Response to Tragic worship


A friend of mine recently posted an article on my wall about worship and tragedy. I wrote a response in the comments section but it got really long and so I thought I’d post it here where I can add some proper formatting to make it more readable. The original article can be found here:

http://www.firstthings.com/article/2013/06/tragic-worship

In essence the writer of this article is lamenting that contemporary Christian worship focuses too much on happier subjects and not enough on Tragedy and death. We’ll talk about the excitement of the resurrection but not enough about the terror of the death which fuels why the resurrection is so exciting.

Now for anyone who knows me, they will know that I will love this stuff. I really get into Tragedy. I don’t like happy art. My favourite set of verses are Ecclesiastes 4:2-3. People keep asking me if I’m happy and I say no partly because I’m a follower of Canon Andrew White on Facebook who gives me weekly updates of how many people have died in Iraq.

Tragedy matters because Tragedy is real. Life sucks, death sucks, pain sucks and from extreme events of suffering to simply stubbing your toe. It is in an understanding and appreciation of this I find hope and true beauty in what I see God is ultimately doing with his Kingdom. Seeing glimpses of where God is going behind all this shittiness is both exciting and usually the root of my worship.

However, having said that I have a few points about the article.

  •  Tragedy is important but pop culture gets it
  •  Christian worship does take this into account but the absence of death is more about our culture and I’m sure will be found in his Scottish churches.
  •  Worship is more than just art

Tragedy is important but pop culture gets it

I think it’s kind of interesting but it’s kind of what I’d expect from the Westminster Theological Seminary and anyone who calls themselves Reformed. His understanding of philosophy and the human condition is pretty good but then it is combined with a terrible understanding of popular culture or sociology masked under snobbery and pretentiousness.

He is completely correct about the importance of tragedy but this is something pop culture intimately understands to the point that what he is saying is almost boring.

For example highlighting “the banal idiocy of reality TV” is not counter cultural against pop- culture. It’s the message pop culture says about itself! For example here: Mitchell and Webb: Apprentice  or talking about how some action movies are just about explosions is satirised heavily in South Park. Many people tend to suggest that pop-culture is vacuous but some then go further than this and try and find nothing out about pop-culture as a matter of pride to separate themselves from the banal idiocy. Instead this guy’s problem is that he doesn’t watch enough South Park or It’s only Sunny.

Personally I think those in the reformed tradition would greatly benefit from being influenced more by continental philosophers. You can see plenty of tragedy in film for example by looking at what Zizek has to say about film and popular culture. Also, to really get pop culture, to some degree you have to get in it, you have to watch the stuff, and talk about it with people who like it rather than observe at arm’s length (especially a critical one). One of the most celebrated piece of art venerated by almost all sides of pop culture has been Breaking Bad which definitely counts as tragedy!

In fact he alludes to this near the end when he references Scorsese (although what’s the point of using the word “occasionally”. Scorsese DEFINES pop culture!) especially with Bonhoeffer’s comment. Our popular culture is steeped in the appreciation of tragedy and really if churches want to be “cool” and “with it” and “fit in with the times” they need to move MORE in that direction (not away from pop culture). This is kind of what I think Bonhoeffer is saying.

I think this applies to a wider point many of the Reformed tradition seem to make about the church.  They particularly tend to go on about how popular culture doesn’t like talking about sin and how it likes moral relativism and then they go on to criticise the church for not talking about sin enough. Instead if they really got into popular culture they would find it steeped in an appreciation of sin and moral absolutism, they will just use different words. Jeremy Kyle and the brilliant satire of it in the chase and status video is a perfect example of this.

Christian worship does take this into account but the absence of death is more about our culture and I’m sure  this same absense will be found in his Scottish churches.

I’ll admit that the full tragedy of death is not explicitly talked about in contemporary Christian music enough. However it is there, especially implicitly. For example, in Vicky Beeching’s explanation of her song Deliverer   and Matt Redman’s Blessed be your name  (with “You give and take away” taken from Job).

Now, I think we’ll find in the history of the church many awesome poetic verses that deal with death more effectively that could be used to influence contemporary Christian music. I definitely appreciate that I don’t understand this enough and every so often I encounter hymns that really emphasis how much great stuff there is I don’t know about (especially anything by Charles Wesley). However, I really doubt the churches where those songs/ hymns are actually being sung will be doing very much to achieve the things that Trueman is trying to achieve with them.

The thing is, I think it is a major issue with our culture, specifically British culture (though maybe it is true of “western culture”), our two major taboos are death and sex. Violence in film or explicit displays of sex aren’t ways of getting past this taboo either. Describing in detail a specific sex act you have performed recently can just be a way to avoid having to talk about how sex makes you feel and I think the problem is specifically to do with parents and their kids. Those topics are rarely talked about in the relationship best suited for it so it becomes a taboo throughout our lives and culture. If someone really close to you has died and that makes you sad it is very hard to bring it up in “polite English culture”, especially if you are a man and are crying.

So I think that has probably impacted our churches as well. In contemporary Christian circles where songs are picked based on how popular they are, this will result in those songs that deal with tragedy not getting picked. However in more traditional circles where songs are picked because of their historical significance then I think this will result in the songs being fetishised (I think I’m using this word correctly). Even non-Christians enjoy singing Amazing Grace because that’s just part of our culture. When they sing “a wretch like me” they will probably just enjoy the archaic language of “wretch” rather than actually resonate with the consequences of what that word means. Not because these people are stupid, but because that’s the point.

Carl R Trueman is probably an exception  to this but then he is paid to sit down and think about these things. I believe him that when he hears one of these Psalms he probably resonates strongly with them. But if someone is not part of a culture that cares about death then merely making them sing words such as “I think death is really bad” won’t make them think or feel it the next day. If he wants to challenge the cultural understanding of death he really really needs to learn more from the continental philosophers. Rule 1 is that challenging cultural understandings of things usually requires you to say things implicitly not explicitly. Articles likes the one above are unlikely to make a difference but just make people who already agree with him agree.

(On a side note, I realise that with this article that I’m typing here I’m trying to challenge Trueman’s cultural worldview and I’m doing it using loads of explicit sentences which is kind of hypocritical. However I’d argue that because this article is so long and I’m making so many explicit points. Most people will come away from this not having a clue which point I’m trying to actually make which kind of makes it implicit. Of course I’d argue this just to mask the fact that I’m a terrible writer who can’t be bothered to structure his arguments well and take out the arguments that are a silly and a waste of time :P)

Worship is more than just art

I don’t think I’ll go on about this too much as I think actually the writer would agree with me anyway on this point. But I think worship is more than art anyway.

Art and worship are definitely intertwined. I think quite a bit of what we associate with the word worship is just different forms of artistic expression directed towards God. Liturgy is a mixture of poetry and what you get in football chants, worship music and dance are obvious and in the Orthodox church paintings are a bigger part of worship. Therefore to some degree things that apply to art as a whole apply to worship. Trueman’s point about tragedy is a wider point about art and I think this is why it applies to worship.

But it is that way round.

It’s through this more philosophical route his point makes sense, not really through a theological route. I don’t think the Bible is that prescriptive on the exact ratio of subject material in what we sing. Whilst you’ll find less Tragedy in what people sing in churches on a Sunday compared to the Psalms or Lamentations you’ll find plenty of that in the prayers people write out, especially on anonymous Internet sites (This is what I studied for my dissertation).

For example what if Sunday morning singing time was actually used to be nothing but a distraction? Why is that bad? He says it’s a distraction from mortality or morality but that is rarely the thing most immediately in most people’s minds when they are distracted from everyday life. Instead it’s a distraction from worrying about work, where you’re going to pay bills, what that friend you’re probably about to fall out with thinks of you, etc. If Sunday morning singing was literally there to distract us from those things with vaguely God centred words such that we had a small amount of space. It would probably help us focus on God and bring us to a place of actual worship. With this view the singing is nothing but a distraction, the worship is what we do once we’re distracted.

