Tough Love 2

(Grabbing some rest in Jaipur, India)

This post begins with a poem I’ve published previously but I’ve reworked it and here it is in a revised form. It sets the scene for the rest of the post.

Tough Love 2

Madness swells and seeps under doors.

The darkness in each of us seeks out its own.

We are blind mice

feeling for the exit

in a warehouse stalked by cats.

 

The anger of a thousand stolen childhoods,

shames inaction and smashes every excuse

for child sexual abuse.

Aromas of respectability become the stink

of yesterday’s household garbage.

Exposed and stripped of defence,

failed shepherds

spread their hands

and evade responsibility.

 

Transitioned into care,

yesterday’s people outlive their usefulness.

Independence reigned in to a choke hold.

Dignity denied them by others’ decisions;

all legal, sensible, faux compassion.

The children who consign them there,

confirm their own decline

in turn and in time.

 

A termination

on the strength of a prenatal scan.

Imperfect parents will try another time

for a perfect child.

This one flawed;

airbrushed out of a family’s history.

Binned as biological waste;

the child spared, at least,

the obscenity of parents like these.

 

Fragments of a hundred butchered innocents

lie on a hot black road;

litter left by soldiers of Allah.

An unfinished jigsaw of heads and limbs

sorted and ripped by beaks and talons.

Forget love and kindness.

Cruelty and violence are the price

of entry to paradise.

Who’d have thought?

 

Somewhere,

love is not set aside for the greater good,

explained away by self interest,

dishonoured through selfishness,

or perverted by pustulant ideology.

 

Somewhere,

people can be

who they were created to be.

……………………………………

 

“Somewhere love is not set aside . . .

This is an article of faith for me and my reason for writing this post. Somewhere there is a place where love is not set aside in favour of chasing other goals. A place where people can be safe and free to be who they were meant to be. I understand that place to be the kingdom of heaven; not a place in the sky with clouds and harps, but the kingdom of heaven right here, as Jesus described it.

I seek that place, and I’m committed to doing what I can to help the world be such a place. It’s not there yet. Not even close. The world continues to be a place where evil roams free, even as patches of light and hope shine through, giving hints of what might be possible.

(Friday afternoon drinks. A small patch of light and hope in the world.)

What sort of world do we live in?

The worlds of our parents and grandparents are gone, and to be honest, they were no more idyllic than ours is, just quite different. We would have to look hard now to find any of the things they would have seen as givens. Automatic respect for authority figures; heterosexual marriage and mother-father families being the norm; Sunday observance; social sanctions attached to divorce, and promiscuity, to list just a few.

In our world authority figures do not receive automatic respect. Their decisions and pronouncements are challenged routinely and defied openly. Marriage is no longer exclusively heterosexual, and marriage itself shares the stage with a variety of arrangements of varying formality. The term ‘partner’ is used in preference to ‘spouse’.

Social sanctions are now applied for totally different reasons than they used to be. Divorce remains an unpleasant, damaging experience, but no longer carries the social and legal sanctions it once had. Promiscuity is now celebrated and assumed to be the norm, although some interesting ethical acrobatics are needed to avoid being caught up on the wrong side of ideology (#metoo).

Not that such changes are all regretable. Easy divorce has had an upside for some people trapped in intolerable circumstances, but the proliferation of divorce has shaken families and weakened our culture. We like our Sundays the way they are. Not so much days of rest anymore, but still we enjoy them.

Promiscuity? We are saturated with messages, overt and subtle, that a promiscuous lifestyle is normal and desirable. Does experience tell us that promiscuity leads anywhere beneficial, or that widespread promiscuity is something any society can be proud of? Seriously

While some of us view these changes with some sadness, many more celebrate what we see as the overthrow of oppressive structures and traditions. Some of us are in both camps. We see the dishonesty, the hypocrisy and the injustice threaded through the institutions of earlier generations. We also see and give credit for the stability and the meaning they gave to people’s lives.

