Monday, 25 May 2009

The Shack

My thoughts on God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit were put into over drive when I read ‘The Shack’, a novel by William M Paul Young, Hodder & Stoughton 2008.

I will not go into the story in detail, that would spoil it for the reader. I’d like to just reflect on a few points in relation to some of the arguments about some of the theology in the book.

The story is about a family that has suffered a great tragedy and how Mack (Mackenzie Phillips), the father, after receiving a disturbing note in his mailbox signed "Papa" (his wife's name for God), goes back to the place of the tragedy, 'The Shack', and in doing so he encounters the Trinity as a way to not only move on from his pain and grief, described in the book as, "The Great Sadness", but also as a way to restore his relationship with God.

In the shack, Mack encounters God as an African-American homely woman who is Papa, Jesus as a Middle Eastern Jew and the Holy Spirit as a Asian woman with the name of Sarayu, which all sounds very weird, but if you read the book, and not just read criticisms of the book, you'll find out why God chose to be seen as such.

I liked the way that the story focuses on how God could relate to each and everyone of us by adopting and adapting an image that we could relate to and be influenced by. Since God is both male and female I see no problem in a vision of God as a woman if you need a motherly influence and impact, nor do I see a problem in a vision of God as a fatherly influence and impact if that's what one needed to be able in a time of stress to relate to God, in fact Papa reverts to a male image later on in the novel as another adaptation for Mack to relate to.

There are criticisms that Young has created a craven image of God, I disagree, the image is one that Mack can relate to, not one that is to be made and used in worship. The book is not saying that God is an African-American woman named Papa (in fact Papa tells Mack that he can call her Elousia (p86)), nor that the Holy Spirit is a Asian woman named Sarayu. Just that those images and what they do and how they do it it is what Mack needs. A lot of people can relate to those images. I did. I found the connection of the Trinity as three persons more enlightening through those images. But there is no way that it led me to believe that God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit actually look like that! Craven images - no way.

But what about some of the theology relating to how Mack and the Trinity relate to each other? Young has got it right in that God is personal, neither male nor female, and it can be seen, through Mack’s encounters with the Trinity, that the Christian faith is about a relationship with a living God that is profoundly and incredibly intimate. It is a two way relationship. This two way relationship is tested by Mack’s grief and anger at God. He blames God for not stepping in and preventing such a tragedy (The Great Sadness’). He is given a change to judge God. At some time or another in our lives we all think we'd love to do that. Mack expresses just how hard that is as he realises the implications of such judgements.

If Mack is taken by understanding of the notion of judgement, then on the notion of sin he even more taken back and is surprised by God who says that, "I don't need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It's not my purpose to punish it; it's my joy to cure it" (p120). Through having God say this, Young has been criticised for undermining the punishment of sin. However, it seems to me that though God may not need to punish sin, the same as in the book God has no need to eat, but does so on a social level with Mack because Mack needs to eat (p199), God does, in fact, punish sin. For if, as in the book, “sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside", then may I suggest that, “the devouring you from the inside”, is a punishment proscribed by God for sinful behaviour? Then, may I suggest that the follow on statement “it’s my [God’s] joy to cure sin” might be relating to when we repent, return to God and come to faith through belief in Christ. But I could be wrong, this is just my opinion. [The following link blog.yanceyarrington.com has some more interesting points about the theology of 'The Shack' as does Ron Sider in his review of the book]

The bit for me in the book that was most difficult was how we forgive. How can we forgive someone who has committed such a heinous crime against a member of our own family. It is easy standing on the outside and saying that you should forgive. And I am in awe of those who have experienced such perpetrators of evil and have forgiven them. I guess I will have to keep coming to the Lord to ask for help to forgive because there would be no way I could on my own. And that is one of the most powerful aspects of The Shack. That we are not expected to do things on our own. We are to invite God into our lives, we are to have a relationship with God.

There is so much more to “The Shack” than I have included here, much much more! I for one found ‘The Shack’ thought provoking in relation to my own faith and attitude towards sin, punishment, judgement and forgiveness. It made me start, made me think, made me laugh and made me cry. A good book, with a good story about a profound subject. What a way to start a theology debate!

Thursday, 21 May 2009

All Change - My Rant

Hi - this is still "From Where I Stand", just got fed up with the template I had before!

If you like - or dislike - the new template then feel free to comment.

I like change. I like changing the furniture around in my living room, moving the books about on my bookcase, normally when I finally take the time to dust. I like putting up different curtains in the rooms of our house at different times of the year. So all in all I think change is a good thing. Most of the time.

But what about when change is not a good thing? What about when change puts things out of sorts and is not conducive to one's sense of well being, or your family's sense of well being? Then change can be difficult to handle. Not insurmountable, just difficult to handle.

I find life is like that, just when things seem to be ticking along something happens and it's "all change". That is scary don't you think? From the shop you normally go to closing down to the doctor you like retiring, its all change. And that makes us uncomfortable. It makes me uncomfortable because unlike a change I instigated I have no control of these changes.

