Beautiful Night

Today, the wounded father is on an evening drive along a highway, the start of a longish journey of a thousand kays or two. Then—in the fading light, and out of the corner of his eye as he  adjusts a playlist—he notices the shadow of a man waving. He stops the car on the side of the road, just ahead of the shadow, and reverses slowly as the man walks towards him, looking eager.

‘Shane,’ mumbles the hitchhiker as the father reaches over and opens the door to let him in.

The father introduces himself and shakes a rough and curled over hand, which is surprisingly soft and gentle. It reminds him of the wilted hand of a rag doll.

‘No use stayin around,’ Shane whispers loudly as the father eases the car back out onto the road. ‘The missus don’t know I’m doin this.’


‘No good goin to jail again. No use hurtin her. Might as well get out before somethin happens.’


But even as the father says ‘Yeah’ he feels a great sorrow coming, the way a quiet flow of air might have once come through the bedroom window of his old home when he was a boy on a sleepless summer night. Back then he would have been talking softly with his brothers before they all drifted off to sleep, accompanied by the flutterings and coo-ings of night owls, and it would have been a breeze of happiness. But tonight it’s the approaching sorrow of lost boyhood and of weeping … in the dark, warmth and intimacy of a vehicle hissing along bitumen at night.

‘Thank you,’ the father says—speaking to his god as he is falling asleep that night—’for Shane. Thank you for being with us inside our cloak of black. Thank you that “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning. Great is Thy faithfulness.” ‘

Becoming a Prototype


We sometimes talk about becoming a real man as if we have in fact seen such a thing. It's true that we have seen approximations of what a real man might look like or be, but this is only Stage I of a great quest and even our heroes are poor images of what a real man will look and feel like on the great day of the resurrection when the final act of new creation takes place and a man of God becomes deathless, fully 'real' and as physical as ever—Jesus himself having given us a foretaste in the Easter Event.

The present time is therefore your chance to prepare for becoming a prototype of a real man. In other words, Stage II of this quest will be a literal physical resurrection of your body and you will be truly glad of the skills and powers you have mastered in living in this Stage I body. Yes, the one you have may not be Olympian and may even seem to you to be some kind of 'Brother Ass'—as St. Francis fondly referred to his—but there's more to this story, as CS Lewis explains.

‘Christians … of all men must not think of spiritual joy and worth as things that need to be rescued or tenderly protected from time and place and matter and senses. Their god is the god of corn and wine and oil. He is the glad creator. He has become himself incarnate. The sacraments have been instituted. Certain spiritual gifts are offered us on the condition that we perform certain bodily acts. To shrink back from all that can be called nature into negative spirituality is to run away from horses instead of learning to ride. There is in our present pilgrim condition plenty of room for renunciation, but behind all asceticism the thought should be, “Who will trust me with a spiritual body if I cannot even control an earthly body?”

These small and perishable earthly bodies were given to us as ponies are given to schoolboys. We must learn to manage these not that we may someday be free of horses altogether, but that someday we may ride bareback, those greater mounts, those winged, shining and world-shaking horses which perhaps even now expect us with impatience, pawing and snorting in the kings stables.’ (April 30th Business of Heaven)1

1 CS Lewis Miracles Ch.16


                'The Boy who will never risk being laughed at will never be a man'


PS: all the above obviously applies to women as well and could be re-written as such

Authentic Faith III

As sensual, passionate, egotistical humans, we live with the music of gods pulsing in our veins, but the toe-nail dirt of chimpanzees getting into our skin. We know the questions and revel in them, we even act as redeemers, but are lost.

There’s almost an offence in the question, “Where are you Adam?” As if our maker who put us in this predicament in the first place, is messing with our minds, but we have nowhere to go, like Adam we know that we are out of our league. Faced with the outrage of trying to overlook a dilemma that feels like no fault of our own, but held responsible anyway, we opt for the last resort – to hide, to avoid our tormentor.