I do think singing is important. There seems to be a biblical trend that when followers of God meet they tend to  sing his praises. However, there is also an element where this is just singing. I’m no theologian but from my understanding the word worship in the Bible is used to mean something like “bow down/ lie prostrate” or “serve”. Worshipping the LORD was literally an act where you just bowed down. It’s a physical act to demonstrate our surrender to God’s lordship or it is actually serve God through a variety of ways.

With these two broad understandings of what Worship is, almost all actions you perform can come under the banner of worship, as an act demonstrating your surrender to God or as an act that is serving God in achieving his aims. I think worship is really something that has to be done throughout your entire life and through almost all actions rather than just being something that is sung on a Sunday,

The reason why I don’t want to labour this point too much is that it is moving into semantics of me saying “What he says doesn’t matter as much as this point” and these kind of points are a little boring. But I do think using worship time as a place to challenge our cultural worldview around topics such as death is a relatively minor purpose behind worship, even if he is correct that our worldview needs to be challenged.

Besides, if you really need to sing or say something. It seems like you don’t need complex metaphors about death and the human condition that have arisen through hundreds of years of human tradition. It seems merely saying:

“ ‘Holy, holy, holy
is the Lord God Almighty,’
who was, and is, and is to come.”

 Works pretty well.

Questions I’d like answers to


I’ve recently joined a Connect group at HTB which is their version of small groups/ bible studies. But its HTB so its huge (some connect groups can be 80 people which is bigger then most churches!). I’m having a lot of fun. These people are definitely way cooler then me, but that can be expected from HTB, they are all lovely friendly, sociably beautiful and intelligent people. Its quite scary! But fun! And sometimes I even get invited to parties :P (Which is a big deal for anyone reading this and knows me from St Paul’s)

We were asked to write up a list of all the topics that we’d like to cover in the next term of connect groups and then say our top two. Now I’m not expecting many of my suggestions to be jumped on. As I said before this place is not meant for me and I think that applies to this connect group as much as HTB generally. However, it was really interesting because as I wrote down all these things I found that I actually meant what I wrote. These are a list of questions that I’d really like to have answered or thrash out alongside other questions. Most of the questions are things that really do excite me and quite a few of them are questions that could take quite a bit of time.

So I thought I’d put them here and maybe I’ll use some of the later.

  • Learning to practically follow God 100% through our lives
    • this is a phrase I hear a lot but its something I don’t see done that much and when people talk about it they usually talk about it in the context of silliness, like the people who ask God which tie to wear. The reason why it is silly is, I think, because actually it could be a sign of someone not listening to God but just going through the motions on every decisions they make rather then actually brining it to God. There may be times when God is speaking to you about your tie. But I’d bet considerable sums of money that if you’re someone who everyone is talking about how you make decisions of whether or not to cross the road or which tie to wear with God then probably thats what you have been talking about and probably you’re missing the point. Similarly I see people following God only on really big decisions. Personally I’d love to work out how to do this more effectively avoiding these two extremes. By “Work out” I don’t mean have the answer to, I think its something that is probably a bit of a process and Journey that would be greatly aided doing it alongside others who are doing the same.
  • Practically how do I listen to God and act
  • What does Song of Solomon have to say about romance?
  • What does it mean to live with a kingdom focus?
  • Why should I be excited by the kingdom of God?
  • Why is God worthy of my worship?
  • Ways that the God of this world that I feel/know and experience is the same as the God of the Bible.
    • I think there are times when you read the bible and go “yeah I know that guy”. You see bits of his character shine through the text and its like you actually know personally this personality.
    • Eg. Simple example: I feel that God loves me, how do I see that in the bible?
  • Are the God of the Old testament and the New testament the same? Answer: Yes! Then where do we see this in the text. Places where God’s character shines through the stories themselves revealing his character despite the blood and gore in the old testament where he shows the same personality in the new. (Note: This is not focusing on messianic prophesies)
  • Creative ways we can get more into Prayer
  • Fasting? Why?
  • Line- by -line The Lord’s Prayer and what we can learn from it.
  • Where is the church going to go next?
  • What is God doing that is new in the church?
  • Does Church community matter? Why? Is it just about power hungry control freaks trying to rule over me?
  • Why do so many churched christians burn out and how do we avoid it. Should we avoid it?
  • How do we rest?
  • Matthew 11 “28“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” – Is this real?
  • Going Wife/Husband hunting in the church – The ethics of this
  • Why is sex good in marriage? Why is it important to have sex? What is sex’s purpose?

Politics, love and can I ever have any friends?


I went to a pretty cheesy church once. It was small and they had question and answer sessions. They had questions like “Where do you feel closest to God” and the answers were things like “sitting on a hill looking at the stars” and things like that. They then asked what the most difficult aspect of being a Christian is. They answered somewhere along the lines of knowing that there are so many people who don’t know Jesus. I answered that because I’m a Christian, I can never have any friends.

Now my argument at the church was a little silly, I was kind of just saying it to be a bit different. I said that if Jesus found all the people closest to him, that he had invested himself into for such a long time, abandoned him in his time of need how can we expect to have anything better than him?

However the problem really is love. I am supposed to love people and this makes things difficult. Every single relationship with non-Christian friends of mine has an aspect where I’m kind of trying to convert them. (Note: bear with me on this one!) This puts a bit of a downer on the relationships and it gets even worse because there is this knowledge that eventually everyone is going to turn on all followers of Jesus and so the people who say they love me are eventually going to hate me.

With my Christian friends it’s basically no better. There will come a day in heaven where we can just “be” with each other but now within the church there is a hierarchy. I find that I’m either “stronger” in faith in which case I’m supposed to think about all my words with them and make sure it is “supporting them in their pursuit of God” (loving them) or I’m “weaker” in my faith in which case they are doing the same for me but only temporarily and only until I’m stronger in which case they’ll drop me.

Politics

Ok, so I’ve started this with pretty over the top far-reaching statements that would probably be quite offensive to plenty of people. Most non-Christians don’t like the idea of being converted and most Christians will probably not like seeing themselves as weaker, especially if they actually are weaker.

Let’s try this from a different angle. Rather than talk about love, let’s talk about politics.

I would love to work with a bunch of people who could just be completely honest with each other. We’d have a similar vision we want to see enacted and just run with it together. However, in work, and it seems all work there is politics preventing this kind of honesty from happening. Especially when individuals needs pop in like the need to eat, or feed a family. One person said that they interact with everyone through a filter.

I think in politics there are two ways of dividing people into two kinds of people. There are people who are politically minded and there are people who are manipulated by those who are politically minded. Alongside that there are people who can see politics everywhere and those where it goes over their head. But if it goes over their heads they will still be in one of the first two categories, just not knowingly so.

I think if you think you’re “just yourself” with someone it’s probably that you are in the second category for both those distinctions and the other person is in the first category (whether they know it or not).

Example

Take it this way. I want to be completely honest with someone. So I think up the words to describe how I feel that most accurately describe the specific feeling I am trying to communicate that differentiates it from all the other feelings that I might be feeling that aren’t quite the same. Take the phrase, to someone you care about, “I’m scared of you”. Now you communicate this knowing that all the words fit with what you believe to be true in such a way that you feel you could stand up in a court of law and say “Yeah those are the words I meant and those are true”.

Thing is they take it badly. You meant it as “I respect you and you intrigue me and so I want to be near you” whereas they took it as “Being around you is unpleasant and I want to be away from you”. The issue is we haven’t thought about how it has been communicated, we only care about saying what is true.

What’s point of saying what is “true” if the statement gets misunderstood by all the listeners who matter? However, If I say something that is not strictly true but leads the listener closer to the truth, isn’t that the kind of thing people want to do when they say “I want to be honest with someone?”. For example I might say “I’m not scared of you, I didn’t mean that, I just really respect you and want to spend time with you”. This is a lie, cause I am scared, but I’m throwing away the words that don’t really help to help the listener get closer to the subtler true truth.

Alone

We have an issue here.

