Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Murmurs from the Mundane: "Culture: And the World became a Hotspot for Weirdoes"

Living out in the countryside has its perks: it’s a lot cleaner than an urban environment, it’s a lot quieter than a city, and, let’s face, on the whole, it’s more beautiful to look at. Nature surrounds you whichever way you go, exploding into each and every sense of the human existence.

On the other hand though, the big downside, or one of them anyway, is that it can get very lonely. While the joys of family life do detract from this somewhat, if you’re like me, you like to hang out with people your own age. This isn’t a problem if you have friends living in the immediate vicinity, but again, for me, the closest friend is located roughly an hour, maybe an hour and a half away.

It’s because of this feeling that I love having friends over at my house. It gives them a chance to take a break from their ordinary day lives, and it relieves me of that loneliness that seems to play a huge part in mine.

I recently had a couple of friends over for a single night while my parents were away on holiday. And because I live in the middle of nowhere, we couldn’t do anything the “hip” young adults would do in a situation like that; we didn’t go to a dance club, we didn’t avail of alcoholic beverages, we didn’t even cause a little bit of a ruckus…ok, we caused a ruckus with my sleeping pattern, but that was as far as it went. All we really did was bake, played some video games, listened to some music, and watched some quality and some trashy TV. In the end, it was a perfect weekend of sorts.

Its funny how, even in a few short days like that, we can experience something we know as “culture.” I’m not going to bore you with a precise and detail description on what it is exactly; that’s what a dictionary is for. In fact, I don’t think a dictionary can fully sum up what “culture” is. We can fill up the majority of the answer; that it is the view and belief of a group of people determined on place and thinking, or to put it in even simpler terms, the way in which someone conducts their life. But is that really all it depends on, a location and a means of contemplation? Because of this, it’s been very hard to write this chapter in some sort of way that’s as engaging as the previous. Hopefully I won’t have bored you too much by the time you reach the end.

If you were to ask what culture meant to a group of Greek philosophers, they would say something along the lines of their belief in terms of the spiritual. Ask a group of teenagers today, and they’ll say its all about celebrities and technology. So what’s the key factor that we all seem to forget?

Time. Culture, as we know it, is hugely impacted upon by time. As time moves forward, the culture of a place or group of people changes. We can see this in our own life time, with the integration of home computers in our daily goings-on. And this is just one example; the introduction of new technologies, changing political structures, vast and confusing ideologies. The church is not immune to this, seeing the rising of new and bold movements, the most common examples being the rise and fall of the emergent church, and the continued efforts of the “prosperity gospel.”

Because of the fact that culture, in itself, is so vast and complex, I can’t really give an aspect of it that we tend to forget. Rather, it is in comparison to culture that we tend to forget parts of the very nature and character of God Himself.

You may be wondering why I went on such a big spiel above on how culture is influenced by time. The reason is we can use this to compare culture against God. Whereas culture is directly impacted upon by time, God isn’t. The whole concept that He is the unchanging God is lost on us, not because we don’t know it, but because we rarely look at the gravity of the statement, as God Himself states in Malachi 3:6;

“For I the LORD do not change…”

- Malachi 3:6a

We’re often reminded of the fact that God doesn’t change. However, we only think of this in terms of our own existence. It’s uncommon for us to realise that the God of the Old Testament is the same as the God of the New Testament. While its easy to say this, we really need to think this through; the God who created the heavens and the earth is the same God who was born in a food trough; the God of men such as Moses, Abraham and David is the same God of a couple of fishermen and a tax collector; the God whom songs were sung of is the same God who was jeered and mocked on the way up to be crucified.

And not only is the God of the Old and New Testaments the same, but He is the same today. More so, He was the same God before He created the heavens, and He will be the same in His kingdom which will come.

Not only can we compare the nature of God and the nature of culture in terms of time. Before I even wrote that paragraph on time, I talked about the definition for what culture is. And when I finished, it all came down to two things; location and a means of contemplation.

Just as culture varies with time, so too does it vary with the location which it is in. While there may be a near global culture in relation to technology (at least in the 1st World,) there are many aspects of culture which are unique to a specific place. Ireland is a prime example; here we have a small island nation, with a population of roughly 4 million in the Republic, which loves to have a bit of “craic.” What is craic you ask? To be honest, it’s hard to put a definition on what it means exactly. But one thing can be observed; no where else on the planet do they have “craic” the same way the Irish do.

