Friday, 2 July 2010

Best Poem Ever.

What difference does eternal life make? Why does knowing Jesus transform the (often) difficult drudgery of this lifetime? How does the hope of the resurrection comfort? Read this and then enjoy this most excellent poem, and be comforted.
(Oh, and don't mind GMH; he makes up words. Extremely cool words. My advice is to say them out loud if you don't 'get' them).

That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the comfort of the Resurrection
Cloud-puffball, torn tufts, tossed pillows ' flaunt forth, then chevy on an air-
built thoroughfare: heaven-roysterers, in gay-gangs ' they throng;
they glitter in marches.
Down roughcast, down dazzling whitewash, '
wherever an elm arches,
Shivelights and shadowtackle in long '
lashes lace, lance, and pair.
Delightfully the bright wind boisterous '
ropes, wrestles, beats earth bare
Of yestertempest’s creases;
in pool and rut peel parches
Squandering ooze to squeezed '
dough, crust, dust; stanches, starches
Squadroned masks and manmarks '
treadmire toil there
Footfretted in it. Million-fuelèd, '
nature’s bonfire burns on.
But quench her bonniest, dearest '
to her, her clearest-selvèd spark
Man, how fast his firedint, '
his mark on mind, is gone!
Both are in an unfathomable, all is in an enormous dark
Drowned. O pity and indig '
nation! Manshape, that shone
Sheer off, disseveral, a star, '
death blots black out; nor mark
Is any of him at all so stark
But vastness blurs and time '
beats level. Enough! the Resurrection,
A heart’s-clarion! Away grief’s gasping, joyless days, dejection.
Across my foundering deck shone
A beacon, an eternal beam.
Flesh fade, and mortal trash
Fall to the residuary worm; world’s wildfire, leave but ash:
In a flash, at a trumpet crash,I am all at once what Christ is, since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
Is immortal diamond.

(Gerard Manley Hopkins)

(My apologies for multiple postings... I hope I've gotten the formatting right this time!)

Sunday, 13 June 2010

An attempted collect on the regulation of bodily functions

This is published over here, at my husband's suggestion. Here's the unedited 'original' with photos. Enjoy.


Because people like me do actually pray, often with some fervour, about the bodily functions of children for whom they are responsible. That's right. We pray about the absence, presence, frequency, infrequency, texture, colour and quantity of poo. Mostly because such things can flag a problem in young children, especially when they are only a few weeks old; at least that's why I pray about such things. Others may have different reasons.

Because praying about such things is completely natural for a Christian. Not only is God interested in the 'small' things in our lives, but he is eminently competent to resolve such issues, having made us and therefore capable of 'regulating' us, and/or of giving us wisdom to know when to go for medical help. Unlike some medical professionals, he never communicates that we've wasted his precious time by mentioning to him our concerns. Even about poo.

Because collects rock and I would love to be able to write them.

Because if Cranmer had had the leisure, and wasn't busy trying to manage a certain megalomaniac monarch in amongst reforming England, he may well have extended his prayer book to include miscellaneous prayers for more occasions. And maybe he'd have included a prayer about such matters.

Because Cranmer's collects always seem to both demonstrate the utter validity of our prayers for earthly concerns, and yet prompt us to think too about things from an eternal perspective. So, even though I haven't really prayed the collect below, the exercise of writing it has helped me to remember there are more significant things to desire and pray for in my boys than merely the regulation of their bodily functions, as important as that might be for their health. More significant are the kind of people they are and are becoming and that they so 'pass through things temporal that they finally lose not things eternal'.

Because when I'm sleep deprived I become (even more) eccentric.

Almighty God, the giver of all life, who has formed and known us from our our earliest moment, grant we beseech thee, the proper regulation of bodily functions in this thy little one. In your mercy, so prosper his life that he may grow in strength and wisdom and may by your grace know you, whom to know is life eternal, through Christ Jesus our Lord and for his glory.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Collect for the Sixth Sunday after Trinity

O God, who hast prepared for those who love thee such good things as pass man's understanding; Pour into our hearts such love toward thee, that we, loving thee above all things, may obtain promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

The superiority of black puddings to speech

'I suppose one reason why we are seldom able to comfort our neighbours with our words is that our goodwill gets adulterated, in spite of ourselves, before it can pass out lips. We can send black puddings and pettitoes without giving them a flavour of our own egoism: but language is a stream that is is almost sure to smack of a mingled soil. There was a fair proportion of kindness in Raveloe; but it was often of a beery and bungling sort...'