Turning our faces away from traditional values, we might have believed that by doing so we would be free to live more honest, moral lives.

Is that what’s happened?

Convincing ourselves more enlightened than our forebears, embracing our whims and preferences as the guiding moral compass for our lives, we have put ourselves at the centre of everything.

How’s that going for us? Sweetness and light is it?

Lest you think you smell sanctimony, I have more than enough to regret and be ashamed of. I listened to the whispered silky justifications, I was seduced by the promise that it was all about me. As long as I wasn’t hurting anyone, I should have been free to do what I liked. I had no right to judge anyone anyway. After all, aren’t right and wrong so passé? Surely such old fashioned ideas belonged in an earlier time? I remember one self assured woman correcting me for using the word ‘adultery’. “Do they still call it that?” she asked mockingly.

It occurs to me that’s what the western world has come to believe. By changing the language, the social mores and traditions, we consider we have moved to a higher moral plane. We have rewritten the moral code to suit our own preferences and we are free to do that which we are inclined to do. But does it change human nature, or does it make us the fools, blind to predictable consequences?

So, yes. There was much to condemn in the values and mores of the world of our parents.

There is much to be thankful for in new ways of looking at the world and in the lifting of oppressive, hypocritical laws and practices, but have we have got it right yet

Living life as an extended pursuit of indulgence, freedom to make our own choices, our own happiness and fulfillment, as if we were not dependent on others and they on us, has become the reason for being for many of us. Our pursuit of personal fulfillment can see us dismiss the trail of hurt and damage we leave behind, if we think of it at all, as collateral damage, regretable maybe, but an acceptable sacrifice for the greater good (our wants).

Be true to yourself.

Don’t judge.

Follow your heart.

If it feels good, do it.

No one has the right to tell you what to do.

Each of these memes contains some truth, but that does not mean they are the whole truth, or that they are the best way to organize our lives

For all the ways we are encouraged to think of ourselves as free and uninhibited, are we as free as we think? In our culture diversity is seen to be a self evident good; except of course, diversity of thought. Try expressing reservations about some of the memes above and note the reaction

So how do I go about countering a worldview that’s seduced the western world so thoroughly that many people now see it as self evident, beyond questioning? A big ask, I know.

It’s just when you stop, step outside, and look around, you realise that it’s a seductive facade. It’s a lie. An attractive and seductive one, but a lie nonetheless. One leading us away from the kingdom of heaven I mentioned earlier; the place where love is not set aside; the place where we can be fully human.

We are more than our cleverness, the nastiness we cultivate, the selfishness we flaunt, and the misery we ignore. These things do not define who we are.

There is an answer of course. There is a path to follow. So many of us have rejected what we imagined was the Christian message. We rejected a caricature. The established church has much to answer for in that.

The Christian gospel is far more shocking and subversive than any adolescent arrogance could have imagined.

Maybe it’s time to look again with adult eyes at Jesus and to weigh his message in the light of your experience. Like me, you may be blown away.

Advertisements

Spiritual, not Religious

I’ve only just stumbled on the work of English theologian N. T. Wright. Why has it taken me this long, I ask myself? He writes clearly and speaks to me exactly where I am right now.

As a Christian dealing with the contempt of secular materialists, the evaporation of church credibility after disgraceful sexual abuse scandals, and the hostility my faith receives from within my own culture, his books have something to say to me. I recommend them to anyone looking for a way to live life as an authentic Christian in troubled times.

We can not expect to go on as we have done. The days of churches are numbered if they persist in operating as social clubs asking little more from their members than the weekly offering.

I have tried to summarise below the thrust of his ideas from just one book. I sincerely hope I have captured the thrust without misrepresenting him. You can find his books for download by searching the Amazon Kindle site.

What follows is a bare bones summary of ideas from the book “Spiritual and Religious” by Tom Wright.

Western culture has turned away from organised religion, but almost all people are spiritual to some degree. Some carry vague vestiges of Christianity with them, while many have given up all pretence, embracing ideas and values diametrically opposed to a Christian world view.

