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Archive for October, 2010

Here’s something a bit more light hearted!

A few weeks back I was searching on the internet for some help making Christmas stars out of wax paper.  My aunt first showed me how years ago when I was living in Switzerland and they looked amazing.  Well, I didn’t find any help with those but I stumbled on a great website for making all sorts of other things, including these pretty little stars here!  You’ll find it at http://www.craftideas.info

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keep scrolling down………………….

 

 

And while we’re talking about pretty things, take a look at these beautiful pieces of jewellery made with real flowers and sold at the Greenwich market, London.  You can also find them at http://www.flowerjewellery.co.uk

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In continuity with last blog………..

 

The dove descending breaks the air

With flame of incandescent terror

Of which the tongues declare

The one discharge from sin and error.

The only hope or else despair

Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre-

To be redeemed from fire by fire

 

Who then devised the torment?  Love.

Love is the unfamiliar Name

Behind the hands that wove

The intolerable shirt of flame

Which human power can not remove.

We only live, only suspire

Consumed by either fire or fire.

 

– T.S Eliot, ‘Little Gidding’

 

 

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Are you a high D (Dominant), high I (Influential), high S (Stable/Steady) or a high C (Compliant)?  Are the things that you value theoretical, social, aesthetic, individualist, economic or traditional?  What skills do you have specifically – team player?  Tact and diplomacy?  Self-motivation?  Other-motivation?  Which group do you belong in?  Which box can you be squeezed in?

I’m in the box of people who hate psychometric tests!

Ok, it’s probably because they make you face some harsh truths about yourself in black and white.  I recently had to do an hour of these tests for a theology course I’ve started and one of the results is that I’m a ‘high C’.  According to the lecturer, high Cs are the hardest people to understand and everyone should stick their tongues out at us.  ‘That’s flippin great’, I thought to myself.  In summary, high Cs like to know stuff.  They think about things a lot and analyse, asking lots of questions and pulling things apart to understand them.  They have a thirst for the truth, a sense of awe and curiosity about the unknown.  The upside of this is that good questions lead to good answers, insight and hopefully wisdom that have practical impact on life.  The downside is that a lack of understanding can become unsettling and anxiety-provoking, driving us to over-analyse and mull about things half obsessively.  We can come across as a bit preoccupied and unavailable sometimes – sorry about that!

The other day I was on the train going to meet a friend, gazing out onto the passing fields and my high C brain kicked into action.  This was the gist of the (ridiculous in a lot of ways) inner conversation:

‘I’m really not feeling like going to see this friend.  That means that when I arrive I’m going to have to pretend to be positive and interested.’  (Images of me looking decidedly positive and interested flash through my mind).

(I’m guessing that most people would stop here if they had this thought in their head and then they’d move on?)  But no, my mind is perplexed and continues to ask:

‘Well, isn’t that being inauthentic and fake then?  And therefore, should I bother trying to be interested and positive at all when it’s not really real?’

‘If I have to force myself do something I know is right rather than spontaneously wanting to do it and ‘feeling it’, is it just me being a hypocrite, a cup washed on the outside but filthy on the inside?’

‘Yeah, and taking it one step further, is the Holy Spirit of love not really alive and well in me, causing me to be naturally loving and good (as described in my blog ‘Two ‘Apple’ Trees’ a few months ago)?

This is the point at which it feels like my over-analysing brain has deconstructed everything to the lowest common denominator (usually self-bashing) and I’m feeling a bit glum and tied in knots.  That can be the problem with thinking a lot!  It’s really kind of funny/silly looking back on it now.

But, thankfully, as I was gazing out of the train window that day, another perspective piped up in my mind:

‘Well, maybe it’s a misunderstanding to think that when God’s spirit of love flows into us he completely takes over and we effortlessly become changed, better people.  We don’t become robots having our mind and will hijacked by God.’

‘Ok, so maybe it’s more like the spirit works alongside us, awakening our consciences, prompting us to do something, bringing things to light, convicting us and creating the desire in us to want to be different, even if we can’t instantly be so.  The choice as to whether we act on those promptings is still ours but if we do then we’re working in synergy with God.’

‘Hmmm, in that case, with regard to my friend, perhaps I’m not being fake if I try to be interested and positive even though I don’t feel like it.  Perhaps I’m actually responding to the nudge telling me that it would be right and most loving towards my friend to relate to them in this way today.  And as I try to, God will help me.  I don’t ‘feel it’, but I want to do best by my friend, so I’m taking the necessary steps towards that anyway, and that’s evidence of the Holy Spirit.’

‘Yeah that makes sense.  Especially based on my own past experience’.

End of conversation.

Well, it wasn’t really because I wasn’t dead, but for the purposes of this blog that was the end of the mind conversation!

