Monthly Archives: August 2013

A Timey-Wimey Blog

Time: the final frontier.

Or wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff, as The Doctor described it (in Doctor Who, for the uninitiated). Time is not as constant as we think. Time is relative, it bends and warps, its consistency a perpetual illusion.

Take this example…

On holiday on the Isle of Wight recently, we visited Luccombe Chine, an incredible woodland ravine lacerated through sheer rock faces. As we stopped the car in a small parking area by the footpath to the Chine, I noticed a hilly field opposite, bursting with buddleia bushes and wildflowers, and knew it had to be an amazing habitat for butterflies. Being a bit of a lepidopterist (I collected butterflies till my conscience kicked in during my mid-teens – now I like to photograph them), I had to go over the road with my camera to investigate, while my family waited for me by the car.

So I told Janine I’d be 2 minutes – I confess, I didn’t really believe it!

When I eventually returned to the car, my family, who for some reason (???) were growing impatient, reckoned I’d been in the field for ages – maybe 20 minutes.

I felt as if I’d been there for 2 minutes, as promised.

But I reckoned objectively I’d been there for as long as 5.

The reality was probably in between: about 10 minutes. Time is relative.

The field, as it turned out, was bustling with butterflies, with at least 14 different species that I counted in just a few minutes. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so many species in such a short space of time in England, even on the Purbeck Hills or South Downs.

For those that are interested, the list included: Clouded Yellows, Marbled Whites, Chalkhill Blues, Painted Ladies and Small Tortoiseshells.

I was in my element, and time was very different for me than it was for Janine and the kids waiting for me. In that moment after returning to the car, a lightbulb flicked on in my head, answering a question I’d read just the day before in Rob Bell’s Love Wins:

So when people ask, “What will we do in heaven?” one possible answer is to ask: “What do you love to do now that will go on in the world to come?”

What is it that when you do it, you lose track of time, because you get lost in it? What do you do that makes you think, “I could do this forever”? What is it that makes you think, “I was made for this”?

If you ask these kinds of questions long enough, you will find some impulse related to creation. Some way to be, something to do. Heaven is both the peace, stillness, serenity, and calm that come from having everything in its right place – the state in which nothing is required, needed or missing – and the endless joy that comes from participating in the ongoing creation of the world 1.

As I read it, I thought of…

Running: at least, when I’m fitter than I am now. The freedom of running, like flying. The creativity, even, of running – like a dance. An opportunity to clear my head, pray and reflect. And more. ‘Born to Run’ is my all-time favourite running song, the title reflecting how I feel. But much of the time these days I’m battling against injuries, lack of fitness and too-warm weather. So, at the moment at least, I don’t feel ‘lost in’ running. Then I thought of…

Blogging. Yes, I also believe I’m born to write. I may not be an amazing writer, yet putting words to screen is undoubtedly something God has given me. A way to express myself – and hopefully reflect his grace to others (see ‘Why a Blog…?’). I don’t only enjoy writing – I need to write. And time does fly when I’m writing. But it doesn’t always flow that easily. So then I thought about…

My work – a nurse, with homeless people. More than a job – a calling, a vocation. I couldn’t be doing anything else, at least for now. But it has many demands and stresses, and more than its fair share of admin. On the Isle of Wight, I was glad to be on vacation from my vocation.

So I wasn’t that sure of my answer to Bell’s question, until…

That day in the field of butterflies. Not just butterflies. Being alone with nature. This is where I find sanity. Where I pray most easily. Where I can be truly me and lose track of time.

But actually all these activities: running, writing, nursing, being with nature, contain some element of creation: whether creating bridges with others, inspiring hope, bringing healing and self-worth, or simply restoring my own sanity.

As a friend once described this kind of busyness: ‘engaging with life’.

And I experience God is some way, different ways, in all those activities – a reflection, a taste, of how heaven is.

And you – you will answer that question, probably, in an entirely different way again.

Over the summer I read two books by Rob Bell: Love Wins and What We Talk About When We Talk About God (WWTA). I referred to WWTA in my last blog post Misnomers. I have to confess, I’m a bit of a Rob Bell fan. Big time. In fact, I think Time magazine may be right that “he could be one of the most important 21st century Christian thinkers”.

These two books have helped to re-open my eyes to the bigness of God and his love. The trouble with us Christians, sometimes, is that we claim a monopoly on God – when our ideas of God are just so small in comparison with his reality.