Christians have a great deal to say that this culture needs to hear. Engaging with the surrounding culture, and not retreating from it, is the way of the Christian disciple. This does not call for ‘in your face’ tub thumping evangelism on the one hand, or being pious judgemental prigs on the other. It calls genuine repentence for the hypocrisy and failings of the church; active involvement in righting wrongs, fighting injustice, and healing hurt; and in the process, sharing the truth of the Christian gospel.

Whether it was ever easy to be a Christian is a moot point, but it has been made immensely more difficult in current times by the loss of credibility by the established church and a lack of leadership from its leaders.

N. T. Wright:

“There is no doubt that something is wrong with our world, and with us as human beings . . .

The modern world is in a crisis of identity . . . (There is) a state of paganism in the modern Western world. . . I suggest that the church itself is called . . . to repent of its own failures, shortcomings, and folly. Indeed, the church can only really summon the world to repent if it is itself putting its own house in order.”

Common Misconceptions of the Christian Gospel

Dualism: e.g. Heaven good, Earth bad

N. T. Wright:

“Many Christians . . . are basically dualists. . . They have been taught that the world . . . is essentially evil; that God sent his Son from beyond the world to rescue us out of it . . . we will all finish up either in a non-physical heaven or a non-physical hell.”

This view is not biblical. It is not what the Bible teaches. The Earth is not bad. It is God’s creation.

Monism: e.g. “all is one”, mother Earth, Gaia, etc. God is in us. New Age beliefs fall into this category. Monism is also not biblical. God is creator and sovereign lord. He stands both in and above creation. The world and God are not one and the same.

N. T. Wright:

“We can only begin with the admission of failure: God have mercy on us, sinners that we are. We need, then, to repent of our half-and sub-and semi-Christian ideas . . . and of the muddles which have enabled us to imagine we were sound or substantial in our faith when in fact we were half-baked and half-hearted. And we need to repent of having made our muddled and half-grasped theologies into weapons of attack against those we did not like or understand.”

Idols and Paganism

Contemporary western culture is not neutral. It is overwhelmingly pagan. People worship a multitude of idols: Money; Power; Youth; Sex; Violence; Self gratification; Status; Nationalism; Material possessions, etc.

N. T. Wright:

“Idolatry begins when human beings treat something which is good as if it were God.

The things to which human beings give mistaken allegiance are not, in and of themselves, bad. The evil consists in human misuse of creation, not in creation itself. . . one of the great truths about being human: you become like what you worship.”

“But what if you worship something else? You will be worshipping something in whose image humans are not made, and it will start to show. Worship money, power, sex, security, prosperity, political advancement, and it will most likely show on your face sooner or later. It will certainly show in the way you treat yourself, and in the way you treat other human beings.”

The Role of the Church in the world

The established church has long related to the world by fitting in with it, taking the easy way, and going along for the ride.

N. T. Wright:

“The trouble with this approach is that it (the church) is so concerned to be like the world that it ends up having nothing to say to the world.”

Christians should stop trying to fit in to the world, and start to behave as if they believed what they say they believe. At the same time, Christians from different traditions and practices should stop fighting each other over matters of tradition and doctrine. The real enemy, paganism (worship of parts of creation rather than God), needs to be countered by a unified church of believers with the common cause of Jesus Christ.

Christians have work to do. They must stop being distracted by stuff that doesn’t matter and which destroys their credibility.

N. T. Wright:

“Christianity . . . must present the true picture which will enable people to see the caricature (of new age thinking) for what it is. If this means planting flags in hostile soil, so be it.”

Planting flags in hostile soil does not mean using violence. It means engaging the wider pagan culture where it is now, not waiting for it to come to us. Christians should affirm the many things that are good in western culture, but call out the things that oppress and damage their fellow human beings; not compromise their faith for the sake of a quiet life.

N. T. Wright:

“The church may well have a fair amount of repenting to do before it can say anything about Jesus that will not at once be invalidated by its own life and behaviour.”

