Sunday, 20 May 2018

Pentecost and The Book of Joel

Today is Pentecost, when the Church community remembers God pouring out his Holy Spirit on the disciples fifty days after Easter. Over the past week, I have been reflecting on the events of Pentecost, as told in the book of Acts. One of the things I noticed was that Peter quotes extensively from the prophet Joel and interprets the events of that day as a fulfillment of what Joel is saying. Now, Joel is not a book that I (and probably most Christians today) are overly familiar with, so I thought it would be worth my time digging into Joel to see what it might add to my understanding of the events of Pentecost. I also thought it might be worth dusting off this old blog and posting some thoughts on it here, in case someone would find my musings helpful. So here is a quick summary of the Book of Joel, and how it relates to the events of Pentecost.

Joel begins by describing a plague of locusts, which destroys all the crops and vegetation in the land, which brings about a famine. Joel tells us that this is not just an act of nature, but an act of God’s judgment on his people who have forgotten him. The people are not able to produce any crops (gran and wine are often sighted in this book, see Joel 1:9), which means they are unable to produce what they need to survive, but also what they need to offer to God. Furthermore, not only do they and their community suffer, their livestock, and even the plants and the wild animals of their land suffer also (see Joel 1:20.) When we live outside of God’s way, the while of humanity and the whole of creation also suffers. We are living in a time when we are finding out just how true this is. Our collective greed and consumption is causing untold damage and pollution to the planet God has given us as a home, which is now culminating with us damaging the global climate, and it is the poor and venerable who are bearing the brunt of the suffering this is causing.

Joel then calls upon God’s people to acknowledge the fact that they are living outside of God’s ways and to repent. And it’s a no holds barred type of repentance: sackcloth, morning, fasting, the works, (Joel 1:13-15.) in which everyone is asked to take part; not just the priest and ministers, but the elderly, the children, the infants, even the brides and grooms on their wedding day (Joel 2: 16-17. Imagine having to tell a bridezilla that they must postpone their wedding day because some Prophet guy has called for national repentance!)  It is a call echoed by Peter on the day of Pentecost: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” (Acts 2:38.)

Now, repentance isn’t the most popular concept for us today, especially when you start adding weird things like skipping meals and wearing sackcloth into the mix. It conjures up images of an angry, wrathful God who we only worship out of fear. But this is not how Joel say that we should see God. Joel calls us to:

Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
    and he relents from sending calamity.” (Joel 2:13. See also Exodus 34 6-7, Deuteronomy 4:31, Psalm 86:15, Micah 7:18)

God loves us deeply, and is longing for us to repent, to come back to the fold and to follow him. And as Peter explained at Pentecost, he has gone to great lengths to help us to do so, thought the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus (Acts 2: 22-37.)  Because of this, we can have confidence that if we do repent, God will hear us, forgive us and reconcile us to him (now that is a word which is popular right now, at least in the community I am in.)

In the next part of Joel (2:18-27) God tells us what will happen if we do repent: he will restore what was lost, and we will see the land will be restored to its former glory. However, the promise does not stop there: God’s plan is taking us to a new place. And that brings us to the part of Joel with Peter quotes.

 “And afterward,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your old men will dream dreams,
    your young men will see visions.
 Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
 I will show wonders in the heavens
    and on the earth,
    blood and fire and billows of smoke.
 The sun will be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood
    before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
 And everyone who calls
    on the name of the Lord will be saved." (Joel 2:28-38, Acts 2: 17-23.)

Joel describes a future event where, because the people responded to God's love by repenting and turning to him, the Holy Spirit will be poured out on all, which Peter asserts was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. What is striking about this passage when read in its Old Testament context is the universality of the invitation. It is open to “all people”, regardless of age, sex or social class. While the Holy Spirit is poured out at times during the Old Testament, it is only on a few people, at limited times and in limited ways. Joel is looking forward to a time when the Spirit will come on and dell in all the people, the only pre-request being their posture towards God; they must be people who have turned towards God, having repented from the bad stuff in their lives.  And it is this pouring out of the Spirit that we see at Pentecost.