The first one feels like I’m just “being myself” and “being honest” but it leads everyone to a misunderstanding of where I stand. The second has a higher chance of truly connecting with another person but in order to get there I have to constantly put up a filter. “What is it I am trying to say and how can I get the person to understand?”. In that sense, I’m never actually just BEING myself, I’m intentionally trying to lead the person to myself.

However both of these are far away from where I’m supposed to be as a Christian/ person. Both of these are self-centred (I’d like to say narcissistic but I see that word used a lot and I don’t really know what it means) and neither of these involve love.

Instead I should be asking something else… don’t fully know how to articulate it yet but instead of “How can I be myself around them” or “how can I lead them to me” I should be thinking “How should I be treating them” or “How should I love them”. One is focused on them to me, the other is me to them.

This puts up an even bigger barrier. I am not only trying to think how to communicate what I’m trying to communicate but I’m only trying to communicate the things that I feel they need to see communicated based on my love and caring for them. Now the person is going to be even further removed from me.

We can put this more practically.

1) Honest: How can I tell the person the specific thing that they do that winds me up at work truthfully
2) Communicative: How can I help the person see and understand what it is that they are doing (filter A)
3) Loving: How can I help this person who is annoying me, move forwards in their career?

The third is different, the third barely cares about the self, except as a tool to help another.

In Christian terms this third position is easy to articulate. It is “How can I help them pursue God” or “How can I love them” or “How can I serve them”. These are questions behind literally every communication, every sentence, every piece of body language. You’re never yourself you’re always for them.

This is the heart of politics. This is lonely.

Offensive.

I started by suggesting that someone who lives like this will go through life thinking they are essentially better than everyone. Trying to convert non-Christians and “mentor” Christians. But let’s put it differently. Some people might think they don’t like this, that they wouldn’t want to interact with that person.

Imagine you met someone and as you got to know them you found out that you thought they loved you. Not a Kate Nash style love (LINK) where the person knows how much sugar you take in your tea. They were someone who was there for you. Imagine whenever you spent time with this person you would open up your soul to them, telling them everything that was going on in your life. They would pretty much only offer responses that were exactly what you needed, maybe some gentle advice, maybe a “pull yourself together” or maybe just phrases that suggested empathy and understanding. You felt completely sure that if it came to it they would literally take a bullet for you. You knew when you weren’t with them they were thinking about you and what’s best for you. When you were with them they were just so much fun, they just cheered you up. They just got you.

Would it be desirable to meet this person? Would  you like them as your friend? This is someone who is showing loving acts consistently through the way they treat and talk to you. This is the same offensive person above.

Now I don’t think this person is non-existent, I think it’s possible to meet someone like that. But now try to imagine this person from their point of view and what they think of you. Do you think it’s likely that they think the same stuff about you? If every time you meet up you discuss your problems do you think that’s because the person actually has no problems or because they aren’t telling you those things? Do you think the reason why they just cheer you up all the time is because life is just really good for them? Do you think they never get pissed off and angry at everything and just take it out on the first person but always handle their anger well.

I think this person exists, but if you were to meet them and think they were a nice person it’s because they are lying to you. In the words of scrubs, people are bastards, they are bastard coated bastards. This person has days of insecurity where they want to bring down those around to make themselves feel better. They have days of sadness where they just want to wallow. They have days of anger where it seethes out and infects even those that they aren’t angry at because they have days of weakness where they can’t control how their emotions play out. If you can’t see that in someone because you think “they are just one of those happy people” it’s because your eyes are shut.

Love

It seems there is a choice. I can be a friend to people around me. They will like me, look up to me, think I’m nice. Or I can force people to be my friend. They will find it exhausting and irritating but they may continue anyway for some reason. But I can’t just have “friends”, I can’t just have a mutual friendship where that is all we are.

The Last Psychiatrist writes anonymously. The problem with not doing this is that there is a large chance that if anyone is ever going to read this, they are the kind of person that will think “Hey Jamie! I thought I was your friend! Screw you and your birthday party”. Well to that person I can only say one thing…

“Please don’t leave me….”

Now getting that out-of-the-way the problem with friendship I think stems to a problem with love itself. Particularly unconditional love. Everyone inherently demands unconditional love from everyone else but no single person could reasonably ever offer it. I think this is uncontroversial.

In fact the love that we demand is unconditional, unlimited and eternal.

Its unlimited. People sometimes say things like “It’s the thought that counts” or “you only need to try” but that is simply not how we engage with love. What if your dad said something like this to you? They don’t love you anymore but don’t feel too bad because they tried really hard? Or your mum said that she really wanted to love you but just can’t?

None of these things will make you feel any better. We don’t want someone to try to love us we want someone to succeed.

However “unconditional”? Imagine a lover, boyfriend, girlfriend, husband or wife saying that they loved you. And then you asked why? They said it was because of your amazing looks. Well thank you, I also love staring at my naked body in the mirror but whilst that is a compliment it also dooms me to forever worrying about the day I get in a car crash. What about if they loved me because I was intelligent? Again I’m just waiting until the day I accidentally say something stupid. What if it’s because I’m nice? Then the next day is really stressful and I come back home acting like a dick.

The horrible thing is that the more this conditional love gets me. The more I enjoy and desire the love from this person, the more it will destroy me when the conditions inevitably fail. Like the letter to K offering him a promotional in Kafka’s the Trial every little glimpse of love is drawing me deeper and deeper into a trap that will eventually destroy me or just go nowhere.

Finally eternal. God is not against sex before marriage, he’s against break-ups. And so are we as God has put eternity on man’s heart.

But what about the flip side? Well Scroobius Pip says that unconditional love is being in love with the mere idea of loving something. He’s kind of right, the concept is ludicrous. Why would I love someone who is unlovable? Why would I love someone who is rubbish and doesn’t deserve love? I’ve always thought marriage is a little horrible. If I wanted to be with someone for the rest of my life I could just do that. Marriage is not an expression of what is your desire, marriage is a promise to stay with someone even if I don’t want to!? Why would anyone buy that? This attitude is brought to you by the bible.

Imagine this:

My Wife: Jamie do you love me?
Me: with all my heart
Wife: Why is that?
Me: Because I chose to

That might almost be romantic… almost. However it continues

Wife: Is there anything you like about me?
Me: No, in fact the mere idea of you causes me to be physically sick. This pool of vomit we’re sitting in isn’t actually due to your terrible smell but it happens even when you’re not around. All your values and thoughts about the world are disgusting and I don’t know what you look like any-more because I try not to look.

It doesn’t work.

All humans will always love conditionally because it is the only acceptable way to give out our love but all humans will only accept unconditional love because even the slightly transgression from that is horrifying.

Conclusions

Is this view of politics correct? Do we always have to have a filter up with everyone? Is the filter actually a good thing or is it better to be “true”? Could I work with a bunch of like-minded people where there was no politics between us, we were a team of us against the world. Could I ever get married to a person where there was no politics between us, it was just us against the world? Is wanting this just a sign I should grow up? This is just the way the world is I will forever be alone.

God

The psalms that are moany, tend to end with praising God. My next blog post will probably deal with this a little more but I have a suspicion that all this becomes exciting when Jesus is bought in.

  • I don’t think I need that filter when I’m sitting before my creator. I think I can be broken before the one who understands. The fact that God knows me is almost more exciting than the fact that God loves me. I think those are linked and I’ve heard that in Hebrew “know” has sexual connotations.
  • I think the Holy Spirit (The Go-between God) can replace my filter, he can be my filter. Rather than putting forward a filter of my own creation where I work out how I should treat someone I can instead turn to him, who I can communicate with directly and seek after how should I treat this person now?
    • Most of the time where I’ve tried to end this filter and be “honest” with someone I’ve also felt a slightly sense that I’m going against what God wants me to do in that situation.
    • If we go with this, instead of “I’m trying to convert my non-Christian friend” as my agenda and filter its “I’m trying to seek out what God wants me to do here, what God sees with this person”. Here if God is wanting to bring this person closer to him then I might help in that, if not then I might do something else.
  • The church is going crazy for community at the moment. They keep talking about it and going on about how “individualism” is bad. However, I have a feeling like they are going on about community in the wrong way, they are doing community minus God and that falls under all the problems talked about here.
  • Whilst I can never give anything but conditional love, I think there is a sense where love overflows. If you met a girl who had a terrible relationship with their Dad and then something happened where it was hugely improved how would you expect that girl to change? There is something important in being a human who is able to receive unconditional love from somewhere else.

