Photo credits

The Embalse de Riano in northern Spain. The picture was taken by .... me!

Tuesday, March 26

The imposition of grief

The strange thing about losing one’s parent is the burden placed on people when you tell them.

My nature is that I am a ‘teller’. I wear my heart on my sleeve – I don’t hide events like this. So my natural tendency is to tell my day-to-day colleagues about it.

But this then places on them the burden of trying to say the right thing.

So they put on long faces, and search awkwardly for solemn words of condolence, which don’t actually help. Although moments of weepiness hit, I am mostly quite jovial. The death is ultimately a good thing, though one is sad at the separation. So when I tell people, the tone I need to come back to me is about the same as if I have had say witnessed a serious but non-inju ry traffic accident on the way to work. It’s a shock that I need to talk about, and to have just a bit of light banter coming back to relieve the stress. Not that my Mum’s passing is a joke or trivial, but it is a normal part of life: the ending of her time of suffering and the start of eternity. The well-intended pretence of grief that does come back (from people that are not grieving for my Mum because the never knew her and her passing has no impact on them) just cloaks the event in unnecessary gloom.

I then realise that I am being a bit unfair, dumping my stuff on them. They come to the office to pay their mortgages, not to do amateur counselling in the stairwell for a colleague. So whereas when my Dad passed away I told everyone, this time I am being a little more circumspect, and only telling my immediate team.

Glorified Mum

My Mum passed away this morning, overcome at last by her chest infection.  Aged 84.  Stepping back form the immediate tears, it is for the best really.  Earth's joys grow dim.  She was never really happy away from her husband who died last year, and with whom she is now re-united in that glorious bright light shed from the throne. 

Monday, March 25

Mrs MA - John's Revelation?

Today she is discouraged as she reads of doubts of the apostle's authorship of Revelation.

Of course, if one disbelieves that Daniel was a contemporary account, everything is up for grabs.  And there is a class of academic whose existence relies on new theories, on looking at things critically, etc.  And it is right that this should be done, but it can become an end in itself and not so much a search for truth as a search for a new angle, a new innovation.

Now fair enough, discussion of John's authorship is not new.  But the level of criticism - in the negative sense of the word -directed against the Bible is completely uprecedented.  No other historical work is expected to pass such rigorous tests of authorship.  Some of it is healthy - we don't want to base our lives on a fabricated myth.  But much of the criticism is in my view demonic - the adversary's strategy to undermine the book that reveals the Christ and reveals the ultimate downfall of the devil and his angels.

So I'm still not letting go of Daniel's lions, and I still believe that the Apostle John wrote Revelation.

Emigrating? (Rise of the Guardians)

Mrs has told me that we have decided to move to the other end of the country.

She has always wanted to retire to that area, and therefore thinks 'why not now?'

She feels trapped at ou current church, where the problems that caused us to leave before still prevail.  She feels like Jack Frost in the early part of the the film 'Rise of the Guardians' - always trying to interact but seemingly invisible.

So, a fresh start in a new area, in a new diocese where she can be a person in her own right without living in the hsadow of others' pre-conceived ideas of her would do her a lot of good.

This summer is an opportunity between our various children's major exams etc. 

I need a change of job to satisfy HMRC that I am a genuine contractor.

So I have asked agents to find me a job there.  If they succeed, we will take it as divine guidance.  If they fail, then it is my wife's fantasy and nothuing more.

Now; Rise of the Guardians is one of thsoe films which is on one level totally pagan, but on another level full of allegories of Christ.

He is the invisible one who always helps us but is ignored by us.
He is the one who defends us against the darkness and against our worst fears.
He is the one no whom we must believe.
He is the one who sees the darkness coming and prepares us now.



Leaving the car window open on overnight on Friday - in the blizzard - wasn't the cleverest thing.  Fortunately not too bad.

Thursday, March 14

...NOT the gift of tongues!

General supidity.
  1. Burnt my tongue.  Using coffee whitener instead of milk.  Added some cold water to compensate for the absence of the cooling effect of the milk - but clearly not enough!
  2. Physically damaged my tongue.  Accidentally clamped it with the bull clip I was absentmindedly sucking.

Wednesday, March 13

More Evangelical than I thought

Following Sunday night's blurtings, one of the people said she had among her friends a gay couple with a child who were looking for a church.  After satisfying myself with a tiny bit of research on the website, I recommended Manchester Metropolitan Community Church as being the closest 'equal' church to where I believe they live.

I did the research because I didn't want to send them to a mushy liberal sort of place where in essence if there is any belief in some form of salvation it is a social gospel of being nice and where the Bible is just fairy stories.