(from Chapter 10, Silas Marner by George Eliot)

Monday, 17 November 2008

Feminism and Motherhood

One of the things I realised as I was reading Mary Kassian's The Feminist Mistake is the tortured relationship the feminist movement has with motherhood. On the one hand, the potential for bearing children is viewed as the basis for women's superiority: their ability to nurture arising from their ability to bear children, would for example, lead to a peaceful world in a matriarchy (as opposed to our war-filled world, dominated as it is by men who cannot bear children and so do not have this nurturing ability). On the other hand, the actual decision to bear children is viewed in a very different light. In the ideal feminist world, women would only bear children if and when they wanted to and would have the right to change their decision at any point in time. In the eyes of some feminists, bearing children is always the wrong decision and leads to enslavement.

This is further evidence that feminism is not 'pro-woman' but 'pro-feminist', excluding all but those committed to its ideals into its sisterhood.

Why is this important?

First, it is worth noticing that feminism has had a profound affect on families over the last few decades. No-fault divorce, abortion, and other initiatives have not had a good effect on families. It is good that the Victorian era legislation has been overturned, enshrining as it did, the man's right to do whatever he liked in marriage and still have legal access to children in a post-divorce settlement, despite evidence of domestice abuse. But far from the nurturing, peace-filled world envisaged by some feminists, the result of feminist initiatives have been seen in painful, dysfunctional family situation. Men have contributed to this of course. But so have women. Given the same kind of freedom as men in the Victorian era, women have used it with the same kind of selfish abandon as men did and do. It manifests differently, but the ability to have children does not appear to seriously reign in the instincts of women to get what they can for themselves. Feminism has proven the Bible right in its assertion that both men and women are sinners. Women are not somehow better because they can give birth (or for any other reason).

The other thing which I found interesting was how close our society is to the feminist ideal for giving birth. If we hear of someone who is going to give birth either against their will or is going ahead with an unplanned pregnancy despite financial or other difficulties, we consider it a tragedy. While there is much to mourn in these situations, and much support to offer the mother in question, we need to question whether we consider this a tragedy because the woman's choice was not the driving force behind the birth of the child. I think many of us have moved to that mindset without realising it. This isn't too surprising when we realise that the feminist ideal of childbearing and raising is closer to being realised that many other aspects of their agenda. Abortion on demand, at any point in the pregnancy for any reason without financial cost or social reprisal is slowly arriving and will be difficult to dislodge. Women who disagree with this, refuse to avail themselves of the system and discourage others from this choice are outrageous.

But even for those of us who reject abortion, it is worth asking ourselves whether we reject 'choice' as the first and highest priority when it comes to childbearing and raising. Do we automatically count up the number of children someone has and wonder why they 'chose' to have that many children? Do we assume that someone or other has chosen their career over children? Do we disdain women who need to work and can't look after their children at home because of their financial situation? Do we tend to look down on those we hear of or those we know who fall pregnant out of marriage or who can't look after their children?

Choice in childbearing isn't our goal, because our God is sovereign. He chooses for us, even as our actions have certain consequences. The goal is to do everything with a willing heart in gratitude to him, and to encourage each other to live for him. (Colossians 3). Choice can give us power and freedom and it is a good gift from God when we can choose. But choice can also deceive us into thinking we can be and do anything and that that might be a good thing. If we pursue our own selves, we move in a direction away from the Lord Jesus, who calls us to give up our lives, our choices, our selves and find life in dying to ourselves in his service and the service of others. Which includes childbearing or raising - whatever the situation (wish I could, didn't have to, could work, stay home, have more, have less...)

It would be unfortunate to have the mindset which supports abortion while rejecting it utterly! But it is possible, because as Kassian observes feminism has become so influential in our society, there is a sense in which we are all feminists to one degree or another. A warning like that is really useful as we try and think and live and speak counter-culturally. If it applies to us at all, it is likely that it applies to us as we think about motherhood and raising children, so it is worth asking ourselves whether we think:
  • women are less selfish and less destructive than men (because women bear children);

  • women choose their childbirth and childrearing situations and should always have that freedom.

Bringing every though captive to Christ is hard work, particularly when we are trying to out-think our own culture.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Jesus is Faithful

I have been greatly encouraged by the first chapter of Revelation.

I think the opening sets the scene for the entire book and shows that the book is meant to encourage us (rather than baffle us!). In the first chapter we are flooded with reminders of who Jesus is and how much he has done for us. John lists them off at breakneck speed:

Jesus is:

  • unquestionably faithful,
  • the resurrected one who guarantees our resurrection,
  • the ruler of all rulers,
  • the one who loves us,
  • the Saviour who gave himself for us so that we could be free from sin, and
  • the one who made us genuine servants of God.

These few verses contain so many descriptions of who Jesus is and what he has done and will do that it is no wonder that John then turns to immediately praise our Lord and Saviour.

Then, without pausing for breath, John reminds us that this same Jesus will appear as the supreme ruler and every single person will see him.

By listing what Jesus has already done for us as well as reminding us that he is faithful in the here and now, John shows us that we can trust Jesus with the future also. Jesus has said he would return and he will keep his word. His return is absolutely certain.

