Unapologetic: Francis Spufford

unapologeticI finally got my hands on this book at a discount price. It has had mix reviews and I must admit as I read the book, I had mix feelings about it. On the one hand, his honesty and plain speaking was really refreshing, it is raw and feels unedited and I think it works. But then it seems to lose its edge half way through and it slightly lost its way. There were lots that I didn’t agree with but there was also lots that I could resonate with.

The other thing that people pick up on is the swearing. I am not sure where I stand with this, I don’t know if the swearing added any value to what he was trying to say. I personally think some of it was making a point, it made the reader take note and listen but at other times I felt like it subtracted from what he was saying and he didn’t need to have it there.

I don’t want this to be a negative book review, but I wanted to be honest that most of the way through I just wasn’t sure if I liked it. On the other hand there were bits that were helpful, so I thought I would share with you 5 things that I appreciated about the book:

  1. The first couple of chapters are really helpful. It felt like his thoughts were spilling on the page and helping the reader to see that Christianity make sense, at least to him.
  2. He identifies the deep longings that we have as humans and the way that the world tries to offer us stuff, but it always lets us down.
  3. His chapter on suffering and all that’s wrong with the world was really insightful and helpful. It is down to earth and sometimes its something you need to hear – it is the less fluffy version.
  4. He explores what is wrong at the heart of humanity and the truth that we all mess up. He isn’t afraid to say that we all mess up, we all have a problem and we need a solution.
  5. If you want to read something that is just really honest when it comes to the deep longing and suffering questions then I think this book is worth reading.

Those are just some of my thoughts. It probably isn’t a book I would read again or even recommend to my friends. However there are bits in it that are worth quoting and worth using for illustrations. So all in all, this book and this review is rather mixed!

Would love to hear what you thought of the book – what did you enjoy? What didn’t you enjoy?

Dexter and the Problem of Evil

dexterIn the TV show Dexter, the main character is a unique man, by day he works for the police as a blood spatter analyst and by night he is a serial killer.

You can’t help but like Dexter. He is quirky and odd, but strangely loveable too. It sounds odd saying that – can a serial killer like this be loveable?

Dexter isn’t like other serial killers, he only kills those who are criminals of the most terrible crimes and who have slipped through the net of the justice system. He takes justice upon himself and channels his killer tendencies towards a good purpose.

Now I have only seen a couple of episode of the first season, so I don’t know the unfolding story completely or where Dexter will end up on this journey. But those first few episodes opened up for me a whole host of questions. Questions, I hope, people are asking when they watch this show. Questions like:

1. What is good and evil?
2. How do we decide who is good and evil?
3. Is Dexter doing the right thing? Is he any different to the people he is killing?
4. What is justice?

When you watch this show, you can’t help but feel that Dexter is doing the right thing. He is ridding the world of murderers, rapists and pedophiles etc and that surely is a good thing?

But is it right that one man should carry out this justice? What about accountability?

What happens if he goes too far?

What happens if those lines of who is good and evil become blurred? As we look into the depths of our hearts, none of us are perfect. Jesus says that even when we are angry with our brother or sister then we are liable for judgement as if we had committed murder. (Matthew 5:21-22)…

THLSTSPPR-SPTI-EPS-1This is shown more clearly in the film The Last Supper directed by Stacy Title, the scene is set around a dinner table where a group of friends enjoy company, food and good wine. This group of university graduates begin to invite controversial people round for dinner, knowing that their ideas and thoughts are quite radical and perhaps very wrong.

Over the course of the film the wine begins to taste strange and the company doesn’t seem fun anymore.

They pose the question: If you went back in time and met Hitler when he was an artist, before he did all those terrible things – would you kill him?

On this basis, these students took the liberty to kill off those guests who have radical and harmful ideas in order to save man kind. They felt like they were killing off the next generation of Hitlers.

But then it gets out of hand. Suddenly they were killing people that they simply disagreed with. From religious ideas to political ones, they were finding they were burying people in the backyard before they even got to the dinner table!

Soon their conscience played against them and they couldn’t shake off the feeling that perhaps, what they were doing, was wrong…

Dexter-Morgan

Like Dexter, it raises a load of questions about what Justice truly is and what evil is? What is right and wrong? Is it just the act that is wrong which Dexter deals with, or is it the thoughts that are wrong which the University students deal with?

 

Jesus has an answer and he says that the problem is even deeper than actions and thoughts:

 

And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
(Mark 7:20-23 ESV)

 

The problem is our hearts. This list from Jesus doesn’t excuse anyone. Everyone has a human heart like this.

