Category Archives: faith

Benedict… A Beginner looks at the Beginner’s Rule

The idea of a Rule of Life intrigues me. Why on earth do people follow St Benedict as well as the Gospel, over 1500 years on? Find out

These boots were made for walking

It’s been a while since I posted here. I’m writing this from the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church. By chance, they’re discussing pilgrimage (not going down v  well with some of my fellow tweeters!).

I have to say the General Synod discussion has lost my interest, but the discussion is still a bit of a coincidence, because I’m in the early stages of planning a pilgrimage of my own.

Why go on a pilgrimage? Something to do with connecting the journey of faith to the journey of life in a physical way. I won’t develop that further quite yet. But I’m going to post a few wee ideas, plans and reflections on journey and pilgrimage generally, and on my own particular expression of it over the next wee while.

Are you a traveller: spiritually, physically, emotionally, intellectually? Maybe you’d like to share with me. Do you have ideas to share: places to go, ways and means, preparations and resources for the way? Please do get in touch.

Faith

invisibleI have some sympathy with this.

(hat-tip ASBO Jesus)

Cool thing.

Journeys_May06_RBGC_RedSand2Now here’s a great idea.

At Faith Journeys some folks are ingathering information about people’s experience of the Christian faith – what’s influenced them (positively or negatively) both as children and as adults, and what turned them onto (or off) all things faith-related.

I love hearing other people’s stories. It never ceases to amaze me how different people are, and how diverse our different perceptions of God are.

The plan is to collect loads of people’s experiences and stories and share them (with permission of course).

I hope it might help us see what the contemporary experience of Christianity looks like, and how church in different forms “works” or doesn’t.

I’ve just joined up. The site’s in its infancy, so it’s more about giving than receiving for now, but I’m really looking forward to seeing what they come up with. Why not have a look..?

Bono & God

bonoThe spirituality of U2 in general and Bono in particular has hit the news a few times. If you regularly fill a pew somewhere, it’s quite likely that you heard about it in church, but if you don’t do church it’s quite possible you haven’t heard that Bono has a “God thing” going on.

Why is that? Maybe people simply aren’t interested in whether celebrities believes in God. But I don’t think so. You only have to look as far as Jade Goody to find tabloid media interest in a celebrity’s faith journey. Instead, I think it’s just that we’re happy to read cliched, non-threatening accounts of belief, but we don’t want to be challenged. Many of us had childhood experiences that led to us thinking of religion as boring and untrue. Maybe you remember them too: old, cold churches half empty and devoid of the young; sermons delivering a tired message and  dirge-like music from another century.

As adults, we like to have recourse to some sort of comfort in hard times, so we’re vaguely encouraged by stories like Jade’s that God was there for her. Often we tolerate “traditional” church events and expressions of belief – christenings, weddings, funerals –  as part of the furniture of our lives. We’re used to them; they wash over us; and we take comfort in their familiarity whilst ignoring the irrelevancies.

Bono doesn’t fit that mould, though. We can’t write off his beliefs as a “crutch” in the way we might have been tempted to for Jade Goody, or as a matter of habit. It’s not obvious why Bono would need God. He seems already to have it made based on modern society’s criteria for success and happiness. And yet he has a faith. If you doubt it, have a look at this:

I first heard that about Bono when I was pretty anti-God. I started to read about it a little. I couldn’t understand how I’d missed the theme in U2’s lyrics. More than that, I couldn’t understand how this guy, whose language was as bad (ok, maybe not quite) as mine, and who had a hugely successful, mainstream, rock’n’roll career, could possibly conform to my image of “nice, good, christian”. I thought it was interesting that he didn’t have the hugely annoying smugness I so often identified in christians. There was an authenticity about him. It was a massive challenge.

More than that, it had motivated him to do things.

To me, Jesus was a fairy story. He was a man with beard, long flowing hair, white robe, standing in the sun with a lamb clutched under his arm. Yet here was one of the worlds biggest rock stars, ill shaven, intermittently ill-behaved and with nothing to prove to anyone taking on the world’s superpowers to campaign for the eradication of third world debt. And he did it all with reference to  a God who was in amongst, and who loved the dirty and the broken. Who wanted justice and transformation for them. How could my preconceptions of God and my judgment of christians stand up to a God described like this:

God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house… God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives… God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war… God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them. “If you remove the yolk from your midst, the pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness, and if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom with become like midday and the Lord will continually guide you and satisfy your desire in scorched places”. – Bono, Annual Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC, Feb 2006

Last Sunday, Bono wrote a piece in the New York Times. You can read it  here. The jury seems to be out on whether he’s any good as a columnist, but I liked it. I think it’s good that we have someone who can capture the public’s attention and who’s outside the traditional religious mould commenting on things. It’s a shame he was writing in the US rather than the UK. There’s so little coverage in the mainstream press of the radical, positive teaching the bible has for us. Bono, or any other modern, radically minded christian writer, would be a happy addition to the Sunday papers.

