Context

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There is a YouTube channel that I’ve been watching for some time now. It is a family man, Alex, in Alberta, Canada, a family man, who owns an antiques store. For Americans, he’s very Canadian (an inside joke, I suspect) but he’s a good guy and constantly busy doing ‘picks’ (looking for items for the antiques store) and or rebuilding old cars as well as typical husband/dad stuff. I enjoy his videos and I love antiques so it’s a good match.

I noticed a title to one of his videos, something along the lines of changing a person’s life for $20. I know my Bible pretty well after all these years and as many times as I’ve read it so I shied away from watching this video. (Matthew 6:4 4so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.)

Today I was watching one his videos and it turned out to be the background story of the video I didn’t watch. Then it was all clear to me. This is how he meets Adam $3500 from a dumpster?! Amazing garbage find! the things people throw away… – YouTube.

After success, Alex searches for Adam Paying it forward, changing a homeless man’s life forever for just $20. – YouTube. This is the video I didn’t want to watch because of the title. I watched it today.

This video is the follow up to the first two From $20 in trash to a new life. One year later… Homeless no more! Part 4 – YouTube.

I am humbled by Alex’s good heart and ashamed at my own rigidity or self-righteousness. I judged a book by its cover or, more accurately, a video by it’s title, made assumptions that were wrong, and learned that if I really knew my Bible, or really knew Jesus, I would have been – should have been – intrigued by the title and the promise of how one might change another person’s life. A little knowledge is, indeed, a dangerous thing and I am living proof.

Not everyone or everything is as they appear – there’s always a lot more to each story and I would do well to remember that, going forward. Perhaps this is also a reminder to all who may read this. That is my hope at least.

Oh! Now that you know Alex and Curiosity Incorporated, you may want to watch two series he has about buying a hoarded house – contents and house – called The Potter’s House and then one in which he bought the contents alone, called The Musician’s House. And as a special kick to your heart, watch the episodes in which he does a Go Fund Me for his sometime worker, Hans.

Faith Examined

Faith is often discussed in propositional, epistemological terms in philosophy of religion. The University debate, which dealt with logical positivism, enquired into the nature of religious belief. Wittgenstein, discussing religious language, asked what kind of propositions religious propositions were. John Hick considered whether faith was not so much assent to propositions (the medieval fideist framework), but a faculty of interpretation, by which we make sense of experience, being influenced by Kantian transcendentalism. He also rejected logical positivism by arguing that religious propositions were capable of eschatological verification.

In this post-Enlightenment age where atheism is socially acceptable (at least in certain countries), we are more likely to encounter opposition to religious faith generally and Christianity in particular. Faced with challenges to our faith, we can search for answers, push on blindly, become agnostic, or actively deny faith. The last two are generally considered a form of apostasy as far as outward appearance is concerned, but we also know that Christ searches for the lost sheep and that with Him all things are possible: He can find what was lost.

The arguments against our faith (or doubts that we experience) can be grouped into a two basic categories:

  • Attacks on the a posteriori evidence for Christian claims (e.g. asking where is the evidence of the Israelites’ 40-year sojourn in the wilderness); and
  • Attacks on the analytic coherence of Christianty (i.e. suggesting that there are contradictions in our theology).

Our temperament, experience, and intellect shape our response to these challenges. People who embrace a form of virtue epistemology (whether they realise they are doing so or not), probably tend to be more troubled than certain others when they are faced with a question they cannot answer. This is because virtue epistemology (as the name implies) sits at the conjunction of ethics and epistemology. It teaches that we know things when we have used our intellectual virtues to acquire the subject of the knowledge. In other words, inter alia, it means that we should believe the right thing for the right reason having applied ourselves to the task. When framed in these terms, this appears to be a high standard (arguably too high), and tends to remind one of the “scupulosity” experienced by Martin Luther and characteristic of certain forms of Protestantism.

Frequently it feels as if we are attacked on all sides. When seeking an answer, sometimes we are faced with silence; sometimes we are so distracted or perturbed that we have difficulty discerning the voice of God.

Within the Church, life is made harder by abuses: false prophets, scandals, and certain kinds of fundamentalism that will neither listen to reasoned argument nor offer comfort to those struggling with the intellectual aspect of faith. Sometimes being provided with a wrong answer is worse than not being provided with an answer at all.

The bible tells us to look always to Jesus, and says that He will perfect the work that He has begun in us. In the here and now spinning as we are from the fundamental changes to our way of living brought about by the disease, we find ourselves asking these uncomfortable questions more often than we would under normal conditions. The truth is, as St Peter once voiced, there is nowhere else to go. There is either Christ or there is nothing. No third option is left to us.

