thoughts on faith, justice, politics and philosophy

Author: Ben Treadaway Page 3 of 11

There Is Hope

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I didn’t manage to keep up the blog stamina! Never mind. Here’s an adventy poem/prayer for you:

When it seems like life is work,
and work is life,
there is hope.

When it seems like you’re alone,
in a sea of people,
there is hope.

When it seems like money talks,
and you’re silent,
there is hope.

When it seems like there’s no answer,
just more questions,
there is hope.

When your own two feet fail you,
your arms don’t support you,
there is hope.

When your faith is gone,
and your beliefs unsettled,
there is hope.

Whether you’re feeling ill, dying,
depressed, disillusioned,
dissapointed, distressed,
disregarded, downbeat,
deteriorating, damaged,
defiled, disoriented,
disturbed or downright angry.
there is hope.

O come, O come, Immanuel:
bring hope to the hopeless,
rest to the restless,
space to the crowded,
companionship to the lonely,
and love to the rejected.

Amen.

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Advent IV: In The Name of Jesus

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Since the beginning of time we have fought. Over land, over resources, over love, over grudges, over family, over power, over influence, over all kinds of things we have killed one another and allowed death to be an accepted, necessary part of our footprint on this earth.

Often, we do this in the name of God.

God told me to invade that country.
God would be proud we are spreading His message.
God is on our side.

“Those who live by the sword will die by the sword”

The sword kills men
The gun kills more men
The bomb kills innocent men, women and children
The hydrogen bomb kills millions of innocents.

War begets war.
Forgiveness begets peace.

We need peace,
We need forgiveness,
We need Jesus.

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Advent III: A brief history of God

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God made the world.
God made the plants.
God made the animals.
God made man first (obviously)
God made woman second
The woman messed up first (obviously)
The man messed up second
God killed everyone off because they were evil
God promised not to do it again
People worshipped all kinds of Gods
The Gods were angry
The God demanded sacrifices
This God spoke to Abraham
This God wasn’t angry
This God got angry (a bit)
This God demanded less sacrifices,
but still demanded them.
God took his people out of slavery.
God looked after Israel
at the expense of everyone else.
God doesn’t mind genocide.
God told everyone how to live.
No-one listened.
God got angry.
Everyone listened (A bit)
then went back to normal life.
God got angry.
God sent Israel into exile.
And brought them back,
and then into exile again.

Then God suddenly had a change of heart and
decided in advance to murder his own son
to show us all that he loves us
(because, apparently, he hates himself?)
So now if we don’t believe him
one day he’s going to get angry
again
and we’ve had it.
forever.

(but our choice was predestined anyway)
OR

God made the world
God wanted people to love him
People thought they had to please God
God showed Abraham their behaviour was excessive
God said “don’t sacrifice, everything”
God said “I don’t desire your sacrifices”
God said “Love your neighbour, it’s that simple”
But no-one listened.
So God made things clear
God made the biggest sacrifice of all
And showed the religious people there was nothing
behind the curtain.
Nothing at all.
God was in all things
through all things
he made all things
and loves all things
and all people.
He loves me,
he loves you,
he loves the one you hate.
And one day,
we’ll all get it.
And it will be beautiful.
OR
Your own story.

 
You decide.

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Advent II: Two Masters

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“You cannot serve both God and money”.

You cannot serve both God, and money.

You cannot
serve
both God
and money

You – you are not exempt,
you are not immune,
you are vulnerable.

cannot serve – you are enslaved,
you are captivated,
you are saving up,
you are spending away,
you are worrying about,
you are waiting for,
you are enslaved.

both God and money:
they have different priorities
they have different goals
they have different ideas
they have different stories
they have different destinations

Choose wisely.

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Advent: Caesar Saves

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Over the next 25 days I’m going to be posting a few short, simple posts. Hope you enjoy!

——

Caesar was the Son of God. The Good News is that Caesar Saves. You only have to pledge allegiance to Caesar with a public declaration and you can be Saved!

That was the good news then.

You can provide for yourself! Then you can buy what you need. Or, even better, what you want! Just sign on the dotted line, and we’ll give you the money you need to buy what you want, as long as you do what we say!

That’s the good news now.

Both sound familiar, right?

The second one may well be painfully true. Even if you enjoy your job, doesn’t it ring a bell on some level? This is the way we are told to live. This is the way we do live. This is the way the world lives.

But it is not good news! There is exploitation, poverty, deception and injustice all interwoven into this “good news”. Sadly, it’s not news, and it isn’t good, either.

The first paragraph will sound familiar because of the language. Jesus wasn’t as original as you might have thought – at least, not in the way that he spoke.

Back then Caesar made promises he couldn’t keep. That wasn’t good news, either.

We need some good news…

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Left Behind?

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They were gone. All of them. It happened almost in an instant. At first, people thought there had been some kind of trick played on them. Then they turned on the TV. It had happened everywhere.

God had taken the Christians away. Everyone left behind knew immediately what would follow. Seven years of hell-on-earth, near enough. The world was really in for it now. They hadn’t repented; they hadn’t prayed the prayer; they hadn’t gone to church; they hadn’t believed. And now they were going to suffer the consequences.

