Friday, March 30, 2007

I promise you peak oil


This Show of Hands song expresses my view on Peak Oil rather well. I'm listening to it a lot at the moment.
(click on 'full post' to read)



I promise you warm nights
I promise you long days
I promise you summer twilight
I promise you soft waves

But first we must bear
The winter

I promise you blue skies
I promise you the rolling moors
I promise you barefoot sunrise
I promise you open doors

But first we must bear
The winter

The rain and the gales
And the frost and the hail
The hard biting nails
Of winter

I promise you light returning
I promise you hope reborn
I promise you gentle mornings
I promise you new dawn

But first we must bear
The winter

I promise you
things will change
maybe not today but one day
things will change
for the better
but it might be a long winter
maybe
but one day I promise you, I promise you
it can't last forever

ah but first
we must bear
the winter


UPDATE: just found this version on youtube; I think it's using the album version, but I only have it on their live album


US General Accounting Office report on Peak Oil

"The U.S. government is in need of a strategy to minimize potentially dire economic consequences after worldwide oil production peaks and begins to decline, the investigative arm of Congress said Thursday."

I have a feeling that Peak Oil has just shifted into the mainstream. Now that the phenomenon of peaking is accepted at the highest levels, attention will turn to when - and to all the other random factors which will accelerate the crisis. This is an interview with Matt Simmons, which is worth watching. Interesting figure that he quotes with regard to Cantarell (Mexico), where the decline is accelerating. What are the odds on a Chavez type figure emerging there? And how many different ways can the US find to say 'we're @&%$ed'?


TBTM20070330


Blogger seem to be changing their very generous provision on photos. Hmmmm.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

TBTE20070329


Last week we had the exceptional high tide which caused a number of the shrubs at the high water mark to be unusually inundated - meaning that much seaweed has been left behind on their branches. I think this is a good metaphor for psychological baggage, when we can't let something go that has no on-going place in our lives.

"Hey, you! You need to get that seaweed out of your branches!"

And one nice piccie of Ollie.


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The tears of a McClown.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

We don't know what we're doing

A man after my own heart (profanity warning!)



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Coco McClown is a very nice man and inept at management.
That is why he was chosen by the FA. He's one of their own.
And why are they called FA? Because that's what they know.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Calendar for sale

I've used LULU to produce an 18 month calendar, valid from July 2007, cost £10. I have no idea if anyone wants to buy one, but if you do, click here.

TBTM20070326


The word of life which was from the beginning
we proclaim to you.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

What I believe

Several disparate things have prompted this post, but the trigger was reading these two posts over at 'the parish' - which, if you don't already read it, you should. One of the most real blogs out there.

1. I believe that God is love.
Without exception, without reservation. God is light and in him is no darkness at all. The simplicity of God's nature is the simplicity of love; all else follows from that. And, for the avoidance of the inevitable romanticising about 'love', I should add that love is what Jesus displays, in all his angry blood and gore.

2. I believe that Jesus is the incarnate Word of God.
Jesus shows us who God is. God is Christ-like and in Him is no un-Christ-likeness at all. God speaks, and the world exists; that which God speaks is Jesus; the world is created through him and for him, in him all things hold together. We can only be ourselves when Christ is allowed to be within us.

3. I believe that Jesus rose from the dead.
Resurrection is the revelation of God's nature; without it there is no Christianity - it is the horizon of Christian belief and practice. Resurrection is the experience of forgiveness in the first disciples; it is God taking the hit on our behalf, and transforming it into grace; it is the activity and presence of the Spirit redeeming our perpetual mistakes. We are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song.

4. I believe that friendship is the fundamental Christian category.
'I have called you friends': not believers, not members. We are called out from our families into a new way of relating with one another. Friends do not judge or condemn; they break bread together. More fundamentally, friendship is formed - can only be formed - when there is a common commitment to that which is greater than the friendship itself; that is what preserves the reality. We are not slaves or servants - there is no hierarchy in the church - that is why judgement and condemnation are anathema, despite what St Paul says.

5. I believe in the church.
The church is the community of friends who share forgiveness; who live out that life, binding up each other's wounds, keeping each other moving on the way. It is Sam and Frodo sharing the Lammas bread on the way to Mordor. It is not identical with any human institution, but nor is it separable from such institutions (that would be docetism and individualism - the heresies rampant in Modern American Protestantism).

6. I believe that Christian faith is a form of life.
What we do expresses what we believe, what we say does not; or, put differently, we do things with words, and what Jesus is concerned with is what we do, not what we believe. I think this is emphasised beyond doubt by Scripture, both Old and New: not everyone who calls Him Lord enters the Kingdom, but only those who do the will of the Father. The grammar of our faith is necessary because of the way it shapes our lives; doctrine, and the soundness of doctrine, is fundamentally pastoral in character. We are indeed saved by right belief, but not in the sense of being able to say 'Abracadabra' to open the pearly gates. We are set free from self-hatred and distortion through discerning the truth about Christ. This is, of course, why Christianity is necessarily sacramental, and why the denial of sacramentality is a denial of the Incarnation.

7. I believe that the world has been saved.
That is, it already has been saved. We do not need to save the world. God is accomplishing His purposes and His Word will not return to Him fruitless. The gates of hell will not prevail against the church. And Jesus is with us until he comes - the importance of that statement being it's open-endedness. Nobody knows the hour. Our task is not achievement, but obedience. For he has shown you, O man, what is good...

I may add to or amend this over time.

TBTM20070324


And one from last night, that for some reason I really like:


Thursday, March 22, 2007

TBTM20070322


For once, I'm so late publishing TBTM that I can publish TBTE at the same time:

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Revealed

Another bit of silliness (courtesy of Costly Grace) about what sort of a book reader I am. Answer below the fold.
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Dedicated Reader

You are always trying to find the time to get back to your book. You are convinced that the world would be a much better place if only everyone read more.

Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm
Literate Good Citizen
Book Snob
Non-Reader
Fad Reader
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Create Your Own Quiz

The Ordinal (CW)

This is the text of the ordinal according to Common Worship. Fruitful for my consideration at this moment in time.
Bishop: Priests are called to be servants and shepherds among the people to whom they are sent. With their Bishop and fellow ministers, they are to proclaim the word of the Lord and to watch for the signs of God’s new creation. They are to be messengers, watchmen and stewards of the Lord; they are to teach and to admonish, to feed and provide for his family, to search for his children in the wilderness of this world’s temptations, and to guide them through its confusions, that they may be saved through Christ for ever. Formed by the word, they are to call their hearers to repentance and to declare in Christ's name the absolution and forgiveness of their sins.

With all God’s people, they are to tell the story of God’s love. They are to baptize new disciples in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and to walk with them in the way of Christ, nurturing them in the faith. They are to unfold the Scriptures, to preach the word in season and out of season, and to declare the mighty acts of God. They are to preside at the Lord's table and lead his people in worship, offering with them a spiritual sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. They are to bless the people in God’s name. They are to resist evil, support the weak, defend the poor, and intercede for all in need. They are to minister to the sick and prepare the dying for their death. Guided by the Spirit, they are to discern and foster the gifts of all God’s people, that the whole Church may be built up in unity and faith.