There must be more than this.

The Last Psychiatrist’s latest blog posts almost hits on things similar to this. Maybe I’m just a narcissist and psychotherapy will save me?

Moral Absolutism vs Moral Relativism


This is an answer to a question on yahoo answers http://uk.answers.yahoo.com/question/index;_ylt=Ak9l5pzBdJiDGJP7Nzc6aVUOJ3RG;_ylv=3?qid=20130920034731AAigZcu. I was just replying for fun but my reply was too long for yahoo answers so I thought I’d post it here and link to it.

Moral Relativism is very very odd and has probably come from practical anthropology rather than actual philosophy. I think moral relativism works as a description of the way people in our culture act. But if you’re talking about a well thought through philosophical position a better comparison is between “Moral Absolutism” and “Moral Nihilism” where nihilism is simply that there are no moral propositions that are true or false. (Also known as Moral Skepticism which is similar)

Moral Relativism states (sort of, it’s hard to describe as no one really thinks it) that the truth of moral propositions is relative to the context of the culture that it is in. For example in “Civilised Western Society” rape is wrong but “random cannibalistic tribal society” might accept Rape as ok. Moral Relativism states that in one place the act is fully completely wrong but moving to a new geography/ community makes it suddenly completely morally acceptable.

This was a good thing in anthropology. Studying cultures used to be through a completely colonialist lens and so in the study of cultures it is good to try and study it from the culture’s point of view. If we look at a culture that says murder is ok (For example state sanction murder in the US with capital punishment). We’ll get a better understanding of it if we try and do it from the American point of view rather than enforce European Human Rights based assumptions.

However that is about describing about how a community is. It becomes completely different when you describe how a community ought to behave.

It just seems bizarre that raping someone in one place is completely evil and immoral and then suddenly being ok in another place.

Now… NO ONE is suggesting that Moral “Acts” are not relative. Whether or not the act “have sex with person X” is morally acceptable will be relative to a whole bunch of factors. Sometimes sex with the same person will be morally acceptable one day and unacceptable the other. However, even according to Moral Absolutism, the moral propositions or principles behind whether or not an act is immoral are not relative. For example the principle “All sexual acts are fine between consenting adults” or something more generically philosophical like “Acts that maximise the amount of pleasure for the most people are good and acts that minimise pleasure or cause pain for the most amount of people are bad” which is sort of Utilitarianism.

Now if we think “pleasure is good” we will find in different cultures different things cause pleasure. Some people like eating food that literally tears apart their mouth (chilli) and some people do not. But that is because the physical pain of chilli (combined with endorphins) actually causes pleasure to the person eating it in some situations and sometimes it will cause displeasure to other people who don’t like chilli. The act “Eating some chilli” is relative to person but the principle “What causes pleasure is good” is not.

Now… the reason why I personally think people talk about moral relativism as an attitude that people take when it is not thought through is about judgement. For example, I personally think murdering people is wrong, but I might hear about a group of people in France who love murder. Now I’ve never spent much time with those people so I think to myself “well to each their own, I don’t want to judge them and I don’t want to visit France so I won’t think about it and get on with my day”. However if those French people came over to the UK and started murdering my friends I’d be outraged. This is me acting like a moral relativist. The same act, murder, is not ok on my friends and family but it is ok when practised by a bunch of people I don’t know or care about.

However… I’m not ACTUALLY a moral relativist. What I’m saying here is that I don’t know what could be the reasons why these French people love murder. In the same way that piercing a child’s ears could seem horrible and barbaric but then I think, well I don’t know the culture maybe there is something I’m missing out on. Basically the moral relativist here is only acting like this because they admit they don’t have access to all the information and they don’t care about those people. But they don’t ACTUALLY think Murder is wrong in some places and other places. They more like “Moral Agnostics”.

This gets really complicated when a bunch of people act like this and then engage in politics. The chances are, if the person who thinks Murder in France is fine thought about it, they would discover an underlying principle behind their attitude that truly governs their moral attitude, such as “Freedom to do as you please individually is important including exerting that onto other people”.

Now… the more defensible philosophical position is moral nihilism. This is the view that there are no moral statements that are true or false or at least, if there are, it is impossible to know about them. If this is true, then what people think are morals are just strong people forcing their views onto others. Instead of “Murder is Wrong”, actually

“Murder is neither right nor wrong but for some reason I don’t want you to murder my family (maybe cause I have a biological attachment or I like having sex with my wife) and so if you murder my family I will torture you and because I’m stronger then you my way wins out.”

If I am strong enough the parents of other people will start telling their children not to murder Jamie’s family and you’ll get some kind of aristocracy form. The children will feel and believe these moral truths but only because a bigger stronger Jamie has forced them to.

Some people might explain “moral feelings” as nothing more than as a result of the evolutionary advantage to make humans work in groups and win against all the other animals.

It’s interesting because if Moral Nihilism was true then you’d expect something like Moral Relativism to arise naturally in the communities you study. In one city, I may really hate people murdering my family but in another city, the king might love people murdering their family and so the morality would look different in those cultures. And so that is why I think whilst moral relativism as a philosophical position is completely mad, it is interesting as a description about the way the world is.

Finally Moral Relativism is appealing as an easy option. As I said earlier, if someone says they are a moral relativist about specific issues they probably have an underlying principle that is morally true everywhere and is not relative. However, trying to find those underlying principles is really really hard! Try Kantian Ethics with his “Categorical Imperative” compared to the Human Rights movement compared to Utilitarians and Hedonists compared to Nietzsche. Even John Stewart Mill’s On Liberty and Utilitarianism seem to be at odds with each other in the same person. If there really was a moral absolute position then why is it so elusive? Let’s just ignore the argument between, Absolute verses Nihilism and just go with the flow.

In summary. Moral relativism I don’t think is a defensible philosophical position (But look into that stanford article in my sources yourself, especially read the top paragraph). The interesting philosophical discussion is between moral absolutism and moral nihilism. However philosophically this question is so hard that pragmatically we may want to act like moral agnostics. If we have this attitude a moral relativistic stance will probably be the safest. If a whole group of people all think murder is fine and I think it’s not, then I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt until I get really good evidence to the contrary.

Disclaimer: I am a Christian and so take a stance on ethics that is Christian. An Atheist may have a different take on the things I’ve said here. Also, I’ve deliberately used quite racist language to describe some positions. This is because I think moral relativism, anthropology and racism are deeply intertwined. A lot of the principles behind it I think were created to help the people studying a culture get out of their racist assumptions. Particularly the idea that “Western Civilisation” is morally better than “barbarians”. The reality is that if you are a moral absolutist it becomes very easy to justify acts that are really evil and racist. Eg, all these women in this country wander around topless, this is immoral therefore I can kill them all. However, if you’re writing an essay and you use the examples and language I used (eg Examples involving Rape) you’ll probably find teachers and examiners don’t like it. So maybe tone down the rape and racism!

Disclaimer2: Moral Relativism is a pet peeve, I think it’s just silly. Instead of listening to me, reading the stanford encyclopaedia article about it is probably better. I stopped after the first few paragraphs as I had read enough to support the position I had picked before I did any research. If I had continued reading I might have found out that I’m wrong and I wouldn’t want that!

