Thursday 2 September 2010

Hawkins Grand Design

Well, plenty of comment and reflection on Hawking today and his views about the incompatability of science and religion. Apparently, we now have to choose I don't believe in science if I continue to believe in God. Yet, there are two flaws in Hawkings thinking, that were CS Lewis alive he might have pointed out in a succint, crystal clear and compelling way . . . I on the other hand, am no CS Lewis . . . but, in my clunking way, I will attempt it . . .

Issue 1. Are we unique? This is at the crux of our understanding about our "place", but also our "purpose in the Universe. In his book (and I have only seen an extract in the Times - yes, I know, I need to wash my hands) Hawking makes the following statement,

"In 1992 came the first observation of a planet orbiting a star other than our Sun. We now know of hundreds of such planets, and few doubt that there exist countless others among the many billions of stars in our Universe. That makes the coincidences of our planetary conditions - the single sun, the lucky combination of Earth-Sun distance, and solar mass - far less remarkable and far less compelling as evidence that the Earth was carefully designed just to please us human beings."

Ok, here is my attempt at CS Lewis style critique, let me ask a question, "is red hair on a human being unique?" Now, if you have only one human being you have nothing to compare it with - there is stands, male or female, with red hair - if you have nothing else like it to observe, you might consider that, IF there was another human being, it might consistently have all the same attributes . . . not just the red hair but gender, freckles, green eyes etc. We have NOTHING to base that assertion on, unless we can do some comparission work. OK, now lets say you have thousands of human beings, maybe different heights, genders, even different skin colour represented . . . but there, in the middle of all these thousands, there is ONE with red hair. Is "it" (or he / she) unique? I would be more inclined to say YES, looking at the evidence in front of me of thousands of huamans, than if I had just one. I do not know if we are unique, the tenuous link between M-Theory and the idea of multiple worlds, multiple dimmensions etc aside - I don't think it matters, as things stand - this planet is unique in that it supports human life, until we discover another one, the MORE planets we discover where human life cannot be sustained (orbiting single, multiple, or no stars at all . . . ) the more unique this planet becomes - not less!

BUT, more than that - there is a fundamental misunderstanding about what stuff is for (i.e. everything that exists).

Issue 2. Designed to please who? This, for me as a Christian, is easier to answer - unfortunately, Christians historically have struggled with the thought about who "everything revolved around", hence the issues surrounding Copernicus and his theories about the Sun . . . being the "pinacle of creation" - yes, I believe we are made in the image of God, but we were not made to "please ourselves", and unlike Hawkings assumption of Christian blieve, the earth was NOT "carefully designed to please human beings". ALL that exists (including us, soaring mountains on this earth, huge valleys on a moon circling a distant planet that we have not yet discovered) is for the GLORY of God. Created by Him and for Him . . . Colossians chapter 1 puts it fantastically well,

"For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and FOR HIM." Colossians 1 verse 16.

All this amazing beauty for me? I'm at the centre of things? All about me - no, all these things point me to our glorious creator God, and He delights in what He has made, the focus of the universe is God not man. So this is my belief (and I belief and, I think, the belief of Christians the world over), I am not shaken by Hawkings views - his reasoned thoughts are well presented, and mostly accurate - he has just come to the wrong conclusions and, crucially, although I have not read the rest of the book yet - and I will - there does not appear to be any fresh evidence . . .

I will put another blog up exploring what Hawkings has said about gravity in the next day or two . . .

Tuesday 23 February 2010

Lenten Reflection Week 2

OK, this is going to be brief. A question for starters - how are you with spiritual disciplines? After his baptism, Jesus is (according to Mark's gospel) literally driven out into the desert. He then fasts for 40 days and nights, Matthew says, "he was hungry", which is probably an understatement as I consider myself "hungry" when I have had breakfast, lunch, dinner . . . (at 5pm as we have two small children!), by 8pm I have the munchies!! I don't however know what it is to be hungry for food. However, there are other kinds of hunger and longing . . . in this season of Lent, it is good to reflect on that, as Jesus answered Satan when he was tempted to turn stones into bread with the words, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord" (Matthew 3 verse 4 is a quote from Deuteronomy 8 verse 3), elsewhere Jesus also says, when asked to eat something by his disciples, "I have food to eat that you do not know about" (John chapter 4 verse 32), He then says this, "My food is to do the work of him who sent me" . . . wow!