When I am weak

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When I am weak: Pastor Gervase Charmley of Bethel, Hanley

False teachers don’t like weakness; they prefer to talk about their amazing experiences, and won’t allow for the reality that we all experience suffering. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul speaks of his true experience, his true suffering, and his true apostleship.

https://www.sermonaudio.com/solo/gncharmley/sermons/12421115974013/?fbclid=IwAR0o9fYKbrncQvV4plHKYuKUX7UYTsTpFWAAQ3B9EqFxMjhvgHX7aoS26dM

Saturday Jess

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First, apologies for the long silence. As some of you already know, I have been rather unwell these last weeks, culminating in what was a really bad week-end and an even worse first few days of this one. The good news is that I appear to have shaken it off and am back (well I hope it’s good news that I am back!).

No, it wasn’t Covid, so far, thank goodness, we have escaped it, but the number of people we know who have had it this time round has now reached double figures; back in lockdown 1 we knew of people who knew people who had it. We are told this variant is more infectious – which matches our experience. Is it more deadly? Again, it is starting to look that way. The vaccine is a way off for those of us in our thirties, though those, like me, with underlying health issues, may not wait quite so long.

Our church here, like so many in the diocese, remain closed, not by decree, but through common sense. The infection rate here remains high, and so Zoom church it is. We are getting used to it again, though of course, for those of us who believe the the Lord is truly present in the consecrated elements, there remains the huge sadness of the deprivation of that sacrament. It feels as though Lent started just after Christmas and will continue into Easter, if not longer. We are still, here, digesting the new instructions about how to do Ash Wednesday and Easter preparation, though confirmations look as though they will have to wait. It’s the little details which wear one down; or is that just me?

One thing which is certainly true is that for some, like my other half, who usually commute to London or to other urban centres, the locality which usually operates like a dormitory, is becoming more important. When the first lockdown ended, the first place we went out to dinner was a local pub which we’d always “meant to try”, but never quite managed to. Local shops, when open, have also received more of our patronage, and one of my hopes is that when this ordeal ends, we will find that the local community will be re-energised, not least by those former commuters who will stay doing more of their work from home. My other half is clear that working from here will become a new norm. From the personal point of view, that’s an utter delight.

I was reading something yesterday saying that on-line dating and the divorce rate are both going up during this prolonged period of crisis; the reasons are not far to seek.

I am well aware, despite my own delight at having my other half here, that for some the experience has been less fruitful. For those who, like us, had constructed an existence where the days would be spent at work with us regrouping in the evening, interspersed with socials and the like, the experience of being always in the same spaces, and with no social life or anything to leaven the experience, the enforced intimacy has posed an examination. Those annoying little habits can become something more than irritating, not least when the prolonged stress takes its toll on everyone’s nerves. I am glad we have become even closer, and I pray for those differently situated.

For those who are single and dating, the on-line world has become vital, though quite how they cope with the advice about social distancing, I can’t quite imagine.

Someone on the radio commented that we were “all in this together”. I am not sure that, beyond the banal truth that Covid could hot any of us, that is true. Those who lack outdoor spaces, or live in cramped conditions, those who are home-schooling children while juggling the demands of work, work which may in some cases now be in danger, are having a much worse time than those of us facing none of those challenges. Our work here with the foodbank is even more critical. The demands on us are rising.

I would like to think that when this comes to an end, that we will reflect on what we have learned. If the Church can help us change direction, that would be good. The world has been sold the belief that economic growth and prosperity are the same as a good life. They may be means to that end, but they are not that end, and the cost of the former is already clear. Our Christian faith tells us that the Good Life is not to be found apart from Christ. As we approach Lent, which comes remarkably soon, the experiences through which we have passed and are passing, remind us that, as St Paul almost put it, somethings that are lawful may not be desirable.

God bless!

Cult and Hope

Archbishop Cranmer produced a recent post likening the extreme devotion to President Trump found in some circles to a religious cult. For the avoidance of doubt, while I did not agree with the President on all points, I greatly admire him and consider that he was the best thing politically to happen to America since the advent of the Tea Party (not that I agreed with its entire platform or the simplifications its members were sometimes apt to make). For my American friends, I would also like to recommend this post on next steps. Back to Cranmer: as I read the article, I was struck by the deep need for belonging and community that causes some people to join cults and sects rather than more “mainstream” organisations.

As Christians, most of us are struck from time to time by the level of community we see in the Gospels, relative to our own lives. By this, I mean that most of us live ordinary lives with ordinary social relationships. These can, of course, be very profound, and my intention is not to suggest they are of lesser value (far from it). But when it comes to religion, most of us do not spend all our time with other members of church in the way that the Disciples did with each other and Christ when they travelled with Him in Judea, Samaria and Galilee.

