Archive for the 'GOD' Category

Mission of GOD – 9

I suppose at some point Chris Wright has to get round to the new testament. Even if it only is in the last chapter –  GOD in the nations in the New Testament mission.

There is a bit of a change when it comes to the NT – it becomes something we might more recognisably call “missions” – in the sense that we’ve misunderstood it to be.

In the NT we see people going out to the countries and communities around them and living and declaring something – clearly inviting others to be a part of something.

This seems quite different to the often insular appearing nation of Israel – who were no doubt something watched by the nations if not actively pursuing them.

The first radical thing to note in the NT is in the first chapter in Matthew. In the rather odd (to us at least) genealogy we find the names of some rather suspicious characters – not only women but gentile women!

And we see Jesus spending time with gentiles – the pagans we’ve heard so much about. Now it may not be his primary focus but it’s definitely there.

Peter and Philip continue this in Acts with two key events – the Ethiopian eunuch and Cornelius. The mission of GOD appears to be moving outward more and more – as was promised from the very beginning.

Wright spends some time on the servant chapters of Is 40-55. He describes the servant as one who:

seems to oscillate between a corporate embodiment of Israel and its mission, on the one hand, and an individual figure who has a mission to Israel and beyond, on the other.

He identifies the first as something that refers to Jesus as the restorer of Israel and the second as the task now entrusted to the church.

Which is yet another reason transfarmer should read this book so I don’t have to muddle myself poorly answering her rather perceptive and insightful questions on the role of the church and the kingdom in the pub.

The redemption of Israel has begun but it is not yet complete. The kingdom of GOD is here, just not in its final fullness. The eschatological temple is being rebuilt in the new community of GOD’s people.

Wright also points out something I’d never quite grasped before. That it isn’t all about Israel (as important as Israel’s place is in theology) – that GOD is making a community of people that includes both Israel and the nations but not the nations dissolving into Israel. Remember that the covenant promises made to Abraham were before Israel was a twinking in GODs eye (well maybe not but you get what I mean).

GOD is seeking to restore humanity to pre-fall, pre-Babel – the nations gathered together but instead of making towers to their own greatness they live in knowledge and worship of YHWH.

This mission of GOD, his will to be known, to bring order to chaos as Zoomtard put it the other night is GOD’s mission. I forget that too easily. Reading this book has put a number of things right in my thinking.

Mission of GOD – 5

the common opinion that the Bible is a moral code book for Christians falls far short, of course, of the full reality of what the Bible is and does

The Bible is essentially the story of GOD, the earth, and humanity; it is the story of what has gone wrong, what GOD has done to put it right, and what the future holds under the sovereign plan of GOD.

Wright spends a large portion of this chapter addressing the first part of the quote – yes of course the Bible has ethical implications for us, just because it is not it’s sole purpose does not mean that the ethical demands are irrelevant.

There is a big focus on Gen 18:18-19, Wright’s own translation quoted here:

Abraham will indeed become a great and mighty nation, and all nations on earth will find blessing through him. For i have known (chosen) him for the purpose that he will teach his sons and his household after him so they will keep the way of YHWH by doing righteousness and justice, for the purpose that YHWH will bring about for Abraham what he has promised to him.

In this verse Wright finds election, ethics and mission tied together in theological sequence.

And in doing so I find one of the really useful things that this book has reinforced. That the process of GOD’s mission through us did not begin in the great commission at the end of Matthew but that it was always there, right from the beginning. GOD’s plan and mission never changed, it was fulfilled.

The chapter covers a lot more biblical ground in relation to the ethical mandate and commands GOD has given us – with particulat focus on their purpose. That is to declare the character of GOD, for the benefit of the nations.

Again, even through what we see as obscure ritualistic commands we see GOD laying out his purpose of using Israel as a light to the nations (ring any New Testament bells?) for the benefit of the nations. Again and again we see GOD’s mission as being universalistic – GOD’s mission has always been to include the pagan nations.