In Love Wins Rob Bell expresses in his characteristically, poetically articulate way, many of the questions and objections that Christians and agnostics alike raise against the well-worn evangelical views on God, heaven and hell. Questions which Christians are sometimes afraid to ask or admit to.

Unapologetically and fearlessly, Bell presents a broader view. Different and yet based squarely and surely on the words of Jesus and the Bible writers, and on the extravagantly gracious, loving and merciful character of God as portrayed in the Bible. He offers a wide picture of God’s love. We’re talking high-definition, 3D, widescreen view here, as opposed to cathode ray.

He maintains that the gospel is so much better news than simply about who will and who won’t “get into heaven”:

When the gospel is understood primarily in terms of entrance rather than joyous participation, it can actually serve to cut people off from the explosive, liberating experience of the God who is an endless giving circle of joy and creativity 2.

In What We Talk About, Rob Bell makes it clear at the outset that this is not one of those books out to prove the existence of God, as if that were even possible, but is…

…about seeing, about becoming more and more alive and aware, orienting ourselves around the God who I believe is the ground of our being, the electricity that lights up the whole house, the transcendent presence in our tastes, sights, and sensations of the depth and dimension and fullness of life, from joy to agony to everything else3

In WWTA Bell touches on topics as wide-ranging as the expanding universe, red shift, the weird and unreliable nature of time, quantum physics with the way subatomic particles are impossible to pin down, the bizzareness of light that sometimes thinks it’s particles and other times thinks it’s waves, the hazards of skateboarding, and much more. All enabling us to perceive the pervasive vastness of God in our universe.

One of the reviews on the sleeve declares:

Time and again, Bell challenges the reader to be open to surprise, mystery, and all of the unanswerables contained within the ‘wide stream’ called Christianity.

I would say that both books are aimed at anyone and everyone, but most pertinently to Christians and to open-minded agnostics and anyone who’s been disillusioned with what they’ve experienced of Christianity.

Personally I found What We Talk About When We Talk About God, in particular, the most refreshing and illuminating book I’ve read for years.

So much so, that I’m going to put my money where my blog is and make an offer…

If you’d call yourself an agnostic or atheist, or your views on life aren’t what you’d define as ‘Christian’, and you have an open mind, I would be very happy to send you (via Amazon) a copy of What We Talk About When We Talk About God, free of charge to you. A gift out of my own pocket.

No catches – honestly. Simply because I think it’s a great book that you might enjoy and which may answer some questions and longings.

I’ll do this for the first 5 people who contact me in response to this. Simply email me and we’ll take it from there.

———-

Bell has a distinctive style of writing, often using one-line paragraphs and one-word lines, in order to emphasise a point, and it’s very tempting to copy his style, especially

when

writing

about

him.

But I won’t do that.

Instead, here are some butterfly photos taken in a field across the road from Luccombe Chine on the Isle of Wight, for your enjoyment……

Luccombe Chalkhill Blue

Chalkhill Blue

Small Tortoiseshell

Small Tortoiseshell

Common Blue

Common Blue

1  Rob Bell’s Love Wins: Pages 47-48

2  Rob Bell’s Love Wins: Page 17

3  Rob Bell’s What We Talk About When We Talk About God: Page 15

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MISNOMERS

Misnomer. Great word, that. Sounds like a silly pseudonym, as in the author of that well-known book Inaccurate names for things by Miss Nomer.

It’s strange, but the book was about something completely different….

And here’s a misnomer: I remember the first time I came across a sign in Ikea stating ‘This is a self-clear restaurant’. I was gutted that my plates and cutlery and mess didn’t clear themselves away automatically. I was expected to do that! So much for ‘self-clear’.

And on the motorway the other day, I saw one of those ‘Self Drive Hire’ vans, but it clearly wasn’t driving itself. If it had been, it probably would have been driven better and not have been overtaking me on the inside lane….

Misnomers…they just don’t do what they say on the tin, do they?

Talking of self-things, what about self-help? A friend of mine recently told me he was lapping up self-help books. But do they help? Do they help people to help themselves?

Can we pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps? Can we lift ourselves out of depression? Can we heal ourselves from our afflictions?

Or is self-help a misnomer? Or at least an illusion?

Were U2 perhaps right in suggesting that ‘Sometimes you can’t make it on your own’?