They wanted as we say, to make their souls their own, but that means to live a lie, for our souls are not in fact our own. They wanted some corner in the universe of which they could say to God, “this our business, not yours” – but there is no such corner. They wanted to be nouns, but they were and eternally shall be mere adjectives.’5

None of us can talk for long about this kind of pain before we begin to feel like hypocrites (compared with the sort of pain some people have to deal with). Us artists and others like us who have a strong sense of justice and compassion, must beware the instinct to strike a posture of wounded-ness and outrage towards God and the way this universe is arranged. A kind soft heart is not always appropriate, even for a person who is in pain, not that we should be harsh, but sometimes the best thing is
silence, just
being there and hoping to find a way ahead.

We Protestants in particular have a lot to answer for here. Much of our agonising comes from the suggestion that God is just a cosmic 'person'. Yes part of the trruth is that God is a personal being, but if we stay there, our awareness of the dreadful mystery of the divine and of the beyond-personal nature of God is lost and we are lead relentlessly into tortured arguments with a little-matey God who does not actually exist. Might just as well be talking to the wall.

History is littered with various Neitzches, Marx’s, Voltaires and others who came up with grand eloquent and sarcastic dismissals of such a God, and many fell for them because they themselves had actually worshipping this straw-man, aka a 'Simple Person-God' who you can just 'have a chat to about things'. A weak hand-wringing grandfather in the sky, Creeping-Jesus as Blake said. And saddest of all, those outraged (angry-young-men) philosophers of the 'god-dismissing superman' made the 20th century the bloodiest of all.

'Reality is not something we could have guessed,' says CS Lewis. 'That is one of the reasons I believe Christianity. If it offered us just the kind of universe we had always expected I should feel we were making it up. But in fact it is not the sort of thing anyone would have made up, it has that weird twist about it that real things have. So let us leave behind all these boys philosophies, these over-simple answers. The problem is not simple and the answer is not going to be simple either.'


Question: Jesus said, ‘This is my body?’ What does that do to you?


Suggested Reading: Isaiah 53


Suggested DVD Scene: The Passion – scene 13

5 CS Lewis – Problem of Pain – Ch 5

Authentic Faith II


It’s not surprising in an age of fast food to find that our theology & philosophy have taken on the mood of a supermarket checkout, certainly not any hint of danger there, convenience is what this is all about: service with a smile. All good if you are looking for a lettuce, but what if you are looking for a smidgen of philosophy or a useful little god thingy—something not too expensive and kinda pretty? Yes, you can even get that too, on your way out to the street at one of those stalls. Done: a Buddha on the coffee table and a 'Cheat's Guide to Philosophy' on the shelf.

So there we have it. Same old, same old, throughout history. Most people have been into a religion or a philosophy because it satisfied their superstitions, took away their fear of death, gave them a comfortable social circle and an opportunity for doing good deeds. Whether or not their beliefs stood the test of intelligent criticism was not an issue. So whether they were Muslims, Christians, Buddhists or Hindus was just an accident of culture, not an intelligent decision made by an informed mind.

Yes, I know I am sounding like an atheist at this point, and Michael Onfray, in his recent book Atheist Manifesto, uses what I have just been talking about to build an entire thesis around the assumption that people have created monotheism out of some neurotic need to fill a gap (rather than discovering it out of a healthy curiosity and often against their preference—my comment on his). He says, 'Most of humanity have been infected with this strange neurosis.'

He has a point, and it is embarrassing that so many, instead of surrendering to a living, honest and vulnerable walk with God, shirk reality and indulge in what can only be described a childish superstition. Someone has said that 'Those who have religion for their god will not have god for their religion.'

The irony is that Christians (of all people) are misguided if they believe their faith is primarily about their own health and wellness. Jesus—the founder—said, 'Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies it remains alone but if it dies it bears much fruit.' CS Lewis once said that 'the desire for personal security is a mortal's greatest enemy.' And another great Christian writer, Studdert Kennedy, said: ‘This universe has no use for those will not gamble.’

Even a superficial reading of one of the gospels makes it quite clear that following Jesus the Messiah was a dangerous occupation. And it still is in this world where 465 believers are martyred every twenty four hours. And yet the myth remains that personal security is a major reason for following Jesus the Messiah.

This myth can survive in the comfortable, tolerant and wealthy western world, but it is shown to be unfounded when we look at the majority of the Christian population, which lives in the other part of the world. A further problem for Onfray and the other pop atheists is that the neuroses and fears of believers prove nothing about the existence or non-existence of God, they merely tell us a lot about human beings. This pop atheist habit of building a man of straw, eg: fundamentalism, is beside the point: just because a lunatic believes the world is round does not mean that it is not.