So what about changes in society? According to some people society has changed too much, especially relating to moral change. According to others change has been for the better as we, most of us in the west, have a freer way of living. Not tied down to certain role models and behaviour patterns. But is that true? We might not be tied down to past role model and behaviour patterns, but are we not tied down to the present day role model and behaviour patterns.

In some debates about change people mix moral up with culture and technological changes. We've all heard, and I've been guilty of, the saying "In my day...". Sometimes it's funny when people look back at the so called good old days. Most of the past was not good or better than the present. It was something you lived with. And I am sure that most of us look towards things being better rather than saying this is ideal and I don't want anything to change. Anything?

Of course we want some things to change, but most things don't often change on their own, there are always external influences, be it technological or civic, social or cultural. These external influences help to influence and develop change.

I remember a dialogue between my mum and another lady of the same age, around seventy years old, talking about the younger generation. My mum's associate was expressing the fact that, "Youngster's now days don't know they're born". Well apart from it being funny that if one is alive, and I presume you are if you're reading this, then you must know you are born, no? But of course she meant that youngster's now days have it easy. Have what easy?

She could have been relating to working hours, buying homes, going on holiday abroad, access to prepared foods and cookers that did not need overt cleaning every time you cooked something on them, relationships and child birth and rearing. Actually she was talking about washing machines and tumble dryers. So to some extend she was saying something true. In her, and my mum's day, there were no washing machines. Nor did my mum have hot running water so water had to be boiled in large saucepans and then poured into the sink in order to be able to wash the clothes. Then she had to hand wash, rinse, wring out and hang the washing up on the line or around the kitchen. So yes life was hard for people like her and my mum. But surely she did not still want it to be like that?

Well yes she did. She did because her reasoning was that because the young did not know what hard work was, her reasoning, not a fact, they did not know how to behave themselves and bring up their children right, as if every body did in the past, because they had too much time on their hands. Idle hands and all that jazz. Idle meaning doing so called 'trivial' things. But did they, do they?

My mum disagreed and expressed the sentiment that she wanted good lives for her children that were not controlled by set chores that had to be done on certain days of the week. Mum wanted to think that the future would bring about more leisure time and time for being with one's children rather than always being on the go, doing housework and cooking because you had to. And she hoped that wages would be about extras and not just necessities. Has much changed? Has change been for the good? I think it has.

The change in lifestyle, has to some degree made life easier, but not necessarily better, for some women and men. There is now the need to be 'doing something' in this so called extra leisure time. Playing on the computer, blogging on the blogs, sitting watching the television with access to hundred of programmes from the sublime to the ridiculous, going to the pub, club, whatever else you do in your leisure time. These things become the chores if we are not careful. They take up our time as much as the old chores did. We then spend more hours working to keep up with our 'chores', upgrading and obsessing about them. And they are chores in the fact that we end up having to do these things, as well as to some extent, wanting to do these things. And sadly we don't feel as if we are living if we can't or aren't doing these things. We stress if we are not being able to do these things. They are, like, so important !

In the old days - there I've said it - people could not do things such as meet up or spend time with their children (as much as they liked shall I say), friends or family because there were the chores to do. If the chores were left too long or missed the next time round was twice as hard. And though modern woman or man might miss a wash load, two can be easily caught up with in a morning! But when going to bingo, to the pub, playing on the computer or watching television becomes the chore, something you have to do, then what happens? Can you give up your 'chore' to spend better time with your children, friends and family? Or have you got to do it?

Spending time with children is not the same as children being there in the house with you. As in the old days - I know - mum or dad had to STOP their chore for a while to spend time with their children, so too do modern mum's and dad's. The difference is that in the past the washing or dinner did NOT get done if mum did not do the chore, making more work, and hungry tummy's maybe, for the next day. Now, you may not get that high score or go to the next level on the computer game, you may not be with your mates at some kind of venue (pick wherever you go) getting merry - I am being polite - or just sitting watching your favourite programme on the television, but...maybe you'll get to know what your children better, or even each other better, and nothing unforetold will happen. You'll still get the time to get that high score, go to the next level, get a drink or go to bingo, pub, club, whatever. Of course maybe you'll get on each others nerves, get agitated, feel like you're missing out. In the old days - ugh I know, I know - people did miss out. They had no choice. There was no chance for change. There is now. Don't miss out. Change is good. Go for change!

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Fellowship

I'd like to say a thank you to Derek Fortnam of Park Hill Evangelical Church for a thought provoking sermon on fellowship and Bible study - we should be hungry for the word of God and desperate to meet up with each other! We Christians should be noted by our difference - not in the, "I'm better than you na nana na na!", but in the fact that by becoming believers and having faith in Christ we are changed and are seen to be changed in our dealings with each other. For if we as Christians fail to show love and compassion, friendship and help to each other then we are failing in our faith (Acts 2:42; 45 - 46 show devoted Bible study from all the believers, giving to anyone as they had need and meeting up together and sharing meals together).

As Christians we are called to reach out not just to each other as believers but to those who do not believe. To be able to give them a reason for our faith, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." 1 Peter 3:15. The reason Christians should have hope is because of their faith.