Perhaps there are some things we can do to alter our thinking and habits, to alleviate symptoms. I’m sure that being self-aware and applying psychology to ourselves has some value, but I believe our best efforts at healing ourselves are like putting sticking plasters on our cuts. Superficial and symptomatic.

Can we actually change our inner self? Can we heal ourselves? Can we remove the cause? Can we save ourselves? Can we cleanse our souls and make ourselves new?

I believe in the first steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and all the other Anonymous programmes, that acknowledge that we are powerless over….alcohol / cocaine / etc….and that we need help from a “higher power”.

I believe in grace. In fact, if you’ve read my previous posts, you’ll know that you can’t get me off the subject!

But what does grace have to do with this question of self-help? I’m so glad you asked me…

Grace is God’s way of dealing with the root cause of our angst, our guilt, our identity crisis. So many of us struggle to know who we really are, who we’re meant to be, or how to find inner peace.

For some, those problems may have been exacerbated or even caused by a strict, religious upbringing. I’ve heard and read countless stories of Muslims, Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Hindus (and even some Christians) trapped in guilt-ridden thought processes that perpetuate stress and depression, until Someone sets them free…

For example, I have a friend who used to be a Muslim, wracked with guilt and anxiety. Now she follows Jesus, and knows God as a compassionate Father. She always has a smile and has learned not to worry. Christ has set her free1.

For Jesus freaks like her and me, grace obliterates the pervasive sickness of soul the Bible calls ‘sin’2.

This is not just the things we do wrong, although that’s part of it. Sin is at the heart of all that’s broken about the human condition, and it stands between us and our healing Father. It’s described, amongst other ways in the Bible, as a disease that needs radical treatment.

Grace, through Jesus’ death on the cross, tells us we’re accepted. Grace says we’re forgiven. Grace declares us “NOT GUILTY” and tells us we’re safe – in good hands.

Both free and secure.

For us Jesus freaks, who have accepted this as a free gift, this is not just theology or theory. This is experience. You can read my own experience of grace in My Life’s Soundtrack.

As I was writing this, Barbra Streisand’s soulful voice on the radio echoed my thoughts:

And we got nothing to be guilty of / Our love will climb any mountain near or far… Our love is one in a million.

Grace pulls us out of a hole, sets us on high and gives us lofty ideas of spreading the love we’ve received with our neighbour. Grace cleanses us.

Grace does what we cannot do for ourselves.

We cannot perform surgery on ourselves. Grace gets to the root and surgically removes the disease, deep inside.

We cannot lift ourselves up. Grace does.

Rob Bell puts it far better than I can in his ground-breaking book What We Talk About When We Talk About God, where he compares this idea to learning to water-ski. Apparently beginners are repeatedly told: “Let the boat pull you up!”

Bell continues:

Lean back – to go forward?

Stay down – to get up?

As a result of this confusion, many people, on their first attempt, get pulled forward out over the front of their skis; they ignore the advice from the boat and follow their natural inclination, which is to try to get themselves up onto the surface of the water.

Which doesn’t work, because you can’t get yourself on your own up onto the surface of the water.

It’s impossible.

Learning to water-ski requires a person to make the counterintuitive leap from trying to do what seems natural, which is to get yourself up onto the surface of the water, to trusting that the boat will do that work for you3.

Like learning to water-ski, resting on the good news that Jesus came to announce, is counterintuitive.

The good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection on our behalf is, as Bell puts it, “an unexpected foreign notion, a strange idea that cuts across many of the dominant ways we’ve all come to believe are how the world works”.

This good news often goes against the grain of our society, but I’m not ashamed of the one I love, the one who’s loved me. I’m not ashamed to say: this good news works!

Self-help? Try it if you really think there is such a thing. If it’s not a misnomer or an illusion.

But maybe also consider the alternative.

In fact, you could think about it over a meal in the restaurant of a Swedish furniture store, but remember to clear your table afterwards, and on your way there, steer clear of those dodgy van drivers…

  1. The New Testament is full of images of being set free from the power of sin. Romans 6:7 is one of many examples of this.
  2. The prophet Isaiah was incredible in the way he foretold the coming of Jesus, and how Jesus would take our place, bearing all the weight of our sin, which is compared here to a sickness (Isaiah 53:5).
  3. P. 132-133. Rob Bell is an amazing communicator and one of my literary heroes. Even his end-notes and references are interesting and fun to read. Wish I could write end-notes that well!
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