It does not matter what you believe…

theology

…or does it?

We had a lovely discussion tonight with some friends, sitting round a fire, talking about life and death (as you do.) The death bit because several folk were still in the midst of dealing with loss. The life bit turning on how we understood what our lives were drawing us to.

And because of our shared journeys, the meaning we have found has a lot to do with Jesus, although has been somewhat complicated by our experience of religion…

Some of us have done a lot of (perhaps even too much) unlearning/deconstructing/questioning what this religion has told us we have to believe. Not just the obvious stuff, but the sub-cultural subliminal stuff too that it even harder to come to terms with.

I found myself asking the question- does it really matter what you believe?

We kind of agreed that the religious context that we were familiar with made far too much of belief. We all knew exactly what we were supposed to believe. It was never really stated, but we all knew it was vital to get all your theological cards stacked right. This was what most ‘teaching’ was really aimed at after all.

Strange then that this did not seem to be Jesus’ preoccupation. He was not much interested in making sure that his disciples answered all those complex theological questions that we struggle with now. In fact, he seemed to take quite a lot of pleasure playing with people who came to him looking for absolute theological questions- sending them away with a parable or two- almost like he was saying ‘go and work it out for yourself’.

As I read the gospels, it seems to me that Jesus was much more interested with how faith (rather than belief) brought us to action- particularly how it turned us towards love. Those two commandments- love god and others as yourself.

My conviction is that the obsession with belief often gets in the way of active love. It does not encourage engagement with the world around us, but sits smugly on its own sense of rightness, pompously calling for others to join our club.

theology

At least that is what I believe.

As our discussion went forward we circled again towards death. We talked about the death of a God fearing man, whose passage from life was characterised by fear of God. How he was sure he would not be allowed into heaven as he had done too many bad things. And we began to wonder again about belief…

Our working conclusion was this- belief matters only as far as it becomes the means for us to move, to act, to live, to travel. Even if that journey is the last one.

The rest of it is children playing with marbles.

Teaching not learning…

school-assembly

 

I had lots of good discussions on my recent wilderness retreat, one of them was a chat with Andrew about teaching in church.

This was relevant as in my ‘church’ we do not really do teaching- most of us have had a belly full of sitting in church services listening to people preach at us. This has been replaced by lots of different kinds of learning however- reading, internetting, discussing, visiting other places. Whether or not this is a fair exchange has been the cause of some discussion.

Andrew however (who is a NT scholar at Aberdeen University, so his opinion seems well worth listening to) described his own frustration with how church has become addicted to teaching, but has forgot entirely about learning.

I had to think about that- surely if someone is a good teacher, then this has to be measured by the degree to which his or her (but lets face it, in this context it is more likely to be his) pupils learn?  Well no, says Andrew, at least not in the context of Church. Rather, his experience of preaching/teaching is that it is mostly totally disconnected from learning; rather it offers a kind of moralised, spirtualised entertainment for the faithful. Rather than challenging anyone to change, to develop, to grow, to explore, to adventure with the Spirit, it actually just provides a religious diversion from real life.

Another friend of mine, Graham, called it ‘theological masturbation’ over on his blog;

 I used the phrase ‘theological masturbation’ where I referred to our tendency, in Bible study groups just to ‘self pleasure’. Groups becoming just sharing of points and opinions with no vulnerability or attempt to relate it in an active or missionary way to the world outside…

The interesting question is, if people are not learning from our teaching, what do we do instead? How do we set people free to learn for themselves?

My initial response to Andrew was that I thought it was something to do with hierarchy. Churches have people whose job it is to teach others- the paid ministers. Therefore the rest of us step back and leave the hard work to them. Sometimes they (and in turn, we) are inspired, but mostly we defer responsibility to them. What if we actually had to come up with our own solutions to the small theological questions that surround our every day life? Sure, it might be possible, even necessary, to not get into the meat of all of them, but no faith is possible without a search for meaning- and in this instance, the meaning we find is our own, it is not lazily appropriated.

However, I am not fully satisfied with this answer- after all, we are all standing in a long line of followers of Jesus, and to suggest that others have not got things to teach us is foolish. We are all subject to the influence of others, and why not at least listen to people who have given this more thought than we have.