“When the church is . . . welcoming the outcast, healing the sick, challenging the powers that oppress and enslave the poor –then its claim about Jesus will be self-authenticating.”

This has become a very difficult task in the light of the church being seen to be more interested in protecting its priviledges, wealth and good name in the face of the world wide sexual abuse scandal. In the eyes of very many people, the Christian church has no credibility. Christians, as Church, need to repent of this, give up their status, and move out into the world . .

N. T. Wright:

“(We need to be) finding out where pagan gods and goddesses are being worshipped, and finding ways of worshipping Jesus on the same spot.”

“This will undoubtedly mean that Christians will find themselves, as Jesus found himself, at risk morally and physically. But let there be no mistake. Jesus did not shout platitudes at Israel from a safe distance.”

If Christians are followers of Jesus, then let them learn from the early Christians who lived in a similarly hostile pagan culture.

You can find much more detail and fuller explanations at the Amazon Kindle site, with a search for ebooks by N. T. Wright.

Sharing the Gospel or shoring up the status quo?

(Relics of a bygone age. Colourful but stuffed?)

I began to write this to vent frustration at Christian churches that are failing their followers and their societies, and it felt good to get some of it off my chest. After all, churches have brought many of their current woes on themselves. As I wrote though, my focus changed, and I began to turn the arc lamp more towards myself.

The Christian church in the west has long chased power and respectability, and having sidelined the Gospel in the process, now finds itself with little of either. It has allowed its moral authority to be compromised, and in the space of two generations, has presided over the departure of the bulk of its flock. There is no way to sugar coat this ugly truth, although some continue to try. What remains resembles a hollowed out shell, where the rearranging of deck chairs is preferred to the facing of hard questions.

Moral leadership by churches is almost nonexistent, and ineffective where remnants exist. Few people are listening. Church leaders have squandered their moral authority as a result of a long tradition of chasing respectability and power in preference to living the Gospel of Jesus. The child sexual abuse scandal is the latest and most devestating blow; brought about by church leaders who chose to try to preserve the good name of the church over Gospel authenticity and caring for their flock. Why would anyone listen to leaders who failed their mission so obviously? If our anti-religious brethren have jumped on the bandwagon to grasp such a perfect opportunity to bash the church, should we be surprised?

Christians looking for leadership from their church are likely to be disappointed. Church leaders typically are too timid to call out error or to respond to the increasing attacks of secularists, while their followers find it easier to keep their heads down and go along with the zeitgeist than to risk ridicule and ostracism in defending their faith. If we are honest with ourselves, we might conclude our collective spiritual resolve is on a par with partly set jelly.

The church has no reason to exist except as the body of believers who give witness to the Christian Gospel. Somewhere along the line we forgot that. We imagined our aims to be ‘church growth’ (as if we were answering to shareholders), and the shaping of society to reflect our prejudices and reinforce our privileges (as if that were what the Gospel was about). Chasing ‘relevance’, we allowed the Gospel, the best news anyone could ever hear, to be sanitised and neutered so as not to offend anyone’s sensibilities, including our own. We were left with a bland facsimile that few saw a reason to value.

Sadly, disciples of Jesus in the western world can not expect much from their churches apart from platitudes and worn out thinking. Continuing to chart our course with comfortable clichés will see us absorbed totally into the surrounding secular culture.

We need a radical rethink of what it means to be Christian.

I suggest that we should begin by facing reality. The churches of Christendom have become comfortable and complacent. They are decaying. People are not listening to the good news we have for them. Is it reasonable then to conclude that there is something awry? Does that something have to do with society (in which case we can sit comfortably and tut tut) or does it have something to do with how we are doing the Christian bit? Is it all the fault of churches?

A Rethink

I’ve been scathing of our churches but should I be looking closer to home? After all, the only person I have any authority to change is myself.

I realise I need to be open to repentance, and there is plenty of material for me to work on. What I don’t know though is what I don’t know. This is where I need God and my fellow believers to guide me, and where necessary, accuse me. Repentance is a cleansing process and opens the door to renewal, but I struggle to do it by myself.