As usual all the OT background overflows into the writings of the NT with Paul and the apostles, sometimes quoting, often alluding and always referring to how the OT scriptures were understood in their context.

Wright summarises three points about the the ethical life of the people of GOD to close the chapter:

– a people who are a light to the world by their good lives
– a people who are learning obedience and teaching it to the nations
– a people who love one another in order to show who they belong to.

Violent past

I think Sunday afternoons are there for a reason. Sofas and books.

At only 100 pages Living violently in a gentle world is a good afternoon’s read.

Stanley Hauerwas is becoming a firm favourite of mine.

The book covers the work and theology  behind l’Arche communities, largely the work of Jean Vanier.

The basic thrust of their work has been to develop communities of people with and without intellectual disabilities to share a mutuality of care and need.

The attempt has been not to provide service to those with disabilities but to provide a community where both benefit.

All of this is founded on some of the most basic gospel principles – that the gospel breaks down divisions amongst our humanity, and significantly that the gospel inverts the who’s who of our society.

There is a story told in the introduction of a deaf woman who re-tells a dream where she meets the risen Jesus in heaven and the incredible powerful experience it was. But the most exciting comment she made was that she was really excited that Jesus signed exceptionally well.

I have always held the belief that I, in all my functioning physiology am normal. That people with disabilities such as deafness are abnormal. I believe that the gospel tells us that GOD plans to restore us, that he is making all things new and that the state that I know as abnormal will be no more.

But one read of the story that Jesus signed in the dream turned things on its head – who am I to think that I am normal? Who am I to think that when GOD makes someone who is deaf new – that he will make them like me?

Without doubt the new creation will end the negative implications that go along with the term disabled. Partly because I will finally realise my own disabilities.

But if the new creation only has the power to make someone like me then I’m going to be really disappointed.

Hauerwas and Vanier describe people with disabilities as holy because they represent GOD’s character, they represent Jesus. In these people they find the gentleness that comes with powerlessness that the church so desperately needs.

It is a well argued and perspective shifting book.

I’ll end with a prolonged quote from Hauerwas because it’s health care related and states more clearly than I could a lot of what I have been saying about medicine for a number of years.

After all, “progress” we assume means eliminating what threatens to kill us or at least slow us down. You can cure cancer without eliminating the patient. You cannot “cure” the mentally handicapped without eliminating the patient. L’Arche stands as a reminder that “progress” should not mean eliminating all that threatens us.

Modernity gets us caught up in some funny contradictions. For example, in the US we now spend between 15 and 17 percent of the gross national product on crisis-care medicine, which of course has little to do with the health of the population. If we’re interested in the health of the population, the most important things to focus on are windows, sewers and good nutrition. Crisis-care medicine is not going to keep us alive. It may keep someone alive for 6 months but it is not going to improve the health of the population.

This is controversial stuff no doubt. This is writing myself out of a job. I am crisis-care medicine. But my job has little to do with health, little to do with living life dare I say it.

I love my job. I am just sceptical of the role society (and the profession itself) has given it.

Mission of GOD – 1

This has been somewhat of a blogging hiatus. Blame global warming, blame spending my time to and from Maynooth, blame the economic downturn. Whichever way you look at it that trip to Texas was a while ago now.

I have not been inactive. I perhaps have not paused enough to reflect on any of it.

I have been reading this however:

A simply cracking book by a Belfast guy I saw speak about 3 weeks ago.

It is not exactly easy going – not so much big words and lots of Hebrew, more that it has big ideas that need chewed over.

It has reinforced with me how much my understanding of GOD, the church and my relation to it all has changed quite spectacularly (at least from my perspective) over the years.

I am up to chapter 8 (out of 15), so I figure i’ll give you an update on the salient points so far. If i feel particularly enthused I might start a Scott McKnight/Patrick Mitchell walk through each chapter.