There is still the issue of learning. What are we learning for? Is it to refine the subtleties of our doctrine? There has been a lot of this kind of learning after all. Or should learning be actually about being schooled in the disciplines shown to us by Jesus? These are perhaps best understood in terms of learning to love one another, to live in community, to let go of all the stuff that gets in the way, be they possessions, selfish obsessions, or sins. This kind of learning seems to be to be as much about unlearning, simplifying, going deeper and slower.

I write these things not because I have learnt well- rather because I am a long term remedial pupil in need of extra tutoring.

I think that is what the Holy Spirit was tasked with was it not?

Which makes me wonder again whether we have not made his job rather difficult- by filling the classroom with theological masturbation.

Perhaps what we actually need is a small island with no internet or phone reception…

Eileach an Naoimh wilderness retreat pics…

Just looking at some photos of our trip to Eileach an Naoimh. It was great, and there is much more to reflect on, but for now, a few pics as I should be busy setting up our house for an ‘open studios’ event;

 

Nihilism…

community 1

Readers of this blog will know that I am not one of those people who bemoan the passing of some kind of golden moral Christian age, when all was in its godly place.

Neither do I believe that our churches are the last repository of goodness within our sinful planet- the last means of the planets salvation.

But just sometimes, the zeitgeist gets me down;

The feeling that the beautiful creature, made a little lower than the angels, is busy shopping.

Is busy watching TV, obsessing about royal babies, caught up in rolling news bulletins showing the same clips of disasters in photogenic parts of the world.

Is concerned only with the next car, the next orgasm, the next holiday.

And I start to wonder again about the old Evangelical cliche about a God-shaped hole in the middle of us all.

I was thinking about this word recently;

ni·hil·ism  (n-lzm, n-)

n.

1. Philosophy

a. An extreme form of skepticism that denies all existence.
b. A doctrine holding that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated.
2. Rejection of all distinctions in moral or religious value and a willingness to repudiate all previous theories of morality or religious belief.
3. The belief that destruction of existing political or social institutions is necessary for future improvement.
4. also Nihilism A diffuse, revolutionary movement of mid 19th-century Russia that scorned authority and tradition and believed in reason, materialism, and radical change in society and government through terrorism and assassination.
5. Psychiatry A delusion, experienced in some mental disorders, that the world or one’s mind, body, or self does not exist.
And it took me back the Matthew chapter 5- The words of Jesus that have been known as ‘The Sermon on the Mount’. All those words about finding a better way of living, characterised by love, service, justice, peacemaking.
And in a moment of bleakness (you have been warned) I wrote this;

Nihilist creed

 

Blessed are the neurotic

But skin them under a cold cloak of positivity

For who wants to see their damaged flesh?

 

Blessed are those who have loved and lost

For this life has few survivors

We will all too soon be dust

 

Blessed are the kind, the shy, the meek

Though their fortune fails and their labours are ignored

While the go-getters steal away the earth

 

Blessed are the God-botherers, the long-skirt-wearers, those frozen-chosen

Let them gather in their holy huddles, to ward off

The must and draft of their empty buildings

 

Blessed may be the charitable, but beware

For friends offering favours will always want something in return

And their helping hands only serve to show the weakness of your own

 

Blessed are those with no dirty secrets, with nothing to keep out the light

Let them shine for a while because we are watching and waiting

Nothing falls further than a second rate saint

 

Blessed are the community-makers, village hall re-painters, singers of the songs of peace

But Rome did not rise without war

So let them march and wave their banners while we sharpen our steel

 

Blessed are those who still have something to believe in

Fools that they are

For we will construct meaning only from what we can buy and sell

 

There is nothing more

The Holy Atheist Church…

atheist-church

I am sure many of you have heard of the Atheist church services put on by comedians Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans in London. Around 600 non-believers have been gathering in Bethnal Green since January to listen to inspirational talks, sing songs accompanied by a live band, make friends and volunteer for good causes. Meetings are about to move from monthly to fortnightly.