What follows repentance is the desire and conviction to do things differently. For me, this may be looking at myself honestly and examining some of my attitudes. It is likely to demand some changes in the way I do the Christian life.

If, in the process, I can grow to be the person my creator intends me to be, and to be the Gospel for my sisters and brothers, rather than just seeking ways to share it, that will be an outcome as satisfying as it is welcome.

Christians face daunting challenges in a culture increasingly indifferent and even hostile to them, but alloting the blame solely to inept and corrupt churches blinds us to the need to look inside ourselves and to God for the renewal we must have to become Christ’s disciples. Blending in with secular society and becoming indistinguishable from it is not the way forward.

I began this post by pointing out the failures of the established church, but as I wrote, came to realise that the failures of the church were not so different from my own failures. Its compromises were not unlike mine; its timidity exceeded only by my own. Neither the church as an institution, nor I as an individual, can fulfill our purpose when we chase goals other than those God has set for us.

Maybe it is only then that we can move beyond the dismissal of Christians as curiosities to be left on the shelf as society moves on.

Beauty, simply.

 
Beauty, simply.
(Water plants near the mouth of the River Danube 2016)
 
 
Try as I might I don't understand the world. Never have. Don't expect I ever will. So I guess I'll just have to accept the presence of beauty, without knowing why it's there, rather than not there.
 
Now and again the world disappoints me. Some of its inhabitants disgust me, and others surely frighten me, but despite that, the sum of life has always seemed to me threaded with beauty.
 
I said 'sum'. I meant 'essence'. There's a purity to be distilled; a vein of hope to be discovered in all things. I believe it, and won't be persuaded otherwise.
 
I won't say all things are shot through with beauty. Sometimes there may be only a strand of it; thin, tenuous and tiny; visible only to eyes that want to see it. Sometimes it will only be seen in hindsight. Sometimes the presence of beauty would offend us if it were suggested.
There are circumstances, and I've lived through my share, where even the suggestion of beauty would be blasphemous. Grief, anger, rage, hopelessness, injustice, fear; a complete list would be a long one. Even at these times, in my experience, there is an essence, a presence, that waits patiently and respectfully for us to be ready to turn towards it.
 
(Memorial for victims of the Thai Burma Railway construction World War 2)
 
 
Through all the things that make life monotonous, pointless, useless, or cruel, beauty, simply shines through. I don't understand it, but I accept it.
 
I will thank God. You may thank who or what you like.
 
 
(Shrine. Luang Prabang, Lao Peoples Democratic Republic, 2017)
 
 

A Life Worthwhile

A Life worthwhile.
 
I've posted on this theme before, but this afternoon I feel the need to continue the conversation, even if this post maybe needs more time spent on it.
 
(Waterfall in Erawan National Park, Thailand)
 
 
Might there be a recipe for a worthwhile life? A formula? A user's manual? A hack?
 
Don't know really, although I suspect there is some good advice here and there.
 
 
Hundreds of priests, sages, gurus and life coaches will tell you such things exist. Not all of them will charge you for the information.
 
You will be pleased to know I'm not in the business of charging for sharing wisdom. Nor am I in the business of preaching, advising, or (hopefully) patronising. Nevertheless I do have some thoughts on the topic, and here they are, incomplete and hopelessly generalised:
 
A life that is worthwhile is one for which I am grateful. I could leave it at that, because that sentence, properly understood, is the key to much wisdom. But since I've begun, thoughts flow from this.
 
A life worthwhile is one in which I stay humble, in which I take time to think, to weigh up. I realise my life isn't and never was all about me.
 
I know my own mind, my values, and what I would be prepared to die for. It is a life in which I recognise and remember what is important and what is not.
 