The bishop addresses the ordinands directly

We trust that long ago you began to weigh and ponder all this, and that you are fully determined, by the grace of God, to devote yourself wholly to his service, so that as you daily follow the rule and teaching of our Lord and grow into his likeness, God may sanctify the lives of all with whom you have to do.

And now, in order that we may know your mind and purpose, you must make the declarations we put to you.

Do you accept the Holy Scriptures as revealing all things necessary for eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ?
Ordinands: I do so accept them.

Will you be diligent in prayer, in reading Holy Scripture, and in all studies that will deepen your faith and fit you to bear witness to the truth of the gospel?
Ordinands: By the help of God, I will.

Will you lead Christ’s people in proclaiming his glorious gospel, so that the good news of salvation may be heard in every place?
Ordinands: By the help of God, I will.

Will you faithfully minister the doctrine and sacraments of Christ as the Church of England has received them, so that the people committed to your charge may be defended against error and flourish in the faith?
Ordinands: By the help of God, I will.

Will you, knowing yourself to be reconciled to God in Christ, strive to be an instrument of God’s peace in the Church and in the world?
Ordinands: By the help of God, I will.

Will you endeavour to fashion your own life and that of your household according to the way of Christ, that you may be a pattern and example to Christ’s people?
Ordinands: By the help of God, I will.

Will you work with your fellow servants in the gospel for the sake of the kingdom of God?
Ordinands: By the help of God, I will.

Will you accept and minister the discipline of this Church, and respect authority duly exercised within it?
Ordinands: By the help of God, I will.

Will you then, in the strength of the Holy Spirit, continually stir up the gift of God that is in you, to make Christ known among all whom you serve?
Ordinands: By the help of God, I will.

The congregation stands and the ordinands turn and face them.

Brothers and sisters, you have heard how great is the charge that these ordinands are ready to undertake, and you have heard their declarations. Is it now your will that they should be ordained?
All: It is.

Will you continually pray for them?
All: We will.

Will you uphold and encourage them in their ministry?
All: We will.

The ordinands turn back to face the bishop, who continues, addressing them

In the name of our Lord we bid you remember the greatness of the trust that is now to be committed to your charge. Remember always with thanksgiving that the treasure now to be entrusted to you is Christ’s own flock, bought by the shedding of his blood on the cross. It is to him that you will render account for your stewardship of his people.

You cannot bear the weight of this calling in your own strength, but only by the grace and power of God. Pray therefore that your heart may daily be enlarged and your understanding of the Scriptures enlightened.

Pray earnestly for the gift of the Holy Spirit.


Impressed, and gladdened...

...by what the TEC Bishops have resolved.

And here's a piccie from yesterday evening.



TBTM20070321



I'm afraid I can't do that Dave.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Laying George Herbert to rest



Below the fold is an article I have put together for the parish magazine. Regular readers won't find much new, but I wanted to share my musings with a wider audience. The picture above was taken tonight.

Laying George Herbert to rest

For the last two or three years, I have been having an ongoing conversation about the nature of my ministry in these parishes, both with wardens and PCCs, and through the use of study days in both East and West Mersea, exploring whether the expectations upon clergy are either reasonable or Christian (those who read my blog will have read even more of my thoughts on this issue). I thought it would be good to share my thinking more widely, through this article in the magazine, and to describe one of the fruits of the discipleship campaign that is closely linked in with this question.

People may sometimes hear me talking about the ‘George Herbert model’ of ministry. This is the form of ministry that the clergy are still trained in, that the Church of England has largely followed for four hundred years, and which governs the expectations of most people in England – whether churchgoers or not – about what the role of a priest is. It is derived from the ministry and writings of George Herbert, who was, after an academic training, installed as Rector of Bemerton, near Salisbury. It centres upon regular and routine pastoral visiting – the clergyman being available for conversation and simple ‘being with’ the members of the parish. It is a very attractive model of ministry. Unfortunately it is wholly untenable as a model for a contemporary incumbent, and I’d like to explain why.

George Herbert’s village had some 300 souls living within it. Not only was Herbert a full-time minister there, he was assisted by the ministry of several full-time curates. That is the context within which his model of ministry could work – it would be as if East Mersea had four full time clergy available to minister to the needs of the parishioners. Instead, in a benefice of some 10,000 population, and four different parishes with their own competing demands and expectations, there is one full time minister assisted (during the week), by one half-time minister, paid for by the generosity of the West Mersea congregation, and various lay and retired members of the ministry team. A model of ministry that was viable in George Herbert’s situation is simply not viable on Mersea in the 21st Century.

An instructive comparison can be drawn with the medical profession, which was also, originally, constructed around house to house visiting by the doctor. In response to the phenomenal growth in population, and demand upon their services, doctors adapted and developed the surgery system, whereby those who were unwell came to a central point in order to be ministered to, leading to gains in efficiency and collegiality amongst the medical profession. Broadly speaking, the number of doctors in the population has increased commensurately with the rise in population – in contrast, the number of Anglican clergy has more than halved through the 20th Century, and the decline has accelerated in recent decades. There are now more and more parishioners expecting support from less and less clergy.

This is an issue which is not unique to Mersea, and there has been a great deal of thinking within the Church of England about how to respond to this changed context. Bob Jackson, in his influential book ‘Hope for the Church’, describes different sized churches and the different forms of ministry required. This is his typology:

a) the family church (1 – 50 members); these are dominated by a handful of families and the pastor acts effectively as a local chaplain;
b) the pastoral church (50 – 150 members); here the minister is pastor to all the members of the church, and the relationship with the minister is key (for both growth and death); (these first two can more or less be managed on a George Herbert model of ministry, though not at the same time);
c) the multiple-benefice church, which can combine a number of the above, in which the minister supports various lay members to plug their own gaps; and
d) the programme church (150 – 400 members) where there is a team with specialisation, and the incumbent becomes more of a manager than a pastor, who “resources programmes, enables the ministry of others, gives dynamic vision & leads others in mission”.

The Mersea Benefice effectively includes all four: one programme-size church, one pastoral church and two family churches, all in one multiple-benefice. The simple consequence of this fact is that the model of ministry that the incumbent here has to adopt is very different to that of George Herbert! Herbert also operated within a context where Christianity was broadly accepted and understood; not a context where Christianity is widely seen as a discredited superstition, and where the work of mission is imperative.

Most importantly, there is a truth about Christian discipleship, which the George Herbert model has obscured, if not entirely eclipsed, and that is the fundamental calling to ministry made upon all the baptised, as a part of their own Christian faith. The pernicious side of the George Herbert model is that the priest carried out the ministry of the church on behalf of the congregation, giving rise to the assumption that unless the Christian who came to visit was wearing a dog collar then it wasn’t a ‘real’ action of the church community. This is an increasing problem today, and I do see it as one of the core tasks of the church community to challenge expectations and assumptions in this area. Accepting that the pastoral has priority – and yet that it is impossible for any one minister to carry it all out – I see an essential element as setting up a structure and environment within which the wider body can take forward this task. This has now begun in West Mersea, with the establishment of a pastoral group under the leadership of Rev. Mark and Terry Walker, our licensed Pastoral Assistant. There is a good Scriptural precedent for the situation that we face, and for the establishment of such a wider ministry, and that can be found in Acts 6.1-7, when the office of Deacon was insituted in order that the apostles might ‘give [their] attention to prayer and the ministry of the Word’. So in the first instance, when you become aware of someone in need of an initial pastoral visit, please contact either Terry or Mark.