It now seems that they are taking the idea to international heights- there is already a monthly event in New York, with ‘services’  to begin soon in Los Angeles, Chicago and Seattle.

A ‘religious’ service without God, I hear you ask- what is the point? This from here; 

The Sunday Assembly was created after Jones attended a Christmas carol service and enjoyed the sense of community: “There were so many wonderful things about it, but at the centre of it there was something I didn’t believe in. And for me, life is such an absolute gift so why can’t we talk about that?”

He added: “I’d always thought there’d be people in other parts of the world who would like this. It was picked up by the media and more than 750 people around the world have written to us saying they’d like a Sunday Assembly in their town.” At the New York meeting, the congregation sang songs by the Beatles and Queen, and closed with Proud Mary by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Guest speaker was Chris Stedman, a humanist chaplain at Harvard.

It coincided with the city’s Gay Pride march, so the theme was “coming out”. Jones said: “People in the US talk about coming out as atheists. I’d think, what’s an ‘out’ atheist? That’s bonkers.”

Jones visited nine other US cities where people asked for advice on setting up assemblies. In the UK, branches will launch in Bristol this weekend and Exeter and Brighton in September. Jones and Evans kick off a global roadshow on October 20, with 40 assemblies in 60 days. Locations, decided by demand via their website, include Australia, France and Scandinavia.

Evans, a Christian until she was 17, said: “When I stopped believing in God, I didn’t miss God but I did miss church. And that’s the point of the assembly, meeting like-minded people and bolstering each other up.”

Jones added: “Atheists are very good on reason, and science, but that doesn’t get you jumping out of bed in the morning. This is about being alive.”

All of which sounds quite lovely to be honest- anything that celebrates community, encourages people to do good things and to live life in a deeper and fuller way is OK with me.

I suspect that God might agree too.

What does it mean however to call yourself an Atheist? It suggests a little more than just indifference to the idea of a supreme being at the centre of it all.

Perhaps some might describe it as a religion that sets out to describe all other religions as wrong. There are after all a lot of those kind of religions.

As a Christian, I was brought up to see atheists as evil, deluded, the enemy. Agnostics were perhaps redeemable, but atheists were active opponents of God. They were sticking two fingers up at the divine and would have eternity to regret their foolishness. Militant atheists like Dawkins have done nothing to erode the battle lines.

I found this article by Andrew Brown in the Guardian really helpful, in which he describes six kinds of atheism (based on American research);

The largest group (37%) was what I would call “cultural non-believers”, and what they call “academic” or “intellectual atheists”: people who are well-educated, interested in religion, informed about it, but not themselves believers. I call them “cultural” because they are at home in a secular culture which takes as axiomatic that exclusive religious truth claims must be false. Essentially, they are how I imagined the majority readership of Comment is free’s belief section.

They are more than twice as common as the “anti-theists” whose characteristics hardly need spelling out here:

If any subset of our non-belief sample fit the “angry, argumentative, dogmatic” stereotype, it is the anti-theists. This group scored the highest amongst our other typologies on empirical psychometric measures of anger, autonomy, agreeableness, narcissism, and dogmatism while scoring lowest on measures of positive relations with others … the assertive anti-theist both proactively and aggressively asserts their views towards others when appropriate, seeking to educate the theists in the passé nature of belief and theology.

Nonetheless, these people made up only 14% of their sample, and all other research that I know of would place their proportion much lower.

The other two noteworthy groups are those to whom religion is completely and entirely irrelevant, “non-theists”, and what the researchers call “ritual atheists“, who overlap quite a lot with “seeker-agnostics”, both of whom might be targeted under the marketing category known as “spiritual but not religious”. What defines them is the ability to treat religious practices as something like acupuncture or Chinese medicine: something that works even though the explanation is obviously nonsense:

One of the defining characteristics regarding ritual atheists/agnostics is that they may find utility in the teachings of some religious traditions. They see these as more or less philosophical teachings of how to live life and achieve happiness than a path to transcendental liberation. Ritual atheist/agnostics find utility in tradition and ritual.

As the authors observe, this covers a large spectrum of American Jewry.

