Once should be enough.

I was woken early again today by little voices.  When I went into the boys’ room, they were both in one bed, and they were being very awake, not very asleep.  This is Against The Rules.  The Rules have been made quite clear.  The Rules are not generally flexible in this area of life.  And so I went back to the Rules – ‘get out of your brother’s bed – it’s not 6:30 yet’.  I even posed the obvious question, ‘Why on earth are you talking when you’re supposed to be sleeping?’
It was clear that the Rules were known, but somehow they didn’t appeal, and therefore it seemed that they didn’t apply. This is a problem.  I pointed out that yesterday evening’s strife (don’t ask…) was probably related to tiredness, and tiredness was related to getting up too early.  This had little effect.
“Why do I have to say the same thing over and over again?”
It’s quite a common refrain in our house.  You see, I’ve got this problem with my kids – I tell them to do something (or not to do something) and it doesn’t seem to sink in.  So I tell them again.  And then I tell them again.  And it gets sorta repetitive.  And again, and again, and again.
I’m pretty sure they know what’s what by now.  This morning’s conversation made it clear that the Rules are known.  But they’re still not followed.  This is troubling.
And then I take a moment to reflect.
You see, I suffer from the same thing.  Sometimes (only occasionally, obviously) once isn’t enough for me either.  Sometimes, I’ll read something in my Bible – the Rules – and I’ll think to myself, ‘I knew that, but I don’t do that’.  And that must be a bit tedious for God.  How many times does He have to tell me before it’ll sink in?  And not just sink in, but actually change me.  When will I get better at applying the Rules that don’t appeal?
So although there are Rules that need to be kept, I also need to cut my boys a bit of slack sometimes.  And I’m profoundly thankful for that one time when once really was enough.  Where the Rules and my problem with keeping them were addressed by the rule giver.
we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all … For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
When it really counted, once was enough.
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Let me clarify at the start (can you clarify before saying anything?  Probably not…).  This is not simply an excuse to display a bunch of holiday snaps.  But Joshua and I had a little trip to some historical sites on our recent family holiday in Spain.

History selfieWe went to a place called ‘Old Zamora’ or Castrotorafe.  It’s actually a fair distance from the current Zamora (which is a town in Spain, not a football player).  About 25 minutes drive away, in fact.  But the scale is pretty impressive.  The river is lined with stunning walls (albeit in a state of collapse) and there are the remains of fortifications.

Wouldn't want to attack a chunky bit of stonework like this without some preparation

Wouldn’t want to attack a chunky bit of stonework like this without some preparation

Yes, that's a wall all along the middle of the picture.

Yes, that’s a wall all along the middle of the picture.

It’s also covered with lots of beautiful wildflowers, but weaving them into this post, whilst possible, is a tangent I’d rather avoid.

There’s a little uncertainty surrouding the precise events that led to its ruination, but while it may have been the victim of some war or skirmish, it seems that abandonment also played its part.  It would appear that people moved away.  With no-one to look after it and maintain it, it just gradually crumbled.  You can still see bits of it, of course, but it’s certainly not the vibrant, living place it once was.

From Old Zamora, we drove a little further and come to Monasterio do Santa Maria de Moreruela.  The sheer scale of this monastry is pretty staggering.  It boggles the mind to think that people were able to construct such impressive things without the benefit of much of today’s technology.  And yet…

IMG_0501Whatever happened?  The once-grand building, a centre of faith and practice, lies in ruins.  You can appreciate the splendour it once radiated, but much of that beauty and splendour is now consigned to the history books.  Its downfall was linked to the confiscations (much like the dissolution of the monasteries here in the UK) in Spain.

It was odd, there were some places where you could look from a certain angle and you wouldn’t know that the place was now desolate.


Yet from other angles, the truth was painfully clear.

IMG_0502 IMG_0495 IMG_0488 IMG_3304This monastery, once a focal point of faith, is now simply an interesting tourist attraction off the beaten track.  A glimpse of what once was.  A place of decline and decay rather than life and vitality.

And that got me thinking.  How do we protect ourselves from ruin?  How do we avoid crumbling?  Casting Crowns (an American band) talk about it in their song, “Slow Fade”:

It’s a slow fade when you give yourself away
It’s a slow fade when black and white have turned to gray
Thoughts invade, choices are made, a price will be paid
When you give yourself away
People never crumble in a day
It’s a slow fade, it’s a slow fade

People never crumble in a day.  The old city at Castrotorafe didn’t crumble in a day.  The monastery of Santa Maria de Moreruela didn’t go to rack and ruin overnight.  And neither do we.  We, like they, need maintaining.  We need a constant programme of care and repair.  This is why I’m so keen on Spiritual Disciplines – Holy Habits that keep us going even as we keep them going.