Underlying this apostolic approach is the idea of a ‘spectrum of pastoral care’, rather like this: Prevention (eg teaching) -> Availability -> Casual contact -> Contact at church -> Home visits -> Counselling -> Crises. In parishes below a certain size the pastor can carry out all of these, and this was what made the George Herbert model workable. However, beyond a certain size, the priest has to specialise and choose which of those pastoral forms to carry out him or herself, and which need to be passed on to others.

Which brings me to the question of what my particular ministry is going to be concentrating on, here in Mersea. There are several factors feeding in to my reflections on this. To begin with my own context, I am completely deaf in my left ear (since birth), and this means that conversation, especially in noisy environments, is extremely draining for me, and I have to be judicious in how I use my capacity for listening. Paradoxically, it has meant that, particularly in one-on-one situations, I can listen well, and I have grounds for thinking that a significant part of my vocation is in ‘spiritual direction’. That might be compared to routine visiting in the same way that surgery is compared to the work of a general practitioner – some elements of spiritual health require a more specialised engagement, which I believe, deo gratia, is something I have a capacity for and calling to. This ministry, inevitably, operates beneath the horizon of visibility of what the congregation sees, but it is a significant element of what I do.

The second factor is a wider understanding of my own gifts, and which elements of the job will allow my own own vocation to flourish. I greatly enjoy the teaching side of the ministry, which is most visible in the Learning Church sequence, but also through regular preaching (which I would like to give much more of my time to) and through things like the confirmation classes and the house groups. In so far as it is possible to specialise within the ‘spectrum of pastoral care’, then, it is the elements in the middle which I seek to encourage other members of the Body to take on, so that I can focus on the two extremes of teaching and spiritual direction.

In addition to this, I also see availability as important. In the last few weeks, for example, I was telephoned by someone who has been given a diagnosis of terminal cancer, and – naturally – wanted to have a chat. Thankfully, I was able to minister to her, but that can only happen when there is sufficient ‘give’ in the timetable – and this raises the question of overall workload, including how many hours I work per week. It might be helpful to list my official duties (not in order of priority, and it may be incomplete):

1. Incumbency duties. Fundamentally this is about discerning God's will for four church communities; more mundanely these are the unavoidable administrative elements of my job. So: chairing four parish church councils; the associated committees (worship, teaching, communications, standing etc); regular meetings with wardens (eight of them!); all the paraphernalia associated with this.
2. Staff management. There is quite a team developing here, so as well as things like arranging the rota, this includes bilateral meetings on a regular basis with the various members of the team.
3. Worship. The leading and preparation of worship, especially at major feasts. This includes music, which varies in its demands on my time.
4. Pastoralia. I have lead pastoral responsibility for the parishioners; in practice much of this is now delegated to the pastoral group, so I have more of an oversight role. I do see a handful of parishioners for spiritual conversations, this is a variable load.
5. Occasional offices. Baptisms, weddings and funerals.
6. Teaching. Including sermons, bible groups, confirmation classes and the Learning Church sequence.
7. Intercession and private devotions. Praying for the parish and for particular individuals within it; making sure I have enough spiritual fuel in my own tank.
8. Chair of Churches Together in Mersea
9. Warden of Ordinands for 3 deaneries
10. Tutor for Eastern Region Ministry Training Course

Generally speaking I work between 55 and 60 hours a week on these tasks. However, I’ve recently come to the conclusion that this is unsustainable, and that it is unfair, on my family most especially, for me to maintain that workrate indefinitely. I am therefore planning on reducing the hours of work down towards 40 or so, principally through reducing what I do on Wednesdays (my day off being Thursday). It is, of course, more than questionable to think of the priestly vocation in terms of hours spent ‘working’, as the whole point of the vocation is that it allows me to become the person whom God is calling me to be – but that simply returns back to the question of specialisation, and what I am going to concentrate my time on. I am very fond of the writings of Eugene Peterson, who summarises the pastoral task under three headings: to pray and lead worship; to teach and to preach; and to exercise overall pastoral care for the congregation, especially in spiritual direction. Those remain the core elements of my vocation as I see them, and what I intend to focus my energies upon.

When a priest is ordained, they are charged to ‘take the good shepherd as the pattern of [their] calling’ – in other words to look to Jesus and take him as the exemplar of ministry to be followed. Jesus was an itinerant teacher, who concentrated most of his effort upon a small group of disciples, teaching them how to carry forward this different way of life that we now call the church. His pastoral side was episodic and unprogrammed; most of the time those in need came directly to him for healing. Above all, Jesus was robust in carving out time to be spent with the Father, for his re-creation, which resourced him in everything else that he did. It is remarkable how unlike Jesus’ ministry the George Herbert model actually is; and it is abundantly clear to me who I must follow.

TBTM20070319

Joseph is underrated.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

TBTE20070318

Right. Lots of piccies, with a little commentary. This one is straightforward:


This is the first time I have 'doctored' a picture (other than simply cut out an area) - it was too dark, so I've started to explore some of the 'lightening' features on Irfanview.

This is evidence of the high tide this lunchtime - the highest that I've seen it since being on Mersea.
This is my own footprint, from two days ago...

And these are some close ups, as I was experimenting with the zoom lens.




TBTM20070318


For shelter and shade was the oak tree grown...


Happy Mother's Day.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Martyn Joseph


My friend PB, who seems to be responsible for my musical education at the moment (MadPriest will be pleased) took me off to Naaaaarwich last night to see Martyn Joseph. Who was really rather good. Actually shook hands with the man at the end of it, who struck me as a real human being, strikingly humble given the context. So I like him even more than I did before. I told him to keep up with the protests and the prophetic (you can see understand why I like his songs so much).

How did we end up here?

TBTM20070317


Do what you gotta do
to see you through

Friday, March 16, 2007

Hot Fuzz



This was wonderful and very funny. I particularly liked a lot of the in-jokes and references to other films 'you've always been in this hotel...'