(One further category, “activist“, is used to label those who hold strong beliefs on ethical and environmental issues. Pretty much what the term means in lay parlance.)

I think the English, or more generally European results, would be different. The typologies are broadly the same, but since Christianity is much less of a marker in European culture wars, and certainly not an active one in the UK, you would expect the distribution of categories to be different, and for people to be very much less self-conscious about unbelief and less likely to regard it as a salient feature of their personalities.

Atheism is an honest response to lack of belief.

However, most of us who continue to try to live with faith in God have to admit to the presence of doubt, and I for one think we should be honest about this.

I liked the perenthetical trickery of  Pete Rollins who talks about (a)theism. Contained in all our ideas about God is also the idea that what we know is always incomplete, imperfect and error-strewn. He would contend that the only honest way to approach God is to start from the point of (a)theism- where our theories about God are confronted with our unknowing.

Gravity gets us all in the end my friends, and may we all fall into the arms of a loving God.

Vanier on community…

jean-vanier

‘Community can be a terrible place because it is a place of relationship; it is the revelation of our wounded emotions and of how painful it can be to live with others, especially with ‘some people.’ It is so much easier to live with books and objects, television, or dogs and cats! It is so much easier to live alone and just do things for others, when one feels like it…. While we are alone, we could believe we loved everyone’.

Jean Vanier ’Community and Growth’
I pinched this quote from my mate Graham’s blog.
.
Because Vanier puts into words what most of us instinctively know to be true. Our relating is mostly driven by self- our need for friendship/entertainment/validation/collaboration.
.
It is this kind of relating that allows us to believe that we live ‘good’ lives, that we are ‘nice’ and that we are ‘Christian’ even.
.
My experience is that community first teaches us that we are none of these things.
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Most of us recoil at this point- surely there must be something wrong with the people we are communing with? Joe is a pain the arse, Gill is a power hungry despot-in-training, Jim has far too many opinions and should just shut up before I slap him. Better to just go home and watch TV.
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I confess I have watched a lot of TV.
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But still, there is community. They have not kicked me out yet…

Wilderness retreat, September, some places left…

The Garvellachs, in the distance

We are planning another wilderness retreat Friday 20th – Sunday 22nd September, for a group of blokes from Garioch Church, Aberdeen. They are particularly interested in finding a way to explore what we might understand to be ‘male spirituality’.

We will be heading out to the Garvellachs again, weather permitting! The last time we tried to get there (in May) the rising swell meant that landing was too big a risk, and so we ended up on Scarba- which was brilliant too.

At present there are 6-7 of us, so room for a few more if anyone wants to join us? Expect costs to be around £50-60, depending on how many actually come (due to fixed costs of boat.)

If you want to come, let me know soon, as there are a few folk interested.

It is a fabulous place to spend time being still…

Jonny and Paul, fire

Accidental beauty…

Table

 

The small group I am part of – Aoradh- have spent years planning activities and events. Labyrinths, prayer rooms, worship spaces, stations, meditation walks through the forest and along the sea front, etc. At present we are taking something of a rest- there is a lot of pressure and busyness around with members of Aoradh, and so the ‘external’ side of what we do has taken a bit of a back seat. I really miss this- not just for the fact that an important dimension of who we are- the collective ‘mission’ outwards- is missing, but also because I miss the creativity.

Having said that, planning creative events is not always easy. Creative people can easily be caught up in their own ‘thing’, we do not easily listen to the other. My experience is that these planning events work best when visible enthusiasm is combined with patience, love and grace. When these are lacking it can be a tough place to be.

A friend posted something on Facebook the other day called ‘Say Yes‘,  written by an American Pastor called Jenny McDevitt. I really liked this;

A few years ago, on a friend’s recommendation, I read Tina Fey’s book Bossypants. Her writing is equal parts funny, crass, and brilliant (and if you can’t stomach all three, it’s probably best to leave this one on the shelf and ask me for a summary). More than a few pages dramatically changed the way I approach ministry, including her explanation of improvisation.

