Archive for September, 2010

// sunday music: regina spektor, “laughing with”

I’m a little bit behind on this one, but for the past few days i’ve been playing Regina Spektor’s song “laughing with” on repeat, and it’s a song that seems both poignant and kind of relevant at the moment. I think Regina’s take on culture is beautifully honest here as well as pretty accurate for a lot of people. It’s a kind of God-haunted atheism that looks at some of the things which are attributed to Christianity and wonders some days why, at the times when we really need God the most, so many of His people can just be frankly… terrifying.

Check out the video here. Apologies for the powerpoint video – the official stream wouldn’t let me embed it.

And here are the lyrics:

No one laughs at God in a hospital
No one laughs at God in a war
No one’s laughing at God
When they’re starving or freezing or so very poor

No one laughs at God
When the doctor calls after some routine tests
No one’s laughing at God
When it’s gotten real late
And their kid’s not back from the party yet

No one laughs at God
When their airplane start to uncontrollably shake
No one’s laughing at God
When they see the one they love, hand in hand with someone else
And they hope that they’re mistaken

No one laughs at God
When the cops knock on their door
And they say we got some bad news, sir
No one’s laughing at God
When there’s a famine or fire or flood

But God can be funny
At a cocktail party when listening to a good God-themed joke, or
Or when the crazies say He hates us
And they get so red in the head you think they’re ‘bout to choke
God can be funny,
When told he’ll give you money if you just pray the right way
And when presented like a genie who does magic like Houdini
Or grants wishes like Jiminy Cricket and Santa Claus
God can be so hilarious
Ha ha
Ha ha

No one laughs at God in a hospital
No one laughs at God in a war
No one’s laughing at God
When they’ve lost all they’ve got
And they don’t know what for

No one laughs at God on the day they realize
That the last sight they’ll ever see is a pair of hateful eyes
No one’s laughing at God when they’re saying their goodbyes

But God can be funny
At a cocktail party when listening to a good God-themed joke, or
Or when the crazies say He hates us
And they get so red in the head you think they’re ‘bout to choke
God can be funny,
When told he’ll give you money if you just pray the right way
And when presented like a genie who does magic like Houdini
Or grants wishes like Jiminy Cricket and Santa Claus
God can be so hilarious

No one laughs at God in a hospital
No one laughs at God in a war
No one laughs at God in a hospital
No one laughs at God in a war
No one laughing at God in hospital
No one’s laughing at God in a war

No one’s laughing at God when they’re starving or freezing or so very poor

No one’s laughing at God
No one’s laughing at God
No one’s laughing at God
We’re all laughing with God

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// the argument that nobody will win

In today’s edition of The Times, Matthew Parris applauds Joseph Butler’s intellectual courage for stating that “the most persuasive pointer to the existence of a deity lay in the structure and the inclination of his own mind” (i would post a link, but it’s behind the Times paywall, sadly). Parris, incidentally, disagrees with Butler’s idea that simply because we have an instinct for God, He exists – after all, we have an instinct for war, for hunting, for food when we are already surfeited and sex when we are already overpopulated. But in spite of that, he commends Butler for not running away, for simply standing his ground.

I see why, too. Because i am tired of trying to play this game to win, and i suspect i am not alone in that. I want to speak with integrity, as best i can, but the debate that faces me when i try to talk about these things often feels like i have told a friend that i am in love with a girl, and he has told me in return that i am stupid for doing so, because life is more convenient on my own. And yes, he might argue, you get some benefits, like companionship, or understanding, or if you make it to marriage, a commitment that this person will stick with you – but you lose the ability to make your own, unencumbered decisions. Life becomes more awkward. You have to live differently and act differently and think about something that isn’t always in your most obvious self-interest. In the end, he may say, i am acting only to please myself. I need love, or its consequences at least, and so my brain, either through evolutionary necessity or social conditioning, has convinced itself that this is the best way to get it.