TBTM20070316


I can see clearly now the rain has gone

Prophecy, Peak Oil and the Path for the Faithful
Video of LUBH Summary talk



The video of my last talk summarising the previous 12 sessions, outlining a Christian response to Peak Oil and the other accumulating crises of our time.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

TBTE20070314



...we looked at each other and started to laugh

~~~

A rather positive APCM tonight; most especially when compared to last year, which has to count as one of my lowest moments in post. The Lord is with us.

A full time preoccupation

A bit more navel-gazing...

Been musing much on my spiritual director’s question, and discussing it with my wife in those brief moments of adult conversation that are presently possible. So let’s try and unpick this a little further.

The sense of conflict that I feel is that a significant chunk of my energy and attention goes towards the nexus of ‘Peak Oil’ questions – all that the Learning Church sequence has been discussing, all that might come under the heading of ‘prophetic ministry’. This inevitably means that I don’t give more time to other church or priestly activities, and so I am perennially afflicted by a guilty conscience. Yet the truth is that a) I do not doubt that those activities are core to my vocation, and that I am being led by God when I am involved in them; b) I do not believe that any person would be able to meet all the expectations generated in this post by the continuing ‘George Herbert model’ of ministry; c) I am setting up various systems to take forward that wider work of the church in positive and creative ways (that is, I do believe that my ministry here is bearing some sort of fruit). I remain, fundamentally, very happy here, with a sense of peace that I am where God wants me to be.

My wife described it to me as ‘you have a (more than) full time occupation, you also have a full time preoccupation – and all your other commitments, eg a family with three under-fives wanting your time!’ To go back into academia wouldn’t solve my problem – there would still be the full time expectations relating to academia, which my preoccupation – which, to emphasise, I do see as vocational – would prevent me from engaging with to the extent that exterior demands would wish.

It comes back to what priestly ministry is about. Is it still the George Herbert model, or is there room – drawing on what a stipend is intended for (to free the minister to pursue God’s intentions for them) – to shape this ministry in a Sam-shaped way? The parson is supposed to be the person within a community – who, through being enabled to be themselves, frees up others to be themselves in the light of God. I do see that as core to what we are supposed to do. So I do not serve by lopping off the bits of me that do not fit into the mould – that is not an advertisement for life in abundance. One of the things that I touched on with my director is that I have come to the point where, for the first time in my life, I am consciously choosing to disappoint the expectations that people have in me. That can only be a good thing, however strenuous the transition is.

And the conclusion from all this – as discussed with beloved – is rather a simple one: barring any deus ex machina interventions, we’ll be staying here for another decade or so. Which is a prospect which brings peace to the soul.

TBTM20070314

Oh, the google video uploader.

LUBH 4 - Idolatry and Science (transcript)

A repost from 14th March 2007, as I think it's of general interest (and linked to Blink)

Transcript of my fourth lecture, explaining what idolatry is, and how our society is damaged by the idolatry of science. About 8000 words.


Good morning and welcome back. I have been looking forward to doing this session, principally because the subject matter of this session is one of the first things I ever learnt when I started the academic study of theology, and I think it remains possibly the single most important insight which academic theology can give, and it’s not because academic theology has created something new it’s just that academic theology gave me a way of understanding something which is actually profoundly ancient and certainly deeply scriptural. But firstly a bit of a recap. Jeremiah as our guiding partner really because I see this great calamity coming down upon western society and the last two sessions were really just describing why I believe there is this calamity, this crisis coming upon us. Firstly, looking at oil and the energy crisis and secondly looking at the deeper roots why things like energy and pollution and so forth are becoming a problem in terms of the exponential growth of population.

So really those were setting the scene for why I think we can perceive a crisis or a calamity coming. What I want to do in the next three sessions is really explore some concepts which will give us the tools with which to understand what is going on from a theological, from a Christian point of view. And it begins by thinking of the first and the greatest commandment. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.” Matthew 22, I’m sure you all recognise it. Or the Shema “Hear O Israel the Lord our God the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart” and so on. It’s from Deuteronomy 6. Or the first of the commandments, “And God spoke all these words, I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Eygpt, out of the house of slavery, you shall have no other Gods before me, you shall not make for yourself an idol, a graven image”, and so on.

What does this mean? This first and greatest commandment. Not many people these days worship golden calves formed from their melted-down jewellery, which is the Old Testament’s classic image of what idolatry is. But does this mean there is no idol worship going on? Surely not. So what is idolatry in the present day sense? If it isn’t literally bowing down to small idols kept in your living room (and maybe that does go on, maybe they have a phosphorescent glow…) but idolatry is something subtler than it used to be and I really what I want to do is spell out how it’s formed. Now I want to begin by talking about someone named Phineas Gage. Anyone heard of Phineas Gage? Good. He was a railroad foreman in Vermont in the middle of the nineteenth century, breaking down rocks with explosives. So he used to drill and put what’s called a tamping iron through the rock which was grounded with gunpowder, and he had an accident. And this tamping iron went through his head, and passed throught the other side and landed about thirty metres away. OK? Now he survived, in fact he didn’t really lose consciousness. His skull is kept, I think it’s in Harvard’s Medical Museum. But there is all sorts of research being done on him, had this tragic accident and it led to a profound personality change. He had been as the railway foreman very competent and very sober-minded, and he became someone reckless, someone who had no powers of patience or persistence, someone who was foul-mouthed and abusive, someone who simply couldn’t track the path of their life as it had been previously set out.

He did spend some time as one of P T Barham’s “freaks”. He used to be exhibited holding the tamping iron that had passed through his head. Basically his life disintegrated. He lived for another fifteen years or so after the accident but he could never hold down a consistent job, and the distinct personality change. Well one thing to draw from that is the way in which brain damage changes the personality and in particular in what seemed to have gone wrong with him is that his judgement was impaired. He could no longer pursue a consistent course, but his reasoning ability was untouched. You could have a conversation with him. OK? Now I’m drawing from a book called “Decartes’ Error” by an American neuroscientist called Antonio Damasio who discusses him, and then he goes on to talk about a man he calls Elliot, who he calls a modern Phineas Gage. Now Elliot had a fall, had a brain tumour and the brain tumour was operated on and it was operated on successfully. Elliot was a man in his mid-thirties, reasonably successful businessman, and after the operation, everything seemed to be OK, and he went back to his place of work and he found he couldn’t actually sustain the job. When he would look, for example, at his client’s papers, he could read and so forth but he would just get distracted. He would just read something which would grasp his interest at that present moment and just pursue it. All sense of priorities had gone. And so after a week or two of this he was sacked from that job, tried a few other jobs, lost all those jobs, got divorced and basically his life began to disintegrate, until he was institutionalised, which is where Antonio Damasio came across him.

And the interesting thing which Damasio is drawing out is the way in which his brain damage was corresponding to the brain damage which Phineas Gage had suffered, hence he is the modern Phineas Gauge. In other words there is something about emotions and judgement which impaired their human lives but left their reasoning ability intact. They could still read, they could still converse, but something had been taken away. What Damasio develops is this sense that decision is making really a crucial aspect of our humanity, of what forming a human life is. And this rests upon an emotional response, it’s not a rational response, it’s not like something that is produced from logic and investigation, but it is an emotional reaction. And he draws the analogy with playing a game of chess. When you have got someone playing chess, you have got a vast number of potential moves, especially when you start going two, three, four moves in. But what a Grand Master for example, or what someone who is very good at chess will do, is actually exclude the vast majority of those options, because they can see, hang on, a few moves down if I do that I will lose my queen. And that is given a great value.