Christians, however, are also called to give sacrificially. To give outside and beyond their comfort zones; be it a financial or physical comfort zone. That is the hardest part for many Christians, to give and walk outside of their comfort zones. I too have a problem 'giving' and 'walking' outside of my comfort zone.

I am enraged when I see injustice - not just injustices that I disagree with. I feel enraged when I see cruel and despotic regimes propped up by use of political and financial institutions in the name of globalisation or free market economics. Like use of the bible for the substantiation of 'biblical' abuses, the use of the terms globalisation and free market economics has been substantiated to mean greed, irresponsibility and lack of accountability via individualism rather than community.

If Christians are called to be seen to be different by their moral and physical behaviour then that must have an impact on their civil and social behaviour. That is something I can relate to, politically, socially and civically, but can I relate as a Christian, from a Christian perspective? That is the question. For if I define myself as a Christian, then how does my civil and political views have an impact on my fellowship with other Christians? Especially other Christians who disagree with my Christian theology or doctrine, and adhere to an agenda that allows for discrimination because it seems to allow a biblical doctrine?

A Christian leader has expressed the view that if a country wants to ban people who hold same-sex affirmations from having access to civil and human rights, it should not be prevented from doing so [See this link]. But, say it another way, "If [put whatever you like here] wants to ban Christian people from having the same civil and human rights then it should not be prevented from doing so". But what if the punishment to affirm the right to same-sex relationships [or affirm the right to be a Christian] is punishable by imprisonment, stoning, or death? I am that sure the above Christian leader would say, well that's that country's law for the former situation, but be outraged at that country's law for the latter situation. Where is our fellowship then? Can I stand in fellowship with the above Christian leader?

For more on my views on Christian Fellowship have a look at Faith and Reason.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

ENO TRAP FODNE

On another planet, that's what I hear you say when you look at the title of this blog, but you guessed it right? [END OF PART ONE backwards]

As the UK brings out the troops from Iraq and as fighting continues in Afghanistan and elsewhere one has to say what next? What happens now, in reality, what happens now?

The cost of imposing democracy on Iraq, which has not yet worked for the people of Iraq, they have not embraced the westernisation of democratic compliancy as one might have hoped, has been immense, both to those imposing and to those being imposed upon [see Stephen M Walt as he asks, "What is the political formula by which Iraq will be governed now that Saddam's brutal dictatorship is gone?" [and the Iraqis are left to 'govern'].

The civilian death toll is staggering and will continue to increase I fear. Of course the deaths of the armed forces personnel, and other workers trying to provide services such as infrastructure and social utilities, is just as sad and very tragic and must surely be regrettable. But in the argument for truth of the whys and wherefores I ask what next?

What next must be up to the people of Iraq. The USA still has troops there, with the proviso they will be 'pulling out', eventually, sooner than later; with US combat forces due to leave Iraq by August 2010 and all US troops should be out of the country by the start of 2012 under the US-Iraq agreement (Reuters India). How will the Iraqis deploy their 'democracy' when they are finally left to govern their own country? NET NEWS DAILY gives a view that is less than hopeful.

What has the western invasion achieved that will be of lasting benefit to the Iraqi people? There will be many debates and discussions around this question. It will not be what we think that was good or bad about the invasion and the conflict and the outcome, but what have we left behind for the Iraqis to embrace? For if they embrace a different regime from the one we hope they should embrace, will we be going back again to liberate them, either because they might again be seen to be developing and thus deploying to have weapons of mass destruction, okay for us but not for them, or because they have been taken over by a dictatorial government that we do not agree with; human rights issues not withstanding, for surely there are other dictators who have, during and after Saddam's time, who have been, and still are being, more aggressive in their anti-human rights action towards their people, but we have not intervened by invasion. Or will it sadly be all about oil and the control of who has access to such a costly commodity, and therefore depending on OUR relationship with the Iraqi government of the day, we will either ignore abuse of human rights or invade because of the commodity Iraq has?

I have to ask the question that if Iraq had been a parched desert land like some of the African countries for instance, would the west have gone out to 'protect itself' from perceived weapons of mass destruction, or in the proclamation of freeing people from oppression, would the west have invaded and toppled that oppressive government? I hope the answer to my question is not the one I think it is.

Of course the above is over simplistic, there was contingency of planned cooperation, we did not invade Iraq blindly, the opposing parties to Saddam were willing and able to cooperate with the armed invasion, and the resulting restructuring of Iraq through the hard work of the Iraqi people, the foreign nationals who went out there to work, and the armed forces personnel who helped set up and worked towards the building of schools and hospitals must be seen as a good thing. But what next? What will happen in OWT TRAP? [PART TWO backwards]

Why have I written END OF PART ONE and PART TWO backwards (eno trap fodne & owt trap)? Because I believe the west has been backwards in its dealing with Iraq and Afghanistan.That will no doubt be the continuing stumbling block, the cause and affect of our relationship with Iraq, if not the legacy, we will be leaving behind in Iraq.

You views are appreciated, but remember to be civil if you disagree with above views, or if dialogue pursues, if you disagree with comments posted on this blog.