What is meat to me? I am asking that question during lent of myself. What feeds my soul, what nourishes my "inner man" (as Watchman Nee would call it) . . . there are times when I need the spiritual discipline of "watchfulness" and a really helpful tool I was once taught, for dealing with temptation and areas of weakness is H.A.L.T.

H.A.L.T. As in, stop and think! H - for Hungry, with the question, what do I do when I am hungry? This is not just about food . . . what are my "hungers", do I regularly bring those before Christ and lay them down, for Him to be Lord over them? A - is for angry. what do I do when I am angry? Is the desire for revenge or sniping at someone just waiting for an opportunity - or is it the urge to put things right, to bring forgiveness and healing? L is for lonely. And, man, at times ministry is lonely - but what do we do with that? Who do we share our lives with - where is our "community" our "accountability group" our friends in the Lord. Do we "go in" on ourselves or are we happy in our own company? Knowing what we need, and when we need it is a spiritual discipline as much as a practical one. Finally, T - is for tired. Ever felt so tired you just can't be bothered? Getting up is an achievement! What begins to slip when we are tired?

Mark gives a very sparse account of Jesus' time in the wilderness - just two short verses. However, it has seven encouraging words, "and the angels wer ministering to him". Jesus is not alone in his desert experience (this does not mean he did not feel - hungry, angry, lonely and tired) - but, in the midst of it He knew the sustaining hand of God. We might "feel" things, whether a physical ache or an emotional pain - but we are never truly "on our own" . . . as we prepare for Easter and reflect during our own lenten journey, maybe we will remember that Our Father will "give us our daily bread", (when we are hungry); that we might "forgive others as we have been forgiven" (when we are angry); to know that we are playing our part in "the Kingdom story" (when we are lonely) - and when we are tired, and we feel like packing it in, as we pray for "God's Kingdom to come on earth as it is in Heaven", let us be thankful that we do not rely on our strength and energy (when we are tired) - but remember, as Paul writes, that "His strength is made perfect in our weakness" (2 Corinthians 12 verse 9)

Friday 19 February 2010

Lenten Reflection Week 1

This is the start of some weekly "Lenten reflections". By way of beginning this, I wanted to mention what I am using through lent for myself. It is not strictly speaking a “lent” book, but I have found the thoughts in, “Reflections for Ragamuffins – daily devotions from the writings of Brennan Manning” (Published by Harper San Francisco, 1998) thoughtful, gracious and inspiring. Turing to the reading for Wednesday 17th February, I read this, under the subject of “Tender Judgement”,

“Jesus Christ taught prophetically, in the power of the Spirit, that Christian giving and forgiving should copy God’s giving and forgiving. Acceptance is absolute, without inquiry into the past, without special conditions, so that the liberated sinner can live again, accept himself, forgive himself, love himself.”

This is not woolly, liberal thinking – this gets right to the heart of God’s gracious mercy – at work in Jesus Christ. The key message on Ash Wednesday, along with the fact that we are from dust – and to dust we will return, is that as we “turn to Christ”, he will make all things new. We gaze, from what can seem like a long way off at the cross – Easter, Holy Week is the other side of lent, weeks to go . . . yet we can know God’s compassions, they are “new every morning” (Lamentations 3 verses 22-23). What I love about scripture is the interplay between passages - In my own life, I can only consider this passage that is in the context of lament if I also look at what Paul writes in Philippians, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Struggling to forget what is behind is one of reasons I think we struggle to get ahead! Paul, who calls himself “the worst of sinners” (1 Timothy 1 verses 15) also says, “follow me as I follow Christ” (1 Corinthians 11 verse 1). That gives me a real sense of hope in this Lenten season, reading those two statements from Paul, side by side, it is as I hear him saying, “look Ali, if I can follow Christ, so can you.”