I won’t go into all the details, but what Damasio does in neuroscience is describe a way in which the emotional reaction governs the judgement. OK, and he uses this example of chess that the options presented are winnowed down, are guided, if you like, by the emotional basis of judgement, and that all judgement is ultimately this physical response, it’s a bodily, it’s a carnal process and ultimately it’s like what might be called the reaction of disgust, it’s “Yuk, that’s bad!” So it’s very much at heart a qualitative reaction. This is good, this is bad. And the reason informs this process but it rests, the bedrock of the judgement process is emotion.

So what he argues is that emotions, our emotional reactions are in themselves, cognitive. In other words, they form part of our mind, our mental understanding OK? This is the bedrock of it, and our emotions are ways in which we evaluate information. Compare for example, your wife is a teacher, or your husband, doesn’t matter, or your wife/husband is an adulterer. The reaction to those items of information is significantly different. And that just brings out if you like the way in which our emotional engagement with information is different. Does that make sense?

So you have different types of knowledge, different forms of knowledge, OK and some are more value laden than others, in other words, some are more important. OK? So in terms of deciding what is most important in life, our reasoning can’t give us answers on its own. We have to involve our whole bodies, our whole souls, heart and soul. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul.

Now two analogies, just to really bring out something here. First is imagine a map, imagine our understanding of the world, we formed a picture of the world and you can think of it like a map, this is our map of the world, and this is the map of the world of someone who really likes castles. OK? So imagine a normal map and now imagine that someone who really, really interested in castles is forming their map and I was trying very hard with Photo Shop to make this even better, but this is the best I could do. Some areas are blocked up because here is a really good castle. OK? And here’s a really good castle in Colchester. Here’s a really good castle. So that is if you like a clear or true map, and this is a map which has got some areas blown up in importance. So what I’m trying to get at here is that an understanding of the world with some bits that are emphasised beyond how they actually truly are. Does that make sense? OK. I’m sure you can think of examples, but this is just one example off the top of my head.

A second example, a spider’s web. Think of the spider’s web as the map of an area. This is a normal spider’s web, don’t know if any of you have read this series of experiments where they fed spiders certain substances and they saw what difference it made to the web they spun. OK. So you can start to guess which is which. But my point is here is a pretty good spider’s web, it’s pretty uniform, pretty regular and it covers pretty much all the area. So that’s if you like, that’s a true spider’s web. It’s a sensible, realistic, non-idolatrous spider’s web. And these ones all have various things wrong with them. So this one’s missing various parts, this one again is a bit erratic, and this one is just all over the place. Can you guess what the substances were? This one is LSD, which is in some ways more perfect but there are some things wrong, this one is Marijuana, Hash. Do you know what this one is? Caffeine. The thing that really makes your spider webs wrong is caffeine. Quite interesting.

Anyhow, to continue. You can think of our reasoning ability our logical processing ability as being a bit like a blanket spread over our emotional understandings. So if the emotional understandings change, OK then the reasons follow it. The shape of the reason will follow it. It’s not what our emotions are built upon, our logical reason. Our emotional life is the bedrock and our reason simply flows over the top. There is a wonderful book by Martha Nussbaum, an American philosopher, I think she’s at Chicago, called “Upheavals of Thought,” where she goes through great classical literature describing how this happens, but it’s about this thick. So I won’t try and summarise all of it, but this is something which is very much a current interest of contemporary philosophy and neuroscience. But it’s not a new insight.

This is Hume – “Reason is and ought only to be the slave of the passions and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.” So reason, the point I’m trying to make is that reason is a tool, our logic, our reason is a tool. And it rests upon our emotional makeup and our emotional makeup is very much concerned with values, with what is perceived as important. Some things are perceived as more important than others, that’s you know, we emotionally react differently. Hence that example, your wife is a teacher, your wife is an adulterer. Some things are more emotionally weighted.

So what is idolatry? Idolatry is making something more important than it really is. Simple as that. Make sense? Now this phrase making the penultimate, ultimate – mid twentieth century theologian called Paul Tillich, that was the academic insight which I grasped when I was an atheist, I am sure it was one of the major reasons why I moved away from atheism because once you realise what idolatry is, then of course you don’t want to make things more important than they really are and logically, once you have accepted that you can’t get away from the reality of God. That’s in a sense, that’s the whole theme of this talk this morning. We’ll come back to that. But that’s a phrase – making something which is penultimate, ultimate, making something which is important but not the most important, into the most important thing. It’s getting our priorities wrong. Simple as that, that’s what idolatry is. It’s getting our priorities wrong.

God is the single most important thing in life and if God is at the centre everything else falls into its proper place. You can think of that as a definition of God in so far as it’s possible to define God, that’s a useful definition. God is the most important thing, and as long as we keep God central, everything else will then fall into it’s proper place. This is not an insight restricted to Christianity, or even restricted to Judaism and Islam as well. The beginning of the Tao De Ching “The tao that can be spoken is not the eternal tao.” If it can be named or described it is not the ultimate. Anything which we can specify in words, anything that we can point to is not the ultimate. We cannot capture God. God always eludes us. Our brains can’t capture Him.

In the middle of one session before I think I said, “God is never the member of a class.” We can think of a class of objects, a class of things which are green, a class of things which are wonderful, a class of things which exist. God is never the member of a class. So in strict terms, God does not exist. Remember me saying this in one of my other sessions, simply because we have got a very good idea of what it means to exist? They are objects within the universe. God is not an object within the universe. God’s existence underlies everything else, but to say strictly philosophically speaking that God exists is to go beyond what we can actually say. Very important, God is always beyond us.

One of the spin-offs from this, this is my phrasing, only the holy can see truly, it’s only the saints who can see the world clearly. In so far as our hearts are set on God then we see the truth. If we are not, if we don’t have our hearts set on God and God alone, our vision of the world is more or less distorted. Now I had thought that was an original way of saying things, but of course it’s not. It’s just this, it’s not original to me at all: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” That’s what I’m describing. Make sense? With me so far?

Alright a hierarchy of values, of different ways of not worshipping God. Monolatry, in other words you worship one thing, and that one thing then becomes the most important thing in your world. And everything else has to shift around it. You might be an absolutely dedicated football fan and you have to go to every match that your team plays, and everything else in your life has to shuffle around it. OK. Once you have grasped what this is you can see it everywhere. It’s quite disturbing. Anyway the golden calf is a wonderful image for that. But of course for most people, it’s not as clear and you have polytheism, many gods. And it might be – Oh, my family has this much importance, my work has this much importance, my friendships have this much importance, my pleasures in life, you know, going for a drink in the pub, this has this much importance and there is nothing beyond them. And this is where I think most people actually live. You know, navigating between different competing interests, and they muddle along, but there is nothing which integrates them. There is nothing which puts them all in their proper place and actually allows them to flourish fully.