To begin:

He uses the word missional a lot. Missional is one of those words that church people throw around. A word that I felt confused by till I realised I’d understood it for years and just never had the word. A bit like church as community having a bit of a revival even though it’s stuff my Dad’s generation had been doing in Muckley for years without the terminology.

To summarise his view on missional:

Israel had a missional role in the midst of the nations – implying that they had an identity and role connected to GOD’s ultimate intention (or mission) of blessing for the nations

In the new testament setting this meant churches with a mission mindset, willing to engage the culture in order that GOD might fulfil his mission through them.

He describes our mission as:

our committed participation as GOD’s people, at GOD’s invitation and command, in GOD’s own mission within the history of GOD’s world for the redemption of GOD’s creation

Wright’s goal is to help us read the Bible with a missional hermeneutic – or in more simple terms (casue i still have to look up words like hermeneutic and soteriology in Wikipedia every time I read them…) – to read the Bible from the perspective of GOD’s mission. And if we do this we will find great reward in understanding the grand, over arching narrative of the Bible.

He also spends some time trying to shift focus away from us in mission and towards GOD:

it is not so much the case that GOD has a mission for the church in the world but that GOD has a church for his mission in the world

He provides a useful framework for understanding what the Bible tells us of the mission of GOD

– the GOD of purpose in creation

– moves on to the conflict and problem generated by human rebellion against that purpose

– spends most of the narrative journey on the story of GOD’s redemptive purposes being worked out on the stage of human history.

– finishes beyond the horizon of it’s own history with the eschatological hope of new creation.

I also love his description of GOD as one who wills to be known to the ends of the earth.

As an old testament scholar Wright spends a lot of time there, examining the statements of mission, perhaps most clearly seen in the words spoken to Abraham in chapter 12 and how these words are continually drawn upon throughout the history, literature and poetry of the people of Israel. And when this is seen it makes much more sense of what Paul was trying to say.

He also describes well both the particularity of GOD’s relationship with Israel as his covenant people but also the overwhelming universality of GOD’s purpose towards humanity – expressed from the earliest to the latest pages of the Bible.

I hate to say that I’m not sure I have heard teaching like this often in the church. If it was spoken then I didn’t actually hear it. I heard a lot about my sin, about grace and faith and lifestyle, and even a lot about telling the story of the gospel. But without this view of what on earth GOD is actually at, it all seems quite narrow.

It has been a huge joy and awakening (over about 3 or 4 years) to realise that there is more to salvation than redemption from sin. Yes GOD does this, but it is almost the tip of the ice berg in terms of what he is doing.

Perfect love, gone wrong

[Some thoughts, only very briefly and incompletely considered.]

There’s this rather uncomfortable bit in Acts 5. Where up to now everyone has been all, “hope, renewal, restoration and the resurrection”. Then we have this slightly jarring bit where the now infamous Ananias and Saphhira hold back some money for themselves and lie about it and next thing you know they’re dead and buried. (Sorry if i paraphrase that too much.)

And it leaves many of us deeply uncomfortable. We’ve just been getting used to this nice, new fluffy god, who seems really quite unlike that wrathful, angry god in the OT (though of course both are just caricatures) – and then this happens.

We are mostly struck by how disproportionate it seems. Yes they fibbed about the money, but being struck dead is perhaps a bit over the top. We are still addicted to our own legalism and sense of justice it seems. Perhaps we’re just too scared for our own skins.

But when you think about it people were probably doing much worse throughout the church at the time and they weren’t dropping dead. So why these two?

Leaving aside, the interesting references to the OT (in the use of the greek nosphizein and perhaps reference to the holiness of the ark), we got into a bit of a discussion this morning on what happened and what the underlying  point (if there was one) was.

Though GOD does seem to punish certain sins in very specific, easily recognisable ways – this is more the exception than the rule. In general we trust (or at least are meant to) GOD for justice, in his time and his way.