Obviously this change depending on region isn’t limited to entertainment. The language, economic and political system, morals and laws, ideologies, transport, architecture, food, music, night life, work, etc, all depend on area.

It will come as no shock then to find that God is once again on the completely opposite side to this. How so? Simple;

“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me…””

- John 14:6

Jesus Himself says it oh so very clearly; there is one God. That’s it. We often look at this passage and completely forget the connotation of the word “the,” being the definite article. Jesus is a way, or a truth, or a life, He is THE way, THE truth, and THE life. He Himself clearly and emphatically states that the only way to heaven is through a relationship with Him. Some people outside and inside the church are guilty of forgetting this; those outside have come up with various religious systems and ideologies, and the ones inside, and out, have placed greater emphasis on worshiping money, power, fame, sex and the like. We have all become idolaters in one way or another. Unlike culture, in which there are many different ones depending on location, there is only one God, something that we all need to be reminded of daily.

While culture may vary over time and location, there is one aspect of culture, its nature that remains constant. I said that the nature of culture changes, and while that it is, there is always something which is common in all instances of culture.

Let’s once again take modern youth as an example. We said that culture for a group of teens today would be about the celebrity status and making sure they had the latest gadgets. If we contrast that to, let’s say, British medieval individuals, a large part of their culture would be the strict following of religious rules and laws. What’s the one thing that both of these examples have in common? I admit, because of the fact that its very hard to think of two examples like these, and even in the fact that the examples themselves are not all that great to begin with, it may be hard.

Both are devoted to the self. It kind of links back to the idolatry that we talked about earlier on. In the two instances here, and in the others not mentioned, a large part of culture is devoted to self. And when we are focused on self, sin crops up. To put it in slightly easier terms, much of culture, today and as a whole, is sinful. The devotion to greed, fame, power, lust, sex, acceptance, image and status, all linking back to envy and pride, is what this culture is built on.

God, however, isn’t sinful. Rather, He’s the complete opposite, being holy, as the angels declare in Isaiah 6:3;

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

- Isaiah 6:3

There’s so much focus on God being loving and forgiving that we tend to overlook the fact that, unlike the world where we live, God is set apart and different from the whole of creation. God is holy, and because of this, He cannot be in the same place as sin. Where sin exists, God cannot live because of His very nature. In the same way, we also forget that good is a good and just God;

“The Rock: His works are perfect, and the way he works is fair and just…”

- Deuteronomy 32:4 (MSG)

Something that I’ve learned to be reminded of all the time is that God has no obligation to this sinful world with this sinful culture. He has every right to leave us and start a new creation without ever thinking back on us. The fact is though, He chose out His good and just nature to set into motion a rescue plan which would span millennia, culminating in the death of Jesus on the Cross. Through the death of His Son, we see the holy and just nature of God. Not only that, but through Jesus, we have an opportunity to escape this sinful culture, and live a life holy and pleasing to Him…

Monday, July 19, 2010

Murmurs from the Mundane: "Body: One Giant Leap for Humankind"

I’m what you might call accident-prone. Not a lot of people realise this, but it’s something I have to almost remind myself, or be reminded by myself, daily. For someone whose diet is not particularly balanced, I seem to have a lot more energy than would be expected. Normally this energy proves to be useful, but whenever I have so much that a bash my head on a door frame while skipping down our very short corridor, it can prove to be a bit hazardous.

I remember the first proper accident I had. There were times before this when I was genuinely sick, but those instances were out of my hands. I was over in my nana’s house, y’know, because that’s what you do when you’re 3 years old. I was in the kitchen, just standing about, not really do anything. My nana, Kathy, left me alone for some reason which I can’t remember. And if you don’t learn anything from this story, just remember not to leave a two year old in a kitchen alone…

Especially if there’s a freshly brewed pot of coffee just in reach of his hands. Also make sure he has something to protect his feet so that he doesn’t get second degree burns on his tiny little walkers.

I think, while being accident prone is something which is out of our hands, it goes against the whole concept that the Bible talks about, when it says;

“…do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own…”

- 1 Corinthians 6:19

And while my clumsiness may just slightly infringe on that whole idea, it’s something we all tend to forget from time to time. Whether it is in terms of over-working our bodies, to our diet, even to items or objects which attach to this vessel, this body we’ve been given, while in no way perfect, is a temple of a part of the Triune God. Hopefully by the end of this chapter, through some stories and what not, we might just learn a thing or two about this thing we call a body.