 

Improv, she says, depends upon four basic rules. First, say, “yes.” Agree with whatever your partner (or community, or congregation) has created. Second, say, “yes, and.” Agree, and then enter into the creative process yourself and start contributing. Third, make statements. This is a gentler way of saying, don’t be the person that only asks questions. That puts pressure on everyone else to come up with all the answers. Once again, contribute. Help create. And fourth, understand that there are no mistakes, only opportunities. Something didn’t go as planned? Look around and see what unexpected beauty has emerged accidentally. It’s almost always there.

 

Each one of these is worthy of your consideration. For me, it has been transformative to enter each conversation with a church member assuming I will do everything I can to say yes to whatever idea, scheme, or dream they bring with them. Obviously, I can’t say yes immediately to everything. Sometimes it takes conversation and creativity so we can both say yes to an adapted idea. Sometimes it takes questions to understand the spirit behind the idea, so we can find a different way forward that honors the original intent. (And yes, it’s true: there are times when I have to say no. That’s another post for another day.)

 

Saying yes has changed the way I approach ministry with others, but also the way I approach daily tasks myself. Shifting the evaluative question from “How could this go wrong?” to “How could we make this work?” invites open, positive dreaming and dialogue. It fosters an expectation of creativity. Frankly, it demands that I be more creative, constantly.

 

For the community, it communicates that we are all in this together. We’re on the same team, working toward the same goals. Saying yes is not blind acceptance; it is shared initiative and creativity. It honors what people bring to the table, and opens doors to possibilities I would have never imagined on my own.

 

Theologically, saying yes affirms the ministry of all God’s children and reminds us that creation itself is sacred. In the big picture, saying yes is to look at death, and offer life. It is to look at fear, and offer companionship. It is to look at the dark, and offer light. It is to look at hate, and offer love. In a world that is all too quick to say no, to say yes is to pry open the gates of the kingdom a little bit wider every time.

 

Reading history through objects…

Last year there was a cracking radio series entitled ‘The history of the world in 100 objects’, which concerned itself with objects chosen from the thousands in the British Museum. It was impossible not to be reminded of this as we walked around the museum last week.

What I loved about the series was the way that the presenter (Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum) was able to use each object as a time capsule, or some kind of window into where we came from.

Most people who read the Bible find an extra frisson of fascination around objects that have some connections to Bible history. Two of these objects had me thinking again about the way that we use history not just like a distorted telescope lens, but more like a kaleidoscope. The light we see at such distance is bent by all sorts of assumptions and overlaid constructions- never more so than when the Bible is involved.

The first object (or set of objects to be more accurate) is this one- the Lachish relief.

lachish relief

This relief is from a time of  around 3000 years ago- and this too was a time of war. (It is estimated that there were only around 50 Million people in the world then, but still there was an the urge to fight!) In this instance, the fighting recorded was the great siege of Lachish in Judea, 701 BC by King Senacherib.

Lachish is first mentioned in the Bible as one of the cities taken by force from its existing inhabitants by Joshua. In Joshua 10, it is recorded that the King of Lachish started out as an ally of the Israelites, fighting alongside them, before ‘God gave Lachish to Israel’, who ‘took it in two days and killed everyone’. Despite this, somehow Joshua remains our hero. He was establishing Gods promised holy nation…

Jump forward around 4 centuries or so, to around 1000 BC, the kingdom of Judah had more powerful neighbors in the form of the  Assyrian Empire, stretching Iran to Egypt, and maintained by the all powerful Assyrian war machine.

Good King Hezekiah, who seemed to get all the worship purity stuff right, made some rather bad political decisions and defied the Assyrian King Sennacherib.

In 2 Kings 20 there is a story of one of Sennacheribs men delivering insulting blasphemous words about the lack of power of the Jewish god when faced with the power of the sword. Here Hezekiah cleverly pays off the Assyrians, and eventially God kills first most of their army, then Sennacherib himself gets his comeuppance.