Initially there was chaos. Driver-less cars ground to a halt, millions of doctors and nurses and other public servants vanished, world leaders dissapeared creating a myriad of complex power vacuums, churches were looted, and criminal activity spilled out on to the streets as people realised what was happening.

Cars flew off highways. Planes crashed and burned, dropping like flies from the sky. Hospitals couldn’t cope with the shortage of doctors and nurses amongst the carnage. World leaders had vanished in an instant creating a myriad of power vacuums.

Watching from some far away place, all of the world’s Christians had gathered together with God and the angels. They watched from afar as the world burned. One of the angels looked at the screen in front of them, looked over at God and saw him smiling. A wry, knowing smile.

“What’s so funny?”, Gabriel said, concerned and confused by God’s seeming about-turn to destruction and devastation. “I thought we had gone past all of this, now? And the Christians aren’t even there to help”.

“Exactly”, said God, as he watched.

In that moment, one of the looters picked up a Bible from amongst the wreckage of a ransacked church. For fear of what might happen next, and out of sheer morbid curiosity, he began to read.

The man became instantly animated by what he had read. Soon the man was shouting and screaming at others nearby to do the same, and within minutes twenty or thirty people were stood, intently reading scriptures.

One of the renowned televangelists of the time piped up. “That’ll show ’em”, he said, arms folded. “Now they’ll know exactly what’s a-comin’ to ’em.”

Gabriel glanced nervously at God. And then the worst thing of all happened.

In the months that followed the fighting began to die down. People all over the world were counting the cost of the chaos. But something had changed.

“I thought they were due another six and a half years of this, at least” murmured the televangelist.

Fleetingly, God broke his stern silence. “There are many things you don’t know”.

The crowd of Christians watched as society began to repair itself. But it didn’t just repair itself. Society was transformed. Financial institutions and systems were ripped down and replaced, military spending ended, conflicts were resolved. People went out of their way to bring peace. Nobody was left alone – not one person was left without community, without love, without companionship. Old enemies forgave one another. The world had been transformed.

People began to gather together in groups, sharing meals, stories and… reading the scriptures together. As they sat around and read the gospels, a sweetness descended upon the heavens. God couldn’t wipe the smile off his face as thousands upon thousands of people began to recognise his presence on earth.

“I… I don’t understand” said the televangelist. “This could have been so much quicker if you had just answered our prayers and helped us!”

“Oh, it’s quite simple,” said God. “The problem was, they weren’t really ever told about the Way. Just the Way Out. I always knew that the people would hear the good news. I just had to get you all out of the way, first.”

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Cynical about cynicism

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It’s astonishingly easy to be cynical. I’ve tried to give up being overly so in the last couple of weeks – especially in my blogging, and I have found how difficult it is to re-train my mind to think positively, and to come up with a good blog in the absence of an easy attack on some particular area of church life.

But it occurs to me that in one particular area, cynicism is not only unhelpful but is also hypocritical. That particular area is the area of doubt. One of the most frustrating and difficult aspects of wrestling with or questioning faith on any significant level is that others, less conflicted or confused about what they may or may not believe or what may or may not be true, can trivialise doubt.

My reaction to this was to find a new spiritual home among the doubters. I gobbled up anything written by the likes of Pete Rollins, Søren Kierkegaard, Kester Brewin and other writers and theologians. I read poetry by fellow strugglers. I spent hours dismantling faith arguments, and I even gave up God for lent. In part, these were genuine attempts to reconnect with some kind of spirituality and some kind of faith.

But they were also done to make a point. I wanted to show all of those who trivialised my struggles that I wasn’t alone. I wanted to show them that I could carve my own way in the world without their trite statements and their optimistic outlooks. I wanted to wind them up with my “a/theism”. I had become totally cynical about belief.

The upshot of this is that instead of creating a positive space for doubt, I colluded with others over the death of Evangelical/Modern Christianity. Instead of showing grace to those who misunderstood me, I showed contempt. And in return I created more distance, more misunderstanding, and further problems.

Moreover, having moved on from the depths of this, I find myself now struggling with even the most basic aspects of church or faith, precisely because of my cynicism. On one level, I can see great value in this. It is cautious, reserved and unlikely to allow me to commit to something I shouldn’t. On another level, it means that I find myself doing mental gymnastics trying to justify taking part in church over the most basic of theological discrepancies.

Maybe this is all just me. But I have had many a conversation with cynical and struggling friends, and the one thing I can see consistently happening is an inability to engage further with church. The cynical me says “so what”. But the part of me that is trying to shed that way of thinking reminds the rest of me that the church is what I’ve got – whether I like it or not. The church is at the very least a small part of a whole bunch of people who are pursuing the same God that I am pursuing. At the very most they are my co-pilgrims though life.

Worse still I see this affecting my relationship with “God” (quotes used for effect, of course). If I posture myself negatively towards the world and towards my ability to interact with God, then I wonder if maybe, just maybe, I am taking the easy route out. Or not the easy route, but an easy route.