I suppose this whole reflection on the train was really digging deeper in to the whole ‘saved by grace or works’ question.  In the distant past, people seem to have focussed more on the ‘saved by works’ side, which meant earning God’s approval and favour by being good.  These days though I think we are emphasising so much the ‘saved by grace’ side alone that we don’t do much and are then astonished when our life and character go on as always with all the same old habits and struggles.

Of course we have been rescued by God from the tyranny of evil and been adopted into his family so that his spirit can come and live within us now and actually transform us as a completely free gift.  However, unless we take hold of that gift and apply it to ourselves in some way, and then act out of it, we will never be transformed so it won’t become a reality in our lives.  It’s the same as the love of a lover.  It’s the most wonderful thing, but unless you grasp it and open up to it, it won’t have any effect on you.  And it will have even more effect on you if you commit back to the lover with all the effort that this actually requires.  It’s not wrong to not feel like doing something good.  Loving with all your mind means choosing the right decision even when you’d rather not.  Surely this is most often the only way forgiveness has half a chance of coming about, it certainly doesn’t usually start with beautiful feelings!

Surprise, surprise, I love the way this all ties in with psychology!  Neurologically, you can transform who you are by what you regularly do.  When you make a certain choice time and time again (such as to stay behind after the meeting and do the dirty job no one else wants), eventually your brain will form long-standing connections between nerves so that you no longer have to consciously think about what you’re doing.  It’s just the same as when you learn to drive.  At first it takes a lot of thought about the gears, the pedals, the steering and hopefully also the brakes.  But sooner or later it becomes so automatic because your brain has laid down a ‘neural highway’ to travel along every time you want to drive.  You have learned the skill.  And of course, once behaviour has become automatic it has become your character.  You are actually a different person rather than just acting like one.  When you do good things they are no longer the exceptions, done with great effort, but they have become the air you breathe, the atmosphere you live in, your very self.

Discipline is necessary.  Sometimes that means making the difficult choices.  Sometimes it means taking the time to place yourself somewhere, somehow so that God has the chance to transform you, be that in meditation, study, service, confession, celebration or any of the many disciplines.  When you really long for a lover you will do whatever it takes to get into their space, to be with them, to make yourself available to them, to know them, to be affected by them, to please them, to strengthen your relationship, just to make it work, even if it is difficult in many ways and sometimes you don’t feel like it in that moment.

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The saying that ‘virtue is easy’ is true ‘only to the extent that God’s gracious work has taken over our inner spirit and transformed the ingrained habit patterns of our lives.  Until that is accomplished, virtue is hard, very hard indeed.  We struggle to exhibit a loving and compassionate spirit, yet it is as if we are bringing something in from the outside.  Then bubbling up from the inner depths is the one thing we did not want, a biting and bitter spirit.  However, once we live and walk on the path of disciplined grace for a season, we will discover internal changes.  The spirit of compassion we once found so hard to exhibit is now easy.  In fact, to be full of bitterness would be the hard thing.  Divine love has slipped into our inner spirit and taken over our habit patterns.’

‘What then is Paul saying in Colossians that Christians must do?  Answer:  He is telling them to develop, in the present, the character which will truly anticipate the life of the coming age….What we need to grasp as being of the essence of his summons to Christian virtue, is the moral effort involved.  “Put to death…..”, “Put away….”, “Put on…” – these are the points of interest….The point of virtue is that eventually, as a person’s character becomes fully formed, such things may indeed begin to ‘come naturally’.  But the steps it takes to get to that point involve hard decisions, hard actions, choices that run counter to the expectations, aspirations, desires and instincts with which every human being comes equipped.’

‘ “If we live by the spirit, let’s line up with/walk by the spirit”….The point here is clear:  just because you “live in the spirit”, that doesn’t make following the spirit’s direction automatic.  You have to choose to do it.  And you can.’

– Tom Wright in ‘Virtue Reborn’ (or ‘After you’ve Been Saved’ in America.  Isn’t it strange how different cultures need and respond to different titles?  What does that say about them?)

 

These cover illustrations are really beautiful. There's something etheral and other-worldly about them, as if there's a incredible secret just through those windows or along that pathway.

 

‘The classical Disciplines of the spiritual life call us to move beyond surface living into the depths.  They invite us to explore the inner caverns of the spiritual realm.  They urge us to be the answer to a hollow world.’