Stop the world: resting easy.

sleeping-commuter-1I’m at the end of a week of holiday. I had big plans – a bunch of studying to catch up on; a load of “life admin” to do; commitments to people; and all those things I said last month I’d sort out tomorrow.  

But d’you know what? Cramming every minute of every day full of places to go, things to do and people to see is – for me at least – miles from being the answer. It makes me buzz, sure, but it also does a great job of slowly draining the life out of me.

At the start of this week I couldn’t muster much enthusiasm for anything, God included. So instead I’ve done nothing. No studying. No life admin. No work. I actually can’t remember the last time I did so little – really. Maybe not for 10 years.

A small part of me wonders if this is lazy, and starts the guilt routine, but I’m resolved to fight it. Stopping is biblical. Once again the big black book I thought had nothing to say to my life has practical import. It reminds me I need to stop sometimes – it’s how I was made.  Nature has in-built patterns of rest and growth in the seasons themselves. More directly, God thinks rest is so important that he made doing it one of the “Big 10” .

Jesus rested too. Sure, he worked and he travelled, he partied and he taught, but he also took time out to be alone, to get some peace and to be quiet with God. He had some advice on the subject: 

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly”. – Matthew 11:28-30

I tried it out this week. I can report that it’s been great. I have not been struck down by a thunderbolt for temporarily abandoning my work ethic. I have had time to watch how Jesus does things; to reflect on living with God rather than for him; to spend time on whatever has happened to cross my mind. Has it been a waste? I don’t think so.

I could tell you the details, but probably that should stay between me and God. Instead I’ll just say this: give it a try. Take some real, extended down time.  In our busy world, with our busy lives, simply doing that might be the hardest part.  But  let yourself stop, and listen out for God in the quiet. I believe you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

inter-faith cooperation: iron sharpening iron or paper, scissors, stone?

Whatever the private man’s been up to, the public Tony Blair has been flirting with religion for a while. _45656232_blair226b_apWhile was PM he was quiet at best about it, but now, if the spin is to be believed, he’s freed from the shackles of office and he can concentrate on what he really finds interesting: “I’m really and always have been in a way more interested in religion than politics”.

I don’t pretend to be a political animal. I’m not  interested in analysing what Mr Blair believes or doesn’t believe. I hope he and Jesus are talking, but at the end of the day that’s a matter between the 2 of them. 

tbfflogoWhat is interesting is Mr Blair’s new project, the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. Has Mr Blair simply identified something that government should’ve engaged a long time ago: the potential to harness the power of faith communities to facilitate social transformation?

In a way, I’m delighted by the Foundation. It has to be right that we should seek peace, engagement, and cooperation across faiths, and it’s great to see a high profile public figure engaging in promoting what faiths share over rather than what divides them.

But the idea raises questions and challenges too. In a video outlining the Foundation’s aims, Mr Blair says he aims to draw together people of different faiths as a force for common good. But why pick people of faith rather than people of none? Is this just a strategy to take advantage – albeit for good causes – of  the fact that religious communities tend to have strong identities and strong views? Or is there something about “faith” that identifies religious groups as fundamentally different from other common interests?

And what of the differences between faiths? It has to be good to encourage cooperation, understanding and working together on global issues, and the rise of political unrest with apparently religious undertones is certainly sinister. But can the Faith Foundation embrace diversity without falling into the trap of relativism and individualism? Or will it fall foul of the temptation of affirming my right to believe anything unless it challenges what you believe? Something in the video makes me uncomfortable: does the face of the Foundation threaten to eclipse the distinctive nature of my faith – the core difference between the hope of Jesus and the gods of other faiths?  Or do I simply need to trust that God’s big enough to deal, and to use whatever is done to his good?

Perhaps the bottom line is that cooperation is good, to be encouraged and embraced. The danger is in the temptation to dumb down differences, and the challenge is to do the opposite: not to paper over the cracks but to engage in addressing those issues with love and humility. I wonder how it’ll go…