Info-Techno Sabbath


There's a good article on Boundless about "unplugging the God of Information Technology". As someone who compulsively checks their email and Facebook throughout the day, Joe Carter's observations on the all-pervading place we give technology in our lives struck home with me.

Recently, God has really been hitting home to me the importance of rest. He seems to have been repeatedly bringing the topic to my attention, such as in Dan Edelen's blog post on "Demolishing the Culture of Busyness", and through some of the team talks on beach mission. Mark Hodgkinson spoke on the last morning of the mission about this, and how important it is to take time to "Be still and know that I am God", as God says in the Psalms.

When I came back from beach mission, I was in fact planning on starting resting from technology on Sundays back then. But something that seemed oh-so-important at the time came up on a Sunday, and I "needed" that time on the Internet, and I forgot about it.

But this last Wednesday, I was really challenged by the Bible study in my church home group to "remember my first love" for Christ. That time of first love in a relationship is always exhilarating, fuelled by emotions and hope and excitement. There are times in the Christian life where our relationship with Jesus feels like that.

But it's easy to get caught up in activities, both those that are worthwhile and those that do nothing more than distract, and lose that sense of excitement. Within our secular culture which is so focussed on the material, it's easy to be distracted from the fact that Jesus is the one who "walks among the lampstands", who is actively present among his Church. As Jim Elliot prayed, "Lord, deliver me from the dread asbestos of other things".

One of the biggest distractions for me is modern technology. Working on something, be it writing my novel or spending time wrestling with God in prayer or in his word, is often tough. One of the effects of our Fall is that work is cursed and often frustrating. Our relationship with God is damaged, and although believers are united to him in Christ, we still often feel that distance. So how easy it is to just turn on the television, log on to the Internet or start playing video games. Even those things that do have a real practical use, such as email, become a way for me to avoid doing hard things.

So what I plan to do is to build in some time each week where I just turn these things off, where I liberate myself from the ubiquity of technology. Specifically, I'm not going to use the Internet or play any computer games on a Sunday. Someone once described Sabbath as "building a Cathedral in time". I'm sure I'll find it an effort and a pain to begin with, but the reason I'm doing it is that I think it could become a real blessing, and help me draw nearer to God.

Anyway, I'll see how it goes, and I'll try and report back in a few weeks time!

Not so fresh!


Freshers' Week is in full swing at Cardiff University, so it feels very strange to no longer be a student, especially since I haven't got a job yet and so still have that pre-beginning of term feeling. Since I've got a lot of free time in between sending off job applications, I helped out with the Christian Union welcome events for International students last week, which was tiring but fun, and have been along to a couple of the CU's Freshers events, and along to the Freshers' Fair in the Students' Union yesterday.

Every Freshers' Week up until now, there have been some people present who had been around throughout my whole time at university, since I was a young and innocent first year. But at the CU Pub Quiz on Monday, I realised that I was the oldest person there, and that everyone else there were people I'd seen arrive. It was an odd moment, one small but significant watershed realisation. I'm no longer a student, and now I'm moving on from student life, albeit slowly at the moment! That brings with it very mixed feelings of both loss and excitement about the future.

But I'm still around, and can still enjoy the company of students, and be involved in studentdom to some extent. One of the things I want to do now is find ways in which I can contribute to the life of my church, Mack, and I think that encouraging and supporting the students is probably one good way that I'll be able to do that. This afternoon, some of the Mack students are getting together to discuss what the church does for the students and what the students can do for the church, so I'm hoping that will produce some really good ideas.

Homo narrativus and Pratchett


The latest edition of Discworld Monthly popped into my email inbox recently. One of the letters included various quotes from Terry Pratchett on stories and narrative, which are very interesting:

  • "Narrativium is powerful stuff. We have always had a drive to paint stories on to the universe. When humans first looked at the stars, which are great flaming suns an unimaginable distance away, they saw in amongst them giant bulls, dragons, and local heroes"
  • "Humans think in stories. Classically at least science itself has been the discovery of 'stories'"
  • "Science takes on the aura of magic because the design of a civilization proceeds by a type of narrative imperative it makes a coherent story"
  • "Storytelling is the opposite of reductionism; 26 letters and some rules of grammar are no story at all"
  • "Concepts like gods, truth and soul appear to exist only in so far as humans consider them to do so... But they work some magic for us. They add narrativium to our culture. They bring pain, hope, despair, and comfort. They wind up our elastic. Good or bad, they've made us into people"
  • "Humans add narrativium to their world. They insist in interpreting the universe as if it's telling a story. This leads them to focus on facts that fit the story, while ignoring those that don't"
I agree that telling stories to make sense of the world around us is a defining feature of what it means to be human. If there's one thing that really sets us apart from the animals, that makes us in the image of God, it's our capability for language and all that flows from that - storytelling, abstractions like truth and the soul and so on, which allow for art and science and culture and relationships. We are homo narrativus, storytelling man.

But unlike Pratchett, I don't believe that we just paint meaning onto a meaningless universe. We are made in the image of the logos, the Author of Life. The Christian God is a storytelling God. The gift of language is a gift from God that connects us to the realm of ideas. Goodness, Beauty and Truth are not just necessary inventions, but realities that are somehow spiritual and transcendent, as well as immanent in the world around us.

One of philosophy's perennial questions is that of the relationship between the upper and lower stories, between nature and grace. Francis Schaeffer summarises each of them as follows:
Grace, the higher: God the Creator; heaven and heavenly things; the unseen and its influence on the earth; unity, or universals or absolutes which give existence and morals meaning.
Nature, the lower: the created; earth and earthly things; the visible and what happens normally in the cause-and-effect universe; what man does on the earth; diversity, or individual things, the particulars, or the individual acts of man.
For Pratchett, only the lower is real, while the higher is just invented and projected on the universe by human beings. If you start at the bottom, with the particulars and with man as the measure of all things, as both modernity and postmodernity do, then you do indeed end up with a meaningless universe, where we are just part of a cosmic machine. Again, Schaeffer puts it well: "We can think of it as the individual things, the particulars, gradually and increasingly becoming everything and this devouring all meaning until meaning disappears".

But the conviction of Christianity is that meaning has meaning, and we don't have to start with the lower. For us within the realm of nature, of the particulars, to have answers about the realm of grace, of the universals, we need something or someone from the realm of grace to communicate truth to us. Biblical Christianity is based on the conviction that God reveals himself in Jesus Christ, recorded in Scripture. We are able to receive true knowledge about the meaning of life and of the universals. We don't have to make up our own story to explain the universe, because its maker tells us the true story, and it's a story that we can be part of.

Happiness


No work yet. I went to an "evaluation day" with a sales and marketing company based in Cardiff city centre on Wednesday, but quickly decided it wasn't for me. If I was to do direct marketing, it would have to be selling stuff I actually believed was worth selling, rather than trying to convince people how much better their lives would be if they bought Sky television and watched it all day. And I really wouldn't be at home in an organisation where the main thing they use to motivate you is simply money and raw hedonism. It's good that you can progress quickly in their business if you work hard. But I disagree completely with the boss's attitude that making loads of money so that you can have loads of stuff is "what it's all about". So I got up and left.

It made me realise that I'm really not bothered about being rich. Being able to make ends meet without worry, yes, that's pretty nice. Beyond that, I'm honestly not fussed, which probably means I won't make as much money, because that's not my aim in life. But that's fine, I've got better things to aim for.

No work yet, and that can get rather dispiriting at times. Filling in forms, waiting to hear from different companies, sometimes hearing nothing, sometimes being rejected... it's not a lot of fun. But the other night, I came home knowing just how happy I am. A friend had persuaded me to come and play some badminton with a group of friends. I wasn't as awful as I feared I'd be on my first go; we had fun and enjoyed it. After some shopping we went back to their house; we ordered pizza, some others came round to visit. A moth flew in, and their oh-so-cute kitten chased it enthusiastically to our laughter and amusement.

Bidding them goodnight, I slipped off back home to read some other of my friends' novels-in-progress over a mug of hot chocolate ready of a writers' get-together in the morning. I knew what happiness is, not found in money, but in the glow of friendship and laughter and hope, and most of all in delighting in God and thanking him for all these good gifts.