Many things will discourage us while we wait for Jesus to return. Sometimes we may feel that he will never return: it has been so long! Yet John helps us to realize that just as we trust Jesus to save us from our sins, we can trust him to be true to his word and return and rule in righteousness. The King of kings, our loving Saviour, will return. We can depend on Jesus to keep his promises.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Sex and Ministry

I had a conversation recently with someone who had received advice about sex at a ministry-wives type event several years ago. As her husband was in ministry, she was advised to make it a priority to have sex with him frequently in order to increase the effectiveness of his ministry. This disturbed me.

I think this is ill-advised for three reasons.

First, it cuts against the self-giving we find in 1 Corinthians 7. One gives oneself to one's husband (or oneself to one's wife), for the other person. Not for their ministry or any other reason. Adding a reason, like bolstering one's husband's ministry makes it less a self-giving and more a transaction. The ministry of the husband (or the wife for that matter), will be best built up because of the strength of the marriage relationship. Engaging in sex and thereby releasing happy chemicals, or adding to a person's sense of significance is all well and good, but for some people this will happen more when they undertake intense physical activity or play a super-charged computer game or some such. I am not certain that the people who pedal this advice would be happy to advise people who aren't invigorated by sex to give it up and go do whatever it is that does make their brains work well. If they did, it would be very disturbing indeed and I would not expect that any Christian would advise other Christians against having sex within a marriage relationship under normal circumstances. It simply cuts against Scripture. Sex isn't for ministry. Sex is for marriage. (And that means marriage isn't for ministry either. Should be obvious, but sometimes it doesn't hurt to make sure.)

Second, the passage in 1 Corinthians specifically allows for the prayer to be the one exception which interrupts a married couple's sex life. But I am reasonably certain that the people who give the advice about sex for ministry would not say that a couple's sex life should be interrupted; indeed, what would logically follow from their argument is that if things are getting rocky in ministry, then more sex is in order. But surely, at least from time to time, prayer might be considered to be beneficial to one's ministry. If the argument is to run consistently, then the advice must also include times where prayer supersedes sex in the relationship. Otherwise it is hard to see how this advice has any relationship with Scripture. But that would seem to cut right against the overweighting of sex that is implied in this advice.

Third, it isn't hard to think of individuals who have not had sex either ever in their entire lives or have ceased to have sex, and who have had what would normally be considered successful ministries. Paul the Apostle springs to mind. He doesn't even see fit to include deprivation of this kind in his list of sufferings in 2 Corinthians (though he does include the anxiety he bears for the churches he knew). Indeed, he argues that singleness (an aspect of which is an absence of sex) benefits ministry in 1 Corinthians 7. We can observe that through church history those without opportunity for sex can have successful ministries, under God. So, Calvin's ministry didn't seriously decline after his wife died. The long list of missionaries in the 19th century who never married, yet faithfully proclaimed the gospel, and saw the impact on many lives. And so on. Sex just isn't necessary for a good ministry.

I don't object to sex. I object to advice about sex that sends women whirling away in despair, trying to figure out how to jump through yet another hoop in order to live the godly Christian life they genuinely want to live. And advice that seems to send them away from their husbands in an area such as sex seems even less palatable.

The Reformers blazed loud and angrily against rules about sex within marriage. Their statement that 'nothing is immoral within marriage' was designed to fend off the interference of the priests who, in the Roman Catholic system, had a huge list of rules about what was right and wrong about marital sex. This would come out in the confessional, where the husband or wife would have to answer quite specific questions about when they had engaged in sex, how they had had sex, for what purpose, and what they had been thinking about at the time. Ultimately there was a third person in every marriage, which helped no-one and was, as the Reformers rightly pointed out, contrary to Scripture.

No, this advice is not going that far down this line, but it is precariously close to drawing up prescriptives which determine when and how sex is part of a marriage and that begins to sound as though it is in the same kind of category in which sat the situation to which the Reformers objected. Sex is something for husbands and wives to talk about together. The wife shouldn't have to feel obligated to fill a particular quota imposed upon her by an external source.

Sex within marriage is not for ministry. Sex within marriage is for the husband and wife of that marriage. Just as I do not listen to my husband for the benefit of his ministry but for his benefit, and as I do not teach our child how to pray for the benefit of my husband's ministry but for the child's benefit - though both activities may well benefit my husband's ministry - so I do not have sex for my husband's ministry, but for and with my husband. I expect it will benefit his ministry because it is a good gift from God and if all is well it should help rather than hinder. But that's true of a very, very large number of things.

Marriage is made for men and women, not for ministry. Ministry is what men and women do, and they do it out of the relational capital in their lives, to which their marriage relationships contribute. It is disappointing to find such a theory, which reflects the concerns of our 21st century sex-addicted society rather than the richer, more substantial relationship concerns of Scripture. Thankfully, Scripture does not have such a mercenary, mechanical and withered view of sex and nor for that matter, of women.