"It’s like all of Christian theology is stuffed into that one little world: Grace"
Duane Olivier, speaking on 2 Corinthians 8
"[T]he only thing that makes the Church endurable is that it is somehow the body of Christ and that on this we are fed. It seems to be a fact that you have to suffer as much from the Church as for it but if you believe in the divinity of Christ, you have to cherish the world at the same time that you struggle to endure it."
Flannery O’Connor
"Look at this stone; it has been lying in the water for a very long time, but the water has not penetrated it. Look; perfectly dry. The same thing has happened with men in Europe. For centuries, they have been surrounded by Christianity, but Christ has not penetrated it; Christ does not live within them."
Cardinal Lamberto, in The Godfather, part III
"I ended my first book with the words ‘no answer.’ I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice? Only words, words; to be led out to battle against other words."
C.S. Lewis (as Orual), Till We Have Faces
Down There By The Train
Tom Waits

Tom Waits - Down There By The Train

"If you’ve done the same,
Meet me down there by the train.”

"It seems, then," said Tirian, smiling himself, "that the stable seen from within and the stable seen from without are two different places."
“Yes,” said the Lord Digory. “Its inside is bigger than its outside.”
“Yes,” said Queen Lucy. “In our world too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world."
C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

A Festivus for the rest of us

The Airing of Grievances
"The tradition of Festivus begins with the airing of grievances. I got a lot of problems with you people! And now you’re gonna hear about it!"
Look, humanity, this is how it is: in 2013, you goofed up. No, you more than goofed up - ‘goofed up’ implies some form of accident, but your actions were deliberate. This isn’t an isolated incident either; as far as I can see, this sort of thing has been going on since nigh the dawn of time.
In the last year, we have witnessed continued war, terrorist attacks, continued gross denials of basic human rights, continued apathy about the suffering of others, oppressive regimes, coups, and unbridled greed. That’s just a start too! There’s so much more that could be said, and I’ve only talked in vague categories too - the specifics are horrific! My own country has had a terrible year, in making their laws towards people seeking asylum (exercising a human right) even more inhumane, and in continued stubbornness in refusing to truly front up to and account for the past wrongs committed towards its first peoples.
That’s just looking at corporate bodies too - don’t get me started on the personal wrongs of individuals! Hate, greed, covetousness, pride, lust, anger, prejudice, apathy, absence of compassion, gossip, dishonesty, deceit, faithlessness, ignorance, rebellion against God; the list could go on and on.
I’m going to break from Festivus tradition here, and air some grievances about myself. I have been complicit in some of the wrongs committed by wider humanity, and I have been as guilty as any of those more personal wrongs.

Feats of Strength
"And now as Festivus rolls on, we come to the feats of strength. … Until you pin me, George, Festivus is not over!"
As I type this, my father - the head of my house - is sitting only a few metres away, but I don’t think that I will attempt to wrestle him and pin him to the ground; I’ve extended my unbroken stretch of not going to the gym to 22 years, and I think he’d still win out.
Instead, maybe I should focus on my ‘feats of strength’ over the last year. I finished my post-graduate study, and am now - after assignments, practicums, etc. - a fully qualified teacher. I’ve got a teaching position for next year too, and a very good one at that.
Before I wax lyrical too much, it’s time for a reality check. ‘Feats of strength’?! Please! What an absurd notion! At times during this year, it seemed that my ‘strength’ was completely sapped. I am confident that these so-called ‘feats’ (and others I haven’t mentioned) were not achieved by my own strength, but only by dependence on God. And even my dependence on God (if that can be called a ‘feat’) was feeble - this year was a year where I tried so hard to do things on my own, and inevitably crashed, multiple times.

Now, after Festivus, things seem pretty hopeless. The reality is that the world, and the collective humanity that inhabits it (and the individuals that it is comprised of), are completely messed up. We try to move forward into a greater and brighter future, and take as many steps backwards as forwards. We continue to be stuck in the cycle of depravity that flows from our rebellion against God.
Festivus supposedly came from a rejection of the overdone commercialism and religiosity of Christmas, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater (or ‘Baby’ in this case, perhaps - if you catch my drift). Those things can both be pretty terrible, but there’s something about Christmas that can redeem even that. It is only in Christ - whose incarnation as God in flesh we celebrate at Christmas - that we have hope as individuals, a collective humanity and the world for a future that’s different; a future of redeemed, changed people, united by God and united in a love for God that spills over into a love for other people.