Of course, another option is simply chaos. Which is the position in fact that Phineas Gage and Elliot end up in. They are driven by the momentary impulse. It’s almost it becomes a biological thing. Oh, catch a scent, follow the scent. You know imagine a dog walking on the beach (an example close to my heart). The dog will just pursue, just run after whatever the impulse is. Again, there are many people who function like that. Everyone worships something. It’s impossible to be human and not have a sense of some things being more important that others, everyone builds their life around something. Now it could be that they build their life around various things, like polytheism, but everyone has a sense of what’s important. So everyone actually has a religion. And some religions are not as helpful, as holy as others. To quote Bob Dylan, “You’ve gotta serve somebody.”

Forms of idolatry. You can often see it in terms of an addiction, you know clear example is an heroin addict, that’s Renton from Trainspotting from any of you who have seen the film, he’s an heroin addict and you can just see him going through all sorts of very gruelling experiences. But think of the process of being addicted to something where the life, the wider richness of life gets drained out and all that the junkie can do is think about their next fix. And all they gear their life around is getting the money to get their next fix, their next high. That is a very good image of what idolatry is. OK?

But it doesn’t have to be a physical addiction, it can be mental addictions as well. And the thing about idols is that idols give what they promise. If an idol is worshipped, the idol will grant the worshippers’ requests. Heroin, to take that example, gives a tremendous high. It gives what it promises. But it takes away life in exchange. This is what an idol is. Mammon, the god of money or wealth, which is an idol which Jesus talks about which is still very prevalent in our society. If you worship mammon, if you structure your life around mammon, you will gain wealth. That is if you like, a spiritual, practical law, if you worship wealth, you will become wealthy, but you will lose your life in the process. Your life will be drained away.

Quote from Jeremiah, “Everyone is senseless and without knowledge, every goldsmith is shamed by his idols, his images are flawed they have no breath in them, they are worthless, the objects of mockery and when their judgement comes, they will perish. But he who is the portion of Jacob is not like these, for he is the maker of all things including Israel the tribe of his inheritance, the Lord Almighty is His name.” In other words, if you worship the living God you gain life. Life in all its fullness. This is what Jesus came to grant us. To reveal the living God and to give us that life, life in abundance, which is His intention for us. But if you worship any other God, you will get what those gods can provide, and they will take your life in exchange, they will destroy life. It is only the living God who grants life, that is why the first and greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength. Does this make sense? This is how it all does link in.

OK, let’s move on to the second part. The idolatry of science. There are two ways in which science can become a idol. One is to say that scientific truth is the only truth, and that’s called positivism, it really took its codified shape in the nineteenth century but it’s implicit in much that goes on for a hundred or two hundred years before then. OK. To say that scientific truth is the only truth. So only things which can be established by reason or by imperical proof and investigation, those are the, that’s the only valid knowledge. Anything else gets kicked out. Hume, who in other ways is quite sensible, says, “Look upon your bookshelf, see what comes from reason, so maths and logic, see what comes from emperical investigation, and that’s science, everything else on your bookshelf should be kicked off because it’s worthless.” That’s the attitude of positivism. So that’s one way in which science can be made into an idol.

And the other way is to say that scientific truth is the most important truth, to say that what we gain from these processes of scientific investigation, this is more important that anything else. OK? Now this is actually the idolatry of fundamentalism, and many of you will have been here when I did my session of fundamentalism, and it springs from the scientific revolution, because it interprets the Bible through a scientific lens. You know, you put the Bible through a meat grinder because what you want out the end is a sausage. You want particular forms of knowledge from the Bible and therefore you manipulate the Bible in order to extract scientific truth and that’s what fundamentalism is, that’s how it functions. OK. But as I say I did a whole session on that so maybe I’ll come back to that in the questions.

However, what I think is much more crucial to life, my favourite philosopher, “We feel that even when all possible scientific questions have been answered the problems of life remain completely untouched.” All that is most important in our lives is separate from scientific investigation. Go back to that contrast I drew, your wife is a teacher, your wife is an adulterer. What makes a difference between those two statements is not a matter of science, all the things that we are emotionally engaged with are not science as such. I’ll go on to explore this.

But this is a consistent theme in literature and there are lots and lots of examples, but just, almost at a time when the scientific revolution was taking off, the legend/mythology of Faust sells his soul to Mephistopheles, sells his soul to the devil, in order to gain some scientific knowledge, or the the legend of Frankenstein, you know, any film or story when you have got this white-coated mad scientist, “Aha, I’m going to discern the truth of the world”, and terrible consequences follow. And of course, the Matrix, which is one of the ones I’m using. But there are myriad examples where someone has given over all their life to science the pursuit of knowledge and terrible things follow. They are all describing consequences of an idolatry, where science is given more value, more importance than it deserves, and life becomes damaged or destroyed in consequence. I’m sure you’re all familiar with this, it’s such a trope, such a cliché almost. As I say the Matrix is quite a good one.

Now having had a real go at science, there is something quite important to bear in mind, that’s something which I call the holiness of science, didn’t have this in my notes, another good quote from my favourite author – “People nowadays think that scientists exist to instruct them, poets, musicians etc, to give them pleasure, the idea that these have something to teach them, that doesn’t occur to them.” In other words, scientific knowledge and awareness, compared to the knowledge and awareness that can come through understanding poetry or art or great fables and stories, one form of knowing is vastly more important than the other. And in fact narrative is the most important. I think narrative, our way of telling stories to each other, is actually the means by which our emotional bedrock is most formed. This is why the Old Testament says to the people of Israel you must tell your children this story about the Lord leading you out of Eygpt, why Passover, why is this night greater than any other night, and they tell the story. And this is why we have the Bible as it is, because the Bible is a story. It’s not because we can extract scientific facts from it, it is because this story governs our story. That is why the Bible is inspired. This is the story of God’s actions in the world, within which we fit. OK, so that is why the Bible is if you like, the supreme text.

Now, holiness of science. Because science does have something very important to it and I want to just spin this out because it is really quite crucial. It rests upon setting the emotional desires of the investigator to one side. That Greek word is apatheia. Think of the word apathy, which is what that word has now come down to us as. It means totally uncommitted. Not involved. But apatheia strictly speaking means an emotional distancing. OK. And this happens because the scientist is pursuing the truth about the world. And what they are after, they are trying to attend to what is in the world, not what they want the world to be like, so they are putting their desires to one side, they are getting distance from their desires in order to pursue the truth.

