The Far Horizon…

Sunbeam trinity


Things have been a bit slow here recently- this is mostly because I have been doing a lot of work editing poetry for the up and coming Proost Poetry Collection. I am really excited about this project now- after huge amounts of work it is finally coming together.

One of the things I have been doing is writing chapter introductions. By way of a teaser here is one of them;


Imagine one of those wet-into-wet Chinese landscape paintings in which

a flower holds your gaze to the foreground,

whilst line after line of mountains

climb and bleed into the distance.

It seems like there will always another ridge line,

another high corrie to cross.


I walk into the rain and the mist

Forced to trust that

there will be other flowers

in places beyond.


There was a time when everything felt permanent, or so we are told. Communities were solidly built around stratified social class structures. People began work at the age of 14 and spent their lives in the service of one employer; the chances are that this was where your parents also worked. Whole towns were organised around the shift patterns at mills/shipyards/mines. We worked together, then drank together afterwards. On Sundays we went to church together.

This was no utopia; there were always those for whom this kind of life felt like a kind of prison. They longed for adventure on the high seas, the promise of the New World. They felt thirst for distant spice filled forests, for tropical islands lapped by warm green waters, for feasting on strange beasts around a pioneer fireside and above all for freedom. Freedom from the tired old ways of doing things, freedom from old obligations and paradigms, freedom from the drab dull monochrome lives lived by their parents. Freedom from things that always remained the same and from the kind of religion that insisted that was how things should be.

Should I stay, or should I go? Perhaps we humans always have to make this decision. The going and the staying are not necessarily geographical concepts. Do we stay with what we know, or do we dare to imagine something new?

As well as putting up the stone buildings that anchor us to place, our faith can also be a mode of travel. Our history is littered with people who were convinced that God was telling them to go somewhere, to do something. These people have acheived amazing things.

I heard a story once that really helped me to understand the flowering of faith in different parts of our history. Revivals hit us from time to time, usually associated with people who are inspired to go to new places and dream of better things. These revivals can be like an erupting volcano, spewing out molten rock that flows out into the cracks and crevices of the landscape. Nothing can stand in its way.

After a while, the flow cools on the outside but it remains hot and plastic within, still moving slowly. However, eventually what is hot cools and solidifies. It can no longer move, but becomes solid rock.

It is from this rock that we build our Church, our religion.

The truth is, we need both those who go, and those who stay. The rocks that form the walls of the old cathedrals are beautiful.

But the mountains are calling me again…

cuilin ridge from Sgur nan Gilean

Travelling well with the Jones’s…


Many of you will already follow the on going adventures of the Jones family- Andrew (aka TSK) Jones blog is after all essential reading for many of us who are interested in what is happening on the edges of the known (and not yet known) Christian world.

A year or so ago, the family were living in Orkney off the northern coast of Scotland, when they bought an old truck, converted it into a living/entertaining space for themselves and all sorts of others. You can read something of their adventures travelling through Europe, Asia and North Africa here.

The point of all this travelling was to connect with all those small beautiful projects, and small and beautiful people who were working out the mission of Jesus in the lesser known places, and to support and encourage them.

It is an adventure that many of us feel a combination of envy, admiration and incredulity in relation to. It seems both bonkers and wonderful at the same time.

Anyway, the point of this post is to give a plug to Andrew’s new book project- you can pre-order it in order to support the next phase of the Jones journey, into Asia.

Details of the book, and how to order are all here.

We need people like the Jones clan to remind us that other ways are possible, and that other lives in far away places might teach us much about our own, so go on- order the book now!

Positivism, despair and the Cross…

A while ago, I wrote a long piece about my (rather negative!) reaction to the dominance of positive thinking within our culture, and perhaps more particularly within our faith based structures.

My friends will smile. Michaela (sometimes known as Polyanna) is almost universally optimistic in our family- a bit like a cross between Christopher Robin and Tigger, and me- well let’s just say I can be a bit of a donkey! But I suppose that is the point. We live in a life of variety and fluidity. Life has this way of throwing in the unexpected- to bring huge joy, sometimes followed by terrible pain and loss. Our roads are long and there is blessing and holiness in all these things- wherever the journey takes us.