Through many false starts and blind alleys, I begin to understand that how materially successful I am, how much I earn, how much I own, how attractive I am, has no bearing on how much I matter in the scheme of things. I learn to accept others (who all also matter in the scheme of things).
(Street sweeper in Delhi)
 
 
Because I understand its not all about me, I have time for others. I hold their love and their dreams gently.
 
I don't know why I am, or even what life is, so I accept all of it as a gift. I accept I have been created by a loving God whom I worship naturally instead of myself. I realise not everyone will agree. I have given up worrying about that. Religion has a bad press in some arenas, and deservedly so. There is too much temptation to strangle ourselves in misunderstood dogma and to create a monster that imprisons us, rather than frees us. I'd better stop there or I might begin to preach.
 
((Taken in a UNESCO protected temple complex in Kanchanaburi, Thailand)
(Lady in a village in Armenia)
 
 
I know the world is not perfect and that many of my brothers and sisters have not seen justice and love in their lives as I have. I talk to God about this. I don't often understand God's answers.
 
 
Notice I've used “I” exclusively?
 
You need to work out your own path. Hard work, but you don't need to do it alone.
 
 
(We're all different. Each of us matters.)
 
 
 
 

Untitled

I find myself feeling increasingly isolated by the groupthink I see everywhere these days.
 
Am I the only person who is uncomfortable with the spirit of the times which divides people and judges them on the basis of what they believe or how they vote?
 
(Photo of a memorial to prisoners of war killed building the Thai-Burma railway in World War 2.
Hellfire Pass, Thailand)
 
 
How sad it would be
 
 
If I believed in tolerance so strongly,
I could show no tolerance
to those who saw things differently.
 
 
If I praised diversity in all things
except opinion.
 
 
If I defended human rights
with personal abuse,
foul language
or violence.
 
 
If I believed those who thought differently
were stupid,
deluded,
bigoted,
or evil.
 
 
If I my belief in a cause
stopped me reaching out in friendship.
 
 
If I believed I held the truth and it were mine alone.
 
 
How sad it would be.
 

Plea to a Zealot

 
I am not you.
 
I see what you see,
but I see differently.
 
Let me be.
 
 
(A Garden in the Alhambra Palace, Granada)
 
 
I do not need
to think like you,
but I might need to hear
what you have to say.
 
 
Don’t exclude me
or demonise me.
My heart beats as yours does
and I breathe as you breathe.
 
 
We touch the same air
and live in the same streets,
but you look ascance at me.
You question my sincerity and motives,
as you preen in the righteousness of your own.
 
(The anger of zealots expressed on a church wall in Granada, Spain)
 
 
You float through life in a bubble
self referencing,
self affirming,
convinced of your moral superiority.
 
 
I believe
as sincerely as you do
but hold a different truth
in my heart.
Mine is as precious to me
as yours is to you.
 
 
We flatter ourselves
that we own the truth.
Maybe if our truths have no room for each other
there is no room for either of them?
 
If what I value makes me unworthy;
If how I see things excludes me
from your regard;
then so be it.
 
I will let you be.
 
 
(Embossed door of the Sagria Familia Cathedral in Barcelona)
 

A Would Be Mystic

My urge to write comes and goes. Could be something to do with tides or phases of the moon. Or maybe the influences are more subtle, less easily attributed. More ethereal.
My state of mind for instance. It wanders, you see. My inner world is a labyrinth and my mind has a habit of sauntering through the corridors, pausing here and there to pick up an image, a memory, thoughts or a feeling, sometimes mislaid, sometimes waiting to be made sense of, catalogued and tidied away. I don’t have the plans for the building, and for some of its rooms I don’t even have a key.
That’s one reason I write blog entries. The process of writing serves to tidy up my inner world and to help me make sense of stuff I don’t have a key to access. It’s a healthy thing to do, I guess.

Now and then I use photographs as a stimulus to writing. And so it is today. Four photographs and one short video clip are my mystical muses.

What is it about us?

Look at this image of the city of Sydney by night. The world of the immediate. A world of lights and sound and tastes; where anything can happen, good and bad, benign and dangerous. The unspoken seduction of crowds, noise and lights brings people together in large numbers, as it has always done.