Now this is a spiritual discipline. It is actually one of the core spiritual disciplines about keeping our own emotions and desires in check. Now that is a Buddhist phrase. You know, if you like, the spiritual techniques of Buddhism, make this point much clearer most of the time, than Christian teachings. Because the Buddhists are concerned with the elimination of desire, they see desire as the root of all suffering. In Christian teaching it’s something slightly different, but the Buddhist’s aim is to become completely unattached to the world and when you gain this state of being unattached to the world, you see the world clearly. Can you see how there is this parallel going on? This insight is not something restricted to Christianity. Just by way of a side track, Christianity is about the formation of desire, it is not about the elimination of desire. I’ll come back to that at the end. And so science in order to be practised is a discipline, it is a training. You have to be trained in the attitudes of science. In order to become a scientist you have to be trained in how to investigate. I remember my ‘O’ Level Physics and Chemistry. The scientific method was spelt out, this is what you did in order to ensure that your own biases, your own emotional desires were put to one side. There was a particular method, a process in order to investigate things. Science is an analysis, it’s a discipline. But science goes a little bit wrong, this quotation those of you who saw the film “An Inconvenient Truth”, Al Gore’s one on global warming, he quotes this, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble, it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” That’s what science is trying to move away from, OK?

But, this is my red or blue pill moment. How many of you have seen “The Matrix”? A handful. So this will probably mean absolutely nothing to the rest of you. Anyhow, basic plot of “The Matrix” is that the heroes are kept within a machine world which is a world of illusion. They have essentially electrodes implanted in their brain which give them the illusion of living in a real world and our hero, Keanu Reeves, Neo, breaks out from this. But in order to break out from it, because he realises that something is wrong, he goes to see Morpheus who is the terrorist, who the authorities are trying to correct and suppress. And he has this conversation with Morpheus, and Morpheus says this, “Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain but you feel it. You have felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I’m talking about? Do you know what I’m talking about?”

We know that there is something profoundly wrong with our world, but we can’t put our finger on it. What’s wrong with our world is that it is profoundly idolatrous, it is not built upon the love of the living God. And our society, the things which our society values and esteems and rewards, these are all idols. None of them in themselves are intrinsically wrong, mammon, for example, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with material wealth. God promises the Israelites the Promised Land which is a land flowing with milk and honey – it’s a vision of material wealth. But what goes wrong it when that is elevated above God. When it is given too much importance. Now society gives everything too much importance, because it has forgotten God, it has turned it’s back on God. Therefore in so far as we live and share in society, we are sharing in a distorted life, and deep down we know that it’s wrong, and do you recognise what I’m describing? Does that make sense. And that’s all this episode of “The Matrix” is describing really.

Now, my phrase the apathistic stance. Remember where I began emotions are cognitive. In other words we learn things about the world through our emotional reactions, and our emotional reactions can teach us. But this process of apatheia, hence the apathistic stance, is a way of learning more about the world, of learning in particular more about the physical and natural world. Because the physical and natural world doesn’t really depend upon our emotional reaction to it. Our emotional reactions do not actually govern the truth. But as with all tools, we need to be taught how to use it. This process of emotionally disengaging from what we are trying to discover in order to discern more truth, you know, learning how to put our own desires to one side, this discipline is a tool, and we need to learn how to use the tool, how to if you like, put it into a broader framework, a broader vision. We are not here to worship the tool. That’s what the idolatry of science is. Positivism is profoundly idolatrous. When it says that scientific knowledge is the only knowledge, they are worshipping the tool. You know it’s a bit like they walk around with a hammer, “Oh, this hammer’s going to save me, this hammer’s going to save me.” That’s what’s going on. When you hear an example like that, it’s obviously ridiculous behaviour.

The use of a tool is power over a tool and the ancient language which talks about how to gain power over a tool is the language of virtue. Virtue simply means power. Virtue – I think it’s Latin rather than Greek. Virtues are what’s been missed, another quote from my favourite philosopher, “what makes a subject hard to understand, if it is something significant and important, it’s not that before you can understand it, you need to be specially trained in abstruse matters. But the contrast between understanding the subject and what most people want to see. Because of this the very things which are most obvious, may become the hardest of all to understand. What has to be overcome is a difficulty having to do with the will, rather than with the intellect.” We need to change our desires, our will. We need to will the love of God.

Now one of the major formative influences on me is this book, called “After Virtue” by Alistair MacIntyre, and he begins with a fable. And the fable goes like this – imagine that there is a great crisis and catastrope. [Funny that] And a hundred years down the line as a result of this catastrope, as a result of hostility to science, all the institutions which have kept science going in our civilisation for the last two or three hundred years, have been destroyed, there has been a jihad if you like against science. OK? But a hundred years down the line people have if you like, people have got over their fit of rage at the scientists and some monks start trying to gather together this understanding of the world which had existed before all the riots and rebellions, and so what happens is they get together fragments. And here is a fragment about “Phlogiston Theory”. (Phlogiston Theory is the precurser to the understanding of oxygen. It was all about how flames use up material, Phlogiston is a scientific theory that got rejected.) And they you have got say Newton’s theories about absolute space and time. You have got Einstein’s theories, but all you have are fragments, OK? And what he says is “Imagine these monks trying to fit these fragments together, but without any overarching sense of how they fit.” You know imagine that you have got a jigsaw puzzle, you’ve lost the box, you’ve only got a third of the pieces, and you are trying to form a picture. That’s what he’s describing.

Now MacIntyre’s argument in this book is that this is exactly what has happened to our understanding of virtues – courage, prudence, temperance, self control, OK? That these were the values governing western civilisation from before the time of the Greeks, all the way through to say about fifteen hundred, sixteen hundred, before science became so dominant. And his argument is that because we have started to worship science as a society, all the forms of knowledge and understanding which are embedded in virtue theory, in other words how virtues are important, has been lost. And we still have this language, this moral language, but because we have lost the overarching vision, we don’t know what to do with the language. And so slowly the language breaks down. We still talk about things being good and bad, we still think it’s good to be courageous, it’s bad to be wicked, but the vision if you like of human life which that language was designed to support and describe, has been lost. And so we are now living in a time after virtue.

A vision to describe this, another quotation from Wittgenstein, “I was walking about in Cambridge and passed a bookshop and in the window were portraits of Russell, Freud and Einstein. A little further on in a music shop I saw portraits of Beethoven, Schubert and Chopin, comparing these portraits, I felt intensely the terrible degeneration that had come over the human spirit in the course of only a hundred years.” And if he went to Cambridge today I am sure he would see books about Paris Hilton. Can you see how our society, our civilisation has in one aspect completely collapsed, the notion of the virtues have been driven out.

Now the most important virtue is phronesis, this is Aristotle, and phronesis is the virtue of judgement. Sometimes translated as prudence, sometimes thought of as practical wisdom. But it is the ability to choose, to choose the wise course of action. To choose what is right. Let’s go back to Phineas Gauge, what was damaged in his brain was his ability to judge. If you like, any capacity he had for phronesis was removed. Same with Elliot this chap who had the brain tumour, any sense of judgement had been removed. That was what was lacking.

Now compare scientia, science, this is the medieval division, the medieval division was scientia, science, understanding of the natural world, reading the book of nature, with sapientia, wisdom, reading the book of God. And prior to the scientific revolution, scientia was not seen as particularly important, sapientia was what gave life. And what’s happened in our society is that’s been flipped over, and if you want, if we have time, we can talk about how and why, because I think there’s a very revealing explanation of why it’s happened and in fact I think the Christian church has a lot to repent of, because it is the Christian church which drove this switch. But we come to that if necessary. But sapientia, wisdom which used to be the aim of contemplation and cultivating an understanding of the world, a fully human life, this has been lost. You could say that we are frenetically anti-phronetic. We have abandoned any notion that judgement is important, and that we can teach judgement, we can teach children for example how to choose between right and wrong, and systematically we have abandoned all the things which used to support the structures of our society.