Contagious - Big Teach 1: Jesus the Living One


I haven't updated my blog in a while, but I'm going to try and get back into doing so more regularly, including typing up some of my notes from Contagious 2007: The Resurrection. I'm kicking off with the first "Big Teach", which was preached by Ian Fry. MP3s should be on the Contagious website at some point soon!

1: JESUS the Living One (Revelation 1)

v9-11 The Speaking Vision
John was exiled to Patmos for preaching Jesus, which was a dangerous activity. The island of Patmos was an unpleasant place where Christians were put to work in mines. John heard a voice behind him, and is told to write what he sees. John saw the vision, we get the book.

v12-16 What did John see?
This book shows John struggling to capture an amazing vision in words, and he does so with powerful images and symbols. What does he see?

"One like a son of man" (v13) - this is a reference to Daniel 7, where "one like a son of man" is led into the presence of the Ancient of Days and given authority, glory and sovereign power, and the worship of all the world. His clothes are described as "a robe reaching down to his feet, and with a golden sash round his chest". The robe is like those the priests would wear, while the golden sash shows he is someone of great importance. He stands among the lampstands, which represent the churches (see v20). This is the kingly high priest who is supreme over every language, nation and tribe.

"His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow" (v14) - just like the Ancient of Days (Daniel 7:9); the person who John sees is God, ancient and forever. We respect the dignity of age less and less, but the Bible values old age highly. In our Fallen world, we associate ageing with death and decay. But redeemed, old age loses all its negatives. There is all the gain of wisdom and maturity with none of the qualities of youth being left behind. "His eyes were like blazing fire" - eyes of sharpest clarity that miss nothing that happens in the universe, aflame with inexhaustible joy and hope. He is not tired or bored, but burns with passion and joy.

"His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters" (v15) - He is burnished, he has been tested in the fires of death and has come out the other side. His voice is like a waterfall, as full of power as the roar of the Niagra Falls.

"In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance" (v16) - He holds the churches in his right hand (which denotes his hand of power). His word is living and active, like a two-edged sword, an instrument of surgery, or of judgement. He burns more brilliantly than the storm at the heart of the sun. What an amazing sight!

v17 The Impact on John
What effect does this have on John? He falls down - bam! - as though dead. John had lived with Jesus, glimpsed his glory on the mount of transfiguration, but this sight of Jesus' unveiled majesty was enough to knock him right out. None of the rest of the wonders in the book of Revelation, as amazing and shocking as some of them are, has the same effect on him. He is no longer a little baby, meek and mild; he is not just a human teacher; he does not hang any longer on the Cross or lie there in the tomb. This is the risen Christ; this is your God!

But Jesus reaches down to him with his right hand, with power and kindness. He tells us, "Don't be afraid!" This is the mighty mercy of God.

v17-20 The Risen One
Jesus gives three reasons not to be afraid:

  • Firstly, "I am the First and the Last". He is eternal; there are no birthdays or funerals when it comes to God.
  • Secondly, "I am the Living One! I was alive, and behold, I am alive for ever and ever!" The Living One is a name for God. He has life in himself, is the source of all life - how could he possibly die? "'Tis mysery all, the immortal dies; 'Tis mercy all, immense and free."
  • Thirdly, "I hold the Keys of Death and Hades" - Jesus is the one who is in control of death and hell. We need not fear death, we need not fear punishment. He opens and locks the gates of hell and the gates of life.
Application
Do you see Jesus for who he really is?
The universe is all about him: from him, through him, to him. He is worthy of all honour and glory and praise. He's beautiful and wonderful, and worth worshipping. He holds the ultimate power in the universe. He must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet, ultimately death. We should approach him with both fear and love.

Maintaining a proper sight of Jesus
Jesus shouldn't just be mere background noise in our lives. Jim Elliot prayed "Deliver me from the dread asbestos of other things". Seeing is becoming - whatever we delight in most, whatever we gaze on, whatever occupies our thoughts and desires, shapes us. 1 John 3:3: "We know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is". The primary way of gazing on Jesus, of becoming like him, is in his Word. The Bible is written not to give us information only, but to give us an experience of the Living One. Not for data, but for awe. Bible knowledge isn't an end in itself, but stepping stones to delighting more truly and deeply in Christ.