In addition, most of our relationships are not entwined with the kind of Messianic expectation and fervour that characterises eschatological cults. Hope and despair are powerful forces, and entertaining them can cause significant changes in one’s behaviour. Furthermore, we also have damaged and unpleasant relationships in this life, ranging from low-level friction to much more serious conflict.

So we can understand, even if not ultimately condone, why people join cults and sects. We can see the appeal: unity, clarity, devotion, belonging, community, hope, vision, and support. Of course, there are also special communities that we would call legitimate, such as monastic communities. These communities remind us, perhaps in a fashion their architects did not envision, of the Age to Come. They are apocalyptic symbols of the changes that will one day come to our relationships when Christ returns, just as they are of the community that exists invisibly in heaven among the Church Triumphant, which eagerly awaits the resurection and makes intercession for the Church Militant below.

We find ourselves longing for the transformation of our relationships and wider society. There is so much evil and destruction in the world. Sin comes from within, like a miasmic wind blowing from the cavernous depths of the human heart. In fighting against sin and hoping for the Age to Come, we are apt to become cynical and hardened: grieved and angered at every disappointment, from the big ones in the political arena to the everyday struggles of church, home, and workplace.

I think it is also very easy to feel alone, especially in this period of lockdowns and “social distancing” (which always struck me as an oxymoronic phrase). We are blessed to have the twin communities of AATW and NEO, where conservatives like us can share our thoughts and feelings. We are also blessed with other forms of communication among friends for matters that are more personal. It is important that we keep these relationships going, because we need every kind of strength that the good Lord provides. We are a community and we need to keep saying that.

The days ahead are going to be very difficult and we are not necessarily promised an answer in this life. The living hope of Christ within us is ultimately founded on the resurrection of Christ and His saints, and the Age to Come.

The Seventh Trumpet will one day sound: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Messiah, and He will reign forever and ever.” Gloria Deo Omnipotenti: Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto – nunc et sempiternam, in saecula saeculorum. Amen.

Post script

I have recently been reading about the post-tribulational framework and may one day write about it when I have ordered my thoughts. For now, just bear that in mind if re-reading my previous eschatological posts, which are written from a pre-wrath perspective. The two view-points are actually fairly close (i.e. they overlap on a lot of points).

Purity in Danger

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Purity in Danger: a sermon by Pastor Gervase Charmley, Bethel, Hanley

Spiritual seduction is a real danger! Paul brought the Corinthians to Christ, but now false teachers, so-called “super-apostles,” are trying to lead them astray. Paul points out the danger of seduction, the deception of false teachers, and the devotion that God’s ministers have.

2 Corinthians 11

https://www.sermonaudio.com/solo/gncharmley/sermons/117211213464015/?fbclid=IwAR2DdEuJ_pzbl_if55PcGYvQxWOlrMX69uFlO3yia7duvxOYBarpGl2kd8Y

Human

We cannot fathom the incarnation, what it meant for God to become man. One of the earliest heresies to emerge was docetism: the claim that Jesus did not possess a truly human body, but rather a celestial or illusory body and therefore that he did not truly suffer on the cross, but only appeared to. The Gospels and wider New Testament counter this heresy by repeatedly affirming the reality of the incarnation. Not only do we read about the feelings, experiences, and suffering of Jesus, we also see Him as an individual, not some generic human. He has particular friends and turns of phrase, particular moments of intensity, and a particular concern for His mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Sometimes, I think we forget the human nature of Jesus. In seeing Him in glory or as the familiar figure from Sunday school and illustrate bibles, we can lose that dimension of Him that is His individuality as a human being. This has an impact on our relationship with Him. When we see any member of the Trinity or God generally in generic terms, we can become detached and distant. God becomes merely a concept and we lapse into the well-meaning, bland “spiritually” espoused by so many people of goodwill whose ethics are so often good, but whose connection with God is less than what He desires.

The bible speaks of friendship with God and Christ referred to His disciples as His friends. Thinking back on my own spiritual condition (this is not the forum to go into detail, however) and the remote methods we currently use for holding church services and bible studies, I am struck by how easy it is for church and our individual lives to lapse into a kind of two-dimensional form.

So often I take a broad view of things, necessitated by studying and understanding various aspects of Scripture. But we are supposed to have a personal relationship with Christ and the foundation of that is getting to know who He is in all aspects of His character and life. Prayer is one part of that, but so is looking with fresh eyes at the accounts of His life found in the Gospels.

Looking at them again, I see a man who wept when Lazarus died, who felt compassion for people who had been ostracised, and who used harsh language against religious hypocrites and spiritual tyrants. This Jesus is not some generic human but someone who was hungry at a particular time in history after fasting for forty days; and who grew up in Egypt and Nazareth. He was fond of John, His friend, and entrusted him with the care of His mother, Mary.

This is a real person and it behoves me, at least, to think about that more often.