Thursday 19 November 2009

Short Reflection - Peter and Jesus

In Matthew's gospel, chapter 16, we have the account of Jesus asking his disciples, "who do you say I am?" Peter speaks up, "you are the Messiah, Son of the Living God!" Jesus then proceeds to tell Peter who he is. The Rock, with the keys to heaven and hell, what a man . . . except - he isn't. This is the same Peter who, after this statement from Jesus - cuts off a soldier's ear in anger, somehow falls asleep when he supposed to be keeping watch, denies he knows Jesus and, even after the ressurection AND receiving the Spirit, can't get his head around the invitation from Jesus to the gentiles and the fact that they can be fully part of all the God has planned . . . so much for a rock, more like a blamanche.

Three quick thoughts:
  • Peter discovers who he is, when he recognises who Jesus is. We can search our whole lives long, looking for meaning and searching for identity - when we need to start with Jesus, not ourselves.
  • Jesus sees Peter (and we know this with hindsight, keep that in mind as you think about how Jesus sees those around you - and you), not just who he is when he makes this statement, but who he is going to be. The faith, the courage the passion - that will be there. We need to remember that this is also how Jesus sees us, all that we might become.
  • We need to look at others through Jesus eyes and see people with potential, not just people with problems.

It was Peter who went on to preach the first sermon and saw the Church born at pentecost, he was also the first Bishop / Father in the Faith . . . we need to think on that when we pray for our Bishops, our church leaders today . . . people of faith, but people none the less - and with the issues facing the church today - we need to lift them all up in our prayers more than ever.

Tuesday 28 April 2009

Leadership Thought # 3

I was hungry,
And you formed a humanities group to discuss my hunger.
I was imprisoned,
And you crept off quietly to your chapel and prayed for my release.
I was naked,
And in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance.
I was sick,
And you knelt and thanked God for your health.
I was homeless,
And you preached a sermon on the spiritual shelter of the love of God.
I was lonely,
And you left me alone to pray for me.
You seem so holy, so close to God.
But I am still very hungry – and lonely – and cold.

This poem, from the prayer letter last December (on the
Great Lakes Outreach page) is not so much a Leadership thought as a Leadership Slap in the Face. This poem was written by someone who had asked for help from a church leader, but been rejected - writing this poem in response and giving it to the Shelter.

If everyone we rejected was as articulate and proactive in response to our rejection, maybe we would be more aware of the damage we cause people - every day, just by living a life that ignores the needs of others. I am on a Church of England stipend as a lay worker and am near the top of the pile in terms of what I have - that is just a fact. When we get global in our thinking about who we are, we might, in our eyes become less significant - but, we have so much - that we can do so much with. Our attitude and our action is all about awareness. The more aware I become the more my attitude should be impacted, the more my actions should be shaped by what I know. Awareness is one of the greatest attributes a leader could have.

Friday 24 April 2009

Leadership thought # 2

Yes, I know, two in one day. I was listening to "great lives" on Radio 4 the other day (no, really) and the great life being discussed was the conductor Thomas Beecham. Now, I am not suggesting his life is one to emmulate, you will have to listen to the programme . . . but, he said something ver interesting in an interview about conducting - and it got me thinking about leadership and the culture of the church. When meeting a bunch of talented individuals for the first time, he would get them to play a piece of music - with him conducting, straight through from start to finish - he would then highlight the areas that needed work and go through the whole piece again, often without errors the second time around. He then moaned in the interview about those conductors who thought they knew better than the orchestra - and would procede to lecture them about how to play rather than let them play. Subsequently, it would take them at least half a dozen run throughs to get a good performance. The point he was making, which applies to leadership, was "let them play"!