The other easy route is to believe, to not question, to commit without over-thinking, to be sure of my faith and not allow it to be probed, prodded, ripped apart and reassembled. But perhaps there is a better middle way? I’m just not sure yet exactly what it looks like.

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All Hallows’ Eve

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Tonight we remember
those who came before
and left.

Those who felt assurance
and those who felt
none at all.

There has to be a hope
a reason for this.
Maybe.

Have you abandoned us?
Are you there?
Were you?

Sometimes I’m sure
other times I”m not
Today? No.

Tonight it is dark
and all I see is evil
Personified.

The nights draw in
The days grow shorter
And I wait.

Beyond the fireworks
then the presents
and the hype.

Beyond Mammon’s tricks
and distractions
you arrive.

The memory of hope
But weeks away
Emmanuel.

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Left vs Right and the Third Way

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I recently caught up with a friend who is living and working in China. They were telling me about how there has been a law passed recently that forces people to visit their parents on a regular basis. The reason for the law? People of younger generations are less and less inclined to care for the welfare of their elderly relatives, and people are becoming increasingly isolated and depressed.

China’s solution? Legislate to force people to stay in communication with their relatives. A fairly typical Totalitarian (and stereotypically left-wing) response to a crisis: legislate, enforce, resolve. Except that it doesn’t really work, does it? We know that when someone is forced to do something, that doesn’t mean they want to do it. They will do it out of obligation or duty, and ultimately out of fear of the consequences of not doing so – especially in a totalitarian regime.

This reminds me to an extent of the Old Testament law. There was a LOT of legislation, a lot of very specific sub clauses to a lot of different laws. So perhaps there is an alternative?

In our country, we have the same problem of isolation and loneliness, but we trust that the individual has the right and responsibility to do what they want and will ultimately choose to love their family well. We provide basic support for those who are alone, but we do not go out of our way to shift people’s thinking. That’s because we do not live within a society where we are controlled or manipulated on anywhere near the same level.

… which reminds me of Christianity. We’re able to do what we want, how we want, when we want. In the words of Paul “everything is permissible”. But, not everything is beneficial. There are dangers to both approaches – legislating means love cannot be a part of it, and leaving things to happen naturally often means love is left out due to a lack of care, incentive, or ultimately selfishness.

There is a third way: the way of Christ himself. Christ came to earth with intention, he laid down some basic principles (Love the Lord your God with all your heart and love your neighbour as yourself) which were enough to get at the ethos of the law. He calls us not to remain as we are – selfish, unyielding and egocentric. He calls us to remember the other before we remember ourselves. He calls us into a change of heart, of attitude and of lifestyle.

And of course we know that if we follow this path, we will see a prosperous society. When we look at “healthy” or “inspiring” churches or faith communities – we see a tight-knit society which values young and old alike. That’s how we ensure that the elderly among us are looked after and loved. And it’s how we can begin to solve the other ills in our society, too.

 

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Phoenix Christianity

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The legend of the Phoenix has it that there is a creature who lives for a thousand years. Once its lifespan is complete, it builds its own funeral pyre, and throws itself into the flames. As it dies, it is reborn anew, and rises from the ashes to live another 1000 years.

What has that got to do with Christianity? For me, it is a fantastic analogy of my faith journey over the last 3 years. It feels as though I have been a Christian forever. As far as forever is concerned, for me – all 26 years of it – that is true. Forever can feel like 1000 years, even when it is only as short as 26!

About 4 years ago I began to seriously question the validity of my own faith. I began to tear out whole sections of my beliefs and throw them on to the fire. I watched as they burned. One by one I threw away my opposition to homosexuality and universalism, my frameworks of Evangelicalism, charismatic worship and so on.

As this process continued I proceeded to become more and more negative, more and more cynical, more and more skeptical of every possible aspect of my faith. Eventually, I found myself left with nothing. Pyrotheology had burnt my faith to ashes.

Yet here I find myself, once again prepared to affirm faith in God – even though I am not yet totally sure who or what God is, I believe that God is real, present and good. I am looking forward to discovering what else I can piece together over the coming years. Like a Phoenix, my faith is rising again to life from the flames.

There are two observations I can make about this: the first is that the Phoenix is a legend – an impossibility. An animal cannot be born of fire. We know that. Yet this is where I have found faith – out of having absolutely nothing left. I have explored the darkness and found that even in the depths of depression and nothingness, there is something, somehow holding me back from taking a final and permanent ‘leap of unfaith’.

The second observation is that my newly forming faith won’t last forever – it will last for a time, and then it will be replaced by something else. Perhaps the process will not be as painful, nor the changes so tangible, but there will be a renewal nonetheless into something different again. It is good to be at peace with this.

Ultimately, I am glad of the experience. Having nothing but ashes from which to build has meant that I have had to go beyond my experiences, beyond my world and explore the silence, the stories of others, and craft out new ideas and new ways of seeing things. The process has been incredibly rewarding. And finally, I find my cynicism beginning to subside. I can begin to believe again in a world which is worth inhabiting well.

 

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