My friend’s comments leave me with a problem. I still love the girl. And so even though his comments may cause me to doubt my own thought processes or to question the value of love or even what i am hoping to get from this, consciously or subconsciously, that doesn’t change the place that i have got to. Even in light of these factors, even in an awareness of what has happened in my brain to bring me to this point, it is still possible for me to be in love. So my friend can try as much as he likes to convince me of the failure or even cruelty of my point of view, but unless he can convince me otherwise or provide me with a better option for getting what i need, my reason for loving (whatever that is) still stands.

I know that with God it is different, because the concept of God means that i am relying on something that is necessarily indefineable and who is in my case invisible, but i believe in Him for a reason, whatever that reason is (i can try, but that’s a topic for another day). So even though it is possible to see the arguments against God, that doesn’t change the fact that i have still responded to the needs and inclinations that are inside me and chosen to believe as a result. Maybe if you showed me a satisfactory way to find what i need elsewhere i would be willing to change, but i have looked, and i have not found it yet.

I hope this classes as intellectual honesty. I am aware that there are desires within me; a desire for peace, both internal and external, a desire for purpose, a desire for a redemption that is both personal and global, a desire for wonder, and many others. In my experience, that points to a need for someone who can provide those things, and for me it is God who has met those needs. This is either intellectual courage or it is intellectual cowardice, but it is what i have got, and being honest about it doesn’t reduce the truth of God’s action if He does act or make me willfully delusional, it just acknowledges that this is an argument that nobody is really going to win. That’s because it’s not really an argument at all.

// in praise of confusion (an answer to Stephen Hawking)

Somebody asked me yesterday if I was going to comment on Stephen Hawking’s comments about the origins of the universe in his latest book The Grand Design, about how the formation of the universe is simply a natural consequence of the laws of physics. I didn’t know what to say. It seemed sad to me that somebody so eloquent and influential as Professor Hawking had come to that conclusion, but not being skilled in physics and not having read his book, other than the newspaper extracts, I wasn’t sure where to start.

Today the papers are alive with debate, with the faith community standing up to address Hawking’s theory in similarly eloquent, if understandably defensive, rhetoric. And so how is it that average Christians are supposed to answer the people who will inevitably assert that Hawking has now conclusively destroyed the grounds for belief in God?

Where do we even start?

I don’t understand the complexities of the universe, and I don’t even presume to understand the mysteries of any given moment in this life. I am not so naïve to say that scientists are incapable of feeling wonder, as some have, or that their concern with the way things work naturally leads them away from a place of faith. And I don’t know, really, why I was born in such a way that requires me to look for meaning, that helps me to see these things and to taste the glory of God in this world, and why others aren’t. Maybe it is the case that I am flawed in some way, and so need a concept of meaning to make sense of my existence of the world. Certainly that has been suggested, too.

I am incapable of providing evidence of the truth of the Judeo-Christian accounts of the world except for to say that what I have experienced of God aligns with what I see of Him when people wrote of the ways they encountered Him in the Bible, and that what I have studied is wise, and beautiful, and seems true in a way that resonates deep in my bones. I know lots of people who do not feel the same, and I don’t know why that is.

Often we are not very good, we Christians, at putting into words what our experiences are. Perhaps it is that we are frightened of failure, because we feel that this will provide gaps that the sceptics will pounce upon, and perhaps it is because what we are trying to express is so very, very hard. But if the truth and proof of God is not in our intricate knowledge of the universe but in the experiences of the people who have encountered Him, then Hawking’s theory will not disprove them. It will just provide more evidence that the universe is astonishing, something that most of us knew all along. People may stutter and stammer and fail to give convincing proofs, but that doesn’t mean they are wrong – it just means that it is almost impossible to know where to begin in explaining these things.