We tread on very thin ice when we try to link certain individual happenings to certain individual sins – think of those who feel the holocaust is just punishment for the Jewish people for crucifying JESUS, or those who feel that HIV is a just punishment for homosexuals.

So if they didn’t die for this one particular sin, what what then did Ananias and Sapphira die for? What, almost unforgivable sin had they committed to bring about such a direct and obvious punishment.

And this leaves us with one of those quite basic fundamentals of faith, basic though not exactly simple. That in many ways people get exactly what they want. Like Renton says in trainspotting – choose life , or indeed choose not to choose life.

That at one level we get exactly what we want. Those who choose themselves get just that, they get themselves, shut up and locked inside themselves, like the hell depicted in the great divorce.

And is what happened in Acts 5 just that – the outworkings of choice in someone’s life? The final step and decision of a life that had chosen self over other, self over beauty, and self over all else?

What happens when the heart just stops

30-09-08

So it goes.

I sit in the by window of the bedroom, listening to him breathe. Noisy, rattly breaths. He wakes only occasionally now. To pee. To take a few sips. He knows us. He knows what’s happening. He even makes the odd sarcastic one-worder (not having the energy for a full one liner).

But his voice is slurred and weak and he hasn’t even the energy to get the blankets off him on his own. This is what the sickness does to you. Leaves people the shell of what they used to be. I’ve seen it happen before. Just not to him.

So it goes.

Not like we didn’t know it was coming. Either from 4 months ago or even last year. We’ve thought about this. We’ve talked about this. We’ve planned for this. I don’t mean it makes it easier. I don’t know what it means. I’m not sure I have to.

Slowly (insidious as medics would say) he’s gone down hill. As the cancer grows and robs more of his energy and leaves him with more and more nausea and kinks and twists in his gut. As tiny blood clots lodge in the blood vessels in his lungs. As his poor starved liver stops making protein and all the fluid collects wherever gravity will draw it to. Week by week he could do a bit less.

There was of course the odd notable exception. Like the day they went to Newcastle and he ate a steak sandwich. Or the day the palliative care consultant came to see him and he was outside cleaning the drains. As mum said to the consultant: “this is gonna look bad…” I told dad they’d take his Graseby off him.

We’re grateful for what we had. He was glad to be here and we were glad to have him. I think that’s changed now.

I am remarkably calm. Though that’s not the right word. I’m not freaking out for some reason – I know I have done previously. The whole thing is a decidedly odd (and equisitely painful) experience.

4-10-08

And now he’s gone.

In the same way I’ve watched them all go before. We looked after him at home. We did everything. No nurse cared more than we did (and the nurses were great), rarely have I been so proud of my family, doing what they’ve had no training or experience to do before. I do this for a living in many ways, it is completely foreign to them.

I could watch all the signs that go with the event of dying. All the medicalised aspects of it. Knowing that there wasn’t enough blood and oxygen to his brain to deliver any kind of conscious awareness of what was going on. He was already gone. I knew this, but still… it’s my Da. He looked like all the other poor dying souls I’ve watched, but still… this was my Da.

Watching someone die is a strange and profound enough experience to start with, never mind watching it happen to someone you love dearly. I think this is part of why it has such a profound experience on people, and perhaps why it didn’t have such a big effect on me. His act of dying (the three or so hours form when he wouldn’t wake up until he was gone) wasn’t anything special. It was, as we’ve described it to people: “peaceful”. The bit that gets you is the sheer finality of it all. That the eyes won’t open again. That there’ll not be the sarcastic comments and the steely determination.

Amazing how quick something can go from being someone you have an intimate relationship to an odd looking body that bears little resemblance to the man you once knew.

I don’t understand emotion – I’m a man, none of us do apparently… But I mean on a physiological basis – the constriction at the back of your throat, such that you can’t even swallow, the pain, the sheer physical pain in your chest, the headaches, the inability to complete sentences, the way your face curls up like (to quote dear Ronnie…) “a bulldog chewing a wasp”. Why does loss affect us poor creatures so?