Suddenly I sit at that table and I know I am not pure and cannot judge other people – for my heart is evil. And I think that’s what these students suddenly come to realise in the film, they saw that they themselves have an evil heart with wrong thoughts – they were no better than those they were killing. And in the end they turn upon each other.

But there is hope. The Gospel offers hope. On the one hand Jesus says the problem is our hearts, but on the other hand he offers us a renewed heart and salvation.

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. [Ezekiel 36:26]

Jesus is the only one that can deal with evil and deal with it in a way that gets to the root of the problem. It still brings up loads of questions, but as we watch Dexter I perhaps want to ask myself this question; what about the evil in my heart?

The Man Upstairs in the Lego Movie

the_lego_movieLast week my husband and I went to the cinema and watched the Lego movie. And everything was awesome…

To be honest it ticked all of my inner geek boxes. With references from star trek, wars, gate and lord of the rings to super heroes and super nobodies. On the whole, I enjoyed it very much.

*Some spoiler alerts ahead*

But I was equally interested about the portrayal of the “man upstairs”. The one who gives the rules and enters into the Lego world as President Business. There are two types of people in the Lego world, the ones who follow President Business and live under his rules. They are boring, uncreative, unimaginative and stuck.Then there are other Lego people who don’t follow the rules and they are creative, wonderful and superheroes trying to escape and be free from the rules of president Business.

We meet Emmett. He is a rule keeper, who follows the instructions very closely and lives life in the system. It isn’t until he meets some super creative people, that at some point in the movie he realises that he needs to stop following the instructions and start believing in himself.

As Mariah Carey belts out:

“Who knows what miracles
You can achieve
When you believe
Somehow you will
You will when you believe”

Emmett just needs to believe in himself. And the man upstairs needs to recognise that people need creative freedom and not rules. And he doesn’t have to be such a control freak!

PresidentBusinessThe temptation at this point, for the Christian, is to try to defend this rule giving God. Saying, even though this rule giving God gives out instructions – they are for our good and they don’t trample on our creativity but they free us…

Except we know that being a Christian isn’t about keeping rules or even following instructions. If we do, we enslave ourselves and become a curse. (Galatians 3:10).The rules don’t free us or enable us to have creativity. Instead they bind us and stick us to the floor so we can’t move for fear of displeasing this rule giving god. The rules (law) given to the Israelites were good instructions but they were never going to free or save them. Furthermore those laws were for a specific time, people and purpose.

We are right to reject President Business and the man upstairs with his rule book. And the Lego movie is right – following rules and instructions to find purpose and meaning in life will just destroy us. And so Emmett needs to be free from the rule-giving man upstairs. But how?

Well the problem is, Emmett believes the lie that he needs to look inside himself to find the truth. That somewhere in his inner being, he just needs to believe in himself. (Queue Mariah Carey).

The mantra in our society is to believe in yourself. To look within and find meaning, truth and hope.That if you are a boring nobody, you just need more belief so you can be a somebody.

coffeeandlegomovieBut the reality is, there is nothing in you that can help you. You can’t help yourself. Our hearts are corrupt and following after desires that aren’t good for us.

Instead the answer is outside of ourselves. To someone who gives life, who bore the curse of the law so you don’t have to, who accepts you even if you are an ordinary person or a superhero.

True Freedom and life is only ever found in Jesus.

This is true for Emmett and for us. It cannot be found in following the instructions nor can it be found inside of ourselves.

The man upstairs, our Father, is not standing there with a glue gun ready to paralyse us under his instructions. Instead he is a Father who sends his Son into the world, to give us life and freedom because he knows that we can’t keep the rules and we can’t find freedom within ourselves and we can’t solve this mess we are in, only he can. The man upstairs, is nothing like the one in Lego Movie, he is far better.

Faith is Stumbling, Intimate & Knowing we are Loved

A brilliant conversation between Stephen Fry and Bear Grylls. I love how Bear Grylls describes his faith as intimate, stumbling, and in this difficult life we are loved… brilliant! I think we can learn a lot from their conversation.

It is worth going over to Krish’s blog and read 5 things to learn from Bear and Fry

Second Chances and Time Travel

AboutTime_SocialImagine if you could have a second chance at life? A chance to go back and change the mistakes you made or the path you chose. Would you do it? Would there be things you would want to change which may change the outcome of your life now?