Supporting Individuals in their Pursuit of God


As I’ve said a bunch of times, we are Common Nonsense have been thinking about why we are doing any of the things we’re doing. There seems to be quite a bit of mileage in the line “Supporting Individuals in their Pursuit of God”. Me and Adrian have spoken lots about it and chatted other others in CNS and around CNS but I’ve been struggling with how to actually write any of this down. There is just so much to unpack:

  • What does pursuing God mean and how do we go about doing it?
  • What does it look like when we pursue other things than God? Is that bad and what does it mean?
  • Why Individuals compared to something else?
  • Does Common Nonsense count as a collection of individuals that need to be equally supported by common nonsense?
  • Who does the “supporting?” Is it Common Nonsense? Is it some new system? Is it just the church?
  • Is this just a line? Just some clever marketing, does it make any difference? Practically what impact does this tagline have?
  • If this is a big deal then why aren’t other people going on about it? Are other people going on about it? Have other Christian groups just got it wrong or are they basically doing the same thing and we’ve just wrapped it up with a new
  • Is this something Common nonsense has invented itself or is it based on something?

I think this tag line is based on a frustration with how churches and Christian organisations are acting at the moment. Time and time again I’m meeting orthodox committed Christians who feel that the church is just not the place for them. Meanwhile we’re working with lots of Christian organisations and whilst they do fantastic stuff they make mistakes and there seems to be a pattern. There is also a book by A W Tozer called The Pursuit of God which you can download for free which I think talks about one half of this.

So here are a couple of examples, pictures or stories that describe what excites me about setting “Pursuit of God” as the goal. I’ll then try and explain why the Individuals bit of the tagline is so important.

Being able to be nothing – and know that God loves me and that that is enough (Its not) - Job

A while back I tried to start my own company. Just as I was doing it a girl who I would soon be dating asked me “Why are you doing this? What do you want to get out of life”. She was a bit of a hippy and I felt like she was presenting me two options, one being the right option. A) “I am starting a business to make loads of money” B) “I’m starting a business so that I can help people” where B was the correct option.

Whether or not she actually thought that is irrelevant. That’s what I felt. It matters that we would soon be dating only to show that this question was not academic. I felt like my answering this question correctly was important to being socially accepted by her. This scenario is played out quite a bit in churches. The person might not be deciding on whether or not we should date but still the same thing of whether or not they will accept me in their social circles.

I responded that I wanted to be someone who could in theory be hated by everyone, a complete failure at everything I do, pathetic in every way alone on my floor and crying and then know that God loves me and that that’s ok. I said this a while back and one person jokingly mentioned that it seemed like I wanted to be like Job. I don’t know. I obviously don’t want all those things to happen to me! And I don’t know if “God loves me and that is enough” is quite what Job saw.

But what is interesting about this is that if I wanted to be successful, this method would probably work quite well at making me successful. Matt Stone and Trey Parker spoke quite a bit about how much bargaining power you get when you just don’t care. Anxiety about failure tends to encourage failure. There is a line from CS Lewis “Aim for the world and you’ll get nothing, Aim for God and you’ll get God and the world thrown in with it”. It was quite a useful thing to make me more successful.

I think the thing that is interesting to me here is how wrong I was!

“Know that I am loved by God and that that is enough”. It sounds too similar to the many many orthodox Christian who spend so much time focusing on salvation and nothing else. Or in the words of Tozer, “have been snared in the coils of a spurious logic which insist that if we have found him we need no more seek him”. I don’t want to know that God loves me… I, like Paul to the Phillipians, want to know God. Knowing that he died for me and knowing that he loved me are all part of that. But I can keep on knowing him more and more. Knowing that he loves me is just the start.

The rest of that journey is the continuing pursuit of God.

I am a friend of God - Moses, Adrian and Common Nonsense.

The Israelites had been marched out of Egypt after all the plagues happened and they had seen God do a bunch of pretty crazy stuff. They get to Mount Sinai and the leaders of the tribe went up with Moses. However in Exodus 20:

18 When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance 19 and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”

Moses went on and just hung out with God. He asked God to show him his glory. He got incredibly close to being truly in the presence of God. This is very cool and the Israelites missed out on this because they were scared. Instead they got a bunch of rules.

This has been something that we at Common Nonsense have been doing with our boss Adrian. Adrian spends time with God and then comes back from that as our boss and tells us what to do. The problem is that Adrian doesn’t really like telling people what to do, and would rather be just hanging out with God whilst we don’t really like being told what to do, its just we’re scared.

Is this because we’re terrible Christians and our boss is a uber Christian? Well I’ve already written a blog post about what a good Christian I am. In fact everyone at Common Nonsense has demonstrated a huge degree of obedience to God. This is the thing. Now I am not perfectly obedient. But I am obedient enough to know that obedience is great. But God gives us something more then the opportunity for obedience. In John 15

15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.

My mum’s favourite song for a while was “I am a friend of God“. Its a very silly song and just says “I am a friend of God” over and over for the chorus. However its exciting.

It is not that we are “bad Christians” and my boss is an “uber christian”. We are almost as obedient as each other. The difference is that whilst God has made himself known to all of us. We have been busy with simply obeying whilst my boss has gone further and been a friend of God. Obedience is the starting point, but we can go from blind obedience to knowing our master’s business! This is not something that is supposed to condemn us but is exciting. I love obeying God, but now I can obey him and more!

This is the answer to that previous blog post about me not belonging. Before I tried to obey God, and instead the move must be towards pursuing God.

Why wanting to build towers is ok – Babel, Abraham and Isaac

This is a question that has been bugging me.

Genesis 15 “After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.     I am your shield,[a]     your very great reward.[b]

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit[c

What’s going on here?

God said to Abram that GOD was Abrams’ reward. And then Abram asks how can he receive gifts as he has no children to pass them on to? Hasn’t Abram completely missed the point here? Isn’t the gift God himself? So shouldn’t Abram be like “cool thanks God” rather then complaining? I don’t know the answer to this and I’m asking lots of people. But I do know that when Abram brings this question, this desire to have children and God answers him by promising him children. What is God doing?

(EDIT: Since writing this I have discovered that in both The Message and ESV versions this passage makes more sense as God says “You reward will be great”. Would be awesome if one of my hebrew speaking friends could shed light on this)

Later Tozer describes what happens to Isaac after he was born. “the child became at once the delight and idol of his heart”. I’m guessing we all know how that ended up!

See, Isaac was part of God’s plan. Isaac being alive and looked after by Abraham, and loved by Abraham was very much what an obedient Abraham was supposed to do. It was part of bringing about the Kingdom of God, it was part of bringing Jesus into the world it was part of everything. There is nothing disobedient about Abraham’s love of Isaac. But… even then this child became an idol that God dealt with by almost taking it away from Abraham. Tozer talks a bit about how that must have made Abraham feel.

Now I’m going to put this to one side for a moment and talk about Babel.

Building Towers of Babel in the Christian world

Adrian makes a big thing about Babel. He is very cautious about branding anything (Logos, company names, vision statements, websites) etc. As he believes that when you build an organisation, build a brand, build a tower of babel you get sucked in to maintenance mode. You get sucked into trying to maintain the organisation rather then instead pursuing God and what he wants. When you call the church “The Church of England” suddenly the reputation of that organisation and the structure matters. Christians spend days in pointless squabbles about nothing-doctrinal arguments or whether or not wafers matter to keep the unity of that organisation. Individuals in charities will be more likely to find ways to re-invent their charity rather then just let it go and let it die because its boring not needed any more.

He’s talked about this quite a bit and lots of people may agree with this but where do we go with this? Do we not make a company Common Nonsense and instead work as freelancers? Do we just keep our terrible website and smugly try and tell people its because we care about Jesus that we keep it like that?

What is wrong with building a tower of babel in the first place. There are two reasons. 1) because God knocked it down and 2) because the tower was never going to be that great. The first is what motivates most people, the second is more important.

See one thing a lot of mature Christians do, including Adrian. Is they will occasionally start telling you what it is they think God is doing or what it is they want to do. Then hold back. They go a little silent for a split second and then say “well I don’t really know, whatever God wants”. There is almost this thing where people are trying to trick God. Its like if Abraham regularly said “Hey God, this Isaac is pretty great but I don’t really care, you could kill him any one of these days as all I want to do is do what you want”. This is silly and being ok with killing your kids is not good.