I wouldn’t want to have kept him here. At least not the last week or two, they’ve not been pretty. In some ways there’s this selfish desire just to keep them here, even if it’s only for a smile and a word. But you think about it and then you realise you wouldn’t want to keep them, not like this anyhow.

And then we were sitting there. With all that was left of Da. And what do you do. Where do you start? Simon phoned the doctor and all the important people, I sorted out Dad and all the medical stuff. Mum baked a pie. What else would you do? I was hungry. I don’t know why, but I was hungry. It was the best pie I’ve ever eaten.

The undertaker asked us would the house be “open” or “private” – Though according to Ruth ,when it says “private” in the paper it actually means anyone can come to the house, but if it says “strictly private” then it’s private. That seems perverse. But it is Norn Iron I suppose.

People started to turn up at the house. And then more people, and more people. And here’s the difficult bit…

I am glad that so many people turned up to wish us well and grieve and tell stories. I am truly grateful for the hundreds of cups of tea and buns and sandwhiches. But there were frequent points when I was very close to standing up in the middle of the room swearing loudly “would you *&^%$£$% all go home and just leave us in peace…”

I didn’t.

Instead I went out to the garage to stroke the dog. The dog is therapeutic. Safer and cheaper than drugs and booze. The dog helps us cope. The dog has been walked and stroked within an inch of its life in the past few weeks. The dog is the single most happy and contented thing/creature I have ever met. Like colin the robot in the Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy after Ford has rewired its pleasure circuits (for those who’ve read Hitchhiker’s then you’re with me, if not please read it…) Dog’s are good listeners. We could learn a thing or two…

I am sorry for thinking about such thoughts about such dear people who would come only to “pay respects” and encourage. In one of those odd ways I am both glad that you were there while at the same time I wished you weren’t. I think i’m allowed such confusion.

We bury them quick in Ireland. Two days later. I like to think it’s on the third day and all that… I don’t know why we bury them two days later. Makes the whole thing a bit more intense, but I think it’s a good idea none the less. Though how should I know, it’s not like I do this a lot…

We had a short service in the house before the trip to the church. 25 of us – pretty much the whole family, well those of us old enough to know what was going on – packed into the living room. An unbreakable and terrible tension in the room. Me and Simon waited outside for the minister to come. Both of us in our suits, white shirts and ties, greeting mourners as they arrived. I remember thinking we looked like bouncers. Like a skinny, more weedy version of Max and Paddy.

And then we followed the hearse.

To the church, along the road that Dad walked every sunday afternoon when he was a kid, turning just before we passed the house he grew up in, up roads where he walked every sunday morning with the aging BB old boys.

To the church he’d gone to since he was a baby, that both his and mum’s parents had gone to for all the generations we can trace. [And all of a sudden I realise why roots are so important. Da always said, as if stuck on repeat, “who you are, where you are from, to whom you belong…”]

Carried under the flags of the BB he’d been a founding member of, where he’d served for 40 years. Carried down the same aisle that he’d watched mum walk down on their wedding day so many years before. [Funny how funerals are so like, and unlike, weddings…]

To lie in his coffin at the front of the church filled with the 500 or so people who came to say that they knew and loved him.

To listen to the hymns that neither, me, Simy or Liz could even begin to sing without choking up on tears. We just stood as if the sheer volume and meaning from the crowd behind us could hold us up. [“From life’s first cry to final breath..” is always a killer – i have watched lots of “life’s first cry” waiting to resuscitate babies as they come out. I have watched my own Fathers “final breath” – this is a lyric with depth and meaning…]

To listen and watch as Dad’s best friend gave a eulogy where we all got reminded who he was – someone who loved well and was first class when it came to taking the piss out of people. People got insulted – Da would’ve been happy, he wouldn’t have had it any other way…

And then carried. By those who knew and loved him best, by those who were his family, as we walked behind, careful to look only at the coffin and not side to side, knowing that if we made eye contact we’d come to pieces. Odd that – on the one day designed for mourning, you spend the whole day trying to keep it together for the sake of those around you.

