In this post, I explore the role of Christ as light-bearer – one who shines in order to dispel darkness. We consider the need for the church to be more self-critical in response.
Holman Hunt’s famous image, Light of the World, is often interpreted as Christ knocking at the door of an unresponsive human heart — a wooden door overgrown with weeds and with no visible external handle. The metaphor is clear. The image, however, raises pertinent questions regarding both subject and object.
Regarding the subject, Hunt’s portrayal of Christ (as a Westerner) dressed in rich, flowing, almost middle-Eastern kingly robes hints at his divine role as the King of Kings. His messianic role and divine nature are reinforced by a jewelled circlet hinting at a crown of thorns and a head haloed by a rising moon. The dark garden scene is reminiscent of an unoccupied Eden. Instead of tending the garden of the world, the soul is barricaded within its own alternative, self-preoccupied reality. A kind of garden shed. Continue reading “Is the light of Christ being excluded from the church?”
Dealing with corrosive power-structures in a post-truth world
I feel like apologising for this post. It is too wordy and, at times, a bit pretentious. I’ve left it here as it represents another milestone on the journey. There is some good stuff!
Even the most naive political observer cannot help but notice the rise of populism worldwide. Self-appointed saviours declare that they will save their people from oppressive overlords and lead them towards new promised lands — a misguided response to the cry of those who feel oppressed. I would like to offer a theological perspective.
On re-reading this article seven years later, I find this philosophising a bit tedious, even pretentious. I’ve left it here on my blog as it represents a milestone on my Musician’s Journey. I was just trying to get my head round the nature of reality . . .
The great divorce
The effect of the Fall — however one conceives that primordial divorce of humankind from the divine — was to close us off from eternity: we were exiled from the Garden of Eden.(6) At first sight it might seem as though we were sent out into an eternal night, a limitless expanse of time and space — exiled wanderers, banished for ever from the ‘island’ Garden, now guarded by angelic sentinels. (The picture that comes to mind is that of an impoverished local populace excluded from some a lavish health resort built by a foreign investor.) This picture though, in many senses, reverses reality, for is it not the Garden that is the threshold of eternity, and the ‘exterior’ that is bounded?
The ultimate boundary, the threshold, if you like, of the carceral realm in which we live, is death. Space and time may well stretch beyond the horizons of infinity, but for fallen mortals this is of little comfort if the end of our travels, the destination of the journey, is oblivion. The irony is that the Fall was an attempt to become god-like; a sudden dash for freedom — to flee from the ‘tyranny’ of subservience to God. Ironic because we exchanged an infinite divine horizon for a finite one, and found ourselves trapped in what philosophers optimistically call ‘totality’, an immanent sphere divorced from the transcendent. (SEE NOTE 1)Continue reading “Reflections on reality and the incarnation”
Rob Bell’s book Love Wins has provoked a predictable (and somewhat tiresome) debate among Christians, with accusations of universalism, heresy, and the erosion of truth taking centre stage. (The idea that God might be nice seems to be a shock for many.) As I read the vitriolic comments it appears to me that a central issue remains unaddressed, and it concerns the heart of Christianity — truth. Continue reading “God’s truth police – a consequence of fundamentalism”
Nick Clegg, according to the Daily Mail, is a devious politician who has thrown away his principles in favour of power and personal aggrandisement. Is this true? Thousands of Daily Mail readers no doubt view this as as indisputable fact, but surely there must be more to this than meets the eye? As someone who, for better or for worse, chose to take his party into a coalition with previous political enemies, there must be deeper issues here; Clegg is no doubt having to walk a very difficult tightrope, balancing principles against the fact that he is the leader of a minority within this fragile coalition. I prefer to give him the benefit of the doubt — that deep down he has the interests of the nation at heart.
This simple example illustrates how we are so easily swayed by words that are in print — accepting them as truth simply because someone has decided they are worth printing. Even though we know that media barons print stories simply to sell papers, and journalists are sometimes not the most truthful of people, still we are deeply affected by what we see in print. Continue reading “Reading the Bible again”
Yelly (my Dutch wife) has just completed a two-day mushroom-hunting and identification course as a result of which I found myself (with some hesitation) eating various dubious-looking funghi. ‘It’s quite OK,’ she told me, with what sounded like confidence (after all, she had done a two-day course). ‘Only about twelve species of English mushrooms can kill you.’ One of these, apparently, you can munch on quite happily saying things like: ‘Mmmm — what a lovely delicate flavour!’ and such, and then two days later you die abruptly of kidney failure. Continue reading “Magic mushrooms – a culinary brush with death”
As a physicist (though I confess a poor one) I conceive of God’s creative act as that of an explosive sun. God exploded us into existence, gave birth to us, and we orbit around him like the rings of Saturn, cosmic dust. But in his desire for children rather than angels, the centrifugal forces of his love spun us outwards to the edges of his gravitational influence, to the cusp of oblivion. Here, at the fragile discontinuity between light and darkness, a small force from our own weak will can take us beyond escape velocity into outer darkness, or on a trajectory back towards his heart. The choice is ours. The centrifugal force of God’s dangerous creativity is balanced, on a knife edge, with the centripetal force of his inexorable gravitational love.
It is a choice between the darkness of independence, a slide towards the frozen inertness of absolute zero, or to be consumed in the embrace of nuclear love. I have made my choice.
Following on from my last post about ‘isms’, let’s have a closer look at intellectualism
Recently I was at a meeting where the gifted speaker mentioned in passing that in the West we are far too intellectual. The eastern mind, he suggested, was more open and appropriate to ‘real’ Christianity; intuitive, imaginative appropriation by the heart was of higher value than mere intellectual assent.
There are two issues which need uncovering here. Continue reading “Intellectualism—exploring mind and faith”
The art world, like the Christian world, is full of ‘isms’. There is impressionism, realism, surrealism and so on, most of which are recognised as ‘art’. Occasionally, of course, someone like Damien Hirst or Marcel Duchamp come along — the latter exhibiting an upside-down urinal in a Paris art exhibition — who challenge our understanding of what art is. Christianity’s ‘isms’ are similarly sets of rules, beliefs, creeds, philosophies and so on that consider themselves sub-sets of the genre ‘Christianity’, and, as in the art world, some of the more orthodox ‘isms’ are considered Christian, others on the fringe are considered — like Duchamp’s urinal — somewhat suspect, or perhaps even a joke. Most ‘isms’ develop when a group of people coalesce around shared values, often with a charismatic personality at the centre and, as in the world of art, often result when someone surfaces who challenges the status quo. Continue reading “Where’s home?”
To borrow an analogy from G. K. Chesterton (from Orthodoxy), I feel like the yachtsman who bravely set sail to discover new lands, but, due to navigation errors, finds himself off the coast of southern England some months later. Unaware of his mistake he bravely rows to the shore to plant the English flag and claim the new territory for the Crown. Surprisingly the natives speak English, and — to cut a long story short — he is soon enjoying some well-earned fish and chips, albeit with slight embarrassment. Continue reading “Orthodoxy and heresy”
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