I debated an atheist along these lines once and concluded by asking him: 'Do you believe that your deepest longings will be fulfilled in this world?'

'Yes!' he replied as I looked hard into his eyes to see if he really meant it.

'You can't believe that!' I said.

'Yes I do,' he said.

'I don't believe you,' I said and then our plane landed at an airport and he followed me out to the arrivals lounge, walked outside and began furiously smoking a cigarette.

CS Lewis said, “If I find in myself, a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”1


Longings, like the ones we feel in adolescence and puberty, suggest that another stage of life is coming our way and fire up our curiosity. And in the case of our longing for 'eternal love', 'friendships lasting for ever' etc, which cannot be fully realised in this life, it makes sense that there must be some sort of beyond natural/supernatural world waiting for us. Hence the curiosity, which by the way, is present (but frequently denied) just as much in the 'religious' person as the non-religious.


Suggested Reading: Psalm 90

Mere Christianity 3:10 CS Lewis



Authentic Faith I

An important test of the authenticity of a faith is what it does with your humanity: your reason; your capacity to love, to hope and to forgive, and to engage in the life of your community. In particular, an authentic faith always deepens your ability to understand, learn and grow when serious trouble happens.

A moment of faith-reckoning is similar to that, for example, of a medical graduate faced with his first real patient. The outcome of this test—which may take days, months or even years—will leave the young doctor with either a sense of hope and gratitude or an uneasy sense that he has not done his homework and even perhaps that his teachers have seriously bungled their attempt at knowing the facts of the medical world and passing them on.

Either way, if truth and love are more important to him than his own personal comfort and security, then he will be ready to learn and to grow through the pain of a flawed education and will emerge with an inner authority that can only come from a grim determination to follow the often faint and unpredictable footprints of truth. Sooner or later he will be the doctor who's words are measured and thoughtful and who has an intrinsic authority. The one you will point to when the nurse at the medical centre asks who you want to see.

The same holds for the science of theology and faith where we (as with Socrates) must follow the evidence wherever it leads, even into places of great dread. Sometimes the jury is out for long periods, during which (if the issue is not sharply felt) we talk things over patiently with friends; argue and debate; go back over the evidence; pray and re-examine the old notebooks written by long-dead 'theological scientists' (the bible). Sometimes these notebooks are all that remains because something went terribly wrong.

In the scientific community, these leftovers-of-disaster notebooks are frequently highly valued because mistakes are 'gold' when it comes to getting closer to reality. Such mistakes are also 'gold' in the faith community, or should be. When did you last celebrate a faith mistake? It's not common to hear someone acknowledge that they made a mistake and have now moved a little closer to the solid reality of God. These mistakes recognised and learned from are some of richest gold you will mine from the dark seams of faith.

Sadly, when a faith mistake happens, we tend to completely drop our bundle of cool and careful truth investigation and take offense at God, or quickly interpret it to fit our pre-conceived theology (aka theory of God) and to keep God 'pretty'. We can even do the same to our friends and work colleagues … which they hate. But what if this so called faith mistake is a faith imbroglio (completely confused and embarrassing situation)? Or something worse?

Is that you today? Not just reading a blog, but being assaulted by some overbearing terror, which has just smacked you down and shaken your confidence. So much for cool debate. All bets are most likely off on a universe created by a God who likes you and who has some kind of 'human-liking and reasoning tendency'.

These are times where some of us wonder whether it's true, as the witch doctors assert, that we are in fact dealing with an impatient and capricious deity who does not actually like people at all and makes no allowances for honest mistakes—a cop who shoots before he asks questions and—just to keep you in your place—appoints lackeys called pastors, priests and shamans who take your money and try to pacify the god and get you a few favours. Beware the loss of nerve that comes from such conclusions, for that is how entire societies remain ruled by fear.

Imagine, for example, that a life or death quarrel started in the education industry over the truth about education, and it got to the stage where there were town inspections, school inspections and home inspections, and those found to have the wrong type of educational theory were executed. Society would then be faced with two options: either one Correct Type is accepted in society and all other competitors are refused entry; or a decree could be passed that separated the science of educational theory from all other sciences. The decree might go further in fact, saying that it has been shown that statements about education are meaningless in the world of objective science.