After the prophecy about the Spirit, Joel describes what God will do after the Spirit is poured out; the he will bring judgement upon those who continue to live outside of his will (Joel 3:1-16), but that he will dwell with his people forever (Joel 3:17-21) in an image which reminds us of Revelation 21-22, when God make all things right. The Spirit is not poured out just cos, but to help bring about the reality of God dwelling with his people.  While Peter doesn’t mention it at Pentecost, it is clear thought-out the New Testament that the Spirit is at work bringing God’s kingdom to Earth, culminating on the day when God will bring Heaven and Earth together, when he will dwell with his people forever.

 Joel helps is see the events of Pentecost more clearly and adds to our big picture understand of the Spirit. The Spirits helps us see what God is doing, not only thought dreams, visions and prophecy, but also by helping us to understand God’s word, The Bible. The Sprint gives us the tools (often call the Gifts of the Spirit) so that we can partner with God, as he builds his kingdom thought us. The Spirit helps us grow in the character of God, helping us to become people of love, joy peace etc, so that we can show who God is by the type of people who we are.  And the Spirit helps us to set our relationship with God right to begin with, to help us repent and turn away from judgement and distraction, and give ourselves to God, so that we can be a part of his Kingdom, and what he is do thought his Spirit today, to bring about this future reality where God dwells fully with his people.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Tackling the Israel Folau Ruck-us

Israel Folau. What a hullabaloo you have caused. And for those of us of the Christian faith: what a mess.

I guess you could say that this is my attempt to clean the mess up. A theological cleaner. Maybe I should add that to my bio on Instagram. Sounds pretentious enough…

Instagram, the place where this whole debacle began. The place where a user by the user name of mike_sephton ask Folau a simple (or maybe not so simple) question: “what was gods plan for gay people??” A question, to which Folau answered “HELL… Unless they repent of their sins and turn to God.” Since then… well, I guess you could say all Hell has broken loose…

This was a couple of weeks ago now, but the story just won’t go away. Just five hours ago as I write this, All Black TJ Perenara tweeted his own thoughts on the matter, which has already captured the media’s attention once again. So, it doesn’t look like the story is blowing over any time soon. And whatever your thoughts on the issue, it’s not a pretty look for Christians. And from what I have seen of Facebook, Christians are divided on the issue. Yay for unity!! Or not…

So, where to begin? Well, I would like to go back to the beginning (yes, it’s a very good place to start, yada yada) and look at the question which started it all, and the answer which Folau gave, and maybe think about what answer he (or we) should have given to the question.

Just to remind us what we are talking about: The question (grammatically clean up) again: “What is God’s plan for gay people?”
Folau’s answer: “Hell, unless they repent of their sins and turn to God."

 What I think Folau has tried to do, is give a very brief gospel message in replay. And while on the surface, it may look like a fairly orthodox (if blunt) Christian response, he has in fact got the gospel message mixed up.  

God's plan is not Hell for anyone (homosexual or otherwise.)

God’s plan is to save people from Hell.

That’s why God became a man, Jesus.

That’s why Jesus dead on the cross.

Hell is what happens when people say no to God's plan. But it is not what he wants for anyone.

And this is not just for LGBTQ people: this is for all of us. There is not one gospel for straight people and another for LGBTQ people, there is one gospel, for all.

 Now, to be fair, Folau has later said that that he his answer was not just for gay people, but what he believes God’s plan is for all people, in an extended article where he elaborates on what he meant. (see for what he said.) Maybe this was his intention. It’s hard to tell when he is writing after the fact. But ether way, if your're asked what is God’s plan for a particular group of people, and you answer “hell,” it’s going come across as a condemnation of that group of people, no matter what your intentions are. And even here, Folau is make the same mistake in what the gospel teaches about Gods' plain for humanity. He speaks about God's plan for sinners, then quotes 1 Corinthians 6: 9-10. But again, this is not what God wants for us, but what happens if we fall outside of Gods plan.  