This is the brilliant thing about “Pursuing God” rather then simply saying “Supporting Individuals who do what God wants”. Abraham’s journey included God stating at the very beginning the point of it all. “I am your reward”. It involved Abraham laying bare his desires to God and God giving him everything he wanted, then taking it way and humbling Abraham in a way that pointed Abraham back to the point of all this. But after this God still actually gave him what he wanted anyway! Abraham almost aimed for the world and got nothing but instead aimed for God and got the world thrown in with it.

We need to realise that when we try and create projects, churches, organisations, brands, businesses, etc. We are going to get tempted to focus on what Tozer calls “Things”. These things have the potential to distract us from focusing on God. This is scary and so some Christians run away from them, they run away from their desires and instead just talk about how they “just want to do what God wants”. I don’t know what it is we should do… but one thing we definitely shouldn’t do is hide those desires for things from God! Instead we can bring them to him and then we get to point 2.

The tower of babel wasn’t that great anyway! These guys got all excited building a massive tower but actually it can’t have been that tall. Our buildings are going to have been taller and we’ve put man on the moon! At some point those guys would have suffocated. Rather then build their tower they should have presented their desire “to build a massive tower” to God and then attempted to actually go all out.

If they would have gone all out they would have found that they couldn’t have done it without him. They would have also found that what they really wanted wasn’t a big tower but to “get to the heavens and make a name for themselves”. If they had just waited and got on team Jesus they would have actually got to heaven and made a much much bigger name for themselves (at least as part of the Church that has Jesus at the head).

John Piper’s “Desiring God” and John Eldreges’s “Wild at Heart” talk a lot about this.

As Christians we have the danger of pursuing good things of God’s kingdom above God himself. Of getting excited by evangelism itself, or preaching or healing. These things are good in themselves but putting them before God is Idolatry like any other and bad. However, despite this trying to pretend that you don’t care about these things and just care about God isn’t good enough either. You have to ACTUALLY pursue God like Abraham after he almost killed his son. Its ok to like things, just not put them before God.

Where this gets confusing – flirting with temptation or fleeing

The complication here is that if you take this line of reasoning to an extreme it gets dodgy and the question to get us there is ask the question “Should Abraham have avoided turning Isaac into his Idol? And if so would he have been able to avoid the whole sacrificing his Son thing?”

There is a danger here for this to turn into a pointless Calvinism verses Arminianism, free-will verses determinism debate. I want to avoid that and deal with the more human angle.

Pursuing God is scary. The Israelites were scared because they thought it would kill them. It sometimes leads us to areas of life that have the potential to trap us. I think as Christians what happened to Abraham is part of our fear to verbalise our desires. If we tell God that we really like Isaac then he’s going to take it away. If I tell people that I really want to get married, then God is likely to demand form us a life of singleness. I used to particularly feel like this with respect to preaching. I really wanted to preach and when I did I loved preaching but I constantly held back from asking to preach because I thought that if I did God would “humble me”. By humble me I really mean properly lay the smack down and humiliate me in front of everyone.

Even now, if a church leader asks me how I’d like to help in the church I’m much more likely to say “Stack chairs” then “preach”.

But pursuing God has to involve actually pursuing God himself and not a self-imposed stoic rejection of all things like some of the early monks.

So what I seem to be suggesting is that. Even though we know these things have the potential to become our idols. We OUGHT to go for them anyway. That people who spend their time trying to avoid sin do it out of a lack of faith in God’s ability to look after us. Where does this stop? Should I deliberately get naked with prostitutes, pay them and dance because I trust God is going to have dealt with my temptation for sexual sin? How does this reconcile with verses from Paul that ask us to “Flee the occult” or “Flee sexual immorality”?

End

So here are a couple of thoughts about pursing God that I’ve thought about. I think its more then my previous thing of knowing God loves me. Its something that Moses had on Mount Sinai and without it we have to resort to rules and “mere” obedience. Although obedience is important and included in knowing God its more then that. It is also something that is paradoxial involved with our own personal desires whilst simultaneously hindered by our desires.

Somewhere in all this will be spending time with God. There is something I’m worried about which is my lack of regular bible reading. I don’t want to get into legalistic daily quiet times but I think someone who is really into pursuing God will naturally find themselves getting into the bible lots.

I decided not to focus on the “individuals” bit. Probably leave that for another post but onwards!

This is not meant for you – My place in the Church


Disclaimer: This post is a post I’ve been quite nervous about posting. I think it comes across as much more ranty then I meant it to be. I was going work on it significantly to make a specific point. Instead I’m tagging everything “Supporting Individuals Pursue God” as a new category. I’m going to just splurg almost all my ideas in lots of little blog posts with the aim to eventually write whatever it is I’m trying to say properly. So lets see where this goes! Also, the preacher who preached this sermon is awesome. The attack I’m writing is definitely not on her, but what she said sparked something.

Recently I attended HTB’s weekend away as part of their leadership course where they train people to lead their pastorates. HTB is a very large church that has 10 services and thousands of people who attend. Pastorates are little mini-churches that HTB puts on that allow people to actually get to know people in the church and happen during the week. They are actually quite big and range from about 20-80 people. I was kind of asked in passing if I’d like to help be part of a “core team” of a new pastorate plant and one thing lead to another that meant I did the leadership course. They are massively looking for new pastorate leaders as many of the pastorates are full whilst more people are going through Alpha with no where to go.

During this course a sermon was preached that got to me. After speaking to the preacher about it she said “This is not meant for you”. I’d like to unpack this.

The Sermon

The sermon was on Hebrews 11. This is quite a famous passage where the author repeats “By faith … something awesome happened”. By faith the world was created and by faith the mouths of lions were shut, etc. It pretty much goes through everything in the old testament and says that this happens by faith.

Now the heart of what I think she was saying was that it is by faith, these things happen not by barter. Its difficult summarising 30 minutes of talking and so I may not have got it exactly correct. Faith is a very difficult concept in the bible. Its talked about very strangely and usually poetically. Lets look at this passage regarding faith which I may come back to:

Luke 17:19-20 “19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not drive it out?” 20 And He *said to them,“Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith [i]the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you. 21 [[j]But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”]

I mean, what on earth is going on here? How on earth can you measure “faith” in degrees of mustard seed sizeness? In fact how can you measure faith in anything that is volume related? Now obviously this is not literal, the point is a mustard seed is small. However, the whole point is that the disciples didn’t have enough faith to cast out this demon? So having a really really small amount of faith is not enough but having a really small amount is fine? Except, although nothing is impossible this kind of demon only goes away with prayer and fasting… not faith?

In my mind there is an intuitive understanding of what faith means. I have faith in my chair to hold me up when I sit on it. Due to this faith I will sit on the chair when I want to be held up. This view of faith has within it “is certainty on the things unseen” yes… I cannot predict the future, I cannot see whether or not the chair will hold me up but it is still based on evidence. Its because the chair has done a good job in the past and because it currently looks great that I have faith in it. However, this is only part of the story of what faith is because you get verses like the one above!

Now… this preacher was saying that we as Christians tend to lack faith. If God says for us to go somewhere then we’ll say “Are you sure? I dunno, will I have enough money? Give me some money first and maybe some political power and then maybe I’ll go”.  This I suppose is apt talking to a bunch of pastorate leaders. They are about to step out into something that is potentially scary and may come to that meeting wanting some assurance that it will be ok. That HTB will support them, that fights won’t break out that they can’t deal with, etc etc. However they can’t get that assurance, they just need to step out in faith. This is a message I have heard a bunch of times in the church…

My problem with it

Maybe the word “problem” is too strong. But there was something that riled me up whilst I was listening to it. It was kind of the fact that I had heard this all before but it was more then that. It was that not only had I heard it all before…. I had been there and done that and got the T-shirt.