Then taken. Out into the pissing rain (good day for a funeral…) And me and Simy take the coffin, down the path to where we’ve buried the rest of his family. And I just repeat over and over in my head “thank you for the life you gave me, thank you for the happiness, thank you for the discipline, thank you for what you made me, thank you for everything… I’m gonna miss you.”

This and the horrible practicality that if I have to walk much further on a slippy path in these shoes then I’m gonna drop the coffin.

I remember my Granda’s funeral, the same grave, 15 years before. When, as they lowered the coffin they struggled to fit the coffin into the hole and I remember it being remarked that it was just “Billy (Da’s Dad) – stubborn to the last…”

Dust to dust, just like every funeral.

[Liz is for being cremated- she says she’s scared of enclosed spaces and scared of being buried alive. I’m being cremated to save space. Or possibly cut up into tiny pieces by inept medical students with my stolen fingers being used in tasteless pranks… I fugure if GOD raises the dead, then the spread of my individual molecules, atoms, protons, electrons and Higgs Bosons throughout the diaspora shouldn’t pose too much of a challenge…]

As we walk away, the BB old boys gather round the grave to do what they always do, to do what I’ve done before, and “bury their own”.

In the hall, there is tea. Cups of tea like you’ve never seen before. Trolleys of buns and huge vats of tea, all arranged and moving with military precision. There is nothing quite like dear church folk doing catering at a funeral.

We took up a position in the corner and waited for the onslaught. Two hours of handshakes, embraces and tears we were still there as the queue slowly diminshed. Most of it was a bit of a blur. People I had never met, hugged me, good country men shook my hand till the bones cracked. Almost everyone called me Simon. I developed a layer of foundation on my shoulder from all the embraces. It was, in the strangest way, enjoyable. Listening to people tell me stories about Da, from long before I was born.

You see, this is what I didn’t get. I considere myself an authority on my own Da. I had reason to think so. But I forgot that Dad had this whole other life before I turned up. He had 20 years before he even met Liz. This life where he met and loved people and did all kinds of stuff that I knew nothing about. People knew Da in all kinds of ways that I didn’t even think were possible. I am humbled.

For most of the time I was OK. I smiled and laughed and joked and practised our “funeral soundbytes” – it is impossible to say something original every time someone asks you a question about it so you come up with a few choice truths which somehow lose their depth of meaning with repitition.

But every now and again someone would appear in the queue who I hadn’t quite expected or someone who didn’t even know Da and had come solely for my benefit – and then I’d begin to wobble a bit. It goes down as one of the strangest experiences yet.

Your wedding day is cool cause you know and love everyone there, your funeral is the same, except you don’t get to be there. Da would’ve enjoyed it. Just shame he wasn’t there.

We only seem to get this many together if someone gets born, married or dies. Odd that. Odd, the traditions we have.

That night we all got letters from him. We knew we were getting letters. And that wasn’t the easiest. To read his handwriting, with all the nice things and him taking the piss (“Andrew, you knew you were always meant to be a girl…” Cheers Da) and at the end he’s signed it and I can’t go downstairs and say thanks. That’s the tricky bit…

Cheers Da.

Ronnie Neill

Born 29-3-48

Died 2-10-08

Things to make and do

This, I think, is the gist of it when it comes to our role in the new creation, what it means for us to be in, and help build the kingdom of GOD:

“Every act of love , gratitude and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of GOD and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings, and for that matter one’s fellow non-human creatures; and of course every prayer, all SPIRIT-led teaching , every deed which spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of JESUS honoured in all the world – all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of GOD, into the new creation which GOD will one day make. That is the logic of the mission of GOD.”

NT Wright
Surprised by Hope


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