So the repose given by Folau shows a lack of understanding of what the gospel truly is. And on one level, that’s okay: we are all on a journey of discovering more and more of what the gospel looks like, and we all need grace while we are on that journey. I hope and pray that as Folau journeys, he will understand the gospel better.

But it also shows a lack of another Christian value: wisdom.

He lacked the wisdom to see how his answer would be understood by those who would read it, and what a storm and controversy it would create.

He lacked the wisdom to point to the love of God, to tell the story of what he has done to save us, instead he appeals to human fear.

He lacked the wisdom to clarified what Hell is and what it means, in a world where there are so many misconceptions out there of what it is.

He lacked the wisdom to see that if you want to loved someone, you need listen to their story, to care about their story, and to speak into their story, that you need to care who they are to be able to love them. (Again, see

Then again, perhaps I too lack wisdom for jumping into this controversy also…

Wisdom and understanding.

Two things Paul would often pray that God will give, by his Spirit, to the churches he wrote to.

Two things lacking for Folau’s answer.

My hope and my prayer is that God will pour out his Spirt of wisdom and understanding, on Israel Folau, and on his Church today.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Nathan rants about the election on the internet. Because this has never been done before...

So, there is an election, very soon.  And since the internet is such an underutilised tool for the output of political option, I thought I would be really original and throw out some thoughts on how we should approach voting in the election, on this exciting new platform I’ve recently come across called “blogging.” I’ve also come up with a cool new format, which I’m tentative calling “the rule of three,” where I make three broad points, and then draw them together with a snappy conclusion at the end. Really cutting-edge stuff happening right here…

1.       Don’t just vote for yourself: vote for us all

When it comes to casting their vote, many people do so by asking the question “what’s in it for me?”  But we shouldn’t. Our thinking needs to be broader than just our own needs (or wants.) We need to think of what’s best for our friends and our families. We need to think what’s best for our neighbours and the people we pass in the Street. We need to think of what’s best for the elderly and the young. We need to think of what’s best for the sick and those living in poverty. We need to think about what best for the environment and the economy. We need to think of what best for the country as a whole, and even what’s best for the world as a whole.  

I believe this, not only as a Christian, following the great commandment to love other as ourselves, but also as a democrat (as someone who believes that democracy is the best was to govern a people, not as in the American political party,) as this is the only way to make democracy work as it should.  We all have different needs. We must think of all these needs when we cast our vote.

This doesn’t mean that we take ourselves completely out of our vote. We still need everyone to bring their ideas, values and experiences to the ballot box. But we bring these not the question “what’s in it for me?” but rather “What best for New Zealand?” or even “what will make the world a better place?”

What does this look like?

It means we don’t vote for tax cut, just because we want a few extra dollars in our pockets, but only if we believe all benefits when taxes a low. 

It means we don’t vote more benefits because we will befit form them ourselves, but only if we believe that we are all better off when all people are looked after with a basic income.

It means we don’t vote for better education so that we can further out own education, but only if we believe that we are all better of living in a better educated society.

It means we don’t vote for tougher immigration laws because we are screed they migrants will come in and take our jobs, but only if we believe that the country can’t handle more people.

It means that we don’t vote for environmental issues because we like to go for long walks on short beaches, but only if believe that the beaches should still be in the same place and be just as beautiful in a hundred years’ time.

It means we don’t vote for Lord Bucket Head just for a laugh, but only if we believe that we are better off when we laugh with you (or at you) for voting for him.

I’m sure by now you get the picture, so let’s move on…

2.       Vote out of hope, not out of fear.

Fear sells, and there always more than enough of it to around at election time. Why? Because we all crave security.  And often it comes from a place of wanting to protect to good things we have:  our families and friends, our homes, our jobs, the environment. It’s not surprising:  when we have good things, we want to protect them.