*A couple of spoilers in this post

In the movie “About Time“, 21-year-old Tim finds out that he could do exactly that. He could choose any part of his own history and travel back to that very moment and have a second chance of what was to follow. He is a time traveller.

It sounds quite appealing to me. As I am sure we have all had moments that we would have liked to of changed, awkward situations, decisions we have made that we wished we hadn’t. We all like the idea of second chances. An opportunity to do things again, to have another go at life.

Tim travels back to moments which would allow him to eventually get a girlfriend. With some bumps on the way, we find ourselves in humourous moments where he makes lots of mistakes but then goes back and changes them. He also finds out that there are some things he can’t change.

TardisBut do you have to be a time traveller to experience second chances?
Are second chances only a reality for Tim in About Time or Dr Who?

In the film Another Earth, Rhoda does something that changes the course of her life forever. She makes a huge mistake which destroys her life and the life of a young family. Just before that point, another planet is seen in the sky, which is the exact replica of earth – with the same people and same events that have happened before. It’s a mirror image. Except on that planet the course of history changes when it comes into view on the current earth, which means Rhoda on this new planet has made a different choice that day and therefore there was a different outcome.

Lives not destroyed. A second chance.

As the news commentator says:

“But maybe the most mysterious of all is neither the small nor the large: it’s us, up close. Could we even recognize ourselves, and if we did, would we know ourselves? What would we say to ourselves? What would we learn from ourselves? What would we really like to see if we could stand outside ourselves and look at us?”

Rhoda longs for a second chance. Could she really find it by looking at herself another_earth_09and find peace in knowing that her other self-made a better decision? I think Rhoda realises that her second chance doesn’t come from looking at her alternative self, but instead she needs forgiveness for what she has done. It is only when the Janitor writes on her hand “Forgiven” that she finds true peace.

I think Another Earth illustrates the overwhelming need of grace that humanity craves. Second chances are about forgiveness not about time travel.

We may wish for time travel, to have a second chance to change our lives and we may long to see what that life would look like if everything had been different. But that never solves the heart problem. It may cover up the mistakes we made and we may appear glossy or it spirals us unto a depression of “what if’s”.

The level of our problem plunges deeper into our hearts that go beyond the choices we make.

Another_Earth_07And time travel isn’t real, but grace is. Second chances are a reality we all can have.

Outside of ourselves is a God who became human to give all of us a second chance. He beckons us all to start afresh and to receive true forgiveness that dives into the inner most depths of our hearts and cleans out all the mess. Time Travel cannot do that, neither can anything else in this world.

And what does that look like?

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. – Ezekiel 36:26

New heart and a new spirit. That heart riddled with guilt and yearning for a second chance, gets replaced with a new heart, a new life, a new spirit and a second chance. And this gospel spills out over every mistake we make or will make. This is the beauty of the cross, the mountain of second chances.

It doesn’t mean we forget what we have done, but we are forgiven and we can learn from our mistakes instead of covering them up. The good news is that our second chance doesn’t come through wishful thinking about time travel, but it comes through Jesus Christ.

Come to him and find a new heart and forgiveness that will quench your thirst. Then you can truly enjoy your day, without any worries.

“The truth is I now don’t travel back at all, not even for the day, I just try to live every day as if I’ve deliberately come back to this one day, to enjoy it, as if it was the full final day of my extraordinary, ordinary life.” – About Time

We are all Human

love-actually-to-me-you-are-perfectI find people really fascinating and I quite enjoy sitting in coffee shops watching people go about their day. Sounds a bit stalker-ish, I know. But what I love about it is watching how people react, find out what makes them smile or frown. Watching how people interact with each other, how they say hello and how they talk to each other. I find it very interesting.

In the film Love Actually the opening scene is that of an airport and Hugh Grant comments on how people relate to each other in the airport. He says:

“Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends.”

At the airport you see glimpses of humanity at its finest. Hugh Grant is right, love is all around as people receive their loved ones safe and sound. People are reunited again and the ache of longing is dissolved. It’s very interesting to watch. In some way or another we all have similar reactions, it’s not often you see an angry face at the airport.

I have recently been watching a show called “Gogglebox”. It’s a show about people watching TV and their reacts to the programmes they watch on TV. It sounds pointless, you are basically watching people who are watching TV… However I love it. The reason I love it, isn’t because I love trashy TV, but it’s because I love watching people. How these families and individuals respond to certain programmes is fascinating to me.

