through my frustrations and help things change for the better.

Then life happened.

As Idle once famously sang, “Life’s a piece of shit”. It’s not been an easy ride for me in recent years – some of my own doing, but mostly external factors. And it’s changed my positive controversy (I’d call it radicalism) into negative cynicism.

To quote Brennan Manning, “something is radically wrong”.

It has been too easy to criticise, to point the finger, to moan, to complain, to question, to doubt, to pick apart and to break down constructions. It’s a lot harder to build up, encourage, shape, dream and hope.

But there is hope. No matter how much I read Rollins’ assertions that all is hopeless and dystopic, that there is no sense in chasing the idol of happiness, I have to constantly remind myself that Jesus’ very mission was to declare, once and for all, that there is and will always be hope. That’s the point.

I hope you don’t mind me being so personal, so raw, so emotional, but I think it’s a really important thing to be honest about, for myself and for those who read this and can sympathise with the cynicism.

I think we could do better.


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The Depravity of Faith

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We have made an idol of the perfect faith journey. The idea goes something like this: a person without faith has some sort of realisation that God is real, at which point they ‘find faith’. The person then goes on to live life with ups and downs, trials and tribulations, problems, rewards, challenges, mountaintops and valleys, but continues to have a rock solid experience of God until they day they depart the earth.

The problem with that ideal is that it is depraved. It’s actually a damaging idea rooted in some fantasy land where happiness is king. It might look like God is king, but the reality is that positive experience has been idolised into our perception of what ‘good’ or ‘true’ faith looks like.

The reality often looks more like this: we are brought up with a belief system (be it atheist or theist or pantheist or whatever), we carry that belief system into our teenage years, often fervently, or choose to reject it equally as fervently for an opposite (but still hold a faith in something fervently). We then become young adults aware that the world around us is not black and white, who are able to hold our own beliefs up to the light and to question them, to doubt them.

We will reach a point in our lives where we are genuinely confused about what to believe. That rupture is perhaps caused by tragedy, thought, or even simply the realisation that over half of our life is behind us.

After struggling through this point, knowing that we cannot have the monopoly on some sort of truth, we are better able to relate to people at all kinds of stages without holding the same level of judgement that, say, a pragmatic twenty something might have towards a black-and-white teenager.

What’s interesting about this reality is that people stop at different stages.

Not everyone reaches a point where they can relate to people at all stages from all walks of life. Mother Theresa died doubting the very existence of God.

Not everyone begins to question their reality so deeply as to doubt its core. Some simply challenge the parts of their faith they disagree with from their own experience. Often I wonder if these are people who struggle to relate (both in the sense of difficulty to communicate with and practically are not exposed to) those outside of their own faith.

Not everyone even challenges their faith beyond their black and white teenage world. We call these people fundamentalists.

Perhaps then, a season of doubt, a degree of unbelief, an ability to contrast the believing times when all around us makes sense with those times that the soul is darkened (as Mother Theresa would call it, the ‘dark night of the soul’), is actually a really good thing.

I’m not saying that chronic, persistent doubt is healthy – no doubt that leads only to cynicism and depression. But we haven’t yet grasped, as a Church, that it is totally healthy and good to have periods where we think, doubt, wrestle and wonder ‘what if?’

Perhaps if we left more room for doubt, and were less inclined to sideline it, treat it as too dangerous or ignore it altogether, we would encourage a deeper, greater faith in one another?

I could be wrong.

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