The story from the Assyrian records are rather different;

 “In my third campaign I marched against Hatti. Luli, king of Sidon…fled far overseas and perished…In the continuation of my campaign I besieged Beth-Dagon, Joppa, Banai-Barqa, Azuru, cities belonging to Sidqia who did not bow to my feet quickly (enough); I conquered (them) and carried their spoils away.  The officials, the patricians and the (common) people of Ekron -  who had thrown Padi, their king, into fetters (because he was) loyal to (his) solemn oath (sworn) by the god Ashur, and had handed him over to Hezekiah, the Jew (and ) he (Hezekiah) held him in prison, unlawfully, as if he (Padi) be an enemy-had become agraid and had called (for help) upon the kings of Egypt (and) the bowmen, the chariot(-corps) and the cavalry of the king of Ethiopia, an army beyond counting-and they (actually) had come to their assistance.  In the plain of Eltekeh, their battle lines were drawn up against me and they sharpened their weapons.  Upon a trust (-inspiring) oracle (given) by Ashur, my lord, I fought with them and inflicted a defeat upon them…I assaulted Ekron and killed the officials and patricians who had committed the crime and hung their bodies on poles surrounding the city…I made Padi, their king, come form Jerusalem and set him as their lord on the throne, imposing upon him the tribute (due) to me (as) overlord…As to Hezekiah, the Jew, he did not submit to my yoke, I laid siege to 46 of his strong cities, walled forts and to the countless small villages in their vicinity, and conquered (them) by means of well-stamped (earth-)ramps, and battering-rams brought (thus) near (to the walls) (combined with) the attack by foot soldiers, (using) mines, breeches as well as sapper work.  I drove out (of them) 200,150 people, young and old, male and female, horses, mules, donkeys, camels, big and small cattle beyond counting, and considered (them) booty.  Himself I made a prisoner in Jerusalem, his royal residence, like a bird in a cage.  I surrounded him with earthwork in order to molest those who were leaving his city’s gate.  His towns which I had plundered, I took away from his country and gave them (over) to Mitinti, king of Ashdod, Padi, king of Ekron, and Sillibel, king of Gaza.  Thus I reduced his country, but I still increased the tribute and the Katru-presents (due) to me (as his) overlord which I imposed (later) upon him beyond the former tribute, to be delivered annually.  Hezekiah himself, whom the terror-inspiring splendor of my lordship had overwhelmed  and whose irregular and elite troops which he had brought into Jerusalem, his royal residence, in order to strengthen (it), had deserted him, did send me, later, to Nineveh, my lordly city, together with 30 talents of gold, 800 talents of silver, precious stones, antimony, large cuts of red stone, couches (inlaid) w3ith ivory, nimedu-chairs (inlaid) with ivory, elephant-hides, ebony-wood, box-wood (and) all kinds of valuable treasures, his (own) daughters, concubines, male and female musicians.  In order to deliver the tribute and to do obeisance as a slave he sent his (personal) messenger.”

Ancient Near Eastern Texts – Relating to the Old Testament edited by James B. Pritchard, Princeton University Press, New Jersey 1950, quoted here.

The next scene in the relief is the aftermath of battle- people fleeing burning city. This is seen as the first ever depiction of that all-too-familiar modern phenomenon; mass refugees. Why did the Assyrians want to show this in their propaganda? Was it a warning to all those who would challenge the powers of the great king? Note however that the exiles were not all murdered, they travel with their livestock and belongings. The Assyrians showed a degree of humanity that Joshua seems to have lacked.

The great king Sennacherib was assassinated by one of his sons however as described in the Bible- the cycle of war continued.

Cyrus cylinder

One of the other objects I wound myself staring at was this one- the Cyrus Cylinder.

This is one of several such cylinders that have been found in the walls and buildings of ancient Babylonian cities and palaces- it seems that the builders of these places wanted some kind of record to remain in the foundations of what they made.

The text on the Cylinder praises Cyrus, sets out his genealogy and portrays him as a king from a line of kings. The Babylonian king Nabonidus, who was defeated and deposed by Cyrus, is denounced as an impious oppressor of the people of Babylonia and his low-born origins are implicitly contrasted to Cyrus’s kingly heritage. The victorious Cyrus is portrayed as having been chosen by the chief Babylonian godMarduk to restore peace and order to the Babylonians. The text states that Cyrus was welcomed by the people of Babylon as their new ruler and entered the city in peace. It appeals to Marduk to protect and help Cyrus and his son Cambyses. It extols Cyrus as a benefactor of the citizens of Babylonia who improved their lives, repatriated displaced people and restored temples and cult sanctuaries acrossMesopotamia and elsewhere in the region. It concludes with a description of how Cyrus repaired the city wall of Babylon and found a similar inscription placed there by an earlier king.