Why is it then that the monuments we build as testaments to our ingenuity are such contradictions? Cities across the world are showcases for the best we can do. We walk down their streets and reassure ourselves that we’re cleverer than people were in the past; that life is purposed by canyons of concrete and glass; and that we’re in control.
And yet . . .

You don’t need to look too hard to see cities struggling to match words with deeds. Communities in name only, they breed alienation and nurture inner emptiness in the souls who tread sterile urban wastelands. Blank faces, and eyes that don’t meet other eyes: Testaments to the loneliness of crowds.

City living the pinnacle of human ingenuity? Or have we got some priorities badly wrong?
Perhaps that is a bit harsh. Humans are social beings. Well, most of us are . . . even me. I enjoy a night out on the town as much as anyone, but this morning I’m in a mood to wonder why our cleverness does not often guarantee our happiness.
What is it about us?

We start out well enough . . . if we’re lucky enough to have parents who want us and care for us. I reckon these little fellas have a lot of things right in their approach to life. Living in the moment they carry no burdens. Trusting and loving, they elicit love and delight from everyone they meet.

Simple, isn’t it? So why do we find it so hard?
What did we lose along the way as we learned to take our place in the world? Our innocence? Our Wonder? Our trust? Ourselves? I don’t know. Maybe these changes are inevitable and necessary, but I wonder. Is it necessary for adults to lose their sense of wonder and their connection with themselves?
So is there an answer; an antidote to a damaged adult soul?
I’m going to be bold and claim that love is all when it comes to human well being and happiness. There is no material success; no job title; no salary or position of power means a jot of anything to me compared to loving and being loved. If I were ever tempted to forget that I would only need to look at those boys’ faces above.

As a grandparent, this is all clear to me. As a parent, to my shame, it was not always so. I wasted a lot of time and opportunities chasing mirages, and in the process took the love of my family for granted.

Why is it, that so many of us sacrifice our lives on the altar of material assets or power or seductive dreams when the substantive things escape our notice? Are we just slow learners? Or are we wilfully blind?

The mystical musings continue as I remember a beach in northern Spain. The photograph speaks of journeys. The beach begs to be walked, and the path rising to the top of the hill suggests a destination somewhere out of sight. How often have I walked such tracks? How many times have I found the journey more satisfying than the destination?

How often in my life have I chosen to follow paths, some actual, some metaphorical, hoping to find new things? A new start. A new experience. A place where things made better sense. Sometimes I found what I was looking for, and sometimes I got lost, badly lost. What I didn’t realise was that what I was seeking was not to be found at the end of a journey so much as inside myself.
That self knowledge is hard earned. It has cost me and those I love lots of cuts and grazes, and grief. Now the people I have learned to admire most are those who put others first, and go about their lives at peace with themselves and walk gently in the world. They are treasures. Perhaps you know someone like that? I would like to be one someday.

And to finish these mystical musings, I would like to share with you a short video I recorded last year in a monastery in Armenia. It is an Armenian group (obviously) who perform traditional folk songs and elements from the unbroken 1500 year old traditions of the Armenian Apostolic church. I cannot remember the group’s name, but I suppose a bit of work with Doctor Google would remedy that.

The songs were Armenian. It did not matter. I stood barely breathing, as I listened. The floor could have opened up beneath me and I would have floated, completely immersed in the moment. A mystical experience? Yes, even despite the presence of other tourist groups who, while temporarily silenced, soon wandered off chattering amongst themselves about I know not what.

I listen to this clip periodically to remind myself of the experience, and to be confronted again by the insights it gave me:
That there are things in this life that transcend the daily routine and matters we think are important. That when all else fades away these things will remain as strong and clear as ever. Love is one of them. Belonging is another.

 

 

One final thought:

Being able to stand outside one’s self and see, hear and feel the cries of others is the greatest thing I know. I am grateful for the times, here and there, I can manage to do that, and can only hope people can forgive me when I can not.