What I have noticed is that at the basic level we are all the same. We are all very human. We laugh, squirm and cry at the same things. There was a TV program called 999:Emergency where a man in his 80s lost his wife whom he had been married to for nearly 60 years. The ambulance came in and tried save her but they couldn’t. The husband was in tears. And so was the audience.

Couples were holding hands, tears rolling down their faces because they knew that this reality of death would hit us all at some point. We will all feel that void at some point in our lives if we haven’t already.

We are all human. We cry and laugh and get angry at the same points in the story. Our needs are the same: to be loved, cherished, respected. Our fears are the same: loneliness, failure, death.

It’s funny though, when I think about Christians and the way we talk about the world, we make a divide of “us” and “them”. In a sense it is true, there are those that are in Christ and those that are outside of Christ. But with that “us” and “them” it sometimes feels like a divide so large we have started to become scared of “them”. We start to see them as less human and ourselves as super spiritual, living beyond and above our humanness. We see ourselves so different from “them”.

But on the very basic level, at the starting point – we are all human. Our needs are the same. We need to eat, drink, sleep, love, be loved, we are scared of the same things, we need to worship, we need to work etc. We all have stories we can share with each other. We can relate to each other.

When we share the gospel with people, we are sharing a true story with human beings just like us. Human beings that need Jesus, just like we do. And when we approach evangelism or apologetics we have to remember that there are people, real people behind every question. They are not “them” or aliens, they are not sub-human or simply floating brains. They are real people with emotions, dreams, fears, desires and searching for hope.

Every human is broken and needs Jesus.

When we view it like that rather than an “us” and “them”, we may find sharing the Gospel easier. We may find less barriers because the person we are asking is our friend, someone we enjoy being with and someone we want to share our story with. This person has the same struggles and fears as we do. This person is broken just as much as we are. This person needs to be loved just like we do.

This person is human, just like we are.

The Rubber hits the Road

theologyTheology is really easy to talk about. It is easy to sit down around the table with the steam of hot coffee rolling around the edges of the cup, having your bibles open and your notebooks at the ready. It’s easy to say words like penal substitution and Calvinism and eschatology. They roll around your tongue and you spit them out.

It’s easy when your twenty something to see the world as black and white and carry theological debates in your pocket. You can argue about the pie in the sky until the blueberry filling squirts you in the face.

I feel like I am in the business of talking about theology. I can read the arguments and thrash out a theological position. I can quote scripture and I can also tie myself in knots with the straw from the thousands of straw men I create. And it’s good to talk, it’s good to work these things out and question and ponder.

But theology isn’t just about talk.  It isn’t just about the debates or late night discussions about predestination.

I think the rubber hits the road when life smacks you in the face.

Last week I was watching a programme where cameras followed around 4 families in their every day life. One family had a daughter and her partner expecting a baby but their were complications. They lost the baby. During this the mother makes a comment about religious people having faith and believing in God and how he comforts them. I think she really wanted that, deep down I think she yearned for that comfort.

Thing is, it’s easy to have a sound theology and all the right arguments, but when something like this happens its hard, it’s messy. It isn’t so black and white. I wanted to tell them that Jesus really loves them.

As Christians when suffering comes along we are caused to wrestle with the truths of scripture and God’s character. We ask: Who is God? Is He good? Does the death and resurrection of his Son matter? Does God understand my suffering?

I guess the heart of theology is believing in the middle of my suffering.
It’s clinging to Christ while in pain.
It’s believing in the resurrection when death knocks on your door.

I think theology tastes and feels different when you walk that road. It also sounds different when you walk that road with friends.

I haven’t really gone through great suffering, but ive walked with friends who have. The way they talk about God is different, theology has a different musical note. It’s no longer pies in the sky, but its real and it has to be wrestled with. It’s not about being right or wrong as in a debate, but it’s about clinging to Christ and finding joy and hope.

I think theology is good to talk about. But things aren’t always clear-cut. The part where it really takes effect and really matters is where theology meets real life.

And so, rich theology often comes alive when you go through an experience. Suddenly theology is no longer abstract but its earthy, weighty and holds more significance for you. The Hymn “O Love that will not let you go” by George Matheson, was birthed out of a painful experience of rejection and loss. The reality of the Lord’s love and comforting promises in a time of suffering becomes not just mere words, but wonderful truth to cling to, so that he can sing in his anguish verses like this:

O Love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

What beautiful theology! What a beautiful Christ we have! This is theology in action and I feel the best kind of theology there is, a theology that doesn’t just stay at the edges of the table, but overflows into our lives and helps us cling to our beautiful saviour in times of trials and darkness.