I was pleased with what I found on the website, in particular on there 'what we believe' page.  The key points that stood out for me among all the standard creeds etc were:

2.  That the Bible is the divinely inspired Word of God, showing forth God to every person through the law and the prophets, and finally, completely and ultimately on earth in the being of Jesus Christ.

5.  Every person is justified by grace to God through faith in Jesus Christ.

So it look OK to me. You never know, I might even end up there myself!

Monday, March 11

Political hara-kiri

Our church likes to do things differently once in a while and on Sunday they decided to have a dial-a-question theology panel.

Slightly miffed that I was only the stand-in for one panel member, who did actually attend so I was just in the audience.  And the dial-a-question turned out to be a pre-written list in the Vicar’s hand.

Anyway: Q1 – does the panel believe in gay marriage?

Stunned silence.

So the vicar picks on one panellist to start them off. All four took shades of conservative line, the most liberal being an acceptance of sexless civil unions – which is the view which I think best reflects the Vicar’s.

Then he opened it up to the floor.

Thinking “It’s now or never” I launched off into my usual exposition of liberal-for-conservative-reasons rant, cutting out the detail of each response to each ‘proof text’ owing to lack of time.

A later question concerned women’s leadership in the church. This time the panel (mostly former Methodists) took a liberal line, and so the Vicar added that for many Christians the issue is headship and authority. Unbidden, my hand shot up. I passed on what I learned at New Wine – in biblical language the head is not the controller but the source of life, and in Romans it is only linguistically possible for Junia to have been A) a woman B) an apostle C) endorsed by the allegedly misogynist Paul as a woman apostle, and that therefore I no longer object to women in the highest leadership of the church.

There were other benign questions where I kept silent, but overall my voice was too frequent, too opinionated, too ‘authoritative’ in tone, etc., and I felt bad. However, afterwards I had positive feedback from quite a buzz of people, and I ended in a long discussion with two panellists going into more detail.

It was only driving home in the relative calm afterwards that I suddenly realised that I had flatly contradicted the vicar in public on two major issues. It was not my intention to undermine him. It’s just that two issues that I feel strongly about came up.

So I shan’t be expecting too many more invitations to speak or to join the PCC. In fact my career at the church may be over.

But then, Mrs is increasingly unsatisfied at the church as all the old problems have not gone away. So this episode may just make it easier for us to move on again next time.

I'm glad I said what I said.  It was better coming from the floor than from the pulpit or a seat on the panel.  There may have been better times and places and tones of voice and forms of phrasing.   But if not now, when?

Cadbury World

  • Better than I expected.
  • Somehow managed to resist singing the oompa loompa song.

Wednesday, March 6

Mrs MA setback - response

It is confirmed she only failed oneessay, the others were OK.  She has to do it again.

Since she was struggling with teh wrokload anyway, and also has to timetable the operations to her arthritic knees, she is negotiating with the university to revert to doing the course part time over two years rather than full time in one year.

At least she is a bit more perky now than she was the other day.

Tuesday, March 5

Mrs MA - setback

She's depressed today.

Having previously been infomred "Congratulations, you have passed all your modules" and told all her facebook friends about it, - she has now been told that actually she failed one out of the three and the result from another is not yet certain.

And with the one that she failed, it wasn't just a minor shortcoming that dropped a few marks below the pass line, it was a spectacular total fail in every aspect.

It was the first essay that she did.

She had tried to hand in a draft version as instructed by the course handbook, but was told by the tutor that he wasn't taking drafts.  Had he done so, he could have pointed her in the right direction a bit more.

She will have to do the essay again, but is already pressed for time and asking for extensions.

So since she always has major mood swings about this kind of thing, she is all doom and gloom today, and will no doubt change her mind five times over the next few days as to whether to continue the course or not and how to handle the fallout from it. 

So please pray for her, and also pray for me as I try to counsel her through this situation.

Monday, March 4

On Notice (but probably OK)

I feel a bit better today.

I found myself discussing Daniel’s lions at great length on Sunday.

First it was in the queue for the fellowship lunch, where I found myself next to a lady who is a former Methodist lay preacher. She generally knows her stuff. She wasn’t particularly well-versed on the late-Daniel theory though. I explained it as best I could. She has a lot of empathy with my concerns that it can lead on to an undermining of the value of Scripture generally and disbelief in other things too, such as the resurrection. But she didn’t feel it was a make-or-break thing. The conversation ended when my teenage daughter in the queue behind me was playfully tickling my elbow and ribs, and when I turned round and in playful mock revenge twisted her arm and kicked her bum before realising that it perhaps wasn’t the best move to do so particularly in that environment, and then I had the whole youth group teasing me about phoning childline.