I have stepped out in faith. Throughout my life, if I have ever had the inkling that God wants me to move in a certain direction then I’ve done it. Usually I don’t hear from God that well so I do things that a good little Christian would do. I’ve gone out of the street and told people about Jesus including someone who tried to mug me (sort of). I’ve gone to drum and bass nights and asked random people if they wanted prayer. I’ve preached mini-sermons in school assemblies with my peers and then put on evangelistic events where I personally invited everyone with a track in my year and then announced on our school forums that essentially a revival was going to break out in our school (It didn’t). I did a gap year working for the church and did some foreign mission and then when I went to university it was for pub conversations. I did physics with philosophy simply because it would help me witness more as it would provide lots of “ins” into evangelistic conversations. I then started a company that was doomed to failure because I felt God wanted me to do it and then I got up, moved to London and moved into a ridiculously expensive lifestyle and house (relative to Manchester) without having a Job yet because I thought New Wine might say yes to a project and needed to be in London to do it. I have gotten very close to having no money and have been hungry for a bit.

And in the words of Metallica …. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GxZ4Z6Zo3Fk (Warning: Rude words behind this link)

Now where I am going with this, is that stepping out in faith like this is pointless without something else. I don’t know what that something else is. It could be listening to what God wants, it could be love, it could be obedience. So bare with me here… I’m probably not going to answer that question now.

Whilst I regularly succeeded at getting into long and interesting conversations about Jesus with strangers doing “Campus Evangelism”, I went out with a crippling fear that got too much for me. What was it a fear of? Failure? I never failed nor did I think I would. Embarrassment?  I used to regularly wear PVC trousers. I don’t know what it was apart from being pathetic. I lead a large number of bible studies and was leading a Christian Union hall group. It went pretty amazingly and again I quit due to emotional exhaustion. Whilst I ended up using my degree to have lots of conversations about Jesus no one became a christian. Revival didn’t break out in my school. I got so close to achieving lots of things and then I’d just get knackered and go no where. I basically achieved nothing throughout university.

There once was a time when I was doing some chemistry coursework. I remember really hating it and saying to God, “please, I want to do something else, send me to do anything, I’ll do foreign mission, I’ll go into the streets of Sutton or give my life up to the church, what do you want me to do?”. The response I got back was “Do your homework”.

See this is my problem. I am Brad Pitt speaking to his dad in Fight Club. I’ve gone and got the job, I’ve done the stepping out in faith bit, and I’m asking “What now?”. In fact if there is anything I can do to show people I’m a good Christian I’ve pretty much done it. Amongst the charismatics I can tell stories of speaking in tongues from a young age or shouting out prayers in parks at night. Amongst the social justicey people I can talk about the tears I’ve shed for palestinians or stream off lots of rhetoric about how to help the homeless. Amongst the conservatives I can talk about all the books I’ve read and impress people that I’ve read the bible.

The church has told me “Do this stuff and we’ll accept you, we’ll call you a good christian” I’ve done those stuff and what do I get?

“This isn’t for you… maybe you’ve got a problem with pride?”

Pride

I’ll divert to this question for a moment. This is a really good get out of Jail free card. I can never do enough to please the church because if I do anything in a way that they will notice they can then just say that I’m proud and need to be more humble. Actually I’ve done humility. I can actually tell you stories about how I’m the humblest of them all. I’ve stacked chairs and I’ve cleaned toilets. Apparently this is what you have to do if you want to start being famous amongst Christians  I’ve also gone to churches, kept my head down and focused on people on the fringes. This has obviously got me no where because that was the purpose…

But I feel like I detect a rat here. There is something that plato really liked about the Spartans and that British people really like. British people love under dogs and they hate proud people. Its really bad to drive a nice car around London, you’ll look foreign. How can the Apostle Paul get away telling people that he wished they were as Holy as him? Surely that is arrogant, surely that is proud? I said that to a christian once. She said “yeah and I really don’t like paul”.

Galatians 6:3-4 “If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else,”

The opposite to Pride is not Humility. Its Truth. The kings God hated in the old testament where the people who thought they ruled the world. They didn’t. God showed them. He humbled them. Pride is thinking you are above your status. Truth is knowing what status you are rightly in. Humility is then going further, knowing how great you really are and how much status you deserve from people, deliberately lowering yourself to a lower level. Pride is trying to sit at the head of the table when you’re the youngest in the family. Truth is sitting where you’re supposed to and humility is giving up the head of the table to someone else.

Do I have issues with pride? Yes. Instead of doing my chemistry homework that is “beneath” me I want to be like Paul and go out changing the world. However… I don’t think that is quite the same as what she was talking about. She was saying this in the context of me going up and telling her that all this “faith” stuff she was talking about, well I’ve done it. (Note: Not GOT it, DONE it… or at least look like I’ve done it).

SHE then congratulated ME on my faith. She said that people are not as far as me, that the leaders of the biggest church in the UK haven’t quite got to my level of great faith. That other people would love to have faith like mine. If I believed her on that I can see why she’d think I was proud. But I don’t think that is what I was trying to say. What I was trying to say is that all of this was meaningless… It was like chasing the wind. I was trying to say that these stories of faith are pointless. That if people set down the path of trying to step out in faith like I did they will get no where.

She said that this meeting wasn’t for me.

What is there for me?

There is something else brewing. There is something that God is doing. This thing I think will be for me. I don’t know what it is but I have a hunch and I’m going to pursue it and maybe even write about it. The thing for me is a system that helps me pursue God. Its not something that helps me serve the church. Its not something that makes me a better person through a 10 step program nor something that gives me more theology. Its something that helps me pursue God.

See in HTB there are two things for me:

1) I lead a pastorage and start serving. This will help me rise the ranks of HTB social status and I’ll then start getting access to the big guys who well help me out
2) I get a mentor. An experienced christian who works with me, chats to me and leads me to know God more.

However. 1) God doesn’t want me to. I’m pretty sure of this. I try really hard to serve the church and I know I can do it, I’ve done a great job in the past but every time I try it fails at the moment. Its because God doesn’t want me to lead a pastorage. 2) I am suspicious of this. There is a time and a place for mentoring and its really great and certainly biblical. But it puts a single person massively in control of my life. It also can tempt me to look to my mentor and not God. No whatever this system is it will not look like a single person. It will not be lead by a single priest.

I want to sit in a room with people like me who are ok with stepping out in faith (which is actually really all humans. Stepping out in faith is just what greedy people do who find a treasure in a field. Sell all their possessions to buy the field and dig up the treasure. Faith is for people who like cheating in life and want to win the lottery) and then I want to pursue God in front of them and with them. I think I could do it alone but that is not what God wants. He wants 2 or 3 people to gather in his name. This pursuing God is a corporate event and is only solitary when times are extreme.

A system that supports individuals in their pursuit of God. I am an individual and I want this system.

Where does abaraham fit into this and his faith?… Next blog post

Who I am – Some personality test results


I’ve done a few personality quiz like things for various reasons recently. I thought it would be fun to document them on this blog. Personally I think the strength finder’s results are most interesting  I don’t think I’ve learnt anything new from these results, and where things are not what I expected I think they are just incorrect.
This is from an older version of  http://www.strengthfinder.com/ and the book Now, discover your strengths. I had to take this as part of an HTB leadership course. Its quite good. The questions are not opposites ( I like people vs I don’t like people) and there are a lot of them which makes me feel that it actually discovers a pattern in my answers rather then merely allowing me to influence the results (eg, I’ve decided I’m extroverted). The purpose of this test is to find the underlying talent themes which the book says you can use to build and pursue your strengths with.
Your Signature Themes

Many years of research conducted by The Gallup Organization suggest that the most effective people are those who understand their strengths and behaviors. These people are best able to develop strategies to meet and exceed the demands of their daily lives, their careers, and their families.

A review of the knowledge and skills you have acquired can provide a basic sense of your abilities, but an awareness and understanding of your natural talents will provide true insight into the core reasons behind your consistent successes.

Your Signature Themes report presents your five most dominant themes of talent, in the rank order revealed by your responses to StrengthsFinder. Of the 34 themes measured, these are your “top five.”

Your Signature Themes are very important in maximizing the talents that lead to your successes. By focusing on your Signature Themes, separately and in combination, you can identify your talents, build them into strengths, and enjoy personal and career success through consistent, near-perfect performance.