How often do leaders patronise their congregations, volunteers, people and seek to instruct them - without actually seeing what they could do? We are surrounded by experts, but it is not the expert that gifts people, it is not the expert who has planted raw talent and ability, it is also not for the expert that people are given gifts, or have natural talents in the first place . . . we need to let people play, an old song I used to sing was "make me an instrument" - leading to "make us a symphony" - more leaders are needed who will let people risk it and actually "play" rather than lecture people about "playing" but leave no time for it.
Leadership Thought # 1

This isn't mine. It is Brennan Manning's, that genius author of "The Ragamuffin Gospel". Iwas reading him this morning and, in thinking about the resurrection, he says this, "If Jesus did not rise, we can safely assume the Sermon on the Mount as a magnificent ethic. If he did, praise does not matter. The sermon becomes a portrait of our ultimate destiny."

Essentially, he says, everything Jesus did on earth, the things he said, the way he was "with us" God Emmanuel, needs to be looked at in the light of the resurrection. "The gospel claims there is a hidden power in the world - the living presence of the risen Christ". This is how he finishes the reflection, but "hidden"? Yes in one sense, as Paul says, . . . in jars of clay (2 Corinthians 4 verse 7) . . . at the same time we are also encouraged, in the Sermon on the Mount, "to let your light shine . . . . that they may see your good deeds and praise your father in heaven." (Matthew 5 verse 16)

Which is it? It is both! This treasure is within and not from us - crucially, we so often need reminding of that. How many times have I done something for God and (if I have been praised or encouraged) it suddenly becomes something I have done for God. The power belongs to him, the glory is his . . . the point of Jesus' statement "let your light shine", is that if we live the Sermon on the Mount (which is only possible because of the resurrection) . . . then that which shines, points those who see us to Christ. John the Baptist has this cracked when he says, "He must increase, but I must decrease" John 3 verse 20 . . .

Oh God, I pray for more leaders who choose to become less - especially me.

Wednesday 22 April 2009

Vocational youth, children's or family ministry in the Church of England? - think again

OK, I am being deliberately provocative with that title, but you would be hard pushed to find a mention of youth, children's or family ministry mentioned on the Church of Englands website. Coming up on May 3rd is Vocations Sunday, what a change to celebrate all that our salaried workers do, up and down the country - week in week out, on the coal face of parish based ministry. But, no . . . here we have the information that "covers" us . . .

Accredited Lay Ministry - There are those who feel called to enable the Christian community to exercise its ministry in the world but who do not believe that they are called to ordination. Accredited lay ministry is open to men and women who are selected and trained in the same way as candidates for ordination. They may work as administrators, educators, missionaries, or in other specialist areas. (Read the whole thing on vocation in the Church of England here)

You can see where the point is being missed about what "vocation" is and what constitutes ministry when you read some general stats about the Church of England here. Under "ministers" you have the work of the clergy, oh and of course a mention of Church Army Officers and Lay Readers . . . under "community involvement" we find that 136,000 people work with children and young people, but, it doesn't appear to be ministry because this stuff is done outside of a worship service . . .

We need to get our act together and recognise ministry as just that, ministry. This is not an argument about the priesthood, and I see ordained ministry as distinctive in its own right - but the Church of England continues to be behind the curve . . . more youth and childrens workers are employed by us across local churches than by anyone else, of those studying for degrees in youth and community work with applied theolgy at the Centre for Youth Minstry, something like 40% are at CofE churches . . . . instead of taking the lead on recognising the incredible work that both salaried and volunterr youth and children's workers do, it has taken Youthwork The Partnership a year or so of thinking and planning to come up with the "We love our youth worker" Charter. It is great that someone has done it . . .

Why don't we value, and applaude youth and children's work at a national level in the Church of England? Got a view, let me know . . . .