But we also need honesty.  You see, from certain angles, things might look fine, but maybe the truth of the matter is that things aren’t rosy.  People might look at us and marvel at our faith, while we know that things are rapidly coming undone.  The vitality that once rushed through us is now on life support, and things aren’t looking promising.

And yet there’s hope.

IMG_0480[1]The same light that streamed through every window in that monastery in its glory years still pours through, lighting the dark corners of a forlorn place.  And the same Life that once vitalised us still pours out in grace from our ever-faithful God, capable of refilling and re-energising us, breathing into us again, bringing life to our fading hearts.

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A Christian Survival Guide [book] Ed Cysomething-or-other

Christian Survival Guide

I guess this comes across in many ways as quite a gentle book. It doesn’t ask a great deal, but neither does it shy away from challenge and deep questioning. There’s some useful and ‘real’ stuff on Christian life. You won’t find yourself coming across Bible references every three lines, but there’s plenty of input from scripture. He’s someone who’s been brought up in a Christian home and therefore has plenty of experience. You’ll find some challenges, like this one from the chapter on prayer:

We may be able to squeak by with a little bit of prayer here and there, but thriving as growing Christians has everything to do with our connection to Christ…

And that’s fairly representative of his approach. You don’t get the impression he’s bashing the pulpit as he speaks, more chatting life through. I’ve not read Coffeehouse Theology (another of his books), but that’s sort of the level this feels like.

There are certainly some who would disagree with some of Ed’s conclusions (though is that so bad?), but it feels like these are things he’s wrestled with, not just rifled through the possibilities and picked the answer he most likes.

Personally, I really like his approach, and have a chuckle at passages like this:

I suddenly felt silly for fighting evolution for so many years. I was especially annoyed that my Truth fish (the one that’s eating a Darwin fish with legs) damaged the paint job on my car when I peeled it off.

But equally, I imagine that there are some who might argue that he needs to take his subject matter more seriously (though there’s arguably enough ‘serious’ stuff out there to sink a fleet of ships…).

Ed also jostles some of our foundations. He questions whether we have built our faith on the right foundations. So, in his chapter on the Bible, he poses this:

The question for us today isn’t “Am I doing the Bible right?” The question is this: “Am I living like Jesus?”

Where should our reliance be? Must we trust completely in an eternal-fires-of-hell approach to eternity? Because if that’s ever undermined, our faith may struggle. Must we believe in literal interpretation of scripture (e.g., six days (24 hour periods) of creation) at every turn? Because if that’s ever undermined, our faith may falter. Of course, such challenges may leave some feeling uncomfortable. And some may feel that altering some of our foundations is more of a ‘Christian Cop-out Guide’ than a ‘Christian Survival Guide’, but I’m inclined to think that Ed makes some useful, challenging points (even if I wouldn’t necessarily agree with everything he’s written…)

This is also a personal book. It’s not just a dry run through of the theory, but wisdom gleaned from experience. For that reason, it feels a bit more believable than it otherwise might. Ed doesn’t play his cards close to his chest in this book. He’s willing to be open about his own struggles and journey. Here’s something he says about money:

I’ve had to confess that I sometimes crave financial stability more than I crave spiritual stability.

The book seems to be written for a primarily American audience, so there will be some things that don’t quite ring true if you’re reading it elsewhere, but the general gist still holds firm, and minor content-related discrepancies can generally be readily applied within a different framework.

As a summary, I’d recommend the book. Ed’s got a sensible, pastoral approach that encourages self-examination and a willingness to question ones own ideas and priorities.

I received a free copy of this book (not a paper copy, which both saddens me and relieves my bookcase) for review. No threats were made concerning the nature of my review, and I feel completely free to review the book in whatever way I see fit. (I know that’s not the legal American wording for reviews, but I’m not American…)

Here are the chapter headings, for those who can’t find them elsewhere.  Oh, and it’s Ed Cyzewski, if you’re wondering.

Part 1: Christian Beliefs

  1. Prayer: A Still Small Voice for Big Loud Problems •
  2. The Bible: A Source of Crisis and Hope •
  3. Violent Bible Stories: Deliver Us from God? •
  4. Deliver Us from Evil: Is God Late? •
  5. Hell: Getting Our Goats . . . and Sheep •
  6. Errors in the Bible?: Fact-Checking the Holy Spirit •
  7. The Bible and Culture: Less Lobster, More Bonnets •
  8. No Doubt? Are Christians Beyond a Doubt? •
  9. Apocalypse Now? Yay! It’s the End of the World! •

Part 2: Christian Practices

  1. Sin Addiction: The Freedom of Restraint •
  2. Money: Give Everything Away and Then Tithe 10 Percent to Je$u$ •
  3. Community: When Bad Churches Happen to Good People •
  4. Not Ashamed of the Gospel? Death of a Sales Pitch •
  5. The Holy Spirit: Flames of Tongue-Tied Fire •
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A New Kind of Christian [book] by Brian McLaren.