But sapientia, let’s come back to the first and greatest commandment, the first thing, the most important thing is to love God, love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, with all your strength; that is the narrow way which leads to life. As I say, only the living God gives life and worshipping the living God allows all the different bits in our life to fit together, it’s like being given – this is your jigsaw, this is the picture of your jigsaw, this is God’s vision for your life and as we look to God’s vision for your life, these are how the bits fit together. If we keep God at the centre, then our lives gain meaning and integrity and purpose.

This is H G Wells, you might recognise the quotation, “Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.” You wouldn’t normally give a four year old child a set of matches to play with. You wouldn’t give him a gun, you wouldn’t give him a flame thrower. But our society is exactly in that state. We’ve got these tremendously destructive toys and we don’t know what to do with them, because we haven’t been taught, we’ve lost our capacity to choose, we have lost the virtue. We have lost the power of control over our toys, hence H G Wells, the choice.

Now this is a spiritual crisis first and foremost. Our culture has turned away from God in a very profound and often unacknowledged way. And the way forward out of all these problems is by returning to God. Now I’ve talked, I’ve quoted Daoism and Buddhism. The living, the major faith traditions all emphasise the process of discipline, of being trained in ways of knowing, ways of living, ways of understanding, and of course in the book of Acts, Christianity is first described as a way. Christianity is simply the way of Christ, and the job of the church is to teach people how to live in the way. In other words it is to instruct, it is to train people in the Christian virtues. You know what are sometimes called the Fruits of the Spirit – joy and peace and gentleness and self control and temperance and so forth. That’s the job of the church. It hasn’t been all that good at it recently.

Finally “The Matrix”. The story in “The Matrix” is that there is a war between humans and machines, and the humans who are losing the war let off all sorts of atomics in order to block out the sun, because the machines are driven by solar power, so they want lots and lots of clouds to shut down the solar power. But what the machines do instead is breed humans and they take the life energy in order to keep their machines running. That’s the basic premise of the plot. But I think that as an image, as a metaphor for what is going on, in our world today, it’s a very good one. That all our lives are devoted to things that aren’t actually from God and don’t actually give us life. So as an image, as a metaphor describing our world, I think it is tremendously accurate. People are batteries for the system, our lives are being used up in ways that don’t give life, western culture is profoundly idolatrous. God doesn’t allow idolatry to continue forever and the crisis which will break it down is coming.

And that took longer than expected. Questions, thoughts – did that make sense?

“I wonder if you could just describe what the precise significance of red pill or blue pill means?”

OK, Morpheus, once he has explained to Neo and this is Morpheus in the sunglasses. Morpheus explains to Neo that you are aware that there is something wrong, you know the image of the splinter in your mind is driving you mad, OK, and before Neo gets out of the system, Morpheus gives him a choice. Actually, I want to use this for a baptism class, because the ten minute sequence is a wonderful description of baptism, anyway, it begins with this choice. He says to Neo – “Look you have a choice, you can either choose the truth, which is the red pill and then I will teach you how deep the rabbit hole goes”, reference Alice in Wonderland, “you can either choose the truth which will be painful and difficult, and will take you out of this world, or you can take the blue pill, all the blue pill will do is remove the pain of the splinter. You will go back to your life and you can forget about all the things that you feel are wrong. You just go back into the system.” So this is the basic choice. We can either take the blue pill, think “Oh there’s nothing really wrong, just get on with our lives, keep on in the way that we have been doing, ignore what’s going on in the world”, and actually, there’s all sorts of attractions about that, it is much more pleasant, it is easy, you don’t have to struggle. Or you can take the red pill and all the red pill will do is reveal to you the truth. And the truth sets us free.

Of course the whole plot of “The Matrix” is that Neo takes the red pill and he is then taken out of the system and he is born again into a new community, you know there are profound Christian images throughout “The Matrix.” Throughout “The Matrix” trilogy in fact. That’s hence the red or blue pill, we have the choice between pursuing the truth which sets us free and leads to life or ignoring it all and just getting on with our lives – “It’s alright I don’t want to worry about that. It’s somebody else’s problem.” You know, that’s the choice. The broad way or the narrow way, exactly so.

“I sometimes end up by being vaguely depressed by the lectures, Sam, especially when you end up by saying things like the crisis is coming. What do you foresee the crisis is coming?”

Were you here last week?

“No.”

Last week I began saying I want your blood to run colder at the end of this talk because I am going to give you the really depressing stuff to set the scene for all the positive stuff which is to come, and really the thing which I want you to take from this is that if you set your hearts on God, God leads you to the Promised Land. But it takes you away from Eygpt, it takes you through the desert and you know, there was a generation in the desert so that people forgot about Eygpt, they do not still have their hearts turned to the fleshpots where the things were good.

I do foresee a calamity of some sort, the details, who knows, but our present system cannot continue. I think this is if you like, the underlying point I want to make. Our present way of life cannot continue, exponential growth within a finite environment cannot continue. But really what I am doing today is coming at it from a different angle, saying it shouldn’t continue, it’s a terrible, terrible thing. And this is probably the first aspect. Our way of life, the western way of life, like excess consumerism, all the things which are held up to be of value, destroy life. And actually the vision of Christian life, of full humanity, hence the overarching theme “Let us be Human”, is something extremely positive. That there is a way of life shown to us by Christ which allows us to be all that God wants us to be, but in order to get to that Promised Land, we need to see and perceive the truth about the present way of the world, in order to reject it, in order to say this is false, this is idolatrous, this destroys life and I choose life.

Coming back to the thing I’ve quoted before about Deuteronomy, which is where I am going to begin in the next session in a fortnight. “I have set before you this day a choice, choose life that you and your descendants may live.” That is what God says through Moses to the Israelites in the desert. And I think we have to hear those words today. Is that an answer?

“Yes.”

“I’m a little bit confused about the broad and the narrow path. Which is which?”

Right, the narrow path is choosing the truth, choosing God, rather than choosing pleasure and comfort and an easy life and ignoring the truth.

“You can take that either way.”

Really, go on.

“Well, either things are set out for you and you go down with blinkers on if you like, or you have got everything laid out before you to enjoy.”

Ah, I see what you mean. I think that the point about the narrow way is that it is more that it doesn’t involve blinkers. It is a bit like climbing up a mountain. If you keep your eye on the summit you will keep going higher but if you are in the valley and it is comfortable land you have grass to graze on, don’t worry about the top of the mountain. But the flood’s coming.

“Can I share two scriptures please?”

Sure.

“Romans 12 v 32, Do not conform any longer to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is, His good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Exactly!

“Philippians 4 v 12b, I am learning the secret of being content in any and every situation whether well-fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

Yes, that phrase from Romans especially, the renewing of our minds. That’s an essential part of what being a Christian is, our minds are renewed and therefore we can see the world as it is. You know, all things in the world were created through Christ, so if we set our hearts on Christ, we see the truth and the truth sets us free. You know, it is really quite, it does all make sense, it does all fit together. That might be a good point to end on actually, thank you for that.

Next week I will be looking at wrath – the Wrath of God. Thank you for coming.