Ideation

You are fascinated by ideas. What is an idea? An idea is a concept, the best explanation of the most events. You are delighted when you discover beneath the complex surface an elegantly simple concept to explain why things are the way they are. An idea is a connection. Yours is the kind of mind that is always looking for connections, and so you are intrigued when seemingly disparate phenomena can be linked by an obscure connection. An idea is a new perspective on familiar challenges. You revel in taking the world we all know and turning it around so we can view it from a strange but strangely enlightening angle. You love all these ideas because they are profound, because they are novel, because they are clarifying, because they are contrary, because they are bizarre. For all these reasons you derive a jolt of energy whenever a new idea occurs to you. Others may label you creative or original or conceptual or even smart. Perhaps you are all of these. Who can be sure? What you are sure of is that ideas are thrilling. And on most days this is enough.

Strategic

The Strategic theme enables you to sort through the clutter and find the best route. It is not a skill that can be taught. It is a distinct way of thinking, a special perspective on the world at large. This perspective allows you to see patterns where others simply see complexity. Mindful of these patterns, you play out alternative scenarios, always asking, “What if this happened? Okay, well what if this happened?” This recurring question helps you see around the next corner. There you can evaluate accurately the potential obstacles. Guided by where you see each path leading, you start to make selections. You discard the paths that lead nowhere. You discard the paths that lead straight into resistance. You discard the paths that lead into a fog of confusion. You cull and make selections until you arrive at the chosen path—your strategy. Armed with your strategy, you strike forward. This is your Strategic theme at work: “What if?” Select. Strike.

Individualization

Your Individualization theme leads you to be intrigued by the unique qualities of each person. You are impatient with generalizations or “types” because you don’t want to obscure what is special and distinct about each person. Instead, you focus on the differences between individuals. You instinctively observe each person’s style, each person’s motivation, how each thinks, and how each builds relationships. You hear the one-of-a-kind stories in each person’s life. This theme explains why you pick your friends just the right birthday gift, why you know that one person prefers praise in public and another detests it, and why you tailor your teaching style to accommodate one person’s need to be shown and another’s desire to “figure it out as I go.” Because you are such a keen observer of other people’s strengths, you can draw out the best in each person. This Individualization theme also helps you build productive teams. While some search around for the perfect team “structure” or “process,” you know instinctively that the secret to great teams is casting by individual strengths so that everyone can do a lot of what they do well.

Command

Command leads you to take charge. Unlike some people, you feel no discomfort with imposing your views on others. On the contrary, once your opinion is formed, you need to share it with others. Once your goal is set, you feel restless until you have aligned others with you. You are not frightened by confrontation; rather, you know that confrontation is the first step toward resolution. Whereas others may avoid facing up to life’s unpleasantness, you feel compelled to present the facts or the truth, no matter how unpleasant it may be. You need things to be clear between people and challenge them to be clear-eyed and honest. You push them to take risks. You may even intimidate them. And while some may resent this, labeling you opinionated, they often willingly hand you the reins. People are drawn toward those who take a stance and ask them to move in a certain direction. Therefore, people will be drawn to you. You have presence. You have Command.

Communication

You like to explain, to describe, to host, to speak in public, and to write. This is your Communication theme at work. Ideas are a dry beginning. Events are static. You feel a need to bring them to life, to energize them, to make them exciting and vivid. And so you turn events into stories and practice telling them. You take the dry idea and enliven it with images and examples and metaphors. You believe that most people have a very short attention span. They are bombarded by information, but very little of it survives. You want your information—whether an idea, an event, a product’s features and benefits, a discovery, or a lesson—to survive. You want to divert their attention toward you and then capture it, lock it in. This is what drives your hunt for the perfect phrase. This is what draws you toward dramatic words and powerful word combinations. This is why people like to listen to you. Your word pictures pique their interest, sharpen their world, and inspire them to act.

Jungian Archetypes or Myers Briggs test. Personally I think this test is a little silly. I don’t think its really backed by research but I think its a really good talking point as everyone is into it. The purpose here was originally to put people in different Jobs. I think this is just a good way of categorising people that can be used as conversation starter. Here is my results from somewhere online.

ENFP

Extravert(22%)  iNtuitive(75%)  iNtuitive  Feeling(38%)  Perceiving(56)%

You have slight preference of Extraversion over Introversion (22%) You have distinctive preference of Intuition over Sensing (75%) You have moderate preference of Feeling over Thinking (38%) You have moderate preference of Perceiving over Judging (56%)

The final one is something we’ve all done in Common Nonsense. Its quite a good test as it has this guy explain everything as you go along. However I felt that I had too strong an ability to influence the results. It feels like this test shows me what I want to say about me more then it does find an underlying personality. (If thats even possible). The purpose of flag page is to discover what you are passionate about (so different to underlying talents). The idea is that if you are doing these things in the flag you’ll be happier. Whilst there is quite a bit more text describing me, I feel they might be reading too much into my answers and I think some things are just not correct.

The Talent Families that Influence James Most

PeopIe Talent

James has a way with people and is able to get them to warm up to him easily. He puts out a vibration that says “I like people!” This talent makes him attractive to others and they want to include him in their lives.  People that have a large blue segment, like James, are rarely lonely.

Task Talents

James’s large green segment indicates that he enjoys getting involved in projects and improving the task at hand. Since he excels in the area of Tasks, he has the ability to be good at any technical work where hands on’ control of the job makes it turn out better.

To get a concise picture of James’s great People and Task Talents, here are some expressions that sum up the essence of each motivation found in Jamess Talents list.

People Talents

- Out to change the world

- Everyone is always welcome

- Loyal & true to a chosen few

- Always willing to hear you out

- Genuine 8 fair always

- Feeling what everyone feels

- The keen observer

- Compassion to go

- Thinking of you

TaskTalents

- Searching for the truth

- Good at almost anything

- Standing out from the pack

- Stand on your own two feet

James’ Home Country

Control Country is James’s Home Country where he substantially voted 138 for the land of confidence and achievement. This is the country where the residents have the ability to lead groups, businesses and teams. James is very sure of himself so he focuses on what needs to be done and does whatever it takes to accomplish the task. He is always interested in the bottom line so he is quick to get to the point of what he is saying. His natural sense for when to take charge of a project makes it possible for him to overcome any obstacles by focusing directly on the objective. Since he accomplishes so much, he wants people to notice and appreciate the things that he does.

James’s Adopted Country

James voted for Peace Country as his Adopted Country with 104 votes, thereby making a statement that Peace Country is like a second home to him. He values good relationships with people in his life who are pleasant to be around. He visits Peace Country whenever he is looking for tranquillity and harmony in his surroundings He gets along with Peace people very well and respects them for who they are just as he wants to be respected.

James’ Top Motivations

Out of 56 positive character motivation choices, James turned down 51 to pick his top 5. For this reason, these 5 motivations, which compel him to live out his daily life, are the key to his happiness. James’s Independence allows him to keep his distance from people who are too needy. Being Independent also enables him to detach himself from those who might prove to be emotionally painful and troublesome, When doing work, he is most productive when he’s working alone. James Is a Deep Thinker who always analyses every situation from all possible angles, This talent for Thinking Deeply drives him to find answers to life questions. He compares issues, behaviour and situations so he can make the best decision. James can’t tolerate a phony and he always chooses genuine people as friends. Being Sincere at Heart causes him to immediately sense who is real and who is not Since he loves being Sincere, he wants the best for everyone, and strives to be fair and honest in everything he does.

When James’s motivations combine, they create o set of different talents which enhance his abilities arid allow him to do great things. James spends a significant amount of time thinking about how he con become more independent ai how to complete a task without help. James is in touch with how people treat him. He spends many hours thinking about people who are close to him and how they make him feel. When people come to James with a problem, he always gives his honest opinion so he can steer them in the right direction.

A minor one but I think my Love Languages are Touch and Quality Time. Couldn’t care less about Acts of Service, Words of affirmation or gifts.

What do you think of these? Think these kinds of quizzes reveal anything useful? Anyone who knows me think these are right?