The gift of ambiguity…

Jonny Baker posted a batch of quotes from Walter Brueggermann, mostly from this book (which I promptly ordered.) They lit me up, as they would most people who write poetry. Here they are (thanks Jonny);

The overriding reality of the prophets is that they are characteristically poets. Poets have no advice to give people. They only want people to see differently to re-vision life.

Everything depends on the poem and the poet for our worlds come from our words. Our life is fed and shaped by our metaphors.

The enemies of the poem are the managers of the status quo.

The poets want us to re-experience the present world under a different set of metaphors and they want us to entertain and alternative world not yet visible.

These poets not only discerned the new actions of God that others did not discern but they wrought the new actions of God by the power of their imagination, their tongues, their words. New poetic imagination evoke new realities in the community.

We lose vitality in our ministry when our language of God is domesticated and our relation with God is made narrow and predictable… Predictable language is a measure of a deadened relationship in which address is reduced to slogan and cliché.

It is always a practice of prophetic poetry to break the conventions in which we habituate God.

Every centre of power fears poets because poets never fight fair… only a poem

I was also reading something on the blogosphere about the latest Mars Hill spat – Mark Driscoll throwing his weight around and playing power doctrine games. From the perspective of post post Christendom UK it all seems a but like a Tom and Jerry cartoon.

But this is a kind of muscular, dogmatic, controlling Christianity that exists here too. Some of the abusive manipulative religion mentioned here is sadly very familiar to me.

It is that truth thing again. All the effort put into right belief (as defined by our powerful leader.) I hate it because it is such a destructive, corrosive form of belief that may attract followers, but then tools them up with weapons of mass distraction.

Because it is all so un-Jesus like.

Jesus who taught in parables, so that people would find the kind of truth that sets us free, rather than chains our souls.

Who infuriated the religious leaders of his day because he broke all the rules – but broke them in relation to a higher, more loving way of being. Not rules, but principles. The greatest of all being LOVE.

Who constantly talked to people about some kind of mysterious ‘New Kingdom’.

All of which brings be back to poetry. Poetry as spiritual practice, as prayer, as celebration, as anger, as doubt, as mission, as worship and above all, as question.

At it’s best, poetry opens up, it does not close down. It wraps itself around questions, and rests within them, allowing the possibility of mystery, uncertainty and encounter.

So here are a couple more of Jonny’s quotes;

Poets speak porously. They use the kind of language that is not exhausted at first hearing. They leave many things open, ambiguous, still to be discerned after more reflection.

Very often people who hear poets want an explanation, which means to slot the words into categories already predetermined and controlled. Such an act however is the death of the poem… Good porous language does not permit itself to be so easily dismissed. It intends to violate and shatter the categories in which the listener operates.


Starlit darkness…

The stars are out.

And Michaela reminded me of a discussion we had a few years ago about the mystery of God. It stemmed from me quoting Gregory of Nyssa, who apparently said something like this-

The move towards God is a journey into Holy darkness.

It really resonated with me- it spoke of the mystery of God, and the presence that we often feel in open spaces. It also spoke to me of a process of unknowing that I was experiencing at the time- a loosening of absolutes and a discovery of faith that is no longer built from stones, but is made up of reflected flecks of light.

The first collection of writing I put together was called ‘Blue Dark‘ because of old Gregory… and because of a lovely poem by our friend Susan.

At the time of our discussion, some of my friends (and Michaela) did not get it. God is LIGHT not darkness they said. Darkness is about fear and loneliness…

Then Michaela had this encounter with starlight.

And, unusually for her, wrote a lovely poem. I thought it time to reproduce it here, along with some photo’s taken this evening…

Starlit darkness

In the darkness
Is a childhood fear
Safe from one streetlight
To the next
Fear locked away
Till I am again
Out alone
No streetlights to rely on

In the darkness
Is no hope
No mystery
At best nothingness
At worst a nightmare
Waiting to happen

But then you talk
Of the starlit darkness
And I remember for a moment
The fear
The quick steps up our hill
Only to stop halfway
Breath taken by the beauty
Eyes lifted heavenward
Thankful for the big sky
Eyes searching something familiar
But yet awesome

No more fear
Only wonder
At the beauty of the darkness
That brings out the stars.

Michaela Goan
December 2007


What is God doing 4- The eternal perspective, free will and Mystery…

This is a continuation of excerpts of an article on how we understand pain and suffering- which were begun following watching the film ‘God on Trial‘- see here and here and here for the others.

Free will

Following on from the point above, many would point to the fact that most of the worst disasters on the planet could never be thought of as ‘acts of God’. Wars are fought over many things, sometimes even religion, but we can not blame God for our refusal to live in peace with our brothers and sisters. War is rarely, if ever, ‘just’, and innocents always suffer.

As for famine and starvation, we tend to blame droughts and pestilence, and mass movements of people to escape disasters. But there seems little doubt that there is enough food in the world to feed everyone. It is just that we eat most of it in the rich west. Many would point out that the poor are poorer and more vulnerable following on from imperialist history and the capitalist system that perpetuates the inequality in the present day. Starvation and vulnerability to flood and many other so called natural disasters could be seen as economic problems, not natural ones. Men and women were given free will. This is the world that we made. And we blame God.

But there are still many dreadful things that happen to good people, for no apparent reason, except what sometimes seems like some kind of life lottery. Some have, some have not. Some suffer, others prosper. In the words of the writer of Ecclesiastes, “…all is meaningless…”

The eternal perspective

Many have emphasised the temporal nature of our stay on this earth- the one certainty about being born is that we are all going to die. My faith in God reminds me that whatever this life holds for me, there is more. It also teaches me that I can choose how to live my life- what I do with it, and how I use the talents, great or small, that he gave me. One day I will have to account for how I helped those suffering, sick, hungry and dirty whom God placed in front of me. Jesus said that if you do this for the least of these, then you do it for him.

There is a rich legacy of spiritual songs left behind by black slaves taken to America to work the plantations and mills of the New World. Most seem to focus on the eventual end of suffering brought on by death, and the blessing of the hereafter. Critical voices have been raised against a religion that promises good things in the by and by, whilst tolerating dreadful injustice in this world – even justifying them and giving them the sheen of respectability. This seems to be very like the ‘opium of the people’ that Marx referred to so disparagingly. We should remember, however, that the great anti-slavery reformers like Wilberforce, were also motivated by their faith in God.

God works in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform’, or so says the old hymn. We still hear this quoted, as if to excuse all the bad things that happen in this world.

Could it be, however, that there is a hidden purpose, yet to be revealed? Perhaps there are complex webs of circumstances that might have a final wonderful outcome, and God, like a master strategist, has a great cosmic war game laid out before him, and he will have his Waterloo.

Again, there seems to be some truth in these words. Life has a way of moving on. Difficult circumstances often forge wonderful solutions, and give birth to new and beautiful things.

After a blazing forest fire there comes fresh and clean new growth. Out of war came peace and the United Nations. Out of grief and loss comes a woman giving her life to supporting others in similar circumstances. After brokenness and humility come eternal life.

We are fearfully and wonderfully made, and our capacity for resilience and adaptation is seemingly endless – particularly in situations of adversity.

We search for meaning, but “My ways are not your ways, and neither are my thoughts your thoughts, declares the Lord.” (Isaiah 55: 8).