I get scared very easily, probably because it’s the way God designed me. But there was one time when I was four which had me quivering in a boots, or some other sort of analogy, for a long time after. Getting up as a four year old wasn’t exactly what you’d call eventful; get up, get dressed, eat breakfast, watch some cartoons, and head off to school. There’s not a whole lot that can go wrong with that sort of routine.

That is of course if you can actually get up…which on one day would have happened, but would’ve required everyone that came within a 5 kilometre radius of me to wear ear plugs due to the absolute pain I was in, and consequently, the screams which bellowed from my tiny voice box.

To this day, I’m still not sure what was wrong with me. I couldn’t walk without being in physical pain, and from what I could gather, I contracted some sort of bacterial infection in my legs which acted a lot like arthritis. As you can imagine, for a four year old, it was terrifying. I mean, I had gotten sick before, but nothing on this sort of scale.

Anyway, after a week on some form of medication, and plenty of rest in the hospital, I was finally able to walk again without acquiring a sore throat in the process. And life went on as normal for me. But as I grew older, I kept getting cramps in my legs, particularly at night. My mum, who’s a nurse, said it was an after effect of that bacterial infection I had when I was a child, and that, from what she knew, I would experience this sort of thing for the rest of my life.

Here’s what I’m trying to get at; whatever you do to your body, there’s gonna be consequences. The whole thing of there’ll be repercussions for every action is still very true, but we seemed to have forgotten about this when it comes to our physical well-being. This ranges from good effects, to negative ones, such as my cramps. We rarely think about what will happen to us if we eat a certain way, exercise a certain amount, perform dangerous actions, or some not so dangerous. Proverbs 6:27 talks about consequences, and while it is mainly referencing to adultery, it may just be a helpful reminder for when we come to eat 20 Easter eggs all in one sitting as soon as that time rolls around…not that I’ve done that, of course…

“Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned?”

- Proverbs 6:27

There’s another story to do with how I’ve treated my body over the past decade or so. I used to be quite an avid martial arts connoisseur. I’ll admit I wasn’t going to be able to take on Jackie Chan without seriously contracting a serious case of getting my back side handed to me, but I’d like to think I wasn’t bad bad.

Anyway, I practice a style of martial arts called Ninpo from when I was about 12 or so up until I was 14. The day of our practice came up, and it was time to perform some flying shoulder rolls. Normally when you do this sort of thing, it’s all very safe. And that’s what I thought that day as well. I ran, jumped, and rolled, but when I landed, something didn’t feel right, as if I had landed awkwardly. My shoulder wasn’t feeling its best, and at first I decided that that was enough…

This was before I decided to, against my common sense, have another go. And guess what? I landed awkwardly again. And you know what happened? I become the proud owner of a broken clavicle.

I won’t bore you with the rest of the tale, because the idea I want to submit to you is right there in the above paragraph. Against my own better judgement, I decided to push my body’s physical limit, and in the process, ended up with something that still pains me to this day.

Here’s the thing; we get so caught up in trying to keep our body in peak condition, or we try to just go that extra bit further when it comes to exercise that we normally end up hurting ourselves in some way. Put simply, sometimes we need to give our bodies a break.
Now I am in no way saying that we shouldn’t break past the limit of what we’re capable of. If we never did that, then we’d never know our breaking point. Nor am I saying not to go the extra mile. I’m purely talking about this in a physical aspect. We need to rest. I’ve been hurt physically enough in my life to understand that the body we’re given is pretty damn fragile. We can’t just go chucking it about for hours on end without taking a bit of respite.

One aspect of Matthew 11:28 that I think we tend to forget is the physical point;

“Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

- Matthew 11:28

When Jesus says this, we always assume that He’s talking in a solely spiritual sense, that if we’ve got troubles in our spiritual lives that He’ll give us respite from them. And while this is so very true, we often don’t look at the fact that, in conjunction with the numerous miracles of healing He performed, He’s faithful to give us physical rest as well. This is the God-Man who for most of his life probably worked a blue collar job with His earthly dad as a carpenter. So if anyone knows when its time to take a break from exercising, its Him.

In the summer of 2010, I was privileged to take part in a week long activity called “Urban Soul,” based in the capital, Dublin. Around 200 teens and young adults gathered to work in different community projects around the city centre and the outskirts too. The majority of my time there was spent gardening in some old folks’ homes based in the Liberties, an area of the city full of life, and in desperate need of development.