 The trouble is, fear is an inward-looking posture.  It makes us focus on ourselves, and not others, on what I have, not on what we could have, on the status quo, rather than what could be.

Fear cannot make the world a better place.

Only hope can do that.

To hope can be a scary thing. Because hope, by nature, means looking forward to something which does not yet exist. As so there is always a risk that it may not work out, a risk that we may not make the gains we are hoping to make, a risk that we make lose some of the things we hold dear.

But we must hope.  All change begins with hope.  To make the world a better place, we must for hope for the better world we seek, before it can be brought into reality.

So, when you take the ballot paper into the cardboard screen, make sure you take your hopes for the feature with you, and leave your fears behind with the person who gives you the “I’ve Voted” Sticker.

3.       Voting is for everyday

Voting on election day is important: we’re electing a government who will set the laws and lead us as a nation for the next three years. But it’s not just in election day we need to vote. And no, I am not talking about early voting.

We vote every day. We vote with how we spend, save or give our time, our resources, our talents.  So, while we are taking the time to think about how we cast our vote in the election, lets also take some time to think about how we vote everyday.

We should do so because we live in a World where things matter.

The environment and the places where we live: they matter.

The things we do, what we eat, what we see with our eyes and hear with our ears: they matter.

Pizza: it matters.

The people we met, the people we love, our family, our friends: They matter.

You. Yes, you, reading this: you matter.

We live in a world where there are so many things that matter, and yet we also live in a world which in not perfect. Far from it. As so we must do better to make the world a better place. And yes, we do that by voting in the election. But that can’t be all we do. We must also vote every day, by the way that we live, by the choices we make. Because every choice we make changes something. Let’s make sure that changes are for the better.

So when we spend our money, do we do so asking “what’s in it for me?” Or do we think about what best for others?

Do we spend our time living in fear? Or do we spend our time living in hope?

Are our talents being used just for or own benefit? Or are they being used to make the word a better place for all?

As I conclude, I realised that I’ve kind of ended up talk about faith, hope and love. The love and the hope parts are obvious, and I have heard faith describe as the daily living out of what we believe in, so you could call the last point faith if you want to. Looks like I’ve ended up with a sermon. Whoops. That’s wasn’t the plan…

But anyway, that how I think we should approach voting. Of course, you should also do your research before you vote, so you know what you are voting on. So take the time to understand not only the policies of the parties standing, but also the philosophical and worldview assumptions which underpin the polices, which will guide the MP if elected into government.  Also, look at the people in party to see if they have the leadership to turn the polices in workable legislation which will do what its deigned to do, and make the world a better place.

Finally, however you vote, that main thing is that you vote.  But it would be nice your vote also helped make this world a little bit better…

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Living in Our Paper towns: a Theological Review/ Response to John Green's Paper towns (Book review)

As promised, I once again venture into the realm of book reviews, this time to John Green’s Paper Towns. (This is as good a place as any to give the customary spoiler warning for anyone who doesn’t want to be spoiled. I talk mainly about the themes rather than the plot, but I inevitably give away plot details for people who have not read the book or seen the move. You have been warned.) Paper Towns is a popular teen mystery novel which has recently been adapted to film. Green has written a number of novels, and this is the second to be adapted into a film after The Fault in the Stars. (Note: this review is based on the book, as I haven’t yet seen the movie). He is also a big deal on YouTube, where he has a number of channels, and who (based on the contact of his novels) seemed to have had a crush on a beautiful but complex girl when he was a teenager. (It should also be noted that Green has (or had?) some sort of Christian faith, but how he would label it, I do not know.) Paper Towns is a well written and thought proving book, and is well worth the time reading it. In this review, I will unpack the key theme or motif of the book: the idea of a “paper town” from a theological point of view. But firstly, a quick synopsis. The story follows protagonist Quintin (or “Q,”) who has a crush, on his neighbour, Margo. One night, Margo takes Q out on a night of crazy teenage antics and revenge, before she disappears. Q spends the rest of the book try to work out where she is gone and trying to find her, along with his friends, Ben and Radar, and one of Margo’s friends, Lacey.