Restoring God

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Restoring God: A sermon by Pastor Gervase Charmley, Bethel, Hanley

Jeremiah 30

Jeremiah is often seen as a prophet of doom, but that is unfair to him. He was when all is said and done a prophet of hope, though also a realist. He preached consolation, and grace triumphing over judgement.

https://www.sermonaudio.com/solo/gncharmley/sermons/11021204302771/?fbclid=IwAR3c4rcg4u9c7kO0s0pfE_z3kSRqVG6GbsSdB0nHza6bhZ6lfVavWpxs4YE

Pilgrims and Praise

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A sermon by Pastor Gervase Charmley, Bethel, Hanley

Wise men from the east came to Jerusalem seeking the new-born king. They were pilgrims, seeking to worship. King Herod, old and paranoid, wanted to kill the Messiah. The Wise men found the Lord Jesus and brought praise to him – and so shall we.

Jan. 10, 2021 Epiphany 2021Matthew 2

https://www.sermonaudio.com/solo/gncharmley/sermons/1102112734959/?fbclid=IwAR2L1RBhsTGkJLsTlmg4V63LHeaQ_nYNz0ckX9AMoFmRdzGs7GMjnU0aIRkhttps://www.sermonaudi

Sunday Poem: The Journey of the Magi

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“A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.”
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.


Things have been too busy to blog this week, but the one plus has been that I have been able to keep this, my favourite poem, from where it would normally have gone, on the feast of the Epiphany, until now.

It’s an odd poem to love because on the surface it is bleak. The epiphany appears to be that death would be welcome because it would bring an end to the torment and unease the unnamed Magus has felt since his encounter with the Nativity. It upturns the usual context in which we see the Magi – which is most commonly as part of our celebrations of the Nativity, in Christmas Nativity Plays and on cards. Eliot cuts to the heart of the matter.

We are told next to nothing about the “Three Kings/ Wise Men / Magi” and so Eliot has a clean canvass on which to paint. He evokes marvellously the “old dispensation” from which the Magi came – the summer palace, the “silken girls bringing sherbet”. The journey requires them to exchange these things for sets of unpleasant and trying experiences, to the point it all seems “folly.”

So far so good, that, you might say, was what is to be expected on a spiritual journey, even if you don’t know it. It’s familiar territory to us from Cavafy and Thomas – it is the journey that matters. But Eliot here takes his text from a sermon given by Bishop Lancelot Andrewes on Christmas Day 1622:

A cold coming they had of it at this time of the year, just the worst time of the year to take a journey, and specially a long journey. The ways deep, the weather sharp, the days short, the sun farthest off, in solstitio brumali, ‘the very dead of winter.’

But where for Andrewes:

And these difficulties they overcame, of a wearisome, irksome, troublesome, dangerous,
unseasonable journey; and for all this they came. And came it cheerfully and quickly, as appeareth
by the speed they made.

Eliot is more, I want to say so I will say, realistic.

There is a fleeting, almost poignant note of release at the beginning of the second stanza, but the initial optimism is replaced by signs which puzzle the Magus, but not us. The “three trees” evoke for us an image of Golgotha. Then there are the vine leaves and the empty wine-skin, the men gambling with piece of silver. There is even the spectre of the white horse of the apocalypse. These things, hidden from the Magi, foreshadow what is to come.

But you might say, weariness, sore feet, bad hostels, grumpy guides, all these are common to any pilgrimage, suck them up pilgrim and concentrate on what is at the end. And here, for the Magi, it is the new-born Christ child. And yet, and yet, there is no revelation, no overwhelming feeling of “knowing”; indeed what is known, or at least intuited evokes the opposite of good cheer.

“it was (you may say) satisfactory”

Is that it? Was it all for that? But there is more. Back home the Magi cannot feel “at home”. The world they knew feels somehow wrong, alien, full of idols and false gods. The birth felt like a death, and the Magus intuits that what has died in the world he knew – but whilst it dies, the new one is not clear to him. He knows inwardly that a new life comes only with death.

In his sermon, Bishop Andrewes said:

And we, what should we have done? Sure these men of the East will rise in judgment against the men of the West, that is with us, and their faith against ours in this point. . . . Our fashion is to see and see again before we stir a foot, specially if it be to the worship of Christ. Come such a journey at such a time? No; but fairly have put it off to the spring of the year, till the days longer, and the ways fairer, and the weather warmer, till better travelling to Christ. Our Epiphany would sure have fallen in Easter week at the soonest.

Yes. We crave comfort. We know the spiritual journey will not contain it, so we put it off, or we tell ourselves it will be okay, and all things will be well in the end, and that if it is not all well then it is not yet the end. But Eliot offers us naught for our comfort. In this broken world there are costs in spiritual rebirth, and if we expect to be at home here afterwards, we shan’t be. The way is hard and only our faith keeps us on it.