We should beware those voices who push us towards a view of life, and an understanding of God, that is based on relentless positivism. There lies a danger that we live our lives towards a kind of wish-fulfilment- a seductive philosophy/theology of success and power which undermines the core messages of the Gospel… and is very much at odds with the way of Jesus.

Equally we should beware the voices of gloom who counsel us that all is lost and the end is nigh. Too many lives are walled in by defeat and damage done by life- and for these people, the way of Jesus is to seek to be a chain breaker and a freedom maker. Some of this might involve the shift of mind-set towards embracing the possibility of change- that old sleight of hand trick called Cognitive behavioural Therapy that I have practiced in my mental health career. The dominance of this approach to almost every human problem is not without good sound reason- even if the cynic in me might also point to the economics of providing short term, focused, ‘one-size-fits-all’ kind of interventions.

I had two reminders of the issues discussed above this week. Firstly, Jonny Baker quoted some lovely writing by Ann Morisy in a discussion paper about mission.

Ann’s take on mission embraces both powerlessness, the eschewing of power AND the power of positive thinking. She cites Seligman, that great doyen of the American ‘self help’ movement. As I read her article I found myself saying YES….yes…(but)…

The YES was to some of these things (my emphasis)-

When we muster an intention to do things like Jesus, i.e. to follow Jesus – even in the most modest of ways – we arrive at the portal into the economy of abundance, where virtuous processes flow and grace cascades; By doing it like Jesus (even just a tad, and even just with the intention – because there is so much grace around) we trigger virtuous processes that gain momentum.

This relevance and transformational power of faith make it urgent to articulate and promote the resources at the heart of faithfulness that lead to human flourishing. And we need others to help us pass the test of public reason – it is not sufficient for our theologians or evangelists to simply assert the virtuous processes that faith sets in train.

The other article that interested me was a post reviewing this book on the Emergent Village blog.

I have not read the book (but it is now on order.)

Root asks the questions as to what a church would look like if it were based upon a theology of despair. He starts with Luther’s theology of the Cross– and suggests the church needs to reclaim a crucial piece of Luther’s insight, which he frames something like this-

God brings life and possibility out of death and impossibility.

I am taken back again to the Cross. To the point of absolute brokenness, failure and despair. To the point where all dreams ended, all hopes vanished and all future was stolen.

In my working life, I have met many people who are in this place. If our call is simply to tell them than in three days, there will be resurrection, and all things will be made new,  then we are in danger of dishonest dealing.

  • because it is not our cross
  • and we are not gifted with foresight
  • and because our voices will not be credible
  • and because those who are broken and in mourning are blessed

Something else that is crucial to me is the possibility that ‘God is to be found in the broken places. That he is made known in nothingness and death’.

Like the Navajo rug perfectly woven apart from one flaw, which allows entry of the Spirit.

And that healing comes most deeply not through a denial of pain- or it’s manipulation into insignificance- but rather through the transformation of discovering God within our difficulties and broken parts.

Martin Luther King’s rules of engagement

martin-luther-king-2.jpg (JPEG Image, 347×300 pixels)

We recently finished a study in our house group based around Philip Yancey’s wonderful book ‘What’s so amazing about grace?

Michaela handed out a copy of Martin Luther King’s rules for his civil rights organisation. I think they are wonderful, so here they are…

Meditate daily on the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Remember always that we seek justice and reconciliation, not victory.

Walk and talk in the manner of love, for God is love.

Pray daily to be used by God in order that all people might be free.

Sacrifice personal wishes so that all people might be free.

Observe with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy.

Seek to perform regular service for others and for the world.

Refrain from violence of fist, tongue or heart.

We had a short discussion about whether these were sufficient for living a Christian life. I am not sure- but i do think that they are sufficient as rules of engagement with the world about us.

In this time when increasingly Christians no longer can guarantee a place at the centre of communities, and we are starting to look for new ways (or old ways) to live missionally, (did I make that word up??) then these rules of engagements seem to me all the more important.

So the next study we are setting out into is ‘Exillio’ as mentioned here

I wonder what MLK would make of it?

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