I am way behind with my book reviewing.  Years behind, it would appear.  I live in hope that I’ll be catching up soon, but I’m not sure how realistic that is.

Background – chat with my parents about church and life and lots of stuff.  Also, wondering about the shape of and vision for the church generally.  And this book was lent to me.

New Kind of ChristianIt’s not my copy, and the handwritten comment in the front of the book is ‘Enjoy and celebrate this excellent piece of heresy’.  Now, this comment was made tongue in cheek, but illustrates one view of this book (and other books like it).  There can be a temptation to throw it out, labelling it as heretical.  But I don’t think it’s quite so clear as all that.

The book is written as a series of conversations and communications between two individuals, with some accompanying ‘storyline’.  One individual is a pastor, the other a high school teacher.  Their interactions consider the societal landscape and the place of the church in this.  There is much talk of modernity and postmodernity.  There’s some helpful stuff on what distinguishes one from the other.  The book then serves as a challenge to move the church from a modern to a postmodern approach to things.  This will scare some and worry others.  The pastor, Dan, takes the role of the one being encouraged to move forwards, with the guidance, encouragement and challenge of the high school teacher, Neo.  The pastor writes in his journal:  “I’m scared.  The kinds of things I’m thinking will surely be considered heresy.”  Neo encourages Dan to recognise that the Christianity of which we are a part is not simply Bible-based, but is also shaped by the foundry of the Modern Age in which it has been hammered out.

I think the book helps to clarify a lot of stuff that I’ve been thinking about.  There can sometimes be a danger (perhaps this is particularly true in some evangelical circles) of worrying more about winning an argument than being God’s ambassador.  There’s some stuff that I’d probably question – some ideas about eternity seem a bit hazy, but that may be partly because I’ve only read it through once (relatively quickly) and not really delved fully into some of its conclusions.

On the whole, though, I’d say it was a really great read.  It’s wonderful to see that people are looking to press forward; not leaving scripture behind, but leaving behind some of the things that have, through the age of Modernity, been welded onto scripture.  It’s written by an American, presumably mainly for an American audience, so you’ll find things like characters saying ‘I sure am’, where ‘I am’ would suffice :)

There’s also a lot on ‘spirituality’, which is obviously an area in which I am interested.  It’s nice to see spiritual disciplines being bigged up in books.  Maybe I should drop Brian a line…

Further comments are welcome!  Particularly if you’ve read the book, but that’s not necessarily a requirement :)

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Indelible faith.

It’s likely that a couple of posts in the coming days will be inspired by and linked to our trip to Big Church Day Out this week.

As we wandered around the Bazaar resources tent thingy, there was the opportunity to see a great range of Christian organisations and learn about the work that they do.  It’s such a challenge to see how people have taken their faith in God and love for Him and turned that into action in so many different arenas.

One stall was Release International, who work with persecuted Christians.  As a way of standing with those who suffer persecution for their faith, we were invited to be stamped with #IAMCHRISTIAN.  We duly offered up our arms to the stamper, and got our freebie wristbands in return for arm space.

IamXnBut that act in itself got me thinking.  We had our arms stamped with #IAMCHRISTIAN.  But it was only temporary.  It’s already started to fade.  Mine’s washed off completely, the photo of Big Boy’s shows his is fading too (he’s obviously not as bothered about washing…)  photo(2)And I found myself wondering whether that’s sometimes how I treat faith.  Something that can be washed off when I don’t want it so obvious, and reapplied in certain circles.  More of a temporary tattoo than anything else.  How do we maintain an indelible faith?  How do we ensure that our allegiance to Christ is engraved on our hearts and flows through our blood, rather than just decorating our lives when we are moving in the right circles?

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Who to betray…

I wrote this on facebook yesterday:

I’m finding this whole election thing very difficult this year. I guess one reason is that, whichever party I vote for, I know that I will be betraying some of my own values, and their policies will betray people I care about. It’s kind of tough deciding what and who to betray.
I know, it’s entirely possible to consider things from a more positive point of view – establishing which party most agrees with my own convictions and priorities, but for some reason, my overriding feeling this time round is just negative. Whoever I choose, someone’s screwed.

I look at every party (well, I’m kinda stuck looking at the ‘big 5’, because no-one else is standing around here) and see stuff that I like.