Both of these options (the 'Correct Type' and 'Meaninglessness') will have given us the desired outcome: that we no longer fear being executed for our beliefs about education. The first because there is only ever one option and no one speaks about alternatives, and the second because everyone supposedly knows that it's impossible to know the truth about education since it has no connection with reality. Happily for us all this means that all types of education are valid, including no education, and we are now free to believe whatever we like since all educational theories are the same. We know this is not true but we say it because it stops the disagreements, the killing and the fear.

If you lived in North Korea you would be going for the second option as the lesser of the two evils—a useful temporary measure. But once you make that move to the salvation of meaninglessness, you then find yourself under another kind of pressure: the pressure to leave the vexed and potentially lethal 'education theory' question alone. But you can't because you are curious, you can smell the fear and you think it's shameful to be dishonest.

What about you? Are you just plain curious? Can you smell the fear? The dishonesty?

We need to face the fact that this problem is deeply entrenched—even in your church or your atheist society. And thanks to a painful and bloody era in our past, we have placed enormous pressure on ourselves to pretend that all gods are the same and that there is no way of knowing the truth anyway since science (the study of the structure and behaviour of the physical world) holds all the knowing cards. But does it? NT Wright makes the comment: 'What does it mean to truly “know” something? Current thinking on “knowing” privileges science above all else, aka, “test tube epistemology”.'

Perhaps the subterfuge for us has not been as exaggerated as that in the education story, but the evidence of recklessness and even dishonesty is everywhere. Last century Aldous Huxley summed it up this way: 'I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning; consequently assumed that it had none and without any difficulty was able to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. For myself the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation, sexual and political.' Someone else summed it up another way: 'The easiest way through life is to either believe everything or doubt everything, because that way you don't have to think.'


      Quite sometime ago, I grew deeper in the little bit of hope that I had, because, having been inspired by Jesus’ criticism of the established religious hierarchy, I was convinced that my amateurish and individual attempts to be taken seriously by whoever or whatever it was that ruled the heavens were endorsed by Jesus and therefore worthwhile. So, little old me, having been emboldened to approach faith from a place of vulnerable and reasoned investigation, then journeyed further down a road of recollected childhood glories and tragedies; blazing personal successes; asking questions and gathering evidence; and endless conversations with family, friends and fellow university students—and whoever it was ‘up there.’

      Eventually my curiosity was vindicated, the jury came in, and the initial intuitive and hesitant surrenders of a young boy to a mysterious god were given courage to go further, to the point of surrendering my entire adult being to Jesus the Messiah. Since that time and even from the time of the more tentative and intuitive years, I know that I can look back on almost entire fields and forests full of confessions and forgivenesses; hundreds of faces of friends and a few enemies—some approached by me and others who (having lived with the grief that is me) approached me.

      Then there are—like dark billowing waves and gigantic waving flowers—hundreds of prayers and poems and songs: given and received. And scattered throughout all of those, a few blinking amber lights of nothing less than miraculous deliverances from naked evil and, in a different shade, some astounding miracles (in every sense of the word)—so wonderful that you feel embarrassed.

      For me now—after a period of thirty years—I sometimes stop to look back and am inevitably overwhelmed with gratitude for the astonishing changes that have taken place in me. That little bit of hope has now become a compelling flood of hope because I have been changed by the power of the Holy Spirit, not in a sudden rush, but in a long and slow colouring of a mosaic.

Easter as a Way of Life


     Take a moment to call to mind the people and things you value most, then go wider and deeper to your sharpest disappointments and wounds. Now imagine that you are gathering them all up and placing them in your hand. Now close your hand and keep them in there while we talk about something else.

     For many in our society, words like 'obedience' and 'surrender' invoke feelings of outrage and contempt. They belong to the discarded world view of tyrants and religious fanatics, which may have served some use as a kind of 'noble lie' to tame us in the youth of our civilisation—kind of like training wheels—but we have outgrown that stage. But what of those who argue that 'obedience' is in fact a beautiful, eternal and compelling law of the spirit world that can unleash power and joy and at the same time launch you and your family into a disturbing and terrible battle between good and evil?