Central to the book is the idea of a “paper town,” which is not a concept most people would be familiar with. In the literal sense, a Paper Town is a town which doesn’t really exist, but is a town (or subdivision) which has been planned but was never built, or a town which is marked on a map, but which isn’t really there. It is used by Margo as a metaphor or motif for both the shallowness and faultily of the people who live in real life towns and lives that they lead. She critiques our society where people live self-indulgent lives for their own pleasure, where things are built that don’t last and where people destroy the future for the sake of present comforts. She says that she has never met anyone who “cares about anything that matters.” And later, she admits that this “paperness” (yeah, I totally just made up a new word) is not just something external, which she sees in the world around her, but also something which see inside herself. 

Margo has a valid critique of the modern/postmodern western society in which we live, which from a theological point of view, I would agree with. Many people do live shallow, paper lives, driven by materialism and self-gratification, where people build shallow relationship while chasing dreams which will not last. But the critique runs deeper than just our current culture; it goes to the heart of our human nature.  The “paper” town Margo describes in nothing new. Indeed, it sounds a lot like the “meaninglessness” the writer of Ecclesiastes also saw in the society he lived in thousands of years ago. Both realise that the way people live somehow falls short of some intrinsic standard for human living. And they are onto something here. Humans aren’t created to live paper lives. We are created in God’s image, to live lives of richness in relationships (with God and with each other), in meaning and with purpose. But the image has been distorted, and thus we realise, like Margo, that something is not right, that we are “living paper lives in a paper town.”

Faced with this paperness, Margo must decide how to respond. And her response is to run away, to leave everything she knows behind. Now, from a literary point of view, this is a good thing, as it’s what gives us the plot for the book. The rest of the book follows the Q and his friends tempting to solve the mystery of where Margo is, and it would be a pretty boring book if she stayed where she was. And this is a choice that many people make. Many, when face with the paperness of our lives, choice to ran way, it the hope that the grass maybe greener somewhere else. Unfortunately, this is only ever a temporary solution. Our paperness will find us in our new location.

Now, this is not to say that we should never move on to a new place, that is not what I am saying. We should always be open to new opportunities in new places. And there is definitely something to be said for taking time out from our lives, by seeking solitude for a time (to pray, for those of us who are that way inclined) or by entering another world thought books, TV or movies. This can be a healthy thing in moderation. However, running away from a problem is not going to make it go away. As Christians, escapism is a real temptation, and is often an accusation  leveled at the church. Often, Christians feel to  threatened or overwhelmed by the world and the problems they see around them, their response is to try to escape. Often we create our own “Christian” subculture, and try and live inside it, and only leave from time to time when we feel guilty about not evangelising. And some of the ways we sometime understand salvation, as “escaping” our earthly lives and going to Heaven, doesn’t help, as it gives us the impression that it’s okay to forget about the world around us, as we’re going to be leaving this world anyway. However, if we follow the God of The Bible, this cannot be our response. Because God did not give up on our paper selves. He entered our paper world, as a human, to redeem us, to take away our paperness, to “remove our hearts of stone (or paper) from our flesh and give us hearts of flesh.” (See Ezekiel 36:26)