I love the Green Party’s stance on the environment.  I think, as a Christian, they tick a lot of boxes in the stewardship sort of thing (though most of them wouldn’t call it that).  I also love what happened on Twitter this morning:

I think that willingness to engage with an ‘undecided’ is pretty important.  But I think it’s important to engage with the ‘decideds’ too :)

I like our local (Conservative) MP, and think she’s done some good stuff around here.  She’s very involved in government, attending more debates and governmenty stuff [I’m pretty sure that’s the technical term] than your average MP.

I like the Lib Dem’s desire to look after the NHS.  Ironic, that the health service is itself in ill-health…

I like Labour’s approach to welfare, and accept that taxes may have to rise as a result.

I like UKIP’s colour scheme.  I’ve always been a fan of purple.

But equally, there are things from each party that are troubling.

The Greens seem to be in support of euthansia, which I’m absolutely not, and disestablishing religion (which wouldn’t be the end of the world, but I’m against anyway).

The Conservatives appear to prioritise the wealth of the wealthy over the needs of the needy, and I think that flies in the face of godly living.

Labour worry me because of their history of overspending.  Of course, that came at an economically tricky time, but if I tried to spend money that didn’t exist, I’d get into trouble.

UKIP just worry me.  I’m sure there are level-headed people in the party, but the focus on immigration and the sheer numbers of numpties who are verging on seeking Aryanism is disturbing to say the least.

Lib Dem’s are (clue’s in the name here) just a bit too liberal for me.  I’m more conservative (with a little ‘c’) than they are.  Just looking at the overview of their policies has me thinking, ‘oooh, no…’  a fair amount.

So you see my problem?  At some point in the next six hours, I need to go and vote, and I’m still struggling to work out who to vote for.  Natalie Bennett almost clinched it by actually tweeting me (perhaps you think that’s fickle), but I then have the problem that polls suggest Greens would get about 2% of the vote where I am, which raises the question of whether I should be voting tactically or not…  Oh dear.

As I said at the start, I fear that, whatever my choice, someone’s going to get completely done over.  But I am truly grateful that I get to vote.  I’m also very grateful that, whoever my MP turns out to be for the next few years, I’m perfectly able to contact them and put my views across. Whether or not I voted for them, that’s what they’re there for.  I hope I’ll be more engaged in politics in the coming years.

Having said that, I think I’ve effectively ruled out two parties.  Two more to go…  Plenty of time.

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It doesn’t add up…

Ok, so I’m coming into this whole election thingy a bit late in the day, but this has been floating around my little brain in the last couple of days:

photo 1

This is our car.  We’ve had it for a few years now.  It’s served well.  It’s had a couple of knocks, but still works ok.  (Perhaps I should clarify at this point, it’s not the car that’s been floating around my little brain recently – that would be jolly inconvenient, no I’m just illustrating a point – stay with me).  Last month, we bought this:photo 2It’s really quite nice.  There’s a lot I have yet to learn about it, but it’s nice to drive.  The boys are excited by the dizzying array of cup-holders (let’s face it, who wouldn’t be?!).  It’s got a bit more oomph, and hopefully will last us for a few years.

However, it cost us money.  The asking price was more than we’ve ever paid for a car (though we did once have a car loan, which ended up totting up to more than we’ve paid for this fella).  Not only did it cost us money, but it will also continue to cost us money.  More money, in fact, than the Skoda featured in exhibit ‘A’.  It has a bigger engine and is newer.  It is therefore more costly to insure.  It also uses more petrol.  It has a bigger fuel tank, so every trip to the pump costs more, and (given the bigger engine) doesn’t actually get you any further in terms of miles.  I’m assuming that services and parts will cost a bit more (let’s face it, if I was making Skoda and BMW parts, I know which I’d put a higher price on).  So not only did we commit to spending more money on purchasing it, it’s also a commitment to spend more money on running it.

By this time, you’ve either forgotten that this post started with a comment about politics, or you’re wondering where on earth I’m going with this.  Well, this is the thing that’s been buzzing around my head of late.

The main parties seem to be promising us bigger and better things, and yet assuring us that they’ll save us money at the same time.  They are, if you like, promising us the use of a BMW for less than the cost of a Skoda.  And I just can’t help thinking that’s completely stupid.  For one thing, if they are in a position to do that, why on earth weren’t they doing it already?  And how on earth do they expect us to believe it’s possible?  “We’ll cut your taxes”, they say, “and life will be even better, or at least, we’ll make sure it doesn’t get any worse”.  Piffle.  Seriously, are we expected to buy that?

It makes me want to vote for the party who are promising the greatest tax increases.  At least that’s one thing they’re not lying about…

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