      Jesus' mother for example, who, having been given an unusual message from an angel, asked for an explanation and was told: 'You will conceive in your womb and bear a son … The Holy Spirit will come upon you.' Mary then said, 'Let it be to me according to your word,' and abandoned herself to a mysterious virginal conception. The ensuing pregnancy aroused suspicion, jealousy, and in the end the rage and murderous schemes of a King. Then there were Jesus' disciples who followed him all the way to their deaths; and then there is us in our own daily experiences of having to 'go and see' someone to make a confession or offer forgiveness.

     The interesting thing about these moments is that those who have been in the habit of obeying for many years, frequently talk of—often through painful mistakes—acquiring an ear for the voice of the true Shepherd and learn to treasure common sense, reason and the advice of wise friends. Luke's gospel tell us that Mary 'was troubled' and 'considered in her mind' and James tells us that the wisdom from above is 'first pure, then peaceable; open to reason and full of mercy and good fruits; without uncertainty and insincerity.' (Js 3:17). And Jesus said: 'My sheep hear my voice.'

      So, having run these authenticity tests and established that this is in fact a message from The One, the obey-er understands that they are cooperating with The Author of one big and living story who is not only thinking of them and being influenced by them, but is also thinking of and being influenced by dozens and even hundreds or thousands of others (past, present and future) and is unable to explain the full significance of this one act of obedience.

      We see hints of this in the crucifixion story where The Messiah makes a lot of unexpected statements: 'You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; If it be your will let this cup pass; Behold your mother; Father forgive them; You will be with me in paradise.'

      These statements impled that Jesus had not at all been taken by surprise, which un-nerved Pilate and the soldiers. They saw their life in this world as the main event, but Jesus knew that his life was a two-stage quest: Stage I, where we do deeds in this life that follow us into the next (as in any quest). Stage II, where—after an intermediate stage of disembodiment—what we have grown and built in Stage I (homes, lives, friendships, families, work) is somehow caught up in a great physical resurrection and made deathless and eternal— a vindication of innocence and of those who have been loyal to the innocent.

     There is much in this for believers to think about. For, if on the one hand it is true that Calvary has already absorbed the judgement of even the most terrible of sinners, leaving no obstruction barring their entry—if they wish—into the blessings of eternal life; what of their past and present behaviour?

Is this merely about getting there, or do we need to think about what might be left of us when we get there? Could it be that, although we belong to Christ, part of us may have already been lost to the cancer of evil? It says in Corinthians: 'Your deeds will follow you into eternity,' and, 'The fire will prove what sort of work each one has done. If the work that a man has built upon the foundation stands the test, he will be rewarded. But if a man's work be destroyed under the test, he loses it all. He personally will be safe, though rather like a man rescued from a fire.' (1Cor3:12-15).

     Take a moment to think again about what you are holding in your closed hand. You have closed it on what is not in fact yours. According to the teachings of our Messiah, if we choose to continue holding on to what is not ours, the hand in fact is in a fire which could devour not just the 'hand' but our entire self. If you have left your arm in the fire for too long you may find that only the arm is redeemable and not the hand. 'We shall be rewarded for what we did when we lived in our bodies, whether it was good or bad.' (2Cor 5: 10).

     In other words, there is forgiveness and even redemption, but 'you reap what you sow.' As Boethius says in De Consolatione: 'The reward of the good is to be what they are; the reward of the evil is to be what they are.' And George Macdonald: 'In the end, the only cure of evil is to have to live with itself.'

George MacDonald's story Lilith implies that this problem of 'wanting to have it both ways: to be in heaven and to have our own way', could take us on a long journey of procrastination during that in-between disembodied state after we die. When Lilith finally comes to Adam and Eve's house to go to sleep, Adam says to her, “You will not sleep—even if you lie there a thousand years—until you have opened your hand and yielded that which is not yours to give or to withhold.” The problem for her was that, having had this hand closed for so long, she had lost the ability to open it, which meant she was going to have to consider a desperate measure (I won't spoil the story and tell you what Lilith does).

So what might happen if you open that hand now and let it all go? Anything could happen, but at least that 'anything' will now be in the hands of your loving Father and that's a relief.