‘Our ordinary method of dealing with ingrained sin is to launch a frontal attack.  We rely on our willpower and determination.  We pray against it, fight against it, set our will against it.  But the struggle is all in vain and we find ourselves once again morally bankrupt or, worse still, so proud of our inner righteousness that ‘whitened sepulchres’ is a mild description of our condition……We have no intention of exploding with anger or parading a sticky arrogance, but when we are with people what we are comes out.  Though we may try with all our might to hide these things we are betrayed by our eyes, our tongue, our chins our hands, our whole body language.  Will power has no defence against the careless word, the unguarded moment.  The will has the same deficiency as the law – it can only deal with externals.  It is incapable of bringing about the necessary transformation of the inner spirit.  When we despair of gaining inner transformation through human powers of will and determination, we are open to a wonderful new realisation:  inner righteousness is a gift from God to be graciously received.  The needed change within us is God’s work not ours……The moment we grasp this breath-taking insight, we are in danger of an error in the opposite direction.  We are tempted to believe there is nothing we can do…..we must wait for God to come and transform us….Strangely enough the answer is no……We do not need to be hung on the horns of the dilemma of either human works or idleness.  God has given us the Disciplines of the spiritual life as a means of receiving his grace.  The Disciplines allow us to place ourselves before God so that he can transform us.’

Richard Foster, in ‘The Celebration of Discipline’.

‘What is the good of pretending to be what you’re not?  Well, even on the human level you know, there are 2 kinds of pretending.  There is the bad kind where the pretence is there instead of the real thing, as when a man pretends to help you instead of really helping you.  But there is also the good kind where the pretence leads up to the real thing.  When you are not feeling particularly friendly but you know you ought to be, the best thing you can do, very often, is to put on a friendly manner and behave as though you were a nicer person than you actually are.  And in a few minutes you will be feeling friendlier than you were.  Very often the only way to get a quality in reality is to start behaving as if you had it already………  Put right out of your head the idea that these are only fancy ways of saying that Christians are to read what Christ said and try to carry it out….They mean something much more than this.  They mean that a real Person, Christ, here and now, in a very room where you are saying your prayers, is doing things to you.  It is not a question of a good man who died 2000 years ago.  It is a living man, still as much a man as you, and still as much God as he was when he created the world, really coming and interfering with your very self; killing the old natural self in you and replacing it with the kind of self he has.  At first only for moments.  Then for longer periods.  Finally, if all goes well, turning you permanently into a new kind of thing; into a new little Christ, a being which, in its own small way, has the same kind of life as God; which shares in his power, joy, knowledge and eternity.’

– C.S Lewis in ‘Mere Christianity’

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I recently had the pleasure/misfortune of watching the film ‘Closer’ with the ever beautiful Julia Roberts, Natalie Portman, Jude Law and Clive Owen.

On the DVD case it describes it as ‘an uncompromisingly honest look at modern relationships’.  Hmmmm, wow, if modern relationships are like they are in this film, that’s a sorry state of affairs.  I don’t know that I’d recommend watching it, it’s definitely uncompromising.  ‘Crude’ is more like it.  Vulgar even?

Yet often, in otherwise distasteful films, there are moments of insight, deeper questions, glimpses of what’s really going on underneath.  Underneath our performances, underneath what’s obvious to the sight.  Amongst the 100 minutes of Closer were a couple of scenes that hit me straight between the eyes.

If you don’t want to know the outcome of the film, don’t read on!

At one point, Clive Owen has stumbled across Natalie Portman dancing in a strip club.  He remembers her as the ex girlfriend of the man (Jude Law) who stole his wife (Julia Roberts).  He pays to have a private room with her.  On the one hand he wants to find out information about his ex wife, on the other he wants to gain some kind of revenge on Law by having his way with his ex girlfriend.

Portman dances around, strips, bends over provocatively and does everything she’s asked, all the while smiling sweetly.  But, she resists every attempt to draw her in to meaningful conversation.  Owen sticks ever more money into her skimpy underwear, asking her repeatedly her name.  All she replies is ‘Jane’, which he knows is not true.  Finally, he looks up at the security cameras in absolute frustration and shouts, ‘what do you have to do to get some intimacy round here?’  Woah.  As you watch a screen writhing with seemingly very intimate behaviour, the question reverberates around the room.  Knowing her name, being allowed into reality, into the truth of who she is behind the candy smile, that would be real intimacy.

I think the point is rammed home right at the end.  Natalie Portman goes back to Jude Law once Julia Roberts has left him (!!), only to realise his ‘love’ is meaningless (“where is this love you talk about?  I can’t see it.  I can’t feel it.  I hear it, these words of yours.  But what does it mean?” she says).  She disappears back to America.  On his way to work one day, Law walks through a park where he had taken Portman the day they first met, and suddenly he sees a plaque on the wall

Portman had told Law that her name was Alice Ayres.  Now he realises that all along this was a fake name, one she had quickly read off a wall plaque that first day.  You’re left wondering if he ever really knew the real her.  A name is so bound up with a person’s true identity.  Now she has vanished for good after an ‘intimate’ relationship, was it all a lie?  Had they ever really allowed each other into one another’s worlds or just kept each other at arm’s length with false externals?  Despite physical closeness had they ever really known the meaning of intimate?

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