So our repose to our paper towns should not be an escape, but some sort engagement with it, to love it, as God loved it (John 3:16). But how far do we go? Throughout the story, Q is relentless in his pursuit of Margo. He follows the clues wherever they led in order to find her: to abandoned buildings, failed sub divisions, and half away across America. And he dragged his friends along with him when he could. In a way, this story could be read as a retelling of parable of the lost sheep. In that parable, the Shepherd leaves all behind in order to find one sheep, who he loves (Luke 15:3-7). Likewise Q drops everything and misses his high school graduation in order to find Margo, who he loves. Now, his love is a romantic love, so it is not a perfect parallel. But in an age where love is all about what “feel good for me,” self-sacrificial love is a rare and beautiful thing. (Indeed, this story covers many different types of love: romantic love, friendship love, family love.) This is the type of love that we should have for those around us, the type that is willing to drop what we are doing to help someone in need. Because this is the type of love that people notice, that changes them. It showed Margo, who believed that no one loved her, that she was wrong. It helped her to see that, while she could leave her paper hometown, by doing so, she was hurting people who really did care about her.

Likewise, our repose to our paper towns should be a fierce and unrelenting love. For we follow a God who loved our paper town with a love that caused him to take on flesh, a love which drove him to the Cross, a love which he sealed by giving us the gift of the Spirit, so our lives would no longer be paper lives. This is the love which God shows us, and the love he calls us to emulate. There is a real hunger out there for something real, something more than paper. Will the church be that place of realness: of hope, of joy, of love? Will it be a community which cares about the things that mater, and not get caught up in the paper tail around us?

The God we follow is a God who is redeeming creation and humanity. And he calls us to live in our own Paper Towns, as ambassadors of the kingdom which is not paper, but real and living. We do this, not by leaving our paper towns, but by loving them, in a way with shows that there are still people who, as Margo would say, care about this things that matter: love, hope, community, people. We are called to live out our faith by being real people in Paper Towns. 

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Celtic Christian Spirituality: How Different Was it to "Roman" Christian Spirituality?

Another essay from my Laidlaw days, this one looking at the differences between Celtic Christian Spirituality and "Roman" Christian Spirituality, with particular  reference to the Synod of Whitby. This was for the Historical and contemporary models of Spirituality paper.
 I think that this will probably be the last one I upload here (unless I can work out how to get at the hard drive on my old computer.) There a few other with are okay, but not really that interesting. 

Question: Assess the view that Celtic Christian spirituality was significantly different from Roman Christian spirituality, and that the Synod of Whitby marks the triumph of the latter over the former.

Many different people groups have accepted the gospel in the churches’ 2000 year history. Recently, the spirituality practiced by one of these people groups, the Celts, has grown in popularity. This growing popularity makes it important to ask questions about Celtic spirituality. We must ask questions about the historical context in which it grew up and how much the forms of this spirituality practised today reflect the forms which were practiced in its home contexts. Asking these questions leads us to see that there is one event which historians see as a turning point which led to the decline of Celtic spirituality. The Synod of Whitby is seen as a meeting between “Roman”[1] and Celtic expressions of Christianity, in which a “Roman” triumph led to the decline of Celtic Christianity. Yet was this the case? How much of a turning point was the Synod of Whitby really? And were Celtic expressions of Christianity really that different to “Roman” expressions? These are the questions which this essay will attempt to answer. It will explore the historical background of the Celtic people and some of the key leaders of its faith. It will then turn to look at the characteristics of Celtic spirituality, and how they differ to “Roman” forms. It will then look at the synod itself and explore some of the historical factors which lead to the decline of Celtic spirituality. It will show that Celtic spirituality is more diverse than it is understood to be, and that the historical factors are more complicated than is popularly understood.

Historical Background
  The Celts were a diverse people and language group who lived in large parts of Europe in pre-Roman times.[2] However, by the time of Christianity, much of their land and culture had been lost to the Romans and they had been pushed back to “the ends of the earth.[3] Their remaining areas included Ireland, Wales and Scotland. These British Celtics were composed of two major groups. The Brythonic Celts lived in what is today England, Wales and southern Scotland.[4] However, this area was invaded by Rome, and thus much of their culture was lost.  The Goidelic Celts lived in what are now Ireland, Scotland and Wales.[5] These areas was not invaded by Rome, and thus were some of the last strongholds of the Celtic people, although it still had a lot of interaction with the outside world, as the archaeology suggests.[6] It is thus Christianity in these areas, from around 400 to 1170 AD, which is commonly thought of as Celtic Christianity. However, this still represents diverse people groups who had very different types of spirituality. For example, Ireland at this time was not one political unit, but many different kingdoms, which were based on a tribal or clan system.[7] This essay will focus on the spirituality of the Irish, as well as the area which Irish missionaries influenced.