Paradoxically Yours

 
 
(Sunrise over the Broadwater, near my home)
 
Early morning. A coffee cup stands before me. I'm in an expansive, live and let live, mind frame.
 
It seems the more I learn, the less I know. I guess I'm on a journey, . . . I suppose. Looking to make sense of things that don't make sense; trying to touch bedrock in a patch of quicksand; to establish my bearings in a world that has more puzzle than plan for me.
 
I used to be addicted to digital news media; especially to the reader feedback comments they invite. I have even been known to contribute a few myself. The battle of ideas fought on a sea of high drama. It's all there! At least, that's what I used to tell myself.
 
I see the whole enterprise differently now. If you're lucky, you come across a dash of grace, a smidgeon of empathy, or a worthwhile insight in reader comments here or there, but they're few, and nearly submerged in a swamp of abuse, derision, ignorance, tribalism and prejudice.
 
Don't leap to any conclusion! I am not taking a partisan stance. Right wing, left wing, conservative, progressive, anarchist, or whatever: There are few of any persuasion whose commentary rises above the smug, the ugly, the patronising, or the fatuous. (If you're a contributor and you feel slighted, well what would I know?).
 
I'll admit I have become quite disillusioned by politics and politicians. I no longer trust that many know what they're doing or have solid principles to guide them. The cynicism with which politics is done disgusts me, and the level of self interest I see frightens me. There, I've declared a possible conflict of interest on this topic!
 
There's got to be a better way for political ideas to be shared and contested. There's got to be a better way to approach life, I'm less and less interested in what divides us. I am more and more interested in building bridges. Continuing to dash ourselves against walls of ignorance and prejudice is just stupid. It is also futile.
 
With all this in mind I watched a webinar presented by Richard Rohr (Center for Action and Contemplation) yesterday. He is a person who, while I don't always embrace everything he says, has some insights. One yesterday resonated clearly. It goes something like this:
 
Human history is chock full of 'them and us' attitudes. Humans naturally team up together against those they see as outsiders. This gives them a sense of identity and security, but it also brings with it inevitable cycles of conflict, violence, and destruction. According to Fr Richard (a Franciscan priest) there is a way to break these cycles. We must stop creating 'outsiders'.
 
Is our tendency to mistrust outsiders and separate ourselves from them stronger than our preparedness to trust and include them? If I could overcome this tendency, what would happen? I fear I know the answer, and fear even more that I might be part of the problem.
 
It's all very good for me to say what I have just said, but its implications are radical and they scare me. Removing barriers and including outsiders would leave us at the mercy of their intentions. Do I really want to invite all who want to come to enter my country whether or not they can contribute or share my values? Do I really want to give out my address to all and sundry and leave the house key in the door? Do I really want to love strangers unconditionally as I love myself?
 
Where have I heard that before? Love others as you love yourself. Father Rohr says, 'why not?'. As you break down the barriers and look at others differently, you stop caring about yourself so much. Love is what it's all about he says, and I suspect he is right.
 
All well and good to love without limit, but in a world where the 'others' almost certainly will not love me back (at least not straight away anyway) that seems to demand self sacrifice; and almost certainly self destruction.
 
That was and is the way of Jesus. I understand that. What I have only recently begun to understand is how radical and scary the way of Jesus really is.
 
So, live and let live? Certainly! Work on dismantling the 'them and us' barriers? Yes, I see why I must do that.
Walking across the divide with open arms and defences down? That would leave me open to the opportunism of others who don't understand that love is the only way. It would ultimately cost me my life, as it did Jesus. I don't think I'm brave enough to follow through.
 
So where does that leave me on this beautiful winter morning? The more I learn, the less I know. That's a hard thing for me to accept.
 
 
Paradox:
noun
1. a statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth.
2. a self-contradictory and false proposition.
3. any person, thing, or situation exhibiting an apparently contradictory nature.
4. an opinion or statement contrary to commonly accepted opinion.
 
 
 

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