Joseph knew about this and a great secret-revealing moment happens in his story when his father dies and his brothers are immediately terrified that he will now exact revenge, but he says to them: 'You meant it for evil but God meant it for good.'

     Lewis tells us: 'They wanted as we say, to make their souls their own, but that means to live a lie, for our souls are not in fact our own. They wanted some corner in the universe of which they could say to God, “this is our business, not yours” – but there is no such corner. They wanted to be nouns, but they were and eternally shall be, mere adjectives.’(5 CS Lewis – Problem of Pain – Ch 5)

Remember that closed hand? If you haven't already, I'd like to invite you to open it, and while you are doing that, tell God exactly what this means. You may even want to write it out as a prayer.

Maybe Lilith's story is not you today, but before you give yourself an all-clear, think about this: Two people can be doing the same work and claiming to walk with Jesus, but one of them is not actually resting in God. Their posture, as it were, is like someone almost sitting comfortably in a chair but kind of crouching with their bottom a few centimeters above the cushion. They will get 'spiritual arthritis in the knees of their soul' so to speak. What they need urgently is a 'trust-test', a kind of heavy weight dumped on them—which could be quite brutal by the way—but still a gift, because now they now know the truth.

     The other, who actually does trust, enjoys the chair and on top of that they experience the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through them. The mystery of evil here is that this life-time habit of self-protection means that this person, who is thinking that they are living the Christian life, will in fact have what has been referred to as a 'life half-lived' because they are ruled by fear. In thirty seconds they could have changed the next thirty years of their life by confessing their sin and being filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. 

     Obedience to God—in my experience—is the greatest wrongness-crushing, despair-crushing and redeeming thing that I know of because of the way that it constantly unleashes this mysterious cleansing power, which may not necessarily change the circumstances, but which changes me and fills me with hope and grace when I should have been a write off and—thankfully—is no respecter of my desire to make my life my own.

Your Night in the Garden

It’s the eve of Good Friday. The persecuted church is on my mind tonight; partly because my son has been on a trip to China and has been talking about how challenging it was to meet a persecuted believer when he was over there, but it’s also because they are one of the reasons I’m a believer today. Their lives have always been a rich source of encouragement and hope and a kind of ‘giving of the lie’ to the scoffing Spirit of the Age in my own society. And there are some hard facts worth knowing. The ferocity of the persecution for example, and the numbers: 465
believers are martyred every day and, unless something changes, it will be 574 by 2025. (International Bulletin of Missionary Research. Vol. 33, No. 1: 32)

If you haven’t been doing so, I’d like to encourage you to talk to them. Yes, you may not stem the flow of blood, but you might make a difference and in the process have your own soul transformed. The bible tells us to bear one another’s burdens. Stopping the actual crucifixion was of course not the main reason Jesus wanted their prayers, it was because he wanted to make sure that this trial had the best possible outcome.

Stanhope, a character in Charles William’s ‘Descent into Hell’, in talking about bearing one another’s burdens, says, ‘There are laws that are common to us all, dead and living, which … allow us to live and laugh and be ashamed, to be content to be helped … Not to give up your ‘parcel’ is to as much be a rebel as to not carry another’s.’

This is passion night, the night in the garden that Jesus’ disciples would remember with sorrow because it was when he begged them to join him in his great hour of need and torment, but they just went to sleep. Perhaps, in honour of your persecuted brothers and sisters, you could make this night your night in the garden of watching and praying for them?


They and theiir friends are out there on   and    at

Pure, Sweet Moments


In a family there are some things that are pure, sweet moments: like a nice cuppa, making a fuss over a birthday, going out for brekky or dinner, or even playing a board game and there's always a competitor for that moment. The delicate bit is knowing when to postpone it and which competitors must be yielded to. Four days ago for example, my daughter and I had planned an early morning swim but I got carried away that night getting an introductory lecture session 'just right' because I knew I would not be seeing the class again for a month and they could not afford to be launched into this subject (leadership) on as bad a foundation as their predecessors in 2008—sorry old class if you're reading this. So, it was a long night and we put it off. But then there was another late night session, which meant more postponements. Then yesterday morning we finally got our swim and it was wonderful and there will surely be many more!