"For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.” -Titus 3:3-8

'A piece of heaven'

I’ve just recently returned from a short-term mission trip to Thailand. It was  absolutely fantastic, and included many different experiences of either witnessing or doing cross-cultural ministry. One of its moments that has really been sticking in my mind recently, however, could hardly be categorised as a ‘cultural experience,’ and really could have happened anywhere.
After travelling down from Chiang Mai, we spent our last night before flying out at the OMF (the mission organisation we did our trip through) guest house in Bangkok. In the morning, we got chatting over breakfast with an older woman who’d been doing stints of mission work in Thailand for the last 40+ years - Margaret. As many chats with older Christians are, it was a great encouragement to spend time talking with Margaret, and hearing her story. When it was time for us to leave, Margaret prayed with and for us, and as she did, something she said particularly caught my attention; she thanked God for our time of sharing over breakfast, and described it as something along the lines of ‘a piece of heaven, sharing about Your work amongst us with friends from other countries.’
It’s not odd that her saying that would catch my attention; someone describing something along the lines of ‘a piece of heaven’ - or something like that - always does; and, it is usually met with an exaggerated roll of my eyes, a quiet (or not-so-quiet) sigh, or perhaps a whisper of ‘oh please! spare us!’ to the person next to me. This was not my reaction on this day; however, as I realised something: she was right.

Well, what is heaven like? Or, rather, what will heaven be like? (Or however else you wish to phrase that question). The first thing that is abundantly clear when I think about that question is that there is far more that I do not know than I do know. In light of this - and the fact that considering such a topic is undoubtedly ‘treading on holy ground’ - I do not wish to be wantonly speculative, which would be very easy to do. There are; however, things that we can know for sure about heaven (or substitute whatever name best fits in your mind that realm where people will live with God for perfect eternity), some of which have bearing on Margaret’s prayerful statement.
Firstly, heaven will centre on God (in fact, if there’s one thing that I’m certain about when it comes to heaven, it’s that it won’t be centred on me). God will be worshipped for who he is, and what he has done, by people who love him.
Secondly, those people - a great number - will come from every nation, tribe, tongue and peoples, united by God, and sharing together in the act of worshipping Him.
In light of these two truths about heaven, which I believe to be beyond question, it was certainly true that our time with Margaret did share some characteristics with heaven, and so does any time in which we meet with other Christians (perhaps even more so with Christians from a different culture to our own) - we had shared about God’s work together, and worshipped him together, as people from different cultures united by God. I do not think it is a stretch to say that similar fellowship amongst Christians foreshadows heaven with great beauty.

Before we get too liberal with our describing things in terms of ‘heaven,’ let me quickly push our focus forward a couple of words: ‘a piece of heaven.’ Had Margaret left out those vital words - ‘a piece of’ - then I am sure that my reaction would have been quite different. Even then, I think some further clarification is required. Sure, we can describe this experience as ‘a piece of heaven,’ but it is just a piece, and a very small piece at that; a minuscule piece, a blurry piece, a shadowy piece. 8 people is an inconceivably small fraction of the multitude that will be present worshipping the Lamb. Our fellowship was far from perfect; we hardly knew each other. Our fellowship lasted less than an hour; not an eternity. We all knew God, but not with a skerrick of the fullness or intimacy that we will. Our time was peaceful too, but we could hardly have described it of taking place in a context where there was no crying nor mourning nor pain.

Fellowship with other Christians represents a beautiful foreshadowing of the reality that we will one day share in, but it is just that; a foreshadowing. It’s an imperfect experience in an imperfect world - in fact, experiences of church sometimes represent something very different - and the imperfection of those things is not something we should ignore. Recognition of that imperfection is not to be ungrateful nor unspiritual, bur right, provided that the twin experiences of the joy and imperfection of our fellowship leads us to hope for and rejoice in that immeasurably greater reality that is to come.

Cool Like Jack
Mr. Kinetik & Tony Styxx

Mr. Kinetik & Tony Styxx - Cool Like Jack
from Chopped & Scrooged - a Christmas hip-hop mixtape curated by Sufjan Stevens

Lower Still
My Epic

A Christmas greeting (but not the way you’ve heard it sung before)

My Epic - Lower Still

Look, He’s covered in dirt,
And the blood of His mother has mixed with the earth,
And she’s just a child who’s throbbing in pain
From the terror of birth by the light of a cave. 

Now they’ve laid that small Baby
Where creatures come eat, like a meal for the swine
Who have no clue that He is still holding together the world that they see.
They don’t know just how low, but He has to go lower still.

Look, now He’s kneeling, He’s washing their feet!
Though they’re all filthy fisherman, traitors, and thieves.
Now He’s pouring his heart out and they’re falling asleep,
But He has to go lower still.

(and we all said in unison…)
There is greater love to show!
Hands to the plow!
Further down now!
Blood must flow!

All these steps are personal!
All His shame is ransom!
Oh do you see? Do you see just how low He has come?
Do you see it now?
No one takes from Him.
You can’t take what he freely gives away.

Beat in His face; tear the skin off His back.
Lower still. Lower still.
Strip off His clothes; make Him crawl through the streets.
Lower still. Lower still.
Hang Him like meat on a criminal’s tree.
Lower still! Lower still!
Bury His corpse in the earth like a seed, like a seed, like a seed.
Lower still!
Lower still, Lower still, Lower still, Lower still.

The earth explodes, she cannot hold Him.
And all therein is placed beneath Him. 
And death itself no longer reigns,
It cannot keep the ones He gave Himself to save.
And as the universe shatters, the darkness dissolves,
He alone will be honored, we will bathe in His splendor as
All heads bow lower still! All heads bow lower still!

(cf. a surprising Christmas passage: Philippians 2)