Again, readers of the Bible will remember Cyrus-

His treatment of the Jews during their exile in Babylon after Nebuchadnezzar II destroyed Jerusalem is reported in theBible. The Jewish Bible’sKetuvim ends in Second Chronicles with the decree of Cyrus, which returned the exiles to thePromised Land from Babylon along with a commission to rebuild the temple.

‘Thus saith Cyrus, king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth hath Yahweh, the God of heaven, given me; and He hath charged me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whosoever there is among you of all His people – may Yahweh, his God, be with him – let him go there.’ (2 Chronicles 36:23)

This edict is also fully reproduced in the Book of Ezra.

In the first year of King Cyrus, Cyrus the king issued a decree: ‘Concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, let the temple, the place where sacrifices are offered, be rebuilt and let its foundations be retained, its height being 60 cubits and its width 60 cubits; with three layers of huge stones and one layer of timbers. And let the cost be paid from the royal treasury. Also let the gold and silver utensils of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took from the temple in Jerusalem and brought to Babylon, be returned and brought to their places in the temple in Jerusalem; and you shall put them in the house of God.’ (Ezra 6:3–5)

As a result of Cyrus’s policies, the Jews honored him as a dignified and righteous king. He is the only Gentile to be designated as Messiah, a divinely appointed leader, in the Tanakh (Isaiah 45:1–6). Isaiah 45:13: “I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness: I will make all his ways straight. He will rebuild my city and set my exiles free, but not for a price or reward, says Yahweh Almighty.” As the text suggests, Cyrus did ultimately release the nation of Israel from its exile without compensation or tribute. Traditionally, the entire book of Isaiah is believed to pre-date the rule of Cyrus by about 120 years. These particular passages (Isaiah 40–55, often referred to as Deutero-Isaiah) are believed by most modern critical scholars to have been added by another author toward the end of the Babylonian exile (ca. 536 BC).[90] Whereas Isaiah 1–39 (referred to as Proto-Isaiah) saw the destruction of Israel as imminent, and the restoration in the future, Deutero-Isaiah speaks of the destruction in the past (Isa 42:24–25), and the restoration as imminent (Isa 42:1–9). Notice, for example, the change in temporal perspective from (Isa 39:6–7), where the Babylonian Captivity is cast far in the future, to (Isa 43:14), where the Israelites are spoken of as already in Babylon.[91]

Here we have a king from outside the chosen people, appointed by God, showing the kind of tolerance, respect for human rights and concern for peace that had been a scarce commodity.

And this very object remains as a testimony to who he was.

Human history; the rise of power, or the journey towards love?

I am interested in understanding who we are, why we are, what we are becoming- in the light of the fact that we are more than flesh that just becomes dust- we are people who have been travelling for millenia towards a deeper encounter with God, however we understand this.

I look at all this through my own distorted set of lens- but I do so consciously. So rather than co-opting history to glorify our own slice of empire (which was the origin of the British Museum after all) perhaps we can understand history in the light of who Jesus was.

In this way, small thing, small people, voices from the margins- these things become important. Great powers less so- they come and go, empires rising and falling like epidemics.

In-groups are broken- we are set free from narrow religious/geographical/ethnic boundaries. Now we can look for the marks of grace and love wherever we find them.

And we can learn to value above all the fruits of the Spirit- love, joy, peace, patience, justice, compassion.

Even when looking back.

Rohr on the relationship between silence and compassion…

It is raining today (here at least) and so you can’t be in the garden. The cricket and tennis are rained off and there is no point watching replays. So instead, take some time to listen to Richard Rohr speaking about how silence equips us to find the ways of justice.

I went on an 8 day silent retreat at the beginning of the year. I am still working out its impact in my life, but silence remains a hard thing to find in this age of information overload.

Rohr- silence/compassion