Saints and Leaders

  We turn now to some of the important people associated with Celtic Christianity. While there were Celtic Christians before him, and despite not being a Celt, St Patrick is seen as one of the earliest heroes and pioneers of the Celtic church.[8] Patrick was a native of Britain who had been captured by pirates and enslaved in Ireland. However, he came to know God, and later escaped after God spoke to him in a dream. Yet God called him back to Ireland as a missionary,[9]  and he returned in 432.[10] He spent the rest of his life in Ireland and successfully converted many people. Patrick left behind two written works: his Confession and letter to Corotitcus. There is also Patrick’s breastplate, or lorica, which is attributed to him, but which he is unlikely to have written.[11] Furthermore, there are many lives of Patrick, most of which come from the seventh century.[12] These are where most of the stories and legends surrounding Patrick come from. While Patrick is highly regarded today, he in fact represents a larger movement of early mission to Ireland. Indeed, there’s a theory that two “Patricks” existed, whose identities have been merged into one.[13] Bede speaks of “Palladius” being the first bishop of Ireland, rather than Patrick, making a possible candidate.[14] Nevertheless, the missionary movement which Patrick is a part of led to the conversion of most of Ireland, making it a stronghold of Christianity. 

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Book Review: Five Reasons Why You Should Read The Man Who was Thursday by G K Chesterton

So, since I’m trying to get back into this blogging thing, I thought that one thing I could do was a little book review/ response whenever I finish reading a book. Maybe not every book I read, but at least those where there is something interesting to say about it.  So, since I finished reading The Man Who was Thursday by G K Chesterton the other day, it seemed like a good place to start. Now, I wasn’t sure  how I should go about writing this, until I thought to myself “hey, everyone likes lists on the internet, why don’t I write it as a list.” So here it is: five reasons why you should read The Man Who was Thursday: a Nightmare by G K Chesterton. (Please note that while I have done my best to be as spoiler free as possible, there will enviable be some spoilers below.)

Firstly though, a quick praise of what the book is about. It follows the adventures of Gabriel Syme, a poet and undercover Police officer who is attempting to infiltrate the Central Anarchist council of Europe. He gets himself elected to the council, where each member is code-named for a day of the week, as "Thursday." However, he soon learns that things are not what they seem to be…

  1)  Okay, so lest start with the main reason I first read this book: Chesterton was a major influence on C S Lewis, (among others) who happens to be one of my favourite writers. And Lewis went on to influence many other writers, such as JKR. So Chesterton is part of the literary lineage to which of much of what is popularly read today belongs, and thus someone who is interesting to read from this point of view. So who is this Chesterton guy? He was an English writer and academic who has commonly been referred to as the “Prince of Paradox.” His other works includes the Father Brown short stories, and works of apologetics (such as Orthodoxy and The Ever Lasting Man.) It is also interesting to note that while he was a Protestant early on in his life (and while he was writing The Man Who Was Thursday), he later became a Roman Catholic.  

  2)  The book was first published in 1908, and so gives us a glimpse into another time in history. Okay, so maybe this point is a bit nerdy for some people, but for me personally I find it fascinating reading something from another time and place, not only to see what thoughts and beliefs they held in that time, but also as a mirror to better understand my own time and place. And unlike a lot of other older novel, I actually found it quite readable, which leads me to point three…

  3)   It’s an entertaining read. Which is important, because the reason (I’m sure) most of us read novels is to be entertained.  And I can’t think of many books that have any many twists and turn as this on which keep the reader guess, not just what’s going to happen and even what the books about, right up to the last page. 