Next it was with my wife, over the dessert. She can’t understand why I consider the logic of the late-Daniel theory to be internally flawed. The argument goes that it was apocalyptic writing written in the time of Antiochus IV to encourage persecuted Jews with fictitious stories of the past. But – I say – if those stories were fiction and God did not actually deliver Daniel from the lions or the friends from the furnace, then it is standing on quicksand - a fraudulent hope and not a reliable encouragement.

This was starting to become quite an animated discussion, and the Vicar ambled over to see what was going on.

I appealed to him as referee, and put both sides to him trying not to give clues as to which I supported. He prevaricated. And then called over the woman mentioned above. But basically, from his perspective as strongly evangelical, he didn’t feel that it matters whether it is literally true or apocalyptic, and my wife and the other lady supported him in that. The value is in what it says to us today. I agree that that is the point, but I can’t see what it can tell us today if it is not true.

Anyway, I suppose I feel better, in that sound evangelical Christians can remain evangelically sound while holding the ‘apocalyptic’ late Daniel view.

Thinking less academically and more experientially (which was also one of the lady’s emphases – and I see experience as nice but not a safe foundation) several things happened.

One is that opening the scriptures and reading, it all feels pointless if the stories portrayed as historical are not in fact true. What can you believe if that is the case? It feels fraudulent.

Another is that I normally take off my cross in the shower (or else the string rots and breaks). The time came to put it back on. And I chose to do so. Prayerfully – opening to God, but at the same time putting him (or should I say 'the Faith') on notice, an amber alert, that I was struggling to believe and he had better show up. Which is dangerous – but God is merciful.

The Sunday service also contained various points where I felt faith was affirmed, particularly the confession.

And then various other things happened – those things which you can’t put your finger on and which if you tried to explain them to Dawkins he would be very unconvinced, and yet you have that weird skin-crawling sense that these are not co-incidences, and that strings are being pulled in the unseen world to bring about consequences that we can only imagine. A sense of being part of a much larger plan in which I’m not actually the centre of the universe but just a pawn in a strategic location on the board. A sense that through all this I am being prepared for bigger things.

So of the four bullets in my previous post, I suppose it’s the third – coming reluctantly to an accommodation with the apocalyptic late-Daniel theory.

Friday, March 1

Losing faith

I'll be honest - I'm still struggling over this Daniel thing.

Mrs is adamant that her tutors are all good Christian people who have no hidden agenda or motive to undermine the scriptures yet their consensus is that Daniel was written late and the man himself was fictional.

Of course one man's consensus is another man's bleating of lemming-like sheep.

And yet their case is a powerful one.

But it causes me great trouble.  How can the book be an encouragement in time of persecution, if God did not in fact deliver Daniel from the lions?  And if Christ did not in fact come in person to meet the three in the furnace, then how does that encourage me to have faith that he will meet now?

I understand the logic about apocalyptic writing, I understand that it is like a parable that tells a truth through fictional events.  But it is not working for me. 

At this moment in time, I am basically losing my faith.  I have suddenly come to see the scriptures as having the same authority as the tales of King Arthur or Robin Hood.  Suddenly the Bible feels as reliable as the Quran or the Book of Mormon.

The comedian Jimmy Carr tells how he used to have faith but was once walking down the road and suddenly thought 'There is no God', and felt immediately released.  I am having a similar thing.  If I am honest, the main reason I continue to have faith is that this is all I know - I have never been otherwise - I don't know how to live and think and act as an atheist.  I don't know how to not have faith.

Also, I have had my little experiences, moments of religious ecstasy, moments of apparently answered prayer, moments when I have felt that God spoke to me in person.  But these can all be explained.

At this moment I am angry that I have been lied to for so long.  I feel I have founded my life on a fraud.  I want to abandon the faith and walk out, but don't quite have the courage and am concerned about the impact on the kids.  I feel that ALL of the springs on my trampoline (see previous post) have broken and dumped me on the floor below.  It feels like those days when I have had a massive row with the wife and it all seems pointless why carry on, and I've been standing looking at the inside of the front door thinking about walking out but never quite had the courage to do so, scared of the consequences and impact on my kids etc. 

Stepping back and looking at the situation as an outside oberver - it will be interesting to see what happens next.

  • Lose faith completely and leave the Christian life?
  • Continue in some empty shell of Christianity, doing all the stuff for lack of an alternative life model but feeling empty and sick with the hypocrisy of it all?
  • Find some accomodation with the late-Daniel theology and renew my faith?
  • Prove that the lemming-concensus is wrong and that the lions and fiery furnace were in fact real?
Watch this space.