Friday, July 23, 2010

Coracle Time

I’ve not blogged for the last couple of weeks because I’ve been busy getting things ready so I could go away on my annual retreat with a clear desk and conscience. I managed it and so I’ve been on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne off the coast of Northumberland for the last four days. This retreat has become part of my annual pattern and has been enormously helpful for the three times I’ve been on it.

This year we were invited at the beginning of the time to reflect on the story of St. Brendan, who would put to sea in a very small boat called a coracle, and then allow the Holy Spirit to take him wherever he wanted. We were encouraged to put our retreat time into God’s hands and follow where he led. Since I went with no sense of an agenda this was a helpful start.

One of the significant activities of this retreat is to walk across the sands to the island at low tide, following the route the ancient pilgrims would have taken. This route is marked by tall wooden poles, and punctuated by two towers topped with shelters, for those who get caught by the incoming tide. We were encouraged to reflect on what the marker posts are for us; the things in our lives by which we steer, the things that occur that provide a route and mark our movement. Spiritual disciplines and a rhythm of life might be examples of these. And then we thought about the shelters; the places we go to when life might overtake us, and we all need to identify people or places that might be this to us.

However, my reflection on the towers is that they also allow perspective. They are raised up above the route and enabled me to look back at how far I have come in the last year, where I wandered off the path, when the journey was going well. They helped me to get a wider sense of the lie of the land and see how far I’ve still got to go, both personally and in my work, and what the direction of the future journey might be.

The problem then is that I then have to climb down the ladder from the shelter and set off walking towards the next pole in the line, through some rather sticky mud! And I can’t see the rest of the poles from down at ground level, or the point where the pilgrim’s route reaches the island. Never mind though, I’ve seen that the poles go all the way to the end, and that there’s another shelter not too far ahead. And I’m surrounded by friends as I travel.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010


So I'm putting together a powerpoint to use during a worship time based on Genesis 1 (I'm actually using Rob Lacey's reading of his Street Bible which is really good) and I want to put together some pictures to illustrate human beings, made in God's image, and commanded to "make babies" so my first stop is Google images and I put in 'baby' and I get a page of white babies, apart from one pic of asian conjoined twins. Then it's not until page 4 when another baby that is not white appears, and it's premature baby, and the conjoined babies again???

I don't know how google's search engine works but I'd love to hear an explanation of why this might be?

Friday, July 02, 2010

What is truth?

As an adherent of a world religion (christianity) this is an important question. Is the bible true? Is it true that Jesus rose from the dead? What does Jesus mean when he says he is "The way, the truth and the life"?

The latter questions seem to hinge on how you answer the first; if the collection of words we call the bible is only a man made set of myths with no connection to any historical reality then the answers to the second two questions might be different. So if we say the bible is true, how is it true? Is it true like the news is true? Which news do you mean? The BBC or Fox, or the newsletter I got from a political party in May? And which bits of the bible are we wanting to call true? the historical narratives might be true, but what truth is there in a song of worship such as a Psalm?

If we want the historical narratives of Jesus' life to be true how are they true? Are they unbiased reports from dispassionate observers with perfect recall and photographic memories? or are they something else in which fact and interpretation are so closely intertwined you can't separate them.

I'm reading "New Testament Interpretation" by Ian Boxall, and "Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places" by Eugene Peterson. Boxall points out that even the people who first observed the man Jesus and made a memory of what they had seen were already interpreting it and seeing it differently from others who had seen the same thing. I was at a meeting a couple of evenings ago; someone said something about a situation and I heard her concern and irritation with that situation in what she said and the way she said it. The following morning, someone else who had been at the meeting commented in a way that suggested she'd heard something quite different. I'm fascinated by that because everyone is telling the truth, as they see it, but we've already got three versions, and probably another one each for all the other people at the meeting. Imagine how many versions there must have been of the feeding of the five thousand!

Then we take our experience and we use words to communicate it but the words we use are inadequate to describe everything that went on, they only stand for the reality of what they describe, they aren't the reality of it. Peterson discusses the doctrine of the Trinity, describing it as a map of the country of God, but not God himself. It's related to the country and enables us to explore it, but it isn't the thing itself.

Sometimes the words we use are blatantly lies. Jesus did this a lot, except we call them parables. There was no specific rich man who sold everything he had to buy the pearl of great price, so this isn't a true story. But there is so much truth in it because it cuts to the heart of what Jesus was teaching about the Kingdom of God. There is truth at the core of the Harry Potter universe: the truth that a life laid down willingly because of love can have the power to conquer even death, yet Harry Potter is "only" fiction.

So what is the truth? My answer is that I don't know which bits of the bible are true in a factual sense but there is great truth in there mainly because it points me to the one who called himself the Truth. So my answer to the question is to say it’s the wrong question; the right question is Who is the truth? But these are just my words....

Thursday, July 01, 2010

The Battle of the Somme

One of my hobbies is genealogy and in the process of explore my ancestors I discovered that my great grandfather,Joseph Thomson Jackson, died in the slaughter of the first day of the Somme. This battle was supposed to have been the decisive turning point of the war with two huge mines destrying the german lines and allowing the massive british forces to break the line. Unfortunately the mines didn't destroy the german lines so when the british advanced at walking pace they were mown down by machine-gun fire. My great grandfather was in the 4th Battalion Tyneside Scottish regiment. His battalion sustained one of the heaviest casualty rates of the war, and he was one of them.

I had never heard of him until I discovered his name in the course of my researches. He is my mother's father's father, and she never spoke of him. But yet I am strangely moved that this unknown ancestor lived and died as part of this epic struggle. I'm also moved that his wife Mary Rachel was left alone to raise a family in Newcastle, and that she may even have lived to hear the news that her son Lawrence was killed at El-Alamein in 1942.

My views on war are mixed - can we not solve our conflicts in a less wasteful way? Are the british forces in Iraq and Afghanistan really protecting our freedom? But today I take my metaphorical hat off to great grandfather Joseph and his comrades who walked to their deaths in a hail of bullets, and to those who actually serve in Iraq and Afghanistan.