  4)  It will make you think. Whether or not you agree with Chesterton, there is no denying the wit and intelligence of this guy, which is obvious right from the first chapter. This would be a great book for a book reading club, as there will be a lot to talk about! It is full with quips and one-liners, and a will leave you wondering (if you let it) firstly what he means, and then if you agree with what he is saying, or not.

  5)  A glimpse of grace. This is one of those books where it is difficult to work out what the main theme or message (if there is one) is. From my reading, one of the central idea is that goodness can be found all around us. Often, we fail to see it in the ordinary, mundane things which surround us. Sometimes, goodness or grace comes to us from unexpected places, and we can often miss it for a number of reasons. Sometimes, a change of perspective or some more information is required to see it. Other times, we have to pull back the certain and look a little harder. But, this book reminded me that, even in the darkest places, there is still hope, still goodness.

So, there you have it! Feel free to comment and let me know what you think of The Man Who was Thursday if you have read it (especially if you read it because of this) or what else you have been reading and think I might like to read. Right now I’m doing some worldview reading, so probably won’t review that, but I plain to reread Paper Towns before the movie comes out, so might do that one sometime soon.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Yes, Love does win

I did not want to write about this.

Even now, as I begin, I’m having second thoughts. I know that if I write and post about this on the internet, people might read it. People on both sides of the issue. And they might get mad at me. They might, depending on what side the sit, label me a bigot or a heretic. Or both. Because that’s what happens with this issue: people, on both sides, use labels to attack their opponents. Heck, I might get mad at myself, if I read it in five years time.  

Yet, as I see responses still pouring out on the social media I spend way too much time on, I feel that I cannot be silent on the issue. The more I read, the more I realise how deeply divided people are on this issue.  I see many people celebrating, changing their profiles to feature a rainbow. And I see many of my Christian friends responding in the way they see best. And boy, do these responses very, from those celebrating as hard as any, to those calling for Christians in America to retreat further into their own subculture.

Before I go on, a side-note for those reading in the future, or who have been living under a rock in the present, or thanks to the wonders of time travel are reading this from the past, and are looking for some sort of historical context, here it is. On Friday June 26th (US time) the US Supreme court ruled that same sex marriages were a constitutional right, thus requiring every state to recognise same sex marriages (in my own country, New Zealand, same sex marriage was legalised in 2013.)  A decision which sent the internet into a frenzy.  And not just Americans, people from everywhere.

Many, on both sides have called this a cultural war. The thing is, I don’t like wars. Even when there is a victory, they always lead to casualties. On Both sides.

So I don’t want to be just another voice, egging on one side or another to keep fighting. I want to be a voice of peace, of reconciliation, of compassion. Because if you are truly a champion of whichever side you claim to be on, then you should want this too. If you are truly a champion of equal rights, freedom and tolerance, then surly this freedom and tolerance must extend to the freedom of religion. And if you are truly a Christian, truly a follower of the God of love, forgiveness and compassion, then surly this love, forgiveness and compassion extends to the people of the lgbt community too.

Maybe I’m a naive idealist, like Peeta in The Hunger Games, calling for a ceasefire before it’s due. But if we keep fighting, people will continue to get hurt.  And no, I’m not saying that we should stop talking about and pushing forward with the issue. But I think that we do need to stop and ask ourselves if, by fighting, we are becoming the very thing we say we are fighting against.   

So I’m going to tell you a story. 

Stories are important, for us as individuals, as communities and as societies. They tell us who we are. And so I want to tell you the story which, as a Christian, I identity as being my story. I want to do so for two reasons. Firstly, I hope that by doing so, our friends who are not of the Christian faith may, perhaps, have a bit more understanding of where some Christian are coming from, as understanding is an important step towards healing.  And secondly, because I want my Christian brothers and sisters to consider what is the best way to move forward from our own story. So here goes.