I live in a world that glistens with wonder and resonates, at times, with jaw-dropping beauty, and I have a God who I can thank for that, which is good, because I am so grateful. I live in a world that is full of evil, too, with darkness and things that simply should not be, and I have an answer for those things, for why it is all so broken. I follow Jesus Christ, a figure who taught of how people are of greater value than just their social and economic importance, that there is more to the world than just surviving or doing ‘just enough’ in order to assuage your guilt. Who died and claimed that this set us free from our sinful past, free so we can be different, we can change. People said that he rose from the dead, too, and I believe them, just like I believe in a world beyond this one, although I don’t know what that will look like. I have peace. A certainty that whether I have a job, whether I am single or married, whether I am recognised or unrecognised, I am not alone, and nor am I worthless.

That stills the roaring in my head and the panic that would otherwise dwell in my chest.

The apostle Paul was someone who, at the very least, people would acknowledge thought that he knew God, even if he was deluded. He said that, as a result of that, he had learned the secret of being content whatever the circumstances.

I am coming to understand what he meant by that, and I am grateful for that fact. See, my life is not perfect, but it is so, so good. And so although I cannot conclusively prove that any of the things I believe are true, I can invite you to try it nonetheless, to join in and see if you discover the same. Maybe you will not, and then you can write me off as delusional if you like, but at least you will have tried.

I am trying to convince you, it is true. But I only do it because my life is different now. For a long time it wasn’t, and I couldn’t say these things with any degree of sincerity, but now I know, at least, that I am different, and it feels like life is the way that it should be.

If Hawking has indeed destroyed the grounds for faith, then you will see faith-filled people falling away from what they believe in the weeks and months to come. The real test will be what changes in them, in their attitude and outlook, and whether that is a change for the better.

But he hasn’t destroyed my faith, and I’m fairly sure that I am not alone in that. I will keep telling of what God has done, and what He is continuing to do even now.

When I, and the people of faith in this world, stop doing that – then you can say we have destroyed God.

// bible in one year: day one

Soul Survivor kicked off its Bible in One Year project this morning, and already the discussion boards are buzzing with questions and people excited to get stuck into the year. Andy Croft’s thought-provoking reflections on “new beginnings” via. Genesis 1, Psalm 1 and Matthew 1 are well worth a look today if you’ve not made it over there already.

I particularly love the link between Genesis 1 and Psalm 1, which is one that I’ve never really seen before. I heard once that some Jewish tradition states that the Bible starts with God dividing light from dark, and the whole rest of the story – from the law to the prophets to Jesus to the epistles – is just the outworking of that principle.

It’s most evident when you look at Psalm 1, because it lays out this parallel between the two ways to live; you either live a life that is continually nourished, refreshed, and rooted in Christ, or you end up like chaff, a life that is dried-up and worthless, a husk to be thrown away. And that’s not even a comment on life after death, although of course that’s an element of it – it’s a statement that if we are living life with God, then our lives have substance and growth, right now, and if not, then we’re heading nowhere fast.

It’s so refreshingly common sense that you could almost skip right past it, but it’s a question worth asking this morning – is your life bringing real life? Are you rooted in Christ? Are you communicating the love of God to the people around? Is the Holy Spirit a notable part of your day-to-day existence? Or do you occasionally feel dried-up?

That’s not intended as a threat, incidentally – “you’d better get back or you risk being cut off forever” – because you only need to look at the genealogy in Matthew to see that it’s filled with people who weren’t always walking in step with God. However, when they step back into His presence and His purposes, life begins, and they step into His incredible purposes once again.

It’s a good question to ask at the start of this year; where our lives are going, what their foundations are on, really – and not just in a standard “yes, I follow God” way, but in a moment or two of sincere reflection. After all, if you’ve been a Christian a while then you’ll know all too well that you can say you follow God, but then not spend any time talking to Him. So is your life one that is grounded in Him, watered and nourished by His presence, or does it sometimes feel like you’re on thirsty ground?

Because, in the long run, none of us are getting out of here alive.

So, for now: are you walking in the light?