I have to say I’m not a huge fan of manual labour. That’s probably because of all the time I’ve spent on the couch watching some absolutely horrible shows on the television instead of getting outside and exercising. But when it comes to physical, I can be pretty lazy. So for me to garden for three days straight, it was a pretty big accomplishment.

But as I was wondering how I should end this section, a verse I had always thought about popped into my head;

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”

- Romans 12:1

This is something I forget all the time. Not only are our bodies a temple for the Holy Spirit, but they are meant to be a sacrifice of love. The work we perform on a day to day basis is something more than a means of getting a wage at the end of the week. The work that we’ve been given (and I think we’ve even forgotten that we’ve been given work) is meant to be something more.

In light of this, Urban Soul was more about loving God then it was about fixing up a garden, or painting a classroom. With the bodies we’ve been graced with, we can love God, by offering them up as a sacrifice. This is, in one sense, what Jesus did on the cross, offering His broken body up as a sacrifice to His Father. We forget this so much of the time, and yet it’s right in front of us. And while God perhaps doesn’t call us to be nailed to a hunk of wood to be deemed worthy of a sacrifice, the work that we do everyday of our lives, if done in His power, is completely and fully “holy and acceptable to God,” as a sacrifice…

Monday, July 12, 2010

Murmurs from the Mundane: An Introduction

I had a conversation with myself not too long ago. To anyone aside from me, that would sound quite weird. I don’t do these sort of things because I’m some sort of ├╝ber loner, or because I have nothing better to do. I like talking to myself, partly because I’m a very private person, and so questioning certain aspects of life by oneself remains hidden behind…well…whatever people who talk to themselves hide behind.

I also like talking to myself because I’m not really a confrontational person. As much as I love to stick up for what I believe in, I must admit I don’t like the whole perception of confrontation. You’d never think it; I mean, I can be vocal about topics and beliefs I hold true to, but rarely will I get physical in anything. Talking to myself means I can eliminate that whole aspect of my social skills.

But out of all the reasons why I converse with my own being is because you can’t get interrupted. I know that you can lose a train of thought and you might consider that an interruption, but an interruption to me is someone outside of myself butting in on a conversation while I’m full swing…

At least, I thought I could be uninterrupted…

The topic for the conversation was what to do for the summer. I had a few pre-made activities to partake in, but for the majority of what was set to be one of the greatest summers ever, I had gotten relatively little to do. I was getting into a good bit of banter with myself about different books that could keep me occupied for those lazy days in the summer…

And then Dad showed up.

I should explain. While I am stuck in the back-end of nowhere for most of the time with my family, including my dad, my other Dad is everywhere I go. Creepy sounding I admit, but that’s the kind of guy…I mean, God that He is.

Anyway, Dad decided to drop in unannounced into this conundrum I had dug myself into. Whenever Dad shares His two cents on a matter, it’s always worth listening to. He didn’t say a whole lot, verbally anyway. He rarely does, to me anyway. Rather, He tends to plant ideas which could only come from someone outside of myself. And that idea spawned this series. All He “said” was this;

“What have you forgotten?”

Another thing which is pretty obvious from the above statement is that a lot of what He says can be, on occasion, quite hard to understand. Mind you, I guess He wouldn’t be revered as having a great mystery about Him without something like this cropping up.

But it’s an interesting little statement isn’t? I mean, it could be taken on so many different levels. He could be reminding me had I forgotten that dinner was ready an hour ago and was probably gone cold, or I could’ve forgotten why I stopped watching the curse-ridden show that it Glee…OK, the last one will never be forgotten, but I needed something to fill the space.

But I think what Dad was reminding me about were the things that we take for granted in this life. I’m sure all of you have heard the little tale of a group of friends and myself getting jumped during the summer of 2010. If not, it’s bound to be bouncing around the internet somewhere. And the one thing that I took away from that evening was how precious and fragile this life is. There’s so much stuff we’ve been given that we often overlook them, or in my case, completely forget about them. This very life, the life we’re living is a gracious gift given by the only one who can give it;

“If, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.”

- Romans 5:17

And so this book is devoted to reclaim these forgotten items. In this book, I’ll take a look through the different aspects of life which have been given to us, and yet which we need reminding of their power, presence and purpose in our lives.

This is going to be a good one guys…